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How Do You Cash Out Stocks? Guide to Selling Stocks

Buying stocks can be fairly straightforward, whether online or through a financial advisor. But, when it’s time to sell shares, some beginning investors struggle with how to turn their stocks back into cash. After all, money invested in stocks is not immediately cash.

Investors may want to sell stocks for a wide variety of reasons. They might wish to reinvest the cash into another asset with an eye toward long-term gains. Or they could choose to withdraw funds from the stock market to cover short-term, daily expenses with cash earned from the sale.

So, how might investors go about cashing out stocks? And, what factors might individuals curious about how to cash out stocks bear in mind? Here’s an overview of the how and when of selling stocks.

Key Points

•   Stocks can be cashed out by selling them through a broker on a stock exchange.

•   Selling stocks can provide cash for major expenses or to reinvest in other assets.

•   Steps to cash out stocks include determining investment goals, accessing a brokerage account, placing a sell order, waiting for the sale to be completed, and receiving the proceeds.

•   Motivations for selling stocks include accessing cash for expenses, cashing out profits, preventing significant losses, day trading, and offloading low-performing stocks.

•   Types of sell orders include market orders, limit orders, stop orders, and trailing sell stop orders.

Can You Cash Out Stocks?

Investors can cash out stocks by selling them on a stock exchange through a broker. Stocks are relatively liquid assets, meaning they can be converted into cash quickly, especially compared to investments like real estate or jewelry. However, until an investor sells a stock, their money stays tied up in the market.

What Happens When You Sell a Stock?

When you sell a stock for a higher price than you paid, the proceeds from the sale will include your original investment plus your gains and minus any fees. If you sold your stock at a lower price than you paid, the proceeds will include your original investment minus your losses and any fees.

How to Cash Out Your Stocks: 5 Steps

There are several steps involved in selling stocks, including the following:

1.    Determine your investment goals: Consider why you want to sell your stocks and whether it aligns with your overall investment goals.

2.    Access your brokerage account: You need to access or log in to your brokerage account to sell your stocks.

3.    Place an order to sell your stocks: Once you’re logged into your brokerage account, you can place a sell order (like the orders outlined below) to sell your stocks. You can choose to sell at a specific price or through a market order, which will sell the stocks at the current market price.

4.    Wait for the sale to be completed: After placing an order to sell your stocks, you will need to wait for the sale to be completed. This can take anywhere from a few seconds to several days, depending on market conditions and the type of order you have placed.

5.    Receive the proceeds from the sale: After the sale is completed, the proceeds from the sale will be deposited into your brokerage account or sent to you in the form of a check.

Motivations for Selling Stocks

Some investors watch their portfolios closely, selling stocks regularly to cash out profits or avoid significant losses.

However, one common reason investors decide to sell stocks is that they need the cash from the investments to pay for living expenses. While different investors might sell for various reasons, it can be helpful to understand the motivation that drives the desire to sell.

So, why might investors want to cash out stocks? Some common reasons could include the following:

Motivation for Selling Stocks

Accessing Cash for Life Expenses

If investors know they’ll need cash for a major life expense, such as buying a car or home, they may choose to cash out some stocks. Selling shares might ensure there’s enough cash around to cover big expenses.

One benefit to having cash on hand instead of having money invested in stocks is that cash is not subject to the ups and downs of the stock market. However, the value of cash is impacted over time by inflation.

Some investors might also opt to move money out of stocks into potentially more secure investments, such as bonds or a money market account, until they’re ready to pay for that large expense. This way, their money still earns interest while at a lower risk of losing value.

Cashing Out Profits

If it appears as though a recession is coming or investors have seen significant gains in their portfolio, they might choose to cash out to lock in the profits.

However, attempting to time the stock market to avoid losses during unstable economic conditions is risky. What seems to be a trend in the market one day may or may not indicate how the markets may perform in the future.

Investors may want to ask themselves whether they’re interested in cashing out based on an emotional reaction (fear of recent market ups and downs, for instance) or a need for profits.

Preventing Significant Losses

The goal of investing in stocks is to earn profits, not take losses. Still, there are some instances in which it could make sense to sell at a loss.

For example, an investor may sell specific stock holdings to prevent the likelihood of deeper losses in the future. Another scenario that might drive an investor to want to sell stocks is an industry-wide hardship, where numerous companies in one sector of the economy experience financial calamity at the same time. Industry-wide hardships may negatively impact the value of specific stock holdings.

In other instances, a company might reduce or eliminate shareholder dividends. Earning dividends may be a prime reason an investor bought the stock in the first place, so they decide to sell the stock because it’s no longer part of their investment strategy.

Day Trading

Day trading is one way of selling stocks, but it can carry significant risks. Day trades are the purchasing and selling (or vice versa) of the same stock on the same day. Here, traders are attempting to gain profit through short-term trades — typically through the use of technical or market analyses, which can require an in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of trading.

If it were possible to clearly predict future stock movements, everyone might want in on the stock market. But, stocks are volatile. Rather than guessing based on company news and technical indicators, traders who wish to make shorter term trades might choose to set a price goal. For instance, if they buy shares at $10 each, they could set a goal to sell them when they reach $18 per share.

Offloading Low Performing Stocks

Even if investors conduct thorough research on a company before buying a stock, they may later realize it wasn’t a boon for their portfolio. If a purchased stock continues to decline in value over time, investors may opt to offload the low-performing stock.

Also, some investors sell low-performing stocks at the end of the year for tax-loss harvesting, where investors sell investments at a loss to reduce their overall tax burden.

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Understanding Types of Sell Orders

Once an investor has decided to cash out a stock, there are several options for how to sell. Each comes with different amounts of control over the sale. Here’s an overview of the most common types of sell orders:

Understanding Types of Sell Orders

Market Orders

When placing a market order, an investor agrees to sell their shares at the current market price per share. The sell order will be placed immediately or when the market reopens if the order is placed after hours.

