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Cut Your Taxes Without Selling Low

By Dan Caplinger - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 5:18PM

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A twist on tax-loss selling keeps you in the game.

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.

Check out these articles to learn more about:

Get more tax-planning ideas by visiting our Tax Center.

Want more tax-saving tips? Our personal-finance newsletter service, Motley Fool Green Light, can give you the help you need. Green Light's action-oriented approach shows you how to put hundreds of dollars back in your pocket every month. Try it out for 30 days with no obligation, and let Green Lightshow you the way to financial success.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has done most of his tax selling for the year. He owns shares of Starbucks, which is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Washington Mutual is an Income Investor pick. The Fool's disclosure policy is never taxing.

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Stocks Mentioned

Starbucks Corporation Stock Quote
Starbucks Corporation
SBUX
$88.31 (1.19%) $1.04
The ODP Corporation Stock Quote
The ODP Corporation
ODP
$38.67 (3.17%) $1.19
Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. Stock Quote
Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.
AMD
$100.83 (2.76%) $2.71
Amgen Inc. Stock Quote
Amgen Inc.
AMGN
$248.39 (0.02%) $0.04
WMIH Corp. Stock Quote
WMIH Corp.
WAMUQ

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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