by Joe Ben Combs, CPA
Tax Manager at Atchley & Associates, LLP
If you’ve ever done any sort of investment planning you’re probably familiar with the concept of tax loss harvesting. This is the practice of selling an investment that has decreased in value and purchasing a comparable investment, triggering capital losses which can be deducted against your other income. (There are a number of associated tax and non-tax issues that we will not address in this article so please consult a financial advisor or tax professional. before executing on this strategy.)
While tax loss harvesting is a great tax-saving move for a lot of people, the exact opposite can be even more beneficial for some and is far less often discussed. Tax gain harvesting is the practice of selling appreciated securities and immediately repurchasing the same or similar securities. Now instead of triggering capital losses you have created potentially taxable gains. So why would you do this?
Long term capital gains (gains on the sale of capital assets held for more than a year) are taxed at reduced rates. For people in most tax brackets this means a rate of 15%. However, if you are in the 10% or 15% tax brackets, qualified dividends and long term capital gains are taxed at 0%!
That’s no tax.
So how does this help you? Why is this beneficial when I could just as easily avoid tax by not selling anything? The benefit is not in the selling but in the repurchasing. By purchasing the same assets at a higher price you are now holding the same investment as before but you have increased your cost basis, thereby reducing future gains. All without any current tax cost. While it won’t save you any tax dollars today, your future self will thank you!
So now that we’ve covered the fun part – there are a few things to watch out for.
- First and foremost, the preferential rates only apply to assets held for more than one year. If you are selling shares of a security that you have purchased at various dates, make sure to select lots with the requisite holding period.
- While the wash sale rule that applies to loss harvesting (aimed at discouraging the repurchase of a security within 30 days of sale) does not apply to gain harvesting, some mutual funds will not allow an investor who has sold out of the fund to buy back in before a certain time period has passed. You will want to review any potential reinvestment restrictions applicable to the assets you intend to sell so that you can plan accordingly.
- Beware of state income taxes. Depending on where you live that 0% rate may not apply and state income taxes may cut into the benefit of the increase in basis. If you’re here in Texas that won’t be an issue but if you live in a state that taxes capital gains it may be something to consider.
- While a capital gain itself may avoid taxation, it still increases your adjusted gross income (AGI), which can affect the calculation of a number of credits and deductions. On top of this the additional income may increase the amount of Social Security benefits subject to tax.
- If you already have realized losses for the year it may defeat the purpose of harvesting gains, depending on the situation. This is certainly something to discuss with an advisor.
There are a number of other planning considerations that we don’t have time to discuss here but needless to say, we highly recommend discussing this or any other tax planning strategy with a qualified advisor.