Tips for Investing a Tax Refund in Your Home

Thank you for visiting HomeSense by HomeMarke Real Estate Services of Jacksonville for ideas on how to use your tax refund.  We hope that you will find this article informative.  If buying a home is on your list and you are thinking of applying your refund towards a downpayment, good for you! We hope that you will consider using HomeMarke i-Search and a HomeMarke Jacksonville area Realtor to help you find it!

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HouseLogic talks to CPA Alan D. Kahn, who offers tips for investing a tax refund in your home based on where you are in life–and with your house.

HouseLogic: What should be your priority if you get a $2,500 refund?

Alan Kahn: No matter what your situation, first and foremost, if you have credit card debt, pay it down. That’s the one item that’s creating financial havoc throughout the country. In fact, the enormous interest payments may ultimately affect your ability to meet mortgage payments.
Although you may be tempted to put a refund in a retirement account, and just continue paying the credit card minimum each month, retirement accounts may not be earning much. However, your credit card company may be charging 15% or more. The best thing to do is get rid of that noose.

HL: What’s the next priority?

AK: Use the refund to create, or add to, an emergency fund, to cover something like a new hot water heater or leaky roof. You need a liquid account you can access quickly.
After that, it all depends on where you are in your life and with your home. For instance, you might want to put money away for your retirement.

Also, some may think, “Now I can afford the life or home insurance I knew I should have,” but this is poor reasoning: You should have that anyway, not wait for an IRS windfall.

HL: What about settling non-credit card debt, such as getting ahead on mortgage payments?

AK: This is a little trickier. If you’re fairly young and have many years ahead at a low fixed rate, in the 4% to 5% range, don’t bother with early repayments. But if you’re older and the end is in sight, it can be nice to own your house outright. It gives you a future pool for a loan you may need later, or a reverse mortgage. Some may say you shouldn’t have money tied up in your house, but I say, “Don’t feel this is bad!” You can get more liquidity later, if you need it.

HL: What about HELOCs?

AK: Many homeowners have taken out home equity lines of credit or similar second-mortgage products. These usually give you a tax break and tend to have a low interest rate, so again, you probably don’t need to use a refund to pay these down, unless they’re very high.

HL: How about using the refund to improve your house and make it more valuable?

AK: If you’re thinking of selling your house in the near future, you can use a refund to help with a remodeling job that you may get back later in the form of a higher selling price. An extra bathroom may make a house more saleable in a tough market.
But don’t think too much in the long term. If you’re planning to spend many years in your home, it’s too early to think about the future [sale of it]. Of course, you can still make a home improvement, but it should be something that makes you happy, not some far-distant buyer.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

Home Office Tax Deductions

Thank you for visiting HomeSense by HomeMarke Real Estate Services of Jacksonville for ideas on what tax deductions that you can and cannot take when you work from home.  We hope that you will find this article informative.

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What You Can and Can’t Deduct When You Work From Home

By: Donna Fuscaldo

Published: January 3, 2012

Working from home can offer many advantages including tax deductions. Just take care what you try to write off for your home office on your return.

Passing the IRS litmus test

To meet IRS guidelines, your home office must be your principal place of business, or the place you see clients in the normal course of business. Parts of your home you use to store products or equipment for your business also count. That doesn’t mean that all your work has to be done from home. If you’re an outside salesperson, you probably spend most of your work time elsewhere. But if you do you billing and return customer calls primarily from your home, your home office should qualify.
You can also qualify for the deduction if your employer requires you to work from home, as long as you don’t charge your employer rent. One big catch is that you must maintain the at-home office for your employer’s convenience, not your own, such as to complete reports at night or on weekends. Self-employed workers use IRS Form 8829 to calculate the deduction, which they list on Schedule C.

Measuring your home office

The amount you can deduct for your home office depends on the percentage of your home used for business. Your work space doesn’t need to be a separate room—a table in a corner qualifies. But it has to be an area that’s used solely for business. The tax break also covers separate structures on your property, like a detached garage you’ve converted to an office. Unlike an office inside your home, a separate structure doesn’t have to be your main place of business to qualify for a deduction. That’s because the IRS believes your family is less likely to use a separate structure as a part-time play area or den, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for tax and consulting at CCH.
To calculate what percentage of your house the home office occupies, divide your home office’s square footage by the total square footage of your home. If your home is 3,000 square feet and your office is 150 square feet, for example, you’d use 5% to calculate your deductions. Not sure how big your house is? Check the documents you received when you bought your home—there’s probably a detailed rendering—or measure the outside of your home and multiply length times width.

What can you deduct?

