How Collectibles Are Taxed

Investing in collectibles can be personally rewarding. As the owner of a historical or rare item, it's emotionally satisfying to own a collectible item. But investing in collectibles can also lead to significant returns. Due to the nature of the collectible industry and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations, collectibles are often assessed with heavy fees and taxes. In fact, they're taxed at a maximum rate of 28%. Let's dive into how collectibles are taxed.

Key Takeaways

  • Collectibles are considered alternative investments by the IRS and include things like art, stamps, coins, cards, comics, rare items, antiques, and so on.
  • If collectibles are sold at a gain, you will be subject to a long-term capital gains tax rate of up to 28%, if disposed of after more than one year of ownership.
  • Collectibles sold at a gain are subject to ordinary income tax rates if held for one year or less.
  • You need to know your cost basis to calculate your taxable gain, and that means the price paid plus any costs, fees, and commissions involved with that purchase.
  • There are specific tax rules regarding the personal use of collectibles, precious metal ETFs, and collectibles donated to charity.

What Is a Collectible?

Before anything else, let's define the word collectible. According to the IRS, a collectible is defined as "any tangible personal property that the IRS determines is a collectible." That seems pretty open-ended, right? Fortunately, the IRS does provide specific examples of collectibles including:

  • Works of art
  • Rugs or antiques
  • Metals or gems
  • Stamps or coins
  • Alcoholic beverages

The idea behind collectibles is they have specific intrinsic value. If an item carries additional value based on its rarity in a market, it will likely be considered a collectible for tax purposes.

Calculating Your Basis

When figuring out your tax obligation for selling a collectible, you need to figure out your basis. This is the non-taxable portion of your collectible, and it is often equal to what you paid for the item. There are two ways you can figure this out, depending on how you acquired the item(s):

  • If you bought the collectible, your taxable basis is the purchase price of the asset plus any associated broker and transaction fees.
  • If you inherited the collectible, the basis is the fair market value (FMV) of the item at the time of inheritance.

Some collectibles warrant an appraisal if the FMV is not readily known or easy to determine. If the collectible has not been appraised, the FMV can be determined by comps (i.e., the price of similar items). The problem with using comps, though, is that they don’t take into account the condition of your collectible or the collectible being used for comparison.

Once you establish your basis, subtract the basis from the sale price and you will have your net capital gain. An important point to note is that a higher basis is more advantageous for taxpayers. A taxpayer's tax liability is smaller as the basis of an item increases or is higher.

It's common for someone's cost basis to be different than the fair market value of a collectible. This is especially true if someone purchased the collectible a long time ago or if demand for the item has substantially increased since the time of purchase.

Example of Calculation

Let’s say you purchased an antique table for $5,000. The associated broker fee was $300 and you spent an additional $1,000 restoring the collectible since the acquisition. Your cost basis for the antique table is $6,300. Should you sell the table for $7,500, the IRS requires you to report your profit of $1,200 or $7,500 - $6,300.

Say you inherited the table instead. You paid $0 for the table, did not pay any broker fees, and still spent $1,000 to restore the table. Although you only spent $1,000 on the table, your basis will be higher since you've inherited the item. Should an appraisal of the item record the value of the table as $7,000, your sale for $7,500 will result in $500 of taxable income.

Collectibles and Capital Gains

The money you make off the sale of a collectible is reported on Form 8949: Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets and attach this to your Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. You must include the following information:

  • Description of the collectible
  • Acquisition and sale date
  • Sale price
  • Cost basis
  • Adjustment to gain or loss
  • Gain or loss

The capital gains tax on your net gain from selling a collectible is capped at 28%. You may also be subject to a 3.8% net investment income tax, depending on your adjusted gross income (AGI). You won't pay more than that amount provided you hold the piece for more than one year, even if you're in a high tax bracket.

Note that the rate on collectibles is considerably higher than the tax rate on most long-term capital gains, which is an average of 15% for most taxpayers, according to the IRS. The tax rate is set higher because the government discourages the purchase and sale of collectibles.

Unlike business innovations or comprehensive employee training, collectibles aren’t real economic drivers. In short, the government would prefer capital be put toward efforts that help grow gross domestic product (GDP).

The IRS categorizes non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as digital assets, which are taxed at regular capital gains rates.

Special Considerations

There are a few things you may want to consider when it comes to collectibles. Notably:

  • Selling a collectible in less than one year means you are taxed as ordinary income. This could be advantageous if your income tax bracket is less than 28%.
  • Buying and selling gold or silver, or gold and silver exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will be taxed as a collectible since gold and silver are considered collectibles.
  • You will not be able to claim a capital loss if you use a collectible for personal use, such as hanging a painting on a wall in your home as opposed to keeping it in storage.

There are provisions in place for the donation of collectibles to a charity. Items with a value greater than $5,000 must be appraised, and the appraiser along with the charity must sign Form 8283: Noncash Charitable Contributions. Taxpayers may receive a deduction for the FMV of the item provided the charity does not dispose of the item within three years of receipt.

Do I Owe Taxes When I Sell Collectibles?

Taxpayers often have a tax obligation after the sale of a collectible. If you sold the item for more than its fair market value or its cost basis (depending on how you acquired the item), you will likely be assessed taxes.

What Is the Tax Rate for Collectibles?

Collectibles held for more than one year are assessed long-term capital gains taxes that are capped at 28%. Collectibles held for less than one year are taxed the same as ordinary income.

What Is the Basis for Collectibles?

Your basis depends on how you obtained the collectible. If you bought it, your basis is often the price you paid, broker fees, and any restoration costs incurred. If you inherited it, your basis is often an appraised value equal to its current fair market value.

The Bottom Line

The sale of collectibles can lead to a cash windfall, but the resulting tax obligation may be substantial. If you’re still not sure or comfortable about the sale of a collectible (or collectibles) and you want to minimize your tax obligation, consult a tax advisor

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 409: Capital Gains and Losses."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Issue Snapshot - Investments in Collectibles in Individually-Directed Qualified Plan Accounts."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 561: Determining the Value of Donated Property," Pages 2-5.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 544: Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets," Page 3.

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Form 8949: Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets."

  6. Journal of Accountancy. "Tax-efficient investing in gold."

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 544: Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets."

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "Digital Assets."

  9. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 17: Your Federal Income Tax," Page 117.

  10. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 544: Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets," Page 20.

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