Understanding the First Time Home Buyer’s Credit… Before it is Too Late!

September 7, 2009

1.   Who is eligible to claim the tax credit?
If you are a first-time home buyer purchasing a new home or a resale-you are eligible for the tax credit.  The purchase must take place on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009 to qualify for the tax credit. As it applies to the tax credit, the purchase date is the date when the home closes and the title to the property transfers to the home owner.

2.   What is the definition of a first-time home buyer?
The tax credit law defines a “first-time home buyer” as a buyer who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase. If you are married, both spouses cannot have owned a home.

For example, if you didn’t own a home but your spouse did, you do not qualify.  For unmarried purchasers, the credit amount can be given to any buyer who qualifies as a first-time buyer, for instance, if a parent jointly purchases a home with a son or daughter. If you owned a vacation home or rental property not used as a principal residence you are not disqualified as a first-time home buyer.

3.   How is the amount of the tax credit determined?
The tax credit is 10 percent of the home’s purchase price, however, there is a maximum $8,000 credit.

4.   Are there any income limits for claiming the tax credit?4.
The full tax credit amount is given to buyers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of less than $75,000 for single taxpayers and $150,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return. For taxpayers with MAGI of more than $95,000 (single) or $170,000 (married) the credit is reduced to zero.  Taxpayers between these figures are prorated accordingly.
  
5.   What is “modified adjusted gross income”?
Modified adjusted gross income or MAGI is defined by the IRS.   For most buyers this will be the figure at the bottom of the first page of form 1040 or 1040A.  For Form 1040 EZ this is reported on line 4 as of 2008.

6.   If my modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is above the limit, do I qualify for any tax credit?
Possibly. It depends on your income.

7.   Can you give me an example of how the partial tax credit is determined?
There is a $20,000 difference between those who are eligible for a full tax credit and those where the credit is reduced to zero.  If you take the amount you are over the limit by and divide it by the 20,000, this will give you the percentage that you are over the limit by.  Subtract that number from 100% and then multiply it times the $8,000.  That will give you your tax credit amount.

For example: A married couple has a modified adjusted gross income of $165,000. Their income exceeds $150,000 by $15,000. Dividing $15,000 by $20,000 yields 0.75.  This means they are over the limit by 75% and so are eligible for a tax credit of 25%.  Multiplying $8,000 by 0.25 shows that the buyer is eligible for a partial tax credit of $2,000.

Please remember that this is an example. You should always consult your tax advisor.

8.   How is this home buyer tax credit different from the tax credit that Congress enacted in July of 2008?
The most significant difference is that this tax credit does not have to be repaid.  This tax incentive is a true tax credit. But home buyers must use the residence as a principal residence for at least three years or face having to repay it. Certain exceptions apply.

9.   How do I claim the tax credit? Do I need to complete a form or application?
You claim the tax credit on your federal income tax return. Specifically, home buyers should complete IRS Form 5405 to determine their tax credit amount, and then claim this amount on Line 69 of their 1040 income tax return. No other applications or forms are required, and no pre-approval is necessary. However, you will want to be sure that you qualify for the credit under the income limits and first-time home buyer tests.

10.What types of homes will qualify for the tax credit?
Any home that will be used as a principal residence qualifies for the credit. This includes single-family detached homes, attached homes (i.e. townhomes and condominiums), manufactured homes (also known as mobile homes), modular homes and houseboats.  If it qualifies for the capital gains tax on a primary residence, it qualifies for this.

11.I read that the tax credit is “refundable.” What does that mean?
It means that the credit can be claimed even if the taxpayer has little or no federal income tax liability to offset.

For example, if you owe $6,000 in taxes and had $4,500 in taxes withheld for the year you still owe $1,500 in taxes.  You would receive a check from the government for $6,500.  ($8,000 – $1,500 = $6,500.)
Or perhaps more common would be that you have a tax liability of $6,000 and you had $7,500 withheld so you would be getting a refund of $1,500 before the credit – the credit gets added to your refund so you would get a refund of $9,500 ($1,500 + $8,000 = $9,500)
And you don’t have to have any tax liability in the year you claim the credit – but you do have to have income.

