Key takeaways

  • By tapping your home equity, cash-out refinancing can help you fund major expenses, like a home renovation.
  • The proceeds from a cash-out refinance are considered a loan against your home's equity and are not taxable.
  • The interest on your new mortgage is not entirely deductible if the cash-out is used for anything other than capital improvements on your home.

A cash-out refinance allows you to extract your home’s equity, or the difference between your current mortgage balance and the value of your home. You can then use it as a (relatively) low-interest loan to fund anything from home improvements or college tuition to medical bills.

Keep in mind, however, in some scenarios, there might be a few cash-out refinance tax implications.

Is a cash-out refinance taxable?

No, the proceeds from your cash-out refinance are not taxable. The money you receive from your cash-out refinance is essentially a loan you are taking out against your home’s equity. Loan proceeds from a HELOC, home equity loan, cash-out refinance and other types of loans are not considered income.

In addition to not paying income taxes, you might even be able to deduct some of the interest you pay on your cash-out refinance.

Tax rules for cash-out refinances

If you plan to itemize deductions, you can deduct the interest you pay on your new mortgage (the first $750,000 or first $375,000 if married and filing separately) from your taxable income. But you must use the cashed-out funds to make what are known as “capital improvements” to your home.

Deduction-eligible projects generally include permanent additions and home improvements that increase the property’s value, extend its longevity or adapt it for new uses. Consider consulting with a tax professional to ensure the projects you’re doing qualify. It’s up to you to prove you used the money in a way that qualifies when you file your taxes, so save receipts and other paperwork associated with your projects.

“If you’re using that money to increase the value of your home and you get to write it off, it’s a double benefit,” says Ralph DiBugnara, senior vice president of Charlotte-based Cardinal Financial.

How to use your cash-out refinance so the interest is tax-deductible

The way you spend the proceeds from a cash-out refinance has important tax ramifications to keep in mind. The interest on your new mortgage is more likely to be fully deductible if you use the cash-out proceeds for home improvements that increase the home’s value. But if you opt to use the money for other purposes, your mortgage interest is not likely to be fully deductible.  Here are some ways you can spend the proceeds from a cash-out refinance to maintain a tax deduction.

Make capital home improvements

If you plan to itemize your deductions, the interest on your new mortgage might be tax-deductible if you make home improvements such as:

  • Adding a swimming pool or hot tub to your backyard
  • Constructing a new bedroom or bathroom
  • Erecting a fence around your home
  • Enhancing your roof to make it more effective in protecting against the elements
  • Upgrading windows
  • Setting up a central air conditioning or heating system
  • Installing a home security system

“Capital improvements must substantially improve your home,” says Dennis Brager, a certified tax specialist with Los Angeles-based Brager Tax Law Group. “Kitchen and bathroom remodels, room additions, modifications for an elderly parent would all qualify. A standalone painting would not qualify; on the other hand, if it was just part of a larger remodel, then the cost of the paint job would qualify.”

Money from a cash-out refinance that’s invested in capital improvements for your home can potentially help you save money when selling your property. You can use investments made in capital improvements to reduce the capital gains tax liabilities incurred when selling a home. You’ll want to save all receipts for the work completed to prove how much you spent.

Add a home office

Another type of capital improvement is adding a home office. This could allow you to deduct the interest on your cash-out refinance. Plus, you can take the home office deduction if you’re self-employed or own a business. However, you’ll need to meet specific criteria to qualify for the home office deduction:

  • Regular and exclusive usage. You must use the office space regularly and solely for business purposes, though you don’t need to mark it off with a permanent partition. The office space cannot be used for personal reasons, such as a kid’s playroom or a guest bedroom.
  • Principal place of business. Your trade or business can have more than one location. However, to claim the deduction, your home office must either be your main place of business or where you regularly conduct customer or client meetings.

There are two ways to calculate the home office deduction. The simplified option gives you a standard deduction of $5 per square foot of home you use for business purposes (up to 300 square feet). The regular method lets you deduct actual expenses based on the percentage of the home you use for business.

Improve your rental property

Improvements and repairs to rental properties are typically tax-deductible. A cash-out refinance does not influence repair expenses for a rental property, so you can still claim these deductions. You can use the funds from your cash-out refinance to do projects that let you increase the resale value of the home or the rent. You can also use the cash-out to make repairs to the property.

Deducting mortgage points on a cash-out refinance

Also called discount points, mortgage points are essentially upfront fees you pay a lender in return for a lower interest rate on your loan.

With a cash-out refinance, you cannot deduct the total amount of money you paid for points during the year you did the refinance, but you can take smaller deductions throughout the life of the loan. If you were to pay $2,000 in mortgage points on a 15-year cash-out refinance, for instance, you can deduct about $133.33 per year for the duration of the loan.

Mortgage interest deduction limits with a cash-out refinance

You cannot deduct the interest on the entire new mortgage if you use the cash out for anything other than a capital improvement. That includes paying off credit card debt or buying a new car. In these cases, you’d only be able to deduct the interest on the original mortgage balance.

Let’s say you have a mortgage with a $60,000 principal, and you want to take out $20,000 in equity through a cash-out refinance. If you use the cash to add a hot tub to your backyard, you can deduct the interest you paid on the total balance, or $80,000. If you use it to pay off your credit card debt, you can only deduct the interest you paid on your original balance, or $60,000.

Even so, using a cash-out refinance to pay off credit card debt can still be a smart financial decision if you’re burdened by high-interest debt. Most credit cards charge double-digit interest rates, while mortgage interest rates are hovering around 6 to 7 percent.

In 2018, some of the deduction limits changed. The simplified version of the current regulation: You can deduct interest on up to $375,000 worth of mortgage debt if you’re single or married filing separately, or on up to $750,000 worth of mortgage debt if you’re married filing jointly.

If you purchased your home before the new limits went into effect, you can still deduct interest payments on a higher balance, but that higher limit will not include any of your cashed-out funds.

Risks of a cash-out refinance

A cash-out refinance can be a cheap way to borrow much-needed cash, but it also means a new, larger loan you need to pay back.

“The biggest tax risk is that you fail to meet all of the stringent rules surrounding deductions, and you wind up with a big surprise at tax time,” says Brager.

“To avoid this, it is best to speak with your tax advisor about your personal circumstances before you make a commitment. The even bigger risk is not a tax risk, but that in tough economic times, you are unable to make payments on your mortgage, and you lose your home because you are overextended.”

Alternatives to a cash-out refinance

A cash-out refinance is not the only method of accessing equity in your home. Consider a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (HELOC), which are second mortgages on your home. These options leave your current primary mortgage in place.

If you have a low interest rate on your existing mortgage, only taking out the amount you need may save you money now that interest rates have risen significantly.

FAQ about the tax implications of cash-out refinance

  • You will not be able to deduct the interest on the entire new mortgage when using proceeds from a cash-out refinance to pay off debts such as credit cards or other loans. Instead, you will only be able to deduct the amount of the original mortgage balance.
  • If you plan to write-off your mortgage interest, you will need to save receipts and other paperwork related to capital projects to prove that the work completed on your home is eligible for a deduction. It might be a good idea to work with a tax professional when filing to ensure you have all of the necessary proof.
  • You can only deduct certain closing costs related to a mortgage refinance on your taxes. Closing costs cannot be deducted if they are related to fees for services such as title insurance and appraisals. However, the interest you pay on your loan is deductible as long as the mortgage is for your primary residence or a second home that you do not intend to rent out. In addition, you may be able to deduct some of the cost you paid for points to get a lower interest rate when obtaining your mortgage. This cost is considered prepaid interest and may also qualify for a deduction.