Five Tax Issues for these Crazy Financial Times

Wall Street

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Wow! The market’s up, the market’s down. It’s crazy! Now I don’t give advice about stocks—it’s actually against the law for me to give advice about stocks—but I do give advice about taxes. Here are some things you need to know about your taxes during all this market craziness.

1. On your tax return, you only acknowledge a gain or a loss if you actually sell the stock. Let’s say you own 100 shares of Billy Beer stock that you bought at $100 per share, that’s $10,000 worth of stock. If the price of the Billy Beer drops to $90 a share, then you have $9000 worth of stock right? So technically you’ve lost $1,000. But, the loss only counts if you actually sell the stock for the $90 a share. If you keep the stock, nothing about Billy Beer goes on your tax return.

2. Stocks that are held within a 401(k) plan or an IRA can be sold at a gain or a loss and it never gets reported on your tax return. The whole point of your retirement plans is that you can have tax free gains. Most of the time, your money is growing inside these vehicles and you’re not getting taxed on it. When you do have a loss inside your 401(k), you don’t get to claim a deduction for it.

3. The maximum loss from a sale of stock that you can use to offset your ordinary income (like wages) is $3,000. Let’s say you sold off some stock and had a loss of $10,000. Sales of stock are considered to be passive income or passive losses. (To be blunt—it’s called passive income because it’s possible to sit on your butt and make money.) The maximum amount of passive income loss you can have on your tax return for any given year is $3,000. Any extra loss you have can carry forward to the next year. You can use the passive loss from the sale of your stock to offset other types of passive income also, such as income from a partnership or rental real estate. The important thing to know though is that if you have a loss of $100,000 in the stock market, you’re not going to get to write it all off at once.

4. Just because the market has taken a nosedive, it doesn’t mean that you really have a loss on your stock. Remember, your gain or loss is based upon what you bought the stock for and what you sold it for. This is especially important for senior citizens to remember. Back in 2008, we had some serious stock market drops. When tax time came around, I had several clients tell me how much money they lost in the market, but when I did the paperwork they really had large gains because they had held the stocks for so long. They were very surprised to be paying so much money in capital gains tax.

5. You must report the sale of stock on a Schedule D form. One of the most common IRS letters is to people who sold stock and forgot to report in on a Schedule D form on their tax return. Stock sales are reported to the IRS. Using the Billy Beer example, let’s say you bought it for $100,000 back in 2007 and sold it for $90,000 this year but you forgot to report it on your tax return. You’ll get a letter from the IRS saying that you owe them $22,500 (if you’re in the 25% tax bracket) in income tax plus penalties and interest. (And the penalties will be huge because you “forgot” $90,000 in income!) The reality is that you should show a loss on your Schedule D and you’re probably due a refund ($750 if you’re in the 25% tax bracket.) Always remember to report your stock sales on your tax return.