First Time Buyer Programs: The Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC)
This is a nationwide program for first time home buyers that helps them qualify for the loan by saving them even more money on their tax bill. With that said, however, the state of California accounts for more than 50 percent of all MCC Certificates.
Each individual area has its own administrator. Within the County of San Diego, for instance, there are three individual programs, although one company administers two of them. You must submit your paperwork to the correct authority, under the correct program. Each program has its own allocation of money, and if you submit to the wrong program, the application will not be approved, wasting your money.
Now, before I go through all the rigamarole of the program, what does it do for you? Simply put, it boosts the value of the mortgage interest deduction.
Here's how it works. During the escrow period, the time between the purchase contract being agreed to and the consummation of the transaction, you apply for a Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) through the originating lender. This means the people who take the loan application. This program is emphatically open to loan brokers. If the broker participates, it does not matter whether the funding lender participates, because it is not required that the funding lender participate, only that the originating lender participate. There is a nonrefundable upfront fee involved. This fee is paid to the authority administering the program. Some brokers may front this money on your behalf, but they will expect to be paid back several times over upon funding. Remember: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Your lender submits the application and the fee, and receives an approval from the authority on your behalf. This approval is good for up to 120 days, and in most cases, it may be transferred to another property conditions if this escrow falls apart.
What does it actually do for you? It converts part of your mortgage interest tax deduction into a direct tax credit. 20% of your mortgage interest, to be precise. This applies to both first and second mortgages on which interest is being paid and payments are being made. It does not apply, however, to first time buyer assistance loans on which there are no payments, or only nominal payments.
Let's do some math! Let's say you're buying a property for $400,000, using 100% financing. Of that, $320,000 is a first mortgage at 6%, and $80,000 is a second mortgage at 10%. Let us examine the situation you should be familiar with, the normal mortgage interest deduction, first. This is the situation without MCC:
You also have property taxes of $5000 per year (California rule of thumb. Yours may vary), which are deductible. Total: $32,200. The amount over this is deducted from your income before computing tax. The net benefit to you is based upon what exceeds the standard deduction you'd get anyway. For married couples, this will be $10,300 in 2006. $21,900, at a 28% tax bracket, sees a net benefit of $6132. This shaves a $511 per month off of your federal tax bill.
Now let's look at the situation with MCC:
So you get a $21760 deduction and a direct tax credit of $5440. Your deductions total $26,760 with property taxes, using the same numbers from the first scenario. Les $10,300, your real deduction is $16,460, times 28% tax bracket is $4608.80. That's the reduction you see on your taxes due to the deduction. You'll also see a tax reduction due to the credit of another $5440, for a total of $10,048.80 tax benefit, or $837.40 per month. That's over sixty percent more you save off of your federal taxes. What's more, is because the credit is a known number, not subject to alteration as to your deduction status or other tax situation, it can be used to help you qualify for the loan. That $5440 credit works out to $453.33 per month that can be used to help you qualify for the loan. I just took the training for this program, and I know I'll have some interesting arguments with nonparticipating lender underwriters, but I'm going to have the documentation on my side. They say, "Show me on paper," and I show them on paper. United States Government paper. IRS Tax code citations. Anybody want to bet how that turns out? One more thing before I change the subject: This only applies to federal income taxes, not state. For state income taxes, if any, the situation with and without MCC is identical.
Participation in this program is not universal. There are fees to be paid, and some cities can't or won't. Many entire states do not participate. In other cities, there is no qualifying housing. For instance, within the county of San Diego, the City of La Mesa is not currently participating, although they have stated an intent to return to the program. The Cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach also do not participate, due to the complete lack of qualifying housing within those two cities.
