Banks; credit; finding the best prices
A Web-based tool will let you gauge the financial health of more than 24,000 banks and credit unions. Bankrate.com awards stars, with five stars given to the soundest banks and one star to financially shaky institutions.
The ratings combine information from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and other federal agencies, ranking only those banks that have filed financial data with regulatory agencies for at least four quarters. To check out your bank, go to www.bankrate.com/brm/safesound/ss_home.asp .
Some credit counseling firms give out bad advice and charge too much, warns the Consumer Federation of America. The consumer group cites the following "red flags" for credit counseling firms:
High fees. The set-up fee for a debt management plan should be no more than $50, and monthly fees should not exceed $25. An aggressive new breed of credit counselors charges excessive fees of up to several hundred dollars to set up accounts.
Employee commissions. Most credit counseling agencies are nonprofit organizations. Employees who receive commissions for placing consumers in debt management plans are probably more interested in their own wallets than yours.
Quickie sessions. An effective counseling session, done in person or on the phone, should take 30 to 90 minutes.
No options. The agency should discuss whether a debt management plan is right for you and should offer options, such as budget counseling.
You could save up to $1,000 a year by shopping around before you buy a wide range of products, from cars to groceries, says the Consumer Literacy Consortium, a group of government, nonprofit, consumer, and business organizations. Researchers who called around to three sellers in search of the best price were able to save a median of $100 on a color TV in only 16 minutes.
To help consumers tighten their belts, the group launched a new Web site at www.66waystosavemoney.org with tips on how to save when buying major appliances, insurance, food, and other items.
Yvonne Wollenberg. Online UPDATES.
Jun. 6, 2003;80.