5 Spot: Tips for shopping for a mattress


Tips for shopping for a mattress:

* Start in the back of the store. Stores usually keep the priciest models in front. So head to the back, and if you don’t find anything you like, work your way toward the front of the store, and up in cost.

* Be hip to the bait-and-switch. When you ask for a particular mattress, such as one featured in one of those alluring ads, you’ll often be told it was replaced by another the store just happens to have that’s “exactly the same.” Don’t believe it; the ad was meant to get you into the store. Also, many model names you see at major retailers such as Macy’s, Sears and Sleepy’s are exclusive to them — so you won’t be able to comparison-shop.

* Expect the hard sell. Sales reps can get incentives for pushing certain models. Extras such as mattress protectors may also add to commissions, so you might hear claims that using one is a condition of the warranty. It’s not.

* Take your time. Comfort is an individual decision. So make sure you lie on the mattress for 10 to 15 minutes, spending time on each side, on your back and on your stomach if that’s how you sleep. (Consumer Reports suggests bringing your own pillow.) In a survey of subscribers, about 80 percent of those who took the time to do that said they were satisfied with their purchase. But you usually can’t do that in warehouse clubs or with online retailers, so make sure the return policy lets you send it back if it doesn’t satisfy.

* Consider keeping your box spring. If you’re switching from an innerspring to a foam or air bed, you might need a new foundation with no springs. Otherwise, if the box spring you have isn’t sagging or damaged, it should suffice — and save you money. (Though mattresses and box springs are usually sold in pairs, you can opt to buy them singly; box springs alone usually cost $150 to $300.)

* Haggle. Some businesses, such as warehouse clubs, won’t budge on price. But when shopping at specialty chains and other stores, be sure to negotiate. Markups are huge — that’s why retailers can lower prices by 50 percent or more during their frequent sales. So even if there’s no sale, insist on a “sale” price. No deal? Start to walk out. Chances are, you won’t get far before the sales rep gives in.

* Check the terms. Most companies will let you sleep on a mattress for anywhere from two weeks to 120 days before deciding to return or exchange it, but be sure to get the policy in writing. If you do return a mattress, you may pay a 15 to 25 percent restocking fee.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org.

— Consumer Reports

How long to keep those financial recordsQuestion: How long should I keep various financial records? — M., Elkhart, Ind.

Answer: Play it conservative, and keep all your tax returns, along with insurance policies, pension-related and estate-planning documents (such as wills), forever. Keep canceled checks, bank statements and receipts for at least three years, ideally seven — perhaps printing out copies if you receive them electronically. Do the same with any supporting documents for tax returns, such as 1099 and W-2 forms, charity receipts, bank and brokerage statements, and so on.

Hang on to stock trade confirmation receipts for as long as you own each stock and for at least three years (ideally seven) after you close out your position (usually by selling). Keep proof of improvements to property (such as a new roof) for at least three years after the sale of the property. Keep escrow closing documents (for both the purchase and sale of property) for at least three years (again, ideally, seven) after the property is sold.

It’s smart to think twice before you throw out any documents related to your finances or major life events (such as a marriage or divorce). When you do dispose of such papers, be sure to shred them, to deter identity thieves.

— Motley Fool

How to wash your car the right wayAlthough car-washing is a fairly simple job, professional detailers note that there are proper ways to do it to get the car as clean as possible and avoid scratching or damaging its surface.

Here are some steps to follow if you wash your car yourself.

1. Gather all the items you need

You’ll need a garden hose, soap made specifically for car paint, a microfiber towel to dry off the car and a microfiber or lambswool washing mitt. Rob Schruefer, president of the International Detailing Association, says to avoid using dish soap because it can strip away wax. A microfiber towel, meanwhile, will prevent scratching.

2. Rinse the car

Before applying soap, use the hose to thoroughly rinse the vehicle.

“You want to cool down the paint and knock away any debris,” Schruefer says.

If bird droppings or sap remain on the car, apply some additional cleaner or rubbing alcohol to loosen the material. Be careful scrubbing it, as that can scratch or damage the clear coat.

