Thursday, October 13, 2011

IRS Wrongly Demanded Repayments of First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit


The Internal Revenue Service mistakenly sent notices to approximately 80,000 taxpayers telling them they needed to repay the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit.

A new report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that 27,728 taxpayers were notified they had a repayment obligation even though they had purchased their homes in 2009, when there was no repayment obligation. In addition, the information provided by a vendor hired by the IRS to use third-party data to identify individuals who may have disposed of their principal residences was unreliable, resulting in 53,558 individuals who incorrectly received notices to repay the Homebuyer Credit.

The First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit was a program aimed at stimulating the housing industry. While it helped prop up the industry, especially in the wake of the mortgage crisis, the quick ramp-up and shifting requirements left the IRS issuing the tax credits to thousands of taxpayers who did not fit the qualifications, including minors. The IRS was then forced to demand repayments of the tax credits that had been issued incorrectly, as well as from homeowners who fit into the various recapture provisions if they didn’t hold onto their homes long enough.

The TIGTA report found that the IRS is having difficulty determining which taxpayers have to repay the First-Time Homebuyer Credit. The report acknowledged that the IRS accurately issued the vast majority of the notices, over 5.2 million, informing taxpayers of the need to repay the credit.

However, at the same time, the IRS did not send notices or sent incorrect notices to 61,427 households due to programming errors or incorrect information on the tax accounts. Of those 61,427 households, 12,495 individuals were notified that they did not have to repay the Homebuyer Credit, when in fact they did have a repayment obligation; 27,728 taxpayers were notified that they had a repayment obligation despite having purchased their home in 2009 (only 2008 purchases have a repayment obligation); 2,152 individuals who bought their house in 2008 were incorrectly notified that they did not have a repayment obligation unless they sold their house; 18,220 did not receive a notice reminding them of their repayment requirement; and 832 deceased individuals may have been sent an incorrect notice regarding repayment.

“The IRS processed the vast majority of Homebuyer Credit Claims accurately,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “However, IRS officials still need to eliminate the programming errors that resulted in thousands of taxpayers being misinformed about their repayment status.”

The Homebuyer Credit was created by Congress in 2008 to help stimulate the housing industry by encouraging people to purchase their first homes. Subsequent legislation in 2009 and 2010 revised, extended and expanded the Homebuyer Credit in an attempt to help boost a sluggish real estate market. The Homebuyer Credit was a refundable credit that could result in a tax refund when the credit exceeded the tax liability, even if no income tax was withheld or paid.

Each of the laws with Homebuyer Credit provisions contained different credit amounts, qualification requirements and repayment requirements. Individuals who received the Homebuyer Credit for a home purchased in 2008 are required to pay back the total amount received for the Homebuyer Credit over 15 years beginning in 2010. There are some exceptions. In addition, individuals who received the Homebuyer Credit in 2008, 2009 or 2010 generally must repay the entire amount they received, if, during the three-year period beginning on the purchase date and after the year for which the individual received the homebuyer credit, they dispose of the home or it ceases to be their principal residence. If the disposition is a sale, the repayment requirement is applicable to the extent there is a gain on the sale of the home.

“The scope of the FTHBC was unprecedented in that it required the development of a comprehensive and balanced strategy to administer the credit amid the many unique situations that could trigger the recapture provisions, and to provide information to affected taxpayers to assist them in complying with their tax reporting obligations,” wrote IRS Wage and Investment Division Commissioner Richard C. Byrd Jr. in response to the report.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS ensure that Homebuyer Credit repayment notices are accurately issued; correct erroneous purchase dates on tax accounts; and discontinue using third-party vendor data to identify individuals who may have disposed of their principal residents unless the reliability can be significantly improved.

The IRS agreed with two of TIGTA’s recommendations. For the remaining recommendation relating to accurately issuing notices, the IRS indicated it is replacing some of its notices with an online tool for taxpayers to obtain their Homebuyer Credit repayment status. It plans to make the Web-based tool available to taxpayers for the 2012 filing season.

Michael Cohn, Accounting Today

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