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Claim: former Corinthian students hounded for student loans they don't owe

Sen. Warren blasts Department of Education for its role

Once you take out a student loan, you have to pay it back. It can't be discharged in bankruptcy, for example.But there is one scenario where you might...

PhotoOnce you take out a student loan, you have to pay it back. It can't be discharged in bankruptcy, for example.

But there is one scenario where you might be able to walk away. The law allows consumers to discharge some student loans if the school they were attending closed its doors.

It happened last year when Corinthian Colleges shut down, and more recently when ITT went under. As we reported just a few weeks ago, students who were attending ITT when it closed and had not completed a degree program may be able to cancel their student loans by applying for a student loan discharge.

So Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was not pleased when she learned that the U.S. Department of Education was working to collect loans from former Corinthian students who might have otherwise been eligible to cancel their debts.

Troubling new data

"These troubling new data suggest that instead of focusing on getting these students the relief they are entitled to under federal law, the Department's student loan bank - working with its loan servicers and debt collectors - is instead intentionally collecting on debt that it knows may be eligible for discharge," Warren wrote in a letter to Secretary of Education John King.

Warren says the evidence suggests that, instead of helping borrowers who might be eligible to discharge their debt, the government is assisting debt collectors who she said are hounding former students for money they might not owe.

The lawmaker said she received information provided by the Department of Education that showed only a small number of former Corinthian students have been able to discharge their student loan debt. But she says it appears as though some 80,000 former students might be eligible for the relief.

Instead, she says most of these students have had tax refunds and other government benefits seized. She suspects many of these former students are unaware of their rights.

Adding insult to injury

"Instead of adding insult to injury for tens of thousands of Corinthian victims by pushing scores of them into debt collection, the Department of Education should stand up for these students as it has promised to do for more than a year and immediately halt all collections on this debt," Warren wrote.

Warren says the government agency should use its existing authority to discharge Corinthian borrowers' debts and make sure that no other students are being hounded for debts they don't owe.

Who's eligible

If you attended Corinthian or ITT using Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, or Federal Perkins Loans and were enrolled when the school closed, you may be eligible for relief.

First, contact your loan servicer about the application process to discharge a loan. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says you may also need to contact your school to obtain your academic and financial records.

You may also need to contact the licensing agency in the state where you attended school to get help in acquiring those records. The documents may help support your discharge claim.

You can get more information about that here.

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Money 101: where to turn for help

A number of government and private sources can help consumers get a handle on money issues

When you want to get off on the right financial foot, or need help digging out from beneath crushing credit card or student loan debt, there are resources...

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Volvo reveals plan for its own self-driving vehicles

An autopilot feature will come as an option to individual customers at a cost of $10,000

Carmakers around the world are looking to get into the self-driving car market. The new technology is likely to be a game changer for the auto industry in...

PhotoCarmakers around the world are looking to get into the self-driving car market. The new technology is likely to be a game changer for the auto industry in coming years, and now Volvo has revealed how it plans to incorporate it into its business model.

The Volvo Car Group has said that it plans to offer an autopilot option to individual buyers in five years, according to a Bloomberg report. The feature will add $10,000 to the vehicle cost, according to CEO Hakan Samuelsson, and is being marketed as a “premium” addition.

“To make a car even more premium, one of the most interesting things is a full autopilot. Not a supervised version, but really the one that you can sit back and watch a movie or whatever. That will make the premium car more premium,” he said to reporters at the Global Mobility Leadership Forum in Detroit.

Stacking up to the competition

The company’s five-year plan is a bit of a departure from some other automakers, who are focusing primarily on how they can use the technology in a commercial capacity or to provide a semi-autonomous ride. Ford has already stated that it will be focusing its efforts on a potential “robot taxi business,” and Tesla has plans to incorporate autopilot into future models, but its version will require drivers to stay alert and keep hands on the wheel.

Not to be left out completely, however, Volvo has made some autopilot investments in the commercial sphere. It is currently providing self-driving taxi models to Uber, which is using them in Pittsburgh for initial testing. The company hopes the new feature will resonate with buyers who still put value on the emotional attachment to their vehicle.

“If you’re only providing transportation from A to B, you’re heading into trouble. You still need to have a car that is not just fulfilling the transportation need, but also giving our customers an emotional value, a premium car,” Samuelsson concluded. 

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Personal incomes rise in August, spending barely budges

The personal savings rate held steady

Consumers saw their incomes rise in August and held on to most of it.The Commerce Department reports personal incomes edged up $39.3 billion, or 0.2%,...

PhotoConsumers saw their incomes rise in August and held on to most of it.

The Commerce Department reports personal incomes edged up $39.3 billion, or 0.2%, last month, with disposable income (DPI) -- what's left after taxes -- also up 0.2%, or $31.9 billion.

Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), on the other hand, rose just $6.2 billion -- less than 0.1%.

The increase in personal income in August primarily reflected pay raises, personal income receipts on assets, and government social benefits.

Personal outlays -- the total of PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments -- rose $6.1 billion.

Personal saving rose $12.9 billion -- from July -- to $807.6 billion, with the the personal saving rate and personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income holding steady at 5.7%.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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Pending home sales pull back in August

It's the third decline in four months

Pending home sales cooled in August following the first increase in three months during July.The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pen...

PhotoPending home sales cooled in August following the first increase in three months during July.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), which is based on contract signings, fell 2.4% last month to 108.5, the second lowest reading of the year and down 0.2% from a year earlier.

Lower inventories faulted

Suffering supply levels have taken the wind out of the momentum the housing market experienced earlier this year.

"Contract activity slackened throughout the country in August except for in the Northeast, where higher inventory totals are giving home shoppers greater options and better success signing a contract," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "In most other areas, an increased number of prospective buyers appear to be either wavering at the steeper home prices pushed up by inventory shortages or disheartened by the competition for the miniscule number of affordable listings."

Yun adds there is growing evidence that without more new home construction, the current housing recovery could stall. Housing inventory has declined year-over-year for 15 straight months. Properties in August typically sold 11 days quicker than in August 2015 and -- after increasing 5.1% last month -- existing-home prices have risen year-over-year for 54 consecutive months.

"There will be an expected seasonal decline in new listings in coming months, which could accelerate price appreciation and make finding an affordable home even more of a struggle for would-be buyers," added Yun.

Following last month's decline, existing-home sales in 2016 are expected to be around 5.36 million -- a 2.1% increase from last year and the highest annual pace since 2006 . The national median existing-home price growth is forecast this year to rise around 4%.

Activity by region

  • The PHSI in the Northeast rose 1.3% in August to 98.1 and is now up 5.9% from a year ago.
  • In the Midwest, the index dipped 0.9% to 104.7 and is 1.7% lower than in August 2015.
  • Pending home sales in the South dropped 3.2% to a reading 119.8 for a year-over-year decline of 1.5%.
  • The index in the West plunged 5.3% to 102.8 and is now 0.6% lower than a year ago.
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Model year 2016-2017 Volvo XC90s and S90s recalled

The drain hose for the air conditioning may leak into the passenger compartment

Volvo Cars of North America is recalling 43,766 model year 2016-2017 Volvo XC90s and S90s manufactured April 15, 2015 through September 19, 2016.The dr...

PhotoVolvo Cars of North America is recalling 43,766 model year 2016-2017 Volvo XC90s and S90s manufactured April 15, 2015 through September 19, 2016.

The drain hose for the air conditioning may leak into the passenger compartment due to a drain hose installation error during manufacturing.

Significant water drainage into the passenger compartment may adversely affect air bag deployment in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of occupant injury.

What to do

Volvo will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the air conditioning drain hose for proper installation, replacing the hose as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on November 14, 2016.

Owners may contact Volvo at 1-800-458-1552. Volvo's number for this campaign is R89707.

 

 

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Adams Farm Slaughterhouse recalls beef, veal and bison products

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7

Adams Farm Slaughterhouse of Athol, Mass., is recalling beef, veal, and bison products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.Based on an epidem...

PhotoAdams Farm Slaughterhouse of Athol, Mass., is recalling beef, veal, and bison products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Based on an epidemiological investigation, seven case-patients have been identified in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and West Virginia with illness onset dates ranging from June 27, 2016 to September 4, 2016.

Traceback information was available for five case-patients and indicated that all of them consumed beef products supplied by Adams Farms Slaughterhouse.

The raw intact and non-intact beef products originated from animals slaughtered on July 15, 25, and 27, 2016, and August 3, 8, 10, 11, 17, 24 and 26, 2016, and further processed and packed on various dates between July 21, and September 22, 2016.

The recalled products bear establishment number EST. 5497 inside the USDA mark of inspection and have lot numbers 120361, 121061, 121761, 121861, 122161, 122261, 122361, 122461, 122861, 123061, 123161, 123261, 123561, 123661, 123861, 124561, 125261, 125861, 125961, 124261, 120461, 120961, 121161, 121661, 124461, 125061, 126661.

The following products are being recalled:

WHOLE BEEF CARCASSES, BEEF CUTS, BEEF TRIM, BEEF FOR STEWING, BEEF FLAT IRON, CHUCK ROAST BONE/IN, CHUCK ROAST BONELESS, ROLLED CHUCK ROAST, STANDING RIB ROAST, ROLLED RIB ROAST, RIB EYE STEAK WITH/BONE, RIB EYE STEAK BONELESS, BONELESS RIB EYE STEAK, DELMONICO STEAK, SIRLOIN STEAK, NY STRIP STEAK, SIRLOIN STRIP STEAK, T-BONE STEAK, PORTERHOUSE STEAK, TENDERLOIN STEAK, BONELESS NY SIRLOIN STEAK, SIRLOIN STEAK, NY SIRLOIN STEAK BONE/IN, EYE ROUND ROAST, TOP ROUND STEAK, TOP ROUND ROAST, BEEF KABOBS MADE FROM TOP ROUND, SHOULDER ROAST, LONDON BROIL STEAK CUT FROM THE SHOULDER, BOTTOM ROUND ROAST, FACE RUMP ROAST, TRI TIP ROAST, LONDON BROIL STEAK MADE FROM ROUND, SKIRT STEAK, FLANK STEAK, GROUND BEEF, GROUND BEEF PATTIES, BEEF LOIN NY SHELL STEAK, BEEF CLUB STEAK, BEEF HEART, BEEF LIVER, BEEF OXTAIL, WHOLE LIVER, BEEF BRISKET, WHOLE TENDERLOIN, FACE RUMP, BOTTOM ROUND FLAT, WHOLE CHUCK BONE/IN, WHOLE CHUCK BONELESS, WHOLE RIB EYE, WHOLE SIRLOIN STRIP, TOP BUTT, WHOLE TOP ROUND, AND BEEF SOUP BONES (SHANKS).

VEAL WHOLE CARCASS, VEAL CUTS, VEAL TRIM, OSSO BUCO, VEAL STEW MEAT, GROUND VEAL, VEAL SHOULDER, VEAL RIB CHOPS, VEAL LOIN CHOPS, VEAL STEAKS, VEAL ROUND STEAK, VEAL CUTLETS, VEAL TENDERLOIN, VEAL ROAST.

Also being recalled are the following products from Bison slaughtered on August 17:

BISON CUTS, BISON TRIM, BISON FOR STEWING, BISON FLAT IRON, CHUCK ROAST BONE/IN, CHUCK ROAST BONELESS, ROLLED CHUCK ROAST, STANDING RIB ROAST, ROLLED RIB ROAST, RIB EYE STEAK WITH/BONE, RIB EYE STEAK BONELESS, BONELESS RIB EYE STEAK, DELMONICO STEAK, SIRLOIN STEAK, NY STRIP STEAK, SIRLOIN STRIP STEAK, T-BONE STEAK, PORTERHOUSE STEAK, TENDERLOIN STEAK, BONELESS NY SIRLOIN STEAK, SIRLOIN STEAK, NY SIRLOIN STEAK BONE/IN, EYE ROUND ROAST, TOP ROUND STEAK, TOP ROUND ROAST, BISON KABOBS MADE FROM TOP ROUND, SHOULDER ROAST, LONDON BROIL STEAK CUT FROM THE SHOULDER, BOTTOM ROUND ROAST, FACE RUMP ROAST, TRI TIP ROAST, LONDON BROIL STEAK MADE FROM ROUND, SKIRT STEAK, FLANK STEAK, GROUND BISON, GROUND BISON PATTIES, BISON LOIN NY SHELL STEAK, BISON CLUB STEAK, BISON HEART, BISON LIVER, BISON OXTAIL, WHOLE LIVER, BISON BRISKET, WHOLE TENDERLOIN, FACE RUMP, BOTTOM ROUND FLAT, WHOLE CHUCK BONE/IN, WHOLE CHUCK BONELESS, WHOLE RIB EYE, WHOLE SIRLOIN STRIP, TOP BUTT, WHOLE TOP ROUND, AND BISON SOUP BONES (SHANKS).

The recalled items were shipped to farmer’s markets, retail locations, and restaurants in Massachusetts, Connecticut and eastern New York, and may have been shipped to neighboring states in the immediate area.

What to do

Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Ed Maltby at (978) 249-9441 x 105.

 

 

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Model year 2016 Toyota Prius vehicles recalled

The front passenger air bag may inflate unintentionally

Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing (Toyota) is recalling 7,589 model year 2016 Toyota Prius vehicles manufactured November 30, 2015, to June 14, 20...

PhotoToyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing (Toyota) is recalling 7,589 model year 2016 Toyota Prius vehicles manufactured November 30, 2015, to June 14, 2016.

An airbag inflator manufacturing error may result in the inadvertent partial inflation of the front passenger airbag, increasing the risk of a crash or injury.

What to do

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger air bag assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 13, 2016.

Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota's number for this recall is G0W.

 

 

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Walmart recalls tripod stools

The plastic collar that connects the three legs can break

Walmart of Bentonville, Ark., is recalling about 2,600 tripod stools.The plastic collar that connects the three legs can break, posing a fall hazard to...

PhotoWalmart of Bentonville, Ark., is recalling about 2,600 tripod stools.

The plastic collar that connects the three legs can break, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Mahco Inc. tripod stools with three steel legs and a REALTREE logo pattern camouflage polyester fabric seat. The steel legs have plastic caps on both ends and a round plastic hub that connects the three legs. The stools measure about 17 inches high by 13 inches wide.

There is a black polyester carry strap attached to the bottom of the stool seat. Mahco Inc. is printed on an orange and black hang tag attached to the stools.

The stools, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Walmart stores nationwide and online at Walmart.com from June 2016, through August 2016, for about $6.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled stools and return them to Walmart for a full refund.

Consumers may contact Walmart at 800-925-6278 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.walmartstores.com and click on “Product Recalls” for more information.

 

 

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Wells Fargo under siege as anger of scandal grows

California hits the bank where it hurts

The enormity of what Wells Fargo did to many of its customers appears to be sinking in, and anger is building.Wells Fargo CEO John Stumph was back on C...

PhotoThe enormity of what Wells Fargo did to many of its customers appears to be sinking in, and anger is building.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumph was back on Capitol Hill Thursday, facing lawmakers who, if anything, are angrier now than they were the week before when Stumph appeared before them to try to explain how thousands of bank employees opened accounts in customers' names, without their knowledge, just so the employees could hit their sales goals.

It may be too soon to know if the scandal will cause huge numbers of current Wells Fargo customers to look for another bank, but the scandal has already caused the state of California to do so.

“Wells Fargo’s fleecing of its customers by opening fraudulent accounts for the purpose of extracting millions in illegal fees demonstrates, at best, a reckless lack of institutional control and, at worst, a culture which actively promotes wanton greed,” said California Treasurer John Chiang, in a statement.

Losing California's business

Because of the bank's actions, Chaing announced the state will suspend its financial ties with the San Francisco-based financial institution. That means no investments by the Treasurer's Office in Wells Fargo securities.

It also means the state will stop using Wells Fargo brokerage services and will drop the bank as a managing underwriter on state bond sales. The sanctions will remain in place for at least 12 months.

That's likely to get Wells Fargo's attention, since the state Treasurer controls nearly $2 trillion in annual banking transactions, manages billions of dollars in investments, and is the largest issuer of municipal bonds in the U.S.

In a letter to Wells Fargo, Chaing said he is trying to help the bank understand that “integrity and trust matter.”

Warren not letting up

In Washington, the scandal seems to have united a divided Congress in its condemnation of Wells Fargo. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been the most vocal and most scathing, however, particularly when she confronted Stumph at a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

“You haven’t resigned. You haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings,” she said. “You haven’t fired a single senior executive. Instead, your definition of ‘accountable’ is to push the blame to your low-level employees who don’t have money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves. It’s gutless leadership.”

Warren says the bank “squeezed employees to the breaking point” in an effort to drive up the price of its stock. Some present and former bank employees, meanwhile, have sued Wells Fargo, claiming they were the biggest victims of the scandal.

Meanwhile, Warren and seven other members of the Senate have sent a letter to the Department of Labor, requesting it investigate Wells Fargo for potential violations of wage and hour laws as it pushed employees to hit sales targets.

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Money 101: how to start saving

Can you still save while paying off debt?

After years of stagnant incomes, consumers are finally beginning to take home a little more money in their paychecks. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the me...

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Kids can chat safely on Jet.me: a social network just for kids

What parents will love about this COPPA-compliant messaging platform

Social media networks and children aren’t always the safest combination, but Jet Networks, Inc. wants to change that. The company recently announced the la...

PhotoSocial media networks and children aren’t always the safest combination, but Jet Networks, Inc. wants to change that. The company recently announced the launch of Jet.me, a chat service and social network just for kids under the age of 13.

Unlike other social networks, Jet is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). The app requires both parents to approve their child’s friends before kids can share text, photos, videos, or other content.

Parents may rest easier knowing that no real names are made public, and kids can feel secure as they digitally engage with the world. Jenny Mirken, founder and CEO of Jet.me, says the platform offers young digital natives “a new door to the digital world.”

Private space

Kids already have the devices and the access, but Mirken says Jet can provide a safe way for kids to access content that “matches who they are and what they love.”

Real-life friends aren’t the only ones kids can connect with on Jet; brands, causes, and celebrities will also join the private party, provided they are vetted and verified.

“The verified accounts are just like a friend,” Mirken told MediaPost. And before a new friend can enter the arena, they must be authenticated by the company and approved by the child’s parents.

Role of brands

Entertainment and sports personality brands may be among the first to vie for a space in kids’ feeds. Players such as LeBron James, for example, may use the space to connect with and market themselves to young consumers.

Later, the social network may begin to incorporate “branded categories,” such as Jet Sports, Jet Music, and Jet Books. Sponsored content will also be in Jet’s future, Mirken says.

For now, the COPPA-compliant messaging platform is appealing to parents with its stranger-thwarting precautions. Here are a few of Jet’s safety features:

  • Protected profiles. Only approved friends can see posts or send messages.
  • No auto-populated search. Kids must know a person’s exact Jet username in order to add them as a friend.
  • Personal data stays private. Profile photos and other personal data will never be displayed publicly on Jet.
  • Kid friendly and parent aware. In addition to being COPPA-compliant, Jet lets parents regulate their child’s online activity. A companion app called Jet Parent enables parents to approve friends and connect to their child. 
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Americans' diet improves, sort of

A new report finds Americans are still eating too much, and too much of the wrong things

It's not just how much we're eating, but what we're eating, that needs work. To put it simply, Americans eat too much and also eat too much of the wrong th...

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Survey shows some consumers are already shopping for the holidays

Others are annoyed that the holiday season is starting so early

We've yet to leave September behind, but many consumers are already noticing prominent holiday displays in stores around the country.This has prompted...

PhotoWe've yet to leave September behind, but many consumers are already noticing prominent holiday displays in stores around the country.

This has prompted many consumers to get into the holiday spirit a little early and start shopping. A survey conducted by CreditCards.com shows that 14% of Americans have already started buying items for the holiday season. However, a scant 1% of consumers have finished their shopping already, which means retailers will have plenty of time to lay it on thick to attract customers.

The survey also found where, or through what medium, shoppers were likely to buy items this year. Out of 1,000 adults who responded, 58% said that they would do their shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. Twenty-one percent said they would do their shopping online, while 11% said they’d buy items with their mobile device; this last method is preferred mostly by Millennials, with one out of every five of them saying that’s the way they’ll likely shop this year.

Starting too soon?

But while some consumers are ready to embrace the holidays, there are many more who take issue with starting so early. The survey found that 73% of consumers agreed with the statement “it is annoying that the holiday shopping season has gotten earlier.” However, experts say that it makes sense from a business perspective.

“If the consumers are asking for holiday products earlier in the year, you are more than likely to see retailers start having a small assortment by late summer and build up their inventory as we move into the holiday season. It is natural that retailers are reacting to this trend,” said Ana Serafin Smith, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation.

This doesn’t stop some people from griping anyway, though. Many have taken to the internet to voice their displeasure that they can’t get through autumn without being assaulted by images of sugarplums, festive decorations, or an imminent “winter wonderland.”

Creative dissent

One videographer named Jon Murray even went so far as to create a music video parody of One Republic’s popular song “It’s Too Late To Apologize.” His aptly named video, called “It’s Too Soon for Christmastime,” can be viewed below.

 

“I like having that month-and-a-half of time to get stuff together. Once you go longer than that, it’s not special. It starts losing the specialness of it, because it becomes a two- or three-month-long process,” said Murray.

But regardless of what Murray or others like him want, the holiday season is sure to ramp up in the month of October, so consumers should be prepared. 

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Generation X increasingly worried about retirement

Bad timing has affected members' ability to save

It's only natural that people approaching retirement worry a little about whether they'll be able to get by without a paycheck. Maybe people with a few mil...

PhotoIt's only natural that people approaching retirement worry a little about whether they'll be able to get by without a paycheck. Maybe people with a few million socked away don't think about it much, but the rest of us worry.

A survey by American Funds – part of Capital Group – finds members of Generation X are increasingly concerned. And maybe with good reason.

After all, Baby Boomers had years of savings behind them when the Great Recession hit. Many Millennials were still in school. Generation X was just approaching its prime earning years when the unemployment rate soared past 10%, almost overnight.

"After experiencing the dot-com bust, the global financial crisis and the housing collapse, as well as stagnant wage growth during their formative adult years, Gen Xers — or Generation AnXious — are wary about their financial future," said Heather Lord, senior vice president and head of strategy and innovation at Capital Group.

And of course, career disruptions have affected retirement saving. Millennials learned the Great Recession lesson pretty well, and many of its members started saving for retirement by age 25.

Even though time is beginning to run short for Generation X, financial advisers say it's never too late to start saving for retirement. A good target, says wealth management advisor Michelle Perry Higgins, is putting away 20% of your income.

Bad timing

But Generation X is a victim of bad timing. Not only did the Great Recession hit it in mid career, there were big changes taking place in employer-based retirement systems just as Generation X was entering the workforce.

A 2014 study by the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies calls Generation X the “401(k) generation.” It entered the workforce along with the introduction of 401(k) plans and the decline of defined benefit plans. Because the plans were new, early participants didn't get the same education and guidance that are standard practice today.

"Most [GenX members] are saving for retirement but many have not saved enough,” the report said. “Questions about the future of Social Security loom for them. The first Gen Xers will start becoming eligible for full benefits at age 67 in the year 2032, just one year before the Social Security Trust Fund’s forecast depletion.”

Working past 65

The report found that 54% of Generation X employees expect to still be working at age 65 and beyond, and increasingly that is becoming an idea embraced by Baby Boomers as well.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, New Jersey financial adviser Ann Minnium said she has several clients who are enjoying a successful retirement because of their willingness to work – not full-time, but part-time.

"The part-time income was the missing piece that completed a seemingly unsolvable puzzle," she said.

And that doesn't mean you have to keep doing a job you hate. Instead, it allows you to do something you enjoy, which might not seem much like work at all.

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Why OPEC's oil cap could be good news for America

Gas prices aren't going back to $3 a gallon anytime soon

The news that OPEC ministers have agreed in principal to capping production sent oil prices surging on world markets late Wednesday.Bloomberg News repo...

PhotoThe news that OPEC ministers have agreed in principal to capping production sent oil prices surging on world markets late Wednesday.

Bloomberg News reported the oil ministers, meeting in Algeria, agreed in principal to try to cap production at around 33 million barrels a day. For the first time in two years, the world's major oil producers appear to be on a path that would reduce output and raise prices.

But the consensus among industry analysts appears to be that this is no reason for consumers to panic. We're not going back to $3 a gallon gasoline anytime soon.

As CNBC reported, Goldman Sachs panned the OPEC move, suggesting it won't move prices much in the short run and will only raise them to around $53 a barrel next year.

Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, says he doesn't expect the OPEC move, which he says is more of a "framework" at this point, to have much impact at all. He notes that it would only be a reduction of 900,000 barrels a day. He also suggests that if higher oil prices become a reality, it could be a boost for American energy producers.

Welcome news for U.S. producers

“There's no doubt that a sustained rise in energy prices could be a net gain for U.S. energy producers in states like North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and perhaps a stimulus in those areas where energy production has been shut down,” Laskoski told ConsumerAffairs.

In fact, Investors Business Daily reported Wednesday that U.S. oil producers are already gearing up to increase production next year. It estimates that U.S. oil rigs in operation will average 579 for 2017, up nearly 30% from this year.

“Analysts forecast 11,151 new wells to be drilled next year, up 25% from the 8,915 wells expected to be started this year,” the publication reported.

So any reduction in output from OPEC is likely to be picked up by American producers, along with Russian operators. The oil glut might be reduced, but it isn't going away.

The result could be gasoline prices that rise by a few cents a gallon and stronger economies in oil producing states.

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A little more oomph for the U.S. economy

Initial jobless claims inched higher last week

The third and final look at how the nation's economy was doing in the second quarter is a bit brighter than the earlier estim...

Photo
Photo © z amir - Fotolia

The third and final look at how the nation's economy was doing in the second quarter is a bit brighter than the earlier estimates.

According to the Commerce Department, real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy -- grew at an annual rate of 1.4%.

An earlier look at how the economy was performing put expansion at an annual rate of 1.1%. This latest estimate is based on more complete source data than was available at that time.

Still, the general picture of economic growth remains the same, with the most notable change being an increase in nonresidential fixed investment; the previous estimate had it declining.

Corporate profits, meanwhile, fell $12.5 billion in the April-June period after surging $66.0 billion in the first quarter.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

Photo
Photo © Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Jobless claims

First-time applications for state unemployment benefits edged upward last week, but remained well below the 300,000 level for the 82nd consecutive week.

The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial benefit applications were up by 3,000 in the week ending September 24 to a seasonally adjusted total of 254,000. As it released the latest numbers, the government revised last week's tally down by 1,000.

The four-week moving average, considered by many economists to give a more accurate assessment of the labor market, came in at 256,000, a decline of 2,250 from the previous week.

The full report is found on the DOL website.

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Advanced Sports International recalls bicycles

The top clamp of the seat post can crack

Advanced Sports International of Philadelphia, Pa., is recalling about 3,000 Breezer and Fuji bicycles.The top clamp of the seat post can crack, posing...

PhotoAdvanced Sports International of Philadelphia, Pa., is recalling about 3,000 Breezer and Fuji bicycles.

The top clamp of the seat post can crack, posing a fall hazard to the user.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Advanced Sports International’s 2017 model year Breezer and Fuji bicycles. The aluminum bicycles come in a variety of colors. The seatposts are silver or black. The model name is printed on the frame of the bicycle.

Recalled models include:

 

Fuji Bicycles

Breezer Bicycles

Absolute 1.3 Disc

Absolute 1.7 Disc

Absolute 1.7 Disc ST

Absolute 2.1

Addy 27.5 1.3

Addy 27.5 1.5

Addy 27.5 1.7

Nevada 27.5 1.5

Nevada 27.5 1.7

Nevada 27.5 1.9

Traverse 1.9 ST

Police Special 29

Downtown 3 ST

Downtown 7+

Downtown 7+ ST

Downtown 8

Downtown 8 ST

 

 

 

 

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop riding the bicycles and take them to a local Breezer or Fuji Bicycles Dealer or contact Advanced Sports International for a free replacement top seat clamp.

Consumers may contact Advanced Sports International toll‐free at 888-286‐6263 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.fujibikes.com or www.breezerbikes.com and click on “Recall Notice” at the bottom of the page for more information.

 

 

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BMW recalls M2 Coupes, M3 Sedans, and M4 Coupes and Convertibles

Some parts may have been reused instead of replaced during servicing

BMW North America is recalling 72 model year 2016 BMW M2 Coupes, 2015-2017 M3 Sedans and 2015-2016 M4 Coupes and M4 Convertibles.During servicing of th...

PhotoBMW North America is recalling 72 model year 2016 BMW M2 Coupes, 2015-2017 M3 Sedans and 2015-2016 M4 Coupes and M4 Convertibles.

During servicing of the rear differential for a prior service action, the rear sub-frame bolts may have been reused instead of being replaced. Reuse of the existing bolts may cause the bolts to loosen.

Loose rear sub-frame bolts may adversely affect vehicle handling and control, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the rear sub-frame bolts with new bolts, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 24, 2016.

Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

 

 

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Chrysler recalls model year 2016 Fiat 500s

Tire inflation pressure for the spare tire is listed incorrectly

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 32 model year 2016 Fiat 500 vehicles manufactured June 11, 2015, to July 27, 2016.The Vehicle's tire placard lists a...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 32 model year 2016 Fiat 500 vehicles manufactured June 11, 2015, to July 27, 2016.

The Vehicle's tire placard lists an inflation pressure for the spare tire that exceeds the maximum pressure listed on the sidewall. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 110, "Tire Selection and Rims."

If the spare tire is used while overinflated, the tire may suddenly fail, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

Fiat will notify owners, and dealers will add an overlay on the tire placard to the correct tire inflation information, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 28, 2016.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-888-242-6342. Chrysler's number for this recall is S69.

 

 

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Wells Fargo CEO to forfeit $41 million and forgo salary during company investigation

While it's a step in the right direction, lawmakers are still not satisfied

It hasn’t been a good month for Wells Fargo. The company found itself in the middle of a scandal after reports revealed that its employees engaged in fraud...

PhotoIt hasn’t been a good month for Wells Fargo. The company found itself in the middle of a scandal after reports revealed that its employees engaged in fraudulent behavior by opening customer accounts without consent.

The actions resulted in multiple lawsuits, including $185 million in fines from federal regulators, the Office of the Comptroller, and the City and County of Los Angeles. It is also likely that the company will face a probe from the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Now, the company’s board has decided to penalize CEO John Stumpf by forcing him to forfeit $41 million from his compensation package. He will also not receive any bonuses for 2016 and will forgo his salary while the company performs its own internal investigation into the company’s banking sales practices. Carrie Tolstedt, the former head of retail banking, will also be denied $19 million.

“We are deeply concerned by these matters, and we are committed to ensuring that all aspects of the company’s business are conducted with integrity, transparency, and oversight,” said Stephen Sanger, lead independent director for the board, in a statement. “We will conduct this investigation with the diligence it deserves — and will follow the facts wherever they lead.”

The Wells Fargo board could potentially take further action against Stumpf, Tolstedt, and other executives depending on what they find. The members have stated that Stumpf will recuse himself of all board-related deliberations related to the investigation.

“We will proceed with a sense of urgency but will take the time we need to conduct a thorough investigation,” Sanger said. “We will then take all appropriate actions to reinforce the right culture and ensure that lessons are learned, misconduct is addressed, and systems and processes are improved so there can be no repetition of similar conduct.”

Lawmakers remain unsatisfied

While the actions taken by the company may seem to be a start in the right direction, lawmakers say that there is much that should be done. They point out that while 5,300 employees were fired as a result of the scandal, company executives seem to have come out pretty well.

Earlier this month, CNN reported that after Tolstedt retires at the end of the year, she will be able to rake in $124 million in shares, options, and restricted stock. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has stated her disgust that low-level employees are the ones taking the blame for the scandal.

“You haven’t resigned, you haven’t returned a single nickel of personal earnings, you haven’t fired a single senior executive,” Warren said during the Senate hearing. “Your definition of accountable is to push the blame to your low level employees… it’s gutless leadership.”

“[Wells Fargo’s] announcement is a step in the right direction but there are still dozens of unanswered questions,” added Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in a statement.

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Money 101: managing income and expenses

Making out a budget is a key step in controlling your finances

When it comes to getting a handle on your finances, no step is more important than making out a budget – a document that balances income and expenses.A...

PhotoWhen it comes to getting a handle on your finances, no step is more important than making out a budget – a document that balances income and expenses.

A budget tells you how much money you have coming in each month, where it goes, and how much you should have left over.

“We think that budgeting is one of the most important first steps to take in establishing responsible credit behaviors,” Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Operations at Equifax, told ConsumerAffairs. “If, for no other reason, than it teaches you the importance of actually seeing how much money you make versus what you can realistically spend.”

The first step is embracing the idea that a budget is necessary, and sometimes that can be the biggest hurdle. Bruce McClary, a vice-present at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says budgeting should become a habit, and be constructive and consistent.

“Whether it's week to week or month to month, you should sit down and review every expense, and not leave anything out,” McClary said in an interview. “That way you can make financial decisions based on what you know, rather than guessing about what your expenses are, what your income is and how much is going into savings.”

Two categories of expenses

When breaking down your expenses, it may be helpful to have two categories – recurring expenses that are mostly the same each month and those that you can more easily control.

Examples of the first are your mortgage or rent, car payment, credit card bill, utilities, cable TV, etc. Examples of the second include food, gasoline, clothing, etc.

If you are new to budgeting, McClary suggests tracking your spending for a month to see where that takes you. After doing that for a month, he says you will have a better grasp of your spending side and can more clearly see what needs to change.

“This practice can often be eye opening when you’re just starting out with financial milestones in life and credit,” Moogalian said. “Knowing exactly where you stand and what you can afford may help you better manage the financial commitments you make with lenders and creditors.”

Budgeting tools

To create a budget, all you really need is a pen and paper, and access to your checkbook ledger and credit card statements. There are many online tools that can streamline the process. Personal finance site Kiplinger recently reviewed what it said are among the best online budget worksheets to choose from.

Once you have written out a budget, the next critical step is sticking to it, so a budget should be realistic. To help sticking with a budget, you might try the cash envelope system, at least for a few weeks.

Put your credit and debit cards away, go to the ATM, and withdraw the cash you need for the week. Put the money in envelopes for groceries, gasoline, and miscellaneous expenses.

Only spend the money you have allotted for each category. If you can manage to spend less one week, it can be added to the next week's money or added to savings.

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LendUp promises better credit, cheaper loans but feds say it doesn't deliver

The company has been ordered to pay more than $3.6 million in penalties

LendUp bills itself as an alternative to payday lenders by claiming it can help you build up your credit rating and make it possible for you to get cheaper...

PhotoLendUp bills itself as an alternative to payday lenders by claiming it can help you build up your credit rating and make it possible for you to get cheaper loans. But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says the company doesn't deliver on its promises.

The bureau yesterday ordered the company to provide more than 50,000 consumers with approximately $1.83 million in refunds. The company will also pay a civil penalty of $1.8 million.

“LendUp pitched itself as a consumer-friendly, tech-savvy alternative to traditional payday loans, but it did not pay enough attention to the consumer financial laws,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “The CFPB supports innovation in the fintech space, but start-ups are just like established companies in that they must treat consumers fairly and comply with the law.”

Flurish, Inc., doing business as LendUp, is an online lending company based in San Francisco that offers single-payment loans and installment loans in 24 states. It offers customers the ability to progress to loans with more favorable terms, including lower rates and longer repayment periods, over time. The company advertised this opportunity as the ability to move up the “LendUp Ladder.”

