Current Events in April 2016

Browse Current Events by year

2016

Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Miniland Educational recalls Moogy plush toys

    The red button on the toy’s left pocket can detach

    Miniland Educational Corp., of Miami, Fla., is recalling about 2,100 Moogy plush toys in the U.S. and Canada.

    The red button on the toy’s left pocket can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.

    This recall involves Moogy plush fastening toys for toddlers between 12 and 36 months of age. The toy has zippers, buttons, buckles and laces. The Moogy toy has a blue and green face, red ears, a blue jacket with a red zipper, pink/red striped pants and pink and orange shoes with polka dots.

    Moogy measures about 18 ½ inches tall. “Miniland,” item number R.96295 and lot number 0115 1402813 085 are printed on a white tag sewn into the toy’s pants.

    The toys, manufactured in India, were sold at specialty toy stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, Gilt.com, HighlightsforChildren.com, ToysRUs.com and Zulily.com from July 2015, through February 2016, for about $33.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately take the recalled toy away from children and contact Miniland Educational for instructions on cutting off the button to remove the hazard in order to receive a full refund.

    Consumers may contact Miniland Educational toll-free at 866-201-9069 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.minilandeducationalusa.com and click on “Products,” then on “Safety Information” in the dropdown menu for more information.

    Miniland Educational Corp., of Miami, Fla., is recalling about 2,100 Moogy plush toys in the U.S. and Canada. The red button on the toy’s left pock...

    Staples recalls “Back in Motion” office chairs

    The chair can tip over when the user leans back

    Staples the Office Superstore of Framingham, Mass., is recalling about 2,000 “Back in Motion” office chairs.

    The chair can tip over when the user leans back, posing a fall hazard.

    No incidents or injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves Staples and Quill brand “Back in Motion” office chairs. The black, bonded leather chair has a tilt function and a base with wheels. The chairs have SKU # 203439 and item number SBG 24422 printed on the white label on the underside of the seat cushion.

    A second label, also located on the underside of the seat cushion, states “Reg. No. CA31704 (CN)” and “Made by LF Products PTE LTD.”

    The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Staples stores nationwide and online at Staples.com and Quill.com from January 2014, through January 2016, for about $215.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled office chair and contact Staples for a free replacement base.

    Consumers may contact Staples toll-free at 844-442-6980 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or online at www.staples.com and click on the Warranty & Recall link under the Customer Service tab at the bottom of the page for more information. Information about the recall repair remedy at may be found at www.officechairrecall.com.

    Staples the Office Superstore of Framingham, Mass., is recalling about 2,000 “Back in Motion” office chairs. The chair can tip over when the user l...

    Sharing and 'liking' grief on Facebook

    Social media is used for a lot more than sharing cute kitten photos

    Your Facebook feed keeps you informed through the quips, quotes, and photographs that friends post. Most of the news is happy banter, but more and more we learn sad and tragic news from our friends through social media.

    When the news of a young adult who died by suicide was posted on Facebook a few years ago, I was surprised. The funeral arrangements followed along with an outpouring of condolences for the family. People were “liking” posts and condolence messages and yet Facebook felt like an impersonal place for such visible grief.

    Nowadays, the most universal means of sharing news of a death is through social media. It’s become so commonplace that I purposely check my Facebook feed more regularly to ensure that I don’t miss any difficult losses happening to my friends.

    It seems inevitable that our friends, sharing their happy times, would share their sorrows. Last week, another young adult in my community died. The news was shared on Facebook by the bereaved mom. Legions of support quickly surfaced in Facebook feeds. An obituary in the local paper was linked to Facebook and details of the memorial service were disclosed.

    Within hours after the funeral, the obituary and eulogies, along with tributes, were appearing on Facebook. Heartfelt condolence messages were posted and so appreciated that they solicited likes. Tributes on BuzzFeed and YouTube continue to appear with no end in sight.

    Uncomfortable topic

    While death remains an uncomfortable topic, Facebook has come to play an important role in bringing grief into our national conversation. When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, lost her husband, her candid posts on Facebook elicited a wellspring of condolences and further opened the dialogue on death.

    Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive at Facebook, wrote on Facebook about his experience with miscarriage, and he too shared his grief openly.   

    Facebook allows us to memorialize our loved ones through tribute pages, giving friends and family a place to remember and reminisce about the deceased. These open communities help us feel less isolated in our grief. They give us a shared space to post our photos and grieve our losses.

