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    Payday Loans: The road to continuing debt

    Research shows most payday loans are rolled over or renewed

    Very often we hear something described as, 'the gift that keeps on giving.” Well, here's something that keeps on taking.

    According to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), four out of five payday loans are rolled over or renewed within 14 days. Additionally, the majority of all payday loans are made to borrowers who renew their loans so many times that they end up paying more in fees than the amount of money they originally borrowed.

    Debra of Marrero, La. can relate to that. She says she had an account with Payday-Loan-Yes.com several years ago. "When I attempted to pay the last payment, I notified them that my bank account had changed. I sent them the correct account number before payment was done," she writes in a ConsumerAffairs post. "Guess what?? They attempted to draft the wrong account. I notified them verbally and via fax a second time of the new account. Never heard anything from them. Now, 6 plus years later, a law firm has my account and they want $1890.00 for a $300.00 dollar loan. They must be out of their minds. I will pay the $300 but the rest, they can stick it!!"

    “We are concerned that too many borrowers slide into the debt traps that payday loans can become,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “As we work to bring needed reforms to the payday market, we want to ensure consumers have access to small-dollar loans that help them get ahead, not push them farther behind.”

    Payday loans are typically described as a way to bridge a cash flow shortage between paychecks or other income. Also known as “cash advances” or “check loans,” they are usually expensive, small-dollar loans, of generally $500 or less. They can offer quick and easy accessibility, especially for consumers who may not qualify for other credit.

    A million loans per month

    The report, based on data from a 12-month period with more than 12 million storefront payday loans, is a continuation of the work in last year’s CFPB report on Payday Loans and Deposit Advance Products -- one of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken on the market. That report raised questions about the loose lending standards, high costs, and risky loan structures that may contribute to the sustained use of these products.

    This latest report provides a deeper analysis of the data, focusing on repeated borrowing by consumers after they take out an initial payday loan. A primary driver of the cost of payday loans is that consumers may roll over the loans or engage in re-borrowing within a short window of time after repaying their first loan. The study, the most in-depth analysis of this pattern to date, looks at not only the initial loans but also loans taken out within 14 days of paying off the old loans; it considers these subsequent loans to be renewals and part of the same “loan sequence.”

    Revolving doors of debt

    By focusing on payday loan renewals, the study found that a large share of consumers end up in cycles of repeated borrowing and incur significant costs over time. Specifically, the study found:

    • Four out of 5 payday loans are rolled over or renewed: More than 80% of them are rolled over or renewed within two weeks. The study found that when looking at 14-day windows in the states that have cooling-off periods that reduce the level of same-day renewals, the renewal rates are nearly identical to states without these limitations.
    • Three out of 5 payday loans are made to borrowers whose fee expenses exceed amount borrowed: Over 60% of loans are made to borrowers in the course of loan sequences lasting 7 or more loans in a row. Roughly half of all loans are made to borrowers in the course of loan sequences lasting 19 or more loans in a row.
    • One out of 5 new payday loans end up costing the borrower more than the amount borrowed: For 48% of all initial payday loans -- those that are not taken out within 14 days of a prior loan -- borrowers are able to repay the loan with no more than 1 renewal. But for 22% of new loans, borrowers end up renewing their loans 6 times or more. With a typical payday fee of 15%, consumers who take out an initial loan and 6 renewals will have paid more in fees than the original loan amount.
    • Four out of 5 payday borrowers either default or renew a payday loan over the course of a year: Only 15% of borrowers repay all of their payday debts when due without re-borrowing within 14 days; 20% default on a loan at some point; and 64% renew at least 1 loan 1 or more times. Defaulting on a payday loan may cause the consumer to incur bank fees. Renewing loans repeatedly can put consumers on a slippery slope toward a debt trap where they cannot get ahead of the money they owe.
    • Four out of 5 payday borrowers who renew end up borrowing the same amount or more: Specifically, more than 80% of borrowers who rolled over loans owed as much or more on the last loan in a loan sequence than the amount they borrowed initially. These consumers are having trouble getting ahead of the debt. The study also found that as the number of rollovers increases, so too does the percentage of borrowers who increase their borrowing.
    • One out of 5 payday borrowers on monthly benefits trapped in debt: The study also looked at payday borrowers who are paid on a monthly basis and found 1 out of 5 remained in debt the entire year of the CFPB study. Payday borrowers who fall into this category include elderly Americans or disability recipients receiving Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability.

    The CFPB has authority to oversee the payday loan market. In November 2013, it began accepting complaints from borrowers encountering problems with payday loans.

    Very often we hear something described as, 'the gift that keeps on giving.” Well, here's something that keeps on taking. According to a report from the Co...
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    e-Book publishers dish out $166 million to readers in antitrust settlement

    Five of six publishers have settled; Apple is still fighting the allegations

    Now and then, struggling writers manage to get a few bucks for their efforts. But this week, it's readers who'll be getting paid. 

    That's because five of the six biggest publishers of e-books will be sending more than $166 million to consumers, as either checks or a credit to their account. It's part of a settlement involving the publishers and 33 states.

     The states sued publishers Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Simon & Schuster Inc., Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, d/b/a Macmillan, and Penguin Group (USA) Inc., alleging anticompetitive activity. The publishers agreed to settle the suit by making the payments that will be going out this week.

    A sixth publisher, Apple, Inc., refused to settle and went to trial. A court found that the publishers and Apple had engaged in an illegal conspiracy that restricted price competition and raised the retail prices of e-books. Apple has appealed and that case is still pending.

    “Illegal actions by these publishers forced consumers in New York and across the nation to pay artificially inflated prices for e-books,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “Companies engaging in such anticompetitive conduct will be punished — and starting today, those injured by their actions will start to receive full and fair compensation.”

    Under the settlements, consumers in the 33 states who purchased e-books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo or Apple will automatically receive a credit on their e-book accounts. Purchasers of e-books from Sony will automatically receive refund checks in the mail.

    Consumers who purchased e-books from other retailers, and who filed a timely claim form with the Settlement Administrator, will receive refund checks in the mail.

    For more information on the settlements, visit www.ebookagsettlements.com.

    Now and then, struggling writers manage to get a few bucks for their efforts. But this week, it's readers who'll be getting paid. That's because fiv...
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    Potholes more than just a nuisance

    They cause real damage to your car

    Yes, the winter of 2013-14 was a tough one, with ice and snow covering wide swaths of the nation for weeks on end. But now that spring has officially arrived, don't expect winter to go quietly. It's leaving behind a jarring reminder of its presence.

