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    Mercedes scraps Drive Pilot ad after safety advocates object

    Advocates assail feds for 'rushing full speed ahead' to promote autonomous cars without safeguards

    Mercedes-Benz has agreed to pull a TV commercial for the "Drive Pilot" feature on its redesigned 2017 E-class cars after safety advocates said the ad could mislead consumers into thinking the feature was a fully autonomous driving system. The advocates also assailed federal safety regulators for "rushing full speed ahead" to put self-driving cars on the road without adequate safeguards. 

    The optional drive-assist feature includes advanced adaptive cruise control and automated steering that allows the sedan to follow traffic and stay in its lane at speeds of up to 130 mph.

    Mercedes said late Thursday that it would take the ad out of rotation, saying it did "not want any potential confusion in the marketplace to detract from the giant step forward in vehicle safety the 2017 E class represents.”

    The Mercedes decision followed a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez from safety advocates who said the sedan did not meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s definition of a fully or partially self-driving car.

    Yet the E-class is “marketed in a way that a reasonable consumer would believe it does,” the advocates said, adding the commercial could give “a false sense of security in the ability of the car to operate autonomously,” said the letter from officials of Consumer Reports, the Center for Auto Safety, the Consumer Federation of America, and by former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook.

    Tesla drops camera supplier

    Automated driving systems have been under scrutiny in recent weeks after a series of accidents blamed at least partly on the systems. In the most serious, the driver of a Tesla was killed when his car, while operating on Autopilot, crashed into the side of a tractor trailer truck on May 7.

    Tesla now says it will stop using cameras manufactured by Mobileye, the company that made the camera used in the fatal Tesla crash. Both companies acknowledged the split and each gave the impression it had made the decision. Mobileye implied it had not had any input into how Tesla was using the camera.

    “I think in a partnership, we need to be there on all aspects of how the technology is being used, and not simply providing technology and not being in control of how it is being used,” Mobileye CTO Amnon Shashua said in an earnings call with investment analysts, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

    What's the rush?

    The auto safety advocates also berated National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Mark Rosekind in a letter, saying he was "inexcusably ... rushing full speed ahead" to promote the deployment of self-driving robot car technology instead of developing adequate safety standards "crucial to ensuring imperfect technologies do not kill people by being introduced into vehicles before the technology matures."

    The letter was in response to Rosekind's recent assertion that NHTSA cannot "stand idly by while we wait for the perfect" before self-driving robot car technologies are deployed.

    "This is a false dichotomy," the advocates wrote. "The question is not whether autonomous technology must be perfect before it hits the road, but whether safety regulators should allow demonstrably dangerous technology with no minimum safety performance standards in place, to be deployed on American highways."

    The letter charged that Tesla’s Autopilot "could not tell the difference between a white truck and a bright sky or between a big truck and a high mounted road sign." It said Tesla "apparently knew of the defect, yet still released autopilot in beta mode and turned its customers into human guinea pigs."

    The safety advocates charged that Rosekind and his colleagues at NHTSA "have become giddy advocates of selfdriving cars, instead of sober safety regulators tasked with ensuring that new systems don’t kill people. Instead of seeking a recall of Tesla’s flawed technology, you inexcusably are rushing full speed ahead."

    Mercedes-Benz has agreed to pull a TV commercial for the "Drive Pilot" feature on its redesigned 2017 E-class cars after safety advocates said the ad could...
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    Access to drugs and alcohol in adolescence leads to continued abuse

    Study shows white men are particularly susceptible

    It’s no secret that children often form habits that they observe in their parents. Whether it’s a certain way of talking, how they express their emotions, or cleanliness habits, you can usually draw some parallels between generations.

    Now, a new study suggests that habits aren’t the only things that young people can pick up from their parents. Researchers have found that children living in households with quick access to drugs and alcohol are more likely to abuse those same substances later in life, regardless of whether or not their parents abused them.

    “While there have been many studies linking alcohol and drug use by parents to substance use among youths, there is limited research on how the availability of alcohol and drugs in the home may influence patterns of use among offspring in the future,” said Cliff Broman, leader of the study and professor of sociology at Michigan State University.

