Guide to Taxes and Mutual Funds

By Samuel Becker · December 20, 2022 · 9 minute read

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Guide to Taxes and Mutual Funds

For a long time, mutual funds have been a popular investment vehicle for millions of investors, largely because they offer an easy way to purchase no-fuss, diversified assets with relative ease. This out-of-the-box diversification and risk mitigation is something that individual stocks can’t match.

However, many investors don’t know where to start regarding mutual funds taxes. Read on to learn how taxes on mutual funds work, what investors should expect or anticipate when dealing with mutual funds and the IRS, and some strategies for tax-efficient investing.

Quick Mutual Fund Overview

First, it makes sense to review the basics. A mutual fund is a pooled investment vehicle that allows individuals to invest in a professionally managed portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other securities. Mutual funds are managed by professional portfolio managers who use the pooled capital to buy and sell securities according to the fund’s stated investment objective. When investors buy into a mutual fund, they’re purchasing a spectrum of assets all at once.

Mutual funds can be actively managed, where the portfolio manager actively buys and sells securities in the fund, or passively managed, where the fund tracks an index. Mutual funds are a popular way for individuals to diversify their portfolios and access professional investment management.

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Do You Pay Taxes on Mutual Funds?

Mutual fund investors generally have to pay taxes on any income or capital gains the mutual fund distributes, including dividends, interest, and realized capital gains from the sale of securities within the fund.

It’s worth noting that mutual funds can be structured in different ways, and the tax treatment of mutual fund investments can vary depending on the specific type of mutual fund. For example, some mutual funds are classified as tax-exempt or tax-deferred, which means that they are not subject to certain taxes or that taxes on the income or gains from the fund are deferred until later.

When a mutual fund distributes income or capital gains to its investors, it must provide them with a Form 1099-DIV , which reports the distribution amount and any associated taxes. Investors are then responsible for reporting this income on their tax returns and paying any taxes that are due.

How Are Mutual Funds Taxed?

Mutual funds are taxed based on the income and capital gains they generate and distribute to their investors. This income and capital gains can come from various sources, such as dividends on stocks held by the fund, interest on bonds held by the fund, and profits from the sale of securities within the fund.

The tax treatment of mutual fund investments can vary depending on the type of fund and the type of income or capital gains it generates. Here are some general rules to keep in mind:

Paying Tax on “Realized Gains” from a Mutual Fund

It may come as a surprise that shareholders may owe taxes on their mutual fund holdings even if they don’t sell shares of the fund. That’s because shareholders still generate income from those holdings, often called “realized” gain.

Mutual funds are often actively managed, meaning that a portfolio manager regularly makes decisions about what the fund contains by buying and selling investments — a process that can net profits. Those profits, or gains, are then passed back to shareholders as distributions (or as dividends) or reinvested in the fund.

When shareholders are awarded distributions from funds, they see a “realized” gain from their investment. For that reason, shareholders may end up owing tax on investments that they have not sold or may have lost value over the year.

Paying Capital Gains on Mutual Funds

Most investors likely know that when they sell shares of a mutual fund, they’ll need to pay taxes on the earnings. Specifically, they’ll pay capital gains tax on the profit from selling an investment. The capital gains tax rate will vary depending on how long an investor holds the investment (short-term versus long-term).

Because funds contain investments that may be sold during the year, thereby netting capital gains, investors may be responsible for capital gains taxes on their mutual fund distributions. As each fund is different, so are the taxes associated with their distributions. So reading through the fund’s prospectus and any other available documentation can help investors figure out what, if anything, they owe.

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How Much Tax Do You Pay on Mutual Funds?

The amount of tax you pay on mutual fund investments depends on the type of fund, the type of income or capital gains the fund generates, and your individual tax situation.

Here are some general rules to keep in mind:

•   Dividends: Dividends paid by mutual funds are taxed at different rates, depending on whether the payouts are ordinary or qualified dividends. Qualified dividends are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary dividends; they’re taxed at the long-term capital gains rate, which ranges from 0% to 20%. In contrast, ordinary dividends are taxed at an investor’s ordinary income tax rate.

•   Interest: The tax on the interest income from mutual funds depends on whether the payout comes from tax-exempt bonds, federal debt, or regular fixed-income securities. Depending on the type of asset, the interest may be taxed at ordinary income tax rates or exempt from certain taxes.

