About CAP

This blog is generated by many contributing writers that are staff of the Consumer Assistance Program of the Attorney General's Office or the Attorney General's Office.

Home Repair Basics: Introducing CAP’s Home Improvement Specialist

By Gabriel Taylor-Marsh

Picture of Gabriel Taylor-Marsh in a red jacket.
Gabriel Taylor-Marsh, Home Improvement Specialist at the VT Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program

It can be difficult to get ahold of the right contractor for your next home improvement project. I am here to let you know that I want to help. I am Gabriel Taylor-Marsh, Home Improvement Specialist in the Vermont Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program.

I share important information every day to help homeowners and contractors throughout the home improvement process, whether there is a question about steps to take before hiring a contractor, or when inquiries arise from a contractor about their in-state registration requirements. I am also here when problems arise and provide telephonic/letter complaint mediation between homeowner and business parties.

In short, I want you to have a great home repair experience. If you are getting ready to have work done on your home, there are things you can do now to find and then hire a contractor. Follow the below checklist and visit our website to learn more: https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/home-improvements

HOme repair how-to checklist

1.    Use Vermont contractor registries to make an informed decision. Contractors: 
       – Registered as a contractor with the Secretary of State agree to meet Vermont professional standards.
       – On the Home Improvement Fraud Registry have been convicted of home improvement fraud.

2.    Ask for recommendations from your community – friends, neighbors, family, co-workers.

3.    Once you identify a contractor you are considering for your project, do more research.
       – Lookup complaint history online, using the name of the contractor and “scam” or “complaint” in your search.
       – Contact the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) and ask if they have complaints filed against the contractor you are considering, the timeframe and the nature of the complaints. 
       – Review Better Business Bureau complaint history. 

4.    Ask the contractor to show you their active registration and insurance policy.

5.    Get quotes from 2-3 other reputable contractors. Quotes should include the expected payment timeline (ideally with a deposit of no more than 10-30%) and ask for references from prior jobs.

6.    Make sure all project expectations are in writing; request a written contract or estimate and do not sign anything you do not agree with.
DO NOT pay all at once! Request an invoice and offer to pay at completion, by installment, or with a reasonable down payment for labor and materials.

Once hired, keep track of all invoices, bills and communication between you and your contractor. 

Please reach out to me directly with any questions you may have: https://ago.vermont.gov/home-improvement-specialist-bio

Buying a New Car from a Dealership? Read This First

By Henry Leopold, CAP Service-Learning Intern 

Cars are both an important transportation resource and, sometimes, an extension of a personal identity. Consumers may be eager to buy a new car after long periods of saving. Usually buying a handful of cars in their lifetime, consumers are at a disadvantage to dealers, who sell cars every day. There is an emotional component to buying a new car that consumers should be aware about.  

Helpful Hints: Buying a New Car. 1. Do detailed research. 2. Get a thorough test drive. 3. Get representations in writing. 4. E-sign is not required. 5. Stay alert throughout signing.

Online Research: Using the Internet as your tool, research different makes and models that have the features you are looking for. Once you have a car in mind, look up the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), which is the manufacturer’s recommendation on vehicle pricing. You can usually find this information on the manufacturer’s website. Also check pricing through online forums, such as Reddit, where many consumers post about their experiences with different cars. Don’t take everything you read from other consumers as fact. Gather information that will help you make an informed decision.   

Test Drive: Once you have a clear idea of the car you want, it is time to go to the dealership. Make clear to the salesperson what you want to try without expressing your interest in buying. If you share how much you like the car, or are excited, salespeople may seek to capitalize on this knowledge when negotiating. Try to stay calm and neutral to help get the best deal.  

Trust your own research over verbal representations. After selecting a car, you will move on to the paperwork, a process which can feel cumbersome for consumers. People tend to relax after selecting the car they want, which is a huge choice. Stay alert throughout the signing.  

Most people do not buy new cars frequently, but a salesperson sells cars every day. Because of this, they are better at selling than you are at buying. One very common strategy used in car sales is to stretch out the car deal. This can be exhausting for the consumer, making it harder to make thoughtful decisions. 

You may be asked to provide an electronic signature on a tablet or computer. This can be problematic as you may not see or comprehend the document. It is easy to miss key facts when reading on the digital screen. You can ask the salesperson to print out any contract you are expected to sign and read the contract carefully. You have the right to get printed documents before you sign, as well as to choose to sign in writing.  

