Thursday, January 26, 2012

Deductible Is The Point

Points refer to prepaid interest on a home mortgage and can be fully deductible by the buyer in the year paid if the right conditions exist. The points must be used to buy, build or improve a taxpayer's principal residence but not all fees charged by the lender are necessarily deductible.

According to IRS Publication 936, "The term 'points' is used to describe certain charges paid, or treated as paid, by a borrower to obtain a home mortgage. Points may also be called loan origination fees, maximum loan charges, loan discount, or discount points. A borrower is treated as paying any points that a home seller pays for the borrower's mortgage."

"Points" can be confusing! When I am teaching Real Estate Pre-License School at Martin & Fellows Real Estate School, the session on Financing always elicits some puzzled looks of confusion.

If you purchased a home in 2011, have your tax professional evaluate your closing statement to see if there are loan fees that may be used as a deduction on your tax return regardless of whether you or the seller paid them.

Refinancing a principal residence or purchasing an investment or income property require that points must be deducted ratably over the term of the mortgage rather than deducting them fully in the year paid. Borrowers in these situations should consider the benefits of lower interest rates from paying point to higher interest rates without points.

This article is meant to provide information that can be discussed with your tax professional about your specific situation and is not to be considered tax advice.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Choose Your Deduction

One third of all U.S. households, 75% of households with more than $75,000 income and most homeowners itemize their deduction on their federal income tax returns. It makes sense because the interest paid on their mortgage and their property taxes probably exceeds the allowable standard deduction.

However, with interest rates as low as they have been in the last two years and the price of homes having come down considerably, it is possible that the standard deduction may be the better choice.

Each year, the taxpayer can compare the total of the itemized deductions to the standard deduction to select which method will result in the most benefits. The 2011 standard deduction is $11,600 for married couple filing jointly and $5,800 for single filers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Forced Savings...Really??

Part of the American Dream is to own a home. A home is a place to call your own; a place to raise your family and share with your friends. A home is a place to feel safe and secure. A home is a good investment?

In a recent report* by Beracha and Johnson, it is suggested that buying a home is the right thing to do but not necessarily for the reason that people expect. A home is, in many instances, the largest investment that homeowners have and it accounts for the majority of their net worth.

The report suggests that the self-imposed savings due to amortization has a significant contribution to a person's net worth. The premise was determined by comparing the net worth of buyers to renters over a 31 year period of time.

When the savings in rent and down payment were reinvested, renters had a greater net worth than buyers after each 8-year cycle by a margin of 91% to 9%. On the other hand, when the requirement to reinvest the savings was dropped and renters were allowed to spend the savings on consumption, the Buyers had a greater net worth 84% compared to 16% for renters.

Appreciation, tax savings and amortization contribute to lowering the cost of housing and help homeowners build equity. The forced savings due to amortization benefits the individuals who may not be disciplined enough to invest the savings otherwise. Regardless of which benefits apply in different situations, owning a home can be a satisfying investment both emotionally and financially.

*Factor Sensitivities in the Making of Buy vs. Rent Decisions: Do Homeowners Make the Right Decision for the Wrong Reason by Eli Berach and Ken J. Johnson of Florida International University writing for the Journal of Housing Research.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The "Right Size" Home

Work hard, buy a home, start a family and continue to upgrade your home until everyone has enough room. This has been the blueprint for lots of homeowners for the last fifty years but there is certainly a shift in thinking that could change all of that.

Interestingly, Americans live in much larger homes than most people in other countries throughout the world. The U.S. Census reported in 2006 that the average single family home completed had 2,469 square feet which was 769 feet more than in 1976.

Once the children are grown and have moved out, homeowners are finding they have too much room. Even if their home is paid for, they have higher property taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance on the larger home than they'd have if they were living in the "right size" home.

Some homeowners state thaty they're keeping their larger home because it has luxury features that smaller homes don't have. There's a movement that seems to have started in the United States to find the "right size" home with the amenities and convenience that homeowners want.

This philosophy has been expressed by Sarah Susanka in her book Creating the Not So Big House. It proposes a house that "values quality over quantity with an emphasis on comfort and beauty, a high level of detail, and a floor plan designed for today's informal lifestyle."