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How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping Expenses

This weekend is a great time to get started on back to school shopping for Ohio residents. August 4-6 marks the 2017 Ohio Sales Tax Holiday, and during the weekend, shoppers won’t have to pay tax on certain items. Shoppers will have the opportunity to purchase multiple tax exempt items, such as:

  • Clothing priced at $75 or less
  • School supplies priced at $20 or less
  • School instructional material priced at $20 per item or less

According to the Ohio Department of Taxation, there is no limit on the amount of the total purchase. The qualification is determined by the item. Some items are not considered clothing, such as accessories, costumes, protective gear, sports gear, sewing supplies and belt buckles.

Ohio shoppers should be prepared to shop in crowded stores. BBB has some tips before the big weekend approaches:

  • Know items the holiday covers. It does not apply to household goods, furniture or vehicles.
  • Don’t be confused by advertising. Any “Back-to-School Sale” does not automatically mean tax-free. Retail stores might advertise these types of sales because they know consumers will be looking to purchase items for the upcoming school year. Items will still have taxes applied to them unless the item appears on the state’s tax-free list.
  • Determine a budget. Decide how much you are willing to spend per person in advance. Creating a shopping list can help you avoid costly impulse purchases.
  • Have a plan. Schools often provide parents with a list of required items for the school year. These lists are also available at many retail stores and on school websites.
  • Take inventory. Before hitting the stores, see which items you already have. You may have leftover supplies from the previous school year or items you can reuse.
  • Check for refund and exchange policies. Be sure you can exchange or return items purchased during this time period. Some items may be non-refundable or could have restocking fees associated with a return.

For some families, budgeting for back-to-school expenses may be difficult. Did you know that many local charities work to help make sure as many children as possible have what they need for their first day of school?

Ohio Newsboys Association, Inc. (Charity Newsies) is one such organization and a BBB Accredited Charity. Since 1907, Charity Newsies has helped provide clothing for over 500,000 school children in Franklin County.

This year, Charity Newsies is accepting applications from families who need help purchasing clothes for their children for both public and private schools. Over the next few weeks, there are multiple Application Day events at local libraries for families to attend and apply for assistance. It is important that applicants review the eligibility requirements and know which documents to bring.

Charity Newsies is not the only charity working to help school children in the Central Ohio area. Interested families can visit Hands On Central Ohio’s Online Directory to find more organizations looking to help with back to school challenges. CAP4Kids also has links to different organizations and resources for parents of school children.

For charity reports and news, visit BBB’s Charity Microsite. For more information, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.

About BBB

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central Ohio, which was founded in 1921 and serves 21 counties in Central Ohio.

For Sales Tax Holiday, AG Offers Tips for Consumers

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine offered consumer protection tips ahead of Ohio’s sales tax holiday, which runs this Friday through Sunday.

“As people take advantage of the sales tax holiday and complete their back-to-school shopping, we want them to be prepared,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We’ve helped thousands of people resolve consumer complaints, and we know that many disputes are the result of a misunderstanding. We put an emphasis on prevention to help people avoid problems and make the most of their money.”

During the sales tax holiday, the following items are exempt from sales and use tax:

  • Clothing priced at $75 per item or less;
  • School supplies priced at $20 per item or less; and
  • School instructional materials priced at $20 per item or less.

The Ohio Department of Taxation provides detailed information about the sales tax holiday on its website, including FAQs about what is and what is not exempt from sales tax during the holiday.

Tips for consumers include:

  • Plan ahead. The sales tax holiday runs from Friday, Aug. 4, through Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017. Determine in advance the purchases you want to make, and review the Department of Taxation’s FAQs to understand what is and what is not exempt from sales and use tax during the sales tax holiday. Also research sellers’ reputations by reading customer reviews and checking for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Better Business Bureau.
  • Understand return policies before you buy. In Ohio, sellers can choose to set their own return policies, including policies of “no returns,” but they should clearly tell you what their return policy is before you check out or complete the transaction. For example, the return policy shouldn’t be posted only on the back of a receipt.
  • Stay safe online. Research websites you plan to use, and make sure a website is secure before you enter any personal information or payment details. In the web address, look for the “s” in “https” and/or a lock symbol to help ensure a website has security features. Also consider paying with a credit card, which generally gives you stronger protections to dispute unauthorized charges.
  • Check the exclusions and limitations of an offer. Exclusions and limitations must be clearly disclosed in advertisements, including online, so review terms and conditions carefully before you go to the store or make a purchase.
  • Keep your receipts. Maintaining a complete record of a sale will help you handle problems that may arise after the purchase. Keep receipts, copies of advertisements, photos of products, and other documentation until the transaction and billing process are complete.
  • Monitor your accounts. Regularly check your credit card and bank accounts for unauthorized charges or unexpected activity. If you find problems, immediately notify your credit card provider or bank. The sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can work to correct it.
  • Protect your personal information. Don’t carry around extra, unneeded credit cards, debit cards, or other sensitive information in your wallet or purse. Also limit giving out your personal information. Check privacy policies to see how sellers will use your information.
  • Watch for scams and identity theft. Con artists operate year round. If you receive a message saying you’ve won the lottery, the IRS is coming to arrest you, or a family member is out of the country and in need of money immediately, it’s likely a scam. Also, help watch for signs of potential identity theft by checking your credit report using www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

Consumers who need help addressing a consumer problem or question should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.

