10 Common Errors Home Owners Make When Filing Taxes
Published: January 25, 2011
Don’t rouse the IRS or pay more taxes than necessary—know the score on each home tax deduction and credit.
Sin #1: Deducting the wrong year for property taxesYou take a tax deduction for property taxes in the year you (or the holder of your escrow account) actually paid them. Some taxing authorities work a year behind—that is, you’re not billed for 2010 property taxes until 2011. But that’s irrelevant to the feds.
Enter on your federal forms whatever amount you actually paid in 2010, no matter what the date is on your tax bill. Dave Hampton, CPA, tax manager at the Cincinnati accounting firm of Burke & Schindler, has seen home owners confuse payments for different years and claim the incorrect amount.
Sin #2: Confusing escrow amount for actual taxes paidIf your lender escrows funds to pay your property taxes, don’t just deduct the amount escrowed, says Bob Meighan, CPA and vice president at TurboTax in San Diego. The regular amount you pay into your escrow account each month to cover property taxes is probably a little more or a little less than your property tax bill. Your lender will adjust the amount every year or so to realign the two.
For example, your tax bill might be $1,200, but your lender may have collected $1,100 or $1,300 in escrow over the year. Deduct only $1,200. Your lender will send you an official statement listing the actual taxes paid. Use that. Don’t just add up 12 months of escrow property tax payments.
Sin #3: Deducting points paid to refinanceDeduct points you paid your lender to secure your mortgage in full for the year you bought your home. However, when you refinance, says Meighan, you must deduct points over the life of your new loan. If you paid $2,000 in points to refinance into a 15-year mortgage, your tax deduction is $133 per year.
Sin #4: Failing to deduct private mortgage insuranceLenders require home buyers with a downpayment of less than 20% to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI). Avoid the common mistake of forgetting to deduct your PMI payments. However, note the deduction begins to phase out once your adjusted gross income reaches $100,000 and disappears entirely when your AGI surpasses $109,000.
Sin #5: Misjudging the home office tax deductionThis deduction may not be as good as it seems. It often doesn’t amount to much of a deduction, has to be recaptured if you turn a profit when you sell your home, and can pique the IRS’s interest in your return. Hampton’s advice: Claim it only if it’s worth those drawbacks.
Sin #6: Missing the first-time home buyer tax creditIf you met the midyear 2010 deadlines, don’t forget to take this tax credit into account when filing.
Even if you missed the 2010 deadlines, you still might be in luck: Congress extended the first-time home buyer credit for military families and other government workers on assignment outside the United States. If you meet the criteria, you have until June 30, 2011, to close on your first home and qualify for the tax credit of up to $8,000.
Sin #7: Failing to track home-related expensesIf the IRS comes a-knockin’, don’t be scrambling to compile your records. Many people forget to track home office and home maintenance and repair expenses, says Meighan. File away documents as you go. For example, save each manufacturer's certification statement for energy tax credits, insurance company statements for PMI, and lender or government statements to confirm property taxes paid.
Sin #8: Forgetting to keep track of capital gainsIf you sold your main home last year, don’t forget to pay capital gains taxes on any profit. However, you can exclude $250,000 (or $500,000 if you’re a married couple) of any profits from taxes. So if you bought a home for $100,000 and sold it for $400,000, your capital gains are $300,000. If you’re single, you owe taxes on $50,000 of gains. However, there are minimum time limits for holding property to take advantage of the exclusions, and other details. Consult IRS Publication 523.
Sin #9: Filing incorrectly for energy tax creditsIf you made any eligible improvement, fill out Form 5695. Part I, which covers the 30%/$1,500 credit for such items as insulation and windows, is fairly straightforward. But Part II, which covers the 30%/no-limit items such as geothermal heat pumps, can be incredibly complex and involves crosschecking with half a dozen other IRS forms. Read the instructions carefully.
Sin #10: Claiming too much for the mortgage interest tax deductionYou can deduct mortgage interest only up to $1 million of mortgage debt, says Meighan. If you have $1.2 million in mortgage debt, for example, deduct only the mortgage interest attributable to the first $1 million.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.
G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who was once mortified to receive a letter from the IRS—but relieved to learn the IRS had simply found a math error in her favor. A frequent contributor to many national publications including AARP.org, Bankrate.com, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.
Get Your 2010 Energy Tax Credits: Filing Tips for Form 5695
Published: January 27, 2011
Sidestep snares in the complex IRS Form 5695 to get all the 2010 energy tax credits you’ve got coming.
Fill out the right part of Form 5695What type of system did you install? If it’s one of the following, complete Part 1 for Nonbusiness Energy Tax Credits.
If you installed one of these souped-up systems, complete Part 2 for Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.
What do I need on hand to fill out Form 5695?
- Receipts that show the amount you spent. The feds won’t pay for installation for some items. For those, the receipts must separate out the labor so you can add just the cost.
- Manufacturers’ certifications indicating that the improvements are eligible for the credit. Store them in a safe place in case the IRS asks for them in the future, but no need to file them with your return.
Coordinate with Form 1040 and other forms
For Part I, it’s pretty simple: Just enter the total of all this part’s credits (as shown on line 11) on Form 1040, line 52.
For Part II, it can get complicated because other credits, claimed on other forms, can affect the amount of your Part II credit.
If you need to fill out any of the following forms, have all the information needed to complete those at hand, because Form 5695, line 25, coordinates with all of them. (In fact, you’ll find it simplest to prepare all these forms more or less simultaneously.)
- Form 1040—lines 47 through 50, which refer to other credits you may be eligible for
- Publication 972—the child tax credit
- Form 8369—mortgage interest credits you may have
- Form 8859—tax credits applicable only to residents of the District of Columbia
- Form 8834—electric vehicle credit
- Form 8910—alternative motor vehicle credit
- Form 8936—electric drive motor vehicle credit
- Schedule R—care for the elderly or disabled
The pitfalls of Form 5695You’ll find many places you can go wrong in both parts of the form:
Adding ineligible amounts into the form. Just because a product has an Energy Star label doesn’t mean it’s eligible for a credit. Check the details of what’s eligible for the credit and what’s not at Energy Star and make sure the product comes with a manufacturer’s certification.
Failing to keep track of this year’s energy tax credits for future years. Hang on to your tax credit paperwork (including receipts, certifications, and a copy of your completed Form 5695), because if you sell your house you’ll need to record the tax credit amount for tax purposes.
- Say you bought your home for $100,000 (the basis) and sold it for $400,000. Your profit is $300,000. But by taking tax credits, you lower your basis, so when you sell the house, you increase your profit in the eyes of the IRS. If you’re in your home for a long time and it appreciates, you increase your chances of getting hit with capital gains. Still, there’s little cause to worry: The government gives married couples selling a home a free pass on up to $500,000 of profit.
- Loophole only if you added a Part II improvement: You can carry the energy tax credit forward to 2011—or even beyond, at least as far as 2016. Even if you’re not eligible this year because you reduced your tax liability to zero, file Form 5695 anyway to make it easier to do the carryforward next year. Or just hold off installing that wind turbine until a year when you anticipate you’ll have fewer tax credits.
Ack, I want help filling out Form 5695
If you find Form 5695 exasperating, you may be eligible for free tax preparation help from the:
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program
- Tax Counseling for the Elderly
- IRS at 800-829-1040.
Barbara Eisner Bayer has written about personal finance for the past 17 years. She works hard to translate IRSese into plain English. She has unbounded respect for CPAs.