Before the financial crash, the conventional wisdom was that it was almost always better to own a home rather than rent. It seemed like home prices always went up, so there was no reason to pay a landlord if you could pay a mortgage lender instead and build up equity every month.
Since the crash, however, home price gains are more uncertain, and many people are crunching the numbers and concluding that they’re better off renting.
But are they really?
Everyone’s situation is different, of course, but when many people do the math, they don’t consider the many legal and tax advantages of home ownership. In some cases, these advantages could be enough to tip the scale.
One obvious example is the home mortgage interest deduction. In general, home mortgage interest is deductible on your federal income tax return on loan amounts up to $1 million. This alone could save you thousands of dollars a year in taxes, and make home ownership much more attractive.
Most people are aware that they can deduct mortgage interest, but here are some other advantages of ownership that people often don’t think about.
• You can generally deduct the property taxes you pay on your federal taxes as well.
• Owning a home typically increases your credit score, which can save you a lot of money whenever you apply for credit. (You may have noticed that one of the most common questions on credit applications is, “Do you own or rent your home?”)
• You can borrow against the value of the home with a home equity loan, usually at very advantageous rates. And you can generally deduct the interest you pay on such a loan on your federal taxes.
• When you sell your home, you get to keep the amount of any appreciation without having to pay capital gains tax – up to $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for married couples. If you rent instead and invest the amount you save, you’ll probably have to pay tax on your gains. (And don’t forget that capital gains taxes are slated to increase dramatically starting in 2013.)
• If you have a fixed-rate mortgage, you’ll always know how much you owe, and you’ll never have to worry about surprise rent increases.
• A fixed-rate mortgage is also a great hedge against inflation, because as inflation rises, the “real” amount you owe each month diminishes.
• If you work from home, you might be able to take a deduction on your taxes for the expenses of maintaining a home office. (You can do this even if you rent, but you can typically deduct more types of expenses if you own your home, such as insurance, repairs and depreciation.)
• Moving expenses may be deductible if you move for work, or if you’re self-employed. (Renters can deduct moving expenses, too, but they can’t deduct the amount they forfeit if they have to break a lease.)
• In many states, if you run into financial trouble, there are “homestead” laws that allow you to keep all or part of the value of your home away from creditors.
• If you own a home with a spouse as tenants by the entireties, then even if one of you incurs a large debt or gets hit with a lawsuit, you can’t be forced to sell the home.
• If you have medical problems, you may be able to make improvements to your home to accommodate your condition and then deduct them on your taxes as a medical expense.
• If you own a home and want to give it to your children, you may be able to save a lot of estate taxes by putting the home into something called a “qualified personal residence trust.”
Of course, there are other intangible advantages to home ownership, such as the fact that you’ll never have to worry about having to move if your lease isn’t renewed, and you’ll never have to get a landlord’s approval if you want to repaint or redecorate.
But the financial and tax advantages are very significant, too – often much more so than most people realize.