The tax landscape changes yearly. Congress meets occasionally to review and adjust the tax code, so first-time homebuyers must stay on their toes to understand year-to-year tax changes.
The government provides tax breaks for existing and new homeowners to incentivize buying homes. Homeownership offers multiple home tax deductions, tax credits and other breaks that aren’t available to those who rent. If you bought your first home in 2016 — or you’re hoping to buy one in 2017 — it can pay to familiarize yourself with first-time homebuyer tax credits so you can take advantage of tax breaks that lower your tax bill.
HOME MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION
The mortgage interest deduction is one of the biggest home tax breaks and is a crucial new homeowner tax credit. It covers interest paid on loans of up to $1 million, or $500,000 if you’re married but filing a separate return.
The deduction can be especially beneficial for borrowers with new loans because interest charges on mortgages are typically steeper in the early years of the mortgage’s term.
“The way loan amortization works, your first payments have the highest ratio of interest to principal,” said Andrew Christakos, an accredited investment fiduciary with Westfield Wealth Management in Westfield, N.J.
You must itemize on Schedule A of your tax return to claim the home mortgage interest deduction. To do so, add up all deductible expenses for the year, including those related to homeownership as well as other categories. Claiming the mortgage interest deduction can save you tax dollars if your itemized deductions are greater than your standard deduction.
Don’t miss this new homebuyer tax credit. Your loan provider should send you Form 1098 shortly after the tax year ends. It will show the amount of interest you paid the previous year.
MORTGAGE INTEREST CREDIT
The federal government’s mortgage interest credit provides another opportunity for first-time homebuyers to claim a tax break for the mortgage interest they paid. Unlike the mortgage interest deduction — which reduces your taxable income — this mortgage interest credit directly counts against your tax bill, lowering what you owe.
“It’s a little-known but very cool program,” said Deb Tomaro, a Bloomington, Ind.-based broker with RE/MAX Acclaimed Properties. “Depending on the purchase price of your home, a buyer can get 20 to 30 percent of the interest they pay every year back as a straight tax credit.”
For example, imagine you prepare a return and find that you owe the IRS $1,000 in taxes. However, completing IRS Form 8396 for the mortgage interest credit shows that you’re eligible for a $1,000 credit. In that situation, you can apply the credit and not owe the IRS anything.
The credit is not refundable, so you won’t receive a check if the credit is larger than what you owe in taxes.
To be eligible for this strategic tax break, a state or local government must have issued you a Mortgage Credit Certificate. Typically, this certificate is issued at the time you originate the mortgage. The certificate tells you how much interest you can claim as a credit. If you also claim a mortgage interest deduction when you file your taxes, you must reduce the credit by that amount — no double-dipping is allowed.