Section 1256 Contracts

Section 1256 contracts enjoy lower 60/40 capital gains tax rates, summary tax reporting, and easier mark-to-market (MTM) accounting.

Section 1256 contracts include:

  • U.S. regulated futures contracts (RFCs) and options on U.S. RFCs
  • U.S. broad-based indexes made up of 10 or more underlying securities – also known as stock index futures
  • options on U.S. broad-based indexes
  • foreign futures if granted Section 1256 treatment in an IRS revenue ruling
  • non-equity options (a catchall)
  • CBOE-listed options on commodity ETF publicly traded partnerships
  • CBOE-listed options on precious metals ETF publicly traded trusts
  • CBOE-listed options on volatility ETN prepaid forward contracts
  • forward forex contracts with the opt-out election into Section 1256(g) on the major pairs, for which futures trade (we make a case for spot forex, too)
  • forex OTC options (Wright court)

Section 1256 contracts have lower 60/40 capital gains tax rates: 60% (including day trades) subject to lower long-term capital gains rates, and 40% taxed as short-term capital gains using the ordinary rate. At the maximum tax bracket for 2020 and 2021, the blended 60/40 rate is 26.8% — 10.2% lower than the highest ordinary bracket of 37%.

There are significant tax savings throughout the income brackets. The LTCG rate in the lowest two ordinary brackets is 0%. (See our table below.) Regular state tax rates apply because they do not include a long-term rate.

Section 1256 contracts are marked-to-market (MTM) daily. MTM reports both realized activity from throughout the year and unrealized gains and losses on open trading positions at year-end for tax purposes.

With MTM and summary reporting, brokers can issue simple one-page 1099-Bs reporting “aggregate profit or loss on contracts” after taking into account realized and unrealized gains and losses. That amount is reported on Form 6781 Part I, which breaks it down to the 60/40 split and then moves the amounts to Schedule D capital gains/losses.

There is a Section 1256 loss carryback election.

Section 1256 tax rates vs. ordinary rates (2020 rates)

Capital Gains
10% 0% 4.0% 0% 4.0% 6.0%
12% 0% 4.8% 0% 4.8% 7.2%
22% 15% 8.8% 9% 17.8% 4.2%
24% 15% 9.6% 9% 18.6% 5.4%
32% 15% 12.8% 9% 21.8% 10.2%
35% 15% 14.0% 9% 23.0% 12.0%
37% 20% 14.8% 12% 26.8% 10.2%

For more information, see Green’s Trader Tax Guide