Tax-raisers on Capitol Hill slashed their 291-page hit list of revenue targets to just 12 items last week. But three of them could touch you in the wallet, if you own a home or invest in real estate. So you may want to ponder them, or even talk to your congressman about them, during the August congressional recess.
Here's a quick update on the summer saga of Tax Reform, Part II: The Real Estate Nightmare Continues. The plot so far runs like this:
With the blood barely dry from the Tax Reform Act of 1986, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) called on some of the most ingenious minds on Capitol Hill for suggestions about how to raise $19 billion more for the federal tax coffers. Rostenkowski had to do so because the Senate and House put him up to it. They'd agreed on a new budget for the upcoming fiscal year that is $19.3 billion more in the red than it's supposed to be. Then they left it to the congressional tax experts -- most prominently Rostenkowski and his committee -- to get rid of the red.
The chairman turned to the lawyers and economists on the staff of the Joint Tax Committee. They produced the Big List -- a compendium of creative revenue-raising options, from new levies on telephones, beer and gas guzzlers to improved methods for squeezing more money out of American taxpayers' heirs.
Tucked away in the 291 pages delivered by the Joint Tax Committee in June were several proposals affecting homeowners and real-estate investors. Ominously, when the Big List was pared down to the Short List last week, representing the draft recommendations favored by key staff on the committee, the major real-estate proposals all remained.
The most controversial of the three concerns home-equity loans. The Short List didn't specify how the loans could be turned into federal money makers, but the Big List did. Interest deductibility on home-equity loans can simply be cut off, in the words of one staff member, unless the proceeds are used to rehabilitate, acquire or construct a primary or second residence.
As a homeowner, you could still borrow all you want against your house under this recommendation. The only problem is that you couldn't write off your interest payments at tax time, unless the loan dollars went for nothing but the purchase, rehab or new construction of your own house. Few home-equity borrowers currently would pass such a test.
Also outlined in the Big List were home-equity-loan cutbacks on interest deductions beyond $10,000; deductions on home-equity lines of credit with no fixed terms for repayment, and denial of second-home status to boats of any size and mobile homes.
The second major item on the Short List of real-estate targets involves tax-deferred exchanging. For years an integral part of many small and large real-estate investors' financial arsenals, tax-deferred exchanging sailed through 1986s legislative bloodbath unscathed. Not so this year, if the revenue-raisers have their way.
Tax-deferred exchanging works like this: If you swap some investment real estate for other real estate of ''like kind,'' you can postpone your federal tax liability until you realize an actual cash gain.
Say that you bought a condo or rental duplex five years ago for $100,000. Now it's worth $200,000. You can swap it, at its appreciated equity value, for a piece of raw land, another condo or whatever form of investment real estate you want, without incurring an immediate tax liability on your apparent profit. Your liability is deferred until you realize a cash profit, by selling the place for money.
Under the draft tax proposal now circulating on Capitol Hill, you'd have a much tougher time qualifying for tax-deferred swaps. For example, you wouldn't be able to exchange your condo for land because the two properties wouldn't be considered ''like kind'' for federal tax purposes.
The final major real-estate item on the hit list concerns investments in a form of publicly traded, stock exchange-listed partnerships known as master limited partnerships. MLPs represent a way to avoid the double taxation typical in corporations. Almost by definition, that avoidance puts them in the revenue-raisers' gunsights.
Where's the Tax Reform-Part II saga headed? Nowhere until September, when Congress returns to confront its own red ink and begins scrambling for quick fixes to cut the flow.