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To qualify for the exclusion, the home you sell must be your principal residence, and you must have owned and lived in it for at least two of the five years prior to the date of sale. That doesn’t mean you need to be living in the home when you sell it.
For example, suppose you lived in your primary residence for two years, and then relocated to your second home for the next three years before selling your main home. Since you lived in your primary residence for two of the five years prior to the date of sale, you meet the IRS’s requirements.
If you’ve owned your home for a good while, it’s possible that its value has increased beyond the $250,000 or $500,000 tax-free thresholds. Any gain that exceeds the exclusion threshold is taxed as a long-term capital gain. For most homeowners, this is 15 percent, but it could be as low as five percent, depending on the taxpayer’s taxable income.
Even if you have a gain that exceeds the threshold, don’t assume that you owe tax on the entire amount above the thresholds. Chances are that over the years you’ve improved your home, perhaps by adding a deck, another bathroom or new landscaping. According to tax law, the cost of additions and other improvements that add to the value of your home or prolong its useful life increase the basis of your home, which reduces your gain—and your tax bill.
CPAs recommend that individuals who are downsizing give careful thought to their options and consider the financial implications of each. For example, if you plan to buy a smaller home, should you pay cash or take out a mortgage? While it may be appealing to not have a monthly payment, taking out a mortgage could allow you to invest the proceeds of your sale and build your retirement fund.
For those who plan to continue working after downsizing, deducting the mortgage interest you pay will help to shelter some of your income from taxes. Thinking of renting? Keep in mind that while monthly mortgage payments stay relatively the same, rent payments tend to increase.
Trading down isn’t always easy since it’s an emotional decision as well as a financial one. Give yourself some time to think about it, and consult with a CPA for advice concerning the financial and tax implications of your decision.
In accordance with IRS Circular 230, the information on this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used as or considered a "covered opinion" or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for the purpose of avoiding tax-related penalties under the Internal Revenue Code; promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or tax-related matter(s) addressed herein; for IRS audit, tax dispute or other purposes.