Federal stimulus goodness for house, auto upgrades

There was such a flurry of stimulus and incentive programs passed in the first months of the Obama administration (and the waning months of the Bush administration), that many of us haven’t yet figured out what programs are there to plug in to. Fortunately, a lot of the dust is starting to settle on the various incentives that were put in place to stimulate spending (and other initiatives, like energy efficiency) and it seems like more are on the way. A trio of blog posts that I came across recently help explain.

Money for energy efficiency: Zillow.com’s blog recently had a post that did a good job explaining federal tax rebates available for folks who make improvements to their homes that increase their energy efficiency. Insulated windows are the best example of this — and homeowners can recoup up to $1,500 (or 30% of the total cost) of such improvements between now and the end of 2010.

But wait…there’s more…

NYT blogger Steven Levitt writes on the Freakonomics blog about pending Cash For Clunkers legislation that would give big tax refunds to owners of old, fuel inefficient vehicles that would encourage them to junk them and buy a new, fuel efficient vehicle. This legislation is modeled on similar programs in Germany and France and is still working its way through Congress, and Levitt points out that — as written — it would only apply to a narrow slice of the nation’s aging car fleet (vehicles that get less than 18 mpg), but its safe to assume that the bill that emerges may well set a lower bar for what qualifies as a clunker and give those of us (including me) who drive around in old, beat up cars a big incentive to upgrade this year or next.

$15,000 to buy a new house?! Most of you have already heard about the federal $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers. But we go back to the Zillow.com blog for a story about an effort by one Republican Senator to boost the federal tax credit for home buyers to $15,000 and remove current restrictions that limit the credit to first time home buyers, and set income ceilings on who can take advantage of the credit. No word on the bill’s chances, but if passed it would greatly expand the pool of those who have an incentive to buy, wrapping in the population of existing home owners who must now sit on the sidelines. And, if we’re to believe this story on CNN.com, it could also create the possibility of the U.S. Govt. paying for 100% of the price of a home in really depressed markets like Detroit, MI (avg home price: $11,533) and putting a few dollars back in buyers’ pockets, to boot!