Monday, August 29, 2011

Federal Benefit Payments are Going All Electric

     Having federal benefits paid electronically by direct deposit into the bank or a credit union account, or into a Direct Express® card account is safer, faster and more reliable than receiving paper benefit checks. The U.S. Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service reports that in 2010, more than 540,000 Treasury-issued checks were reported lost or stolen, and had to be reissued.


     The U.S. Department of the Treasury is now requiring all federal benefit and non-tax payments to be paid electronically. People applying for Social Security, Veterans Affairs or other federal benefits, will receive their payments electronically starting with their first payment. People currently receiving federal benefit checks must switch to an electronic payment option by March 1, 2013.

     If they do not choose an electronic payment option at the time they apply for federal benefits or those who do not switch by the deadline will receive their benefit payments via the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card. If you are already receiving benefit payments electronically you do not need to take action. You will continue to receive your payment as usual on the payment day.

     With direct deposit, the Treasury Department sends an electronic message to your bank or credit union account on your usual payment day with the exact amount of your benefit payment from Social Security, VA or other federal agency. You don’t have to worry about your money being stolen out of your mailbox and there’s no need to make a trip to cash or deposit a check. Plus, it’s better for the environment and saves taxpayer dollars.

     To learn more about the switch from paper to electronic benefits, and to register for paperless benefits by March 1, 2013 visit www.GoDirect.org.

For more consumer tips and to learn how to avoid identity theft, visit www.bbb.org

Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service

Monday, August 22, 2011

BBB Offers Summer Air Conditioning Tips

As temperatures stay hot, keeping your house cool can be a challenge. Your BBB offers the following advice to keep your house cool and your air conditioner running properly.


When dealing with your air conditioner you can either hire someone to come inspect your system or you can do some of the maintenance work on your own.

If hiring someone, get at least three bids from companies. Also check to see if they are licensed with the state of Illinois at www.attorneygeneral.gov or 1-888-520-6680.

Once hired, make sure he or she checks the refrigerant, inspects the oil fans, and makes sure that wiring and switches are operating properly. Also, the outdoor coil in the unit should be chemically cleaned every year to ensure the unit is working efficiently.

If you are doing the maintenance work on your own, check the disposable filters (if you have them) every two months and replace them when necessary. You can also clean permanent filters as directed by the manufacturer and make cleaning duct outlets and registers a part of your regular housecleaning routine. Also make sure to leave the fan on the furnace continuously running. This will help keep air circulating and keep your house at an even temperature. If you live in a two story house and have high and low return air registers, make sure to close the bottom return and open the top return. This will pull the hot air off the ceiling to better cool your house. (Make sure to reverse the registers when you turn on your furnace.) You should also be sure to trim bushes and shrubs back 18” from the outdoor unit.

Having your unit inspected and cleaned every year will help increase your unit’s efficiency and cause fewer breakdowns.

For a list of BBB Accredited Heating & Air Conditioning Contractors in your service area, visit http://www.bbb.org/



Monday, August 15, 2011

Stretching Your Gas Dollars this Summer

What you spend at the pump is partially influenced by how you drive and what type of gasoline you use to fill your tank. As we reach the peak of summer travel, here are some tips on what you can do to save fuel consumption:


Choose the right octane for your car. Check your owner’s manual to find out what octane your car requires. Keep in mind that the higher the octane, the higher the price.

Keep your engine tuned. A poorly tuned engine may increase fuel consumption by as much as 10 to 20 percent depending on a car’s condition. Follow the recommended maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual; you will save fuel and your car will run better and last longer.

Don’t let your engine run at idle any longer than necessary. An engine actually warms up faster while driving. With most gasoline engines, it is more efficient to turn off the engine than to idle for any period longer than 30 seconds.

Drive more efficiently. Stay within the posted speed limits. The faster you drive the more fuel you use. Set your cruise control on highway trips. This can help maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, reduce your fuel consumption.

Keep your tires properly inflated and aligned. Automobile manufacturers must place a label in the car stating the correct tire pressure. If the label lists a psi (pounds per square inch) range, use the higher number to maximize your fuel efficiency.

Anticipate the driving condition. Driving smoothly and steadily makes the best use of your fuel. If you can, avoid sudden acceleration or braking.

Change your oil and replace air filters regularly. Clean oil reduces wear caused by friction between moving parts and removes harmful substances from the engine. Your air filter keeps impurities in the air from damaging internal engine components.

For more tips, visit http://www.bbb.org/

Monday, August 8, 2011

BBB Offers Summer Air Conditioning Tips

As temperatures stay hot, keeping your house cool can be a challenge. Your BBB offers the following advice to keep your house cool and your air conditioner running properly.

