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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Know About the Consequences of Not Having Public Liability Insurance Coverage

Public liability insurance is an important insurance policy that protects your business during the time of adversities. Especially, if your business handles risky activities like construction, plumbing, etc., or if the public enters into your business premises like in retailing, then this insurance plan is a must have. Owing to the uncertainty of accidents and the huge costs of legal claims, your business may run into crisis if you are not properly guarded by the right insurance plan, i.e. public liability insurance.

This article gives you a little insight into the consequences your business might face, if you do not have public liability insurance coverage.

Financial burden: Depending on the damage or loss caused to the third-party, the amount claimed may vary. But the third parties generally sue the company for heavy amounts as small amounts do not matter for both company and the sufferers. These claims will add up to the company’s existing costs and become a financial burden to the company. Managing the finances between the company’s needs and legal claims is not wise as it halts the business operations.

Legal battles: Apart from the amount to be reimbursed, a company has to face legal battles which occur as a result of lawsuits filed against the business by the third parties. The legal costs and expenses are generally high. You need to deal legal authorities with utmost care. These legal battles are hectic. The time and effort required to fight these legal battles is also high. It diverts you from your core business. But if you have a public liability policy, the insurance company assists you and takes charge in fighting these legal battles till the case is closed, besides paying the legal expenses.

Chances of bankruptcy: Inability to pay the outstanding charges claimed by the third parties may lead the business to go bankrupt. Unless a business has outstanding capital, it cannot afford to pay these legal expenses. Moreover, you are needed to provide additional financial assistance in the form of medical aid as in case of accidents and repairing charges in case of property damage, besides paying the lump sum amount and the legal costs.

Investment at risk: In case your business is facing a third-party legal claim, and if you are in a position where you cannot pay the claimed amount instantly, then, the bank or the court gives permission to seize your various monetary investments or fixed assets such as land, furniture or machinery to cover the legal expenses and the claimed amount.

Lack of mental peace: With the all the above issues, you will surely lose mental peace. These legal claims not only eat away the business’ time and effort but in some cases may ruin the business’ existence. Legal claims should be dealt instantly; any delay will only aggravate the tension and loss.

A good business will always be prepared for the future crisis. Having a public liability insurance policy is a wise decision. It provides timely financial help to pay the claimed amount and the legal costs without putting the business at stake.

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Estate Liquidation – Pros and Cons of Tag Sales and Auctions

Executors faced with liquidating an estate’s personal property will quickly find that it is their most time-consuming administrative task. Executors who don’t perform their duties could be removed from office by the Probate Judge, so it is important that they single-mindedly pursue disposing of the estate’s property so that the bills can be paid and the estate settled.

What you’ll get from this article

Executors have three main liquidation options, and I will discuss the pros and cons of each in this article. Any company chosen to liquidate an estate should be vetted; I will tell you how to do this conscientiously, and I will also propose the best liquidation method. I assume that the twin liquidation goals of the Executor are to achieve the greatest cash benefit to the estate and to leave the house broom-clean so that it can be sold. Of course, there are ways to maximize the cash return for each type of sale, and I’ll tell you what they are.

Investing ten minutes into reading this article could save an Executor many hours of work.

Option 1: Have An Auction On-Site

Benefits of an On-Site Auction:

Auctioneers are very competitive lot. It should be an easy job for an executor to find an auction company willing to take the estate liquidation job, and commissions will be competitive. A strong argument for an on-site estate auction is that when the auction is over, there will be very little clean-up. If you like, the real estate can be auctioned as well, since auctioneers are licensed to auction the real estate and other titled property. In one day, the house, car, boat, RV, and all the household goods could be sold.

Negatives for an On-Site Auction:

Auctions are driven by competitive bidding. Consequently, it is necessary to have a lot of people at your auction. Big crowds require nice weather, plenty of parking, bathrooms, food, and refreshments to keep the people from leaving. Online bidding can be included to boost attendance, but it is the local crowd that builds excitement and drives the prices up. To attract a crowd, the estate must have collectibles and other quality goods. Run-of-the-mill goods that can be purchased at the local thrift store are insufficient to attract a good auction crowd.

Suggestions for an On-Site Auction:

If your estate has many large collectibles, like antique furniture or a piano, an on-site auction may be your best choice. Summer weekends, when the weather is warm and dry, are the best times to hold an on-site estate auction. The auction company you hire should be equipped with sound equipment, canopy tents, display tables, and plenty of help for fast checkout.

Option 2: Auction Gallery Consignment

Pros for Auction Gallery Consignment

If weather is a concern, you may want to consider consigning your items to an Auction Gallery. Consignments at an Auction Gallery are grouped according to the type of item in order to maximize turnout and get the best prices from their collectors. For example, there may be an auction dedicated to art and home decor, or musical instruments, or ceramics.

