Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2016
  4. August

News in August 2016

Ikea needs to put consumer safety first, consumer groups warn

The giant retailer is resisting court orders to release documents related to tip-over deaths

Ikea needs to get serious about putting consumer safety first, a coalition of consumer groups said today, following reports that Ikea has defied a court order related to the recall of 29 million dressers that followed the death of a two-year-old boy.

“Ikea sold millions of unstable dressers with a tip-over hazard that led to the deaths of at least six toddlers and continues to place countless children at risk. It resisted a recall for too long. And now it isn’t sharing internal records about these products,” said Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Kids In Danger in a joint statement.

Ikea chests and dressers are linked to six children’s deaths and 36 children’s injuries, the groups noted.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday that Ikea, which manufactures and sells its own furniture, had defied a court order that it turn over information to the mother of a two-year-old West Chester, Pa., boy who was killed by an Ikea dresser in 2014.

On Monday, the mother's lawyers asked Judge John Younge to fine Ikea $1,000 a day until it complies with his order, the newspaper reported.

The recall came only after two years of talks between the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Ikea.

Ikea first tried to address the tip-over threat in July 2015 by sending wall-anchoring kits to consumers, but the death of another child seven months later led to the June recall, one of the largest ever. 

"Record of pushing back"

“While Ikea has been arguing that turning over the documents would harm CPSC’s recall process, we are concerned that the company’s record of pushing back against regulator and court requests to increase safety and transparency is putting consumers at risk. We urge Ikea to improve transparency and put consumer safety first,” the groups' statement said.

“Given the massive size of this recall and the lack of any data so far about how well it is working, we urge Ikea to work to ensure that consumers effectively remove the unstable dressers from their home as soon as possible and continue to cooperate with regulators to share all safety-related records about this hazard. This information could prove critical to motivating quick action and broader participation in the recall.”

The Inquirer reported that the records at issue include photos and videos of internal Ikea testing and “items that might shed light on how widespread a threat Ikea dressers have posed.” The company could face fines or other penalties for failing to comply with the court’s order to turn over the documents.

According to the CPSC, one child dies every two weeks and one child is sent to the emergency room every 24 minutes from furniture or TVs tipping over. Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Kids In Danger support the CPSC’s "Anchor It" campaign to minimize furniture and appliance tip-over hazards and urge consumers with recalled dressers to take immediate action to prevent a tragedy in their home.

Ikea needs to get serious about putting consumer safety first, a coalition of consumer groups said today, following reports that Ikea has defied a court or...

Judge tosses case against couple who gave pet sitter a bad Yelp review

Non-disparagement clause can't be used to silence consumers, court finds

A Texas court has dismissed a $1 million lawsuit that a Dallas pet-sitting company filed against a couple who said the pet-sitters had overfed their goldfish.

It all began when fish owners Michelle and Robert Duchouquette returned home to Dallas after a brief vacation and found that the water in their fish bowl was cloudy, suggesting that their fish had been overfed by Prestigious Pets, the pet-sitting company. They posted a review on Yelp, complaining they had been unable to talk directly to the pet-sitter and gave the company a one-star rating.

Prestigious Pets sued, claiming the negative review was libelous and claimed that it breached a nondisparagement clause in its customer agreement.

It is thought to be the first court case in which a court has held a nondisparagement clause in a consumer contract to be unenforceable, said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who represented the Douchouquettes, along with local counsel.

“Seeking to silence negative criticism, the owners of Prestigious Pets may well have put their whole company on the line,” Levy said. “Not only did the company lose business when customers were disgusted over the non-disparagement lawsuit, it now is responsible to pay attorney fees and sanctions. This case should serve as a warning to other companies.”

Michelle Duchouquette said she was gratified by the ruling.  

"It took lots of hours and many smart minds spending too much time talking about Gordy the betta fish," she said. "Thank goodness they did not lose sight of the real issue: the threats posed by non-disparagement clauses to our right to free speech.”

A Texas court has dismissed a $1 million lawsuit that a Dallas pet-sitting company filed against a couple who said the pet-sitters had overfed their goldfi...

Researchers work towards blood test to check for Alzheimer's disease

Having such a test could help with early detection and prevention efforts

New research conducted at Cardiff University could allow for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease, a crucial step towards mitigating the damaging effects that it has on people later in life.

Using nearly 300 participants, researchers used blood tests to distinguish certain biomarkers which could predict whether or not someone would develop the disease in the near future.

“Our research proves that it is possible to predict whether or not an individual with mild memory problems is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the next few years,” said Paul Morgan, Director of Cardiff University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute.  

“We hope to build on this in order to develop a simple blood test that can predict the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease in older people with mild, and possibly innocent, memory impairment.”

Influential findings

In order to distinguish the biomarkers, Morgan and his colleagues took blood samples from participants who had mild memory problems and analyzed them for protein content. After a year, the researchers re-assessed each participant.

They found that nearly a quarter of all participants went on to develop Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, those who went on to develop the disease had three proteins in their blood that differed dramatically at the initial screening from those who remained healthy. This evidence could provide some insight into how these immune system proteins contribute to inflammation and Alzheimer’s as a whole.

Morgan believes that these findings could greatly influence how health officials handle Alzheimer’s where he lives in the United Kingdom.

“Alzheimer’s disease affects around 520,000 people in the UK and this number is continually growing as the population ages. As such it is important that we find new ways to diagnose the disease early, giving us a chance to investigate and instigate new treatments before irreversible damage is done,” he said.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

New research conducted at Cardiff University could allow for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease, a crucial step towards mitigating the damaging effec...

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    New company lets kids design their own clothing

    'Picture This' turns drawings into dresses

    While it may result in some unusual style choices, letting kids dress themselves is a great way to help foster independence and encourage their creativity.

    But sometimes kids’ creativity would prefer not to be bound by what’s hanging in their closet. Artistically-inclined kids everywhere may be happy to learn of a new company called “Picture This” -- a company that lets kids transform their artwork into wearable dresses.

    All parents need to do is choose a dress size and print out the template on the Picture This website. After kids have colored the templates, parents simply upload photos of it and a dress in its likeness will arrive in about two weeks.

    Wearable creativity

    Mom and entrepreneur Jaimee Newberry founded the company after a dress she had made from her daughter’s drawing turned out to be a huge hit, both with her daughter and her daughter’s friends and classmates.

    In a Medium post, Newberry recounted her daughter’s delight in telling people, “I’m wearing my imagination!”

    After "the positive response and requests from Zia’s friends and classmates to also ‘wear their imagination,’” Newberry brainstormed with her friends about how to "turn this concept into something where kids everywhere could have fun with hands-on drawing and coloring, and then see their imaginative artwork come to life in wearable fashion form."

    Other options coming soon

    Kids can also clothe their favorite sidekicks in their creations; doll-sized clothing (for an 11 or 18-inch doll) is also available.

    And for kids who aren’t necessarily fond of dresses, more clothing options will be coming soon. The dresses were simply a jumping off point for the company, Newberry told Babble.

    “We launched with just the dress for two reasons. First, we wanted to test the market and see if people would actually buy the product! And second, we wanted to make sure the finished piece of clothing that arrives in your mailbox is a great piece of clothing. So our launch was very focused on accomplishing those goals.”

    While it may result in some unusual style choices, letting kids dress themselves is a great way to help foster independence and encourage their creativity....

    Simple ideas for integrating smart technology into your home

    Five budget-friendly ways to get your home working for you

    Smart home devices can turn your home into a welcoming and accommodating respite from the outside world. And turning your abode into a smart home may not be as difficult as you think.

    Figuring out which rooms might benefit from smart home technology is the first step to transforming your space into one that works for you. All you’ll need to do is go room-to-room and think about the tasks you tend to forget.

    Do busy mornings leave you with little time to fire up the coffee maker? Does coming home late at night leave you scrambling to find your light switches? Asking yourself questions like these can help you pinpoint exactly where smart devices could help improve your life.

    Ideas for every room

    Contrary to popular belief, not all smart home technology is expensive or requires a complicated installation process. These simple, budget-friendly ideas can take your home from ordinary to accommodating in no time.

    • Motorized drapes. Swapping out your pull shades for motorized drapes can make life easier and help you manage your energy consumption. With smartphone controlled drapes, you’ll be able adjust the lighting and privacy in your room at the touch of a button.
    • Smart lightbulbs. Energy-efficient, smartphone-controlled lightbulbs can help you save both time and money. Philips Hue lightbulbs, for example, sync to your Wi-Fi router via the Hue Bridge enabling you to control your lighting from your phone. Benefits of installing connected lighting include: the ability to switch off lights automatically after you leave, dimming options, and the ability to make it look like you're home when you're not.  
    • Coffee maker. Smart coffee makers can work with your smartphone to make your morning caffeination routine a bit easier. Instead of groggily measuring out water and grounds, let a smart coffee maker take on the challenge of prepping your morning cup of joe.
    • Outlet adapters. Plugging a smart outlet adapter into the wall can eliminate the struggle of feeling around for light switches or remotes in the dark. Smart outlets can be controlled from your smartphone, so you can effortlessly turn on your lights or TV before walking in the door.
    • Remote garage door access. If you often forget whether or not you closed the garage door, why not install a smart garage door opener? In addition to letting you know if your garage door is currently open or closed, garage door remotes by companies such as Chamberlain allow you to control the door from anywhere.
    Smart home devices can turn your home into a welcoming and accommodating respite from the outside world. And turning your abode into a smart home may not b...

    Google getting into ride-sharing with its Waze app

    The new service is similar to, but cheaper than, Uber and Lyft

    The roadway to success in the ride-app business is getting a little more congested. Google is reported to be expanding an experimental ride-sharing service it has been testing in the San Francisco area, posing a potential challenge to Uber and Lyft.

    Google is using its Waze app to link up riders with drivers who are headed in the same direction -- sort of a "Going my way?" concept. Whereas Uber and Lyft are basically app-summoned taxis, Waze is trying to fill empty seats in commuters' cars, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

    Until now, the test has been restricted to employees of specific companies in the San Francisco region, but it will be opened to everyone in the Bay Area in September, reports say.

    Waze is already well-established as the commuter's friend. It basically helps drivers avoid tie-ups and find alternative routes, using input from other users. Drivers like it, but some consumers are piqued by increased cut-through traffic on residential streets. 

    Google is pricing its find-a-friend service below Uber and Lyft, at about 54 cents a mile. Google is not taking a cut of the proceeds during the shakedown period.

    Peer-to-peer

    In another departure from the Uber/Lyft approach, Google says it doesn't want drivers to think of themselves as professional drivers, but merely as commuters helping other commuters. Its 54 cents-per-mile price just so happens to be what the Internal Revenue Service defines as the allowable 2016 employee mileage reimbusement, so Google suggests drivers may not have to report their payments as taxable income but instead as reimbursement for gas and related expenses.

    Cautionary note: check with your accountant before you try this.

    The Waze experiment is unique to the U.S., but the model has been in use in Israel for the last year or so. Waze was developed in Israel and purchased by Google in 2013. 

    In another departure from the Uber/Lyft model, Google will reportedly not be vetting its drivers, relying instead on reviews from consumers to weed out bad guys. Anyone with the Waze app can sign up to be a driver. 

    The roadway to success in the ride-app business is getting a little more congested. Google is reported to be expanding an experimental ride-sharing service...

    Study sees tax flaws in most retirement calculators

    Researchers say it could cost you up to six years of savings

    Despite all the advice and calculators that purport to show you how much you need to retire and when to withdraw it, retirement planning is an inexact science.

    It is also far from a one-size-fits-all formula. Needs will hinge on a number of different factors, including lifestyle and location.

    But there may be another flaw to consider if you are using a retirement calculator in your planning. Researchers at Baylor and Texas Tech have published a study that found a number of retirement calculators don't use efficient ways to measure tax liability.

    As a result, they say someone relying on one of these calculators might lose six or seven years of retirement income.

    Better strategies?

    "Through our research, we found there are better strategies for creating retirement income than the ones the industry is currently using," said William Meyer, CEO of Retiree, Inc., and one of the authors. "These strategies provide greater tax efficiency, creating six or more years of income. That's a game changer for a retiree."

    The authors attempt to debunk the conventional wisdom around tax-efficient retirement withdrawals. They say these practices suggest an investor should withdraw funds from one account at a time moving to the next one after the previous is exhausted, starting with tax-deferred accounts and moving to tax-exempt accounts.

    But the authors claim that isn't the most efficient way to withdraw money, at least when it comes to tax liability.

    Progressive tax rate factor

    The study contends that the most tax-efficient strategies take into account progressive tax rates. It recommends retirees think about drawing from multiple accounts at the same time, while using Roth IRA conversions. They say it takes advantage of years when the saver has lower marginal tax rates.

    When funds are withdrawn from a Traditional IRA or 401(k) savings plan, the money is taxed as ordinary income, because the saver was able to deduct contributions from federal taxes. Since contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible, withdrawals – including any capital gains – are not taxed.

    Tax ramifications of retirement withdrawals may be one of the lesser-understood aspects of retirement planning and have made the whole subject somewhat controversial.

    Tax implications

    Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade, told ConsumerAffairs back in February that retirees need to pay closer attention to the tax implications of retirement.

    When you turn 65, the way you file your taxes may change. There may be certain credits and deductions you qualify for, and you will be able to take a higher standard deduction, which may be more advantageous than claiming itemized deductions. Tax planning may change, especially if you are withdrawing funds from a tax-deferred retirement account.

    “You may want to take into consideration things like your required minimum distribution if you are 70 and a half, you may want to take into consideration some state tax benefits in terms of your Social Security, and how that's taxed,” Luber said.

    Keep in mind certain credits or deductions you've qualified for in the past may no longer apply. You may need to consider paying estimated quarterly taxes once you hit retirement.

    Despite all the advice and calculators that purport to show you how much you need to retire and when to withdraw it, retirement planning is an inexact scie...

    Caffeine helps fight memory loss, study finds

    Researchers confirm that caffeine blocks a brain receptor that affects memory problems

    Having that first cup of coffee in the morning can be a great way to start your day, but could it also help keep your memory sharp as you age? One recent study shows that maybe it can.

    A multinational collaboration -- including researchers from France, Germany, and the United States – has found that caffeine can combat the effects of age-related memory impairment. This could point to another way to slow the decline of memory function in older consumers and those affected by cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.

    The researchers have confirmed that a certain receptor in the brain, called adenosine A2AR, is linked to memory impairments related to age. Following up on previous research, they were able to manipulate this receptor to induce a sort of “early aging” that led to the release of hormones related to stress and memory loss.

    “This is part of a larger study initiated 4 years ago in which we identified the role of this receptor in stress, but we did not know whether its activation would be sufficient to trigger all the changes. We now found that by altering the amount of this receptor alone in neurons from hippocampus and cortex – memory related areas – is sufficient to induce a profile that we designate as ‘early-aging’ combining the memory loss and an increase in stress hormones in plasma (cortisol),” said Luisa Lopes, coordinator of the study.

    Potential therapeutic target

    In order to prevent the onset of early aging, the researchers tested a caffeine analogue on animal models. They found that caffeine blocked the receptor from acting properly, which in turn normalized the memory- and stress-related deficits that were created beforehand.

    The researchers believe that their work could allow medical professionals a means of treating memory-related problems in older people and those affected cognitive disorders. Additionally, it has opened the door for further research on the causes of memory dysfunction.

    “In elderly people, we know there is an increase of stress hormones that have an impact on memory. Our work supports the view that the precognitive effects of A2AR antagonists, namely caffeine, observed in Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive impairments may rely on this ability to counteract the loss of stress controlling mechanisms that occurs upon aging,” said researcher director David Blum.

    “This is important not only to understand the fundamental changes that occur upon aging, but it also identifies the dysfunctions of the adenosine A2AR receptor as a key player in triggering these changes. And a very appealing therapeutic target,” added Lopes.

    The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

    Having that first cup of coffee in the morning can be a great way to start your day, but could it also help keep your memory sharp as you age? One recent s...

    Apple hopes to turn a page with the introduction of iPhone 7

    Company ready for some good news in September

    It's been a long, hot summer for Apple, and the company is probably ready to bid August good-bye and to move on to September.

    In the latest setback, the European Union this week ordered Apple to pay $14.5 billion in back taxes to the government of Ireland. Remarkably, the Irish government is contesting the ruling, since its favorable corporate tax rates have been key to persuading companies like Apple to set up shop in its country.

    Here at home, Apple reportedly faces a lawsuit focusing on the iPhone. Reuters reports a proposed class-action lawsuit claims there is a design defect in the iPhone 6 that causes the screen to become unresponsive while in use.

    The complaint, which Reuters says was filed in federal court in San Jose, Calif., claims the problem is due to Apple not using a metal “shield” or “underfill” to provide adequate protection to vital components.

    The suit alleges the protection was provided on the iPhone 5 but discontinued on the iPhone 6. Apple has not responded to the allegation.

    iPhone 7 on the way

    Instead, the company is likely looking ahead to next week, when it is expected to unveil the iPhone 7, and perhaps announce upgrades to the Apple Watch. A new survey may give Apple reason for optimism.

    The survey of 1,000 current iPhone users showed that half plan to upgrade to the next iPhone when it becomes available, presumably sometime in September. That's a marked improvement from March, when only 22% said they planned to upgrade.

    Half is a pretty sizable percentage under any circumstances, but today, when cell phone carriers no longer subsidize new device purchases, the bar for upgrading has become significantly higher, since the consumer must pay the full retail price.

    "Apple customers have been hesitant to upgrade their smartphones this year," said Chris Mason, co-founder and CEO of Branding Brand, which conducted the survey. "In March, there was high anticipation that Apple would launch its newest generation of iPhones, but the 4-inch iPhone SE felt like a step back for consumers that enjoy more innovative Apple products."

    The leaked details about possible new features on the iPhone 7 may also be responsible for increased enthusiasm. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said they were excited about possible camera upgrades in the new device. About 20% said they looked forward to a new operating system.

    It's been a long, hot summer for Apple, and the company is probably ready to bid August good-bye and to move on to September.In the latest setback, the...

    Here are some deals on 2016 cars

    Deals will be better on some 2016s than others

    Car dealers across America will be dominating the TV airwaves this weekend with their “Labor Day Weekend Blowout” sales. Indeed, it's not a bad time to go kick some tires.

    The holiday weekend coincides with the traditional end of the model year for most carmakers. They are, in fact, trying to make room for the 2017 models.

    But let's be clear. They aren't exactly giving away the 2016s. Still, automotive site Edmunds.com has identified a number of 2016s where you should be able to negotiate a good deal.

    What these cars all have in common is the model is about to be phased out or dramatically redesigned. Yes, that might also hurt the car's resale value, but if you are looking for a lower entry point on a new car, Edmunds says these five models are definitely worth a look.

    2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan

    Bargains on luxury cars are rare, but the E-Class sedan has been redesigned for 2017. Edmunds says buyers should find this car at $7,000 to $10,000 less than it normally goes for. The model earned an A rating from Edmund's editors in 2015.

    2016 Hyundai Genesis Sedan

    For 2017, this car is being rebranded as the Genesis G80. Edmunds gives the Genesis a high rating, as it delivers luxury at a lower price. Now the price is even lower. Edmunds reports it has seen the car going for discounts of more than $5,000.

    2016 Buick LaCrosse

    The LaCrosse underwent a redesign for 2017, but dealers still have plenty of 2016 models. It's a comfortable, entry-level, full-size sedan with lots of options. Edmunds says buyers of the 2016s are seeing discounts of $6,000 or more.

    2016 Cadillac SRX

    Cadillac is changing the name of the SRX to XT5, making some other changes to its luxury SUV along the way. As a result, consumers may find some deals on the leftover 2016s. Edmunds says the the discount should amount to around $8,000.

    2016 Subaru Impreza Sedan

    Here's another redesign that creates some potential deals on the current model. But don't expect the dramatic savings you find on the above models. Subaru generally is a popular brand with less of a profit margin than competing models. That said, Edmunds says buyers should be able to get around $1,000 off the MSRP.

    “Even though these vehicles are being redesigned or going away altogether, they still have the same great technology and performance that you’d find in most new cars, but at a much better value,” said Edmunds.com Senior Consumer Advice Editor Ron Montoya.

    Montoya also advises consumers interested in one of these bargains to act quickly. The selection is expected to dwindle, especially after this weekend.

    Car dealers across America will be dominating the TV airwaves this weekend with their “Labor Day Weekend Blowout” sales. Indeed, it's not a bad time to go ...

    Decent job growth reported for August

    The services sector continues to be the powerhouse

    The private sector of the U.S. economy continued to add jobs, building in August on the previous month's advance.

    According to the ADP National Employment Report, produced in collaboration with Moody's Analytics, another 177,000 jobs were created from July to August -- 5,000 more than in July.

    Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi predicts the U.S. economy will soon be at full employment.

    "The American job machine continues to hum along,” he said. “Job creation remains strong, with most industries and companies of all sizes adding solidly to their payrolls.”

    As is usually the case, the bulk of the new jobs (63,000) came in small businesses, those with 49 or fewer employees. Employment at companies with 50-499 employees rose by 44,000 jobs, while large companies -- those with 500 or more employees -- increased by 70,000. Firms with 500-999 employees added 25,000 and mega-companies -- those with more than 1,000 employees -- added 46,000.

    Goods and services employment

    The goods-producing sector of the economy lost 6,000 jobs in August, after losing 5,000 in July. Two-thousand jobs disappeared from the construction, while job creation in manufacturing industries was flat, after gaining 5,000 in the previous month.

    Service-providing employment, on the other hand, rose by 183,000, with professional/business services contributing 53,000 jobs, trade/transportation/utilities adding 26,000 jobs, and jobs in financial activities growing by 15,000.

    "Job growth in August was stable and consistent with levels from previous months as consumer conditions improve," said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and head of the ADP Research Institute. "Continued strong growth in service-providing jobs is offset by weakness in goods-producing areas."

    The private sector of the U.S. economy continued to add jobs, building in August on the previous month's advance.According to the ADP National Employme...

    Mortgage applications halt two-week skid

    Contract interest rates were up slightly

    Mortgage applications moved higher last week, ending two straight weeks of declines.

    The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows an increase of 2.8% in the week ending August 26 in it's Market Composite Index, which measures mortgage loan application volume.

    The Refinance Index shot up 4.0% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 63.5% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dipped to 4.5% of total applications, the FHA share increased to 9.7% from 8.9% the previous week, the VA share rose to 12.5% from 12.4%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.6%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) was unchanged at 3.67%, with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) inched up one basis point from 3.62% to 3.63%, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA increased to 3.54% from 3.53%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was up one basis point to 2.96%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped to 2.90% from 2.84%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    Mortgage applications moved higher last week, ending two straight weeks of declines.The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Sur...

    Snyder’s-Lance recalls Diamond of California macadamia nuts

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Snyder’s-Lance is recalling Diamond of California® Macadamia Nuts.

     

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

     

    There have been no reported illnesses to date.

     

    The following products, distributed in retail stores nationwide, are being recalled:

    Product NameUPC CodeLot NumberBest Before Date
    Diamond of California® Chopped Macadamia Nuts, 4oz01030034584816137D331S
    16138D331S
    16158D331S
    16 NOV 2017
    17 NOV 2017
    06 DEC 2017
    Diamond of California® Macadamia Halves & Pieces, 2.25oz07045074391816137D331S
    16159D331S
    16 NOV 2017
    07 DEC 2017

     

    What to do

     

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but contact the company's consumer affairs office for a full refund.

     

    Consumers may contact the company at 503-364-0399 between 8am and 5pm (PT), Monday – Friday or online at http://diamondfoods.com/contact/.

    Snyder’s-Lance is recalling Diamond of California® Macadamia Nuts. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella. There have been no rep...

    Dazzling Toys recalls chicken toys

    The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small plastic pieces

    Dazzling Toys of Monroe, N.Y., is recalling about 800 egg laying chicken toys.

     

    The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small plastic pieces, both posing a choking hazard to children.

     

    No incidents or injuries have been reported.

     

    This recall involves the Bump and Go Action Egg Laying Chickens with lights, music and bump and go action. The battery-powered plastic toy was sold in two styles: a yellow chicken with an orange head and wings and a multi-colored (yellow, green and orange) chicken.

     

    The chicken toy includes three white plastic eggs that are placed into the back of the chicken, and then released from the bottom. The yellow-colored chicken measures 7 inches wide by 6 inches tall by 7 inches deep. The multi-colored chicken measures 7 inches wide by 5 inches tall by 4 inches deep. The eggs for both toys are one inch wide by one inch tall by one inch deep.

     

    The toys, manufactured in China, were sold online at www.amazon.com and www.ebay.com from February 2016, through July 2016, for about $12.

     

    What to do

     

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled toys and contact the firm for a full refund. Dazzling Toys is contacting consumers who purchased the recalled toys.

     

    Consumers may contact Dazzling Toys toll-free at 844-222-2812 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at recall.dazzlingtoys@gmail.com or online at www.dazzlingtoys.com for more information.

     

     

    Dazzling Toys of Monroe, N.Y., is recalling about 800 egg laying chicken toys. The toys contain small eggs and the chicken can break into small pla...

    Four pointers for choosing a pain reliever

    Not every OTC pain reliever will be a good match for your current health profile

    Choosing an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever may seem like a simple enough task, but it may not be as simple as you think.

    A new survey conducted by the U.S. Pain Foundation finds that consumers may be failing to consider important safety factors when selecting an OTC pain reliever.

    Although 97% of participants surveyed said they felt confident in their ability to select an OTC pain reliever, nearly half (45%) admitted to not considering how prescription medicines may interact with their choice of pain reliever.

    Consumers may also be forgetting to consider how age and pre-existing health conditions may interact with their pain reliever, preferring instead to choose a pain reliever based on how quickly it can relieve pain.

    Factors to consider 

    Medical professionals recommend finding a balance between your current health profile and effective pain relief.

    "People with pre-existing conditions, or those that are currently taking prescription medicines, need to be especially careful when choosing an OTC medicine for pain relief," says Paul Gileno, founder of the U.S. Pain Foundation.

    How might pre-existing health conditions impact your decision? If you have existing stomach or heart conditions, for example, certain NSAIDs may increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, or stomach bleeding.  

    To avoid adverse health consequences like these, the U.S. Pain Foundation suggests heeding the following advice:   

    • Scrutinize the label. Even if you’ve bought a particular OTC pain reliever many times before, you should read and follow the Drug Facts label. Neither labels nor health profiles are immutable.
    • Follow dosage recommendations. In addition to sticking to the recommended dose, consumers should consider how other medicines they are currently taking may interact with the OTC pain reliever.
    • Know the active ingredient. Make a mental note of the active ingredient in your medicine and be sure not to take more than one medicine containing the same active ingredient.
    • Follow usage suggestions. Unless told to do so by a healthcare provider, consumers should avoid taking OTC pain relievers for longer than the label recommends.

    For more information on choosing a pain reliever that's right for you, visit Get Relief Responsibly.

    Choosing an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever may seem like a simple enough task, but it may not be as simple as you think. A new survey conducted b...

    Your dog listens to what you say and how you say it

    Researchers find that dogs' brains interpret speech the same way humans do

    We humans are pretty special. We can talk and think and understand each other and do all kinds of things animals can't do, right? Maybe not.

    Researchers in Hungary say they have conclusively found that dogs understand and care about not only what we say but how we say it -- and, perhaps more significantly, they do so in pretty much the same way we do.

    So, when talking to dogs as when talking to people, it's not just what you say, but how you say it. 

    Dogs, like people, use the left hemisphere brain region to process words and the right hemisphere to process intonation, the researchers found. The study indicates that the neural mechanisms to process words evolved much earlier than previously thought and that they are not unique to humans.

    Dogs didn't develop the physical structures that would have allowed them to form words, but they have the mental capacity to process words and intonations from their human companions, in other words.

    Obviously, dogs who live in the wild may not develop this capability, but family dogs who are bathed in words from their humans over time can learn to understand many of them, just as an infant does.

    Unified meaning

    "During speech processing, there is a well-known distribution of labor in the human brain. It is mainly the left hemisphere's job to process word meaning, and the right hemisphere's job to process intonation. The human brain not only separately analyzes what we say and how we say it, but also integrates the two types of information, to arrive at a unified meaning," said lead researcher Attila Andics of the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.

    "Our findings suggest that dogs can also do all that, and they use very similar brain mechanisms," Andics said.

    The researchers trained 13 dogs to lie completely motionless in an fMRI brain scanner, then measured the dogs' brain activity as they listened to their trainers speak.

    "Dogs heard praise words in praising intonation, praise words in neutral intonation, and also neutral conjunction words, meaningless to them, in praising and neutral intonations. We looked for brain regions that differentiated between meaningful and meaningless words, or between praising and non-praising intonations," said Anna Gábor, PhD student and one of the authors of the study. 

    Say it like you mean it

    Andics and colleagues also noted that praise activated dogs' reward center - the brain region which responds to all sorts of pleasurable stimuli, like food, sex, being petted, or even nice music in humans. Importantly, the reward center was active only when dogs heard praise words in praising intonation.

    "It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match. So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant. Again, this is very similar to what human brains do," Andics said.

    The study may help improve communications between dogs and humans. It also has important conclusions about communications among humans.

    "Our research sheds new light on the emergence of words during language evolution. What makes words uniquely human is not a special neural capacity, but our invention of using them," Andics said.

    We humans are pretty special. We can talk and think and understand each other and do all kinds of things animals can't do, right? Maybe not.Researchers...

    Researchers believe tablets could be the key to diagnosing autism in children

    How a child moves when playing a game on a tablet may show whether or not they have autism

    The number of children who have an autism spectrum disorder seems to be growing all the time. Statistics show that one out every 160 children in North America and Europe suffer from the condition, but many can go undiagnosed for years.

    However, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Strathclyde and start-up company Harimata has identified a novel way to diagnose autism early so that these children can get the help they need. The key, the researchers say, is to have children play games on a tablet.

    “We have shown that children with autism can be identified by their gameplay patterns on an iPad. . . This is potentially a major breakthrough for early identification of autism, because no stressful and expensive tests by clinicians are needed. Early detection is important as this can allow parents and children to gain access to a range of services support,” said researcher Dr. Jonathan Delafield-Butt.

    A better test

    The researchers began the study after recognizing that current standards at diagnosing autism were not ideal.

    “Early assessment of autism allows timely therapeutic intervention, but professional diagnosis of the disorder is difficult and time-consuming,” said Anna Anzulewicz, Director of Research at Harimata.

    “Our aim was to develop a test that would be intuitive, fast, fun and engaging for the children. iPad-based games seemed to be perfect, and they are embedded with powerful sensors, which allow for the precise measurement of the children’s play dynamics.”

    Movement factor is key

    To test the diagnostic effectiveness of tablets, researchers examined 37 children with autism between the ages of three and six. Each child was asked to play a game on a smart tablet computer equipped with a touch sensitive screen and motion sensors. The researchers found that they could determine whether or not a child had autism based on the way in which they moved to interact with the game.

    “This study is the first step toward a validated instrument. Interestingly, our study goes further in elucidating the origins of autism, because it turns out that movement is the most important differentiator in the gameplay data,” said Delafield-Butt.

    “In other words, it is not social, emotional, or cognitive aspects of the gameplay that identify autism. Rather, the key difference is in the way children with autism move their hands as they touch, swipe, and gesture with the iPad during the game. This unexpected finding adds new impetus to a growing scientific understanding that movement is fundamentally disrupted in autism, and may underpin the disorder,” he concluded.

    Serious-game assessment

    The study could be monumental in providing medical professionals with a non-intrusive, easy way to test whether or not a child has autism at an early age. But while the new method looks promising, the researchers say that more work will be needed to validate their findings.

    “This new ‘serious-game’ assessment offers a cheaper, faster, fun way of testing for autism. But work is needed to confirm this finding, and to test for its limitations,” said Delafield-Butt.

    The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

    The number of children who have an autism spectrum disorder seems to be growing all the time. Statistics show that one out every 160 children in North Amer...

    Verizon promises 50% faster peak data speeds

    LTE Advanced uses multiple channels to deliver more speed when it's needed

     

    Verizon Wireless has rolled out an advertising campaign for something it calls LTE Advanced. 

    What is this LTE and where can you get one? LTE itself is like 3G, 4G, and other wireless terms. It's basically a made-up word that describes a concept rather than an actual standard. It stands for "long-term evolution" and is supposed to suggest that wireless service just keeps getting better.

    In the case of LTE Advanced, Verizon says it offers 50% faster peak speeds in more than 450 U.S. cities. It uses software that combines multiple channels to increase data speeds and is usable by customers who have one of 39 updated smartphones and tablets (see list below), according to Verizon.

    New devices released by major manufacturers are expected to be capable of using the upgraded service. 

    “Our customers just received a major network enhancement for no additional cost,” said Tami Erwin, head of operations for Verizon’s wireless unit, in a press release. “Verizon LTE Advanced works like a turbocharger on an engine. Speed boosts kick in when you need it most, with big data use. That’s when you get the big peak boost of Verizon LTE Advanced.”

    Verizon said that LTE Advanced currently uses a combination of two-and three-carrier aggregation. Customers will get typical download speeds of 5 – 12 Mbps, but two-channel carrier aggregation has shown peak download speeds of up to 225 Mbps, far exceeding the current speeds being experienced by wireless data networks nationwide. Three-channel carrier aggregation provides even greater efficiency, reaching speeds greater than 300 Mbps.

    Capable devices

    Current devices that are Verizon LTE Advanced-capable include:

    • Apple iPhone 6

    • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    • Apple iPhone 6s
    • Apple iPhone 6s Plus
    • Apple iPhone 5 SE
    • Apple iPad Pro
    • Apple iPad Pro 9.7
    • Apple iPad Air 2
    • Apple iPad Mini 4
    • Asus Zenpad Z8
    • Blackberry PRIV
    • HTC 10
    • HTC Desire 626
    • HTC One M9
    • LG V10
    • LG G4
    • LG G5
    • Microsoft Surface 3
    • Motorola Nexus 6
    • Moto X
    • Moto Z Force Droid
    • Moto Z Droid
    • Motorola Droid Turbo 2
    • Motorola Droid Turbo
    • Netgear MHS AC791L
    • Novatel MiFi i6620L
    • Novatel MiFi USB620L
    • Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus
    • Samsung Note 5
    • Samsung Galaxy S6
    • Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
    • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
    • Samsung Galaxy S7
    • Samsung Galaxy View
    • Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
    • Samsung Galaxy Tab E 8.0
    • Samsung Galaxy Note 7
    • Sony Xperia Z3v
    • Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
    Verizon Wireless has rolled out an advertising campaign for something it calls LTE Advanced. What is this LTE and...

    Volkswagen owners choose money over their cars

    More than 210,000 diesel VW owners have chosen a buyback rather than an attempted retrofit

    By a wide margin, Volkswagen owners are choosing to scrap their diesel-powered cars and take the money being offered under a settlement agreement. And in a separate action, VW dealers have reached a tentative settlement with the automaker.  

    In a federal court filing, class action attorneys say about 210,000 out of 475,000 owners of VW's TDI "clean diesel" cars have so far opted to take part in the $15 billion settlement that is awaiting final court approval.  

