The $500,000 homeowner tax break

The Homeowner Tax Break to reduce your bills, property taxes, and real estate probate costs or apply depreciation recapture rulesA large tax break allows a homeowner to exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 married) in capital gains on the sale of their personal residence. But making the assumption that this gain exclusion will always keep you safe from tax can be a big mistake. Here is what you need to know:

The homeowner tax break

To qualify for capital gains tax exclusion when you sell your home, you need to pass three hurdles:

  1. It’s your main home. It can be a traditional home, a condo, a houseboat, or a mobile home. A main home is the place of primary residence when you own two or more homes.
  2. You pass the ownership test. You have owned your home for two of the past five years.
  3. You pass the residency test. You must have lived in the home for two of the past five years.

There are some additional quirks to know about, including:

  • You can pass the ownership test and the residence test at different times
  • You may only use the home gain exclusion once every two years
  • Depending on the circumstances, you and your spouse can be treated jointly or separately

When to pay attention

You have been in your home for a long time. The longer you live in your home, the more likely you will have a large capital gain. Long-time homeowners should check to see if they have a capital gains tax problem prior to selling their home.

Two homes into one. Newly married couples with two homes may have a potential tax liability as both individuals may pass the required tests on their own property but not on their new spouse’s property. Prior to selling these individual homes, you may wish to create a plan of action that reduces your tax exposure.

Selling a home after divorce. Property transferred due to a divorce is not deemed a sale of your home. However, if the ex-spouse who retains the home later sells it, it may impact the amount of gain exemption available.

You are helping an older family member. Special rules apply to the elderly who move out of a home and into assisted living and nursing homes. Before selling the property, reviewing options and their related tax implications is best.

You do not meet the five-year rule. In some cases, you may be eligible for a partial gain exclusion if you are required to move for work, a disability, or unforeseen circumstances.

Other situations. There are a number of other exceptions to the home gain exclusion rules. These include foreclosure, debt forgiveness, inheritance, and partial ownership.

Recordkeeping is key

Retaining good records is the key to obtaining the full benefit of this tax exclusion. You must be able to prove both the sales price of your home and the associated costs you are using to determine the gain on your property. So keep all sales, original home purchases, improvement costs, and other documents supporting your home’s capital gain calculation. Please contact our RRBB advisors with any questions or concerns regarding your tax situation.


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