A CPA Answers: “Do I Need an LLC for My Real Estate, and How Will That Impact Taxes?”

by | BiggerPockets.com

When it comes to legal entities, oftentimes you need to look at both the tax and legal sides of things.

First, I want to make a full disclosure that I am not an asset protection attorney, and I do not practice law. However, since legal entities often have a tax impact to the owner, I do frequently speak to clients about the pros and cons of different types of legal entities as they relate to the potential tax impact.

One of the most common misconceptions I hear is the need to have a legal entity to write off expenses on tax returns. The truth is that the vast majority of expenses can be written off regardless of whether you have a legal entity or not.

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Do I Need an LLC to Write Off My Expenses?

For example, let’s say that you are newbie real estate investor who just purchased your first rental property. After the property is purchased, you realize you are a bit in over your head and decide to enroll in some classes to learn more about investing. It just so happens that the classes you sign up for are in Las Vegas. You hop on a flight and check into a hotel room for the next three nights to attend those real estate classes. While you are in Vegas at the real estate event, you connect with a few fellow investors and join them for dinner and a few drinks one night.

Based on the scenario above, all of these expenses may be tax deductible regardless of whether you have a legal entity or not. The reason is that the IRS does not penalize taxpayers for not having legal entities when it comes to most tax deductions. As long as the expenses are ordinary and necessary as they relate to your real estate business, chances are they will be tax deductible.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Real Estate Investment Tax Benefits

Does My LLC Provide Me the Ability to Write Off Every Penny I Spend?

On the same token, if you have an LLC, that does not automatically make all your expenses tax deductible. You would still need to be able to show that the expense are business related. For example, your cousin is getting married in Las Vegas and you are one of the attendees. You fly there, stay in a hotel, and celebrate the weekend with friends and family.

No real estate or other business was conducted while you were there. It just so happened that you opened a new LLC a few months ago that has been sitting empty up to this point. You think to yourself, “If I pay for the cost of these trips with my LLC bank account, I should be able to write off my Vegas trip.” Well, unfortunately, you would be wrong in this case. Since neither the trip nor any of the expenses are related to your real estate or business activities, simply paying for those items out of an LLC does not automatically make them tax deductible business expenses.

These are two clear cut examples of what is and is not a business deduction. But we all know that real life is not always as black and white. In reality, there are likely times when a trip or expense can have both personal and business components. What if you travel to Vegas for business but also take a few days out to have some fun? There are strategies to help ensure that you maximize your tax write offs in these situations. The key is proactive planning to get some documentation in place before leaving for your trip. That way, it is possible to write off 100% of your travel costs, even though a portion of that is spent while you are simply having some fun.

For additional information, you may want to check out “5 Strategies to Make Your Summer Vacation a Real Estate Tax Write-Off.”

So can we know if we need a legal entity or not? Well, that answer will is it depends, and it varies from person to person. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get started:

Will It Save Me Taxes?

Is your real estate an active business, such as wholesale or fix and flip? If so, then operating as a legal entity may help to reduce self-employment taxes. If it is purely for long term rental real estate, then odds are that you can get the same tax benefits with or without a legal entity.

Related: 5 Clever (& Legal) Tax Strategies to Save Real Estate Investors Money

Why Do I Need an Entity and How Do I Operate It?

I often come across investors who form legal entities without a clear understanding of what they are to be used for or how to properly use them. Make sure that you fully understand the purpose of your legal entity prior to incurring the cost to form it. Forming a legal entity and not using it properly can provide you with a false sense of security and some unexpected headaches.

For additional information, you may want to check out “Are You Making This Common Entity Mistake?

How Much Will I Need to Pay?

All entities are not created equal. Certain states have high entity fees, and others have high maintenance costs. Before forming a legal entity, make sure that you have a clear understanding of what the formation and annual maintenance costs will be.

As with anything in investing and business, it is always a good idea to do a cost benefit analysis prior to forming a legal entity. Only form a legal entity for your real estate business after you have a clear understanding of what benefit you will be receiving and after you ensure that it makes sense for your specific situation.

