Tax Reporting: What is the difference between realized and unrealized profit and loss?

An unrealized profit or loss (also known as a paper profit or loss) occurs when a security increases or decreases in value above (profit) or below (loss) the price paid for that security.  A realized profit or loss occurs when you sell the security. The difference between the price at which the security was purchased and the price at which the security was sold is the realized profit or loss.

For regulated futures contracts, realized profit and loss is the actual aggregate profit or loss recognized over the course of the year from transactions in commodity futures and currency futures contracts on a mark-to-market basis, and is reported in box 13 of Form 1099-B for noncovered securities.

Refer to IRS Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses, and Publication 551, Basis of Assets for details on reporting gains and losses, including determining cost basis. Additional information is provided in the instructions to IRS Form 6781 and the Instructions to Schedule D (and Form 8949).  Consult your tax advisor for further guidance.

In compliance with Treasury Department Circular 230, unless stated to the contrary, any information contained in this FAQ was not intended or written to be used and cannot be used for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer.