Tips for smart investing in the world of tax credits.

Solar and wind energy can provide tax credits.

There was once a day when an individual investor in, say, the stock or bond market, could follow sound principles and trust his or her wits and judgement to accurately value investment opportunities and select the appropriate timing.

But changes in the financial world over the past two decades have been revolutionary. At investment firms and hedge funds, industry analysts are as tightly focused as ever, strengthening their methods to know their target companies better than most of those company’s senior managers. Carefully programmed super-computers are reacting to market fluctuations in milliseconds.

In my opinion, many of these financial markets are no longer a play for the armchair investor — no matter how brilliant he or she may be. Conversely, when considering other investment options, such as in real estate, investors know the risks can be high and the time horizon for return of capital is long.

There is one area of investment where many of the strategies that smart individual investors had employed in the stock/bond world are still valuable, and where the playing field is not tilted in favor of the big firms. It’s in the field of Tax Credits.

Simply put, tax credit investing is a mechanism where the investor is able to “purchase” tax credits for a price lower than the value of the credit. At the end of the year, these credits are applied directly to the investor’s tax return and reduce their tax due to the state or Federal government. These are not “deductions”; rather they are actual dollar-for-dollar subtractions straight off the bottom line of tax returns>  Note that for individuals — or closely-held companies — the offset is limited to passive income sources.

The sellers of these tax credits are entities that have earned them — usually through real estate development — but are not in the position to immediately benefit from them. As you can imagine, few developers start earning profits off a project in the first few years.

Much in the same way that a stock market investor may use a licensed broker, companies like mine serve as brokers and advisors in this tax credit market. I do strongly suggest using an experienced tax advisor to ascertain your particular tax appetite and ability to utilize the tax benefits. Advisors handle the details and administration, but also serve to “vet” the developers and their projects and provide you with a complete overview so you can make a wise investment decision. That’s where your investment savvy and good sense come into play — with some assistance from the pros.

Here’s a quick run-down of the types of tax credits that I, and The Cherrytree Group, specialize in:

Renewable Energy Credits

There are two tax credits associated renewable energy: investment tax credits (ITC), which result from investments in the infrastructure that creates renewable energy; and renewable energy credits (RECs), gained from the production of renewable energy itself.

At Cherrytree, we specialize in the ITC, which is a capital investment credit. ITCs are earned when renewable energy equipment is put into service, and amount to a reimbursement of approximately 30% of the cost of the equipment and construction of the facility. This type of credit helps to offset the initial investment in renewable energy facilities, as well as encourages the development and application of more capital-intensive renewable energy technologies.

These credits are awarded to the owner, but may be sold to investors. There is a lively secondary market in ITCs, and we work with individuals to identify specific opportunities which meet their needs. The rates of return can be compelling.

Brownfields Tax Credits

Although some commercial property owners will go out of their way to avoid contaminated building sites, others recognize the benefits inherent in the Brownfield Tax Credit, which is meant to encourage the reclamation of polluted property as well as to enhance economic growth by fostering the rehabilitation of abandoned properties.

An owner can recoup up to 50% of the eligible costs of cleaning up the site, which can be used toward future years’ taxes or can be sold to achieve a cash reserve. This credit can also be sold; allowing an investor to achieve great benefits without ever setting foot near the building site.

Because they are an award for “dirty work,” Brownfields can be terrific investments. They do require expert guidance, though, by an advisor who is working in your interests.

Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits

This is one of the nation’s most successful and cost-effective community revitalization programs. Many historic renovations here in New England, where I live, might not otherwise had been undertaken without the existence of this tax credit.

State and Federal credits together can offset as much as 40% of a construction project’s budget, and they can make or break the feasibility of resurrecting a building with significant community value.

Often, a developer will purchase an aging structure and apply for designation as a Historic Place. Such a designation immediately increases its value. In addition to the immediate tax benefits, the investor will participate in cash flow from the investment for the five-year term of the investment.

Low Income Housing Tax Credits

Developers can achieve a lower equity contribution to a project when it qualifies for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs). The tax credits effectively subsidize the lower rent income in these projects intended to assist low-income families.

LIHTCs offset federal taxes on a dollar-for-dollar basis for a ten-year period. Developers sell the tax credits at a discount to investors to raise the project’s equity. Generating tax credit equity for such ventures, which providing tax planning benefits to buyers of tax credits, frees up businesses to invest in equipment, personnel, upgrades and other needs that would inevitably be scrapped if these dollars were being paid as taxes.

These tax credit investment opportunities are especially attractive given the current economic climate. The “discount rates” on these investments are quite good, and the cash flow portion adds to the return on investment.

An important note: investing in tax credits should only be considered by individuals/entities who otherwise would need to pay that money to the Federal or state government as taxes.

I am always happy to answer any questions you might have about tax credit investing — or, if you are a developer or associated with an upcoming development, about the potential opportunities for applying for and receiving tax credits. You may email me directly at or call me at (617) 431-2266.

Learn more at the CherrytreeGroup website.

Tips for smart investing in the world of tax credits.
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Tips for smart investing in the world of tax credits.
Warren offers tips for investing with the use of tax credits.
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