First-time Homebuyers: How to Get the $8,000 Tax Credit

18 05 2009

How does a first-time homebuyer take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit? It comes with a few rules:

• The deduction is worth 10 percent of a home’s value up to $8,000, which means all homes worth more than $80,000 could qualify for the maximum amount.

• There is an income limit to qualify. A married couples’ modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) should be under $150,000 and single filers’ MAGI should be less than $75,000.

• Partial tax credits may be available for married couples with MAGI incomes over $150,000 but under $170,000, and single filers with incomes over $75,000 but under $95,000.

• If married couples file separately, they can both claim 5 percent of the home purchase ($4,000 each for a home over $80,000) on their tax returns.

• It’s a tax credit, not a deduction. That means the entire amount goes back to the first-time homebuyer unlike deductions, such as mortgage interest, that are subtracted from gross income before tax is calculated. If qualified for $8,000, the buyer gets $8,000, even if they would not owe that much in taxes otherwise.

• The tax credit applies to homes purchased from Jan. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2009.

• The tax credit does not have to be paid back, providing the homebuyer keeps the property for at least 36 months and resides in the home.

• To qualify as a first-time homebuyer, the purchaser cannot have owned a home within the previous three-year period. However, ownership of a vacation home or rental home does not disqualify the buyer.

• If purchasing a new home, the effective date to receive the credit is the first day the homeowner actually lives in the house. If construction began in 2008, that buyer could still qualify. And if construction begins in 2009 but the owner does not take possession until 2010, the buyer would not qualify.

• The tax credit can be claimed on 2008 income tax forms even though the purchase took place in 2009. A buyer could close on a home the same day that President Obama signs it into law, fill out their income tax forms the next day, and receive the tax credit fairly quickly.

• The latest news announced on 5/13/09 at the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) Summit by Secretary Donovan states that FHA will allow FHA consumers to access the tax credit funds when they close on their home loans so that the cash can be used as a downpayment. FHA’s policy will permit trusted FHA-approved lenders and HUD-approved nonprofits, as well as state and local governmental entities to “monetize” the tax credit through short-term bridge loans.

The tax credit is not a downpayment, but it could be used toward a downpayment if first-time homebuyers plan ahead. U.S. taxpayers have money withheld from every paycheck for income taxes. If they owe more tax than the amount deducted, they pay the IRS; if they owe less, they get a tax refund.

By anticipating at least an $8,000 refund in early 2010 when they file 2009 taxes, these buyers could cut down on their tax withholding this year and save the money toward a downpayment. There is one caveat, however: Should they not buy a home in the qualifying period, they would still owe the IRS the money, and reducing their withholding amount could result in a high bill at tax time.

Questions? Call FAR’s Legal Hotline at 407-438-1409. It’s a free call for members except for long distance phone charges, if any.

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