The biggest risk most people have when it come to building wealth is putting all their eggs in one basket. Having one full-time job supplying you with 100% of your income means you are either doing well or in a crisis.
Wealthy people and large corporations have multiple streams of income and continually work to develop more. Sometime the failures are huge. New Coke might be an example. In my practice I’ve had ideas cost serious money go down the toilet. I’ve also had spectacular successes.
Multiple streams of income are the only way to protect your wealth creation program. The same applies when you reach financial independence and decide to retire. All your eggs in one basket is a bad idea. Imagine busting your tail for a decade and having all your money in Enron.
Another problem revolves around active and passive income. Active income comes from work you do yourself. A job or small business is an example. There are only so many hours in a day to sell for income. You can work hard to increase your productivity earning more per hour, but you remain a slave to working for every nickel you earn.
Business owners have an advantage. Once the business begins operations employees become part of the mix. Part of what employees do end up in the owner’s pocket. If it didn’t, why would the own bother with the headache of hiring/having employees. Even though the IRS considers business income ordinary income, there is still a passive nature to the income stream.
Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
The problem with working for every dollar is risk. If you become ill the income stops. Insurance can provide a backstop, but that is a limited solution you have only minor control over. A business owner can suffer catastrophic loss due to weather or other events. When the business suffers, profits evaporate. The worst case for a business owner is they are forced to choose between closing the business or feeding it to keep it alive.
The solution to these wealth building and preserving risks is diversification. More accurately, diversification into passive forms of income. Whereas, you have only so many hours in a day to trade for income, you have an unlimited ability to create and increase passive income. The best part about passive income is that most sources of such income reproduce automatically.
Mutual fund dividends and capital gains are easily reinvested. Rent can either be used to reduce leverage (mortgage debt) or to buy more properties. Interest breeds more interest.
Without a business your options are limited. Your main source of income is extremely top heavy with wage income. Even a business owner has risks. A handful of clients can make up a large portion of the profits. A large book of clients is a buffer between normalcy and disaster wage earners don’t have the luxury of. However, if you are in the retail music business things might be as bad as or worse than that of a wage earner. CDs and vinyl records don’t have the market they once had prior to digital music on the internet.
Passive Income Sources
There are a thousand sources of passive income. We will only focus on the big four today with an honorable mention to profits in a small business with employees running the place.
Dividends and capital gains are treated favorably by the Tax Code. Rent is considered derived from a passive activity and treated as ordinary income, but income property enjoys depreciation and other tax benefits. Interest is treated as ordinary income, but as we will soon see, a lot of interest is also treated favorably by the Tax Code.
According to Zillow, renters paid $535 billion in rent in 2015 in the United States. And the number is rising. There are about 125 million U.S. households and 43 million households rent. The U.S. also has about 250 million adults (adults, not the entire population).
Some simple math reveals an astounding amount of rent paid by renters/received by landlords. If the $535 billion in rent paid were paid evenly among all U.S. adults it would amount to $2,140! That’s right. Every U.S. adult would receive $2,140 of rent if it were divided evenly. If rent were evenly divided between all households it amounts to $4,280 each for 2015! Since renters probably don’t own income properties we can divide the gross rent paid by the approximately 82 million non-renting households and we get $6,524.
Most people don’t own income property, so the ones that do generate a very large amount of passive income. Of course, rent is not all profit. The mortgage requires servicing, maintenance is ongoing, and property managers need to be paid. Still, this is a staggering amount of passive income many people neglect. (Never mind my reality check on income property versus index funds.)
In the arena of passive income that takes effort is business income which we discussed above. Business income is “earned” for tax purposes. There are instances where it may be considered “unearned” and goes beyond the scope of this post. As mentioned above, a business can distribute massive amounts of money to owners. A manger running the day-to-day operations makes the income passive in reality, if not for tax purposes.
