NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Call it an extended warranty, or maybe purchase protection, but who this works best for is not you.
It is the retailer, because often the "protections" they are selling are plainly phantom.
Ask Adrienne Gusoff who runs the Jewish grandmother singing telegram service Bubby Gram. She will bend your ear with the sad story of how her husband got purchase protection on a pair of glasses. Before two weeks had elapsed, he is standing on the New York subway platform, a lens pops out and falls on the track. "The store refused to cover it, claiming it was not a defect of the glasses," Gusoff asid. "Really? Did they think the lens committed suicide by throwing itself in front of an oncoming train?"
Sometimes you don't get what you pay for, and purchase protection, sadly, is at the top of that list.
Word of advice in this holiday season: just say no when you are asked if you want purchase protection. Besides, there are other - often no cost - ways to protect those purchases. Below you will read about them.
As for these purchase protection plans - a.k.a. extended warranties - you know the drill. You are just about to pay for the product and the clerk says, "Would you like to add three - or maybe five - years of protection?"
Who wouldn't like more protection - and especially on a gift?
Are you a cheapskate? Don't you want your gift recipients to fully enjoy the product for many years?
Of course you do and, oh, did we mention that often the clerk does not actually even mention the price. Nor does he mention that, probably, the product already comes with a one year manufacturer's warranty, so that three year plan truly is two. But that's just the beginning of the dissing of protection products.
Listen to Jack Taylor, professor of retailing at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama: Purchase protection insurance, he said, is "expensive for what you get, and chances are pretty good that you're never going to use it."
He added, incidentally, that he had once bought purchase protection, on a flat screen TV, but when he needed it, the retailer - Circuit City - was kaput and, poof, there went the protections.
Taylor has plenty of company in the skeptical camp.
"We recommend to shy away from buying extended warranties for holiday items," said Brent Shelton, spokesman at FatWallet.com. "They are big money makers for stores, so they push them. Odds are, you won't use it and it will be a waste of money."
Even so, you'd feel more at ease - more secure - if you knew the product was protected, no matter what?
Listen up: Discover Card covers purchases on the card, up to $500, for 90 days, and that includes accidents, also theft. Drop that new Kindle Fire on the floor while wrapping it in gift paper, and you are covered. At no additional charge.
At American Express, cardholders get that same 90 day accident and theft protection. Amex caps that coverage at $1,000 per item, except for Platinum, Centurion and Delta Reserve cardholders who get a $10,000 cap.
American Express further sweetens the deal: it adds one year of warranty coverage on most purchases, at no additional cost.
True story: this reporter personally owned a laptop whose screen went black, after the manufacturer's warranty had expired but within the Amex coverage period. The credit card company sent a box, I shipped the laptop to a repair facility, and a week or so later it came back healed, at no cost.
Discover also automatically doubles warranties on many purchases. No charge.
You have neither Discover nor American Express? Other cards may have built-in protections - check with the issuer before making any significant purchases - but know that in some cases, and despite the naysaying, you may still want to buy extra coverage for your goods or gifts.
Creighton University Professor of Statistics, Business Intelligence and Analytics William Duckworth has exhaustively run numbers and his conclusion, boiled down, is that some plans, offered by some highly rated providers - he pointed to SquareTrade and AppleCare as best of breed - may offer protections that some consumers will find valuable.
Look for providers with a bounty of rave reviews is Duckworth's key advice.
He also stressed really knowing what the plan covers - some have high deductibles that negate all their value, others exclude common accidents (such as water damage with a cellphone). Know what a plan covers, what it doesn't and if the provider is known for standing behind its promises and purchase protection just may be a smart buy.
At least it takes one thing off your worry list, and that's a plus.
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet