The Alternative Minimum Tax is a very important consideration for taxpayers who own real estate, because many of the rules that apply to real estate are different for the AMT than they are for the Regular Tax. This article is the first of a four-part series on Real Estate and the AMT. We'll start with an overview of the differences in the rules, and then will drill down into the details in the three different situations taxpayers find themselves when they own real estate:
1) the taxpayer's residence;
2) a rental/investment property; or
3) property used in the taxpayer's trade or business.
These articles will be updated periodically to reflect future changes in the tax law that affect the Regular Tax and AMT treatment of real estate.
Here are the things we will be looking at:
Except for anyone who travels in the Buffet/Gates social circles, every purchase of real estate will be financed. Financing, in turn, means that interest will be paid. In general, the tax law allows a deduction for this interest for Regular Tax purposes, although a number of different limitations can apply. These limitations vary, depending on whether the property is a residence, or is rental/investment or business property. The separate AMT limitations that apply to real estate also vary among these categories.
Property ownership brings with it the obligation to pay property taxes. In general, for Regular Tax purposes real estate taxes are deductible regardless of the reason for holding the property. This is not the case for Alternative Minimum Tax payers, however, for whom the deduction may be totally disallowed in some situations, yet allowed in others, depending on which of the three classifications applies.
Depreciation is a deduction that allows a taxpayer to recover the cost of an investment in property, depending again on the taxpayer's purpose for holding the property. If depreciation deductions are allowable, the AMT has a set of rules different from the ones that apply for purposes of the Regular Tax.
Active/passive investment rules and the "at-risk" rules
In some cases the tax law's active vs. passive investment rules, and/or the at-risk rules, will apply to individuals owning real estate. These are overarching rules that supersede the other individual tax law limitations. Even if they do apply, however, an AMT payer still must keep track of the separate AMT calculations required by the other limitations.
Sale of the property
Very few taxpayers hold on to property for life; at some point in the future it can be expected that the property will be sold. A number of special Regular Tax rules apply to the sale of real estate, and, in most cases, an AMT payer will have a different set of calculations to make.
Real estate is one of the biggest purchases most taxpayers make, and it is likely there will be a number of real estate purchases and sales throughout the taxpayer's lifetime. The Regular Tax rules are complicated enough, but additional wrinkles exist in the calculations for Alternative Minimum Tax payers. With a little knowledge, however, these complications and wrinkles can present some real tax planning opportunities for AMT payers.