Jacquelyn Lynn - Online Consumer Advice and Commentary

Jacquelyn Lynn is a business writer whose dynamic books and insightful articles have been helping business owners and managers work smarter and more profitably for more than two decades. She is the author of Entrepreneur’s Almanac, Online Shopper’s Survival Guide and co-author of Make Big Profits on eBay, as well as a regular contributor to Entrepreneur magazine. For more information and for the link to her business blog, visit www.jacquelynlynn.com.

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Location: Central Florida

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Online Shopper’s Survival Guide: A perfect Christmas gift

I admit: this post is a bit of shameless self-promotion. My book, Online Shopper’s Survival Guide, makes a great Christmas gift, especially for a youth or a senior just learning how to maneuver online, or anyone who wants to know more about savvy online shopping.

To hear my interview about the book on Written Voices, click here.



Friday, November 24, 2006

After Black Friday comes Cyber Monday

Monday, Nov. 27, 2006 is being called “Cyber Monday” and is expected to be the busiest online shopping day of the holiday season. More and more people are choosing to avoid the hassle of brick-and-mortar stores and are shopping online instead.

That’s great—but only if you know what you’re doing and shop wisely. Buy only from e-tailers you know or have researched. Order in plenty of time for your merchandise to arrive before you need it. Pay attention so you don’t get caught in a scam.

Avoiding fraud and finding great deals are two things I discuss at length in Online Shopper’s Survival Guide. Visit my website at www.jacquelynlynn.com to read an excerpt on how to evaluate an online seller.



Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Be a savvy mortgage consumer

Recently I saw a news article about a couple that had purchased their dream home with an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). When the initial low term of the mortgage was over, the payments nearly doubled, and the homeowners couldn’t afford the higher amount. The wife was quoted as saying that she hadn’t understood the terms of the loan. Now, they’re facing foreclosure.

This is an all-too-common circumstance, and speaks to the importance of understanding absolutely everything about any loan that you take out—especially a loan that uses your home as collateral. Don’t feel stupid because you have questions. Ask them and make sure you’re satisfied with the answers. If a mortgage broker or loan officer demonstrates impatience with your questions, tries to rush you through the process, tells you not to worry about items in the contract, or says or does anything that makes you uncomfortable, you need to find someone else to deal with.

Don’t let emotions override your common sense. It’s better to buy a home you can afford and keep it than to use “creative financing” to buy one you can’t afford and will lose in a few years because your payments skyrocket to an amount you can’t pay.

For some good information about mortgages that will help you be an educated consumer, visit PersonalHomeLoanMortgages.com.



Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Extended warranties: Don’t waste your money

Consumer Reports feels so strongly that extended warranties are a waste of money (with two possible exceptions) that the consumer organization took out a full page ad in USA Today that says simply:

“Dear Shopper,
Despite what the salesperson says, you don’t need an extended warranty.
Consumer Reports”

Yet, according to Consumer Reports, shoppers are expected to spend $1.6 billion on extended warranties this holiday season. Think about that -- that's not for merchandise, it's just for warranties. Read Why You Don’t Need an Extended Warranty to learn more about this issue and to find out the two exceptions to this advice.

Salespeople can be very pushy with extended warranties because they are so profitable for the stores. A technique that I have used to halt that part of the sales process is to ask, “Are you telling me that I’m buying a product that will likely break in the near future? If the quality isn’t any better than that, maybe I should reconsider this purchase.”

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Some salespeople are more persistent than others. But the bottom line on extended warranties is that, in most cases, you should just say no to them.



Monday, November 20, 2006

Online shopping: for when you don’t fit in at the retail stores

Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer and I must be sisters under the skin. In a recent column, she made a number of observations that had me thinking, “How did she know how I feel?”

