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    Ben Carson will be the best-liked debater in tonight's face-off

    Donald Trump, Jeb Bush have high unfavorable ratings in Gallup survey

    He may look sleepy to Donald Trump, but Ben Carson has a formidable +60 favorability rating among Republicans as the candidates get tuned up for tonight's GOP debate in Boulder, Colorado, Gallup reports.

    Carson's net favorable score -- the difference between his favorable and unfavorable ratings -- is 20 percentage points higher than the next-highest-rated candidate, Marco Rubio. Donald Trump and Jeb Bush both have relatively high unfavorable ratings, pushing their net favorable scores well below those of several other candidates.

    Carly Fiorina has the third-highest net favorable rating of the nine Republicans that Gallup is tracking, at +33, followed by Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Trump. Bush, whose familiarity among Republicans is second only to Trump's, has a net favorable score of +19, above only Christie and Kasich.

    Carson's big lead on the measure of net favorability is based on his 68% favorable rating, the highest of any candidate, and his 8% unfavorable rating, which is the lowest.

    Gallup's candidate image ratings are based on interviews conducted Oct. 13-26 with approximately 800 to 900 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents evaluating each candidate.

    High times

    Tonight's debate, the third in the series, doesn't bestow a home-court advantage on any of the candidates. In fact, the liberal college town might even be considered hostile territory. Marijuana and same-sex marriage are popular there, and, with an elevation of 5,430 feet, the air is thin enough to produce a contact high even when the smoke has cleared.

    So far, Carson and Fiorina have benefited most from the debates. Just prior to the first debate, Carson's net favorable score was essentially tied with Rubio's, with Fiorina near the bottom of the list. By the eve of the second debate, both Carson's and Fiorina's images had improved significantly, and have stayed the same or edged up further in the time since.

    Christie's image has also improved, but given his starting point at -2 prior to the first debate, his current +10 net favorable score places him just above Kasich at the bottom of the list.

    Notably, Kasich and Bush are the only candidates whose images are worse now than just prior to the first debate, although Bush's current +19 is an improvement over the depths to which he fell just before the second debate. Kasich's image did rise shortly after the first debate, but then fell back again and has remained low since.

    Net favorable scores for Rubio, Cruz, and Huckabee have not changed much over time.

    Republicans' views of Trump have varied over the last three months. Although his current net favorable score is higher than it was prior to the first debate in early August, Gallup's two-week rolling averages show considerable change. His net favorable score rose going into the second debate in September and fell after the debate, but has now returned to where it was.

    He may look sleepy to Donald Trump, but Ben Carson has a formidable +60 favorability rating among Republicans as the candida...
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    Volkswagen skids to a loss in the third quarter

    Diesel scandal results in first red ink in 15 years

    Having to admit to a systematic design to circumvent emissions tests on its diesel cars was a blow to Volkswagen. What else could go wrong?

    It could lose money. Lots of it.

    The embattled German automaker reports losses of $3.9 billion in the third quarter. Admittedly, plenty of consumers were buying its cars during those three months. The loss is attributable to the billions of dollars the company has set aside to deal with the aftermath of the diesel scandal.

    In its report, VW executives chose to focus on the positive. Sales revenue grew by 8.5% in the July through September quarter. Operating return on sales, before special items, amounted to 6.4%.

    Core strength

    "The figures show the core strength of the Volkswagen Group on the one hand, while on the other the initial impact of the current situation is becoming clear,” said Matthias Müller, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft. “We will do everything in our power to win back the trust we have lost."

    But the future may be uncertain for Volkswagen and there could be more pain ahead. The quarterly report only reflects the initial weeks of the cheating scandal. A preliminary report this week from Kelley Blue Book projected a sharp drop in VW sales, suggesting the scandal has taken a toll on the brand, not just its diesel cars.

    Analysts at Frost & Sullivan say VW's concession of corporate malfeasance in circumventing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing in the U.S. can have impact on the entire industry.

    Long-term sales decline

    "As an immediate impact of the scandal, Volkswagen Group sales are expected to fall by 2% – 4% by 2020," said Arun Chandranath, Frost & Sullivan Automotive and Transportation Senior Research Analyst. "There will be a significant push towards alternate powertrains from both the industry and the consumer.”

