6 Mortgage Interest Deduction Myths

Think losing the mortgage interest deduction would be no big deal? We bust six myths to show why the cost is bigger than you think.

About 38.5 million American home owners take the mortgage interest deduction. Image: Tetra Images/Getty Images

Proposals floating on Capitol Hill to curb the mortgage interest deduction gloss over all the ways home owners, and even renters, would be hurt by the change. Let’s set the record straight.

Myth #1: The mortgage deduction is just for rich people.

  • The mortgage interest deduction helps mostly middle- and lower-income families.
  • 65% of families who use it earn less than $100,000 per year.
  • 91% earn less than $200,000 per year (that’s where most economists draw the line between rich and middle-class).
  • Only 9% earn more than $200,000 per year.

This myth may have arisen because of a related fact: If you buy a house, you’re much more likely to accumulate wealth by the end of your life. Home owners have an average net worth of $200,000, while the average renter’s net worth is $5,000, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

Myth #2: Switching to a 12% mortgage interest credit would be a wash for most.

One proposal floating around Congress is to replace the mortgage interest deduction with a 12% nonrefundable mortgage interest tax credit. (Deductions reduce your taxable income; credits reduce your tax liability.) This plan would increase taxes for many home owners.

Example: If you paid $10,000 in mortgage interest, and you’re in the 25% bracket, you’d pay $1,300 in extra taxes.

  • The $10,000 deduction you have now saves you $2,500 on your taxes (25% x 10,000). 
  • The 12% credit would save you only $1,200 (12% x 10,000) on your taxes.
  • In this scenario, if the mortgage interest deduction is changed to a 12% credit, you’d lose $1,300 (the current $2,500 savings minus the $1,200 you’ll save under the 12% plan).

Myth #3: Not that many people take the mortgage interest deduction.

There are 75 million American home owners, and 38.5 million of them take the mortgage interest deduction. The average mortgage interest tax deduction is $12,200, and a typical benefit for home owners is $3,050 a year.

The mortgage deduction is a key benefit to first-time homeowners and trade-up buyers because you pay the most mortgage interest when you first take out a mortgage. (You won’t pay equal amounts of principal and interest until year 13 or later, depending on your interest rate.)

People with large families also get a lot of bang from mortgage interest deductibility — they buy relatively big houses for their big families.

Myth #4: Getting rid of the deduction won’t affect me or my housing market.

It will mean lower property values for all American home owners, including the one-third who own their homes outright and the 12 million who take the standard deduction.

Even if you don’t have a mortgage, getting rid of the MID will affect how much home you can afford to buy —and how much a buyer will pay for your home.

Myth #5: People will still buy my house without the mortgage interest deduction.

Yes, people will still value home ownership, but it’ll be harder for them to buy your house. The mortgage interest deduction makes it cheaper to borrow money to buy a home because it can reduce what you owe in taxes.

If you bought a home last year with a $200,000, 30-year, 5% fixed-rate mortgage and you’re in a 25% tax bracket, you’d save about $2,500 from the mortgage interest deduction alone in the first year you own your home. That’s money you can use to pay down other debts, save for your children’s college education, or put away to buy a move-up house.

Myth #6: Solving the U.S. budget problems requires everyone to sacrifice.

Home owners already pay 80% to 90% of the federal income tax collected. If mortgage interest deductibility disappears, you and your fellow home owners could foot 95% of federal income tax.