How to Avoid Paying Capital Gains Tax When You Sell Your Home

Before 1997, once a homeowner reached the age of 55, they had the one-time option of excluding up to $125,000 of gain on the sale of their primary residence. Today any homeowner, regardless of age, has the option to exclude up to $250,000 of gain ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) on the sale of a home.

What Is Capital Gains Tax?

When you sell property for more than you originally paid, it’s called a capital gain. You need to report your gain to the IRS, which will then tax the gain. Home sales can be excluded from this tax as long as the seller meets the criteria.

Who Qualifies for Capital Gains Tax Exemption?

In order to qualify a seller must meet the minimum IRS criteria:

  • You’ve owned the home for at least two years.
  • You’ve lived in the home as your primary residence for at least two years.
  • You haven’t exempted the gains on another home sale in the last two years.

How to Calculate Gains and Losses

By keeping records of the original purchase price, closing costs, and improvements put into the home (you’ll need to present records and receipts when submitting your taxes), you can avoid being taxed on a significant amount of the profit you make when selling your property.

If, for example, you buy your home for $150,000 and put $20,000 into qualifying upgrades, your cost basis would be $170,000. If you sell the home ten years later for $300,000, the ‘gain’ on your house would be $130,000 (sale price – cost basis), which would have no tax implications because you’d have met the required criteria.

What If You Have More than $250k ($500k for married couples) of Gains?

You’ll be taxed for the amount of gains above $250,000 or $500,000 for married couples filing jointly. To help reduce this amount, keep detailed records of any improvements you put into the home as some improvements can be added to your cost basis, and will thus lessen the amount that needs to be reported.

Tax Deductions for Homeowners After TCJA

As the values of homes around the country continue to rise, as well as the cost of rent, home ownership looks more and more appealing. In the past, homeowners have been able to deduct certain expenses on their tax returns. Yet, with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), homeowners may no longer qualify for the deductions that were once beneficial in homeownership. Did you know that TCJA is the biggest tax overhaul seen in the USA in 30 years? If you’re curious about how this might affect homeowners, here are highlights of the federal tax deductions for homeownership under the TCJA.

Even with an increase in the standard deduction this year, many homeowners will continue to see some tax relief. While there will be a decrease in available itemized deductions, a few items that have been deductible in the past may still benefit taxpayers this year and beyond. Deductions such as home mortgage interest, state and local property taxes, and amounts paid at closing continue to be likely deductions while filing in 2019. We recommend you consult with one of our tax professionals to ensure that you are maximizing your tax savings as a homeowner. You can also consult the IRS Publication 5307 here.

  • Mortgage Interest Deduction – According to the TCJA, taxpayers can deduct mortgage interest paid on acquisition indebtedness up to $750,000. This deduction can also apply to a second property, so long as the indebtedness does not go above the $750,000. Home equity indebtedness is still deductible as long as the proceeds are used to buy, build, or improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan.
  • Mortgage Insurance Deduction – When a homeowner chooses not to or is not able to put down 20% or more in a downpayment, primary mortgage insurance (PMI) is required to protect lenders. As of now, certain amounts paid until the end of 2017 remain deductible. Congress is still deciding whether this deduction will be permanently eliminated.
  • State and Local Taxes – Taxpayers are now limited to a $10,000 itemized deduction for combined state and local taxes. Homeowners in states with high property and income taxes will face the most impact with this deduction limitation.
  • Amounts Paid at Closing – Origination fees, loan discounts, or prepaid interest are not usually deductible in the year that they are paid, but instead over the life of a home loan. However, they may be currently deductible if the loan is used to purchase or improve the home and if that home also serves as collateral for the loan.

Despite the new tax changes under the TCJA, it’s unlikely to be the deciding financial factor for those who have already bought a home or are considering homeownership in the future.  Some buyers may consider homeownership less attractive, which could result in lower home values and lower markets over time. According to Nolo, it is estimated that the tax benefits of owning a home will be less than in years past, putting many homeowners in the same place as renters.  At this time, there is no clear-cut solution that results in the best solution for homeowners, but with the right financial planning from our CPAs, homeowners can find the best ways to maximize their tax savings and cash flow.

Stop Making Excuses, Start Investing Today

For many, even hearing the word investing seems like a frightening proposition filled with great risk and little reward. While investing your hard earned money certainly involves patience and a willingness to learn some key principles, it does not have to be the intimidating process that many make it out to be. According to research, there are four concerns people often cite when choosing not to invest: lack of knowledge or experience, lack of pricing transparency, distrust of the financial industry and the sheer complexity of investing. Below, we discuss ways to conquer each of these concerns and begin investing well.

