Prison Inmates Claim the Tax Credit

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The First Time Home Buyer tax credit has been the target of many debates over the last year. Originally crafted by the Bush administration and then expanded by the Obama administration, is in the process of being extended yet again to allow more potential homebuyers to take advantage of it. If passed, the new deadline could be moved to September 30 of this year. The goal of the credit was to boost the nation's ailing housing markets and help stabilize the economy.

Has it been effective? It depends on who you talk to. The National Association of Realtors credits a million new home sales directly to the tax credit. However not everything has been coming up roses. A big complaint among consumers is the wait to receive the credit. Initially home buyers were told to expect the credit with 12 weeks of filing an amendment, but some have reported waiting five months or even longer. The long delays have not endeared the IRS to taxpayers waiting on their refunds. The internet is awash is speculation about the reasons for the delays and how they can speed up the process.

Some recent events have shed some light on the causes for the delays in receiving the tax credit.

The tax credit generated a flood of amended returns for both the 2008 and 2009 tax season. With fraud on the rise, more returns were being audited and the results were appalling. Now, an investigation has been launched by the Treasury Department Inspector General for the tax administration, J. Russell George. The report generated by the investigation focused on taxpayers who claimed both the 2008 and 2009 First Time Home Buyer tax credit.

The report showed more than 14,100 taxpayers wrongly received at $26.7 million in tax credits. The fact that some taxpayers decided to try to fraudulently claim the credit isn't the most shocking thing; it’s who was able to get the credit.

Roughly 1,300 prison inmates received over $9 million in tax credits for homebuyers at the time they were incarcerated when they claimed they bought a home according to a government investigator. 4,608 state and federal inmates filed for the credits. 241 of the inmates who received the credit were serving life sentences.

How were so many prisoners able to falsely claim the credit? Part of the blame does fall on the IRS because they don't keep current records of who is in prison, according the IG report. Another reason is that prisons are not required to provide the IRS with information about inmates, although many do voluntarily. IRS spokesman Frank Keith defended their recent track record, stating "When the IRS has reliable data, we do a very effective job of using it to ensure compliance. When the IRS does not have reliable data, it is a much more difficult process for us."

The IRS also claims to have blocked almost 400,000 questionable claims and opened over 150 criminal investigations. In its statement, the IRS claims that "These aggressive efforts have saved taxpayers more than $1 billion."

Keith also stated that the IRS has asked Congress to enact legislation to ensure the agency gets up-to-date inmate information. In the interim, the IRS plans to reach out to prison officials to start a task force to improve inmate information sharing.

However it isn't just inmates cashing in on the tax credit falsely. The IG report estimates that 2,555 taxpayers wrongly received over $17 million in tax credits for homes that were bought prior to the tax credit being enacted. Another estimated 10,282 taxpayers received credits for properties that were also used by someone else to claim the credit. 206 taxpayers filed for the credit on multiple addresses. And to add insult to injury, investigators also found 87 IRS employees who may have improperly claimed the credit, although the review is still ongoing.

It’s no wonder that the average taxpayer is waiting over 16 weeks to get tax credit. Obviously, there was an error in estimating the effectiveness of the tax credit and the unfortunate side effects.

Mr. George had this to say in a statement. "This is very troubling. Congress created and modified the homebuyer credit to stimulate the economy and help taxpayers achieve the American dream, not to line the pockets of wrongdoers." Of course the IRS is taking action to reclaim the cash. According to IRS figures, over 2.6 million taxpayers claimed the tax credit through the April deadline. All things considered, the amount of fraud uncovered so far has been minimal, but its just more fuel for the fire. Taxpayers are tired of hearing about delays or requests for the same paperwork they have already submitted.

Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Mundaca stated that, despite its problems, the homebuyer tax credit helped to spur more than 2.5 million new home purchases and helped to stabilize the housing market.

If you are one of the thousands of taxpayers still waiting for your refund, there are a couple of things you can do. First, you can contact a tax advocate. They will help you make sure you have submitted the correct paperwork and that the IRS has received it. Second, you can contact the IRS directly to check on the status of your refund. Quite often the IRS representative will give you a rough time frame in which you can expect your credit. The IRS will also pay you interest on your credit as well.

Given the rather large pool of taxpayers claiming credit the amount of fraud uncovered so far has been minimal. However as a result, the processing time of returns is now longer than ever.

So as a home buyer, would say that the First Time Home Buyer tax credit was a primary factor in your decision to buy a home? Please feel free to answer in comments.

Thank you for reading our Las Vegas real estate blog.

Source: Associated Press, IRS.com

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