Once you’ve figured out what percentage of your home you use for business, you can apply that percentage to different home expenses. These include:

  • Mortgage interest
  • Real estate taxes
  • Utilities (heating, cooling, lights)
  • Home repairs and maintenance (painting, cleaning service)
  • Home owners insurance premiums

Just take each expense and multiply it by your home office percentage (the 5% mentioned above). That’s the amount you can deduct as a business expense. So if you spend $150 a month on electricity, you can deduct $7.50 as a business expense. That adds up to a $90 deduction per tax year.
Save bills or cancelled checks to prove what you spent in case of an IRS audit. Take an hour a week to file them away. Also, only repairs can be expensed; improvements must be depreciated.

Don’t forget depreciation

Depreciation is based on the idea that everything—even something like a home—wears out eventually. To figure home office depreciation, start by calculating the tax basis of your home: generally the purchase price plus the cost of improvements, minus the value of the land it sits on. Next, multiply the tax basis by the percentage of your home used for work. This gives you the tax basis for your home office.

Usually, depreciation deductions for a home office are figured over a 39-year period. There are caveats. For a crash course, read IRS Publication 946 or talk to a tax pro.
Keep in mind that depreciation deductions on your home office increase the amount of profit on a home sale that is subject to taxes. There’s an exclusion of $250,000 of profit if you’re a single filer, $500,000 for joint filers. Consult with a qualified tax professional on how depreciation deductions affect your tax liability when you sell.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Visit the IRS Website for More Information

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

Down Payment Gift

Thank you for visiting HomeSense by HomeMarke Real Estate Services of Jacksonville for information on using a cash gift as a down payment.  We hope that you will find this article informative.  If buying a home is on your list and you are thinking of applying your cash gift towards a downpayment, good for you! We hope that you will consider using HomeMarke i-Search and a HomeMarke Jacksonville area Realtor to help you find it!

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Down Payment Gift a Leg Up to Home Ownership, But Know Tax Rules

By: Dona DeZube

Published: December 28, 2011

We explain the tax details around giving the gift of a home down payment.

With lots of inventory and low home prices, your gift of a down payment to your credit-worthy children can be a stepping stone to getting into a first or next house. A nice thought at this time of year. (I’m speaking both of the holidays and the upcoming tax season.) Speaking of which, there are rules — like there’s no tax deduction for giving a non-charitable gift. But your gift of up to $13,000 can be given tax-free.
My husband and I used our parents’ generous wedding gift as a down payment rather than spend it all on the wedding. And we’re not the only couple boosted into home ownership by parents, according to blogger Amy Hoak. She says about one-quarter of first-time home buyers get a down payment gift from relatives or friends (note to my friends: My birthday is coming up in February and nothing says you’re my BFF like a down payment!).

“Many times a gift will allow a buyer to make a down payment without severely depleting their savings — a big plus in an uncertain economy,” writes Hoak. “Most lenders will require borrowers to have some money in the bank after closing. And some parents would rather their adult children keep saving for a rainy day than use all of their funds to make a down payment.”

The rules for using down payment gifts differ depending on which lender you use and whether your loan is guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or FHA. Hoak outlines the rules for each in her blog.

If you’re the one making the down payment gift, you won’t have to pay federal income tax, nor will the recipient, as long as you give $13,000 or less in 2011 or 2012. You can give up to $13,000 per person without tax implication to any number of people in one year.

In addition, you and your spouse can each give separate gifts to your child. The IRS calls this gift splitting. For instance, if you’re planning to give to your two children, you and your spouse can each give each child up to $13,000 for a total of $52,000 ($13,000 x 4), says CPA Sue Medicus, owner of Liberty Tax Service in Catonsville, Md.

If you want to give more, you still may not owe taxes, but you have to inform the IRS of your gift using Form 709. Check with your tax adviser to see if the amount above $13,000 counts against a lifetime exclusion that we all get to use to pass along assets via gifts and estates, Medicus says.

You can’t deduct the value of gifts you make (other than gifts that are deductible charitable contributions) or any federal gift resulting from making those gifts.

For more, IRS Publication 950 outlines the rules about gift and estate taxes.

What do you think about making down payment gifts to children? Have you done it? Would it have helped you?

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

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6 Home Deduction Traps and How to Avoid Them

Trap #1: Line 6 – real estate taxes

Your monthly mortgage payment often includes money for a tax escrow, from which the lender pays your local real estate taxes.
The money you send the bank may be more than what the bank pays for your taxes, says Julian Block, a tax attorney and author of Julian Block’s Home Seller’s Guide to Tax Savings. That will lead you to putting the wrong number on Schedule A.
Example:

  • Your monthly payment to the lender: $2,000 for mortgage + $500 escrow for taxes
  • Your annual property tax bill: $5,500

Now do the math:

  • Your bank received $6,000 for real estate taxes, but only paid $5,500. It may keep the extra $500 to apply to the next tax bill or refund it to you at some point, but meanwhile, you’re making a mistake if you enter $6,000 on Schedule A.
  • Instead, take the number from Form 1098—which your bank sends you each year—that shows the actual taxes paid.

