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The answer…………it depends. It depends on what you used or are going to use the home equity loan for. Up until the end of 2017, borrowers could deduct interest on home equity loans or homes equity lines of credit up to $100,000. Unfortunately, many homeowners will lose this deduction under the new tax law that takes effect January 1, 2018. Of course, home equity loans are not to be confused with normal home loans, similar to loans given by a private lending company like Happy Loan. Home Equity Loans are a completely different kettle of fish, and now the rules have changed.

Old Rules

Taxpayers used to be able to take a home equity loan or tap into a home equity line of credit, spend the money on whatever they wanted (pool, college tuition, boat, debt consolidation) and the interest on the loan was tax deductible. For borrowers in higher tax brackets this was a huge advantage. For a taxpayer in the 39% fed tax bracket, if the interest rate on the home equity loan was 3%, their after tax interest rate was really 1.83%. This provided taxpayers with easy access to cheap money.

The Rules Are Changing In 2018

To help pay for the new tax cuts, Congress had to find ways to bridge the funding gap. In other words, in order for some new tax toys to be given, other tax toys needed to be taken away. One of those toys that landed in the donation box was the ability to deduct the interest on home equity loans and home equity lines of credit. But all may not be lost. The tax law splits “qualified residence interest” into two categories:

  • Acquisition Indebtedness
  • Home Equity Indebtedness

Whether or not your home equity loan or HELOC is considered acquisition indebtedness or home equity indebtedness may ultimately determine whether or not the interest on that loan will continue to be deductible in 2018 and future years under the new tax rules. I say “may” because we need additional guidance form the IRS as to how the language in the tax bill will be applied in the real world. As of right now you have some tax professionals stating that all interest from homes equity sources will be disallowed beginning in 2018 and other tax professionals taking the position that home equity loans from acquisition indebtedness will continue to be eligible for the tax deduction in 2018. For the purpose of this article, we will assume that the IRS will continue to allow the deduction of interest on home equity loans and HELOCs associated with acquisition indebtedness.

Acquisition Indebtedness

Acquisition indebtedness is defined as “indebtedness that is secured by the residence and that is incurred in acquiring, constructing, or substantially improving any qualified residence of the taxpayer”. It seems likely, under this definition, if you took out a home equity loan to build an addition on your house, that would be classified as a “substantial improvement” and you would be able to continue to deduct the interest on that home equity loan in 2018. Where we need help from the IRS is further clarification on the definition of “substantial improvement”. Is it any project associated with the house that arguably increases the value of the property?

More good news, this ability to deduct interest on home equity loans and HELOCs for debt that qualifies as “acquisition indebtedness” is not just for loans that were already issued prior to December 31, 2017 but also for new loans.

Home Equity Indebtedness

Home equity indebtedness is debt incurred and secured by the residence that is used for items that do not qualify as “acquisition indebtedness”. Basically everything else. So beginning in 2018, interest on home equity loans and HELOC’s classified as “home equity indebtedness” will not be tax deductible.

No Grandfathering

Unfortunately for taxpayers that already have home equity loans and HELOCs outstanding, the Trump tax reform did not grandfather the deduction of interest for existing loans. For example, if you took a home equity loan in 2016 for $20,000 and there is still a $10,000 balance on the loan, you will be able to deduct the interest that you paid in 2017 but beginning in 2018, the deduction will be lost if it does not qualify as “acquisition indebtedness”.

Partial Deduction

An important follow-up question that I have received from clients is: “what if I took a home equity loan for $50,000, I used $30,000 to renovate my kitchen, but I used $20,000 as a tuition payment for my daughter? Do I lose the deduction on the full outstanding balance of the loan because it was not used 100% for substantial improvements to the house? Great question. Again, we need more clarification on this topic from the IRS but it would seem that you would be allowed to take a deduction of the interest for the portion of the loan that qualifies as “acquisition indebtedness” but you would not be able to deduct the interest attributed to the “non-acquisition or home equity indebtedness”.

Time out……how do you even go about calculating that if it’s all one loan? Even if I can calculate it, how is the IRS going to know what portion of the interest is attributed to the kitchen project and which portion is attributed to the tuition payment? More great questions and we don’t have answers to them right now. These are the types of issues that arise when you rush major tax reform through Congress and then you make it effective immediately. There is a laundry list of unanswered questions and we just have to wait for clarification on from the IRS.

Itemized Deduction

An important note about the deduction of interest on a home equity loan or HELOC, it’s an itemized deduction. You have to itemize in order to capture the tax benefit. Since the new tax rules eliminated or limited many of the itemized deductions available to taxpayers and increased the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filing joint, many taxpayers who previously itemized will elect the standard deduction for the first time in 2018. In other word, regardless of whether or not the IRS allows the deduction for home equity loan interest assigned to acquisition indebtedness, very few taxpayers will reap the benefits of that tax deduction because your itemized deductions would need to exceed the standard deduction thresholds before you would elect to itemize.

Will This Crush The Home Equity Loan Market?

My friends in the banking industry have already started to ask me, “what impact do you think the new tax rules will have on the home equity loan market as a whole?” It obviously doesn’t help but at the same time I don’t think it will deter most homeowners from accessing home equity indebtedness. Why? Even without the deduction, home equity will likely remain one of the cheapest ways to borrow money. Typically the interest rate on home equity loans and HELOCs are lower because the loan is secured by the value of your house. Personal loans, which typically have no collateral, are a larger risk to the lender, so they charge a higher interest rate for those loans.

Also, for most families in the United States, the primary residence is their largest asset. A middle class family may not have access to a $50,000 unsecured personal loan but if they have been paying down their mortgage for the past 15 years, they may have $100,000 in equity in their house. With the cost of college going up and financial aid going down, for many families, accessing home equity via a loan or a line of credit may be the only viable option to help bridge the college funding gap.

Michael Ruger

About Michael………

Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.

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