Personal Finance 

How to Strong Arm Your Way to a Better Deal

The economic malaise has probably had an effect on your life, I know it has had one on mine. However, as bad as you think your personal prospects are, it’s worse for companies that have to make payroll, rent, and debt obligations. At the end of the day, you have to take care of you and your own, which is why I recommend that you periodically shop around and use that information to strong arm your way to a better deal on the services you already buy.

Don’t feel badly about using your most powerful a weapon, the power of choice, to negotiate a better deal. When you pay $60 or $80 or $100 a month for cable television, you’re not getting $60 or $80 or $100 worth of service. You’re getting something the company is selling to someone else for $30 a month. They will charge whatever the market will bear and it’s up to you, the consumer, to push back and tell them that their price is too high. At the end of the day, they would rather you spend $5 a month than quit and spend $0.

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DirectTV Satellite Television Deals

If you hate your cable television, you might want to give satellite providers like DirectTV a look. My friends recently moved into a newly constructed home and discovered they had only one option when it came to cable television – dreaded Comcast. It turns out that in Baltimore, MD, Comcast has a monopoly on cable television service because they “made an agreement with the city” (in other words, Comcast pays the city for the right to offer cable). Until recently, Comcast was one of my only options for cable too, until Verizon FiOS came to town and began snatching up all Comcast’s disgruntled customers.

Rather than go back to Comcast, a company many of us hated dealing with, my friends looked at their options. They decided to go with DirectTV and their satellite television service, in part because they offer NFL Sunday Ticket. For what it’s worth, DirectTV was named #1 in Customer Satisfaction among national cable and satellite TV providers by the University of Michigan Business School in their 2008 American Customer Satisfaction Index.

They have many different packages but the one my friend Jeremy recommends is their PLUS HD + DVR Package, which has 200+ channels and 95 HD channels for only $49.99 a month (normally $72.99 a month). Included in the package is a Free DVR HD DVR Upgrade, which will save you a few dollars. He was planning on getting the NFL Sunday Ticket package so HD was a must, but the PLUS DVR package, which is ten dollars less, is the same number of channels just minus the HD channels (and the HD DVR of course).

Here is the full package line-up or give them a call at 866-277-2216 and they can explain it to you if this mish-mash of terms and explanations is a little confusing:

Name # Channels Promo $/Month Regular $/Month Savings
Premier Package 265+ $81.99 $104.99 $23
20 premium movie channels & 35 sports channels
Plus HD + DVR Package 200+ $49.99 $72.99 $23
Free HD DVR upgrade
Plus DVR Package 200+ $39.99 $62.99 $23
HBO, Showtime, & Starz for 3 months
Choice XTRA Package 200+ $34.99 $57.99 $23
HBO, Showtime, & Starz for 3 months, free DVR or HD DVR receiver
Choice Package 150+ $29.99 $52.99 $23
Family Package 45+ $29.99 $29.99 $0

The deals aren’t too shabby and my friend Jeremy seems to be pretty pleased with his experience thus far. You’ll also want to take advantage of their DirecTV referral program, which will save you a few bucks off your first year’s service.

If you have any experience with DirectTV, please share them in the comments.

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Comcast Triple Play Deals Are Getting More Aggressive

The other day, as I was leaving our house, I saw a rolled up Comcast flyer on my door. When I unrolled it, I saw that Comcast was offering high speed internet and cable television for $89.99. That’s about the same base price as Verizon FiOS, so it wasn’t terribly appealing. As I threw the paper behind my door, we were already on our way out, the guy who left it there was next door and he started talking to me. As he gave me his pitch, the most amazing part about their offer wasn’t the price, it was how Comcast was willing to pay any early termination fees, up to $200, I would be subject to by breaking my contract with Verizon. That’s certainly a first, I’ve never heard of that, but that’s nothing compared to the offers they currently have running online.

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Howard County Verizon Technicians: Thumbs Up!

I think that the key to finding a good cable company is identifying which ones have the best local technicians. The call centers will always be spotty, I’m sure those folks are overstaffed and overwhelmed (especially if they’re located internationally, if you’ve ever seen the documentaries), so their performance is always going to vary depending on when in their shift you call. Get lucky and get someone just beginning their shift, you’ll probably get 100% accuracy. Find someone who just ended a horrible 30 minute call with a customer bitching at them… probably not the best time to get them. So the discriminator should be the local technicians (since services will vary little, unless it’s Comcast downsampling HD!) and I wanted to give a ringing endorsement to the local technicians in the Howard County area (I have no idea how their areas are segregated). I’ve had two calls (installation and one repair) and each went very well.

