Part of the family of financial services put out by credit bureau Experian, LowerMyBills.com is a consumer oriented website that promises people big savings on their bills and other financial services. From home mortgages to debt consolidation loans, LowerMyBills was founded over a decade ago and was purchased by Experian in 2005.
Experian must have seen something in the small company’s business model — they shelled out $330 million — an additional $50 million was promised as a performance incentive and paid out over the past couple of years. Lower My Bills.com is a profitable company, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in sales with profits hovering near $25 million a year.
Getting quotes and financial information (not to mention offers on phones and Internet access) is a messy and difficult process. The idea behind Lower MyBills.com (and many comparison shopping sites like it) is to bring lenders and vendors together in one place so that customers can get multiple quotes after submitting a single “packet” of information. Depending on the product you’re looking for, that information may include personal details about your income and financial past or it may be a simple four question “application”. LowerMyBills works with thousands of different lenders in an attempt to give their customers a wide range of quotes and estimates.
Unless you’ve been in the market for a loan product, you may only know LowerMyBills.com from their banner ads that ran after the Experian purchase and can still be seen from time to time today. The company famously spent nearly $100 million on web ads in 2006, but the quirkiness and nonsensical nature of the ads mean that most people remember them as a nuisance. The parent company of LowerMyBills.com, Experian, is one of the “big three” credit reporting bureaus along with Equifax and TransUnion. Experian also owns the much maligned FreeCreditReport.com and sites like ConsumerInfo.com and PriceGrabber.com.
To take advantage of LowerMyBills.com, consumers visit the website and select from a menu of products — generic categories like “mortgage”, “debt”, “insurance”, and even “education” give way to more specific offers as you click through. The scope of Lower MyBills.com is pretty wide. The “education” tab links to a list of ten topics (criminal justice, education & liberal arts, etc) that, when clicked, sends you to another Experian site that promises to “match” you to a college or certification program. Many of the other topics covered on the front page of LowerMyBills.com will keep you on-site. Clicking the “insurance” tab, for instance, leads to a series of questions about the type of insurance you’re looking for.
Basically, LowerMyBills.com is a mash up of various consumer services housed in one place, though you may be redirected. Keep your eyes on the URL so you know what site you’re on.
Is LowerMyBills.com a Scam?
Possibly because of this wide net, many people fear that LowerMy Bills.com is a scam. People have posted complaints about the site on various scam and consumer rights related pages, and the collapse of sister site FreeCreditReport.com didn’t help matters. It seems any website offering to lower your bills, reduce the cost of insurance, or “match” you to a financial product is met with much suspicion.
For example, if you want to purchase auto insurance through LowerMyBills.com you have to enter all sorts of personal information ranging from your state of residence to your date of birth and other details that spammers and identity thieves use to make your life miserable. There’s no guarantee anywhere on the site that LowerMyBills.com doesn’t sell your details to outside vendors.
The term “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) is in Latin for a reason — people have been feeling “ripped off” by a poor product for thousands of years. Buying and selling on the Internet is even more reason to look close at the fine print. In the case of LowerMyBills.com, the fine print hints at the “iffy” nature of the site. There’s a stipulation in the fine print that is becoming more and more common on the web — it says, in layman’s terms, that by doing business with LowerMyBills, you as the consumer agree to resolve any dispute with the company in arbitration in California. Businesses want to fight you in California for a reason — the laws there favor big business.
Another sign that you might be getting duped? Look at item 13 in the consumer agreement. It says that you’re waiving indemnification even in the case of intentional fraud. This clause even protects other entities that LowerMyBills works with, so if you have your identity stolen thanks to the shady practices of one of Lower MyBills’ affiliates, your ability to file a lawsuit will be limited. Caveat emptor indeed.
Folk movement against Lower MyBills aside, to date there are no lawsuits targeting the company for scamming. Some of their affiliates are in court defending allegations related to spamming and false advertising, but LowerMyBills has kept their formal business name out of the discussion. That means there’s no reason to think Lower My Bills is “a scam”.
