Tax Holding Periods and Leap Year

By Barbara Baksa. Leap year can make things complicated. For example, if you use a daily accrual rate for some purpose related to stock compensation, such as calculating a pro-rata payout, a tax allocation for a mobile employee, or expense accruals, you have to remember to add a day to your calculation once every four years.  Personally, I think it would be easier if we handled leap year the same way we handle the transition from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time: everyone just set their calendar back 24 hours. Rather than doing this on the last day of February, I think it would be best to do it on the last Sunday in February, so that the “fall back” always occurs on a weekend.

In a slightly belated celebration of Leap Day, I have a few tidbits related to leap years and tax holding periods.

Businessman jumping outdoors

If a holding period for tax purposes spans February 29, this adds an extra day to the holding period.  For example, if a taxpayer buys stock on January 15, 2015, the stock must be held for 365 days, through January 15, 2016 for the sale to qualify for long-term capital gains treatment.  But if stock is purchased a year later, on January 15, 2016, the stock has to be held for 366 days, until January 15, 2017, to qualify for long-term capital gains treatment.  The same concept applies in the case of the statutory ISO and ESPP holding periods–see my blog entry “Leap Year and ISOs,” (June 23, 2009).

Even trickier, if stock is purchased on February 28 of the year prior to a leap year, it still has to be held until March 1 of the following year for the sale to qualify for capital gains treatment.  This is because the IRS treats the holding period as starting on the day after the purchase.  Stock purchased on February 28 in a non-leap year has a holding period that starts on March 1, which means that even with the extra day in February in the year after the purchase, the stock still has to be held until March 1.  See the Fairmark Press article, “Capital Gains and Leap Year,” February 26, 2008.

Ditto if stock is purchased on either February 28 or February 29 of a leap year.  In the case of stock purchased on February 28, the holding period will start on February 29. But there won’t be a February 29 in the following year, so the taxpayer will have to hold the stock until March 1.  And if stock is purchased on February 29, the holding period starts on March 1. Interesting how none of these rules seem to work in the taxpayer’s favor.

The moral of the story: if long-term capital gains treatment is important to you, it’s not a bad idea to give yourself an extra day just to be safe–especially if there’s a leap year involved.


*This article was originally posted on the NASPP blog.


Barbara BaksaBarbara Baksa, CEP, is the Executive Director of the NASPP, holding that position since 2005. The NASPP is a leading membership association devoted to meeting the needs of stock plan professionals. There are nearly 6,000 members whose responsibilities relate, directly or indirectly, to stock plan design and administration, including compensation and human resources professionals, stock plan administrators, securities and tax attorneys, accountants, compensation consultants, corporate secretaries, transfer agents, stock brokers, and software vendors.


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