Don’t Miss These Home Tax Deductions

From mortgage interest to property tax deductions, here are the tax tips you need to get a jump on your returns.


If you itemize your deductions, you may get back some of the money you spent on mortgage interest and property taxes. Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic


Owning a home can pay off at tax time  

Take advantage of these home ownership-related tax deductions and strategies to lower your tax bill:

Mortgage Interest Deduction

One of the neatest deductions itemizing homeowners can take advantage of is the mortgage interest deduction, which you claim on Schedule A. To get the mortgage interest deduction, your mortgage must be secured by your home — and your home can be a house, trailer, or boat, as long as you can sleep in it, cook in it, and it has a toilet.

Interest you pay on a mortgage of up to $1 million — or $500,000 if you’re married filing separately — is deductible when you use the loan to buy, build, or improve your home.

If you take on another mortgage (including a second mortgage, home equity loan, or home equity line of credit) to improve your home or to buy or build a second home, that counts towards the $1 million limit.

If you use loans secured by your home for other things — like sending your kid to college — you can still deduct the interest on loans up $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately) because your home secures the loan.

Prepaid Interest Deduction

Prepaid interest (or points) you paid when you took out your mortgage is generally 100% deductible in the year you paid it along with other mortgage interest.

If you refinance your mortgage and use that money for home improvements, any points you pay are also deductible in the same year.

But if you refinance to get a better rate or shorten the length of your mortgage, or to use the money for something other than home improvements, such as college tuition, you’ll need to deduct the points over the life of your mortgage. Say you refi into a 10-year mortgage and pay $3,000 in points. You can deduct $300 per year for 10 years.

So what happens if you refi again down the road?

Example: Three years after your first refi, you refinance again. Using the $3,000 in points scenario above, you’ll have deducted $900 ($300 x 3 years) so far. That leaves $2,400, which you can deduct in full the year you complete your second refi. If you paid points for the new loan, the process starts again; you can deduct the points over the life of the loan.

Home mortgage interest and points are reported on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.

Your lender will send you a Form 1098 that lists the points you paid. If not, you should be able to find the amount listed on the HUD-1 settlement sheet you got when you closed the purchase of your home or your refinance closing.

Property Tax Deduction

You can deduct on Schedule A the real estate property taxes you pay. If you have a mortgage with an escrow account, the amount of real estate property taxes you paid shows up on your annual escrow statement.

If you bought a house this year, check your HUD-1 settlement statement to see if you paid any property taxes when you closed the purchase of your house. Those taxes are deductible on Schedule A, too.

PMI and FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums

You can deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance (PMI) as mortgage interest on Schedule A if you itemize your return. The change only applies to loans taken out in 2007 or later.

What’s PMI? If you have a mortgage but didn’t put down a fairly good-sized down payment (usually 20%), the lender requires the mortgage be insured. The premium on that insurance can be deducted, so long as your income is less than $100,000 (or $50,000 for married filing separately).

If your adjusted gross income is more than $100,000, your deduction is reduced by 10% for each $1,000 ($500 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return) that your adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000 ($50,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return). So, if you make $110,000 or more, you can’t claim the deduction (10% x 10 = 100%).

Besides private mortgage insurance, there’s government insurance from FHA, VA, and the Rural Housing Service. Some of those premiums are paid at closing, and deducting them is complicated. A tax adviser or tax software program can help you calculate this deduction. Also, the rules vary between the agencies.

Vacation Home Tax Deductions

The rules on tax deductions for vacation homes are complicated. Do yourself a favor and keep good records about how and when you use your vacation home.

  • If you’re the only one using your vacation home (you don’t rent it out for more than 14 days a year), you deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A.
  • Rent your vacation home out for more than 14 days and use it yourself fewer than 15 days (or 10% of total rental days, whichever is greater), and it’s treated like a rental property. Your expenses are deducted on Schedule E.
  • Rent your home for part of the year and use it yourself for more than the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days you rent it and you have to keep track of income, expenses, and allocate them based on how often you used and how often you rented the house.

Homebuyer Tax Credit

This isn’t a deduction, but it’s important to keep track of if you claimed it in 2008.

