Policy Study

Unmasking the Mortgage Interest Deduction: Who Benefits and by How Much? 2013 Update

The mortgage interest deduction causes harmful economic distortions and its benefits are concentrated among the wealthy

The deduction of mortgage interest from federal income taxes subsidizes homeownership, making it more affordable to become a homeowner. It is a highly popular tax break, yet one that is not without criticism. For example, the mortgage interest deduction (MID) primarily benefits those who would choose to own homes anyway while encouraging them to simply buy bigger and more expensive homes. Those who are on the margin between renting and owning tend not to itemize deductions, thus they cannot benefit from the MID. As a result, if the goal is to increase the homeownership rate, the MID is an ineffective tool. Furthermore, it creates a distortion in the choice between financing owner-occupied housing with debt or other assets, and in the choice between investing in residential real estate or other assets.

Despite its popularity among voters, the mortgage interest deduction has long been a target for elimination. Most recently, President Obama’s deficit reduction commission (Simpson-Bowles) had it in its sights. While there is general sentiment among voters that the mortgage interest deduction is a good idea, there is little understanding of its effects. In order to understand the potential effect of closing this loophole, this study examines specifically who benefits from the MID and how much they benefit. It also provides an estimate of how much tax rates could be reduced if the deduction were eliminated but revenues were held constant.

Anthony Randazzo

Anthony Randazzo is director of economic research for Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. His research portfolio is regularly evolving, and he maintains a wide interest in economic policy at both a domestic and international level.

Randazzo is also managing director of the Pension Integrity Project, which provides technical assistance to public sector retirement system stakeholders who are seeking to prevent pension plan insolvency. His research focus on the national public sector pension crisis has a dual focus of identifying the systemic factors that cause public officials to underfund pension obligations as well as studying the processes by which meaningful pension reform can be accomplished. Within the Project he leads the analytics team that develops independent, third party actuarial analysis to stakeholders considering changes to public sector retirement systems.

In addition, Randazzo writes about the moral foundations of economic theory, and is currently developing research on the ways that the moral intuitions of economists influence their substantive findings on topics like income inequality, immigration, or labor policy.

Randazzo's work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Barron's, Bloomberg View, The Washington Times, The Detroit News, Chicago Sun-Times, Orange-County Register, RealClearMarkets, Reason magazine and various other online and print publications.

During his tenure at Reason he has published substantive research on housing finance, financial services regulation, and various other aspects of economic policy at the federal level. And he has written regularly on labor economics, tax policy, privatization, and Turkish-U.S. political and economic issues.

Randazzo has also testified before numerous state and local legislative bodies on pension policy matters, as well as before the House Financial Services Committee on topics related to housing policy and government-sponsored enterprises.

He holds a multidisciplinary M.A. in behavioral political economy from New York University.

Follow Anthony Randazzo on Twitter @anthonyrandazzo