    A more current trend is to post photos and memories of our deceased family members and friends on their birthdays and the anniversaries of their deaths. It is a way for our friends to remember their loved ones and elicit support from their social network.  

    So how do you, as a Facebook friend, deal with loss? It is perfectly acceptable to express your condolences on Facebook. Feel free to write a comment of support, like another’s post, or share your own memories or photos of the deceased.

    If you are uncomfortable talking so publicly about the pain of loss, you can ignore it. Just continue to handle condolences in the more traditional ways. Whatever you choose to do, one thing is for sure, social media is going to continue to define and re-define the ways in which we communicate.

    Your Facebook feed keeps you informed through the quips, quotes, and photographs that friends post. Most of the news is happy banter, but more and more we ...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Coca-Cola unveils its new 'One-Brand' packaging

      The move is an attempt to unify the brand across all Coke products

      Companies that sell consumer products usually try to shake things up every now and then to keep things interesting for consumers. Sometimes it’s with the introduction of a new product, a change in advertising strategy, or even changing the packaging that the product comes in.

      It seems that Coca-Cola is opting for the last option in a new campaign that it will be launching in May. According to a company press release, the four major Coke products – Coca-Cola original, Coca-Cola Life, Coca-Cola Zero, and Diet Coca-Cola – will soon all have labels that feature a red disc.

      “The Coca-Cola Red Disc has become a signature element of the brand, synonymous with great taste, uplift, and refreshment. By applying it to our packaging in such a bold way, we are taking the next step towards full adoption of the ‘One Brand’ strategy, uniting the Coca-Cola family under one visual identity and making it even easier for consumers to choose their Coca-Cola with or without calories, with or without caffeine,” said Coca-Cola Chief Marketing Officer Marcos de Quinto.

      Unifying the brand

      The disc will be set on a background that corresponds in color to each of the Coke products. Coca-Cola original will have a red background (making the disk undetectable), Coca-Cola Zero will have a black background, Diet Coca-Cola (or Coca-Cola Light) will have a white background, and Coca-Cola Life will have a green background.

      Officials at the company are excited for the change, saying that this marks the first time that Coke products will display this level of continuity. “The unification of the brands through design, marks the first time in our 130-year history that the iconic Coca-Cola visual identity has been shared across products in such a prominent way,” said Vice President of Global Design James Sommerville.

      The visual change will be rolled out to Coke products all over the world throughout 2016 and 2017, but its inauguration will take place in Mexico during the first week of May.

      Companies that sell consumer products usually try to shake things up every now and then to keep things interesting for consumers. Sometimes it’s with the i...

      Why the Zika virus is turning out to be a big deal

      Mutations have turned the illness into a much more serious threat

      The Zika virus has been around for decades, carried by mosquitoes and infecting humans. Why are we only hearing about it now?

      The simple answer might be that everything tends to get blown out of proportion these days, with the 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation of social media. But the less simple answer might come from researchers at UCLA.

      These scientists say Zika is a bigger threat than it once was because it is rapidly mutating, and that is aiding in its transmission. In other words, it's not your father's Zika virus.

      “The Zika virus has undergone significant genetic changes in the past 70 years,” senior author Genhong Cheng, said in a release.

      Cheng, a professor of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics at the UCLA Medical School, says scientists have traced the virus' genetic mutations, and that has helped them understand how the virus is spread and why it can cause different diseases.

      Mild annoyance

      In the past, the Zika virus was mostly a mild annoyance. It was just another minor illness spread by mosquitoes.

      What has been coming out of South America lately is something else entirely. Now, researchers have connected the Zika virus to microcephaly, a fetal brain development disorder, and even Guillain-Barre syndrome.

      It's no longer just spread by mosquitoes either. A fetus is affected by an infected mother. A mother might contract the illness, not from a mosquito bite, but from sexual contact.

      “We don’t know why Zika infection was not associated with serious human disease, especially in newborns, until recently,” said co-author Dr. Stephanie Valderramos, a fellow in obstetrics-gynecology at UCLA. “We hoped that taking a closer look at the virus’ genetic changes over time would reveal clues to this mystery.”

      41 different strains

      Complicating the matter is the fact that there is not just one strain of the Zika virus; researchers have found at least 41 different strains. The UCLA scientists say most strains originated from humans and only 10 came from mosquitoes. One came from monkeys.

