2023 Legislation Gives Eligible Coloradans More Time to Use Home Modification Tax Credits

(Note: This article updates a previous AgeWise Colorado article on home modifications tax credits, incorporating changes made by the state legislature in its 2023 session.)

A bill enacted by the 2023 Colorado General Assembly (SB 23-196) extends for an additional five years a special income tax credit for expenses incurred by a qualified individual in retrofitting the individual’s residence to increase its accessibility for persons with disabilities. The extension is timely because the Colorado Office of the State Auditor had reported in early 2023 that this tax credit available to Coloradans for making certain home modifications was being underutilized, and the opportunity to claim this credit was set to expire at the end of 2023. Now it’s been given five more years of life, and more people who qualify will be able to take advantage of it.

This benefit was first made available in 2019 and provides up to a $5,000 nonrefundable state income tax credit to eligible taxpayers who modify an existing home to better accommodate a resident with an illness, impairment, or disability.

By statute, the credit’s purpose is “to make retrofitting a residence for health, safety, and welfare more affordable.” To be eligible for the credit, taxpayers must have a taxable family income at or below $153,000 as of 2022, which is adjusted for inflation each year. Eligible home modifications must improve ease of access and safety as these affect the ability to age in place in the home for a taxpayer or their dependent who has physical limitations. “We considered the intended beneficiaries to be individuals who require home modifications due to illness, impairment, or disability, including conditions associated with older age,” the Auditor’s report stated.

Eligibility figures for Coloradans To Use Tax Credits

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15 percent of the state’s population was age 65 or older in 2021, and eight percent of the population under age 65 had a disability. The Auditor’s report said these are two groups that are more likely to require home modifications in order to have improved functionality and physical access to the homes in which they reside.

Also according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average income of households in Colorado with individuals over age 65 was $69,900 in 2021. Approximately 15 percent of individuals with disabilities in Colorado had income below the poverty level, which was about $14,000 for an individual and $28,000 for a family of four. Based upon the applications that had been submitted for the tax credit, retrofitting a residence costs, on average, about $15,700, but such modifications had a wide range from about $750 to more than $130,000. As of mid 2022, over 40 percent of the credits that were issued covered more than half of the total cost of home modification done; about one-third covered the entire project cost.

“The cost of home modifications can constitute a significant portion of the income of some Coloradans who are eligible for the credit,” observed the Auditor’s report, “and it could be challenging for them to pay for home modifications without financial assistance.”

Modifications that qualify in Colorado for Tax Credits

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) is responsible for determining eligibility and awarding tax credit certificates. As part of the eligibility determination, a healthcare or social service provider must determine that the taxpayer or their dependent has an illness, impairment, or disability that necessitates the home modification. In addition, DOLA requires the residence being modified to:

• Exist before the work begins (i.e., the work may not be completed during initial construction of the residence).
• Be the residence of the qualified individual and the person for whom the retrofit is required.
• Be located in Colorado.

Per DOLA, changes made to the residence may include, but are not limited to:

  • Installing or building ramps
  • Modifying bathrooms
  • Installing grab-bars
  • Widening doorways
  • Modifying kitchen facilities
  • Installing specialized electric and plumbing systems that are necessary to accommodate medically necessary equipment and supplies

DOLA requires the applicant to provide evidence of the completed project, such as pictures, and may conduct an inspection, after which it issues a certificate to the taxpayer. Taxpayers provide the certificate number to the Department of Revenue when they claim the credit on their income taxes.

Facts and figures on low usage oif Tax Credits by Coloradans

The total amount of credits available statewide has been capped at $1 million each year, and this is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Despite the credit having been available for some four years, the Auditor’s office found its impact had been limited because relatively few taxpayers had used it. For instance, in the three years between April 2019 and May 2022, DOLA issued just 39 credits worth a total of about $179,000. So the average credit issued was about $4,600. The fiscal note for the legislative bill that created the credit anticipated an average of 260 credits would be issued each year.

