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.
Q: I’ve read almost all your columns but can’t find where you’ve addressed renters having trouble paying their monthly rent. None of the bailouts deal with home leases or rentals even though many of us also need a break. Any suggestions? — Tim Tenant
Q: I’ve been reading a lot about the importance of placing medical records online. While I can see some positives about doing this, don’t you feel it’s too risky for someone to hack into our personal information? — Fearful Frannie
Q: A colleague told me our group health insurance plan allows him a free fitness club membership. When I checked it out with my supervisor, she informed me the free memberships weren’t valid anymore. Can I do anything to “grandfather” this benefit? — Percy Puny
After reading Consumer Watch columns that emphasize money-making scams and the crudballs who victimize folks who are caught in the economic crisis, the advocacy organization National Consumer League’s Carol McKay updated me on the most current schemes.
Q: My sister signed up online to become a mystery shopper to earn extra income. I tried to tell her it’s a scam but she didn’t listen and now she’s out some hard-earned money. She’s too gullible, so what can I say to make her more aware of swindles? — Susan Sister
Q: We’ve got “regular” homeowner’s insurance but think we might need extra. The problem is expense, since we can’t afford to up the existing premiums. My husband thinks an umbrella policy is a good idea, but does it really do the trick? — Henrietta Homeowner
Q: My mother recently died, and my family and I owe a debt of gratitude to Hospice of Chattanooga for their compassion in making her last days more peaceful and helping us get through the ordeal. Please inform your readers about hospice care. — Grateful Greta
Q: I feel like I’m in a Catch-22. My wife and I need to downsize our house, but I’m afraid of capital gains. We’ve already lost too much in this grim market so what are our options? — Adam Abode
A loyal reader sent a comment about FICO scoring (see Jan. 24 column) in which he noted his insurance company has begun to rate clients’ policies according to their FICO scores. Mr. R. also questioned the wisdom of paying off a credit card and then closing the account.
Q: I’m so frustrated with my telephone service. The bill is usually wrong, the landline drops calls and I’m tired of calling customer service. My cell phone service is better, especially since the company allows rollover minutes. I’m thinking of cancelling the landline completely. Any advice on the best phone carrier? — Darryl Dissatisfied
A friend of mine recently was burglarized. Unfortunately, she hadn’t availed herself of the local police department’s home anti-burglary demonstration; not only did she lose many precious items, but also her peace of mind.
Q: I know you say to check credit ratings every six months, especially with the state of today’s economy. Isn’t getting my FICO score as important? — Vic Vigilant
My desk often needs to be de-cluttered so sometimes important paperwork gets solved aside. This month I had to pay a late charge for my credit card bill and I know this negatively affects my credit rating. I've promised myself to clean up my desk but what other ways can I be sure to avoid late fees? — Nelle Negligent
With home prices and interest rates so low, we’re ready to move up a step and purchase a larger home. Of course, we’ve first got to sell the one we currently own.
Even though money is tight, my health is poor and I need to hire a monthly cleaning service. I’ve always done my own housework so I’m not sure what to do when deciding on a particular company. — Hilda Housework