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Home sweet homeowner tax breaks

Taxes » Tax Credits » Home Sweet Homeowner Tax Breaks

With the housing market improving in some regions of the country, many people are becoming new homeowners.

If you're among the new property owners, congratulations. You've just taken another step up the American-dream ladder and are a homeowner. Along with the joy of painting, plumbing and yard work, you now have some new tax considerations.

The good news is you can deduct many home-related expenses. These tax breaks are available for any abode -- mobile home, single-family residence, town house, condominium or cooperative apartment.

And most homeowners enjoy tax breaks even when they sell their residence.

The bad news is, to take full tax advantage of your home, your taxes will likely get more complicated. In most cases, homeowners itemize. That means you're not living on "EZ" Street anymore; you've moved to Form 1040 and Schedule A, where you'll have to detail your tax-deductible expenses.

For many homeowners, the effort of itemizing is well worth it at tax time. Some, however, might find that claiming the standard deduction remains their best move.

If you do find that itemizing is best for your tax situation, here's a look at homeowner expenses you can deduct on Schedule A, ones you can't and some tips to get the most tax advantages out of your new property-owning status.

Mortgage interest

Your biggest tax break is reflected in the house payment you make each month since, for most homeowners, the bulk of that check goes toward interest. And all that interest is deductible, unless your loan is more than $1 million. If you're the proud owner of a multimillion-dollar mortgaged mansion, the Internal Revenue Service will limit your deductible interest.

Interest tax breaks don't end with your home's first mortgage. Did you pull out extra cash through refinancing? Or did you decide instead to get a home equity loan or line of credit? Generally, equity debts of $100,000 or less are fully deductible.

What if you're the proud owner of multiple properties? Mortgage interest on a second home also is fully deductible. In fact, your additional property doesn't have to strictly be a house. It could be a boat or RV, as long as it has cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities. You can even rent out your second property for part of the year and still take full advantage of the mortgage interest tax deduction as long as you also spend some time there.

But be careful. If you don't vacation at least 14 days at your second property, or more than 10 percent of the number of days that you do rent it out (whichever is longer), the IRS could consider the place a residential rental property and ax your interest deduction.

Points

Did you pay points to get a better rate on any of your various home loans? They offer a tax break, too. The only issue is exactly when you get to claim them.

The IRS lets you deduct points in the year you paid them if, among other things, the loan is to purchase or build your main home, payment of points is an established business practice in your area and the points were within the usual range. Make sure your loan meets all the qualification requirements so that you can deduct points all at once.

A homeowner who pays points on a refinanced loan is also eligible for this tax break, but in most cases the points must be deducted over the life of the loan. So if you paid $2,000 in points to refinance your mortgage for 30 years, you can deduct $5.56 per monthly payment, or a total of $66.72 if you made 12 payments in one year on the new loan.

The same rule applies to home equity loans or lines of credit. When the loan money is used for work on the house securing the loan, the points are deductible in the year the loan is taken out. But if you use the extra cash for something else, such as buying a car, the point deductions must be parceled out over the equity loan's term.

And points paid on a loan secured by a second home or vacation residence, regardless of how the cash is used, must be amortized over the life of the loan.

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