One upside of market orders is that the trade can usually be executed quickly. A downside is that the investor has no control over the selling price.

Limit Orders

With a limit order, however, an investor can set the minimum price they are willing to sell their shares for. The sell order only gets executed if and when the stock reaches that price or higher.

For example, if you want to sell a stock currently trading at $50 per share and place a sell limit order at $55, the order will only be filled if the stock price rises to $55 or above.

The upside of limit orders is that investors can control the selling price (and potentially get a higher price than the current market rate). But, one possible downside is that their order won’t go through instantly and, potentially, might never go through (if the stock doesn’t reach the selected price).

Stop Orders or Stop-Loss Orders

A stop-loss order is placed with a brokerage to automatically sell a security when it reaches a specific price, known as the stop price. The reason investors set stop orders is to prevent incurring significant losses if a stock plummets in value.

For example, if you own a stock currently trading at $50 per share and place a stop-loss order at $40, the order will be triggered, and the stock will be sold if the price falls to $40 or below.

The upside of stop orders is that they can help protect against significant losses if the stock price drops unexpectedly. However, stop-loss orders do not guarantee a specific price, and the actual sale price may differ from the stop price due to market fluctuations.

Trailing Sell Stop Orders

Investors may also choose to place a trailing sell stop order, which allows you to set a stop price for a security that adjusts automatically as the price of the security moves in your favor.

With a trailing sell stop order, you can set the initial stop price at a certain percentage or dollar amount below the market price. The stop price will then adjust automatically as the market price of the security increases so that the stop price remains a fixed percentage or dollar amount below the market price. If the market price of the security then falls and reaches the stop price, the order will be triggered, and the security will be sold.

Trailing sell stop orders may allow traders to benefit from gains when a stock’s price rises while still protecting themselves from potential losses.

Factors to Assess When Cashing Out Stocks

There are several factors that you should consider when cashing out stocks:

•   Capital gains taxes: Cashing out stocks may result in capital gains, which are subject to taxes. It is important to consider the tax implications of cashing out stocks. Not all stock holdings are taxed similarly, which could impact an investor’s decision to sell or not to sell.

•   Investment goals: Consider why you are cashing out stocks and whether it aligns with your overall investment goals. If you are cashing out stocks to meet a short-term financial need, selling may be necessary even if the stock price is not optimal. However, if you are cashing out stocks as part of a long-term investment strategy, it may be worth holding onto the stocks, even if they’ve declined in price, because they may still appreciate over time.

•   Fees and commissions: Brokerage firms generally charge investment fees and commissions for executing trades, which can impact the overall profit or loss on the sale of your stocks. Considering these fees and commissions is important when deciding whether to cash out stocks.

Pros and Cons of Reinvesting Profits

Investors may choose to sell stocks to gain or spend cash. But, individuals may want to reinvest earnings from the stocks sold into other assets. If investors decide to reinvest their profits, they need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.

Pros

Cons

Benefit from compound growth Lose out on opportunity to use profits for other financial needs
Diversify your portfolio Capital gains taxes
Hedge against inflation Exposure to market risk

Pros

•   Compound growth: Reinvesting stock profits allows you to compound your returns on your investments, which can significantly increase your overall returns over time.

•   Diversification: Reinvesting stock profits can help you diversify your portfolio and reduce risk by investing in various stocks rather than holding a lot of cash.

•   Hedge against inflation: Cash is subject to inflation, which makes cash savings lose value over time. Over a long-term period, cash tends to lose value, whereas the stock market tends to grow. By reinvesting rather than holding on to cash, investors may be less likely to lose money due to inflation.

💡 Recommended: 5 Tips to Hedge Against Inflation

Cons

•   Opportunity cost: Reinvesting stock profits means that you are not using the proceeds from the sale of your stocks to meet other financial goals or needs, such as paying off debt or saving for a down payment on a house.

•   Taxes: Reinvesting stock profits may result in capital gains tax, which can reduce the overall returns on your investments.

•   Market risk: The value of your investments can fluctuate due to market conditions, and reinvesting stock profits means you are exposed to the risks of the stock market.

Platforms for Buying and Selling Stocks

People just getting started with building a portfolio of stocks have several options. Options might include online platforms or traditional phone-in and in-person traders, including:

Online Brokerage Accounts

There are numerous online brokerage accounts and digital apps where investors can buy and sell stocks to build a portfolio. Online brokerage accounts and apps can be a convenient investment method, allowing users to sell from anywhere. Unlike many traditional brokerage firms, many trading apps don’t charge a commission on trades.

Opening a brokerage account will require identity verification and connection with a bank account for deposits and withdrawals.

Financial Advisors

Investors can also make stock trades over the phone or in person by working with a financial advisor. Sell orders placed through these individuals generally get executed within 24 hours, so it can be a slower method to cash out stocks. Before the arrival of web-driven trading, most stocks were bought and sold through traditional investment brokers or financial advisors.

The Takeaway

Before selling any stocks, investors might opt to evaluate their short- and long-term financial goals. Then, they could devise a plan to pursue those objectives, which may lead to cashing out stock holdings. However, knowing when to sell a stock can take time and effort. Rather than trying to time the market and sell stocks to lock in immediate profits and avoid future losses, individuals may want to invest for the long term.

Understanding how to navigate the stock market and decide when to cash out your stocks can be complicated. But that doesn’t mean the investing process needs to be confusing. By opening a SoFi Invest® online brokerage account, you can buy and sell stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), fractional shares, and more with a few clicks of a button with no commissions. You can track your favorite stocks, stay up to date on the latest market news, and access educational resources, all in the SoFi app.

Take a step toward reaching your financial goals with SoFi Invest.

FAQ

How long does it take to cash out stocks?

The time it takes to cash out stocks can vary depending on the type of order you place and market conditions. Generally, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to several days for a sale of stocks to be completed.

Do you get money when you sell stock?

Yes, you will receive money when you sell stock. The proceeds from the stock sale will be deposited into your brokerage account or sent to you in the form of a check. The amount of money you receive will depend on the price you sell the stock and any fees or commissions charged by the brokerage firm.