Work-Free Passive Income
When most people think of passive income they usually think of things you do once and then receive a long-term stream of income. Real estate can do just that if you have a good property manager. Real estate lacks diversification unless you invest in a security holding real estate. With a large amount of money you can invest in multiple properties around the nation to avoid regional economic risks. Or you can take on partners to spread risk, but partnerships have risks of their own.
True forms of passive income include dividends and interest. Before you roll your eyes, I want to share the incredible amount of dividends and interest paid out each year.
Before we continue, the statistics I’m using comes from the IRS, one of the most respected institutions of the United States. (Pardon me a moment while choke down that hairball.) There are other sources of information, but all are estimated using different methods of information gathering. The IRS data, while more accurate, is gathered based on reported income. Not all income is reported. However, reporting requirements (Forms 1099-DIV and 1099-INT) make the data reasonably reliable. Some dividends are so small they go unreported and older taxpayers may not have enough income to file. Interest is another animal. Form 1099-INT may be issued to most recipients of interest from banks and other large organizations, but land contracts and other similar devices may go unreported.
With the caveats in place, the IRS lists $254.7 billion in dividends for 2014. That works out to $2037.60 per household. It doesn’t sound like much, but two massive issues are missed here. One, most people have zero dividends, so those who do have a lot, and two, most dividends are paid to retirement funds or other corporations and aren’t included in these numbers.
Let me share a secret from the tax office. Most people have zero dividends to report. A few have a couple dollars to report and even fewer have up to $100 of reportable dividends. Then we get the people who receive real dividends. These folks report $87, 904 in dividends received from their non-qualified accounts alone. This number become more astounding when you realize the total market throws off about a 2% dividend yield. That means the value of their account is worth 50 times as much as the reported dividend!
These are normal people who invested and kept their fingers off it for a very, very long time! There is no big secret. Most never owned a business or inherited a substantial amount of money. They consistently invested with each paycheck and let it ride. Time did the rest.
It sounds like a lot, but a million dollars invested in a broad index fund should generate ~ $20,000 of dividends growing 5 – 7% per year. Starting is the hard part. Even harder is leaving your fingers off it. But for people just smart enough to invest consistently and refuse the temptation to play with their money, thinking they can outsmart the market, will do extremely well.
Interest in retirement accounts face the same issue dividends do. Much interest will not show up in IRS data. We’ll go with it anyway to see how much we can get ourselves.
The IRS reports taxpayers listed $93.9 billion of taxable interest and $62.5 billion of tax-exempt interest. This works out to $751.20 of interest income per household without consideration to interest earned inside retirement accounts and $500 of tax-exempt interest. Considering the low rates of interest today, this means the account values are at least 100 times larger, probably much larger!
Remember, this isn’t all the interest and dividends paid in a year. Corporations, banks and insurance companies earn tremendous amounts of income from these sources and are not included in the amounts. The numbers above are from individual returns only! The real total of passive dividends and interest paid is staggering.
Another difficult number to track is capital gains. The IRS says just over $705 billion in capital gains were reported in 2014. But how large is the amount of unrealized capital gains? It has to easily stretch into the trillion dollar arena!
Not only are you at greater risk when all your eggs are in the wage earning basket, but you get taxed hard. Wages suffer income tax at ordinary rates, but FICA taxes as well. Rent, dividends, interest and capital gains receive varying degrees of preferential tax treatment when calculating your income tax, but they all avoid the FICA tax.
Remember the $535 billion in rent paid from above? Well, the IRS records show only $75.2 billion was taxed or a bit more than 14%. (Here’s my handkerchief. I know how much it hurts.)
Now I’ll add up the averages in non-qualified (non-retirement) accounts alone. Take the $4,280 of rent you should receive on average (only $1198 of which is taxed) and add $2037.60 in dividends and $751.20 of interest and $500 of tax exempt interest and the $5,640 of realized capital gains and we get $13,208.80.
Again, this seems like a small amount to the average reader of this blog. But these numbers don’t include earnings from retirement accounts. It also doesn’t include we can invest more and take a larger share from corporations, banks and insurance companies.
The real secret is in the value of the underlying accounts which reveals the staggering level of unrealized capital gains. In today’s low interest, low dividend environment, the average household holds north of half a million dollars! That means a lot of people are doing really well considering how many are doing so poorly.
And I never said a word about how much is stored in trust accounts!
Wealth is not a complex process. Consistency is the most important factor. Long-term investments in index funds have enjoyed superior performance historically. The amount of passive income to be had is large enough for everyone to do very well with only an average slice of the pie.
The question now is: Where are you on the scale? Average? Below average? 🙁 Above? 🙂
If you don’t like your level of passive income it might be time to do something about it now that you know where the money is.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the massive tax benefits to investment property owners and business owners who also own commercial real estate using a cost segregation study. Some of you took me up on the offer and now are up for a significant tax reduction. Then the problems started. I didn’t anticipate the large number of tax professionals who didn’t know how to handle cost segregation studies on a tax return.
Before you call your tax preparer bad names, know most tax professionals rarely, if ever, see a cost segregation study in their office. When the rules changed a few years back I doubt 1 in 100 accountants handled their client tax returns correctly as it pertained to the repair regs and tangible property rules. The good news is the changes only required certain actions in the first year of accounting method changes. The bad news is that most tax professionals don’t know how to handle a cost segregation study on the actual tax return when a client comes in with one. Not to worry. Your favorite accountant will spill the beans on how to get it done right. No picking on your accountant either. This is advanced tax planning and tax law can be miles from tax application at times.
Tax professionals will find this helpful; taxpayers should find value, too. Knowing of a tax advantage is only worth something if you can apply it. There are two major issues surrounding cost segregation studies: tracking the components/elements listed by the study and taking full advantage of the additional depreciation allowed.
In the past I shared ideas that saved you $10,000 or more per year. I also shared numerous other ways to reduce your tax burden by smaller amounts. And, of course, retirement accounts and the Health Savings Account provide plenty of tax reducing power, too.
That is all small change compared to what I share today. Today the gloves come off. Today you will learn how to peal massive amounts off your tax bill. I am talking about taking six figures and more from the IRS and putting it into your pocket legally. No jail required.
This program applies to investment properties and businesses with a building. All other can safely skip today’s post. Or you can read it and share it with someone who owns rental properties or a commercial building. You will make a lifelong friend if you do.
What is Cost Segregation?
The risk I take is getting too technical. You don’t need to understand all the deep tax terms to use this strategy so I will avoid technical jargon as much as possible.
The first thing you need to know is that cost segregation only works on buildings with an original cost basis (purchase price, plus additions) of $250,000 or more. Residential income properties, commercial properties, additions and build-outs all work. This does not include the value of the land. Example: You but a property for $450,000. Land value usually comes in around 20% of the purchase price. Therefore, $360,000 is for the building. Cost segregation works on the building portion of a property only. Also note, the higher the value of the property, the more tax benefits cost segregation provides.
The IRS says you have to depreciate a residential rental property over 27.5 years and commercial property over 39 years. This means you put a lot of money down upfront without a tax benefit.
The IRS says you can use cost segregation to separate the components of the building for faster depreciation. A typical building under cost segregation may have about half the value reclassified as 5-year property, 20-25% as 7-year property, and the remainder as either 27.5- or 39-year property.
Pictures around this post show some illustrations of tax savings with cost segregation.
The most dreaded words a salesperson can here are, “I need to talk it over with my accountant.”
Accountants have a reputation for breaking deals. Behind the scenes we are actually called ‘Deal Breakers’ as a derogatory term. But the name isn’t fair. What we really are doing is protecting our clients.
The investor or business owner already thought of all the things that can go right. Accountants throw cold water on the deal by examining the numbers. They don’t always stand up to the hype.
And then there is my last blog post where I play a Sad Gus with robo-investing and Betterment. I think a lot of people really believed the tax benefits were much higher than they really are. There are real benefits, just not as many as some would have you believe.
