101 Things Every Consumer Should Know! The lowdown on shopping, cars, real estate, taxes, insurance, borrowing, travel, tech and more
(MONEY Magazine) – Wisdom
1 IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS. If you have suspicions that an e-mail offer or story is a hoax, look it up at snopes.com or urbanlegends.about.com.
2 WHERE YOUR MONEY GOES. The only way to keep a lid on your spending is to know where your money is going every month. A program like Quicken or Microsoft Money can help you keep track. Aim to spend no more than 90% of your take-home pay. Then you'll have 10% left for big-ticket items and long-term goals.
3 ALMOST EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE. You can haggle over credit-card rates and late fees, long-distance rates and phone-plan fees, the rate on your existing mortgage (if your lender still has the loan) and the price of furniture and a car. When you buy a home, keep in mind that certain closing costs, including the fees for underwriting, document preparation, the appraisal and a credit report, are negotiable; property taxes, insurance and government filing fees are not.
4 IF YOU'RE WORRIED ABOUT IDENTITY THEFT, WATCH YOUR GARBAGE. Thieves are more likely to lift your personal information from junk mail and discarded bills than from the Internet. Get off credit-card solicitation lists by calling 888-567-8688 and telling the credit bureaus not to sell or share your information. Pay (and receive) bills online. And buy a shredder.
5 HOW TO EMPTY YOUR MAILBOX. To stop delivery of most junk mail, take your name off mailing lists at dmaconsumers.org (for a $5 fee). Do the same with data consolidators DataQuick (877-970-9171) and Acxiom (877-774-2094). Reduce catalogues through Abacus (800-518-4453). Don't list your address in the phone book.
6 HOW TO RECLAIM YOUR DINNER HOUR. Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov. If a telemarketer contacts you, ask to be put on the company's internal "do not call" list.
7 THE PRICE OF GOOD INTENTIONS. Invest in a health-club membership only if you're really going to go. A study of New England health-club users found that those with monthly memberships went so seldom that they paid an average of $17 for each visit; those who paid by the visit shelled out only 10 bucks every time they went.
8 HOW TO COMPLAIN EFFECTIVELY. On top of simply venting your frustrations, explain what will make you happy--say, a free night at a hotel for poor service during your last stay.
9 HOW TO CHECK A REFERENCE. Before you hire a pro, you already know to ask for the names of former clients. Then what? Ask what problems the person had and how they were resolved.
10 WHAT TO INSURE--AND WHAT NOT TO. Insure only against catastrophic losses. That includes your death, a serious illness, damage to your home and a car accident. That does not include identity theft, rain on your wedding day or a botched face-lift.
11 YOU CAN THROW OUT PAPERWORK. Hold on to ATM and credit-card receipts until you get your monthly statements; bank and brokerage statements until you get the year-end summary; tax returns for at least three years; receipts for major appliances and home improvements until you sell the house; warranties until they expire; receipts for large purchases indefinitely; year-end brokerage statements indefinitely; insurance policies as long as the policy is in effect; the deed to your home as long as you own it.
12 WHEN TO OVERTIP. Do so if your meal cost significantly less than the restaurant average, you're with a rowdy crowd or you've been a huge annoyance or requested favors. Same goes if you asked the bellhop to carry especially heavy luggage or you had a taxi make several stops.
13 BEWARE THE FRUGALITY TRAP. Yes, you can save a few bucks by clipping grocery coupons and mending your old clothes. But too much doing-it-yourself can cost you more in lost time than the money you save.
14 GOOD PRICES CAN HAPPEN ALL YEAR ROUND. Conventional wisdom has it that certain months are best for specific product deals. Sometimes that's true--in January consumer-electronics makers bring out new models and slash prices on discontinued ones. The same thing can happen with computers in August, when new models hit the shelves for back-to-school shoppers. But nowadays you don't have to wait until February to buy housewares. Soft retail cycles and the Web usually mean good prices throughout the year.
