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Understanding Homeowner Taxes

Key takeaway

Being a homeowner means you’ll need to pay some taxes you weren’t paying before. But you may also qualify for some tax deductions. Understanding the potential impact that owning a home has on your taxes can make you more confident in your ability to manage these expenses (or tax breaks) successfully. Consult with a tax advisor for your unique situation.

Not only will you be taking on the responsibility for and costs of regular home maintenance and upkeep, but homeownership can also affect what you’ll pay in taxes.

One of the biggest changes is that you’ll now pay property tax, which is based on the value of your home and paid to your local government. But property tax, as well as the interest you’re paying on your mortgage, may reduce your taxable income for your federal and state returns. Some consider this a positive aspect of homeownership; paying rent doesn’t qualify you for this type of deduction.

It’s useful to talk to an accountant, financial advisor, or tax advisor about the impact of homeownership on your specific tax situation. But here are some of the basics it can be helpful to know.

Property taxes

Property taxes are set by state and local governments to pay for things like roads, schools, and police and fire departments. Here are three things to know about property taxes:

  1. Your monthly mortgage payment probably includes property taxes
    Governments typically send an annual bill for your property taxes, but if your mortgage includes escrow, your mortgage lender will split that amount up over 12 months and include it in your monthly mortgage payment. They hold the money in an escrow account and then pay the bill for you when it’s due, so you don’t have to worry about making a large one-time payment or missing the deadline.
  2. Your home’s assessed value can change
    The amount you pay in property tax is based on your local government’s tax rate and your property’s assessed value. That’s the value set by your local government’s tax assessor. It’s usually based on a number of factors, such as sales figures for similar homes in the area, current market conditions, and market value. Many local governments conduct reassessments of home values on a set schedule, such as every three years. If your home’s assessed value goes up, that usually increases your tax bill. You should receive notification of any changes in your home’s assessed value in the mail. Most local governments also put this information online. If you feel your new assessment is inaccurate (for example, if it lists a renovation or addition you didn’t make), your assessment notification will include instructions on how to appeal the assessment.
  3. Your local tax rate can change
    Tax rates vary from municipality to municipality, and local governments can also change the tax rate either permanently or for a set amount of time. Tax rate information is available on local government websites, and tax decisions are typically in the hands of elected city or county officials.

Federal tax impact

Under federal tax law, the mortgage interest and local property taxes you pay may decrease the portion of your income that is subject to tax. To find out if these will have an effect on taxable income, you or a tax professional need to calculate whether your itemized deductions (all of the individual amounts that can be excluded from taxable income) total less than the standard deduction. The federal standard deduction was increased through legislation passed in late 2017, which means that fewer people will have enough itemized deductions to add up to more than the standard deduction. If you don’t, that’s OK. Your circumstances might be different in future years.

An accountant or tax professional can help guide you. Here are three potential tax deductions to ask about:

  1. Mortgage interest
    The IRS may allow you to deduct the mortgage interest you pay, depending on certain requirements.
  2. Property taxes
    You may be able to deduct some or all of your property taxes; however, the state and local taxes deduction is capped at $10,000 combined for property and sales/income taxes.
  3. Points
    You may have paid some points (fees) at closing to help reduce your interest rate. The amount you paid in points should be listed on the 1098 statement you get from your lender. Points are generally tax-deductible on your federal return as long as you meet certain requirements.

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