GAO HOME MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION. Despite Challenges Presented by Complex Tax Rules, IRS Could Enhance Enforcement and Guidance

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1 GAO United Sttes Government Accountbility Office Report to the Joint Committee on Txtion July 2009 HOME MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION Despite Chllenges Presented by Complex Tx Rules, IRS Could Enhnce Enforcement nd Guidnce GAO

2 July 2009 Accountbility Integrity Relibility Highlights Highlights of GAO , report to the Joint Committee on Txtion HOME MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION Despite Chllenges Presented by Complex Tx Rules, IRS Could Enhnce Enforcement nd Guidnce Why GAO Did This Study Complex home-mortgge interest deduction rules crete problems for txpyers nd increse the potentil for noncomplince. For exmple, the rules involve mortgge debt limits nd how lon proceeds re used. GAO ws sked to (1) describe how IRS detects noncomplince with the deduction s rules nd wht IRS knows bout the extent of noncomplince; (2) identify problems txpyers fce in complying with the deduction s rules nd chllenges IRS fces in enforcing them; (3) ssess options to give IRS more informtion to ssist enforcement; nd (4) determine if IRS s guidnce to txpyers nd its exminers provides informtion to clculte the deduction properly. GAO nlyzed IRS enforcement dt nd interviewed IRS nd industry officils. GAO did not consider sttutory chnges. Wht GAO Recommends GAO recommends tht IRS revise its min reserch progrm s cseselection system to better detect debt-limit noncomplince; expnd informtion reporting on txpyers mortgges; revise tx forms, instructions, nd exminer trining; nd test outrech progrms. In commenting on drft of this report, IRS greed with five recommendtions nd sid it will study the recommendtions on expnding informtion reporting nd testing outrech progrms to reduce noncomplince. Wht GAO Found IRS enforcement nd reserch progrms do not provide n overll picture of mortgge interest deduction noncomplince. While its vrious complince nd reserch progrms provide evidence of some mortgge interest deduction complince problems, they leve gps in wht is known bout the extent nd specific nture of noncomplince. In prticulr, IRS knows little bout the extent of noncomplince with vrious debt limits nd rules regrding the use of home equity lons. The cse selection system of IRS s min reserch progrm lso my hve excluded possible noncomplint cses. IRS exminers prtly ttribute noncomplince to txpyers nd pid preprers not knowing deduction rules. Txpyers problems in complying with the mortgge interest deduction rules include the mny steps necessry to determine whether mortgge interest nd points re deductible nd the recordkeeping necessry to determine how the proceeds of home equity lons re used. The deduction s complexity lso poses chllenges to IRS. Although mortgge interest pyments bove threshold re reported to IRS, the informtion reported shows the dollr mount of interest txpyer pid in yer without regrd to the limits on the mount of debt imposed by lw. As result, IRS lcks informtion tht could help it efficiently detect noncomplince with deduction limits nd must rely on costly exmintions. Severl options exist for expnding informtion reporting on txpyers mortgges nd using privte sector dt to enhnce complince. Useful informtion would include property ddresses, debt blnces, nd n indictor of lon refinncing. This informtion would llow IRS to identify txpyers reporting mortgge interest exceeding the cquisition debt limit. Third prties who send informtion reports to IRS initilly my incur some dditionl costs to provide the dt, but those costs re likely to be one-time expenses. Additionl lon informtion from privte sector sources lso might help IRS detect home equity noncomplince. The schedule for reporting mortgge interest deductions does not explicitly stte tht the deduction is subject to limits. Further, IRS s guidnce for txpyers nd exminers provides different interprettion for the cquisition debt limit thn prior tx court ruling, nd the exminers guidnce lcks exmples of problem res cited by exminers nd prctitioners. The Complexity of Determining the Deductibility of Home Mortgge Interest nd Points View GAO or key components. For more informtion, contct Jmes R. White t (202) or Note: The steps in the tble do not reflect other complicting fctors, such s interest on home equity debt generlly not being deductible in lterntive minimum tx computtions. United Sttes Government Accountbility Office

3 Contents Letter 1 Bckground 3 IRS s Enforcement nd Reserch Progrms Do Not Provide n Overll Picture of Mortgge Interest Deduction Noncomplince 7 Txpyers Fce Vriety of Problems Trying to Comply with Mortgge Interest Deduction Rules, nd IRS Fces Chllenges in Detecting Noncomplince 10 Options Exist for Expnding Mortgge Informtion Reporting nd Using Privte Sector Dt to Enhnce Enforcement 14 IRS s Guidnce to Txpyers nd Trining Mterils for Exminers Did Not Indicte the Rnge of Possible Mortgge Interest Deduction Situtions 20 Tx Softwre Differed in the Ese of Nvigting Mortgge Interest Deduction Instructions 23 Conclusions 24 Recommendtions for Executive Action 24 Agency Comments nd Our Evlution 25 Appendix I Scope nd Methodology 27 Appendix II Schedule A, Itemized Deductions 30 Appendix III Exmintion Results Involving Mortgge Interest Deductions 31 Appendix IV Exmples Illustrting Mortgge Interest Deduction s Complexity 32 Appendix V Descriptive Dt on Home Mortgge Interest Deduction Clims nd Form 1098 Filings 36 Pge i

4 Appendix VI Mrgins of Error Tbles for Estimtes in Appendix V 45 Appendix VII SMR Reserch s Dt on Home Equity Debt nd How IRS Might Use Similr Dt for Enforcement 52 Appendix VIII Comments from the Internl Revenue Service 54 Appendix IX GAO Contct nd Stff Acknowledgments 58 Tbles Tble 1: Limittions on Mortgge Interest Deductibility by Type of Debt 4 Tble 2: Amounts of Mortgge Interest Deductions, Home Sles Prices, nd Home Equity Debt in 2001 nd Tble 3: Wht IRS s Min Reserch nd Enforcement Progrms Do nd Do Not Show bout Mortgge Interest Deduction Complince 9 Tble 4: Results of IRS s Fiscl Yer 2008 Exmintions of Schedule A, Line 10 for CIP nd non-cip Exmintions 31 Tble 5: IRS Worksheet to Figure Home Mortgge Interest 34 Tble 6: Number nd Dollr Totl of Schedule A, Line 10 Deductions per Number of Form 1098 Filings, 2004 through Tble 7: Distribution of Schedule A, Line 10 Deductions in Select Percentiles per Number of Form 1098 Filings, 2004 through Tble 8: Results of Compring Totl Schedule A, Line 10 Deduction Amounts to Amounts Reported on Form 1098, 2004 through Tble 9: Percentile Distributions for Schedule A, Line 10 Amounts Compred with Form 1098 Amounts nd the Difference between Schedule A, Line 10 Amounts nd Form 1098 Amounts, 2004 through Pge ii

