How To Pay No Taxes on Rental Income

By Sherman Standberry, CPA

This article is Tax Professional approved 

Is it possible to not pay taxes on rental income, and if so, how can you do it?

Paying no taxes on rental income may sound too good to be true, but it’s possible, and real estate investors have been doing it for years.

Investing in certain real estate can generate tax losses that offset other income sources – even while you profit overall. 

And this strategy is 100% legal and by the book. 

Most people believe that rental income is automatically taxed. 

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However, the tax law allows you to create large deductible losses from rental properties.

These rules allow you to show a loss on paper, but earn a profit in reality.

By generating these paper losses, you can reduce the taxable income from your rental property, job, business, or other investments.

The tax code incentivizes real estate investment by allowing significant deductions like “depreciation”. 

This allows investors to show losses while profiting, reducing taxes owed.

Two key mechanisms facilitate this:

  1. Depreciation – You deduct the property’s value decrease over time, despite no actual cash expense. 
  1. Passive Losses – Tax laws permit offsetting passive real estate losses against your rental income, and other income under certain circumstances.

Discovering how to pay no taxes on rental income might seem like a financial dream, but with the right strategies, it’s a reality within reach. 

To learn more about these methods, keep reading.

Step #1: Invest in Rental Real Estate

To start benefiting from real estate tax strategies, you need properties that generate rental income. 

This rental income qualifies as a business activity.

Income is what makes the property a business. No income = no business.

Operating a business opens the door to deductions that reduce your taxable income. This is the foundation.

For example, you can invest into these types of real estate:

  • Single Family Residences
  • Multi-Family Residences like Apartments
  • Vacation or Short-Term Rental Properties (like AirBnB)
  • Commercial Property like Office Space or Warehouses

Here’s a key fact:

Most real estate investors show tax losses from their rental properties. This occurs primarily due to depreciation deductions.

They use these deductions to offset rental income they owe tax on.

This can be accomplished while their rentals operate profitably from a cash perspective.

Unfortunately, many beginner investors fail to maximize their depreciation deductions. This results in far higher tax bills than necessary.

To realize the full tax advantage on your rental properties, you must maximize depreciation deductions.

Step #2: Learn How Depreciation Works

Many people fail to understand real estate’s tax benefits because they don’t fully understand depreciation. 

The IRS defines depreciation as an annual income tax deduction that allows you to recover the cost of your property over its useful life.

It basically allows you to write-off a portion of the property’s purchase price over time.

Because this is a non-cash expense, it practically allows investors to show a loss on their tax

This “non-cash expense” can be deducted from your rental income to reduce your taxes.

Here’s a straightforward example to demonstrate the process of depreciation:

Let’s say you buy a rental property for $300,000. It earns $20,000 in rent annually but costs $15,000 in expenses.

Hence, you net a profit of $5,000.

Now, let’s add some depreciation. 

Let’s say the useful life of your property is 27.5 years according to the IRS, which would mean you can take about $10,900 as a depreciation expense.

So before depreciation, you had a $5,000 net profit. But after taking depreciation, you have a net loss of $5,900.

Even though you technically made $5,000 in profit, and have an extra $5,000 in your bank account at the end of the year, on paper, you would report a net loss of $5,900 when you file your tax return.

The power of depreciation allows you to report less income than you received and even show a loss.

This is why many high-income individuals are drawn to real estate—not just for cash flow but also for the instant tax write-off against other income.

Depreciation provides immediate tax reduction. An instant return on your investment.

Step #3: Use Accelerated Depreciation to Show Tax Losses

To understand “accelerateddepreciation, you have to first understand standard depreciation.     

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Whenever you buy property, the IRS classifies that property under the “Class Lives and Recovery Periods”.   

By default, the IRS lets you deduct a property’s value over its “useful life” – 27.5 years for residential rentals or 39 years for commercial.

This is “standarddepreciation.

But you can further amplify losses using accelerated depreciation methods expressly permitted by tax law:

  • Section 179 – You can deduct up to $1,220,000 in capital expenditures the year you put the property into service.
  • Section 168(k) (Bonus depreciation) – Take an extra deduction upfront on top of regular depreciation
  • Accelerated Depreciation (Cost segregation) – Break out components with shorter useful lives to accelerate the rate of depreciation

If you apply a cost segregation study, you can identify all components in your property and determine which components have shorter useful lives, accelerating your depreciation.

For example, let’s say your property acquired brand-new floors worth $27,500. 

Instead of depreciating this over 27.5 years and taking a $1,000 deduction each year, you can take a $5,500 deduction each year over 5 years with a cost segregation study.

This is possible because floor coverings classify as a 5-year property. 

