Capital Gains and Losses for C Corporations

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The tax treatment of capital gains and losses for regular C corporations do not apply to individuals or pass-through entities (i.e. S corporations, partnerships, and LLCs that did not make an election to be taxed as a C corporation).

A regular C corporation is not a pass-through entity. A C corporation is a tax-paying entity. It pays its own taxes based on the IRS's corporation tax rate schedule.

Pass-through entities are not tax-paying entities; they are tax-reporting entities (with some exceptions for S corporations). Items of income, deductions, gains, losses, and credits are passed through the entity to the owners via Schedule K-1. Each owner uses Schedule K-1 to report his share of these items on his own personal income tax return.

No Preferential Tax Treatment for Long-term Capital Gains

Unlike individuals, who enjoy preferential tax treatment for long-term capital gains, C corporations do not get preferential tax treatment for long-term capital gains. Capital gains are simply added to the corporation's ordinary income along with other income items and taxed at the corporate tax rates.

C corporations Must Classify Capital Gains and Losses

There was a time when corporations enjoyed lower capital gain rates for long-term capital gains, and therefore, were required to classify capital gains as short-term or long-term.

Although corporations no longer enjoy preferential tax treatment for capital gains, they must continue to classify capital gains and losses as short-term and long-term. The corporation's Schedule D is used to report capital gains and losses.

How C corporations Deduct Capital Losses

Unlike regular corporate expenses, which are deducted from the corporation's ordinary income, C corporation capital losses may not be deducted from a C corporation's ordinary income; capital losses may only be offset against capital gains.

If in any given tax year, a C corporation's capital losses exceed its capital gains, the excess loss may not be deducted in that year. Instead, the current year's excess loss is carried to other tax years in a specific order and deducted from net capital gains in those years (if any gains exist)

Order to Follow When Carrying Excess Capital Losses back and Forward:

C corporations must follow a specific order when carrying capital losses back and forward.

C corporations may carry a net capital loss back three years and forward up to a maximum of five years. If part of a capital loss remains after carrying it forward up to five years, it is lost forever.

A C corporation's excess capital loss in any given year is carried to other years in the following order:

  • First, 3 years prior to the loss year
  • Next, 2 years prior to the loss year
  • Then, 1 year prior to the loss year
  • Finally, any loss remaining is carried forward for 5 years
    • If after carrying back a net capital loss 3 years and forward 5 years, part of the loss still remains, it is lost forever.

When you carry a net capital loss to another tax year, treat it as a short-term loss even if it was a long-term loss. For C corporations, the loss does not retain its original identity.

Capital Losses from More than One Year:

If you're carrying losses from more than one year, use the earlier year losses first.

Recomputing Tax Liability

When a net capital loss is carried back to a year that has a capital gain, the loss is subtracted from the gain of that year, reducing the corporation's taxable income for that year. As a result, you must recompute the corporation's tax liability for that year. A lower tax liability results in a refund of overpaid taxes.

Applying for a Refund

Apply for a refund on either:

  • Form 1139, Corporate Application for Tentative Refund, or
  • Form 1120X, Amended ended U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return.

Example:

  • In 2015, the corporation incurs a short-term capital gain of $2,000 and a long-term capital loss of $10,000.
  • After netting the gain and loss, you end up with a net capital loss of $8,000. The net capital loss is treated as a short-term loss in the carryback and carryforward years.

Results:

  • First, go back 3 years to 2012 to see if you had capital gains to apply the loss against.
    • You had none in 2012.
  • Go back 2 years to 2013 to see if you had a capital gains in that year to apply the loss to.
    • You had none in 2013 either.
  • Go back 1 year to 2014 to see if you had capital gains in that year to apply the loss to.
    • Turns out you did. You had a short-term capital gain of $5,000 and a long-term capital gain of $2,000.
  • You first reduce the short-term gain by $5,000, zeroing it out.
  • Then, you reduce the long-term gain by $2,000, zeroing it out.
  • Refigure your tax for 2014 and apply for a refund.
  • The remaining capital loss of $1,000 ($8,000 minus $7,000) is carried forward up 5 years to 2020. If you have no capital gains during the 5 year carryforward period, the unapplied $1,000 loss is lost forever.

Tax Planning Tip:
Don't lose track of any unapplied capital losses, since they may be used to reduce capital gains during the 5-year carryforward period.

Form 1139

You'll get a faster refund if you file Form 1139. But it must be filed no later than one year after the year the net capital loss was incurred.

Form 1120X

You must file this form if you don't file Form 1139. It must be filed within 3 years, including extensions, from the due date for filing the return for the year in which the net capital loss was incurred.

Comparison of C Corporations vs Individuals

Capital Loss Treatment
  C corporations Individuals
Preferential tax treatment for long-term capital gains No Yes
May carry back capital losses Yes
(3 years)
No
May carry forward capital losses Yes
(up to 5 years max. Any unapplied loss after 5 years is lost.)
Yes
(indefinitely, until used up)
May deduct net capital losses from other types of income No
(may deduct from capital gains only)
Yes
(The capital loss deduction is limited to $3,000 a year. If capital losses exceed capital gains by more than $3,000 in any year, the excess over $3,000 must be carried forward to the following year.

File your personal and small business taxes (Schedule C)