Can I withdraw money from stocks?

To access cash from stocks, you need to sell your holdings and use the proceeds from the sale to withdraw cash from your brokerage account.


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SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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What Is Disposable Income?

Here’s the definition of disposable income: It’s the amount of money you have available to spend or save after your income taxes have been deducted.

You may also hear this sum of money called disposable earnings or disposable personal income (or DPI). Another interesting fact: Disposable income is carefully watched by economists because it is a valuable indicator of the economy’s health.

What’s more, as you may realize, disposable income is the basis of your own personal budget. It’s an indicator of your financial status as well as the foundation for deciding how to spend and save your cash.

Key Points

•   Disposable income refers to the money available for spending or saving after income taxes have been deducted.

•   It is an important indicator of an individual’s financial status and is used to determine how to allocate funds.

•   Disposable income is different from discretionary income, which takes into account essential expenses.

•   Calculating disposable income involves subtracting taxes and other mandatory deductions from gross earnings.

•   Budgeting disposable income involves tracking spending, setting goals, and allocating funds for basic living expenses, discretionary spending, and saving/investing.

What Is Disposable Income?

Simply put, the disposable income definition is money you have left over from your earnings after taxes and any other mandatory charges are deducted.

This money (which may also be referred to as expendable income) can then be spent or saved as you see fit. You will likely use it for your basic living expenses, or the needs in your daily life, such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, healthcare, and minimum debt payments.

You may also spend that money on the wants in life, such as dining out, entertainment, travel, and non-vital purchases, such as a cool new watch or mountain bike.

Your disposable income can also be allocated towards your goals, such as saving for your child’s college education, the down payment on a house, and/or retirement.

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Why Disposable Income Is Important

There are different types of income, and disposable income is usually defined as the amount of money you keep after federal, state, and local taxes and other mandatory deductions are subtracted from gross earnings. Consider these details:

•  Mandatory deductions include Social Security, state income tax, federal income tax, and state disability insurance.

•  Voluntary deductions, such as health benefit deductions, 401(k) contributions, deductions for other employer-sponsored benefits, as well as any assignments of support (such as child support) are excluded from the calculation. These costs are considered part of your disposable earnings.

•  Disposable income is an important number not just for consumers, but also the nation as a whole. The average disposable income of the country is used by analysts to measure consumer spending, payment ability, probable future savings, and the overall health of a nation’s economy.

•  International economists use national measures of disposable income to compare economies of different countries.

On an individual level, your disposable income is also a key economic indicator because this is the actual amount of money you have to spend or save.

For example, if your salary is $60,000, you don’t actually have $60,000 to spend over the course of the year. Federal, state, and possibly other local taxes will be deducted, as will Social Security and Medicare taxes.

What is left over is what you would have to spend on everything else in your life, such as housing, transportation, food, health insurance and other necessities.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should spend all of your disposable income. Another thing to consider is disposable vs. discretionary income. This will tell you actually how much money you have to play with.

Recommended: What’s the Difference Between Income and Net Worth?

Disposable Income vs. Discretionary Income

Although they’re often confused with one another, disposable income is completely different from discretionary income.

While disposable income is your income minus only taxes, discretionary income takes into account the costs of both taxes and other essential expenses. Essential expenses include rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, insurance, clothing, and more.

Discretionary income is what you can have leftover after the essentials are subtracted. This is what you can spend on nonessential or discretionary items.

Some costs that fall under the discretionary category are dining out, vacations, recreation, and luxury items, like jewelry. Although internet service and your cell phone may seem like necessities, these expenses are considered discretionary expenses.

Similarities

Both disposable and discretionary income are a way of looking at income after taxes.

However, discretionary income goes a step further and deducts essential expenses, such as housing and healthcare.

Differences

As you might expect, discretionary income is always less than disposable income. When you subtract discretionary income from disposable income, the amount that remains is how much you can put towards wants (fun spending) and savings.

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Calculating Disposable Income

Disposable income refers to the amount of earnings left over after mandatory federal, state and local deductions. But disposable income is not necessarily the same as your take-home pay.

Deductions from your paycheck may include additional items such as health insurance, retirement plan contributions, and health savings accounts. These deductions are voluntary, not mandatory.

To calculate your disposable earnings, you can simply subtract federal, state and local taxes, Medicare, and Social Security from your gross earnings. Be sure to include any passive income streams, such as rental income, or side hustle earnings (more on that in a moment), when doing the math for your gross income. The resulting amount is your disposable income.

How to calculate disposable income

Some of the finer points to note:

•  You may want to keep in mind, however, that taxes deducted from your paycheck are an estimate. If you have a history of getting a large refund or having a large amount of taxes due, it may be worth reviewing your withholdings through your employer.

This could help you adjust the withholdings so it is closer to the actual expected tax that will be calculated when you file. You can then plan accordingly.

•  Even if you’re a contractor or freelancer, or if you made additional income from side gigs along with your salary, you can still calculate your disposable income.

This requires subtracting your quarterly tax payments and any additional taxes you will owe from your overall income. You can then determine your monthly after-tax income.

Setting aside money to pay taxes can also help you budget with your disposable income.

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Disposable Income Budgeting

Calculating your disposable income is a key first step in preparing a budget. You need to know how much you have to spend in order to plan your monthly spending and saving.

A personal budget puts you in control of your disposable income and helps you make financial decisions. It forces you to take a closer look at how you’re spending your money.

Here are a few ideas that could be helpful when developing a budget based on disposable income.

Tracking Spending

Disposable income is what’s coming into your account every month. It’s a good idea to also determine what is going out each month.

To do this, you can gather up bank and credit card statements, as well as receipts, from the past three months or so, and then list all of your monthly spending (both essential and discretionary/nonessential).

To make this list more accurate, you may want to actually track your spending for a month. You can do this with a phone app (your bank’s app may include this function), by carrying a small notebook and jotting down everything you buy, or by saving all of your receipts and logging it later.

