Author Topic: Which tax lots do you sell?  (Read 712 times)

Paul der Krake

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Which tax lots do you sell?
« on: November 01, 2017, 08:44:23 PM »
Curious to see what strategies folks are using to generate spendable money from their taxable accounts, especially with the ACA incentives to keep AGI low.

Say your household spending in FIRE is $40,000. Imagine that you have only two massive tax lots in a taxable account. For the sake of simplicity, assume that they don't throw any dividends, and you have no pension or retirement accounts or any other source of income. Both lots are valued at $500,000. Tax lot A has a basis of $450,000 and tax lot B has a basis of just $50,000. In other words, one lot is very recent and would generate very few capital gains upon selling, and tax lot B would be almost entirely capital gains.

How do you determine which lot(s) to sell from, and why?

Greenback Reproduction Specialist

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Re: Which tax lots do you sell?
« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2017, 11:40:59 AM »
I'm not familiar with this... What is a tax lot?
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Systems101

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Re: Which tax lots do you sell?
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2017, 11:45:35 AM »
How do you determine which lot(s) to sell from, and why?

The problem is non-linear, so the optimal point is an opinion.  There is a conscious trade-off to be made of long term risk vs current taxes.  I think GCC covered this trade off rather well: http://gocurrycracker.com/obamacare-optimization-vs-tax-minimization/


Roothy

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Re: Which tax lots do you sell?
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2017, 10:08:58 AM »
Wait, I thought this would be obvious: you'd sell from the low-basis lot.  The first $90,000 in capital gains (income) would be taxed at $0, if you are married filing jointly, right?  In fact, wouldn't you want to sell all $90,000, then repurchase $50,000 worth in order to "tax gain harvest"?

Frankies Girl

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Re: Which tax lots do you sell?
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2017, 10:26:02 AM »
Um.... maybe I'm being dull here, but I always assumed that any sell off would automatically consider the oldest tax lot as sold off first, and then the next oldest, etc...

Ah, I was right: https://www.fidelity.com/tax-information/tax-topics/capital-gains-cost-basis
"first in, first out" is the default for cost basis at Fido.

I am married filing jointly and do get my health coverage through the ACA. Expenses are paid from an inherited IRA's RMD and the dividends/cap gains from the taxable. When I put in a sell order for either, it is just assumed the tax lot I'm selling is the first in, so it will generate cap gains, but we still are way under the 15% taxable bracket so we pay zero on them.

So we would have to specifically request newer tax lots if we wanted them sold off first. Which I don't, because we don't even come close to crossing into the area where we'd pay anything anyway - expenses are dropping every year so far. (just got a look at our ACA options and I'm now torn for great choices at a significant savings actually, and spending for the year keeps going down even with house repairs and vacations added in).

So for my situation, there's no point to even worry about which tax lot is sold when.

I frequently have no idea what I'm talking about. Like now.

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Roots&Wings

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Re: Which tax lots do you sell?
« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2017, 10:33:47 AM »
Is there a website or program where you can plug in your investments, tax rate, and model the tax implications of the 3 cost basis methods and selling off which investments?

Optimizing for ACA, tax gain harvesting, Roth conversions, etc of course adds another layer.
« Last Edit: November 06, 2017, 10:49:59 AM by Roots&Wings »

terran

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Re: Which tax lots do you sell?
« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2017, 08:46:48 AM »
It seems to me that every year you would want to sell enough such that the gains hit the top of your target income. This may be some percentage of the Federal Poverty Level as explored in the GoCurryCracker post Systems101 posted. Ignoring ACA, then it would probably be the top of the 15% bracket since that would be taxed at 0%.

You know your target spending ($40,000), target taxable income (Lets call it 138% FPL for a couple, so $22,411), tax lot A gains ratio/percentage (50,000/500,000 = 0.1), tax lot B gains ratio/percentage (450,000/500,000 = 0.9). So then if we say is A is the amount sold from tax lot A, and B is the amount sold from tax lot B, then we have:

A + B = 40000 => A = 40000 - B
0.1A + 0.9B = 22411

Substitute the formula for A from above and solve for B
0.1(40000 - B) + 0.9B = 22411 => 4000 - 0.1B + 0.9B = 22411 => 0.8B = 22411 - 4000 => B = 18,411/0.8 => B = 23013.75

Now solve for A using the formula above
A = 40000 - 23013.75 => A = 16986.25

So you would sell $16,986.25 of tax lot A (the tax lot that's mostly basis) and $23,013.75 of tax lot B (the tax lot that's mostly gains).

In reality you don't really care if you sell exactly $40K worth, you just need to sell at least $40k worth, so what I've really shown above is the maximum amount you can sell of Lot B (the one that's mostly gains) while still meeting your minimum spending requirement and maximum income requirement. You could also just as well meet your "real" requirement of staying under 138% FPL and maxing spendable money by withdrawing only from A like so:

0.1A + 0.9*0 = 22411 => A = 22411/0.1 => A =  $224,110

So basically, those are the extremes. You can sell anywhere between $16,986.25 and $224,110 of tax lot A and $0 and $23,013.75 of tax lot B and solve for the other using the formulas above while still meeting the goals described above.

Generally, I think I would try to stick closer to my first example (by selling as much of the high gain tax lot as you can within constraints, then making up the difference with the low gain lot) as that leaves you more flexibility in the future, since, as you can see from my second example, you can realize much greater spending power from a tax lot with small gains than one with large gains while still staying under an income limit.

Remember that you'll need to adjust the gain percentages at any given time you perform the transaction. Also remember that you probably can't be this precise in real life since you won't know the exact gain percentages you will end up selling at when you place the sell order. This wouldn't be such a big deal if your gain limit is the 15% bracket since it would just result in any small overage being taxed at 15% capital gains rates. It would be much worse if your gain limit is some percentage of FPL for ACA purposes since that's a cliff. Basically just leave some leeway.

Depending on your emergency fund situation you may also want to err on the side of caution by not maxing sales of the high gain tax lot in case you need some extra spending money over what you've predicted.

Of course this gets much more complicated when you have more than the two tax lots you've outlined in your simplified scenario. I think the generalizable message we can apply from this is to sell as much of our highest gain tax lot as we can while still having enough income headroom to sell enough of a lower gain tax lot to meet our spending needs and probably also to have a little extra in case we need it unless we have other resources (like and emergency fund) that we can draw on. This best meets our goals of having enough to spend, staying under an income limit, and maintaining as much flexibility in the future as possible in case either our spending needs rise or income requirements fall.

I think that makes sense?

Um.... maybe I'm being dull here, but I always assumed that any sell off would automatically consider the oldest tax lot as sold off first, and then the next oldest, etc...

As you say, FiFo is generally the default, but you can request specific identification. I think you make the change at any point, but I'm not certain about that (you might have to do it when you set the account up).