Still accepting new clients! Call (866) 681-2140

Section 1256

Section 1256 Contracts: An In-Depth Guide

One area that presents significant complexities is the taxation of Section 1256 contracts. These financial instruments, which include regulated futures contracts, foreign currency contracts, nonequity options, dealer equity options and dealer securities futures contracts are subject to a unique set of tax rules that differ from those applicable to other investment vehicles.

Understanding the specifics of Section 1256 contracts is crucial for anyone involved in trading these instruments. These contracts are governed by the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 1256 which mandates a distinctive mark-to-market accounting approach. This means that all open positions in these contracts are treated as if they were sold at their fair market value on the last business day of the tax year. Consequently, both realized and unrealized gains or losses must be recognized annually, irrespective of whether the contracts were actually sold.

This annual mark-to-market requirement can significantly impact an investor’s or trader’s tax liabilities, making it essential to comprehend not only the tax implications but also the regulatory framework governing these instruments. Furthermore, the 60/40 rule, which applies to Section 1256 contracts, dictates that 60% of the gains or losses are treated as long-term capital gains or losses, while the remaining 40% are considered short-term. This classification can offer tax advantages, particularly for those in higher tax brackets.

Section 1256 Contracts

Section 1256 contracts represent a unique category of financial instruments that are subject to specific tax treatment under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 1256. This section of the tax code governs the way these contracts are marked-to-market and the way gains and losses are recognized and reported. Below is a detailed explanation of what constitutes Section 1256 contracts and their scope.

According to IRC Section 1256, the term “Section 1256 contract” encompasses the following types of financial instruments:

  • Regulated Futures Contracts:
  • These are standardized contracts that obligate the buyer to purchase and the seller to sell, a specified quantity of a commodity or financial instrument at a predetermined price at a specified future date.
  • These contracts are traded on organized exchanges and are subject to regulation by a futures exchange or an equivalent regulatory authority.
  • Foreign Currency Contracts:
  • These contracts involve the agreement to buy or sell a specific amount of foreign currency at a predetermined price on a future date.
  • They are traded in the interbank market and are governed by foreign exchange market regulations.
  • Nonequity Options:
  • These are options that are not based on a single stock or a narrow based stock index.
  • Examples include options on stock indexes, commodities, and interest rates.
  • Dealer Equity Options:
  • These are equity options (including options on narrow-based stock indexes) that are held by a dealer in connection with their activities as a dealer.
  • Dealer Securities Futures Contracts:
  • These are futures contracts on a single security or a narrow-based security index that are held by a dealer in connection with their business as a dealer.

Scope and Tax Treatment

The primary characteristic of Section 1256 contracts is the requirement for mark-to-market accounting. This means that at the end of each tax year, all open positions in these contracts must be valued as if they were sold at their fair market value on the last business day of the year. The resulting gains or losses are then recognized for tax purposes.

Key aspects of the tax treatment include:

  • Mark-to-Market Rule:
  • Section 1256 contracts are marked-to-market annually, meaning all open positions are treated as if they were closed at the fair market value on the last business day of the tax year.
  • This can result in both realized and unrealized gains or losses being recognized.
  • 60/40 Rule:
  • Gains or losses from Section 1256 contracts are treated as 60% long-term and 40% short-term, regardless of the actual holding period.
  • This split can be advantageous for tax purposes, especially for high-income taxpayers as long-term capital gains are typically taxed at a lower rate than short-term gains.
  • Reporting Requirements:
  • Gains and losses from Section 1256 contracts must be reported on IRS Form 6781, “Gains and Losses from Section 1256 Contracts and Straddles.”
  • The form must be filed with the taxpayer’s annual tax return.
  • Straddles:
  • Special rules apply to straddles, which involve holding offsetting positions in personal property, including Section 1256 contracts.
  • The tax implications of straddles are complex and often require detailed record-keeping and careful tax planning.

Some Examples of Section 1256 Contracts

  1. Regulated Futures Contracts: Futures contracts on commodities like gold, oil and agricultural products, or financial instruments such as the S&P 500 index futures.

  2. Foreign Currency Contracts: Contracts involving major currencies like the Euro, Japanese Yen or British Pound traded in the forex market.

