There is a lot to hate in the Republican tax reform plan contained in the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. (click here for a summary and here for the text of the bill itself). Overall, the bill is extraordinarily regressive, heavily favoring the wealthy. There will, of course, be all sorts of compromises to this proposal as Republicans work to get it passed. But it is worth highlighting what is good about the bill as it would be a shame to lose sight of it while the sausage is being made in Congress.
The best real-estate related provision from a policy perspective is the reduction of the mortgage interest deduction. In a section of the summary with the Orwellian title, Preserving the Mortgage Interest Deduction, the Republicans outline how they will slice the deduction in half:
For so many Americans, buying a home is often the largest investment – and perhaps most important – investment they will make in their lifetime.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will continue to support the American dream of homeownership by preserving the Mortgage Interest Deduction.
This ensures that hardworking families can continue to access this important tax relief as they buy, own, and maintain their home.
• Increasing the standard deduction means a simpler, fairer, and flatter tax code in which fewer taxpayers need to go through the trouble of determining whether they should itemize.
• Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers will still be able to deduct mortgage interest in excess of the standard deduction, in combination with other remaining itemized deductions, including charitable contributions and property taxes.
• The mortgage interest deduction would be available for interest paid on new mortgages for up to $500,000 in home acquisition indebtedness on principal residences.
• For existing mortgages, the plan allows for current law deduction on indebtedness of up to $1,000,000 and up to $100,000 in home equity to help taxpayers who may have relied on the current mortgage-interest deduction.
How This Policy Helps the American People
Preserving the home mortgage – and the deduction for state and local property taxes – will help more Americans of all income levels achieve the American dream of homeownership. (15-16)
This plan would cut the principal amount of a mortgage that would be eligible for the mortgage interest deduction from the current maximum of $1,000,000 to $500,000. Given that wealthy households generally take the mortgage interest deduction more often and get more bang for their buck from it, it is a regressive aspect of the tax code.
It is striking that a provision with such broad support such as the mortgage interest deduction is actually on the table. It will be interesting to see how special interests in the real estate industry will respond. My bet is that at the end of day the deduction will remain mostly untouched, even though this particular Republican proposal makes good policy sense.