There are plenty of benefits to being a real estate investor; there’s the opportunity to build wealth, to explore new markets, to create autonomy in your work. But there’s another serious benefit to being an investor that you might not know about: the real estate professional loophole.
Many people believe you need to be a licensed real estate agent to take advantage of the tax benefits available for real estate professionals, but that’s not the case; in order to qualify, all you need to do is a) spend at least 750 hours per year on real estate activities, and b) spend more time on real estate activities than other business activities — criteria which investors easily meet.
This loophole is incredibly valuable to you as a real estate professional because it reduces your tax liability, which puts money right back in your pocket.
But how do these real estate loopholes work? What are the requirements? And how can you take advantage of the real estate tax benefits as an investor?
A Brief Overview of the Real Estate Professional Loophole
As a real estate investor, you’re able to write off your expenses and the depreciation of the property to reduce your rental income. But if, even after those write-offs, your expenses outweigh your rental income, you may also be able to use those “excess losses” to reduce other income streams outside of your rental income (like W2s).
The IRS bases how much excess loss you can write off on your total income:
- If your total income is less than 100K per year, you can write off up to 25K of excess losses on your other income.
- If your total income is between 100K and 150K, the amount you can write off decreases as your income increases.
- If your total income is over 150K, you can’t write off any excess losses.
Now, many investors out there make more than 150K. And if you only went by these criteria, you’d think you’d be out of luck when it comes to losses.
But that’s where the real estate professional loophole comes in.
If you qualify as a real estate professional, you’re exempt from these excess loss limitations. It doesn’t matter what your total income is; you can use all of your excess losses to reduce your taxable income.
Let’s say your total income is 300K and you have 100K in excess losses. Without the real estate professional loophole, you’d have to pay taxes on the full 300K of your income. But with the real estate professional loophole, you can bring down your taxable income to 200K (your total income minus your excess losses). That puts a HUGE chunk of money back into your pocket — and is a major perk of being a real estate investor.
Another bonus — the real estate professional loophole applies to spouses. So, if your spouse works a W2 job making 100K per year and you work from home as an investor, you can use your excess losses to reduce the taxable income from their W2 income (just keep in mind that one spouse has to meet the criteria of being a real estate professional; the qualifications and hourly requirements can not be split among spouses).
What If You’re Profitable? Does the Loophole Apply?
The real estate professional tax loophole won’t affect you if your properties are profitable; the only way you can use it to lower your taxable income is if you have excess losses. However, remember — you can still write off your depreciation and any expenses related to your properties, which will bring down your taxable income.
What’s the Best Way to Take Advantage of the Real Estate Professional Loophole?
If you want to take advantage of the real estate professional loophole, you’ll want to work with a CPA. A qualified CPA with experience in the real estate industry can advise you on how to best prepare your taxes and set up your business to qualify for the maximum deductions for your taxable income, while not hiring a CPA to handle your taxes can be a landlord mistake that costs you some serious cash.
CPAs know how to make the most of your particular investment situation in order to generate the best results. For example, if you have multiple rental properties, your CPA can put language into your return that combines all of your properties as one real estate activity, which will make it easier to meet the annual hours requirement to qualify as a real estate professional and claim the professional tax benefits.
Unless you moonlight as a tax professional, do yourself a favor and hire a CPA.
There are plenty of benefits to being a real estate investor, but the real estate professional loophole can be a particularly helpful (and lucrative) benefit when you experience losses on a property.