Current Events in April 2016

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2016

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    68 Kmart and 10 Sears stores closing -- is yours included?

    The company hopes the latest round of closing will help it return to profitability

    Sears and Kmart stores have been sort of fading into the woodwork for the last few years, but now Sears Holdings is stepping up the pace. The company says it will close 68 Kmart and 10 Sears stores this summer, hoping to return to profitability by eliminating less profitable locations.

    "The decision to close stores is a difficult but necessary step as we take aggressive actions to strengthen our company, fund our transformation and restore Sears Holdings to profitability," said Edward S. Lampert, Chairman and CEO of Sears Holdings. "We're focusing on our best members, our best categories and our best stores as we work to accelerate our transformation."

    Liquidation sales will begin at Kmart stores May 12 and at Sears on April 29 ahead of late July closures.
    The company didn't say how many jobs would be lost but said eligible workers would receive severance and can apply for open positions at area Kmart or Sears stores. "We are committed to treating these associates with respect and compassion during this process," said Lampert.

    The 78 closures will leave about 1,500 Sears and Kmart stores. Here is the complete list of closings, as provided by Sears Holdings. 

    STREET ADDRESS

    CITY

    STATE

    Kmart

    5980 Chalkville Mountain

    Birmingham

    AL

    Kmart

    1101 Beltline Road

    Decatur

    AL

    Kmart

    230 Green Springs Hwy

    Homewood

    AL

    Kmart

    450 Z Schillingers Road

    Mobile

    AL

    Kmart

    300 West Mariposa Road

    Nogales

    AZ

    Kmart

    2270 East El Monte Way

    Dinuba

    CA

    Kmart

    520 S Cherokee Lane

    Lodi

    CA

    Kmart

    1475 Hillman Street

    Tulare

    CA

    Kmart

    2785 Highway 46

    Wasco

    CA

    Kmart

    44 Providence Pike

    Putnam

    CT

    Kmart

    9600 San Jose Blvd

    Jacksonville

    FL

    Kmart

    500 Atlantic Blvd

    Neptune Beach

    FL

    Kmart

    1809 Byron Butler Parkway

    Perry

    FL

    Kmart

    7050 S Pulaski

    Chicago

    IL

    Kmart

    2721 N Vermillion Street

    Danville

    IL

    Kmart

    1150 W Carl Sandburg Dr

    Galesburg

    IL

    Kmart

    17355 Torrence Ave

    Lansing

    IL

    Kmart

    2909 Court St

    Pekin

    IL

    Kmart

    3840 46th Ave

    Rock Island

    IL

    Kmart

    3216 E Third Street

    Bloomington

    IN

    Kmart

    3525 Grantline Rd

    New Albany

    IN

    Kmart

    1320 E 30th Ave

    Hutchinson

    KS

    Kmart

    1809 N Dixie Hwy

    Elizabethtown

    KY

    Kmart

    4025 Poplar Level Rd

    Louisville

    KY

    Kmart

    3911 Taylorsville Rd

    Louisville

    KY

    Kmart

    1581 US 68 South

    Maysville

    KY

    Kmart

    344 North Mayo Trail

    Paintsville

    KY

    Kmart

    2985 Cottingham Expwy

    Pineville

    LA

    Kmart

    10 Main Street

    Tewksbury

    MA

    Kmart

    8171 W Houghton Lake Dr

    Houghton Lake

    MI

    Super K*

    21111 Van Born Rd

    Taylor

    MI

    Kmart

    11978 St Charles Rock Rd

    Bridgeton

    MO

    Kmart

    1930 E Kearney Street

    Springfield

    MO

    Kmart

    118 Highway 72 West

    Corinth

    MS

    Kmart

    2424 Central Ave

    Billings

    MT

    Kmart

    804 N Broad Street

    Brevard

    NC

    Kmart

    3580 East Franklin

    Gastonia

    NC

    Kmart

    2750 Roberts Avenue

    Lumberton

    NC

    Kmart

    10500 Centrum Parkway

    Pineville

    NC

    Kmart

    720 Sutter Creek Blvd

    Rocky Mount

    NC

    Kmart

    3001 West 12th

    Hastings

    NE

    Kmart

    838 South Road

    Poughkeepsie

    NY

    Kmart

    3049 W Ridge Rd

    Rochester

    NY

    Super K

    3315 N Ridge E

    Ashtabula

    OH

    Kmart

    1705 North Barron Street

    Eaton

    OH

    Kmart

    1825 North State Route 19

    Fremont

    OH

    Kmart

    2250 Harding Hwy

    Lima

    OH

    Super K*

    5350 Leavitt Road

    Lorain

    OH

    Kmart

    625 West Central Avenue

    Springboro

    OH

    Kmart

    2660 Constitution Blvd

    Beaver Falls

    PA

    Kmart

    8800 Frankford Ave

    Philadelphia

    PA

    Kmart

    3000 McIntyre Square Dr

    Pittsburgh

    PA

    Kmart

    1775 S Braddock Avenue

    Pittsburgh

    PA

    Kmart

    3045 Fifth Street Hwy

    Reading

    PA

    Kmart

    99 Matthews Drive

    Uniontown

    PA

    Kmart

    2209 West Dekalb

    Camden

    SC

    Kmart

    1000 18th St SW

    Huron

    SD

    Kmart

    2210 Broadway Avenue

    Yankton

    SD

    Kmart

    1802 Decatur Pike

    Athens

    TN

    Kmart

    945 McCammon Ave

    Maryville

    TN

    Kmart

    902 S Main Street

    Sweetwater

    TN

    Kmart

    11330 Montwood Dr

    El Paso

    TX

    Kmart

    1405 East Expressway 83

    Mission

    TX

    Kmart

    210 SE Georgia Ave

    Sweetwater

    TX

    Kmart

    1055 East Draper Pkwy

    Draper

