Income falls into three buckets
- Active Income (wages, business where the taxpayer is materially participating, etc.)
- Passive Income
There are two kinds of passive activities.
1. Trade or business activities in which you don’t materially participate during the year
2. Rental activities, even if you do materially participate in them, unless you’re a real estate professional
3. Portfolio Income (royalties, capital gains, interest, qualified dividends, etc.)
How is Active Income is taxed? Ordinary tax rates plus self employment tax (SS and Medicare tax) of 15.3%.
For employees, SS and Medicare is automatically taken out of your paycheck and split 50/50 with employer. For someone who is self employed or active in a business, they must pay both halves of the SS and Medicare, known as self employment tax.
How is Passive Income taxed? Ordinary tax rates with no self employment tax. Subject to Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) of 3.8% if your AGI is above the threshold of $250,000 for MFJ.
How is Portfolio Income taxed? Ordinary tax rates or preferential rates for LTCG and qualified dividends.
So this might seem that having passive income is better than active income. NOT NECESSARILY.
Losses: When you are an owner in a pass through entity (partnership, S Corp), you need to be careful with how you categorize your participation in the business because if the company is generating losses, you may not get to take them.
Passive Activity Losses (PALs): When a taxpayer has a loss from a passive activity, it can only offset passive income, NOT active income.
Example of passive investor and passive activity loss limitations:
Pete is an individual taxpayer who owns a 25% interest in an LLC. He is categorized as a limited partner and his 25% ownership interest is just an investment as he does not participate in the day-to-day managerial decisions of the business. This means that Pete is a passive partner. The LLC generated a $100,000 loss, $25,000 allocated to Pete on his Schedule K-1. Pete has a full time job where he makes a salary of $100,000.
It would appear that Pete can offset his $100,000 income from his W-2 with his $25,000 loss from his Schedule K-1, however, because the loss is passive and the income is active, Pete cannot deduct the $25,000 loss until he has passive income. Therefore, the loss rolls forward until the LLC generates income in a future year, or Pete has passive income from another income stream.
How do you qualify as material participation?
- You participated in the activity for more than 500 hours.
- Your participation was substantially all the participation in the activity of all individuals for the tax year, including the participation of individuals who didn’t own any interest in the activity.
- You participated in the activity for more than 100 hours during the tax year, and you participated at least as much as any other individual (including individuals who didn’t own any interest in the activity) for the year.
- The activity is a significant participation activity, and you participated in all significant participation activities for more than 500 hours. A significant participation activity is any trade or business activity in which you participated for more than 100 hours during the year and in which you didn’t materially participate under any of the material participation tests, other than this test. See Significant Participation Passive Activities under Recharacterization of Passive Income, later.
- You materially participated in the activity for any 5 (whether or not consecutive) of the 10 immediately preceding tax years.
- The activity is a personal service activity in which you materially participated for any 3 (whether or not consecutive) preceding tax years. An activity is a personal service activity if it involves the performance of personal services in the fields of health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, or any other trade or business in which capital isn’t a material income-producing factor.
- Based on all the facts and circumstances, you participated in the activity on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis during the year.
Rental activities are always passive unless you are a “Real Estate Professional.” There is a special $25,000 allowance for a taxpayer who actively participates in a passive rental real estate activity. So you can deduct up to $25,000 of passive loss against active income if you are deemed to have “actively participated” in the rental real estate activity.
Active participation- not the same as material participation. Active participation is a less stringent standard than material participation. Examples of active participation (management decisions, approving new tenants, deciding on rental terms, approving expenses, etc.).
**So basically any taxpayer can easily qualify as active participation as long as they are making high level decisions for the rental.
Real Estate Professional Status
You qualified as a real estate professional for the year if you met both of the following requirements.
- More than half of the personal services you performed in all trades or businesses during the tax year were performed in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participated.
- You performed more than 750 hours of services during the tax year in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participated.
Disclaimer: The information provided above is not meant to be legal or tax advise. You should consult your CPA and attorney to determine the best course of action for your situation.
Mitzi E. Sullivan, CPA is a cloud based professional services provider specializing in cloud accounting.