Current Events in March 2015

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    Honda recalls Accord L4 and CR-V vehicles

    The engine could lose power or leak oil

    American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 137 model year 2014 Accord L4 vehicles manufactured July 29, 2014, to July 31, 2014; 2015 Accord L4 vehicles manufactured August 14, 2014, to January 30, 2015; and 2015 CR-V vehicles manufactured September 9, 2014, to February 6, 2015.

    The vehicles may have been assembled with improperly torqued connecting rod bolts, which can cause the engine to lose power or leak oil. Loss of engine power may result in a vehicle stall, increasing the risk of a crash. If the engine leaks oil in the proximity of hot engine or exhaust components, there is a risk of fire.

    Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the engine short block, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin March 27, 2015.

    Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is JP2 (for Accord models) and JP3 (for CR-V models).

    American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 137 model year 2014 Accord L4 vehicles manufactured July 29, 2014, to July 31, 2014; 2015 Accord L4 vehicles manufact...

    Credit agencies agree to change handling of errors; medical-debt listings

    New York State attorney general's agreement to apply nationwide

    There's potential good news coming for American consumers: New York State's attorney general announced today that his office has reached an agreement with the country's three major credit-reporting agencies, which will change the way they fix their own mistakes as well as the way they handle medical debt.

    Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that TransUnion, Equifax and Experian promised to be, as the Journal put it, “more proactive in resolving disputes over information contained in credit reports — a process federal watchdogs and consumer advocates have long decried as being stacked against individuals.”

    Indeed, that deck's been stacked against ordinary consumers for about as long as credit-reporting agencies have existed. Consider: with most companies, if you-the-consumer don't like the product or service it offers, you always have the option of taking your business elsewhere, also known as “voting with your wallet.”

    But you can't do that with the credit-rating agencies because you are not their customer; you (or whatever information they claim to have on you) are what they're selling. Their customers are mortgage lenders, cell phone providers, credit card companies, car dealers – any business or institution which might lend you money, or enter into a contract with you. (And if you work in the financial industry, or take any job handling money, there's even a chance that a low credit rating will keep you from getting hired.)

    Affects interest rates

    Consumers rate Experian

    In theory, your credit rating is supposed to help lenders judge how likely you are to actually pay back a loan: the higher your rating, the greater your perceived creditworthiness and (in general) the lower the interest rate you'll pay on anything from credit cards to wireless-phone plans to your home mortgage.

    It's not too much of an oversimplification to say, “The way it works is, if you don't pay your bills on time your rating goes down, especially if those unpaid bills make it to a collection agency.”

    In many cases this makes perfect sense. If, for example, someone has the regular habit of maxing out credit cards, buying things on store credit and rarely paying those bills on time, chances are that someone isn't very good at handling money, and is a poor risk to repay any funds you might lend them.

    But there are problems with this system. The first is that if these credit agencies make errors about you, say by reporting you as delinquent on various bills even though you're not, you'll suffer negative consequences while the agencies themselves have little incentive to fix the error – after all, it's no skin off their nose if you pay higher interest rates.

    Which is why Attorney General Schneiderman's office got involved, and started investigating the three credit agencies in 2012, after New York State residents complained about errors on their credit reports, and how very difficult if not impossible it was to fix them. (Schneiderman's agreement with the three agencies applies to all Americans, not just those in New York.)

    String of complaints

    Consumers rate Equifax

    And of course, it's not just New Yorkers who have such complaints. Here at ConsumerAffairs, we get a pretty reliable string of complaints about all three credit agencies from all over these United States.

    Of the three agencies, Experian is arguably the most famous (or infamous) and has been ever since last year, when news broke that Experian had inadvertently sold Americans' confidential financial information to Vietnamese identity thieves.

    Karianne from Grand Island, New York wrote us last month with this complaint about Equifax:

    I have tried to get my free credit report. However when they ask questions to verify your identity, I answer all the questions and they tell me that they are incorrect. I know where I have lived and that I have not had a mortgage in 15 years, let alone 6 months ago. BEWARE!!!

