Cost Segregation Studies Are the Ultimate Tax Planning Tools

Cost segregation studies are a strategic tax planning tool that allows businesses and individuals who have purchased, constructed, expanded, or remodeled any kind of real estate to increase their cash flow by accelerating depreciation deductions and deferring federal and state income taxes.

In the United States, the cost of real property is typically depreciated over a long period (39 years for nonresidential property and 27.5 years for residential rental property). However, not all components of a building have the same useful life.

A cost segregation study identifies and separates the costs of various assets within a property into different asset classes, each having its own depreciation schedule. This process allows taxpayers to depreciate certain components of the building over a much shorter period, typically 5, 7 or 15 years, instead of the standard 27.5 or 39 years.

Here is a general breakdown of how cost segregation studies work:

Person using laptop showing house icon energy efficiency hinting at cost segregation studies benefits for rental property

Engagement of Experts: To conduct a cost segregation study, taxpayers typically engage tax professionals, engineers, or specialists who have expertise in tax law, construction methodologies, and the specific IRS guidelines for cost segregation.

Property Analysis: The experts will conduct a detailed analysis of the property, including a review of the architectural drawings, building plans, and cost data. They will also conduct a site visit to understand how various components are utilized.

Cost Allocation: The costs of various components, such as wiring, plumbing, HVAC systems, carpeting, and specialty fixtures, are identified and allocated into the appropriate asset classes based on IRS guidelines.

Report Generation: A detailed report is generated that includes the methodology, documentation, and the specific asset reclassifications and cost allocations. This report will serve as documentation in the case of an IRS audit.

Tax Filing: The taxpayer will then use the results of the cost segregation study to file tax returns with accelerated depreciation deductions, which results in lower taxable income and thus reduced tax liability.

Cost segregation studies can be particularly beneficial for property owners who have recently constructed or acquired property, or made significant improvements. It is also worth noting that while these studies can offer significant tax benefits, they may also be complex and require careful consideration of various factors. Consulting with a tax or financial professional with experience in cost segregation studies is advisable before undertaking such an effort.

What Are the Potential Tax Advantages?

Closeup on notebook showing tax advantages cost segregation studies leading to tax benefits reducing income taxes

Cost segregation studies may offer several benefits in terms of tax savings and cash flow enhancement for property owners. Some of these benefits include:

Accelerated Depreciation: By breaking down a property into components with shorter useful lives, cost segregation allows for accelerated depreciation. This means that a larger portion of the property’s cost can be deducted earlier, which decreases taxable income in the initial years of ownership.

Increased Cash Flow: The reduction in current tax liability through accelerated depreciation results in potential for increased cash flow. This additional cash can be reinvested in the business, used to pay down debt, or deployed for other purposes.

Catch-Up Depreciation: For properties that have been owned for several years, cost segregation can still be implemented retroactively without amending prior tax returns. This is known as "catch-up" depreciation, and it allows taxpayers to claim the depreciation that could have been claimed in prior years in one lump sum in the current year.

Tax Planning and Timing Flexibility: Cost segregation studies can be used as a strategic tax planning tool, enabling business owners to time their deductions in order to optimize tax benefits based on current and expected future tax rates, or to offset gains in high-income years.

Improved Asset Management: A detailed cost segregation study can help business owners better understand the composition of their property, which can lead to more informed decisions about asset maintenance, disposition, or replacement.

Support in Tax Audits: A properly conducted cost segregation study can provide solid documentation and support during an IRS audit. It gives clear evidence on how the property's components have been classified and valued, which can be crucial in case of scrutiny by the tax authorities.

Potential Property Tax Reduction: In some cases, cost segregation studies can also help in reducing property taxes. Certain jurisdictions might allow lower valuation for certain property components, and a cost segregation study could help in identifying and documenting these.

Benefit from Bonus Depreciation: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 allows businesses to take 100% bonus depreciation on certain kinds of property. A cost segregation study can identify qualifying assets, allowing property owners to take full advantage of this provision.

While cost segregation studies offer numerous potential benefits, it's also important to weigh these benefits against the costs and complexities involved in conducting the study. Additionally, it is advisable to consult with a tax professional like Perch Wealth, with expertise in cost segregation to fully understand the potential implications and advantages for your specific situation.

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