Client FAQ: Home equity loans

Q. The recent upturn in home values has left me with quite a bit of equity in my home. I would like to tap into this equity to pay off my credit cards and make some major home improvements. If I get a home equity loan, will the interest I pay be fully deductible on my tax return?

A. For most people, all interest paid on a home equity loan would be fully deductible as an itemized deduction on their personal tax returns. However, due to changes made to tax laws governing home mortgage interest deduction in 1987, there are limitations and special circumstances that must be considered when determining how much of your home mortgage interest expense is deductible.

Mortgages secured by your qualified home generally fall under one of three classifications for purposes of determining the home mortgage interest deduction: grandfathered debt, home acquisition debt, and home equity debt. Grandfathered debt is simply home mortgage debt taken out prior to October 14, 1987 (including subsequent refinancing of that debt). The other two types of mortgage debt are discussed below. A “qualified home” is your main or second home and, in addition to a house or condominium, can include any property with sleeping, cooking and toilet facilities (e.g., boat, trailer).

Home Acquisition Debt

Home acquisition debt is a mortgage (including a refinanced loan) taken out after October 13, 1987 that is secured by a qualified home and where the proceeds were used to buy, build, or substantially improve that qualified home. “Substantial improvements” are home improvements that add to the value of your home, prolong the useful life of your home, or adapt your home to new uses.

In general, interest expense on home acquisition debt of up to $1 million ($500,000 if married filing separately) is fully deductible. Keep in mind, though, that to the extent that the mortgage debt exceeds the cost of the home plus any substantial improvements, your mortgage interest will be limited. Mortgage interest expense on this excess debt may be deductible as home equity debt (see below).

Example: You have a home worth $400,000 with a first mortgage of $200,000. If you get a home equity loan of $125,000 to build a new addition to your home, your mortgage interest would be fully deductible.

Home Equity Debt

Home equity debt is debt that is secured by your qualified home and that does not qualify as home acquisition debt. There are generally no limits on the use of the proceeds of this type of loan to retain interest deductibility.

The amount of mortgage debt that can be treated as home equity debt for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction is the smaller of a) $100,000 ($50,000 if married filing separately) or b) the total of each qualified home’s fair market value (FMV) reduced by home acquisition debt & debt secured prior to October 14, 1987. Mortgage debt in excess of these limits would be treated as non-deductible personal interest.

Example: You have a home worth $400,000 with a first mortgage of $200,000. If you get a home equity loan of $125,000 to pay off your credit cards (you really like to shop!), your mortgage interest deduction would be limited to the amount paid on only $100,000 of the home equity debt.

In addition to the above limitations, there are other circumstances that, if present, can affect your home equity debt interest expense deduction. Here are a few examples:

  • You do not itemize your deductions;
  • Your adjusted gross income (AGI) is over a certain amount;
  • Part of your home is not a “qualified home”
  • Your home is secured by a mortgage that was acquired (and/or subsequently refinanced) prior to October 14, 1987
  • You used any part of the loan proceeds to invest in tax-exempt securities.

As illustrated above, determining your deduction for mortgage interest paid can be more complex than it appears. Before you obtain a home equity loan, please feel free to contact the office for advice on how it may affect your potential home mortgage interest deduction.