Current Events in December 2014

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    Chrysler expands recall of vehicles with air bag inflator issues

    The company says it's unaware of any accidents or injuries related to these inflators

    Chrysler Group is expanding a regional field action with a recall to replace front passenger-side air bag inflators in an estimated 208,783 older-model vehicles originally purchased or ever registered in 7 states and 5 U.S. territories.

    The vehicles are equipped with front passenger-side air bag inflators from a product family code-named "PSPI."

    The company says it is not aware of any injuries or accidents involving PSPI inflators of the type covered by this campaign, nor has its investigation identified a defect in these components.

    Further, it says, laboratory tests on nearly 600 such inflators did not result in any failures.

    The inflators affected by this campaign differ in design and construction from PSPI inflators used by other auto makers.

    Affected by this recall are the following vehicles, provided they were purchased, ever registered or still registered in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan and the U.S. Virgin Islands:

    • 2003-2005 Dodge Ram 1500 Pickup
    • 2003-2005 Dodge Ram 2500 Pickup
    • 2003-2005 Dodge Ram 3500 Pickup
    • 2004-2005 Dodge Durango
    • 2005 Chrysler 300, 300C, SRT8
    • 2005 Dodge Magnum
    • 2005 Dodge Dakota Pickup

    Affected customers will be notified beginning Feb. 8. Service will be performed free of charge.

    This recall covers an estimated 69,668 vehicles also affected by the initial regional field action. The additional 5 states and 3 territories accounts for an incremental gain of approximately 139,115 vehicles.

    The regional field action, which remains under way, affects 371,309 older-model vehicles in Florida, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

    A third similar action also is continuing, with Chrysler replacing passenger-side air bag inflators from a product-family code-named "SPI," in an estimated 149,150 model-year 2003 pickup trucks registered, ever registered or originally purchased in 7 states and 5 U.S. territories.

    The third action covers 39,409 vehicles also affected by the initial regional field action. Affected customers will be notified beginning Jan. 19.

    Chrysler Group is expanding a regional field action with a recall to replace front passenger-side air bag inflators in an estimated 208,783 older-model veh...

    Who knew choosing a gift card was this complicated?

    Still more conflicting advice on what is supposed to be the easiest gift

    Giving someone a gift card was supposed to simplify things. But somehow, it hasn't. There are now nearly as many opinions about gift cards as there are the products themselves.

    We are told that it's better to give a store-branded gift card because they carry fewer fees than ones issued by credit card companies and can be used anywhere.

    Last month we reported on a National Retail Federation survey that found most consumers would rather receive a gift card than a nicely wrapped present, while e-gifting firm CashStar did its own survey that found most of us feel guilty about asking for a gift card.

    It's not personal

    Mary Steffel, researcher and assistant professor of marketing the University of Cincinnati's business school says it's even more complex than that. She's come up with a list of ways consumers make mistakes when they buy gift cards. The first, she says, is trying to make the gift card overly personal, which on the face of it, seems like a contradiction in terms.

    "Givers often fail to anticipate that the gifts they prefer to give are not necessarily the ones recipients prefer to receive," she said.

    But how in the world does one personalize a gift card? Easy, says Steffel.

    “For example, a giver might personalize a gift card for a friend who loves sports by getting him a gift card for his favorite sporting goods store or a local sports venue,” Steffel said. “However, the sports lover might prefer a more general card, like a Visa or Mastercard-backed gift card, as it would allow him to purchase sporting equipment, tickets to a sporting event or anything else that he might want or need.”

    Has the data

    Steffel says she has data to back this up. She found that when people get very specific types of gift cards, they take longer to use them. Or they might not even use them at all.

    This is especially tricky, she says, when choosing a gift card for a significant other. The gift card giver, perhaps feeling a little pressure, tends to over-think it.

    “Ironically, these attempts to be thoughtful can backfire,” Steffel said. “We find that givers tend to choose more specific, less versatile gift cards when shopping for romantic partners than friends, but that recipients prefer more versatile gift cards regardless of how close they are to the giver.”

