If you own a vacation home that you use for both rental and personal purposes, now is a good time to plan how to use it for the rest of this year with tax savings in mind. Here’s what you need to know:
Rented less than 15 days during the year with more than 14 days of personal use
For a vacation home in this category, the tax rules are really simple. You need not to report any of the rental income on your Form 1040. However, you cannot deduct expenses directly attributable to the rental period (rental agency fees, cleaning, and so forth). If your vacation home happens to be located near a major event — like a PGA golf tournament or a big multi-day concert — you may be able to rent the place out for a short period even at high rates and pay zero federal income tax.
Rented more than 14 days with substantial personal use
Your vacation home falls into this category if you rent it for more than 14 days during the year and your personal use exceeds the greater of:(1) 14 days or (2) 10% of the rental days. For example, a vacation home that’s rented for 180 days during the year and used by you and a family member for 60 days falls into this slot.
Personal usage includes use by you, other family members (whether they pay fair market rent or not) or anyone else who pays less than market rent. Personal use also includes time spent at your place by another party under a reciprocal sharing arrangement (“I use your place in exchange for you using my place”) whether the other party pays market rent or not.
Days devoted principally to repairs and maintenance are considered days of vacancy and are disregarded, even if family members are present while you work away.
The tax drill
Vacation homes in this category are treated as personal residences for federal income tax purposes. Follow this six-step procedure to account for the property’s rental income and all the expenses.
Step 1: Report 100% of rental income on Schedule E of Form 1040.
Step 2: Deduct 100% of any direct rental expenses (such as rental agency fees and advertising) on Schedule E.
Step 3: Allocate mortgage interest and property taxes between rental and personal use. See below for how to do that.
Step 4: Deduct as Schedule E rental expenses the allocable mortgage interest and property taxes from Step 3.
Step 5: If there’s any net rental income left after Step 4, deduct as rental costs allocable indirect expenses — maintenance, utilities, association fees, insurance, depreciation and so forth on Schedule E — but only to the point where you zero out rental income. In allocating these indirect expenses, consider only actual rental and personal-use days during the year, and ignore days of a vacancy. For example, if you rent your vacation home for 90 days during the year and use the property 60 days for personal purposes, allocate 60% of the maintenance, utilities, and so forth to rental usage and 40% to personal usage. The 40% is non-deductible. Even so, the bottom line on Schedule E will often be zero, because the rental income will often be fully offset by deductible expenses.
Step 6: Write off the personal-use percentage of mortgage interest and property taxes as itemized deductions on Schedule A of Form 1040, subject to the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) limits for 2018-2025 (see “TCJA changes affecting vacation-home owners” below).
You are allowed to carry over any disallowed allocable indirect expenses to future years when you can deduct them against rental profits (if you ever have any).
Controversy regarding how to allocate mortgage interest and property taxes
The IRS says you should use only actual days of personal and rental usage to allocate all non-direct vacation-home expenses, including mortgage interest and property taxes. However, two Appeals Court decisions say you can allocate mortgage interest and property taxes differently, by treating actual rental occupancy days as rental days and all other days — including days of vacancy — as personal days.
Before the TCJA, the Appeals Court method was often more beneficial because (1) it allocates more mortgage interest and property taxes to Schedule A (where you could usually fully write off these expenses as allowable itemized deductions under prior law) and (2) it allocates less mortgage interest and property taxes to Schedule E, which usually allowed you to currently deduct more of the other expenses allocable to rental usage (property insurance, utilities, etc.) on Schedule E when applying the rental income limitation.
But after the TCJA changes, some vacation-home owners may benefit from using the IRS-approved method instead of the Appeals Court method. That’s because you will never get any tax benefit from allocating more interest and taxes to Schedule A than you can currently deduct after the TCJA changes. Your tax pro can run the numbers at tax return time and figure out the best allocation method for interest and taxes.
Tax-smart year-end strategy: If your property fits solidly into this category for 2018 and your expenses will comfortably exceed rental income (the usual situation), you will probably come out ahead by renting it out for some additional days between now and year-end. That way, you’ll receive more rental income (good for cash flow), and you can probably still offset all the rental income with direct expenses, allocable mortgage interest and property taxes, and allocable indirect expenses. So you’ll have that much more tax-sheltered rental income, which is always a good thing.
The bottom line
As you can see, the tax rules for vacation homes are complicated.
If you have a vacation home that is rented for more than 14 days during the year and your personal use does not exceed the greater of (1) 14 days or (2) 10% of the rental days, the home is classified as a rental property for tax purposes. (I’ll cover the tax rules for vacation homes that are classified as rental properties in next week’s column. So please stay tuned.)
TCJA changes affecting vacation-home owners
New limit on property-tax deductions: Before the TCJA, you could claim itemized deductions for an unlimited amount of personal state and local property taxes. For 2018-2025, however, the TCJA limits itemized deductions for personal state and local property and income taxes to a combined total of only $10,000 ($5,000 for those who use married filing separate status). This limitation can affect your ability to claim itemized deductions for property taxes on a vacation home.
New limits on home-mortgage interest deductions: The TCJA also places new limits on the amount of home mortgage debt for which you can claim itemized qualified residence interest expense deductions. These limits can affect your ability to claim itemized deductions for mortgage interest on a vacation home.
For 2018-2025, the TCJA generally allows you treat interest on up to $750,000 of home acquisition debt (incurred to buy or improve a first or second personal residence) as deductible qualified residence interest. If you use married filing separate status, the limit is halved to $375,000. Thanks to a grandfather provision for pre-TCJA mortgages (explained below), this change will mainly affect new buyers.
TCJA change for home-equity debt: For 2018-2025, the TCJA generally eliminates the prior-law provision that allowed you to treat interest on up to $100,000 of home-equity debt as deductible qualified residence interest ($50,000 if you used married filing separate status).
TCJA grandfather rules for up to $1 million of home-acquisition debt: Under one grandfather rule, the TCJA changes do not affect qualified residence interest deductions on up to $1 million of home-acquisition debt that you took out: (1) before 12/16/17 or (2) under a binding contract that was in effect before 12/16/17, as long as the home purchase closed before 4/1/18. If you use married filing separate status, the limit is halved to $500,000.
Under a second grandfather rule, the TCJA changes do not affect qualified residence interest deductions on up to $1 million/$500,000 of home-acquisition debt that you took out before 12/16/17 and then refinanced later — to the extent the initial principal balance of the new loan does not exceed the principal balance of the old loan at the time of the refinancing.
Home-equity debt treated as home-acquisition debt: Say you spent or spend the proceeds of a home-equity loan to build, buy, or improve your first or second personal residence. The loan counts as home-acquisition debt for which qualified residence interest deductions are allowed, as long as the applicable home acquisition debt limit ($750,000/$375,000 or $1 million/$500,000) is not exceeded.
Bigger standard deductions: For 2018-2025, the TCJA almost doubled the standard deduction amounts. For 2018, they are:
• $24,000 for married joint-filing couples.
• $18,000 for heads of households.
• $12,000 for singles.
This seemingly benign change can adversely affect vacation-home owners, because their allowable itemized deductions (including those for vacation home mortgage interest and property taxes) may not exceed their standard deduction amount for 2018-2025.