Helpful Tips

Repairs vs. improvements

One area that requires rental home owners to tread carefully is repairs vs. improvements. The tax code lets you write off repairs—any fixes that keep your property in working condition—immediately as you would other expenses. The costs of improvements that add value to a rental property or extend its life must instead be depreciated over several years. (More on depreciation below.)??

Think of it this way: Simply replacing a broken window pane counts as a repair, but replacing all of the windows in your rental home counts as an improvement. Patching a roof leak is a repair; re-shingling the entire roof is an improvement. You get the picture.

Deciphering depreciation

Depreciation refers to the value of property that’s lost over time due to wear and tear. In the case of improvements to a rental home, you can deduct a portion of that lost value every year over a set number of years. Carpeting and appliances in a rental home, for example, are usually depreciated over five years.

??You can begin depreciating the value of the entire rental property as soon as the rental home is ready for tenants, even if you don’t yet have any. In general, you depreciate the value of the home itself over 27.5 years. You’ll have to stop depreciating once you recover your cost or you stop renting out the home, whichever comes first.??

Depreciation is a valuable tax break, but the calculations can be tricky and the exceptions many. Read IRS Publication 946, “How to Depreciate Property,” for additional information, and use Form 4562 come tax time. You may need to consult a tax adviser.

Profits and losses on rental homes

The rent you collect from your tenant every month counts as income. You offset that income, and lower your tax bill, by deducting your rental home expenses including depreciation. If, for example, you received $9,600 rent during the year and had expenses of $4,200, then your taxable rental income would be $5,400 ($9,600 in rent minus $4,200 in expenses).

You can even write off a loss on a rental home as long as you meet income requirements, own at least 10% of the property, and actively participate in the rental of the home. Active participation in a rental is as simple as placing ads, setting rents, or screening prospective tenants.??

If you’re married filing jointly and your modified adjusted gross income (same as adjusted gross income for most persons) is $100,000 or less, you can deduct up to $25,000 in rental losses. The deduction for losses gradually phases out between income of $100,000 and $150,000. You may be able to carry forward excess losses to future years.

Let’s say that for the year rental receipts are $12,000 and expenses total $15,000, resulting in a $3,000 loss. If your modified adjusted gross income is below $100,000, you can deduct the full $3,000 loss. If you’re in a 25% tax bracket, a $3,000 loss reduces your tax bill by $750, plus any applicable state income taxes.

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