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Reducing Your Capital Gains Tax

Besides paying income tax and payroll tax, persons who buy and sell personal and investment assets also have to work with the capital gains tax system. Capital gain rates are usually as high as regular income taxes. The good news is there are ways to keep them as low as possible.

Here are handy tips to help you reduce your capital gains tax:

Wait a year (at least) before selling.

For capital gains to qualify for long-term status (and a tax rate cut), wait for at least one calendar year before you sell your property. Depending on your tax rate, you may save from 10% to 20%. For instance, if you sell stock where the capital gain is $2,000, belong to the 28% income tax bracket, and have held the stock for over a year, you’ll have to pay 15% of $2,000 on the transaction. If you’ve owned the stock for barely a year, you’ll pay $560, which is 28% of $2,000, on the transaction.

Sell when you’re earning low income.

Your income level affects the amount of long-term capital gains tax you are obliged to pay. Individuals falling under the 10% and 15% brackets don’t even need to pay any long-term capital gains tax at all. If your income level is about to drop – let’s say your spouse is almost retiring or you’re about to lose your job – selling during this low income year will decrease your capital gains tax rate.

Lower your taxable income.

Since your capital gain tax rate relies on your taxable income, general tax-savings techniques can help you get a good rate. Maximize your deductions, for example, by completing expensive medical procedures before yearend, donating to charity, or maximizing your traditional IRA or 401k contributions.

Look for little-known deductions as well, such as the moving expense deduction, which you get when you move for a certain job. Rather than buying corporate bonds, get bonds issued by municipalities, local governments and states, as the income they produce is non-taxable. There’s an entire range of possible tax breaks, so study the IRS’s Credits & Deductions database so you know what you can qualify for.

When possible, time your capital losses with your capital gains.

One important feature of capital gains is that they’re diminished by any capital losses you incur within a specific year. To lower your tax, use up your capital losses in the years you have capital gains. There’s no restriction on how much in capital gains you should report, but you can only take $3,000 of net capital losses for every tax year. You can carry additional capital losses into future tax years, however, although it may take a while before you can use those up if you’ve absorbed a substantial loss.