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    Report Shows College Debt Continues to Grow

    One out of five U.S. households now on the hook for a college loan

    U.S. college students and former students now owe more than $1 trillion in student loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). A new report shows just how wide-spread that debt is.

    The report, conducted by the Pew Research Center, is based on its analysis showing nearly one out of five U.S. households owes money for student loans. That's more than double the share from 20 years ago and a fairly significant increase to the 15 percent of households with student loan debt in 2007.

    More people going to college

    Since the onset of the Great Recession and the jump in unemployment, more people are choosing to go to college because they can't find a job, or hope to improve their job prospects by earning a degree. Because college costs so much, almost no one goes to college anymore without borrowing money.

    It's not just parents who are going into debt to pay for their children's education. The Pew report found that a record 40 percent of all households headed by someone younger than age 35 owe student loan debt -- by far the highest share among any age group.

    That's a bit disturbing because it shows the debt burden is being assumed by people early in their careers when the debt service on their loans commands a large percentage of their incomes.

    Burden falls heaviest on low-income households

    The report also finds that, whether computed as a share of household income or assets, the relative burden of student loan debt is greatest for households in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum, even though members of such households are less likely than those in other groups to attend college in the first place.

    Since 2007 the incidence of student debt has increased in nearly every demographic and economic category, as has the size of that debt, the report finds.

    The households owing student loan debt owe, on average $26,683. That's up from $23,349 in 2007.

    In 2007 10 percent of households holding student debt owed more than $54,238. In 2010, those 10 percent of households owed more than $61.894.

    Need help repaying your student loans? The CFPB offers help and advice to students and former students who are trying to get a handle on their payments.

    U.S. college students and former students now owe more than $1 trillion in student loans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). A n...
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    New Treatment Approved for Advanced Colorectal Cancer

    The new med adds more than six months to life expectancy

    Patients with colorectal cancer that has progressed after treatment and spread to other parts of the body (metastatic) have a new treatment option. 

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Stivarga (regorafenib), a multi-kinase inhibitor that blocks several enzymes that promote cancer growth. The drug was reviewed under the FDA’s priority review program that provides an expedited six-month review for drugs that offer major advances in treatment or that provide treatment when no adequate therapy exists. 

    Stivarga was approved one month ahead of the product’s prescription drug user fee goal date of Oct. 27, 2012, the date the agency was scheduled to complete review of the drug application. 

    Life-extending properties 

    “Stivarga is the latest colorectal cancer treatment to demonstrate an ability to extend patients’ lives and is the second drug approved for patients with colorectal cancer in the past two months,” said Richard Pazdur, M.D., director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. 

    The safety and effectiveness of Stivarga were evaluated in a single clinical study of 760 patients with previously treated metastatic colorectal cancer. Patients were randomly assigned to receive Stivarga or placebo in addition to best supportive care (BSC), which includes treatments to help manage side effects and symptoms of cancer. Patients received treatment until their cancers progressed or side effects became unacceptable. 

    Study results showed patients treated with Stivarga plus BSC lived a median of 6.4 months compared to a median of five months in patients treated with placebo plus BSC. Results also showed patients treated with Stivarga plus BSC experienced a delay in tumor growth (progression-free survival) for a median of two months compared to a median of 1.7 months in patients receiving placebo plus BSC. 

    Side effects outlined 

    Stivarga is being approved with a Boxed Warning alerting patients and health care professionals that severe and fatal liver toxicity occurred in patients treated with Stivarga during clinical studies. The most common side effects reported in patients treated with Stivarga include weakness or fatigue, loss of appetite, hand-foot syndrome (also called palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia), diarrhea, mouth sores (mucositis), weight loss, infection, high blood pressure, and changes in voice volume or quality (dysphonia). 

    In August 2012, the FDA approved Zaltrap (ziv-aflibercept) for use in combination with a FOLFIRI (folinic acid, fluorouracil and irinotecan) chemotherapy regimen to treat adults with metastatic colorectal cancer. 

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and in women and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and in women in the United States. The National Institutes of Health estimates 143,460 people in the U.S will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 51,690 will die from the disease this year. 

    Stivarga is marketed by Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, based in Wayne, N.J. Zaltrap is marketed by Bridgewater, N.J.-based sanofi-aventis.

    Patients with colorectal cancer that has progressed after treatment and spread to other parts of the body (metastatic) have a new treatment option....
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    Forever Cheese Expands Marte brand Ricotta Salata Frescolina Recall

    Listeria monocytogenes contamination is possible

    Forever Cheese Inc. is expanding its recall of all Marte brand Ricotta Salata Frescolina cheese, originally announced earlier in September 2012, due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. 

    The cheese was sold to distributors for retailers and restaurants in AL, CA, CO, CT, D.C., FL, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MN, MT, NC, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, TX, UT, VA, WA between September 1, 2011 and August 31, 2012. Products were sold to supermarkets, restaurants and wholesale distributors. 

    The cheese in question is Marte brand Frescolina Ricotta Salata, which is a product of Italy. The expanded recall includes ALL lots and ALL production codes. 

    The following lots/production codes may be found on the original wheel. T5086/440220, T5520/440315, T6048/440417, T6528/440519, T7012/440703, T7452/440601, T7939/440822, T8419/441003, T8899/441020, T9425/441202, T9962/441227, U1392/450126. 

    Consumers may wish to follow up at the place they purchased the ricotta salata to ensure when it was cut or repacked that it was not relabeled. If the product was relabeled, consumers may not be able to determine if the cheese is Marte brand Ricotta Salata Frescolina. 

    There is an outbreak of 15 reported illnesses in 12 states that has been linked to this particular cheese. 

    Distributors and retailers are being contacted in an effort to recall any and all remaining product in the marketplace. 

    If you believe that you have purchased any of this cheese, contact your distributor or retailer for a full refund. If you have any questions please call Forever Cheese contact Jeff DiMeo at (888)930-8693 between 9 am – 5pm (Monday-Friday) EST and mention “Recall”.

