REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

December 19, 2017

What’s with 1031 Exchanges?

By David Reiss

photo by www.rentalrealities.com

US News & World Report quoted me in Why 1031 Exchange Investments Are Worth a Look. It opens,

With tax reform nearing final passage in Congress, one of the most underlooked, but potentially overpowering, tax-advantaged investment tools is the 1031 exchange, which was spared major changes in the proposed legislation.

The 1031 exchange, especially when related to real estate investments, is all about “timing and taxes” and the better you manage the two, the more money you can make.

What is a 1031 exchange? By and large, IRS Section 1031 covers “exchanges” or swaps of a specific investable asset (such as real estate) for another. The end game for the taxpayer/investor is to avoid having exchanges listed as taxable sales. But if they’re executed within the confines of a 1031 exchange, taxes are either significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.

The primary benefit of 1031 exchanges related to real estate investments is tax deferral, or avoidance of capital gains taxes on the sale of appreciated investment property, says Kevin O’Brian, a certified financial planner at Peak Financial Services, in Northborough, Massachusetts.
“If held inside owner’s estate at death, the asset would receive a step-up in cost basis to the market value, as of the date of death,” O’Brian says. “Therefore, heirs could avoid capital gains taxes, if sold after inheriting it as well.”
Others note that following IRS guidelines on Section 1031 are a must.
“1031 exchanges allow a real estate investor to sell one property that has appreciated in value and not pay capital gains tax so long as the investor buys another property,” says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. “This is a powerful tax deferral tool that many sophisticated real estate investors use. It is, however, somewhat complicated to pull off and involves some additional costs and planning so it is not for those looking for a quick and easy way to defer capital gains.”
What are the rules for a 1031 exchange? The rules governing 1031 exchanges have to be followed carefully and it makes sense to plan for it with an appropriate team of professional advisors and a reputable 1031 exchange company, Reiss says.
“Generally, the investor needs to sell the property that has appreciated in value; place the proceeds in escrow with an intermediary; and then use those proceeds to buy a replacement property within a certain period of time,” he says. “If the investor fails to follow the requirements for the exchange, he or she may be taxed on the full capital gain.”
Investors should also be sure to use a 1031 exchange company that meets specific criteria. “Not the least of which is that it’s properly insured to protect you in case your funds disappear from escrow,” Reiss says. “This has been known to happen.”
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