1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2008
  4. July

News in July 2008

Browse by year


Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Comcast Tries To Polish Its Image

    Cable giant plays nice on many fronts to avoid FCC penalties

    It's been a bad few months for Comcast. Ever since the cable giant was caught blocking access to the BitTorrent file-sharing engine, the cable behemoth has..

    Women Fear Retirement More than Men — For Good Reason

    Longer-lived and underpaid, women are more likely to outlive their assets

    A new study finds women fear retirement more than men — and another study says there's a good reason for that fear.

    Women have three major worries when they think about retirement: inflation, health and longevity, according to a study by The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. They have reason to be nervous. Women work 12 fewer years than men on average, have less put away for retirement and face high odds of a long life spent alone, said Stephanie Chappell, The Hartfords corporate gerontologist.

    At the top of the list, 83% of the women surveyed as part of the study said that they feared that their purchasing power would dwindle due to inflation, compared with 69% of men. Declining health came in second, with 75% of polled women saying that they were very or somewhat concerned.

    Add the rising cost of health care to fears of poor health, and 87% of the women expressed nervousness concerning retirement. Sixty-four percent of the women said they were also worried about living too long, compared with 46% of men.

    Meanwhile, a study by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting group, found that women need to save more for retirement than men, but it also highlighted that the gap between the amount women need to save and the amount they are actually saving is larger than the gap for men.

    Moreover, this gap will continue to grow due to lower salaries, conservative investing, longer life expectancies and higher retiree medical needs.

    The study, which examined the projected retirement levels of nearly 2 million employees at 72 large U.S. companies, found that both men and women are on track to replace 85 percent of pay at retirement, assuming average life expectancy. However, women, on average, need to replace nearly 130 percent of their final pay at retirement, 7 percentage points more than men. When factoring in differences in longevity, that disparity jumps to 10 percentage points.

    In other words, the average woman will need to save 2 percent of pay more per year than the average man, over 30 years, to achieve the same standard of living.

    Multiple factors

    Hewitts study and other research reveal that multiple factors — both financial and socioeconomic — contribute to the gap in retirement income replacement rates between women and men. Those factors include womens likelihood to:

    Make less and live longer. Despite the fact that women's income has increased 63 percent in the past 30 yearsi, their salaries still trail men's, with the average woman earning just $57,000 a year compared to $84,000 for the average man in Hewitt's study. In addition, women are expected to live almost three years longer than men, an average of 22 years after retirement at age 65 compared to just 19 years post-retirement for men. As a result, most women will need to save more to make their retirement savings last over a longer stretch of time. In addition, because medical costs after retirement are a flat dollar amount for all employees, those costs will consume a higher percentage of women's retirement assets than men's.

    Invest less assertively. Recent Hewitt research reveals that most women have less money saved in their 401(k) plans than men. The average plan balance for women is $56,320nearly $47,000 less than men. In addition, women tend to contribute less (7.3 percent of pay versus 8.1 percent for men) to their 401(k) plan, and they are less likely to take advantage of the employer match. Thirty percent of women did not contribute to their 401(k) plans in 2007 and another quarter (24 percent) did not contribute at a level high enough to take advantage of the company match, which, according to Hewitt research, is typically $0.50 for every dollar up to 6 percent of pay per year.

    Delay retirement saving and have spotty saving patterns.Not surprisingly, Hewitt's study reveals that the earlier and more consistently employees save for retirement, the greater the impact on increasing overall income replacement rates. Unfortunately, Hewitt research also shows that women wait 2 to 4 years longer than men to start saving for retirement. In addition, they are more likely to be in and out of the workforce for family reasons, which can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed earnings, promotions, raises and benefits over the course of a career, including larger deficiencies in retirement savings.

    Closing the gap

    Despite the challenges they face, it is possible for women to get to a more comfortable place in retirement. In fact, making a few easy changes to their saving and investing behaviors can have a significant impact in helping women shrink the retirement income gap and get to more appropriate retirement levels.

    Invest earlier and at a more vigorous rate. Hewitt research shows that the age at which employees start saving has a significant impact on their retirement balances. Women could potentially increase their nest egg by 18 percent simply by investing 2 years earlier than they do now, or 23 percent by investing just 4 years earlier.

    In addition, women can increase their projected retirement income rates an average of 7 percent simply by investing just 2 percent of pay more a year in their 401(k)s. A woman who makes an average salary of $57,000 and who increases her annual 401(k) contribution from 2 percent to 4 percentan increase of just $95 per monthwill have accumulated an extra $81,000 by the time she reaches retirement age. What's more, she will tack on an extra $40,500 by having contributed at a rate high enough to take advantage of her employer's company match program.

    Put off retirement for a few years. While most employees, including women, estimate they will retire by age 65, working just 2 years longer to age 67 can increase projected retirement replacement income levels by 13.5 percent for women who contribute to their 401(k) plans. And because women will have more money to live on during their years in retirement, their retiree medical costs typically a flat dollar amount on an annual basis won't eat up as large a percentage of their savings had they retired at age 65 or earlier.

    Take advantage of advice. According to industry research, a staggeringly high number of women 90 percent have said they feel insecure when it comes to managing their finances. Thankfully, an increasing number of companies offer services and tools that not only help women feel at ease and make them more comfortable negotiating the financial landscape, but also put them on the right track to save more money in the long run. According to Hewitt research, 43 percent of companies offered online, third-party investment advisory services in 2007 and another 47 percent planned to offer them in 2008. In addition, nearly one quarter (22 percent) offered managed accounts, up from only 15 percent in 2007.

