Twelve Online Tools for Savvy Consumers

Category: Finance , Reference

The Internet is a fantastic resource for consumers, because an abundance of information helps to level the playing field for buyers and foster competition among the sellers. Here are a dozen online tools to help you save money on financial services and consumer products...

Save Money With These Online Consumer Tools

If you're looking for for a home mortage, a new credit card, or auto insurance, I've got some great online tools to help get you the best rates. If you're shopping for a car, a computer, an appliance, a television or some other consumer product, you'll learn where to find reviews, ratings and expert buying advice to ensure that you get a quality product at the best possible price. Read on!

Compare Mortgage Rates

Zillow is best known for their database of home price estimates, but you can also use their web tools to see current mortgage rate trends for your state, or get customized anonymous mortgage quotes based on your location, downpayment and credit score. lets you search for mortgage rate quotes by city & state. Handy graphs show recent trends in mortgage rates, and their online mortgage calulator helps you calculate what your payment would be, given the amount, term and rate of the loan.
Save Money - Consumer Tools

You can also factor in the effect of adding extra payments, and see the amortization table, which breaks down the principal, interest and balance for each month of the loan. In addition, helpful articles help you understand the mortgage process, fixed versus adjustable rates, and news that might affect your purchase or refinancing decision.

Compare Rates for Credit Cards -- For over a decade, this site has offered trustworthy research on thousands of credit card offers. You'll find lists of the best cards in each category: Low Interest Credit Cards, Balance Transfer Cards, Airline/Hotel/Gas Cards, Cash Back Cards and other types. One of the most valuable features here is a list of current rates for over 1000 credit cards offered in the USA, and unbiased reviews of every card offering.

Smart Money has practical tips on how to compare credit card offers, taking into account factors such as introductory (teaser) rates, grace periods, and sneaky fees. There's also a calculator that lets you compare two credit card offers, to see how much each card would cost you in the first year.

High Yield Savings Accounts and CDs

The Banking minisite explains what exactly is a high yield savings account, and why you might want to consider an online bank versus a brick & mortar bank.

BankRate lets you search for banks offering the highest rates on savings accounts. Sadly, you'll be lucky to find a rate over 1 percent. You can also research interest rates on CDs (certificates of deposit), which aren't much better. You'll need to tie up your funds for at least 5 years to get 1.5 percent in this market.

Compare Car Insurance Rates

Progressive will give you an online auto insurance quote. They'll ask for your name, address, birth date, occupation, make & model of your car, accident history, social security number, email address and a dozen other questions, and then you'll be presented with a price quote. You can also get quotes from competing insurers, by answering a few more questions.

Here's a tip: If you want to remain anonymous, don't enter your real name or contact information. You can omit your social security number, and enter a fake email address. Be honest about everything else, and you'll get a reasonably accurate quote, without any annoying followup letters, calls or emails from the company.

Most of the well-known auto insurance companies (Allstate, State Farm, Geico, Traveler's, etc.) will also offer online quotes, but it's a time-consuming hassle to enter all that information at every insurer's website. At BankRate, the process is similar, but you can enter everything once and get quotes from up to eight insurance companies by email. Of course, you will need to provide a working email address to get your quotes, but again, you can fudge your contact info, and use a throwaway webmail address if you want anonymity. If you want a very rough idea for what you might end up paying, BankRate also displays the current average auto insurance rate for a 30-year old couple.

Product Reviews and Ratings

Consumer Reports offers unbiased reviews of many products and services, buying advice and expert ratings. For many years, the Consumer Reports magazine and website have been a trustworthy place to find detailed information to help you compare prices and features on big ticket items such as cars and appliances.

Epinions is a place where actual customers give (hopefully) unbiased reviews on Cars, Computers, Software, Electronics and many other products that they've purchased. It's a great place to read about other people's real-world experiences with products you may be considering. Especiallly helpful are the ones where someone tells you that they just love a specific product, that it fell apart after only two months, or that a specific feature didn't work as advertised. BizRate and Amazon also heve very helpful consumer reviews and ratings.

The Better Business Bureau can give you an idea of the trustworthiness of a company, before doing business with them. Keep in mind that just because a company is not listed, or has no complaints logged at the BBB, that's not a guarantee that they're sterling. But if they do show up in the database, and you can see a pattern of bad behavior without satisfactory resolutions, that's a red flag you shouldn't ignore.

More Consumer Resources

Okay, you've got your dozen consumer tools. But why stop there? If you want to be a really well-educated and savvy consumer, I encourage you read these related articles as well.

Do you have any consumer resources to suggest? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Twelve Online Tools for Savvy Consumers"

Posted by:

K Larsen
20 Dec 2012

Here is a site to check up on online merchants.

Posted by:

20 Dec 2012

I would like to point out that to completely access the ratings and reports at Consumer Reports, one has to pay for a subscription. Their in-depth reports are not free. However, the overall information on their website can get you started in the right direction.

Posted by:

Jon Stubbs
21 Dec 2012

The Haggler column in the NY Times ran a piece about the Better Business Bureau a little while back. While the BBB's honesty and sincerely was not faulted, the article described loopholes in BBB processes which the dishonest can use to make their operation appear to have no BBB problems. A search in the NYT with the key world Haggler will give you a list of columns where you can locate the one or two about the BBB.
Thanks so much for your fine work!

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