1031 Exchange Explained

1031 Exchange Explained

 By Wilhelm Schnotz

 

1031 Exchange Explained thumbnail 

<:figure>A 1031 exchange helps defer gains taxes on the sale of a property.

For real estate speculators and families who live in areas with an expensive real estate market, capital gains can pose a significant tax burden, particularly if real estate was held for a long time or through a volatile time in the market. Although it’s impossible to completely avoid capital gains assessments, a 1031 like-kind exchange allows property owners to sell one property and purchase another with the proceeds, and, if handled correctly, shields investors from immediate gains taxes.

    • The Internal Revenue Service allows investors to liquidate one property and exchange it for one of a similar kind — all domestic real estate qualifies as like-kind — and postpone gains taxes from the original sale. To qualify for a 1031 exchange, taxpayers may not take possession of the money generated by the sale of the property. To do this, investors must simultaneously sell the old property and purchase the new one, or route their funds to a qualified intermediary so they don’t take possession of the money, even if it’s reinvested in the new property. Any personal acquisition of the funds, even if it’s momentary, incurs gains taxes.

    Maintaining Equity

    • A 1031 exchange is only valid if the property owner’s equity in the new property is equal to or greater than that of the old property. Because of this, investors may not cash in equity on their old property during the exchange, though they can invest more into the new property.

    • Qualified Intermediaries
    • If property owners don’t simultaneously sell and purchase the properties involved in the 1031 exchange, a qualified intermediary — a real estate broker — must serve as a go-between for the sale and purchase of the properties. Money gained through the sale of the original property is placed into an exchange account managed by the intermediary, so taxpayers never come in direct contact with the funds.

    Time Frame

    • Property owners must identify one to three potential properties to purchase within 45 days of the original sale if a qualifying intermediary holds the funds. The exchange must be completed, with a new property purchased, within 180 days of the sale of the original property or by the date the taxpayer’s taxes must be filed.

    Reverse Exchanges

    • In the case that a taxpayer purchases a replacement property before the original one is sold, a reverse exchange may be engineered. Amendments to 1031 rules were introduced in 2000 to allow a safe harbor for reverse exchanges in this situation.

    Tax Basis and Gains

    • A successfully executed 1031 exchange allows a taxpayer to avoid paying gains on the sale of the original property, but those gains are only deferred to a later date. When a property purchased as part of a 1031 exchange is sold, its tax basis is calculated as the gains between the original property and the final one’s sale price. For example, an investor purchases a property for $100,000, and sells it as part of a 1031 exchange for $150,000, and purchases another property for $200,000. When that property is sold for $220,000, the investor’s tax basis is the difference between the purchase price of the original property and the sale of the second one. This investor faces gains taxes on $120,000 ($220,000 – $100,000) in this situation.

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including “TV Guide” and “The Dallas Observer.” Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

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