Author Archives: By Nathaniel Hutchinson

How to Make Your Home Cooler


Every year, it seems new record highs are going on the books. Unfortunately, the relentless heat can send utility bills soaring, leaving many people forced to cut back on other necessities just so they can afford to pay their monthly cooling bills. If you’re interested in learning how to make your home cooler, our home improvement expert has some good advice.

Paint Your Home

According to our in-house home improvement expert, Jim Dugan, paint color can really make a difference in home energy efficiency.

“Most people tend to choose paint colors based on personal taste,” he said. “This may be alright for people who live in mild climates; however, it shouldn’t be your only consideration if you live in one of the hotter regions of the country.”

Dugan says light colors of paint tend to be the best choice for people who want to reduce their energy costs, because these colors reflect more sunlight.

“If your home is painted a dark color, it’s going to soak up a lot of heat,” he said. “This will make the interior much hotter, and your air conditioner is always going to be running. Invariably, lighter colors make your home cooler, while darker ones make it warmer.”

Cover Your Windows

When light invades your home, the temperature will rise. By keeping your glass doors and windows covered, you can drastically reduce your energy costs. That said, according to Dugan, curtains and window shades typically don’t prove as effective as reflective covers.

“Reflective solar shades send a lot of sunlight in the opposite direction, which can really help to make your home cooler,” he said. “Solar privacy shades have been proven to lower utility bills by as much as 30 percent in homes that have a lot of windows. Although they are a bit more expensive, in the end, they can save homeowners a considerable amount of cash.”

Is TheSmartBid a Scam or Are Penny Auction Reviews Unfair?


In our continuing report on bidding fee websites, we’ve taken a look at many different companies. While some have been accused of using misleading or unethical strategies to deceive consumers, others enjoy high ratings from the Better Business Bureau. Currently, you’ll find numerous online penny auction reviews complaining about a supposed TheSmartBid scam. Before you invest a single penny at this site, learn what our tech expert has to say.

A Little Background

Penny auctions have taken a lot of heat from some major consumer advocates. According to technology expert Sarah McDaniels, users should know that these sites can be risky.

“Recently, the AARP and Federal Trade Commission both issued troubling consumer reports warning that many penny auction websites use unscrupulous strategies to take advantage of customers,” she said. “The FTC warns that some of these companies use automated bots, known as shills, to make fake bids on behalf of the companies themselves.”

McDaniels says this unscrupulous strategy can drive up prices and prolong auctions.

“The longer an auction lasts, the more people can get involved,” she said. “This generally encourages bidder failure and increases profits for the companies.”

Are TheSmartBid Reviews Fair?

A quick online search reveals numerous reviews complaining about an alleged TheSmartBid scam. According to McDaniels, this company is not alone.

“It’s difficult for consumers to know who to trust, because many online reviewers are just mad that they lost money and want to slander the penny auction,” she said. “That said, many of these companies do use deceptive tactics.”

Recently, QuiBids conducted a third-party audit to prove it didn’t use shills to scam consumers. Ultimately, the Better Business Bureau awarded the company an A- rating because of this. On the other hand, has not conducted a similar audit; however, it has also earned an A- rating from the BBB.

“If you are dead set on participating at a penny auction, your best bet is to trust the BBB’s ratings,” McDaniels said. “Just know that this type of bargain-hunting is high risk. You are probably going to lose money no matter where you play.”

Before You Buy a Home: Real Estate Tips


Freddie Mac recently released its latest survey, and the news was good for prospective buyers. Record low mortgage rates have combined with descending home values to create a buyer’s paradise. Unfortunately, many borrowers are having trouble securing loans. Before you buy a home, consider the following real estate tips.

Why it’s So Hard Nowadays

Just a few years ago, banks were passing loans out to all-comers; however, that all changed when the foreclosure crisis hit. Now lenders have implemented very tough requirements that make it hard to get approval. These standards are centered on three big factors: your credit rating, your job and your cash flow. Before you buy a home, learn how to keep from hurting your chances.

Your Credit Report

Get the latest copy of your credit report to ensure that everything is accurate. Even a few minor errors could keep you from securing a mortgage. If something is amiss, file a written or online report to get it corrected.

Your Job

Lenders value economic stability above all else. If a new job opportunity becomes available, you’d be best served to stay put at least until you are able to close on your home. Job security is an important part of the borrowing process. Even if the new job pays more, the lender is likely to view the move as risky.

Your Cash Flow

Before the economic downturn, you could get a mortgage without much of a down payment. That has changed. Nowadays you will be asked to put up roughly 20 percent of the home’s worth. If you have this kind of money, you’re in good shape. If not, you may have to make other arrangements. Before you buy a home, look into local home buying programs. Not only do many of these require much lower credit scores and offer lower mortgage rates; they often allow borrowers to take out smaller, second mortgages which can be used to fund down payment and closing costs.

Not All Bid and Buy Penny Auction Sites Legitimate


In its continuing series focused on consumer-related tips and warnings, has taken a look at numerous online shopping platforms. Ultimately, we’ve found that not all bid and buy penny auction sites offer users a fair chance to acquire discount merchandise.

