Beware appliance insurance plans

It sounded like a good deal to Brian: insure all your appliances, including your central air, for $900 a year.

If an appliance breaks, American Home Shield will send out a repairman and the maximum amount Brian would have to pay is $125.

If the appliance could not be fixed, incuding his central air conditioner, the company would pay for a new one and again it would cost Brian a maximum of $125.

He checked with his friends, and the ones that had it were happy.

So at the end of April he signed up, authorized the company to withdraw $300 from his checking account, with the agreement that he would make the other two payments later in the year.

Brian, who lives in the Waterbury area, told CtWatchdog that he made it clear to American Home Shield that the company could not automatically withdraw the remaining payments from his checking account.

But when May 31 came, American Home Shield did just that, without Brian's authorization.

Brian, who asked that his last name not be used, was furious. He barely had enough money left in his checking account to cover his mortgage check.

He called the company and demanded that his contract be canceled because it failed to honor its agreement. He also wanted the $300 taken out that day replaced immediately.

The company agreed to cancel his account but said it would keep $100 of his original deposit because he canceled the policy one day after the 30-day refund period.

After Brian threatened to file a complaint with the state Attorney General's office, American Home Shield relented and promised to give him back all his money.

However, it could not immediately return it, telling Brian that it would take 10 business days.

"It took them 5 seconds to take my money out and now they are telling me it will take two weeks to return it," Brian complained to CtWatchdog.

His complaint is far from the only one.

On the Better Business Bureau site, American Home Shield has more than 3,000 complaints lodged against it in the past three years.

Despite that, the BBB has given the company its highest rating: A+.

Not that I am too skeptical, but that just might have to do with the fact that three of the 10 American Home Shield offices are dues paying "accredited" members of the BBB. I doubt that a similar firm with a similar complaint pattern would get such a rating.

And just for kicks I Googled appliance warranty companies and the top two were AHS and Colonial Home Warranty.

Colonial is not a dues paying BBB accredited member, it only had 135 complaints in the past three years, but it only had a C+ rating.

Interesting enough, after I contacted American Home Shield and provided them Brian's account number, his money was returned to his bank account within minutes.

American Home Shield defended itself by saying that Brian's "situation is not representative of the normal AHS customer experience and we regret that our services did not meet his expectation."

Spokeswoman Heather Wilson insinuated that the company had Brian's permission to withdraw the money it took from his accounts.

In response to the BBB complaints, she said:

"AHS takes every complaint seriously and works to resolve complaints in accordance with the terms of the AHS contract. As a result, AHS has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau - recognizing that the company properly addresses matters referred by the Bureau. As the BBB reminds, it's important to consider all things when reviewing complaint information, including the company's size and volume of transactions.

"Although AHS recognizes that even one complaint is too many, it's important to look at the number of BBB complaints relatively: AHS has satisfactorily completed over 8.8 million service requests in the past three years, while maintaining a BBB complaint ratio of .03% - significantly low and commendable in the industry… and reflected in our strong renewal rate."

So would I recommend consumers to use AHS for appliance warranties? I am not sure.

My only suggestion would be to go beyond checking with friends and looking at the grade BBB gives a company.

Before deciding, read the complete BBB review including the number of complaints filed and keep in mind that all a company has to do is to respond to a complaint and it has fullfilled its obligations as far as the BBB is concerned. It does not have to satisfy the complainant.

And Google the name of the company and add the words complaints and reviews. See how many and what kind of complaints are out there.

Then make a decision with a lot more knowledge.

You can reach The Watchdog at

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