Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series.

The primary reasons first-time homebuyers have been driven to considering a home purchase during the past few months are the attractive loan programs targeting first-timers and the generous $8,000 tax credit offered by the federal government.

Recently, the tax credit has been loaded with new angles allowing first-time buyers to add it to their down payment after the required 3.5 percent of the purchase price has come from their own funds. As of May 29, 2009, the $8,000 federal tax credit can be used as "an additional down payment or closing costs" for buyers who apply for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration before Dec. 1, 2009.

A first-time buyer, as defined by the Internal Revenue Service, is anyone who has not owned a principal residence during the three-year period prior to the purchase. For married taxpayers, the law tests the homeownership history of both the home buyer and his/her spouse.

For example, if you have not owned a home in the past three years but your spouse has owned a principal residence, neither you nor your spouse qualifies for the first-time homebuyer tax credit. However, unmarried joint purchasers may allocate the credit amount to any buyer who qualifies as a first-time buyer, such as may occur if a parent jointly purchases a home with a son or daughter. Ownership of a vacation home or rental property not used as a principal residence does not disqualify a buyer as a first-time homebuyer.

In addition, first-time homebuyers must purchase the property from a source unrelated to them. For example, they cannot purchase the house from a spouse, parent, grandparent, child, or acquire the property by gift or inheritance and obtain the tax credit.

Lenders are sorting out how all the details will work but hope that the impact of the news and the implementation of the program will be a huge boost to the regional housing picture. …CONTINUED

According to Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the idea to "monetize" the tax credits allows them to be immediately turned into cash, rather than waiting several months after the closing date of the transaction for the credits to be processed. The credit amount from the IRS is the lesser of 10 percent of the purchase price of the dwelling or $8,000.

There are income limits attached to the $8,000 first-time credit. A phase-out of the credit begins when the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $75,000 or $150,000 if married filing jointly. The credit is eliminated completely when the taxpayer’s income reaches $95,000 or $170,000 if married filing jointly. Taxes owed by or refunds due to the taxpayer are factored into the calculation.

Modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI, is defined by the IRS. To find it, a taxpayer must first determine "adjusted gross income" or AGI. AGI is total income for a year minus certain deductions (known as "adjustments" or "above-the-line deductions"). AGI includes all forms of income including wages, salaries, interest income, dividends and capital gains.

Donovan said that some mortgage companies that do not have banking deposits to tap will need a few weeks to prepare documentation for what will essentially be secured personal loans. Plus they’ll need to locate a source of funds for their advances. Donovan advised that first-timers need not curtail their shopping because by the time they’re ready to get a mortgage and go to closing, more local FHA-approved lenders will be actively in the market.

"The biggest obstacle for first-time buyers is coming up with a down payment," said Joe Robson, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders. "Enabling buyers to access the tax credit at the time of closing will help to stimulate home sales, stabilize housing and get the economy back on track."

Next week: Other options involving the new $8,000 tax credit.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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