    “These findings provide evidence that the availability of illegal drugs and alcohol in the home while growing up is a critical factor in the later use of substances.”

    Pattern of abuse

    Broman came to his conclusions after analyzing data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The report followed roughly 15,000 adolescents over the course of 13 years. Data was collected in three different waves during the course of the study – when the average age of participants was 16, 22, and 29, respectively.

    The data showed that participants who had access to drugs and alcohol in their youth were much more likely to start using those same substances at an early age. For those same individuals, drug and alcohol use was also higher at age 22 and 29.

    The data showed that men were more likely to engage in substance abuse behavior if drugs and alcohol were available in adolescence. As a result, more men than women engaged in those same behaviors at age 22 and 29.

    The findings also showed the race and ethnicity were a factor for the study; whites were much more likely to use drugs and alcohol when compared to black, Hispanic, or Asian participants, although the latter groups generally had more access to these substances during adolescence.

    The full study has been published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse.

    It’s no secret that children often form habits that they observe in their parents. Whether it’s a certain way of talking, how they express their emotions, ...
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    Zipcar settles damage charge policy with New York

    Members complained they were charged before being informed of damage

    Zipcar, one of the larger car-sharing membership companies, has settled charges with the state of New York after consumers complained about its damage responsibility.

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman charged Zipcar routinely hit members' credit cards for minor damage before notifying the consumers or giving them an opportunity to dispute it. Schneiderman says such a policy runs afoul of New York law.

    “Consumers should never learn that they have been accused of damaging a rental car when they see a surprise charge on their credit card statement,” Schneiderman said.

    Under law, Schneiderman says New Yorkers can dispute damage fees before any penalties are assessed.

    Like any car rental operation, Zipcar’s membership contracts provide that consumers are responsible for any damage while the car is in their possession. But unlike a traditional car rental agency, Zipcar vehicles are not stored in a central location when not in use. In fact, they are parked in public areas – on the street or in a parking garage, where nicks and scratches can occur when no one is using the vehicle.

    Failed to inform consumers

    Schneiderman charged that Zipcar failed to inform consumers about car damages and the amount of their liability before placing a charge on their credit cards. Instead, he said Zipcar investigated to determine which Zipcar member had reserved the car at the time of the damage. When it determined the member it felt was responsible, it charged the consumer's credit card before he or she had a right to dispute it.

    The state said its investigation showed that 5,000 New Yorkers received these surprise charges. In one case, it said Zipcar placed a charge of $750 for scratches on one member's card before notifying the consumer of the damage.

    In a settlement with the attorney general's office, Zipcar has agreed to refund the damage charges for consumers who said they were not responsible. The company has also agreed to change its policy to comply with New York law.

    Common issue

    Extra charges for minor scrapes are very common in the rental car industry, providing companies with an additional revenue stream. As we noted back in 2011, rental car companies have become more aggressive in pursuing damage claims.

    Not only do they charge the consumer for the cost of the repair, but also for the loss-of-use while the repair is being made.

    To counter this, photograph the car for all four sides when you pick it up and time-stamp the photo. Then pay for the rental with a credit card that provides rental car damage coverage. You can find which card offers the best coverage here.

    Zipcar, one of the larger car-sharing membership companies, has settled charges with the state of New York after consumers complained about its damage resp...
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      How to protect yourself when traveling abroad

      The strong dollar makes travel cheap, but terrorism makes it scary

      Can you protect yourself while traveling abroad? The strength of our dollar makes travel appealing, but the terrorist attacks abroad are terrifying. Do you stay home in fear for your safety or proceed with your travel plans? It’s a tough choice to make, but it is yours alone.

      The State Department provides guidelines for those who choose to travel abroad. Here are their suggestions:

      As you begin your vacation planning, research the visa requirements, local laws, customs, and medical care for each country in your itinerary.

      Allow plenty of time to apply for a new passport or renew an old one. Passports must be valid for at least six months after you return home, and must have two or more blank pages (if not, some countries may not allow entry). Check the passports of all your traveling partners; adult passports are valid for ten years, but children are valid for only five years.

