Tax Loss Carryforward: What is it and How Does it Work?

A tax loss carryforward is a special tax rule that allows capital losses to be carried over from one year to another. In other words, capital losses realized in the current tax year can also be used to offset gains or profits in a future tax year.

How Tax Loss Carryforwards Work

In general terms, a tax loss carryforward works by allowing you to report losses realized on assets in one tax year on a future year’s tax return. IRS loss carryforward rules apply to both personal and business assets.

Capital Loss Carryforward

IRS rules allow investors to “harvest” tax losses, meaning they use capital losses to offset capital gains. An investor could sell an investment at a capital loss, then deduct that loss against capital gains from other investments, assuming they don’t violate the wash sale rule.

Net Operating Loss Carryforward

A net operating loss (NOL) occurs when a business has more deductions than income. Rather than posting a profit for the year, the business operates at a loss. Business owners may be able to claim a NOL deduction on their personal income taxes.

Example of Tax Loss Carryforward

Assume that you purchase 100 shares of XYZ stock at $50 each. Thirteen months after purchasing the shares, their value has doubled to $100 each so you decide to sell, collecting a capital gain of $5,000.

If you’re investing in a taxable brokerage account, it’s important to include tax planning as part of your strategy. Selling stocks to realize capital gains could result in a larger tax bill if you’re not deducting capital losses at the same time.

With tax-loss harvesting, assuming you don’t violate the wash sale rule, it’s possible to carry forward investment losses to help reduce the tax impact of gains over time. This applies to personal as well as business gains and losses.

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