If financing with the dealer, be careful to avoid “yo-yo deals,” where the dealer reserves the right to cancel the agreement and re-finance at a higher interest rate and payment. Sub-prime auto loans often have high interest rates and prepayment penalties for paying off the loan early. Getting pre-approved by your bank—or even having your bank pay with the auto as collateral with a bank auto loan, is also an option.  

If you have experienced an issue in car buying, contact the Consumer Assistance Program.  


This piece is one in a series of Helpful Hints brought to you by the Consumer Assistance Program’s (CAP) service-learning interns. UVM undergraduate students make significant contributions to our program and Vermont through their participation in our service-learning lab, where they learn about consumer protection while honing their professional skills.   

Please note, the information herein is provided for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. Consumers with general consumer questions should contact CAP for more information or seek private counsel from an attorney for legal advice.   

References: 

FDIC – Electronic Signatures 

Federal Trade Commission 

Investopedia – Subprime Auto Loans 

NPR – Yo-yo Sales 

Building Credit

By Sabine Love, CAP Service-Learning Intern
Feature on credit, blog 2 of 2, follows up with additional information on the What is Credit blog.

What are the different types of credit?

  • Revolving Credit holds a given credit limit that you cannot exceed. The balances are paid off, either through portion payments or in full every month, with the remaining balance carried over. The most common forms of revolving credit are credit cards.
  • Installment Credit is where your payments increase and you gradually pay back the creditor overtime, like student or car loans and mortgages.
  • Service Credit is a binding contract you enter where a business provides a service that you pay them for after—most commonly, cell phone plans, utilities, and membership services.
Helpful Hints: How to Build Credit. 1. Secured credit cards allow you to use money you deposit into an account. 2. Credit build loans, offered through credit unions, allow you to pay the credit union back over time. 3. Retail store cards may be an option when obtaining only one and paying off monthly.

How to build your credit

There are many ways to build your credit, such as through the different types of credit previously mentioned. But, what do you do if you cannot obtain revolving credit, or a car loan, because you have not been focusing on building your credit? You can build credit in other ways, even without a cosigner.

            Secured Credit Cards. These forms of credit cards have the same application process as a traditional credit card, but once you are approved, you deposit money into a separate account. With this card, the bank holds the deposit and you have a small monthly range of money to use. It is recommended to use only 30% of this total credit limit, making sure you can pay it in full and don’t “max out” your card.

            Credit Build Loans are the second tip, these are usually offered by credit unions (CU), and you pay the CU back over time through small monthly payments, once you finish the payments, you receive the total amount of funds back.

            Finally, there are Retail Store Cards, these you should be more careful with because they are typically quite easier to obtain than traditional credit cards. These cards usually can only be used at a particular store/chain of stores, and they offer lower credit lines and high interest rates. For those building credit, one card at a favorite store can help build credit, provided it can be paid off every month.

Building credit can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! There are credit education and counseling services available, such as through the Community Action Agencies, and some nonprofits. They are working to empower people to lead financially healthy lives.

And don’t forget, the Consumer Assistance Program is always here to help with any consumer questions you have.

This piece is one in a series of Helpful Hints brought to you by the Consumer Assistance Program’s (CAP) service-learning interns. UVM undergraduate students make significant contributions to our program and Vermont through their participation in our service-learning lab, where they learn about consumer protection while honing their professional skills.  

Please note, the information herein is provided for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. Consumers with general consumer questions should contact CAP for more information, or seek private counsel from an attorney for legal advice.  

References:

GreenPath Financial Wellness

Experian – How to Build Credit

Credit Absolute

What is Credit?

By Sabine Love, CAP Service-Learning Intern
Feature on credit, blog 1 of 2, precedes Building Credit blog.

For one, I feel that the knowledge of the world of credit truly is a terrifying separator between thinking you’re an adult and being an adult. But is the “world of credit” truly that scary? In my experience, I have come to understand that credit can be helpful for young adults, particularly people who are supporting themselves, starting out on their own.  

Let’s start with credit and credit score and credit report. Although they sound similar and both play significant roles in your financial health, they are quite different and play equally different roles.

