Check out these tax tips for homeowners looking ahead to 2011 returns.
Your biggest tax break is reflected in the house payment you make each month since, for most homeowners, the bulk of that check goes toward interest. And all that interest is deductible, unless your loan is more than $1 million. If you're the proud owner of a multimillion-dollar mortgaged mansion, the Internal Revenue Service will limit your deductible interest
Interest tax breaks don't end with your home's first mortgage. Did you pull out extra cash through refinancing? Or did you decide instead to get a home equity loan or line of credit? Either way, that interest also is deductible, again within IRS guidelines.
Generally, equity debts of $100,000 or less are fully deductible. But even then, the remaining amount of your first mortgage could restrict your tax break. This could be a concern if you excessively leverage your house. When a homeowner takes out an equity loan that, when combined with his first mortgage amount, increases the debt on the house to an amount more than the property's actual value, the homeowner faces additional deductibility limits. In these cases, the IRS says you can deduct the smaller of interest on a $100,000 loan or your home's value less the amount of your existing mortgage.
Read the Internal Revenue Service's Publication 936, Home Mortgage Interest Deduction for complete requirements and information.
If you itemize your deductions on Internal Revenue Service form 1040, Schedule A, you also may be able to deduct your mortgage points in full the year they were paid. If you are refinancing, you can, based on the number of years of the loan, deduct some of the points. Read the IRS's Tax Topic 504 - Home Mortgage Points to get all the requirements and details.
If you had a work-related move (say, if you landed a new job or if your employer relocated you to a new location), you may be able to deduct your moving expenses. (Use IRS Form 3903 to calculate how much you can deduct and note those expenses on Form 1040.)
To qualify for the deduction, your new job must be at least 50 miles further from your old home than your old job was. Also, you need to have worked full-time for your employer at least 39 weeks in the first 12 months after your move to your new home. Read Topic 455 -- Moving Expenses from the IRS for more information.
Max out tax benefits of a vacation home:
Use a vacation home wisely, and it'll provide a break from taxes as well as the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The rules on tax deductions for vacation homes can get a bit tricky, but understanding and adhering to them can yield many happy tax returns.
If your vacation home is truly a vacation home meant for your personal enjoyment, as opposed to a rental-only income property, you can usually deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes, just as you would on your main home. You can even rent out the home for up to 14 days during the year without getting taxed on the rental income. Not bad.
Now, let's say you want to rent out your vacation home for more than 14 days in 2010, but also use it yourself from time to time. To maximize the tax benefits, you need to keep tabs on how many days you use your vacation home. By restricting your annual personal use to fewer than 15 days (or 10% of total rental days, whichever is greater), you can treat your vacation home as a rental-only income property for tax purposes.
Why is that a big deal? In addition to mortgage interest and real estate taxes, rental-only income properties are eligible for a slew of other tax deductions for everything from utilities and condo fees to housecleaning and repairs. Deductions are limited once personal use exceeds 14 days (or 10% of total rental days), so get out your calendar now to strategically plot your vacations.
Take advantage of tax breaks for the military:
In salute to members of the armed forces serving overseas who want to purchase a home, the IRS is extending a lucrative tax perk for military personnel. If you spent at least 90 days abroad performing qualified duty between Jan. 1, 2009, and April 30, 2010, you have an extra year to earn a homebuyer tax credit. In addition to uniformed service members, workers in the Foreign Service and in the intelligence community are eligible.
Thanks to this extension of the homebuyer tax credit, qualifying military personnel have until April 30, 2011, to sign a contract on a new home. The deal must close before July 1, 2011. Just like non-military buyers, first-time homebuyers can earn a tax credit worth up to $8,000, and longtime homeowners can earn a credit of up to $6,500. The same income restrictions and $800,000 cap on home prices apply.
Military personnel can also get a break if official duty calls and they're forced to move for an extended period. Normally, the homebuyer tax credit needs to be repaid if you sell your home within three years, but this requirement is waived for uniformed service members, Foreign Service workers, and intelligence community personnel. The new extended duty posting doesn't need to be overseas, but it must be at least 50 miles from your principal residence.
Challenge your real estate assessment:
You can't do much about the rate at which your home is taxed, but you can try to do something about
how your home is valued for taxation purposes in 2011. The process varies depending where you live, but in general local governments conduct a periodic real estate assessment to determine how much your home is worth. That real estate assessment figure is used to calculate your property tax bill.
You can usually appeal your real estate assessment if you think it's too high. Contact your local assessor's office to find out the procedure, and be prepared to do some research. There's often no charge to request a review of your assessment.
Look for errors. You probably received an assessment letter in the mail, and many local governments provide the information online as well. Make sure the number of bedrooms and bathrooms is accurate, and the lot size is correct. Also check the assessed value of comparable homes in your area. If they're being assessed for less than your home, you might have a case for relief.
Even if your assessment is accurate and comparable homes are being taxed at the same rate, there might be another route to tax savings. Ask your assessor's office about available property tax exemptions. Local governments often give breaks to seniors, veterans, and the disabled, among others.
When you sell:
When you decide to move up to a bigger home, you'll be able to avoid some taxes on the profit you make.
Years ago, to avoid paying tax on the sale of a residence, a homeowner had to use the sale proceeds to buy another house. In 1997, the law was changed so that up to $250,000 in sales gain ($500,000 for married joint filers) is tax-free as long as the homeowner owned the property for two years and lived in it for two of the five years before the sale.
If you sell before meeting the ownership and residency requirements, you owe tax on any profit. The IRS provides some tax relief if the sale is because of a change in the owner's health, employment or unforeseen circumstances. In these cases, the tax-free gain amount is prorated.
Second home sales also can provide some tax benefits, but not as much as they did in the past, thanks to a law that took effect in 2008. Previously, you could move into your vacation property, live in the home as your primary residence for two years and then sell and pocket up to $250,000 or $500,000 profit tax-free. Now, however, you'll owe tax on part of the sale money based on how long the house was used as a second residence