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Better Business Bureau ®
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Southeast Texas
BBB Offers New Year Tips to Take Control of Your Finances
January 03, 2011
When the holiday season ends, many families may face the repercussions of having over-extended their budgets for holiday gifts, travel, or entertainment.  For consumers who lost control or who exercised too little control of their finances in 2010, now is the time to make some new year’s financial resolutions.

            "We encourage consumers to begin 2011 by taking charge of their finances, pledging to shop wisely, and learning how to identify marketplace scams," said Michael Clayton, President/CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Southeast Texas.  "Our single most important piece of advice is to contact the BBB before making a major purchasing or investment decision, and before responding to any enticing, but unsolicited, offer."    

            The BBB system will assist over 50 million consumers this year, with reports on businesses and charities, consumer education information, general counseling, and dispute resolution through conciliation, mediation arbitration.  With BBBs serving every marketplace in the United States and Canada, and high-traffic web sites, the Better Business Bureau system offers pre-purchase information at the time and place consumers find most convenient, 24 hours a day.

            Be an informed investor.  Make a promise to avoid any offer requiring you to "act now," and carefully evaluate investment pitches that predict or guarantee large profits because of seasonal demand or well-known current events.     

            “Formalize a savings plan.  The United States is becoming known for its negative savings rate.  Decide how much you need to bolster your financial cushion, and develop a plan to achieve your savings goal.  If you want to formulate a long-term financial/investment plan, you might consider hiring a financial planner.  Check with the BBB for specific tips on finding a reliable one,” Clayton added.   

            Monitor your debt load.  Establish a debt repayment plan for 2011 and keep strict records.  Pay more than the minimum amount due on credit card accounts.  If you are already deeply in debt, ignore ads that promise for an advance fee to repair your credit history.  While there are no "quick fixes," you can take positive action to restore your creditworthiness.  Contact a non-profit credit counseling agency or your BBB for additional advice on the wise use of credit.

            Beware of bogus loan offers from unfamiliar financial institutions.  Canadian BBBs report that scam artists in various provinces are targeting Americans with promises of guaranteed, low-interest rate loans or credit cards.  Consumers that take the bait and send the required fee in anticipation of a loan are sorely disappointed.   They receive neither the loan, nor a refund of the advance fee.  Before doing business with any unfamiliar financial company or institution, particularly those headquartered in other states or countries, contact the Better Business Bureau.

             Deal with reliable merchants.  Don't do business with strangers who approach you at home. Carefully evaluate unsolicited phone call or e-mail offers.  Make sure the business has a permanent address and phone number, check customer references and contact the BBB for information about the company's Reliability Report.  Companies that are accredited by the BBB have agreed to abide by high standards; which include truthful advertising and responding promptly and fairly to any customer complaints.    

            “If it's not in the contract, you don't have an agreement.  Read and understand the contract and guarantee, before you sign.  Make sure the contract provisions match what the salesperson told you.  All promises should be included in the contract.  Once you sign the contract, don't assume you can cancel it,” Clayton continued.

            Ask about the return policy up-front.  The time to ask about returns, refunds and exchanges is before you purchase the product.   Always get a receipt and ask that guarantees be put in writing.

            Guard your personal information.  Don't give out your credit card, bank account, Social Security or driver's license numbers to anyone you don't know who contacts you by phone, through the postal service or via e-mail.  Even if you are promised a prize or an award, don't provide personal information until you receive written information about the offer and have checked out the company.    

            “Be wary of high pressure sales tactics.  An unbelievable offer that is good "today only" is a sign to be extra careful.  A reliable company will permit you to consider your needs and compare products, prices and guarantees from several merchants before making a purchasing decision,” Clayton said.

            If it sounds "too good to be true," it probably is!  Scam artists are very persuasive and can convince you in no time flat that this is "the deal of a lifetime."  Don't cast aside caution and care in your eagerness to reap the riches they promise.  Ask yourself, what recourse do I have if the deal turns out to be fake?  Have I paid money up-front?  Have I provided personal information that could be used to my detriment?   

            Beware the "high pay, no experience necessary" ads.  If you're contemplating work from home, do your homework first.  View with suspicion any claims from unknown companies that promise you "fast money," "no experience necessary," and "work from the comfort of your home."  Ask for references, contact information for satisfied customers and the business location and phone number.  Then contact your BBB to see if it has a report on the company.   

            It's not free, if it involves a fee!  If you have been told you won a free prize, but you have to pay to get it, then it's not a prize worth collecting.  Fees by any other name -- advance taxes, shipping and handling fees, customs payments -- are still fees!

For additional information or to receive a BBB Business Review on a business or charity, go to www.bbb.org.  In Southeast Texas, call 409/835-5348 or 855/BBB-SETX.