No. of Recommendations: 9
If I'm missing something, perhaps you can give an example of where harvesting a capital loss is detrimental to the taxpayer?

I'm not saying harvesting losses is detrimental. But the timing of harvesting the loss can easily be less than optimal.

Let's say some particular long term investment has worked out well and you have decided to sell it for investment reasons (management changed and no longer suits your style, your price target has been met, the tea leaves said "sell", or whatever). So you've got a long term capital gain booked for the year.

If you harvest a loss in the same year, that loss will only save you taxes at the long term rate. But if you wait to a following year with no LT capital gain, the loss can offset up to $3k of ordinary income and save taxes at a higher rate. If you sold that stock on Dec 30 instead of waiting a couple of days to sell on Jan 2, you might have passed up some notable tax savings.

Now if you want to make that even worse, perhaps this hapless taxpayer is in a lower tax bracket, so that capital gain would be taxed at a 0% rate. Harvesting a loss in that situation to offset the gain won't save any taxes.

Except that maybe this taxpayer is also collecting Social Security benefits. So by harvesting the loss he reduces his AGI and therefore reduces the amount of SS benefits subject to taxation. Now harvesting a loss might make sense. But you'd still have to compare it to waiting until the following tax year to see if the offset against other ordinary income is more valuable.

And we haven't begun to think about the affect of AGI on itemized deductions. Starting in 2014, we'll also need to consider the affect of AGI on potential health care credits under the ACA.

So harvesting losses just cannot be done properly without thinking about your overall tax situation.

Don't get me wrong - I'm agreeing with your OP that paying a couple dozen basis points of your assets for loss harvesting advice almost certainly is a bad idea. I'm just trying to explain why loss harvesting is complicated.

--Peter
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