By Danielle Hale, Research Economist
This commentary was prompted by a recent conversation I had with a Realtor® who was lamenting the fact that a first-time buyer who had a co-signer did not qualify for the first-time home buyer tax credit. “That’s not true!” I said and pointed her to an IRS website that stated otherwise. Since this is not the first time I have heard incorrect information on the tax credit from a Realtor®, the news media, or other person or entity that should be in the know, I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of the basics and show you where to go when you have questions.
First-time home buyers who purchase a home to be used as a primary residence before December 1, 2009 are eligible for a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the value of their home purchase up to $8,000. To qualify as a “first-time home buyer” the purchaser and his/her spouse (if applicable) may not have owned a residence during the three years prior to the purchase. The credit is subject to income limits. Single buyers with incomes up to $75,000 and married couples with incomes up to $150,000 may receive the maximum tax credit. The credit decreases for single buyers who earn between $75,000 and $95,000 and for married buyers filing jointly who earn between $150,000 and $170,000. Home buyers earning more than the maximum qualifying income—over $95,000 for singles and over $170,000 for couples are not eligible for the credit. Unlike the credit for homes purchased in 2008, the tax credit for purchases in 2009 does not need to be repaid unless it ceases to be the primary residence of the tax credit recipient within three years after the purchase. In that case, the credit recipient will owe the full amount of the credit at that time the income tax return for the year the home ceased to be your principal residence is due. (i.e. You sell your home on January 1, 2010 or December 31, 2010; the full amount of the credit is due when your tax return is due on April 15, 2011.)
Limited, But Still Powerful
As of now, the credit is still limited to $8,000, available only to first-time buyers, and can be used on purchases that close before December 1, 2009. Still, we expect the tax credit in its current form to impact the market by bringing in a substantial number of home buyers. Check out this analysis done by Research after the credit passed in February to get the full picture. Currently, the National Association of REALTORS® is advocating for changes that would extend the time period for eligible purchases or expand the credit to all buyers. For more information on the legislative picture, visit the National Association of REALTORS®’s government affairs website.
Available at Closing!
While the tax credit itself cannot be claimed until a tax return is filed after a home has been purchased, the FHA recently announced changes to rules that enable FHA lenders to monetize the credit so that a buyer can use it for certain purposes at closing. In order to take advantage of this program, a buyer still must meet FHA’s 3.5 percent minimum down payment requirement. Before FHA’s announcement, certain states had instituted their own monetization programs that enable the monetized credit to be applied to the 3.5 percent minimum down payment. For more information on state level programs, check out this site.
Resources Available from the National Association of REALTORS®
The National Association of REALTORS® has a wealth of information to help everyone make sense of the tax credit. Visit our home buyers and sellers resource page on the tax credit here.
If you’re looking for resources to help you get the message out to potential first-time buyers, be sure to check out the Right Tools Right Now page where you’ll find a special section full of free tools on the tax credit and information about working with first-time buyers.
Of course sometimes it’s nice to go straight to the source. The IRS has some helpful web pages on the tax credit, too. Check out the overview page.
Also be sure to visit the “Scenarios” section of the question and answer page for guidance on issues such as splitting a credit between non-married persons, having cosigners, how to handle the credit for married couples. For further clarification, consult with a tax attorney.
The tax credit is a great opportunity for first-time buyers, but it is only available for a limited time. Be sure you are up to speed on the tax credit provisions that are currently in the law so you can help buyers take advantage of this opportunity.
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Copyright National Association of REALTORS®, Reprinted with permission. Photos courtesy of Athens Convention and Visitor's Bureau