Parsing the Home Buyer Tax Credit

Realtors are already fielding questions from clients (see below) about the newly-passed $8,000 tax credit for home buyers.

Details are still sketchy — the stimulus bill’s provisions repeatedly shifted — but the gist of it appears to be: 1) a scaling tax credit of up to $8,000 (not the $15,000 floated at one point) — the formula is actually 10% of the home’s price, so you max out buying anything over $80,000 (pretty low threshold); 2) a phase-out based on income levels; and 3) no repayment (it’s a true credit).

As the details emerge, I think a lot of America is going to discover (remember?) how bad they are at math, and why they hated it in school!

Q: I read a news account saying that the $8,000 tax credit for home buyers is refundable– does this mean that those paying less than 8K in taxes will be refunded the difference?

A: No. The “refundable” part is that you pay your taxes, then get a refund for whatever part of the $8,000 credit you qualify for. So, if you paid $5k in federal taxes and bought a $100,000 house, you’d qualify for the whole $8,000 — and therefore get the whole $5k refunded. (You’d actually qualify for 10% x $100k, but it’s capped at $8k).

If you pay less in taxes than the credit you qualify for, you leave that money on the table — you can’t get a refund for taxes you never paid. So in the case above, you’re “out” $3,000.

Still confused? Just ask your Congressman — they’ll know!

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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