Selling mutual fund shares: What are the tax implications?
If you’re an investor in mutual funds or you’re interested in putting some money into them, you’re not alone. According to the Investment Company Institute, a survey found 58.7 million households owned mutual funds in mid-2020. But despite their popularity, the tax rules involved in selling mutual fund shares can be complex.
What are the basic tax rules?
Let’s say you sell appreciated mutual fund shares that you’ve owned for more than one year, the resulting profit will be a long-term capital gain. As such, the maximum federal income tax rate will be 20%, and you may also owe the 3.8% net investment income tax. However, most taxpayers will pay a tax rate of only 15%.
When a mutual fund investor sells shares, gain or loss is measured by the difference between the amount realized from the sale and the investor’s basis in the shares. One challenge is that certain mutual fund transactions are treated as sales even though they might not be thought of as such. Another problem may arise in determining your basis for shares sold.
When does a sale occur?
It’s obvious that a sale occurs when an investor redeems all shares in a mutual fund and receives the proceeds. Similarly, a sale occurs if an investor directs the fund to redeem the number of shares necessary for a specific dollar payout.
It’s less obvious that a sale occurs if you’re swapping funds within a fund family. For example, you surrender shares of an Income Fund for an equal value of shares of the same company’s Growth Fund. No money changes hands but this is considered a sale of the Income Fund shares.
Another example: Many mutual funds provide check-writing privileges to their investors. Although it may not seem like it, each time you write a check on your fund account, you’re making a sale of shares.
How do you determine the basis of shares?
If an investor sells all shares in a mutual fund in a single transaction, determining basis is relatively easy. Simply add the basis of all the shares (the amount of actual cash investments) including commissions or sales charges. Then, add distributions by the fund that were reinvested to acquire additional shares and subtract any distributions that represent a return of capital.
The calculation is more complex if you dispose of only part of your interest in the fund and the shares were acquired at different times for different prices. You can use one of several methods to identify the shares sold and determine your basis:
- First-in first-out. The basis of the earliest acquired shares is used as the basis for the shares sold. If the share price has been increasing over your ownership period, the older shares are likely to have a lower basis and result in more gain.
- Specific identification. At the time of sale, you specify the shares to sell. For example, “sell 100 of the 200 shares I purchased on April 1, 2018.” You must receive written confirmation of your request from the fund. This method may be used to lower the resulting tax bill by directing the sale of the shares with the highest basis.
- Average basis. The IRS permits you to use the average basis for shares that were acquired at various times and that were left on deposit with the fund or a custodian agent.
As you can see, mutual fund investing can result in complex tax situations. Contact us if you have questions. We can explain in greater detail how the rules apply to you.
Tax considerations when adding a new partner at your business
Adding a new partner in a partnership has several financial and legal implications. Let’s say you and your partners are planning to admit a new partner. The new partner will acquire a one-third interest in the partnership by making a cash contribution to it. Let’s further assume that your bases in your partnership interests are sufficient so that the decrease in your portions of the partnership’s liabilities because of the new partner’s entry won’t reduce your bases to zero.
Not as simple as it seems
Although the entry of a new partner appears to be a simple matter, it’s necessary to plan the new person’s entry properly in order to avoid various tax problems. Here are two issues to consider:
First, if there’s a change in the partners’ interests in unrealized receivables and substantially appreciated inventory items, the change is treated as a sale of those items, with the result that the current partners will recognize gain. For this purpose, unrealized receivables include not only accounts receivable, but also depreciation recapture and certain other ordinary income items. In order to avoid gain recognition on those items, it’s necessary that they be allocated to the current partners even after the entry of the new partner.
Second, the tax code requires that the “built-in gain or loss” on assets that were held by the partnership before the new partner was admitted be allocated to the current partners and not to the entering partner. Generally speaking, “built-in gain or loss” is the difference between the fair market value and basis of the partnership property at the time the new partner is admitted.