    Forever Cheese Inc. is expanding its recall of all Marte brand Ricotta Salata Frescolina cheese, originally announced ...
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      Whole Foods Market Recalls Peanut Butter Cookies in Four States

      Peanut butter used as an ingredient may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Whole Foods Market is recalling 3oz peanut butter cookies and 3oz peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies sold in its self-serve pastry case, and mini peanut butter cookies sold in 12-pack paper bags due to possible Salmonella contamination in the peanut butter used as an ingredient. 

      The recalled cookies were sold before Sept. 29, 2012, in all Whole Foods Market stores in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. No illnesses have been reported related to the cookies. This cookie recall is in response to a recall by Sunland, whose recalled peanut butter has been connected to 29 illnesses in 18 states. 

      Two of the recalled items are sold in the self-serve pastry case (3oz Peanut Butter Cookie, 3oz Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk), under the cookie PLU (47963). The packaged cookies (Mini Peanut Butter Cookie 12pk) are sold in small, plain brown bags featuring a cellophane window on the front, an oval Whole Foods Market sticker that says "mini peanut butter cookies" and has the PLU (22096100000). The recall includes all of these cookies sold before Sept. 29, 2012. 

      Signs are posted in Whole Foods Market stores to notify customers of this recall. 

      Consumers who have purchased the recalled products in these four states should discard them, and may bring their receipt to the place of purchase for a full refund. 

      Anyone with questions may contact 512-542-0060 Monday to Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm CDT.

      Whole Foods Market is recalling 3oz peanut butter cookies and 3oz peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies sold in its self-serve pastry case, and mini peanut...
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      fresh&easy Recalls Nut Butters

      Recall is tied to possibility of Salmonella contamination

      fresh&easy is recalling several nut butters (almond, cashew, peanut and tahini) marked with 'Best Before' dates from May 1, 2013 to September 24, 2013 due to potential contamination with Salmonella. This recall is in response to the recall issued by Sunland, Inc. 

      The company says any customers who may have purchased these products to stop using them immediately and discard the product, keeping just the label or store receipt to claim a full refund from the store. 

      The following products are included in this recall: 

      • Sunland Creamy Peanut Butter Salt Free 16 oz
      • Sunland Tahini 16 oz
      • fresh&easy Crunchy Almond Butter 16 oz
      • fresh&easy Creamy Almond Butter 16 oz
      • fresh&easy Crunchy Peanut Butter 18 oz
      • fresh&easy Creamy Peanut Butter 18 oz
      • fresh&easy Creamy Peanut Butter 40 oz
      • fresh&easy Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter with Sea Salt 16 oz
      • fresh&easy Organic Creamy Peanut Butter with Sea Salt 16 oz
      • fresh&easy Goodness Creamy Valencia Peanut Butter 8 / 1.1 oz cups
      • fresh&easy Deli Box Protein Power Lunch
      • fresh&easy Creamy Cashew Butter
      fresh&easy is recalling several nut butters (almond, cashew, peanut and tahini) marked with 'Best Before' dates from May 1, 2013 to September 24, 2013 due...
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      U.S. Beer Consumption Continues to Decline

      Unemployment among beer's core consumers takes its toll

      Say it ain't so!!

      U.S. consumers are drinking less beer these days. Industry analysts say it's partly because of high unemployment rates among beer's traditional core consumers and the fact that Americans are drinking more wine and spirits.

      The consumers who normally prefer beer can't afford to buy as much as they did in the past. The consumers who can afford it prefer to drink something else.

      According to the recently released Beverage Information Group's 2012 Beer Handbook, the overall beer industry lost 35.6 million 2.25 gallon cases – a 1.3 percent decline – to end the year at 2.787 billion cases.

      Exploring new beverages

      The report found that consumers are leaving beer and gravitating to the wine and spirits industries with their new product offerings such as flavored vodkas, category-crossing whiskey liqueurs, sweet reds and high-end blends.

      Meanwhile, the report suggests domestic beer saw declines due to its lack of innovation and ability to connect with consumers. With the largest segment, Light beer, losing 39.2 million 2.25-gallon cases, the other beer segments could not make up for the loss.

      The Craft and Imported beer segments' continued success helped to offset some of the overall industries' declines, but could not fix the problem.

      Americans prefer imports

      According to the Beer Handbook, domestic brewers are being pressured by imports. Imported beer saw an increase of 1.3 percent in 2011 and is projected to climb. Consumers are increasingly drawn to imports due to the wide variety of high-end products available, as consumers are trading back up to more premium brands.

      The growth in the Craft and Imported beer categories seen over the years is expected to continue, with Imports projected to grow at a slightly slower rate. It remains to be seen if they can offset the declines in the domestic categories.

      "We are looking to the Craft segment to continue to spur growth in the beer industry," says Adam Rogers, senior analyst for the Beverage Information Group, Norwalk, Conn. "Consumer interest is at its peak and there is unlimited potential for growth as more craft brewers enter the marketplace."

      Craft beer segment still growing

      Craft beers, usually brewed in small quantities by "micro-brewers," have a similar appeal as a fine wine. They're generally favored by consumers who have disposable income.

      In the past, however, the brewing industry has been carried by its mass-produced domestic brands whose consumers tend to be less discriminating and more value-conscious.

      But high unemployment rates, economic uncertainty, rising commodity and fuel costs all affect beer pricing structure and the report suggests the effects are clearly visible in falling beer consumption.

        U.S. consumers are drinking less beer these days. Industry analysts says it's partly because of high unemployment rates among beer's tradit...
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      SuperTracker Diet and Physical Activity Planner Lets You Set Personal Calorie Targets

      Tailor your diet and exercise regimens to fit your doctor's calorie target recommendations

      Need a little help keeping track of your calorie intake? The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) SuperTracker may be just the ticket. 

      According to Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon, the tool  has added a new feature that allows users to set personal calorie goals based on targets prescribed by their nutritionists, dietitians and health care providers. 

