Leslie Erin Johnson saved steadily to buy her first home, making many sacrifices along the way. For example, when she got married in March, she and her new husband kept the wedding small to save toward a down payment. There was no honeymoon, either.
Thanks to their financial discipline, the couple recently closed on a three-bedroom, two-and-a half bath house in Cary, N.C. They're being rewarded by Uncle Sam in the process with an $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers.
"My dad does my taxes and he told me about this credit after I got married," said Johnson, 29, a registered nurse. "This is going to help a lot. We've put everything we have into this house, so having this extra money will make it all less scary."
Many home buyers are getting similar relief, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's first-time home buyer tax credit. Anyone who purchases a home between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2009, will qualify for the $8,000 tax credit. And even better, you don't actually have to be a first-time home buyer to earn the credit. Previous homeowners qualify if they haven't owned a home for three years prior to their 2009 purchase.
The house could be a single-family home, townhouse, condo, co-op or any other kind of dwelling — as long as the owner lives in it as a primary residence. You only have to keep the home for three years to avoid repaying the credit to the government.
This tax break for home buyers is just one of a number of efforts by the government to help you get into a home right now. In addition to the $8,000 credit, here are four other government-sponsored programs:
Veterans Affairs Home Loan: This mortgage is available to qualified U.S. veterans, reservists, active-duty personnel and eligible spouses. A portion of these loans is guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and protects the lender's investment if the borrower defaults on the loan. Eligible veterans aren't required to make a down payment or get private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can increase the monthly payment. Not all lenders offer VA loans.
Housing Choice Voucher Homeownership Program: Typically administered by local public housing authorities, these vouchers keep home-owning expenses down to no more than 30 percent of a family's monthly income by helping out on expenses such as mortgage principal and interest, insurance premiums, taxes, utilities and maintenance.
Rural Development & Community Facilities Program: Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these loans help low-income families buy modest homes in rural areas with no down payment required. However, the families must demonstrate the ability to afford monthly mortgage payments, taxes and insurance. They must also have a decent credit history.
Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Mortgage Program: Helps lower costs for low- and moderate-income families, by providing protection to lenders against default on mortgages for borrowers who are creditworthy but may not be able to meet conventional requirements for the loan. This is the modern-day version of the same program that kept families in their homes during the Depression, and helped veterans buy homes in the 1940s and 1950s — sparking the modern-day suburban boom.
For more tips and advice about buying your first home, visit Military.com's Home Buying Guide.