Real Estate and the AMT: Rental Or Investment Property

The Alternative Minimum Tax is a very important consideration for taxpayers who own real estate because just about every tax rule applying to real estate is different for the AMT than it is for the Regular Tax. This article on Real Estate and the AMT will address those situations where the individual holds the real estate as an investment, typically as rental property. The differences in tax treatment between the Regular Tax and the AMT can be significant.

Interest expense

Interest paid on the mortgage taken out to acquire the property is fully deductible, both for the Regular Tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax. Unlike itemized deductions that allow a tax benefit for what amounts to personal expenses, the tax law generally allows all deductions a taxpayer has to make in the pursuit of business income. Thus, the limitations discussed in the previous article on home mortgage interest do not apply.

If, however, the equity in the rental property is used as security for an additional loan – a second mortgage, for example – then the taxpayer must look to how the proceeds of that loan are used to determine interest deductibility. If the proceeds are used for a car loan or to finance a child’s education, for example, then the interest is nondeductible personal interest. If the proceeds are used to improve the rental property, the interest is deductible.

Suggestion – it is best that taxpayers keep personal borrowings separate from business borrowings. Mixing the two creates recordkeeping challenges and can result in disputes with the IRS.

Property taxes

Property taxes paid on rental or investment property are allowed in full both for Regular Tax purposes as well as for the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Planning idea – if you have an opportunity to pay your property tax bill either this year or next, pay it in a year when you have enough income from the property so as not to generate a rental loss. This strategy can help avoid triggering the passive activity loss limitations described below.

Example – in Florida property tax bills are mailed in October, and are payable under the following discount schedule: November – 4%, December – 3%, January – 2%, February – 1%. If you have a loss from the property in 2010 but expect to generate income in 2011, do not pay your bill in November or December – forgoing that small discount could help you avoid the loss-limitation rules.

Depreciation

Depreciation is allowed for property held for investment. The portion of the cost allocable to land is not depreciable, but for the building itself and the furniture, appliances, carpeting, etc. a depreciation deduction may be taken.

Real property (this is the legal definition of the house or other building) held for rental/investment may only be depreciated for Regular Tax purposes under the “straight-line” method, over a useful life of 27.5 years. Thus, a property with $275,000 allocated to the building would be depreciated at the rate of $10,000 per year.

Personal property (this is the legal definition of things such as furniture, appliances, carpeting and the like) may be depreciated for Regular Tax purposes under an “accelerated” method over a useful life of five years. An accelerated method allows a larger depreciation deduction in the early years, in recognition of an obsolescence or decline-in-value factor that you see in new property (cars are a good example).

For purposes of the AMT, however, personal property may be depreciated only by using a straight-line method. Thus, an AMT item will be generated in the early years if the accelerated method is used.

Planning idea – for personal property consider electing the straight-line method for Regular Tax purposes. While giving up a little tax benefit from the greater depreciation in the early years, it could mean avoiding paying the AMT.

Active/passive investment rules and the “at-risk” rules

A taxpayer who is not “active” in managing investment property may not use losses from rental property to offset other income such as salaries and wages, dividends, interest, capital gains, etc. Instead, these losses are deferred until the taxpayer either sells the property or generates passive income from this or other passive investment sources.

The at-risk rules similarly deny using these types of losses to the extent the taxpayer has acquired the investment with borrowed money and does not have personal liability on the debt.

Planning idea

If these loss limitations apply, consider the planning ideas mentioned above to minimize the losses being generated each year. They are not doing you any good anyway.

Sale of the property

Several different AMT issues can arise on the sale of rental/investment property. One is that your gain or loss may be different for the AMT than it is for Regular Tax purposes. This would be caused if different depreciation methods were used. For example, if the personal property was depreciated using an accelerated method for Regular Tax purposes, then the basis in that property when calculating gain or loss on sale would be different because the straight-line method had to be used for Alternative Minimum Tax purposes.

