Article Highlights:
Interest Categories
Category Deductibility
Interest Tracing Rules

A frequent question that arises when borrowing money is whether or not the interest will be tax deductible. That can be a complicated question, and unfortunately not all interest an individual pays is deductible. The rules for deducting interest vary, depending on whether the loan proceeds are used for personal, investment, or business activities. Interest expense can fall into any of the following categories:
Personal interest – is not deductible. Typically this includes interest from personal credit card debt, personal car loan interest, home appliance purchases, etc.

Investment interest – this is interest paid on debt incurred to purchase investments such as land, stocks, mutual funds, etc. However, interest on debt to acquire or carry tax-free investments is not deductible at all. The annual investment interest deduction is limited to “net investment income,” which is the total taxable investment income reduced by investment expenses (other than expenses related to investments that produce non-taxable income). The investment interest deduction is only allowed to taxpayers who itemize their deductions.

Home mortgage interest – includes the interest on debt to purchase, construct or substantially improve a taxpayer’s principal home or second home. This type of loan is referred to as acquisition debt. For the interest to be deductible the debt must be secured by the home purchased, constructed, or substantially improved. A secured debt is one in which the taxpayer signs a mortgage, deed of trust, or land contract that makes their ownership in a qualified home security for payment of the debt; provides, in case of default, that the home could satisfy the debt; and is recorded under any state or local law that applies. In other words, if the taxpayer can’t pay the debt, their home can then serve as payment to the lender to satisfy the debt.

o For Debt Incurred Before 12/16/2017 – the debt for which the interest is deductible is limited to $1,000,000 ($500,000 for married separate).

o For Debt Incurred After 12/15/2017 – the debt for which the interest is deductible is limited to $750,000 ($375,000 for married separate).

Passive activity interest – includes interest on debt that’s for business or income-producing activities in which the taxpayer doesn’t “materially participate” and is generally deductible only if income from passive activities exceeds expenses from those activities. The most common passive activities are probably real estate rentals. For rental real estate activities, there is a special passive loss allowance of up to $25,000 for taxpayers who are active but not necessarily material participants in the rental. The $25,000 phases out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income between $100,000 and $150,000.

Trade or business interest – includes interest on debts that are for activities in which a taxpayer materially participates. This type of interest can generally be deducted in full as a business expense.
Because of the variety of limits imposed on interest deductions, the IRS provides special rules to allocate interest expense among the categories. These “tracing rules,” as they are called, are generally based on the use of the loan proceeds. Thus interest expense on a debt is allocated in the same manner as the allocation of the debt to which the interest expense relates. Debt is allocated by tracing disbursements of the debt proceeds to specific expenditures, i.e., “follow the money.”

These tracing rules, combined with the restrictions associated with the various categories of interest, can create some unexpected results. Here are some examples:

Example 1: A taxpayer takes out a loan secured by his rental property and uses the proceeds to refinance the rental loan and buy a car for personal use. The taxpayer must allocate interest expense on the loan between rental interest and personal interest for the purchase of the car, and even though the loan is secured by the business property, the personal loan interest portion is not deductible.

Example 2: The taxpayer borrows $50,000 secured by his home to be used in his consulting business. He deposits the $50,000 into a checking account he only uses for his business. Since he can trace the use of the funds to his business, he can deduct the interest as a business expense.

Example 3: The taxpayer owns a rental property free and clear and wants to purchase a home to use as his personal residence. He obtains a loan on the rental to purchase the home. Under the tracing rules, the taxpayer must trace the use of the funds to their use, and as the debt was not used to acquire the rental, the interest on the loan cannot be deducted as rental interest. The funds can be traced to the purchase of the taxpayer’s home. However, for interest to be deductible as home mortgage interest, the debt must be secured by the home, which it is not. Result: the interest is not deductible anywhere.

As you can see, it is very important to plan your financing moves carefully, especially when equity in one asset is being used to acquire another. Please call this office for assistance in applying the various interest limitations and tracing rules to ensure you don’t inadvertently get some unexpected results.

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