How Does IRS Determine Primary Residence?

The Internal Revenue Service offers a tax break on home sales: The first ​$250,000​ (​$500,000​ for married couples who file joint returns) is tax-free. To qualify, taxpayers must sell only their primary residence. If a seller has more than one residence, the IRS uses criteria such as where they spend the most time and where they participate in religious or social events to determine the primary residence.


Consider also​: Deducting Mortgage Interest on a Second Home

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Primary Residence Definition

If you own and live in only one home, that home is your primary residence. If you own and live in more than one home, the IRS judges your primary residence by which home you spend more time in.


For example, if you live in one home for eight months out of the year and the other home for four months out of the year, the home that you spend eight months in is your primary residence. So, if you are ever asked to prove your primary residence for tax purposes, then describing the amount of time you spend in a home is a good place to start.


Apartments, boats and mobile homes can all potentially qualify as primary residences as long as they include a bathroom, a sleeping space and a kitchen.

Examine Government Documents

If you spend equal amounts of time in more than one residence, the IRS may examine your address on your government-issued documents to determine which address is your primary address. For example, if your driver's license lists the address of one of your residences, the IRS is more likely to consider that your primary residence, especially if you use this address for federal and state taxes. Other types of proof include utility bills or a voter registration card, suggests Rocket Mortgage.


Review Life Interactions

The IRS also examines where you have built a life for yourself. For example, if you belong to a religious organization and participate in social activities in the city where one of the residences is located, the IRS is more likely to consider this your primary residence than a residence that is farther away from your social activities. The IRS may check where you go to work, unless you work remotely, and where your children go to school.


In addition, the IRS examines where you have opened your bank account, where you go to the doctor and other evidence suggesting that you have built your life somewhere.

Look at the Whole Picture

The IRS makes its determination based on the whole picture, not just one isolated fact.


For example, if you have built your life in a community and spend the majority of your time in a residence in that community, the IRS is unlikely to determine that your primary residence is elsewhere just because your driver's license has this alternate address. Similarly, if you have one address on all your government documents but spend almost all your time at the other residence, the IRS is likely to consider the second residence as your primary residence.


Bear in mind that you can only claim one property as your primary residence. If you're married filing jointly, you and your spouse must classify the same home as your primary home.

Consider also​: Married Filing Jointly: When Married Couples Should File With This Status