Government First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit Can Be Used For Closing Costs, Interest Rate Buy-Downs

June 6, 2009

New home buyers seeking to use the 10% tax credit can use that money up front to help pay for closing costs or to “buy down” their mortgage rate, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That’s significant: While the 10% tax credit is great (buy an $80,000 property; get an $8,000 tax credit), buyers used to have to wait until they filed their tax returns to actually benefit from the credit. Now there’s a way to instantly monetize the credit.

And although the tax credit can’t be used for the minimum 3.5% downpayment required by FHA, it can be used to supplement it. And numerous states offer buyers programs to help cover that 3.5%.

[For information on the tax credit itself, see my earlier post at ]

Here’s a summary from the National Association of Realtors:

Under the guidance, FHA-approved lenders can develop bridge loans that home buyers can use to help cover their closing costs, buy down their interest rate, or put down more than the minimum 3.5 percent.

The loans can’t be used to cover the minimum 3.5 percent, senior HUD officials told reporters on a conference call Friday morning.

Thus, buyers applying for FHA-backed financing with an FHA-approved lender that offers a bridge-loan program can get a bridge loan to bring down the upfront costs of buying a home significantly but would still have to come up with the minimum 3.5 percent downpayment.

There remain many sources of assistance for buyers needing help with the 3.5 percent downpayment, including many state and local government instrumentalities and nonprofit lenders.

In addition, some state housing finance agencies have developed their own tax credit bridge loan programs, so buyers in states whose HFAs offer such programs can monetize the tax credit upfront to cover all or part of their downpayment. These programs are separate from what HUD announced today.

The first-time homebuyer tax credit was enacted last year–and improved upon earlier this year–to help encourage households to enter the housing market while interest rates are low and affordability is high. The credit is worth up to $8,000 and is available to households that haven’t owned a home in at least three years. The credit does not have to be repaid, and is fully reimbursable, so households can get their credit returned to them in the form of a payment.