5 Tble 10: Yer-to-Yer Chnges in Amount Deducted on Schedule A, Line 10, 2004 through Tble 11: Yer-to-Yer Chnges in the Number of Form 1098 Filings, with Distribution of Chnge Amounts on Schedule A, Line 10, 2004 through Tble 12: Numbers of Mtching Lon Account Numbers on Forms 1098, 2004 through Tble 13: Number of Individul Tx Returns with Schedule A Mortgge Interest Deductions nd Non-Schedule A Mortgge Interest Deductions, 2004 through Tble 14: Mrgins of Error for Number nd Dollr Totl of Schedule A, Line 10 Deductions per Number of Form 1098 Filings, 2004 through Tble 15: Mrgins of Error for Distribution of Schedule A, Line 10 Deductions in Select Percentiles per Number of Form 1098 Filings, 2004 through Tble 16: Mrgins of Error for Results of Compring Totl Schedule A, Line 10 Deduction Amounts to Amounts Reported on Form 1098, 2004 through Tble 17: Mrgins of Error for Percentile Distributions for Schedule A, Line 10 Amounts Compred with Form 1098 Amounts nd the Difference between Schedule A, Line 10 Amounts nd Form 1098 Amounts, 2004 through Tble 18: Mrgins of Error for Yer-to-Yer Chnges in Amount Deducted on Schedule A, Line 10, 2004 through Tble 19: Mrgins of Error for Yer-to-Yer Chnges in the Number of Form 1098 Filings, with Distribution of Chnge Amounts on Schedule A, Line 10, 2004 through Tble 20: Mrgins of Error for Number of Mtching Lon Account Numbers on Forms 1098, 2004 through Tble 21: Mrgins of Error for Numbers of Individul Income Tx Returns with Schedule A Mortgge Interest Deductions nd Non-Schedule A Mortgge Interest Deductions, 2004 through Tble 22: Types of Trnsctions Included in SMR Reserch s Home Equity Debt Clcultions 52 Figures Figure 1: IRS Chrt Illustrting How to Determine Whether Mortgge Interest Is Fully Deductible s Shown in Publiction Pge iii

6 Figure 2: Current Form 1098 Informtion Compred with Options for Additionl Mortgge Debt Informtion 16 Figure 3: Internl Revenue Service Schedule A on Which the Home Mortgge Interest Deduction Is Tken 30 Abbrevitions AIMS AMT CDW CIP EOAD IRS NRP SOI Audit Informtion Mngement System Alterntive Minimum Tx Complince Dt Wrehouse Complince Inititive Project Exmintion Opertionl Automtion Dtbse Internl Revenue Service Ntionl Reserch Progrm Sttistics of Income This is work of the U.S. government nd is not subject to copyright protection in the United Sttes. The published product my be reproduced nd distributed in its entirety without further permission from GAO. However, becuse this work my contin copyrighted imges or other mteril, permission from the copyright holder my be necessry if you wish to reproduce this mteril seprtely. Pge iv

7 United Sttes Government Accountbility Office Wshington, DC July 29, 2009 The Honorble Chrles B. Rngel Chirmn Joint Committee on Txtion House of Representtives The Honorble Mx Bucus Vice Chirmn Joint Committee on Txtion United Sttes Sente The home mortgge interest deduction is the third most expensive federl income tx expenditure, with the government expected to forgo bout $80 billion of revenue for the deduction in Subject to vrious limittions, txpyers my deduct interest on home-secured lons, such s mortgges, mortgge refinncings, nd home equity lons, including those tken s lump sum mounts nd home equity lines of credit. The rules tht txpyers must follow in determining the proper mount of mortgge interest to deduct cn be complex. For exmple, there re limittions on the mount of debt for which interest cn be deducted, specil rules for refinncing, situtions where lterntive minimum tx (AMT) considertions pply, nd rules on the deductibility of prepid interest mounts clled points. In generl, complex tx rules increse the potentil for noncomplince. You sked us to study the home mortgge interest deduction to determine if there re dministrtive issues tht need to be ddressed to improve txpyer complince nd Internl Revenue Service (IRS) enforcement. For this report, we (1) provide informtion on how IRS detects txpyers noncomplince with the home mortgge interest deduction rules nd wht it knows bout the extent of noncomplince; (2) identify the problems, if ny, txpyers fce in ttempting to comply with the deduction nd describe IRS s chllenges in detecting mortgge interest deduction noncomplince; (3) ssess options to give IRS more informtion to enforce 1 The most expensive income tx expenditures re reduced rtes of tx on dividends nd long-term cpitl gins (bout $148 billion of forgone revenue) nd the exclusion of employer contributions for helth cre, helth insurnce premiums, nd long-term cre insurnce (bout $127 billion). Pge 1

