When Do You Pay Taxes on Stocks?

Investors usually need to pay taxes on their stocks when and if they sell them, assuming they’ve accrued a capital gain (or profit) from the sale. But there are other circumstances when stock holdings may generate a tax liability for an investor, too. This is important for investors to understand so that they can plan for the tax implications of their investment strategy. Knowing how your investments could impact your taxes may better prepare you for tax season and allow you to make more informed investment decisions.

First, an important note: The following should not be considered tax advice. Below, you’ll learn about some tax guidelines, but to fully understand the implications, it’s wise to consult a tax professional.

Key Points

•   Short-term capital gains tax rates for tax years 2023-2024 range from 10% to 37% based on taxable income.

•   Long-term capital gains tax rates for tax years 2023-2024 range from 0% to 20% based on taxable income.

•   Short-term capital gains tax rates for married couples filing jointly are higher than for single individuals.

•   Long-term capital gains tax rates for married couples filing jointly are the same as for single individuals.

•   The tax rates provided are for the specified tax years and are subject to change.

Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Stocks?

Do you need to pay taxes on stocks? It depends. Typically, as mentioned, investors would need to pay capital gains taxes when they sell a stock – the sale of which triggers a taxable event. But broadly speaking, yes, investors need to pay taxes on their stock holdings. The main question and what investors need to figure out, is when do you need to pay taxes on stocks, and what other actions or incidences, besides a sale, could trigger a taxable event.

When Do You Pay Taxes on Stocks?

There are several scenarios in which you may owe taxes related to the stocks you hold in an investment account. The most well known is the tax liability incurred when you sell a stock that has appreciated in value since you purchased it. The difference in value is referred to as a capital gain. When you have capital gains, you must pay taxes on those earnings.

Capital gains even have their own special tax levels and rules. To get a sense of what you might owe after selling a stock, you’d need to check the capital gains tax rate – more on that below.

You will only owe capital gains taxes if your investments are sold for more than you paid for them (you turn a profit from the sale). That’s important to consider – especially if you’re trying to get a sense of taxes and ROI on your investments, with taxes taken into account.

There are two types of capital gains tax:

Short-term Capital Gains

Short-term capital gains tax applies when you sell an asset that you owned for less than one year, and that gained in value within that time frame. These gains would be taxed at the same rate as your typical tax bracket, so they’re important for day traders to consider.

Short-Term Capital Gains Rates for Tax Years 2023 – 2024

Single Taxable Income

Married Couple Filing Jointly Taxable Income

2023

2024

2023

2024

10% $0 – $11,000 $0 – $11,600 $0 – $22,000 $0 – $23,200
12% $11,001 – $44,725 $11,6001 – $47,150 $22,001 – $89,450 $23,201 – $94,300
22% $44,726 – $95,375 $47,151 – $100,525 $89,451 – $190,750 $94,301 – $201,050
24% $95,376 – $182,100 $100,526 – $191,950 $190,751 – $364,200 $201,051 – $383,900
32% $182,101 – $231,250 $191,951 – $243,725 $364,201 – $462,500 $383,901 – $487,450
35% $231,251 – $578,125 $243,726 to $609,350 $462,501 – $693,750 $487,451 to $731,200
37% $578,126 or higher $609,351 or higher $693,751 or higher $731,201 or higher

Long-term Capital Gains

Long-term capital gains tax applies when you sell an asset that gained in value after holding it for more than a year. Depending on your taxable income and tax filing status, you’d be taxed at one of these three rates: 0%, 15%, or 20%. Overall, long-term capital gains tax rates are typically lower than those on short-term capital gains.

Long-Term Capital Gains Rates for Tax Years 2023 – 2024

Single Taxable Income

Married Couple Filing Jointly Taxable Income

2023

2024

2023

2024

0% $0 – $44,625 $0 – $47,025 $0 – $89,250 $0 – $94,050
15% $44,626 – $492,300 $47,026 – $518,900 $89,251 – $553,850 $94,051 – $583,750
20% $492,301 or higher $518,901 or higher $553,851 or higher $583,751 or higher

Capital Losses

If you sell a stock for less than you purchased it, the difference is called a capital loss. You can deduct your capital losses from your capital gains each year, and offset the amount in taxes you owe on your capital gains.

You can also apply up to $3,000 in investment losses to offset regular income taxes.

Tax-loss Harvesting

The process mentioned above – which involves deducting capital losses from your capital gains to secure tax savings – is called tax-loss harvesting. It’s a common technique often used near the end of the calendar year to try and minimize an investor’s tax liability.

Tax-loss harvesting is also commonly used as a part of a tax-efficient investing strategy. It may be worth speaking with a financial professional to get a better idea of whether it’s a good strategy for your specific situation.


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Taxes on Investment Income

You may have taxes related to your stock investments even when you don’t sell them. This holds true in the event that the investments generate income.

Dividends

You may receive periodic dividends from some of your stocks when the company you’ve invested in earns a profit. If the dividends you earn add up to a large amount, you may be required to pay taxes on those earnings. Each year, you will receive a 1099-DIV tax form for each stock or investment from which you received dividends. These forms will help you determine how much in taxes you owe.

There are two broad categories of dividends: qualified or nonqualified/ordinary. The IRS taxes non-qualified dividends at your regular income tax bracket. The rate on qualified dividends may be 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your filing status and taxable income. This rate is usually less than the one for nonqualified dividends, though those with a higher income typically pay a higher tax rate on dividends.

Interest Income

This money can come from brokerage account interest or from bond/mutual fund interest, as two examples, and it is taxed at your ordinary income level. Municipal bonds are an exception because they’re exempt from federal taxes and, if issued from your state, may be exempt from state taxes, as well.

Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)

Also called the Medicare tax, this is a flat rate investment income tax of 3.8% for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income exceeds $200,000 for single filers or $250,000 for filers filing jointly. Taxpayers who qualify may owe interest on the following types of investment income, among others: interest, dividends, capital gains, rental and royalty income, non-qualified annuities, and income from businesses involved in trading of financial instruments or commodities.

Recommended: Investment Tax Rules Every Investor Should Know

When Do I Not Have to Pay Taxes on Stocks?