Doesn't deliver

But according to the CFPB's enforcement action, LendUp did not deliver on its promises. Some of its product offerings weren’t available to consumers where they were advertised. In addition, for a time, the company did not properly furnish information to the credit reporting companies, denying consumers the promised opportunity to improve their creditworthiness.

LendUp’s conduct violated multiple federal consumer financial protection laws, including the Truth in Lending Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the CFPB said.

Besides the financial penalties, the CFPB said the company must stop misrepresenting the benefits of borrowing from LendUp, mispresenting what fees are charged, and must include the correct finance charge and annual percentage rate in its disclosures.

LendUp must also end misleading advertisments and regularly test annual percentage rate calculations and disclosures to ensure it complies with the Truth in Lending Act.

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CarbonCounter app lets you see the environmental impact of your car

Low carbon emissions cars aren't as expensive as you might think

Environmentally conscious consumers tend to look for more in a car than horsepower and aesthetic appeal. An increasing number of consumers want to know how...

PhotoEnvironmentally conscious consumers tend to look for more in a car than horsepower and aesthetic appeal. An increasing number of consumers want to know how their car will impact the environment before they choose to buy it.

But factors such as where you live and how much you can afford may rule out an electric car as your best choice. For those who want an affordable car that will contribute the fewest emissions, a new web app may prove to be a handy guide during the car buying process.

CarbonCounter, the brainchild of a group of researchers at MIT, is an app that can help you see how different cars fall on the spectrum of greenhouse gas emissions. It works by factoring in mileage and fuel type, as well as the greenhouse gases emitted during the car’s production.

Cost versus carbon emissions

On a graph, consumers can see a car’s environmental impact and how it stacks up to its price. The app can even take into account certain region-specific factors that may influence a car's impact.

While the app often shows that electric cars are your best bet, there were a few surprises. In some cases, electric cars were found to be worse for the environment than hybrids. Toyota’s Rav4 electric vehicle, for example, uses more energy than many hybrids.

Low cost of going green

In a paper on the study, which led to the creation of the app, Jessica E. Trancik, a professor of energy studies at MIT, pointed out that the cars with the lowest emissions also happened to be the most affordable.

The study found that smaller hybrids and electric cars, such as the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf, were among the cheapest per mile driven.

“Consumers can save money and save emissions at the same time,” Dr. Trancik told the New York Times.

Trancik's colleague and fellow study author, Geoffrey Supran PhD '16, a recent graduate in MIT's Department of Materials and Science and Engineering says the app could help steer consumers away from large, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs -- eventually. 

"[W]e’ve got a long way to go," Supran said. "Obviously the best option is to use public transport and, when possible, to not drive at all. But for those who have to, hopefully our work can help inform a generation of more climate-conscious car buyers.”

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Google adds incognito mode to its iOS app

It gives users the same privacy shield they can get in the Chrome browser

Want to keep your web searches private? Google has added an "incognito" mode to its iOS app, allowing iPhone users to keep their search histories private,...

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How to protect yourself and your pets from rabid wildlife

It's World Rabies Day -- here's how to keep from being infected

Contrary to popular belief, living in a city or urban area doesn’t mean you are protected from the threat of rabid wildlife. According to experts from the...

PhotoContrary to popular belief, living in a city or urban area doesn’t mean you are protected from the threat of rabid wildlife. According to experts from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), rabid animals are closer than you think.

Approximately 60,000 people are killed by rabies each year. Dr. Tom Meyer, president of the AVMA, says people report being bitten or scratched by stray dogs or cats all the time. The threat of rabies can lead to dire consequences for both humans and animals.

“The story turns tragic when the animal has to be euthanized to determine if it is rabid or not, and people are required to undergo treatment,” said Meyer.

On the 10th anniversary of World Rabies Day (September 28), the AVMA is encouraging the general public -- pet owners, especially -- to take steps to protect their pets and themselves from rabies.

Rabies prevention tips

Although dogs and cats can and do spread rabies, Meyers says it’s bats that most commonly cause human rabies in the U.S. Racoons are also common carriers, accounting for 30.2% of animal cases.

Ensuring that pets are protected from rabies is one of the most important steps in keeping your loved ones from being infected. The AVMA recommends following these steps to keep rabies from affecting the pets and people in your life.

  • Vaccinate animals. Dogs, cats, ferrets, and even some horses and livestock should be protected against rabies.

  • Don’t let pets roam. Pet parents shouldn’t let their animals wander into areas where they may come face-to-face with rabid wildlife.  

  • Bat-proof. Keep bats out of your house by sealing off any openings that are larger than a quarter-inch by a half inch.

  • Don’t leave food and garbage outside. Doing so may attract stray animals and other wildlife.

  • Be wary of wildlife. Keep a safe distance from wildlife and strays, and don't keep wild animals as pets.

To get a clearer picture of the risk of rabies in your area, check out Merial's interactive heat map. Has your pet already been vaccinated? Visit the “Goodnight Rabies” website and get a prize simply by uploading your vaccination receipt.

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Payday lenders, critics, wage fierce battle over proposed regulation

Consumer Fiancial Protection Bureau's proposed rule drawing record comments

The contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not the only political battle being waged in Washington these days.The Consumer Financial Prote...

PhotoThe contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not the only political battle being waged in Washington these days.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) proposed rule covering payday lenders has sparked an escalating stand-off between the industry and consumer advocates who want to change it or put it out of business.

The rule, proposed in June, is currently in its public comment period, which closes October 7. CFPB will review those comments before acting to make the rule final. A lot is at stake.

The proposed rule is fairly simple. It would require payday lenders to make a determination that someone taking out a short term loan has the means to pay it back. Mortgage lenders are currently required to do that for people taking out loans to purchase homes.

Critics have long contended that most people taking out payday loans can't pay it back when the loan is due in two weeks, and therefore have to take out another, and another – becoming trapped in a cycle of debt.

Industry says it provides a valuable service

The industry, meanwhile, says it is providing a service to consumers who have little or no access to credit, and appears to believe the new rule to be an existential threat.

Dennis Shaul, CEO of the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA), a payday lender trade group, said this week that CFPB had received a record number of comments so far. He says that's a good sign for his industry.

“This record-breaking number of comments highlights the grave concerns consumers have about the Bureau’s rule and the disastrous repercussions it will have on their ability to access to [sic] credit,” Shaul said in a statement.

Warren leads the critics

Critics of the payday lending industry are also trying to mobilize comments in support of the rule. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) addressed a group of supporters from around the country this week, calling payday loans among the most deceptive and predatory forms of credit on the market.

“Payday lending is an enormous problem for far too many people,” Warren said. “Billions of dollars are flowing out of communities that can least afford it and directly into the pockets of some of the sleaziest lenders in America.”

Warren said the CFPB's proposed rule is based on extensive research to understand how the industry operates and how customers are affected.

Consumers who would like to read the proposed rule and make a comment, one way or the other, may do so here.

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New Buick SUV takes top IIHS safety award

It's the first Chinese-built vehicle that IIHS has tested

A new midsize SUV from Buick has qualified for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.The Envision -- the first Chine...

PhotoA new midsize SUV from Buick has qualified for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

The Envision -- the first Chinese-built vehicle that IIHS has tested as part of its consumer ratings -- earned good ratings across the board for crashworthiness.

Two braking systems offered

The vehicle is available with Front Automatic Braking, an advanced-rated front crash prevention system that's optional for both 2016 and 2017 models.

A different system -- Forward Collision Alert -- earns a basic rating. Forward Collision Alert is standard on all 2016 Envisions not equipped with autobrake but is optional on 2017 models.

In the IIHS 12-mph track test, the Envision with the autobrake system avoided a collision. In the 25-mph test, its impact speed was reduced by 9 mph.

The system also includes a forward collision warning component that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

To qualify for 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests.

It also must earn an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

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Mortgage applications post second consecutive decline

Contract interest rates were lower as well

Mortgage applications ticked lower in the week ending September 23, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, with a decline of 0.7%.The Refinance...

PhotoMortgage applications ticked lower in the week ending September 23, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, with a decline of 0.7%.

The Refinance Index was down 2% from the previous week, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 62.7% of total applications from 63.1% a week earlier.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.4% of total applications, the FHA share held steady at 10.2%, the VA share rose 11.9% from 11.6% the week be fore, and the USDA share of total applications slipped to 0.6% from 0.7% the prior week.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dropped three basis points -- from 3.70% to 3.66% -- with points decreasing to 0.33 from 0.38 (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 to 3.64% from 3.69%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.29 (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 dipped four basis points to 3.52%, with points decreasing to 0.21 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went from 2.99% to 2.95%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was down four basis points to 2.92%, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.26 (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.

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Actors' ages become protected information in California

A new state law requires content providers to take down age information in some circumstances

Maybe you occasionally find yourself wondering how old your favorite actor is. It's pretty easy to find out. A quick visit to IMDb.com will tell you, thoug...

PhotoMaybe you occasionally find yourself wondering how old your favorite actor is. It's pretty easy to find out. A quick visit to IMDb.com will tell you, though maybe not for much longer.

A new California law that takes effect in January will require IMDb and other entertainment industry websites to remove birthdates when a subscriber requests it.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure, AB 1687, Saturday. It was backed by the Screen Actors Guild and SAG-AFTRA as a way to combat age discrimination in Hollywood.

“Gov. Jerry Brown today stood with thousands of film and television professionals and concerned Californians who urged him to sign AB 1687, a California law that will help prevent age discrimination in film and television casting and hiring," said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris in a statement issued after the bill was signed. 

The measure was authored by Majority Leader Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), who said revealing actors' ages online could lock them out of roles before they even had a chance to audition.

“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” Calderon said. “AB 1687 provides the necessary tools to remove age information from online profiles on employment referral websites to help prevent this type of discrimination.”

Privacy groups unhappy

Privacy groups argued against the measure, saying it was unnecessary and unconstitutional. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which normally takes a pro-privacy stance, said the law infringes on companies' First Amendment right to publish truthful information.  

Among the sites most obviously affected is Amazon's IMDb, a vast database that contains just about everything anyone could want to know about movies, actors, and the producers, directors, and screenwriters who form the core of the entertainment industry.

The measure got its start several years ago when actress Junie Hoang sued Amazon for revealing her true age on IMDb.

Hoang alleged that Amazon violated her privacy by accessing credit card data to learn that she was 40 and then added that information to her professional profile. 

Hoang said she looked younger than 40 but couldn't get as much work after her true age became known.

A jury ruled against Hoang, however, and an appeals court declined to reinstate her suit.

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Money 101: living below your means

A thrifty lifestyle will put money in the bank

We all know what “living above your means” is all about. It's “keeping up with the Jones,” buying a more expensive car, and owning a bigger house than you...

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Uber offers gift cards for its ride-sharing service

Consumers can buy them online or at Walmart locations nationwide

Gift cards are a pretty popular gift option amongst consumers, especially around the holidays. It’s easy to tailor a gift card to a person’s interests, and...

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Now, friends and families will be able to buy gift cards for an ever-growing service that many Millennials have become reliant on – ride sharing. Last month, Lyft announced that it would be selling $20 gift cards at Starbucks locations as part of a deal with the franchise. Not to be outdone, Uber has now announced that it will be selling gift cards as well.

The company says that consumers will be able to find its gift cards at Walmart locations nationwide, and that plans to sell them at CVS and Target locations will come along in the future. Fans of the service can also buy the gift cards online here.

“Whether it’s exploring a new city, a night out with friends, or simply a safe ride home, Uber is ready to help get the special people in your life where they want to go. And treating them to these experiences has never been easier with the introduction of the Uber gift card,” said Uber product manager Drew Quinn.

In order to redeem a gift card, recipients will have to take the code on the card and enter it into their Uber app before they request a ride. The gift cards will be redeemable in all U.S. cities where Uber is available and the company has said that they will never expire.

While users will undoubtedly benefit from the new program, the company notes that the gift cards are only good specifically for the ride-sharing service. Consumers will not be able to use them, for example, on other services like Uber Eats or Uber Rush. For more information, visit Uber’s site here.

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Combating fall allergy symptoms in kids

What parents can do to keep sniffles and sneezes at bay

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Why your diet usually fails

Nutrition author says eating healthy food is key to battling obesity

There all kinds of diets and weight loss programs, and while some undoubtedly achieve results for some people, it's also clear that the majority of people...

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What costumes will be most popular this Halloween?

From Pokémon Go to the election, pop culture expected to dominate costume choices

As we reported, consumers are predicted to spend $8.4 billion on Halloween purchases this year. Just over three billion of those dollars will be spent on c...

PhotoAs we reported, consumers are predicted to spend $8.4 billion on Halloween purchases this year. Just over three billion of those dollars will be spent on costumes.

For a majority of consumers between the ages of 35 and 44, those costumes will make an appearance at multiple Halloween parties. As for who we’ll be seeing at this year’s Halloween parties, a survey conducted by Savers thrift stores finds that pop culture references will prevail.

If this year’s costume trends are any indication, consumers haven’t forgotten about certain stand-out moments in pop culture. Many party goers will be dedicating their look to a few of the year’s most famous — and infamous — characters.

Pop culture costumes

From costumes inspired by Pokémon Go to looks in the likeness of zany movie characters, many Halloween revelers will be making reference to their favorite characters. Here are the top trends in Halloween costumes for 2016:  

  • Pokémon Go. If you’ll be attending a Halloween party, you’ll likely catch a character from one of the year’s most popular apps. In fact, you’re 1.5 times more likely to see a Pokemon Go inspired costume than an election-inspired ensemble.
  • Trump. Pokémon Go may inspire more costumes than the election, but 52% of Americans say Republican candidates would make better costumes than Democratic candidates.  
  • Good-looking looks. Scary looks are coveted by 28% of respondents, but vanity is a factor for many more. Forty percent of selfie-snapping Millennials said they want a costume that will make them look beautiful or handsome.
  • Movie characters. Characters from Suicide Squad and the Avengers will be popular among those aged 25 to 34. Party goers 45 and older are likely to opt for a Star Wars inspired look.
  • Celebrities. According to 30% of respondents, Ellen DeGeneres would make for the best celebrity costume. Eighteen percent said Kim Kardashian would make the best costume and just 7% said Justin Bieber.
  • All-star athletes. Among those who would choose an athlete-inspired look, Michael Phelps would be the preferred costume choice for one in three Americans. Ryan Lochte and Usain Bolt were also popular picks.

Popular pet costumes

Humans aren't the only ones who will be dressing up this Halloween. Whether they like it or not, the pets of 16% of consumers will be donning Halloween costumes this year. 

Here are the top ten costumes for pets in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation:

  • Pumpkin
  • Hot dog
  • Bumble bee 
  • Lion or Star Wars character (tie)
  • Devil
  • Batman character
  • Witch
  • Superman
  • Action/superhero
  • Cat
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U.S. weighs how big a fine Volkswagen can stand

The automaker's Audi brand may be dragged into the diesel scandal, reports say

The death penalty is rarely used these days because it is seen as inhumane and also because it shuts down any opportunity for rehabilitation, which is supp...

PhotoThe death penalty is rarely used these days because it is seen as inhumane and also because it shuts down any opportunity for rehabilitation, which is supposed to be the goal of the criminal justice system.

The U.S. Justice Department is now wrestling with a similar dilemma in the case of Volkswagen AG, caught cheating on the emissions produced by its "clean" TDI diesels.

VW has already agreed to pay more than $16 billion in civil penalties but still faces criminal charges that could be so severe they would put the company out of business. In a Bloomberg report, U.S. Justice Department officials are said to be considering taking the automakers' survival into consideration when settling on a recommended penalty.

It's not just Volkswagen that is in trouble. Deutsche Bank is also negotating to settle charges growing out of its mortgage securities business. Together the two companies account for more than 320,000 German jobs. Putting them both out of business would be harmful to U.S.-German relations and would affect thousands of American jobs as well.

No one is speaking on the record, but it is known that the Justice Department is hoping to settle the matter by January 2017. Assuming VW's business holds up over the next few months, it's possible it could be hit with a whopping fine and survive the blow. The company currently has about $32 billion in net liquidity, according to Bloomberg

Audi feeling the heat

While VW waits for the Justice Department's hammer to fall, it's also facing the specter that the fall-out from the diesel scandal is beginning to affect Audi, VW's cash cow.

Audi's development chief, Stefan Knirsch, resigned earlier this week after an investigation found he knew about the emissions deception when he took the job. 

Audi has been largely spared so far, and its sales remain robust in the United States and elsewhere. However, critics are raising questions about the luxury brand's potential role in the scandal. It is usually seen as playing an important role in developing technology that filters down to VW's mass-market brands, and the last two VW CEOs -- Martin Winterkorn and Ferdinand Piech -- both ran Audi before taking over the parent company.

German newspaper reports last week said that some Audi executives knew about the emissions cheating for nearly a decade. The engine control software at the heart of the scandal was developed at Audi in the 1990s as a way to reduce diesel engine noise. 

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The question you didn't hear asked at last night's debate

AARP pushes candidates to talk about Social Security

When Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump squared off in Monday night's first presidential debate, there was no shortage of fireworks.B...

PhotoWhen Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump squared off in Monday night's first presidential debate, there was no shortage of fireworks.

But while the 90 minutes was long on entertainment value, some commentators observed that it was short on substance. In particular, AARP Senior Vice President John Hishta said there was one issue, affecting just about everyone in the country, that was not raised.

"In this issueless campaign, the debate was the best chance for voters to get real answers on how the presidential candidates would keep Social Security strong for future generations,” Hishta said. “If our leaders don't commit to act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 per year.”

Hishta says Social Security faces a big revenue shortfall in the future. Under current law, if nothing is done, there will be cuts across the board for Social Security in 2034.

If the political climate does not change, it's hard to see how anything gets done. Congress can simply let the cuts go into effect and individual members don't have to take any action that would be unpopular among one constituency or another.

Trying to raise the issue

For its part, AARP is trying to get the issue on the political radar screen. In spite of recent polling, which shows support for more focus on the issue, AARP complains that Social Security has been largely ignored in the election.

It points to an AARP survey of Baby Boomer women that found 71% want the government to address Social Security immediately and more than two-thirds say have heard nothing about the candidates' plans.

"Americans who are working hard and paying into Social Security were the real losers at tonight's debate," Hishta said.

Hishta said AARP will step up pressure to have moderators in the remaining two debates at least bring up the issue.

Both presidential candidates have, in fact, addressed Social Security on their campaigns. On her website, Clinton says the biggest threat to Social Security is from Republicans. She supports an expansion of benefits, to be paid for by increasing contributions from upper income recipients.

Trump has said in speeches that he does not support any cuts to Social Security or Medicare. In a statement to AARP, Trump said the best way to preserve those benefits is to grow the economy.

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Gasoline prices hold at $2.21 a gallon

Prices at the pump are showing remarkable stability

The pipeline leak in Alabama has been repaired and gasoline is flowing again, but some states in the Southeast are still feeling the effects of reduced sup...

PhotoThe pipeline leak in Alabama has been repaired and gasoline is flowing again, but some states in the Southeast are still feeling the effects of reduced supplies and higher prices.

Those rising prices have more or less offset the seasonal drop in prices elsewhere in the U.S., and the result is a remarkable stability in gasoline prices.

According to AAA, the national average price of regular gasoline is about $2.21 a gallon, within a penny of where it was the day before, a week ago, and even a month ago. A year ago, it was only seven cents a gallon more.

Prices are higher in the normally rock-bottom-priced Southeast, thanks to the leak in the Colonial pipeline in Alabama two weeks ago. Operations were restored last week. Analysts at AAA say it may take another week before prices return to normal.

But while prices are still higher than normal in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, drivers in 25 states are paying less at the pump week-over-week.

Below $2 a gallon

In fact, the average price is below $2 a gallon in five states; Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, the most expensive gasoline is found in states clustered in the West; Hawaii, California, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Nevada.

Drivers in four states are seeing gasoline prices go down from last week. They are paying three cents a gallon less in Wyoming, two cents less in Idaho and Utah, and a penny less in North Dakota.

Great Lakes volatility

The Great Lakes region remains the most volatile part of the country for fuel prices. Refinery issues can spike prices overnight and, as an added issue, the region is somewhat dependent on gasoline moved through the Colonial pipeline.

While gasoline prices have remained fairly stable over the last couple of weeks, the seasonal pattern is for gasoline costs to steadily decline into the end of the year. Despite the recent pipeline problems, AAA expects that pattern to hold.

The X-factor continues to be the price of crude oil, which has also remained steady lately, between $45 and $50. Analysts will be keeping an eye on OPEC's next meeting, where Saudi Arabia may finally agree to a production freeze, which would likely boost the cost of crude oil.

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Trump the candidate may win but Trump the brand is losing

Whatever the voters decide, necktie sales may suffer

Who won last night's Clinton-Trump debate? It's up to you to decide, but marketing experts say there's not much debate about how the Trump brand is being a...

PhotoWho won last night's Clinton-Trump debate? It's up to you to decide, but marketing experts say there's not much debate about how the Trump brand is being affected by its namesake's presidential bid.

Not well is the brief answer, according to Brand Keys, the New York-based brand loyalty and emotional engagement research consultancy known for its annual Brand Keys 2015 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index (CLEI).

A Brand Keys survey found that, while Trump's presidential campaign may be helping his TV/Entertainment and Country Clubs/Golf Courses categories, it is hurting nearly everything else -- things like “shirts, ties, suits, and jewelry, they have been significantly degraded, as shown in this table:

Category

Human Brand

Presidential Brand

Differential

TV/Entertainment

37%

43%

6%

Country/Golf Clubs

35%

40%

5%

Real Estate

30%

30%

0%

Ties

29%

23%

-6%

Suits

25%

19%

-6%

Watches

20%

11%

-9%

All changes,– up and down,– are at the 95% confidence level,” said Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff. 

“Given the results of the Brand Keys’ survey, it appears that customers "aren'’t as magnanimous as they were in simpler times,”" added Passikoff.

Methodology

The study was conducted August 26th to September 7th among 1,713 respondents, each of whom qualified as a “consumer” in the seven categories examined. Interviews were conducted via telephone and online. The survey has a margin of error of + 2%, while current results are generalizable at the 95% confidence.

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Another month of rising consumer confidence

Consumers seem bullish on the present and the future

Consumers' views on the economy improved in September for a second straight month.The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index was up 2.3...

PhotoConsumers' views on the economy improved in September for a second straight month.

The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index was up 2.3 points from August for a reading of 104.1. Within that, the Present Situation Index rose from 125.3 to 128.5, while the Expectations Index improved from 86.1 last month to 87.8.

“Consumers’ assessment of present-day conditions improved, primarily the result of a more positive view of the labor market, said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco.

“Looking ahead, consumers are more upbeat about the short-term employment outlook, but somewhat neutral about business conditions and income prospects. Overall, consumers continue to rate current conditions favorably and foresee moderate economic expansion in the months ahead.”

Here and now

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved in September. While those who say business conditions are “good” decreased from 30.3% to 27.4%, those who think conditions are “bad” fell from 18.2% to 16.2%.

Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was more positive than last month. Those who believe jobs are “plentiful” inched up from 26.8% to 27.9%, and those who said jobs are “hard to get” dipped to 21.6% from 22.8%.

Looking ahead

There was an increase in optimism regarding the short-term outlook in September. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months slipped from 17.6% to 16.5%. However, those expecting business conditions to worsen also declined -- from 11.4% to 10.2%.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was more upbeat. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 14.4% to 15.1%, while those who think there will be fewer jobs was down 0.5% to 17.0%.

The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to increase fell from 18.5% to 17.1%. At the same time, the proportion anticipating a decline dropped to 10.3% from 11.0%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was September 15.

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A slowdown in home price gains

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Index is close to a record high

July was another month of solid gains in home prices, according to the S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, with the index covering all nine U.S. census di...

PhotoJuly was another month of solid gains in home prices, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, with the index covering all nine U.S. census divisions showing a 5.1% annual gain.

The 10-City Composite was up 4.2%, down from the 4.3% annual gain posted in June, while the 20-City Composite rise of 5.0% was down 0.1% from June.

The highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities over each of the last six months came in Portland, Seattle, and Denver. Portland led the way in July with a year-over-year price increase of 12.4%, followed by Seattle at 11.2%, and Denver with a 9.4% advance. Nine cities reported greater price increases in the year ending July 2016 versus the year ending June 2016.

“The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Index is within 0.6% of the record high set in July 2006, said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Seven of the 20 cities have already set new record highs. The 10-year, 20-year, and National indices have been rising at about 5% per year over the last 24 months. Eight of the cities are seeing prices up 6% or more in the last year.”

Month-over-month

Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index was up 0.7% from June. The 10-City Composite recorded a month-over-month increase of 0.5%, while the 20-City Composite was up 0.6%.

After seasonal adjustment, the National Index recorded a 0.4% month-over-month increase, the 10-City Composite was down 0.1%, and the 20-City Composite was unchanged.

After seasonal adjustment, 12 cities saw prices rise, two were unchanged, and six cities reported declines.

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502 Boundary Blvd. recalls Black Forest Ham products

The products that may be contaminated with extraneous materials

502 Boundary Blvd. Inc., formerly known as Fletcher’s Fine Foods Ltd., of Algona, Wash., is recalling approximately 8,694 pounds of ham product that may be...

Photo502 Boundary Blvd. Inc., formerly known as Fletcher’s Fine Foods Ltd., of Algona, Wash., is recalling approximately 8,694 pounds of ham product that may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically rubber.

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

The following boneless, ready-to-eat ham item, produced on July 18, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 6.02-lb. vacuum-sealed packages containing one “Fletcher’s Fine Foods CLASSICS Black Forest Brand Ham with Natural Juices.”

The recalled product bears “Product of Canada” and “Est. #337” on the label and packaging code 16 OC 2016.

The recalled product was shipped to Costco and Sam’s Club stores and distribution centers in Alaska, Utah and Washington.

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 company's consumer call center at 1-(855)-763-4621. 

 

 

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Volkswagen recalls model year 2017 Audi Q7s

The third row seat back may move forward under conditions

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 19,205 model year 2017 Audi Q7s manufactured August 30, 2015, to July 10, 2016.The third row seat back may mov...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 19,205 model year 2017 Audi Q7s manufactured August 30, 2015, to July 10, 2016.

The third row seat back may move forward under certain conditions, such as in a front collision. As such, the vehicles do not conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 207, "Seating Systems."

If the third row seat does not remain in its adjusted position, there may be an increased risk of injury to an occupant.

What to do

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will install an additional support bracket to the seat, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in October 2016.

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 72F8.

 

 

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Apple Tree Goat Dairy recalls four goat cheeses

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Apple Tree Goat Dairy of Richfield, Pa., is recalling four varieties of goat cheese that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.No illnesses h...

PhotoApple Tree Goat Dairy of Richfield, Pa., is recalling four varieties of goat cheese that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The following products are being recalled:

  • Feta cheese aged 60 days lot #836, with expiration 12/16, shrink wrapped
  • Gouda Cheese aged 60 days Lot #426, a square block 8-oz. package or a 5-lb. block, shrink wrapped
  • Pasteurized Chevre Lot #816, in 5-lb. or 8-oz. Shrink-wrapped bags
  • French Herb Chevre Lo t #736 in 8-oz. or 5-lb. shrink bag

The recalled products may have been distributed in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia thru Lancaster co-op.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but contact the place of purchase for a full refund.

Consumers with questions may contact the Apple Tree Goat Dairy at 717-694-0146 Monday thru Friday 8:00am to 5:00pm (EST).

 

 

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Goodyear recalls G399A LHS tires

The tire tread my separate while in use

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company is recalling 1,650 G399A LHS tires, size 295/75R22.5 LRG, manufactured January 24, 2016, to May 28, 2016.Due to an anoma...

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Lenny Lamb infant carriers recalled

The internal stitching on the infant carrier is missing

Lenny Lamb of Poland is recalling about 1,500 Buckle Onbu infant carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.The internal stitching on the infant carrier is m...

PhotoLenny Lamb of Poland is recalling about 1,500 Buckle Onbu infant carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

The internal stitching on the infant carrier is missing, posing a fall hazard to children.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

The Lenny Lamb Buckle Onbu is an infant carrier designed to strap the baby against the caregiver’s body at the hip. It is intended for children who can already sit unassisted. It is most commonly used for back carry.

The woven 100% cotton carrier was sold in 83 different styles and in one standard size. It has an interior panel to adjust the width, padded shoulder straps and an adjustable hood.

A label with the manufacture date between 05.2016 and 06.2016 is located on the back side of the shoulder area of the carrier.

The carriers. Manufactured in Poland, were sold online at 5 Minute Recess, Ashley Hesch Bibetts, Lenny Lamb, Savanna Brown and other online retailers from May 2016, through June 2016, for about $90.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled carrier and contact Lenny Lamb to receive a full refund or a free replacement carrier.

Consumers may contact Lenny Lamb toll-free at 877-487-1416 from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at service@lennylamb.com, or online at https://us.lennylamb.com/ and click on Recalls for more information.

 

 

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Money 101: managing credit cards

Experts offer tips for staying out of trouble

A credit card can be a powerful, helpful financial tool. It can also plunge you so deep into debt that it will take years to get out. It all depends on how...

PhotoA credit card can be a powerful, helpful financial tool. It can also plunge you so deep into debt that it will take years to get out. It all depends on how you use it.

Bruce McClary, a vice-president at the National Federation for Credit Counseling, says it's important for consumers to think about how they are going to use a credit card when they apply for it.

“Make sure that you're doing it for all the right reasons,” McClary told ConsumerAffairs. “Just opening a credit card to have it is not good enough. You should have a long-term goal that might be supported by the proper use of credit.”

Good uses of a credit card

Having a credit card in which you tap only a small portion of your available credit and make the payments on time will boost your credit score. That's a proper use of a credit card.

Here's another: you need to make a major purchase or to cover an unexpected expense. If you can put it on your credit card and make regular, significant payments each month, it can help you stay on your budget. In such a case, however, you would need to be careful not to run up additional charges until you have reduced the balance to a manageable level.

One last way you should use credit card is to pay for gasoline and groceries. The card provides a convenient form of payment for making the purchases, but paying off the bill in full right away can also boost your credit score. However, if you're using the card instead of the cash in your bank account, then just make sure you aren't spending your cash on other things, since it will need to be available to pay off the credit card bill.

Manage your debt

Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Operations at Equifax, says the way you use a credit card should fit into your monthly cash flow. She says it is more important to effectively manage your debt than to pay off the balance in full each month.

“Once again, everyone’s situation is different, but generally speaking, there are three instances where you may want to reconsider paying a credit card balance in full,” she said in an interview. “You’re having trouble making ends meet and are suffering from a cash flow problem; you’re anticipating several major expenses coming up; or you have a credit card with a low APR.”

Moogalian says a key element of being financially literate involves understanding how different aspects of credit impact your overall financial situation. For example, if you plan to pay off your credit card balance over 12 months instead of six months, that leaves more money for savings. Having adequate savings may prevent you from having to run up your credit card bill in the event of an unexpected expense.

How it can hurt

The problem, of course, is that credit card use can quickly get out of control. Not only can balances soar, but consumers who make late or only partial payments can end up falling behind. Heather Battison, a vice president at TransUnion, says that appears to be the number one trap for consumers.

“If a credit bill is left unpaid, it can show up on a credit report and indicate to lenders the consumer is a risky borrower who may be unable to pay off debt,” Battison said. "It’s also important to understand that if a payment is late, the delinquency can appear on a credit report for up to seven years.”

The bottom line is this: a credit card should serve a specific purpose. It makes everyday purchases more convenient or it provides short term financing for a major purchase. When it is used because you lack the money to pay for things, that's when it leads to trouble.

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Google's self-driving car involved in accident

Another driver ran a red light and collided with the vehicle

Google is perhaps one of the biggest companies in support of getting self-driving cars on the road. Back in March, it asked Congress to allow federal regul...

PhotoGoogle is perhaps one of the biggest companies in support of getting self-driving cars on the road. Back in March, it asked Congress to allow federal regulators to override the wishes of states that rejected the new technology, and since then it has been testing and refining its own prototype.

Testing new technologies comes with risks, though, and the company's self-driving car recently hit a bump in the road. On Friday, reports surfaced that the vehicle had been involved in an accident in Mt. View, Calif. Another driver allegedly ran a red light and collided with Google’s vehicle.

The car was operating autonomously when the crash occurred, but a Google employee quickly took over control and applied the brakes as the other car entered the intersection. No one was hurt as a result of the incident.

“A Google vehicle was traveling northbound on Phyllis Ave. in Mountain View when a car heading westbound on El Camino Real ran a red light and collided with the right side of our vehicle. Our light was green for at least six seconds before our car entered the intersection. Thousands of crashes happen everyday on U.S. roads, and red-light running is the leading cause of urban crashes in the U.S. Human error plays a role in 94% of these crashes, which is why we’re developing fully self-driving technology to make our roads safer,” said Google in a statement.

Improving safety

The crash comes shortly after safety regulators released new guidelines for autonomous vehicles. The provisions are meant to shore up any laissez-faire approaches to creating self-driving cars so that they are safe before consumers can operate them on the open road.

Safety advocates were pleased with the change in policy, saying that the Department of Transportation’s focus on consumer safety was “long overdue.” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx reiterated in a statement that self-driving vehicles could save many lives..

“Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken,” he said.

Despite the recent accident, Google will surely continue to test its self-driving technologies going forward. The company releases reports on how far its vehicles have traveled and provides accident details at its “Google Self-Driving Car Project” page here.

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'Gig' employment becoming the new normal

Report says employers spent nearly $800 billion on contract workers last year

Much has been said and written about the so-called “gig economy,” in which workers are not employees, but rather independent contractors.Some people li...

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New rule could curb oil speculators

Fed proposal could make gas prices less volatile in the future

In a little noted action Friday, the Federal Reserve published a proposed rule that it said would toughen the existing requirements and limitations placed...

PhotoIn a little noted action Friday, the Federal Reserve published a proposed rule that it said would toughen the existing requirements and limitations placed on  investment banks and some other traders who speculate in the commodities market.

The Fed said it is proposing the action because of its concerns over potential “catastrophic, legal, reputational, and financial risks” these firms could suffer, possibly posing system risks to the financial system. Most likely policymakers have in mind the trading in mortgage backed securities that blew up in 2008.

The Fed notes that it is only a limited number of firms that engage in physical commodity trading. Still, it sees cause for concern.

“The possibility of an environmental accident due to these activities presents significant risks to the firms,” the Fed said in announcing a public comment period on the proposal.

Good for consumers

While the Fed is more concerned about the health of the financial system and the integrity of the firms that participate, consumers may have reason to cheer the proposal as well.

That's because it would make it more expensive for speculators to bid up the price of commodities, in particular oil. Lately, that hasn't been much of a problem, but in the past it was.

When the market believed that rapid growth in China and other developing nations would compete for limited oil supplies, the price of oil soared well over $100 a barrel in 2008, resulting in a national average gasoline price that topped $4 a gallon in July.

Could reduce future oil speculation

Since oil prices collapsed in 2014, speculators haven't been nearly as active in the oil market. The Fed rule, if enacted, would likely limit their activity in the future.

Speculators have been largely absent from the oil market since late 2014 because there has been little evidence that oil prices will sharply rebound. Crude oil is trading below $50 a barrel, less than half its all-time high.

The Fed rule would require participating companies to increase the amount of money they have in reserve when they deal in commodities activity, limiting the amount of trading activity they would have for physical commodities.