8 complince with the rules; (4) determine whether IRS s guidnce to txpyers nd its exminers guidnce nd trining on the deduction provide enough informtion to properly clculte the txpyers llowble mortgge interest deduction; nd (5) describe how tx-return preprtion softwre progrms hndle the deduction. You lso sked us to provide descriptive informtion on txpyers mortgge interest deductions nd mortgge interest pyments reported on Form 1098, Mortgge Interest Sttement. Appendix V provides this informtion. Considertion of sttutory chnges ws beyond the scope of our report. To ddress our objectives, we nlyzed IRS s efforts to determine txpyer complince with the mortgge interest deduction. This included exmining informtion on IRS s complince inititive projects tht focused on the deduction nd on IRS s other routine exmintion ctivities. 2 We lso nlyzed informtion from IRS s Sttistics of Income (SOI) Division nd Complince Dt Wrehouse (CDW) dtbses to compile informtion bout individuls yer-to-yer chnges in climing the deduction nd obtined sttisticl informtion from the privte sector on home equity lons, home equity lines of credit, nd refinncings. We reviewed relevnt studies nd publictions nd interviewed cogniznt IRS officils nd representtives from the tx preprtion nd mortgge bnking industries to obtin informtion on the issues surrounding dministrtion of the deduction. We determined whether IRS s guidnce to txpyers prominently mentioned the limittions on the mount of debt for which interest cn be deducted. To determine whether IRS exminers trining nd guidnce provided enough informtion on properly clculting the mortgge interest deduction, we compred IRS s exmintion trining nd guidnce with tx lw nd instructions. We lso nlyzed how severl tx preprtion softwre pckges tht re widely used by individul txpyers or pid preprers hndled the clcultion of the deduction by reviewing pproprite prts of the softwre to determine how they treted the debt limittions nd by interviewing compny officils. We performed tests tht determined the dt used in this report were relible for our purposes. Appendix I provides more detiled discussion of our scope nd methodology. 2 We use the term routine to cover exmintions tht include the mortgge interest deduction but re not prt of n IRS complince inititive project tht focused on it. Pge 2

9 We conducted this performnce udit from My 2008 through July 2009 in ccordnce with generlly ccepted government uditing stndrds. Those stndrds require tht we pln nd perform the udit to obtin sufficient, pproprite evidence to provide resonble bsis for our findings nd conclusions bsed on our udit objectives. We believe tht the evidence obtined provides resonble bsis for our findings nd conclusions bsed on our udit objectives. Bckground Txpyers hve been llowed to deduct mortgge interest pyments on their federl tx returns since Congress encted the federl income tx in At tht time, the deduction for home mortgge interest ws prt of the deduction llowed for ny interest pid. The Tx Reform Act of 1986 limited deductions for nonbusiness interest. 3 The 1986 ct specificlly disllowed deductions by individuls of personl interest but included limited exception for qulified mortgge interest. The 1986 ct ws mended the next yer to include dollr limits on the mount of home mortgge debt for which interest pyments cn be deducted. 4 Txpyers my deduct the interest they py on lons secured by qulified homes either their min home or their min home nd second home. These lons include first or second mortgges, home equity lons, nd home equity lines of credit. Bots nd recretionl vehicles my qulify s homes if they hve sleeping, cooking, nd toilet fcilities. As tble 1 shows, two kinds of debt my qulify for the mortgge interest deduction. The first kind is cquisition debt, which is debt incurred in cquiring, constructing, or substntilly improving qulified home nd tht is secured by the home. Txpyers my deduct ll of the interest pid on cquisition debt incurred on or before October 13, 1987, known s grndfthered debt. Txpyers interest deductions for debt on qulified homes purchsed fter October 13, 1987, is limited to the interest on $1 million of cquisition debt, reduced by ny grndfthered debt. 3 Pub. L. No (Oct. 22, 1986). 4 Omnibus Budget Reconcilition Act of 1987, Pub. L. No (Dec. 22, 1987). Pge 3

10 Tble 1: Limittions on Mortgge Interest Deductibility by Type of Debt Ctegory of limittion or deductibility Acquisition debt Home equity debt Dollr limittion on debt on which interest is deductible Limittion on use of lon proceeds on which interest is deductible Interest deductibility for lterntive minimum tx (AMT) purposes Limittion on the refinncing mount on which interest my be deducted Deductibility of points Limited to $1 million reduced by grndfthered debt Limited to cquiring, constructing, or substntilly improving home Generlly deductible Limited to the blnce of the old mortgge before refinncing; refinncing cnnot increse cquisition debt except to substntilly improve the home Deductible in the yer pid if vrious conditions re met nd the lon is used to buy, build, or improve txpyer s min home; if certin other tests re met, points re deductible over the life of the lon; when refinncing, except in sttes covered by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appels or when used to improve txpyer s min home nd certin conditions re met, points re deductible over the life of the lon Limited to lesser of (1) $100,000 or (2) home s fir mrket vlue minus cquisition debt nd grndfthered debt My be used for nything, including credit crd pyments, crs, tuitions, nd vctions Generlly not deductible unless proceeds re used to buy, build, or improve home Refinncing mount bove the cquisition debt blnce is home equity debt, up to the home equity debt limittion Deductible over the life of the lon Source: GAO nlysis of mortgge interest deduction rules. Note: Deductibility ssumes itemiztion of deductions, legl libility for the lon, nd mortgge secured by qulified home in which the txpyer hs n ownership interest. Acquisition debt nd home equity debt re limited to $500,000 nd $50,000, respectively, for mrried people filing seprtely. The second kind of qulified debt is home equity debt, which is ny noncquisition debt secured by the home. Its proceeds my be used for nything other thn to buy, build, or substntilly improve the home. For exmple, the proceeds my be used to py off credit crds or finnce crs or vctions. Home equity debt is limited to the home s fir mrket vlue minus the cquisition debt nd grndfthered debt, or to $100,000, whichever is less. Home equity debt for tx purposes should not be confused with wht is commonly clled home equity lon. The ltter my Pge 4

