Category Archives: Financing

5 Insider Secrets for Coming Up With Cash for Down Payment

Most home buyers’ biggest hurdle is coming up with the cash for a sensible down payment. Gone are the days of zero-down loans, so if that was your plan, you’re going to need a new one! Coming up with a down payment for a home is a challenge because it’s not chump change we’re talking about, here. The down payment on a $200,000 house, for example, will run you anywhere from $7,000 (on an FHA loan) to $40,000!That might seem like an insurmountable amount of coin to come up with, but it’s actually more doable than you might think. Some buyers will simply save up their own cash, even if it takes many, many moons. The good news is that if you still need some help to boost your down-payment savings, there are resources you can harness to power your home-buying pursuit:

  1. The FHA Bridal Registry.  Yes – you read that right! The FHA Bridal Registry Programenables wanna-be home buyers to apply their families’ wedding gifts toward their down payments. And although it’s named a “bridal registry” program, you don’t have to be a prenuptial couple to use it. You could also use this program to collect gifts for graduation, the arrival of a baby or some other major life event in which people want to give you gifts.The FHA Bridal Registry works like a traditional registry, but is more flexible. The registrants visit their choice of FHA mortgage lenders and set up what essentially is a custodial savings account for the sole purpose of funding their down payment. The couple’s (or individual’s) family and friends can either deposit funds directly into the account or give the cash or check to the couple or individual, who then deposits it into the account. The account’s flexibility also goes beyond that of traditional down payment gift rules that are applicable to FHA loans, which are detailed below in insider secret #2. With the FHA Bridal Registry Program, the only gift documentation required is “lender and borrower certification of the funds.”
  1. Family gifts.  Most lenders will allow home buyers to apply gift money from family members toward their down payment – within guidelines, that is. First, the lender will require a letter from the giver verifying that it in fact is a gift and not a loan. (They generally frown upon it being a loan because it would add to the buyer’s debt and change their debt-to-income ratio.) And second, the person giving you the money must be a relative. The reasoning here is that a friend will most likely expect you to repay the money, whereas a relative won’t.FHA loans will allow the gift to make up any portion or all of the buyer’s down payment, many conventional (non-FHA) loan programs will restrict the proportion of a buyer’s down payment that can come from gift money.  The lender may also have specific ways they want to see the money go into and out of your accounts. Before you accept a gift toward your down payment, be sure to check with your mortgage broker or loan rep to be sure that you’re dotting all the right i’s and crossing all the right t’s.
  1. Your Employer.  Some companies offer assistance programs to employees. Most are government, university, large company and financial industry employers. One example is safety workers: n some areas, safety workers like firefighters and police can have access to down payment grants from their employers if they buy properties in the city where they are on-call as first responders. Also, many large colleges and universities, very large companies and banks and lending institutions offer down payment help and have below-market-rate mortgages set up for faculty members and staffers.  Check with your Human Resources department to see if any such program is available to you.
  2. City/County/State Programs.  Some states, counties and cities still offer programs that lend or give home buyers some assistance for down payments. These programs vary widely in scope – for instance, many target buyers with low and moderate incomes, while some seek to help the buyers of foreclosed or fixer-upper type homes. Some don’t have to repaid – meaning they are given as grants and are forgiven entirely if the buyer lives in the property for 30 years, but must be repaid if the buyer sells or rents the home out before the 30 years elapses. The programs pretty much all have some sort of homeowner education component that requires applicants to take personal finance and homeownership preparedness classes before they can receive funds. To learn more, visit your city, county and state websites to learn about programs that might be able to help you.
  1. Your Retirement Funds.  Many financial advisors would advise against this, but if you have a 401K or Roth IRA account and some years to go before retirement, you might be able to tap into it or even borrow against your own funds for your down payment. Currently, you can take up to $10,000 out of your Traditional IRA with no penalty to put toward the purchase of your first home, but you will be taxed.  You can take as much as you want out of your Roth IRA contributions with no penalty or taxes, though, and as much as $10,000 from your earnings penalty-free for your down payment.  The rules get a little tricky, here, so definitely check in with your tax and financial advisors.And while you can’t similarly draw from your 401K, many retirement and pension plans will allow you to borrow the money against your funds, then repay it to yourself – at interest. So the choice there comes down to paying your lender back with interest or paying yourself with interest. That choice should be you! But first, get some advice from your CPA or financial planner. This option might not make financial sense for your particular situation.

