Good timing could reap double tax credits

Kyawhtin1April 2, 20108min690

Some home buyers in California could get a federal tax credit worth up to $8,000 plus a new state credit worth up to $10,000 if they time their purchase just right over the next three months. But double-dipping will be tricky and won’t come without risks.

One couple who lucked out are Sibel Demirmen and Scott Henry of San Francisco, who are purchasing a home, their first, in San Rafael’s Terra Linda neighborhood.

They were planning to close escrow on April 30, and knew they qualified for an $8,000 federal home-buyer tax credit.

To get the federal credit, buyers must – among other things – close before May 1 or enter into a binding contract before May 1 and close before July 1.

Last weekend, they learned that if they could delay their close until after April 30, they could also qualify for the new California home-buyer tax credit, which was signed into law last week. The state credit is worth up to $10,000, spread over three years.

The seller agreed, and on Monday they signed an addendum to their contract postponing the closing until May 4.

“I was elated. I was ecstatic. I was thrilled,” says Demirmen, a singer, music teacher and mother of two.

Although the prospect of double-dipping will excite many house hunters, “I don’t think a ton of buyers will get both and benefit from both credits,” says Renee Rodda, editor of Spidell’s California Taxletter.

To get both, buyers must meet two sets of strict criteria. Timing it right will be tricky, especially in foreclosure or short sales, which can involve long lead times and many parties.

People who have already locked in a rate on a mortgage could lose the rate, or have to pay an additional fee to keep it, if they postpone their closing.

Matt Duffy is buying a home with his wife in Santa Rosa in a short sale, in which the purchase price is less than the debt on the home.

The seller accepted their offer in January. Last week, they heard that both lenders agreed to the deal as long as it closes by April 26.

“We said, ‘Cool, we can do that.’ We have our mortgage and the federal tax credit,” he says.

After reading my Sunday column on the state credit, Duffy realized he could get that too if he delayed his close.

“As it turns out, we are not going to be able to do that. The second lender is demanding we close by April 26 or somebody has to pay an additional $20,000,” he says.

“I am of course upset we can’t move the date. But we don’t want to lose the house. We will still get the federal credit, which is the better of the two credits.”

The federal credit: The federal credit is 10 percent of the purchase price, up to a maximum credit of $8,000 for first-time home buyers or $6,500 for longtime homeowners who buy a replacement home. Either type of buyer can purchase a new or existing home.

Buyers claim the federal credit when they file their tax return (or amend the prior year’s return). This credit is refundable: The full amount will be paid out, even if you have zero federal tax liability or the credit is bigger than your federal tax.

You cannot get the federal credit if your income is too high or the home was purchased after Nov. 6, 2009, and cost more than $800,000.

The state credit: The California credit is the lesser of 5 percent of the purchase price or $10,000. First-time buyers can purchase a new or existing home but repeat buyers can only purchase a new home that has never been occupied.

The California credit is spread over three years, up to $3,333 per year. It is not refundable: If you owe less than $3,333 in one (or more) of those years, you lose the difference that year. Even if you owed $3,333 before you owned a house, you might owe less after because of all the new tax deductions.

The state credit has no income or purchase-price limits. But here’s the rub: Some buyers who fall below the income limits for the federal credit might not owe enough California tax to get the full benefit of the state credit.

To get the California credit, you must close escrow between May 1 and either Dec. 31 or whenever the money set aside for the program runs out, whichever comes first. The money is likely to run out long before Dec. 31.

Alternatively, you can reserve a state credit for new construction by entering into a binding contract between May 1 and Dec. 31 and closing before Aug. 1, 2011. People who do this won’t get the federal credit because they entered a contract after April 30.

Getting both: Both credits require you to buy the home as your primary residence. Both define a first-time buyer as someone who has not owned a home in the three years prior to purchase.

In short, to get both credits you must be in contract on or before April 30 and close between May 1 and June 30 – and meet all other requirements.

Buyers who are already in contract and want to postpone their closing need to get the seller and lender to agree.

“Sellers might be flexible because it’s still a buyer’s market, but they may want something in return,” says Richard Redmond, a mortgage broker in Larkspur.

“If you have a loan locked in with a close date in April and you want to extend it, you may have to pay a fee or get a higher interest rate,” Redmond adds.

Buyers should consult a well-informed tax person and make sure they understand both credits.

For more on the state credit, see

For the federal credit, try or

Net Worth runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail Kathleen Pender at