    UT

    Kmart

    610 West Price River Dr

    Price

    UT

    Kmart

    1442 W 90th South

    West Jordan

    UT

    Kmart

    1275 Bell Avenue

    Hartford

    WI

    Sears

    700 Quintard Dr

    Oxford

    AL

    Sears

    600 S University Ave

    Little Rock

    AR

    Sears

    9501 Arlington Expy

    Jacksonville

    FL

    Sears

    5953 W Park Ave

    Houma

    LA

    Sears

    6810 Eastman Ave

    Midland

    MI

    Sears

    200 Medley Centre Parkway

    Irondequoit

    NY

    Sears

    60 Smithfield Blvd

    Plattsburgh

    NY

    Sears

    1377 Marion Waldo Rd

    Marion

    OH

    Sears

    101 Clearview Cir

    Butler

    PA

    Sears

    2500 W State St

    New Castle

    PA

    Sears and Kmart stores have been sort of fading into the woodwork for the last few years, but now Sears Holdings is stepping up the pace. The company says ...

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      Consumers cautioned about 'living trust mills'

      Minnesota AG warns that living trust mills are often used as a pretense to sell insurance

      With so many Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, living trusts have become a hot topic. Do you need one? Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has some advice: be careful.

      “You should steer clear of 'living trust mills,' which hold themselves out as estate planning specialists but churn out boilerplate documents for a high fee, all to get their foot in the door to sell you annuities or insurance products later on that might not be suitable for your needs,” Swanson writes on her web site.

      She says people pushing living trusts are often nothing more than insurance agents, or people working for insurance agents. They may charge you a lot of money for a boilerplate trust, but their real aim, Swanson says, is to make an even bigger sale later on.

      A living trust is a legitimate estate planning tool. Like a will, it is created while you are still alive. It allows you to transfer assets to the trust and, if done properly, may transfer those assets to heirs without going through probate.

      According to the American Bar Association, a living trust is revocable, which makes it very flexible. You, or someone you appoint, manages the assets in the trust. Assets may be bought or sold but always remain in the name of the trust.

      Complex legal document

      The problem, says Swanson, is that a living trust is a complex legal document and a one-size-fits-all approach won't work very well. To set up a living trust, she suggests working with an experienced attorney.

      Unfortunately, that's not how many consumers get drawn into the process. Swanson says living trust mills work by usually making initial contact by phone or by mail.

      The target may be invited to a “free dinner” to hear a presentation. At the event, the “expert” scares his audience with horror stories about what will happen if you die without a living trust.

      Swanson says the expert will next try to book as many in-home appointments with audience members as possible. During those visits he will collect extensive financial information about his potential client, working to earn his or her trust.

      Swanson says he may eventually try to sell an over-priced living trust, but she says that isn't the real objective. Once he has a complete financial picture of his potential client, then and only then does the real pitch emerge – an annuity or insurance policy.

      A lot to consider

      “Annuities are complex products,” Swanson says. “If you move your money from another product, you may have to pay fees or penalties. Some long-term annuities may lock up your money for more than ten years, subjecting you to penalties if you need to access your money for living expenses.”

      She says annuities may also have complicated interest-crediting provisions. That, she says, could lead to confusion about benefits.

      Swanson's advice? Avoid living trust mills and, if you are considering an annuity or insurance policy, take some time to think it over and discuss it with family, friends, or an experienced investment professional you trust.

      With so many Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, living trusts have become a hot topic. Do you need one? Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has some...

      Ways to be a more eco-friendly pet parent

      Collars made out of bike tires are one way to go greener

      April 22 is Earth Day: a day in which we’re reminded that our fragile planet needs to be treated kindly. Our actions, even the small ones, can go a long way toward preserving our natural resources.

      Following the “reduce, reuse, recycle” rule is one way to help the planet, but pet owners can take their green consciousness a step further by opting for more eco-friendly pet supplies.

      Reducing your pup’s carbon “paw” print can be as simple as choosing pet supplies made by companies with an environmental conscience. You might pay a little more for eco-friendly pet products, but that little extra can go a long way toward helping our planet.

      Here are a few green pet supplies that can help you on your mission to become a greener pet parent.