Cons for Auction Gallery Consignment

There are quite a few reasons for not consigning to an Auction Gallery. For starters, many Auction Galleries will take only the best items from the estate. Ninety percent of an estate is made up of items that are of little interest to the auctioneer, which leaves the Executor to deal with the remaining ninety percent of the estate property. Lastly, when an Auction Gallery spreads the merchandise out over several auctions, it can take months for all the items to sell, delaying the closing of the estate.

Tips for Auction Gallery Consignment

Before you consign to an Auction Gallery, ask the auctioneer how your merchandise will be distributed between auctions; get a guaranteed settlement date. You will also need a plan for disposing of all the remaining estate merchandise.

Option 3: Tag Sale On-Site

Pros for Tag Sale On-Site

Tag sales have several advantages over an on-site auction. For those that are not familiar with tag sales, the sale is held on the premises and in the house. Companies that specialize in tag sales are less common than auction companies. At a tag sale, everything in the house is priced, much like at a yard sale. Shoppers will browse through the house, and choose the items they wish to buy. When buyers arrive at the house, they take a number, and are admitted into the house when their number is called. Tag sales usually start on Friday evening and end Sunday evening, so there is no need to provide food or bathroom facilities. Tag sales can be held rain or shine and in any season

Cons for Tag Sale On-Site

The biggest disadvantage in hiring a tag sale company is that tag sale companies are not held to the same legal standards to which auction companies are held. Auctioneers and Realtors are bound by law to the estate by a fiduciary bond. A fiduciary relationship binds the agent by law to act at all times in the best interest of the estate. Fiduciaries are licensed by the state, must pass tests, be bonded, must hold all funds in an escrow account until distributed, and has to settle the account with the estate within a specific time frame.

Fiduciaries must also keep accurate records and follow certain protocols. Failure of a fiduciary to follow procedures can result in fines or loss of license. Tag sale companies are not held to the same legal standards, although they certainly have a moral obligation to the estate. Tag sale companies can handle the details of the sale and the distribution of the money any way they see fit.

Another problem with tag sales is that typically there is merchandise left over after the sale. Often, there is a LOT of merchandise left over. When a lot of items are left over, the executor then has a clean-out problem, because the house must be left “broom-clean” before a realtor will list the house for sale. Unlike an auction, where prices go up with each bid, tag sale shoppers want to negotiate a lower price for everything, which is not only time consuming but costs the estate money.

Tips for Tag Sale On-Site

When working with a tag sale company, read the contract thoroughly, make sure settlement dealines are included. the operator should have a solid pricing plan, adequate staff, and a solid track record.

What about Internet Sales and Retail consignment?

Internet sales work well for items that can be shipped easily, like small collectibles, books, and artwork. Before you decide to sell these items online, remember that having a nice assortment of collectibles at your auction or tag sale is what will attract the buyers to your event. If you sell all the good collectibles online, you won’t get very good attendance at your sale. Dont even consider a retail consignment; they will take too long to sell your items.

How do I know if I am dealing with a reputable company?

Unfortunately, asking for references doesn’t always work; no one gives a bad reference. The Better Business Bureau lists ratings for some, but not all, companies. With an auction company, most states have an occupational licensing board which can give you the status of an auctioneers license and tell you if they have any complaints on file. Checking up on a tag sale company is a lot harder, because there is no agency keeping track of complaints. One website that is helpful is http://www.ripoffreport.com. When at the site search the name of the company you wish to investigate; also type in the owners name to see what that brings up.

Hire a company with a solid internet presence

These days, it is imperative for a company to have an online network. A company that is well-connected in the online world is likely to be a company that is well-networked in the local area. It’s unlikely that a company with a poor or no website will be able to use the internet to generate sales for your event. Doing a Google search of the company’s name or web address is the best way to to see how well connected they are. Go to Googles search bar (not the address bar at the top of the page, but the search bar in the center of the page) and type in the companys web address starting with www. How many search results are returned that pertain directly to the company you are investigating?. If the company is a national franchise, disregard the results for the general franchise and only count the results where the local company is mentioned. Ranking well with the search engines doesn’t necessarily mean the company will be the best one for your needs, but it is a good indicator of the professionalism of the company. Typically, companies that have lots of returned results do so because other organizations want to associate with experts in their field, so they link to the experts website. A large number of linking companies is like a “vote” for the company being linked to. A company that displays lots of Google results is usually one that is recognized as being expert in their field.

So, what’s the best way to liquidate an estate?

The best type of sale for estate liquidation is to hire a licensed fiduciary to sell the estate property in one day, to the bare walls, any time of year. To achieve this would require an event that is part tag sale and part auction, run by an auctioneer. Since Tag Sale operators are generally not licensed auctioneers and auctioneers usually hate to do tag sales, that’s a tough solution to implement. There are auctioneers that combine these services, however. Finding such a company will give an executor the flexibility of having a sale any time of year, the ability to sell down to the bare walls with nothing left over, and the assurance of dealing with a state licensed and bonded fiduciary.

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