My most recent one began the other day when my wireless connection to the Verizon-provided cable modem and router went down. I turned on my XBox 360 to see if the connection is still good because it’s connected via ethernet cable (I could’ve brought my computer down and connected it but I figured if all was well, I could squeeze in a couple games of Call of Duty 4 for my trouble :)) but that connection was down as well. So, I called up Verizon and we went through the process of resetting the router, resetting the box outside (not sure what it’s called), and then checking the settings on my computer (traceroutes, pings, resets, the works). All fail. No biggie, electronics fail all the time.

That’s when the Verizon tech said that the problem was probably the coaxial connector on the cable modem/router. The explanation seemed a bit off, since I could ping the IP of the box outside (meaning the signal went through that connector), but the end result was that they’d mail me a new cable modem/router which was a good thing. The modem was supposed to arrive on Monday but when I called that night, the CSR on the phone let it slip that perhaps the last CSR didn’t complete the shipment order. What’s funny is that when I asked him directly whether the package was shipped, he would give me evasive answers (I didn’t ask more than once, I just thought it was funny he’d respond like taht). Anyway, the end result was that a local technician would be out the next day.

So a lackluster performance by the call center but once again the local technicians came through. The woman arrived first thing in the morning and got to work. We tested out everything, swapped out the cable router, and still no wireless or wired connection. She reset the box outside, still no good. She played with the settings on my computer, which I had jacked up trying to get the XBox to use my computer as a wireless modem – I couldn’t figure it out. Still nothing. Eventually we tried the XBox again and then finally the computer connected without a problem. Apparently we just didn’t wait long enough for the box to fully cycle when we tried to connect the first time. Either way, she said that she’d stick around until everything was up and running.

Now, I don’t consider that above and beyond service, but given all the complaints people have about technicians (like sleeping on the job), I figured a story about how a technician that showed up on time, was courteous and did a thorough job, would be a nice change of pace. 🙂

Thumbs up Verizon, please keep it up.

 Personal Finance 

Don’t Be Phished Like An Internet N00b

I received an email today from Comcast about how they recently changed their policy regarding accounts:

Comcast takes the security of our customers personal and account information very seriously. As part of our ongoing effort to ensure the security of our customers information, we have recently enhanced the security of the account management system.

As a result of these recent enhancements, if a account is inactive for 180 days, it is removed from our system.

In order to keep your account active, please log in today with your user name and password:

First off, anytime someone emails me to log into my account, I never click any links in the email. Never ever. I don’t care if it’s some stupid account on some random free email account that you wouldn’t care gets stolen. The fact of the matter is that thieves know that people use the same username and password on multiple accounts so a free email account could yield a free bank account as well. Lastly, I can just go to directly and login there to confirm whatever.

Secondly, if this is legit, Comcast is ridiculously stupid because they should check to see if the account is connected to an active customer account (it is). If it is, then ignore this stupid little rule because they’re obviously “active” because they’re paying for service! If it’s not connected, then I suppose you can request that someone log in every 180 days (though the chances of a non-Comcast subscriber caring about their Comcast account is exactly zero).

Moral of the story – Companies may be stupid and make legitimate but dumb requests, but don’t be a dummy and get phished.

FYI, the email I received, according to the headers, was legitimately sent from a’s server but…

  • The email was “from” a email…
  • The link in the email was to to…
  • And the link itself was to…

Seriously Comcast, you gave me 2034982304938 reasons to think it was a phishing email (all they missed was the link going to


Avoid Comcast’s Internet Installation Activation Fee

Last November, the promotional rate on my Comcast Internet and digital cable service expired and jumped from a somewhat reasonable $70/mo rate to an ridiculously unreasonable $140/mo rate. We tried to do the Comcast cancel dance to no avail as the CSR said “I can’t do anything” and we said “I want to cancel” and the bozos at Comcast actually let us cancel. Almost the same day, Verizon started putting in signs around the neighborhood advertising their new FiOS service, fiber optic right to the house, and we were intruiged. Talking to the Verizon folks at their booth, it appeared that their rates would equal the promotional rates of Comcast so we decided we’d live without Internet for a couple weeks until they got the whole thing setup. Well, as expected, Verizon still hasn’t setup FiOS is our area so I’ve decided to sign back up with Comcast for their promotional rate.

So, how do you avoid that ridiculous $50 activation fee? Well, the activation fee is so that you have the pleasure of waiting at your home during a four hour window, where they will invariably show up an hour after the end of the window, just so the guy (or gal) can do one of two things:

  • If you live in an apartment, he will unscrew your coaxial cable panel from the wall, and connect the cable on the inside with the jack, or,
  • He will find the box outside, open it up (it’s hardly ever locked), and connect it.

