Spooky Charges You Shouldn’t Pay

October 31, 2011

The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) on Halloween told Chicagoland gas, electric and telephone customers that they could be haunted by nearly $500 a year in unnecessary charges.

Costumed CUB staff handed out Halloween treats and money-saving tips at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago on Monday, where they unveiled their list of “The Five Scariest Utility Bill Money-Wasters,” and showed Illinois consumers how they could avoid the charges.

“These budget-busting monsters don’t want to take a bite out of us—just our bottom lines,” said CUB Executive Director David Kolata. “But defeating them can be as easy as making a phone call or screwing in a light bulb, and can save you nearly $500 a year.”

CUB reports that consumers’ gas, electric and phone bills are often bloated with extra services and inflated plans they don’t need, causing bills to skyrocket.

Consumers can slash their bills by avoiding these five money-wasters:

1. Line-Backer: This isn’t Brian Urlacher, but it can be just as punishing. This optional AT&T insurance plan, for $96 a year, covers repairs to phone wires inside the walls of the home. But studies show those repairs are needed on average about once every 20-30 years. CUB recommends dropping this unnecessary service.

2. “Dead” Minutes: Cell-phone users are often frightened by high “overage” rates, but a bigger problem is “dead” minutes—calling time paid for but never used. CUB and Validas, the makers of CUBCellphoneSaver.com, found an average of more than $200 a year in wasted calling time on bills. CUB recommends downgrading to a plan with fewer minutes, or choosing a prepaid cell phone.

3. Vampire Power: This vampire sucks your electricity. Plugged-in but unused appliances could cost the average home an estimated $100 a year in wasted power. CUB recommends turning off and unplugging unused appliances, and using a “smart” power strip. A long list of money-saving actions is available at CUB’s free service, CUBEnergySaver.com.

4. ComfortGuard: This $4.95 monthly gas pipe insurance plan haunts hundreds of thousands of Nicor Gas bills, but an analysis by the Illinois Attorney General’s office and CUB found that the service was rarely used, and the annual cost was more than the average cost of pipe repairs. Consumers don’t have to pay for ComfortGuard to have Nicor investigate a gas leak—the company does that for free. Peoples Gas offers a similar program called “Pipeline Protection” for around $3 a month.

5. Incandescent Light Bulb: Like the infamous B-movie “Blob,” the traditional, incandescent light bulb has a big appetite — for energy. It uses 75 percent more electricity than a Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulb. Each CFL can help save up to $10 a year in electricity costs.

“We see plenty of ghosts, vampires and zombies on television this time of year, but the real nightmares come from our utility bills,” said Kolata. “Luckily, there are plenty of ways to take the ‘boo’ out of our budgets, and CUB knows all about them.”

Categories: Economy, Education

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