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Are you trying to learn how to deliver massive tax value to your clients? Then look no further. Retirement Tax Services Podcast, Financial Professional’s Edition is a show hosted by Steven Jarvis, CPA. Steven aims to bridge the gap between tax professionals, financial advisors and their mutual clients in their quest for reducing tax expenses in retirement.
Cost Segregation is a commonly used strategic tax planning tool that allows companies (or individuals) who have constructed, purchased, or remodeled real estate to increase cash flow by accelerating depreciation deductions and deferring income taxes. Although this sounds confusing to many, our guest today is an expert in this field. Stacy Sherman is a National Account Executive for Cost Segregation Services, Inc, and in this episode, she will be breaking down this topic and explaining what you should be looking for moving forward with your clients.
Listen in as Stacy shares what makes a cost seg worth looking into and what common mistakes you should avoid to ensure you’re not throwing cash in the trash. You will learn who can take advantage of these tax savings, how to start a collaboration to take advantage of this, and Stacy’s recommendations for anyone interested in cost segregation.
Steven and his guests share more tax-planning insights in today’s Retirement Tax Services Podcast. Feedback, unusual tax-planning stories, and suggestions for future guests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Steven Jarvis: Hello everyone and welcome to the next episode of the Retirement Tax Services Podcast, Financial Professionals Edition. I am your host, Steven Jarvis, CPA, and in this show I teach financial advisors how to deliver massive value through tax planning. I’m particularly excited about today’s episode, because the topic comes from questions I get from advisors about opportunities specifically for business owners, and that’s around cost segregation studies. My guest today, Stacy Sherman, who’s a national account executive with CSSI, this is what she does all day long. Stacy, welcome to the show. So excited to talk about cost segs.
Stacy Sherman: Hi, Steven. Thanks for having me, and hello to your listeners. Yes, I do cost segregation all day long, so to take a break and do a podcast is a lot of fun for me.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah, I really appreciate that you’re willing to take the time to do it. Let’s take a second, and let’s not assume that that everyone knows what a cost seg study is. What is your elevator pitch or just brief overview of here’s what a cost seg is?
Stacy Sherman: Sure. A cost segregation study is the study that allows building owners to accelerate depreciation. That means creating more losses today, which means paying less in income tax today, maximizing time value of money. It’s the same amount of depreciation losses you would get over 39 years or 27-1/2 years, but you get a lot more of it today.
Steven Jarvis: Love that description. So many great things in there. Really want to highlight that the value of a cost seg study is being able to be proactive and intentional about the timing of when we’re paying taxes. This is true of so many tax planning opportunities, that it really comes down to how can we take control or how can we influence the outcome? This isn’t a matter of we can change the total value of a building, because as we talk about depreciation, that’s just the accounting word for spreading costs out over the life of something. According to the IRS, every building should last for 39-1/2 years, because of course all buildings are created equal.
So by default, if you build a building, everything in that building is going to reduce your taxable income evenly over 39-1/2 years, unless you find a great professional like Stacy who can go in and identify pieces that should be accelerated so that we can increase our losses now. Yes, sometimes increasing losses is a good thing, because we can increase our tax losses so that we can free up cash flow, that we can take advantage of the time value of money and change when we’re getting those taxable losses.
Stacy Sherman: Yep, exactly right. It’s an engineering-based study. I should have thrown that in as well. You have to have expertise like ours, the document that justifies these losses. Typically, we partner with tax professionals and accountants and enrolled agents to get this report done.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah, that’s a great point. This isn’t just a swag. This isn’t just, hey, here’s a building, so we’ll just take some nice round percentages and just divvy it up into different buckets. Even though this is a topic that gets brought up quite often by, like you said, accountants, CPAs, enrolled agents, ultimately the detailed work is done by engineers, by people who really understand how buildings are designed and can get in and support. I really like that you brought that up, because while there’s a lot of different things we can do with tax planning, at the end of the day, we need documentation, we need a supportable position. In case the IRS ever comes back and wants to ask questions, there needs to be something behind that to say, okay, here’s how we decided here’s how much of the depreciation we could take now as opposed to over 39-1/2 years.
