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Cost Basis


Cost basis is a financial term that refers to the original value or purchase price of an asset or investment for tax purposes. It includes the purchase price plus any other costs associated with acquiring the asset, such as commissions and fees. The cost basis is used to calculate capital gains or losses when the asset is sold, which impacts the amount of tax an investor must pay on such gains.


The phonetics of the keyword “Cost Basis” is: /kɑːst ˈbeɪsɪs/

Key Takeaways

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  1. Cost Basis Definition: Cost basis refers to the original value or purchase price of an asset or investment for tax purposes. The cost basis is calculated by adding the purchase price and other expenses related to the acquisition like commissions, and recording fees. It’s used to determine the capital gains tax which is the difference between the cost basis and the sale price of the asset.
  2. Lowering Your Tax Bill: By understanding how cost basis works, you may be able to control the amount of taxable income you report when you sell an investment. If you’ve held the asset for longer than a year before selling, you are likely to pay lower taxes on your capital gains.
  3. Implications of Inherited or Gifted Assets: For inherited assets, the cost basis is usually the fair market value at the time of the benefactor’s death, not the original purchase price. For gifted assets, the receiver usually takes on the cost basis of the giver, unless the fair market value at the time of gifting is lower than the cost basis.



Cost basis is an important term in business and finance because it refers to the original value of an asset for tax purposes, usually the purchase price, adjusted for stock splits, dividends, and return of capital distributions. This value is used to determine the capital gain, which is equal to the difference between the asset’s cost basis and the current market value. Capital gain is an important component as it decides the tax implications when the asset is sold. The lower the cost basis, the higher the capital gain, leading to higher taxes. Hence, understanding and accurately calculating a cost basis can help in efficient tax planning and compliance.


The purpose of Cost Basis in finance and business is to determine the original cost of an asset for tax purposes. This concept is a critical element in calculating the gains or losses on an investment when it’s sold or transferred, which in turn affects the amount of taxes owed. Cost Basis is most commonly used when calculating capital gains taxes. For instance, if you buy a share at $10 and sell it at $15, your cost basis is $10, and the taxable gain is $5.Cost Basis is not only used by individuals, but also by businesses for calculating depreciation of an asset, which frequently includes the purchase price and any additional costs necessary to prepare the asset for use. For tangible assets like machinery or real estate, cost basis may include shipping fees, installation costs, or other expenditures related to making the asset operational. By understanding the original cost of an asset, a business can accurately schedule depreciation, helping to balance the business’s income with its expenses for more accurate financial reporting and tax liability calculation.


1. Stock Investments: If an individual purchased 500 shares of ABC Company at $20 each, their cost basis would be $10,000. This is the initial investment that will be compared to the sale price to calculate any potential gain or loss. For example, if the individual later sells the stocks for $25 each or a total of $12,500, the profit or capital gain from this investment would be calculated by subtracting the cost basis ($10,000) from the sales proceeds ($12,500), which equals $2,500.2. Real Estate Property: If someone buys a house for $300,000 and then spends another $100,000 on renovating and improving it before selling for $500,000, the cost basis in the house is $400,000 ($300,000 purchase price + $100,000 improvements). Therefore, their actual capital gain for tax purposes would be $100,000 ($500,000 sale price – $400,000 cost basis).3. Collectibles: If a collector buys art for an initial price of $5,000 and subsequently spends another $500 for professional restoration or conservation of the artwork, her cost basis would be $5,500. If she later sells the artwork for $7,500, her taxable gain would be calculated by subtracting the cost basis from the sales price, or $7,500 – $5,500 = $2,000. This $2,000 would be the taxable capital gain.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Cost Basis?

Cost Basis is the original value of an asset for tax purposes, usually the purchase price, adjusted for stock splits, dividends, and return of capital distributions.

Why is Cost Basis important?

Cost Basis is used to calculate capital gains and losses for tax purposes when the asset is sold.

How is Cost Basis calculated?

The cost basis of an asset is typically the amount you paid for it, including any fees or commissions. In cases of inheritance or gift, the cost basis might be the fair market value of the asset at the time it was received.

Can the Cost Basis of an asset change?

Yes, it can be adjusted for events like stock splits, dividends, and return of capital distributions.

If I inherited the assets, how would the cost basis be determined?

For inherited assets, the cost basis is usually the fair market value of the asset at the time of the previous owner’s death.

How does Cost Basis affect my tax liability?

The cost basis is subtracted from the sale price of the asset to determine the capital gain or loss, which affects the amount of tax you owe.

What is the difference between Cost Basis and Adjusted Cost Basis?

The cost basis refers to the initial price of an investment, while the adjusted cost basis takes into account any additional costs or changes to the investment. These adjustments can include additional purchases, fees, or corporate actions like dividends, stock splits, or return of capital.

How do I track my Cost Basis?

Most brokerages keep track of the cost basis for you. If not, it’s a good practice to keep a record of your transaction receipts.

Is Cost Basis applicable only to stocks?

No, cost basis is applicable to any asset you purchase and sell, ranging from stocks to real estate.

What if I don’t know the original cost basis of my asset?

If you don’t know the original cost basis, you may need to seek help from a tax professional or do your best to research and simulate the historical price of the asset at the purchase date.

Related Finance Terms

  • Capital Gains
  • Depreciation
  • Asset Acquisition
  • Investment Tax
  • Adjusted Basis

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