Most mutual funds offer you the option of having dividend and capital gain distributions automatically reinvested in the fund a–good way to buy new shares and expand your holdings. Most shareholders take advantage of this service, but you should be aware that you do not avoid paying tax by doing this. Reinvested ordinary dividends are taxed as ordinary income, just as if you had received them in cash and reinvested capital gain distributions are taxed as long-term capital gain.
Tip: If you reinvest, add the amount reinvested to the “cost basis” of your account. “Cost basis” is the amount you paid for your shares. The cost basis of your new shares purchased through automatic reinvesting is easily seen from your fund account statements. This information is important later on when you sell shares.
Make sure that you don’t pay any unnecessary capital gain taxes on the sale of mutual fund shares because you forgot about reinvested amounts. When you reinvest dividends and capital gain distributions to buy more shares, you should add the cost of those shares (that is, the amount invested) to the cost basis of the shares in that account because you have already paid tax on those shares.
Example: You bought 500 shares in Fund PQR in 1990 for $10,000. Over the years you reinvested dividends and capital gain distributions in the amount of $10,000, for which you received 100 additional shares. This year, you sold all 600 of those shares for $40,000.
If you forget to include the price paid for your 100 shares purchased through reinvestment (even though the fund sent you a statement recording the shares you received in each transaction), you will unwittingly report on this year’s tax return a capital gain of $30,000 ($40,000 – $ 10,000) on your redemption of 600 shares, rather than the correct capital gain of $20,000 ($40,000 [$10,000 + $10,000]).
Failure to include reinvested dividends and capital gain distributions in your cost basis is a costly mistake.