Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Get Ready for Stock Cost-Basis Reporting

There will be changes in how your stockbroker reports your stock trades for 2011.
Your broker now has to report the “cost” of your stock trades. This is a new rule for 2011. It came in as part of the 2008 Emergency Stabilization Act, also known as the bank bailout bill. You can anticipate that the purpose of this rule is to raise taxes.
There are three steps to the phase-in of this bill:
(1)    For 2011 (that is, the 2012 tax season), brokers are to report cost on all equity trades, if the equity was bought on or after January 1, 2011.
(2)    For 2012 (the 2013 tax season) brokers will report cost for mutual funds, dividend reinvestment plans and many exchange –traded funds bought on or after January 1, 2012.
(3)    For 2013 (the 2014 tax season), the rule will be extended to bonds and options.
There is a tax trap in here, so let’s go over it. The trap releases if you bought the security at different times and prices. Brokers refer to this as “accumulation.” Each time you buy the stock is called a “lot.”Let’s use the following accumulation as an example:
Let’s say you bought Sirius XM Radio at the following prices:
                January, 2010                     500 shares           $0.70
                May, 2011                           400 shares           $2.31
                August, 2011                      300 shares           $1.71                   

You sell 300 shares today at $1.77 per share. What is your cost for the 300 shares?
The IRS has provided four options:
(1)    First-in, first, out (FIFO).
a.       Under this rule, your cost would be 300 times $0.70 = $210.
(2)    Last-in, first out (LIFO)
a.       Under this rule, your cost would be 300 times $1.71 = $513.
(3)    Highest cost
a.       Under this rule, your cost would be 300 times $2.31 = $693
(4)    Specific identification
a.       You get to pick which shares you sold. All things being the same, you would probably select the May, 2011 lot and use $693 as cost.
Under our example, your answer could vary from a gain of $321 to a loss of $162.  It is quite a swing.
Where is the trap?
You have to tell the broker which method you are using, and you have to tell them before the settlement date of the trade. This is very different from the way it has been, which previously allowed the accountant to decide which method to use when preparing your return. We many times contacted a broker for lot dates, shares and cost when a client had accumulated a position in a stock. We had the luxury (if it could be called that) of doing so when preparing the return. This now has to be done within three business days of the trade date.
There is also another trap. If you do not select a method, the IRS will select it for you. The IRS will decree that you selected the first-in, first-out method. That is a fine method, but if you look back at our example, you will see that it is also the method that reports the least cost, and therefore the most gain, to the IRS. Remember what I said about raising revenue for the government?
 And the final trap? By the time you get to me, there is nothing I – as your tax CPA – can do.

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