11 qulify s either cquisition debt or home equity debt depending on how the proceeds re used. 5 Tble 1 lso summrizes the deductibility of points. A point is term used to describe certin chrges pid in connection with obtining mortgge nd is clculted t 1 percent of mortgge s principl. Generlly, points re considered prepid interest, nd, s such, the deduction is usully llocted over the life of the lon. However, if vrious conditions re met, the txpyer my deduct the points in the yer pid. 6 Determining whether points re fully deductible in the yer pid my require tht txpyers go through s mny s 10 decision steps. Lending institutions nd other entities engged in trde or business tht receive $600 or more during the yer in mortgge interest nd certin points from n individul txpyer re required to file Form 1098, Mortgge Interest Sttement. Form 1098 reports re sent both to the txpyer nd IRS to show how much mortgge interest ws pid to the lender tht yer. Txpyers report their deductible mortgge interest informtion to IRS on lines 10 through 13 of Schedule A, the schedule itemizing deductions for the Form 1040 individul income tx return (see pp. II). Typiclly, the lrger deductible mounts re reported on line 10, which shows home mortgge interest nd points reported to txpyers on Form Lines 11 nd 12 of Schedule A re for climing mortgge interest nd points, respectively, not reported on Form 1098, 7 nd, strting in 2007, line 13 is used for deductible qulified mortgge insurnce premiums. Some interest pyments reported on Form 1098 my be deductible on other Form 1040 schedules, such s Schedule C for sole proprietorship businesses or Schedule F for frming. 5 According to informtion published in 2009 Federl Reserve Bulletin, homeowners used bout 40 percent of the equity borrowed from their homes in 2007 for home improvements. See Brin K. Bucks, Arthur B. Kennickell, Trci L. Mch, nd Kevin B. Moore, Chnges in U.S. Fmily Finnces from 2004 to 2007: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finnces, Federl Reserve Bulletin, vol. 95, Feb. 12, These conditions include whether the points were pid in connection with the purchse or improvement of the principl residence securing the mortgge, the pyment of points ws n estblished business prctice in the re where the lon ws mde, nd the mount pid for the points did not exceed the mount generlly chrged for points in tht re. 7 For instnce, the txpyer might hve pid home mortgge interest to the person selling the home, nd tht person did not hve to supply Form Pge 5

12 Chnges in the housing mrket over the yers my hve ffected the overll mount of home mortgge interest tht txpyers climed. Tble 2 shows the chnge in vrious indictors relted to the mortgge interest deduction from 2001 to The rise in home prices nd thus mortgge mounts, prtly ccount for the lrge increses in mortgge interest deductions climed by txpyers in 2006 compred to In 2006, the medin sles price for existing U.S. single-fmily homes ws up from Medin sles prices vried widely cross metropolitn res, with some loctions exceeding $700,000. The home equity lon totls reported by the Federl Reserve Bord lso incresed significntly from 2001 to According to the U.S. Census Bureu s 2006 Americn Community Survey, bout fifth of owner-occupied housing units with mortgge hd home equity lon. Also, ccording to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Hrvrd University, 85 percent of homeowners who refinnced their mortgges in 2006 took csh out. Tble 2: Amounts of Mortgge Interest Deductions, Home Sles Prices, nd Home Equity Debt in 2001 nd 2006 Indictor relted to the mortgge interest deduction Txpyers Schedule A, line 10 deductions $323 billion $437 billion Number of returns with mounts climed on line million 39 million Averge line 10 deduction $9,000 $11,200 Medin home sles price $156,600 $221,900 Home equity lon mounts reported by the Federl Reserve Bord The prt of home equity tken out s csh bove the mount needed for the refinncing of prime, first-lien, conventionl mortgges, s reported by Freddie Mc $439 billion $1,019 billion $83 billion $318 billion Sources: IRS, Sttisticl Abstrct of the U.S., Federl Reserve Bord, Freddie Mc, nd GAO clcultions. Note: Numbers re rounded nd dollrs re not djusted for infltion. Mortgge interest deduction limittions hve not chnged with infltion. Pge 6

13 IRS s Enforcement nd Reserch Progrms Do Not Provide n Overll Picture of Mortgge Interest Deduction Noncomplince Although IRS s enforcement nd reserch progrms found some mortgge interest deduction complince problems, the methods leve gps in wht is known bout the extent nd specific nture of noncomplince. The four min progrms tht IRS uses to enforce or reserch mortgge interest deduction complince include the following. A computer mtching progrm designed to identify txpyers whose mortgge interest deduction exceeds mounts reported on Form 1098: Of the pproximtely 1.7 million mismtches the progrm identified bove certin threshold in 2005, the ltest yer vilble, IRS followed up on bout 135,000 nd chnged tx ssessments or refunds for bout 53, Tx ssessments totled bout $216 million, much more thn in previous yers, nd verged bout $4,300. IRS s Ntionl Reserch Progrm (NRP), the min ongoing study of txpyer complince bsed on exmintions of rndom smple of tx returns: IRS found tht between 12 nd 14 percent of individul txpyers who climed home mortgge interest on line 10 of Schedule A misreported the mount. The misreporting ws split bout evenly between txpyers underreporting the deduction nd txpyers overreporting it. Routine exmintions done by correspondence, in n IRS office, or on site: IRS does not mintin seprte exmintion results solely on line 10 issues. Most of the pproximtely 33,000 exmintions done in fiscl yer 2008 by IRS revenue gents nd tx complince officers tht included review of line 10 resulted in increses to the line 10 deduction (i.e., the deduction incresed) or in no recommended chnge. For cses involving line 10 where exminers recommended greter tx mounts, the medin tx owed for ll issues exmined including line 10 ws $4,612, ccording to our nlysis of IRS records. For cses closed in fiscl yer 2008 in which exminers decresed the line 10 mounts nd lowered txpyers deductions, the medin decrese in the line 10 mortgge interest deduction ws $6,430. Other results re listed in ppendix III. Two specil complince inititive projects (CIP) primrily exmining cquisition debt for limited segment of individul txpyers with high mortgge interest deductions or high djusted 8 Becuse of resource constrints nd expected return on the work, IRS does not pursue ll of the discrepncies it identifies. Pge 7

14 gross incomes: About 9,000 exmintions were closed in fiscl yer 2008 for both projects. IRS recommended bout $95 million in tx chnges for cses closed in fiscl yers 2006 through Exminers decresed line 10 deductions for most cses closed in fiscl yer The medin decreses were bout $29,000 for the first project nd $28,000 for the second. For cses in which exminers incresed the tx owed, the medin increses in tx were bout $8,000 in both projects. IRS exminers ttributed the chnges to txpyers nd pid tx return preprers not knowing or ignoring the mortgge interest deduction rules nd to problemtic tx preprtion softwre. 9 Appendix III lso presents results from CIP exms. Tble 3 shows, for these four min progrms, tht gps exist in wht IRS cn mesure or enforce concerning txpyers mortgge interest deductions. 9 About 64 percent of tx returns with Schedule A, line 10 deduction were done by pid preprer in The mrgin of error for this estimte ws less thn 1 percent. Pge 8

