What is the 3K Capital Loss Rule?

Posted Mar 20, 2024


Declaring losses on tax returns is one way to offset capital gains. Reducing capital gains in this way reduces the investor’s potential tax bill. But there are certain rules to follow, and not all losses can be deducted for the current year.

3K Capital Loss Rule

A capital gain or loss is generated from the difference between an asset’s adjusted basis and the amount realized from the sale. 

The IRS allows investors to deduct up to $3,000 in capital losses per year. The $3,000 loss limit is the amount that can be offset against ordinary income. Above $3,000 is where things can get complicated. The $3,000 loss limit rule can be found in IRC Section 1211(b). 

For investors with more than $3,000 in capital losses, the remaining amount can’t be used toward the current tax year. Instead, it is used to offset gains in future years but only at $3,000 per year. 

What happens if an investor has $10,000 in capital gains and $6,000 in capital losses? Can they only deduct $3,000 in losses? This is where some investors get confused about how the loss rule works. 

The above example shows a net $4,000 gain and no net loss. The $3,000 loss rule only applies to net losses. That means the loss must be more than the gain before the rule comes into play.

Note that this rule doesn’t apply to qualified retirement accounts such as an IRS, 401(k), 403(b), or 457. It applies to taxable accounts.

What Is a Capital Gain/Loss?

Capital gains and losses are created by selling capital assets. So, what is a capital asset?

Unfortunately, the IRS never defines exactly what a capital asset is. Instead, it states: “Almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset.”

Capital assets include stocks, investment properties, and primary residences. Some assets do not qualify as capital assets. It’s advisable to work with an accountant if you have concerns about tax implications of selling an asset.

Example of a Capital Loss

We’ll walk through an example using an investor who sold stock at a loss. The investor bought 100 shares at $50 each. That's $5,000. The investor sold the stock for $45 a share for a loss of ($5000 - $4500) $500. The $500 loss can be deducted from ordinary income in the current tax year if there are no capital gains to offset.

Using another example, this investor has a large loss. They buy 1,000 shares at $50 each. They then sell it at $45 for a $5,000 loss. The investor cannot deduct the full $5,000 from ordinary income, assuming there are no other capital gains to offset. Instead, the first $3,000 can be deducted from ordinary income. The remaining $2,000 is not invalid or lost. It is a capital loss carried forward, which means it carries over into future tax years.

If the investor has no capital losses/gains in the next tax year, the carried $2,000 can be applied to that year’s ordinary income. This can reduce the investor’s tax bill.

We touched on the next example in a previous section, but what happens if an investor has the following realized amounts?


Stock A transactions: +$15,000

Stock B transactions: -$5,000


The net realized amount is +$10,000. Because there is no net loss, the $3,000 loss rule doesn’t apply. However, if the investor has these two transactions:


Stock A transactions: -$15,000

Stock B transactions: +$5,000


Then, the net realized amount is -$10,000, and the $3,000 loss rule comes into play. In this case, the investor can deduct the $3,000 capital loss in the current tax year and carry forward $7,000.

Related Tax Forms

Stock sales are reported on Form 8949 (Sales and Other Dispositions). Totals from that form flow to Schedule D (Capital Gains and Losses). Schedule D gains and losses then flow to Form 1040.

Calculating realized amounts can get complex, especially when ensuring the correct adjusted basis is used. That’s why working with an accountant is important when figuring out capital gains and losses and any potential carry-forward losses.


This material is for general information and educational purposes only. Information is based on data gathered from what we believe are reliable sources. It is not guaranteed as to accuracy, does not purport to be complete and is not intended to be used as a primary basis for investment decisions. It should also not be construed as advice meeting the particular investment needs of any investor.

Realized does not provide tax or legal advice. This material is not a substitute for seeking the advice of a qualified professional for your individual situation.

Hypothetical examples shown are for illustrative purposes only.

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