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How Burdensome Are Capital Gains Taxes?

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  • James M. Poterba

Abstract

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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Suggested Citation

  • James M. Poterba, 1986. "How Burdensome Are Capital Gains Taxes?," Working papers 410, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mit:worpap:410
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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 439-449, May.
    2. King, Mervyn A. & Fullerton, Don, 2010. "The Taxation of Income from Capital," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226436319.
    3. Steven Kaplan, 1981. "The Holding Period Distinction of the Capital Gains Tax," NBER Working Papers 0762, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Martin Feldstein & Joel Slemrod & Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1980. "The Effects of Taxation on the Selling of Corporate Stock and the Realization of Capital Gains," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 94(4), pages 777-791.
    5. 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.
    6. Feenberg, Daniel, 1981. "Does the investment interest limitation explain the existence of dividends?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 265-269, September.
    7. Constantinides, George M., 1984. "Optimal stock trading with personal taxes : Implications for prices and the abnormal January returns," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 65-89, March.
    8. Constantinides, George M, 1983. "Capital Market Equilibrium with Personal Tax," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(3), pages 611-636, May.
    9. 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 777-790, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Zoran Ivković & James Poterba & Scott Weisbenner, 2005. "Tax-Motivated Trading by Individual Investors," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1605-1630, December.
    2. Clemens Sialm, 2006. "Investment Taxes and Equity Returns," NBER Working Papers 12146, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Poterba, James M, 1987. "Tax Evasion and Capital Gains Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 234-239, May.
    4. Jongmoo Jay Choi & Frank J. Fabozzi & Uzi Yaari, 1989. "Optimum Corporate Leverage With Risky Debt: A Demand Approach," Journal of Financial Research, Southern Finance Association;Southwestern Finance Association, vol. 12(2), pages 129-142, June.
    5. Richard J. Rendleman, Jr. & Douglas A. Shackelford, 2003. "Diversification and the Taxation of Capital Gains and Losses," NBER Working Papers 9674, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. V. V. Chari & Mikhail Golosov & Aleh Tsyvinski, 2003. "Business Start-ups, the Lock-in Effect, and Capital Gains Taxation," Levine's Working Paper Archive 506439000000000222, David K. Levine.
    7. Shoven, John B. & Sialm, Clemens, 2004. "Asset location in tax-deferred and conventional savings accounts," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1-2), pages 23-38, January.
    8. Paul J. Bolster & Lawrence B. Lindsey & Andrew W. Mitrusi, 1988. "Tax Induced Trading: The Effect of the 1986 Tax Reform Act on Stock Market Activity," NBER Working Papers 2659, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Clemens Sialm, 2005. "Tax Changes and Asset Pricing: Time-Series Evidence," NBER Working Papers 11756, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. James M. Poterba, 1989. "Venture Capital and Capital Gains Taxation," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 3, pages 47-68 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Alan J. Auerbach & Leonard E. Burman & Jonathan Siegel, 1998. "Capital Gains Taxation and Tax Avoidance: New Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. James M. Poterba, 2001. "Capital Gains Tax Rules, Tax-loss Trading, and Turn-of-the-year Returns," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 56(1), pages 353-368, February.
    13. Michael Haliassos & Andrew B. Lyon, 1993. "Progressivity of Capital Gains Taxation with Optimal Portfolio Selection," NBER Working Papers 4253, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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