April 23, 2022

JF2790: Opportunity Zones: The Ticket to Reducing Your Tax Liability ft. Ashley Tison

Self-described “reformed attorney” Ashley Tison is passionate about helping business owners mitigate taxes through programs like Opportunity Zones. That’s why he co-founded OZPros.com — to democratize entrepreneurs’ ability to utilize Opportunity Zones to save on their taxes. In this episode, Ashley breaks down how Opportunity Zone funds work and how OZPros.com serves as both an educational tool and an investment opportunity.

What Are Opportunity Zones?

Opportunity Zones were created by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act to incentivize people to invest in areas that have historically been overlooked. This allowed governors to designate 25% of their low-income census tracks as Opportunity Zones. When people invest any kind of capital gain in a quality Opportunity Zone fund for one of these Opportunity Zones — whether it’s long-term or short-term —they get to defer the original capital gain.


How Does OZPros.com Help? 

OZPros.com began as strictly an educational tool, offering strategy calls and educational videos. However, it soon evolved to include services like assisting investors with structuring forms and setting up deals. “We will help people that want to do their own captive funds to make their own investments, and then we also help people that want to set up funds and raise money,” Ashley says. OZPros.com also helps investors with follow-along compliance.


How Easy Is It to Invest In Opportunity Zones?

“There are some specific nuances to it, so you want to make sure that you get professional advice and assistance,” Ashley says. However, he adds that taking advantage of Opportunity Zones is a simpler process than many comparable government tax incentive programs.


Additional Information

To learn more about Opportunity Zones, visit OZPros.com.


Ashley Tison | Real Estate Background

  • Co-founder of OZPros.com. He’s an attorney and entrepreneur focused on helping real estate investors reduce their tax liability.
  • Based in: Charlotte, NC
  • Say hi to him at:



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Slocomb Reed: Best Ever listeners, welcome to The Best Real Estate Investing Advice Ever Show. I'm Slocomb Reed and I'm here with Ashley Tison. Ashley is joining us from Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a co-founder of OZPros.com. He's an attorney and entrepreneur focused on helping real estate investors reduce their tax liability, often particularly through opportunity zones. Ashley, can you start us off with a little more about your background and what you're currently focused on?

Ashley Tison: I'm a practicing attorney. I like to call myself a reformed attorney where I try to do as little practice as possible, but mainly try and help business owners mitigate taxes through different programs, specifically including the opportunity zones. When we found out about opportunity zones and the benefits that you can get through that, we were like, "Man, we're all in. This is like 1031 meant private equity, and it's going to be a boondoggle for so many people. But let's make sure that the main street level entrepreneur has access to it." So we founded OZPros.com in order to democratize the folks' ability to be able to utilize the program to save taxes.

Slocomb Reed: What is OZPros doing? Is OZPros an investment opportunity, or is it purely an educational tool?

Ashley Tison: It's actually all of the above. We originally started as the LegalZoom for opportunity zones. When folks continue to have struggles in figuring out the correct way to structure their forms and their different deals, we set up a strategy call process, an educational video, a set of videos, and really focused on the educational piece. As we were doing that, the folks that we were talking to were like, "Hey, can you just do this for us? We just want you to set it up."

So we started that process and ended up getting rid of the do-it-yourself model, because we were spending more time on that one, un-messing the errors, than we were on just actually doing it for other people. And then yltimately, expanded into assisting investors with placing money in trying to figure out other types of deals. Then we've actually raised our own fund for doing a couple of different real estate deals ourselves, namely in kind of the horizontal hospitality space.

So we're kind of across the board; we will help people that want to do their own captive funds to make their own investments, and then we also help people that want to set up funds and raise money, we help them do that as well.

The big piece that we do is that we help people with the follow-on compliance, staying up to date on what needs to happen within their program, within their opportunity zone transaction, and making sure that they know what they need to be doing as they're making decisions on a daily basis. We do that through a thing called the OZPros compliance bootcamp. That's administered through the opportunity zone's working group, which is our OZworks Group, which is an online virtual community of folks that are interested in opportunity zones.