12.I purchased a home in early 2009 and have already filed to receive the $7,500 tax credit on my 2008 tax returns.How can I claim the new $8,000 tax credit instead?
You may file an amended 2008 tax return with a 1040X form. You should consult with a tax advisor to ensure you file this return properly.
 
13.Instead of buying a new home from a home builder, I hired a contractor to construct a home on a lot that I already own. Do I still qualify for the tax credit?
Yes. The “purchased” date is the date the owner first occupies the house.  The date of first occupancy must be on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.

In contrast, for newly-constructed homes bought from a home builder, eligibility for the tax credit isdetermined by the settlement date.

14.Can I claim the tax credit if I finance the purchase of my home under a mortgage revenue bond (MRB) program?
Yes. The tax credit can be combined with the MRB home buyer program. Note that first-time home buyers who purchased a home in 2008 may not claim the tax credit if they are participating in an MRB program.

15.I live in a district where I am already receiving a first time home buyer credit (Washington D.C.)   Can I claim both credits?
No. You can claim only one.

16.I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I claim the tax credit?
Consult your tax accountant.  If you are NOT a nonresident alien (as defined by the IRS), have not owned a principal residence in the past three years and meet the income limits you may be eligible to claim the tax credit for a qualified home purchase.

17.Is a tax credit the same as a tax deduction?
No. A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in what the taxpayer owes. That means that a taxpayer who owes $8,000 in income taxes and who receives an $8,000 tax credit would owe nothing to the IRS.

A tax deduction is subtracted from the amount of income that is taxed. Assuming the same $8,000 tax liability from above, a taxpayer is in the 33 percent tax bracket would have their liability reduced from $8,000 to $5,360. ($8,000 minus 33%).
So the tax CREDIT is much more helpful to the buyer

18.I bought a home in 2008. Do I qualify for this credit?
No, but you may qualify for another tax credit  if you bought  your first home between April 9, 2008 and January 1, 2009.
 
19.Is there any way for a home buyer to get the money before they file their 2009 tax return?
Yes. If you believe you will qualify for the tax credit you can reduce your withholding taxes on your paycheck by adjusting your withholding amount on your W-4 via your employer or through your quarterly estimated tax payment.  You can put this saved money aside to use as a downpayment.
 
IRS Publication 919 contains rules and guidelines for income tax withholding. Please note that if the qualified purchase does NOT occur, then you will be liable for repayment to the IRS of income tax and possible interest charges and penalties.  Consult your account prior to doing this.
 
20.If I’m qualified for the tax credit and buy a home in 2009, can I apply the tax credit against my 2008 tax return?
Yes. The law allows taxpayers the opportunity to treat qualified home purchases in 2009 as if the purchase occurred on December 31, 2008.

Taxpayers buying a home who wish to claim it on their 2008 tax return, but who have already submitted their 2008 return to the IRS, may file an amended 2008 return claiming the tax credit. You should consult with a tax professional to determine how to arrange this.
 
21.For a home purchase in 2009, Can I choose which year to claim the credit (2008 or 2009) to make sure I get the largest credit possible?
Yes.  You can choose to claim the credit in the tax year that will give you the greatest credit based upon your MAGI.  The purchase must take place in 2009.

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HOUSING RESCUE PROGRAM DETAILS RELEASED

March 6, 2009

– President Obama earlier this week unveiled details of his home loan aid plan designed to help millions of Americans who are at risk of losing their homes.

Administration officials say the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan could help nearly nine million households restructure or refinance their mortgages to avoid foreclosure.

The plan includes a $75 billion homeowner stability initiative that targets at-risk homeowners, many of whom have adjustable-rate mortgages that have increased house payments to as much as 50 percent of their monthly incomes.

This initiative offers cash incentives to lenders and borrowers for working out loan modification agreements that result in lower monthly mortgage payments and allow homeowners to keep their homes. Any bank that receives federal money under the Treasury Department’s $700 billion financial rescue program will be required to take part.

Another component of the plan is intended to help as many as five million responsible homeowners who took out conforming loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance through those institutions.

To finance that effort, the Treasury is providing the two companies with up to $200 billion in capital on top of $200 billion that it had already pledged to them.