15 YOUR CREDIT CARD PROTECTS YOU IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE. Whether you shop online or at the mall, federal law protects you from all but $50 in losses if your credit card is stolen (and many card issuers go even further). By law, you can also withhold payment if the service or product does not live up to its claims or the merchandise is damaged or of poor quality. But you must try to work out the problem with the merchant first. Also, the sale is supposed to have taken place in your home state or within 100 miles of your home address. (Few issuers adhere to these limits, but they can if they wish.)
16 HOW TO FIND THE LOWEST PRICE. The Web can help in two ways. First, you can compare prices at websites such as Shopping.com, BizRate.com, PriceGrabber.com or MySimon.com. (Each houses a different database of stores.) You may find that you've never heard of the online retailer with the lowest price. If you prefer to shop with a name you know, try using the bargain-basement price as a negotiating tool. Second, visit Google before you shop. Type the product's name and the word rebate or coupon into the search engine to see if any discount offers exist. Enter the name of the retailer and the word promotion or discount to find money-saving codes for that site.
17 WHAT THE LOWEST PRICE CAN MEAN. Unusually low prices may signal that you're buying a factory-reconditioned product or that the merchant isn't reputable. If you've never heard of the retailer and the price is significantly less than on other sites, consider it a red flag.
18 RETURN POLICIES. Stores are cutting return times and saddling customers with more store credits (often in the form of a gift card). Even if you still have a receipt, many stores give you less than a month to return stuff for cash. At Best Buy and Circuit City, you may not get credit for some products after as few as 14 days. At Target, there's a 15% restocking fee on many returned electronics.
19 GIFT CARDS EXPIRE. If you don't use the credit within a year, most stores will deduct a fee from the value of the card. At the site Swapagift.com, you can exchange your $50 credit at Gap stores for someone else's $50 credit at Barnes & Noble. If credit doesn't interest you, you can sell your card (albeit at a discount) at the same site.
20 YOU WON'T ALWAYS KNOW WHEN STUFF WEARS OUT. Plenty of products stop working well long before they literally fall apart. For example, you should replace your mattress every eight to 10 years, running shoes after 300 to 400 miles and a toothbrush after three months. Tires will wear out long before your car does, so check the tread wear regularly. The average life of a home water heater is about 10 years. Older ones are less efficient and often break down without warning, flooding your basement or a downstairs neighbor's apartment. To prevent such a costly mishap, buy a leak sensor for your tank.
21 A USED CAR IS A BETTER VALUE. The ruthless depreciation of new cars makes a well-maintained used model the smarter buy. Today's longer warranties, better vehicle quality and certified pre-owned programs take the fear out of buying used. And the more expensive the model, the more you'll save by opting for a used version.
22 FIRST SHOP FOR THE CAR, THEN FOR THE DEAL. Pick the model and features first. Then settle on the best price. Getting drawn in by discounts or financing offers can leave you with a vehicle you didn't really want.
23 LONG-TERM AUTO LOANS CAN BE A FINANCIAL TRAP. Taking on loans of five years or more-- especially with little money down--is leaving millions of Americans owing more than their car is worth at trade-in. Don't accept any loan that extends for more years than you plan to keep the car.
24 PREMIUM GAS ISN'T WORTH THE PREMIUM. Even oil-industry experts and automaker engineers acknowledge that pricey premium fuel does nothing to improve your car's performance, reliability or mileage. Modern engine controls automatically adjust to run perfectly with no knocking or risk of damage on lower-octane regular gas.
25 THE DEALER'S PRICE FOR YOUR CAR. The Web makes it simple to research models, including the dealer's cost. Top sites include Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com), Edmunds.com and CarsDirect.com. By using the Internet, you can also cast a nationwide net for cars and negotiate with multiple dealers to get the best possible price.
26 A MONSTER REBATE MEANS YOUR CAR WILL LOSE VALUE FASTER. Exorbitant rebates are a sure sign of an overpriced car that won't move without discounts. Paying even full retail price for a highly rated model that holds its value will save you thousands in the long run.