There were federal first-time homebuyer tax credits in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

If you claimed the homebuyer tax credit for a purchase made after April 8, 2008, and before Jan. 1, 2009, you must repay 1/15th of the credit over 15 years, with no interest.

The IRS has a tool you can use to help figure out what you owe each year until it’s paid off. Or if the home stops being your main home, you may need to add the remaining unpaid credit amount to your income tax on your next tax return.

Generally, you don’t have to pay back the credit if you bought your home in 2009, 2010, or early 2011. The exception: You have to repay the full credit amount if you sold your house or stopped using it as primary residence within 36 months of the purchase date. Then you must repay it with your tax return for the year the home stopped being your principal residence.

The repayment rules are less rigorous for uniformed service members, Foreign Service workers, and intelligence community workers who got sent on extended duty at least 50 miles from their principal residence.

Energy-Efficiency Upgrades

The Nonbusiness Energy Tax Credit lets you claim a credit for installing energy-efficient home systems. Tax credits are especially valuable because they let you offset what you owe the IRS dollar for dollar, in this case, for up to 10% of the amount you spent on certain upgrades.

The credit carries a lifetime cap of $500 (less for some products), so if you’ve used it in years past, you’ll have to subtract prior tax credits from that $500 limit. Lucky for you, there’s no cap on how much you’ll save on utility bills thanks to your energy-efficiency upgrades.

Among the upgrades that might qualify for the credit:

File IRS Form 5695 with your return.

Related: A Homeowner’s Guide to Taxes


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; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

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Money-Saving Checklist for First-Time Home Buyers


Did you know that saving a half a percentage point could save you $23,000 over a 30 year fixed mortgage?

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial investment you’ll ever make. For many first-time home buyers it is a time filled with excitement and plenty of headaches. Finding the right property can take months and the smallest oversight can cost thousands of dollars.

If you’re an investor or first-time home buyer you’ll love this infographic.

It’s a simple go-to checklist outlining 15 key things to consider when purchasing a home. It covers everything from contingency clauses to private mortgage insurance and closing cost negotiations


Tips for presenting your home to potential buyers

There’s little doubt that selling your home can be a stressful affair. The majority of people these days lead very busy lives and have little time to spare. So, add moving house to an already long list of ‘things to do’ and it’s not surprising that we can often let something slip. The most common thing to get overlooked when people are selling their house is how their house is presented to any potential buyers.

The problem is that once we decide to move on, we’re so focused on our new property search that we forget to pay proper attention to the house we’re still living in. It’s understandable that you may have lost the ‘emotional connection’ with your current property. But you must remember that potential buyers are looking to make an emotional connection in order to convince them to make an offer.

So, it’s your job to make sure that your house is as well presented as possible, whenever a viewing is arranged. With this in mind, we’re going to show you how to present your home, so you stand the best possible chance of an offer being made.

Present your home, so you stand the best possible chance of an offer being made.


Now, when we say neutral, we don’t mean that you should paint the walls magnolia and remove every trace of your personality. People need to see that someone actually lives there. The key is to remove any unnecessary clutter, in order to allow people to picture what it would be like to live in the property. The key is to try and strike a balance, where the spaces are neutral, without being bland.


People like to view properties that have obviously been loved and taken care of, as this instils a sense of confidence that the house will make a good investment. So, if there are any outstanding jobs that need doing, take the time to complete them preferably before you put your house up for sale. If potential buyers see peeling wallpaper, cracked plaster and other DIY eyesores, they’re likely to run a mile!

Don’t Neglect Outside!

If you’re not much of a gardener, it can be easy to end up neglecting the backyard and/or front garden of your house. Remember though, if you do have a front garden, this will be one of the first things any potential buyers will see. So, if you’ve got rusty bikes on an unkempt lawn and rotten decking, you’re likely to lose your buyers before they’ve even walked through the front door.

Curb Appeal

Update Lighting

This is such a simple tip, but surprisingly effective at transforming a dull house into one that seems bright, inviting, warm, and cheerful. This is exactly what potential buyers are going to be looking for, and luckily enough it’s an effect that is also very cheap and easy to create. The secret is to replace all your old light bulbs with modern lighting to ensure that buyers are able to see exactly what’s on offer.