      Recycled bike tube collars

      Cycle Dog makes pet collars, toys, and other pet supplies out of old bike tubes. Buying a product from this company can help prevent bike tubes from ending up in landfills (millions end up there each year).

      The company was started in 2009 by Lanette Fidrych, who collected tubes from bike shops and started sewing them in her home. In addition to being eco-friendly, Fidrych’s rubber-backed collars don’t get smelly the way some other collars do.

      Bamboo training pads

      The Green Pet Shop focuses on reusing products with the goal of diverting waste from landfills. Larry Wright, president and CEO of the company was first inspired by the idea that “even small acts of environmental kindness can add up.”

      Wright believes that even the most mundane aspects of pet parenting -- like housebreaking -- can be done in an environmentally conscious fashion. Bamboo training pads are one way to go a little greener as bamboo is a highly sustainable source. The Green Pet Shop also offers bamboo bowls made of compressed bamboo and rice husks.

      Sustainable litter

      Cat owners can help the planet by making some changes to their litter routine, both in how they dispose of cat litter and what supplies they choose to purchase.

      It’s important not to flush cat litter; the waste runoff can carry toxoplasma (most often found in outdoor cats), which has been linked to the deaths of sea otters and wildlife. Throwing litter waste into the trash or composting are two of the best way to dispose of it.

      It can also be beneficial to switch from clay-based litter to one that is more sustainable and biodegradable. Biodegradable litter trays, such as the Kat Pak, can also be purchased.

      Finally, you can buy local. A pet food bowl made by a local artist, for example, can be better for the environment as it uses far fewer transportational resources. 

      April 22 is Earth Day: a day in which we’re reminded that our fragile planet needs to be treated kindly. Our actions, even the small ones, can go a long wa...

      Flying Tiger Copenhagen recalls wooden toys

      Parts of the wooden toys can become detached, posing a choking hazard

      Flying Tiger Copenhagen of New York is recalling about 1,000 wooden toy blocks and giraffes.

      Parts of the wooden toys can become detached, resulting in small pieces that can pose a choking hazard to young children.

      No incidents or injuries are reported

      This recall involves Flying Tiger Copenhagen wooden blocks and wooden giraffe toys. The Twist & Lock blocks were sold in a combination of blue, green and yellow and red, pink and yellow. Item number 1701354 is printed on the packaging for the blocks.

      The Twist & Lock giraffe toys were sold in pink and red combination and a yellow and orange combination. Item number 1701493 is printed on the packaging for the giraffe.

      The toys, manufactured in China, were sold at Flying Tiger Copenhagen in New York from November 2015, through December 2015, for about $3.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled toys from young children and return the products to Flying Tiger Copenhagen for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Flying Tiger Copenhagen toll-free at 844-350-0560 from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.flyingtiger.com and click on “Product Recalls” at the bottom of the page.

      Flying Tiger Copenhagen of New York is recalling about 1,000 wooden toy blocks and giraffes. Parts of the wooden toys can become detached, resultin...

      Toyota recalls RAV4s, Lexus RX350s and Lexus ES350s

      The vehicles' ABS actuator may have a damaged O-ring

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 16,656 model year 2016 Toyota RAV4s manufactured October 30, 2015, to February 3, 2016; 2016 Lexus RX350s manufactured October 26, 2015, to February 8, 2016, and 2016 Lexus ES350s manufactured September 1, 2015, to February 29, 2016.

      The vehicles are equipped with an ABS actuator that may have a damaged O-ring which could result in improper brake fluid pressure control during ABS, Traction Control, or Stability Control activation. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 126, "Electronic Stability Control Systems."

      Insufficient brake fluid pressure may cause a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the brake actuator, replacing it as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin June 5, 2016.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is G0I, GLC.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 16,656 model year 2016 Toyota RAV4s manufactured October 30, 2015, to February 3, 2016; 2016 Lexus RX...

      RZR recreational off-highway vehicles recalled

      The recalled vehicles can catch fire while being driven

      The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., are recalling about 133,000 Polaris Model Year 2013-2016 RZR 900 and RZR 1000 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      The recalled ROVs can catch fire while consumers are driving, posing fire and burn hazards to drivers and passengers.

      The company has received more than 160 reports of fires, resulting in the death of a 15 year old passenger from a rollover that resulted in a fire, and 19 reports of injuries, including first, second and third degree burns.

      What to do

      CPSC and Polaris warn consumers to stop using the recalled vehicles immediately and contact their Polaris dealer for a free repair. Polaris has agreed to suspend sale of all recalled vehicles until they are repaired.

      Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-POLARIS or 800-765-2747 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Saturday and Sunday or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off-Road Safety Recalls” on the main page of the Polaris website to see if their RZR ROV's VIN number is included in this recall.

      The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., are recalling about 133,000 Polaris Model Year 2013-2016 RZR 90...

      VW expected to buy back its 500,000 cars to settle dirty diesel scandal

      Owners of the cars might also get a cash payment of $5,000 for their time and trouble

      [UPDATE 4/21]: As expected, Volkswagen will fix or buy back about 500,000 "clean diesel" cars that contain software intended to fool emissions test equipment. 

