It’s a hot mess

Every time I have to hire a repair person my stomach tightens. You just have this feeling that you will be taken advantage of because they know more about what needs repairing. They can show you a part, but you don’t have a clue if it’s actually what they say it is. They can tell you anything, and you have little ability on the spot to know if you’re being snookered.

So, it was no surprise to me when NBC’s “Today” show aired a segment this week that found that every single repair person they called to check on an air conditioning system wasn’t honest about what needed to be fixed and then overcharged for services.

Investigative reporter Jeff Rossen and his team set up hidden cameras during a heat wave. They rented a house in New Jersey and had three certified A/C experts inspect they system. It was in excellent condition. Then an A/C expert set up a common, easy-to-fix problem: a simple broken wire that shuts the unit down. He said he would charge less than $200 to fix it.

Out of six repairmen who came out to service the air conditioning system, every one overcharged for repairs. The most outrageous of them all tried to charge $950 and included a fee for a part that didn’t even exist in the unit. The repairman was fired by his employer.

Of course, there are honest A/C service companies, but to try to avoid being duped, people should line up a company before there’s an emergency, Rossen advised viewers.

Here’s a link from the Better Business Bureau on tips for finding a good A/C contractor.

The BBB also has a free service that allows you to request a quote, proposal or other information from a business that meets BBB’s standards. To learn more about the service, click here.

This week’s Color of Money Question: What’s your worst repair horror story? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “It’s a hot mess” in the subject line, and include your full name, city and state.

Join me today, July 12, for a live chat

Let’s talk money today. Join me at noon ET for a live online discussion. My guest will be John D. Spooner, author of “No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Letters to My Grandchildren.”

Be sure to send your questions in early or read the archive later.

Read my review of Spooner’s book.

Credit card vacation perks

When you pack for your next vacation you might want to include your credit card agreement. Actually, you might want to look at it carefully before you leave because you may find some benefits that could save you money during your trip, reported USA Today personal finance columnist Sandra Block.

Here are a few savings to look for:

-- Baggage fees. More credit cards will cover the cost of one checked bag each way, and with some premium cards your traveling buddy’s bags may be covered, too, says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com.

-- Enjoy the local entertainment for free. Block writes that cards such as Bank of America’s Museums On Us program offers free admission to more than 150 museums on the first full weekend of every month. Other cards offer discounts or preferred seats for Broadway shows, theme parks and sporting events.

-- Emergency help. Your credit card may cover travel assistance and roadside assistant.

Help for homeowners

If you’re shopping for a home and using FHA financing you should know that as of July 1, the Federal Housing Administration has rescinded a policy that would have made it tougher for people with credit issues to get a loan, reported Washington Post financial columnist Kenneth Harney.

“Under the withdrawn plan, borrowers with collections or disputed unpaid bills would have been required to resolve them before their loan could be closed, either by paying them off in full or by arranging a schedule of repayments,” Harney pointed out his column.

Now, Harney said, FHA loan applicants with collections or disputes in their credit files won’t be forced to pay off or resolve the accounts before closing. However, it’s likely the application would be referred for manual underwriting, where a loan officer takes a hard look at the facts and circumstances of an applicant’s collections or disputed accounts.

There are exceptions, such as when the disputed account is both less than $500 and more than 24 months old, Harney noted.

Picture-perfect

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “Would you airbrush your professional picture to improve your chances of getting a job?”

Here are some of your responses:

“The problem with any picture is it doesn’t capture the personality and essence of a person,” wrote Matt Tracy of Vandalia, Ohio. “Airbrushing a picture that helps define those aspects of a person is fine in my eyes (pun intended). It is when there is a disconnect between the picture and how the person presents in real life that I think is the real stumbling block.”

Michael Stephenson of Lawrenceville, Ga., said he wouldn’t alter his photo. He wrote: “I feel that if an employer cannot accept me the way I really am, then I probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.”

“Yes, I would use a cleaned-up photo to represent myself professionally, when the situation calls for it,” wrote Kimberly Rotter of San Diego. “I want to look polished, in person and online. On LinkedIn and other sites that use a tiny thumbnail, I use any smiling close-up. But on About.me, a site that displays a very large image, I use a high resolution photo that was taken and retouched by a professional photographer.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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