According to our in-house technology expert, Sarah McDaniels, while some sites have taken steps to raise their reputations in the eyes of consumers; others continue a business-as-usual approach that has drawn warnings from some reputable organizations.

“When they first came out, penny auctions were almost synonymous with the word scam,” McDaniels said. “In response to numerous complaints, both the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau issued reports warning consumers that many of these sites use deceitful techniques to rip their customers off. Now some of these bid and buy sites are taking steps to prove they don’t scam their users; however, many haven’t followed suit.”

McDaniels says the FTC has warned that many penny auctions use shills or automated bots to make fake bids that drive up prices and prolong auctions. This inevitably increases bidder failure, which ultimately pads company profits. That said, some companies are attempting to separate themselves from their competitors by proving they don’t use these types of strategies.

Recently, QuiBids paid Grant Thornton, a very reputable accounting firm, to conduct a neutral, third-party audit of the bid and buy website’s business model. In the end, Grant Thornton found that QuiBids did not use automated bots to cheat its customers; and the BBB chose to upgrade the company’s rating in response. Unfortunately, according to McDaniels, few penny auctions have followed QuiBid’s lead.

“Right now, consumers really don’t have any way of knowing which sites use shills and which do not,” she said. “There are some sites that attempt to uncover this sort of unscrupulous activity by comparing total human visitors by the total actual bids to see if there is a notable discrepancy. That said, if consumers really want to be sure they aren’t getting cheated, they can either avoid these types of sites altogether or review the BBB’s ratings system to see if the particular company has conducted any sort of audit.”

Home Refinance Possible despite Lukewarm Real Estate Report


According to the S&P/Case Shiller composite index, average home prices ascended for the second consecutive month, a potential sign that the housing market might be inching toward a recovery.

Unfortunately, sales remain stagnant in most parts of the country for a variety of reasons, including tough lending standards and buyer reticence. What’s more, although the S&P’s index indicates that home values are on the rise; they still remain far lower than what they were before the real estate crisis. They also remain much lower than what many economists had hoped, and most experts aren’t expecting a significant improvement anytime soon.

Hope for Refi Applicants

Low mortgage rates have made home refinance ideal for numerous homeowners; however, many have had trouble taking advantage due to lost equity associated with falling property values. That said, it’s important to remember that the S&P/Case Shiller composite index only takes an average based on 20 major metropolitan areas. If you live in a city that is experiencing job growth and economic improvement, your home may be worth more than you think.

If you currently have a 30-year mortgage, you can save a bundle of cash by switching to a 15-year plan. Low current interest rates can also help you lower your monthly payments if you are currently struggling with a 15-year loan. By switching to a 30-year plan, you can free up cash to help pay for school loans or credit card debt.

Unfortunately, to get approval, you must have enough home equity to satisfy lenders. If you live in a depressed housing market that has seen its share of foreclosures; this probably won’t be the case.

Still, it may make sense to contact lenders to find out if you do qualify. Getting a new mortgage makes sense in today’s real estate market, whether you are struggling financially or enjoying economic prosperity. After all, low mortgage rates mean cheaper home loans for those who have what it takes to get a lender’s stamp of approval.

Online Shopping: Finding Deals and Bargains, Avoiding Scams


Online shopping has continued to increase, despite lingering economic trouble that has left many consumers pinching pennies elsewhere. These days, ordinary Internet retailers are seeing less activity, while discount and coupon websites have seen a big surge in business. Unfortunately, the increased desire for deals and bargains has left many buyers vulnerable to scams. Before you punch in your credit card information, understand the risks associated with many so-called discount websites.

Scammy Websites

Although certain websites do offer some very legitimate deals and bargains, many are set up to take advantage of consumer ignorance. According to Sarah McDaniels, an online technology expert, consumers should watch out for two specific types of online shopping platforms.

“Generally, consumers should be wary of any auction site that requires you to pay for the right to make bids, as well as any website offering wholesale merchandise from overseas,” she said. “Right now, penny auction websites are aggressively marketing themselves on the radio, television and Internet. This type of salient promotion makes them seem reputable to unknowing consumers; however, some major consumer advocates have warned that many of these sites tend to cost people a lot of money.”

McDaniels says consumers also tend to have problems when they shop at websites offering wholesale merchandise from overseas.

“Websites, such as AliExpress and DHGate, offer consumers discounted merchandise made in China,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are all sorts of online complaints associated with these companies, with most focusing on bait-and-switch scams, shipping delays and damaged goods.”

What Consumers Should Know

According to McDaniels, bargain hunters should take the time to research specific vendors before they enter their credit card information.

“Online shopping sites aren’t regulated nearly as well as brick-and-mortar stores,” she said. “Before you buy anything from a particular website, take the time to do a Google search. If you find a lot of complaints, pay attention. Likewise, check the Better Business Bureau to see if they’ve rated the site you’re interested in. If it has received a rating of B+ or better, you can probably be sure the deals are legitimate. If the rating is lower, or there is no rating at all, you may want to spend your money elsewhere.”

Plugin by Social Author Bio