Approximately 314,000 buyers have filed tax returns taking advantage of the federal first-time home buyer tax credit through the end of August, according to the U.S. Treasury.

The data is included in a report on the impact of the stimulus legislation passed earlier this year.

The housing tax credit was part of that legislation. It provides a maximum $8,000 credit to first-time home buyers who settle on a home no later than Nov. 30, 2009, and many builders say the credit has been critical in generating much-needed sales this year.

It certainly has been a force in California, where more than 42,000 returns have been filed with the credit. California also earlier this year offered a $10,000 state credit for the purchase of new home, which added even more incentive for the state’s residents to buy a house.

The next closest states in terms of usage were Texas and Florida, each with roughly 29,000 tax returns requesting the credit. Georgia and Pennsylvania finished out the top five with 11,000 and 10,000 returns using the credit, respectively. The lowest usage: Vermont, with just 351 returns claiming the credit so far. (For the full list, click here.)

The Treasury report represents the first statistics so far on actual usage of the tax credit, but there are some caveats, according to Rob Dietz, the NAHB’s director of tax issues.

First, it only counts returns for taxpayers who claimed the credit and who also are receiving a tax refund because their overall tax bill was lower than what they’d paid in during the year. The federal government estimates it will pay out an estimated $154 million to these more than 300,000 taxpaying first-time home buyers in the report.

Second, the data does not break out the difference between new and existing homes—it simply provides the total number of taxpayers’ returns that have so far claimed the credit.

Finally, the Treasury report only covers tax returns filed through August, which likely means these are amended returns for buyers who purchased a home earlier this year and quickly filed an amended 2008 return as allowed by the credit legislation.

By the time the program expires Nov. 30 and the vast majority of 2009 tax returns have been filed in April 2009, the NAHB estimates approximately 1.5 million homes will be bought using the credit. It believes that roughly 200,000 of those sales will be directly attributable to the tax credit.

The NAHB is currently lobbying to extend the federal housing tax credit for one year, to Nov. 30, 2010.

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.

Top Tax Credit States
State  ...  Tax Returns Claiming the Credit*
California ... 42,304
Texas ... 29,536
Florida ... 29,132
Georgia ... 11,109
Pennsylvania ... 10,250 Source: U.S. Treasury. For the full state-by-state list, click here.
*Tax returns receiving refunds claiming credit and filed through August 2009