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BBB Tips: Wedding Season, Buying a Car Online, Renting a Car

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is back with its July tips.

Sail Into Wedding Season Confident and Insured

Wedding insurance can help protect you against unforeseen events, from a sudden cancellation to stolen gifts to a damaged gown, and can also afford you great peace of mind. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) and the wedding planning website The Knot recommend investing in wedding insurance before your special day.

“Wedding insurance is a great way to protect oneself from the unexpected, especially given how costly weddings can be,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.  “Policies can cover a range of prospective problems such as vendor no-shows, cancellations, inclement weather, military deployment, medical emergencies, travel delays and more, so that you won’t lose money if plans need to be changed.”

When looking to invest in wedding insurance, take the following tips into consideration:

How Much Does Wedding Insurance Cost? A basic insurance policy that covers loss of photos, videos, attire, presents, rings, and deposits usually costs between $155 and $550, depending on the amount of coverage you want. General liability insurance, which covers up to $1,000,000 for accidents, costs around $185.

Do You Really Need Wedding Insurance? Before you buy wedding insurance, check with your vendors to see how well they're covered. Verify that they are a reputable business via their free BBB Business Review at bbb.org. Your reception site or your caterer may also already have their own insurance, so you wouldn't want to pay for overlapping coverage out of your own pocket. Make sure to get everything in writing and ask each of your vendors for a copy of their policy to see where you aren't fully covered.

When Should You Get Wedding Insurance? The earlier you prepare for any eventuality, the better. Let's say you put a deposit on your wedding reception hall 12 months prior to your wedding date and then it burns to the ground a few weeks before the big day. With wedding insurance, you'll be sure to get your deposit back.  Make sure you know how far in advance you can purchase the insurance, as some insurance companies have limitations. 

What Does Wedding Insurance Cover? Problems with the site, weather, vendors, key people, sickness, or injury are the top concerns come wedding day. There is usually a specified maximum amount, which can be claimed under each section, and a deductible also applies. Be sure to find out all the details of your insurance plan.


Don’t Be Steered into Paying Extra for a Rental Car

Gas prices are down, so this might be the perfect time for a road trip! The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) provides tips for renting a car without breaking the bank.

In 2011, the BBB received 3,773 complaints against the auto renting and leasing industry. Many of the complaints were a result of billing and contract issues. When it comes to navigating the rental car process, there are many little details that oftentimes leave consumers confused in their rush to hit the road.

“Even though you’re excited to start your trip, be sure to take the time to inspect the car and ask questions,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Car rentals can make any trip easier, but make sure you know your options, such as the cost of any “add-ons,” before signing on the dotted line.”

The BBB recommends the following tips to avoid overspending when looking to rent a car:

Shop around and be on the lookout for hidden charges. There are several different budget travel websites that can provide a good idea of what’s out there price-wise, as far as the major rental companies. But make sure to visit the websites of the national chains directly to verify you’re getting the best rate. Also, don’t assume the lowest rate means you’re getting the best deal; make sure to always clarify which taxes, surcharges and other fees you’ll be expected to pay. Many states have additional fees for drivers under age 25 or for multiple drivers.

Opt for a smaller car. If you’re traveling solo, or don’t need a lot of leg room or trunk space, go for the smaller car. Oftentimes, the salesperson will steer you in the direction of an upgrade for “only a few extra dollars” because the smaller economy cars are in high demand – just say no, and stick to the smaller car (or smile politely and ask for a free upgrade).

Ask lots of questions. Make sure that you understand where the “unlimited mileage” rates apply. Some rental car companies have restrictions.

Gas up and be on time. Many times, car rental companies will ask if you want to prepay for gas, but it’s not always necessary and it’s rarely the best deal. However, don’t forget to refill the tank before returning the car – and make sure to return your vehicle on time. Some rental car companies will charge an extra day for being late, so make sure you know their policy for early and late returns, and call if you get stuck in traffic.