Again, this should first and foremost be a discussion you have with your tax professional. But there are a few situations you should know about where you often don’t pay taxes when selling a stock. For example, if you are investing through a tax-deferred retirement investment account like an IRA or a 401(k), you won’t have to pay taxes on any gains when you buy and sell stocks inside the account. However, if you were to sell stock in one of these accounts and then withdraw it, you could owe taxes on the withdrawal.

4 Strategies To Pay Lower Taxes on Stocks

If the answer to “Do you have to pay taxes on stocks?” is “yes” for your personal financial situation, then the question becomes how to pay a lower amount of taxes. Strategies can include:

Buy and Hold

Holding on to stocks long enough for dividends to become qualified and for any capital gains tax to be in the long-term category because they are typically taxed at a lower rate.

Tax-loss Harvesting

As discussed, utilizing a tax-loss harvesting strategy can help you with offsetting your capital gains with capital losses.

Use Tax-advantaged Accounts

Putting your investments into retirement accounts or other tax-advantaged accounts may help lower your tax liabilities.

Refrain From Taking Early Withdrawals

Avoiding the temptation to make early withdrawals from your 401(k) or other retirement accounts.

Taxes for Other Investments

Here’s a short rundown of the types of taxes to be aware of in regards to investments outside of stocks.

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds come in all sorts of different types, and owning mutual fund shares may involve tax liabilities for dividend income, as well as capital gains. Ultimately, an investor’s tax liability will depend on the type and amount of distribution they receive from the mutual fund, and if or when they sell their shares.

Property

“Property” is a broad category, and can include assets like real estate. The IRS looks at property all the same, however, from a taxation standpoint. In short, property is subject to capital gains taxes (not to be confused with “property taxes,” which are something else entirely. In effect, if you buy a house and later sell it for a profit, that gain would be subject to capital gains taxes.

Options

Taxes on options trading can be confusing, and tax liabilities will depend on the type of options an investor has traded. But generally speaking, capital gains taxes apply to options trading activity – it may be wise to consult with a financial professional for more details.

Investing With SoFi

For most investors, paying taxes on stocks involves paying capital gains taxes after they sell their holdings, or paying income tax on dividends. But it’s important to keep in mind that the tax implications of your investments will vary depending on the types of investments in your portfolio and the accounts you use, among other factors.

That’s why it may be worthwhile to work with an experienced accountant and a financial advisor who can help you understand and manage the complexities of different tax scenarios.

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).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

How much do you pay taxes on stocks?

How much an investor pays in taxes on stocks depends on several factors, including any applicable capital gain, how long they held the stock, and whether they received any income from the stock, such as dividend distributions.

Do you get taxed when you sell stocks?

Yes, investors do generate a tax liability when they sell a stock in the form of capital gains taxes. If the investor has generated a capital loss as the result of a sale, they can use it to offset tax liabilities generated by other capital gains.

How do you avoid taxes on stocks?

There are several strategies that investors can use to try and avoid or minimize taxes on stocks, including utilizing a buy-and-hold strategy, opting not to take early withdrawals, and utilizing tax-advantaged accounts.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
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.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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What Are High-Net Worth Individuals?

What Are High-Net Worth Individuals?

A high net worth individual (HNWI) is generally considered to be someone who has $1 million or more in investable assets. That includes liquid assets such as cash or cash equivalents.

Someone who has a high net worth may rely on specialized financial services for money management. For example, they may work with a wealth manager or open accounts at a private bank. In terms of financial planning, the needs of high net worth individuals may include estate planning, investment guidance, and tax management.

Achieving a high net worth is something that can be done through strategic investing and careful portfolio building. It’s important to keep in mind that high net worth individuals may have access to certain investments that the everyday investor would not. Minimizing liabilities is another part of the wealth-building puzzle, as net worth takes debt into account alongside assets.

Key Points

•   A high net worth individual (HNWI) is someone with $1 million or more in investable assets, including cash or cash equivalents.

•   HNWIs may rely on specialized financial services like wealth managers or private banks for money management, estate planning, investment guidance, and tax management.

•   Different metrics, such as income, investable assets, and net worth (assets minus liabilities), can be used to define high net worth individuals.

•   The SEC requires registered advisors to disclose information about high net worth individuals on Form ADV, and accredited investors are also considered high net worth individuals.

•   HNWIs may enjoy benefits like reduced fees, discounts on financial services, access to exclusive investments, and special perks and events.

What Defines a High Net Worth Individual?

When it comes to the high net worth definition, there are different metrics that can be used to calculate net worth and determine whether someone falls under the high net worth umbrella. Those can include a person’s:

•   Income

•   Investable assets

•   Total net worth when liabilities are deducted from assets

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires registered advisors to provide information about high net worth individuals on Form ADV. Specifically, the form asks advisors to list how many clients they serve who have $750,000 in investable assets or a $1.5 million net worth.

The SEC can also refer to high net worth individuals when discussing accredited investors. An accredited investor is defined as having:

•   Earned income of $200,000 or more (or $300,000 for couples) in each of the two prior years, with a reasonable expectation of the same income in future years

•   Net worth of over $1 million either alone or with a spouse, excluding the value of a primary residence

What is considered a high net worth individual to those who work with them? Private banks or wealth managers who serve high net worth individuals might choose to define them differently. For example, someone who wants to open an account with a private bank might need to have $5 million or $10 million in investable assets to qualify. Someone who has that much in assets may be relabeled as “very high net worth” instead. And at higher levels of assets, they enter the realm of ultra high net worth.

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Access stock trading, options, auto investing, IRAs, and more. Get started in just a few minutes.


*Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

Benefits Afforded to HNWIs

High net worth individuals may get a number of special benefits. For instance, they might qualify for reduced fees and discounts on financial services like investments and banking. They may also be granted access to special perks and events.

HNWI can also invest in things other investors or the general public can’t, such as hedge funds, venture capital funds, and private equity funds.

HNWI Examples & Statistics

The super rich, or HNWI, are tracked by Forbes on the Real-Time Billionaires List, which is updated daily. As of August 31, 2023, these were the HNWI at the top if the list:

•   Elon Musk with a net worth of $248.8 billion

•   Bernard Arnault and family with a net worth of $208 billion

•   Jeff Bezos with a net worth of $160.9 billion

•   Larry Ellison with a net worth of $152.3 billion

•   Warren Buffet with a net worth of $121.1 billion

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

How Is Net Worth Calculated?

