Taxes aren't the most exciting aspect of real estate investing, but are an area that can inflict more pain than failing the mandatory gap jump while tearing downhill. (As we always say, adventure belongs on the trail, not investing.)
As a real estate investor, it’s far more fun to focus on great returns and upgrading your lifestyle, but you must be sure to not overlook taxes completely.
As a passive investor in a real estate syndication, your sponsor team will guide you through tax season and help you ensure you’re getting the tax benefits you deserve. The beauty of investing in real estate is that your investments lower your tax obligation rather than increase it, unlike some other investment vehicles, such as mutual funds and stocks.
Any time you’re investing your hard-earned money, you should do your due diligence to gain a working knowledge about how you may be taxed as a result of your investment and explore the best strategies to decrease your tax bill.
Keep reading for an overview of the best tax strategies and to learn how to maximize the tax advantages available to you as a real estate syndication investor.
Deciding On Your Entity Election
Oftentimes, real estate investors ask how setting up their entity will change the amount of deductions they're allowed to take on their taxes. Allowable deductions don’t change whether you’re investing with your personal name and social security number, whether you have a single-member LLC, or if you have a multi-member LLC or corporation. The tax deductions are the same and include all business-related expenses.
As a real estate investor, it’s wise to avoid electing C-corporations to set up your real estate investing business. With a C-corporation, all your earnings can be taxed more than once. To simplify things as you’re just starting out, we recommend forming a single-member LLC. Most real estate syndications are formed as multi-member LLCs and are taxed as partnerships.
Keep in mind that in order to receive the benefit of asset protection, you need to keep your personal and business assets separate. You should have separate business and personal accounts and be sure not to intermingle the funds. Maintaining separate accounts allows you to protect the integrity of your business entity.
During the startup phase of your business, it should be noted that any costs you incur, even before electing your entity, are tax-deductible. These startup expenses include, but aren't limited to, legal fees, research, travel to look for and tour properties, and other professional fees.
Taxes And Real Estate Syndications
Real estate syndications are typically set up as limited liability companies (LLC) and taxed as a partnership. The lead syndicator, or sponsor, is typically in the role of the general partner and the investors are the limited partners.
The real estate syndication itself is not taxed. It's a pass-through entity, meaning that the items of income and expenses, as well as the gains and losses that occur at the syndication level are passed on to the limited partners. There will be separately stated items on the K-1 that each syndication member will be liable for and taxed on accordingly.
The items reported on the K-1 and your cash distributions are different. The cash distributions you receive as returns on your investment are not subject to tax, to the extent of your tax basis in the syndication. Simply put, your tax basis is your initial capital investment into the real estate syndication deal, so maybe $50,000, plus any current year contributions and pass-through income, minus any losses and expenses. Expect the tax basis to go up and down every year. As long as you maintain a positive tax basis, any cash distributions are tax-free. Any excess cash distributions you receive will be taxed as dividends.
The lead syndicators have flexibility in how they choose to allocate the various items. The real estate syndication operating agreement can be written to reflect the various allocations, depending on the personal needs of the partners.
Taxes And Rental Real Estate
As a limited partner in a syndication, you’ll be earning passive income, and passive losses are different from earned income, or W-2 income. Passive income is considered the same way as interest dividends and, generally speaking, passive losses can be offset by passive income.
There is a special allowance for rental losses. If your adjusted gross income as a married couple is $150,000 or less, you can take up to $25,000 of these passive losses. However, if your adjusted gross income is higher, you cannot take any rental, passive losses against earned income, unless you’re a real estate professional. Real estate professionals have a special designation that allows them to take more passive losses against their earned income since the majority of their earned income is also from real estate investments.
It’s common for real estate investors to qualify for this designation. There are three parameters that must be met in order to qualify for this designation. The first is that 51% of all the investor’s working time and services must be in real estate-related activity. Also in one calendar year, the investor has to do more than 750 hours in a rental real estate trader business. Third, the real estate professional has to materially participate in their business’s real estate activities. A real estate trader business can include rental property management, syndication deal sourcing, brokering properties, etc.
Be sure to discuss your personal situation with a CPA. Changes can happen quickly and what you qualify for one year, may be different the next year. Small changes can impact you greatly at tax time, so always seek professional advice from your CPA or tax advisor.
The Power Of Depreciation And Cost Segregation
Wear and tear on a property over time is expected and you’re allowed to write off the depreciated value of an asset over time. You’re allowed to write off the value of residential rental assets over 27.5 years and commercial properties can be written off for 39 years.
Depreciation affects you, as the investor, because when you earn cash-on-cash returns, the tax on the amount you receive is deferred. This means you aren’t required to pay taxes on the earnings from the asset until it’s sold. You also have the option to elect bonus depreciation, if you choose, which can even further maximize your tax benefit.
Cost segregation amps up the tax advantages even further. In typical real estate syndications, the property is held for around five years. With straight-line depreciation, properties held for many years receive the most benefit. By utilizing cost segregation, you’re able to take into account the various aspects of the property that will depreciate at a quicker rate. For instance, the signage of an apartment complex is expected to deteriorate quicker than the roof. Cost segregation can speed up depreciation benefits, so investors can have further tax advantages even within five years' time.
Tax Benefits Of Investing In Real Estate
By investing in real estate, either actively or passively, you can qualify for significant tax advantages. You can use the deductions earned from real estate investments to offset your other income and ultimately greatly decrease your tax bill each year.
In order to build wealth, it’s not enough to earn income, you also have to know what strategies can best help you maximize the tax benefits available to you. Investing in real estate syndications gives regular people the chance to build wealth quickly and sustainably, while also mitigating risk.
As always, be sure to consult your CPA or tax advisor to assess your personal situation and determine what strategies best fit your needs and financial goals.
For more information on taxes for passive investors and real estate professionals, check out The Conscious Investor Podcast featuring Brandon Hall, real estate CPA
This work by Annie Dickerson is licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 4.0