In keeping with my annual tradition, I am today posting a blog on tax loss selling. 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 must 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. Similar to last year, when there were rumours that the 2017 Federal budget may change the inclusion rate on capital gains from 1/2 to 3/4, I know some people are considering taking gains as they have seen where the Liberal government is going with taxation policies and they feel it is just a matter of time until the capital gains inclusion rate is changed. I have no knowledge of whether such a change is on the table, however, it would not surprise me at this point, although, to be honest, nothing taxation wise from this government would surprise me. It is also interesting to note the change as to how the settlement date for stock trades is determined, see the second last paragraph of this post for the details.
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 2017 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 surprisingly strong (at least to me) this year, hopefully you don't have very many stocks with unrealized capital losses you can sell to use the losses against capital gains you have realized in 2017 or that you can carryback to one of the last 3 years.
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 on stocks you still wish to own, 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
Reporting Capital Gains and Capital Losses – The Basics
capital gain and capital loss transactions for 2017 will have to be
reported on Schedule 3 of your 2017 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
If you have a net capital loss in the
current year, the loss cannot be deducted against other sources of
income (unless you are filing for a deceased person. In that case, get professional advice as the rules are different. I will post on this issue in 2018). 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.
I suggest you
should start your preliminary planning immediately. These are the steps I
recommend you undertake:
1. Retrieve your 2016 Notice
of Assessment. In the verbiage discussing changes and other information,
if you have a capital loss carryforward, the balance will reported.
This information is also easily accessed online if you have registered with
the CRA My Account Program.
2. If you do not have
capital losses to carryforward, retrieve your 2014, 2015 and 2016 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
2014, 2015 and 2016.
3. For each of 2014-2016, 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.
Finally, if you had net capital losses in 2015 or 2016, review whether
you carried back those losses to 2014 or 2015 on form T1A of your tax
return. If you carried back a loss to either 2014 or 2015, reduce the
gain on your spreadsheet by the loss carried back.
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 2014 to 2016, you can potentially generate an income tax
refund by carrying back a net capital loss from 2017 to any or all of
2014, 2015 or 2016.
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
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:
· 2017: realized capital loss of $30,000
· 2016: taxable capital gain of $15,000
· 2015: taxable capital gain of $5,000
· 2014: taxable capital gain of $7,000
on the above, you will be able to carry back your $15,000 net capital
loss ($30,000 x ½) from 2017 against the $7,000 and $5,000 taxable
capital gains in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and apply the remaining
$3,000 against your 2016 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 2016 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 2017 net capital loss to offset the
remaining $12,000 taxable capital gain realized in 2016. Alternatively,
if you have capital gains in 2017, you may want to sell stocks with
unrealized losses to fully or partially offset those capital gains.
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 gain or 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 gain or loss based on the average adjusted cost base of all your Bell shares, not the higher cost base shares.
Creating Gains when you have Unutilized Losses
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 2017 for $20,000, you would
get approximately $20,000 in cumulative tax deductions in 2017 and 2018,
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 2019 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
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.
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.
It is my understanding that the
settlement date for Canadian stock markets in 2017 will be December 27th, as the settlement date has changed from the old trade date +3 days, to the trade date plus 2 days (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 2017 by December 27, 2017.
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. Please note the blog post is time sensitive and subject to
changes in legislation or law.