Mortgage Interest Deduction, Once a Sacred Cow, Is Under Scrutiny

by PETER EAVIS, Deal Book  |  published on November 27, 2012

A tax break that has long been untouchable could soon be in for some serious scrutiny.

Many home buyers deduct their mortgage interest when assessing their tax bill, a perk that has helped bolster the income of millions of families — and the broader housing market.

But as President Obama and Congress try to hash out a deal to reduce the budget deficit, the mortgage interest deduction will likely be part of the discussion.

Limits on a broad array of deductions could emerge in any budget deal. It is likely that any caps would be structured to aim at high-income households, and would diminish or end the mortgage tax break for many of those taxpayers.

“This is definitely a chance worth jumping for,” said Amir Sufi, a professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. “For a fixed amount of revenue, it’s better to remove deductions than increase marginal tax rates.”

Such a move would be fiercely opposed by the real estate industry. The industry has played a crucial role in defending the tax break, even as other countries with high homeownership have phased it out.

Housing market players who oppose any whittling down of the mortgage deduction still have plenty of time to press their case before Congress makes a decision. If President Obama and Congress do manage to reach an agreement to avoid the looming tax raises and spending cuts, their deal will be broad in nature. Then, over the following months, Congress will hash out details, like any caps on deductions.

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