Usually, when you want to research which tax deductions are available to you, you go to the IRS’s publications and tax regulations documents. The IRS can even be pretty helpful at times by letting you know exactly what you need to do in order to get your deductions. However, the technique in this article won’t be found in any of the typical tax literature. In fact, you’d only find it if you’ve been reading up on old court cases or tax treatises.
So, how does this tax tactic help you if it’s not approved in IRS documents? Aside from the typical sources for supporting your deduction strategies, you can also use tax court precedents. In 1981, Dorance and Helen Bolton found their money trapped behind vacation home deduction limits, but they decided to get creative and find a way around those limits.
Because they set this precedent, you can legally use the same technique today, even though the IRS doesn’t publicize it for everyone’s use. In fact, the IRS’s calculation methods for vacation homes are much more stringent. Nevertheless, the IRS is required to allow the method used by the Boltons because the tax court has ruled it a legal tax strategy.
How this Money-Saving Strategy Works
Do you have a second home, a ski cabin or beach house for example, that you both rent out and use for your personal use? If so, you’ve probably found that the vacation home rules cap the deductions allowed for rental expenses. Additionally, for properties that qualify as a “residence” those rules are at their most stringent. Your property is considered a residence for tax purposes if you take advantage of its personal use for the greater of the following two time periods:
- More than 14 days in a year, or
- More than 10 percent of the days you rent it at fair rental price during the year.
You see, when your home qualifies as a residence, you have to split your deductions between residence and rental property, and that creates two primary disadvantages for you: 1) your rental expenses are limited to your rental income, and 2) part of your mortgage interest and property tax deductions are considered rental expenses, which—because of the limit in #1—reduces the amount of other rental expenses you are able to deduct.
Now, here’s what the Boltons did to mitigate these disadvantages. They were able to come up with a way to decrease the amount of mortgage interest and property taxes that counted as rental expenses. Let’s take a look at how their method differs from that of the IRS:
- IRS Method—Count the property’s total use. That means of your tenants rent the property for 75 days and you personally use it for 25, you divide the rental use days by the total number of days, 100. The use percentages divide up as 75 percent rental and 25 percent personal. Assuming your mortgage interest and property taxes come to $10,000, you must count $7,500 (i.e. 75 percent of $10,000) towards the rental expense limit.
- Bolton Method—Determine percentages for the entire year, not just for days of use. With this calculation, you take that same 75 days of rental use and divide it by 365 days, giving you only 21 percent rental use for the year. Again, given $10,000 in mortgage interest and property taxes, you now take 21 percent of that, getting a rental expense total of only $2,100. The Bolton method leaves you with an additional $5,400 of rental expenses that can be deducted.
To see how the numbers work out after deductions, here’s the Boltons’ case:
- 91 days of rental use
- 30 days of personal use
- 244 unoccupied days
- $2,700 in gross rental income
- $3,475 in expenses for mortgage interest and property taxes
- $2,693 in expenses for rental property maintenance
The Boltons were able to claim an additional $1,738 in deductions. Adjusting for today’s dollars, you can save substantially more than that. This case has been on the books for more than 30 years and remains seldom-used, but the IRS is required by precedent tax law to allow it. Now you know the secret, so start claiming your full rental deductions on your vacation home this year.