Owning and maintaining a rental property can be expensive — not to mention considerable work. Luckily, some of the expenses are deductible and claiming depreciation helps defray the cost of property ownership. Depreciation is a deduction that allows the investor to recoup the cost of assets (in this case, the rental property) used as a source of income.
Whether or not you choose to take depreciation doesn't matter to the IRS. When you sell a property, the IRS levies the fee on the depreciation you should have claimed.
What is Depreciation?
According to the IRS, “depreciation is the recovery of the cost of the property over time. You deduct a part of the cost annually until you fully recover its cost." The IRS considers that real estate and other physical assets wear down over time.
You can’t fully recover the entire cost of the rental property in a single year, which is why you spread the deduction over the useful life of the asset to match annual wear and tear. You can depreciate a rental property if it meets these requirements:
- You are the owner of the property
- The property is used for business or income-producing purposes
- The property has a determinable useful life, which means it’s something that wears over time
- The property is expected to last longer than a year
Land cannot be depreciated because it cannot wear over time. The land cost includes clearing, grading, planting, and landscaping.
Rental Property Depreciation
According to the IRS, the expected useful life of a rental property is 27.5 years. Therefore, each year, you can deduct 3.636% (100% / 27.5 years) of the rental property's cost basis from your annual income. This deduction reduces the amount of income that's subject to taxation.
This IRS does allow you to depreciate some repairs and improvements made to the property faster than 27.5 years. For example, appliances may be depreciated over five years, office furniture and equipment over seven years, and roads and fences over 15 years.
After 27.5 years, the entire cost basis has been deducted, and depreciation ends. Depreciation can also stop after the property is sold or the rental property has stopped producing income.
What happens if you don't depreciate your rental property?
Rental property depreciation can be a considerable tax advantage for investors. For example, suppose your rental property produces $8,000 in annual income after all expenses. A $3,000 depreciation expense reduces the property's taxable income to $5,000. Some investors may be tempted to skip claiming depreciation to avoid the risk of depreciation recapture tax, but this generally won’t succeed.
The reason is that the IRS assumes that you have taken the depreciation deduction, and you will owe 25 percent of what you could have deducted as a “depreciation recapture” when you sell the property. That amount is due whether you took the deduction or not.
If you haven't claimed depreciation on your tax return, you can amend your recent tax returns to claim your depreciation benefit. To do this, file an amended return by filling out Form 1040X and other forms you're modifying. For the depreciation deduction, use Schedule E.
Are There Other Ways to Shelter Capital Gains from Tax?
Gains are the goal, and taxes are the associated obligation. However, savvy investors look for ways to manage and favorably schedule their tax payments. For example, holding property in a tax-advantaged trust can be feasible, but the tactic may sometimes limit the investor's control. Having some assets in a retirement account may allow the investor to defer taxes until they are in a lower bracket. Also, an investor may be able to delay payment of capital gains taxes by using a 1031 exchange to execute the transaction when selling a property and reinvesting in another. Finally, there is still potential for deferral and reduction in taxes available by directing capital to a QOF (Qualified Opportunity Fund) project. Ensure that you obtain professional guidance for these options.
This material is for general information and educational purposes only. Information is based on data gathered from what we believe are reliable sources. It is not guaranteed as to accuracy, does not purport to be complete and is not intended to be used as a primary basis for investment decisions.
Realized does not provide tax or legal advice. This material is not a substitute for seeking the advice of a qualified professional for your individual situation.
Examples are hypothetical and for illustrative purposes only. Withdrawal strategies should take into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs of the individual.
Costs associated with a 1031 transaction may impact investor’s returns and may outweigh the tax benefits. An unfavorable tax ruling may cancel deferral of capital gains and result in immediate tax liabilities.