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PostHeaderIcon Cost Segregation Study Resources

Yesterday I gave the ins and outs of cost segregation studies.  Today, I’m giving you some of the research resources attached to it.  One good place to start, if you don’t mind the investment is CCH’s U.S. Master Depreciation Guide (2011). This guide book will give you the ins and outs of the depreciation rules like nothing else will and it comes with CCH’s top notch explanations.

If you don’t want to spend the money, then I’d recommend Publication 535 which has a section on capitalizing assets in it.  I’d also highly recommend the Audit Technique Guide on Cost Segregation. Between those two things, you should have the tools to at least get started.

PostHeaderIcon Cost Segregation Studies

A while back, I wrote a column for the Oakland County Real Estate Investors Association on cost segregation studies, or the abbreviated cost seg studies.  Here’s that column in its entirety.

Get More Money Out of Your Real Estate Investment by using a Cost Segregation Study

“Accounting and tax rules allow me to depreciate my property, which means I am making money but it looks like I am losing money, I am making money because I am legally allowed to pay less in taxes, So this is money coming in because less money is paid out in taxes. It is also known as phantom cash flow.” Robert Kiyosaki, The Real Book of Real Estate

“In recent years, increasing numbers of taxpayers have submitted either original tax returns or claims for refund with depreciation deductions based on cost segregation studies. The underlying incentive for preparing these studies for federal income tax purposes is the significant tax benefits derived from utilizing shorter recovery periods and accelerated depreciation methods for computing depreciation deductions.” Internal Revenue Service Cost Segregation Audit Technique Guide

There are several tax advantages to rental real estate but near the top of the list is the ability to depreciate the purchase price of your investment and utilize that as a tax deduction each and every year. The current rules allow you to depreciate residential rental real estate over 27 ½ years so if you bought a house for $100,000 and do the standard allocation of 80% going to the house and 20% going to the land, you end up with nearly $3,000 in tax deductions each and every year. In a lot of cases, this can turn an investment with a marginally positive cash flow into a tax loss allowing you to escape paying taxes. Even better, it’s not like a typical expense, such as interest expense, where money is coming out of your pocket. As Robert Kiyosaki described in his quote, it’s like phantom cash flow. With that, it can’t get much better then that, can it?

Actually it can. By utilizing what’s commonly referred to as a cost segregation study, you can significantly narrow the window used to depreciate your investment. While you’re robbing the future to pay for the present, in a lot of cases you’re giving yourself tax deductions in the current year that you might be not be able to normally utilize until over 20 years in the future. We all know that a dollar in our pocket now is worth more then a dollar 20 or 30 years from now so let’s take a look at how this is done.

What Is a Cost Segregation Study?

When depreciating both real and personal property, it’s necessary to classify each asset so a useful life has been determined. Computers are depreciated over five years while non-residential real estate is depreciated over 39 years. The shorter the useful life, the better the depreciation deduction is in the early years of the asset. Sometimes, you can’t break down each and every asset (like for a house), so the Internal Revenue Service let’s you use estimates to segregate or allocate costs to various buckets of assets. A house or apartment building consists of a structure, but there’s also wiring, personal property (cabinets and lighting fixtures as an example) and even furniture. This allocation estimate is what a cost segregation study provides for you.

Who Performs Cost Segregation Studies?
There are no requirements to do cost segregation studies but in my experience, the best combination is to have a certified public accountant (CPA) and an engineer work together. This way, you have both the tax side (CPA) and the structural/construction side covered. A CPA could do a cost segregation study by himself but without the proper experience that an engineer could bring to the table, things usually get missed. Of course an engineer could do it by himself, but they usually lack the necessary tax knowledge to fully take advantage of the study. In addition, a cost segregation study that doesn’t utilize an engineer is usually going to be more closely scrutinized by the IRS if there’s an audit because a CPA isn’t a construction expert.

When’s the Best Time to do a Cost Segregation Study?

The best time to do a cost segregation study is when you buy the property. It’s a lot easier to do it on day one when all of the paperwork is fresh and the CPA and engineer can get in there before any work is done on the house. It also establishes all of the useful lives associated with property on day one and doesn’t require any additional paperwork.

What if I bought my a rental property five years ago? Can I still do a cost segregation study?

