The Home Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction for Tax Year 2020

Paying mortgage interest may reduce your taxable income

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Owning your own home comes with some nice tax perks. The home mortgage interest tax deduction is one of them. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) affected this deduction somewhat when it went into effect in 2018, but it didn’t eliminate the deduction from the tax code. It just set some limits and restrictions. 

Here’s how to claim the home mortgage interest tax deduction and what to expect in the process.

How to ​Claim Mortgage Interest on Your Tax Return

​You must itemize your tax deductions on Schedule A of Form 1040 to claim mortgage interest. This means foregoing the standard deduction for your filing status. You can itemize or you can claim the standard deduction, but you can't do both. 

Enter your mortgage interest costs on lines 8 through 8c of Schedule A, then transfer the total from Schedule A to line 12 of the 2020 Form 1040

The 2020 Form 1040 is different from the tax returns that were in use in past tax years, so the lines mentioned above won't necessarily be the same as they were on those returns. Be sure to use the correct Form 1040 for the tax year of which you are filing.

Determining How Much Interest You Paid on Your Mortgage

You should receive Form 1098, the Mortgage Interest Statement, from your mortgage lender after the close of the tax year, typically in January. This form reports the total interest you paid during the previous year if it exceeds $600.

You don't have to attach the form to your tax return because the financial institution must also send a copy of Form 1098 to the IRS, so the IRS already has a copy.

Make sure the mortgage interest deduction you claim on Schedule A matches the amount that’s reported on Form 1098. The amount you can deduct might be less than the total amount that appears on the form based on certain limitations. 

Keep Form 1098 ​with a copy of your filed tax return for at least three years. Keeping copies of your filed returns will help in preparing future tax returns.

Is the Deduction Worth Claiming?

Schedule A covers many other deductible itemized expenses as well, including real estate property taxes, medical expenses, and charitable contributions. ​Sometimes all these add up to more than the standard deduction for your filing status, making it worth the time and effort to itemize your deductions, but sometimes they don't. 

It may be smart to skip the home mortgage interest deduction and claim the standard deduction if the total of all your itemized deductions doesn't exceed the amount of the standard deduction you're entitled to. Standard deduction rates are as follows:

  • Single taxpayers and married taxpayers who file separate returns: $12,400 for 2020, $12,550 for tax year 2021
  • Married taxpayers who file jointly and for qualifying widow(er)s: $24,800 for 2020, $25,100 for tax year 2021
  • Heads of household: $18,650 for 2020, $18,800 for tax year 2021

It may be wise to complete Schedule A and compare the total of your itemized deductions with your standard deduction to find out which method is best for you before filing your return.

Do All Mortgages Qualify for This Tax Deduction?

The home mortgage interest tax deduction comes with several qualifying rules.

This includes interest you paid on loans to buy a home, home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), and even construction loans. But the TCJA placed a significant restriction on home equity debt beginning with the 2018 tax year. You can't claim the deduction for this type of loan unless you can prove that it was taken out to "buy, build, or substantially improve" the property that secures the loan. You can’t claim the tax deduction if you refinance to pay for a college education or wedding, either. 

The tax deduction is also limited to interest you paid on your main home or a second home. Interest paid on third or fourth homes isn't deductible. The home can be a single-family dwelling, condo, mobile home, cooperative, or even a boat—pretty much any property that has "sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities," according to the IRS.

You Must Be the Obligor

​The mortgage can't be in someone else's name unless it's your spouse and you’re filing a joint tax return. You're entitled to deduct only the mortgage interest that you personally paid, regardless of who received the Form 1098 from the lender.

You must also have a contractual obligation to pay the loan back. Your home must act as security for the loan and your mortgage documents must clearly state this. 

Home Construction Loans

You can deduct interest on mortgages used to pay for construction expenses if the proceeds are used exclusively to acquire the land and construct the home. Expenses incurred during the 24 months before construction is completed count toward the $750,000 limit on home acquisition debt.

You might want to check with a tax professional if you bought or sold property during the tax year, or if your home acquisition debt exceeds the $750,000 limit (more on this limit below).

Mortgage Interest Is Deductible on Loans Up to $750,000

Loans used to buy or build a residence are referred to as "home acquisition debts." The term refers to any loan you take for the purpose of "acquiring, constructing, or substantially improving" a qualified home. 

It used to be that you could deduct interest on home acquisition debts of up to $1 million for your main home and/or your secondary residence, but the TCJA reduced this to $750,000 beginning with tax year 2018. The limit drops even more, to $375,000, if you're married and filing a separate return.

Let's say you borrowed $1 million against your primary residence in 2020. That exceeds the $750,000 limit set by the TCJA, so you can only claim mortgage interest paid on the first $750,000 you borrowed.

Exceptions to the Rule 

The IRS acknowledges two exceptions to the $750,000 loan limit. You can use the old $1 million limit in two circumstances:

  1. You took out the mortgage before Dec. 16, 2017, and this mortgage, plus any grandfathered debt, totals $1 million or less
  2. You took out the mortgage on or before Oct. 13, 1987, which makes it “grandfathered” debt

Points You've Paid on Your Mortgage

Points paid on acquisition debt for primary and secondary homes are fully deductible for the tax year in which they were paid, if you itemize your deductions. They aren't always reported on Form 1098, but you should be able to find them on your mortgage settlement statement. You can also ask your mortgage lender.

Key Takeaways

  • Mortgage interest is tax-deductible on mortgages of up to $750,000 unless the mortgage was taken out before Dec. 16, 2017 (then it’s tax-deductible on mortgages of up to $1 million). A mortgage calculator can help you determine how much interest you paid each month last year.
  • You can claim a tax deduction for the interest on the first $750,000 of your mortgage if it’s greater than this amount.
  • HELOCs are no longer eligible for the deduction unless the proceeds are used to "buy, build, or substantially improve" a home.
  • You must itemize your deductions on Schedule A in order to claim the home mortgage interest tax deduction.