You may be surprised to find out just how many online retailers and services are selling certain details of your life to junk mailers and email spammers. Ever wonder how you ended up getting all those erectile dysfunction emails with hilarious titles? Spammers aren’t just pulling email addresses out of the bag (well, they do that too, but it isn’t their main tactic) they purchase lists of email addresses or other information from companies you deal with on a daily basis. Your online movie rental company? They sold your email address to the highest bidder. Same for the site where you get your daily online auction fix. Just because a company has a mom and pop or friendly image doesn’t mean they aren’t stuffing your inbox with email you don’t want to read.
After reading that, you may feel scared to do business with Lower MyBills.com. The truth is most online businesses are guilty of these kinds of activities, and many brick and mortar businesses you use every day do the same thing. How does LowerMyBills stay afloat under the impression that they’re scam artists? The fact is that many of their services are at least competitive when it comes to rates and service.
Lots of people find LowerMy Bills through their massive online ad presence. The fact that LMB is owned by Experian is a big bonus — Experian already owns all your credit information and you do business with them any time you deal with credit anyway. If nothing else, handing over otherwise sensitive data to a company like Experian is safe because you already work with them. Since there are laws in place to govern how Experian can use your personal information and credit data, you can feel safe in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, has your back. Another good sign — LowerMy Bills.com doesn’t make you hand over your social security number until you are serious about making a purchase.
When you visit LowerMyBills.com, you’ll be walked through a basic query process depending on what kind of service you’re looking for. For the purpose of simplicity, we’ll be talking about the mortgage service.
LowerMyBills.com Mortgage Refinancing
Some of the questions you’ll be asked at the outset of a mortgage search are:
- What’s the Balance on Your First Mortgage?
- What’s Your General Credit Worthiness?
- How Much Is Your House Worth?
If you’re a good consumer, you can answer these questions without much digging. If you are unsure of your ability to answer questions in this vein, obtain a copy of your most recent mortgage statement. Because you’ll only be asked questions relevant to your mortgage lender search, you can rest assured that nothing untoward is happening. Too many times, non name mortgage lender comparison sites will throw in questions that have little or nothing to do with the topic at hand. These questions are put there so those less trustworthy sites can sell your answers to specific buyers. There’s none of that at LowerMyBills, besides the strange insistence that you tell them your exact age.
You’ll be pleased with Lower My Bills’ ability to communicate the entire mortgage lending process — once you’ve finished your application, you’ll get an email message with the name of the specific five lenders the site has selected to give you mortgage quotes. In that email, you’ll find out not just the names of those companies but their preferred contact method (email or phone) and a general idea of when they’ll be contacting you. Most people will start hearing from their five matched lenders within a couple of hours. Depending on the company you’re matched with, you may get automated form emails or you may get personalized phone calls. The luck of the draw will determine how you’re contacted. In my case, one of the lenders suggested to me never got in touch with me — but four out of five is great.
The experience you have with LMB depends on your own knowledge of what you’re in the market for. Be specific with your needs, whether you’re after a lower interest rate, a lower total payment, or even a return on your refinance investment. I was stunned when two of the four lenders that contacted me let me know within minutes that a refinance through their company would not be good for me.
If you are pleased with the offer made by a particular lender you find through Lower My Bills.com, you can ask for a good faith estimate. Some lenders will offer the good faith estimate without prompting, especially if it reveals that a refinancing deal may benefit your bottom line or meet your other needs. Rather than dashing off and taking out a loan with the first company offering you a good faith estimate, LMB gives you the option of waiting it out and comparing deals. The good faith estimate is the key to the lender’s ability to make a profit. While some mortgage lenders will charge higher fees to make their buck, others will give you a low interest rate. If a company doesn’t charge fees, you can bet your good faith estimate will be markedly higher. Listening to multiple offers gives you the choice of which way you’ll line the lenders’ pockets. Be a good negotiator — write down as many specific good faith estimates as you can and use them in your deals with other lenders.