Wondering how to find net worth? It’s a relatively simple calculation. There are three steps for figuring out net worth:

1.    Add up assets. These can include:

◦   Bank account balances, including checking, savings, and certificates of deposit

◦   Retirement accounts

◦   Taxable investment accounts

◦   Property, such as real estate or vehicles

◦   Collectibles or antiques

◦   Businesses someone owns

2.    Add up liabilities. Liabilities are debts owed. For example, a home’s value can be considered an asset for net worth calculations. But if there’s a mortgage owing on it, that amount has to be entered into the liabilities column.

3.    Subtract liabilities from assets. The remaining amount is an individual’s net worth.

Net worth can be a positive or negative number, depending on how much someone has in assets versus what they owe in liabilities.

Net Worth vs Liquid Net Worth

In simple terms, net worth is the difference between assets and liabilities. Liquid net worth, on the other hand, is the difference between liquid assets and liabilities. A liquid asset is one that can easily be sold or used to invest. So cash in a savings account is an example of a liquid asset while investments in a real estate investment trust (REIT) would be illiquid since they can’t be sold at short notice.

What Is an Ultra High Net Worth Individual?

Someone who fits the definition of an ultra high net worth individual (UHNWI) generally has personal financial holdings or assets of $30 million or more. People who are considered to be ultra high net worth individuals are among the top 1% wealthiest in the world.

So what is the net worth of the top 1%?

According to a report from Knight Frank, the typical net worth of the 1% falls far below the $30 million in assets required for ultra high net worth status. For example, in the U.S. someone would need $4 million in wealth to join the ranks of the top 1%. They’d need $7.9 million to belong to the top 1% in Monaco.

But what about the top 0.1%? Again, the level of wealth needed to qualify is still below the $30 million cutoff required for an UHNWI. In the U.S., you’d need $25.1 million to be considered part of the 0.1%. This is the highest amount of assets needed to qualify among the countries included in Knight Frank’s research.

💡 Quick Tip: How to manage potential risk factors in a self-directed investment account? Doing your research and employing strategies like dollar-cost averaging and diversification may help mitigate financial risk when trading stocks.

How to Get a Higher Net Worth

Reaching high net worth status can be a lofty goal but it’s one many HENRYs — high earner not rich yet — work toward. The typical HENRY makes most or all of their income from working. While they may earn an above-average income, they may not have sufficient disposable income to start building wealth to increase their net worth.

There are, however, some ways to change that. For example, someone who earns a higher income but doesn’t have the higher net worth to reflect it may consider things like:

•   Paying off student loans or other debts

•   Relocating to a less expensive area to reduce their cost of living

•   Rethinking their tax strategy so they’re able to keep more of their income

•   Finding ways to increase income

Coming up with a solid investment strategy is also important for boosting net worth. That includes diversifying to manage risk while investing in assets that are designed to produce income. For example, that might include such things as:

•   Purchasing shares of dividend stocks

•   Enrolling in a dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP)

•   Buying dividend exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

•   Investing in REITs or real estate mutual funds

Creating multiple streams of income with investments or starting a side hustle while also reducing liabilities can help with making progress toward a higher net worth. At the same time, it’s also important to take advantage of wealth-building assets you may already have on hand.

For example, if you have access to a 401(k) or similar plan at work, then making contributions can be an easy way to increase net worth. If your employer offers a company matching contribution you could use that free money to help build wealth.

The Takeaway

High net worth individuals are typically described as people who have $1 million or more in investable assets. Those with more than $5 to 10 million in investable assets may be labeled as “very high net worth”, and those with more than $30 million are generally considered ultra high net worth individuals.

Individuals with a higher net worth often consider time to be an asset in itself. The thinking goes, the sooner you begin investing, the better.

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

What are different types of high-net-worth individuals?

There are several types of high net worth individuals. Those who are high net worth have more than $1 million. Individuals with about $5 million are considered very high net worth. If a person has more than $30 million dollars they are considered ultra high net worth.

Where are most of the HNWIs located?

North America has the most high net worth individuals. There are 7.9 million HNWI in North America. The Asia-Pacific region has 7.2 million high net worth individuals, and there are 5.7 million HNWI in Europe.

Do high-net-worth individuals include 401(k)?

Yes. All of your different retirement accounts, including your 401(k), are included as assets when calculating high net worth.


Photo credit: iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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.

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
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.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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What Is Leverage in Finance? Leverage Defined

What Is Leverage in Finance?

Leverage in finance involves using a relatively small amount of capital to make larger trades or investments, increasing the potential of larger returns. In the world of finance, it’s critical to understand leverage if you plan to day trade or make other types of short-term investments, and the additional risks involved.

In general, leverage means doing a lot with a little. Think about how you may use an actual, physical lever to turn a switch, for instance. The switch itself may be small, and require a turn that’s a quarter of an inch to flip from off to on. But by using a lever — which is much bigger, physically, than the switch itself — the work becomes easier.

Key Points

•   Leverage in finance involves using a small amount of capital to make larger trades or investments, potentially increasing returns.

•   Leverage can be achieved through borrowing money or trading on margin, allowing investors to make increased dollar investments.

•   While leverage can amplify gains, it also magnifies losses and comes with additional risks and costs.

•   Different types of leverage exist, including financial leverage used by businesses to raise capital and operating leverage used to analyze fixed and variable costs.

•   Leverage can be used in personal finance, such as taking out a mortgage, and is also utilized by professional traders to potentially increase profits.

What Is Leverage?

In finance, leverage refers to using a small amount of capital to do a relatively big amount of work — making big investments with a small amount of money. The rest of the money used to make the investment is borrowed, or investors are trading on margin.

In short: Leverage is about borrowing capital to make bigger bets in an effort to increase returns.

How Leverage Works

In leveraged investing, the leverage is debt that investors use as a part of their investing strategy. While it’s easy to think that all debt is bad, in fact it can actually be useful when folded into a specific investing tactic, although it also introduces additional risks and costs.

