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9 Easy Mistakes Home Owners Make on Their Taxes

by G. M. Filisko

 

Don’t rouse the IRS or pay more taxes than necessary — know the score on each home tax deduction and credit.

 

Sin #1: Deducting the wrong year for property taxes

You take a tax deduction for property taxes in the year you (or the holder of your escrow account) actually paid them. Some taxing authorities work a year behind — that is, you’re not billed for 2013 property taxes until 2014. But that’s irrelevant to the feds. 

Enter on your federal forms whatever amount you actually paid in 2013, no matter what the date is on your tax bill. Dave Hampton, CPA, tax manager at the Cincinnati accounting firm of Burke & Schindler, has seen home owners confuse payments for different years and claim the incorrect amount.

Sin #2: Confusing escrow amount for actual taxes paid

If your lender escrows funds to pay your property taxes, don’t just deduct the amount escrowed, says Bob Meighan, CPA and vice president at TurboTax in San Diego. The regular amount you pay into your escrow account each month to cover property taxes is probably a little more or a little less than your property tax bill. Your lender will adjust the amount every year or so to realign the two.

For example, your tax bill might be $1,200, but your lender may have collected $1,100 or $1,300 in escrow over the year. Deduct only $1,200. Your lender will send you an official statement listing the actual taxes paid. Use that. Don’t just add up 12 months of escrow property tax payments.

Sin #3: Deducting points paid to refinance

Deduct points you paid your lender to secure your mortgage in full for the year you bought your home. However, when you refinance, says Meighan, you must deduct points over the life of your new loan. If you paid $2,000 in points to refinance into a 15-year mortgage, your tax deduction is $133 per year.

Sin #4: Misjudging the home office tax deduction

This deduction may not be as good as it seems. It's complicated, often doesn’t amount to much of a deduction, has to be recaptured if you turn a profit when you sell your home, and can pique the IRS’s interest in your return. Hampton’s advice: Claim it only if it’s worth those drawbacks. If so, here's what to  know about what you can write off.

Sin #5: Failing to repay the first-time home buyer tax credit

If you used the original home buyer tax credit in 2008, you must repay 1/15th of the credit over 15 years. If you used the tax credit in 2009 or 2010 and then sold your house or stopped using it as your primary residence, within 36 months of the purchase date, you also have to pay back the credit.

The IRS has a tool you can use to help figure out what you owe.

Sin #6: Failing to track home-related expenses

If the IRS comes a-knockin’, don’t be scrambling to compile your records. Many people forget to track home office and home maintenance and repair expenses, says Meighan. File away documents as you go. For example, save each manufacturer's certification statement for energy tax credits and lender or government statements to confirm property taxes paid.

Sin #7: Forgetting to keep track of capital gains

If you sold your main home last year, don’t forget to pay capital gains taxes on any profit. You can exclude $250,000 (or $500,000 if you’re a married couple) of any profits from taxes. So if your cost basis for your home is $100,000 (what you paid for it plus any improvements) and you sold it for $400,000, your capital gains are $300,000. If you're single, you owe taxes on $50,000 of gains. However, there are minimum time limits for holding property to take advantage of the exclusions, and other details. Consult IRS Publication 523.

Sin #8: Filing incorrectly for energy tax credits

If you made any eligible improvements in 2012 -- or will in 2013 -- such as installing energy-efficient windows and doors, you may be able to take a 10% tax credit (up to $500; with some systems your cap is even lower than $500). But keep in mind, it's a lifetime credit. If you claimed the credit in any recent years, you're done. Fill out Form 5695.

The first part of the form, which covers systems eligible for a larger tax credit through 2016, such as geothermal heat pumps, can be complex and involves crosschecking with half a dozen other IRS forms. Read the instructions carefully.

Sin #9: Claiming too much for the mortgage interest tax deduction

You can deduct mortgage interest only up to $1 million of mortgage debt, says Meighan. If you have $1.2 million in mortgage debt, for example, deduct only the mortgage interest attributable to the first $1 million.

This article was original published in Jan. 2011.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn't be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

Source: National Association of Realtors 

Your Top Home Ownership Tax Questions Answered

by Natasha Padgitt

 

Which tax benefits do home owners miss? Will you get audited if you take the home office deduction? Find out the answers to these questions and more before Tax Day.

 

There are a lot of home ownership tax benefits — if you don’t forget to take them. To make sure you get your due, HouseLogic asked tax expert Abe Schneier, a senior technical manager with the American Institute of CPAs, for tax-filing tips.

HouseLogic: What’s the most common home-related tax deduction or credit claimed by home owners?

Abe Schneier: The mortgage interest deduction, [which the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® estimates amounts to about $3,000 in tax savings for the average itemizing home owner] and [the deduction for] real property taxes.

HL: Which tax provision do home owners often overlook?

AS: You can deduct mortgage insurance premiums [or PMI] if you were required to get PMI as a condition of receiving financing on your home. Some people will overlook that, although it’s typically disclosed on the 1099 that you receive from the bank, along with all the deductible information you need.

HL note: The PMI deduction has been extended through 2013 and is retroactive for 2012.

[Another area of tax-filing confusion is] whether you’ve correctly treated any points you paid if you refinanced. In a new home purchase, the points can be deducted [in the tax year you paid them]. But typically in a refinancing, you have to amortize and deduct any points you paid over the life of the mortgage, and people tend to forget that after a couple of years.

HL: What’s the No. 1 mistake home owners make when filing their taxes?

AS: Because you receive a statement from the bank with details [such as] how muchmortgage interest you paid over the year, and how much the bank pays on your behalf in real estate taxes, the number of mistakes has dropped.

But if you’re in a state where you pay the real estate taxes on your own — the bank doesn’t handle it for you — [people] make mistakes because sometimes real estate tax bills include other items besides pure real estate taxes. It could be trash collection fees; it could be snow removal fees that the state or county is assessing on the real estate tax bill. Since the items are included in the same bill, home owners sometimes deduct [those fees] regardless of whether the items are actually taxes.

HL: What’s the single most important piece of advice for people filing their taxes as a first-time home owner?

AS: You have to take a look at your closing statement from when you bought the house. It’s commonly called the HUD-1 form and you receive it at the closing. Occasionally, there are fees such as prepaid taxes or interest at closing that can be deductible.

HL: What tax advice do you have for someone who’s owned their home for 10 or 20 years?

AS: If you’ve been a longtime home owner and you’ve been through refinancings, you have to be careful about how much interest you’ve deducted, especially if you have ahome equity loan or equity line. A lot of people who’ve refinanced have sizable equity lines. The maximum outstanding home equity debt that’s deductible is $100,000; the maximum deductible amount of interest paid on mortgage debt is $1 million.

HL: What home improvement-related records should home owners keep?

AS: Absolutely keep your receipts for couple of reasons:

1. You want to make sure — if there are any warranties attached to the work that was done — that you maintain those records and you have something to go back to the person who did the work in case something doesn’t function properly.

2. If you’ve added value to the home — you’ve added a deck, you’ve added a room, you’ve added something new to house — you’ll need to know what the gain is on thatcapital improvement when you sell the house.

HL note: Tax rules let you add capital improvement expenses to the cost basis of your home, and a higher cost basis lowers the total profit or capital gain you’re required to pay taxes on. Of course, most home owners are exempted from taxes on the first $500,000 in profit for joint filers ($250,000 for single filers). So it doesn't apply to too many people.

HL: How do I tell the difference between a capital improvement and a repair?

AS: Typically a repair is [done] to allow an item, like a home furnace or air conditioner, to continue. But if you were to replace the heating unit, that’s not a repair.

HL: Does taking any home-related tax benefits, such as the home office deduction, make a taxpayer more likely to be audited?

AS: Only if numbers look out of the ordinary — for instance, if one year you were writing off $20,000 in mortgage interest debt and the next year you’re writing off $100,000 in mortgage interest. Taking the home office deduction in and of itself doesn’t usually generate an audit. However, if you claim nominal income and significantly higher expenses in an effort to create artificial losses, the IRS will see that there’s something else going on there.

HL: Once filing season is over, when should home owners start thinking about next year's taxes?

AS: Well, hopefully, when you visit your CPA to give information about or pick up [this year's] tax return, your CPA has spoken with you about your plans for [next year]:

  • If any major improvements are scheduled
  • If you’re planning on moving
  • How to organize any expenditures for fixing up the home before sale

If you’re planning to do any of those things, talk with your CPA so that you’re prepared with documentation and so that the [tax pro] can help minimize your tax situation.

Source: National Association of Realtors

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