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What You Still Need to Know about the First-Time Homebuyer Credit

By RJ McArthur, CPA , EKS&H – Ehrhardt, Keefe, Steiner & Hottman PC

In an attempt to help stimulate sluggish home sales, Congress provided a federal tax credit to certain qualified homebuyers who purchased a principal residence after April 8, 2008, and before May 1, 2010. This credit was extended through May 1, 2011, for certain members of the uniformed services on extended duty.

It has been almost two years since the program was available for most first-time homebuyers, and many people have forgotten about the benefit they received.

More importantly, many people have forgotten about the strings that were attached to the original benefit.

As is the case with many federal tax credits, what the government giveth, the government can taketh away. This is especially true for credits earned on homes in 2008 but can also be true for other homes purchased that qualified for the credit.

In this article we will discuss the differences in the credits that were provided by Congress, what a homeowner needs to know even years after the program has ended, and what a homeowner can do to minimize or eliminate the possibility that the government comes to take the credit back.

Two categories
The First-Time Homebuyer Credit (FTHBC) can be divided into two distinct categories: credits on residences purchased before January 1, 2009, and credits on residences purchased after December 31, 2008.

Homes purchased in 2008
For qualifying homes purchased in 2008, the FTHBC must be recaptured (repaid by the homeowner) over 15 years, with payments starting in 2010.

In essence, the credit was really an interest-free loan that had to be repaid over 15 years starting two years after the purchase of the home. The repayment is made by increasing the income tax of the homeowner by 1/15th of the credit for tax years 2010 through 2024.

If the home is disposed of or of it ceases to be the primary residence of the homebuyer, the repayment of the credit is accelerated into the year of the disposition or when the home is no longer the primary residence.

Illustration: A homebuyer purchased a home in 2008 for $100,000 and received a FTHBC of $7,500. In 2012 the homeowner sells the home for $120,000. On the 2010 and 2011 tax return, the homeowner was required to increase their tax by $500 each year ($7,500 divided by 15 years). In 2012, the homeowner must pay an additional tax of $6,500 (the $7,500 credit less the $1,000 previously recaptured, $500 in 2010 and $500 in 2011).

Homes purchased after December 31, 2008
For homes purchased after December 31, 2008, that qualified for the FTHBC, the rules are much more lenient. For these purchases, the credit only has to be repaid if the home is disposed of or it ceases to be the homebuyer’s personal residence during the 36-month period beginning on the date of the homebuyer’s purchase of the principal residence for which the credit is allowed.

Therefore, if the homebuyer maintains the home as their personal residence for at least 36 months, they will never have to repay the credit back to the government.

Illustration: A homebuyer purchased a home on July 1, 2009, for $100,000 and received a FTHBC of $8,000. On March 1, 2012, the homebuyer sells the home for $120,000. Since the home was not held as the homebuyer’s personal residence for 36 months, the homebuyer must pay an additional tax of $8,000 on their 2012 tax return. If the homebuyer does not sell the home until July 2, 2012, they would not have to repay the $8,000 credit.

Minimizing the recapture
Although the government recapture of the credit on an early disposition of the home seems inevitable, there is something homebuyers can do to minimize, if not eliminate, the recapture all together.

In the case where a home is sold to a person who is not related to the homebuyer, the recapture of the credit is limited to the amount of gain (if any) from the sale. For this reason it is important for homebuyers to track the cost of improvements that may reduce the gain on the sale.

For purposes of determining the gain, the basis of the home is reduced by the amount of the credit previously received. Thus, even in cases where the homebuyer breaks even on a sale, they will have recapture of the credit.

Illustration: A homebuyer purchased a home on July 1, 2009, for $100,000 and received a FTHBC of $8,000. In 2010, the homebuyer spent $26,000 remodeling the kitchen. On March 1, 2012, the homeowner sold the home for $120,000. The adjusted basis of the home is now $118,000 ($100,000 + $26,000 – $8,000). The gain from the sale, then, is $2,000 ($120,000 – $118,000). Therefore the seller must pay the additional tax of $2,000 on their 2012 return and does not need to pay the entire $8,000 credit.

One final word of caution: The above illustrations show the consequences when a qualifying home is sold. However, the tax rules also apply when a home ceases to be the homebuyer’s principal residence which can occur in a number of different ways, including converting the home to a rental home or vacation home. In the event of a divorce, the spouse who receives the home will be responsible for all future repayments of the 2008 credit or the credit recapture, if any, from purchases after December 31, 2008.

Homebuyers are encouraged to talk to a tax professional before making any changes are made to the status of the home as a principal residence.

Disclaimer: This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is distributed with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal or accounting advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.© Copyright, 2012, by Land Title Guarantee Company