Handy Tool: Consumer Action Handbook

cover of Consumer Action Handbook

If you’ve ever wondered what services to expect from a bank, how to choose a new doctor, scams to avoid when buying a new car, or how to deal with an unanswered complaint on a faulty product, USAGov has a handy free tool that just may help. They’ve just issued a 157-page Consumer Action Handbook (alert: 3 mb PDF) with many valuable tips, how-tos, scam avoidance advice and directories.

Here’s how they describe the resource:

“The Consumer Action Handbook brings together consumer information from across government. It includes practical questions to ask and factors to consider when you buy products and services. The Handbook features topics that affect everyone, such as credit reports and identity theft. It also addresses specific issues, like managing someone else’s finances and gas pump skimming. You’ll also find tips for detecting and reporting scams, throughout the book. Use our consumer assistance directory and sample complaint letter to file a consumer complaint.”

The guide is broken into four sections:

Part I — Be a savvy consumer – advice before you make a purchase. Covers general tips, banking, cars, credit, education, employment, food & nutrition, health care, housing, insurance, investing, privacy & identity theft, telecommunications, telemarketing & unwanted mail, travel, utilities, wills & funerals

Part II — key information resources – a list of public resources for seniors, persons
with disabilities, military families, and also for emergency preparations.

Part III — File a complaint – Suggestions on resolving consumer problems, including a sample complaint letter (page 60)

Part IV — Consumer Assistance Directory – Find contact information for corporate offices, consumer organizations, trade groups, government agencies, state authorities and more in a 70+ page directory.

You can also search for topics in the Index beginning on page 138.

You can download a copy or order a free print copy of the Consumer Action Handbook here.

Shedding light on buying energy-saving light bulbs

If saving money is one of your new year’s resolutions, one way might be as simple as flicking a switch. Converting to energy saver bulbs can reap real savings but many people are confused and frustrated by the array of choices and the unfamiliar terminology when shopping. What used to be a simple purchase is definitely a more complex task, but help is at hand with NPR’s simple Guide to Changing Light Bulbs, a handy tool designed to demystify the many options we now have as we transition to energy efficient lighting. It compares standard incandescent bulbs that we are all familiar with to halogen incandescent, CFL and LED options. It includes pictorial aids, terminology definitions and handy comparison charts. Two things we found most useful are the comparison of costs over 10 years (ranging from a low of $16.37 to a high of $76.70) and the equivalency guide of watts to lumens.

For those who’d like a little more detail, CNet offers a guide for techno-geeks, the Light bulb buying guide. It offers more detail on the various choices, along with a discussion about light color. Hint: you don’t have to forgo that soft, romantic glow if you know what to shop for. It also discusses options like shape, directionality of light and dimmability.

In addition to bulbs, you may want to consider replacing some of your fixtures. Energy Star estimates that replacing your five most used fixtures with energy saver models could save up to $75 a year.

Here are a few other guides to help you out.