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How to Lower Your Taxes on Practice Construction, Renovation

Here’s a way to save tens of thousands of dollars on a new build or renovation of a dental practice: the cost segregation study. Instead of writing off construction costs over 39 years, qualifying construction might be written off over five, seven, or 15 years. Make sure your CPA knows how this key savings opportunity works.
Art Wiederman, CPA
PUBLISHED: Thursday, April 13, 2017

It is important that you use a company that specializes in engineered cost segregation studies if you're looking to use this tax-savings method in your dental practice.

You just finished building your dream dental office: eight treatment rooms and brand-new equipment in a great location. Although it was one of your biggest investments it will bring in new patients, allow you to do the dentistry you want to do and make the balance of your dental career enjoyable.
Now that the office is completed, potential income-tax savings will be on your mind. Hopefully, your CPA knows how a cost segregation study works. Here’s an overview for the uninitiated.
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Constructing a dental office requires spending in the following categories: 

• Dental equipment, computer equipment, furniture, and fixtures. Equipment and computers are depreciated over five years. Furnishings are depreciated over seven years. You also have the option of expensing them under Section 179 up to a maximum of $500,000 per year.
• Leasehold improvements (i.e., structure, plumbing, electrical wiring) and the internal structure of the dental office (i.e., carpet, walls, ceilings). Generally, the structural components of a building are depreciable over 39 years. Qualified improvement property is usually depreciable over 15 years.
Upon reviewing the depreciation schedule of a new client, a dental CPA notes leasehold improvements written off over 39 years and that triggers a recommendation that the client consider a cost segregation study.
Cost segregation studies came about in the 1980s. A company called Hospital Corporation of America was advised by its accountants, engineers and attorneys that instead of writing off the cost of the majority of their hospitals over 39 years, the company should come up with a method to “segregate” portions of the construction costs that could be written off over five, seven or 15 years.  
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audited Hospital Corporation of America and disallowed the segregation of the costs, taking the company to court. Several times.
And the IRS lost.
The IRS acquiesced, subsequently creating rules regarding exactly how an engineered cost segregation study must be prepared and documented, giving birth to the cost segregation industry.
Cost segregation studies can be used when a tenant builds out an office, or when a dentist builds or buys a new building. They can even be used by a dentist who built an office anytime after 1987 (yes, that’s correct —1987).  
Here’s an example: In 2016, for $1.2 million, the fictional Dr. John Jones purchased a free-standing building, a shell in which he then built a dental office. The project cost him
$2 million, not including the cost of equipment, furnishings or computers. Dr. Jones then set up a separate limited liability company (LLC) to own the building, which then rents the building to the J Corporation, the operator of his practice.

Dr. Jones has a sharp CPA who suggests performing an engineered cost segregation study. Bill Sheridan, principal of Cost Segregation Consultants in San Diego, California, and J. Curt Gautreau, who is a certified cost segregation professional from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, provided the sample you see above of a cost segregation study for a $2 million building.
As you can see, out of the $2 million, which would have normally been depreciated over 39 years, 15.3 percent is depreciated over five years, 4.2 percent over seven years, 8.7 percent over 15 years, and the balance of 71.8 percent over 39 years.  Depending on the situation, this could save tens of thousands of dollars in income tax in the first year.
Had the entire project cost of $2 million (assume this is the cost of the building and improvements, and that land costs were additional) been depreciated over 39 years, the first year’s depreciation deduction would have been $2 million divided by 39, or $51,282.
With the cost segregation study, the amount of depreciation allowed is as follows in year one:
• Of the five-year property ($306,930), Dr. Jones can deduct 50 percent bonus depreciation ($153,465); he can also deduct 20 percent of the remaining $153,465, or $30,693. Total deduction: $184,158.
• Of the seven-year property ($83,927), he can deduct 50 percent bonus depreciation ($41,963); he can also deduct 14.29 percent of the remaining $41,963, or $5,997. Total deduction: $47,960.
Assuming the 15-year property qualifies as a qualified improvement property under Internal Revenue Code Section 168(k)(3), this, too, qualifies for 50 percent bonus depreciation. So, of the $173,233 allocated to 15-year property, Dr. Jones can take $86,617 in bonus depreciation and $8,662 in additional depreciation for a total of $95,279 in year one.
Finally, he receives depreciation on $1,435,910 over 39 years, which comes to $36,818 per year.
So, the total first-year depreciation deduction with the cost segregation study is $364,215, compared with a first-year deduction of $51,282 without a cost segregation study. This gives Dr. Jones an additional depreciation deduction of $312,933, which, at a 40 percent marginal tax rate (federal and state), saves him $125,173 in taxes.

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