DEFINITION of 'First-Time Home Buyer'

An individual who is purchasing a principal residence for the first time. First-time home buyers are more commonly recognized according to several criteria with regards to an individual retirement account (IRA). If these criteria are met the owner can be granted special privileges, such as exemption from the early-distribution penalty.

BREAKING DOWN 'First-Time Home Buyer'

The purchase does not need to be a traditional home in order for the individual to qualify as a first-time homebuyer, but it must be the principal residence. For example, it could be a houseboat that will be lived in. The maximum amount that may be distributed from the IRA on a penalty-free basis for this purpose is $10,000. This is a lifetime limit. For married couples, the limit applies separately to each spouse. This means that the combined limit for a married couple is $20,000.

The penalty applies to IRA distributions that occur before the IRA owner reaches a specific age, such as 59.5 years old.

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