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Will programmable thermostat save me money?

Autumn has arrived and many of you will be using your heaters for the first time in months. That has some readers wondering about saving money on their monthly heating bills. By ConsumerMan Herb Weisbaum.

Autumn has arrived and many of you will be using your heaters for the first time in months. That has some readers wondering about saving money on their monthly heating bills.

Also, there are questions out there regarding credit scores, unclaimed money, music club memberships and cell phones.

I recently purchased my first house. It has the old-fashioned "wheeled" thermostat that sets the house to one constant temperature.  Will a new programmable thermostat save me money on my energy bills? I’ve heard that any savings from the programming are negated because the furnace has work harder to get the house to the desired temperature.
– Bert P.

A new programmable thermostat is almost certain to cut your heating and cooling costs. Despite what many people think, keeping the house at a constant temperature all day long does not save money.

By automatically lowering the temperature inside your house by 5 to 10 degrees at night and when no one is there, you can cut your heating bills by up to 20 percent a year.

But a setback thermostat only works when properly programmed. For its October issue, Consumer Reports tested 25 models and found that “confusing controls on some can make it easy to burn more energy than you bargained for.” You need to make sure you understand how to program the unit and check that it’s doing what you expect it to do.

The editors named 3 models CR Best Buys: The Lux Smart Temp TX1500 ($50) and the Lux Smart Temp TX500 ($35) have one program setting for weekdays and one for weekends. The Lux Smart Temp Touch Screen TX900TS ($80) lets you set a different program for each day of the week.

My wife and I are having an ongoing discussion. I say it is good for our credit score to have credit cards we don't use.  She believes that it is not.  What’s the right answer?|
– Jason R.

It does seem illogical to keep unused accounts open. But in most cases, it’s the right thing to do. Closing those accounts is likely to hurt your credit score.

"Leave them alone unless there is a compelling reason, like an annual fee, or a child who is a cosigner and might go on a spending spree," says Gerri Detweiler, credit advisor for

Most people tend to close their oldest accounts. "An older history is better," Detweiler says. "Closing accounts can also make it look like you are closer to your overall credit limit."

Detweiler recommends having at least four active accounts on your credit report. “To keep an account active, you don't have to carry debt or pay interest.” she explains, “Just use the credit cards from time to time and pay the balance in full.”

I’m looking for a no-scam list of Web sites that help people find out about unclaimed money. I have logged on to some and at least two say that I have money, but they want my credit card number.
– Mattie D.

You’ve been going to the wrong sites. Visit the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators where you can search the unclaimed property offices in every state – for free.

Just enter your first and last name and see if you have any of the $24 billion dollars in unclaimed money waiting to be found. This money comes from a variety of places, including abandoned bank accounts, uncashed payroll checks, unpaid stock dividends, and unclaimed insurance payments.

Finding out if the federal government has any of your money is a lot harder because there is no centralized database. Each federal agency maintains its own records. A good place to start your search is at the Financial Management Service, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

I was surprised to get a package of jazz CDs and a membership to a music club. I never heard of this club and did not sign up for it. Can these clubs automatically create memberships for people?
– Peter K.

No. You have to join a buying club or do something that gets things going – such as signing up for a free trial offer that requires future purchases unless you cancel within a certain time period.

So how did you become a member? There are three obvious possibilities: it's a scam, it's an honest mistake, or you signed up for this somehow – possibly without knowing it – when you made some other transaction. It happens all the time.

According to U.S. Postal regulations unsolicited goods are considered gifts. Even so, I would write the company a letter. Tell them you did not join their club and do not want to be a member. I would also tell them that unless they can show that you somehow did sign up for the club, you plan to keep the CDs as a free gift.

If this doesn’t work, I’d file complaints with the Postal Inspection Service, Federal Trade Commission, and your state Attorney General or consumer protection office.

Why don't they make cell phones that are friendly for the elderly?  They could have many of same features as kid phones – simple buttons and easy to read screens – but not kid-oriented.
– Lynne F.

They do. This month, Verizon Wireless introduced the Coupe, a phone designed for those 65 and older. It has bigger keys and a larger on screen font.

There are also four dedicated emergency keys. One is preset to 911, the other three are – labeled “ICE” for In Case of Emergency – can be programmed to any numbers you want.

The Coupe doesn’t have a camera and it can’t do text messaging, but it does have voice recognition dialing. It’s also lightweight (just 3.3 ounces) and thin. I tried it and really liked it – and I’m not 65 yet!

And here’s the best part; it’s just $19.99 with a 2-year service contract. The Coupe has earned the Good Housekeeping seal.

There’s also the Samsung Jitterbug. The buttons are large and bright. The text is big and easy to read. Onscreen navigation is done with yes and no buttons. The ear cushion is nice feature.

There’s also the Jitterbug OneTouch. This is an emergency phone that only has just three big buttons: One connects to a live Jitterbug operator, another dials 911, and the third can be programmed to any number.

The Jitterbug phones cost $147 with basic service starting at $10 a month. There are no long-term contracts. And add-on minutes don’t expire for a year.