2 Key Questions When Choosing Residential Solar

Thinking about using solar electricity at home to reduce the size of your electric bills?

There are two key considerations in finding the right solar power solution for your home. The first concerns the quality of the service and products, along with the terms of the installation, and the second is the decision of whether to own or lease the system.  Most people thinking of residential solar solutions install panels on the roof of their home, and this post assumes a roof installation for purposes of discussing examples.  The principles discussed in this post, however, apply equally to installing solar panels on a slope or elsewhere around your home, whether to heat a pool or provide electric power for use in your home, or both.

First, you want to do enough research to ensure you have reason to trust the people installing the solar electric system, especially on your roof, and you need to understand the type of warranties that accompany the purchase.

  • Speak with at least 2 and preferably 3 different installers and obtain multiple bids before making a decision.
  • Confirm the installer has experience working with roofs similar to yours.
  • Ask for at least two references from others who own roofs similar to yours.
  • Get a comprehensive written warranty covering the installation services as well as all the products that are installed.
    1. Installers should be replacing any tiles they damage.
    2. Warranties against leaks should run at least five years from installation.
    3. Ask about extra fees that may be assessed in connection to the warranty. For example, are there any type of inspection fees to send someone out and assess whether damage is covered by the warranty?  If so, have them disclosed as clearly as possible.

Second, consider whether you want to own or lease the solar system.

Before assuming you cannot afford to buy the system, find out about available subsidies, both federal and state, that will offset or reduce your out-of-pocket costs for the purchase.

In order to calculate the return on your investment properly, you need to understand your electric bills for the last twelve months, in addition to applicable subsidies.  Your installer should be able to help you calculate the return on your solar investment.  If your purchase calculations suggest that it takes more than seven years to recoup your investment, you are not getting a good deal – get better terms or find another installer.

As detailed below, don’t assume your purchase cannot be financed with a low or zero interest loan.  You may not need to make a large lump sum payment and may be able to pay over many years.  Try to arrange the payments you make to be less than your average monthly electric bill. For example, if your average electric bill is $250 per month and you qualify for a no-interest loan for $10,000, you should structure payments for around $200 a month over 50 months (or just over 4 years).

Considerations for owning your solar system:

  • If you want to put as little money down for the installation as possible, and if you have good credit, you may be able to have the system installed at little or no cost; but you will be leasing it and any subsidies will likely pass through to the installer.
  • If you have funds set aside, you can buy the system and pay for installation out of pocket. Your final costs will be reduced by the amount of the subsidies, which you will keep, likely in the form of tax rebates or reductions.
  • If your credit is good, you may be able to obtain a low or no-interest loan, and avoid a large lump sum payment by paying over a period of years; find an installer familiar with such programs. Enerbank USA is but one commercial lender that collaborates with solar installation businesses to offer low and zero interest loans to consumers with good credit who want to finance their installation.

Considerations for leasing your solar system:

  • There may be a few points in the lease terms you can negotiate, such as the increase in the monthly billing (eg, 1 or 2 percent per year), but the vast majority of terms in the lease will likely be non-negotiable and will be adverse to you.
  • Over the course of the lease, expect your monthly electric payments to rise every year.
  • Leases can run 20 to 30 years, and if you sell your home before the lease ends, it will be your responsibility to ensure the buyer of your home agrees to take on the lease.
    1. If you are 10 or 15 years into a 25-year solar lease when you decide to sell your home, the buyer may want a new solar installation and may not be interested in the aged equipment on the roof.
    2. There will likely be additional premiums, penalties and costs you incur in trying to buy the lease out early. They are disclosed in the long, complicated lease you need to carefully review.

The time and cost investment to use solar power for your home are significant, and you will be living with the consequences of your research decisions for years to come.  Proceed with care!

Court Decision Weakens Consumer Protections Against Robocallers

A federal court in Washington, DC recently weakened rules imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designed to protect consumers against robocallers. The FCC’s interpretation of its authority to regulate calls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was challenged in court. Under the Obama administration, the FCC imposed broad rules to limit robocalls, based on the TCPA. The court has asked the current FCC to review the definition of key terms in the TCPA, such as what constitutes an “autodialer”. Depending upon how and when the FCC replies to the court, you may receive more robocalls on your phone. Information about the decision is available from the Consumers Union website here.