So, to avoid the $50 charge, just connect it yourself and ask for the self-install kit (please do not steal cable and do not trespass on their property, I’m not advocating or condoning the theft of services that you aren’t paying for). If you have a cable modem, simply hook it up and try to open any website. A Comcast site will appear where you can download their installation CD software and you can do the installation yourself. If you don’t have a cable modem, wait for the modem to show up before you do all of this. If you’re patient, you can avoid the $50 fee but you can’t avoid a phone call, and the 30 minute wait because somehow they are always busy and they never hire more CSRs, to Comcast to activate your service.

The benefit is two-fold – not only do you avoid the $50 fee, you get internet the day you start paying… not two weeks later when their technicians are able to pencil you in for a four hour window they stand no chance of making anyway.

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Latest Comcast Deals & Rebates

Many moons ago I wrote about a whole host of Comcast deals and rebates, including the “Ditch the Dish” program, and with the year of promotional pricing nearing its end it’s time once again to play the cancel and signup game. How does this game work? Well, do you have a roommate? Cancel your account and sign up under their name. Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend/friend who can “live” in your house? Then you can cancel yours and sign up in their name. The beauty of Comcast is that anyone can pay the bill, they don’t care as long as you put the correct account number on the check!

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Comcast High Speed Internet & Cable Deals

I’ve used Comcast for the last two years and have, on the whole, been satisfied with the service they’ve provided. My only complaint is that they’ve been really expensive and there hasn’t been much I’ve been able to do about it. You can get their high speed internet package for $20/month for six months but then it jumps to around $40 a month. The basic cable is about $50 a month with little wiggle room. Packaged together, basic digital cable and high speed internet comes out to $80 plus tax and service charged. That’s when I learned about the rebate games and the “Ditch the Dish” program which saved netted me a few hundred dollars in rebates, a free cable modem, and $25 off a month for 16 months.

Ridiculously Generous Rebates and FreebiesUpdated 6/8/08
It used to be that the various companies taking Comcast high speed internet and digital cable signups didn’t communicate so you could sign up to multiple rebates and have them all fulfilled. It’s still possible that they don’t communicate but people have been having problems lately. Below I’ve listed the best (highest dollar rebates) for the high speed internet signups.

  1. Triple Play – Comcast just improved their ComcastSpecial offer by replacing a broadband internet only rebate offer with a ‘triple play’ that includes broadband internet, cable television, and digital voice telephone with up to $325 back in rebates:
    1. Comcast High Speed Internet Deal – The standard $19.99/month for six months offer plus, $150 CASH, a D-Link DCM-202 Cable modem (may not be this unit), a wireless router, and no contract required! Getting your own modem will save you $3 per month.
    2. Comcast Cable Television Deal – While the rate you’ll pay isn’t disclosed (starts at $39.99/mo), you’ll get a $75 statement credit which is as good as money in the bank just for signing up!
    3. Comcast Digital Voice – A flat monthly rate, $100 cashback and your first month free. I use a cell phone as my primary phone so I’ve never used Comcast for this service.
  2. Dell and Staples Rebates – I originally listed a couple rebates from Dell and Staples but they’ve since expired and haven’t been replaced, so I’ve removed the links.

“Ditch the Dish” Program
In their constant battle with DirectTV and similar satellite cable providers, Comcast has implemented the “Ditch the Dish” campaign. Basically you sign up for service, turn in your satellite dish or cable box, and you receive $25 off your bill for the first sixteen months. Details of the program are here (The page says New England but it’s a national program). If you don’t have a dish and don’t know anyone who is getting rid of one, try Craigslist or Ebay. A cable box on Ebay can be purchased for around $15. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and the guy coming to do the installation won’t even take the box with him (installations are contracted out to local companies).

Extending the $19.99/month plan past 6 months
Threaten to quit. Usually they’ll extend it, if they don’t then hang up and try again later. Eventually a customer service rep will give it to you.

Avoid Installation Fee
Get the self-installation kit, it’s some coaxial cable and a cable modem, and hook up the stuff yourself. They’ll charge you $35 to do it for you, a complete waste of money.

If you are looking for high speed internet and cable deals but don’t have Comcast (or hate them), Broadband National (who runs the listed below) has the capability to search for all sorts of providers including Time Warner, Qwest, AT&T, Covad, and many more providers.

There are more offers out there if you poke around at other sites but they come and go month to month. Office Depot, Office Max, and a few other places usually offer deals that allow you to double or triple dip. The most bang for your buck is the Comcastoffers free cable modem offer because it’s worth the $90 for the modem but also $3 each month so it’s “worth” $126. You may be able to find free after rebate cable modems though, so then the Staples $105 back is the best deal. Regardless, always do the “Ditch the Dish” promotion! Good luck!

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