Capital Gains tax is a federal tax penalty that is imposed on capital accumulation, investment and property. Some of the income that is subject to capital gains tax includes the sale of an investment, a home, a family business, a farm or ranch or even a work of art.
The capital gains tax is applied on the difference between the price paid for an item and the money received from selling it, or the capital gain.
The most common form of capital gain for people is the sale of their corporate stock. The capital gains tax rate for individuals is currently at one of its highest rates ever and is at 28% while the corporate rate is at its greatest level in history, namely 35%. There is an inequality with capital gains tax in the fact that people must pay taxes on all of their gains but are only able to deduct a portion of their losses. This particularly applies to investments that fluctuate between gains and losses over time.
In many states taxpayers are liable, not only for the federal capital gains tax but also the state's own form of capital gains tax. This can actually take the combined rate to almost 40%. California and New York are amongst the highest in the country.
For the government, the capital gains tax payment represent 6% of personal and corporate income tax receipts and 3% of total federal revenues. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the capital gains tax that individuals and corporations have to pay but it actually brings in much less revenue for the federal government than most people would think.
In the USA, capital gains are not indexed for inflation which means that the seller pays capital gains tax on the real gain and also on the gain attributable to inflation. This is one reason that the capital gains tax is lower than regular income tax rates.
The difference between capital gains tax and all other forms of federal tax is that it is basically a voluntary tax. People can avoid paying any of the tax by simply not selling their assets. This is becoming increasingly common, especially with the uncertainty of the stock market, and the government estimates that there are trillions of unrealized capital gains which would all be subject to capital gains tax if it was sold.