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What follows are several stories about homeowners and contractors across the country negotiating the complicated world of trade licensing.

Questions float through your head: What does it really mean to be licensed? Homeowners can pay the price when they fail to distinguish between the two.

"They're contributing to fraud and cutting into the business of legitimate companies," he says, adding that he knows it's unlikely that punishing homeowners will fly politically. "This isn't how I want it to be." RELATED: Angie's List Guide to Licensed, Bonded and Insured Contractors A plumber friend of Charlie Fischer's was nearly electrocuted after bumping against an ungrounded fluorescent light fixture while holding a copper pipe. Fortunately, he was found and resuscitated, but he was taken to the hospital and lost the next week of work.

Angie's List License Check: Search licensing requirements by state and city One of Eric Hernanz' employees fell off a ladder in the early 1990s.

The company prides itself on meeting every licensing requirement, which they estimate tacks an extra ,000 a year onto their operating costs. Every job requires pulling a permit, and contractors must show proof of licensing to get the permit.

"All licensing is done through the state," Charlie says, "then local inspectors enforce it." And the system, he says, works. "If you put your name on the side of a pickup truck, you can do all the electrical work you want in Cincinnati," Charlie says.

A slow economy makes these assurances all the more important.

Following the 2008 recession, Portland saw a surge of unlicensed painters, Hernanz says, as contractors took financial shortcuts by not paying licensing and insurance fees.

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