Current Events in August 2016

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    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 ...

    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...

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      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...

      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...

      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...

      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...

      AARP: Unless Congress acts, Social Security cuts are coming

      Law requires 25% benefit cuts when program runs out of cash

      Millennials and Gen-Xers take note: your anticipated Social Security payments when you retire might be significantly less than you think.

      AARP New York has released an analysis of the Social Security Trustees' annual report and concluded that millions of workers – 10.4 million in New York alone – will see their benefits cut by 25% unless Congress and the President take action to prevent it.

      Fewer current retirees would be affected since the cuts would not take place until 2034. But AARP New York says younger workers need to understand the stakes. This is not a hypothetical situation – the cuts are mandated by law.

      Out of money in 2034

      Here's why: when the Social Security Trust Fund is exhausted – currently projected for 2034 – automatic, across the board cuts in benefits take effect. The only way to prevent that from happening is for Congress to extend the life of the Trust Fund. It could do that by slowly reducing benefits now or by increasing the amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes that are collected.

      In its analysis, AARP New York estimates the average retiree household in New York would see its income go down by $4,200 a year. An additional 197,800 seniors would fall below the poverty line, an increase of 63%.

      To put it in perspective, the report's authors note that New Yorkers spend an average of $6,900 a year on groceries and $4,700 a year on utility bills. Losing $4,200 a year in income, they say, will have a major impact.

      Putting it on the front burner

      Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP in New York, says the current election cycle is an ideal time to address this issue.

      "Voters deserve to know how the candidates' plans will affect families, what those plans will cost and how they'll get it done,” Finkel said.

      The situation is actually worse than it seems. The Social Security Trust Fund shows a surplus on its books, but there is no money – it's made up of IOUs Congress has written since 1983, when it raised the Social Security withholding tax to build up a surplus – but spent the money on other things.

      Now, Social Security payments are being made out of the government's general operating budget with no “surplus” to offset them.

      Finkel says Congress and the President need to figure out now what is going to happen in 2034.

      "Doing nothing is not an option,” she said.” The question is how long will our leaders wait to act. The presidential candidates need to show they can lead on this issue and give voters real answers on how they will update Social Security for future generations."

      Millennials and Gen-Xers take note: your anticipated Social Security payments when you retire might be significantly less than you think.AARP New York ...

      Making a backup plan may lead to failure, researchers say

      A study shows that people tend to put less effort into a task if they make a backup plan

      There are several advantages that come with being prepared and having a backup plan. Those who take the time to consider alternatives are often less anxious about the future and more ready to make changes if something unfortunate does happen.

      However, two researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Pennsylvania, respectively, say that there are drawbacks to making a backup plan. Their study shows that those who make them are more likely to put less effort into a given task and fail at achieving a goal.

      Less effort

      Jihae Shin and Katherine L. Milkman conducted this study after the former admitted that she had reservations when it came to making backup plans. “I was talking with Katy about how sometimes I was hesitant to make a backup plan, because somehow I thought it might hurt my chances of success in my primary goal. Katy thought it was an interesting idea and we decided to test it,” said Shin.

      The pair devised a series of experiments to see if the notion held any water. Participants in the study were asked to complete a sentence-unscrambling task with the promise that they could earn a free snack or a chance to leave the study early if they completed it.

      Shin and Milkman asked some of the study groups to come up with other ways that they could get free food or make up the lost time later if they failed. After completing the task, the researchers found that those who were asked to make backup plans did worse on the assigned task and had lower levels of desire when it came to succeeding.

      Knowing when to make a plan

      Shin and Milkman admit that having a backup plan can be beneficial in many ways, but they say that taking time to make one also comes at a cost in some cases.

      They conclude by saying that knowing when to make a backup plan can make all the difference when it comes to succeeding at a given task. If a certain task cannot be influenced by effort, they say that making a backup plan can be a good idea; however, tasks that require more effort should be focused on instead of relying on a failsafe.

      “You might want to wait until you have done everything you can to achieve your primary goal first,” said Shin.

      The full study has been published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

      There are several advantages that come with being prepared and having a backup plan. Those who take the time to consider alternatives are often less anxiou...