  3. Nonequity Options: Options on commodities or broad-based stock indexes like the S&P 500 options.

  4. Dealer Equity Options: Options on individual stocks held by dealers for trading purposes.

  5. Dealer Securities Futures Contracts: Futures contracts on individual stocks or narrow-based stock indexes held by securities dealers.

Obligations

The tax obligations for Section 1256 contracts apply to various entities and individuals who engage in trading these specialized financial instruments. 

Individual Traders and Investors

Individual traders and investors who engage in transactions involving Section 1256 contracts are required to fulfill the associated tax obligations. These individuals must:

  1. Gains and Losses: IRS Form 6781 can be used to report gains and losses from Section 1256 contracts. This form must be filed with their annual tax return.

  2. Apply the Mark-to-Market Rule: At the end of each tax year, all open Section 1256 positions must be marked to their market value and the resulting gains or losses must be recognized and reported.

  3. 60/40 Rule: Gains and losses with 60% treated as long-term and 40% as short-term should be calculated, regardless of the holding period.

Partnerships

Partnerships that trade in Section 1256 contracts are also required to comply with these tax regulations. The obligations include:

  1. Filing IRS Form 6781: The partnership must report the gains and losses from these contracts on IRS Form 6781.

  2. Distributing Information: The partnership must provide partners with the necessary information about their share of the gains and losses to report on their individual tax returns.

  3. Annual Mark-to-Market Accounting: Partnerships must mark all open positions to market at the end of each tax year and report the resulting gains or losses.

Corporations

Corporations that include Section 1256 contracts in their investment portfolios must adhere to similar requirements as individual traders and partnerships:

  1. Compliance with Reporting Requirements: Corporations must file IRS Form 6781 to report their gains and losses from Section 1256 contracts.

  2. Mark-to-Market Rule: Like individuals and partnerships, corporations must mark all open positions to their fair market value at the end of the tax year.

  3. Application of the 60/40 Rule: Gains and losses must be calculated using the 60/40 split for tax purposes.

Financial Institutions and Dealers

Financial institutions and dealers that regularly engage in trading Section 1256 contracts have specific obligations due to the volume and nature of their transactions:

  1. Regular Reporting: These entities must ensure that all gains and losses from Section 1256 contracts are accurately reported on IRS Form 6781.

  2. Comprehensive Record-Keeping: Financial institutions and dealers must maintain detailed records of all transactions involving Section 1256 contracts to ensure accurate reporting and compliance.

  3. Adherence to Tax Regulations: They must apply the mark-to-market rule and the 60/40 split to all applicable gains and losses.

Compliance and Filing for Section 1256 Contracts

Complying with tax obligations for Section 1256 contracts involves several steps, including proper reporting, accurate calculation of gains and losses, and adherence to specific rules set forth by the IRS. Here’s a detailed guide on compliance and filing requirements for Section 1256 contracts.

Key Compliance Requirements

  • Annual Mark-to-Market Accounting:
      • Mark-to-Market Rule: All Section 1256 contracts must be marked-to-market at the end of the tax year. This means treating the contracts as if they were sold for their fair market value on the last business day of the year. This requirement ensures that both realized and unrealized gains or losses are recognized for tax purposes.

      • 60/40 Rule: Gains or losses from these contracts are divided into 60% long-term and 40% short-term, regardless of the actual holding period. This rule can provide favorable tax treatment compared to other financial instruments.
  • Form 6781 Filing:
      • Purpose of Form 6781: IRS Form 6781 is used to report gains and losses from Section 1256 contracts and straddles. This form must be included with the taxpayer’s annual tax return.

      • Part I of Form 6781: Used to report gains and losses from Section 1256 contracts.

      • Part II of Form 6781: Used to report gains and losses from straddles, which involve offsetting positions in personal property.

      • Line-by-Line Reporting: Taxpayers must enter each contract and its corresponding gain or loss. This detailed reporting ensures transparency and accuracy in tax filings.
  • Record-Keeping:
      • Detailed Records: It is vital to maintain comprehensive records of all transactions involving Section 1256 contracts including purchase and sale dates, contract details, fair market values at year-end and the resulting gains or losses.

