You may have seen the recent H&R Block commercials that try to illustrate how much money is left on the table when people do their own taxes.  They show a man placing $500 in every seat in every football stadium in America, and stacks and stacks of dollars on an aircraft carrier that amount to a billion dollars.

A billion dollars is a lot of money.

But I don’t want to talk about a billion dollars.  I want to talk about $48 billion dollars.

That’s how much investors paid in capital gains taxes in 2013.

Most investors are familiar with the idea that they’re taxed on what they earn: If you buy a stock and sell it at a higher price, the difference is usually subject to a capital gains tax.  But what surprises a lot of people is that it’s possible to owe capital gains taxes even if you didn’t sell your fund at a gain during the year.  Why?  Mutual funds and ETFs also buy and sell securities during the year, and they can incur gains, too.

Funds are required to pass those gains on to you by December 31 every year, and those distributions are taxable.

All those taxes add up… to about $48 billion, assuming the highest federal tax bracket.*

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