Accelerating the 2008 First-Time Homebuyer Credit in order to Compromise the Liability

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We welcome guest blogger William Schmidt of the Kansas Legal Aid Society. William is a regular guest on the blog with his monthly posts on designated orders. He encountered a situation involving a client struggling to satisfy her requirements resulting from the first time home-buyer credit and wrote this guest post for others who might face this situation. In the end his effort to obtain an offer in compromise to assist his client did not prove necessary; however, the process he followed in order to obtain the relief is a process that could work for other clients in this situation. Keith

The first-time homebuyer credit for 2008 is still causing issues for taxpayers. Keith Fogg recently wrote a blog post that looked at the credit in the context of bankruptcy, examining whether the credit is a tax or a loan and the court correctly characterized it as a dischargeable loan. This post will examine a different tactic in dealing with the 2008 credit, looking at Offer in Compromise rather than bankruptcy, and I will relate how I tried to use that method to assist a client.

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The First-Time Homebuyer Credit in 2008

The first-time homebuyer credit under Internal Revenue Code section 36 went through three phases, but applied to home purchases after April 8, 2008 and before May 1, 2010. The first phase, applicable to homes purchased in 2008, “takes the form of a $7,500 interest-free loan” (that is the maximum amount) as stated on the IRS website here. The credit is repaid in equal portions over a 15-year “recapture period” as shown here. The second phase of the credit, applicable to homes purchased in 2009 or 2010, allowed for new home owners to receive a maximum credit of $8,000 that did not have to be repaid if they stayed in the home for 3 years. The third phase, applicable beginning November 7, 2009 for homes purchased in 2009 and 2010, added in long-time homeowners for a maximum credit of $6,500.

Personal note: During the rollout of the credit I was working in the corporate office of H&R Block in their research department, providing guidance to tax preparers. I remember the confusion as the IRS went through the various phases of the credit and its qualifications for homes, homebuyers, and payments. You can see from the linked pages how the credit grew in complexity over those couple years.

One option available to taxpayers who qualified to change from the 2008 credit to the 2009 credit was to amend the tax return. For those who stayed with the 2008 credit, there was the annual recapture repayment amount included with the tax return. The main exception was when the home stopped being the main home. That could “accelerate the recapture” (meaning repayment of the remainder of the credit) unless there was an exception to the repayment of the full credit. Those exceptions included transfer in a divorce settlement, destruction of the home, foreclosure, sale, or death. Foreclosure or sale of the home meant repayment of the credit only up to the amount of the gain through foreclosure/sale.

Even though the loan is interest-free and only in the range of hundreds of dollars each year, there are low income taxpayers on fixed incomes who cannot afford to make that payment to the IRS. Feel free to examine those links above or the scenarios the IRS provided to find information on what a taxpayer is supposed to do if they cannot afford to pay the interest-free loan when the annual tax return is due. It may take you some time because the IRS does not address this kind of client situation on their website.

My Client’s Story

When confronted with a client who could not afford her annual payment under the 2008 first-time homebuyer credit, I had to research what to do to help her. She originally received $3,600 and had paid $1,440, leaving $2,160 to be repaid at $240 annually. Looking at the first-time homebuyer credit pages on the IRS website was no help. I started by getting my client into the Currently Not Collectible status. I did not think it would be fruitful to keep repeating that process every year for 9 years total.

I eventually got in contact with Jennifer Liguori, the Director of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic of Legal Aid of Arkansas – Springdale. She informed me that she has accelerated the recapture of the credit and then submitted an Offer in Compromise for $10. She had those offers accepted twice.

The Offer in Compromise

I started by amending my client’s 2016 tax return to include the entire $2,160 credit amount, accelerating the recapture. I accomplished this by filling out IRS Form 5405, Part II. The Form 5405 Instructions state in a section about Part II titled “Repaying more than the minimum amount” that “You can choose to repay more than the minimum amount with any tax return.” Filling out this section will provide for the remainder of an individual’s 2008 first-time homebuyer credit to come due.

I also submitted an Offer in Compromise of $1 for my client under Doubt as to Collectibility. While the amended return processing and the submission of the Offer overlapped, I looked at the timing and filed the Offer because it knew it would take time for the IRS to process the Offer. The 2016 amended tax return was processed and my client received a bill for the full amount before there was a response on the Offer.

Approximately seven months after the submission, an Offer in Compromise examiner sent me a letter saying “We cannot accept your client’s offer in compromise at this time based upon the information provided” and that I needed to contact her within 10 days or the offer will be processed as is. I left several phone messages and faxed a letter to make contact within the 10 days but there was no response. It turns out the officer had training and was out of the office yet the phone message did not reflect that.

Once we were able to converse, the examiner informed me that she had to amend the Form 656 for submission under Exceptional Circumstances (Effective Tax Administration). I don’t think this necessarily had anything to do with the first-time homebuyer credit. I think the examiner thought this change was necessary in order to receive manager approval for the $1 offer.

My client had also signed in the wrong place on the original Form 656 – as preparer, not taxpayer – so the examiner needed an original signature from my client 10 days after faxing the amended Form 656 to me.

I have only been in contact with this client by long distance. The client’s home in question is in small town Kansas, two and a half hours away from my office. My only contact with her was by phone or correspondence by mail. Our last phone conversation was in December 2017. I proceeded to leave messages with her and mailed her a letter, but there was no response.

I finally decided to contact the Kansas Legal Services office that covers that county. Since it was located a half hour away from the client, I thought they might be able to assist with locating the client in some capacity. I spoke with the secretary there. She did not seem to have much to provide me at first but called back later with information. Because it was small-town Kansas, she was able to find out that my client was in an unresponsive, terminal coma at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and provided me with some contact numbers. I called those numbers and learned that my client actually passed away.

I told the IRS officer that my client was deceased, so the offer is now terminated. The only way an offer would still work is if the estate submitted an offer. In hindsight, the credit would have terminated with the 2018 tax return because of the client’s death because the home stopped being her main home. She would only have owed the $480 for 2016 and 2017 without accelerating the recapture.

I wanted to shine a spotlight on the 2008 first-time homebuyer credit for tax professionals, especially for those who deal with the low income taxpayer community. This is a gray area because low income people need assistance yet the IRS information does not spell out what to do when an individual cannot afford to make the annual repayment for the credit. I submitted a Systemic Advocacy (SAMS) request but I would hope any IRS employees who read this post would consider spelling out the relief available for individuals that meet either the low income or Currently Not Collectible criteria.

 

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for the shout-out and the great publicity for LITCs. Great job and sorry that you client couldn’t experience the victory.

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