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Calculate Tax Liability For Selling Your Investment Property

By Paul Chastain on June 26, 2023

Even in a thriving seller's market, one aspect that concerns investment property owners is the burden of capital gains taxes. For instance, in California, owners of investment properties can face tax rates as high as 42.1% upon the sale of their property. Due to the substantial tax liability in various states, many investors are now exploring tax-deferral strategies. In this case, the property owner should consider utilizing a 1031 Exchange in California.

Comprehending Tax Liability

Tax Liability = Capital Gains Tax + Depreciation Recapture Tax

As an experienced 1031 Exchange professional, one of our primary tasks when assisting a client is to help them grasp their tax liability. Tax liability stemming from the sale of investment real estate encompasses more than just the federal capital gains tax.

It represents the total sum of taxes owed when an investment property is sold. Apart from Federal Capital Gains Tax (ranging from 15% to 20%), the property owner may also be subject to State Capital Gains Tax (ranging from 0% to 13.3%), Depreciation Recapture Tax (25%), and Net Investment Income Tax (3.8%).

Five Steps to Calculate Your Tax Liability

Young woman using calculator to manage business expenses highlighting the importance of a 1031 exchange in calculating tax liability

When estimating your tax liability after selling an asset, federal and state tax authorities consider the taxable gain rather than the gross proceeds from the property sale. To determine the total tax liability, follow these five steps:

Step 1: Estimate the Net Sales Proceeds

Begin by establishing the fair market value of the investment property or the listing price if you put the property on the market. There are various methods to calculate the sales price, but the two most common approaches are the income method and the comparable sales method.

For the income method, divide the current or projected net operating income (NOI) by the desired capitalization rate (cap rate).

For the comparable sales method, investors assess the value based on recent sales of comparable properties in the local area, considering factors such as size and quality.

Smaller properties and single-family rentals usually rely on the comparable sales method, while larger properties use the net operating income to determine value. Many investors seek the assistance of an experienced broker to establish a justifiable sales price.

Step 2: Estimate the Tax Basis

Tax basis, or remaining basis, represents the total capital invested and capitalized in the asset, which includes the purchase price, closing costs, and capitalized improvements, minus the accumulated depreciation. To calculate the tax basis, consider the following example:

Assuming you purchased the property for $850,000 and invested $200,000 in capital improvements. Additionally, you have claimed $750,000 in depreciation over the ownership period. In this case, your remaining basis would be $300,000. Note that there are certain limitations regarding which items can be included in the tax basis.

For instance, mortgage insurance premiums and routine maintenance costs are typically excluded. It is advisable to consult with a tax advisor to determine the current remaining basis of your property, taking into account adjustments for capital improvements and tax deductions.

Increasing the Tax Basis:

Property owners have the opportunity to increase their tax basis by making investments in the property through capitalized improvements. These improvements, such as a new kitchen, roof, or an addition, along with financing expenses, contribute to increasing the investment in the property. When selling the property, these capitalized improvements are subtracted from the net sales proceeds to determine the property's gain.

While certain costs like legal fees, management expenses, and small repairs are treated as operating expenses and not capitalized, expenses for capitalized improvements provide owners with flexibility to increase the tax basis of the asset, rather than deducting them as operating expenses in the current year. The costs of capital improvements can vary widely, offering owners the ability to adjust the tax basis accordingly.

Decreasing the Tax Basis:

Owners of investment real estate that includes a building or structure need to decrease the property's tax basis, which affects the calculation of the second form of gain known as "depreciation recapture." The primary method to decrease the tax basis is through an annual depreciation deduction. This deduction is subtracted from the tax basis each year and is treated as a tax expense that offsets income. However, it is important to note that depreciation is eventually recaptured at the time of sale.

Despite the initial decrease in tax basis and the subsequent increase in tax costs, the depreciation deduction reduces the investor's annual taxable income and lowers the income tax due during the ownership years. It's worth mentioning that annual depreciation is mandatory, and depreciation recapture is charged based on the total amount of available depreciation throughout the ownership period, regardless of whether depreciation expenses were recorded. Additionally, easements, certain insurance reimbursements, and other tax deductions like personal property deductions can also contribute to decreasing the tax basis.

Step 3: Calculate Taxable Gain

The taxable gain represents the realized return or profit from the sale of an asset. It is derived by subtracting the original tax basis (pre-depreciation) from the net sales proceeds. Tax authorities such as the IRS and Franchise Tax Board utilize the taxable gain figure to determine the capital gains tax. To calculate the taxable gain, subtract the original tax basis from the net sale proceeds.