    That, said attorney Elizabeth Cabraser, is an unusually high "level of participation in a program whose deadline for filing claims doesn't arrive until September 2018. Only 235 have opted out of the settlement and 110 have objected to it. 

    Owners of the VW and Audi models covered by the settlement have the choice of selling their cars back to Volkswagen or having them retrofitted to meet air quality standards, although there is so far no agreement on how that would be achieved. Owners would also get an extra $5,100 to $10,000, depending on the model, as compensation for their time and trouble.

    The cars covered by the settlement are diesel versions of these models:

    • 2010 – 2015 Audi A3
    • 2012 – 2015 Volkswagen Beetle
    • 2012 – 2015 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
    • 2010 – 2015 Volkswagen Golf
    • 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
    • 2009 – 2015 Volkswagen Jetta
    • 2009 – 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen
    • 2012 – 2015 Volkswagen Passat

    The Federal Trade Commission has endorsed the settlement, saying it's fair because owners would get payments that represent what their cars were worth prior to revelations that Volkswagen had fiddled with the emissions software so that cars passed clean air tests but then polluted up to 40 times the legal limit on the highway.

    U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer is expected to issue a final decision on the proposed settlement Oct. 18.

    Dealers ready to settle

    VW dealers are also reported to have reached a proposed settlement with Volkswagen, creating a settlement fund that would be paid out over 18 months.

    Volkswagen also agreed to buy back used diesel vehicles on the same terms being offered to consumers. Attorneys for the dealers say they were careful not to win special treatment for dealers as compared to consumers.

    “These 652 mostly small business owners were blindsided by the diesel emissions scandal and have seen the value of their businesses plummet,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of the Hagens Berman law firm. “Our investigation has uncovered no evidence that VW dealers had any idea that VW was selling them cars that had defeat devices installed."

    The proposed settlement now goes to Judge Breyer for preliminary approval in mid-September .

    By a wide margin, Volkswagen owners are choosing to scrap their diesel-powered cars and take the money being offered under a settlement agreement. And in a...

    Banks increasingly coming under cyberattack

    Four in 10 consumers say their accounts have been compromised

    Banks and other financial institutions spend billions of dollars on information and data security, mainly because they are such lucrative targets for cybercriminals.

    Yet despite this spending and proactive defense, more than one-third of consumers say their personal bank accounts have been compromised. Almost 80% of financial institutions admit hackers have penetrated their defenses within the last two years.

    These facts turned up in a new study by KMPG, which says banks can turn this negative into a positive.

    "Financial institutions have a real opportunity to solidify trust with their customers by demonstrating that security is a strategic imperative, and that they are taking every possible precaution to protect consumers," said KMPG's Jitendra Sharma. "Consumers have a lot of options in this environment, so companies must get it right as the battle for customers is fierce."

    Holding banks to a high standard

    Indeed, consumers hold banks to a high standard. The survey showed that 37% said they would switch banks if their current financial institution did not cover their losses from a cyberattack. Nearly as many would leave if the bank didn't get out in front of the incident and acknowledge it in a timely manner.

    In spite of the high-frequency attacks, the survey found the financial sector is the most proactive when it comes to defending against cyberattacks. About two-thirds of the financial sector executives polled for the study said their companies had invested in data security in the past year.

    Not even the Federal Reserve has been exempt from cyberattack. A CNN report in June said the Fed has been under “constant” cyber-attack since at least 2011. The network listed at least 50 reported incidents it labeled as “unauthorized access” or “information disclosure.”

    How consumers can help

    The American Bankers Association (ABA), meanwhile, says there are steps consumers can take to make their banking transactions more secure. Its most basic tip is to create highly complicated and random passwords, avoiding pet names and other predictable combinations.

    It says consumers should also monitor their accounts on a regular basis. Don't just do it when the monthly statement arrives.

    Also, make sure computers and mobile devices are protected from viruses and malware. Don't give out your personal financial information in response to an unsolicited email, no matter how official it may seem. The ABA says your bank will never contact you by email asking for your password, PIN, or account information.  

    Banks and other financial institutions spend billions of dollars on information and data security, mainly because they are such lucrative targets for cyber...

    Does the consumer economy encourage needless spending?

    Study says consumers have too much stuff and not enough money

    Drive through any American neighborhood on a weekend and you're likely to encounter at least one yard sale.

    At some point, consumers decide they have more “stuff” than they need and decide to get rid of it. They might be preparing to move, or they may finally have gotten fed up with the clutter.

    A new survey suggests this is actually a common problem. The study, conducted by ClearVoice Research and commissioned by OfferUp, polled 1,000 consumers and found two recurring complaints: they have too much stuff and not enough money.

    For example, nearly half of those in the survey said their homes had too much clutter, caused by items they no longer use. In fact, one out of seven said there was a room in their house they couldn't use because it was filled with unused “things.”

    Seventy-two percent said they needed to “declutter,” but 41% admitted they had not done so in over a year.

    Too much anxiety

    Collette Shine, president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, says it's clear people have too much stuff and it's causing them too much anxiety.

    "People have a hard time decluttering for a lot of reasons - such as an underlying emotional attachment or because the process is simply too overwhelming,” she said.

    At the extreme, holding onto stuff can turn into hoarding. Realty TV shows have documented the often bizarre behavior of people who live surrounded by mountains of old newspapers and magazines, empty bottles and other “stuff.”

    In most cases, all this “stuff” has been purchased at one time or another. The consumer economy encourages purchasing “things,” and often these transactions are made on impulse. So it might not be surprising that consumers who think they have too much “stuff” are also feeling some financial pressure.

    Financial concerns

    The study found 84% of consumers expressing financial concerns. Nearly half – 46% – said it was difficult to meet basic household expenses each month. Many worry that they lack sufficient emergency savings.

    "We really wanted to understand how Americans think about the things that they have in their homes and what keeps them up at night," said Nick Huzar, co-founder and CEO of OfferUp, which has been described as a mobile-only hybrid between Craigslist and eBay.

    Huzar says selling unwanted things can solve two problems: it helps with decluttering and brings in a little cash.

    Of course, the problem may resolve itself since the Millennial generation appears to be much less enamored with "things" and is more likely to spend money on experiences.

    You can see it un GroupOn's latest advertising campaign, which emphasizes deals on experiences.

    Drive through any American neighborhood on a weekend and you're likely to encounter at least one yard sale.At some point, consumers decide they have mo...

    RushCard introduces new mobile app

    Cardholders can easily freeze their account if the card is lost or stolen

    RushCard, a popular prepaid money card, is introducing a new. free mobile app it says will provide new safety features, while enhancing the card's functionality.

    It is available on both the Android and iOS platforms.

    One of the safety features allows the user to freeze activity if the card is lost or stolen. By engaging “Pause Protection,” a user can temporarily stop purchases on the card.

    Another feature is “One Touch Access,” which allows cardholders to access their accounts on a mobile device by using a fingerprint instead of a password or PIN.

    The app also includes a pharmacy benefit e-card, which gives cardholders discounts on prescription drugs at Walmart.

    "We are dedicated to providing safe, simple and affordable products to our customers to help them achieve their personal and financial goals," said Ron Hynes, CEO of RushCard.

    Popular alternative to bank accounts

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

    The card is an inexpensive service that allows consumers to have their paychecks and benefits payments direct-deposited to their cards, allowing them to make purchases immediately and get cash from ATMs. It has generally recorded high satisfaction scores from consumers. Simmons says the new app is simply a way to make the card easier to use.

    "From the early days of prepaid, RushCard helped shape this industry and continues to provide innovative products that are easy to use, convenient to access and help provide financial opportunity to our customers," he said.

    RushCard customers can get directions for downloading the “Make Moves” app here.

    RushCard, a popular prepaid money card, is introducing a new. free mobile app it says will provide new safety features, while enhancing the card's function...

    Chipotle sued for alleged wage theft

    Some managers claim 'working off the clock' was common practice

    Chipotle is one of those companies that has enjoyed a “halo.” It has earned points with some consumers for its commitment to organic and locally-sourced food and sustainable practices.

    That halo took a hit late last year when the company had to close a number of stores while it tracked down the source of a multi-state E. coli outbreak. With that issue finally resolved, Chipotle may have another issue to contend with.

    Thousands of present and former Chopotle employees are reportedly suing the company for alleged wage theft. CNN reports nearly 10,000 workers have filed forms to join a class action lawsuit, Turner vs. Chipotle, claiming they routinely had to work for no pay.

    For its part, Chipotle has told the network that it has not done anything wrong and has paid all employees the wages to which they were due.

    Working 'off the clock'

    But CNN interviewed several former Chipotle employees who claimed they often worked “off the clock.” The complaint alleges that employees routinely punched out when their shift officially ended, then were required to stay and work until the task was completed. The suit says it normally affected the closing crew, whose members often had to stay late to clean up if customers were in the restaurant up until closing time.

    Wage theft claims against fast food restaurants are not that uncommon. In May, the state of New York sued Dominoes, claiming the pizza franchise underpaid employees at 10 of its stores in the state.

    “At some point, a company has to take responsibility for its actions and for its workers’ well-being,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at the time. “We’ve found rampant wage violations at Domino’s franchise stores. And, as our suit alleges, we’ve discovered that Domino’s headquarters was intensely involved in store operations, and even caused many of these violations.” 

    Chipotle is one of those companies that has enjoyed a “halo.” It has earned points with some consumers for its commitment to organic and locally-sourced fo...

    Consumer confidence bounced back in August

    Improvement came in income prospects and employment

    The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is at its highest level in nearly a year.

    After falling slightly in July, the Index now stands at 101.1, a gain of 4.4. The Present Situation Index rose from 118.8 to 123.0, while the Expectations Index improved to 86.4 from 82.0.

    “Consumers’ assessment of both current business and labor market conditions was considerably more favorable than last month,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco. “Short-term expectations regarding business and employment conditions, as well as personal income prospects, also improved, suggesting the possibility of a moderate pick-up in growth in the coming months.”

    Current conditions outlook

    Consumers who think business conditions are “good” increased from 27.3% to 30.0%, while the proportion of those who see the opposite was unchanged at 18.4%.

    Consumers’ assessment of the labor market was also more favorable. Those saying jobs are more “plentiful” increased from 23.0% to 26.0%. At the same time, however, those who believe jobs are “hard to get” also rose -- to 23.4% from 22.1%.

    Looking ahead

    There was more optimism regarding the short-term outlook in August. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased from 15.7% to 17.3%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen dropped from 12.4% to 11.1%.

    The outlook for the labor market was more favorable than in July. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead rose from 13.5% to 14.2%, while those anticipating losses held steady at 17.5%.

    The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to rise went from 17.1% to 18.8%, while those expecting a decline were down marginally to 10.7% from 11.0%.

    The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was August 18.

    The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is at its highest level in nearly a year.After falling slightly in July, the Index now stands at 101.1...

    Solid year-over-year home price gains continue in June

    The month-over-month advance was considerable smaller

    June was another good month for home price appreciation.

    According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index -- covering all nine U.S. census divisions -- prices were up 5.1% on a year-over-year basis, the same as in May.

    Within that, the 10-City Composite posted a 4.3% annual advance and the 20-City Composite gained 5.1%.

    Portland, Seattle, and Denver enjoyed the highest year-over-year increases among the 20 cities over each of the last five months. Portland led the way with a 12.6% year-over-year price jump, followed by Seattle at 11.0% and Denver with a rise of 9.2%. Six cities reported greater price increases in the year ending June 2016 versus the year ending May 2016.

    “Home prices continued to rise across the country led by the west and the south,” said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “In the strongest region, the Pacific Northwest, prices are rising at more than 10%; in the slower Northeast, prices are climbing a bit faster than inflation. Nationally, home prices have risen at a consistent 4.8% annual pace over the last two years without showing any signs of slowing."

    Month-over-month

    The National Index posted a month-over-month gain of 0.2%, while both the 10-City Composite and 20-City Composite posted declines of 0.1%. Nine cities saw prices rise, two were unchanged, and nine cities were lower.

    “Overall, residential real estate and housing is in good shape,” Blitzer noted. “Sales of existing homes are at running at about 5.5 million units annually with inventory levels under five months, indicating a fairly tight market. Sales of new single family homes were at a 654,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate in July, the highest rate since November 2007. Housing starts in July topped an annual rate of 1.2 million units.”

    June was another good month for home price appreciation.According to the S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index -- covering all...

    Country Fresh recalls fresh-cut vegetable products

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Country Fresh of Conroe, Texas, is recalling 30,000 cases of various fresh-cut vegetable products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

     

    No illnesses have been confirmed to date by public health authorities.

     

    The following products, bearing “BEST IF USED BY” dates between August 7, 2016, through August 19, 2016 (8/19/16), and packaged in either a clear plastic container or in Styrofoam trays overwrapped with clear plastic film, are being recalled:

    DescriptionStoreDescription of PackagingUse by Date RangeStates Distributed
    CFC Celery/Onion Dice 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
    CFC Creole Mix 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
    CFC Fajita Mix 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
    CFC Pico De Gallo 8ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
    CFC Tri-Pepper Dice 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
    CFC Yellow Onion Dice 6ozBI-LOClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA, AL
    CF Diced Onion 4/3lbFresh PointClamshell8/11/20168/17/2016FL
    Farmers Market  Diced Green Peppers 8ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
    Farmers Market  Diced Tri-Pepper 6 ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
    Farmers Market  Diced Yellow Onions 8ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
    Fajita Mix 10ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
     Fajita Mix 12ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
    Green Bean Sauté 10ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
    Farmers Market Mirepoix 12ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
    Grilling Vegetables 14ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
    Jal Ched Stuff Mushrooms 7ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
    Kabob Kit 23ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
    Stir Fry Vegetable 10ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/8/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
    SW Stuff Mushrooms 7ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, VA
    Tri-Color Peppers 12ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
    Veggie & Fruit Kabob Kit 23ozHarris Teeter SupermarketsOverwrap8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, VA
    Kabob Sensations Veggie Kabob 23ozPublix Supermarkets, Inc.Overwrap8/12/20168/19/2016SC, NC, FL GA, AL
    Diced Yel Onion Condiment 8ozQuikTripClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA
    Diced Yellow Onion 40ozQuikTripClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA
    Green Pepper 40ozQuikTripClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA
    Regular Pico Condiment 10ozQuikTripClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC, GA
    Sliced Green Bell Pepper 4lbQuikTripClamshell8/13/20168/19/2016SC, NC, GA
    Diced Onion 16ozThe Spinx CompanyClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC
    Pico de Gallo 18ozThe Spinx CompanyClamshell8/8/20168/15/2016SC, NC
    Diced Yellow Onion 8ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/8/20168/17/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
    Marketside Pico de Gallo 10ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/8/20168/17/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
    Marketside Spicy Pico de Gallo 10Wal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/8/20168/17/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
    Sliced Bell Peppers 7ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/7/20168/19/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
    Marketside Fajita Mix 9.5ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Overwrap8/8/20168/19/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
    Marketside Veggie Kabobs 23ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Overwrap8/9/20168/19/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
    Portabella Griller 12.5ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Overwrap8/7/20168/19/2016MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV, MD
    Celery/Onion Dice 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
    Creole Mix 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/19/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
    Fajita Mix 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/19/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
    Pico De Gallo 8ozWinn DixieClamshell8/8/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
    Tri-Pepper Dice 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/19/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
    Yellow Onion Dice 6ozWinn DixieClamshell8/9/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
    Mush & Garlic Herb Steak 7.5ozWinn DixieOverwrap8/9/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
    Stuffed Mushrooms 7ozWinn DixieOverwrap8/8/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL
    Tuscan Stuffed Mushrooms 8ozWinn DixieOverwrap8/8/20168/17/2016LA, MS, AL, GA, FL

     

    The recalled products were shipped to retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia under the Country Fresh and store brand labels described in the product listing.

     

    What to do

     

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

     

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at 281-453-3305, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (CDT).

     

     

    Country Fresh of Conroe, Texas, is recalling 30,000 cases of various fresh-cut vegetable products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes....

    WFSP Foods recalls pork and chicken sausage product

    The product contains milk, an allergen not declared on the label

    WFSP Foods of Decatur, Ala., is recalling approximately 18,672 pounds of pork and chicken sausage product.

     

    The product contains milk, an allergen not declared on the label.

     

    There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of the product.

     

    The following ready-to-eat sausage item, produced on June 7, 2016, is being recalled:

    • 13.5-oz. packages containing “Land O’ Frost Simply Savory Bacon & Cheddar Smoked Sausage” with a “BEST BY: DEC. 04 2016” and packaging date of 06/07/16.

    The recalled product bearing establishment number “EST. 45411” printed on the packaging was shipped to retail locations nationwide.

     

    What to do

     

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

     

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact the Land O’ Frost consumer hotline at 1(800) 762-9865.

     

     

    WFSP Foods of Decatur, Ala., is recalling approximately 18,672 pounds of pork and chicken sausage product. The product contains milk, an allergen n...

    Truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators explodes

    One killed, four injured in the accident near a Takata warehouse in Texas last week

    A truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators and propellants exploded in Texas last week, destroying a home and two cars, killing one person, and injuring four others. The volatile airbags have been at the center of the largest series of auto recalls in history and have been blamed for at least 14 deaths worldwide.

    Authorities said the truck accident occurred last Monday, Aug. 22, near Eagle Pass, Texas, where Takata has a warehouse that stores inflators that are manufactured across the border at its plant in Monclova, Mexico. 

    Killed in the explosion was Lucila Robles, whose home was destroyed in the incident. Robles’ remains were found Tuesday and identified on Wednesday after her niece, a dentist, compared the remains with dental records, the Eagle Pass News Gram reported.

    Robles' home was leveled by the blast, leaving only charred remains of her car as evidence of the disaster, local reports said.

    The inflators use propellants containing ammonium nitrate, a volatile chemical compound that are said to be highly sensitive to heat and humidity. The weather in Eagle Pass was in the 90s last week with humidity readings around 80%, the National Weather Service reported.  

    Millions of cars with Takata airbags have been recalled, some more than once. To check whether your car is among them, jot down your VIN number (which you can find on the left side of your windshield) and go to SaferCar.gov/vin/.

    "Strict safety procedures"

    The News Gram said Takata employees were stationed at the local library last week to advise residents who had found any of the combustable containers to report their location, so that the potentially lethal items could be picked up safely. "Takata immediately deployed personnel to the site and has been working closely with the subcontractor and the appropriate authorities to investigate this incident," the company said in a statement.

    “Takata has strict safety procedures relating to the transportation of its products that meet or exceed all regulatory requirements,” the company said. “Our thoughts are with the family of the woman who died as a result of this accident, and with the four people injured.”

    More than 100 million vehicles worldwide have been slated for recall to replace Takata inflators.

    A truck loaded with Takata airbag inflators and propellants exploded in Texas ...

    Mylan to offer generic EpiPen at 50% discount

    Company hopes move will quell last week's price hike uproar

    After a week in which it played public relations damage control, Mylan has announced a move it hopes will get it out in front of the controversy over the price of its allergy product EpiPen.

    But critics weren't impressed. "Today’s announcement is just one more convoluted mechanism to avoid plain talk, admit to price gouging and just cut the price of EpiPen," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

    The company received a storm of protest after it announced a huge increase in the price of the injection device, which delivers a dose of epinephrine, a life-saving antidote to allergic shock. Announcing discounts for low and middle income patients last week failed to quell the uproar.

    Monday, the company took additional steps. It announced it will offer a generic to EpiPen at a list price of $300 for a two-pack, amounting to a 50% discount. The generic will be identical to the name brand product.

    Can be automatically substituted

    More importantly, it will be classified so that pharmacists may substitute it for the name brand, without consulting with the prescribing physician.

    Mylan said it expects the generic version will be available within several weeks, pending completion of labeling revisions. Upon launch, the product will be available as a two-pack carton in both 0.15 mg and 0.30 mg strengths. Mylan said it will also continue to market and distribute branded EpiPen.

    Public Citizen's Weissman ssaid the announcement just made matters worse.

    "Mylan’s public relations people should tell the company that its responses to the EpiPen rip-off will only further enrage the public. It’s not enough to blame insurance companies, it’s not enough to offer coupons and it’s not enough to offer an overpriced generic version of its own branded product. The company must roll back its unjustified and outrageous price increases," he said.

    "The weirdness of a generic drug company offering a generic version of its own branded but off-patent product is a signal that something is wrong," he said. "Mylan knows its $600/set of EpiPens is unsustainable, but aims to continue ripping off some segment of the marketplace – both consumers who do not trust or know about the generic, and perhaps some insurers and payers constrained from buying a generic."

    Weissman added that the announced $300 price for Mylan’s generic also comes in too high. "The profitable price in Canada is roughly $200 for two, and the price in France is roughly half that," he said.

    Mylan CEO Heather Bresch had been under enormous pressure to roll back the price of the EpiPen, but says this move is a simpler alternative.

    “Our decision to launch a generic alternative to EpiPen is an extraordinary commercial response, which required the cooperation of our partner,” she said. “However, because of the complexity and opaqueness of today's branded pharmaceutical supply chain and the increased shifting of costs to patients as a result of high deductible health plans, we determined that bypassing the brand system in this case and offering an additional alternative was the best option.”

    She said generic drugs have a long, proven track record of delivering significant savings and believes the generic EpiPen can do the same.

    Not a new drug

    The EpiPen price hike enraged many patients because the product is not new – it's been around in one form or another for nearly 40 years. It contains a small amount of the readily-available epinephrine but the new price raised the cost of a two-pack to around $600.

    While many insurance plans cover it, high deductibles made the new price prohibitively expensive for many patients. The devices are sold only in two-packs because an injection provides only temporary relief and the patient may need a second injection to make it to the emergency room.

    After a week in which it played public relations damage control, Mylan has announced a move it hopes will get it out in front of the controversy over the p...

    Vaping among teens may not be that problematic, researchers suggest

    One study finds that most teens vape for the flavorings and not nicotine

    Recent trends among teens seem to favor vaping with e-cigarettes, with many high- and middle school students saying that they’ve tried it. While many fear that this habit could lead to nicotine and smoking dependence, a new study suggests that the problem may not be that worrisome.

    Researchers have found that many teens that vape don’t do so for the nicotine; instead, many teens say that the flavors offered by e-cigarette products are the drawing point. This throws into question the supposition that teens are vaping nicotine in the first place and that there is a “nicotine epidemic” amongst this age group.

    Vaping for flavor

    The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing the results of the 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey, wherein teens were asked about their vaping experiences. The survey was a nationally representative study of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students.

    Out of 15,000 students who took part in the survey, nearly 4,000 admitted to having vaped at some point. Narrowing the numbers further, the researchers found that 1,701 had done so at least once, 1,085 had done it up to five times, and 616 had done it at least half a dozen times.

    When asked what they had vaped most recently, two-thirds of respondents gave the answer “just flavoring.” Vaping nicotine came in second by a large margin, with only 13% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders, and 22% of 12th graders giving that answer. Vaping marijuana was even less pervasive, with only 14% of 12th graders, and 6% and 7% of 8th and 10th graders giving that answer, respectively.

    Targeted interventions

    These findings indicate that vaping nicotine is not nearly as big of a problem as many experts have stated in the past. This is good news, say the researchers, because interventions to stop vaping can be modified to be more specific and effective.  

    “Because many US youth who use vaporisers do not vape nicotine, they are candidates for primary interventions, which are particularly strategic to combat nicotine use, because they take place before the need to address nicotine’s addictive properties,” they said.

    Additionally, the researchers say that designating e-cigarettes as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) may be unfair since most teens do not use them for that purpose, although they do say that vaporiser use does increase tobacco and nicotine prevalence.

    The full study has been published in Tobacco Control

    Recent trends among teens seem to favor vaping with e-cigarettes, with many high- and middle school students saying that they’ve tried it. While many fear ...

    iPads prove to be as effective as sedatives for keeping kids calm before surgery

    Parents and kids are both less anxious when iPads are present prior to surgery requiring anesthesia

    Apple’s tablets aren’t just for catching up on Curious George or playing a few rounds of Angry Birds. For kids, iPads may serve as a powerful calming agent prior to undergoing surgery.  

    New research presented at this year’s World Congress of Anaesthesiologists (WCA) shows that iPads are as effective as sedatives in lowering kids’ pre-surgery anxiety.

    When kids had to be separated from their parents before surgery, the use of iPads was found to increase the quality of anesthesia induction. Better still, parents were less stressed and more satisfied with the anesthesia when iPads were involved.

    Better anesthesia results

    The primary goal of the study was to compare the anxiety levels of children given midazolam (a sedative commonly administered before anesthesia) with children who played games on an iPad before surgery.

    Psychologists were brought on board to help assess participants at several nerve-wracking stages: upon arriving at the hospital, when separated from their parents, during induction, and in the post-anaesthesia care unit. Parents’ anxiety and satisfaction with anesthesia was also measured.

    Parents and nurses alike noted that anesthesia was more effective to children who used an iPad prior to surgery. Lead author Dr. Dominique Chassard said that midazolam can help dull children’s parental separation anxiety, but agreed that iPads can greatly reduce stress and increase parental satisfaction with anaesthesia.

    Advantages

    "Use of iPads or other tablet devices is a non-pharmacologic tool which can reduce perioperative stress without any sedative effect in paediatric ambulatory surgery," said Chassard.

    The familiarity of an iPad can help calm kids’ nerves in a scary situation, but it also boasts another advantage: no side effects.

    Unlike midazolam -- which may cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, or even hardening of the skin at the injection area, according to Everyday Health -- the iPad has no lingering after-effects.

    A paper on the study will be published later this year. 

    Apple’s tablets aren’t just for catching up on Curious George or playing a few rounds of Angry Birds. For kids, iPads may serve as a powerful calming agent...

    Feds want speed limiters on big trucks

    Physically restricting speeds would save lives and fuel, the plan's backers say

    Speed limits are one thing; speed limiters are something else -- and it's speed limiters that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx would like to see on heavy trucks.

    Foxx thinks big trucks should be equipped with devices that would physically restrain them from going faster than a predetermined speed.

    “There are significant safety benefits to this proposed rulemaking ,” Foxx said. “In addition to saving lives, the projected fuel and emissions savings make this proposal a win for safety, energy conservation, and our environment.” 

    Foxx said capping truck speeds would reduce the 1,115 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks that occur each year and save $1 billion in fuel costs.

    "Basic physics"

    The proposal Foxx and colleagues unveiled Friday discusses the benefits of setting the maximum speed at 60, 65, and 68 miles per hour. It would apply to trucks, buses, and other vehicles with a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds.

    “This is basic physics,” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Even small increases in speed have large effects on the force of impact. Setting the speed limit on heavy vehicles makes sense for safety and the environment.”

    The rule would apply to new trucks, not the ones currently on the road, because of the difficulty and expense involved in retrofitting existing trucks.

    The proposal has been floating around various agencies and departments since 2006, when the nonprofit group Roadsafe America filed a petition requesting it. The American Trucking Association later endorsed the plan.  

    The proposal is now open for comments from citizens. You can submit your comment here.

    Speed limits are one thing; speed limiters are something else -- and it's speed limiters that U.S. Transportation S...

    Why parents are afraid to leave their kids alone

    It's judgment, not danger, that parents fear most

    Gone are the days of allowing kids to walk to the store on their own or spend the day adventuring with friends. These days, parents don’t feel comfortable leaving children alone for even a short period of time.

    You might think safety has something to do with the shift, but evidence suggests that American children are safer than ever. So why are parents keeping their kids on such a tight leash? 

    Social scientists at the University of California, Irvine say it's because leaving kids alone on purpose often comes with a fair amount of judgment from others.

    Socially unacceptable

    Researchers say parents’ fears of leaving children alone have become amplified in recent decades, to the point that leaving kids alone has become socially unacceptable.  

    “Without realizing it, we have consistently increased our estimates of the amount of danger facing children left alone in order to better justify or rationalize the moral disapproval we feel toward parents who violate this relatively new social norm,” said lead author Ashley Thomas, cognitive sciences graduate student.

    This moral disapproval came to the surface when participants were asked, in a survey, to rate the risk of leaving children alone in five different scenarios. When children were left alone on purpose, they were perceived to be in greater danger than when their parents left them alone involuntarily.

    Separating judgment from risk

    This finding was surprising to researchers, who argue that leaving a child alone on purpose is much safer than leaving a child alone by accident because "parents can take steps to make the situation safer, like giving the child a phone or reviewing safety rules.” 

    The fact that people think the opposite, says co-author Barbara Sarnecka, suggests that they “morally disapprove of parents who leave their children alone, and that disapproval inflates their estimate of the risk."

    Sarnecka says these findings could be important to lawmakers and enforcers, as they show that moral judgments may often cloud a person’s assessment of risk to a child.

    "At a minimum, these findings should caution those who make and enforce the law to distinguish evidence-based and rational assessments of risk to children from intuitive moral judgments about parents -- and to avoid investing the latter with the force of law."

    The full study has been published online in the journal Collabra.

    Gone are the days of allowing kids to walk to the store on their own or spend the day adventuring with friends. These days, parents don’t feel comfortable ...

    The extra risks of using smokeless tobacco products

    Researchers find bacteria that cause infection and illness

    It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers associated with smokeless tobacco products, which include substances ranging from chewing tobacco to dissolvable pills and gums.

    They say that these tobacco delivery methods also carry bacteria that can cause infection and lead to illness. And, as with most kinds of bacteria or pathogens, prolonged exposure increases the risk to the person using these products.

    “Some species have been identified as causative agents in spice-related outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting. Additionally, they produce a mild toxin which, in large quantities could cause illness,” said Steven Foley, coauthor of the study.

    Health risks

    The researchers found several bacteria that could be a cause for concern among consumers. Bacteria from the Bacillus species are known to cause the intestinal discomfort described above by Foley, but other bacteria from the Stapphylococcus species could be even more troubling.

    These bacteria, which include Stapphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus hominus, could turn nitrates found in the body into nitrities, which could lead to potentially carcinogenic formations.

    Part of the reason that these bacteria are able to pose so much danger to people is due to the way in which smokeless tobacco products are consumed. Those using the products tend to hold them in their mouth for long periods of time so that the nicotine can enter the bloodstream. This increases the amount of time that consumers are exposed to bacteria.

    The practice is especially dangerous to those who have developed gingivitis or other oral health issues, which can be common for smokeless tobacco users. Researchers say that some of the bacteria present in these products can easily enter the bloodstream in these consumers and cause dangerous heart valve infections.

    Informing policy decisions

    Up to this point, not much data had been collected on the microbial threats present in smokeless tobacco products. The researchers hope that their work will help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration form policies around the production and distribution of these substances so that consumers can avoid some of the dangerous health risks.

    The full study has been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

    It’s no secret that tobacco products of all kinds come with certain health risks – most notably cancer. But researchers have found additional dangers assoc...

    Which retailer has the best gift card?

    Sephora wins the top spot in the RSR Research survey, Starbucks is second

    Consumers obviously like to give and receive gift cards. It allows the recipient to get what he or she wants and isn't nearly as tacky as cash.

    In fact, giving a gift card from a particular retailer allows the giver to personalize it a bit, choosing a retailer the recipient happens to like.

    But beyond personal preferences of retailers, which retailer does the best job with its gift card program? That's a question RSR Research asks each year in its annual study of best gift card practices.

    The survey ranks the digital gifting experiences of 100 of the nation’s top retailers, restaurants, and – for the first time this year – airlines. The retailers are judged on how well they utilize the mobile platform, and include omni-channel payments, bulk buying, and the ability to purchase cards with credit card loyalty program points.

    Sephora is number one

    Earning the top spot this year is Sephora, which racked up 55 out of a possible 66 points. Starbucks was second with 50.5 points, followed by The Home Depot (46.5 points), Dunkin' Donuts (44.5 points), and Amazon (43 points).

    “Sephora is honored to be ranked top once again in the RSR Benchmark study,” said Lisa Kueffel, vice president of client experience at Sephora. “Gift cards are a key element of our digital strategy focused on delivering excellent omni-channel experiences to our clients. Working in partnership with CashStar has helped us to grow our program and achieve our goals.”

    CashStar President and CEO Ben Kaplan says a number of its clients are represented in the upper ranks of the survey.

    “We are pleased to see that merchants are investing more in digital gifting and striving to improve the experiences they provide to consumers,” he said.

    The survey authors note that Sephora got high marks for scoring well in the top three criteria: discoverability, purchase experience, and recipient experience.

    Importance of digital gift cards

    This year, 81 of the 100 merchants in the judging offered digital gift cards. RSR said it updates its criteria each year to focus on capabilities that set retailers apart. These criteria evolve each year so it keeps retailers on their toes.

    “Consumers are increasingly engaging with retailers through digital channels first, creating a demand for the retailer to be where the customer is,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR Research.

    That, she says, requires retailers to be able to handle all the things a customer wants from them in the digital space, and that includes gift cards.

    “We’ve learned over the years just how complex digital gifting is on the desktop. This year leaders excelled at mobile,” Baird said. “However, too many of those evaluated are continuing to struggle with mobile optimization of their programs.”

    Gift cards continue to be a bigger part of the holiday shopping season, as well as becoming the go-to gift for grandparents who have a hard time keeping up with grandchildren's evolving tastes.

    Gift cards now account for more than $100 billion in sales each year. About 93% of consumers either give or send one.

    Consumers obviously like to give and receive gift cards. It allows the recipient to get what he or she wants and isn't nearly as tacky as cash.In fact,...

    Big city banks offering cash incentives to open accounts

    Study finds bonuses can be as much as $400

    Not long ago many consumers found banks didn't want their business.

    In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, many banks unilaterally closed some consumers' checking accounts. It was partly responsible for a big increase in the “unbanked” population.

    Things seem to be a little different now. According to a new study from Bankrate, banks in major cities are paying consumers anywhere from $50 to $400 to open a new checking account.

    In a way, it's a return to a bygone era when banks offered china, tableware, and other premiums as incentives to open new accounts.

    "Consumers can certainly benefit from taking advantage of a sign-up bonus," said Claes Bell, data analyst at Bankrate.com. "However, promotions come and go, so it's important for consumers to act quickly if they see an offer that's desirable."

    Not all incentives will line your pockets with cash. Citibank is offering the best – $400 at its branches in New York City, Washington, DC, and San Francisco. But the sign-up bonus at BBVA Compass in Dallas is a $10 iTunes gift card.

    Lots of options for DC consumers

    Consumers in Washington, DC have the most options. Besides the $400 available at Citibank, they can get $300 at PNC and $200 at Sun Trust and Capital One. Of course, it's not always free money.

    “Although these offers are tempting, consumers need to be mindful of the fine print,” Bell said. “Sign-up bonuses often have several conditions that must be met and include wait times before receiving any cash."

    Also, requirements to earn sign-up bonuses will vary by account. To collect them you usually have to sign up for online bill payments, direct deposit, and minimum deposits. Also, some banks will charge a fee if the account is closed within twelve months.

    Other than that, Bankrate says it didn't uncover any flagrant "gotchas" in the fine print. But is says consumers should be aware of the minimum balance requirements attached to many of these accounts.

    Not maintaining the agreed-to balance will likely result in service charges, which could wipe out any cash bonus you receive. In that way, these checking account bonuses are similar to rewards credit cards. If you don't really need all the services required by these accounts, the bonus might not be worth it.

