Need a New Appliance? Learn, Compare — Then Ask for a Deal

Unless you’re an expert in spin cycles, buying an appliance could leave you dizzy.

To make the process easier, here are answers to the appliance-buying questions you’ll probably ponder, from “When should I buy?” to “Do I really need a warranty?”

Repair or replace?

People with existing appliances have two options: repair or replace.

You can count on major appliances to last about a year for every $100 spent, says Doug Rogers, president of Mr. Appliance, a national appliance-repair company.

“If I bought a $100 microwave, I’m probably not going to call anyone to fix it if it’s over a year old,” Rogers says. “I’m probably just going to go buy a new one. But if I buy a $1,000 refrigerator, it’s probably worth fixing up to 10 years.”

Also consider your existing appliance’s energy efficiency — you could get an Energy Star rebate for a more efficient model — and its appearance, because replacing one appliance may leave you with others that no longer match.

Refurbished or reconditioned appliances offer a cost-effective alternative to buying new, but look into the warranty and the return policy in case something goes wrong.

Which one to buy?

Once you’re in the market for something new, don’t fixate on brands, unless you care about top-of-the-line prestige.

“It can matter when you’re looking to buy a luxury appliance, but if you’re buying a low- to midrange appliance, I wouldn’t get caught up too much in the brand name,” Rogers says, noting that he uses some of the same parts to fix appliances from different brands.

No one appliance brand masters everything all the time, says Paul Hope, a senior home and appliance editor at Consumer Reports, a nonprofit that tests and rates products. And contrary to popular belief, a more expensive model isn’t inherently better. Hope says professional-style appliances are pricey but frequently lack features of their less expensive counterparts.

To educate yourself, consult a salesperson and check reviews from sites like CNET and Consumer Reports. Then weigh your options.

A “smart” appliance that works with voice-activated services like Alexa is convenient but likely costly. A counter-depth refrigerator won’t stick out as far past your countertop, but it’s shallower than a standard-depth fridge. Cross-check features to see why one appliance is more expensive than the other and which aspects you can do without.

Online or in store?

When you find something you like, go see it at a store. Online resources are helpful but shouldn’t be the last word. “This is one of the few industries where the online marketplace doesn’t work as well as the local marketplace does,” says Kevin Brasler, executive editor at the nonprofit Consumers’ Checkbook.

Aside from being able to see and touch the appliance, you might also avoid delivery fees by going local.

Will it fit?

Before you swipe your card, make sure your appliance fits — in your home and your budget.

Measure the space where it’ll go. Rogers recommends a close fit; for a 32-inch opening, get an appliance no wider than 31.5 inches.

As for price, get the model number and call five local, independent stores, Brasler says. Tell them you’re shopping around and looking for the best deal. They’ll often give you a quote below the advertised price, he says. Consumers’ Checkbook conducted a price experiment to test this.

“It was common for us to find that for a dishwasher, the lowest price we were quoted was $250 less than the highest price,” Brasler says. “For some of the refrigerators we shopped, we found price differences of $600, $700 or even $800 between the lowest and the highest price.”

When comparing by model number, be specific. “If you look at these model numbers, they’re just a mass of letters and numbers, and one digit off makes it a different appliance,” Brasler says.

What about warranties?

You’re not finished yet. The salesperson may try to sell you extra protection, called a service contract, in case something goes wrong.

“An appliance comes with a warranty,” Rogers says. “Maybe you get a one-year warranty on your parts and labor on your refrigerator and a five-year extended warranty on the sealed system.” Service contracts might cover items that are included in your standard warranty, he says, so read the fine print to ensure you’re not doubling up.

Another consideration: Products don’t usually break within the service plan window, according to Consumer Reports.

Brasler puts it bluntly. “Don’t buy those,” he says. “They’re totally worthless.”

He recommends checking the terms of your credit card. Some extend the length of a standard warranty if you put the purchase on your card. Warehouse clubs like Costco extend manufacturer warranties as well.

More from NerdWallet

The article Need a New Appliance? Learn, Compare — Then Ask for a Deal originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Six Rules for Managing Credit Card Debt

If you want to be the master of your credit card debt load, follow these key rules:

1. Take inventory. How many credit cards do you have? What’s the balance and minimum monthly payment on each? What’s the total balance? If it’s more than you thought or can afford, it’s time to pare down.

2. Check out the cost of your credit cards. What’s the interest rate on each card? What’s the annual fee? Does your card offer a grace period? If the card doesn’t have a grace period, or if you carry over a balance, or take a cash advance, you’re usually charged interest right away.

3. Get one low-fee or lower-interest card and use it wisely. Make Hopewell Federal Credit Union your first stop when starting your search. Check to see if you can transfer existing debt from your various credit cards to your new lower-interest credit card.

4. Make the largest monthly payment you can afford. Even though you may not be able to pay your balance in full, paying the monthly minimum may do little more than cover the accrued interest.

5. Watch out for “teaser rates.” Your mailbox may be brimming with unsolicited credit card offers that promise attractive low-interest rates. But if you read the fine print, you’ll see that after six months or so the issuer may double the low introductory rate.

6. If you get in over your head, don’t bury it in the sand. If you’re having trouble making your monthly payments, contact your creditors before they contact you. If you’re already screening calls from bill collectors, or refusing to open your mail, you need help.

