A vacation home offers a break from the daily grind, but it can also offer a tax benefit. The tax law allows most owners to lower their taxable income by claiming tax deductions for vacation homes. What's deductible depends on a number of factors, especially how often you visit and whether you allow renters.
Note: if you itemize, you can write off the mortgage interest you pay on up to $750,000 of debt secured by both your first and second homes. This amount is $1 million if your mortgage loans are grandfathered (i.e., were in existence as of December 15, 2017).
Don't limit your notion of a vacation home to a beach cottage or a mountain cabin. Even RVs and boats can count, as long as there are sleeping, cooking, and bathroom facilities. Tax deductions for vacation homes are complex, so consult a tax adviser.
Is Your Vacation Home a Vacation Home?
If you bought your vacation home exclusively for personal enjoyment, you can generally deduct your mortgage interest and real estate taxes, as you would on a primary residence. Use Schedule A to take the deductions. However, your deduction for state and local taxes paid is capped at $10,000 for 2018 through 20125. And the total amount of the mortgages for your first home and vacation home cannot exceed the $650,000 or $1 million amounts mentioned above.
The tax law even allows you to rent out your vacation home for up to 14 days a year without paying taxes on the rental income. You might be able to deduct any uninsured casualty losses too, if the home is located within a presidentially declared disaster area, though you can't write off rental-related expenses. (More on those below.) If the home is rented for more than 14 days, you must claim the income.
Now, if you own what you consider a vacation home but never visit it, or only rent it out, other tax rules apply. Without personal use, the law considers the home an investment or rental property. Time spent checking in on the house or making repairs doesn't count as personal use.
Tax Deductions for Rental Owners
As an exclusive rental property, you can deduct numerous expenses including property taxes, insurance, mortgage interest, utilities, housekeeping, and repairs. Even towels and sheets can be deductible. Use Schedule E. You can also write off depreciation, the value lost due to the wear and tear a home experiences over time.
Treat the rental property like a business, says Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Services. Keep detailed records and maintain a separate checking account. Figure you'll spend a couple of hours a week, on average, over the course of the year managing the property.
To maximize deductions, you need to be actively involved in the rental property. That means performing such duties as approving new tenants and coming up with rental terms. You also need to own at least 10% of the property. See IRS Publication 527 for details.
If your adjusted gross income is below $100,000, you can deduct as much as $25,000 for rental losses -- that is, the excess of your rental expenses over your rental receipts. The deduction gradually phases out between an adjusted gross income of $100,000 and $150,000. You can carry forward excess losses to future years or offset losses to offset gains when you sell.
Mixed Use of a Vacation Home
The tax picture gets more complicated when in the same year you make personal use of your vacation home and rent it out for more than 14 days. Remember, rental income is tax-free only if you rent for 14 days or fewer.
The key to maximizing deductions is keeping annual personal use of your vacation home to fewer than 15 days or 10% of the total rental days, whichever is greater. In that case the vacation home can be treated as a rental, meaning you get the same generous deductions. To avoid going over the 10% limit, essentially you shouldn't use your vacation home more than one day for every 10 days you rent it.
Make personal use of your vacation home for more than 14 days (or more than 10% of the total rental days, if this is greater than 14 days), however, and your deductions may be limited. For example, suppose you rented your vacation home for 180 days last year. You could use the home for up to 18 days of personal use before your deductions would be limited.
If you exceed the maximum, some deductions are limited; those related to the rental of the property are again limited by the ratio of actual rental days to the total days of use.
Let’s say you have a vacation home you personally use for 25 days and rent for 75 days. That’s 100 total days of use, and it exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the rental days. Therefore, your deductions are going to be limited in total and will also have to be allocated to personal and rental use by the ratio of time you rented the house compared with the total use. So you can only write off 75% of the expenses as rental expenses -- 75 rental days divided by 100 total days of use works out to 75%. Some of the personal expenses, such as mortgage interest and real estate taxes, will still be deductible on Schedule A.
Related: How Long to Keep Tax Records
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.