      • Supporting Documents: Brokerage statements, trade confirmations and other documents that support the reported figures should be kept. These records are crucial for verifying the accuracy of the reported gains and losses and for potential audits.
  • Straddles and Special Rules:
    • Straddle Rules: When holding offsetting positions (straddles), specific rules apply to defer the recognition of losses. Taxpayers must identify straddle transactions and report them accordingly on Form 6781, Part II.

    • Wash Sale Rules: Section 1091 of the IRC provides rules on wash sales that may impact Section 1256 contracts. Wash sales occur when a substantially identical security is purchased within 30 days before or after the sale.

Steps for Filing Form 6781

  • Identification of All Section 1256 Contracts:
      • Information should be gathered on all transactions involving regulated futures contracts, foreign currency contracts, nonequity options, dealer equity options and dealer securities futures contracts.
  • Calculation of Gains and Losses:
      • The mark-to-market rule should be applied at the end of the tax year.
      • The gains or losses must be calculated for each contract and apply the 60/40 rule to classify them as 60% long-term and 40% short-term.
  • Complete Form 6781:
      • Part I: The net gain or loss should be entered from Section 1256 contracts. The 60% long-term and 40% short-term gains or losses should be included.
      • Part II: Any straddle positions must be reported and gains and losses must be calculated accordingly.
      • Tax Return: Form 6781 should be included with the annual tax return (Form 1040 for individuals, Form 1065 for partnerships, Form 1120 for corporations).
  • Review and Filing:
    • All entries should be reviewed for accuracy.
    • It should be ensured that all the required forms and schedules are attached.
    • The completed tax return should be filed with the IRS by the due date (typically April 15 for individuals).

Tax Relief for Section 1256 Contracts

Section 1256 contracts which include regulated futures contracts, foreign currency contracts, nonequity options, dealer equity options and dealer securities futures contracts, are subject to specific tax rules under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 1256. While these rules are stringent, there are some forms of tax relief available for taxpayers dealing with these financial instruments. An overview of potential tax relief options and how they can be utilized is listed below.

Net Operating Loss (NOL) Carryback

Taxpayers can use the net operating loss (NOL) carryback provision to offset gains from Section 1256 contracts. This involves carrying back an NOL to previous tax years, which can result in a refund of taxes previously paid. If a taxpayer has a net Section 1256 contracts loss, this loss can also be carried back three years and applied against any Section 1256 gains in those years, potentially generating a tax refund.

  • Form 1045 (Application for Tentative Refund): This form is used to quickly apply for a tax refund resulting from the carryback of a net Section 1256 contracts loss. This process can expedite the receipt of a refund​​.

General Business Credit Carryback

If a net Section 1256 contracts loss results in the reduction or elimination of a general business credit in an earlier year, the unused credit can potentially be carried back one year. This is particularly relevant for businesses that have significant Section 1256 contract trading activities.

  • Form 3800 (General Business Credit): Used to calculate and report the general business credits, including those carried back due to a Section 1256 contracts loss​​.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Considerations

The carryback of an NOL or a net Section 1256 contracts loss may affect the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) calculations. Taxpayers should recompute their AMT liability for the carryback years to ensure accurate tax filings and to potentially reduce the AMT due to the carried-back losses.

  • Form 6251 (Alternative Minimum Tax – Individuals): Used by individuals to calculate the AMT. Estates and trusts use Schedule I (Form 1041).

Carryback of Unused Credits

Taxpayers may also benefit from the carryback of unused credits, such as the foreign tax credit, education credits or retirement savings contributions credit. These credits can be refigured based on the adjusted gross income (AGI) or modified AGI after applying the carryback of Section 1256 contracts losses.

  • Refiguring AGI/MAGI: It should be ensured that any credits dependent on AGI or MAGI are recalculated after the carryback adjustments. This can maximize the credits available in the carryback years​​.

Practical Steps for Claiming Tax Relief

  1. Eligibility Determination: It should be identified whether the taxpayer has incurred a net Section 1256 contracts loss and if the taxpayer qualifies for any carryback provisions.