      "With one in three Americans overweight or obese, resources like SuperTracker play a critical role in helping people to develop good health and nutrition habits," said Concannon. "This update allows individuals to set goals tailored to their specific needs and improve their overall health and well-being." 

      Built and maintained by USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), SuperTracker is free to use and available at ChooseMyPlate.gov. As originally designed, SuperTracker assigned users a calorie level based on information entered in their user profile such as age, height, weight, and physical activity level. 

      New feature 

      The new feature allows users to tailor their diet and exercise regimens to fit calorie target recommendations made by their physician. To access the new personal calorie goal feature, go to SuperTracker and click on My Features (My Top 5 Goals). 

      SuperTracker is also one of ten government projects receiving the 2012 Government Computer News (GCN) Award for IT Achievement, which recognizes government agencies that show creativity and ingenuity in connecting citizens with the government through technology tools. Earlier this month, SuperTracker reached over one million registered users. 

      "Within the Federal sector of providing online services to the public, this award is the equivalent of winning an Oscar or a Grammy," said Concannon. "We are extraordinarily proud of the work done by the staff at USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and their commitment to improving the health of Americans." 

      Family plan 

      To help families make healthier food choices, USDA released MyPlate, a new generation food icon acclaimed as a simple, powerful visual cue to promote healthier eating at mealtimes. It is supported by tools and resources at the ChooseMyPlate.gov, and is available for Spanish-language speakers as MiPlato. Over 6,400 community partners have joined together with USDA in helping promote MyPlate in communities across the country. 

      SuperTracker was unveiled in December 2011 as a complement to the MyPlate nutrition guidance initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative. 

      SuperTracker is a free online tool that incorporates both the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines to help Americans make and assess daily healthy food and lifestyle choices.

      Need a little help keeping track of your calorie intake? The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) SuperTracker...
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      Anti-Smoking Group Targets E-Cigarettes

      Claims products contain unknown ingredients and make unsubstantiated claims

      Ever since e-cigarettes came on the scene, offering smokers a tobacco-free alternative to smoking, health advocates have raised questions.

      Earlier this month Greek researchers suggested using the device, which delivers nicotine in water vapor, could still be harming the lungs. Now, an anti-smoking group says e-cigarettes are just as obnoxious to non-smokers as real cigarettes.

      Criticizes marketing

      Americans for Non-Smokers Rights is slamming the marketers of e-cigarettes, claiming they are using press releases and social media to tout the benefits of their product, despite a lack of independent peer-reviewed scientific evidence demonstrating the safety or effectiveness.

      E-cigarettes don't just produce harmless water vapor, the group claims. Instead, they say they pollute indoor air with detectable levels of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals.

      "What I find most egregious are the direct advertisements with false and misleading claims, including that e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation devices, that e-cigarette use is permissible in all indoor environments, including venues that are smoke-free, and targeting pregnant women claiming that e-cigarettes are safer and healthier than other tobacco products," said Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Non-Smokers Rights.

      Disputes claims

      In a press release of its own, the group disputes e-cigarette manufacturers' claims that e-cigarettes are "safer than commercial tobacco products." It says the contents of the e-cigarette liquid and the "vapor mist" that is exhaled by the user remain undisclosed. E-cigarettes are currently an unregulated product, which leaves a great deal of unknowns not only about the health risks, but also about product manufacturing quality and safety.

      The group points to a study recently published in Indoor Air, which measured the contents of exhaled e-cigarette vapor and found that exhaling the vapor releases measurable amounts of carcinogens and toxins into the air, including nicotine, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

      New source of chemical exposure

      The authors concluded that e-cigarettes are a new source of chemical and aerosol exposure and their potential health impact is a concern that should be investigated further. Other researchers have found inconsistent labeling of nicotine content on e-cigarette cartridges -- that cartridges labeled as not having nicotine did in fact contain nicotine, and vice versa -- as well as other signs of poor quality control, including leaky cartridges and defective parts.

      A number of states, including California, have sued the marketers of some brands of e-cigarettes for making what officials described as "misleading and irresponsible" claims that electronic cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking.

      E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices with nicotine cartridges designed to look and feel like conventional cigarettes. Instead of actual smoke, e-cigarettes produce a vapor from the nicotine cartridge that is inhaled by the user. Smoking Everywhere, one of the largest e-cigarette retailers in the United States, claims in its ads that the e-cigarettes have no carcinogens, no tar, no second-hand smoke, and are therefore safe and healthy.

        Ever since e-cigarettes came on the scene, offering smokers a tobacco-free alternative to smoking, health advocates have raised questions....
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      Most Consumers Plan To Celebrate Halloween This Year

      Social media and in-store displays help consumers choose costumes

      The economic outlook may be a little scarey, but that's not spooking consumers out out of their plans to celebrate Halloween 

      In fact, the National Retail Federation's (NRF) 2012 Halloween consumer spending survey conducted by BIGinsight finds a record 170 million people plan to celebrate Halloween this year. 

      Seven in 10 Americans (71.5%) will get into the haunting Halloween mood, compared with 68.6 percent last year and the most in NRF’s 10-year survey history. Consumers are expecting to spend more too; the average person will spend $79.82 on decorations, costumes and candy, versus $72.31 last year, with total Halloween spending expected to reach $8.0 billion. 

      “By the time Halloween rolls around each year it’s safe to say Americans have already spent two months preparing for one of the fastest-growing and most widely-loved holidays of the year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers know that when it comes to Halloween, new costume ideas for children, adults and pets, and the latest in home and yard décor top people’s shopping lists. We expect retailers to stock their shelves well ahead of time to capture the attention of eager holiday shoppers.” 

      What to buy 

      When it comes to looking for Halloween costume ideas, consumers say their biggest source of inspiration is what they see in a retail store or costume shop. More than one-third (35.7 percent) will look for new ideas in a store and nearly one-quarter (23.7%) will turn to their friends and family. 