3. Wash from the top down

Charles Smith, owner of Bulldog Mobile Detailing in Nashville, Tenn.,, says it’s important to start washing at the top of the vehicle to minimize the time, effort and the amount of soap that’s needed.

Schruefer adds that the bottom of cars are the dirtiest, so it’s important to let the dirt from the top funnel down to the bottom.

Smith recommends using separate towels to clean tires and painted surfaces.

“Work on one panel or area of the vehicle at a time,” Smith says. “Wash in vertical or horizontal patterns, not circular motions.”

He adds it’s imperative to use the proper soap and towels.

“Harsh chemicals or improper materials … can scratch or etch the surface,” Smith says. “That can cause costly repairs and decrease the value and the vehicle’s appearance.”

4. Use two buckets

Schruefer recommends a two-bucket method. He says one bucket should contain the clean, soapy water, while the other bucket should be where you rinse the washing mitt.

5. Rinse thoroughly

After you’re done cleaning the car, use the garden hose to rinse thoroughly to remove any soap.

6. Dry off the car

Use the microfiber towel to dry the car.

“Never allow soap to dry on vehicle surfaces,” Smith says, as it can leave a film and be difficult to remove.

Smith recommends washing the car in the shade. Early morning or evening are ideal times. Washing a car in the sunlight on a hot day can leave behind spots, which can require the assistance of a professional detailer to remove.

— Tom Moor, Angie’s List

Beware ‘mystery shopper’ job scamsMADISON — For people who love to shop or travel, nothing beats the prospect of free products, meals and overnight stays in exchange for completing a survey about a store, restaurant or hotel’s services. While such a job does exist, the vast majority of advertisements about these “mystery shopper” jobs are scams (and could leave you in dire straits).

Consumers are advised to be skeptical of advertisements and unsolicited emails promising work as a secret shopper.

The Bureau of Consumer Protection has recently received a handful of inquiries and five written complaints about fraudulent mystery shopper operations, with one of the complainants losing nearly $1,000 in the scam.

All five complainants received a similar email solicitation. Two of the five received realistic-looking checks and were asked to deposit them into their bank accounts and wire a portion to another party. This is a common scam: The checks are fake, and the consumer will be on the hook for any withdrawn and transferred funds when the bank discovers the forgery.

If you receive a similar solicitation for a secret shopper job, remember that:

* It is not necessary to pay money to get into the mystery shopper business.

* The “shopping certifications” offered in these ads and unsolicited emails are almost always worthless.

* Consumers who try to get a refund from promoters of mystery shopper jobs are typically out of luck. Either the business does not return phone calls or answers and tries another pitch.

* These solicitations are often fronts for fake check scams, with the mystery shopper’s first “assignment” being the evaluation of a money transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. Reject any request from a stranger to cash a check on their behalf and transfer a portion of that money to someone/someplace.

— Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection

Five ways to improve your credit scoreFICO scores calculated by software creator Fair Isaac Corp. are used by major credit reporting agencies to gauge credit risk. The scores range from 300 to 850; the lower the score, the higher the interest rate on your loan. Over a 30-year mortgage, even a percentage point can translate into thousands of dollars.

Here are a few ways to improve your credit score:

* Set up recurring calendar reminders to pay your bills on time. Late bills not only incur late fees but can hurt your credit, too.

* Start establishing good credit by applying for a secured credit card. Use a savings account to fund your credit card and pay it off monthly. While high-interest credit cards are not ideal, if paid on time they can help improve your credit rating. Websites such as creditcards.com and bankrate.com can help determine the best card for you.

* Pick the right financial institution. Credit unions are member-owned, are typically more forgiving and offer great rates on all types of credit, including mortgages and car loans.

* Know what is on your credit report. Use sites such as CreditKarma.com to monitor your credit.

* Face the music. If you’re overdue, call the company and request a payment plan. You don’t want collection agencies pursuing you.

— Tara McAlister, The Charlotte Observer