Investors: Did you choose to form a legal entity for your real estate business? Why or why not?

Let me know with a comment.

About Author

Amanda Han

Amanda is a CPA specializing in tax strategies for real estate, self-directed investing, and individual tax planning with over 18 years’ experience. She is also a real estate investor of over 10 years with a focus on long-term hold residential and multi-family assets across multiple states. Formerly a tax advisor at the prestigious accounting firm Deloitte in the Lead Tax Group, focusing on tax strategies for the real estate industry and high net worth individuals, and at an international Fortune 500 Company in the high-tech industry in the Corporate Tax department, Amanda’s goal is to help investors with strategies designed to supercharge their wealth building. Amanda’s highly rated book Tax Strategies for the Savvy Real Estate Investor is amongst Amazon’s best seller list. A frequent contributor, speaker, and educator to some of the nation’s top investment and self-directed IRA companies, Amanda has been featured in prominent publications including Money Magazine, Realtor.com, and AllBusiness.com. Amanda was a speaker at Talks at Google and is a 40 under 40 honoree by CPA Practice Advisor, showcased amongst the best and brightest talent in the accounting profession. Her firm Keystone CPA, Inc. was awarded a two-time winner of the Top CPA of Orange County Award by OC Metro Magazine. She is certified by the CA State Board of Accountancy and is a member of the prestigious American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) with clients across the nation.


  1. Jeffrey Hare

    Amanda, thank you for another excellent and concise article on this topic. Ironically, your hypothetical trip to Las Vegas raises one of the thorniest issues that trip up many investors, since it is on that trip that many investors are convinced that opening an LLC in Nevada is the best ploy for a number of reasons. Two important caveats I would add are (1) if you hold title to investment property in a LLC, that LLC must be registered in the State where the property is located, and (2) if you are a California resident, the Franchise Tax Board may require you to file a Form 568 (and pay the $800 tax) if you manage or are a member of a LLC registered in another State. So if you are a California resident and you come back from Vegas with a Nevada LLC for your investment property in Arizona, you will need to file the Form 568 and pay the $800 to the State of California, pay the State of Nevada the annual fees for having a Nevada LLC, and register the Nevada LLC as a foreign entity with the State of Arizona and pay the Arizona fees as well. Good luck keeping track of all that!

  2. Hey Amanda.
    Exactly right.
    While in Las Vegas I formed an LLC in Utah to get space between me and any possible legal actions brought against my assets.
    I do doubt that it was needed for my tax purposes, but I do think that an account for each property has made tracking expenses much easier.
    The other thing that I found is that financing was not available without an LLC. Go figure, the tax man can be easier to do business with than the MONEY MAN .
    Thanks for the info.

    • Jack Macioce

      “The other thing that I found is that financing was not available without an LLC. Go figure, the tax man can be easier to do business with than the MONEY MAN.”

      I guess that is a good question to ask a lender before obtaining financing. I’m assuming though, that they would require you to be a guarantor? Have you had multiple lenders require an LLC or some other type of business entity?

      • Hey Jack, no the financing that required the LLC was all a part of that trip to Las Vegas.
        No bank has ever asked me to have an LLC, but that particular harder money lender was not the only hard money that wanted things to be packaged in that fashion .
        I do believe that almost everyone at bp is familiar with these promotional deals that people may try before they figure out that no one gets rich for a fee.
        I was going to say free, but that of coarse is never offered.

  3. To me, I like to protect my investments, from any lawsuits/creditors etc., by mostly one-time fees (The yearly fees are much smaller in Texas). The tax consequence is somewhat close second..

  4. Shana Williams

    I am a few years late but i just found this great article. Please have more discussions on these topics for new investors who are told to create a LLC without necessarily understanding how it works.

    Now, I have a question. I am a newbie and I currently have a mortgage on a property that I am planning on renting. I have already spoken to the lender and they will enforce the due-on-sale clause if it is put into a LLC. My question is, if I create the LLC to manage the property, that is, pay all the bills through the LLC, etc, would that offer a better tax advantage? Will I be taxed under schedule E which has a better tax incentive than schedule C?

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