Homebuyers get a host of tax benefits that renters don’t — critical deductions that can lower your overall tax bill.
But how much do homeowners really save on their taxes? Using 2012 IRS data, the most recent available, we calculated that a homeowner who took the average for each of four tax benefits would claim $15,871 in home-related deductions (if he or she itemizes).
1. The interest they pay on a mortgage
2. The points they pay on the mortgage
3. The cost of all property taxes
4. The cost of insuring their mortgage
Those are just the start: If Congress renews a long-standing tax credit in 2015, some homeowners can also shave their tax bill by up to $500 by making their homes more energy efficient. (The alternative minimum tax can affect whether you can claim homeowner-related tax benefits. Consult your tax adviser for advice regarding your situation.) And years from now, when they sell their home, most of them won’t owe taxes even if they pocket up to one-half million dollars in profit, unlike other investments that typically are taxed at 15% or more.
Renting still makes sense for many, particularly when you’re in transition. But you can’t deduct rent on your income taxes. That’s why it’s important to consider the tax benefits when you consider the advantages of buying vs. renting.
Homeowners Can Deduct the Interest They Pay on Their Mortgage (Average deduction: $9,540*)
The mortgage interest deduction lets homeowners deduct the interest on their home mortgage up to $1 million ($500,000 if you’re married filing separately).
In the first few years of a mortgage, about two-thirds of the monthly mortgage payment is interest. That can translate to a hefty tax deduction.
For example, with a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4%, you’ll pay about $8,000 in interest the first year you own your home. Deducting that interest will save you $2,000 if you’re in a 25% income tax bracket ($8,000 x 0.25 = $2,000).
Since renters don’t have mortgages, they don’t get the mortgage interest deduction. The landlord gets the benefit while the renter typically pays the cost.
Homeowners Can Deduct Discount Points When They Buy (Average deduction: $611*)
When you buy a home, you can lower your interest rate by purchasing discount points.
Each point typically costs 1% of the loan amount, but you may be able to deduct that cost. So if you take out a $200,000 mortgage and buy one discount point for $2,000, you’d get a one-time $500 tax savings, assuming you’re in the 25% tax bracket ($2,000 x 0.25 = $500). Plus, you’ll be lowering your monthly mortgage payment because your interest rate will be lower.
Homeowners Can Deduct Property Taxes (Average deduction: $4,420*)
All homeowners pay taxes to their local jurisdictions, such as the county, city, or school district. Those property taxes are fully deductible. Renters aren’t eligible for a property tax deduction, even though their rental payments often help fund the property taxes their landlords pay. But only the landlord can take the deduction since he’s the owner.
A Tax Deduction That Helps Offset the Cost of Buying First Home (Average deduction: $1,300*)
Most first-time homebuyers want to make the smallest downpayment possible because saving up for it is one of the toughest hurdles to homeownership. A loan guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, VA, or FHA can help you buy a home with as little as 3.5% to 5% down instead of the typical 20%.
If you put down less than 20%, though, you’ll likely be required to buy mortgage insurance.
The good news: You probably earned another tax deduction. The cost of mortgage insurance is deductible, based on income limits. You can deduct the full cost if your income is less than $100,000, and some of the cost if your income is between $100,000 and $109,999.
Note: The mortgage insurance deduction expired at the end of 2014, and Congress has yet to renew it for 2015. In past years, Congress has renewed it late in the year or early in the following year.
The Biggest Tax Benefit Homeowners Get
The capital gains exclusion is probably the biggest of all the tax benefits homeowners enjoy. Plus, they can use it more than once (but not more than once every two years) to be exempt from paying taxes on profits of up to $500,000 (filing jointly) from selling their home.
Balance this benefit with investing in stocks and bonds. Unless those investments are in a Roth IRA or some other tax-free account, you’ll likely pay capital gains tax of at least 15% on your profit when you cash in those assets. A $500,000 profit in the stock market is typically going to mean you’d owe $75,000 in capital gains taxes.
Tax Credit for Going Green
You may also be able to claim up to $500 in tax credits for making your home more energy efficient, such as by installing eligible windows, doors, insulation, and a heating and cooling system.
A tax credit is even better than a tax deduction because you use a credit dollar-for-dollar to offset what you owe in taxes. So if you owed $500 in federal taxes and you could claim a $100 tax credit, you’d have to pay only $400 in taxes.
Although getting several thousand dollars in deductions is a terrific benefit, it’s only part of the financial boost you get as a homeowner. Once you buy, you’ve locked in your monthly housing costs — no rent increases — and in the future, you end up with a valuable asset: a paid-for home.
* IRS, “SOI Tax Stats - Individual Income Tax Returns Publication 1304 (Complete Report);” Basic Tables: Exemptions and Itemized Deductions, Table 2.1: Returns with Itemized Deductions: Sources of Income, Adjustments, Itemized Deductions by Type, Exemptions, and Tax Items 2012.
The thoughts, ideas, and opinions expressed are not intended as tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for advice regarding your situation.
Dona DeZube has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer and her blue-tick hound.