      U.S. health officials are concerned about the potential for wider outbreaks with the arrival of prime mosquito season in the spring and summer. So far, the limited cases in the U.S. have been brought back from other countries.

      Cheng says his team's research has raised more questions than answers. He says a lot more research is needed to better understand the link between Zika and other diseases.

      The Zika virus has been around for decades, carried by mosquitoes and infecting humans. Why are we only hearing about it now?The simple answer might be...

      New home construction tanks in March

      Building permits didn't fare much better

      The construction of privately-owned homes took a hit last month, tumbling 8.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,089,000.

      The decline, according to the Commerce Department, was punctuated by a slide of 9.2% in single-family housing starts to a rate of 764,000. The rate in March for units in buildings with five units or more was 312,000, down 8.5% from February.

      Even with the march decline, the rate of housing starts was up 14.2% from the same period a year ago.

      Building permits

      Building permits for privately-owned housing, an indicator of developers' plans in the months ahead, were down 7.7% to a rate of 1,086,000, but still 4.6% above the March 2015 rate.

      Authorizations for single-family homes dipped 1.2%, while permits for construction of units in buildings with five units or more plummeted 20.6%.

      While the housing sector has been one of the silver linings of the U.S. recovery, Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza wonders if this can continue.

      "With a lackluster manufacturing sector, faltering consumer spending and negative business investment,'" she said, "any further weakness in real-estate activity could serve to exacerbate the forecast slowdown at the start of the year, as well as undermine any improved growth profile April-June.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      The construction of privately-owned homes took a hit last month, tumbling 8.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,089,000.The decline, according...

      Stem cells could prove useful in treating spinal cord injuries

      Scientists in Japan were able to use these cells to promote spinal cord regeneration for the first time

      You may never truly appreciate how important a role your spine plays until something happens to it. In addition to holding up our weight and giving our bodies form, the spine plays an integral part in allowing us to move.

      The spinal cord is the major highway that nerves connect to that allow us to move our arms, legs, and pretty much everything else.

      The importance of this role illustrates why any damage to the spinal cord can be so debilitating.

      According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as many as 500,000 people suffer from a spinal cord injury (SCI) every year. As many as 30% of those who suffer such an injury show clinical signs of depression afterwards, and many do not fully recover physically.

      Now it seems that there may be some hope for treating these injuries more successfully. For the first time ever, researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan and around the world have successfully utilized embryonic stem cells to promote spinal cord regeneration.

      Promoting regeneration

      The main area of focus for the researchers was a region of the spinal cord called the corticospinal tract (CST). This area is made up of nerve fibers that travel through the brain and into the spinal cord; it is an essential area for motor function and damage done to it can often result in paralysis.

      Up to this point, scientists have only been able to use stem cells to help treat these areas if there was connecting tissue that remained where the nerves were severed. If there were big gaps between the nerves with no connecting tissue, then these areas often resisted any attempts at regeneration.

      For this study, the scientists used a specific group of stem cells, called neural progenitor cells, in order to try and improve on the shortcomings of past regeneration methods. The cells were taken from rat embryos and then changed to develop into spinal cord tissue. These “grafts” of cells were then inserted into rats who had severed nerve fibers in their spinal cords.

      The grafts were actually shown to promote regeneration of these nerve fibers, so much so that the subjects regained some use of their forelimbs. To go a step further, scientists also used human neural stem cells in some rat subjects and showed that regeneration was still possible, showing that the method could be used across species.

      More work ahead

      Although these trials are seen as a huge success for future treatment of severe spinal cord injuries, the researchers admit that a lot of testing remains before any of the results can be used in a clinical setting. Going forward, the scientists will attempt to figure out what kind of cell type is the best for making grafts so that safe grafting methods can be established.

      The full study has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.

      You may never truly appreciate how important a role your spine plays until something happens to it. In addition to holding up our weight and giving our bod...

      America's boom towns driven by fast-growing neighborhoods

      Realtor.com identifies the neighborhoods that may provide the most opportunity

      The U.S. housing market has recovered nicely from the 2008-09 collapse, but some markets are doing better than others. For example, some markets like San Jose and San Francisco have seen price appreciation to the point that they may be affordable for many consumers earning good salaries.

