The 30% federal credit for the cost of installing a home solar-energy system expires this year, but smaller credits will be available in the future.

The 30% federal credit for the cost of installing a home solar-energy system expires this year, but smaller credits will be available in the future.


DEAR DAVE: We are getting a lot of mail offers and phone calls that are urging us to install a solar-panel energy system in our home before, according to sales reps, the "federal solar tax credit runs out." Is the credit for installing a solar-powered system really expiring?


ANSWER: The federal solar tax credit that allows you to offset 30% of the cost to install a solar-energy system when you fill out your tax return ends this year, but slightly lower credits will still be available in the future.


A tax credit is far more valuable than a deduction, because a credit knocks off $1 for each $1 you may owe in federal taxes. Conversely, a $1 deduction saves you only 12 cents to 37 cents in taxes on each dollar you may owe, depending on your personal income tax bracket.


Though the 30% tax credit is disappearing on Dec. 31, it's slowly being "phased out." That means that you may qualify for a 26% credit if you decide to install a system next year, or a 22% credit if you wait until 2021 — assuming Congress doesn't tinker with the current rules between now and then.


Many states, cities, counties and utilities offer additional solar credits that homeowners can use to offset some or all of any state taxes that may be owed. Some of those credits are ending or being phased out now, too.


There are several websites that can provide more information about the federal solar tax credit. One of the better ones is operated by the Solar Energy Industries Association (seia.org), a trade group that promotes the use of solar power.


Another site, operated by grassroots Wholesale Solar (wholesalesolar.com), offers a nifty search engine that can identify local or state credits available to you as well as a primer on how solar power works and a calculator to help you determine how large a system you may need to zero-out your electric bills.


One final tip: Because qualifying for a solar credit can be tricky, talk with an accountant or similar professional before installation of a system begins — especially if eligibility for the credit would be a big factor in deciding whether switching to solar would make good financial sense.


REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: The cost of installing a solar-powered energy system in the average-sized U.S. home has dropped about 70% from a decade ago, the Solar Energy Industries Association reports. It now stands at about $18,000, although that figure does not include any tax credits or other incentives that may be available.


DEAR DAVE: Can you tell me where I can purchase the new Ms. Monopoly board game?


ANSWER: I've seen the game, the latest spinoff of the real estate-oriented Monopoly, for sale at Walmart and a few other retailers for about $20.


Unlike the traditional board game with such familiar squares as Baltic Avenue and Park Place, Ms. Monopoly's squares depict female-made inventions and innovations ranging from modern shapewear to stem-cell isolation. The goal isn't to build hotels on each square, but corporate headquarters instead.


Ms. Monopoly is the latest of more than 1,000 variations of the game, whose roots date back to the early 1900s. There's even a Monopoly Chocolate Edition, the winner of which is the player who accumulates and eats the most sugar-laden properties.


DEAR DAVE: You recently wrote that sellers who want to get the best price for their property should always have their sales agent list their home on the local Multiple Listing Service so other brokers can see that it's available. You also said that some sellers purposely keep their home off the MLS for privacy concerns. Is there a way to put our home on the MLS but still protect our privacy?


ANSWER: Yes. There are a few ways that may safeguard your privacy even if you put your home on the MLS, though each alternative may still curb your marketing efforts and ultimately result in a lower sale price.


Your agent may be able to post your home on the MLS — or in the for-sale section of this newspaper — but omit the property's street address, instead using a phrase like the house is "located in a great community" and directing potential buyers to call the agent for additional information.


You could also consider asking the agent to prequalify each caller for a mortgage before showing the home: It can eliminate nosey neighbors and other lookie-loos from visiting.


You can even ask that only exterior pictures of the home be used in the agent's marketing efforts, so viewers can't see the personal possessions that you have inside. As always, make sure to keep valuables, financial documents and the like hidden away or locked up when a potential buyer comes to tour the house.


Our booklet "Straight Talk about Living Trusts" explains how you can easily pass your home and other assets to your heirs without them suffering the long and costly probate court process. For a copy, send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to D. Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City CA 90231-4405. Net proceeds are donated to the American Red Cross.


Write to D. Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.