To just about every first-time homeowner who purchased a home in 2017, congratulations on your huge tax break.
Though the first-time homebuyer credit has been gone for the better part of a decade, there are still some huge perks to owning a home around tax time. Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager at TD Bank notes that the ability to deduct their annual mortgage interest and property taxes are just the beginning of homeowners' tax benefits.
"Your biggest tax break will be a deduction in annual mortgage interest and property taxes," he says. "This only applies to your primary residence but it extends beyond your first mortgage to include any interest paid on home equity lines of credit."
If you bought your home and had your mortgage in place before Dec. 15 of 2017, you can deduct up to $1 million in mortgage interest and interest on home equity loans. Qualified mortgage insurance premiums could be deductible as well. However, if you signed after that date, your deduction is capped at $750,000, while home-equity deductions are limited to loans that improved the home itself.
"The most likely impact on higher net worth homebuyers could be in second home markets, since this type of property is also covered under the deduction." Rodriguez says.
The majority of home purchases still fall beneath the threshold for that deduction. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median existing home price of $240,500 in January was 5.8% higher than it was in January 2017. That marked nearly six consecutive years of price increases, even as the interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage actually lowered from 3.88% on March 8, 2012, to 4.46% on March 8 of this year, according to Freddy Mac.
But the tax benefits of home ownership don't end with the mortgage rate deduction. Taxpayers who receive a Qualified Mortgage Credit Certificate from a local or state government may be able to claim a mortgage interest credit. The home must be the taxpayer's primary residence, and interest payments can't go to a taxpayer's relative. The credit is worth up to $2,000 and unused portions may be carried forward to the following year. Those homeowners can also deduct moving expenses if they had to move for work in their current field and certain utilities if they use a segment of their home as a home office.
Meanwhile, if you sold your previous home for a gain, you may exclude up to $250,000 of that windfall if single or $500,000 if married filing jointly. You actually had to live in that home for two of the last five years, but that gain includes improvements made, a real estate agent's sales commission and closing costs.
"You can also add to the basis the agent's sales commission and some settlement fees and closing costs such as legal fees, recording fees, and survey fees, says Melinda Kibler, certified financial planner and enrolled agent with Palisades Hudson in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Keep clear records to substantiate your basis in case the IRS ever audits you."
Lastly, as mentioned earlier, every one can still deduct interest on a home equity loan if they used it to make improvements on their home. According to data from market research firm CoreLogic, the average homeowner saw their home equity increase 11.8% last year. Of the homeowners surveyed last year for TD Bank's Home Equity Sentiment Index, 55% of respondents believe their home's value has increased, and 64% would tap that rising equity to finance home renovations.
However, taking out a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, hasn't been an option for many homeowners in a good, long time. At the height of the U.S. housing crisis in 2012, according to ATTOM Data Solutions' RealtyTrac, more than 12.8 million U.S. homeowners (29%) were seriously underwater -- owing far more on their mortgages than their properties were worth. That number has fallen to 4.6 million (8.7% of all mortgaged properties), while the number of equity-rich homes (with at least 50% positive equity) has climbed to more than 14 million, or 26.4% of all mortgaged properties.
Robert Steen, certified financial planner at USAA, says that spending on your home the $2,763 that the IRS says is the average refund can yield instant returns. As Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report makes clear, even adding a new $1,471 steel entry door will return 91.3% of the money spent on it. You may not be able to deduct the interest as you would have if you used a home equity loan, but you don't have to use all of your refund to yield a big return.
"Invest in a nice coffee machine so you can save money by making coffee at home," Steen says. "Or, install energy-efficient features such as low-flow fixtures, to reduce your water consumption by as much as 50%."