Service contracts are sometimes a disservice

If you buy a product that has the potential of breaking down mechanically, you probably have the option to insure your purchase. In fact, extended service contracts are offered on everything from cars to cell phones. To many, a relatively inexpensive service contract seems like a good way to protect their investment. According to the FTC, an estimated 50 percent of all new car buyers, and many used car and major appliance buyers, purchase service contracts.

Typically, the contract costs a few dollars extra, depending on the original purchase price, and involves an extension on the existing warranty. In other words, if you buy a $75 answering machine with a 30-day warranty, you may have the option of spending an additional $6 on a service contract, which extends that warranty to a full year.

Unfortunately, the costs of service contracts can add up quickly. Consider a young couple moving into a home they’ve just purchased. Often, this means spending a lot of money in a short period of time on major appliances. If you have to buy a washer, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, and lawnmower all at once, the cost will likely be more than $2,000. If you buy a service contract with each one, you could spend an additional $200. That’s a lot of money to spend, especially when the likelihood of something breaking down is fairly small. Following are a few things to consider when determining whether or not a warranty is worth the extra cost.

Determine your comfort level. For some people, the peace of mind is worth the increased cost. Also consider if you would be able or willing to pay repair costs if they became necessary.

Think about how the item will be used. If you purchase an appliance and only expect it to see average use, the service contract may only benefit the manufacturer. The majority of new products work fine for several years, which is longer than the time period covered by most of contracts.

Compare warranties. Read the existing warranty to see if additional coverage is even necessary. Look for duplicate coverage to be sure that you are not paying for the coverage twice. Also, if you pay for an item by credit card, find out if the creditor offers their own form of coverage.

Read the fine print. Coverage may only apply for certain parts of the item. Most contracts will not cover repairs if the item has not been properly maintained.

Figure out the total cost. Some warranties also have deductibles, making the warranty more costly. Other services charge a fee each time the warranty is used.

Shop around. Warranties are offered by manufacturers as well as third party providers, so it pays to compare costs and services.

If you are unsure whether or not an extended warranty is worth it, buy yourself some time. In many cases, you can purchase a warranty at a later date.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

  • Better Business Bureau A+ rating Better Business Bureau
    MMI is proud to have achieved an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a nonprofit organization focused on promoting and improving marketplace trust. The BBB investigates charges of fraud against both consumers and businesses, sets standards for truthfulness in advertising, and evaluates the trustworthiness of businesses and charities, providing a score from A+ (highest) to F (lowest).
  • Financial Counseling Association of America Financial Counseling Association of America
    MMI is a proud member of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA), a national association representing financial counseling companies that provide consumer credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, debt management, and various financial education services.
  • Trustpilot Trustpilot
    MMI is rated as “Excellent” (4.9/5) by reviewers on Trustpilot, a global, online consumer review platform dedicated to openness and transparency. Since 2007, Trustpilot has received over 116 million customer reviews for nearly 500,000 different websites and businesses. See what others are saying about the work we do.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development - Equal Housing Opportunity Department of Housing and Urban Development
    MMI is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide consumer housing counseling. The mission of HUD is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD provides support services directly and through approved, local agencies like MMI.
  • Council on Accreditation Council On Accreditation
    MMI is proudly accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. COA’s thorough, peer-reviewed accreditation process is designed to ensure that organizations like MMI are providing the highest standard of service and support for clients and employees alike.
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling National Foundation for Credit Counseling
    MMI is a longstanding member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), the nation’s largest nonprofit financial counseling organization. Founded in 1951, the NFCC’s mission is to promote financially responsible behavior and help member organizations like MMI deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.