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15

Cut Your Taxes Without Selling Low

As we start winding our way toward the holidays, investors eager to cut their income taxes start looking at their portfolios for stocks that have lost them money. Selling your losers lets you lock in a capital loss that you can use on your taxes to offset gains on other stocks, as well as some other forms of income. Here are just a few big stocks that have lost money this year.

Stock

Price on Jan. 3

Price on Oct. 23

Change

Washington Mutual (NYSE:WM)

45.47

28.97

(37%)

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)

35.25

26.14

(26%)

Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD)

19.52

13.73

(30%)

Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN)

68.40

57.70

(16%)

Lehman Brothers (NYSE:LEH)

78.63

58.27

(26%)

Office Depot (NYSE:ODP)

38.09

20.16

(47%)

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

If a stock's price decline has convinced you that you're well rid of it for good, then it's easy -- just sell. But it's not that simple if you think your stock is poised for a rebound.

Don't get washed
Ideally, what you'd like to do is claim your tax loss by selling your stock, but then buy it right back before the price goes back up. Unfortunately, the tax laws don't let you do that. According to the so-called "wash sale" rules, you can't claim a tax loss if you buy back the same stock within 30 days of when you sell it.

That month of waiting can create a big problem. If the stock bounces during that 30-day period, then you'll have to pay a higher price to get your stock back. You earned your tax loss, but you ended up losing even more money by selling low and buying higher.

Fortunately, if you're bullish on a stock, there's a way you can both reap your tax losses and benefit from a rebound.

Reverse your thinking
The key to the wash-sale rules is that there has to be a 30-day period between when you sell shares and buy the same shares. But the rules don't specify that you have to sell before you buy. So to stay invested in a stock, buy "back" your shares first. Then, after 30 days, you can sell your original shares, leaving yourself with the same number of shares you started with.

Using this strategy means that instead of having no shares for 30 days, you'll have twice as many shares as you originally bought. So if the price goes up, you won't just make money -- you'll make double the money. Of course, if you're wrong about a potential rebound and the stock keeps going down over that 30-day period, then you'll have doubled your losses as well.

But if you're willing to take the risk of further losses to avoid having to miss out on a rebound, doubling down is the way to go. You won't always be right, but you'll never have to beat yourself up about missing out on a big move up.

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Dan Caplinger
TMFGalagan

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on Fool.com. With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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12/19/2014 4:02 PM
AMD $2.57 Up +0.02 +0.78%
Advanced Micro Dev… CAPS Rating: ***
AMGN $170.17 Up +1.69 +1.00%
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LEH $0.13 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Lehman Brothers Ho… CAPS Rating: *
ODP $8.65 Up +0.26 +3.10%
Office Depot CAPS Rating: *
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