Stacy Sherman: Yeah, definitely.
Steven Jarvis: Okay. Stacy, is there anything else in your initial introduction, maybe to a new client, that you like to cover just right out of the gate to make sure that everyone’s heading the same direction with what this can accomplish?
Stacy Sherman: Sure. Well, I think a lot of people, tax professionals included, think of cost segregation, a skyscraper or a multimillion dollar building, but we work with buildings as low as $250,000 in cost or purchase price, or even tenant improvements, doctor, dentist, restaurants who pay for leasehold improvements. And a lot of people think it’s when you only acquire a building, but we do this on buildings, typically anything acquired in the last 15 years or less or substantially improved in the last 15 years. So it doesn’t have to be an expensive building, $250,000 and acquired in the last 15 years. Doesn’t have to be new. That surprises people that we work on dollar stores and mobile home parks and campgrounds and golf courses, and you name it, QSRs, fast food restaurants, really almost any asset class.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah, that’s great context for how to potentially identify these opportunities, because for advisors listening, there’s a chance as a business owner yourself that this could be relevant if you own a building, depending on the size of your firm, if you have leasehold improvements. But especially for many of your business owner clients, if this is something they’ve heard of, they probably don’t have a lot of experience with it or really a lot of knowledge of how it’s applicable, so I really like that you’re putting very specific context to things to start looking for. Can you speak a little more to that $250,000 threshold you mentioned there, because that’s not an IRS requirement. You threw out a specific dollar amount, so why the specific threshold?
Stacy Sherman: That’s right. That’s not a IRS number. That’s sort of the sweet spot where our fee could be justified, where there’d be enough ROI for the owner. Anything below that, since we’re just dealing with time value of money, below that is probably not worth… Our fees are not high, but that would be the sweet spot.
Steven Jarvis: Yes, because again, the value here is being able to accelerate those losses so that we pay less in taxes now. So we can do other things with that money, whether it’s invest it in other real estate, however we want to invest it, or just having control over it can be a huge benefit. And when we talk about by default, this is all going to get stretched over 39-1/2 years, we can start having some real impact if we can get some of those things depreciated over just the next several years, the next 15 years even, as opposed to 39-1/2 years.
Stacy Sherman: Correct.
Steven Jarvis: What are other things that, whether it’s advisors or business owners, should be on the lookout for to say, hey, maybe a cost seg is something that’s worth looking into?
Stacy Sherman: Well, one of my favorite tax benefits, it’s in addition to cost segregation but sort of part of it, it’s called partial asset disposition. If there is a dumpster at your building or your client’s building, the easy way to remember this is cash in the trash, you get to write down the remaining depreciable basis of what you rip out and remove. And that’s on top of cost segregation. That tax benefit tends to be, usually is in the 20% range of a project’s cost, so if you’re doing CapEx value add, think of 20% of what you’re spending. That might be the additional tax benefits you have on top of cost segregation. And it requires a study. It’s similar to our cost segregation study. We do an asset valuation, so we can create the document that you need to justify these losses.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. If a business owner goes in and buys something that’s even as low as $250,000, that purchase price, initially we’re going to think about is we bought a building and it costs $250,000, but if we can go in and take the time to do these studies, we can actually say, oh, of that $250,000, here’s $5,000 for a dumpster or whatever it might be. And obviously as the buildings get larger, the scale changes, but we’re trying to get more granular so that as we make decisions, we can take advantage of the tax-related consequences.
Stacy Sherman: Well, kind of. I was thinking more, let’s say you own an office, an auto dealer, a restaurant, whatever, and you refresh it, after you’ve filed the first tax return. The removal can’t occur in the same tax year you bought the property. But you go in and you rip stuff out and you fill up that dumpster, that is cash in the trash. You’re writing down the remaining depreciable basis. You’re getting rid of phantom assets. Maybe I’m getting a little too in the weeds, but it’s something to think about.
