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4 Strategies to Reduce Your Taxes From Day Trading

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Day trading — the buying and selling of a security within a single trading day — can be a profitable activity for experienced and skilled investors. However, this type of frequent trading also can trigger many tax and accounting headaches that can be overwhelming to the average investor.

We will take a look at some of the key tax issues associated with day trading and whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) might classify you as a trader for tax purposes.

How traders are defined

The IRS considers you a trader if you meet several criteria it has established:

  • You look to profit from the daily price movements of securities versus from dividends, interest or capital appreciation from the securities.
  • Your activity must be substantial in its eyes.
  • You must engage in this trading activity on a continuous and regular basis.

In addition, the IRS will look at the following factors to determine if your trading activity is a securities trading business:

  • Your typical holding period for the securities you buy and sell
  • The frequency and dollar amount of your trades over the course of the year
  • The extent to which you pursue this trading activity to produce income and a livelihood for yourself
  • The amount of time you devote to your trading activity

While there are no definitive rules, examples of some criteria suggested by trader tax expert GreenTraderTax for qualifying as a trader include:

  • You maintain sufficient trading volume — at least four trades per day, 15 per week or 60 per month.
  • You earn a substantial amount of your income from trading.
  • You trade on a regular and recurring basis.
  • You execute a trade on at least 75% of available trading days during the year.
  • Your average holding period for securities is less than 31 days.
  • You demonstrate the intention to run a trading business as your principal means of earning a living.
  • You are set up as a business.

If your trading activities don’t meet the criteria outlined above, you likely are considered an investor in the eyes of the IRS.

Per the IRS definition, investors typically buy and sell securities with the expectation of earning income from dividends, interest or capital appreciation on those securities. Being a day trader alone does not qualify you as having the tax status of a trader.

4 tax reduction strategies for traders

Whether you are classified as a trader or an investor matters from a tax standpoint. Traders are in a position to reduce their taxes through a number of special benefits that can be maximized.

1. You can use mark-to-market accounting for your investments

This is done at the end of each tax year. You report gains and losses as if you sold everything on the last day of the year, which means you mark the securities held to the end-of-the year market value.

The benefit is that net trading losses can be deducted against other income on an unlimited basis. You are not limited to $3,000 in excess of capital gains, unlike taxpayers who are classified as investors. Mark-to-market traders begin the new tax year with a “clean slate.” In other words, all positions have zero unrealized net gains or losses. On the flip side, traders may not use the preferable capital gains tax rates for long-term capital gains.

2. A trader is exempt from wash-sale rules

This rule applies to investors who engage in the practice of tax loss harvesting, where investors sell securities to realize a loss but are prohibited from buying that same (or a similar) security within 30 days of the sale. Traders can realize losses and then immediately turn around and buy the same security they had sold.

3. Traders can deduct the expenses involved in their trading activities

Traders are classified as a business by the IRS, meaning they (much like any business) can deduct their operating costs.

For a trader, these might include:

  • A home office deduction for your business activities, subject to IRS rules
  • The cost of your computers, digital devices and internet access
  • Subscriptions to trading services or journals
  • Office supplies
  • Costs related to outside accounting and tax services
  • Interest expenses for margin loans and other debt used in trading activities

4. A trader is not subject to the self-employment tax

Unlike other Schedule C taxpayers, the profits from trading are not subject to the self-employment tax, which is a positive. The flip side is that traders cannot use this income as the basis for making business retirement plan contributions.

Differences in tax treatment for traders and investors

As an investor, you cannot deduct the expenses incurred in your trading and investing activities except within the confines of what any individual investor can do.

This means:

  • Short-term gains are taxed as ordinary income.
  • Long-term gains (defined as securities held for at least a year) are taxed at the more preferential long-term capital gains rates. This can be advantageous for those who hold securities for a sufficient time, but it is not a benefit for frequent traders with generally short holding periods.
  • You no longer can deduct miscellaneous expenses. Prior to the tax reform enacted at the end of 2017, if you itemized, you were able to deduct your interest expense if you used margin debt to purchase securities, subject to the limitations in the rules.

Additionally, you will need to track the cost basis of all securities purchased in order to properly account for gains and losses when filing your taxes. If you are a day trader and trade frequently, then this requirement can be a real burden.

By contrast, if you are a trader, your trading activities are classified as a business. You can account for these as a sole proprietor, an S-corp, an LLC or another type of business entity that may be appropriate for your situation.