It would also establish greater transparency, requiring firms to expand reporting on the nature and extent of their physical commodity holdings and activity.

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Beware the Hotwire travel scam

Travel deal site warns consumers that scammers are using its name

While fax machines would seem to be outdated technology, many are still in use, especially at small businesses.Scammers are relying on this fact to ste...

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Cadillac's new SUV earns top IIHS safety award

The vehicle performed well in all five safety tests

The new 2017 Cadillac XT5 midsize luxury SUV has been awarded the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.In addition to...

PhotoThe new 2017 Cadillac XT5 midsize luxury SUV has been awarded the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

In addition to earning good ratings in all five of the Institute's crashworthiness evaluations, the midsize luxury SUV -- when equipped with optional front crash prevention -- received a superior or advanced rating, depending on the package selected.

Varying braking packages offered

When equipped with both Front Automatic Braking and Low-Speed Front Automatic Braking, the XT5 earns a superior rating for front crash prevention.

In the 12 mph IIHS track test, it consistently avoided a collision. In the 25 mph test, it avoided a collision in four out of five runs and slowed but didn't stop completely in the fifth.

When equipped with low-speed autobrake only, the XT5 earns an advanced rating. It avoided a collision in the 12 mph test, while in the 25 mph test, the impact speed was cut by 9 mph.

Both front crash prevention packages also include forward collision warning that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

To qualify for a 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests. It also must have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

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An August drop for sales of new homes

Housing prices were mixed

July's big increase in sales of new single-family homes was followed by a sizable decline last month.The Commerce Department reports sales plunged 7.6%...

PhotoJuly's big increase in sales of new single-family homes was followed by a sizable decline last month.

The Commerce Department reports sales plunged 7.6% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 609,000. Even with the decline, sales were 20.6% above the same month a year ago and are running at the fastest clip since January 2008.

As it released its August numbers, the government revised it's July figures to show sales that month ran at a rate of 659,000, 4,000 higher than originally reported.

Prices and inventories

The median sales price of new houses sold in August 2016 was $284,000, a decline of $9,100 from July and $16,200 from August 2015. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less.

The average sales price was $353,600, up $1,600 from a month earlier and a year-over-year gain of $4,800.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of August was 235,000, which works out to a supply of 4.6 months at the current sales rate.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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Kellogg’s Eggo Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles recalled

The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Kellogg Company is recalling approximately 10,000 cases of Kellogg’s® Eggo® Nutri-Grain® Whole Wheat Waffles.The product may be contaminated with Liste...

PhotoKellogg Company is recalling approximately 10,000 cases of Kellogg’s Eggo Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles.

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The company has received no reports of illness to date.

The following product is being recalled:

DescriptionUPC CodeSizeBetter If Used Before Date
Kellogg’s ® Eggo® Nutri-Grain® Whole Wheat Waffles 38000 4037012.3 oz (10 ct)NOV21 17 and NOV22 17

The date code is on the side of the package.

The recalled product was sold in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it and contact the company for a full refund.

Consumers may contact the company at 1-800-962-1413, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (ET) or online at https://www.kelloggs.com/en_US/contact-us.html.

 

 

 

 

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General Motors recalls Cadillac CT6 vehicles

The seat belt webbing may detach from the seat anchor

General Motors is recalling 131 model year 2016 Cadillac CT6 vehicles manufactured July 21, 2016, to July 22, 2016.The bolt that connects the front pas...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 131 model year 2016 Cadillac CT6 vehicles manufactured July 21, 2016, to July 22, 2016.

The bolt that connects the front passenger seat belt webbing to the seat's anchor plate may be missing. Without the bolt, the seat belt webbing may detach from the seat anchor.

If the seat belt webbing detaches from the seat anchor, the seat belt may not properly restrain the front seat passenger in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

What to do

GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the existing front passenger seat belt webbing anchor bolt, or install a bolt if it is missing, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 24, 2016.

Owners should not allow anyone to sit in the front passenger seat until the recall remedy has been performed.

Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006. GM's number for this recall is 16035. 

 

 

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Denon recalls rechargeable battery packs

The battery can overheat, posing a fire and burn hazards

Denon Electronics of Mahwah, N.J., is recalling about 3,600 lithium-ion rechargeable battery packs sold in the U.S. and Canada.The battery can overheat...

PhotoDenon Electronics of Mahwah, N.J., is recalling about 3,600 lithium-ion rechargeable battery packs sold in the U.S. and Canada.

The battery can overheat, posing a fire and burn hazards.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Denon’s HEOS 1 Go Pack lithium-ion rechargeable battery packs for wireless speakers. Only HEOS 1 Go Packs with a 10-character alpha-numeric serial number beginning with 5 or 601G91 and ending with 3517 through 4004 are included in the recall.

The battery packs are black or white, hexagon-shaped and have four blue LED lights and a power button. HEOS, the model and serial numbers are printed on the bottom. Only the speaker battery is being recalled.

The battery packs, manufactured in China, were sold at Best Buy (Magnolia), Brookstone and online at BestBuy.com and Amazon.com from May 2015, through June 2016, for about $100.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled battery packs and contact Denon for a free replacement battery pack, including shipping.

Consumers may contact Denon toll-free at 844 -759-1987 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, or online at https://usa.denon.com.

 

 

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Model year 2010-2013 Audi A8s recalled

Coolant may enter the engine control module causing a loss of power or an engine stall

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 9,102 model year 2010-2013 Audi A8s manufactured May 15, 2010, to May 14, 2012.The vehicles have a coolant val...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 9,102 model year 2010-2013 Audi A8s manufactured May 15, 2010, to May 14, 2012.

The vehicles have a coolant valve that may leak, allowing coolant to enter the engine control module causing a loss of power or the engine to stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

 

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the coolant valve and inspect for coolant that has leaked through the electrical connector, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 19, 2016.

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834.

 

 

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EpiPen price hearing satisfies few, settles little

Consumer group Public Citizen is not satisfied with the CEO's explanation

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch spent an uncomfortable day this week before a House committee investigating her company's pricing policy for the EpiPen, a life-sa...

PhotoMylan CEO Heather Bresch spent an uncomfortable day this week before a House committee investigating her company's pricing policy for the EpiPen, a life-saving antidote to allergic shock.

Mylan recently raised the price of a two-pack of the product to $600. When it purchased the rights to the drug nine years ago, it cost an inflation-adjusted $109.

In her testimony before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Bresch said her company had taken steps to soften the impact of the price hike on low income consumers, but made clear the company would not reduce the price, as many critics called on it to do.

One of those critics is the consumer group Public Citizen, which monitored Bresch's testimony and issued a point-by-point rebuttal. When the CEO defended the price of the EpiPen as necessary to fund research on other drugs, Public Citizen wasn't buying it.

“Bresch conflates research and development and the cost of manufacturing,” the group said in its analysis. “Manufacturing costs do not reflect product improvements, and cannot answer the criticism that Mylan has spiked the price of an old product without making substantial improvements to it. Mylan makes as much profit off EpiPen alone every year as the company claims to invest across all product lines in R&D plus manufacturing.”

Wholesale Acquisition Cost

During her testimony, Bresch blamed the way drugs are priced in the U.S., citing the Wholesale Acquisition Cost or WAC.

“The WAC for a 2 unit pack of EpiPen AutoInjectors is $608, Bresch noted. “After rebates and various fees, Mylan actually receives $274. Then you must subtract our cost of goods which is $69. This leaves a balance of $205. After subtracting all EpiPen Auto-Injector related costs our profit is $100, or approximately $50 per pen.”

Public Citizen responds that Bresch really didn't make her case. It said even if the EpiPen profit were as low as $100, that amount would still be a large profit from a device with such a low manufacturing cost, “any development costs of which were recouped many years ago, containing a century-old drug.”

Did anything get settled?

USA Today observes that the sparring this week really didn't resolve anything, and that may be part of a strategy. It notes that CEOs who incur the wrath of lawmakers dutifully trudge to Capitol Hill to endure a verbal lambasting. Then they leave and nothing changes.

It prompted committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to compare the strategy to Muhammad Ali's famous rope-a-dope in the boxing ring. Ali would often cover his face and lean against the ropes to absorb his opponents blows, patiently waiting until his opponent spent all his energy.  

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Getting your garden ready for fall

Cool weather plants that can keep the color in your garden

Your garden may soon be bidding adieu to summer temperatures, but it doesn’t have to go dormant. Many plants will continue to grow happily during the colde...

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Rents no longer rising as much as they were

Zillow reports rents rose 1.7% compared to 5% for home prices

Many Millennials have been caught in a housing squeeze. Unable to buy a home, they've been forced to remain renters. But in the wake of the housing crisis,...

PhotoMany Millennials have been caught in a housing squeeze. Unable to buy a home, they've been forced to remain renters. But in the wake of the housing crisis, when demand for rental property skyrocketed, so did rents. And as rents rose year after year, it was harder to get ahead.

However, there's finally some good news. Real estate marketplace Zillow reports rents are still rising, but not as fast as home values are.

In August 2015, rents were up an average of 6% over 2014 levels. But this year, the rise from last August is just 1.7%, to $1,405 on the Zillow Rent Index (ZRI).

Seattle most expensive rental market

Broken down among the largest housing markets in the U.S., Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, and San Diego saw rents go up the most, year-over-year. In fact, if you want to rent a place in Seattle, be prepared to pay a median $2,067 a month, up 10% over the last year.

In Portland, the median rent is up to $1,777 per month, a 7% gain over the last year. In Sacramento and San Diego, rents are up 5.5% and 5%, respectively.

Elsewhere, rents have slowed dramatically, perhaps in part due to aggressive apartment construction over the last five years.

Rents looking more attractive

Compared to home prices, rent is starting to look attractive. Zillow reports the median price of a home has risen 5.1% since August 2015, driven in part by the lack of homes for sale. Competition for those homes that are on the market has helped sellers get closer to their asking price.

Zillow also reports housing inventory is beginning to show slight gains since hitting lows at the beginning of the year. But compared to 2015, inventory is still down 5%.

If home inventory continues to pick up, Zillow predicts the growth in home prices will slow to 2.7% next year.

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Why you should feed your dog pumpkin

Cooked pumpkin contains vitamins and nutrients that can boost your dog's health

Whether they’re gracing a fall tablescape or waiting to be picked from a patch, pumpkins are everywhere these days. If you’re a pet parent with pumpkins to...

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Consumers predicted to spend $8.4 billion for Halloween this year

It is the highest estimate in the 11-year history of the NRF survey

With the coming of autumn, many consumers are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Halloween. While spending for the holiday reached fairly high levels last...

PhotoWith the coming of autumn, many consumers are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Halloween. While spending for the holiday reached fairly high levels last year, the National Retail Federation is predicting that it will be eclipsed this year.

The organization’s annual survey, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, is predicting that consumers will spend $8.4 billion on Halloween purchases this year. That number reflects an all-time high for the survey’s 11-year history, and retailers are doing their best to get ready.

“After a long summer, families are excited to welcome the fall season celebrating Halloween. Retailers are preparing for the day by offering a wide variety of options in costumes, decorations and candy, while being aggressive with their promotions to capture the most out of this shopping event,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

$8.4 billion in spending

The analysts predict that spending on a per-person basis will increase to $82.93 this year, a jump of over $6 from last year’s total. In a breakdown of the numbers, the survey predicts that $3.1 billion will be spent on costumes, $2.5 billion on candy, $2.4 billion on decorations, and $390 million on greeting cards.

Consumers plan on celebrating the holidays in a variety of different ways this year. Results show that 71% of consumers plan to hand out candy, 49% will decorate their homes, 46% will carve pumpkins, 34% will throw or attend a party, 30% will take the kids out for trick-or-treating, and 21% will visit a haunted house. Sixteen percent will include their pets in festivities by dressing them up in a costume.

Where to shop?

Consumers will also have a number of choices of where to shop for holiday supplies this year. Forty-seven percent say they will visit discount stores for Halloween-related items, while 36% say they’ll look for supplies at specialty Halloween/costume stores. The remaining consumers will go to grocery stores/supermarkets (26%), department stores (23%), or shop online (22%).

“Consumers are eager to celebrate Halloween, especially given that eight in 10 Americans will shop by mid-October. That is the highest we have seen in the survey history,” said Prosper Insights Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “Americans will enjoy taking advantage of early-bird promotions both online and in-store as they kick off the fall season.”

The survey included responses from 6,791 consumers who were asked about their Halloween shopping plans from September 6-13. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 1.2%.

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States sue maker of opioid treatment drug

Complaint says Indivior engaged in anti-competitive behavior

In another case revolving around drug pricing, 36 states have joined a lawsuit against Indivior, the manufacturer of the branded drug Suboxone. Suboxone is...

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Yet another food marketing label to watch out for

You may begin to see premium-priced produce labeled "from preserved farmland"

Consumers encounter an increasing number of food labels as they do their grocery shopping, and it may be hard to keep them straight and understand what the...

PhotoConsumers encounter an increasing number of food labels as they do their grocery shopping, and it may be hard to keep them straight and understand what they mean.

For example, there continue to be arguments about what constitutes “organic,” even though the government has an official definition. The label “natural” is a bit more vague.

Then there is “locally sourced,” which suggests the food was grown or produced nearby – but how near is not set in stone. Other terms you might see applied to food are “responsible” and “sustainable,” which are not really governed by official definitions.

Green marketing terms

What they all have in common is being “green” terms. Marketers have come to discover their power, because consumers are often willing to pay a premium to purchase them. Now there is another green food label consumers may begin to encounter – “grown on preserved land.”

Several states have enacted laws that allow farmers to permanently “preserve” their land for agricultural use. That means it can't be rezoned for a subdivision or shopping mall in the future.

Researchers at the University of Delaware wondered if consumers would be willing to pay a higher price for produce grown on these farms. They set up an experiment in which consumers were offered watermelons going for a premium price but labeled as having been grown on preserved farmland.

Different labeling technigues

The researchers said consumers participating in their experiment were willing to buy the more expensive watermelon because of its “halo” status.

The experiment used different labeling techniques, including a local Watermelon Association label showing that it was local. It came up with a “preserved farmland label” indicating that a watermelon came from a preserved farm. There were watermelon with no label at all but at a lower price.

The watermelons were then sold at farmers markets in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The researchers found there was a “statistically significant” premium that consumers were willing to pay for the watermelon labeled as “preserved.”

The researchers, of course, see that as a good thing, supporting the idea of legally preserving farmland against development in densely populated areas. For consumers, however, it underscores the need to fully understand what food labels mean, especially if they appear to be wearing a halo.

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AT&T's streaming version of DirecTV to debut later this year

The cost of the data will be included in the service for AT&T Wireless customers

The television universe is being turned inside out and upside down as companies maneuver to adapt to cable-cutting, the potential end of set-top boxes, and...

PhotoThe television universe is being turned inside out and upside down as companies maneuver to adapt to cable-cutting, the potential end of set-top boxes, and other cataclysmic events that are happening at ever-increasing speed.

In the latest attempt to get ahead of the game, AT&T; CEO Randall Stephenson says the giant telecom will launch an online streaming version of DirecTV called DirecTV Now. The idea is similar to Dish's Sling TV, except that Dish doesn't have a nationwide wireless network. 

AT&T; first announced the plan in March, but little has been heard about it in the intervening months. Now it looks like things are back on track.

Speaking at an investor conference, Stephenson didn't disclose details but said the service would feature "very, very aggressive price points" and will offer more than 100 channels when it debuts in the fourth quarter.

Data chunks

For AT&T; Wireless customers, the cost of the data will be included in the price. Customers using a different wireless provider will be responsible for the data chunks they consume.

Stephenson said the project is "about 90% there" with a few program providers holding out for a sweeter deal. 

The strategic goal, of course, is to lure more consumers into the AT&T; walled garden and provide "stickiness" that will keep existing customers there. 

“They don’t like buying a DirecTV subscription and then having to go and pay extra to see the same data on a mobile device or tablet,” Stephenson said, according to CNET. “They don’t want to buy an over-the-top subscription and have to pay again if they want to stream it to a TV."

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How the Recession has impacted the Millennial mindset

Millennials are hard workers, but they're risk-averse in their careers

In the wake of the Recession, Millennials continue to face economic challenges that hamper their career hopes. A new survey by EY, a professional servi...

PhotoIn the wake of the Recession, Millennials continue to face economic challenges that hamper their career hopes. 

A new survey by EY, a professional services company, and the Economic Innovation Group, a policy and advocacy group, finds that the generation has been working hard to strike a balance between their hopes and their reality.

Millennials understand that hard work is the best way to overcome hurdles such as student debt, but their lack of confidence in American institutions is causing many to shy away from starting their own business or creating other opportunities for themselves.

Thoughts on higher education

Millennials are a well-educated bunch, but they don’t share the same thoughts on higher education as those in generations before them.

The survey found that two-thirds of Millennials believe having an education can boost their efforts to get ahead, but only 49% believe the benefits of a college education are enough to outweigh the cost.

For many young people, higher education entails a great deal of financial risk. Fifty-two percent of 18- to 34-year olds will leave college saddled with student loan debt, which may damage their perceived career prospects. In the survey, 43% of respondents said student loan debt has limited their career options.

Not very entrepreneurial

Although 72% of Millennials agreed that entrepreneurship is vital to the national economy, 44% said they think the best way to advance their career is to stick with one company.

Millennials’ hesitancy to start their own business can often be traced back to financial reasons. Low wages and student debt may lead many to opt for less risky career paths.

“When you’re pessimistic and distrustful as a generation, you tend to do things that make you poorer as an economy. Choosing those risk-averse paths, because they’re the ones with potentially the least downside, also caps your ability to grow,” John Lettieri, co-founder and senior director for policy and strategy at EIG, told the Washington Post.

‘Economically pessimistic’

Millennials may have a deep desire to get ahead in life, but the economic climate they were greeted by when they entered the workforce has led many to become skeptical of institutions and wary of making big leaps.  

"What the establishment doesn't understand is that in their minds, Millennials did all of the right things – they worked hard, got their education -- but they incurred huge amounts of debt and the job market they inherited hasn't rewarded any of these sacrifices,” said EIG cofounder and executive director Steve Glickman

Now, says Glickman, "they are deeply concerned about their future.”

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Tesla sues Michigan for right to sell cars to its consumers

The company says its efforts to open a dealership in the state have been barred by state officials

It looks like Tesla will be taking on the state of Michigan for the right to sell its cars to consumers there. The company has filed a lawsuit disputing a...

PhotoIt looks like Tesla will be taking on the state of Michigan for the right to sell its cars to consumers there. The company has filed a lawsuit disputing a law that bars it from selling vehicles directly to Michigan consumers. The action comes less than a week after the automaker’s application for a Class A license was denied by state officials.

The law in question was created in 2014. It dictated that no automaker would be able to sell its cars in Michigan unless it did so through franchised dealerships in the state. It has been dubbed by some as the “anti-Tesla” law because it specifically mentions Tesla in one of its amendments about requiring a franchised dealership.

This is a big problem for Tesla since its company model is based off selling cars directly to consumers; it says that efforts to open dealerships in Michigan have been blocked by state officials.

Opposing forces

Tesla claims that the 2014 law is unconstitutional because it effectively gives automakers in the state a monopoly on car sales.

“As a result of this law, Michigan consumers are forced to accept reduced access to the products they want, less competition and higher prices,” said Tesla in a statement. It goes on to say that it will continue to “fight for the rights of Michigan consumers to be able to choose how they buy cars in Michigan.”

Tesla asserts that its efforts to make headway in the state have been rebuked by Michigan lawmakers at every turn. It stated that it had initially hoped to resolve the matter through the state’s legislature, but it was dismayed to learn that its case would not be submitted for review.

“Unfortunately, the local auto dealers and local manufacturers have made clear that they oppose any law that would allow Tesla to operate in Michigan. Given their position, the leadership of the Michigan legislature recently informed Tesla that it will not even hold a hearing to debate the issue,” the company said in a statement.

“As one leading legislator told Tesla: ‘The local auto dealers do not want you here. The local manufacturers do not want you here. So you’re not going to be here.’”

The company is seeking a jury trial and has named Michigan’s Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Governor as defendants, since each allegedly was involved in preventing Tesla from operating its own stores in the state.

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Charter following Comcast into the wireless business

Charter will resell Verizon spectrum and use its own Wi-Fi hotspot network

Cable was a big deal in its day, but wireless is a bigger deal today. Yesterday, Comcast announced it was getting into the wireless business, reselling spe...

PhotoCable was a big deal in its day, but wireless is a bigger deal today. Yesterday, Comcast announced it was getting into the wireless business, reselling spectrum leased from Verizon and its own network of Wi-Fi hotspots.

Now Charter says it will do the same, using an option to resell Verizon's wireless service that it picked up when it bought Time Warner Cable.

Chief Executive Tom Rutledge outlined the bare bones of the plan at an investors conference, saying the company will use its own Wi-Fi hotspots to fill in holes in Verizon's network.

Comcast has installed routers in customers' homes and businesses that create a private network for the subscriber but also broadcast a public network to Comcast subscribers nearby. Charter's plan is apparently similar to that.

Rutledge said Charter's cable network passes about 50 million, but only half are subscribers, the Wall Street Journal reported.  

Cable companies like Comcast and Charter and wireless companies like Verizon and AT&T; are all trying to do the same thing -- lure consumers into their "walled gardens," where they can sell bundles of streaming video, wireless communications, cable, and broadband access. 

Just today, AT&T; said its plan to produce a streaming version of its TVDirect satellite service is on track for later this year. Verizon also has a number of streaming options in the works. 

In theory, all this rearranging of the deck chairs should work to benefit consumers, as competition and bundling should -- at least for awhile -- produce more services at less cost. 

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The high cost of being un-banked

Consumers may think they're saving, but a NerdWallet study says they aren't

Since the 2008 financial crisis, millions of consumers have become “un-banked,” ending their relationship with their bank or credit union. In many cases...

PhotoSince the 2008 financial crisis, millions of consumers have become “un-banked,” ending their relationship with their bank or credit union.

In many cases, the relationship ended involuntarily. During the credit crisis, many banks unilaterally closed accounts of marginal, unprofitable customers.

In other cases, consumers have decided they can live without a bank, often because they believe they will no longer incur expensive fees.

Regardless of the reason for being un-banked, a new study by NerdWallet, a personal finance website, concludes going without a traditional financial institution will cost you.

Expensive alternatives

The report's authors note that un-banked consumers usually find alternatives to meet their financial needs, such as cashing checks or online bill pay. But the study also notes that the fees for these alternative services often exceed those of banks and other traditional financial institutions.

As the economy has slowly recovered, banks have become a bit more competitive in trying to gain new customers. Finding a free checking account, for example, is easier than it was a few years ago. Banks might require consumers to do a couple of things – such as having a direct deposit and a minimum number of debit transactions each month – but they are usually things the average consumer can easily manage.

Having access to a bank, the study concludes, gives individuals and small businesses a free and convenient way to manage money. And the consumers who need it most, the authors say, are the ones most likely not to have it.

Poor hurt the most

“Poverty in the United States is a vicious cycle with many contributing factors,” said Devan Goldstein, a banking expert at NerdWallet. “Basic money management may seem easy to those who grew up outside the cycle, but lack of low-cost, low-friction access to the right products and services can make it much more difficult to stay on the right track financially.”

The study found nearly a third of the un-banked say the main reason for not using a bank is they don't have enough money. But the authors argue that the high fees associated with alternative financial services mean they have even less.

Among the study's findings, the average cost of not having a bank account is $196.50 a year for people who use a prepaid debit card that features direct deposit. That cost jumps to $488.89 if the card doesn’t offer direct deposit.

When a major bank like Wells Fargo is caught setting up fraudulent accounts for millions of customers, it may make being un-banked more attractive. But this week, the president of the Independent Community Bankers of America drew a distinction between small, independent banks and the mega-banks like Wells Fargo.

Association CEO Camden Fine wrote a letter to key members of Congress, asking them to provide targeted regulatory relief for small banks so they can provide better and less expensive financial services to consumers.

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Forgoing the fitness tracker may help you lose more weight

Activity monitor users tend to lose less weight, study finds

You may have purchased that step-counting, calorie cognizant activity tracker to aid your weight loss efforts, but it may not be so helpful in the long run...

PhotoYou may have purchased that step-counting, calorie cognizant activity tracker to aid your weight loss efforts, but it may not be so helpful in the long run.

When it comes to sustained weight loss, a study finds that wearable activity trackers aren’t as effective as plain and simple health counseling in which changes to activity level and diet are addressed. 

The University of Pittsburgh study, which followed participants over a two-year period, found that those who used activity trackers lost 5.29 pounds less than participants on a similar weight loss program who used a website to track their progress.

Study details

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 471 adults between the ages of 18 to 35. Participants were asked to either use or refrain from using a wearable activity tracker.

At the end of the 24-month long trial, the researchers discovered that participants who used wearable fitness trackers lost an average of 7.7 pounds while those who were put on a behavioral weight loss program lost an average of 13 pounds.

This observation led researchers to draw the conclusion that wearable monitors may offer fewer long-term advantages compared to traditional weight loss methods.

In other words: wearable tech may keep you apprised of how you’re doing, but it won’t make you more likely to adopt permanent changes to your diet and exercise routine.

“Our findings show that adding them to behavioral counseling that includes physical activity and reduced calorie intake does not improve weight loss or physical activity engagement,” said lead researcher John Jakicic. “Therefore, within this context, these devices should not be relied upon as tools for weight management in place of effective behavioral counseling for physical activity and diet."

More to learn

However, Jakicic adds that we shouldn’t dismiss fitness trackers altogether. For some, these devices may make it easier to attain sustainable weight loss.

"There were some in our study for whom it made a difference," Jakicic told Reuters Health. "There is so much more that we need to learn about how these devices lead to behavior change."

The study has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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NutraClick ordered to change billing procedures

The supplement marketer was the subject of more than 70,000 complaints

NutraClick is one of the darlings of Boston entrepreneurial circles, thanks to its successful development of nutritional supplement brands like Force Facto...

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Existing homes sales fall again in August

Realtors worry that lack of inventory is distorting the market

The nation's real estate market apparently hit the summer doldrums, because sales have declined two months in a row.The National Association of Realtor...

PhotoThe nation's real estate market apparently hit the summer doldrums, because sales have declined two months in a row.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports sales of existing homes fell 0.9% from July to August. Sales for the month were up slightly from August 2015.

What to make of these numbers? NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says with the job market showing increasing health and mortgage rates near record lows over the summer, he would have expected more sales.

Not enough homes for sale

“There's no question that after peaking in June, sales in a majority of the country have inched backwards because inventory isn't picking up to tame price growth and replace what's being quickly sold," Yun said.

With fewer homes for sale, there naturally will be fewer homes sold. Also, the homes that are for sale might not be what active buyers are looking for, and they decide to wait until they find exactly what they want.

The report shows that the homes that did sell in August sold for more. The median sale price was $240,200, up over 5% from August 2015.

Yun says many U.S. markets continue to suffer from a lack of available homes. Total housing inventory at the end of August was down 3.3% from July and more than 10% lower than a year ago.

Hitting first-time buyers hard

That's having a disproportionate impact on first-time buyers, who made up a slightly smaller percentage of buyers than in July. Yun says that isn't a healthy sign.

"It's very concerning to see that inventory conditions not only show no signs of improving but have actually worsened in recent months from their already suppressed levels a year ago," Yun said.

Part of the problem, he concedes, is home prices are outpacing the growth in income, which finally showed some strength last year. And it all gets back to low inventory, he says. The supply and demand imbalance is driving up prices.

“Without more supply, the U.S. homeownership rate will remain near 50-year lows," Yun said.

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Yahoo to announce details of massive data breach

The breach may involve the release of information on up to 200 million user accounts

Earlier this summer, Yahoo’s long search for a buyer finally came to an end when Verizon agreed to pay $4.83 billion to acquire it. However, the new owners...

PhotoThis story has been updated. Click here for the update.

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Earlier this summer, Yahoo’s long search for a buyer finally came to an end when Verizon agreed to pay $4.83 billion to acquire it. However, the new owners of the company may be dealing with some headaches in the near future.

Technology news website Recode reported yesterday that Yahoo will be confirming details of a massive data breach sometime this week, according to sources close to the situation.

The breach is likely connected to claims made by hackers earlier in the summer that they had access to 200 million Yahoo user accounts, including information on names, passwords, personal information, birth dates, and other email addresses.

Massive data breach

Sources reporting to Recode have been fairly tight-lipped on specific information related to the breach, most likely because government investigations and legal action will proliferate if the claims are true.

However, the initial indications don’t look very good. Earlier in the summer, a hacker going by the moniker “Peace,” said that he would be selling credentials on 200 million Yahoo users from 2012 on the dark web for little more than $1,800. One source remarked that the current situation was “as bad as that. . . Worse, really.”

When the news broke in July, Yahoo stated that it was aware of Peace’s claim but refused to lend it any legitimacy, saying that it would investigate the issue. Now, if it turns out that there was a massive data breach, it could mean financial repercussions for the company.

The core of Yahoo’s business that was sold to Verizon would be right in the thick of this scandal, which means that Verizon may end up having to deal with the fallout. This could lead to a readjustment of the transaction price that Verizon paid for the company, which is likely to make many shareholders worry.

Until confirmation of the breach is released, though, business should continue as usual. Both Yahoo and Verizon will continue to meet to review the former’s business so that the transition can run smoothly once regulatory agencies and shareholders ok the deal. 

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Comcast tip-toes into the wireless business

It plans to rent space from Verizon and use its Wi-Fi hotspot network

Comcast has been talking about getting into the wireless business for a long time and now says it's just about ready to do so, with the emphasis on "about....

PhotoComcast has been talking about getting into the wireless business for a long time and now says it's just about ready to do so, with the emphasis on "about." CEO Brian Roberts said Tuesday that the company will launch the service next year. 

Roberts told financial analysts he expects a "big payback with reduced churn, more stickiness and better satisfaction," the Wall Street Journal reported.

The idea, of course, is to have another line of business that will help glue customers to Comcast and make up for revenue that's being lost to cable-cutting. It would also put Comcast on a better competitive footing with AT&T and Verizon, which offer a full range of services -- cable, satellite (in AT&T's case), broadband, wireless, and landline. 

Hot spots

Comcast is going about it in a way that's either odd or innovative, depending on your point of view. It is leasing wireless spectrum from Verizon, thus avoiding the cost of building towers and other expensive network infrastructure, and it's also using what it says are its 15 million Wi-Fi hot spots.

Those 15 million hot spots consist largely of the routers that Comcast has installed in its customers' homes and businesses. Each router not only runs a local network at the user's address but also broadcasts a public channel that can be accessed by anyone in the vicinity.

This, the theory goes, will enable Comcast to handle more traffic by using both Wi-Fi and Verizon's spectrum. 

The service will be marketed only within Comcast's "footprint" to existing and potential customers, but presumably it will be usable nationwide, minus the Wi-Fi portion.

Consumer demand?

Comcast Cable Service Sept. 21, 2016, 7:17 p.m.
Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

While it's easy enough to see why Comcast wants to do this, it remains to be seen whether consumers are very excited by the notion. There are, after all, four national wireless carriers with close to 100% market penetration. Whether Comcast will be able to offer bundles that are sufficiently attractive to lure customers away from the likes of Verizon and T-Mobile is uncertain.

Then there's the matter of brand loyalty. Do customers really have such warm and fuzzy feelings for Comcast that they want to trust it with their wireless service?

Those 15 million hot spots are also controversial in some quarters. A 2014 class action suit challenged the concept, with lead plaintiff Toyer Grear saying Comcast “has externalized the costs of its national wi-fi network onto its customers.”

These costs allegedly include electricity: Grear's lawsuit says the public-hotspot routers use considerably more electricity than the old private-only routers, resulting in electric bills up to 30 or 40 percent higher than before, which the lawsuit calls “a cost borne by the unwitting customer.”

At last report, the suit was still pending. 

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Consumers should be skeptical of 'best prices' provided by Amazon, report says

Items bought directly through Amazon don't include shipping costs, while those purchased from non-affiliated third parties do

In June, we reported that sometimes consumers had to do a little extra work to find the best prices when shopping on Amazon. Researchers from Northeastern...

PhotoIn June, we reported that sometimes consumers had to do a little extra work to find the best prices when shopping on Amazon. Researchers from Northeastern University pointed out that not all items that consumers buy on the site come directly from Amazon, so what pops up first in your search may not necessarily be the best price.

Now, a new report by ProPublica shows that price comparisons on the site may be even more complicated. The organization alleges that Amazon fixes the results of its price-comparison pages so that items sold directly by Amazon, or by merchants who pay the company to ship products on their behalf, are given priority in the search results.

This is a potentially huge problem since these comparison pages are supposed to let consumers find the best deals for the products they want.

Shipping costs

The report cites an example of trying to find the best deal on Loctite super glue. After entering in the request, results for different options were spit back out. One result showed the product being sold for $6.75 from a company in Texas with free shipping, while another similar offer showed the product going for $7.27 with free shipping from a company in Ohio.

However, the result that ranked first was being offered by Amazon itself for an even higher price, at $7.80. While this price wasn’t all that much higher than the previous two options at first glance, the researchers found that the offer did not include free shipping.

With the additional cost of the shipping, the price came out to $14.31 before taxes, slightly less than double the price of the previous two offers. The researchers found that this was a common part of Amazon’s algorithmic pricing. Products sold by third-party merchants who were not a part of Amazon’s shipping service were ranked by the cost of the product and the shipping fee, while those sold by Amazon and affiliated parties were ranked without the shipping fee included.

Availability of free shipping

Amazon has provided some explanation for the discrepancy, saying that the vast majority of its products are eligible for free shipping if a consumer is a Prime member or signs up for Super Saver Shipping.

“With Prime and Super Saver Shipping (which requires no membership and ships orders above $49 for free), the vast majority of our items – 9 out of 10 – can ship for free. The sorting algorithms the article refers to are designed for that 90% of items ordered, where shipping costs do not apply,” said Amazon in a statement.

However, as the statement alludes to, free shipping is contingent on a couple of factors. If a consumer is not a Prime member and does not create an order that totals more than $49, then the items they search for may not be in optimal order for them to find a deal. 

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Google's new messaging app, Allo, may be smarter than you are

It's not just a smarter Siri, Allo will actually do the thinking for you

Texting is oh so dull and drab and who has time for Facetime or Hangouts? That seems to be the thinking behind Google's latest messaging entry, dubbed Allo...

PhotoTexting is oh so dull and drab and who has time for Facetime or Hangouts? That seems to be the thinking behind Google's latest messaging entry, dubbed Allo, an emoji-infested app powered by Google Assistant, which seems to be sort of a smarter Siri.

As far as we can tell, Allo sort of takes the thinking out of texting. "Google Allo can help you make plans, find information, and express yourself more easily in chat. And the more you use it, the more it improves over time,” according to Google.

To hear Google tell it, Allo is intended to be a market-entry strategy for Google Assistant. But marketers were quick to pick up on its potential for such ad-related features as recommendations, reviews, reservations, and so forth.

“You can easily move from discussing dinner with friends to making plans for the night, right in your chat. Just add the Assistant to your group chat and ask for movie times, local restaurants and more. You can also research travel destinations, flights and hotels together with friends,” as Google put it in a blog posting.

Why think?

Carried to its logical extension, Allo is like having a speechwriter and an appointments secretary right in your pocket. This is only logical; why should you have to wrack your brain when a friend asks what you want to do tonight? Now you can let Allo figure it out.

