Democratic lawmakers decided on a new 3.8 percent tax on the net investment income of high-income persons. But the claim that this would amount to a $15,200 tax on the sale of a typical $400,000 home is false.
Individuals with incomes over $200,000 a year ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) will be subject to it. And even for those who have such high incomes, the tax still won’t apply to the first $250,000 on profits from the sale of a personal residence — or to the first $500,000 in the case of a married couple selling their home.
This provision begins on page 33 of the reconciliation bill that was passed and signed into law. and it does say the tax falls on "net gain … attributable to the disposition of property." That would include the sale of a home. But the bill also says the tax falls only on that portion of any gain that is "taken into account in computing taxable income" under the existing tax code. And the fact is, the first $250,000 in profit on the sale of a primary residence (or $500,000 in the case of a married couple) is excluded from taxable income already. (That exclusion doesn’t apply to vacation homes or rental properties.)
The Joint Committee on Taxation, the group of nonpartisan tax experts that Congress relies on to analyze tax proposals, underscores this in a footnote on page 139 of its report on the bill. The note states: "Gross income does not include … excluded gain from the sale of a principal residence."
The sort of people affected, might include:
- A single executive making $210,000 a year who sells his $300,000 ski condo for a $50,000 profit. His tax on the sale of that vacation home would amount to $1,900, in addition to the capital gains tax he would have paid anyway.
- An "empty nester" couple with combined income of over $250,000 a year who sell their $1 million primary residence to move to smaller quarters. If they cleared $600,000 on the sale, they would be taxed on $100,000 of the profit (the amount over the half-million-dollar exclusion). Their health care tax on the sale would amount to $3,800 over and above the usual capital gains levy.
For the vast majority, the 3.8 percent tax won’t apply. The Tax Foundation, in a report released April 15, said the new tax on investment income (including real estate) "will hit approximately the top-earning two percent of families" when it takes effect in 2013.
The Internal Revenue Service says that to qualify for the $250,000/$500,000 exclusion, a seller must have owned the home and lived there as the seller’s "main home" for at least two years out of the five years prior to the sale.