The author of this guest column is Carletta O. Beckwith, CPA, her firm provides taxation, accounting, and financial planning services. Let Carletta help lessen the stress of your tax season.  Call 732-873-0902 today to schedule an appointment.  Visit www.beckwithcpa.com for more information.

SOMERSET, NJ - If you sell your main home after May 6, 1997, you may qualify to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain ($500,000 if married filing jointly) on the sale of your main home; however, to claim the exclusion, you must meet the ownership and use tests.

This means that during the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale, you must have:

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  • Owned the home for at least 2 years (the ownership test)
  • Lived in the home as your main home for at least 2 years (the use test)
  • During the 2-year period ending on the date of the sale, you did not exclude gain from the sale of another home.

Exceptions: 

  • If you owned and lived in the property as your main home for less than 2 years, you can still claim an exclusion in some cases. However, the maximum amount you may be able to exclude will be reduced.
  • If you sell the land on which your main home is located, but not the house itself, you cannot exclude any gain you have from the sale of the land.
  • If you have more than one home, only the sale of your main home qualifies for excluding the gain. If you have two homes and live in both, your main home is the one you live in most of the time.
  • If you owned and used the property as your main home for less than 2 years, you may be able to claim a reduced exclusion.

The two years of ownership and use during the five-year period don't have to be continuous. You meet the tests if you can show that you owned and lived in the property as your main home for either 24 full months or 730 days during the five-year period. Short temporary absences, e.g., for vacations, are counted as periods of use, even if you rent out the property during that time.

Example: From 1994 through August 2007, Anne lived with her parents in a house that her parents owned. On September 29, 2007, she bought this house from her parents. She continued to live there until December 15 of 2007 when she sold it for a profit. Although Anne lived in the property as her main home for more than 2 years, she did not own it for the required 2 years. Therefore, she cannot exclude any part of her gain on the sale, unless she sold the property due to a change in health or place of employment.

Example: Professor Moore bought and moved into a house on January 4, 2005. He lived in it as his main home continuously until October 1, 2006, when he went abroad for a one-year sabbatical. During part of the leave, the house was unoccupied, and during the rest of the time, he rented it out. On October 1, 2007, he sold the house. Because his leave was not a short temporary absence, he cannot include the period of leave to meet the 2-year use test.

Ownership and Use Tests Met at Different Times:

You can meet the ownership and use tests during different 2-year periods. However, you must meet both tests during the 5-year period ending on the date of the sale.

Example: In 1996, Harry was 60 years old and lived in a rental apartment. When the apartment building went co-op, he bought his apartment on December 1, 1999. Harry then went to live with his daughter on April 14, 2001, because he became ill. On July 10, 2003, he sold his co-op while still living with his daughter. Harry can exclude the gain on the sale of his co-op because he met the ownership and use tests. His 5-year period runs from July 11, 1998, to July 10, 2003, the date he sold the co-op. Even though he only owned the co-op from December 1, 1999, to July 10, 2003--over two years, he lived in the apartment from July 11, 1997 (the beginning of the five-year period) to April 14, 2001 (over two years).

Special Situations: There are several special situations that may result in exceptions to the general rules.

There is an exception to the 2-out-of-5-year use test if you become physically or mentally unable to care for yourself at any time during the 5-year period. You qualify for this exception to the use test if, during the 5-year period before the sale of your home:

You become physically or mentally unable to care for yourself, and you owned and lived in your home as the main home for a total of at least one year during the 5-year period before the sale of your home.

Under this exception, you are considered to live in your home during any time that you live in a facility (including a nursing home) that is licensed by a state or political subdivision to care for persons in your condition.

If you meet this exception to the use test, you still must meet the 2-out-of-5-year ownership test to claim the exclusion.

Gain postponed on sale of a previous home. For the ownership and use tests, you may be able to add the time you owned and lived in a previous home to the time you lived in the home on which you wish to exclude gain. You could do this if you postponed all or part of the gain on the sale of the previous home because of buying the home on which you wish to exclude gain.

Pro Tip: Also, if buying the previous home enabled you to postpone all or part of the gain on the sale of a home you owned earlier, you can also include the time you owned and lived in that earlier home.

Previous home destroyed or condemned. For the ownership and use test, you add the time you owned and lived in a previous home that was destroyed or condemned to the time you owned and lived in the home on which you wish to exclude gain. This rule applies if any part of the basis of the home you sold depended on the basis of the destroyed or condemned home. Otherwise, you must have owned and lived in the same home for 2 of the 5 years before the sale to qualify for the exclusion.

Members of the uniformed services or Foreign Service, employees of the intelligence community, or employees or volunteers of the Peace Corps. You can choose to have the 5-year test period for ownership and use suspended during any period you or your spouse serve on qualified official extended duty (defined later) as a member of the uniformed services or Foreign Service of the United States, or as an employee of the intelligence community.

You can choose to have the 5-year test period for ownership and use suspended during any period you or your spouse serve outside the United States either as an employee of the Peace Corps on qualified official extended duty (defined later) or as an enrolled volunteer or volunteer leader of the Peace Corps. This means that you may be able to meet the 2-year use test even if, because of your service, you did not actually live in your home for at least the required 2 years during the 5-year period ending on the date of sale.