I had a very positive experience with Lower My Bills. People who aren’t able to wrap their heads completely around the issue of refinancing will find the one stop comparison shopping convenient. The downsides of LowerMyBills.com are mostly due to the nature of the business — buying a book online is scary enough, imagine putting your financial future into the hands of a web based vendor. An FAQ or consumer’s rights’ section on the websites explaining their personal information policy would be a big help. Not knowing how your personal data will be used makes the whole process seem a touch on the shady side.
LowerMyBills.com Phone Number
Don’t let all the talk about mortgage refinancing steer you away from the other services at Lower My Bills. If you are in the market for phone service you can use LMB to compare rates, get special deals with service providers, or even get a free fancy new phone. While comparison shopping for mortgage products is fairly old hat, it seems like most people pick their phone service by throwing darts or rolling dice. Considering consumer groups tell us that the average phone bill in America is around $50 a month (or about $600 a year) the phone plan you pick could put a dent in your expendable cash.
LowerMyBills.com has two methods of finding a new phone service — a “plan finder” and a “phone finder”. Most people will take advantage of the plan finder, as this allows you to pick from a range of services, select the price and plan you like, and then match a phone to it, there are some gadget heads out there who prefer to find the ideal phone and match that phone to a service. Either way, the process is essentially the same.
Much like the home loan search, finding a phone plan with Lower MyBills means answering a series of questions and then communicating with the phone providers on your own. Think of the question and answer process as a series of filters that weed out plans that don’t match your needs and leave you with only your best four or five options. The “plan finder” system at LMB will ask you to answer the following questions:
- What is your area? (Zip code)
- What kind of offer do you want? (you can search all phones, only phones with new service, only pre-paid phones, or unlocked phones)
- What carries do you want to search? (this allows you to skip plan providers you don’t care for)
- What features do you want?
- What is your price range? (you can pick from “better than free” all the way up to “over $150″)
As you answer these basic queries, Lower My Bills.com shows you a list of phones on the right hand side of the website. These phones and plans meet the criteria you set up on the left side. Besides being user friendly, this allows you to comparison shop “live” as opposed to the pen and paper comparison shopping you’ll be doing with a mortgage or insurance search.
More “filters” pop up as you continue to enter your specific criteria. You’ll eventually be able to sort through the list of available phone plans by the phone manufacturer, the coverage in your area, and other detailed categories.
Even if you don’t plan on doing business with LowerMy Bills, using the phone or plan finder application is a great way to get the lay of the land in your area in terms of phone plans. The ability to enter your zip code means you’ll get area-specific quotes and inquiries. The best news is you don’t have to enter any information more personal than your zip code in order to get estimates from phone providers. No need to worry about LMB selling your personal details if they just don’t have them. Yes, Lower My Bills installed a cookie on my web browser, but if you only did business with websites that didn’t install cookies, you’d be wasting money with your wireless bill.
If you’re shopping for Internet service, doing business with LowerMyBills is a bit dodgier. Click the “Internet access” link from the LMB website and you’ll be redirected to DigitalLanding.com — an affiliate of LMB. The transition off site is nearly seamless, and if you aren’t particularly computer savvy you may not notice that you’re dealing with a different name. Still, they are legally affiliated with Lower MyBills.com, so any legal rights you have from doing business with LMB are transferable to Digital Landing.
Comparison shopping for web service is almost identical to searching for phone service. Enter your zipe code and your email address and start to answer questions about the kind of service you want. Yes, your email address will be stored and sold to a third party spammer, but that’s par for the course online. There are three different security certifications right on the front page of DigitalLanding, one from McAfee, one from TRUSTe, and a VeriSign confirmation of the site’s SSL security. While you may be indifferent about things like data encryption and virus protection, the folks at Digital Landing seem to go out of their way to show you they are not.
