Although Congress threatened to reduce the benefits of the home sale exclusion, the final version of the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) did not include a crackdown. As a result, if you sell your home at a huge profit and qualify under the existing rules, you can still exclude up to $250,000 of your gain—$500,000 if you’re married and file a joint return—from the sale of your home.
Note that the TCJA has modified the rules for deducting mortgage interest and certain related aspects. But the home sale exclusion remains intact.
Background: To qualify for the $250,000/$500,000 home sale tax break, the home must have been owned by you and used as your “principal residence” for at least two of the five years prior to the sale. This special tax exclusion doesn’t apply, however, if you sold another qualified principal residence within the previous two years. (Theoretically, you could qualify for the home sale exclusion every two years.)
Keeping that in mind, here are some key points to know about the home sale exclusion:
*The home must be used as your principal residence for any two of the past five years. The years do not have to be consecutive. Moreover, you can meet the “use” and “ownership” requirements in different tax years.
*If you file a joint return, you can claim the maximum exclusion if (1) either spouse meets the two-year ownership test, (2) both spouses meet the two-year use test and (3) neither spouse has elected the exclusion within the past two years. This is particularly important to remember if you have recently gotten divorced or remarried.
*To meet the use requirements, you must physically occupy the home, but short absences won’t count against you. On the other hand, a longer absence, such as a one-year sabbatical by a college professor, does not count as time when the home is being used as your principal residence.
*If you own two homes and live in both places during the year, the home where you stay for most of the year is generally treated as your principal residence. For instance, if you spend seven months at a winter home and five months at a summer home, the winter home is considered to be your principal residence.
*To the extent that the home has been used for business rental or use—including using a portion of the residence as a home office—you must recapture depreciation deductions attributable to the period after May 6, 1997. The recaptured income is taxed at the 25% rate.
Reminder: This is a general overview of the new tax rules for the sale of a principal residence. It is strongly recommended that you consult a professional tax adviser concerning the home sale exclusion and other tax ramifications of home ownership.