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Section 1256 Contracts – What You Should Know About Them

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If you are a trader of index options, you should know the benefits of Section 1256 contracts. These are tax-advantaged contracts that can provide you with substantial savings in terms of taxes owed. This blog post will explain what Section 1256 contracts are, why they have tax advantages over other equity options, and how you can use them to your advantage as a trader. 

What Are Section 1256 Contracts? 

Section 1256 contracts are traded on regulated exchanges such as the CBOE or the NYSE. These contracts include stock indices and futures such as foreign currencies, commodities, and interest rates. Equity options contracts require traders to pay short-term capital gains tax on profits realized from holdings held for one year or less.

Section 1256 contracts differ from equity options contracts because they allow traders to receive preferential long-term capital gains treatment for trades held for more than a year. 

IRS Form 6781

Form 6781 is an IRS tax form that reports capital gains and losses resulting from futures, futures options, and index options trading activities. This form allows futures and Section 1256 contract traders to list out the profits and losses made over the course of the year, indicating which were short-term investments, meaning they were held for less than a year, and which were long-term investments. This information is then used to determine the total taxable gain or loss that must be reported to the IRS.


Mark-to-market (MTM) is an accounting practice used for futures, futures options and index options traders in Section 1256 contracts. It involves daily calculating and reporting positions valued at market prices defined by contract terms. This allows futures and index traders to consider any changes in value from the previous day, thus providing consistent reporting and transparency for their positions.

The MTM process enables indexes to remain up-to-date and provides index option traders with an accurate indication of the changing value of their portfolios. In addition, it helps index traders to manage their positions more effectively and make informed decisions about their investments.

Tax Advantages of Section 1256 Contracts

The primary benefit of trading these types of contracts is their tax advantages compared to other equity investments. With these contracts, traders may deduct 60% of their losses against ordinary income (up to $3,000 per year). Any gains realized from holding these contracts for one year or longer are taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate instead of the higher short-term capital gains rate. This means that traders who purchase and hold these types of contracts for more than a year can save substantially on taxes due when compared to other equity investments. 

How To Use Section 1256 Contracts To Your Advantage 

One way to take advantage of these tax advantages is by spreading out when you purchase and sell your positions to maximize your profits while minimizing your due taxes. For example, if you purchase an index option contract in June and plan on selling it in December, consider selling half in October and then the remaining half in December.

This way, only half your gain is taxed at the short-term rate while the other half is taxed at the long-term rate (assuming both halves were held for more than one year). By doing this, you can significantly reduce your total taxes due compared to what would have been paid had all your profits been taxed at short-term rates.

Carryback Rules for Section 1256 Contracts

Index options traders should know carryback rules that apply to Section 1256 contracts. These rules can greatly impact how index options traders report their trading activity. Carryback allowances may provide index options traders with the ability to net off their capital gains, reducing their amount owed in taxes.

Further, index options traders could also potentially establish a net operating loss if they had losses in prior years. While understanding and taking advantage of these carryback rules can yield significant tax benefits, it is important for index options traders to familiarize themselves with any related regulations and consult a qualified professional before making any tax decisions.

Note: There is a three-year carryback period, and unused amounts are then carried forward. It’s the only time traders can carry back a tax loss, and it’s only against gains that apply to Section 1256 contracts.

Bottom Line   

Understanding some basics about Section 1256 options can help index option traders maximize their returns while minimizing their taxes due. These types of contracts offer significant tax advantages over other equity investments since they enable investors to receive preferential long-term capital gains treatment even if they hold them for less than one year.

When used properly, these types of investments can provide substantial savings with regards to taxes owed, which will ultimately result in increased returns for investors. Those looking to maximize their returns while minimizing their taxes due on index option trades should consider investing in Section 1256 contracts as a viable alternative investment vehicle.

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