    Potholes.

    Anyone who drives is familiar with the pothole. It forms in an asphalt roadway, especially after a harsh winter. The combination of moisture in the soil underneath and the constant pressure of traffic above causes asphalt to weaken and open holes.

    A proliferation of potholes can be a challenge, not only for motorists but for states and municipalities that must budget for street repair. In Hoboken, N.J., the Jersey Journal reports there are so many potholes on city streets that residents are besieging City Hall with complaints.

    The city, for its part, says it's doing the best it can. A city spokesman says the city has already filled more than 1,000 potholes this year.

    Other cities, especially in the northeast, are also coping with a rising number of potholes. The Boston Globe reports the City of Boston has filled more than 8,800 potholes so far this year, but not in time to prevent damage to cars and trucks that hit them. Car repair shops report damage, not just to tires but also to suspensions and axles.

    Serious threat

    The Rubber Manufacturers Association, the national trade association for tire manufacturers that produce tires in the U.S., warns drivers that potholes comprise a serious threat.

    "Potholes are a driving hazard that can cause significant damage to your vehicle and ruin a tire," said Dan Zielinski, RMA senior vice president, public affairs. "Motorists should be extra careful to avoid potholes but if you hit one, you need to have your vehicle and tires checked for damage."

    When you hit a pothole you may immediately realize you have suffered damage. Hitting a pothole can actually puncture the tire or otherwise cause it to deflate. But sometimes you may not notice a problem until later, when you realize the car isn't handling quite the same way.

    "If you notice a change in your vehicle after hitting a pothole, have it inspected immediately," Zielinski said. "Hitting a pothole can affect wheel alignment. Failure to address faulty alignment could cause uneven and premature tire wear."

    Eight signs you have a problem

    Car repair shops see a lot of tire and wheel damage during especially severe pothole seasons. Tuffy Tire & Auto Service, an automotive service franchise, has published a list of 8 signs that the pothole you hit has caused damage to your vehicle. They are:

    • The vehicle rolls or sways on turns.
    • The vehicle’s front-end dives when braking.
    • The vehicle’s rear end squats when accelerating.
    • The vehicle bounces or slides sideways on a winding, rough road.
    • The vehicle “bottoms out” or thumps on bumps.
    • The vehicle sits lower in the front or rear.
    • The vehicle is leaking or has signs of physical damage, such as rusting or dents.
    • There’s a loss of directional control during sudden stops of the vehicle.

    “No matter where you drive these days, there’s a pothole epidemic and as winter turns to spring, it’s only going to get worse,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Drivers know immediately when they hit a pothole, but what they don’t know is if their vehicle has been damaged in the process. While tires and wheels can be visually checked, potholes can also cause considerable damage to the steering, suspension and alignment systems that you just can’t see.”

    Meanwhile, avoiding potholes is your best defense against vehicle damage. While that may not be as simple as it sounds, the Weather Channel has come up with a list of tips that might help.

    Yes, the winter of 2013-14 was a tough one, with ice and snow covering wide swaths of the nation for weeks on end. But now that spring has officially arriv...
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      Ray-Ban, Oakley will frame Google Glass

      Can Italian design turn nerdy into neoclassic?

      Let's be honest -- Google Glass is generally regarded as pretty nerdy and anybody wearing the face-mounted gadget risks ridicule, at least in some quarters.

      But that may change, now that Google has brought Italian eyewear maker Luxottica, owner of the Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglass brands, into the mix. Luxottica has agreed to design, develop and distribute new versions of Google's Web-connected eyewear.

      “We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Google, and are proud to be once again setting the pace in the eyewear industry, as we have been, with more than 50 years of excellence,” said Andrea Guerra, Chief Executive Officer of Luxottica Group.

      It's not just Luxottica that sees Google Glass as a potential savior of the somewhat moribund eyewear business; VSP Global agreed in January to offer prescription lenses and frames for use with Glass.

      Give up their contacts?

      After all, with the possible exception of sunglasses and designer frames, eyeglasses are not exactly a sexy product, so it's not surprising that the eyewear biz is hoping Glass can brighten things up a bit. Who knows? Techies may even forsake their contacts in favor of a snazzy Google Glass/Ray-Ban look.

      "Google has opened up a new potential opportunity of use of glasses," said Guerra, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal

      Google executives have admitted that they have a long way to go in persuading masses of consumers to wear their computer on their face. Technically, Glass is fine but from a fashion standpoint, it has a long way to go.

      Luxottica notes in a press release, however, that it "has a 10-year heritage in wearable technology that has evolved from MP3 to HUD devices" whatever they may be. 

      "We have come to a point where we now have both a technology push and a consumer pull for wearable technology products and applications," Guerra said. "Seeing such a future, over the last years, Luxottica invested heavily in building-out our technology platforms and digital solutions to combine with our products excellence. 

      Let's be honest -- Google Glass is generally regarded as pretty nerdy and anybody wearing the face-moun...
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      A consumer confidence rebound

      There's a sense of optimism about what lies ahead

      While consumers don't much like what they are seeing now, they are optimistic about the future.

      The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index, which had decreased in February, rose 4 points in March -- to 82.3. This occurred even as the Present Situation Index dipped a fraction to 80.4 from 81.0, while the Expectations Index shot up 7 points to 83.5.

      The improvement came as expectations for the short-term outlook bounced back from February’s decline. “While consumers were moderately more upbeat about future job prospects and the overall economy, they were less optimistic about income growth,” said Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The Present Situation index, which had been on an upward trend for the past four months, was relatively unchanged in March. Overall, consumers expect the economy to continue improving and believe it may even pick up a little steam in the months ahead.”

      A closer look at consumer attitudes

      Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was little-changed in March.

      • Those saying business conditions are “good” increased to 22.9%t from 21.2%; however, those who think business conditions are “bad” also rose, to 23.2% from 22.0%. Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market also was relatively unchanged.
      • Those who think jobs are “plentiful” decreased 0.3% -- to 13.1%, while those who believe jobs are “hard to get” increased slightly to 33.0% from 32.4%.

      Consumers’ expectations, which fell last month, rebounded in March.

      • The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 18.1% from 17.3%, while those worsening conditions fell 3.4% -- to 10.2 percent%.  

      Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was also moderately more optimistic.  

