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To be eligible, you must not have owned a residence in the U.S. in the previous three years. The credit phases out between $150,000 and $170,000 of adjusted gross income for joint filers and $75,000 to $95,000 for single filers. The credit is refundable to the extent it exceeds your regular tax liability — which means that if it more than offsets your tax liability, you’ll get a refund check — but it does not offset the alternative minimum tax. You can even elect to claim the credit for a 2009 home purchase on your 2008 tax return. (If you filed for 2008 before buying — but before the November 30 deadline – you can claim your credit by filing an amended return using Form 1040-X.

Doing so will guarantee you a refund check.) Unlike the credit for 2008 purchases, the credit for 2009 purchases doesn’t have to be paid back ratably over 15 years. But you will have to repay the credit if you sell the house within three years of the date you bought it.

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