Tax Time: Your Guide to Deducting Home Mortgage Interest

It’s that time again, and as Ben Franklin was famous for saying:  “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.  While there are many tax benefits to owning a home in our country, none is more utilized and motivating then the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction.

Trivia:  Did you know that the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction actually expires each and every year?  Most believe that his or her tax benefit is thought to have been passed into law as a permanent benefit, since it’s available each and every year, but the fact is that it’s renewed yearly, so although the annual renewal has become a mere formality, it’s interesting to know that it’s technically not a given benefit.

What is a Home Mortgage Interest Deduction? 

Christian Durland NMLS#269348 | Colorado Loan OfficerIf you itemize deductions, you can generally deduct “qualified residence interest” you pay on certain home mortgages taken in connection with your primary residence and a second residence. (You cannot deduct mortgage interest with respect to a third residence.) This deduction generally applies only to interest on mortgages to buy, build, or improve your primary or secondary residence or to home equity loans used for any purpose.

The extent to which you may deduct the interest on your home loan depends on several factors, including the manner in which the loan proceeds are used, the amount of the loan(s), the type of loan, and whether your loan was taken prior to October 14, 1987.

Trivia:  Prior to 1986, not only the interest accrued on mortgage loans, but all personal loans (including credit card debt) was actually tax-deductible.  The Tax Reform Act of 1986 eliminated that broad deduction, but created, and thus left in place the narrower Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, under the theory that it would encourage and promote homeownership.  Some feel that this contributed to the common practices of consolidating other debt into home-equity debt, in order to convert that other debt into tax-deductible debt, and in turn also contributed to the 2007 Mortgage Crash.  

Tip: For 2007 through 2010 and 2013 only, premiums paid or accrued for qualified mortgage insurance is treated as deductible mortgage interest. Qualified mortgage insurance means mortgage insurance provided by the VA, FHA, and Rural Housing Authority as well as private mortgage insurance (PMI). The amount of the deduction is phased out if your AGI exceeds $100,000 ($50,000 if married filing separately). This provision does not apply with respect to any mortgage contract issued before January 1, 2007 or in 2011, 2012, and at this point has not yet been renewed for 2014.

What is Qualified Residence Interest? 

Qualified residence interest consists of any interest you pay in a given tax year for acquisition indebtedness or home equity indebtedness on your “qualified residence.”

A qualified residence is your principal residence and/or a second residence that meets certain requirements. A second residence you rent to others during the year can be considered a qualified residence for tax purposes only if you (or close relatives) use it for personal purposes for the greater of 14 days during the year or 10 percent of the number of days it is rented during the year.

Definition of Home Acquisition Indebtedness 

Acquisition indebtedness is a loan that meets certain dollar limitations and is incurred in buying, building, or substantially improving your qualified residence. In addition, the loan must be secured by a mortgage on that residence.

Example(s): Assume John buys his first home for $250,000, taking out a mortgage of $200,000. The $200,000 mortgage is considered acquisition indebtedness.

Tip: An improvement must add value to your home (and be added to your home’s basis for tax purposes). Proceeds used to pay for repairs do not qualify. 

Amount of Home Acquisition Debt 

Home acquisition debt on your primary residence and a second residence totaling up to $1 million ($500,000 if you’re married and file separately) qualifies for interest deductibility. However, these dollar amounts are reduced by the total amount of any outstanding “pre-October 13, 1987” indebtedness that you may have.

For IRS purposes, all loans taken on and secured by your primary residence and one second residence prior to October 14, 1987 (no matter how the proceeds are used) are considered “grandfathered” home acquisition debt. All interest paid on such grandfathered debt is deductible, even if the total debt exceeds $1 million (or $500,000 if you’re married and file separately).

Tip: Because the IRS has complex rules for tracing the use of borrowed funds, you should keep detailed records of loans taken to buy, build, or improve a residence so you can (if necessary) prove that the proceeds qualify as a home acquisition loan. 

Definition of Home Equity Indebtedness 

Home equity indebtedness refers to debt secured by your main or second home that exceeds the acquisition indebtedness. Home equity debt is limited to the lesser of:

The fair market value (FMV) of the home minus total acquisition indebtedness on that home, or $100,000 ($50,000 if married filing separately) for main and second homes combined Interest on home equity loans that meet these limits and qualifications is deductible no matter what the loan proceeds are used for, except when the proceeds are used to purchase tax-exempt vehicles (investments or properties), such as tax-exempt bonds.

Example(s): Suppose you bought a home in 1980 for $180,000, taking out a mortgage of $130,000 to buy the home. The $130,000 is considered home acquisition debt. A few years later, when the fair market value of the home has increased to $195,000 and the principal balance on the original $130,000 acquisition loan has been paid down to $110,000, you take out a home equity loan of $90,000. You may deduct interest paid on $85,000 of the $90,000 home equity loan. Why? Interest cannot be deducted on the home equity debt that exceeds the difference between the fair market value of the residence ($195,000) and the principal owed on the acquisition debt on the residence ($110,000) at the time the home equity loan is taken.

Caution: Refinancing of an acquisition debt is considered acquisition debt to the extent it does not exceed the principal outstanding on the loan immediately before the refinancing 

Christian Durland NMLS#249348 | Colorado Loan OfficerChristian Durland NMLS#269348 I've been in the Mortgage Industry since 2002. Since theres no one size fits all solution, my team and I focus on understanding each clients unique short and long-term financial goals, and then recommending the optimal financial instrument (mortgage), whether its for a new home purchase or refinance.
I've established a strong network of professionals within the Real Estate and Financial Services Communities to provide the valuable resources necessary for our clients to be financially successful.

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