Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can I deduct a new roof?

A reader sent in this question: I have purchased a piece of property with a building on it. The building's roof was in bad shape and I replaced it. My plan is to make this a rental property. Can this expense be deducted from my taxes? Thanks, Jerry My answer: Two issues here. The first is that you replaced the roof before you made the property a rental. You didn’t give be the dates. But suppose for example, you replaced the roof in 2010 and hope to turn it into a rental in 2011 … you’re out of luck. The second issue is a common one, even if you replaced the roof the same year it first became a rental: Rental property owners might think that any expense they incur is tax-deductible. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but that’s not quite true. The IRS separates work you have done on your rental as repairs or improvements ... A repair keeps your property in good operating condition. It does not add to your property’s value or prolong its life. Examples include: Fixing gutters, floors and leaks. Repairs are tax deductible the year you incur them. An improvement on the other hand, adds value to the property. Examples are a deck addition, a water softener and carpeting. Improvements must be depreciated over their life expectancy. It might not make a lot of sense, but the IRS considers a new roof an improvement since it increases the value and lengthens the life of the property. Therefore, you have to depreciate it over its life expectancy, for instance 20 years. However, if you had simply patched it, you could deduct the expense in the year you paid it. One of the many expensive lessons I’ve learned as a landlord is to make repairs as problems pop up instead of waiting until they multiply. It’s a lot cheaper than paying for extensive renovations, plus you get an immediate tax deduction. IRS Publication 527 is packed full of helpful tips on tax deductions for residential rental property. I suggest you give it a good read and bookmark for future reference. Good luck! George

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Need startup capital?

It’s not a secret Boomers are looking at retirement differently than their parents did. And many hope to go into business for themselves after leaving the corporate world. However, financing a new venture could be a problem. Today, I’d like to give you a brief overview of a strategy that just might help you get that dream business off the ground. Rollover as a Business Start-Up (ROBS) lets you get cash from your 401(k) plan. Here’s how it works: You create a C corporation and set up a retirement plan, but don’t initially issue stock. Then you roll over your existing 401(k) into the new retirement plan. Afterward, your new corporation issues stock and transfers it to the new retirement plan in exchange for cash. If the ROBS is set up correctly, no interest is owed, there are no IRS penalties for early withdrawal and you don’t have to repay the money. In addition, ROBS money may be used to help you qualify for a loan from a bank or the Small Business Administration. The IRS does not consider ROBS plans abusive tax avoidance transactions. But they are questionable because they may solely benefit one individual — the individual who rolls over his or her existing retirement funds to the ROBS plan in a tax-free transaction. That tells me the IRS is keeping a close eye on anyone who goes this route. And you could expect them to ask questions about your ROBS plan’s recordkeeping and information reporting requirements, including:
  • The plan’s current status
  • Plan contribution history
  • Information on the rollover or direct transfer of the assets into the ROBS plan Participant information
  • Stock valuation and stock purchases General information about the business itself

According to the IRS, here are some other areas a ROBS plan could run into trouble:

  • After the ROBS plan sponsor purchases the new company’s employer stock with the rollover funds, the sponsor amends the plan to prevent other participants from purchasing stock.
  • If the sponsor amends the plan to prevent other employees from participating, this may violate the Code qualification requirements.
  • Promoter fees
  • Valuation of assets
  • Failure to issue a Form 1099-R, Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRAs, Insurance Contracts, etc., when the assets are rolled over into the ROBS plan.

There are other risks, too ... A 2009 study by the IRS found that, although there were a few success stories, most ROBS businesses either failed or were on the road to failure with high rates of bankruptcy (business and personal), liens (business and personal), and corporate dissolutions by individual Secretaries of State. The IRS went on to say that some of the individuals who started ROBS plans lost not only the retirement assets they accumulated over many years, but also their dream of owning a business. As a result, much of the retirement savings invested in their unsuccessful ROBS plan was depleted or ‘lost,’ in many cases even before they had begun to offer their product or service to the public.

As you can see, a ROBS plan offers a pretty slick way to finance a new business with assets you normally couldn’t easily touch. But it’s filled with potential landmines. So make sure you hire an attorney and/or a CPA who is well experienced in ROBS to guide you along the way. Best wishes, George P.S. I’m now on Twitter. Follow me at for frequent updates, personal insights and observations on how to have a healthy retirement.

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