Buying a home is the biggest investment many people ever make. And it can be the wisest, due partly to a number of tax advantages the government has instituted to encourage home ownership. These benefits can help reduce the cost of buying and owning a home and also leave you with more money when it’s time to sell.
Because tax rules vary based on income and other factors, you should consult an accountant or financial advisor for advice on your particular tax situation.
One of the biggest incentives to owning a home is that the interest you pay on your mortgage is tax-deductible, up to a limit of $1 million. This deduction, like most other tax breaks for homeowners, applies to any kind of home. That includes a second home, as long as you spend a certain amount of time there: either 14 days each year, or 10 percent as much time as it’s rented.
In addition, you can deduct the interest on up to $100,000 of other debt that uses your home as security -- for example, a home equity loan. However, the amount you can deduct may be limited if the money you borrow raises your debt above the home’s actual market value. This can sometimes happen when a lender extends you a loan based on more than the value of the house.
You can also deduct any amount you pay for points to reduce the interest rate of your mortgage or other loan linked to your home. In most cases, the points on a mortgage to buy or build your principal home can be deducted fully in the first year. However, if you refinance, take a home equity loan, or a loan secured by a second home, the points must be deducted over the life of the new loan. The exception is if you use part of a refinanced mortgage to improve your house; that portion of the points can be deducted in the same year.
Another major advantage of home ownership is that, in most cases, you don’t have to pay taxes on any profit you make when you sell your home. The law allows you to exclude from taxes up to $250,000 in profit from the sale of your principal home -- $500,000 for a couple who file jointly. This exclusion also covers the sale of a parcel of land adjacent to your house, unless it’s used for business.
There are some stipulations, however. The home must be your principal residence, and you (and your spouse, where applicable) must have lived there for at least two of the previous five years. You can only claim the exemption once every two years. If you don’t meet those requirements, you may still claim a partial exemption if the sale was due to a change in your place of employment, necessary for health reasons, or due to other unforeseen circumstances.
You can claim property taxes you pay as an income tax deduction. This applies to both your principal home and any others you may own. Any money held in escrow to pay future taxes, however, is not deductible.
The government allows you to write off many of your moving costs when you buy a new home if it’s at least 50 miles closer to your job than your old home. To qualify, you must continue to work full-time in the general area of your job for 39 weeks during the following year. If you’re self-employed and work in your home, any move of 50 miles or more will make your moving expenses deductible. However, you must also work full-time near the new location for 78 weeks during the next 24 months.
Of course, because tax rules vary based on income and other factors, be sure to consult an accountant or financial advisor about your particular situation.
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