    Keep money invested in 401(k) plans. According to Hewitt research, 45 percent of employees cash out their 401(k) plans when they leave a job. Although it seems tempting and intuitive to cash out 401(k) savings, particularly when taking time off to care for family, employees will forfeit 20 percent or more of their account's value in federal taxes and another 10 percent in early withdrawal penalties. Women should keep their money in their companies' 401(k) plans, even when switching jobs or exiting the workforce. By doing so, they can continue to grow their savings in a tax-free environment and, in many cases, avoid higher investment fees typically associated with retirement savings accounts offered in the retail market.

    A new study finds women fear retirement more than men — and another study says there's a good reason for that fear....
    Read lessRead more

    Colleges, Not Students, Often Benefit From Financial Aid

    Financial planner offers tips and commisseration

    This is the time of year that students get ready to head off to college, and parents start checking their bank accounts. With college costs rising, finding a student aid package becomes an important priority.

    Financial planner Reecy Aresty has specialized in helping students and parents find money for college. His book "How To Pay For College Without Going Broke, serves as a blueprint for finding financial aid.

    "Many states, including California, have grant programs for low-income families," Aresty told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Other states, such as Florida, have 'merit aid' programs. Any family can qualify for substantial financial aid, if they own and control a small business. Private scholarships are great when the family can't qualify for need-based aid."

    Aresty says the way students receive scholarships and financial aid is important to their overall bottom line. All too often, he says, a scholarship check is made out to both the student and the college. When that happens, he says the college usually reduces the amount of aid it has promised the student by the exact amount of the scholarship.

    "The colleges consider it a resource to help pay for a student's education," he said.

    For example, let's say the cost of attending college is $45,000. The "expected family contribution" is $10,000, so the family needs to come up with $35,000. In most cases the college is only too willing to help.

    The college might guide the student toward Stafford Loans and other aid packages, cutting the need from $35,000 to $22,000. If it's a student the college really wants, Aresty says it might offer $22,000 in college scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers, and put the offer in writing.

    But what happens when the college learns that the student has landed a $10,000 "private" scholarship? Aresty says the student gets another letter, showing the college's offer of $22,000 in aid has been reduced to $12,000.


    Colleges might look at this policy as a commonsense way to spread aid around, but Aresty likens it to theft. He says many colleges require students to show their financial cards early in the process.

    "Those students who applied to any of the 220 elite private and a few state colleges that require the CSS Financial Aid Profile financial aid form may have already indicated they would be scholarship recipients," Aresty said. "Section SR, Student's Expected Resources for 2007-2008, Question 5, asks for the total dollar amount expected from 'grants, scholarships, fellowships, etc., from sources other than colleges,' and they must be listed individually in Section ES."

    Aresty says the majority of schools that only require the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form simply send out a questionnaire asking about private scholarships. They're less devious, he says, but just as deft.

    "Truth be told, it's all about the money, and have no doubt about it, he said. "Every year there are billions awarded in private scholarships, and who benefits? None other than these 'poor' institutions of higher learning, enriching their billion-dollar endowment funds at the cost of their deserving students."

    While he says there are a number of reasons that college costs are rapidly rising, the amount of aid now available to students in the form of grants and loans is a large contributing factor.

    "Guaranteed Stafford Loans of $5,500, $6,500, $7,500, and $7,500 enable schools to charge more because every student can now borrow more," he said.

    Aresty recently founded the College Information Network, which includes the The High School Blog, The College Blog, Payless For College, and The Way To College.

    Colleges, Not Students, Often Benefit From Financial Aid...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      White Bread's Not Whole Grain, Sara Lee Agrees

      Company agrees to alter claims for its 'Whole Grain White Bread'

      Sara Lee's "whole grain white bread" is toast.

      The company has agreed that labels for its "Soft & Smooth Made With Whole Grain White Bread" will make clear that the product is only 30 percent whole grain. It's part of a settlement agreement the company has reached with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

      Last December, the nonprofit nutrition watchdog group threatened to sue the company over the bread's labeling, which, at the time, suggested that it had as much fiber as 100 percent whole wheat bread.

      Government guidelines recommend that consumers make at least half their grains whole, so Sara Lee's disclosure that this particular bread is just 30 percent whole grain will help consumers put it into that context, the group said. As part of the agreement, Sara Lee will add copy to the label stating that two slices have 10 grams of whole grain, and that USDA recommends consumption of 48 grams of whole grains daily.

      "Consumers who want the health benefits of whole grains should look for bread that is labeled '100 percent whole wheat,' or failing that, a bread where whole wheat flour, not just 'wheat flour,' is the first ingredient," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "This settlement will help consumers comparison shop among breads: plain white bread, breads like Sara Lee's with 30 percent whole grains, and 100 percent whole wheat bread."

      Sara Lee says its "Soft & Smooth Made With Whole Grain White Bread" is meant to be a transitional product, designed to get consumers who are used to the taste and texture of white bread to consume more whole grains.

      Other food companies often give consumers the impression that their white-flour-based products are "made with whole grain" even if there is only a small amount. Kraft uses phrases like "good source of whole grain" or "excellent source of whole grain" on labels even if the product is mostly refined white flour. Kraft Supermac & Cheese, for instance, is advertised as a "good source" of whole grain, even though its first ingredient is white flour.

      General Mills, to its credit, according to CSPI, recently began transitioning away from those types of source claims in favor of indicating the amount of whole grains in grams.

      The distinction between white flour and whole wheat flour is an important one nutritionally. When whole wheat is refined into white flour, most of the fiber and key nutrients are lost.

