In the United States, capital gains tax is a tax on the profits made from the sale of certain assets, such as stocks, real estate, and other investments. Understanding how capital gains are taxed and knowing the rules can help investors navigate the tax implications and make informed financial decisions. In this guide, we will explore the basics of the U.S. capital gains tax and provide insights on how to manage investment profits effectively. Derren Joseph providing US expat tax services, helping individuals abroad navigate their tax obligations with ease and precision.

Types of Capital Gains

1. Short-Term Capital Gains

Short-term capital gains apply to assets held for one year or less before being sold. These gains are typically taxed at the individual’s ordinary income tax rate, which can be higher than the rate for long-term capital gains.

2. Long-Term Capital Gains

Long-term capital gains apply to assets held for more than one year before being sold. The tax rates for long-term capital gains are generally lower than ordinary income tax rates, providing potential tax savings for long-term investors.

Capital Gains Tax Rates

As of 2023, the capital gains tax rates for most taxpayers are as follows:

  • 0% for taxpayers in the 10% and 12% income tax brackets.
  • 15% for taxpayers in the 22%, 24%, 32%, and 35% income tax brackets.
  • 20% for taxpayers in the highest 37% income tax bracket.

Additionally, high-income earners may be subject to a 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) on capital gains, resulting in a maximum tax rate of 23.8% for long-term capital gains.

Reducing Capital Gains Tax

1. Tax-Loss Harvesting

Tax-loss harvesting involves selling investments with losses to offset capital gains from other investments. By strategically realizing losses, investors can reduce their overall tax liability.

2. Holding Period

Holding investments for more than one year can qualify them for the lower long-term capital gains tax rate. Long-term investing can be advantageous for tax efficiency.

3. Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Investing in tax-advantaged accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, can defer or eliminate capital gains tax until withdrawals are made in retirement.

4. Gifting and Charitable Contributions

Gifting appreciated assets to family members or donating them to charity can be a tax-efficient way to transfer assets and potentially reduce capital gains tax.

5. 1031 Exchanges (Real Estate)

For real estate investors, a 1031 exchange allows the deferral of capital gains tax when selling one property and using the proceeds to purchase another similar property.

Capital Loss Carryover

If capital losses exceed capital gains in a tax year, the excess losses can be carried forward to future years to offset capital gains in those years. This capital loss carryover can be used to reduce future tax liabilities.


Navigating the U.S. capital gains tax is crucial for investors to make well-informed decisions and optimize their after-tax investment returns. Understanding the difference between short-term and long-term gains, as well as the associated tax rates, can influence the timing of investment sales. Utilizing tax-loss harvesting, holding investments for the long term, and taking advantage of tax-advantaged accounts are valuable strategies to manage capital gains tax liabilities. Always consider consulting with a tax professional to assess your unique situation and develop a tax-efficient investment plan. By proactively managing capital gains tax, investors can enhance their overall financial success and retain more of their hard-earned investment profits.