Major tax law changes enacted In 1997 can mean huge tax savings if you play the game right. Here are seven smart ways you can use to take advantage of Uncle Sam's latest tax breaks for homeowners:
Sell Your Current Home Own and live in your home at least two of the last five years -- then sell it. You'll owe absolutely no tax on the profit (capital gains) for gains up to $500,000 (if married filing jointly) or $250,000 (if filing singly). There's no longer a need to wait until you're age 55 to sell or at any age to "roll over" your profit by buying a home that costs at least as much as the home you sold.
Retire On A Budget Now when you move, you can replace your old home with one that fits your needs and your budget. Perhaps you want less house because your children have left the nest, or you've retired or there's been a divorce. Under the new tax rules, you can quit worrying about paying a hefty capital gains tax when you scale back.
Relocate Without Renting Before, people who moved to lower-cost-of-living areas had three choices: (1) convert the old home to a rental unit until moving back; (2) sell the old home and buy a "mansion" in the new town to defer paying capital gains tax; or (3) sell the old home, buy a similar-size home in the new town or rent a home and pay capital gains tax. Now, those who transfer can sell a home as often as once every two years and still claim the capital gains exemption on the profits. There is even a special exception to the two-year rule if you must sell your home due to a change in place of employment. This helps families that have frequent job-related moves to different parts of the country.
Take Your Freedom Overseas If your family follows a job to a foreign land, you can sell your home here before you leave without rushing to purchase a new home immediately. Then, when you return, you can find a home at your convenience that fits your current needs, rather than trying to squeeze back into your old home before you can sell. If you have already been away, but lived in your old home for two of the last five years, you can still benefit from the tax law change if you sell now.
Selling Serially Young families and those inclined toward fixing up can buy a home, improve it, and sell it again two years later at a profit without paying taxes on the gains. Repeating the cycle is now a good way for new homeowners to build equity toward the dream home they want. Also, investors can buy a property, rent it out, then convert it to their principal residence; live there for two years and then sell it, keeping the profit. However, depreciation allowed on the rental after May 6, 1997 will be taxed at 25%.
Vacation Villas Capital gains taxes on summer homes, ski lodges and other second residences now can be avoided if you move in for two of the five years before the sale. First, claim tax-free profit when you sell your main home. Then move into your vacation home and make it your primary residence for at least two years. When you sell the vacation home, you can pocket those profits, too.
A Tax Deferred Exchange Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows property owners to exchange one qualified property for another without owing any tax. Let's say an investor has a property with several small rental units. The investor can exchange that multi-unit property for a large house, which should be rented out for at least a year. Then the investor can move into the house and convert it to a primary residence. That way, any gain from both the multi-unit property or the large house is tax free, except for rental depreciation after May 6, 1997. Note it is necessary for a qualified intermediary to handle a 1031 exchange transaction. Here's some helpful advice on record keeping: Even though most sellers can now buy up or buy down with little worry about tax implications, profits that exceed limits are taxable in the year of sale. And some states are continuing to tax capital gains from home sales. So don't be tempted to throw away receipts you collected to help lower taxes on capital gains. Your old receipts can help serve as proof of capital repairs, pre-sale fix-ups and other expenditures that reduce your gains and lower your taxable profits.