Capitalizing on capital losses

Tax Managed Strategy 1

If you or your spouse¹ have realized capital gains in the last three years, consider selling an investment that has dropped in value to recover the taxes paid on those gains.

Stock market volatility may cause investors to worry about their investments. Many want to take action and reorganize their portfolios, even if they’re in a loss position. Once the decision is made to crystallize losses, our capitalizing on capital losses strategy can be used to gain maximum tax benefit on portfolio losses. This strategy is based on carrying back any losses that exceed current year capital gains to a previous year with net capital gains.

An in-depth look at the issue ... and the opportunities

The Income Tax Act (Canada) requires capital losses to first be applied against capital gains realized in the current year. If there’s any remaining balance, the net capital losses can be used to either reduce taxable capital gains in any of the three preceding years or in any future year.

The best strategy is to carry the losses back to the earliest year in which you have capital gains before it falls out of the three-year window, especially if your marginal tax rate in that year is at least equal to the other 2 years. For example, the earliest date allowed to carry back 2023 losses is 2020. To learn more about realizing capital losses to reduce capital gains, see How to use tax-loss selling to turn capital losses into tax savings.

Transferring capital losses between spouses

If you don’t have capital gains this year or the previous three years but your spouse does, it’s possible to transfer capital losses to your spouse.

First, the investment is sold to crystallize the capital loss. Immediately afterwards, your spouse buys the exact same amount of the identical investment. Your spouse then sells the investment after waiting at least 30 days after the transaction’s settlement date. The capital loss realized on your sale will be denied under the superficial loss rules and added to your spouse’s adjusted cost base (ACB) instead, thereby transferring the capital loss.

A closer look at the tax savings

John has a net capital loss of $20,000 realized this year that he either carries back to a previous year or transfers to his spouse. He and his spouse are in a 46% marginal tax bracket in the current year and previous 3 years.

Here’s how the tax savings stack up.

Type of income (capital loss at a 50% inclusion rate)
Loss amount     $20,000
Tax savings at a 46% marginal tax rate (actual tax rate may vary)
(loss amount x inclusion rate x marginal tax rate) = $20,000 x 0.5 x 0.46 = $4,600

Carrying back John’s loss to a previous year or transferring it to his spouse results in a recovery of $4,600 in taxes previously paid.


If you or your spouse repurchase property identical to that sold within the period that begins 30 days before and ends 30 days after the disposition (settlement date), and still hold it on the 30th day after the disposition, then the capital loss on the original sale will be denied under the superficial loss rules. The denied loss is added to the ACB of the acquired property.


A trust version of a mutual fund isn’t identical to the corporate class version of the same mutual fund. Therefore, capital losses realized by the sale of a mutual fund trust won’t be denied under the superficial loss rules if the same fund is purchased in a mutual fund corporation, as you’re purchasing a different legal structure.

Transferring capital losses to your corporation

The same strategy can be used to transfer capital losses on your personal taxable investments to your corporation. That is, you sell an investment and realize the capital loss. Immediately afterwards, your corporation buys the exact same amount of the identical investment. Then your corporation sells the investment after waiting at least 30 days after the transaction’s settlement date. The capital loss realized on your sale will be denied under the superficial loss rules and added to the ACB of your corporation’s investment instead. The capital loss realized by the corporation will reduce its realized capital gains in the same year and help preserve its SBD. This could be beneficial if your corporation has realized capital gains on its passive investment portfolio and may be subject to a reduction of its small business deduction (SBD). However, keep in mind that half of those losses will reduce the capital dividend account (CDA) and consequently the ability for the corporation to pay a tax-free capital dividend to a shareholder. Consider paying a capital dividend prior to realizing the capital loss to avoid losing this opportunity.

Unfortunately, in a corporate setting, this strategy is a one-way street. It won’t work if your corporation tries to transfer capital losses to you or an affiliated person (e.g. your spouse). In this case, the capital loss upon the sale of the investment will remain in the corporation and won’t be added to your personal investment’s ACB when you purchase it. Further, the corporation won’t be able to use the capital loss for tax purposes until you or an affiliated person of the corporation sell that same investment. Also neither you, nor an affiliated person could’ve acquired the substituted property in the 30 calendar days before and after the sale by the corporation and still hold the substituted property on the 30th day after the transaction’s settlement date.

Ideal candidates

Investors who:

  • are selling their investments at a loss and who have little or no capital gains in the current year
  • had capital gains, or their spouse had capital gains, in the past three years

Take action

To apply for a loss carryback, investors need to:

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will then automatically apply the losses to the previous years requested on the form.

Investment options with Manulife Investment Management

Mutual funds can help meet your specific financial needs throughout your life. Whether you’re just starting out, accumulating wealth, or nearing/in retirement, mutual funds offered by Manulife Investment Management can offer you solutions to help build a portfolio that meets your needs. Manulife utilizes four principal asset management firms to oversee its extensive fund family. Each firm is recognized for its strength and depth of experience in various asset classes and investment styles. Manulife is committed to providing quality investment products and services so you can enjoy life and worry less.

Segregated fund contracts combine the growth potential offered by a broad range of investment funds with the unique wealth protection features of an insurance contract. Through Manulife segregated fund contracts, investors can help minimize their exposure to risk through income, death, and maturity guarantees; potential creditor protection features; and estate planning benefits — all from a single product or insurance contract.

Guaranteed interest accounts (GIAs) offer competitive rates plus investment options. Investors benefit from a guarantee on their principal investment, and from several different investment options that can diversify and add flexibility to their portfolio. GIAs can be an ideal solution for conservative investors who are looking to help grow their wealth but concerned about minimizing risk.

1 Includes a spouse or common-law partner as defined by the Income Tax Act (Canada).

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MK1381E 11/23

Tax, Retirement & Estate Planning Services Team

Tax, Retirement & Estate Planning Services Team

Manulife Investment Management

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