You've finally found a buyer for the rental property, land, or business you've been trying to sell but the buyer doesn't have enough cash to pay the full purchase price in a lump sum. So you agree to an installment sale. The buyer will make a partial payment now and pay you the balance over several years, with interest. The deal's done, now what about your taxes?
Because you'll receive the payments over more than one tax year, you can defer a portion of any taxable gain realized on the sale. You'll report only a proportionate amount of your gain each year (plus interest received) until you are paid in full. This lets you pay your taxes over time as you collect from the buyer.
The installment sale also might help limit your exposure to the 3.8% surtax on net investment income. Capital gains are potentially subject to this surtax (in addition to regular capital gains tax) but only in years when your modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds a threshold amount: $200,000 if you file as a single or head of household taxpayer, $250,000 if you file a joint return with your spouse, and $125,000 if you are married and file a separate return.
If your AGI is typically under the threshold, recognizing a large capital gain all in one year could put you over the top, triggering the additional 3.8% tax. By reporting your gain on the installment method, you may be able to stay under the AGI threshold and minimize your tax burden.
The installment sale method isn't available for sales of publicly traded securities and certain other sales. And you have the option of electing out of installment sale treatment and reporting your entire gain in the year of sale. Electing out may be advantageous under certain circumstances: for example, if you have a large capital loss that can offset your entire capital gain in the year of sale. Contact your tax advisor for information that pertains to your particular situation.