Ordinary Income Vs Capital Gains

Taxation Concepts: Buying and Selling Stocks

Understanding the tax implications of stock buying and selling is crucial. A working knowledge of basic key concepts will enable the individual investor to make smart decisions with the goal of:

1. Maximizing profits

2. Minimizing Tax liability

In this article we will discuss capital gains and ordinary income as it pertains to buying and selling stocks. capitalforbusiness The primary concepts presented include:

*Capital Gains/Losses

Long- and Short-term
How to Calculate
*Ordinary Income

*Tax Rates for capital gains and ordinary income

Below is a list of concepts and their definitions. Refer back to the definitions as needed in order to better understand the complexity of the topics discussed.

Helpful Vocabulary

Capital Gains (or loss) = gross profit(loss) from selling an investment, such as from the sale of a stock.

Ordinary Income= as it relates to stocks, refers to interest or dividends earned from stocks. The key point to remember is that the asset is not sold.

Net Capital Gain =net long-term capital gains exceed net short-term losses.

Capital Losses = net capital losses exceed net capital gains

Carryover = Capital Losses exceeded the allowed deduction for the year the losses occurred, therefore, a portion of losses may be permitted to carry over to the following year’s tax return.

There are 2 primary ways to profit from buying and/or selling stocks. In addition, the tax consequences will vary based on the type of profit or loss.

1. Sale of an investment (capital gain/loss)

2. Dividend or interest from stocks (ordinary income)

1. Capital Gain/Loss: Buy Low, Sell High

Investors and traders seek to buy stocks at a low price and sell them at a higher price. The resulting income from this type of transaction is a capital gain (or loss).

To calculate the capital gains of stock transactions, the first step is to figure the *cost basis*: this is how much you paid for the stock, including the brokers commission.

Next, Subtract the cost basis from the sale price plus the broker’s commission. This will give you the amount of capital gain or loss. A loss is realized when the cost basis is greater than the sale price. A gain, obviously, is realized when the sale price is greater than the cost basis.


An investor buys 100 shares of GOOG (google) at $250 per share. The cost basis of this transaction is $250 x 100 shares, plus broker’s commission of say $25. The total cost basis is $25,025.

Three months later, the investor sells the 100 shares of stock for $300. So, $30,000 plus commission of $25- minus- $25,025 results in a capital gain of $5,000. The investor will then owe capital gains tax on this profit at tax time. This is an example of a short-term capital gain, which will be subjected to a higher tax. (see below for more)

Keep in mind, capital losses can be a tax deduction, up to a point, and will offset the net amount of taxable capital gains.

2. Ordinary Income: Buy and Hold Stocks for earning Interest or Dividends

The second way investors realize profits is to purchase and hold dividend or interest bearing stocks. Interest and dividends are treated as ordinary income and are taxed according to your tax bracket.

Keep in mind ordinary income is not derived from the sale of any investment, rather it’s generated from the investment itself.

* Short-term versus Long-term Capital Gains

The holding time of the asset in question determines if it is short- or long-term. The distinction is important in order to calculate Net Capital Gain and the appropriate tax rate. Be sure to calculate short-term gains/losses separate from the long-term gains/losses.

Step 1

Short-term cap. gains and losses are calculated from stocks owned for less than one year. The difference between the losses and gains is the Net short-term gain or loss

Step 2

Long-term cap. gains/losses are calculated from stocks owned for one year plus one day. (*Longer than one year) When calculating Net long-term gain/loss you must include any long term capital losses from previous years. This is known as a carryover of losses.

Calculating Gain/Loss: And Paying Taxes

Key Point:

Using a capital gains calculator is much more efficient than pen and paper. Be sure to book mark the calculator to quickly compare the tax difference between short and long-term stock buying and selling.

The tax rate for short-term capital gains is the same as the ordinary tax rate which is determined by your tax bracket.

On the other hand, long-term cap. gains tax rate is around 15%, far less than ordinary income tax.

Key point: Capital Gains long term tax rate decreases to 5% when you are in the 15% tax bracket.

Example: Let’s say you are in the 25% tax bracket and you want to determine if it is beneficial to sell your stock now (short-term cap. gain) or wait for the end of the year and one day (long-term).

Your cost basis of the stock xxxx is $4000 ($40 per share) and you want to sell the stock for the current price for $55 per share. We know by selling the stock now the profit (capital gain) is $1,500. (Assume no commissions)

The capital gains tax rate to sell the stock now will be 25%. If you wait, the capital gains tax rate will be 15%. I’ll use the calculator to figure this one, but I don’t have a crystal ball to know what the price of the stock will be in another month or so. So let’s assume it will be about $45, which is the stocks last area of support on the stock chart.


The net Sale (after-tax) of selling now at $55/share = $51.75 per share ($5175) Compare this to waiting a few months and sell it at $45/share =$44.25 per share($4425).

The total profit is $750 more if the stock was sold now versus later.

The largest profit was realized by selling the stock Now, a time when the price was ripe for profits. Had we waited to capitalize on a lower tax rate, we would have also yielded a much lower profit.

Author Kelly Lucas, began her online career as a content writer and became a successful Freelance Writer and Web Designer with a specialty teaching others how to build their own web sites. Today, she has built a successful online business in which she helps and teaches other business owners, non profits, churches, etc how to use Microsoft Expression Web software to build a web site that is standards-compliant and up to date.

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