Q. We have been having a running battle with a furniture store about a table and chairs that arrived damaged. We tried to return them, but no luck. We asked for the damaged pieces to be repaired or replaced, but so far no response. We said we would stop making payments through our charge card, but were warned that this could ruin our credit rating. Can they put out bad credit information about us just because we are fighting to have repairs done?
A. As long as you are disputing the quality of a purchased item with a legitimate damage complaint, the store cannot put out bad information about your account until your complaint has been formally acknowledged in writing. Of course, you must put your request for repairs in writing. Conversations on the phone won't work. According to the Fair Credit Billing Act, you may withhold payment on damaged or shoddy goods.
Once the store has answered or explained your account in writing, then action can be taken to collect the money owed. But, you may still disagree with the store's conclusions in writing and the creditor must report that you have challenged your bill. You must be given the name and address of each person who has received information about your account (such as other stores or the credit bureau). And, you may enter your side of the dispute in the credit bureau files. For more information, you can get a "Consumer Handbook to Credit Protection Laws" by writing: Publications Services, Division of Support Services, Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System, Washington, D.C. 20551.
Q. How do you know what you're getting when you have a contractor insulate your home? There are so many confusing terms.
A. The best thing to do is get at least two or three bids for the job. Ask for references. Check with people who have used the contractor. Reputable builders in your area may be able to recommend names of established insulation contractors. When you compare one bid with another, look at the "R factor" you're getting. This factor is the thermal resistance or ability of a material to decrease the flow of heat through the house shell. According to the National Bureau of Standards, this R factor "is the single most important indicator of the insulation's effectiveness and should be used by the homeowner in deciding what to purchase." Thickness should not be used to estimate insulation value. On your contract, you should have the exact R value you're getting, the insulation manufacturer's name and assurance that the product meets the latest specification set by the General Services Administration (GSA).
As for the type of insulation you choose, there are three basic types: mineral wool (rock wool and glass fiber), cellulose (pulverized paper that is chemically treated to be fire retardant and vermin resistant) and foam. Mineral wool is good for open areas like attics while cellulose might be better for harder to reach places (it can be blown in). Formaldehyde foam is used in walls but may release a gas that is a health hazard.
Q. Do you need any special insurance if you drive for a carpool?
A. Everyone who drives for a car pool should review their automobile insurance policy to see if there's enough liability coverage. Remember, you will be exposed to more chance of a lawsuit because you'll be driving a lot more with other people as passengers. In general, your regular insurance should cover car pooling. Lawyers suggest you carry at least $300,000 worth of liability coverage. Adding extra liability coverage may cost relatively little money. And, don't forget that carpool drivers who only do the driving once or twice a week can get a premium discount of up to 25 percent on their insurance. People who are drivers in van pools where the other passengers pay for services should check with their insurance companies. Some states require a special license for this kind of driving and insurance companies often like you to have at least $2-million-worth of liability coverage. As long as the passengers' payments are strictly for reimbursement of costs, you're on safe ground. But if your van pool is a little business that makes money, your insurance may not cover it. Van leasing companies know all the answers and usually take care of the insurance and licensing details.