The Mortgage Interest Deduction in Trouble?

How would it affect you if you could no longer write off the interest you pay on your mortgage? According to panelists at Friday’s housing forum hosted by Zillow and […]

October 22, 2012 // Tracy Shaffer // No Comments //


How would it affect you if you could no longer write off the interest you pay on your mortgage?
According to panelists at Friday’s housing forum hosted by Zillow and the University of Southern California’s Lusk Center for Real Estate:

The burgeoning federal debt makes it unlikely that the mortgage interest tax deduction will survive in its present form. Of course, any proposed changes to the tax break for homeowners will spark a fierce debate over the fundamentals of the U.S. housing market, the value of home ownership, and consumer behavior.

“Fierce debate” he says? I’d call it a jobs-killer! But then again, I’m in real estate. Change is never easy, but when it hits our pocketbooks and the government, it really hits home. I advise my clients to educate themselves, talk to their tax professional and view the tax benefits icing on the cake. Knowing the long-term financial upside leaves them feeling good and more secure as they move forward with their biggest single purchase.

“I think it’s entirely likely that something big is going to happen (with the MID) starting next year with either administration,” said Jason Gold, director and senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Policy Institute, an independent think tank.

A Congressional contingent advocates for the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction to help address the nation’s debt and budget deficit. Obviously things must be done to right the problem, but sticking it to a Middle Class whose beginning to feel the effects of a post-crisis housing market recovery seems a bit harsh. At the end of this year, a series of tax increases and spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect automatically unless Congress acts to prevent or alter them. Revamping the mortgage interest deduction is on the table as a way to head off that “fiscal cliff” scenario. (I wonder how many of those guys have a mortgage.)

Two years ago, a bipartisan deficit reduction commission recommended scaling back the mortgage interest deduction, which is currently capped at mortgages worth up to $1 million for both principal and second homes and home equity debt up to $100,000 and the deduction is only for taxpayers who itemize.
The Simpson-Bowles commission proposed turning the deduction into a 12 percent non-refundable tax credit available to all taxpayers, capping eligibility to mortgages worth up to $500,000, and eliminating the deduction on interest from second homes and home equity debt.

Though that seems more reasonable to me than the first idea, the National Association of Realtors has consistently defended the mortgage interest deduction in its current form.

Highly critical of the recommendation and claiming any changes to the MID could depreciate home prices by up to 15 percent, they are promising to “remain vigilant in opposing any plan that modifies or excludes the deductibility of mortgage interest.”

So… we’re back to whose going to pay down the debt? And how.

The MID is a “tax expenditure,” meaning its cost must either be made up through higher taxes elsewhere or by adding to the debt, and it costs the government about $90 billion a year. Richard Green, the director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, told forum attendees that reforming the MID is necessary for fiscal sustainability. “We need to get revenue,” Green said. “You need to make a judgment about what’s better or worse for the economy. In my opinion, it’s better to do it with tax expenditures, rather than rates, though you may have to do both to get to where we need to be.”
Because mortgage interest rates are currently so low, he added, “This may be an opportunity to do less damage by reforming the mortgage interest deduction than at other times.”

(I wonder what cuts would make this guy feel the pinch.)
The mortgage interest deduction is particularly polarizing because of the disconnect between how people use it and how it is perceived. Green gave the example of Texas where most people do not itemize their taxes (only about 30% of taxpayers do) so they cannot take advantage of the MID. This line of thought perplexes me. So… if more Texans itemized their taxes it would make things fairer? or does he mean that if they actually knew they could they would, adding to the deficit? And haven’t Texans done enough of that? 😉
No matter how the chad falls in the next three weeks, watch for ongoing and loud debates over the Mortgage Interest Deduction. *covers ears*

Source: Inman News, Andrea V. Brambila, Monday October 15, 2012


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