What Happens When You Sell For a Loss in an IRA?

What happens when you sell for a loss in an IRA

As markets decline, you may be tempted to sell investments from your IRA at a loss – but be wary! Violating the wash-sale rule can cost you dearly.

Stock profits earned within your IRA are only subject to tax when they’re withdrawn – since each account has an established base from nondeductible contributions and after-tax amounts that were transferred over from other accounts.


If the investments in your IRA are selling for less than what they cost, it may make sense to liquidate those positions – provided you are over 59-1/2 and no longer require money from it. Just remember that withdrawals (including profit from loss-selling transactions) from an IRA are subject to regular income taxes.

As opposed to losses on taxable investments, which can be directly deducted from income, IRA losses must first meet certain requirements in order to be deducted on Schedule A and must exceed 2% of adjusted gross income before becoming usable deductions. Furthermore, their benefit could even decrease further if filing alternative minimum tax; further diminishing their potential value.

When withdrawing funds from an IRA and redepositing them within 60 days, they’re considered taxable distributions subject to a 10% penalty if you’re under age 59-1/2. To avoid these issues, take caution before selling for a loss inside an IRA and consult a tax professional before doing so.


As of 2018, IRA investment losses cannot be claimed as miscellaneous itemized deductions like they were before. So unless you’re first-time homebuying or meeting other itemized deduction thresholds of 2% or greater, stocks in your IRA plan that are underwater shouldn’t be sold immediately; this applies both for traditional deductible IRAs as well as Roth IRA plans.

However, if you’re under 59-1/2, IRA funds can be withdrawn without penalty for noninvestment purposes such as buying a house or paying medical bills – making IRA-held stocks more accessible to people who need cash quickly. Therefore, in such instances asset re-allocation within plans should take precedence over distributions and reinvested outside. Your financial advisor and accountant can help evaluate your tax situation, while using accurate cost/purchase information when calculating gains/losses so you won’t pay double or at incorrect tax rates – saving both time and money on taxes payable to both.


When selling stock at a loss from a taxable brokerage account, the loss can be deducted against any gain reported on your tax return. Unfortunately, losses in an IRA cannot be deducted for tax purposes – ordinary income rates must generally apply on asset appreciation that occurs there instead. Real estate gains within an IRA may also trigger special rules which result in unrelated business taxable income (UBTI).

Your or your beneficiaries cannot use an IRA to buy or lease personal property, own or rent real estate, provide management services for partnerships, LLCs or corporations, lend money directly from an IRA as loans guaranteeing loans from another source, pledge assets of an IRA as collateral against debts etc. All such prohibited transactions (PTs) could lead to disqualification and result in its entire value becoming taxable.

Wash-Sale Rule

Your IRA cannot claim a tax loss if, within 30 days before or after selling shares, they are bought back at substantially identical prices in a fully taxable trade. This rule from the IRS prevents investors from exploiting temporary dips in an investment’s value in order to secure tax breaks by purchasing them back for lower prices thereby increasing their cost basis and thus future gains calculation.

Many investors employ the practice of “tax loss harvesting”, in which they sell underperforming investments to offset capital gains. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), like 401(k) accounts, don’t incur current taxes in terms of gains or losses each year as money is only taxed when it is withdrawn; however, the IRS will take swift action if you attempt to bypass their wash-sale rule by selling shares from your IRA and then purchasing similar financial instruments which convert back to them, such as warrants, convertible preferred stock or options that allow conversion back into shares you sold from another source such as warrants, convertible preferred stock or options that allow conversion back into shares sold shares such as warrants allowing quick conversion.

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