The Wash Sale Rule: Six Things You Need to Know

Avoid violating the IRS wash sale rule for tax losses when you sell and rebuy stocks.

roadway with caution signs for wash sale rule story
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Be aware of the wash sale rule enforced by the IRS. The wash sale rule is important for investors reassessing their market positions and looking to sell and repurchase declining stocks to offset losses. Disallowed losses are a potential pitfall of violating the wash sale rule, so here are six things you need to know. 

1. What the wash sale rule is 

The wash sale rule states that if you buy or acquire a substantially identical stock within 30 days before or after you sold the declining stock at a loss, you generally cannot deduct the loss. 

Essentially, a wash sale occurs when you sell a security at a loss and then purchase the same security again in a short period.

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Note: Losses can offset same-year gains that can ultimately reduce capital gains taxes. Additionally, remaining losses can be deducted from ordinary income (up to $3,000) or carried over to the following tax year. As a result, many people opt to sell securities at a loss to reduce taxable gains, a technique commonly known as tax loss harvesting.

But the IRS doesn’t like investors to use "manufactured" losses to claim tax breaks. If you sell a stock at a loss and quickly buy it back or keep investing in the stock after buying it back, the IRS generally won’t allow you to write off the loss on your federal tax return.

Let's consider an example. Suppose you bought 50 shares of a fictional JustaTissueBox stock for $100 per share, and its value dropped to $80 per share.

  • You decided to sell all your shares at a loss of $1,000. 
  • However, two weeks later, the stock's value dropped further to $50 per share, and you bought back 50 shares for $2,500.
  • Unfortunately, you cannot claim the $1,000 capital loss on your tax return for that year because the second purchase was a wash sale.

2. What happens when you have a wash sale

If you experience a wash sale, the capital loss that is disallowed by the IRS is included in the cost basis of the replacement stock. This means that if you sell the replacement stock later on, any taxable gain will be smaller, and any deductible loss will be larger. Additionally, the holding period of the new stock now includes the holding period of the original stock. As a result, when you sell the new stock, the gain may be taxed at lower long-term capital gains tax rates.

3. How to avoid the wash sale rule 

If you want to avoid the IRS disallowing your loss due to the wash sale rule, you have a few options.  

  • One choice is to hold off on repurchasing the same or very similar stock that you sold. Keep in mind that the wash sale rule goes into effect 30 days before and after the sale, so you have a 61-day window to avoid buying the same stock. 
  • Alternatively, if waiting 61 days isn't feasible, you can purchase a security that is not substantially identical to the one you recently sold.

The challenge with the second option is that the term “substantially identical” hasn’t been defined by Congress or the IRS. So, what’s considered substantially identical for the wash sale rule will largely depend on the facts and circumstances of your transaction.

4. How the wash sale rule works: Examples 

If you're trying to figure out if the IRS might disallow some of your capital losses, IRS Publication 550 contains some wash sale rule examples that could help.  

  • Generally, stocks of one corporation are not considered substantially identical to those of another corporation. 
  • However, in certain situations, like a reorganization, those stocks could be considered substantially identical.

According to the IRS, a corporation's bonds and preferred stock are usually not considered too similar to its common stock. But, if the preferred stock can be turned into common stock, has the same voting rights, or is limited in the same way in terms of dividends, then it would be considered substantially identical.

What about your spouse’s stock purchases? The IRS says that a wash sale exists if your spouse or a corporation you control purchases substantially identical stock within the wash sale rule 61-day period.

5. What the wash sale rule applies to

The wash sale rule applies to most securities, including stocks and options, bonds, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds (EFTs). But the wash sale rule doesn't currently apply to cryptocurrency. This is partly because the IRS classifies crypto as property, not as a security. So, if you are selling crypto for a loss and immediately rebuying it you can claim the capital loss.

So, crypto investors essentially have a tax loophole known as the "wash sale rule crypto loophole," which allows them to claim tax benefits for losses that may not be genuine. However, that doesn’t apply to investors in other securities, who are subject to the wash sale rule.

6. How to report a wash sale on your return

If you need to report losses from wash sales, you can use IRS Form 8949 and Schedule D. Form 8949 will help you compare the amounts reported on Forms 1099B or 1099S, while Schedule D will show the overall gain or loss from the transactions reported on Form 8949.

If you are married and are filing jointly you must complete as many copies of Form 8949 as needed to report all the transactions for you and your spouse. The totals from all Forms 8949 should be on Schedule D.

Wash sale rule: Bottom line 

Before selling and repurchasing stocks that decreased in value, you should seek trusted advice experts who are knowledgeable about the tax implications involved. 

Also, review IRS guidelines, in Publication 550, to understand which losses might be disallowed due to the wash sale rule. 

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Kelley R. Taylor
Senior Tax Editor,

As the senior tax editor at, Kelley R. Taylor simplifies federal and state tax information, news, and developments to help empower readers. Kelley has over two decades of experience advising on and covering education, law, finance, and tax as a corporate attorney and business journalist.