Posted by Elisabeth Leamy, Fri Feb 17 2006, 08:40PM

Q: I installed a new furnace, air conditioner, water heater, and added insulation to my house late in 2005

Q: I installed a new furnace, air conditioner, water heater, and added insulation to my house late in 2005. Can I get a tax credit or some relief and how do I do it?
~NB, Ohio

A: Yes! Thanks to new federal incentives, you can get a tax credit of up to $500 for improvements made between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2007. The key is to buy replacement products with the "energy star" rating. The tax credit is good on qualified windows, roofing, insulation, HVAC systems, and certain fans. Go to EPA's website for more details and ask your tax advisor how to apply when you do your taxes in a few weeks. Plus, don't forget to check with your state and your power company. You may be able to get additional money from them!

Q: i always keep my heat on 70degrees and my bill seems to come at the cost of $358.00dollars.I recently got new
windows.what could be the problem.Are they not reading my meter right, how should i go about this problem.
~KJ, (Jen, please look up 617 area code. This guy didn't give state)

A: Why don't you get a home energy audit? Many power companies offer them for free. In fact, thanks for reminding me. I'm going to get one for my new house. Perhaps the experts can identify what is making it hard to heat your home. If after following their advice, you still feel the power company is overcharging you, file a complaint with your state public service commission.

Q: I am in deep and I am really unsure as to what I should in fact do? I have way over extended(I am a commisioned ral estate sales person who had a less than stellar year in 2005) in credit card debt(roughly 40k). I have heard of the process of debt elimination(this apparently is not consolidation or a refinance) I have checked it out although I am pretty sure that it may well be a scam? I don't know what the options are? I am, certianly willing to cut up the cards and get on a plan to pay all this debt back, I guess I need some direction. Can you help Elisabeth?
I am desperate to figure this all out.
~PH, Michigan

A: Don't do it! Debt elimination is a scam. It will only send you deeper into debt. Here's how it works: a company charges you big bucks ($2500 plus) for a bogus certificate that says you don't owe your debts. You're supposed to take it to your bank, but the FBI has warned banks about this scam. The bank won't honor it and it WILL report your case to the authorities. See some of the other answers below for GENUINE advice to deal with your debts.

Q: My husband and I are drowning in debt. We have $35998.44 in credit card debt, $17883.09 in Loans, and $2525.57 in medical bills, in which most have been turned over to collections. If you have any advice on a system of paying off debt I would be most grtaeful in any direction to seeing the surface of the water. Do we try the highest amount or highest interest rate first? I have looked at bankruptcy,consolidation, etc.. We have already taken out a second mortgage for a business, which is no longer open.

A: I feel for you. I would certainly pay off the loans with the higher interest rates first. UNLESS some of the other loans you describe involve collateral that you could lose. In other words, if the $17,883 includes any cars or homes, that should be a priority so you don't lose those to the bank. Read on for more tough stories, so you'll know you're not alone. Also more helpful advice!

Q: I have about $20k dollars on about 6 different ( I think ) credit cards. The lowest intrest rate being at 11%. I own a home and have a family. My husband thinks I live way beyond my means and I do. He says that I should cut costs by lowering the cable bill, phone bill, basically houshold luxery's that are not needed and maybe even trade in my SUV which is a 2002 Ford Explorer at $310.00 a month at 4.9% for two more years, for a cheaper car. Start tackling these credit cards and NO MORE SPENDING. Now, I get a healthy income tax return and I also get a profit sharing each year from work. Should I use all this money to pay off the little cards completely with the higher intrest rates and start using that money for the 2 big major credit cards? Or should I get a loan maybe from the bank with a lower intrest rate and pay them off that way? By the way I can only afford to pay minimum for all credit cards at this time.
~DR, Pennsylvania

A: Admitting the problem is the first step to solving it, so you are well on your way (although it troubles me that you're not even sure HOW MANY credit cards you have!) Yes, by all means, cut out the luxuries. Find out how much you could get for your car. It may be that you owe more on it than it is worth. I assume you mean you get a healthy income tax REFUND. If that is the case, YES, immediately send it to the credit cards with the highest interest rates. Then CANCEL those cards. If the profit sharing you speak of is money that goes into a retirement account, you probably shouldn't use it to pay off debt. But if it is just an annual bonus, then YES, send it away. And, please, stop living beyond your means!

Q: i have a credit card in which i used to consolidate department stores card--well about 6 months ago i rcvd a letter from Chase Bank saying they were raising my interst rate to 29.9 percent, i never missed a payment, always on time but because i made a major purchase they said, chase can raise my interest. Help
(~SW, (look uip 919 area code)

A: If you read the fine print of your credit card agreement, you will probably find that credit card companies can change your rate for all sorts of different reasons. BUT the good news is, consumers can change CARDS for all sorts of reasons. Go to the Federal Reserve's website where there is a list of low-rate credit cards. Try calling two and seeing how low a rate you can get. (Don't call any more than that because making excessive applications for credit can hurt your credit score.) Then, either go with one of your new offers. Or call Chase back and use it as a bargaining chip to talk them into reducing your rate. Savvy consumers do this all the time and it works!

Q: I've got a line of credit loan with MBNA that started out at 17% and now is up to 19.9%. The total on this loan is about $10,000 and I obviously need to get rid of this ASAP. I've got about $15,000 in IRA's and 401K and very little in savings, plus I do not own a home. What should I do to get the rate down and/or get this paid off without it taking decades.
JG, Virginia)

A: If you are more than 59-and-a-half years old, you can tap into your IRA or 401K without paying a penalty. But, keep in mind, depending on the type of IRAs you have, you may owe income tax on them. If you are younger than that, don't use your retirement money. You will immediately be charged a 10% penalty, and, depending on your tax bracket, you could lose half the money!

Q: Hello. I need to seek the help of a Credit Counselor to pay off my bills. Can you tell me the best service to use. Paying one big bill a month works better for me.
~A, (look up 609 area code)

A: Thank you for asking! Your fellow debtors will benefit from your question! Beware. There are lots of unscrupulous credit "counselors" out there who take your money and don't send it to your creditors or force you into a payment plan that doesn't benefit you. The tried and true non-profit is Consumer Credit Counseling Service. Call their 800 number(EL will provide this!!!!!!!!) and you will be connected to the CCCS in your local area. Do be aware that working through a credit counselor CAN count against you on your credit report. (Banks see that you needed outside help being disciplined about paying your bills.) But it is FAR better than defaulting on payments.