Mortgage prepayments and tax- exempted intergenerational transfers: from rich parents to rich children?

The Dutch government modified twice the taxation of intergenerational transfers aimed at mortgage down-payments and prepayments. We identify the causal effects of the tax exemption on prepayments and inter vivos transfers separately by exploiting changes in the policy design. Subsequent policy changes resulted in two expansions of the tax-free transfers that caused a significant increase in the probability of receiving such transfers — a relatively rare event — which translated then in a more modest increase in the probability to make prepayments, that are far more common. Initially the amounts prepaid increased by a similar magnitude, while the second expansion only increased the amounts being transferred but not the prepayments. The macroprudential policy goal of the reform was to reduce the number of underwater mortgages, at the time constituting more than one third of all mortgages. We find that the prepayments triggered by the policy change increased mostly for borrowers with low original loan to value (LTV) ratios. This implies that most transfers were made from wealthy parents to housing-rich children. This because the policy was too generic, so it did not help to reduce the share of underwater mortgages.

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