Office building owners and their tenants have long understood the value of depreciation expense in relation to cash flow.
Depreciation expense is a deduction that reduces taxable income and thereby increases after-tax cash flow. Generally, the shorter the depreciation period, the greater the tax benefit derived. Factoring in the time value of money, larger deductions over a short period of time are far more beneficial than smaller deductions over a long period of time. This is true even though the total amount of deductions is the same under both short and long depreciation periods. Front-loading deductions puts after-tax dollars in your pocket that can then be invested in something else or used to retire debt. Plus, there is an opportunity to increase those tax savings with certain tax incentives available only through 2013, such as the availability of bonus depreciation. Bonus depreciation
Rules relating to bonus depreciation are among the tax benefits that were extended under the 2012 Tax Relief Act that was signed into law on January 2, 2013. In the absence of extending legislation, this tax break for assets used in business is scheduled to be completely eliminated. It may be beneficial to perform a cost segregation study to maximize those benefits this year.
Bonus depreciation applies to the following types of property (“qualified property”): tangible property with a depreciation period of not more than 20 years (machinery, equipment, other tangible personal property, and non-building land improvements); most computer software; and certain leasehold building improvements. The property must be new (not used), i.e., new construction or leasehold improvements. Bonus depreciation results in a deduction of 50% of the cost of an item of qualified property in the year placed in service and depreciation, under the regular depreciation rules, for the remaining cost of the item. Bonus depreciation has been available for several years; however, under current law, it will no longer be available for most property placed in service after Dec. 31, 2013.Greater cash flow
Commercial rental property is generally depreciated for tax purposes over 39 years and residential rental property over 27.5 years. Furniture and fixtures are depreciated over five or seven years. Land improvements, such as landscaping and parking lots, are depreciated over 15 years. Leasehold improvement property is generally depreciable over 39 years; however, “qualified leasehold improvement property” is depreciable over 15 years. Unimproved land is not depreciated.
If one could take a portion of a building that would normally be depreciated over 39 years and instead depreciate it over five or seven years, there would be a substantial and immediate tax benefit. That is where cost segregation comes into play. A cost segregation study identifies certain portions of what typically would be considered part of a building, and breaks them into tangible personal property asset classes with shorter depreciable lives. The result is faster depreciation on a portion of a long-term asset. For new buildings or improvements, the benefits will be greater when bonus depreciation is applied.
Cost segregation studies can be performed on purchased buildings, newly constructed buildings and tenant improvements. Studies can be performed for buildings and improvements placed in service as far back as the mid-1980s. No amended returns are required to claim the additional depreciation. In 1999, the IRS announced that it would permit companies that have claimed less than the allowable depreciation in prior years to claim the omitted depreciation as a change in accounting method. In 2002, the IRS announced that all of the prior years’ depreciation that is allowable under a cost segregation approach might be claimed in the change year. The ability to claim several years’ worth of depreciation in a single year makes this a potentially lucrative tax benefit.