I found warranty love online

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Would you like a warranty with that?

It's a question I hate with every fiber in my being, but I should get used to it, since it was being asked of shoppers before I was born and will be asked long after I'm gone. Still, my thinking is that if I'm shelling out money for a washing machine, a computer or what have you, shouldn't the manufacturer have enough confidence in their product that an expensive warranty to cover the life of the product isn't needed?

My reasoning isn't completely sound, though. I learned the importance of a warranty about two years ago when, during a lightning storm, my TV was blitzed. One minute, the kids were laughing at SpongeBob SquarePants, and the next minute, we were staring at a darkened TV. I was horrified, and despite several attempts to give my TV mouth-to-remote resuscitation, nothing I did would bring it back to life.

And several years ago, I learned that a warranty on a laptop can be a good idea in case your new dog decides to chew off a few letters on the keyboard.

It worked out for me with the laptop, but I hadn't bought one for my TV. It bugged me that after shelling out $600, the clerk was asking for another $200 or whatever it was. I said no, gambled that I wouldn't need it and lost. But I'm not writing about warranties to talk about whether they're a smart way to spend your money or not. That debate is for another day. What I have recently been looking at are online warranty stores.

I didn't know this until recently, but it turns out that you don't have to buy a warranty for an appliance at a store; you can go to these online stores after you make your purchase, and as long as you sign up within 30 to 90 days, depending on the site you go to, you can get a warranty that way. The appeal? You can get the warranties cheaper than if you buy them with the product at the store.

There are several of these online stores out there. SquareTrade seems interesting. If you've bought a TV, a refrigerator or any major appliance in the last 30 days, you go to their Web site, and type in your information, and they'll quote you for a price. I plugged in the number $500 for a TV, since I bought one at Best Buy last year for around that price, and see that I could have gotten a warranty for three years for $149. Not cheap, but if SquareTrade's correct, they average 40% less than buying a warranty in the store. They also have warranties for iPhones, which, given how easily they can be dropped and stepped on, could be useful.

GreenUmbrella
is another online warranty store. You pay $9.95 a month, and they'll offer warranties for all of your new products up to four years.

All Six Warranty, meanwhile, will cover up to six major appliances for $19.95 per month, which sounds a tad expensive, but if you consider that it's about $240 per year, for six items, and often a warranty to cover one item may run that much... well, it's your call. You may feel like you've stumbled into a real deal.

Still, let's do the math, and imagine that you become a customer of All Six Warranty for 10 years. You've spent $2,400 on what's basically insurance for most of your major appliances, which aren't likely to break down, at least repeatedly, but of course, they could, and when they do break down, there's a $50 service fee (but if they can't fix it, they'll replace it, up to a cost of $1,500 per appliance). Theoretically, you could come out ahead, but it seems unlikely, and certainly home warranty companies didn't get into this business to lose money.

But again, if you're a big believer in warranties, All Six, Green Umbrella or SquareTrade may be a dream come true.

That said, unfortunately, home warranties are ripe for abuse, which I'm sure drives the ethical companies insane. Right now, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is suing National Home Protection, Inc., a home warranty company, for allegedly bilking customers in 32 states. It's being accused of taking everyone's money but refusing to fix homeowners' products.

And how can you know if you're about to open your wallet to a crooked home warranty company? You can't, but that's why I always research online any unfamiliar-to-me company I'm considering doing business with. If there are a couple bad reviews from irate customers, I try to take that in stride. There are always going to be a few disgruntled customers, even with terrific companies.

But when I Google that company, if its name frequently pops up with the words lawsuit and every other customer review has words in it like "beware," and "run," and some former patrons have nicknamed the CEO Satan, well, I guess I don't need to tell you that that's when it's time to look elsewhere.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He also is the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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