Contact Hopewell Federal at 740.522.8311. We’re here to help you get your finances back in order.

Copyright 2017 Credit Union National Association Inc. Information subject to change without notice. For use with members of a single credit union. All other rights reserved.

Lock Down Your Data After Equifax Breach — Right Now

Chances are good that the Equifax data breach affects you. What do you do next? The short answers: Consider a credit freeze. Scrutinize your credit statements. And check your credit reports from all three credit bureaus.

Equifax says hackers used a website application vulnerability to access the personal information of about 143 million U.S. consumers, or more than half of the country’s adult population. Credit bureaus such as Equifax are an especially sensitive target because they handle detailed financial records, and it’s nearly impossible for consumers to avoid credit reporting. Every time you apply for credit, the personal data — including your name, birthdate and Social Security number — you share can be stored by a reporting bureau.

Most credit card issuers and lenders report consumer activity to all three major U.S. credit bureaus, and your data is likely duplicated at Experian and TransUnion. There’s no reassurance in the fact that only one bureau was hacked.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 10, and that’s because of the quality of the data … your Social Security number is the skeleton key for your identity,” said Adam Levin, founder of CyberScout, a company offering identity theft and data breach defense services.

Freeze your credit for the best protection

Credit freezes prevent stolen information from being used to open new accounts in your name by restricting access to your records. Without access to your credit history, most creditors won’t open a new account.

“We have to assume that our personal information is exposed and act accordingly,” Levin said. He said a credit freeze has become “a critical thing to do.”

Credit expert Barry Paperno, who blogs at Speaking of Credit, agreed: “That’s the most extreme method, but it’s also the most effective.”

But this most effective method will cost you in money and inconvenience.

A freeze might cost you a small fee, which varies from state to state, but it’s better than a credit monitoring service. A freeze can prevent fraud, while monitoring alerts you fraud might have happened. It’s the difference between using a deadbolt to keep thieves out rather than a security camera to catch them after the fact.

You’ll also have to pay to lift the freeze each time you apply for credit or need to allow a potential landlord or employer to check your credit. You’ll receive a PIN to “thaw” your credit. Keep it in a safe place.

Here’s how to request a freeze:

Even with your credit frozen, you’ll still have access to your credit records and scores. If you don’t already have a way to regularly monitor your score and report information, consider signing up before you place a freeze. Some credit card issuers and many personal finance websites offer them for free. Watching for a big, unexplained change can alert you to potential fraud.

Place fraud alerts if a freeze is too much

If you don’t want to lock out all creditors — perhaps you’re in the middle of mortgage shopping or refinancing — you can place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit. This tells potential creditors to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.

Contact one of the three bureaus, and it will notify the others.

Monitor your own credit

You’re entitled to at least one free credit report from each credit bureau every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com. If you haven’t accessed your credit reports within the past 12 months, do it now. If you’ve reviewed them recently, placing a fraud alert on your credit files allows renewed access.

Use your reports from the bureaus, and any free score and report services you have, to watch for:

  • New accounts that you didn’t open
  • Credit inquiries that don’t match when you applied for credit
  • Balances that don’t match your statements

Deal with your credit cards

Freezing keeps new accounts from being opened, but doesn’t stop fraudulent charges on an existing account. Take these steps to protect yourself:

  • Check your email and regular mail. Some consumers whose account numbers were compromised are being notified by credit card issuers that they’ll be sent a new card and the old one will be deactivated.
  • Even if you’re not notified by your issuer and you think your data wasn’t in this breach, don’t relax. Stay vigilant by checking your credit card statements for changes you don’t recognize. If something looks fishy, dig further. Often there’s a phone number listed with the merchant name for the transaction.
  • Consider signing up for text or email alerts about credit transactions. Many issuers let you set them for charges above a certain amount.

If you see a charge you think isn’t yours, call your issuer right away to dispute it. Your card issuer can’t charge interest or fees on the transaction while it’s being investigated.

What was exposed? Is my data out there?

The data accessed includes:

  • Information such as names and addresses, birthdates, Social Security numbers and some driver’s license numbers
  • Credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 consumers
  • Some documents from about 182,000 consumers’ credit report disputes, including personal identifying information

Consumers can check whether their information is affected at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. However, the “Check potential impact” process asks you to input the final 6 digits of your Social Security number, which gives security experts pause.

Equifax also opened a call center that you can reach at 866-447-7559. It will notify the subset of consumers whose credit card numbers or dispute documents were affected by mail.

Should I sign up for the free Equifax monitoring?

Equifax is offering all U.S. consumers free credit and identity theft monitoring for one year. But the risk doesn’t disappear after a year. Someone who has your Social Security number has it — and might try to use it — forever.

The service is through TrustedID, an Equifax company. The terms of service include waiving your right to participate in a class-action lawsuit or class arbitration and agreeing to use individual arbitration. The National Consumer Law Center has called upon Equifax to strike that clause. Failing that, the NCLC advises consumers they can opt out of the forced individual arbitration by notifying Equifax in writing within 30 days.

Learn more:

The article Lock Down Your Data After Equifax Breach — Right Now originally appeared on NerdWallet.