15 Tble 3: Wht IRS s Min Reserch nd Enforcement Progrms Do nd Do Not Show bout Mortgge Interest Deduction Complince Progrm The progrm shows The progrm does not show Mtching progrm Situtions in which txpyers deduct more interest thn wht ws reported on Form Ntionl Reserch Progrm Popultion estimtes for misreported mortgge interest for Routine exmintions Adjustments to txpyers line 10 deductions nd other tx chnges for ech tx yer. CIPs Recent yers djustments to line 10 deductions nd other tx chnges for select group of txpyers with high djusted gross incomes or high mortgge interest deductions; focus ws on cquisition debt. Noncomplince in which txpyers should hve deducted less interest thn the mount shown on Form Discrepncies tht fll under IRS thresholds for follow-up. Recent noncomplince informtion; complete results from IRS s ongoing complince studies re not expected to be vilble for more thn 2 yers. Noncomplince in which txpyers deductions nd Form 1098 mounts mtch. NRP utomticlly excluded returns from further considertion if the Form 1098 mounts mtched the Schedule A mounts, unless nother problem ws found. Noncomplince tht exminers miss becuse exmintion selection methods do not consider possible noncomplince with home equity debt limits. Noncomplince by txpyers beyond the nrrowly defined groups exmined in the projects. All of the bove Informtion tht IRS cn use to ctegorize the resons tht misreporting occurred. For exmple, none of the progrms compile dt tht isolte misreporting becuse of violtions of the limits on cquisition or home equity debt. Source: GAO nlysis of IRS interviews nd dt. Of the four min progrms, only NRP projects the mount of mortgge interest deduction misreporting to the popultion of individul txpyers. However, becuse NRP utomticlly excluded ny Schedule A deduction where the Form 1098 mounts mtched the Schedule A mounts, it my hve underestimted mortgge interest deduction misreporting relting to the home equity nd cquisition debt limits. Pge 9

16 Txpyers Fce Vriety of Problems Trying to Comply with Mortgge Interest Deduction Rules, nd IRS Fces Chllenges in Detecting Noncomplince The mortgge interest deduction rules crete complince problems for txpyers, reflecting the deduction s complexity. The effects of the problems, however, re uneven. Although mny txpyers might encounter few problems, others could fce mny more. Problems cited by tx prctitioners nd in our review of rticles on deducting home mortgge interest included the following: Txpyers need to distinguish between cquisition nd home equity debt but did not lwys do so. Txpyers deducted interest on lons exceeding the limittions, including the cquisition, home equity, nd two-home limits. Txpyers who were subject to the AMT nd thus not eligible to deduct home equity interest climed it nonetheless. Tx prctitioners lso missed the limittions nd did not comply with the AMT rules. Depending on the circumstnces, some txpyers nd prctitioners fced extensive recordkeeping nd clcultions relted to such mtters s refinncing, the AMT, business use of the home, other uses of lon proceeds, nd the periodic use nd repyment of home equity lines of credit. One prctitioner told us tht completing worksheets ws the quick nd esy prt of work relted to the mortgge interest deduction; the most difficult nd most time-consuming prt ws getting txpyers to locte nd provide the proper informtion on wht kind of debt ws involved nd how lon proceeds were used. Typiclly, txpyers provided records piecemel over time nd fter mny phone clls. Txpyers my hve been unwre tht they might need documenttion on mtters such s how proceeds of home equity lons re spent to properly determine the mount of the mortgge interest deduction on their tx returns. Mortgge interest deduction limits bsed on debt mounts re not directly comprble with the informtion on Form 1098, which lists interest pid. If txpyers debts exceed the limits, txpyers must clculte how much interest they cn deduct. The complexity of the lws tht govern the mortgge interest deduction re evident in the guidnce IRS hs published. Figure 1 is the flowchrt in IRS s 16-pge instructions to txpyers Publiction 936: Home Mortgge Pge 10

17 Interest Deduction tht help txpyers determine if their mortgge interest is fully deductible. 10 It leds txpyers through s mny s seven decision points nd still sometimes requires them to consult nother prt of the publiction. Appendix IV provides two exmples of the mortgge interest deduction s complexity. 10 Deprtment of the Tresury, Internl Revenue Service, Publiction 936: Home Mortgge Interest Deduction: For Use in Prepring 2008 Returns. Pge 11

18 Figure 1: IRS Chrt Illustrting How to Determine Whether Mortgge Interest Is Fully Deductible s Shown in Publiction 936 Source: Deprtment of the Tresury, Internl Revenue Service, Publiction 936: Home Mortgge Interest Deduction: For Use in Prepring 2008 Returns. Pge 12