All of this might suggest that Allo does the thinking for those unable to do it for themselves, but a more generous view is that it frees us up to think great thoughts and ponder issues of global significance instead of obsessing over which Starbucks to go to.

For a more animated description, check out this video from Google:

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Replacement Galaxy Note 7 phones now available

A half-million replacement phones have been shipped to retailers

Samsung has confirmed that it has shipped 500,000 replacement Galaxy Note 7 smartphones to U.S. retailers so that consumers may start the exchange program....

PhotoSamsung has confirmed that it has shipped 500,000 replacement Galaxy Note 7 smartphones to U.S. retailers so that consumers may start the exchange program.

All consumers who purchased a Note 7 from its release on August 19 to September 2, when the company abruptly stopped selling them, may turn in their old phones for a new one. The initial shipment makes up approximately half the phones sold in that two and a half week period.

The problem with the old phones, of course, is they have been deemed to be a fire hazard. There have been numerous reports of the batteries overheating, catching fire and even exploding. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued an emergency recall and urged consumers to stop using them immediately. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned them from checked luggage.

“Consumer safety is always our highest priority,” Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics America, said in a statement. “Our collaboration with the CPSC to fast-track a voluntary recall in the U.S. addresses safety concerns by ensuring we reach Note7 owners quickly to exchange their devices.”

How to exchange

To exchange a Note 7 for a new one, consumers can go to samsung.com/us/note7recall for carrier and retailer specific instructions on how and where to exchange their device. Consumers may exchange their current Note 7 for a new one or for a Galaxy S7 or S7 edge with a refund of the price difference between the products. Consumers may also turn in their old phone and get a full refund.

Since the old phone and its replacement are nearly identical, Samsung is offering some help in telling them apart. A green battery icon has been included in three different software changes and constitutes the new phone's main identifier.

Samsung says the icon will be visible on the status bar, the display screen, and the power off prompt screen, which can be accessed by pressing and holding the power key.

Consumers can also easily make sure they are using the replacement Galaxy Note7 by looking for a square symbol on the label of the packaging box.

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CEOs face tough questioning in Congress

Wells Fargo and Mylan are feeling the heat

A day after Wells Fargo CEO John Stumph got raked over the coals by the Senate Banking Committee, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch could be walking into much of th...

PhotoA day after Wells Fargo CEO John Stumph got raked over the coals by the Senate Banking Committee, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch could be walking into much of the same thing.

Bresch has a date with the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform to explain her company's pricing policy for the EpiPen, a device whose price tag has risen from about $50 to $600 in nine years.

The bar for tough CEO interrogation was raised considerably Tuesday when Senate Banking Committee member Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) castigated Stumph for his bank's fake account scheme, at one point calling him “gutless” and asking why no senior executives were among the 5,300 fired by Wells Fargo.

Bresch should probably brace for much the same treatment. Politicians in both parties have found attacking sky high drug prices is a no-lose strategy. The EpiPen case has now focused on what effect Mylan's price for the EpiPen has had on Medicare and Medicaid spending.

Expanding discounts

In a release of prepared testimony, Bresch says Mylan will respond to concerns by expanding already-announced discount programs. But so far, those discount programs have been scorned by critics.

A day before the hearings, Public Citizen released a survey showing U.S. consumers pay three to nine times more for an EpiPen than consumers in other developed nations. It says the $600 price tag in the U.S. compares to $69 in the UK and $98 in Belgium.

“The EpiPen clearly is profitable at prices far lower than Mylan’s U.S. prices,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Mylan has dramatically hiked the price simply because it could – not because it needed to recover any cost of making the product.”

Mylan did not invent the EpiPen, but purchased the patent in 2007. Public Citizen says it then began selling a package containing two EpiPens for around an inflation-adjusted price of $109. The consumer group said the medicine in the device has not changed since then, nor has the device itself. Even so, it has raised the price by about $500.

Life-saving product

What makes the issue all the more sensitive is that the EpiPen is a life-saving device. The medicine it injects is an antidote to allergic shock, and many of the consumers who depend on it are children.

Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines group, says it appears the company is simply taking advantage of millions of people who are doing their best to protect their families from life-threatening allergic reactions.

What lawmakers want to know, however, is whether the company can justify the price it charges the federal government for the devices. The company is already under investigation by two states to determine if it overcharged state Medicaid services.

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Consumers report bugs with new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Users say that they have faced service disruptions and lost control of the device when using the new Lightning EarPods

In the past, there’s always been a notable excitement and anticipation whenever a new phone technology is becoming available. This is perhaps doubly true f...

PhotoIn the past, there’s always been a notable excitement and anticipation whenever a new phone technology is becoming available. This is perhaps doubly true for fans of Apple products, who aren’t unfamiliar with camping out for hours in order to be first in line.

And while the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have been received with some positivity (certainly more than Samsung’s defective Note 7), there are still some notable bugs that consumers have run into with the new devices.

Reports indicate that there are currently two bugs affecting the new Apple products; the first is a problem with the phones’ signal, and the second is a glitch with the new Lightning Earpods, which were a source of contention leading up to the release.

Service disruption

Consumers who have cited service issues say that the problem centers around the devices’ ability to recover from Airplane Mode. Reports indicate that the new phones take much longer to recover signal after Airplane Mode is switched off.

In a YouTube video, user Loay Oweis compares the recovery speed of the iPhone 7 with an iPhone 6S sitting right next to it. After turning off Airplane Mode on both phones, the 6S recovers signal and 4G service right away, but iPhone 7 shows a “No Service” indicator for around a minute.

Apple has stated that it is investigating the problem, but it recommends that consumers try turning their phones off and then back on to see if signal is regained more quickly. If that doesn’t work, the company says removing the SIM card before turning the phone back on should do the trick.

Losing control

In a separate issue, consumers are saying that they are losing control of their phones whule using the new Lightning EarPods. Reports specify that the remote control buttons on the headphones malfunction after the EarPods have been in use for a few minutes.

This lack of control leads to a couple of odd effects. Users have said that their phones will randomly play and pause songs, the volume  and Siri is activated and deactivated intermittently. Trying to fix the problem by using the actual device proves to be difficult, since the buttons have seized up.

Apple has stated that this glitch occurs because of a problem with the headphone software. It says that it will be providing a fix for the problem in a future update.

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Subprime borrowers increase credit access

Experian report also shows delinquency rate is down sharply over five years

The latest Experian Market Intelligence Brief shows the financially-weakest consumers in the U.S. are getting more access to credit.The report reveals...

PhotoThe latest Experian Market Intelligence Brief shows the financially-weakest consumers in the U.S. are getting more access to credit.

The report reveals that in the first half of this year, credit limits for consumers in the subprime and deep subprime categories totaled $6.4 billion. That amounts to the largest amount of available credit to those groups in the last five years.

This is consistent with a report last month by Liberty Street Economics, a group affiliated with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which reported subprime consumers had increased their use of credit cards.

That can be a double-edged sword. On the plus side, subprime and deep subprime consumers are the most likely to take out a payday loan, which can begin a spiral of unending debt. Having access to a credit card for an emergency expense, if managed properly, can be a good thing.

On the downside, and what may worry some policymakers, is the fact that subprime debt has gotten out of control in the past. The housing bubble was fueled in part by people buying homes they couldn't afford, using subprime mortgages that had low payments at first but higher payments later on. That led to the collapse of the housing market.

Mixed results

The Experian report shows mixed results in that area. Credit card delinquencies in the first half of 2016 are up 7% over the first half of 2015. However, when spread over five years, subprime delinquencies are down sharply.

Overall, the report's authors say all consumers are doing a good job of meeting their credit card commitments since delinquency rates have fallen by 43% from the second quarter of 2011 to the second quarter of this year.

"Consumers credit card behavior improved since exiting the recession as evidenced by the growth of credit card limits in particular among the subprime credit card market," said Kelly Kent, vice president of Experian Decision Analytics. "Yet, even with the solid improvements, the year-over-year figures indicate a slight increase in delinquency rates."

Looked at geographically, credit card delinquency rates improved by double-digits in 32 states over a five-year period. Consumers in Washington, California, and Oregon improved the most, followed by New Hampshire and Hawaii.

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What are parents searching for in a family vehicle?

Cars are the new family room, survey suggests

The secret to a more pleasant experience on the road could just be a little more legroom. That’s the key finding from a survey conducted by car research an...

PhotoThe secret to a more pleasant experience on the road could just be a little more legroom. That’s the key finding from a survey conducted by car research and shopping site, CarGurus.

Bigger may be better when it comes to family vehicles. The survey found that families with multiple kids who drive sedans are less satisfied with their cars than families who own minivans and SUVs.

When asked why their sedan didn’t meet their family’s needs, 62% of respondents said it was because the car wasn’t big enough. These days, a car’s amount of space is important as families are finding themselves logging a substantial amount of time on the road.

8 days of driving per year

Shuttling kids to and from school and other activities amounts to a great deal of time spent in the car. One-third of parents of middle schoolers said they spend four or more hours per week driving their kids around, which equates to roughly eight days of driving per year.

While more time to be together as family is a good thing, most families would prefer to do so in a car that can comfortably fit everyone and the cargo they’re traveling with.

"Parents weigh many important factors when they consider their family car, but it seems that bigger capacity is one of the best indicators for overall satisfaction, especially as kids grow up," said Matt Smith, Editor at CarGurus.

Best family cars

In addition to looking for a vehicle with ample space, parents consider price, safety, and fuel economy when choosing a car. These factors helped CarGurus come up with its list of Best Family Cars of 2016.

"The benefits of more space and improved comfort and convenience features are huge for families, and manufacturers are delivering on these bigger expectations at many budgets and with improved fuel efficiency,” said Smith. “Sustained low gas prices also make the super-sized ride a lot more palatable for families."

Here are CarGuru's picks for best family vehicles of 2016:

  • 2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportswagen  
  • 2016 Subaru Outback
  • 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • 2016 Honda Odyssey
  • 2016 Volvo XC90
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How to select the best credit card

Money magazine consults with NerdWallet to offer the top picks

The “best credit card” is a pretty subjective label. It's all going to depend on how an individual consumer spends money.While some advantages are hard...

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Chrysler Pacifica earns top IIHS safety award

It's the first minivan to do so

The Chrysler Pacifica, which replaces the Town & Country, is the first minivan to earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) 2016 TOP SAFETY PI...

PhotoThe Chrysler Pacifica, which replaces the Town & Country, is the first minivan to earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

The newly introduced vehicle has good ratings in the IIHS five crashworthiness tests. However, the good rating in the small overlap front test applies only to Pacificas manufactured after August, when changes were made to prevent the driver door from opening during a small overlap crash. Before those improvements were made, the door was torn from its hinges and came open at the front.

Major improvements

Fiat Chrysler strengthened the upper hinge and reinforced the joint between the door hinge pillar and inner body panel in front of the pillar. When the vehicle was tested a second time, the door remained attached and closed -- resulting in a good rating. In contrast, the Town & Country was rated poor for small overlap protection, due to severe intrusion into the driver space.

The Pacifica is available with an optional front crash prevention system, which earns a superior rating. In IIHS track tests at 25 mph and 12 mph, the vehicle avoided collisions. The system also gets credit for a forward collision warning component that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

To qualify for a 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests.

It also must have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

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Mortgage applications post first decline in four weeks

Contract interest rates were mostly higher

After three advances in as many weeks, applications for mortgages have done an about face.Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly survey sh...

PhotoAfter three advances in as many weeks, applications for mortgages have done an about face.

Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly survey shows that applications plunged 7.3% in the week ending September 16, which included an adjustment for the Labor Day holiday.

It was even worse for refinance applications, which were down 8% to the lowest level since June, although the refinance share of mortgage activity inched up to 63.1% of total applications from 62.9% the previous week.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity decreased to 4.4% of total applications, the FHA share was down 10.2%, the VA share dipped to 11.6% from 12.0%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.7%.

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 -- from 3.67% to 3.70% -- its highest level since June 2016, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) went to 3.69% from 3.64%, with points decreasing to 0.29 from 0.36 (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 jumped six basis points to 3.56%, with points decreasing to 0.23 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs moved from 2.97% to 2.99%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs shot up nine basis points to 2.96%, with points decreasing to 0.26 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.

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Hyundai recalls model year 2016 Sonatas

The driver-side front air bag that may not adequately protect the driver's neck from injury

Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 602 model year 2016 Sonata vehicles manufactured March 28, 2016 through April 12, 2016.The vehicles have a driver-si...

PhotoHyundai Motor Company is recalling 602 model year 2016 Sonata vehicles manufactured March 28, 2016 through April 12, 2016.

The vehicles have a driver-side front air bag that may not adequately protect the driver's neck from injury in the event of a crash. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 208, "Occupant Crash Protection."

What to do

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front air bag module free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 14, 2016.

Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-800-633-5151. Hyundai's number for this recall is 148.

 

 

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Big 5 Sporting Goods recalls bungee chairs

The chair rivets can break, posing a fall hazard

Big 5 Sporting Goods of El Segundo, Calif., is recalling about 4,100 bungee chairs manufactured by Nanjing Kekang Outdoor Products.The chair rivets can...

PhotoBig 5 Sporting Goods of El Segundo, Calif., is recalling about 4,100 bungee chairs manufactured by Nanjing Kekang Outdoor Products.

The chair rivets can break, posing a fall hazard to the user.

The firm has received three reports of chair rivets breaking, including two reports of injuries from falls.

This recall involves Captiva Designs bungee chairs with model number AC098 printed on the header cards of the product packages. The collapsible chair has a navy blue and teal nylon and bungee seat and black metal legs. The chair’s bungee cords are laced through the seat frame.

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Big 5 Sporting Goods stores nationwide from May 2016 through July 2016 for about $30.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bungee chairs and return them to any Big 5 Sporting Goods store for a full refund.

Consumers may contact Nanjing Kekang Outdoor Products toll-free at 866-283-4412 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.big5sportinggoods.com and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom of the homepage for more information.

 

 

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Ford recalls Escape Titanium and SE vehicles

The windows may close on an object such as a body part before the windows auto-reverse

Ford Motor Company is recalling 17,985 model year 2017 Ford Escape Titanium and SE vehicles manufactured October 5, 2015, to May 12, 2016.The settings...

PhotoFord Motor Company is recalling 17,985 model year 2017 Ford Escape Titanium and SE vehicles manufactured October 5, 2015, to May 12, 2016.

The settings for the closing-force of the power-operated windows may allow the windows to close on an object -- such as a body part -- and injure it before the windows auto-reverse. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 118, "Power-Operated Window Systems."

What to do

Ford has notified owners, and dealers will update the power window operating system software, free of charge. The recall began on September 8, 2016.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16C12.

 

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Evolve 3-in-1 Combination Booster Seats recalled

The child in the seat can loosen the harness without the caregiver's knowledge.

Evenflo Company is recalling 29,742 Evolve 3-in-1 Combination Booster Seats, model number 34411700 manufactured February 26, 2015, to February 9, 2016 and...

PhotoEvenflo Company is recalling 29,742 Evolve 3-in-1 Combination Booster Seats, model number 34411700 manufactured February 26, 2015, to February 9, 2016 and model number 34411741 manufactured May 27, 2015, to February 9, 2016.

The seats have a button for adjusting the harness tightness. The child in the seat can access this button and loosen the harness without the caregiver's knowledge.

If the child is able to loosen the harness, he may not be properly secured in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

What to do

Evenflo will notify the registered owners, and will provide a remedy kit with a replacement harness adjustment button, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 26, 2016.

Owners may contact Evenflo at www.evolve.evenflo.com or 1-800-233-5921.

 

 

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Censea recalls shrimp product

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

Censea, Inc. is recalling its A-PAC 8/12 count Headless Shell on Black Tiger Shrimp.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.There have been...

PhotoCensea, Inc. is recalling its A-PAC 8/12 count Headless Shell on Black Tiger Shrimp.

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

There have been no illnesses reported as a result of consuming this product to date.

The following product is being recalled:

  • A-PAC 8/12 Headless Shell On Black Tiger Frozen Shrimp; Case Pack: 6 x 4 pound block frozen (24 pound Master Carton) not labeled for retail sale, Date Code: 36009V.

The product, imported from Vietnam, distributed to wholesale, retail and restaurant locations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois and Texas.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it, but retain proof of purchase information (such as a purchase receipt or photo of the product packaging) and contact Censea for a full refund.

Consumers may contact Censea at 888-312-5995 Monday – Friday 7 AM – 7 PM (CST) or by e-mail at aaron@censea.com.

 

 

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Feds set new safety guidelines for self-driving cars

Automakers expected to achieve 'robust' designs to ensure that autonomous cars meet their promise

Federal safety regulators are shifting gears, requiring automakers to achieve what the Department of Transportation (DOT) is calling a "robust design" to e...

PhotoFederal safety regulators are shifting gears, requiring automakers to achieve what the Department of Transportation (DOT) is calling a "robust design" to ensure that self-driving cars are safe before they can be sold or operated on public roads.

That's a significant shift in what has been more of a laissez-faire approach that let automakers and companies like Google and Uber put just about any kind of autonomous car on the road as long as there was a licensed driver on board.

“Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a prepared statement. “This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.”

The DOT said it may also ask Congress to require that automakers get approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) before introducing new models -- similar to the way the Federal Aviation Administration now grants airworthiness certificates to airplanes.

"Long overdue"

Safety advocates said the change was long overdue.

"We are pleased that DOT is planning to address these issues and seeking public comment for this new system of transportation but it must not shy away from assuring public safety with minimum federal vehicle safety standards," said Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator.

"It should not rely instead on mere guidance, including for the initial elements of automatic vehicle operation such as Automatic Emergency Brakes (AEB) that currently is only guided with a useless industry voluntary standard (it was the key element that failed in the Tesla fatal crashes)," Claybrook said. 

Currently, vehicles must meet a long roster of safety requirements that govern everything from airbags to tail lights, but they do not have to submit their designs in advance of starting production.

Most of the new design requirements will take effect today when they are officially published, and NHTSA expects to begin asking automakers for their designs later this year, according to DOT officials. 

Strong enforcement needed

“Ninety-four percent of crashes on U.S. roadways are caused by a human choice or error,” said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. “We are moving forward on the safe deployment of automated technologies because of the enormous promise they hold to address the overwhelming majority of crashes and save lives.”

Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the announcement "should not be seen as an alternative to comprehensive safety standards, thorough oversight and strong enforcement."

"The promising benefits of AVs are great, but the potential problems are too serious and the public safety risks are too momentous to be left to industry alone," Gillan said in an email. "Recent incidents involving the recall of tens of millions of vehicles and needless deaths and injuries due to faulty General Motors’ ignition switches, dangerous Takata airbags and cheating emissions systems in Volkswagen vehicles highlight how the industry easily conceals problems from both the public and the government."

Michael Harley, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said the new policy "should help standardize the unregulated Wild West chaos that the rapidly advancing field of autonomous technology currently operates under."

"The new rules and guidelines will spell out design and operation specifics that will increase uniformity across the industry, improve safety for passengers and pedestrians and educate drivers on the current engineering limits of automated vehicles," Kelley said. "The DOT and NHTSA have committed to reviewing and updating the policy annually, which is rational considering that automated vehicles will be the biggest challenge each will face over the next decade.”

DOT officials say the "safety assessment" will require automakers to provide documentation covering 15 specific topics, such as how automated systems detect objects on the road, how information is displayed to drivers, what cybersecurity measures are in place, and the testing and validation methods used to develop the system.

Public comments 

The DOT is soliciting public comments for the next 60 days on the policy, which is published at www.transportation.gov/AV. Through a series of next steps and in response to public comments, DOT intends to update the policy annually.

“Public input has been essential to getting this right. There has been a strong call from state and local governments, industry, safety experts, mobility advocates, and average Americans to establish a clear policy for the deployment of automated vehicles on our roads,” said Foxx. “There are huge upsides and significant challenges that come with automated vehicle technology, and we will continue the conversation with the pubic over the coming months and years as this technology develops.”

“New technologies developed in the 20th century, like seat belts and air bags, were once controversial but have now saved hundreds of thousands of American lives,” Foxx said. “This is the first in a series of proactive approaches, including the release of a rule on Vehicle to Vehicle communications, which will bring lifesaving technologies to the roads safely and quickly while leaving innovators to dream up new safety solutions.”

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Watch an e-cigarette blow up a woman's purse

A surveillance camera in a New Jersey mall captures the dramatic moment

Since their introduction, e-cigarettes have been extremely popular as a tobacco alternative, but health officials insist there remain unanswered questions...

PhotoSince their introduction, e-cigarettes have been extremely popular as a tobacco alternative, but health officials insist there remain unanswered questions about their effect on health.

Maybe they ought to be more focused on safety.

E-cigarettes are basically electronic devices. A battery provides the heat to vaporize a liquid containing nicotine. Users inhale the vapor, getting much the same nicotine they would from a cigarette.

But as we know from smartphones and other electronic devices, sometimes batteries can overheat and even explode. Earlier this month it was caught on surveillance cameras at a New Jersey mall.

A shopper, Mara McInerney of Matawan, N.J., was at the counter of a Sunglasses Hut in the Freehold Raceway Mall when her purse suddenly exploded. You can watch the dramatic footage below.

Total loss

McInerney wasn't hurt, but she said the contents of her expensive purse, along with the purse, were a total loss. This isn't the first time an e-cigarette has exploded, but it is the first time that it's been caught on tape.

As we reported in May, an Albany, N.Y., man said he was “vaping” when his e-cigarette exploded in his mouth, knocking him to the ground. Kenneth Barbaro was hospitalized with burns to his hands, knocked-out teeth, and a injuries to his tongue.

That same month, the U.S. Transportation Department issued a final rule, banning e-cigarettes from checked bags aboard aircraft.

“Fire hazards in flight are particularly dangerous, and a number of recent incidents have shown that e-cigarettes in checked bags can catch fire during transport,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at the time.

The Federal Aviation Administration has since issued a similar ban on the Samsung Note 7 smartphone, which has suffered a number of high profile fires and explosions.

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Why you probably shouldn't be filling up with premium gas

A report from AAA says that doing so is a waste of money for most U.S. drivers

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has released a new report with a simple message for the majority of U.S. drivers:...

Photo
Photo (c) jdoms - Fotolia

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has released a new report with a simple message for the majority of U.S. drivers: stop wasting money on premium gasoline.

According to the organization’s survey, many consumers have the incorrect notion that buying premium fuel for their vehicle can increase its performance. However, for the vast majority of cars, it doesn’t – and this has made an impact on consumers’ wallets. The survey found that 16.5 million U.S. drivers spent an additional $2.1 billion on premium gasoline that they didn’t need to in the past year.

“Drivers see the ‘premium’ name at the pump and may assume the fuel is better for their vehicle. . . AAA cautions drivers that premium gasoline is higher octane, not higher quality, and urges drivers to follow the owner’s manual recommendations for their vehicle’s fuel,” said John Nielson, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, in a statement.

Paying extra

The survey shows that the vast a majority of cars on the road only require regular fuel (87-octane) in order to run optimally. Researchers found that around 70% of the cars being used are best served by this fuel type. Only around 16% of vehicles benefit from filling up with premium, 93-octane fuel, while the remaining 14% require at least a mid-grade fuel or run using an alternative fuel source.

Knowing which type of fuel your car needs can save you a lot of money in the long-run. The report released by AAA shows that fuel prices between regular and premium gas differed by 49.33 cents per gallon between August, 2015 and August, 2016. That’s a price discrepancy of around 23%.

Photo
Gas prices via AAA's report

Perhaps one of the few times that drivers should ever consider using a higher-octane fuel is if their area or region is experiencing a gas shortage, much like the one that parts of the East coast are seeing due to a pipeline leak. The rest of the time, it’s acceptable to go by your driver’s manual and use the recommended fuel type.

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With hurricane season underway, what can you do to prepare?

Emergency preparation tips to help you weather any storm

We’ve made it through the first half of hurricane season without a Category 3+ hurricane, but experts say we shouldn’t let our guard down. Conditions a...

PhotoWe’ve made it through the first half of hurricane season without a Category 3+ hurricane, but experts say we shouldn’t let our guard down.

Conditions are favorable for hurricanes this time of year, and homeowners should always be prepared -- even for a minor hurricane. 

Power isn’t the only thing you might lose in a hurricane. Severe weather can down trees, flood basements, and cause costly damage to your home. For this reason, it is recommended that homeowners plan for the worst and hope for the best this hurricane season.

Preparation tips

With the hurricane forecast up slightly this year, homeowners along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts should take steps to prepare.

“There are a few easy things that a homeowner can do to prepare their homes for severe weather,” says Gold Medal Service co-founder Mike Agugliaro, who often encourages homeowners to make an emergency preparedness plan.

What can homeowners do to prepare for a hurricane?

  • Clean gutters. Gutters will have a big job to do in the event of a hurricane. By making sure your gutters and downspouts are free of leaves and debris, you’ll ensure that they will be able to keep heavy rainfall from entering your home.
  • Test sump pumps. Make sure your sump pump is functioning as it should be by testing it. Unplug it then plug it in again, then do a water test to make sure the pump is processing the water.  
  • Caulk around entry points. Caulking around doors and windows can keep wind-driven rain from seeping into your home during a storm.
  • Trim trees. Get rid of dead or weak branches that may become airborne during a hurricane. Homeowners can also consider relocating trees that sit too close to the house.
  • Purchase a generator. If a storm knocks out your power, it might take a few days for it to be restored. Generators can keep refrigerators and other important appliances up and running.
  • Install storm shutters. Storm shutters keep windows from breaking and can either be purchased or made. Do-it-yourselfers can make storm shutters out of plywood that is at least  ¾-inch thick.
  • Put together a supplies kit. Putting together a basic disaster supplies kit filled with water, flashlights, and other important items can be a lifesaver during severe weather. For suggestions on what should go in a supplies kit, click here.

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Here's what to expect for Black Friday shopping

There may be a lot more really good deals online this year

Black Friday 2016 is still a little more than two months away, but already there are predictions about what shoppers can expect.BestBlackFriday.com has...

PhotoBlack Friday 2016 is still a little more than two months away, but already there are predictions about what shoppers can expect.

BestBlackFriday.com has posted its predictions after analyzing 150 Black Friday ads from 2015, saying deals on electronics will be among the most appealing. For example, it predicts 50-inch HDTV sets will be available from multiple sources for as low as $175. A 50-inch 4K set, it predicts, could go for as little as $300.

Philip Dengler, a principal at Jones-Denger Marketing, which operates the site, says the biggest change this year may be the fact that more of the best deals will be available online.

“While it has been trending in that direction for the past few years, we saw more online doorbusters than ever last year,” Jones said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “This means many of the first page televisions, laptops, and tablets will be available for online shoppers. Previously, they were only available in-store at very limited quantities.”

Spending rapidly shifting online

Dengler also predicts Black Friday spending is rapidly shifting online and this year, he says the shift should be dramatic. Combined Thanksgiving and Black Friday spending is projected to be around $10.78 billion, down around 10% from last year.

But BestBlackFriday.com projects online sales on Black Friday will be up over 13% from last year and Thanksgiving online sales should rise nearly 20%. Combined, they are expected to account for around half of all sales.

“The Black Friday shopping period is also rapidly extending,” Dengler said. “We expect Amazon to open its Black Friday Store on November 1. Many other retailers will offer pre-Black Friday sales throughout the entire month of November. Actual Thanksgiving doorbusters should begin online on Wednesday night.”

Deals

He says laptops should start at $90, with the average doorbuster laptop price at around $150. The iPhone 7 should be available for $99 with a two-year contract. While two-year contracts are being phased out, Dengler says many people will still be eligible if they have Verizon or Sprint. People that aren't will have to pay unsubsidized prices.

As for individual retailers, Dengler predicts JCPenney and Kohl's will have the highest average discount for their promotions, at around around 65% off. Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon will once again be towards the bottom of the range, with average store discounts of around 30%.

If toys are on your holiday list, Denger suggests waiting until the second week of December for the best prices.

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DeVry says it will limit federal funding

For-profit schools have been feeling the heat of stepped-up oversight following several failures

For-profit colleges are barred from receiving more than 90% of their revenue from federal financial aid, but following the collapse of ITT, Corinthian, and...

PhotoFor-profit colleges are barred from receiving more than 90% of their revenue from federal financial aid, but following the collapse of ITT, Corinthian, and other for-profit chains, DeVry says it will accept no more than 85% of its revenue from the feds.

“This is a significant pledge that DeVry Group is voluntarily making for the long term and it underscores our commitment to finding solutions to the issues facing higher education today,” said Lisa Wardell, president and CEO of DeVry Education Group. “This is part of a broader effort to improve our policies and demonstrate the quality and value of our programs.”

DeVry is working with "a variety of stakeholders on those commitments," which will be announced later this year, Wardell said, adding: “As we continue to engage with key stakeholders, we look forward to sharing details of the other commitments when they are finalized.” 

Cracking down

Federal and state agencies have been cracking down on for-profit schools, which tend to enroll large numbers of military veterans and students seeking vocational training. Many such students qualify for federal financial aid, meaning that taxpayers wind up paying for programs that critics say do little to prepare the students for careers.

ITT Institute shut down earlier this month after the Education Department cut off its flow of federal funds. Corinthian College closed down in 2015, leaving many students adrift. It was hit with a $1.1 billion judgment in March, some of which may be available to help students retire outstanding loans.

DeVry has had problems of its own. In January, the Federal Trade Commission sued DeVry, charging it used deceptive advertising to lure students. Last year, the school closed 14 campuses, moving students to its online program.

DeVry Education Group operates schools under several names, including  American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, Becker Professional Education, Carrington College, Chamberlain College of Nursing, DeVry Brasil, DeVry University and its Keller Graduate School of Management, Ross University School of Medicine, and Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.

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Google reveals new travel app called 'Google Trips'

The app allows users to organize travel information and create day plans on the fly

Travelers from around the world know what it feels like to be disoriented in a new city. All of the new sights, sounds, and people can be overwhelming, and...

PhotoTravelers from around the world know what it feels like to be disoriented in a new city. All of the new sights, sounds, and people can be overwhelming, and if you don’t know where to go you may be in for a rough time.

For this reason, most consumers rely on their smartphones to get around in unfamiliar places. But what happens if the battery dies or you hit your data limit? Now, the new Google Trips app can come to your rescue.

Google Trips is an app that allows users to store all of their trip information in one place. Officials say that the app can help you successfully plan your trip day-by-day and take the hassle out of a visit or vacation.

“We wanted to reduce the hassle and help travelers enjoy their hard-earned vacations. So today, we’re introducing a new mobile app to help you instantly plan each day of your trip with just a few taps of your finger: Google Trips,” said the company in a blog post.

Planning your trip

The app provides categories that consumers can input information into, such as day plans, reservations, food and drink options, travel arrangements, and more. After filling in all of the pertinent information, consumers can then tap the “Download” button to save the trip to their device, allowing them to access it without needing to rely on WiFi or data.

For some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Google has provided some day plans so that travelers have an idea of where to visit. For example, those wishing to visit Florence, Italy may be given prompts to visit the Duomo, Uffizi museum, or even the Ponte Vecchio for some shopping.

For those working under strict time constraints, the app also gives the option to search for things to do in areas that you already know you want to visit. After clicking the “+” button in the day plans category, travelers will be provided with a list of attractions that they can see in any given area.

Users can also specify times for when they’re visiting, so someone who only has time in the morning or afternoon can input that information above the map and the app will generate a day plan for you. If they happen to find a new spot that they like or want to change plans, travelers can also tap the “magic wand” icon to have the app generate a new itinerary on the fly.

Organizing information

Google Trips isn’t just good for planning out your day, though. The app also allows users to store all the information they need on flights, car rentals, hotel and restaurant reservations, and more. The app collects all of the information by gathering it from a connected Gmail account and then organizes it by trip, so users won’t need to dig through their inbox to find what they need.

“Vacations are a chance to recharge and experience new places and cultures. For your next trip, let us help you see all the sights you want to see, without all the work,” concluded the company.

The app is available to download on both the iOS and Android platforms. 

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Is there an alternative to blood pressure medicine?

Scientists in the UK say a surgical procedure could help many patients

Consumers with high blood pressure spend billions of dollars each year on prescription medication to keep it in check.But what if there were a medical...

PhotoConsumers with high blood pressure spend billions of dollars each year on prescription medication to keep it in check.

But what if there were a medical procedure that made that unnecessary? Researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK say there may be.

The scientists have concluded that carotid bodies, a small cluster of nerves and cells next to the carotid artery, are a cause of high blood pressure. This revelation, they say, offers a new target for treatment.

The research team says removing one carotid body from some patients with high blood pressure caused an immediate and sustained drop in blood pressure.

“The falls in blood pressure we have seen are impressive – more than you would see with pharmacological medication – and demonstrate the exciting potential there now is for targeting the carotid body to treat hypertension,” said Dr. Angus Nightingale, of the Bristol Heart Institute.

The theory

The theory goes like this: the carotid bodies monitor levels of oxygen in the blood. When oxygen levels fall they sound the alarm, instructing the brain to step up the level of breathing and blood pressure.

But in some cases, the monitored fall in oxygen level is a false reading. The way the scientists explain it, it's like the thermostat on your furnace being set too high.

Professor Julian Paton, one of the researchers, says it's a novel approach but one that could potentially be a game-changer for the treatment of high blood pressure. Currently, he says, medication only treats the symptoms of high blood pressure. Removing the corotid bodies, he says, gets at the root cause.

Wouldn't help in every case

Nightingale makes clear the procedure would not be the answer for every case, but also says that the research team has developed some tests that would help identify patients for whom it would be effective. But that's not to say there isn't a role for drugs.

“Although this surgical approach to controlling high blood pressure was successful, we don’t think this will be the solution in the long term,” Nightingale said. “We now need to find a drug that dampens down an overactive carotid body and resets the blood pressure thermostat to a normal level.”

Hypertension is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and a major contributor to strokes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 70 million Americans have high blood pressure, the treatment of which cost $46 billion in health care services, medications, and missed days of work in 2011.

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Dangerous new scam targets children

Sextortion demands sex instead of money

Scammers normally like to target senior citizens because they are considered a vulnerable population.But a dangerous new scam targets another vulnerabl...

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An August slump for construction of new homes

The outlook for the months ahead grew a bit dimmer

New-home construction took a U-turn in August.The Commerce Department reports housing starts were down 5.8% in August at a seasonally adjusted annual r...

PhotoNew-home construction took a U-turn in August.

The Commerce Department reports housing starts were down 5.8% in August at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,142,000 after rising 2.1% in July. Even with last month's decline, groundbreakings are up 0.9% from the same period a year earlier.

Construction of single-family homes was at a rate of 722,000 from the previous month, a plunge of 6.0%, while the August rate for units in buildings with five units dropped 6.9% to a rate of 403,000.

The decline isn't a big concern for National Association of Home Builders Chief Economist Robert Dietz.

"On a year-over-year basis, single-family starts are up 9%," he notes, adding, "while multifamily construction continues to level off at a solid level as that sector seeks to find a balance between supply and demand."

Building permits

Overall building permits, an indicator of developers plans in the months ahead, came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,139,000 last month -- down 0.4% from July and 2.3% below August 2015.

Permits for single-family homes rose 3.7% from July to a rate of 737,000; authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more, on the other hand, fell 8.4% to a rate of 370,000.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

 

 

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Gallo Meats recalls sausage, beef and lamb products

The products did not undergo federal inspection

Gallo Meats of Colville, Wash., is recalling approximately 82 pounds of various sausage, beef and lamb products.The products did not undergo federal in...

PhotoGallo Meats of Colville, Wash., is recalling approximately 82 pounds of various sausage, beef and lamb products.

The products did not undergo federal inspection although a mark of inspection was applied to them.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following items, produced on between April 20 and July 27, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 12-16 oz. cryovac packages of “HOT ITALIAN SAUSAGE” with a pack date of 04-20-16.
  • 12-16 oz. cryovac packages of “GROUND LAMB” with a pack date of 06-07-16.
  • 12-16 oz. Cr yovac packages of “BEEF FLANK STEAK” with a pack date of 07-22-16 or 07-27-16.

The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 09334” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were were sold in Washington state.

What to do

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

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Kim Gallo at (509) 684-3448.

 

 

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Baby Jogger recalls child seats

Information on the labels, instruction manuals and registration cards is incorrect

Baby Jogger, LLC is recalling 15,103 City GO Infant Car Seats (models BJ64510 and BJ64529); City GO Base for infant car seat (models BJ80400 and BJ61500);...

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Bunge's Meats recalls pork products

The products were produced with water that failed to meet federal drinking water standards

Bunge’s Meats of Catawissa, Pa., is recalling an undetermined amount of pork sausage products.The products were produced with water that did not meet t...

PhotoBunge’s Meats of Catawissa, Pa., is recalling an undetermined amount of pork sausage products.

The products were produced with water that did not meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water standards.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The recalled items, produced between February 24, 2016, and September 15, 2016, bear establishment number “EST. 21603” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to restaurants in Pennsylvania.

What to to do

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

Consumers with questions about the recall can contact Robert Bunge at (570) 317-6702.

 

 

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Sears closing 64 Kmart stores by Christmas, reports say

The company's liquidity rating was downgraded by Moody's last week

Sears Holdings is closing 64 Kmart stores in 28 states and laying off thousands of emloyees, according to a Business Insider report. The closings will star...

PhotoSears Holdings is closing 64 Kmart stores in 28 states and laying off thousands of emloyees, according to a Business Insider report. The closings will start Sept. 22 and be complete by Christmas, the report said.

Sears has not yet confirmed the closings and, in fact, the press section on its website today features a release cheerily entitled, "The Holidays Ae Here and the Shopping Pros Know to Start at Kmart."

“We have been strategically and aggressively evaluating our store space and productivity, and are accelerating the closing of unprofitable stores as we have previously announced,” a Sears spokesman said in identical statements to all of the stores’ respective local news outlets, Consumerist reported.

Sears and Kmart have been endangered species for quite some time. In April, Sears announced that it would close 68 Kmart and 10 Sears stores.

Liquidity rating downgraded

The closings were foreshadowed a few days ago when Seritage Growth Properties, which owns stores leased by Sears and Kmart in many locations, filed an SEC document saying Sears expected to vacate 17 of its properties by the end of the year. 

Moody's last week downgraded Sears liquidity rating from "good" to "adequate," which is just one grade above the lowest, "weak."

"The ... rating reflects our view that Sears will continue to rely on external financing and the monetization of its alternative assets to fund its operating losses," said Moody's vice president Christina Boni. "We recognize the risks associated with relying on these sources and continued shareholder support to finance its negative operating cash flow which is estimated by Moody's to be approximately $1.5 billion this year." 

Stores named

Here’s the complete list of store closings, according to Business Insider:

  • Kmart #3044: Lawton, OK
  • Kmart #3180: Merrillville, IN
  • Kmart #3241: Springfield, IL
  • Kmart #3320: Houma, LA
  • Kmart #3328: New Lenox, IL
  • Kmart #3355: Panama City, FL
  • Kmart #3359: Gardendale, AL
  • Kmart #3521: Binghamton, NY
  • Kmart #3556: Elkhart, IN
  • Kmart #3594: Chicago, IL
  • Kmart #3644: Nashville, TN
  • Kmart #3695: Sierra Vista, AZ
  • Kmart #3706: Wytheville, VA
  • Kmart #3754: Martinsville, VA
  • Kmart #3814: Kearney, NE
  • Kmart #4066: Jackson, MI
  • Kmart #4095: Joliet, IL
  • Kmart #4135: Augusta, GA
  • Kmart #4162: Salt Lake City, UT
  • Kmart #4175: Canton, OH
  • Kmart #4176: Cheektowaga, NY
  • Kmart #4439: Yakima, WA
  • Kmart #4700: Fenton, MI
  • Kmart #4717: Oak Ridge, TN
  • Kmart #4739: Clarksville, TN
  • Kmart #4772: Burnham, PA
  • Kmart #4781: Macomb, IL
  • Kmart #4837: Riverton, WY
  • Kmart #4845: Manistee, MI
  • Kmart #4851: Byron Center, MI
  • Kmart #4910: Mentor, OH
  • Kmart #4917: Thornton, CO
  • Kmart #4961: Burlington, NC
  • Kmart #4970: Memphis, TN
  • Kmart #4972: Lubbock, TX
  • Kmart #4984: Tinley Park, IL
  • Kmart #7024: Scottsbluff, NE
  • Kmart #7061: New Iberia, LA
  • Kmart #7077: Harlingen, TX
  • Kmart #7174: Pikeville, KY
  • Kmart #7205: Grand Rapids, MI
  • Kmart #7216: Moorhead, MN
  • Kmart #7306: Sioux Falls, SD
  • Kmart #7356: Jonesboro, AR
  • Kmart #7412: West Valley City, UT
  • Kmart #7478: Waipahu, HI
  • Kmart #7551: Indio, CA
  • Kmart #7560: Craig, CO
  • Kmart #7587: Fontana, CA
  • Kmart #7625: Los Angeles, CA
  • Kmart #7642: Natchez, MS
  • Kmart #7718: Hixson, TN
  • Kmart #7733: Alpena, MI
  • Kmart #7755: Deming, NM
  • Kmart #7775: Lafayette, IN
  • Kmart #7795: Abilene, TX
  • Kmart #9129: Mount Airy, NC
  • Kmart #9146: Great Barrington, MA
  • Kmart #9397: West Saint Paul, MN
  • Kmart #9571: Cullman, AL
  • Kmart #9586: Sault Saint Marie, MI
  • Kmart #9623: Springdale, AR
  • Kmart #9728: Smyrna, TN
  • Kmart #9751: Cody, WY
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Apple and Samsung's reversal of fortunes

It's been a great month for one smartphone maker, the other not so much

The tech world has spent the better part of this month wondering what went wrong with Samsung lately and what went right for Apple. It turns out the two th...

PhotoThe tech world has spent the better part of this month wondering what went wrong with Samsung lately and what went right for Apple. It turns out the two things may be related.

There is no question the rivals' fortunes are moving in opposite directions. Samsung was forced to recall and announce plans to replace every one of the new Galaxy Note 7 smartphones it sold since its August 19 launch.

The phone won lavish praise from reviewers but soon was plagued by reports of overheating batteries that could ignite, and even explode. The phones are considered so unpredictable that the Federal Aviation Administration wants passengers to keep them out of checked bags and not to power them up while onboard the aircraft.

Samsung has told consumers who own a Note 7 to stop using them and exchange them for other phones, or for a loaner to use until Samsung can start producing Note 7s that aren't a fire hazard.

'China's different'

Samsung went to great lengths over the weekend to suggest Note 7 batteries are not the source of combustible phones that have been reported in China. The Wall Street Journal reports Note 7s sold in China have not been included in the global recall, at least not yet.

The timing of all this could not be worse for the Korean electronics firm. The Note 7 came out in mid-August, about three weeks before the anticipated release of the iPhone 7, which advanced press suggested would not move the needle very much.

Trying to one-up Apple

And it was this haste to one-up Apple that led to Samsung's problems, according to Bloomberg News. According to the report, based on interviews with people “familiar with the matter,” Samsung executives caught wind of a rumor: the iPhone 7 was going to be a yawner.

They then reportedly leaned on suppliers to rush production of components so the Note 7 would launch first. It did, but Bloomberg suggests at considerable cost. Haste makes waste, as they say.

Meanwhile, Samsung has initiated its Note 7 exchange program in the UK this week. Consumers there can trade in their barely month-old smartphone for a new and improved Note 7.

As for the iPhone, the rumors about it were apparently wrong. Consumers seem to think it's just fine, if initial orders are any indication. The phone has some nice features, a sleek design, and doesn't burst into flames.

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Long airport security lines may soon return, TSA warns

Consumers will be slogging through airports if Congress can't agree on a budget

Consumers may remember with dread how long airport security lines were this past spring. The problem got so bad that lawmakers greenlighted a TSA effort to...

PhotoConsumers may remember with dread how long airport security lines were this past spring. The problem got so bad that lawmakers greenlighted a TSA effort to hire more than 700 employees to get things moving at a reasonable pace.

While the stagnation eventually subsided, TSA officials are concerned that the long lines may return in October. TSA Chief Peter Neffenger stated that the agency may need to make job cuts if Congress isn’t able to come together on a new budget.

The cuts would result from a larger government shutdown that would occur on October 1, the beginning of the 2017 fiscal year. TSA took big steps in the summer to reverse the bad conditions during the spring. The agency hired 1,400 new security officers and converted 2,000 part-time workers to full-time positions.

However, Congress’ failure to create a cohesive budget would put the agency back in the position it was in during the spring. Neffenger was quoted as saying that TSA’s new staff would “all go home on October 1st,” if Congress fails to act.

Congressional leaders have not been able to work out a new budget deal for the coming fiscal year thus far, but there are some positive signs. President Obama expressed “modest” hopes of a resolved budget before the October 1 deadline, and Neffenger went so far as to say that the TSA was receiving “good signals” and “strong support” from the administration.

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AI software could make early breast cancer detection easier

Researchers say the software could eliminate false positives and unnecessary biopsies

Breast cancer screenings are an important preventative health measure. However, up to 50% of the time these tests can produce a false positive. Now, sc...

PhotoBreast cancer screenings are an important preventative health measure. However, up to 50% of the time these tests can produce a false positive.

Now, scientists at the Houston Methodist Research Institute have developed artificial intelligence (A.I.) software that can predict women's breast cancer risk faster and more reliably than other tests.

The software boasts 99% accuracy, meaning the risk of false-positive results (and the unnecessary anxiety that follows) would be significantly lowered.

30 times human speed

The cancer-detecting AI, which scientists have not yet named, works by reviewing patient charts and converting them into diagnostic information.

In addition to its impressive rate of accuracy, the software also produces quick results. Manual physician evaluations can take up to 60 hours. The AI, on the other hand, runs at 30 times human speed.

Beyond shortening the time it takes to effectively predict cancer risk, the AI could help reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies, said lead researcher Dr. Stephen T. Wong of the Department of Systems Medicine and Bioengineering, per Breast Cancer News.

"This software intelligently reviews millions of records in a short amount of time, enabling us to determine breast cancer risk more efficiently using a patient's mammogram," Wong said in release.

The AI software successfully and efficiently evaluated the more than 500 in just a few hours, which saved doctors over 500 hours. It also helped researchers rate patients’ probability of being at risk for breast cancer.

"Accurate review of this many charts would be practically impossible without AI," said Wong.

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Spray-on anesthetic approved for dental use

Study finds Kovanaze is effective in 88 percent of patients

A trip to the dentist is seldom fun, especially when it involves an injection to numb the pain of a procedure. But researchers at the University of Pennsyl...

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Wells Fargo sued over account fraud scandal

Three Utah consumers seek $5 million in damages

Wells Fargo, which paid $185 million in fines to settle government charges of fraud, now faces a lawsuit by three customers who claim they were victimized....

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Pipeline break sends gas prices soaring in the Southeast

There were lines at Nashville gas stations over the weekend

Over the weekend, there were lines at gas stations in Tennessee as many stations ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, gasoline prices soared in wide areas of the So...

PhotoOver the weekend, there were lines at gas stations in Tennessee as many stations ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, gasoline prices soared in wide areas of the Southeast.

This flashback to the late 1970s comes courtesy of a leak in Line 1 of the Colonial Pipeline, which carries fuel between Houston and High Point, N.C. and supplies Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

It will be several more days before supplies return to normal, but in a Tweet over the weekend, Colonial reported that its crews had started construction of a bypass line to carry fuel around the leaking section, in an effort to restore service as soon as possible.

The supply interruption has had a dramatic impact on prices at the pump in the affected states, some more than others. While stations in the Nashville area completely ran out, prices at stations in Georgia surged over the weekend.

Georgia prices soar

According to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey, the statewide average gasoline price in Georgia jumped from $2.19 a gallon on Saturday to $2.31 today. A week ago, Georgia motorists were paying an average of $2.10 a gallon.

In Atlanta, the price inflation is much worse. The average price in Atlanta is $2.46 a gallon, up from $2.17 a week ago.

Motorists in North Carolina have also seen a dramatic price movement. The statewide average gas price is $2.16 a gallon, up from $2.05 a week ago. Prices in the Charlotte area are up 16 cents a gallon in the last seven days.

Less severe in Virginia

Patrick DeHaan, senior analysts at GasBuddy, says the impact in Virginia will likely be less severe, but thinks the average price could go up as much as 15 cents a gallon if the supply interruption drags on.

“It won’t likely be an all-at-once spike, but rather a penny here and there, or maybe more,” DeHaan said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “The extent should be a bit more limited than other areas, but much of the degree of severity of depends on events unfolding now.”

The pipeline leak underscores the fragility of the nation's fuel distribution system, and how issues at refineries or pipelines can affect the price at the pump, at least on a temporary basis.

States not dependent on the Colonial pipeline are currently enjoying falling fuel prices, but that could easily change in the next few days, since the gasoline futures market is currently soaring, raising the wholesale price of gasoline everywhere.

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Two in a row for surging builder confidence

If they build them, they will come

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes was higher in September for a second consecutive month.The National Association o...

PhotoBuilder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes was higher in September for a second consecutive month.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) posted a reading of 65 -- a jump of six points from August and the highest level since last October.

“With the inventory of new and existing homes remaining tight, builders are confident that if they can build more homes they can sell them,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Though solid job creation and low interest rates are also fueling demand, builders continue to be hampered by supply-side constraints that include shortages of labor and lots.”

Taking the pulse

The NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI, derived from a monthly survey that's been conducted for 30 years, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair,” or “poor.”

The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average,” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

All three components moved higher in September. Sales expectations rose six points to 71, sales expectations in the next six months increased five points to 71, and the measure of traffic of prospective buyers posted a four-point gain to 48.

The three-month moving averages for HMI scores posted gains in three out of the four regions. The Northeast and South each registered a one-point gain to 42 and 64, respectively, while the West rose four points to 73. The Midwest was unchanged at 55.

“As household incomes rise, builders in many markets across the nation are reporting they are seeing more serious buyers, a positive sign that the housing market continues to move forward,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady. “The single-family market continues to make gradual gains and we expect this upward momentum will build throughout the remainder of the year and into 2017."

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Polaris Recalls Ranger recreational off-highway vehicles

The heat shield can fall off the vehicle, posing fire and burn hazards

Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 42,500 Polaris Ranger 900 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).The heat shield can fall off...

PhotoPolaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 42,500 Polaris Ranger 900 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

The heat shield can fall off the vehicle, posing fire and burn hazards to riders.

The company has received 36 reports of the recalled ROVs overheating and catching on fire, including reports of three minor burns and one sprained wrist.

This recall involves all model year 2014 Polaris Ranger XP 900, XP 900 EPS, and CREW 900 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

The recalled ROVs were sold in a variety of colors and have either three or six seats and a rear box. “Ranger” is printed on the rear box, and “900” is printed on the hood of the ROVs.

All 2014 Ranger 900 models and Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) are included in this recall. To check for recalled vehicles by VIN, visit www.polaris.com.

The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S. and Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from April 2013, through June 2014, for between $13,200 and $16,200.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact Polaris to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting all known purchasers directly.

Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off Road Safety Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

 

 

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Graco recalls Milestone child seats

The child seat labels are missing a required phrase

Graco Children's Products is recalling 8,240 Milestone child seats, model numbers 1910130, 1923980, 1926538, and 1926539, for failing to comply with the re...

PhotoGraco Children's Products is recalling 8,240 Milestone child seats, model numbers 1910130, 1923980, 1926538, and 1926539, for failing to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 213, "Child Restraint Systems."

The affected child seat have labels that are missing the required phrase "Secure this child restraint with the vehicle's child restraint anchorage system (LATCH) if available or with a vehicle belt."

An improperly secured child seat may increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

What to do

Graco will notify owners and provide them with new labels that contain all of the required information, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin during September 2016.

Owners may contact Graco customer service at 1-800-345-4109.

 

 

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How to pack when you can't unpack

Living out of a suitcase isn't easy but it can be done

It’s not fun to live out of a suitcase, but it's a necessity on some trips. If you’re not well organized, mornings are especially hectic, and finding and r...

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UPS just told you everything you need to know about retail this holiday season

The firm is hiring more people to handle the crush of holiday purchases

Drive down the mostly deserted roadways of rural America and you are now more likely to encounter a delivery truck from UPS or FedEx. Once a relatively rar...

PhotoDrive down the mostly deserted roadways of rural America and you are now more likely to encounter a delivery truck from UPS or FedEx. Once a relatively rare sighting in sparsely-populated areas, the trucks have become a common presence.

In most cases, it is because a rural resident has purchased something online instead of buying it from a local merchant, who probably wouldn't have it in stock anyway, but would promise “we can have it tomorrow.”

While delivery trucks tend to stand out in rural America, you can be sure there are plenty of them on city streets. And over the holidays, there will be lots more.

95,000 temp jobs

UPS announced this week that it is hiring 95,000 temporary workers to help it handle the expected crush of holiday shipments.

“We’re ready to kick off our annual holiday hiring process, and need lots of great people for various positions on all shifts across the country,” said Myron Gray, President, U.S. Operations.

Chances are, UPS will need every one of those positions as even more holiday shopping is expected to move online. Amazon is expected to be a main beneficiary of this trend, but major brick-and-mortar retailers aren't ceding that territory. Expect vigorous competition for online dollars, not only leading up to Black Friday but all the way through the holidays.

Clear signal

UPS' staffing-up announcement is a clear signal about the state of retail. Online is king. The National Retail Federation recently reported that last year's overall holiday sales were up 3%, while online and non-store sales rose 9%.

Looking ahead to this holiday season, eMarketer predicts “another strong season for ecommerce, and a tepid one for total retail sales.” The loser, it would seem, will be any retailer without a strong ecommerce presence.

While this might be bad news for “mom & pop” retailers, it could be good news for consumers looking to pick up some extra seasonal work. UPS is primarily looking for package handlers, drivers, and driver-helpers. If you're interested, you will find more information here.

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Pressure builds for TSA to pay more attention to ground and sea transportation

The agency spends too much time and money frisking air travelers, a report suggests

There are more than a few travelers who breathe a sigh of relief after clearing airport security, happy that they will not encounter the Transportation Sec...

PhotoThere are more than a few travelers who breathe a sigh of relief after clearing airport security, happy that they will not encounter the Transportation Security Agency until their next flight.

That could change, however. Pressure is mounting for the TSA to take on security risks in other modes of transportation -- like railroads, shipping, and other ground transportation.

It all started with a report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general that castigated the TSA for claiming it uses an "intelligence-driven, risk-based approach across all transportation modes."

In fact, the TSA spends nearly all of its time and money screening airline passengers, the report noted.

“In fiscal year 2015, TSA dedicated about 80% of its nearly $7.4 billion budget to aviation security and about 2% to surface transportation,” the DHS IG stated. “Without a crosscutting risk-based strategy for all transportation modes, TSA cannot ensure it consistently prioritizes security and resource allocation decisions to protect the traveling public and the nation’s transportation systems.” 

"Robust" planning

TSA said it agreed and said that developing a "robust" planning and budget process is a "top priority” for administrator Peter Neffenger.

The idea is getting some support in Congress. 

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said the report accurately describes "complacency and a lack of analysis" by TSA when it comes to threats beyond airports. “The agency has a responsibility to stay ahead of threats and secure all US transportation systems,” said Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

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Keep your dog healthy with this end-of-summer grooming checklist

Summertime can be ruff on your dog's coat and skin — here's how to undo the damage

If your dog spent the summer trekking through the woods, swimming in the river, or simply enjoying a bit more time outside than usual, his coat and skin ma...

PhotoIf your dog spent the summer trekking through the woods, swimming in the river, or simply enjoying a bit more time outside than usual, his coat and skin may be feeling the effects.

Bringing your dog along on an outdoor adventure can be a great bonding experience — one which provides your four-legged companion with exercise and mental stimulation in spades. However, mother nature can often wreak havoc on a dog’s paws, skin, and fur coat.

For this reason, pet parents should cap off a fun-filled summer with a little grooming. Seizing the opportunity to address coat and skin issues now can keep matters from getting worse once cold weather sets in.

What to do before fall

Grooming is always beneficial to your pet’s health, but the end of summer is an especially important time to give your dog’s coat and skin some extra attention, says Traci Simo of at-home pet care provider Canine Company.

What can pet owners do to undo summertime damage? Simo recommends the following:

  • Give your dog a deep brushing. All that romping around outside can lead to a matted coat, which can cause skin problems, irritation, and discomfort. Owners should carefully work out mats and tangles. If the matting is too severe, take your pup to a professional groomer who has the right tools and training to keep your dog comfortable during brushing.
  • Perform a parasite check. Check your dog’s skin for signs of fleas, ticks, and other parasites that may have hitched a ride on your unassuming pooch. Keep up with your parasite prevention treatments through fall.
  • Shampoo thoroughly. Bath time can help remove dust, dirt, mold spores, and parasites. After shampooing, pet owners can apply a conditioner to infuse moisture back into sun-damaged skin. When it’s time to dry off your dog, always use a towel instead of a hair dryer. (Home hair dryers may burn dogs’ skin.)
  • Do an ear check. Swimming can cause ear problems. If your dog’s ears have an odor or if you notice redness or see your dog scratching them, have your pet’s ears cleaned by a professional veterinarian or groomer.
  • Do a foot check. Your head-to-toe inspection should also include a look at your dog’s feet. Spread the pads and peek between the toes. If you see any signs of redness or irritation, your dog may have contact dermatitis or an allergy to lawn chemicals, hot asphalt, or grass seed. Have paws cleaned and treated, if this is the case. Lastly, trim your dog’s nails and any excess hair between the pads.
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Sen. Warren wants details of financial crisis investigation

She points out that no banking executives have been held accountable for the 2008 financial crisis

This week marked the eighth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy, an event that triggered the financial crisis of 2008 and very nearly brought do...

PhotoThis week marked the eighth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy, an event that triggered the financial crisis of 2008 and very nearly brought down the world financial system.

Since then, not a single banking executive or hedge fund manager has been prosecuted and critics charge that despite reforms, financial institutions are still engaging in risky behavior.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a frequent critic of Wall Street, is calling on the U.S. Justice Department to release details of the investigation it conducted in the aftermath of the crisis. Specifically, she wants to know why not a single person has been held accountable.

New revelations

The question is especially relevant, she argues, since it was recently disclosed that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) referred nine people and 14 companies to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2010, citing serious indications of violations of federal securities or other laws.

"The outcome of the referrals by the FCIC to the DOJ represents an abysmal failure,” Warren wrote in letter to the Office of Inspector General. “It means that key companies and individuals that were responsible for the financial crisis and were the cause of substantial hardship for millions of Americans faced no criminal charges. This failure is outrageous and baffling, and it requires an explanation."

The Lehman Bankruptcy stunned the financial world. The venerable institution collapsed because of its huge holdings in mortgage-backed securities, many of them subprime mortgages. When hundreds of thousands of those mortgages began to go into foreclosure in 2007, the securities became almost worthless.

Wants FBI documents released

Warren is also asking FBI Director James Comey to release the FBI's materials relating to the financial crisis investigation, especially any material on the nine individuals named in the FCIC documents. Since Comey released material relating to Hillary Clinton's email server investigation, Warren said it is only right that the public also get a look at what the FBI learned about the financial crisis.

"These new standards present a compelling case for public transparency around the fate of the FCIC referrals. I can think of no matter of ‘intense public interest' about which ‘the American people deserve the details' than the issue of what precisely happened to the criminal referrals that followed the 2008 crash." Warren wrote.

After the Lehman bankruptcy on September 12, 2008, other financial institutions also teetered on the brink. Congress approved $750 billion in additional government spending but the economy, already in a recession, plunged into the Great Recession, in which the unemployment rate surged past 10% in a matter of weeks.

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FCC fines three carriers $11 million for slamming and cramming

The carriers allegedly violated the agency's truth-in-billing rules

Remember long distance? Back in the day, you had to pay extra to call out of town. Today, of course, nearly every landline phone has unlimited long-distanc...

PhotoRemember long distance? Back in the day, you had to pay extra to call out of town. Today, of course, nearly every landline phone has unlimited long-distance calling in the U.S., as do nearly all cell phones.

But there are still some consumers out there who buy a separate long-distance service, even when they don't want to. Using deceptive sales practices is against the Federal Communications Commission's rules and it has come down heavily on violators in recent years.

In the most recent action, the FCC levied $11 million in fines against three related long-distance carriers for “cramming” unauthorized charges onto consumer telephone bills, “slamming” consumers by switching their preferred phone carriers without authorization, deceptive marketing, and violating the FCC’s truth-in-billing rules.

The companies -- Central Telecom Long Distance, Consumer Telcom, and U.S. Telecom Long Distance -- are run as one operation by Data Integration Systems, Inc.

Not rocket science

“This isn’t rocket science: no consumer should be charged for phone services that they canceled or never requested in the first place,” said FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc.  “Today’s fines make clear that we will aggressively prosecute those who ‘slam,’ ‘cram,’ or otherwise abuse consumers by unlawfully charging them for services they didn’t want or request.”

LeBlalnc said the Enforcement Bureau reviewed over 260 consumer complaints about the three California-based companies. In many cases, consumers said they had never heard of the companies. Others said they had not intended to sign up for the services.

Operating as a single enterprise, the companies’ telemarketers falsely claimed that they were calling on behalf of consumers’ real telephone carriers about a change in existing service. The companies then misused consumers’ answers to switch their long distance carriers to one of the companies, the FCC charged.

When customers realized what had occurred and returned to their preferred carriers, the three companies continued to charge them a recurring monthly fee. The companies also failed to clearly and plainly describe the charges included in their customer bills, as required by the FCC’s rules, the agency said.

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Golfsmith files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

It's the latest episode in a sad turn of events for U.S. sports retailers

It hasn’t been a very good year for sports retailers in the U.S. Back in April, Sports Authority liquidated its stores nationwide after failing to come up...

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Exxon accounting practices reportedly under investigation

Company has not written down the value of oil assets, despite big drop in oil prices

New York's attorney general is reportedly looking into Exxon's accounting practices, with potential impact on Exxon Mobil shareholders.New York Attorne...

PhotoNew York's attorney general is reportedly looking into Exxon's accounting practices, with potential impact on Exxon Mobil shareholders.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has not announced in advance who and what he is investigating, but The Wall Street Journal quotes sources who say the state is looking into why Exxon has not written down the value of its petroleum assets, as every other major oil company has.

Since 2014, the price of oil has plunged from around $100 a barrel to less than $50. Companies that hold petroleum assets have been forced to recognize those assets aren't worth what they once were, and have written them down accordingly. That affects their stock valuation.

According to the Journal, Schneiderman's office wants to know why Exxon Mobile has not written down the value of its assets, noting that an inflated value can have an impact on the company's stock price. The Journal report notes the company has addressed this issue in the past, arguing that it needs to be conservative in that area.

Trade publication Energy Intelligence interviewed Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson in 2015 about that very issue, and was told that not writing down asset values forces project leaders to work harder to remain profitable at lower prices.

By not writing down the value of its assets, Exxon Mobile's valuation has not taken a big hit. The Journal notes the oil company's decision not to write down the value of its assets and book the losses that action would entail has allowed it to outperform other oil companies during the oil patch downturn.

Exxon Mobile (XOM) stock is currently trading around $85 a share, at around 33 times earnings.

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When it comes to credit card rewards, consumers like cash

Consumers have lots of good choices

Consumers are learning that it pays to be choosy about which credit card they use. Many now offer some type of reward or incentive, so instead of using a c...

PhotoConsumers are learning that it pays to be choosy about which credit card they use. Many now offer some type of reward or incentive, so instead of using a card that pays nothing, it's clear consumers should choose a card that offers some type of reward.

But what kind of reward? While there are many choices, a survey by Ally Bank shows most consumers prefer cold, hard cash.

Fifty-eight percent of the consumers in the survey chose cash back instead of miles, store promotions, and low introductory rates.

Ally Bank, of course, recently introduced a cash back card which has gotten some pretty good reviews. However, there are other cash back cards that offer attractive benefits as well.

First, let's take a look at the Ally CashBack Credit Card. The card, introduced in June, will provide a 2% cash back reward when the card is used for eligible gasoline and grocery purchases. It provides 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Having a bank account can add to rewards

The Ally credit card also pays an additional 10% bonus if earned cash back rewards are deposited into an Ally Bank non-IRA savings, interest checking, or money market account. That makes it similar to another attractive cash back card, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards Card.

The BankAmericard product pays 3% on gasoline purchases, 2% on groceries, and 1% on everything else, on spending of $2,500 per quarter. It too provides a 10% bonus when you redeem rewards into a Bank of America account.

While the BankAmericard caps rewards and the Ally card doesn't, the BankAmericard has the added benefit of a one-time cash bonus of $100 when you spend $500 in the first 90 days of account activation.

Meanwhile, the Chase Freedom Card is among the most generous of cash back credit cards. It pays 5% on up to $1,500 of purchases per quarter, with the categories eligible for the rewards changing on a quarterly basis. Still, if you managed to max out the purchases each quarter, you could earn $75 cash back.

Don't want to keep up with rotating categories? There are plenty of cash back cards that pay 1% to 1.5% on everything, with no caps.

When choosing a cash back rewards card, the important thing is to choose one with no annual fee. Otherwise, the rewards won't be quite so rewarding.

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East Coast could face gas shortage, rising prices

Colonial Pipeline leak taking longer to repair than first estimated

A pipeline leak in Alabama may bring back a bad memory from the late 1970s for consumers on the East Coast – surging gasoline prices and stations that run...

PhotoA pipeline leak in Alabama may bring back a bad memory from the late 1970s for consumers on the East Coast – surging gasoline prices and stations that run out of fuel.

The good news – the price spike shouldn't last that long. On the other hand, when speculators get involved, as they did after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, the long term effect on prices can be hard to predict.

Already the gasoline futures market has responded with a rise in prices. In a Tweet, GasBuddy senior analyst Patrick DeHaan predicted prices at the pump could rise between five and 15 cents a gallon in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and as much as 20 cents a gallon in South Carolina. He says some station tanks may run dry.

Week-long shutdown

A week ago the Colonial Pipe, which is the main transporter of gasoline and diesel fuel from Houston to the East Coast, suffered a leak in rural Alabama and had to be shut down.

Now, engineers say it may be another week before the leak is repaired and the fuel can start flowing again. That could result in a significant draw-down in supplies in areas served by the pipeline, resulting in price hikes and possible shortages.

At the same time, Reuters reports BP will conduct major maintenance this weekend at its Whiting, Indiana refinery, reducing its output by as much as half. So, as oil prices have been fairly soft this week, the outlook is for gasoline prices to move in the other direction, at precisely the time they normally start to fall.

Low-priced states hit first

For consumers in the most-affected states, the saving grace is the fact they are starting out with some of the lowest gasoline prices in the country. South Carolina, expected to be the hardest-hit state, currently has the lowest prices in the nation, with a statewide average of $1.94 a gallon. The price is $2.02 in North Carolina and $1.98 in Virginia.

Meanwhile, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency, allowing the suspension of federal rules and regulations that limit the hours of operation that commercial vehicles may be in use.

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Rising medical care and shelter costs send consumer prices up in August

Prices for food and energy were unchanged

The government's Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose slightly in August as steady food and energy costs mitigated increases in rising shelter and health care p...

PhotoThe government's Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose slightly in August as steady food and energy costs mitigated increases in rising shelter and health care prices.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the CPI was up a scant 0.2% last month, with prices over the last 12 months gaining 1.1%

Food costs hold steady

As it was a month earlier, the cost of food was unchanged in August, with food at home -- grocery store prices -- falling 0.2%. Meats, poultry, fish, and eggs were down 0.4%, the 12th decline in a row. The “other food at home” category fell 0.2%, and prices for nonalcoholic beverages dipped 0.1%. The remaining major grocery store prices were all unchanged in August.

During the past 12 months, food prices overall were unchanged -- the first time that's happened since the 12 months ending February 2010. Grocery store prices were down 1.9% over the past 12 months.

Energy costs unchanged

The price of energy held steady after declining in July, with gasoline and fuel oil down 0.9% and 2.5%, respectively. Natural gas, on the other hand, was up 2.1% after surging 3.1% in July. Electricity rose 0.5%, the same increase as in July.

Energy prices have declined 9.2%, with gasoline down a whopping 17.8% and fuel oil dropping 12.8%.

Core inflation

The costs of living excluding the volatile food and energy categories -- what's known as the “core” rate of inflation -- was up 0.3% in August, led by medical care (+1.0%) and shelter (+0.3%). Other increases came in prices for motor vehicle insurance (+0.5%), apparel (+0.2%), and tobacco (+0.7%).

Declining prices were seen for used cars and trucks (-0.6%), as well as household furnishings and operations, recreation, and airline fares (all -0.1%).

The core rate of inflation over the past 12 months was up 2.3%, led by motor vehicle insurance (+6.5%), medical care (4.9%), and shelter (+3.4%).

The full report may be found on the BLS website.

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Chrysler recalls 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S.

The vehicles' airbags and seat-belt pretensioners may not deploy properly

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling an estimated 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S. When vehicles equipped with a particular occupant restraint contro...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling an estimated 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S.

 

When vehicles equipped with a particular occupant restraint control module and front impact sensor wiring of a specific design are involved in certain collisions, the airbag and seat-belt pretensioners may not deploy properly.

 

If all these factors are present, there may be an increased potential for occupant injury.

 

The Company says it is aware of three fatalities and five injuries that may be related to this condition.

 

The following vehicles are being recalled:

  • 2010 Chrysler Sebring midsize car
  • 2011-2014 Chrysler 200 midsize cars
  • 2010-2012 Dodge Caliber compact car
  • 2010-2014 Dodge Avenger midsize cars
  • 2010-2014 Jeep® Patriot and Compass SUVs 
  • An additional 142,959 of these vehicles are subject to recall in Canada; 81,901 in Mexico, a population that includes the 2010 Chrysler Cirrus compact car; and 284,051 outside North America, which also includes the 2012-2013 Lancia Flavia midsize car.

 

The occupant restraint controllers or wire routing design found in the recalled vehicles are no longer being used.

 

What to do

 

Chrysler will advise affected owners when they may schedule service, which will be performed free of charge.

 

Owners with questions may call the Chrysler customer care center at (800) 853-1403.

 

 

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Hey, stop using your Samsung Galaxy Note 7!

The fire danger is real and there are alternatives

On August 19, Samsung introduced its flagship Galaxy Note 7 Smartphone, a device that won rave reviews.But on September 2, the company confirmed that i...

PhotoOn August 19, Samsung introduced its flagship Galaxy Note 7 Smartphone, a device that won rave reviews.

But on September 2, the company confirmed that it was recalling all of the phones that had been sold so far after more than 30 cases of the battery overheating and catching fire. The company said it would replace all the phones with new ones as quickly as possible.

