Capital Gains Tax Strategies

Capital Gains Tax StrategiesBy Toma Franklin, Staff Writer

Although some investors may be able save big on capital gains taxes for the next 3 years, only a few will be so blessed. If you're at, or close, to the bottom of the income ladder, you'll be able to save 100% on your capital gains taxes. Those eligible for the savings aren't the ones in the 15% capital gains tax bracket. If you are currently paying 5% on capital gains, you'll be able to forego chipping in for a while, but you have to do your homework first. Remember, there are long term capital gains and short term capital gains. Short term capital gains are those from investments held less than 12 months. These are taxed at your income tax rate, which is almost always greater than the capital gains tax rate.

The bad news is that, unless the lower tax rates are extended by congress, they'll revert to where they were in 2003. That means you'll go from paying no capital gains taxes to vaulting right past the 5% rate, and jumping up 100% to 10%. If you're single and earn over $31,850 in 2007 (more for 2008), you're ineligible for the 0% tax rate. You'll be stuck paying the higher 15% capital gains taxes. The income level is effectively less than $31,850 because the sale of stock bonds and mutual funds will generate income that's added to your other earned income. Together, the combined dollar amount can easily be over $31,850.

Other Ways to Save

Capital gains taxes will be owed any time you sell a highly appreciated asset, weather it's a collector car, investment portfolio or real estate. In addition, you'll have to pay capital gains taxes on the sale of your business. The last one really hurts. You work hard for decades, put in blood, sweat, and tears, and then owe the government around 25% of the profits on the sale.

Capital Gains Tax Savings Strategy #1

To avoid paying capital gains taxes on a piece of real estate, you must live in it as your primary residence for at least 2 years. If you're single or married and filing separately, you'll get to exclude $250,000 of capital gains on that property. If you are married and file jointly, the exclusion jumps to $500,000. That works great for single family residences, but that strategy is harder to apply to commercial property or multi-family complexes.

The one thing that may people fail to realize is that it doesn't matter when the property appreciates, as long as it is the primary residence for at least 2 of the last five years of ownership. This means you could buy a house then live in it for 2 years and sell it, or buy a house, rent it out for 3 years, move into it for 2 years and then sell it. There are many combinations that would qualify. If you owned 2 or more properties, you could live in one of them for two years, sell it and move into another for 2 more years, sell that one and move into another of your properties.

Capital Gains Tax Savings Strategy #2

One Time honored strategy to defer capital gains taxes is through the use of a irrevocable domestic non-grantor trust. Such a trust is a legal entity that will allow you to defer capital gains taxes according to IRS supplied mortality tables. For domestic trusts, this time period can be up to 20 years and for international trusts, the time period can be up to 30 years. This is a vehicle that requires an advisor well versed in all its idiosyncrasies. Such tax deferment vehicles are extremely complex, yet very effective. When done correctly, these trusts will also allow you to defer not only capital gains, but also all income taxes on reinvested assets. An additional benefit is the possible elimination of inheritance and transfer taxes.

Capital Gains Tax Savings Strategy #3

You have to plan for your capital gains taxes in order to properly, and legally defer or avoid them. Often a good plan hinges on legal structures that must be in place before you make your gains. In addition, you can make decisions that, once made, cannot be undone and can cause you to be facing a hefty IRS payment. This definitely applies when deciding on a time to sell or convert assets.

For example, if you have a large block of stocks or funds purchased at various times throughout the past few years, you may sell a portion of them. If you inadvertently sell assets purchased recently, rather than those purchased farther back, you can be facing a hefty tax bill. To avoid this being treated as a short term capital gain you must notify your broker of your intention to divest yourself of a block purchased farther in the past. The broker must be notified before you place your sell order, unless you'd rather pay income tax, rather than be liable for capital gains taxes, which are not only lower, but can then be deferred according to your capital gains tax strategy.

Capital Gains Tax Savings Strategy #4

Doubling down refers to the practice of repurchasing a stock after selling it at a loss for tax purposes. If you have an unrealized loss, but feel the stock is sound, and will turn around, you can sell it and take the loss for the purposes of reducing your capital gains taxes. You must then wait more than 30 days before you repurchase it to avoid the sale being termed as a "wash sale". A wash sale is when an investor sells an investment only to repurchase it again within 30 days. In such cases you must deferred and, to make matters worse, the cost basis of the investment is raised to reflect the new amount. This can easily cause you to lose out on a loss you were counting on to reduce your tax liability.

Capital gains taxes are a very complicated subject. There are some very effective tax reduction, avoidance, and deferment strategies available that apply to capital gains taxes, most of which are not mentioned here. They are best left to experts in this specific field.