Long-Term Capital Gain or Loss

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Paul Tracy

Paul has been a respected figure in the financial markets for more than two decades.

Prior to starting InvestingAnswers, Paul founded and managed one of the most influential investment research firms in America, with more than 2 million monthly readers. While there, Paul authored and edited thousands of financial research briefs, was published on Nasdaq. com, Yahoo Finance, and dozens of other prominent media outlets, and appeared as a guest expert at prominent radio shows and i...

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Updated August 12, 2020

What is a Long-Term Capital Gain or Loss?

A long-term capital gain or loss is the profit or loss on the sale of an investment that has been held for longer than a certain IRS-defined period of time.
 

How Does a Long-Term Capital Gain or Loss Work?

Let’s assume you purchase 100 shares of Company XYZ for $1 per share. After three months, the share price increases to $5. This means the value of the investment has increased from $100 to $500, for a capital gain of $400.

Taxpayers report capital gains on IRS Schedule D, but these gains are subject to different tax rates depending on whether they are short-term or long-term (and in some cases depending on the type of asset). In the example above, if you sold the Company XYZ shares after a year, the IRS would consider your $400 profit a long-term capital gain and tax it at one of several flat rates. However, if you sold the Company XYZ shares after just three months, the IRS would consider your $400 profit a short-term capital gain and tax that $400 at your ordinary income tax rate, which varies by several factors, including which state you live in, and is generally higher than the long-term capital gains tax rate.

Why Does a Long-Term Capital Gain or Loss Matter?

Establishing a lower tax rate for long-term capital gains encourages long-term investing, but there are still many logical reasons an investor might want to sell an asset before a year has passed.

An investor’s long-term capital losses will sometimes offset all or a portion of his or her capital gains, lowering the investor’s tax bill. There is a limit, however, to how much the investor can offset. Investors should seek the advice of a competent tax professional to understand how capital gains treatment affects specific investment decisions.

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