27 YEAR-END "DEALS" DON'T ALWAYS ADD UP. Think about it: You're offered, say, a $1,500 discount to buy a new 2004 model this September, weeks before the 2005 models hit showrooms. Yet three years later, the difference in resale value between the '04 and '05 models will typically be several thousand dollars, substantially more than the discount you received. If you regularly trade in a car, spending a bit more for the latest model is the better buy.
28 NEVER IGNORE YOUR SEAT BELT. Even today, only three out of four Americans buckle up, trailing the rates in many other countries. In a car, wearing a belt cuts a front-seat occupant's chance of dying in an accident by half; by 60% in SUVs and other light trucks; and by 80% in an SUV rollover. Seat belts still save more lives than all other safety features combined.
29 ANY LONG-DISTANCE PLAN IS BETTER THAN NO PLAN. If you're not on a long-distance calling plan, you'll pay 30¢ or more a minute. You can cut that to 10¢ a minute or less at virtually any phone company (possibly without a minimum or fee).
30 THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE PICKING A LONG-DISTANCE or cellular plan. How many minutes do I talk each month? What time of day do I make the most calls? Where do I call?
31 PHONE COMPANIES WILL DO ANYTHING FOR YOUR BUSINESS. Long-distance carriers will often lower your per-minute rate or drop a monthly fee to keep you. If you want to switch wireless plans and you're mid-contract, it can't hurt to ask your new carrier to pick up the cancellation fee.
32 GIMMICKS CAN PAY OFF. But you must do the math. A family wireless plan is great if you need lots of minutes for multiple phones--but only if the whole family is calling from the same region. Consider a bundled local and long-distance plan if it saves you $20 a month. One such option: MCI Neighborhood Complete for $50 a month.
33 A BIG REFUND IS COSTLY. If the government is cutting you a check every year, you're giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. Adjust your withholding and put that money to work for you.
34 A TAX CREDIT IS MORE VALUABLE THAN A DEDUCTION. A $1,000 deduction reduces your bottom line by $250 if you're in the 25% bracket. A $1,000 credit is $1,000 you don't owe. If you pay for college tuition, the HOPE credit may allow you to subtract up to $1,500 per eligible student. The child tax credit is worth up to $1,000 a kid.
35 THE SUREST WAY TO CUT YOUR TAXES IS TO MINIMIZE YOUR TAXABLE INCOME. Contribute as much as you can to your 401(k) and to your flexible savings and transportation reimbursement accounts.
36 IF YOU'RE AUDITED, YOU MUST PROVE YOUR INNOCENCE. The IRS will generally ask to see paperwork dating back three years.
37 REAL ESTATE ISN'T RISK-FREE. Some housing markets, particularly in California, are prone to booms and busts. If you're forced to sell your home in a dip, you could lose money. If you move often, hefty transaction costs can wipe out any gains.
38 WHAT YOUR HOME IS WORTH. One way to estimate its value is to look up what your neighbors' homes have sold for. Go to domania.com and enter your address to see recent sales in your neighborhood. To find the asking prices for nearby homes for sale, use Realtor.com's search-by-zip-code feature.
39 NEVER RENOVATE RIGHT BEFORE YOU SELL. You can't count on recouping the cost of remodeling that quickly (if ever)--and why go through so much effort for someone else? Don't renovate unless you plan to stay at least three years--or if your house would deteriorate if you put off the job.
40 ADDING A BATHROOM IS THE SUREST BET IN REMODELING. Homeowners who add a bathroom earn back 47% to 170% of their costs in additional resale value, according to Remodeling magazine. Other lucrative redos: a new kitchen and a deck addition.
41 WHO YOUR BROKER WORKS FOR. A traditional real estate agent's legal duty is to the seller. You can hire an agent who specializes in representing buyers. So-called buyer's agents must negotiate the best price for the buyer, not the seller, and are freer to disclose information about the property that could affect the price.
42 SHOP FOR A LENDER BEFORE A HOUSE. A buyer who is pre-approved for a loan is more attractive to sellers. For pre-approval, the lender checks your credit and income and okays a maximum loan within a certain time frame. That's different from being prequalified--which means a lender tells you how much house you can afford based on your income but doesn't commit to a loan.
