My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tax Loss Selling (or for 2016 - Tax Gain Selling?)

In keeping with my annual tradition, I am today posting a blog on tax loss selling (or as per paragraph 3, maybe tax gain selling this year). I am doing it again because the topic is very timely and every year around this time, people get busy with holiday shopping and forget to sell the “dogs” in their portfolio and as a consequence, they pay unnecessary income tax on their capital gains in April.

Additionally, while most investment advisors are pretty good at contacting their clients to discuss possible tax loss selling, I am still amazed each year at how many advisors do not discuss the issue with their clients. So if you have an advisor, ensure you are in contact to discuss your realized capital gain/loss situation and other planning options (if you have to initiate the contact, consider that a huge black mark against your advisor).

For full disclosure, there is very little that is new in this post from last year's version; however, there is one issue I wish to discuss. I have had a few calls from clients asking whether they should sell their stocks with unrealized gains this year, instead of selling their stocks with unrealized losses. They are asking this question because they are worried the 2017 Federal budget may change the inclusion rate on capital gains from 1/2 to 3/4 as rumoured in the last budget.

I will provide you the same answer I provide them. I cannot tell you what to do. The Liberals have not clearly stated they intend to do such and thus, any change appears to be conjecture. However, given the Liberal's clear intention to tax the "rich", such a change would not be surprising, though many "middle class" taxpayers would also be affected. So you have to roll the dice either way.

Many people persist in waiting until the third week of December to trigger their capital losses to use against their current or prior years capital gains. To avoid this predicament, you may wish to set aside some time this weekend or next, to review your 2016 capital gain/loss situation in a calm methodical manner. You can then execute your trades on a timely basis knowing you have considered all the variables associated with your tax gain/loss selling. As the markets have been strong this year, you hopefully will have only a few stocks with unrealized capital losses you can sell to use the losses against capital gains reported the last 3 years. Alternatively, you may want to trigger a capital loss to utilize against capital gains you have already realized in 2016.

I would like to provide one caution in respect of tax loss selling. You should be very careful if you plan to repurchase the stocks you sell (see superficial loss discussion below). The reason for this is that you are subject to market vagaries for 30 days. I have seen people sell stocks for tax-loss purposes, with the intention of re-purchasing those stocks and one or two of the stocks take off during the 30 day wait period and the cost to repurchase is far in excess of their tax savings. Thus, you should first and foremost consider selling your "dog stocks" that you and/or your advisor no longer wish to own. If you then need to crystallize additional losses, be wary if you are planning to sell and buy back the same stock.

This blog post will take you through each step of the tax-loss selling process.

Reporting Capital Gains and Capital Losses – The Basics


All capital gain and capital loss transactions for 2016 will have to be reported on Schedule 3 of your 2016 personal income tax return. You then subtract the total capital gains from the total capital losses and multiply the net capital gain/loss by ½. That amount becomes your taxable capital gain or net capital loss for the year. If you have a taxable capital gain, the amount is carried forward to the tax return jacket on Line 127. For example, if you have a capital gain of $120 and a capital loss of $30 in the year, ½ of the net amount of $90 would be taxable and $45 would be carried forward to Line 127. The taxable capital gains are then subject to income tax at your marginal income tax rate.

Capital Losses


If you have a net capital loss in the current year, the loss cannot be deducted against other sources of income. However, the net capital loss may be carried back to offset any taxable capital gains incurred in any of the 3 preceding years, or, if you did not have any gains in the 3 prior years, the net capital loss becomes an amount that can be carried forward indefinitely to utilize against any future taxable capital gains.

Planning Preparation


I suggest you should start your preliminary planning immediately. These are the steps I recommend you undertake:

1. Retrieve your 2015 Notice of Assessment. In the verbiage discussing changes and other information, if you have a capital loss carryforward, the balance will reported. This information may also be accessed online if you have registered with the Canada Revenue Agency.

2. If you do not have capital losses to carryforward, retrieve your 2013, 2014 and 2015 income tax returns to determine if you have taxable capital gains upon which you can carryback a current year capital loss. On an Excel spreadsheet or multi-column paper, note any taxable capital gains you reported in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

3. For each of 2013-2015, review your returns to determine if you applied a net capital loss from a prior year on line 253 of your tax return. If yes, reduce the taxable capital gain on your excel spreadsheet by the loss applied.

4. Finally, if you had net capital losses in 2014 or 2015, review whether you carried back those losses to 2013 or 2014 on form T1A of your tax return. If you carried back a loss to either 2013 or 2014, reduce the gain on your spreadsheet by the loss carried back.

5. If after adjusting your taxable gains by the net capital losses under steps #3 and #4 you still have a positive balance remaining for any of the years from 2013 to 2015, you can potentially generate an income tax refund by carrying back a net capital loss from 2016 to any or all of 2013, 2014 or 2015.

6. If you have an investment advisor, call your advisor and request a realized capital gain/loss summary from January 1st to date to determine if you are in a net gain or loss position. If you trade yourself, ensure you update your capital gain/loss schedule (or Excel spreadsheet, whatever you use) for the year.

Now that you have all the information you need, it is time to be strategic about how to use your losses.