      U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said VW has agreed to offer affected owners several options, including a buyback, cancellation of their lease or, possibly, modification of their car. Consumers will also receive "substantial compensation."

      The option have the cars repaired relies on federal and state approval of VW's proposal to fix or replace the software that returns deceptively readings when the TDI diesels are undergoing emissions tests. Neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the California Air Resources Board has yet approved any of VW's proposed fixes. 

      VW has also agreed to establish a fund to help clean up environmental damage caused by the excess nitrogen oxide emitted by the cars. The company will also be required to commit funds to promote green vehicle technologies, the judge said.

      Volkswagen called the agreement an "important step" in regaining public trust.

      ---

      Volkswagen is expected to buy back roughly 500,000 diesel-powered cars from U.S. consumers under the terms of a settlement expected to be announced today, at a cost estimated at $7 billion. The German automaker, which has set aside $10 billion to resolve the issue, also faces federal and state fines that could total billions more.

      “This is VW's first major step toward resolving its diesel issue, though it still needs to be approved and may fall short of regulatory requirements," said Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer. "It's also a very costly solution, particularly given how much the company has already lost in terms of market value and sales."

      But Brauer, like most industry analysts, said it's a necessary step for the company, which has seen a huge drop in its stock price and a sharp decline in sales. "VW has to address this issue before it can move forward,” Brauer said.

      The buyback plan may mollify environmentalists, who have been calling for just that. Sierra Club California Chapter Director Kathryn Phillips said in March that the polluting vehicles "need to be fixed or taken off the road, and the consumers who trusted they were buying less-polluting cars need to be compensated. Period."

      "Otherwise the legacy of Volkswagen’s deceitful actions will be as dirty and dangerous as the smog left behind by their vehicles -- people will continue to breathe dirtier air, consumers will lose faith in watchdog agencies, and manufacturers will believe they can cheat and get away without feeling the full consequence," Phillips said.

      Even though it is the most extreme of several proposed options, the buyback plan isn't likely to please everyone. After all, some consumers might want to keep their cars, flawed though they may be. Others will no doubt quibble with the price and demand payment for their time and trouble.

      On that issue, Germany's Die Welt newspaper reported that the deal would involve VW paying each affected customer $5,000, in addition to buying back the car.

      Can't be modified easily

      The buyback, however, is seen as an admission by VW that the software that deceives emissions testing machines is so integral to the operation of the car that it can't be modified or removed without adversely affecting fuel economy, performance, or both.

      VW hinted at the massive buyback Wednesday when it said that no trial will be needed to hear the claims of consumers who have brought suit against the company.

      VW has a court date today before U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco and Breyer has made it clear he plans to schedule a trial for this summer if VW does not have a proposal that satisfies federal and state agencies as well as the plaintiffs in thousands of lawsuits that have been consolidated in his court.   

      Last month, Breyer told VW he wants a "concrete proposal" by today. He said that if the latest deadline isn't met, he will consider setting a trial date for this summer to hear more than 500 consumer lawsuits that are being consolidated into a single trial through a process called multidistrict litigation.

      Volkswagen is expected to buy back roughly 500,000 diesel-powered cars from U.S. consumers under the terms of a settlement expected to be announced today, ...

      Two proteins may be responsible for dementia in Alzheimer's patients

      The study is the first two definitively link both proteins to cognitive decline

      Researchers are still working hard when it comes to understanding how Alzheimer’s disease works, and that commitment may be beginning to pay off. A study conducted at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute may have uncovered the driving force behind the disease’s signature symptom – the development of dementia.

      For a while now, scientists have suspected that dementia developed in Alzheimer’s patients because of the presence of two proteins, called amyloid and tau, respectively. However, they were uncertain about which protein, if either, was the driving force behind the dementia symptom. It turns out that it may be both.

      A study has found that both amyloid and tau work in tandem to create toxic effects that lead to brain damage. It is the first piece of definitive evidence that connects the two proteins to cognitive damage sustained by otherwise cognitively intact individuals.

      Challenging previous theories

      While the build-up of amyloid and tau proteins can be dangerous on their own, the researchers found that their ability to cause harm was increased when they were together.

      “We specifically found that both proteins mutually enhance their individual toxic effects and cause a brain dysfunction considered to be a signature of [Alzheimer’s disease]. This finding challenges previous polarized theories that a single protein abnormality was the major driving force of disease progression,” said Dr. Pedro Rosa-Neto, lead scientist of the study.

      The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing 120 cognitively intact individuals over a two-year period. Participants had their amyloid and tau levels monitored for the duration of the study. Based on the changing levels that the researchers observed, they were able to see how the proteins reacted with each other and then predicted which participants were the most likely to suffer brain damage as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.

      New therapies

      The researchers believe that their discovery may help in the development of new, more effective therapeutic approaches that target both proteins in the brain.

      “Until now, therapeutic clinical trials have targeted a single pathological process. Our result paves the way for new therapeutic strategies for prevention or stabilization of [Alzheimer’s disease]. For example, combination therapies should be used simultaneously against both amyloid and tau protein accumulation,” said Dr. Tharick A. Pascoal, lead author of the study.

      The full study has been published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

      Researchers are still working hard when it comes to understanding how Alzheimer’s disease works, and that commitment may be beginning to pay off. A study c...

      Walgreens settles overcharging complaint with New York

      Retailer left expired sale prices on store shelves

      Walgreens is getting a stern reprimand from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who says the drug store giant and its subsidiary, Duane Reade, overcharged New York consumers.

      Schneiderman said he has obtained a settlement with Walgreens, requiring the company to pay $500,000 and reform its advertising practices.

      Schneiderman said there were cases when consumers purchased items at Walgreens, finding one price marked on the store shelf but being changed to another when they got to the register.

      Michael Zucker, Director of Change to Win Research Initiatives, a New York consumer group, said Walgreens failed to provide the staffing and systems needed to accurately price its products.

      “We’ve seen these deceptive practices in a number of other states, costing consumers and violating the public trust,” Zucker said in a release.

      The complaint

      Schneiderman said a statewide investigation found that Walgreens published ads with sale prices and listed the sale prices on store shelves next to the items. However, he said when consumers took the items to the checkout counter, they paid more because the sale price had expired.

      He also said the company listed a product as a “great buy,” when the sale price was the regular price for the item. Other issues in the complaint were suggestions that an item was marked down for clearance for a short time, when in fact it remained on store shelves for eight to 10 months; stores also implied that an item provided an immediate cash discount, when in fact the discount applied only on a future purchase.

      Schneiderman says the investigation also determined that the company failed to tell consumers, in clear and consistent language, how its loyalty incentive program works. He said the company website had two different charts regarding point redemption.

      There are approximately 251 Walgreens and 214 Duane Reade stores in New York State.

      Walgreens is getting a stern reprimand from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who says the drug store giant and its subsidiary, Duane Reade, ove...

      First-time homebuyers worry about their credit scores

      With tighter mortgage underwriting standards, a good credit score has never been more important

      Shopping for a home is a pretty intimidating process, but a new report from Experian suggests that it is often even more so for today's first-time homebuyer.

      It's hard enough to save for a down payment. Beyond that, however, the survey found that many consumers approaching the buying process for the first time worry about their credit score.

      There may be good reason to worry. In the wake of the collapse of the housing market, mortgage underwriting standards have tightened considerably. Lenders are demanding higher scores from buyers than ever before.

      In the Experian survey, 34% of would-be buyers expressed worry that their credit score might hurt their chances to obtain a loan. Another 45% said they would put off a home purchase to give themselves more time to raise their credit score.

      "Your credit profile is one of the factors that can have a substantial impact on securing a home loan because it is used by lenders as an indicator of your financial health," Rod Griffin, director of Public Education at Experian, said in a release. "Consumers planning to purchase a home should check their credit scores and reports to see where they stand.”

      Once consumers know their score, they pretty much know where they strand. From there, they can develop a financial plan that results in obtaining a mortgage.

      Also determines interest rate

      What many would-be buyers don't realize is that a credit score not only determines whether you will get a loan, it also determines the interest rate you will pay. An excellent credit score will usually qualify a borrower for the best rate.

      According to Bankrate.com, a credit score of 740 or above will qualify you for the best rates. A score below 620 not only makes it less likely that you'll get a loan, but will saddle you with the highest interest rate.

      The difference between the best and worst mortgage rate can be a swing of 1.5%. In terms of dollars and cents, on a $150 mortgage, that can mean a difference of $135 in the monthly payment, adding up to an extra $1,620 per year.

      How to improve your credit score

      If you are trying to improve your credit score so you can go home shopping, Fair Isaac, the company that produces credit scores, says there are three important things you can do:

      Check your credit report: You can get a free copy at www.annualcreditreport.com. Download a copy from all three credit reporting agencies and check it for accuracy. If there are errors – and there can be – you'll need to get the information corrected.

      Pay your bills on time: One of the biggest influences on your credit score is how reliable you are when it comes to paying your debts. Make sure all bills get paid, in full, on time.

      Reduce your debt: If you have a large credit card balance, particularly if you have nearly maxed out your card, work on reducing it. You don't have to pay it down to zero, but the balance should not greatly increase your debt to income ratio. Showing you can manage debt will do wonders for your credit score.

      Shopping for a home is a pretty intimidating process, but a new report from Experian suggests that it is often even more so for today's first-time homebuye...

      New car buyers shouldn't overlook fuel-efficient vehicles

      Check out these 10 options -- because gasoline prices won't stay low forever

      Gasoline is the cheapest it has been in more than a decade, and sales of SUVs and pick-up trucks are booming because of that.

      Consumers don't seem to mind if a vehicle uses more fuel when the fuel costs less.

      But new car buyers might want to take a contrarian approach here. Because so many consumers are buying less fuel-efficient cars, there is less negotiating room with the dealer.

