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%.

How much tax will I pay on capital gains? ›

For the 2024 tax year, individual filers won't pay any capital gains tax if their total taxable income is $47,025 or less. The rate jumps to 15 percent on capital gains, if their income is $47,026 to $518,900. Above that income level the rate climbs to 20 percent.

Is capital gains added to your total income and puts you in 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.

How is capital gain tax calculated? ›

Capital gain broadly calculated as Capital gain = ( full value of consideration received on transfer) - ( cost of acquisition of capital asset + cost of improvement of capital asset + expenditure incurred in connection with transfer of capital asset).

How do I avoid capital gains on my taxes? ›

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.

At what age do you not pay capital gains? ›

Since the tax break for over 55s selling property was dropped in 1997, there is no capital gains tax exemption for seniors. This means right now, the law doesn't allow for any exemptions based on your age. Whether you're 65 or 95, seniors must pay capital gains tax where it's due.

Are capital gains taxed separately from ordinary income? ›

Gains you make from selling assets you've held for a year or less are called short-term capital gains, and they generally are taxed at the same rate as your ordinary income, anywhere from 10% to 37%.

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.

Is capital gain added to gross income? ›

Long-term capital gains cannot push you into a higher income tax bracket. Only short-term capital gains can accomplish that, because those gains are taxed as ordinary income. So any short-term capital gains are added to your income for the year.

Do you pay capital gains after age 65? ›

Capital Gains Tax for People Over 65. For individuals over 65, capital gains tax applies at 0% for long-term gains on assets held over a year and 15% for short-term gains under a year. Despite age, the IRS determines tax based on asset sale profits, with no special breaks for those 65 and older.

Is capital gains tax federal or state? ›

The federal government taxes long-term capital gains at the rates of 0%, 15% and 20%, depending on filing status and income. And short-term capital gains are taxed as ordinary income. Some states will also tax capital gains.

Who pays 20% capital gain tax? ›

Long-term capital gains tax rates
Capital Gains Tax RateTaxable Income (Single)Taxable Income(Head of Household)
0%Up to $47,025Up to $63,000
15%$47,026 to $518,900$63,001 to $551,350
20%Over $518,900Over $551,350

Can I reinvest my capital gains to avoid taxes? ›

Reinvest in new property

The like-kind (aka "1031") exchange is a popular way to bypass capital gains taxes on investment property sales. With this transaction, you sell an investment property and buy another one of similar value. By doing so, you can defer owing capital gains taxes on the first property.

What expenses can I offset against capital gains tax? ›

Examples of such costs are as follows:
  • Estate agents's commission - where there is a property sale.
  • Legal costs.
  • Costs of transfer - e.g. stamp duty land tax.

How do I avoid capital gains when selling my house? ›

Yes. Home sales can be tax free as long as the condition of the sale meets certain criteria: The seller must have owned the home and used it as their principal residence for two out of the last five years (up to the date of closing). The two years do not have to be consecutive to qualify.

How is capital gains tax calculated on sale of property? ›

Broadly speaking, capital gains tax is the tax owed on the profit (aka, the capital gain) you make when you sell an investment or asset. It is calculated by subtracting the asset's original cost or purchase price (the “tax basis”), plus any expenses incurred, from the final sale price.

Is there a way to avoid capital gains tax on the selling of a house? ›

You can avoid capital gains tax when you sell your primary residence by buying another house and using the 121 home sale exclusion. In addition, the 1031 like-kind exchange allows investors to defer taxes when they reinvest the proceeds from the sale of an investment property into another investment property.

How much is capital gains tax on 100k? ›

In this example, you see a capital gain of $100,000 on your home sale. If your income and asset class put you in the 20% capital gains tax bracket, you pay 20% of your profit. That's 20% of $100,000, or $20,000. You don't need to pay 20% of the entire $350,000 sale because you had to spend $250,000 to buy the asset.


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