Opportunity Can Disappear

In the last few years, some people who were unable to sell their homes, rented them instead. The market has improved in most places and the home may easily sell now and possibly, for a higher price.

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Even though the opportunity to sell in the near future might not change, there could be another opportunity that could quickly disappear for some homeowners.

Most homeowners are aware that there is a capital gain exclusion on the profits of a principal residence of up to $250,000 for single taxpayers and $500,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly. The rule requires that you must own and use the home as your principal residence for two out of the last five years.

A homeowner can rent their home for up to three years and still be eligible for the exclusion. As an example, if they had owned and lived in it for two years and then rented it for two and a half years, they would need to sell and close the transaction before the remaining six months expired.

If there was a $200,000 profit in the home that didn’t qualify for the exclusion, a 15% long-term capital gain tax of $30,000 could become due depending on the tax bracket of the owner. With some careful planning, the tax could be avoided. Awareness of the time frames and the right team of tax and real estate professionals could save a considerable amount of the homeowner’s equity.

Pay Off Your Mortgage?

Becoming debt free is as much a part of the American Dream as owning a home but there certainly can be conflicting circumstances that make the decision to pay off your mortgage early unclear.

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The advantages of paying off debt early is increased cash flow, less interest paid and a higher credit score. The disadvantages are lower cash flow available as discretionary funds for meals, entertainment and other things. If the ultimate goal is financial security, is it worth the intermediate sacrifice?

Whether you pay off your mortgage early is a personal decision that may be right for one person and not for another. Consider the following before you get started:

Reasons you should

  • Peace of mind knowing that you don’t have a mortgage
  • You’ll save interest regardless of how low your mortgage rate is
  • Lowering your housing costs before you retire

Reasons you shouldn’t

  • You can invest at a higher rate than your mortgage
  • You have other debt at a higher rate than your mortgage that needs to be paid off
  • You might need the money in the future and want to remain liquid
  • You might not qualify for a mortgage currently
  • You should pay off other debt with higher interest rates
  • Your employer has a matching retirement plan that would benefit you more
  • You have more urgent financial needs like emergency fund, life, health and disability insurance
  • You expect high inflation and the value of your mortgage debt will decrease

Use this Mortgage Accelerator to determine how quick you can pay off your mortgage.

“Please take our offer…”

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It’s interesting that the housing climate has changed so quickly. Some buyers, who think they’re still in the driver’s seat, find the market is now going up and they’re losing the home that they really want.

Multiple offers are increasingly more common and buyers are frustrated because even full-price offers don’t guarantee that they’re going to get the home. In an effort to personify a contract offer and add emotional appeal, buyers are including a personal letter to the seller.

In most cases, the seller wants to maximize the net proceeds from the sale by getting the highest price with the least expenses and an assurance that the home will actually close on time without surprises. When a seller is faced with multiple offers that may be close to the same net, an emotional appeal might make the difference in them accepting a particular offer. That’s where the letter comes in play.

It should be a relatively short letter that gets to the point. The tone of the letter should be humble while positive and definitely, shouldn’t mention that you may have lost other homes due to multiple offers.

  1. Try to identify a common feature or characteristic of the home that is important to the seller and you.
  2. Don’t criticize the home or tell them about all of the improvements you need to make to justify your offer.
  3. Do verbalize why living in this home is important to you and your family.
  4. Assure the seller that you can indeed qualify for the home and that if they accept your offer, the sale will be consummated.

After writing the letter and eliminating the non-essential parts, read the letter a few times to your spouse or friend. Polish the verbiage and check the spelling and grammar. If your handwriting isn’t attractive and easy to read, print it. Use nice paper to appeal to the tactile senses. Attach the letter to the offer so they’re considered simultaneously.

Being pre-approved with good credit, adequate financial resources, good employment, sufficient earnest money and a reasonable offer with minimum contingencies will favorably position you. A personal letter might be the deciding factor in your favor.

Shifting Debt to Tax Deductible

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The Mortgage Interest Deduction is available to homeowners for up to $1,000,000 of acquisition debt on the combination of their first and second home.  They can also deduct interest on up to an additional $100,000 of Home Equity debt.

While Acquisition Debt is used to buy, build or improve a principal residence, the Home Equity Debt can be used for any purpose.  It can be used for educational or medical expenses, to purchase a personal car or boat, consolidate debts or pay off credit cards.

A homeowner with $15,000 of credit card debt at 19% and sufficient equity in their home could replace it with a home equity loan at much lower interest rate. Not only would the interest rate on the home equity loan be about 1/3 of the rate paid on the credit card, it’s would now be tax deductible.

If the taxpayer was in the 28% bracket, the net interest on a 6.5% loan would be 4.68% after tax benefits are considered.
Shifting personal debt to Home Equity debt can result in an interest deduction and probably, a lower interest rate. For more information see IRS Publication 936 page 10 and consult your tax professional.

Eliminate the Mortgage Insurance

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Pre-paying your mortgage can save thousands in interest and build equity in your home. As cheap as mortgage rates are currently, they’re higher than you can earn on your savings. If you don’t need the money any time soon, pre-paying the mortgage can be the better investment.

If you have a FHA loan, pre-paying the mortgage can also benefit you by eliminating the annual mortgage insurance premium early. For example, if a person bought a home for $175,000 with a 3.5% down payment on a 4% FHA loan, the monthly mortgage insurance would be $178.99.

It would take 116 months or over 9.5 years to reduce the principal enough to cancel the MIP. If the borrower would make additional principal contributions of $285.32 per month, the MIP would not be required after five years. Beginning June 3, 2013, mortgage insurance on FHA loans will be required for the life of the mortgage.

The elimination of MIP would lower payments or a buyer could continue making the higher payments to reduce the principal and retire the loan sooner.

FHA mortgages with terms longer than 15 years, the MIP can be cancelled when the loan-to-value reaches 78% after a minimum of five years. With normal amortization, that would take about 10-12 years.

Another alternative to eliminate the MIP is to refinance the home with a conventional loan. If the loan-to-value is less than 80%, the MIP would no longer be required and a lower interest rate may be available.

Your Deduction…Your Choice

Taxpayers are allowed to decide each year whether to take the standard deduction or to itemize their deduction when filing their personal income tax returns.  Roughly, 75% of households with more than $75,000 income and most homeowners itemize their deductions.

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The 2012 standard deduction, available to all taxpayers, regardless of whether they own a home, is $11,900 for married filing jointly and $5,950 for single taxpayers.

Let’s look at an example of a homeowner couple with a $150,000 mortgage at 3.5%.  The standard deduction would give them $2,650 more than the total of their interest paid and property taxes of approximately $9,250.  If they were in the 28% tax bracket, the actual tax savings would be $742.00.

When mortgage rates were considerably higher, many people expected the interest and property taxes to easily exceed the standard deduction but with today’s low rates, a comparison is certainly justified.

There are other things that could come into consideration like charitable contributions, medical expenses and casualty losses.  Tax professionals will compare available alternatives to find the one that will benefit the taxpayer most.

For more information, see www.IRS.gov and consult a tax advisor.