Cost Segregation Studies Post-TCJA

Make the most of bonus depreciation

For years, larger businesses have relied on cost segregation studies to accelerate their depreciation deductions and, as a result, reduce taxes and boost cash flows. Others may have thought the studies not worth the expense, especially for properties with a smaller tax basis.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changed the landscape dramatically when it comes to the cost-benefit analysis. All owners, developers and investors building or acquiring new or used commercial or residential real estate should consider cost segregation studies.

Studies in a nutshell

Real property often includes different classes of assets that come with different depreciation recovery periods. Taxpayers typically separate such property into individual components or asset groups that have the same recovery periods and placed-in-service dates to maximize their depreciation deductions. The process is relatively straightforward when you have the actual costs of each, but, if you have only lump-sum costs, you need to allocate costs to individual property components.

Cost segregation studies allow you to allocate some of the costs of buildings (Section 1250 property) to tangible personal property (Section 1245 property) and land improvements. Tangible personal property has shorter recovery periods (five or seven years under the tax code); the recovery period for land improvements is 15 years. Sec. 1250 real property, by contrast, has longer recovery periods (27½ years for residential property and 39 years for nonresidential property).

Taxpayers often commission cost segregation studies when initially placing properties in service, but you also can have “look-back” studies. These let you retroactively claim the depreciation you could have claimed earlier.

The TCJA opportunity

Under pre-TCJA law, taxpayers could claim a first-year bonus depreciation deduction equal to 50% of the adjusted basis of new assets placed in service in 2017. The deduction was available for the cost of new computer systems, purchased software, vehicles, machinery, equipment, office furniture and the like. Used assets didn’t qualify for the deduction.

The TCJA extends and expands bonus depreciation. You can expense the entire cost of such property (both new and used, subject to certain conditions) in the year the property is placed in service. The amount of the allowable deduction will begin to phase out in 2023, dropping off 20% each year for four years until it expires in 2027, absent congressional action. For certain types of property, though, the deadlines are a year later. That is, the deadline for placing the property in service is a year beyond the typical deadline. The phaseout for that property begins in 2024 and ends in 2028.

To qualify for 100% bonus depreciation, property generally must:

  1. Fall within the definition of “qualified property,”
  2. Be new (meaning the property’s original use begins with the business) or acquired used property,
  3. Be placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023, and
  4. Be acquired by the taxpayer after September 27, 2017.

These changes compound the potential benefits of cost segregation studies. Property that you can remove from the building classification may    now qualify for bonus depreciation, allowing you to immediately deduct its cost in the first year it’s placed in service.

The studies also might prove worthwhile for renovation projects. Although qualified improvement property (QIP) doesn’t qualify for bonus depreciation (see “The ‘retail glitch’ remains an issue”), a cost segregation study could identify components that aren’t QIP and may be eligible for shorter depreciation periods and bonus depreciation.

Note that bonus depreciation reduces taxable income, which could reduce certain other tax benefits — such as net operating losses or credits that are carried forward. In such cases, you may want to “elect out” of bonus depreciation. In that situation, you would take the traditional depreciation on the covered asset classes. (For the tax year that included September 27, 2017, you can elect to apply the 50% bonus depreciation rate.)

Plan carefully

Bonus depreciation may be subject to “recapture” when you dispose of an asset, making a portion of it taxable at the applicable ordinary income tax rate. Your CPA can help you determine the best strategy to minimize your taxes on bonus depreciation and other property.

The “retail glitch” remains an issue

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) expanded bonus depreciation significantly, a critical type of property is excluded from that treatment — qualified improvement property (QIP). This problem has been referred to as the “retail glitch.”

Before the TCJA, qualified retail improvement property, qualified restaurant property and qualified leasehold improvement property were depreciated over 15 years under the modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS). The TCJA designates all of these property types as QIP, generally defined as any improvement to the interior of a nonresidential real property that’s placed in service after the building was placed in service.

The TCJA’s legislative history makes clear that Congress intended QIP placed in service after 2017 to have a 15-year MACRS recovery period, which would qualify it for bonus depreciation. The 15-year recovery period doesn’t appear in the statute, though.

The preamble to the final bonus depreciation regulations states that legislative action is required to address this problem. But Congress hasn’t yet acted.

For additional information contact Nick Sarinelli, CPA, CFE or Doug Collins, CPA on (973) 298-8500 or visit our real estate services page.

© 2020