When selling the marital home as part of a divorce, it's important to minimize the capital gains tax that may be due. This becomes a concern if the gain on the sale exceeds $250,000. It's important to note that one spouse receiving the marital home in a divorce settlement is not a taxable event, it's the sale of the home that may be subject to capital gain taxes.
There are several strategies that divorcing couples can consider to minimize capital gains when the home is sold, such as:
Allocating the home to one spouse
In this scenario, the couple agrees to allocate the home to one spouse as part of their divorce settlement. The spouse who receives the home can then sell it after the divorce and take advantage of the primary residence capital gains tax exclusion.
The primary residence capital gains tax exclusion allows homeowners to exclude up to $250,000 of capital gains from the sale of a primary residence if they have lived in the home for at least two of the last five years. This exclusion applies to single taxpayers and married taxpayers filing separately. For married taxpayers filing jointly, the exclusion is up to $500,000.
It's important to note that the exclusion applies only to the primary residence, not to rental properties or vacation homes. Additionally, the exclusion can only be used once every two years.
When considering this strategy, it's important to keep in mind that the home should be allocated to the spouse who is more likely to qualify for the primary residence capital gains tax exclusion. This would typically be the spouse who has lived in the home for the majority of the past two years.
Renting the home out
Renting out the marital home after a divorce can be a strategy to minimize capital gains tax when the home is eventually sold. In this scenario, the couple agrees to rent out the home after the divorce and divide the rental income. By renting out the home, the couple can defer paying capital gains tax on the sale of the home until they eventually sell it.
When renting out the home, the couple will be subject to income tax on the rental income received, and any expenses related to the rental will be tax-deductible, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, and insurance. Additionally, any depreciation on the property can be taken as a deduction, which can help to offset the rental income.
When the couple eventually sells the home, they will be subject to capital gains tax on the difference between the sale price and the cost basis of the property, which is typically the purchase price plus any improvements made to the property. But if the home is held for more than a year, the couple will qualify for long-term capital gains tax rates, which are generally lower than short-term capital gains tax rates.
A 1031 exchange, also known as a like-kind exchange, is a strategy that can be used to minimize capital gains tax when selling a marital home as part of a divorce. This strategy allows the couple to sell the home and use the proceeds to purchase another property, deferring the payment of capital gains tax on the sale of the home until the new property is sold.
In order to qualify for a 1031 exchange, the couple must use the proceeds from the sale of the home to purchase another "like-kind" property. This means that the new property must be used for investment or business purposes and must be of similar nature, character, or class as the property that was sold. The couple must also identify the new property within 45 days of the sale of the original property and complete the purchase within 180 days.
It's important to note that a 1031 exchange is a complex process, and the couple should work with a qualified intermediary to ensure that the exchange is completed correctly.
Selling the home before finalizing the divorce
If the divorce is not yet final, the couple can sell the home and divide the proceeds as part of their divorce settlement. By doing so, the couple can take advantage of the primary residence capital gains tax exclusion.
It's important to note that since 1997, you can no longer defer the capital gain on the sale of a marital home by buying another one of greater value. However, you can exclude from federal taxation up to $500,000 in home sale capital gains if you are a married couple. You can exclude up to $250,000 if you are single.
It's important to consult with a tax professional or attorney to understand how these strategies may affect your specific situation and to explore all the opportunities to minimize the capital gains tax on the sale of a home during a divorce. A tax professional, divorce mediator or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst can help you consider your options and make the best decision for your specific situation.
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1031 Risk Disclosure:
- There is no guarantee that any strategy will be successful or achieve investment objectives;
- Potential for property value loss – All real estate investments have the potential to lose value during the life of the investments;
- Change of tax status – The income stream and depreciation schedule for any investment property may affect the property owner’s income bracket and/or tax status. An unfavorable tax ruling may cancel deferral of capital gains and result in immediate tax liabilities;
- Potential for foreclosure – All financed real estate investments have potential for foreclosure;
- Illiquidity – Because 1031 exchanges are commonly offered through private placement offerings and are illiquid securities. There is no secondary market for these investments.
- Reduction or Elimination of Monthly Cash Flow Distributions – Like any investment in real estate, if a property unexpectedly loses tenants or sustains substantial damage, there is potential for suspension of cash flow distributions;
- Impact of fees/expenses – Costs associated with the transaction may impact investors’ returns and may outweigh the tax benefits