How Forex Trades Are Taxed

Find out the tax basics before you make your first foreign exchange trade

The primary goal for foreign exchange (forex) traders is to make successful trades and grow their forex account balance. In a market where profits and losses can be realized in the blink of an eye, many want to make money in the short term without really considering the longer-term ramifications. Nevertheless, it usually makes some sense to consider the tax implications of buying and selling forex before making that first trade.

Key Takeaways

  • Aspiring forex traders might want to consider tax implications before getting started.
  • Forex futures and options are 1256 contracts and taxed using the 60/40 rule, with 60% of gains or losses treated as long-term capital gains and 40% as short-term.
  • Spot forex traders are considered "988 traders" and can deduct all of their losses for the year.
  • Currency traders in the spot forex market can choose to be taxed under the same tax rules as regular commodities 1256 contracts or under the special rules of IRC Section 988 for currencies.

Tax Considerations on Forex and Futures

For tax purposes, forex options and futures contracts are considered IRC Section 1256 contracts, which are subject to a 60/40 tax consideration. In other words, 60% of gains or losses are counted as long-term capital gains or losses, and the remaining 40% is counted as short-term.

A 60/40 tax treatment is often favorable for individuals in higher income tax brackets. For example, the proceeds of stocks sold within one year of their purchase are considered short-term capital gains and are always taxed at the same rate as the investor's ordinary income, which can be as much as 37%. When trading futures or options, investors are effectively taxed at the maximum long-term capital gains rate, or 20% (on 60% of the gains or losses), and the maximum short-term capital gains rate of 37% (on the other 40%).

Section 1256 contracts held through the end of a tax year must be reported at fair market value—called marked to market—as capital gains or losses.

Taxes for Over-the-Counter (OTC) Forex Traders

Most spot traders are taxed according to IRC Section 988 contracts, which are for foreign exchange transactions settled within two days, making them open to treatment as ordinary losses and gains. If you trade spot forex, you will likely be grouped in this category as a "988 trader."

If you experience net losses through your year-end trading, being categorized as a "988 trader" is a substantial benefit. As in the 1256 contract category, you can count all of your losses as "ordinary losses," not just the first $3,000.

Forex Spot Traders Have a Tax Choice

Now comes the tricky part: Deciding how to file taxes for your situation. While options, futures, and OTC are grouped separately, the investor can choose to trade as either 1256 or 988. Individuals must decide which to use by the first day of the calendar year.

IRC 988 contracts are simpler than IRC 1256 contracts. The tax rate remains constant for both gains and losses, which is better when the trader is reporting losses. Notably, 1256 contracts, while more complex, offer 12% more savings for a trader with net gains.

Most accounting firms use 988 contracts for spot traders and 1256 contracts for futures traders. That's why it's important to talk with your accountant before investing. Once you begin trading, you cannot switch from one to the other.

The rules outlined here apply to U.S. traders with accounts at U.S. brokerage firms.

Most traders naturally anticipate net gains and often elect out of 988 status and into 1256 status. To opt out of a 988 status, you need to make an internal note in your books and file the change with your accountant. Complications can intensify if you trade stocks and currencies because equity transactions are taxed differently, making it more difficult to select 988 or 1256 contracts.

Record Keeping for Forex Taxes

You can rely on your brokerage statements, but a more accurate and tax-friendly way of keeping track of profit and loss is through your performance record.

This is a popular formula used in forex record-keeping:

  • Subtract your beginning assets from your end assets (net)
  • Subtract cash deposits (to your accounts) and add withdrawals (from your accounts)
  • Subtract income from interest and add interest paid
  • Add in other trading expenses

The performance record formula will give you a more accurate depiction of your profit/loss ratio and will make year-end filing easier for you and your accountant.

Forex Tax Special Considerations

When it comes to forex taxation, there are a few habits you can adopt that will keep you in good standing with the IRS:

  • Mind the deadline: In most cases, you are required to select a type of tax situation by Jan. 1. If you are a new trader, you can make this decision any time before your first trade.
  • Keep good records: It will save you time when tax season approaches. That will give you more time to trade and less time to prepare your taxes.
  • Pay what you owe: Some traders try to beat the system and don't pay taxes on their forex trades. Since over-the-counter trading is not registered with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), some think they can get away with it. You should know that the IRS will catch up eventually, and the tax avoidance fees will be greater than any taxes you owe.

How Do I Avoid Taxes on Forex?

It's best to keep accurate records of your transactions and file accordingly. It is against the law to attempt to avoid paying the taxes you owe.

How Am I Taxed for Forex Trading?

If you trade 1256 contracts, your trades are taxed at 60% long-term capital gains and 40% short-term capital gains. If you're trading 988 contracts, you treat losses and gains as ordinary (taxed at your income tax bracket level).

Is Forex Tax Free in the US?

In the U.S., Forex trading is considered a business activity that generates income, so you're required to pay taxes.

The Bottom Line

Whether you are planning on making forex a career path or are simply interested in dabbling in it, taking the time to file correctly can save you hundreds, if not thousands, in taxes. It's a part of the process that's well worth the time.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Form 6781: Gains and Losses From Section 1256 Contracts and Straddles."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Overview of IRC Section 988 Nonfunctional Currency Transactions."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2023."

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 409 Capital Gains and Losses."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Form 6781: Gains and Losses From Section 1256 Contracts and Straddles," Page 2.

  6. Internal Revenue Code. "Title 26—Internal Revenue Code, § 988," Page 2010.

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.