But people who bought the Note 7 haven't stopped using them. After all, people just don't stop using their smartphone, even if there's a chance it might explode. Samsung has offered Note 7 users an exchange program for another model while engineers work to rectify the problem, but apparently hardly anyone has taken advantage of it.

Almost no one has stopped using it

Apteligent, a mobile app intelligence firm, reports that the Note 7's usage rate is almost exactly the same as it was the day of the recall. The company is urging users stop using the Note 7 immediately. Five days ago, Samsung delivered the same message.

“We are advising that you power down your Note7 and exchange it now, as part of our U.S. Product Exchange Program for all Galaxy Note7 owners,” the company said in a statement. “We strongly advise all customers to use this exchange program because your safety is our top priority. Additional sales and shipments of the affected devices have been stopped, but if you already have a Galaxy Note7, we strongly advise that you replace it.”

Late Thursday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported Samsung had officially recalled the phone, which may provide new urgency to its appeal for owners to turn them in. The recall note also updated the incident reports, noting there had been 92 cases so far of these devices overheating and catching fire.

Two options

The company is offering consumers two options. First, consumers who want to wait for the Note 7 replacements, may obtain a Samsung J series phone through their carriers and use it until Samsung works out the bugs in the Note 7.

A second alternative is to exchange the defective Note7 for a Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 edge and replace any Note7 specific accessories, as well as get a refund of the price difference between devices. Get the details here.

The important thing is for consumers who own a Note 7 to turn it off and not use it. Already, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strongly advised travelers not to pack a Note 7 in checked luggage aboard aircraft.

Slovenian airline Adria Airways has echoed that, but made it mandatory, banning the use of Samsung’s latest mobile phone on its flights due to safety concerns.

Bad timing

The recall could not have come at a worse time for Samsung. The Galaxy Note 7 was acknowledged by the tech world as a very nice device and sales were brisk up until September 2, when they were suspended.

Less than a week later, Apple introduced the iPhone 7, which the more experts look at it, the more they like it. Apple has said it will not release initial sales figures, but carriers report they have been swamped with orders.

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Bill seeks alarm for kids accidentally left in hot cars

29 children have died so far this year when their parents or caretakers forgot about them

A bill introduced in Congress today aims to reduce the number of children who die each year when they are accidentally left unattended in cars that turn in...

PhotoA bill introduced in Congress today aims to reduce the number of children who die each year when they are accidentally left unattended in cars that turn into ovens on hot days.

The HOT CARS Act would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a final rule within two years for a reminder system to alert the driver if a child is left unattended in a vehicle. It leaves it up to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to figure out how to do that.

“Every year, dozens of children die when left in vehicles – one child every nine days,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), one of the sponsors of the measure. “These are horrible, preventable tragedies. The technology exists to prevent these deaths. You get a warning if you forget your keys in the ignition. You should get a warning if you forget your child in the back seat."

The bipartisan effort has enlisted the support of more thn 15 public health, consumer, and safety organizations, as well as an expert in neuroscience and the brain memory system and families who have lost children to vehicular heatstroke.

"Can't happen to you"

“The belief is that it can’t happen to you, always someone else. Unfortunately it happens over and over again, even to the most conscientious parents. Technology is available and it can be placed in new vehicles to protect innocent children. It’s really that simple," said Rep. Peter King (R-NY).

At least 29 children have died in hot cars so far this year, but Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president Jackie Gillan said the danger does not end when fall arrives.

"This is not just a ‘seasonal’ problem. When summer ends, the problem will not end. These deaths are happening year round," Gillan said. "The HOT CARS Act takes the same approach as the law enacted by Congress in 2008 that requires rear-view cameras as standard equipment in all cars by 2018. This is a very reasonable and effective way to stop preventable, unnecessary injuries and deaths.”

In most cases, it is loving and caring parents who unknowingly leave their child in the car. Common stressors like a change in routine or lack of sleep or even simple distractions can all have an effect on even the most responsible parents, said Dr. David Diamond, a professor in the Departments of Psychology, Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of South Florida, at a news briefing.

“The one aspect which is not a factor is that these children were not forgotten by parents who were reckless with regard to care for their children. This modern day phenomenon must be explained from a brain science perspective," he said. 

The bill, H.R. 6041, is technically titled the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (HOT CARS Act of 2016).

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More Jeeps roll over owners, suit charges

Two women file suits after accidents similar to the one that killed actor Anton Yelchin

The death of actor Anton Yelchin, killed when his Jeep Grand Cherokee crushed him as he checked the mailbox at his Los Angeles home, was initially seen as...

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Feds warn retailers not to sell tobacco products to minors

New regulations prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes, cigars, and hookah tobacco to minors

Look out, tobacconists. There's a new cop on the beat that's beginning to enforce federal rules governing sale of tobacco products to minors.The U.S. F...

PhotoLook out, tobacconists. There's a new cop on the beat that's beginning to enforce federal rules governing sale of tobacco products to minors.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said today it has sent warning letters to 55 tobacco retailers, cautioning them against selling e-cigarettes, e-liquids, and cigars to minors.

New federal regulations make it illegal nationwide to sell e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, and other newly regulated tobacco products to anyone under age 18, both in person and online, and requiring retailers to check photo ID of anyone under age 27. 

“Retailers play a vital role in keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of children and we urge them to take that responsibility seriously,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “It’s clear from these initial compliance checks that there’s a need for strong federal enforcement of these important youth access restrictions.”

During compliance checks at major national retail chains, tobacco specialty stores and online retailers, minors were able to purchase some of these newly regulated tobacco products in a variety of youth-appealing flavors, including bubble gum, cotton candy, and gummy bear.

"Skyrocketing use"

Before the final rule that extended the FDA’s authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, and pipe tobacco, among others, there was no federal prohibition on the sale of these products to children, contributing to skyrocketing use by youth.

Data from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show current e-cigarette use among high school students increased by more than 900 percent between 2011 and 2015, and hookah use also increased significantly during this time. Additionally, data shows that high school boys smoked cigars at about the same rate as cigarettes.

The rule, which went into effect on Aug. 8, contains provisions aimed at restricting youth access.

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House-flipping hits six-year high in second quarter

Report shows flips accounted for 5.5% of all sales

House-flipping is as popular and as profitable as it has ever been, according to new research from ATTOM Data Solutions, the new parent company of RealtyTr...

PhotoHouse-flipping is as popular and as profitable as it has ever been, according to new research from ATTOM Data Solutions, the new parent company of RealtyTrac.

In the second quarter of this year, it counted 51,434 house flips in monitored U.S. markets, up 14% from the first quarter and up 3% from the second quarter of 2015. It's the largest number of flips since the second quarter of 2010, when the housing crisis flooded the market with foreclosures.

A flip is defined as a property sold for the second time within a 12-month period. To be included in the RealtyTrac report, it had to occur in one of more than 950 counties that account for more than 80% of the U.S. population.

Deja vu?

Flipping houses was all the rage during the housing bubble, which might cause some to view the report with alarm. But things are a little different from 2006, when house-flipping peaked, just before the crash.

RealtyTrac reports flips made up 5.5% of all residential real estate transactions in the second quarter, and has pretty much kept that pace since the housing market crash. In some ways flippers have been a positive force in the real estate market.

By and large, the homes that are flipped are foreclosures, or other run-down properties that can be purchased at a significant discount. Homes that are damaged will not qualify for most financing, meaning they can't be sold unless a buyer comes to the table with cash.

After a flipper renovates a property, with updated kitchen, new flooring, and fresh paint, the house easily qualifies for financing and will sell at a price that is comparable to other houses in the neighborhood.

Providing inventory

Without flippers, real estate inventory would be even tighter, since these homes might not be accessible to buyers. Since builders aren't putting up nearly as many new homes as in the past, flippers are providing much needed inventory that keeps prices from rising even faster.

Nearly 40,000 investors carried out flips in the second quarter, the largest number since 2007.

“Home flipping is becoming more accessible for smaller operators thanks to an increasingly competitive lending environment with more loan options for real estate investors, who are also benefitting from the historically low mortgage interest rates,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions. “That favorable lending environment for flippers has helped to fuel the recent flipping frenzy we’ve seen over the past five quarters.

Flipping, which carries obvious risk, is also highly profitable. The report shows the average return on investment (ROI) in the first two quarters of 2016 was 49%, compared to 27% in 2006.

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More consumers questioning the value of college

More than half tell researchers there are ways to succeed without an expensive degree

In recent years there have been studies that have addressed the question of whether a college education is still worth the massive cost. These studies almo...

PhotoIn recent years there have been studies that have addressed the question of whether a college education is still worth the massive cost. These studies almost always conclude that it is.

New research from Public Agenda, a public policy organization, suggests these previous studies may have been talking to the wrong people.

While policymakers overwhelmingly agree that a college degree is the most reliable path to prosperity, consumers are not so sure. The survey found only 42% of Americans believe a college degree is necessary. Over half – 59% – say there are many ways to succeed without one.

“I think there's declining confidence in the direct relationship between a college credential of some kind and a job that pays a family a living wage,” Alison Kadlec, Public Agenda’s Director of Higher Education and Workforce Development, told ConsumerAffairs.

But wait a minute. Isn't the unemployment rate below 5%? Yes, but there is also a record number of American adults not working. If they aren't actively looking for a job, they aren't counted as unemployed.

Can't find skilled people

At the same time, American employers are complaining they can't find enough skilled workers to fill all their slots.

Kadlec says it's not a case that colleges aren't teaching useful skills. Employers say they want people who have critical thinking skills, communication, writing, problem solving, and the ability to deal with diverse audiences. She says these are the kinds of skills that are the bedrock of a liberal arts education. Or at least, they once were.

When college graduates can't find jobs and employers complain they can't find people with skills, it may mean the path to the middle class is about to change.

“I think what it's signaling is that the traditional credential structure isn't reflecting either the realities of the workplace, or the realities of the modern student,” Kadlec said. “There are disconnects all over the place.”

All about money

Kadlec says the research also finds a growing disenchantment with the college system. Fifty-nine percent of those questioned said colleges are too focused on money and not enough on educating.

Kadlec says part of this cynicism may stem from what she called a “dysfunctional” college transfer system, in which students transferring from one institution to another find many credits earned at one institution don't transfer to another, requiring them to take the courses again, adding to tuition bills.

While student loan debt tends to get most of the attention from policymakers, Kadlec believes there will be increasing focus on what students are actually getting for their money.

College completion

“For the last couple of years, the most important marker has been college completion,” she said. “What happens to students after they graduate is the place most people understand they need to be looking.”

For-profit colleges are already getting that scrutiny from the Department of Education, but so far most non-profit colleges have gotten a pass, at least from the government. The market, however, may be judging them differently.

Alternatives to college

There are new kinds of credentials that can be obtained faster and more cheaply and that are highly valued by employers. An example is a “coding academy,” which provides intensive training in writing code over a short period of time, and whose graduates easily find lucrative jobs.

As a result, she says employers may soon show wider flexibility in demanding a bachelor's degree for entry level jobs.

Kadlec says it's an issue public colleges and universities will need to address, because as people become more suspicious of higher education's motives, they will become more savvy consumers and look for education and credentials that will actually do them some good in the real world.

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Wholesale prices flat in August

A drop in food prices played a major role

Inflation on the wholesale level -- what the government calls “the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand” -- showed no change last month, according t...

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Retail sales dip in August

First-time jobless claims inched higher

Retail sales dipped in August -- the first decline in five months.According to the Commerce Department, sales were off 0.3...

Photo
Photo © GVS_Fotolia

Retail sales dipped in August -- the first decline in five months.

According to the Commerce Department, sales were off 0.3% last month at $456.3 billion. As it released the report for last month, the government revised its July figures to show a sales gain of 0.1%. The previous months sales had been reported as showing virtually no change.

On a year-over-year basis, sales in August were up 1.9%.

The biggest positive influences came from food services & drinking places (+0.9%) and clothing & clothing accessories stores (+0.7%). Sales declines were posted by miscellaneous store retailers (-2.4%), sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores (-1.4%), building material, garden equipment & supplies dealers (-1.4%), and gas stations (-0.8%)

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

 

Photo
Photo © Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Initial jobless claims

A small uptick last week in initial jobless claims.

From the Department of Labor (DOL), word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits totaled 260,000 in the week ending September 10 -- an increase of 1,000 from the previous week's unrevised level.

It's now 80 weeks in a row that the claims level has stayed below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1970.

The four-week moving average, considered a better gauge of the labor market due to its relative lack of volatility, dipped by 500 to 260,750.

The full report may be found on the DOL website.

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Hyundai recalls model year 2016 Tucsons

The vehicle may not move if the accelerator pedal is pressed and released repeatedly

Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 41,000 model year 2016 Tucsons manufactured May 20, 2015 through May 31, 2016 and equipped with a 7-speed EcoShift Dual...

PhotoHyundai Motor Company is recalling 41,000 model year 2016 Tucsons manufactured May 20, 2015 through May 31, 2016 and equipped with a 7-speed EcoShift Dual Clutch Transmission.

 

Under certain driving conditions and high temperatures, the vehicle may not move if the accelerator pedal is pressed and released repeatedly.

 

Inability to move the vehicle while in traffic may increase the risk of a crash.

 

What to do

 

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will update the Transmission Control Module software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on October 28, 2016.

 

Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 149.

 

 

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Samsung washers blamed in series of fires

Some of the machines have been recalled in Australia, but not here

Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 has acquired quite a reputation as a firebug, but it's not the only Samsung device that is being blamed for starting fires. Consume...

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Gmail outage hits parts of U.S. and UK

The origin and scope of the problem are not known

Widespread problems hit Google's popular Gmail service late this morning, Eastern Time. There was no immediate explanation from Google, but users flooded s...

PhotoWidespread problems hit Google's popular Gmail service late this morning, Eastern Time. Users flooded social media with complaints and Google said it was trying to resolve the problem, which seemingly affected business accounts.

"We're investigating reports of an issue with Gmail. We will provide more information shortly.
Based on reports, it affects only Google for Work Gmail users. The users are redirected to a page with 'Service not available, contact your administrator', Google said in an 11:16 a.m. ET advisory on its Google Apps page.

That was followed at 11:58 a.m. advisory that said the "root cause" had been identified.

"Our team is continuing to investigate this issue. We will provide an update by 9/14/16, 12:40 PM with more information about this problem. Thank you for your patience. We have identified the root cause of the issue and a potential fix is being implemented," that advisory said. 

At 12:40 p.m., Google said the problem had been resolved for most users: "Gmail service has already been restored for some users, and we expect a resolution for all users in the near future. Please note this time frame is an estimate and may change." 

User complaints

The website DownDetector.uk, which monitors "when services go down or have outages", reported a spike in the number of people complaining about outages for Gmail.

"911 my work gmail is down and I actually have stuff I need to get done ASAP," one Twitter user posted.

Another tweeted: "Chaos = when @gmail is down," the Express of London reported.

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Uber launches four self-driving cars in Pittsburgh

Initial reviews, at least from the media, are positive

Today was the big day for both Uber and Pittsburgh. It was the day the ride sharing company introduced some self-driving vehicles to its fleet.While we...

PhotoToday was the big day for both Uber and Pittsburgh. It was the day the ride sharing company introduced some self-driving vehicles to its fleet.

While we have yet to receive any consumer feedback on the experience, several reporters got the chance Tuesday to take some test rides, and they have reported their findings.

Andrew Hawkins, a writer for The Verge, took an Uber self-driving car for a spin and said its sensors were tested early, when an SUV in front of him stopped suddenly.

“Time slowed down,” Hawkins writes. “My brain issued the signal to brake, but before my foot could respond, the car braked on its own. It was abrupt but gentle, the kind of stop that would have caused my wife to raise a disapproving eyebrow, but only slightly.”

Clueless about hand signals

But then, he said the driver of the car stuck out his arm and motioned for him to pull around. Hawkins says the car has plenty of optics and sensors, but no way to interpret the motion of a human arm waving him around. He said he had to take control of the vehicle and manually pull around. Other than that, he says the ride was uneventful.

Uber said it has placed four self-driving vehicles in the Pittsburgh fleet. Whether it's the car that picks you up will be the luck of the draw. If one is available and closest to you, it's the one you'll get.

The driverless car won't be empty when it picks you up, however. Uber said the front seat will be occupied by Uber personnel to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Industry reaction

“This is a brilliant and innovative step for Uber, taking consumers one step closer to an autonomous automotive world,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Michael Harley, in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “While the vehicles are technically autonomous, including a redundant driver and engineer adds peace of mind and a necessary cushion of safety for passengers, pedestrians, and legal teams still skittish with the emerging technology.”

Brian Moody, executive editor at AutoTrader, was equally impressed, especially since he said a driverless car holds the promise of “no chit-chat” with the driver or an awkward calculation of how much to tip.

Uber said it's not going to attempt to predict the future, but believes self-driving cars hold enormous potential to make highways safer and cities less congested. As for Uber drivers who might be displaced, the company said the technology will create new work opportunities while disrupting current ones.

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Care.com provides contract workers with $500 limited benefit platform

It represents a big step for independent contractors working in the gig economy

Being an independent contractor in the gig economy can come with its own pros and cons. While many like the flexibility of being able to work where and whe...

PhotoBeing an independent contractor in the gig economy can come with its own pros and cons. While many like the flexibility of being able to work where and when they want, many more are wary to engage in a job that doesn’t give much stability or the generous benefits plan that many larger companies provide.

Now, one company has taken steps towards providing its contract workers with some breathing room. In a new plan announced today, Care.com has said it will provide its caregivers $500 per year to use on health care, transportation, and education expenses. It marks one of the earliest company commitments towards providing contract workers with employee benefits in the gig economy.

“Caregivers constitute one of the largest segments of the gig economy and the fastest growing large job category in our country. Caregivers frequently work for multiple families and almost always work without access to professional benefits,” said Sheila Marcelo, founder and chief executive of Care.com.

“The Care.com Benefits platform not only provides that access but now makes these benefits more affordable through the help of employer contribution to the program. Pooled, portable, peer-to-peer benefits represent a new model for household employment and an innovative step forward in professionalizing caregivers.”

An important step

The new plan stands in stark contrast to the support that many contract employees have enjoyed over the past few years. While several initiatives have been started to provide contract workers with benefits, more often than not they end up falling flat.

Take, for instance, the attempt by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. In 2012, a labor organization moved to have taxi medallion owners deduct six cents from every cab fare to fund portable health and disability insurance for drivers. It lasted for a little while, but the New York Supreme Court shut down the regulation in 2014.

Cases like these tend to pervade the culture of the gig economy, so Care.com’s new plan may end up being influential towards similar causes. “We’re starting to see the first signs of life, where companies see it as in their interest to collect money for workers to get benefits. It’s a really important step,” said Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union.

“A strong care workforce is critical to our economy and the well-being of families, yet we lack a scalable solution to provide benefits for these workers who support us all,” said Marcelo. “As freelance labor moves to work for different people, their benefits should move with them. We haven’t seen anyone do what we’re doing. We think it’s groundbreaking.”

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Apple sued by scorned upgrade members

Members say the company showed preferential treatment towards new customers during the iPhone 7 pre-order process

It used to be that the release of a new iPhone was greeted by insane levels of enthusiasm by faithful consumers. While lines at the Apple store no longer e...

PhotoIt used to be that the release of a new iPhone was greeted by insane levels of enthusiasm by faithful consumers. While lines at the Apple store no longer extend outside and around the block, there are still those who scramble to pick up the latest iteration of the popular smartphone.

However, some of these consumers feel jilted by Apple and are voicing their displeasure in the form of a lawsuit. They allege that Apple showed preferential treatment to new customers during the recent preorder process for the iPhone 7, leaving members of Apple’s Upgrade Program without a new phone when the products were released. This is especially egregious, the complainants say, because being a part of the program is supposed to guarantee an upgrade every year.

“While scores of customers signed up for the program and were ready to take advantage of the every-year upgrade with the release of the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, Apple had a different plan in mind. It allowed non-iPhone Upgrade Program customers to snap up the limited inventory of the new devices while telling countless iPhone Upgrade Program customers to ‘check back later,’” the lawsuit stated.

Preferential treatment

Consumers who sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program are usually sold new iPhones by Apple when they’re released. The payments for the phones are divided up into 24 monthly installments, and consumers who pay at least 12 of the 24 payments are eligible to trade in their existing iPhone when a new one comes out, or after six months.

By favoring new customers and not following through on upgrades for members, the complainants say that Apple failed to deliver on its promise of an upgrade “every year.” Now members will have to wait weeks or months for a new batch of phones to become available. Additionally, the lawsuit says that forcing members to wait now will inevitably lead to them having to wait again next year or pay extra to secure the latest phone.

The lawsuit is seeking reimbursements for any payments made on 2015 iPhone models while members of the iPhone Upgrade Program wait for their new phones. It also demands that Apple allow members to be eligible for the 2017 iPhone next September, even if they’re delayed in purchasing the iPhone 7 this year. The complainants also require that the company not restrict availability of supplies to upgrade members in the future.

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How living with an aging relative or boomerang kid could affect your insurance

Multigenerational living is common, but it can be costly without the right coverage

For baby boomers and Gen Xers, the nest may not stay empty for very long. Many adults in their 40s and 50s are now playing the role of caretaker to both th...

PhotoFor baby boomers and Gen Xers, the nest may not stay empty for very long. Many adults in their 40s and 50s are now playing the role of caretaker to both their kids and an elder relative. 

Welcoming an aging parent into your home while also handling the responsibility of raising a child can be challenging. In addition to discussing how household responsibilities should be divided, families should also consider how this modern living arrangement could affect their insurance needs.

"When there is an increased headcount under your roof, there are likely new insurance implications,” says John M. Huff, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

Huff says asking your soon-to-be housemate certain financial questions can help you decide if changes should be made to your existing insurance coverage.

Questions to ask aging relatives

Consumers can stay one step ahead of costly mistakes by asking their parent or senior relative the following questions prior to move-in day:

  • Are you current on health, auto, and life insurance premium payments?
  • Are you covered by Medicare?

  • Should we look into long-term care insurance?

  • What are your end-of-life wishes?

Getting detailed answers to these questions can help stave off future stress by ensuring that everyone is on the same page.  

What to ask adult children

Millennial kids think the nest is best. As we reported, Millennials have become the generation most likely to be living with mom and dad rather than a spouse or partner.

But footing the bill for an adult child isn’t cheap. Experts say allowing a boomerang child to return home can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $18,000 per year.

Welcome Home Contracts and clear expectations can help pave the way for a harmonious cohabitation. To prevent financial misunderstandings, parents should ask their adult kids the following questions:

  • How will health insurance be covered? Who will pay for what?

  • Will we combine auto policies? How will driving records affect premiums?

  • What belongings are you bringing? Will expensive items such as electronics or sporting equipment increase homeowners insurance premiums?

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Why now is a good time to have your furnace inspected

Here's what a thorough inspection should include

Fall and winter can be taxing times for furnaces. That’s why, even if your furnace seems to be working fine, experts recommend getting it professionally in...

PhotoFall and winter can be taxing times for furnaces. That’s why, even if your furnace seems to be working fine, experts recommend getting it professionally inspected at the beginning of fall.

During the summer, dirt is likely to find its way to your furnace’s internal parts. Dirt build up can cause furnaces to run inefficiently, which may cause your energy bills to skyrocket.

Yearly furnace maintenance can help lower your energy bills, as well as reduce the chances of a costly or untimely breakdown. Having your furnace maintained will also keep its manufacturer’s warranty in tact.  

Preventing future problems

“Proper maintenance extends the life of your furnace or boiler and saves you money,” says Energy.gov. “To maintain your heating system’s efficiency and ensure healthy indoor air quality, it’s critical to maintain the unit and its venting mechanism.”

Fall is the ideal time to have your heating system checked by a qualified contractor. In addition to doing a visual inspection of all vents, heat exchangers, and motors, your contractor should check the following furnace components:

  • Thermostat settings. Heating and cooling systems should do their job of keeping you cool during the summer and warm during the winter. They should also save energy while you’re away.
  • Electrical connections. A professional can tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Regularly verifying that all electrical connections are sound can extend the life of several major parts of your furnace.
  • The pilot light. If your furnace has one, it should be checked.
  • Moving parts. Blower bearings and moving parts should be lubricated to prevent friction in motors and regulate the amount of electricity you use.
  • The condensate drain. A plugged drain in your furnace can cause water damage in your house and even affect indoor humidity levels.
  • System controls. To make sure the system is fully operational, contractors should check the starting cycle of the equipment to see if the system starts, runs, and shuts off properly.

What you can do yourself

For homeowners who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, there is a furnace maintenance task that can be taken care of without professional help.

Once a month, homeowners can inspect, clean, or change air filters in their central air conditioner or furnace. If you don’t already know how to do this, your contractor can show you how.

It’s important to make sure dirty air filters don’t stay in your appliance for too long, as they can lead to increased energy costs, equipment damage, and even early failure.

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Gas prices falling again as refineries switch to winter fuel

Government predicts $1.92 a gallon national average by year's end

Now that we're past the summer driving season and cooler temperatures are on their way, the price of gasoline is falling again, the way it normally does th...

PhotoNow that we're past the summer driving season and cooler temperatures are on their way, the price of gasoline is falling again, the way it normally does this time of year.

But the biggest catalyst is the switch-over to winter grade gasoline at the nation's refineries. That blend is cheaper to produce and that's usually reflected in the price at the pump. The switch-over at most refineries will take place this week.

According to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey, the national average price of self-service regular is 2.18 a gallon, down a penny from a week ago but up six cents from a month ago. That's because gas prices rose in the last couple of weeks to reflect a sudden rise in oil prices, suggesting market forces could start producing some volatility in the seasonal prices of gasoline that has been largely absent for the last two years.

Icahn warns of market manipulation

Interviewed this week on CNBC, investor Carl Icahn, who owns a huge stake in an independent refinery, charged that a combination of government regulations and Wall Street speculation would put small refineries out of business. That would consolidate pricing power in the hands of the major players, he said.

“Because what's going to happen is a lot of these refineries are owned by foreign entities,” Icahn told the network. “And they're going to push gasoline prices up double and triple and hurt our economy.”

But in the short run, AAA predicts prices will slowly drift lower as we head into the fall, as long as crude oil prices don't spike.

Without getting too technical, winter-blend gasoline is cheaper because it is made to evaporate at lower temperatures. Making the summer blend fuel, that evaporates at a higher temperature, is more costly.

Short term outlook

In its Short Term Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration predicts oil prices will remain at current levels and retail gasoline prices will dip to an average of $1.92 by the end of the year.

In fact, AAA reports seven states are already selling gasoline at or below a state-wide average of $2 a gallon. They include South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia.

In recent days, prices have fallen most sharply in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Nebraska, Maryland, and Minnesota.

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Why you shouldn't use your debit card at a gas pump

Wisconsin authorities have uncovered numerous card 'skimmers' that can steal data

There are some places you simply don't use a debit card. A restaurant, for example, if the server takes the payment from the table to the cash register. A...

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How the growing cybersecurity threat is creating millions of jobs

One study cites a skills gap and a lack of qualified people needed to fill positions

Hackers and cybercriminals keep getting smarter and more sophisticated, making government and private IT professionals scramble to keep up. Perversely, it'...

PhotoHackers and cybercriminals keep getting smarter and more sophisticated, making government and private IT professionals scramble to keep up. Perversely, it's also creating job opportunities.

Increasingly, vulnerable organizations don't have the people they need to defend themselves. That's the takeaway from a study by Foote Partners, which tracks IT jobs across all skill levels.

Its report estimates the demand for cybersecurity professionals will climb to six million by 2019, with an anticipated shortfall of about 1.5 million.

The reason, the report argues, is a skills gap. There aren't enough people trained to defend databases and networks from attack, or who have the latest skills required to do so. Some of the people who are in place aren't the right people, the study argues, since the whole field has rapidly changed with the mushrooming threat.

“They may have good technical people who can fix firewalls and implement basic perimeter solutions,” the authors write. “But what’s missing are enough of the sort of people who can make the case for cybersecurity being linked to business challenges and business developments.”

Job opportunities

While this is perceived as a weakness for organizations, it could present opportunities for people considering a career, or career change. A check of job site Monster.com showed more than 1,000 cybersecurity job openings.

“Government and the private sector haven’t brought enough urgency to solving the cybersecurity talent shortage” said Chris Young, senior vice president and general manager of Intel Security Group.

However, some clearly have. Microsoft has taken a leading role in pushing development of cybersecurity in the Internet of Things (IoT) and globally-relevant IoT standards. Microsoft recently advocated government action to help protect IoT, including a private-public partnership to pursue guidelines for cybersecurity.

New challenges and vulnerabilities

IoT presents new challenges and vulnerabilities. As more things become connected to networks, there is greater opportunity to break into them. Once inside, a hacker might be able to access other connected devices or even networks.

Analysts at Gartner think that within just four years, more than a quarter of hacking attacks on organizations will involve IoT. That will require more spending than is currently allocated, and it will require more people, they say.

According to the Foote study, Cisco System is ramping up its cybersecurity training efforts. It recently said it would invest $10 million in a two-year scholarship program to help close the skills gap.

For people interested in pursing these career opportunities, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies might be a good resource.

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Holiday retail hiring projected to show little change this year

Other sectors of the economy may take up the slack

Employment experts aren't expecting much in the way of hiring in the retail sector for this year's Christmas shopping season.Outplacement consultancy C...

PhotoEmployment experts aren't expecting much in the way of hiring in the retail sector for this year's Christmas shopping season.

Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts hiring by retailers will show little change from last year when seasonal employment in the sector increased by 738,800 during the final three months of the year. That was down 1.4% from 2014, according to employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

That doesn't mean nobody's hiring though.

“While seasonal retail jobs remain flat or shrink, there has been a marked increase in seasonal job gains in other sectors,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “The sector with the biggest increase in holiday hiring in recent years has been transportation and warehousing, as more and more holiday shopping is done online.”

Transportation and warehousing hiring

Target has already announced plans to add 70,000 retail workers -- about the same as a year ago. But, it also said it'll be adding 7,500 people in its distribution facilities, which ship online orders and send products to stores.

Last year, transportation and warehousing employment increased by a non-seasonally adjusted 200,500 workers in November and December. A decade ago, the seasonal job gains measured just 42,400.

FedEx and UPS hired 150,000 extra holiday workers last year, and both are expected to add the same number this season.

Distribution and call center operator Radial reportedly plans to increase its global payrolls by 20,000 for the upcoming holiday season

Even more hiring

“Seasonal hiring is not limited to retail or retail-related industries,” said Challenger. "More and more Americans are giving friends and families experiences instead of material items. The increase in this type of gift-giving means that there are more seasonal employment opportunities at theaters, restaurants, amusement parks, and other entertainment venues.”

Last week, Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee, announced that it will be hiring 300 seasonal workers for its annual holiday attraction, which features two million pounds of ice sculptures.

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Gridlock on the tarmac

More than 20 excessive runway delays occurred in July

Going nowhere fast. That's what happened on some of the nation's airport runways during July.Airlines reported 11 tarmac delays of more than three hour...

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A third straight gain for mortgage applications

Contract interest rates were mostly lower

From the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), word that mortgage applications rose for a third consecutive week.According to the MBA's weekly survey, ap...

PhotoFrom the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), word that mortgage applications rose for a third consecutive week.

According to the MBA's weekly survey, applications jumped 4.2% in the week ending September 9 -- including an adjustment for the Labor Day holiday.

The Refinance Index was up 2%, although the refinance share of mortgage activity fell to 62.9% of total applications from 64.0% the previous week.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came in at 4.6% of total applications, the FHA share went from 9.5% to 9.6%, the VA share rose to 12.0% from 11.9% and the USDA share of total applications increased to 0.7% from 0.6% a week earlier.

Contract interest rates

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dipped one basis point -- to 3.67% from 3.68% -- with points decreasing to 0.36 from 0.37 (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) dropped to 3.64% from 3.66%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.30 (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 two basis points to 3.50%, 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 15-year FRMs inched up from 2.96% to 2.97%, with points unchanged at 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was unchanged at 2.87%, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.30 (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.

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Toyota recalls model year 2016 Prius vehicles

The front passenger airbag may inflate improperly

Toyota Motor North America is recalling approximately 7,600 model year 2016 Prius vehicles in the U.S. The recalled vehicles are equipped with a fr...

PhotoToyota Motor North America is recalling approximately 7,600 model year 2016 Prius vehicles in the U.S.

 

The recalled vehicles are equipped with a front passenger airbag containing stored, compressed gas in the inflator. A component in the airbag assembly may have been improperly welded and/or misassembled. If this occurs, the stored gas may escape without a deployment signal and result in the partial inflation of the air bag. This has been observed when the vehicle is parked and unoccupied for a period of time.

 

An airbag that inflates in this manner can, under some circumstances, increase the risk of injury and the possibility of a crash.

 

What to do

 

Toyota will notify all known owners of the recalled vehicles by first class mail beginning in November and Toyota dealers will replace the front passenger airbag assembly with a new one at no cost.

 

Owners may call Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus customer service at 1-800-255-3987.  

 

 

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Wells Fargo feeling the heat over fraudulent transactions by its employees

Senate schedules hearings as bank jettisons its sales goals

Wells Fargo says it is eliminating sales goals as it works to recover consumer confidence after it was ordered to pay nearly $200 million because its emplo...

PhotoWells Fargo says it is eliminating sales goals as it works to recover consumer confidence after it was ordered to pay nearly $200 million because its employees opened more than two million unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts.

“Our objective has always been and continues to be to meet our customers’ financial needs and drive customer satisfaction,” said CEO John Stumpf in a press release. “We are eliminating product sales goals because we want to make certain our customers have full confidence that our retail bankers are always focused on the best interests of customers.”

That may not be enough to satisfy critics, however. U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are pressing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for more information about the fraud, which they say may have hit seniors especially hard.

The Senate Banking Committee’s Republican majority, meanwhile, has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 20, at which it wants to grill Stumpf. Democrats on the committee had earlier called for a hearing on the giant fraud.

“We should accept nothing less than a full and transparent explanation of what went wrong, who is responsible, how to fix it, and how to prevent such fraud in the future,” the Democratic senators said earlier on Monday. Wells Fargo executives are briefing regulators this week, explaining the bank's attempts to curtail illicit activity by its employees. 

Vulnerable seniors

McCaskill and Collins are emphasizing the vulnerability of seniors to financial fraud.

“As Wells Fargo begins the long process of identifying and making restitution to the consumers who were defrauded, I want to ensure that seniors -- who are often the targets of fraud and who also can be harder to find and make whole – are adequately protected,” the senators said in a letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

“I have concerns about the impact this activity has had on our nation’s senior population, especially those who do not conduct their financial business on the Internet," McCaskill and Collins said in their letter. "According to Pew Research Center, just 56 percent of adults over age 65 use the Internet."

McCaskill also asked if CFPB had worked with other branches of government to pursue civil or criminal penalties against the employees engaged in fraud. Bank employees have largely put the blame for the fraudulent transactions on bank management.

"When I worked at Wells Fargo, I faced the threat of being fired if I didn't meet their unreasonable sales quotes every day, and it's high time that Wells Fargo pays for preying on consumers' financial livelihoods," Khalid Taha, a former employee, said in a statement to Bloomberg.

Some Wells Fargo customers have complained of similar allegedly fraudulent practices.

"Twice when I was dealing with WF I had over $7500.00 stolen from my account," said Sharon of Halethorpe, Md., in a recent ConsumerAffairs review. "I believe that it was someone who was working there. What they did to me was use a forged check, that would have that check number coming up soon, take a picture of it and withdrawal the cash. Some of the checks didn't even have a signature or who it was made out to."

