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  • Writer's pictureDamon C Collins, MBA, AAMS®, CFEI®

Cost Basis vs. Performance. What's The Difference?

The point of investing money is to make more money. Most investors will look at the cost basis (Realized /Unrealized gains) of their portfolio or investment to determine if the investment is making money and dont look at the performance of the investment. This sometimes causes DIY investors to sell sound investments because they do not fully understand the difference between cost basis and performance. Cost basis and performance are two critical concepts in the world of investments, and they provide different perspectives on the financial aspects of an investment.

What is the Cost Basis?

An investment's cost basis is essentially an asset's original value for tax purposes. It includes the initial purchase price of the investment plus any additional costs such as commissions, fees, and other expenses related to acquiring the investment. Cost basis won't tell you how much money you've made, but it will give you the information you need to file your taxes.

Significance: The cost basis is crucial for calculating capital gains or losses when you sell the investment. The capital gain or loss is determined by subtracting the cost basis from the selling price. The more significant the difference between the cost basis and the sale price (if the asset has appreciated), the larger the tax bill will be, monetarily.

Consider this hypothetical example for cost basis: 1

1 Hypothical used by

What is Performance:

Investment performance refers to the overall return on an investment over a specific period. It considers not only the initial cost but also the changes in the investment's value over time, including dividends, interest, and capital gains or losses. For example, when we look at the hypothetical above, we see that mutual fund (B) had no market gain but received $1,000 in dividends. To the average investor, it may seem like mutual fund (B) is not a good investment because it didn't gain in value. However, they are not considering the dividend payments received that can be reinvested to purchase more shares, which can create higher dividend payments due to having more shares of the funds in the future.

Significance: Performance is a broader measure of how well an investment has done. It gives you insights into the success or failure of an investment strategy. Performance can be expressed as a percentage return or an absolute dollar amount. Several factors influence investment performance, including market conditions, economic trends, investment strategies, portfolio management, and investor behavior.

Key Differences:

1. Focus:

  • Cost Basis: Primarily concerned with the original cost of the investment and associated expenses.

  • Performance: Focuses on the overall return generated by the investment, including changes in value over time.

2. Calculation:

  • Cost Basis: Calculated by adding the purchase price and acquisition costs.

  • Performance: Calculated by considering changes in value, dividends, and interest earned.

3. Use:

  • Cost Basis: Used for tax purposes, especially in determining capital gains or losses when selling an investment.

  • Performance: Used to evaluate the success of an investment strategy and compare the performance of different investments.

4. Time Frame:

  • Cost Basis: Typically, a static figure represents the original investment cost.

  • Performance: Reflects changes over a specific period, providing a dynamic view of investment success.

In summary, while cost basis is crucial for tax-related calculations, performance provides a more comprehensive view of how well an investment has performed over time, including changes in value and income generated. Both concepts are important for investors, each serving a distinct purpose in evaluating and managing investment portfolios.


The information herein is intended for educational purposes only and is not exhaustive. Diversification or any strategy that may be discussed does not guarantee against investment losses but is intended to help manage risk and return. If applicable, historical discussions or opinions are not predictive of future events. The content is presented in good faith and has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable. The content is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Please consult a legal, tax, or financial professional for information specific to your situation.

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