For millions of us, owning a home is the ultimate American Dream. But achieving that dream is full of challenges, from saving money for a down payment, budgeting for on-going expenses, and even dealing with a large tax bill once you sell a home.
Fortunately, there are a handful of different tips and tricks you can use to buy a home, reduce your tax bill by owning a home and even lowering your taxes when you sell a home.
Here’s a quick list of different tax breaks available to savvy homeowners.
1. Tap Into Your Retirement Accounts For A Down Payment
If you dream of owning a home, but don’t have the required down payment money saved, consider “borrowing” the money from your retirement account.
If you have a 401(k) or an IRA account, you can borrow up to $10,000 from the account to use as your down payment without having to pay the early withdrawal penalty. If you are married and your spouse has their own retirement account, they can do the same. This could provide up to $20,000 towards the down payment. We use the term “borrow” from your account because the funds will need to be paid back to avoid penalties. You will also have to pay taxes on the money that is withdrawn from the account, unless you are pulling the money from a Roth IRA since that money has already been taxed.
2. Deduct Points Paid On Your Mortgage
If you pay points as part of your mortgage financing, you can deduct them in the same year you paid them if the home is your primary residence. If the mortgage is on your vacation or second home, the points are still deductible, but the deduction will be spread out over the term of the loan.
A 30-year loan means you can deduct 1/30 of the points every year. Also, this deduction is only available if you itemize your taxes.
3. Mortgage Insurance Premiums Are Deductible
If you put down less than 20% of your purchase price, chances are your loan carries PMI, or private mortgage insurance.
This deduction may expire at the end of this year, but for now, your PMI payment is deductible if you itemize your deductions. The deduction is phased out if your adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000 and disappears completely if your adjusted gross income exceeds $109,000.
4. Mortgage Interest Deduction
This is the big one for homeowners: deducting mortgage interest. If you itemize your taxes, you can deduct interest on up to $750,000 of debt used to buy, build or substantially improve your primary home or a single second home.
What’s “substantial” you ask? Additions and major renovations are “substantial,” but basic repairs and maintenance are not.
5. Property Taxes
If you itemize, you can deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes on your federal tax return.
If you are in a high-tax state, this deduction may only take a small bit out of your tax bill.
6. Work From Home? Write The Space Off
If you are self-employed and work from home, there are two options. One is to take the “actual expense” method where you take the square footage of your home office in comparison to the total square feet of the home and deduct that percentage of the rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, etc.
For example, if your home office is 100 sq. ft and your home is 1,000 sq. ft, you can deduct 10% of your costs. The “simplified” method is to deduct $5 per square foot.
So in the previous example, you can deduct $500 (100 sq. ft x $5).
7. You Can Even Save On Your Capital Gains When You Sell Your Home
If you are single, you don’t have to pay taxes on the first $250,000 in gains when you sell a home. If you are married, that amount jumps to $500,000. There are some requirements, such as having lived in the home for at least two out of the past five years, but otherwise it’s a straight-forward way to save on capital gains taxes.
These are just a few ways to creatively come up with a down payment and save money while owning a home. There are plenty more tips and tricks available, and we suggest you talk with your financial advisor or a tax professional to determine what options are available and best fit your personal situation.
5 Little-Known Ways To Lower Your Taxes
Everyone loves to pay lower taxes, but very few people understand or take advantage of all the tax breaks that are available to them. Here’s a list of 5 little-known tax breaks that you can use to help lower your tax bill.
1. Pay No Capital Gains Tax
If you sell an asset you’ve owned for more than a year, you pay long-term capital gains tax of either 0%, 15% or 20%. This is a favorable tax treatment when compared to selling assets you’ve owned for less than a year, which are taxed at the same rate as your ordinary income.
