The deduction for home mortgage interest is hugely popular among those with huge home mortgages. Taxpayers get to deduct all of the interest paid on loans used to buy a home, up to $1 million in principal; they also get to deduct interest paid on the first $100,000 in home equity debt.
But there is a technicality: the interest needs to be “paid.” That was a problem for a California couple in Tax Court yesterday.
The couple bought a home in 1991 for $300,000. They refinanced it for $600,000 in 2007. Then 2008 happened, and they got a loan modification in 2010. Tax Court Judge Lauber explains:
The modifications included a reduction of the interest rate, a change in the payment terms, and an increase in the loan balance. Immediately before the modifications, the outstanding loan balance was $579,275; after the modifications, the new balance was $623,953. The difference (equal to $44,678) resulted from adding the following amounts to the loan balance: past due interest of $30,273, servicing expense of $180, and charges for taxes and insurance of $14,225.
The taxpayers added the $30,273 to the $9,253 the bank put on their 1098 mortgage interest statement for 2010. The IRS noticed the difference and disallowed the $30,273.
Petitioners are cash basis taxpayers. It is well settled that “[a] cash-basis taxpayer ‘pays’ interest only when he pays cash or its equivalent to his lender.”
Through the loan modification agreement, the $30,273 in past-due interest on petitioners’ mortgage loan was added to the principal. No money changed hands; petitioners simply promised to pay the past-due interest, along with the rest of the principal, at a later date. Because petitioners did not pay this interest during 2010 in cash or its equivalent, they cannot claim a deduction for it for 2010. They will be entitled to a deduction if and when they actually discharge this portion of their loan obligation in a future year.
In short, you can’t just add interest to the loan balance and get a deduction. That has obvious implications for “reverse mortgages.”
As the taxpayers make the payments, they will have some additional factors to consider. Their original purchase price was $300,000 for the house. Unless the additional borrowing was used for renovation or expansion of the home, it is “home equity indebtedness.” Interest on only the first $100,000 of equity debt will be deductible — and only for regular tax, not AMT.
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