Trap #2: Line 6 – tax calculations for recent buyers and sellers

 

If you bought or sold a home in the middle of 2011, figuring out what to put on line 6 of your Schedule A Form is tricky.
Don’t simply enter the number from your property tax bill on line 6 as you would if you owned the house the whole year. If you bought or sold a house in midyear, you should instead use the property tax amount listed on your HUD-1 closing statement, says Phil Marti, a retired IRS official.
Here’s why: Generally, depending on the local tax cycle, either the seller gives the buyer money to pay the taxes when they come due or, if the seller has already paid taxes, the buyer reimburses the seller at closing. Those taxes are deductible that year, but won’t be reflected on your property tax bill.

Trap #3: Line 10 – properly deducting points

You can deduct points paid on a refinance, but not all at once, says David Sands, a CPA with Buchbinder Tunick & Co LLP. Rather, you deduct them over the life of your loan. So if you paid $1,000 in points for a 10-year refinance, you’re entitled to deduct only $100 per year on your Schedule A Form.

Trap #4: Line 10 – HELOC limits

If you took out a home equity line of credit (HELOC), you can generally deduct the interest on it only up to $100,000 of debt each year, says Matthew Lender, a CPA with EisnerLubin LLP.
For example, if you have a HELOC for $200,000, the bank will send you Form 1098 for interest paid on $200,000. But you can deduct only the interest paid on $100,000. If you just pull the number off Form 1098, you’ll deduct more than you’re entitled to.

Trap #5: line 13 – Private mortgage insurance

You can deduct PMI on your Schedule A Form, as long as you started paying the insurance after Dec. 31, 2006. Unless Congress acts to extend the PMI deduction, however, 2011 is the last year for which you can take this deduction. (Also, this is also a good time to review your PMI: You might be able to cancel your PMI altogether because you’ve had a change in loan-to-value status.)

Trap #6: line 20 – casualty and theft losses

You can deduct part or all of losses caused by theft, vandalism, fire, or similar causes, as well as corrosive drywall, but the process isn’t always obvious or simple:

  • Only deduct losses that are greater than 10% of your adjusted gross income (line 38 of Form 1040).
  • Fill out Form 4684, which involves complex calculations for the cost basis and fair market value.  This form gives you the number you need for line 20.

Bottom line on line 20: If you’ve got extensive losses, it’s best to consult a tax pro. “I wouldn’t do it myself, and I’ve been dealing with taxes for 40 years,” says former IRS official Marti.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

How to Claim Your 2011 Energy Tax Credits

By: Donna Fuscaldo

Published: January 23, 2012

They’re not as much as they used to be, but there are still energy tax credits to be had for upgrades made in 2011.

Other limits on IRS energy tax credits besides $500 max

  • Credit only extends to 10% of the cost (not the 30% of yesteryear), so you have to spend $5,000 to get $500.
  • $500 is a lifetime limit. If you pocketed $500 or more in 2009 and 2010 combined, you’re not entitled to any more money for energy-efficient improvements in the above seven categories. But if you took $300 in the last two years, for example, you can get up to $200 in 2011.
  • With some systems, your cap is even lower than $500.
  • $500 is the max for all qualified improvements combined.

Certain systems capped below $500

No matter how much you spend on some approved items, you’ll never get the $500 credit–though you could combine some of these:

System Cap
New windows $200 max (and no, not per window—overall)
Advanced main air-circulating fan $50 max
Qualified natural gas, propane, or oil furnace or hot water boiler $150 max
Approved electric and geothermal heat pumps; central air-conditioning systems; and natural gas, propane, or oil water heaters $300 max

And not all products are created equal in the feds’ eyes. Improvements have to meet IRS energy-efficiency standards to qualify for the tax credit. In the case of boilers and furnaces, they have to meet the 95 AFUE standard. EnergyStar.gov has the details.

Tax credits cover installation—sometimes

Rule of thumb: If installation is either particularly difficult or critical to safe functioning, the credit will cover labor. Otherwise, not. (Yes, you’d have to be pretty handy to install your own windows and roof, but the feds put these squarely in the “not covered” category.)
Installation covered for:

  • Biomass stoves
  • HVAC
  • Non-solar water heaters

Installation not covered for:

  • Insulation
  • Roofs
  • Windows, doors, and skylights

How to claim the 2011 energy tax credit

  • Determine if the system you installed is eligible for the credits. Go to Energy Star’s website for detailed descriptions of what’s covered; then talk to your vendor.
  • Save system receipts and manufacturer certifications. You’ll need them if the IRS asks for proof.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice, and remember that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Home Tax Deduction Mistakes

Don’t rouse the IRS or pay more taxes than necessary — know the score on each home tax deduction and credit.

