HR 3221 Passed – The Housing-Corporate Tax Break-Online Transaction Reporting-Tax Increase Bill

On Wed. July 30th, the bill was signed into law by the President.

Before this, on July 23, 2008, the House Committee on financial Services released an opinion on HR 3221. In reading through the document, it goes through all the painted benefits of the proposed legislation, however, it does not address any of the risks, down sides, or other important things the bill does. In fact it makes some bold claims that I find hard to believe. Here is an excerpt of the summary:

FHA Housing Stabilization and Homeownership Retention Act
• Provides mortgage refinancing assistance to keep at least 400,000 families from losing their homes, to protect neighboring home values, and to help stabilize the housing market at no cost to American taxpayers.

• Expands the FHA program so many borrowers in danger of losing their home can refinance into lower-cost government-insured mortgages they can afford to repay.

• Protects taxpayers by requiring lenders and homeowners to take responsibility. This is not a bailout; in order to participate, lenders and mortgage investors must take significant losses by reducing the loan principal. In exchange for an FHA guarantee on the mortgage, borrowers must share any profit from the resale of a refinanced home with the government.

• Contains critical protections for taxpayers’ dollars, including higher refinancing fees that establish a new FHA reserve to cover possible losses from defaults on these government-backed mortgages.

• Only primary residences are eligible: NO speculators, investment properties, second or third homes will be refinanced.

• According to CBO, this three-year program, starting October 1, 2008, will not cost taxpayers a dime, as it is more than paid for by using funds in the first few years from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

• Provides $180 million for financial counseling and legal assistance to help families stay in their homes.

Read more here:

I take issue with the third point above. They claim this requires lenders to take responsibility by participating in reducing loan principals. While this is true, they fail to mention the real benefit to the bank is being able to take a worthless loan and transition it to a secured loan.

If just having banks reduce principle was the solution, why not have the courts mandate loan reductions on a case by case basis? Or the real problem is when home owner’s adjustable rates expire and they can’t afford the new rate, why wouldn’t the banks just hold the lower payments indefinitely and thereby preventing foreclosure. The answer is, they would still have to carry a risk that affects future lending, earnings, and the overall health of the bank. This risk is much more costly then a loan balance reduction, otherwise you would see massive loan restructuring. At the end of the day, the bank needs the loans secured or off the books. Currently the only way to get them off is through foreclosure.

With the passing of this bill signed by the president on Wednesday, from what I have seen and read on the major news networks, it also appears they have only taken the perceived benefits written by this document as well.

Here are some of the lesser reported things this bill does that seem to be overlooked:

-(sec. 3091) did they mention Christopher Dodd and Richard Shelby attached an amendment that requires electronic commerce to collect, aggregate, and transmit details of every electronic sale to the federal government?

That’s right, your latest iTunes, eBay, and Amazon purchase will become government knowledge. What does that have to do with housing?

Well, I can only speculate that this had origins from the major bank lobbyist and has something to do with the major competition they are seeing from companies like PayPal (currently process 30% of online transactions), but I will try to stick to only the facts unless I can prove otherwise.

The main purpose of this appears to be revenue generation to help offset costs of this bill. Companies will be required to file this information to the government on return schedules, if not they are subjected to fines. Given the burden of this task for many of these companies, they anticipate a large amount of fines and therefore place this as a revenue generating measure.

Seems like a silly way to generate revenue by divulging sensitive information regarding your online transactions so there must be more behind it. A word of gratitude should be sent to Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer for issuing a letter objecting this measure.

-did they mention the tax increase: it changes the home residence and sale tax exclusions that state you must own/live in a house for two of five years to a pro-rated system that only gives you exclusions based on the time you lived in the house divided by the time you have owned the house? (sec. 3092)

-how about the provision that extends a tax credit that allows manufactures to use accumulated AMT credits as well as research and development tax credits to make investments that would qualify for bonus depreciation. The amount of investment is capped at the lesser of 6 percent of built up AMT and R&D credits or $30million. (HR 3221 amended by Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sander Levin (D-MI). The idea behind this is to stimulate investment in new technology by reducing the tax burden.)

-Down payments for FHA loans will increase from 3% to 3.5%.

-(sec. 1101) A whole new government agency is created “The Federal Housing Finance Agency”.

-Penalties for business late filings will be increased. (sec. 3094)

-Extension of net operation loss carry back will be extended from two years to four years.

It does not matter if you agree or disagree with the legislation, the fact of the matter is that very few people understand what the bill does in its entirety. If the news and media only highlight positive things with all encompassing messages like “this will bail out homeowners” or “home owners will be saved”, which is certainly not true on that scale, most people will not know the facts and take this as something their representatives did good work on.

The truth of this bill, is that it does a few good things, a few bad things, but most certainly it adds a lot of complication and should have been rejected for something that is more specific and easy to understand. This bill has many hidden agendas that may not impact you and I, but others will benefit because they know how to work the system.

If we want change, which seems to be the message, it needs to start with legislation and calling out bills like this. The news and media agencies need to stop publishing what people want to here and simply lay out the facts, who is responsible, and how each party (individual, corporations, and federal) benefits. Let people make their own decision, hold the bill sponsors liable from good or crappy bills, and let people push for change when they see that every bill by their representative has some concession to some lobby group.


  1. ReplyWinnie Lu

    What is going on with the $250,000 and $500,000 exemption? How do I find hte copy of the law to see? Is it true if you lived in a house two out of five years, you only get 2/5 exempted?

    I am not sure if this is the properplace to ask this question?

    Aloha from the land of sunshine and rainbows.


  2. Author

    You would have to check with a tax accountant, but I believe the law takes place only on properties purchased after the law. That is how I understand it but it is not clear and I have not checked with anyone to confirm so please do not take my word on it. If it is retro on all property, then we have a lot more issues to deal with in the future for the housing market.

    Best advice is to call a tax accountant and go over your situation. They should be able to provide guidance.

    I certainly hope it is only properties going forward.

  3. ReplyKevin

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