If there’s a dumpster, a light bulb should go off, like what was that? They could reach out to me and clarify, because the dates and the timing can get a little confusing on this. Whereas a cost segregation study can be performed at any time of ownership, this partial asset disposition has to meet certain timing criteria. I don’t want to lose people here with the details of that timing, but think of cash in the trash if there’s a dumpster, because otherwise you’re throwing away a lot in tax savings.
Steven Jarvis: Gotcha. That’s just something to look out for, that okay, that’s time to pick up a phone and call someone. Probably not something you’re going to figure out on your own, but if you can partner with someone who does this, there’s potential for tax savings.
Stacy Sherman: Exactly.
Steven Jarvis: Perfect. I love that. You mentioned all sorts of different types of buildings you do this around. Any particular industries that you see this more commonly in? What are other things we can use to help people identify potential opportunities?
Stacy Sherman: Well, you’ve been talking about 39-year property. We work with a lot of residential investment property, which is on a 27-1/2 year straight line schedule. Airbnbs, rental homes, I think I might have mentioned RV or mobile home parks. Really, we work with every asset class. Anything other than a standalone parking structure is pretty much fair game, worth looking at, worth getting some numbers in front of you to help you make that decision if it’s going to cost justify or if you can use the losses.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. Yeah, being able to use the losses is an important point as well. Stacy, one of the questions I get from people at times is, oh, this sounds really fascinating. I just bought a new house, bought a half million dollar house. Can I go in and do this on my house? That’s one of the questions I often get, so maybe talk a little bit about just some of the basic requirements of who’s going to qualify.
Stacy Sherman: You cannot do this on your primary residence or even your secondary home. You have to rent it out. It has to be a rental property, an investment property. We do lots of those. I’ve been giving lots of beach houses lately, and Airbnbs, of course, were very big, so we do lots of those. As long as it’s in that $200,000, $250,000 and above range, it’s worth looking at.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. This doesn’t have to be your business owner in the sense of, hey, I’ve got a standalone business that I own and operate and we’ve got corporate offices or we’ve got a storefront. There’s all sorts of types of properties this can apply to. So advisors listening, as you think about your clients, business owners might be the more common group that benefits from this, but that’s not the limit to where it can be applied. We’re looking for properties that are generating income, that are being rented, that are being used for a business purpose. So not our primary residence, or to your point, it can’t be a vacation home that we also use as the primary user. We have to be renting it out.
Stacy Sherman: Exactly.
Steven Jarvis: Stacy, what should a person expect from the process? If an advisor has a client that just acquired or improved a building and they spent a million dollars on it, they say, hey, a cost seg sounds really interesting. There’s some potential here. What should they expect from a process if they were to engage with a professional like yourself of what that looks like going through?
Stacy Sherman: The best thing to do is to quantify this whole concept, because this gets a little confusing to have a conversation without numbers. My company is always happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation cash flow estimate. We take that building. The information we need is a depreciation schedule, if there’s one available. Or if it’s recently acquired, we just need to know the cost basis, what the building was purchased for. If there was a 1031 exchange, we have to take out the gain, we have to take out the land. So we need the building, the cost, when it was acquired, and maybe a brief description, and then we’ll put those numbers in front of you so you can have a meaningful conversation with the tax professional and the owner. Here’s the building. Here’s the estimated acceleration. Here’s estimated savings. Here’s the fee. Here’s the ROI. Does this make sense? That’s what I would do first, yeah.
Steven Jarvis: Gotcha. So for advisors listening who are interested in this, one of the things that highly recommend that you do, because this is something I talk about in every episode, as you’re getting tax returns, this is something that you can at least to some degree identify opportunities just to review in a tax return so that you don’t have to go through it and ask every single one of your clients the question, hey, would you be interested in a cost seg, because they probably have no idea if they’re interested in it or not. But going through, you mentioned a couple of things there. Going through and looking for property acquisitions, looking for 1031 exchanges, looking for depreciation schedules, identifying whether these kinds of things are in their tax return and then finding someone who can go through and do that evaluation for you.