So go ahead, follow our simple tips. Who knows? You could get really lucky and be enjoying settling in your new house in time for Christmas!

Single Family Home Investing: Pros & Cons

Greetings, fellow investors! Today we are going to talk about single family homes as buy and hold investments. We got started with SFHs and still own some today. We also own small multi-families, apartment buildings, mixed use and office spaces, so I have gotten to know the things that make SFHs a great investment and areas where they can fall short.

I will talk out of both sides of my mouth for a moment. There is simply no better investment from a cash flow perspective than a single family home, bought at the right price, with a solid long term tenant who pays their rent on time. And there is no worse of a suck-hole than a single family home that is sitting vacant with damage done by the tenant who far exceeds their security deposit — as well as a leaky roof and a broken furnace.

Single Family Home Investing:Pros & ConsInvestments in SFHs are not bad and should not be viewed that way. Nor should they be the end all be all to wealth building. There are, however, ways that they shine as investments and ways that they can miss the mark. In this article, I am going to go over the pros and cons of SFH investments.

Single Family Home Pros

Pro #1: Expenses

In my estimation the thing that makes SFHs so great is that when the property is leased, the expenses are low and predictable. Tenants typically pay all utilities, including water. If your lease agreement is structured well, the tenant will be responsible for the landscaping and the snow removal. There are no common areas to clean as you would have in a multi-family. And if your tenant are really great, they will do some minor repairs themselves without you even knowing about it. As long as there are no major maintenance issues, your only out-of-pocket expenses will be debt service, real estate tax, insurance, and management.

Pro #2: Tenants

Not all tenants pay their rent on time, and of course, not all tenants take good care of their rentals. That being said, I have seen more tenants treat their rented house like a home than those who are renting an apartment. They put up lights on the house at Christmas, they cut the grass, and one even paid to have some of the windows replaced. You would think they owned the house themselves the way they treat it. I have SFH tenants who have been in place for many years, and will stay in the house for as long as we let them stay. As long as we don’t increase the rent beyond their means and take care of a repair when it’s needed, they will stay forever.

Pro #3: Market Comparisons

So, I know that this is a hotly debated topic among real estate investors. Apartment buildings are valued on cap rate, which is determined by looking at the Net Operating Income. If you increase your rents or reduce expenses, your NOI goes up, so your value goes up too based on the same cap rate. I know the story. The other side of that conversation is that apartment buildings will only be compared to other apartment buildings. The acceptable cap rate for the market will be what it is and will stay that way until the market changes.

The one investment that is a bit of a chameleon is the single family home. It can be compared to other SFH investments and should be when you are evaluating a purchase. But because it’s still a single family home, it can also be compared to homes that people live in, which can really affect value if the home ownership market changes in your area. This phenomenon is true only in A and B class neighborhoods, from what I’ve seen.

A and B class neighborhoods have a low concentration of rentals overall, so you have plenty of comps to pull up the value of your rental when the home buyer market gets hot. C and D class areas are primarily landlord owned, so there the homes owned by the occupants will have around the same value as the ones owned by a landlord. In a nutshell, you can buy at an investor price and sell at a home owner price when the market is right.

Single Family Home Cons

Con #1: Vacancy

As I alluded to in the beginning, a SFH can turn on you on a dime when the tenant moves out. In New Jersey, where I invest, you can only charge 1.5 month’s rent in security deposit on any residential unit. That is the case in most states as well. If the tenant leaves you with any rent owed, there is very little money left to get the property rent ready again. This money can get sucked out very quickly if you need repainting, carpet, or other touch ups to get the house rent ready again. And if the tenant left you a ,mess behind as mine have in the past, it can cost you dearly to get the unit turned around.

The second way that vacancies sting on a SFH is that there is only one rent source. Once that source is gone, the property is financially “upside down,” meaning that you have to support the expenses out of your pocket until you have another viable tenant in place. Multi-family doesn’t work that way. You can lose one or even a few tenants in a small multi and not even blink.

