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Investor’s column: Are extended warranties a smart purchase or a waste of money?

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Sara Hand, co-founder of Spark Growth and Joel Beasley, founder of the podcast Modern CTO talk about what the business environment is like in the region after WalletHub named Bradenton one of the top 100 small cities to start a small business.

I’m old-school. My mother always told me to buy quality, American-made appliances from local stores.

Maytag, GE and Whirlpool were her top picks. Mom lived in a kinder, gentler era before Samsung and LG.

I used to think household appliances should last at least five years, without big repair bills, but lately, I’ve had a run of bad luck. Our washer and dryer are on the fritz, and they’re relatively new. Unfortunately, mom’s sage advice doesn’t seem to apply today.

With the dryer, I must choose to spend $389 on repairs or buy new for about $549. That money isn’t budgeted, by the way.

The washer, on the other hand, still works, but it shrieks — horrifically — in the spin cycle. My wife Jeannine is making a lot of noise, too. She keeps saying, “Jim, do something, and do it fast!”

I’m super frustrated. Choosing between repairing and replacing appliances is stressful. Appliance quality has declined.

“What’s happened is that appliances have gotten more complex and feature-rich than they were in decades past,” said Eric Hagerman, Home Editor for Consumer Reports.

Jim G. Germer.jpg
Jim Germer is a CPA and financial adviser at Cetera Financial Specialists, LLC, in Bradenton.

“For example, dishwashers can sense when they need to run longer, and clothes dryers will stop when your clothes are dry. All this new functionality has created reliability issues that didn’t exist 30 years ago — and higher repair costs.”

You might remember when DeSears Appliances, a family-owned shop, ruled Manatee County. Mom and most of Manatee County could count on DeSears to deliver, install and service appliances. Sadly, DeSears stores went bankrupt and closed shop in Bradenton.

Avoiding the DeSears and other failed independent seller experience, appliance sellers now know it’s almost impossible to make money on all the labor, capital and time that repairs require. Most big-box appliance sellers, including Home Depot, Best Buy and Lowe’s, don’t have service departments.

This is problematic because the odds of needing a decent repairman have increased because of new appliance functions.

So what about the dryer, barely a year old, that no longer works? Mrs. Germer is getting impatient, so I asked the experts: “Should I skip repairing appliances and just purchase new appliances?”

“Our longstanding advice is don’t spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a new product on repairing an old one,” Hagerman said. “And if an item has already broken down once before, replacement may make more sense.”

I used to think these insurance policies were bad buys for most consumers. With credit card companies and some retailers providing warranty extensions for free, this might indicate plans offered by other retailers for purchase aren’t beneficial.

Still, I don’t want to spend $549 every two years if I buy another dud. So is it smart to purchase extended warranties to cope with increased servicing odds and the demise of service departments?

“It comes down to your tolerance for risk,” Hagerman said. “You have to weigh how likely the appliance is to break during the extended-warranty period, and whether the repair would cost more than the warranty.

“Take refrigerators, for example. Based on survey data from our members, we predict that around 25 percent of all refrigerators are likely to develop problems in years two to five after the typical one-year manufacturer’s warranty expires.

“However, the median cost of a refrigerator repair is $162, which is the same as the median cost of the warranty. So for most folks, it would likely be a waste of money.”

When buying a new appliance, make sure you choose a reliable brand at the start.

“You’ll be less likely to experience problems,” Hagerman said. “At CR.org, we just unveiled our first-ever appliance brand reliability rankings, which reveal which brands make the most reliable kitchen and laundry products.

“If you do need a repair, consider an independent shop. Our surveys have shown they do a better job of getting the job done right the first time than do factory-authorized shops and retailers.”

So what about the Germers? We’re gambling by repairing the dryer and planning to buy a new washer with an extended warranty.

The rules have changed, I believe, and they’re different from my mother’s.

Jim Germer is a CPA and financial adviser at Cetera Financial Specialists, LLC, member FINRA/SIPC, located at 100 Third Ave. W., Suite 130, in Bradenton. Call 941-746-5600 or email jim.germer@ceterafs.com.

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