With the high demand for homes creating an ever-changing seller’s market, individuals thinking about selling their home in the near future may want to determine if they qualify for the home sale gain exclusion—one of the most generous tax breaks in the tax code. As such, it’s important to review its requirements before you sell.
What Exclusion Requirements Exist?
Typically, when selling real estate or other capital assets you’ve owned for more than one year, your profit is taxable at long-term capital gains rates of 15% or 20%, depending on the tax bracket you fall into. Some high-income taxpayers may also find themselves subject to an additional 3.8% net investment income tax. However, it’s possible to avoid this tax, up to $250,000 in profit for single filers ($500,000 for married couples filing jointly) if you’re selling your principal residence and filing the home sale gain exclusion.
It’s important not to assume you’re eligible for this tax break, however, simply because you’re selling your principal residence. Being a single filer, you must have owned and used the home as your principal residence for at least 24 months of the five years ending on the sale date to qualify for the exclusion.
If you’re married filing jointly, you and your spouse must both have lived in the home as your principal residence for 24 months of the preceding five years, and at least one of you must have owned it for 24 months of the preceding five years. Special eligibility rules apply to those unable to care for themselves, couples who divorce or separate, widowed taxpayers, and military personnel.
Are There Any Limitations?
Certain limitations apply, such as the inability to use the exclusion more than once within a two-year period, even if you meet the requirements otherwise. Also, suppose an ineligible residence is converted into a principal residence, and you live in it for 24 months or more. In that case, only a portion of your gain will qualify for the exclusion. Of note, nonqualified use before 2009 doesn’t reduce the exclusion.
What About Partial Exclusions?
You may qualify for a partial exclusion if you sell your home before meeting the 24-month threshold due to a work-related move, health-related move, or other unforeseen circumstances. For example, suppose a married couple buys a house for $1 million and, one year later, sells it for $1.2 million due to one of the previously mentioned circumstances. In that case, they qualify for a partial exclusion of 12 months out of 24 months or 50%. In this instance, the 50% reduction would be applied to the exclusion, not the gain, thus, reducing the exclusion to 50% of $500,000, or $250,000, which shields their entire $200,000 gain from tax.
What You Need to Do Before Deciding to Sell
Before you decide to sell your principal residence, do your research:
- Determine the amount of your home sale gain exclusion and the expected gain (selling price less adjusted cost basis).
- Remember that your cost basis is increased by the cost of certain improvements and other expenses, reducing your gain.
- Be aware that capital gains attributable to depreciation deductions (ex: a home office) will be taxable regardless of the home sale gain exclusion.
Before starting the process of selling your home, reach out to your local CRI tax advisor to answer any questions you may have regarding tax laws that will affect the sale. This important step is one you’ll be glad you made. With solid tax advice and a plan in place, you’ll avoid any unfortunate surprises and be best prepared for your future move.
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