Learn the ins and outs of the capital gains tax, which you may owe if you sell stocks, your home, cryptocurrency, a stamp collection, and much more.
Billionaire business owner Warren Buffett once famously commented that his secretary paid taxes at a higher rate than he did. Although there are surely many factors at play – among them Buffett’s intentionally low salary and his large charitable donations – a big part of the story is that Buffett earns a relatively large share of his income from capital gains.
Income in the form of capital gains has historically been taxed at substantially lower rates than ordinary income like wages, tips, unemployment compensation, gambling winnings, and the like. That’s because capital investments are generally viewed by policymakers as engines of growth that stimulate the economy. The lower tax rates are designed to encourage this beneficial activity. And it’s not just the buying and selling of stocks and bonds that receive favorable capital gain treatment. The lower capital gains tax rates apply to profits from other types of investments as well, like the capital gain from the sale of real estate (including your home) or even a small business.
Since the capital gains tax applies to so many types of investment transactions, it’s an important piece of the overall tax picture for millions of Americans. But most people don’t know much about the capital gains tax – or certainly don’t know enough to make informed investment decisions based on the tax consequences of their actions.
The following guide will help you understand the basic rules for the federal capital gains tax. The guide covers a variety of topics, including what are capital gains, when they’re taxed, how to calculate your gain, and what tax rates apply. It also identifies IRS reporting requirements and provides tips for taking advantage of the preferential rates. It’s not a substitute for sound professional advice, but it will help investors of all sorts understand the general capital gains tax framework and identify areas where professional help is needed.