    Ken in Kentucky also found faulty information on his Equifax report. He wrote on Feb. 10 to say:

    Out of the blue, Equifax started reporting someone else's credit history on my file. Have no idea why or how, it just is. Only found it out after my mortgage lender pulled my credit prior to closing on my new home. Erroneous information wasn't there when we applied for the loan and was approved. Have been working for weeks to get the morons at Equifax to get it fixed. I've had no success. You get the run around and no answers. I can't even get a supervisor on the phone. They said I need to fax my identification (ssn card & DL) and I did that several times, but nothing's changed or updated.

    Meanwhile, my credit score keeps going down and down every month as the bills on the other person's credit don't get paid! What Equifax is doing should be considered criminal and they should be held accountable for this type of stuff. I can't be alone....

    Consumers rate Trans Union

    Even without false facts on your credit report, your score can change for unknown reasons. Christy from Smyrna, Georgia, told us about her Equifax issues on the day before Valentine's Day:

    Nothing changed on my credit report, nothing! And yet, my score dropped 80 points. When I called them, they said they would not discuss over the phone. I must write a letter and they'll respond in 30-90 days. So, I guess UNTIL THEN, TAKE IT AND LIKE IT. Did I mention, nothing on my report had changed?! And if you can't discuss via phone, then why did you answer the phone?

    Not that Equifax is unique in this regard; it's easy to find similar complaints about all credit agencies. In January, Kris wrote us from Newport Beach, California, about problems with TransUnion:

    My credit card company supplies me with my Fico score from TransUnion. Give them a call to find out WHY my score dropped 100+ points. All I wanted was for them to tell me why, but they did smoke/mirrors and redirection. Crappy customer service!!!

    Heather from Joplin, Missouri found TransUnion even worse than the other two agencies. She wrote us on Jan. 9 to say:

    Disputed my student loans that should have been removed 30 days after June 2014. Experian and Equifax fixed in a timely manner. Still waiting on Trans Union! Called and didn't get any help, just the runaround! Customer service sucks!

    Not immediate

    Though AG Schneiderman's agreement will the three agencies will presumably result in better customer service regarding such errors, it won't come into play right away: the Wall Street Journal said that most of the changes will come into effect “over the next six to 39 months.”

    Better handling of such errors is not the only aspect of Schneiderman's agreement; the three credit agencies have also promised to change the way they deal with customers' unpaid medical bills.

    Medical bills have long been problematic because – going back to the idea that your credit rating is essentially a proxy for how financially trustworthy and reliable you are – the current system basically views all debts as being equal, so it doesn't distinguish between being $50,000 over your head because you needed emergency surgery, or $50,000 over your head because you keep putting luxury vacations on your credit card.

    You can even go into medical debt without realizing it; under the current system, customers get dinged for unpaid debt because their insurance companies delayed payment. Schneiderman's agreement with the credit agencies will require them to wait 180 days before adding medical debt to consumers' credit reports, so consumers can use that time to fix any discrepancies.

    Also, in cases where an insurance company did eventually pay off a bill, that debt would have to be removed from the consumer's credit report soon after, rather than stay on for up to seven years.

    For the record: you can get your credit report once a year, for free, at  https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.

    There's potential good news coming for American consumers: New York State's attorney general announced today that his office has reached an agreement with...

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      Identity theft threatens businesses as well as individuals

      IRS sees the problem each year at tax time

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues to warn individuals and businesses of the dangers of criminals obtaining their personal information and filing a false tax return – one that pays a large refund to the criminal.

      At the same time, the tax agency wants you to know that not everyone who steals an identity and files a fake return gets away with it. The IRS says a Charlotte, N.C., couple was recently sentenced to a combined 32 years in prison for filing over 1,000 fake returns.

      They are among the IRS' top 10 identity theft prosecutions but unfortunately, are the tip of the iceberg. In 2014, the IRS conducted over 1,000 identity theft-related investigations. Nearly 750 people were sentenced to prison in connection to identity theft crimes, a 75% increase over the previous year.

