Year-end Planning

Thinking about tax-loss harvesting? Keep this in mind

Tax-loss harvesting
Tax-loss harvesting

Tax-loss harvesting — the practice of selling a security that's experienced a loss, to realize that loss and offset taxes on both income and other investment gains — is one way to "reverse investors' gloom" at year end, said CNBC Senior Personal Finance Correspondent Sharon Epperson.

But tax-loss harvesting is complicated, and there are some things investors mulling such a move should consider. Epperson turned to three financial advisors for their takes on the practice.

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Certified financial planner Peter Mallouk, president and CIO of Creative Planning, pointed out that transaction costs can take a toll on tax savings. By the time investors sell a stock — move into a (usually higher-cost) exchange-traded fund (ETF), deal with the spread and pay transaction costs — "you may have lost all of your tax savings," he said. "I think it's a very new topic … and many people end up in a worse place because they haven't thought through all of these … issues."

For his part, Ivory Johnson, CFP and founder of Delancey Wealth Management, said maintaining exposure while harvesting tax losses is key. "It's been my experience that most investors are averse to buying high and selling low ... so there's always the chance the stock [you're selling] will rebound," he said. Buying an ETF in a sector that mirrors the stock you've sold can help investors maintain proper exposure.

"If it [the sold stock] does rebound, you've got the tax loss harvested that you can induct against other gains, but you also have exposure in the same sector," Johnson said.

Offset taxes on gains and income by 'harvesting'

Asked how she explains tax-loss harvesting tactics in real-world terms to clients, Manisha Thakor, director of Wealth Strategies for Women at Buckingham and The BAM Alliance, said she encourages clients to set a specific dollar amount that will be the "trigger" at which they'll engage in tax-loss harvesting. She also reminds them of wash-sale rules that forbid buying a similar security after a tax-loss harvesting sale.

"There are a lot of nuances, and you really want to make sure that you're paying attention to the details and not just hearing the buzzword 'tax-loss harvesting' and jumping into it," Thakor said. "I'm biased, but I think it's something that's best handled by a knowledgeable professional."