FAQ: How are vacation homes taxed?

Vacation homes offer owners many tax breaks similar to those for primary residences. Vacation homes also offer owners the opportunity to earn tax-advantaged and even tax-free income from a certain level of rental income. The value of vacation homes are also on the rise again, offering an investment side to ownership that can ultimately be realized at a beneficial long-term capital gains rate.

Homeowners can deduct mortgage interest they pay on up to $1 million of “acquisition indebtedness” incurred to buy their primary residence and one additional residence. If their total mortgage indebtedness exceeds $1 million, they can still deduct the interest they pay on their first $1 million. If one mortgage carries a substantially higher rate than the second, it makes sense to deduct the higher interest first to maximize deductions.

Vacation homeowners don’t need to buy an actual house (or even a condominium) to take advantage of second-home mortgage interest deductions. They can deduct interest they pay on a loan secured by a timeshare, yacht, or motor home so long as it includes sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities.

Capital gain on vacation properties. Gains from selling a vacation home are generally taxed as long-term capital gains on Schedule D. As with a primary residence, basis includes the property’s contract price (including any mortgage assumed or taken “subject to”), nondeductible closing costs (title insurance and fees, surveys and recording fees, transfer taxes, etc.), and improvements. “Adjusted proceeds” include the property’s sale price, minus expenses of sale (real estate commissions, title fees, etc.). The maximum tax on capital gain is now 20 percent, with an additional 3.8 percent net investment tax depending upon income level. There’s no separate exclusion that applies when selling a vacation home as there is up to $500,000 for a primary residence.

Vacation home rentals. Many vacation home owners rent those homes to draw income and help finance the cost of owning the home. These rentals are taxed under one of three sets of rules depending on how long the homeowner rents the property.

  1. Income from rentals totaling not more than 14 days per year is nontaxable.
  2. Income from rentals totaling more than 14 days per year is taxable and is generally reported on Schedule E of Form 1040. Homeowners who rent their properties for more than 14 days can deduct a portion of their mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance, utilities, and other expenses to offset that income. That deduction depends on how many days they use the residence personally versus how many days they rent it.
  3. Owners who use their home personally for less than 14 days and less than 10% of the total rental days can treat the property as true “rental” property, which entitled them to a greater number of deductions.

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Content provided by CCH. If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.

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