The Difference Between Primary & Secondary Residences

A close-up of a mailbox in front of a residence.
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Knowing the difference between a primary residence and secondary residence is vital for many reasons. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows taxpayers to take deductions or credits for a primary residence, but not a secondary residence. The U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, depending on the bankruptcy chapter, allow a debtor to exempt a primary residence, but may require him to sell a secondary residence. Thus, it's important to know the difference between each residence.


Primary and Principal Residences

A primary residence, also called a principal residence, is anywhere a person lives for the greatest amount of time. Usually, the primary residence is a house or apartment. It could also be a boat, condominium or a room in someone's home. The primary residence is typically where you perform duties such as voting in local, county, state and federal elections.


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Secondary Residences

According to U.S. Legal, a secondary residence is a place where a person lives part time or less than the majority of the calendar year. A secondary residence can include a vacation home, resort property, second home or an apartment. An individual can have more than one secondary residence. For example, a homeowner can live in her house, which she considers her primary residence, but have a vacation home in Georgia and a room in her elderly parents' home in New Jersey where she stays when taking care of them.


Determining Primary and Secondary Residence

A primary or secondary residence is determined by the amount of time a person lives at a residence, as well as documentation. For example, a person typically provides his employer, the Internal Revenue Service, bank and any organizations with his primary address. Also, he uses his primary address to obtain a driver's license. If he has children, they will attend school in the district of his primary residence.


Primary and Secondary Residence Considerations

A primary residence should typically be in close proximity to a person's employment. The definition of a secondary residence can also vary by the mortgage lender. According to the Mortgage Porter, a second residence must be at least 50 miles from an individual's primary home to be considered a secondary residence. And a property that a person resides in for only a short time or not at all may be considered an investment property, not a principal or secondary residence.