Have some losers in your investment portfolio? Now's the time to make the most of them. There are some online tools for the investor who...
Have some losers in your investment portfolio?
Now’s the time to make the most of them. There are some online tools for the investor who wants to have it both ways — locking in a tax loss without missing out if the loser rebounds.
The silver lining in any stock or mutual fund that goes south comes at tax time, when losses can be subtracted from gains on other investments to reduce or eliminate capital-gains taxes.
If losses are greater than gains, they can be used to eliminate taxes on up to $3,000 in regular income. Losses also can be saved to reduce capital gains and income taxes in future years.
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Suppose, for example, that you had sold 100 shares of Superstar Industries, getting $100 for each share, which you’d bought a few years ago for $80. That $2,000 profit could trigger a $300 tax bill at the maximum long-term capital-gains tax rate of 15 percent.
Now imagine you also sold 100 shares of Loser Enterprises, with each fetching $90, or $10 less than you’d paid a few years ago. By selling, you’d “realize” a $1,000 tax loss.
In doing your federal tax return, you’d subtract the $1,000 loss on Loser Enterprises from the $2,000 profit on Superstar Industries.
Your profit would then be only $1,000, cutting the tax in half, to $150.
Although you won’t do your 2005 taxes until next year, that return will cover only the profits and losses realized in this calendar year.
So you have only until the end of December. That’s not very long if you’re among those who want to have it both ways — investors with losers they think will rebound.
The obvious move is to sell the loser to realize the tax loss, then buy it right back. But the Internal Revenue Service has a rule to prevent people from gaming the system this way.
This wash-sale rule says the tax loss is disallowed if the investor who sells a loser buys the same stock, or something “substantially identical” to it, within 30 days before or after the sale.
You could wait 31 days. But if Loser Enterprises jumps during that period, you’d miss out.
The problem is solved by purchasing an investment that behaves much like the one you sell but is different enough to pass the wash-sale test.
Sound like a headache? It has been. But not anymore, thanks to the Internet.
Stock-market investors can use a free tool called the Correlation Tracker to find stocks and exchange-traded funds that behave much like the ones they want to sell for tax losses.
It is provided by Select Sector SPDRs (also known as “spiders” or Standard & Poor’s Depositary Receipts), nine exchange-traded funds composed of different industry sectors in the S&P 500 index. Exchange-traded funds are like mutual funds that trade as stocks.
The tool is at www.spdr index.com/correlation.
Unfortunately, the tool does not work with mutual funds.
So fund investors should go to the site of fund-tracking firm Morningstar at www .morningstar.com and click the Similar Funds button under the Tools tab.
To use the service, you have to be a premium subscriber, paying $14.95 a month.