Gain on the sale of investment property generally is capital gain, although a portion may be treated as ordinary income depending on the accelerated depreciation method was used. Capital gains in and of themselves are not an AMT item, but nonetheless they can result in AMT being paid. This is because the AMT exemption amount is phased out for taxpayers at certain income levels, so this additional income can have the result of reducing the exemption which in turn increases taxable income for purposes of the Alternative Minimum Tax.

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Homeowners Guide to Home Insurance Discounts, Reduced Rates and Savings

In today's economy, many homeowners are juggling higher bills on less earnings – facing tight family budgets in the wake of rising costs, credit limits or even job loss. Yet there's no need to struggle with the cost of home insurance. Despite industry increases, homeowners may be able to reduce their insurance rates by as much as 30 percent.

Neverheless, many homeowners are not using insurance discounts to lower rates – even those who apply discounts may qualify for more savings than they're getting. And lowered rates are still possible, even in today's economy.

Consider the findings reported by independent insurance agent association, Trusted Choice, in a 2009 national survey:

"53 million household responders 'admitted they are probably not taking advantage of all homeowners insurance discounts or said that they simply did not know' about policyholder discounts they are reasonably qualify for."

The survey also found that the largest percentage of respondents, about 26%, estimated they save 6-10% on their insurance premiums by using discounts. In fact, many insurance consumers could be saving significantly more-as much as 30%, according to independent insurance agencies, which often shop on behalf of consumers and help them find discounts and compare rates.

Homeowners are usually aware of the more common discounts – such as a multiple policy discount to insure both home and auto under one carrier. But there are other discounts and savings they miss.

How savvy are you as a homeowner and insurance consumer?

Find out using this quick list to explore or measure your potential for insurance discounts. It's also the knowledge you and your insurance agent need to reduce rates for savings:

  • Dual duty – Do not overlook the most common discount available: multiple policy discounts. When the same company insures your home and car, you can probably reduce your overall insurance costs by 10 to 15 percent.
  • New home, new homeowner? The same criteria used to qualify your home for a specific mortgage is often the same that qualifies your policy for discounts.
  • Living in a gated community? Then you may be eligible for discounts. Be sure to ask about auto insurance discounts if your car is evenly 'protected' to boot.
  • Rooftop savings – Some insurance companies offer hail resistant roof discounts for Class 4 roofs – naturally these credits may vary with locale. Moreover, be sure to ask your insurer about potential discounts before putting a new roof on your house – you'll probably want to capture savings if available and a flat roof without roof warranty may disqualify you from your current coverage alike.
  • Be a new policyholder – You may find additional savings extended to new customers based on new rating models that offer a 'sign up' discount. If your insurer extends this discount, your insurance agent may be able to capture it by applying for a new policy with the same company.
  • Your track record counts – make sure you discover discounts for home insurance customers who have a claim-free track record … when was the last time you filed a home insurance claim? A 10-year history typically qualifies you for this discount; If you've never filed a claim, you may save as much as 20 percent.
  • Risk reductions – Ask your agent to identify risk reduction discounts addressing a range of interior and exterior factors: fire and smoke alarms, electrical wiring, fireplace / chimney safety, heating apparatus, burglar alarms, curb and gutter system and landscaping elements. Proximity to a fire hydrant and your community's fire department also applies.
  • Preventive maintenance and home security – Make sure your insurance agent is aware of any alarm systems or preventive measures you take to secure property and to keep your home safe. Although discount criteria varies, you may be able to get savings of 10 to 15 percent for a combined system that may include two or more measures: deadbolt locks, lockable garages and storage buildings, fire alarms, fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers, a burglar Alarm or home security system.
  • Good breeding gone bad – Like it or not, some pets have a reputation. You may adore your family pet but if Fido is a dog breed considered bite-happy or dangerous, your insurance rating may be affected or your coverage in jeopardy. Choose your pet wisely – be aware of the little issues that can turn your insurance into a big issue.
  • Score card – Expect your credit score to impact your home insurances rates. If married, you may be able to reduce your rate by listing the top scorer as the first named on the insurer's application. Plus, if you've had a less-than-score score and recently improved your numbers, let your insurance agent know. You may be able to get a policy adjustment: a lower insurance rate is still possible without the need to write a new policy.
  • Raise the limit – consider the difference a deductible makes. You can probably lower your rate by raising your deductible – $ 2,500 is the standard deductible and you can expect a lower rate if you raise it to $ 5,000.
  • Agent vs. Agent and the extended marketplace – Is your insurance agent an independent who can tap a broad product range? Or an agent affiliated with a name-brand company? Know the difference. Independent agents can shop around – explore options across the marketplace. Brand agents do not usually have the same agility – they're usually limited to the company practice or limited to brand products. Loyalty counts. Still, if you're committed to one company brand you may be just as limited as the insurance agent who is equally missing rate rates, discounts and savings offered by the brand's competition.
  • 'Home pride' and stewardship are vital – Even many insurance agents do not understand the role that stewardship plays in harnessing the broadest range of discounts possible. Why? The better care you take of your home, the more attractive you'll look to insurance carriers. And the best way to harness discounts is to identify as many discounts as possible – it stands to reason that more companies mean more potential for discounts.