Slocomb Reed: Great, that's a lot to bite off. Let's start from the vantage point of someone who is interested, has very limited knowledge about opportunity zones, just knows that they're new and they're great for tax reasons. We're recording this in early April 2022, the stock market took a pretty serious hit recently, and has for the most part recovered from that hit. Let's say, Ashley, that I am someone who is thinking about getting out of the stock market; I don't like the way that my investments are tied to global stability, for example, and I want to get into something that is a little more local, a little more tangible, and I want to get into real estate. I know that an opportunity zone is a good tax shelter, if that's the right term. If it's the wrong term, correct me, please. I want to get involved in opportunity zones.

Ashley Tison: We don't like to use the word shelter.

Slocomb Reed: Sure. Okay, so what would you call it?

Ashley Tison: It's a legislative tax incentive program. Now, it provides you shelter from taxes but a tax shelter is something that's abused by people according to the IRS. This was specifically designed in order to encourage people; so we're pretty fired up about it. I think to answer your question, is that opportunity zones were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It was basically to incentivize people to invest into areas that were historically underinvested in. The governor's got to designate 25% of their low-income census tracts as an opportunity zone.

Then if you take any kind of capital gain, whether that's long term or short term, and you invest it in a qualified opportunity fund that then invests into one of these opportunity zones, you get to defer the original capital gain. So if you had a million dollars of Apple stock that had appreciated, and you had a million dollars’ worth of gain, and you were to put that gain into a qualified opportunity fund within 180 days, you could invest that money into an opportunity zone property and you're going to defer the taxes on the original gain until December 31st, 2026.

Then after you've held your investment for 10 years, you're going to reduce and eliminate all taxes going forward until 2047 via a step-up in basis to fair market value. It's significant, because it not only eliminates capital gains taxes on your new investment and the opportunity zone, but it also eliminates depreciation recapture. So the net effect is that you've got about a 3% IRR bump on your deal, and then on the back-end, you're saving at least 23.8%, because you're anticipating that you're probably going to double your money, or at least double your money on a real estate deal over 10 years.

Slocomb Reed: Gotcha. So the most general aspect of that, to give a summary we can build off of, is you can take your gains from other asset classes outside of real estate, invest them in an opportunity zone fund, which then deploys that capital into real estate deals in opportunity zones to defer capital gains. You've listed out some of the ways that taxes are deferred and reduced, as well.

Ashley Tison: Yes. A couple of interesting points about that is, number one, it can be from any appreciated asset. That's stocks, that's baseball cards, that's gold, that's cryptocurrency, that's appreciated businesses that somebody's going to sell, that's anything. It could be a real estate deal or a 1031 deal that's gone bad. As long as it's capital gain, it can go into your opportunity fund. And then you can actually invest inside of the opportunity zone into anything that you want. It can be a business or it can be a real estate deal; as long as it's a trade or business, then it works. You've got to comply with some rules inside of that, like about your income test, 50% of the income has got to come from the zone, and you got to have 70% of your assets that are qualified property and there are some substantial improvement requirements for real estate... But they're actually fairly easy to figure out and to actually make work.

There are some nuances to it and there are some specific nuances to it, so you want to make sure that you get professional advice in assisting with it. I don't want to paint the picture that it's a cakewalk. But it's certainly way easier than most of the other types of government tax incentive programs, like affordable housing, or the historic renovation tax credits. It's definitely not as complicated as those.

Slocomb Reed: To the point that you made earlier, this is an opportunity created by the federal government to incentivize investment in these identified opportunity zones. A couple of smaller tactical questions here - you said it doesn't have to be real estate as long as it is in an opportunity zone. Could I invest in a local business that rents its place of operation, owns no real estate, but it operates out of an opportunity zone?

Ashley Tison: Absolutely. People do that all the time. What's interesting about that is that it will actually end up giving you some extra benefit, namely in the form that you get to count all the net present value of all of your lease payments towards your 70% asset test. So it becomes not just a way to do it, but it's actually something that we do regularly. Not sure that necessarily you can read this in detail on it, but this is our opportunity zone cheat sheet. We've got the opportunity zone cheat sheet, and it basically is opportunity zones on a page, and all of the requirements that are there.

