Real estate investments can be lucrative assets. However, they can also incur capital gains taxes that weaken your profits. Fortunately, you can implement tactics that reduce capital gains taxes so you can keep more of your money. Although the IRS taxes short-term and long-term gains differently, you can combat high tax rates on both. We’ll explain short-term and long-term capital gains and how to keep the associated taxes from costing you an arm and a leg.
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What Are Capital Gains Taxes?
You pay capital gains taxes when you profit from selling assets. You can incur two types of capital gains taxes: short-term and long-term. Short-term capital gains are from selling assets you’ve held for less than a year. On the other hand, long-term capital gains come from selling assets after holding them for a year or more. So, if you sell an investment property, the time you owned it before selling it will determine what kind of capital gains taxes you pay.
How Are Capital Gains Taxed?
The IRS taxes short-term capital gains as standard income, meaning your income tax bracket will determine your tax rate. Income tax brackets are as follows: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%. Your income determines your capital gains tax rates.
For example, say you make $85,000 from your day job. You sell an investment property nine months after purchasing it and make a $30,000 profit. The sale results in a short-term capital gain, and your income is $115,000 when you file taxes. In addition, you’re a single filer, putting a portion of your income in the 24% tax bracket.
Conversely, long-term capital gains have different tax rates than short-term gains: 0%, 15%, and 20%, depending on your income level and filing status. For 2023, single filers making up to $44,625 receive the 0% rate. Single filers with income between $44,626 and $492,300 will pay 15%. Finally, single filers with income above $492,300 will pay 20% long-term capital gains taxes. In addition, single filers making $125,000 or more annually will pay a net investment income tax of 3.8% on capital gains from real estate.
A married couple filing 2023 taxes jointly will pay 0% if they earn up to $89,250. The 15% rate applies if the couple earns $89,251 to $553,850. The 20% rate applies if they earn more than $553,850.
How to Limit Capital Gains on Real Estate Investment Properties
You can use a variety of strategies to avoid capital gains on real estate properties:
Use Tax-Deferred Funds
You don’t have to invest in real estate with dollars from your bank account. Instead, you can use your individual retirement account (IRA) or 401(k). Depositing investment profits in your investment account allows your money to grow tax-free. Plus, your IRA contributions can garner you another tax deduction.
Make the Property Your Primary Residence
The internal revenue service (IRS) exempts primary residence sales from capital gains taxes up to $500,000 for married joint filers and $250,000 for single filers. You can also avoid paying taxes on depreciation deductions this way. Using this option means fulfilling the following requirements:
Owning the home for two or more of the last five years
Living in the home as the primary residence for two or more of the last five years
You haven’t taken a primary residence exemption in two years
Tax-loss harvesting means deliberately selling an asset for a loss to mitigate profits from another asset. Therefore, you can sell a property for less than you bought it, reducing your taxes.
For instance, say you sell one property and make $30,000. You don’t want to pay taxes on this gain, so you sell another property for $25,000 less than what you paid. As a result, you pay taxes on $5,000 of capital gains.
The depreciation deduction for rental properties has one major drawback: when you sell a rental property, you owe taxes on the depreciation amount (if you received any). Fortunately, the 1031 exchange allows you to circumvent this rule.
The 1031 exchange means using the income from the sale of an investment property to purchase another investment property of equal or greater value. Then, you don’t have to pay taxes on prior depreciation deductions. This caveat allows you to avoid income taxes on depreciation into perpetuity if you buy another property of equal or greater value.
How to Minimize Your Capital Gains Tax
Even if you can’t altogether avoid capital gains taxes, the following tactics will minimize your capital gains taxes:
The IRS allows rental property owners to deduct an annual depreciation amount from their income. The deduction comes from the expected lifespan of rental property, which the IRS defines as 27.5 years. As a result, you can calculate your depreciation deduction by dividing your rental property value by 27.5 (commercial real estate uses the lifespan figure of 39 years).
For instance, say you have a $250,000 residential investment property. Dividing this figure by the depreciation deduction lifespan of 27.5 gives you an annual deduction of $9,090.
Generally, you can deduct the costs of managing property, lowering your tax burden. Running your real estate investment business incurs costs such as travel, legal fees, and business equipment. These expenses can add up – but instead of hurting your wallet, they can create a tax benefit.
In addition, you can deduct mortgage interest and the costs of repairing or maintaining a property. Therefore, keeping detailed records and saving every receipt is vital to claiming as many deductions as possible.
Methods to Boost Property Basis
Improving your property gives two financial advantages: the costs of doing so can shrink your capital gains taxes, and the improvements can bolster your property value. Here’s how you can boost property basis:
New windows and doors
Updated appliances, roofing, and flooring
Renovate plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems
Paying commissions to real estate agents
Expenses for the appraisal, inspection, and legal services
Closing costs, including title search, escrow, and taxes
Capital gains taxes can curb your profits from real estate investments. Fortunately, multiple deductions and tax strategies can lower your tax burden. For example, you can deduct depreciation and make a home your primary residence before you sell it. In addition, upgrading your home can boost your property basis and lower your capital gains taxes. So, it’s essential to be thorough in your research and record keeping to ensure you minimize capital gains taxes on real estate investments.
Tips on Capital Gains Tax on Real Estate Investment Property
You can make the most of your real estate investments by familiarizing yourself with relevant tax laws. A financial advisor can help you understand your financial position and make the most of your tax return. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Check out our free capital gains capital gains tax calculator for a quick estimate of what you’ll owe.
If you’re considering starting a real estate venture, it’s wise to do your homework first. Use this guide for how to buy investment property.
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