I’ve been hearing a lot about this new $7,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers, which is part of the newly passed 2008 American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Act. Is it as great as it sounds?
A new website has been put up with more information about this tax credit. Curiously, the fact that this “credit” has to be paid back over the next 15 years (or when you sell) is conveniently left out of the “At A Glance” section, and you have to scroll down to question #15 in their Frequently Asked Questions to learn about the repayment terms. Did I mention the site was created by the National Association of Home Builders? No way would they want to mislead potential home buyers, right?
To qualify, you must close on your new house between April 9, 2008 and July 1, 2009. A good summary of this
tax credit interest-free loan is in this Fortune article:
The “first-time home buyer credit” is a temporary refundable, repayable tax credit equal to 10% of the purchase price of a home, up to $7,500 for singles and married couples filing jointly. (Singles who buy a house together get only $3,750 each, as do married couples filing their tax returns separately.) [...]
But the way the credit works, it’s actually more like an interest-free loan. Two years after you claim this credit, you have to start paying it back. The payback comes over 15 years in 15 equal installments–meaning you owe an extra $500 on your tax return each year. Sell your house, and you have to pay the rest back that year from your profits. (No profits, no pay back. Also, if you die, your heirs are off the hook.)
The allowed credit starts being reduced once a single has $75,000 of modified adjusted gross income, or once a couple has $150,000 of income. The credit goes away entirely at $95,000 for singles and $170,000 for couples.
The justification behind a $7,500 interest-free loan is that it is supposed to ease the “pain” of having to come up with closing costs and a downpayment. But wait… Wasn’t the housing bubble caused in part by people being tempted into buying houses they couldn’t really afford because they didn’t need to first save up for closing costs or a downpayment? I find it ironic that our choice of “buyer assistance” is even more easy lending.
Now, of course I would still grab this tax “credit” if I was going to buy a house anyway. I’d happily take a 0% interest loan on $7,500 for any period. But why not just give us something simple and straightforward, like a check for $1,000? My guess is that the phrase “$7,500 tax credit” works better to pacify angry citizens.