Understanding Cost Segregation: A Comprehensive Guide

5 minute read

What is Cost Segregation?

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

Cost segregation has become a a great strategy for property owners to navigate the complex world of real estate taxes. By identifying property components that qualify for accelerated depreciation, this method known as a cost segregation study, allows owners to reduce their tax liability and increase their cash flow during the early stages of property ownership. From commercial to residential real estate, this strategy has transformed the financial landscape of property investment.

Unpacking the Concept of Cost Segregation

At its core, cost segregation is the process of dissecting a real property into its component parts, some of which can depreciate at a faster rate than the property as a whole. This accelerated depreciation method primarily benefits new real estate buyers, helping them to improve cash flow and reduce tax liability in the initial years of ownership.

For instance, a commercial building bought for $1 million, under the traditional straight-line depreciation method, could be depreciated over 39 years. This would amount to an annual depreciation of approximately $25,641. With cost segregation, certain components of the property could be depreciated faster, bringing forward some of this expense to the earlier years of ownership.

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Cost Segregation Mechanisms

The mechanism of cost segregation starts when you acquire real estate, which typically includes the building and the land. While the land isn't eligible for depreciation, a cost segregation study can identify assets within the building that qualify for accelerated depreciation.

These items might include carpets, light fixtures, appliances, landscaping, and driveways, which can be classified into shorter asset life classes (5, 7, and 15 years). Accelerated depreciation allows for higher depreciation expenses initially, with reduced expenses in later years. These assets may also qualify for bonus depreciation or Section 179 expensing.

Bear in mind, cost segregation doesn't increase the overall depreciation that can be claimed on the building; it simply accelerates the depreciation timeline. Thus, while it may lower tax payments in the early years of ownership, it will conversely reduce the depreciation deductions available in later years. For properties valued over $500k, it's recommended to have a cost segregation study performed by an expert.

Do You Qualify for Cost Segregation?

Eligibility for cost segregation hinges on two main factors. Firstly, you must possess an ownership right in real property. Secondly, you need to complete a cost segregation study. If your property's worth exceeds $500k, it's advisable to engage a specialist to carry out the study.

Entities that can claim cost segregation include S Corporations, C Corporations, Partnerships, and individuals who declare their business income/expenses on Schedule C, E, or F, or those with farm rental income. Remember that opting for cost segregation does slightly increase the chances of an audit, and you'll have to account for the cost of the study.

Conclusion

Cost segregation is a powerful tax planning strategy with significant benefits, like increasing overall deductions in the earlier years to reduce taxable income and allowing for bonus depreciation or Section 179 expensing of property. Yet, it does come with its set of considerations, including reducing depreciation deductions in later years and an increased chance of an audit.

As the world of tax planning evolves, new strategies like cost segregation continue to emerge. Companies like Corvee offer software to help you navigate these changes and identify potential tax savings, making it a valuable asset in your tax planning arsenal. Always remember, though, that every situation is unique, and it's crucial to discuss these matters with a knowledgeable tax advisor before taking any action.

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