How Does Depreciation Recapture Happen?

Businesses claim billions in depreciation as deductions every year. But what occurs when those assets are eventually sold?  How businesses leverage it to reduce taxable income—to unravel the complexities of the recapture process when selling an asset, we’ve got it all covered.

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What is Depreciation Recapture? 

Depreciation recapture is like a tax “payback” moment for business owners and real estate investors on all the depreciation  that has been taken in the previous years. Here’s what you need to know:

When you own assets like buildings, they slowly lose value over time due to the normal wear and tear or obsolescence—this is called depreciation. Businesses can use this loss in value as a deduction to lower their taxable income, which means they pay less tax year after year.

Depreciation recapture occurs only when you sell one of these assets for more than its depreciated value. Essentially, what  the IRS says is that :

“Since you saved money on taxes before, it’s time to pay some of it back”

For people who invest in real estate or own businesses, understanding depreciation recapture is important. It affects how much tax you’ll pay when you sell an asset. Knowing about it can help you plan better for future taxes and make smarter decisions about when to sell.

So how does Depreciation Recapture work?

Depreciation recapture is essentially a tax mechanism that comes into play when you sell an asset for more than its current (depreciated) value. Here’s a breakdown of how it works:

You get taxed on capital gains at the time of sale of an asset:  

When you sell a depreciated asset, the IRS taxes the profit of the sale. Capital gains get taxed between 0-20% on the sale proceeds.

However, the profit taxed under depreciation recapture is considered as ordinary income, not capital gains. This means the profit up to the amount you’ve depreciated is taxed at your regular income tax rate, which could be higher than the capital gains tax rate. So technically, you can end up paying up to 25% on the sale proceeds which is usually how it happens in the case of real estate such as sale of buildings or any investment property.

How does Depreciation Recapture take place in the case of heavy Machinery?

Machinery: If you’ve deducted depreciation on machinery, and then sell the machinery at a profit, that profit is taxed as ordinary income up to the amount of depreciation you’ve claimed. This is because the IRS wants to recapture the tax benefit you received from the depreciation deductions.

How does depreciation recapture happen in Real Estate?

For real estate, it’s a bit different. The portion of the profit equal to the depreciation deductions is taxed as unrecaptured section 1250 gain. This is often taxed at a maximum rate of 25%, which is between the typical rates for ordinary income and long-term capital gains.

Here’s an example on how the recapture tax works with machinery:

Let’s say you bought a piece of equipment for $10,000 and over the years, you’ve depreciated it by $6,000, making its book value $4,000. If you sell this equipment for $8,000, you have a profit of $4,000. Out of this, $6,000 up to the depreciated amount is subject to depreciation recapture and taxed as ordinary income, while the remaining $2,000 is taxed as a capital gain.

In the case of real estate, if you sell a property and have depreciated it by $30,000, and your sale price is above the property’s adjusted cost basis, the depreciated amount is recaptured and taxed up to 25%.

Here’s some planning and Strategy tools:

Navigating depreciation recapture can be tricky, but with smart planning, you can manage and even reduce your tax liability. Here’s why planning and strategy are key:

  • Complexity of Depreciation Recapture: Depreciation recapture involves understanding various tax rules that change based on the type of asset and how long you’ve held it. The rate at which recaptured depreciation is taxed depends on factors like the asset’s use and your income level.
  • Reducing Tax Liabilities: With careful planning, you might be able to time the sale of your assets to minimize taxes. For instance, selling an asset in a year when you expect to have a lower income might result in lower taxes on the recapture. Alternatively, considering a 1031 exchange for real estate can defer taxes altogether.
  • Seeking Professional Advice: Because of the complexities involved, consulting with tax professionals is a smart move. They can offer personalized advice based on your unique situation, helping you make informed decisions.
  • Educational Workshops: Attending workshops or seminars on tax strategies, especially those focusing on depreciation and recapture, can be incredibly beneficial. These sessions can provide insights into effective tax planning strategies and keep you updated on any changes in tax legislation.

Before we get into examples, it’s important to know what a section 1245 property is and what is a 1250 property? 

Section 1245 property includes tangible property that is subject to depreciation such as office furniture and equipment. While a Section 1250 property usually consists of most permanent structures such as land improvements, buildings and investment properties.

Here’s an example of how depreciation capture tax is calculated in case of a Section 1245 Asset such as Machinery:

  • Purchase Price: $20,000 (Cost Basis)
  • Depreciation Claimed: $10,000
  • Sale Price: $15,000
  • Adjusted Cost Basis: $10,000 (Original Cost Basis – Depreciation Claimed)


  • Profit on Sale: $5,000 (Sale Price – Adjusted Cost Basis)
  • Depreciation Recapture: Since the sale price is above the adjusted cost basis, the entire $10,000 depreciation claimed is recaptured and taxed as ordinary income.

Tax Implication:

The $5,000 profit is taxed as ordinary income under depreciation recapture rules, meaning you pay tax based on your income tax bracket for the $10,000 recaptured amount. The remaining profit doesn’t exceed the depreciation, so it’s all taxed as ordinary income.

Example 2 is to do with a  Section 1250 Asset such as Real Estate: 

  • Purchase Price: $300,000 (Cost Basis)
  • Depreciation Claimed: $60,000 over the years
  • Sale Price is : $350,000
  • Adjusted Cost Basis: $240,000 (Original Cost Basis – Depreciation Claimed)


  • Profit on Sale: $110,000 (Sale Price – Adjusted Cost Basis)
  • Depreciation Recapture: The $60,000 depreciation is recaptured but taxed at a maximum rate of 25%.

Tax Implication:

The recaptured depreciation of $60,000 is taxed at a special rate up to 25%, applicable for real estate (Section 1250 property). The remaining $50,000 profit is considered a capital gain and taxed accordingly, based on long-term or short-term capital gains rates, depending on how long you held the property.

And there you have it—a comprehensive dive into the world of depreciation recapture, from its basics to practical examples. We hope this guide illuminates how depreciation recapture works and its impact on your taxes.

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