Investors that struck gold last year in one of the physically backed exchange traded funds have discovered a capital gains headache at tax time if bullion-backed ETFs are held in a taxable account. Investors considering such a commodity investment at this time may want to read on before doing so.

“We’ve seen a lot of gold ETFs this year, and we’re pulling out the last few hairs we have over them,” said Bill Fleming, a managing director in the personal financial services practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a Reuters report. “A lot of ETFs have quarterly or monthly dispositions to pay for expenses. All of these are small dollar amounts, but you still have to figure out what your cost basis is.” [Commodity ETFs’ Tax Considerations]

Gold, silver and other metals are treated as collectibles by the Internal Revenue Service, meaning they are taxed at the special rate of 28% for the long term. Short-term gains are taxed at the same rate as other short-term capital gains.

The taxation for commodities is complex, and the tax hit is higher because the investor is taxed on any gains as well as the physical holding, which is higher. Amy Feldman for Reuters reports that the tax loopholes also applies to ETFs if they invest in physical holdings, such as bullion. [ETFs During the Tax Season: What to Expect]

The largest gold ETF,  SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD), is an example. If an investor made a long-term gain of $10,000 on a basic stock ETF and have no offsetting losses, you would pay $1,500 in federal taxes. The same gain in a gold bullion ETF would be $2,800, Reuters points out. [ETF Tips as the Tax Deadline Looms]

Here are a few of the realities of commodity ETF investing and taxes:

  • These ETFs also may need to sell some of their holdings to pay operating expenses. If that happens, even though shareholders receive no distributions, they will still be taxed on any gains realized when that bullion got sold, and it will also be taxed at that special collectibles rate.
  • As with any other taxable gain, you will need to determine your cost basis – the starting price in the investment for tax purposes – on each of those sales. For these funds, you will receive 1099 forms that report your sales for tax purposes.
  • This year there is an added paperwork headache for the preparer–the new Form 8949, used to report capital gains and losses on your tax return to account for the new cost-basis rules, has no 28 % column. You will still need to report those gains, figuring them on the 28 % worksheet. All capital gains and losses information ultimately goes on Schedule D.

It is important to consult a professional tax preparer to discuss the realities of how physical ETFs can impact a specific tax situation.

Tisha Guerrero contributed to this article.

Full disclosure: Tom Lydon’s clients own GLD.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.