“This is not going to save every person’s home,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “The plan is not intended to . . . augment somebody’s loan for a house that they couldn’t afford under any economic situation, good or bad.”

According to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, nearly 12 percent of homeowners — a record 5.4 million — were at least one month late or in foreclosure at the end of last year.

New York Times/Associated Press


The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, H.R. 1 – How does it affect you, the home buyer?

February 12, 2009

The Economic Stimulus Bill (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, H.R. 1.) has been reconciled by the House and Senate. The details of the legislation have not been finalized but we expect the legislation to include a number of important housing provisions, including the remedies for the housing crisis that NAR prescribed at the annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.

  • Homebuyer Tax Credit – a $7500 tax credit that will be available for qualified purchase of a principal residence by a first time homebuyer between January 1, 2009 and September 1, 2009.  The credit does not require repayment. Individuals who purchase in 2009 using financing assistance from state and local mortgage bonds will be permitted to use the credit, as well.
  • FHA, Fannie and Freddie Loan Limits – Revised loan limits for FHA, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae.  Specifics have not been released but reports indicate that the 2008 limits have been reinstated for 2009 except in those communities where the 2009 limits are higher. Additional increases in individual communities may also be available at the discretion of the HUD Secretary.
  • Foreclosure Mitigation & Neighborhood Stabilization – Funding for states and local communities to be used for neighborhood stabilization activities for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes are authorized.

These elements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 are the pillars of the NAR Housing Stimulus Plan presented to the 111th Congress.  Additionally we continue to work closely with the Department of Treasury and Secretary Timothy Geithner to implement a mortgage buy-down program. NAR also recommended that the Treasury Department expand the Term Asset-Backed Loan Facility (TALF) to include commercial mortgage-backed securities as eligible collateral.  The Treasury has approved this recommendation and this will encourage investment in the commercial real estate market.

The Economic Stimulus Bill (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, H.R. 1)
Additional Housing and Other Provisions of Interest to NAR

  • Rural Housing Service – Increased funding for the Rural Housing Service direct and guaranteed loan programs.
  • Low Income Housing Grants – Allow states to trade in a portion of their 2009 low-income housing tax credits for Treasury grants to finance the construction or acquisition and rehabilitation of low-income housing, including those with or without tax credit allocations.
  • Tax Exempt Housing Bonds – Tax-exempt interest earned on specified state and local bonds issued during 2009 and 2010 will not be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).  In addition, financial institutions will have greater capacity to purchase tax-exempt state and local bonds.
  • Energy Efficient Housing – Grants for energy retrofits for federally assisted housing (section 8), funding for Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grants to states, and Increases in the residential tax credit through 2010 for certain energy efficient upgrades.
  • Transportation –   Spending for upgrades and repairs of road, bridges and transit facilities.  
  • Broadband Deployment – Grants to make broadband available in unserved communities

As the leading advocate for homeowners and the real estate industry, the National Association of REALTORS will continue to address the issues facing Americans who are trying to purchase a new home, protect their current home or preserve investment opportunities in residential and commercial properties.

NAR recognizes the efforts of the members of Congress and the Senate who understand that without a housing recovery, an overall economic recovery is impossible.

 


Understanding the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008

July 27, 2008

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3221, the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008. The bill includes a temporary, $7,500 first-time home buyer tax credit which many believe will jump start the housing market and bring buyers off the sidelines. President Bush has since signed this bill into law.

Kieran P. Quinn, CMB, Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) hailed the House of Representatives passage of the omnibus housing bill. The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 272-152, will now go to the Senate – where leaders have indicated it will pass – and then to President Bush, who has stated he will sign it.

Among the provisions in the bill:

FHA Modernization: Authorizes a $25 million appropriation to improve technology, processes, program performance, eliminate fraud and provide appropriate staffing. Effective January 1, 2009, it also increases the FHA loan limit to the lesser of 115 percent of the local median home price or $625,500 with a floor for lower priced markets of $271,000, establishes a 12-month stay on FHA’s proposal for risk-based premiums, sets the down payment requirement at 3.5 percent and prohibits seller-funded down payment assistance (both direct or through a third party). In my opinion: This means today’s buyer will have to have his “skin in the game” and not rely solely on outside sources for his/her downpayment. This is how purchasing a home used to be and should always be as buyers who actually have their hard-earned money invested in their home will be more likely to pay their mortages and stay in their home than just walk away and leave the property to foreclosure.

