1st Time Home Buyers and the New Housing Bill

The new housing bill, scheduled to go into law next week, has a tax credit provision for first time homeowners:

BREAK FOR FIRST-TIME BUYERS If you are buying a home for the first time, and it is your primary residence, you are eligible for a federal tax credit of $7,500 or 10 percent of the purchase price, whichever is smaller. With a tax credit, you subtract the credit amount from the total you would otherwise pay to the Internal Revenue Service. So if you owe $1,500 and you qualify for the credit, you would end up getting a $6,000 refund.

There are two big catches, though. If you earn a modified adjusted gross income of more than $75,000, or $150,000 if you are married and filing your tax return jointly, the credit starts to phase out. For single people, it phases out completely at $95,000 of annual income, while for married people filing jointly, it phases out at $170,000.

But you have to pay back the credit over the next 15 years, in equal amounts each year when you pay your federal taxes. That makes this more like an interest-free loan than a true credit. According to the National Association of Realtors, there were about 2.5 million first-time home buyers in 2007. A large proportion of them would have qualified for this credit, but whether it is enough to push would-be buyers over the edge this year remains to be seen.

The tax credit is retroactive to home purchases on April 9, 2008, and expires on July 1, 2009. If you purchase a home from Jan. 1, 2009 to June 30, 2009, you can claim the tax credit on your 2008 tax return.

New York Times