    Maybe a sweater's not so bad

    If all this conflicting advice about gift cards makes your head hurt, you might take the advice of another professor. Back in 2006, Gettysburg College philosophy professor Steven Gimbel told us that giving a “bad” gift was preferable to giving a gift card.

    "Giving a good gift is a very difficult task because it requires thought on several different levels. To start, there is the care that gives rise to the desire to give the gift," Gimbel said. "A good gift is also something that the recipient will use to make their life better and something someone wants."

    Gimbel's advice? Shoot to give a good gift -- not a gift card -- even if your gift ends up to be a bad one.

    "A bad gift is still a bad gift, but sometimes the bad gifts are the best ones to get. Sometimes it is the thought of a bad gift that counts," Gimbel said.

    Giving someone a gift card was supposed to simplify things. But somehow, it hasn't. There are now nearly as many opinions about gift cards as there are the...

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      Keeping your holiday illness-free

      Following a few common-sense rules will help you do just that

      Everybody wants to be remembered as a good host after their holiday party is over. A step in the right direction is to avoid sending your guests home with a foodborne illness.

      To do that, the Agriculture Department’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) offers these tips on protecting yourself, your family and your guests from illnesses that may well spoil their holiday.

      During holiday grocery shopping

      • Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods in your grocery cart.
      • Buy cold foods last.
      • Ask the cashier to place your raw meat, poultry and seafood in a separate bag.

      During food preparation

      • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
      • Prepare uncooked recipes before recipes requiring raw meat to reduce cross-contamination. Store them out of the way while preparing meat dishes to ensure they don’t become contaminated after preparation.
      • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of dishes to ensure they are fully cooked and safe to eat. Fresh beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 ˚F with a three minute rest time; fish should be cooked to 145 ˚F; ground beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 160 ˚F; egg dishes should be cooked to 160 ˚F; and all poultry should be cooked to 165 ˚F.

      When cooking for groups

      • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold, using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 ˚F and cold items should remain below 40 ˚F.
      • Use several small plates when serving food.
      • Discard perishable foods left out for 2 hours or more.

      When cooking a holiday roast

      • Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw roasts and cooked roasts to avoid cross-contamination.
      • Wash items such as cutting boards that have touched raw meat with warm water and soap, or place them in a dishwasher.
      • To ensure the juiciest possible roast this holiday, use a meat thermometer. Once it has reached the USDA recommended internal temperature of 145 F, the roast is safe to eat.
      • Remember all cuts of pork, beef, veal, and lamb need a three minute rest time before cutting or consuming.

      If you have specific food safety questions you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov.

      These services are available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.

      Everybody wants to be remembered as a good host after their holiday party is over. A step in the right direction is to avoid sending your guests home with ...

      Cocaine quadruples risk of sudden death in 19-49 age group

      Spanish researchers conducted first-of-its-kind study

      It's pretty widely known that using cocaine increases the risk of heart disease but Spanish researchers have now put some numbers behind that assumption. They found that for those in the 19-49 age bracket, the risk of sudden cardiovascular death is quadrupled among cocaine users.

      In fact, for those under 50, cocaine becomes the main risk factor for sudden cardiac death, according to researchers at the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, the Basque Institute of Forensic Medicine, and CIBERSAM.

      The study, published in Addiction, is the first to be conducted using forensic samples taken from deceased individuals.

      Researchers analyzed the cases of 437 people who died of sudden cardiovascular death and whose death was not due to disease or acute intoxication. To conduct the research, they also studied the cases of another 126 people who died of different causes.

      Those sudied had died either instantly or within six hours of being stricken and all were beneath the age of 50, thus reducing the influence of age-related cardiovascular disease.

      Research data

      In all the cases, a full post-mortem examination plus toxicological and histopathological studies were conducted, and the clinical data and circumstances of the deaths were reviewed. Gas chromatography and liquid spectrometry were conducted to detect therapeutic drugs, drug abuse and ethanol. A time link was established between recent cocaine consumption and death, and the researchers took into consideration obesity, hypertension, diabetes and smoking in relation to other risk values for suffering a heart attack.

