10 Consumer Questions Including: Is Your Contractor Lying to You? And: Do You Care About Product Recalls?

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Also: Is it better to invest or pay off your mortgage early? Is Hulu Plus worth the $10 a month they’re asking for it? Are you paying too much in property taxes?
Is your contractor a liar?
Contractors are known to massage, tweak, or simply disregard the truth, and when it comes to home improvement projects, the safety of your family, and money, truthiness doesn’t cut it. According to a Money mag story, when a contractor says, “You’ll save on property taxes if you skip the permit for a small job,” what he probably means is, “My life would be easier if we did this job illicitly.”

Is it better to invest or prepay the mortgage?
J.D. at GetRichSlowly tackles this evergreen question that some people have the good fortune to be able to ask. The post cites the advice and input of more than a dozen experts, and opinions are divided on the issue. Overall, the consensus answer—a somewhat unsatisfying one for those seeking a clear plan of attack without doing more homework—is: It depends. Among other things, it depends how close you are to retirement, what your mortgage rate is, and your tolerance for risk.

Is Hulu Plus worth the money?
An LA Times blogger says no, not a chance: Paying $10 a month to watch full seasons of certain TV shows online isn’t worth the money—especially not considering that paying viewers still have to put up with commercials every 10 or 15 minutes. Lots of commenters all over the web say the same thing: They’re unimpressed with Hulu’s for-pay option. One positive take comes from Gizmodo, which envisions Hulu Plus on the iPad or iPhone as a worthy alternative to paying for cable—and perhaps even the “future of television.” But no one should get comfortable with the idea of paying a flat $10 a month for the service. Hulu CEO Jason Kilar is quoted in the WSJ saying that payment may one day be based on how much you watch:

“You could easily see a situation where a portion of the subscription fees could be allocated based on consumption, and a portion could be allocated based on a fixed agreement,” Mr. Kilar said.

Do you care or even bother paying attention to product recalls?

A Washington Post story says that a large number of consumers may be suffering from “recall fatigue” (as opposed to “next great” fatigue or frugality fatigue”). Even if they do hear about recalls (and that’s a big if), many consumers just disregard them:

One recent study found that 12 percent of Americans who knew they had recalled food at home ate it anyway.

Does more marketing equate to an inferior product?
Plenty of self-proclaimed cheapskates believe this is the case. Why? The logic is that the cost of advertising is built into a product’s price, and therefore the consumer is paying partly for marketing efforts instead of the product itself. Also, good, quality products shouldn’t need to advertise.

Do little costs really add up?
A Mint.com infographic demonstrates how yes, in fact, little costs can add up into substantial expenditures—though, admittedly, trimming major expenses like housing and insurance can have a bigger impact on your budget.

Should we treat—translation: tax—soda and junk food like we do cigarettes?
If we want to get serious about reducing obesity, well maybe we should, writes an LA Times columnist.

Is college worth the money?
This question seems to be coming up again and again. This time, it’s BusinessWeek citing new research that questions the truism that a college degree—any college degree—offers a good return on investment.

How are credit card companies going to make money now?
The banks and card companies have to adapt to all sorts of new consumer-friendly restrictions, but don’t worry about them: They’re doing things like raising interest rates and canceling unprofitable accounts, and are considering new fees for receiving paper statements, or for customers who don’t spend enough within a specified time period.

Are you paying too much in property taxes?
In light of the fact that property tax appeals have skyrocketed—increasing 38% in the Dallas area, for example—many homeowners feel that the answer is a big fat YES. A SmartMoney story gives a good overview of property tax battles: how assessments can go wrong, when you should to appeal, and whether it’s worth the money to hire an assessment pro to argue your case.