    Not long ago many consumers found banks didn't want their business.In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, many banks unilaterally closed s...

    New car sales post a slight decline in August

    Consumers might find the best deals at GM dealers

    New car sales have helped power the U.S. economy in recent years, but the sales pace is definitely slowing.

    With a string of record sales months, demand for new vehicles appears to be on the decline. A forecast from J.D. Power estimates new car sales will be down in August by 6.5% from August 2015 – a significant drop.

    John Humphrey, senior vice president of the global automotive practice at J.D. Power, said until earlier this year, new vehicle sales had grown every month since September 2010. This year, sales have gone down in each of the last four months.

    “Softening retail sales amid low interest rates, relatively cheap gas and automakers pushing more aggressive incentives may be an indicator that further growth in this cycle will be difficult,” Humphrey said. “There is opportunity for some catch-up in the all-important Labor Day selling period, but as momentum slows, the industry will need to be cautious to balance volume and margin, as incentives are close to record levels."

    Smaller decline seen

    Edmunds.com also forecasts a sales drop, but not as much of one. It predicts sales actually rose slightly in August over July, but will end up being slightly lower than August 2015.

    "The summer isn't delivering explosive sales like we saw last year, but the industry is still on pace to set an annual sales record," says Edmunds.com Executive Director of Industry Analysis Jessica Caldwell.

    She says carmakers have stayed disciplined about managing their inventories and don't feel the added pressure to provide big incentives in order to make sales. But with declining sales, consumers should find plenty of good deals.

    Readjusting market

    Kelley Blue Book (KBB) also sees a modest sales decline for August. The automotive valuation service is projecting a 2% year-over-year drop in sales. Even so, Tim Fleming, analyst for Kelley Blue Book, says the market remains healthy – it's just readjusting.

    “The mix of sales is divided, with demand for utility vehicles continuing to grow at the same time that car sales are falling,” he said. “As we reach the peak of the market, Kelley Blue Book will keep an eye on a few key factors, including increased fleet penetration in 2016 combined with flat retail demand, rising incentive spend [sic] from automakers, and used car prices, which have yet to respond to the growing supply of off-lease vehicles.”

    Any changes in the direction of these factors, he says, could speed up a decline in new-car sales.

    For consumers, the report suggests where they might find the best deals. KBB reports GM sales will likely be down for a fifth straight month, meaning dealers might be more likely to make deals. On the other hand, Hyundai and Kia are gaining market share, suggesting those dealers might be a bit less likely to offer generous incentives.

    New car sales have helped power the U.S. economy in recent years, but the sales pace is definitely slowing.With a string of record sales months, demand...

    California orders ITT to stop accepting new students

    The action follows the feds' decision to shut off the flow of federal funds to ITT

    California has ordered ITT to stop enrolling new students. The order came Friday, just one day after the U.S. Department of Education banned ITT from enrolling new students using federal financial aid funds in certain locations. It also vowed to increase its financial oversight of the chain of for-profit schools.

    “The federal action raises grave concerns about the continued financial viability of ITT,” said Joanne Wenzel, chief of the state Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau for Private Postsecond Education (BPPE). “We took today’s action in the interest of protecting potential students who are considering enrolling in ITT.”

    The order becomes effective Sept. 1 and affects all 15 ITT locations in California.

    BPPE said it will file an accusation on the charges and allegations set forth in the emergency order within 10 days. The accusation will seek to revoke ITT’s approval to operate in California.

    Students who have questions or need additional information can call BPPE toll-free at (888) 370-7589 or visit the bureau’s website.

    The U.S. Department of Education said it took the action after ITT's accrediting agency found that the institution was not in compliance with accrediting criteria and was unlikely to be able to correct its deficiencies.

    “Our responsibility is first and foremost to protect students and taxpayers,” said Education Secretary John B. King Jr. in a statement. “Looking at all of the risk factors, it’s clear that we need increased financial protection and that it simply would not be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds.”

    California has ordered ITT to stop enrolling new students. The order came Friday, just one day after the U.S. Department of Education banned ITT from enrol...

    New drone rules in effect for commercial flights

    Commercial and government drones can now operate with a certified remote pilot

    New rules for commercial and government drone flights go into effect today (Monday), setting the stage for what's expected to be rapid deployment of unmanned flights operated by certified "remote pilots."

    The new rules, which were adopted earlier this year, apply to drones under 55 pounds that are being operated for non-hobbyist purposes. Previous rules allow hobbyists to operate drones, but under tighter restrictions.

    “We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”

    According to industry estimates, the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

    “Monday is a big day. I’ve consistently urged the FAA to move forward with regulations to make safe operation of unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace a reality, and implementation of this new rule is a major step forward," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). "This will allow many small businesses ... to more cheaply, safely and efficiently harness some of the enormous potential promised by this technology.”

    Commercial drones are currently being used in industries as diverse as real estate, agriculture, insurance, energy, and cinematography. The new drone rule makes it less onerous for companies to use drones to advance their business, as they will no longer need to be granted an exemption from the FAA in order to operate a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) lawfully under federal guidelines.

    What to do

    Want to be a commercial drone pilot?

    You will need a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate.

    To qualify for the certificate, you must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate.

    The Transportation Security Administration will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuing a certificate.

    More information is available on the FAA website.

    New rules for commercial and government drone flights go into effect today (Monday), setting the stage for what's expected to be rapid deployment of unmann...

    Personal income and spending continue their rise in July

    Consumers were also able to fatten their savings accounts

    Following increases the previous month, both personal income and spending were higher in July.

    Incomes jumped 0.4%, or $71.6 billion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), with disposable personal income (DPI) -- what's left after Uncle Sam takes his cut -- up $60.1 billion, or 0.4%.

    The increase in personal income last month came largely from advances in wages and salaries and personal current transfer receipts.

    Spending and saving head higher

    Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, rose 0.3% or $42.0 billion, reflecting increases in spending for new cars and services that were partially offset by a dip in spending for nondurable goods.

    Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1% in July.

    Personal saving totaled $794.7 billion in July, pushing the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- up 0.3% from June to 5.7%.

    The complete report is available on the BEA website.

    Following increases the previous month, both personal income and spending were higher in July.Incomes jumped 0.4%, or $71.6 billion, according to the B...

    Vee Tyre and Rubber recalls Taiga M/T tires

    The sidewall of the affected tires may blister and the interliner may separate

    Vee Tyre and Rubber is recalling 21 Taiga M/T tires, size LT225/75R16, manufactured January 8, 2015, to March 1, 2015.

     

    The sidewall of the affected tires may blister and the interliner may separate, compromising the integrity of the tires at high speeds. As such, these tires fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 139, "New Pneumatic Radial Tires for Light Vehicles."

     

    If the sidewall blisters or interliner separates it may cause a tire blow out at high speeds, increasing the risk of a crash.

     

    What to do

     

    Vee has successfully quarantined the affected tires. The recall began on May 25, 2016.

     

    Owners may contact Vee customer service at 1-212-564-7575.

     

     

    Vee Tyre and Rubber is recalling 21 Taiga M/T tires, size LT225/75R16, manufactured January 8, 2015, to March 1, 2015. The sidewall of the affected...

    Toyota recalls RAV4 and Lexus HS250h vehicles

    The rear tie rod could fail and cause a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash

    Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 337,449 model year 2006-2011 Toyota RAV4 vehicles manufactured October 31, 2005, to September 7, 2010, and 2010 Lexus HS250h vehicles manufactured July 6, 2009, to August 26, 2010.

     

    The vehicles have rear suspension arms (rear tie rods) with adjusting lock nuts that may have been improperly tightened after servicing. As a result of being loose, the arm may have thread damage and may rust, possibly leading to the failure of the arm and an abrupt change in the vehicle's alignment.

     

    Failure of the rear tie rod could cause a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash.

     

    What to do

     

    Toyota will notify owners and dealers will replace both rear suspension arms and encapsulate the locknuts, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 30, 2016.

     

    Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's numbers for this recall are G0V for Toyota vehicles and GLK for Lexus vehicles.

     

     

    Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 337,449 model year 2006-2011 Toyota RAV4 vehicles manufactured October 31, 2005, to September 7, 2010...

    What I forgot to pack – and why I missed it

    They may seem minor but you'll miss these small items if you forget them

    No matter how many packing lists I create, there always seems to be something I forget to pack that I miss. It’s rarely anything essential, but often something that would have made me more comfortable – if I had remembered to pack it in the first place.

    What I have missed:

    Flashlight: There isn’t enough room to pack a full-size flashlight, and your cell phone (should you have service) may not always provide enough light. While staying onsite in the national parks, it was so dark walking to our accommodations after dinner that we needed a bright light to guide our way. Back home I ordered small lightweight flashlights online.

    Waterproof shoes: I’m guilty of this to this day. I love wearing my Keene sandal/sneakers. They have a thick sole and I’m comfortable walking the entire day. As a bonus, they are washable and dry quickly, helpful when I stepped in you know what. But they get very wet in a heavy rainstorm, so when the weather forecast is cold and rainy, I pack a more reliable pair.

    Fleece It doesn’t matter my destination, Alaska or the Caribbean, I need a fleece. Each time I failed to pack one, I miss it the entire trip.

    Extra pair of reading glasses: You would have thought I would have learned after leaving my prescription glasses on the train. Three weeks later I left my prescription glasses on my bedside table. I now have three pairs of extra glasses and will never leave home without one.

    Ear plugs: They don’t cancel all the noise out, but they are helpful when trying to sleep. I went to a wedding once where the music was too loud to carry on a conversation. A tablemate who worked at the airport handed out ear plugs. They are especially nice and I carry them as extras in my emergency kit.

    Comfortable pants for lounging: They might be your exercise pants or even a pair of flannel pajama bottoms, but it helps to have something to relax in after a busy day.

    Colorful ribbon or band for suitcase: We had difficulty locating a suitcase at a cruise terminal and found it later in a different area of the terminal. I now keep a wide colored ribbon on the handle of each suitcase so it’s easier to spot.

    Bathrobe: Whenever I’m trying to save space and travel without one, I miss it. Buy and pack a lightweight bathrobe and you’ll always be covered.

    Waterproof hat: I bought one for Alaska and hardly wore it. On my last trip I needed one and had to buy another. One of these hats is destined for all future trips; they’ll double as a sunhat.

    Lightweight insulated gloves: When I use an item for both home and travel I find it is easy to forget when it is stored elsewhere in the house. I bought a second pair on a recent trip and this pair will be stored with my travel things.

    You’ll have your own list of forgotten items. Make a written note so you won’t forget them again.

    No matter how many packing lists I create, there always seems to be something I forget to pack that I miss. It’s rarely anything essential, but often somet...

    If you do nothing else, update your iPhone today

    Three newly found vulnerabilities could let hackers take over your phone

    If you don't want to know the details, that's fine, but don't stop reading quite yet. It's very important that you update your iPhone today. Follow the link for instructions.

    Now, the gory details: recently discovered malware is targeting three previously unknown vulnerabilities in iOS, the iPhone's operating system. The vulnerabilities could not only let hackers take over your phone, they could also track your movements and turn on your microphone.

    All of this came to light earlier this month when a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates got a suspicious text that promised new details of torture in UAE prisons. If he had followed the link in the text, it would have implanted highly dangerous malware on his phone. 

    Fix prepared

    Fortunately, he didn't and the vulnerability was identified by cybersecurity experts at Citizen Lab, according to an account in The Verge. It was reported to Apple, which prepared fixes for the vulnerabilities in today's release of iOS 9.3.5

    To get the update, go to Settings/General/SoftwareUpdate. If you have a high-speed connection, it should take less than 10 minutes to download and install the update.

    This is the first time that three vulnerabilities have been discovered in iOS at the same time, and it's a bit sobering for those who like to think their iPhones are more secure than Android phones. They probably are, but today's revelation is a reminder that, in today's world, nothing is totally secure.

    If you don't want to know the details, that's fine, but don't stop reading quite yet. It's very important that you update your iPhone today. Follow the lin...

    Mylan getting push back over price hike explanation

    Pharmacy benefit managers reject the claim they are responsible

    When Mylan Pharmaceutical CEO Heather Bresch went on CNBC Thursday to explain her company's massive price hike for the life-saving EpiPen, she suggested costs were not entirely under her control.

    She blamed a “broken” system that she claimed incentivizes higher drug prices, singling out pharmacy benefit managers for some of the blame.

    On CNBC today, Mark Merritt, President of Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), said he was surprised to hear that accusation. Pharmacy benefit managers, he said, have nothing to do with what a drug company charges. He says drug companies are in complete control of their prices.

    “It's a simple thing that drug companies do at the end of a cycle, when they're going to face competition, often they raise the price of the product,” Merritt said. “Just own it and take responsibility and don't blame others who have nothing to do with it.”

    'Greed on steroids'

    In fact, Bresch's damage control mission has thus far failed to stem the fallout. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has characterized the price hike as “greed on steroid.” Actress Sarah Jessica Parker has terminated her relationship with the company.

    In an Instigram post, Parker said she had been involved in a Mylan effort to raise awareness of severe allergic reactions because her son has a peanut allergy. She said she was “saddened, disappointed and concerned” about the price hike.

    Even Mylan's offer of 50% discounts on the EpiPen for lower and middle income patients isn't winning much praise. Critics point out that the price has risen nearly 500% since 2009, so cutting the price in half still leaves the drug prohibitively expensive.

    Practically unknown last week, the EpiPen is probably as familiar a product as an iPhone after this week's publicity. It's a device that administers a small dose of epinephrine, an effective antidote to potentially fatal allergic shock.

    When Mylan Pharmaceutical CEO Heather Bresch went on CNBC Thursday to explain her company's massive price hike for the life-saving EpiPen, she suggested co...

    Feds shut off flow of funds to ITT

    Federal aid accounts for more than two-thirds of the schools' revenue

    ITT Technical Institute has been ordered to stop enrolling new students who receive federal aid. It's the latest effort by the Obama Administration to rein in for-profit colleges that critics say mislead students and leave them mired in debt with degrees that are next to useless.

    Corinthian Colleges liquidated last year after the Education Department banned it from receiving federal aid after allegations similar to those students have been making about ITT.

    "I worked very hard to get my degree with ITT online in Carmel, Indiana," said Karen of Dallas in a recent ConsumerAffairs review. "I cannot transfer any of my credits or find a job in Information Technology. ... My associates degree is worthless. I have loans that are $46,000.00 plus interest."

    The Department of Education said it took the action after ITT's accrediting agency found that the institution was not in compliance with accrediting criteria and was unlikely to be able to correct its deficiencies.

    “Our responsibility is first and foremost to protect students and taxpayers,” said Education Secretary John B. King Jr. in a statement. “Looking at all of the risk factors, it’s clear that we need increased financial protection and that it simply would not be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds.”

    "Heightened oversight"

    ITT has been under investigation by federal and state agencies for at least two years. In 2014, the Education Department put it under heightened financial oversight after expressing concerns about its "administrative capacity, organizational integrity, financial viability and ability to serve students."

    With about 43,000 students nationwide, ITT is one of the larger remaining for-profit college chains. It gets about 68% of its revenue from students receiving federal loans and grants, so the Education Department ban makes it unlikely the school can continue to operate at its present level.

    The loss of federal loans is especially damaging since private lenders have pulled back from making loans to students at for-profit schools since the recession. 

    ITT will be able to continue collecting aid from its current students, but the Education Department said it was already taking steps to prepare students to transfer if ITT goes bankrupt. 

    ITT operates over 130 campuses in 38 states and enrolls students in online programs nationwide. Last year, the institution reported almost $850 million in total revenue, roughly $580 million of which came from federal aid dollars. 

    “When we allow institutions to participate in federal student aid programs, they are obligated to responsibly manage those funds,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “More importantly, we trust they will act in good faith and in the best interests of students.”

    ITT Technical Institute has been ordered to stop enrolling new students who receive federal aid. It's the latest effort by the Obama Administration to rein...

    Researchers work towards using carbon dioxide as an energy source

    If successful, it could mean a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions

    While automakers are scrambling to win the race for autonomous vehicles, eco-conscious consumers may be more interested in developments regarding clean-burning fuels. Concerns over global warming and climate change continue to mount, and scientists are continuously working on new ways to provide energy at a lower environmental cost.

    Now, a group of researchers from the University of Toronto (UoT) believe that carbon dioxide may be the answer. They theorize that using silicon could enable the energy sector to turn carbon dioxide emissions into an energy-rich fuel source. The best part, they say, is that this new energy source would generate no harmful emissions in the exchange.

    Using silicon

    Experts have thought of using carbon dioxide as a fuel source for some time, but up to this point they couldn’t produce a material that met the necessary qualifications, of which there are many.

    “A chemistry solution to climate change requires a material that is a highly active and selective catalyst to enable the conversion of carbon dioxide to fuel. It also needs to be made of elements that are low cost, non-toxic and readily available,” said Geoffrey Ozin, a chemistry professor at UoT and head of its Solar Fuels Research Cluster.

    However, silicon could potentially be a perfect element for this process; it is the seventh most abundant element in the whole universe and the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust, so finding enough of it wouldn’t be too much of a problem.

    Clean-burning fuel source

    Scientists believe that they could produce energy via silicon by allowing it to convert carbon dioxide with the aid of natural sunlight. In basic terms, engineers would create or harvest silicon nanocrystals that would absorb sunlight. As a result, these crystals could convert carbon emissions into carbon monoxide, which could be used as an energy source.

    “Making use of the reducing power of nanostructured hydrides is a conceptually distinct and commercially interesting strategy for making fuels directly from sunlight,” said Ozin.

    While researchers are currently working towards finding ways to increase the activity of the nanocrystals, enhance the scale, and boost production rates, they believe that they can eventually create a demonstration unit, which could lead to a pilot solar refinery if successful.

    The full study has been published in Nature Communications

    While automakers are scrambling to win the race for autonomous vehicles, eco-conscious consumers may be more interested in developments regarding clean-bur...

    Maytag plug-in lets you hide negative political chatter on social media

    The desktop plug-in replaces political smears with something more upbeat

    Maytag wants to keep your social media feed as smear-free as your refrigerator. As part of its “No Smear Campaign,” the appliance manufacturer is offering a Chrome plug-in that replaces negative political content with something a little more lighthearted.

    Consumers who install the plug-in will enjoy Facebook and Twitter feeds devoid of election-centric negativity spewed by friends and acquaintances. The cleaned-up feeds are an effort to spotlight the brand’s new Fingerprint Resistant Stainless Steel kitchen appliances.

    "Maytag prides itself on being a dependable American brand," said Brendan Bosch, Maytag senior brand manager. "We want Americans to be educated about the election, without being brought down and annoyed by negative smears. What better way for Maytag to lend our century-old dependability than helping rid Americans of smears online and in the kitchen?"

    Hides political smears

    As it turns out, many Americans have a low tolerance for negative political content on social media feeds. In a survey, Maytag found that 73% of respondents have unfollowed, blocked, or hidden someone’s posts as a result of not liking the content shared.

    The plug-in enables social media users to “hide tweets that sling mud” and “block Facebook posts that smear character.”

    Actress and comedian Abby Elliott is lending her voice to the brand’s smear-fighting cause. During a time in which political conversations can get particularly heated, Elliott says she's excited about the opportunity to promote positivity.

    "While this election has provided some entertaining and comedic moments, we all get a little tired when surrounded by too much negativity," Elliott said in a statement. "That's why I was excited to join with Maytag to bring a little more lighthearted and 'clean' conversation to the election."

    Those who install the plug-in can see when content has been blocked and may choose to unhide it, if they wish. And while Maytag may be squashing negativity, it’s not stifling consumers’ preferences.

    The brand worked with University of Michigan professor and political scientist Dr. Arthur Lupia, who helped minimize candidate or party preference within the plug-in.

    Maytag wants to keep your social media feed as smear-free as your refrigerator. As part of its “No Smear Campaign,” the appliance manufacturer is offering...

    Feds say all donated blood in U.S. should get Zika test

    Previously, just blood from high-risk areas has been screened

    There is more than one way to get the Zika virus. A mosquito carrying the disease can bite you. You can have sexual contact with someone who has the virus. But you can also get it from a blood transfusion, if someone with the virus has donated the blood.

    For that reason, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now recommending that all donated whole blood and its components be tested for the virus. Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, says that policy will ensure the safety of the blood supply.

    This is a change from the agency's initial guidance, issued in February, that said screening was needed only in areas with active Zika virus transmission. The new guidance expands that to all states and U.S. territories.

    Considering the evidence

    The FDA said it took the step after considering all the available scientific evidence and consulting with other public health agencies. It said testing of donated blood in Florida and Puerto Rico has been effective in keeping the virus out of the blood supply there.

    The Zika virus is not especially dangerous to the people getting it. Its symptoms are relatively mild, and similar to those of other diseases spread by mosquitoes. The danger of the Zika virus is its potential effect on the children born to women who have it.

    Since early this year, scientists have linked the Zika virus to a birth defect known as microcephaly, a condition which severely affects brain development. Women who are pregnant, or may become pregnant, should therefore be extremely cautious.

    That's why, the FDA says, that it is extending its blood-testing guidance to the entire U.S.

    Additional precautionary measures

    “As new scientific and epidemiological information regarding Zika virus has become available, it’s clear that additional precautionary measures are necessary,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, the FDA’s acting chief scientist. “We are issuing revised guidance for immediate implementation in order to help maintain the safety of the U.S. blood supply.”

    While the virus is mostly spread by the Aedes mosquito, sexual contact with an infected partner can also spread it. What makes the virus particularly dangerous is that four out of five people never develop symptoms, so a partner might not know that he or she has it.

    When symptoms do appear, they are usually fever, joint pain, a rash, and red, irritated eyes.

    There is more than one way to get the Zika virus. A mosquito carrying the disease can bite you. You can have sexual contact with someone who has the virus....

    Why Wall Street thinks high drug prices are no big deal

    Publicly traded companies are expected to maximize profits, no matter what they're selling

    The news cycle this week has been dominated by an obscure pharmaceutical company few consumers have heard of and a drug familiar only to people with life-threatening allergies.

    When Mylan Phamaceutical raised the price of its EpiPen allergy antidote to $600, all hell broke loose.

    The product contains about $1 worth of an actual drug which sold for $57 nine years ago. Consumers – especially parents of children with severe allergies – were outraged. Politicians joined in, castigating Mylan as greedy and heartless.

    Company CEO Heather Bresch went on CNBC Thursday to defend her company, attempting to shift the blame for high prices to pharmacy benefit managers and others in the supply chain. In a damage control move, the company also offered to pick up part of the cost of the drug for some patents.

    What's the big deal?

    But Wall Street just shrugged. What's the big deal, traders might have asked? The company was only doing what it was supposed to do.

    "If you can get away with jacking things up and gouging it then you've got to do it, because the shareholders want it," stock picking guru Jim Cramer said on CNBC.

    Exactly. In the world of Wall Street, a publicly traded company is expected to maximize profits. If it doesn't, the stock price will fall and the board will replace the management team, from the CEO on down.

    Business vs. consumers

    When a story like the EpiPen price hike comes along, it perfectly illustrates the tension between business and consumers, whose interests nearly always go in opposite directions.

    Competition is good for consumers because it gives them lower prices and more choice. Wall Street hates competition because it reduces profit margins and takes away pricing power.

    A monopoly is bad for consumers because they have no choice and have to pay whatever the company with the monopoly charges. Wall Street loves a monopoly because profit margins are high and the company can charge whatever it thinks the market will bear.

    It's no accident that on CNBC's popular program “Shark Tank,” the investors get most excited when an entrepreneur presents a product that is patented, so no other business can compete with it.

    The conflict between business and consumer interests isn't really a problem when a company is trying to maximize profits on tires or lawn mowers. But a life-saving drug?

    It may be a conversation the country is about to have.

    The news cycle this week has been dominated by an obscure pharmaceutical company few consumers have heard of and a drug familiar only to people with life-t...

    Bots roam the internet, threatening businesses and consumers

    These machines are making dating scams even more dangerous

    You're expecting a package from Amazon, or from one of the package delivery services. An email pops into your inbox about a problem, and there's a link where you can get more information.

    Only the email is not from any legitimate company. It's a scammer posing as the legitimate company.

    While it's a big problem for consumers, it's a huge problem for the companies that are being impersonated. Their brand can suffer as a result.

    MarkMonitor is in the brand protection business, on the lookout for cases where a client's brand has been misappropriated, for any reason.

    “We are basically monitoring across multiple digital channels – websites, marketplaces, social media, mobile apps and emails,” Akino Chikada, MarkMonitor's Senior Brand Protection Manager, told ConsumerAffairs. “We're scanning through the entire internet looking for any potential online abuse of that brand.”

    It's a never-ending job because scammers keep getting more technologically powerful. The latest wrinkle is the deployment of bots – web robots – to seek out and engage victims, meaning one scammer can become a million times more effective.

    “As we know there is a significant number of bots driving internet traffic,” Chikada said. “A recent report found humans account for about 51% of traffic. The rest is driven by bots.”

    Whole new dating game

    And these bots have added a whole new dimension to the online dating scam. A decade ago, this scam consisted of an individual scammer seeking out and engaging a potential victim, building trust, then swindling him or her out of thousands of dollars. It was a labor-intensive and time-consuming enterprise.

    Today, bots do the work, engaging males on Tinder, pretending to be females. Chikada says it's easy to program these bots to engage in dialog.

    “They can remember user details like names, age, location, so it's easy to start engaging a victim,” she said. “They're definitely a lot smarter and more sophisticated.”

    Tinder's popularity makes it a target-rich environment. Scammers are using bots to persuade victims to send them money, and also download malware.

    How to spot a bot

    How can you tell if the “person” you are engaging with on Tinder is actually a machine? If you pay close attention, you can do it.

    Bots tend to type faster than the average human and yet they don't make as many typos. Also, responses can be generic and not always specific to what you have said.

    The big tip off? Chikada says they will eventually ask you to do something for them, and it either requires clicking on a link or giving them your credit card information.

    And finally, if the “person” is really attractive, you just might be conversing with a machine.

    You're expecting a package from Amazon, or from one of the package delivery services. An email pops into your inbox about a problem, and there's a link whe...

    Second quarter economic growth remains sluggish

    Corporate profits took a hit

    The U.S. economy continued to plod along in the second quarter.

    The Commerce Department's second look at real gross domestic product -- the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy -- put expansion at an annual rate of 1.1%. While that's down 0.1% from the “advance” estimate released last month, it is a bit of an improvement from the first-quarter growth rate of 0.8%.

    This latest economic snapshot is based on more complete source data than were available earlier, the general picture of growth remains the same.

    The changes

    What growth there was came from contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, and exports. These were partly offset by drops in private inventory investment, residential fixed investment, state and local government spending and nonresidential fixed investment. Imports -- a subtraction in the calculation of GDP -- increased

    The PCE price index increased 2.0%, compared with an increase of 0.3% in the first three months of the year. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the “core” PCE price index was up 1.8%, versus an of 2.1% in the previous quarter.

    Corporate profits

    Profits from current production plunged $24.1 billion in the second quarter, after rising $66.0 billion in the first quarter.

    Profits of domestic financial corporations rose $7.2 billion in the second quarter, while profits of domestic nonfinancial corporations fell $58.2 billion.

    The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

    The U.S. economy continued to plod along in the second quarter.The Commerce Department's second look at real gross domestic product -- the value of the...

    Mars Retail Group recalls M&M’S-branded jewelry

    The jewelry can contain high levels of lead.

    Mars Retail Group of Mount Arlington, N.J., is recalling about 52,400 pieces of M&M’S®-branded jewelry.

     

    The jewelry can contain high levels of lead, which is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health issues.

     

    No injuries or incidents have been reported in connection with these products.

     

    This recall involves all M&M-branded jewelry, including some children’s jewelry. Recalled items include earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces sold between May 2015, and July 2016. Jewelry items included in the recall have the M&M’S logo “M” as a charm or other feature.

     

    The jewelry, manufactured in China and Vietnam, was sold at M&M’S® World Stores in New York; Orlando, Fla.; Las Vegas; and Henderson, Nev., from May 2015, to June 2016, for between $6 and $18.

     

    What to do

     

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled jewelry, place the items out of the reach of children, and contact M&M’S World or visit an M&M’S World store to return the jewelry for a full refund.

     

    Consumers may contact M&M’S World at 866-915-5058 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.mmsworld.com and click on the “Product Safety & Recalls” link at the bottom of the page for more information.

     

     

    Mars Retail Group of Mount Arlington, N.J., is recalling about 52,400 pieces of M&M;’S®-branded jewelry. The jewelry can contain high levels of lea...

    Model year 2015 RAM 2500 and 5500 trucks and cab chassis recalled

    The vehicles may have a reduced response to steering input

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 64 model year 2015 RAM 2500 trucks, and RAM 3500 trucks and cab chassis.

     

    The vehicles may have inadequate welds securing the front track bar frame brackets, possibly resulting in the bracket components separating from the frame.

     

    If the bracket components separate from the frame, the vehicle may have a reduced response to steering input, increasing the risk of a crash.

     

    What to do

     

    Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will weld on a new track bar frame bracket or replace the frame of the vehicle, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

     

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S58.

     

     

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 64 model year 2015 RAM 2500 trucks, and RAM 3500 trucks and cab chassis. The vehicles may have inadequate welds ...

    J.D. North America recalls All Power portable generators

    The fuel tank can leak, posing explosion, fire and burn hazards

    J.D. North America Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 12,300 All Power portable gasoline generators sold in the U.S. and Mexico.

     

    The fuel tank can leak, posing explosion, fire and burn hazards.

     

    The firm has received 21 reports of fuel leakage. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

     

    This recall involves All Power portable gasoline generators with model numbers APGG6000 and APGG7500. The black and red generators have a black fuel tank on top of the units.

     

    Model APGG6000 generators are rated at 6,000 watts and have UPC code 8 4676600055 3 and serial number JD29014S18035 through JD29014U020742. Model APGG7500 generators are rated at 7,500 watts and have UPC code 8 4676600056 0 and serial number JD42014S16027 through JD42014T210606.

     

    The model number is located on both sides of the unit. The UPC code and serial number can be found on a silver plate on the upper right hand-side of the back side panel.

     

    The generators, manufactured in China, were sold at Big Sandy Superstores, Family Farm & Home, Inc., Home Owners Bargain Outlet, Mills Fleet Farm Corp., Nexcom West Coast and other stores nationwide and online at Bluestem.com, BrandsmartUSA.com, HomeDepot.com, hoboonline.com, jbtoolsales.com and other online retailers from March 2014, through May 2016, for between $510 and $725.

     

    What to do

     

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled generators and contact J.D. North America to schedule a free replacement fuel tank, including installation.

     

    Consumers may contact J.D. North America toll-free at (844) 287-4655 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, by email at apggrecall@jdna.com, or online at www.allpoweramerica.com and click on the APGG Recall link for more information.

     

     

    J.D. North America Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 12,300 All Power portable gasoline generators sold in the U.S. and Mexico. The fue...

    Mylan ups aid for some EpiPen purchasers

    But critics say the company's saving cards are little more than a P.R. measure

    Like a quick dose of adrenaline, Mylan NV is administering increases in its financial aid program for some users of its EpiPen emergency allergy treatment, hoping to stave off criticism from Hillary Clinton and other political leaders.  

    The $600 epinephrine auto-injectors are used to counteract the life-threatening anaphylactic shock that can result from severe allergic reactions. The price of the devices has increased from as little as $57 in 2007, when Mylan bought the EpiPen business, to more than $600 today, even though the device contains only about $1 worth of epinephrine. 

    The company said it would increase eligibility standards for its patient assistance program to 400% of the poverty level, meaning that a family of four making $97,200 would have no out-of-pocket expense for the injector.

    Savings card

    Mylan also said it would increase the assistance on its savings card to as much as $300, up from its current $100. The result would be that many patients with commercial insurance would face little or no copay. 

    But critics said the savings cards are little more than a public relations gimmick that actually help few patients. 

    "These don’t actually do anything about the price itself, because the high price is still being paid by the insurer, which then ends up being reflected in increasing premiums," Harvard Medical School professor Aaron Kesselheim said in a Washington Post report. "This is not a public health solution."

    Whether Mylan's actions will quell critics remains to be seen. Congressional response quieted somewhat when it was revealed that Mylan's CEO, Heather Bresch, is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). That didn't carry much weight with Clinton, however, whose relations with Manchin have been strained because of conflicting views regarding the coal industry.

    "[I]t's just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers. I believe that our pharmaceutical and biotech industries can be an incredible source of American innovation, giving us revolutionary treatments for debilitating diseases. But it's wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients, raising prices without justifying the value behind them," Clinton said Wednesday as she called on Mylan to roll back EpiPen prices.

    Pinning blame

    Mylan seemed to blame everyone but itself for the price increase.

    "Patients deserve increased price transparency and affordable care, particularly as the system shifts significant costs to them," the company said in a statement. "All involved must also take steps to help meaningfully address the U.S. healthcare crisis, and we are committed to do our part to drive change in collaboration with policymakers, payors, patients and healthcare professionals."

    Also weighing in on the issue was the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray. In a Washington Post op-ed, she called the company's actions "unconscionable."

    "Allergies run in families. How can a financially strapped family possibly manage if more than one member has a severe allergy? Where households suffer a shared affliction that threatens breathing and blood circulation, Mylan sees only dollar signs," wrote McCray, who said she and her daughter suffer from a tree nut allergy 

    Like a quick dose of adrenaline, Mylan NV is administering increases in its financial aid program for some users of its EpiPen emergency allergy treatment,...

    Amazon Vehicles offers just about everything except vehicles

    The new section sells accessories and is a warehouse of information -- cars may be next

    Maybe one of these days, you'll be able to order a new car on Amazon and a drone will drop it at your house a few hours later. That may be a slight exaggeration, but you have to imagine that car dealers will not be thrilled to learn that there is something new today called Amazon Vehicles.

    Why didn't they call it Amazon Autos? Partly because there is already an Amazon Automotive Store, which sells parts, accessories, and so forth and which seems destined to be merged into the new section.

    Other than alliteration, there's not much missing from the new section of the Amazon site. You can't order a new car -- yet -- but you can order all kinds of parts, accessories, and supplies, and you can look up detailed specifications on just about every current model, as well as compare notes with others who have the car you're interested in.

    Officially, Amazon is insisting Amazon Vehicles is just an information resource and accessories supplier.

    Dealers feeling queasy?

    “Our goal is to support customers during one of the most important, research-intensive purchases in their lives by helping them make informed decisions every step of the way,” said Adam Goetsch, Director of Automotive at Amazon.com. “Amazon Vehicles is a great resource for customers who are interested in car information or looking for a broad selection of parts and accessories – all enhanced by the ability to tap into the knowledge, opinions, and experiences of other car owners within the Amazon customer community.”

    Dealers haven't had much to say about the development just yet, although Automotive News noted that Hyundai earlier partnered with Amazon for an on-demand test-drive program for the 2017 Elantra in Los Angeles and Orange County. 

    Called "Prime Now. Drive Now," the program let Prime members book test drives last weekend and will do the same next weekend. Prime members can sign up online and have the car delivered to their home, office, or a nearby coffee shop for a one-hour test drive.

