Taxes on Stocks: What You Have to Pay, How to Pay Less - NerdWallet (2023)

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Investing in stocks can be a great way to build wealth and financial security, but it’s important to understand how taxes on stocks could affect your tax bill.

Generally, any profit you make on the sale of a stock is taxable at either 0%, 15% or 20% if you held the shares for more than a year or at your ordinary tax rate if you held the shares for a year or less. Also, any dividends you receive from a stock are usually taxable.

Here’s a quick guide to taxes on stocks and how to lower those taxes. Your situation may be more complicated, so be sure to talk to a before making big decisions.

Capital gains taxes

If you’re holding shares of stock in a regular brokerage account, you may need to pay capital gains taxes when you sell the shares for a profit. There are two types of capital gains taxes:

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  • Short-term capital gains tax is a tax on profits from the sale of an asset held for a year or less. Short-term capital gains tax rates are the same as your income tax bracket. (Not sure what tax bracket you’re in? Learn about federal tax brackets.)

  • Long-term capital gains tax is a tax on profits from the sale of an asset held for longer than a year. Long-term capital gains tax rates are 0%, 15% or 20% depending on your taxable income and filing status.

  • Long-term capital gains tax rates are usually lower than those on short-term capital gains. That can mean paying lower taxes on stock sales.

  • Federal: $24.95 to $64.95. Free version available for simple returns only.

  • State: $29.95 to $44.95.

  • All filers get access to Xpert Assist for free until April 7.

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  • Federal: $39 to $119. Free version available for simple returns only.

  • State: $49 per state.

  • TurboTax Live packages offer review with a tax expert.

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  • Federal: $29.99 to $84.99. Free version available for simple returns only.

  • State: $36.99 per state.

  • Online Assist add-on gets you on-demand tax help.

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Taxes on dividends

Dividends are usually taxable income. For tax purposes, there are two kinds of dividends: qualified and nonqualified. Nonqualified dividends are sometimes called ordinary dividends. The tax rate on nonqualified dividends is the same as your regular income tax bracket. The tax rate on qualified dividends is 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on your taxable income and filing status. This is usually lower than the rate for nonqualified dividends.

  • In both cases, people in higher tax brackets pay more taxes on dividends.

  • How and when you own a dividend-paying investment can dramatically change the tax bill on the dividends.

  • There are many exceptions and unusual scenarios with special rules; see IRS Publication 550 for the details.

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How to pay lower taxes on stocks

Think long term versus short term

  • You might pay less tax on your dividends by holding the shares long enough for the dividends to count as qualified. Just be sure that doing so aligns with your other investment objectives.

  • Whenever possible, hold an asset for longer than a year so you can qualify for the long-term capital gains tax rate when you sell. That tax rate is significantly lower than the short-term capital gains rate for most assets. But again, be sure that holding the investment for that long aligns with your investment goals.

» MORE: Find out how a wealth tax works

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Use investment capital losses to offset gains

The difference between your capital gains and your capital losses is called your “net capital gain.” If your losses exceed your gains, however, that's called a "net capital loss," and you can use it to offset your ordinary income by up to $3,000 ($1,500 for those married filing separately).

That's helpful in years when the stock market is down or volatile, like we saw in 2022. Any additional losses can be carried forward to future years to offset capital gains or up to $3,000 of ordinary income per year.

Hold the shares inside an IRA, 401(k) or other tax-advantaged account

  • Dividends and capital gains on stock held inside a traditional IRA are tax-deferred, and tax-free if you have a Roth IRA; dividends and capital gains on stocks in a regular brokerage account typically aren’t.

  • Once money is in your 401(k), and as long as the money remains in the account, you pay no taxes on investment growth, interest, dividends or investment gains.

  • You can convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA so that withdrawals in retirement are tax-free. But note, only post-tax dollars get to go into Roth IRAs. So if you deducted traditional IRA contributions on your taxes and then decide to convert this to a Roth, you’ll need to pay taxes on the money you contributed, just like everyone else who invests in a Roth IRA. A backdoor Roth allows individuals with high incomes to enjoy the benefit of a Roth IRA despite the IRS income limit.


