‘Tis the season of giving, and a select few may have received gifts in years past they’d rather not have received for one reason or another. Investors should expect that to be the case again this year from mutual fund managers, as has been the case the last couple of years.
Mutual funds are composed of a basket of securities. Within the fund, as those securities within the fund rise and fall in value, any sales that are made cause realized gains and losses. Realized losses are netted against realized gains, and any net gains are passed through to shareholders. In general, shareholders receive notice of this on their 1099-DIV’s and are required to report the realized gains on their respective tax returns.
We experienced a period of relief for a few years following the so called Great Recession, when realized losses within mutual funds were used to offset any realized gains and avoid taxable distributions to shareholders. For the last two years, however, distributions have become the norm for equity funds as stock prices have been largely on the rise since March of 2009. Capital gain distributions will again be present in 2015, and investors should be prepared. There are some equity funds that still are estimating little or no capital gains distributions, and many are in the 3-4% of Net Asset Value range. However, there are also several equity funds that are estimating capital gain distributions of 8-10%, and we have seen distribution estimates for a select few as high as 20% or more of fund value!
If these funds are owned in a retirement account, there is little cause for concern, as the distributions are sheltered from taxation. If they are owned in a taxable investment account, investors need to be aware that taxable distributions are likely on the way.
There remains time for year-end tax planning, and a person may be able to do some “tax harvesting” by selling securities with unrealized losses. However, given the positive movement in the market over the last several years, many may find themselves in the fortunate position of not having losses they can use to offset these anticipated gains.
The silver lining to this cloud is that, while there may be capital gains taxes to pay 2015, it is largely because assets have appreciated. We would much rather be in the positive position of paying taxes on gains, than find ourselves not paying taxes due to losses in accounts.