      Check out the State Department’s Travel Warnings or Travel Alerts, as well as the websites for the U.S. embassy or consulate for countries you plan to visit for the latest security risks/issues.

      Use the State Department’s link Learn About Your Destination for a wealth of information about the countries in your itinerary, along with all the contact information U.S. citizens might need for assistance.

      Print out the details for the nearest U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate in countries you plan to visit and carry this with you.

      Emergency help

      The State Department provides help (sometimes limited) for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, overseas and in Washington, (888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444). Keep these numbers handy and pass them on to family and friends should anyone need to locate you in case of an emergency.

      Learn the vaccine recommendations and health concerns/precautions for your trip by looking at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) websites.

      Be savvy in handling your money. Alert your bank and credit card companies of your travel plans and check ahead for exchange rates.  

      Pack your medications in their original prescription containers. Either bring copies of your prescriptions or ask your doctor for a letter detailing the medications you are taking. Read about your destination, as some countries have strict laws when it comes to medications, even those that are over-the-counter.  

      Keep copies

      Photocopy all of your travel documents in case of emergency, loss, or theft. Give one set of documents to a relative or trusted friend at home and store another set separately from your original documents.

      Enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It’s a free service that allows U.S. citizens to enroll their trip. Once registered, the Embassy can communicate information about safety concerns, contact you in case of an emergency (natural disaster, civil unrest, or family), as well as help family and friends reach you in an emergency.

      Check your U.S. health coverage to verify whether you have coverage for overseas. Social Security and Medicare do not provide coverage outside of the United States. The State Department warns that foreign hospitals and doctors often require payment in cash, and emergency medical evacuation can cost up to $100,000. If your U.S. health care plan does not cover you overseas, consider buying supplemental insurance to cover medical costs and emergency evacuation. You can learn more at Your Health Abroad.

      Can you protect yourself while traveling abroad? The strength of our dollar makes travel appealing, but the terrorist attacks abroad are terrifying. Do you...
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      Gas prices falling farther, faster than in typical summers

      Refineries are increasing supplies while oil prices fall

      Heading into August, motorists will enjoy prices at the pump that are, on average, about 55 cents a gallon cheaper than a year ago. It should make that trip to the beach a little less expensive.

      According to AAA, abundant fuel supplies across the U.S., coupled with falling crude oil prices, caused prices to fall in 47 states last week, led by big declines in the Midwest. However, Gasbuddy senior analyst Patrick DeHaan tweeted today that prices appear to be rising in Ohio and Michigan.

      And while California's gasoline prices remain among the most expensive in the nation, motorists there are paying $1 a gallon less than they were a year ago.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey puts the national average price of self-serve regular at $2.19 a gallon, down four cents from a week ago. The national average price of diesel fuel is $2.32 a gallon, down two cents in the last week.

      Hawaii most expensive, South Carolina cheapest

      The most expensive gasoline is now found in Hawaii, with a statewide average price of $2.78 a gallon. California is next, at $2.75 and then Washington and Alaska, in a tie at $2.63.

      The cheapest place to fill-up is South Carolina, where the statewide average has plunged to $1.84 a gallon. It's $1.90 in Alabama and $1.92 in Tennessee.

      According to AAA, more than one-third of gas stations in the U.S. have gasoline priced at $2 a gallon or less. Last month at this time, only 7% of stations had dropped their prices to that level.

      The AAA analysis predicts fuel prices will remain low for the rest of the summer. In the fall, when refineries switch back to winter grade gasoline, prices normally head even lower. There is nothing on the horizon that would alter that pattern.

      Swimming in crude oil

      Normally, the summer months are marked by a huge uptick in demand. But U.S. stockpiles of crude oil are at their highest level for this time of year in 86 years. The U.S. may be producing less oil, but refineries have been busy converting the surplus stockpiles into gasoline.

      The American Petroleum Institute last week reported June fuel deliveries for June were up 3% over 2015, reaching the highest level in nine years.