    It's a bit early for dealers to begin feeling angina over the announcement, although established auto sites like Cars.com and AutoTrader.com may be feeling a little queasy about now.

    Dealers still have a lock on the new-car market, thanks to state laws that prohibit manufacturers from selling directly to consumers, although Tesla has managed to get around the restrictions in a few states.

    Sites like Cars.com are similar to Amazon Vehicles but also enable consumers to buy used cars directly from each other and let dealers advertise their new cars online, and it's hard to think that Amazon won't be moving into that space pretty quickly.

    Maybe one of these days, you'll be able to order a new car on Amazon and a drone will drop it at your house a few hours later. That may be a slight exagger...

    Expectations you have for old age determine which age you want to live to, study finds

    Those who have fewer positive associations with old age prefer to pass away at a younger age

    They say that growing old is a part of life, a saying that nevertheless surprises people when they wake up to find a gray hair. But although you can’t stop time from marching ever onwards, there are more than a few consumers out there who don’t much care for the prospect of meeting old age.

    A new study shows that one out of every six young and middle-aged adults would prefer not to live past the age of 80. According to the researchers, this shocking preference may be due to preconceived notions about what life is like when you become old.

    “Having rather bleak expectations of what life will be like in old age seems to undermine the desire to live up to and beyond current levels of average life expectancy. People who embrace the ‘better to die young’ attitude may underestimate their ability to cope with negative age-related life experiences as well as to find new sources of well-being in old age,” said first author Dr. Catherine Bowen.

    Varied results

    The study relied on data from 1,600 adults who took part in a telephone survey. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 64 years old, with the average age coming in at 42. The genders of participants were equally divided, and 33% had graduated from college.

    “We were particularly interested in whether how long people want to live would be related to their expectations about what their life in old age will be like,” said Dr. Begard Skirbekk, a researcher at the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center.

    The findings of the survey suggest that consumers have varied opinions when it comes to which age they want to live to. While around 16.6% of respondents said that they would prefer to die before the age of 80, roughly one third of participants said that they would like to become an octogenarian. One quarter of participants said they wouldn’t mind living into their nineties, with the remaining respondents stating that they wanted to live past 100.

    Fear of old age

    The researchers say that the study results mirror expectations that respondents had about growing old. Those who had fewer positive old age expectations tended to want to pass away earlier, while those with more positive old age expectations wanted to live longer.

    “For many, it seems the fear of becoming old may outweigh the fear of dying,” said Skirbekk. Woody Allen perhaps summed up this view when he said, "I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

    The full study has been published in Ageing and Society

    They say that growing old is a part of life, a saying that nevertheless surprises people when they wake up to find a gray hair. But although you can’t stop...

    Why the workforce is likely to get older

    Two thirds of Baby Boomers don't plan to retire

    There are several take-aways from the latest Transamerica Center for Retirement Study (TCRS), including the fact that Baby Boomer workers aren't going anywhere.

    If you're a Gen-Xer waiting for your Baby Boomer boss to retire so you can move up, you might have a long wait.

    “Baby Boomers are the generation that has re-written societal rules at every stage of their life,” said Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS. “Now, Baby Boomer workers are redefining retirement by planning to work until an older age than [the] previous two generations.”

    Collinson cites numbers which show that 66% of Boomers are either already working past age 65, or plan to. And it's not entirely because their work is their life. Most who plan to keep working indefinitely say they need the income or the health benefits.

    Counting on Social Security

    Many Boomers – 34% in fact – are counting on Social Security to be their primary source of income once they do retire – hence the large number who plan to keep working. Eighty-seven percent expect Social Security to at least be a part of their income once they stop working.

    But at this point, Boomers may be better off financially than the two younger generations in the work force. One-third say they expect to get income from a traditional pension plan while 78% say they have retirement accounts they can draw on. Even so, there are still plenty of Boomers who haven't saved enough for a comfortable retirement.

    Collinson says she is actually encouraged by Boomers' plans to keep working, calling it a common sense solution. That said, she encourages older workers to be proactive about staying employable and keeping current with industry standards and technology. They should also understand that the decision to work or not may not be up to them in all cases.

    Better have a Plan B

    “As part of their retirement planning, Baby Boomers should create a Plan B if retirement happens unexpectedly due to job loss, health issues, or other intervening circumstances,” she advises.

    It could turn out that Gex X takes a similar approach to retirement when the future rolls around. The study has found that, while Gex X workers started saving for retirement around age 28, many have already taken loans or early withdrawals to pay debts or meet unexpected expenses.

    The estimated median household retirement savings for Gen X employees is $69,000, a little over half the total for Boomers. Just 12% of Gen X workers said they are very confident they will be able to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

    There are several take-aways from the latest Transamerica Center for Retirement Study (TCRS), including the fact that Baby Boomer workers aren't going anyw...

    Preparing the family dog for the kids' return to school

    How to keep your dog from engaging in unwanted behaviors when home alone

    The summer months are often held in high regard by dogs who live in households with children. Having the kids home means more time to play outside, more family vacations, and more household activity in general.

    Active dogs, especially, may relish summer days spent keeping up with the kids. Whether they’re helping the kids man a lemonade stand or supervising a sleepover, the family dog has a lot to do during the summer.

    That’s why it can sometimes come as a shock to dogs when the kids return to school. When active summer days are replaced by days spent home alone, dogs may begin to engage in unwanted behaviors such as chewing, excessive barking, or soiling in the house.

    But pet parents can keep back-to-school blues at bay by introducing a new routine to a dog’s life prior to the start of the new school year.

    Tips for keeping dogs happy

    "Dogs are happiest when they have a routine, so the change from summer to school-year schedule can be hard on them," says Traci Simo of Canine Company. "Not only are the kids gone all day for school and afternoon activities, but when they come home, they're too busy with homework to spend time with the family pet."

    To prepare your dog for the kids’ return to school, Simo recommends reintroducing alone time. Leaving dogs home alone for short periods of time before the first day of school can help dogs gear up for a slightly less active Fall and Winter.

    Additionally, pet owners can take the following steps to ensure that dogs don't wreak havoc on the house while the family is away. 

    • Exercise dogs thoroughly. Adequate amounts of exercise can often be the difference between a happy dog or a dog who gets into trouble. Hitting dogs’ exercise quota for the day can often be as simple as a walk in the morning or an active round of fetch when the kids get home. Families can also enlist the help of a pet sitter who can come by and give the dog some midday exercise.
    • Use treat-dispensing balls. Mentally stimulating toys, such as treat-dispensing balls, can help keep your dog occupied for hours during the school day.
    • Brush up on obedience. Just as kids may have enjoyed a summer without homework, dogs may also have enjoyed a more unstructured summer. But training is an important part of keeping a dog’s behavior from getting out of hand. For this reason, pet owners should consider taking a training refresher.
    The summer months are often held in high regard by dogs who live in households with children. Having the kids home means more time to play outside, more fa...

    How much does your dog cost you per year?

    Large breeds can take a big bite out of consumers' wallets

    Pet owners often spare no expense in caring for their beloved pets. From keeping the treat jar stocked to ensuring only the finest food graces their bowl, the day-to-day cost of owning a pet can add up.  

    If you’ve ever wondered how much it costs to own a dog per year, you’re not alone. Luckily, you don’t have to break out your calculator to find out.

    The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has crunched the numbers on dog ownership. As it turns out, the size of your pup may impact how much you spend during the first year and beyond.

    Cost of the first year

    If you chose to adopt one of the gentle giants of the dog world, you can expect to shell out a bit more during your first year of dog ownership.

    Expenses such as spaying, neutering, training, initial medical fees, and the cost of a crate are likely to set large breed dog owners back about $1,843 during the first year.   

    If your dog is on the smaller side, your expenses will be too. Small breed dog owners can expect to spend around $1,314, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

    After the first year

    Once you’ve made it to the other side of the first year, the cost of owning a dog drops -- but that’s not to say that it isn’t still expensive.

    The ASPCA estimates that large breed dog owners (who often spend more on dog food) spend approximately $875 per year. Small breed dog owners, on the other hand, may spend roughly $580 per year on dog food and other dog-related expenses.

    But keeping Fido well fed isn’t always the most expensive aspect of dog ownership. For many pet owners, emergency vet bills are the priciest part of having a furry sidekick.

    Keeping dogs healthy

    “Unexpected veterinary bills are the most common, and most costly, variables in dog ownership,” Kathryn Lisko, education specialist at Rover.com, told USA Today. “Healthy habits like regular exercise and teeth brushing can curb those expenses, but dog owners need to be prepared.”

    How can pet owners prepare? Experts agree that preventative health care and early intervention are both key when it comes to keeping dogs healthy.

    To keep unexpected vet bills from cropping up, pet parents should take their dog to get regular checkups and make sure their teeth stay clean. It’s also important to make sure fleas and ticks don’t hitch a ride on your pooch, as infestations can lead to life-threatening illnesses.  

    Pet owners often spare no expense in caring for their beloved pets. From keeping the treat jar stocked to ensuring only the finest food graces their bowl,...

    Workers not quite ready for the 'gig economy'

    Survey finds reluctance to work as an independent contractor

    There are pros and cons to working as an independent contractor instead of an employee. But a new survey suggests workers see more cons than pros.

    Deloitte surveyed nearly 4,000 workers and found that 67% of those who had worked as an independent contractor would not do so again, if they could avoid it.

    More than 60% of those who are classified as employees said they would avoid working as a contractor, fearing a loss of stability, compensation, and benefits.

    The results are significant because, increasingly, companies prefer to hire people as independent contractors instead of employees, in a transition to the so-called “gig economy.” Deloitte says estimates indicate that the number of jobs filled by independent contractors will grow by 54 million by 2020. But companies may have to work harder to find these workers, according to Deloitte's results.

    Flexibility

    There are, of course, advantages to being an independent contractor and most are connected to flexibility. You can work where and when you want.

    Over 40% of the people in the survey said they recognize that, but it isn't as important to them as having a paycheck every week with taxes deducted and medical and other benefits provided by an employer. The workers most leery of working as a contractor were those who most value a steady income.

    "In order to achieve business goals, organizations should look to attract all talent pools," said Mike Preston, chief talent officer at Deloitte. "Organizations should start thinking about the culture they have in place and the experiences they can design for contingent workers."

    Generational breakdown

    There appears to be a generational breakdown at play in the numbers. Some workers value a connection to a company, if it has a desirable culture. Culture is most important for Millennials, followed by Gen-X. It's least important to Baby Boomers, who may be approaching retirement and thus are most open to working as an independent contractor.

    Despite the clear preference to be on a company payroll, more than a third of respondents in the survey said they would consider working as a contractor. Women are most open to it, citing the flexibility.

    Even so, the numbers show that when it comes to working independently, men are actually more likely to be working independently than women.

    There are pros and cons to working as an independent contractor instead of an employee. But a new survey suggests workers see more cons than pros.Deloi...

    The rise in home prices continues

    The pace of increases appears to be tapering off

    The price of houses across the U.S. moved slightly higher in the second quarter.

    According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), its House Price Index (HPI) was up 1.2% from the first three months of the year, and 5.6% on a year-over-year basis.

    The HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    A coming deceleration?

    “Although the appreciation rate for the second quarter was of similar magnitude to what we’ve been seeing for several years now, a close look at the month-over-month price changes during the quarter reveals a potentially significant market shift,” said FHFA Supervisory Economist Andrew Leventis.

    “Our monthly price index indicates that in each of the three months of the quarter, the increase was only 0.2 percent. This is a much more modest pace of appreciation than we’ve seen in some time and most likely reflects accumulated pressures from significantly reduced home affordability.”

    Although the HPI was up 5.6% from the second quarter of 2015, prices of other goods and services were nearly unchanged. The inflation-adjusted price of homes rose approximately 5.7% over the last year.

    Report highlights

    • Home prices rose in every state except Vermont from the second quarter of 2015 to the second quarter of 2016. The top five states in annual appreciation were: Oregon (+11.7%), Washington (+10.3%), Colorado (+10.2%), Florida (+10.0%), and Nevada (+9.6%).
    • Among the 100 most populated metropolitan areas in the U.S., annual price increases were greatest in North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla., where prices shot up 15.7%. Prices were weakest in Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., where they fell 3.3%.
    • Of the nine census divisions, the Mountain division experienced the strongest increase in the second quarter, posting a 1.9% quarterly increase and an 8.1% increase since the second quarter of last year. House price appreciation was weakest in the Middle Atlantic division, where prices inched up 0.6% from the last quarter.

    The complete report is available on the FHFA website.

    Initial claims

    First-time applications for state unemployment remain below 300,000 for a 77th consecutive week -- the longest streak since 1970.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims totaled a seasonally adjusted 261,000 in the week ending August 20, a decline of 1,000 from the previous week's unrevised level.

    The four-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market due to its lack of volatility, was down 1,250 from the week before to 264,000.

    The full report may be found on the DOL website.

    The price of houses across the U.S. moved slightly higher in the second quarter.According to the Federal Housing Financ...

    Dorel Juvenile recalls Safety 1st strollers

    The stroller tray folding mechanism can partially disengage on one side

    Dorel Juvenile of Columbus, Ind., is recalling about 25,800 Step and Go Travel Systems sold under the Safety 1st brand in the U.S. and Canada.

     

    The stroller tray folding mechanism can partially disengage on one side when used with an infant car seat attached to the stroller, posing a fall hazard.

     

    The firm has received 30 reports of the front stroller tray that supports the infant car seat disengaging on one side. No injuries are reported.

     

    This recall involves Step and Go Travel Systems sold under the Safety 1st brand and manufactured by Dorel Juvenile. The stroller has a step-to-open design that opens by stepping on the pedal. It was sold in a variety of colors along with the OnBoard 35 infant car seat.

     

    Safety 1st is imprinted on the front of the stroller tray. Model number TR314 is printed on a white label on the back of the stroller seat.

     

    The strollers, manufactured in China, were sold at Babies R Us and other retailers nationwide and online at amazon.com, babiesrus.com and Walmart.com from May 2015, through, June 2016 for between $250 and $300.

     

    What to do

     

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled strollers with the infant car seat and contact Safety 1st for a free repair kit.

     

    Consumers may contact Safety 1st toll-free at 866-762-3036 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at stepandgo@djgusa.com or online at www.safety1st.com and click on “Safety Notices” for more information.

     

     

    Dorel Juvenile of Columbus, Ind., is recalling about 25,800 Step and Go Travel Systems sold under the Safety 1st brand in the U.S. and Canada. The ...

    Hillary Clinton calls for EpiPen price cuts

    "No apparent justification" for 400% price hike for life-saving auto-injector

    Hillary Clinton has joined the chorus calling on Mylan Pharmaceutical NV to reduce the price of the EpiPen, the epinephrine auto-injector used by those with severe allergies to counter attacks of anaphylactic shock.

    “Millions of Americans with severe allergies rely on their EpiPens.  When an allergic reaction leads to anaphylactic shock, a shot of epinephrine can literally be the difference between life and death," Clinton said in an emailed statement. "But now, just as parents are about to send kids with severe food and insect allergies back to school, the EpiPen's manufacturer is hiking its price to an all-time high."

    There was no immediate response from the Trump campaign.  

    Clinton's statement follows the disclosure that the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceutical NV, Heather Bresch, is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who already has a shaky relationship with Clinton. 

    Noting that Mylan has raised the cost of EpiPens from $57 in 2007 to about $600 today, Clinton called the increases "outrageous."

    Profits ahead of patients

    "[I]t's just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers. I believe that our pharmaceutical and biotech industries can be an incredible source of American innovation, giving us revolutionary treatments for debilitating diseases. But it's wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients, raising prices without justifying the value behind them," she said.

    Clinton said she has proposed a plan to reduce exorbitant drug price hikes. She said the plan would require drug companies "to explain significant price increases, and prove that any additional costs are linked to additional patient benefits and better value."

    "Since there is no apparent justification in this case, I am calling on Mylan to immediately reduce the price of EpiPens," she added.

    GOP candidate Trump's Healthcare Reform Plan does not directly address the cost of pharmaceutical products.

    Clinton's plan to rollback drug price increases calls for:

    • Elimination of tax deductions for direct-to-consumer drug advertising;
    • Requiring drug companies that benefit from taxpayer-funded research to invest significant amounts of their profits in research;
    • Capping monthly and annual out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for patients with chronic or serious health conditions;
    • Increasing competition for prescription drugs and restricting "pay for delay" tactics that reduce competition for generics;
    • Demand higher rebates for prescription drugs in Medicare; and
    • Allow medicare to negotiate drug and biologic prices. 

    The complete Clinton plan for lower prescription drug costs is available online

    Hillary Clinton has joined the chorus calling on Mylan Pharmaceutical NV to reduce the price of the EpiPen, the epinephrine auto-injector used by those wit...

    Standing desks help children avoid obesity and perform better in school

    The key, researchers believe, is encouraging movement during class time

    A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting for prolonged periods can be bad for your health, leading to weight gain and obesity. When you consider how long our children sit down in class when they’re at school, it starts to make sense why childhood obesity rates are so high in the U.S.

    Many experts have suggested that schools could benefit from standing desks -- tall working areas that would get students out of their chairs. A new study validates these assertions, showing that standing desks could provide both academic and health benefits to the children that use them.

    “Research around the world has shown that standing desks are positive for the teachers in terms of classroom management and student engagement, as well as positive for children for their health, cognitive functioning and academic achievement. It’s literally a win-win, and now we have hard data that shows it is beneficial for weight control,” said Dr. Mark Benden, one of the authors of the study.

    Healthier outcomes

    The “hard data” that the researchers gathered came from experiments conducted in 24 classrooms across three elementary schools in College Station, Texas. At each school, four classrooms were outfitted with stand-biased desks -- which allowed students to either sit on a high stool or stand – and four were left as standard, controlled classrooms.

    Participating students were followed over the course of two school years to see if the stand-biased desks had any effect on their weight or academic achievement. At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that students with stand-biased desks had a 3% drop in BMI compared to students who gained the typical 2% in BMI due to aging.

    Students who only spent one year with a stand-biased desk also benefitted from the experience, showing a lower mean BMI than students who never used them at all. Researchers attribute these results to encouraging active movement during class time.

    “Classrooms with stand-biased desks are part of what we call an Activity Permissive Learning Environment (APLE), which means that teachers don’t tell children to ‘sit down,’ or ‘sit still’ during class. Instead, these types of desks encourage the students to move instead of being forced to sit in poorly fitting, hard plastic chairs for six or seven hours of the day,” said Benden.

    "Sit less, move more"

    Benden and his colleagues had conducted previous studies showing that standing can allow a person to burn 15% more calories when compared to those who sit down. The results of this study seem to corroborate those findings, which could help keep our children healthy in the long run.

    “Sit less, move more. That’s our message,” concluded Brenden. The full study has been published in the American Journal of Public Health

    A stand-biased desk similar to those used in many classrooms (Staff photo)A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting fo...

    Google nixes big ads that obscure mobile content

    Sites that use 'interstitial' ads may feel the sting, but most approve of Google's move

    In web jargon, an "interstitial" ad is one that blocks all or most of the content you're trying to look at. They're extremely annoying and are among the most hated type of advertising -- especially when they're on wireless sites.

    It's not just consumers who are annoyed. Google is giving publishers until Jan. 10 to get rid of interstiatials or suffer the consequences, which presumably would mean reduced search rankings.

    "Google's goal has always been to take their users from A to B as quickly as possible, in a way that best satisfies a user's search intent – basically, 'here is your answer,'" said Mike Dobbs, VP of SEO at the trade conference 360i, according to a report in AdAge.

    Dobbs said such ads are "intrusive" and can "create a poor user experience."

    Some exceptions 

    In a blog post, Google said there are exceptions, including interstitials to verify people's ages, dialogues to sign into a paywall, and banners that use "a reasonable amount of screen space."

    Advertising executives and marketers are generally on board with the change, especially given the growing use of ad-blockers, which strike fear and loathing into the hearts of ad execs.

    However, not everyone thinks Google should be the web's standard-setter.

    "Many publishers and marketers using interstitials already feel Google meddles with their consumer relationships and of course, don't like that Google is in a position to be judge, jury and executioner," said Kevin Lee, executive chairman and co-founder of Didit, a full-service digital agency that specializes in search, AdAge reported.

    Others noted that Google itself serves full-page interstitial ads on its AdMob mobile app advertising network, though perhaps it won't be doing so by next January.

    Google provided these examplesIn web jargon, an "interstitial" ad is one that blocks all or most of the content you're trying to look at. They're ext...

    Strict parenting may inadvertently hone kids' lying skills

    Kids are more likely to lie if they fear punishment, study finds

    If you rule the roost with an iron fist, your kids may have learned to become more skillful liars.

    According to a research by Victoria Talwar, a psychologist and children’s development expert at McGill University, strict parenting may lead to kids who are more likely to lie to avoid punishment.

    To conduct the study, Talwar visited two very different schools in West Africa: one with strict rules and one that was more relaxed. At each school, she asked a group of students to play a game that required honesty.

    The Peeping Game

    Talwar had children play the “Peeping Game,” a game in which kids were asked to guess what object was making a certain sound without turning around to sneak a peek at it. Children were instructed not to look, then left alone.

    Later, an adult reentered the room and asked children if they peeked. This question was posed in spite of the fact that the adult already knew the answer thanks to a hidden camera in the room.

    Kids were found to be more likely to resort to lying if they feared punishment. Of the two-thirds of children who did peek at the toy, those at the strict school were more likely to lie -- and to do so “very effectively.”

    Are lies co-created?

    “The bottom line is that punishment does not promote truth-telling,” Talwar said. “In fact, the threat of punishment can have the reverse effect by reducing the likelihood that children will tell the truth when encouraged to do so. This is useful information for all parents of young children and for the professionals like teachers who work with them and want to encourage young children to be honest.”

    Adults do play a role in kids' decision to lie, says psychotherapist Philippa Perry, who believes that lies are often co-created by parents and children. This may be because strict parents don’t allow children to be in a situation where they feel they can tell the truth, she told the Daily Mail.

    “If a child lies to get out of trouble then that lie is not all down to the child, it's a co-created situation. The atmosphere has been produced whereby the child does not feel safe telling the truth." 

    If you rule the roost with an iron fist, your kids may have learned to become more skillful liars. According to a research by Victoria Talwar, a psycho...

    Fewer homes for sale leads to fewer sales in July

    Available homes for sale well below a five month supply

    The number of existing homes sold in July fell for the first month since November 2015. It's not that fewer people wanted to buy homes. There were just fewer homes to buy.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports home sales fell in comparison to both June sales and July 2015. Notably, the month-to-month drop was 3.2%.

    The homes that were on the market brought higher prices. The median sale price rose 5.3% year-over-year, to $244,100.

    “The primary culprit behind the decline in July is the lack of homes on the market,” said realtor.com chief economist Jonathan Smoke in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “We simply can’t see growth in sales without having enough homes to sell.”

    Good for sellers, not buyers

    Smoke notes that this declining inventory over the last few months has led to higher prices for sellers, but made it more difficult for buyers to find a home that hits their needs.

    Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, agrees with that assessment, adding that declining inventories have reduced buyer traffic, even with historically low interest rates.

    “With new condo construction barely budging and currently making up only a small sliver of multi-family construction, sales suffered last month as condo buyers faced even stiffer supply constraints than those looking to purchase a single-family home,” Yun said.

    Inventory down 5.8%

    Total housing inventory was nearly flat from June, but it's down 5.8% from a year ago. According to NAR stats, it has declined year-over-year for 14 straight months. Unsold inventory remains at under five months supply.

    What's behind the declining inventory? Two things.

    First, millions of homeowners are still underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. These homeowners are stuck since they can't sell without taking a loss. In normal times, many likely would sell their homes and move up.

    Fewer new homes

    The second factor is bigger. Since the housing crash, home builders are putting up about half the number of homes each year as they did during the real estate boom. Combined with fewer existing homes coming on the market, it has put a serious crimp in supply.

    Tuesday's pleasantly surprising report of a surge in home building activity provides hope for the future, but Smoke concedes the short term may have some additional pain.

    Adding up the limited supply of houses for sale, a potential for higher mortgage rates on the horizon, and dampened consumer confidence, he says he's less optimistic about rising sales in the next few months.

    The number of existing homes sold in July fell for the first month since November 2015. It's not that fewer people wanted to buy homes. There were just few...

    Here's another Craigslist scam to watch out for

    This one could cost you your car

    Craigslist provides a convenient way to buy and sell things, but it has also been used as a tool by scammers. Here's something else to look out for.

    Let's suppose you want to sell your car, so you put an ad on Craigslist, and maybe other online sales platforms, and wait for someone to make an offer.

    Someone does, incredibly meeting your asking price with no quibbling. He produces a cashier's check and you turn over the car and sign over the title. That was easy, you think.

    But when you go to the bank to deposit the check, you discover it is counterfeit. You have no money and your car is gone.

    New Jersey case

    Something like that not only can happen, it has happened. New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP) have announced two people from New Jersey and a Florida man have been arrested on charges of stealing cars advertised on Craigslist, paying for them with bogus checks.

    It turns out 13 others were indicted for their alleged roles in the scheme that was the brought down by a multi-jurisdictional investigation dubbed “Operation Title Flip.” The defendants are accused of using fake checks to purchase 10 vehicles, valued at $248,650, and selling them to dealerships for a $107,250 profit.

    The alleged scheme was fairly sophisticated. Porrino says the defendants hired intermediaries to pose as buyers interested in the advertised vehicles. After inspecting them, the intermediaries presented fake IDs and counterfeit Bank of America cashier's checks.

    Beware of after-hours transactions

    The transactions always occurred in the late afternoon so the seller would not have time to deposit the check until the next day. It bought the schemers extra time to cover their tracks.

    It is very difficult to protect yourself in such a situation. Insisting on a cashier's check won't help if the check isn't real. By the time the seller realized he or she had been scammed, the “buyer” had transferred the title.

    Regardless of how you advertise a vehicle or other expensive item, a private sale has become increasingly risky. When selling a car, using a consignment service can reduce much of the risk. Most consigners also offer financing, making a vehicle sell faster. We wrote about the process last year.

    For its part, Craigslist has extensive advice to consumers on avoiding scams. You can check it out here.

    Craigslist provides a convenient way to buy and sell things, but it has also been used as a tool by scammers. Here's something else to look out for.Let...

    Internet of Things -- a little person on your shoulder

    Contextual advertising will be with you wherever you go as the IoT is deployed

    You hear a lot of people talking about how great life will be when cars drive themselves and the Internet of Things is fully deployed. But while many of us dismiss this chatter as background noise, one industry is paying close attention and champing at the bit to get started.

    Yes, of course, it's the advertising industry. After all, when cars drive themselves, you'll have more time to look at the ads that will be popping up on strategically located screens. Your refrigerator will automatically order almond milk, egg whites, and fat-free butter while it tries to get you to try a new kind of genetically engineered hot dog.

    Right at the moment, the advertising trades are obsessing over self-driving taxis and dreaming of the contextual ad possibilities they present.

    Taxis already have ads, you say? Yes, they do but for the most part, the ads are simply being played back from a storage device in the cab -- they're not determined by who you are, where you live, where you are going, and all those other factors that go into the ads you see on the internet everyday, courtesy of Google and other contextual ad mavens.

    “What will be different when true automated taxi fleets hit the streets is that they will be backed with a much more sophisticated ad network that integrates with identity, wallet and itinerary to name a few,” David Hewitt, global mobility lead at SapientNitro, told the IoT Daily.

    Talk to your wearables

    “Through voice, we won't have to worry about tapping screens and we will be able to continue the conversation after stepping out of the vehicle.”

    When he says "continue the conversation," Hewitt is talking about another buzzword currently making the rounds -- "wearables."

    "Wearables" refers to things like the iWatch, Google Glass, and, for all we know, prewashed denims. They'll soon be part of the IoT, muttering to us constantly about whether we'd like to order a latte from the Starbucks two blocks away, whether we should stop into Target and get an umbrella because it is about to rain, and whether we should renew our Xanax prescription.

    The dream goal of marketers is to know everything about you, including what you are doing this very minute and what you are about to do in the next few minutes, since each moment of our lives represents a buying opportunity.

     Or as Hewitt put it in his interview with the Daily: 

    “Not too far into the future the ads will be contextually presented and may also be served up as bite-sized services instead of just targeted display advertising.”

    If everything works out as planned, it will be just like having a little person on your shoulder, constantly nagging you to do all the things your favorite brands want you to do.

    Where's that Xanax?

    You hear a lot of people talking about how great life will be when cars drive themselves and the Internet of Things is fully deployed. But while many of us...

    How baggage fees improved airline performance

    Researchers claim they help airlines leave the gate on time

    The nation's airlines have gone from economic basket cases to profitable enterprises since the end of the Great Recession, thanks in large part to baggage fees.

    Airlines, with the notable exception of Southwest, now charge extra to check a bag. Consumers hate it, but there's an interesting study that suggests this move not only helped airlines' bottom line, it has helped them leave the gate on time.

    Here's how: because passengers hate paying these fees, they avoid checking bags if possible and instead drag as much carry-on luggage as they can on board. While that may be annoying to fellow passengers, Mazhar Arikan, a University of Kansas business school professor, notes it reduces the time needed for ground crews to stow checked luggage aboard the aircraft.

    "Because passengers changed their behavior, less weight went into the plane below the cabin," he said. "This offset any changes in carry-on luggage, and it helped airlines improve their on-time departure performance. The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect."

    Up to four minutes earlier

    Arikan and his fellow researchers found airlines improved their median departure time between 3.3 to 4.2 minutes. Departure delays declined 1.3 to two minutes. The deciding factor, the researchers found was whether an airline charged for the first or second checked bag.

    The changes even spilled over to Southwest, which does not charge for the first two checked bags. The researchers suggest that's because baggage fees in general have created a cultural shift – passengers are now geared toward less checked luggage and more carry-on bags, regardless of what airline they are flying.

    Lost opportunity costs

    That said, the research shows Southwest's performance did not improve as much as its fee-charging rivals, hurting one of the carrier's historical competitive advantages. Arikan goes so far as to argue Southwest's “Bags Fly Free” policy is actually costing the carrier in lost opportunity, since he says the airline could be offering more flights each day.

    All in all, Arikan says it's a unique way of looking at the whole issue of checked bag fees. Previous research, he notes, has focused solely on the economic effects of the checked bag fees.

    The researchers contend the time fluctuations are significant because departure times and mitigating delays are critical indicators of performance. They can also affect the number of flights airlines can offer and their image among potential customers.

    The nation's airlines have gone from economic basket cases to profitable enterprises since the end of the Great Recession, thanks in large part to baggage...

    Here are the best credit cards for college students

    But parents and students should agree on how they are used

    With college students heading back to campus, parents may be considering whether a son or daughter should have a credit card.

    Having one could provide some peace of mind, in case of an emergency expense. On the other hand, a credit card can quickly bury a student in debt if used irresponsibly.

    With responsible use, a credit card can not only be a helpful convenience, it can help a student begin building a positive credit history. The question, then, is what's the best card for a college student?

    Discover It Chrome for Students

    According to CreditCards.com, it's the Discover It Chrome for Students card. The card comparison site was impressed by the card's generous cash back program and perks available to students. One impressive feature is a $20 cash bonus reward when the student maintains a 3.0 grade point average.

    Finishing second in the judging is the Wells Fargo Cash Back College Visa. It earned points for a low interest rate and free budgeting tools.

    The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card finished third. It impressed the judges with a significant cash back reward program.

    WalletHub's picks

    Personal finance site WalletHub has also picked its choices for best student credit cards. Number one on its list is the Journey Student Rewards Card from Capital One. It provides 1.25% cash back on all purchases when you pay your bill on time each month, a financial incentive for students to stay on top of their account. CardHub notes that's more than what’s offered by the average cash back credit card for people with excellent credit.

    As a runner-up, CardHub recommends the BankAmericard Cash Rewards for Students Card. It offers nice rewards in expense categories that are widely used by students. It gives you 3% cash back on gas and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs for the first $2,500 in combined quarterly purchases. Everything else draws a 1% cash reward.

    Responsible use

    One provision of the 2009 CARD Act is new limits on how credit card companies market to college students. Prior to the legislation, students were often signed up for subprime cards at campus social events and got no guidance on the proper way to use credit.

    For students obtaining a credit card, a few ground rules may be in order. There should be firm spending limits in place and agreement on how the card will be used. Charging books and supplies and trips home might be fine. Meals at bars and restaurants might not be.

    Students encounter enough debt just paying for books and tuition. They shouldn't add to it by running up large credit card balances. And in that regard, there is some encouraging news.

    Credit agency Equifax has reported that its survey of college students found that 70% have one or more credit cards. Of that group, 72% said they pay their balance in full each month.

    With college students heading back to campus, parents may be considering whether a son or daughter should have a credit card.Having one could provide s...

    Mortgage applications post second consecutive decline

    Contract interest rates were on the rise

    Another drop for mortgage applications.

    The weekly survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applications were down 2.1% in the week ending August 19.

    The Refinance Index was down 3.0%, dropping the refinance share of mortgage activity to 62.4% of total applications from 62.6% the previous week.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.6% of total applications; the FHA share dipped to 8.9% from 9.6% a week earlier; the VA share of total applications fell to 12.4% from 13.2%; and the USDA share of total applications held steady at 0.6%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose three basis points -- to 3.67% from 3.64%. Points increased to 0.34 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans, and the effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) came in at 3.62% from 3.60% the week before, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.28 (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 was up four basis points to 3.53%, with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs jumped from 2.90% to 2.95%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 % loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs slipped one basis point to 2.84%, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.17 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    Another drop for mortgage applications. The weekly survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applications were down 2.1% in the week en...

    ALEX Toys recalls infant building play sets

    Small parts of the plastic toy building sets can detach, posing a choking hazard

    ALEX Toys of new Jersey is recalling about 91,000 ALEX Jr. Baby Builder, First Pops and First Snaps.

     

    Small parts of the plastic toy building sets can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.

     

    There have been 22 reports of the ends of small parts detaching from the building sets. No injuries have been reported.

     

    This recall involves three ALEX Jr. branded sets of infant building toys: the Baby Builder, model 1982, First Pops, model 1981P and the First Snaps, model 1981S produced prior to November 2010.

     

    The sets include an assortment of plastic shapes in bright colors. The pieces are designed to be pulled, pushed, snapped and twisted and come in stackable plastic jars. They were sold in sets of 14 and 26 pieces.

     

    The recalled First Snaps sets’ containers have the following batch codes, on a sticker above the UPC code on the container:

     

    P0002073

     

    P0001713

    P0001330

    P0000954

     

    P0002107

     

    P0001628

    P0001009

     

    P00000814

    P0001948

    P0001536

     

    P0001098

     

    P0001677

     

    P0001427

    P0000983

     

     

     

     

    The toy sets, manufactured in China, were sold at Barnes & Noble and Land of Nod and online at www.Zulily.com. The Baby Builders were sold from December 2009, through June 2016, for about $28; First Pops ere sold from March 2009, through June 2016, for about $18, and First Snaps were sold from March 2009, through October 2010, for about $18.