      Where are the next hot markets? Realtor.com has analyzed new home construction, job creation, and increasing household formation to pinpoint the newest hot spots. If you happen to be ready for a move, in search of a new career, or whatever life has to offer, these markets might provide some opportunity.

      “The strength of the residential real estate market is closely correlated to growth in jobs and households,” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, said in a statement. “The good news for these markets is that these growth factors have already started to translate into new construction.”

      But Smoke notes it could be a while before these markets see a rise in housing inventory. He suggests builders should be targeting these markets now.

      Sunny Arizona

      At the top of the list is Gilbert, Ariz, a Phoenix suburb booming because of its desirability for retirees -- but plenty of young people are also drawn by the corporate headquarters of GoDaddy and PetSmart. The area is expected to grow nearly 16% over the next five years.

      Number two on the list is the 90012 Zip code in Los Angeles. It's home to the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It has attracted a number of upper income residents over the years, never a bad thing for property values.

      Downtown Dallas

      The 75201 Zip code in Dallas is the third boom market on the Realtor.com list. Located in downtown Dallas, its revival reflects the desire to be near the center of action. It's home to the Dallas Museum of Art, as well as American Airlines Arena – home to Dallas's NBA and NHL franchises.

      Specific neighborhoods in Miami, Las Vegas, Seattle, Rolesville, N.C., Brooklyn, Chicago, and Atlanta round out the top 10 boom towns.

      Realtor.com says every market on its list has seen between one and five times the national average growth rate of the nation's top 100 counties. The growth in household formation in all the markets outpaces the national average by up to six times.

      The U.S. housing market has recovered nicely from the 2008-09 collapse, but some markets are doing better than others. For example, some markets like San J...

      Marrying an intelligent woman may keep dementia at bay, study finds

      Smart spouses can help their partners stay mentally sharp

      Eligible bachelors may want to consider adding “highly intelligent” to the list of qualities Mrs. Right should possess. If you’ve already partnered up with one? Good news: she may prevent you from getting dementia later in life.

      Marrying an intelligent woman can act as a “buffer” against the disease, according to Lawrence Whalley, emeritus professor of mental health at the University of Aberdeen. During an Oxford University Literary talk called “Dementia: How Can We Protect Ourselves,” Whalley explained that brainy ladies have an effect on their partner’s brain similar to writing, reading, or visiting a museum.

      Previous research has found a link between these types of intellectual challenges and a lowered risk of Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia). But spending your life with an intelligent woman could be like spending your life with a living, breathing crossword puzzle.

      “The thing a boy is never told he needs to do if he wants to live a longer life -- but what he should do -- is marry an intelligent woman,” Whalley told the Daily Mail. “There is no better buffer than intelligence.”

      Slows the aging process

      It's estimated that 47.5 million people worldwide currently live with dementia, and that number is expected to nearly double every 20 years. Certain childhood experiences can put people at risk for dementia, but later experiences can help reduce that risk.

      “Studies have shown that the death of a mother before the age of five is a very important risk factor for dementia in later life,” said Whalley. However, choosing an intelligent partner who provides interesting, mentally stimulating conversations could help prevent Alzheimer's.

      A study revealed to scientists that environmental factors can also have a big impact on a person’s mental health. In a side-by-side comparison of two brain scans, Whalley noted that people who showed physical signs of the illness but had no symptoms were “highly intelligent” and in “high-powered jobs.”

      Eligible bachelors may want to consider adding “highly intelligent” to the list of qualities Mrs. Right should possess. If you’ve already partnered up with...

      Amazon offering its Prime Video as a standalone service in a challenge to Netflix

      Prime Video will be priced one dollar less than Netflix's new higher rate

      Amazon is rolling out its popular Prime Video as a standalone service, selling it for $8.99 a month. That will soon be one dollar less than Netflix, which is raising its monthly subscription rate to $9.99 next month.

      Prime Video has previously been available for free to the millions of consumers who are members of its $99-per-year Prime shopping service, which includes free shipping on many items, free e-book rentals, and other perks.

      And speaking of Prime, Amazon says it will offer it on a monthly basis as well, for $10.99. The obvious hope is that for a few dollars more, most consumers will choose to buy the whole package rather than just the video.

      Netflix and Amazon have been prime contenders in the video-streaming business for years and lately have been putting their efforts into producing top-flight original dramas, series, and comedies, like Netflix hits "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" and Amazon's "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle."