      Though some nutrients are added back in when white flour is "enriched," studies show that whole grain foods might be useful in reducing risk of heart disease and diabetes. White flour does not have anywhere near the same beneficial effects, according to nutrition experts.

      "It's time to take the whole grain halo off of foods made primarily with white flour," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "Companies that use the phrase 'whole grain' absolutely have the legal responsibility under state consumer protection laws to disclose exactly how much whole grain is there. We are pleased that Sara Lee has agreed to do that."

      White Bread's Not Whole Grain, Sara Lee Agrees...
      Read lessRead more

      Women More Likely To Regret Tattoos

      More women than men visit clinics to remove ink

      Contrary to popular belief, people with tattoos really do care what others think of them, especially women.

      According to a report in the July issue of Archives of Dermatology more women than men visit dermatology clinics for tattoo removal and maybe motivated by the social stigma associated with tattoos and negative comments by others. About one-fourth of adults age 18 to 30 have a tattoo.

      "While the vast majority of individuals who are tattooed are pleased with their skin markings (up to 83 percent), the popularity and prevalence of tattoos often mean that dermatologists are increasingly hearing stories of regrets and requests for tattoo removal," the authors write. About 20 percent of those with tattoos are thought to be dissatisfied with their artwork, although only about 6 percent seek removal.

      Researchers from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, Texas, conducted a survey of 196 individuals who visited one of four dermatology clinics for tattoo removal in 2006. The 66 men and 130 women, with an average age of 30, answered 127 questions about demographics, obtaining their tattoo and their motivations for seeking removal. Their answers were compared with responses to a similar survey conducted in 1996.

      "In both the 1996 and the 2006 studies, a shift in identity occurred, and removal centered around dissociating from the past," the authors write. In 2006, participants reported they had gotten a tattoo to feel unique (44 percent), independent (33 percent) or to make life experiences stand out (28 percent).

      The main reasons listed for seeking tattoo removal included just deciding to remove it (58 percent), suffering embarrassment (57 percent), lowering of body image (38 percent), getting a new job or career (38 percent), having problems with clothes (37 percent), experiencing stigma (25 percent) or marking an occasion, such as a birthday, marriage or newly found independence (21 percent).

      2006 survey also found that participants were more likely to be women (69 percent vs. 31 percent men) who were white, single, college-educated and between the ages of 24 and 39. They reported being risk takers, having stable families and were moderately to strongly religious.

      While the women were pleased with their tattoos when they got them, they reported changes in their feelings over the following one to five years. "While men also reported some of these same tattoo problems leading to removal, there seemed to be more societal fallout for women with tattoos, as the tattoos began to cause embarrassment, negative comments and clothes problems and no longer satisfied the need for uniqueness," the authors write.

      "Societal support for women with tattoos may not be as strong as for men," they conclude. "Rather than having visible tattoos, women may still want to choose self-controlled body site placement, even in our contemporary society."

      Contrary to popular belief, people with tattoos really do care what others think of them, especially women....
      Read lessRead more

      Ford: Parts Now Available to Fix Faulty Cruise Control

      Millions of Ford cars and trucks at risk

      The Ford Motor Company says the parts needed to fix the fire-prone speed control system in millions of Ford cars and trucks are available at dealerships around the country.

      "Affected customers should contact their dealer to schedule a service appointment to have final repairs completed," according to the automaker's Web site.

      The Ford recall has dragged out for almost a decade as safety investigators struggled to identify the cause of the fires. The recall to repair a defective cruise control system eventually involved more than 12 million vehicles.

      When the massive recall was announced in August of 2007, the automaker found there were insufficient parts available to repair the cars and trucks at risk of catching fire.

      Ford is now prepared to install a fused wiring harness into the speed control electrical circuit or to replace the speed control deactivation system if it is found to be leaking.

      "This is a quick repair, and will be performed on vehicles built between 1992 and 2004" the automaker said. "Ford dealers will provide this service to all affected vehicles at no charge to the customers. Owners of all affected vehicles will be notified by mail," according to Ford.

      Here is the most recent list of recalled cars and trucks according to Ford:


      • 1997-2002 Expedition
      • 1998-2002 Navigator
      • 2002-2003 Blackwood
      • 1993-1996 Bronco
      • 2000-2003 Excursion (built prior to 11/4/02)
      • 1992-2003 Econoline E-150/250/350
      • 1996-2003 Econoline E450
      • 2002-2003 Econoline E550
      • 1998-2002 Ranger
      • 1998-2001 Explorer/Mountaineer
      • 2001-2002 Explorer Sport (2 door) & Sport Trac
      • 2003-2004 F-150 Lightning
      • 1993-2003 F-Series (Under 8500 lb. GVW)
      • 1993-2003 F-Series (over 8500 lb. GVW) all plants except Cuautitlan
      • 1994-2003 F-Series (over 8500 lb. GVW) Cuautitlan built only prior to 1/7/03
      • 1995-2002 F-53 Motorhome


      • 1992-1998 Town Car
      • 1992-1998 Crown Victoria
      • 1992-1998 Grand Marquis
      • 1993-1998 Mark VIII
      • 1993-1995 Taurus SHO (automatic transmission)
      • 1994 Capri

      In the latest announcement, the automaker said it is "voluntarily recalling a number of vehicles equipped with speed control to repair the system in order to address the possibility of a fire."

      Ford continued to warn consumers not to use the speed control system in a recalled vehicle until the repairs are complete.

      While the most recent notice on the Ford Web site downplays the possibility of a car or truck fire because of the cruise control switch, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has warned owners of Ford cars and trucks that carry the defective speed control system to have the vehicle repaired or the system disconnected immediately or risk the vehicle catching fire.