19 Addressing Complince Problems nd Complexity Would Likely Require Policy Chnges To llevite the problems nd complexity fcing txpyers complying with the mortgge interest deduction rules, policy mkers likely would hve to chnge tx lws. For exmple, we noted in the pst tht shifting mortgge interest deduction limits from debt mounts to n interest-limit cp could simplify dministrtion of the deduction. 11 Under n interest-limit cp, IRS could more esily compre the mounts reported on Schedule A nd Form 1098 to the cp nd identify cses for udit or follow-up. Similrly, txpyers would hve only to report the mount of Form 1098 interest tht fell under the cp nd would not hve to figure out which property qulified or how to ccount for debt limits, depending on how ny new legisltion ws written. However, chnging the tx code for qulified residentil mortgge interest deductions could hve significnt tx policy implictions. For exmple, n interest-pid cp could cuse txpyers living in res with high housing prices to be disdvntged compred with txpyers with similr incomes living in res with low housing prices. A cp could lso disdvntge those who borrowed during periods of high interest rtes. Assessing such policy chnges nd whether such consequences would be pproprite re beyond the scope of this report. Becuse Mortgge Interest Reported on Form 1098 Is Not Directly Comprble to Legl Debt Limits, IRS Must Use Costly Methods to Detect Certin Noncomplince Becuse the Form 1098 informtion report shows the dollr mount of interest txpyer pid in yer without regrd to the limits on the mount of debt imposed by lw, IRS s computer mtching progrm compring Form 1098 nd tx return mounts will not detect certin noncomplince. For exmple, s lredy discussed, txpyers cnnot clim deduction for interest exceeding the $1 million cquisition debt limit or other limittions. However, the nnul informtion report for txpyer with $1.5 million cquisition mortgge would show the interest pid on the entire mortgge insted of the interest on the $1 million under the nnul debt limit. Becuse of this, the informtion IRS receives from third prties on Form 1098 cnnot be used by itself to determine if txpyers improperly climed interest on debt in excess of the legl limittions. However, the wy to overcome this problem using exmintions to detect noncomplince is expensive compred to utomted mtching 11 GAO, Tx Policy: Mny Fctors Contributed to the Growth in Home Equity Finncing in the 1980s, GAO/GGD (Wshington, D.C.: Mr. 25, 1993). Pge 13

20 progrms, nd its pyoff in incresed revenue is low. For exmple, ccording to IRS exminers, pinpointing which tx returns hve homeequity debt noncomplince issue is very lbor intensive. As shown erlier, for non-cip line 10 exmintions by revenue gents nd tx complince officers closed in fiscl yer 2008, the medin decrese to line 10 ws $6,430, ccording to our nlysis of IRS dt. At the highest individul tx rte of 35 percent nd ssuming no offsetting fctors, the resulting increse in tx revenue would be bout $2,250. Although not n exct comprison, the verge tx ssessment IRS recommended for field exmintions of individul txpyers ws bout $19,150 per txpyer. Given the non-cip exmintions reltively low pyoff, some prctitioners we interviewed sid the tx code s it reltes to the home mortgge interest deduction is unenforceble in prcticl sense. Options Exist for Expnding Mortgge Informtion Reporting nd Using Privte Sector Dt to Enhnce Enforcement Additionl informtion bout txpyers mortgges could help IRS identify the most productive cses to exmine nd determine whether txpyers re climing the correct mount of mortgge interest deduction. IRS could obtin more helpful informtion bout txpyers mortgges by expnding informtion collected on Form IRS officils sid tht in implementing certin dditionl reporting requirements, the gency would need to meet the terms of the Pperwork Reduction Act, which requires gencies to minimize the pperwork burden they impose on the public nd mximize the prcticl utility of the informtion they collect. 12 IRS officils lso sid ttention would need to be pid to the dded costs tht expnsion would impose on third prties nd IRS, such s updting computer systems. Any computer progrmming chnges for IRS nd third prties would likely be done only once to ccommodte the new informtion. Form 1098 could be revised to collect the following informtion: ddress of the property secured by the mortgge to which the interest on the form reltes; 12 Pperwork burden is defined s the time spent reding nd understnding request for informtion, s well s the time spent developing, compiling, recording, reviewing, nd providing tht informtion. Pge 14

21 outstnding mortgge debt blnces on the property; n indictor if the mortgge interest is for lon tht ws refinnced during the yer; nd n indictor of whether the mortgge interest reltes to n cquisition lon or home equity lon. Figure 2 shows wht Form 1098 might look like if revised to collect ny of this informtion. We found tht some compnies tht submit Form 1098 sttements to IRS lredy provide some of this informtion with the Form 1098 sttements they send to borrowers. These options could be considered singly or in combintion. Further, chnges to Form 1098 reporting requirements would need to pply only to future reports to give filers sufficient time to djust their computer systems to collect nd clculte the dditionl informtion. Pge 15

22 Figure 2: Current Form 1098 Informtion Compred with Options for Additionl Mortgge Debt Informtion 8181 VOID CORRECTED RECIPIENT S/LENDER S nme, ddress, nd telephone number OMB No Mortgge Interest Sttement Current Form 1098 RECIPIENT S federl identifiction no. PAYER S socil security number PAYER S/BORROWER S nme Street ddress (including pt. no.) City, stte, nd ZIP code Account number (see instructions) Form Mortgge interest received from pyer(s)/borrower(s) $ 2 Points pid on purchse of principl residence $ 3 Refund of overpid interest $ 4 Mortgge insurnce premiums $ 5 Copy A For Internl Revenue Service Center File with Form For Privcy Act nd Pperwork Reduction Act Notice, see the 2008 Generl Instructions for Forms 1099, 1098, 5498, nd W-2G. 6 Address of secured property 7 Beginning nd ending principl blnces Possible dditions to Form 1098 $ $ 8 Refinncing this yer? Yes No 9 Lon Type Acquisition Home equity Form 1098 Ct. No K Deprtment of the Tresury - Internl Revenue Service Do Not Cut or Seprte Forms on This Pge Do Not Cut or Seprte Forms on This Pge Source: GAO nlysis of IRS informtion. Adding the Address of Mortgged Property to Form 1098 If the ddress relting to txpyers mortgge interest deductions were on the Form 1098 (see fig. 2, box 6) nd electroniclly cptured in IRS dtbses, IRS could use n utomted process to determine whether the mortgge interest txpyers climed corresponded to qulified residence nd ws eligible for the deduction. For exmple, IRS could see if n Pge 16

