Kevin Hunt: The Burning Question: What Is A 'PGE' Fee For Propane?

Despite what you may be thinking, no question is too small for The Bottom Line. To prove it, TBL today presents the first installment of "Is It Just Me?" — questions about issues that rate closer to curiosity than outrage.

And, no, it is not just you. Send appropriately benign questions to The Bottom Line at

Q: In late August we had a propane-fueled backup generator installed. We were very happy to have it during the recent power outage. We had the tanks refilled by our supplier. On receiving the bill I noted a "PGE fee" of $25.54. I called the supplier and, after consultation with someone else, the customer service rep told me that this was a tax on propane used for generators.

An Internet search for the "PGE fee" failed to turn up anything. My question is whether this is a legitimate charge and, if so, what is it for exactly?

Thomas F. Semenza, Lyme

A: Yes, it's a state tax — the petroleum products gross earnings tax. Whether propane is taxable depends on how you use it.

"Propane is exempted from the tax if it is used specifically to heat a home," says Sarah Kaufman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue Services, "but when used for cooking or running a generator, it does not meet that requirement."

The tax for companies that sell petroleum products, now 7 percent, will increase to 8.1 percent on July 1, 2013.

Here are some petroleum products besides propane used for home heating exempt from revenue taxes, according to a state report issued early this year:

t No. 2 heating oil used for heating or in a commercial fishing vessel.

t Kerosene used for heating that's delivered by a truck that also delivers No. 2 heating oil with a metered delivery ticket.

t Any commercial heating oil blend with no less than 10 percent alternative fuels sourced from agricultural produce, food waste, waste vegetable oil or municipal solid waste (biodiesel, low-sulfur dyed diesel fuel).

t Paraffin and microcrystalline waxes.

t Diesel fuel, except when used in a generation plant to generate electricity.

t Anything sold for export or used exclusively outside the state.

Q: I saw a column of yours a few weeks ago and it triggered a series of questions regarding "ownership" of a credit situation. It's always had me wondering…

While I can't deny that it's the credit card holder who is directly responsible for charges incurred, I was wondering if there are any regular checks/audits (like employer payroll access or IRS W-2) that a credit card company would perform, to ensure that their card holders' financial picture remains in good standing. (To ensure that there hasn't been a life change that has altered the balance of income vs. debt). I would think this would be a standard and ongoing practice of theirs so as to regulate risk exposure.

Specifically, a person applies for, gets and uses a credit card based on their current financial situation. Then, that person's income goes to virtually zero (after a layoff, pregnancy or sickness) for an extended period of time — say, two or three years. Even if it's not prudent, the use of the credit card by the owner continues as if all other things were normal.

After a few months, I would think some red-flags might go up.

Does the credit card company share in any of the blame for NOT taking any precautions to say — lower the credit limit, or disallow certain charges so the card gets rejected, or some other controls that they can legally deploy?

Richard Stamatelos, Glastonbury

A: Richard, you've probably given this a little too much thought, but we're handing this one off to Odysseas Papadimitriou, a former Capital One senior director and now CEO of the credit card comparison website

"Credit card companies monitor consumers' financial performance by pulling their credit reports on a monthly basis, but this doesn't give them visibility into employment status, income fluctuations, or other live events that would impact the ability to make credit card payments. While it would certainly be in a credit card issuer's best interest to limit exposure to potential losses if the credit reports raise any red flags, they're not to blame for overspending. After all, just because you have access to credit doesn't mean you have to spend it, especially if you know you can't afford it."

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