The most important effect of these rules is that the new partner must be allocated a portion of the depreciation equal to his share of the depreciable property based on current fair market value. This will reduce the amount of depreciation that can be taken by the current partners. The other effect is that the built-in gain or loss on the partnership assets must be allocated to the current partners when partnership assets are sold. The rules that apply here are complex and the partnership may have to adopt special accounting procedures to cope with the relevant requirements.
Keep track of your basis
When adding a partner or making other changes, a partner’s basis in his or her interest can undergo frequent adjustment. It’s imperative to keep proper track of your basis because it can have an impact in several areas: gain or loss on the sale of your interest, how partnership distributions to you are taxed and the maximum amount of partnership loss you can deduct.
Contact us if you’d like help in dealing with these issues or any other issues that may arise in connection with your partnership.
The tax mechanics involved in the sale of trade or business property
There are many rules that can potentially apply to the sale of business property. Thus, to simplify discussion, let’s assume that the property you want to sell is land or depreciable property used in your business, and has been held by you for more than a year. (There are different rules for property held primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business; intellectual property; low-income housing; property that involves farming or livestock; and other types of property.)
Under the Internal Revenue Code, your gains and losses from sales of business property are netted against each other. The net gain or loss qualifies for tax treatment as follows:
1) If the netting of gains and losses results in a net gain, then long-term capital gain treatment results, subject to “recapture” rules discussed below. Long-term capital gain treatment is generally more favorable than ordinary income treatment.
2) If the netting of gains and losses results in a net loss, that loss is fully deductible against ordinary income (in other words, none of the rules that limit the deductibility of capital losses apply).
The availability of long-term capital gain treatment for business property net gain is limited by “recapture” rules — that is, rules under which amounts are treated as ordinary income rather than capital gain because of previous ordinary loss or deduction treatment for these amounts.
There’s a special recapture rule that applies only to business property. Under this rule, to the extent you’ve had a business property net loss within the previous five years, any business property net gain is treated as ordinary income instead of as long-term capital gain.
Section 1245 Property
“Section 1245 Property” consists of all depreciable personal property, whether tangible or intangible, and certain depreciable real property (usually, real property that performs specific functions). If you sell Section 1245 Property, you must recapture your gain as ordinary income to the extent of your earlier depreciation deductions on the asset.
Section 1250 Property
“Section 1250 Property” consists, generally, of buildings and their structural components. If you sell Section 1250 Property that was placed in service after 1986, none of the long-term capital gain attributable to depreciation deductions will be subject to depreciation recapture. However, for most noncorporate taxpayers, the gain attributable to depreciation deductions, to the extent it doesn’t exceed business property net gain, will (as reduced by the business property recapture rule above) be taxed at a rate of no more than 28.8% (25% as adjusted for the 3.8% net investment income tax) rather than the maximum 23.8% rate (20% as adjusted for the 3.8% net investment income tax) that generally applies to long-term capital gains of noncorporate taxpayers.
Other rules may apply to Section 1250 Property, depending on when it was placed in service.
As you can see, even with the simplifying assumptions in this article, the tax treatment of the sale of business assets can be complex. Contact us if you’d like to determine the tax consequences of specific transactions or if you have any additional questions.
5 ways to control your business insurance costs
Common sense dictates that every company, no matter how small, should carry various forms of business insurance. But that doesn’t mean you should pay unnecessarily high premiums just to retain the coverage you need. Here are five ways to better control your insurance costs without sacrificing the quality of your policies:
1. Review coverage periodically. Make sure existing policies reflect your current circumstances. For example, if you’ve sold or sunset some equipment, remove it from your schedule of current assets. If you’ve reduced the number of workers on your payroll, adjust workers’ compensation estimates accordingly. (We’ll address this further below.) On the other hand, if you’ve added equipment, vehicles or staff, see that they’re appropriately covered.
2. Shop around. Spend some time and effort to compare coverage and costs of various insurers. Investigate whether you qualify for any discounts that you’re not getting. To facilitate the process, you might want to engage an insurance specialist in your industry. The right expert can help you weigh the total, true costs of various policies and advise you without a vested interest in selling you a particular product.
