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7 Gadgets That Will Reduce Your Utility Bills

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Utility bills are a mundane part of everyday life – we pay money monthly to keep the lights, the water running and our homes heated and cooled. It might feel like utility bills are inescapable, but the truth is a variety of new technologies are now becoming available that promise to help you save energy and reduce your utility bills in surprisingly futuristic ways.

Here are some of our favorite promising new gadgets and tech tools to help save some cash on your utility bills:

LED Bulbs: LED light bulbs are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs, using only about 25% of the energy and lasting up to 50 times longer. A bonus benefit: the light from LED bulbs tends to look more natural and pleasant than CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs. LED bulbs cost about $4 or $5 each (or more) depending on the size of the bulb – so although they’re not as cheap as “regular” light bulbs, the long-term energy savings are worth it.

Smart Thermostats: Many people make the mistake of leaving their thermostats set at the same temperature all day and all night – but if you get a programmable thermostat, you can save up to 15% on your energy bill by adjusting the temperature to save money on heating and cooling during the times you’re away from home. The Nest Learning Thermostat costs $249, which may sound pricey, but it gradually programs itself to keep your home at the temperature you prefer, automatically turning itself down when nobody’s home, and showing an energy usage history. Nest thermostats connect to Wi-Fi and can be controlled via phone, tablet or laptop. Or if you want a cheaper programmable thermostat, check out this Honeywell programmable thermostat for only $22.77 – it has separate programs for weekdays and weekends.

Motion Sensing Light Switches: These smart light switches ($21.64 each on Amazon) can detect the activity of a room – when someone comes into the room, the light automatically turns on, and when the room is empty, the light turns itself off. Never worry again about the wasted energy costs of leaving the lights on in empty rooms of the house – in fact, each motion-sensing light switch can save you approximately $10 per year. In about 2 years, the light switch will have paid for itself.

Belkin WeMo Insight Switch: This “smart plug” switch turns your standard wall plugs into app-controlled outlets, communicating via Wi-Fi with your smartphone through a free iOS or Android app. Using your phone, you can then control the lamp or appliance that is plugged into the Belkin outlet, monitor the energy usage, and program the outlet to turn devices on or off at set times of day.

Belkin Conserve Switch: Many people don’t realize it, but our computers, monitors, and other electronic devices still use power just by being plugged in, even if they are “off.” There is a way to save energy on these devices – the Belkin Conserve Switch surge protector. It works just like a regular surge protector, except it has special outlets that allow you to stop power to certain devices (via wireless remote switch), while leaving other devices that need continuous power, such as wireless routers or cordless phones, plugged into its “Always On” outlets.  

TED Energy Detective: This device connects to your home or building’s electrical system to collect and analyze data about your energy usage, then the TED Energy Detective’s Footprints software helps you understand where your home is using the most energy. The info provided by the software which helps you know where to make changes and improvements in energy efficiency. The average TED Energy Detective user can reduce their energy bill by 5-30%.

Cyber-Rain XCI Smart Sprinkler System: Do you use sprinklers to water your lawn or garden? If so, you might be losing a significant amount of money with excessive watering. Using the Cyber-Rain XCI Smart Sprinkler System, you can adjust your watering based on weather and the needs of your climate zone, saving up to 40% on your water bills.

Utility bills might never fully go away, but many new technologies are opening up new possibilities to reduce your home energy costs and water usage. With a few smart devices, your home could become more energy efficient than you might expect – along with fun new ways to get better visibility into how your home uses energy and how you can reduce your costs while helping the environment. By adopting some of these simple devices today, we can all look forward to a future of cheaper energy bills and a cleaner environment!  

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What Is the CFPB Consumer Complaint Database and How Can You Use It?

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In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in response to the financial crisis of 2008. Dodd-Frank is a wide-sweeping law that curbs many shady practices previously employed by big banks and Wall Street. One of its most important innovations is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the brainchild of now-senator Elizabeth Warren, charged with educating consumers about personal finance and protecting consumers from predatory businesses and markets.

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American Express Late Fees to Rise in Wake of Feds Raising Credit Card Fee Restrictions

 

american express late fees

If you’ve ever made a late payment on a credit card, you know that it can result in significant costs in additional interest, as well as a cost to your credit score – but the immediate costs of that late payment are about to go a bit higher, with American Express announcing that the company will be raising its fee for late payments. According to Consumer Affairs, starting in January 2017, American Express late fees will rise to $38 for customers who are late on more than one AmEx payments within a six-month period.


Does this rate fee hike sound excessive? It’s actually not a huge change; the current late fee is $37. But this change in credit card late fees is part of a broader trend in the credit card industry of companies charging increasingly higher fees for late payments. If AmEx is any indicator, there might be other credit card companies that could raise their fees in 2017, as credit card issuers tend to follow other companies’ pricing and fee policies in order to stay competitive and profitable.

In 2009, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Congress passed the CARD Act, which cut down on credit card fees and required issuers to provide more detailed information for borrowers to understand the full costs of credit – such as those letters that come with your credit card statement that explain how much interest you will owe if you pay only the minimum amount due for 3 or 10 years. The goal was to help consumers avoid excessive penalties and fees when borrowing money, while also helping consumers understand their rights and options. Average credit card late fees declined from $39 in 2009 to $35 in 2013, but credit card companies have started to increase their late fees in the past 4 years, as federal rules have relaxed the limits on credit card issuers.

Is the credit card late fee increase going to be a noticeable difference for most consumers? Possibly not: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau studies (cited by Consumer Affairs) have found that only 20% of credit card customers routinely get charged a late fee.

However, if you want to avoid incurring late fees, here are a few tips:

  • Set a reminder on your calendar (with notifications/alerts!) to pay your credit card bill – but check your statements carefully; many accounts have a different due date each month.
  • Make a minimum payment on time – even if money is tight and you cannot afford much, make sure you cover at least the minimum payment on any credit card accounts before the due date. You’ll still incur interest charges that go with carrying a balance, but you will avoid that pesky late fee.
  • Set up automatic payments – if you are paying off a large balance over time, set up a monthly automatic payment (if possible) to be applied to your credit card balance prior to the due date. This can help avoid late fees while chipping away at your overall credit card debt.

Late fees are one way for credit card companies to make money off of their customers, but you don’t have to let these fees affect you. With some careful planning and foresight, you can make sure that your credit card account stays up-to-date and free of late fees.

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The Details of the Lawsuit Against Comcast

comcast lawsuit

The news of a lawsuit against Comcast hasn’t come as surprise to many. We’d known cable company customer service was terrible for decades even before John Oliver told us about it in one of his famous expose pieces. When 24/7 Wall Street published their report of customer service satisfaction across 15 different industries, Comcast came in dead last for seven consecutive years, confirming what most of us already knew. It’s what happens when you have a virtual monopoly on a product everybody wants.

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