     

    What to do

     

    Consumers should immediately take the recalled building sets away from children and contact ALEX for a prepaid shipping envelope to return the product(s). ALEX will send consumers a full refund upon receipt of returned sets.

     

    Consumers may Contact ALEX toll-free at 844-310-6691 anytime or online at www.alexbrands.com and click on the “Recall Information” link beneath the carousel for more information.

     

     

     

    ALEX Toys of new Jersey is recalling about 91,000 ALEX Jr. Baby Builder, First Pops and First Snaps. Small parts of the plastic toy building sets c...

    Lawmakers demand EpiPen price rollbacks, patient groups silent

    Sky-high price of allergy first-aid tool leads to calls for FTC, Congressional action

    Federal and state lawmakers are calling on the manufacturer of EpiPens to roll back price increases that have raised the cost of the life-saving emergency allergy treatment beyond the reach of many families, but some patient advocacy groups are strangely silent. 

    U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a letter to the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceutical, Heather Bresch, that he was "shocked and dismayed" to learn that the price of EpiPens has risen by several hundred percent since 2009 "even though [the product] has not been improved upon in any obvious or significant way."

    Blumenthal pointedly noted that he was a supporter of legislation signed by President Obama in 2013, which encourages states to adopt laws requiring schools to have epinephrine auto-injectors on hand to deal with emergencies.

    The EpiPen contains about $1 worth of epinephrine, but it costs $600 or more for a package of two in the United States, nearly a 1,000% increase over the $57 the EpiPen went for in 2007. 

    Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the Ranking Member of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing to investigate the increase.
     

    "This outrageous increase in the price of EpiPens is occurring at the same time that Mylan Pharmaceutical is exploiting a monopoly market advantage that has fallen into its lap,” said Klobuchar. “Patients all over the U.S. rely on these products, including my own daughter. Not only should the Judiciary Committee hold a hearing, the Federal Trade Commission should investigate these price increases immediately."

    Klobuchar said the FTC should also "report to Congress on why these outrageous price increases have become common and propose solutions that will better protect consumers within 90 days."

    Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also expressed concern and asked Mylan to explain the price hikes. 

    Price-gouging

    Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) submitted a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requesting a hearing on the EpiPen price increases.

    "Thousands of Americans rely on EpiPens in a given year, and perhaps no time is more important in the purchasing of these devices than the beginning of a new school year,” said Meng. “The free market can be a wonderful engine for good in our society, and it has certainly led to the production of countless medical innovations. We must be vigilant, however, to not cross the line of price-gouging, especially when a product has been around for a generation and is incredibly cheap to produce."

    State legislators are also demanding action. In New Jersey, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said he would allocate part of a hearing scheduled for next month on discussions over the cost increase.

    Mylan has not responded directly to critics, instead issuing a prepared statement that does not address the pricing issue: “Mylan has worked tirelessly over the past years advocating for increased anaphylaxis awareness, preparedness and access to treatment for those living with potentially life-threatening allergies.”

    Patient groups silent

    Oddly, while news outlets and politicians have responded to the concerns of patients, patient advocacy groups have not had much to say.

    A New York public relations firm sent a cheery news release last week on behalf of the Allergy & Asthma Network entitled "Why patients don't have to worry about the EpiPen price increase."

    It took a day to pry loose the promised information, which turned out to be identical to what the group had posted on its Facebook page:

    Allergy & Asthma Network is concerned about the rising costs of epinephrine auto injectors. We are committed to working in the following three ways:

    1. Directly with Mylan. We have asked them to assist families with large out of pocket expenses and high deductible health plans with a new program. 

    2. Directly with government and commercial insurance plans to get epinephrine on preventive drug lists. This would ensure epinephrine is no longer subject to deductibles or copays and reduce the cost burden for families.

    3. Directly with families to navigate the complex healthcare system. Choose a health plan fully understanding what is and is not covered. Beware of high deductible plans as they can result in significant out of pocket expenses throughout the year. Take advantage of savings programs like my Epi savings card to reduce your financial burden. 

    How about the American Lung Association? We found nothing on their site about the issue, and an email asking if the group was taking a position was not immediately answered.

    The Lung Association and other groups were similarly silent a few years ago when asthma patients complained bitterly about the drastic increase in the cost of their inhalers after CFC-powered inhalers were replaced by new models that did not harm the ozone layer. Patients were basically told the new inhalers were more environmentally friendly and they would just have to learn to live, or die, with them.   

    "Stranglehold on pricing"

    One group willing to speak out was Consumer Watchdog, which called the price increases "yet another example of the stranglehold on pricing that drug companies have."

    "This is medication that is mandatory for a lot of people, it’s life-saving, it’s not something you can do without and for that reason, Mylan has been able to jack up the price at will," said Carmen Balber, the group's executive director.

    Balber's group is backing Proposition 61 in California, which would prevent state agencies from paying more for a drug than the price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Balber called it a "step toward bulk pricing that would move toward cheaper drugs for everyone."

    The Los Angeles Times recently reported that drug companies had so far spent more than $65 million to defeat the measure. 

    "Hiking the price of a life-saving medical device like the EpiPen by 500 percent is the worst form of corporate greed," said David Plunkett, staff attorney for the Food Safety Program at the Center for Science In the Public Interest. "Unlabeled allergens in food were the number one reason behind recalls issued by FDA and FSIS in 2015.  Every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER, and all Mylan could see in these facts is an opportunity for profits."

    First responders affected

    In his letter, Blumenthal demanded that Mylan lower the price of the EpiPen to "an affordable, accessible level," saying the skyrocketing price has not only affected families but has also exhausted the budgets of schools and first responders.

    "My office has heard from first responders on this issue, with one emergency medical services (EMS) supplier offering 'lists of EMS representatives who can show you that EpiPen prices are destroying their EMS budgets,'” he said. "In fact, first responders in other states have turned to directly injecting epinephrine using syringes, a method that is far less safe but increasingly necessary. Along with ambulances, schools in Connecticut are also required to stock epinephrine auto-injectors. The costs that Mylan’s price increases have waged not only on individual families, but on each taxpayer in Connecticut, is unacceptable."

    Blumenthal noted that he had supported Congressional legislation requiring epinephrine in schools and was currently supporting a bill that would require epinephrine inectors on commercial aircraft.

    "However, I am concerned that your company has failed to recognize that affordability in health care is key to ensuring accessibility," he said. "When families, schools, and first responders struggle to purchase your product, any effort to mandate its availability becomes an expensive burden that they are forced to bear."

    No substitute for first aid

    When a severe allergic reaction strikes, there is no substitute for having an epinephrine auto-injector on hand, as Sarah Denny, a physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, learned a few years ago.

    Dr. Denny’s son, Liam, 18 months old at the time, had an anaphylactic reaction to soy milk in 2008. Previous testing confirmed he was allergic to dairy, egg, peanuts, and tree nuts, but Liam drank soy milk for months before his anaphylactic reaction.

    After drinking a cup of soy milk as he had done regularly for months, Liam immediately started coughing, vomiting, developed hives all over his body and slipped into unconsciousness after a few minutes. Dr. Denny’s husband, also a physician, administered Liam’s epinephrine auto injector then immediately called 911, according to an account provided by the hospital. 

    “Thankfully, in the 10-minute ride in the ambulance to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the epinephrine started to work and by the time we got to the Emergency Department he was sitting up on my lap, waving to the nurses,” recalled Dr. Denny. “Had we not had an epinephrine auto injector at home, I don’t know that we would have been so lucky.”

    Federal and state lawmakers are calling on the manufacturer of EpiPens to roll back price increases that have raised the cost of the life-saving emergency ...

    What's behind the rising traffic death toll?

    Cars are safer but drivers aren't

    New cars are packed with airbags and other safety features. So why is the highway death toll still climbing?

    The National Safety Council's preliminary estimates show deaths from car crashes were up a startling 9% in the first half of the year, compared to the first half of 2015. The death toll is a staggering 18% higher than the first six months of 2014.

    According to the Council, some 19,100 people died on U.S. roads since January and 2.2 million were injured. The total cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of $205 billion.

    The question is why? It may turn out to have little to do with vehicle safety and a lot more to do with numbers.

    Coincides with low gas prices

    It's telling that the increase in highway deaths began in 2014, because that's when gasoline prices began to fall sharply. As prices fell and stayed low, more people drove cars and they drove them more miles. With more cars on the road, the likelihood some would run into each other rose.

    While many factors could have contributed to the rise in fatalities, the Council notes a stronger economy and lower unemployment rates are at the core of the trend. It says the average gasoline price in the first half of the year was 16% lower than the year before, resulting in a more than 3% increase in the number of miles motorists drove.

    Fatal complacency

    "Our complacency is killing us," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. "One hundred deaths every day should outrage us. Americans should demand change to prioritize safety actions and protect ourselves from one of the leading causes of preventable death."

    And that means focusing more on some of the other factors that no doubt contribute to highway deaths. Drinking and driving seems to be on the decline but distracted driving isn't. As we recently reported, drivers have gone from texting behind the wheel to actually engaging apps.

    The Council says drivers should never use a cell phone, even if it is in hands-free mode.

    Drowsy driving has also emerged as a contributing factor, and it isn't just long-haul truck drivers who are most likely to nod off. People who travel for business may be tempted to drive longer than their physical stamina allows, just to make the next appointment.

    Hersman says drivers should get plenty of sleep and take plenty of breaks during a long trip to remain alert.

    New cars are packed with airbags and other safety features. So why is the highway death toll still climbing?The National Safety Council's preliminary e...

    Smart window material may help consumers control heat and light

    A small electric charge would enable users to adjust the tint on their windows

    Researchers from Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas have developed a way to transform the windows in your home or business into smart windows.

    In a release, the researchers explained that the “flexible smart window material” would be able to lighten or darken the tint of a window with a small electric charge.

    Coating windows, windshields, or other glass surfaces in the material would leave users with a surface that could quickly switch from clear to tinted, which could ultimately help consumers save big on heating and cooling bills.

    Low-temperature process

    Scientists say this smart material differs from conventional smart glasses because it is applied to plastic, rather than glass. Furthermore, the low-temperature process yields a flexible, amorphous structure that is twice as efficient as smart materials produced under high temperatures.

    Disordered amorphous structures are somewhat more difficult to study compared to the ordered crystalline materials used in other smart glasses. Nonetheless, researchers were successful in characterizing their atomic-scale structure.

    "There's relatively little insight into amorphous materials and how their properties are impacted by local structure. But, we were able to characterize with enough specificity what the local arrangement of the atoms is, so that it sheds light on the differences in properties in a rational way," researcher Delia Milliron said.

    The material’s application would be completed in a low-cost manner that would leave consumers with a way to block all light or just some -- but that’s in the future. While the idea for the material is there, the product is not yet in a physical form.

    An article on the smart material will be published in the September issue of Nature Materials.

    Researchers from Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas have developed a way to transform the windows in your home or business ...

    New study sheds light on the nature of our immune systems

    Findings will eventually be used to help the elderly stay healthier for longer

    Scientists have constantly been striving to understand how and why our immune systems break down as we get older. While certain studies have shown promise in boosting immune systems for the elderly, the exact mechanism that degrades our ability to fight infection and disease has remained somewhat unknown.

    That is, until now. Researchers at Oxford University and Basel University have found which genes are affected by a certain protein called Foxn1, which is largely responsible for regulating our immune systems. Declining levels of this protein inhibits production of T cells, which are essential in order for us to remain healthy.  

    Understanding immunity

    Researchers have found that declining levels of Foxn1 led to a sort of chain reaction when it came to the degradation of our immune systems. Everything related to this crucial system starts in the thymus, an organ where T cells are created.

    As T cells develop in the thymus, they interact with thymic epithelial cells (TEC). This is a necessary interaction, since scientists have found that people without TEC are unable to produce functioning T cells; and without T cells, the immune system is severely compromised.

    This is where Foxn1 comes into play; this protein is directly responsible for creating TEC in the thymus. Lowered levels of Foxn1 prevent TEC from being created, but until now researchers weren’t sure which genetic factors were controlled by Foxn1 that made this the case.

    Using a range of models and analytical tools, scientists were able to discover which genes Foxn1 affected; these included genes responsible for creating and selecting specialized T cells that keep a person healthy.

    Improving elderly health

    The findings of the study give researchers a better idea of which genetic factors affect the immune system. Having this knowledge, they say, will eventually contribute towards helping elderly people stay healthier for longer.

    “The findings from these studies . . . provide important insight into the genetic control of regular TEC function and identify new potential strategies to preserve thymus function with age, raising the prospect of a healthier old age,” explains Professor Georg Hollander of the University of Oxford’s Department of Pediatrics.

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

    Scientists have constantly been striving to understand how and why our immune systems break down as we get older. While certain studies have shown promise...

    Women at average risk of breast cancer should get mammograms every three years, study suggests

    However, women with dense breasts should be screened more

    Getting a mammogram every two years is currently recommended, but a new study finds that some women may only need a mammogram once every three years.

    The study finds that women between the ages of 50 and 74 with lower breast density who are at an average risk for breast cancer may not need to be screened as frequently as those with higher breast density.

    While these findings aren’t meant to replace existing guidelines, the study’s authors say they do show that individual preferences and risk factors should play a role in how often women are screened.

    Yearly or every three years

    Yearly screenings may still be best for women with high breast density, according to the National Cancer Institute-sponsored study. Postmenopausal women, especially, may benefit from getting a mammogram once a year.

    But researchers say women with lower density breasts could go longer between screenings. Using computer models, the researchers weighed the risks and benefits of having mammograms at different intervals and found that the “every two years” recommendation may not be every woman’s best bet.

    For average-risk women with lower breast density, the team found no increased risk in having mammograms every three years. In contrast, women with high density breasts should be screened once a year.

    Less frequent mammograms could even lead to fewer false positives and unnecessary biopsies, said lead author Amy Trentham-Dietz, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin. "Tailored screening is really the goal, to make the balance of benefits and harms the best it could be," she told the Wisconsin State Journal.

    Other risk factors

    In addition to breast density (which may be diagnosed by a radiologist during a mammogram), women and their doctors should consider other risk factors in determining how often to be screened.

    Family history, the age of your first period, and the age at which you had your first child are among the factors that could influence how often you should be screened, Christine Berg, M.D., a radiation oncologist with Johns Hopkins Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland wrote in an accompanying piece.

    But while Berg agrees with the study’s finding that women with dense breasts should be screened more often, she is hesitant to recommend less frequent screenings for average-risk women until more research has been done.

    “If a woman has low breast density, I’d say stick with the current recommendation of every other year,” she said. “Then maybe as she gets older, as we get more data and we learn more, perhaps you could switch to every third year.”

    The full study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

    Getting a mammogram every two years is currently recommended, but a new study finds that some women may only need a mammogram once every three years. T...

    A new warning about subprime credit cards

    NerdWallet study says they can be predatory

    As we have pointed out here numerous times, there is a big difference between credit cards. In addition to the types of rewards and incentives they offer, they are targeted to different types of consumers.

    Cards for people with excellent credit tend to have the best rewards and lowest fees. Cards for people with subprime credit pretty much reside on the opposite end of that scale.

    A new report from personal finance site NerdWallet suggests something else: subprime credit cards – just like their cousin, the subprime mortgage – can be predatory.

    For the report, the authors looked at both internal and external data to identify the problems with these products and some possible solutions. Here are some of the key take-aways:

    First, the subprime credit card market is huge. If you have a low credit score, around 600 or below, the credit card in your wallet is likely a subprime card. Some 48 million consumers fall into that category.

    These consumers get the worst credit terms, if they can get credit at all. They may also pay higher insurance rates and can find their housing and job options limited.

    Industry can be predatory

    Next, the subprime credit industry can be predatory. We saw evidence of that during the housing bubble, when these borrowers got loans with low teaser rates that adjusted to double-digit levels after a couple of years. It was a contributing factor to the foreclosure crisis.

    The NerdWallet study says subprime credit cards have more complex agreements and fee structures than prime cards, yet they target a less-educated market. These cards are also more expensive.

    “Consumers with subprime credit are spending hundreds of dollars more in fees alone by opting for a credit card from a subprime specialist issuer,” the authors write.

    What to do

    For people with subprime credit, the best solution is to improve their credit score. If you have a subprime credit card, pay down the balance as much as possible before using it again. If possible, make only charges that you can pay in full at the end of the billing cycle.

    The best solution, the authors suggest, is putting the subprime card in a desk drawer and replacing it with a secured credit card. The credit limit is determined by the amount of money you deposit to secure it. But NerdWallet says you'll save, on average, $125 each year in fees.

    Finally, pay the bill on time every month. In fact, pay all of your bills on time every month, since that is the quickest route to an improved credit score.

    As we have pointed out here numerous times, there is a big difference between credit cards. In addition to the types of rewards and incentives they offer,...

    Low gas prices painting automakers into a corner

    Having more SUVs on the road pulls down their fleet fuel economy rating

    Up until 2014, it appeared automakers were on cruise control as they worked their way toward meeting the government's mandated fuel economy standards, known as CAFE.

    But in late 2014, fuel prices began to rapidly decline and have stayed low ever since. As a result, consumer automotive preferences suddenly changed.

    Up until then, there was demand for small, fuel efficient four-cylinders, hybrids, and even electric cars. But consumers turned away from those vehicles in favor of trucks and SUVs.

    Skewing the average

    That's proved to be a problem for automakers, since the CAFE targets are based on the average fuel economy of a manufacturer's fleet. If there are more trucks and SUVs in the fleet, the average fuel economy goes down.

    Automakers asked federal regulators to take that into consideration, but last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) jointly finalized standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that pretty much stick to previous targets, when there were more fuel efficient vehicles on the road. Those standards begin to take effect in 2018.

    EPA says the industry can still meet the targets because it possesses the technology to make trucks even more fuel efficient.

    “The final standards are expected to lower CO2 emissions by approximately 1.1 billion metric tons, save vehicle owners fuel costs of about $170 billion, and reduce oil consumption by up to two billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program,” the agency said in a release.

    The government doesn't care'

    “It’s clear the government understands the fuel-efficiency challenge automakers will face because of shifting consumer preference toward trucks and SUVs,” said Kelly Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer, in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “It’s also clear the government doesn’t care.”

    Brauer says automakers may have erred in doing such a good job in meeting the CAFE standards every time the government raised them.

    “So good in fact that the EPA isn’t going to cut them any slack on the rising standards going forward,” he said. “No good deed…”

    Environmentalists have applauded the regulators' stand. But a report by American Action Forum predicts the costs of meeting the new standards could exceed $245 billion.

    Up until 2014, it appeared automakers were on cruise control as they worked their way toward meeting the government's mandated fuel economy standards, know...

    A little exercise can counter the effects of too much sitting

    But sitting in front of the TV isn't the same as working at your desk

    Ever since studies found that those who spend all day sitting tend to have a higher death rate than those who move around, researchers have been trying to answer the question: how much moving does it take to make up for too much sitting?

    The answer, according to a very large study published recently in The Lancet is: less than you might think. 

    Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 16 large studies that included more than 1 million people. Crunching the data a number of different ways, they came to the conclusion that 60 to 75 minutes of moderate physical activity was enough to eliminate the risk of death related to sitting, even for those who sit more than eight hours per day.

    What kind of moderate activity? You don't have to take up gymnastics or triathalons. Things like walking to work, walking the dog, riding a stationary bike, line dancing, golf or softball, doubles tennis, or coaching sports will do it.

    For those who just can't spare an hour, even 25 minutes of moderate activity was found to be somewhat protective.

    TV watching is worse than working

    The way energy expenditure was measured, vigorous activities count more, so less time of the most strenuous exercise is needed to be protective, said Monique Tello, MD, MPH, writing in the Harvard Health Blog

    That's the good news.

    The bad news, says Tello, is that the encouraging findings apply to those who sit at a desk or behind the wheel all day. They don't apply to plopping down on the couch and watching TV for hours on end.

    The researchers found that TV time is associated with an even greater risk of death, and exercise is not as protective; even a full hour of activity can't make up for five hours of TV watching.

    Why is TV watching so much more harmful? Researchers aren't certain, Tello said, but it may be because even though we may sit at a desk or at the wheel of a truck or bus all day, we still tend to jump up to go to meetings, check a file, or unload a shipment. 

    But TV watching? It's a total blob-out for most people. Also, Tello notes that most TV watching takes place in the evening, usually after dinner, which could increase the effect on blood sugars and fat metabolism. There's also the little matter of snacking.

    The takeaway message, says Tello, is that every little bit of movement helps keep arteries flexible and blood sugar under control. If all else fails, you might want to consider dragging the exercycle into the family room. 

    Ever since studies found that those who spend all day sitting tend to have a higher death rate than those who move around, researchers have been trying to...

    Consumers face stiff challenges to saving

    Mounting debt and shrinking paychecks among the biggest

    Americans want to save money, and are trying to save money. But a new survey from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) shows consumers are having a hard time putting money away, even though they are increasingly optimistic about the future.

    The challenges may sound familiar. Mounting credit card bills, staggering student loan debt, payments on a new car that may stretch six or seven years into the future, and the day-to-day needs of a growing family.

    "CFP Board Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney says the U.S. economy has come a long way since the depths of the recession, but most Americans, regardless of income brackets, are just finding it hard to save for the future.

    Debt plus stagnant incomes

    "An inability to start saving early, debt and stagnant incomes are just a few of the factors driving Americans' financial anxiety," she said.

    The survey found nearly half of consumers in the survey said they don't always have enough money after paying the bills. Contributing to that situation, 35% said their household has seen a significant loss of income.

    About 34% point to existing debt as the chief reason they are unable to put money away on a consistent basis. But in spite of all that, just over half – 51% – said they are able to regularly save on a monthly basis.

    The survey includes a segmentation analysis that divides people into four groups, based on their ability to save and their feelings about money.

    Types of savers

    There are “Concerned Strivers,” who have relatively high incomes but still struggle to make ends meet. Even so, about half are able to save money on a regular basis.

    The “Confident Savers” place a major priority on setting aside for the future. In fact, they began saving for retirement around age 25.

    “Tentative Savers” are older and have relatively high incomes, but still worry about their ability to set money aside. Nearly two-thirds think they might not be saving enough for retirement.

    The last group is the “Stretched Worriers.” As the label implies, these consumers are most likely to be anxious about their financial futures. For this group, staying current on bills is a bigger priority than saving.

    Americans want to save money, and are trying to save money. But a new survey from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) show...

    The surge in new home sales continues

    Housing prices were mixed

    Sales of new single-family houses rose in July for a second consecutive month.

    The Commerce Department reports sales shot up 12.4% from the revised seasonally adjusted annual rate of 582,000 in June to a rate of 654,000 last month. The sharp advance also put the July rate 31.3% above the year-ago rate of 498,000.

    Pricing and inventory

    New-home prices, on the other hand, were mixed. The median sales price of new houses sold in July was $294,600, down $15,900 from June and a decline of $1,400 from July 2015. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less.

    The average sales price was $355,800, a gain of $2,300 from the month before and a year-over year advance of $13,900.

    The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of July was 233,000, which translates into a supply of 4.3 months at the current sales rate.

    The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

    Sales of new single-family houses rose in July for a second consecutive month.The Commerce Department reports sales shot up 12.4% from the revised seas...

    Five Star Shellfish brand oysters recalled

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Five Star Shellfish is recalling its brand of large standard and mixed oysters due to possible Salmonella contamination.

     

    No reported illnesses have been reported.

     

    The following products, sold in in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, and possibly distributed in other provinces and territories, are being recalled:

     

    Brand

    Product

    Size

    UPC

    Codes

    Five Star Shellfish Inc.

    Large Standard Oysters

    100 count

    None

    Harvest Date: 13-Aug-16

    Harvest Location: PEI 1Q

    Five Star Shellfish Inc.

    Mixed Oysters

    100 count

    None

    Harvest Date: 13-Aug-16

    Harvest Location: PEI 1Q

     

    What to do

     

    Customers who purchased the recalled should should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the store where purchased.

     

    Consumers with questions may call Five Star Shellfish at 902-831-2906.

     

     

    Five Star Shellfish is recalling its brand of large standard and mixed oysters due to possible Salmonella contamination. No reported illnesses have...

    BMW recalls model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles

    The side curtain airbags for front seat occupants may not deploy in the intended positions

    BMW of North America is recalling 7,810 model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles manufactured August 19, 2015, through July 14, 2016.

     

    The side curtain airbags for the front seat occupants may not deploy in the intended positions in the event of a crash. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 226, "Ejection Mitigation."

     

    If a side curtain airbag does not inflate as intended in the event of a crash, there is an increased risk of injury to the front seat occupants.

     

    What to do

     

    BMW will notify owners, and dealers will modify the driver and passenger side curtain air bag covers, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 12, 2016.

     

    Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417 or email BMW at CustomerRelations@bmwusa.com.

     

     

     

    BMW of North America is recalling 7,810 model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles manufactured August 19, 2015, through July 14, 2016. The side cu...

    Wells Fargo to pay $4 million for illegal student loan practices

    Consumers were charged illegal fees, among other violations

    Wells Fargo Bank has been ordered to pay more than $4 million for illegal private student loan servicing practices that increased costs and unfairly penalized certain student loan borrowers.

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said it identified breakdowns throughout Wells Fargo’s servicing process, including failing to provide important payment information to consumers, charging consumers illegal fees, and failing to update inaccurate credit report information.

    The CFPB’s order requires Wells Fargo to improve its consumer billing and student loan payment processing practices. The company must also provide $410,000 in relief to borrowers and pay a $3.6 million civil penalty to the CFPB.

    “Wells Fargo hit borrowers with illegal fees and deprived others of critical information needed to effectively manage their student loan accounts,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Consumers should be able to rely on their servicer to process and credit payments correctly and to provide accurate and timely information and we will continue our work to improve the student loan servicing market.”

    Huge debt

    Student loans make up the nation’s second largest consumer debt market. Today, there are more than 40 million federal and private student loan borrowers and collectively these consumers owe roughly $1.3 trillion.

    Last year, the CFPB found that more than 8 million borrowers are in default on more than $110 billion in student loans, a problem that may be driven by breakdowns in student loan servicing.

    Wells Fargo Bank has been ordered to pay more than $4 million for illegal private student loan servicing practices that increased costs and unfairly penali...

    Why frequent lung cancer screenings are important to your health

    An initial negative screening is not a sure sign that everything is fine

    A new study from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa underlines the importance of screening for lung cancer – a disease that is a leading cause of death for both men and women. The researchers say that although treatment of the disease is complicated, proper screening allows healthcare professionals the ability to diagnose and treat it at its earliest stages.

    The study found that patients who initially tested negative for lung cancer but later went on to develop it one or two years later tended to develop a more aggressive and lethal form of the disease. As a result, patients who initially have negative test results may actually end up with worse health outcomes, so frequent screenings should not be avoided.

    “Our findings suggest that individuals who originally present with negative screens and develop lung cancer 12 or 24 months later develop faster growing, more aggressive cancers that arose from a lung environment previously lacking abnormalities,” said Dr. Matthew B. Schabath.

    Importance of frequent screenings

    One of the major factors that the researchers discuss in the study is the need for consumers to have high-quality lung cancer screenings on a frequent basis. According to the National Lung Screening Trial, lung cancer screening using low-dose helical computed tomography (LDCT) reduced cancer deaths by 20% when compared to standard X-ray screens.

    Using information from this trial, the researchers attempted to see how patient outcomes differed from their initial screening to their 12- and 24-month LDCT screenings. They found that, although LDCT screens are responsible for a reduction in cancer deaths, an initial negative screening was not always a sure sign of prolonged health.

    Patients who initially tested negative but later tested positive at the 12- and 24-month screenings were found to have lower survival and higher mortality rates than patients who initially received a positive screening for a cancer abnormality that later manifested into lung cancer.

    So what’s the takeaway? The findings show that consumers should not put off lung cancer screenings because of an initial negative test result. By having frequent screenings, doctors stand a better chance of catching an abnormality early and starting treatment.

    Smokers at high risk

    Another caveat of the study discusses how smoking affects the frequency of screenings. Current guidelines suggest that consumers between the ages of 55 and 74 get regular LDCT screenings if they ever smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more. This is also advised for previously heavy smokers who may have quit within the last 15 years.

    The researchers point out that although an individual may have stopped smoking years ago, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t at an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

    “Although tobacco cessation is one of the most important ways to reduce your risk of lung cancer, screening is a proven method to detect lung cancer earlier when it is easier to treat. Moreover, screening is not a one-time event. For it to be effective, high-risk individuals need to be screened on regular yearly intervals,” said Schabath.

    The full study has been published in PLOS ONE.

    A new study from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa underlines the importance of screening for lung cancer – a disease that is a leading cause of death for...

    Why home prices may continue to rise

    Because there simply are not enough of them for sale

    Month after month it seems to be the same story. Home prices go up, even if sales for the month are flat, or even lower.

    It's a trend that has been in place since the housing recovery began, and it has begun to affect affordability.

    The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) released last week found that 62% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of April and the end of June were affordable to families earning the median income of $65,700. That's down from 65% in the first quarter.

    Nationally, the median home price increased $17,000, from $223,000 in the first quarter to $240,000 in the second quarter. Interest rates are below 4%, but that's not what's driving the dramatic price rise.

    During the housing bubble, prices rose because almost anyone could qualify for a mortgage. The demand for housing sent prices skyrocketing to unsustainable levels.

    Not enough homes for sale

    Demand is also responsible for rising prices today, but for very different reasons than a decade ago. There simply are not enough homes for sale. Fewer existing homes and fewer new homes.

    Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com, says new home construction has failed to keep up with demand since the recovery. He doesn't expect to see that changing soon.

    “Single-family is continuing to show gains, but the gains in permits are weaker than the gains in starts,” Smoke said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Builders are starting what they already permitted earlier this year but are not bullish about demand this fall and winter.”

    New homes typically cost more than existing homes and housing experts say construction costs have gone up since the housing crash. For that reason, builders have largely focused on multi-family units and luxury single-family homes.

    Smoke says the seasonally adjusted rate of permitting in July was not statistically significant. On a year-to-date basis, permits are up in every region but the Northeast.

    Shrinking inventory

    At the same time, there are fewer existing homes for sale. In its June existing home sales report, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) noted that inventory levels continue to decline. Total housing inventory at the end of the month was 2.12 million homes, nearly 6% fewer than a year ago. Inventory was at a 4.6-month supply, down form 4.7 months in May.

    With supply and demand out of balance, the result is fewer renters can afford to buy. Those who can afford it may have difficulty finding a house they like.

    Month after month it seems to be the same story. Home prices go up, even if sales for the month are flat, or even lower.It's a trend that has been in p...

    Child safety hazards you may have overlooked

    Tips for preventing household accidents

    Many young children are adept at finding trouble around the house. There’s often no predicting where kids’ curiosity will lead them, but parents can try to make sure their home is safe at every turn.

    But even if you’ve padded sharp corners and installed childproof locks on the kitchen cabinets, your home may still be unsafe for kids. Parents overlook a number of hidden household hazards, experts say.

    Windows and window coverings may pose an especially big risk to children. In fact, corded window coverings are among the top five hidden hazards in American homes, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

    Kids may become entangled in window covering cords, but parents and caregivers can prevent accidents like this from happening by making one important change.

    Go cordless

    In homes with young children, safety advocates say cordless window coverings (or those with inaccessible cords) are the way to go.

    Instead of using window blinds and corded shades, the Window Covering Safety Council recommends using cordless products. (Bonus points if they come with a Best for Kids label certification.)

    In addition to preventing accidental entanglement by swapping corded window coverings for cordless coverings, parents may also want to address the following child safety hazards.

    Other hidden hazards

    Accidents are bound to happen in homes with toddlers and young children, but not every potential accident will be as innocuous as spilled juice. To keep kids safe, parents should watch out for the following hazards.

    • Plants. Certain common plants may be dangerous if ingested. Plants that should be kept off limits to kids include: Lily of the Valley, Hydrangea, Rhododendron, Poinsettia, Purple Nightshade, Mountain Laurel, Mistletoe, and Water Hemlock.
    • Vehicles. Even on a temperate day, a parked car isn’t a safe place for kids to play. Temperatures inside a vehicle can rise 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, according to WebMD. Parents should keep vehicles locked and keys hidden from children.
    • Open windows. Letting a cool breeze circulate throughout your home may be pleasant, but having the windows open can be dangerous in homes with children. Opening windows from the top instead of the bottom can help prevent falling accidents. Additionally, parents can install window guards and stoppers.
    • Non-anchored furniture. Unsecured furniture and TVs also made the CPSC’s list of top five hidden hazards in the home. To prevent tip-over accidents, parents should anchor tall, heavy furniture that is capable of tipping.
    • Hot playground equipment. When your backyard playset isn't in use, the sun may be beating down on its slides, swings, and other equipment. Before letting kids play, parents should check equipment to make sure it won’t cause burns.  
    Many young children are adept at finding trouble around the house. There’s often no predicting where kids’ curiosity will lead them, but parents can try to...

    Revised fees proposed for taxpayers using installment plan

    Some are rising, others remain the same

    If you're a taxpayer who uses the installment plan to settle up with Uncle Sam, you need to know that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is proposing a revised schedule of user fees that would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

    Federal agencies are required to charge a user fee to recover the cost of providing certain services to the public that confer a special benefit to the recipient. While some installment agreement fees will go up, the IRS will continue providing reduced-fee or no-cost services to low-income taxpayers.

    Changes on the way

    The revised installment agreement fees of up to $225 would be higher for some taxpayers than those currently in effect, which can be up to $120. However, under this revision, any affected taxpayer could qualify for a reduced fee by making a request online using the Online Payment Agreement application on IRS.gov.

    Additionally, there would be no change to the current $43 rate that applies to the approximately one in three taxpayer requests that qualify under low-income guidelines. These guidelines, which change with family size, would qualify a family of four with total income of around $60,000 or less to pay the lower fee.

    Also, for the first time, any taxpayer regardless of income would qualify for a new low $31 rate by requesting an installment agreement online and choosing to pay what is owed through direct debit.

    The top rate of $225 applies to taxpayers who enter into an installment agreement in person, over the phone, by mail, or by filing Form 9465 with the IRS. However, a taxpayer who establishes an agreement in this manner can substantially cut the fee to just $107 by choosing to make monthly payments by direct debit from their bank account.

    Alternatively, a taxpayer who chooses to set up an installment agreement using the agency’s Online Payment Agreement application will pay a fee of $149. Similarly, this amount can be cut to just $31 by also choosing direct debit.

    Proposed fees

    Here is the proposed schedule of user fees:

      Regular installment agreement$225
      Regular direct debit installment agreement$107
      Online payment agreement $149
      Direct debit online payment agreement$31
      Restructured or reinstated installment agreement  $89
      Low-income rate$43
    If you're a taxpayer who uses the installment plan to settle up with Uncle Sam, you need to know that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is proposing a rev...

    Quick, what's the biggest influence on your credit score?

    TransUnion found that a lot of consumers don't know

    A credit score seems like a fairly simple concept. If you have a high score, you can qualify for the best rates on loans. If you have a low score, you can't.

    But what about the things that influence a score, that move it up or down? That's where things get a little murky for a lot of consumers.

