Tax rates would remain the same for most households and mortgage cancellation relief is extended in a budget package passed by the U.S. Senate early this morning to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. The House today could take up the bill, which NAR has been monitoring closely because the fiscal cliff’s automatic tax increases and federal spending cuts involve programs important to real estate and impact household wealth. Based on what the House does, the provisions in the Senate bill could change in the final bill.
The “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012’’ passed on a bipartisan 89-9 vote in the middle of the night and extends current tax rates for all households earning less than $450,000, and $400,000 for individual filers. For households earning above these limits, tax rates would revert to where they were in 2003, when taxes were reduced across the board. That means taxpayers in the highest bracket would pay taxes on ordinary income at a rate of 39.6 percent, up from 35 percent.
The tax rate on capital gains would also remain the same, at 15 percent, for most households, but for those earning above the $400,000-$450,000 threshold, the rate would rise to 20 percent.
Importantly from NAR’s perspective, the exclusion from taxes for gains on the sale of a principal residence of up to $500,000 ($250,000 for individuals) remains in effect, so only home sellers whose income is $450,000 or above and the gain on the sale of their house is above $500,000 would pay taxes on the excess capital gains at the higher rate (with corresponding numbers for individual filers). For the vast majority of home sellers, there is no change.
The bill also reinstates provisions that phase out personal exemptions and deductions for incomes over $250,000 for singles and $300,000 for couples.
A number of what lawmakers call extenders are in the bill. Extenders keep in place expiring tax provisions. Of most interest to real estate, the bill would extend mortgage cancellation relief for home owners or sellers who have a portion of their mortgage debt forgiven by their lender, typically in a short sale or foreclosure sale for sellers and in a modification for owners. Without the extension, any debt forgiven would be taxable, which, for underwater households, represents a financial burden.