      "This condition may occur either when the vehicle is parked or when it is being operated, even if the speed control is not in use," the NHTSA advisory stated.

      "Failure to have the switch disconnected could lead to a vehicle fire at any time, whether or not the key is in the ignition, and whether or not owners use the cruise control system," the strongly-worded NHTSA consumer advisory cautioned.

      NHTSA concluded that the fire danger is present regardless of the age of the vehicle.

      Ford truck and SUV owners wanting more information about the fire danger in their vehicle or the recall may contact Ford at 1-800-392-3673 or NHTSA 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).

      The Ford Motor Company says the parts needed to fix the fire-prone speed control system in millions of Ford cars and trucks are available at dealerships ar...
      Read lessRead more

      Americans Becoming Even More Obese, CDC Says

      Obesity increased 2% from 2005-2007, study finds

      Adult obesity in the U.S. grew nearly two percent between 2005 and 2007. And that's based on adults who admitted to being obese. Those in denial about their obesity aren't included in the latest tally from the Centers for Disease Control.

      An estimated 25.6 percent of U.S. adults reported being obese in 2007 compared to 23.9 percent in 2005, an increase of 1.7 percent. The report also finds that none of the 50 states or the District of Columbia has achieved the Healthy People 2010 goal to reduce obesity prevalence to 15 percent or less.

      Once again, Mississippi led the nation in obese adults, with 32 percent classifying themselves as obese. Colorado had the lowest obesity prevalence at 18.7 percent.

      Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. BMI is calculated using height and weight. For example, a 5-foot, 9-inch adult who weighs 203 pounds would have a BMI of 30, thus putting this person into the obese category.

      The data were derived from CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-based telephone survey that collects information from adults aged 18 years and older. For this survey more than 350,000 adults are interviewed each year, making BRFSS the largest telephone health survey in the world. BMI was calculated based on this self-reported information.

      "The epidemic of adult obesity continues to rise in the United States indicating that we need to step up our efforts at the national, state and local levels," said Dr. William Dietz, director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. "We need to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, engage in more physical activity and reduce the consumption of high calorie foods and sugar sweetened beverages in order to maintain a healthy weight."

      The study found that obesity is more prominent in the South, where 27 percent of respondents were classified as obese. The percentage of obese adults was 25.3 in the Midwest, 23.3 percent in the Northeast, and 22.1 percent in the West.

      By age, the prevalence of obesity ranged from 19.1 percent for men and women aged 19-29 years to 31.7 and 30.2 percent, respectively, for men and women aged 50-59 years.

      "Obesity is a major risk factor for a number of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. These diseases can be very costly for states and the country as a whole," said Deb Galuska, associate director for science for CDCs Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

      Obesity has gotten much worse within the last decade. The CDC has produced an animated map that starkly shows how quickly the problem has spread.

      Americans Becoming Even More Obese, CDC Says...
      Read lessRead more

      Is It Time to Take In Boarders?

      Renting your house or taking in boarders beats foreclosure

      Photo: Utah History To Go

      More and more middle class American homeowners are finding themselves caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Financially strapped, theyre unable to sell the house they can no longer afford to live in because of the current slump in the housing market.

      Some are facing foreclosure. Others may be unemployed and trying to downsize, or theyre about to retire and had planned to use the shrinking equity in their homes to fund their retirement.

      In any case, they all desperately want to sell their homes, but cant because so few people are buying right now and mortgage money is hard to find. Many potential buyers are holding off on their purchases, fearing the value of any house or condo they purchase will drop as soon as the ink dries on the closing documents.

      Therefore, homeowners with mortgages they can no longer pay, on homes that are worth less everyday, are seeking alternatives such as renting their house until the market improves or even taking in boarders to help pay the mortgage.

      Both scenarios have their pros and cons.

      Renting your house

      If youre thinking about renting your house, the first thing you have to consider is where you will live.

      If you rent your house to someone else, you have to move out. Are you buying another house or will you be renting as well? The next question is whether you take everything with you or do you rent your house furnished or partially furnished?

      Second, once you take on renters, or boarders for that matter, you become a landlord and that comes with its own set of responsibilities. Youre responsible for all repairs, even though you no longer live there. You may also be liable if your tenant or someone else is injured on your property.

      Third, how does renting impact your ability to eventually sell the property? Real estate agents are divided over this issue. Some will argue that while occupied homes tend to show better than vacant ones, that may not be the case when the home is being occupied by a tenant and not the owner. One reason is that the tenant may have signed a one-year lease, or may not be ready to move out when you want them to.

      On the other hand, you shouldnt leave a house unoccupied for an extended period either. Insurance rates will go up, if you can even get insurance since most companies won't cover a vacant house after 90 days. Moreover, a vacant house attracts squatters, thieves and vandals.

      Then there are those tax incentives to consider such as the one-time capital gains exclusion that requires you to live in the house for at least two of the last five years. If you rent your property for more than three years during that period, you lose that exclusion.

      On the other hand, if you convert your primary residence to a rental property, you can deduct your mortgage interest payments, depreciation and other expenses. This might not help you right away but it can create some substantial savings at tax time.

      If you choose to rent while you put your home on the market, make sure your tenants agree to let the house be shown by you or real estate agents whenever someone wants to see it. The tenants should also agree to maintain the property in what realtors call "show ready" condition.

      In fact, if you have a lease — experts say you should have a lease for your own protection — make sure it clearly states specific tenant requirements regarding their role in the entire process from flexible show times to maintenance.

