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Ask Jean Thursday: Government Grants

istock_000003145965xsmallI was wondering if you know of any legitimate sites that you can apply for government grants for personal uses, such as weatherization, home repairs and high-energy appliances and such.

-Robin, Waterville Maine

We’re always hearing how the government has billions of dollars in grant money to just give away. It sounds too good to be true, right? Most of the time, it is. In fact, just recently, the FTC cracked down on the websites of several scammers falsely claiming to help consumers attain free government grant money.

For the most part, government grants for home improvements are distributed to low-income households or people whose homes have been affected by natural disasters. But before you rule it out, it can’t hurt to check with your city or county’s government offices. “I would suggest folks go to their city hall or their county agencies that do housing and community development. Ask if they have any home repair programs,” suggests HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan.

If you’re searching on the web for grants or information about grants, be careful. While there is legitimate information out there, there are also scams. Paying for access to a list of government grants is definitely a red flag. “There is never a charge to get a list of government grants or to apply for one,” warns MSNBC ConsumerMan columnist Herb Weisbaum. For free access to lists of government grants, Weisbaum suggests visiting Grants.gov or GovBenefits.gov. According to Weisbaum, another surefire sign of a scam is when any company “guarantees” you’ll receive grant money. “No one can do that,” says Weisbaum.

For most Americans, the biggest way to cash in is not through grants, but through tax credits and the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program. According to the Department of Energy, as many as 20 to 30 million U.S. families qualify for weatherization services. Eligibility requirements differ by state and are handled by local weatherization agencies. If you qualify, you’ll receive a professional energy audit and have your home weatherized. To find out if you qualify visit your respective state agency by clicking here.

Now on to tax credits. When President Obama signed the Stimulus Bill last February it affected energy efficient tax credits in a big way. First, credits increased from 10% to 30%. Also, instead of the credits covering a specific dollar amount, they were converted to 30% of the cost. Lastly, the maximum credit was raised from $500 to $1,500.

So exactly how can you cash in on the tax credits? The credits are available at 30% of the cost (up to $1,500, in existing homes) for installing qualifying, energy efficient windows and doors, insulation, roofs, water heaters, biomass stoves and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. You can also get a tax credit of 30% of the cost, with no upper limit (in both existing homes and new homes) for the building of geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, solar water heaters, small wind energy systems and fuel cells. For more information on tax credits for energy efficiency, visit Energy Star’s Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency page.

One final note: As you’re going through the process of making your home more energy efficient be sure to hold onto your receipts and the Manufacturer’s Certification Statements (a signed statement from the manufacturer that certifies the product or component you’ve installed is eligible for the tax credit)-this will make getting your rebate easier come tax time.

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