      Heading into August, motorists will enjoy prices at the pump that are, on average, about 55 cents a gallon cheaper than a year ago. It should make that tri...
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      Homeownership hits 50-year low

      Rising rents and tighter inventory are big factors

      Since the housing bubble burst, fewer Americans have been buying homes.

      First it was because it was so much harder to qualify for a mortgage and so many people were out of work. Then it was because there were fewer homes for sale.

      Now, the U.S. Census Bureau reports homeownership in the U.S. is at its lowest level since 1965, when the median priced U.S. home was $21,000.

      The Census Bureau tracks the percentage, not the actual number. In the second quarter of this year, the ownership rate dropped to 62.9%, the same rate as 51 years ago when the government started keeping records.

      Millennials continue to rent

      Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at real estate site Trulia, told CNBC the steady decline in homeownership is primarily due to Millennials continuing to rent, either by choice or inability to buy.

      "Certainly low inventory and affordability isn't helping their efforts to own, but moving out of their parents' basement and into a rental unit is also a good sign for the housing market," he told the business news channel.

      The census figures also show a tighter rental housing market as people who either can't buy a home or don't want to, compete for apartments and rental property. That competition has driven rents higher in the last seven years, making it even harder for some renters to save for a down payment.

      Rapidly rising rents

      In a separate report, real estate marketplace Zillow reports rents are rising fastest for the least expensive rental housing. That's due in large part to a growing shortage of cheaper housing as developers focus more on luxury apartments that command higher rents.

      Zillow said it looked at median rents in 15 large metros in the U.S. and found the median rent for the least expensive third of apartments was growing faster than the market as a whole. California is a good example, with the rent for the cheapest rental properties in Sacramento rising 33% in the last year, while the national median rent rose 7%.

      Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell sees a growing divide in the U.S. rental market.

      “Very high demand at the low end of the market is being met with more supply at the high end, an imbalance that will only contribute to growing affordability concerns for all renters,” Gudell said. “We're simply not building enough at the bottom and middle of the rental market to keep up with demand.”

      It all creates a housing conundrum. Not only is it getting more expensive to rent an apartment, those who are paying those high rents are finding it hard to save for a down payment. And even with a down payment, would-be homeowners are finding fewer homes on the market, meaning the homeownership rate may stay low for years to come.

      Since the housing bubble burst, fewer Americans have been buying homes.First it was because it was so much harder to qualify for a mortgage and so many...
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      Model year 2016 Cruze vehicles

      The headlights may be improperly aimed during service

      General Motors is recalling 32,913 model year 2016 Cruze vehicles manufactured November 5, 2015, to May 26, 2016.

      The headlight assemblies are not marked with a three-digit identifier code used to properly aim the headlights. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Assoc. Equipment."

      Without the identification code, the headlights may be improperly aimed during service, reducing nighttime visibility and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will mail owners instructions and adhesive labels, with the correct code, to install on their headlight assemblies. Owners may also bring the vehicle to a GM dealership for any assistance with applying the label, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet Customer Service Department at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 50190.

      General Motors is recalling 32,913 model year 2016 Cruze vehicles manufactured November 5, 2015, to May 26, 2016. The headlight assemblies are not ...
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      Combi recalls Coccoro Convertible Child Restraints

      Improper installation may increase the risk of injury

      Combi USA is recalling 39,395 Coccoro Convertible Child Restraints, model number 8220, manufactured January 1, 2009, to June 29, 2016.

      When the car seat is installed in a forward facing position and secured with only the vehicle’s lap belt, excessive force may be transmitted to the seat occupant in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury. As such, these child seats fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 213, "Child Restraint Systems."

      In the event of a crash, the seat occupant is at an increased risk of injury.

      This recall does not affect the use of the Coccoro child restraint when it is installed in a rearward-facing position.

      What to do

      Combi will notify owners, and provide them with a cover to be added to the bottom of the seat, free of charge. The recall was expected to begin in July 2016.

      Owners may contact Combi customer service at 1-888-232-3294, or by going to http://registration.combiusa.com/recall. Combi's number for this recall is 610.  

