The Math Behind the Mortgage Interest Deduction – Real Estate Matters
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The Math Behind the Mortgage Interest Deduction

The following article was published today in “Your Daily Dose” by DS News.com

07/29/2011 By: Carrie Bay 

 What many consider to be a staple of American homeownership is expected to be on the chopping block as lawmakers in Washington look to trim the nation’s deficit.

 The prized mortgage interest tax deduction has been part of the federal tax code since 1913. Currently, it costs the U.S. Treasury an estimated $94 billion a year.

Under existing tax rules, homeowners may deduct the interest accumulated on up to $1 million of their mortgage debt and up to $100,000 of home equity loan debt. Mortgages on both primary residences and second homes qualify for the deduction.

Congress has tossed around several proposals for amending this part of the federal tax code, including lowering the debt limit from $1 million to $500,000 on first mortgages.

According to an analysis from John Burns Real Estate Consulting (JBREC), a reduction in the principal balance of deductible mortgage debt to $500,000 would raise only $5 billion per year for the IRS. The research firm notes that most of the pain from this option would be felt in a few high-priced markets.

Economist William Wheaton at MIT has a higher estimate for the savings. He told CNBC’s Diana Olick that cutting the debt cap in half would return $15 billion a year.

Lawmakers are also considering eliminating the deduction altogether for second homes. Olick cites estimates from Wheaton that this move would bring in another $15 billion for the government.

A separate scenario that was proposed by President Obama’s hand-picked deficit commission would replace the deduction with a 12 percent tax credit, which would also have a $500,000 principal cap.

JBREC concludes that this option would raise $48 billion per year for the IRS. The firm’s analysts say it would significantly increase taxes on those with higher mortgage balances, and would reduce income taxes for those who currently own a home but don’t pay enough mortgage interest to itemize.

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders, 71 percent of American voters oppose eliminating the mortgage interest deduction.

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