6 Major Tax Breaks for Homeowners

By Markets Fool.com

Over 60% of Americans are proud to call themselves homeowners, and while owning property can be an expensive prospect, there are a number of tax breaks available to help offset the burden. Here are a few you should know about.

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1. Mortgage interest deduction

The bad news about carrying a mortgage, especially in its early years, is that the majority of your payments go toward interest on your loan as opposed to its principal. The good news, though, is that you're allowed to deduct all of the interest you're paying provided your mortgage balance doesn't exceed $500,000 if you're a single filer, or $1 million if you're married and filing jointly.

2. PMI deduction

If you didn't make a 20% down payment on your home, there's a good chance you got hit with PMI, or private mortgage insurance. And while nobody wants to pay PMI, the silver lining is that you're allowed to deduct those PMI premiums on your taxes. There's a catch, though. The PMI deduction begins to phase out when you earn $50,000 a year as a single filer, or $100,000 as a joint filer. And if you earn more than $54,500 as a single filer or $109,000 as a couple filing jointly, you won't be allowed to claim this deduction at all.

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3. Mortgage points deduction

Some people pay points on their mortgages, which are fees paid to a lender up front, often in exchange for a reduced interest rate. Each point you pay on your mortgage is the equivalent of 1% of your loan amount (one point on a $200,000 mortgage is $2,000). If you meet certain criteria, you're allowed to fully deduct those points the year you pay them. If not, you can still spread out that deduction over the life of your loan.

4. Property tax deduction

Property taxes are another huge expense of homeownership, and they have a tendency to rise over time, even during periods when home values decline. Thankfully, you can deduct your property taxes when you file your return. Just be sure to claim your deduction the same year you make your payments. So, for example, if you pay the first part of your 2017 property taxes at the end of 2016, you'd take that deduction when you file your 2016 return.

5. Home office deduction

If you use a specific room or portion of your home exclusively for work purposes, you're allowed to claim a home office deduction on your taxes. However, most people don't, either because they don't know about the deduction, or they worry that doing so will trigger an audit. In fact, of the reported 26 million Americans who have home offices, only about 3.4 million actually take this deduction. In reality, claiming a home office deduction won't get you into trouble with the IRS as long as you keep things legitimate.

So, what can you write off? First, direct expenses associated with running a home-based business, like office supplies or computer equipment, are deductible. Next, you can write off a portion of certain costs associated with living in your home, like your electricity bill, Internet service, or homeowners' insurance. All you need to do is figure out how much you spend each year on these expenses and then prorate them based on the size of your office relative to your home. So if your home is 2,000 square feet and your office is 200 square feet, you can claim 10% of your total expenses.

6. Home improvement costs add to your tax basis

Making improvements to your home will not only create a more comfortable place for you to live, it will potentially save you money when the time comes to sell. When you make home improvements such as adding a deck or sunroom, those costs are added to the tax basis of your home, which is basically the amount you've invested in it. The higher your basis, the lower your profit will be if you sell your home for more than what you paid for it.

Now, remember that unless you really make a killing on the sale of your home, you may not have to pay capital gains taxes on your profit at all. As a single tax filer, you're allowed to exempt up to $250,000 in capital gains (joint filers are allowed to exempt up to $500,000) provided you've owned and lived in your home for at least two of the five years prior to the sale. But if you're right over the limit, those home improvements could make a difference tax-wise. Keep in mind, though, that this tax benefit applies to improvements only, not repairs. You can't add the cost of fixing a leaky roof to your home's tax basis (thought it would be nice if you could).

Your home might be the single largest expense you'll incur in your lifetime. And while you may have sacrificed a lot financially to purchase and maintain your property, if you take advantage of the deductions available to homeowners, there's a good chance you'll be a whole lot happier come tax season.

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