    As consumers become more leery of diesel technology, Chandranath believes hybrids will be the strongest benefactor. Hybrids offer high fuel efficiency with low emissions and are independent from a charging infrastructure. It's also a proven technology with plenty of available products.

    Meanwhile, government regulators can be expected to tighten their standards. Frost & Sullivan predicts globally harmonized test procedures will be a vital strategy towards implementing worldwide test standards. This will ensure standardized emission and fuel testing so that the company can begin to regain consumer trust.

    Having to admit to a systematic design to circumvent emissions tests on its diesel cars was a blow to Volkswagen. What else could go wrong?It could los...
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      Mortgage applications on the downside

      Contract interest were headed higher

      Following the previous week's surge of nearly 12%, mortgage applications were down 3.5% in the week ending October 23, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.

      The Refinance Index was also lower, showing a dip of 4%, leaving the refinance share of mortgage activity unchanged at 59.5% of total applications.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity fell to 6.6% of total applications, the FHA share dropped from 14.3% to 13.7% from the week prior, the VA share was 12.3%, while the USDA share inched up to 0.7% from 0.6% a week earlier.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased three basis points -- to 3.98% from 3.95%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) inched up from 3.87% to 3.88%, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose two basis points to 3.80%, with points falling to 0.30 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was up to 3.22% from 3.20%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped nine basis points to 3.03%, with points decreasing to 0.34 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      Following the previous week's surge of nearly 12%, mortgage applications were down 3.5% in the week ending October 23, according to the Mortgage Bankers As...
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      GM recalls vehicles with ignition issue

      The ignition may get stuck in the "Start" position

      General Motors is recalling 3,073 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks manufactured January 24, 2014, to February 26, 2014, 2015; Chevrolet Suburban vehicles manufactured February 12, 2014; and Chevrolet Tahoe vehicles manufactured February 6, 2014, to February 13, 2014.

      The ignition lock actuator may bind, making turning the key difficult or causing the ignition to get stuck in the "Start" position.

      If stuck in the "Start" position, the ignition may suddenly snap back into the "Accessory" position, causing a loss of engine, steering, and braking power, increasing the risk of a vehicle crash. If the vehicle is in a crash, the air bags may not deploy, increasing the risk of occupant injury.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the ignition lock housing, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020 or GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 15573.

      General Motors is recalling 3,073 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks manufactured January 24, 2014, to February 26, 2014, 2015;...
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      Shuler Meats recalls turkey products

      The products were reconditioned without the benefit of federal inspection

      Shuler Meats of Thomasville, N.C., is recalling approximately 25,920 pounds of turkey products.

      The products were reconditioned without the benefit of federal inspection.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The the following fully cooked smoked turkey legs, produced from Nov. 24, 2014, through May 4, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 648 - 40 lb. (approximate weight) plastic-lined cardboard boxes containing frozen turkey legs with the labels “Shuler Meats, Co.” and “Belmont Meats, Co.”

      The recalled products bear establishment number “P-21309” on the Belmont Meats, Co. boxes, and “M-40367” on the Shuler Meats label, and were distributed to fairs and retailers in North Carolina.

      Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may Wayne Shuler at (336) 476-6477.

      Shuler Meats of Thomasville, N.C., is recalling approximately 25,920 pounds of turkey products. The products were reconditioned without the benefit of fed...
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      Toyota recalls model year 2016 Tacoma trucks

      Incorrect bolts were used to install the driver's knee air bag module

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 306 model year 2016 Tacoma trucks manufactured August 20, 2015, to September 10, 2015.

      Incorrect bolts were used to install the driver's knee air bag module. The bolts may loosen over time and affect the performance of the driver's knee air bag, increasing the risk of driver injury during a crash that necessitates deployment of the air bags.

