Huffpost Business
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mark Steber Headshot

How Home Ownership Can Benefit You When You File Your Taxes

Posted: Updated:

Taxpayers are constantly bombarded by the tax benefits of home ownership, but are often given misleading information including embellishment of benefits and other overlooked areas. I would like to take the time today to clear up some of the confusion around home ownership and its tax implications.

You are often told your mortgage payment will save you money at tax time, but it isn't often explained how and when your payment will save you tax dollars. Your mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and mortgage insurance premiums during the year, as well as any points paid at the time you close on your loan, can all be claimed as an itemized deduction on Schedule A. Itemized deductions are an alternative to the standard deduction for most taxpayers. In order to benefit from itemized deductions, the total of all allowed expenses from your home, as with interest and property taxes, your charitable contributions, select state income or sales and use taxes, certain miscellaneous expenses and some of your medical expenses must exceed the standard deduction amount for your filing status. In 2013, the standard deduction for married filing joint taxpayers is $12,200, $8,950 for head of household filers, and $6,100 for single taxpayers. As you can see, for married taxpayers without a home, it can be difficult to have enough allowed itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction.

The first year a home is purchased can be a difficult year to itemize (depending on the timing of the purchase) because, the later in the year you buy your house the less interest and real estate taxes you will pay, making your itemized deduction total lower than needed in many cases. So when you buy a home is as important to your tax return as the size of your mortgage loan and other costs when it comes to itemizing. Even if you are unable to itemize in the first year of purchase you most likely will be able to in the second and future years.

Another easily misunderstood tax benefit is claiming a credit for energy efficient home improvements. Yes, if you upgrade your hot water heater, re-insulate your home, add new windows, or even upgrade your central air conditioning to a more energy efficient model you may be able to claim an energy credit for the improvement. The Energy credit has a lifetime total credit maximum of $500. The credit is 30 percent of the cost of qualified energy efficient home improvements with other maximum limitations based on the type of improvement. Contact a tax professional or go to the IRS website before you purchase any potential energy credit item. A few minutes of advice can help you save up to $500 on your taxes.

You may have heard you can claim your closing costs as a deduction the year you buy your home. With the exception of any real estate taxes you prepay for the year, mortgage interest, points, and mortgage insurance premiums paid when you close on your home, there is generally no other deductions you can claim from the closing costs paid when you bought your home. However, those closing expenses you can't deduct may help you reduce or eliminate any taxable gain if you sell your home in the future.

One of the largest tax breaks for a homeowner comes when selling your home. The tax laws allow you to exempt from taxes a gain of up to $250,000 ($500,000 if married filing jointly) when you sell your main home. Keep your closing papers in a safe place and any time you make an improvement keep a copy of the receipt and write what the improvements was on the receipt. You will need to combine many of the costs of buying and selling your home with the sales price and the cost of your improvements over the years, to determine your gain and then apply the exemption limit. While the cost of buying your home may not be deductible, they can certainly help reduce or even completely eliminate the taxes on your gain when you sell your home.

Buying a home is a very big life and tax return event. From being able to include mortgage interest expense, property taxes, and Private Mortgage Insurance and other deductions like charitable donations, medical expenses, and certain other miscellaneous expenses in itemized deductions to excluding from income a gain from a future home sale -- buying a home can put more tax dollars in your pocket. Talking to a tax professional before and after you purchase or sell a home can help you be prepared to make the most of available tax breaks.