Leverage typically works like this: A person or company wants to make an outsized investment, but doesn’t have enough capital to do it. So, they use the capital they do have in conjunction with margin (borrowed money) to make a leveraged investment. If they’re successful, the return on their investment is far greater than it would’ve been had they only invested their own capital.

The risk, of course, is that those returns do not materialize, putting the investor in debt. Investors will also need to consider how their overall costs could increase, as they’ll likely pay interest on the money they borrow, too.

Example of Leverage

Here is an example of how leverage could be used:

Let’s say that you found a startup. To get the company off the ground, you take in $10 million from investors, but you want to expand operations fast — hire employees, ramp up research and development efforts, and build out a distribution network.

You can do that with the $10 million, but if you were to borrow another $10 million, you would be able to double your efforts. That would allow you to hire more employees, improve your products faster, and distribute them further and wider, though you’d need to pay interest on the loan, too, factoring into overall costs.

That $10 million you borrowed is allowing you to do more with less. Of course, you run the risk that the company won’t be able to sustain a quick growth pace, in which case you may not be able to pay back the loan, or end up paying additional costs for interest and fees. But if things do work out, you’d be able to grow faster and accrue more value than if you hadn’t taken on any additional debt.


💡 Quick Tip: Are self-directed brokerage accounts cost efficient? They can be, because they offer the convenience of being able to buy stocks online without using a traditional full-service broker (and the typical broker fees).

Pros and Cons of Leverage

On the surface, leverage can sound like a powerful tool for investors — which it can be. But it’s a tool that can cut both ways: Leverage can add to buying power and potentially increase returns, but it can also magnify losses, and put an investor in the hole.

What’s important to remember is that there are both pros and cons to a tool like leverage.

Pros of Leverage

Cons of Leverage

Adds buying power Increased risks and costs
Potential to earn greater returns Leveraged losses are magnified
For investors, it’s generally easy to access It can be more complex than meets the eye

Leverage vs Margin

Margin is a type of leverage that is specifically tied to use in the financial markets by investors. It is basically like a line of credit for a brokerage or investment account.

Here’s how margin works: An investor has a cash balance, which acts as collateral, and there are interest rates at play, like any other type of loan. With a margin account, investors can tradesome, but not all stocks or other assets on margin.

Using margin, an investor can effectively supercharge their potential gains or losses. It’s also important to note — and it’s worth repeating over and over — that using margin as an investor can increase overall costs and risks. Not every investor will be comfortable assuming those risks and costs (such as interest charges), so you’ll want to know what you’re doing before using margin.

Margin and leverage are related, and it’s easy to confuse the two. Even if you know what margin trading is and how margin accounts work, it’s important to make sure you know what the differences are. This chart should help.

Leverage vs Margin

Leverage

Margin

A loan from a bank for a specific purpose A loan from a brokerage for investing in financial instruments
May involve a cash injection to be used for a specific purpose No cash is exchanged; acts as a line of credit
Can be used by businesses or individuals; May take the form of a mortgage or to expand inventory Can be used to create leverage and increase investment buying power

Types of Leverage

So far, we’ve mostly discussed leverage as it relates to the financial markets for investors. But there are other types of leverage, too.

Financial Leverage

Financial leverage is used by businesses and organizations as a way to raise money or access additional capital without having to issue additional shares or sell equity. For instance, if a company wants to expand operations, it can take on debt to finance that expansion.

The main ways that a company may do so is by either issuing bonds or by taking out loans. Much like in the leverage example above, this capital injection gives the company more spending power to do what it needs to do, with the expectation that the profits reaped will outweigh the costs of borrowing in the long run.

Operating Leverage

Operating leverage is an accounting measure used by businesses to get an idea of their fixed versus variable costs.

When discussing financial leverage, math needs to be done to figure out whether a company’s borrowing is profitable (called the debt-to-equity ratio). When calculating operating leverage, a company looks at its fixed costs as compared to variable costs to get a sense of how the costs of borrowing are affecting its profitability.

Leverage Investing

Leverage trading is the use of borrowed money to try and increase profits or returns. A company can use leverage investing by purchasing a new factory, allowing it to expand its ability to create products, and as such, increase profitability. An individual investor can borrow money to buy more stocks, increasing their potential returns.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that leverage trading, or the use of borrowed money to invest, increases overall costs for investors, as they will need to pay interest on the money they borrow, and may be subject to other fees, too.

With that in mind, there are a few ways that leverage can be used in investing, either by individuals, or organizations.

Buying on Margin

Margin is a form of leverage, and trading on margin means that an investor is using money borrowed from their brokerage to execute a trade. In other words, an investor is borrowing money from their trading platform or brokerage — paying an applicable interest rate to do so, which can vary and should be considered as a part of overall trading costs — and making trades with it. It’s similar to using a credit card for investing, in some ways.

Given that margin concerns interest charges and additional costs, using it to trade or invest involves additional risks, particularly for inexperienced investors.

Leveraged ETFs

ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, can also have leverage baked into them. Leveraged ETFs are tradable funds that allow investors to potentially increase their returns by using borrowed money to invest in an underlying index, rather than a single company or stock. Leveraged ETFs utilize derivatives to increase potential returns for investors.

Using Borrowed Money to Invest

While many investors utilize margin, it’s also possible to borrow money from an outside source (not your broker or brokerage) to invest with. This may be appealing to some investors who don’t have high enough account balances to meet the thresholds some brokerages have in place to trade on margin. For example, a platform may require an investor to have a minimum balance of $25,000 in their account before they’ll offer the investor margin trading.

If an investor doesn’t have that much, looking for an outside loan — a personal loan, a home equity loan, etc.— to meet that threshold may be an appealing option.

But, as mentioned when discussing margin, borrowing money to invest can rope in additional risk, and investors will need to consider the additional costs associated with borrowing funds, such as applicable interest rates. So, before doing so, it may be a good idea to consult a financial professional.

Leverage in Personal Finance

The use of leverage also exists in personal finances — not merely in investing. People often leverage their money to make big purchases like cars or homes with auto loans and mortgages.

A mortgage is a fairly simple example of how an individual may use leverage. They’re using their own money for a down payment to buy a home, and then taking out a loan to pay for the rest. The assumption is that the home will accrue value over time, growing their investment.

