Topic: How To Invest

Who pays capital gain tax?

Look no further if you want to discover who pays capital gain tax (and if it includes you)

Who pays capital gain tax? Investors who sell a stock outside of an RRSP or RRIF pay capital gains tax if they’ve made a profit on the sale.

With stocks, you only incur a capital gains tax liability when you sell or “realize” the increase in the value of the stock over and above what you paid for it. (Although mutual funds generally pass on their realized capital gains each year.)

Who pays capital gain tax, and when?

One of the main advantages capital gains have over other forms of investment income is that you control when you pay capital gains tax. This amounts to a very simple and highly effective way of deferring tax—and it’s perfectly legal.

You pay capital gains tax on a stock only when you sell, or “realize” the increase in the value of the stock over and above what you paid for it. In contrast, interest and dividend income are taxed in the year in which they are earned.

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As an added bonus, if you sell after you retire, you may be in a lower tax bracket than you are when you are earlier in your investing career. In any event, the longer you hold onto a profitable stock and put off paying capital gains tax, the longer all of your money works for you.

This can have a significant impact on your long-term returns. For example, if you buy stock for $1,000 and then sell that stock for $2,000, you will pay $247.65 in capital gains tax. That would leave you with just $1,752.35 to reinvest (not including brokerage commissions).

However, if you hang onto the stock, you keep the full $2,000 working for you until you choose to sell. That holds out the potential for even further gains, and the possibility of paying less tax on your capital gains if you sell after you retire, when you may be in a lower tax bracket.

Calculate your capital gains tax before selling your stocks to see if that makes financial sense

Now that you’ve discovered who pays capital gain tax, it’s time to run the numbers. To calculate your total capital gain on a share you sold during the previous tax year, subtract the adjusted cost base of the shares you sold from the total proceeds of the sale. The adjusted cost base of the shares is equal to the cost of the shares plus any costs associated with buying them, such as brokerage commissions.

If you’ve bought shares of the same company more than once, the adjusted cost base you will need to calculate your capital gains tax is equal to the average cost of each share. You can determine the average cost by dividing the total cost of all the shares you’ve purchased by the total number of shares you hold.

Three capital gains strategies for investors who pay capital gain tax

As Canadian capital gains tax is lower than the tax on interest and just above the tax on dividend income, capital gains is a very tax-advantaged form of income. Here are three strategies for structuring investment portfolios to minimize the tax burden.

  1. It is usually best to hold any common shares outside of an RRSP (as dividend income and capital gains taxes are taxed lower than interest income), and interest-paying investments in an RRSP.
  2. More speculative investments are best held outside of an RRSP. If investors hold them in an RRSP and they drop, investors not only lose money, but they can’t use the losses to offset any taxable gains from other investments.
  3. Regarding mutual funds outside an RRSP, the main consideration is that mutual funds make annual capital gains distributions even if investors continue to hold the fund units. Investors then pay Canadian capital gains tax on half of any realized capital gains. So you are best to hold mutual funds in an RRSP and common stocks outside. You won’t realize capital gains on common stocks until you sell.

A properly structured investment portfolio can let you take advantage of the low tax rate on capital gains and dividend income while sheltering your higher-taxed interest income in your RRSP. If you make dividends or capital gains in an RRSP, you gain the tax shelter of the RRSP, but when you withdraw the funds from your RRSP they are taxed at the same rate as interest income. This means you would lose out on the lower tax rates offered.

Do you now know who pays capital gain tax? What has your experience been with capital gains tax? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


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