Optincall helps you reduce the unwanted calls you receive without reducing your use of, or reliance on, your smartphone. We connect you with the vendors you want to reach, at the times you want to speak with them, without sharing your name or phone number. Our Callguard™ service ensures the number(s) you care about are on the National Do Not Call Registry, and will provide you, for free, with tools to help you get the most from your cell phone – smart call-blocking, conference calling, voice-mail to text transcription and more. Visit us at www.optincall.com to learn more. To learn more about Callguard, click here.

Robocalls and Your Rights

Michael D. Braun
Braun Law Group, P.C.
www.braunlawgroup.com

Guest Blog Post

Robocalls are made using an autodialing system or a pre-recorded messaging system. These calls are illegal, unless a recipient has given their prior consent to receive such calls.  Despite this, many businesses continue to use them.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), in effect since 1991, was passed to protect consumers from unwanted solicitation through the use of technology such as auto-dialers. The TCPA applies to both autodialed telephone calls and unsolicited text messages. Despite being prohibited, businesses continue to make robocalls.  Indeed, the Federal Communication Commission receives hundreds of thousands of complaints every year about TCPA violations.  Unfortunately, their resources are limited and there are too many violators to effectively police.  That’s why consumers have legal rights under the TCPA which enable them to both stop the illegal practice and receive monetary compensation.  Rewards for TCPA violations are based on the number of violations rather than the particular damage suffered by a consumer.

If you have received unwanted auto dialer calls or texts from a company without having given prior express permission, or after placing your name on a federal Do Not Call telemarketer list, you may have a TCPA claim. In order to make an effective TCPA claim, however, you will need prove the violation, so keep messages and phone records of the auto dialer calls and texts sent to your phone.

We are proud to feature Michael D. Braun as the first guest blogger on Optincall’s Blog Central.  This post is not intended to provide legal advice.  You may contact Michael with questions or comments at info@braunlawgroup.com.

How to Avoid Robocalls – Reprinted from the New York Times

Robocalls Flooding Your Cellphone? Here’s How to Stop Them

An unfamiliar number appears on your cellphone. It’s from your area code, so you answer it, thinking it might be important.

There is an unnatural pause after you say hello, and what follows is a recording telling you how you can reduce your credit card interest rates or electric bill or prescription drug costs or any of a number of other sales pitches.

Another day, another irritating robocall. If it feels as if your cellphone has increasingly been flooded with them, you’re right.

Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity strategy at Proofpoint, a cybersecurity company in Sunnyvale, Calif., said the volume of robocalls has seen a “particularly big uptick” since the fall.

In a Robocall Strike Force Report in October, the Federal Communications Commission said telemarketing calls were the No. 1 consumer complaint.

Citing statistics from YouMail, a developer of robocall-blocking software, the commission said consumers received an estimated 2.4 billion robocalls per month last year, driven in part by internet-powered phone systems that have made it cheap and easy to make them from anywhere in the world.

Alex Quilici, chief executive of YouMail, said his company estimated that 2.3 billion calls were made in December 2016, up from 1.5 billion in December 2015. The company said it extrapolates data from the calls made each month to its users.

More than annoying, the calls can cross over into the outright fraudulent. In one scheme, callers pretending to represent the Internal Revenue Service claim the person answering the phone owes back taxes and threatens them with legal action. The scheme has reaped more than $54 million, the F.C.C. said.

“If the robocalls were not valuable to the scammers, they wouldn’t be doing them,” Mr. Kalember said.

Here’s how you can fight them:

Rule No. 1

The most simple and effective remedy is to not answer numbers you don’t know, Mr. Quilici said.

“Just interacting with these calls is just generally a mistake,” he said.

If you do answer, don’t respond to the invitation to press a number to opt out. That will merely verify that yours is a working number and make you a target for more calls, experts said.

Turn to the government

List your phones on the National Do Not Call Registry. If your number is on the registry and you do get unwanted calls, report them.

Mr. Quilici said the registry is helpful but should not be seen as a panacea.

“If I’m sitting in India dialing a million numbers, what are the odds I’m even going to be fined for violating the Do Not Call Registry?” he asked. “It’s probably near zero.”

Turn to technology

Download apps such as TruecallerRoboKillerMr. NumberNomorobo and Hiya, which will block the calls. YouMail will stop your phone from ringing with calls from suspected robocallers and deliver a message that your number is out of service.

Mr. Quilici said phone companies, such as T-MobileVerizon and AT&T, also have tools to combat robocalls. They work by blocking calls from numbers known to be problematic.

