Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

As a result of recent changes in the law, many brokerage customers will begin seeing something new when they gaze upon their 1099-B forms early next year.  In the past, of course, brokers were required to report to their clients, and the IRS, those amounts reflecting the gross proceeds of any securities sales taking place during the preceding calendar year.

In keeping with a broader move toward greater information reporting requirements, however, new tax legislation now makes it incumbent upon brokers to provide their clients, and the IRS, with their adjusted basis in the lots of securities they purchase after certain dates, as well. While an onerous new requirement for the brokerage houses, this development ought to simplify the lives of many ordinary taxpayers by relieving them of the often difficult matter of calculating their stock bases.

When calculating gain, or loss, on the sale of stock, all taxpayers must employ a very simple formula. By the terms of this calculus, gain equals amount realized (how much was received in the sale) less adjusted basis (generally, how much was paid to acquire the securities plus commissions). By requiring brokers to provide their clients with both variables in the formula, Congress has lifted a heavy load from the shoulders of many.

FIFO

The new requirements also specify that, if a customer sells some amount of shares less than her entire holding in a given stock, the broker must report the customer’s adjusted basis using the “first in, first out” method, unless the broker receives instructions from the customer directing otherwise. The difference in tax consequences can be significant.

Example.  On January 16, 2011, Laura buys 100 shares of Big Co. common stock for $100 a share. After the purchase, Big Co. stock goes on a tear, quickly rising in price to $200 a share, on April 11, 2011. Believing the best is still ahead for Big Co., Laura buys another 100 shares of Big Co. common on that date, at that price. However, rather than continuing its meteoric rise, the price of Big Co. stock rapidly plummets to $150, on May 8, 2011. At this point, Laura, tired of seeing her money evaporate, sells 100 of her Big Co. shares.

Since Laura paid $100 a share for the first lot of Big Co. stock that she purchased (first in), her basis in those shares is $100 per share (plus any brokerage commissions). Her basis in the second lot, however, is $200 per share (plus any commissions). Unless Laura directs her broker to use an alternate method, the broker will use the first in stock basis of $100 per share in its reporting of this first out sale. Laura, accordingly, will be required to report a short-term capital gain of $50 per share (less brokerage commissions). Had she instructed her broker to use the “last in, first out” method, she would, instead, see a short-term capital loss of $50 per share (plus commissions).

Dividend Reinvestment Plans

As their name would suggest, dividend reinvestment plans (DRPs) allow investors the opportunity to reinvest all, or a portion, of any dividends received back into additional shares, or fractions of shares, of the paying corporation. While offering investors many advantages, one historical drawback to DRPs has been their tendency to obligate participants to keep track of their cost bases for many small purchases of stock, and maintain records of these purchases, sometimes over the course of many years. Going forward, however taxpayers will be able to average the basis of stock held in a DRP acquired on or after January 1, 2011.

Applicability

The types of securities covered by the legislation include virtually every conceivable financial instrument subject to a basis calculation, including stock in a corporation, which become “covered” securities when acquired after a certain date. In the case of corporate stock, for example, the applicability date is January 1, 2011, unless the stock is in a mutual fund or is acquired in connection with a dividend reinvestment program (DRP), in which case the applicable date is January 1, 2012. The applicable date for all other securities is January 1, 2013.

Short Sales

In the past, brokers reported the gross proceeds of short sales in the year in which the short position was opened. The amendments, however, require that brokers report short sales for the year in which the short sale is closed.

The Complex World of Stock Basis

There are, quite literally, as many ways to calculate one’s basis in stock as there are ways to acquire that stock. Many of these calculations can be nuanced and very complex. For any questions concerning the new broker-reporting requirements, or stock basis, in general, please contact our office.

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