Taxes on Stocks: A Guide for Beginners

Written By
Julija A.
October 05,2023

Taxes can be perplexing, especially when it comes to understanding the nuances of stock taxation.

But understanding the taxation of stocks is essential for investors of all sizes.

In this guide, we’ll explain what capital gains taxes are, what the current federal rates are, and offer strategies to minimize your tax liability when trading stocks.

The Basics of Capital Gains Taxes

The main reason people invest in assets such as stocks, bonds, and real estate is the hope of seeing the value of their investment growh over time, and selling those assets at a profit. This profit which derives from selling your assets is known as capital gain.

To give you a quick example, let's say you purchased a $125 worth of Apple stock, and you sold it some time after the share price increased for a total of $175. That $50 capital gain you made on the sale is the portion subjected to taxation. However, the taxing mechanism isn't the same for all capital gains.

What we mean by this is that the duration for which you retain an asset determines its tax classification. If you hold a stock for up to a year before selling, this asset will be categorized as "short-term" and will be taxed as ordinary income, while those assets retained beyond a year are classified as "long-term", and come with reduced tax rates. This distinction is designed to promote and reward long-term investing, as it aligns with broader economic objectives of growth and stability.

Long-Term Capital Gain Tax Rates for 2024

As we mentioned before, the capital gains tax rate depends on multiple factors, such as how long the investment has been held and what type of asset it is. Also, single taxpayers and married taxpayers are taxed at different rates.



Married couples filing jointly and qualifying widowers

Married filing separately

Head of household


Up to $44,625

Up to $89,250

Up to $44,625

Up to $59,750


$44,626 - $492,300

$89,251 to $553,850

$44,626 - $276,900

$59,751 to $523,050


$492,301 or more

$553,851 or more

$276,901 or more

$523,051 or more

If your taxable income exceeds the amounts above, the net capital gain tax rate of 20% will apply. 

Also, there are a few exceptions when it comes to capital gains taxation. If you sell collectables or section 1202 qualified small business stock, you will be taxed at a maximum rate of 28%. And, if you have a net capital gain from selling a section 1250 property, you will be taxed at a maximum rate of 25%. 

Tips for Lowering Your Stock Taxes

Anyone who owns stocks is subject to taxes on their capital gains, but there are some strategies you can use to minimize the amount you owe.

  • Embrace the Long Game. Holding onto stocks for more than a year categorizes them as long-term assets, which come with lower tax rates. Apart from enjoying a reduced tax rate, long-term holding often aligns with the natural ebb and flow of the market, which tends to rise over extended periods, and can provide insulation against short-term market volatility. This approach requires patience and conviction, as short-term market fluctuations might tempt investors to sell prematurely. 
  • Utilize Tax-Advantaged Accounts. Retirement accounts are designed to offer tax benefits for investors. While traditional IRAs allow for tax deductions on contributions (with taxes paid during withdrawals), Roth IRAs require taxed contributions but offer tax-free withdrawals. These accounts promote the growth of investments either tax-free or tax-deferred, enhancing the compound effect over time. In essence, more of your money stays invested, which can lead to larger growth over the years. There are annual contribution limits and specific withdrawal rules associated with these accounts.
  • Tax-Loss Harvesting. The tax-loss harvesting strategy involves selling stocks that have incurred losses to offset capital gains from other investments. By reducing your taxable capital gains, you can effectively lower your tax bill for the year. This doesn’t just apply to stocks; losses can offset gains from other investments, such as real estate, but keep in mind the importance of avoiding the “wash-sale” rule, which disallows the loss deduction if you buy a “substantially identical” stock or security within 30 days before or after the sale.
  • Gifting Stocks. Instead of selling stocks and incurring capital gains tax, consider gifting them to a family member in a lower tax bracket or donating them to a charity. Gifting allows the recipient to perhaps sell the stock at a lower tax rate, and charitable donations can provide a tax deduction for the donor based on the current market value of the stock. There are gift tax implications to consider, and it's essential to be aware of the annual exclusion limit.
  • Engaging a Tax Advisor. While the above strategies provide a foundational understanding, stock taxation can be intricate. An experienced tax advisor not only ensures compliance but can also offer tailored strategies, maximizing benefits while adhering to tax codes. You can also use some of the modern tax software solutions to get an even firmer grasp on your tax obligations and how to manage them properly.

Bottom Line

Capital gains tax is pivotal to the U.S. taxation system, affecting investors of all calibers. Being proactive and understanding the intricacies can result in optimal financial decisions and minimized tax liability.


Do I have to pay taxes on stocks?


You will incur taxes on stocks only when you realize a profit and sell them for more than the purchase price.

Can I reinvest capital gains to avoid taxes?


While reinvesting is a strategy, the tax implications remain once the reinvested stocks are sold. The key is in strategic timing and choice of investment.

Do you have to file taxes on stocks every year?


No, only when you sell stocks and realize a gain or loss.

What happens if I don't pay taxes on stocks?


The IRS can impose penalties, ranging from interest on unpaid taxes to legal repercussions, making timely and accurate tax payments essential.

About author

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

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