      Best and worst cities for retirement

      WalletHub breaks it down over 31 key metrics

      Increasingly, retirees are not moving out of their homes once their working days are behind them. But for those who do plan to relocate, what are the most retirement-friendly cities, and which should be avoided?

      Personal finance site WalletHub looked at that question and came up with a list of the best and worst cities for retirement, based on a set of important criteria. The criteria included the cost of living, but also the percentage of the population over age 65.

      Measured against 31 key metrics, the analysts picked Orlando as the top city for retirement. It was number seven in affordability, number six in activities for seniors, and eleventh in health care. Its biggest drawback was “quality of life,” where it comes in at 73 out of 150.

      Not surprisingly, the top four retirement destinations are in the sunny south. Tampa is second, largely by virtue of its affordability. Scottsdale, Ariz., is third – not so much because of its affordability but for its quality of life. Miami is fourth by virtue of its ranking of second in the activities category.

      Surprising Sioux Falls

      The real surprise might be number five – Sioux Falls, S.D. --  where it can get pretty chilly during the winter. Sioux Falls earns its ranking by being rated number one when it comes to health care.

      Las Vegas, Coral Gables, Fla., Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles round out the top 10.

      At the bottom of the list of places to retire is Providence, R.I. It's one of the least affordable spots on the list – 145 out of 150 – and third from the bottom when it comes to health care. Worcester, Mass., Newark, N.J., and Chula Vista, Calif., are also cities to avoid in retirement, according to the report.

      What's important to you?

      Of course, different criteria are more important to some people than others. For example, great health care might trump activities and affordability might be more important than quality of life.

      If affordability is most important, you might take a look at Laredo, Tex., which has the lowest adjusted cost of living on the list. Brownsville, Tex., Jackson, Miss., and Memphis are also very affordable cities.

      If you plan to get a part time job in retirement, Anchorage, Alaska has the highest percentage of people 65 and over in the workforce. Want someplace a little warmer? Plano, Tex., just outside Dallas, is second in that category.

      If stretching your budget in retirement is a top priority, check out these destinations where your money will go farther.

      Increasingly, retirees are not moving out of their homes once their working days are behind them. But for those who do plan to relocate, what are the most ...

      Low cost of living drawing jobs to the Midwest

      Companies like the fact that housing costs are much lower

      Homes tend to be more expensive on the east and west coasts because that's where the good jobs are.

      Sure, you can find housing bargains in the Midwest, but there haven't been as many good paying jobs in that region. Until lately.

      Real Estate marketplace Zillow surveyed housing experts who tend to agree that migration to both coasts is reaching a tipping point, making housing in those markets less affordable. They say much lower home prices in the nation's interior are now attracting new and better jobs.

      The survey asked the experts if they expected the population trend, that has drawn people to coastal regions, would reverse in the future. More than half replied that this reversal has already begun.

      A majority said the growth of employment opportunities in Midwestern cities is the big draw. At the moment, the fact that housing costs are much lower is just a bonus.

      Shift in preferences among workers

      "Since the Recession, employment has boomed in relatively expensive coastal areas, often attributed to a shift in preferences among workers – especially Millennials – but also facilitated by soft labor markets that have resulted in a plentiful supply of available workers," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell.

      Gudell suggests businesses are looking at the Midwest as fertile ground for expansion because the cost of living is lower. An employee's paycheck goes farther, especially when it comes to housing costs.

      "For some businesses, this will mean relocating away from expensive coastal areas to more affordable interior communities. Sooner or later workers will follow the jobs, providing an impulse to local housing markets," Gudell said.

      What happens when Midwestern cities see rapid growth? Will those affordable home prices surge? The experts queried in the survey expect prices will rise, but at an orderly pace.

      Nationwide, home prices are expected to rise an average 4.5% this year. The experts in the survey see smaller gains in 2017, as the market begins to cool a bit.

      Homes tend to be more expensive on the east and west coasts because that's where the good jobs are.Sure, you can find housing bargains in the Midwest, ...

