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Mortgage and Taxes

New Home Owners


It is just about everyone’s dream to own their own home. Buying your first home can seem like an enormous task. There are a great number of issues to deal with. They include the emotional trauma of a lifestyle change, financial aspects, tax implications and legal considerations. The process may seem a bit overwhelming, but everyone has to go through it. There are many books written on the subject and you certainly should approach the process with your eyes wide open and as prepared as possible for the undertaking. The process from start to finish will consume a great deal of your time and it will have an impact on the taxes you pay.

The tax benefits available with home ownership can greatly reduce the cost of ownership. An individual who rents cannot deduct the cost of the rent on his or her tax return. However, if you are buying the home, the mortgage interest and property taxes are a tax deduction (when itemizing) which provides considerable benefits and can substantially offset the cost of owning the home. This is best explained by example.

Illustration: Let’s assume that you are a married couple filing jointly. Your mortgage payment is $1,500 per month ($18,000 per year) and the property taxes for the year are $5,000. In the first years after purchasing your home, the mortgage payment is primarily interest, which means most of the payment will be tax-deductible (so we will use $17,000 of the mortgage payment as deductible home mortgage interest). Assume your “other” deductible itemized deductions (medical, charity, other taxes and miscellaneous) for the year after AGI adjustments totaled $4,000 and your standard deduction for the year would have been $11,400. Assuming that you are in the 25% tax bracket, your tax savings can be determined as follows:

  • Deductible Interest $17,000
  • Property Taxes 5,000
  • Other Itemized Deductions 4,000
  • Total Itemized Deductions 26,000
  • Standard Deduction (2011) <11,600 >
  • Net Increase in Deductions $14,400

Net Tax Savings (25% Tax Bracket) $3,600

This benefit generally can be more or less based on a number of factors. Had this illustration been for a single taxpayer with a standard deduction of only half that of the joint filing taxpayers, the savings would have been $5,050! Tax bracket also has a big impact. Had the illustration been for a single individual in the 35% tax bracket, the savings would have been $7,070.

You can project your savings by substituting your estimated deductible interest and taxes, using the standard deduction that you would use if not itemizing and your marginal tax rate.

(1) Property taxes are deductible by everyone except those subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). To the extent you might be subject to the AMT, property taxes will not provide any tax benefit.

(2) Frequently, a taxpayer’s taxable income before and after the increase in deductions will straddle two tax brackets and result in a blended marginal rate.

Keep in mind that the annual cost of the home will be more than mortgage payments and taxes. The lender will require the home to be insured for fire and possibly flood. Your utility bills may increase and an allowance for home maintenance and repairs should be set aside.

IRA Account – If you have an IRA account and you qualify as a first-time home buyer, tax law permits you to make up to a $10,000 penalty-free withdrawal from an IRA to purchase a home. (Please note that even though the withdrawal might be penalty-free, it is still taxable). The tax definition of a first-time homebuyer is quite different from the literal definition of a first-time homebuyer. As it turns out, you can qualify even if you owned a home before. Generally, you are a first-time homebuyer if you had no present interest in a main home during the 2-year period ending on the date of acquisition of the home which the distribution is being used to buy, build, or rebuild. If you are married, your spouse must also meet this no-ownership requirement. To qualify for the first-time homebuyer penalty exception, the distribution must be used to pay qualified acquisition costs before the close of the 120th day after the distribution was received. When added to all of the taxpayer’s prior qualified first-time homebuyer distributions, if any, the total distributions cannot be more than $10,000. If the taxpayer is married, both can withdraw up to $10,000.

Other Retirement Accounts – The penalty-free withdrawal from IRA accounts does not apply to other types of retirement accounts. However, funds can be rolled from a qualified plan to an IRA and then a penalty-free distribution can be taken from the IRA.

Gifts – Often parents or other relatives can assist a potential homebuyer by gifting them the funds to help with the down payment.

Holding Title to Your Home

When buying a house you also need to consider how you intend to hold title to the home. Surprisingly, many home purchasers don’t give much attention to the question even though the manner in which the title is held can have far-reaching ramifications.

The best way to come to a decision about the title is to consult with a real estate attorney. Before you do that, however, you may want a little background on the more prevalent title-holding methods:

  • Title held in the name of one individual. Single individuals would probably be the most likely candidates for this method of holding title. However, married individuals may also, for one reason or another, choose to take title individually rather than with their spouse. When the owner of the property dies, probate is necessary. However, the property takes on a new value for the beneficiary – generally equal to its fair market value at the date of the original owner’s death.

  • Joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Under this form of ownership, all (two or more) owners hold title to the property. Each owns an equal share of the property. When one owner dies, the others become owners of the decedent’s portion. An advantage of joint tenancy is that it cuts probate costs since the decedent’s portion of the property normally reverts to the remaining joint tenants automatically (ownership recording, of course, need to be changed). The basis of the decedent’s part is revalued at the date of death.

  • Community property. Married couples in community property states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin can claim community title to property. Under community property rules, each spouse owns half of the property and each spouse can pass his/her portion either to the other spouse or to someone else. An advantage of community property is that when it is willed to a surviving spouse, the entire property gets revalued to its fair market value at the date of the decedent spouse’s death.

Other methods of holding title like tenancy in common or holding property in trust, are also available. All have their “special” pros and cons. Some community property states also have special methods of holding title such as California’s “community property with right of survivorship,” which combines the tax benefits of holding title as community property including a double basis adjustment with the ease of property transfer available to the survivor of joint tenancy property. Before making your final decision, take some time to check out the different methods of holding title in your state to determine what’s best for you.

Maintaining Home Cost & Improvement Records

One of the benefits of home ownership is the ability to exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a married couple) of gain from the sale of the home. To qualify for the exclusion, taxpayers must meet the ownership and use tests. This means that during the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale, taxpayers must have:

1) Owned the home for at least 2 years (if a joint return, only one spouse needs to meet the ownership test), and
2) Except for short temporary absences, lived in (used) the home as their main home for at least 2 years.

The required 2 years of ownership and use during the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale does not have to be continuous. Taxpayers meet the tests if they can show that they owned and lived in the property as their main home for either 24 full months or 730 days during the 5-year period ending on the date of sale. Where taxpayers do not meet the two-out-of-five use and ownership requirements, they may qualify for a reduced exclusion if the home was sold as a result of unforeseen circumstances.

Maintaining good records will help reduce any future gain and minimize any potential tax when the home is sold. Therefore, it is important to keep a copy of your purchase documents that itemize the costs of purchasing the property, along with substantiation for all subsequent improvements to the home. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the $250,000 or $500,000 gain exclusion will cover all subsequent appreciation in value of the home.

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