Kate Ashford , CONTRIBUTOR
As the debate continues on proposed tax reform, one of the issues that has attracted attention is the deduction for mortgage interest. Although the tax framework under discussion wouldn't cut the deduction, the plan proposes a potential doubling of the standard deduction, which could make the mortgage interest deduction a moot point for many people who claim it—they wouldn't have enough in deductions to warrant itemizing.
Is that a big deal? President Donald Trump's chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, doesn't think so, saying, “People don't buy homes because of the mortgage deduction.” The reason people buy homes, Cohn says, is because “they're excited and optimistic about the economy.”
Not everyone agrees with this belief. The National Association of Realtors suggests that if homeowners lose the incentive of the mortgage interest deduction, it could affect home sales and even negatively affect home values. The president of the NAR, William Brown, said in a statement, 'There's a reason our nation has incentivized homeownership in the tax code for over a century. It works.”
When it comes to taxpayers themselves, the mortgage interest deduction (MID) isn't benefiting everyone. More than three-quarters of mortgage interest deductions went to homeowners making more than $100,000 a year in 2012, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And only about a quarter of tax returns claim the MID overall.
But for those taxpayers who are claiming it, the MID may have played a key role in their decision to buy a home, according to financial experts. “The mortgage interest deduction is often an incentive for prospective homeowners, particularly here in the Northeast where housing prices are considerably higher than the national average,” says George Gagliardi, a financial planner in Lexington, MA. “I always factor in the deductibility of mortgage interest for my clients when I get the question about a new house's affordability on their budget.”