A big difference between shopping for phones and shopping for web service at LowerMyBills is the way your search starts. After entering the required details, you’ll go on “hold” for a second as the service searches for the best deals for your area. Only after local Internet service providers are shown do you start to filter through the results by price and other details. On the left side of the screen, you can choose to “bundle” your Internet service with other services like home phone service. In the center of the page are your service offers (which may be extremely limited based on your area) and on the right side is a box that provides information on the fees associated with each offer. If you make use of the entire web page, your search results will be more in tune with what you want and you’ll stay informed about hidden costs.
LowerMyBills.com Car Insurance
Lower MyBills works with over 1,000 different companies. That’s one of the big reasons for using this particular comparison service — if you want to save money you have to query as many companies as you can. Knowing what Company A offers you for an identical service provided by Company B is your best weapon against paying too much for car insurance, and getting a variety of price quotes at LMB is like shooting the proverbial barrel fish.
Shopping for car insurance with Lower MyBills starts like any other “compare and save” program they’ve got — you answer two questions (your zip code and whether or not you currently have car insurance) and work your way through a series of questions and search filters until finally the site narrows down your choices to about half a dozen.
There’s nothing new about online comparison shopping in the auto insurance industry. Sites like CarInsurance.com have been doing something similar since the Internet’s grammar school days. The reasons for picking LMB to help you pick an insurance provider are mostly convenience oriented. Any fool can walk into a State Farm or AAA shop front and walk out with an (expensive and unwieldy) insurance card. The people behind Lower My Bills work hard to convince you that using their service will save you time — I’ve never read the words “save” and “time” more often than in their promotional material. While you will save time comparing online rather than going door to door, there’s no real driving force behind the car insurance section of Lower My Bills.
You need to have the following information at your disposal when you hunt for insurance quotes online:
- Vehicle year, make, and model (e.g. 1998 Toyota Camry)
- Whether or not the vehicle is leased
- Vehicle’s primary use (company car, farm use, pleasure, personal, etc)
- Average mileage for commute (guesstimation is acceptable)
- Annual mileage (again, an educated guess is fine)
- Primary driver details (name, date of birth, gender, marital status)
- Age you obtained your driver’s license
- Details about tickets or license suspensions (date, punishment, etc) going back five years
- Highest Level of Education
- General credit score
If you go into your search at Lower MyBills with this information in hand, you’ll be saving yourself time running around looking for documents.
As for the car insurance rates offered by LMB’s affiliates, I found them extremely competitive compared to other insurance providers in my area. Searching for a policy with 0 deductible and full coverage, I was quickly sent six quotes, four via email and two personally on the phone. All six quotes would save me some amount of money, though in some cases the actual savings was at the nickel and dime level. One quote in particular was so good, I had to consider actually talking to this company. I’m not really in the market for new car insurance, but a six month quote of $840.16 is about two hundred dollars cheaper than my family currently spends.
A common complaint about comparison shopping websites is that you’ll be inundated with offers for weeks. Having used Lower My Bills myself, I can pretty much promise this won’t happen to you. The most responses I ever got was six, from a query on car insurance. There’s no calls all hours of the day, letters in the mail, emails choking up my inbox. What LMB says they’re going to do is what they end up doing in terms of the number of quotes you receive.
LowerMyBills.com Debt Management
There are six categories in the Lower My Bills.com “debt management” section.
Debt Relief – You start your path to debt relief at LMB by entering some basic personal data like your name, your address and contact info, and the general amount of your debt. After this step, it gets a little more pertinent. LMB wants to know what type of creditors your debt is with (major credit cards, medical bills, etc), your primary source of income, etc. They will then offer to show you a free credit score provided by Experian. This credit score is not a full credit report, and it is only from one agency. Depending on the area you live in, you may be required to pay a small amount for this score. Luckily, you can skip this step. Somehow, you’ve left LowerMyBills and are at an affiliate site called careonecredit.com. They ask a few more personal questions (total amount of debt, etc) and then invite you to call them at 1-800-498-1659 to talk with a “debt management counselor”. This is as far as I got before I realized this is the same kind of service I can do for myself.
