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Everyday Cheapskate: May I speak to Mr. Fido, please?

Dear Mary: A friend told me that you are charged a fee if you want your phone number to be “unlisted.” Is that right? — Marla B., Calif.

Dear Marla: Yes, most phone companies charge an “unpublished” fee. But you may not have to pay it. Instead, instruct the company to drop your address from the listing (no charge for that) and then inquire if the company will allow you to list your number in the name of an alias. Here’s how it works. You call your phone company. Tell the customer service rep that you want to list your name in the name of an alias. This is done all the time to accommodate celebrities, politicians and other public figures. If you choose your dog’s name and then someone calls for Fido, you’ll have a good laugh and know it’s an unwanted caller.

Dear Mary: I am slowly paying off my debts, but I got a shock today. One of my credit card companies, Company A, decided to sell my account to Company B. When I called, they said Company A no longer carries accounts in my state. I accepted that. But Company B’s interest rate is 26.4 percent. Company A was 16 percent. They’ve changed my rate to 26.4 percent and not on just new purchases but on my entire balance as well. Is that legal? —- Jon A., Pa.

Dear Jon: If you go back and reread the application you signed, in the fine print you will find something like “... terms of which may be changed at any time and for any reason.” While your chances of getting that interest rate reduced are slim, I suggest you exercise your only option: Beg for mercy. Call and in your most assertive-yet-courteous manner suggest that you may take your business elsewhere unless they would like to lower the rate. Don’t hold your breath, but if your payment history is exemplary, they might do it to keep you as a customer. If that doesn’t work, consider switching the entire balance to a low-rate, no-fee card. You can find a current list at

Dear Mary: I’ve heard that I can get government grants to help buy a home and also get out of debt. Is that right, and should I bite the bullet and shuck out $40 to buy the book that shows how? I’ve checked the library, but they don’t have it. What do you think? —Jolene R., Wis.

Dear Jolene: I think you’ve been watching a little too much late-night TV. Look, if what you suggest is true, we’d all have government paid-for houses, and no one would be in debt. These scam artists have been using the subject of government grants to swindle naive consumers for years. These crooks hit consumers where they’re most vulnerable and then take their last dime or in your case 40 bucks. The FTC is going after these scam artists with limited success.

I suggest you devote your creativity and energy to getting out of debt the right way by working hard and repaying what you owe. And get some sleep!

Mary invites questions at mary@everyday, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.


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