Consumer Alert: Higher Auto Insurance Rates Ahead

COLUMBUS – Auto Insurance rates are on the rise, which means consumers will be shelling out more money for premiums in the coming years. AAA encourages consumers to shop around for the best insurance that fits their needs and budget.

“Numerous outlets have reported that claims costs in 2016 rose approximately 13 percent while rates increased an average of 7 percent,” said David McMullen, vice president Insurance at AAA Ohio Auto Club.

With the number of claims rising faster than rates, insurance companies have incurred huge losses. As companies try to make up for those losses, consumers can expect rising insurance prices for the foreseeable future.

Industry experts point to three main factors for the increased frequency and severity of claims:

  • Increased Exposure: A moderately improving economy and lower gas prices have resulted in more cars on the road and more miles being driven.
  • Distracted Driving: Mobile phone use and the proliferation of in-vehicle infotainment systems have led to more distracted drivers and crashes.
  • Accelerating Vehicle Technology: The cost to repair damaged vehicles has risen sharply. What once was a $500 bumper replacement is now a $3,000 claim with the inclusion of rear cameras and back-up sensors.

Consumers can help offset rising rates by asking their agent if they’re eligible for any discounts. These might include discounts for:

  • Vehicle features such as a rearview camera or anti-theft system;
  • Buying auto and home coverage from the same carrier;
  • Completing a driver training course;
  • Insuring a youthful driver with a “B” or better grade point average;
  • Renewing with the same insurance carrier for several years;
  • Paying your annual premium in full or by automatic withdrawal.

Those that still feel they’re paying too much can always shop around for a policy that fits their needs and budget. Independent insurance agencies represent multiple insurance companies, which enables them to compare and provide competitive coverage and pricing options.

As an independent agency, AAA Ohio Auto Club Insurance Agency encourages consumers to regularly review their policies to ensure they are getting the best rate on coverage that fits their current needs.

During the month of August, AAA members that get an auto insurance quote from AAA Ohio Auto Club Insurance Agency will receive $25 if the quote can’t beat their current auto insurance rate. For more information about the offer, including terms and restrictions, visit AAA.com/Insurance.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 57 million members with travel-, insurance-, financial- and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited online at AAA.com.

5 Important Things to Know When Buying Inside an HOA

A homeowners association is an agreement among the homeowners in a community or development that pools their money to take care of common grounds, which can range from pools and spas to just the grass. Homeowners associations can vary in size and involvement depending on the agreed-upon terms.

Here are a few things that are important to understand about HOAs before buying into one.

1. What Is the Cost?

With a typical HOA, there is a cost. The amount can vary greatly depending on the services and amenities provided to the community the HOA represents. It is important to understand what this cost is because it is typically monthly and ongoing for as long as you live in that home, and needs to be considered in your budget along with your monthly mortgage payment. There can also be a one-time buy-in fee that you pay when you close on the house. It is basically equivalent to a gym membership joining fee.

2. What Is Covered?

If you are going to pay a monthly fee, it is important to understand what is covered by that fee so you can evaluate the value of the HOA. At the bare minimum, upkeep of the common areas is covered, and services can also include snow removal, landscaping and grass-cutting for your property. This is one of the attractive things about HOAs — you typically do not have too much outside maintenance on your property. There should be a handbook or guide explaining what is covered by the HOA.

3. What Are the Rules?

As mentioned previously, there is typically a handbook developed by the HOA that covers all rules and regulations for the community. This can dictate facilities hours or who can use the facilities. It also can tell you the rules regarding having guests, or specific times to place trash out. The important part of understanding the rules is making sure that they do not interfere with gatherings you are looking to have or hobbies you may do.

4. Are You Happy With the Way the House Looks?

There is a reason why the majority of houses in the community look the same and utilize the same color schemes — the HOA dictates those things. Make sure you like the color of the house’s trim, or be sure to understand what other colors are allowed. All this information should be included in the handbook.

5. Can You Get Involved?

Many times, the HOA has some type of board that facilitates communication among homeowners and makes decisions based on requests or complaints from residents. If you are interested in getting on the board, it is something to ask about. You may want to get involved just by voting on any changes.

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Staff Reports