But, it’s possible to pay no capital gains tax when selling your long-held assets like stocks and bonds or mutual funds. In order to pay no capital gains tax, your taxable income needs to be less than $39,375 if you are single or $78,750 if you are married when filing your 2019 taxes. For the 2020 tax year, those numbers jump slightly to $40,000 and $80,000.
2. Earned Income Tax Credit
This program directly benefits those with low-to-moderate incomes, and particularly those with children. A single filer would need an adjusted gross income of $15,570 or less to benefit, but for a married individual with three children, the adjusted gross income limit is as high as $55,952. In certain situations where your EITC benefit exceeds the amount of taxes you owe, you would receive a tax refund.
3. Deduct Your Retirement Account Contributions
If you are putting money aside in a traditional IRA as part of your retirement plan, you can contribute up to $6000 per year. If you aren’t part of a retirement plan through work – like a 401(k) – you can deduct all of your contributions no matter what tax bracket you are in. Non-working spouses (or spouses making very little income) can contribute up to $6,000 ($7,000 if 50 or older) into their own IRA account as long as the working spouse has enough earned income to cover both contributions. There are limits to the deductions as income increases, so check with a tax adviser.
4. Saver’s Tax Credit
If you are a single filer with adjusted gross income less than $32,000 (or $64,000 if married) you claim a tax credit (a credit, not deduction – more on this in a moment) of 10%, 20% or 50% of the first $2,000 you put into a retirement account ($4,000 for married filers). The lower your income, the higher the credit amount. Unlike a deduction that lowers your taxable income, a credit reduces the amount of taxes you owe on a dollar-for-dollar ratio. So a $2,000 tax credit reduces your taxes by $2,000.
5. Lifetime Learning Credit
If you are interested in continuing your education, you can utilize the Lifetime Learning Credit. This allows you to go back and study nearly any topic, at any school, you can get back 20% of up to $10,000 in expenses per year. The income limits are $68,000 for single filers and $136,000 for married filers. Now go back and enroll in that art class you always wished you had taken!
Here’s When You Can Expect Social Security Cuts
Social Security is a retirement cornerstone for tens of millions of Americans. According to the Centers for Budget and Policy Priorities, every year it keeps 15 million retirees out of poverty.
Unfortunately, the program is facing massive financial hurdles. It has been collecting a net cash surplus for the last 38 years. However, starting next year, it is projected to run a $21.1 billion net cash outflow.
The program entered the decade with a reserve of $2.9 trillion in assets. Although, many expect the net outflows to increase each year and chip away at the reserve by $1.1 trillion. This leaves the program with only $1.8 trillion in reserves by 2029.
The program isn’t facing bankruptcy or insolvency. Instead, it is more and more likely that retirees will soon face reductions in their benefits to keep the program afloat.
Two trusts actually make up Social Security. The first one is the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust. It provides payouts to retired workers and survivors of deceased workers. The other is the Disability Insurance (DI) trust. This one supplies payments to workers that are long-term disabled.
When reporting on the state of the program, the Social Security Board of Trustees generally lumps the two trusts together. However, each trust is independent and faces individual risks.
Of the two, the OASI is projected to be in financial distress the soonest. The latest Trustee report estimates that the OASI will deplete its asset reserves by 2034. Meanwhile, the DI trust could possibly depleat its reserves in 2065.
But because the OASI is much larger than the DI trust ($2.8 trillion of the combined $2.9 trillion in reserves), the combined trusts are projected to become insolvent in 2035.
So expect the first major cuts to come in 2035 in an effort to avoid insolvency. Those efforts will involve a potential bitter pill for retirees to swallow.
Unless Congress finds a way to raise additional revenue and/or reduce outlays, retired workers and survivors of deceased workers can expect a 24% reduction in monthly benefits starting in 2035. While that seems a long time from now, it’s only 15 years away and will be here sooner than you think.
In real numbers, a retiree who receives the average monthly Social Security benefit of $1,503 today would see their monthly benefit reduced to $1,142 per month, or $361 less to live on. A married couple receiving $2,531 in monthly benefits would see their check cut by $608 per month, down to $1,923.
