Developments Continue to Impact Mortgage Interest Deduction

The mortgage interest deduction is widely used by the majority of individuals who itemize their deductions. In fact, the size of the average mortgage interest deduction alone persuades many taxpayers to itemize their deductions. It is not without cause, therefore, that two recent developments impacting the mortgage interest deserve being highlighted. These developments involve new reporting requirements designed to catch false or inflated deductions; and a case that effectively doubles the size of the mortgage interest deduction available to joint homeowners.

More Detailed Form 1098 Coming

The 2015 Surface Transportation Act (aka the Highway bill), which was signed into law on July 31, 2015, will require that Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, filed with the IRS and provided to homeowners, include information on:

  1. the amount of outstanding principal of the mortgage as of the beginning of the calendar year,
  2. the address of the property securing the mortgage, and
  3. the loan origination date.

These items are in addition to the information that parties were already required to provide to the IRS and payors under existing law.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) had expressed concern that the information reported on Form 1098 is insufficient to allow the IRS to enforce compliance with the deductibility requirements for qualified residence interest. This criticism has included in particular, but not limited to, the dollar limitations imposed on acquisition indebtedness and home equity indebtedness.

While the modifications are intended to boost compliance with the deductibility requirements for qualified residence interest, they also impose a new burden on mortgage service providers. To give mortgage service providers time to reprogram their systems, the additional reporting requirements apply to returns and statements required to be furnished after December 31, 2016.

Joint Ownership

Another major development impacting on some homeowners’ mortgage interest deduction also took place this summer. Reversing the Tax Court, a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has found that when multiple unmarried taxpayers co-own a qualifying residence, the debt limit provisions apply per taxpayer and not per residence (Voss, CA-9, August 7, 2015). The question was one of first impression in the Ninth Circuit, the court observed.

Background. The taxpayers, registered domestic partners, obtained a mortgage to purchase a house (the Rancho Mirage property). In 2002, the taxpayer refinanced and obtained a new mortgage. That same year, the taxpayers purchased another house (the Beverly Hills property) with a mortgage, which they subsequently refinanced and obtained a home equity line of credit totaling $300,000. The total average balance of the two mortgages and the line of credit during the tax years at issue was approximately $2.7 million.

Both taxpayers filed separate income tax returns. Each individual claimed home mortgage interest deductions for interest paid on the two mortgages and the home equity line of credit. The IRS calculated each taxpayer’s mortgage interest deduction by applying a limitation ratio to the total amount of mortgage interest that each petitioner paid in each taxable year. The limitation ratio was the same for both: $1.1 million ($1 million of home acquisition debt plus $100,000 of home equity debt) over the entire average balance, for each tax year, on the Beverly Hills mortgage, the Beverly Hills home equity line of credit, and the Rancho Mirage mortgage. The taxpayers challenged the IRS’s calculations but the Tax Court ruled in favor of the agency.

Court’s analysis. Code Sec. 163(h)(3), the court found, provides that interest on a qualified residence, by a special carve-out, is not considered “personal interest,” which would otherwise be nondeductible by taxpayers who are not corporations. A qualified residence is the taxpayer’s principal residence and one other residence of the taxpayer which is selected by the taxpayer for the tax year and which is used by the taxpayer as a residence.

The court further found the Tax Code limits the aggregate amount treated as acquisition indebtedness for any period to $1 million and the aggregate amount treated as home equity indebtedness for any period to $100,000. In the case of a married individual filing a separate return, the debt limits are reduced to $500,000 and $50,000.

Looking at the language of the Tax code, the court found that the debt limit provisions apply per taxpayer and not per residence. There was no reason not to extend this treatment to unmarried co-owners, the court concluded. Thus, each of the homeowners were entitled to the $1 million limit.

Whether this holding will hold up in jurisdictions other than the Ninth Circuit (California and other western states, including Hawaii), and whether it will apply to joint ownership situations for vacation homes, for example, remains to be tested.

If you have any questions regarding how best to maximize your mortgage interest deduction, please contact us at (847) 267-9600.

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