      Both Netflix and Amazon's streaming services are distributed by Amazon's cloud data service, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

      None of this is really surprising. As the Wall Street Journal noted in today's editions, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings predicted back in 2012 that Amazon would offer its Prime Video as a standalone service.

      Making the Prime shopping service available on a monthly basis also raises the stakes for all online retailers, since consumers who previously couldn't bring themselves to pay $99 to shop online may find it a bit easier to cough up $10.99 for a month or two around the Christmas shopping season.

      Amazon is rolling out its popular Prime Video as a standalone service, selling it for $8.99 a month. That will soon be one dollar less than Netflix, which ...

      Weekend meeting stops oil price rise

      Major oil producers can't agree to slow production

      Oil producers meeting over the weekend in Doha failed to reach an agreement to freeze production, in an effort to draw down supplies and raise prices.

      As a result, the price of oil dropped Monday and may begin a long retreat. The net result for consumers is that gasoline prices, which always rise in late winter and early spring, might begin falling sooner than usual.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows that the national average price of self-serve regular today is $2.11 a gallon, up seven cents in the last week and up 15 cents from a month ago.

      The average price of diesel fuel is also $2.11 a gallon, its first parity with gasoline in recent memory.

      Fuel prices have risen over the last few weeks because of refinery issues, which normally trump oil prices at this time of year. As refineries return to full capacity, the price of oil generally exerts more influence over the price of gasoline and diesel fuel.

      Oil's recent rise

      Oil prices have been rising in recent weeks as oil producers reportedly plotted ways to reduce the amount of oil on the market. Sunday's meeting in Doha was believed by some insiders to produce an agreement to unify the market in an effort to push the price of oil back over $50 a barrel.

      While consumers generally love low oil prices, the financial world was hoping for an agreement that would raise oil prices. The price of oil is so low that only a few producers – primarily Saudi Arabia – can be marginally profitable at these levels.

      The stock market has recently moved in lockstep with the oil market, mainly because higher oil means more profitable banks, that have lent billions of dollars to oil companies. Lower oil is seen as bad for economic growth, both in the U.S. and around the world.

      No reason to go up

      The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that there is little reason for oil prices to move higher in the short run. It notes that the recently lifted sanctions against Iran allow that country to begin selling oil again, adding to a world-wide glut.

      That glut began to build in mid-2014, when Saudi Arabia stepped up production of oil, in an effort to drop the price and drive out competition, mainly from U.S. shale producers. So far, it appears to be working, as U.S. rig counts have dropped sharply this year.

      Motorists have benefited through lower prices at the pump, but it has come at a steep cost. The economies of U.S. oil producing regions are in a recession, with rising unemployment.

      Oil producers meeting over the weekend in Doha failed to reach an agreement to freeze production, in an effort to draw down supplies and raise prices.A...

      Where to safely stash cash and get some kind of return

      Some savings and money market accounts pay more interest than others

      The stock market's volatility in 2016 has some investors looking for places to park their money – anything from a nest egg or an emergency fund.

      While stocks have rallied over the last few weeks, they have mostly regained the value they had at the start of the year. Government bonds and certificates of deposit (CD), meanwhile, can tie up money for extended periods of time.

      But savings accounts, and their cousin – the money market account – may provide a safe and flexible place to temporarily park some cash, The FDIC insured up to $250,000. While most of these accounts pay a minuscule amount of interest, a few stand out by paying 1% or more.

      $25,000 or more

      If you have a significant amount of cash to deposit – $25,000 or more – it will be hard to beat the savings account at UFB Direct. It pays 1.2%, comparable to many banks' CD rates.

      You can open an account with as little as $1, but you won't get nearly as high a rate of interest on balances under $25,000 – around 0.20% APY.

      SFGI Direct doesn't pay quite as high of an interest rate on savings, but it's still a fairly impressive 1.06% APY. It doesn't require nearly as much money to earn that rate. It pays on balances of at least $1.

      Money market accounts sometimes pay a higher rate of interest, depending on the amount of money in the account. For example, the Patelco Credit Union currently pays 3% APY on balances between $1 and $2,000. The rate declines as the balance rises above $2,000.

      Advantages

      Checking into a money market account before automatically selecting a bank's savings account is usually a good idea. They sometimes offer advantages.