23 ddress reported on Form 1098 mtched the ddress tht the txpyers listed on their Form Tx preprers told us tht requiring the property ddress lso would help them prepre returns more ccurtely becuse they could use the informtion to determine if the property securing the debt is the txpyer s qulified home. Some IRS officils responsible for exmintion policy whom we interviewed greed the property ddress would be useful in selecting returns for exmintion nd in cses where txpyers hve more thn one home. We previously recommended tht IRS revise Form 1098 to collect the ddress of the property whose mortgge is reported on Form In response, IRS greed to consider implementing our recommendtion, citing the burden the requirement could plce on third prties. Representtives of the mortgge bnking industry told us tht it would be fesible to report property ddress informtion on Form 1098 becuse mortgge lenders lredy mintin this informtion. We lso found n exmple of lender tht provided ddress informtion with Form 1098 informtion tht it sent to borrowers. Adding Mortgge Blnce Informtion to the Form 1098 If the beginning nd ending mortgge debt blnces or verge nnul debt blnces were provided on Form 1098, IRS could electroniclly identify txpyers with more thn $1 million in mortgge debt (see fig. 2, box 7) or identify txpyers whose mortgge interest deductions ppered out of proportion to their debt mounts. IRS officils sid tht debt blnce informtion would be prticulrly helpful in selecting returns for exmintion if combined with the ddress informtion becuse the dditionl informtion would help disentngle mortgge interest deductions of txpyers with multiple homes. According to mortgge industry representtive, Form 1098 filers could provide debt blnce informtion. We found exmples of compnies tht provided informtion on mortgge blnces on the Form 1098 sttements they sent to borrowers. However, industry representtives further stted tht compnies do not necessrily hve ccurte blnce informtion t prticulr point in time nd tht verge blnces would be esier for the 13 This procedure would not be useful for determining whether txpyers correctly deducted mortgge interest on second home. 14 GAO, Tx Gp: Actions Tht Could Improve Rentl Rel Estte Reporting Complince, GAO (Wshington, D.C.: Aug. 28, 2008). Pge 17

24 industry to report thn blnces pegged to ny specific dy, especilly for home equity lines of credit. For compnies tht do not keep verge blnce informtion now, they would incur the ssocited set-up costs of collecting the informtion in the future. Adding Check Box to the Form 1098 to Indicte Refinncing Form 1098 could be redesigned with check box for filers to show whether mortgge ws refinnced (see fig. 2, box 8). This would help IRS identify txpyers who might be noncomplint with rules specific to refinncing, such s the rule to mortize points pid on the mortgge. A mortgge industry representtive sid tht the burden of refinncing check box could be reduced if the rule were only to complete the box in the yer tht the lon ws mde, eliminting the need for Form 1098 filer to trck over time whether refinncing hd occurred. Also, Form 1098 filers do not uniformly keep ny indiction in their records s to whether lons re cquisition lons or refinncing. However, becuse the deductibility of the interest on the csh tken out in refinncing depends in prt on how the money is spent, identifying refinncing would not necessrily eliminte the need for IRS to exmine returns. It lso would be helpful to IRS if Form 1098 filers could show whether csh ws tken out in refinncing, but such chnge might not be ble to include the mount of csh. The mortgge industry representtive sid tht ny informtion on the csh tken out would be unrelible nd burdensome for Form 1098 filers to get. Form 1098 filers hve estimtes on csh tken out, not the finl figures vilble to the closing gent. The industry representtive lso sid tht Form 1098 filers do not mintin informtion on whether lon proceeds exceeded the mount of the lon tht ws refinnced. 15 However, IRS exminers could more esily see if csh were tken out t refinncing nd investigte whether rules on refinncing were followed if Form 1098 hd ddress, mortgge debt, nd refinncing check box, becuse they could see whether increses in the lon blnces over time for prticulr home took plce. 15 The mortgge bnking industry representtive lso sid tht Form 1098 filers would need guidnce to know how to report lon modifictions in which lon terms re chnged to void foreclosure nd which re not considered refinncing by the industry but could be by IRS. Pge 18

25 Adding n Indictor to the Form 1098 to Distinguish between Home Equity nd Acquisition Debt Tx forms do not require txpyers or Form 1098 filers to report the types of debt on which mortgge interest deductions re bsed, even though the mortgge debt limittions for deducting interest re different for cquisition nd home equity debt. If Form 1098 filers were required to identify the type of debt ssocited with the deduction (see fig. 2, box 9), IRS might more esily discern whether txpyer s deduction exceeded the cquisition or home equity debt limit, especilly if combined with reports of the debt mounts. Hving Form 1098 filers identify debt types, however, would crete chllenges. A mortgge industry representtive told us tht Form 1098 filers do not lwys hve informtion bout debt types, especilly if the lons hve been sold nd re-sold or the originl lon hs been refinnced. Form 1098 filers do not know whether mortgge refinncing proceeds were used for home improvements, which could qulify s cquisition debt or home equity debt, depending on how the money ws used. The representtive lso sid tht if home-equity debt reporting requirement were instituted, the industry would hve to introduce costly nd burdensome systems. Privte Sector Dt Might Be Useful to IRS in Detecting Mortgge Interest Noncomplince IRS lredy contrcts with privte firm to obtin informtion bout txpyers for routine exmintion purposes. Other privte sector dt might lso be useful to IRS in detecting mortgge interest noncomplince. For exmple, we obtined informtion from SMR Reserch, one of severl compnies tht nlyze lon informtion tht IRS might find useful in determining txpyer complince with rules governing the deduction of interest on home equity lons. By compring homeowners current mortgge debt for prticulr property with erlier debt, SMR Reserch estimted tht up to severl million homeowners hd lons tht might hve exceeded the home equity debt limittion. In the ggregte, these homeowners debts over the debt limittion were severl hundred billion dollrs. 16 SMR Reserch s dt do not show whether txpyers correctly reported deductions bsed on home equity lons. IRS would still hve to check the returns. Given informtion underlying the trnsctions in SMR Reserch s dtbse nd shown in ppendix VII, IRS could test the use of this or similr privte-sector dtbses to: 16 See ppendix VII for the types of trnsctions tht SMR Reserch included in its estimte. Pge 19

