A rumor has been circulating for some time that home sales will be subject to a 3.8% federal sales tax beginning in 2013. Like most rumors, it has been initiated by someone who doesn’t have all the facts – in this case, someone who does not understand taxes. Unfortunately, the misinformation has been perpetuated through our modern means of communication.

It is true that some part of an individual’s home sale gain might be subject to an additional tax of 3.8%. But it is not a sales tax on the gross proceeds of the sale. It is actually a new surtax that is part of the Health Care Law passed in 2010. Called the Unearned Income Medicare Contribution Tax, it is imposed on individuals, estates, and trusts effective in 2013, and for the first time causes the Medicare tax to be imposed on some taxpayers’ investment (also termed “unearned”) income. For individuals, the surtax is 3.8% of the lesser of:

  1. The taxpayer’s net investment income or
  2. The excess of modified adjusted gross income over the threshold amount ($250,000 for a joint return or surviving spouse, $125,000 for a married individual filing a separate return, and $200,000 for all others).

So what does that have to do with home sales, you ask? Well, if you sell your home and have profit remaining afterreducing the gain by the $250,000 home sale gain exclusion for single individuals ($500,000 for married couples), that portion of the profit is considered investment income, and is therefore subject to the new surtax, if you are in one of the higher income categories listed in 2 above. Remember, to qualify for the home sale gain exclusion you have to own and occupy the home as your primary residence for 2 of the 5 years prior to the sale.

Example – Joe and Dianne sell their home in 2013 for $600,000. They purchased that home 40 years ago for $50,000. For simplicity, let’s assume they made no improvements to the home and had no selling costs. Thus, they have a $550,000 gain. After they subtract the $500,000 home sale exclusion they end up with a taxable gain of $50,000. Their other gross income for the year is $75,000 (all earned income), for a total modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $125,000. Since the $125,000 is less than the $250,000 threshold for the surtax, they have no surtax. However if their other income (none of which is investment income) was $210,000, they would end up with a MAGI of $260,000. That is $10,000 over the $250,000 threshold for joint filers, and results in a surtax of $380 (3.8% of $10,000), which is less than the $1,900 surtax figured on their investment income from the net home sale gain of $50,000. Therefore, Joe and Dianne’s additional Medicare contribution tax is $380.

So you can’t always believe everything you hear. If you have any questions, please give one of our professionals a call.

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