43 THE 28/36 RULE. The lenders' guideline to how much mortgage you can afford. It caps total housing expenses (including taxes and insurance) at 28% of your gross income and total debt payment (including cars and credit cards) at 36%. Some lenders will bend this rule, but a heavy debt burden leaves you more vulnerable in the event of unexpected financial setbacks.
44 HOW A MORTGAGE WORKS. In the early years of your loan, your payment goes almost entirely to interest. The portion that goes to principal gradually builds with every payment.
45 WHEN TO CHOOSE AN ADJUSTABLE-RATE MORTGAGE. If you'll move within the next three to five years, the interest savings are worth it. (ARM rates tend to be one to two percentage points lower than rates for a conventional 30-year loan.)
46 WHEN TO PAY POINTS TO LOWER YOUR RATE. If you expect to stay in your home for a long time, your interest savings will more than make up the cost of the points (one point equals 1% of the loan). Do the math using the calculators at Financenter.com or Lendingtree.com.
47 WHEN YOU SHOULD REFINANCE. Think about a refi when interest rates fall one percentage point below your rate. The decision then comes down to whether you'll save enough to cover the costs. If refinancing will cut your payment by $150 a month and closing costs are $5,000, you will need 33 months to break even. But don't forget to take into account how far you've paid down your mortgage. Refinancing a six-year-old loan with another 30-year mortgage means that paying off your home will take 36 years and possibly cost you more in interest than if you'd stuck with the original loan. Another option is to refinance into a 15-year loan.
48 WHEN TO TAP YOUR HOME EQUITY. Do it to improve or maintain your home, or to refinance high-interest credit-card debt, but not for luxuries.
49 RAISING YOUR DEDUCTIBLE IS THE SUREST WAY TO CUT YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE COSTS. If you increase your deductible from $500 to $1,000, you'll cut your premium by as much as 25%.
50 IT CAN BE CHEAPER NOT TO FILE A CLAIM. Don't file home insurance claims unless the bill exceeds your deductible by several hundred dollars. Otherwise, you'll usually end up giving the money right back to the insurer in the form of a higher premium. Even calling your insurance agent can show up on your claims record and raise your rates. Read your policy first to determine whether your claim will be covered.
51 WHAT YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE MAY NOT COVER.
--THE FULL COST OF REBUILDING YOUR HOME. Unless you buy replacement-cost coverage, the insurer will deduct for depreciation when determining how much to compensate you for the loss of your home.
--FLOODS AND EARTHQUAKES. A burst pipe that floods your basement is covered. But damage from heavy rain or an overflowing creek may not be. You'll need separate flood insurance for that.
--LUXURY ITEMS. A basic homeowners policy covers the structure of your home, your personal belongings and liability. You'll need a rider or extra insurance for high-end items such as jewelry, cameras, computers and artwork.
52 THERE'S NO GOOD REASON TO WRITE A CHECK. Not only is paying your bills online safe, cheap (if not free) and convenient, it's also a great way to keep track of your spending.
53 HOW MUCH YOU'RE PAYING IN ATM FEES. Using an ATM that's not run by your bank can cost you more than $2.50 a pop. Do that five times a month, and the habit can cost you $150 a year in needless fees.
54 THE APY. Not all interest is created equal. Compare rates on savings accounts and certificates of deposit using the annual percentage yield, which all banks are required to calculate the same way.
55 WHERE INTEREST RATES ARE HEADED. When rates are low and rising, keep your money short term, no longer than a six-month or one-year certificate of deposit. The opposite holds true when rates are high and falling.
56 HOW TO GET FREE CHECKING. Sign up for direct deposit, join a credit union or consolidate accounts to keep your balance high.
57 WHEN YOU HAVE TOO MUCH DEBT. Total loan payments should eat up no more than 36% of your pretax income. If you spend more than 10% to 15% of your income on nonsecured debts such as credit cards, you could be in trouble.
58 THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEBIT AND CREDIT CARDS. Beyond the obvious (with a debit card, the money comes directly out of your account when you make a purchase; with a credit card, you pay at the end of the month), different legal protections apply. With debit cards, you don't have the same right to dispute a charge. If your card is stolen, most issuers match the $50 credit-card loss limit. But because the money is gone from your account, you may have to wait a few days to get it back.
