Get your $8,000 HUD tax credit now

HUD tweaked stimulus tax incentive so first-time home buyers get instant assistance with down payment and closing costs.

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By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- First-time homebuyers will now have access to quick cash to help them with their down payments.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that first-time homebuyers using FHA-approved lenders can now get an advance on the $8,000 tax credit created by the stimulus package and apply it toward their down payments or closing costs.

"We believe this is a real win for everyone," said HUD secretary Shaun Donovan in a speech before the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). "Families will now be able to apply their anticipated tax credit toward their home purchase right away. What we're doing today will not only help these families to purchase their first home but will present an enormous benefit for communities struggling to deal with an oversupply of housing."

As part of the stimulus package, Congress created a refundable first-time homebuyers tax credit in hopes of helping on-the-fence buyers to take the home-purchase plunge. But buyers couldn't collect the $8,000 credit until tax time, rather than at closing time -- when it's needed.

The delay created an obstacle to reigniting the housing market because most first-time buyers -- the ones who would buy much of the available inventory -- have only saved enough to cover 4% of the purchase price, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The mechanics of the new program, according to NAHB economist Robert Dietz, allow lenders to purchase tax credits from the buyers and then collect the rebate from the IRS. Homebuyers must still come up with FHA's mandatory downpayment of 3.5% on their own, but they can use the tax credit to lower their principal balance and save on monthly payments.

The initiative also authorized downpayment help programs already offered in Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington and other states. To quickly infuse cash into their housing markets, the housing finance authorities in these states created bridge loans to allow buyers to borrow against the $8,000 credit and then repay it with their tax refunds.

There are also non-profit groups, such as ones affiliated with the National Home Ownership Programs for the community organizer NeighborWorks America, that offer bridge loans for downpayment assistance that will be repaid with the tax credits.

Under the state and non-profit programs, the tax credit can provide the entire downpayment; there's no requirement that homebuers put 3.5% down.

The first state to launch such a plan was Missouri, which rolled out its Missouri Housing Development Commission Tax Credit Advance Loan program on January 14 -- a month before Congress approved the stimulus package. Since then, Missouri has approved applications by more than 360 borrowers and closed on 166 of them.

Lamar Cherry and his wife, Chrishanna, used the program to augment their down payment when they bought their home in Kansas City.

The couple purchased a four-bedroom, three-bath split-level home for $150,000, putting about 6% down. Much of that $9,000 came from the loan program, which they tapped so they wouldn't have to drain their reserves.

"We had money saved up that we were going to use for the down payment," said Cherry. "Now we can use some of that to buy some things we need for the house."

At closing, the Cherrys, like all buyers in the program, signed for their first mortgage, plus a second mortgage issued by the state. The second note is good for 6% of the price of the home, up to $6,750; there is a $350 set-up fee, but no interest is charged if the debt is repaid by June 2010.

In Missouri, borrowers can only access $6,750 of the $8,000 credit for down payments. "We wanted them to have a cushion below that $8,000 in case other tax liabilities show up," said Greg Spurgeon, the single-family homeownership administrator for the Missouri Housing Development Commission.

If borrowers don't pay off the note, it becomes a 10-year fixed-rate mortgage with an interest rate one-half percentage point above that of their first mortgages. For example, borrowers paying 6% on their first mortgages would be charged 6.5% on the second.

So far, Spurgeon said, a significant proportion of participating homebuyers have repaid their loans. He expects most of the others to do the same before the deadline.

Cherry has claimed the federal tax credit on his 2008 taxes, but he hasn't gotten his refund yet. He definitely intends to repay the loan before the 2010 deadline because, he said, not doing so would add about $75 a month to his house payments. To top of page

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