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Looking to buy a washing machine? Be prepared to dig deeper into your wallet

If you’re in the market for a washing machine, you’ll likely have to fork over more cash than before.

Consumer Reports writes that washing machine prices are on the rise, but no one seems to know for sure whether it’s demand, economics or President Donald Trump’s new tariffs that are to blame. The administration imposed a 20 percent tariff on the first 1.2 million large residential washers imported in 2018 in January, as well as a 50 percent tariff on machines above that amount. These tariffs decrease to 16 percent and 45 percent in 2019 and drop again to 16 percent and 40 percent, respectively, in 2020.

To analyze the current market, Consumer Reports partnered with Gap Intelligence to examine 14 machines, including seven front loaders and seven high-efficiency top loaders in the magazine’s washing machine ratings. Analysts tracked washing machine prices from early 2017 through the first quarter of 2018. The washers in the sample included Whirlpool, Maytag, GE Appliances, and South Korea-based manufacturers LG and Samsung.

Both Whirlpool and GE Appliances have already notified retailers that prices will be increasing, citing vague reasons like “significant cost increases,” “raw material increases,” and “investments in innovation.”

The report noted that prices have remained steady since the tariff went into effect. However, LG represented a significant exception with price hikes up to eight percent starting in March. Samsung has not revealed any new pricing structures.

Other tariffs could also mean higher prices. In addition to the machines themselves, the administration is also imposing tariffs on washing machine parts, which could drive costs higher for manufacturers. Another factor that could impact prices is the recent imposition of steep tariffs on imported steel (25 percent) and imported aluminum (10 percent).

Goldman Sachs recently released a forecast predicting an eight to 20 percent increase in the price of a new washing machine due to tariffs.

It remains to be seen whether consumers will feel the heat from the tariffs anytime soon. Manufacturers could be sitting on existing inventory received prior to the tariff ruling. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that shipments of foreign-made washers more than doubled in November from shipping statistics a year earlier. However, the growing demand for smart home technology, particularly in home appliances, could cause this strategy to backfire on manufacturers.

Another factor that could stave off price increases for consumers is the growing presence of foreign manufacturers locating manufacturing facilities in the U.S. Samsung recently opened a new $380 million washing machine assembly plant in Newberry County, South Carolina. Meanwhile, LG is already hosting job fairs in Clarksville, Tennessee, to staff its new $250 million plant, expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

The washing machine tariff, which also applies to solar panels, is unusual because it wasn’t imposed due to unfair trade practices by other countries, but because U.S. manufacturers complained of unfair competition from foreign competitors. That was the finding of the U.S. International Trade Commission, which made the tariff recommendations to Trump.

Specifically, the offended party was the Whirlpool Corporation, which praised the tariffs upon their imposition. Meanwhile, Korean manufacturers LG and Samsung condemned the tariffs, with the latter calling them “a tax on every consumer who wants to buy a washing machine.”

Analysts recommend that consumers not pay too much attention to the debate and to watch for discounts around holidays like President’s Day and Memorial Day. To help you, check out our guide for everything you need to know about buying a washer and dryer and The best washing machines you can buy.

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Clayton Moore
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