      Corporate targets

      While individuals remain easy targets, businesses provide an even bigger payoff for criminals and are being targeted with increasing frequency. Erik Knight, CEO of SimpleWan, a provider of cloud-based security routers, says businesses large and small are largely oblivious to the threat.

      Knight says 40% of companies worldwide suffered some type of computer breach in 2014. If businesses file tax returns from office computers that have been compromised, they may open themselves to fraud. And of course, it goes far beyond tax-related identity theft.

      The average time it takes for an organization to realize it’s been breached is 6 months. During that time, a hacker can steal important data and cause extensive damage before the intrusion is noticed.

      Five steps

      Knight offers 5 steps that businesses should take to avoid damage from security breaches:

      First, hire an experienced, professional IT firm to regularly check your network and conduct a thorough threat assessment.

      Don't hesitate to spend money on security. The adage “if it ain't broke don't fix it” doesn't apply here. Make sure your IT infrastructure is patched and kept up to date, audited and tested for security holes monthly.

      Make sure you are following your industry compliance and rules to the letter. In the past businesses that took a lax attitude toward security protocol proved to be easy targets and faced numerous lawsuits as a result.

      Get insured. Data breach insurance didn't exist a few years ago. Chances are, many businesses will be required to have it in the near future.

      Make sure all equipment and software is current. Knight says a standalone device purchased only a year ago that hasn't been updated or monitored may already be breached and you wouldn't even know it.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues to warn individuals and businesses of the dangers of criminals obtaining their personal information and filing...

      Mexico bans circuses but fate of animals is uncertain

      It's the tenth country to ban circuses nationwide

      In Mexico a federal ban on circuses that was pushed by the country's Green Party and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is set to go into effect in July.

      Mexico's Congress passed a bill outlawing circuses with animals across the entire country this past Thursday. That was the same day that Ringling Brothers announced its plan to exclude elephants from its roster by 2018. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus won't come to Mexico this year because of the bans.

      It all started on a local level. The federal legislation is the culmination of a series of legal changes in the last year that saw Mexico City and 12 of Mexico's 31 states prohibit circuses with animals. Mexico will be the tenth country to have passed nationwide bans on animal circuses nationwide.

      As in the United States, animal activists have been relentless. The organization Anima Naturalis Mexico has led demonstrations, political lobbying, and educational campaigns to create greater awareness of how circus animals are treated in Mexico. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recruited a popular Mexican actress, Kate del Castillo, who appeared on a video that showed baby circus elephants being tied up, beaten and chained to concrete floors.

      What now?

      But Armando Cedeno, the head of Mexico's circus owners association, fears that many of the animals will be put down because there were no provisions in the law that specified what should happen to them.

      This encompasses not only elephants but also lions, tigers, zebras and every other animal that has been involved with a circus. Food and care for these animals can cost up to $100 a day. There are 200 circuses in Mexico that have permits so the number of animals effected by this could be large. Cedeno thinks that at least 10 percent of the country's circuses already have closed because of the ban.

       The new law requires circuses to submit lists of the animals they possess, and it would be made available to zoos interested in taking the animals. But with Mexico's public zoos strapped for cash, it is unclear whether they can take any of the circus animals or how much they could pay for them.

      The hope is that the circus will survive without animals and a "New Age" circus is emerging with animals that are robots. They still have an elephant that puts its foot up on a ball but the elephant is a robot. People can still fly off of trapezes and walk through rings of fire. Vegas has done pretty well with Cirque du  Soleil which is a human circus of sorts.

      Ironically as Mexico bans circuses there is still no law banning cock fighting or bull fighting which are extremely abusive to the animal.

      In Mexico a federal ban on circuses that was pushed by the country's Green Party and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is set to go into effect ...

      Don't forget Free File when doing your taxes

      You can use it for help with tax returns, extensions and new health care law

      Have you filed your 2014 federal income tax return yet? If not, you have a valuable tool available to help you through the process: Free File.

      Available only at IRS.gov/FreeFile, the service makes brand-name tax software products and electronic filing available to most taxpayers for free.

      Taxpayers have the option to prepare their return at any time and schedule a tax payment as late as the April 15 deadline. Those who can't meet the April tax filing deadline can use Free File to file a six-month extension.

      Through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a consortium of 14 leading tax software companies make their branded products available for free. Since 2003, more than 43 million people have used Free File, saving $1.3 billion based on a conservative $30-fee estimate.

      Do you qualify?

      Anyone who earned $60,000 or less last year qualifies to choose from among 14 software products. Those who earned more than 60,000 are still eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms. This more basic Free File option is best for people who are comfortable preparing their own tax return.

      More than 70% of all taxpayers -- 100 million people -- are eligible for the software products. Each of the 14 companies has its own special offers, generally based on age, income or state residency. Taxpayers can review each company offer or they can use a “Help Me” tool that will find the software for which they are eligible.

      Wondering How to Use Free File? Free File offers easy-to-use products that ask questions and the taxpayer supplies the answers. The software will find the right forms, find the right tax credits and deductions and even do the math. Some companies also offer free state tax return preparation.

      Free File also can help taxpayers with the new health care requirements. Most people will simply have to check a box to report health care coverage for the entire year. Learn more at IRS.gov/aca.

      Free File will be available through October.

      Have you filed your 2014 federal income tax return yet? If not, you have a valuable tool available to help you through the process: Free File. Available o...

      Rio Tex recalls ready-to-eat beef products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Rio Tex Wholesale Meats of Mercedes, Texas, is recalling approximately 58,180 pounds of ready-to-eat beef products.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The following beef products, produced on various dates between March 25, 2014, and February 19, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 20-lb. boxes containing four 5-lb. packages of “Hausman Foods COOKED BEEF TACO FILLING.”
      • 20-lb. boxes containing four 5-lb. packages of “Hausman Foods SEASONED COOKED BEEF BARBACOA.”
      • 20-lb. boxes containing four 5-lb. packages of “Hausman Foods FULLY COOKED BARBACOA.”
      • 20-lb. boxes containing four 5-lb. packages of “Hausman Foods BEEF CARNE GUISADA.”
      • 15-lb. and 45-lb. boxes containing three 5-lb. or 15-lb. packages of “Rio-Tex-Meats BARBACOA.”

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “EST. 13545” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped for hotel, restaurant and institutional use in Texas.

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Barney Trevino, plant manager, at (956) 565-1142.

      Rio Tex Wholesale Meats of Mercedes, Texas, is recalling approximately 58,180 pounds of ready-to-eat beef products. The products may be contaminated with ...

      Alliance recalls tires with tread separation issue

      The tire could have a rapid loss of air

      Alliance Tire Americas is recalling 309 model 396 tires, size 445/65R22.5 manufactured April 22, 2013, to November 23, 2014; and size 600/50R22.5 manufactured May 27, 2013, to November 2, 2014.

      The tread may separate from the tire, resulting in a rapid loss of air, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Alliance will notify owners, and dealers will reimburse consumers for the defective tires. The recall is expected to begin in March 2015.

      Owners may contact Alliance customer service at 1-800-343-3276. Alliance's number for this recall is ATG-396HS-001.

      Alliance Tire Americas is recalling 309 model 396 tires, size 445/65R22.5 manufactured April 22, 2013, to November 23, 2014; and size 600/50R22.5 manufactu...

      Apex-S1R-EX motorcycle helmets recalled

      The helmets may not meet federal penetration requirements

      Suomy SPA is recalling 390 Apex-S1R-EX motorcycle helmets, sizes extra small, small and medium manufactured January 1, 2013, to July 31, 2013.

      The helmets may not meet the penetration requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, "Motorcycle Helmets." In the event of a crash, the wearer may not be protected adequately, increasing the risk of personal injury.

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      For more information owners may contact Suomy customer relations by email at Jim@Suomy.com

      Suomy SPA is recalling 390 Apex-S1R-EX motorcycle helmets, sizes extra small, small and medium manufactured January 1, 2013, to July 31, 2013. The helmet...

      Toyota recalls Yaris vehicles with axle issue

      The rear axle bearing bolts may not have been tightened properly

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 226 model year 2015 Yaris vehicles manufactured September 8, 2014, to January 9, 2015.