59 REWARDS CARDS DON'T ALWAYS PAY. If you carry a balance on a credit card, stay away from rewards cards. The higher rates you tend to pay will wipe out the value of any perks you earn. Instead, look for cards with low rates at sites like Bankrate.com. But if you pay your bill in full each month, it's fine to treat yourself to rewards.
60 A FIXED RATE ON A CREDIT CARD IS FIXED ONLY UNTIL THE ISSUER CHANGES IT. By law, the card issuer must notify you 15 days before the change in terms.
61 HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE TO PAY OFF YOUR CREDIT CARD. If you pay only the minimum each month, it will take a really, really long time. Most cards require a minimum payment of just 1.5% to 2.5% of your balance. If you pay 2% of a $4,000 balance with 15% interest each month, you will need almost 30 years to pay it off, and you will end up spending more than $6,000 in interest.
62 WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE TO LENDERS. The easiest way to check your credit score and credit history at the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) is to order all three reports from Fair Isaac at myfico.com for $38.85. The most important factor in your score is a record of on-time payments. Next is your credit-utilization ratio, or the amount of debt you owe vs. how much credit you have available. (It can hurt to max out all your accounts or to barely use them.) The longer your relationship with a creditor the better, so getting rid of cards that you've held for many years may temporarily hurt your score. Be especially careful about closing accounts within six months of applying for a major loan.
63 YOUR CREDIT AFFECTS YOUR HOME AND CAR INSURANCE RATES. Insurers have found a link between poor credit habits and the likelihood of filing claims--and charge accordingly. That's just one more reason to pay those bills on time.
64 REFINANCING DOESN'T APPLY ONLY TO MORTGAGES. You can refinance just about any loan, but each move has potential pitfalls. You can consolidate federal student loans (and qualify for the current interest rate) just one time. You can also get a new car loan, but lenders charge a higher rate on a vehicle that's not brand new. The way to refinance credit-card debt is through a balance transfer. You can find lots of 0% balance-transfer offers, but issuers will often apply a much higher interest rate for new charges.
65 RETIREMENT SAVINGS SHOULD COME BEFORE COLLEGE SAVINGS. There are good loan deals for education (rates are currently a low 3.42%), but no one will offer you retirement loans.
66 COLLEGES TAKE MORE OF YOUR KID'S MONEY THAN YOURS. Under aid formulas, families are expected to spend 35% of the student's assets, but only 12% of the parents'. So the less money in your child's name, the better shot you have at aid.
67 WHAT TAX BREAKS ARE AVAILABLE TO COLLEGE SAVERS. With both Coverdell Education Savings Accounts and state 529 savings plans, the money grows tax deferred, and withdrawals are federally tax-free as long as the funds are used for qualified school expenses. You can put only $2,000 a year into a Coverdell, and income limits apply.
68 FINANCIAL AID IS TYPICALLY FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED. You can turn in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used to determine government and most private grants, as early as Jan. 1 for admission the following fall.
69 IT'S TOUGH TO TIME FARES. Early booking no longer means the best deals. Sign up for alerts at websites such as Travelocity and Orbitz. You can track air fares on specific routes, and the site will send you an e-mail when the price drops.
70 THE BEST ONE-STOP WAY TO FIND A DEAL. No single travel site lists every fare (Southwest and JetBlue don't even release fares to other sites). SideStep.com lets you scour the sites of all airlines, hotels, rental-car agencies and consolidators for the best price.
71 THE BEST TIME TO FIND FLIGHT DEALS. At midnight, airlines load their computers with new fares and purge unsold reservations. Airlines release Web specials for the weekend early in the week; they typically raise fares on Fridays.
72 MORNING FLIGHTS ARE LESS LIKELY TO BE DELAYED. Flights scheduled to depart and arrive before 10 a.m. have the best on-time performance. And if your flight is canceled, you'll have a better shot at booking another flight that day.