      On the other hand, sales of high mileage, fuel efficient vehicles have fallen. That suggests that you might get a better price or more incentives when you negotiate.

      And here's something else to consider – gas prices may not stay low forever. You'll probably drive that vehicle five to 10 years; gas prices could be considerably higher for most of that time.

      Top ten fuel efficient cars

      With that in mind, and just in time for Earth Day, the folks at Kelley Blue Book (KBB) have offered up what they consider to be the top 10 fuel efficient cars – vehicles that get at least 40 miles per gallon (MPG).

      1.) 2016 Toyota Prius: The Prius paved the way for hybrids and KBB says it's still the top choice. It says the Prius is fun to drive while delivering amazing fuel efficiency.

      2.) 2016 Chevrolet Volt: While the Prius was a leader in hybrid technology, the Chevy Volt was a pioneer in plug-in technology. KBB says the car is now in its second-generation and is more efficient, more practical, and more appealing than what came before.

      3.) 2016 Tesla Model S AWD - 70D: Tesla has certainly created some buzz among consumers, with a sleek design, a giant touchscreen display, and incredible pickup for an electric. Of all the vehicles on the list, however, it comes with the second highest sticker price.

      4.) 2016 BMW i3: By the EPA's accounting, the BMW i3 is the most fuel efficient car on the road. KBB says it is even built in an earth-friendly way, in a plant powered completely by four wind turbines.

      5.) 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf: While its clean-diesel powered brethren remain in the doghouse, this electric version is winning praise for sharp handling and a European driving feel.

      6.) 2016 Kia Soul Electric: It's the electric version of Kia's popular gas-powered Soul. The electric is more expensive but, in KBB's opinion, even cooler.

      7.) 2016 BMW i8: Rated at 357-horsepower, the i8 might not seem like an economical car, but it is. It's all electric with zero emissions. It also has a lot of zeros in the price – $140,000, making it the most expensive on the list.

      8.) 2016 Toyota Mirai: The Mirai is hydrogen-powered – clean but quickly refillable. At this point, however, it may be hard to find one. KBB says availability is limited.

      9.) 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid: The Camry Hybrid may be one of the best values on the list. It can be purchased for under $30,000 and it delivers 41 MPG – a nice combination. As a bonus, it comes with Camry's famous reliability.

      10.) 2016 Ford Focus Electric: The gas-powered Focus is one of Ford's best sellers. KBB says the electric version is simply more fun to drive than most of its competitors.

      Plenty of options

      "New-car shoppers may be surprised to learn that there are more than 30 new vehicles that achieve 40+ miles per gallon for 2016, including everything from a six-figure supercar to a sub-$14,000 hatchback,” KBB analyst Jack Nerad said in a release.

      These cars, he says, offer plenty of options for anyone thinking ahead to a time when gasoline prices might not seem like such a bargain.

      Gasoline is the cheapest it has been in more than a decade, and sales of SUVs and pick-up trucks are booming because of that.Consumers don't seem to mi...

      Nissan recalls Muranos and Maximas

      Insufficient brake fluid pressure may lengthen the distance needed to stop the vehicle

      Nissan North America is recalling 12,616 model year 2016 Muranos manufactured December 17, 2015, to February 11, 2016, and 2016 Maximas manufactured November 25, 2015, to February 12, 2016 and equipped with an antilock braking system (ABS) and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC).

      The ABS actuator may have a damaged O-ring that may result in a lack of brake fluid pressure, which may lengthen the distance needed to stop the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the ABS actuator, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by June 4, 2016.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 12,616 model year 2016 Muranos manufactured December 17, 2015, to February 11, 2016, and 2016 Maximas manufactured Novemb...

      Brunton Outdoors recalls battery packs

      The power packs’ lithium ion polymer batteries can overheat and catch fire

      Brunton Outdoor Inc., of Louisville, Colo., is recalling about 1,100 rechargeable battery packs in the U.S and Canada.

      The power packs’ lithium ion polymer batteries can overheat and catch fire during charging, posing a fire hazard.

      The firm has received two reports of battery packs overheating and catching fire. One incident resulted in about $25,000 in property damage. In another, a garage burned down with property and smoke damage to the adjacent residence. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Brunton’s Impel and Impel 2 rechargeable, portable battery packs that are used to charge cell phones, tablets, laptops and other devices. The Impel battery came in a rubberized shell in dark gray with orange or blue and the Impel 2 in light gray with black trim.

      The battery packs can be plugged into an A/C wall outlet, a 12 volt car charger or an attachable solar panel for recharging. They measure about 7.5 inches long by 7 inches wide by 1 inch thick. The lithium ion polymer battery packs have 16, and 19 volt outputs and a USB port.

      The Impel model also has a 12 volt output. Brunton is embossed on the top of the battery pack, along with the power button and five LED lights.

      The battery packs, manufactured in China, were sold at Adorama, Austin Canoe & Kayak, Moontrail, REI, The Clymb and other outdoor equipment retailers nationwide and online at www.amazon.com, www.backcountry.com, www.bhphotovideo.com, www.forestry-suppliers.com, and www.opticsplanet.com from February 2011, through May 2015, for about $300.