I think that that’s fairly common that companies who specialize in this will do that initial assessment to say, hey, here’s what the dollars look like before we dive into it, so that everyone has a real clear picture of here’s what the benefit’s going to be and how that benefit is recognized over time. Because it’s really important to be clear on that upfront, because this isn’t, hey, you pay a cost seg specialist $3,000 for this study and then the next day you get a $5,000 benefit. The timing doesn’t work out quite that perfectly. It’s really important to clarify those expectations, but if you can at least identify here’s some potential opportunities and then find someone to partner with to get that initial evaluation, then you have a great framework for, is this something worth moving forward on?
Stacy Sherman: Yes. And usually if the person has a tax liability, this is almost always, there’s almost no cases where this doesn’t make sense. So if they have a tax liability, meaning they’re making money, it’s usually a no-brainer most of the time. The fees are well justified compared to the benefit. We put those numbers for you together, we give you a conservative quote, and then you can see what that looks like.
Steven Jarvis: Stacy, what are some common misconceptions or myths that you come across working with people as they come to you and say, “Yep, Stacy, I’m ready to do a cost seg study”? What are some of those things you have to correct in those expectations?
Stacy Sherman: I don’t know if I can answer that. I mean, I would say most people are just really unfamiliar with it. They haven’t heard of it. The big misconception is that it’s for skyscrapers, like I mentioned before, multimillion dollar properties. Other than that, it’s usually, maybe they learned it at one point and forgot about it. It seems to be the most overlooked area. I’ve been doing this seven years. Every single day, I meet people and I’m just so surprised. It’s still new to them. It could be a family office in Manhattan, a super high net worth client with properties all over the country. It amazes me, the lack of awareness. After the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, the awareness increased because of 100% bonus depreciation. There’s a little bit more knowledge there, an awareness, but most people it’s just new to them and they just need to walk through the basics.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. Which is interesting that it’s so overlooked, because while you mentioned that maybe the opportunity increased in value with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that’s not when it was created. Cost segs have been around for a long time. This isn’t a new idea.
Stacy Sherman: It’s been around since 1997, which is the year I had my son, so I never forget. I had my first child. So that’s almost 25 years, but cost seg got a lot more exciting with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. That’s when a 100% bonus came about. All that means is that everything that we carve out into faster class lives, five, seven, and 15 year, all that can be taken in year one. That’s what changed. If you buy a restaurant, a QSR, you could depreciate like half of it, if you bought it after that Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into effect, so basically 2018 and after, and that’s a big deal. Other buildings, 20, 30, 40% can be depreciated year one versus spread out over five or more years. So that’s a big deal, and that’s about to change in 2023. It’s going to go from 100% to 80%, but it’s still great.
Steven Jarvis: Still a huge, huge opportunity. It’s important to remember in there that in fact, this is kind of unique for tax planning opportunities, that we have such a long window of when this can be implemented, because you don’t even have to catch it in the year of the acquisition or the year that the building was instructed or the year of the improvements, whatever it might be. We’ve got a pretty long window to go back and retroactively take a look at some of these things.
Stacy Sherman: Oh, I’m glad you mentioned it, because then I can add that to one of the most common misunderstandings, is that just like what you said, you can do this at any time. A lot of people think you have to amend prior returns. If you’re going to apply cost segregation to a building you’ve already owned for one or more years, you do not amend. You file a change of accounting method, Form 3115. So you do not amend, it’s a retroactive change. It means you’re going to get catch up depreciation in the year you apply it, and everything you missed out on in the prior years. I’m glad you mentioned that.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. Thanks for providing that clarification, because amending returns is a scary thing for most people. It just sounds like a headache and a whole lot of extra costs, which it can be to amend tax returns. And so again, one of great benefits, not only of the long window we have to do this, but that in this case, the IRS happened to give us at least a little bit more efficient way to take advantage of this without having to go back and amend the last 10 years of returns or whatever it might be.
Stacy Sherman: Exactly. Yeah, that’s a good point. That’s probably the most common misconception, among tax professionals especially.
Steven Jarvis: As you look at the places you tend to get referrals from for these studies, because as we were talking before the show, a lot of your new business comes from professional referrals, where do you see the most success in how those professionals partner with you on this? Is this just, hey, call Stacy, and they let you run with it, or is this a collaboration?