      The analysis of the data shows that cocaine consumption multiplies the risk of dying by four compared with non-consumption. Specifically, the percentage of cases among the deceased owing to sudden death in which drug consumption was detected was nearly 10%, while among the people who had died of other causes it was 2%. In comparison with the estimated data in the general population, the proportion of people who used cocaine recently was between 13 and 58 times higher in the cases of sudden death than in the general population. 

      Cocaine increases heart rate and blood pressure and also diminishes coronary blood flow, is related to the formation of clots, and cardiac arrhythmias, it can increase ventricular irritability and lower the fibrillation threshold, among other effects. 

      The doctors Benito Morentin, Javier Ballesteros, Luis F. Callado and J. Javier Meana were the primary researchers. 

      It's pretty widely known that using cocaine increases the risk of heart disease but Spanish researchers have now put some numbers behind that assumption. T...

      Feds shut down student "debt relief" scams

      Beware of companies charging high fees for federal loan repayment benefits

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has taken action against two student “debt relief” scams that illegally tricked borrowers into paying upfront fees for federal loan benefits.

      The CFPB, in a joint filing with Florida’s Attorney General, shut down College Education Services and separately filed a lawsuit against Student Loan Processing.US for illegally marketing student debt relief services.

      The Bureau is issuing a consumer advisory warning student loan borrowers to be wary of paying high fees for free federal loan benefits.

      “Student loans are already a significant debt for many Americans. College Education Services and Student Loan Processing.US added to that hardship by taking advantage of troubled borrowers and failing to describe their services honestly,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “When scam artists prey on student loan borrowers, we will take action to halt their illegal activity.”

      The U.S. Department of Education offers numerous plans to borrowers with federal student loans to make payments more affordable. These include options that let borrowers set their monthly payment based on their income. Monthly payments under these plans can be as low as zero dollars per month for unemployed or very low-wage borrowers.

      The Department of Education does not charge any fees to apply for or enroll in these plans, for which many student loan borrowers qualify.

      College Education Services

      College Education Services, its owner, Marcia Elena Vargas, and advisor and employee, Frank Liz, marketed and advertised debt relief services to student loan borrowers with loans in default. Based in Tampa, Florida, the company advertised through Internet ads and operated websites including CollegeDefaultedStudentLoan.com and HelpStudentLoanDefault.com. The company reaped millions of dollars in advance fees from thousands of consumers before it ceased operations around February 2013.

      Student Loan Processing.US

      Student Loan Processing.US, a fictitious business name of Irvine Web Works, Inc., is headquartered in Laguna Nigel, California, with an office in Dallas, Texas.

      The CFPB alleges that since at least July 2011, the company and its owner, James Krause, has been marketing and advertising services to advise and assist borrowers applying for Department of Education federal student loan repayment programs. The company operates websites under the names StudentLoanProcessing.us, StudentLoanProcessing.org, and slpus.org. 

      Consumers warned 

      As student loan borrowers run into roadblocks while trying to get help from their loan servicers, such as lost paperwork or payment processing problems, they may grow discouraged with their prospects of an alternative payment plan.

      In its consumer advisory, the CFPB warns students to avoid paying for plans that they can easily get for free. The services offered by third-party debt relief providers are not a substitute for high-quality student loan servicing and may cost borrowers thousands of dollars and drive them further into debt.

      The CFPB’s consumer advisory points out that enrollment in alternative repayment programs, like the Income-Based Repayment program or the Pay As You Earn program, is available at no cost to federal student loan borrowers. Companies offering special services do not have the ability to negotiate with creditors in order to obtain a “special deal” under the federal student loan programs. The advisory also provides warning signs that a company offering student loan debt relief may be a scam. These signs include:

      · Pressure to pay high upfront fees: Consumers should avoid companies that require payment before they actually do anything, especially if they try to get a credit card number, bank account information, or require that consumers sign a contract.

      · Requests for a Federal Student Aid PIN: Consumers should be cautious of companies that ask for their Federal Student Aid PIN. This unique ID is the equivalent of a consumer’s signature and giving it away is giving a company the power to perform actions on the consumer’s student loan. Honest companies will work with consumers to come up with a plan without the PIN.