Leverage in Professional Trading

Professional traders tend to be more aggressive in trying to boost returns, and as such, many consider leverage an incredibly important and potent tool. While the degree to which professional traders use leverage varies from market to market (the stock market versus the foreign exchange market, for example), in general most pro traders are well-versed in leveraging their trades.

This may allow them to significantly increase returns on a given trade. And professionals are given more leeway with margin than the average investor, so they can potentially borrow significantly more than the typical person to trade. Of course, they also have to stomach the risks of doing so, too — because while it may increase returns on a given trade, there is always the possibility that it will not.

Leveraged Products

There are numerous financial products and instruments that investors can use to gain greater exposure to the market, all without increasing their investments, like leveraged ETFs.

Volatility and Leverage Ratio

A leverage ratio measures a company’s debt situation, and gives a snapshot of how much debt a company currently has versus its cash flows. Companies can use leverage to increase their profitability by expanding operations, etc., but it’s a gamble because that profitability may not materialize as planned.

Knowing the leverage ratio helps company leaders understand just how much debt they’ve taken on, and can even help investors understand whether a company is a potentially risky investment given its debt obligations.

The leverage ratio formula is: total debt / total equity.

Volatility is another element in the mix, and it can be added into the equation to figure out just how volatile an investment may be. That’s important, given how leverage can significantly amplify risk.


💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

The Takeaway

Leverage can help investors, buyers, corporations and others do more with less cash on hand in their accounts at a given time. But there are some important considerations to keep in mind when it comes to leverage. In terms of leveraged investing, it has the potential to magnify gains — but also to magnify losses, and increase total costs.

Utilizing leverage and margin as a part of an investing or trading strategy has its pros and cons. But investors should give the risks some serious consideration before getting in over their heads. It may be a good idea to speak with a financial professional accordingly.

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).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

What is leverage in simple terms?

In simple terms, the concept of leverage means to do a lot with a little. As it relates to finance or investing, this can mean using a small amount of capital to make large or outsized trades or investments.

What is an example of leverage?

An example of leverage could be a mortgage, or home loan, in which a borrower makes a relatively small down payment and borrows money to purchase a home. They’re making a big financial move with a fraction of the funds necessary to facilitate the transaction, borrowing the remainder.

Why do people want leverage?

Leverage allows investors or traders to make bigger moves or take larger positions in the market with only a relatively small amount of capital. This could lead to larger returns — or larger losses.


Photo credit: iStock/StockRocket

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
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.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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Asset Allocation by Age, Explained

Asset allocation is an investment strategy that helps you decide the ratio of different asset classes in your portfolio to ensure that your investments align with your risk tolerance, time horizon, and goals.

In other words, the way you allocate, or divide up the assets in your portfolio helps to balance risk, while aiming for the highest return within the time period you have to achieve your investment goals.

How do you set your portfolio to get the best asset allocation by age? Here’s what you need to know about asset-based asset allocation.

Key Points

•   Asset allocation is the process of dividing investments among different asset classes based on factors like age, risk tolerance, and financial goals.

•   Younger investors can typically afford to take more risks and allocate a higher percentage of their portfolio to stocks.

•   As investors approach retirement, they may shift towards a more conservative asset allocation, with a higher percentage allocated to bonds and cash.

•   Regularly reviewing and rebalancing your asset allocation is important to ensure it aligns with your changing financial circumstances and goals.

•   Asset allocation is a personal decision and should be based on individual factors such as risk tolerance, time horizon, and investment objectives.

What Is Age-Based Asset Allocation?

The mix of assets you hold will likely shift with age. When you’re younger and have a longer time horizon, you might want to hold more stocks, which offer the most growth potential. Also, that longer time horizon gives you plenty of years to help ride out volatility in the market.

You will likely want to shift your asset allocation as you get older, though. As retirement age approaches, and the point at which you’ll need to tap your savings draws near, you may want to shift your retirement asset allocation into less risky assets like bonds and cash equivalents to help protect your money from downturns.

In the past, investment advisors recommended a rule of thumb whereby an investor would subtract their age from 100 to know how much of their portfolio to hold in stocks. What is an asset allocation that follows that rule? A 30-year-old might allocate 70% of their portfolio to stocks, while a 60-year-old would allocate 40%.

However, as life expectancy continues to increase — especially for women — and people rely on their retirement savings to cover the cost of longer lifespans (and potential healthcare expenses), some industry experts and advisors now recommend that investors keep a more aggressive asset allocation for a longer period.

The new thinking has shifted the formula to subtracting your age from 110 or 120 to maintain a more aggressive allocation to stocks.

In that case, a 30-year-old might allocate 80% of their portfolio to stocks (110 – 30 = 80), and a 60-year-old might have a portfolio allocation that’s 50% stocks (110 – 60 = 50) — which is a bit more aggressive than the previous 40% allocation.

These are not hard-and-fast rules, but general guidelines for thinking about your own asset allocation strategy. Each person’s financial situation is different, so each portfolio allocation will vary.

💡 Quick Tip: All investments come with some degree of risk — and some are riskier than others. Before investing online, decide on your investment goals and how much risk you want to take.

Asset Allocation Models by Age

As stated, age is a very important consideration when it comes to strategic asset allocation. Here are some asset allocation examples for different age groups.

Asset Allocation in Your 20s and 30s

For younger investors, the conventional wisdom suggests they may want to hold most of their portfolio in stocks to help save for long-term financial goals like retirement.

That said, when you’re young, your financial footing may not be very secure. You probably haven’t built much of a nest egg, you may change jobs relatively frequently, and you may have debt, such as student loans, to worry about. Setting up a potentially volatile, stock-focused allocation might feel nerve-wracking.

If you have a 401(k) at work, this might be your primary investment vehicle — or you may have set up an IRA. In either account you can invest in mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that hold a mix of stocks, providing some low-cost diversification without sacrificing the potential for long-term growth.

You could also invest in a target date fund, which is designed to help to manage your asset allocation over time (more on these funds below).

When choosing funds, it’s important to consider both potential performance and fees. Index funds, which simply mirror the performance of a certain market index, may carry lower expense ratios but they may generate lower returns compared to, say, a growth fund that’s more expensive.

