11 Ways to Save on Your Shocking Electric Bill

Cooling your home and powering all your favorite gadgets can add up. Here are some ways to squeeze some savings out of your electric bill.

The cost of powering your home and all your assorted appliances and devices can be significant. The price of everything, from running your air conditioner on hot days to charging your phone as you sleep, can add up.

Getting a handle on your electric bill is important. Failing to make a monthly payment can really drop your credit score. (You can check two of your scores for free every two weeks on Credit.com).

But you can significantly reduce the electrical energy your home consumes by taking a few simple steps. Here are 11 ways you can lower your electric bill.

1. Perform a Home Energy Audit

Home energy auditors are professionals who come to your home to evaluate your power usage, assessing your home and your past power bills. They’ll look for areas where you can increase efficiency. Many electric suppliers provide this service for free, but you can also find a local paid professional.

When the audit is complete, the auditor can recommend energy-saving methods and products.

2. Install Dimmer Switches

The overhead lights in many rooms often provide more illumination than we need. With dimmer switches, you can adjust the amount of light you’re using. Modern dimmers also reduce how much electricity lights use.

3. Install Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans circulate air through your home and can cool you off. While they use electricity, they may reduce the workload of your air conditioner.

4. Ward off the Sun

Sunlight coming in through windows can heat up your home and make your air conditioner work harder. You should close the curtains or blinds on your windows when you don’t need them open and consider installing tinted window film. (If heating or cooling your home is the main cause of your high electric bills, here’s how you can keep temperatures comfortable without spending too much.)

5. Turn Off Unused Items & Unplug Electronics

Of course, you should shut off all electronics and lights when you leave a room to reduce energy usage. But electronics and appliances can use energy even when they’re turned off.

“Gadgets and appliances like TVs, laptops, coffee makers, printers, space heaters and cable boxes continue to suck energy even when turned off,” said Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert. “Get in the habit of unplugging all these electronics and appliances when you aren’t using them. Power strips are an easier and less timely alternative — some even come with a remote control for easier use.”

6. Use LED Light Bulbs

LED light bulbs use significantly less energy than incandescent bulbs. While LED bulbs can cost more, they have a longer lifespan, so you could save money on light bulbs in the long run.

7. Replace Your HVAC Air Filters

Air filters keep dust and debris from circulating through your HVAC system and clogging vents and air registers. Over time, these filters get clogged with dust and debris themselves, and your air conditioning system will have to work harder to cool your home. You should swap your air filters out every few months to reduce the energy needed to regulate your home’s temperature.

8. Install a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats reduce energy costs by adjusting your home temperature when you’re away, at work or asleep. Your energy usage will be reduced because you won’t be wasting electricity cooling an empty home.

“The HVAC system uses the most energy in your home, and running the air conditioner or heater can blow your budget. However, installing a programmable thermostat takes the guesswork out of fiddling with temperatures and allows you to preset temps when you are home or away at work or school so you don’t waste energy,” said Woroch.

Just be careful. “Smart” thermostats are one of a few household objects that might make you vulnerable to hackers.

9. Solar Panels

If you’re looking for big savings and energy reduction, solar panels may be the way to go. Typically installed on the roof, solar panels harvest the sun’s energy and convert it into electric power.

“Solar panels continue to improve. The prices of solar panels have become cheaper, their ability to capture the sun’s photons and convert them to electricity is becoming more efficient, and the technology is changing as solar shingles emerge as a more mainstream item,” said Sage Singleton, home maintenance specialist at Safewise. “The time before payoff on solar panels is also getting shorter — the average rooftop solar system will pay back a homeowner in seven-and-a-half years. The sooner you install your solar panels, the sooner you will see the average savings on your lowered energy bills.”

Solar panels might also lower your tax bill.

10. Look for Energy Provider Programs

Many electric suppliers have programs you can participate in to reduce the cost of your bill. These include rebates for buying energy-efficient appliances, rewards for reducing energy usage during peak hours and programs that spread the cost of your peak usage for months across the year. Visit your energy provider’s website or call to find out what programs might be available.

11. Shop for an Alternative Provider

If you have alternative energy providers in your area, you can always shop around to see if you can find a cheaper option.

“One common way that consumers reduce their electric bill is to shop for a new electric supplier. Many states in the U.S. are deregulated, meaning the residential customers can shop for electricity,” said Kelly Bedrich, cofounder and president of ElectricityPlans.com. “In these states, homeowners and renters can shop for electricity in the same way you can shop for cable and internet service. By being able to shop for their energy, the homeowners can often save as much as 30% to 40% off of their energy bill simply by switching their supplier.”

Looking for other ways to save? Making your home more energy efficient is one 50 tips we came up with to give your finances a fresh start this year.

Image: asiseeit

The post 11 Ways to Save on Your Shocking Electric Bill appeared first on Credit.com.

Should You Finance or Lease Solar Panels for Your Home?

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Who doesn’t want to save the planet and maybe save a little money along the way? One way to chip in and do your part is by changing where you get your electricity on a day-to-day basis. Instead of using traditional electricity to power your home, you can look into greener alternatives like solar panels.

These systems used to be very expensive, however, as more people have moved into the market, the pricing on these sun-gathering energy collectors has come down rapidly.

On top of decreased costs at the time of purchase, solar panel systems can actually have a profitable return on investment. Here are some of the costs and benefits you should take under consideration before making the plunge.

