A helping hand from Uncle Sam

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

The government has figured that out, so it's offering a multitude of sweet deals to lure consumers into doing what it wants.

Tax credits, rebates and deep discounts are offered by assorted agencies to get Americans to do everything from stimulate the economy and buy houses to use less energy and pursue college educations.

Beyond trading in your clunker for cash, there's money offered for planting trees, scrapping refrigerators, insulating walls, replacing windows, buying hybrid vehicles and more.

The incentives can be combined, so consumers can get rebates from more than one agency for the same thing, such as installing solar panels or replacing old cars.

Here's a sampling of who's offering what:


Cash for Clunkers: Consumers can receive a $3,500 or $4,500 discount when they trade in their old vehicle and purchase or lease a new one by Nov. 1 or until the program runs out of money.

The size of the credit depends on the type of vehicle purchased and the difference in fuel economy between it and the trade-in vehicle.

The new vehicle must have a manufacturer's suggested retail price of not more than $45,000. The new car also must have a combined fuel economy value of at least 22 miles per gallon.

The trade-in must have been manufactured less than 25 years ago, have a combined city-highway fuel economy of 18 miles per gallon or less, be in drivable condition and be continuously insured and registered to the same owner for the past year.

For more details on the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save program, call 866-227-7891 or go online to

Car sales tax: State and local sales and excise taxes paid on the purchase of new vehicles can be deducted from federal income taxes, even if the taxpayer does not itemize deductions.

The deduction is limited to the tax on up to $49,500 of the purchase price. The deduction is phased out for joint filers with modified adjusted gross income of $250,000 to $260,000 and other taxpayers with modified incomes of $125,000 to $135,000.

Get details at

Hybrid vehicles: Tax credits are offered to those who purchase certain new hybrid cars before Dec. 31, 2010. The vehicles must have drive trains powered by an internal combustion engine and a rechargeable battery.

The 2009 vehicles qualified for credits include the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid 2WD, $2,200; Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid C1500 2WD, $2,200; Chrysler Aspen Hybrid, $2,200; Dodge Durango Hybrid, $2,200; Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD, $3,000; GMC Sierra Hybrid C15 2WD, $2,200; Mazda Tribute Hybrid 2WD, $3,000; Mercury Mariner Hybrid 2WD, $3,000; Nissan Altima Hybrid, $2,350; and Saturn Aura Hybrid, $1,550.

Get details at

Plug-in electric vehicles: Two types of federal tax credits are available for various types of electric vehicles, including those commonly referred to as neighborhood electric vehicles.

Low- speed or two- or three-wheel electric vehicles, such as motor scooters, purchased after Feb. 17, 2010 and until Jan. 1, 2012 can get a credit of up to 10 percent of the cost of the vehicle to a maximum $2,500.

For four-wheel vehicles that draw propulsion using a rechargeable traction battery, the rebates ranges from $2,500 to $15,000, depending on the weight of the vehicle and the capacity of the battery.

Get details at

Polluting vehicles: The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District offers $1,000 cash or $5,000 toward a newer, cleaner vehicle when someone retires an old vehicle.

San Joaquin Valley residents with old vehicles can find out if they qualify by calling 877-900-5865. Eligibility is based on vehicle history, age and current emissions.

To qualify, the vehicles must be continuously registered for the past 24 months, be in drivable condition and must have passed their most recent smog check.

Replacement vehicles don't have to be brand-new.

Low-income participants are allowed to select replacement vehicles from a wider range of model years, potentially paying for the replacement with little or no out of pocket expense.

Get details at


First-time home buyer: Those who buy their first home before Dec. 1 can receive a federal tax credit of up to $8,000.

The credit does not have to be paid back unless it ceases to be the taxpayer's main residence within three years after the purchase.

The credit can be claimed on the buyer's federal income tax return. The credit reduces the homeowner's income tax bill or increases the refund, dollar for dollar. The credit will be paid to eligible taxpayers even if they owe no tax or the credit is more than the tax owed.

Buyers get a tax break equal to 10 percent of the purchase price, up to $8,000. To qualify, the buyer must earn less than $75,000 a year if single or $150,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Get details at

Energy-efficient home improvements: Homeowners who make their homes more energy efficient can receive federal tax credits for 30 percent of the cost of improvements made in 2009 and 2010, up to a maximum credit limit of $1,500.

Qualifying improvements include the addition of insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and skylights, water heaters, exterior and storm doors, central heating and air conditioning systems, metal and asphalt roofs, biomass stove, residential fuel cell and microturbine system.

Those who install photovoltaic solar systems to produce electricity, solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and small wind energy systems can get back 30 percent of the cost in tax credits with no limit.

Get details at

College expenses: The federal American Opportunity Credit helps parents and students pay part of the cost of the first four years of college.

The tax credit modifies the Hope credit for 2009 and 2010, making it available to a more taxpayers, including those who owe no tax. The full credit is available to individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less, or $160,000 or less for married couples filing a joint return.

Tuition, related fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify. The maximum annual credit is $2,500 per student.

Get details at


Lawn mower: Trade in your old gas-powered lawn mower for a deeply discounted new battery-powered mower that does not cause air pollution.

For details, go to or call 209-557-6400


MID: The Modesto Irrigation District offers residential customers rebates for buying and installing qualifying energy-efficient home products. For more details, see the 2009 Home Rebate Catalog posted at, or call 209-526-7339.

Rebates include:

Central air conditioner — $250

Air duct sealing — Up to $300

Variable speed motor air handler system — $50

Whole house fan — $100 per fan

Solar-powered attic fan — $50 to $100 per fan

Room air conditioner — $50 per unit

Washing machine — $35

Electric tank water heater — $25

Refrigerator and freezer recycling — Recycle old working refrigerator or freezer that's more than 10 years old, get $35 rebate. Call 800-299-7573 to have it picked up for free.

Compact fluorescent lights — $10 rebate on $20 purchase.

Attic insulation — 17 cents per square foot

Roof or attic radiant barrier — 10 cents per square foot

Sun screen or window film — 75 cents per square foot

Photovoltaic electricity-generating systems — $2.40 to $3.10 per installed alternating current watt, not to exceed 50 percent of total project costs.

TID: The Turlock Irrigation District offers residential customers rebates for buying and installing qualifying energy-efficient home products. For more details, go to, or call 209-883-8432.

Rebates include:

Solar electric systems — Incentives vary depending on the system installed

Central air conditioner or heat pump systems — $500

Clothes washer — $35

Room air conditioner — $50 for new unit, plus $25 if old unit is hauled away by TID

Refrigerator — $35 for new unit, plus $35 if old unit is hauled away by TID

Deciduous shade tree — $20 per tree; up to three trees per year

Window sun screen — $1 per square foot

Whole house fan — $75

Compact fluorescent lights — $10 on a $20 purchase

PG&E: The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. offers residential customers rebates for buying and installing qualifying energy-efficient home products. For more details, go to

Rebates include:

Air duct sealing — $400

Natural gas furnace — Up to $300

Room air conditioner — $50

Variable speed motor air handler system — $50

Whole house fans — $100

Swimming pool filtration pump and motor — $100

Clothes washers — $75

Dishwasher — $50

Water heater — $30

Cool roof — Up to $200 per 1,000 square feet

Attic and wall insulation — Up to $150 per 1,000 square feet

Water heater — $30

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