73 YOUR AIRLINE'S PHONE NUMBER. Program the number into your cell phone. If your flight is late or canceled when you're at the airport, you're better off calling than waiting in line. Phone agents can do almost anything the folks at the ticket counter can do.
74 WHEN TO BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE. You may want cancellation insurance if you have to prepay for a trip that has a hefty cancellation fee. The policy kicks in if you're ill, have a death in the family or go on jury duty, or if the travel operator goes out of business. Go to insuremytrip.com for quotes.
75 WHEN TO PAY FOR THE INSURANCE OPTION ON A RENTAL CAR. In general, you're covered by your personal auto policy and, in many cases, by the credit card (but not the debit card) you use to pay for the rental. If you have filed claims on your personal policy, though, you may want to buy insurance. As long as you have a waiver from the rental agency, an accident won't show up on your own policy (and raise your rates).
76 A FREQUENT-FLIER MILE IS WORTH 2¢. That means your goal should be to get at least $500 worth of travel for 25,000 miles. But as financially troubled carriers cut back on the number of award seats, miles are more difficult to use. To score a seat, book very early (departure dates enter the reservation system 330 days in advance) or very late.To spend them down, buy an unrestricted ticket (generally 50,000 miles for domestic trips).
77 YOU CAN HAGGLE WITH THE FRONT DESK. At most hotels, you have to book online or through a central reservations number. But don't stop there. Unlike airline ticket agents, hotel desk clerks--or their managers--have the power to improve your rate.
78 WHERE THE DOLLAR GOES FURTHEST. Keep exchange rates in mind when you plan. Today the strong euro makes much of Europe costly. Eastern European countries that haven't adopted the euro tend to be cheaper. The dollar also goes further in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
79 WHEN USING A TRAVEL AGENT PAYS. Even in the Internet age, agents sell 95% of cruises and 90% of tours and packages. For those trips, an agent can save you money and time--and offer advice that a website wouldn't have, like how not to end up in the cabin next to the ship's engine.
80 IT'S NOT HARD TO BE ELITE. Want upgrades, priority boarding and other perks? You need to fly 25,000 miles a year to earn elite status on most airlines. But you can find shortcuts. On American Airlines, for example, flying 5,000 miles in 90 days does the trick. Plus, elite status on one airline may entitle you to the same treatment on another. But elite matching is rarely publicized. You have to ask.
81 THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN HMO, A PPO AND A POS PLAN. An HMO (health maintenance organization) limits your choice of doctors and requires a referral to see a specialist, but premiums and co-pays are low. A PPO (preferred-provider organization) doesn't make you choose a primary-care doctor or get referrals, but you pay less if you stay within the network. A POS (point-of-service) plan is essentially an HMO with the option to pay more to see an out-of-network doctor.
82 MORE AND MORE, YOU'LL HAVE TO MANAGE YOUR MEDICAL DOLLARS. Employers hope that consumers who have more of their own money at stake will spend less on health care. That's why a growing number of companies are offering what's known as consumer-driven health insurance, which couples a high-deductible policy with a cash account funded by the boss. You pay for office visits, drugs and other medical expenses from that account until the money runs out; then your deductible kicks in. In addition, Congress has recently created health savings accounts, which allow individuals with high-deductible insurance plans (at least $1,000 for individuals, $2,000 for families) to set aside pretax money.
83 WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU LOSE YOUR JOB. Under the federal COBRA law, you can stay with your employer's plan for 18 months--but you'll foot the entire bill, plus a 2% fee. Businesses with fewer than 20 workers are exempt.
84 THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE TREATMENT. How often does the doctor do this procedure? How often is it done at this hospital? The higher the number, the better.
85 HOW TO CHALLENGE A CLAIM DENIAL. Start with customer service. Keep careful records, including a log of all communications. If you disagree with the health plan's decision, you usually can appeal to an internal review panel. To see if your state has an outside review panel, check out Healthinsuranceinfo.net.
86 YOU CAN'T COUNT ON YOUR BOSS IN RETIREMENT. Every year, fewer employers are offering health insurance to retirees.
87 BUYING DRUGS FROM CANADA WILL SAVE MONEY BUT REMAINS ILLEGAL. Look for the best U.S. deals at PillBot.com or DestinationRx.com.