This can be an eye-opening exercise. Many of us have no idea how much we’re spending on the little things, like morning coffees, and how much they can add up to at the end of the month.

Once you see your spending laid out in black and white, you may find some easy ways to cut back, such as getting rid of subscriptions and streaming services that you rarely use, brewing coffee at home, cooking more and getting less take-out, or getting rid of a pricy gym membership and working out at home.

Setting Goals And Spending Targets

Tracking income and spending can provide a great starting point for setting financial goals and spending targets.

•  Goals are things that a person aims for in the short- or long-term — like paying off student loans or buying a new car.

•  Spending targets are how much you want to spend each month in general categories in order to have money left over to put towards your savings goals.

Since essential spending often can’t be adjusted, spending targets are typically for discretionary income.

One option for budgeting disposable income is the 50/30/20 plan. This suggests spending about 50% on necessities, 30% on discretionary items, and then putting aside 20% for savings and other long-term goals.

Use the 50/30/20 budget calculator below to see how your budget would fall into those three categories.


These percentages are general guidelines, however, and can be adjusted as needed based on individual circumstances. For example, if you live in a competitive housing area, rent may take up a larger portion of your expenses, and you may have to bump up necessity spending to 60% and decrease fun money to 20% instead.

Or, if you are saving for something in the near term, like a car or a wedding, you may want to temporarily bump up the savings category, and pull back unnecessary spending for a few months.

3 Uses for Your Disposable Income

Once you have calculated your disposable income, you can consider the ways you might divide it up:

Basic Living Expenses

Some of your disposable income will go towards necessities, such as:

•  Housing

•  Utilities

•  Food

•  Healthcare

•  Transportation

•  Insurance

•  Minimum debt payments.

Discretionary Spending

Next, there are the wants in life. These are things that are not vital for survival but can certainly make things more enjoyable:

•  Eating out

•  Entertainment, such as streaming platforms, movies, concerts, and books

•  Clothing that isn’t essential (like winter boots)

•  Electronics, like the latest mobile phone

•  Travel

•  Gifts.

Saving and Investing

In addition to the spending outlined above, you will likely want to save money or invest it for your short-term and/or long-term goals. These may include:

•  Your emergency fund

•  The down payment for a house

•  A college fund for children

•  Money to start your own business

•  A new car

•  Retirement.

Recommended: Get a personalized estimate for your emergency fund by using our emergency fund calculator.

Opening a Savings Account With SoFi

Disposable income is a key concept in budgeting, as it refers to the income that’s left over after you pay taxes. Knowing how much disposable income you have is the foundation for putting together a simple budget that allows for necessary expenses, having fun, while also saving for the future. Finding the right banking partner is another important element of planning for tomorrow.

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FAQ

What does disposable income mean?

Disposable income (or what may be known as disposable earnings) is the money you have left after taxes and other mandatory deductions are taken out of your income.

What is an example of disposable income?

An example of disposable income would be a $100,000 gross salary, minus $30,000 in taxes and $15,300 in Social Security and Medicare deductions. The remaining $54,700 is disposable income.

What is the difference between disposable income and discretionary income?

Disposable income refers to earnings minus taxes and mandatory deductions, such as Social Security and Medicare. Discretionary income is a subset of disposable income. It is the money left once you have paid for essentials, such as housing, utilities, food, and healthcare. The money that is left can be used for non-essential spending and for saving.



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As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

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SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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APY vs Interest Rate

Interest rates and APY, or annual percentage yield, are likely words that you’ll hear throughout your financial life. If you are opening an interest-earning bank account, you’ll likely want to earn the highest return on your money that you can find. Conversely, if you are borrowing money (say, taking out a home loan), you’ll probably want to snag the lowest rate on your mortgage.

While you may see the terms interest and APY used interchangeably, they are not identical. APY expresses how much you will earn on your cash over the course of a year. Interest rate, however, is the interest percentage that you’ll earn or that a lender will change you.

Ready to learn more about APY vs. interest rate and how each impacts your finances

Key Points

•   APY (Annual Percentage Yield) and interest rate are two different concepts that are often used interchangeably but have distinct meanings.

•   APY represents the amount of money you will earn on your deposits over the course of a year, taking into account compound interest.

•   Interest rate, on the other hand, is the percentage at which your money will accrue interest, without considering compounding.

•   APY is higher than the interest rate because it includes the effect of compounding, which allows your money to grow faster.

•   Understanding the difference between APY and interest rate is important when opening a bank account or taking out a loan.

APY and Interest Rate Defined

If you deposit money into an interest-bearing account, you will earn an annual percentage yield (APY) on that money. The APY is a useful number because it tells you how much you’ll earn on your deposits over the course of a year, expressed as a percentage. The APY calculation takes into account the interest rate being offered, then factors in whether or not the financial institution offers compounded interest.

Compound interest is the interest you earn on the interest you’ve already earned. Depending on the bank or credit union, interest may compound daily, monthly, quarterly, or annually. The more frequently interest compounds, the faster your money grows.

💡 Quick Tip: An online bank account with SoFi can help your money earn more — up to 4.60% APY, with no minimum balance required.

What Is APY?

APY expresses how much money your cash will earn over the course of a year when it’s in an interest-bearing account.

APY is often confused with APR, which stands for annual percentage rate and comes into play when you take out a loan. A loan’s APR factors in the loan’s interest rate, as well as any additional fees and costs. It tells you how much you will pay for the loan over one year.

What Is an Interest Rate?

An interest rate is typically either the money you earn for keeping your cash at a financial institution or the cost that lenders charge you when they extend credit.

For example, if you put your money in a high-interest savings account, you might earn 4.50% for keeping your funds there. But if you take out a mortgage, you might be charged 7.00% interest for the privilege of borrowing that money to buy a house and paying it back over time.

Incidentally, the difference between the interest rates that banks pay depositors and charge borrowers is one of the ways these financial institutions earn money.

