The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) believes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may have paid out millions of dollars in first-time homebuyer tax credits to individuals not eligible to receive the $8,000 credit.
Nearly $4m of incorrectly paid credits were due to both alleged fraud and filing errors on claims by 580 taxpayers less than 18 years old. The youngest of these was 4 years old, TIGTA head J. Russell George said in prepared testimony to the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee.
TIGTA also found 3,200 taxpayers with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) claiming the credits. ITINs are generally used to track income tax for resident aliens, in lieu of a social security number.
While the legislation creating the tax credit does not specifically address resident alien eligibility, other laws prohibit aliens residing without authorization in the US from receiving most federal public benefits, George said. It is possible that as much as $20.8m in tax credits were paid to resident aliens ineligible for the credit.
But shortly after the IRS began administering the tax credit, the TIGTA office suggested additional fraud and error reporting measures, like requiring taxpayers submit a copy of their Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Settlement Statement, known as the HUD-1 form. TIGTA also recommended verifying the information on Form 5405 and manually transcribing paper versions of Form 5405.
The IRS rejected both proposals, saying requiring the HUD-1 form would be burdensome to taxpayers and may deter them from taking the credit. IRS also indicated the tax credit was approved too late to manually transcribe the paper Forms 5405.
As a result of the IRS’ decision to not implement the additional checks, George said, more than 19,300 electronically filed 2008 tax returns improperly claimed the tax credit for homes that had yet to be purchased at the time of the tax filing. He said more than $139m in erroneous claims were paid to these individuals.
George said his office also identified nearly 74,000 fraudulent claims for the tax credit by individuals who did not qualify because they were not considered first-time homebuyers. These individuals claimed deductions of home mortgage interest, real estate taxes, deductible points and qualified mortgage insurance premiums on previous years’ tax returns, indicating they had owned a home within the past three years.