Continuing with the previous example, assuming your original tax basis is $1,050,000 and the net proceeds from the property sale amount to $3,250,000, the taxable gain would be $2,200,000. The second part of the tax liability is calculated based on the amount of accumulated depreciation taken throughout the ownership period, referred to as accumulated depreciation. In the given scenario, this amount is $750,000.

Step 4: Determine Your Filing Status

Your capital gains tax rate is determined by factors such as your income, tax filing status, the state where you pay income taxes, and the location of the property being sold. Various tax authorities, including the IRS, state governments, and some local governments, impose capital gains taxes on investment property sales, thereby impacting the overall tax rate and increasing your tax obligation.

At the federal level, the capital gains tax rate is as follows: 0% for investors with an annual income (including gains from asset sales) below $40,000; 15% for investors with an annual income ranging from $40,001 to $441,450; and 20% for investors with an annual income exceeding $441,451.

Additionally, most state tax authorities also levy a capital gains tax, with rates ranging from 0% to 13.3%. California stands at the top with a 13.3% capital gains tax rate, while states such as Texas, Washington, and Florida do not impose state capital gains taxes.

Step 5: Calculate the Capital Gains Tax

Hand using a calculator with passbook and house model illustrating how a 1031 exchange can help defer tax liability

The capital gains tax is calculated based on the taxable gain, considering the tax rates determined by your income and filing status. There are four main categories of property tax: federal capital gains tax, state and local capital gains tax, depreciation recapture tax, and net investment tax.

For federal and state capital gains taxes, the taxable gain is subject to the applicable tax rates. In the example mentioned earlier, a California property owner with a taxable gain of $2,200,000 would owe 20% in federal capital gains tax and 13.3% in state capital gains tax, resulting in a total capital gains tax of $732,600.

Individuals with significant investment and rental income may also be subject to an additional 3.8% net investment tax, which is part of the Affordable Care Act and is added on top of the capital gains rate. Thus, the total capital gains tax bill in California would be 37.1% or $816,200 in the given example. It is important to note that this example specifically pertains to properties and taxpayers located in California, which has the highest capital gains tax rate in the country.

In addition to capital gains taxes, investors are also required to pay depreciation recapture tax. Depreciation deductions are taken annually to offset rental income. These deductions not only reduce the investor's annual tax liability but also decrease the remaining tax basis of the property. When selling the asset at a profit, the investor is required to repay those deductions, which is known as depreciation recapture.

At the federal level, the tax rate for depreciation recapture is a flat rate of 25%. It can also include up to 13.3% for state income tax and be subject to an additional 3.8% net investment income tax. While capital gains tax is calculated based on the taxable gain, depreciation recapture tax is calculated based on the accumulated depreciation during the investor's ownership. Based on the example with $750,000 of accumulated depreciation, the depreciation recapture tax in this scenario could be as high as $315,750.

Deferring Capital Gains Tax with a 1031 Exchange

Real estate investors have a valuable opportunity to defer, reduce, and potentially eliminate capital gains taxes through a strategy called a 1031 Exchange, also known as a "like-kind" exchange. This type of exchange, authorized under Section 1031 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, allows real estate investors to defer their tax liability when selling an investment property. In order to defer capital gains taxes, investors must reinvest the proceeds from the sale into like-kind investment property that has equal or greater value.

The term "like-kind" refers to any real estate that is of the same nature or class, rather than the same quality or property type. Essentially, this means that investors can exchange one investment real estate asset for another, as long as it falls under the category of like-kind property. It's important to note that personal residences do not qualify for a 1031 Exchange, as the exchange is limited to investment real estate assets.

The Rules for a 1031 Exchange

A 1031 Exchange is a powerful tool for deferring capital gains, depreciation recapture, and net investment income taxes after selling an asset. However, these exchanges can be complex transactions, and it is crucial to comply with the rules set forth by the IRS. Failure to adhere to these rules can result in a failed exchange or a partial exchange, leading to potential tax liabilities. Before proceeding with a 1031 Exchange, investors should familiarize themselves with the following primary rules:

  • Set up the exchange before the sale: The 1031 Exchange must be established before the sale of the investment property takes place. The necessary arrangements and documentation should be prepared in advance.
  • Exchange for like-kind property: The property being exchanged must be of "like-kind" to qualify for a 1031 Exchange. This means the property should be of the same nature or class, regardless of quality or property type. For example, an investor can exchange an apartment building for a retail property.
  • Equal or greater value: The replacement property acquired in the exchange must have an equal or greater value than the relinquished property. Any cash or debt reduction received, known as "boot," may trigger capital gains tax liability.
  • Same taxpayer: The taxpayer who sold the relinquished property and acquired the replacement property must be the same individual or entity. The taxpayer cannot transfer the ownership to another party.
  • Capital gains and depreciation recapture tax: If there is any boot received, such as cash or a reduction in debt, the property owner may be subject to paying capital gains tax and depreciation recapture tax on that portion.
  • Identification period: The property owner has 45 days from the sale date to identify potential replacement properties. The identification should be in writing and follow specific identification rules.
  • Exchange completion period: The property owner has 180 days from the sale date to complete the exchange by acquiring the replacement property. The replacement property must be received within this timeframe.
  • Understanding and following these rules is crucial for a successful 1031 Exchange. It is recommended to consult with a qualified tax advisor and/or someone who specializes in 1031 Exchanges to better ensure compliance and strive to maximize the benefits of the exchange.

