Saturday, December 27, 2014

Your Medical Provider May Not Give You Credit for Overpayment

Card trick quilt block pieces are like health insurance and providers
Card Trick Quilt Pattern Represents How Insurance and Medical Providers Work Together

Health insurance and medical providers work together, with most providers filing claims with your health insurer for you. You still need to check to be certain you get the benefits you pay for.

Recently, Hubby had a visit to the doctor, and since we have a high deductible, he was required to pay $140 for the office visit at a large Central Texas hospital. He had blood tests, and didn’t pay that charge in advance. We received a bill at the end of the month from the hospital for about $180, so I went online to check with our insurer. I was surprised to find that the charge for the office visit was limited to $102, so we had $38 credit on the advance payment that didn’t show on the billing. 

I called the hospital billing department and was told that, because of the way the computer program works, a credit never shows. You owe the total amount you paid in advance unless you call and request a credit. 

The lesson learned here is to compare the insurance payments and maximum allowable insurance charges with the charges from the hospital. The medical provider estimates the amount you owe for an office visit -- and you may owe less. You may find they don’t show a credit balance, and you lose any overpayment you make.

We saved $38 by comparing the charges with the insurance payments, using the insurance website. That may not seem like much, but if every patient is overcharged and the hospital or doctor’s office wipes the slate clean so billing begins at $0, that is a lot of money for the American consumer to lose. Don’t let it happen to you.

See you next year!


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fraud, Scams, Deceptive Practices You Can Fix Yourself Free or Inexpensively

Unassembled train parts are like incomplete jobs at your house
Don't Let the Bad Guys Ruin Your Work

If a company or contractor has scammed you and you don’t want to pay an attorney, there are alternatives. Solutions exist that don’t require hiring an attorney. 

If a contractor has ripped you off and particularly if several people are affected, the attorney general’s office for your state accepts complaints in the consumer protection division. You complete the complaint form and the consumer protection office contacts the company or person for a response. You get a reply from the AG’s office if the contractor or individual responds. If the consumer protection division receives several complaints, it may file suit, but usually the claims are settled.

Here are some instances when the consumer protection division of the attorney general’s office for the state has been helpful:

An item purchased from Arizona didn’t arrive within 30 days. Filing a claim with the consumer protection division of the Arizona attorney general’s office got the item and an apology.

A promise of a $50 bonus for financing a computer never arrived, and the financing company didn’t meet expectations. A complaint to the AG’s office in Texas brought a response and a credit.

A news report a few weeks ago showed a family with a roofing job that wasn’t completed. The couple said they couldn’t afford an attorney and thought that a news report would shed light on the issue and maybe get the roof completed. This couple could have filed a complaint with the consumer protection division of the AG’s office to get a response from the roofing company.

Sometimes the Better Business Bureau can be helpful as well. 

Also, if you’ve been defrauded on the Internet, file a complaint with, the Internet Crime Complaint Center. You can read more information about the ICCC here:
Your local Small Claims Court also accepts claims without an attorney, although there is usually a filing fee. Your County Attorney or Sheriff’s Department may also help you with ideas or information to get action or your money refunded.

Send all correspondence by mail and keep a copy for your records. 

If the activity takes place through the U.S. mail, you may file with the postal service for mail fraud. Here’s some information about filing with the USPS if you’ve been scammed or received deceptive information through the mail:
Don’t let the cost of an attorney or lack of knowledge make you a victim. Act immediately in writing and pursue all free or inexpensive avenues to get action. You can do this!

See you again soon,


Monday, September 22, 2014

Texas Property Taxes are High ... and Due Soon

Water bird at the edge of a pond
Yellow Crowned Night Heron at the Park in Temple, Texas

Texas Property Taxes are Assessed in October

You may think of Halloween in October, but in Texas, we know that’s property tax notice month. Texas homeowners get a notice in the mail to pay property taxes by October 31 to avoid penalties -- or get a discount, however you read the notice. 

You already know that everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes property taxes. According to, the median property tax in Texas is $2,275 on the home value of $125,800. You’d think with all that farmland, Texas could make enough revenue taxing ranches and leave the homeowners with a postage-stamp square of land a little money to live on. It’s not to be, and property taxes, even with a homeowner’s exemption, will probably cost you $200 a month in Texas.

You may pay your Texas property taxes with your house payment each month as part of the escrow, or you may pay the taxes separately once a year, directly to the Tax Appraisal District for your county. 

If you’re paying with your house payment, you may not be getting all the exemptions available to you. There are a few exemptions allowed under Texas property laws.

Check your tax notice to see the appraised value of your house. If you don’t believe your house will sell for the amount of the appraisal, contact the local tax appraiser and ask questions. Compare the value of your home with similar homes in the neighborhood. The appraisal information is available online at official websites in Texas, but estimated values are also available through websites like Trulia and Homesnap. If your local appraiser doesn’t value your home based on similar homes in the neighborhood, complete the forms and request a hearing. You can contest the value. Here’s how it works.
See if you have a homestead exemption. If you live in the home and meet the qualifications, you can claim a homestead exemption and reduce some of your taxes. If your tax notice doesn’t show a homestead exemption, call the Tax Appraisal District and ask. Complete the homestead exemption forms and save a copy for yourself before you send them to the tax office. You are entitled to $3,000 in exemption from county property taxes and $15,000 in exemption for school district taxes.

Look for disabled or age 65 exemption, if you can qualify. This gives you an additional $10,000 exemption of the appraised value of the homestead, and maybe some other exemptions -- depending on whether the additional exemptions are adopted by the governing body of the taxing unit or a majority vote of the qualified voters of the taxing unit.

