Your Home as a Tax Shelter: Top Ten Tax Deductions for Owning Your HomeNot just a shelter from the elements, your home also serves as a valuable tax shelter.
Your home provides many tax benefits -- from the time you buy it right on through to when you decide to sell. Here's a summary; for details, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov.1. Mortgage Interest
If you're filing jointly, you can deduct all your interest payments on a maximum of $1 million in mortgage debt secured by a first or second home. The maximums are halved for married taxpayers filing separately.
You can't use the $1 million deduction if you pay cash for your home and later use it as collateral for an equity loan. Learn more from IRS Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, available at www.irs.gov.2. Points
Your mortgage lender will charge you a variety of fees, one of which is called "points," calculated at 1% of the loan principal. One to three points are common on home loans, which can easily add up to thousands of dollars. You can fully deduct points associated with a home purchase mortgage. Refinanced mortgage points are also deductible, but only over the life of the loan, not all at once. Homeowners who refinance can immediately write off the balance of the old points and begin to amortize the new.3. Equity Loan Interest
You may be able to deduct some of the interest you pay on a home equity loan or line of credit. However, the IRS places a limit on the amount of debt you can treat as "home equity" for this deduction. Your total is limited to the smaller of:
- $100,000 (or $50,000 for each member of a married couple if they file separately), or
- the total of your home's fair market value -- that is, what you'd get for your house on the open market -- minus certain other outstanding debts against it.
IRS Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, available at www.irs.gov, explains the details.4. Home Improvement Loan Interest
If you take out a loan to make substantial home improvements, you can deduct the interest, with no dollar limit. However, the work must be a "capital improvement" rather than ordinary repairs.
Qualifying capital improvements are those that increase your home's value, prolong its life, or adapt it to new uses. For example, qualifying improvements might include adding a new roof, fence, swimming pool, garage, porch, built-in appliances, insulation, heating/cooling systems, landscaping, or more. (Keep in mind that increasing the square footage of your home could trigger a reassessment and higher property taxes though.)
Work that doesn't qualify you for an interest deduction includes such repairs as repainting, plastering, wallpapering, replacing broken or cracked tiles, patching your roof, repairing broken windows, and fixing minor leaks. Wait until you are about to sell your home to gain tax benefits from repair work. (See Selling Costs and Capital Improvements, below.) However, you can use a home equity loan up to the limits discussed above to make repairs, and deduct the interest.5. Property Taxes
Often referred to as "real estate taxes," property taxes are fully deductible from your income. If you have an impound or escrow account, you can't deduct escrow money held for property taxes until the money is actually used to pay your property taxes. And a city or state property tax refund reduces your federal deduction by a like amount.6. Home Office Deduction
If you use a portion of your home exclusively for business purposes, you may be able to deduct home costs related to that portion, such as a percentage of your insurance and repair costs, and depreciation. For details, see Home Business Tax Deductions: Keep What You Earn, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).7. Selling Costs
If you decide to sell your home, you'll be able to reduce your taxable capital gain by the amount of your selling costs.
Real estate broker's commissions, title insurance, legal fees, advertising costs, administrative costs, and inspection fees are all considered selling costs. In addition, the IRS recognizes that costs ordinarily attributed to decorating or repairs -- painting, wallpapering, planting flowers, maintenance, and the like -- are also selling costs if you complete them within 90 days of your sale and with the intention of making the home more saleable.
All selling costs are deducted from your gain. Your gain is your home's selling price, minus deductible closing costs, selling costs, and your tax basis in the property. (Your basis is the original purchase price, plus the cost of capital improvements, minus any depreciation.)8. Capital Gains Exclusion
Married taxpayers who file jointly now get to keep, tax free, up to $500,000 in profit on the sale of a home used as a principal residence for two of the prior five years. Single folks and married taxpayers who file separately get to keep up to $250,000 each tax free.9. Moving Costs
If you move because you got a new job, you may be able to deduct some of your moving costs. To qualify for these deductions you must meet several IRS requirements, including that your new job must be at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old job was. Moving cost deductions can include travel or transportation costs, expenses for lodging, and fees for storing your household goods.10. Mortgage Tax Credit
A home-buying program called mortgage credit certificate (MCC) allows low-income, first-time homebuyers to benefit from a mortgage interest tax credit of up to 20% of the mortgage interest payments made on a home (the amount of the credit varies by jurisdiction). You must first apply to your state or local government for an actual certificate. This credit is available each year you keep the loan and live in the house purchased with the certificate. The credit is subtracted, dollar for dollar, from the income tax owed.