To begin with, if you obtain a mortgage to buy a vacation home, that interest is tax-deductible. Note that an RV or Boat can qualify as a vacation home, provided it can be lived in (bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen) which may explain the popularity of small boats in the sub-30-foot range which have kitchens, baths, and bedrooms.
And does this sound like welfare for the upper middle class? Well, yes it is.
If you sell your vacation home and make a profit, then that profit is taxable. Unlike your primary residence, where if you live there 2 years out of the last 5, profits are largely tax-free (up to $250K single $500K jointly). However, that illustrates a loophole in the law. If you plan on selling a vacation home in the next two years, you might want to call it your principle residence for tax purposes for the next two years. You would, however, have to establish residency in the State, however.
One area of injustice is that while a vacation home profits are taxable when you sell, any losses are not deductible. This is a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose scenario for the IRS and is, in some ways, grossly unfair.
However, if your vacation home is a rental property - rented out for profit when you aren't there, it may be considered an "investment" property and thus any losses on the sale are deductible. However any gains on the sale are also taxable as well.
So what do we glean from this? Well, as I noted in my converting capital gains to ordinary income posting, if you can rent out your vacation home as an "investment" then you can depreciate it and deduct a depreciation allowance from your income taxes. When you sell, you may have to pay that back as capital gains (25% for the depreciation part, 15% for the rest) or you may be able to deduct a loss, if there is one.
But of course, there is no free lunch. You cannot use a vacation home as a rental AND as personal residence. See this IRS publication for the complicated "Personal Use Rules". There is a limit as to how long you can stay at a vacation home if you are going to claim it as a business asset. Usually anything more than the greater of 14 days or 10% of the rent-able income for personal use renders the dwelling a personal residence. I suppose you could pay yourself rent and declare a profit (and pay tax) on that rent. Even then, such an arrangement might be viewed as self-serving.
So renting your vacation home out part of the time might be a good idea for tax purposes - and offset some of your expenses. Note that if the rental is 15 days or less per year, it is not reportable income - and this could be a good way of making a little extra money without the hassles and paperwork of an investment property.
But a vacation home is a personal property, generally, not an investment property, so losses on the sale are not deductible. But for some reason, the IRS things profits on such a sale should be taxable. For many people, it is not a difficult matter to "move" the vacation home for two years and declare this a personal residence and avoid the tax. Most people, in fact, move from their primary home to retire to their vacation home, and thus it is never an issue.
From the H&R Block website:
If the second home was your main home for at least 2 years during the 5-year period ending on the date of sale, you can exclude up to $250,000 of the gain (up to $500,000 if Married Filing Jointly and you both used the home as your main home for the required period). You can't claim the exclusion if you sold another home within the 2-year period ending on the date of sale and claimed the exclusion for that sale.
If you don't meet the 2-year ownership or use requirement, you may claim the exclusion only if you sell the home because of a change in health, place of employment, or another "unforeseen circumstance." In this situation, the maximum exclusion will be reduced. You may not exclude any gain attributable to depreciation you claimed after May 6, 1997.
If you sell a second home and use it other than as a principal residence (nonqualified use) at any time after 2008, the gain eligible for the exclusion may be limited. For this purpose, nonqualified use does not include:
- Any nonqualified use before 2009.
- Any period during the 5-year period that is after the last period of use as a principal residence.
- A period of temporary absence of up to 2 years for reasons of health, employment and unforeseen circumstances.
- Any period (not to exceed 10 years) during which the taxpayer or spouse was serving on qualified official extended duty.
From the IRS "10 facts about Capital Gains and Losses" website:
10 Facts About Capital Gains and Losses