      "Santander's FDIC-insured money market savings account is a standout because our customers' balances grow faster than in traditional savings accounts while giving them that access through checks, online banking or mobile,” Michael Cleary, Santander's head of consumer and business banking, said in a release. “We design our products so they reflect how people like to bank.”

      One of the chief benefits of these money market accounts is they often have tiered interest rates, meaning they pay higher rates of interest if you deposit more money. At the same time, they usually have higher minimum balance requirements to open a new account, meaning you might have to start with a savings account and convert it to a money market once you hit the minimum threshold.

      Money market accounts may also make it easier to use the money, giving you limited check-writing privileges, something not usually found with savings accounts.

      On a historical basis, the return on keeping your cash in an FDIC-insured bank account is pretty paltry. However, the cash is safe and readily available. By shopping around, you should be able to find the best choice.

      The stock market's volatility in 2016 has some investors looking for places to park their money – anything from a nest egg or an emergency fund.While s...

      Steady as she goes for builder confidence

      Cautious optimism is the takeaway

      The confidence of builders in the market for newly-built single-family homes was unabated in April, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).

      Builder confidence has held firm at 58 for three consecutive months, and, according to NAHB Chairman Ed Brady, that shows that, “the single-family housing sector continues to recover at a slow but consistent pace. As we enter the spring home buying season,” he predicted, “we should see the market move forward.”

      Survey results

      The HMI uses a monthly survey to gauge builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good," "fair" or "poor." The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high," "average," or "low to very low."

      Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      The HMI components measuring sales expectations in the next six months rose one point to 62, and the index gauging buyer traffic also was up a single point to 44. However, the component charting current sales conditions fell two points to 63.

      Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, all four regions registered slight declines. The Northeast and West each fell two points to 44 and 67, respectively, while the Midwest and South each posted one-point losses to 57 and 58.

      “Builders remain cautiously optimistic about construction growth in 2016,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Solid job creation and low mortgage interest rates will sustain continued gains in the single-family housing market in the months ahead.

      The confidence of builders in the market for newly-built single-family homes was unabated in April, according to the National Association of Home Builders ...

      Yamaha recalls recreational off-highway vehicles

      Ice in the throttle cable can prevent the throttle from returning to idle

      Yamaha Motor Corporation USA of Cypress, Calif., is recalling about 7,000 Yamaha recreational off-highway vehicles.

      Water can get into the throttle cable and if it freezes during cold weather, the ice can prevent the throttle from returning to idle, causing the rider to lose control and posing crash and injury hazards.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves model year 2016 YXZ1000R and YXZ1000R SE side-by-side utility vehicles sold in four colors: orange and black, blue and white, silver and red, and yellow and white. The model name (YXZ…) and “1000” is displayed in a graphic on both the left and right side of the vehicle.

      The vehicle identification number (VIN) is stamped on the frame near the driver’s side rear wheel. The letter G in the 10th position of the VIN number indicates that the unit was made in the 2016 model year.

      The vehicles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Yamaha side-by-side dealers nationwide from September 2015, to February 2016, for between $19,800 and $21,600.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled utility vehicles and contact their local Yamaha dealer to schedule a free repair. Yamaha is contacting all registered owners directly.

      Consumers may contact Yamaha at 800-962-7926 anytime or online at www.yamahamotorsports.com and click on “CPSC Alerts” for more information.

      Yamaha Motor Corporation USA of Cypress, Calif., is recalling about 7,000 Yamaha recreational off-highway vehicles. Water can get into the throttle...

      Feds address the lingering underwater mortgage issue

      FHFA program will reduce amount owed on nearly 33,000 mortgages

      The housing crisis has been over for years, but millions of homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages and many of them are struggling to make payments.

      The government's previous mortgage modification efforts produced questionable results, but now the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the main regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will help some “seriously delinquent” underwater homeowners to avoid foreclosure.

      The FHFA has announced it will allow Fannie and Freddie to reduce the amount owed on some mortgages, a move estimated to provide relief to about 33,000 homeowners.

      The agency says it is a one-time offer for borrowers who have Fannie or Freddie-backed mortgages and who meet specific eligibility criteria. They must be owner-occupants who were at least 90 days delinquent on their mortgages on March 1.

      Additionally, the outstanding balance on the mortgage must be no more than $250,000.

