Senate modifies homebuyer tax credit
2009/02/09, 7:11 pm
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Senate Modifies Homebuyer Tax Credit

During debate on the stimulus bill, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) offered an amendment that significatnly expands the homebuyer tax credit. The credit would be $15,000 and would be available to all purchasers of a principal residence, not just first-time homebuyers. The legislation is still in flux and must be reconciled in a House-Senate conference. The chart attached compares current law with the House and Senate versions of the bill.


Senate OKs $15,000 tax break for homebuyers
2009/02/05, 2:58 pm
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Senate OKs $15,000 tax break for homebuyers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted Wednesday night to give a tax break of up to $15,000 to homebuyers in hopes of revitalizing the housing industry, a victory for Republicans eager to leave their mark on a mammoth economic stimulus bill at the heart of President Obama’s recovery plan.
The tax break was approved without dissent and came on a day in which Obama pushed back pointedly against Republican critics of the legislation even as he reached across party lines to consider a reduction in the spending it contains.

“Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the essential,” Obama said as Senate Republicans stepped up their criticism of the bill’s spending and pressed for additional tax cuts and relief for homeowners. He warned that failure to act quickly “will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession.”

Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation ready for Obama’s signature by the end of next week.

While they concede privately they will have to accept some spending reductions along the way, conservative Republicans failed in their initial attempts to force deep cuts in the bill.

On another contentious issue, the Senate softened a labor-backed provision requiring that only U.S.-made iron or steel used in construction projects paid for in the bill. A move by Sen. John McCain to delete the so-called Buy American requirement failed, 31-65.

But with Obama voicing concern about the provision, the requirement was changed to specify that U.S. international trade agreements not to be violated.

Democrats also preserved a key priority for Obama, a break of up to $1,000 for couples who pay payroll taxes but whose earnings are so low they do not pay income tax.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who advanced the homebuyers tax break, said it was intended to help revive the housing industry, which has virtually collapsed in the wake of a credit crisis that began last fall.

The proposal would allow a tax credit of 10% of the value of new or existing residences, up to a $15,000 limit. Current law provides for a $7,500 tax break but only for first-time homebuyers.

Isakson’s office said the proposal would cost the government an estimated $19 billion.

Democrats readily agreed to the proposal, although it may be changed or even deleted as the stimulus measure makes its way through Congress over the next 10 days or so.

Other GOP attempts to change the measure went down to defeat. The most sweeping of them, by Sen. Jim DeMint failed on a mostly party-line vote of 36-61. It would have replaced the White House-backed legislation with a series of tax cuts on personal and business income and capital gains at the same time it made cuts passed during the Bush administration permanent.

“This bill needs to be cut down,” Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor. He cited $524 million for a State Department program that he said envisions creating 388 jobs. “That comes to $1.35 million per job,” he added.

After days of absorbing rhetorical attacks, Obama and Senate Democrats mounted a counteroffensive against Republicans who say tax cuts alone can cure the economy.

Obama said the criticisms he has heard “echo the very same failed economic theories that led us into this crisis in the first place, the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems.”

“I reject those theories and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change,” said the president, who was elected with an Electoral College landslide last fall and enjoys high public approval ratings at the outset of his term.

Obama did not mention any Republicans by name, and most have signaled their support for varying amounts of new spending.

Even so, the president repeated his retort word for word in late afternoon, yet softened the partisan impact of his comments by meeting at the White House with senators often willing to cross party lines.

His first visitor was Sen. Olympia Snowe a moderate Republican lawmaker. Later he met with Sens. Susan Collins and Ben Nelson.

“I gave him a list of provisions” for possible deletion from the bill, Collins told reporters outside the White House. Among them were $8 billion to upgrade facilities and information technology at the State Department and funds for combatting a possible outbreak of pandemic flu and promoting cyber-security. The latter two items, she said, are “near and dear to her,” but belong in routine legislation and not an economic stimulus measure.

Collins and Nelson have been working on a list of possible spending cuts totaling roughly $50 billion, although they have yet to make details public.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Stimulus: Senate’s housing hopes
2009/02/03, 3:25 am
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Lower mortgage rates, a foreclosure moratorium and more attractive tax credits to spur home buying are among the contenders for amendments to recovery bill.

By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer
February 1, 2009: 5:41 PM ET

NEW YORK ( — As the economic stimulus package moves to the Senate, the drumbeat is growing louder for new provisions that directly address the housing crisis.

Key senators from both parties said they will push for measures intended to spur sales and help homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

“We need to go right at the housing problem. That’s what started all of this,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told CNN.

The Senate floor debate is set to begin on Monday. Here are three ideas likely to show up in amendments:

Create a 4% mortgage: Senate Republicans are likely to introduce a provision that would encourage lenders to offer a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 4% for a limited period of time. The loans would only be available to credit-worthy home buyers and homeowners seeking to refinance.

The government would guarantee the loan for a number of years, an aide to McConnell told

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said on the Senate floor Friday that the measure could involve not only a government guarantee but a subsidy as well.

“If today’s prevailing rate were 5.2 or 5.3 percent … the government would make up the difference.”

The cost of such a provision hasn’t been determined yet, but the aide said Senate Republicans would seek to structure the proposal in a fiscally responsible way, without specifying exactly what that meant.

Offering government-backed low-rate mortgages “could be very popular politically as it tries to fix the banks by fixing consumers,” financial services analyst Jaret Seiberg of the Stanford Group wrote in a research note.

But using government funds to force rates lower “could be very expensive,” Seiberg said.

And as mortgage rates rise, which they have in recent weeks, such a proposal could grow even more expensive.