While the monthly reduction stings, looking at it from a lifetime benefit approach magnifies the worries for retirees trying to live out their golden years. A hypothetical worker who retires this year and starts receiving benefits would typically expect to collect about $500,000 in Social Security benefits. A 25% reduction means they would see their benefits cut by $120,000, down to only $380,000 in retirement benefits.
A married couple would see their projected $1 million in benefits reduced by $240,000 down to $760,000. That’s not an easily-replaced amount of retirement income.
If there is a glimmer of hope, it’s that Congress can take action to avoid – or delay – the day of reckoning. Yes, they’ve known since 1985 that the program would one day run out of money. But if there is one thing that the government is good at, it’s waiting until the last minute to really dig in and find a solution.
Let’s hope they can set aside their differences and put America’s retirees first.
4 Ways To Get Your Retirement Plans Back On Track
Whether you are nearing retirement or already enjoying your golden years, the recent market correction – and subsequent rally – has millions of Americans reconsidering their retirement plans.
If you’ve found that your retirement accounts aren’t quite where you would like them to be, don’t worry, there’s still time – and steps you can take – to improve your financial situation.
Play “Catch Up” In Your Retirement Accounts
If your nest egg isn’t as sizable as you had hoped it would be by this stage, there is some good news. If you are over the age of 50, you can make what are called “catch-up contributions to your retirement accounts. These allow you to put more money into your retirement account each year than is permissible for those under the age of 50.
For example, the 401(k) contribution limit for those 50-and-under in 2020 is $19,500. But for those over 50 years of age, you can contribute an extra $6,500 this year as a “catch-up” contribution, for a total of of $26,000.
The same thing goes for a traditional IRA. The typical limit for 2020 is $6,000 per person. But for those over 50, you can contribute an additional $1,000 to catch up, for a total of $7,000.
Convert Your IRA To a Roth IRA
As Suze Orman recommended a few weeks ago, if you have a traditional IRA, it might make sense to convert over to a Roth IRA this year. With a traditional IRA, your money is invested pre-tax and you don’t pay any taxes until you start withdrawals.
With a Roth IRA, your deposits are after-tax, so you don’t pay any taxes when you withdraw money in retirement. Given the massive budget deficits our country is running, there’s a very strong likelihood that taxes will be much higher in the future than they are today.
So while it may be appealing to let your money grow tax-deferred in a traditional IRA, you could end up paying a higher tax rate in the future. If you convert your IRA to a Roth IRA, you would pay your taxes in the year you convert. This could be extra-beneficial if you will fall into a lower tax bracket this year due to job losses or retirement. Pay the taxes this year at a lower tax rate and let the money grow tax-free going forward.
Review Your Social Security Blanket
Social Security is a major part of every retiree’s monthly income. Fortunately, that monthly income won’t ever decrease, and is automatically adjusted for inflation every year. So it makes the decision of when to start collecting Social Security very important.
You can start collecting as early as age 62, but your benefits will be permanently reduced as much as 30%. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66, and for those born between 1955 and 1960 the full retirement age is 67 – and is also 67 for everyone born after 1960.
Here’s where some patience can pay off: if you can afford to wait until age 70 to collect your benefits, your monthly checks will be 8% larger for every year you delay claiming your benefits.
Pay Off Loans Against Your Retirement Savings As Soon As You Can
Pay off any 401(k) loans as soon as possible. A loan against your 401(k) is counter to your goal of saving for retirement. inadequately funded.
Also, the money you are paying your loan back with has already been taxed, so you are paying back pre-tax money with after-tax money. To further frustrate you about taking out the loan, when you eventually retire and start withdrawing from your 401(k) you will be taxed again.
So you will end up paying taxes twice. It’s better to not take a loan against your 401(k). Although, if you must, pay it back as soon as you can.
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