Selling your home? Here’s how previous house sales might affect your capital gains tax
Dear Liz: I am selling my house and will not be buying another one. I believe that I know the rules of capital gains taxes in general. However, must I include the capital gains of previous homes, even those experienced many years ago?
Before 1997, homeowners could avoid capital gains taxes by rolling their profits into another home, as long as the purchase price of the new house was equal to or greater than the home they sold. Homeowners 55 and older could get a one-time exclusion of up to $125,000.
The rules changed in 1997. Now homeowners can exclude up to $250,000 of home sale gains as long as they have owned and lived in the home at least two of the prior five years. A married couple can exclude up to $500,000.
If you have not sold a home since the rules changed, however, any previously deferred gains would lower the tax basis on your current home.
Let’s say you bought your current home for $300,000 prior to 1997. Normally, that amount (plus certain other expenses, including qualifying home improvements) would be your tax basis. If the net proceeds from your sale were $500,000, for example, you would subtract the $300,000 basis from that amount for a capital gain of $200,000.
But now let’s say you rolled $200,000 of capital gains from previous home sales into your current home. That amount would be subtracted from your tax basis, so your capital gain would be $400,000 — the $500,000 net sale proceeds minus your $100,000 tax basis.
Before selling any home, you should consult with a tax pro to make sure you understand how capital gains taxes may affect the sale. You don’t want to find out you owe a big tax bill after you’ve spent or invested the proceeds.
Homeowners of any age can exclude up to $250,000 each in capital gains on the sale of their primary residence, under certain conditions.
Dear Liz: Today’s stock market is one of the most volatile of all time. So many issues affect it, and there seems to be no end in sight to war in Ukraine, inflation, high fuel prices, the pandemic, China conflict concerns and more. Any one of these would cause the market pain, but together it’s scary. I have a broker who’s used to riding ups and downs, and says to me to be patient. In the meantime I’ve lost 25% of a portfolio that was extremely fruitful until January of this year. Please give me guidance on working with a broker, finding one who knows how to navigate this market and isn’t mired in some tradition of riding waves. I need one who sees opportunity and knows how to take advantage and get out appropriately.
Answer: The reason your broker is “mired in some tradition of riding waves” is because that’s the one approach that consistently works. It’s the advisors who promise you that they can “see opportunity” and “get out appropriately” that can cost you big time. Advisors who try to time the market — which is what you’re asking them to do — inevitably fail. They might get out in time to avoid the crash but rebounds happen so swiftly that they’ll miss a good chunk of the recovery before they get back in.
There is no reward without risk, and riding out inevitable downturns is how investors get ahead over time. Trying to outsmart the market just leads to extra costs that lower your ultimate returns.
Divorce means splitting up the credit cards you shared. Here’s how to go about it.
Dear Liz: My ex passed three years ago. I have done everything to try to get a copy of our divorce papers. I’ve lost out on three years of divorced survivor benefits. Social Security said I must have a copy of the papers before I apply. I have contacted the last places where he lived and sent money orders to the capital cities of those states to no avail. I’m at a loss.
Answer: You need to contact the court clerk in the county where your divorce was finalized and ask for instructions on getting a copy of the documents. Sending out money orders at random won’t do anything but waste your cash. (You may be able to get some money back if the money orders haven’t been cashed, however. You’ll need to contact the issuer, provide a receipt and pay a cancellation fee.)
Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.
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