Time to End the Mortgage Interest Deduction

I’m a big fan of the two shows This American Life did with Pro Publica regarding the Giant Pit of Money. Shoving interest rates down for so long meant that bond yields were nada. A historically unprecedented amount of money went looking for higher returns. Match that with poorly doc’d CDOs and you’ve got a setup for the biggest balloon since the tulips.

I was out purchasing in 2005 and deeply frustrated by competing in that market. I feel sorry for many, but I also got screwed in a different way. All that easy money meant that I had to pay a lot more for a house than in a reasonable market. We put down a bit over 10% and have a 15 year fixed mortgage. Even given a decline in values (we’re probably down about 10% in Alexandria, VA), we have solid equity in our home.

Personally, I’m in favor of terminating the mortgage interest deduction. I doubt that it’s done much for its purported aim, increasing home ownership. If you look at ownership rates internationally (I’m not on the SCOTUS, so I’m allowed to do this), you’ll some interesting results.

Australia – 69%
UK – 69%
US – 68%
Canada – 67%
NZ – 65%

Take a look at my not so random selection. Home ownership rates are comparable in the UK and English speaking former colonies. The desire for home ownership is a cultural matter, independent of a mortgage interest deduction.

But wait! One argues that it makes home ownership more affordable. No it doesn’t. Historically, the calculation has been based on income. If the government subsidizes mortgage payments, then housing prices will simply rise to compensate.

As an interim measure, I would suggest a housing tax credit of up to 20% with a limit of the median price of a home multiplied by the average interest rate . No second homes either. Sunset it by 1% per year until the damn thing disappears around 2030.


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