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has taken action against two student “debt relief” scams that illegally tricked borrowers into paying upfro...

      IRS posts standard mileage rates for 2015

      Not everyone is likely to be pleased with the changes

      If you use your car, van, pickup or panel truck for business purposes, you'll like this: Starting Nan. 1, the optional standard mileage rate is rising to 57.5 cents per mile from 56 cents in 2014.

      At the same time it made than announcement, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said the amount you are allowed for medical or moving purposes is dropping 0.5 cent from 2014 -- to 23 cents in 2015 per mile driven. And the amount per mile driven in service of charitable organizations will be 14 cents.

      How it's figured

      The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile, including depreciation, insurance, repairs, tires, maintenance, gas and oil. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs, such as gas and oil. The charitable rate is set by law.

      Taxpayers always have the option of claiming deductions based on the actual costs of using a vehicle rather than the standard mileage rates.

      Prohibitions

      A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after claiming accelerated depreciation, including the Section 179 expense deduction, on that vehicle. Likewise, the standard rate is not available to fleet owners (more than four vehicles used simultaneously).

      Details on these and other special rules are in Revenue Procedure 2010-51, the instructions to Form 1040 and various online IRS publications including Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax.

      Besides the standard mileage rates, Notice 2014-79, posted on IRS.gov, also includes the basis reduction amounts for those choosing the business standard mileage rate, as well as the maximum standard automobile cost that may be used in computing an allowance under a fixed and variable rate plan.

      If you use your car, van, pickup or panel truck for business purposes, you'll like this: Starting Nan. 1, the optional standard mileage rate is rising to 5...

      UVEX Sports recalls bicycle helmets

      The chinstrap anchor can fail, causing the helmet to slide off

      Uvex Sports of Germany is recalling about 46,800 bicycle helmets.

      The helmet’s chinstrap anchor can fail, causing the helmet to slide off, posing a head injury hazard. The bicycle helmets also do not comply with the impact requirements of the CPSC safety standards for bicycle helmets.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves seven models of UVEX helmets, which come in a variety of colors with different colored chin straps. The helmets have a model number inside the helmet under the fitting pad on the top right side.

      The affected helmet model numbers are XB017, XB022, XB025, XB027, XB032, XB036 and XB038.

      The helmets, manufactured in Germany, were sold at sporting goods and bicycle specialty stores nationwide from September 2009, through June 2014, for about $100 to $260.

      Consumers should stop using the helmets and contact UVEX for a free compliant helmet or a refund of the purchase price.

      Consumers may contact UVEX Sports toll-free at (844) 767-0656 from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.  

      Uvex Sports of Germany is recalling about 46,800 bicycle helmets. The helmet’s chinstrap anchor can fail, causing the helmet to slide off, posing a head i...

      Ford recalls F-150 with brake pedal issue

      The brake pedal position switch may not be adjusted properly

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 618 model year 2014 F-150 vehicles manufactured March 1, 2014, to March 13, 2014.

      The brake pedal position switch man not be properly adjusted. As a result, the brake lights may illuminate with a delay or not at all. If the brake lights fail to illuminate, or illuminate after a delay, there is an increased risk of a crash.

      Until the vehicle has been remedied, owners are advised not to use their cruise control system.

      Ford has notified owners, and dealers will adjust the brake pedal position switch, free of charge. The recall began on November 24, 2014.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 14C09.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 618 model year 2014 F-150 vehicles manufactured March 1, 2014, to March 13, 2014. The brake pedal position switch man not...

      Del Monte Fresh recalls fresh cut fruit containing Gala red apple

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Del Monte Fresh Produce is recalling fresh cut fruit containing Gala red apples grown in Pennsylvania.

      The product, distributed to a limited number of customers in a few states in North East U.S., may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      A total of 3,051 consumer packages containing fresh cut red apples were distributed to Giant Eagle, Amazon Fresh, Sunoco, Peter’s Fruit, Wegmans, Sheetz and 7-Eleven and have “Best If Enjoyed By” dates of 12/3/14, 12/6/14, 12/7/14 and 12/8/14.

