At the end of each year, mutual funds distribute capital gains to their shareholders. These distributions are the difference between gains that arise when securities that have appreciated in value are sold and the losses from sales of securities that have depreciated in value. This Q&A seeks to answer important questions shareholders may have about capital gains distributions.
Eaton Vance does not provide legal or tax advice. This Q&A is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed.
- Why are capital gain distributions made to shareholders each year?
Mutual funds are not subject to federal income tax on the portion of capital gains distributed to shareholders. A mutual fund is required annually to distribute substantially all of its net investment income in the form of dividends and net realized capital gains, per IRS rules. Distributions are then subject to tax when paid to shareholders and are included in a shareholder’s income tax return. Capital gain distributions received in a tax-deferred account are not taxable in the current year.
- How are the amounts of the capital gains determined?
Distributions are generally based on the capital gains the fund realizes from November 1 of the previous year to October 31 of the current year. If this annual period does not correspond with the fund’s fiscal year, distributions will be either gains realized during the fiscal year or those realized during the excise tax measurement period, whichever is greater.
- Why are capital gains distributed if the market declines/if the mutual fund has a negative performance?
Regardless of whether a mutual fund posted a positive or negative return for the year, the fund will distribute any net realized capital gains in order to qualify for special tax treatment by the IRS. While losses from the sales of securities may be used to offset realized gains from sales of other securities, any net capital gain will be distributed to shareholders.
- When a capital gain is distributed, do shareholders lose money?
No. On the date of the distribution, the net asset value of the fund will drop by the amount paid to shareholders. This is why a fund’s price per share generally falls when distributions are made. Unless a shareholder receives a distribution in cash, the value of a shareholder’s account is not affected by a capital gain distribution.
- Do portfolio managers try to reduce gains by realizing losses?
Our focus is on the long-term performance of the fund for our shareholders. Portfolio management decisions are based on investment merits. Portfolio managers will not sell a security with sole purpose of realizing a loss. Instead, decisions to sell securities are based on the analysis of investment prospects. However, when we do decide to sell a security, we attempt to do so in a tax-advantageous manner.
For our tax-managed funds, buy and sell decisions are made by balancing investment considerations and tax considerations, and taking into account the taxes payable by shareholders in connection with distributions of investment income and net realized gains. These funds seek to minimize income distributions and distributions of realized short-term gains that are taxed as ordinary income, as well as distributions of realized long-term gains (taxed as long-term capital gains).