Earn up to 4.60% APY with a high-yield savings account from SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings account and earn up to 4.60% APY - with no minimum balance and no account fees.


💡 Quick Tip: Want a simple way to save more each month? Grow your personal savings by opening an online savings account. SoFi offers high-interest savings accounts with no account fees. Open your savings account today!

APY vs. Interest Rate Explained

So what is the difference between APY and interest rate? And why does interest rate vs. APY matter anyway? When you are opening a bank account, it can make a difference as one can give you a better picture of how your money will grow while on deposit.

The interest rate tells you the basic rate at which your money will accrue interest. The APY, however, gives you great insight to what you will have earned at the end of a year because it factors in the boost that compound interest can deliver.

Recommended: Different Ways to Earn Interest

The APY Formula

For those who want to delve in a bit deeper, the actual formula for APY calculation is as follows: (1 + r/n)ⁿ – 1.

•   The “r” stands for the interest rate being paid.

•   The “n” represents the number of compounding periods within a year.

If, for example, the interest rate is 3.50%, then that’s what you’d use for the “r.” If interest is compounded quarterly, then “n” would equal four.

Compounding frequency can cause two different savings accounts with the same interest rates to have different APYs. For example, if two different banks offer a certificate of deposit (CD) with the same interest rate and one of them compounds annually, that institution would have a lower APY than the institution that compounds quarterly or daily.

Fortunately, if you want to compare savings rates from one bank or credit union to another, you don’t need to perform these in-depth calculations.

Financial institutions are required to provide information on APY as part of the Truth in Savings Act. And, here’s the heart of it all: The higher the APY, then the more quickly the money you deposit can grow.

Recommended: Use the APY calculator below to see how much interest you can earn on your investments.


Calculating APR

The APR vs. interest rate of a loan tells you how much the loan will cost you over one year, including both the loan’s interest rate and fees, and is expressed as a percentage. A loan’s APR gives you a better sense of the true cost of the loan than the loan’s interest rate, since it includes fees. The higher the APR, the more you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

Thanks to the federal Truth in Lending Act, lenders must provide the APR of a loan. This allows you to compare loans apples to apples. A loan with a low interest rate but high fees may not be a good deal. In fact, you may be better off with a loan that charges a higher interest rate but no or lower fees. APR allows you to be a savvy consumer.

APR can be calculated with this formula: APR = ((Interest + Fees / Principal or Loan amount) / N or Number of days in loan term)) x 365 x 100. Lender’s will tell you the APR of a loan and you won’t need to perform any complicated calculations.

How Simple and Compound Interest Differ

Another dimension of interest rate vs. APY is seen when you consider how simple and compound interest differ. With simple interest, no compounding is involved. If you were to deposit $10,000 in an account earning 4.00% simple interest, at the end of three years, your money would earn $1,200 for a total of $11,200.

If, however, the interest were compounded daily, you would earn $408 the first year. The second year, interest would accrue on the principal and the interest ($10,408), and you would earn $425 the next year (for $10,833), and then $442 the year after that, for a total of $11,275.

While the dollar amount may not seem earth-shattering in this example of a few years, when you are talking about your decades-long financial life, it can really add up. Your money will grow faster with compound interest, helping you reach your financial goals.

Types of High-Interest Accounts for Savings

If you’re looking to earn a competitive rate on your savings, you’ll want to compare accounts by looking at APYs, as well as account fees and minimums. Generally, you can find competitive rates by looking at high-yield savings accounts, money market accounts, and CDs.

•   High-yield savings accounts, typically offered by credit unions and online banks, are accounts that typically pay a substantially higher APY than the national average of traditional savings accounts. They generally also have low or no fees.

•   Money market accounts are savings accounts that offer some of the features of a checking account, such as checks or a debit card. They often come with a higher APY than a traditional savings account, but typically require a higher balance, such as $1,000 or more, to avoid monthly fees.

•   Certificates of deposits (CDs) also tend to pay a higher APY than a regular savings account but require you to leave your money untouched for a certain period of time, called a term. If you take money out before then, you’ll likely pay an early withdrawal penalty. CD terms typically range from three months to five years. Generally, the longer the term, the higher the APY.

High-Interest Checking Accounts

Checking accounts work well for everyday spending but typically offer no interest or very little. A high-yield checking account is a special type of account offered by some financial institutions (such as traditional and online banks, and credit unions) that offers a higher-than-average APY. These are accounts designed to give you the flexibility of a traditional checking account (with checks and/or a debit card) but with higher-interest returns.

A few points to note:

•   Often, to qualify for the highest rate the checking account has to offer, you need to meet certain criteria. This might be making a certain number of debit card transactions in a month, having at least one direct deposit or automated clearing house (ACH) payment each month, or choosing to receive paperless statements.

•   Some high-interest checking accounts will offer different APY tiers, with higher account balances earning a higher APY than lower account balances.

Creating a SoFi Savings Account

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.


Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Why is APY higher than the interest rate?

There is a difference between APY and interest rate: The APY is higher than the interest rate because it reflects the effect of compounding, in which your money earns interest on its interest.

What does it mean to earn 5.00% APY?

If an account says it earns 5.00% APY, that means at the end of the year, your money on deposit will earn 5.00% (say, $500 on $10,000 on deposit). The interest rate may be lower, because the APY reflects the impact of compounding interest.

Why do banks use APY instead of APR?

When a bank tells you its APY, or annual percentage yield, it’s sharing how much your money can grow when on deposit for a year. On the other hand, APR stands for annual percentage rate, which is the amount charged if you borrow money. If you are interested in taking out a loan from the bank, you would be told the APR.


SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Test Your Financial Literacy

Financial literacy is a way of saying that you have a good working knowledge of the basics of managing money and using it to reach your goals. It typically means you understand budgeting; you know how different financial products can help you protect and grow your cash; and you are aware of how the financial climate (from inflation to interest rates) can impact your personal situation.

