The Viability of Using a 1031 Exchange to Pay Off Debt

To make the most of the tax deferral benefits of a 1031 exchange, it's crucial for investors to adhere to several guidelines. One of the key rules pertains to the use of the sale proceeds for paying off debt. While certain types of debt like credit card balances, personal loans, and car loans can't be paid off using 1031 exchange proceeds, some debts can be paid off if the investor follows the 1031 exchange debt restrictions.

It is important for investors to understand these restrictions to ensure that they don't disqualify themselves from taking advantage of the 1031 exchange tax deferral benefits.

How 1031 Exchanges are Affected by Debt: Restrictions and Considerations

When investors use debt to finance their investment properties, it becomes a crucial factor in executing a 1031 exchange. The capital stack of an investment property is composed of debt and equity, where the investor puts in some of their money and finances the remaining balance with a loan.

However, during a 1031 exchange, the investor must reinvest all proceeds from the relinquished property into the replacement property to be eligible for full tax deferral. This raises the question of what happens to the debt on the relinquished property.


According to the "equal or more in value" rule, all cash and debt from the relinquished property must be replaced in the exchange. This means that at a minimum, the investor must exchange into a replacement property of equal value. Additionally, the financing requirement of the replacement property must match or exceed the existing debt on the relinquished property.

While the debt on the relinquished property is paid off with the proceeds from the replacement property, the investor is still in debt as they need to obtain a new mortgage for the replacement property. Furthermore, the new mortgage must be of equal or greater value than the old mortgage to comply with the 1031 exchange debt requirements.

A Few Examples of Paying off Debt with a 1031

A 1031 exchange can be used to pay off debt, but investors must follow strict guidelines to avoid taxable events. Let's take a look at an example to understand how a 1031 exchange debt payoff works.

Suppose an investor has a relinquished property worth $250,000 with a mortgage of $200,000. They want to exchange this property for a replacement property worth $250,000 with a mortgage of $150,000. This transaction creates $50,000 in mortgage boot, which is a taxable gain if not addressed.

To avoid taxable boot, the investor must either clear out the mortgage and take on a new or larger loan or bring cash into the 1031 exchange via a qualified intermediary. If they choose to clear out the mortgage without taking on a new or larger loan, this is known as debt relief, which is the same as receiving cash and creates a taxable event. In the above example, this creates a $50,000 taxable event, which is the difference between the two mortgages.


To fully defer proceeds and avoid taxable events, the overall debt burden in the replacement property must be at least equal to the debt in the relinquished property. This means investors can pay off their original mortgage but will need to take on a new mortgage that is at least equivalent to the old mortgage.

It's important to note that using proceeds from a 1031 exchange to pay off unrelated debt creates a taxable event. Therefore, investors must ensure that they follow the 1031 exchange debt restrictions to avoid unexpected tax liabilities.

Another Example:

Let's say an investor owns a commercial property with a fair market value of $1 million and an outstanding mortgage of $600,000. The investor decides to sell this property and use a 1031 exchange to defer capital gains taxes. They sell the property for $1.2 million, resulting in a capital gain of $600,000.

To avoid paying taxes on this capital gain, the investor must reinvest the entire $1.2 million into a replacement property or properties. The investor decides to use $600,000 of the proceeds to pay off the outstanding mortgage on the relinquished property, and they use the remaining $600,000 to purchase a replacement property.

The replacement property must have a fair market value of $1.2 million or more, and the investor must obtain a new mortgage of at least $600,000 to match or exceed the debt on the relinquished property. If the investor successfully completes the exchange, they will defer the taxes on the $600,000 capital gain from the sale of the original property.

In conclusion, a 1031 exchange can be used to pay off debt, but it requires careful planning and adherence to IRS regulations. Investors must follow the equal or greater value rule and replace all cash and debt in the exchange. If debt relief or mortgage boot occurs, it could result in a taxable gain.

To avoid this, investors should work with a qualified intermediary and take out a new or larger loan to replace the debt. By doing so, they can take advantage of the tax deferral benefits of a 1031 exchange while also reducing their debt burden.

General Disclosure

Not an offer to buy, nor a solicitation to sell securities. All investing involves risk of loss of some or all principal invested. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Speak to your finance and/or tax professional prior to investing. Any information provided is for informational purposes only.

Securities offered through Emerson Equity LLC Member: FINRA/SIPC. Only available in states where Emerson Equity LLC is registered. Emerson Equity LLC is not affiliated with any other entities identified in this communication.

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