Advocate’s Ratewatcher a tool for comparing your options

Posted Sept. 13, 2009, at 11:58 p.m.

Here’s a quick quiz. Which of the following Web sites offers a truly free way to get a copy of your credit report: www.freecreditreport.com or www.annualcreditreport.com?

You may be surprised to learn it is not the site that includes the word “free,” despite what its broadcast ads say. The three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and Trans Union — sponsor the latter site, and you are entitled to one free report from each of the three companies each year.

This quiz (and the reminder that while credit reports are free, credit scores are not) can be found in Ratewatcher, a publication of the Maine Public Advocate’s Office. It’s a newsletter filled with information about the utilities that operate in Maine.

The office has been in the news most often in Maine’s ongoing conversations with FairPoint Communications. Problems since the buyout of Verizon have been too well documented to repeat here, although last week’s summit with regulators from New Hampshire and Vermont as well as Maine brought few assurances that solu-tions to all concerns would be swift.

The September issue of Ratewatcher puts the FairPoint issue on Page One and suggests there was likely plenty of blame to go around for the current situation. The inside pages contain a wealth of material on other subjects that many consumers should find helpful.

Before touching on a few specifics, we should mention that, as with everything else, costs have caught up with the publication. The Public Advocate’s Office used to publish 25,000-30,000 copies of each issue at a cost of roughly a dollar a copy. Recent budget cuts forced the office to publish online, at the Web site www.maine.gov/meopa.

“It’s as accurate as we can get it, and as current as we can get it,” said Richard Davies, Maine’s public advocate. He said the information can be downloaded and printed from the Web site. Consumers may have a copy sent to them electronically by sending their e-mail addresses to deborah.a.tondreau@maine.gov with “Rate-watcher” in the

subject line. You may use the same e-mail address to request that a black-and-white copy be mailed to you, or call 287-2445 with your request.

The latest issue focuses on telephone, wireless and Internet plans available in Maine. One article advises not to pay for options you don’t need; use your answering machine to screen calls instead of paying for caller ID.

Ratewatcher isn’t shy about naming names when comparing services. This issue contains charts listing rates for prepaid, long distance and voice-over-Internet protocol, or VOIP, plans. It explains why you may be paying too much for “bundled” services, combining phone and Internet plans.

One article takes a hard look at wireless phone companies and the actual cost of minutes through their plans. It urges a careful look at your use and needs and suggests common sense choices. Bottom line: You may be better off with a prepaid plan.

Ratewatcher is a great service to consumers. Take a look online, and call the Public Advocate’s Office if you have issues with utilities operating in Maine.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or e-mail contacexdir@live.com.

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