Bottom line

Like any investing activity, it makes sense to understand all the tax and accounting issues associated with day trading to maximize any tax benefits that may be available. Be sure to consult with a qualified tax or legal advisor if your goal is to have the IRS classify you as a trader.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Roger Wohlner
Roger Wohlner |

Roger Wohlner is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Roger here

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How to Invest: A Guide for Novice Investors

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

You’ve heard this line over and over again: To be smart with your money, you need to both build your savings and invest. The savings part is easy: Stash money away in a savings account — a little at a time — to pay for particular goals, like an emergency fund or a new car. Investing is a different story, and learning how to buy securities that will grow in value over time isn’t quite so simple.

Investments are made for the long term, and investing involves taking on risk. That might make you nervous, but investing is essential for your financial health. Compound interest and market gains can help your money grow a much higher rate than a savings account, helping you build long-term wealth for your retirement.

How to invest in 6 easy steps

The idea of investing might be intimidating, but don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think. In fact, you can learn how to invest and get started in just five simple steps.

1. Start investing early

When you’re young, time is on your side. That’s especially true when it comes to investing. And the earlier you start the better, according to Brandon Renfro, a certified financial planner and an assistant professor of finance at East Texas Baptist University.

“Earnings from investments compound over time,” Renfro said. “The longer you give yourself to earn that compound return, the more money you will have when you reach a goal, such as retirement.”

Returns from your investing start slow, but compounding yields big gains over the long term. Let’s say that you start investing $200 per month at age 25 at a 7% return. After five years, you would have saved $12,000 and earned only $2,400.

However, if you keep adding $200 to your investing portfolio every month until age 70, you’ll have contributed $120,000—and earned almost $976,000, for a total portfolio value of $1.1 million.

You don’t always get a steady return on your investment, as in the example above. The market fluctuates, moving up and down, dramatically sometimes. But over the long term, the market produces regular returns. According to the financial firm Morningstar, the long-term average return from the stock market is near 10%.

Investing while you’re young allows you to ride out any short-term losses so you can take advantage of gains over the long-term. Even if the market dips over the near term, over the 20- to 30-year time frame, you’ll see reliable growth rates.

2. Decide how much to invest

When deciding how much to invest, it’s important to take your goals into consideration. If you have high-interest debt or if you don’t have an emergency fund, it may make more sense to pay down your debt and build a small savings account before you invest.

After that, think about your long-term goals, such as planning for retirement. You’ve likely heard experts recommend that you save millions of dollars, but don’t let that scare you. When you’re just starting out, it’s important to start saving whatever you can and to keep contributing consistently.

Vanguard, one of the biggest investment companies, recommends that you save 12% to 15% of your income for retirement. If that sounds impossible right now, save what you can afford, even if it’s just $25 per month. Over time, those small amounts will snowball, helping you build a sizable nest egg.

If your employer offers a 401(k) retirement plan and matches contributions, try to contribute enough to qualify for the full match. That’s free money you’d otherwise leave on the table.

3. Understand how investment accounts work

When you’re ready to start investing, it’s important to think about what kind of account you want to open. There are three core investment account types:

  • Employer-sponsored plans: Some employers offer retirement investment accounts to their employees, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). You may even be eligible for an employer contribution match, putting more money toward your goals. There are tax benefits to contributing to these plans, helping you save money at tax time.
  • Individual retirement accounts (IRA): An IRA is a great way for you to start saving for retirement on your own, outside of an employer-sponsored plan. There are traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs, which both offer tax benefits.
  • Individual taxable accounts: Another way to save is by investing in an individual taxable account, otherwise known as a brokerage account. There are no tax benefits to these accounts, but they also don’t have limitations on contributions or withdrawals like employer-sponsored plans or IRAs do. If you’re saving for a goal beyond retirement, like buying a home, an individual investment account is the best choice.

According to Natalie Pine, a certified financial planner and managing partner of Briaud Financial Advisors, IRAs and employer-sponsored accounts are strong starting points.

“There is no wrong way to save, but when you are young, a Roth IRA, 401(k), 403(b) is a great option,” Pine said. “You pay low taxes now and have tax-free growth for the rest of your life and the lives of your beneficiaries.”

