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Flipping Houses for Profit: How It Affects Your Taxes

Flipping houses—buying distressed properties, renovating them, and then selling them for a profit—has become a popular venture in the real estate market. The potential for substantial returns can be enticing. However, it’s crucial for house flippers to understand the tax implications associated with their endeavors. In this article, we’ll explore how flipping houses for profit can impact your taxes and the key considerations you should be aware of. 

Capital Gains Tax 

One of the primary tax considerations for house flippers is the capital gains tax. Profits made from the sale of a property are generally classified as capital gains. The tax rate on these gains depends on the holding period. Short-term capital gains, which apply to properties held for one year or less, are typically taxed at higher rates than long-term capital gains. 

If you’re flipping houses, your gains will likely fall into the short-term category, which are taxed like ordinary income. This could potentially impact the overall profitability of your business. This happens because the IRS classifies you as a dealer with real estate inventory, rather than an investor with capital assets. If your profits are being taxed like regular income, it also means it’s subject to the 15.3% self-employment tax. 

Deductible Expenses 

Flipping houses often involves various expenses, such as renovation costs, property taxes, insurance, and interest on loans. While a normal homeowner would typically be able to deduct these costs, house flippers have stricter limitations. To deduct these costs, you’ll need to capitalize them into the basis of the property. In other words, the cost of renovating the home will be added to the original value of the property. In turn, this will reduce the amount of taxable gain when you sell the house.  

Capitalized Costs 

Capitalized costs are basically expenses incurred from a purchase that you expect to directly result in a financial benefit. The costs that you can typically include when you capitalized the basis of a property include: 

  • Real estate taxes 
  • Costs associated with purchasing the home, including closing costs 
  • Materials and labor 
  • Utilities 
  • Rent 
  • Equipment depreciation 
  • Insurance 

While capitalized costs increase your cost basis, there are other expenses that can reduce it. These include depreciation, insurance payments received for a casualty or theft, or home energy tax credits.  

After renovating the home, the amount of capital gains tax you pay will be on any profit made above the entire cost basis of the property. For example, let’s say you purchased a property for $300,000 and did $70,000 worth of improvements to the property. This puts your cost basis at $370,000. After six months of owning the property, you sell the property for $500,000. You would be responsible for paying capital gains tax on the profits of $130,000 ($500,000 – $370,000).  

Depreciation Recapture 

If you claimed depreciation on the property when you owned it, you may be subject to depreciation recapture when selling. Depreciation recapture requires you to pay taxes on the depreciation deductions you previously claimed. This can result in additional tax liabilities when flipping properties. The recaptured depreciation is typically taxed at the ordinary income tax rate. This rate can be higher than the capital gains tax rate. This is because the depreciation deductions you previously claimed reduced your ordinary income in those years. That said, when recaptured, it is taxed at the ordinary income rate. 

1031 Exchange 

To defer capital gains taxes, some real estate investors utilize a 1031 exchange. Doing so allows them to reinvest the proceeds from the sale of one property into another like-kind property. While this strategy can be advantageous, strict rules must be followed to qualify for the tax deferral. For example, you must identify potential replacement properties within 45 days of selling the relinquished property. The acquisition of the replacement property must be completed within 180 days of the sale of the relinquished property. 

Additionally, you must reinvest all the proceeds from the sale of the relinquished property into the replacement property. Any cash or non-like-kind property received in the exchange may be subject to capital gains taxes. For example, let’s assume you had a mortgage of $800,000 on the old property. The mortgage on your new property is $700,000. In this scenario, you have a $100,000 gain that will be taxed, likely as a capital gain. This is typically where most investors get mixed up when attempting to use a 1031 exchange.  

Tax Help for House Flippers 

Flipping houses for profit can be a lucrative venture, but it comes with significant tax implications. Understanding the tax landscape is crucial for optimizing your profits and ensuring compliance with tax laws. Seeking the guidance of a tax professional or accountant with experience in real estate transactions is advisable to navigate the complexities of house flipping and minimize your tax liability. By staying informed and making informed financial decisions, you can maximize your returns and build a successful house-flipping business while staying in good standing with the tax authorities. Optima Tax Relief is the nation’s leading tax resolution firm with over $1 billion in resolved tax liabilities. 

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