How Do Qualified Tax Credit Bonds Work?

Bond sales can be used to finance clean-energy production.

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The first tax credit bond was a result of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. Subsequent congressional acts, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, allowed governments to issue additional tax credit bonds. Although these certificates are not tax-exempt, investors still benefit from the limited tax breaks they offer.

The General Mechanics

Tax credit bond investors do not earn interest. Instead, they qualify for a federal tax credit for a certain number of years. The Treasury secretary determines the credit rate. In this investment arrangement, the bond buyer gets only the principal back from the governmental entity that issued the certificate, which does not represent an investment benefit. But in exchange for lending the money at no interest, the investor also becomes eligible for a federal tax write-off.

An Exception

In 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The law allowed governments to issue different types of so-called Build America bonds. One of them was a tax credit bond that also offered interest. Investors have to pay tax on the earned profit, but the amount owed is reduced by 35 percent of said profit. In addition, if the holder of Build America tax credit bonds is eligible for a deduction higher than his tax liability, he may carry a credit balance to use the following year.

Claiming Tax Credits

The governmental entity that issues the bond reports the tax credit to the bondholder on Form 1097-BTC. The same form is also used to declare tax credits from the hybrid Build America bond. Investors transpose the information to part 3 of Internal Revenue Service Form 8912, and the agency applies the credit to their tax return.

Mutual Benefits

Tax credit bonds allow the holder to lower his tax liability. In the case of Build America bonds, the buyer also receives some tax-free interest. In turn, the governmental units issuing the bonds raise funds from their sale for essential public projects such as school renovations, renewable-energy initiatives and forest conservation.