      Social media will also play a role in choosing costumes: 15.2 percent will check out Facebook for inspiration and 7.1 percent will scour the visually-appealing Pinterest. Online searches will also be popular with celebrants: 33.3 percent say they will get their inspiration online. Of those buying or making costumes, the average person will spend $28.65 on costumes this year, up slightly from $26.52 in 2011. 

      “Almost as soon as people bring down their fall and winter apparel from the top shelves in their closets, Halloween becomes top of mind,” said BIGinsight Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Phil Rist. “There’s certainly pent-up demand for having some fun this year and shoppers are planning to spend their hard-earned dollars on items that help them get into the Halloween spirit.” 

      How we spend

      Of the people celebrating Halloween this year, more than half (51.4%) will decorate their home or yard, up from 49.5 percent last year, and 45.0 percent plan to dress in costume, also up from last year (43.9%.) More than one-third (36.2%) will throw or attend a party and 33.2 percent will take children trick-or-treating. Additionally, 15.1 percent will ensure their furry friends are part of the fun too, by dressing their pet in costume. 

      Despite record spending figures for this year’s Halloween holiday, one-fourth of U.S. consumers (25.9%) say the state of the economy will affect their Halloween plans. To compensate, most say they will spend less overall (83.5%), while others will make a costume instead of buying one (18.0%), and over one-third (36.1%) will buy less candy.

      The economic outlook may be a little scarey, but that's not spooking consumers out out of their plans to celebrate Halloween In fact, the National Retail...
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      Tips For Successfully Selling Your Car

      There are things you can do to get the most for your vehicle

      So you have finally decided to buy a new car. Congratulations. Now, what are you going to do with your old car?

      You have a number of options. You could trade it in on the new car. Most people do that because, frankly, it's so much easier. But the dealer counts on that and usually doesn't offer you very much. The dealer, after all, plans to turn around and sell it for more than he paid for it.

      Sometimes you can just sell the car to a dealer. Again, you run into the same problem. The dealer needs to acquire the car at a low cost so he can sell it at its market value and make a profit.

      Consider making it a hand-me-down

      Some people transfer the car to a family member. Hand-me-down cars are a tradition for some families and a good way to provide a known, reliable used car for a young driver.

      Some people donate cars to charity. Once upon a time the IRS allowed you to deduct the market value of the car when you donated it. Now, however, you can only deduct the amount the charity resells the car for, making the tax break much less generous.

      Finally, you can put an ad online or in the paper and try to sell the car yourself. While a private sale will probably yield the most money, it can sometimes be a time-consuming and rather unpleasant experience.

      Time and effort

      "Selling a vehicle yourself is not difficult, but it does take time and effort," said John Nielsen, AAA director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. "Pricing the vehicle properly and preparing it for sale are keys to quickly selling the vehicle for a reasonable amount."

      If you're going to sell a vehicle yourself, you should take a number of important steps to make sure you get top dollar. First, prepare your vehicle for a buyer by having it professionally detailed.

      Remove any personal items from your vehicle, including any stickers you have placed on the exterior. Have your vehicle inspected by a repair shop prior to the sale and ask for a detailed report, which can be shared with perspective buyers.

      Next, determine a price. This may require some research. Be realistic in the condition of your vehicle, very few vehicles are in "excellent" condition. Do your homework and keep a list of comparable prices from various vehicle pricing sources for any potential buyers to take with them.

      How's your salesmanship?

      Marketing your vehicle for sale is another important step to successfully selling your vehicle independently. Use social media technology and online websites to let others know you are selling your vehicle. Facebook, Twitter, AutoTrader.com, Cars.com and eBay Motors are all examples of electronic resources.

      Colorful photos and diverse images can help support the description and features of the vehicle. Be sure to include contact information and any other important details pertaining to the sale.

      Once you prepare, price and market your vehicle for sale, you should receive inquiries from potential buyers. Use common sense and caution when showing your vehicle. Meet potential buyers in a public location and do not let them test drive the vehicle by themselves.

      Be ready for questions, have detailed information readily available, include a CARFAX vehicle history report and keep repair and maintenance documents compiled and organized.

      Once you have found a buyer for your vehicle, AAA recommends creating a bill of sale that both parties can sign and have it notarized. Notaries can be located at a bank.

      Always secure payment before you transfer ownership. Options for payment include certified checks, cash or money order. AAA suggests completing a transaction at a bank to verify the payment is legitimate. If a buyer is uncomfortable with any part of the agreement, be cautious and use good judgment to avoid the possibility of being scammed.

        So you have finally decided to buy a new car. Congratulations. Now, what are you going to do with your old car?You have a number of optio...
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      16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom: Do These Shows Hurt or Help Teenagers?

      Some experts believe the show is just what teens need to educate them about pregnancy

      Maybe you’ve caught it already maybe you haven’t, but surely you’ve at least heard of the reality documentary-styled MTV show “16 & Pregnant” and its  successor “Teen Mom.”

      The series first aired in the summer of 2009 and since its debut, reviews of the show have stemmed from, “I kind of like this show, I think it’s helpful for some teenagers," to “This is so exploitive, I’ll never let my child even get a peek at this stupid show.”

      Possibly a good mediator between the opposing opinions is a study conducted by The National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The non-profit group says that programs like 16 & Pregnant have really helped teenagers by truly depicting how difficult life is for young mothers still in high school.

      For those who have never seen the show, it centers on a group of 16-year-old mothers from different parts of the U.S. and each teenage girl is followed by cameras in their own individual story. Both 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom show portrayals of struggle, as each character faces a bevy of challenges which are all related to being pregnant as a teen.

      More good than bad

      Most of the characters on the show deal with issues like fighting with  suddenly disinterested boyfriends, to arguing with frustrated parents, to coping with a bunch of financial challenges. And the folks at the National Campaign believe the show does more good than bad when it comes to preventing teen pregnancy. In fact, they believe 16 & Pregnant only does  good for young people.