      A key section of the lease should stipulate that the tenant be prepared to move if and when the house is sold. Many realtors recommend a month-to-month lease to maintain this flexibility. This works for the tenants as well because it allows them to move quickly if they decide to buy a home.

      A third alternative to renting and borders is something known as house sitters. There are even house-sitting companies that screen potential sitters as well as the furnishings they plan to bring with them. Typically, a sitter agrees to maintain the house in show-ready condition and to be prepared to move out with two weeks notice.

      Taking in boarders

      If you want to continue living in your house but need additional income to offset your mortgage, utilities and other bills, you may want to take in a boarder.

      Here youll find support from home-sharing agencies that cater to this situation. One nationwide agency is the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center Homesharing Program in Baltimore. They screen potential boarders to try to match boarders with home owners. This helps to alleviate the fear you may have of allowing total strangers to live in your house.

      Home-sharing agencies conduct background checks on the boarder and the homeowner, screening out people with criminal records or histories of drug or alcohol use, as well as homeowners in shaky financial situations who may be facing imminent foreclosure. They also give out a ten-point questionnaire asking potential boarders and homeowners how they feel about pets, smoking, and overnight guests.

      Deciding to either rent out your home or take in boarders is a difficult decision you should not take lightly. But if you are running out of alternatives, and if you believe — like many — that this poor housing market is going to continue a downward decline for another year or two, then becoming a landlord may be a necessary course of action.

      Just keep in mind that with either renters or boarders, you must be prepared to deal with possible conflicts over everything from noise levels to privacy issues.

      Most home-sharing agencies have different procedures for resolving conflicts, but in the end, the final responsibility will be with you and whoever you share your home with. Build into any agreement or lease an out. clause," outlining the terms under which either party may call an end to the arrangement.

      In New York, homeownerowners have to give renters sixty days notice to break their arrangement; renters must give their landlords thirty days notice. The laws vary from state to state, and some states may not regulate the practice at all. Be sure your agreement complies with local and state laws.

      You should also check to be sure that taking in boarders is permitted in your neighborhood. Zoning laws in some localities sharply restrict the practice. A quick call to your city or county offices should answer the question.

      Whatever course you choose, don't feel bad. You're not alone. Millions of Americans are in dire financial straits through no fault of their own. All we can do is muddle through as best we can.

      Is It Time to Take In Boarders?...
      Read lessRead more

      Nissan Recalls 2007-2008 Sentras

      Brake fluid leak could lead to crash

      Nissan is recalling 169,202 of the 2007 and 2008 model year Sentra because the brake master cylinder might leak fluid, according to the National Highway Tr..

      Honda Recalls TRX420 Rancher ATVs

      July 17, 2008
      Honda is recalling about 42,000 model year 2007-2008 TRX420 Rancher ATVs.

      If the ATV's rubber CV (constant velocity) boots get punctured or torn the joint will become contaminated and severe binding of the CV joints could occur, resulting in the sudden loss of steering control. This poses a risk of injury or death to riders.

      This recall involves Model Year 2007-08 Honda TRX420 ATVs, also known as the Honda FourTrax Rancher 4X4. These are adult-size ATVs designed for use by riders age 16 and older. The recalled ATVs are available in red, black, olive, and camouflage. The Honda name and wing logo are printed on the fuel tank. The model year is printed on a label located on the frame behind the left front wheel. The model name 'Rancher' is on a label at the left rear of the ATV.

      The units were sold by Honda ATV dealers nationwide from January 2007 through May 2008 for between $5,300 and $5,600. They were made in the United States.

      Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled ATVs and contact any Honda ATV dealer to make an appointment for a free repair. Registered owners of the recalled ATVs have been sent direct notices.

      For additional information, consumers can contact Honda toll-free at (866) 784-1870 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit the companys website at www.powersports.honda.com.

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Honda Recalls TRX420 Rancher ATVs...
      Read lessRead more

      Maryland Warns Of Extended Warranty Scheme

      Beware of telemarketers selling extended auto warranties

      Consumers around the country are being targeted in a a marketing campaign attempting to sell extended auto warranties, calling them on their cell phones and landlines, as well as through postcards, letters and emails.

      The marketers offer to sell expensive extended warranties, and often "phish" for personal information about the consumer.

      In Maryland, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler says consumers should simply hang up if they receive unwanted telemarketing calls, and beware of any offers of extended warranties.

      The marketing mailings may appear to be an important notice from the consumer's car dealer or auto manufacturer. There is always an eye-catching warning on the front of the card, such as: "Final Notice: Expiring Auto Warranty."

      Whether by phone or mail, the marketers warn that the consumer's car warranty is about to expire, and urge the consumer to call a toll-free number or push a button to be connected to a representative in order to renew their warranty.

      While state laws vary, Gansler says Maryland consumers should also be aware that the Maryland Telephone Solicitation Act generally prohibits a telemarketer from charging the consumer's charge card before receiving a written contract signed by the consumer. Therefore, there is usually no legitimate reason for the telemarketer to ask the consumer to provide account information.

      To avoid becoming a victim of this scam, Gansler offers the following tips:

      • Never give out personal financial information such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers or Social Security Numbers over the phone to someone who has called you;

      • Beware of any mailings that appear to offer extended warranty coverage;

      • When considering an extended warranty, or any other telephone or mail solicitation, always insist on getting the complete terms and conditions of your agreement in the form of a written contract before you agree to sign up, pay any money or provide your credit card information.

      • Before entering into any contract, make sure you fully understand its terms and coverage.

      There are many things to consider when you're offered an "extended warranty" or "service contract."