    A survey by credit bureau TransUnion has documented that confusion, learning that more than half of consumers who checked their credit score in the last month wrongly believed their income, employment history, and age are factors.

    They aren't, and neither are salary raises and increases in personal savings, though a large percentage of consumers in the survey believe they are.

    What you don't know can hurt

    Why does this matter? Because if you don't know what influences your credit score, you might not take the right action to keep pushing your score higher.

    “Our survey shows that even those who monitor their credit are only skimming the surface of their credit report and often don’t understand the factors that comprise their credit score,” said John Danaher, president of TransUnion Consumer Interactive.

    Here's what influences your credit score: first and foremost, its paying your bills on time. All of your bill.

    Danaher says some consumers buy into the myth that as long as they pay their bills and don't fall behind, it's okay. It's not. Paying bills on time and in full each month will have a positive impact on your score. Late bill payments can stay on your report for up to seven years.

    How you use credit

    How you use credit is another major factor. Paying off your credit card balance every month looks better to creditors than if you carry a balance that gets bigger every month.

    They also look closely on how much of your available credit you've used. If you have a $5000 credit limit but are carrying a $4,000 balance, you'll have a lower score than if the balance is just $1,000.

    Finally, you need to access credit to raise your credit score. If you don't have any credit accounts, the credit agencies have no way to assess your creditworthiness. Having a mortgage, car payment, and credit card bill that you pay on time, month after month, is the best way to maintain and build your credit score.

    A credit score seems like a fairly simple concept. If you have a high score, you can qualify for the best rates on loans. If you have a low score, you can'...

    Feds mobilize industry for war on robocalls

    FCC asks tech companies to find a way to block or limit these calls

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is preparing to wage war on robocalls and is trying to mobilize the technology industry to join the cause.

    The FCC held a meeting with 30 of the industry's major players to talk about ways to hang up on these machine-generated calls, which are closely associated with scams, or products and services of dubious value.

    You may be familiar with these calls. A recorded voice might congratulate you on winning a free cruise or tell you your business qualifies for a $250,000 loan. Or, the voice may claim to be calling from the IRS, warning you of impending jail time if you don't pay back taxes immediately – as in right now, over the phone, with a prepaid money card.

    Biggest source of consumer complaints

    The meeting was intended as a brainstorming session in hopes that Google, Apple, AT&T, and Verizon could find ways to limit or prevent these calls, which FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls “a scourge” and the biggest source of consumer complaints.

    “They are an invasion of privacy, and this scourge is rife with fraud and identity theft,” Wheeler told the group. “The problem is that the bad guys are beating the good guys with technology right now.”

    Wheeler says scammers outside the U.S. can use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to mislead voice networks. The bad guys have the ability to spoof a legitimate phone number that easily fools most caller ID programs.

    FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai pointed out that there has already been some productive accomplishments in this area. He points to a 2013 competition among developers that resulted in Nomorobo, an app that he says has already stopped more than 126 million robocalls.

    “We know there is a problem,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “We know how much consumers dislike these calls. We know the public is frustrated, because they assumed that after they registered for the Do Not Call list, this would stop. It did not, so now it is time to take some real action.”

    Previous action

    The FCC has already taken some action. A year ago it adopted a proposal making clear that consumers have the right to control the calls they receive on both landline and wireless phones. That move also gave providers permission to implement robocall-blocking technologies.

    Wheeler says the government needs tech firms to take it from here, noting that scammers are using technology to stay well ahead of regulators.

    “It’s not as if good guys [are] standing idly by,” Wheeler said. “But we need more urgency.”

    The tech firms attending the meeting apparently got the message. Reuters reports most have signed on to become part of a robocall strike force that will report back to the FCC in October on what it has come up with.

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is preparing to wage war on robocalls and is trying to mobilize the technology industry to join the cause.T...

    Chrysler recalls Jeep Renegades with factory-installed trailer hitch package

    The trailer hitch assembly may separate from the vehicle

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 8,561 model year 2015-2016 Jeep Renegades manufactured August 25, 2014, to June 25, 2016, equipped with a factory-installed optional trailer hitch package.

     

    The trailer hitch assembly may have been attached with only a single fastener per side, not three per side as required.

     

    Without the proper number of fasteners, the trailer hitch assembly may separate from the vehicle, and any towed vehicle may no longer be properly connected, increasing the risk of a crash.

     

    What to do

     

    Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will install two additional fasteners per side, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

     

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S62.

     

     

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 8,561 model year 2015-2016 Jeep Renegades manufactured August 25, 2014, to June 25, 2016, equipped with a factory-instal...

    Cambridge Farms recalls three brands of frozen cut corn

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Cambridge Farms of Lancaster, Pa., is recalling three brands of frozen cut corn that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

     

    No illnesses have been reported to date.

     

    The following products are being recalled:

    • Laura Lynn Frozen Cut Corn in a 16 oz. Polybag - UPC 8685401734; Code SWFF/R10312, Best by 4/11/18; Code SWFFR/10452, Best by 5/09/18; Code SWFF/R10609, Best by 6/6/18;
    • Laura Lynn Frozen Cut Corn in a 32 oz. Polybag - UPC 8685401717; Code SWFF/R 10482, Best by 5/10/18;
    • Key Food Frozen Cut Corn in a 16 oz. Polybag - UPC 7329607091; Code SWFF/R10320, Best by 4/11/18; Code SWFF/R10405, Best by 5/2/18;
    • Better Valu Frozen Cut Corn in a 14 oz. Polybag - UPC 7980124561; Code SWFF/R10308, Best by 4/11/18.

    The above codes are on the back of the retail package.

     

    The recalled products were sold thru retail supermarkets in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, New york, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Florida.

     

    What to do

     

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

     

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-717-945-5178 Monday through Friday, from 8:00AM to 5:00PM (EDT).

     

     

    Cambridge Farms of Lancaster, Pa., is recalling three brands of frozen cut corn that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. No illnesses ...

    Model year 2013 Elantras recalled

    The brake light switch plunger can remain extended when the brake pedal is released

    Hyundai Motor America is recalling 64,500 model year 2013 Elantras manufactured December 1, 2012, to April 30, 2013.

     

    The brake pedal stopper pad can deteriorate allowing the brake light switch plunger to remain extended when the brake pedal is released.

     

    If the brake light switch plunger does not retract as it should when the brake pedal is not being pressed, the brake lights may stay illuminated preventing accurate communication to following vehicles that the vehicle is slowing or stopping.

     

    Additionally, if the brake switch plunger is not retracted, then the transmission can be shifted out of PARK without depressing the brake pedal. Either condition increases the risk of a crash.

     

    What to do

     

    Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the brake pedal stopper pad with an improved part, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on September 30, 2016.

     

    Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 146.

     

     

    Hyundai Motor America is recalling 64,500 model year 2013 Elantras manufactured December 1, 2012, to April 30, 2013. The brake pedal stopper pad ca...

    Going solo on a group tour

    Being surrounded by people you barely know isn't always fun

    Group travel has its advantages: someone else plans the itinerary and you get to leave the lodging, transportation, meals, and sightseeing to someone else. No responsibility for making reservations, securing tickets, researching tourist sites, or driving; someone else is in charge. Travelers who don’t like to fret the details can select from a variety of preplanned vacations.

    While there are many positives, there are downsides as well. Too many activities can be planned for each day with too little time to appreciate and enjoy the experience. Tours often start early in the morning, leaving many travelers tired or exhausted by the end of the day.

    Cramming too many stops into one day or prolonged time on a bus can leave travelers stressed rather than relaxed. And let’s not forget that being part of a group and being surrounded with people that you don’t really know all day, every day can easily get on your nerves.

    Taking a day off

    When my friends booked a trip to Ireland with a small group, they loved the hotel choices and the itinerary. At the end of the first week they were to spend the day at a very touristy spot. They chose to opt out for the day and rented bicycles.

    They drove through the lush countryside, visited a park with waterfalls, and toured a charming historic home with manicured gardens. They enjoyed being together and felt refreshed. The next morning, they shared their experiences and others in the group thought they too might take a day off.

    Another friend planned ahead to have some time to himself on a group tour to South America. The itinerary included three days in Buenos Aires, so he hired a private guide for the first two days. The guide picked him up at the hotel and took him all over the city, stopping at many unique sites and venues.

    He reconnected with his travel mates on the third day and shared his escapades; they were surprised at how much territory my friend covered and wished they’d thought to have some time on their own as well.  

    Most group tours recognize that travelers can tire or feel overwhelmed and need some time to themselves. It’s not uncommon for travelers to take a day off and stay around the hotel to relax and enjoy the amenities. You might just want to sit in a café, people watch, and absorb your surroundings.

    Whether you choose to use a day or two to enjoy yourself solo, be considerate. Let your tour director know you won’t be joining them so they don’t hold up the bus or tour waiting for you.

    Keep in mind that this is your vacation. Stay safe and enjoy yourself.

    Group travel has its advantages: someone else plans the itinerary and you get to leave the lodging, transportation, meals, and sightseeing to someone else....

    Mozilla supports FCC's open set-top box proposal

    Technology companies are lined up against pay-TV and cable interests

    The Mozilla Foundation, developer of the Firefox browser, has thrown its support behind the notion that consumers should not have to rent a set-top cable box to watch TV and streaming video.

    The Federal Communications Commission is weighing proposed regulations that would allow companies other than cable and satellite providers to develop boxes that can access pay-TV programs, which would make life simpler for viewers and save consumers millions of dollars in the monthly set-top box rentals they now pay to cable and satellite providers.

    "We believe the proposed rules will help open a technology environment that today is very closed, with the result of improved competition, greater innovation, and streamlined interoperability, all to the benefit of consumers," Mozilla's public policy head Chris Riley wrote in a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission this week.

    The proposal is generally supported by technology companies and opposed by cable and broadcast interests, including producers who fear their property will become more vulnerable to being stolen (i.e., viewed for free).

    Copyright Office stance

    The U.S. Copyright Office is backing producers in opposing the proposal, saying it could nterfere with content owners' ability to license programs and to "impose reasonable conditions" on how those programs are used.

    Advertisers also oppose the proposal, saying that eliminating the control cable and pay-TV providers now enjoy could make it possible for rogue elements to insert new commercials or even replace existing ones.

    In the long run, the proposed rule could destroy the economic underpinnings of the entertainment business, critics say. They point to the widespread failure of daily newspapers and the havoc wrought in the music business by the introduction of technology that broke traditional distribution channels. 

    Mozilla takes a dim view of that argument, saying the Copyright Office's views "take us down a dangerous road."

    "At worst, the rules conflict with only the most maximalist copyright policy views, those that would stretch statutory interpretation and precedent to allow for indefinite downstream control by rightsholders, impeding the development of new technologies and harming consumers," Riley said, according to a MediaPost article. "Copyright law confers a set number of rights to rightsholders, and is not meant to convey total control.

    Consumer groups generally support opening the set-top market to competition, saying that consumers now pay an average cost of $231 per year to rent boxes that basically do the same thing as a Roku or Amazon Fire TV box. 

    Cable compromise

    The cable industry has offered a compromise proposal, suggesting cable companies supply their subscribers with an app that would receive not only their regular cable packages but also Netflix-style streaming video that is now viewed with a Roku-style box.

    The app would use open HTML5 standards, which would enable manufacturers to adopt it quickly without jumping through the hoops tht accompany proprietary technology.

    "This approach would provide significant benefits to consumers," the industry officials argued in a regulatory, according to Washington Post report in June.

    The Mozilla Foundation, developer of the Firefox browser, has thrown its support behind the notion that consumers should not have to rent a set-top cable b...

    Dogs value praise from their human over treats, study finds

    We're much more to dogs than a means of getting food, researchers say

    A dangling treat may hold your dog in rapt attention, but new research suggests that most dogs crave another reward to a higher degree.

    Using a combination of brain-imaging data and behavioral experiments, researchers from Emory University found that many dogs prefer praise from their owner over food.

    “We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it's mainly about food, or about the relationship itself," said neuroscientist Gregory Berns from Emory University.

    As it turns out, the relationship dogs have with their owners is of much more value to canines than Pavlov might believe.

    Value of social praise

    At the end of nearly 100 trials, only two of the 15 dogs studied showed a preference for food over praise from their owners. The other 13 dogs either enjoyed praise more or appeared to like both equally, Berns noted.

    Dogs’ preference for praise as a reward, rather than treats, contradicts the Pavlovian idea that the owner is merely a means of acquiring food.  

    Dogs are "hypersocial" with humans, says Berns, who believes these experiments could help pave the way for studies that explore dogs' ability to process and understand human language. 

    Study details

    To conduct the study, researchers trained the dogs to associate three objects with three outcomes. A pink toy truck meant that the dog would get a food reward, a blue toy knight meant verbal praise from the owner, and a hairbrush meant no reward.

    An fMRI machine measured dogs’ neural activity during each test. While most dogs appeared to enjoy both food and owner praise equally, four dogs in the group showed a much stronger neural response for praise.

    The setting of the second test was a Y-shaped maze. One path lead to a bowl of food while the other lead to the dog’s owner (facing away from the dog). The praise-preferring dogs from the first trial went to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time.

    These results suggest that praise is of great value to dogs, said Berns, adding that social reward and praise, to dogs, “may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

    The study was published in the journal Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience.

    A dangling treat may hold your dog in rapt attention, but new research suggests that most dogs crave another reward to a higher degree.Using a combinat...

    California's Salton Sea becoming a toxic witches' brew, Boxer warns

    State and federal agencies dawdle while the huge lake becomes more dangerous to humans and wildlife

    Governments often take actions -- or fail to act -- in ways that would be treated as crimes if committed by an individual or a company. Take the scandalous U.S. Education Department's Teach Grant program that defrauds idealistic young teachers.

    Or compare the way federal and California agencies treated Volkswagen's use of emission cheaters with the way they treat their own lack of action to head off a public health and environmental disaster, one that affects millions of Southern California consumers and could be much more harmful than the emissions from a few hundred thousand cars.

    U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif) has tried for years to wring some action out of the various agencies that are supposed to be doing something about the Salton Sea, California's largest lake and one of the largest inland bodies of salt water in the world.

    "If we don't act faster than we are acting now, we will face a public health disaster and an environmental disaster," Boxer said in a speech to Southern California local officials Thursday. "There must be no backpedaling, because the dust won't wait for us to act, the birds won't wait for us to act and our children's lungs won't wait for us to act!"

    Environmentalists and wild life experts agree with Boxer's analysis.

    “The state has been dallying,” said Timothy Bradley, a professor of ecology and director of UC Irvine’s Salton Sea Initiative in a recent Los Angeles Times article. “And it would be unconscionable if it does not now shift into a very high speed to get something done.

    The dam burst

    The Salton Sea was formed accidentally in the early 20th century when a dam burst and diverted the Colorado River into the Imperial Valley, creating a huge lake.

    When the dam was repaired a few years later, there was no longer an abundant supply of fresh water running into the lake and it began to steadily recede and become saltier, leaving a beach littered with dead fish and creating dust that contains particles of pesticides and other harmful materials from agricultural runoff that has drained into the lake for decades.

    The lake sometimes smells so bad that officials in Palm Springs, about 50 miles away, issue "odor alerts." 

    A 2014 study from the Pacific Institute, a global water think-tank, found that Californians could face $70 billion in costs, ranging from lower property values to dramatically higher health care costs for respiratory illnesses, if action is not taken to save the sea.

    Besides posing a risk to human health, the sea is also a national wildlife priority, since it serves as a vital stopover point along the Pacific Flyway for up to two-thirds of U.S. continental bird species. 

    Money allocated

    This year, California lawmakers budgeted $80.5 million, more than ever before, for Salton Sea projects aimed at bringing fresh water into the turgid sea. The Obama Administration also announced $3 million in allocations for Salton Sea restoration.

    But Boxer said the projects are not moving fast enough. She called on federal and state agencies to coordinate their efforts before conditions worsen, warned against "backpedaling," and promised she would continue to push for action even after she retires later this year.

    A warming climate and the continuing drought are worsening the situation, as the sea dries up at "an alarming pace," Boxer said. "Already we have seen massive fish die-offs and declining bird populations." 

    Boxer, who has long pressed for faster action, said she will not give up even after she leaves the Senate later this year.

    "While I will be leaving the Senate at the end of this year, I plan to do everything in my power during that time to help the Salton Sea. And I want you to know I am not retiring. I plan to keep fighting these fights - I will just be doing it from here in California. Even after I leave the Senate, I will do everything I can to help," Boxer said.

    Millions of dead fish and their skeletal remains line the Salton Sea beaches. (Staff photos)Governments often take actions -- or fail to act -- in wa...

    Stuffstr app can help you keep your unused items out of landfills

    Consumers can see item-specific recommendations for where their unused stuff should go

    You probably have a few items in your home that you’re not using. In fact, you probably have over $7,000 worth of unused items in your home, says John Atcheson, CEO of an app called Stuffstr.

    What if, instead of taking those items to the dump or gathering them up to take to a thrift store, you could get them into the hands of someone who could use them?

    That’s the idea behind Stuffstr, an app intended to “increase the use and recirculation of the things we buy and help people reduce clutter and keep things out of landfills."

    In addition to helping you declutter your home, Stuffstr can help ensure your items end up in the best possible place.

    Recirculating unused stuff

    "The average person throws away 70 pounds of clothing annually. It’s often easier to just throw things away,” Atcheson said, adding that we use 80% of our stuff less than once a month.

    Atcheson and co-founder Steve Gutmann, who both have backgrounds in the sharing economy, want to “bridge this gap by changing people’s relationship with their stuff.”

    While thrift stores such as Goodwill may be an easy way for consumers to get rid of items en masse, these stores aren't always the proper second home for certain items. The app aims to make sure your items end up somewhere where they are needed.

    Movement toward circular economy

    After inputting your items (either manually or by inputting emailed receipts), the app will show you where your donation should go based on what it is.

    For instance, Stuffstr might tell you that your item is best suited for a manufacturer recycling program or a used electronics collection service. Or perhaps it should go to a friend or an organization such as Habitat for Humanity.

    Additionally, Stuffstr will give you directions to its recommended donation spots and let you know if there are pickup options available. In the future, the Stuffstr team hopes to get retailers involved in the sustainability movement.

    “Longer-term, our goal is to help retailers move toward longer-lasting products and new business models that can improve both their bottom lines and our environment,” Atcheson told SustainableBrands.

    Currently, the app is only available for iOS

    You probably have a few items in your home that you’re not using. In fact, you probably have over $7,000 worth of unused items in your home, says John Atch...

    Harley-Davidson joins VW in emission-cheaters corner

    Harley to pay $15 million for selling "super tuners" that produce excessive emissions

    Volkswagen and Harley-Davidson are both sort of iconic. VW sort of symbolizes frugality and modesty. Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kane drives a VW. Harley motorcycles sort of symbolize wanton excess and machismo. Donald Trump would probably ride one, except for the hair issue.

    And, it turns out, they are similar in another way as well: both companies have been caught fiddling with emission control devices on their products. 

    The Justice Department revved up its publicity apparatus yesterday and announced that Harvey-Davidson has agreed to pay a $12 million fine and spend $3 million to help reduce air pollution.

    Harley sold about 340,000 "super tuners," devices that cause motorcycles to emit more air pollution than the company certified in its application to the Environmental Protection Agency, the announcement said. 

    “Given Harley-Davidson’s prominence in the industry, this is a very significant step toward our goal of stopping the sale of illegal aftermarket defeat devices that cause harmful pollution on our roads and in our communities,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden, head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. 

    “Anyone else who manufactures, sells, or installs these types of illegal products should take heed of Harley-Davidson’s corrective actions and immediately stop violating the law,” Cruden warned.

    Improved performance

    The tuners improve a motorcycle's performance but also increase emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides (NOx), just as the deceptive emission devices on VW diesel vehicles allowed the cars to emit more NOx than allowed.

    A Harley-Davidson spokesperson said the comparison to VW was inaccurate.

    "The Pro Super Tuner was not part of the motorcycle’s original equipment and was not used in certification testing or any pre-sale application at all. It was an aftermarket device used to adapt engine parameters for use with after-market equipment. And it is and was perfectly legal to use in race conditions," said Pat Sweeney, director of communication integration.

    “This settlement is not an admission of liability but instead represents a good faith compromise with the EPA on areas of law we interpret differently, particularly EPA’s assertion that it is illegal for anyone to modify a certified vehicle even if it will be used solely for off-road/closed-course competition,” said Ed Moreland, Harley-Davidson’s Government Affairs Director. “For more than two decades, we have sold this product under an accepted regulatory approach that permitted the sale of competition-only parts. In our view, it is and was legal to use in race conditions in the U.S.”

     

    Under the settlement, Harley-Davidson will stop selling the devices in the United States by August 23.  Harley-Davidson will also offer to buy back all such tuners in stock at Harley-Davidson dealerships across the country and destroy them. 

    The problem with excessive hydrocarbon and NOx emissions is that they contribute to harmful ground-level ozone and NOx also contributes to fine particulate matter pollution, which can cause serious health effects, including increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses. 

    Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk of health effects from exposure to these pollutants. 

    Besides trashing the illegal devices, Harley agreed to spend $3 million to fund a project that will help repair some of the damage the devices allegedly caused.

    Wood stove menace

    The project? Getting rid of wood stoves. Traditional wood stoves are popular in rural areas, especially mountainous ones, where there is plenty of renewable fuel -- namely, trees -- and not many natural gas lines. But put a lot of woodstoves in a neighborhood and the air quality quickly deteriorates.

    The smoke produced from wood stoves and fireplaces contains over 100 different chemical compounds, many of which are harmful and potentially carcinogenic, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. "Wood smoke pollutants include fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, dioxins, and furans," the department says in an advisory

    Many mountain communities -- including the posh ski resort Vail, Colorado -- prohibit wood-burning stoves or have rules about when they can be used. The Harley project will fund replacing the wood-burners with cleaner-burning wood stoves.  

    Volkswagen and Harley-Davidson are both sort of iconic. VW sort of symbolizes frugality and modesty. Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kane drives a VW. Harl...

    Following a healthy diet during pregnancy reduces risk of ADHD and behavioral problems, study finds

    Researchers say diets high in fat and sugar could be harmful to healthy development

    A new study from the King’s College in London and the University of Bristol reinforces how important it is for women to follow a healthy diet while they are pregnant.

    Researchers have found that pregnant women who eat foods that are high in fat and sugar content are more likely to have a child that develops attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    Additionally, the researchers say that diet during pregnancy may also predict the development of conduct problems (i.e. lying and fighting) during childhood. They believe that their findings could be helpful in supporting pregnant women to make healthy choices.

    “These results suggest that promoting a healthy prenatal diet may ultimately lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems of children. This is encouraging given that nutritional and epigenetic risk factors can be altered,” said Dr. Edward Barker.

    Importance of prenatal nutrition

    The researchers came to their conclusions after examining the behaviors of 164 children and the diets of their mothers during pregnancy; 83 of these children displayed early-onset conduct problems and 81 had low levels of conduct problems.

    Specifically, the researchers looked at how each mother’s nutritional choices affected DNA methylation of a gene called IGF2. IGF2 plays a major role in fetal brain development and is believed to be a factor in the development of ADHD.

    The researchers found that mothers who had poor prenatal nutrition had higher IGF2 methylation when compared to mothers who practiced better nutritional habits. The researchers posit that eating foods that are high in sugar and fat content correlate with higher IGF2 methylation, which could lead to ADHD and future behavioral problems.

    “Our finding that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy,” said Barker.

    Determining optimal nutrition

    Barker and his colleagues believe that their findings are important, but they do not believe that their work is done yet. Next, they hope to determine which nutritional steps should be taken by expecting mothers to reduce the risk of ADHD and behavioral problems.

    “We now need to examine more specific types of nutrition. For example, the types of fats such as omega 3 fatty acids, from fish, walnuts and chicken are extremely important for neural development. . . We already know that nutritional supplements for children can lead to lower ADHD and conduct problems, so it will be important for future research to examine the role of epigenetic changes in this process,” said Barker.

    The full study has been published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

    A new study from the King’s College in London and the University of Bristol reinforces how important it is for women to follow a healthy diet while they ar...

    Oil prices keep trying to push higher

    What's that going to mean for gasoline prices?

    Motorists are still enjoying relatively low gasoline prices, but they should keep a wary eye on the price of oil. This week it has marched consistently higher, with Brent crude now topping $50 a barrel.

    That's significant because the main reason gas prices are so low is the over-abundance of crude oil. For the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been trying to put U.S. shale oil producers out of business, and it has been fairly successful. The result has been a huge oversupply of oil and falling prices.

    But the latest data from the Department of Energy shows the glut of oil is getting smaller and the market has responded by bidding up the price of crude oil, expecting it will go even higher once OPEC goes back to normal production.

    Bull market for oil

    According to Business Insider, oil is about to re-enter a bull market phase, which could be bad news for consumers. In a bull market, the smart money bets a commodity will go higher, and the inflow of cash usually guarantees that result.

    One only has to look back to 2008, when the U.S. was already in a recession, but traders were convinced oil prices would keep going up – and they did, topping out well over $100 a barrel in July of that year.

    The Business Insider report cites four reasons why it thinks oil prices will keep going up; a weak dollar, a strong likelihood OPEC will trim production; falling U.S. stockpiles; and hedge funds now sense a change in direction.

    That last one could be huge. Once hedge funds start buying oil futures, look out. Prices could quickly escalate.

    Gas prices react

    Already, gasoline prices have started to react. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of self-serve regular is $2.14 a gallon, up a penny from the day before and up two cents from seven days ago.

    Still, that price is six cents lower than a month ago and – providing some perspective – 51 cents lower than a year ago. So even a sharp move higher in oil prices shouldn't drive gasoline prices to a level where drivers feel pain.

    In 2008, the national average price at the pump topped out at more than $4 gallon. That's not likely to happen again for one simple reason. The U.S. oil industry, which has basically gone into hibernation the last two years, can quickly spring to life should oil prices reach the level where it is profitable for them to do so.

    Fortunately for consumers, that price isn't much higher than the current price of oil.

    Motorists are still enjoying relatively low gasoline prices, but they should keep a wary eye on the price of oil. This week it has marched consistently hig...

    How to get noticed by the hiring manager

    Some job-seekers take things too far

    How desperate are you to get that job?

    There are good ways to be noticed by the hiring manager and then there are...

    Obviously, you want to stand out but there are limits -- at least for most of us.

    But a new survey by CareerBuilder found that some candidates are doing not just creative things but strange things to be noticed.

    “Candidates are realizing that an extraordinary cover letter and resume with strong references aren’t enough, that if you really want the gig, you have to stand out from the competition,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder. “Unfortunately, what many aren’t realizing is that the catch is making sure you do that in a professional, respectful way.”

    The good, the bad and the...

    Hiring managers gave the following examples of unusual tactics job seekers used to stand out, not always for the right reasons:

    • Candidate had a priest contact the hiring manager to ask for the candidate to be hired.
    • Candidate bought a first class upgrade to sit next to the hiring manager on a transatlantic flight.
    • During October, the candidate came dressed in a Halloween costume.
    • The candidate’s wife made homemade lavender soap bars for the hiring manager as a thank you for taking the time to interview the candidate.
    • The candidate asked the hiring manager to share an ice cream cone.
    • The candidate sent a pair of embroidered socks with a note saying he would knock the company’s socks off if hired.
    • The candidate showed up in his camp counselor attire with some of the children from the camp he worked for to show his leadership capabilities.
    • The candidate sent a shoe with a flower in it as a thank you after the interview. The note said: “Trying to get my foot in the door.”
    • The candidate mailed the hiring manager money in an envelope.
    • The candidate arrived at the interview in a white limousine, an hour early, dressed in a three-piece suit. The open position was middle-wage and had a required dress code of khakis, company button-down, and black shoes.
    • The candidate kissed the hiring manager.
    • The candidate gave the hiring manager a book on a subject he knew the candidate manager enjoyed.
    • The candidate wore a tie bearing the name of the company with whom he was interviewing.

    What to do

    To increase your chances of getting hired, you need to provide evidence that you're the ideal fit. Here are some ways to stand out:

    • Don’t forget the past: Giving a few examples of how your experience is transferable shows that you’ve thought through how you would fit into the organization.
    • Use social media to your advantage: Tweeting, blogging, and commenting about things you know builds up your credibility online. When an employer searches your name after an interview, you want them to find a knowledgeable individual who can fit well into their company.
    • Ask questions: Be sure to prepare a few good questions of your own. What's the corporate culture like? Are there opportunities to advance? Your questions communicate to your interviewer what’s most important to you. They can also position you as a solid candidate for the role and set you apart from the competition.
    • Showcase your numbers: Use as many facts and figures as you can when promoting yourself. How many people were affected by your work? By what percentage did you exceed your goals?
    • Send a note: If you feel the interview has gone well and you want to continue pursuing the opportunity, let the interviewer know. Tell him or her that you’ve enjoyed the interview, believe you can thrive in the role, and are interested in exploring the next step.
    How desperate are you to get that job? There are good ways to be noticed by the hiring manager and then there are...Obviously, you want to stand out...

    Eddie Bauer reports data breach

    It's the second retail intrusion report this week

    If you recently used a debit or credit card at Eddie Bauer, your card information could be compromised.

    The company reports its point of sale systems at its stores were infected with malware, giving hackers access to payment card data. If you used a card to make an online purchase at eddiebauer.com, no worries – the online portal was not affected.

    According to the investigation, in-store payments between January 2 and July 17 may have been compromised. “May have been,” because the company says not all cardholder transactions during this time were affected. The problem is, there is no way to know which ones were and which ones weren't.

    “The security of our customers’ information is a top priority for Eddie Bauer,” said CEO Mike Egeck, Chief Executive Officer of Eddie Bauer.

    Egeck says Eddie Bauer has already beefed up its cyber-security and no customers will be responsible for any fraudulent charges to their accounts.

    Getting to be a common occurrence

    This is just the latest in a string of data breaches in which hackers have targeted large retail operations. Security experts say these targets are more attractive than individual consumers because the payoff is potentially much greater.

    In recent years, major retailers like Michael's, Target, and TJ Maxx have been victims of point of sale data intrusions. Earlier this week, a major hotel chain announced it had become a victim.

    On Monday, HEI Hotels & Resorts, which operates Hyatt, Sheraton, Marriott, and Westin hotels, revealed that hackers had penetrated the company's point-of-sale systems. Consumers who used a card at the bar or to pay for a room may have been compromised, the company said.

    HEI reported malware in its system at 20 hotels across the country and says that data collection may have started as early as March, 2015.

    What do you do now?

    Eddie Bauer says not all transactions at its stores were affected, but it is still offering identity protection services to everyone who used a card to make a purchase during the period of the breach. The company said it has contracted with Kroll to provide free service for 12 months.

    Additionally, consumers who used a debit or credit card at Eddie Bauer during the affected period should notify their card issuer and ask for a new card.

    It is also a good idea to go back and review account statements beginning in January to look for unauthorized charges that might have been overlooked.

    If you recently used a debit or credit card at Eddie Bauer, your card information could be compromised.The company reports its point of sale systems at...

    Students and parents targeted in back-to-school scams

    Con men are demanding payment of a non-existent tax

    Have you ever heard of the “Federal Student Tax?” Well, that's because there is no such thing.

    But that's not stopping the con men who are working their back-to-school tax scams

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning taxpayers to be on the lookout for scammers pretending to be from the tax agency calling students and demanding that they wire money immediately to pay a fake “federal student tax.”

    If the person refuses, the scammer becomes aggressive and threatens to report the student to the police to be arrested. With schools around the nation re-opening, it's important for taxpayers to be particularly aware of this scheme going after students and parents.

    “Although variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round, they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike”, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “As students and parents enter the new school year, they should remain alert to bogus calls, including those demanding fake tax payments from students.”

    A variety of scams

    Scammers are constantly identifying new tactics to carry out their crimes in new and unsuspecting ways. This year, the IRS has seen them use a variety of schemes to fool taxpayers into paying money or giving up personal information. Some of these include:

    • Altering the caller ID on incoming phone calls in a “spoofing” attempt to make it seem like the IRS, the local police, or another agency is calling
    • Imitating software providers to trick tax professionals
    • Demanding fake tax payments using iTunes gift cards
    • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals
    • “Verifying” tax return information over the phone
    • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry

    If you receive an unexpected call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here are some of the telltale signs to help protect yourself.

    The IRS will never:

    • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
    • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
    • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
    • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

    What to do

    If you get a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

    • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
    • Search the web for telephone numbers scammers leave in your voicemail asking you to call back. Some of the phone numbers may be published online and linked to criminal activity.
    • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
    • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
    • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
    Have you ever heard of the “Federal Student Tax?” Well, that's because there is no such thing.But that's not stopping the con men who are working their...

    Researchers may have developed a safer opioid drug

    The new formula is said to be less addictive and avoids most side effects

    Opioid addiction has become a major health problem because these painkillers are very powerful and habit-forming.

    In addition to people who overdose while using them for recreation, millions more become addicted through legitimate use to treat pain. It has health professionals rethinking how they should treat pain in the first place.

    A team of international researchers just might have a solution. The scientists say they have developed a substitute for current opioid drugs that can block pain without the dangerous side effects.

    Their study, published in the online edition of the journal Nature, says the secret is building the drug from the ground up, not starting with an existing chemical compound.

    The scientists, including some from California and North Carolina, used a computer to explore four trillion chemical interactions before coming up with a formula that they say blocks pain as effectively as morphine, without the side effects.

    Doesn't affect breathing

    Mainly, the new drug does not interfere with breathing, which is the main cause of death from overdose. They say that in experiments with mice, it did not seem to be addictive. That contention, however, will require more research to conclusively prove.

    Prescription opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, coinciding with a surge in sales of these drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and methadone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 165,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdose from 1999 to 2014.

    “Opioid prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic,” the CDC says on its website. “Today, at least half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. In 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.”

    Why opioids?

    Opioid use has surged, in part, because physicians usually try to give patients as much relief from pain as possible. In the case of opioids, the drugs sometimes are just too powerful for the patient's own good.

    Brian Shoichet, PhD, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California San Francisco’s School of Pharmacy and co-senior author on the new paper, says powerful opioids have also made new surgeries possible because doctors are able to better control the pain afterwards.

    “But it’s obviously dangerous too,” he said. “People have been searching for a safer replacement for standard opioids for decades.”

    Have they found it? The researchers admit it's too early to tell. But they say successful tests for addiction on rats and other larger lab animals could be the first step toward clinical trials that could bring the drug to the marketplace.

    Opioid addiction has become a major health problem because these painkillers are very powerful and habit-forming.In addition to people who overdose whi...

    Are you using the right credit card?

    A J.D. Power study shows why you probably aren't

    What's in your wallet? According to J.D. Power, it's probably the wrong credit card.

    The market analysis firm reports at least one in five credit card customers are not using the card that best matches their spending patterns. It's not just a matter of convenience, it could be costing them money.

    For starters, many consumers carry a credit card that charges them an annual fee. Typically, cards only charge a fee if they can provide the kinds of benefits and rewards that more than offset it. In that case, it might pay to use a card with an annual fee.

    But for most consumers, the payoff simply isn't there. So they could be spending $50 to $75 a year needlessly.