You could download a copy of the opportunity zone cheat sheet from OZPros.com, and we'd love to give it to anybody who wants it. But basically, it's literally all of the requirements on one page. It walks you through conceptually in a diagram about where your money needs to come from, where it needs to go to, and how it needs to flow into the different assets. But inside of that, one of the things that you can do is you could certainly use a rental of space in order to qualify for this. So that's a twofold benefit, because businesses that otherwise can't afford to buy real estate could rent, and then landlords that may not have a qualifying asset that they're going to be able to substantially improve, can rent it out to folks that want to get the benefit of being in an opportunity zone. So it creates lots of different ways that you can create commerce in these areas that really need it.

Slocomb Reed: A couple of questions about opportunity zone funds, based on what you've said thus far and based on information I've heard from other sources that may or may not be all that credible. The first is you said in the example of Apple stock and the million-dollar gain, I have 180 days to get it into an opportunity zone fund. Thinking about a 1031 exchange as the point of reference, do I need to identify the opportunity zone fund before I sell my Apple stock?

Ashley Tison: No, you do not.

Slocomb Reed: And I don't need to know that I'm going to put it in an opportunity zone fund before I sell the apple sock?

Ashley Tison: No, you don't. I do it all the time. The other interesting thing is it's 180 days if you've got stock, but if your gain came through a partnership or an S corporation, you actually have 180 days from the partnership tax filing deadline. So theoretically, you could have sold a property on January 1st of 2021, and you've now got until September 11th of 2022 to put the gain into an opportunity zone fund and take advantage of it.

We're really busy right now because people are getting ready to pay their estimates, so they're like, "Oh, wow. You mean to tell me that on a gain that I had last year, that I could put that gain into a fund, and I can defer the taxes on that, and I don't need to know what kind of project I'm going to do?" We set those up all day long for people, because we set them up a [unintelligible 00:14:29.00] fund, they're able to dump their money into it, and then they've got basically almost four years to figure out what they want to do inside of the opportunity zone.

Slocomb Reed: Let's dive into that a little bit more as well, Ashley. First of all, you are creating a fund for these individuals who are coming to you with their capital gains. Let's use me as an example - I have gains from the sale of Apple stock, and I want to get them into an opportunity zone fund. Your recommendation is that I create my own fund?

Ashley Tison: Once again, that's all according to what your comfortability is. If you want to be a pure passive investor, I would highly recommend that you do not create your own fund.

Slocomb Reed: Of course, yeah.

Ashley Tison: If you just want to put money in with somebody else who is going to manage it, then I've got literally 100, I've got 1000 funds that you could look at depending on what you want. We can walk you through how you make evaluations of that, all that kind of stuff, and we do that on a regular basis. If you are inclined that you want to experiment yourself with possibly doing your own deal, or where you want to be able to allocate amongst several different projects, then that's when it makes sense to create your own fund, and that's when we do.

We set up an LLC, it's taxed as a partnership, we file the paperwork so that it indicates that it's a fund, and then we walk you through what you need to do in order to comply with that. With how you need to move your money into it, how you need to move your money down into a qualified opportunity zone business within a certain period of time, and then how you need to keep track of that money with a working capital safe harbor plan. That's all part of our done-for-you package.

Slocomb Reed: Gotcha. Let's say, for the sake of simplicity, I am an active investor and I'm going to create my own fund. You said I've got four years to deploy that capital; can you flesh that out a bit?

Ashley Tison: Yeah. It depends on when you actually had your gain and when you deposit your money into your fund. Let's just say that you deposited your money on January 1st of this year; so you've put your gain into the fund on January 1st. You've got a six-month and a year-end asset test that you have to hit. Depending on when you put your money in, that's when the first six months is going to hit. So you get to disregard for the first test, and then it applies for the second test.

In your case, you'd have a year to put your money into a qualified opportunity zone business, which we also set up for you. So you drop your money into the fund on January 1st, and then you drop your money into the qualified opportunity zone business by December 31. As soon as you do that, you have 31 months to now spend your money in the opportunity zone. That's roughly -- I guess, 31 months is more like two and a half years so you have three and a half years; so three years seven months, that kind of thing.