88 MEDICARE COVERS ONLY 20 DAYS IN A NURSING HOME. After that, you'll face a $109-a-day co-payment for up to 100 days. And not everyone qualifies for that coverage. You can buy long-term-care insurance to fill the gaps, but the policies aren't always good deals. Study up at the health insurance section of the site USAAedfoundation.org.
89 THE MAIN PURPOSE OF LIFE INSURANCE IS TO REPLACE YOUR INCOME IF YOU DIE. So unless your minor children have lucrative careers and contribute to the household's income, there's no reason to have life insurance on your kids.
90 YOU'LL GET THE MOST COVERAGE FOR THE LOWEST PRICE WITH TERM INSURANCE. You can buy a level-premium policy and lock in your payments for 10 to 20 years.
91 RULES OF THUMB ARE NOTORIOUSLY INACCURATE. Forget five to 10 times your salary. For a better estimate of how much life insurance you should buy, use an online needs calculator such as the one at life-line.org, or consult with a financial planner or life insurance agent.
92 WITH TECHNOLOGY, IT PAYS TO STAY BEHIND THE CURVE. Those who always clamor for the latest, hottest gadget may gain temporary bragging rights--but they also enjoy the privilege of paying much more than you will when you pick up the same or a similar gadget a year later. DVD players were exorbitantly priced when they first hit the market; now you can get a fully functional one for $60.
93 PROTECTING YOUR COMPUTER ISN'T JUST ABOUT VIRUS DEFENSES. These days you also need to check for spyware or adware that you can pick up at a site you visit. Setting up a firewall can help; so can software that scans for these programs, such as Lavasoft's Ad-aware and Spybot-Search and Destroy (both available for free at Download.com).
94 WHAT OTHER GADGET OWNERS THINK. You may learn more from folks who've taken a digital camera on vacation or gone to the trouble of installing a home theater than from a professional reviewer. A good place to connect with other consumers is Epinions.com, which posts reviews on all sorts of gadgets and gear. For links to specialized product review sites, including those for digital cameras, go to ConsumerWorld.org.
95 THE MANUFACTURER'S WARRANTY IS ALL YOU NEED. Store warranties, which cost $50 to $100 for major electronics, are unnecessary. The manufacturer, not the store, will be the one to service or replace a computer or camera.
96 DON'T SCOFF AT PRE-OWNED STUFF. Factory refurbished could simply mean that someone opened the box but never even took out the product. Dell and Sharper Image have stores on eBay where they sell refurbished goods for as much as 50% off.
97 WITH TECHNOLOGY, LEARN WHAT'S WORTH PAYING FOR--AND WHAT ISN'T. Unless you're a hard-core gamer or making a feature film on your laptop, chances are you don't need the fastest processor out there. But you'll benefit for sure from upgrading your memory.
98 WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A DIGITAL CAMERA. The key features to consider are resolution (today three megapixels is the minimum), zoom (stick with optical zoom of at least three times; digital zoom is meaningless), memory (a widely available format like SD is best) and battery type (cheap AAs can be better than a proprietary battery if you want to take spares on vacation).
99 WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A DVD PLAYER. Consider the outputs (component video is better than S-Video) and formats (you'll need CD-R and MP3 to play music and DVD-R and DVD-RW to play home movies you've burned on your computer). Progressive scan is a plus--although you need a high-definition TV to get the full benefit.
100 WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A TV. Consider screen size and shape (wide-screen lets you see movies in the original format); image quality (an HDTV-ready set will add $200 to the price, $1,500 if the TV has a plasma screen); and display type (a traditional cathode-ray television set costs anywhere from $100 to $1,500, a 30-inch LCD-screen averages $4,000, and a 50-inch plasma screen typically runs about $10,000).
101 WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PC. Consider the size of the hard drive (you'll want at least 60 gigabytes), the memory (no less than 256 megabytes) and the processor speed (a 2.66-gigahertz Pentium 4 or better).