How to avoid capital gains tax

5 mins readLast updated October 4, 2023by Rachel Carey

Capital gains tax can be an unexpected hit to your financial planning. But there are ways to minimize your tax burden. Here’s what you need to know.

When you sell an asset for more money than you bought it for, you could be eligible for capital gains tax. This tax can be an unexpected hit on your financial planning and can leave you with less money than you thought. But there are ways to reduce the amount of capital gains tax you pay and protect your money.

How does capital gains tax work?

Capital gains tax (CGT) is a tax on the profits of an asset that you have sold. Should you invest in an asset that appreciates over time and generates a profit once you sell it, your profits may be eligible for CGT.

CGT is only paid once you have sold an asset, so even if an investment has grown in value until you sell your investment, you won’t need to pay CGT. However, because CGT is only paid once your profit has been realized, many people forget to include this tax in their financial planning, leaving them with less money than they planned for.

Which assets qualify for capital gains tax?

The exact amount of CGT you may need to pay depends on a few different factors, and it’s important to remember that not all assets are eligible for the tax. Only assets considered to be ‘capital assets’ can be taxed, and some examples of these investments are:

  • Stocks

  • Bonds

  • Digital assets, such as cryptocurrency and NFTs

  • Gems and jewelry

  • Your home

  • Household furnishings

  • Vehicles

  • Gold, silver, and other metals

  • Coin and stamp collections

Exclusions apply to business inventories, certain property investments, copyrights, and patents.

5 ways you can avoid capital gains tax

Having to pay more CGT than you planned can be an unexpected shock. And, if selling your investments and assets is an important part of your financial planning, having to pay more tax can leave you with less money than you had calculated. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to reduce the amount of CGT that you pay:

1. Use tax-advantaged retirement plans

Retirement plans such as a 401(k) and individual retirement account (IRA) are tax-efficient ways of saving money for the future. These plans allow you to save and grow your money without it being immediately eligible for CGT. Any investments you buy or sell within these accounts are also excluded from CGT.

For other retirement and saving accounts, it can be a little more complex. Often, it can be a good idea to wait until retirement to sell any investments as you won’t be receiving a taxable salary, in turn reducing your total taxable income.

2. Use capital losses wisely

If one of your investments has experienced a capital loss, you can use this loss to offset the CGT you pay on other assets that have performed well. In principle, this is a way of telling the IRS that while some of your investments performed well, others didn’t, meaning that you owe less tax as a consequence.

If your capital losses are greater than your capital gains, you can use up to $3,000 of this loss to reduce the amount of tax that you pay in one year. If your losses are higher than this threshold, you can carry them forward to the next tax year.

3. Lower your tax bracket

You can pay CGT at different rates depending on your taxable income. If you are able to lower your taxable income, you could potentially lower the amount of CGT you pay. If you’re approaching retirement, you could do this by using a Roth IRA account. With this account, any money you draw on to support your retirement has already been taxed and is no longer considered to be part of your income. You could also consider taking tax deductions to reduce your taxable income.   

4. Hand your assets down

If you leave your assets to your next of kin, they won’t owe any CGT if they decide to sell them straight away. If the assets passed down are kept, and they continue to grow in value, your descendants will only pay CGT on the appreciation that has taken place since they inherited the assets. This lets assets continue to grow in value over time as they are handed down.

5. Move to a tax-friendly state

CGT isn’t uniformly collected from one state to the next. While some states charge CGT at different rates, some states – notably Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming – don’t charge any CGT at all.

How are short-term and long-term capital gains different?

One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of CGT you pay is to invest in items that you intend to own for a long time. If you invest in an asset and sell it within a year, you will be charged at a higher CGT rate. In line with income tax thresholds, this rate can be anywhere from 10 percent to 37 percent.

If you hold an asset for longer than a year, you will be taxed at long-term CGT thresholds. These brackets are zero percent, 15 percent, or 20 percent, meaning that it can be well worth investing for the long term.

How does capital gains tax affect stocks?

Stocks are charged in the same way as other investments, but there are ways to reduce the amount of CGT you pay if you decide to give appreciated stocks to a charity. You won’t pay tax on the profits of the stocks when you transfer them, and neither will the charity. Moreover, you will receive a tax deduction based on the current value of the stocks, and not just the amount that you paid for them.

Reducing your capital gains tax liability

For people planning on selling investments to fund their financial futures, CGT can be an unexpected tax that leaves people with less money than planned for. But with the right preparation, there are some simple ways you can minimize your CGT liability.

Reducing the amount of CGT you pay is one way of achieving your financial goals and planning for your future. If you aren’t sure how best to minimize your CGT liability or want to explore other ways of securing your financial independence, speaking to an independent financial advisor can help. Connect with an advisor today with Unbiased.

Senior Content Writer

Rachel Carey

Rachel is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She has nearly a decade of experience writing and producing content across a range of different sectors.