Stacy Sherman: It’s a collaboration. I love working with tax professionals. Sometimes they just go ahead and request the proposal and then show it to the client, and that’s one way to work with us. Others do an introduction. The tax professional introduces client to Stacy. My client just bought this building, or I acquired a client who owned a building prior. Can you help them? And they kind of hand it off that way. I also happen to work with a lot of real estate brokers and agents. They’re a great referral source.
But we don’t compete in any way with tax professionals. We do not prepare tax returns or audit. We only do cost segregation studies at my firm. That’s all we do. So it is truly a partnership. We help the tax professional deliver a better benefit to the client, help them maximize their tax benefits. And they’re working with a company they can trust, and it’s not something that most accounting firms, as you know, have in-house, so most of them partner with us.
Steven Jarvis: That’s a really great point, because a lot of our listeners are financial planners. For the most part, they do not prepare taxes, so their clients are going to be working with some other professional who prepares taxes. And so it’s a really important point for all of our audience listening, is that like so many other things, just because your client works with a tax preparer doesn’t mean they work with a tax planner, and just because they work with a tax preparer doesn’t mean they’re working with someone who is skilled in this area or is really even taking the time to consider whether this is applicable.
You can’t just take for granted that because your client works with another professional that this is already covered. There’s still a huge opportunity here, because like Stacy’s talked about, this gets overlooked, this gets missed a lot. If you work with clients who are business owners or who have rental properties, this is something worth looking at and a potential way for you to add a lot of value to your clients if you’re proactive and intentional.
Now Stacy, there might be some people listening who think, okay, that all sounds great, but 20 minutes into a podcast, I don’t exactly feel like I can turn around and go explain this all to my client in a way that they’re going to get excited and get on board with. Do you have any resources that you could recommend to someone who’s newer to this to just be able to learn a little bit more, learn enough that they feel more comfortable going and having this initial conversation and then making a referral to a professional in this space?
Stacy Sherman: Well, let me answer that, but let me put a number to this too. This should drive it home. For every $1 million in building cost, on average, the owner’s going to save about $75,000 in income tax year one. For every million dollars, $75,000 tax savings. A half million dollars building, that’s a $35,000 tax saving. So it’s a significant number. My company, we have a website with all kinds of case studies and more information. The IRS website, of course, has some information, irs.gov. If I can post our website afterwards, then…
Steven Jarvis: Yep, we’ll get it in the show notes for everybody. I appreciate you quantifying it, and let’s take it just one step further and say, okay, if that’s $75,000 of income tax savings in the first year, let’s just do real easy math and say they’re at a 20% tax bracket, if I’m doing my math right, 10% would be $7,500 times… $15,000 of taxes you didn’t pay in year one.
Stacy Sherman: No, no, no. $75,000 net.
Steven Jarvis: You’re saying they’re saving $75,000 in the taxes they owe in year one?
Stacy Sherman: Yeah.
Steven Jarvis: Oh wow. Thank you for clarifying that, because I heard that was a $75,000 reduction in taxable income. I took the math too far.
Stacy Sherman: At least 20%, so 20 to 50% of a building can be carved out for fast depreciation. So multiply that, I’m thinking at the top tax rate, which a lot of our clients are, doing that at 37% tax rate, it works out to be in the $75,000 net tax savings year one.
Steven Jarvis: In tax savings in year one, and there’s going to be continued tax savings.
Stacy Sherman: Well, no, if they take all that in year one, then they’ve used it all up. They’re still going to have depreciation. They’re going to still going to depreciate the building over 39 or 27-1/2 years. But if you front-load and take all that in year one, you can’t keep doing that every year. It’s the same amount of loss as you would get over 39 years, you’re just front-loading as much as you can in year one for better cash flow.
Steven Jarvis: Exactly. The cash flow, the time value of money. Being able to accelerate so much of that into year one, that was one of the big changes out of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, that you mentioned, that that really amplified how much we could do in year one.
Stacy Sherman: Yes.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah, so these aren’t small numbers.
