Insights + Resources

Unrealized Capital Gains and Losses

Nov 8, 2021

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What they are; why they matter.

For many investors, it can be tempting to think of one’s portfolio in terms of “capital gains” or “capital losses.” True, this is a central concept to understanding market behavior, but to truly maximize your investing knowledge, you also need to know about “unrealized gains,” “unrealized losses,” and how they can work to your advantage. As always, the following information is not intended as tax or legal advice. Any financial decision should be undertaken in consultation with your financial advisor and is not intended as tax or legal advice. Ready to learn more? Read on.

The simplicity of unrealized losses and capital gains.

Put simply, an unrealized loss or gain is the change in market value of a stock from its purchase price. An “unrealized loss” occurs when a stock decreases after an investor buys it, but they have yet to sell it. An “unrealized gain” is when a stock increases in value, but an investor has yet to sell it. It really is as simple as that.

When unrealized gains and losses become realized.

However, things become a bit more complicated if an investor sells stock that is currently valued higher, or lower, than their purchase price. When this occurs, the “unrealized” aspect becomes realized and renamed “capital gains” or “capital losses.”

“Capital losses” can be a good thing.

Capital losses may be used to offset capital gains. If the losses exceed the gains, up to $3,000 of those losses may be used to offset the taxes on other types of income.This loss is limited to $3,000 per year, or $1,500 if married and filing a separate return. Should you have more than $3,000 in such capital losses, you may be able to carry the losses forward. You can continue to carry forward these losses until such a time that future realized gains exhaust them. Under current law, the ability to carry these losses forward is lost only on death.

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