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will install the correct driver's knee air bag module mounting bolts, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by December 12, 2015.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is F0T.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 306 model year 2016 Tacoma trucks manufactured August 20, 2015, to September 10, 2015. Incorrect bo...
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      Various Cooper vehicles with steering issue recalled

      The vehicles could lose electro-hydraulic steering assistance

      BMW of North America is recalling 86,018 model year 2002-2005 MINI Cooper and Cooper S vehicles and 2005 Cooper and Cooper S Convertible vehicles.

      The vehicles may experience temporary or permanent loss of the electro-hydraulic steering assistance.

      This would require extra steering effort at lower speeds, potentially increasing the risk of a vehicle crash.

      MINI will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the electro-hydraulic power steering system, replacing the components and wiring, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 1, 2015.

      Owners may contact MINI customer service at 1-866-825-1525.

      BMW of North America is recalling 86,018 model year 2002-2005 MINI Cooper and Cooper S vehicles and 2005 Cooper and Cooper S Convertible vehicles. The ve...
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      Chrysler recalls Ram 1500 trucks

      The rear axles may have been incorrectly heat treated

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 65,760 model year 2015-2016 Ram 1500 trucks manufactured June 17, 2015, to September 28, 2015.

      The vehicles may have been built with rear axles that were incorrectly heat treated. If the rear axle shaft was not properly heated treated, it may fracture and a wheel separation could occur, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the vehicles and replace the axle assemblies, as necessary, 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 R59.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 65,760 model year 2015-2016 Ram 1500 trucks manufactured June 17, 2015, to September 28, 2015. The vehicles may have b...
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      LaRose Industries recalls Peanuts Flying Ace ride-on toys

      The toy’s blue hubcaps can detach from the wheel’s axle

      LaRose Industries of Randolph, N.J., is recalling about 11,000 Peanuts Flying Ace ride-on toys.

      The toy’s blue hubcaps can detach from the wheel’s axle, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Peanuts Flying Ace ride-on toys modeled after older style airplanes. The toys are intended for children ages 12 months to two years.

      The body of the plane is red, the steering wheel, propeller and wings are yellow and the hubcaps are blue. “Snoopy Flying Ace” is printed on the front of the toy airplane and Snoopy characters are printed on each wing and on the front. The ride-on toys measure 19 inches long by 19 ½ inches wide (wing span) by 13 inches high.

      A hang tag attached to the product at purchase has “#38126” printed on it and one of the following date codes:

      • BCHTAR616A13-0515
      • BCHTAR614A13-0515
      • BCHTAR615A11-0515
      • BCHTAR684A20-0515
      • BCHTAR682A05-0615
      • BCHTAR683A05-0615

      The toys, manufactured in China, were sold at Target stores nationwide from July 2015, through August 2015, for about $40.

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled ride-on toys away from children and return the product to any Target store for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Target at 800-440-0680 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.target.com, click on Product Recalls at the bottom of the homepage under the Help section. Consumers can also click on the Product Recalls tab on Target’s Facebook page for more information. Consumers can also visit LaRose’s website at www.cra-z-art.com and click on the Product Recall tab at the bottom of the page.

      LaRose Industries of Randolph, N.J., is recalling about 11,000 Peanuts Flying Ace ride-on toys. The toy’s blue hubcaps can detach from the wheel’s axle, p...
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      New York AG launches probe to investigate top Internet providers

      Consumers may be getting charged for faster broadband speeds that they simply aren't getting

      The need to stay connected is more important than ever these days – just ask any teenager who doesn't have access to their phone or computer for a few hours. This is why it can be completely infuriating when your connection to the Internet isn't working properly.

      But it could be even more infuriating if you find out that your Internet provider is not giving you the broadband connection you paid for. New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is setting out to determine if that is the case in his state. He will be probing to see if three major Internet providers are duping consumers by charging them for faster broadband speeds that they are failing to deliver on.

      “New Yorkers deserve the Internet speeds they pay for. But, it turns out, many of us may be paying for one thing, and getting another,” said Schneiderman.

      Concerns about Internet speed

      In order to determine if this claim holds water, letters have been sent to three top Internet providers in New York: Verizon Communications Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp., and Time Warner Cable Inc. The letters ask each company to provide copies of the disclosures that they have given to customers, as well as copies of any tests that have been performed on their Internet speeds.

