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"if I sell a stock at a loss, can I just write that off as a tax deduction on its own or must I also have accompanying stock that has been sold at a gain to offset the loss?"

You can declare up to $3000 in stock losses in excess of capital gains. That is, if you have no gains, you are limited to $3000 in losses in a year. However, you can carry any excess losses over to future years. You can also write off any gains against the loss.
To claim your loss, you fill out Schedule D.

If this is your first stock transaction, better luck next time!
Best wishes, Chris
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