      The fresh cut red apples have a red color skin. The recalled fresh cut fruit packages containing red apples were distributed for sale in clear plastic containers with one of the following labels and markings:

      Finished Product DescriptorPackage size/WeightBIUBRetailerBrand/Label Lot NumberProduct Quantities
      Red/Green Apples W/Dip9 oz12/8/2014Giant EaglePlain Transparent Label233210150
      Gala Apples12 oz12/8/2014Giant EaglePlain Transparent Label233210120
      Apple W/Dip24 oz12/8/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle233210162
      Apple Tray W/Dip24 oz12/8/2014Giant EaglePlain Transparent Label23321016
      Red/Green Apples W/Dip5 oz12/8/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle23321018
      Red Apple Slices12 oz12/7/2014AmazonDel Monte23321016
      Red/Green Apples W/Dip5 oz12/7/2014AmazonDel Monte23321016
      Pineapple Medley16 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle2332101156
      Pineapple Medley8 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle2332101114
      Apples/Grapes/Cheese7 oz12/6/2014SunocoNature Made233210196
      Gala Apples12 oz12/8/2014Giant EaglePlain Transparent Label23321012
      Gourmet Bowl64 oz12/6/2014Giant EaglePlain Transparent Label23321014
      Pineapple Medley16 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleDel Monte23321016
      Pineapple Medley8 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleDel Monte23321014
      Snack Pack7 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle233210114
      Apples/Grapes/Cheese7 oz12/6/2014PetersNature Made2332101108
      Red Apple With Caramel5 oz12/8/2014PetersDel Monte233210160
      Gourmet Bowl40 oz12/6/2014AmazonDel Monte23321013
      Red Apples/Grapes/ Cheese/ Dip7 oz12/6/2014AmazonNature Made23321016
      Gourmet Bowl64 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle2332101120
      Pineapple Medley32 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle2332101128
      Apple Cinnamon Yogurt6.5 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle233210144
      Gourmet Fruit Bowl4 Lbs12/3/2014WegmansWegmans233210178
      Gourmet Fruit Bowl4 Lbs12/3/2014WegmansWegmans233210150
      Red Apple Gala12 oz12/8/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle2332101142
      Red and Green Apple With Dip24 oz12/8/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle233210156
      Apple with Dip24 oz12/8/2014Giant EaglePlain Transparent Label233210114
      Gourmet Bowl64 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle233210160
      Pineapple Medley32 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle233210180
      Pineapple Medley16 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle23321014
      Pineapple Medley8 oz12/6/2014Giant EagleFarmer's Market - Giant Eagle2332101140
      Red apple With Cheese5 oz12/6/2014SheetzSheetz M-T-O233210148
      Apples/ Carrots/ Cheese with Dip7 oz12/8/2014SheetzSheetz M-T-O2332101156
      Harvest Blend4 oz12/6/20147-Eleven7-Eleven23321011200

      Consumers who posses the recalled product should dispose of it in an appropriate waste container.

      Consumers may call 1-800-659-6500 (operating 24 hours a day) for more information, or email Del Monte Fresh at Contact-US-Executive-Office@freshdelmonte.com.

      Del Monte Fresh Produce is recalling fresh cut fruit containing Gala red apples grown in Pennsylvania. The product, distributed to a limited number of c...

      Dodge Journey vehicles recalled

      Tire placard labels may contain inaccurate information

      Chrysler Group is recalling 667 model year 2014-2015 Dodge Journey vehicles manufactured October 25, 2013, to August 22, 2014.

      The vehicles may be equipped with tire placard labels which contain inaccurate seating capacity and occupant/cargo combined weight information. This could lead the operator to overload the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will install a correct tire placard label, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is P70.

      Chrysler Group is recalling 667 model year 2014-2015 Dodge Journey vehicles manufactured October 25, 2013, to August 22, 2014. The vehicles may be equipp...

      Why auto leases are surging

      In December, the best lease deals can be found in surprising places

      Auto leases have surged in 2014. According to Experian, leases on new cars increased to more than 29%of the financing market in the third quarter, up from just 7.1% a year earlier.