      The recalled vehicles may have improperly tightened rear axle bearing bolts. The improperly tightened bolts may loosen during vehicle operation and potentially cause the wheel to lock up or damage the rear brake components, reducing their effectiveness. Either condition increases the risk of a crash.

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear axle bearing bolts, tightening them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin during March 2015.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 226 model year 2015 Yaris vehicles manufactured September 8, 2014, to January 9, 2015. The recalled...

      NSA “backdoor” mandates lead to a computer-security FREAK show

      Microsoft Windows OS vulnerable to hackers, thanks to National Security Agency requirements

      On Thursday, Microsoft issued a security advisory admitting that it is “aware of a security feature bypass vulnerability” which “affects all supported releases of Microsoft Windows,” in addition to any non-Microsoft software running on a part of Windows called Secure Channel.

      Specifically, Windows is vulnerable to a security flaw known as FREAK (a not-quite-acronym which stands for “Factoring attack on RSA-EXPORT Keys”). FREAK makes it possible for attackers to spy on supposedly secure communications.

      The security researchers who first discovered Windows' vulnerability to FREAK estimate that roughly 9.5% of the web's top 1 million websites are vulnerable to FREAK attacks. So are the websites of the FBI and NSA. A list of popular sites susceptible to FREAK can be found at FreakAttack.com.

      Remember that “susceptible to FREAK” is not synonymous with “has been hacked thanks to FREAK.” As of presstime, so far as anyone knows, no hackers have exploited the Windows FREAK vulnerability.

      Not unique

      Vulnerability to FREAK is not unique to Windows. Quite the opposite: until now, everyone thought FREAK was “only” a problem for Android, iOS and OS X users, but not Windows OS. With this latest addition of Windows, the list of phones, tablets and other devices whose security is vulnerable to FREAK now includes – well, pretty much all of them.

      What makes all communications devices vulnerable to this FREAK-show? Three words: National Security Agency.

      As TechNewsWorld put it, Microsoft's FREAK problem shows how the “NSA's flaws come home to roost.” After all, it would be very easy for Microsoft and all other tech companies to make securely encrypted devices which nobody can illicitly spy upon. Problem is, the NSA and other branches of the United States government don't want the tech companies to do this; the government wants companies to provide a “backdoor” through which government agents can enter at will.

      Remember: even though phone encryption could end the problem of hackers and other criminals spying on people's secure communications, FBI director James Comey actually suggested last October that maybe Congress should make it illegal for such communications to be encrypted.

      And last December, when Verizon introduced its “Voice Cypher” app, it described the app with words like “secure” and “encrypted.” But it's not; Voice Cypher also has a backdoor allowing for government access, which also means a backdoor allowing access to any hacker who knows how to breach it.

      Bear in mind: even if these devices were genuinely secure and encrypted, it would still be possible for the police or other government agents to get data off of your devices without your help or consent, if necessary to solve a criminal investigation or something similar. The police would merely have to go to court and present evidence for a search warrant, as demanded by the Constitution.

      The security-flaw “backdoors” allow the NSA or others to skip this step, so they can easily, remotely (and warrantlessly) access your encrypted device without your knowing about it.

      In other words: don't think of FREAK vulnerability as “a terrible security flaw leaving you hopelessly vulnerable to thieving cybercriminals found anywhere on planet Earth”; think of it as “your tax dollars at work.”

      On Thursday, Microsoft issued a security advisory admitting that it is “aware of a security feature bypass vulnerability” which “affects all supported rele...

      Regardless of age, consumers' financial planning found lacking

      Boomers, Gen X and Millennials all seem to be behind the curve

      There should be no generational finger-pointing when it comes to how well or poorly we manage our money for the future. A new survey suggests we could all learn a thing or two.

      The evidence is submitted by Financial Finesse, a company running financial wellness programs in the workplace. Each year it studies financial priorities and vulnerabilities of Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers.

      This year, the survey finds that different circumstances may be causing them pain, but members of all three generations have money problems.

