First-time homebuyer tax credit rules
1. The tax credit is not a deduction
2. The tax credit is repayable to the federal government 3. Selling your home before the 15 years are up?
4. The credit also will be written off if you die before it's repaid 5. The tax credit is restricted to 'first-time homebuyers 6. The tax credit may be taken only for the purchase of a principal residence 7. Modified adjusted gross income limits 8. Some may get a partial credit 9. Technically, the credit is equal to 10 percent of the purchase price of the home 10. The home must be purchased on or after April 9, 2008 11. Buying a home in 2009?
12. The credit cannot be used with mortgage-revenue bond financing
If you're planning to buy a home in the next 10 months, you may be eager to take advantage of the federal government's latest effort to jump-start the nation's moribund housing markets: A tax credit of up to $7,500 for certain homebuyers.
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The credit may appear to be an attractive opportunity, but you should be sure you read the fine print before you elect to claim it on your federal tax return.
"The big story is that it is not a credit. It is a loan, and you are going to have to pay it back, so you'd better make sure that you have the money," says John W. Roth, senior tax analyst at CCH Group, a Riverwoods, Ill.-based company that provides tax software, services and information.
"If you claim the credit, you could end up with some tax issues a couple of years down the road because of the tax liability, and if you sell the house, there is a possibility that you could have a bigger tax bill."
With that warning in mind, here's a summary of the rules.
1. The tax credit is not a deduction, but rather a true credit in the sense that your federal income tax liability will be reduced dollar-for-dollar up to the amount of the credit you're entitled to take. For example, if you owed federal income tax of $8,000 and you took the maximum credit of $7,500, your tax bill would be cut to $500. The credit is also refundable: If you owed, for instance, $1,500 in income tax and, again, you took the maximum credit, your tax liability would be zeroed out and you'd get a check for $6,000 from the government.
2. The tax credit is repayable to the federal government. The total credit is divided into small bits of 6.67 percent, each of which is due annually for 15 years.
"The big story is that it is not a credit. It is a loan." 3. If you sell your home before the 15 years are up, the remainder of the credit that you haven't yet repaid will become due. If you sell your home at a loss, the government will write off the balance of the credit that you still owe.
4. The credit also will be written off if you die before it's repaid. Special rules apply to transfers of property between spouses or incident to divorce; or if the home is subject to "involuntary conversion," such as being destroyed by a natural disaster; or is seized by a government authority though the exercise of eminent domain.
5. The tax credit is restricted to "first-time homebuyers," but the definition includes anyone who didn't have an ownership interest in a principal residence during the prior three years. If you're married, you and your spouse must fit that definition. An ownership interest in an investment property or vacation home is not a disqualification. The rules aren't entirely clear as to how the tax credit will be allocated if two unmarried people buy a home together and only one of them meets the definition.
6. The tax credit may be taken only for the purchase of a principal residence, which means a home where you plan to live most of the time. The home may be a detached house, condominium, town house, manufactured (aka mobile) home or houseboat. It must be located in the United States. A home purchased from a "related party" (e.g., a parent or sibling) is not eligible.
7. Your modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI, on your federal tax return must be less than $75,000 if you're single or a married head of household, or $150,000 if you're married and filing a joint tax return with your spouse. MAGI is a technical term that's defined by the IRS, so you should consult a tax professional if you're not certain you meet this test.
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8. If you're single or a married head of household and your MAGI is more than $75,000, but less than $95,000, you may get a partial credit subject to a complicated formula. The same is true if you're married, filing jointly, and your MAGI is more than $150,000, but less than $170,000. If your MAGI is more than those limits, you're not eligible.
9. Technically, the credit is equal to 10 percent of the purchase price of the home, up to a maximum of $7,500. Thus, if the home is worth less than $75,000, the maximum credit is 10 percent of the price, and if the home is worth $75,000 or more, the maximum credit is $7,500. Married couples who file separate tax returns can claim half the credit on each return.
10. The home must be purchased on or after April 9, 2008, but before July 1, 2009. Since the law was enacted July 30, 2008, part of that time frame is retroactive. That means if you already bought a home after April 9, 2008, but before July 30, 2008, you can still take the credit.
11. If you buy a home in the first half of 2009, you can elect to claim the credit on your 2008 tax return. That way, you'll receive the money sooner, but the payback schedule will begin sooner as well. Tip: If your MAGI is over the limit for the full credit in either 2008 or 2009, you can claim the credit in the other year to maximize your benefit.
12. The credit cannot be used with mortgage-revenue bond financing or the Washington, D.C., first-time homebuyer tax credit.