Now, if you anticipate that you're going to have another slug of capital to come in, either in the form of equity or in the form of debt, and that slug of capital comes in during the 31-month period, you have another 31 months to spend that slug of capital and to get your project done; so up to a total of 62. So in reality, it's three and a half years, because you've got the two and a half plus the one, all the way up to when you've got 62 months, you're now talking about basically six years to actually get the project done. So it gives you a lot of flexibility about how quickly you have to deploy the capital.

Break: [00:17:58] - [00:19:45]

Slocomb Reed: So you're talking about two different infusions of capital into the fund. Let's say if I start the fund with a million dollars, and then I have 31 months to get it deployed... 30 months in, I add a second million dollars. Do I now have 31 more months to deploy 2 million, or do I still have to get that initial million dollars deployed within the original 31 months?

Ashley Tison: It's a great question. You have to deploy each tranche in 31 months, but you would have up to 62 months to get your project finished, and to deploy all your capital that you're anticipating is going to come in. That's a great question.

Slocomb Reed: I have a friend who did this, we'll leave him unnamed; it's not me.

Ashley Tison: I was going to say, I love those asking for a friend questions.

Slocomb Reed: Asking for a friend who actually is a friend and who took me out to lunch a couple of weeks ago, because he's looking for deals for his opportunity zone fund... He was explaining some of this to me, Ashley. He created his own fund, and he was telling me about these 31 months, and he was telling me that during the 31-month time period where you're supposed to identify and capitalize on investments in an opportunity zone, in the meantime, while you're finding those opportunity zone investment opportunities, you can deploy that capital into other investment ventures, so long as the initial capital from the fund and the gain are redeposited into the fund and then still deployed within 31 months. Is that true, and can you put a little more detail behind that?

Ashley Tison: Yeah, he's correct on that. There's definitely nuance to it though. It needs to be in the form of debt. The reason why he can do that is that while you're subject to a working capital safe harbor plan, your money has to sit in cash or cash equivalent. A cash equivalent is a loan of under 18 months or less. As long as his QOZB loans that money out to another venture and there's going to be a return of that capital in 18 months, that's fine.

Slocomb Reed: In 18 months and within his 31-month time.

Ashley Tison: Exactly right. Theoretically, inside of your 31, you could do an 18-month loan out, then bring it back in and 18 months, and then do another 13-month loan out, as long as you knew that you had a deal that you're going to put all that money back into when it comes back. Interestingly, we've been working with a group called QOZB Capital, that is specifically set up to help people put money to work during their 31-month period. They've got a zero-coupon bond where you basically buy a bond and they've got a five-month bond and a six-month bond.

Five months so that that way, while you're in your QOF six-month period, that that's going to come back prior to your six-month test at the QOF level. They're paying 6% on that bond, and it sits in an FDIC-insured bank account. You put in a million bucks, six months later, you get back $1,030,000. Specifically, to your friend's point about trying to come up with a solution for people that have their money parked while they're trying to find opportunity zone deals or execute on the deals.

Slocomb Reed: Can you explain the six-month test?

Ashley Tison: Yeah. As part of the opportunity zone deal, as part of your fund, you've got a six-month test every six months that you've got to comply with the 90% investment standard. On June 30th and December 31st, that's effectively when it tests. Now, let's say that you started in September - your first test would actually be on December 31st. If you started in February, your six-month test is going to be in August.

Slocomb Reed: What is the 90% investment standard?

Ashley Tison: That 90% of the money that you put into your fund needs to be deployed in opportunity zone business property. That can either be real estate that you've directly owned from the fund, or it can be into a qualified opportunity zone business. Another LLC that's specifically designed to do deals in the opportunity zone. That's why we call it the two-story house, so a double stack; you've got your fund on top, and then you got your QOZB underneath it. What it allows you to do is when you're approaching that six-month test, to drop the money from the fund down into the QOZB, and then you pass that 90% test.

Slocomb Reed: Gotcha. This is during the 31-month hold period, or after?

Ashley Tison: This is at the fund level. Your fund has basically between six months to a year to deploy capital. As soon as you drop money down to the QOZB, that's when that 31-month kicks in, because it's a 31-month working capital safe harbor that QOZBs have the ability to be able to use while they're looking for deals to deploy their cash into. So the 31 months doesn't start until you drop the money into the QOZB.

Slocomb Reed: I know what the O and Z stand, for but what is QOZB?

Ashley Tison: Sorry, qualified opportunity zone business.

