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Home, Sweet Home – Tax Tips For Homeowners

by Jamie Golombek

With spring comes the official launch of house hunting season. So, what better time to ensure that you are maximizing the tax benefits associated with home ownership, especially since the 2010 tax return filing deadline is fast approaching.

If you purchased a new home in 2010, don’t forget to claim the relatively new Home Buyers’ Tax Credit. Introduced in 2009, this non-refundable tax credit is based on a $5,000 amount for first-time homebuyers which, at the 15% federal credit rate, is worth $750.

Interestingly, you are considered a first-time homebuyer if neither you nor your spouse or partner owned and lived in another home in the calendar year of purchase or any of the four preceding calendar years. In other words, you could have owned a home previously, but if you sold it and then perhaps rented for four years or so, you still may qualify as a first-time homebuyer for the purpose of claiming the credit if you bought a home in 2010.

Did you use the Home Buyers’ Plan when purchasing your home? Under the HBP, a first-time homebuyer can withdraw up to $25,000 from her RRSP to purchase a home without having to pay tax on that withdrawal. Any funds withdrawn must be repaid over a maximum of 15 years or the amount not repaid in a year is added to the participant’s income for that year.

If you participated in the HBP previously and were required to make a repayment for 2010, be sure to designate a portion of your RRSP contributions as a HBP repayment on Schedule 7 of your personal tax return, under “PART B – Repayments under the HBP. ”

You may also be able to get some tax relief from your property taxes, depending on your province of residence. Quebec provides a refund for property tax paid during the year, while both Ontario and Manitoba provide a tax credit for property tax or rent paid during the year.

Still have a mortgage? If so, have you considered whether you could restructure your financial affairs to make your mortgage interest effectively tax deductible?

If you have non-registered investments, consider selling them to pay off your mortgage (non-deductible debt) and then borrowing back the funds for investment purposes (tax-deductible debt). This allows you to effectively write off what otherwise would have been non-deductible personal mortgage interest.

This strategy has often be referred to as the “Singleton Shuffle,” because it was named after Vancouver lawyer John Singleton’s 2001 Supreme Court victory, which upheld the notion that you can rearrange your financial affairs in a tax-efficient manner so as to make your interest on investment loans tax-deductible.

Before doing so, be sure to consider any tax consequences of selling your non-registered investments along with any prepayment fees associated with paying off your mortgage early.

Finally, if you sold your home in 2010, the good news is that the gain is likely taxfree, provided you didn’t also own a second home.

The principal residence exemption (“PRE”), if available, can shelter the gain on a principal residence from capital gains tax. A principal residence can include either your main home or a vacation property, even if it’s not where you primarily live during the year as long as you “ordinarily inhabit” it at some point during the year.

The CRA assumes that if no gain is reported on your return for the year of sale, the PRE has been used to eliminate the gain and therefore, no other property (such as the vacation property) can be designated for the years in which the PRE was presumed to be claimed on the sold property.

As a result, a conscious decision should be made as to whether the gain should be reported, as failure to report jeopardizes claiming the PRE in the future on the sale of your other property for the years in which you owned both properties.

– Jamie Golombek, CA, CPA, CFP, CLU, TEP is the Managing Director, Tax & Estate Planning with CIBC Private Wealth Management in Toronto.

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