      Could help both families and communities

      Mike Calhoun, President of the Center for Responsible Lending, said the action has the potential to help both struggling families and hard-hit communities.

      “The new program recognizes the value of principal reduction as an important tool that helps to keep families in their homes and reduces the cost of foreclosures,” Calhoun said in a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs. “Up until now, this effective loan modification tool was not available to homeowners whose mortgages are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

      Early loan modification efforts often left struggling homeowners frustrated by loan servicers' repeated requests for the same documents. In many cases, by the time homeowners had gathered all the requested material, their homes were in foreclosure. Rarely, if ever, did a modification include a reduction in principal on a loan.

      Still a problem

      FHFA Director Melvin L. Watt expects it to be different this time, noting that while the national housing market appears to have recovered, negative equity remains a real problem.

      "The Principal Reduction Modification program we are announcing today, along with the changes we are making to our NPL sales guidelines, will allow an opportunity for delinquent, underwater borrowers in these areas to avoid foreclosure and save their homes," he said in a release.

      While 33,000 homeowners may get relief under the new modification program, it is the tip of a very large iceberg. A recent report by Zillow found more than more than six million homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages, making up 13.1% of homeowners with a mortgage. More than 820,000 homeowners still owe over twice as much on their mortgages as their homes are worth.

      The housing crisis has been over for years, but millions of homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages and many of them are struggling to make paym...

      Tips for last minute tax filers

      Do as much as possible electronically

      Got plans for the weekend? You may have to put them on hold if you haven't gotten around to filing your federal income tax return.

      Though April 15 is normally the deadline for getting your return in the mail to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), this year the deadline falls on Monday, April 18, since today is a holiday in the District of Columbia.

      If you'll be spending the weekend shuffling receipts and filling out forms, the IRS has some advice.

      Use the internet

      First, file your return online. It makes the tax agency's job a little easier and it will also get any refund to you a lot quicker. When you file electronically, the IRS says it normally takes about three weeks to process your refund – even faster if you have the money direct deposited into a bank account.

      The IRS offers this handy guide to individuals who are e-filing their own returns. If you file electronically, you won't be able to physically sign the return. The IRS explains here how to do it electronically.

      If you are going old school and filing a paper return, make sure all necessary forms are attached to Form 1040. The IRS would like them placed in order of the sequence number located in the upper right hand corner of the schedule or form.

      Don't forget to attach a copy of your W-2, which is a record of your compensation from your employer. If you received a corrected version of your W-2, form W-2c, make sure you include that.

      Where to send it

      When filing a paper return, it means you have to mail it somewhere. The address will be determined by where you live, and whether you owe additional taxes or are getting a refund. You'll find the the address you need here.

      If you owe additional tax, make the check out to United States Treasury. Make sure the check contains your name, address, taxpayer ID number, daytime phone number, tax year, and the name of the tax form you are submitting – such as Form 1040.

      If you are filing electronically, you can pay online by following the instructions in Form 1040-V.

      Of course, you might want to keep your weekend plans and file for an extension, giving you another six months to complete the process. It just requires filing the proper form by the Monday deadline, found here.

      If you owe additional tax, be sure to include the amount with the extension form, otherwise you'll face a penalty and interest. If you aren't sure how much you owe, it is better to overestimate on the payment. You'll avoid the penalty and get the balance as a refund when you do file.

      Got plans for the weekend? You may have to put them on hold if you haven't gotten around to filing your federal income tax return.Though April 15 is no...

      February snow storms bring tough times for air travelers

      On-time rates, however, showed improvement

      Airline passengers trying to get to or away from the East Coast had a tough time of it in February.

      The Department of Transportation (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report says the nation's carriers experienced ten tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights at airports on the East Coast during snow storms on February 5 and February 15. On the positive side, there were no tarmac delays of more than four hours on international flights.

      Also during February, airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 83.6%, considerably better than both the 72.8% reported a year earlier and the 81.3% mark posted in January 2016.

      Another area of improvement was in cancellations. Just 1.6% of scheduled domestic flights were scratched in February compared with 4.8% in February 2015 and 2.6% in January 2016.

      Other areas covered in the consumer report, which is available on the DOT website, include data on chronically delayed flights and their causes, along with complaints about baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability, and discrimination.

      Airline passengers trying to get to or away from the East Coast had a tough time of it in February.The Department of Transportation (DOT) Air Travel Co...