Do I Have to Pay Capital Gains Tax on My Primary Residence When I Sell?

Written by James Hirby | Fact checked by The Law Dictionary staff |  

Although you may not realize it, your home is one of the largest investments that you'll ever own. Whether it's worth $100,000 or $500,000, its value exceeds that of all but the most expensive cars. Even if you have an investment portfolio with a value larger than that of your home, it's probably comprised of dozens of individual tranches of stocks and bonds rather than one or two monolithic holdings.

As an investment vehicle, your home is subject to the same taxes as your other investments. The proceeds that you'll realize from selling your home are technically "capital gains." Although the tax code changes frequently, you should assume that any capital gains that you earn upon finalizing the sale of your home are taxable according to a simple scale.

"Long-term" capital gains are defined as gains realized on an investment held for more than one year. These are currently taxed at a 15 percent marginal rate. "Short-term" capital gains are defined as gains realized after a holding period of less than one year. These are currently taxed at the same rate as regular forms of income. In the coming years, it's likely that tax rates on long-term capital gains will increase markedly.

However, you might not be subject to any capital gains taxes on the sale of your home. According to the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, you're exempt from paying taxes on real estate capital gains of $250,000 or less. If you file your taxes jointly with your spouse, you may be exempt from paying taxes on up to $500,000 of such capital gains income.

It's important to note that the laws governing taxes on home sales change regularly. In fact, a new law that became effective at the outset of the 2013 tax year may subject certain home-sellers to a Medicare surcharge meant to offset the cost of the Affordable Care Act. If you sold your home after January 1, 2013 and earned more than $250,000 on the sale, you'll probably be subject to a surcharge of 3.8 percent on any capital gains that you earned in excess of the standard $250,000 exemption. You'll need to check with your tax professional to determine how best to pay this surcharge. If you earned less than $50,000 in other income during the tax year in which you sold your home, you may not need to pay the full amount of this new Medicare tax.

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