      • Those expecting more jobs in the months ahead edged up to 13.9% from 13.7%, while those expecting fewer jobs fell to 18.0% from 20.9%.
      • The proportion expecting their incomes to grow declined to 14.9% 15.8%, but those anticipating a decline in their incomes also dropped by 1.3% to 12.1%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was March 14.

      While consumers don't much like what they are seeing now, they are optimistic about the future. The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index...
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      Connecticut Supreme Court to hear Bank of America appeal

      Bank says it is not liable in Catholic school embezzlement scheme

      The state Supreme Court of Connecticut is currently hearing an appeal from Bank of America, which seeks to overthrow a lower court verdict requiring the bank pay $800,000 to a Catholic school that sued BoA for negligence.

      These facts are not in dispute: between 2002 and 2006, a man named Salvatore Licitra Jr. embezzled more than $840,000 from his employer, the St. Bernard School in Uncasville, Connecticut. Licitra was convicted of first-degree larceny in 2008, and is now in prison.

      In 2002, St. Bernard had an account with Fleet Bank, later acquired by Bank of America in 2004. Also in 2002, Licitra opened a new account named “Saint Bernard's High School Norwich Diocese Camp Sunshine, c/o Sal Licitra.”

      Licitra then told various third parties owing money to the school to make checks out to the Camp Sunshine account. He also found other ways to transfer funds from the St. Bernard to the Camp Sunshine account, even though the school says he never had access to the legitimate account in the first place.

      Not liable

      In 2008, St. Bernard sued Bank of America to regain the embezzled funds. Bank of America argued that it was not liable for the money, because the original circa-2002 contracts from Fleet excused the bank from liability.

      But in December 2012 a jury ruled in the school's favor, finding that Bank of America breached its contract with the school and was negligent in allowing Licitra to open the “Camp Sunshine” account and transfer St. Bernard funds into it.

      The Day, daily newspaper for New London, noted at the time that “Court records show the jury found the school had proved a contract existed between the parties and that the bank breached the contract. The jury found the bank's negligence caused 95 percent of the loss and that the school's negligence accounted for 5 percent of the loss.”

      But Bank of America vowed to appeal, and the state Supreme Court is hearing it. The Norwich Bulletin says the appeal alleges that the lower court judge gave improper instructions to the jury:

      In its trial defense, Bank of America said St. Bernard waited too long under the terms of its deposit agreement to make a claim.
      Trial Judge James Devine ruled that the deposit agreement time limit violated a state law that says banks have a responsibility to keep their customers' money safe.
      Devine also told jurors that the time limit could be waived if they found that the bank's later conduct was related to its first actions or if Bank of America had a “special relationship” of continuing trust and duty toward St. Bernard.
      The bank's appeal says the judge's instruction to the jury was improper, and the time limit should be applied.

      The Supreme Court started hearing oral arguments in the case Monday morning, It is not yet known when a verdict will be announced.

      The state Supreme Court of Connecticut is currently hearing an appeal from Bank of America, which seeks to overthrow a lower court verdict requiring the ba...
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      New home sales drop in February

      Some blame the weather, but...

      After posting a gain in January, sales of new single-family homes tapered off last month.

      Figures released by the government show sales were down 3.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 440,000. That's also 1.1% lower than the rate of 445,000 posted a year ago.

      Some analysts are blaming fierce winter weather, yet in the frigid Midwest sales were up 36.7%, while falling 15.9% in the West, where temperatures were a little more moderate.

      Prices down

      Prices, meanwhile, were down 1.2% in February, with the median (half higher and half lower) at $261,800, and the average price at $317,500.

      The estimate of new houses for sale at the end of last month, representing a supply of 5.2 months at the current sales rate.

      The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      FHFA house price index

      A separate government report shows housing prices were on the rise earlier in the year.

      The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports prices in January rose 0.5%. The increase in the agency's monthly House Price Index (HPI) means prices have gone up in 23 of the last 24 months, beginning with February 2012. The decline of 0.1% in the November 2013 HPI was the only exception.

      For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from December 2013 to

      January 2014 ranged from -0.3% in the West South Central division to +1.3%% in the Middle Atlantic division. The 12-month changes were all positive ranging from +3.2% in the Middle Atlantic division to +14.0% inn the Pacific division.  

      After posting a gain in January, sales of new single-family homes tapered off last month. Figures released by the government show sales were down 3.3% to ...
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      Outlet mall shopping: don't bother

      The merchandise you find often doesn't measure up to the goods sold in "real" stores

      The Federal Trade Commission, backed by all the power and majesty of the United States Federal Government, has released for public consumption an informative document titled “Outlet Shopping: getting your money's worth.”

      It isn't a bad piece except it neglected the single most important outlet-shopping money-saving tip of all: “Invent a time machine and travel back maybe 20 years or so, when 'outlet stores' were still relatively rare businesses rather than national-chain tourist traps.”

      I exaggerate, of course; traveling back in time is impossible. But it's no joke that outlet stores were better in the Good Old Days. The FTC's consumer blogger alluded to the reason why when she said, “Even though I write about consumer issues every day, I have to admit that I was clueless that much of the merchandise sold at outlet stores is manufactured exclusively for them, and may be of lesser quality than the merchandise sold at non-outlet retail locations.”

      By contrast: as a longtime thrift shopper, I knew that long before I started writing about consumer issues every day. Since most of my clothes were bought secondhand, the labels in my wardrobe run the gamut from “ludicrously overpriced designer brands” to “average mainstream stuff” and everything in between.

      In the back of my closet hang a few older pieces with labels from a company I won't mention by name, since I'm not in the habit of making endorsements, but it's a geopolitical reference to a corrupt form of fruit-based government I'll call “Kumquat Oligarchy.”

      Anyway, in grad school I often wore Kumquat Oligarchy clothes, because my local thrift shops just happened to sell lots of KO donations in my size. Then the labels started changing. It's been years since I personally recall making a Kumquat Oligarchy thrift-shop purchase — but I do have a few pullover tops whose labels read “Kumquat Oligarchy Outlet Store” and, yeah: even taking secondhand wear and tear into consideration, the KO outlet clothes just don't have the same quality as the old KO Classic pieces had. Nor is Kumquat Oligarchy the only company to do this — my dresser drawers are full of clothes whose labels read “[More-expensive-than-average clothing brand] Outlet Store.”

      A place to unload

      In the Good Old Days, you'd never see specific “outlet store” labels; if a manufacturer did run its own brand-specific outlet store, it was simply a place to unload stock it couldn't sell elsewhere, either due to a manufacturing flaw, because the item's discontinued or because the company simply produced more than its retail middlemen could sell.

      Now manufacturers are more likely to view outlet stores as the junior-varsity version of their regular offerings. Or, as the FTC blogger put it: “The industry says it’s responding to customer demand for merchandise that’s similar to what’s sold in the regular retail stores, but at a lower price point.”

      Which is a diplomatic way of saying they manufacture cheaper knock-offs of the more expensive originals. The FTC even offers examples of how that's done: “plastic might replace leather trim on a jacket, or a t-shirt may have less stitching and a lighter weight fabric.”

      If you want to do true “outlet shopping” as was practiced a generation or so ago, your best bet is to ignore the outlet-mall chains entirely and instead look for discount/overstock stores, which tend to have different names in different regions of the country: depending where you live, you might look for “job lot,” “odd lot,” “overstock,” “bargain outlet” or “markdown” stores. (This list is not remotely meant to be all-inclusive.)

      Such stores usually still have a business model similar to what outlet stores used to be, selling the discontinued, imperfect or overstock items which manufacturers can't or won't sell in regular retail stores.

      However, whether you shop at a job lot or a modern chain “outlet mall” it's still worth keeping the FTC blogger's advice in mind: “It pays to be familiar with the retail prices of items you want to buy so you'll know whether you're really getting a bargain.”

      In other words: just because a store has words like “outlet” or “bargain” in its name, that's still no guarantee it actually offers the best price.

      The Federal Trade Commission, backed by all the power and majesty of the United States Federal Government, has released for public consumption an informati...
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      Should airline 'black boxes' be in the cloud?

      If they were, the disappearance of MH370 might be less of a mystery

      The mystery of the disappearance of Flight MH370 is fueled, in large part, because we just don't know what happened to the Malaysia Airlines jet in the minutes after communication with ground controllers broke off.

      Was the plane hijacked or did it suffer some catastrophic event? We won't know unless or until investigators can recover the “black boxes,” devices that are aboard every commercial airplane.

      There are two black boxes, which are actually orange. One, the Flight Data Recorder, records the activity of aircraft systems. The other, the Cockpit Voice Recorder, records conversation among the flight crew in the cockpit. Located in the tail of the aircraft, these boxes can help investigators piece together the events that lead to a crash.

      No black boxes

      But MH370, along with its black boxes, is nowhere to be found, leaving investigators completely in the dark about what happened to the aircraft, and why. Some aviation experts have argued for some time that technology now allows this data to be available to investigators instantly, long before crews arrive at the scene of an air disaster.

      "It's time to move the black box to 'the cloud' at least for essential limited flight recorder data for long flights over areas like the Indian Ocean, or other remote areas across large land masses like across the Brazilian Amazon," said Oliver McGee, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Technology Policy in the Clinton Administration.

      The idea of remote flight data collection began to get serious discussion following the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, which plunged into the South Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. It took two years to located the wreckage and retrieve the black boxes.

      Time to enter 21st century

      Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, told Reuters the MH370 disappearance is all the more reason to find a way to record at least some of each aircraft's data in the cloud. It's time, he says, to bring accident investigation into the 21st century.

      Some aviation experts say the technology to stream aircraft data to the cloud for real-time access already exists. Others say it's too costly for the industry to justify. But Peter Stewart, senior vice president for strategy and partnerships at technology firm PGi, says it should be a priority.

      "We need to dig deeper into the technical details of retrieval and storage of cloud data systems, as well as, observe how other industries and firms have transformed how they store and transmit data," he said.

      These technology experts concede the enormous bandwidth requirements to transmit constant, real-time data from an aircraft. But they argue limited data retrieval is possible, and is better than no data.

      In fact, planes currently have the capability to transmit limited data about engine performance to remote storage servers. In the case of the missing Malaysia jetliner, there is no evidence any such data was sent or retrieved.

      So, until the black boxes can be located and examined, what happened to MH370 remains a mystery.

      The mystery of the disappearance of Flight MH370 is fueled, in large part, because we just don't know what happened to the Malaysia Airlines jet in the min...
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      GM's handling of ignition-switch redesign raises eyebrows

      Changes were made so secretly that even GM insiders didn't know about them

      General Motors' handling of the faulty ignition switches that caused cars to stall without warning is looking murkier all the time. 

      Automotive News reports today that GM redesigned the switch in 2006, eight years before the recall, without issuing a new part number. Because there was no new part number, engineers investigating reports of cars stalling didn't know about the change, which could have helped them identify the problem earlier.

      The faulty part has been linked to at least 34 crashes and 12 deaths over the past decade, many of them in the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion.

      Failing to assign a new part number would be highly unusual, according to three GM engineers quoted by the industry trade journal.   

      "Changing the fit, form or function of a part without making a part number change is a cardinal sin," said one of the engineers quoted by Automotive News. "It would have been an extraordinary violation of internal processes."

      "Old GM"

      There's a lot at stake for both consumers and GM, because today's GM is not the General Motors that made the changes to the ignition switch. GM, you'll recall, declared bankruptcy in 2009 and today's GM is a different corporate entity.

      GM's lawyers are expected to argue that today's GM bears no responsibility for what "Old GM" did. 

      But consumer lawyers and safety advocates say that if GM intentionally withheld information about the ignition switch problem during the bankruptcy proceeding, the New GM/Old GM legal shield might be vulnerable.

      GM CEO Mary Barra has apologized and ordered an inquiry by an outside investigator and the company has said it will cooperate fully with regulators and government agencies investigating the matter.

      GM has recalled 1.6 million vehicles globally, including 2005-07 Cobalts and 2003-07 Saturn Ions, Pontiac G5s, Pontiac Solstices and Chevrolet HHRs.

      Until the recalled cars are fixed, drivers should put their ignition key on a separate key ring to reduce weight and should also be careful not to bump the switch while driving.

      The faulty ignition switches can switch to the "ACC" position, causing the engine to stop and cutting power to air bags, power steering and power brakes.

      General Motors' handling of the faulty ignition switches that caused cars to stall without warning is looking murkier all the time. Automotive News ...
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      Always broke? Bad financial habits may be partly to blame

      Here are some habits you should probably avoid

      Let's concede from the start that it is very difficult to save money in this economy. Prices keep rising, despite what the official inflation figures say, and incomes have become stagnant.

