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Money Fix: It's a tricky year for capital gains

Looking ahead, unless Congress acts before year's end,

Looking ahead, unless Congress acts before year's end, the current federal long-term capital gains tax rate of 15 percent will increase to 20 percent. Should you take gains now? Evaluate your situation, experts say. Photo Credit: iStock

Unless Congress acts before year's end, the current federal long-term capital gains tax rate of 15 percent will increase to 20 percent. Should you take gains now?

"Not necessarily," says Eric Meermann, a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Scarsdale. "Look at your portfolio and tax situation."

To sell or not?

If you're selling to raise cash, "identify shares with the highest cost basis to reduce the amount realized from the sale, and identify shares which have declined in value -- net losses against capital gains," advises Christopher Woehrle, a tax teacher at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

For example, a couple with a taxable income of $350,000 is considering selling stock they had for three years, and on which they have a $200,000 gain. If they sell now, the 15 percent tax will be $30,000. If they wait until 2013, they will pay 20 percent, or $40,000. It will be further increased by $7,600 from a 3.8 percent Medicare tax that will also apply to investment income, points out Randy Schwartzman, partner in charge for the Northeast tax practice at BDO USA, of Melville.

What about those in zero capital gains bracket?

If you're in the zero capital gains bracket, (taxpayers in the 10 percent and 15 percent tax brackets) selling some securities this year may be smart, especially if you don't have any offsetting losses, says Meerman. However, if you don't have offsetting gains, you might be better off selling in 2013, when you might get a bigger write-off for losses, he adds. This year, with taxes complicated by uncertainty, consult your financial adviser.

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