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Home » Home Buying, Mortgages, Save Money, Summer of Saving

Buy a House for the Mortgage Tax Deduction? Not so Fast

Last updated by on 8 Comments

At some point every single one of us has heard the advice, “Buy a home, so you can get the tax deduction”. The popularity of this advice ranks right up there with the “Buy a home, it’s a good investment” meme. In fact, many people argue that a home is a good investment precisely because of the mortgage tax deduction possibilities.

But as we discovered, your home is not an investment (at least not a good one).

Will the mortgage tax deduction advice hold up under closer inspection?

Before I give you some examples, I want to first clarify the basics on the mortgage tax deduction is and when you could claim it.

What is a Mortgage Tax Deduction?

When you get a mortgage, you are often paying insane amounts of interest in that mortgage. Banks front load the mortgage with higher interest amounts in the beginning of the mortgage which taper off over the years. They do this so they can get more money out of each mortgage in the event the debtor were to pay off the loan early.

On the mortgages I’ve held, almost two-thirds of the total payment in the first 5 or more years of the loan were interest payments. The other third goes to paying down the principal (what you actually owe) on the house. It’s highway robbery (but that’s a different story for a different day). If you ever want to self induce vomiting, look at a mortgage amortization schedule, which will show you how much of your monthly payment is interest vs principal for each month of the loan.

You must also understand the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction. A credit is getting the full dollar amount of taxes owed returned to you. A deduction is subtraction from your taxable income (what you actually end up being taxed on based on your tax bracket). Mortgage interest is tax deductible, not a tax credit.

A mortgage tax deduction is the amount of interest you pay on your mortgage, which you then can deduct from your taxable income total.

mortgage tax deduction

The Standard Deduction

It’s absolutely essential to note that you can only claim the mortgage tax deduction if you itemize your taxes (in reality, only about 35% of taxpayers do). If you’re like the other 65% of the taxpaying population that claims the standard deduction, you cannot also add on the mortgage tax deduction. So right there, 65% of the population will not (or is not benefiting) from mortgage tax deductions.

How much is the standard deduction you will have to surpass to make it worth it?

The 2013 standard deductions are as follows:

  • $6,100 for single filers & married filing separately
  • $12,200 for married filers
  • $8,950 for head of household
  • $1,000 for dependents

The standard tax deduction changes annually usually and is based on inflation. So while it will generally go up over the years, your itemized tax deduction will actually decline (all else being equal) as your interest payments on your mortgage do too.

Running the Numbers on the Mortgage Tax Deduction Benefit

Let’s take a hypothetical situation to crunch some numbers. We’ll assume:

  • You take out a $200K mortgage @ 4.5% interest over 30 years.
  • In your first full year, you’d be paying about $8,873 in interest and $3,287 in principal.
  • You have property taxes of $3,000 per year.
  • You’re married, and eligible for a $12,200 standard deduction.

Your two big deductions are your mortgage interest and your property taxes. We’ll assume these are your only two, but individual situation may vary. In this example, this would equate to a total itemized deduction of $11,873. If you had no other deductions, you’d actually lose $327 in tax deduction benefits vs. a standard deduction.

Even if you took out a larger loan that cranked up your mortgage interest payments to $9,500 in the first year and you were in the 15% tax bracket, this would equate to a whopping annual tax savings equal to $45 (15% x $300).

In the process, you will have paid $12,500 (mortgage interest + property taxes) that you’ll never get back in order to get that $45 in extra tax savings!

And what if you have a smaller mortgage, lower property taxes, or a mortgage with lower interest rates than this? Your “benefit” is even less impressive – and might actually be far less than the standard deduction.

And the longer you pay off your mortgage, the less of your mortgage payment goes to interest – and the less you can deduct from your taxes. In other words, every passing year equates to a lower tax benefit.

This highlights the importance of running the numbers for your own situation before buying a home. You may find that unless you buy a very pricey home, the tax benefit for you is going to be minimal, potentially even negative compared to the standard deduction.

