Did you take advantage of the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit in 2008? If so, congratulations. But if you sold your home in 2011, beware. You may be in for a tax surprise. Here’s why.
Under 2008 legislation designed to stimulate the housing market, first-time homebuyers could claim a tax credit of up to $7,500 if they purchased a home between 4/8/08 and 12/31/08. But there was a catch: the credit wasn’t a gift from the government, it was really an interest-free loan that had to be repaid over fifteen years, beginning in 2010.
So, beginning in 2010 you had to file Form 5405 with your tax return each year and add 1/15 of the credit to your taxes owed. For example, if you received the maximum credit of $7,500, you’d divide that credit by 15 and add $500 to your income taxes each year for the next 15 years.
But here’s the problem – most people don’t stay in their home for 15 years. And when you sell your home, the remaining unpaid tax credit is added to your taxes for that year. So if you claimed the $7,500 credit in 2008, repaid $500 with your 2010 tax return, and sold your home in 2011, be prepared for an additional $7,000 tax bite when you file your tax return in April. Ouch!
What if your house didn’t increase in value, and you end up making next to nothing on the sale? Recognizing that the credit repayment could easily exceed the amount you realize, the IRS caps the amount you owe in recapture to the amount of the gain you realize. So if you bought your home for $150,000 and your sales proceeds after costs of sale are only $152,000, the maximum credit you’d have to repay is $2,000.
Here’s another trap to beware of. You don’t have to sell the home to become liable for the tax credit repayment. You can trigger the tax recapture by moving out of your home, even if you continue to own it. So if you moved out in 2011 and kept the home as a rental property, boom – you owe the rest of the tax credit with your 2011 tax return.
Fortunately the IRS has some mercy when circumstances are beyond your control. For example, if you deed your home to your spouse in a divorce settlement, there’s no recapture of the tax credit (but your spouse does have to repay the credit over the remainder of the fifteen years and triggers the recapture if he or she moves out within the 15-year period).
If you lose your home in a foreclosure, your repayment is limited to the amount of the gain. And if you die, you are off the hook as well. And if you or your spouse are in the military and sell because of an order to relocate for extended duty, you don’t have to repay the credit.
The 2008 credit had its traps and pitfalls, but it did help people buy the house they wanted and stimulated home sales. That’s why Congress later extended it to 2009 and 2010. Sorry to say, this isn’t a case where the early bird gets the worm.
When the credit was extended, it was increased to $8,000, expanded to include a reduced credit for those who were not first-time homebuyers, and only has to be repaid if the taxpayer moved out within three years. Unfortunately, those features were not applied retroactively to 2008, leaving early-adopters with an obligation to repay the tax credit that those who came later to the party didn’t have to.