Texas also has a tax ceiling for senior citizens. Ask about freezing your taxes the year you are 65. It applies as of January 1 of that year, and will keep your taxes from increasing each year unless you make significant improvements. The freeze or ceiling applies to a surviving spouse living in the home if the spouse is 55 or disabled at the time of the spouse’s demise.

There is a disabled veteran exemption in Texas that also applies to the surviving spouse. If you or your spouse is a disabled veteran, be sure to check to see if you are getting the exemption. You are not eligible if you are remarried, and you can’t receive both the disabled veteran or surviving spouse exemption combined with the over 65 exemption.

Request the forms and send them to the appropriate office, along with any requested documents (probably a copy of your driver’s license and utility bill). Beware that there are people out there who want to do this for you FOR A FEE. They check to see who hasn’t claimed all available exemptions and offer to complete the form for you. You can do this on your own, and if you have any difficulty, the Appraisal District will assist you. You don’t need to pay for free services.

Pay your taxes in full by the end of October and get a 3 percent discount. End of November payments are reduced by 2 percent and end of December payments save one percent. Take advantage of all of the breaks, exemptions and reductions you can get to save a little money on your property taxes in Texas. Remember that you don't pay an income tax and enjoy your little piece of Texas.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cooking Cool in the Summer Heat -- Pasta Salad and Fruit Salad Recipes

Killdeer or plover bird in Texas pond water
The Killdeer Keeps Cool in the Texas Heat by Standing in Water

Texas summer is upon us and we attempt to keep the electricity costs down by using recipes that don’t require the oven. We also like cold salads and have a couple of recipes we’ve developed over the years that are economical and easy. When cooking, we often read a recipe and remove the foods we don’t like or don’t have on hand. Then we substitute foods we like that sound like they would go with the recipe. Here are a couple of recipes we've created that you can modify to suit your family’s likes and dislikes.

Vegetable Pasta Salad

Boxed Mac and Cheese Dinner
Cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, bell peppers, carrots and other vegetables you like, chopped in bite-size pieces.

Boil some salted water on the top of the stove and add about half a cup of macaroni. Cook until tender. Pour off most of the water (leave a few tablespoons of water to wet the dry cheese) and add the cheddar cheese mix to the macaroni. (We don’t use butter or milk like the Mac and Cheese recipe calls for.) Allow to cool. Add chopped vegetables and mix so the cheese coats the vegetables. Season with black pepper and Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until serving. If we have ham available, we chop it into the salad and serve as a main dish.

Fruit Salad

1 Can of pineapple chunks
1 Cup of mini marshmallows
1/2 cup of coconut
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 apple, chopped fine
Can of mandarin oranges, drained or fresh oranges in broken sections
Strawberries or other berries, fresh or frozen
Other fruit in season that you like

Mix all ingredients and cover. Refrigerate until cold.

Adapt these recipes to suit your family, and enjoy the fruits and vegetables while they’re in season and affordable. As a smart consumer, you can find ways to beat the heat and the utility bills while eating well. We have other tips and practical cooking recipes in an ebook we wrote a couple of years ago. You can find it here in Tips and Recipes for Easy Cooking.

Enjoy your summer. Eat economically and keep cool.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Donate your Left-Over Merchandise to Reach the End-User

Shasta Daisy flower in natural setting
Add Beauty to Someone's Life with Your Donation

Donating Where It’s Most Helpful and Best Used

When you have leftovers from your garage sale or are cleaning out the house or garage, you probably think you’re doing a good deed by donating it to a local non-profit. Some non-profits resell everything, and some really give things away. If you donate to a non-profit corporation that sells the merchandise, the people who really need it never get it. They usually don’t have vehicles to drive around looking for bargains, and they don’t have money to buy what they need.

I saw a whole box of hotel soaps and shampoos for sale at a local non-profit store this week -- someone had spent some time in Las Vegas. These are great items for the women’s shelter or for a homeless shelter with shower facilities. If you donate to the place where the product is used, your donation goes directly to someone who needs it and won’t get thrown out if it doesn’t sell.

Blankets, coats, towels and washcloths are also essentials for women’s shelters and homeless shelters. New products like unopened make-up, combs, brushes and even emery boards are helpful donations for shelters. Shelters need school supplies because kids are homeless, too. 

Call around and find out which organization can use your leftovers, instead of donating them to a place that sells them. Even the profit doesn’t go to homeless or needy from some of these non-profit stores; it goes to build more stores and grow the capital of these non-profit outfits. Many of the non-profit stores pay management bonuses to use the profit, while lower-level employees get minimum wage and aren’t allowed to purchase anything in the store.

When you live in a nice neighborhood, it’s difficult to locate individuals who really need, but they’re in every town and city in America. You can make a difference with your cast-offs by touching base with organizations like food pantries, homeless shelters, women’s shelters and the Salvation Army donation center. These organizations run shelters and provide food as well as supplies to individuals and families. Coat drives give away coats before the cold weather begins. Some organizations give away fans in the southern states in the summer and provide blankets in the winter. 

The Salvation Army in our area interviews individuals and provides a voucher for household necessities like silverware, pots and pans and sheets -- particularly helpful for someone who leaves an abusive relationship or is starting over after a fire. When the person finds an approved item, it’s checked off the voucher and bagged at no cost to the individual. If the store doesn't have all the items at one time, the person can return to shop until listed items are located and checked off the voucher. 

Before you make a run to the nearest thrift store, consider where your donations will reach the end user. A place that sells the items to build another store may not be your best choice.

See you soon!