Social Security Tax

Real Estate Investor vs. Professional: Why it Matters

Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you are a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8 percent net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.

Of course, the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. However, if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.

Professional Requirements

To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:

  • More than 50% of your personal services in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate
  • More than 750 hours of service in these businesses

Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances (special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test).

Tax Strategies

If you are concerned you will fail either test and be subject to the 3.8 percent NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:

Increasing Your Involvement in the Real Estate Activity

If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.

Looking at Other Activities

If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you will have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.

Disposing of the Activity

This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). However, again, the rules are complex.

Also, be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer did not keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.

If you are not sure whether you qualify as a real estate professional, please contact us. We can help you make this determination and guide you on how to properly document your hours.

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