GSE Oversight Reform: Creates a new regulator (five-year term, appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate) with oversight authority similar bank regulators, establishes a new affordable housing fund and capital magnet fund to be funded by a 4.2 basis point fee on all new loans, significantly changes the affordable housing goals and raises the conforming loan limit to the higher of $417,000 or 115 percent of the local median home price, not to exceed $625,500 (the stimulus limits remain in effect until January 1, 2009). In my opinion: This will allow buyers in very expensive markets to find competitive loans as many Jumbo Loans (non-conforming loans over the loan limit) come with higher interest rates and are an unfair punishment for purchasing in a high dollar area).

FHA Rescue: Creates a voluntary program for lenders to write down the loan balance in exchange for an FHA guaranteed loan not to exceed 90 percent of the newly appraised value of home. The lender would pay a 3 percent FHA loan origination fee. To qualify, the borrower must have a debt-to-income ratio above 31 percent on the original loan. The program is capped at $300 billion. In my opinion: This will help keep many homes off the foreclosure chopping block and will have a positive affect on surrounding properties and homeowners.

Tax Incentives: Creates a $7,500 refundable tax credit for first-time home buyers, expands the volume cap for the low income housing tax credit, allows for tax-exempt treatment of bonds guaranteed by the Federal Home Loan Banks and exempts the low income housing tax credit from the alternative minimum tax. In my opinion: This is a fairly low cost incentive to help first time home owners enter the market.

Low Income and Affordable Housing: Encourages the development of low-income and affordable housing by harmonizing multi-family FHA mortgage insurance programs with the low income housing tax credit. Allowing these two programs to work together will result in more effective uses of both programs. In my opinion: Again, another low cost incentive for affordable housing.

GSE Backstop: Authorizes the Treasury Secretary to temporarily increase the GSEs’ line of credit and to, if necessary, buy equity in the GSEs in order to provide confidence to credit markets. Also provides a role for Treasury and the Federal Reserve in GSE oversight to ensure safety and soundness. In my opinion: Yes, another bail out but one that is necessary to our Nation – much like the airline industry bailout of years’ past.

TILA Reform: Requires TILA disclosures to be delivered seven days prior to loan origination, requires that disclosures include examples of how payments would change based on rate adjustments in addition to disclosing the maximum possible payment under the loan terms and mandates that the consumer receive early disclosures before paying anything more than a nominal fee that covers the cost of a credit report. In my opinion: Disclosures that should have already been required so that the lending vehicle is transparent to the prospective buyer. I have seen too many buyers that were blindsided by the costs of rising interest rates during the transaction as well as dealing with punitive pre-payment penalties after the sale. Education is never a bad thing and this mandated disclosure will be helpful to the general public.

Empowering States: Raises the cap by $11 billion on tax-free bonds that state housing finance agencies may use to help at-risk homeowners by refinancing troubled loans and appropriates $4 billion for states to purchase and renovate abandoned and foreclosed properties. In my opinion: Again, a good way to help keep homes out of foreclosure.

Licensing: Encourages state officials to create a national licensing system for residential loan originators, allows HUD to create a licensing system for those states that fail to enact their own, establishes minimum qualifications for all loan originators and requires federal regulators to create a registry for banks and thrift employees who originate loans. In my opinion: loan originators are poorly regulated and are certainly part of the problem that should be addressed. By mandating a minium qualification standard and licensing, perhaps this can be resolved. I personally am not allowed by my brokerage firm to originate loans for my clients. This could certainly be a source of conflict of interest and we choose to eliminate that from the transaction. I would suggest that buyers may wish to deal with a loan originator who does this full time rather than someone trying to handle all aspects of the real estate transaction.

All in all, this bill has good, strong point that should positively affect the current housing market and the economy as a whole. While I agree that no private industry should be “bailed out” when their bad practices have lead to ruin, this is an issue that goes beyond private industry. The secondary mortgage market is necessary to us all and we need to make sure we do everything we can to keep it healthy.