What is an 'Unrealized Loss'
An unrealized loss is a loss that results from holding onto an asset after it has decreased in price, rather than selling it and realizing the loss. An investor may prefer to let a loss go unrealized in the hope that the asset will eventually recover in price, thereby at least breaking even or posting a marginal profit. For tax purposes, a loss needs to be realized before it can be used to offset capital gains.
BREAKING DOWN 'Unrealized Loss'
For example, assume an investor purchased 1,000 shares of Widget Co. at $10, and it subsequently traded down to a low of $6. The investor would have an unrealized loss of $4,000 at this point. If the stock subsequently rallies to $8, at which point the investor sells it, the realized loss would be $2,000. For tax purposes, the unrealized loss of $4,000 is of little significance, since it is merely a "paper" or theoretical loss; what matters is the realized loss of $2,000.