Here’s what homeowners must remember at tax time this year

There are significant changes to what can be claimed and to the standard deduction.
Photo illustration. [Getty Images]
Photo illustration. [Getty Images]
Published February 18

Homeownership traditionally comes with some great tax breaks, but lots of things are different this year due to new tax rules. Here are four things that could put a wrinkle in your tax return this filing season if you’re a homeowner.

1. The mortgage interest deduction is different

Mortgage interest is tax-deductible, but this year the deduction has been adjusted. The deduction is limited to interest on up to $750,000 of debt ($375,000 if you’re married filing separately) instead of $1 million of debt ($500,000 if married filing separately).

The key date here is Dec. 15, 2017. If you took out your mortgage before then, the rule change likely doesn’t affect you, according to Ruthann Woll, a certified public accountant and partner at RKL LLP in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. There’s an exception for people who were under contract to buy a home before Dec. 15, 2017, as long as they were scheduled to close by Jan. 1, 2018.

Also, the law treats refinanced mortgages as if they originated on the old loan’s date, which means the old limit of $1 million still applies. (If you refinance to borrow more than your current mortgage balance, different rules may apply, though.)

2. The property tax deduction is now capped

Property taxes are generally still tax-deductible, but this year the deduction is subject to a total cap of $10,000, which includes property taxes plus state and local income taxes or sales taxes paid during the year ($5,000 if married filing separately).

“That’s, obviously, huge for everybody, especially wage earners who have high state and local taxes to begin with,” Woll says.

3. The HELOC deduction has new rules

New rules around home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs, can affect whether the interest on those loans is tax-deductible. Now you can deduct HELOC interest only if you used the HELOC money “to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan,” according to the IRS. In other words, if you used the money to improve your house, you can probably deduct the interest.

“But if you’re using that line to pay off personal expenses, like credit cards or things like that, then you can’t deduct it,” Woll warns.

4. Moving expenses aren’t deductible for most anymore

Under the old tax rules, you may have been able to deduct the cost of moving. But under the new tax rules, moving-expense deductions are largely limited to military members.

“If you’re on active duty, or if it’s a move pursuant to a military order, change of station, then those deductions are allowed,” Woll reminds homeowners.

A word about itemizing this year

Although many tax deductions associated with homeownership are still around this filing season, you might decide not to take any of them. Woll says financially it may not be worth it.

That’s because something else happened to the tax rules in 2018: The standard deduction increased dramatically to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers. The effect is that a married couple filing jointly would probably need to have more than $24,000 in itemized deductions — those related to owning a home and any others as well — in order to make itemizing the better route financially. And so, many people might save more money (and time) this year by scrapping the itemized deductions for mortgage interest, property taxes and all the rest and just taking the standard deduction.

People shouldn’t stop keeping track of their deductible expenses, though. For some, itemizing could still be the better route. “They could be leaving money on the table,” Woll says.

Tina Orem is a taxes writer at NerdWallet. Her work has appeared in a variety of local and national outlets.

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