Using tax for effective property investing

With Australian property remaining expensive and banks tightening their lending criteria, investors need to ensure their property investments are a financial success.

A key element is maximising the taxation benefits flowing from your investment. This includes correctly structuring the loan and ensuring your deduction claims don’t fall foul of the tax man.
Getting the structure right

As with any investment, having the correct ownership structure for a property asset is vital and can make a big difference to your tax benefits. For example, couples negatively gearing their investment property loan usually find it best to have a larger ownership percentage in the name of the higher income earner.

On the other hand, with a positively geared property, it may be better to have the lower income earner holding a larger ownership percentage. If the property is held jointly, all rental income and losses must be split in line with the ownership percentages and detailed records maintained to substantiate all claims for tax deductions.

Also consider whether either partner expects a career change that will affect their future income, as changing ownership structures down the track can be costly.
Managing the loan

Once the investment property loan is set up, there are more tax issues to consider. Property investors can only legally claim a tax deduction to the extent the borrowed funds are used for income producing purposes, regardless of the security offered to obtain the loan.

In cases where the loan monies are used for both private and income producing purposes (such as a property partly used for rental and partly as your home), you must split all expenses into deductible and non-deductible amounts.
Watch your deductions

Many property investors focus on tax deductions, but care is required as the rules are complex. For example, if you make extra repayments on your investment loan and then use the redraw facility to obtain money for private purposes, you cannot claim a deduction for the interest attributable to that money.

Normal tax deductions for a rental property include the cost of advertising for tenants, professional property management, interest, council rates, land tax and strata fees, building and landlord insurance, pest control and accounting fees. These costs, however, can only be claimed when the property is tenanted or available for rent.

Other points to watch include claiming a deduction for loan establishment fees. This must be spread over the term of the loan or a five-year period, whichever is shorter. If you claim travel expenses for inspections, the main purpose of the trip must be to visit the property; if there is a private portion all expenses must be split.
Depreciation or capital works?

Claims for depreciation, or the decline in value of assets with a limited effective life (such as freestanding furniture, washing machines and TVs), can be made each year, but deductions for any capital works must be spread over 40 years. Capital works include improvements or alterations such as removing an internal wall or replacing capital equipment such as old kitchen cupboards.

Investors need to be careful when claiming for the cost of repairs to their property. These are immediately deductible, but improvements such as replacing a damaged laminated kitchen bench top with a granite one must be claimed as capital works expenditure.
Check your CGT

CGT is another tricky tax area, but the key to minimising your bill is to ensure you identify all legitimate expenses that contribute to the cost base of the property used to calculate any capital gain.

The cost base includes the price paid for the property plus buying and selling costs like stamp duty, legal fees and the agent’s commission. Rental properties owned for more than 12 months attract a 50 per cent discount on any capital gain.

To ensure you are making the most of the tax rules relating to your investment property, call our office today on 03 5434 7690.