The Investment Interest Expense Deduction in 2020

Investors who borrow money to invest may be able to deduct their loan interest

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Individual taxpayers can still claim investment interest expenses as an itemized deduction on Schedule A of their Form 1040 tax returns. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) eliminated most miscellaneous itemized deductions beginning in 2018 through at least 2025, but the investment interest deduction has survived.

What Is Investment Interest?

Investment interest is interest paid on a loan where the proceeds were used to purchase property you held for investment. According to the Internal Revenue Service, "Property held for investment includes property that produces interest, dividends, annuities, or royalties not derived in the ordinary course of a trade or business. It also includes property that produces gain or loss."

In other words, if you take out a loan to buy stocks, interest on that loan can be deducted as investment interest. Investment interest should also be deducted when high earners calculate the 3.8% Net Investment Income tax on net investment income.

Limitations on the Deduction

The amount of interest that can be deducted in any particular year is limited to a taxpayer's net investment income for that same year. It can't exceed that amount.

According to the IRS, investment income includes:

"Your gross income from property held for investment (such as interest, dividends, annuities, and royalties). Investment income does not include Alaska Permanent Fund dividends. It also does not include qualified dividends or net capital gain unless you choose to include them."

How to Calculate Your Investment Income 

Investment income means investment income minus investment expenses, other than any interest expenses that were incurred only for purposes of calculating the investment interest deduction.

You can determine your net investment income by subtracting your investment expenses not including your interest expense from your investment income. Investment expense deductions can include accounting fees, legal fees, fees for automatic investment services, fees for investment advice, and safe deposit box costs.

The Capital Gains Election

Taxpayers can elect to include qualified dividends and net capital gains in the calculation of net investment income for the year for the purpose of deducting investment interest. This election is accomplished by choosing how much of your qualified dividends and net capital gains you want to include in net investment income on line 4(g) of Form 4952

The effect of this election is that qualified dividends and net capital gains included in net investment income are taxed at ordinary tax rates, not at the lower long-term capital gains tax rates. But another effect of this election is that you could have higher net investment income and thus a higher deduction for investment interest.

The IRS advises: "You should consider the tax effect of using the qualified dividends and capital gains tax rates before making this election." 

This election must be made on a "timely filed" tax return—that is, a return that's filed by the extended due date for the year, or in April if you didn't ask for an extension of time to file. Taxpayers can amend a previously filed return to make this election within six months of the original due date. After it's made, the election can be revoked only with the consent of the Internal Revenue Service.

How to Claim the Deduction 

Investment expenses are a deduction on Schedule A of Form 1040.

You might or might not have to include Form 4952 as well. The IRS advises in Publication 550 that it's not necessary to file Form 4952 if you meet all the following tests: 

  • Your investment interest expense is not more than your investment income from interest and ordinary dividends minus any qualified dividends.
  • You do not have any other deductible investment expenses.
  • You have no carryover of investment interest expense from the previous year.

You can deduct all your investment interest if you qualify.

You Must Forego the Standard Deduction

Itemizing or claiming the standard deduction for your filing status is a choice—you can't do both. Itemizing therefore only makes sense if the total of all your itemized deductions exceeds the amount of the standard deduction that you're entitled to claim. And the TCJA also increased standard deductions significantly, so this might be a high hurdle to clear.

For tax year 2020 the deduction for single filers is set at $12,400 (increased from $12,200 for the 2019 tax year). For married taxpayers who file jointly it's $24,800 (increased from $24,400 in 2019). For 2020, it's $18,650 for those who qualify as head of household (up from $18,350 for 2019).

Your total itemized deductions should exceed these amounts or you'll end up paying tax on more income than you have to.

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