      With the average transaction price of a new vehicle approaching $34,000, according to Kelly Blue Book (KBB), it's little wonder more consumers are turning to leases, which typically come with much lower monthly payments than purchases.

      “The higher cost of new vehicles is definitely increasing the lease rate on today’s cars,” Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, told ConsumerAffairs. “This is especially true in non-luxury brands, where leasing has historically been low but is much higher today. This confirms that many new car shoppers who would normally buy from a volume brand are now leasing from those same volume brands to reduce their monthly payment.”

      The reason lease payments are lower is simple. The buyer is only paying the difference between the price of the new car and its value at the end of the lease period, when it is returned.

      Because they aren't paying for the entire vehicle, the payments are lower. On the downside, they are absorbing one of the biggest costs – the depreciation on a new car.

      Things to consider

      In addition, Brauer says there are other things a consumer needs to think about when considering a lease, including the restrictions a lease agreement entails.

      “Chief among these are the mileage restrictions, which can add up quickly during the lease return process if the vehicle’s mileage exceeds the contract limit,” he said.

      On the typical 3-year lease, drivers are restricted to 36,000 miles, which equates to 1,000 miles per month. Regular out-of-town trips can easily put you over that limit.

      “Another restriction centers on modifications to the vehicle,” Brauer said. “Essentially, a lessee must keep the car 100% original, meaning no upgraded wheels or audio equipment.”

      But in many instances, that isn't a problem. And when it comes down to the choice between a $200 payment and a $500 payment, for many it's a no-brainer.

      “For buyers who can stay within mileage limits and don’t plan on modifying the vehicle a lease can be a good option, though it also means you have to keep the same car during the lease term, and you must find a new car when the lease ends or buy the leased vehicle at the end of the term if you want to keep driving it,” Brauer said.

      2015s might be cheaper to lease

      There are many attractive lease offers at the end of the year but some might be easy to overlook. When the calendar gets ready to turn dealers are motivated to close out the current model year – in this case the 2014s.

      But that may not be where the best lease deals are. You might find a lower payment on the 2015 models.

      An analysis by nationwide car lease marketplace, Swapalease.com, shows consumers can lease a 2015 Toyota Camry for $293.71 per month, compared to a new 2014 model priced at $319.22.

      A 2015 Chevrolet Malibu lease is priced at $246.21 per month, while a new 2014 model is priced at $319.74.

      If this seems counter-intuitive, you have to remember how leases are structured. You are paying the difference between the new car price and the residual price – what the car is worth when you turn it in.

      A 2015 model purchased in December 2014 is going to be worth more in December 2017 than a 2014 model purchased this month. A higher residual value equates to a lower monthly payment for the consumer.

      If you plan to shop for a lease in December, ask the dealer to do a side-by-side comparison of a new 2014 model lease versus a 2015 model lease, especially for the same vehicle make and model.

      The newer model doesn't always work out to be cheaper, but the Swapalease analysis shows it often does.

      Auto leases have surged in 2014. According to Experian, leases on new cars increased to more than 29% of the financing market in the third quarter, up from...

      Conditions improving for home buyers

      But mortgage process may still pose obstacles

      First, gasoline prices plunged, giving motorists a little breathing room in their fuel budgets. Now, it appears that getting a mortgage to buy a home is getting a little easier after five years of restrictive lending standards.

      Things may be finally looking up for consumers.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) latest Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI) shows an increase of 1.2% in November. An increase means more money is available in the pipeline for mortgages.

      “Credit availability increased in November, largely due to the addition of jumbo loan programs that permit cash-out refinancing,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Chief Economist. “Home price appreciation and larger equity cushions have likely made some lenders more willing to allow certain borrowers to take cash out, while still low mortgage rates may make this a more attractive opportunity for some.”

      Obstacles remain

      While that's a hopeful sign – especially for first-time buyers – would-be homeowners can still face obstacles. A report by J.D. Power and Associates finds a decline in customer satisfaction with the mortgage process.