Basic Use of Losses


For discussion purposes, let’s assume the following:

· 2016: realized capital loss of $30,000

· 2015: taxable capital gain of $15,000

· 2014: taxable capital gain of $5,000

· 2013: taxable capital gain of $7,000

Based on the above, you will be able to carry back your $15,000 net capital loss ($30,000 x ½) from 2016 against the $7,000 and $5,000 taxable capital gains in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and apply the remaining $3,000 against your 2015 taxable capital gain. As you will not have absorbed $12,000 ($15,000 of original gain less the $3,000 net capital loss carry back) of your 2015 taxable capital gains, you may want to consider whether you want to sell any “dogs” in your portfolio so that you can carry back the additional 2016 net capital loss to offset the remaining $12,000 taxable capital gain realized in 2015. Alternatively, if you have capital gains in 2016, you may want to sell stocks with unrealized losses to fully or partially offset those capital gains.

Identical Shares


Many people buy the same company's shares (say Bell Canada) in different accounts or have employer stock purchase plans. I often see people claim a loss on the sale of their Bell Canada shares from one of their accounts, but ignore the shares they own of Bell Canada in another account. However, be aware, you have to calculate your adjusted cost base on all the identical shares you own in say Bell Canada and average the total cost of all your Bell Canada shares over the shares in all your accounts. If the cost of your shares in Bell are higher in one of your accounts, you cannot pick and choose to realize a loss on that account; you must report the average adjusted cost base of all your Bell shares, not the higher cost base shares.

Creating Gains when you have Unutilized Losses


Where you have a large capital loss carryforward from prior years and it is unlikely that the losses will be utilized either due to the quantum of the loss or because you are out of the stock market and don’t anticipate any future capital gains of any kind (such as the sale of real estate), it may make sense for you to purchase a flow-through limited partnership (be aware; although there are income tax benefits to purchasing a flow-through limited partnership, there are also investment risks and you must discuss any purchase with your investment advisor). 

Purchasing a flow-through limited partnership will provide you with a write off against regular income pretty much equal to the cost of the unit; and any future capital gain can be reduced or eliminated by your capital loss carryforward. For example, if you have a net capital loss carry forward of $75,000 and you purchase a flow-through investment in 2016 for $20,000, you would get approximately $20,000 in cumulative tax deductions in 2016 and 2017, the majority typically coming in the year of purchase. Depending upon your marginal income tax rate, the deductions could save you upwards of $10,700 in taxes. When you sell the unit, a capital gain will arise. This is because the $20,000 income tax deduction reduces your adjusted cost base from $20,000 to nil (there may be other adjustments to the cost base). Assuming you sell the unit in 2018 for $18,000 you will have a capital gain of $18,000 (subject to any other adjustments) and the entire $18,000 gain will be eliminated by your capital loss carry forward. Thus, in this example, you would have total after-tax proceeds of $28,700 ($18,000 +$10,700 in tax savings) on a $20,000 investment.

Donation of Flow-Through Shares


Prior to March 22, 2011, you could donate your publicly listed flow-through shares to charity and obtain a donation receipt for the fair market value ("FMV") of the shares. In addition, the capital gain you incurred [FMV less your ACB (ACB is typically nil or very low after claiming flow-through deductions)] would be exempted from income tax. However, for any flow-through agreement entered into after March 21, 2011, the tax benefit relating to the capital gain is eliminated or reduced. Simply put (the rules are more complicated, especially for limited partnership units converted to mutual funds and an advisor should be consulted), if you paid $25,000 for your flow-through shares, only the gain in excess of $25,000 will now be exempt and the first $25,000 will be taxable.

So if you are donating flow-through shares to charity this year, ensure you speak to your accountant as the rules can be complex and you may create an unwanted capital gain.

Superficial Losses


One must always be cognizant of the superficial loss rules. Essentially, if you or your spouse (either directly or through an RRSP) purchase an identical share 30 calendar days before or 30 days after a sale of shares, the capital loss is denied and added to the cost base of the new shares acquired.

Disappearing Dividend Income


Every year I ask at least one or two clients why their dividend income is lower on their personal tax return. Typically the answer is, "oops, it is lower because I sold a stock early in the year that I forgot to tell you about". Thus, if you manage you own investments; you may wish to review your dividend income being paid each month or quarter with that of last years to see if it is lower. If the dividend income is lower because you have sold a stock, confirm you have picked up that capital gain in your calculations.

Creating Capital Losses-Transferring Losses to a Spouse Who Has Gains


In certain cases you can use certain provisions of the Income Tax Act to transfer losses to your spouse. As these provisions are complicated and subject to missteps, you need to engage professional tax advice.

Settlement Date


It is my understanding that the settlement date for Canadian stock markets in 2016 will be December 23rd (The U.S. exchanges may be different). Please confirm this date with your broker, but assuming this date is correct, you must sell any stock you want to crystallize the gain or loss in 2016 by December 23, 2016.

Summary


As discussed above, there are a multitude of factors to consider when tax-loss selling. It would therefore be prudent to start planning now, so that you can consider all your options rather than frantically selling via your mobile device while waiting in line with your kids to see Santa the third week of December.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.