A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “Time to Repeal the Mortgage Deduction.” One of the big arguments against the deduction is that, far from being a break for the middle class, households earning $125,000 a year and higher get 80 percent of the benefits. Now, according to an analysis by Laura Kusisto of the Wall Street Journal, Congress is floating a tax reform plan that would keep the deduction but make it even more lopsidedly favorable to the rich.
The latest proposal would preserve the mortgage deduction, at least on paper, but narrow the appeal of itemizing by doubling the standard deduction. According to data from Zillow, cited by Kusisto, it now pays to itemize, on average, only for homeowners with houses worth more than $305,000, or 30 percent homes. If the standard deduction were doubled, the breakeven point would rise to $801,000, or about 5 percent of homes.
Who would be the winners and losers from these changes? To answer, we need to consider the effect on home prices as well as the effect on taxes. Kusisto cites a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers that says average home prices would fall by 10 percent without the mortgage deduction, with most of the effect felt by lower-priced homes. In that case, the effects would break out as follows:
- Middle-class homeowners who stay in their current homes would not be greatly affected. What they lost from the mortgage deduction they would gain back from the higher standard deduction.
- Middle-class first-time home buyers would be winners. They would gain both from the higher standard deduction and from lower prices on starter homes.
- Middle-class families who sell their homes without buying another (for example, to move to assisted living) would be the biggest losers. Loss of the mortgage deduction would erode gains from the higher standard deduction, while the sales value of their homes would drop.
- High-earners with expensive homes and enough deductibles to itemize would be little affected one way or the other.
- Realtors and mortgage lenders who earn a percentage on the price of each new home would be losers.