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Capital Asset Taxation

Capital Asset Definition

The IRS provides a broad definition for the term capital asset to include almost every piece of property, both tangible and intangible, that you own. However, this doesn’t include the assets you use in a business, nor does it include your rental real estate. Examples of a capital asset include the stocks and bonds you invest in, your home and even your car. When you sell a capital asset, the result is either a capital gain or capital loss. And in most cases, there are tax implications requiring you to report the transaction on a Schedule D attachment to your 1040 form.

Capital Loss

When the sale of a capital asset results in a capital loss, you can net it with any capital gain you report on Schedule D. This means that if you incur a $5,000 capital gain and an $8,000 capital loss during the same tax year, the net result is a $3,000 capital loss. This remaining $3,000 is potentially deductible against the other income you report on your tax return, but only if it relates to the sale of investment property rather than personal property. Investment property includes any capital asset you purchase with the intent of earning profit, such as stocks, bonds and other investments. On the other hand, a capital asset is personal property if there is no investment motive, such as your primary residence. When the capital loss does relate to the sale of investment property, the IRS allows you to deduct up to $3,000 per year of excess losses. If you’re unable to deduct your entire balance of capital loss, you can always carry it forward to future tax years and use it to reduce your capital gain and/or deduct an additional $3,000 per year.

Capital Gain

You also need to consider the tax implications of a capital asset sale that results in a capital gain. Every capital gain, other than the sale of a primary residence that’s eligible for the home gain exclusion, is subject to reporting on Schedule D regardless of whether it’s investment or personal property. However, the length of time you own the capital asset before selling it will affect how much tax you will pay.

Long Term Capital Gain Rates

The IRS refers to the amount of time you own a capital asset as your holding period. When you sell a capital asset at a gain, you must assess whether it’s a short term capital gain or a long term capital gain. A long term capital gain is taxed at special rates, and as of this writing, a taxpayer whose marginal tax rate is 15% will not owe any income tax on their long term capital gain. However, if your marginal tax rate is 25% or more, you must calculate your tax on the long term capital gain at 15%. The sale of your capital asset is a long term capital gain if you own it for more than one year. If you own it for one year or less, it is included with your other short term capital gains. Short term capital gains are combined with the other ordinary income you report on your 2011 1040 form, such as employment and interest earnings.

Reference: IRS Publication 551-Basis of Assets & Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses