Home-Buying is More Complex for Military Families
Many families’ largest investment is their home. And homeownership comes with an extra portion of complexity for military families. Many were hit particularly hard by the housing downturn, saddled with houses they simply couldn’t sell when ordered to move to a new location.
But service members also have special mortgage programs and tax breaks to help them afford a home—and assistance if they’re unable to sell.
Should You Rent or Buy?
Members of the military receive a tax-free housing allowance to cover all or part of their monthly rent or mortgage payment. (To check on the Basic Allowance for Housing—BAH—by rank and zip code, use the BAH Calculator tool at the Department of Defense Web site. If you buy a home, you can deduct mortgage interest, even if you’re paying it with that tax-free money. But the rent-versus-buy decision is difficult when you may be stationed in an area only a few years.
When home prices were rising quickly, many service members bought homes even if they expected to live in an area only for a year or two. They banked on selling for a profit (or renting the house for more than the monthly payments) when they were transferred. But the bursting of the housing bubble upended countless such plans.
Service members who buy can benefit from VA loans. Interest rates tend to be comparable to other mortgages, but you can still buy a home with zero money down. For more information about VA loan eligibility and rules, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site.
If You Own, Should You Rent or Sell?
Many military families wind up as accidental landlords, renting homes they can’t sell after receiving transfer orders.
If you find yourself in that situation, set aside an emergency fund to help cover your mortgage and other expenses if you go without a renter for a few months. The law that helps members of the military get out of leases when orders demand that they move or deploy can be a double-edged sword if you’re renting to fellow service members. Keep at least three months’ worth of mortgage payments and other expenses in an emergency fund in case a tenant leaves unexpectedly.
If you eventually sell your home for a profit after renting it, there are special tax rules that can minimize the bite. Civilian homeowners need to live in a house for two of the five years leading up to the sale in order to claim tax-free profit on the deal (up to $250,000 for singles or $500,000 of tax-free profit if you’re married filing a joint return). But military families need to live in the house for just two of the preceding ten years in order to qualify for the tax break. For more information on this and other tax rules for members of the military, see IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces Tax Guide, at www.irs.gov.
Advice in this article came from experts at Kiplinger’s. Learn more at: https://www.kiplinger.com/features/archives/homebuying-and-selling-tactics-for-military-families.html