For example, she writes, “I try to spend, but I am too confused. … My coffee shop sells books and music. My cheese shop sells linen towels. My bookstore sells coffee and desserts. My grocery store sells beach chairs.” She notes the “you don’t belong here” atmosphere of stores such as Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch. She points out that in stores such as Saks, Talbots, and Nordstrom, “the help is better dressed than I am on my best day. I don’t have the clothes to shop for clothes in these stores.” Neither do I.

Click here to read the complete column. Then join those of us who prefer to shop online in the comfort of our homes or offices.

And – here’s the shameless plug – if you’d like to know more about online shopping, my book Online Shopper’s Survival Guide will tell you everything you need to know to find bargains and shop safely on the internet.



Sunday, November 19, 2006

Is all your eBay income taxable?

Recently someone posted a comment to my post about the IRS looking at PayPal records for people who are trying to avoid paying taxes on eBay income. Click here to see the post and comment.

This person asked: so if I sell the junk in my basement, I have to pay taxes on it?

The answer is, in most cases no.

The reason is that the IRS has a rule about occasional income, such as the money you might make from garage sales or selling other used personal items. Also, chances are that you’ll get less than you paid for a used item when you sell it, so you’re not making a profit on the transaction that could be taxable income.

It’s a different story if you’re buying someone else’s junk and selling it – that’s a business. eBay sellers who shop at garage sales for items they sell on eBay and other online auctions should be tracking their income and expenses, and then reporting their income appropriately. Another situation where you might have to pay tax on the sale of a personal item is when you have a collectible that has increased in value.

If you’re cleaning out your closets, garage, attic, basement, etc., and make a little money in the process, that’s one thing. If you are running an ongoing business, that’s something entirely different.

And now for the disclaimer: check with a qualified tax advisor if you have any questions.



Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Greetings from the White House

Did you know that the White House will send greetings from the President to commemorate special events, including birthdays for those 80 and older, wedding anniversaries for those married 50 years or more, weddings, and the birth of babies.

Requests for birthday and anniversary greetings must be made at least 6 weeks in advance; wedding and birth greeting requests should be made after the fact.

For more information and to make your request, go to https://app1.whitehouse.gov/greetings/home.



Wednesday, November 08, 2006

If someone uses your Social Security number to get a job

Last month, I wrote about the problem of illegal immigrants using stolen Social Security numbers to get jobs and how this could create havoc with your own Social Security account if you are a victim. I suggested that you review your Social Security Statement regularly (www.ssa.gov/mystatement) and make sure the numbers match what you know your earnings to be.

While this seems logical, it’s not a guaranteed way to be sure your Social Security number has been stolen and is being used for an illegal to gain employment. It’s possible that not all of those earnings will get reported on your account. Even so, checking your Social Security Statement each year is a good idea because it will help you identify and correct problems quickly. Consider how challenging it would be to correct your income records from 10 or 15 years ago.

When it comes to identity theft, there is no single thing you can do to protect yourself—you need to use a variety of strategies that include keeping your personal information private and monitoring your records and credit reports.



Saturday, November 04, 2006

Got a complaint? Sometimes the old-fashioned way works best

Got a problem with a company? First, try its posted problem-resolution processes (usually a form message sent to customer service; in many cases, you can find the link on the website). If that doesn't work, try e-mailing a senior person in the company. And if that doesn't work, you may need to resort to old-fashioned snail mail and send a letter via the U.S. Postal Service to the president of the company.

This will work almost all the time. You can find the name of the president or CEO by doing online searches (states have publicly accessible databases of companies registered and/or incorporated in that state, or you can search public companies through the SEC).

Most of my complaints have been responded to and the situation handled within a week to 10 days after I mailed the letter. A complaint letter to FedEx resulted in an apology (which was all I really wanted) plus an American Express gift card (a nice surprise). The one time in recent memory that it didn't work was when I sent a complaint letter to Nike; they ignored the first letter and a follow up, so I just won't buy Nike shoes anymore. But smart companies respond to letters and use them as training opportunities, so if you can't get the results you want any other way (assuming, of course, that your complaint is valid and your resolution request is reasonable), try an old-fashioned letter.