4. Understand what to invest in

Once you’ve chosen an account structure, you can think about what type of asset classes and investments you want to make. There are several different investment options:

  • Stocks: When you buy a stock, you’re purchasing a share of a company like Apple or Google. Your gains or losses are dependent on the company’s performance and trends in the stock market.
  • Bonds: Bonds are loans you make to the government or corporation in exchange for interest payments over a set time period.
  • Mutual funds: With a mutual fund, you pool your money together with other investors to purchase a mix of stocks, bonds, and other securities that would otherwise be too expensive to purchase on your own.
  • Exchange traded funds (ETFs): Like mutual funds, ETFs are pooled investment options that allow you to invest in a diversified portfolio. However, they’re traded like stocks on the stock exchange.
  • Index funds: An index fund follows the performance of a specific market benchmark, such as the S&P 500 Index. The fund’s manager will a preselected collection of hundreds or even thousands of stocks and bonds, diversifying your portfolio.
  • Options: When you invest in options, you create a contract that allows you to buy or sell a security at a fixed price within a specific period of time.
  • Cryptocurrency: Cryptocurrency is a digital representation of assets used to buy and sell goods; one of the most well-known versions is bitcoin. It’s a very risky and volatile investment option, but it’s gaining popularity.

5. Choose an investment strategy

Next, think about your investment strategy. Consider your own risk tolerance. Some people are comfortable taking on more risk, thinking it’s worth it to potentially see high returns. Others get panicky when they see the market dip, and prefer more conservative investments that offer lower, steadier returns. Choose an investment strategy that works for your comfort level.

  • Consider how long you have until your target date. For example, if you’re planning on retiring in 30 years, you can choose a more aggressive portfolio that’s more heavily invested in stocks.
  • If you have short-term goals, like buying a home within the next five years, you want to invest more conservatively. You may put your money in a high-yield savings account or invest in low-risk bonds.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider investing with a robo-advisor. Automated investing platforms like Betterment or Wealthfront review your financial goals and risk tolerance, and comes up with a comprehensive investment plan for you. The robo-advisor will invest your portfolio in a range of ETFs, mutual funds, stocks, or bonds, and will rebalance your portfolio as you approach your investment target dates. Many robo-advisors have low fees, and have no account minimums, so you can invest even if you don’t have a lot of money.

The most important part is simply getting started. “While it is important to plan, don’t let the details overwhelm you to the point of inaction,” advised Renfro. “It’s better to get started now understanding just the basics than to keep putting it off.”

6. Automate your investments

According to Pine, consistency is key to your success as an investor.

“With regard to investing, consistency is essential to avoid emotions driving decisions that ultimately lead to poor performance,” she said. “If you stick with a system, whatever that may be, you are more likely to weather various storms than if you trade around a lot and catch investments at the wrong time.”

Making regular contributions will help you build long term wealth. When you’re short on cash each month, finding extra money to invest may feel impossible. However, there are different strategies you can use to invest, even if you don’t have a lot of cash:

  • Pick an investment account with a low minimum: Some discount brokers have very low account minimums. For example, Fidelity and Charles Schwab have $0 minimums, so you get started with just a few dollars.
  • Invest your spare change:Investment apps like Acorns allow you to engage in micro-investing, where you invest your extra change. The app syncs to your bank account or credit card. Every time you make a purchase, the app rounds it up to the next dollar, and deposits the difference to your investment account. For example, if you pay $2.53 for a cup of coffee, the app would deposit $0.47 into your investment account. Over time, those small amounts can add up.
  • Set up recurring contributions: If possible, set up recurring withdrawals into your investment account. Setting up automatic deposits will take out the money before you can mentally spend it, helping you stay on track.
  • Deposit windfalls: If you receive any money unexpectedly, such as a bonus at work, your tax refund, or a gift from a relative, deposit that money directly into your investment account. It’s extra cash, so you won’t need it to make ends meet, and it can help you reach your long-term goals.

Always keep learning

As a new investor, the most important thing to do is to get started as soon as possible. The earlier you invest, the more time your money has to grow.

After you’ve opened an account and made your initial investment, spend some time learning about your investment options. There’s always something new to learn, and growing your knowledge base can help you make more informed investment decisions, which can pay off over the long run. And keep reading on MagnifyMoney to learn more about investing!

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kat Tretina
Kat Tretina |

Kat Tretina is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kat here

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Personal Capital Review 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Personal Capital is a hybrid of a traditional brokerage and a robo-advisor. It offers portfolio design via algorithm—like many competing robo-advisors—and also lets you buy individual stocks, design portfolios and access human financial advisors. In fact, the company dislikes the term robo-advisor, and prefers to call itself a “digital wealth manager.”

Be advised that the minimum balance requirement is $100,000, meaning that Personal Capital is only a viable choice for investors who have already accumulated a sizable nest egg. It’s not a product for beginners, although it is a great choice for people who have sufficient funds.

Founded in 2009 by a former CEO of PayPal and Intuit, the company claims that it offers “full financial planning at no additional cost.” It charges an asset management fee of 0.89%, which is on the low side for personal financial planning, but it’s on the high side for robo-advisors, most of whom charge less than 0.50% per year. The fee drops as low as 0.49% for high-balance investors, but need a balance of more than $10 million to qualify for the lower rate.

