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Bolster Cash Flow With a Cost Segregation Lookback Study

May 24, 2022

The tax deductions your business receives after investing in real property can make improving, purchasing, or building more affordable. A cost segregation study can add even more value by allowing you to accelerate depreciation, thus boosting your annual deduction amount. Think you’ve missed out on that opportunity? Think again. A lookback study may deliver tax benefits even after the project or purchase is complete.

A cost segregation study evaluates a purchase, improvement, or new construction project to identify real estate components that are properly treated as personal property depreciable over, say, five or seven years, or land improvements that are depreciable over 15 years. That’s quite different from the time scales that usually apply to real property. Commercial buildings are generally depreciable over 39 years, and residential buildings over 27.5 years.

Breaking these expenses out from the total project cost so that you can depreciate them over shorter timespans can increase your annual deductions and substantially reduce your annual tax bill. And if these assets qualify for bonus depreciation, the tax savings can be even greater.

While some assets that qualify as personal property are easy to identify — things like furniture, fixtures, equipment, and machinery — other property eligible for accelerated depreciation can be less obvious. In many cases, building components that ordinarily would be treated as real property depreciable over 39 years may be classified as five- or seven-year property if they’re essential to special business functions.

How Much Can You Save?

Deducting a bit more each year may not sound like a huge advantage until you do the math. Let’s explore how the numbers can play out with an example:

Say a manufacturing company built a new factory for $20 million and placed it in service in June 2021. The design of the new factory included a reinforced foundation, specialized electrical and plumbing systems, and other structural components closely related to manufacturing functions. After performing a cost segregation study, the company allocates $6 million of the building cost to these components, which are depreciable over seven years instead of the 39 years that would apply without breaking out these costs. As a result, the company increases its depreciation deductions by approximately $774,000 in Year 1, $1.05 million in Year 2, and $895,000 in Year 3 (not counting any available bonus depreciation).

Thanks to this reduction in tax liability, the manufacturing company can afford further upgrades and investments that improve performance and hone the company’s competitive edge.

Catch Up on Missed Deductions with a “Lookback” Study

Suppose you invested in a building several years ago but allocated the entire cost to real property. The door may not be closed yet. Depending on how much time has passed and the available documentation, it may be possible to apply to the IRS for a change in accounting method that allows you to claim a catch-up deduction for the extra depreciation deductions you missed over the years.

Every situation is different, and some investments in commercial real property don’t include any costs that qualify for a shorter depreciation period. However, a cost segregation study often pays off with faster depreciation, bigger tax deductions, and improved cash flow. Talk to your CRI advisor for help determining if a cost segregation study could benefit your business.

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