      But that's all the more reason to maintain best practices when it comes to personal finance. Bad habits with money not only make it harder to save but can keep you in a constant state of being broke.

      Cameron Huddleston, who writes for Kiplinger, recently compiled a list of behaviors that tend to keep consumers' bank accounts empty. While not all apply to everyone who finds themselves always short of cash, just one or two can provide a financial headwind that is difficult to overcome. The first on her list is not finishing school.

      Some might take issue with that since millions of young people graduate from college with staggering debt and no job. But while they may struggle in the short term they often make up for it over the long run.

      “The fact is, according to the Census Bureau, a worker with a bachelor's degree will earn $1 million more over a 40-year career than a worker with just a high school diploma,” Huddleston told ConsumerAffairs.

      Avoid peer pressure

      Keeping up with the Joneses is another route to staying broke. In fact, marketers often rely on peer pressure to boost sales.

      “You see a colleague with a new car and you think, 'Hey, if he can buy a new car I should be able to buy one too,' or a neighbor leaves your neighborhood and buys a very large home – you see people around you with something and you feel entitled to it too,” Huddleston said.

      But what if that colleague is simply trying to keep up with someone else? It's possible they can't really afford it either and if you follow them without determining whether what you are buying is affordable, you'll both end up broke.

      Hardly working

      While it is true that pay raises are harder to come by now, advancing in your career is more important to your financial health than most people realize. Huddleston says it requires your best effort every time you report for work.

      “If you take the attitude that you aren't going to do something if it isn't in your job description you're not going to get ahead,” she said. "You aren't going to get a raise or advance.”

      Not only that, you could be first in line if the company decides it must reduce its workforce.

      Expensive habits

      Another place where consumers run into financial trouble is when they spend too much money on their vices – things like lottery tickets, cigarettes and booze. It may not seem like much money but it adds up quickly.

      “A pack of cigarettes costs, on average, about $6,” Huddleston said. “If you are smoking a pack a day you're spending about $2,000 a year.”

      Even hanging out with the “wrong crowd” can keep you financially deficient. Good habits tend to rub off on others, but by the same token so do bad habits. Associating with people who have their financial act together can help you keep your resolve to meet your financial goals.

      Not having financial goals, on the other hand, makes it harder to save money. Huddleston said having a reason to save, and not spend, makes it more likely that you'll actually be able to put a few dollars away.

      “Why would it matter to you if you were spending $100 a week on lottery tickets if you don't have a better use of your money?” she asked.

      Improving your financial well-being, it turns out, isn't all that different from losing weight or improving your health. It doesn't magically happen by itself. Huddleston says it takes an honest look at all the things you might be doing to contribute to your money woes.

      Let's concede from the start that it is very difficult to save money in this economy. Prices keep rising, despite what the official inflation figures say, ...
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      LifeLock sued by former security officer/whistleblower

      Alleges company turned off customer alerts to reduce service-center calls

      Michael Peters, a former chief information security officer for the identity-theft security firm LifeLock, is suing the company under whistleblower-protection statutes, claiming he was unjustly fired for objecting after the company deliberately turned off or reduced the number of alerts it sent to customers, in order to reduce the number of calls to its customer support center.

      Courthouse News Service broke the story on March 24, noting also that, according to its own archives, LifeLock has been sued more than 80 times in recent years, including a securities fraud class action brought by shareholders this month who claim the company failed to comply with a 2010 Federal Trade Commission settlement order.

      The FTC settlement stated that LifeLock has misled customers to believe they were receiving services that they were not. As part of that 2010 settlement, LifeLock was supposed to pay refunds to almost a million of its customers.

      Peters claims he started an initial risk assessment for the company and uncovered "many instances of illegal and incompetent practices that constituted fraud against LifeLock's shareholders'."

      Similar complaints

      The charges in Peters' suit are similar to reviews posted by ConsumerAffairs readers. 

      Last August, Brenda in California noted she wasn't getting as many alerts as she expected. Brenda had a LifeLock subscription, then applied for a loan with a certain financial institution; she thought this attempt to get money via her account would result in a LifeLock alert, and it did – the next day.

      This surprised Brenda because, “I thought they would alert you right away the same day that your credit was being pulled and put a stop to it until they get a response back.”

      Brenda said that anytime she did anything against her account, the LifeLock alert came late enough that, had Brenda actually been an identity thief, she could've cleaned out the account in question before LifeLock got around to sending any alerts.

      But at least Brenda did receive alerts, albeit in a less timely fashion than she'd have preferred.

      Jeffrey in Tennessee says he didn't even get that much; when he wrote last July he said, “We got Lifelock three months ago, thought we might need it. So we called and they told us all the good things that they do …. [they said] anytime we applied for any kind of credit, within 5 minutes we would be texted to see if it was us or someone trying to use our credit.”

      So what happened next? “In the last 3 months we have opened up a credit account and have been using it. They haven't texted or called us to let us know. This week we bought a $10,000 ATV and there have been no texts to our phone or no emails. That could have been anyone doing that. We canceled our membership today.”

      Michael Peters, a former chief information security officer for the identity-theft security firm LifeLock, is suing the company under whistleblower-protect...
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      Catching a liar may mean trusting your instincts

      The unconscious mind appears to have the edge

      You know when a politician is lying, according to the old joke, when his lips are moving.

      But really, how can you tell when someone is not being truthful? According to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, your automatic associations may be more accurate than conscious thought in pegging truth-tellers and liars.

      This seems to suggest that conscious awareness may hinder our ability to detect whether someone is lying, perhaps because we tend to seek out behaviors that are supposedly stereotypical of liars -- like averted eyes or fidgeting. But those behaviors may not be all that indicative of an untrustworthy person.

      “Our research was prompted by the puzzling but consistent finding that humans are very poor lie detectors, performing at only about 54% accuracy in traditional lie detection tasks,” explains psychological scientist and study author Leanne ten Brinke, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

      That’s hardly better than chance, as if participants were simply guessing whether the person was lying. And it’s a finding that seems at odds with the fact that humans are typically sensitive to how others are feeling, what they’re thinking, and what their personalities are like.

      To catch a liar

      Along with UC Berkeley colleague Dayna Stimson and Berkeley-Haas Asst. Prof. Dana Carney, ten Brinke hypothesized that these seemingly paradoxical findings may be accounted for by unconscious processes: “We set out to test whether the unconscious mind could catch a liar -- even when the conscious mind failed,” she says.