Turn the tables

And then there is the Jolly Roger Telephone Company, which turns the tables on telemarketers. This program allows a customer to put the phone on mute and patch telemarketing calls to a robot, which understands speech patterns and inflections and works to keep the caller engaged.

Subscribers can choose robot personalities, such as Whiskey Jack, who is frequently distracted by a game he is watching on television, or Salty Sally, a frazzled mother.

The robots string the callers along with vocal fillers like “Uh-huh” and “O.K., O.K.” After several minutes, some will ask the callers to repeat their sales pitch from the beginning, prompting the telemarketers to have angry meltdowns, according to sample recordings posted on the company’s website.

Watch what you say

One recent scheme involves getting consumers to say “yes” and later using a recording of the response to allow unauthorized charges on the person’s credit card account, the F.C.C. warned in March.

When the caller asks, “Can you hear me?” and the consumer answers “yes,” the caller can gain a voice signature that can later be used to authorize fraudulent charges by telephone.

Best to answer with “I can hear you,” Mr. Kalember said.

What’s ahead

The callers are evolving, Mr. Kalember said. Some have numbers that appear to be from your area code (they result in higher response rates); others employ “imitation of life” software in which the robocall sounds like a live person, complete with coughing, laughing and background noise. This artificial intelligence can be programmed to interact in real time with a consumer.

A recording on the Consumers Union website features an exchange in which a man tries to confirm he is talking to a live person. As the call progresses, the consumer presses for confirmation.

“Will you tell me you’re not a robot? Just say, ‘I’m not a robot’ please,” he says, which is met with various programmed replies of “I am a real person” and “There is a live person here.”

Why do robocalls proliferate?

Mr. Quilici compared robocalling to spam emails: It is all about volume. Companies can use software to make millions of calls at very little expense. They need only a few victims to fall prey to their schemes to more than cover their costs.

“When you hear these guys do these scam pitches, they’re pretty amazing,” he said.

The next development will be integrated efforts combining email, phone calls and social media to scheme money from consumers, Mr. Kalember said, adding that the level of innovation “is really quite astounding.”

“Technology is enabling at a scale we haven’t seen before,” he said.

Questions about life insurance may be simple, but finding right answers are not

The eight questions of life insurance are simple ones… Why might you need life insurance? If you were to die tomorrow who would assume your debt? Would your obligations fall to your children? Do you have a business that could be forced to assume your obligations? How does term life insurance work? What is whole life? How much insurance might you need? Where should you buy life insurance? While the questions are simple, the answers to these questions tend to get complicated. That’s where Optincall fits in.

Optincall® (www.optincall.com) was created to give consumers tools to research complicated issues like life insurance and avoid the hassles associated with data marketing, helping consumers simplify their lives and spend more time on the things that matter to them. Optincall connects consumers over the phone with insurance brokers, without sharing their names or phone numbers. This way the consumer doesn’t have to worry about unwanted telemarketing calls after they hang up the phone. This saves consumers all kinds of time. They don’t need to research who to call – the call comes to them. And since they make the appointment, they can be prepared for the call and know that it will come at a time convenient for them.

By using Optincall to research life insurance needs, consumers are in better control over who has their phone number in the first place, and will waste less time with frustrating telemarketing calls. Finally, in recognition that time is money, they are paid and rewarded for each call they take through the free-to-join Optincall program. Saving time is all about planning and using the right tools. Optincall is one of those tools.

How you can reduce telemarketing and robocalls right this minute

The easiest way to minimize telemarketing and robocalls to your phone is by not providing your phone number in response to requests for it. It’s really that simple!  But, here are additional steps you can take to, immediately, minimize unsolicited calls to your phones.

• Use “do not call” and call-block registries. Perhaps the best known call block registry is the National Do Not Call registry (National Do Not Call Registry) maintained by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. In addition, there is at least one free, private call block service you may want to try — Nomorobo (www.nomorobo.com). It works best with land lines and VOIP lines, though the service is working on expanding its offering to cell phone lines as well. Finally, depending on your cellular service provider or the type of cell phone you have, you may be able to maintain a private list of blocked phone numbers. On the iPhone, for example, for any call you receive, while in the “Recents” window in the phone app, you can press the “i” button to the right of the number, scroll down to the bottom, and press the “Block this Caller” button. Doing so will add the number to your own list, maintained on your iPhone, of calls which will be blocked on a going forward basis