Inquire in Advance about Insurance. Some auto insurance policies cover car rentals. However, you want to verify that before you rent your vehicle. If you aren’t covered under your auto insurance policy, you will likely want to purchase some form of insurance from the rental agency. Nothing would ruin a vacation quicker than a costly fender bender.

Bring your own car seat and GPS. If you’re going to be traveling with children or fear that you’ll get lost, make sure to bring your own car seat and GPS. No need to pay for the daily fee for these items if you have them at home.

 
BBB Tips for Online Car Shopping

‘Third-Party’ Marketing Websites May Be Useful But Use Caution 

The Internet has changed the way we shop for goods and services, and the car shopping experience is no exception. In a 2011 automotive industry study conducted by RL Polk & Company, new and used car buyers indicated that they spent an average of 19 hours on the shopping process - fully 60% of which was conducted online. When pricing cars on the Internet, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) advises consumers to be aware of the benefits and the potential pitfalls of third-party automobile websites.

Doing some online research can provide a wealth of information for car shoppers, including shortcuts for comparing makes, models and pricing. Consumers searching the name of a particular model or a local dealership will find all the search results they would expect to see, including manufacturer websites and those of local dealers. However, among those search results, consumers may also encounter a number of websites not operated by a manufacturer or a local dealer, but by ‘third parties’ looking to connect auto dealers with prospective buyers.

Many of these are well-known websites such as AutoTrader, CarSoup, and Cars.com, all of which enable consumers to see and compare vehicles for sale locally through one aggregate website. Other ‘third-party’ websites may not be as familiar, and exist primarily as sales lead generators for auto dealers. These sites solicit contact information from car shoppers, and then sell that information to one or more local auto dealers. Submitting contact information to sites such as these can work in the shopper’s favor when local dealers compete for your business, knowing that your ‘lead’ may have also been sold to their competitors.

As with other forms of online shopping, the BBB urges careful consideration when visiting and providing contact information to these ‘third-party’ sites, and offers the following tips to help ensure your online car shopping experience is a positive one:

Compare pricing and availability across multiple websites. Though the information presented on websites such as AutoTrader and CarSoup is generally an accurate reflection of pricing and availability at local dealerships, the BBB recommends comparing information presented on these sites to local dealer websites for consistency and accuracy. If an advertised price involves any rebates or discounts, check carefully to make sure any qualifications for those discounts are disclosed and explained.

Evaluate the ‘sales pitch’ from lead generation sites. Lead generation sites often attempt to attract consumers by using bold phrases such as “clearing lots,” “overstock vehicles” and “below invoice” to promise big savings, sometimes even as part of the site’s web address. Before submitting your contact information to such a website, consider whether claims made on the site accurately reflect conditions at local dealerships, to avoid later disappointment. For example, if you’re shopping for a new car that’s in high demand, is it likely to be selling “below invoice”?

Understand the implications of providing your contact information. Before submitting your contact information on a third-party or lead generation website, be sure to read and understand the site’s privacy policy. Read their disclaimers as to whether the information you provide will be shared solely with local auto dealers, or if it might also be sold to various marketing partners. Note whether the site allows you to select which dealers you’d like to have contact you, or specify when and how you’d like to be contacted. If the site doesn’t have a privacy policy, be aware your information could be sold to other businesses.

When in doubt, contact the dealer. Pricing and availability can change quickly in today’s market, and though the Internet can be an incredibly powerful research tool, some questions are best answered by dealers familiar with their own inventory. If you have questions about the availability of a specific vehicle, contact the dealer directly to avoid potential disappointments. 


Looking to Hire a Consultant? Know Where to Look and Who to Pick

More and more businesses are hiring consultants and contractors to fill vacant positions or to perform specific tasks within the company, and some of them are never actually present in the office but rather spend the majority of their time working remotely. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is offering businesses that are looking to grow their workforce, whether through remote consultants or in-house contractors, a few simple tips to help find the consultant who’s right for your business’s needs.

