Capital Loss Carryover – Definition

Cite this article as:"Capital Loss Carryover – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated September 23, 2019, last accessed October 28, 2020,


What is Capital Loss Carryover?

Capital loss carryover is the net loss that an investor pushes into the future tax years. The net capital loss is the amount that exceeds the capital gains after offsetting capital losses. The Internal Revenue Service allows a maximum deduction of $3,000 in a single financial year.

For the capital losses that exceed the limit, the IRS allows the investor to carry it forward to the next financial years until its exhaustion. Unfortunately, the IRS cannot allow the investor to decide which year they will offset the carryover loss. In case the investor skips a year without offsetting the loss, it means the forfeit is permanent.

A Little More on What is Capital Loss Carryover

Tax provisions on capital losses reduce the severity of the impact that the losses may later cause. However, the provisions bring with them exceptions. For example, investors need to be aware of the wash sale provision.

The wash sale rule suspends any losses an investor incurs if they buy identical securities 30 days after or before selling the securities at a loss. The rule inhibits an investor from claiming the full loss amount when they file tax returns. In the end, the investor can only add the losses to the cost of the new purchase, reducing the future capital gains.

Capital loss indefinite carryover

The Internal Revenue Service does not set a limit on the number of years that an investor may take to exhaust the net losses. Assuming this is a bad year for the stock market, and you sell some of your stock or bond, realizing a loss of $20,000 with zero capital gains.

First, you can use the IRS limit amount of $3,000 to offset your income during that year and carry forward $17,000 to the following year. In the next year, assuming you get a capital gain of $5,000. You can balance out the capital loss with that capital gain, plus the $3,000 from the IRS limit from income, and carryover $9,000 to the following tax year. If you get no gains the following year, you can keep offsetting your ordinary income against your capital loss until you exhaust it.

Another example when an investor is earning an income as low as $500 and he or she, incurs a capital loss on selling assets. The amount is untaxable even without deducting the $3000 for capital loss. The investor does not want to use the income to offset the capital loss that year and carry it forward to the next year. In such a situation, the tax return will include the $3,000 deduction on capital loss, and since the income is not enough, you can carry forward the loss to the next year.

Tax Loss Harvesting

At times, it is wiser for an investor to recognize the capital losses earlier. The concept is tax-loss harvesting, and it helps investors use their ordinary income and capital gains to offset the losses over the years. Investors with good financial judgment make use of the tax-loss harvesting concept.

The tax rate for ordinary income is often higher than the tax rate for capital gains. Realizing the capital loss earlier means, the investor can offset the $3,000 from their income and lower the tax bills each year. In case the investor retires, leading to no income, the tax rates on the Social Security benefits will also be less. However, tax loss harvesting is a subject of debate, and investors should consult tax professionals before using this strategy.

Documentation of Capital Loss Carryover

Investors should report all capital loss carryovers, capital gains, and losses on the Internal Revenue Securities’ Schedule D forms, and business investments on Form 8949. When the investor records all that information properly, keeping track of the capital loss carryover amount will be an easier task.

Reference for “Capital loss carryover” › Investing › Financial Analysis › Personal Finance › Retirement Decisions › Tax Tips › Tax Information Center › Income › Investments

Academic research on “Capital loss carryover”

Unexpected results in capital loss carryover situations–Personal income taxes, Borini, M. P., Dembitzer, L., Gallacher, A. K., & Heinberg, S. (1964). Unexpected results in capital loss carryover situations–Personal income taxes. New York Certified Public Accountant (pre-1986)34(000011), 831.

Are foreign non-grantor trusts allowed a capital loss carryover?, Brister, J. (2005). Are foreign non-grantor trusts allowed a capital loss carryover?. Trusts & Trustees11(2), 15.

New York–Capital loss carryover may be greater than Federal for a resident, Pileski, J. A., & Katz, W. I. (1979). New York–Capital loss carryover may be greater than Federal for a resident. The CPA Journal (pre-1986)49(000010), 52.


Capital gains taxation and tax avoidance: New evidence from panel data, Auerbach, A. J., Burman, L. E., & Siegel, J. (1998). Capital gains taxation and tax avoidance: New evidence from panel data (No. w6399). National Bureau of Economic Research. Previous theoretical analyses of the capital gains tax have suggested that investors have considerable opportunity to avoid the tax. Yet, past empirical work has found relatively little evidence of such activity. Using a previously unavailable panel data set with a very large sample of high-income individuals, this paper aims to bring the theory and evidence closer together by examining the behavior of individual taxpayers over time. Though confirming past findings that avoidance of tax on realized capital gains is not prevalent, we do observe that tax avoidance activity increased after the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, and that high-income, high-wealth and more sophisticated taxpayers were most likely to avoid tax. However, the efficacy of tax avoidance strategies depends on being able to avoid tax for long periods, and we find that most tax avoidance is of relatively short duration. Thus, the effective tax rate on realized capital gains is very close to the statutory rate in all years and tax brackets.

Capital gains taxation in the United States: Realizations, revenue, and rhetoric, Auerbach, A. J., & Poterba, J. (1988). Capital gains taxation in the United States: Realizations, revenue, and rhetoric. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity2, 595-631.

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