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Frequently Asked Questions & Answers About the Home Buyer Tax Credit
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 authorizes a tax credit of up to $8,000 for qualified first-time home buyers purchasing a principal residence on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009.
The following questions and answers provide basic information about the tax credit. If you have more specific questions, we strongly encourage you to consult a qualified tax advisory or legal professional about your unique situation.
1. Who is eligible to claim the tax credit?
2. What is the definition of a first-time home buyer?
For example, if you have not owned a home in the past three years but your spouse has owned a principal residence, neither you nor your spouse qualifies for the first-time home buyer tax credit. However, unmarried joint purchasers may allocate the credit amount to any buyer who qualifies as a first-time buyer, such as may occur if a parent jointly purchases a home with a son or daughter. Ownership of a vacation home or rental property not used as a principal residence does not disqualify a buyer as a first-time home buyer.
3. How is the amount of the tax credit determined?
4. Are there any income limits for claiming the tax credit?
5. What is "modified adjusted gross income"?
To determine modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), add to AGI certain amounts of foreign-earned income. See IRS Form 5405 for more details.
6. If my modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is above the limit, do I qualify for any tax credit?
7. Can you give me an example of how the partial tax credit is determined?
Here’s another example: assume that an individual home buyer has a modified adjusted gross income of $88,000. The buyer’s income exceeds $75,000 by $13,000. Dividing $13,000 by the phaseout range of $20,000 yields 0.65. When you subtract 0.65 from 1.0, the result is 0.35. Multiplying $8,000 by 0.35 shows that the buyer is eligible for a partial tax credit of $2,800.
Please remember that these examples are intended to provide a general idea of how the tax credit might be applied in different circumstances. You should always consult a tax advisory for information relating to your specific circumstances.
8. How is this home buyer tax credit different from the tax credit that Congress enacted in July of 2008?
9. How do I claim the tax credit? Do I need to complete a form or application?
10. What types of homes will qualify for the tax credit?
11. I read that the tax credit is "refundable." What does that mean?
For example, if a qualified home buyer expected, notwithstanding the tax credit, 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 15th. Suppose now that the taxpayer qualified for the $8,000 home buyer tax credit. As a result, the taxpayer would receive a check for $7,000 ($8,000 minus the $1,000 owed).
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?
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?
In contrast, for newly-constructed homes bought from a home builder, eligibility for the tax credit is determined 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?
15. I live in the District of Columbia. Can I claim both the Washington, D.C. first-time home buyer credit and this new credit?
16. I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I claim the tax credit?
17. Is a tax credit the same as a tax deduction?
A tax deduction is subtracted from the amount of income that is taxed. Using the same example, assume the taxpayer is in the 15 percent tax bracket and owes $8,000 in income taxes. If the taxpayer receives an $8,000 deduction, the taxpayer’s tax liability would be reduced by $1,200 (15 percent of $8,000), or lowered from $8,000 to $6,800.
18. I bought a home in 2008. Do I qualify for this credit?
19. Is there any way for a home buyer to access the money allocatable to the credit sooner than waiting to file their 2009 tax return?
Buyers should adjust their withholding amount on their W-4 via their employer or through their quarterly estimated tax payment. IRS Publication 919 contains rules and guidelines for income tax withholding. Prospective home buyers should note that if income tax withholding is reduced and the tax credit qualified purchase does not occur, then the individual would be liable for repayment to the IRS of income tax and possible interest charges and penalties.
Further, rule changes made as part of the economic stimulus legislation allow home buyers to claim the tax credit and participate in a program financed by tax-exempt bonds. Some state housing finance agencies have introduced programs that provide short-term credit acceleration loans that may be used to fund a downpayment. Prospective home buyers should inquire with their state housing finance agency to determine the availability of such a program in their community.
The National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) has compiled a list of such programs.
20. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has announced that HUD will allow "monetization" of the tax credit. What does that mean?
Under the guidelines announced by HUD, non-profits and FHA-approved lenders will be allowed to give home buyers short-term loans of up to $8,000.
The guidelines also allow longer term loans secured by second liens to be used by government agencies, such as state housing finance agencies, to facilitate home sales.
Housing finance agencies and other government entities may issue tax credit loans, the funds of which home buyers may use to satisfy the FHA 3.5% downpayment requirement.
In addition, approved FHA lenders will also be able to purchase a home buyer's anticipated tax credit to pay closing costs and downpayment costs above the 3.5% downpayment that is required for FHA-insured homes.
More information about the guidelines is available at the NAHB website. Read the HUD Mortgage Letter (.pdf) and an explanation of the FHA Mortgage Letter on Tax Credit Monetization (.pdf).
21. 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?
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.
22. 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?
The information herein is provided as a courtesy by the NAHB (National Assoc. of Home Builders) for general guidance only. The information does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind nor should it be construed as such. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action on this information, you should consult a qualified professional adviser to whom you have provided all of the facts applicable to your particular situation or question. None of the tax information on this web site is intended to be used nor can it be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The information is provided "as is," with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.
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