ANNAPOLIS, Md. – About 60 million American households get their energy from third-party suppliers, and a new online toolkit helps these consumers make sure they’re not being overcharged.

Many don’t realize that gas and electric suppliers in Maryland and other deregulated states offer so-called “teaser rates.” The charges start off low but end up increasing over time, according to Tammy Bresnahan, AARP Maryland’s associate director of advocacy. She said door-to-door salespeople from these suppliers target seniors, immigrants, and low-income neighborhoods – often those who can least afford the higher rates.

“What they’re doing is perfectly legal,” she said. “However, after like a three-month introductory rate, the cost goes to a variable rate. And what we’ve seen in some cases, that the rate will go five times more than what they would have been paying if they’d stayed with their regulated utility.”

She said most people sign up for the bargain rate, then forget about it until they notice their bills have increased. To help, the toolkit from AARP provides a worksheet to help folks do the math and compare prices, along with a video and fact sheets. It’s available on the AARP Maryland website.

Energy advocate Laurel Peltier, who developed the material for the toolkit, noted that the average Maryland family spends about $2,000 a year on utility bills. She said she thinks it’s important to read the fine print because third-party suppliers can end up costing a family an additional $400 a year.

“We’re really good at shopping for other products, but we’re not very good at shopping for home energy,” she said, “and we will only benefit if we’re smarter and we check our bills. And we’re very careful when a salesman comes to the door and says, ‘You’re going to save money.'”

Maryland is one of 14 states, including New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, that have deregulated both gas and electricity. She noted that since 2010, families in deregulated states have paid a total of $19 billion more for their energy when choosing a retail or third-party supplier instead of a regulated utility.

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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