Despite the uptick in interest rates, an improved economy may lead to a resurgence of interest in vacation or second homes.

These properties offer a chance to provide the family with a place to rest and relax at a reduced cost when compared to expensive short-term resort rentals, and at the same time give owners a shot at capital appreciation over the long term. They also offer a chance to earn some rental income when the owner or family members aren't using the property. This article reviews today's tax rules that apply to vacation homes that are rented to others during the year.

The tax treatment of a vacation home depends on the mix of personal and rental use. If personal use of the home is extensive enough for it to be treated as used as a residence under Section 280A of the tax code, deductions for the rental portion will be restricted by the vacation home rules in that provision, but deductions for the personal use portion won't be affected. If there's enough rental use for the property to be treated as rental property, not as a personal residence, then

1. The owner's rent-related deductions will be restricted by the passive activity loss rules, not the vacation home rules, and

2. Deductions for the personal use portion will be adversely affected.

Vacation Home Used as a Residence

A vacation home is treated as used as a residence during a tax year if personal use exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10 percent of the days the property is rented to others during the year at a fair rental. Although the property is considered to be a residence, the owner still must treat the rental portion of the vacation home separately from the personal portion.

Rental portion: With an exception for limited rental use noted below, rentals are included in income on Schedule E, but may be offset with deductions for the rent-related portions of expenses such as utilities, maintenance, upkeep, mortgage interest, real estate taxes and insurance. The owner also may claim a depreciation deduction relating to the rental use. However, under Section 280A(c)(5), those types of deductions can't exceed rental income less:

1. Other deductions related to the rental activity itself, such as advertising, broker's commissions and cleaning fees paid by the owner after rental periods.

Observation: One example of a deduction that fits into this category is the owner's costs to travel to his or her vacation home in connection with its rental. For example, the owner may have to drive out to the home to meet a prospective tenant, or arrange for the home to be cleaned up or repaired before the rental season begins. These types of expenses should be deductible (e.g., (54.5¢ per mile for business travel in 2018), along with other rental-related costs.

2. Deductions (such as interest and real estate taxes) allocable to the rental use which would be deductible whether or not the vacation home was rented out.

Excess expenses are carried forward and may be used in a future year when there's additional rental income. For any year in which the rules Section 280A(c)(5) apply to a property, the passive loss rules don't apply.

Personal portion: The owner deducts on Schedule A the real estate taxes and mortgage interest allocable to personal use of the home. Because personal use exceeds the greater of 14 days, or 10 percent of the days, it is rented out during the year, the vacation home is treated as a qualified residence for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. Assuming the taxpayer doesn't own another vacation home and meets the other rules for deducting qualified residence interest, he or she can (subject to the limitations discussed below) deduct the personal-use portion of the year's mortgage interest.

TCJA changes for residence interest: Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2026, the limit on acquisition debt (debt that is secured by the taxpayer's principal home and/or a second home, or incurred in acquiring, constructing, or substantially improving the home) is reduced to $750,000 ($375,000 for a married taxpayer filing separately). The $1 million, pre-TCJA limit applies to acquisition debt incurred before Dec. 15, 2017, and to debt arising from refinancing pre-Dec. 15, 2017 acquisition debt, to the extent the debt resulting from the refinancing does not exceed the original debt amount.

Additionally, under the TCJA, for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2026, there's no deduction for interest on "home equity debt". The elimination of the deduction for interest on home equity debt applies regardless of when the home equity debt was incurred. In IR 2018-32, the IRS clarified that the TCJA suspended the deduction for interest paid on home equity loans and lines of credit unless they are used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer's home that secures the loan.

Illustration: In January 2018, Max obtained a $500,000 mortgage to buy a main home. The loan is secured by the main home. In June 2018, he takes out a $250,000 loan to buy a vacation home. The loan is secured by the vacation home. Because the total amount of both mortgages does not exceed $750,000, all of the interest paid on both mortgages is deductible. But if Max took out a $250,000 home equity loan on the main home to buy the vacation home, then the interest on the home equity loan would not be deductible.

TCJA changes for property taxes: Under the TCJA, for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2026, annual deductions for state and local taxes (including those paid on a vacation home) are limited to a maximum of $10,000.

Allocating expenses: The IRS says that where a vacation home is treated as used as a residence, all expenses are apportioned between rental and personal use based on the number of days used for each purpose. However, the Tax Court (Buchholz, TC Memo 1983-378), Ninth Circuit (Bolton v. Comm., (1982, CA9) 51 AFTR 2d 83-305), and Tenth Circuit (McKinney v. Comm., (1983, CA10) 52 AFTR 2d 83-6281) maintain that interest and taxes are allocated to rental use based on the ratio of actual rental days to total calendar days. All other expenses (e.g., utilities and maintenance) are allocated based on the ratio of rental days to total days of use.

Observation: The approach used by the courts mentioned above can yield bigger overall deductions for the vacation home owner. For example, if a home is rented three months a year and used by the owner for vacations for one month a year, the IRS's allocation of interest and taxes is based on the period of actual occupancy (four months), and the amount of rental income against which other expenses can be deducted is reduced by three-fourths of the interest and taxes. But if interest and taxes are allocated on the basis of an entire year (as permitted by the Tax Court, Ninth and Tenth Circuits), rental income is reduced by only one-fourth of the interest and taxes (three months divided by 12 months), with the other three-fourths deductible as itemized deductions. The reduction in the rental expense to only one-fourth of the total can then bring about a larger deduction of other rental expenses that would otherwise be disallowed under the Section 280A(c)(5) limitation.

Special rule for limited rental use: A taxpayer who rents out his or her vacation home for less than 15 days during the year doesn't report rental income and can't claim offsetting rent-related vacation home deductions. This one-of-a-kind tax break can be a windfall for those who own properties in prime vacation spots or in other sought-after areas (e.g., one near a prime sporting event) where even a few rental days can bring in substantial dollars.

Tax credit for residential energy efficient property installed in vacation home used as residence: For property placed in service before 2022, an individual is allowed an annual nonrefundable personal tax credit under Section 25D for the purchase of certain residential energy efficient property. As applied to such property installed in a vacation or second home used as a residence, for property placed in service before Jan. 1, 2020, the credit is equal to the sum of 30 percent of the amount paid for:

• Qualified solar electric property (i.e., property that uses solar power to generate electricity in a home);

• Qualified solar water heating property (i.e., property to heat water for use in a home if at least half of the energy it uses is derived from the sun);

• Qualified small wind energy property (wind turbine to generate electricity for a home); and

• Qualified geothermal heat pump property (to heat water for use in a residence if at least half of the energy used is derived from the sun).

For property placed in service in 2020, the credit rate will be 26 percent; and for property placed in service in 2021, the credit rate will be 22 percent.

The equipment must be installed in a dwelling unit that's located in the U.S. and used as the taxpayer's residence and can't be used to heat a swimming pool or hot tub.

The credit covers installation and labor costs and includes sales tax. If the equipment is used less than 80% for nonbusiness purposes, only the expenses properly allocable to nonbusiness use are taken into account.

Vacation Home Used as Rental Property

A vacation home is treated primarily as rental property for a tax year in which personal use of the unit doesn't exceed the greater of 14 days, or 10 percent of the days the property is rented out during the year at a fair rental. In this situation, the owner's deductions are restricted by the Section 469 passive loss rules, not by the vacation home rules.

Rental portion: When a vacation home is treated as rental property, its income and deductions generally are automatically treated as passive in nature (unless the owner qualifies under the Section 469(c)(7) material participation exception for qualifying real estate professionals). If deductions allocable to the rental portion exceed rental income, the loss generally can only offset other passive income until the property is disposed of. However, if the owner actively participates in the vacation home rental activity, and adjusted gross income (AGI) doesn't exceed $100,000, then he or she can shelter non-passive income with up to $25,000 of losses from active-participation real estate rental activities, including the vacation home rental enterprise. The $25,000 allowance starts to phase out when AGI exceeds $100,000, and disappears completely when AGI reaches $150,000.

The active participation standard, which is less stringent than the material participation requirement, can be satisfied without regular, continuous and substantial involvement in operations as long as the taxpayer participates in a significant way by, for example, making management decisions or arranging for others to provide services. Management decisions that are relevant in determining whether a taxpayer actively participates include approving new tenants, deciding on rental terms, approving capital or repair expenditures, and other similar decisions. The $25,000 allowance won't be available if a management or rental agent handles all aspects of renting the unit and maintaining it. See, for example, Madler, TC Memo 1998-112.

The rules are different if the property is not treated as a rental activity under the special rules of Reg. § 1.469-1T(e)(3)(ii). For example, if the average period of customer use is seven days or less, the property will be treated as a trade or business, which means the taxpayer must be a material participant in the activity in order to claim deductions in excess of income.

Personal portion: The real estate taxes allocable to personal use of the vacation home is deductible on Schedule A, subject to the tough $10,000 annual state and local tax limitation. Additionally, since personal use does not exceed the greater of 14 days, or 10 percent of the time the unit is rented out, the home is not treated as a qualified residence under Section 163(h)(4)(A)(i)(II). As a result, the interest paid on a mortgage secured by the vacation home, and allocable to personal use, will be treated as nondeductible personal interest.

For part 2 of this article, click here.

Robert Trinz

Robert Trinz

Robert Trinz is a senior analyst with Thomson Reuters Checkpoint within the Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting Business.