      What to do

      Consumers may contact Brunton Outdoor at 800-443-4871 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at http://www.brunton.com/ and click on Impel Charger Product Recall the top or bottom of the page for more information.

      Brunton Outdoor Inc., of Louisville, Colo., is recalling about 1,100 rechargeable battery packs in the U.S and Canada. The power packs’ lithium ion...

      VW says trial 'won't be necessary' after it reveals its dirty diesel fix

      A German newspaper reports that Audi engineers developed the deceptive emissions software in 1999

      Just over a month ago, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer gave Volkswagen one more month to present a plan to clean up its dirty diesel cars in a way that satisfies federal and state officials and compensates owners for their losses.

      That extra month is almost up, and Volkswagen has responded with an assertion that there will be no need for a trial on the 600 or so lawsuits that have been consolidated under Breyer's supervision, Automotive News reported.

      In the United States, defendants do not normally tell a judge whether or not to go to trial, but VW said it is confident that after it presents its plan to Breyer, there will be no need for the case to move forward. 

      Breyer has indicated in past hearings that he was losing patience with VW and was inclined to hold a trial over the summer in order to get the 600,000 VW diesels either fixed or taken off the roads.

      At an earlier hearing in his San Francisco courtroom, Judge Breyer reminded VW that with every passing day, its cars are pumping excess pollution into the air and consumers who were taken in by VW's advertising are stuck with cars they can't sell. 

      Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board have rejected previous VW plans to modify the Volkswagen diesels so that they return accurate emissions readings.

      Blame it on Audi

      In another development, the German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that engineers at Audi in 1999 developed the "defeat devices" that cut emissions readings when VW and other Volkswagen-made brands are being tested.

      The Audi engineers developed software that would turn off certain engine functions and make the cars run cleaner when they were hooked up to emissions testing machines, then turn those functions back on when the test was over. 

      Audi did not use the software itself, but when, six years later, VW engineers could not bring nitrogen oxide emissions below legal thresholds, they began installing the software developed by Audi, the newspaper said. The company did not immediately comment on the report. 

      Just over a month ago, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer gave Volkswagen one more month to present a plan to clean up its dirty diesel cars in a ...

      A guide to selecting a checking account

      If you are new to checking, select an account that reduces exposure to overdrafts and fees

      In the past, most consumers used a checking account to manage money and pay bills. In recent years, with electronic options and a levy of bank fees, many consumers have gone without this once-indispensable tool.

      For consumers without checking accounts, but who would like to have one, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently offered some helpful tips.

      First, the CFPB advises that consumers don't just select the checking account offered by the nearest bank. For consumers who have had trouble managing money in the past, it recommends a “low-risk” account, meaning an account with few fees and, most importantly, one that won't let you spend money you don't have.

      These accounts have built-in limits that prevent you from overdrawing your account, even with checks and online bill pay. If you can't overdraw your account, you won't get hit with overdraft fees. These fees, it turns out, resulted in many consumers having their accounts involuntarily closed.

      No-overdraft account

      So the first question you should ask a bank officer when opening an account is if the bank has a no-overdraft account. Not all banks do, so if the answer is no, it is probably wise to look for another bank.

      If your banking history is problematic, you may find that a bank or credit union will deny your application to open a checking account. If that happens, the CFPB suggests that you ask for a copy of your checking account consumer report, which may contain negative information.

      Review the report to make sure the information is accurate. Sometimes there are errors. If you find errors, you can dispute them by using this sample letter.

      If you've had trouble managing a checking account in the past, you may still find services available to you at a bank or credit union. A credit union, in fact, might be a good place to start since these institutions tend to be more consumer-friendly.

      Less-risky products

      Some banks and credit unions offer checking accounts that are designed to reduce risks by reducing the likelihood of an overdraft and an expensive set of fees.

      If you meet resistance in your effort to opening a checking account, don't get discouraged. The CFPB notes that there are a growing number of alternatives that could help you ramp up. It says some banks may be willing to offer a less risky product, such as a “checkless” checking account or a prepaid card.

      The CFPB says these might prove to be good options for consumers who have had trouble in the past managing checking accounts.

      In the past, most consumers used a checking account to manage money and pay bills. In recent years, with electronic options and a levy of bank fees, many c...

      Another reason to avoid payday loans

      A study shows that these loans usually trigger numerous bank fees

      If you take out a payday loan, you are required to pay it back in two weeks. But if you are in such a financial bind that you have to turn to a payday lender, what makes you think you'll have the money to repay the loan in just two weeks?

      Most don't, and have to take out another payday loan to pay back the first one, possibly repeating the process two weeks later. Critics of the industry call it the “cycle of debt,” and charge that most people who take out payday loans get caught in it.

      Now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has issued a report detailing another reason to avoid these short-term loans. Not only do they carry high fees, they also tend to produce a lot of overdraft fees at the borrower's bank.