3. Actively manage workers’ compensation coverage. In some industries, such as construction and manufacturing, workers’ comp is a major focus. In others, business owners might pay little attention to it if accidents rarely occur. Be sure that you keep up with the costs of this coverage and make regular adjustments as the nature of work changes.
Workers’ compensation insurers assign risk classification codes to employees based on their duties, responsibilities, and level of exposure to the risk of injury or illness. Higher risk means higher premiums so, at least annually, check that you’re classifying employees accurately. For example, if an employee who now works from home is still classified as someone who travels regularly or works in a higher risk location, your premiums may be needlessly inflated.
4. Consider higher deductibles. If you’re comfortable assuming some additional risk, and your cash flow is strong enough, calculate whether you can save on premiums by raising the deductibles on certain policies. It could be worth paying a higher deductible so long as the premium savings is enough to cover a claim or two if they do occur.
5. Prioritize safety. Keeping employees safe is a worthy goal in and of itself, of course. But emphasizing the importance of safety to managers, supervisors, employees and any independent contractors you might have on-site can also positively affect your company’s insurance costs. After all, the premiums you pay are based in part on your claims history. There are various steps that every business should take to avoid injuries and illness:
- Provide safety training to new hires,
- Conduct drills and refresher training for current employees,
- Issue personal protective equipment, as appropriate, and
- Strictly enforce safe work practices with no exceptions.
By keeping your employees safe, and promoting wellness in every respect, you’ll not only decrease the likelihood of costly insurance claims, but you’ll also likely contribute to higher morale and more robust productivity. We can help you measure and assess your insurance costs so you can make the right adjustments without incurring unnecessary risk.
Want to turn a hobby into a business? Watch out for the tax rules
Like many people, you may have dreamed of turning a hobby into a regular business. You won’t have any tax headaches if your new business is profitable. But what if the new enterprise consistently generates losses (your deductions exceed income) and you claim them on your tax return? You can generally deduct losses for expenses incurred in a bona fide business. However, the IRS may step in and say the venture is a hobby — an activity not engaged in for profit — rather than a business. Then you’ll be unable to deduct losses.
By contrast, if the new enterprise isn’t affected by the hobby loss rules because it’s profitable, all otherwise allowable expenses are deductible on Schedule C, even if they exceed income from the enterprise.
Note: Before 2018, deductible hobby expenses had to be claimed as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to a 2%-of-AGI “floor.” However, because miscellaneous deductions aren’t allowed from 2018 through 2025, deductible hobby expenses are effectively wiped out from 2018 through 2025.
Avoiding a hobby designation
There are two ways to avoid the hobby loss rules:
- Show a profit in at least three out of five consecutive years (two out of seven years for breeding, training, showing or racing horses).
- Run the venture in such a way as to show that you intend to turn it into a profit-maker, rather than operate it as a mere hobby. The IRS regs themselves say that the hobby loss rules won’t apply if the facts and circumstances show that you have a profit-making objective.
How can you prove you have a profit-making objective? You should run the venture in a businesslike manner. The IRS and the courts will look at the following factors:
- How you run the activity,
- Your expertise in the area (and your advisors’ expertise),
- The time and effort you expend in the enterprise,
- Whether there’s an expectation that the assets used in the activity will rise in value,
- Your success in carrying on other activities,
- Your history of income or loss in the activity,
- The amount of any occasional profits earned,
- Your financial status, and
- Whether the activity involves elements of personal pleasure or recreation.
Recent court case
In one U.S. Tax Court case, a married couple’s miniature donkey breeding activity was found to be conducted with a profit motive. The IRS had earlier determined it was a hobby and the couple was liable for taxes and penalties for the two tax years in which they claimed losses of more than $130,000. However, the court found the couple had a business plan, kept separate records and conducted the activity in a businesslike manner. The court stated they were “engaged in the breeding activity with an actual and honest objective of making a profit.” (TC Memo 2021-140)
Contact us for more details on whether a venture of yours may be affected by the hobby loss rules, and what you should do to avoid a tax challenge.