      The researchers first had 72 participants watch videos of “suspects” in a mock-crime interview. Some of the suspects in the videos had actually stolen a $100 bill from a bookshelf, whereas others had not. However, all of the suspects were instructed to tell the interviewer they had not stolen the money. In doing so, one group of suspects must have been lying, whereas the other group must have been telling the truth.

      When the 72 participants were asked to say which suspects they thought were lying and which were telling the truth, they were pretty inaccurate: They were only able to detect liars 43% of the time, and truth-tellers only 48% of the time.

      But the researchers also employed widely-used behavioral reaction time tests (one of which is called the Implicit Association Test or IAT) to probe participants’ more automatic instincts towards the suspects.

      Results showed that participants were more likely to unconsciously associate deception-related words (e.g. “untruthful,” dishonest,” and “deceitful”) with the suspects who were actually lying. At the same time, participants were more likely to associate truthful words (e.g. “honest” or “valid”) with the suspects who were actually telling the truth.

      A second experiment confirmed these findings, providing evidence that people may have some intuitive sense, outside of conscious awareness, that detects when someone is lying.

      “These results provide a new lens through which to examine social perception, and suggest that -- at least in terms of detection of lies -- unconscious measures may provide additional insight into interpersonal accuracy,” says ten Brinke.

      You know when a politician is lying, according to the old joke, when his lips are moving. But really, how can you tell when someone is not being truthful?...
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      Minorities beware: skin cancer strikes people of all skin tones

      Minority patients are often diagnosed at a more advanced stage because of over-confidence

      It may be understandable if minorities with darker skin think they're less likely to get skin cancer, but it's a misunderstanding that can prove fatal, a dermatologist warns.

      "Our minority populations have this perception that they are at low risk and little can be done to prevent it. The reality is that skin cancer is a significant health concern for minorities. With early detection and treatment, though, skin cancer is highly curable," said Diane Jackson-Richards, M.D., director of Henry Ford Hospital's Multicultural Dermatology Clinic in Detroit.

      Research has shown that minorities are diagnosed at a more advanced stage of skin cancer and have lower chances of survival than Caucasians. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer among African Americans and Asian Indians, and the second most common skin cancer in Hispanics, East Asians and Caucasians, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

      "We need to intensify our awareness efforts for minorities so they fully understand the dangers of sun exposure and what they can do to reduce their risk of skin cancer," said Jackson-Richards, 

      In Hispanic communities, fewer sunscreen products are available than in non-Hispanic communities, she says in remarks prepared for a presentation today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in Denver.

      Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, the Skin Cancer Foundation says, and more new cases are diagnosed each year than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.

      Common risk factors for skin cancer include a personal or family history, 50 or more moles, history of excessive sun exposure, diseases that suppress the immune system and a past history of skin cancer.

      What to do

      People can reduce their risk of developing skin cancer by:

      • Avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest.
      • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher generously. Re-apply every 2 hours.
      • Wear protective clothing – long-sleeved shirt and pants, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
      • Avoiding tanning beds and tanning.
      • Seeing your physician for a skin exam every year.
      • Water, snow and sand increase your cancer of sunburn.
      It may be understandable if minorities with dark skin think they're less likely to get skin cancer, but it's a misunderstanding that can prove fatal, a der...
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      Study: bariatric surgery can decrease risk of uterine cancer

      Fat tissue raises levels of estrogen, which is linked to tumor creation

      A study by researchers at the University of California-San Diego finds that bariatric surgery in severely obese women may reduce the risk of uterine cancer by as much as 81 percent in those who maintain normal weight after surgery.

      The study is based on more than 7.4 million patient records.

      "Estimating from various studies that looked at increasing BMI and endometrial cancer risk, a woman with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 would have approximately eight times greater risk of endometrial cancer than someone with a BMI of 25," said first author Kristy Ward, MD, the senior gynecologic oncology fellow in the Department of Reproductive Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "This risk likely continues to go up as BMI goes up."

      Bariatric surgery involves reducing the size of the stomach using a gastric band, removing a portion of the stomach or resecting and re-routing the small intestines to a small stomach pouch. In all cases, the surgery must be followed by lifestyle changes to ensure long-term weight loss success.

      Last resort

      Bariatric surgery is often the last resort for obese patients after all other non-surgical weight loss efforts have failed. To qualify, patients must be an acceptable surgical risk and be defined as either severely obese with a BMI of 40 or greater or have a BMI of 35 or greater with at least one related condition: diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity-related cardiomyopathy or heart muscle disease or severe joint disease.

      What links obesity to uterine -- or endometrial -- cancer? 

      The researchers say that excessive fat tissue raises the levels of estrogen, which is associated with tumor creation. Obesity also causes chronic inflammation, boosting insulin resistance and increased estrogen levels.

      "The majority of endometrial cancers are estrogen-driven," said Ward. "A woman with excess adipose tissue has an increased level of estrogen because the fat tissue converts steroid hormones into a form of estrogen.

      "So there is too much estrogen, causing the endometrium to build up, but not enough progesterone to stabilize it. The endometrium continues to grow and can undergo changes into abnormal tissue, leading to cancer."

      Big problem

      Obesity is a widespread public health problem in the United States, with an estimated two-thirds of the U.S. adult population considered to be overweight or obese. The condition is strongly linked to a host of health risks, among them heart disease, diabetes and cancer, in particular endometrial cancer.

      Bariatric surgery has been shown to reduce the impact of these factors: hormone levels become normal; inflammation decreases; insulin resistance drops; weight loss allows for increased physical activity and improved overall health.

      The study was published in the April issue of Gynecologic Oncology, the official publication of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology.

      A study by researchers at the University of California-San Diego finds that bariatric surgery in severely obese women may reduce the risk of uterine cancer...
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      Tax returns are rolling in

      For individuals who have business income, there's help from the IRS

      If you haven't filed your federal income tax return yet, you're behind the curve.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it has received more than half of all the returns it expects to get during 2014. As of March 14, the agency had received more than 75 million individual tax returns and projects that it will receive a total of roughly 149 million by the end of the year.

      Help for businesses

      Millions of individual tax filers have business income either as sole proprietors or as sub contractors, and also have unreimbursed business expenses. The IRS recently issued Publication 535, Business Expenses, which provides valuable information for these filers. It also contains useful hints for Tax Year 2013, for which many taxpayers are still completing returns and for Tax Year 2014, for which taxpayers are tracking expenses and making financial decisions.

