Strategies for Minimizing Capital Gains Taxes

By Zach Bergthold, CPA | Feb 16, 2024 |

Navigating the capital gains tax world can feel like deciphering a complex puzzle, where the rules and strategies can significantly impact your financial outcomes. Minimizing capital gains taxes on the profits from selling assets like stocks, bonds, or real estate optimizes investment returns.

How does capital gains tax work?

Essentially, if you sell an asset for a price higher than its original purchase price, you have generated a capital gain. The tax owed is determined by several factors, including how long you held the asset for before selling it, your filing status, and your income tax bracket. 

It is important to distinguish between short-term and long-term capital gains, as they are taxed differently. Capital gains from assets held for a year or less are short-term, while those held for over a year are long-term.  Short-term capital gains are taxed at ordinary income tax rates, with a top marginal rate of 37% (under current tax law), which are considerably higher than the preferential long-term rates which top out at 20%. 

Determining your capital gains tax

While determining tax liability is complex, there are three critical aspects to be aware of:  

  • Identify the cost basis of assets. The cost basis is the original purchase price of an asset for tax purposes. It can also include commissions or fees, and certain asset improvements.  
  • Work out capital gains and losses. Calculate your capital gains or losses by subtracting the cost basis from the selling price. A positive result implies a capital gain; a negative one indicates a capital loss. For example, a stock purchased for $800 and sold for $1,200 generates a $400 capital gain. It’s important to remember that capital gains and losses can apply to various types of assets, including stocks, real estate, and other investments. Perhaps you need some professional help understanding the rules to determine accurate calculations.  
  • Apply brackets for capital gains: Tax brackets for capital gains are typically lower than those for ordinary income, providing a window for potential tax savings. By strategically managing your capital gains, you may be able to leverage lower tax rates and minimize your overall tax liability.  

Strategies for minimizing capital gains tax

Several proven strategies can help maximize your returns after tax.  

One key strategy is aligning asset location and investment choices. This involves careful consideration of the tax implications of different investment accounts and, accordingly, allocating your assets.  

By placing investments with higher growth potential in tax-advantaged accounts, like IRAs or 401(k)s, and lower growth potential investments in taxable accounts, you can potentially minimize your capital gains tax liability. 

Another important strategy is adopting a long-term perspective on investments. Holding onto your investments for longer durations will qualify you for preferential long-term capital gains tax rates, usually lower than short-term rates. This can result in substantial tax savings over time.  We work with many clients who receive company stock options as part of their compensation package.  While it can oftentimes be tempting to sell these quickly to generate cash, careful planning around the timeline can result in monumental tax savings.  One client came to us proposing to sell a tranche of their company stocks, and by waiting just a few weeks he was able to take advantage of long-term rates at 15% instead of 35%.   

Lastly, tax loss harvesting can be an effective strategy for minimizing capital gains tax. By strategically selling investments that have incurred losses, you can offset your capital gains and reduce your overall tax liability. This process can be particularly beneficial when done tax-efficiently but requires precise coordination and timing to execute properly 

Implementing these capital gains minimization strategies requires careful planning and consideration of your circumstances. Consulting with a tax professional or financial advisor can help you determine the best approach for your situation. 

Tax-smart investment options

When considering minimizing capital gains, several tax-smart investment options exist. These strategies can help you enhance your investment returns while minimizing the impact of taxes. Including: 

  • Securities-based lending: Securities-based lending is a strategy that allows you to borrow against the value of your investment portfolio. Using your portfolio as collateral lets you access funds without selling your investments. This can be particularly beneficial if you have substantial capital gains and wish to defer taxes while still accessing cash for other purposes. 
  • Investing in distressed communities: Another tax-smart investment option is investing in distressed communities through Qualified Opportunity Zones (“QOZs”). These zones are designated areas where investments can receive significant tax benefits. Investing in businesses or real estate within these zones can defer and potentially reduce your capital gains taxes. 
  • Considering qualified opportunity funds: Qualified Opportunity Funds (“QOFs”) are investment vehicles that allow you to invest in a special qualified fund. These funds pool capital from multiple investors and invest in various projects within the designated zones. Investing in a QOF can reduce your capital gains taxes and earn returns from the appreciation of the underlying investments. 

When considering these tax-smart investment options, it’s important to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional who can provide guidance tailored to your specific financial situation and goals. They can help you navigate the complexities of these strategies and ensure they align with your overall investment strategy. 

Minimizing capital gains taxes = maximizing benefits

When it comes to capital gains minimization strategies, there are several ways to maximize your tax benefits. We support our clients in many ways, including: 

  • Donating appreciated assets: One effective way to minimize capital gains taxes is donating appreciated assets, such as stocks or real estate, to a charitable organization. By doing so, you not only support a cause you care about but also receive a tax deduction for the fair market value of the assets at the time of donation, while foregoing any capital gain and the associated tax.  
  • Understanding home sale exclusions: If you’re considering selling your primary residence, it’s essential to be aware of the home sale exclusions available to homeowners. In many circumstances, you may be eligible to exclude up to $500,000 of the capital gains from the sale of your home from your taxable income. This exclusion can result in substantial tax savings, so it’s essential to understand the requirements and consult with a tax professional to ensure you qualify. 
  • Managing mutual fund distributions: Mutual funds can be an excellent investment vehicle but often generate taxable distributions at year-end. By strategically managing your mutual fund investments, you can minimize the impact of capital gains taxes. One approach is investing in tax-efficient mutual funds that minimize taxable distributions. Additionally, strategically timing your purchases and sales can help minimize your overall tax liability. 

Help wanted: professional guidance

Accumulating, accessing, or transferring wealth can spur serious tax implications. A forward-looking tax plan can simplify your financial life and uncover opportunities to maximize the value of charitable gifts or harvest tax losses to offset future capital gains. 

Regarding capital gains minimization strategies, seeking professional guidance can be incredibly beneficial. You want to pick wisely and ensure you are asking the right questions. 

Brighton Jones’ Personal CFO team develops a deep understanding of your future goals and lifestyle, then builds and implements a personalized plan for you. We can help you develop a comprehensive plan that includes tax-efficient investment strategies, estate planning, and charitable giving, all aimed at minimizing your capital gains tax. 



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