Months after President Obama unveiled his $787 billion stimulus package, some of the benefits are still hiding in the fine print. But that’s no reason for consumers to miss out on the perks. Here’s how to cash in.
UPGRADE YOUR HOME
The package doled out a $1,500 tax credit to help consumers buy certain energy-efficient products. But you may get even more help from your state or local utility companies. Amounts vary by state, but some companies give as much as 20 percent toward the purchase of items like green refrigerators. For a single-family home, installing a $10,000 air conditioning system may cost only $6,500 after a $2,000 rebate from the utility and the federal tax credit. New York, California, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania offer especially big rebates, says the Energy Coalition’s Executive Director Craig Perkins, but the trick is making sure the products you buy qualify. Some don’t, and some offer better rebates than others. Salespeople also “often don’t know enough” to point you to the right machines, says Perkins. You can research using the “Rebate Locator”
at www.energystar.gov or try www.dsireusa.org for programs offered in your state. Keep in mind that some of this year’s programs aren’t even out yet. The Department of Energy says details of its $300 million in state-issued Energy Star appliance rebates should be announced in the coming weeks.
BUY A HOME TO RETIRE IN
First-time home buyers get a tax credit of up to $8,000 in 2009. That’s great news for newlyweds, but what about older folks? Actually, “first time” applies to those who haven’t owned a home in the past three years and have a maximum household income of $150,000. So wealthier renters looking for retirement homes who wouldn’t think they qualify do, says Tom Ochsenschlager, vice president of taxation for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
TRIM YOUR HEALTH CARE COSTS
The Cobra subsidy makes health care more affordable for the unemployed. But if you chose an expensive plan, fees can still be steep. You can switch to a cheaper one if your former employer OKs it. Just make sure your old boss knows where to notify you of the benefits. “People who move may miss out,” says Connecticut-based benefits consultant Tom Billet.
COMMUTE TO WORK FOR LESS
Employees can now set aside up to $230 pretax dollars a month from their paycheck for public-transportation costs. That’s up from $120. But there’s no requirement that employers have to notify you about this perk, says Scott Mezistrano, of the American Payroll Association. It’s very possible people don’t know, he says.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Syndicate