Due to changes enacted in the federal tax law by the 2008 Emergency Economic Stabilization Act new cost basis reporting rules went into effect on January 1, 2011. The result is that all investment providers will be required to start tracking each customer’s cost basis and holding period for securities purchased or acquired. When you sell a stock the financial institution is required to report your cost basis and your proceeds on IRS Form 1099-B. The reason for this change is that previously the IRS had to rely on the customer to report their cost basis and resulting gain or loss which often resulted in inaccurate reporting.
You may have noticed that your broker has included more information about your cost basis in your brokerage account overview. I have noticed that Zecco and ShareBuilder.com both now show the average cost basis. It is nice to be able to see at a quick glance the average price I paid for a stock and what my gain or loss would be.
Under the new rules if a customer sells less than his or her entire position of a security in an account, a broker must report a customer’s adjusted basis in the security using the first-in, first-out (FIFO) method, unless the customer provides the broker an adequate and timely identification of the shares or units the customer wants to sell. The pitfall here is that if you don’t notify the broker and the FIFO method is used it will likely result in a higher tax bill.
On the plus side the rules will make it easier to determine your cost basis. If you reinvest dividends it can be difficult to determine your cost basis. You can go to a financial calculator site that has tools such as an investment calculator, mortgage calculator, and such and find a cost basis calculator to determine your cost basis but it is much easier to have the broker do it for you.
Since I don’t sell often and when I do I usually sell my entire position the new rules will not have much affect on me. You do need to be aware of the rules when you sell though to make certain you don’t pay more taxes than necessary.