Real estate syndication has been around for decades. But the syndication process has evolved in recent years with new crowdfunding options. Real estate crowdfunding deals are generally classified as either “equity” deals or “debt” deals and each can have different tax implications. Let’s take a closer look at the differences.
When it comes to real estate crowdfunding, much of the tax discussion has revolved around equity deals. I would define an equity deal as one where the investor typically owns shares in a limited liability company (“LLC”) that invests into another LLC that holds title to real property. The investor holds essentially an indirect equitable interest and will participate in the financial upside (or possibly downside) of the property. As such, the investor is a partner in a partnership structure.
Since equity investors are actually partners to the deal they would receive a Form K-1 at the end of the tax year which would report their share of the partnership’s income or loss. Since they are not actively involved in the day to day management of the property, they are typically classified as “passive” partners. Passive partners have special tax rules. A passive partner is taxed at the partner’s marginal tax rate on any profit that is generated. However, if the activity generates a loss the deduction typically will be limited to any income derived from other passive activities (subject to certain exceptions). But if the activity generates income it may also be used to offset any passive losses generated from other activities.
But more and more deals on real estate crowdfunding platforms are considered debt deals. Essentially the investor owns an interest in a promissory note that is often issued by a flipper or developer (the “sponsor”) who is looking for short-term financing for a project. Aside from being collateralized by real estate, the note will typically provide for monthly interest payments and have a personal guarantee from the sponsor. These investors do not have an equitable interest in the property. They are merely acting like a lender in which they are providing the funds for a specific transaction and are receiving interest payments according to the agreement. This type of transaction is different from an equity deal and, accordingly, the tax implications can differ.
Taxpayers investing in debt deals are typically not partners to an operating trade or business and are merely acting as just investors. They do not get to participate in any financial upside of the property. Accordingly, the payments they receive are typically classified as interest income. They will often receive a 1099-INT at the end of the year that reflects the interest income they received, but also may receive a Form K-1 depending on the deal structure. Interest income is considered portfolio income (not passive income) and is also subject to marginal tax rates. However, portfolio income is not considered passive income and is not subject to the same restrictions.
Understanding the tax differences between equity and debt deals can be difficult. We have discussed some of the differences herein, but we need to acknowledge that close consideration of tax issues should be made when structuring any real estate crowdfunding transaction. At the outset of any deal, consultation with experienced tax and legal professionals should be made along with proper investor communications.
Ultimately investors need to carefully review any crowdfunding deal and make sure that they understand the tax ramifications. In addition, they should make sure to engage a qualified CPA or other tax professional to assist them with their tax return.