Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Real Estate Investing Tax Traps

I was at a great seminar last week. One of the speakers, a super knowledgeable tax guru and ex-CRA-auditor, shared several tips about potential tax traps real estate investors can fall into.

Taxes can get pretty fat, so it's always great to learn some ways to keep them skinny. Posting my notes here just in case you'll find them helpful.

Tax Trap #1 - House Flipping

Suppose, the following flip scenario: we buy at 400K, renovate for 100K and sell for 650K. This results in 150K capital gain, half of which is taxable.

Let's say our tax rate is 50%. We'd then pay 37.5K in taxes and pocket 112.5K of after tax profit.

DANGER: Flip with incorrect Tax on Capital Gain calculation -
larger profit than in reality


Most people don't realize that per Canadian Income Tax Act, there are two distinct categories of property:

1) Inventory, which creates business income or loss

2) Capital, which creates capital gain or loss.

The distinction is based on whether or not a property is acquired and used on account of income or capital.

Taxes Payable - Personal Name

It turns out that, when you purchase a property with the intention to renovate and flip, you put yourself into a business income situation.

Capital gain is not applicable since you have a clear intention of selling the property. In this case, your property is your inventory. So sales proceeds are your income. You have to pay tax on 100% of your income. You cannot take advantage of the 50% capital gain tax inclusion rule.

In the scenario above, if you purchased the property in your personal name (not under a corporation), your taxable income is 150K, tax is 75K and your actual after tax profit is 75K (not 112K).

If you are not aware of this tax trap, there is a HUGE risk of spending 112K profit and then being stuck with a large tax debt of 37K.

REALITY: Flip with Tax on Income - much lower profit

Please note that purchasing in corporate name can save you a lot of taxes. So this example and tax trap would not be applicable, if you manage your corporate taxes well.

Tax Trap # 2 - Condo Flip

On condo flips, investors can fall into an even deeper tax trap.

First, as in the previous example, all of earned income is 100% taxable since condo is considered to be inventory.

In addition, investor must repay GST, if he/she had received it when purchasing the condo from the builder. Even though GST repay is just a return of the money recently received, the danger is that one would have already spent it by the time they'd need to pay it back.

The next catch is that HST is applicable on new properties. Investor would have to pay 13% HST.

Lastly, as per the linked article, CRA is on top of improper tax payments (ie. capital income vs. business income issue) and would apply a penalty up to 50% of tax payable for tax avoidance to anyone who reports tax incorrectly on their new condo flip.

All in all, a condo flip may end up being a loss rather than a profitable deal, once all these adjustments are applied.

For example, if we purchase a new condo for 400K (including tax rebate) and sell it for 500K. Applying capital gain tax only, you might erroneously think that you'd only pay tax on 50% of 100K capital gain, which would result in 75K profit.

DANGER: New Condo Flip with Incorrect Tax Calculation
- looks like a profitable deal

In reality, after we apply all the adjustments that an investor might have missed, we end up with a loss of 12K.

REALITY: Loss on a New Condo Flip due to Taxation Error

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that many new investors might not know about these potential tax traps and might lose money. 

The only way to avoid these tax traps is to keep educating yourself and find a way to get advice from knowledgeable accountants and tax advisors, who have applicable experience and know exactly how to navigate around these and other potential tax traps.

Hope you find this post helpful. Please share, like or forward to your friends and fellow newbie investors if you did!!!