Remember that the younger you are, the longer you have to recover from market downturns or losses. So allocating a bigger chunk of your investments to growth funds or funds that use an active management strategy could make sense if you feel their fees are justified by the potential for higher returns — and the higher risk that comes along with it.

And of course, you can counterbalance higher-risk/higher-reward investments with bonds or bond funds (as a cushion against volatility), index funds (to help manage costs) or target date funds (which can do a bit of both). Just be aware that the holdings within some funds can overlap, which could hamper your diversification strategy and require you to choose investment carefully.

Asset Allocation in Your 40s and 50s

As you enter middle age you are potentially entering your peak earning years. You may also have more financial obligations, such as mortgage payments, and bigger savings goals, such as sending your kids to college, than you did when you were younger. On the upside, you may also have 20 years or more before you’re thinking about retiring.

In the early part of these decades, one approach is to consider keeping a hefty portion of your portfolio still allocated to stocks. This may be useful if you haven’t yet been able to save much for your retirement because you’d be able to add potential growth to your portfolio, and still have some years to ride out any volatility.

Depending on when you plan to retire, adding stability to your portfolio with bonds as you approach the latter part of these decades might be a wise choice. For example, you may want to begin by shifting more of your IRA assets to bonds or bond funds at this stage. These investments may produce lower returns in the short term compared to mutual funds or ETFs. But they can be useful for generating income once you’re ready to begin making withdrawals from your accounts in retirement.

Asset Allocation in Your 60s

Once you hit your 60s and you’re nearing retirement age, your allocation will likely shift toward fixed-income assets like bonds, and maybe even cash. A shift like this can help prepare you for the possibility that markets may be down when you retire.

If that’s the case, you might be able to use these fixed-income investments to provide income during the downturn, so you can avoid selling stocks while the markets are down since doing so would lock in losses and might curtail future growth in your portfolio. Thus, leaning on the fixed-income portion of your portfolio allows time for the market to recover before you need to tap into stocks.

If you haven’t retired yet, you can continue making contributions to your 401(k) to grow your nest egg and take advantage of any employer match.

If you chose to invest in a target date fund within your retirement account when you were younger, it’s likely that fund’s allocation would now be tilting toward fixed-income assets as well.

Retirement Asset Allocation

Once you’ve retired it may seem like you can kick back and relax with all of your asset allocation worries behind you. Yet, your portfolio allocation is as important to consider now as it was in your 20s.

When you retire, you’ll likely be on a fixed income — and you won’t be adding to your savings with earned wages. Your retirement could last 20 to 30 years or more, so consider holding a mix of assets that includes stocks that might provide some growth. Keeping a modest stock allocation might help you avoid outliving your savings and preserve your spending power.

While that may sound contrary to the suggestion above for pre-retirees to keep more of their assets allocated to fixed-income, the difference is the level of protection you might want just prior to retirement. Now as an official retiree, and thinking about the potential decades ahead, you may want to inject a little growth potential into your portfolio.

It might also make sense to hold assets that grow faster than the rate of inflation or are inflation-protected, such as Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, or TIPS, which can help your nest egg hold its value.

These are highly personal decisions that, again, go back to the three intersecting factors that drive asset allocation: your goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon. There’s no right answer; the task is arriving at the right answer for you.

Understanding Assets and Asset Classes

At its heart, a financial asset is anything of value that you own, whether that’s a piece of property or a single stock. When you invest, you’re typically looking to buy an asset that will increase in value.

The three broad groups, or asset classes, that are generally held in investment accounts are stocks, bonds, and cash. When you invest, you will likely hold different proportions of these asset classes.

Asset Allocation Examples

What are some asset allocation examples? Well, your portfolio might hold 60% stocks, 40% bonds, and no cash — or 70% stocks, 20% bonds, and 10% in cash or cash equivalents. But how you decide that ratio gets into the nuts and bolts of your actual asset allocation strategy, because each of these asset types behaves differently over time and has a different level of risk and return associated with it.

•   Stocks. Stocks typically offer the highest rates of return. However, with the potential for greater reward comes higher risk. Typically, stocks are the most volatile of these three categories, especially in the short term. But over the long term, the return on equities (aka stocks) has generally been positive. In fact, the S&P 500 index, a proxy for the U.S. stock market, has historically returned an average of 10% annually.

•   Bonds. Bonds are traditionally less risky than stocks and offer steadier returns. A general rule of thumb is that bond prices move in the opposite direction of stocks.

When you buy a bond, you are essentially loaning money to a company or a government. You receive regular interest on the money you loan, and the principal you paid for the bond is returned to you when the bond’s term is up. When buying bonds, investors generally accept smaller returns in exchange for the security they offer.

•   Cash. Cash, or cash equivalents, such as certificates of deposit (CDs) or money market accounts, are the least volatile investments. But they typically offer very low returns.

💡 Quick Tip: Are self-directed brokerage accounts cost efficient? They can be, because they offer the convenience of being able to buy stocks online without using a traditional full-service broker (and the typical broker fees).

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How Do Diversification and Rebalancing Fit In?

The old adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” is apt for a number of concepts in investing.

Putting all of your money in one investment may expose you to too much risk. When it comes to asset allocation, you can help manage risk by spreading money out over different asset classes that are then weighted differently within a portfolio.

Here is a possible asset allocation example: If your stock allocation was 100%, and the stock market hit a speed bump, your entire portfolio could lose value. But if your allocation were divided among stocks, bonds, and cash, a drop in the value of your stock allocation wouldn’t have the same impact. It would be mitigated to a degree, because the bonds and cash allocation of your portfolio likely wouldn’t suffer similar losses (remember: bond prices generally move in the opposite direction of stocks, and cash/cash equivalents rarely react to market turmoil).

Diversification

Portfolio diversification is a separate, yet related, concept. Simple diversification can be achieved with the broader asset classes of stocks, bonds, and cash. But within each asset class you could also consider holding many different assets for additional diversification and risk protection.

For example, allocating the stock portion of your portfolio to a single stock may not be a great idea, as noted above. Instead, you might invest in a basket of stocks. If you hold a single stock and it drops, your whole stock portfolio falls with it. But if you hold 25 different stocks — when one stock falls, the effect on your overall portfolio is relatively small.

