CFD taxes are often overlooked, especially by newcomers to the industry, but it is an important aspect of trading, especially given the ever-increasing popularity of CFDs as an instrument. Taxation policies vary across the world, with some jurisdictions providing tax exemptions, while some class it as fully taxable income and others have banned their trade altogether. This article will review the basics of CFDs before discussing how they are taxed in some of the major financial jurisdictions.
Note, this article should not be construed as professional tax advice. Consult a local tax advisor for guidance in your jurisdiction.
What are CFDs?
Before you can learn about CFD taxes, it is important to understand CFDs themselves. A CFD, or contract for difference, is a financial instrument that allows traders to speculate on the price movement of an underlying asset over a length of time. CFDs can be taken out on a huge range of financial markets and assets, with profits and losses reflecting the price movements of their underlying assets.
CFDs are derivative assets, which means that traders are not purchasing the underlying asset, they are simply speculating on the direction of its price movement.
Essentially a contract between an investor and broker for one party to pay or receive the difference in the price of an asset between the time of entrance and exit of the position, CFDs can be used to trade on both increasing and decreasing asset values by way of going ‘long’ or going ‘short’.
The derivative nature of CFDs removes many of the barriers present with spot trading.
For example, you do not have to physically take ownership of the asset you are trading, such as a few hundred barrels of oil.
Moreover, you can use CFDs with leverage, which lets you borrow some of a trade’s stake from the broker to open a position larger than you normally would (note this increases both potential profit and loss).
This can provide exposure to expensive assets you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, as well as facilitating magnified trade size. However, the risk of loss is also amplified and margin trading can result in the loss of more capital than was initially staked, or even present in your trading account.
While CFD trading shares many of the same characteristics as spot trading, the ability to trade on margin and their speculative nature has implications on CFD taxes that require a closer look.
CFD Taxes In The UK
In the UK, CFD trading taxes are collected by HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs). When considering UK trading taxes, there are two main types to be aware of – stamp duty reserve tax (SDRT) and capital gains tax (CGT). Stamp duty is applied to the purchase of share assets, usually at 0.5%. Capital Gains Tax relates to any profits from the disposal of shares or other financial instruments.
CFD taxes do not include stamp duty reserve tax because the contracts are derivatives, rather than securities. This means that the investor does not physically purchase and take ownership of company shares, they simple speculate upon its price movements. This can make CFD trading quite attractive over spot stocks thanks to their tax freedoms.
Sadly, this does not mean CFD trading is tax-free – capital gains tax is still applied to any gains made from CFD trading. For the 2020/21 tax year, HMRC has established a Capital Gains tax-free allowance of £12,300 (£6,150 for trusts), so investors will only be taxed on their overall gains above the allowance amount. CFD trading losses can also be carried over into subsequent tax years, allowing you to offset against future profits and potentially reducing your Capital Gains Tax bill.
CFD Taxes In Australia
CFD taxes in Australia fall under the jurisdiction of the ATO, the Australian Taxation Office. Unlike the UK, for instance, where the taxation of CFDs is well-established and clear cut, ATO rules are a little more open to interpretation. The ATO’s TR 2005/15 ruling forms the basis for the tax treatment of CFDs in Australia. Although a complex ruling, tax treatment depends on whether your trading of CFDs is of the following nature:
- Trading as an individual investor
- Trading as a business
Individual investors who trade CFDs intending to make a profit fall within income tax regulations, with gains viewed as assessable income and losses as an allowable deduction. However, in some rare cases, CFDs can be viewed by the ATO as having a ‘non-profit-making purpose’. In this case, CFD taxes are considered liable for capital gains tax.
Trading As A Business
Where CFDs are traded as part of commercial or business transactions, they fall under income tax, with any gains considered as assessable income and any losses as an allowable deduction.
When deciding whether CFD taxes should be for trading ‘as a business’, the ATO will assess your approach against the following criteria:
- Organisation: Are you a registered business? Do you keep rigorous and up-to-date records of trading activities?
- Motivation: Are you trading with the express purpose of making a profit, rather than merely speculating on the markets?
- Behaviour: How frequently do you carry out trades, in what volume and of what size? How does this compare to other commercial CFD traders?