Slocomb Reed: Gotcha. I sell my Apple stock, I put my money into an opportunity zone fund, which needs to get it into a qualified opportunity zone business by the next six-month test. Then the QOZB has 31 months to get it deployed into an opportunity zone business.

Ashley Tison: Or an asset. Into assets. Correct.

Slocomb Reed: Or an asset; into assets in an opportunity zone. Thank you for that correction there. What I'm really hearing is that so long as the term is 18 months or shorter, my friend really can fund my rehab deal.

Ashley Tison: No, he can.

Slocomb Reed: ...out of his opportunity zone. Friend, I hope you're listening. I'm definitely sending you this episode as soon as it airs, because I've got a couple of opportunities for you. But yeah, another metric that you mentioned early on in this conversation, Ashley, that I want you to have the opportunity to flesh out... You said that investing through a QOZB gives about a 3% IRR increase to the investments that someone is making, that they would otherwise be making outside of a qualified opportunity zone business. Where is that 3% IRR number coming from?

Ashley Tison: It's basically the ability to be able to invest the government's money. So in your example before, you've got a million dollars that you sold; you would normally pay $238,000 in taxes the next year. So you would only be able to invest $762,000. Well, if you do the side-by-side time value of money on that, when you're investing the full million dollars, even though you're going to pay that $260,000 or $238,000 in taxes in 2027, the return that you make off of that, coupled in with the back-end tax forgiveness of not having any capital gains on the back-end, is that 3% bump.

That doesn't factor in the no-depreciation recapture either, which can be really substantial... Because inside of a real estate deal - and I'm sure that your listeners know about doing cost segregation studies - but you can take that depreciation, and offset the income. In a normal deal, you're going to pay depreciation recapture, and you're also going to pay capital gains on the aggregate amount that you've written it down to, because you've reduced your basis. But in an opportunity zone deal, because you get a step-up in basis to fair market value, you pay no depreciation recapture and no capital gains, because you now have a basis at fair market value of what you're selling it for.

People that are way smarter at figuring out models and that kind of thing, they're the ones that came up with a 3% IRR factor on that. That's just kind of what the industry has talked about. And what's interesting is when they first did that, they're like, "Oh, big deal, 3%." But when you think about three points on a cap rate differential... Think about buying it a five cap versus an eight cap. Which deal are you taking? That's real estate and investing nirvana.

Slocomb Reed: To make sure I understand and can bring the Best Ever listeners along with me, we're talking about two different benefits here. One is that through investing my gain through a QOZB, I am deferring my payment of those capital gains for five years. It means I can spend five years making money with that money before I pay it to the IRS.

Ashley Tison: That's right.

Slocomb Reed: And there's another deal... If you could flesh that out a little more with regards to no depreciation recapture, and no capital gains, how do I get that?

Ashley Tison: Well, you just hold for 10 years at the fund level. So as soon as your fund investment turns 10 years old, everything that the fund owns is eligible for a step-up in basis to fair market value. So as we do our real estate deals, when we are depreciating them out and that kind of thing, what we're doing is we're really taking and we're reducing our basis. Because we're saying, "Okay, this basis that I put in - I'm losing it because of depreciation," and so the IRS let you write that off. But you're reducing that basis down.

When you go to sell something, the amount of your capital gains is what you're selling it for, less your basis, and that's the capital gains that you pay. So when you have a step-up in basis to fair market value, that moves your basis up to the amount that you're paying for it. So it completely eliminates capital gains. But the other really significant piece about that is that depending on how much of your basis has been applied to ordinary income, and depending on how quickly you've run the MACR schedule, the modified accelerated cost recovery schedule, if you've caught up on it, then you're still going to pay capital gains on that amount. But if you haven't caught up on it, you're going to pay ordinary income on that amount. So this eliminates that completely. So if you've bonus-depreciated something that has a 15-year depreciation schedule and you're only 10 years into it, you would pay five years’ worth of depreciation recapture income tax on that specific amount. The opportunity zone eliminates that, because you get to step up in basis to fair market value. So it's literally whatever you're selling it for, that's your basis, and you put the money in your pocket and you go and do something else with it.

Slocomb Reed: Awesome. That's a pretty comprehensive explanation, Ashley.