On an even deeper level, you may want to diversify across many types of stock — for example, varying by company size, geography, or sector. One way some investors choose to diversify is by holding mutual funds, index funds, or ETFs that themselves hold a diverse basket of stocks.

Rebalancing

What is rebalancing? As assets gain and lose value, the proportion of your portfolio they represent also changes. For example, say you have a portfolio allocation that includes 60% stocks and the stock market ticks upward. The stocks you hold might have appreciated and now represent 70% or even 80% of your overall portfolio.

In order to realign your portfolio to your desired 60% allocation, you might rebalance it by selling some stocks and buying bonds. Why sell securities that are gaining value? Again, it’s with an eye toward managing the potential risk of future losses.

If your equity allocation was 60%, but has grown to 70% or 80% in a bull market, you’re exposed to more volatility. Rebalancing back to 60% helps to mitigate that risk.

The idea of rebalancing works on the level of asset allocation and on the level of asset classes. For example, if your domestic stocks do really well, you may sell a portion to rebalance your dometic allocation and buy international stocks.

You can rebalance your portfolio at any time, but you may want to set regular check-ins, whether quarterly or annually. There may be no need to rebalance if your asset allocation hasn’t really shifted. One general rule to consider is the suggestion that you rebalance your portfolio whenever an asset allocation changes by 5% or more.

What’s the Deal with Target Date Funds?

One tool that some investors find useful to help them set appropriate allocations is a target date fund. These funds, which were described briefly above, are primarily for retirement, and they are typically geared toward a specific retirement year (such as 2030, 2045, 2050, and so on).

Target funds hold a diverse mix of stocks and fixed-income investments. As the fund’s target date approaches, the mix of stocks and bonds the fund automatically adjusts to a more conservative allocation — aka the fund’s “glide path.”

For example, if you’re 35 and plan to retire at 65, you could purchase shares in a target-date fund with a target date 30 years in the future. While the fund’s stock allocation may be fairly substantial at the outset, as you approach retirement the fund will gradually increase the proportion of fixed-income assets that it holds.

Target-date funds theoretically offer investors a way to set it and forget it. However, they also present some limitations. For one, you don’t have control over the assets in the fund, nor do you control how the fund’s allocation adjusts over time.

Target funds are typically one-size-fits-all, and that doesn’t always work with an individual’s unique retirement goals. For example, someone aggressively trying to save may want to hold more stocks for longer than a particular target date fund offers. Also, as actively managed funds, they often come with fees that can take a bite out of how much you are ultimately able to save.

The Takeaway

While many investors spend time researching complex issues like bond yields and options trading, understanding and executing a successful asset allocation strategy — one that works for you now, and that you can adjust over the long term — can be more challenging than it seems.

Although asset allocation is a fairly simple idea — it’s basically how you divide up different asset classes in your portfolio to help manage risk — it has enormous strategic implications for your investments as a whole. The three main factors that influence your asset allocation (goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon) seem straightforward enough as separate ideas, yet there is an art and a science to combining them into an asset allocation that makes sense for you. Like so many other things, arriving at the right asset allocation is a learning process.

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).


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Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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.

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
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.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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Are 401(k) Contributions Tax Deductible? Limits Explained

As you’ve been planning and saving for retirement, you may have heard that there’s a “401(k) tax deduction.” And while there are definitely tax benefits associated with contributing to a 401(k) account, the term 401(k) tax deduction isn’t accurate.

You cannot deduct your 401(k) contributions on your income tax return, per se — but the money you save in your 401(k) is deducted from your gross income, which can potentially lower how much tax you owe.

This is not the case for a Roth 401(k), a relative newcomer in terms of retirement accounts. These accounts are funded with after-tax contributions, and so tax deductions don’t enter the picture.

Key Points

•   401(k) contributions are not tax deductible, but they lower your taxable income.

•   Roth 401(k) contributions are made with after-tax money and do not provide tax deductions.

•   Contributions to employer-sponsored plans like 401(k) or 403(b) are taken out of your salary and reduce your taxable income.

•   401(k) withdrawals are taxed as income, and early withdrawals may incur additional penalties.

•   Making eligible contributions to a 401(k) or IRA can potentially qualify you for a Retirement Savings Contributions Credit.

How Do 401(k) Contributions Affect Your Taxable Income?

The benefits of putting pre-tax dollars toward your 401(k) plan are similar to a tax deduction, but are technically different.

•   An actual tax deduction (similar to a tax credit) is something you document on your actual tax return, where it reduces your gross income.

•   Contributions to an employer-sponsored plan like a 401(k) or 403(b) are actually taken out of your salary, so that money is not taxed, and thus your taxable income is effectively reduced. But this isn’t technically a tax deduction.

People will often say your 401(k) contributions are tax deductible, or you get a tax deduction for saving in a 401(k), but it’s really that your 401(k) savings are deducted from your salary, and not taxed.

The money in the account also grows tax free over time, and you would pay taxes when you withdraw the money.

Example of a 401(k) Contribution

Let’s say you earn $75,000 per year. And let’s imagine you’re contributing 10% of your salary to your 401(k), or $7,500 per year.

Your salary is then reduced by $7,500, an amount that is noted on your W2. As a result, your taxable income would drop to $67,500.

Would that alone put you in a lower tax bracket? It’s possible, but your marginal tax rate is determined by several things, including deductions for Social Security and Medicare taxes, so it’s a good idea to take the full picture into account or consult with a professional.

Recommended: IRA vs 401(k): What’s the Difference?

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Do You Need to Report 401(k) Contributions on Your Tax Return?

The short answer is no. Because 401(k) contributions are taken out of your paycheck before being taxed, they are not included in taxable income and they don’t need to be reported on a tax return (e.g. Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return or Form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors).

Your employer does include the full amount of your annual contributions on your W2 form, which is reported to the government. So Uncle Sam does know how much you’ve contributed that year.

You won’t need to report any 401(k) income until you start taking distributions from your 401(k) account — typically after retiring. At that time, you’ll be required to report the withdrawals as income on your tax return, and pay the correct amount of taxes.

