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Top Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Top Tax Breaks for Homeowners

If you own a home or are thinking of buying one, you’ve probably heard about tax breaks for homeowners.

Buying a home is typically the largest investment that everyday, ordinary folks make in their lifetime. A little planning goes a long way toward ensuring that you get the most value from homeownership. One way to create value is to reduce expenses – and tax deductions can help cut into your overhead.

When it comes to tax deductions, there are various benefits instituted by the government, aimed at encouraging more people to own homes. You can take advantage of these tax advantages by comparing your standard and itemized tax deductions and settling on the scenario with the highest tax benefits. Here are some itemizations that can help you make that determination.

Mortgage Interest

The deductions on mortgage interest are among the biggest tax benefits you can get on your home. Mortgage interest refers to any interest paid on a debt secured by the primary residence or second home. (Deductions are not applicable for interest paid on a personal loan, just home loans). Interest deductions can be taken up to $1 million of the loan used to acquire or improve the home.

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At the beginning of each year, your lender should provide you with Form 1098, detailing the total amount of interest you paid in the previous year. Check the settlement sheet to ensure that Form 1098 includes the interest you paid from when you closed on the home, to the last day of that month.

Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIP)

Mortgage insurance premiums refer to extra fees paid to protect the lender should a borrower default on a home loan. These premiums are paid by buyers who make a down payment of less than twenty percent of the loan amount. Mortgage insurance premium deductions can be made on home mortgages issued from 2007 onward.

According to the IRS, if the adjusted gross income as indicated on Form 1040 is more than a hundred thousand dollars or fifty thousand dollars if you are married and filing separately, the amount of deductible mortgage insurance is reduced. The statement on the mortgage insurance premiums is available in Form 1098.

Mortgage Points

Mortgage points are fees paid directly to the lender/broker at closing in exchange for a lower interest rate. Points are deductible as interest if the loan is secured by the home and the amount you deposited at the closing as down payment is equal to the points.

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It does not matter whether you or the seller paid the points; you are entitled to the deductions as long as you meet the minimum requirements. You will be able to deduct your points in the same year you pay them if you itemize them on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.

Home Improvement Expenses

If you have made home improvements, keep the receipts and other documents safely. Those expenses become tax breaks when you decide to sell your home. Current, the law allows you to add all the home improvement expenses on the purchase price of your home thus reducing the capital gains taxable amount.

IRA Payouts

As a first-time home buyer, you can take advantage of the IRA penalty-free withdrawal for your down payment. IRA rules allow you to withdraw up to $10,000 to help build or acquire a home for yourself or loved ones. The money must, however, be used to build or buy a first home within 120 days from the time it’s withdrawn. You can be considered a first-time buyer as long as you have not owned a home in the last three years.

However, even though not penalized, the IRA withdrawals are subject to federal and state tax. It is therefore not advisable to tap into this account unless there is no other option. Alternatively, you can withdraw your contribution to a ROTH IRA account, which is usually penalty free and tax free. The best thing about a ROTH is that after five years, you can withdraw up to $10,000 of earnings for first home purchase without incurring any taxes or penalties.

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Tax-Free Profit From Sale

Another tax break for homeowners is in the capital gains; a single person can sell a home for a profit of $250,000 and not pay a dime in taxes. Likewise, a married couple can sell a home and make a profit of $500,000 and still not pay anything in taxes. However, some conditions apply.

First, the home on sale must be your principal residence, and you must have lived in it for two of the five years before you sell it.

Energy Credits

You can earn an additional tax break on your primary residence through energy-saving home improvement practices. For instance, you can get credit for up to ten percent of the cost of installing things like insulation systems, qualifying central air conditioners, energy-efficient heat pumps, furnaces, water boilers and water heaters.

The credit can extend up to thirty percent of the cost for more expensive energy-efficient equipment.

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Home Equity Loans (HELs)

When your home appreciates in value, you can use the equity as security to borrow more money. Like a regular mortgage interest, the interest of home equity loans is tax deductible. Federal tax law permits mortgage interest deductions on up to $100,000 in home equity loan.

Adjust Your Withholding

The best place to check whether you are overpaying or underpaying your taxes is the W-4 form you filed with your employer. If you are always finding out that you have underpaid your taxes, check whether you are getting the mortgage interest and other deductions as required.

There are numerous ways you can genuinely claim deductions on your taxes. For instance, you can claim a deduction if you have a side job, a side business or you do some freelancing. Ensure you adjust your W-4 withholding by following the instructions on the IRS website.

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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

2. Keep Goals Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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4. Short Term Vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

  • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
  • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
  • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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5. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

6. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

1. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

Use compound interest when setting financial goals

    Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

    Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

    4. Measure, Measure, Measure

    All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

    If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

    Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

    The Bottom Line

    Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

    and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

    More Tips on Financial Goals

    Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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