The CFPB said that Wells Fargo employees applied for approximately 565,000 credit cards and 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers—sometimes illegally transferring money into those accounts in order to make them active. This sometimes resulted in overdraft or late fee charges for affected consumers. Wells Fargo was ordered to pay $185 million in fines to various entities, including a $100 million fine to the CFPB.

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House passes bill banning gag orders in consumer contracts

The Senate passed a similar version earlier and Obama is expected to sign the final version

If you've been worried about being sued for posting negative comments about a business, your worries may soon be over, courtesy of the U.S. Congress. The H...

PhotoIf you've been worried about being sued for posting negative comments about a business, your worries may soon be over, courtesy of the U.S. Congress. The House has passed by voice vote the Consumer Review Fairness Act, which would outlaw non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts.

Those are the clauses inserted by dentists, rug cleaners, pet sitters, and others that bar consumers from making disparaging or false comments about the business.

The most recent and one of the more absurd such suits involved a Texas pet-sitter who sued a customer for $1 million over a negative Yelp review. The suits are nearly always dismissed, but they can force consumers to spend much time and money defending themselves.

The Senate has already passed a measure, the Consumer Review Freedom Act, similar to the one now passed by the House. The bill now goes back to the Senate to work out any differences and then, if all goes well, to President Obama for his signature.

"Undeniable right"

“Consumers have an undeniable right to voice their concerns with a business, product or service when their experience fails to meet expectations,” said Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), a primary sponsor of the bill. “By eliminating secretive non-disparagement clauses, the Consumer Review Fairness Act would ensure companies can never retaliate against customers for simply expressing an opinion."

The legislation is supported by online review platforms like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Glassdoor, as well as the National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the Internet Association, Demand Progress, Engine, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Public Knowledge, and the Public Participation Project. 

"TripAdvisor whole-heartedly supports the introduction of the Consumer Review Fairness Act by Representatives Lance and Kennedy,” said Adam Medros, Senior Vice President of Global Product at TripAdvisor. “Consumer reviews have become an integral part of many Americans’ purchasing decisions."

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Chevy Bolt EV earns EPA-certified range of 238 miles

If true, it would be the first U.S. electric car to have a range over 200 miles

Electric cars are perfect for consumers who want to distance themselves from the up-and-down market for gasoline. But one of the main concerns with these v...

PhotoElectric cars are perfect for consumers who want to distance themselves from the up-and-down market for gasoline. But one of the main concerns with these vehicles has always been how far someone can take them before needing to stop and recharge.

Now, a new announcement by GM may put those worries to rest. The automaker has announced that its Chevy Bolt EV, scheduled for release later this year, will be able to go 238 miles on a full charge, according to EPA-certified estimates. The estimate would make the Bolt the first-ever electric vehicle sold in the U.S. to have a range over 200 miles.

Additionally, GM has said that its European version, called the Ampera-e, will have a range of 249 miles, or 401 kilometers. However, the mileage is strictly a matter of different testing standards; the Ampera-e will be made with the same propulsion system as the Bolt.

"Game-changer"

In addition to the high range, the new Bolt will also reportedly come at a price that won’t break consumers’ banks. GM has stated that the vehicle will sell for under $37,500, but consumers who take advantage of federal and state tax credits can lower the cost to around $30,000.

The company hasn’t yet said where the Bolt will be sold, saying only that it will be available at "select" Chevrolet dealerships in late 2016.

“Chevrolet showed the world the production version Bolt EV earlier this year and in a few short months we’ve moved from that vision to a reality. The Bolt EV is a game changer for the electric car segment and it will start to become available at Chevrolet dealerships later this year,” said Alan Batey, President of GM North America, in a statement.

Tesla competition

Proponents of the Bolt point out that the 238-mile estimate actually puts the vehicle ahead of Tesla’s Model 3, which will debut in 2018 with an estimated 215-mile range. It also outclasses the Model S 60, which has the same size battery but only has a range of 208 miles and costs $71,000.

Consumers shouldn’t take the current range statistics for Tesla’s Model 3 as gospel, though. It is important to note that this vehicle has not yet been EPA-certified. In fact, CEO Elon Musk has said that the 215-mile projection uses “minimum numbers.”

However, consumers may look at the lower price-point of the Bolt and see an opportunity to grab an environmentally-friendly, economical car that is affordable both to buy and to drive. 

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Getting better customer service lately? Thank the internet

Companies want to make you happy before you can tell the world you're not

It's hard to go to a fast food restaurant now without being asked to go to a website and tell the company about your experience. Almost any company with cu...

PhotoIt's hard to go to a fast food restaurant now without being asked to go to a website and tell the company about your experience. Almost any company with customer service reps wants consumers to fill out a survey, rating their interaction.

Ten years ago, that didn't happen nearly as often. Businesses were often indifferent to what their customers thought and didn't particularly want to hear from them.

Marketing expert Jay Baer, author of the book “Hug Your Haters,” conducted research that found 80% of businesses thought they were delivering superior customer service, but only 8% of consumers rated their customer service that way. Those kinds of disconnects could remain shrouded until the internet came of age in the late 1990s.

When consumers started using sites like ConsumerAffairs to post bad experiences, the offending companies often reacted with anger and threats of lawsuits. Then along came social media, and the genie was completely out of the bottle.

Aligning perceptions with reality

Noemi Pollack, CEO of Los Angeles-based The Pollack PR Marketing Group, helps clients navigate a brave new world where she says businesses must try to align their own perceptions of their quality with the perceptions held by consumers. Companies have become proactive about collecting feedback, she says, for two very different reasons.

“Hearing it from your customer could be a completely different story,” Pollack told ConsumerAffairs. “But a second reason is social media. With social media people have a huge platform for complaints. Businesses learned they have to get there first, before all the complaints.”

Pollack says it's a smart, protective strategy. Pre-empting the complaints before they go online limits damage. But she says just collecting surveys isn't enough. Companies have to actually act on the information. Otherwise, the damage will just get worse.

“There's a study showing 82% of consumers said they stopped doing business with a company because of poor customer service,” Pollack said. “That's enormous.”

Making businesses better

But on the flip side, if a company takes action to resolve a problem for a consumer, the payoff can be enormous as well. She cites data showing just a 15% increase in customer retention can boost a company's profits by 25% to 85%.

More companies are now aware of this metric and are more likely than in the past to quickly resolve a complaint a customer takes directly to the company, knowing a much wider audience awaits if the customer goes away unhappy.

Pollack says the overriding purpose of customer service today is to reduce the amount of negative comments on review sites and social media. It isn't just a matter of losing a customer, which is how companies might have looked at it in the past.

“These lost customers are not going to the competition necessarily, they're going to voice their complaint in public, and that's what a company has to avoid,” Pollack said.

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Consumers finally seeing more money in their paychecks

Census report shows median income rose 5.2% last year

While many people are still having a hard time making ends meet, consumers as a whole are finally seeing their incomes rise.The U.S. Census Bureau repo...

PhotoWhile many people are still having a hard time making ends meet, consumers as a whole are finally seeing their incomes rise.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports real median household income rose an impressive 5.2% between 2014 and 2015, the latest years for which information is available. Meanwhile, the official poverty rate fell 1.2%

The numbers show the median household income last year was $56,516, up from $53,718 the year before. For many, it was long overdue. It was the first official increase in income since 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession.

While there were fewer people officially classified as “poor,” the largest decline since 1999, there were also fewer people without health insurance.

Through a political lens

Naturally, politics play a role in the interpretation of the numbers, and the two parties both have their own take. The Obama Administration cheered the report, with Jason Furman, Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, telling the Washington Post he had read 21 of these Census Bureau reports and this one, by far, documents the strongest income growth he's seen.

But Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, read the report as “another disappointing confirmation that too many Americans are still struggling to provide for their families.” In a statement, Brady said the government spends billions of dollars to help low-income Americans, but 43 million people are still living in poverty.

It could well be a matter of seeing the glass half empty or half full. Republicans point out there has been little economic growth in the eight years since the financial crisis. Democrats point to the systemic nature of the 2008 credit crisis and the fact that U.S. growth has outpaced the rest of the world.

Even with the robust growth last year, median household incomes are not quite back to where they were before the start of the recession. The Census Bureau report shows median incomes were 1.6% lower than in 2007 and 2.4% lower than the peak, which occurred in 1999.

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Amazon and Pandora to release new music streaming services

Each will offer versions of their service for $5 per month

Amazon and Pandora may be looking to up the stakes in the music streaming marketplace. Both companies are reportedly looking to release their own music str...

PhotoAmazon and Pandora may be looking to up the stakes in the music streaming marketplace. Both companies are reportedly looking to release their own music streaming services in the near future to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music.

Both companies will also be looking to provide versions of their services for under $10 per month – something that is virtually unheard of in the industry today.

New music services

While $10-per-month subscriptions will still be offered by Amazon, users will be able to cut that price to $5 per month if they own the company’s Echo speaker. Subscribers can expect to have access to a wider catalog of music than what is currently available under the company’s Prime membership.

It isn’t yet clear whether Prime members will have automatic access to the new music streaming service, but critics have argued that they will more than likely need to pay the extra $5 or $10 per month.

Pandora made a name for itself by providing easily accessible internet radio to consumers. It plans to expand on its current $5 subscription platform by giving users the ability to block unwanted ads, skip more unwanted songs, and save more online playlists.

The company will also be offering a $10-per-month version of its service that more closely mirrors services provided by Spotify and Apple Music.

Potential for streaming services

The new services provided by Amazon and Pandora should provide a bit of a gut-check to the industry. The lower prices could potentially redefine the value that consumers put on music in the Internet Age, where you can find almost any song for free if you really want to.

The current $10-per-month subscription plans have been likened to the original 99 cents that Apple charged for downloading music when it revealed iTunes back in 2003. However, at an annual cost of $120 per year, many casual music listeners have been unable to justify the price. Some industry experts believe that there is still room for streaming music services to make money, though -- despite the presence of so much free music in the digital space.

“Even with the presence of free, you can still get tens of millions to pay for streaming services – and possibly much more – in the event that you get the price much lower,” said former digital music executive David Pakman.

Whether Amazon or Pandora will find that magical low number remains to be seen. Pandora may launch its service as soon as next week, while Amazon will likely release its own later in September.

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Millennial couples talk about money on a weekly basis, survey finds

Compared to other generations, Millennials speak more frankly and frequently about finances

When it comes to money matters, Millennials don’t want to keep their partners in the dark. A new survey by TDBank finds that 74% of Millennials discuss fin...

PhotoWhen it comes to money matters, Millennials don’t want to keep their partners in the dark. A new survey by TDBank finds that 74% of Millennials discuss financial matters weekly, and they’re happier in their relationship as a result.

Nearly 80% of respondents who talked about money at least once a week said they were happy with their partner. But while Millennial couples may be sharing every detail of their financial life, they would prefer to keep some things to themselves.

Sixty percent of respondents said they would prefer to not share a credit card account with their partner, even though 68% are perfectly content to share a bank account. However, the happiness that stems from Millennials’ openness about money may be dashed if one partner is hiding a secret.

Financial dealbreakers

One in ten said they would consider ending the relationship if they uncovered their partner’s financial secret. What financial secrets do Millennials tend not to share?

  • A secret bank account (48%)
  • Significant credit card debt (37%)
  • A bad credit score (32%)

Surprisingly, 15% of secret-keepers have no plans to divulge their financial secret. But keeping a secret may ultimately lead to the demise of the relationship, says April Masini, author of the ‘Ask April’ advice column.

"Secret bank accounts, or major debt not revealed, are secrets that can really impact trust and intimacy in a relationship. The damage is never about the money -- it's about the secret. The secret is the damaging dynamic."

Early conversations

But for every Millennial holding on to a financial secret, there are many more who have no problem being upfront about money. Weekly chats about money are the norm for a majority of established Millennial couples, but financial discussions can begin even before the first date.

Nearly half (48%) of respondents who have used an online dating service said they prefer to talk about their finances before they even meet the person they're interested in dating. Across all generations, only 36% would opt to speak candidly about money before the first date.

Transparency and authenticity are traits that Millennials value, and it’s clear that open conversations about money are often the first step on the road to a happy partnership.

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Should you upgrade to the iPhone 7?

Some plans and carriers will cost you more than others

Apple's introduction of the iPhone 7 last week didn't make much of a splash. Apple stock actually went down afterward.Gone are the days when excitement...

PhotoApple's introduction of the iPhone 7 last week didn't make much of a splash. Apple stock actually went down afterward.

Gone are the days when excitement surrounded the launch of a new smartphone and consumers would line up outside stores to buy them. Yes, the new phones are better than the old ones they replace, but the improvements have become incremental. The price has also gone up.

So now that the iPhone 7 will soon be available, a question a lot of consumers might be asking is whether it makes sense to upgrade, and if so, who has the best deal?

Crunching the numbers

Unfortunately, there's not a simple answer, but personal finance website WalletHub has crunched the numbers and has shed some light on the subject. The 32GB version of the iPhone 7 starts at $649, assuming you were to pay the full price upfront. However, most consumers take the option of paying a portion with each monthly bill.

WalletHub estimates keeping your old iPhone will save you money, and you don't really need a calculator to figure that out. But the savings might be more than you think. It says keeping your old phone and using the Walmart Family Mobile network can save more than $1,324 over a two-year period.

Consumers on a family plan can save up to $2,294 by keeping their old phones and getting coverage from RingPlus Mobile.

Okay, but suppose you've already decided you want to upgrade. Should you consider switching carriers to make it more affordable?

The best deals

According to WalletHub's calculations, consumers who want the new iPhone can save up to $1,074 by paying the full price of the phone upfront and signing up for a no-contract plan from RingPlus Mobile, rather than the same types of plans from T-Mobile and Verizon. Walmart comes closest with a cost of $1,579.

Only four carriers offer an installment plan on the iPhone. Of them, WalletHub says Sprint offers the best deal, at a cost of $1,757 over two years. AT&T comes closest, with a cost of just over $2,000.

After looking at the numbers, maybe you're rethinking your plan to purchase the iPhone 7 but are wondering how much you would save at your particular carrier if you just kept using your current phone. WalletHub has broken that down as well, showing that T-Mobile and Verizon provide the biggest savings over two years – $1,324.

Still not sure if upgrading makes sense, or are you entertaining the idea of switching to an Android phone? WalletHub developed this calculator to help you figure it out.

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There are more flooded cars on the road than you think

Carfax counts more than 270,000

The devastating floods in Louisiana last month raised alarms about the potential for previously submerged vehicles hitting the used car market. Such concer...

PhotoThe devastating floods in Louisiana last month raised alarms about the potential for previously submerged vehicles hitting the used car market. Such concerns arise after every major flooding event.

But in reality, it isn't just these high-profile floods consumers have to worry about. New research from vehicle data company Carfax says there were already hundreds of thousands of flooded cars on the road before Louisiana ever saw a drop of rain.

The company estimates that more than 271,000 vehicles that have been damaged by flood waters are back in use – 30% more than in 2013, the year following Hurricane Sandy. Carfax bases its estimate on a review of data from states' department of motor vehicles and insurance companies.

Worst nightmare

"Flooded cars are a buyer's worst nightmare," said Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax. "They're ticking time bombs because when you least expect it, the electrical, mechanical or safety systems on these cars will fail, often without warning.”

In addition to saddling the owner with unending repair bills, a flooded car can pose safety risks to its occupants, and even people in other vehicles.

Selling a flooded car without disclosing the car's status on the title is against the law everywhere, but that doesn't stop the transactions. These damaged vehicles can be acquired for pennies on the dollar after an insurance company declares them a total loss.

Many are sold in private sales, but a distressing number end up on fly-by-night used car lots, sold to unsuspecting consumers.

"A customer was requesting a loan on a used car, so we ran a Carfax report as part of our underwriting procedures," said Willie Macko, President of PriorityOne Bank in Mississippi. "We discovered that the car had been a total loss and the title was branded as a flood vehicle.”

Texas has the most

According to Carfax, consumers in Texas need to be especially vigilant. It estimates 43,000 flooded vehicles are still in use in that state. Pennsylvania has an estimated 20,000 flooded cars while Florida has 17,000.

There are several red flags that can be a tip-off that a car has spent time underwater. There is often a musty odor in the interior and in the trunk. Look for signs of rust on bolts and other metal parts. Some of the electrical components might not work.

Carfax, meanwhile, offers a free “flooded vehicle check” where consumers can find out if a vehicle has been reported as flooded to an insurance company or DMV. You can access it here.

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Foreclosure inventory, completed foreclosures down again in July

Serious mortgage delinquencies continued their decline

The number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process -- the foreclosure inventory -- was down in July, as was the number of completed foreclosures,...

PhotoThe number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process -- the foreclosure inventory -- was down in July, as was the number of completed foreclosures, which reflects the total number of homes lost to foreclosure.

Property information provider CoreLogic reports last month's inventory plunged 29.1% and completed foreclosures declined by 16.5% compared with July 2015. The latter translates to a year-over-year decline from 41,000 in July 2015 to 34,000 in July 2016, representing a decrease of 71.2% from the peak of 118,009 in September 2010.

Since the start of the financial meltdown in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.4 million completed foreclosures nationally, and since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.5 million homes lost to foreclosure.

As of this past July, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 355,000, or 0.9%, of all homes with a mortgage versus 501,000 homes, or 1.3%, in July 2015. The latest July foreclosure inventory rate is the lowest for any month since August 2007.

"Loan modifications, foreclosures and stronger housing and labor markets have each played a role in bringing the foreclosure rate to the lowest level in nine years," said CoreLogic Chief Economist Dr. Frank Nothaft. "The U.S. Treasury's Making Home Affordable program has contributed to the decline through permanent modifications, forbearance and foreclosure alternatives which have assisted 2.5 million homeowners with first mortgages at risk of foreclosure since 2009."

CoreLogic also reports that the number of mortgages in serious delinquency -- 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure or REO -- were down 17.3% from July 2015 to July 2016, with 1.1 million mortgages, or 2.9%, in this category. The decline was broad-based, with declines in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Report highlights

  • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures decreased by 6.8% to 34,000 in July 2016 from the 36,000 reported for June 2016. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
  • On a month-over-month basis, the foreclosure inventory was down 3.9% from June.
  • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in July 2016 were Florida (57,000), Michigan (45,000), Texas (27,000), Ohio (23,000), and California (21,000). These five states account for almost 40% of all completed foreclosures nationally.
  • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures: DC (207), North Dakota (324), West Virginia (488), Alaska (635), and Montana (700).
  • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate: New Jersey (3.3%), New York (3%), Hawaii (1.8%), Maine (1.8%), and the District of Columbia (1.8%).
  • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate were Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, Arizona, and Alaska -- all at 0.3%.
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MIH Marketing and Sales recalls meat and poultry products

The products were stored under insanitary conditions

MIH Marketing and Sales of Beebe, Ark., is recalling approximately 662,049 pounds of various meat and poultry products that were stored under insanitary co...

PhotoMIH Marketing and Sales of Beebe, Ark., is recalling approximately 662,049 pounds of various meat and poultry products that were stored under insanitary conditions, and tested positive for alkaline phosphatase, demonstrating evidence of possible fecal matter.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

 

The raw chicken breast fillet, chicken thigh, chicken drum, chicken wing and chicken tender items were produced by various federal establishments and sold at 17 retail stores located in Arkansas between April 10, 2016 and September 10, 2016.

 

The recalled products, in clear packages weighting approximately 5 lbs. Each, were sold at the following locations:

  • Edwards Food Giant #19 Forrest City, Ark.;
  • Edwards Cash Saver #3473 Little Rock, Ark.;
  • Edwards Food Giant #37 Marianna, Ark.;
  • Edwards Good Giant #3474 Little Rock, Ark.;
  • Edwards Food Giant #1710 Harrisburg, Ark.;
  • Edwards Food Giant #3475 Little Rock, Ark.;
  • Edwards Food Giant #3444 Bryant, Ark.;
  • Edwards Cash Saver #3476;
  • Edwards Cash Saver #3442;
  • Edwards Food Giant #3477;
  • Knight’s Super Foods, Beebe Ark.;
  • Knight’s Super Foods, Babot, Ark.

 

In addition, various retail meat and poultry products sold at Chicken City Retail stores are being recalled. These products are in clear retail bags with a sales sticker that include the Sell-By Date between October 30, 2016, and March 19, 2017.

 

The Chicken City Retail Stores that are recalling all meat and poultry products are located in

  • Whitehall, Ark.;
  • Jonesboro, Ark.;
  • Conway, Ark.;
  • Searcy, Ark.;
  • Marion, Ark.;
  • North Little Rock, Ark.; and
  • Brinkley, Ark.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased these products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact John Hilger at (501) -278-7041.

 

 

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PT Farm recalls lamb products

The products may may be contaminated with E. coli

PT Farm of North Haverhill, N.H., is recalling approximately 15 pounds of lamb products that may be contaminated with E. coli. The products -- a ne...

PhotoPT Farm of North Haverhill, N.H., is recalling approximately 15 pounds of lamb products that may be contaminated with E. coli.

 

The products -- a neck and one leg -- were derived from a carcass produced on Sept. 6, 2016, shipped to a retail store in Somerville, Mass., and sold at their retail counter on Sept. 7, 2016.

 

What to do

 

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

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Peter L. Roy at (603) 787-9199.

 

 

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Drug industry turns on itself as drug price pressure mounts

Mylan getting little support from other healthcare players

The pharmaceutical industry is running for cover these days as public complaints about rapid and dramatic price hikes has gotten lawmakers' attention, at b...

PhotoThe pharmaceutical industry is running for cover these days as public complaints about rapid and dramatic price hikes has gotten lawmakers' attention, at both the state and national level.

The issue began building last year as many doctors expressed concern that drug prices were rising so fast that their patients could not afford them, even with health benefit coverage.

The issue seemed to gain critical mass a few weeks ago when Mylan, the maker of the allergy shock antidote EpiPen, dramatically raised the price of the product, from $50 nine years ago to around $600.

Life-saving product

Parents were particularly concerned since the product has saved the lives of many children who have severe allergies to food or other products.

Mylan initially responded to the intense scrutiny by blaming other forces within the healthcare system, including pharmacy benefit managers.

In a statement last month, Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) CEO Mark Merritt panned the Mylan explanation, comparing it to explanations by drug makers Valeant and Turing, which were both accused of price gouging late last year.

Merritt argued that pharmacy benefit mangers (PBM) will likely save employers, unions, government programs, and consumers $654 billion — up to 30% — on drug benefit costs over the next decade.

Allergan makes a promise

Mylan may be feeling a little more heat from inside the industry, now that the CEO of Allergan Pharmaceutical has publicly promised to raise drug prices just once a year, and only within the rate of inflation. He also promised not to suddenly jack up the price of a drug just before it went generic, thought by some to be a common industry practice.

Mylan now faces at least two state probes – from Minnesota and New York – to see if the price increase for the EpiPen resulting in overcharging the states, who purchased the product for Medicaid. And while the states are asking for information, so is Congress.

Still has questions

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked Mylan for additional information about its recent price hike, saying the information provided last week doesn't answer all of his questions.

“There isn’t much discussion of what analyses went into the price-setting in response to my question,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the company. “There also isn’t much of a description of the product features and value that the company says have helped to justify the price increases.”

Grassley notes that Mylan has contended a large number of patients have benefited from patient assistance programs. But judging by the outrage Congress is hearing, Grassley writes, a lot of people apparently aren’t seeing those benefits.

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BeeRaider releases keyboards with a whole new design

The company says its products are optimized for data entry and typing speed

Tech-savvy consumers around the world are always anticipating the newest advancements that will change how they use a computer. While operating systems and...

PhotoTech-savvy consumers around the world are always anticipating the newest advancements that will change how they use a computer. While operating systems and software are frequently being improved upon, computer hardware, such as mice and keyboards, has remained relatively the same.

Now, tech company BeeRaider is releasing two keyboards using its own unique design. Unlike most current keyboards, which line keys into a few horizontal rows, these new products will have keys displayed in a radial fashion.

The company touts the new design as being “logical, ergonomic and compact – a keyboard for the 21st century.”

Optimized design

The two keyboards being released differ primarily in the layout of the keys in the radial design. One of them uses the QWERTY format that we’ve all grown used to over the years. However, the second design uses an alpha-character layout that completely rearranges the order.

By rearranging the keys according to the frequency they are used in the English language, the company says it can help users increase their typing speed and optimize data input. They claim that consumers who are worried that they can't adapt to a new arrangement have little to fear. Company officials say that the new design is intended for novice keyboard users and can be memorized in as little as 10-20 minutes.

BeeRaider is releasing these new products as keyboard and mouse combo sets that are meant to be used primarily with WinTel computers -- not Macs, in other words. The first 1,000 sets sold will be featured with distinctive markings and come at a 20% discount, so those wanting a special deal will have to order early. The sets will be priced at $119.99 for the optimized, alpha-character keyboard and $111.99 for the QWERTY version.

You can browse the products and learn more about the designs by visiting the company’s site here.

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Apps that can help you with your fall gardening

Let these apps walk you through what to do during each gardening season

The arrival of fall marks the beginning of a new set of gardening to-dos. But if you find it difficult to keep track of what your garden requires from seas...

PhotoThe arrival of fall marks the beginning of a new set of gardening to-dos. But if you find it difficult to keep track of what your garden requires from season-to-season, you may not know where to begin.

Fortunately, technology can lend a hand. Perplexed planters can find all the information they could ever need on several apps designed to take the guesswork out of gardening.

Not sure when to start seeds, transplant crops, or harvest vegetables? Let these apps clue you in on how to transition your garden from summer to fall and beyond.

When to Plant

When to Plant, available for 1.99 on iTunes and Google Play, asks users to plug in their zip code for a more personalized experience. Upon honing in on where you live, the app will access a database of 5,000 weather stations across the U.S.

The app is then able to provide information on average frost dates in your area and the best time to plant each crop. You can even ask the app to recommend separate spring and fall planting times for cool-season crops if you live in an area with especially balmy summers.

Need information on a certain plant or crop? When to Plant can help you there, too. The app houses information on over 120 crops and plants.

Garden Time

Garden Time, available for free on iTunes and Google Play, also personalizes your planting pointers by finding out where you live. Users can create an account for their garden (or gardens, for those with multiple properties or gardens) and add plants to their garden profile.

After letting Garden Time know which plants you plan to grow, it will whip up a timeline checklist that will take you from seed to success. In addition to reminding you of an upcoming timeline event, you’ll receive alerts ahead of weather that could affect your garden (such as rain or frost).

The app also includes a notes section and digital journal in which users can stash reminders, seed numbers, or other information. Like When to Plant, Garden Time also offers a vast collection of helpful plant information.

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Credit card debt in second quarter sets record

Study projects total credit card debt will eclipse $1 trillion this year

Consumers went on a credit card spending spree in the second quarter of the year, adding a record $34.4 billion in new debt.Personal finance website Wa...

PhotoConsumers went on a credit card spending spree in the second quarter of the year, adding a record $34.4 billion in new debt.

Personal finance website WalletHub said it was the largest second quarter build-up since the government starting tracking the statistic in 1986.

Credit card debt isn't terrible, as long as it's paid off. But the WalletHub study turned up a few other data points that the authors suggest mean the big increase in debt could be real trouble.

In all of 2015, consumers added $71 billion to their credit card balances, the most since 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession. Making matters worse, in the first quarter of this year, consumers paid off just $27.5 billion of their credit card balance – the smallest amount since 2008.

Staggering numbers

Put another way, they paid off $27.5 billion from January through March, then turned around and added $34.4 billion in April through June.

Here's another way to put it in context: in just three months of the year consumers racked up 48% of 2015's total increase and nearly 100% of 2012's increase in credit card debt.

“As a result, it is not a question of whether consumers are weakening financially, but rather how long this trend toward pre-recession habits will last and just how bad it will get,” the authors write.

At this rate, the study projects a total 2016 net increase of around $80 billion in credit card debt, bringing the total above the $1 trillion mark for the first time. Under such a scenario, the average credit card household debt would reach $8,500, an amount the authors call “perilous.”

How to manage debt

With the average household taking on more credit card debt, the report says it is now more important for consumers to have a strategy for managing and reducing that debt.

Among the tips it offers, it says consumers should transfer the largest balance to a credit card with a long 0% introductory period for balance transfers. This is by far the quickest way to pay down debt, since 100% of the payment goes to principal.

We recently reported on some of the options. The Citi Simplicity Card offers 21 months of 0% interest on balance transfers, but like most cards carries a 3% balance transfer fee. You might consider the Chase Slate card, with a shorter, 15-month 0% introductory period, but no balance transfer fee.

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Are you giving away too much information?

Survey estimates 10 million Americans reveal their Social Security numbers

Scammers are really good at playing head games with their victims, in hopes they will reveal things they shouldn't. Sensitive information can be used to st...

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Stock market continues last week's sell-off

Possibility of a Fed rate hike seems to change everything

On Wall Street, the stock market opened moderately lower to start the week, continuing a steep sell-off that began Friday.The reason isn't hard to figu...

PhotoOn Wall Street, the stock market opened moderately lower to start the week, continuing a steep sell-off that began Friday.

The reason isn't hard to figure out. The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meets soon and traders and investors figured out late last week that there is an increasing chance it will hike its discount rate by a quarter point.

While the extent of the hike and the resulting rate – still less than 1% interest – may seem insignificant, the market doesn't see it that way. Stocks are currently valued on the assumption that money is virtually free and will stay that way. Years of 0% interest have simply inflated the value of assets, including stocks. If the Fed hikes rates, it suggests the party is over.

While this might seem to be a problem only for the investor class, if you happen to have money invested in a retirement account or happen to be drawing a pension, you likely have some skin in the game.

Same thing happened in December

It's worth noting that the market reacted in a similar way when the Fed hiked rates a quarter point last December. Stocks sold off deeply before recovering in February. Since that recovery, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and NASDAQ have all reach new highs.

Speaking on CNBC early Monday, GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump accused the Fed of “creating a false stock market” with its low interest rate policy. Trump also suggested there would not be a rate hike before the election, accusing the Fed of being influenced by politics.

Extremely low interest rates have been a point of contention for years, almost from the start. Then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke slashed the Fed's key interest rate to 0% in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The move was designed to stimulate the economy.

While its effects on the economy were slight, it did seem to ignite the stock market, and later it aided a housing recovery. Policymakers have long seen the need to get rates back to normal levels, but have hesitated to raise rates while economic growth is anemic and inflation is low.

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Carnival Supermarket recalls ground beef products

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7

Carnival Supermarket of Chula Vista, Calif., is recalling approximately 35 pounds of ground beef products that may be adulterated with E. coli O157:H7....

PhotoCarnival Supermarket of Chula Vista, Calif., is recalling approximately 35 pounds of ground beef products that may be adulterated with E. coli O157:H7.

 

There have been no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

 

The following lean and extra lean ground beef item, produced and sold only on Sept. 1, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 20-lbs. of 15% lean ground beef product.
  • 15-lbs. of 7% extra lean ground beef product.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased these products should consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

 

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may call Sandy Young of J. Walcher Communications, at (619) 295-7140.

 

 

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Goodyear recalls Dunlop SP50 tires

The tire tread may chunk off if driven on with low tire pressure

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company is recalling 16,757 Dunlop SP50 tires, size P205/70R15 95T, manufactured December 2, 2012, to February 1, 2014. The...

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GM recalls 3.6 million vehicles with airbag issue

The front airbags may not deploy properly

General Motors is recalling 3,640,162 model year 2015-2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD, 3500 HD, Tahoe, Suburban, GMC Sierra 2500 HD and 3500 HD, GMC Yukon...

PhotoGeneral Motors is recalling 3,640,162 model year 2015-2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD, 3500 HD, Tahoe, Suburban, GMC Sierra 2500 HD and 3500 HD, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV vehicles; 2014-2017 Chevrolet Corvette, Silverado 1500, Trax, Caprice Police Pursuit Vehicle, GMC Sierra 1500, Buick Encore; and 2014-2016 Buick Lacrosse, Chevrolet Spark EV and SS vehicles.

 

Certain driving conditions may cause the airbag sensing and diagnostic module (SDM) software to activate a diagnostic test. During this test, deployment of the front airbags and the seat belt pretensioners would not occur in the event of a crash.

 

A failure of the front airbags or seat belt pretensioners to deploy in the event of a crash increases the risk of injury to the driver and front passenger.

 

What to do

 

GM will notify owners, and dealers will reflash the SDM software. Vehicles that have had a previous air bag deployment will have the SDM replaced. These repairs will be performed free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300, Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006, Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020, or GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 16007.

 

 

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What you can and can't take on an airplane

The FAA wants you to keep your Samsung Galaxy Note 7 out of checked bags

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is just the latest item you shouldn't pack in a checked bag aboard a commercial airline in the U.S.“In light of recent incide...

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Volkswagen engineer pleads guilty in diesel scandal

Veteran engineer admits he and his co-conspirators lied to federal and state regulators

A Volkswagen engineer pleaded guility today to his role in the Volkswagen "dieselgate" scandal and admitted that he and other VW employees continued to lie...

PhotoA Volkswagen engineer pleaded guility today to his role in the Volkswagen "dieselgate" scandal and admitted that he and other VW employees continued to lie to federal and California officials even after they had opened an investigation into the company's deceptive practices.

James Robert Liang, 62, of Newbury Park, Calif., pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act, and pledged in a plea agreement that he will cooperate with the government in its continuing investigation.

Volkswagen has agreed a $15 billion civil settlement that includes an agreement to buy back or try to repair about 475,000 of the TDI diesel-powerd cars. So far, about 210,000 owners of the affected cars have opted to take the cash. 

Owners will get their car's market value prior to the time the scandal was made public and will also get an extra $5,100 to $10,000, depending on the model, as compensation for their time and trouble.

Although VW has settled many of the civil claims against it, it and its employees are still facing possible criminal prosecution, and now that he has agreed to cooperate, Liang is seen as a key witness in future legal actions.

Secretly indicted

Liang was indicted by a federal grand jury in June but the indictment was not revealed until Liang entered his plea today. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Sean F. Cox of the Eastern District of Michigan. 

According to the plea agreement, from 1983 until May 2008, Liang was an employee of Volkswagen, working in its diesel development department in Wolfsburg, Germany. 

Liang admitted that beginning in about 2006, he and his co-conspirators started to design a new “EA 189” diesel engine for sale in the United States. According to Liang’s admissions, when he and his co-conspirators realized that they could not design a diesel engine that would meet the stricter U.S. emissions standards, they designed software that would deceive emissions testing equipment.

The software -- referred to in court documents as a "defeat device" -- recognizes when a vehicle is undergoing standard U.S. emissions testing on a dynamometer and turns on equipment that brings emissions into legal limits. The rest of the time, emissions are allowed to reach as much as 40 times the legal limit.

"Diesel competence"

In May 2008, Liang moved to the United States to assist in the launch of VW’s new “clean diesel” vehicles in the U.S. market, according to the plea agreement.  While working at VW’s testing facility in Oxnard, he held the title of Leader of Diesel Competence.

According to the plea agreement, VW employees met with the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to seek the certifications required to sell each model year of its vehicles to U.S. customers. 

Liang admitted that during some of these meetings, which he personally attended, his co-conspirators misrepresented that VW diesel vehicles complied with U.S. emissions standards and hid the existence of the defeat device from U.S. regulators.

Liang admitted that he and his co-conspirators knew that VW marketed its diesel vehicles to the U.S. public as “clean diesel” and knew that these claims were false. 