Con #2: Personal Guarantees

Financing on SFHs can get interesting, which is why some would put a mark for them in the “Pro” column. You can get owners to hold a mortgage easily on a SFH, and you can get really creative with low money down strategies. That being said, you most always will have to personally guarantee the mortgage with a bank or private lender on a SFH. The reason is that it’s very hard for a lender to be comfortable with the asset being enough collateral for their loan. There are too many “what ifs” that could come up. You only see the PG get removed on much larger deals, where the main value is in the property, not the other holdings of the guarantor.

Having too many personal guarantees out there can slow down your growth over time, as you should be disclosing those to lenders as “contingent liabilities.” Banks don’t want to see too many of these, as it dilutes the value of a PG to them. Bottom line, there is only so much personal guaranteeing you can do, so be careful!

Con #3: Capital Expenses

This is the one that comes back around and bites some investors in the butt. For any real estate rental, you should be budgeting and setting aside cash each year for major capital expenses. These are anything that are not regular maintenance items and can include roof repair or replacement, heater repair or replacement, windows, kitchen and bath upgrades, and even carpeting. The list goes on and on. These items cost big money.

On a SFH that cash flows $300 to $400 per month, a $5,000 roof replacement can knock you out of the box. What makes SFHs difficult is that you only have one unit to contribute to that capital expense budget. If a major repair hits before you have time to set aside some cash, you will be going into your own pocket to keep things moving. Multi-families are different. You have a few units that can kick towards the cap ex budget, and things like roof replacements will typically be less per unit than a single family home in comparison.

In conclusion, SFHs are a double edged sword. With the right planning and implementation, you can do very well with them. Just be sure to think about the long term before you buy. How will this investment affect your ability to finance more deals in the future? Are you able to set aside some “rainy day” money for big expenses and potential tenant move outs?

Do you see more pros or more cons when it comes to single family home investing? What would you add to my list?

4 tips to get your Michigan Home Ready for this Fall

4 Fall Energy Saving Tips for a Cozy Michigan Home

4 Tips for a Warm and Cozy Michigan Home: How to Prepare During Fall Months

Tips on how to create a brighter and warmer home this fall without using more energy or paying dearly after cranking up your home’s thermostat. Winter is coming to the Twin Cities. With it comes cold temperatures, small amounts of sunlight, and lots of snow. This combination can be enough to make anyone feel depressed or like they’ve made a mistaking moving to Minnesota. The cold months don’t have to be a drag though! Making small improvements and changes on your home can brighten up these dreary months.

1) Prepare For Your Home’s Winter View & Warmth Windows Heat flow can also move through your home’s exterior windows if they are not well insulated – wherever there is a difference in temperature. Insulate them with supplies from your local hardware store.

Then, make your home’s window’s sparkle for pristine views when looking out from the warmth of your home’s interior come winter. Your windows will control how much cold weather gets in and how much heat goes out. Make sure that you take all steps necessary before the brutal winds hit. Put all your storm panes down and make sure windows are securely latched. If you live in an older house or have leaky windows, put weather-stripping in any big gaps. Finish this up by sealing your windows with plastic. It may not be the prettiest thing, but will save you hundreds by creating a tight seal on all those leaks.

It’s also important to have clean windows so that you can savor what sunlight there is. Make sure that you give your panes a thorough washing before it chills so that you can enjoy each run of sunlight without a layer of dust in front of it. You can also take off your screens for the winter. They don’t provide any extra protection and can muddle the sunlight.

2) Get Ready to Better Air Quality Indoors – To ensure that the heavy snowfalls just ahead don’t snap weak branches, give them a trim and bring several indoors to decorate your home. With most Michigan vegetation hibernating outside, add new plants and branches indoors for improving the air you breath in your home during winter months. House plants are the perfect way to brighten up a room and your life.

There are many varieties of trees and shrubs that will grow nicely inside with minimal care. Just make sure to water them as needed. Putting them next to your freshly cleaned windows will make them look even more welcoming. You can also consider getting some “green house” growing lamps to keep in your house. This allows you extra light, the luxury of newly growing plants, and even fresh herbs! You don’t need to the limit the color in your house just to plants though. Repainting in vibrant colors also has a rejuvenating effect. Consider putting in some accents walls in warmer colors like reds and oranges.

