On Nov. 6, the president signed the new Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 into law. The centerpiece of this legislation is the extension and liberalization of what is now inaccurately called the first-time home buyer credit.
Here are the 10 most important things to know about the revamped credit.
1. New purchase deadline extends into 2010
The home buyer credit was previously scheduled to expire on Nov. 30, 2009. The new law extends the deal to cover purchases of U.S. principal residences that close by April 30, 2010. However, if a home is under contract on that date, the deadline for closing is extended to June 30, 2010.
2. Existing homeowners can now qualify
The new law allows a reduced credit for existing homeowners who buy a replacement U.S. principal residence after Nov. 6, 2009. The credit equals the lesser of: (1) $6,500, or (2) 10% of the price of the replacement home, or (3) $3,250 for a buyer who uses married filing separate status. The new existing-homeowner credit is only available for purchases that close after Nov. 6, 2009. To qualify, the buyer must have owned and used the same home as a principal residence for at least five consecutive years during the eight-year period ending on the purchase date for the replacement principal residence. If youâ€™re married, your spouse must pass this test too (whether or not you file jointly).
3. Larger credits still allowed for first-time buyers
Before the new law, the home buyer credit was only available to so-called first-time buyers, which means someone who had not owned a U.S. principal residence during the three-year period ending on the purchase date for a home that will serve as the buyerâ€™s new principal residence. If youâ€™re married, both you and your spouse must pass the three-year test (whether or not you file jointly). These first-time home buyer rules still apply for purposes of claiming a larger credit of up to $8,000. Specifically, the credit for a first-time buyer still equals the lesser of: (1) $8,000, or (2) 10% of the home purchase price, or (3) $4,000 if you use married filing separate status.
4. Higher-income folks can now qualify
The home buyer credit is phased out (reduced or completely eliminated) as income goes up. However, the new law significantly raises the phase-out ranges so that many more higher-income buyers will now qualify.* For purchases after Nov. 6, 2009, the phase-out range for unmarried individuals and married folks who file separately is between modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $125,000 and $145,000 (way up from the old-law range of $75,000-$95,000).
* The phase-out range for married joint filers is now between MAGI of $225,000 and $245,000 (way up from the previous range of $150,000-$170,000).
5. New $800,000 purchase price limit
For purchases after Nov. 6, 2009, the credit can only be claimed for a principal residence that costs $800,000 or less. So if your new home costs $800,001, the credit is completely off limits (but I doubt too many people will feel sorry for you).
6. No more credits for kids or dependents
For purchases after Nov. 6, 2009, the home buyer must be at least 18 years old on the purchase date to qualify for the credit. Also, no credit is allowed for a buyer who can be claimed as a dependent on someone elseâ€™s Form 1040 for the year of the purchase. These new rules are intended to shut down the practice of claiming the credit for youngish buyers who really donâ€™t even have incomes of their own (like college students who use money from their parents to buy a pad near campus).
7. New anti-fraud rules
A recent government report said the IRS has already identified over 100,000 returns with potentially fraudulent home buyer credits. This is hardly surprising when the government is willing to give away up to $8,000 in free money to anyone who files a return, even when that person reports no income. Believe it or not, absolutely no documentation was required to claim the credit, until now. For credits claimed on 2009 and 2010 returns, buyers must attach a properly executed real estate settlement sheet to the return. Also, the IRS can now simply disallow credits in fishy circumstances (like when it appears the $8,000 credit is being claimed by someone who already owns a home).
8. Credits can still be claimed on prior-year returns
Under the revamped rules, you can still claim the credit for a 2009 purchase on your 2008 return (although you would now generally have to file an amended return to do so). You can also claim the credit for a 2010 purchase on your 2009 Form 1040. This allows you to cash in on the credit sooner rather than later, and it may also allow you to claim a larger credit if your income in the year of purchase is higher than in the preceding year.
9. Credits must still be repaid in some cases
Under old-law rules for homes purchased between April 9, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2008, buyers are generally required to repay the credit over 15 years. However, this repayment rule is generally eliminated for purchases after 2008. That said, you might still have to repay the credit if you sell your home within three years of the purchase date or stop using it as your principal residence during that period.
10. Special rules for military service members
For military service members on extended duty outside the U.S., the new law lengthens the deadline for closing on home purchases for an extra year, to April 30, 2011 (or June 30, 2011 for homes under contract on April 30, 2011). The new law also waives the credit repayment rules for service members who are forced to move due to receiving new orders. The same special rules apply to members of the foreign service and intelligence communities.