• Use a “spam phone number” — a phone number you have but which you don’t use — in response to a request for your phone number. For example, if you subscribe to cable or DSL, you may have a package which includes a VOIP phone number which you don’t really use or doesn’t ring out. If you have an alarm system at your house, that alarm may utilize a dedicated phone line which you don’t really use or doesn’t ring out. Start giving one of those numbers out in response to phone number requests; you can usually check messages via a voice mail portal provided by your phone, cable or DSL provider. This is my preferred strategy; it is no different than the “spam email account” I maintain, which I give out in response to requests for my email address. I never check it unless I am searching for some specific communication. If you don’t have an alternative number, you can obtain a free phone number from Google Voice which would come with call-screening functionality (www.google.com/voice), although to use your Google Number, you will need to connect it to an existing line (your land line or cell phone). However, it will still be better to give out a Google Number, which you can ultimately disconnect at no cost if you choose to, than give out either your home or cell phone number.

• Decline to provide any phone number in response to a request for your number. If you are filling out an Internet form for information, and the phone number box must be filled in, you will have to abandon the form and you may not be able to receive the information you seek from the website. However, if you are speaking to someone on the phone, you can simply deny their request and move on to asking the questions you want answered.

• Optincall, Inc. offers a free consumer product research service — in fact they pay you to use it — that lets you speak with merchants without providing them with your name or phone number (www.optincall.com). Instead of researching products or services by filling out time-consuming lead generation forms and waiting for merchants to call you, you can fill out a short form, set an appointment day and time to receive the call, and not reveal your name or phone number to the merchant with whom you speak. Since the call is connected by Optincall and they don’t share your contact info with the merchant, the merchant has no way to call you back unless you give them your contact info.

These tools and strategies won’t eliminate telemarketing and robocalls, but they will help reduce them starting this very minute.

Today’s telemarketing call center is equipped with all the goodies

If your thoughts of a telemarketing call center date back to the opening sequences of the movie Glengarry Glen Ross you are living in the telemarketing stone age. Back in the day, most businesses used manual dialing to reach out to prospective customers. With the introduction of sophisticated databases and CRM software systems in the latter part of the 20th Century, click-to-call became the shiny new object in the telemarketing ecosystem. While telemarketers loved click-to-call because of its ease of use and efficiency, consumers hated it because it increased dramatically the number of calls telemarketers could make each hour.

New technologies have continually supercharged the telemarketing business, turning the business into a finely-tuned, high-velocity machine. Call centers are now equipped with Power Dialers, Preview Dialers, even Predictive Dialers. And many of the call centers today employ all three of these technologies. Power Dialers automatically make outbound calls whenever the telemarketer becomes available, no need for the telemarketer to even push a button. Preview Dialers, have data sets associated with every phone number in its system, so the telemarketer has access to your name and other household information before the call is initiated and while he or she is pitching. Predictive Dialers have large amounts of information about both the consumers in its database and the telemarketers that are selling against its database. They automatically dial several contacts at the same time and when a person answers the phone that call is transferred to one of the telemarketers who is available and best suited for that exchange. All decisioning is based on data that exists relative to that number, the telemarketing pool and the predicted subject matter.

While the telemarketing business is firing on all cylinders, consumers have reached their breaking point because of the number of calls they receive on landlines and cell phones each day. That’s one of the reasons the Federal Do Not Call list was created. Optincall® (www.optincall.com) was created to give consumers tools to avoid the hassles associated with data marketing, helping consumers simplify their lives and spend more time on the things that matter to them. Optincall connects consumers over the phone with insurance brokers, solar installation providers and others they select, without sharing names or phone numbers. This way the consumer doesn’t have to worry about unwanted telemarketing calls after they hang up. This saves consumers all kinds of time. They don’t need to research who to call – the call comes to them. And since they make the appointment, they can be prepared for the call and know that it will come at a time convenient for them.

By using Optincall, consumers are in better control over who has their phone number in the first place, and will waste less time with frustrating telemarketing calls. Finally, in recognition that time is money, they are paid and rewarded for each call they take through the free-to-join Optincall program. Saving time is all about planning and using the right tools. Optincall is one of those tools.