      Concerns over Internet speeds began after a 2014 study was conducted by Measurement Lab Consortium, or M-Lab. Researchers found that the Internet service for many consumers tended to suffer when broadband providers (i.e. the companies listed above) connected with long-haul Internet traffic carriers.

      “Internet service provider interconnection has a substantial impact on consumer Internet performance – sometimes a severely negative impact,” concluded the researchers. They added that business relationships tended to be a major influencer for when problems would occur, rather than any technical issues.

      Taking cues from the study and consumer complaints about their Internet service, the attorney general's office launched their investigation. They are particularly interested in Internet speeds for “the last mile” from Time Warner Cable and Cablevision. “The last mile” refers specifically to the point where the telecommunication chain reaches a consumer's device.

      Confident and cooperative

      Each company has responded to the probe with confidence over the service that they provide. “We're confident that we provide our customers the speeds and services we promise them and look forward to working with the AG to resolve this matter,” said Bobby Amirshahi, spokesman for Time Warner Cable.

      Charlie Schueler, spokesman for Cablevision, added that his company's Optimum Online service “consistently surpasses advertised broadband speeds, including in FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and internal tests.” Verizon's spokesman echoes these sentiments about their own service and has expressed that the AG's office will have their full cooperation.  

      The need to stay connected is more important than ever these days – just ask any teenager who doesn't have access to their phone or computer for a few hour...
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      REI to close on Black Friday, will give employees a paid day off

      Company tells consumers and employees to take a hike -- literally

      As Black Friday has crept into Thanksgiving and encroached on Cyber Monday, there has been something of a consumer backlash.

      Some consumers have found the unfettered commercialism a bit unsettling, empathizing with the sleep-deprived retail workforce that seemingly has to be on the clock throughout that weekend. Some retailers have noticed and are responding.

      Earlier this month, Staples announced it would remain closed on Thanksgiving so its employees can enjoy the holiday. But REI, the specialty outdoor retailer, has upped the ante in the nice-guy competition.

      Take a hike

      While other retailers are talking about how early they will open on Black Friday, REI has announced it will be closed on the busiest shopping day of the holiday season. Not only that, the company is giving employees the day off with pay, encouraging them to spend it outdoors.

      Crazy, right? Maybe, but crazy like a fox.

      “Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the essential truth that life is richer, more connected and complete when you choose to spend it outside,” said Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of REI. “We’re closing our doors, paying our employees to get out there, and inviting America to OptOutside with us because we love great gear, but we are even more passionate about the experiences it unlocks.”

      Passing up the hoards of consumers eager to spend money on the day after Thanksgiving, and instead reveling in the beauty of nature, fits perfectly into REI's corporate vision. That, after all, is what it is selling.

      Bonding with customers

      At a time when consumers appear to choose products and brands that reflect their personal values, this is a perfect way to bond with the store's core customer.

      REI operates 143 U.S. retail locations, a headquarters, and two distribution centers that employ a total of 12,000 people who will get both Thanksgiving and Black Friday off, something unheard of in the retail industry.

      Is REI trying to make a point? You bet.

      “As a member-owned co-op, our definition of success goes beyond money,” Stritzke said. “We believe that a life lived outdoors is a life well lived and we aspire to be stewards of our great outdoors. We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles.”

      Stritzke said he hopes consumers take a break from shopping and enjoy the great outdoors. To do so would undoubtedly be good for the soul.

      And if they need a backpack, it'll be pretty good for REI as well.

      As Black Friday has crept into Thanksgiving and encroached on Cyber Monday, there has been something of a consumer backlash.Some consumers have found t...
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      How merchandise is delivered to your door is changing

      Postal Service would like to replenish your liquor cabinet

      With consumers able to buy almost anything online these days, the businesses that deliver all that stuff are pretty busy.

      This week Federal Express  predicted it will move a record 317 million shipments between Black Friday and Christmas Eve. That would be a 12.4% season-over-season increase.

      “The shift in consumer shopping patterns, fueled by the rise of e-commerce, continues to drive our volume,” said Frederick W. Smith, CEO of FedEx Corp.