Ashley Tison: I hope that that was easy to understand.

Slocomb Reed: Well, let me attempt to explain it back to you. So you get to defer the payment of the capital gains tax on your original gain for five years. In the million-dollar gain example, you have the opportunity to deploy that $238,000 for five years before you have to pay it to the IRS, but you do pay to the IRS after five years.

Ashley Tison: That's correct.

Slocomb Reed: And then with the investments made in the fund at the fund level, when those investments reach 10 years old, you have an automatic step-up in the value, so that let's say something that I bought for $2 million is now 10 years later worth $5 million; my tax basis in that asset increases to 5 million. This means when I go to sell it, there's a $3 million gain that I'm not paying taxes on.

Ashley Tison: That's exactly right.

Slocomb Reed: And you mentioned one other thing in there, I believe, with regards to depreciation recapture...

Ashley Tison: That's right.

Slocomb Reed: Explain that again real quick?

Ashley Tison: So if you were normally doing that, and when you had your $2 million asset that's now worth $5 million, more than likely you've probably depreciated that asset down to roughly a million dollars of your basis. Depending on how and what that was comprised of, if that was your HVAC, your roof, your whatever, the schedule associated with each one of those items is going to have a certain period of time that you have to catch up. And if you haven't caught up, you're going to pay income tax on the amount that hasn't caught up. Even on the ones that have caught up, you're still going to pick capital gains on that. The opportunity zone eliminates all of that via exactly what you said. So there's a third benefit that went away in December of 2021, which was a 10% reduction in your taxes if you had held for five years prior to December 31st, 2026. We just had some legislation introduced literally yesterday, that is going to extend the program by another two years. So it will effectively go back to allowing...

Slocomb Reed: If passed.

Ashley Tison: If passed. Exactly, correct. But it would extend that and give you back that 10,%, which makes it so that when you pay the taxes in 2026, you would pay 10% less. Let's hope they get that passed, so everybody call their congressman. [laughs]

Slocomb Reed: Ashley, this is incredibly helpful information. We have bitten off as much as we can chew in one episode of the Best Ever podcast. Expedited lightning round, are you ready?

Ashley Tison: Let's do it!

Slocomb Reed: What is the Best Ever book you've recently read?

Ashley Tison: I'd have to say Traction by Gino Wickman.

Slocomb Reed: I've interviewed three people so far today, every single on has said Traction by Gino Wickman. I personally re-read it last month, because it's been about six months since I implemented it in my business, and I need a check-up. So Best Ever listeners, read Traction.

Ashley Tison: Man, that's three in a row; that's awesome.

Slocomb Reed: Three in a row, literally. It's a phenomenal book. For anyone who's operating any business at any level, but especially if you have employees.

Ashley Tison: The second Best Ever book that I would say is a book called Buckets, by Kevin Monaghan. Those that have key employee retention issues, they've got to read that one.

Slocomb Reed: Ashley, what is your Best Ever advice?

Ashley Tison: For anybody else that's out there, I'd start saving as early as possible. Compound interest is the seventh wonder of the world, tax-free compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. Opportunity zones present that 8th wonder of the world. So does whole life insurance. I'm investing in both of those heavily.

Slocomb Reed: Ashley, how can our listeners get in touch with you?

Ashley Tison: Go to the OZPros.com website. We are working on a landing page, OZpros.com/podcast, and we'll have the opportunity zone cheat sheet, we've got a discounted strategy call, if people want to get the fastest and best way to learn about whether their opportunity zone dreams are going to work or not. We've also got the OZworks Group where people can join in and get access to my educational product and other folks that are operating in opportunity zones. We'd love to interact with as many people as possible, and we'd love to connect with you in any of those mechanisms.

Slocomb Reed: Those links will be available in the show notes. Ashley, thank you. Best Ever listeners, thank you as well for tuning in. If you've gained value from this episode, this conversation about opportunity zones, and hopefully how you can apply this to your own investing and your own tax strategies. Please subscribe to our show, please leave us a five-star review, and please share this episode with someone you think can take advantage of this opportunity as well, to invest through opportunity zones. Thank you and have a Best Ever day.

Ashley Tison: Thanks, Slocomb.

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