Each year, in the run-up to the April filing deadline, I am inundated with income-tax tips by everyone and his sister.
Property taxes, maybe, are in my domain, but income-tax matters are left up to others.
I was fortunate to have the same accountant for 35 years; otherwise, I would now be in jail or on the run from the feds.
It is sad that we lost our accountant, David Lidle, to ALS in February.
He was a splendid accountant, who very early on urged my wife and me to buy our first house so we could keep some of the money we were paying the federal government in income taxes each year.
That's not a great reason to buy a house. Frankly, it should be one reason. But when we put it all together, buy a house we did.
Being able to deduct mortgage interest and property taxes has long been used by Realtors - both individuals and organizations - to argue renters into homeownership.
Every time politicians have gone after the deduction - usually in favor of a flat tax - the hue and cry from opponents causes hearing loss.
John Burns, the CEO of John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, Calif., doesn't believe homeownership has a tax savings any longer.
In fact, he said, he believes it to be one of the primary reasons why entry-level home buying has not recovered - and why homeownership has been plunging.
For decades, homeowners benefited from both the financial and psychological advantages of paying less tax.
Homeownership came with income-tax savings because mortgage interest plus property taxes easily exceeded the standard deduction allowed by the Internal Revenue Service, Burns said.
For most American homeowners, that has not been true since 2008 because, for one thing, falling interest rates and home prices have reduced mortgage interest, he said.
For another, the standard marital deduction has risen from $1,300 in 1972 to $12,600 today, meaning that the first $12,600 of itemized deductions has no benefit to consumers, he said.
These days, a typical first-time home buyer financing 95 percent or less of a median-priced home pays less than $12,000 in mortgage interest and property taxes, which is not enough to warrant itemizing, Burns said.
Even with other deductions that bring the taxpayer over the $12,600 limit, the tax savings are minimal, he said.
"Years ago, we eliminated income-tax savings from our calculation of the rent-versus-buy decision, and I cannot remember the last time I heard a prospective first-time home buyer (not in California or New York) mention income-tax benefits as a reason for buying," he said.
Burns graphed the change over time for a typical homeowner couple with an 80 percent loan-to-value mortgage and a 1.5 percent property-tax rate on the median-priced home in the United States.
That owner paid mortgage interest and property taxes in excess of the standard deduction every year from 1972 to 2008.
Today, that homeowner's deductions fall nearly $2,500 short of the standard deduction, he said.
"Every April 15, the most financially qualified renters in the country used to feel the pain of not owning by writing a check to the IRS," Burns said.
For most Americans, that is no longer the case.
"The lack of tax savings is just one of numerous reasons why homeownership is the lowest it has been in decades, and we believe homeownership is headed lower," he said.
There are many very good reasons to buy a house.
The mortgage interest deduction, however, is apparently no longer one of them.