Protect your time; safeguard your privacy

We’ve all been there. You find a company that can help you with a major purchase you need to make and they ask you to fill out an online form or provide your name and contact information over the phone. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, you do it. Next thing you know, you’re being called by other service providers or receiving unwanted calls, emails or a flyer in your mailbox. Plain and simple, this is an attack on your precious time and your privacy. This phenomenon is largely the result of the data marketing business, a $300 Billion a year global industry. There are hundreds of data brokers in the U.S. alone and these data brokers are doing business with tens of thousands of companies. Many of the data marketing companies know more about you and I than we know about ourselves. The debate around whether data marketing is good or bad has been raging for years and that debate is going to continue unabated. Optincall® (www.optincall.com) can help you avoid the hassle associated with data marketing, so you can simplify your life and get on with the things that matter to you and your family. Optincall connects you over the phone with insurance brokers, solar installation providers and others you select, without sharing your name or phone number with them, so you don’t have to worry about unwanted telemarketing calls after you hang up. This saves you all kinds of time. You don’t need to research who to call – the call will come to you. And since you make the appointment, you can be prepared for the call and know that it will come at a time convenient for you. By using Optincall, you won’t have to worry about having your time wasted by frustrating telemarketing calls. Finally, in recognition that time is money, you are paid and rewarded for each call you take through the free-to-join Optincall program. Saving time is all about planning and using the right tools. Optincall can be one of these tools.

Thinking about refinancing your mortgage? Think twice!

I was speaking to a colleague the other day about his frustrations in refinancing his home loan. He has a decent loan but wanted to keep tabs on the market to see if and when it made sense to refinance his mortgage. He filled out some online forms, knowing that doing so would result in calls to his phone. He didn’t mind though, as he figured it would be an easy way for him to stay informed of rates.

He regretted his decision within a few hours of filling out the first form. He got multiple calls the same day, all from lenders. Also, he didn’t realize that in filling out the lead generation forms, he authorized lenders to run credit checks on him. So he had close to a dozen credit inquires made about him in one day, which lowered his credit score. He was very upset.

If you want to keep tabs on mortgage rates, you can use a service like Optincall to have vendors contact you. With Optincall, you control how many calls you receive per month and when those calls are received. More importantly, the lenders can’t check your credit score – they don’t have your contact information because they are connected with you by Optincall. You can ask about rates and if you like what you hear and to whom you are speaking, you can give them your contact information and permit them to check your credit. To learn more, visit www.optincall.com.

How to Avoid Unwanted Telemarketing Calls

When my wife and I decided our electric bills were too high and we were going to install solar panels on the roof of our home, I wasn’t sure where to start researching. I found out pretty fast that financing options ranged from no money down with 25+ year leasing, to outright purchasing at nearly $30,000. I did some Internet research and talked to some neighbors and eventually made a decision; it was a long process that included me leaving my name and phone number on a few vender websites.

About two months after the system was installed, our home phone started ringing off the hook. The callers all wanted to sell me solar systems for our roof. Wow. I. Was. Frustrated.

The experience made me think about telemarketing in general, especially once I started to receive a few telemarketing calls on my cell phone, and I’m pretty careful about who and how I share my cell number. I started asking myself what telemarketing would be like, if it could be reinvented by consumers?

• Time is Money. Just about everyone is paid for their time these days; we already know we live in the Information Age and a Service Economy. If a telemarketer is going to take my time, shouldn’t I get some payment or reward in exchange for my attention?

• Privacy. I love my smartphone, but I hate giving out my cell number for fear of getting more unsolicited telemarketing calls on it, interrupting me and wasting my time. I’d like to speak to vendors and ask specific questions, without worrying about them calling me back unless I invite them to follow-up with me.

• Convenience. Telemarketers of course call when it is convenient for them, not for me. If I were to re-invent telemarketing, I want the telemarketer to call when it was convenient for me. I’d like to schedule a call easily for a time I was available and could think about what questions were most important for me to have answered. But I don’t want to research the right person to call, or rummage through a phone tree to leave a message. I want to easily make an appointment and have a knowledgeable person call me and answer my unique questions.

I couldn’t find a service like this. So I invented it. It’s called Optincall. Consumers register for free and have advertisers call them by appointment, to get their unique questions answered. We connect the call without providing a name or number to the advertiser, so the consumer who receives the call can choose whether or not to share their contact information. And consumers are rewarded for each call they accept, whether or not they end up making a purchase. Also, you create a unique Caller ID, so when the phone rings, you’ll know whether it’s a friend, Optincall, or some unwanted caller. Check us out when you want to research a product or service. You’ll make better use of your smartphone and your time, while getting paid for research you were already planning to undertake. And you won’t have to worry about getting an earful of harassing calls because you filled out forms on the Internet.