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Hedge Your Heating Bill

Friday, 17 Oct 2008 | 9:39 AM ET

Winter is almost here, and if you own a home you’re no doubt starting to worry about the heating bill. But if your home is heated with oil – and most are – you face a choice. You can wait for the dreaded monthly bill, knowing that it could skyrocket even higher if there’s a deep freeze, or you can take advantage of special programs that let you buy heating oil in advance by locking in a set price.

The price of crude oil has gyrated wildly since last winter – climbing to an all-time high of over $147 in July before crashing back down to earth, closing below $70 on Thursdayfor the first time in over a year. With swings like that, should you even think about locking in now? Or is it worth it to roll the dice and hope prices fall even more?

Remember, energy costs are difficult to predict. They can fluctuate not only because of the markets, but also because of weather, global demand or unforeseen international conflicts. So hedge with caution. If you’re feeling confident prices won’t drop any further in the coming months, Kimberly Palmer, columnist for U.S. News & World Report, suggested calling your local heating company to find out if they offer programs to lock-in oil prices. You can also check out CNBC.com’s Commodities page or Oil-Price.net, which offers graphs and tools to spot trends in the price of crude. There’s also PriceEnergy.com and MyOilHeat.com, two sites with programs to let you lock in a price in advance or buy oil in bulk at a discount.

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