- Capital: How much capital is invested in your CFD trading activities? Is any capital set aside for other purposes?
- Skill: Can you demonstrate skill and discretion is being used in trades, rather than simply gambling on asset price movements?
If your trading falls into this category, it allows you to deduct any costs and expenses during the tax year against profits, as well as deducting CFD trading losses against other assessable income.
CFD Trading In Canada
CFD taxes in Canada sit within the remit of the CRA, the Canada Revenue Agency. Although CFD-specific tax guidance can be difficult to source in Canada given that instrument-specific rules are not provided by the CRA, trading tax regulations differ for investors and regular business traders.
Business or day traders – those who trade with high frequency, in high volume, on speculative positions and typically close positions on the same day or in short timeframes – have their profits taxed as business income at their marginal rate. Despite being 100% taxable, this has the benefit of offsetting trading losses against other sources of income, as well as being able to claim expenses against income.
However, infrequent or longer-term trading activity will likely mean your investment profits – if there are any – are viewed as capital gains. In Canada, capital gains are taxed at a clearly advantageous 50% of your marginal tax rate, with capital losses able to be offset against any other gains.
Each individual’s approach to CFD trading will help determine whether profits or losses are taxable under assessable income or capital gains. How you include CFD trading gains or losses in your tax return can be open to interpretation, so contact the CRA or seek professional tax advice from an accountant ahead of making decisions on CFD taxes.
For further clarification on trading taxes in Canada, please see our Canada taxes page.
CFD Trading In The USA
CFD trading is currently illegal in the US, as per restrictions introduced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The ruling applies to both US citizens and residents and is enforceable with both domestic and overseas brokerages.
However, whilst US citizens and residents are barred from trading CFDs, US-based brokers are free to offer CFDs to residents and citizens of other countries where CFD trading is perfectly legal – for example the UK, Canada, Australia and Singapore.
Final Word On CFD Taxes
CFDs and taxes can often be murky waters to navigate through, both as a casual investor and a professional trader. Taxes on CFD trading differ by jurisdiction, with some countries like the UK classifying any potential CFD trading profits as capital gains, whereas others such as Australia largely viewing any CFD profits as assessable income.
It is important to stress that failing to meet tax obligations can have serious consequences with financial and criminal penalties often attached. So, whilst CFD taxes may not be the most thrilling topic, they must be well understood and considered.
This page is not trying to offer tax advice, it merely aims to decipher the multitude of regional regulations and approaches to CFD taxes that currently exist. Before you file any tax returns – CFD or otherwise – please obtain professional guidance from an accountant or advisor.
Is CFD Trading Tax-Free?
CFD trading is generally not tax-free, though there are some jurisdictions with tax exemptions – in the UK, for instance, CFDs do not pay stamp duty. However, in most territories, CFDs are liable for either capital gains tax (CGT) or income tax. On rare occasions, CFD taxes can be zero as the trading can be considered a form of gambling and therefore free from taxation, but this is unlikely to be the case for almost all traders. Regulations will vary by jurisdiction.
Is CFD Trading Legal?
CFD trading is illegal in a small number of countries, such as the US, Belgium and Hong Kong. However, in many other countries, like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore, CFD trading is a perfectly legal and attractive instrument for many traders. Always aim to use a popular, regulated, and trusted broker when trading CFDs.
In The UK, Are CFDs Taxed In The Same Way As Stocks And Shares?
CFDs are derivative assets, which means traders do not take ownership of the underlying asset, unlike with spot stocks and other securities. Therefore, CFD taxes do not include the stamp duty present for spots, though capital gains tax is still charged at the same rate.
Where Can I Learn More About CFD Trading?
CFDs are popular instruments for many retail day traders, though the opportunity for leverage makes CFD trading a risky endeavour. It is recommended to take some time to inform yourself of the markets, assets and associated risks, as well as carefully considering a strategy, before embarking on your journey. Check out our CFD trading guide before getting started.
Which Assets Can I Trade As CFDs?
CFDs can cover thousands of underlying assets and markets, such as stocks and shares, ETFs, bonds, forex, indices, cryptocurrencies and commodities. In fact, the choice of CFD asset classes is continually growing as more brokers come to the market. However, do your research to make sure they can be trusted!