From the AP:

Buyers who have owned their current homes at least five years would be eligible for tax credits of up to $6,500. First-time homebuyers — or anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years — would still get up to $8,000. To qualify, buyers in both groups have to sign a purchase agreement by April 30, 2010, and close by June 30.

“This is probably the last extension,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, D-Ga., a former real estate executive who championed the credits.

The homebuyers tax credit is one of two tax breaks totaling more than $21 billion that the Senate included in a bill extending unemployment benefits for those without a job for more than a year. The other would let companies now losing money recoup taxes they paid on profits earned in the previous five years.

“We are still in a world of economic hurt, and Congress must continue to act boldly and creatively,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “With the right mix of tax breaks and investments we will get through this recession and get folks working again.”

Extending and expanding the tax credit for homebuyers is projected to cost the government about $10.8 billion in lost taxes. While the measure passed the Senate by a 98-0 vote, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., questioned its efficiency in stimulating home sales.

“For the vast majority of cases, the homebuyer tax credit amounted to a free gift since it did not affect their decision to purchase a home,” Bond said. “And for the small minority of buyers whose decision was directly caused by the credit, this raises the question of whether we are subsidizing buyers who may not have been able to afford buying a home in the first place.”

The credit is available for the purchase of principal homes costing $800,000 or less, meaning vacation homes are ineligible. The credit would be phased out for individuals with annual incomes above $125,000 and for joint filers with incomes above $225,000.

A great discussion with Robert Shiller this morning – there’s an ad that plays first:

More from NYT:

Investigators found that more than 500 claimants of the tax credit nationwide were minors as young as 4, so the new measure will require applicants to be at least 18. Homes cannot be acquired from relatives, and taxpayers must submit a settlement statement as proof of purchase, though officials acknowledge that could be a problem for those who file tax returns electronically.

While real estate groups and some economists say the credit has helped stabilize the housing market, critics say it is too costly a subsidy when low interest rates and home prices are incentives enough for most.

Of the 1.4 million claimants of the credit, fewer than a third — about 350,000 to 400,000 — are believed to have bought their homes because of the credit, according to independent and industry-affiliated economists.

Under the new legislation, individuals with income up to $125,000 a year and couples earning up to $225,000 would be eligible. The current income limits are $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples. Under both the House and Senate versions, smaller amounts are available to people of slightly higher incomes until the credit phases out.

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