Selling stocks for tax breaks; 2-bit consolation

Time for a tax loss? The last few weeks of the year are a good time for investors to review their stock portfolios and consider making some replacements.

If you have held the stock for a year or less and it is selling well below what you paid for it, you can use short-term losses to shelter dollar for dollar up to $3,000 of ordinary income. Long-term capital losses, on the other hand, require two dollars of losses to offset one dollar of ordinary income.

Losses on stock trades can be established as late as the last trading day of the year. But because of a waiting period between trading date and settlement date, you must sell several days earlier to establish a gain, unless the gain is taken as ''cash delivery.'' This year's final day for gains is Dec. 23.

Most brokers have lists of stocks they think are good candidates for unloading, as well as those that look as if they have better investment potential. To get the maximum benefit from these moves, investors should also talk over trading plans with their tax adviser.

Then again, your stock certificates might be worthless. If the company has gone out of business, you might be able to get something for the certificates, even if it's only 25 cents and an income tax break. There are many people who collect old stock certificates and will pay from 25 cents up to several dollars for what to you may be nothing more than worthless pieces of paper.

In addition, the collector will give you a receipt showing the name of the stock, your name, the number of shares, the date, and how much the collector paid. This way, notes John Sehlmeier, a collector in Oxnard, Calif. (PO Box 5324 , Oxnard, Calif., 93031), the Internal Revenue Service has proof of the extent of your loss.

Mr. Sehlmeier also notes that he has had stock certificates that were almost worthless - one had gone from a price of $1 to 6 cents a share. These were worth more as collectibles and tax write-offs than as shares in the company.

You can skip a bank-card payment, but it will cost you. Several banks are giving customers the opportunity to skip a monthly payment on their Visa or MasterCard accounts, without penalty.

The idea is to help people over the extra expenses that the holidays often bring. Presumably, if you don't have to worry about your bank-card bill, you'll have more money for other things, like Christmas presents.

But while there isn't a penalty, don't worry about the banks coming up short. The finance charges will continue to grow, and will be added to the outstanding balance. So if you can make even the minimum monthly payment shown on the bill, you'll save some money in finance charges.

If you would like a question considered for publication in this column, please send it to Moneywise, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. No personal replies can be given by mail or phone. References to investments are not an endorsement or recommendation by this newspaper.m

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