LACK OF KNOWLEDGE/EXPERIENCE

We can’t sit here and act like investing is a walk in the park. It takes time, patience and at least a general understanding of some finance and investment principles. However, you do not need to have your MBA or have worked in finance for 10 years to grasp the fundamentals of investing. Luckily, we live in an age where you have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. A simple internet search can return articles, blogs, podcasts and more that discuss concepts such as long-term compounding of returns or diversification to lower risk. Solid research combined with common sense can put you well on your way to investing sensibly.

LACK OF PRICING TRANSPARENCY

Surely, there are often additional charges, such as fixed index annuities and variable annuities, that can seem confusing or excessive when considering the cost of investing. However, there are plenty of investment structures out there with clearly defined and labeled fees. Sites like morningstar.com allow you to search for investment quotes and discover the annual expenses and sales charges associated with that fund, providing you with a clear directive and comparison to invest where it makes the most sense for you.

DISTRUST OF THE FINANCIAL INDUSTRY

Markets shift on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis, and there are financial advisers out there who take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge, so while a dose of skepticism may be healthy when you begin investing, it should not stop you entirely. If you understand upfront that the markets will indeed fluctuate, sometimes dramatically, so you must remain patient, and know that every investment firm may not have your best interest in mind, you will enter the market cautiously and avoid falling into unknown investment traps.

COMPLEXITY OF INVESTING

Many financial firms will advise a plan of constantly scanning the market and jumping in and out of funds based on new data to be the smartest investor, a process that truly does sound complicated and confusing. However, while this process may work for some, it is not a one-size-fits-all formula. There are a variety of options, from total stock or bond market index funds to target fund portfolios, where you can build wealth for your future with less hassle and constant shifting.

Many let the fear of failure stop them from even trying, but you don’t have to let your fears control you. Be smart, consider your options and do some solid research to mitigate uncertainties, then get those feet wet and start planning and investing for your future, today.

Millennials: How to Start Saving Now, Even on a Tight Budget

Many older generations believe millennials to be poor budgeters and decision makers who don’t consider, or care to consider, their financial futures beyond tomorrow’s trip to get Thai food. While that may be the case for a select number of those under 35, millennials do not have to ascribe to this stereotype and, even on a limited budget, can begin saving for their futures. Below are some helpful tips for getting your money organized and putting some away for your future, even on the tightest of budgets.

  1. Budget, budget, budget – One thing is for certain, while all millennials may not be financially incompetent, they are almost all technologically adept. And in today’s world, it’s simple to track your spending and stop living paycheck to paycheck, right from your smartphone. Whether you track your funds and spending on your bank’s app, or use an outside app as a budgeting tool, it’s vital to consider what’s coming in, what’s going out, and what habits you can change to have more to set aside.
  2. Pay yourself first – Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean every payday you get to go buy a new shirt or gadget. Rather, every paycheck, set aside a small percentage (5%) for an emergency fund and another 10% for a retirement fund. If your company offers a retirement fund and matching contributions, it is absolutely vital to contribute, even if the funds only amount to 3% of your annual salary. If you don’t have a 401(k) option, consider opening a Roth IRA and begin saving on your own. Even setting aside an amount as small as $25 a month can mean thousands for your future, if you stay diligent.
  3. Talk about your finances – Whether you’re married or single, find someone you trust to discuss your finances with who can keep you accountable. This could mean you and your spouse regularly keep track of your spending and cash flow, reminding each other when slips occur, or it could look like sitting down with a parent, friend or outside source whose financial acumen you admire, asking for help/accountability. Having someone to remind you of your goals, pushing you to stay on track, will always prove beneficial.
  4. Steer clear of the “lifestyle” shift – For many, a new job or a raise might make them think they’ve “earned” a bigger apartment, or can put more in their vacation or entertainment funds. While rewarding yourself is healthy now and again, rather than sending that extra cash straight out the door, consider creating a S.M.A.R.T financial goal (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound), and begin putting funds aside to save for that goal. So whether it’s saving for your first house, buying a new car or just adding more to your retirement fund, don’t jump right in when finances increase, plan and save with clear goals in mind.

Budgeting well and saving is process that takes commitment and continuity, but with proper tracking and monitoring, and some strong accountability, anyone can achieve their financial goals and begin putting money away for the future.