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Gimme Tax Shelter! Find It At Home

Despite recent tax law changes that have chipped away at some of the benefits, a home remains a top tax shelter for homeowners, as well as a prime investment opportunity. Let’s briefly review the basics.

Current deductions: The tax law generally allows you to deduct property taxes on a home you own as well as mortgage interest paid on the first $1 million of debt used to acquire the home. In addition, you may be able to deduct the interest on up to $100,000 of home equity debt, regardless of how you used the proceeds (when permitted by state law). These deductions may offset some of the everyday expenses of owning a home.

However, certain itemized deductions—including those for property taxes and mortgage interest—are reduced by 3% of the amount of adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2016 exceeding $259,400 for single filers and $311,300 of AGI for joint filers (but the reduction can be no more than 80% overall).

Home sale exclusion: If you’ve owned and used your home as your principal residence for at least two of the past five years, you can exclude from your income up to $250,000 of your profit from selling it if you’re a single filer and $500,000 if you’re a joint filer. There is no limit on the number of times you can claim this exclusion during your lifetime. When you’re forced to sell before you qualify due to a change in employment, for health reasons, or because of other unforeseen circumstances, you may be eligible for a partial exclusion.

Any excess gain is taxed at capital gain rates. The maximum tax rate on a long-term capital gain is currently 15%, increased to 20% for tax filers in the top ordinary income tax bracket.

Home improvements: As mentioned earlier, you may deduct interest on loans used for home improvements, based on the limit for home equity debt. Also, if you make an improvement for medical reasons (for example, installing a pool to help alleviate a child’s asthma), the increase in the home’s value is added to your other deductible medical expenses (plus any annual costs). And you may claim a 10% credit for qualified energy-saving improvements up to a maximum of $500.

Rental properties: When you own a home as a rental property, you’re entitled to deduct depreciation plus other expenses attributable to the rental activity, such as insurance, repairs, property taxes, mortgage interest, etc. These deductions can help offset tax on the rental income you receive. Note that special rules apply to a “vacation home” you rent to others but that also is used personally. If your personal use exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days the home is rented out, you can’t claim a loss for the year. Other special rules may apply.

Of course, this is only a broad overview. Obtain more details on all the tax breaks of home ownership from a tax professional.