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Investing 101: Calculating gains and losses

Learn how to identify and calculate gains and losses in your investments so you can make informed decisions about your money.

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Investing is a great way to grow your wealth and reach financial goals, but it is important to understand the potential risks as well as the rewards. Knowing how to identify capital gains and losses in investments is essential for any investor who wants to make informed decisions about their money. 

Gains and losses will determine whether or not an investment has been successful, so understanding them is critical to making wise choices when investing. Not only that but being able to recognize capital gains and losses can help investors decide when it’s time to get out of an investment before they incur too much damage. 

By learning to spot a gain or loss quickly, investors can protect their funds from unnecessary harm while reaping the benefits of investing. Here we break down how to calculate capital gains and losses.

The basics: how to calculate capital gains/loss

Investors will need to first identify the original cost or purchase price of the investment in order to calculate the percentage capital gain on an investment. You can get this from your broker, or any electronic trade confirmations you might have received. 

The next step is to subtract the original cost of the same investment from the selling purchase price (current value) to arrive at the gain or loss amount. If the amount is negative, this will indicate a loss while a positive amount will illustrate the profit. 

Then take this amount (the gain or loss) and divide it by the original purchase price. Multiply this by 100 and this will establish your gain or loss as a percentage.

Gain/loss ($ amount) = selling price - purchase price

Gain/loss percentage = [(selling price- purchase price) / purchase price] x 100

When the market value of an investment is lower than its cost basis, leading to a negative percentage return, it constitutes a loss on that particular asset.

When the market value or selling price surpasses your initial investment, you'll get a positive percentage that reflects this gain.

Why calculating gain/loss is important

Calculating the loss or gains you've made on an investment is crucial not only for staying on top of your financial situation but also when it comes to monitoring your investment strategy. If you are continuously making losses on an investment it might be time to change course, however, you will only know this by doing the calculations. 

Calculating the capital gains or losses on an investment as a percentage is important because it shows how much was earned as compared to the amount needed to achieve the gain.

Additionally, calculating the gains or losses of an investment are important when calculating any capital gains tax. Having a clear understanding of the financial situation will ensure that you are not underpaying or overpaying on capital gains tax. Be sure to check the capital gains tax rate in your jurisdiction as this will change from area to area.

Additional aspects to consider

As with anything, there are additional costs to factor in. For investments, this might be commissions, broker fees, taxes, etc. Below we look at how to factor in transaction costs, dividends, and trading fees.

Transaction Costs

Take your final gain/loss amount and subtract and transaction costs incurred from this amount.

Gain/loss ($ amount) = (purchase price - selling price) - transaction costs


When calculating your gains, any additional income or distributions should be factored in. Dividends, whether from specific stocks or mutual funds, are the most common form of investment income and are paid to investors on a per-share basis. Not all shares pay out dividends so be sure to confirm this prior to making the trade.

Say an investor owns 100 shares and the company pays out $5 per share annually, this equates to $500 in dividends in a single year. Let's say that each share was bought at $20 and is now worth $40.

Gain/loss percentage 

= [((selling price - purchase price) + dividends) / purchase price] x 100

= [(($4,000 - $2,000) + $500) / $200] x 100

= 125%

Therefore, the dividends payout increased the gains on this investment by 25%. In this example, we have not included trading fees, commissions, etc.

Trading fees

Trading fees or brokerage fees are often an unavoidable aspect of trading and should be factored into your investment calculations. Using the above example, let's say the broker charges $50 in fees for its services and any transaction costs incurred. This amount will need to be subtracted from the original gain/loss amount before dividing it by the original purchase cost.

Gain/loss percentage 

= [((selling price- purchase price) - fees) / purchase price] x 100

= [(($4,000 - $2,000) - $50) / $2,000] x 100

= 97.5%

Here the trading fees dropped the investment gains by 2.5% from 100% to 97.5%.

Capital gains tax rate and mutual funds

Calculating capital gains or losses in a mutual fund is important for several reasons, but one key example is for tax purposes, known as capital gains taxes.

When an investor sells shares of a mutual fund, they may realize a capital gain or loss, which is the difference between the sale price and the purchase price of the shares. If the sale price is higher than the purchase price, the investor realizes a capital gain, and if the sale price is lower than the purchase price, the investor realizes a capital loss.

Capital gains are typically taxable, meaning that the investor must pay capital gains tax on the amount of the gain. However, if the shares were held for more than one year before being sold, the gain may be taxed at a lower rate known as the long-term capital gains rate, depending on the specific tax laws in your country. In contrast, capital losses can be used to offset capital gains, reducing the investor's overall tax liability.

Calculating capital gains or losses in a mutual fund can be more complex than for individual stocks, as mutual funds may buy and sell securities frequently, resulting in multiple tax lots with different purchase prices and holding periods. To accurately calculate gains or losses, investors must track each tax lot and determine the cost basis of each lot, which is the original purchase price plus any reinvested dividends or capital gains distributions.

Failing to properly calculate capital gains or losses on one's investments can result in overpaying or underpaying taxes, which can be costly and potentially lead to penalties. Therefore, it is important for investors to carefully track their mutual fund investments and accurately calculate their capital gains or losses for tax purposes.


This article is for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice or a recommendation of any kind whatsoever and should not be relied upon or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. We make no warranties, representations or undertakings about any of the content of this article (including, without limitation, as to the quality, accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose of such content), or any content of any other material referred to or accessed by hyperlinks through this article. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content on our site is accurate, complete or up-to-date.


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