How do I pay the least taxes on stocks? ›

9 Ways to Avoid Capital Gains Taxes on Stocks
  1. Invest for the Long Term. ...
  2. Contribute to Your Retirement Accounts. ...
  3. Pick Your Cost Basis. ...
  4. Lower Your Tax Bracket. ...
  5. Harvest Losses to Offset Gains. ...
  6. Move to a Tax-Friendly State. ...
  7. Donate Stock to Charity. ...
  8. Invest in an Opportunity Zone.

How do investors pay less taxes? ›

  1. Capital Gains Should Be Long-Term. ...
  2. Keep Your Portfolio in Tax Sheltered Accounts. ...
  3. Invest in Municipal Bonds. ...
  4. Consider Real Estate Investments. ...
  5. Fund Your 401(k) Beyond Your Employer Match. ...
  6. Max Your IRA Savings Every Year. ...
  7. Take Advantage of an HSA If You Can. ...
  8. Consider a 529 for Education Expenses.
Feb 15, 2023

Do I pay taxes on stocks if I make less than 40k? ›

For single filers with income lower than $40,400, you'll pay zero in capital gains taxes.

How do I pay 0 capital gains tax? ›

For 2023, you may qualify for the 0% long-term capital gains rate with taxable income of $44,625 or less for single filers and $89,250 or less for married couples filing jointly. The rates use “taxable income,” calculated by subtracting the greater of the standard or itemized deductions from your adjusted gross income.

How can you avoid paying taxes on stocks and shares? ›

Here are some ways to potentially reduce your capital gains tax liability.
  1. Use your CGT exemption. ...
  2. Make use of losses. ...
  3. Transfer assets to your spouse or civil partner. ...
  4. Invest in an ISA / bed and ISA. ...
  5. Contribute to a pension. ...
  6. Give shares to charity. ...
  7. Invest in an Enterprise Investment Scheme. ...
  8. Claim gift hold over relief.
Nov 30, 2022

Are stocks taxed if you lose money? ›

Tax Loss Carryovers

If your net losses in your taxable investment accounts exceed your net gains for the year, you will have no reportable income from your security sales. You may then write off up to $3,000 worth of net losses against other forms of income such as wages or taxable dividends and interest for the year.

Can I avoid income tax by investing in stocks? ›

If you held the shares for a year or less, you'll be taxed at your ordinary tax rate. You may be able to reduce your taxes on stocks by holding investments in a tax-advantaged account, holding them for more than a year, and using losses to offset gains.

Can I avoid capital gains tax? ›

If you hold a number of different assets, you may be able to offset some of your gains with any applicable losses, allowing you to avoid a portion of your capital gains taxes. For instance, if you have one investment that is down by $3,000 and another that is up by $5,000, selling both will help you reduce your gains.

How much stock income is tax free? ›

Some or all net capital gain may be taxed at 0% if your taxable income is less than or equal to $41,675 for single and married filing separately, $83,350 for married filing jointly or qualifying surviving spouse or $55,800 for head of household.

How much tax will I pay if I sell stock? ›

Long-term capital gains taxes are a tax on profits from the sale of an asset held for more than a year. The long-term capital gains tax rate is 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on your taxable income and filing status. Long-term capital gains tax rates are generally lower than short-term capital gains tax rates.

How long do you have to hold stock to avoid capital gains? ›

Generally speaking, if you held your shares for one year or less, then profits from the sale will be taxed as short-term capital gains. If you held your shares for more than one year before selling them, the profits will be taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate.

What is the 2 out of 5 year rule? ›

The 2-Out-of-5-Year Rule Explained

The 2-out-of-five-year rule states that you must have both owned and lived in your home for a minimum of two out of the last five years before the date of sale. However, these two years don't have to be consecutive, and you don't have to live there on the date of the sale.