5 Tips for Homeowners Filing Taxes

Ask a roomful of homeowners what’s so great about owning versus renting, and you’ll hear them holler in unison: “the tax deductions!” And it’s true – homeowners who itemize their taxes are able to deduct 100% of their mortgage interest and property taxes from their income tax returns.

That means that if you’re in a 28% tax bracket, Uncle Sam effectively subsidizes about a third of your borrowing costs or more, making your home more affordable or allowing you to buy a larger home than you could have otherwise. Also, big chunks of your closing costs are tax deductible, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of any profit (or capital gains) that you realize when you sell your home are exempt from income taxes.

At tax time, it’s critical to know what you’re entitled to, so you can claim it. So, here are five essential need-to-knows about home-related income tax tips to help you get the most tax-reducing bang out of your home-owning buck – and to avoid hefty home ownership-related tax traps.

1. You Have to Itemize Your Return to Claim Your Deductions

During the recent debate on Capitol Hill about whether the mortgage interest deduction should be eliminated (it won’t be, not anytime soon), it came out that nearly 40% of homeowners lose out on their major tax advantages every year when they fail to itemize their income taxes. If you own a home and otherwise have a fairly simple return, it might be tempting just to take the standard deduction – and if your mortgage, property taxes and income are low enough, the standard deduction might outweigh your homeowners’ deductions. But you’ll never know if you’re losing out on the tax advantages of itemizing unless you try; before you grab a pen and start filling in that 1040-EZ grab those forms from your mortgage company and answer the questions on tax software like TurboTax, which will automatically do the math on whether itemizing or taking the standard deduction will result in the lowest tax bill – or the highest tax refund – for you.

2. Plan Ahead and Be Strategic When Taking a Home Office Deduction

According to the Small Business Administration, the average home office deduction is $3,686 – multiply that by your tax bracket – 15%, 20%, 30% or whatever it is, and that’s what you’ll save on your taxes by writing off your home office. Know, though, that the space you designate as your home office cannot be exempted from capital gains tax when you sell your home later. The $250,000 (single)/ $500,000 (married filing jointly) income tax exemption for capital gains is only good on your personal residence, after all – not including any space in your home you’ve claimed as your tax-advantaged office. If you foresee selling your home for much more than you bought it in the future, near or far, discuss this with your tax preparer to see if the few hundred bucks you save is worth the capital gains complication later.

3. Tax Relief for Loan Modifications, Short Sales and Foreclosures Is Only Around Through 2012

While the long-term housing outlook is beginning to look up, 2011 is projected to be the peak year for foreclosures during this market cycle. Distressed homeowners who are on the brink of a short sale, loan modification or foreclosure should be aware that normally, any mortgage balance that is wiped out by one of these outcomes is taxed as what the IRS calls Cancellation of Debt Income, or CODI.

Under the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Relief Act of 2007, the IRS is currently not charging income taxes on CODI incurred through a loan mod, short sale or foreclosure on most primary residences through 2012. But right now, banks are taking many months, or even years, to work out mortgages in all of these ways; the average foreclosure in New York state right now occurs only after 22 months of missed mortgage payments. If you foresee any of these outcomes in your future, don’t put things off. Do what you can to get to closure on your distressed home and loan, ASAP, while you won’t have income taxes to add as the insult on top of your significant housing injury.

4. Project the Income Tax Consequences of a Refinance or Property Tax Appeal

Homeowners everywhere are working on applying for a lower property tax bill on the basis of the last few years’ decline in their home’s value. Those who have equity have flocked in masses to refinance their 7% home loans into the 4% to 5% rates of the last few months. These strategies offer some of the heftiest household savings out there for the corresponding investment in time and money they take. But here’s a caveat for savvy homeowners who slash these costs: remember that property taxes and mortgage interest, the very costs you’re minimizing, are also the basis for the major tax benefits of being a homeowner. So plan ahead for your income tax deductions to go down along with your taxes and interest.

5. Don’t Forget Those Closing Costs

If you bought or refinanced your home in 2010, you may be so focused on your mortgage interest and property tax deductions that you forget all about your closing costs. Any origination fees or discount points that were paid to your mortgage lender at closing are tax deductible on your 2010 return, get this – even if the seller paid your closing costs. If you can’t figure out exactly what you paid, look for your HUD-1 settlement statement, that legal sized paper full of line item credits and debits that you should have received from your escrow provider or title attorney at, or just after, closing. Can’t find it? Drop your real estate agent or mortgage broker an email; they can usually get a copy to you quickly.