Surprise! The Gain on the Sale of Your Home May Be Taxable

Expecting to sell your home at a gain and not pay capital-gains tax? Not so fast. In some cases, you can still owe the IRS when you sell a home.

Feb 9, 2014 at 12:00PM

Since 1998, most people haven't had to worry about owing taxes when they sell their home, even if they clear a hefty profit when they do so. There's no longer any need to buy another house to roll over any gain, and in many cases the taxpayers don't even have to report the sale of their homes on their tax returns.

You can still owe tax on some or all of the gain from the sale of your home, however. Tax will be due if one or more of the following are true.

1. You didn't own and live in the house for two of the last five years
If you sell your home at a gain before two years are up and you don't qualify for any of the exceptions, you pay tax on the gain.

Exceptions: If you have to move because of health, a job transfer, or other unforeseen circumstances, you may still be able to exclude your gain. The maximum amount you can exclude will be prorated.

For example, let's say you were single and you owned and lived in a house for one year before you were transferred by your employer to another state. You met the requirements for 50% of the two-year time period. You can exclude up to $125,000 of gain from the sale ($250,000 times 50%.)

2. The house appreciated in value when you were not living in it
Prior to 2008, you could have a vacation or investment home for years -- decades, even -- and watch it go up in value. So long as you moved into it for two years before you sold it, you could exclude up to the maximum amount of gain. That loophole has been closed. You cannot exclude gain from while you were not living in the house. For this purpose, the house is assumed to have gone up in value the same amount every year while you owned it.

3. The house went up in value more than the exclusion amount
It's not far-fetched, especially in some parts of the country. The amount of gain you can exclude from the sale of a home is $250,000 ($500,000 if filing jointly). A home can go up in value more than $250,000, or $500,000 if you are filing jointly. You'll pay tax on the gain over that amount.

4. It wasn't your main residence
The rules for excluding gain on the sale of your home only apply to your main residence. If you have a second home or any other home or investment property, you may owe capital-gains tax when you sell.

5. You or your spouse already took an exclusion within the last two years
You can't take this deduction more often than once every two years. This rule can catch people unawares, especially if one spouse sold a home before they got married. In that case, you'll want to wait until two years after the sale before you sell another house at a gain.

Excluding a gain on the sale of a home is still one of the best deals in the tax code -- when you meet the requirements. Make sure you stay within the rules, if possible, to avoid any surprise gain when you file your return.

The No. 1 Way to Lose Your Wealth Without Even Knowing It
You’ve fought hard to build wealth for you and your family. Yet one all-too-common pitfall could completely derail your dreams before you even know it. That's why a company The Economist hails as "an ethical oasis" has isolated five simple questions you must answer to ensure that your financial future is really secure.

Can you answer YES to all five of these eye-opening questions?
Click here to find out -- before it’s too late!

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information