Please explain why paying off early/not having a mortgage payment outweighs the tax benefits of having a mortgage. I know it is true, but have a hard time explaining it to others. -Susan
Wow, talk about slaying a “sacred cow” here! The so-called “mortgage deduction” is one of the most-oft-given reasons people have given to us as to why it was unwise for us to buy a house with cash.
It is interesting that, recently, the Deficit Reduction Commission came out with a list of actions it would recommend taking to help reduce the national deficit to get the country back on sound financial footing. One of the most controversial recommendations they came up with was doing away with the mortgage deduction. The import of this would be to throw out one of the main justifications folks use to keep themselves saddled with a monthly mortgage on their personal residence.
The thing is, most people don’t use the deduction because only a fraction of Americans actually take itemized deductions on their federal income tax returns.
To illustrate how the deduction supposedly works (please correct me if I am wrong), let’s say you make $68,000 per year and have made enough charitable gifts, etc. to justify itemizing the deductions on your income tax return, as opposed to taking the standard deduction. In addition, assume a monthly mortgage payment of about $650 (a figure which is below the national average, according to the National Association of Realtors) on a $120,000 30-year loan at 5% interest. This would be the case if you purchased a house for $150,000 and put 20% down.
With these assumptions, according to the calculator I used, first year interest payments would be just shy of $6000, with total monthly payments being just north of $7700 per year. The tax deduction would be right around $1750 the first year, according to the calculator, with an average over the life of the loan of approximately $1100. (Bear in mind this is quick and dirty math and the actual figures may vary.)
If I had a mortgage and enough deductions to itemize and take the mortgage deduction, I would definitely take it. It is a no-brainer not to.
However, if I were mortgage-free and considering one, I think in the short run I would rather pay less in rent than what the mortgage payment would be, save the difference, and let the property management company take the hit on maintenance and the owner on property taxes, saving those costs as well, and take the standard deduction until in a position where I could put a nice down payment on a home (by “nice” I mean non-conventional, e.g., 20%+ — think outside the box and challenge yourself!).
But that is me and assumes the standard deduction would be more than any itemized deductions. If it looked like I would not be in a position to make that down payment in five years or so, I would take the mortgage and pay it off as quickly as possible. Clear as mud?
As you can see, I don’t think I would use the deduction alone as justification to get a home loan, there would need to be other factors present, such as the expected length of time of saving, and whether we were planning on staying in one place for more than two or three years to allow equity to build.
Adding to the hesitancy to use the deduction as the only deciding factor for getting a loan is the possibility that the same could be repealed as a cost-savings measure to reduce the deficit. I doubt the repeal would ever happen, and there would be immense political fallout if it were, nonetheless there would have to be more than just the deduction benefit to justify taking out a mortgage just the same.
That said, you will definitely want to talk to your tax professional to see what the tax benefit would be in your case, as there can be more that goes into figuring the deduction than just rate, loan value, interest payment, etc., (e.g., points paid to lower the interest rate, loan origination fees, and other closing costs).
Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.
The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting, or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.