Here’s a simple way to become everyone’s favorite utility: Repeatedly lower prices instead of repeatedly raising them.

That has worked like a charm for natural gas utilities. They have seen the wholesale cost of their product decline as vast new U.S. reserves are tapped, and they have passed on some of those savings the past couple of years.

The J.D. Power and Associates 2012 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study released this week found that the average U.S. monthly natural gas bill is $78, down from $87 in 2011.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that overall satisfaction with gas companies increased, to a rating of 634 this year from 627 last.

J.D. Power also found an increase in positive media coverage of natural gas utilities. Electric utilities must be wishing they could find a cheaper source of power instead of having to add more expensive solar and wind power.

The good news locally is that the region’s two natural gas utilities are among the highest rated for their size in the East.

New Jersey Natural Gas, which has nearly half of its 500,000 customers in Ocean County, topped the rankings in the East for large utilities for the fourth consecutive year.

South Jersey Gas, whose service territory includes Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, ranked third among mid-sized utilities in the East.

The study was based on 65,000 responses from residential customers of the 75 largest natural gas utilities in the nation, which serve about 54 million households.

Natural gas will almost certainly remain the least expensive energy for years to come, so we can be glad that our providers of it are highly rated for customer satisfaction.

Now keep those prices falling.

Debit card warning

Robert Greenwood had an unfortunate experience with his bank and debit card that can serve as a reminder to area consumers that debit cards need a little more oversight than credit cards.

Greenwood, 82, of Egg Harbor City, said he lost his debit card more than a year ago.

He didn’t realize he had lost it — until about a month later when he saw unauthorized charges on his bank statement, he said.

Before the debit card was deactivated, the charges amounted to $850. Greenwood said he thinks he knows who took the card and was using it.

When he went to his bank, Bank of America, they at first restored the money to his account, he said. “But two months later, they changed their minds and took the money out again.”

Needless to say, this upset Greenwood — but the bank may simply be following the rules associated with debit cards, rules that are far less protective than those regarding credit cards.

Under federal law, consumer liability for unauthorized transactions with a credit card is limited to $50.

But with a debit card, your liability is limited to $50 only if you report the card lost within two business days of discovering it is missing, the Federal Reserve says.

After two days, the debit card holder’s liability for its misuse rises dramatically.

Failure to report unauthorized transactions within 60 days of the mailing of bank statements can cost cardholders a lot — all the money in their bank accounts and the unused portion of their overdraft credit.

In Greenwood’s case, his liability might have been determined by the timing of his reporting the card missing and his relationship to the person misusing the debit card.

Debit cards are a wonderfully convenient and low-cost way to make purchases, but consumers should realize that since they provide an open connection to their bank accounts, the whereabouts and use of their debit cards should always be known.

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