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Tax Benefits Of Real Estate Investing: Top 6 Breaks And Deductions

Laura Gariepy5-minute read

January 20, 2021

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You know that diversifying your investments is a smart move. Plus, you’ve heard that buying rental properties can produce a valuable, recurring cash flow. But, are you aware that it can also make your financial picture rosier come tax time? Read on to learn about the many tax benefits of real estate investing.

1. Deduct Your Expenses

One of the biggest financial perks of this income stream is the real estate investment tax deductions you’re able to take. You get to deduct expenses directly tied to the operation, management and maintenance of the parcel, such as:

  • Property taxes
  • Property insurance
  • Mortgage interest
  • Property management fees
  • Cost to maintain and repair the building

But, did you know that you can also write off much of what you pay to run your real estate investment business? Qualified business expenses may include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Advertising
  • Office space
  • Business equipment (e.g., computer, stationery, business cards, etc.)
  • Legal and accounting fees
  • Travel

All of these deductions lessen your taxable income, which could save you money when you file your taxes. Let’s say your rental income is $25,000, and your related, qualified expenses come to $8,000. That means the taxable income from your real estate business is $17,000.

Pro tip: Be sure to keep detailed, accurate records and receipts so you can prove the expenses you claimed in case you’re audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

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2. Depreciate Costs Over Time

Depreciation is the incremental loss of an asset’s value, generally due to assumed wear and tear. As a real estate investor that holds income-producing rental property, you can deduct depreciation as an expense on your taxes. That means you’ll lower your taxable income and possibly reduce your tax liability.

You’re allowed to take the depreciation deduction for the entire expected life of a parcel (currently set by the IRS as 27.5 years for residential properties and 39 years for commercial properties). Let’s say you purchase a home you intend to rent out. The value of the building itself (excluding the land it sits on) is $300,000. If you divide that value by the 27.5 year expected life of the dwelling, you can deduct $10,909 in depreciation each year.

Once you sell, though, be prepared to pay the standard income tax rate on the depreciation you’ve claimed. This is known as depreciation recapture, which you can avoid if you pursue other tax strategies, like a 1031 exchange (more on that below).

Pro tip: Ask your accountant about depreciating major improvements you’ve made to your investment properties, such as installing a new roof.

3. Use A Pass-Through Deduction

A pass-through deduction allows you to deduct up to 20% of your qualified business income (QBI) on your personal taxes. When you own rental property as a sole proprietor, via a partnership, or through an LLC or S Corp (known as pass-through entities), the money you collect in rent is considered QBI.

Let’s say you have an LLC that owns an apartment complex. Each year, you receive $30,000 in rental income. By using a pass-through deduction, you can write off up to $6,000 on your personal return. Of course, some rules and regulations must be followed, so please consult with your accountant.

Please note: This perk, along with other provisions in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, is currently set to expire in 2025.

4. Take Advantage Of Capital Gains

A capital gains tax may be assessed when you sell an asset, like a piece of property, for a profit. There are two types to be aware of: short-term and long-term. They each impact your tax situation differently.

Short-Term Capital Gains

When you profit from selling an asset within a year of owning it, you realize a short-term capital gain. While you may not have a choice but to sell, be aware that doing so can have a negative effect on your taxes. That’s because the gain gets counted as regular income.

So, if you earn $100,000 from your day job and sell an investment property for a $100,000 profit, your income essentially doubles for tax purposes. If you file single, that extra income puts you in the next tax bracket (as of 2020), which potentially means a larger tax bill than you expected.

Long-Term Capital Gains

On the other hand, you see a long-term capital gain if you profit from the sale of an asset that you’ve held for a year or longer. If you can wait until the anniversary of your purchase to sell, you’ll get to keep more money in your pocket. That’s because the long-term capital gains tax rate is significantly lower than the tax rate on income.

And, if your income is low enough, you may not have to pay the tax at all. Suppose you and your spouse make a combined $75,000 per year and file a joint tax return. The long-term capital gains tax rate for your income level is 0%. That means you can keep every cent of the profit you get when selling a property.

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5. Defer Taxes With Incentive Programs

Sometimes, the government develops a special tax code to incentivize investors. Let’s review the 1031 exchange and opportunity zones, two major real estate tax benefits.

1031 Exchange

1031 exchanges exist because the government wants to reward people who reinvest their real estate profits into new deals. As long as the new property you buy is of equal or greater value than the one you sell, the program lets you swap them for tax purposes. That means you can defer paying the capital gains tax on the sale of the first property.

You can use 1031 exchanges indefinitely. But, when you want to cash out your profits, you’ll have to pay any tax owed. There are a few different forms of the program available based on the timing of your purchase and sale transactions. Since the program can be complicated to navigate and take full advantage of, it’s wise to consult with a qualified financial professional.

Opportunity Zones

Designated by the US Department of Treasury, opportunity zones are low-income or disadvantaged tracts of land. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act encourages investors to put their money into developing and economically stimulating these communities by offering tax breaks. Alongside other investors, you place your unrealized capital gains into a Qualified Opportunity Fund. Money from that fund goes toward improving the selected area.

If you play by the rules of the program, you can enjoy the following benefits:

  • Defer paying capital gains until 2026 (or until you sell your stake in the fund).
  • Grow your capital gains by 10% if you hold the fund for 5 years; 15% for 7 years.
  • Avoid paying capital gains entirely if you remain invested in the fund for 10+ years.

6. Be Self-Employed Without The FICA Tax

When you’re self-employed, you generally need to pay both the employer and employee portion of the FICA tax (covering Social Security and Medicare). However, if you own rental property, the money you receive isn’t classified as earned income. That means you’re eligible for one of the least talked about real estate tax breaks: Avoiding the FICA tax, also known as the payroll tax.

Here’s the math in action:

Let’s pretend you own a freelance writing business that generates $50,000 in revenue. Since that money is considered earned income, you’re on the hook for the payroll tax. At a 15.3% tax rate, you’d have to fork over $7,650. But, as a rental property owner, you get to keep that cash in the bank.

Make Your Tax Breaks Count

The tax benefits of real estate investing are undeniable, making it an especially profitable investment. We encourage you to consider real estate as an investment when you’re trying to decide if you should buy a house. But, before you make any commitments, be sure to speak with your accountant and thoroughly inspect and research any property you’re seriously thinking about purchasing.

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Laura Gariepy

Laura Gariepy is the Owner of Every Day by the Lake, LLC, a freelance written content creation company that helps busy business owners stay top of mind with their target audience. She is also a coach to aspiring freelancers and has recently launched a signature private coaching program called Before You Go Freelance. When not writing or coaching, Laura loves to travel and spend time by the lake with her family.