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Most homebuyers are going to need a mortgage loan in order to buy a house, but these days it’s not unheard of for buyers to purchase their home with cold, hard cash. Whether it’s money saved, equity from the sale of a previous home, a cash windfall, or using a cash offer platform from a lender, buying a home for cash has become more and more common.
As a buyer, you might think that paying cash for a house is the easiest, most hassle-free way to buy — and quite often, it is! But when large amounts of cash change hands, there is one thing you always need to consider: tax ramifications.
Taxes aren’t something we really like to think about, but it’s important to know what, if anything, you need to do in terms of what the IRS might require when you buy a house with cash. Do you report the sale? Are you responsible for any additional taxes or fees? And what about potential write-offs for the purchase? Do you still qualify for any kind of tax break?
We’ve talked to real estate agents who are in the know, as well as tax specialists who understand just what the IRS might require from you as a cash buyer, to help you decide whether or not you should really consider paying cash for that new home.
Who buys homes for cash, and how does it work?
“A lot of people pay cash, especially in situations where there are multiple offers,” she says. “Cash is king, and it does speak to people.”
McDermut says that in her area, where there is a fairly wealthy demographic, there are cash sales on a regular basis. But cash sales also seem to have become a big bargaining chip for buyers across the country.
According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), as of April 2021, the proportion of non-first-time buyers paying cash was 25%, an increase of 10 percentage points from just one year ago. And where it used to be that cash purchases were often made by investors, the NAR survey states that buyers paying cash for a primary residence have increased from 12% in 2018 and 2019, to 15% in 2021.
Why so many cash transactions?
In markets where inventory is low, bidding wars aren’t uncommon, and a cash offer can get a seller’s attention quickly.
Cash transactions tend to be fairly streamlined, explains McDermut, and closings often take place in as little as 10 days, as opposed to the usual 30 or so days it takes when going through a mortgage lender.
“People pay cash for the ease of the deal,” she says. “It closes quickly, and they often waive any appraisals or contingencies.”
While paying with actual wads of cash isn’t really recommended, buyers can use a cashier’s check or personal check. Title companies will usually advise using a wire transfer, however, which is the safest way to ensure your money gets deposited correctly.
Do you have to report your purchase to the IRS?
According to Robert Hall & Associates Senior Tax Consultant Tony Watson, the burden of reporting the sale of the home goes to the sellers.
“The seller of the property reports the 1099-S gross sales amount and their individual information for the property,” he says.
The IRS is primarily concerned with capital gains, which is the net profit made from a home sale. Sellers who have used the house as their primary residence for less than two years will have to report capital gains, and may have to pay some taxes on that profit. But as a buyer, you don’t have to worry about any of that!
“For the purchaser, the only thing that reports to the IRS is the deduction of property taxes paid through escrow,” says Watson. “Since the property is bought for cash, there is no debt, therefore no mortgage interest.”
Property taxes are really the only reason why the IRS would be concerned with your home purchase, and that would only be if taxes went unpaid on the property and they had to place a lien on it.
Do you have to report your purchase to anyone else?
While you don’t report the purchase, depending on the details of your purchase, your title company may be required to report the transaction to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen).
You should also keep in mind that cash-based transactions over $10,000 are tracked by FinCen through a form 8300, which must be filed by the seller. Breaking that transaction into smaller amounts in order to avoid having to report them is illegal, and you’ll get in trouble if you get caught!
Do I lose out on any tax benefits when I pay with cash?
“Don’t expect massive write-offs or to save lots in taxes if you purchase with cash,” says Watson. “Depending on if the home is being used as a primary residence or a rental property, [some of] the closing costs may or may not be deductible. And at the end of the day, the tax savings would be minimal.”
Paying cash for a house means you don’t get the write-offs that go with a mortgage loan, but some buyers will actually refinance the home after the purchase is complete so they can take advantage of any potential tax benefits.
“I have buyers who pay cash, then refinance and pull a loan out,” says McDermut. “As long as they refinance within allowed time limits, they can still get the tax breaks of a mortgage loan.”
McDermut adds that buyers pay cash to get into a house quickly, since cash is enticing to sellers and the house can close right away. Then, they immediately pull that equity back out of the house through a refinance and invest elsewhere.
“Interest rates are so low right now, why would you not have your money working for you and also get those write-offs?”
Is buying with cash really the way to go?
Like most things in life, it depends. If your financial situation affords a cash purchase for a home, there are certain benefits, such as not having to wait out the mortgage loan process, and potentially being more attractive to sellers who want a quick sale.
There are, however, some benefits to carrying a loan on the home.
“Debt is…a good and bad thing,” says Watson. “It is often best, from a wealth-building perspective, to use other people’s money to make money. As long as interest rates are low, borrowing can be a good thing if that debt is affordable to the buyer.”
Watson does caution that while there are tax write-offs associated with having a mortgage, it’s up to the buyer to determine what makes the most sense for them.
“The write-offs are great,” he says, “but it doesn’t always save the taxpayer as much as it costs them in the long run.”
Regardless of how you decide to pay for your new home, getting help from an experienced agent is key. They will discuss the pros and cons of paying cash, guide you toward a tax specialist to help answer any questions, and can make sure that you’ve got all the information you need to make an informed decision about your purchase.
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