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How Burdensome Are Capital Gains Taxes?

  • James M. Poterba

Several recent and provocative studies have described portfolio trading strategies which permit investors to avoid all taxes on capital gains and to shelter a substantial part of their ordinary income as well. Other studies adopt the more traditional view that the capital gains tax raises the effective tax burden on capital income. This paper uses capital gain realization data from the 1982 IRS Individual Tax Model in an effort to distinguish between these views. It shows that for about one-fifth of the investors who realize gains or losses, the ordinary income loss-offset limitations are binding constraints. Since additional gain realizations do not affect these investors' current tax liability, they may be effectively untaxed on capital gains. Another significant group escapes taxation by not reporting realized gains. However, the largest group of investors trades in a less elaborate and more honest manner, realizing and reporting gains without offsetting losses. The capital gains tax may reduce the after-tax return earned by these investors.

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Paper provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 410.

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Date of creation: Feb 1986
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Handle: RePEc:mit:worpap:410
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  1. George M. Constantinides, 1983. "Optimal Stock Trading with Personal Taxes: Implications for Prices and the Abnormal January Returns," NBER Working Papers 1176, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Daniel R. Feenberg, 1980. "Does the Investment Interest Limitation Explain the Existence of Dividends?," NBER Working Papers 0530, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. King, Mervyn A. & Fullerton, Don, 2010. "The Taxation of Income from Capital," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 0, number 9780226436319.
  4. Constantinides, George M, 1983. "Capital Market Equilibrium with Personal Tax," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(3), pages 611-36, May.
  5. Steven Kaplan, 1981. "The Holding Period Distinction of the Capital Gains Tax," NBER Working Papers 0762, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Feldstein, Martin & Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1980. "The Effects of Taxation on the Selling of Corporate Stock and the Realization of Capital Gains," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(4), pages 777-91, June.
  7. Shefrin, Hersh & Statman, Meir, 1985. " The Disposition to Sell Winners Too Early and Ride Losers Too Long: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 40(3), pages 777-90, July.
  8. Peterson, Pamela P. & Peterson, David R. & Ang, James S., 1985. "Direct evidence on the marginal rate of taxation on dividend income," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(2), pages 267-282, June.
  9. Constantinides, George M & Scholes, Myron S, 1980. " Optimal Liquidation of Assets in the Presence of Personal Taxes: Implications for Asset Pricing," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 35(2), pages 439-49, May.
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