      Six areas appear to give consumers heartburn; loan offerings; application/approval process; interaction; closing; onboarding; and problem resolution. JD Power notes that 58% of survey respondents were first-time buyers, suggesting lack of experience and uncertainty about the process could have caused some discomfort.

      “Recent National Association of Realtors data indicates the percentage of first-time home buyers is well below historical norms. With many prospective borrowers looking for guidance and reassurance, it is imperative that lenders are fully prepared to provide the detail and information these customers desire or the borrowers may decide to stay on the sidelines,” said Craig Martin, director of the mortgage practice at J.D. Power. “The loan representative is the face of the organization for most borrowers and is relied upon to provide effective explanations, set accurate expectations and ensure consumers have confidence that they are making a good decision.”

      Failure to communicate

      In fact, 54% of first-time home buyers said they didn't fully understand the different loan options available to them. Only 41% of first-time buyers and 56 percent of experienced mortgage customers indicate their representative completely explained the types of loans, terms, special programs, fees and options to reduce their down payment.

      George Ferger, a Realtor in Pompano Beach, Fla., says loan officers need to be more proactive, especially with first-time buyers. Lack of experience and uncertainty about the process may keep first-timers from asking the right questions that could result in the right loan. Buyers may also be reluctant to share key financial information that could help the lender provide better guidance.

      His advice?

      Buyers should look for a lender who will take the time with them. Ask for referrals from people who have recently purchased a home.

      He says it will all work out best for everyone if buyers are upfront with their lender. Be willing to provide basic information your lender needs -- income, debts and obligations such as child support or student loan.

      Let the lender know what your plans are. If you plan to only live in the house a couple or years the loan she may recommend may be different from one that would be suitable if you plan to settle down for the next decade.

      Finally, Be flexible about your goals and don't try to get a loan that's beyond your means. You'll build equity and wealth much more quickly if you buy a home you can comfortably afford.

      First, gasoline prices plunged, giving motorists a little breathing room in their fuel budgets. Now, it appears that getting a mortgage to buy a home is ge...

      Roller coaster blamed for four-year-old's stroke

      Sudden acceleration and deceleration caused a tear in the carotid artery

      Two roller coaster rides on a family vacation are being blamed for a stroke in a four-year-old boy. The case was reported by doctors at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, where the boy was treated.

      Prior to his stroke, the boy was healthy. But during an out-of-state vacation with his parents, he rode two roller coasters. The next day while on the flight back home, the boy vomited and developed a droop on the left side of his face. By the time he arrived home, he was unable to walk and had weakness on his left side.

      He was rushed to the hospital, where imaging exams showed he had experienced a carotid artery dissection and stroke. He received low-dose aspirin and doctors observed a steady improvement. At a six-month follow-up visit, his gait had improved considerably, and he had only mild muscle weakness and stiffness on the left side.

      Sudden movements

      Sudden movements that can hyperextend the neck or rotate the neck -- such as whiplash, certain sports movements or even violent coughing -- can result in a dissection of the carotid artery. A dissection begins as a tear in one layer of the artery wall. A blood clot can form in the area of the tear. If it's large enough, the clot can block blood flow to the brain. Or, pieces of the clot can break free, travel up to the brain and block blood flow to the brain. In either case, the result is a stroke.

      A child under age 10 is vulnerable to sudden neck movements and rotations due to weak neck muscles, a relatively large head and other factors. "This hypermobility, combined with other kinetic and linear forces experienced during a roller coaster ride, could theoretically explain why some children, albeit rarely, sustain dissections," Dr. Jose Biller and colleagues wrote in a scholarly article on the subject.

      Strokes previously have been reported in adult roller coaster riders, but there are only a few previous reports of strokes in children who rode roller coasters, including a 13-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. The 4-year-old boy described by Loyola neurologists is one of the youngest reported in the medical literature.

      Biller is an internationally known expert on strokes in children and young adults. He has written a textbook on the topic and is a co-author of the American Heart Association's guidelines for management of stroke in infants and children. 

      Two roller coaster rides on a family vacation are being blamed for a stroke in a four-year-old boy. The case was reported by doctors at Loyola University M...