There has even been discussion of the mortgage tax deduction being eliminated. Imagine buying a home under the guise of huge tax savings only to the deduction be wiped out by legislators in desperate need of generating new revenue.

The reality is that the tax advantages that come from a mortgage interest tax deduction are over-rated at best and can actually be non-existent for some home buyers.

Mortgage Deduction Discussion:

  • Have you heard the advice of buying a home for the mortgage tax deduction?
  • Have you bought a home based on this advice?
  • What factors would you recommend when considering whether to buy a home?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


8 Comments »
  • PK says:

    I know there are states that don’t have income tax, but in those that do, income tax is easily bigger than the property taxes. Good thing I get to deduct both of these in addition to the mortgage interest deduction.

    My opinion is don’t buy the house for the mortgage deduction, but as long as you are buying don’t forget to use every tax incentive available.

  • Kim says:

    Someone once told me tax deductions were like paying a dollar to save 25 cents (if you’re in the 25% bracket). Better off not paying all that interest in the first place.

  • Misha says:

    The set of numbers used in the posting are unrealistic for many people. I recommend rewriting this post assuming the person lives in a high income tax, high property tax state where the average homeowner has a mortgage over $400,000. I’ve lived in Southern CA and Northern VA. California taxes and home prices are much higher than in VA and yet in both places I’ve always itemized and the amount has been WAY over the standard deduction. The post is too simplistic. You need to run the numbers for your own situation, determine the extent of your personal mortgage tax deduction benefit and then make decisions taking that number into account.

    • RNT says:

      I actually kind of agree with this statement. I love this blog and I learn a ton from the examples, but it does seem like many of the examples are based on midwestern numbers. I know when we’ve discussed grocery costs, transportation, housing costs, etc, I am always amazed by how small the numbers are compared to what things actually cost along either coast or in the mountain west. GE – when you did your poll earlier in the year, did you get a sense of the geographic locations of your readers? If you have a good base in coastal areas, you may consider using costs that are more realistic to this population segment.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      ” You need to run the numbers for your own situation, determine the extent of your personal mortgage tax deduction benefit and then make decisions taking that number into account.”

      I agree and did make that statement. The calculation in the post is meant to be an eye opener, not a one-size-fits-all. However, even if you have a $600k mortgage, is paying $30k a year in mortgage interest so that you can get 15-35% of it back a good deal? The mortgage tax deduction should never be a primary reason to buy a home.

  • Marcie says:

    I did an experiment after reading this article and Misha’s comment. I went to Turbotax and deleted the mortgage amount listed on my 2012 taxes to see what would happen. Fed taxes increased $6500 and state taxes increased $1000, so the mortgage deduction “saved” me $7500 in taxes last year. While it certainly isn’t the reason I bought a house, it goes to show that there is a big difference in what the tax break provides to different taxpayers and why it would really hurt some of us to have that deduction disappear. I agree with you that it isn’t the reason to buy a house, but in a high tax state with expensive housing and, of course, a big mortgage, it can have a huge impact on taxes. Interesting article GE!

  • HK says:

    You are basically correct.

    The thing (mathematics) you kinda touched on with previous posts is this:

    Over the anticipated ownership period:

    M + I + T < R

    M = Total Maintenance Costs
    I = Total Mortgage Interest
    T = Total Property Taxes
    R = Total Rental Cost

    You may estimate inflation in maintenance costs and taxes of ~5% and rent of ~$600 per year as this will be conservative in most cases to see if it all works out.

    Further, assume the anticipated ownership period to be a maximum of 5 years for this calculation (same as Edmund's cost of ownership over 5 years) because longer term predictions are less accurate and probability of ownership over long term may reduce substantially.

    Cheers!
    HK

  • GFish says:

    G.E. – It seems a little ridiculous that you make mortgages out to be “highway robbery” because you pay more interest at the beginning than you do at the end. Why wouldn’t you have a larger portion of your payment go to service interest when you have the most money borrowed (at the beginning of a mortgage). The interest paid is the cost of using someoneelse’s money. If you are using a lot of it, you will pay more. If you are using less, you should pay less, and that is exactly what happens.

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