      Combi USA is recalling 39,395 Coccoro Convertible Child Restraints, model number 8220, manufactured January 1, 2009, to June 29, 2016. When the car...
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      Debt collectors face tighter regulation by feds

      Rules would shift burden of proof from consumer to collector

      There are an estimated 6,000 debt collection firms in the U.S., making it a huge industry. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), it affects around 70 million consumers who have some debt in collection.

      Some of this debt is legitimate, some is not. Currently the burden of proof to show which is which falls on the consumers. Under proposals outlined by the CFPB, much of the burden would shift to the debt collection industry.

      “Today we are considering proposals that would drastically overhaul the debt collection market,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “This is about bringing better accuracy and accountability to a market that desperately needs it.”

      Under the proposed rules, debt collectors would be required to limit their communications, clearly disclose the details of the debt, and make it easier for consumers to dispute the debt. When a consumer disputes a debt, a debt collector would not be able to continue collection efforts without providing sufficient evidence that the debt is real.

      Sea change for the industry

      If enacted, these proposals could bring about a sea change in the industry. Some of the biggest problems occur when a debt collector purchases an old debt from a bank or credit card company. Because the debt is old and has changed hands, the paper trail may be thin or missing.

      Nonetheless, there have been instances where debt collectors have hammered away at consumers, even hauling them to court, over debts they insist are not legitimate. A case in point occurred in May 2015, when Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC, one of the largest buyers of written-off debt in the U.S., tried to collect a $1,000 credit card debt from Maria Guadalupe Mejia, who insisted the debt wasn’t hers.

      The jury decided the evidence showing the debt was not hers was so clear and overwhelming, it not only dismissed the case but awarded Mejia an $83 million judgment. In its blog, the CFPB says debt collection complaints outnumber all other types it receives.

      250,000 debt collection complaints

      “We have handled about 250,000 debt collection complaints since 2011 and have handled about 85,000 in 2015 alone,” the agency said. “We have ordered creditors and debt collectors to refund hundreds of millions of dollars through our enforcement actions against unlawful debt collection practices since 2011.”

      Among complaints about debt collection, CFPB says the majority concern continued attempts to collect a debt that the consumer said was not owed, either because it wasn't their debt or had already been repaid or discharged in bankruptcy.

      CFPB says consumers sometimes pay a debt that isn't theirs just to get rid of the debt collector. Other times, consumers spend time and money to dispute the debt. The proposed CFPB rules would shift the burden of proof from the consumer to the debt collector.

      In the meantime, CFPB says that if you're having trouble with debt collection, you can submit a complaint to the CFPB online or call (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

      There are an estimated 6,000 debt collection firms in the U.S., making it a huge industry. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), it...
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      Why Baby Boomers need a hepatitis C test

      Michigan doctors devise plan to increase screening

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all Baby Boomers in the U.S. get screened for hepatitis C.

      Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease. It can be a mild illness lasting a few weeks or a lifetime condition that damages the liver.

      Baby Boomers, the population born between 1946 and 1964, is of special concern because its lifestyle during the 1960s and 1970s may have put it at risk. The disease is most associated with drug use, and in some cases can be sexually transmitted.

      Drugs? Sex? In many cases, you're describing the Baby Boomer lifestyle as the generation sowed its wild oats. According to the CDC, Boomers are five times more likely to have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) than other generations.

      Automated alert

      Though the recommendation for screening has been out there for more than a year, doctors at the University of Michigan say it is rarely part of a Baby Boomer's routine medical check-up. These doctors say they have come up with a simple way to help other doctors make sure that an HCV screening is part of the routine: electronic medical record alerts.

      Under the plan, doctors treating a patient in the target age group would get an automated alert, reminding him or her to order the test and provide the patient with information about the risks associated with the virus.

      Nearly a year ago, doctors set up just such an alert within the University of Michigan health system, contributing to a significant rise in screenings in the first six months.

      "A large part of the success was figuring out how to take the logistical work away, which involves more than looking at a patient's date of birth," said Dr. Monica Konerman, a hepatologist at the University of Michigan who treats patients facing the prospect of hepatitis damaging their liver.