      Gansler says consumers should beware that certain "extended warranties" do not always provide the peace of mind and financial protection that they might expected. Many of these contracts, when closely scrutinized, exclude so many items that they really provide very little coverage for outrageous prices, he said.

      Make sure that you are dealing with a reputable, stable company. Some consumers have found when they sought to take advantage of the extended warranty or service contract that the company from which they purchased the extended warranty or service contract had gone out of business.

      Check out a business with your state Attorney General's Office, your local Better Business Bureau and online consumer sites before you agree to do business with them.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Consumers around the country are being targeted in a a marketing campaign attempting to sell extended auto warranties, calling them on their cell phones an...
      Read lessRead more

      Brown Adds 'Shocking New Details' to Countrywide Allegations

      California suit says Countrywide ignored its own underwriting guidelines

      California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has disclosed shocking new details about Countrywide Financials business practices which he said included ignoring their own underwriting guidelines and rewarding employees for selling risky home loans.

      "These shocking new details provide further evidence of Countrywide's dangerous lending practices, which included ignoring borrowers' low credit scores and rewarding employees for selling risky loans," Brown said. "In one case the company approved an adjustable rate mortgage to an 85-year-old disabled veteran with such a low credit score and high debt that he defaulted in less than six months."

      Brown sued Countrywide last month charging that it had engaged in deceptive advertising and unfair competition by pushing homeowners into risky loans for the sole purpose of reselling the mortgages on the secondary market.

      Today Brown filed an amended lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court which reveals twenty new details about the company's scheme to deceive consumers into taking out dangerous mortgages. The information had been previously withheld from the complaint.

      Some of the new information includes the allegations that Countrywides wholesale lending officers received higher commissions for selling Pay Option Adjustable Rate Mortgages--loans that entice consumers with a very low initial "teaser" rate--and loans with weak underwriting standards. Countrywide also paid higher commissions for putting borrowers into loans with higher rates and fees than they qualified for based upon credit scores and other factors.

      Countrywide ignored factors that it identified as having negative impacts on underwriting including: high debt ratios, low credit scores, and minimal down payments. Company employees regularly overrode warnings from Countrywide's computerized underwriting system, known as CLUES, which issued loan analysis reports rating consumer credit, purported ability to repay, and whether a proposed loan complied with underwriting guidelines.

      Brown's suit cites these examples, which he said represent a small percentage of the large number of California residents who are facing foreclosure due to Countrywides dangerous practices:

      • A Countrywide loan officer convinced a borrower to take a Pay Option ARM with a 1-month teaser rate and a 3-year prepayment penalty plus a full-draw piggyback home equity line of credit based on the loan officers representation that the value of the borrowers home would continue to rise and he would have no problem refinancing. The borrowers debt-to-income ratio was 47 percent and credit score was 663. The loan officer offered the loan even though the companys CLUES report and an underwriter review indicated strong doubts about the borrowers ability to repay. The loan closed in January 2006, and a Notice of Default issued in June 2007.

      • The CLUES report issued for a loan applicant in February 2005 stated that the consumer had too much debt for the loan program and identified other elements of risk including a low credit score. The CLUES report raised doubts about the borrowers ability to repay the loan but Countrywide approved a 3/27 adjustable rate mortgage with a 3-year prepayment penalty, to an 85-year old disabled veteran with a credit score of 509 score and an debt-to-income ratio of nearly 60 percent. The loan closed in February 2005, and a Notice of Default issued in July 2005.

      • The CLUES report for a proposed loan identified multiple risks that created doubts about the borrowers ability to make the payments, including the fact that a borrower had an open collection account. In January 2006, however, Countrywide granted exceptions for these risks and approved a reduced documentation Pay Option Adjustable Rate Mortgage loan for $352,000 with a 3-month teaser rate and a 3-year prepayment penalty, as well as a Piggyback home equity line of credit for $22,000. The loan closed in January 2006, and a Notice of Default issued in October 2006.

      Many borrowers who obtained Pay Option and Hybrid ARMs did not understand that their initial monthly payment would at some point "explode," that their initial interest rate would increase and become adjustable, or that the principal amount of their loans could actually increase.

      Countrywide received numerous complaints regarding these practices from borrowers, including over 3,000 complaints per year handled by the Office of the President between January 2005 and August 2007.

      Countrywide gave branch managers commissions or bonuses based on the net profits and loan volume generated by each branching, thereby creating intense pressure to sell as many loans as possible, as quickly as possible, at the highest prices possible. Branch managers were rewarded for meeting production goals set by corporate management, increasing the number of loans sold per loan officer, and reducing the time periods between the loan application stage and funding--or penalized for failing to do so.

      Foreclosure rates

      Todays amended lawsuit also contains updated data about Countrywide's foreclosure rates. As of April this year, 21.11% of the mortgages owned by Countrywide Home Loans were in some stage of delinquency or foreclosure, including 47.97% of originated non-prime loans, and 21.23% of Pay Option ARMs.

      In January and March, 2008, Countrywide recorded 3,175 notices of default in Alameda, Fresno, Riverside, and San Diego counties alone, representing an aggregate total of delinquent principal and interest of more than $917 million.


      It's also being reported today that the FBI is examining Countrywide, IndyMac and at least 20 other mortgage lenders. The bureau is reportedly probing accounting fraud, insider trading and the "securitization" of mortgage-backed securities.

      Countrywide was acquired by Bank of America earlier this year.

