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HOME TAX BREAK: LET SELLER BEWARE : OVER-55 EXEMPTION IS A ONE-TIME AFFAIR.

Byline: Chet Currier Associated Press

To any homeowner whose plan for retirement includes a move from one residence to another, a special item in the U.S. tax code looms very large.

For want of a catchier name, it's called the ``one-time exclusion of gain for people age 55 or older,'' in the words of the Internal Revenue Service document (Form 2119) that is used to report home sales.

It permits people who fit that age requirement to cash in up to $125,000 in profits from the sale of a home without having to pay capital gains taxes.

But nobody is allowed more than one passage per lifetime through this loophole, and its benefits can be diminished or lost entirely if the trip isn't carefully planned.

The idea behind the exclusion is to allow people who have built up substantial equity in a home over the years to convert some of that asset into a more liquid form as they reach or approach retirement.

Suppose, for the sake of illustration, that you and your spouse own a home bought years ago for $50,000, and now worth $225,000. The kids are grown, and you want to sell the old homestead and move into a smaller place that's on the market for $100,000.

If neither you nor your spouse is 55 years old yet, the change of address will leave you with a $125,000 gain on which you will have to pay federal income taxes of as much as $35,000.

But if either of you has passed your 55th birthday by the time you sell the old house, and you elect to take the exclusion, you won't owe a penny to Uncle Sam. The extra $35,000, if invested in a bond paying 7 percent a year, can mean a difference of more than $100 a month in your cash flow.

It's important to be aware that the rules covering this process are complicated - and inflexible. If you make a misstep somewhere in following them, it's easy to trip yourself up.

First of all, tax experts say, make sure you meet the eligibility tests for the exclusion before you sell. In addition to the age minimum, you must have owned and lived in the old home for at least three of the five years preceding the sale.

``Don't make the mistake of selling your residence in the year you become 55 but before your 55th birthday,'' cautions the Ernst & Young Tax Guide.

In addition, many people who are eligible, but have only a relatively small exclusion they can claim, have to decide whether to take it now or forgo it, expecting that they might have a bigger gain to exclude sometime in the future.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 12, 1996
Words:458
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