  • Credit is an arrangement to borrow money now with a promise to repay it later, often with interest.
  • Your credit score, however, is determined by your credit history and determines your credit risk, an indication as to how likely you are to repay your loans. Potential lenders use the credit score to determine whether they want to issue you credit, such as a mortgage, credit card, auto loan, etc.
  • Your credit report is issued by credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, Innovis) that shows your credit history (lines of credit you have open). Remember to check your reports at least once a year to make sure there are no errors.

Now that we have the basics with definitions down, let’s answer some common questions:

How to establish Credit when you don’t have a history of credit?

Many may not know that credit can be established without having to ask another person with credit to co-sign for you or make you an authorized user on their credit card. You can apply for a credit account that is tailored to people that are new to credit. You can ask your bank about limited credit lines, or pre-paid credit cards that build credit.  

Even if you have never opened a line of credit, you can generate a credit report and check your credit history now. Things like utility payments and rent can be used to help build your credit if regular on time payment records are reported to the credit bureau.

Getting your Free Credit Report

  1. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228
  2. Complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
  3. Or, contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies individually to request your report (see below).

This piece is one in a series of Helpful Hints brought to you by the Consumer Assistance Program’s (CAP) service-learning interns. UVM undergraduate students make significant contributions to our program and Vermont through their participation in our service-learning lab, where they learn about consumer protection while honing their professional skills.  

Please note, the information herein is provided for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. Consumers with general consumer questions should contact CAP for more information, or seek private counsel from an attorney for legal advice.  

References:

GreenPath Financial Wellness

Experian – How to Build Credit

Credit Absolute

Considerations in Online Car Buying

By Akuch Dau, CAP Service-Learning Intern

Given this day in age where all things can be done online, what about purchasing your vehicle online? I know, right? I have condensed a few things to keep in mind if you find yourself shopping for a car online.

Helpful Hints: Online Car Buying. 1. Consider your options, 2. Brows features of interest, 3. Closely read the terms, 4. Assess the refund policy, 5. Arrange a test drive and get a mechanical inspection

Let’s first discuss why one might choose to purchase online rather than the traditional in-person dealer route. Purchasing a vehicle online gives you a vast variety to choose from especially if there’s a specific car, make, and model you are interested in. Additionally, you can filter and browse cars with innovative features that suit your desires. In traditional car purchases, you often find yourself going from dealer to dealer to view their inventory, compare prices, and test drive different cars. Comparing options online can save you a significant amount of time. Using your smartphone alone, you can begin your search from anywhere and at any given time.

Here are a couple things to watch out for when buying a car online. Unlike buying a car at a dealer where you can stop by and test drive the car, purchasing online is a different experience. It’s advised to closely read the terms and conditions when deciding to close on a vehicle. Assess the return policy. This will typically state the period of time you have to test out the car and whether there is a restocking fee, if you decide not to keep the car. For example, some online retailers offer a 7-day/250 mile return policy. This week can serve as a useful time for consumers to check out the car by getting it inspected by a reputable mechanic, taking it on thorough test drives to make sure it is a good fit. If it is not, there are terms that outline how a consumer can return or trade in the vehicle.

Getting Started: Before even beginning you search, figure out your budget and how you will be purchasing the car (whether that’s paying cash of financing). Thoroughly do your research, just as you can do in-person, you can also shop around online. It is important to research as much as possible until you find your perfect match. Also, be wary that your credit may pulled during the process of finding financing, these will likely show up as hard inquiries on your credit report.

Nonetheless, buying a car online may not be the best fit for everyone. If you prefer a more hands-on approach and have time to engage an in-person search, the traditional route might be your preference. If you value buying experiences with more options and comparison shopping, online shopping may be something to consider.

Get more helpful hints on used car buying from the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP):

Used Car Buying Guide: https://blog.uvm.edu/cap/national-consumer-protection-week-used-car-buying-guidance/

An Etched Lesson in Car Buying: https://blog.uvm.edu/cap/an-etched-lesson-in-car-buying/

This piece is one in a series of Helpful Hints brought to you by the Consumer Assistance Program’s (CAP) service-learning interns. UVM undergraduate students make significant contributions to our program and Vermont through their participation in our service-learning lab, where they learn about consumer protection while honing their professional skills.  

Please note, the information herein is provided for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. Consumers with general consumer questions should contact CAP for more information, or seek private counsel from an attorney for legal advice.  

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