The Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series: 
Do I have to pay taxes on the profit I made selling my home?

new-jersey-taxesIt depends on how long you owned and lived in the home before the sale and how much profit you made. If you owned and lived in the place for two of the five years before the sale, then up to $250,000 of profit is tax-free.

If you are married and file a joint return, the tax-free amount doubles to $500,000. The law lets you “exclude” this much otherwise taxable profit from your taxable income. (If you sold for a loss, though, you can’t take a deduction for that loss.)

You can use this exclusion every time you sell a primary residence, as long as you owned and lived in it for two of the five years leading up to the sale, and haven’t claimed the exclusion on another home in the last two years.

If your profit exceeds the $250,000 or $500,000 limit, the excess is reported as a capital gain on Schedule D.

How do I qualify for this tax break?

There are three tests you must meet in order to treat the gain from the sale of your main home as tax-free:

  • Ownership: You must have owned the home for at least two years (730 days or 24 full months) during the five years prior to the date of your sale. It doesn’t have to be continuous, nor does it have to be the two years immediately preceding the sale. If you lived in a house for a decade as your primary residence, then rented it out for two years prior to the sale, for example, you would still qualify under this test.
  • Use: You must have used the home you are selling as your principal residence for at least two of the five years prior to the date of sale.
  • Timing: You have not excluded the gain on the sale of another home within two years prior to this sale.

If you’re married and want to use the $500,000 exclusion:

You must file a joint return.

At least one spouse must meet the ownership requirement, and both you and your spouse must have lived in the house for two of the five years leading up to the sale.

Special circumstances

Even if you don’t meet all of these requirements, there are special rules that may allow you to claim either the full exclusion or a partial exclusion:

  • If you acquire ownership of a home as part of a divorce settlement, you can count the time the place was owned by your former spouse as time you owned the home for purposes of passing the two-out-of-five-years test.
  • To meet the use requirement, you are allowed to count short temporary absences as time lived in the home, even if you rented the home to others during these absences. If you or your spouse is granted use of a home as part of a divorce or separation agreement, the spouse who doesn’t live in the home can still count the days of use that the other spouse lives in that home. This can come into play if one spouse moves out of the house, but continues to own part or all of it until it is sold.
  • If either spouse dies and the surviving spouse has not remarried prior to the date the home is sold, the surviving spouse can count the period the deceased spouse owned and used the property toward the ownership-and-use test.

Members of the uniformed services, foreign service and intelligence agencies:

You can choose to have the five-year-test period for ownership and use suspended for up to ten years during any period you or your spouse serve on “qualified official extended duty” as a member of the uniformed services, Foreign Service or the federal intelligence agencies. You are on qualified extended duty when, for more than 90 days or for an indefinite period, you are:

  • At a duty station that is at least 50 miles from your main home, or
  • Residing under government orders in government housing

This means that you may be able to meet the two-year use test even if, because of your service, you did not actually live in your home for at least the required two years during the five years prior to the sale.

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The Blog Series will cover many topics such as How do I qualify for a home seller break?, How do I qualify for a home buyer break?, Do I have to report the home sale on my return?, What is the gain on the sale of my home?, What Are Home Renovation Tax Credits?, Deducting Mortgage Interest, Taking the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, How to Avoid Taxes on Canceled Mortgage Debt, Tax Incentives as they relate to Life’s biggest transitions, such as Marriage, the Birth of a Baby, Divorce, or the death of a Spouse and much more. New posts in this Blog Series will be published twice weekly. 

More info about the Patrick Parker Realty Tax Season Blog Series >

For more information about paying taxes on the sale or purchase of your home or any other questions you have about this article please speak with your tax professional or visit www.irs.gov.