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Okay, so you understand the basic principle:
sales price - cost of selling - adjusted tax basis = taxable gain (or loss).
But what happens if you sell more than one capital asset during the year? What if you take a loss on one sale, but a gain on another? How do you determine the amount of your gains, and will they be short-term, or long-term gains eligible for the special tax rates?
Net capital gains. The general principle is that you must net your short-term gains against your short-term losses, to get a total short-term gain or loss. Then, you net your long-term gains against your long-term losses, to get a total long-term gain or loss. Finally, you net your total short-term gain or loss against your total long-term gain or loss.
If the ultimate result is a long-term gain, it will be subject to the maximum 2011 capital gains tax rate of 15 percent, or zero percoent if you are in the 10 percent or 15 percent tax bracket. If the result is a short-term gain, it will be subject to tax at your regular income tax rate.
Net capital loss. If the result is a loss, whether short-term or long-term, your loss deduction for the year is limited to $3,000 (or $1,500 for married people filing separately). If your losses exceed this amount, you can carry them over and deduct them in subsequent years until they are used up.