The road to President Donald Trump’s hotly-debated tax reform plan cleared this week after the Senate approved a $4 trillion budget for next fiscal year. That leaves us to ponder whether changes to the popular mortgage interest deduction, which makes homeownership more affordable for buyers, may be on the horizon.
Senate lawmakers approved the budget measure Thursday by a 51-49 vote. Passing the budget unlocks a process called reconciliation, which enables Republicans to pass a tax bill with a 51-vote majority without support from Democrats.
Senators will next have to reconcile their budget resolution with a separate one passed by the House. Republicans then must craft a full tax plan, which will happen once the House and Senate agree on a budget resolution.
Trump’s nine-page tax plan proposes to slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. That, its supporters say, would relieve some of the federal tax burden from American workers, increasing the amount of money they net in their paychecks. A report released Monday by the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates the cuts could result in Americans’ average annual income increasing by $4,000.
There are caveats. Under the plan, workers wouldn’t feel the effects of tax relief until at least four years after it’s enacted. And some perks that made homeownership more affordable could be in jeopardy.
Critics, such as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, argue that only about 20 percent of the tax burden falls on laborers so slashing corporate tax rates would have little effect on workers’ wages. Democrats feel the plan is only meant to prop the wealthiest Americans although the Trump administration has said the proposal will benefit the shrinking middle class because it will lower taxes for working families.
Despite the uncertainty, supporters of the plan continue to emerge, including a national mortgage association that recently said it welcomes the chance for a “once-in-a-generation” overhaul to the U.S. tax code.
In a letter to Congress, David Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, pledged support for the Trump plan, expressing hopes that it will spur long-term economic growth, create jobs and put more money in Americans’ pockets. He said the MBA favors the plan so long as it preserves key incentives for real estate investment, including the mortgage interest deduction (we’ll talk about this more later).
This comes a few weeks after the National Association of Homebuilders praised the reform plan, calling it a “positive step in the right direction” because it retains the low income housing tax credit, which helps create affordable apartment communities by offering tax incentives to property owners. Although acknowledging there will be tough compromises ahead, the NAHB stressed it wants to work with the Trump administration to ensure that affordable homeownership remains center focus.
Trump administration officials have stressed they want to tax reform passed this year but analysts are skeptical a complete overhaul to the U.S. tax code can be accomplished in a matter of months.
So, about those mortgage deductions…?
The White House is proposing to double the standard deduction homeowners can take at tax time if they don’t itemize.
Individuals who don’t itemize on their income taxes choose the standard deduction. The amount varies each year but was $6,350 this year for single taxpayers and married couples filing separately. It was $12,700 for married couples filing jointly.
The tax reform plan calls for the standard deduction to double, which would make the itemized mortgage interest deduction less useful for many middle-class Americans. Historically, homeowners whose interest on their mortgages was larger than their standard tax deduction benefitted by itemizing. But now that the standard deduction could double, many taxpayers may choose that instead of itemizing to reduce their tax bill.
So, should we worry about potentially losing the value of the itemized deduction?
I’ll reiterate what I mentioned in the last blog about tax reform. Lower taxes on businesses and families that lead to economic expansion would be beneficial for economic health. While the mortgage interest deduction is a nice incentive for homeownership, a flourishing economy with sustained job growth is still the engine that powers a strong, growing housing market.
In housing this week
- The effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma continue to ripple across the housing industry, suppressing new housing starts by 4.7 percent and building permits by 4.5 percent in September. Much of the decline originated in the South, where storms and flooding devastated Texas and Florida. Analysts with Goldman Sachs expect the lag will be temporary.
- Existing-home sales unexpectedly increased last month after three months of consistent declines, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales rose 0.7 percent, surpassing economist expectations that they would fall by 1 percent. Still, the NAR considers the increase meager as overall activity remains subdued thanks to persistently low inventory and soaring prices.