So, you'll want to make sure your home qualifies for coverage from every company that offers coverage in your locale since increased competition generally decreases rates and opens your access to discounts.

In a nutshell, homeowners applying the discounts above will soon realize the many ways they can save on their home insurance – even when times are tough.

Get started on discounts for savings ….

  • Shop around to compare insurance company providers and rates – what companies provide home insurance in your community?
  • Get guidance on the details – an independent insurance agent is not tied to one brand, so these agents can help you see the whole marketplace and get the apples-to-apples lens you need to compare products, coverage and rates.
  • Identify discounts – make sure you identify the common discounts most homeowners hit, along with other discounts that frequently miss.
  • Do the 'homework' – the work at home that demonstrates stewardship makes you eligible to select from the broadest insurance product range possible.
  • Optimize selection, and then maximize discounts to benefit from reduced raters and savings.
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The “Contents Pack-out” Trap and How to Escape It

“Contents Pack-out” is a term used by water and fire restoration contractors, and insurance companies. It is the process in which the contractor sends trucks, boxes and workers to your home. They pack up all of the damaged personal property in your home or business and transport it back to their warehouse. Once the personal property is at the warehouse, the contractor begins the cleaning and restoration process.

Insurance companies do not like to replace personal property. They would rather clean or repair it and give it back to you. That drastically slashes their claims cost, which makes them happy.

I’ve been an insurance adjuster for over 16 years, and in the insurance business for over 35 years. I’ve seen very few instances where seriously damaged personal property can be just cleaned or repaired successfully. Most fires burn or infuse toxic chemicals into personal property, like wood or textiles. Same goes for a flood loss. My personal opinion is that replacement of damaged personal property is better than repair or cleaning.

So, what is the trap?

Insurance adjusters like to swoop in with their favorite approved restoration contractor and do a “pack-out.” But your insurance policy has a limit on Personal Property. All of the money that the insurance adjuster authorizes to have your contents cleaned is paid against the policy limit. So, if the restoration contractor cleans a bunch of your damaged property, but you reject it as damaged, the contractor still gets paid. But you have less money now to replace your damaged personal property.

The trap is that a pack-out can penalize you when you are submitting your insurance claim!

Here’s the Escape Strategy

1. You own the personal property…not the insurance company and not the restoration contractor. It is YOUR DECISION what gets repaired and what gets replaced, not the adjuster.

2. Call in your own restoration contractor for a second opinion. It shouldn’t cost you anything, but even if it did, it would be money well spent.

3. Make sure every single item that gets removed from your home is listed on an inventory sheet.

4. Based upon your contractor’s opinion, negotiate the replacements with the adjuster and settle the claim.

If you have experienced a property loss, whether fire, wind, flood or other, you need to know winning insurance claim strategies. The insurance company will not tell you the claims process, but I will. I will show you how to take control of your insurance claim, and add hundreds or even thousands more dollars to your claim settlement. For more information, go to the website listed below.

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