Mazuma is now Vyde

In the realm of taxation, distinguishing between different types of income is crucial for determining tax obligations and benefits. One common query among real estate investors and property owners is whether rental income qualifies as earned income. Understanding this distinction is essential for accurate reporting and compliance with tax laws. Let’s delve into this topic to clarify the status of rental income and its classification.

What Constitutes Earned Income?

Earned income typically refers to money earned through active participation in a trade or business, including wages, salaries, tips, and net earnings from self-employment. This category encompasses income derived from personal services and effort.

Characteristics of Earned Income

Understanding Rental Income

Rental income is the revenue generated from leasing out property to tenants. It encompasses payments received from tenants for the right to occupy or use the property. However, rental income doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria of earned income.

Rental Income, as per IRS Guidelines, Covers a Range of Items:

Nature of Rental Income

Tax Treatment of Rental Income

Tax Treatment of Rental Income

Taxation of rental income

The taxation of income from rental properties is determined based on the investor’s marginal income tax rate. For instance, let’s consider an investor who is married filing jointly and reports a total taxable income of $250,000 from all sources. According to the latest IRS guidelines for the tax year 2022, the marginal tax rate would be 24%.

Illustrative example of rental income taxation

Let’s take the scenario of an investor who owns a single-family rental home valued at $150,000. For the purpose of depreciation, the lot value is estimated at $10,000, and the annual income and expenses reported on Schedule E (Form 1040) are as follows:

Total expenses: -$15,731 Total rental real estate income (or loss): $2,269

If the investor falls into the 24% tax bracket, the federal income tax paid on the net rental income in this example would amount to $544.56.

Distinction between taxable rental income and cash flow

It’s important to note that taxable rental income doesn’t equate to rental property cash flow, primarily due to the investor claiming a non-cash depreciation expense. Assuming the total annual mortgage payment (principal and interest) was $6,444, the annual cash flow received from the rental property in this example would be $5,416:

Net cash flow: $5,416

Thus, even though the investor received $5,416 in net cash flow in this example, income taxes are only levied on $2,269 owing to the impact of depreciation.

Passive vs. Earned Income

Tax Implications

Reporting Rental Income

IRS Guidelines

Deductible Expenses

What Occurs if Rental Income Turns Negative?

The scenario described above assumes the presence of taxable income. However, in the realm of real estate investment, a rental property might yield a loss for tax purposes. This could occur, for instance, if it takes longer than anticipated to secure a qualified tenant, resulting in lower-than-expected rental collections. Alternatively, unforeseen repair rental expenses could surpass the budgeted amount.

While there are advantages to the tax treatment of rental income—such as exemption from payroll taxes—one drawback is the inability of an investor to claim a loss on the activity. Although losses from rental properties can offset other gains from passive sources (such as dividends from stocks), any net loss must be carried forward and can only be utilized to offset passive income gains in subsequent tax years.

For instance, suppose an investor incurs a $1,000 loss from a rental property with no other passive income gains. If the property generates taxable rental income of $2,269 in the following year, the investor can apply the $1,000 loss carryforward to reduce the taxable rental income for that year to $1,269.

Guidelines for Minimizing Taxable Rental Income

Investors ought to meticulously document all revenue and expenses. Generally, the tax regulations in the United States favor those involved in real estate investments. Below are additional strategies investors might employ to diminish taxable income from a rental property:

Owner expenditures

Apart from deductions for routine property operational costs such as repairs, maintenance, property taxes, and insurance, investors may also qualify to deduct owner expenses to curtail taxable net income, including:

Travel outlays

An investor might also be eligible to deduct reasonable travel expenses related to visits to and from a rental property. For instance, even if a local property management firm is engaged to oversee a property, an investor might still want to inspect the rental and confer with the manager occasionally.

IRS Topic No. 511, Business Travel Expenses, furnishes guidance on the types of travel expenses that an investor may potentially deduct from rental income. As a general rule, these expenses must be reasonable, customary, and indispensable for the business and should not serve personal purposes.

Bonus depreciation

Typically, residential real estate is depreciated over a span of 27.5 years. Hence, if the cost basis of a home amounts to $140,000 (excluding the land value), the yearly depreciation expense would be $5,091.

In the event of a capital enhancement such as a new roof installation on a rental property, the improvement’s cost must be incorporated into the cost basis and depreciated over the same duration. For instance, if an investor disburses $10,000 to replace a roof, the supplementary depreciation would amount to $364 ($10,000 divided by 27.5 years).

Nevertheless, until the conclusion of the 2022 tax year, an investor may have the opportunity to leverage bonus depreciation to deduct the entire expense of a capital improvement in the same fiscal year the expenditure was incurred. Should the extra deduction lead to a rental real estate deficit, the loss can be carried forward for utilization in subsequent tax years.


In conclusion, rental income is generally not considered earned income but is categorized as passive income due to its nature as revenue derived from property ownership. While earned income results from active participation in a trade or business, rental income stems from passive investments in real estate. Understanding this distinction is crucial for accurate tax reporting and compliance with IRS regulations. Property owners should consult with tax professionals to ensure proper classification and reporting of rental income and expenses.

FAQs about Rental Income and Taxation

Is rental income considered earned income?

No, rental income is generally not classified as earned income. Instead, it is categorized as passive income because it stems from property ownership rather than active participation in a trade or business.

What constitutes earned income?

Earned income typically includes wages, salaries, tips, and net earnings from self-employment. It reflects income earned through active participation in a trade or business, involving direct effort and regular compensation for services rendered.

How is rental income reported for tax purposes?

Rental income and related expenses are typically reported on Schedule E of the IRS Form 1040. Landlords and property owners are required to accurately report rental income and expenses on their tax returns to ensure compliance with tax laws.

Can rental income be reduced for tax purposes?

Yes, there are several strategies to reduce taxable rental income. These include deducting expenses such as repairs, maintenance, property taxes, insurance, owner expenses, and travel expenses related to the rental property.

What happens if rental income results in a loss?

If rental income generates a loss for tax purposes, the loss can be used to offset other passive income gains. However, any net loss must be carried forward and can only be utilized to offset passive income gains in subsequent tax years.


Download our tax savings guide for small businesses today!