Homebuyer tax credits extended and expanded
WASHINGTON (AP) — Buying a home is about to get cheaper for a whole new crop of homebuyers — $6,500 cheaper.
First-time homebuyers have been getting tax credits of up to $8,000 since January as part of the economic stimulus package enacted earlier this year. But with the program scheduled to expire at the end of November, the House voted 403-12 Thursday to extend and expand the tax credit to include many buyers who already own homes. The Senate approved the measure Wednesday, and the White House said President Barack Obama would sign it Friday.
Buyers who have owned their current homes at least five years would be eligible for tax credits of up to $6,500 when buying a home. First-time homebuyers — or anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years — would still get up to $8,000. To qualify, buyers in both groups have to sign a purchase agreement by April 30, 2010, and close by June 30.
“This is probably the last extension,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a former real estate executive who championed the credits.
The homebuyers’ tax credit is one of two tax breaks totaling more than $21 billion that was included in a bill extending unemployment benefits for those without a job for more than a year. The other would let companies now losing money recoup taxes they paid on profits earned in the previous five years.
“We are still in a world of economic hurt, and Congress must continue to act boldly and creatively,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “With the right mix of tax breaks and investments we will get through this recession and get folks working again.”
The real-estate industry has been pushing to extend and expand the housing tax credit. About 1.4 million first-time homebuyers have qualified for the credit through August. The National Association of Realtors estimates that 350,000 of them would not have purchased their homes without the credit.
Extending and expanding the tax credit for homebuyers is projected to cost the government about $10.8 billion in lost taxes. Though the measure passed the Senate by a 98-0 vote, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., questioned its efficiency in stimulating home sales.
“For the vast majority of cases, the homebuyer tax credit amounted to a free gift since it did not affect their decision to purchase a home,” Bond said. “And for the small minority of buyers whose decision was directly caused by the credit, this raises the question of whether we are subsidizing buyers who may not have been able to afford buying a home in the first place.”
The credit is available for the purchase of principal homes costing $800,000 or less, meaning vacation homes are ineligible. The credit would be phased out for individuals with annual incomes above $125,000 and for joint filers with incomes above $225,000.
The credit would be extended an additional year, until June 30, 2011, for members of the military serving outside the United States for at least 90 days.
The bill also expands a law providing refunds for money-losing businesses that paid taxes on profits during the past five years. Expanding the tax credit is projected to cost $10.4 billion.
The business tax break would allow money-losing companies to use current losses to offset taxable profits earned in the previous five years, giving them refunds of taxes paid in those years. Under current law, businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $15 million can claim losses back only two years.