      Oblivious

      Health officials believe a large number of Baby Boomers became infected 30 or 40 years ago and are unaware of it. Sometimes the symptoms are hard to detect. That's why they are urging members of this generation to get tested now.

      The University of Michigan doctors think an automated alert system can make the difference. They say before it was instituted on a trial basis, HCV screening was mostly confined to men, Asian and African Americans, and in patients with Medicaid insurance. After the alerts went online, they say screenings increased across all demographic groups.

      It's also worth noting that the new alert system did not find a large number of Boomers with the virus. Of the 16,773 people who were screened, fewer than 1% tested positive.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all Baby Boomers in the U.S. get screened for hepatitis C.Hepatitis C is a co...
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      New app interrupts unproductive screen time with learning moments

      Finny may help parents stave off device addiction in kids

      Parents of kids who are constantly glued to devices may desire a way to surreptitiously incorporate a few learning experiences into their screen time.

      Now, a new app called Finny may be able to help parents make device time productive.

      The average kid now spends more than seven hours a day on media and devices, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And more often than not, it’s games and social media apps that capture a child’s attention.

      By enabling parents to transform an unproductive app into an occasionally educational experience, Finny sees itself as a platform that can help end device addiction.

      Monitors device usage

      “Their games, your rules,” is the motto behind the app, which is free for Android and iOS. A hybrid of parental control and education, the app works by monitoring device usage.

      Not only does Finny give parents an idea of how their 7 to 14 year olds are spending their time on mobile devices, it can keep kids from wasting time on unproductive apps.

      Before a child can become too consumed by an unproductive game or app, Finny will interrupt with a learning moment. Educational interruptions could be anything from the introduction of new academic content, reinforcement of old academic content, or the promotion of physical activity.

      Promotes balance

      "We love the idea of taking an everyday occurrence, like a child playing on a smartphone, and turning it into a learning opportunity," Liza McFadden, president of the Barbara Bush Foundation, said in a statement.

      "Innovation in the EdTech arena -- like the work that Finny is doing -- has the potential to make a positive impact on families,” McFadden adds.

      And Finny seems to have already had a positive impact on many families. In a study, over 90% of users reported improvement in their child’s device habits.

      For kids, the platform may offer another benefit: a more peaceful household.

      “I don’t have to argue with my parents over screen time anymore,” says the child of a Finny user, adding the app helps him balance his device time.

      Parents of kids who are constantly glued to devices may desire a way to surreptitiously incorporate a few learning experiences into their screen time. ...
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      Fertility tracking wearable may succeed where apps don't

      Wearing the device at night lets women know their five most fertile days

      While trying to conceive, many women prefer not to leave timing up to chance alone. That’s where fertility apps and websites come in.

      However, a recent study found that many websites and apps do not accurately predict a woman’s fertile window. Of 53 fertility calculators tested, only four were able to pinpoint a woman’s “precise fertile days.”

      Now, wearable tech may be stepping in to provide women with a new way to increase their odds of becoming pregnant.

      Five fertile days

      Ovulation predictor kits can get expensive and temperature charting can be tedious -- but with the Ava bracelet, women only need to wear the device at night.

      Throughout the night, sensors on the wearable measure three million data points that help predict the rise in reproductive hormones, including breathing rate, heart rate, sleep quality, and temperature.

      After syncing the wearable to the Ava app in the morning, the device gives women a real-time update on their fertility. In a recent study, the bracelet was found to detect an average of 5.3 fertile days per cycle with 89% accuracy.

      First-of-its-kind device

      The Ava bracelet can significantly decrease the time it takes to get pregnant, says Ava Science CEO and co-founder Lea von Bidder.

      "Even if you're tracking your periods to try to optimize your timing for conception, only about 30 percent of women have fertile windows that fall entirely within the time that clinical guidelines predict," von Bidder said in a statement. "That's why an accurate, reliable way to detect the full fertile window is such a breakthrough.

      Adds von Bidder, “Ava can cut the time it takes to get pregnant in half."

      The product, which retails for $199, is now available on the company’s website.

