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Filing Taxes – Home Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction

How homeowners can get the maximum tax refund.

Own a house. Ask any landlord what’s better about owning than renting, and most will say “tax deductions!” This is true because all homeowners who itemize their taxes can deduct 100% of their mortgage interest and property taxes from their tax returns. But how do you get the maximum tax refund for homeowners? If you don’t own a home yet, there may be good reasons, but the benefits of owning a home far outweigh renting. There are really only two reasons not to own a home – you can live rent-free with your parents or friends or maybe you plan to move in 3 years or less. Even if you are single, but plan to stay in the area for more than 3 years, consider buying a house.

The main tax incentive to owning a home is that it allows you to deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage. This is usually the biggest tax break for most people, because a significant portion of your house payment is spent on interest during the first few years of a mortgage. The big benefits of owning as tax time approaches?

Deductible mortgage interest including “points” when you buy your home.

Deductible property taxes on your return.

Deductions for improvements made to your home upon sale.

Up to $500,000 in tax-free capital gains when you sell your home.

To get the maximum homeowners tax refund, you will need to use Form 1040 and itemize your deductions. If you’re in a 28% tax bracket, the government actually subsidizes about a third of your borrowing costs, making your home more affordable. Plus, your closing costs and points are tax deductible, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of capital gains you realize when you sell your home are exempt from income tax.

At tax time, it is essential to know what you are entitled to, so that you can claim it. So here are five essential tax tips to get the maximum tax refund for homeowners.

1. Complete the long form at least once and learn how to itemize your deductions.

Nearly 40% of homeowners lose the first tax benefit each year when they don’t itemize their income taxes. If you own a home and otherwise have a fairly straightforward return, it may be tempting to just take the standard deduction or file Form 1040A. In some cases where your mortgage, property taxes, and income are low enough, the standard deduction may be a larger deduction than your itemized deductions. But you’ll never know if you don’t fill out both forms at least once.

So before you start filling out Form 1040A or 1040EZ, gather your documents and answer questions about tax software like TurboTax, which will automatically do the math on whether itemizing or taking the standard deduction will result in the lower tax bill.

Why do the extra work? You can only pay less tax, never more, by filing the longer 1040 form.

2. Home office deduction.

The average home office deduction is over $3,000. Of course, there are special IRS rules about what you can claim as a home office. Space that you claim as a home office cannot be exempt from capital gains tax when you sell your home. Visit the IRS.gov website for details.

3. Tax relief for loan modifications, foreclosures and short sales.

The Making Home Affordable ® (MHA) ® program is an important part of the Obama Administration’s overall plan to stabilize the US housing market by helping homeowners obtain mortgage relief and avoid foreclosure. To meet the diverse needs of homeowners across the country, Make Home Affordable ® programs offer a range of solutions that could help you take action before it’s too late. You may be able to refinance and take advantage of today’s low mortgage interest rates and lower your monthly mortgage payments.

While the long-term outlook for housing began to improve in 2011, loan modifications are expected to peak this year. Troubled homeowners who are on the verge of a short sale, loan modification or foreclosure should be aware that normally any mortgage balance that is wiped out by any of these outcomes is taxed as what the the IRS calls the Cancellation of Income Debt, or CODI.

Under the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Relief Act of 2007, the IRS currently does not charge taxes on CODIs incurred through loan modification, short sale, or foreclosure on most residences until 2012. But the banks take several months, even years, to work new mortgages. If you see all of this happening in your future, don’t put it off. Get free advice from a housing expert at MakingHomeAffordable.Gov. or call 888-995-HOPE (4673) to speak with an expert.

4. The tax consequences of a refinance or property tax call.

Homeowners everywhere are scrambling to claim a reduction in property tax bills based on the decline in value of their homes in recent years. Those with equity have tried to refinance their existing home loans at rates of 4-5% for the past few years. These strategies offer some of the biggest savings today. But here’s a little warning for homeowners who are able to cut those costs. Property taxes and mortgage interest, the very costs you minimize, are also the basis of the main tax advantages of owning a home. So plan in advance that your tax deductions will decrease with your taxes and interest.

5. Don’t forget closing costs.

If you bought or refinanced your home, maybe you’re so focused on your mortgage interest and property tax deductions that you forget about all your closing costs. Remember that any origination fees or discount points that were paid to your mortgage lender at closing are tax deductible on your return. When you finance a home, you can pay what are called “points”. Points reduce your mortgage interest rate by prepaying a portion of the interest at closing. Points are paid by the borrower to the lender as part of the loan agreement, and they represent a percentage of the loan. Points may also be referred to as loan origination fee, maximum loan fee, loan discount, or discount points. If you don’t know exactly what you paid, find your HUD-1 settlement statement. It is full of item credits and debits that you should have received from your escrow provider or title attorney at closing.

useful advice:There are two things you can count on when you become a homeowner: you get more tax breaks and your taxes get more complicated. Whether you bought a single-family home, a townhouse or a condominium, tax advantages are available to you. It’s time to familiarize yourself with the tax forms as this is where you will need to provide all the details regarding your new tax deductible expenses.

Don’t forget the PMI premiums on your tax return. PMI is private mortgage insurance premiums on certain mortgages. If your down payment is less than 20%, you are generally required to purchase private mortgage insurance. This type of insurance is paid for by the buyer but protects the lender in case the borrower stops repaying the loan. PMI premiums may be deducted if the mortgage was issued after 2006. This deduction may change in 2012, so check the IRS website for up-to-date information.

Final thought: There are also huge tax savings on the gain when you sell. If you’re going to live in your home for at least 5 years, consider buying a home just for that reason. When you sell your home, the amount of your sale gain is tax exempt if you meet the criteria. If you’re married, you can make up to $500,000 profit on the sale and you won’t have to pay income tax. If you’re single, you can earn up to $250,000 in profit without paying federal taxes. There’s only one catch: you must own and occupy your home for at least two out of the last five years. Visit IRS.gov for more information.

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