Supreme Court Upholds Washington State Capital Gains Tax – What You Need To Know
On March 24, 2023, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of a state capital gains tax, which was originally passed in 2021 to take effect starting January 1, 2022. In light of the court’s ruling, the state will continue as planned and collect the tax due for tax year 2022. The due date corresponds with the federal tax return filing deadline (which lands on April 18th this year), leaving just a few short weeks to file a return and pay the tax. With the clouds of uncertainty dispersed, it’s important for Washington residents to understand what is at play.
Who pays the tax?
Individuals with realized long-term capital gains above $250,000 are now required to file a Washington state capital gains tax return. A 7% tax on gains above this threshold will apply. The $250,000 annual standard deduction applies to spouses or domestic partners whether they file joint or separate returns (it is not $250,000 per person rather $250,000 per household). Income from work, pensions, social security, etc. are not included in this tax. It applies to the sale of intangible or tangible property such as stocks and bonds (including mutual funds, ETF’s, and other pooled investments), art, and other collectables. There are, of course, important exemptions to be aware of – we are talking about taxes after all! These include among others:
- Sale of real estate, regardless of whether it’s a residential or commercial property. The property can be owned by a business, individual, or trust. It doesn’t matter how long the seller owned the property or whether the seller was renting the property.
- The gain on the sale of a private entity, to the extent that gain is directly attributable to real estate owned by the entity.
- Gains in retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, deferred-compensation plans, IRAs, Roth IRAs, employee-defined contribution plans, employee-defined benefit plans, and similar retirement savings accounts.
In addition to the exemptions outlined above, there are specific deductions that apply to the taxable capital gain income in Washington. Beyond the $250,000 standard deduction already mentioned, the following deductions also apply:
- Long-term gains on the sale of qualified family-owned small businesses
- A charitable deduction up to $100,000 for qualifying charitable gifts in excess of $250,000. The catch is that the charities need to be directed or managed in the state of Washington, which makes it unlikely for donor-advised funds to qualify for the deduction. Since the deduction is capped at $100,000 annually, to qualify for a full deduction one would need to have made qualified charitable contributions of $350,000.
The Revised Code of Washington defines the specifics for applying each of the family-owned small business and charitable deductions. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions.
For general examples of how the tax is calculated, please see our previous article on the topic. We also include a specific example for the charitable gift deduction below.
Charitable Deduction Example:
Sarah had $300,000 of long-term capital gains subject to the Washington state capital gains tax. She owes a tax of 7% on $50,000 (the excess above the $250,000 standard deduction). If Sarah contributed $50,000 to a charity directed or managed in the state, she would still owe tax on the full amount since the minimum charitable contribution is $250,000. Since the $50,000 charitable contribution is below the minimum, it would not reduce the $50,000 taxable income.
If Sarah had instead contributed $300,000 to a qualified charity directed or managed in Washington, she would qualify for a $50,000 charitable deduction which would eliminate her taxable realized gains subject to Washington state capital gains tax.
How do I pay the tax?
The Washington state capital gains tax return is filed separate from your federal tax return, but because your federal income tax return is required to be attached to your Washington state capital gains tax return, it’s necessary to first complete your federal return. Then you will submit the Washington state capital gains tax return electronically using the Washington Department of Revenue website. This video tutorial walks through the process of filing the return and paying the tax.
An extension can be granted to those who file an extension for their federal income tax return, but payments must still be made by April 18, 2023 or penalties will apply.
What you need to know when filing
- When completing the capital gain tax return, you will be asked whether the gain is allocated to Washington. Only gains allocated to Washington apply when calculating the tax. So what is and is not allocated to Washington? It depends where the sale or exchange occurred, regardless of where it was purchased. You could have purchased a stock years ago while living in a different state, but if you sell the stock while you reside in Washington, it is allocated to Washington.
- For tangible property, such as art or collectibles, there are a few more rules to determine whether it is allocated to Washington. A FAQ can be found on the DOR website that covers tangible property, cryptocurrency, business owners, and mutual fund distributions.
- Since this is a tax only on realized long-term capital gains (property held for more than one year), property that is sold within a year is not included in the Washington state capital gains tax. This means there may be a difference between what is reported on your federal return and the state return since both short-term and long-term capital gains are netted together at the federal level, but only long-term gains are considered at the state level. Capital loss carryovers can be used but are limited to the amount used in determining the federal net long term capital gain.
- For those receiving restricted stock units (RSU’s), vested shares sold within one year will not be considered in the Washington state capital gains tax. Only shares held for longer than a year after vest are considered long-term and potentially subject to the tax.
It’s more important than ever to be aware of how much capital gains income is being realized. It will likely make sense to diversify from a concentrated stock position over time where possible, to not incur an extra 7% tax. In cases where cash is needed, we can help analyze other options such as using short-term borrowing tools like a home equity line of credit or margin on your brokerage account. With a payoff plan in place, these tools may present a lower interest cost than the capital gains tax that would otherwise be paid. For those subject to the tax this year, your CPA should be able to help fill out your Washington state capital gains tax return. If you have questions determining how this impacts you, we’re happy to help.
Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.