      California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has disclosed shocking new details about Countrywide Financialsbusiness practices which he said included ig...
      Read lessRead more

      Class Action Challenges Credit Solutions

      Texas-based company claims to help consumers work out their debt problems

      A class action lawsuit charges a Texas company doesn't make good on its promise to help consumers who are having problems with their credit.

      The lawsuit, filed in Seattle, charges that Texas-based Credit Solutions, the country's largest debt-resolution company, has done more harm than good for thousands of its clients. Many customers said they would up deeper in debt after going to Credit Solutions for help.

      The allegations in the lawsuit mirror complaints filed by ConsumerAffairs.com readers.

      "They have done nothing to help me. All they have done is ruin my credit," said Tina of Sacramento. "One company had proposed a settlement and when I inquired with CSA to find ot if the company would allow me to make monthly installment they NEVER responded resulting in the company to deny the settlement."

      Alex of Astoria, N.Y., said he signed up with Credit Solutions after a divorce in 2006.

      "Since that time they have not settled any accounts, have taken over $2300 from me, told me NOT to appear in court after I received a summons. Because of that, a judgment was passed against me and my bank account was levied for twice the amount I owed."

      The Better Business Bureau says it has received more than 1,000 complaints against Credit Solutions in the past three years. It warns consumers that there are bad actors in the debt-resolution business.

      Credit Solutions charges a fee of 15 percent of the debt amount. It promises to negotiate with the lenders so the client can pay less -- up to 60 percent less.

      But Yolanda of Perris, Calif., said it didn't work that way for her. She sought help consolidating her credit card accounts.

      "The person I spoke with told me that I can consolidate all of my accounts and make just one low payment a month. So I did it. One of my creditors call me last night and told me that if I don't make a payment now they're going to repossess my filter system," she told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      Attorney Tyler Weaver, one of the lawyers filing the class action, said that consumers are paying Credit Solutions money that could have been better used to pay off their debts.

      On its Web site, the company claims a 99.32 percent satisfaction rate with its customers, and says it has eliminated more than 265 million dollars of debt for its clients.

      What to do

      Consumer advocates generally agree that consumers in trouble should call the credit card companies, banks and other lenders personally and try to work out a payment plan. If you need more help, contact Consumer Credit Counseling Services, a national not-for-profit organization.

      Consumers who are deeply in debt should also consider filing for bankruptcy.

      More about debt counseling services.

      A class action lawsuit charges a Texas company doesn't make good on its promise to help consumers who are having problems with their credit....
      Read lessRead more

      Make Money at Home -- or Anywhere Else

      Offbeat Web site owner shares the tricks of the trade

      One of my favorite occupations as I stroll the streets of the city is to tear down notices that promise make hundreds of $$$ a day working from home! -- theyre generally placed by pyramid schemers and the only money thats likely to be changing hands is from you to them.

      The truth is that there are far more people trying to make money from you than those who want to help you make a living. Perhaps thats obvious but the guys who write the books on How to Become a Millionaire are still doing a good business. What you do is you publish a book for $20 on how to get rich and then sell 50,000 copies

      Still, today I jumped out of bed at the crack of noon, made some coffee and then pulled out my laptop while still in bed to check my website income from the day before. I was on course to make $1,000 for the month. I went back to sleep for a while and then hit the beach. Another productive working day.

      In the future well probably divide people between those who remember life before the Internet and those who have a hard time believing that people used to walk down to the post office to send mail. Generations to come will laugh at the idea that people used to pay to talk to each other on the phone and will be revolted by the idea that all media was once in the hands of greedy publishing, music and television companies.

      Just wants to be free

      The Internet has made information free. Naturally, it took the world a long time to wake up to this new paradigm and in the beginning there were a lot of people trying to charge for access to websites. Surfers just shrugged and hit the back button and moved on to a site that didnt ask for a credit card. Information is still the most valuable commodity in the world but the economic model changed.

      Dig it, youre not paying to read this article but that doesnt mean theres no money being made here

      Last summer I decided to take a six-month-long holiday and hung around camp fires at some hippie festivals with not a cell phone -- much less an electric socket -- in sight. In between banging out hopelessly off-key Bob Dylan songs on my guitar, I explained to my incredulous dreadlocked friends that Id made $30 that day before waking up. Okay, it was no fortune but the cash was coming in without me lifting a finger and kept me in a good supply of guitar strings and patchouli oil.

      Running your own niche website is like cultivating a money tree. You plant the seed of a good idea, tend and cultivate the sapling for a year or so without any reward and then, as your website comes into maturity, you sit back and collect the fruit as it drops, just doing a bit of pruning here or there.

      Unless youre a really driven type and want to plant a whole orchard of niche websites and secure a long-term revenue stream that will beat most pension plans

      No geeks

      By now your eyes are probably rolling. Thats all very well, you say but youre not a computer geek. The web is already full of millions of sites on every conceivable topic and anyway, how can anyone make money by giving information away for free?

      I used to say the same things. Then an old friend told me that his collection of niche websites were bringing in 500,000 people a month. That was more than many magazines that I could think of. I checked out his sites and saw that far from using any complicated programs hed made them all in Notepad. Hed learnt about 10 little symbols that he needed to make the pages and although there was no design to speak of, the information was clear and accessible.

      If you already send email and watch videos on YouTube then youre probably capable of learning how to set up and code your own website in a day. Just do a Google search for html tutorials and youll be on your way. Use a program like Dreamweaver that does the code for you and it gets even easier. And if you plan to make a more complicated site that needs some tricky code, you can find an Indian tech wizard though www.elance.com who will do all the hard work for you.

      And although there are a BILLION WEBSITES in existence now, the web is still in its infancy.

