How Do You Account For Losses in an IRA?

Investors holding assets within retirement accounts may experience declines over time. When this occurs, they may wonder if losses can be deducted in the same manner as they would for taxable accounts.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that losses within an IRA or similar account can be deducted because their rules can be complex.


An investment loss held within an IRA can reduce tax-deductible contributions for that year and decrease its tax basis, potentially lowering future investment gains. Unfortunately, however, losses from within this IRA cannot be offset with capital gains from outside sources or accounts outside it.

To realize losses on IRA investments, one approach is to sell the securities that are holding onto losses just like you would sell investments from a regular taxable account. However, this method can be extremely risky and not recommended for many investors.

Tax-loss harvesting is another effective way of realizing an IRA investment loss; this practice involves selling losing positions to offset gains elsewhere in a portfolio. However, this strategy typically benefits those with large taxable accounts and the IRS has strict rules that must be observed to avoid prohibited transactions such as plan asset rule and exclusive benefit rule.


Losses in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) can help offset gains within the account, but there are a few important points to remember. First and foremost is that any investment losses sustained within an IRA cannot be deducted because their funds don’t become tax-deferred until withdrawn and spent for noninvesting purposes.

When harvesting losses in an IRA, it’s essential that a solid strategy be put in place in order to avoid violating the wash-sale rule. This rule prohibits purchasing similar investments within 30 days after selling at a loss and violating this can disallow loss deduction.

Before the Tax Cuts and Job Act was passed, IRA losses could only be deducted if all Roth IRA accounts had been closed and total withdrawals amounted to less than your basis in each account. Also, itemizing on Schedule A would be necessary rather than taking the standard deduction – something currently disallowed under TCJA but which might be reinstated by Congress.


Losses from an IRA don’t qualify as tax deductions in the same way as gains do; losses can only be deducted when they’re withdrawn and less than your after-tax basis in that account. Therefore, it is prudent to always maintain original investment costs and sale prices for all your portfolio assets so you can calculate any loss amounts at tax time.

In general, IRA assets cannot be used to buy or pay medical expenses out of an IRA account; however, exceptions exist if you can demonstrate that such costs would still exist regardless of which funds were paid from. Furthermore, you cannot use them to invest in real estate, private companies, or any unconventional investments which violate self-dealing restrictions.

The IRS offers three safe-harbor methods for calculating a substantially equal periodic payment (SEPP). Each yields annual withdrawal amounts that depend on life expectancy measures and interest rate factors.


Maintaining thorough records of your investment transactions is essential to managing risk effectively. These documents should include details on original cost, sale proceeds and transaction fees; any applicable transaction fees. Having this data on hand allows you to accurately calculate losses that can be deducted as tax deductions against gains within an IRA account or reduce taxable income.

An experienced financial advisor can guide you through the complex nuances of tax loss harvesting to optimize your IRA performance while minimizing its tax implications.

Investing can be challenging, and diversifying your portfolio as much as possible is vital to managing risk effectively. By spreading out assets among various asset classes, economic sectors and geographical regions you can reduce the likelihood of sudden drops or spikes.

Reduce IRA fees further by selecting a low-cost brokerage firm like Vanguard or Fidelity and investing in funds without trade fees. Wrap fees or advisory fees can significantly deplete your IRA balance over time; make sure to research any investments before purchasing.

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