Cost-Basis Reporting Problems and Solutions

November 20, 2012 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

If you trade or invest in securities, you need to learn about “cost-basis reporting,” a new set of IRS rules for taxpayers starting with 2011 tax filings. Previously, taxpayers could simply enter their capital gains and losses (proceeds, cost basis and holding period) onto Schedule D of their individual income tax return. That’s no longer allowed, so 2011 and 2012 tax returns are proving to be a challenge.

Under the new cost-basis reporting regime, taxpayers must decipher broker-provided Form 1099-Bs. In tax years prior to 2011, taxpayers and their accountants could easily use a Form 1099-B to enter proceeds from each securities sale on their Schedule Ds. Taxpayers then entered their own record of cost-basis information and they were finished. Investors often looked up the original purchase price in an earlier brokerage statement and considered stock splits or other corporate actions, which are rare. Active traders generally used software like TradeLog, which downloaded all trade executions and provided an easy-to-use Schedule D-1 attachment.

You would think that when brokers entered the picture providing cost-basis information to taxpayers and the IRS on Form 1099-Bs, taxpayer compliance would be easier. You would be very wrong! (I explain this problem in an interview for “Tax Flubs That Can Cost You Thousands“.)

Take one look at your 2011 Form 1099-B and you will see the problem. While stock proceeds may look the same as prior years, the new cost-basis information is extremely confusing. Some brokers mark cost information with quirky new codes like P (provided to the IRS), N (not provided to the IRS) and W (wash sales). Some brokers do not provide totals for the amounts they are reporting. Plus there are covered securities, non-covered securities and other. All individual trades must be entered on the new 2011 tax form 8949, which includes Parts A (proceeds and cost basis both reported to the IRS), B (proceeds reported to the IRS but not cost basis) and C (other or not reported on a 1099). Separate Form 8949s must be filed for short term and long term. Add it up: That’s up to six different categories on the Form 8949s instead of the single Schedule D required in the past. This is a huge burden and is very confusing for taxpayers.

That’s just a fraction of the problem. Many brokers are using back-office accounting solutions that may botch wash-sale reporting, since they have not focused on it much in prior years, and some are omitting 2010 wash sale cost basis deferred into 2011. Also, most brokers rushed 1099-Bs to the printer before doing an end-of-January wash-sale calculation. In addition, the rules brokers are required to follow for 1099-B reporting are different from the rules for taxpayers: Most brokers report wash sales between “identical positions” (the same symbol only), whereas taxpayers are required to report wash sales between “substantially identical positions” (such as between stocks and options). How can the IRS ask brokers and taxpayers to report wash sales differently? Even if brokers get everything right, broker-provided wash sales would still be wrong because they only report wash sales in one account, whereas a taxpayer must report them across all taxable accounts, including IRAs.(For more details, see our March 20 blog.)

Using a 1099-B for wash sale reporting is a big mistake. IRS cost-basis reporting rules state that taxpayers should not rely on 1099-Bs for tax reporting purposes. What? (Read more about this concept on our Aug 16 12 blog – Why do forex forward dealers issue 1099s, yet retail spot forex brokers do not?) 

Phasing in the rules seems to be part of the problem. While the IRS phased in the new rules for brokers, it did not do so for taxpayers. The IRS is giving taxpayers the difficult job of deciphering all the inevitable discrepancies between 1099-Bs and Form 8949 results.

What should you do?
We suggest reading our blogs on this saga to understand the new IRS rules, how 1099-Bs are constructed and how you should handle Form 8949. We recommend using software like TradeLog and filing an extension.

For the 2011 tax-filing season — which ended on the extension deadline of Oct. 15, 2012 — IRS relief never came, and most brokers were not able to sufficiently correct their 1099-Bs. We filed 2011 tax returns as explained in our blogs below, and attached a suggested footnote explanation.

  • Aug 29 12 An update note to tax preparers and traders about incorrect 1099-Bs and 2011 tax filings
  • Aug 17 12 Tax Return Footnote: 2011 Form 8949 and Cost-Basis Reporting Rules
  • Jul 11 12 Cost-Basis Reporting Update: How To File Form 8949 With 1099-B Differences

Ways to avoid Form 8949
Business traders qualifying for trader tax status are entitled to elect Section 475 mark-to-market(MTM) accounting on a timely basis (by April 15, 2013 for the 2013 tax year). Section 475 business trades are reported on Form 4797 Part II (ordinary gain or loss) and not on Form 8949. Although Section 475 extricates traders from the compliance headaches of Form 8949, it does not change their preferred solution. Either way, traders should use TradeLog software to download their trades and calculate their required trade-by-trade gain or loss. Another way out of Form 8949 is to use an entity, which we recommend for business traders to reduce red flags on trader tax status. The IRS does notcurrently use Form 8949 on entity tax returns.

We recommend a Section 475 MTM election for business trading in securities only. We don’t recommend Section 475 MTM for Section 1256 contracts – which you are permitted to exclude from the Section 475 MTM election – so traders don’t lose lower 60/40 tax rates (currently up to 12% less). Don’t worry, Section 475 MTM is not permissible on segregated investments, so traders can enjoy tax deferral at year-end, and also hold for 12 months to generate lower long-term capital gains rates (currently up to 15%). Section 475 MTM reports both realized and unrealized gains and losses at year-end.

Be prepared for similar problems for 2012 returns
More cost-basis reporting items will be phased in for 2012 returns. Per Fidelity’s “Frequently asked questions about cost basis”: “On January 1, 2012, the second phase of the cost basis tax reporting requirements goes into effect. This next phase impacts reporting of securities eligible for average cost including mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) classified as registered investment companies, and dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs).” We are working on mutual fund bifurcation tax issues, and we plan to publish a separate blog on that subject soon.

We expect some brokers to compound wash sale loss problems from 2011 into 2012. If brokers only report potential wash sales in 2011 and 2012, they may not connect the years and related wash sale loss reporting problems, although that reporting is basically useless to taxpayers. Conversely, if brokers report overstated 2011 wash sales as part of 2012 cost basis, it will lead to overstating cost-basis in 2012, which then will lead to understating taxable income. We won’t know if this will happen until our CPAs start seeing 2012 Form 1099-Bs. Stay tuned.