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Tax Breaks for Homeowners: Your Yearly Guide to Credits and Deductions

Magda Moor, CMA,  Mortgage Advisor

February 8, 2021 — 6 min read

Updated February 8, 2021

Homeownership has a lot of benefits, including the potential to lower your tax bill. The tax code allows you to take advantage of deductions and credits that specifically benefit homeowners. You can work with a CPA or other qualified, licensed advisor to ensure these deductions and credits are properly applied and use them to your fullest benefit.

Credit vs. Deduction

Before you dive in and explore the potential tax savings available to you as a homeowner, it's important to understand the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction. Though both save you money at tax time, credits and deductions work differently to help keep money in your pocket.

Deductions are subtracted from your total income before your taxes are calculated, thereby reducing the amount of money you pay taxes on. In other words, deductions allow you to report a smaller income for the year, which lowers the amount you owe the IRS and your local tax agencies.

There are two ways to claim deductions. You can take the standard deduction, or you can itemize your deductions. You'll have to check and see if itemizing deductions will save you more or less than taking the standard deduction, which is currently $12,400 for single filers and $24,800 for married couples filing jointly.

If you're not sure which path is right for you, talk to your accountant or licensed financial advisor for guidance.

Credits, on the other hand, come in after your taxable income has been calculated and your preliminary tax total is added up. Ultimately, though, they function similarly to deductions in the sense that they reduce your tax bill.

If someone else prepares your taxes for you, don't worry too much about understanding the difference between deductions and credits in great detail. Just make sure you're working with a knowledgeable tax professional who can help you take advantage of each available opportunity.


Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit

Eco-friendly upgrades provide numerous benefits to your home, including lower energy costs, less maintenance and higher property values. On top of this, Uncle Sam is ready to reward you for going green. Making these eco-friendly investments in your home means you'll save on energy bills and feel good about reducing your impact on the environment.

As an added bonus, you may also be able to take advantage of the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit and recoup some of the costs of installing those green upgrades. Qualifying upgrades include:

  • Solar panels or photovoltaic roofs
  • Geothermal heat pumps
  • Solar-powered water heaters
  • Energy-efficient windows
  • Small, residential wind turbines

Depending on when the upgrades were installed, homeowners can expect to receive a credit of approximately 23-30%. If you upgraded your home in or before 2019, you can take the full 30%, but this credit is set to decrease each year. Upgrades made in 2020 can net a credit of 26%, and improvements made in 2021 will be worth a 23% credit come tax season.

Mortgage Interest Credit

The Mortgage Interest Credit was created to help low- and middle-income earners afford homeownership by allowing them to take a credit for a portion of their mortgage interest. To claim this credit, a homeowner must have received a mortgage credit certificate from a local or state government agency. This certificate is applied for through your lender after a purchase contract is signed but before closing. In essence, this credit is designed to subsidize a taxpayer's monthly mortgage payment, helping borrowers qualify for their loan in the buying process.

The amount of this tax credit is calculated based on your mortgage premium, interest rate and credit certificate percentage, with a maximum credit of $2,000 per year. Most filers tend to get back anywhere from 10% to 50% of the mortgage interest they paid during the year.


Mortgage Insurance Premium Deductions

After expiring in 2017, congress revived the deduction in 2019, allowing homeowners to take advantage of it on their 2020 taxes. If you paid less than 20% down on your mortgage when you purchased your home and currently pay PMI premiums, this deduction allows you to subtract the cost of those payments from your taxable income. The law that renewed this deduction allows you to amend your tax returns if you qualified for this deduction in 2017 and 2018.

Keep in mind that you can only take the Mortgage Insurance Premium Deduction if you itemize your deductions. In addition, if your adjusted gross income exceeds $50,000 ($100,000 for married couples), then the amount of tax is reduced by 10% for each $1000 in income over that amount.

Mortgage Interest Deduction

Almost all homeowners qualify for the Mortgage Interest Deduction. You can reduce your taxable income by the amount you've paid in interest on any loan used to buy, build or substantially improve their residence. This deduction applies to both your primary residence and a second home that is not rented out. Homeowners can generally deduct the entirety of their interest payments so long as total mortgage debts do not exceed $375,000 ($750,000 for married couples filing jointly).

State and Local Tax Credits and Deductions

Potential tax benefits associated with homeownership don't end at the federal level. You could potentially save on your state and local taxes as well. Many states and municipalities offer tax credits and deductions for homeowners, especially first-time home buyers. You could also be eligible to receive credits for qualifying expenses, such as restoring a historic home or making green improvements, or based on your income level and whether you bought or sold a home this year.

Your state and local taxes could even benefit you back at the federal level. If you live in a state or city with high property taxes, may want to consider deducting local tax payments on your federal tax returns using the SALT deduction. Filers can deduct the cost of their property taxes as well alongside either their income or sales taxes. The higher your income and property tax, the more you stand to gain from this deduction. Currently, the SALT deduction is capped at $10,000.

Remember, every state, city and county offers different incentives, and some may not offer any tax breaks at all. Check your city or state's department of revenue website for more information about what credits you might qualify for and work with a local accountant or tax preparation specialist.

Need some help navigating the benefits of homeownership? We can help. Get in touch with your local branch today!

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