Capital Gain

A capital gain is the profit that an investor earns when they sell an asset for a higher price than the purchase price. This can apply to a variety of investments, including real estate, stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. The difference between the selling price and the original purchase price is the capital gain. In Australia, capital gains are subject to taxation under the capital gains tax (CGT) regime.

Types of capital gains

Realised capital gains

Realised capital gains occur when an asset is sold for more than its purchase price. The gain is “realised” because the transaction has been completed, and the profit is now tangible.

Unrealised capital gains

Unrealised capital gains, also known as paper gains, occur when the value of an asset increases but has not yet been sold. These gains exist only on paper and are not subject to taxation until the asset is sold and the gain is realised.

Importance of capital gains

Investment returns

Capital gains represent a significant component of the total return on investment. Alongside dividends, interest, and rental income, capital gains contribute to the overall profitability of an investment portfolio.

Wealth accumulation

Capital gains play a crucial role in wealth accumulation. Investors can grow their wealth by purchasing assets that appreciate over time and eventually selling them for a profit.

Tax planning

Understanding capital gains is essential for effective tax planning. Investors can manage their tax liabilities by strategically timing the sale of assets and taking advantage of available concessions and exemptions.

Taxation of capital gains in Australia

Capital gains tax (CGT)

In Australia, capital gains tax is the tax paid on the profit made from the sale of assets. CGT is not a separate tax but is part of an individual or entity’s income tax. Capital gains are included in the assessable income for the tax year in which the asset was sold.

CGT concessions and exemptions

  1. Main residence exemption: The sale of a primary residence is generally exempt from CGT. However, this exemption does not apply if the property was used to produce income or was not the owner’s primary residence for the entire ownership period.
  2. Discount for individuals and trusts: Individuals and trusts may be eligible for a 50% discount on capital gains if the asset was held for more than 12 months before the sale. This effectively halves the amount of the capital gain included in assessable income.
  3. Small business concessions: Small businesses may qualify for various CGT concessions, such as the 15-year exemption, the 50% active asset reduction, and the retirement exemption, subject to meeting specific criteria.

Factors affecting capital gains

Market conditions

The overall performance of the market and economic conditions can significantly impact the value of assets. Market fluctuations, interest rates, and economic growth influence asset prices and potential capital gains.

Holding period

The length of time an asset is held can affect the capital gain. Generally, assets held for longer periods benefit from compounding growth and may qualify for CGT discounts.

Improvements and renovations

For real estate investments, improvements and renovations can increase the property’s value and result in higher capital gains upon sale. These costs may also be included in the asset’s cost base, reducing the taxable capital gain.

Purchase price

The initial purchase price of an asset plays a crucial role in determining the capital gain. Acquiring assets at lower prices increases the potential for higher capital gains when sold at higher market values.

Strategies to maximise capital gains

Buy and hold

Adopting a long-term investment strategy, such as buy and hold, allows investors to benefit from asset appreciation over time. This strategy also enables investors to take advantage of CGT discounts for holding assets for more than 12 months.


Diversifying an investment portfolio across various asset classes, sectors, and geographic regions can reduce risk and enhance the potential for capital gains. A well-diversified portfolio can mitigate the impact of market volatility on individual assets.

Timing the market

While timing the market can be challenging, buying assets during market downturns and selling during upturns can maximise capital gains. Staying informed about market trends and economic indicators can aid in making strategic investment decisions.

Example of a capital gain

Consider an investor who purchased 100 shares of a company at $50 per share, for a total investment of $5,000. After three years, the share price increased to $80 per share, and the investor decided to sell all 100 shares for $8,000. The capital gain from this transaction is calculated as follows:

  • Selling price: $80 per share × 100 shares = $8,000
  • Purchase price: $50 per share × 100 shares = $5,000
  • Capital gain: $8,000 – $5,000 = $3,000

If the investor held the shares for more than 12 months, they might be eligible for a 50% CGT discount, reducing the taxable capital gain to $1,500.


Capital gains are a fundamental aspect of investing, representing the profit made from the sale of assets. Understanding the different types of capital gains, their importance, and the factors affecting them is crucial for effective investment management and tax planning. By adopting strategies such as long-term investing, diversification, and market timing, investors can maximise their capital gains and achieve their financial goals.

For more detailed information on capital gains and related tax implications, you can visit the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) website.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this page is for general informational and educational purposes only and is never intended as financial advice. While we strive to ensure that the content is accurate and up-to-date, it may not reflect the most current legal or financial developments. Always consult with a qualified financial advisor or professional before making any financial decisions. Use the information at your own risk.

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