How are capital gains taxed? (2024)

A capital gain is realized when a capital asset is sold or exchanged at a price higher than its basis. Basis is an asset’s purchase price, plus commissions and the cost of improvements less depreciation. A capital loss occurs when an asset is sold for less than its basis. Gains and losses (like other forms of capital income and expense) are not adjusted for inflation.

Capital gains and losses are classified as long term if the asset was held for more than one year, and short term if held for a year or less. Short-term capital gains are taxed as ordinary income at rates up to 37 percent; long-term gains are taxed at lower rates, up to 20 percent. Taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income above certain amounts are subject to an additional 3.8 percent net investment income tax (NIIT) on long- and short-term capital gains.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), enacted at the end of 2017, retained the preferential tax rates on long-term capital gains and the 3.8 percent NIIT. TCJA separated the tax rate thresholds for capital gains from the tax brackets for ordinary income for taxpayers with higher incomes (table 1). The thresholds for the new capital gains tax brackets are indexed for inflation, but, as under prior law, the income thresholds for the NIIT are not. TCJA also eliminated the phaseout of itemized deductions, which had raised the maximum capital gains tax rate above the 23.8 percent statutory rate in some cases.

How are capital gains taxed? (1)

There are special rules for certain types of capital gains. Gains on art and collectibles are taxed at ordinary income tax rates up to a maximum rate of 28 percent. Up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples) of capital gains from the sale of principal residences is tax-free if taxpayers meet certain conditions, including having lived in the house for at least 2 of the previous 5 years. Up to the greater of $10 million of capital gains or 10 times the basis on stock held for more than five years in a qualified domestic C corporation with gross assets under $50 million on the date of the stock’s issuance are excluded from taxation. Also excluded from taxation are capital gains from investments held for at least 10 years in designated Opportunity Funds. Gains on Opportunity Fund investments held between 5 and 10 years are eligible for a partial exclusion.

Capital losses may be used to offset capital gains plus up to $3,000 of other taxable income. The unused portion of a capital loss may be carried over to future years.

The tax basis for an asset received as a gift equals the donor’s basis. However, the basis of an inherited asset is “stepped up” to the value of the asset on the date of the donor’s death. The step-up provision effectively exempts from income tax any gains on assets held until death.

C corporations pay the regular corporation tax rates on the full amount of their capital gains and may use capital losses only to offset capital gains, not other kinds of income.

Maximum Tax Rate on Capital Gains

For most of the history of the income tax, long-term capital gains have been taxed at lower rates than ordinary income (figure 1). The maximum long-term capital gains and ordinary income tax rates were equal in 1988 through 1990. Since 2003, qualified dividends have also been taxed at the lower rates applied to long-term capital gains.

How are capital gains taxed? (2)

Updated January 2024

Further Reading

Auten, Gerald. 2005. “Capital Gains Taxation.” In Encyclopedia of Taxation and Tax Policy, 2nd ed., edited by Joseph Cordes, Robert Ebel, and Jane Gravelle, 46–49. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

Burman, Leonard E. 1999. The Labyrinth of Capital Gains Tax Policy: A Guide for the Perplexed. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Gleckman, Howard. 2022. “Expanding the Net Investment Tax Mostly Would Target Households Making $1 Million or More.” TaxVox (blog). Washington, DC: Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Gleckman, Howard. 2022. “The Many Ways to Tax the Rich.” Washington, DC: Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Kobes, Deborah, and Leonard E. Burman. 2004. “Preferential Capital Gains Tax Rates.” Tax Notes. January 19.

How are capital gains taxed? (2024)


How are capital gains taxed? ›

How do capital gains taxes work? Capital gains can be subject to either short-term tax rates or long-term tax rates. Short-term capital gains are taxed according to ordinary income tax brackets, which range from 10% to 37%. Long-term capital gains are taxed at 0%, 15%, or 20%.