  2. Necessary Forms: Form 6781 should be completed to report the gains and losses from Section 1256 contracts, and Form 1045 should be used to apply for a tentative refund if carrying back losses.

  3. Recalculation of Credits and AMT: Any affected credits should be recomputed and the AMT for the carryback years using the appropriate forms and worksheets.

  4. Refunds: Completed forms should be submitted along with any required supporting documentation to the IRS to claim refunds or adjustments to prior year tax liabilities.

Pros and Cons of Section 1256 Contracts

Section 1256 contracts, which include regulated futures contracts, foreign currency contracts, nonequity options, dealer equity options and dealer securities futures contracts, come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these can help traders and investors make informed decisions regarding their participation in these financial instruments.

Pros of Section 1256 Contracts

  • 60/40 Tax Treatment:
      • Advantageous Tax Rates: Gains and losses from Section 1256 contracts are taxed with 60% treated as long-term capital gains (subject to lower tax rates) and 40% as short-term capital gains. This blended tax rate can result in significant tax savings, especially for high-income taxpayers.
  • Mark-to-Market Accounting:
      • Simplifies Tax Reporting: The requirement to mark-to-market at the end of each tax year simplifies the process of calculating gains and losses since all positions are treated as if they were closed at their fair market value​.

      • Prevents Deferral of Losses: This rule prevents the deferral of losses, which can be advantageous for tax planning and for offsetting gains in the same tax year.
  • Loss Carrybacks:
      • Potential Tax Refunds: Net losses from Section 1256 contracts can be carried back three years to offset gains in those years, potentially resulting in tax refunds​​.
  • Flexibility:
    • Diverse Instruments: Section 1256 covers a range of financial instruments, providing traders and investors with various options to diversify their portfolios.

Cons of Section 1256 Contracts

  • Complexity in Tax Reporting:
      • Detailed Record-Keeping: The requirement to mark-to-market and the need to report each transaction on IRS Form 6781 can be complex and time-consuming​​.

      • Straddle Rules: Special rules for straddles involving offsetting positions add another layer of complexity to tax reporting​​.
  • Volatility:
      • High Risk: Instruments under Section 1256 such as futures and options can be highly volatile, leading to significant gains or losses​​.

  • Year-End Tax Liability:
      • Immediate Recognition of Gains: The mark-to-market rule requires immediate recognition of gains, which might result in higher tax liabilities in profitable years without providing a way to defer the taxes​.
  • Regulatory Compliance:
      • Strict Regulations: Adhering to the specific regulations governing these contracts can be burdensome, especially for smaller investors or traders who may not have extensive resources​​.
  • Potential for AMT:
    • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): The carryback of losses or gains from Section 1256 contracts can affect or trigger the AMT, adding another layer of tax complexity and potential liability​​.

Conclusion

Section 1256 contracts offer unique tax advantages, such as the beneficial 60/40 tax treatment and the ability to carry back losses for potential refunds. However, these benefits come with significant complexity in terms of tax reporting, regulatory compliance, and the inherent volatility of the instruments covered under this section. Understanding these pros and cons can help traders and investors navigate the complexities of Section 1256 contracts and optimize their tax and investment strategies.

Dimov Tax & CPA Services offers a range of specialized services to manage the complexities of Section 1256 contracts:

  • Tax Planning and Strategy: Developing tax strategies that optimize the benefits of the 60/40 split and other tax provisions related to Section 1256 contracts.

  • Compliance and Reporting: Ensuring accurate and timely filing of Form 6781 and related tax documents.

  • Record Management: Maintaining detailed and organized records of all transactions and valuations.

  • Audit Support: Providing assistance and representation in case of IRS audits related to Section 1256 contracts.

Consultation and Advisory: Offering expert advice on trading strategies, tax implications, and regulatory updates.

Need to speak to an expert?

Call us today at (833) 829-1120, email us at info@dimovtax.com, or fill out the form and we’ll get in touch immediately.

"*" indicates required fields

Name*
✓ Valid number ✕ Invalid number

Award-winning global customer service.

5/5

Dimov Tax is rated 5 stars on all major review platforms including Google, Yelp, Facebook, Angie’s List, Better Business Bureau, TaxBuzz, Thumbtack, Upwork, Bark, and much more.