Selling and Repurchasing Stock the Right Way

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There’s a big difference between the interest you earn on your bank account and that earned from your stock investments. Specifically, you have to pay taxes every year on the interest from your bank account, but tax law allows you to wait until a “taxable event” (like when you sell it, for instance) to pay taxes on your stock gains. This is a huge advantage, and may allow you to save a ton on capital gains taxes if you use your advantage right.

How Low Can You Go?

It’s up to you to determine when you’ll pay taxes on your stock gains, so make the most of it! When is the best time to pay taxes? The best time is when they’re the lowest, of course. And, capital gains taxes can go all the way down to zero percent.

You can be one of those people who qualifies for the zero percent tax bracket on capital gains. This advice will guide you through the process. Would you like to know something even better? You won’t even have to permanently dispose of your stock to do this; you can keep right on earning from it.

Understanding the Rules for Stock Sold at a Gain

All right, so you want to avoid high capital gains taxes, and you’re thinking about selling and repurchasing your stock to accomplish that goal. But wait, won’t that be a wash sales transaction that’s disallowed by tax law?

It’s not! For any stock that you sell at a gain, the wash sales tax rules don’t apply.[1] It is perfectly legal (and smart) for you to sell stock that has appreciated and repurchase it right away.

Let’s take a look at how that works. For our example, you purchased $1,000 worth of stock several years ago that is now worth $10,000. You also notice that you are currently in the zero percent tax bracket for capital gains. You sell the stock for its current value ($10,000) and turn around and re-purchase it for the same price. Under tax law, this is a taxable event. You may now pay taxes at the zero percent rate (i.e. you pay no taxes).

Had you been in a higher tax bracket, you would have paid taxes on $9,000 (the gains you made from selling a $10,000 stock bought at $1,000). By doing this, you not only pay no taxes, but you have also re-established your stock’s basis as $10,000, meaning if you have to pay taxes in the future, it will be on subsequent gains. You have permanently banished taxes on that $9,000 in gains! (And, if your stock value decreases in the future, you can sell for a tax loss.)

Which Bracket Do You Fit In?

Okay, so you’d probably like to know whether you fit into this magical zero percent tax bracket. The brackets for capital gains (long-term) range from 0 to 20 percent.[2] In 2014, the zero percent bracket applies to these levels:

  • Single filers with taxable income from $0 to $36,900 and
  • Joint filers with taxable income from $0 to $73,800.

Taxable income is the dollar number you get after taking certain deductions that are available to all. You can also figure the numbers using adjusted gross income (AGI):

  • Single filers with AGI from $0 to $47,050[3] and
  • Joint filers with AGI from $0 to $94,100.[4]

Important note: To qualify for capital gains rates, you must hold the stock for a minimum of one year before selling it. If you don’t, you’ll be paying taxes at the much higher ordinary income rates. It’s a good idea to play it safe. If you buy stock on July 31 of this year, hold onto it at least until August 1 next year. Don’t get in a rush. Make sure you’ve owned that stock for a year before selling—remember, investments are long-term.

By planning your stock sales correctly, you can save thousands of dollars in taxes over the years. You don’t have to sell all of your stock shares at once, by the way. Just calculate the amount of gain you can safely recognize without paying taxes, and only sell that amount. Tax law allows you this benefit, so take advantage of it by selling intelligently.

  1. IRC Section 1091.
  2. Rev. Proc. 2013-35.
  3. $36,900 + $3,950 (exemption) + $6,200 (standard deduction) = $47,050.
  4. $73,800 + $7,900 (exemption) + $12,400 (standard deduction) = $94,100.