      In a survey of 1,008 kids from ages 12 to 19 who have watched 16 & Pregnant, 82 percent believe the show helps them and other teens grasp the real obstacles of teen pregnancy as well as becoming a parent. The study also revealed that 79 percent of teenage girls and 67 percent of teenage boys said 16 & Pregnant makes them think about the challenges of teen pregnancy, especially if they see a character they like have difficulties on the show.

      In addition, 76 percent of teens said a good way to initiate frank sex talks with their parents is by seeing something on TV about relationships, sex or love, and 48 percent of teens said they actually have these types of conversations with their folks after seeing programs like 16 & Pregnant or Teen Mom.

      Amy R. Kramer of The National Campaign said 16 & Pregnant does a stellar job of showing realistic portrayals of teenagers having babies, and she feels the show doesn’t exploit young pregnancy; it actually informs teens about  specific dangers.

      “The way pregnancy and parenthood are portrayed isn’t glorified or glamorous,” she said about the MTV show. “It’s upfront and honest. I don’t think you can sit through any episode and say, ‘Wow that looks awesome.’ "

      Fame and notoriety

      Paul Wright, an assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences, says that 16 & Pregnant does depict bits of reality as it pertains to teenagers having children, but the popularity of the show can send the message that becoming pregnant during your teen years could get you a little fame and notoriety.  

      “The programs were developed to show young women how difficult it is to be a teen mom,” he said.

      “They were intended to be program-length public service announcements discouraging teen pregnancy. But critics said the programs send mixed messages. My viewing of the programs suggested the same. On one hand, the programs do show many of the difficulties teen mothers face. But on the other hand, they sometimes seem to send the message that getting pregnant was all for the best,” Wright said.

      However Bill Albert, a spokesman for the National Campaign strongly disagrees with the criticism the show has received, and says television is just the most convenient target to blame for some of society’s most consistent ills.

      “Entertainment media is one of the nation’s favorite punching bags, but we have to acknowledge that when we’re talking about teen pregnancies media can be and often is a force for good, and that is particularly true when it comes to show like 16 & Pregnant.”

      “Some critics say these shows glamorize teen pregnancy, but our survey data shows that’s not the case. That not only do they not glamorize it, but teens who have seen it suggest it makes the realities of teen parenthood more real to them,” he said.

      All-time low

      According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention teen pregnancy has hit an all-time low, as in the year 2010, 367,752 babies were born to teenage mothers ages 15 through 19, which is a 9 percent drop compared to the previous year.

      It’s safe to assume that hardly anybody would say the lower numbers of teen pregnancy is attributed to the folks at MTV, 16 & Pregnant or Teen Mom, but Albert believes at the very least the show is a conversation starter, which could be the highest hurdle to leap for any parent when it comes to discussing sex or pregnancy with their children.

      “What you seen on TV as a parent isn’t always exactly what you’d want your teen to know or say or see, but it does deflect the conversation from, ‘What are you doing? To more of an abstract, and that can be a good way to start conversations,” he said. “The fact is this is not your parents sex talk, not a one-time white knuckle conversation, but this should be an 18-year conversation that you’re having with your kids.”

      Maybe you’ve caught it already maybe you haven’t, but surely you’ve at least heard of the reality documentary styled MTV show “16&n...
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      What's Up With the Consumerist Being Down?

      Popular site is trying to get back online after being attacked

      The Consumerist is one of those sites that people either love or hate. Owned by Consumers Union, the not-for-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, the site is a free-wheeling forum where consumers and columnists spin yarns that horrify other consumers and infuriate the companies who are cast as the villains.

      But for the last few days, the Consumerist has been absent from the Web and is only now beginning to get itself back together. Consumerist is quite clear about one thing: it's still not quite sure what happened but in a posting this afternoon, Consumerist's executive editor, Meg Marco, said that on Sept. 20, the site began getting reports that some its pages had been altered and were redirecting traffic to spam websites.

      "We took the site down as quickly as possible and began investigating," Marco said. While the investigation continues, Marco said a new site was being built at a different hosting provider and would be appearing around the country gradually.

      At least for now, the new site will not include comments from readers, Marco cautioned.

      "Consumerist feels really strongly about not sharing our user’s personal information with outside organizations who may want to use it for commercial interests. ... While we build something that meets our needs (and yours) Consumerist will temporarily not feature commenting. We are sorry for the inconvenience, and hope to have commenting back soon," she said.

      Marco said it's too soon to say whether Consumerist readers' user names and passwords were hacked, but noted that it's always good practice to use a different password on every site.

      Marco also said it's not possible to say whether malware was downloaded onto Consumerist readers' sites and recommended that concerned users should check their anti-virus program and go to StopBadware.org for more information on safe browsing.

      Readers complain

      Consumerist readers have been quick to complain about the handling of the incident and say they were kept in the dark. 

      One reader posting on Consumerist's Facebook page said he had emailed the president of Consumers Union, Jim Guest, every day asking for information but had not received a reply.

      Noting that Consumerist staffers have not posted or Tweeted, some readers see a conspiracy while others see Consumers Union setting a poor example by leaving its readers -- who must be considered consumers even though they do not pay to view the site -- in the dark about possible threats to their personal information.

      "Consumerist.com is truly no better than any other company that they trash on a daily basis. This is an epic fail for the Consumerist and heads should roll over this fiasco," said Jeff Talbert in a Facebook posting earlier today.

      Consumerist spokesmen told ConsumerAffairs late today there is no conspiracy of silence and that it has simply been an all-hands effort to identify the problem and pitch in to get at least a skeletal version of the site back online. 

        f you are a regular reader of FoodBeat, you’ve probably noticed that we regularly post stories from the Consumerist. In the last...
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      Wells Fargo Takes Its Hits, U.S. Bancorp, PNC Next in Line

      Cyber attacks are tied to online video that insults the prophet Muhammad

      The online video that insults the prophet Muhammad has sparked a crisis in the Middle East and isn't doing much to make life easier for banking customers in the U.S. either.

      Cyber attacks blocked Wells Fargo's site in much of the country today and U.S. Bancorp and PNC are said to be next on the list.  Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase were all hit earlier. 