      Millennials

      First, let's look at what the study found out about Millennials. This under-30 generation probably bears the deepest psychological scars from the Great Recession. It has influenced the way they spend and manage money and, perhaps most significantly, has influenced their housing decisions.

      They seem to have a lot in common with their great-grandparents' generation that survived the Great Depression with a distrust of financial institutions. Their focus appears to be on not losing money rather than growing it for the future. As a result, they tend to shy away from the stock market and home purchases.

      This group as a whole also isn't doing much to plan for retirement. It has the lowest 401(k) participation rate of all generations.

      Gen X

      The survey finds members of Generation X, between the ages of 30 and 51, are actually the most at-risk financially. Why? The authors think Gen Xers may be putting their children first, at the expense of their own financial security.

      When questioned, just 17% of Gen Xers said they are confident they are on track to achieve their income-replacement goal by the time they retire. Instead of pumping up their retirement accounts, 23% said they are contributing to a 529 college savings plan.

      Boomers

      Boomers, people between 51 and 69, are by far the wealthiest generation but Financial Finesse warns they face an impending health care crisis because of longer life spans and inadequate insurance planning. Only 16% of Boomers said they have long-term care insurance. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) projects that 70% will need some level of care in retirement.

      Financial Finesse’s advisers say they are most concerned for Generation X employees who they urge to re-evaluate their retirement plans with the expectation of less money from Social Security, increasing health care costs, reduced employer benefits, and longer life expectancies than Baby Boomers.

      Oh yes, there's also the rising national debt. While both Gen X and Millennials will be left to deal with that mess, probably through higher taxes, but the firm points out Gen X has less time to reconcile their finances than Millennials.

      “Is this solvable? Absolutely, but it will require a herculean effort,” said Liz Davidson, CEO and founder of Financial Finesse.

      There should be no generational finger-pointing when it comes to how well or poorly we manage our money for the future. A new survey suggests we could all ...

      Where do you plan to get old?

      Author says "aging in place" isn't right for everyone

      It may not be until people hit their 60s that they start to think about where they would like to live out their "golden years."

      For Baby Boomers, the idea of a nursing home or assisted living facility probably isn't on the list. Fiercely independent, Boomers have championed the idea of “aging in place,” living out old age in their homes, amid familiar surroundings.

      But author Stephen Golant, a University of Florida researcher who studies housing needs for older Americans, has concluded that “aging in place” simply isn't practical for many Americans.

      When you are 40 or 50, it might sound great. By the time they reach your late 70s, Golant says seniors may find their homes are lacking in the activities, features and amenities that a people need as they age.

      Modifying homes

      The National Association of Homebuilders has an “aging in place” initiative, helping homeowners design new homes so that they can live there safely and independently for the rest of their lives. Besides new homes, the concept also extends to remodeling.

      “To age-in-place, you will probably need to modify your house as you mature to increase access and safety,” the industry group says. “Modifications may range from the installation of bathroom grab bars and adjusting countertop height to the creation of first floor bedrooms and the installation of private elevators.

      Golant, author of “Aging in the Right Place,” said older people need to think about these things, and think about them before they actually need them. You can wake up one day and find you must rely on other people to meet your everyday needs. Often, he says, even when family and professionals help, it isn't enough.

      Staying in control

      “We need to think about two sets of feelings -- not just feeling comfortable, but also being in a place where we feel capable of achieving our everyday needs, from self-care to buying groceries to reaching doctors, and don’t feel that our lives are spinning out of control,” Golant said.

      If you are an older person of means, your problems are less severe. You can afford the housing and services you need to live a comfortable and independent life.

      If you are a low-income senior, you might benefit from government programs and services that can make your older years more comfortable.

      Those in the middle, says Golant, usually get the worst of it. They often fall outside the safety net of social, long-term care and housing programs offered by federal, state, and local governments. Buying those services on the open market isn't practical either because they are simply too costly.

      Alternatives

      In his book, Golant offers what he considers some practical alternatives to older Americans who can't afford assisted living facilities with a high degree of both services and amenities.

      One alternative is an “elder village,” a grass-roots communally organized neighborhood or apartment building where seniors can interact with people their own age, feel more engaged and help one another maintain their independence.

