Would "ObamaCare" (Health Care Reform) Tax the Sale of Your Home? Probably Not.

September 24, 2010

There has been a story and an e-mail floating around for some time claiming that the recent health care reform bill (PPACA/supplemental bill) would impose a 3.8 percent "sales" tax on the sale of every home. The e-mail has been rightfully debunked by the usuals (Factcheck.org and Snopes), but here is what the bill would actually do regarding taxation of the sales of homes.

First, there is no "sales" tax on home sales in the health care bill. The bill would impose essentially a capital gains taxes on some home sales made by a limited number of taxpayers. (The health care law contains a new 3.8 percent tax on "unearned income" for high-income taxpayers. Unearned income includes capital gains.) To be hit by the 3.8 percent capital gains tax, you first have to be a married couple making more than $250,000 in adjusted gross income or $200,000 if you are single. The capital gain on the home sale must also exceed $500,000 if this is a primary home and you are a married couple ($250,000 for singles). So for example, even if you and your spouse make $300,000 in wages and you bought a home that you lived in for a while for $600,000 that you now sell it for $1 million, your capital gains tax on that home sale would be zero. Even if the home sold for $1.2 million, thereby resulting in a capital gain of $600,000, only $100,000 of that capital gain would subject to the new tax (because of the $500,000 exclusion).

For those who earn above those income thresholds ($250,000/$200,000) and who have a capital gain on a home that is a second home or one that does not qualify for principal residence (i.e., lived in for too short of a time period), the full capital gain would be subject to the new 3.8 percent tax.

Over time, however, if the health care reform and the tax code were never changed, more and more home sales would be subject to this tax. That's because the $200,000 and $250,000 income thresholds in the health care reform bill were not indexed for inflation leading more and more people to qualify for having to pay the 3.8 percent tax on their investment income (including some home sales). Furthermore, the $500,000/$250,000 primary home sale exclusion amounts are not indexed for inflation, meaning that over the long-run as home prices grow with inflation, more primary home sales would be subject to capital gains taxes.

Update (9/27/2010)

Apparently one of the sources of this misinformation is an April 8th blog post from GOP.gov (official website of Republicans in Congress). Nowhere in the blog post does it mention the fact that only those tax returns with incomes exceeding $200,000/$250,000 would be hit. Furthermore, it doesn't mention the huge primary home capital gains exclusion that the tax code already has, which means that only a small fraction of home sales even have a capital gain that is subject to taxation. It's a terribly dishonest blog post whatever your views on health care reform are.

National Review Online has a recent column that has repeated this misleading claim, and there is a new article circulating many websites that makes the claim that it hits all income derived from home sales.

This past Saturday morning on the show "Cashin' In," which is part of the Fox News Business Block on Saturday mornings, guest host Wayne Rogers (yes, that Wayne Rogers who starred in "Mash") also made the erroneous claim in the show's "What Do I Need to Know" segment (and he doesn't even get the year right): "What you need to know is that there is a 3.8 percent tax on home sales that's going to take place in 2012. It was hidden in the health care bill. Why it was there nobody knows. Will it stop people from selling their house? Maybe, because the tax on a $300,000 house is going to be $11,400 out of your pocket."

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