26 pinpoint txpyers for exmintion, initite correspondence to txpyers, or conduct outrech to pid preprers. Some IRS CIP exminers told us they hd significnt findings relted to home equity debt, indicting tht follow-up might be productive. IRS s Guidnce to Txpyers nd Trining Mterils for Exminers Did Not Indicte the Rnge of Possible Mortgge Interest Deduction Situtions Tken s whole, IRS txpyer guidnce Schedule A nd its instructions, Publiction 17, Your Federl Income Tx, nd Publiction 936, Home Mortgge Interest Deduction generlly informed txpyers tht mortgge interest deductions re subject to limits. Even though the guidnce ws generlly sufficient, Schedule A does not explicitly mention the limittions. As shown in ppendix II, Schedule A, line 10 sks txpyers for the Home mortgge interest nd points reported to you on Form Sometimes, s when n cquisition lon exceeds $1 million, this wording could be problemtic becuse txpyer or preprer would need to look beyond the Form 1098 to determine the proper line 10 mount. 17 Using the sme mount of spce on Schedule A s now, line 10 could esily be revised to mention limittions by deleting reported to you nd using wording such s Unless limited, home mortgge interest nd points on Form Another wy to revise Schedule A would be to dd something bout mortgge interest deduction limittions to the mrgin ner line 10. Other possibilities for chnging Schedule A to highlight limittions lso exist, but would entil trdeoffs. For exmple, check box could be dded to the Schedule sking txpyers if either the $1 million or the $100,000 limittion pplies to their lons. Mking such chnge not only would help txpyers prepring their own returns but lso might prompt pid preprers to more thoroughly interview their clients. However, with the mortgge interest deduction, these types of chnges would dd some 17 It is uncler how mny txpyers re ffected by the $1 million debt limit. 18 Although (1) Schedule A note ner line 10 sys to See pge A-5 of the instructions, (2) Form 1098 hs n sterisk sying tht the Form s interest mount might not be fully deductible, nd (3) most txpyers might not be ffected by the limittions, chnging the wording on Schedule A could enhnce complince. Pge 20

27 burden to txpyers whose deductions re not ffected by the debt limits. The effectiveness of such chnge is lso uncler. Txpyers might not red IRS guidnce when prepring returns. To counter this possibility but lso be mindful of preprtion, miling, nd txpyer service costs involved, IRS could test whether corresponding with some txpyers would cost-effectively reduce misreporting. Added outrech through seminrs or communictions with stkeholders such s pid preprers, tx return softwre providers, nd industry groups could communicte key rules nd common mistkes nd be trgeted to txpyers, such s those reporting the deduction bove certin level. Sending correspondence directly to txpyers lso could help inform pid preprers of rules nd common mistkes becuse the txpyers would likely shre it with their preprers, ccording to representtives of the tx return preprtion industry. 19 IRS hs used outrech progrms on mortgge interest deductions in recent yers. For instnce, IRS s tx tips covered deducting refinncing costs. IRS s guidnce on the cquisition debt limit is inconsistent with prior tx court ruling. Currently, Publiction 936 guides the txpyer to tret ny qulified mortgge debt bove the $1 million cquisition debt limit s home equity debt subject to the $100,000 limit, regrdless of the lon s use. In prctice, this mens tht the txpyer cn deduct the interest on up to $1.1 million in cquisition debt (treting the mount bove $1 million s home equity debt even if used to cquire the home). However, 1997 U.S. Tx Court cse ruled tht the cquisition debt limit is $1 million nd no dditionl deduction cn be tken bove the $1 million limit unless the txpyer truly hs home equity debt. 20 One tx softwre compny officil cited the 1997 cse s support for the compny s decision to chnge the guidnce in its softwre to llow interest deductions only up to $1 million in cquisition debt, rther thn follow the guidnce in Publiction 936. In 2008, IRS Chief Counsel begn reviewing the inconsistency in the debt limit llownces. However, completion dte for this work is uncertin. 19 IRS could tell txpyers tht (1) lck of knowledge bout mortgge interest deduction limittions hs come to its ttention, (2) they should lern if the limittions pply to them nd if they hve been complint, (3) they should mend returns if wrrnted, nd (4) IRS will spot-check some txpyers to ensure complince. To be credible, IRS would ctully need to check some returns. If this pproch were considered too onerous on the public, communiction with txpyers nd prctitioners could be strictly prospective, providing guidnce on wht to consider when filing the next return. 20 Pu v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo Pge 21

28 Until IRS completes its determintion, txpyers will clculte their deductions using different debt limits depending on whether they, their tx preprers, or their tx softwre follow the guidnce in Publiction 936 or the tx court interprettion. Depending on IRS s determintion, some txpyers my not be optimizing their deduction or IRS could be losing revenue from txpyers overdeducting. IRS Exminer Guidnce nd Trining Mterils Addressed Mortgge Interest Deduction Limittions but Lcked Instructive Exmples of Some Relevnt Situtions IRS s exminers guidnce nd trining mterils included informtion for identifying nd clculting home-equity nd the cquisition-debt limittions. Overll, exminers we interviewed were stisfied with trining nd guidnce on the mortgge interest deduction. However, IRS s guidnce nd trining mterils did not cover problems tht my rise in some rel-life situtions. For exmple, the guidnce does not mention problem tht n exminer sid she commonly found: txpyers owning third home, witing to sell one of their first two, nd deducting the interest pid on ll three. Neither does the guidnce ddress situtions tht tx professionls described s chllenging for IRS to enforce, such s multiple refinncings, mortgges, or home equity lines of credit. 21 The bsence of such exmples could impede exminers who do not del with mortgge interest deduction issues regulrly. An IRS trining officil told us tht updting trining mterils with relevnt exmples could be done esily. Also, IRS s exminer trining mterils reflect the txpyer guidnce with regrd to the llowble cquisition debt limit. For exmple, ccording to one IRS trining exercise, txpyers could deduct interest on up to $1.1 million in mortgge debt even if they used the $1.1 million just to cquire home, contrdicting the 1997 tx court ruling, discussed bove. The difference my led exminers to inconsistently clculte the tx owed, becuse some my clculte the cquisition debt limit s $1 million bsed on the tx court determintion nd others my llow deductions on up to $1.1 million s instructed by the trining. As previously mentioned, IRS Chief Counsel s office is reviewing the inconsistency between the IRS guidnce nd the tx court ruling. IRS officils sid tht they hve 21 Txpyers with home-bsed businesses lso hve complex returns when mortgge interest pyment deductions pper prtly on Schedule A nd prtly on business return like Schedule C. Pge 22

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