Back when her four children were young, Donna Noeller needed a car that seated six. So the Hughson farm family bought an SUV and drove it hard.
"We've had this Trailblazer over seven years. It has more than 150,000 miles on it," Noeller said. "I was going to drive it another 100,000 miles, or until my wheels fell off."
Then the federal government introduced Cash for Clunkers, offering car owners as much as $4,500 off the purchase of a new energy-efficient car.
"This is the first government program where I've thought: 'Hey, this will benefit me,' " Noeller said. For her, the timing is perfect because her three oldest children are adults, so she doesn't need a big car to haul them around. "I'm downsizing to an Equinox."
She's not the only one taking advantage of government incentive programs to stimulate the economy.
Sylvia Gonzalez, 48, just bought her first home, thanks in part to an $8,000 federal tax credit.
"I still can't believe it," the Modesto woman said. The two-bedroom home Gonzalez purchased for $86,000 was built
in 1953. She expects to use the $8,000 tax refund to renovate the home. "It needs some new windows and the kitchen needs work."
If Gonzalez chooses her upgrades carefully, she could collect lots of additional rebates, tax credits and tax deductions from assorted public agencies.
That's because a multitude of incentives are being offered to support causes lawmakers consider worthy — such as saving energy, reducing air pollution and putting people back to work.
If Gonzalez installs energy-efficient windows, she'll get up to $1,500 in federal tax credits. If she buys an energy-efficient gas furnace, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will give her a $300 rebate. And if she gets rid of an old refrigerator, the Modesto Irrigation District will pay her $35.
Assorted agencies pay homeowners to put solar panels on their roofs, insulation in their walls and hybrid vehicles in their garages.
Turn in your old gas- powered lawn mower, and you can buy a new battery-powered mower for half price.
Plant a tree, get a refund.
Change your light bulbs, get a rebate.
Send your kid to college, receive a $2,500 tax credit.
Here's the best part: Often these deals can be stacked atop one another.
So, someone who turns in his or her clunker for cash can get as much as $4,500 off the new car's price, plus he or she can deduct what's paid in state sales tax from federal income taxes. And those who buy hybrid cars can collect as much as $3,000 in additional federal tax credits.
That's a triple dip of savings.
"Claiming one benefit does not preclude you from claiming another," confirmed John Stout, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service.
Feel free to stack incentives
Stacking incentive programs for home purchases also is possible.
This spring, for instance, California offered new home buyers as much as $10,000 in tax deductions. Before that deal ran out last month, some first-time buyers were able to collect that $10,000 as well as the $8,000 federal credit.
Assorted local governments — including Modesto — also are offering down-payment assistance programs to help people pay for homes.
Combine those deals with bargain home prices and low mortgage interest rates, and the results are remarkable.
"Right now is the perfect time for my generation to buy a house," said Danny Kroetch, 23. He just purchased a Modesto condominium for $95,000, and he'll use the $8,000 first-time buyers tax credit to cover some of his costs. "It's a nice cushion."
Colby Rocha, 26, bought a Modesto townhouse, thanks in part to the federal credit.
"It's definitely going to help me out paying for repairs and improvements," Rocha said. "I've got to get a refrigerator, furniture and appliances."
Figuring out how to make the most of all the tax credits, deductions, rebates and discounts will be the trick.
Some of those deals are better than others.
"Typically, federal tax credits are money in your pocket," the IRS's Stout explained. "With credits, you get money whether you owe any income taxes or not."
Tax deductions, however, only reduce what's owed. Those who don't pay taxes don't benefit from deductions.
The various discount and rebate rules also can get tricky, so consumers should read the fine print to make sure they're eligible.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2196.