smart spending

3 tips to snag the appliance rebate

The government's Cash for Clunkers auto rebate program is over, but the appliance rebate starting early this year could give Americans some cash back on other purchases.

The Energy Star Appliance Rebate program, passed last February as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will give rebates to consumers who replace certain home appliances with energy-efficient models. The program was designed to stimulate the sagging economy as well as conserve energy by taking inefficient appliances out of commission, says Christina Kielich, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy, the agency administering the program.

"It was a triple goal," Kielich says. "To increase energy efficiency, give a break to consumers in this economy and give a boost to the appliance industry."

However, unlike the Cash for Clunkers program, the rules for the appliance rebate vary depending on where you live. The $300 million allocated for the program was parceled out to U.S. states, five territories and the District of Columbia based on population, Kielich says, and each state has its own plan for handing out the money.

For example, in Minnesota, clothes washers, dishwashers, freezers and refrigerators qualify for rebates. However, Indiana residents can only get cash back on HVAC systems, says Eric Burch, director of policy and outreach for the Indiana Office of Energy Development.

"Our thought was that if you're going to pick one appliance in your home that is going to have a significant impact in terms of increased energy efficiency, ... it's going to be heating and cooling," Burch says.

The amounts for the appliance rebate also vary. In Texas, a new freezer will net you a rebate of $180, but in Minnesota, you'll only receive $100. Both states offer additional money if you recycle your old model.

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So, when can you start shopping for your new bargain-priced appliance? That, too, depends on your location. Most of the states and territories stipulate that rebates are not retroactive, so it's important to hold off on your purchase until your state's official start date. Some states, such as Florida, Texas and Tennessee, are holding their programs until April to coincide with Earth Day, according to their appliance rebate Web sites. Others are hoping to have them up and running in January.

"We think the vouchers will start going out after Jan. 1," says Ann Grim, an operational analyst with the Oregon Department of Energy. Other states planning early launches include Connecticut, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

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