From NAHB July 25, 2013 – As the Senate examines existing tax policies as part of its “blank slate” approach to tax reform, and as the House Ways and Means Committee continues its review of the tax code, it is appropriate to keep in mind the importance of the mortgage interest deduction (MID) as a middle-class tax provision that makes it possible for many families to achieve homeownership. It is also useful to review some of the claims against the MID to determine if those claims are valid. Economists at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) have analyzed data from the IRS and the Census Bureau, as well as estimates from other sources, to assess the validity of these claims.
Claim #1: The wealthy get most of the benefit from the mortgage interest deduction.
Fact: The majority of the tax benefits from the MID go to middle-class households. Data from the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation shows that 86 percent of households who benefit from the mortgage interest deduction have incomes of less than $200,000. It is also useful to keep in mind that the majority of home owning households are married couples, so the household income measure will often include two incomes.
Claim #2: Repealing the mortgage interest deduction would not damage the economy or individual households.
Fact: Almost all studies examining the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction find that it would reduce demand for housing by raising taxes on prospective home buyers. This reduction in housing demand would also lower home values for existing home owners who would experience a significant loss in wealth.
A 1 percent decline in home prices would result in a loss of $185 billion to American households. Just a 6 percent decline would eliminate $1 trillion in household net worth. If repealing the deduction lowered prices by 10 percent or more, Americans would lose trillions of dollars in household net worth. If home values fall, then more families will find themselves under water, in default and in foreclosure. Eliminating the mortgage interest deduction would reduce the financial resources families can draw on for education, entrepreneurship and retirement. And if home values fall, then state and local tax revenues fall, making it harder to fund schools, infrastructure, public safety and other important government functions. Repealing the MID would have serious economic consequences.
Claim #3: Only a small percentage of home owners claim the mortgage interest deduction.
Fact: The mortgage interest deduction is broadly claimed. Seventy percent of home owners with a mortgage claim the MID in a given year, and almost all home owners benefit from the deduction at some point during their homeownership lifecycle.
The argument that only an estimated “quarter of taxpayers” claim the deduction is misleading because it ignores the lifecycle element of homeownership. Of the two-thirds of households who are home owners, one-third own free-and-clear with no mortgage. And of those with a mortgage who claim the standard deduction in lieu of the MID, many are in the final years of a mortgage and are paying small amounts of interest and greater amounts of principal. In the early years of their mortgage when much greater amounts went to interest, those home owners very likely claimed the mortgage interest deduction.
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