You know the old saying, the one that says "no moss grows under a rolling stone?"

It’s an adage that really applies to the government-approved $8,000 first-time homebuyer’s tax credit.

If you do your research, act fast and get your plan in motion, you actually get a free $8,000 gift – courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer – for a new home.

But that’s where the ‘act fast” part really kicks in. There are only 90 days or so left before the Dec. 1, government-imposed deadline for the first-time homebuyers' tax credit. There is some talk in Washington of extending the program, but nothing has happened on that front yet.

So how can you get in on the action? With the clock ticking, there’s no time to waste.

What is it? The $8,000 first-time homebuyers tax credit was bundled into the stimulus package Congress passed early this year. The skinny is this: if you have not owned a home during the past three years and meet certain income limits, you’re in play for the tax credit. According to the Internal Revenue Service Web site, the credit can amount to either 10% of the purchase price of the home, with a maximum available credit of $8,000 for either a single taxpayer or a married couple filing a joint return, but only half of that amount for married persons filing separate returns. The full credit is available for homes costing $80,000 if purchased after Dec. 31, 2008, and before Dec. 1, 2009).

The best part. As long as you don’t sell your home for 36 months after you buy it, you won’t have to repay the credit. How can you get your hands on the money? For those homebuyers who qualify, you can either get the $8,000 through a bridge loan or through a “sell tax credit” where you essentially hand the paperwork over to the lender, who in turn files the paperwork with Uncle Sam on your behalf.

What’s your best move? There are several options, but perhaps the best one is to get the money upfront and use it as part of your down payment on your new home. The more cash you plow into your home upfront, the less your monthly payments on your mortgage. Note that you’ll need to come up with at least 3.5% of the total mortgage as a down payment, and that money is separate from the $8,000 tax credit.

Some other nuts and bolts. Income limits keep higher earners out of the deal. The IRS Web site says that the full credit amount is available to individuals whose modified adjustable gross income is $75,000 or less and married couples (filing jointly) whose modified adjustable gross income is $150,000 or less. That said, if you earn more than these limits, a reduced credit may still be available.

When you file your 2009 tax return, you’ll need to report the tax credit on IRS Form Form 5405 (find it on the IRS Web site) along with your tax return.

There are some drawbacks – you can’t buy the home from a close relative, and the home can’t be handed to you as part of an inheritance or other “gift.” Still, if you qualify, the $8,000 tax credit is essentially a gift to you, the homebuyer, and to homeowners who need some help in unloading their homes.

Not a bad deal on either end. But since most home loan deals can take up to 90 days to close, you need to get the ball rolling now.

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