Personal Capital
Visit Personal CapitalSecuredon Personal Capital’s secure site
The Bottom Line: Personal Capital offers automated and active investing features, as well as in-depth financial planning advice, all of which should appeal to users who can swing the minimum balance requirement of $100,000.

  • Access to financial advisors at all asset levels
  • Individual stock investing and customized portfolios
  • Useful financial dashboard tools

Who should consider Personal Capital

Personal Capital is best suited to high-balance investors looking for a less expensive and more hands-off strategy than working with a full-service investment firm. The initial phone consultation with an advisor can help users evaluate their financial position and what they need to do to hit their goals.

The minimum balance required to begin investing with Personal Capital is $100,000, and you need at least $200,000 in investable assets to unlock the ability to customize a portfolio with individual stocks. This level also earns you recommendations and support from two dedicated financial advisors.

Note that anyone can take advantage of the site’s free account aggregation and monitoring tools, which let you test retirement and savings assumptions and make sure your plan will help you achieve your goals.

If you are a socially conscious investor, Personal Capital offers an investment strategy that restricts certain businesses or industries based on their ESG rankings.

Personal Capital fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $100,000
Management fees
  • 0.89% for accounts of $100k - $1M
  • 0.79% for accounts of $1M - $3M
  • 0.69% for accounts between $3M and $5M; lower fees for accounts over $5M
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Trust
Portfolio
  • Personal Capital offers 6 high-level asset classes.
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Tax loss harvesting detailPersonal Capital's tax optimization process focuses on three key areas: tax allocation, tax loss harvesting and tax efficiency.
Offers fractional shares
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Email, 5 branch locations

Fee tiers and wealth management options

Personal Capital charges variable annual management fees depending on your total account balance:

  • Up to $1 million: 0.89%
  • First $3 million: 0.79%
  • Next $2 million: 0.69%
  • Next $5 million: 0.59%
  • Over $10 million: 0.49%

It offers three levels of wealth management services, depending on your total account balance:

  • Investment Service: Balances of $100,000 to $200,000 get access to a team of financial advisors and an actively managed portfolio of ETFs.
  • Wealth Management: Account balances of $200,000 to $1 million unlock access to two dedicated financial advisors, specialists in real estate and stock options and a customized portfolio with regular reviews, as well as enhanced tax optimization.
  • Private Client: When your account balance includes more than $1 million, you get two dedicated financial advisors; priority access to specialists and the firm’s investment committee; in-depth support for retirement, wealth and estate planning; and private equity investment options.

If your balance is below $200,000, you can invest in ETFs but you cannot customize your portfolio. Personal Capital will recommend a target allocation that’s based on the profile questions you answered during the sign-up process, plus other financial information you’ve provided. While you can choose from among different target allocations, you won’t be able to create a custom allocation.

That said, Personal Capital does offer an ESG-optimized portfolio for users interested in socially responsible investing. In addition to limiting exposure to fossil fuels, the company’s ESG basket filters out companies with material exposure to things like adult entertainment, gambling, tobacco, military contracting and guns.

Tax optimization is available at all portfolio levels. Personal Capital “tax optimizes” by making sure people put the right investments in the right accounts (i.e. taxable accounts versus retirement accounts) and by tax loss harvesting, which means realizing losses to offset gains. All levels of service also offer portfolio rebalancing. Accounts are reviewed daily for tax-efficient rebalancing opportunities.

All accounts above $200,000 can invest in individual stocks and customize portfolios. Certain accounts with assets over $1 million may be able to invest in individual bonds. With assets over $5 million invested with Personal Capital, users may gain access to private equity investments.

Personal Capital Cash

Personal Capital recently launched a cash management account, Personal Capital Cash. The account earns 1.55% APY for people without a Personal Capital advisory account, and 1.60% APY for customers with an advisory account. Personal Capital Cash pays slightly less than other similar high-yield savings accounts, but there’s also no minimum balance and there are no fees associated with it.

Personal Capital partners with UMB Bank, which holds deposits in Personal Capital Cash in a network of different banks and arranges FDIC insurance coverage. The account offers up to $1,500,000 in FDIC insurance, well above the standard $250,000 level available with conventional deposit accounts.

