Do You Understand Income Tax Considerations of Rental Properties?

A rental property can generate “taxable losses” that can be used to reduce your normal salary income, hence the federal income taxes you pay.

Do-You-Understand-Income-Tax-Considerations-of-Rental-PropertiesIt’s difficult for most people to understand how taxes work, and even more confusing once we get into the realm of rental properties and taxes. Note that understanding how taxes impact personal residences are a completely different topic, as those are governed by totally separate tax codes and go elsewhere on your 1040 form.

Below are some of the basics to understanding rental properties and federal income taxes.

Often I hear people saying that they want to buy some real estate to save money on income taxes. However, depending on your tax situation, owning real estate might not save you a dime on taxes. It wholly depends on your specific tax picture and the IRS rules about Passive Activity Loss Limitations.

First and foremost you should never make real estate investment decisions based solely on tax considerations. The first order of business is do your due diligence and determine if an investment makes sense based on cash flows, cash on cash returns, renovation costs, rental income, financing, and the risk of any particular property. Once you believe it makes sense in every other sense, then you can contemplate the tax effects.

Important note: Always have a CPA, attorney or licensed tax professional guide you through your individual tax picture — this article is an illustration of one scenario but your scenario can be very different based on your financial picture.

To better understand, let’s first quickly discuss the IRS 1040 form.

The 1040 form you fill out each year does two things:

  1. Calculates the amount of federal income taxes you owe for the year based on how much you earned in salary, income, wages, profits and distributions — LESS all the deductions (tax “shields”/subtractions) to those totals in the form of losses, deductions and exemptions to get to your Taxable income on Line 43. Then, look at the IRS Tax Tables and determine how much you owe in taxes based on your tax filing status (Single, Married Filing Jointly, etc.) and your Taxable Income.
  2. Second, it reconciles the amount you owe from #1 above against the amount you have already paid during the year. This is commonly called “withholdings” from your salary, or if you are self-employed, you probably paid quarterly estimated income tax amounts to the IRS during the year.
  • If you paid more in #2 than you owe in #1, you get a tax refund!
  • If you paid less in #2 than you owe in #1, you write the IRS an additional check!

Tax Considerations of Rental Properties

Rental properties generally show taxable losses for the first many years. That taxable loss is essentially another “deduction” that lowers your taxable income — noted in #1 above — and hence lowers your income taxes.

This chart below shows an example of how a loss would be calculated. For example, this property might show a ($7,500) loss. That loss would filter through your IRS 1040 form, reducing your taxable income, and hence reducing your taxes.

This is how you might save money on taxes by owning rental properties — using losses on your rental real estate to reduce your taxable income, which allows you to pay less in federal income taxes.

How much it reduces your taxes depends on your income and filing status. It is a little complicated and can get very complicated depending on your situation.

There are also limits on how much of a loss on rental property any particular taxpayer can use to “shield” their income. These limits are called Passive Activity Loss Limitations. If your losses are over $25,000 and/or your Adjusted Gross Income is over $100,000, you may not be able to use all of the losses. You may have losses, but you are not allowed to reduce your income with them based on the IRS rules. Consult a professional.

Have questions? Just leave me a comment below and I’m happy to help you!

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Income Tax Tips for ‘Accidental Landlords’

House-on-tax-formsSo you’ve just joined the world of being an “accidental landlord.” Maybe you had to relocate, or perhaps you had to downsize. Now you’re renting out your personal residence or second home instead of selling it.

This makes you a landlord in the eyes of the IRS, which means you’ll have to report the rental property on your federal income taxes.

So what’s a landlord to do?

Fortunately, most rental property ownership will initially generate taxable losses for you, which may,that’s may, save you some money on your taxes. These savings come from shielding, or deducting, losses against part of your regular taxable income. But keep in mind, taxable losses are different from positive or negative cash flows (and that’s a story for another day).

For our purposes, we’re just going to discuss what you need to do as a newbie landlord to get your taxes heading in the right direction.

Income and expenses

Next April you’ll add an IRS 1040 Form Schedule E (Supplemental Income and Loss From Real Estate) when you file your taxes.

On the Schedule E, you’ll record all the rental income your received for the prior year. Then you will record all the cash expenses related to the property: mortgage interest, property taxes, HOA fees — which are now deductible because it is a rental property instead of a personal residence — maintenance and repairs, gardening costs and any other expenses, such as depreciation (described below) that are related to the operation of  your “business.”

The net rental income, less all those expenses, will provide an income or loss figure that will be calculated on Schedule E and flow to your IRS 1040 Form, Line 17. So if rental income is $15,000 and expenses are $17,000, you have a $2,000 loss for tax purposes.


One favorable expense deduction that you can take against rental income is called depreciation. It is usually a large amount and can help you greatly decrease the taxes you pay. To figure out this amount, first you need to determine the tax basis and depreciable basis of your rental property. The tax basis will generally be what you originally paid for the property, plus any capital improvements you’ve made over the years. So if you paid $200,000 and put in a $25,000 addition, your taxable basis is $225,000.

You’ll then split that basis into land value and building value, which is your depreciable basis. Divide that building value by 27.5 years to get your depreciation deduction, which goes on your Schedule E just like any other expense. Make sure to have a tax preparer help you with this calculation.

Adding it up

Now let’s look at how the Schedule E income or loss flows to your main 1040 form. You would take your net income or loss on the Schedule E form and transfer it to your 1040. If it’s a loss, you save money on taxes. If it’s positive income, you pay additional taxes.

Note: On losses there are some “Passive Activity Loss” limitations on using losses to shield income. The net maximum loss you can use to shield income is $25,000, and the ability to use any losses phases out starting at $100,000 adjusted gross income. Real estate professionals, however, may be able to use unlimited losses. Talk to a tax professional on all these issues.

Even though your new landlording career may be an accident, being smart about the relevant income tax deductions shouldn’t be. Do some Internet research, talk to your tax professional, look at the Schedule E form, save all those receipts and make sure you maximize your deductions, especially depreciation, so you get the largest possible tax savings the IRS code allows.

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