      After the first dotcom crash, many people seemed to think the internet would just fade away. Instead peoples ideas about it changed. The biggest names in the internet like Youtube, Myspace and Facebook are all recent ideas, evolving in the last 4 years as peoples imaginations have begun to catch up with the potential of the most important medium the world has ever seen.

      A good way to think up ideas for niche websites is in your own search experience. I started my main website, www.roadjunky.com because I was bored sick of all the inane travel stories and guides out there. I was sure that there were hundreds of thousands of people out there who also wanted to read alternative articles with attitude. Today, around 50,000 people a day visit the site and its developed a following within the niche that I identified.

      But it can be even simpler than that. Maybe you have a hard time doing a web search to find out what live music is playing in your town? So you buy and set up www.gothamcityconcerts.com and fill the niche yourself. If there are others who also want to learn about all the latest concerts then youve got traffic and an income in the making.

      Or perhaps youre a devoted fan of Johnny Depp? If you can put together an authoritative site of all roles hes ever played, a list of all his interviews, trivia and photos available, then maybe you can create a resource for all the other millions who play at being pirates in front of the bathroom mirror.

      Grains of sand

      But with a web full of professional writing and photos, established sites and a million ego-fueled blogs, how will anyone ever find your little website?

      Finding information on the web is the biggest challenge the internet faces today. Like free speech, it doesnt matter if the info you want is out there if theres so much crap in the way that you can never find it. Try to search for information about trips to Moscow, for instance, without being inundated with Russian bride sites.

      Most sites depend upon search engines for their traffic, Google in particular. Google only got so big in the first place because they came up with the best way to sort through millions of sites in a second and most search engines soon copied their model. Their revolutionary concept was simple: one link = one vote. So sites that get lots of inbound links are more likely to featured on the first page of any search query.

      But it doesnt end there. Google also reasoned that not all links are equal a link coming in from a CNN feature, for instance, scores way more points than a link from www.mymomswebsite.com.

      So to bring traffic to your site you need links but who on earth will link to you?

      For many webmasters, about 20% of their time is spent in begging, trading and even buying links. The bottom line, however, is that if you provide a cool, comprehensive resource or a useful service then people will link to you as a matter of course. People might link to this page as a guide to making money at home, for instance (hint, hint).

      How to make it pay?

      Now, assuming you manage to get some traffic, how do you make money out of it? Man cannot live on hits alone

      Again, we have Google to thank. Their think tank looked at the internet and saw the greatest potential for advertising in history. They invented Adsense and became the middlemen between the advertisers and the publishers and made the whole process automatic so you dont have to waste your time trying to sell ad space.

      It works like this: you install a bit of code on your site, Google spiders your pages, decides what theyre about and then inserts a relevant ad. So if youve written an article about vacations in Brazil you might well see ads about Flights to Brazil or Carnival Packages showing up.

      But unlike traditional advertising where publishers get paid for placing the ad, you only get paid when someone actually clicks on it. The amount varies depending on the advertisers bid but if youre getting decent traffic the clicks soon add up and Google sends you a check each month. And yes, they will know if youre clicking on your own ads

      You can also make money with affiliate deals where you get a small percentage of every flight, hotel reservation or book sold from your site, for example. Do a web search for affiliates and youll find enormous lists of them by subject. Just dont overburden your site with ads or affiliates or youll lose traffic in droves.

      Okay, okay but what if you cant write or take photos to save your life and have no budget to pay others?

      One of the pages I visit the most is an article that lists the best bit torrent sites on the web. I keep forgetting the name of the torrent sites that I use and so I return to the list about 5 times a week. Apparently many other people also found the list handy as it has a bunch of inbound links and sits at the top of Googles top ten when you search for best torrent sites. The point is that if you can find some way to sort and order the information out there then youre fulfilling a need and traffic will come your way.

      For instance, if you reckon you have a great sense of humor (and who doesnt but they cant all be right..) then you could buy www.youtubelaughs.com and embed 5 hilarious YouTube videos each day to save your audience the trouble of hunting them down themselves. If people know they can arrive at your site and be guaranteed a good laugh its likely theyll return again and again.

      Learning how to build a niche website can be as shallow or deep as you like. All the tips and tricks you need to know are available via any Google search and www.webmasterworld.com is a great place to ask all your dumb questions and get patient answers.

      A catchy name for your website helps and you can search for domain names at www.domaintools.com .coms sell for about $10 each and hosting will cost you another $100+ a year, depending on how big your site gets.

      But thats the last money you need ever spend on building your niche site and beware anyone who tries to sell you their services to bring traffic remember the rule in the second paragraph and stick to the straight and narrow. There are ways to manipulate search engines into sending you traffic but rather intelligent people work at Google and theyre likely to find you out and blacklist your site sooner rather than later.

      Oh, by the way, don't think you can copy entire articles from other web sites and post them on yours. This is illegal and most large web sites -- and not a few small ones -- will track you down and their lawyers will make you wish you had opened a bait shop instead.

      Most people wont get rich by building a niche website. And you probably wont see any return from it for the first year or more. But after that your site stays open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and the dollars will keep rolling in by themselves. Maybe enough to keep you on the beach in Mexico for the winter.

      At school they told me that there was no such thing as a free lunch. Now that I sit under an orchard of niche websites, gathering the fruit that falls each day, I beg to differ.


      Tom Glaister is the founder and editor of www.roadjunky.com - The Online Travel Guide for the Free and Funky Traveller.

      One of my favorite occupations as I stroll the streets of the city is to tear down notices that promise make hundreds of $$$ a day working from home! -- th...
      Read lessRead more