Tax-Loss Selling: Opportunities during a market downturn

Scott Syrja |

With COVID-19’s effect on market conditions, now could be a great time to review your investment portfolio to identify tax planning opportunities, such as tax loss selling.  In this article, we’ll discuss how tax loss selling works and how to ensure losses you do trigger can be claimed as intended. 

How does “Tax Loss Selling” work?

Tax loss selling today can be used to free up additional cashflow when you file this year’s taxes next spring.  If you recognize capital losses on your non-registered investments this year and those losses exceed any capital gains recognized this year, the losses can be carried back to offset net capital gains reported in any of the last 3 taxation years. 

This may generate a tax refund for those prior years when net capital gains were reported.  Capital losses that cannot be applied to capital gains in the current year, or the previous 3 taxation years, can be carried forward into the future indefinitely.  If the capital losses cannot be immediately utilized, either through a loss carryback strategy or as a claim against capital gains anticipated this year or in the near future, then generally there will be no tax reason for realizing such losses today. 

Even in less turbulent times you don’t want to miss a positive trading day in the markets.  However, there are complex tax rules that can potentially deny the capital loss you may plan to realize.  So, you need a plan to stay invested with the same risk tolerance whilst at the same time preserving the use of your loss.

Watch out for “Superficial loss rules”

Superficial loss rules are intended to prevent you from realizing and claiming a capital loss for tax purposes when your actual intent is not to sell the property.  These rules deny some (or all) of the loss for tax purposes where certain conditions are met.

The superficial loss rules apply if:

  • During the period that begins 30 days before a disposition and ends 30 days after a disposition, you or a person affiliated with you, acquires a property (referred to as the “substituted property”) that is the same property or identical property, and at the end of that period, you or a person affiliated with you owns or had a right to acquire the substituted property.

  • Double taxation is prevented by adding the amount of the superficial loss to the adjusted cost base of the substituted property, placing you in the same tax position relative to the substituted property as was the case prior to the transactions.  As such, no tax advantage is gained, but no tax disadvantage either.

What are Identical Properties?

At the heart of the superficial loss rules is the definition of an identical property.  Identical properties are properties that are the same in all material respects, so that a prospective buyer would not prefer one over another.

Who is an Affiliated Person?

A loss will fall within the definition of a superficial loss even if the substituted property is not acquired by you, but rather by an “affiliated person”.  The definition of “affiliated person” is quite broad and includes:

  1. You and your spouse or common-law partner

  2. You and a corporation or partnership controlled by you, your spouse or common law partner

  3. A trust and its majority interest beneficiary or their spouse

Here’s an example of how superficial loss rules work:

  • On January 31, 2020, an investor purchases 100 shares* of ABC Inc. for $100 per share
  • The shares declined in value and on May 1, 2020, the investor sells the shares for $70 per share
  • The investor repurchases the same shares of ABC Inc. two days later at $70 per share
  • Superficial loss rules will add the $30 loss per share to the new shares of ABC Inc. purchased
  • As such, the shares of ABC Inc. purchased on May 3, 2020, will have an ACB of $100 per share, not $70 per share
  • Investor then sells the ABC Inc. shares on July 2, 2021 for good for $150 per share, realizing a capital gain of $5,000
  • In this example, the investor did not wait the required 30 days before
  • Repurchasing the same shares – therefore the superficial loss rules apply.  As a result, the capital loss triggered on May 1, 2020, of $3,000 will be denied and is added to the ACB to the shares of ABC Inc. reacquired on May 3, 2020.  When the investor subsequently sells the shares of ABC Inc. in 2021, the capital gain realized will be the same as it would have been had the investor never sold the original shares back in May of 2020. 

Tax loss selling is complicated and if you’re considering this approach, understanding the potential tax implications is critical.  Consult with your accountant to understand how such losses can work for you and to ensure losses you do trigger can be claimed as intended. To begin the discussion, your IG Consultant can help determine whether a tax loss selling strategy could work for you.

*Brokerage services offered through Investors Group Securities Inc. Investors Group Securities Inc. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

Published as a general source of information only.  Not intended as a solicitation to buy or sell specific investments, or to provide tax, legal or investment advice. Seek advice on your specific circumstances from an IG Wealth Management Consultant. Trademarks, including IG Private Wealth Management, are owned by IGM Financial Inc. and licensed to its subsidiary corporations.