      While trying to conceive, many women prefer not to leave timing up to chance alone. That’s where fertility apps and websites come in. However, a recent...
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      Consumers encountering fewer credit card fees

      However, choosing the wrong prepaid card can be costly

      Oil prices aren't the only thing going down. A new report from CreditCards.com found fewer credit cards are charging foreign transaction fees – a significant cost savings for consumers who travel outside the U.S.

      According to the report, 77 credit cards levied the fee last year but this year only 61 do.

      When you add up all the fees charged by the 100 credit cards, the report says the total number is 593, down from 613 a year ago.

      "Many card issuers are eliminating foreign transaction fees in an effort to win business from high-spending international travelers," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst.

      $3 for every $100 spent

      The typical foreign transaction fee is 3%, adding $3 to every $100 charge. Schultz says getting rid of the fee is a smart way for credit card companies to become the go-to card in travelers' wallets.

      The report also looked at the credit cards with the most and fewest potential fees. In the most category, First Premier Bank Credit Card and First Premier Bank Secured MasterCard top the list at 12 each.

      Close behind are Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa and Credit One Visa Platinum with 11 each.

      On the other hand, Pentagon Federal Credit Union Promise Visa Card has no fees and seven cards have only two. The report says the average credit card has six different fees, with the late fee and cash advance fee being the most common.

      "The trend toward fewer credit card fees is a great thing for consumers," Schulz said. "It's such a crazy-competitive time in the credit card business and lower fees are just another way that Americans are reaping the benefits."

      Prepaid card fees

      Prepaid cards, while technically not credit cards, also carry a lot of fees. A new report by CardHub.com finds selecting the wrong card can cost consumers more than $300 a year.

      Among the report's findings, prepaid cards offered by big national banks tend to be 82% less expensive to use than those issued by smaller banks. The report also found that nearly half of prepaid cards lack the necessary features to make them suitable for the average consumer.

      “Perhaps surprisingly, prepaid cards charge far fewer fees than their first cousin, checking accounts,” the authors write.

      The report found the best prepaid card to use as an alternative to a checking account is American Express Serve, followed by Bluebird and the Green Dot Gold Card.

      Oil prices aren't the only thing going down. A new report from CreditCards.com found fewer credit cards are charging foreign transaction fees – a significa...
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      Cost of prescription medications likely to rise during 2016

      One study’s analysis shows consumers will soon be paying up to 13% more for prescriptions

      Over the past year, the cost of many prescription drugs has risen dramatically – with some companies like Turing Pharmaceuticals receiving much of the negative press. Now, a new report shows that consumers may be facing even higher prices in the near future.

      Researchers from the University of Illinois have stated that prescription medication costs will rise between 11% and 13% in 2016. They base this claim off of data on current trends and prescription drug expenditures made across the U.S.

      “These estimates for growth are considerably higher than those we have made in the past but consistent with recent trends and other forecasts,” said lead author Glen Schumock.

      Generics and specialty drugs

      The researchers believe that the highest rise in costs will be seen in hospital settings, where prices have ramped up dramatically over the past three years. The rising cost of generics and specialty medications is also seen as a key factor; last year, 8.4% of the $419 billion made on prescription drugs was spent on drugs that were already on the market.

      “Individual drugs with the greatest increases in 2015 were specialty agents and older generics. These agents are likely to continue to influence total spending this year,” said Schumock.

      The researchers cite several specialty drugs that raked in the most cash in 2015. They mentioned a rheumatoid arthritis drug called adalimumab ($10.6 billion earned), insulin glargine for diabetes ($9.2 billion earned), an autoimmune drug called etanercept ($6.5 billion earned), and a statin called rosuvastatin that treats high blood pressure ($6.5 billion earned).

      Create competition

      Although the rising cost of medications may hit consumers hard this year, things could get even worse over the long-term. The FDA approved 45 new specialty medications last year, and if that trend continues then high prices could become commonplace.

      However, the researchers say that there is a way that prices could be driven down. They suggest that using “biosimilars” – drugs that are nearly identical to a name-brand, expensive drug – could allow consumers to get the medications they need at a lower cost.

      “Drug spending will be reduced only when there are a sufficient number of these products on the market to create competition and drive down prices,” said Schumock.