    The J.D. Power study also found that customers using a card not synced to their needs spend less per month on their primary card, use their card for a smaller share of their total spending, and are more likely to switch cards.

    Alarming

    "The percentage of people carrying the wrong card is alarming, and that doesn't even include the 30% to 50% of people who have the right card, but could find a card that's an even better fit for them if they looked at other options," said Jim Miller, senior director of banking at J.D. Power.

    The problem, Miller says, is when consumers are mismatched to their credit card, they're less satisfied. He says when consumers have the right card, it's better for both customers and card issuers.

    The study also found that people usually pick a credit card for its rewards program. A consumer might like a particular retailer and choose a credit card that provides rewards in the form of points, redeemable for merchandise. But they might be much better off with a cash back rewards card that puts money in their pocket.

    The study found that 20% of consumers who carry a rewards card would be better off with a different rewards card or a lower interest rate card without rewards. Some simply aren't spending enough to earn rewards that offset the annual fee.

    Some could qualify for a card for people with excellent credit but are using a card targeting people with only fair credit. As a result, they pay much higher interest than they should.

    Do you really need an airline card?

    Miller notes that consumers seem to love airline travel cards that issue miles. However, he says these cards can be terrible choices unless you spend at least $500 a month. Without that spending level, he says you are unlikely to recoup the annual fee.

    To make sure you have the right credit card in your wallet, think about your spending patterns. A card that pays 6% back on gasoline purchases and 3% on groceries will be a much better fit than an airline card, if you only take two or three trips a year.

    What's in your wallet? According to J.D. Power, it's probably the wrong credit card.The market analysis firm reports at least one in five credit card c...

    Airline consumer complaints trend downward

    Tarmac delays are a different story

    Either the airlines are doing a better job of keeping their customers happy, or the consumers figure it doesn't do any good to gripe.

    Whatever the case, consumer complaints filed with the Department of Transportation (DOT) Aviation Consumer Protection Division were down 12.2 % during the first six months of this year from the same period a year ago.

    DOT says it received 8,376 consumer complaints from January to June 2016, compared with the 9,542 received during the first six months of 2015. For the month of June, there were 1,492 complaints about airline service -- down 27.1% from June 2015, but up 31.6% from May 2016.

    In addition, carriers reported canceling just 1.0% of their scheduled domestic flights in June 2016, versus the 1.8% cancellation rate posted in June 2015. Airlines posted an on-time arrival rate of 78.0% in June, compared with 74.8% a year earlier.

    Tarmac delays

    However, the news wasn’t so good for travelers waiting to become airborne, as airlines reported five tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights in June and four delays of more than four hours on international flights.

    Three of the domestic delays involved flights diverted from Denver to Colorado Springs on June 28 because of a thunderstorm in the area. All reported extended tarmac delays are investigated by DOT.

    In addition to the above areas, the consumer report includes data on chronically delayed flights, the causes of flight delays, statistics on mishandled baggage reports, data on oversales, and information about the total number of animals that died, were injured, or were lost during air transport in June.

    The full report is available on the DOT website.

    Either the airlines are doing a better job of keeping their customers happy, or the consumers figure it doesn't do any good to gripe.Whatever the case,...

    Sprint vs. T-Mobile: it's getting nasty

    Both say they are getting rid of data plans

    On the heels of AT&T's announcement that it is doing away with overage charges on its data plan, T-Mobile upped the ante Thursday, announcing it is doing away with data plans altogether.

    It says its new Un-carrier 12 will offer customers unlimited talk, text, and data for one price. Company CEO John Legere announced the move in a video blog.

    “The era of the data plan is over,” said Legere. “After Un-carrier 12, the wireless industry will never be the same again.”

    Who's idea was it?

    But shortly afterward, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure took to Twitter to accuse T-Mobile of stealing the idea. It turns out Sprint was preparing to launch essentially the same promotion on Friday, but went ahead and released it Thursday.

    “@tmobile & @JohnLegere, so nice of you to follow us after our successful #unlimited marketing trials,” Claure Tweeted from his personal account.

    But reportedly, the language was much harsher. CNBC reported that Claure referred to Legere as “a con man” in a previous Tweet, that appears to have now been deleted.

    High stakes

    The bruising rhetoric may reflect what is at stake. With the U.S. cell phone market saturated at this point, carriers must now grow by taking one another's customers. By offering packages that put no limits on data, smaller players like T-Mobile and Sprint may see the opportunity to feast on larger rivals like Verizon and AT&T.

    T-Mobile's Un-carrier 12 is built around the T-Mobile ONE plan. It offers unlimited talk, text, and high-speed data. Under the plan, four lines cost an average of $40 per line and additional lines can be added for $20 a month with auto pay. It's $5 more a month per line without auto pay.

    In announcing T-Mobile's plan, Legere saved his barbs for his larger rivals.

    “Only T-Mobile’s network can handle something as huge as destroying data limits,” he said. “Dumb and Dumber can’t do this. They’ve been running away from unlimited data for years now, because they built their networks for phone calls, not for how people use smartphones today. I hope AT&T and Verizon try to follow us. In fact, I challenge them to try.”

    Sprint Unlimited Freedom

    Sprint's expedited press release gives its pricing nearly identical to T-Mobile's. The argument is over who came up with it first.

    Under Sprint's Unlimited Freedom plan, a family of four can get four lines for $60 for the first line, $40 for the second and $30 each for the third and fourth lines. Sprint said it is also introducing a plan called Unlimited Unhook'd. Customers will get:

    • Unlimited talk, text, and optimized streaming videos, gaming, and music
    • Unlimited nationwide 4G LTE data for most everything else
    • $50 a month for one line
    • $30 a month for a second line up to five total lines

    “Wireless customers want simple, worry-free and affordable wireless plans on a reliable network,” Claure said. "There can be a lot of frustration and confusion around wireless offers, with too much focus on gigabytes and extra charges.”

    Disruptive forces have rocked the cellular industry over the last couple of years, as restrictive two-year contracts are now largely a thing of the past. The battle now, apparently, is to see who can take it to the next level and be the biggest disrupter.

    Regardless of who it is, consumers are likely to be the winners.

    On the heels of AT&T; announcement that it is doing away with overage charges on its data plan, T-Mobile upped the ante Thursday, announcing it is doing aw...

    Uber launching fleet of self-driving Volvos in Pittsburgh

    The companies are getting the jump on Google, Tesla, and others in the autonomous car derby

    If you summon an Uber in Pittsburgh later this month, don't be surprised if the driver appears to be doing nothing. Uber is launching a fleet of self-driving Volvos -- complete with a human sitting in the driver's seat, just in case he's needed.

    It's the result of a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, home to an ambitious robotics department. With the announcement, Uber is striking a blow at Google, which has been testing self-driving cars in California but has not yet put any of them into commercial service.

    Rides in the self-driving Uber Volvos will be free initially. 

    Tesla and Ford are also developing self-driving cars, but Uber and CMU appear to have pulled into the fast lane. 

    Dozens of sensors

    The Pittsburgh Uber fleet will consist of 100 Volvo XC90 SUVs outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Only a handful have been delivered so far. Eventually, Uber hopes to remove the drivers from its vehicles.

    Unlike Google, Tesla, and Ford, Uber has no plans to build its own cars, according to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. It is, however, collaborating with other manufacturers and says the deal with Volvo is not exclusive.

    Besides working with other passenger cars, Uber also has its eye on the freight market, according to a Bloomberg report. It's working with a company called Otto, which has developed software that enables big-rig trucks to operate autonomously. While Uber isn't thought to be interested in over-the-road trucking, it does reportedly have its eye on local deliveries of meals and other merchandise.

    Likewise, Volvo plans to use what it learns from the project to speed development of its own self-driving cars.

    "This alliance places Volvo at the heart of the current technological revolution in the automotive industry,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive of Volvo Cars

    Not everyone is thrilled with the pace of development. Safety advocates say that public highways shouldn't be used as proving grounds, and federal regulators are looking into a Tesla crash in Florida that killed the driver.

    If you summon an Uber in Pittsburgh later this month, don't be surprised if the driver appears to be doing nothing. Uber is launching a fleet of self-drivi...

    Pokémon Go distractions lead to real-life consequences

    Research shows that players are more likely to get into an accident by being less aware

    If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you may have missed the explosive popularity of Pokémon Go. Released in July, players of the game are able to catch, train, and battle Pokémon by walking around in the real world. However, many experts say that playing the game can be risky.

    The problem, they say, is that players may be so absorbed by what is happening on their phone screens that they inadvertently put themselves in danger by tripping and falling or walking into traffic. One researcher says that the game’s design may be partially to blame.

    “The problem with Pokémon Go, in my opinion, is that it leads to a whole new level of not only slowing down, but moving in a particular direction to chase your Pokémon,” said Conrad Earnest, a research scientist at Texas A&M University’s Exercise and Sport Nutrition Lab.

    Distracted walking

    The problem, Earnest says, is two-fold. First, players are more likely to engage in dangerous walking habits when using the app. His research shows that distracted walkers are more likely to slow down, take more steps, and increase the height of their steps to get over obstacles. This, he says, leads to an increased likelihood of trip-and-fall accidents.

    The second problem is that players are not paying as much attention to their surroundings and tend to blindly follow the prompts of the game in order to catch a Pokémon.

    “Players are more likely to cross at a time when the crosswalk signs aren’t giving a clear go. They’re more likely to cross in the middle of the street as opposed to a crosswalk. I think Pokémon Go is the potential recipe for more injuries and more pedestrian or traffic accidents,” he said.

    Dangerous driving  

    The dangers don’t just stop with those who choose to walk and play, though. Against the advice of the app, many players choose to play the game and drive at the same time. These distracted drivers can be extremely dangerous to those around them, something that Earnest knows all too well.

    “A friend of mine was riding his unicycle in a low and slow traffic area and was crossing the street in a crosswalk. A woman in a car was chasing a Pokémon, ran a stop sign and hit him,” Earnest said – adding that his friend ended up being OK, albeit a little sore.

    “The more distractions you throw in the mix when you’re trying to get from point A to point B, the greater likelihood of you running into a problem,” he concluded.

    If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you may have missed the explosive popularity of Pokémon Go. Released in July, players of the g...

    Diabetes medication may have other health benefits, study shows

    Researchers believe linagliptin may counter arterial stiffness, a major contributor to cardiovascular disease

    A new study from the University of Missouri has found that a medication used to treat diabetes may also be helpful in preventing arterial stiffness – a common condition for those who are obese or suffering from Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    The discovery comes at an opportune time, as many experts concede that obesity is a serious epidemic in the U.S. They blame many of the health-related problems of obesity on the “western diet,” which is typically high in fat and loaded with refined sugars. The study, which tested the diabetes medication linagliptin on mice, shows promising signs for reversing arterial stiffness.

    “Our previous studies showed that young female mice consuming a mostly western diet not only gained weight, but also exhibited arterial stiffening consistent with obese premenopausal women. Our current study sought to understand what effects, if any, the diabetes medication linagliptin had on preventing vascular stiffness,” said Dr. Vincent DeMarco, lead author of the study.

    Vascular benefits

    For the purposes of the study, several groups of mice were fed a western diet for four months. Certain groups were given doses of linagliptin, while others were not. At the end of the four-month period, researchers measured arterial stiffness in each specimen to record any changes.

    The researchers found that mice that were not given linagliptin gained weight and developed a five-fold increase in arterial stiffness. Mice who were given the medication, on the other hand, showed no sign of arterial stiffness at the end of the four months.

    “The mice fed a western diet without receiving linagliptin gained weight and developed aortic stiffness. However, a big surprise to us was an almost total prevention of aortic stiffening in mice that were fed the western diet along with linagliptin, even though this group gained as much weight as the other mice,” said DeMarco.

    Further testing needed

    The lack of aortic stiffness after being given linagliptin signals that the medication could have potentially huge benefits for consumers struggling with obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. However, the researchers admit that there is more work to be done before the general public can reap these benefits.

    “Based on the results of our study, it is tempting to speculate that linagliptin could target arterial stiffness and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, results from clinical trials already in progress will be needed to determine what, if any, future role linagliptin could play in the management of obesity-related cardiovascular disease,” said DeMarco.

    The full study has been published in Cardiovascular Diabetology

    A new study from the University of Missouri has found that a medication used to treat diabetes may also be helpful in preventing arterial stiffness – a com...

    Should glasses accompany your child back to school?

    Here's how you can tell

    Throughout the school year, your child’s vision will be a key player in their academic endeavors. From reading what's on the chalkboard to taking in the contents of their textbook, children’s eyes have their work cut out for them.

    Nearly 80% of what children learn during their first 12 years is through their vision, according to the American Optometric Association.

    For this reason, parents should make sure their child’s vision is normal and healthy before the first school bell rings. In young children, however, vision problems can be tricky to diagnose. So how can you tell if your child may need glasses?

    Signs of vision problems

    "Glasses may be the most important back-to-school supply many children get this year," said Eileen Gable, OD, an eye specialist at Loyola Medicine. "Vision problems in young children often go undetected and are difficult for family members to identify."

    Gable recommends parents keep an eye out for the following problems, which may signal that your child could benefit from a pair of glasses.

    • Squinting. If your child has to adjust their behavior in order to see properly, vision problems may be to blame. Watch for signs of squinting, head tilting, or body position changes.
    • Losing interest quickly. Kids won't typically complain of blurry vision, but Gable says they will lose interest more quickly if visual activity is difficult. If your child loses interest quickly, it may be time for a visit to the eye doctor.
    • Changes in schoolwork or behavior. If your child’s teacher notices a change in their behavior or if kids have difficulty attaining good grades, your child may be having vision problems.

    What to do

    To catch visions problems as soon as they arise, Gable says it’s a good idea to have your child’s eyes examined yearly, not just at the onset of problems. 

    Look for an eye doctor who has experience working with children. In addition to experience, doctors should have a way of explaining things so that kids can understand.

    When kids’ vision problems are corrected, Gable says the sky's the limit.

    "I love seeing the joyous sense of wonder and excitement when a child can see properly for the first time. Wearing glasses can make a student's future so much brighter."

    Throughout the school year, your child’s vision will be a key player in their academic endeavors. From reading what's on the chalkboard to taking in the co...

    The good and bad news about underwater homeowners

    Negative equity down sharply since the housing collapse, but still pretty high

    It's not as bad as it was, but it's still not very good.

    That's the bottom line of Zillow's latest report on negative equity in residential real estate, the percentage of homeowners who still owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

    Nationally, 13.7% of urban homeowners are underwater, compared to 11.2% of homeowners in the suburbs.

    The numbers, of course, present something of a “glass is half full/empty” scenario. While the percentage is double digits five years after the housing market began its recovery, it is down sharply from the nearly one-third of homeowners who found themselves underwater on their mortgages immediately after the housing market crash.

    At that time, real estate values plunged because so many homes financed with subprime mortgages had gone into foreclosure. Home values had inflated to unrealistic proportions because almost anyone could qualify for some kind of mortgage, increasing demand for homes beyond anything sustainable.

    Bad timing

    People who purchased homes in 2006 or 2007, when prices reached their peak, were the most likely to find themselves owning tens of thousands of dollars more on their homes than they could sell them for. Not only could they not sell their homes, they could not refinance them either. That led to many foreclosures when homeowners who purchased homes with low “teaser” interest rates could not refinance to a lower rate and more affordable payment.

    Now, eight years after the housing market collapsed and five years after it started to recover, the Zillow Negative Equity Report finds a remarkable parity between urban and suburban property. That's largely due to the fact that home prices recovered sharply in cities because younger home buyers prefer an urban setting.

    But Zillow found some metro areas where the spread between urban and suburban negative equity rates is significant. Cleveland and Detroit have the biggest difference – 13.6 and 10.8 percentage points, respectively. In these metros, urban home values aren't reflecting the national trend and are trailing behind the overall region's recovery.

    Nearly everyone was affected

    "At its worst, negative equity touched all kinds of homeowners in all kinds of markets," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "The type of community a given home was in – urban or suburban – mattered little.”

    That's not the case now. In some cities, new residents have flocked to the urban core, renovating properties and revitalizing neighborhoods. It's these developments, says Gudell, that has helped to raise urban home values.

    The overall rise in home prices over the last five years has also helped shrink the negative equity rate from crisis levels. And for the first time since then, Zillow notes, none of the largest housing markets in the nation have negative equity rates over 20%.

    It's not as bad as it was, but it's still not very good.That's the bottom line of Zillow's latest report on negative equity in residential real estate,...

    AT&T drops overage charges from data plans

    When you go over the limit, the speed drops

    Though it was largely overshadowed by competing plans from Sprint and T-Mobile that eliminate data plans, AT&T is addressing the overage issue.

    The carrier is sticking with its measured data mobile plan, but is eliminating added cost when you exceed your monthly allowance. Standard practice in the past has been for carriers to give you more high-speed data for the rest of the month, but to charge you for it.

    Starting Sunday AT&T customers can choose from the AT&T Mobile Share plans that completely do away with overage charges. Instead of paying extra for additional high-speed data, a customer going over the monthly limit will see data speed reduced to a maximum of 128 kbps for the rest of the billing cycle.

    The company has rolled out a revamped plan line-up, allowing customers to choose the amount of data that meets their needs. As an example, AT&T points to the current 5GB Mobile Share plan with two lines, for $100 a month.

    An extra gigabyte at the same price

    That plan is moving to 6GB a month at the same price. For consumers who need more data, there is a plan with 10GB at $120 a month. Neither plan would incur overage charges should the customer exceed his or her allowance.

    Monthly plans for one line start at 1GB of data for $30 a month and go all the way up to 30GB for $135. The plans include rollover data, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited texting from the U.S. to 120 countries.

    Customers who need even more data on a monthly basis can choose from 40GB to 100GB Mobile Share Advantage plans. Business accounts offer up to 200GB per month.

    AT&T's move reflects the evolving industry trend. Verizon recently introduced “Safety Mode,” which it says addresses the overage issue, giving customers more control over their data.

    Smaller rival T-Mobile eliminated overage charges two years ago and has now joined Sprint in doing away with data pans altogether.  

    One drawback to a measured data mobile plan is the added cost when you exceed your monthly allowance. Standard practice in the past has been for carriers t...

    Are smartphones in cars just too distracting?

    Drivers are now more likely to be accessing apps than texting

    For years now safety experts have preached to drivers about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. And though people still do it, many are getting the message. Fewer admit to doing it than in the past.

    But the danger isn't going away, and it appears to be tied directly to the smartphone. Drivers – especially young drivers – aren't texting as much because they are too busy using apps while they drive.

    A survey released this month by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students against Destructive Driving (SADD) found just 27% of teen drivers report texting behind the wheel but 68% admit to using an app, usually reading or posting to social media.

    Needless to say, the experts stress, that's not just as bad – it's worse. But teen drivers overwhelmingly don't see it that way. Eighty percent of the teens in the study insist that using an app while driving is not distracting.

    Not a distraction, teens say

    “Teens as a whole are saying all the right things, but implicitly believe that using their phone while driving is safe and not a stressor or distraction behind the wheel,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD.

    Teens aren't the only offenders. Plenty of adults of all ages have been caught texting or posting to Snapchat behind the wheel. A Pennsylvania TV station aired a photo supplied by a viewer that appears to show a woman steering with one foot while she uses both hands to access her smartphone.

    Newly-passed state laws against texting while driving appear to have had little impact, even though insurance companies will raise your rates should you be ticketed for an infraction.

    The SADD study suggests many teens consider navigation and music apps on their phones as “utilities,” lessening the perception of dangers of accessing them while driving. Vehicle Bluetooth systems that provide hands-free access for smartphone apps through the vehicle's infotainment system may have fostered what some believe to be a false sense of security.

    AAA study

    A 2013 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found even hands-free devices are dangerous, because the mental workload and distractions can slow reaction. Drivers scan the road less and miss visual cues, potentially resulting in not seeing items right in front of them, including stop signs and pedestrians.

    It is in this light that automakers are speeding up efforts to produce self-driving cars. While some safety advocates worry these autonomous vehicles will be inherently dangerous, there are plenty of others who think they will make the roads safer, because the people who would ordinarily be driving them are in the back seat, updating their Facebook profiles.

    In the meantime, insurance companies make clear that it isn't just texting that is the problem. It's the device itself, and all the things a driver may be tempted to do with it. Dr. William Horrey, a research scientist at Libery Mutual, says it's not the apps that pose the danger. It's how people interact with them.

    For years now safety experts have preached to drivers about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. And though people still do it, many are getting the me...

    Leading indicators rise for second straight month

    Initial jobless applications continued their downward trend

    A key forecasting gauge of economic activity has good news for a second consecutive month.

    The Conference Board reports its Leading Economic Index (LEI) rose 0.4% in July to 124.3, following an increase of 0.3% the month before.

    Last month's advance by the LEI, said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board, suggests “moderate economic growth should continue through the end of 2016. There may even be some moderate upside growth potential if recent improvements in manufacturing and construction are sustained, and average consumer expectations don’t deteriorate further.”

    The LEI is a composite average of several individual leading indicators. It's constructed to summarize and reveal common turning point patterns in economic data in a clearer and more convincing manner than any individual component -- primarily because it smooths out some of the volatility of individual components.

    The ten components of the LEI include:

    • Average weekly hours for manufacturing
    • Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
    • Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods, and materials
    • Institute for Supply Management Index of New Orders
    • Manufacturers' new orders and nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
    • Building permits and new private housing units
    • Stock prices and 500 common stocks
    • Leading Credit Index™
    • Interest rate spread and 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
    • Average consumer expectations for business conditions

    Jobless claims

    Another week of declines in first-time applications for state unemployment benefits.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial claims were down by 4,000 in the week ending August 13, to a seasonally adjusted 262,000. That marks 76 consecutive weeks of initial claims below 300,000, the longest streak since 1970.

    The four-week moving average, which many economists consider a more accurate barometer of the labor market, totaled 265,250 -- an increase of 2,500 from the previous week's unrevised average.

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    A key forecasting gauge of economic activity has good news for a second consecutive month.The Conference Board repor...

    General Motors recalls model year 2016 Buick Veranos

    The fuel line may contact the surface of the engine

    General Motors is recalling 189 model year 2016 Buick Veranos manufactured February 16, 2016, to May 12, 2016, equipped with a 2.0 liter turbocharged engine.

     

    The engine fuel line assembly may be misrouted, allowing the fuel line to contact the surface of the engine. If the fuel line contacts the engine, the fuel line may wear, resulting in a leak and increasing the risk of a fire.

     

    What to do

     

    GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel line assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on August 18, 2016.

     

    Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300. GM's number for this recall is 54180.

     

     

     

    General Motors is recalling 189 model year 2016 Buick Veranos manufactured February 16, 2016, to May 12, 2016, equipped with a 2.0 liter turbocharged engin...

    Why ransomware is about to get more dangerous

    Attackers are franchising their malware

    Hackers may be forgiven if they think they have hit the jackpot. Their ransomware attacks, which began a few years ago, have proven to be money in the bank.

    Victims who are unfortunate enough to click on a link in an email download a program that encrypts every file on their computer or network. They can access nothing until they pay a Bitcoin ransom – usually a few hundred dollars, and receive a key to unlock their files.

    Besides individual consumers, attackers also target corporations and organizations that might not have the most sophisticated protocols in place. It's a scam that pays off just about every time.

    New and dangerous wrinkle

    Now, there's a new and dangerous wrinkle that has law enforcement officials even more worried. Symantec reports some clever ransomware developers have created a Trojan called Shark. The software is being provided to hackers who want to get into the ransomware game.

    It's a turnkey product, meaning the novice hacker doesn't have to possess a lot of special skills to launch the attacks. The developers of Shark get 20% of any ransoms collected.

    In other words, the ransomware enterprise appears to be evolving into a franchise. Shark is essentially the McDonald's of ransomware.

    Exploding threat

    That means this growing cyber threat could explode in the coming months. To try and counter it, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is convening a technology seminar September 7 to explore ways to deal with the growing threat.

    In the meantime, the FTC says businesses and consumers need to exercise extreme caution with email, even messages that appear to be from familiar sources. Clicking on links in these messages can lead to paying a ransom to free the files.

    Beyond using care in handling emails, the FTC says a good defense against ransomware is backing up everything on a system. However, if you back up to an external hard drive, disconnect it from your system when you aren't in the process of backing up files. That's because ransomware encrypts every file in your system, including those on other connected drives.

    Hackers may be forgiven if they think they have hit the jackpot. Their ransomware attacks, which began a few years ago, have proven to be money in the bank...

    Relief efforts underway to help Louisiana flood victims

    Consumers can help, but are encouraged to use care in making donations

    For many, it produced flashbacks to Hurricane Katrina almost 11 years ago. Cars mostly submerged on city streets. People standing on roof tops waiting to be rescued.

    Massive rains in southeast Louisiana have sent rivers over their banks, flooding wide areas of the state, with the death toll at 11 so far.

    "The current flooding in Louisiana is the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy," said Brad Kieserman, vice president, Disaster Services Operations and Logistics for the Red Cross. "The Red Cross is mounting a massive relief operation, which we anticipate will cost at least $30 million and that number may grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation."

    How to donate

    The Red Cross has set up a special online portal where consumers can make a donation. Those who want to help should donate to well known, reputable organizations and not respond to telemarketer or email solicitations from groups you've never heard of. In nearly all cases, those are scams.

    This time, New Orleans has been spared the worst of the flooding. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has set up the NOLA Pay It Forward Fund, asking the city's residents to make donations to help those displaced by the flood waters.

    “Within the past several days, approximately 20,000 people have been rescued from their homes due to swollen rivers from record-breaking rainfall,” Landrieu said. “Proceeds from this fund will support nonprofit organizations working tirelessly in the affected areas to provide assistance and care for residents with emergency needs.”

    GoFundMe campaigns

    On Tuesday GoFundMe reported that more than 2000 GoFundMe campaigns to help Louisiana had been established and had initially raised over $1.2 million. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landy said that, while he is gratified by the response, he is working with GoFundMe to make sure all the donations go to help flood victims.

    Retail businesses have also responded. U-Haul of Northern Louisiana has offered 30 days of free self-storage and U-Box container usage to people in Lafayette, La., one of the hardest hit areas. Lowes has announced it is donating $500,000 to the American Red Cross Louisiana relief effort.

    The recovery costs are likely to be massive, and the economic tragedy for many homeowners is that their losses will not be covered by their homeowners insurance. Unless there is a separate flood insurance policy, most homeowner policies do not cover damage caused by flooding.

    For many, it produced flashbacks to Hurricane Katrina almost 11 years ago. Cars mostly submerged on city streets. People standing on roof tops waiting to b...

    Study shows U.S. consumers are saving more for retirement

    Younger demographics are leading this financially-conscious movement

    About a year ago, a survey showed that U.S. consumers were becoming less inclined to save for retirement because they didn’t want to sacrifice their current quality of life. While they considered tools like a 401(k) plan to be integral towards future security, many just weren’t willing to commit to it.

    Now, a new study conducted by Bankrate.com shows a reversing trend; it says that more American workers are saving for retirement. Experts say that this could be a positive sign for a growing economy.

    “More working Americans are saving more for retirement and fewer aren’t saving at all,” said Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s Chief Financial Analyst. “Both readings are indicative of an improving economy, where people are earning more and saving more.”

    Gen Xers and Millennials lead the way

    The results of the study show that 21% of working Americans are now saving more for retirement than they were a year ago, the strongest improvement in five years. Additionally, fewer people are completely forgoing the saving process; only 5% of survey respondents admitted that they hadn’t saved anything this year or last year, the lowest result in the history of the study.

    So which generations are leading the way in this new financially-conscious movement? Experts say that consumers belonging to Generation X (age 34-54) are saving the most, followed by Millennials (age 18-25). Members of the Silent Generation (age 71+) are saving the least, followed by younger Baby Boomers (ae 52-61).

    McBride says that members of the Silent Generation may be less inclined to save because they are reaching the phase of life where they will be entering retirement; however, not saving can still be very problematic for this group and Baby Boomers.

    “Younger Baby Boomers saving less for retirement than last year is troubling because they’re more likely in their peak earning years and should be utilizing higher catch-up contribution limits to get on track for retirement. Those in the Silent Generation that are saving less may be a function of earning less as they phase into retirement,” he said. 

    About a year ago, a survey showed that U.S. consumers were becoming less inclined to save for retirement because they didn’t want to sacrifice their curren...

    Likelihood of flooded cars for sale just increased

    Watch out for flooded cars from Louisiana in the coming weeks

    Authorities in several southern states are already warning consumers who plan to purchase used cars in the coming weeks to be vigilant for cars that have been underwater.

    Even before the flood waters have receded in eight Louisiana parishes, there is concern that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of vehicles submerged in the widespread flooding will be obtained by unscrupulous operators and resold to unsuspecting consumers.

    “This flooding has already caused terrible damage, and we don’t want to see anyone else suffer down the road,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. “If you’re shopping for a car, be on high alert for flood cars.”

    After Superstorm Sandy, flooded cars from New York and New Jersey made their way onto some used car lots. It seems to happen after every major flood.

    Title should list flood damage

    The original owners of the cars are compensated if they are covered by insurance, and the cars are then sold for salvage. The law in nearly every state requires the title to clearly show that. But when titles are illegally altered and the car is cleaned and detailed, consumers might not realize they've been scammed for weeks or months.

    But there are ways to tell if the car you're considering has spent any time under water. Cooper offers these tips:

    • First, ask if the car has been flooded. The dealer may lie, but it's worth asking
    • Get a vehicle history report on the car
    • Ask for a copy of the title. Check the date and place of transfer and see if the time and location coincides with a flooded area. Another step is to simply look at the rear of the vehicle, where dealers typically afix their decal. If the dealer is from southeast Louisiana, you may have a problem.
    • Have the car examined by an independent mechanic. A mechanic can easily spot a car that's been submerged.
    • Check for rust, which can quickly form once a car has been underwater.
    • Test all the electrical systems to make sure they work properly

    If you think you have unknowingly purchased a flooded vehicle, file a complaint with your state attorney general's consumer protection division.

    Authorities in several southern states are already warning consumers who plan to purchase used cars in the coming weeks to be vigilant for cars that have b...

    Autism friendly initiatives making shopping less stressful for kids

    Low lights and no music are helping retailers create a sensory-friendly experience

    For children with autism, the chaos of back-to-school shopping is felt on a different level. Busy department stores can be overwhelming with their bright lights, music, and hordes of people.

    For this reason, JC Penney decided to host a special shopping event for families of children with autism and special needs. In the interest of making back-to-school shopping a more sensory friendly experience, the retailer dimmed the lights and cut the music for two hours.

    “We’re in about 50 percent lighting,” General Manager Jay Tollett told CW33. Beyond reducing brightness and turning off the music, employees were asked to wear neutral colors and no perfume on August 14.

    Autism-friendly service

    In addition to coming clad in neutrals, employees were trained to provide autism-friendly customer service as part of a collaboration with the Dallas Independent School District.

    The shopping event was met with appreciation from parents like Lacinetta Coxon, a mother of two autistic daughters. Coxon said she felt understood and included rather than “on the outskirts.”

    Employees were just as happy to provide the experience, said Tollett, who hopes to make the event an annual tradition at more locations.

    Other initiatives 

    JC Penney isn’t the first retailer to roll out a welcome mat to families of children with autism. In Glasgow, an entire shopping mall has taken steps to become more autism friendly. In 2014, 61 Toys R Us locations in England became autism friendly for a day.

    One Walmart-owned store in England introduced a "quiet hour" every Saturday morning to make shopping less stressful for kids with autism and disablities. 

    "When we open our doors, you will be able to hear a pin drop," store manager Simon Lea told the Manchester Evening News. "We have a lot of disabled customers and we want to make the shop better for them."

    A shopping mall in Holyoke, Massachussettes has also introduced a sensory-friendly shopping experience, complete with sensory-friendly time with Santa near the holidays.

    For children with autism, the chaos of back-to-school shopping is felt on a different level. Busy department stores can be overwhelming with their bright l...

    Sprint joins Southwest, Delta in bad backup derby

    9-1-1 service fails throughout the Washington, D.C., area

    Everyone tries to be on their best behavior in Washington, hoping Congress won't get annoyed and crush them. Too bad no one told Sprint about that before it joined Southwest and Delta airlines in staging a spectacular display of poor redundancy.

    It all started Tuesday when the Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department issued a warning that some cell phone calls weren't getting through to its 9-1-1 center. Then it narrowed it down a bit more, pinpointing Sprint as the carrier that was having problems.

    As the day wore on, the problem spread to D.C. and on into Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the tristate peninsula known locally as the Eastern Shore. Sprint chimed in and said that some landline calls were also going nowhere.

    What could it have been?

    Like the Southwest and Delta failures, the Sprint debacle started small and then quickly got out of hand when backups didn't work as expected and small failures cascaded into big ones.

    Sprint said a fire in D.C. caused problems at Sprint's data center in Reston, Va. How a fire across the street from Sprint's switch in D.C. caused issues 20 miles away wasn't quite clear, but apparently, emergency Sprint generators in D.C. didn't kick in as they were supposed to and, as so often happens, one thing led to another.

    Things were apparently back on track Wednesday morning. As far as is known, no one was harmed because of the outage, but it was another reminder that the systems consumers count on to be there when they need them don't always come through. 

    And by the way, emergency responders for years have insisted on referring to the nationwide emergency number as "9-1-1" -- with dashes -- on the theory that if we call it "nine-eleven," panicked callers may look in vain for the "11" button on their keypad. 

    Could be, but in the age of texting, do we really expect anyone to text "9," then "-," then "1," then "-" and so on?

    Just asking.

    Everyone tries to be on their best behavior in Washington, hoping Congress won't get annoyed and crush them. Too bad no one told Sprint about that before i...

    Google offers how-to-vote information

    No, it's not telling you which candidate to vote for

    We ask Google for information, instructions, and directions everyday, so why not ask it how to vote? No, not which candidate to vote for, but how to register, when and where to go to the polls, and other information that's specific to our locality.

    After all, the United States may be the world's greatest democracy, but it is also the world's greatest patchwork of local laws and customs and few things differ more from one place to another than local registration and voting procedures.

    Google is riding to the rescue with what it calls an in-depth search result when consumers use the search term "how to vote." You may have to specify which state you're in but, let's be honest, Google pretty much knows everything about you, so it will most likely get it right even without your input.

    Here's what Google coughed up when we asked it how to vote in hotly contested Virginia:

    Google isn't the only company to think of doing this, of course, but it is by far the largest and most far-reaching. Google's special search does seem to downplay one vital piece of information -- whether you're already registered to vote, although it does provide accurate information on how to register, although it provides an obscure link under the heading "More voting info." The link will take you to your state voter registration site.

    Whether you are already registered is something you can also find out at Vote.org, which has an "Am I Registered to Vote" search function that will take you to your state registrar. We tried that out as well and found that, sure enough, it had our voter info, including precinct number, polling place, and hours of operation.

    Will Google's efforts make a difference this year? No one can really say. Experts already disagree on whether to expect a record turn-out this year. Since both candidates have sky-high unlikeability ratings, you can argue it either way.