3) Prepare Your Home’s Lighting for Winter Months – Now that you’ve added some color and are making sure you get sunlight, check all the lighting in your house. Light fixtures, especially ones that are higher up, can go without being dusted for long periods of time. This reduces the output given by the bulbs and doesn’t give your rooms a bright feeling. Dust gradually settles, so it is often easy to not notice the dimness. While dusting your fixtures, replace bulbs as well.

Fall is the perfect time to replace a burnt out bulb or upgrade to fluorescent bulbs. These help to give your house a brighter and more natural look, while also helping to cut down your home’s energy bills. The investment may be a little pricier in the beginning but will pay off in dollars and aura in the long run.

4) Prepare the Fireplaces in Your Home for Winter – If you aren’t interested in updating your fireplace, try adding glass doors with a heat-air exchange system, and make sure your fireplace is cleaned and your flue damper properly sealed. You should also try to keep the fireplace damper closed unless you have a fire burning. This may be the last thing you think of to cheer yourself up, but our favorite scents are tied very closely to emotions and the ability to snuggle in and enjoy your home! There are many smells that we exclusively identify with winter; pine, peppermint, cookies, apple cinnamon, and pumpkin. Add fragerant pinecones to your fireplace.

Change out your room fresheners or potpourri to take advantage of these smells while they’re around. Find scents that remind you of the holidays and your childhood to invoke happy feelings when you walk in your door. Crockpots are another way to fill your house with wonderful smells during the cold months. A warm meal at night and a house scented with delicious food is the perfect way to spend your evening at home.

Don’t Spook Buyers with a House That Looks Haunted

In the fall market, home selling is right up there with pumpkin carving, hay rides and trick-or-treating. The change of season ushers in a number of well-intentioned buyers (and fewer Looky-Lous) seeking the services of a real estate professional. Sellers, Halloween is your holiday!

With the most terrifying time of year fast approaching, the last thing you want to do is spook buyers with a home that looks like the House on Haunted Hill or something out of a ghost town. Before putting your home on the market, rid your digs of these horrifying features.

Neglected yard. Ever see someone mowing the lawn of a haunted house? Didn’t think so. Overgrown greenery (or brown-ery) is a sure sign of an abandoned abode. Maintain your landscaping and clear your yard of leaves before a showing.

Smashed windows. Unlike haunted houses, you probably don’t have razor-like shards of glass protruding from the windows of your home. But are they drafty? Use weatherstripping or caulk to seal cracks, or consider replacing them altogether.

Foul odors. Your house (hopefully!) isn’t home to anything decomposing, but you may be unaware of the distinct smells emanating from your garbage can. Remove trash and eliminate musty, stale air by opening the windows.

Peeling paint. Dated wallpaper and worn-out paint are staples in haunted houses. If your wall treatment is chipped, cracked or peeling, it’s time for an update. Scrub your walls, patch any holes and roll on a fresh coat of paint in a ghostly neutral shade.

Creaky floors. Ghouls creep through haunted homes, making the floors creak and sending panicked visitors running out the door. Ensure the walkthrough is painless by repairing unwelcome sounds with the help of a licensed handyman.

Cobwebs. Nothing screams haunted more than dust, grime and filth. Creepy-crawlers seem to love dirt, too, and pests are a serious turn-off for anyone, buyer or not. If you suspect a problem, call up the Orkin man to have it rectified immediately.

Junk piles. Is it just me, or are the spirits possessing haunted homes hoarders, too? Add a sense of spaciousness to your home by de-cluttering every nook and cranny, minimizing collections on shelves, and keeping counter and tabletops clear.

Gloomy rooms. Haunted houses are cloaked in darkness because, well, no one paid the electric bill. Avoid triggering childhood fears of the Boogeyman by lighting up dark walkways, dim rooms and shadowy corners.

If your thinking about selling your home this Fall call Faith today, for your free house evaluation .