Building financial literacy is a valuable move because it helps you achieve goals like saving for the down payment on a house, affording your kid’s college costs, and being prepared for retirement.

Read on to take a financial literacy quiz, learn more about financial literacy, and find out how to build it.

Why Financial Literacy Is Important

Higher levels of financial literacy have been consistently linked to responsible money management. This can help consumers:

•   Avoid high-cost debt

•   Plan for financial goals

•   Avoid defaulting on mortgages

•   Build an emergency savings fund

•   Earn higher interest on investments

Boosting your financial literacy can be a great way to be confident that you have the information and insight you need to manage your finances well, today and tomorrow.

💡 Quick Tip: Banish bank fees. Open a new bank account with SoFi and you’ll pay no overdraft, minimum balance, or any monthly fees.

Are You Financially Literate?

If you feel as if you are not fully financially literate, it might be a case of not having focused on this aspect of your life. After all, financial literacy isn’t usually a part of the curriculum in high school or college.

Also, age plays a factor in financial literacy. The younger you are, the less money know-how you are likely to have. One recent study found that Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) had less financial savvy than Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers. Which could be understandable: The younger a person is, the less likely it can be that they’ve gone mortgage shopping, waded deeply into retirement planning, or researched health insurance.

Typically, financial literacy based on such key components of this type of knowledge as:

•   Knowing how to create an effective budget so that you’re aware of and accountable for where your money is going

•   Understanding how interest works when you save and invest, as well as how it works when you borrow, including the concept of compound interest

•   Saving, whether that means for emergencies or for a specific goal, such as a big-ticket item or even a house

•   Knowing the facts about credit card debt, managing your debt well, and avoiding the credit card debt roller-coaster

•   Protecting your identity and otherwise using practices to safeguard your funds

•   Investing wisely, and understanding how the average stock market return

Financial Literacy Quiz

Educating Yourself

If you’ve taken our quiz, the financial literacy questions will likely have helped you to pinpoint if you need to bolster your understanding of money matters.

Financial topics can be challenging, but fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you increase your knowledge. Your bank may have a library of information as well as tools and calculators to help you do some number crunching and give you a better picture of your finances.

Your local library and book retailers, as well as financial magazines and websites, probably have plenty of information too. It can be a smart move to veer towards those publications that are well-regarded vs. following, say, an influencer without credentials but a lot of lofty promises on social media.

Podcasts, newsletters, and continuing-ed classes are other options. It can also make good sense to find a financial planner, who can walk you through your own unique challenges and opportunities.

💡 Quick Tip: Want a simple way to save more each month? Grow your personal savings by opening an online savings account. SoFi offers high-interest savings accounts with no account fees. Open your savings account today!

Government Resources for Building Financial Literacy

There are also government resources, including those available at the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC), connected to the Treasury Department. This commission was founded to boost literacy.

Another government site, one created by FLEC, is dedicated to financial education: MyMoney.gov . This site provides practical information about each of what they call the five building blocks for money management (MyMoney Five), which are:

•   Earn: Understand your pay and benefits to make the most out of what you earn.

•   Save and Invest: Start as soon as you can to save for future goals, even if you need to begin by saving small amounts.

•   Protect: Create an emergency savings fund, choose the right insurance for your needs, and otherwise take precautions to protect your finances.

•   Spend: Shop around and compare prices and products to get a good value on purchases, especially with larger ones.

•   Borrow: Borrowing allows you to make essential purchases and also helps you to build credit, so it makes sense to understand how to borrow in the smartest way possible for your situation.

You can also access the government resource known as Federal Reserve Education , which provides resources for educators and students alike, while also empowering consumers to boost their understanding of banking. Topics include central banking and monetary policy, economics/macroeconomics, our government’s role in money regulation, personal finances, and more.

Here’s one more financial literacy resource from the federal government: FDIC’s Money Smart . This program provides resources to help people learn how to improve their financial management skills, from computer-based educational games to podcasts that focus on saving and borrowing.

Another Way to Gain Financial Literacy

Another way to help with your financial literacy is to opt for a banking partner that delivers insight into your spending and saving.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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Guide to Tax-Loss Harvesting

Tax-loss harvesting enables investors to use investment losses to help reduce the tax impact of investment gains, thus potentially lowering the amount of taxes owed. While a tax loss strategy – sometimes called tax loss selling — is often used to offset short-term capital gains (which are taxed at a higher federal tax rate), tax-loss harvesting can also be used to offset long-term capital gains.

Of course, as with anything having to do with investing and taxes, tax-loss harvesting is not simple. In order to carry out a tax-loss harvesting strategy, investors must adhere to specific IRS rules and restrictions. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Tax-Loss Harvesting?

Tax-loss harvesting is a strategy that enables an investor to sell assets that have dropped in value as a way to offset the capital gains tax they may owe on the profits of other investments they’ve sold. For example, if an investor sells a security for a $25,000 gain, and sells another security at a $10,000 loss, the loss could be applied so that the investor would only see a capital gain of $15,000 ($25,000 – $10,000).

This can be a valuable tax strategy for investors because you owe capital gains taxes on any profits you make from selling investments, like stocks, bonds, properties, cars, or businesses. The tax only hits when you profit from the sale and realize a profit, not for simply owning an appreciated asset.

💡 Quick Tip: If you’re opening a brokerage account for the first time, consider starting with an amount of money you’re prepared to lose. Investing always includes the risk of loss, and until you’ve gained some experience, it’s probably wise to start small.

How Tax-Loss Harvesting Works

In order to understand how tax-loss harvesting works, you first have to understand the system of capital gains taxes.

Capital Gains and Tax-Loss Harvesting

As far as the IRS is concerned, capital gains are either short term or long term:

•   Short-term capital gains and losses are from the sale of an investment that an investor has held for one year or less.

•   Long-term capital gains and losses are those recognized on investments sold after one year.

Understanding Short-Term Capital Gains Rates

The one-year mark is crucial, because the IRS taxes short-term investments at the investor’s much-higher marginal or ordinary income tax rate. There are seven ordinary tax brackets: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%.