      Tegol recalls Outlaw Slim-G Series motorcycle helmets

      The helmets may not adequately protect the wearer's head in the event of an impact

      Tegol, Inc. is recalling 5,292 Outlaw Slim-G Series motorcycle helmets, part number GLD-12-510-511, in all sizes, manufactured March 30, 2013, to June 5, 2013.

      The helmets may not adequately protect the wearer's head in the event of an impact, and an object may penetrate the helmet. Additionally, these helmets may not be labeled properly. As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 218, "Motorcycle Helmets."

      Helmets that do properly protect the wearer's head can increase the risk of injury to the wearer in the event of a crash. Missing labeling information reduces the user's possibility of identifying the helmet in the event of a safety recall.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Tegol customer service at 1-714-496-9988.

      Tegol, Inc. is recalling 5,292 Outlaw Slim-G Series motorcycle helmets, part number GLD-12-510-511, in all sizes, manufactured March 30, 2013, to June 5, 2...

      Researchers claim they can hack most Volkswagens

      Easy to assemble electronic device allegedly controls remote keyless entry systems

      Researchers who are well-acquainted with Volkswagen have published a paper alleging that hackers are able to access the remote keyless entry system of virtually every Volkswagon produced since 1995.

      A report in Wired Magazine says a team of researchers at the UK's University of Birmingham, led by Flavio Garcia, is the same group that last year reported hackers could start thousands of VWs without a key.

      If true, this is not good news for the beleaguered automaker, trying mightily to overcome the negative force field it finds itself in after the diesel emission cheating scandal, which broke 11 months ago.

      Wired reports the researchers, joined by colleagues from the German firm Kasper & Oswald, laid out two distinct vulnerabilities at the Usenix security conference in Austin this week. The researchers say nearly 100 million cars may be vulnerable.

      Beyond VW and Audi, Wired says millions of other cars from other manufacturers, including Ford, may have the same vulnerability.

      Not a new worry

      There apparently have been concerns for some time about the security of remote keyless entry systems. Theoretically, the hack isn't that difficult.

      Earlier this year automotive website Edmunds.com reported that car thieves were using some kind of electronic device to gain entry to locked vehicles.

      “Some electronic security experts believe that the criminals may be exploiting the convenience of keyless-entry systems, which are designed to detect and authenticate the smart key inside a car owner's pocket as he or she pulls on the door handle,” Edmunds reported. “They say that if the thieves can amplify the car's signal it can be fooled into using the owner's key to open the doors, even if that key actually is on a nightstand or the kitchen table inside the house.”

      Not that difficult

      The crime is new enough, however, that there really aren't any statistics to suggest how big a threat it is. But as thieves learn more about it, the ability to pull it off is apparently not that difficult.

      Road and Track reports a “good guy hacker” was able to assemble a device that can hack many older vintage keyless entry systems for about $30. In his case, the device was able to track, unlock, and remote start a vehicle by intercepting signals from the OnStar smartphone app.

      The fact that this vulnerability appears to affect so many older models could be problematic, since we recently reported that these are the prime targets for thieves. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports the 1996 Honda Accord was last year's most-stolen vehicle. Thieves usually target older cars because their parts are in demand.

      Researchers who are well-acquainted with Volkswagen have published a paper alleging that hackers are able to access the remote keyless entry system of virt...

      A diet to keep your memory sharp

      Australian researchers say the Mediterranean diet slows cognitive decline

      Most of use go on a diet to lose weight or to improve our physical condition. But researchers in Australia have concluded that the Mediterranean diet is not only good for you physically, but mentally as well.

      Writing in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, lead author Roy Hardman from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne and his colleagues say the diet appears to slow cognitive decline.

      The Mediterranean diet includes a lot of plant foods, like leafy greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, beans, seeds, nuts, and legumes. There is less dairy and red meat, and olive oil is the preferred source of fat.

      "The most surprising result was that the positive effects were found in countries around the whole world,” Hardman said. “So regardless of being located outside of what is considered the Mediterranean region, the positive cognitive effects of a higher adherence to a MedDiet were similar in all evaluated papers."

