Harvest some losses to lower your 2010 taxes

Consider the following strategy between now and the end of the year to restructure your investment portfolio in a tax-efficient manner.

Taxpayers are allowed to offset capital gains (such as from the sale of stocks) with capital losses. If capital losses exceed capital gains for the year, up to $3,000 of losses can be deducted from other income, such as wages. Any loss greater than that can be carried forward to future years. It’s important to remember that stocks you’ve owned for more than one year (called long-term) must be grouped together for purposes of calculating the capital gain or loss. The same is true for stocks held for one year or less (short-term). 

Here’s the strategy. When you identify stocks in your portfolio that have lost value and are no longer worth holding, consider selling those securities and offset all but $3,000 of the loss by also selling stocks that have gained value. This is known as “tax loss harvesting,” and it can be an effective method for rebalancing your portfolio without paying capital gains taxes.

You can often manage the size of your gain or loss when you decide to sell some, but not all, of a particular stock or mutual fund. To do this, you must have kept good records of the date and the price for each share purchase. By selling the highest cost shares first, you’ll minimize your taxable gain or maximize your loss. You must specify the particular shares you are selling at the time you sell.