Improving Cash Flow Potential with a 1031 Exchange

In addition to the tax savings, a 1031 Exchange offers the potential to enhance cash flow and appreciation by allowing the reinvestment of proceeds. Let's consider the example where the investor's total tax liability is $1,131,950. If the post-tax proceeds of $2,118,050 were reinvested and earned a 5% return, it would generate an annual income of $105,903.

However, by opting for a 1031 Exchange, the investor would have $3,250,000 available for reinvestment. Assuming the same 5% return, the exchanged proceeds would generate an annual cash flow of $162,500. This represents a significant difference in cash flow potential, exceeding $56,500. This is one of the primary benefits of 1031 Exchanges – the ability to keep all your equity working for you, generating income and potential appreciation.

By deferring capital gains tax and reinvesting the full sales proceeds into a new property, investors have the opportunity to leverage a larger amount of capital, potentially resulting in higher cash flow and increased investment returns. This enhanced cash flow potential is a key advantage of utilizing a 1031 Exchange as part of a strategic real estate investment plan.

General Disclosure

Not an offer to buy, nor a solicitation to sell securities. All investing involves risk of loss of some or all principal invested. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Speak to your finance and/or tax professional prior to investing. Any information provided is for informational purposes only. All scenarios provided for herein are hypothetical illustrations of mathematical principals only, not a promise of performance or success.

Securities offered through Emerson Equity LLC Member: FINRA/SIPC. Only available in states where Emerson Equity LLC is registered. Emerson Equity LLC is not affiliated with any other entities identified in this communication. 

1031 Risk Disclosure: 

  • There’s no guarantee any strategy will be successful or achieve investment objectives; 
  • All real estate investments have the potential to lose value during the life of the investments; 
  • The income stream and depreciation schedule for any investment property may affect the property owner’s income bracket and/or tax status. An unfavorable tax ruling may cancel deferral of capital gains and result in immediate tax liabilities; 
  • All financed real estate investments have potential for foreclosure; 
  • These 1031 exchanges are offered through private placement offerings and are illiquid securities. There is no secondary market for these investments. 
  • If a property unexpectedly loses tenants or sustains substantial damage, there is potential for suspension of cash flow distributions; 
  • Costs associated with the transaction may impact investors’ returns and may outweigh the tax benefits
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Article written by Paul Chastain

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Securities offered through Emerson Equity LLC, member FINRA / SIPC. This is not an offer to buy or sell securities. Securities investing carries an inherent risk of loss of some or all of the principal invested. We are not tax professionals. You should always discuss your investments with a tax professional prior to investing. Securities are sold only in those states where Emerson Equity LLC is registered. Perch Wealth LLC and Emerson Equity LLC are not affiliated. COMPANY and Emerson Equity LLC do not provide legal or tax advice. Securities offered through Emerson Equity LLC Member FINRA / SIPC and MSRB registered. Emerson Equity LLC is unaffiliated with any entity herein.
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Perch Financial LLC and Emerson Equity LLC do not provide legal or tax advice. Securities offered through Emerson Equity LLC Member FINRA/SIPC and MSRB registered. Emerson Equity LLC is unaffiliated with any entity herein. 1031 Risk Disclosure:

 

  • There is no guarantee that any strategy will be successful or achieve investment objectives;
  • Potential for property value loss – All real estate investments have the potential to lose value during the life of the investments;
  • Change of tax status – The income stream and depreciation schedule for any investment property may affect the property owner’s income bracket and/or tax status. An unfavorable tax ruling may cancel deferral of capital gains and result in immediate tax liabilities;
  • Potential for foreclosure – All financed real estate investments have potential for foreclosure; ·Illiquidity – Because 1031 exchanges are commonly offered through private placement offerings and are illiquid securities. There is no secondary market for these investments;
  • Reduction or Elimination of Monthly Cash Flow Distributions – Like any investment in real estate, if a property unexpectedly loses tenants or sustains substantial damage, there is potential for suspension of cash flow distributions;
  • Impact of fees/expenses – Costs associated with the transaction may impact investors’ returns and may outweigh the tax benefits


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