What is the capital gains tax quizlet? ›

The idea behind Capital Gains Tax ('CGT') is to tax the profit that a person might make from disposing of a capital asset which has appreciated (increased) in value during their period of ownership. CGT is charged where there is: - a Chargeable Disposal. - of a Chargeable Asset.

What is capital gains simplified? ›

A capital gain is the increase in a capital asset's value and is realized when the asset is sold. Capital gains may apply to any type of asset, including investments and those purchased for personal use. The gain may be short-term (one year or less) or long-term (more than one year) and must be claimed on income taxes.

Why capital gains should not be taxed? ›

Taxing capital gains effectively increases the cost of funds to firms because it reduces the after-tax return to stockholders. In other words, if potential stockholders knew that they would not have to pay taxes on the appreciation of their assets, they would be willing to pay a higher price for new issues of stock.

Why does capital gains tax exist? ›

The capital gains tax raises money for government but penalizes investment (by reducing the final rate of return). Proposals to change the tax rate from the current rate are accompanied by predictions on how it will affect both results.

How do you avoid capital gains tax? ›

Here are four of the key strategies.
  1. Hold onto taxable assets for the long term. ...
  2. Make investments within tax-deferred retirement plans. ...
  3. Utilize tax-loss harvesting. ...
  4. Donate appreciated investments to charity.

What is tax paid capital gains? ›

Capital gains tax is calculated by taking 50% of your capital gain and adding it to your taxable income. When you lose money selling capital property, those losses can help you reduce the tax payable on any capital gains.

What is the capital gains gain? ›

Capital Gains Tax is a tax on the profit when you sell (or 'dispose of') something (an 'asset') that's increased in value. It's the gain you make that's taxed, not the amount of money you receive.

What is the description of property capital gains tax? ›

What Is The Capital Gains Tax On Real Estate? The capital gains tax is what you pay on an asset's appreciation during the time that you owned it. The amount of the tax depends on your income, your tax filing status and the length of time that you owned the asset.

How do I calculate my capital gains tax? ›

Capital gain calculation in four steps
  1. Determine your basis. ...
  2. Determine your realized amount. ...
  3. Subtract your basis (what you paid) from the realized amount (how much you sold it for) to determine the difference. ...
  4. Review the descriptions in the section below to know which tax rate may apply to your capital gains.

Do I have to pay capital gains tax immediately? ›

It is generally paid when your taxes are filed for the given tax year, not immediately upon selling an asset. Working with a financial advisor can help optimize your investment portfolio to minimize capital gains tax.

What is the rule on capital gains? ›

If you sell a house or property in one year or less after owning it, the short-term capital gains is taxed as ordinary income, which could be as high as 37 percent. Long-term capital gains for properties you owned for over a year are taxed at 0 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent depending on your income tax bracket.

What is the loophole for capital gains tax? ›

A few options to legally avoid paying capital gains tax on investment property include buying your property with a retirement account, converting the property from an investment property to a primary residence, utilizing tax harvesting, and using Section 1031 of the IRS code for deferring taxes.

How do capital gains taxes work? ›

In simple terms, the capital gains tax is calculated by taking the total sale price of an asset and deducting the original cost. It is important to note that taxes are only due when you sell the asset, not during the period where you hold it.

What is an example of capital gain? ›

Example: Suppose a person purchased 100 shares of Rs 100 each at a total cost of Rs 10,000. (Case 1: Capital Gain) After some time, say one year, if he sells those shares for Rs 130 each with the total selling price of those 100 shares being Rs 13,000, it would result in a profit of Rs 3,000.

Are capital gains added to your total income and put you in a higher tax bracket? ›

Long-term capital gains can't push you into a higher tax bracket, but short-term capital gains can. Understanding how capital gains work could help you avoid unintended tax consequences. If you're seeing significant growth in your investments, you may want to consult a financial advisor.

What is the capital gains tax on $1 million dollars? ›

Other Sources of Income

If the $1 million is from a long-term capital gain, such as the sale of stocks or real estate, you'll pay a lower tax rate than if it were ordinary income. The long-term capital gains tax rate is currently 20% for high-income earners.


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