      For tax year 2013

      Optional safe harbor method. Beginning in 2013, taxpayers can use the optional safe harbor method to determine the deduction for the business use of a home.

      Standard mileage rate. Beginning in 2013, the standard mileage rate for the cost of operating a car, van, pickup, or panel truck for each mile of business use is 56.5 cents per mile.

      Additional Medicare Tax. Beginning in 2013, a 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax applies to Medicare wages, railroad retirement (RRTA) compensation, and self-employment income that are more than:

      • $125,000 if married filing separately,
      • $250,000 if married filing jointly, or
      • $200,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.

      Medicare wages and self-employment income are combined to determine if a taxpayer’s income exceeds the threshold. RRTA compensation should be separately compared to the threshold.

      For Tax Year 2014

      Standard mileage rate. Beginning in 2014, the standard mileage rate for the cost of operating a car, van, pickup, or panel truck for each mile of business use is 56 cents per mile.

      Filing season statistics

      2014 FILING SEASON STATISTICS

      Cumulative statistics comparing 3/15/13 and 3/14/14

      Individual Income Tax Returns:

      2013

      2014

      % Change

      Total Receipts

      74,882,000

      75,100,000

      0.3

      Total Processed

      69,153,000

      73,157,000

      5.8

      E-filing Receipts:

      TOTAL           

      68,029,000

      68,966,000

      1.4

      Tax Professionals

      40,117,000

      39,413,000

      -1.8

      Self-prepared

      27,912,000

      29,553,000

      5.9

      Web Usage:

      Visits to IRS.gov

      218,469,657

      195,637,190

      -10.4

      Total Refunds:

      Number

      60,243,000

      61,645,000

      2.3

      Amount

      $172.494

      Billion

      $179.793

      Billion

      4.2

      Average refund

      $2,863

      $2,917

      1.9

      Direct Deposit Refunds:

      Number

      52,414,000

      52,770,000

      0.7

      Amount

      $157.786

      Billion

      $158.983

      Billion

      0.8

      Average refund

      $3,010

      $3,013

      0.08

      If you haven't filed your federal income tax return yet, you're behind the curve. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it has received more than half o...
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      You may have money waiting for you -- and not know it

      $760 million in tax refunds is there for the taking

      Go figure.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it has refunds totaling almost $760 million for an estimated 918,600 taxpayers who didn't even bother to file a federal income tax return for 2010.

      There's a catch though: In order to collect the money, your have to file a return for 2010 with the IRS no later than Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

      "The window is quickly closing for people who are owed refunds from 2010 who haven't filed a tax return," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "We encourage students, part-time workers and others who haven't filed for 2010 to look into this before time runs out on April 15."

      Why not file?

      Some people may not have filed because they had too little income to require filing a tax return even though they had taxes withheld from their wages or made quarterly estimated payments. In cases where a return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity for claiming a refund. If no return is filed to claim a refund within three years, the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury.

      For 2010 returns, the window closes on April 15, 2014. The law requires that the return be properly addressed, mailed and postmarked by that date. There is no penalty for filing a late return qualifying for a refund.

      The IRS reminds taxpayers seeking a 2010 refund that their checks may be held if they have not filed tax returns for 2011 and 2012. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS or their state tax agency, and may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts such as student loans.

      Why you should file

      By failing to file a return, people stand to lose more than just their refund of taxes withheld or paid during 2010. In addition, many low-and-moderate income workers may not have claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). For 2010, the credit is worth as much as $5,666. The EITC helps individuals and families whose incomes are below certain thresholds. The thresholds for 2010 were:

      • $43,352 ($48,362 if married filing jointly) for those with three or more qualifying children,
      • $40,363 ($45,373 if married filing jointly) for people with two qualifying children,
      • $35,535 ($40,545 if married filing jointly) for those with one qualifying child, and
      • $13,460 ($18,470 if married filing jointly) for people without qualifying children.

      Current and prior year tax forms and instructions are available on the Forms and Publications page of IRS.gov or by calling toll-free 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). Taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for 2010, 2011 or 2012 should request copies from their employer, bank or other payer.

      If these efforts are unsuccessful, taxpayers can get a free transcript showing information from these year-end documents by going to IRS.gov. Taxpayers can also file Form 4506-T to request a transcript of their tax return.

      Your money?

      Individuals who did not file a 2010 return with a potential refund:

