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Originally published January 22, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified January 27, 2010 at 3:26 PM

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Nation's Housing

For that home tax credit, hurry

Here's the action message to potential tax-credit seekers: Speed up your search for the house you want to buy. Get moving. There are only 14 weeks to sign a contract and just five months to go to closing.

Syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — If you've been holding back on getting involved with the new $6,500 federal tax credit for repeat home purchases, there's no more excuse for inaction.

You now have all the official IRS guidance you'll need to go out and buy a house, qualify for the credit, and pocket the $6,500.

That's because the IRS finally published the rules for the repeat-purchase credit along with the key details for taxpayers that had been missing since President Obama signed the legislation creating the program on Nov. 6.

On Jan. 15, the IRS posted its revised Form 5405 on its Web site (www.irs.gov), six weeks after warning taxpayers not to file claims for the $6,500 credit without using the revised form and new instructions.

The repeat-buyer credit — inelegantly dubbed the "long-time resident of the same main home" credit by the IRS — supplements the popular $8,000 credit for first-time purchasers.

Owners of existing homes — specifically taxpayers who have occupied the same property as a principal residence for any five consecutive years during the previous eight years — may now be able to claim a tax credit on a purchase of another house they intend to use as a principal residence.

The credit is for up to 10 percent of the price of the replacement home, capped at $6,500. The purchase contract may be signed prior to Nov. 7, 2009, provided the closing occurs after that date and by April 30, 2010, and the closing must occur no later than June 30, 2010.

Members of the armed forces and federal diplomatic and intelligence personnel stationed overseas get an extra year to claim the credit.

The maximum purchase price on houses eligible for the credit is $800,000. Purchasers are not required to sell their previous house, but they must be able to demonstrate that the replacement house they buy is or will be their principal residence.

The new IRS guidance answers key questions that had been uncertain from the legislative language alone. For example, they describe what documentation homebuyers must submit along with their $6,500 credit claim. On 2009 and 2010 tax returns, buyers should attach:

• A copy of the signed HUD-1 settlement sheet, including contract sale price and date of closing. This is to document that the timing of the transaction meets the program's requirements.

• Evidence of long-term ownership and occupancy of the previous house to meet the five consecutive years test. This can be property-tax records, homeowners' insurance records, or IRS Form 1098 interest statements for the five-year period.

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• For buyers claiming a credit on a newly constructed home, where a HUD-1 settlement sheet is not available, the IRS will accept a copy of the certificate of occupancy showing the purchasers' names, the property address and date.

• For buyers of mobile homes who are not able to get a settlement statement, the IRS will accept a copy of the executed retail sales contract showing the property's address, purchase price and date of purchase.

All this extra documentation was required by Congress after reports that audits had uncovered widespread abuses by first-time buyers seeking the $8,000 credit. Among these were fictitious home purchases where taxpayers or tax preparers sought — or obtained — credits on properties that never were sold or bought.

This time around, the IRS says it is going to rigorously investigate all claims filed, starting with a review of the documentation submitted.

The new IRS guidance also spells out the revised income limits for homebuyers claiming credits: Your modified adjusted gross income must be $125,000 or less if you are single, $225,000 or less if you are married filing jointly.

Above these limits, the allowable credit amount begins to phase down in increments, and is eliminated completely once incomes hit $145,000 for singles and $245,000 for married joint filers.

There are pitfalls as well: An advisory posted by the IRS earlier in the month spelled out situations where recipients of tax credits may have to repay them to the government. These include taxpayers who sell their houses within a 36-month period after purchase.

Recipients must also repay the credit if they convert their principal residence to a rental or business property, or if their lender forecloses on the house.

With all the rules now available, here's the action message to potential tax-credit seekers: Speed up your search for the house you want to buy. Get moving. There are only 14 weeks to sign a contract and just five months to go to closing.

Kenneth R. Harney: kenharney@earthlink.net

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