How True Are These TV Ads?

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Talking ducks are entertaining, but is Aflac's coverage sound? And how about ads for CreditReport.com and Capital One credit cards? We looked beyond the gimmicks to see whether their marketing claims actually pan out. Here's what we found.

A dancing duck that sells insurance

Aflac duck

The claim

Aflac's famous white duck has a break-dance battle with a pigeon representing major-medical insurance while two men in leg casts discuss their insurance. "We added Aflac so we get cash," one says. As he says that, the duck gives him a fistful of dollars.

The check

Aflac offers short-term disability insurance, which provides income replacement if you become unable to work, and critical-illness coverage that pays a lump sum if you come down with any covered illness, such as cancer or heart attack. Most people buy its coverage through their employer, though it also sells individual policies.

Aflac's disability policies are more limited in duration than long-term disability coverage, which some employers offer at no charge. And Aflac's critical-illness plans won't pay anything if you come down with a condition that's not covered.

Bottom line

If your employer doesn't provide disability insurance, buying an individual policy that covers short- and long-term periods might be a smart move. But buy it through a broker that sells plans from multiple insurers so that you can compare price and coverage options. If your employer provides long-term disability coverage and offers you the option to buy Aflac's short-term coverage, it might be worth it. But the critical-illness policies might not pay off for you.

Alec Baldwin, travel guru

Alec Baldwin speaking for Capital One

The claim

As actor Alec Baldwin strides through an airport, he slams airline credit cards whose 25,000-mile-bonus offers won't get you the free flight they promise. "But that won't happen with the Capital One Venture card," he says. In the cockpit, the captain tries to stop him from touching the dials. "It's OK," he replies. "I've played a pilot before."

The check

If you charge $15,000 on the Venture card, you'll get 30,000 miles. The redemption rate is $1 in rewards for every 100 miles. So 30,000 miles can buy you a $300 airline ticket. To redeem miles, use the card to book your flight any way you like and ask Capital One to use your rewards to pay for it.

By contrast, airline cards require you to book through the individual airline, which might have limits on the number of seats set aside for rewards. Though 25,000 points is generally enough to cover the cost of a round-trip domestic flight, you'll probably need to use up to 50,000 points to get an unrestricted flight.

The Venture card carries a $59 annual fee (waived in the first year) and pays 2 miles for every $1 spent. VentureOne, which has no fee, pays 1.25 for every $1. Each has an APR of 11.9 to 19.9 percent.

Bottom line

The Venture cards are good for international travelers because they don't have foreign transaction fees, which average about 3 percent on other cards. Consumers who don't travel internationally should compare Venture's rewards with those of Chase Sapphire, Citi PremierPass, and Discover Escape.

Feel-good credit protection

Utility worker Stan

The claim

Utility worker Stan says his credit score is low because he lost his job. "So creditors think I'm lazy," he says, as the word "lazy" appears. "At CreditReport.com I'm not a number, I'm Stan," he says, and "lazy" changes to "Stan."

The check

CreditReport.com is owned by Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus. The service, which provides daily monitoring of your credit reports and alerts you to changes, claims to help you "take control of your credit." But the score it sells you is Experian's Plus score, not the widely used FICO score. The fine print states that it "indicates your relative credit risk level for educational purposes and is not the score used by lenders." A pending class-action suit claims that because Plus is not used by lenders, Experian shouldn't market it as a way to repair your credit score.

In the past Experian paid the Federal Trade Commission $1.25 million for marketing "free" credit reports without adequately disclosing the cost if consumers didn't cancel in 30 days. CreditReport.com charges $1 for your credit report and throws in a free score. The fine print says that after a seven-day trial period you'll be charged $19.95 a month.

Bottom line

Instead of paying Experian $240 a year, go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get your reports from the three bureaus free of charge. If you want your FICO score, buy it for $20 at MyFico.com.

—Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org or check out Consumer Reports’ Money advice.

Now that you've decoded marketer's TV ad claims, read about their $230 billion problem--how to reach the baby boomer generation--on MainStreet.

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