With accelerated depreciation strategies, you front load deductions early on rather than spreading them over decades. This allows investors to pay no taxes on rental income.

If you are interested in receiving a comprehensive tax plan that is guaranteed to reduce your taxes by thousands of dollars, apply to work with one of our CPAs today.

Step #4: Use Rental Losses to Offset Your Income

Depreciation deductions are how you can pay no taxes on your rental income.

But that’s not it – it can also offset other income on your tax return. You may use rental losses to reduce taxable income from your job, business, or other investments under certain circumstances.

To offset other income using rental losses, you must understand the different income types and how they are taxed.

Generally, rental income is a passive source of income. 

If your rental loses money, this loss is considered passive and can only be used to lower passive income.

The IRS specifies that if your passive losses exceed your passive income, you’re not allowed to use the extra loss for that year, but can carry it over to the next tax year.

In most cases, people often want to offset earned income, such as money from their business or a job (which is considered ordinary income), through passive losses.

And they can by taking advantage of one of the following exceptions:

Exception #1. You Qualify as a Real Estate Professional

Here’s the first major exception allowing you to utilize passive real estate losses against earned income: Qualifying as a Real Estate Professional.

Contrary to the name, you don’t have to have any real estate license or background. 

The IRS says if you qualify as a real estate professional, rental real estate activities in which you materially participated in are not passive activities.

You qualify by meeting two IRS tests:

  1. More than half of all of the personal services you perform in all trade or businesses must be performed in rental properties where you materially participate.
  1. You have to have worked at least 750 hours during the tax year you materially participated

Do this, and your real estate activity reclassifies from passive to active. Allowing those losses to offset your ordinary income.

If you fall short of the tests, consider if your spouse meets the criteria. Their status opens the door too.

Exception #2. Your Adjusted Gross Income is Less than $150,000

Here’s a simpler alternative to offsetting income:

The IRS grants a $25,000 “Special Allowance” for passive losses if you or your spouse actively participated in a passive rental real estate activity.

Unlike the Real Estate Professional route, no hour requirements exist. 

Just active involvement in management.

The $25,000 allowance only applies to those earning under $150,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI).

So with income below $150,000, you can deduct up to $25,000 in rental real estate losses against your ordinary income without any other qualifications.

Exception #3: You own a short-term rental property

Here’s one exception that’s gained popularity – Short-term Rental Properties.

The IRS says your activity is not a rental property if any of the following apply:

  1. Customers use your property for an average of 7 days or less
  1. If your customers’ average use is 30 days or less and you provide significant personal services with the rentals

With short-term rentals like Airbnbs, losses are not subject to passive activity loss rules.

You can use those losses to offset your ordinary income.

Exception #4. Converting Earned Income into Passive Income

If you cannot convert your passive income into earned income, you may be able to do the opposite.

You may be able to convert your earned income into passive income.

This opens the door to offsetting it with real estate losses.

That way you can use passive real estate losses against your (now) passive income.

The key difference between earned and passive income is material participation.  

The IRS says a trade or business is not passive if you materially participate in the business.

Which means that if you do not materially participate in the activity, it will be passive.

The IRS has 7 tests to determine material participation. For starters, you must have very little participation in the activity for it to be considered passive.

To use any one of these exceptions, we strongly suggest getting a vetted CPA involved to build a comprehensive tax plan for you.

Step #5: Buy More Rentals Each Year

One drawback of using accelerated depreciation is that when you take more depreciation in one tax year, you have less depreciation in future tax years.

To keep offsets flowing, you need to continually invest in additional rental properties.

Many investors who use accelerated depreciation consistently buy properties throughout several tax years.

It’s like a hamster wheel – buy property, take large amounts of depreciation, offset taxes, and repeat in future years.

Though, many real estate investors do not see this as a downside. The finished product is a growing investing portfolio that yields cash and appreciation while minimizing taxes.

Ultimately, this is how you can pay no taxes on your rental income.

Adding new properties over time can continue to provide tax advantages, assuming it fits your financial situation.

You can time your investments to claim maximum depreciation right when older deductions expire. 

With careful planning, you can achieve ongoing tax savings through continuous loss offsets.

Bottom Line

The rich have been using tricks in the tax system to get richer with real estate for ages. 

Now, it’s your turn.

Using these strategies and keeping up with new tax laws, you can make your properties save you a ton on taxes.

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of consulting with a tax professional who specializes in real estate taxation. 

They can help you make the most of your deductions, stay on the right side of tax laws, and advise on how to organize your investments to lower taxes. 

Their knowledge is a powerful tool in dealing with tax law complexities and making effective financial decisions.


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