Wash Sale Rule Day Trading [Meaning & Impact]

The wash sale rule is one such regulation that investors should be aware of when making trades in stocks or other securities. Day traders must take extra caution to ensure they don’t inadvertently trigger this IRS rule, as doing so could have costly consequences.

This article explains the wash sale rule, and provides insights and examples.

wash sale rule day trading

What Is the Wash Sale Rule?

The Wash Sale Rule is an regulation from the Internal Revenue Service in the U.S. that applies to day traders and investors. It prohibits the sale of a security at a loss, followed by the repurchase of substantially identical securities within 30 days after the sale date. The purpose of this rule is to prevent taxpayers from claiming losses on their taxes when they have not actually realized any economic loss.

Definition of the Wash Sale Rule

The wash sale rule states that if an investor closes a position of a security at a loss and then buys it back within 30 days after the sale date, they cannot claim the capital loss for tax purposes.

This means that even though you may have sold your stock at a lower price than what you paid, you will not be able to deduct any losses from your taxes because you still own substantially identical securities as those sold at a loss.

How It Applies to Day Trading

Day traders must know how this rule applies to avoid incurring penalties from the IRS due to improper reporting on their taxes.

For example, if an investor bought shares of Apple Inc. (AAPL) for $170 per share, then sells them for $129 at a loss of $41 per share, but then purchases them again for $129 per share on the same day (or within 30 days after the previous trade got closed), they would not be able to claim any losses of the closed trade as tax-relevant.

That’s because they again own substantially identical securities as those which were sold at a loss (AAPL) and made that happen within 30 days after the position was closed.

Therefore, day traders should always consider how their trading activities might affect their ability to take advantage of potential tax benefits associated with selling stocks at a profit or taking capital losses on investments held over long periods.

The idea of the investor is clear. He thinks:

  1. I made good profits with other stocks where I would have to pay taxes on realized gains. But I bought AAPL for $170 a while ago, and the position is at a loss right now.
  2. Why not sell the AAPL position for a loss so that the taxable capital gains are less, and simply rebuying the stock of AAPL since I’m still convinced in the growth story?
  3. A day trade could help to turn around the position quickly, first close the existing position for a loss to reduce the taxable capital gain of the full portfolio, and within seconds rebuy the same position in AAPL.
  4. The new position of AAPL could get in profit, and when I hold it long enough, I don’t have to pay taxes, so it is possible to win twice with the situation.

But the IRS knows about such ideas, and that’s why they do not allow to do that.

So, you can sell the position of AAPL at any time, even if it is at a loss. You can use the realized loss to add it up with the realized gains you made with other investments. But as soon you repurchase the same security again within 30 days, you can’t use the previously realized loss for a tax deduction.

Does the Wash Sale Rule Apply to Short Selling?

Yes, the wash sale rule applies to short selling activities too. For example, let’s assume you shorted a stock at $100, which is now at $120. It might sound like a good idea to now realize the loss of $20 per share and then short the stock again.

But that’s also against the rule since you are also not allowed to sell the stock again by opening a new short position within 30 days after you closed the previous trade. So while you can close a short position at any time, the IRS rule does not allow you to reduce the tax liability with the closed short position if you open a new one with the same asset within 30 days.

Reference: https://www.investor.gov/introduction-investing/investing-basics/glossary/wash-sales

Tax Implications of the Wash Sale Rule

The Wash Sale Rule is a crucial consideration for day traders, as it can have significant tax implications for taxable income and income tax.

It is essential to understand that the rule applies across all brokerage accounts you might have. So you cannot close the position in one of your accounts and open a new position in another of your accounts.

Benefits of Avoiding the Wash Sale Rule

Following the wash sale rule can provide several benefits to traders and investors.

Improved Investment Strategy

Following the rule encourages traders to think more strategically about their investments by preventing them from making impulsive decisions based solely on short-term market movements or trends. This allows for better long-term planning and risk management, which can lead to higher returns over time.

By avoiding double counting losses on taxes, traders can maximize their profits from trading activities as they will not be penalized for selling securities at a loss due to the wash sale rule restrictions. Additionally, having an improved investment strategy means that trades have a greater chance of success, leading directly to increased profits overall.

Common Mistakes With the Wash Sale Rule

Not Understanding Your Trades

One of the most common mistakes when dealing with the wash sale rule is not understanding your trades. The rule applies to any security you sell at a loss and then buy back within 30 days.

This means that if you are day trading, it’s important to understand exactly what securities you are buying and selling so that you don’t inadvertently trigger the wash sale rule.

Still, as long you only day trade and don’t mix up the investment with day trading activities, the risk of triggering the wash sale rules is minimal.

Not Tracking Your Trades Accurately

Another mistake traders make is not tracking their trades accurately. When dealing with the wash sale rule, it’s important to keep track of all your transactions to avoid triggering the rule unintentionally. If you fail to do this, then there is a chance that the tax deduction fails due to triggering the IRS rule.

It is essential to understand the basics of the wash sale rule in order to manage your investments and trades properly. To learn more, it is helpful to explore resources such as online courses, books and publications, and professional advisors.

Resources for Learning More About the Wash Sale Rule

Online Courses and Tutorials

Various online courses and tutorials are available to help traders understand the wash sale rule. These courses provide an in-depth look at the rule, how it applies to day trading, and its tax implications. Most brokers publish specific wash sale rule details and help you to make the right decision.

Financial and Tax Advisors

Professional advisors can be another great source of information about the wash sale rule. They have experience with navigating complex regulations like this one, so they can provide valuable insight into how best to approach it when trading stocks or other securities.

Additionally, professional advisors may be able to identify potential pitfalls that could lead to costly mistakes if not avoided properly.

Wash Sales – Conclusion

By understanding the basics of the wash sale rule, investors and traders can avoid costly mistakes. When you try to reduce your tax liabilities, then it can be more challenging than it sounds.

While it seems to be a good idea to realize losses when you have closed out other positions with a taxable profit, this Internal Revenue Service rule becomes the salt in the soup. At least if you re-open a position with the same stock within 30 days after closing the previous trade.

A wash sale occurs fast, but with proper research and education on the topic, traders can ensure they are following the rules while still achieving their desired results in day trading. Keep in mind that the rule also applies to other assets, such as exchange traded funds and mutual funds.

Please get in touch with your tax advisor to learn more about specific legal strategies on how to avoid triggering the wash sale rule in your individual case, the tax consequences, trading gains and ordinary income taxes. Everyone’s situation is different. That’s why asking your tax or financial advisor for your individual case before taking action is important.

Related Rules:


Does the wash sale rule affect day traders?

Yes, the wash sale rule does affect day traders. The wash sale rule is a tax rule from the IRS that prohibits investors from claiming losses on securities sold or traded if they repurchase substantially identical securities within 30 days before or after the sale. This means you can not use a day trade to flip the position to realize losses and then re-establishing the same position with the same asset.

Do you have to hold a stock for 30 days to avoid a wash sale?

No. You do not have to hold a stock for 30 days to avoid a wash sale. You can close your position at any time, but if you repurchase the same stock within 30 days after you sold the position, the wash sale rule gets triggered.

About the Author

Alexander is the founder of daytradingz.com and has 20 years of experience in the financial markets. He aims to make trading and investing easy to understand for everybody and has been quoted on Benzinga, Business Insider, Investors Business Daily, Newsweek, GOBankingRates, capital.com, investing.com and other major publications.