      If you are considering an assisted living facility, Golant says you should remember that it is no different from any other consumer product. Some will be great and some not so great. Older people should be discriminating customers, he says.

      Finally, don't wait until an age-related health crisis hits to make plans. The widest window of opportunity for planning will be when you are in good health and can think clearly.

      If you have planned and made good decisions, Golant says even poor health and disabilities won't prevent you from having a happy, productive life.

      It may not be until people hit their 60s that they start to think about where they would like to live out their "golden years."...

      Consumers prepare to say “good-bye” to winter with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations

      Average spending this year will be a little higher than in 2014

      Tired of winter yet? Silly question.

      While March 17 is a couple of days shy of spring, St. Patrick's Day is close enough and a good reason to celebrate the approaching change of seasons.

      According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) St. Patrick’s Day Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, nearly 127 million people are planning to celebrate the traditional Irish holiday. To do so, they'll spend an average of $36.52 on green garb, festive food and more 74 cents more than they laid out last year.

      Total spending for the holiday is expected to reach $4.6 billion.

      “Consumers are ready to shed their winter blues and welcome spring’s arrival with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Falling at the perfect time of year -- just as temperatures begin to rise -- retailers are hoping St. Patrick’s Day will also draw the attention of those looking for traditional spring merchandise as consumers take the opportunity to stock up for warm months ahead with home improvement, garden and apparel purchases.”

      Wearin' of the green

      The survey found that more than 104 million people (82.4%) of those celebrating, plan to wear green to make sure the luck of the Irish is with them this year; 28.9 million, or 22.8% plan to decorate their homes with shamrocks, leprechauns and pots of "gold."

      Consumers also plan to let loose with their friends and family this year. According to the survey, 29.2% -- 37 million people -- plan to celebrate at a bar or restaurant and 19% (24 million consumers) plan to attend a private party; an additional 30% plan to make a special dinner to commemorate the Irish holiday.

      Adults ages 25-34 will do the most celebrating with 42.2% planning to head to a bar or restaurant to take part in the festivities. This age group also plans to spend the most at an average of $41.69; close behind are young adults age 18-24, who plan to spend $38.55 on average.

      Tired of winter yet? Silly question. While March 17 is a couple of days shy of spring, St. Patrick's Day is close enough and a good reason to celebrate t...

      Hiring up, jobless rate down in February

      Nearly 300,000 jobs were created last month

      Hiring has kicked into high gear, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that total nonfarm payroll employment shot up by 295,000 in February. At the same time, the unemployment rate dipped from 5.7% to 5.5%

      Along with the jobless rate, the number of unemployed persons dropped to 8.7 million. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 1.2% and 1.7 million, respectively.

      The civilian labor force participation rate -- at 62.8% -- was little-changed February and has remained within a narrow range of 62.7 to 62.9% since last April. The employment-population ratio was unchanged at 59.3% in February but is up 0.5% over the year.

      Workers and non-workers

      Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers decreased by 1.7% points to 17.1% in February. The jobless rates for adult men (5.2%), adult women (4.9%), whites (4.7%), blacks (10.4%, Asians (4.0%), and Hispanics (6.6%) showed little or no change.

      The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 2.7 million in February. These individuals accounted for 31.1% of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed is down by 1.1 million.

      Where the jobs are

      Job gains last month were seen in food services and drinking places (59,000), professional and business services (51,000), management and technical consulting services (7,000), computer systems design and related services (5,000), and architectural and engineering services (5,000).

      Construction added 29,000 jobs, with employment in specialty trade contractors up by 27,000 -- mostly in the residential component.

      Health care employment rose by 24,000, transportation and warehousing added 19,000 jobs, and employment in retail trade continued to trend up in February (32,000).

      Manufacturing employment added 8,000 positions, although within the industry, petroleum and coal products lost 6,000 jobs -- largely due to a strike. Employment in mining decreased by 9,000 in February, with most of it (-7,000) in support activities for mining.

      Employment in other major industries, including wholesale trade, information, financial activities, and government, showed little change over the month.

      Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3 cents to $24.78. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.0%.

      The complete February employment report is available on the BLS website.

      Hiring has kicked into high gear, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that total nonfarm payroll employment shot up by 295,000 in February...

      Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos recalled

      The vehicle could stall without warning

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 338,216 model year 2012-2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manufactured September 17, 2010, to August 19, 2013, and equipped with a 3.6, 5.7 or 6.4 liter engine, and 2012-2013 Dodge Durango vehicles manufactured January 18, 2011, to August 19, 2013, and equipped with a 3.6 or 5.7 liter engine.

      The fuel pump relay inside the Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM-7) may fail, causing the vehicle to stall without warning and increase the risk of a crash.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel pump relay with one external to the TIPM. The recall is expected to begin April 24, 2015.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is R09.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 338,216 model year 2012-2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manufactured September 17, 2010, to August 19, 2013, and equip...

      Nissan recalls Altimas with hood latch issue

      The secondary hood latch may remain in the unlatched position when the hood is closed

      Nissan North America is recalling 625,000 model year 2013-2015 Nissan Altimas manufactured March 1, 2013, to December 31, 2014.

      The secondary hood latch may bind and remain in the unlatched position when the hood is closed. If the primary latch is inadvertently released and the secondary latch is not engaged, the hood could open unexpectedly while while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

      A remedy plan or a notification schedule has not yet been determined.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261. Note: This recall is an expansion of recall 14V-565.

      Nissan North America is recalling 625,000 model year 2013-2015 Nissan Altimas manufactured March 1, 2013, to December 31, 2014. The secondary hood latch ...

      Premier Distribution Center recalls beef and pork products

      Discrepancies in the inspection labeling process have turned up

      Premier Distribution Center of Nogales, Ariz., is recalling approximately 50,953 pounds of pork and beef products.

      A federal inspector noticed that some of the inspection labels had been photocopied, and a pursuant investigation discovered that some of the labels had been applied after hours without the presence of a USDA inspector. The investigation is continuing.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following products are being recalled:

      • 22,133 pounds of bulk frozen pork ribs belly soft bone-in, frozen pork collars, and frozen pork back ribs in clear shrink wrapped plastic bags. Exterior boxes bear a photocopied version of the “I-655 U.S. INSP’D & P’S’D”” and a shipping number #1880.
      • 28,820 pounds of various bulk cuts of frozen beef products, short loins, chuck short ribs, hind shanks, short ribs, banana steaks, brisket ¼ trim, butt tenders, flank steaks, flap meat, inside skirt, lifter meat, pulled knuckles, rib eyes, tri-tips, and oxtails; all in clear shrink wrapped plastic bags. Exterior boxes bear a photocopied version of the “I-655 U.S. INSP’D & P’S’D” and a shipping mark number #2014110262.

      The pork items were produced on various dates from November 15, 2014 through December 2, 2014, and the beef items were produced on various dates from November 29, 2014, through December 18, 2014.

      The products bear the shipping number of either #2014110262 for the beef products or #1880 for the pork products, and were shipped to locations in California, Washington and Arizona.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Premier Distribution Center at 1-520-761-3481.

      Premier Distribution Center of Nogales, Ariz., is recalling approximately 50,953 pounds of pork and beef products. A federal inspector noticed that some ...

      Toyota recalls Yaris vehicles in Puerto Rico

      An incorrect headliner was used in the vehicles

      Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is recalling of approximately 16,600 Model Year 2012-2015 Yaris hatchbacks produced for sale in Puerto Rico.

      An incorrect headliner was used in the involved vehicles, and, as a result, the vehicles may not meet certain requirements of a federal standard. This can increase the risk of an injury to occupants in the event of a crash.

      Toyota says it is not aware of any injuries or fatalities caused by this condition.

      Owners of the recalled vehicles will be notified by first class mail, and Toyota dealers will replace the headliner at no cost to the owner.

      Consumers may call Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331.

      Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is recalling of approximately 16,600 Model Year 2012-2015 Yaris hatchbacks produced for sale in Puerto Rico. An incorrect hea...