Yep, the weather's getting ready for swimming pool time, and our warm southern region is ideal for a backyard setting. Last week's query by the gentleman who asked about pool contractors gave me an opportunity to check if these specific providers' qualifications differ from the norm and how to discover the best names.
Q: My wife and I are in the market for an in-ground swimming pool. With such a major expenditure, we want to hire the best person possible. Any ideas? -- Orville Overheated
Q: I didn't send in my census form on time and now hear all sorts of stories about census takers coming to my home. What's the real story on what to expect? -- Warren Worried
Does any reader facing home foreclosure and last week’s possibility of a loan modification see some light at the end of the financial tunnel? If so, perhaps you’ve started your necessary paperwork and you’re ready for some answers about this venture, thanks to www.mortgageloan.com.
Q I’m glad the housing market looks like it’s on the upswing, but it doesn’t help me. I’m desperately trying to avoid foreclosure on my home and I thank you for any advice you can give. — Harold Homeowner
This week is National Consumer Protection Week and, while I'm absolutely certain readers memorize every smidgen of consumer advice I advocate, Herb Weisbaum from www.msnbc.com has written The 10 Consumer Commandments. This clever list succinctly incorpora
Happy Birthday to me! My mother always spring cleaned in early April and declared the house "spruce up" to be an out of the ordinary birthday gift for my benefit. (Good thing she and Daddy also gave me gift-wrapped presents, too!)
Q: My daughter's acceptance into her college of choice is wonderful, but I'm concerned about paying the hefty tuition. We've pretty much exhausted federal loan options because of my husband's and my income, and financial lenders aren't as numerous these days. She's held a job for the past three years and is an "A" student so might she be better off trying to get a loan under her own name? -- Mindy Mom
Q I'm having a problem canceling a health club membership. When I joined several months ago, the salesman assured me if I became unhappy with it, I could cancel without penalty, but that's not happening. Any suggestions? -- Eleanor Exercise
Q I think I've made a bad mistake. After maxing out my credit cards and receiving many dunning notices, I decided to seek help from a credit repair company. After several months, the company hasn't done anything to help, and I'm still in bad financial trouble. What can I do now? -- Harry Hoodwinked
Picking up from last week's column concerning agencies that regulate utilities/service organizations, grab some scissors to cut out and save the following state agencies, though I hope you never need these contacts. (Don't forget to write the head honcho
Q: I'm so frustrated and aggravated with my cable company's billing practices. For the past three months, they've promised to correct their errors; not only has the company broken these promises, but also usually have made additional mistakes. Surely, con
OK, you've culled and collected your unneeded junk (er, I mean treasures), photographed them from all angles and written clear scrupulous descriptions.
Many of us already are readying our returns and praying Uncle Sam doesn't march us to the bank to empty our account to pay more taxes. If you're like me, just to be on the safe side, I'm gathering merchandise from around my home to make a few bucks.
Q: I swiped my debit card to pay for a recent tank of gas and almost immediately learned over $200 was stolen from my bank account. The police told me crooks had "skimmed" my card that gave them access to my account.
Q: I was scammed a couple of months ago by a telemarketer who tricked me into paying monthly fees without my knowledge. Thankfully, I knew enough to investigate on my own and then turn the scam over to the state attorney’s office. Please tell others how to be smarter on the phone before it’s too late. — Clever Calvin
Q: I loved your article about health care insurance claims, but my insurance matter is different. I’m debating among three homeowner policies for my soon-to-be purchased home and can’t decide which is best.
Continuing last week's column concerning insurance companies' denial of claims, compliments of Agitated Agatha:
Even though I’ve got health care coverage through my company, I’m having a hard time getting a hospital claim paid.
Q: I start Social Security benefits this spring, and I'm pretty frantic about what to choose for Medicare Part D, especially with all the hoopla about insurance plans. Is this a topic you can help me with? -- Dave Dither
Q: I understand we can deduct sales tax on any vehicle purchased in 2009 up to $40K. Before I begin figuring taxes, are Tennesseans able to also deduct this extra tax since we already can deduct “regular” sales tax? If not, can the auto sales tax be included elsewhere on our return? Finally, does this amount come off the adjusted income or the percentage tax rate under which we fall?
A size 8 sweater instead of the size 12 you normally wear (or vice-versa)?
Recently, I attended a party where the hosts' two dogs roamed around at will. Not only did I feel uncomfortable holding my plate high above my head, but also several other partygoers -- a couple of whom are dog owners themselves -- expressed dismay over these annoying "guests."
Q: I love mall shopping, but a friend was robbed a couple of weeks ago in a well-lit parking lot. How do I buy holidays gifts in the stores and still be assured of my safety? -- Cautious Carla
Q: I plan to start my holiday shopping in the next few days and recently heard about a Bank of America credit card that saves the shopper money every time the card is used. What can you tell me about this "keep the change" program? -- Sara Saver
While I have no connection to BillShrink, the more I talk to these folks and receive their personalized communications, the more I like what I hear and experience.