You can still do a cost segregation study if you have a house that you bought several years ago although the benefit could diminish over time. There is additional paperwork because you have to provide the Internal Revenue Service documentation to show them you’re changing your method of account. This involves filing Form 3115 (Application for Change in Method of Accounting). The good news is, for cost segregation studies, the change in method of accounting is automatic (some changes need IRS approval) and you also get to take advantage of the depreciation benefits entirely in the year that you apply for the accounting method change.

How Much Money Can I Save by Doing a Cost Segregation Study?

The short answer is there will be no savings, at least over the useful life of the asset. If you have a $100,000 depreciable asset, the total depreciation expense will be $100,000 over its useful life. What a cost segregation study can do is give you more of your depreciation deductions now so you have more money to put to use here in years one through five rather in year 20 or year 28.

Here are a few simple examples of what a cost segregation study can accomplish (note: I have spreadsheets that provide more detail on the numbers I’ve provided. These are available upon request by emailing brian@briancpa.com).

Example 1 – Assume you buy a rental property for $100,000. A quick and easy calculation has 80% going to the building ($80,000) and 20% going to the land ($20,000). Say you bring in a cost segregation study expert and he’s able to determine that 15% ($15,000) should actually go to the land, 50% ($50,000) should go to the building, 15% ($15,000) should go towards land improvements and then 20% ($20,000) should go towards what’s called distributive trade or service property (these are items like wiring, lighting fixtures and personal property). In the first five years, this would result in an increase of $19,545 in depreciation expense when you use the cost segregation study versus a traditional allocation.

Example 2 – Assume you buy an apartment building for $500,000. A traditional allocation would have 20% ($100,000) going towards land and 80% ($400,000) going towards the buildings. With a cost segregation study, you might get 17% ($85,000) going to land, 56% ($280,000) going towards the building, 10% going towards land improvements ($50,000) and 17% ($85,000) going towards distributive trade or service property. This would give you an increase of $79,128 in depreciation expense when you utilize the cost segregation study.

This sounds great, but how much money am I going to save?

This is where I get to hedge with my favorite answer, “it depends.” If you can use all of the extra depreciation deductions and you’re in a high tax brackets, example 2 could save you in excess of $30,000 in the first five years. On the other hand, if the extra deductions put you in a loss situation and you can’t take advantage of those losses because you fall under the passive activity rules, it might not benefit you at all. As always, you should consult with your personal tax advisor as to whether a cost segregation study is good for you.

This sounds fishy. What is the IRS going to do if you do a cost segregation study?

The IRS not only acknowledges that cost segregation studies are valid, but they also told everyone how they’re going to audit them. If your cost segregation expert knows what he’s doing, he’s read the IRS’ cost segregation study audit technique guide to know exactly what the hot spots are and how to protect the client as much as they possibly can.

In Conclusion

Cost segregation studies aren’t for everyone, but if you buy and hold real estate, whenever you buy a property you should at be thinking about doing a cost segregation study. I know some cost segregation study experts will analyze the property to see whether you’ll benefit or not before they even do the work so finding someone who will give you a quick review would limit your risk. Cost segregation studies are just one of the many tools that a real estate investor can keep in their tax planning toolbox.

PostHeaderIcon Tax Bits – 5/16/2011

You won’t see these every day but I’ll be doing Tax Bits when there are important due dates or rulings that I find.  On with the bits….

1)  If you’re a tax-exempt organization, your Form 990 is due today.  You can get a three month extension by filing Form 8868, which you can find here.

2)  If you’re looking ahead, the IRS put out the 2012 deduction limits on Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) in Rev. Proc 2011-32.  The annual limitation on your deduction if you’re single is $3,100 and it’s $6,250 with family coverage.

3)  The IRS recently put out their Audit Technique Guide on the wine industry.  There’s a lot of material in here but these ATG’s are worth the read if you’re dealing with the issue at hand.

4)  Taxgirl’s latest is on the pros and cons of another tax holiday for company’s to repatriate their earnings.

5)  The latest at the WSJ Tax Report blog has a discussion on new breaks for company cars.  Well worth the read if you own your business and you’re in the market for a new car.

6)  The Intuit Small Business Blog has a piece on how whether the IRS views your business as a hobby or not.  Check this out if you think you’re on the fence.

So lots of good stuff here.  If you want more frequent updates, be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter.