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Ellen Phillips

Stories by Ellen

"All I hear about health care reform confuses me. Surely you can help make some of the new information more concise."

If you couldn’t decide upon a new computer purchase featured in last week’s column, perhaps you need some more information. Whether desktop or laptop, money to burn, or you’re Fannie or Frank Frugal, we all need to know how best to choose a computer, before even thinking about a brand.

Now that school’s officially begun, it may be time to purchase a computer, either for home use or for your student’s purpose. (Hopefully, you took advantage of last month’s tax holiday for this or any other allowable school acquisition.)

More than a half century ago while visiting near Fort Myers, Fla., author Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.”

Q: We’ve just purchased an older home that’s truthfully pretty ugly. We don’t have a lot of cash to upgrade or beautify, but we know some improvements must be made. Any ideas to help out our budget? — Linda and Louie Lackluster

I thoroughly enjoy skimming through women’s magazines in my leisure time and between the fashions and food sometimes discover some meaningful consumer information.

The July-August issue of AARP’s Bulletin includes a scary alert and some savvy advice for all consumers, not just senior citizens.

After a fender-bender that wasn’t even my fault, my insurance company raised my rates. Is there anything I can do? — Furious Freddy

Carrying over from last week’s question about manufactured (mobile) homes and warranty concerns, I decided to copy the idea of some big hit movies and make this column a “prequel.” So with regard to actually buying this type of home warranty initially, clip out today’s column and keep it handy when you begin to shop.

With so many stories about “ObamaCare” rolling around, I found some great news with regards to extra help for certain Medicare participants.

OK, you've written the be-all-to-end-all resume, but stop before sending it to prospective employers. No matter how great a job we think we did, I'll just bet an error or two is hiding just waiting to surface when Mr. Boss Man's eagle eye skims the form.

Q I was laid off from work a few weeks ago and just got around to polishing up my resume. I worked for the same company for almost 20 years so I'm not sure if the resume says enough to land me another position.

Q We've moved into an older house that seems to have drafty windows. I've enjoyed your advice about hiring general contractors, but I expect window contractors' qualifications might be different. What do you advise? -- Carl Chilly

Q Since moving to town and opening an account with a bank, I've become convinced some of its practices aren't to be trusted. I plan to change banks this week but should I let authorities know my suspicions? -- Lawrence Law-Abiding

Q: I'm getting ready to buy airfare and trip insurance for my husband's and my summer trip to New England. I'm not so sure how to avoid rip-offs for the insurance and would appreciate any advice. -- Teri Traveler

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

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 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 ( free offerings to consumers.

When I discover great resources -- especially those that save consumers money -- I love to pass that information along. BillShrink ( 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:

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