      The disruptions were caused by what are known as denial of service attacks, in which massive numbers of computers hit sites simultaneously, flooding them with requests that cause the sites to either go down or operate at a crawl.

      Consumers rate Wells Fargo

      A group calling itself the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed responsibility for the attacks and says they will continue until that controversial video is taken down.

      The Wells Fargo site was completely unreachable for much of today, creating cries of anguish and outrage from many of its 21 million online customers.

      Many customers have blamed the banks for the attacks, although experts say there is little that anyone can do to defend against massive distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, so called because they use thousands of computers all around the world to mount simultaneous attacks that overwhelm not just the targeted sites but, in many cases, other sites hosted within the same data centers.

      Wells Fargo issued a statement apologizing for the outage. 

      "We are working to quickly resolve this issue. Customers can still access their accounts through our ATMs, stores and by phone," the bank said in a statement.

      The online video that insults the prophet Muhammad has sparked a crisis in the Middle East and isn't doing much to make life easier for banking customers i...
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      Amtrak Now Testing Trains That Go 165 MPH

      Trips from Washington D.C. to New York could be quite painless. Then again ...

      How fast is the fastest train you’ve ever ridden? If you’ve been to places like China you have possibly ridden on that country’s 268-mph locomotive or maybe you’ve been to Europe and taken their train that whips through the continent at a cool 200 mph.

      Well, if you haven't had the opportunity to ride these trains, you might get your chance right here in the good old U.S. of A, as Amtrak is currently making test runs in the Northeast section of the country with  new trains that go 165 mph, making the trip from Washington D.C. to New York City in less than three hours, reports indicate.

      Amtrak is currently making the test runs at 165 mph, which is the current U.S. record for fastest passenger trains, and testing will be conducted from Perryville, Md. to Wilmington, Del.

      The company is also testing trains from Trenton to New Brunswick N.J. and if all goes well, the new trains along with an updated track system will be up and ready for business by 2017, Amtrak says.

      It’s been some pretty trying times for the government-owned railroad. With the emergence of mom and pop bus companies, along with constant airline deals being offered on travel sites, many people have put Amtrak last on their list when it comes to making their travel plans.

      Also, Amtrak’s prices have seemed to only get ridiculously higher, and many passengers believe the raised prices haven’t been used to improve service, or maintain proper scheduling. Some of our readers have experienced this lack of company growth first hand.

      Consumers rate Amtrak

      “It was my first experience on Amtrak, so I booked the ticket with no prejudice about the company,” wrote Andrea in our ConsumerAffairs Complaints and Review section. “It was a pretty short commute from Trenton (N.J.) to Baltimore (MD), just a one hour and 40-minute ride. Well, in theory it was only a 1:40 trip but because the train had a two hour delay, my supposed time was doubled.”

      And “the train was very dirty,” she added. “I don’t think that having a carpet on the floor was a very hygienic idea from the beginning but at least keep it clean. “In short, $109 for a one way ticket with two hours delay, a train as dirty as a Times Square sidewalk after the New Year’s Eve ceremony and no Wi-Fi service was definitely not with it,” she wrote.

      A ConsumerAffairs colleague recently took a Northeast regional train from Washington, D.C., to Newark, N.J., and found it excessively bucolic.

      "We crept slowly through the countryside, making it possible to count the leaves on the trees," he grumped. "Boaters on the Delaware had time to turn around and 'moon' us as the train made its stately journey northward. Not really the scenery I was hoping for."

      $450 million

      The new Acela was recently tested from Westerly to Cranston, R.I. and in Massachusetts from South Attleboro to Readville, and after Amtrak’s expected $450 million upgrade it’s hoping to make itself the primary way of travel for passengers, especially for people in the Northeast Corridor.

      Critics of the new Acela trains, say the smaller and local train stops will not be able to benefit from the upgraded trains and faster service, since it was reported that the upgrade would only be in major train hubs like New York’s Penn Station or Baltimore’s Union Station.

      Todd O’Donnell, who co-owns a train station in New London, Conn., says Amtrak has no plans to make stops with the new Acela in any of the Connecticut cities, which he feels defeats the purpose of even going forward with an upgrade. He also says the state will suffer fiscally as a result.

      “This will have a major impact on the economic vitality of southeastern Connecticut going forward,” he said.

      According to Amtrak, the upgrade will also consist of new commuter rail tunnels that go beneath the Hudson River to Manhattan, and a new station in New Jersey is also supposed to be constructed. Both projects, collectively known as the Gateway Program, which also includes other upgrades in the New York-New Jersey area is said to be completed by the time the new Acelas hit the tracks.

      How fast is the fastest train you’ve ever been on? If you’ve been to places like China you possibly ridden on the country’s 268 mph ...
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      Who's No. 1 In Internet Freedom? Would You Believe -- Estonia?

      U.S. is falling farther behind other developed countries in terms of speed, cost and broadband availability

      Next time you feel standing up in your seat and chanting, "We're No. 1," it might be a good idea to define your terms just a little. If it's the Internet you're talking about, the United States is actually No. 2. Iran, Cuba, and China were dead last.

      That's according to the annual Freedom House transparency and access report, Freedom on the Net, which found that slow and gentrified broadband access and occasional government intrusion stunted the U.S. to the No. 2 spot, with the tiny Eastern European technological powerhouse, Estonia, taking the gold medal.

      What does Estonia have that we don't?

      Well, online voting for one thing. Free access to online medical records for another. Not to mention the most widespread broadband access in the world.

      “Although the United States is one of the most connected countries in the world, it has fallen behind many other developed nations in terms of Internet speed, cost, and broadband availability,” explains the report. The U.S. lags behind Japan, South Korea, Norway and Sweden in access to blistering fast Internet (average peak speeds in Hong Kong — 49 Mbps — are nearly twice that of the U.S. — 28 Mbps).

      Repression increases

      The U.S. is also falling behind other nations in how well it protects freedom of speech online.