      $185 in bank fees

      When the agency studied 18 months of loans from more than 330 payday lenders, it found half of all the borrowers in the study were charged an average of $185 in bank fees, usually for overdrafts or insufficient funds.

      Here's why: when a consumer takes out a payday loan, the lender collects the borrower's bank account information so that the money can be direct deposited into his or her account. Very convenient.

      But that information also allows the lender to extract its fee from the borrower's account on the date that it is due, whether there is money in the account to cover it or not. When there isn't enough money in the account, that's what triggers the bank fee.

      The report found that repeated attempts to collect the money failed 70% of the time, triggering more fees. In 36% of the cases, the inability to pay the overdraft fees resulted in the bank closing the borrower's account.

      Repeated withdrawal attempts

      Robin Howarth, Senior Researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), says the report illustrates how payday lenders use their direct access to borrowers’ accounts to make repeated withdrawal attempts, regardless of account balances.

      “These debits result in numerous, nonsufficient fund fees and other penalties such as bank overdraft charges on top of the already onerous interest rates assessed on the loans,” Howarth said in a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs. “Further, unlike other consumer loans, these lack standard underwriting practices that determine a borrower’s ability to repay before loans are approved. ”

      In one of its key findings, the CFPB reported that during the 18-month study period, bank accounts with one or more loans from at least one of the 330 payday lenders made average total payments of $2,164.

      The CRL says the report shows the need for tough, loophole-free regulations to prevent abusive payday lending practices. It says federal regulations would support states that are trying to limit lending abuses at the local level.

      If you take out a payday loan, you are required to pay it back in two weeks. But if you are in such a financial bind that you have to turn to a payday lend...

      Consumers appear to have a handle on debt in 2016

      Report suggests mortgages, car loans, and credit card payments are under control

      Consumers are handling mortgage and car payments a little better in 2016 but are doing a worse job of paying their credit card bills.

      That's a snapshot takeaway from the latest S&P;/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices, which track monthly changes in consumer default rates. These default rates can tell you something about consumers' financial health.

      For March, the first mortgage default rate was 0.77%, a seven basis point drop from February. That suggests most consumers are able to swing their monthly mortgage payments.

      Car loans have been a concern in recent months, with the sharp rise in subprime car loans. Despite that concern, the auto loan default rate was 1.02%, a three basis point improvement over the month before.

      Growing trouble spot

      Credit cards appear to be a growing trouble spot, however. The bank card default rate jumped 36 basis points to 2.92% last month.

      That might not be all that surprising, as we reported back in December. A personal finance website flashed a warning sign when it reported that consumers ran up huge credit card balances in the third quarter of last year.

      CardHub.com reported that a projected 2015 net increase of $68.5 billion in new credit card debt was putting the country perilously close to a tipping point, predicting balances could become unsustainable and delinquency rates could skyrocket.

      Despite the rise in credit card default rates, the economists who assemble the monthly indices are not expressing alarm. David Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P; Dow Jones Indices, says the default rates in all three categories are still fairly low by historical standards, suggesting a positive outlook for the economy.

      Not even close to 2008

      "Large mortgage debts followed by rapidly rising defaults in all kinds of consumer credit were key causes of the financial crisis,” Blitzer said in a statement. “Conditions today are much improved; not only are defaults down, but outstanding mortgage balances were about 12% below the peak seen in the first quarter of 2008.”

      Even better, debt service ratios are close to the record lows set in the last two years.

      “This all suggests that consumer spending should continue to support modest economic growth," Blitzer said.

      Blitzer notes credit card defaults are both greater and more volatile than those for mortgages. Credit card balances jumped 5.2% in 2015, with much of the increase coming in the second half of the year, as noted earlier by CardHub.

      Despite that, the S&P;/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices shows credit card balance dipped in the first quarter of this year, suggesting consumers have been able to pay down some of that balance.

      Consumers are handling mortgage and car payments a little better in 2016 but are doing a worse job of paying their credit card bills.That's a snapshot ...

      Mortgage applications post third consecutive weekly gain

      Contract interest rates were mostly lower

      It's now three increases in a row for mortgage applications.

      Word from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) is that applications for mortgages were up 1.3% in the week ending April 15 -- the third advance in as many weeks.

      The Refinance Index jumped 3%, increasing the refinance share of mortgage activity to 55.4% of total applications from 54.9% the previous week.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 5.0% of total applications, the FHA share slipped 0.2% to from 10.6%, the VA share rose to 12.6% from 11.9% the prior week, and the USDA share of total applications held steady at 0.8%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) inched up one basis points -- from 3.82% to 3.83% -- with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.33 (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) rose to 3.77% from 3.74%, with points decreasing to 0.25 from 0.31 (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 slipped two basis points to 3.64% -- the lowest rate since May 2013 -- with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs fell to 3.06% from 3.10%, the lowest rate in nearly two years, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was down three basis points to 2.91%, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.20 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was unchanged from last week.

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

      It's now three increases in a row for mortgage applications.Word from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) is that applications for mortgages were up...