“Both in-house and remote contractors can be a great business strategy to augment permanent staff or get one-time projects completed,” said Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Technology is on our side when it comes to having consultants work remotely, but it’s important to take the time in the hiring process to ensure that you don’t waste your resources on a contractor who doesn’t live up to your expectations.”

The BBB suggests the following tips to help find consultants who are right for your business:

The key to picking the right consultant is to be certain that your company needs one. Take the time to lay out the specifics of the problem or task you face, the exact objective you want to accomplish, and a timeframe for doing so. Consider whether your immediate issue is a symptom of a larger problem or simply due to a lack of internal manpower. By carefully thinking things through, you may discover that you do not need an outsider to identify the true problem. Maybe one of your employees has the ability and the desire to do the job.

Ask around. Your business network is a great place to start. Check websites like LinkedIn to find people you may know. Ask people you trust for referrals to qualified consulting firms or sole practitioners. Contact each referral with a brief letter, email or phone call describing the project, your industry conditions and your management style.

Schedule an introductory meeting with three or more of your best prospects. This will allow you the opportunity, by asking pointed questions, to verify that the consultant has experience with the specific problem or project, and your industry.

Check references thoroughly. Reputable consultants should be able to provide references readily, while would-be-consultants will have few, if any, to offer. Also check to see if the consultant is accredited by a national association. Some associations do extensive background checks and their members usually must be in business for at least five years. They may also hold members to professional codes of conduct.

Get a written proposal. Reliable consultants will provide a written, detailed proposal before the contract is signed. Without specifics you could end up losing valuable time and money.

Clearly spell out all fees. Consultants can charge a fixed fee, an hourly rate or a monthly retainer. Hourly rates could raise your costs substantially, so ask the consultant to put a ceiling on the job to cap your expenses and make sure the consultant knows who is authorized to assign them additional tasks that are not spelled out in the contract. Also beware of the consultant who asks for all of the money upfront. Depending upon the industry, it can be customary to pay as much as one-third to one-half in advance, with the rest due on specific dates or upon completion of the project.

Keep good records. For each consultant you hire, establish a file which contains the consultant’s contract, invoices, copies of 1099 forms and any other information that shows the worker is operating an independent business. This may include the consultant’s business card and stationery. This is important to establish that the consultant is not working as an employee and that you are not required to deduct payroll taxes or pay a portion of his or her Social Security. This is especially important if the consultant ever works on-site at your facility.

Consultants can be a great addition to your team and can really help you when your internal resources are stretched. As Rick Blaine says at the end of Casablanca, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Hire contractors as carefully and selectively as you would employees and you can write your own happy ending!

For more business tips, go to www.bbb.org/ and click on For Businesses.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Visit our Centennial website atbbbis100.org.

James Shaffer July 22, 2012 at 10:10 PM
When you say this - "Inquire in Advance about Insurance. Some auto insurance policies cover car rentals. However, you want to verify that before you rent your vehicle. If you aren’t covered under your auto insurance policy, you will likely want to purchase some form of insurance from the rental agency. Nothing would ruin a vacation quicker than a costly fender bender.", you forgot to mention that many credit card companies also offer rental car insurance. In my recent trip to Hawaii, I didnt even need to purchase insurance (which was the same price as actually renting the car), because my credit card already covered it. James http://www.4autoinsurancequote.com
Dan Hendrickson July 23, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Great point, James! That's a 't' we forgot to cross. Much appreciated!
James Barlow November 21, 2012 at 04:16 AM
Wedding insurance is a great idea as anyone who’s ever been involved in a wedding will know there could be any of a host of problems including, as mentioned, vendor no-shows, inclement weather, and delays. With the great scope of coverage for wedding insurance, I am wondering if wedding insurance can cover having a bad wedding singer or a dodgy wedding DJ. After all, one of the worst things to ruin your special night would be to subject your guests, and yourself, to bad wedding music. Perhaps the movie The Wedding Singer was not so good in that it may have given some people campy ideas, though not necessarily positive for weddings thereafter.

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