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Capital Gains Tax: A comprehensive guide

Ever wondered how Capital Gains Tax (CGT) impacts your business operations? It's a significant factor for anyone involved in investments, real estate or asset management. This guide aims to demystify CGT, providing insights and strategies for effective navigation. We'll explore its connection with income tax and its influence on your business's financial decisions.

What exactly is Capital Gains Tax?

The term Capital Gains Tax is a misnomer! It is not a separate taxing system but refers to the tax legislation applied to profits or losses made on the sale of an asset. A taxable capital gain is included in your assessable income and is taxed in the usual fashion. This is particularly significant for property investors, where the sale of an investment property often leads to a substantial capital gain.

Understanding CGT is also vital for businesses as it is pivotal in shaping asset management and investment strategy decisions. Its impact extends beyond mere tax calculations, influencing long-term financial planning.

How does Capital Gains Tax affect my business?

Let's take a deeper look at how CGT influences your business, particularly when you sell business assets:

  • Taxable income increase: When you sell assets like real estate, investment properties or shares and make a profit, this profit (net capital gain) is added to your business's assessable income for the financial year.
  • Impact on tax bracket: As there is an increase in taxable income and you are trading through a trust, partnership or as a sole trader, a substantial capital gain could potentially push your business into a higher tax bracket. This will equate to a larger tax bill for the year.
  • Strategic planning: Understanding CGT is vital for strategic decision-making. Decisions about selling business assets, whether for liquidity or restructuring, should consider the CGT implications. It's about balancing immediate financial benefits against long-term tax consequences.
  • Investment decisions: CGT considerations can influence your future investment strategies. Knowing the potential tax implications of selling an asset can guide you in choosing the right time to sell or whether to reinvest the proceeds into other ventures.
  • Cash flow management: The tax from CGT can also affect your business's cash flow. Planning for potential CGT liabilities is crucial to ensuring your business has sufficient funds to meet its tax obligations without disrupting operational cash flow.

Identifying CGT assets: What qualifies?

A CGT asset is a broad term encompassing various types of property or investments capable of generating capital gains or losses. This category includes tangible assets like real estate and shares, as well as intangible assets such as intellectual property. In a business context, identifying a CGT asset is crucial for effective tax planning.

For instance, an investment property is a typical CGT asset, whereas personal use items like a car for private use may not be. Understanding the nuances of what constitutes a CGT asset, from residential property to shares in a company, is vital for accurate CGT management.

Understanding capital proceeds: What are they?

Capital proceeds are the total amount you receive from the sale of a CGT asset, incorporating more than just the sale price. This concept includes additional benefits or compensation related to the asset. For instance, if you sell an investment property, the capital proceeds comprise not only the sale price but also any ancillary financial gains like insurance payouts or compensation for damages.

These proceeds are the cornerstone in calculating your capital gain or loss and are essential in determining the exact amount subject to CGT. For example, if you receive a settlement due to a legal dispute over the property, this amount would also be included in the capital proceeds. This comprehensive calculation ensures that all financial benefits from the asset are accounted for in your CGT liability, reflecting the true economic benefit gained from the asset sale.

The process of acquiring CGT assets

Acquiring CGT assets involves strategic planning, as it significantly impacts CGT calculations. The cost base, which is the total cost of acquiring the asset, includes the purchase price and incidental costs like stamp duty, legal fees and any improvement costs. For example, when purchasing real estate, all associated costs, from legal fees to renovation expenses, contribute to the cost base. This cost base is crucial in determining the capital gain or loss when the asset is sold, influencing your overall CGT outcomes.

However, not all capital gains trigger CGT. Various exemptions and rollovers can mitigate your CGT obligations. The main residence exemption, for instance, can exempt your home from CGT under certain conditions. Similarly, rollovers may apply in situations like inherited assets or transfers due to family law agreements, allowing for a deferral or adjustment of CGT. Understanding these exemptions and rollovers is key to optimising your tax position and can significantly affect your CGT calculations.

A male accountant with a document and a pen in his hand.Follow our steps to make sure your books are in order and calculate your CGT accurately.

A step-by-step guide to calculating CGT

Calculating an assessable capital gain can seem daunting, but breaking it down into manageable steps can simplify the process. Here's a detailed guide to help you understand how to calculate CGT:

Step 1: Determine if you have a CGT asset

First, identify if the asset you've sold or are planning to sell qualifies as a CGT asset. This includes a wide range of assets like real estate, investment properties, shares and even certain types of intellectual property. Remember, not all assets are CGT assets. For instance, personal use assets and your main residence usually qualify for exemptions.

Step 2: Calculate your capital gain or loss

The next step is to calculate the capital gain or loss. This is the difference between the capital proceeds (the amount you received from the sale) and the cost base (the original cost of the asset, including expenses like stamp duty, legal fees and costs of improvement).

  • Capital gain: If your capital proceeds exceed the cost base, you have a capital gain.
  • Capital loss: If the cost base exceeds the capital proceeds, you incur a capital loss.

Step 3: Apply the CGT discount

If you've owned the asset for more than 12 months, you may be eligible for the CGT discount. For individuals and trusts, this is a 50% discount on the capital gain. This means you only include half of the capital gain in your taxable income.

  • Long-term capital gain: The CGT discount applies for assets held longer than a year.
  • Short-term capital gain: For assets held less than a year, the full gain is taxable.

Step 4: Offset any capital losses

If you have incurred capital losses in preceding years or in the current year, you can use these to offset your capital gains in the preceding or current years. If your losses exceed your gains, you can carry forward the loss to offset future gains.

Step 5: Calculate your taxable income

Add your net capital gain (after applying discounts and offsetting losses) to your other taxable income for the financial year. This total will be subject to income tax at your marginal tax rate.

Step 6: Report on your tax return

Report your net capital gain in your tax return. The Australian Taxation Office provides a capital gains tax calculator and specific sections in the tax return form for declaring capital gains and losses.

Also consider:

  • For assets acquired before 21 September 1999, you may opt to use indexation to adjust the cost base for inflation.
  • Certain assets and situations, like inherited assets or those impacted by family law, have specific CGT rules.
  • Strategies like tax loss harvesting to optimise your CGT liability.
  • Assets acquired before 20 September 1985 (the introduction date of CGT) may be CGT exempt.

You can accurately calculate your CGT liability by following these steps and considering all relevant factors. Bear in mind that CGT can be complex, and seeking advice from a tax professional is advisable for personalised guidance.


Let's address some common queries about CGT:

How much tax do I pay on a capital gain?
The tax payable depends on factors like the type of asset, the duration of ownership and the marginal tax rate applied.

What is the 6-year rule for capital gains tax property?
Under certain conditions, this rule allows treating a property as your main residence for CGT purposes, even if you're not living in it.

What are examples of strategies to avoid or reduce capital gains in Australia?
Timing the sale of assets, utilising CGT concessions and tax losses are some strategies to consider.

For more on reducing taxes, check out how to reduce tax for high-income earners.

Get ahead with professional tax advice

Capital Gains Tax is a complex but manageable part of your business's financial aspect. With the right information and strategies, you can navigate CGT effectively. Remember, each business's situation is unique, so seeking professional advice is crucial.

If you're considering when to engage an accountant or want to understand more about small business tax rates, we've got resources for you.

Ready to take control of your financial gains? Get in touch with us today.