Financial dashboard tools

One of Personal Capital’s strengths is that it offers financial tools to help you understand and track your entire financial life. These tools are free and available to anyone who downloads the app. You may register and link all your financial accounts to Personal Capital, such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts, loans and credit cards. Once they are linked to the app, your personalized financial dashboard gives you a view of your:

  • Net worth: You can see your current net worth for the past 30 days, including the change in this measure over the last 30 days and today’s change.
  • Cash flow: The dashboard offers a graphic representation of your cash inflows and outflows for the past 30 days, arranged by category (paychecks and deposits on the inflow side, mortgage and other expenses on the outflow side). Click on any category to dive into the detailed transactions there, or click the whole category to compare this month’s spending to last month’s spending and see transactions by category.
  • Portfolio balances: You’ll see the value of your investment accounts for the past 30 days, along with change values over the past month and today’s value.
  • Portfolio allocation: This is a top-down view of your investments across all asset classes—although only if your assets are invested with Personal Capital. If you’ve linked outside investment accounts, their value will be included in your portfolio balance, but the site doesn’t include those assets among your allocation.
  • Gainers and losers: If you’ve got individual stocks in your portfolio — which would make you a higher-level investor—you’ll see how they’re performing versus the S&P 500.
  • Retirement savings: The dashboard recommends how much you should be saving toward retirement each year and how much you’ve saved to date this year. It can also predict whether your retirement portfolio will support your retirement spending.
  • Emergency fund: You’ll see how much cash you’ve got stashed away. If the dashboard feels you could be investing part of that for greater return, it will recommend moving some money around.

Strengths of Personal Capital

  • Access to financial advisors. At all levels of investing, users have access to financial planners who can answer questions and offer advice on saving and investing. In fact, the company requires you to schedule a (free) chat with a financial advisor in order to set up your financial dashboard.
  • Big picture planning. Because Personal Capital advisors will professionally review your whole financial picture, you’ll receive recommendations based not only on your answers to questions about risk and goals, or what you have invested at Personal Capital, but also what you have in your 401(k) and other retirement accounts. They’ll also offer advice on college savings plans and estate planning strategies, although estate planning is only available with investable assets of $1 million or more.
  • Free financial tools. Even if you don’t invest with Personal Capital, you can still access a wealth of free financial tools that will analyze your net worth, cash flow, retirement and savings situation and make recommendations. You also get one free phone call with a Personal Capital advisor.

Drawbacks of Personal Capital

  • High minimum balance. To open an account with Personal Capital, you’ll need at least $100,000 in invested assets, which is the highest of most robo-advisors on the market. Compare this to Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, which requires a $50,000 account minimum, and to Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium, which requires a $25,000 buy-in. And some robo-advisors, such as Wealthfront, require as little as $500.
  • High management fees. Personal Capital charges an asset management fee of 0.89% for portfolios between $100,000 and $1 million, which is also among the highest fees charged by robo-advisors. By comparison, Vanguard charges just 0.30% and Wealthfront charges 0.25%. When you top $1 million in assets, the management fee goes down, but just to 0.79% for $1 million to $3 million, and 0.69% for $3 million to $5 million, and so on. Once you get over $10 million, you’ll pay 0.49% in asset management fees, which is still higher than most competitors.
  • Non-customizable portfolios for beginners. Until you reach an asset level of $200,000 and up, you can’t alter your investment mix, and you’re limited to ETF investing only.

Is Personal Capital safe?

Most fintech users are comfortable linking their financial accounts to an investment platform, and Personal Capital’s safeguards are in line with standards. They partner with financial tech industry veteran Yodlee to facilitate account aggregation, and user bank and brokerage credentials are only stored at Yodlee.

The site uses two-factor authentication when you sign in and encrypts your credentials and personal data with military-grade encryption algorithms. The company protects its data centers with various systems designed to prevent hacking and monitor for suspicious activity, and the data centers follow stringent financial and international security standards protocol.

Personal Capital also helps you keep an eye on things by sending an (optional) daily email with every transaction that occurred during the previous 24 hours in all your linked accounts, including your bank, broker and credit cards. Keep an eye on the activity and make sure you recognize all the transactions.

As far as insurance, all investment securities are held by an SIPC member broker custodian, protecting your securities up to $500,000, and Personal Capital Cash is FDIC insured up to $1,500,000.

Final thoughts on Personal Capital

Personal Capital is worth considering if you have $100,000 or more to invest on this platform. Though lower-level users can’t customize their portfolios, asset allocation models seem to outperform comparative benchmarks much of the time.

Investors should carefully consider whether they’d like more control over their investments or whether they’re willing to pay higher-than-average fees for the services Personal Capital offers. In the meantime, the financial planning tools and initial consultation will give the average investor some insight into how they’re doing and where they’d like to go.

Open a Personal Capital accountSecured
on Personal Capital’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kate Ashford
Kate Ashford |

Kate Ashford is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate here