Are Capital Gains Taxable?

in Tax Information


Anyone that regular follows the news and arguments in Washington about taxes knows that capital gains are taxable to one extent or another because the capital gains tax has been the subject of a great deal of vigorous debate in Congress and between the political parties. As such a contentious tax, it is frequently changed or modifies by Congress. For example, for 2008 through 2010, at least some net capital gains will not be taxed if they would otherwise be taxed at lower rates than the standard 15 percent that is the usual for capital gains taxation. The rules change a lot, so people with significant capital gains (or capital losses) should consult with a tax professional.

Generally speaking, almost everything that is purchased for personal or investment purposes is considered a capital asset by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). When these assets are sold, the difference between the base value or price of the asset and the actual amount realized in the sale is either a capital gain or a capital loss. If the amount realized was above the basis value, then it was a gain; if it was below the basis price, it was a capital loss. Capital gains are generally taxed at around 15 percent, but as noted previously, this changes a lot each year depending on the political wrangling in Washington. Capital losses are also at least partially deductible, again depending on a myriad of factors related to the asset and the sale.

The extremely simplified definition provided above notwithstanding, capital gains and losses are an extremely complex tax matter, explained in detail in IRS Publication 550, which for 2009 runs to more than eighty pages. There is an endless array of exceptions and exemptions based on the nature of the asset, the nature or timing of the buying or selling of the asset, how long the asset was held, where the asset was sold and the amounts realized from the sale. Even fairly simple capital gains or losses – like those related to a personal home – can become extremely convoluted since there are all kinds of incentives and disincentives related to home ownership as well.

Capital gains or losses are reported on Schedule D of the 1040 form used for filing a individual tax return. Discarding IRS Publication 550, just the line-by-line instructions for Schedule D run to ten pages and include four different worksheets which are used to calculate amounts to be reported. Bear in mind that all of the amounts used to do this also have to be documented so that the numbers claimed can be substantiated if requested by the IRS. Further, this document is full of sentences that are barely comprehensible to most people, like: “Figure the amount of gain treated as unrecaptured section 1250 gain for installment payments received in 2009 as the smaller of (a) the amount from line 26 or line 37 of your 2009 Form 6252, whichever applies, or (b) the amount of unrecaptured section 1250 gain remaining to be reported.” [Instructions for Schedule D 2009, PDF Page 9]

Needless to say, non-experts may find it well worth the extra expense to hire a tax professional to help with detailed capital gains/losses filing. Not only is it complicated and time consuming, but mistakes can be very costly.

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