The new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act under President Donald Trump placed new curbs and restrictions on many popular real estate tax deductions, and many financial planners and CPAs are spending the winter helping clients understand how the changes alter their tax bill and how they look at their real estate assets.
The bad news: The bill lowers the cap on mortgage interest deductions, ends the interest deduction on home equity lines of credit (HELOC) and second mortgages used by many homeowners to fund home improvement, and may reduce property tax deductions by placing them under a state/local taxes cap, among other changes.
The good news: The tax bill upholds tax-free capital gains on home sales up to prior thresholds ($250,000 for an individual, $500,000 for couples), and it continues allowing deductions on second and vacation homes in many circumstances.
While some advocacy groups like the National Association of Realtors argue that the tax code changes remove powerful incentives for first-time and move-up home buyers, planners say that those who truly want to own a home will likely buy or move up regardless of the shift in tax breaks.
However, how much home they choose to buy and how they finance and conduct repairs on it may shift.
“Going forward, I expect to see more planning involved when prospective homebuyers think about a purchase,” says Rita Cheng, a financial advisor with Blue Ocean Global Wealth. “The bill may change people’s behaviors around home improvement, and they may also look at vacation homes differently.” Here’s a look at changes to key deductions, and how they may influence you:
Mortgage interest deductions capped
Mortgage interest on the purchase of a home remains deductible for existing homeowners up to $1 million (for homes acquired before December 15, 2017), but for new buyers the interest deduction is only available for mortgage debt up to $750,000.
The interest cap applies to combined acquisition debt on a primary home and a second or vacation home—meaning if you have a $550,000 mortgage on a primary home and a $200,000 mortgage on a vacation home you can deduct interest, but if your vacation home mortgage exceeded $200,000 you might not be able to deduct the interest on it.
Ms. Cheng says this rule may influence move-up buyers’ views on the market, forcing them to grapple with whether to pay more taxes on a pricier home or perhaps remodel their existing place. (See the next section for challenges there.) While she says that existing vacation homeowners “won’t ditch their beach houses,” she does believe those considering a second home purchase may think harder about how much home to acquire.
Home equity lines of credit and second mortgages
Many homeowners use a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or a second mortgage to fund home improvements that cost in the 10’s (or 100’s) of thousands of dollars. Some keep a line of credit open for emergency purposes or to fund college tuition since interest on this debt is lower than that many other types (such as credit cards, education loans, or unsecured personal loans).
In the past interest on a HELOC or second mortgage was deductible. But interest on these types of debt is no longer deductible, effective in 2018.
With deductions sun-setting, many owners or would-be buyers may rethink how to fund improvements and whether to purchase “fixer” homes with cheap price tags that assume the buyer will have to make improvements after purchase.
Those already carrying these types of debt will need to model how the loss of deduction hits their tax bill.
And those mulling over how to finance upcoming major home repairs may have to save up the old-fashioned way or consider biting on big-box store or remodeling company offers that dangle 0% interest for 12 or 24 months—after which interest rates are steep—on home improvement and remodeling projects.
Property tax deductions: SALT limits
Taxpayers can deduct a combined total of $10,000 on state and local taxes (SALT, for short), which includes state and local income taxes, sales tax deductions, and property taxes.
While the standard household deduction has increased under the new tax code, in theory to simplify taxes and reduce the need for itemization, if your combined total of these types of state and local tax types typically exceeds $10,000 you may be looking at an uptick on your tax bill.
Owners living in expensive urban and coastal markets may feel the hit with this change to the tax code, says Aaron Rubin, a planner with Werba Rubin Wealth Management in San Jose, California, who notes that in his home region home values are high and thus so are property taxes.
Both Rubin and Cheng note that some homeowners will always be willing to pay the price for short commutes to workplaces in an urban core or to keep children in a desired school district.
Still, the cap on SALT-related taxes may require some modeling with a CPA and/or a financial advisor so that investors can find alternative deduction areas—perhaps a home office, if that can be proven as a legitimate expense.
Vacation homes and investment home mortgage interest and expenses
Vacation or second homes that are primarily for personal use fall under the new household mortgage interest caps. For owners who toggle between personal use and vacation rentals of these homes and who risk losing deductions on these properties, it may be worth discussing with a financial planner or CPA whether to reclassify the home as an investment property, notes Rubin.
If the home is run as an investment property, then that means it must be used as a rental the majority of the time rather. (Note: The IRS has requirements and tests you must use to determine which type of property you operate. Shifting use may allow you to itemize and take new property-related deductions—although, with all the rental activity, you’ll need to pay taxes on rental income.
The bottom line: Real estate has long been a valuable asset in many investors’ asset mixes. However, with changes to the tax code, the deductibility of several expenses is seeing a shift in treatment. Depending on your tax bracket and the dollar value of your home, mortgage, and property tax, you may need to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the new math on your tax returns.
For some investors, the lost real estate deductions are accommodated elsewhere on a return, but for other consumers the changes may require new approaches to budgeting, home shopping, renovating, or managing a second home.
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