Depending on your answer, you could be getting bad advice which puts more money in the IRS’s coffers (and leaves less in your pocket).
Below is the crux of a typical tax preparer’s opinion regarding Engineering Based Cost Segregation Studies which an experienced CPA would say has kept many commercial property owners from implementing this highly beneficial tax strategy which is effectively encouraged by the IRS.
Here is a typical ‘tax preparer’ statement to commercial property owners:
“You are not getting additional depreciation, you are accelerating depreciation by allocating cost to shorter life. I advise against such a strategy as there can be future tax implications and also there is upfront cost involved.”
For frame of reference, here is the IRS’ view (from www.irs.gov) on cost segregation:
“Buildings and structural components have substantially longer depreciable lives than personal property. Therefore, it is desirable for taxpayers to maximize personal property costs in order to accelerate depreciation deductions and, hence, reduce tax liability.” (source)
Here’s how many experienced CPAs would look at this matter:
The above point of view isn’t considering the bigger picture. For instance, only looking at the (potentially) negative capital gains tax implications associated with cost segregation by itself is ‘missing the forest for the trees’:
- It is not necessarily true this would be a ‘negative’ as it would depend on the ultimate sale price versus the depreciable cost basis; if the sale price is equal to or less than the depreciable cost basis then the capital gains issue is, well, a non-issue.
- There is no consideration given to the positive effect on the income tax picture due to cost segregation; this positive effect needs to be weighed against the potentially negative capital gains effect.
- In general, property owners will benefit from cost segregation if they hold the building for at least 18 months. One reason for this dynamic is that the capital gains tax, even at the 25% ‘re-cap’ rate, is much lower than the typical 35% to 39.6% income tax rate.
- There is an assumption that the property owner is absolutely giving up all future depreciation benefits in exchange for taking those benefits now. Well, if the owner never replaces carpeting, wiring, plumbing and other such non-structural components, then, ‘yes’, that would be the case. But the reality is that these components will ultimately be replaced (which is the basis for the relatively shorter/accelerated tax-compliant depreciation time-lines for such items). The associated replacement costs can be depreciated.
So, in fact, the depreciation isn’t lost in reality. Plus, only about 20% of the building can be ‘accelerated’…the remainder stays in 39-year S/L.
- In effect, this is a time-value-of-money/opportunity cost ‘play’. So an owner’s capitalization rate needs to be considered; a critical mass of money in the hands of a good businessperson NOW could feasibly produce a 10% or greater return. An owner’s ability to convert that ‘now cash’ (i.e., cash that becomes available due to cost segregation’s resulting reduction in current income tax) into more cash could easily dwarf the down-the-road bit-by-bit depreciation cost deductions which the owner MAY be passing on.
- The “upfront costs” for conducting an Engineering Based Cost Segregation Study are barely worthy of factoring into the benefits equation; first, the Study is a business expense and effectively comes at a 35% (+/-) ‘discount’, and secondly, the Study cost can often be less than 10% of the tax benefit (even without the ‘discount’). Most business-minded people would find a project with a minimum 10:1 benefit-to-cost ratio to be worthy of pursuit.
So, do you have a ‘Tax Preparer’ or a CPA? The best way to find out is to ask him or her how they perceive the value of an Engineering Based Cost Segregation Study for a commercial property owner.
by Ron Zmuda, CPA