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Utilize the Section 121 exclusion

The Section 121 exclusion, often called the home sale exclusion, is a provision in the U.S. tax code allowing homeowners to exclude a substantial portion of the capital gains from the sale of their primary residence. Specifically, individuals can exclude up to $250,000 of capital gains, and married couples filing jointly can exclude up to $500,000.

This method is ideal for most homeowners looking to downsize, especially someone who has lived in their home for several years and has substantial appreciation.

To qualify, you must have owned and lived in the home as your primary residence for at least two out of the five years preceding the sale, and you can’t have claimed the exclusion on another home in the past two years.

There are risks and rewards. The exclusion can drastically reduce or eliminate your capital gains tax liability, and it applies to a wide range of homeowners, including those who move frequently for work or other reasons.

But if you don’t meet the criteria fully, you may only qualify for a partial exclusion. You must also keep thorough records to prove your eligibility, which can be cumbersome.

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Reinvest in a New Home with a 1031 Exchange

A 1031 exchange, named after Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code, allows you to defer capital gains taxes by reinvesting the proceeds from the sale of your property into a “like-kind” property.

This strategy is best suited for real estate investors or those willing to remain in the real estate market with their proceeds — those who can manage the complexity and strict timelines involved.

To execute a 1031 exchange, you must identify potential replacement properties within 45 days of selling your home, and you’re required to close on the new property within 180 days of the sale. There’s also a “like-kind” rule: The new property must be of the same nature or character as the one sold.

An exchange allows you to defer capital gains taxes, potentially indefinitely if you continue to reinvest, and you can reinvest in potentially higher-yielding properties.

The risks: The exchange’s strict 45- and 180-day rules are rigid and can be challenging to meet. Consider getting professional help with this one.

Consider the installment sale method

An installment sale%2C%20and%20interest.) allows you to spread the capital gains tax liability over several years by selling your property and receiving payments over time rather than in a lump sum.

This method is ideal for retirees seeking a steady income stream and those comfortable with a longer-term financial arrangement with the buyer.

When you sell your home through an installment sale, you receive payments from the buyer over an agreed period and you pay capital gains tax only on the portion of the gain received each year.

This approach spreads out your tax liability, potentially lowering your tax bracket each year, and provides a consistent income stream, which can benefit retirement.

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Long-term boost for your nest egg

A strategy to minimize capital gains taxes can help you retain more of the proceeds from your home sale. And more funds available for investment or savings can provide greater financial security in retirement.

While the prospect of a hefty tax bill can be daunting, understanding and utilizing these strategies can help you downsize your home without sacrificing your financial future.

By carefully considering your options and consulting with a financial adviser, you can make informed decisions that can keep the taxman at bay and build toward a secure retirement.


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Chris Clark Freelance Contributor

Chris Clark is freelance contributor with MoneyWise, based in Kansas City, Mo. He has written for numerous publications and spent 18 years as a reporter and editor with The Associated Press.


The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.