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7 Savvy Tax Tips For Homeowners

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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 You will also have to pay taxes on the money that is withdrawn from the account, unless you are pulling the money from a Roth IRA since that money has already been taxed.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.

Business

US Billionaires Got Richer During Pandemic by $845 Billion

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US billionaires got richer during the pandemic by a tune of $845 billion. This represents a 29% increase from the time the Covid-19 lockdowns started until now. While the stock market crashed during the early days of the pandemic, it has since recovered. Along with recovery are net worth increases for America’s billionaire. Among the pandemic’s big winners of 2020 were Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg. Also in the list were investor Warren Buffett, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, and ex-NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

RELATED: Jeff Bezos Is Now Worth $200 Billion

In a report released Thursday, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) said the total net worth of 643 of the nation’s richest people rose from $2.95 trillion to $3.8 trillion.  

This is equal to a 29% increase between March to September. The report based the numbers on Forbes’ annual billionaire’s report and real-time data. 

Big Winners

Jeff Bezos, the founder, and CEO online retail giant Amazon is now the world’s richest man. The pandemic forced people indoors and played right into Amazon’s online strategy. As millions switched to online shopping, demand for Amazon’s services skyrocketed. Amazon shares zoomed along with 40% in 2020, as the company racked up billions in orders. People bought groceries, medicine, household products, and entertainment items on Amazon’s sites. As the company grew richer, so did its CEO and majority stockholder. On August 19, as stock prices of Amazon went up, his net worth exceeded $200 billion. As of September, Amazon stock has fluctuated and Bezos’ current worth is $184 billion. 

Another rich guy that got even richer was Tesla’s founder and CEO Elon Musk. Tesla’s value grew five times its January price. By August, the company’s stock split pushed his personal shares to $104 billion. This allowed him to join the coveted centibillionaire club. Compared to his March net worth of $24.6 billion, he’s now over four times that. As of September, with Tesla dropping value, Musk’s worth has dropped as well to $88 billion. 

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who was worth $107.6 billion in August (now down to $93.7 billion). Facebook stock rose from $209 in Jan to $303 in August, making his 13% stake worth over $100 billion. Like Musk, he also joined the centibillionaire club this year. 

“COVID crisis supercharges inequalities”

Chuck Collins, director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program on Inequality, and co-author of the report said he was somewhat shocked by the figures. He added that the COVID crisis is “supercharging America’s existing inequalities.” He said, “I would have thought maybe six months into this that things would have shaken out – that everybody would take a hit.” 

“The difference is stark between profits for billionaires and the widespread economic misery in our nation. It sort of dramatizes the unequal sacrifice and profiteering element of the wealth accumulation at the top.”

Meanwhile, Covid-19 infected 6 million Americans and killed more than 200,000. As businesses collapse, the economy outside of Wall Street is in recession. More than 50 million jobs vanished in the pandemic. At present, 14 million Americans remain unemployed. Even those lucky enough to still have jobs got hit. Average work income fell by 4.4.%, per Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Outbreaks are still prevalent, even as a vaccine remains under development. 

As such, the economy’s reopening remains slow. 

Even local governments are feeling the pressure. States and cities are hamstrung with crippling deficits. California declared a $54 billion deficit, while New York City is looking at a $9 billion loss in revenue. From now until 2022, state budgets face a $555 billion deficit. This is according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

COVID-19’s unique effect made those with better plans during the pandemic fares better than most. In the case of Amazon, people flocked to their site when going out posed safety issues. For the others, the rise in stock reflected more on how they handled their business during the crisis. Some people are just quicker to seize on opportunities, even those coming from a crisis.

Watch this as Bloomberg reported last July 2020 on how billionaires got $637 billion richer during the pandemic:

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Business

Trumps Wants a Bigger Stimulus Check

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The White House made renewed calls to Congress to come up with a second bigger stimulus check. This time, President Donald Trump wants Republicans to go beyond their skinny proposal and issue a bigger relief package. This includes a bigger stimulus check for Americans.  

RELATED: Is a Second Stimulus Check Still Happening?

On Wednesday, Trump urged Republicans to support a bigger COVID-19 relief bill. He tweeted: “Democrats are “heartless”. They don’t want to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China. Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!).”

Stimulus Check Update

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany clarified the tweet during Wednesday’s press briefing. She said the president referred to the $500 billion “skinny bill” GOP Senators passed last week. Last Thursday, the Senate voted on a Republican bill on a $500 billion stimulus package. Democrats opposed it en masse, saying it did not contain enough to help everyone. The measure didn’t pass, getting only 52 votes (it needs 60 to pass). McEnany said Trump thinks that the relief amount was too little, and it “didn’t include direct payments.” The President “wants more than the $500 billion and he’s very keen to see these direct stimulus payments.”

In particular, the President looks to favor bigger stimulus checks for American households. While both parties are discussing sending a new batch of $1,200 stimulus checks, he wants a bigger amount. Trump said on Wednesday: “I’d like to see it be very high because I love the people. I want the people to get it.” The president did not say how much higher the stimulus checks should be. He did say “I like the larger amount. Some of the Republicans disagree, but I think I can convince them to go along with that.”

