The Republican Party’s proposed tax plan has finally been released, and everyone is examining the bill to see how the proposed reforms would impact them personally. One topic that has everyone abuzz: the treatment of the deductions on mortgage interest and state and local taxes, which are two of the three most popular itemized tax deductions, according to the non-profit Tax Foundation.
If you already own your home, changes to the mortgage interest and property tax deductions won’t impact you. But the proposals will hit close to home with home buyers, who could see big changes in their future federal tax bills.
Specifically, the GOP tax plan proposes cutting the cap on mortgage interest deductions on newly purchased homes. Currently, a married couple can deduct interest on mortgages of up to $1,000,000; the GOP plan would cut that to $500,000. Similarly, deductions of state and local property tax would be capped at $10,000. According to the Tax Foundation, the mortgage interest cap would hurt high-income taxpayers more than those in the middle- and lower-income brackets, because they likely own larger homes and have higher mortgage debt. The real estate industry has lobbied vehemently against the tax reforms, reports the Wall Street Journal.
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One reason for GOP’s proposal, according to Republican talking points, is that they want to simplify the tax filing process; pushing for more filers to use the standard deduction (instead of itemizing deductions like mortgage interest and property tax separately) is one way to accomplish that. To that end, the GOP is also proposing to nearly double the amount of the standard deduction, making it more attractive than before.
But whether the proposed new standard deduction feels like a carrot or a stick may depend on the housing market in which you’re buying. If you’re outside a major metropolitan area, it’s generally easy to buy a home with a mortgage of less than $500,000 and continue to reap the tax benefits of using the mortgage interest deduction. But if you’re looking in expensive metropolitan areas ranging from Austin to Boston and all big cities in between, finding a home under $500,000 is becoming exceedingly rare. (Zillow’s Home Value tool provides the median list price by city, state, zip code, and neighborhood, making it a great resource for seeing how the legislation would impact home buyers in specific areas.)
Under the Republican tax plan, future homeowners who live in less expensive areas will realize more tax benefits than people buying in more expensive areas, because of the $500,000 ceiling put on mortgages. In addition, people buying less expensive homes could forego itemization and claim the new, bigger standard deduction instead, which would give them a better tax return under the GOP plan than under the existing code.
Parsing this data on a political map, as the Wall Street Journal has done, suggests that these changes will be popular within geographic areas that voted Republican in the 2016 election. In addition to average incomes being lower in “red” counties, state and local taxes (which would be deducted less on federal tax returns under the proposal) “tend to be higher in Democratic-controlled places such as New York and California,” the Journal notes.