Fiscal Cliff

mortgage-interest-deductionBoon for Massachusetts Homeowners

More good news for Massachusetts homeowners coming out of Congress’ late night passing of the Fiscal Cliff Bill. The mortgage interest tax deduction — which was reportedly on the Congressional chopping block — was untouched by Congress, leaving it in place. This is huge for the middle class, and especially for house-poor Massachusetts homeowners who tend to have larger mortgages than the rest of the country.

Congress also extended the tax deduction for private mortgage insurance (PMI) payments through December 31, 2013. Homeowners who were not able to put 20% down must typically pay for private mortgage insurance which protects lenders in case of a borrower default. PMI payments remain tax deductible for 2013 under the Fiscal Cliff bill, providing another tax break for Massachusetts homeowners.

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100316_photo_vetstein (2)Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate attorney who writes frequently about new legislation concerning the real estate industry. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Massachusetts-Short-SalesIt’s a Done Deal: Tax Forgiveness for Short Sales, Loan Modifications Remains In Effect Through End of 2013

Well, that didn’t take very long. Within 24 hours of the Senate’s late-night New Year’s Eve passing of the “Fiscal Cliff” bill, House Republicans caved, and passed the Senate version of the Fiscal Cliff bill, which extends the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 through the balance of 2013.

As originally reported by the National Association of Realtors, short sale agents and sellers should breath a sigh of relief due to the extension. This will extend mortgage debt forgiveness relief for home owners or sellers who have a portion of their mortgage debt forgiven by their lender, typically in a short sale, loan modification or deed in lieu transaction. Without the extension, any debt forgiven would have been taxable. For distressed households this would have added insult to injury and resulted in a large tax bill.

Also, Congress retained the mortgage-interest tax deduction and the PMI tax deduction. Overall, a very good result for the real estate industry!

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RDV-profile-picture-larger-150x150.jpgRichard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate attorney who writes frequently about new legislation concerning the real estate industry. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Breaking Update (1/2/12): House Passes Fiscal Cliff Bill, Extends Mortgage Debt Relief Act

Fate of Tax Forgiveness for Short Sales, Loan Modifications Remains In Limbo

As reported by the National Association of Realtors, short sale agents and sellers should breath a sigh of relief, but keep their fingers crossed with respect to the fate of the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007, which was set to expire as part of the pending Fiscal Cliff. The “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012’’ (Fiscal Cliff bill), passed by the Senate in the wee hours of December 31, 2012, extends the Mortgage Debt Relief Act through the balance of 2013. This will extend mortgage cancellation relief for home owners or sellers who have a portion of their mortgage debt forgiven by their lender, typically in a short sale, loan modification or deed in lieu transaction. Without the extension, any debt forgiven would be taxable. For distressed households this would “add insult to injury” and result in a large tax bill.

Also included in the Senate Fiscal Cliff bill is the extension of exclusion from taxes for gains on the sale of a principal residence of up to $500,000 ($250,000 for individuals). Thus, only home sellers whose income is $450,000 or above and the gain on the sale of their house is above $500,000 would pay taxes on the excess capital gains at the higher rate (with corresponding numbers for individual filers). For the vast majority of home sellers, there is no change.

The Senate Fiscal Bill has moved over to the House of Representatives where its fate rests in the hands of Speaker Boehner and his fellow Republicans. The House has until noon on Thursday to pass the bill or start over with the start of a new legislative session with newly elected members.

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High Anxiety Heading Into 2013

The term Fiscal Cliff should be as ubiquitous as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” through the year-end, especially if President Obama and Congress cannot work out a deal to resolve the more than $500 billion in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect after Jan. 1, 2013. If there is no deal, and the country goes over the fiscal cliff, the consensus is that it will have quite a negative effect on the economy and the real estate market in particular. (I debated using the word “disastrous” because there is a segment of commentators who say the housing market may survive a fall off the cliff).

There are four particular aspects of the Fiscal Cliff which could impact the real estate market.

1.  Expiration of Unemployment Benefits. Emergency jobless benefits for about 2.1 million people out of work will cease Dec. 29, and 1 million more will lose them over the next three months if Congress doesn’t extend the assistance again. Unemployed, even those receiving assistance, cannot and do not purchases homes. Democrats and President Obama want the unemployment benefits extended, but the Republicans are attempting to use this as leverage for their own fiscal cliff agenda. The real estate market will surely suffer if benefits aren’t extended.

2. Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. The Mortgage Forgiveness Act is set to expire December 31. This tax break is critical for short sales, relieving homeowners from being taxed on any mortgage debt that was forgiven through a short sale, foreclosure or loan modification. If distressed homeowners are subject to tax on millions in debt forgiveness, short sales will likely decrease dramatically.

3. Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction. Once the sacred cow tax break for millions of middle and upper class homeowners, the mortgage interest deduction is reportedly on the chopping block. The National Association of Realtors and real estate groups have been apoplectic in urging no change to this important benefit to homeowners. Eliminating the mortgage deduction would raise taxes on all homeowners, and could dissuade renters from becoming homeowners.

4.  FHA/Fannie Mae Bailout. The Federal Housing Administration, the lender of choice for first-time homebuyers, is nearly insolvent and it could require a taxpayer bailout next year, according Edward J. Pinto, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Pinto claims the 78-year-old agency is $34.5 billion short of its legal capital requirement. “If it were a private company, it would be shut down,” argues Pinto. These aren’t the only issues threatening the real estate market. Since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government in 2008, taxpayers have plowed  $180 billion into them to keep them operational. This mess needs to be fixed next year.

Well, if your stomach isn’t in knots, mine is. Luckily, we have some medicine for you!

On January 8, 2013, we are sponsoring a breakfast seminar with veteran real estate journalist Scott Van Voorhis, who will offer his predictions on what 2013 will bring. Please email me to sign up. The Facebook Event invitation is here. The venue is Avita in Needham, 880 Greendale Ave., Needham, MA.

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Richard D. Vetstein is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney who hopes the White House and Congress can get their acts together and pass a compromise bill to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.

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