How to calculate the REAL cost of an electricity plan

You wouldn’t blindly sign up for a cell phone plan or a car loan without knowing all the details, would you?  Yet, each and every day, people sign up with a cheap electricity company without fully understanding what it is to which they’ve agreed.  They see the glittering promise of cheap electricity and jump at it like magpies on a shiny pebble only to get hammered with the cold, wet fish of reality when the bill comes in.  ComparePower is an example of a website that provides you with excellent information – but you have to know what it is you’re looking at.  Why is Company A’s rate so much lower than Company B’s?

Here’s what you need to know, neat and sweet, about cheap electricity:  you’re not just paying for the kilowatt hours.   Your Retail Electric Provider will also have other fees and charges you’ll be expected to cover, one way or another.  Your bill might include any or all of the following charges:

  • delivery of your electricity
  • dropping below a minimum usage
  • using certain methods of payment
  • accessing telephone customer service
  • not having autopay set up
  • paper billing
  • using renewable energy sources

Now you know why, even though Company A’s rate is so much lower than Company B’s, it still might wind up costing you more.   This holds particularly true if Company B doesn’t charge for what would normally be just part of doing business, such as paying by credit card or requiring a customer service agent to sort out the mess you’ve created by trying to do it yourself online.  When a cheap electricity company advertises incredibly low rates, they’re making up the difference somewhere.  No company starts up business intending to lose money.

Other points to keep in mind:

  • Beware of the “vanishing discount” where the heavily-promoted rate turns out to be merely an “introductory offer” that disappears very quickly (even without notice) or else requires a certain usage level.  Make sure you find out when that discount disappears and make a note of it somewhere prominent.
  • Ask your friends and relatives if they mind you looking at their electric bill, especially if they say they’re with a cheap electricity company.  If their household and lifestyle are similar to yours, then your bill should be in the same ballpark.  If it is an itemized bill, it will have the per-kilowatt hour; the delivery charge (which might be a flat rate or a blended rate with a flat rate base plus a per-kWh charge); and any line items all neatly spelled out.  If it’s a bundled rate, you’ll just see the aggregate total for the regular monthly charges plus any exceptional line items (such as NSF fees and so on) listed which may or may not apply.
  • While researching on ComparePower, read both the facts label and the Terms of Service.  While reading the Terms of Service, if there is mention of a fee or charge but it’s not specifically spelled out, make sure to call and ask. Be honest with yourself about how such fees and charges might impact your bill – if you’re a chronic late payer, a late payment fee that’s double the competition’s is going to be something you want to factor in, as would a fee for payment by credit card if you put everything on plastic.
  • Watch out for contract terms – that sexy kilowatt rate might be trying to trap you into a commitment for which you’re not ready.  It’s no good signing up for cheap electricity on a multi-year contract if you know you’re going to be moving in a year and then it’ll cost you to break the contract, cost you to disconnect the service, then cost you again to reconnect at your new home.
  • If you are not technologically savvy and frequently need Customer Service assistance, a company that charges to speak to an agent could send your bill over the top very quickly.

Sometimes, the promise of cheap electricity is not the only factor when considering which electric plan to choose. The good thing is that power to choose is yours!  For all the information and some really great tips, visit ComparePower today!