House Problem Solvers Caucus

Two days ago, the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus proposed a compromise $1.5 trillion stimulus package. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows says that the plan was “very thoughtful.” I’m probably more optimistic in the last 72 hours than in the last 72 days,” Meadows said. He also said that if Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is willing to stay in session, a bill might pass soon. Meadows thinks the biggest obstacle remains “the amount of money that is outlined for state and local help.” 

In  a press release, the caucus states: “Having seen no progress on a new COVID-19 relief package in four months, and in recognition of Americans’ increasing suffering, the Problem Solvers Caucus (PSC) has developed a comprehensive, bipartisan framework to meet the nation’s needs for the next 6-12 months, that can pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by the President.” 

Several Democrats have already rejected the plan, saying the plan needs more money. 

Encouraging Signs

Top Democrats in Congress, however, are warming up to the President’s call for a bigger stimulus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that the White House’s pronouncements were encouraging. In a joint statement, they said: “We are encouraged that after months of the Senate Republicans insisting on shortchanging the massive needs of the American people, President Trump is now calling on Republicans to ‘go for the much higher numbers’ in the next coronavirus relief package.” 

“We look forward to hearing from the President’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation. By the end of the week, 200,000 Americans will have died from the coronavirus. The lives and livelihoods of the American people depend on Republicans abandoning their obsession with doing as little as possible while the coronavirus rages through our nation,” they said. Pelosi also committed that the House will remain in session until Congress passes another coronavirus relief bill. 

While there is no definite timetable nor a clear agreement on the budget yet, Trump has helped advance the talks where a deal must be made. If there is a time for compromise, it has to be now. Otherwise, it will take an election for much-needed help to arrive.

Watch this as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is optimistic a Covid-19 relief package is still possible:

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Economy

Average Income in US Was Highest in 2019

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The highest average income in US levels in 2019 before coronavirus changed everything. According to a 2019 government survey released by the US Census Bureau yesterday, U.S. average household income was at its highest levels in 2019, while poverty levels fell. Assistant division chief Trudi Renwick of the U.S. Census Bureau noted the increase in income. He said, “We do see in the data that we have an increase in employment, that we have an increase in earnings, and those would all tend to push median household income up.” Adjusted for inflation, this means that US 2019 average incomes are the highest since 1967.

RELATED: Biden Talks Labor, but Assures Wall Street of Status Quo

Median Household Income by Year

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, real median household income jumped 6.8% from $64,324 in 2018 to $68,703 last year. This is the highest median income recorded since 1967, the year when the agency started recording data. The poverty rate went down to 10.5%, a drop of 1.3 percentage points from the year before. More important, it was the fifth consecutive annual decline in poverty rates. It also stands as the lowest rate recorded since 1959, when the agency started tracking. 

David Deull, principal economist at IHS Markit said “It was a pretty banner year for households, and really across the income distribution, we got a lot of eye-popping figures in this release.” He described 2019 as the “late-stage expansion high watermark benchmark.” 

The report also has its concerns. The number of people without health insurance also hit increased levels. The agency also said that uninsured Americans rose 0.3 percentage points to 9.2%. From 28.6 million, those without insurance rose to 29.6 million, including more children. 

The data helped show the employment picture. More people availed employer-provided coverage in 2019 compared to 2018. This meant growth in employment rates, as Medicaid coverage shrunk as well. Private healthcare covered 67.4% of people, while Medicare and Medicaid covered 35.4%. 

The Boom in the Last Five Years 

The data may seem outdated right now, especially with the damage caused by Covid-19. Still, it helped establish benchmarks on income, poverty, and health coverage before Covid-19. Before the pandemic, the US enjoyed a five-year economic boom. Without coronavirus, the gains could have carried over to 2020 and beyond.  

Coronavirus in particularly affected jobs. In 2019, the jobless rate was at 3.7%. When the impact of the virus hit the US, stores, and businesses had to shut down, along with it 22 million jobs. By April 2020, the height of the pandemic, the jobless rate zoomed to 14.7%. Recently, the job market has opened, albeit slow, and is at 8.4%. 

At present, US recovery is slow. Covid-19 infection numbers remain high, so businesses are hesitant to reopen in full. With 6,788,147 infected cases and over 200,000 deaths, declaring that the outbreak is under control is a long way off. A vocal minority also continues resisting safety measures such as masks. This is why the country has one of the highest infection rates worldwide. 

Unless a vaccine gets approved later this year, the economy may take longer to recover in full. Mere updates on vaccine trials already excite the stock market. News about possible vaccine approvals pushes industries to prepare for normalized operations. Stock prices on pharma, leisure, travel, and entertainment then go higher. 

U.S. Income Statistics

For now, census officials will assess the pandemic’s impact on the 2019 data. This early, they are beginning to that 2019 is the high point for the U.S. economy. 

“It is also sobering that this is likely one of the best reports we will see at least for a long time,” H. Luke Shaefer, director of the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions center said. He added, “No one yet knows the full impact of the economic and public health crisis that is consuming our lives today and disproportionately impacting the poorest American families.”

Watch this Introduction to Income and Poverty in the United States:

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