There are basically three qualifications, in addition to submitting your request to the correct regional program and buying a property in a participating area. First, you cannot make more than the appropriate income limits. In San Diego County, this is currently $82,800 per year for a household of one or two persons, $96,600 for a household of 3 or more persons. Qualifying income adjusts annually. Second, this is valid for owner occupied dwellings only. You must occupy the home, or intend to occupy it as soon as the purchase is finalized, and then you must actually occupy it. Therefore, only single family occupancy properties are eligible; no duplexes, apartment buildings, or other properties with more than one living unit. Condominiums are fine, as are manufactured homes on owned land, as these are both single family dwellings. If you move out, you will lose the benefits of this MCC. As a side note, any tenants displaced by this program are entitled to compensation from the program, so if the current owner is renting to someone other than the prospective buyers, expect the application to be refused. It must be vacant, owner occupied, or rented by the prospective purchasers. Third, and finally, the property must be within the maximum limits for size of the purchase. In San Diego County, these limits are currently $503,700 for a resale property, $490,000 for a newly built property being sold by a developer. In some "targeted" census tracts, specifically designated due to their low income, the qualifying limits for the purchase are higher: Currently $615,700 for resale, $598,900 for brand new properties. About these census tracts, more very soon.
Now, what is a first time buyer for purposes of this program? A buyer qualifies if they have not owned their primary residence for three years or more. This is proven via federal income tax returns. You may own another property off far away somewhere else, too far away from your job to commute, at least according to the interpretations I heard.
There is a way for people who are not first time home buyers under this definition to take advantage of this program. Remember those "targeted" census tracts I talked about two paragraphs ago? If you buy in one of those "targeted" census tracts, it does not matter if you're a first time home buyer or not. As long as you meet the other criteria, most particularly including owner occupancy, you are eligible. These targeted tracts change with every decennial census. We're in the middle of such a period now, so no changes are anticipated soon, but they do change from time to time.
Now, there are some financing limitations on this program. It is aimed at people who really can afford the loans they are getting, and so these loans must be done full documentation. Stated income loans or NINA/No Ratio loans are not eligible. In other words, you must prove you make enough money to justify the loan. Furthermore, the emphasis is on being able to afford the loan. Negative amortization loans are not allowed with this program, nor are ARMs or hybrid ARMs with an initial fixed period of less than three years. Interest only loans are allowed, but they must be both fixed rate and interest only for at least five years. Finally, because the money comes from the same place as the CalHFA and Cal-Vet loan, it cannot be done in conjunction with those loans. I think it's a better program for the vast majority of buyers anyway. For instance, the MCC can be layered with a local purchase assistance program, which those cannot.
There are two major flies in the ointment. The first is refinancing. The MCC dies when you refinance, unless you get it reissued. This involves another fee, and getting an RMCC (for Reissued Mortgage Credit Certificate), and doing so within a deadline. There are no income restrictions once you have the MCC on getting an RMCC, but if your property has ballooned in value 200% and you do a "cash-out" refinance, the RMCC will apply only to that portion of your loan that relates to your original loan amount.
The second fly is the possibility of paying recapture taxes. This program was originally established under President Reagan, and people were selling the properties for high profit in short time frames. This caused it to be de-funded, as it was painted as causing windfalls for folks. But it proved popular enough that they brought it back, albeit with the recapture provisions. If you actually sell, as opposed to merely moving out and renting, within nine years of purchase, there's a formula for whether you'll have to pay taxes on the gain or not. But the maximum possible tax is half the gain, and the money they get helps them keep the program going. It has to do with how much your income was versus the guideline you qualified under, plus a yearly five percent adjustment for inflation and people earning more later in life. This is based upon the maximum qualifying income guideline, not what you actually made when you qualifies. Furthermore, it is waived in cases of death or divorce. In general, avoid selling in years you get a major windfall. It is to be noted that the competing programs have this recapture feature as well.
When you weigh the advantages of the MCC against those of the competing programs, as well as against doing without such a thing, the value of this program to the middle income home buyer becomes clear. Indeed, this national program is probably the broadest brush, easiest to obtain home buyer assistance program there is. Funding is not unlimited, so there can be points where it may waste your money to apply, as there is no money available in your area right now. Furthermore, a lot of lenders seem to sign up to lure first time home buyers in, and then direct them to loans that are not eligible for MCC; this is a major part of what motivated me to undertake the training myself. Furthermore, it's not free. But if you fulfill the requirements, the payoff is enormously better, at a cheaper price, than anything else of which I am aware.
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