If you're thinking of buying a home, there could be a big bonus for you in the economic stimulus bill that's now before Congress.
Among its many provisions is a $7,500 tax credit for first time home buyers. The House passed the $819 billion stimulus plan, including this tax credit, in a vote late Wednesday. The Senate may vote on its version of the bill some time next week.
Technically, the stimulus bill is actually changing the terms of the $7,500 tax credit that was issued as a part of the Housing Recovery Act, which Congress passed last summer. That legislation required that the tax credit be repaid over 15 years, making it more of a no-interest loan. Not surprisingly, the measure had little impact on the market. The stimulus bill now under consideration would make that tax credit a true credit that doesn't need to be repaid. ...
To be eligible, buyers cannot have owned a home for the past three years, and the new home has to be used as a primary residence. The credit phases out as income rises above $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for couples, and disappears entirely at $95,000 and $170,000, respectively.
Applying for it is easy, or at least as easy as doing your income taxes. Just claim it on your return. That's it. No other forms or papers have to be filed.
Both the Senate and the House versions of the new act remove the requirement that buyers repay the credit. The Senate bill applies retroactively to any purchase completed between January 1, 2009 and the end of August. The House version is also retroactive to the start of the year, and expires at the end of June. As long as buyers don't sell for at least 36 months, they keep the money.
And the credit is refundable, meaning that it can be claimed even if the amount of the credit earned exceeds the buyer's tax liability. So even if your total tax bill comes to just $5,000, you can still qualify for a full $7,500 refund. ...
But the credit has its drawbacks, according to Bob Williams, a spokesman for the Tax Policy Center, which gave it a mediocre C+ grade in its Tax Stimulus Report Card. Williams points out that buyers should beware that they won't actually receive any refund for a home purchased this year until after they file their 2009 income taxes in April 2010.
And he argues that the credit is poorly targeted because it goes to every first-time buyer, not just the ones who wouldn't buy without it. So, it merely provides a windfall for many people who would have purchased anyway.
And in the end, a $7,500 tax credit, regardless of the details, does nothing to address the issue that's holding most buyers back — the suspicion that prices are going to keep falling.
"As long as people are uncertain about what markets are going to do, this won't help much," said Williams. "It's not enough to change that."
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Free money for home buyers
Current homeowners are not eligible: