Over eight million people opened new brokerage accounts in the first three quarters of 2020. While the thrill of enormous stock gains may have provided a much-needed distraction for some during the pandemic, unintended tax consequences are now manifesting for new investors. In one jaw-dropping case, a Robinhood newbie is facing a potential tax bill of $800,000 despite only making $45,000 in net trading profits; the individual also earned $60,000 at his day job. The example reinforces the importance of understanding complex trading rules and the tax implications of certain strategies. More broadly, it should serve as a loud warning for the new crop of do-it-yourself investors.
Robinhood Trader Transacted $45 Million Total Trades With Net Profit of $45,000
The case of the Robinhood trader, who hasn’t been identified, was first highlighted in Morningstar by Alexandra Macqueen. She describes how Brian Wruk, a financial planner, received a text from the 30-year old investor who was facing an $800,000 tax bill. Like many, the investor, who works full-time in insurance, opened a new brokerage account in 2020 and quickly scaled his trading. He had between $200,000 and $2 million in trading volume per day, completing between 10 and 50 trades daily, according to Morningstar.
Wruk also appeared to share the same anecdote on multiple forums, including one for the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), which was posted on Twitter. In the post, Wruk describes the situation. “Young man calls me and says he opened up a brokerage account with $30k. . . in 2020, he transacted $45M (yes, Million) in total trades for a net profit of $45,000 by year-end. He recently received his 1099-B and input it into Turbo Tax and to his chagrin, he had $1.4M in capital gain income and a tax bill of just over $800k.”
Investor Tripped Up By Wash Sale Rule
“This poor soul traded all of the popular stocks you see in the media consistently all year long. . . [but] he never knew anything about the wash sale rules” wrote Wruk. “He booked a profit but was disallowed all the losses because he never once waited the 30 days on those stocks to book the loss,” added Wruk.
The wash sale rule is an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulation that prohibits someone from claiming a loss by selling and purchasing either the same or similar securities within 30 days of the sale at a loss. To comply with the rule, investors must wait at least 31 days before repurchasing the same investment. “If people are going in and out of names quickly, and they’re generating losses and have offsetting positions, they’ve generated those losses within 30 days of a purchase, those losses get suspended,” explained Sandi Bragar, managing director at Aspiriant