Debt Relief Acceleration – What Lower MyBills.com calls “debt relief acceleration” is a link to DebtGoal.com. At DebtGoal you’ll be invited to join as a member and start a SmartPay plan. The idea behind “debt relief acceleration” is to make your debt visual and give a visual account of how much debt you’ve paid off and how far you have to go. There are a few other tools along the way to help you out (like tracking your monthly progress) but this is pretty much just a support system for people in debt.
Bankruptcy – This is another Lower My Bills affiliate. When you click the “bankruptcy” tab on the LMB home page, you’ll be redirected to bankruptcy.me offering in large letters a “free bankruptcy evaluation” form. The very idea that you could fill in six blanks on a form and be on your way to a positive plan for bankruptcy is a little bit silly, though bankruptcy.me is a licensed Federal Debt Relief Agency. I was surprised after filling out this form that Bankruptcy.me only found one debt relief agency willing to work with me, a place called RiseAbove Debt Relief, whose phone number is (888) 632-0587. In fact, when I filled out the same form with different details, I was sent to the same agency. It seems that rather than comparing potential debt relief agencies or trying to help people who have questions about bankruptcy, bankruptcy.me is a vehicle for a single relief agency. There are probably better options than just this one agency.
Debt Consolidation Loan – You start out your path to a debt consolidation loan from LowerMyBills .com by answering three questions. “What type of loan do you want?”, “What size is your home?”, and “What is your credit profile?”. Once past this page, there are even more questions about your property, such as “Purchase Year” and “Estimated Value”. In fact the questions keep coming and coming, details of your previous mortgages, your current income amount, etc. After you finish answering, you enter your contact info and sit back to wait for offers from debt consolidation companies. In a test run, I had nearly twenty offers (way more than is comfortable for me) in less than twenty minutes.
Private Student Loan – I thought it was curious that Lower My Bills was offering “Private student loan” shopping under their “Debt” tag until I remembered what my private student loans did to my credit. When you first visit the “private student loan” department at LMB, fill out the questionnaire. You need to let them know if you’re the parent or the student, the name of the college, the amount you need to borrow, and the expected graduation date. Then you tell them when you need the loan, your home zip code and email address, and you’re off to the races. Like with all other Lower MyBills.com offers, you’ll get about a dozen loan agencies with quotes or offers for you, some on the phone and some via email. None of the information that was sent to me was anything I couldn’t learn by talking to my school’s financial aid advisers, but for parents at home or students at large universities where it can be hard to get loan counseling, using LowerMyBills is an easy way to get ballpark loan figures.
LowerMyBills.com was once best known for their annoying ever present ads. At one time, they were the largest single advertiser on the web, a dubious title that nonetheless seems to have helped catapult them into prosperity. The Experian family of websites has hit something of a rocky path, what with the FreeCreditReport.com fiasco. The difference between a company like Lower My Bills and FreeCreditReport.com (now called FreeCreditScore.com) is that you don’t have to enter your credit card information or sign up for a “free trial” in order to comparison shop on Lower MyBills.com. FreeCreditReport.com got in dutch with the government because of the untold millions of people who signed up for their pay service without realizing it. There’s no “catch” like this at LMB.
All the same, a web search for LowerMyBills.com reveals the phrase “scam” in the top five results, in some cases more than once. This is mostly a matter of good old fashioned web paranoia and partially a backlash against a company that makes money by selling basic customer information (email, age, zip code) to spammers. The sheer scope of Lower My Bills makes it difficult to ignore, especially if you’re going out of your way to lower your costs. Comparison shopping on your own for a cell phone plan would require hours of legwork, visiting big box stores and strip mall storefronts until you find the ideal service. The same kind of search using LowerMy Bills takes seconds, though you may wonder if the trade off is worth it considering the possibility that you’re handing over your personal data in exchange for sponsored links and affiliate advertising. Your decision to use Lower My Bills for your next online purchase (be it car insurance, a home loan, or a college degree) is not one to be taken lightly. As a one time customer, I recommend this service to people who don’t have the time it takes to get a good deal or are just getting their feet wet shopping for insurance or home refinancing.