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. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Tax-Loss Selling - 2018 Version

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.

For full disclosure, the following two comments are the only new items to consider that are different from last year's version.

1. The stock markets in 2018 have been much weaker than the last few years and you may unfortunately have "more opportunity" to sell stocks with unrealized losses to reduce your current year capital gains or carryback the losses to any of the last 3 years to recoup some of the tax you paid on gains you previously realized.

2. If you intend to tax-loss sell in your corporation, keep in mind the new passive income rules are applicable for taxation years beginning after 2018 and you should speak to your accountant to determine whether a realized loss would be more effective in a future year (to reduce the potential small business deduction clawback) than the current year.

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 2018 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.

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. It should be noted your advisor may be able to "mimic" the stocks you sold with similar securities for the 30 day period or longer or utilize other strategies, but that should be part of your tax loss-selling conversation with your advisor.

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 2018 will have to be reported on Schedule 3 of your 2018 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 (unless you are filing for a deceased person. In that case, get professional advice as the rules are different). 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 2017 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 2015, 2016 and 2017 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 2015, 2016 and 2017.

3. For each of 2015-2017, 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 2016 or 2017, review whether you carried back those losses to 2015 or 2016 on form T1A of your tax return. If you carried back a loss to either 2015 or 2016, 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 2015 to 2017, you can potentially generate an income tax refund by carrying back a net capital loss from 2018 to any or all of 2015, 2016 or 2017.

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:

· 2018: total realized capital loss of $30,000

· 2017: taxable capital gain of $15,000

· 2016: taxable capital gain of $5,000

· 2015: 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 2018 against the $7,000 and $5,000 taxable capital gains in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and apply the remaining $3,000 against your 2017 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 2017 taxable capital gains, you may want to consider whether you want to sell any other stocks with unrealized losses in your portfolio so that you can carry back the additional 2018 net capital loss to offset the remaining $12,000 taxable capital gain realized in 2017. Alternatively, if you have capital gains in 2018, 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 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

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 2018 for $20,000, you would get approximately $20,000 in cumulative tax deductions in 2018 and 2019, 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 2020 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 Marketable Securities

If you wish to make a charitable donation, a great way to be altruistic and save tax is to donate a marketable security that has gone up in value. As discussed in this blog post from two weeks ago, when you donate qualifying securities, the capital gain is not taxable. Read the blog post for more details.

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 2018 will be December 27th, as the settlement date is now the trade date plus 2 days (U.S. exchanges may be different). Please confirm this date with your investment advisor, but assuming this date is correct, you must sell any stock you want to crystallize the gain or loss in 2018 by December 27, 2018.


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.


  1. Hi Mark - as a fellow C.A., I really love your site and in my new role at a financial institution, advising HNW families on a regular basis, I often reference your clear, well-written articles. Just wondered on the topic of taxpayers making sure to CORRECTLY report capital gains, what role you feel the T5008's play? I have run into a situation where a bookeeper apparently relied on CRA's 'data dump' for a taxpayer to report proceeds of securities sold during the year. The proceed number is no where close to the proceeds on the RGL report (and the acb/net gains are all incorrect as well) but I just wondered if you had run across a discrepancy between the T5008's files by institutions? The dollar amount cannot be just USD exchange issues either - but thanks for the great articles on that issue as well. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

    1. Hi Anon:

      Thx for reading and referencing me. I have no sage advice- we use the T5008's as a cross reference and they are usually correct and when not we investigate. I did not see any pattern, but then again, I review and don't input. Sorry, not much help I know.

  2. I appreciate your advice above. I was wondering what do you do for partial sell of stock that you still holding.

    Say you acquired and built up capital investment (lets call it "capital A"), one year your hit with a margin call from another capital investment (lets call it "capital B"), you sell capital B but you still in margin call. So you sell some of capital A just enough to get out of margin call.

    So basically next year you can calculate capital gain/loss for capital B as you sold all but for capital A that you sold part, how can you calculate that? you're still holding the rest or can you just calculate after all shares of capital A are sold and position is closed.

    Thankyou for you advise, I would appreciate this Mark.

    1. A partial sale of stock is a sale no matter the reason for the sale. Thus, you would prorate the cost base of the shares you had to sell to cover your margin call.