One reason for lower-than-expected use of the credits seems to be lack of awareness of the program. “We contacted three groups that represent elderly and disabled Coloradans,” the Auditor’s report stated, “and all three groups indicated that they were not actively promoting the credit and [felt] that awareness of the credit is probably low.” DOLA also reported that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had not conducted as much outreach to potential taxpayers but had plans to conduct more in future years.

Another reason for low usage of the credits may be that many recipients were unable to claim the full credit amount, simply because their tax liability was low to begin with. Remember this is a tax credit, not a deduction, and it is a credit on state income tax. So one would have to have a state tax liability of $5,000 or more to claim the full $5,000 credit. The program does allow any unused credit in an initial year to be carried forward for up to eight years. Previously the carryforward period had been five years, but the 2023 legislation has extended that to eight years. This may encourage more people to take advantage of the program because they will have a longer period (eight years) in which to utilize the credit amount through carryforwards, offering a better chance of capturing the full $5,000, or whatever lesser amount their modifications cost.

Impacts of underutilized tax credits in Colorado

The extended carryforward period may prove to be pivotal for significant numbers of those who use the program. The Auditor’s report had said only half of the taxpayers who received the credit in 2019 had sufficient tax liability to claim their full credit amount after three years (i.e., up to the time of the 2022 Auditor’s report), and some of those taxpayers were expected to not have sufficient tax liability to use the remaining credit amount within its five-year carryforward period. Of the taxpayers who had not used their credits after three years, most had taxable incomes below $33,000, which would result in those taxpayers having less in potential state tax liability than what could be offset by the credit. The credits are not refundable, so credits that cannot be used are simply lost. The new eight-year carryforward period could mean more credit dollars coming back to people in such circumstances.

Coloradans’ usage of these tax credits may help keep them available

Due to the unexpectedly low usage of the credits up to now, the Auditor’s report found that the administration of the credit “does not appear to be cost effective” because DOLA was spending approximately $55,000 per fiscal year administering the credit, which is about twice the financial benefit that taxpayers had so far received each year. Administrative activities include reviewing applications and awarding the credit, inspecting projects to ensure they meet the requirements for receiving the credit, and conducting outreach. This matters because it might affect whether this program can be fiscally justified and possibly extended. For now, it has been extended the additional five years, but there are no guarantees beyond that.

The Auditor’s report did add that home modifications may offer other financial benefits to the state by reducing accidents that can potentially result in incurring medical care expenses for the state for individuals who participate in public insurance programs.

To learn more about this tax credit program and take a prequalification survey, see https://cdola.colorado.gov/community-access-team/home-modification-tax-credit.

Other Colorado sources of help with home modifications

The Auditor’s report concluded by noting that for taxpayers with lower incomes who might be unable to use the full value of the tax credit, other state programs are available to help lower-income Coloradoans with the cost of home modifications. The eligible modifications are nearly identical to those for the tax credit program mentioned above (widening doorways, building ramps, installing grab bars, etc.)

The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing administers the Home Modification Benefit for Medicaid-eligible individuals enrolled in a Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver. If they are part of the HCBS Brain Injury; Spinal Cord Injury; Community Mental Health Supports; or Elderly, Blind and Disabled waiver, the lifetime maximum benefit is $14,000. If they are part of the HCBS Children’s Extensive Support or Supported Living Services waiver, there is a $10,000 limit over the five-year life of the waiver.

To be eligible for Medicaid, an adult must also have an income that is less than 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, which roughly equals a monthly income of $1,500 per month or an annual income of $18,000 for an individual. “Therefore,” the report said, “the HCBS Home Modification Benefit may be able to cover lower income residents who might not be able to use the broader tax credit program due to their lower tax liability.”

To learn more about these Home Modification Benefit programs for Medicaid-eligible individuals, see https://hcpf.colorado.gov/home-modification-benefit.