'Cash for Refrigerators' the next stimulus

With the federal "Cash for Clunkers" program such a resounding success and now out of money, prepare for the next wave of federal stimulus money -- "Cash for Refrigerators."

That isn't the formal name of the federal program, which is set to begin late this fall with rebates of $50 to $200 on purchases of high-efficiency household appliances, part of a $300 million stimulus to boost home appliance sales.

Users won't have to trade in their old dish washers, refrigerators or other appliances to get the rebate. The Energy Department expects most of the $300 million to be awarded by the end of November, although given the success of the car program, you might want to get in line early at your favorite home supply store.

Program details will vary by state, and states have until Oct. 15 to file formal applications with the Energy Department.

New appliances must have an Energy Star seal to qualify. In 2008, about 55% of newly-produced major household appliances met those standards, which are set by the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the plan, according to BusinessWeek.

Most states already have rebates for energy-saving appliances. When I bought a new washing machine last month, I was eligible to get $200 from my power and water companies because it used less electricity and water than what it replaced. And, as anyone who has had an appliance repairman stop by can tell you, it's usually cheaper to buy a new appliance than have it fixed.

The new rebates will be in addition to existing rebates that utilities or stores already offer. And beyond the extra money, the best news may be that you don't have to drag your old appliance to the store to get the rebate.

Buying a new washing machine may not be as much fun as buying a new car with a clunker trade-in, but it's a lot cheaper way to stimulate the economy while saving money.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net.

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