Capital Gains: Determining Your Tax Basis
Capital Gains: Determining Your Tax Basis
The two chief forms of income for most people are “earned” and “unearned” income. Earned income (generally, your compensation for work that you do) is taxed at rates
beginning at 10% and rising to 38.6% (in 2003).
Capital gain, the income earned from your investments, receives preferential treatment. The gain on investments held for a year or longer is taxed at no more than 20%. For taxpayers in the 15% income tax bracket, the long-term capital gain rate is just 10%. (A special top rate of 28% applies to collectibles held for more than a year.) In addition, a “super long-term” rate cuts two percentage points off the regular long-term rates on assets held for at least five years.
The basics of basis
what is the cost basis of a property? When you make an investment, the price that you pay, plus any expenses incurred in the purchase, is your tax basis. Subtracting your basis from the proceeds of the sale (reduced by your sales expense) provides your taxable gain or deductible loss.
Things can get a bit more complicated when you make investments at various times and prices or have dividends reinvested. Your basis for a full sale is what you’ve spent buying the shares and paying commissions, including reinvested dividends on which you will owe, or already have paid, income tax. On a partial sale, however, the question arises of just which shares—with what basis—you are selling.
In the absence of instructions, the IRS assumes first in-first out (FIFO), which, in the case of a stock that has risen over time, can result in the largest taxable gain. For that reason, it’s a good idea to make certain that you keep written confirmation of the specific shares that you are selling.
With mutual funds, in addition to FIFO and specific share accounting, you are permitted to use an average cost per share sold. This figure is arrived at by totaling all the expenditures on the shares held at the time of the sale and dividing by the number of shares held. On request, most financial institutions can supply an average cost basis for your sales.
The basis of gifted and inherited property
A different set of rules applies to property acquired by gift. When you receive a gift, the donor’s basis becomes yours. Therefore, you will need to know the donor’s date of purchase and cost basis at the time of the gift. If the gift is of a size to trigger a gift tax, a portion of the tax paid will serve to increase your basis—quite a substantial portion in the case of highly appreciated assets.
When the gift is worth more than the donor’s cost basis, you use the cost basis in calculating your eventual gain or loss. However, when the fair market value (FMV) at the time of the gift is lower than the original cost, you use the FMV in calculating a loss and the cost basis in figuring again.
Property transferred at the owner’s death comes with a cost-basis “stepped up” to the FMV at the time of death. Any gains from that point on are considered to be long term. In most cases, an heir’s immediate sale of inherited property results in little or no capital gains cost basis long term or loss to be recognized.
A new rule ahead
As of this writing, the federal estate tax is scheduled for repeal as of January 1, 2010. The 2001 tax law that contains the repeal provision also sounds the death knell for the step-up in basis that is generally allowed to heirs.
Instead, much like the gift tax, assets that pass to heirs will carry the owner’s (decedent’s) basis and will be subject to the capital gains tax basis when sold. However, the reverse won’t be true. Heirs will not be able to take advantage of any unrealized capital losses. When the FMV of the asset is lower than the decedent’s basis, that will be the tax basis for the recipient.
Some tax breaks are built into the new rule. Property passing to a surviving spouse will be eligible for $3 million worth of basis step-ups. In addition, an executor will be able to designate certain estate assets to receive up to $1.3 million in basis step-ups. This amount can be increased by any capital losses or net operating losses that the decedent was carrying forward.
The importance of record keeping
Whether you acquire property by purchase, gift or inheritance, you will want to keep complete, organized records in order to establish the basis in any property that you will sell for a gain. This is especially true for a property that you expect to own for many years or to transfer to your heirs at some point in the future.
As one tax specialist summed it up, the IRS starts with the premise that you paid nothing for the property. You’re only entitled to what you can prove.
Follow our Facebook page for more updates.
We hope you found this article about “Capital Gains: Determining Your Tax Basis” helpful. If you have questions or need expert tax or family office advice that’s refreshingly objective (we never sell investments), please contact us or visit our Family office page or our website at www.GROCO.com. Unfortunately, we no longer give advice to other tax professionals gratis.
To receive our free newsletter, contact us here.
Subscribe our YouTube Channel for more updates.
Alan Olsen, is the Host of the American Dreams Show and the Managing Partner of GROCO.com. GROCO is a premier family office and tax advisory firm located in the San Francisco Bay area serving clients all over the world.
Alan L. Olsen, CPA, Wikipedia Bio
GROCO.com is a proud sponsor of The American Dreams Show.
The American Dreams show was the brainchild of Alan Olsen, CPA, MBA. It was originally created to fill a specific need; often inexperienced entrepreneurs lacked basic information about raising capital and how to successfully start a business.
Alan sincerely wanted to respond to the many requests from aspiring entrepreneurs asking for the information and introductions they needed. But he had to find a way to help in which his venture capital clients and friends would not mind.
The American Dreams show became the solution, first as a radio show and now with YouTube videos as well. Always respectful of interview guest’s time, he’s able to give access to individuals information and inspiration previously inaccessible to the first-time entrepreneurs who need it most.
They can listen to venture capitalists and successful business people explain first-hand, how they got to where they are, how to start a company, how to overcome challenges, how they see the future evolving, opportunities, work-life balance and so much more..
American Dreams discusses many topics from some of the world’s most successful individuals about their secrets to life’s success. Topics from guest have included:
Creating purpose in life / Building a foundation for their life / Solving problems / Finding fulfillment through philanthropy and service / Becoming self-reliant / Enhancing effective leadership / Balancing family and work…
MyPaths.com (Also sponsored by GROCO) provides free access to content and world-class entrepreneurs, influencers and thought leaders’ personal success stories. To help you find your path in life to true, sustainable success & happiness. It’s mission statement:
In an increasingly complex and difficult world, we hope to help you find your personal path in life and build a strong foundation by learning how others found success and happiness. True and sustainable success and happiness are different for each one of us but possible, often despite significant challenges.
Our mission at MyPaths.com is to provide resources and firsthand accounts of how others found their paths in life, so you can do the same.
Insights Into Venture Capital Investing From Seminar 1 of 6 (To register for seminar 2 of 6 FREE, click here.) “In an era where financial landscapes are constantly being reshaped, it’s crucial for investors to stay ahead of the curve. The Venture Vision Webinar, a joint initiative by GROCO and Impact Venture Capital, recently hosted…
Introduction: In this interview, Alan Olsen, CPA and featured guest Micah Fink discuss how Horses and Heroes use horses to aid veteran care and much more. Transcript: Alan Olsen Welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is Micah Fink, CEO and founder of Heroes and Horses. Micah, welcome to today’s show. Micah Fink Alan, thank…
Introduction: Two dad’s discussing life balance in the hectic world of IPOs with featured guest, Travis Combs, Managing Director at the Effectus Group. In this interview, Alan Olsen, CPA, MBA and Travis address family, faith, career, client’s best interest, and trying to strike a balance. Transcript: Alan Olsen Welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is…
Introduction: A candid discussion about investment banking and philanthropy with Mike Bennett, Managing Partner of Crewe Capital. In this interview, Alan Olsen, CPA, MBA and Mr. Bennett open a window into his Crewe Capital‘s early beginnings the connection between investment banking and philanthropy. Transcript: Alan Olsen 0:01 Welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is…