      Heart healthy too

      For the most part, doctors recommend the Mediterranean diet for its positive effects on the heart.

      “Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease,” the Mayo Clinic reports on its website. “The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the "bad" cholesterol that's more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.”

      And in line with this latest research from Australia, the Mayo Clinic staff notes that the Mediterranean diet has also been associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease.

      The Australian study found the diet improves attention, memory and use of language. In terms of memory, it found notable improves in delayed recognition, working memory, and executive function.

      What is it about the Mediterranean diet?

      The question is why. What is it about the Mediterranean diet that supports better cognitive function? The authors suggest several things, including a reduction in inflammation, improved vitamin and mineral imbalances, maintaining a healthy weight, and improving polyphenols in the blood.

      If you are interested in trying the Mediterranean diet, it is always advisable to discuss any changes in eating patterns with your doctor. Assuming he or she agrees it might be beneficial for you, here are some Mediterranean diet recipes to get you started.

      Most of use go on a diet to lose weight or to improve our physical condition. But researchers in Australia have concluded that the Mediterranean diet is no...

      Ultrasonic dryers may be the future of energy-efficient dryers

      Instead of heat, these clothes dryers will use vibrations

      The process of drying freshly washed clothing has evolved since the era of clotheslines, but scientists think there’s still room for growth in the dryer industry.

      Ultrasonic dryers may soon act as a more energy efficient sidekick to the washing machine. Researchers say ultrasonic dryers will dry your clothes in half the time via a process of "displacing the water with a low-energy, high-frequency vibration."

      Your dog won’t even be able to hear the high-pitched vibrations that are slated to take the place of traditional heating elements, said head researcher Ayyoub Momen. But while stealthy, these vibrations will be highly effective in extracting the moisture from your clothing in an energy efficient manner. 

      "Mind blowing" results

      The electric devices that create the vibration-inducing sounds are called piezoelectric transducers, Momen told CNN. So how, exactly, can a sound dry the contents of your laundry hamper?

      In short, via vigorous shaking. These vibrations will shake wet fabric in a way that causes moisture to be wicked away and turned to a cool mist. (Mist which then goes to a tank to be drained by the user.)

      The ultrasonic dryer is not only three to five times more energy efficient than existing options, it’s more time efficient. Momen says it’ll slash drying times, whittling down the time it takes to dry a full load of laundry to around 20 to 30 minutes.

      "The first results were mind blowing," said Momen, who worked on the dryer with his colleagues at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "We could dry a piece of fabric in just 14 seconds. If you wanted to do that in an oven, it would take several minutes."

      For those who dread putting fade-prone clothing into a hot dryer, the lack of heat in the drying process may also be a perk. But in addition to less lint and wear, consumers may appreciate a heat-free dryer for its energy efficiency.

      3-4 times more efficient

      The vast majority of U.S. households use clothes dryers. Together, these dryers eat up 4% of total residential energy use, CNN notes. Momen believes ultrasonic dryers can help mitigate the energy-depleting effect of dryers.

      By this Fall, Momen and his team expect to have a full-sized prototype of an ultrasonic dryer that can dry a full load of laundry. From there, Momen and his team will work with General Electric to get the cost of the dryer down.

      "Our estimate is it will cost about $500 to $1,000 for consumers, which is about the same as a premium commercial dryer right now," Momen said. He adds that it’s ultimately up to GE to set the cost.

      The process of drying freshly washed clothing has evolved since the era of clotheslines, but scientists think there’s still room for growth in the dryer in...

      Honda recalls model year 2016 Civic 2-Door vehicles

      The side marker light may not function

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 11,846 model year 2016 Civic 2-Door vehicles manufactured February 23, 2016, through May 20, 2016.

      The affected vehicles may have a damaged LED side marker light circuit board inside the taillight assembly, making the marker light inoperable. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Assoc. Equipment."

      If a side marker light does not function, vehicle visibility can be decreased to other drivers, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect both the taillight assemblies, replacing them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in August 2016.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is KB8.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 11,846 model year 2016 Civic 2-Door vehicles manufactured February 23, 2016, through May 20, 2016. The affect...