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Revised and extended first time home-buyer credit

Allen D. Porter
The “Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009,” signed into law on Nov. 6, 2009 extends and modifies the first-time homebuyer tax credit, making it applicable to existing homeowners, and particularly attractive to seniors wishing to downsize. These important changes could make it easier for you or someone in your family to buy or sell a home.

Before the new law was enacted, the homebuyer credit was only available for qualifying first-time home purchases after April 8, 2008, and before December 1, 2009. The top credit for homes bought in 2009 is $8,000 ($4,000 for a married individual filing separately) or 10% of the residence’s purchase price, whichever is less. Only the purchase of a main home located in the U.S. qualifies. Vacation homes and rental properties are not eligible. The first-time homebuyer credit phased out for individual taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (AGI) between $75,000 and $95,000 ($150,000 and $170,000 for joint filers) for the year of purchase.

The new law makes several important changes to the homebuyer credit:

  1. The program is extended to May (July) of 2010. The homebuyer credit will apply to a person who enters into a written binding contract before May 1, 2010, and closes on the purchase of the principal residence before July 1, 2010. Buyers who find a home they like but can’t close on it before May 1, 2010, can go to contract on the home before May 1, 2010, close on it before July 1, 2010, and get the homebuyer credit (if they otherwise qualify).
  2. The homebuyer credit may be claimed by existing homeowners who are “long-time residents.” For purchases after November 6, 2009, you can claim the homebuyer credit if you (and, if married, your spouse) maintained the same principal residence for any 5-consecutive year period during the 8-years ending on the date that you buy the subsequent principal residence. For example, empty nesters who have lived in your home for at least 5 years are eligible for the credit as long as the new home has a purchase price of less than $800,000. There’s no requirement for your current home to be sold in order to qualify for a homebuyer credit on the replacement principal residence. Thus, the replacement residence can be bought to beat the new deadlines (explained above) before the old home is sold. For that matter, you can hold on to your prior principal residence in the hope of achieving a better selling price later on.
  3. The maximum credit amount is reduced. The maximum allowable homebuyer credit for qualifying existing homeowners is $6,500 ($3,250 for a married individual filing separately), or 10% of the purchase price of the subsequent principal residence, whichever is less.
  4. The homebuyer credit is available to higher income taxpayers. For purchases after November 6, 2009, the homebuyer credit phases out over much higher modified AGI levels, making the credit available to a much bigger pool of buyers. For individuals, the phaseout range is between $125,000 and $145,000, and for those filing a joint return, it’s between $225,000 and $245,000.

The tax law still gives you the extraordinary opportunity to get your hands on homebuyer credit cash without waiting to file your tax return for the year in which you buy the qualifying principal residence. Thus, if you qualify for the credit in 2010 you can treat the purchase as having taken place on December 31, 2009 and file an amended return for 2009 claiming the credit for that year, and get your homebuyer credit cash relatively quickly via a tax refund.

The Ropes of Roth: Conversion

Allen D. Porter
Converting a traditional IRA (or qualified plan funds) to a Roth IRA can present an attractive option. Until 2010 the eligibility limit of $100,000 of adjusted gross income has precluded many taxpayers from this alternative. After 2009, the income eligibility limit is repealed.

Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA requires the taxpayer to pay income taxes on the amount converted. Treating this as an advantage seems counter-intuitive since many taxpayers have contributed to IRAs so as to defer the tax until IRA distributions are received. Here are some of the benefits from converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA:

  1. All future income taxes on Roth IRA distributions, including all future growth within the account, are waived. Currently depressed IRA values may enhance this benefit. By prepaying the tax, no future income tax will be due when qualified distributions are made from the Roth IRA.
  2. No minimum distributions are required to the taxpayer or a beneficiary spouse, or to a spouse who rolls the Roth IRA into his or her own IRA. The full Roth IRA can accumulate tax-free for a longer time while avoiding distributions which are not currently needed.
  3. Distribution to non-spouse beneficiaries will also be tax free, but these beneficiaries must take required minimum distributions. The distribution can be stretched out over their lifetime as calculated under IRS tables. This presents the opportunity for a long-term stream of tax free income.
  4. The income tax which results from the conversation to a Roth IRA should be paid from other assets of the taxpayer. Otherwise the benefit of the conversion is diluted. These payments like any other lifetime expenditures will result in a reduction in the taxpayer’s estate for New Jersey and federal estate tax purposes. The Roth IRA will be part of the taxable estate.
  5. For conversions made in 2010, there is a one time option of deferring the income tax so that 50% of the taxable income is included as income in 2011 and the other 50% is included as income in 2012. Before electing this deferral, taxpayers should consider whether tax rates are slated to increase and what their other income will be in these years.

Conclusion. Converting a traditional IRA or qualified plan funds to a Roth IRA combined with naming younger family members as ultimate beneficiaries can produce a long-term stream of tax free payments. The income tax is prepaid up front on the amount converted. Future qualified distributions of the converted amount and the capital growth on that amount are free of income tax. Of course, an offset is that the tax is paid sooner and the future earnings on that amount are lost.