Tips for Using Reviews when Shopping Online

For years, our main piece of advice on using reviews has been to look at a variety of sources, including well-known websites that have credible and impartial expert reviews. That’s still a very good place to start. But here are some other tips for using online reviews and deciding when to be skeptical:

  • When you search for a product online beware of the first few sites that come up as some of them may say (ad) and could be an article written by the manufacturer of the product saying great things about the product.  This is not an independent review but an infomercial trying to help sell the product.
  • Check how recent the reviews are, watch for a burst of reviews over a short period of time. That can sometimes mean the reviews are fake.
  • Check if the reviewer has written other reviews. If so, read those to get a better sense of how much to trust that reviewer. But if it seems that the reviewer has created an account just to write one review for one product, that review may be fake.
  • Don’t assume that, just by looking, you can spot the difference between a real review and a fake one. Some reviews may look suspicious, and some may look real, but it can often be nearly impossible to tell for sure. For example, you already know to watch out for reviews that seem too positive to be real, but some fake positive reviews give less than the highest possible rating in order to seem more credible.
  • Remember that fake reviews are not always positive. Sometimes, a company might post fake negative reviews to harm a competitor.
  • Always seek independent resources for a more balanced review of a product, i.e., Consumer Reports etc.

You won’t always know if a reviewer got something — like a free product — in exchange for writing a review. But, on some websites, you’ll see a label or badge next to the review that tells you the reviewer got an incentive. How you weigh those reviews is up to you.

* Excerpts from this article from FTC publications

Dealing with Tough Times

The past year has been a very difficult one, trying to stay safe and healthy, dealing with income reductions and wondering when we can get back to a normal lifestyle. Maybe you are one of the unfortunate consumers to experience some reduction in income and within the past few months have found a new job or been rehired at your last employer. Maybe your spouse has lost their income and you are both struggling to maintain your home and obligations on one income. You now realize how much debt you may have accumulated? How do you handle this going forward?

Time to create a new budget and plan to move forward. Look at your take home income and make a list of the fixed monthly expenses, mortgage, rent, car payment, utility payments as these would take precedent over any other expenses. Make a list of any other new expenses and make sure you write them down to keep track of them.

Review any automatic payment plans you have setup. Review these payment plans and examine the benefits they provide. Although they may be small, they can add up and you may find you have the same benefits elsewhere, which is duplicative and costly.

It is imperative you pay yourself first, meaning you must put away some income into a savings account after each paycheck and before you start paying your bills. Consequently, you will want to have 3-5 months of living expenses put away in case you lose your job or have a loss of income.

Start making your fixed payments first as you would always want to have your food/shelter protected so you may move forward. Extra monies would then be applied to the remaining debt. Slowly start to pay down the debt, this may take months or even a few years. Pay attention to your current spending as well and stay focused on making your new budget work. It will not be easy, but you can make the effort and get the debt under control.

Consider talking to your creditors and explain your situation or contact a Certified Credit Counselor at Debt Management Credit Counseling Corp. www.dmcconline.org, or 866-724-3328, and ask for a free budgeting session and ask how they may be able to help you with your debt issues.

Predatory Lending and COVID

Many consumers have experienced a financial setback due to the Covid pandemic. Loss of employment, unemployment checks being delayed have put enormous strains on budgets and consumers are desperate and seeking short term financial solutions. This is the perfect storm for predatory lenders as they step up their marketing efforts online, social networking sites and television campaigns.  Needless to say these are loans which should be avoided at all costs. Let us define predatory lending and review some of the common tactics used to lure in consumers with promises of quick cash.

Predatory lending is any lending practice that imposes unfair and abusive loan terms on borrowers, including high interest rates, high fees, and terms that strip the borrower of equity. Predatory lenders often use aggressive sales tactics and deception to get borrowers to take out loans they cannot afford.

Common Predatory Lending Tactics

1. Limited Time Offers. Loan officers require you to act immediately, with statements such as “If you don’t decide today, you will lose this great opportunity!” or “This is your only chance to get a loan!”

2. High-Risk Loans. Loans with confusing or unclear loan terms, balloon payments, or steep pre-payment penalties.

3. Higher Loan Amounts. Lenders allow borrowers to finance more money than they need or can afford. Some lenders will attempt asset-based lending, offering loans based on the amount of equity instead of the borrower’s ability to pay.

4. High Fees or Costs. Lenders charge fees for unnecessary or nonexistent products or services, or may inflate these fees, charging much more than reputable lenders.

5. False or Hidden Disclosures. Lenders misrepresent costs, using tactics like providing false appraisals or changing the loan terms before closing.

Here are a few tips to help you make an informed decision and avoid predatory lending:

1. Shop for a loan. You do not have to take the first loan offered to you; compare rates and terms from several different lenders.

2. Ask questions. Make sure the lender explains any part of the loan you do not understand.

3. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true. Some of these offers may be scams.

4. Know your financial situation. Understand your financial limits and determine the loan payment you are comfortable making.

 Consumers should beware of quick cash, fast loan ads and should consider contacting your creditors directly and communicate your situation and make sure you inform them if it is Covid related and ask for relief. Consumers may contact Debt Management Credit Counseling Corp, www.dmcconline.org and speak with a certified credit counselor or ask to speak with a housing counselor if they are behind on their mortgage.

National Do Not Call Registry

Are you tired of getting telemarketing calls at all hours of the day on your cell phone, or at night when you are trying to relax?  There is a way to eliminate most of these calls completely by registering your numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry.

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Establishing or Rebuilding Credit Scores: Options for Moving Forward

Your credit scores are prepared by FICO and other companies and are mainly based on your history of managing debts, such as whether you tend to make payments on time. Your scores play a significant role in your everyday life because the next time you apply for a loan or a credit card — or perhaps a new apartment or insurance —your scores could affect the final decision, including your costs.

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Bankruptcy Facts

While bankruptcy may be a life vest for most people drowning in debt, choosing to file is never an easy decision. For some financially distressed debtors, bankruptcy may not always be the best option.

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