      Brutal attacks against bloggers, politically motivated surveillance, proactive manipulation of Web content, and restrictive laws regulating speech online are among the diverse threats to internet freedom emerging over the past two years, according to the Freedom House report.

      And it's not just government agencies that are putting the screws to Internet content.

      “The findings clearly show that threats to internet freedom are becoming more diverse. As authoritarian rulers see that blocked websites and high-profile arrests draw local and international condemnation, they are turning to murkier—but no less dangerous—methods for controlling online conversations,” said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net at Freedom House.

      The battle over internet freedom comes at a time when nearly one third of the world’s population has used the internet. Governments are responding to the increased influence of the new medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users.

      The methods of control are becoming more sophisticated, and tactics previously evident in only the most repressive environments — such as governments instigating deliberate connection disruptions or hiring armies of paid commentators to manipulate online discussions — are appearing in a wider set of countries.

      Key trends

      The report identified these emerging trends:

      • New laws restrict free speech: In 19 of the 47 countries examined, new laws or directives have been passed since January 2011 that either restrict online speech, violate user privacy, or punish individuals who post content deemed objectionable or undesirable.
      • Bloggers and ordinary users increasingly face arrest for political speech on the web:  In 26 of the 47 countries, including several democratic states, at least one blogger or ICT user was arrested for content posted online or sent via text message.
      • Physical attacks against government critics are intensifying: In 19 of the 47 countries assessed, a blogger or internet user was tortured, disappeared, beaten, or brutally assaulted as a result of their online posts. In five countries, an activist or citizen journalist was killed in retribution for posting information that exposed human rights abuses.
      • Paid commentators, hijacking attacks are proliferating: The phenomenon of paid pro-government commentators has spread over the past two years from a small set of countries to 14 of the 47 countries examined. Meanwhile, government critics faced politically motivated cyberattacks in 19 of the countries covered.
      • Surveillance is increasing, with few checks on abuse: In 12 of the 47 countries examined, a new law or directive disproportionately enhanced surveillance or restricted user anonymity. In authoritarian countries, surveillance often targets government critics.
      • Citizen pushback is yielding results: A significant uptick in civic activism related to internet freedom, alongside important court decisions, has produced notable victories in a wide set of countries. Advocacy campaigns, mass demonstrations, website blackouts, and constitutional court decisions have resulted in censorship plans being shelved, harmful legislation being overturned, and jailed activists being released. In 23 of the 47 countries assessed, at least one such victory occurred.
      Next time you feel standing up in your seat and chanting, "We're No. 1," it might be a good idea to define your terms just a little. If it's the Internet y...
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      Big Lots Recalls Garden Swings

      The Swing seat could break, causing a falling hazard

      Big Lots of Columbus, OH, is recalling about 6,900 Wilson & Fisher garden swings. 

      The wooden swing’s seat can break while in use, posing a fall hazard to the consumer. Big Lots has received 14 reports of swing seats breaking, resulting in four reports of back pain and five reports of scratches and scrapes. 

      This recall involves Wilson & Fisher log-style swing sets sold in a natural wood finish. The swing’s two-person bench seat is suspended between two wooden A-frame supports. Assembly instructions sold with the swings have item number JY1107 and SKU number 210020400 printed on the sheet. 

      The swings, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Big Lots stores nationwide from March 2012 through June 2012 for about $130. 

      Consumers should stop using the recalled swing sets, detach the bench seat and return it to any Big Lots store for a full refund. Consumers should destroy the remaining components. 

      For additional information, consumers should contact the firm toll-free at (866) 244-5687 between 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

      Big Lots of Columbus, OH, is recalling about 6,900 Wilson & Fisher garden swings. The wooden swing’s seat can break while in use, posing a fall hazard to...
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      Falcon Trading Company/SunRidge Farms Recalls Products Containing Peanut Butter

      Recall is tied to problem with its peanut butter supplier

      Falcon Trading Company, Inc./SunRidge Farms of Royal Oaks, CA, is recalling the following three bulk items:

      RE: Sunridge Farms – Energy Nuggets

      Item Code

      UPC Code

      Item Description
      Pack Size
      Case Quantity
      Lot Codes
      022160086700221600Sunridge Candy - Energy Nuggets10 Pound Case852 Cases2351244; 2361244; 2411244; 2421244; 1851217; 1871217; 1881817; 1911217; 1921217; 1931217; 1941217; 1951217

      RE: Sunridge Farms - Peanut Butter Power Chews

      Item Code

      UPC Code

      Item Description
      Pack Size
      Case Quantity
      Lot Codes
      500200086700902004Sunridge Candy - Peanut Butter Power Chews10 Pound Case1846 Cases

      2511230; 2541230; 2551230; 2561230
      2361214; 2371214; 2401214; 2211283
      2221283; 2271283; 2281283; 2011212
      2021212; 2051212; 2061212; 2071212
      2081212; 1711269; 1721269; 1731269;      1741269; 1771269; 1781269

      RE: Sunridge Farms - Treasure Trove Mix

      Item Code

      UPC Code

      Item Description
      Pack Size
      Case Quantity
      Lot Codes
      430110086700301104Sunridge Snack Mix - Treasure Trove Mix20 Pound Case50 Cases2051213; 2271263

      The products contain peanut butter supplied by Sunland, which initiated a voluntary recall of all peanut butter products manufactured between May 1, 2012, and September 24, 2012, "because the products may have the potential to be contaminated with salmonella." 

      No illnesses have been reported in connection with the SunRidge Farms recalled product and no other SunRidge Farms products are being recalled at this time. 

      Consumers who have purchased the above items should return them to the retail store where they were purchased for a full refund. Anyone with questions should call Falcon Trading Company's customer service at 1-831-786-7000.

      Falcon Trading Company, Inc./SunRidge Farms of Royal Oaks, CA, recalling the following three bulk items. The products contain peanut butter supplied by S...
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      Study: Many Texting Drivers Unaware They're Doing It

      We tend to automatically respond to 'texting cues'

      If you ask a friend if he texts while driving, he'll likely say "no," or "not much." But after observing him behind the wheel for a while, you might find he checks his phones for messages a lot.