      State or District

      Estimated

      Number of

      Individuals

      Median

      Potential

      Refund

      Total

      Potential

      Refunds*

      Alabama

      15,700

      $574

      $12,473,000

      Alaska

      4,700

      $649

      $4,810,000

      Arizona

      23,800

      $508

      $17,517,000

      Arkansas

      8,400

      $562

      $6,667,000

      California

      86,500

      $519

      $69,752,000

      Colorado

      17,100

      $567

      $14,061,000

      Connecticut

      11,700

      $620

      $10,304,000

      Delaware

      3,800

      $573

      $3,126,000

      District of Columbia

      3,500

      $604

      $3,080,000

      Florida

      56,800

      $593

      $48,407,000

      Georgia

      28,400

      $539

      $22,504,000

      Hawaii

      6,200

      $586

      $5,413,000

      Idaho

      3,500

      $490

      $2,604,000

      Illinois

      37,900

      $626

      $32,696,000

      Indiana

      19,600

      $570

      $15,478,000

      Iowa

      9,200

      $576

      $7,050,000

      Kansas

      9,300

      $522

      $6,986,000

      Kentucky

      11,500

      $576

      $8,975,000

      Louisiana

      17,500

      $603

      $15,579,000

      Maine

      3,500

      $502

      $2,373,000

      Maryland

      20,700

      $575

      $18,002,000

      Massachusetts

      21,000

      $560

      $17,856,000

      Michigan

      29,200

      $597

      $24,259,000

      Minnesota

      12,700

      $516

      $9,582,000

      Mississippi

      8,500

      $556

      $6,769,000

      Missouri

      17,900

      $514

      $13,153,000

      Montana

      2,900

      $534

      $2,338,000

      Nebraska

      4,500

      $528

      $3,368,000

      Nevada

      11,400

      $570

      $9,156,000

      New Hampshire

      3,800

      $602

      $3,245,000

      New Jersey

      29,500

      $639

      $26,712,000

      New Mexico

      7,200

      $572

      $5,915,000

      New York

      57,400

      $623

      $50,543,000

      North Carolina

      24,300

      $494

      $17,538,000

      North Dakota

      1,900

      $600

      $1,551,000

      Ohio

      32,100

      $560

      $24,508,000

      Oklahoma

      15,100

      $585

      $12,246,000

      Oregon

      14,300

      $519

      $10,359,000

      Pennsylvania

      37,400

      $614

      $31,009,000

      Rhode Island

      3,000

      $598

      $2,472,000

      South Carolina

      10,200

      $532

      $7,756,000

      South Dakota

      2,100

      $558

      $1,605,000

      Tennessee

      16,300

      $559

      $12,839,000

      Texas

      80,600

      $588

      $71,998,000

      Utah

      6,100

      $518

      $4,705,000

      Vermont

      1,600

      $519

      $1,136,000

      Virginia

      26,300

      $568

      $22,376,000

      Washington

      24,800

      $640

      $23,033,000

      West Virginia

      4,100

      $626

      $3,534,000

      Wisconsin

      10,900

      $516

      $8,423,000

      Wyoming

      2,200

      $648

      $2,045,000

      Totals

      918,600

      $571

      $759,889,000

         * Excluding the Earned Income Tax Credit and other credits.

      Go figure. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it has refunds totaling almost $760 million for an estimated 918,600 taxpayers who didn't even bother ...
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      New hope for adults with severe high-frequency hearing loss

      The FDA has approved the first implantable hearing device to treat the condition

      An implantable device is now available for people 18 and older with severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss of high-frequency sounds in both ears, but who can still hear low-frequency sounds with or without a hearing aid.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given its approval to the Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System, which may help those with this specific kind of hearing loss who do not benefit from conventional hearing aids.

      A common ailment

      Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss and occurs when there is damage to the inner ear (cochlea). It may be caused by aging, heredity, exposure to loud noise, drugs that are toxic to the inner ear (e.g., antibiotics), and certain other illnesses.

      People with severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss of high-frequency sounds may have difficulty hearing faint sounds, understanding people with higher-pitched voices, hearing certain speech sounds, and, in some cases, hearing high-pitched emergency vehicle sirens or common safety alarms, such as smoke detectors.

      “Hearing loss greatly impacts the education, employment, and well-being of many Americans,” said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “This device may provide improved speech recognition for people with this kind of hearing loss, who have limited treatment options.”

      The Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System combines the functions of a cochlear implant and a hearing aid. This electronic device consists of an external microphone and speech processor that picks up sounds from the environment and converts them into electrical impulses.

      The impulses are transmitted to the cochlea through a small bundle of implanted electrodes, creating a sense of sound that the user learns to associate with the mid- and high-frequency sounds they remember. The hearing aid portion of the device is inserted into the outer ear canal like a conventional hearing aid, and can amplify sounds in the low-frequency range.

      Positive results

      The agency evaluated a clinical study involving 50 individuals with severe to profound high-frequency hearing loss who still had significant levels of low-frequency hearing. The individuals were tested before and after being implanted with the device.

      A majority of the patients reported statistically significant improvements in word and sentence recognition at six months after activation of the device compared to their baseline pre-implant performance using a conventional hearing aid. The device also underwent non-clinical testing, which included the electrical components, biocompatibility and durability of the device.

      Side effects possible

      Of the 50 individuals participating in the study, 68% experienced one or more anticipated adverse events, such as low-frequency hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), electrode malfunction and dizziness. Twenty-two developed profound or total low-frequency hearing loss in the implanted ear, six of whom underwent an additional surgery to replace the Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System with a standard cochlear implant.

      While the risk of low-frequency hearing loss is of concern, the FDA determined that the overall benefits of the device outweigh this risk for those who do not benefit from traditional hearing aids. Prospective patients should carefully discuss all benefits and risks of this new device with their physicians. The device is intended for use on one ear only.

      The Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System is manufactured by Cochlear Ltd., headquartered in New South Wales, Australia.

      An implantable device is now available for people 18 and older with severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss of high-frequency sounds in both ears, bu...
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      Use caution when dieting and exercising 'like a man'

      It may be trendy but sports medicine expert isn't sure it's safe for everyone

      Lately, it seems, women have discovered something about men that just doesn't seem fair. While the ladies sweat for endless hours at the gym and agonize over every food morsel they consume, the gentlemen seem to be able to drop weight at will, and with very little effort.

      Nutritionists have come up with a name for it – “dieting like a man,” and suddenly the concept pervades popular culture, as evidenced by this feature on ABC's Good Morning America.

      More muscle mass

      Men tend to have more muscle mass, making for faster metabolism and a more rapid rate of calorie burn. But they also seem to have a different approach to diet and exercise. While women tend to avoid entire food groups, men will give up a single food item or two for a given period in order to shed unwanted pounds.

      Here's one reason it may work; a guy knows he's eating too much of one thing, like pizza. If he decides to give up all pizza for a while, he reduces calorie intake by a large amount, assuming he doesn't replace pizza with chocolate cake.

      Men also tend to get exercise differently from women. While women may exercise over a long period, a man might go through a more intense series of exercises in a shorter period. For some metabolic reason, that tends to burn the calories faster.

      Sports medicine expert weighs in

      Dr. Derek Ochiai, board certified orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine expert in Arlington, Va., isn't convinced that dieting like a man really works but is concerned about people taking on a new diet and exercise regimen without first making sure it's safe.

      Among the potential problems he recognizes is over-enthusiasm. He worries that people will push themselves hard and fast at the start, increasing their risk of tendinitis – which could bring their new exercise program to a screeching halt.

      A second danger is suddenly adopting intense workouts – Ochiai calls it cramming. He advises not to try to cram in extra weight/intensity if you're pressed for time. Instead, build in a warm-up time, such as on a bike, before starting the rest of your work out.

      A third danger is setting expectations too high and not noticing improvement. Ochiai says people often get discouraged when starting an exercise routine because they don't immediately drop a dress size or 10 pounds.

      Avoiding great expectations

      “Exercise has many benefits, including better sleep and better concentration and an overall feeling of well-being,” he said. “Remember to look for these changes for positive reinforcement initially.”

      Finally, Ochiai cautions women about copying a man's free-weight program to build muscle mass. Using Nautilus-type weight machines is safer, he says, since spotters are not necessary. But be careful about adding weight. Increasing weight resistance too quickly can cause injury, providing a significant setback to your exercise program.

      Lately, it seems, women have discovered something about men that just doesn't seem fair. While the ladies sweat for endless hours at the gym and agonize ov...
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