Buying a home can be a major expenditure. Fortunately, federal tax benefits are still available, even after recent tax reform legislation, to help make homeownership more affordable. There may also be tax benefits under state law.
Mortgage interest deduction
One of the most important tax benefits of owning a home is that you may be able to deduct the mortgage interest you pay. If you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you can deduct the interest on a loan secured by your home and used to buy, build, or substantially improve your home. For loans incurred before December 16, 2017, up to $1 million of such “home acquisition debt” ($500,000 if married filing separately) qualifies for the interest deduction. For loans incurred after December 15, 2017, the limit is $750,000 ($375,000 if married filing separately).
This interest deduction is also still available for home equity loans or lines of credit used to buy, build, or substantially improve your home. [Prior to 2018, a separate deduction was available for interest on home equity loans or lines of credit of up to $100,000 ($50,000 if married filing separately) used for any other purpose.]
Deduction for real estate property taxes
If you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you can generally deduct real estate taxes you pay on property that you own. However, for 2018 to 2025, you can deduct a total of only $10,000 ($5,000 if married filing separately) of your state and local taxes each year (including income taxes and real estate taxes). For alternative minimum tax purposes, however, no deduction is allowed for state and local taxes, including property taxes.
Points and closing costs
When you take out a loan to buy a home, or when you refinance an existing loan on your home, you’ll probably be charged closing costs. These may include points, as well as attorney’s fees, recording fees, title search fees, appraisal fees, and loan or document preparation and processing fees. Points are typically charged to reduce the interest rate for the loan.
When you buy your main home, you may be able to deduct points in full in the year you pay them if you itemize deductions and meet certain requirements. You may even be able to deduct points that the seller pays for you.
Refinanced loans are treated differently. Generally, points that you pay on a refinanced loan are not deductible in full in the year you pay them. Instead, they’re deducted ratably over the life of the loan. In other words, you can deduct a certain portion of the points each year. If the loan is used to make improvements to your principal residence, however, you may be able to deduct the points in full in the year paid.
Otherwise, closing costs are nondeductible. But they can increase the tax basis of your home, which in turn can lower your taxable gain when you sell the property.
Home improvements (unless medically required) are nondeductible. Improvements, though, can increase the tax basis of your home, which in turn can lower your taxable gain when you sell the property.
Capital gain exclusion
If you sell your principal residence at a loss, you can’t deduct the loss on your tax return. If you sell your principal residence at a gain, you may be able to exclude some or all of the gain from federal income tax.
Capital gain (or loss) on the sale of your principal residence equals the sale price of your home minus your adjusted basis in the property. Your adjusted basis is typically the cost of the property (i.e., what you paid for it initially) plus amounts paid for capital improvements.
If you meet all requirements, you can exclude from federal income tax up to $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re married and file a joint return) of any capital gain that results from the sale of your principal residence. Anything over those limits may be subject to tax (at favorable long-term capital gains tax rates). In general, this exclusion can be used only once every two years. To qualify for the exclusion, you must have owned and used the home as your principal residence for a total of two out of the five years before the sale.
What if you fail to meet the two-out-of-five-year rule or you used the capital gain exclusion within the past two years with respect to a different principal residence? You may still be able to exclude part of your gain if your home sale was due to a change in place of employment, health reasons, or certain other unforeseen circumstances. In such a case, exclusion of the gain may be prorated.
It’s important to note that special rules apply in a number of circumstances, including situations in which you maintain a home office for tax purposes or otherwise use your home for business or rental purposes.