Monday, March 28, 2011

Capital Gains Taxes Questions and Answers

What are capital gains and capital losses? When you sell a capital asset, such as your home, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis, which is usually what you paid for it, is capital gains or capital loss.

What are short-term vs. long-term capital gains and losses? Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term, depending on how long you hold the property before you sell it. If you hold it more than one year, your capital gains or loss is longterm. If you hold it one year or less, your capital gains or loss is short-term.

What is the basis and how is it determined? You need to know your basis in your home to calculate any gain or loss when you sell it. Your basis is determined by how you acquired your home. If you purchased or built it, your basis is your initial cost. If you acquired it in some other way (inheritance, gift, etc), you must know its adjusted basis to the donor just before it was given to you. You also must know its fair market value (FMV) at the time title was transferred.

What are the current capital gains rates? The maximum tax rate on the net capital gain (net long-term capital gain reduced by any net short-term capital loss) is now 15%. Gains that would otherwise be taxed at a regular rate of 10% or 15% are now 5% for property sold or otherwise disposed of after May 5, 2003 (and installment sale payments received after that date.) The reduced rate applies for both the regular tax and the alternative minimum tax. The higher rates that apply to un-recaptured section 1250 gain, collectibles gain, and section 1202 gain have not changed.

If I make a profit from selling my home, do I get to keep any of it tax-free? As a single homeowner, you can exclude up to $250,000 of capital gains. If you are married filing separately, each of you can exclude up to $250,000. If you are married filing jointly, together you can exclude up to $500,000 of capital gains.

Is this a one-time exclusion? The exclusion is allowed each time you sell or exchange your principal residence, as often as every two years. And you are not required to reinvest your proceeds in a new residence to claim the exclusion.

What is the ownership and usage criteria for claiming the exclusion? To be eligible, you must have owned and lived in your home as your primary residence for a combined period of at least two of the last five years prior to selling or exchanging your principal residence.

What is a real estate depreciation recapture? Depreciation is the decrease in the value of property over the time the property is used. Depreciation recapture is when a property used for business purposes is sold at a gain; if accelerated depreciation has been claimed, you may be required to pay tax at ordinary income rates to the extent of the excess accelerated depreciation.

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