When you’re retired and withdrawing funds (aka taking distributions), the hope is that you’ll be in a lower tax bracket than while you were working. In turn, the amount you’re taxed will be relatively low.

How the Employer Match Works

When an individual receives a matching contribution to their 401(k) from their employer, this amount is also not taxed. A typical matching contribution might be 3% for every 6% the employee sets aside in their 401(k). In this case, the matching money would be added to the employee’s account, and the employee would not owe tax on that money until they withdrew funds in retirement.

How Do 401(k) Withdrawals Affect Taxes?

The tax rules for withdrawing funds from a 401(k) account differ depending on how old you are when you withdraw the money.

Generally, all traditional 401(k) retirement plan distributions are eligible for income tax upon withdrawal of the funds (note: that rule does not apply to Roth 401(k)s, since contributions to those plans are made with after-tax dollars, and withdrawals are generally tax free).

If you withdraw money before the age of 59 ½ it’s known as an “early” or “premature” distribution. For these early withdrawals, individuals have to pay an additional 10% tax as a part of an early withdrawal penalty, with some exceptions, including withdrawals that occur:

•   After the death of the plan participant

•   After the total and permanent disability of the plan participant

•   When distributed to an alternate payee under a Qualified Domestic Relations Order

•   During a series of substantially equal payments

•   Due to an IRS levy of the plan

•   For qualified medical expenses

•   Certain distributions for qualified military reservists called to active duty

For individuals looking to withdraw from their 401(k) plan before age 59 ½, a 401(k) loan may be a better option that will not result in withdrawal penalties, but these loans with their own potential consequences.

How Do Distributions From a 401(k) Work?

Once you turn 59 ½, you can withdraw 401(k) funds at any time, and you will owe income tax on the money you withdraw each year. That said, you cannot keep your retirement funds in the account for as long as you wish.

When you turn 72, the IRS requires you to start withdrawing money from your 401(k) each year. These withdrawals are called required minimum distributions (or RMDs), and it’s important to understand how they work because if you don’t withdraw the correct amount by Dec. 31 of each year, you could get hit with a big penalty.

Prior to 2019, the age at which 401(k) participants had to start taking RMDs was 70 ½. The rule changed in 2019 and the required age is now 72. When you turn 72 the IRS requires you to start taking withdrawals from your 401(k), or other tax-deferred accounts (like a traditional IRA or SEP IRA).

If you don’t take the required minimum amount each year, you could face another requirement: to pay a penalty of 50% of the withdrawal you didn’t take.

All RMDs from tax-deferred accounts like 401(k) plans are taxed as ordinary income. If you withdraw more than the required minimum, no penalty applies.

Recommended: Should You Open an IRA If You Have a 401(k)?

What Are Tax Saver’s Credits?

Making eligible contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) or an IRA can potentially lead to a tax credit known as a Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, or a Saver’s credit. There are three requirements that must be met to qualify for this credit.

1.    Individual must be age 18 or older.

2.    They cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return.

3.    They can not be a student (certain exclusions apply).

The amount of the credit received depends on the individual’s adjusted gross income.

The credit amount is typically 50%, 20%, or 10% of contributions made to qualified retirement accounts such as a 401(k), 4013(b), 457(b), traditional or Roth IRAs.

For tax year 2023, the maximum contribution amount that qualifies for this credit is $2,000 for individuals, and $4,000 for married couples filing jointly, bringing the maximum credit to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for those filing jointly. Rollover contributions don’t qualify for this credit.

Alternatives for Reducing Taxable Income

Aside from contributing to a traditional 401(k) account, there are other ways to reduce taxable income while putting money away for the future.

Traditional IRA: Traditional IRAs are one type of retirement plan that can lower taxable income. Individuals may be able to deduct their traditional IRA contributions on their federal income tax returns. The deduction is typically available in full if an individual (and their spouse, if married) doesn’t have retirement plan coverage offered by their work. Their deduction may be limited if they or their spouse are offered a retirement plan at work, and their income exceeds certain levels.

SEP IRA: SEP IRAs are a possible alternative investment account for individuals who are self-employed and don’t have access to an employee sponsored 401(k). Taxpayers who are self-employed and contribute to an SEP IRA can qualify for tax deductions.

403(b) Plans: A 403(b) plan applies to employees of public schools and tax-exempt organizations, and certain ministers. Employees with 403(b) plans can contribute some of their salary to the plan, as can their employer. As with a traditional 401(k) plan, the participant doesn’t need to pay income tax on any allowable contributions, earnings, or gains until they begin to withdraw from the plan.

Charitable donations: It’s possible to claim a deduction on federal taxes after donating to charities and non-profit organizations with 501(c)(3) status. To deduct charitable donations, an individual has to file a Schedule A with their tax form and provide proper documentation regarding cash or vehicle donations.

To deduct non-cash donations, they have to complete a Form 8283. For donated non-cash items, individuals can claim the fair market value of the items on their taxes. from the IRS explains how to determine vehicle deductions. For donations that involve receiving a gift or a ticket to an event, the donor can only deduct the amount of the donation that exceeds the worth of the gift or ticket received. Individuals are generally required to include receipts when they submit their return.

Earned Income Tax Credit: Individuals and married couples with low to moderate incomes may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This particular tax credit can help lower the amount of taxes owed if the individual meets certain requirements and files a tax return — whether or not the individual owes money. Filing a return in this case can be beneficial, because if EITC reduces the amount of taxes owed to less than $0, then the filer may actually get a refund.

The Takeaway

Individuals who expect a 401(k) deduction come tax time may be disappointed to learn that there is no such thing as a 401(k) tax deduction. But they may be pleased to learn the other tax benefits of contributing to a 401(k) retirement account.

Contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, which effectively lowers one’s amount of taxable income for the year — and that may in turn lower the amount of income taxes owed.

Once an individual reaches retirement age and starts withdrawing funds from their 401(k) account, that money will be considered income, and will be taxed accordingly.

Another way to maximize your retirement savings: Consider rolling over your old 401(k) accounts so you can manage your money in one place with a rollover IRA. SoFi makes the rollover process seamless and simple. There are no rollover fees. The process is automated so you’ll avoid the risk of a penalty, and you can complete your 401(k) rollover quickly and easily.

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
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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Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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.

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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