July 31, 2008
President Bush on Wednesday signed into law a sweeping housing bill that aims to boost the struggling housing market and bolster mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Prospective first-time home buyers who have been sitting on the fence now have a significant financial incentive to explore the opportunities available in today’s housing market.
H.R. 3221, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 — which has just been passed by the Congress and now is on its way to President Bush for his signature — allows first-time home buyers to take a $7,500 tax credit from the purchase of a single-family home, townhome or condominium apartment.
Any home buyer who has not owned a home during the past three years and is a U.S. citizen who files taxes is eligible to participate in this program. (Some home buyers who are not citizens may also qualify; see #14 in the questions and answers below.)
To qualify, buyers must actually close on the sale of the home on or after April 9, 2008 and before July 1, 2009. The original eligibility period expired in April 2009, but following a major grassroots campaign from NAHB members, the period was extended to enable home builders to include the credit in their sales and marketing next spring and into the early summer — the peak home buying season.
The program does have income limits. Single or head-of-household filers can claim the full $7,500 credit if their adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $75,000. For married couples filing a joint return, the income limit doubles to $150,000.
Single or head-of-household taxpayers who earn between $75,000 and $95,000 are eligible to receive a partial first-time home buyer tax credit. The same applies to married couples who earn between $150,000 and $170,000.
The credit is not available for single taxpayers whose AGI is greater than $95,000 and married couples with an AGI exceeding $170,000.
A refundable credit means that if a taxpayer pays less than $7,500 in federal income taxes, the government will write them a check for the difference. For example, if $5,000 in federal taxes is owed, the taxpayer would pay nothing and a $2,500 payment would be received from the IRS. If a qualifying home buyer were owed a $1,000 tax refund, they would receive $8,500.
Buyers can take the tax credit on their 2008 or 2009 tax return. Those who close in 2008 take the credit on their 2008 return. Buyers in 2009 have the option of taking the credit on their 2008 or 2009 returns.
The tax-credit program also has payback provisions.
The credit essentially serves as an interest-free loan to be repaid over 15 years. For example, a home buyer claiming a $7,500 credit would repay the credit at $500 per year. If the home owner sold the home, then the remaining credit would be due from the profit of the home sale.
If there is insufficient profit, then the remaining credit payback would be forgiven.
For more information on NAHB tax credit resources, e-mail NAHB Public Affairs or call 800-368-5242 x8061.
Questions and Answers for Consumers
Following are the “Frequently Asked Questions About the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit” that will appear on NAHB’s consumer Web site (www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com).
1. Who is eligible to claim the $7,500 tax credit?
First time-home buyers purchasing any kind of home — new or resale — are eligible for the tax credit.
2. What is the definition of a first-time home buyer?
The law defines "first-time home buyer" as a buyer who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase. For married taxpayers, the law tests the homeownership history of both the home buyer and his or her spouse. For example, if you have not owned a home in the past three years but your spouse has owned one, neither you nor your spouse qualifies for the first-time home buyer tax credit.
3. What types of homes will qualify for the tax credit?
Any home purchased by an eligible first-time home buyer will qualify for the credit, provided that the home will be used as a principal residence and the buyer has not owned a home in the previous three years. This includes single-family detached homes, attached homes like townhouses, and condominiums.
4. Are there income limits to determine who is eligible to take the tax credit?
Yes. Home buyers who file their taxes as single or head-of-household taxpayers can claim the credit if their modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is less than $75,000. For married taxpayers filing a joint tax return, the MAGI limit is $150,000. The limit is based on the buyer’s modified adjusted gross income for the year that the house is purchased, except for certain purchases in 2009.
5. Does the credit amount differ based on tax filing status?
No. The credit is in general equal to $7,500 for a qualified home purchase, whether the home buyer files taxes as a single or married taxpayer. However, if a household files its taxes as “married filing separately” (in effect, filing two returns), then the credit of $7,500 is claimed as a $3,750 credit on each of the two returns.
6. I heard that the tax credit is refundable. What does that mean?
The fact that the credit is refundable means that the home buyer credit can be claimed even if the taxpayer has little or no federal income tax liability to offset. Typically this involves the government sending the taxpayer a check for a portion or even all of the amount of the refundable tax credit. For example, if a qualified home buyer expected federal income tax liability of $5,000 and had tax withholding of $4,000 for the year, then without the tax credit the taxpayer would owe the IRS $1,000 on April 15. Suppose now that taxpayer qualified for the $7,500 home buyer tax credit. As a result, the taxpayer would receive a check for $6,500 ($7,500 minus the $1,000 owed).
7. I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I claim the tax credit?
Maybe. Anyone who is not a nonresident alien (as defined by the IRS), who has not owned a principal residence in the previous three years and who meets the income limits test may claim the tax credit for a qualified home purchase. The IRS provides a definition of “nonresident alien” in IRS Publication 519 (www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p519.pdf).
8. Does the credit have to be paid back to the government? If so, what are the payback provisions?
Yes, the tax credit must be repaid. Home buyers will be required to repay the credit to the government, without interest, over 15 years or when they sell the house, if there is sufficient capital gain from the sale. For example, a home buyer claiming a $7,500 credit would repay the credit at $500 per year. The home owner does not have to begin making repayments on the credit until two years after the credit is claimed. So if the tax credit is claimed on the 2008 tax return, a $500 payment is not due until the 2010 tax return is filed. If the home owner sold the home, then the remaining credit amount would be due from the profit on the home sale. If there was insufficient profit, then the remaining credit payback would be forgiven.
9. 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 to choose (“elect”) to treat qualified home purchases in 2009 as if the purchase occurred on Dec. 31, 2008. This means that the 2008 income limit (MAGI) applies and the election accelerates when the credit can be claimed (tax filing for 2008 returns instead of for 2009 returns). A benefit of this election is that a home buyer in 2009 will know their 2008 MAGI with certainty, thereby helping the buyer know whether the income limit will reduce their credit amount.
10. For a home purchase in 2009, can I choose whether to treat the purchase as occurring in 2008 or 2009, depending on in which year my credit amount is the largest?
Yes. If the applicable income phaseout would reduce your home buyer tax credit amount in 2009 and a larger credit would be available using the 2008 MAGI amounts, then you can choose the year that yields the largest credit amount.
11. How do I apply for credit?
There is no pre-purchase authorization, application or similar approval process. Eligible purchasers will simply claim the credit on the appropriate IRS Form 1040 tax return and/or on any special forms the IRS might device. In many, if not most cases, the IRS will be on notice that a purchase has occurred because the settlement officer at the time of purchase is required to report the transaction.
12. So I can't use the credit amount as part of my downpayment?
Presently, there is no mechanism available for claiming the credit and earlier than the 2008 tax return that will be filed in 2009. Congress tried to devise a mechanism that would allow pre-funding of the credit, but found that pre-funding would require cumbersome processes that would, in effect, bring the IRS into the purchase and settlement phase of the transaction.
13. So there's no way to get any cash flow benefits before I file my 2008 tax return?
Any first-time homebuyers who believe they would be eligible for all or part of the credit may wish to modify their income tax withholding (through their employers) or to adjust their quarterly estimated tax payments. Individuals subject to income tax withholding would get an IRS Form W-4 from their employer, follow the instructions on the schedules provided and give the completed Form W04 back to the employer. In many cases their withholding would decrease and their take-home pay would increase.