Who in Southern California will benefit from the existing-homeowner’s tax credit?  It seems more like window dressing than actual help – the only buyers who could keep or sell their existing home would be those with substantial equity.  Keepers need low payments to correspond with rents, and sellers with loads of equity wouldn’t let $6,500 make the decision for them, would they?

Those who’ll get the credit probably would have moved anyway.

From the LA Times:

If you have owned and lived in a home for at least five consecutive years of the last eight years, you could qualify for a $6,500 tax credit, if you buy a new home between now and April 30.

The “five-of-eight” requirement means that this credit could accommodate people who lost their homes in the last year or two to foreclosure or even sold a house and didn’t immediately replace it, said John. W. Roth, senior tax analyst with CCH Inc., a Riverwoods, Ill., publisher of tax information.

Would you have to sell your residence for it to qualify for the $6,500 credit, if you wanted to buy a new one? Not necessarily, Roth said. The home you purchase must become your principal residence, so you would have to move there. But nothing in the law says you cannot keep your existing residence as a second home or rental, he said.

If you do choose to sell your existing residence, you need to pay close attention to how much you earn on that sale, Stretch said. That’s because taxable profits from the sale of your residence will be added to your other earnings to determine whether your adjusted gross income exceeds the allowable thresholds.

This credit also phases out for singles earning more than $125,000 and married couples earning more than $225,000.

On the bright side, some profits from the sale of a personal residence don’t count. That’s because taxpayers are allowed to exclude up to $250,000 per person or $500,000 per couple in profits on the sale of their personal residence from tax, if they lived in that home for two of the last five years, Stretch said. Only profits exceeding those excluded amounts would be included in income, he noted.

Getting muddled? Let’s look at an example to clarify.

John and Sue Smith own a home that they bought for $100,000 in 1965. They’re now retired and want to scale back, selling that home, which is now worth $750,000, and buying a smaller home with the help of the new $6,500 credit.

Their net profit on this sale would be $650,000, but they can exclude $500,000 of that gain from tax, based on existing law. They will have to add the remaining $150,000 capital gain to their adjusted gross income to determine whether they can qualify for the new credit.

If all of their other income adds up to less than $75,000, they have no worries because the $150,000 and $75,000 add up to $225,000 — the beginning of the credit’s phase-out range for married couples. If they earn more, however, they begin to lose their ability to take the credit.

There are other arcane rules relating to profits earned on the sale of a home, so those with substantial profits may want to consult a tax professional before banking on the credit.

“It’s really confusing,” Roth allowed. “It’s as if they took the old law and threw it in a Mixmaster. Some things still apply; others don’t. The time frames are all new. This is going to keep a lot of tax accountants in business for a long time.” 

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