      Drones

      With traditional delivery services working around the clock, retailers continue to look outside the box. Walmart has joined Amazon.com in seeking federal permission to begin testing drone delivery. Reuters reports the retailer has spent the last few months conducting indoor tests of these unmanned aerial vehicles.

      Even the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is looking at opportunities to expand and transform its delivery services. With the continued decline of first class mail, USPS is reportedly testing new services in select markets in search of new revenue.

      According to Kiplinger, the beleaguered delivery service is considering five new services:

      Mail notification

      This might seem a bit redundant, but the Postal Service can send you an email to let you know what's coming to your mailbox. How useful would that be?

      If you had to drive a couple of miles to check your Post Office box each day, it might save you a few trips. Also, if someone owes you money and you are told “the check is in the mail,” this service could tell you if it really is.

      Sunday delivery

      Keep in mind, USPS would like to end Saturday delivery. Adding Sunday delivery seems like a move in the opposite direction.

      Kiplinger suggests it is a move aimed mostly at the holiday season, or for extremely time sensitive parcels.

      Same day delivery

      Once upon a time the Post Office delivered mail to residences twice a day, so it was possible you could get same day delivery. USPS has no plans to revive twice a day delivery but Kiplinger said the company is looking at a same day delivery option in New York City.

      Grocery delivery

      With people working around the clock, grocery delivery services are gaining traction. USPS is moving in that direction, working with Amazon to deliver groceries in parts of California and New York.

      Alcohol delivery

      No time to run to the liquor store? USPS would like to help by bringing you your favorite beer, wine, or spirits.

      USPS will have to overcome more than logistics to accomplish this, however. Current law prohibits the Postal Service from delivering alcohol, so Congress would have to lift the sanction.

      With consumers able to buy almost anything online these days, the businesses that deliver all that stuff are pretty busy.This week Federal Express  pre...
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      E-cigarettes banned in checked airline luggage

      The batteries can catch fire during flight

      If you've flown lately, you may have noticed airline crews warning that e-cigarettes are not allowed in checked baggage. The U.S. Department of Transportation has now made that ban official.

      “We know from recent incidents that e-cigarettes in checked bags can catch fire during transport,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Fire hazards in flight are particularly dangerous.  Banning e-cigarettes from checked bags is a prudent safety measure.” 

      In January, the department alerted airliners to the hazard and airlines began alerting passengers then. 

      It can become quite a hassle for passengers who can't find room for their carry-on bags in the overhead bins. They're required to open their bags and remove the e-cigs before the bag is gate-checked.

      Using or charging e-cigs is also prohibited.

      The new rule does not prohibit a passenger from carrying other devices containing batteries for personal use (such as laptop computers, cell phones, cameras, etc.) in checked or carry-on baggage, nor does it restrict a passenger from transporting batteries for personal use in carry-on baggage, the department said.

      If you've flown lately, you may have noticed airline crews warning that e-cigarettes are not allowed in checked baggage. The U.S. Department of Transportat...
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      Consumer confidence stumbles in October

      Job market views took a hit

      After posting a moderate gain in September, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index retreated this month.

      The index now stands at 97.6, a loss of five points from the previous month, while the Present Situation Index fell from 120.3 to 112.1, and the Expectations Index edged down to 88.0 from 90.8 in September.

      “Consumers were less positive in their assessment of present-day conditions, in particular the job market, and were moderately less optimistic about the short-term outlook,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco, adding, “despite the decline, consumers still rate current conditions favorably, but they do not anticipate the economy strengthening much in the near-term.”

      Consumers' appraisal

      Consumers’ view of current conditions was somewhat less positive in October. Those saying business conditions are “good” dipped from 28.1% to 26.5%, while those who see conditions as “bad” rose from 16.4% to 18.3%. Respondents were also less upbeat about the job market. Those who think jobs are “plentiful” decreased from 24.8% to 22.2%, while those who believe jobs are “hard to get” edged up to 25.8% from 24.9%.

      Optimism about the short-term outlook was more subdued in October. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months was unchanged at 18.1%, while those who said business conditions will worsen inched up to 10.6% from 10.4%.

      Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was slightly less optimistic. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead declined from 14.9% to 14.5%, while those expecting fewer jobs rose from 15.9% to 16.9%. The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to rise slipped from 18.7% to 18.0%, while the proportion who believe there will be a decline increased from 9.9% to 10.7%.

      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 October 15.

      After posting a moderate in September, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index retreated this month. The index now stands at 97.6 a loss of five p...
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      Home price gains pick up steam in August

      Prices rose on both a year-over-ear and month-over-month basis

      Home prices across the U.S. continued their rise over the last 12 months during August.

      The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index -- which covers all nine U.S. census divisions -- was up 4.7% on a year-over-year basis in August, versus a 4.6% increase in July.

      The 10-City Composite increased 4.7% in the year to August compared with 4.5% in the prior month, while the 20-City Composite’s year-over-year gain was 5.1% vs. 4.9% in the year to July.

      San Francisco, Denver, and Portland reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities with price increases of 10.7%, 10.7%, and 9.4%, respectively. Fifteen cities reported greater price increases in the year ending August 2015 compared with the year ending July 2015. San Francisco and Denver are the only cities with double digit increases.

      Phoenix, which reported an increase of 4.9% in August, had the longest streak of year-over-year increases, posting the ninth consecutive increase in annual price gains. Portland posted a 9.4% annual increase, compared with 8.5% the month before for the biggest jump in year-over-year gains during August.

      “Home prices continue to climb at a 4% to 5% annual rate across the country,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Most other recent housing indicators also show strength. Housing starts topped an annual rate of 1.2 million units in the latest report with continuing strength in both single family homes and apartments. The National Association of Home Builders sentiment survey, reflecting current strength, reached the highest level since 2005, before the housing collapse. Sales of existing homes are running about 5.5 million units annually with inventories of about five months of sales. However, September new home sales took an unexpected and sharp drop as low inventories were cited as a possible cause.”

      Month-over-month

      The National Index posted a gain of 0.3% month-over-month in August, with the 10-City Composite and 20-City Composite reporting gains of 0.3% and 0.4% month-over-month, respectively. Eighteen of 20 cities reported increases in August.

      “A notable part of today’s economy is the continuing low inflation rate; in the year to September, consumer prices were unchanged,” Blitzer added. “Even excluding food and energy, the core inflation was 1.9%. One result is that a 5% price increase in the value of a house means more today than it did in 2005-2006, the peak of the housing boom when the inflation rate was higher. The rebound from the recent lows was faster than the 1997-2005 housing boom, and also much less driven by inflation.”

      Home prices across the U.S., continued their rise over the last 12 months during August. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index -- which cover...
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      Increases in some tax benefits coming for 2016

      Others, however, are unchanged

      Annual inflation adjustments for more than 50 tax provisions -- including the tax rate schedules and other tax changes -- are in the works for the 2016 tax year.

      According to the Internal Revenue Service, the tax items of greatest interest to most taxpayers include the following dollar amounts:

      • For tax year 2016, the 39.6% tax rate affects single taxpayers whose income exceeds $415,050 ($466,950 for married taxpayers filing jointly), versus $413,200 and $464,850, respectively. The other marginal rates -- 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35% -- and the related income tax thresholds for tax year 2016 are described in Revenue Procedure 2015-53.
      • The standard deduction for heads of household rises to $9,300 for tax year 2016, up $50, from tax year 2015.The other standard deduction amounts for 2016 remain as they were for 2015: $6,300 for singles and married persons filing separate returns and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly
      • The limitation for itemized deductions to be claimed on tax year 2016 returns of individuals begins with incomes of $259,400 or more ($311,300 for married couples filing jointly).
      • The personal exemption for tax year 2016 rises $50 from 2015 -- to $4,050. However, the exemption is subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $259,400 ($311,300 for married couples filing jointly). It phases out completely at $381,900 ($433,800 for married couples filing jointly.)
      • The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount for tax year 2016 is $53,900 and begins to phase out at $119,700 ($83,800, for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption begins to phase out at $159,700). The 2015 exemption amount was $53,600 ($3,400 for married couples filing jointly). For tax year 2016, the 28% tax rate applies to taxpayers with taxable incomes above $186,300 ($93,150 for married individuals filing separately).
      • The tax year 2016 maximum Earned Income Credit amount is $6,269 for taxpayers filing jointly who have three or more qualifying children, up $17 from tax year 2015. The revenue procedure has a table providing maximum credit amounts for other categories, income thresholds and phase-outs.
      • For tax year 2016, the monthly limitation for the qualified transportation fringe benefit remains at $130 for transportation, but rises $5 from 2015 -- to $255 for qualified parking.
      • For tax year 2016 participants who have self-only coverage in a Medical Savings Account, the plan must have an annual deductible that is not less than $2,250, up $50 for tax year 2015; but not more than $3,350, $50 more than in tax year 2015. For self-only coverage the maximum out of pocket expense amount remains at $4,450. For tax year 2016 participants with family coverage, the floor for the annual deductible remains as it was in 2015 -- $4,450, however the deductible cannot be more than $6,700, up $50 from the limit for tax year 2015. For family coverage, the out of pocket expense limit remains at $8,150 for tax year 2016 as it was for tax year 2015.
      • For tax year 2016, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit rises $1,000 from tax year 2015 -- to $111,000.
      • For tax year 2016, the foreign earned income exclusion is $101,300, up $400 from tax year 2015.
      • Estates of decedents who die during 2016 have a basic exclusion amount of $5,450,000, compared with a total of $5,430,000 for estates of decedents who died in 2015.
      Annual inflation adjustments for more than 50 tax provisions -- including the tax rate schedules and other tax changes are in the works for the 2016 tax ye...
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      Whole Foods Market recalls curry chicken salad products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      A Whole Foods Market store in Everett, Mass., is recalling approximately 234 pounds of curry chicken salad products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products, but there are concerns that some products may be in consumers' freezers or refrigerators.

      The following chicken curry salad products, packaged on Oct. 16, 2015, and sold prepackaged, in salad bars, in store's chef's cases, and in sandwiches and wraps prepared in the store, are being recalled:

      • Sold by weight “Curry Chicken Salad, Our Chef’s Own” bearing UPC Code # 285551.
      • Sold by weight “Curry Chicken Salad CC” bearing UPC Code # 261068.
      • Sold by weight “PPK Salad Chicken Curry” bearing UPC Code # 263142
      • 12 oz. “Curry Chicken Salad Wrap, Made Right Here” bearing UPC Code # 263144.
      • 7 oz. “Single Curry Chicken Salad Wrap, Made Right Here” bearing UPC Code # 263126.
      • 7 oz. “Curry Chicken Salad Rollup” bearing UPC Code # 265325.

      The recalled items, which have a sell by date of Oct. 23, 2015, were shipped to a warehouse and retail locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.

      Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Heather McCready at (617) 492-5500.

      A Whole Foods Market store in Everett, Mass., is recalling approximately 234 pounds of curry chicken salad products that may be contaminated with Listeria ...
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      Recall of Good N Fun Beefhide Chicken Sticks dog treats expanded

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Salix Animal Health of Deerfield, Fla., is expanding its earlier recall of "Good 'n' Fun - Beefhide Chicken Sticks" to include the tested lot and others made around the same timeframe.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Salmonella can affect animals that eat contaminated products and there is a potential risk to humans if they come in contact with Salmonella from handling contaminated products.

      The following products, packaged in a 2.8-oz bag stamped on the back side with an item code number of 82247 and an expiration date ranging from 02/2018- 07/2018, are being recalled.

      BrandSizeDescriptionUPC CodeItem No.Expiration
      Good ‘n’ Fun2.8 ozBeefhide Chicken Sticks0910938224718224702/2018
      03/2018
      04/2018
      05/2018
      06/2018
      07/2018

      The recalled products were distributed nationwide to Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar retail stores.

      Consumers who have this product should dispose of it or return it for full refund.

      Customers should contact Salix Animal Health’s consumer affairs team at 1-800-338-4896, Monday through Friday between 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM (EST) for a refund.  