When dealing with your air conditioner you can either hire someone to come inspect your system or you can do some of the maintenance work on your own.

If hiring someone, get at least three bids from companies. Also check to see if they are licensed with the state of Illinois at www.attorneygeneral.gov or 1-888-520-6680.

Once hired, make sure he or she checks the refrigerant, inspects the oil fans, and makes sure that wiring and switches are operating properly. Also, the outdoor coil in the unit should be chemically cleaned every year to ensure the unit is working efficiently.

If you are doing the maintenance work on your own, check the disposable filters (if you have them) every two months and replace them when necessary. You can also clean permanent filters as directed by the manufacturer and make cleaning duct outlets and registers a part of your regular housecleaning routine. Also make sure to leave the fan on the furnace continuously running. This will help keep air circulating and keep your house at an even temperature. If you live in a two story house and have high and low return air registers, make sure to close the bottom return and open the top return. This will pull the hot air off the ceiling to better cool your house. (Make sure to reverse the registers when you turn on your furnace.) You should also be sure to trim bushes and shrubs back 18” from the outdoor unit.

Having your unit inspected and cleaned every year will help increase your unit’s efficiency and cause fewer breakdowns.

For a list of BBB Accredited Heating & Air Conditioning Contractors in your service area, visit http://www.bbb.org/

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Keep Your Cool With BBB’s HVAC Tips

With temperatures continuing to stay hot and humid, a properly working Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is necessary in many households. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) provides the following tips on how to keep your current system working well and efficiently for the duration of this summer.


Maintenance Tips for Your HVAC System:

• Change the air filter monthly to make sure it stays clean.

• Have a technician clear the air conditioning drain yearly to avoid backup.

• Use air conditioner cleaner to clean the coils on your unit; make sure the power is off when you do this.

• Clear the area around the air conditioning unit of brush to make sure the unit can pull enough air in.

• Make sure the access panels are secure.

Energy Saving Tips:

• Keep your system well maintained and tune the equipment up yearly- the better shape your system is in, the more efficiently it will run.

• Get a programmable thermostat- with this, you can save energy when you are away from home by setting the thermostat to increase or decrease temperatures as you please.

• Seal your heating and cooling ducts- the less air that escapes your home, the better!

• Make sure doors and windows are shut and properly sealed as well.

• Update old equipment with newer, more energy efficient models to lower energy costs.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tips to Avoid Bank Fees

Banks have been given more restrictions on fees and interest rates, as a result the nation's banks are looking for extra pennies anywhere they can get them. Some of the fees you're seeing have been around for a while; you may be surprised where other fees are coming from. For this reason the Better Business Bureau is shedding light on some of these unexpected fees, and offering advice on how you can avoid them.


1.) Update your address. Moving? Don’t forget to update your bank on your new address. You could be hit with fees if your statement is sent to your old address. Some banks charge $5 and up in fees for the second and subsequent months that a statement is undeliverable. Some banks charge even higher rates for returned mail, and handling undeliverable mail.

2.) Talking to a human teller: With online banking, talking to a human teller is becoming a thing of the past. Some banks will charge monthly fees for customers to access branches and talk to tellers. Most banks usually offer an account that gives you free access to tellers. Be sure to check what your account entails before you sign up.

3.) Losing your debit card. When you lose your debit card, not only is your money at risk from thieves, you may also need to pay your bank to replace it. Find out how much it costs to replace a debit card before you sign up.

4.) Paper Statements. Banks have begun charging to send paper statements. By enrolling in online banking, you can avoid these fees. Also, it is more environmentally friendly!

5.) Requesting old statements: If you need to verify a charge, be prepared to pay. Banks may charge $3 to receive copies of checks, statements and deposit slips. Staff have to spend time finding old slips or looking up you account. To avoid this, sign up for online banking, you can look at old transactions on your own.

6.) Receiving money. It often costs money to wire people money, now many banks are charging for you to receive money. This charge can be avoided if you chose the right account. If you frequently wire transfers, be sure to sign up for an account that will not penalize you to do so.

7.) Redeeming reward points. Banks will often charge for you to redeem reward points you’ve earned. The only way to avoid this is to find a bank that does not have redemption fees.

Some final tips to avoid unwanted fees are:

• Always read the fine print when you sign up for checking accounts.

• Avoid the automatic opt-in overdraft protection and do your best to live within your means and not overspend.

• Take note of your balance.

• Locate and use ATMs that won't charge you a fee.

• Automate payments so you'll be able to better monitor your balance.

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