Do you think mortgage interest deductions increase the volume of homes sales to families in California?

  • Yes (83%, 207 Votes)
  • No (17%, 43 Votes)

Total Voters: 250

As the homeownership rate declines unabated by one percentage point annually, and interest rates remain at essentially zero, the federal and state governments are collecting more tax revenue since fewer taxpayers qualify for the mortgage interest tax deduction (MID). They are becoming renters during this Lesser Depression.

Individual federal income tax returns filed in 2009 claimed $71 billion dollars less in mortgage interest deductions than those filed in 2007, according to the IRS. Preliminary data shows the trend has continued through 2010, as use of the MID dropped 7% from 2009. When released, 2011 numbers will certainly see more of the same decline as homeownership has dropped, eliminating yet more MID claims and further increasing taxes the governments receive.

Downward trends in interest rates, home prices and homeownership levels have proven to be a considerable boon to the federal government’s tax revenue. However, employment has declined over this period as well, balancing the government’s revenue gains from fewer MID filings with revenue losses from a decrease in taxable income.

Still, the drop in MID filings has saved the federal government an estimated $13 billion to $26 billion from 2007 to 2010, according to researcher and MID expert, Andrew Hanson.

In states with exceptionally high foreclosure rates, such as California, tax revenues previously lost through the MID subsidy are making their way back into the state’s coffers. From 2007 to 2009, California state income tax filers taking the deduction dropped 9%. Even more significant, the total value of MID deductions fell by 20% over the same period — an unexpected turn in the government’s favor during a time of high unemployment.

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The dark side to the MID is old news for renters. As taxpayers lose their jobs and their homes they pay a greater share of their earnings in taxes, now that they too rent.

This is only one half of how the MID irrationally plays out in a bear housing market, a market that for the next couple of decades is held in place by rising interest rates. As property prices stagnate at present levels, and interest rates are grounded at essentially zero by the full force of the Fed and global economies (a set of market conditions that supposedly stimulate ownership) the benefit of the MID subsidy diminishes in kind.

The data reported above reveal the fatal flaw of the MID subsidy — it only works when leverage and interest rates are high. These function to inflate prices and engorge lenders’ coffers. Now that home prices are beginning to reach equilibrium and low interest rates provide financing at a reasonable cost to the borrower, it has become clear that the application of the MID needs to be reconsidered.

Do you think mortgage interest deductions drive up the price a buyer will pay for a home?

  • No (61%, 102 Votes)
  • Yes (39%, 65 Votes)

Total Voters: 167

Instead of allowing the subsidy to all borrowers under all market conditions, even to those high-income earners that render the deduction regressive as we are seeing today, it ought only to be applied to targeted homebuyers or under weak economic conditions that may prove most effective in driving events.

For example, a MID for those purchasing homes in a price range that is glutted with inventory unsold during generally depressed economic conditions (such as delivered by the one-year tax credit stimulus of 2009), or in locations requiring government assistance to encourage population growth. This might be possible if the functioning of the real estate market were not emotionally dependent on the dysfunctional drug that is the MID subsidy applied today.

Related articles:

The MID truth test

Subsidizing the American Dream

The home mortgage deduction: inducing debt and stifling mobility

re: “Mortgage tax break curbed by housing slump” from