3 tips to snag the appliance rebate

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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.

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.

It’s a good idea to bear in mind these three tips when seeking the rebate:

Get the details. Each state may have its own start dates and sets of qualifying appliances while some states have additional restrictions. For example, Alaska’s rebate Web site says it is limiting it to the disabled while Oregon is limiting it to low-income residents only, Grim says.

Some states, such as Oklahoma, require you to provide proof that you recycled the old appliance or removed it from your home. “The appliance will need to be removed from the premises,” says Kylah McNabb, program manager for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. “We encourage recycling, but we do not specifically require it. It shouldn’t be a problem for most consumers. Few retailers do not offer haul-away when you purchase a new appliance.”

Still other states, like Illinois, stipulate that rebate-eligible appliances must be purchased from a participating retailer, according to the state’s Web site. If you know the requirements before you start shopping, you’ll save yourself from mistakes when filing for the rebate.

Don’t dally. Most states are handing out rebates only until their federal funds are depleted, and those who wait too long will be out of luck. “Once they start the program, they have a finite amount of money they can spend,” Kielich says. “Run, don’t walk, and get your rebate while it’s still available.” Some states, like Missouri and Texas, plan to allow consumers to “reserve” rebates online before they buy.

Look into other offers. Some states, such as California, will allow consumers to “stack” their federal appliance rebate on rebates from local utility companies if the appliance meets the criteria of both programs. For information on local rebates, check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

Kielich also points out that some appliances eligible for state rebates, like certain HVAC systems, also may be eligible for federal tax credits for 30 percent of the purchase price. A list of appliances eligible for tax credits can be found at www.energystar.gov. “It doesn’t normally include household appliances, but there are a few things that could qualify,” she says.