A whole slew of tax breaks new and old make now a great time to be a taxpayer. Play it smart, and you might end up keeping more of your money than you expected. Better yet, the tax breaks are great news for investors, too, since many will likely boost business for public companies.

Home sweet home
With historically low mortgage interest rates, and depressed real estate in many regions, many first-time buyers are jumping into homeownership. If you're one of them, and your house cost $800,000 or less, you could collect as much as $8,000 in tax credits. Even existing homeowners moving to a new domicile can score as much as $6,500. Uncle Sam has also loosened the qualifications for these credits, bumping the eligible income ceiling from $150,000 to $225,000 for couples, and from $75,000 to $125,000 for singles.

That big break is good news for companies tied to the real estate market. Home Depot (NYSE: HD) beat analyst estimates during all four quarters of last year, although both it and Lowe's (NYSE: LOW) have seen big earnings drops since the housing bust. As people buy new homes, many fix them up, which sets cash registers ringing.

Whatever revs your engine …
The breaks don't stop at housing. If you bought a new car, motorcycle, truck, or even a mobile home after Feb. 16 of last year, you may be able to deduct the sales tax tied to the first $49,500 of its cost. This tax break benefits both buyers and manufacturers such as Ford (NYSE: F) and Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG), since it likely helped boost their sales in 2009. (You don't even have to itemize your deductions in order to qualify for this break, though some income limits apply.)

A smorgasbord of tax credits
Headed to college, or footing the bill for your children's higher education? The American Opportunity Tax Credit now offers you up to $2,500 per year. Its limits are more generous than the Hope Credit it replaces, covering more learners and more expenses, including tuition and course-required materials.

Even those currently out of work can catch a break from the IRS. If you've been unemployed, you can exclude from your income as much as $2,400 you received in unemployment benefits in 2009.

Green consumers who made energy-efficient improvements to their homes can still enjoy credits valued at 30% of the expense. Companies such as First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) and Suntech Power (NYSE: STP) count on such subsidies to encourage homeowners to make significant investments in eco-friendly home improvements.

Oldies but goodies
New tax breaks are great, but plenty of equally good ways to save on your taxes have been around for years. Making the most of your IRA can help you defer taxes on as much as $6,000 of your income, or set yourself up to harvest a tax-free bundle at retirement.

Considering selling a few stocks? If you've owned them for less than a year, waiting just a little while longer could dramatically slash the taxes you'll pay on the sale. Stocks owned for more than a year qualify for a 15% long-term capital gains rate, while short-term gains get dinged at your ordinary income rate -- as high as 35% in some cases.

If you enjoyed Intuitive Surgical's (Nasdaq: ISRG) rise of more than 225% over the past year, and saw your $10,000 investment become $32,500, timing and patience could determine whether you pay $3,375 or $7,875 on your gain of $22,500. (Assuming selling is even a good idea in the first place.)

You'll find many more valuable tips in our Tax Center. Spend a few minutes in there, and you could end up saving thousands of dollars.

Get the full scoop on dealing with the IRS from the Motley Fool Guide to Doing Your Taxes.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Home Depot, First Solar, and Intuitive Surgical. Home Depot and Lowe's are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. First Solar, Intuitive Surgical, and Suntech Power are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Ford Motor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.