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Understanding Qualified Opportunity Zones

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 introduced a new investment vehicle called Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZs). QOZs were designed to encourage long-term investments in economically distressed communities across the United States. In this article, we will discuss the key elements of Qualified Opportunity Zones and explore how they are an attractive option for investors seeking to defer or reduce their capital gains tax liabilities.

What are Qualified Opportunity Zones?

Qualified Opportunity Zones are designated census tracts in economically distressed communities where new investments are eligible for preferential tax treatment. The aim behind the creation of these zones is to spur economic development and job creation in low-income communities.

How are Qualified Opportunity Zones designated?

Each state's governor, with input from local municipalities and community leaders, nominates eligible census tracts for QOZ designation. The U.S. Department of the Treasury then certifies the recommendations, creating a total of 8,764 Qualified Opportunity Zones across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories.

Incentives for investing in Qualified Opportunity Zones

Investors who allocate capital to QOZs can receive substantial tax benefits, including:

  • Temporary deferral of capital gains tax: Investors can temporarily defer taxation on capital gains that are reinvested into a Qualified Opportunity Fund - an investment vehicle that holds at least 90% of its assets in QOZ property or businesses.
  • Step-up in basis for capital gains: Investors who hold their QOZ investments for at least five years can increase their basis by 10% of the deferred gain, and after seven years, the basis increases by an additional 5% (for a total of 15%).
  • Permanent exclusion of capital gains on QOZ investments: If an investment in a Qualified Opportunity Fund is held for at least 10 years, the investor can exclude 100% of any realized capital gains from federal taxation upon the sale of the QOZ property or business.

How to Invest in Qualified Opportunity Zones

Qualified Opportunity Funds

To take advantage of the tax benefits provided by QOZs, investors must invest their capital gains into Qualified Opportunity Funds (QOFs). These funds are the primary investment vehicle for channeling capital into QOZs.

Structure of Qualified Opportunity Funds

QOFs can be set up as a partnership or a corporation, including limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or corporations for tax purposes. The primary requirement for a QOF is that it must hold at least 90% of its assets in QOZ property, which include:

  • Qualified Opportunity Zone Stock: Stock in a domestic corporation that operates a business in a QOZ.
  • Qualified Opportunity Zone Partnership Interests: Capital or profits interest in a domestic partnership that operates a business in a QOZ.
  • Qualified Opportunity Zone Business Property: Tangible property used in a trade or business within a QOZ and acquired after December 31, 2017. The property must be substantially improved within 30 months of purchase.

Setting Up a Qualified Opportunity Fund

To create a QOF, the following steps must be taken:

  • Establish the legal entity: As stated earlier, the fund must be structured as a partnership or corporation for federal tax purposes.
  • Prepare the necessary organizing documents: Draft the necessary legal documents, such as the partnership agreement, operating agreement, or articles of incorporation.
  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN): File IRS Form SS-4 to obtain an EIN for the fund.
  • Self-certify as a QOF: To self-certify as a QOF, complete IRS Form 8996 and attach it to the fund's first income tax return.
  • Asset management: At least 90% of the fund's assets must be held in QOZ property, and this requirement must be satisfied at specific testing dates during the fund's life.

Qualified Opportunity Zone Investment Strategies

There are a variety of investment strategies to consider when investing in QOZs, from real estate development to acquiring and operating existing businesses. Here are some of the most common strategies:

Real estate development

Investing in commercial and residential real estate development projects in QOZs is one popular approach. Investors can capitalize on the demand for affordable housing and commercial spaces while benefiting from the tax incentives.

Business acquisitions and expansions

Acquiring or expanding existing QOZ businesses can provide investors with exposure to operational income and capital appreciation. This investment strategy typically requires active involvement in the management of the businesses.

Infrastructure projects

Investing in infrastructure projects is another option, as QOZs often have significant needs for improvement in transportation, utilities, and communication infrastructure. These projects can provide steady returns to investors and support the overall development of the community.

Risks and Considerations for Qualified Opportunity Zone Investments

While there are significant tax benefits and potentially lucrative investment opportunities in QOZs, investors must also be aware of the risks and challenges involved. Some of the key considerations include:

  • Illiquidity: QOZ investments often require a 10-year holding period to realize the full tax benefits, making them relatively illiquid compared to other types of investments.
  • Economic risks: Many QOZs are in economically distressed areas, which presents risks such as high unemployment rates, low property values, and a lack of consumer spending.
  • Regulatory risks: There is still uncertainty surrounding some aspects of QOZ tax regulations, and future changes to the tax code may affect the attractiveness of these investments.
  • Management risk: The success of a QOZ investment is heavily reliant on the expertise of the QOF management team, so it is essential to thoroughly evaluate the qualifications and track record of the fund manager.


Qualified Opportunity Zones offer attractive tax incentives and investment opportunities in economically distressed communities. By understanding the fundamentals, structuring investments through Qualified Opportunity Funds, and carefully considering the risks involved, investors can potentially generate meaningful returns while positively contributing to the revitalization of low-income areas.

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