Rebalancing your portfolio can trigger tax bills

Rebalancing a portfolio inside an IRA, 401(k) or other tax-deferred account won't trigger a tax bill.
Rebalancing a portfolio inside an IRA, 401(k) or other tax-deferred account won’t trigger a tax bill.
(Rafe Swan / Getty Images/Cultura RF)

Dear Liz: Is there a tax aspect to rebalancing your portfolio? You’ve mentioned the importance of rebalancing regularly to reduce risk.

Answer: Rebalancing is basically the process of adjusting your portfolio back to a target asset allocation, or mix of stocks, bonds and cash. When stocks have been climbing, you can wind up with too high an exposure to the stock market, which means any downturn can hurt you disproportionately.

There definitely can be tax consequences to rebalancing, depending on whether the money is invested in retirement plans.


Rebalancing inside an IRA, 401(k) or other tax-deferred account won’t trigger a tax bill. Rebalancing in a regular account could. Investments held longer than a year may qualify for lower capital gains tax rates, but those held less than a year are typically taxed at regular income tax rates when they’re sold.

Tax experts often recommend selling some losers to offset winners’ gains, and “robo advisor” services that invest according to computer algorithms may offer automated “tax loss harvesting” to reduce tax bills.

Feedback on a wedding conundrum

Dear Liz: You recently answered a writer whose fiancee was facing medical debts and other financial concerns. I was surprised you didn’t address the expected cost of their wedding, which the writer said was $5,600. Although that seems quite modest compared with the average wedding these days, it’s still $5,600 that could go to other expenses.

My husband and I were poor, recent college grads when we married in 1985. We decided to see the judge, and we spent a three-day honeymoon weekend at a nearby beach hotel. Total cost was less than $350, including a new dress, a bouquet for me and a lapel flower for him. Our parents took us all out for a nice dinner with siblings and each of our best friends (best man and maid of honor).

Years later, when debts had been paid, we had a big party for our 10th anniversary. We made it almost to 30 years when I lost him to illness. It really comes down to whether you want a marriage or a wedding. I don’t regret our own choice.

Answer: Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Reliable statistics about how much people spend on weddings are hard to find, although the “averages” of $30,000 or more promoted by the wedding industry are probably inflated.


How much to spend is a personal choice, but weddings should be paid for in cash and with savings — not debt. When people already have significant debt, as this couple did, they would be smart to either postpone their celebration or scale it back to what they can afford to pay out of pocket.

Dear Liz: I’m hoping a portion of your answer was edited out when you answered the question about medical debt complicating someone’s wedding plans. Missing in your response is that modern couples pay equally for their own weddings.

Frankly, if he is fearful that he will have to make any financial contribution to his own wedding rather than have his future bride shoulder the entire burden, she should run screaming. She deserves a true partner, one who is equally invested, not one who is so selfish that he will let her deal on her own with the bad luck life throws at her and make her pay for their wedding. This is the kind of guy who will leave her and their child if they happen to have a medically fragile or disabled child because of the expenses.

Your first task should have been to point out that he should be paying half the wedding costs, and perhaps that $5,600 is quite reasonable. He sounds like he won’t be there “for better or for worse” but rather only when it doesn’t cause him any slight hardship or inconvenience.

Answer: People do make certain assumptions about many situations that often ought to be examined. In this case, you assumed that the letter writer wasn’t willing to shoulder any of the wedding costs, when that was not indicated. The letter writer was concerned about paying all the costs for the wedding.

You also assumed the letter writer was male, when that wasn’t indicated either.

People often do have different expectations about what marital finances should look like and who should pay for what. Those are matters that married people must work out for themselves.


Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at Distributed by No More Red Inc.