During the 1980s and 90s I owned a lot of real estate. It started slow and exploded into a 176 building pain in the ass. To be fair, most of the investment properties we owned were either single family homes or duplexes. A few multi-family buildings, a boarding house and a storage facility rounded out the mix.
With so many properties running through my personal accounts and a partnership with dad and brother, I learned a few things along the way. One hundred seventy six buildings is a lot of buildings. Good thing I didn’t own all of them at the same time. Mistakes were sure to happen.
By the early 2000s the real estate empire was gone. I was burnt out and sick of working with tenants. Countless property managers helped us over the years, but it was not enough. Managing over a hundred units much of the time over a footprint covering most of NE Wisconsin took its toll. To complicate matters, I also ran my accounting practice with double the employees I have today (during tax season).
Starting slow was my greatest idea. It felt good to see the passive income filling the checkbook. Our teams of contractors allowed us to buy fixer-uppers and increase the property values significantly. Our best deal was the purchase of an upper-lower duplex in my hometown for $8,000. Hard not to make a profit on those.
Over the years I have used attorneys for a variety of needs. When I started a hedge fund the initial deposit was $25,000 and I was happy to pay it. We laugh at lawyer jokes and sometimes lawyers deserve the bad rap they get, but most of the time attorneys are a powerful part of your team preventing expensive problems before they happen. There is a reason why they are called counselors.
I encourage landlords and business owners to keep a relationship with an attorney. Buying and selling a property requires an attorney in my opinion and landlord/tenant issues can be reduced when a lawyer is consulted before actions are taken. There are also the surprise attorney needs. Who do you call when arrested for a DUI? (The first person who says Ghostbusters will be escorted out the door.) You don’t plan on certain events in life; they just land in your lap. Business owners and landlords have greater legal needs, but the average guy on the street finds himself in need of professional help a time or two in life as well (wills, probate, trusts, sale of property, et cetera).
Doctors, attorneys, and accountants know all kinds of stuff (a technical term only used inside the industry) people need at the most important junctures in life. Finding a doctor is as simple as a call to your health insurance provider. Most people see an accountant on a regular basis, while the legal eagle is only required periodically. Worse, even if you
When it comes to passive income, real estate is king. A small investment can be leveraged into a massive cash cow. This is the second in a series of posts on lessons learned. Some lessons in life come from clients or from watching clients deal with issues. With investment properties I pull from personal experience. Over the years I have owned over 100 single family homes, numerous duplexes, a few multi-unit buildings, a storage facility, commercial property, and farm land. The lessons I have learned buying, selling, and leasing real estate over the last 28 years should provide a few nuggets of wisdom you have not read before. This added wisdom hopefully flows to your bottom line.
Residential Real Estate
We will start with residential investment properties because I have more experience in this arena and most readers own/manage the same; I will address commercial property in a future post. The issues I raise are only a sampling of the issues I find most relevant; a full review of investment property issues is beyond the scope of one blog post. The best approach is to start from the beginning and move through the lifecycle of an investment property, from purchase, to renting, to eventual sale.
Some of the largest companies in the world did not exist a few decades ago. Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are only a few of the organizations with massive market share, Microsoft and Apple with humble beginnings in the 1970s and Amazon gaining life in the 1990s. Each is a leader in their industry. It is hard to imagine the world without the retailing genius of Jeff Bezos. The way we shop, work, play, invest, read, and think have all been radically altered in the last few years by companies with vision. And a secret weapon to put them in front and keep them there.
Intel may not have been the first, but they were the first company I heard preach it. Andy Grove had an idea so radical it was insane, insane enough that it might work. The secret was to create products and services that turn your current products obsolete before your competitors do it for you. Insane! Create a business to put your current business out of business. Business is tough enough as it is without doing the work of your competitors for them. But think of it for a moment. Amazon keeps reinventing itself at an ever increasing rate. Fast shipping is not good enough. Never satisfied, Amazon uses every method possible to ship cheaper and faster. Competitors never have a chance. Amazon reinvents itself so often the competition is not across town, but in-house.