Owning home is considered part of the American Dream. Unless you are extremely unlucky, homeownership leads to tremendous wealth building. You simply sit in your home, make the monthly payment and reap the benefits of appreciation and increased equity. A bit of the luster, however, can be lost when it comes time to sell. Let’s talk about home appreciation and capital gains.
Capital gains taxes are the problem.
The federal government encourages homeownership, but also wants a chunk of a change when you sell. The capital gains tax is a percentage of the profit you have realized from the home, to wit, the difference between the price you purchased it at and the price it is sold. You can deduct mortgage costs, improvements and so on, but there is still the tax.
Is there a bright side?
Fortunately, there are some large safe harbor exemptions to the home capital gains tax. If you are single, you can exclude the first $250,000 in profit from being taxed. If you are married and filing jointly, you can merge your individual exemptions and protect the first $500,000 from being taxed. In most parts of the country, these exemptions will completely protect you from home capital gains tax. Even if they don’t, the tax savings should be substantial.
To claim the exemptions, you must meet a few requirements. Obviously, you have to actually own the home. You must also have lived in the home two out of the previous five years. It must have been two years since you tried to claim the exemption on any other home. Put another way, you cannot claim the exemptions for investment property or second homes. Still, these healthy exemptions are a windfall for most homeowners.
Americans are notorious for being horrific savers when it comes to financial planning. Homeownership provides a relatively straightforward savings method and the government promotes it as such by providing these large home capital gains tax exemptions. If you can pull it off, buying a home is one of the smartest moves you will ever make.