At what age do you no longer have to pay capital gains tax? ›

Current tax law does not allow you to take a capital gains tax break based on age. In the past, the IRS allowed people over the age of 55 a tax exemption for home sales. However, this exclusion was closed in 1997 in favor of the expanded exemption for all homeowners.

Do I have to report stocks if I don't sell? ›

If you don't sell any stocks during the tax year, you won't have to pay taxes on those stocks—unless they pay dividends.

Do you owe money if a stock goes negative? ›

If a stock goes negative, do you owe money? If you do not use borrowed money, you will never owe money with your stock investments. Stocks can only drop to $0.00 per share, meaning you can lose 100% of your investment but not more than that, seeing as the stock cannot be of negative value.

Do I have to report money I lost in the stock market? ›

Reporting Losses

Even if you only had a single stock trade during the year, you should still report the loss on your income statement so you can carry this loss forward. Carrying a loss forward means using the loss from one year to offset your gains in future years.

How much do I need to invest to avoid tax? ›

At least 20% of your annual income must be allocated to market-linked investment options, which offer EEE benefits. You could choose from Unit Linked Insurance Plans (ULIPs), Equity Linked Savings Schemes (ELSS), Child Plans, among others. Tax exemption of up to Rs 1.5 lakh under Section 80C.

What is the 6 year rule for capital gains tax? ›

What is the CGT Six-Year Rule? The capital gains tax property six-year rule allows you to use your property investment, as if it was your principal place of residence, for a period of up to six years, whilst you rent it out.

What is capital gains tax on 200000? ›

= $
Single TaxpayerMarried Filing JointlyCapital Gain Tax Rate
$0 – $44,625$0 – $89,2500%
$44,626 – $200,000$89,251 – $250,00015%
$200,001 – $492,300$250,001 – $553,85015%
Jan 11, 2023

How do you avoid capital gains when selling? ›

How to avoid capital gains tax on a home sale
  1. Live in the house for at least two years.
  2. See whether you qualify for an exception.
  3. Keep the receipts for your home improvements.
Jan 30, 2023

Do you pay less taxes if you hold stocks? ›

Dividends are also usually taxable income — but qualified dividends are taxed at a lower rate. You may be able to reduce your taxes on stocks by holding investments in a tax-advantaged account, holding them for more than a year, and using losses to offset gains.

How do I keep the tax when I sell my stocks? ›

Exemptions for Long-Term Capital Gains

First, under section 112A, any capital gains under the value of ₹1lakh is not taxable. So one of the best ways to avoid paying capital gains tax when you sell your stock is to make sure that you keep your capital gains within the exemption bracket.

Do I get taxed on stocks I don't sell? ›

If you don't sell any stocks during the tax year, you won't have to pay taxes on those stocks—unless they pay dividends.

Do I have to pay tax on stocks if I sell and reinvest? ›

With some investments, you can reinvest proceeds to avoid capital gains, but for stock owned in regular taxable accounts, no such provision applies, and you'll pay capital gains taxes according to how long you held your investment.

How much tax should we pay for stocks? ›

Long term Capital Gain Tax Rate on Shares

In case of long-term capital gains arising out of the sale of assets mentioned above, the tax rate is 10% excluding any cess or surcharge, if the gain amount is above Rs. 1 Lakh. No indexation facility will be available to sellers post-implementation of that section.

Do you have to file taxes on stocks every year? ›

If you buy a stock and the value of it goes up, you do not have to pay taxes on those gains every year. You only pay when you “realize” the gain by selling the shares.

What happens if you don't report your stocks on taxes? ›

If you receive a Form 1099-B and do not report the transaction on your tax return, the IRS will likely send you a CP2000, Underreported Income notice. This IRS notice will propose additional tax, penalties and interest on this transaction and any other unreported income.

How much stock loss can you write off? ›

Your claimed capital losses will come off your taxable income, reducing your tax bill. Your maximum net capital loss in any tax year is $3,000. The IRS limits your net loss to $3,000 (for individuals and married filing jointly) or $1,500 (for married filing separately).


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