      The full study has been published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy.

      Over the past year, the cost of many prescription drugs has risen dramatically – with some companies like Turing Pharmaceuticals receiving much of the nega...
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      Airline baggage fees must be refunded if bags are delayed, according to new law

      Consumers will receive the refund if their baggage does not arrive within 12 hours of the intended arrival time

      It’s not an uncommon story – your flight touches down at its final destination, but your baggage didn’t make it in time for the connecting flight. It’s a major source of frustration for frequent fliers, who pay good money to make sure their belongings arrive in a timely fashion.

      In order to address this problem -- at least partially -- a new law has been passed this month that requires airlines to refund baggage fees if bags are delayed, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution report. The law is intended to make getting a refund easier for consumers, who otherwise may need to jump through hoops for remuneration.

      U.S. Senator John Thune remarked that “passengers won’t have to spend a ton of time tracking down a refund when the airline doesn’t deliver.”

      Consumers should be especially happy about this law considering the amount of money they spend to check their bags. U.S. airlines made a combined $900 million off of baggage fees in the first quarter of 2016; American Airlines led the way with $262.5 million in baggage fees, with Delta in second place at $197.7 million.

      The new regulation stipulates that airlines “promptly provide to a passenger an automated refund for any ancillary fees paid by the passenger for checked baggage” if it doesn’t arrive within 12 hours of its intended arrival time. International flights will have slightly more leeway with a 15-hour timeframe.

      Passengers looking to take advantage of the new rule will only need to notify the airline of any lost or delayed baggage, a change from having to fill out online rebate forms that may only give a travel voucher. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation has been asked to officially issue the new regulation within a year.

      The refund requirement is part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016.

      It’s not an uncommon story – your flight touches down at its final destination, but your baggage didn’t make it in time for the connecting flight. It’s a m...
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      Two studies raise new e-cigarette concerns

      Researchers say emissions can be inconsistent and labels are often inaccurate

      A study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has found that emissions from e-cigarettes are not consistent, affected by things like temperature, type, and age of the device.

      The say their discovery may prove helpful to both manufacturers and regulators, working to minimize negative health effects from “vaping.”

      The Berkeley Lab study found that the thermal breakdown of propylene glycol and glycerin, two solvents found in most “e-liquids,” can be unstable and lead to emissions containing toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde.

      “Advocates of e-cigarettes say emissions are much lower than from conventional cigarettes, so you’re better off using e-cigarettes,” said Berkeley Lab researcher and the study’s corresponding author Hugo Destaillats.

      The researchers say that might be true in the case of heavy smokers who have not been successful in their attempts to quit. But they say e-cigarettes are still unhealthy, even though cigarettes are worse.

      Label discrepancy

      Meanwhile, researchers at North Dakota State University (NDSU) conducted a study of the nicotine levels found in e-cigarettes liquid nicotine containers, comparing that amount to what was listed on the label. They say they found 51% of labels don't accurately reflect the amount of nicotine they contain.

      For the project, the researchers purchased liquid nicotine at random at 16 North Dakota stores. In one case they said the actual amount of nicotine was 172% higher than the amount listed on the label. As an added concern, the researchers said the majority of containers did not come in child-resistant packaging.

      “Mislabeling of nicotine in e-liquids exposes the user to the harmful effects of nicotine,” said study author Kelly Buettner-Schmidt, associate professor of nursing at NDSU. “In areas without child-resistant packaging requirements, children may be exposed to harmful nicotine.”

      Danger to children

      Ingestion of nicotine by a child is hazardous, with the level of severity depending on the size of the child and the amount ingested. The result can be nicotine toxicity, accidental poisoning, or death.

      Last August, North Dakota outlawed the sale of e-cigarettes and tobacco to those under 18. The law also mandates child-resistant e-liquid containers, although the amount of nicotine content remains unregulated.

      This August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to issue final regulations that prohibit the sale of e-cigarette products to anyone under 18. The proposed rule would also outlaw free samples, false or misleading advertising of e-cigarette products.

      A study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has found that emissions from e-cigarettes are not consistent, affected ...
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