This past summer, the Federal Communications Commission asked Americans to weigh in on whether consumers are informed enough to make decisions about their cell phone service. Statistically, eight out of 10 people overpay their cell phone bills -- to the tune of $800 million dollars total so far this year.
Now that ghosties and goulies have disappeared for another year, it’s time for holiday gift-buying. When in doubt about paying with plastic — or just the best plastic — BillShrink’s credit card solutions help consumers make the right choice.
As promised, this week's column begins the expanded versions of BillShrink's (www.billshrink.com) free offerings to consumers.
When I discover great resources -- especially those that save consumers money -- I love to pass that information along. BillShrink (www.billshrink.com) is one of those gold mines. A free decision-oriented site designed to put money back into our pockets, BillShrink allows subscribers to view unbiased recommendations customized to their particular needs, and its database is continually updated to meet your demands.
Q: We're in the process of adding a fireplace on to our house and can't decide between gas or wood logs. My husband prefers a "real" fire, but I think a gas fireplace is much safer. Can you please settle our dispute? -- Samantha Safety
My sister-in-law has offered her daughter’s old stroller for my new baby. Money is tight and I really can’t afford a new one, but what should I look for to protect my little one? Mindful Mom
Continuing with last week's column featuring the best ways to catch common billing mistakes, I'm still amazed at the number of errors companies make. Whether through intentional thwacks or pure idiocy, consumers come out on the short end of the stick if we're not thoroughly alert.
Q: I don't know what the problem is but I've noticed several billing mistakes in the past few months. I do get the bills corrected but it's frustrating. Am I wrong in thinking some companies are "on the take?" -- Samuel Scrutinize
Because my husband's and my home has been for sale until recently with folks we don't know coming in and out, we've been extra cautious about security measures. Little did we realize that house stealing can occur from far, far away, but once folks become aware such a threat exists, the battle to thwart the highjacker's plans is actually a pretty simple one. So let's see the methods these crudballs use to boot us out of house and home and what we can do to prevent this theft:
Q: Our old refrigerator just died. What are some tips to keep in mind as we shop for a new one? -- Greta Greenhorn A: Dear Greta: One good thing about a bad economy is the downswing of prices. Obviously, many, many companies verge on bankruptcy these days
Q: With the credit card changes, I'm afraid I'll have to start paying fees. Other than checking out interest on different bank cards, etc., what can I do to specifically keep my rates in check? -- Worried Wally
I'll "depart" summer (or anytime) travel safety advice with one final topic -- cruises. While a cruise ship is probably the safest place for a vacation, travelers still need to adopt basic measures to avoid becoming a crime victim.
Today's column concludes last week's security measures that pretty much guarantee any trips away from home stay enjoyable and, perhaps even more essential, safe and sound.
Q: Last summer's vacation would have been great except some inexpensive jewelry was stolen from our hotel room, and my husband's credit card mysteriously debited an unconfirmed charge of $570. Obviously, the issuing bank removed the charge, but my bracelets are gone forever. I'd like some tips before we leave again next month. -- Alma Anxiety
According to a recent Pew Internet study, 40 percent of 8-12 year-olds own cell phones and 93 percent of all youth are online users. Even though school kids love "lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer" (as do teachers), parents must, unfortunately, remain vigilant. AT&T's Cathy Lewandowski recently sent me several helpful pointers for out-of-school technology precautions and advises us to:
Q: You've probably addressed nursing homes before, but we're facing a personal tragedy with having to place our mother in one. We think we've exhausted all avenues and neither she nor my sister and I can afford assisted living.
Q: I’ve lost my job and my health insurance but I can’t afford COBRA. Last week’s column where you gave some advice about how to lower medical costs will help me, I’m sure, but is there any way I pick up some insurance in case it’s a long time before I get a new job? — Hurting Henry
Q: Sometimes I feel I’m just spinning my wheels with monthly finances. I pay bills like I’ve always done, but it seems like problems crop up all the time, and I end up paying out more in fees than I take in. Any advice? — Sara Spin
Q: My husband and I argue about handling money. I write the checks for bills, etc. but our account doesn’t always balance when he also writes checks. So I prefer to handle the whole account by myself. Any suggestions for a happier marriage? — Caroline Banker
Q: One issue I don’t think you’ve discussed about the sour economy is if we can negotiate for health care. A good friend told me he actually asks for discounts from his doctors — and often gets them! I don’t know if I have enough nerve to bargain with such experts. Any hints? — Terry Timid
As promised last week, I’ll continue the work-at-home alert concerning pyramid schemes. The recession brings out all kinds of wolves in sheeps’ clothing who love to create pyramid schemes because of the ease in which victims are reeled in.
Q: I went back and reread your March 21 column about fraudulent schemers, but don’t see the scheme that my aunt-in-law just lost money investing in. Please explain the advance fee scam. — Ned Nephew
I’ve received inquiries concerning last month’s column about maintaining medical records online.
Because I’m over a “certain” age, I subscribe to a few AARP services. Additionally, as a consumer advocate, I’m always searching for updated relevant information that may prove beneficial to my readers.