      It's common, say researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M). When people check their cell phones without thinking about it, the habit represents a type of automatic behavior, or automaticity, the researchers say. Automaticity, which was the key variable in the study, is triggered by situational cues and lacks control, awareness, intention and attention.

      "In other words, some individuals automatically feel compelled to check for, read and respond to new messages, and may not even realize they have done so while driving until after the fact," said Joseph Bayer, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies and the study's lead author.

      Safety issue

      Texting behind the wheel has become a major highway safety concern as smartphones have proliferated. And it's not just teens who fall victim to the habit; adults can be offenders too.

      The U-M study identifies the role of unconscious thought processes in texting and driving, making it different from other research that has focused on the effects of this behavior. The U-M study investigates the role of habit in texting while driving, with a focus on how, rather than how much, the behavior is carried out.

      Many people have phones that vibrate when a new message is received. Or, the phone makes a sound. These can be texting cues that people respond to automatically.

      "In the case of more habitual behavior, reacting to these cues becomes automatic to the point that the person may do so without even meaning to do it," said Scott Campbell, associate professor of communication studies at U-M.

      Automatic tendencies

      The study tried to determine subjects' level of automatic response and frequency of texting, as well as their attitudes about texting behind the wheel. The findings show that automatic tendencies are a significant and positive predictor of both sending and reading texts behind the wheel, even when accounting for how much individuals text overall, norms and attitudes. It found that not all drivers pose the same risk.

      "Two mobile phone users, then, could use their devices at an equal rate, but differ in the degree to which they perform the behavior automatically," Campbell said.

      Bayer says the implications of the study may help provide solutions to texting and driving. He says the current campaigns to stop people from texting while driving aren't as effective if individuals don't realize how much they are doing it.

      "By targeting these automatic mechanisms, we can design specific self-control strategies for drivers," he said.

      If you ask a friend if they text while driving, they'll like say no, or "not much." But after observing them behind the wheel for a while, you might find t...
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      Chattanooga Bakery Recalls Peanut Butter Crunch Products

      Recall is tied to problem with its supplier of peanut butter

      Chattanooga Bakery, maker of MoonPie and LookOut! branded snacks, is recalling a limited number of its Peanut Butter Crunch products with “Best By” dates of 02/26/13, 03/25/13, and 04/29/13. 

      No other Chattanooga Bakery / MoonPie / LookOut products are affected by this recall. 

      The was initiated upon learning that the firm's peanut butter supplier, Sunland, has recalled product produced from May 1st, 2012 - September 24th, 2012. Sunland says 29 people have reported Salmonella Bredeney PFGE matching illnesses in approximately 18 states. These illnesses were associated with Sunland's Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter. 

      Chattanooga Bakery’s Peanut Butter Crunch products (9.6 ounce multipack and 2.4 ounce twin pack) have not been associated with any of the reported illnesses. Customers who have purchased this item are urged not to eat the product, and to dispose of it or return it to the retailer for a full refund. 

      For further information, contact Chattanooga Bakery’s customer service at (423) 267 ‐ 3351.

      Chattanooga Bakery, maker of MoonPie and LookOut! branded snacks, is recalling a limited number of its Peanut Butter Crunch products with “Best By” dates o...
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      Why Your Home's Value May Be Rising

      The economy may still be sluggish but home values are headed higher

      After years of watching the equity in their homes plummet, U.S. homeowners may be a bit skeptical about recent predictions that the housing market is about to turn. But the latest statistics suggest it's true and the Federal Reserve appears determined to give home prices a boost.

      The Commerce Department reports sales of new homes decreased slightly from July but the median price of a new home rose to $256,000 -- the highest since March 2007. The day before that report was released the S&P Case-Shiller Indices showed all 20 monitored cities recorded price gains in July.

      "We have seen home construction and new home sales soar by twenty percent this year while existing housing demand is up by over seven percent," said economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisers, in Holland, PA. "All this increase in activity is leading a rebound in housing prices."

      Rising despite the drag

      But unemployment remains stuck over eight percent and mortgage companies, despite record low rates, are making fewer loans because fewer buyers can meet new qualification standards. So why are home prices rising?

      Part of it goes back to supply and demand. While demand is less than it once was, it's still there and it's fairly constant month after month. But have you noticed the size of real estate magazines lately? While they were once as thick as a phone book they now are paper-thin.

      With a smaller inventory of homes for sale, the consumers who want to buy them have fewer to choose from and less bargaining power. That allows homeowners who want to sell to demand more.

      Reasons for falling inventory

      Inventory is falling because many homeowners who would like to sell their homes are still under water. They owe more than their homes are worth.

      Some homeowners who want to sell eventually are in no hurry, sensing the market is beginning to turn. If they wait to sell, they conclude they'll get more for their homes.

      Finally, for whatever reason, fewer foreclosures are coming on the market. Many were held back while major lenders worked out a settlement with the states and the U.S. government. Now that the settlement has been reached, some long-delayed foreclosures are being sold but the number remains subdued in many states.

      The Fed's role

      The Federal Reserve's latest round of Quantitative Easing (QE) appears aimed, in part, at encouraging these recent trends and boost home values even more. The Fed has committed itself to purchasing massive amounts of mortgage-backed securities for the foreseeable future.

      If the Fed is increasing the demand for these securities, it stands to reason that it would be increasingly profitable -- and less risky -- to create more of them. But to create more mortgage-backed securities, banks must first create more mortgages.

      To create more mortgages, banks will need to loosen the very tight lending standards they instituted after the housing meltdown. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has spent the last four years begging the mortgage industry to just use the lending standards that were in place before the housing bubble began to inflate.

      If they were to do that, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun has predicted home sales would surge 15 percent. A pick-up in sales that large would undoubtedly boost home prices even more.

        After years of watching the equity in their homes plummet, U.S. homeowners may be a bit skeptical about recent predictions that the housing...
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