Expand home buyer credit: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said last week he would propose an expansion of a temporary $7,500 first-time home buyer credit so that it applies to all purchases of primary residences.

Some Republican senators have called for an increase in the credit to $15,000.

On “Face the Nation,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that lawmakers “can do more for housing.” The proposal to increase the home buyer credit to $15,000 and make it available to all home buyers is “something that we look favorably upon,” he said.

The Senate recovery package as it stands now removes the requirement under current law that the credit be repaid by buyers over time, assuming they don’t sell their home for three years after claiming the credit.

The credit phases out for individuals making more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers).

Hold off on foreclosures: Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., told reporters last week that he would like a provision in the stimulus package that would impose a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures. Dodd may consider other housing measures as well.

Postponing a foreclosure for three months might allow some troubled borrowers to keep their homes by buying them time to work out a new loan agreement with their mortgage servicer.

Obama housing proposals on deck

Advocacy in the Senate for more housing measures in the stimulus bill comes while President Obama is expected to release a comprehensive plan to fix the financial system within the next two weeks.

Obama has been promising for the past month that he would soon propose a foreclosure prevention program, and many believe that could be part of a plan he announces in the coming week. Indeed, he said Saturday that his plan will include a proposal to lower mortgage costs.

Last month, Obama’s economic team promised lawmakers they would use $50 billion to $100 billion of the remaining money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to prevent foreclosures.

Whether the housing measures proposed by Republicans on the Senate floor are intended to be in addition to Obama’s proposals or as replacements isn’t clear yet.

One of the ideas likely to influence Obama’s plan is a loan modification program put forth by FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair that has garnered support from lawmakers. That plan would require that lenders reduce housing payments for delinquent borrowers to 31% of gross monthly income.

Lenders could achieve that by lowering mortgage rates to as low as 3% for five years, before increasing at an annual rate of 1 percentage point until they hit the prevailing market rate. Loan terms could be extended as long as 40 years.

In exchange, Bair proposed the government would share up to 50% of the losses if a borrower who gets a modified loan ends up defaulting anyway. And it would help foot some of the servicers’ loan modification costs. To top of page

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Stimulus bill to benefit first time home owners.
2009/02/03, 3:22 am
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Homebuyers get a bonus in the stimulus bill First time buyers could receive a $7,500 tax credit if they purchase soon.

By Les Christie, staff writer Last Updated: January 29, 2009: 5:18 PM ETNEW YORK ( — If you’re thinking of buying a home, there could be a big bonus for you in the economic stimulus bill that’s now before Congress. Among its many provisions is a $7,500 tax credit for first time home buyers. The House passed the $819 billion stimulus plan, including this tax credit, in a vote late Wednesday. The Senate may vote on its version of the bill some time next week. Technically, the stimulus bill is actually changing the terms of the $7,500 tax credit that was issued as a part of the Housing Recovery Act, which Congress passed last summer. That legislation required that the tax credit be repaid over 15 years, making it more of a no-interest loan. Not surprisingly, the measure had little impact on the market. The stimulus bill now under consideration would make that tax credit a true credit that doesn’t need to be repaid. Many in the housing industry believe this credit could do a lot to jump start the moribund housing market. “Our economists have studied the effect [of the credit] and they say there could be a 10% increase in home sales if it’s implemented,” said Mary Trupo, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Realtors. “It gives people who are sitting on the fence or who have inadequate funds for closing costs an incentive to act now.” A 10% increase would yield an extra half million sales this year. Who qualifies To be eligible, buyers cannot have owned a home for the past three years, and the new home has to be used as a primary residence. The credit phases out as income rises above $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for couples, and disappears entirely at $95,000 and $170,000, respectively. Applying for it is easy, or at least as easy as doing your income taxes. Just claim it on your return. That’s it. No other forms or papers have to be filed. Both the Senate and the House versions of the new act remove the requirement that buyers repay the credit. The Senate bill applies retroactively to any purchase completed between January 1, 2009 and the end of August. The House version is also retroactive to the start of the year, and expires at the end of June. As long as buyers don’t sell for at least 36 months, they keep the money. And the credit is refundable, meaning that it can be claimed even if the amount of the credit earned exceeds the buyer’s tax liability.So even if your total tax bill comes to just $5,000, you can still qualify for a full $7,500 refund. The housing industry has been pushing this idea for many months, arguing that first-time homebuyers are the key to boosting home sales. First time buyers who purchase from existing homeowners free those sellers to trade up to bigger, better houses. Buyers beware But the credit has its drawbacks, according to Bob Williams, a spokesman for the Tax Policy Center, which gave it a mediocre C+ grade in its Tax Stimulus Report Card. Williams argues that the credit is poorly targeted because it goes to every first-time buyer, not just the ones who wouldn’t buy without it. So, it merely provides a windfall for many people who would have purchased anyway. (See correction, below). And in the end, a $7,500 tax credit, regardless of the details, does nothing to address the issue that’s holding most buyers back – the suspicion that prices are going to keep falling. “As long as people are uncertain about what markets are going to do, this won’t help much,” said Williams. “It’s not enough to change that.” The industry would like to make the tax credit stronger by making it available to all homebuyers, not just first-timers. And it’s pushing to have the credit last through the end of the year, at least. “By the time it’s implemented,” said Trupo, “there could be very few months left to act.” An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the tax credit for a home purchased in 2009 could only be taken off of 2009 taxes. However, homebuyers can choose to take the credit for 2008, according to the IRS. Even if they buy a home after they’ve filed their 2008 taxes, they can file an amended return. To top of page First Published: January 29, 2009: 4:45 AM ET Find mortgage rates in your area