Table of Contents

How can I resolve a consumer complaint?

First, go to the seller of the item. Second, contact the relevant consumer agency. Finally, if neither of these results in satisfaction, you can file a lawsuit or use arbitration.

Contacting the Seller

Before you take your complaint to the store or other entity that sold you the service or product:

  1. Gather any evidence you may need, such as the receipt, a canceled check, photographs showing the problem, a warranty, a contract, or a bill of sale.

  2. Figure out what your goal is. Do you want the product replaced? Do you want your money back? Do you merely want an apology?

  3. Call the store or service provider and ask to make an appointment with the manager, customer service representative, or other appropriate person. Meet face to face with that individual and explain as succinctly as possible the nature of the problem and what you want done about it. If you talk on the phone, follow up with a letter, and make notes of the dates of your calls and to whom you spoke. Note: If the product is covered by a warranty, itís usually better to follow up with the manufacturer instead of the merchant.

  4. If this doesnít produce results, take your problem to a higher authority. This might be a supervisor or a corporate president. You should put your complaint in writing at this point if you havenít already done so. Your letter should include your name, address, phone numbers, and account number (if relevant). If a product is involved, include the date and place of purchase, and the model and serial number. Briefly state the problem with the product or service, and write about what you have done so far to resolve it. Finally, tell the letter recipient what you want done, and give him or her a deadline. Include copies of relevant documents (not originals), and keep a copy of your letter. Keep copies of anything you receive from the company.

Contacting an Agency

If you still havenít achieved the result you wanted, look in the phone book for a consumer complaint agency, such as the state, county, or city consumer protection office, or the Better Business Bureau.

Or, you might want to go the trade association route. Some industry trade associations offer help in mediating disputes concerning their members.

If your complaint involves a bank, you might wish to contact the appropriate state banking regulator. Similarly, you might want to contact the state insurance regulator if an insurer is involved, the securities regulator for a securities problem, or the public utilities commission for utilities problems.

If the problem involves a state-licensed trade (e.g., a general contractor or a plumber), call the state licensing department.

If you bought a "lemon" used car, investigate your stateís lemon laws (which exist in every state but Arkansas and South Dakota) by contacting your state consumer protection agency.

If the problem involves mail order or mail fraud, contact your area postal inspector, who can be found in the U.S. government section of the phone book.

There may also be a local television news program hotline for resolving consumer complaints.

Tip Tip: Call the agency first to find out what procedures it wants you to follow.

Filing a Lawsuit

When all else fails, you might want to file a court caseóeither a small claims case, if the amount of money involved is small enough (generally, under $5,000)óor a regular suit.

Often just contacting an attorney and having him or her write a letter to the merchant or service provider indicating that you intend to file a lawsuit will get you the result you are seeking.

If a small claims case is involved, you generally wonít need to hire an attorney. But if the case doesnít qualify for small claims, youíll probably need to hire an attorney.

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How can I reduce my bank fees?

There are many ways to reduce your bank fees.

  • Is your checking account resulting in wasted fees? Find out what you need to do to get free checkingóand free ATM usageóand do it. Keep a minimum balance in the account, and use only ATMs at your own bank, for example. You may want to join a credit union instead of using a bank, since credit unions typically charge less for banking services.

  • Donít keep too much money in a low-interest savings account. Find out how much money youíll need access to in an emergencyóthree to six monthsí worth of expensesóand keep only that amount in savings. The rest of your funds should be put to work.

  • When ordering checks, donít order them through your bank. Many check printers charge less for check orders than the printers used by banks.

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How can I save on my insurance costs?

Here are some ways to save on insurance of all types:

  • Do some shopping for a life insurance policy. It pays to check prices on life insurance policies periodically. Rates change frequently. Also, if youíve quit smoking, you may be entitled to better rates after a few years.

  • Examine your life insurance needs to see whether you are paying for too much coverage.

  • Insure your home and autos with the same insurer. You may be able to get a break by doing this.

  • Shop for auto insurance to try to get a lower rate.

  • Install smoke detectors, burglar alarms, and sprinkler systems to save on homeownerís insurance. Ask your insurance agent about other savings.

  • Get rid of private mortgage insurance. Once you have enough equity in the home, ask your lender to cancel your private mortgage insurance.

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How can I cut my utility costs?

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind in cutting utility costs:

  • Your utility may have a program that subsidizes making your home more energy-efficient. Look into this possibility. Even if there is no help available from the utility, it is worth it to caulk your windows and make sure your insulation is of a high enough "R" factor.

  • Consider installing fluorescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs for lights that are on all the time.

  • Keep the thermostat at the lowest (in the Winter) or highest (in the Summer) temperature consistent with comfort.

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How can I reduce the cost of my phone bill?

Today's cost-cutting competition among phone service providers offers many opportunities for savings on your phone bills, such as:

  • Make sure youíre paying as little as possible for long-distance charges. Take the time to investigate which long-distance carrier will save you the most, and switch to that carrier.

  • Donít dial "Information." Look it up in the phone book.

  • Have a block put on your phone for all "900" calls, if you have children at home.

  • Use e-mail to correspond with relatives and friends.

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How can I reduce the cost of my mortgage?

Consider the following options which will help you reduce the cost of your mortgage:

  • Consider paying down your mortgage. For most people, paying down a mortgage is an effective way of saving and increasing net worth. Decide that you will pay $100 or $200 per monthóor moreóin mortgage principal, and do it faithfully.

  • Consider refinancing your mortgage. See if you can save money by refinancing your mortgage. Go through the calculations and see whether the reduction in your monthly payments would be worth the costs involved with refinancing. The general rule is that a reduction of at least two points will make it worthwhile to refinance, if you intend to stay in the house for at least five years.

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