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Renting vs Buying a Home: Which is better?

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Renting vs. Buying: Which is better? - TaxAct Blog

It used to be the traditional American Dream wasn’t quite complete unless it included a small piece of land with a house to call home. But, times have changed!

Today’s society is more mobile. We buy and sell houses almost as often as we change cars, seldom staying in one place long enough to pay off the mortgage.

Considering the fast-paced, mobile world we now live in, is it still worthwhile to buy a house? Or should you stick to renting?

Buying a home for the tax perks

There’s no doubt – buying a home can save you money on your taxes.

You can generally deduct your mortgage interest and real estate taxes.

If you receive a qualified Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) from a state or local governmental unit or agency under a qualified credit certificate program, the mortgage interest credit can directly reduce your tax liability.

These perks can make buying a home seem like a no-lose proposition; however, You’ll spend more money on your home than you save in taxes.

Make sure you consider all the pros and cons, not just income tax savings, before you commit to buying and maintaining a home.

Using a mortgage as a forced savings plan

The largest asset many people own when they reach retirement age is their home.

The value of a home is often due to price appreciation. If they lived in the home for years and resisted the urge to continuously refinance, the mortgage is likely low or even paid off.

Living in your own home, the money you would otherwise pay in rent goes first to interest, and then to paying the balance.

Just by making your house payment every month for years, you can build up equity without even thinking about it.

On the other hand, the money you spend on rent is gone. If your rent is less than you would pay to buy a house, you can put the difference into savings yourself.

You’ll need considerable self-discipline, however, because putting money away in savings – through good times and bad – isn’t easy.

Betting on real estate

Over long periods of time, real estate makes impressive gains in value. Almost any house bought 30 years ago is likely one of the best investments a person made.

It’s also a great hedge against inflation, as the dollar value of real estate goes up when the value of each dollar falls.

Real estate can be a lousy short-term investment, however.

If you bought real estate years ago, especially in an area hard hit by the housing downturn, you’re painfully aware of that. Selling a house when the price is down can be financially disastrous.

Are you a handyman?

What can go wrong with a house? Quite a lot, actually. Houses can settle, leak, creak, and be infested with termites. Houses new or old can suddenly need a new heating system, or a new roof.

When you have a landlord, he sends someone over to fix it and pays the bill. If you buy a house, you may find yourself wishing you had a landlord to call.

On the bright side, you can control how well the house is maintained when it’s your own. You can paint whatever color you want, and you don’t have to wait for your landlord to get around to it.

Owner-occupied homes are often in better shape than rentals because when you’re the one living in a house you care more than anyone about its condition.

Getting more or less for your money

There’s no fixed rule about whether buying or renting is cheaper – it all depends on the market you’re in.

When you compare the cost of renting vs. owning on a monthly basis, don’t forget to make allowance for the additional costs of home ownership, such as maintenance.

On the other hand, if you buy a home with a fixed mortgage, your total interest and principal payment stays the same for the life of the loan. Only your property tax bill can go up over the years.

If you rent a home, your landlord can always raise the rent. He could even sell the property, forcing you to move. Saving a little in rent now may not be a great idea if rent goes up later.

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About Sally Herigstad

Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and personal finance columnist and author of Help! I Can't Pay My Bills, Surviving a Financial Crisis (St. Martin's Griffin). She writes regularly at CreditCards.com, Bankrate.com, Interest.com, RedPlum, and MSN Money. She is an experienced speaker and a member of Toastmasters International. Follow Sally on Twitter.