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At Issue: Tips for Pre-Buying Heating Fuel - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: Tips for Pre-Buying Heating Fuel

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VERMONT -

Mid-summer in Vermont, many people are already thinking ahead to winter and buying their heating fuel ahead of time. In a pre-buy agreement, the fuel dealers estimate how many gallons of fuel the customer will likely use that winter and they purchase it ahead of time at the current price.

"For most years, this has turned out to be prudent," says Vermont Fuel Dealers Association Executive Director Matt Cota. "For most years, they've been able to secure a better price in the summer than they have in the winter. However, this isn't always true."

Cota says fuel dealers can make good guesses and offer advice to their customers, but they can't predict what the prices will be like in the winter.

"A pre-buy or a fixed price is a guarantee that that's the price you'll pay, but it's not a guarantee of savings," he says. "There's one example of one year where that didn't work out, where the price of heating fuel in the summer was actually higher than it was in the winter."

So if you're considering a pre-buy, Cota says there are a couple things you need to make sure you do before you sign anything:

1. Review all your options. While pre-buys are popular, there are also fixed price programs, where you can lock in your price and make budget payments through the winter. Some dealers also offer cap programs, where if the price goes up, your price stays the same, but you get to pay less if the price drops.

2. Also, read your contract carefully. And make sure it's in writing, as is required by Vermont law.

3. Finally, let your fuel dealer know about any changes in the home. For instance, if you've made it more energy-efficient, or if kids have left for college. That will help them better estimate how much fuel you'll use that winter. By law, your fuel dealer has to lock in the prices with their wholesaler within a week of selling the fuel to you.

So, how do you make sure you are getting the best price on the market for your fuel? You can call around to different dealers in your area. And the state has a Fuel Price Report that it releases each month, which will tell you what the average rate for a gallon of fuel is, that way you can make sure you're not getting charged more.

Vermont Fuel Price Report: http://publicservice.vermont.gov/publications/fuel_report

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