For high earners, gains can be taxed as much as 37%, plus a potential 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), also known as the Medicare tax. That means the taxes on those quick gains can be as high as 40.8% — and that’s before state and local taxes are factored in.

Understanding Long-Term Capital Gains Rates

Meanwhile, the long-term capital gains taxes for an individual are simpler and lower. These rates fall into three brackets, according to the IRS: 0%, 15%, and 20%. Here are the rates for tax year 2023, per the IRS.

The following table breaks down the long-term capital-gains tax rates for the 2023 tax year (for taxes that are filed in 2024) by income and filing status.

Capital Gains Tax Rate

Income – Single

Married, filing separately

Head of household

Married, filing jointly

0% Up to $44,625 Up to $44,625 Up to $59,750 Up to $89,250
15% $44,626 – $492,300 $44,626 – $276,900 $59,751 – $523,050 $89,251 – $553,850
20% More than $492,300 More than $276,900 More than $523,050 More than $553,850

Source: Internal Revenue Service

So if you’re an individual filer, you won’t pay capital gains if your total taxable income is $44,625 or less. But if your income is between $44,626 to $492,300, your investment gains would be subject to a 15% capital gains rate. The rate is 20% for single filers with incomes over $492,300.

As with all tax laws, don’t forget the fine print. As noted above, the additional 3.8% NIIT may apply to single individuals with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $200,000 or married couples with a MAGI of at least $250,000.

Also, long-term capital gains from sales of collectibles (e.g, coins, antiques, fine art) are taxed at a maximum of 28% rate. This is separate from regular capital gains tax, not in addition to it.

Short-term gains on collectibles are taxed at the ordinary income tax rate, as above.

Recommended: Everything You Need to Know About Taxes on Investment Income

Rules of Tax-Loss Harvesting

The upshot is that investors selling off profitable investments can face a stiff tax bill on those gains. That’s typically when investors (or their advisors) start to look at what else is in their portfolios. Inevitably, there are likely to be a handful of other assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate, or different types of investments that lost value for one reason or another.

While tax-loss harvesting is typically done at the end of the year, investors can use this strategy any time, as long as they follow the rule that long-term losses apply to long-term gains first, and short-term losses to short-term gains first.

Bear in mind that although a capital loss technically happens whenever an asset loses value, it’s considered an “unrealized loss” in that it doesn’t exist in the eyes of the IRS until an investor actually sells the asset and realizes the loss.

The loss at the time of the sale can be used to count against any capital gains made in a calendar year. Given the high taxes associated with short-term capital gains, it’s a strategy that has many investors selling out of losing positions at the end of the year.

Get up to $1,000 in stock when you fund a new Active Invest account.*

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*Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $25 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

Tax-Loss Harvesting Example

If you’re wondering how tax-loss harvesting works, here’s an example. Let’s say an investor is in the top income tax bracket for capital gains. If they sell investments and realize a long-term capital gain, they would be subject to the top 20% tax rate; short-term capital gains would be taxed at their marginal income tax rate of 37%.

Now, let’s imagine they have the following long- and short-term gains and losses, from securities they sold and those they haven’t:

Securities sold:

•   Stock A, held for over a year: Sold, with a long-term gain of $175,000

•   Mutual Fund A, held for less than a year: Sold, with a short-term gain of $125,000

Securities not sold:

•   Mutual Fund B: an unrealized long-term gain of $200,000

•   Stock B: an unrealized long-term loss of $150,000

•   Mutual Fund C: an unrealized short-term loss of $80,000

The potential tax liability from selling Stock A and Mutual Fund A, without tax-loss harvesting, would look like this:

•   Tax without harvesting = ($175,000 x 20%) + ($125,000 x 37%) = $35,000 + $46,250 = $81,250

But if the investor harvested losses by selling Stock B and Mutual Fund C (remember: long-term losses apply to long-term gains and short term losses to short term gains first), the tax picture would change considerably:

•   Tax with harvesting = (($175,000 – $150,000) x 20%) + (($125,000 – $80,000) x 37%) = $5,000 + $16,650 = $21,650

Note how the tax-loss harvesting strategy not only reduces the investor’s tax bill, but potentially frees up some money to be reinvested in similar securities (restrictions may apply there; see information on the wash sale rule below).

💡 Quick Tip: It’s smart to invest in a range of assets so that you’re not overly reliant on any one company or market to do well. For example, by investing in different sectors you can add diversification to your portfolio, which may help mitigate some risk factors over time.

Considerations Before Using Tax-Loss Harvesting

As with any investment strategy, it makes sense to think through a decision to sell just for the sake of the tax benefit because there can be other ramifications in terms of your long-term financial plan.

The Wash Sale Rule

For example, if an investor sells losing stocks or other securities they still believe in, or that still play an important role in their overall financial plan, then they may find themselves in a bind. That’s because a tax regulation called the wash sale rule prohibits investors from receiving the benefit of the tax loss if they buy back the same investment too soon after selling it.

Under the IRS wash sale rule, investors must wait 30 days before buying a security or another asset that’s “substantially identical” to the one they just sold. If they do buy an investment that’s the same or substantially identical, then they can’t claim the tax loss.

For an investment that’s seen losses, that 30-day moratorium could mean missing out on growth — and the risk of buying it again later for a higher price.

Matching Losses With Gains

A point that bears repeating: Investors must also be careful which securities they sell. Under IRS rules, like goes with like. So, long-term losses must be applied to long-term gains first, and the same goes for short-term losses and short-term gains. After that, any remaining net loss can be applied to either type of gain.

How to Use Net Losses

The difference between capital gains and capital losses is called a net capital gain. If losses exceed gains, that’s a net capital loss.

•   If an investor has an overall net capital loss for the year, they can deduct up to $3,000 against other kinds of income — including their salary and interest income.

•   Any excess net capital loss can be carried over to subsequent years and deducted against capital gains, and up to $3,000 of other kinds of income — depending on the circumstances.

•   For those who are married filing separately, the annual net capital loss deduction limit is only $1,500.

How to Use Tax-Loss Harvesting to Lower Your Tax Bill

When an investor has a diversified portfolio, every year will likely bring investments that thrive and others that lose money, so there can be a number of different ways to use tax-loss harvesting to lower your tax bill. The most common way, addressed above, is to apply capital losses to capital gains, thereby reducing the amount of tax owed. Here are some other strategies:

Tax-Loss Harvesting When the Market Is Down

For investors looking to invest when the market is down, capital losses can be easy to find. In those cases, some investors can use tax-loss harvesting to diminish the pain of losing money. But over long periods of time, the stock markets have generally gone up. Thus, the opportunity cost of selling out of depressed investments can turn out to be greater than the tax benefit.

It also bears remembering that many trades come with trading fees and other administrative costs, all of which should be factored in before selling stocks to improve one’s tax position at the end of the year.

Tax-Loss Harvesting for Liquidity

There are years when investors need access to capital. It may be for the purchase of a dream home, to invest in a business, or because of unforeseen circumstances. When an investor wants to cash out of the markets, the benefits of tax-loss harvesting can really shine.

In this instance, an investor could face bigger capital-gains taxes, so it makes sense to be strategic about which investments — winners and losers — to sell by year’s end, and minimize any tax burden.

Tax-Loss Harvesting to Rebalance a Portfolio

The potential benefits of maintaining a diversified portfolio are widely known. And to keep that portfolio properly diversified in line with their goals and risk tolerance, investors may want to rebalance their portfolio on a regular basis.

That’s partly because different investments have different returns and losses over time. As a result, an investor could end up with more tech stocks and fewer energy stocks, for example, or more government bonds than small-cap stocks than they intended.

Other possible reasons for rebalancing are if an investor’s goals change, or if they’re drawing closer to one of their long-term goals and want to take on less risk.

That’s why investors check their investments on a regular basis and do a tune-up, selling some stocks and buying others to stay in line with the original plan. This tune-up, or rebalancing, is an opportunity to do some tax-loss harvesting.

How Much Can You Write Off on Your Taxes?

If capital losses exceed capital gains, under IRS rules investors can then deduct a portion of the net losses from their ordinary income to reduce their personal tax liability. Investors can deduct the lesser of $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately), or the total net loss shown on line 21 of Schedule D (Form 1040).

In addition, any capital losses over $3,000 can be carried forward to future tax years, where investors can use capital losses to reduce future capital gains. This is known as a tax loss carryforward. So in effect, you can carry forward tax losses indefinitely.

To figure out how to record a tax loss carryforward, you can use the Capital Loss Carryover Worksheet found on the IRS’ Instructions for Schedule D (Form 1040).

Benefits and Drawbacks of Tax-Loss Harvesting

While tax-loss harvesting can offer investors some advantages, it comes with some potential downsides as well.

Benefits of Tax-Loss Harvesting

Obviously the main point of tax-loss harvesting is to reduce the amount of capital gains tax on profits after you sell a security.

Another potential benefit is being able to literally cut some of your losses, when you sell underperforming securities.

Tax-loss harvesting, when done with an eye toward an investor’s portfolio as a whole, can help with balancing or rebalancing (or perhaps resetting) their asset allocation.

As noted above, investors often sell off assets when they need cash. Using a tax-loss harvesting strategy can help do so in a tax-efficient way.

Drawbacks of Tax-Loss Harvesting

While selling underperforming assets may make sense, it’s important to vet these choices as you don’t want to miss out on the gains that might come if the asset bounces back.

Another of the potential risks of tax-loss harvesting is that if it’s done carelessly it can leave a portfolio imbalanced. It might be wise to replace the securities sold with similar ones, in order to maintain the risk-return profile. (Just don’t run afoul of the wash-sale rule.)

Last, it’s possible to incur excessive trading fees that can make a tax-loss harvesting strategy less efficient.

Pros of Tax-Loss Harvesting Cons of Tax-Loss Harvesting
Can lower capital gains taxes Investor might lose out if the security rebounds
Can help with rebalancing a portfolio If done incorrectly, can leave a portfolio imbalanced
Can make a liquidity event more tax efficient Selling assets can add to transaction fees

Creating a Tax-Loss Harvesting Strategy

Interested investors may want to create their own tax-loss harvesting strategy, given the appeal of a lower tax bill. An effective tax-loss harvesting strategy requires a great deal of skill and planning.

It’s important to take into account current capital gains rates, both short and long term. Investors would be wise to also weigh their current asset allocation before they attempt to harvest losses that could leave their portfolios imbalanced.

All in all, any strategy should reflect your long-term goals and aims. While saving money on taxes is important, it’s not the only rationale to rely on for any investment strategy.

The Takeaway

Tax loss harvesting, or selling off underperforming stocks and then potentially getting a tax reduction for the loss, can be a helpful part of a tax-efficient investing strategy.

There are many reasons an investor might want to do tax-loss harvesting, including when the market is down, when they need liquidity, or when they are rebalancing their portfolio. It’s an individual decision, with many considerations for each investor — including what their ultimate financial goals might be.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.

FAQ

Is tax-loss harvesting really worth it?

When done carefully, with an eye toward tax efficiency as well as other longer-term goals, tax-loss harvesting can help investors save money that they can invest for the long term.

Does tax-loss harvesting reduce taxable income?

Yes. The point of tax-loss harvesting is to reduce income from investment gains (profits). But also when net losses exceed gains, the strategy can reduce your taxable income by $3,000 per year.

Can you write off 100% of investment losses?

It depends. Investment losses can be used to offset a commensurate amount in gains, thereby lowering your potential capital gains tax bill. If there are still net losses that cannot be applied to gains, up to $3,000 per year can be applied to reduce your ordinary income. Net loss amounts in excess of $3,000 would have to be carried forward to future tax years.


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