Capital loss harvesting has long been a staple of investment tax strategy – so much that the Internal Revenue Code has special “wash sale” rules to ensure that the technique is not overly abused. Fortunately, though, the wash sale rules can be navigated effectively, allowing taxpayers some means to take advantage of available tax losses.
However, while tax loss harvesting remains a viable strategy, it is often greatly overvalued, as the true benefit is not the tax savings from harvesting a loss but merely the benefit of deferring those gains. In the meantime, the strategy has a non-trivial exposure to several risks, including the potential for the alternative investment held during the 30-day wash rule period underperforming the original investment, the possibility of negative tax arbitrage if the investment rebounds in the near term, and the danger that harvesting losses too effectively over time will drive the client’s future capital gains into a higher tax bracket! In addition, the fact remains that capital loss harvesting produces no benefits for clients who are eligible for 0% capital gains tax rates, and in fact potentially harms them; in such scenarios, clients should actually be harvesting gains, not losses!
Ultimately, this doesn’t mean that harvesting capital losses is a bad strategy, but it is a strategy where the risks must be carefully considered, as they can easily outweigh the relatively modest benefits!