    Some say that since both candidates are roundly despised by a significant slice of the popular, turn-out will be low. Others say it will be high, for just the same reason, theorizing that those who really, truly, vehemently dislike one candidate may be highly motivated to go vote for the other one. 

    Who's right? We'll know in a few months.  

    We ask Google for information, instructions, and directions everyday, so why not ask it how to vote? No, not which candidate to vote for, but how to regist...

    Student loan borrowers are paying for free services

    Consumer groups urge for a federal crackdown on the debt relief industry

    Back during the foreclosure crisis, debt relief companies took to the cable TV airwaves to promise consumers help getting out from under debt – for a fee.

    The foreclosure crisis is now pretty much history, so the pitch now is to help students get out from under crushing student loan debt – for a fee.

    Student Debt Crisis, a consumer advocacy group, warns consumers to ignore these pitches while pushing the U.S. Department of Education to crack down on them.

    According to the group, student loan borrowers are the targets of aggressive marketing by companies that promise debt relief. The group says clients of these firms pay on average $600 for debt relief services.

    But according to Student Debt Crisis, these same services are free. It's calling on the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to issue cease and desist letters to these companies, establish policies that educate borrowers and protect them from scams, and use available enforcement tools to shut down companies that are found guilty of misleading borrowers and violating federal law.

    'Rein in these private companies'

    “It is time for the federal government to rein in these private companies that take advantage of thousands of distressed student loan borrowers across the country,” the group said in a blog posting. “Companies that advertise student debt relief, forgiveness, and consolidation services that are completely free of charge need to be closely monitored and shutdown if found guilty of misrepresenting themselves or violating federal consumer protection laws.”

    The Department of Education is already on record warning student loan borrowers not to pay for free services. In a recent blog posting, the department cautioned consumers paying back student loans not to fall for pitches that sound too good to be true. As examples, it pointed to internet ads claiming President Obama could easily forgive student loan debts.

    The government agency says that, while it is true there are some programs available to assist student loan borrowers, there is no fee for applying.

    Want to find out more? Here's the link for information about a legitimate way to reduce your debt. Here's the link to information about how to reduce payments.

    And it bears repeating – there is absolutely no charge for accessing these programs.

    Back during the foreclosure crisis, debt relief companies took to the cable TV airwaves to promise consumers help getting out from under debt – for a fee....

    Delta reveals new suites for business class passengers

    Each suite comes with a fully reclining seat and divider for privacy

    Recently, airlines have been trying to think up new ways to squeeze more passengers on flights. Back in March, United Airlines said it would be adding one additional seat to every row in coach on some of its planes. Moves like this have irked many consumers who think that there isn’t enough room to go around on flights already.

    Now, in a surprising reversal, Delta Air Lines has announced that it will be providing “suites” to passengers who want to pay for more privacy. The company says that its new Airbus A350 jets will have 32 of these new spaces located in business class.

    Each suite comes equipped with a host of amenities, including a full-height door, sliding privacy dividers, customizable ambient lighting, personal stowage spaces, an 18-inch entertainment monitor, universal power outlets, and a high-powered USB port.

    Customers looking to sleep through the flight are also in luck. The seats located in these suites will be able to fully recline, making a sort of makeshift bed.

    “Delta constantly listens to customers and responds with products that deliver what they want. After setting the standard with the introduction of full flat-bed seats with direct aisle access in 2008, Delta is again elevating the international business class experience,” said Delta Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mapes.

    The new Delta One suites are scheduled to debut in the fall of 2017.

    Recently, airlines have been trying to think up new ways to squeeze more passengers on flights. Back in March, United Airlines said it would be adding one ...

    Back-to-school shopping drags on

    Only about half of shoppers have finished stocking up

    Little by little, consumers are slogging through the annual task of back-to-school shopping.

    The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics finds the average family with kids in grades K-12 has completed almost half (48%) of their shopping as of early August, down a touch from last year when 50% had it all wrapped up.

    “It is evident that many families are still considering price and value when shopping for their back-to-school and college needs,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Shopping early and often is a trend we have seen from many budget-conscious consumers over the last few years. In the weeks ahead, parents will take advantage of the aggressive deals that retailers will offer as they get ready to welcome the fall season merchandise.”

    K-12 shopping habits

    Just 13% of families with children in grades K-12 have completed their shopping lists, while 22% haven't even started. When asked which back-to-school items they still needed to complete their shopping list, 77% of consumers said they need to buy school supplies, followed by clothing (70%) and shoes (57%).

    When searching for the perfect deals, 48% of shoppers look to coupons. That's the highest in the survey’s history. Families will also take advantage of in-store promotions (39%) and advertising inserts (33%) to complete their shopping lists. Those who started shopping early said half of their purchases were influenced by coupons, sales, and/or promotions.

    The survey found that 64% of supply purchases for back-to-school are influenced by school requirements, with 45% of parents buying electronics saying they were influenced by their schools.

    When it comes to where consumers will finish their shopping, 53% will head to discount stores, 51% to department stores, 39% to clothing stores, and 37% to office supply stores. More will shop online this year -- 31% compared with 27% last year -- the highest in the survey’s history.

    Asked what payment method they'll use most often to complete their purchases, 49% of consumers said they'll use their debit cards while 29% will use credit cards. Cash (21%) and checks (2%) will hardly be used as primary forms of payment -- reaching the lowest levels ever in survey history.

    How the college crowd shops

    Similar to back-to-school shoppers, college students and families with students have completed almost 48% of their shopping, versus 49% last year. According to the survey, only 15% of consumers have completed their shopping lists, down 4% from this point last year.

    “When it comes to big spending events such as back-to-school and back-to-college, families are being very savvy in how they tackle their lists,” said Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “Families are slowly completing their shopping this season while taking advantage of expected promotions that will continue through Labor Day, and spreading their budget as necessary.”

    When asked which back-to-college items are still needed to complete their shopping lists, 61% said school supplies, followed by clothing (50%) and personal care items (33%).

    College consumers will likely complete the rest of their shopping at discount stores (42%, lowest in survey history), followed by department stores (42%, highest in survey history) and online shopping (40%, also a survey high).

    As is the case with K-12 shoppers, coupons and promotions are helping consumers with back-to-college purchases. Forty-two percent of college consumers say they are using coupons to complete their shopping list. Others will take advantage of in-store promotions (32%), followed by advertising inserts (29%). Half of those who have already made back-to-college purchases said they were influenced by promotions.

    Debit/check cards are the most preferred method of payment for college shoppers, with 44% using them. Credit cards continue to make gains, with 36% of respondents using them to complete their purchases.

    The survey, which asked 6,915 consumers about both back-to-school and back-to-college shopping plans, was conducted August 2-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

    Little by little, consumers are slogging through the annual task of back-to-school shopping.The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey conduc...

    Mortgage applications down again

    Contract interest rates were generally lower

    Mortgage applications have fallen for the fourth time in five weeks.

    The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applications were off 4.0% during the week ending August 12. The Refinance Index was down 4% as well, while the refinance share of mortgage activity inched up to 62.6% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came to 4.6% of total applications; the FHA share of total applications was 9.6%; the VA share of total applications rose to 13.2% from 13.0% a week earlier; and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.6%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances $417,000 or less) inched one basis point lower -- to 3.64% from 3.65%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) fell from 3.64% to 3.60%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was down three basis points to 3.49%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs dipped to 2.90% from 2.93%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose four basis points to 2.85%, with points decreasing to 0.17 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

    Mortgage applications have fallen for the fourth time in five weeks.The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applic...

    Housing markets continue to regain their footing

    The upward trajectory is expected to continue

    It hasn't been quick and it hasn't been easy, but the housing market is moving steadily toward what has traditionally been considered “normal.”

    According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/First American Leading Markets Index (LMI), markets in 146 of the approximately 340 metro areas across the U.S. returned to or exceeded their last normal levels of economic and housing activity in the second quarter. This marks a year-over-year net gain of 66 markets.

    The index’s nationwide score is now up to .97, which means that based on current permit, price, and employment data, the nationwide average is running at 97% of normal economic and housing activity. Additionally, 91% of markets have shown an improvement year over year.

    “This gradual uptick is in line with NAHB’s forecast for a slow but steady recovery of the housing market,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “With a strengthening economy, solid job growth and low mortgage interest rates, the market should continue on an upward trajectory throughout the rest of the year.”

    Measurable progress

    Baton Rouge, La., again tops the list of major metros on the LMI, with a score of 1.61 -- or 61% better than its last normal market level. Other major metros at the head of the list include Austin, Texas; Honolulu; and San Jose, Calif. Rounding out the top 10 are Houston; Provo, Utah; Spokane, Wash.; Nashville, Tenn.; Los Angeles; and Oklahoma City.

    Among smaller metros, both Odessa and Midland, Texas, have LMI scores of 2.0 or better, meaning that their markets are now at double their strength prior to the recession. Also at the top of that group are Manhattan, Kan.; Walla Walla, Wash.; and Grand Forks, N.D.

    The LMI examines metro areas to identify those that are now approaching and exceeding their previous normal levels of economic and housing activity. Approximately 340 metro areas are scored by taking their average permit, price, and employment levels for the past 12 months and dividing each by their annual average over the last period of normal growth.

    For single-family permits and home prices, 2000-2003 is used as the last normal period, and for employment, 2007 is the base comparison. The three components are then averaged to provide an overall score for each market; a national score is calculated based on national measures of the three metrics.

    An index value above one indicates that a market has advanced beyond its previous normal level of economic activity.

    “Among the LMI components, house prices are making the most far-reaching progress, with almost 97% of markets having returned to or exceeded their last normal levels. Meanwhile, 78 metros have reached or exceeded normal employment activity,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Single-family permits have edged up to 50% of normal activity, but remain the sluggish element of the index.”

    It hasn't been quick and it hasn't been easy, but the housing market is moving steadily toward what has traditionally been considered “normal.”Accordin...

    Ford is doubling down on self-driving cars

    Announces a major investment and expansion in Silicon Valley

    Lately, the lines between the automotive world and technology have begun to blur. There are computers inside vehicles and the automakers have been as big a presence at the annual Consumer Electronics Show as Sony and Microsoft.

    So it might not come as a surprise that Ford is doubling down on high-tech and increasing its efforts in the area of autonomous vehicles. On CNBC's Squawk Box Tuesday, Ford CEO Mark Fields said the Detroit automaker will double the number of its employees in Palo Alto, Calif., expand its labs, and form new partnerships with technology firms.

    "It's a very exciting time in the industry," Fields told CNBC. "Our view is autonomous vehicles could have just as much [of an] impact on society as Ford's moving assembly line did 100 years ago."

    Represents a sea change

    That, indeed, is a noteworthy comparison. Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says autonomous vehicle technology represents a sea of change, and it's both exiting and frightening for established automakers like Ford.

    “Each manufacturer is jockeying for position in a race that remains highly speculative regarding the timing, implantation and regulation of this technology,” Brauer said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Ford's investment in Velodyne and the doubling of its Palo Alto workforce is the latest example of collaboration between Detroit and Silicon Valley.”

    The collaboration is not surprising. Brauer says car producers and tech companies have to collaborate to make this shift happen. Ford has publicly stated that it plans to have a self-driving car within five years.

    No steering wheel or pedals

    “Ford’s car will be fully self-driving, with no steering wheel or pedals, though their commitment of SAE Level 4 of autonomy means the car will still have limitations with regard to how and where it can operate,” Brauer said. “This is another sign that the first application of self-driving technology will be under highly controlled conditions in a specific area, such as college campuses or urban environments.”

    Brauer says the timetable for privately-owned, fully autonomous vehicles, capable of operating anywhere and anytime, remains at least seven to 10 years away.”

    This all comes at a time when safety advocates are expressing some reservations about fully autonomous vehicles, after a couple of high-profile crashes involving Tesla models. However, it should be noted the Tesla vehicles were equipped with driver-assist technology and were not fully autonomous.

    Last month, Consumers Union called on Tesla to disable its auto-pilot feature. A coalition of consumer groups called on President Obama to have regulators put the brakes on autonomous vehicle technology.

    Lately, the lines between the automotive world and technology have begun to blur. There are computers inside vehicles and the automakers have been as big a...

    How prepared are you to cover medical expenses in retirement?

    Fidelity Investments says the average retiree needs $130,000

    If you are 65 years old, or approaching that milestone, you might not think much about medical costs in retirement.

    After all, you're going on Medicare and you might expect your health care costs would be lower. Well here's a wake up call – Fidelity Investments estimates the average couple will need more than a quarter of a million dollars to cover medical costs during retirement.

    The breakdown, based on an analysis of the Medicare database, pegs the out-of-pocket cost at $135,000 for a woman and $125,000 for a man – the higher amount due to a woman's longer life expectancy.

    One of the biggest chunks of those costs comes in the form of Medicare Part B and Part D premiums and out-of-pocket prescription drug costs, especially speciality drugs to treat chronic diseases.

    For many people, the premium costs don't seem like costs because they are often deducted from the retiree's Social Security payments. However, they are out of pocket costs just the same.

    What Medicare doesn't cover

    According to the Fidelity breakdown, the premiums for Medicare Part B and Part D make up 36% of the typical retiree's health care costs. Since Part B covers only 80% of medical costs, the retiree either writes a check for the other 20% or obtains a supplemental policy, which carries a monthly premium.

    That premium or out-of-pocket 20%, along with the uncovered medical expenses for vision and hearing, add up to 40% of a retiree's medical costs over retirement.

    The uncovered cost of prescription drugs makes up 24%, and Fidelity says that's the area that has been growing the fastest. In fact, after several years of remaining stable, Fidelity's estimate of needed health care funds rose sharply this year, in part because more seniors are accessing health care services and in part due to the surging price of prescription drugs.

    To help meet these medical costs, Fidelity recommends retirees consider a supplemental health policy. Premiums are generally affordable, and in many medical procedures and services, the retiree incurs no out-of-pocket expense.

    If you are 65 years old, or approaching that milestone, you might not think much about medical costs in retirement.After all, you're going on Medicare ...

    Why you should get a flu shot during pregnancy

    It will protect your baby even after his or her departure from the womb

    Pregnancy is a privilege, and many women treat it as such. From eating vegetables and staying hydrated to avoiding hot tubs and Hibiscus Tea, expectant mothers often go to great lengths to ensure the health of their growing baby.

    In addition to keeping up with the pregnancy do’s, moms-to-be also have to deal with concerns that may arise prior to getting something as routine as, say, a flu shot.

    So, should pregnant women get a flu shot or skip it until the bun has left the oven? It’s a question women may grapple with, but experts say pregnant women should get the flu shot -- not only for their health, but for the health of their child.

    Protects babies after birth

    There’s no harm in hiking up your sleeve and getting a flu shot, according to the latest research. The flu shot can reduce the risk of an expectant mother getting influenza. Additionally, it can help ward off flu-related complications such as preterm labor or pneumonia.

    Having a flu shot in your system can also keep your baby from coming down with the flu for up to six months after birth. Why the prolonged effect? It has to do with the antibodies manufactured by mom and passed to the baby through the placenta.  

    "It gives the baby some protection against the virus until he or she can get the vaccine directly, at 6 months old," Ashley Roman, MD, clinical assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center told Health.com.

    Roman adds that moms shouldn’t hesitate to get a flu shot because it contains a dead (or "inactivated") virus rather than a live virus, which may harm an unborn child. 

    Avoid FluMist

    The CDC echoes Roman's assertion that the flu shot is perfectly safe for moms-to-be, but adds that pregnant women should avoid the flu mist. 

    Unlike the shot, the FluMist nasal spray is made from live viruses which may be unsafe for a growing baby. If you will be pregnant during flu season (November through March), the best time to get a flu shot is October or November.

    In addition to the flu shot, Roman recommends pregnant women (as well as caregivers who will be spending time with the baby) get a Tdap vaccine to prevent against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. 

    Pregnancy is a privilege, and many women treat it as such. From eating vegetables and staying hydrated to avoiding hot tubs and Hibiscus Tea, expectant mot...

    Study: maternal touch could help kids become better at socializing

    Touching kids' backs may have a positive impact on their social brains

    Previous research has shown that loving touches from a parent can help babies construct a mental picture of their body, which can help them formulate a sense of self.

    Now, new research shows that a parent’s touch could also help children become better at interacting with others.

    In a study, published in the August issue of Cerebral Cortex, researchers found that the frequency with which mothers touched their 5-year-old children was linked to the development of kids’ “social brains.”

    Maternal touch

    To reach this finding, researchers observed children as they played with their mothers, taking careful note of how often kids were touched by their moms. 

    After checking in with participants two days later, researchers noticed more activity in the “social brains" of kids who had been touched more often by mom. (Social brains are to thank for our successful social interactions, as well as our empathy and interest in other people.)

    "There is already a substantial literature looking at the postive effects of touch in infants," researcher Annett Shirmer, a psychologist at the University of Singapore, told the Huffington Post. "Our work adds by showing a relation specifically to the social brain ... and extending this to an older age group, suggesting that benefits exist beyond infancy."

    Back touching

    Touching your child’s back, specifically, might help children become even better at socializing, since the back of the body is where a majority of nerve fibers known as c-tactile afferents are located.

    What’s so special about these nerves? They're where affectionate touches embark on their journey to a person’s brain, the Huffington Post explains. Caressing a child’s back may send the strongest signals to kids' brains, which could lead to an even stronger set of social skills.

    C-tactile afferents respond best to slow touch and strokes. In animal studies, a number of positive hormonal effects are triggered when these nerves are activated by gentle, affectionate touch. 

    Previous research has shown that loving touches from a parent can help babies construct a mental picture of their body, which can help them formulate a sen...

    Uber, Lyft may be answer to smaller cities' transit woes

    On-demand car service could replace buses in lightly populated areas

    Public transit is beloved by policy wonks and generally hated by those who use it, especially in smaller cities where buses don't run very often or in cities like Washington, D.C., where older parts of the fabulously expensive Metro system have deteriorated even as the system is being built into far-out suburbs. The answer, a growing number of towns think, may lie with Uber and Lyft.

    A Bloomberg report finds that a growing number of smaller cities are cutting deals with Uber and Lyft to provide rides for residents who would otherwise take the bus or, in many cases, be stranded in lightly populated outlying areas.

    It costs a lot of money to run public buses and an enormous amount of money to build, maintain, and operate subway systems. Early experimenters like Pinellas Park, Fla., and Centennial, Colo., are betting it will cost a lot less to let needy citizens summon a car when they need to go somewhere.

    It might sound like an expensive giveaway to private industry, but it's worth noting that local bus service is often subcontracted to private companies which, upon further investigation, frequently turn out to have undisclosed ties to local politicos.

    “This is an area that has the potential to be a very significant part of Lyft’s work in the future,” Emily Castor, director of transportation policy at Lyft, told Bloomberg. “How quickly will it progress from small pilots to being institutionalized in transit agencies? I think that’s harder to predict.” 

    Hefty fares

    There's a lot of money at stake. In 2014, Americans spent $15 billion in fares for rides on the 850 public transit agencies that report their data to the Federal Transit Administration, Bloomberg notes. While $15 billion is a handy sum, it didn't begin to cover the $42 billion it cost to operate local transit agencies. 

    The remaining $27 billion came, of course, from taxpayers. This doesn't count capital expense -- the billions spent to build rail lines, buy trains, buses, etc.

    While mainline bus and train routes aren't likely to be sidelined, transit planners are increasingly looking at ride-hailing services to fill in on low-density routes that are now underserved, wildly unprofitable, or both.

    Local governments already pay for taxis in certain circumstances and most of them have vans that shuttle disabled and elderly riders around. Current thinking is that some or all of those trips could be replaced by Uber and Lyft, although there would be political opposition from entrenched providers.

    Public transit is beloved by policy wonks and generally hated by those who use it, especially in smaller cities where buses don't run very often or in citi...

    Google loses a round in Gmail wiretap case

    A class action suit charges that Google wrongfully intercepts emails to inject ads

    It has come to seem pretty ordinary that California-based Google scans your Gmail before delivering it, then inserts advertisements that seem to correspond to the subject being discussed.

    But a class action lawsuit argues that the action is not only unordinary but is a violation of the California Wiretap Act, which prohibits interceptions except when they are part of the "ordinary course of business." 

    U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh handed a round to the plaintiffs last Friday, rejecting Google's claim that the practice is an ordinary part of how emails are delivered, Courthouse News Service reports.

    In a 38-page ruling, Koh said intercepting emails to inject ads into them is not necessary or intrinsic to the email process and is done only so that Google can use the data it intercepts to display ads.

    Too early

    Google had moved for dismissal of plaintiff Daniel Matera's suit, arguing that it could not provide free email service without the targeted ads. But Judge Koh said it was too early to introduce the argument that intercepting email is part of the ordinary course of business, as Google had contended.

    Matera's suit argues that Google is intercepting consumers' mail for commercial purpose, in violation of the state's Wiretap Act.

    Matera has claimed that he is not a Google customer and thus does not benefit from Google's free email service. Nevertheless, he said, his emails to and from Google customers have been intercepted. He also argues that Google sells some of the data it intercepts.

    Similar cases are pending, including one filed by a group of universities who say that Google wrongfully mines students' data.

    It has come to seem pretty ordinary that California-based Google scans your Gmail before delivering it, then inserts advertisements that seem to correspond...

    Aetna withdrawing from most Obamacare exchanges

    Company says rising costs are to blame

    If you have an Aetna health insurance policy obtained through an Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange, you may have to look for new coverage for next year. Aetna has announced it is ending its participation in most of the state exchanges.

    Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark T. Bertolini said the company simply can't afford it any longer.

    “Following a thorough business review and in light of a second-quarter pretax loss of $200 million and total pretax losses of more than $430 million since January 2014 in our individual products, we have decided to reduce our individual public exchange presence in 2017, which will limit our financial exposure moving forward,” Bertolini said.

    One of 40 providers to drop out

    Bertolini said the company regrets the move, noting that more than 40 other benefit providers have also stopped selling plans in one or more rating areas in the individual public exchanges in the last two years.

    In April, United Health Group, the nation's largest health insurance company, announced it was withdrawing from most ACA exchanges.

    When a benefits provider withdraws from an exchange, it not only limits consumers' choices, it throws the risk balance out of whack. And as the risk balance shifts, the remaining providers come under more financial pressure.

    “Fifty-five percent of our individual on-exchange membership is new in 2016, and in the second quarter we saw individuals in need of high-cost care represent an even larger share of our on-exchange population,” Bertolini said. “This population dynamic, coupled with the current inadequate risk adjustment mechanism, results in substantial upward pressure on premiums and creates significant sustainability concerns.”

    Premiums on the rise

    Consumers with ACA policies have already seen this happen. In June the Kaiser Family Foundation issued a report projecting benchmark silver plan premiums may increase by 10% next year in 14 major metro areas.

    The foundation analyzed proposed rate filings in 13 states and Washington, DC. The focus of the report centered on how premiums for silver plans, the middle of three categories, would change in 2017. Bertolini said health insurance companies have found it impossible to continue paying for benefits without the rate increases.

    “The vast majority of payers have experienced continued financial stress within their individual public exchange business due to these forces, which also are reported to have contributed to the failure of 16 out of 23 co-ops,” he said.

    On the positive side, he noted a recent announcement that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that is looking into ways to modify risks.

    Aetna is not withdrawing from all the health care exchanges, but the reduction is dramatic nonetheless. The company will lower exchange participation form 778 counties to 242 for the 2017 plan year, maintaining its presence in Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska, and Virginia. No 2016 plans, currently in effect, are affected.

    If you have an Aetna health insurance policy obtained through an Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange, you may have to look for new coverage for next year. A...

    Honda is introducing a Civic hatchback for 2017

    New 5-door model will only come with a turbo engine

    The Honda Civic is already one of the best selling cars in America. Valued for it's quality, features, and resale value, Kelley Blue Book declared the 2016 Civic the winner of its Overall Best Buy Award.

    New for 2017, Honda is introducing a Civic Hatchback, a styling throwback to the 1960s and 70s. The new model offers Euro-inspired styling and five-door versatility. It will also serve as the basis for the new Civic Type-R launching in the U.S. in 2017.

    Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of the Honda Division of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., says the Civic Hatchback was introduced first in Europe and sold well.

    "Now, we're bringing this sporty, stylish and versatile Civic Hatchback to North America, as we amp up the performance of our incredible Civic lineup with each new Civic model," Conrad said.

    The Civic Hatchback will come in LX, Sport, EX, EX-L, and Sport Touring trims. Engine features, however, are limited. In the U.S. market, the hatchback is powered by a 1.5-liter DOHC direct-injected turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder with peak output of 174 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque in LX, EX and EX-L trims. The Sport and Sport Touring trims will offer 180 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque, featuring a high-flow center-mounted exhaust.

    Options on the turbo engine

    The turbocharged engine will have some options. It comes with either a CVT in all trims or a performance-inspired 6-speed manual transmission in the LX, Sport, and EX trims. It's expected the hatchback will achieve EPA fuel economy ratings of 31/40/34 mpg (city/highway/combined) for CVT-equipped models, based on the newer, more stringent model year 2017 EPA ratings requirements.

    Most trims will offer the Honda Sensing suite of driver-assisting technologies, including a collision avoiding braking system, forward collision warning, and systems to alert you when you veer out of your lane.

    Pleasing design

    The Civic Hatchback is based on the 10th generation Civic design that has won the praise of automotive experts, as well as drivers. Car and Driver, already a Civic fan, opined that the hatchback builds on an already pleasing design and makes it better.

    Other features include Honda Display Audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, on the EX and above trims. Heated front seats and heated side mirrors, power driver and front-passenger seats, and remote engine start will also be available.

    While some Hondas are made in the U.S., the Civic Hatchback will strictly be an import, but not from Japan. The Civic Hatchback will be produced at Honda's Swindon, UK plant.  

    The Honda Civic is already one of the best selling cars in America. Valued for it's quality, features, and resale value, Kelley Blue Book declared the 2016...

    New home construction on the rise in July

    Building permit applications, though, were lower

    Construction of new homes in July built on the gains posted in June, although developers' plans for housing in the months ahead slipped a bit.

    The Commerce Department reports ground was broken for privately-owned houses at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,211,000, up 2.1% from the revised June total of 1,186,000 and 5.6% above the rate posted a year earlier.

    Starts on single-family homes were up 0.5% in July at a rate of 770,000 and a year-over-year advance of 1.3%. The July rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 433,000 -- a gain of 8.3% and up 15.2% from July of last year.

    Building permits

    Housing units authorized by building permits dipped 0.1% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,152,000, but is 0.9% above July 2015.

    Permits for single-family homes fell 3.7% to a rate of 711,000, but a 2.7% gain from the year before. Authorizations for units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 411,000, a month-over-month rise of 6.5% but down 1.7% from a year earlier.

    The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

    Construction of new homes in July built on the gains posted in June, although developers' plans for housing in the months ahead slipped a bit.The Comme...

    Consumer prices hold steady in July

    A sharp drop in gasoline prices gets much of the credit

    For the first time in five months, the government's Consumer Price Index (CPI) has failed to rise.

    According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the CPI was unchanged in July, as energy costs declined and food prices held steady. During the last 12 months, consumer prices have risen 0.8%.

    Energy and food costs

    Energy costs plunged 1.6% last month following a 6.1% surge over the previous three months. A major factor in the July decline was gasoline prices, which fell 4.7%. Fuel oil costs also slipped, dropping 1.3%. Natural gas prices, on the other hand, jumped 3.1%, its largest increase in more than two years, while the cost of electricity rose 0.5%. Energy prices are down 10.9% over the past year.

    The price of food was unchanged in July following declines in May and June, with food at home -- grocery prices -- down 0.2%, the seventh decline in the last nine months. Four of the six major grocery store food groups were lower, with meats, poultry, fish, and eggs down 0.6%, followed by dairy and related products (-0.4%), cereals & bakery products, and other food at home (both -0.2%).

    The price of fruits and vegetables both rose (+0.3%) along with alcoholic beverages (+0.3%). Food costs over the past year are up just 0.2% -- the smallest 12-month increase since the period ending March 2010.

    Core inflation

    The cost of items excluding the volatile food and energy components “core inflation” rose 0.1% in July, with the price of a shelter up 0.2%, the smallest increase since March. Prices for medical care, new vehicles, and motor vehicle insurance also were on the rise. Airline fares, used cars and trucks, communication, and recreation costs were among those that fell.

    For the 12 months ending in July, core inflation was up 2.2%, versus an increase of 2.3% for the year ending in June.

    The complete July CPI report is available on the DOL website.

    For the first time in five months, the government's Consumer Price Index (CPI) has failed to rise.According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the CPI w...

    Housing affordability slips in second quarter

    Higher prices are getting the blame

    Rising home prices outweighed falling mortgage rates when it came to housing affordability in the second quarter of the year.

    The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) found that 62% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of April and the end of June were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $65,700. In the first quarter it was 65%.

    The national median home price increased from $223,000 in the first quarter to $240,000 in the second quarter. At the same time, average mortgage rates dipped from 4.05% to 3.88%.

    “Though we have seen a modest drop in affordability in the second quarter, the HOI is still fairly high by historical standards,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Rising employment, favorable mortgage rates and increasing household formations will keep the housing market on a gradual, upward path during the rest of the year.”

    Most and least affordable

    For the third consecutive quarter, Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., was rated the nation’s most affordable major housing market, with 91.1% of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $53,900.

    Rounding out the top five affordable major housing markets in respective order were Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton, Pa.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa.; and Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Ind.

    Meanwhile, Kokomo, Ind., claimed the title of most affordable small housing market in the second quarter of 2016. There, 98.2% of homes sold during the second quarter were affordable to families earning the median income of $60,900.

    Smaller markets joining Kokomo at the top of the list included Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.; Fairbanks, Alaska; Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, Iowa-Ill; and Monroe, Mich.

    For the 15th quarter in a row, San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, Calif., was the nation’s least affordable major housing market. Just 8.5% of homes sold there were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $104,700.

    Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart were located in California. In descending order, they included Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale; Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara; and San Rafael.

    California also claimed the five least affordable small housing markets. At the very bottom of the affordability chart was Santa Cruz-Watsonville, where 14.7% of all new and existing homes sold were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $85,100.

    Other small markets at the lowest end of the affordability scale included Salinas; Napa; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande; and Santa Maria-Santa Barbara.

    “Firm job growth, historically low interest rates and healthy price appreciation in many markets are all positive signs that the housing recovery continues to move forward,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “At the same time, regulatory hurdles and rising costs for buildable lots and skilled labor continue to put upward pressure on the cost of building a home.”

    Rising home prices outweighed falling mortgage rates when it came to housing affordability in the second quarter of the year.The National Association o...

    BMW recalls M5 sedans, M6 coupes, M6 convertibles and M6 Gran Coupes

    The vehicles' driveshaft may fracture and fail, causing a loss of propulsion

    BMW of North America is recalling 956 model year 2015 BMW M5 sedans manufactured September 4, 2014, through December 4, 2014; 2015 M6 coupes manufactured September 3, 2014, through December 3, 2014; 2015 M6 convertibles manufactured September 8, 2014, through December 4, 2014; and 2015 M6 Gran Coupes manufactured September3, 2014, through December 4, 2014.

     

    The vehicles have a driveshaft that may have been inadequately welded during manufacturing. This could cause the driveshaft to fracture and fail, resulting in a loss of drive to the rear wheels and a loss of propulsion. Additionally, if the car is turned off and exited without the parking brake applied, it may roll. Either condition increases the risk of a crash.

     

    What to do

     

    BMW will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the driveshaft, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on September 6, 2016.

     

    Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

     

     

    BMW of North America is recalling 956 model year 2015 BMW M5 sedans manufactured September 4, 2014, through December 4, 2014; 2015 M6 coupes manufactured S...

    Model year 2016 Malibu Hybrids recalled

    The vehicle's high-voltage power may be disconnected during driving

    General Motors is recalling 534 model year 2016 Malibu Hybrids manufactured October 27, 2015, to June 3, 2016.

     

    The affected vehicles have a shut-off switch for the high voltage battery for use when servicing the vehicle. This manual service disconnect switch (MSD) may not be properly installed and thus may not lock into position, unexpectedly disconnecting the high-voltage power while driving, effectively stalling the vehicle and increasing the risk of a crash.

     

    What to do

     

    GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the MSD and correct the installation, as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

     

    Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 51230.

     

     

    General Motors is recalling 534 model year 2016 Malibu Hybrids manufactured October 27, 2015, to June 3, 2016. The affected vehicles have a shut-of...

    Google may be looking at a low-Fiber diet

    Digging trenches is expensive and slow, the advertising powerhouse is learning

    A high-fiber diet is good for you, but it can also cause indigestion, as Google and its parent company, Alphabet, are learning. For years, Google has been talking about how it is just about to lay fiber to deliver high-speed broadband in cities across America.

    But like so many others before it, the advertising giant may be discovering that digging up streets and climbing poles isn't as much fun, or as profitable, as many of the alternatives. The telecom business is about 150 years old and, while transmission technologies have advanced, the basic tools of the trade are still the backhoe and a good set of spikes for scampering up poles. It's what's called capital intensive. 

    While no one denies that fiber is the fastest terrestrial delivery system for broadband communications, the key word may be terrestrial. Verizon, which sort of wrote the book on broadband fiber, quit somewhere around Chapter 3. 

    Verizon's FiOS is popular in the cities where it's available, just as Google Fiber is popular in Kansas City, Kans., Austin, Texas, and a few other places. But Verizon now has its eye on 5G -- wireless delivery that some of its boosters say will be as fast or even faster than fiber and a lot cheaper to deploy and operate. Other carriers have similar strategies.

    Although the always secretive Alphabet isn't saying so, it's generally thought that its initial roll-outs took a lot longer and cost a lot more than it expected. Whether Alphabet has the appetite to digest an entire menu of fiber-starved cities is the question of the day. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Alphabet has told local officials in several cities that it is slowing its fiber deployment. 

    Last-mile expense

    All of the major telecom and cable firms have for years used various strategies to avoid the expense of running fiber to every single customer -- the dread "last-mile" expense that far exceeds the costs of building the network "backbone."

    Many have adopted what is generally called "fiber-to-the-curb" strategies that run fiber into a neighborhood, then use coax or other lower-speed cable to reach individual subscribers.   

    Was Google naive in thinking it could dig trenches more cheaply than AT&T? Maybe, but there are those who think its strategic goal in launching Google Fiber was to spur established players to get the lead (or copper) out and put more fiber into their networks. That strategy has actually played out in several of the cities where Google Fiber is now operating or promised, thus presenting the company with the opportunity to declare victory and withdraw. 

    It's equally likely that Alphabet, which was created to bring some business discipline to the rather free-wheeling Google culture, is simply looking at options that would achieve its ultimate goal -- widely deployed high-speed broadband that delivers Google ads flawlessly -- in a more cost-effective way.

    It's not the only adjustment underway in Mountain View. Like a player preparing for a new hand of Scrabble, Alphabet has been shuffling its players and priorities the last few months. Several key executives have left, including those who headed up the automated car and Nest thermostat projects. It's not surprising there would be adjustments in Fiber, thought to be its most costly new-business gamble.  

    A high-fiber diet is good for you, but it can also cause indigestion, as Google and its parent company, Alphabet, are learning. For years, Google has been ...