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What is Capital Gains Tax and How to Calculate it?

Capital gains tax is imposed on the difference between the selling price of a capital asset and its original purchase cost. Selling an asset for more than its acquisition cost results in a capital gain, which becomes subject to taxation.

  • 2,244 Views | Updated on: Mar 21, 2024

A capital gain is realized when an investor sells a capital asset, such as mutual funds or property, and receives a sum more significant than the initial purchase cost. These gains are subject to taxation, giving rise to the necessity of understanding the complexities of capital gains tax.

Investing in stocks, bonds, properties, or even collectables can be rewarding to grow your wealth. But what happens when you sell those assets for a profit? That is where capital gains tax comes in, a levy on the profit you make from such transactions. Understanding how it works and how to calculate it is crucial for any investor, regardless of experience.

Understanding Capital Gains

Every possession has value, and every investment has the potential for good and bad returns. The same goes for capital assets, the things we own that are not directly related to our business or profession.

When you sell one of these capital assets, like those mutual funds or property, and get more than you were originally paid, that amount received is called capital gains. These gains are taxed under Section 54 of the Income Tax Act 1961.

What is Capital Gains Tax?

Capital gains tax is a surcharge imposed on the difference between the selling price of a capital asset (like the ones mentioned above) and its original purchase price. If you sell an investment for more than you paid, you realize a capital gain subject to taxation. On the other hand, if you sell at a loss, you incur a capital loss, which can be used to offset future capital gains.

Understanding the Types of Capital Gains

Time plays a big role in capital gains. Hold your investments for 12 months or more, and they reach “long-term” maturity otherwise, they are “short-term” gains.

Short-term Capital Gains

These are gains on assets held for less than one year. In most countries, they are taxed at higher rates than long-term gains.

Calculating short-term capital gains:

Short-term capital gain = Full value consideration - Expenses incurred exclusively for such transfer - Cost of acquisition - Cost of improvement

Short-term capital gains on the sale of specific assets, like non-equity shares, non-equity MFs, and bonds, are exempt from the tax rules under Section 111A.

Long-term Capital Gains

These are gains on assets held for one year or more (the specific timeframe can vary depending on different tax laws in each country). They are typically taxed at lower rates than short-term gains.

Calculating long-term capital gains:

Long-term capital gains= Full value consideration - Expenses incurred exclusively for such transfer - Indexed cost of acquisition - Indexed cost of improvement - Expenses that can be deducted from total value for consideration


  • Full Value Consideration is the total sale price or market value of a capital asset (like property shares) received upon its transfer.
  • Expenses incurred exclusively for such transfer are legitimate costs directly related to selling the asset, such as brokerage fees, legal fees, and advertising expenses.
  • Indexed Cost of Acquisition is the original cost of acquiring the asset adjusted for inflation to reflect its present-day value.
  • Indexed Cost of Improvement is the cost of any significant improvements made to the asset, also adjusted for inflation, further reducing the taxable gain.
  • Expenses that can be deducted from the total value for consideration are the total expenses incurred exclusively and the indexed cost of acquisition, which are subtracted from the full sale price to calculate the taxable capital gain.

Capital Gains Exemption

Capital gain exemptions offer valuable opportunities to reduce tax liability and boost financial freedom. Some of the sections under which capital gains are exempted are:

Section 54

This exemption applies when you sell a residential property and reinvest the capital gains in another house. But you can only use this once in your lifetime, and the capital gain must be under ₹2 crores. However, you do not have to invest the entire sale proceeds, just the capital gain. For your flexibility here, the new house can be purchased one year before or two years after the old one is sold. You can also use the gains to build a new home, but it needs to be completed within three years. And remember, you should hold onto that new house for at least three years, or the exemption gets revoked.

Section 54F

This exemption applies to capital gains from selling any asset, not just houses. You must invest the entire sale proceeds in a new residential property to claim this benefit. The same timeframes (as Section 54) apply one year before or two years after the sale, or you can build the new house within three years. But selling the new house within three years also means losing the exemption.

Section 54EC

For exemption under this section, you can invest your capital gains (up to ₹50 lakhs) in specific bonds issued by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) or Rural Electrification Corporation (REC). These bonds are locked in for five years, but the good news is you can redeem them after three years. Make sure you invest before the tax filing deadline to claim this exemption.

Section 54B

This exemption applies to capital gains from selling agricultural land. You can claim this exemption if you reinvest the profits into new agricultural land within two years. But remember, the new land needs to be held onto for at least three years after purchase.

Final Thoughts

Capital gains tax is not a burden but a dynamic tool. You can leverage this tool to your advantage through strategic planning, careful timing, and informed investment choices. By mastering these concepts and utilizing the various tax exemptions available, you can transform capital gains tax from a hurdle to a stepping stone on your path to financial freedom.

Key Takeaways

  • A capital gains tax is a charge placed on the investor’s profit when they sell stock shares or other investments.
  • Capital gains are categorized as short-term and long-term based on the holding period, influencing the tax liability.
  • Calculating capital gains involves considering acquisition and improvement costs, selling prices, and deductions.
  • Failing to pay capital gains tax on land can result in legal penalties, fines, and interest, emphasizing the importance of complying with tax obligations.

- A Consumer Education Initiative series by Kotak Life

Amit Raje
Written By :
Amit Raje

Amit Raje is an experienced marketer who has worked in various Fintechs and leading Financial companies in India. With focused experience in Digital, Amit has pioneered multiple digital commerce in India. Now, close to two decades later, he is the vice president and head of the D2C business department. He masters the skill of strategic management, also being certified in it from IIMA. He has challenged his challenges and contributed his efforts in this journey of digital transformation.

Amit Raje
Reviewed By :
Prasad Pimple

Prasad Pimple has a decade-long experience in the Life insurance sector and as EVP, Kotak Life heads Digital Business. He is responsible for developing user friendly product journeys, creating consumer awareness and helping consumers in identifying need for life insurance solutions. He has 20+ years of experience in creating and building business verticals across Insurance, Telecom and Banking sectors

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