You may have heard that the first-time home buying tax credit was extended through April 30 next year, and that it now includes a credit for some non-first-time home buyers also. For details on the extension and who is eligible, visit the IRS website.
This is great news if you fall into the eligible groups and were already planning to purchase a home. A tax credit is an actual dollar-for-dollar credit against your tax liability, as compared to a tax deduction which just reduces your taxable income. A deduction, depending on which tax bracket you’re in, saves you between 10% and 35% of the deduction. The credit saves you 100% of the credit amount. The home buying credit is also fully refundable, which means you can receive it even if it exceeds your tax liability.
Should you adjust the timing of your home purchase to take advantage of the credit?
Yes, this is a good idea. If it’s just a question of changing your timing by a few months to take advantage of the tax credit and there aren’t other substantial costs with the change, that makes all the sense in the world.
If you weren’t planning to purchase a home already, should this credit motivate you to take action?
Definitely not. If you weren’t planning to buy a home and aren’t financially ready for the purchase, this tax credit doesn’t significantly change that math.
For existing home owners, the costs of a move are too high to even come close to being offset by this credit. Consider real estate commissions, preparing your home to sell, closing costs on the new home, moving expenses, and ongoing increases in your utilities, maintenance and property taxes if you move to a larger home.
For potential first-time home buyers, the credit doesn’t significantly change whether home ownership is right for you. Yes, the $8,000 is a nice bonus. But it’s a small dent in the costs of owning a home over even the 3-year minimum required to not pay back any of the credit. The mortgage is just the beginning of the cost of home ownership – consider maintenance, repairs, yard work, and utilities that are typically higher in a home than an apartment. There’s also the property tax and insurance which for most first-time home buyers will be escrowed into their total mortgage payment, however it’s up to the home owner to catch up any shortfall in the amounts escrowed.
Bottom line, you should definitely take advantage of the home buyers credit if it fits in with your overall financial plan. The credit could even provide a good opportunity for you to jump-start your 2009 or 2010 IRA contributions, beef up your emergency fund, or start a 529 plan for your children’s college. But the credit shouldn’t tempt you to make a decision that will end up hurting you financially long-term. Make sure your math includes the long-term total cost of your move!