Vacation homes offer owners tax breaks similar-but not identical-to those for primary residences. Vacation homes also offer owners the opportunity to earn tax-advantaged and even tax-free income. This combination of current income and tax breaks, combined with the potential for long-term appreciation, can make a second home an attractive investment.
Homeowners can deduct mortgage interest they pay on up to $1 million of "acquisition indebtedness" incurred to buy their primary residence and one additional residence. If their total mortgage indebtedness exceeds $1 million, they can still deduct the interest they pay on their first $1 million. If one mortgage carries a substantially higher rate than the second, it makes sense to deduct the higher interest first to maximize deductions.
Vacation homeowners don't need to buy an actual house (or even a condominium) to take advantage of second-home mortgage interest deductions. They can deduct interest they pay on a loan secured by a timeshare, yacht, or motorhome so long as it includes sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities.
Gains from selling a vacation home are generally taxed as short-term or long-term capital gains. While gain on the sale of a principal residence can be excludable, gain on the sale of a vacation home is not. Recent rules limit the amount of prior gain on a vacation residence that can be sheltered if a vacation home is converted into a primary residence.
Vacation home rentals. Many vacation home owners rent vacation homes to draw income and help finance the cost of owning the home. These rentals are taxed under one of three sets of rules depending on how long the homeowner rents the property.
Income from rentals totaling not more than 14 days per year is nontaxable.
Income from rentals totaling more than 14 days per year is taxable and is generally reported on Schedule E (Form 1040), Supplemental Income and Loss. Homeowners who rent their properties for more than 14 days can deduct a portion of their mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance, utilities, and other expenses to offset that income. That deduction depends on how many days they use the residence personally versus how many days they rent it.
Owners who use their home personally for less than 14 days and less than 10% of the total rental days can treat the property as true "rental" property if certain rules are followed.