•   Capital gains: When a mutual fund sells securities for a profit, it may realize a capital gain, which is subject to tax. The tax rate on capital gains depends on how long the securities were held and your tax bracket. Short-term capital gains (on securities held for one year or less) are taxed at the same rate as ordinary income. In comparison, long-term capital gains (on securities held for more than one year) are generally taxed at the lower capital gains tax rate.

How to Minimize Taxes on Mutual Funds

When it comes to mutual funds, taxes will be a part of the equation for investors — there’s no way around it. But that doesn’t mean that investors can’t make some smart moves to minimize what they owe. Here are a handful of ways to potentially lower taxable income associated with mutual funds:

Know the Details Before You Invest

Do your homework! The holdings in each fund and how they’re managed will ultimately play a significant role in the tax liabilities associated with each fund. Before investing in a specific mutual fund, it’s worth digging through the prospectus and other documents to understand what to expect.

For example, an investor can typically find out ahead of time if a mutual fund makes capital gains distributions or how often a fund pays out dividends. Those types of income-generating events will need to be declared to the IRS come tax time.

Some investors may look for tax-efficient funds specifically designed to help mutual fund investors avoid taxes.

Use a Tax-deferred Account

Some brokerage or investment accounts — including retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s — are tax-deferred. That means they grow tax-free until the money they contain is withdrawn. In the short term, using these types of accounts to invest in mutual funds can help investors avoid any immediate tax liabilities that those mutual funds impose.

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Hang Onto Your Funds to Avoid Short-term Capital Gains

If the goal is to minimize an investor’s tax liability, avoiding short-term capital gains tax is important. That’s because short-term capital gains taxes are steeper than the long-term variety. An easy way to ensure that an investor is rarely or never on the hook for those short-term rates is to subscribe to a buy-and-hold investment strategy.

This can be applied as an overall investing strategy in addition to one tailor-made for avoiding additional tax liabilities on mutual fund holdings.

Talk to a Financial Professional

Of course, not every investor has the same resources, including time, available to them. That’s why some investors may choose to consult a financial advisor specializing in these services. They usually charge a fee, but some may offer free consultations. For some investors, the cost savings associated with solid financial advice can outweigh the initial costs of securing that advice.

How Do You Report Mutual Funds on Your Taxes?

If you own mutual funds, you will generally need to report any income or capital gains you receive from the fund on your tax return.

Mutual funds are required to provide their investors with a Form 1099-DIV, which reports the amount of any dividends, interest, and capital gains distributions the fund paid out during the year. Make sure to keep this form for your records and use it to help complete your tax return.

You will then need to report any dividends, interest, and capital gains distributions you received from your mutual fund on your tax return, specifically on IRS Form 1040 or Schedule D (Form 1040) .

The Takeaway

Mutual fund taxes are generally unavoidable, but with a little planning, you can minimize the amount you get taxed. Employing some of the above strategies can help you minimize your mutual taxes. For example, those investing for long-term financial goals, like retirement, can use tax-deferred accounts as their primary investing vehicles. And by using those accounts to invest in mutual funds and other assets, they can help offset their short-term tax liabilities.

Investing in mutual funds is a popular way for investors to diversify their holdings in a single security. However, there are other ways to build a diversified portfolio. With a SoFi Invest® online investment account, you can trade your favorite stocks with no commissions and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to create a personalized financial portfolio.

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Do you pay taxes when you sell mutual funds?

Yes, you may be required to pay taxes when you sell mutual funds. The specific taxes you may be required to pay will depend on several factors, including the type of mutual funds you are selling, how long you have held the funds, and the type of gains you have earned from the sale.

Are mutual funds taxed twice?

Mutual funds are not taxed twice. However, some investors may mistakenly pay taxes twice on some distributions. For example, if a mutual fund reinvests dividends into the fund, an investor still needs to pay taxes on those dividends. Later, when the investor sells shares of the mutual fund for a gain, they’ll have to pay capital gains taxes on those earnings. But the capital gain includes the reinvested dividends, on which the investor already paid taxes. So, the investor may end up paying taxes twice on the same earnings. To avoid paying taxes twice, the investor needs to adjust the cost basis of their investment.

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