Congress was so busy bickering at the end of 2011 that it allowed two important tax breaks for home owners to expire. Beginning with the 2012 tax year:
1. You can no longer deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance premiums.
2. You aren’t getting a tax credit for some of your home energy improvements.
You can take advantage of these provisions when you file your 2011 tax return — but beyond that, who knows.
Now that Congress is back in session, it’s likely going to pick up where it left off — arguing about what programs to cut and what taxes to raise. The programs, deductions, and tax credits supporting home ownership belong at the top their to-do list.
Up until the end of last year, you could deduct your private mortgage insurance premium (PMI) when calculating your income taxes. It was a benefit targeted to lower- and middle-income home owners. Once you made $100,000 or more, it started disappearing and anyone who had more than $110,000 of adjusted gross income couldn’t use it.
The home owners who have to get mortgage insurance are buyers with less than a 20% down payment and refinancers with less than 20% equity. That’s more often first-time home buyers or younger home owners and less often move-up buyers who’ve built up equity in their homes. So in taking away the PMI deduction, Congress is raising taxes paid by first-time home buyers and younger home owners leaving them with less money to spend on housing. That’s especially wrong-headed when the housing market is struggling to recover.
The tax credit for energy efficiency upgrades wasn’t enormous — it was capped at $500 or 10% of the cost for some projects; less for others. But it was a nice incentive to add insulation, new windows, or to upgrade your HVAC system with a more efficient unit — exactly the kind of actions that help decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, leading to a cleaner environment and less outflow of U.S. income to foreign countries. Not to mention, hopefully, smaller utility bills.
In 2012, home ownership and energy independence advocates will fight to get those expired tax rules back on the books and to have them apply retroactively. It’s a familiar fight — they had to do the same thing at the end of 2010.
But this year, the battle is more complicated because there’s a presidential election, discord between the major parties, and a general lack of consensus on any issues.
We home owners certainly don’t all agree on who to vote for, but most of us consider the renewal of those policies is a no-brainer. And we really don’t appreciate it when Congress lets those rules expire at the end of one year and then leaves us to wonder the rest of the next year whether they’ll be renewed.
Will you be claiming either of these tax breaks on your 2011 returns?