Cost of solar panels

When figuring out upfront costs, you’ll want to account not just for the panels, but also for their installation. The national average cost to purchase and install a solar panel system is $3.50 per watt, with the average American home requiring a 5,000 watt system. That means that the average upfront investment is $17,500.

The price for your power system may vary your particular home in your state. You should, of course, do local research, but we’ll go with the national average for the purposes of our calculations.

The Federal government offers a 30% tax credit for the installation of solar or wind systems at residential properties, so this will effectively bring the average cost down to $12,250. On top of federal tax credits, also do some research for state and local tax credits or programs that can further bring down costs.

Over the life of your solar panels, which will likely be between 25 and 40 years, you will have to perform regular maintenance. National averages for this cost come out to a little over $20 per year.

You will also want to call your insurance provider to see what will happen to your homeowner’s premiums. In many cases the costs stay the same or even go down as those who are eco-conscious enough to install solar panels are currently viewed as more responsible than the general populace. The rate cut is even more likely if you have the panels set up in your yard rather than on your roof. Some insurers will raise rates, though, because of the added load to the structure when panels are installed on the roof.

Benefits of using solar panels

If you’re going to spend about $12,500 on a solar panel system and then pay at least $500 in maintenance over the term of its life, warm and fuzzies about saving the planet may not be doing it for you. You’ll want to know there’s a return on investment.

Producing solar power is not inherently cheaper than using regular electricity at this point in time. When you purchase your solar panels, you are essentially paying for your electricity for the next 25 to 40 years up front. Depending on where you live, this may or may not be cheaper than actual costs of electricity.

However, one beauty in making this investment is that you can actually sell off any excess energy you generate.  Those that deliver electricity have to meet certain quotas of green energy per month. They do this less often by generating green energy themselves, and more often by buying green electricity from others.

That green energy is bought and sold via Renewable Energy Certificates, or RECs. When you generate 1 megawatt-hour in excess of what you actually use, you will be issued a certificate that you can then sell to your local utility company. How much you get for each of these certificates will vary both by geographic location and current market value, but to give you an idea, last year you could get about $200 per certificate in the state of New Jersey.

Financing Your Solar Panels

Don’t have $17,500 up front to invest? Because of the potential savings on energy, depending on your area, and the added bonus of RECs, it may be worth it to finance. (You’ll have to wait until tax season to see that 30% credit from the IRS.)

The government offers Energy Efficient Mortgages to fund these types of improvements. In order to obtain one, you will need to get your home assessed so the government can calculate how much savings the solar panels would provide to you. That way, they know the loan is a good investment.

You can also take out a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) where your home serves as collateral if you are unable to repay your loan. Taking out a HELOC means you have the potential to lose your home if you fall behind.

Another option is personal loans. Here are some of the most competitive lenders in the personal loan industry, all of them providing unsecured lending, so you won’t have to hand over any collateral.

SoFi

SoFi provides unsecured personal loans, currently at a rate of 5.95%-12.99% APR depending on your cash flow and credit history. Loans can be for either 3-, 5- or 7-year periods with no origination fees, and if you lose your job during that time, SoFi may temporarily pause your payments and help you find new employment through its Career Services resources.

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LightStream

LightStream actually provides loans specifically for the purchase of solar panels. Shorter terms of 2-3 years based on our average loan come at a fixed rate of 3.99% for those with excellent credit, and rates increase with your term up to 7.59% on 7-year loans for those with excellent credit. It charges no origination fees.

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Earnest

If you have a credit score of 720 or over, you may want to look into Earnest. It provides personal loans in 1-, 2- and 3-year increments at starting fixed interest rates of 5.25%, 5.50% and 6.00% APR respectively, based on our $17,500 number. These loans also have no origination fees.

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Upstart

Upstart loans do come with an origination fee of 1%-6%, but they are more likely to accept a wider range of applicants than the above lenders. Its interest rates are competitive starting at 4.66% APR, though those with lesser credit scores can end up paying up to 29.99% APR if approved. Upstart’s loans come in three-year terms.

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When to Lease

If you can’t qualify for a personal loan, or simply don’t want to go through the hassle of installation and maintenance, there is hope yet. You don’t necessarily have to purchase your own solar panels in order to turn your house into a green machine.

Many companies now allow you to lease panels. Typically you lease panels for 20 years, with most companies installing and maintaining your panels for free. You pay them a flat monthly fee that will generally increase somewhere between 1.5% and 3% per year depending on your contract. In some years, that will be less than your electric company increase its prices, and in other years it will be more. The national average for annual energy cost increases to consumers between the years of 2003 and 2015 was 3.19%.

The reason companies are able to install and maintain your panels free of charge is that they will be taking all of those tax credits; you don’t get to claim them come April. They will also be benefiting from the sale of any RECs your household generates.

You are likely to save a little money long-term when you lease, and you’ll be making a decision that will help the planet for future generations. Doing so costs very little up front, and you won’t have to deal with any stress related to maintenance over the years.

If you’re looking for an investment that will net you cash long-term, though, buying is the way to go if you can afford it or get your hands on a personal loan with a competitive interest rate. Be sure to do research relative to your local community as far as costs and energy generation goes, as solar panels will be far more financially advantageous in some regions of the country over others.

The post Should You Finance or Lease Solar Panels for Your Home? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.