Skip to comments.Time to scrap the mortgage interest deduction: Simplify the Tax Code and Lower Tax Rates for All
Posted on 03/28/2014 7:03:46 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
In the coming weeks, Americans will spend an average of 13 hours and $210 to prepare their federal taxes. Beyond the compliance burden the federal tax code imposes, it also distorts economic activity and discriminates against some taxpayers in favor of others. But one of its most egregiously unfair provisions is also among its most popular - the mortgage interest deduction.
In theory, the mortgage interest deduction is supposed to encourage home ownership, a questionable goal for government to begin with. The purpose of taxes is to raise money to finance government services, not to manipulate human behavior or economic activity.
When lawmakers tell taxpayers that they can keep more of their money but only if they spend that money the way politicians want its just as much an exertion of government power as a spending program.
Allowing individuals to deduct mortgage interest payments drives up taxes on other Americans given the need to recoup the lost revenue, or, alternatively, adds to the deficit. The mortgage interest deduction itself drains $100 billion annually from the U.S. Treasury. When other tax policies meant to encourage home ownership are added - including the deductibility of state and local property taxes and the exemption of capital gains taxes from selling a home - that number rises to $175 billion.
But even if one were to accept that boosting home ownership is a worthy goal for government, the interest deduction and accompanying tax benefits for homeowners should be seen as a miserable failure. That's the conclusion of economists Andrew Hanson, Ike Brannon, and Zackary Hawley in a study prepared for the R Street Institute, a right-of-center think tank, and published in National Affairs.
The authors took a detailed look at the distribution of existing tax benefits for home ownership and found that the benefits do more to help wealthier Americans purchase larger homes than they do to encourage lower-income Americans who otherwise would be renting to purchase homes in the first place.
The study found that in Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington, D.C., 80 percent of taxpayers earning more than $100,000 claimed the deduction, compared with just 25 percent of those earning less.
In monetary terms, the deduction is also significantly more valuable for higher-income households.
The deduction applies to mortgage debt of up to $1 million and debt from second homes can count toward that amount. Furthermore, because high-income earners are taxed at a higher rate, each dollar of earnings they get to deduct from their taxes is worth more.
A family with a household income of $500,000 with $1 million in mortgage debt being financed at 4 percent would generate $16,000 per year in tax savings, according to the authors calculations. In contrast, a household earning near the national median income of $51,000 with a home worth $221,000 (the median price), would receive tax savings of one-tenth that amount.
There are several leading objections to scrapping the mortgage interest deduction. One is that it would drive down home prices. Another is that American homeowners already purchased homes and did tax planning on the assumption that the tax benefit would be in place.
As to the first argument, while its true that limiting or eliminating the deduction would reduce the artificially inflated value of homes, that would be true of homes everywhere. That means homes would be cheaper for people shopping for new homes, as well as those hoping to sell their current homes and purchase new ones.
Also, proposals to reform the mortgage interest deduction can be designed to phase in the changes over time, so that homeowners can gradually adjust.
Recently, House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., offered a comprehensive tax reform proposal that would allow individuals with existing mortgages to keep the deduction as is, while gradually reducing the cap to $500,000 for new mortgages. Another idea proposed by the authors is to change the deduction to a flat rate tax credit, to limit the subsidy provided to upper-income taxpayers while simultaneously expanding it at the lower end of the income distribution.
My preferred approach would be to slowly phase it out over time as part of a broader tax reform that lowered tax rates for everybody.
All the mortgage tax deduction does is help inflate the price of homes.
Not going to happen. Only retiring politicians would vote for something like that.
There’s no such thing as “fair” taxes. The two words should never be in the same paragraph, let alone in the same sentence or next to each other.
but I bought it as an “invuhst muhnt”...............
sheesh, like you get a tax break for having a huge unpaid debt
people are so stupid
OK, so professionals will just form a corporation, have it buy a house, and rent it to themselves. All mortgage interest, maintenance, etc will be business expenses.
If people had to send a check to Government (State, Local & Federal) every MONTH and actually SAW how ripped off we all are, the White House would be stormed and the Tax Codes would be changed overnight.
Let’s do the same for sales taxes, too, and gasoline taxes and every other hidden ‘fee’ we pay each and every day.
Infuriating! And they now wish to take away the meager CRUMBS they throw to we RESPONSIBLE, hard-working Taxpayers?
If 10% is good enough for God, 1% should be good enough for government.
Does anyone still deduct mortgage interest? I haven’t for years - I use Standard Deductions and thats it.
I wish the article had hard and fast numbers for the total US taxpayers who itemize for mortgage interest. I bet its not much.
I’ve been in favor of scrapping this deduction since the mid-1980’s. And I was able to take the deduction back then. The problem is that most people vote their wallets (which is one reason we are in the mess we’re in) and are against it because they will lose one of their deductions.
Interestingly, because interest rates are so low and in many parts of the country you can get an amazing home for under $200k. When compared to the standard deduction, it means the mortgage deduction has become a dedection for the upper middle class and above.
But yeah, simplify the dang tax code. This would be another step i the right direction.
You are correct. And the analysis in the article is also correct in saying that it is a welfare program primarily for rich people. Makes no sense. Get rid of it.
“OK, so professionals will just form a corporation, have it buy a house, and rent it to themselves. All mortgage interest, maintenance, etc will be business expenses.”
We plan on doing exactly that when we start farming full time. ;)
1% would never support the Empire.
I just never get over sometimes hearing idiots partly justify their purchase of a home because of the tax deduction, as if it were free money in their pocket.
Heh, heh. That’s the idea.
Perfectly valid, though, when comparing the cost of a mortgage to paying rent.
The real estate lobby is by far bigger than any other self interest group in DC. Dropping the deduction ain’t happening.
How about fairER taxes?
Taxes based on consumption instead of income (which is a measure of your productivity).
Of course, if we want the only “biblical approved” tax, it would be a head tax.
I’m sorry, absent from this math is taxes that actually cover what the federal government spends, not the current taxed amount. So if we add in all the government actually spends in a given year, taxes go up. Strange this concept, paying for the outrageous spending by the government, but hey, that’s how you actually reform the system.
Then again, such an idea would explode the Taxed Enough Already party.
Quick, let’s give away more money! There’s a government worker out there who doesn’t currently have the opportunity to double dip on their pensions.
The mortgage interest deduction isn’t worth much because rates have been so low for so long. But getting rid of it just amounts to an income tax increase.
Flat income tax.
Personal exemptions should be worth, say, $25,000, so the income tax cuts would fall disproportionately on those who don’t make a lot. The other exemptions would be for retirement accounts and medical spending accounts. Health insurance would be made the responsibility of the citizen.
Eliminate most or all federal excise taxes, in particular, the retail fuel tax, replacing that example with a $10 a barrel tax on imports *and* exports of fuel (crude and refined), then eliminate the “carbon” BS and open up drilling. Prohibit state excise tax increase on fuel.
Impose a 2 percent federal sales tax, exempting food, but also defining food (iow, reform food stamps so that they can’t be used for junk food). Prohibit state sales tax increases, or maybe cap them at 5 percent. California for example used to have a different sales tax rate in each suburb, as I recall from my 1984 trip to LA.