The period of suspension cannot last more than 10 years. Together, the 10-year suspension period and the 5-year test period can be as long as, but no more than, 15 years. You cannot suspend the 5-year period for more than one property at a time. You can revoke your choice to suspend the 5-year period at any time.

Married Persons

If you and your spouse file a joint return for the year of sale, you can exclude gain (up to $500,000) if either spouse meets the ownership and use tests.

Example: Mary sells her home in June of this year and marries John later in the year. She meets the ownership and use tests, but John does not. Emily can exclude up to $250,000 of gain on a separate or joint return for this year.

Example: Now assume that John also sells a home. He meets the ownership and use tests on his home. Mary and John can each exclude $250,000 of gain.

Death of a spouse before the sale. If your spouse died before the date of sale, you are considered to have owned and used the property as your main home during any period of time when your spouse owned and used it as his or her main home.

Home transferred from spouse. If your home was transferred to you by your spouse (or former spouse if the transfer was incident to divorce), you are considered to have owned it during any period of time when your spouse owned it.

Use of home after divorce. You are considered to have used the property as your main home during any period when you owned it and your spouse or former spouse is allowed to use it under a divorce or separation instrument. Such use is added to your own use before or after divorce.

Special Exceptions Affecting Exclusions

Home destroyed or condemned. If your home is destroyed or condemned after May 6, 1997, any gain (e.g., due to insurance proceeds) qualifies for the exclusion.

Expatriates. You cannot claim the exclusion if the expatriate tax applies to you because you have renounced their citizenship and one of the primary purposes was to avoid U.S. taxes.

More Than One Home Sold During the Two-Year Period. You cannot exclude gain on the sale of your home if, during the two-year period ending on the date of the sale, you sold another home at a gain and are excluding all or part of that gain. If you cannot exclude the gain, you must include it in your income.

However, you can claim a reduced exclusion if you sold the home due to a change in health or place of employment or experienced unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters, death, or unemployment (eligible unemployment compensation). When counting the number of sales during a two-year period, do not count sales before May 7, 1997.

The $250,000 (or $500,000) exclusion is reduced according to a formula whose numerator is the number of days of qualified ownership or use (or between sales of the homes) and the denominator is 730 days (for 2 years). If married filing jointly, duplicate the same calculation for your spouse's ownership and use (or days between sales).

Example: You owned and used your main home for 400 days before selling it at a $150,000 gain following your move to a new job location. Your exclusion is $136,986, that is, 400/730 x $250,000.

Change in place of employment. You may qualify for a reduced exclusion if the primary reason for the sale of your main home is a change in the location of employment of a qualified individual.

Health. You may qualify for a reduced exclusion if the sale of your main home is because of health if your primary reason for the sale is to obtain, provide, or facilitate the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, or treatment of disease, illness, or injury of a qualified individual, or to obtain or provide medical or personal care for a qualified individual suffering from a disease, illness, or injury.

Unforeseen Circumstances. You may qualify for a reduced exclusion if the sale of your main home is because of an unforeseen circumstance if your primary reason for the sale is the occurrence of an event that you could not reasonably have anticipated before buying and occupying that home. You are not considered to have an unforeseen circumstance if the primary reason you sold your home was that you preferred to get a different home or because your finances improved.

Home used in business. So long as the business use takes place in the same dwelling unit as your main home, the exclusion is not affected by business use, with this exception: You cannot exclude the part of your gain that is equal to any depreciation allowed or allowable for the business use of your home after May 6, 1997. The 2 out of 5-year use-as-the-main-home test is not applied to deny exclusion for gain allocable to business use in the same dwelling unit, except for allowable depreciation.

Example: You bought a home in 1997 and used it throughout 3/4 as your residence and 1/4 as your home office. On December 30, 2002, you sold it. The gain qualifies for exclusion except that you cannot exclude the part of your gain that is equal to any depreciation allowed or allowable for the business use of your home after May 6, 1997.

Source: www.beckwithcpa.com

Let Carletta help lessen the stress of your tax season.  Call 732-873-0902 today to schedule an appointment.  Visit www.beckwithcpa.com for more information.

Carletta Beckwith CPA LLC is a firm that provides premiere income tax preparation, tax planning, and financial planning services. Carletta Beckwith is a licensed CPA and CFP® and shares her extensive industry knowledge to deliver superior customer service and personalized attention to her clients.  To learn more about the services she provides visit www.beckwithcpa.com.  You may email her directly at carletta@beckwithcpa.com.

IRS Circular 230 disclosure: Any tax advice included in this written or electronic communication was not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used by the taxpayer, for avoiding any penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by any governmental taxing authority or agency. 

Disclaimer: Nothing in this document should be relied on and you should seek professional advice if you need tax or financial planning information or advice.  This publication should not be a substitution for personal tax advice as every tax situation is different.  You should obtain personal tax advice from a Certified Public Accountant or other tax professional to address your specific tax needs.  You should seek financial planning advice from a financial planning professional or CFP®.