By: G. M. Filisko

Published: January 5, 2012

Sin #1: Deducting the wrong year for property taxes

You take a tax deduction for property taxes in the year you (or the holder of your escrow account) actually paid them. Some taxing authorities work a year behind — that is, you’re not billed for 2011 property taxes until 2012. But that’s irrelevant to the feds.
Enter on your federal forms whatever amount you actually paid in 2011, no matter what the date is on your tax bill. Dave Hampton, CPA, tax manager at the Cincinnati accounting firm of Burke & Schindler, has seen home owners confuse payments for different years and claim the incorrect amount.

Sin #2: Confusing escrow amount for actual taxes paid

If your lender escrows funds to pay your property taxes, don’t just deduct the amount escrowed, says Bob Meighan, CPA and vice president at TurboTax in San Diego. The regular amount you pay into your escrow account each month to cover property taxes is probably a little more or a little less than your property tax bill. Your lender will adjust the amount every year or so to realign the two.
For example, your tax bill might be $1,200, but your lender may have collected $1,100 or $1,300 in escrow over the year. Deduct only $1,200. Your lender will send you an official statement listing the actual taxes paid. Use that. Don’t just add up 12 months of escrow property tax payments.

Sin #3: Deducting points paid to refinance

Deduct points you paid your lender to secure your mortgage in full for the year you bought your home. However, when you refinance, says Meighan, you must deduct points over the life of your new loan. If you paid $2,000 in points to refinance into a 15-year mortgage, your tax deduction is $133 per year.

Sin #4: Failing to deduct private mortgage insurance

Lenders require home buyers with a down payment of less than 20% to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI). Avoid the common mistake of forgetting to deduct your PMI payments. However, note the deduction begins to phase out once your adjusted gross income reaches $100,000 and disappears entirely when your AGI surpasses $109,000. Also, unless Congress acts to extend the PMI deduction again, 2011 is the last tax year for which you can take this deduction.

Sin #5: Misjudging the home office tax deduction

This deduction may not be as good as it seems. It’s complicated, often doesn’t amount to much of a deduction, has to be recaptured if you turn a profit when you sell your home, and can pique the IRS’s interest in your return. Hampton’s advice: Claim it only if it’s worth those drawbacks. If so, here’s what to  know about what you can write off.

Sin #6: Missing the first-time home buyer tax credit

While the original home buyer tax credit deadline passed in April 2010 (and isn’t available in 2012), military families and some government workers on assignment outside the U.S. were given an extension until April 30, 2011, to get a home under contract and take advantage of up to $8,000 in tax credits for first-time buyers and $6,500 in credits for repeat buyers.

It applies to any individual (and, if married, the individual’s spouse) who serves on qualified official extended duty service outside of the United States for at least 90 days during the period beginning after Dec. 31, 2008, and ending before May 1, 2010.

Sin #7: Failing to track home-related expenses

If the IRS comes a-knockin’, don’t be scrambling to compile your records. Many people forget to track home office and home maintenance and repair expenses, says Meighan. File away documents as you go. For example, save each manufacturer’s certification statement for energy tax credits, insurance company statements for PMI, and lender or government statements to confirm property taxes paid.

Sin #8: Forgetting to keep track of capital gains

If you sold your main home last year, don’t forget to pay capital gains taxes on any profit. However, you can exclude $250,000 (or $500,000 if you’re a married couple) of any profits from taxes. So if you bought a home for $100,000 and sold it for $400,000, your capital gains are $300,000. If you’re single, you owe taxes on $50,000 of gains. However, there are minimum time limits for holding property to take advantage of the exclusions, and other details. Consult IRS Publication 523.

Sin #9: Filing incorrectly for energy tax credits

If you made any eligible improvement, fill out Form 5695. Part I, which covers the 30%/$1,500 credit for such items as insulation and windows, is fairly straightforward. But Part II, which covers the 30%/no-limit items such as geothermal heat pumps, can be incredibly complex and involves crosschecking with half a dozen other IRS forms. Read the instructions carefully.

Sin #10: Claiming too much for the mortgage interest tax deduction

You can deduct mortgage interest only up to $1 million of mortgage debt, says Meighan. If you have $1.2 million in mortgage debt, for example, deduct only the mortgage interest attributable to the first $1 million.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.