      Salix Animal Health of Deerfield, Fla., is expanding its earlier recall of "Good 'n' Fun - Beefhide Chicken Sticks" to include the tested lot and others ma...
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      RushCard struggles to get back on track; its customers suffer even more

      Some consumers have been without access to their accounts for two weeks

      More than two weeks after a software upgrade blocked consumers from their RushCard (an Authorized Partner) accounts, the company says that access has been restored for most customers and that it is working on a case-by-case basis to compensate those who suffered financial losses because of the problems.

      That may not be enough to satisfy those consumers, not to mention state and federal consumer protection agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has vowed to get to the bottom of the situation. 

      Consumers rate RushCard

      “Today, I have personally spoken with UniRush CEO Rick Savard to make sure that action is being taken to address harm that has occurred, the harm that may still be occurring, and the cascading financial effects of consumers not having access to their funds for more than a week," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a prepared statement Friday.

      Cordray said his agency was also "conferring with fellow regulators, including the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Trade Commission, to ensure a comprehensive response that addresses the situation quickly and holds accountable all of the parties involved to make consumers whole."

      Affected consumers should continue to file complaints directly with RushCard (an Authorized Partner) or with the CFPB at consumerfinance.gov or toll-free at 855-411-2372.”

      Columbus Day

      The trouble began two weeks ago over the Columbus Day weekend, when the popular prepaid credit card issuer undertook a system upgrade.

      "I received a notification stating the system was scheduled for maintenance on the 12th of October 2015. Weeks and days later I still do not have access to my money," said Tamica of Niagara Falls, NY, in a ConsumerAffairs posting. "I finally was able to use the app on my phone only to see my balance was $0.00. There is an entire paycheck on that card so where is my money??? Why does it show zero balance??? My bills are now 2 weeks behind -- what am I supposed to do?

      RushCard (an Authorized Partner) has stressed that customers' funds have not been lost, even if they do not show up in their account.

      “Their funds are there but their information is still inaccurate,” Savard said although he conceded that "a handful" of customers were still not able to access correct information about their account.

      Savard said the company is working on an announcement about "how we plan to make this right with our customers who were severely inconvenienced and in some case suffered hardships.”

      He might want to speak with Marianne of Chicago, who said in a ConsumerAffairs review: "Locked out of account, unable to access funds approaching 3 weeks. 4+ hours on hold resulting in being hung up on, eviction pending, repossession of vehicle pending, utilities suspended, babies hungry and crying! Blood pressure 119/200... No $ for meds! 87 yr old mother under my care having heart palpitations due to NO MEDS,  no $ to fill her RXs! No one cares."

      Serving the unbanked

      Founded in 2003 by hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, RushCard (an Authorized Partner) is billed as a solution to the millions of "unbanked" Americans, those who for one reason or another do not have a traditional bank account with checking and debit card privileges.

      RushCard and other prepaid debit card accounts offer an inexpensive service that allows consumers to have their paychecks and benefits payments direct-deposited to their cards, allowing them to make purchases immediately and get cash from ATMs. It has generally recorded high satisfaction scores from consumers.

      Prepaid issuers are able to offer this service because they have eliminated the expense of maintaining branches around the country. But, as the RushCard (an Authorized Partner) outage demonstrates, that advantage quickly becomes a major disadvantage when their online system fails and customers have no bricks-and-mortar branch to turn to.

      They then wind up like Kasey of Bessemer, Alabama -- angry and frustrated: "My deposit from my employer was deposited a week ago. I'm able to log in online and view my account. But unfortunately it has a block on my money. I've called customer service everyday for a week. They are rude and not concerned about their customers. I don't have any funds because it's all tied up."

      "My son is having a birthday party tomorrow and I have to explain to him that he has to cancel his birthday party," Kasey said. "I'm overwhelmed -- bill collectors are calling. I've been in eating at family members' houses."

      While RushCard (an Authorized Partner) has emphasized that its customers’ money is covered by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insurance through its issuing bank, MetaBank, it will nevertheless have a lot of explaining to do to Kasey, Marianne, Tamica and the hundreds of thousands of other customers affected by the outage. 

      More than two weeks after a software upgrade blocked consumers from their RushCard accounts, the company says that access has been restored for most custom...
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