Stacy Sherman: Right. If you buy a million dollar building, you’re going to have at least $200,000 in losses. That would be on maybe an industrial building or office building. A restaurant could be half that year one. It’s amazing, I know.
Steven Jarvis: That’s incredible. That’s incredible.
Stacy Sherman: Wow, that’s incredible. I still think it’s incredible. I do this every day, and I still think it’s so much fun.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. That’s really exciting. And again, for advisors listening, even if your only participation in the process is making the recommendation, think of the value you’re to delivering to your clients, because not to take away from anything that Stacy and her team are doing, if that’s who you partner with or whatever firm it is that you did this with, your client’s still going to remember that you were the one who brought this idea to them. That’s the kind of thing that they’re going to tell their friends about of, hey, my advisor brought this thing to me I’d never heard of before, and just saved us $75,000 in taxes. I mean, what a great story for you to be able to share with clients, for your clients to share with their friends. That’s impactful.
Stacy Sherman: That’s exactly how I describe it. When I work with other professionals who refer business to me, I just say, “I’m going to make you a tax savings hero, and I got to do all the heavy lifting. All you have to do is make an introduction,” because it is a little bit hard to describe what we do. I do this all day long, and I still find it a little challenging to make it succinct and understandable. So an introduction, getting those numbers, quantifying what’s available to that owner based on the building they own, maybe the tax bracket they’re in. It’s a big win. It’s really a win all the way around. I don’t see a downside to it.
Steven Jarvis: It’s really exciting stuff. Stacy, we like to make sure that we make these podcasts actionable, and we’ve sprinkled that in as we’ve gone through, but just to wrap up here and put a bow on it, what are specific action items that you would recommend listeners take if they’re at all interested in cost seg studies?
Stacy Sherman: I’d say pull out the depreciation schedule if it’s available, the federal asset detail. The answer is on that page. You’ll be able to see, if you inherited a new client or you have a client, because you’re a financial planner, you don’t do taxes. It’ll say “SL,” straight line, or you’ll see “building and land.” You might see two lines on that federal asset detail. Now, if there’s a whole bunch of lines, if you see lines for electric and plumbing and roof and all that, maybe they did do a cost segregation study, but the answer is right there in that depreciation schedule or federal asset detail.
They can send it over to me. My team can look at it and quantify the tax benefits available and what the fee would be for that particular project. Or just, if it’s a newly acquired building, again, just say, we bought this kind of building or we renovated this building. Here’s what we spent. Here’s when we did it. What can you do for me?
Steven Jarvis: Yeah, that’s perfect. For advisors who already get tax returns for all their clients, Stacy’s got you covered. Pull those returns out, make sure you’re looking at a depreciation schedule, and specifically you’re looking for assets that are being depreciated straight line. It might be SL on there and over the 27 or 39-1/2 years. If you’re not currently getting returns for all your clients, you need to be, so that would be your action item as your starting place.
But this definitely should go on your list of things to keep educating yourself about, unless you don’t have a single client who owns a rental property or owns a business, and maybe that’s true. Still something that you should be aware of, so include this on your list of tax topics to learn about in 2022.
We’re not overpaying. No, we’re not overpaying. We’re not overpaying anymore. The tax code’s complicated, boring, and overrated. You don’t want that, you want a pro. One thing that you should know: this is a radio show. It’s not tax advice, don’t take it that way.
Stacy Sherman: Agree.
Steven Jarvis: Stacy, thanks so much for being here. We’ll get your company and your information linked in the show notes. Definitely appreciate you taking the time to come on and talk about the great things you do.
Stacy Sherman: Appreciate the opportunity. Thank you so much.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. And for everybody listening, until next time, good luck out there, and remember to tip your server, not the IRS.
We’re not overpaying. No, we’re not overpaying. We’re not overpaying anymore. The tax code’s complicated, boring, and overrated. You don’t want that, you want a pro. One thing that you should know: this is a radio show. It’s not tax advice, don’t take it that way.
The information on this site is for education only and should not be considered tax advice. Retirement Tax Services is not affiliated with Shilanski & Associates, Jarvis Financial Services or any other financial services firms.