Liang also admitted that he helped his co-conspirators continued to lie to the EPA, CARB and VW customers even after the regulatory agencies started raising questions about the vehicles’ on-road performance following an independent study commissioned by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which showed that the diesel vehicles’ emissions on the road were up to 40 times higher than shown on the dynamometer.

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Are you an ITT student stuck with student loans?

Good news. You may be able to walk away from them

It's been a rough week for students at ITT. On Tuesday they learned their school was closing its doors after the U.S. government cut off the flow of federa...

PhotoIt's been a rough week for students at ITT. On Tuesday they learned their school was closing its doors after the U.S. government cut off the flow of federal funds.

Students who just started a new term suddenly had to find an education alternative. Worse still, many were stuck with student loans.

Fortunately, there may be some options. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports ITT students who were attending ITT when it closed and had not completed a degree program may be able to cancel their student loans by applying for a student loan discharge.

Who's eligible?

Students may be eligible for a complete discharge of Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, or Federal Perkins Loans if they were enrolled when the school closed, or the school closed within 120 days after they withdrew.

The first step is to contact your loan servicer about the application process to discharge a loan. CFPB says you may also need to contact your school to obtain your academic and financial records. CFPB suggests contacting the licensing agency in the state where you attended school to get help in acquiring those records. The documents may help support your discharge claim.

You can get more information about that here.

You can't transfer the credits

There's another thing to consider. If you are successful in discharging your student loans, you won't owe the money you borrowed to pay ITT, but you won't be able to transfer any credits you earned there either. Essentially, you'll be starting over.

However, that might prove to be a good option since it is highly likely you'll be able to pursue the same course of study at a community college, or online public school at much less cost. In July, we reported on a new program allowing employees of National Federation of Independent Businesses member companies to pursue a degree for $3,000 a year.

Private loans may be a problem

If you were attending ITT using private student loans, you'll find your options are more limited. In most cases, you'll have to pay it back. However, CFPB notes that some states have programs to assist students with private student loans in their college shuts its doors.

The U.S. Department of Education barred federal funds from being used at ITT because it said the for-profit school was not in compliance with accrediting criteria and probably would not be able to get in compliance. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said the department acted out of its responsibility to both students and taxpayers.

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How to avoid a fake shipping scam

Students going back to school should be especially wary of these cons

Photo (c) Wavebreak Media - FotoliaWith September finally here, students across the nation have been making their way back to college campuses. Wheth...

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Mondelez bringing Milka Oreo bars to the U.S.

The company failed in its recent bid to acquire Hershey

Spurned in its effort to buy Hershey, candy giant Mondelez will leverage its Oreo brand to drive a wedge into Hershey's share of the U.S. market, bringing...

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Iowa cracks down on 'toner pirates'

Iowa AG Tom Miller has sued three companies for conducting an office supply scam

Small businesses and non-profits are frequent targets of scam artists, including “toner pirates,” who trick employees into paying invoices for exorbitantly...

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Why you shouldn't judge a car by its EPA highway rating

Consumer groups say the FTC should require car ads to list city and combined ratings too

When you watch a car commercial that advertises the vehicle's EPA mileage rating, are you favorably impressed? Most likely you are.That's because most...

PhotoWhen you watch a car commercial that advertises the vehicle's EPA mileage rating, are you favorably impressed? Most likely you are.

That's because most ads tend to give you the best news about a particular model, and when it comes to fuel economy, the average mileage on the highway is going to beat city mileage. So car ads tend to focus on the positive.

In comments filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Center for Auto Safety say car ads should not be allowed to only list the highway rating. Doing so, they argue, amounts to deceptive advertising.

Jack Gillis, CFA’s automotive expert, says the highway-only rating is misleading for several reasons.

No way to judge

“First of all it is impossible to infer overall fuel economy performance from just the highway EPA MPG rating,” he said. “Our analysis of over 1000 EPA mileage ratings for the 2016 vehicles demonstrates that there is no relationship between a particular highway rating and its corresponding city or combined rating.”

The CFA analysis discovered that for any highway rating, the corresponding city mileage rating can be as much as 17 miles per gallon (MGP) lower. So if you're considering a car with a 30 MPG highway rating, but never drive on the interstate, your actual mileage could be 15 MPG, or even less.

The two consumer groups argue it is impossible for a consumer to make an accurate judgment of the city or combined MPG when a vehicle is advertised with a highway only MPG figure, as the FTC now permits.

Example

A case in point are the Hyundai Sonata SE and Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE/SE. Both get the same rating for highway fuel economy – 38 MPG. But CFA says they aren't equal, since the Camry hybrid gets the same 38 MPG around town but the Sonata gets only 25 MPG.

How does this translate into real money? CFA says consumers can definitely feel the difference if they make the wrong assumption. Using $2.12 a gallon as a benchmark, driving 15,000 miles per year in a car whose combined mileage rating is 10 MPG less than an alternative will cost the driver an extra $452 a year, or an average of nearly $38 a month.

The consumer groups say the FTC should amend its rule, requiring automakers to always advertise the highway, city, and combined EPA fuel economy ratings.

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Home equity credit lines on the rise

Homeowners are taking advantage of improving real estate values

Consumers are increasingly tapping into the equity of their homes, suggesting the rise in home values is putting actual money in their pockets.Experian...

PhotoConsumers are increasingly tapping into the equity of their homes, suggesting the rise in home values is putting actual money in their pockets.

Experian, the credit agency and information services company, reports home equity lines of credit (HELOC) have risen sharply, but that consumers so far are managing payments with few delinquencies.

A HELOC is essentially a second mortgage. A bank typically extends the line based on the equity in the property. They can be effective ways to finance a major purchase since the interest rate is significantly lower than credit card interest and interest payments are tax deductible.

The danger, of course, is potential mismanagement – using a home as an ATM. Sound familiar?

Money machine

“During the housing boom, home equity lending was heating up, but lenders pulled back significantly as home prices began to fall,” said Michele Raneri, vice president of analytics and new business development at Experian.

Now that home values have recovered in many areas, banks are making these loans again in greater number and consumers are taking advantage of them. But there could be trouble ahead for consumers who took out these loans before the 2008 housing crash.

HELOCS can be structured a number of ways, but typically they are for a 10 year term. The first part of the term is called the “draw,” when the borrower takes out money against the equity in the property.

The second part of the term is when the consumer repays the money. Raneri says lenders will be keeping a close eye on these older HELOCs. She notes that $236 billion in HELOC debt originated between 2005 and 2008 is now nearing repayment.

Loans up 111% in five years

Experian says $29 billion of that amount has been paid down over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, as of the fourth quarter of 2015, new HELOCs were up 111% from the same period in 2010.

HELOC delinquencies have fallen to levels that were common before the recession. In the fourth quarter of last year, only 0.49% of consumers with a HELOC were 90 to 180 days past due.

It's important to avoid delinquency for a number of reasons, but here's a good one: Raneri says consumers nearing the period when the loan is due, but who still have a significant balance, can likely refinance their HELOC, as long as they have good credit and enough equity in their homes.

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Home prices post 6% annual gain in July

Strongest price advances were in the West

Home prices posted solid gains in July on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basisProperty information provider CoreLogic reports its Home Pric...

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Nissan recalls Maximas, Muranos and Murano Hybrids

The Anti-Lock Brake actuator pump may allow brake fluid to leak

Nissan North America is recalling 120,329 model year 2016-2017 Nissan Maximas manufactured February 10, 2015, to August 19, 2016 and equipped with Intellig...

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 120,329 model year 2016-2017 Nissan Maximas manufactured February 10, 2015, to August 19, 2016 and equipped with Intelligent Cruise Control; 2015-2017 Muranos manufactured August 22, 2014, to August 19, 2016 and equipped with Intelligent Cruise Control; and 2015-2016 Murano Hybrids manufactured August 22, 2014, to July 19, 2016.

 

The recalled vehicles have Anti-Lock Brake (ABS) actuator pumps that may allow brake fluid to leak onto an internal electrical circuit board, resulting in an electrical short and increasing the risk of a fire.

 

When brake fluid has leaked onto the circuit board, the ABS warning lamp may remain illuminated for more than 10 seconds after engine start up. If this occurs, owners should not drive the vehicle, but park it outdoors away from other vehicles or structures.

 

What to do

 

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the ABS Actuator, replacing it as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

 

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

 

 

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Model year 2016 Chrysler 200s recalled

Chassis fastener joints may loosen and fail or fall out, reducing steering and handling capability

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 191 model year 2016 Chrysler 200s manufactured May 24, 2016, to May 25, 2016. Multiple chassis fastener joints t...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 191 model year 2016 Chrysler 200s manufactured May 24, 2016, to May 25, 2016.

 

Multiple chassis fastener joints that may not have been tightened to the proper torque specification may loosen and fail or fall out, reducing steering and handling capability and increasing the risk of a crash.

 

What to do

 

Chrysler has notified owners, and dealers will inspect the joints and tighten or replace the fasteners, as necessary, free of charge. The recall began on September 2, 2016.

 

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S59.

 

 

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FCC prepares to vote on freeing consumers from cable set-top boxes

A free app would substitute for the expensive and bulky boxes

It's been just about a year since the Federal Communications commission (FCC) took up the issue of set-top boxes, and now it looks like the issue may be se...

PhotoIt's been just about a year since the Federal Communications commission (FCC) took up the issue of set-top boxes, and now it looks like the issue may be settled by the end of the month.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today began circulating his "Unlock the Box" plan, publishing an abridged version as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times and posting the full version on the FCC's website.

In a nutshell, Wheeler proposes eliminating set-top boxes except for consumers who want to keep them. Everyone else would use a free app to watch pay-TV and streaming video on the device of their choice, such as Roku, Apple TV, Xbox One, PS4, smart TVs, or Windows, iOS, and Android devices. 

Cable companies and the entertainment industry have been lobbying the issue heavily, claiming that eliminating the boxes will open up new avenues for thieves to steal content, depriving content creators of their just desserts.

But Wheeler has held that protecting consumers and encouraging competition take precedence over industry interests. He argues that 99 percent of pay-TV subscribers currently rent set-top boxes because there aren’t meaningful alternatives.

"Few choices and high prices"

"Lack of competition has meant few choices and high prices for consumers – $231 in rental fees annually for the average American household. Altogether, U.S. consumers spend $20 billion a year to lease these devices," when they could be using free apps, Wheeler says in his plan.

Photo
Tom Wheeler (Photo via Facebook)

"Apps will liberate consumers from set-top boxes: The new rules will require pay-TV providers to offer to consumers a free app, controlled by the pay-TV provider, to access all the programming they pay for on a variety of devices, including tablets, smartphones, gaming systems, streaming devices or smart TVs," Wheeler writes.

Consumers will still have to pay for pay-TV programs, but they'll be freed of paying for the set-top box. Wheeler and others argue that the use of free apps will also create a bigger market for content and innovation in device development.

"Pay-TV providers must provide their apps to widely deployed platforms, such as Roku, Apple iOS, Windows and Android. Doing so will spur competition in the marketplace to develop new competitive products like next-generation streaming devices, smart TVs and tablets," Wheeler contends.

"A win for consumers"

The proposed rule is expected to be voted on by the full commission before the end of September, setting the stage for a final few weeks of fervent lobbying by both sides.

Competition advocate Chip Pickering, CEO of the advocacy group INCOMPAS, called Wheeler's plan "a win for competition, consumers and innovators."

"Competition is the law, and we commend Chairman Wheeler and the FCC for standing up for consumers who want lower prices, more choice, and the freedom to discover new and exciting content streaming online, said Pickering. “The FCC has made the critical key choice for an open, not closed future. By presenting a balanced approach, which takes input from all sides of the debate, the FCC has come down on the side of the consumer, and the innovators of the future.

Although Wheeler's plan is seen as firmly pro-consumer, it is still something of a compromise from his initial vision. The cable industry lobbied for the provision that would allow consumers to keep their set-top boxes if they wanted, but otherwise the plan falls pretty squarely on the consumer side of the issue.

Some commissioners wanted to go a bit further. Republican Ajit Pai wanted to eliinate set-top boxes altogether. But Wheeler said in his op-ed that his plan adequately protects the cable and entertainment industries.

"To ensure that all copyright and licensing agreements will remain intact, the delivery of pay-TV programming will continue to be overseen by pay-TV providers from end-to-end. The proposed rules also maintain important protections regarding emergency alerting, accessibility and privacy," he said.

"This is a golden era for watching television and video. By empowering consumers to access their content on their terms, it’s about to get cheaper—and even better," Wheeler concluded.

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Feds fine Wells Fargo $100 million for secretly opening customer accounts

It's the largest penalty the CFPB has ever imposed

Wells Fargo Bank is being fined $100 million because its employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts for bank customers. The Consumer Financial Protect...

PhotoWells Fargo Bank is being fined $100 million because its employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts for bank customers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said the bank employees, driven by sales incentives, opened more than two million unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts.

“Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Because of the severity of these violations, Wells Fargo is paying the largest penalty the CFPB has ever imposed. Today’s action should serve notice to the entire industry that financial incentive programs, if not monitored carefully, carry serious risks that can have serious legal consequences.” 

Wells Fargo has agreed to pay full restitution to all victims, as well as the $100 million fine. It will pay another $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and another $50 million to the City and County of Los Angeles. 

"Cross-selling" gone viral

Wells Fargo Sept. 8, 2016, 4:43 p.m.
Consumers rate Wells Fargo

The unauthorized accounts were basically the result of "cross-selling" gone viral. Wells Fargo, like most banks, has for years encouraged employees to get existing customers to open additional accounts, take out loans, or use other banking services. Responding to pressure from their bosses, bank employees turned to fraud to make it look like they were successfully upselling customers.

According to the bank’s own analysis, employees opened roughly 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. Employees then transferred funds from consumers’ authorized accounts to temporarily fund the new, unauthorized accounts.

This widespread practice gave the employees credit for opening the new accounts, allowing them to earn additional compensation and to meet the bank’s sales goals. Consumers, in turn, were sometimes harmed because the bank charged them for insufficient funds or overdraft fees because the money was not in their original accounts.

Wells Fargo employees also applied for roughly 565,000 credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers, the CFPB said. On those unauthorized credit cards, many consumers incurred annual fees, as well as associated finance or interest charges and other fees.

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Why the Zika virus can cause eye disease

Researchers find the virus living in tears

Much of the coverage on the Zika virus has rightly focused on the devastating impact it can have for pregnant women.Otherwise, the virus has not been c...

PhotoMuch of the coverage on the Zika virus has rightly focused on the devastating impact it can have for pregnant women.

Otherwise, the virus has not been classified as especially harmful to others, and symptoms tend to be so mild they are sometimes not noticed. However, some who get the virus suffer from red eyes, and even pain behind the eyes.

Researchers now think they know why. The virus, they say, can live in tears.

A study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found that the virus can live in the eyes, and have found traces of Zika genetic material in tear drops. The scientists say their findings help explain why some people who develop the Zika virus also suffer from uveitis, a condition that potentially threatens eyesight.

A reservoir for the virus

“Our study suggests that the eye could be a reservoir for Zika virus,” said Dr. Michael Diamond, one of the study’s senior authors. “We need to consider whether people with Zika have infectious virus in their eyes and how long it actually persists.”

As has been widely reported, pregnant women who get the Zika virus stand a good chance of giving birth to babies with a condition known as microcephaly, in which the brain does not fully develop. Research also shows that about a third of the babies infected in the womb also suffer from eye disease, such as inflammation of the optic nerve.

Adults infected with the Zika virus may get conjunctivitis, a redness and itchiness of the eyes. In a few cases they may develop uveitis, though those cases are said to be rare.

In experiments on mice, the Washington University researchers found that the Zika virus can infect the eyes within about seven days. The route it takes to get there has not been determined.

A source of contagion?

While it has already been established that the Zika virus can been transmitted through sexual contact, the researchers say their study suggests it can also be transmitted through contact with tears from an infected person.

“Even though we didn’t find live virus in mouse tears, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be infectious in humans,” said lead author Dr. Jonathan J. Miner.

If it could, it might explain why the virus is spreading as fast as it is. Zika researchers are increasingly looking for other sources because the virus is spreading faster than expected if mosquitoes were the only source.

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Be wary of home testing kits for ovarian cancer

The FDA says the kits being sold are not sensitive enough to be reliable

There are home testing kits for all kinds of medical conditions. Some are better than others and some are no good at all. And that, says the FDA, describes...

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Cost of incarceration in the U.S. exceeds $1 trillion annually, study finds

Researchers calculate that every dollar spent on corrections leads to $10 spent in social costs

Annual reports suggest that the U.S. spends around $80 billion every year on correctional facilities and other associated costs. While some consumers may a...

PhotoAnnual reports suggest that the U.S. spends around $80 billion every year on correctional facilities and other associated costs. While some consumers may already balk at this large figure, a new study suggests that the actual cost of incarceration is much, much higher.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have found that incarceration costs in the U.S. actually top $1.2 trillion on an annual basis, or nearly 6% of the country’s gross domestic product. The disparity, they say, comes from reports that neglect to include the social costs paid by prisoners’ family and friends, as well as members of the community.

“The $80 billion spent annually on corrections is frequently cited as the cost of incarceration, but this figure considerably underestimates the true cost by ignoring important social costs,” said Carrie Pettus-Davis, an assistant professor at the Brown School and expert on incarceration.

“We find that for every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional $10 in social costs. . . More than half of the costs are borne by families, children and community members who have committed no crime.”

Social cost

Pettus-Davis and lead researcher Michael McLaughlin began their study after noting that true estimates for the cost of incarceration were severely lacking. They analyzed a variety of key social factors that added to the cost incarceration, including money paid by prisoners, their families, and members of their communities.

The findings of the study could prove to be very influential; the prison population in the U.S. has grown seven-fold in the last 40 years, so creating new strategies to curb the cost of incarceration could become a key issue if this trend continues.

“This is important because it suggests that the true cost [of incarceration] has been grossly underestimated, perhaps resulting in a level of incarceration beyond that which is socially optimal,” conclude the authors.

The full study can be found here.

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Coldwell Banker ranks the 10 most affordable housing markets

If you're willing to relocate, there are affordable homes out there

If you would like to buy a house but happen to work in California's Silicon Valley, you might have trouble, even on a tech company salary.According to...

PhotoIf you would like to buy a house but happen to work in California's Silicon Valley, you might have trouble, even on a tech company salary.

According to Coldwell Banker's latest ranking, the 10 most expensive housing markets in the U.S. are all located in California. Six are located in Silicon Valley.

“Silicon Valley has been at the forefront of innovation in the U.S. for years, with leading tech companies attracting some of the brightest entrepreneurial minds in the world,” said Coldwell Banker CEO Charlie Young. “Clearly, the amenities of the region are also impacting home prices.”

But for people who can live anywhere, or who are willing to relocate, there are still some enticing deals out there. And it isn't necessary to move to the middle of nowhere to find them.

While the average four bedroom, two bath home in Saratoga, Calif., goes for nearly $2.5 million, Coldwell Banker found the same type homes going for less than $250,000 in nearly 40% of the markets it serves.

Top 10 most affordable cities

Detroit

The Motor City has been through a very rough patch that includes bankruptcy, but in the last couple of years it has been on the upswing. Part of the draw has been bargain-priced real estate. In Coldwell Banker's survey, Detroit is the nation's most affordable housing market with an average home price of just $64,110.

Cleveland

Cleveland is another Rust Belt city on the comeback trail, and is now basking in the glow of an NBA championship. Start-up businesses are thriving, supported by a private initiative by Cleveland Cavaliers star Lebron James. Low prices for houses have helped draw Millennials back. The average four bedroom, two bath home goes for $73,073.

Park Forest, Ill.

Park Forest is a community of about 22,000 located south of Chicago that straddles Cook and Will counties. The average home price is $78,392.

Jamestown, N.Y.

Jamestown lies in the southwestern corner of New York near the Pennsylvania border. The city of 30,000 is an easy drive to Pittsburgh and offers natural beauty for an affordable price. The average home price is $88,891.

Utica, N.Y

While New York has a reputation for a high cost of living, the Coldwell Banker survey finds two of the state's cities among the 10 most affordable markets. Utica, just west of Syracuse, has a population of 62,225 and an average home price of $92,891.

Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Pennsylvania also adds two housing markets to the list. Wilkes-Barre is city of 41,000 people, clustered with Scranton and Hazelton, convenient to both Philadelphia and New York. The average house goes for $94.436.

Scranton, Pa.

Scranton, one of Wilkes-Barre's partner cities, has a population of 76,000 and is home to the fictional Dunder-Mifflin paper company, of the TV sitcom “The Office.” The real life price of a home is $108,842.

Huntington, Ind.

Huntington, with a population of 17,000, is located southwest of Ft. Wayne. Its average four bedroom house goes for $105,614.

Augusta, Ga.

Augusta is in a beautiful part of the world, as evidenced each April when it becomes the center of the professional golf universe. A home in the home of The Masters goes for an average of $106,567.

Palatka, Fla.

Florida real estate prices have made a comeback since the housing crash, but you can still find bargains, especially if you look in Palatka, a town of 10,000 on the St. John's River. The average home there sells for $110,655.

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How to keep from overscheduling your child

Kids who are too busy can impact the well-being of the whole family

Whether they do so by choice or at the behest of their parents, kids often sign up for one too many after-school activities. Extra activities such as m...

PhotoWhether they do so by choice or at the behest of their parents, kids often sign up for one too many after-school activities.

Extra activities such as music lessons or sports may help kids become more well-rounded, but keeping a kid too busy can put a strain on the whole family. Overbooked families are usually stressed, worn out, and tend not to spend much time together, says Josh Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

To keep a kid’s schedule from impacting the family, Klapow suggests educating kids on what certain activities will entail, balancing adult and kid activities, and carving out dedicated family time. In addition, parents should be sure to watch for signs that their child may be feeling a bit overcommitted.

Questions to ask yourself

A too-busy kid may be tired, irritable, nervous, easily distracted, or frequently complain of headaches or stomach aches. They might also struggle to keep their grades up.

Before allowing kids to sign up for multiple activities, Klapow says parents should ask themselves the following questions:

  • How many hours per week should be spent on extracurricular activities?

  • What activities is your child interested in?

  • What will your child’s homework load look like?

  • Is it practical to have more than one activity per season?

  • What are the means for transportation to and from each activity?

  • What activities are your other children involved in?

  • What are your activities, and how do these play into scheduling?

  • What are your commitments professionally?

Striking a balance

Parents should make sure kids know exactly what they’re signing up for, as well as what school demands they will also be expected to keep up with.

“Be upfront with your kids,” Klapow said. “If the activities require that the child be at practice right after school, note that this will cut into their play time with their friends, as homework will need to be completed when they get home before dinner.”

Additionally, parents should know what will be required of them should their child choose to participate in an activity. If juggling transportation and attendance demands in addition to your normal work schedule doesn’t sound feasible, it may not be worth it.

“Driving your health into the ground in order to accommodate your child’s schedule is simply not a smart thing to do,” Klapow said, adding that in this busy world, “sometimes the best means less.”

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Acetaminophen no worse than ibuprofen for young children with asthma

Findings of one study go against preconceived notions about the two drugs

Previous studies and reports have stated that acetaminophen could lead to asthma exacerbations, especially in young children. However, a new double-blind,...

PhotoPrevious studies and reports have stated that acetaminophen could lead to asthma exacerbations, especially in young children. However, a new double-blind, clinical study provides evidence that it may be no worse on asthma symptoms than ibuprofen, making it a viable method for treating pain or fever.

“Our study is the first to provide rigorous evidence that acetaminophen is as safe as ibuprofen for children with asthma. This should be reassuring for parents and physicians,” said Dr. Rachel Robison, co-author of the study.

No difference in risk

The study, which was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, took course over a 48-week period. It used 300 children between the ages of one and five from 18 different testing sites across the U.S. Participants all displayed asthma symptoms more than two days per week and needed daily treatment to manage the condition.

Parents and caregivers of the children were instructed to give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat pain or fever during the trial period, but none of the investigators, parents, or children knew which drug they were provided with. At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that acetaminophen was no worse on asthma symptoms than ibuprofen.

“We measured asthma exacerbation rate, the number of days of asthma control, the need for rescue medications and unscheduled medical visits for asthma. We did not find a higher risk of asthma worsening in children taking acetaminophen compared to ibuprofen, even during periods of respiratory illness,” explained co-author Dr. Jacqueline Pongracic.

Although their findings are reputable, both Pongracic and Robison say that more research must be done to see if older children with different severities of asthma are affected in the same way.

The full study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine

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Have you ever read your credit card agreement?

A study finds these legal documents are over the heads of most consumers

A credit card is like a loan, and when you borrow money, there's usually a long and all-encompassing agreement that goes along with it.Ever read your c...

PhotoA credit card is like a loan, and when you borrow money, there's usually a long and all-encompassing agreement that goes along with it.

Ever read your credit card agreement? A study by CreditCards.com found 46% of cardholders “never” or “hardly ever” peruse the legal agreements that come with credit cards. When researchers asked consumers who had read the agreements to describe them in one word, 71% chose a negative adjective. The top choices were “lengthy,” “long,” and “verbose.”

Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst, says unreadable contracts are a hazard because in many cases, consumers are unaware of what they're signing up for.

"If you don't know all the fees that come with a card, for example, how are you supposed to work to avoid them?" Schulz asked.

A model for the industry

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has developed a prototype credit card agreement it says lenders should use as a model to make these documents understandable. While its use is not mandatory, it's apparent many lenders are making an effort to make their terms more understandable.

CreditCards.com said that, before the CFPB's intervention, the average credit card agreement was written at a 12th-grade level and included about 5,400 words. Now, the average agreement has been whittled down to 4,900 words, which takes a typical adult about 20 minutes to read. But it is still written at an 11th grade reading level, and CreditCards.com says that may still shoot over the head of the average consumer, who reads at a 9th grade level or below.

Best and worst

The study found HSBC Bank Platinum Rewards Card has the easiest application to read and understand, since it is written at an 8th grade level. The most difficult was Synovus Bank Visa or MasterCard, which requires a year of graduate school to fully understand.

"These contracts are so daunting that many people never even try to read them," Schulz said. "But the sad truth is that experts say the average American reads two or three grade levels below the highest grade they finished in school, so even if they did try to read their credit card agreement, a lot of it would simply go straight over their heads."

What to look for

What are the important parts of a credit card agreement? Here are some things to look for:

  • Date of the month that payment is due
  • Date when a late fee is assessed
  • The amount of the late fee
  • Annual fee, if any
  • Interest on balances
  • Interest and fees on cash advances
  • Balance transfer fees
  • Credit limit
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Flying over the holidays? Book early

Air travel expert predicts demand will limit options and raise fares

Aside from last spring's huge security bottlenecks at some airports and a computer outage or two, airline passengers have had a pretty good 2016.Ticket...

PhotoAside from last spring's huge security bottlenecks at some airports and a computer outage or two, airline passengers have had a pretty good 2016.

Ticket prices are 6% lower than last year, but consumers who plan to fly during the holiday period need to prepare for higher costs and limited seats. At least, that's the assessment from Dean Headley, Airline Quality Rating (AQR) co-author and associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University.

Headley says demand for airline seats has been strong throughout the year, a product of a slowly improving economy. But prices tend to rise during the holiday travel period and Headley says consumers need to take that into consideration.

Book earlier than normal

He expects demand to be even stronger this year than in 2015. Book earlier than you normally would, he says, to ensure your travel plans. And don't overlook fees.

"Ticket prices may appear to be reasonable to slightly lower, but when the fees hit you, you truly feel that the overall cost of travel has gone up," said Headley.

In fact, the cost of air travel is going up, but airlines compete for passengers by posting the lowest fares. But the fare is not the bottom line cost of a ticket.

"A year ago the average price was $375, but with $75 in fees for bags and seat assignments, that ticket seems noticeably more expensive,” Headley said.

If you are traveling with family members, those fees can quickly raise the cost of air travel. Headley says at some point, consumers need to decide whether getting there by air is worth the cost and the hassle. And make no mistake, there will be hassle during the holidays.

Things that can go wrong

All it will take is for a major snowstorm to sock a wide area of the eastern U.S., or for an airline computer system to suffer a glitch, and holiday air travel can become a nightmare. Despite improving performance as an industry, the travel experience for consumers has become more stressful and uncertain, especially during the holiday travel period.

"During the past several years, the holiday travel period has continued to be a challenging time for travelers, and with industrywide seat capacity adjustments, the possibility of bad weather and possible system outages, it will remain a stressful travel experience," said Headley.

Travelers may also face additional challenges due to the continued consolidation in the airline industries. When two airlines become one, consumer choices usually shrink. Headley says Alaska merging with Virgin America, United with Continental, Southwest with AirTran, and American Airlines with US Airways, has continued to change consumers' available options, as well as affect airline performance.

Sticking with airlines that have a good performance track record can improve your odds of trouble-free holiday flights. According to Headley, last year's best-performing airlines were Virgin America, JetBlue, Delta, and Hawaiian.

Hawaiian was best in getting there on time. JetBlue was best in avoiding overbooking. Virgin America was best in baggage handling. Alaska had the lowest rate of customer complaints.

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Pagani recalls model year 2014-2016 Huayras

The driver side front air bag may not deploy properly

Pagani Automobili SpA is recalling 32 model year 2014-2016 Huayra vehicles manufactured April 21, 2014, to July 29, 2016. The driver side front air...

PhotoPagani Automobili SpA is recalling 32 model year 2014-2016 Huayra vehicles manufactured April 21, 2014, to July 29, 2016.

 

The driver side front air bag may not remain secured adequately to the steering wheel during deployment, and therefore the air bag may deploy improperly increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

 

What to do

 

Pagani has notified owners, and dealers will change the fasteners on the steering wheel air bag assembly, free of charge.

 

The recall began August 16, 2016. Owners may contact Pagani customer service at 1-415-350-7220.

 

 

 

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Asher's Chocolates/Lewistown recalls candy products

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Asher’s Chocolates/Lewistown, Inc., is recalling multiple chocolates, chocolate bars, cellophane wrapped chocolates and individually wrapped chocolates, et...

PhotoAsher’s Chocolates/Lewistown, Inc., is recalling multiple chocolates, chocolate bars, cellophane wrapped chocolates and individually wrapped chocolates, etc. under the Asher’s brand.

 

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

 

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

 

The following products are being recalled:

Product UPCLabel DescriptionLot#Size
11516Milk Chocolate Pretzel Pieces 8 oz.0003344698 oz.
11517Dark Chocolate Pretzel Pieces 8 oz.0003344708 oz.
14765Milk Chocolate Vanilla Caramel with Sea Salt 4 oz.0003375564 oz.
47350Dark Chocolate Hostess Mint 6 oz.0003356156oz.
55115KEYSTONE CRUNCH 4 OZ BAG000336374, 0003376584 oz.
55165KEYSTONE CRUNCH 6 oz.0003355916 oz.
55180Milk Chocolate Coated Boardwalk Crunch 4 oz.0003356254 oz.
55185KEYSTONE CRUNCH 1 LB00033637516 oz.
63385Milk Chocolate with Fall String 4 oz.0003358524 oz.
63386Dark Chocolate mini Pretzels Fall String 4 oz.0003358484 oz.
65902Dark Chocolate Molasses Pop 4 oz.000336201, 0003358004 oz.
65902Dark Chocolate Molasses Pop 2 oz.0003363762 oz.
67395Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Heaven 3 oz.000337016, 0003376633 oz.
75005Milk Chocolate Nonpareil Pop 1.25 oz.000335701, 0003365201.25 oz.
75027Milk Chocolate Crisped Rice Pop with Fall Leaves 3 oz.000337574, 0003376733 oz.
75030Milk Chocolate Crisped Rice Pop with Christmas Seeds 3 oz.0003365213 oz.
75037Milk Chocolate Crisped Rice Pop Multi Seeds 2.25 oz.000335803, 0003371732.25 oz.
75085Milk Chocolate Non Peril with Fall Seed 4 oz.0003359634 oz.
75086Dark Chocolate Non Pareils with Fall Seed 4 oz.0003358584 oz.
75087White Confectionery Coating Non pareils with orange and yellow seed 4 oz.0003371784 oz.
75107White Confectionery Coating Peanut Butter Cup 2.35 oz.000336377, 000337560, 0003376652.35 oz.
75141Milk Chocolate POTATO CHIP 4 oz.0003359184 oz.
75151Milk Chocolate Coated Mini Pretzels 4 oz.000335843, 0003364814 oz.
75152Dark Chocolate Coated Mini Pretzels 4 oz.000335590, 0003364824 oz.
75153White Confectionery Coated Mini Pretzels 4 oz.0003355894 oz.
75245Milk Chocolate Pretzel Rod 3pcs Asst. with Asher Bow 3.5 oz.000335802, 000335910, 000336608, 0003371773.5 oz.
75260Milk Pretzel Rod 3 piece assorted 3.5 oz.000335699, 0003376643.5 oz.
75261Milk Chocolate Pretzel Cluster 4 oz.000335930, 000336198, 000336378, 000336879, 0003370134 oz.
75277Milk Chocolate Coated Potato Chip Coffee Bag 8.5 oz.0003360448.5 oz,
75279Milk Boardwalk Crunch Coffee Bag 6 oz.0003350436 oz.
75282Dark Chocolate costed POTATO CHIP COFFEE BAG 8.5 oz.0003358518.5 oz.
76025Milk Chocolate Crisped Rice Pop Multi Seeds 3 oz.000335722, 000337573, 0003354623 oz.
82379Milk SF Almond Butter Toffee 3 oz.0003359553 oz.
82421Milk Chocolate Fruit Center Bar 3.5 oz.0003354143.5 oz.
83851Dark Chocolate Almond Bark (Scored) 4 oz.000335647, 0003358564 oz.
83855Milk Chocolate Non Pareils with multi seed 4 oz.0003358544 oz.
83856Dark Chocolate Non Pareils with White Seed 4 oz.0003358554 oz.
83858Milk Chocolate Mini Pretzels 4 oz.0003355884 oz.
83859Dark Chocolate Mini Pretzel Ash Label 4 oz.0003358624 oz.
83860White Confectionery Coated Mini Pretzels 4 oz.000335969, 0003372454 oz.
87145Milk and Dark Chocolate Fall Pretzel Pre Pack 3 per case0003364504 oz.

 

The recalled items, distributed in retail stores nationwide, can be identified by the production code printed on the side of the label. No other production codes are affected by this recall.

 

What to do

 

Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but contact customer service to arrange for return of the products and a refund.

 

Consumers may contact the company at 888-288-3880 between 9AM and 5PM (ET) Monday – Friday or by email at customerservice@lewistownashers.com.

 

 

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Model year 2014-2016 Jeep Cherokees recalled

The seat fasteners on the first or second row seats may be loose

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,824 model year 2014-2016 Jeep Cherokees manufactured July 29, 2013, to February 5, 2016. The seat fasteners on...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,824 model year 2014-2016 Jeep Cherokees manufactured July 29, 2013, to February 5, 2016.

 

The seat fasteners on the first or second row seats may not have been tightened to the proper torque specification. Loose fasteners may allow the seats to move, increasing the risk of injury to the seat occupants in the event of a crash.

 

What to do

 

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the seats or seat sets, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on September 23, 2016.

 

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall S63.

 

 

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iPhone 7 may be lacking a crucial element

The latest in the long line of iPhones was revealed today

First it was Windows 95. Twenty-one years ago, August 24, 1995, lines snaked along city streets as the first mass-market graphical user interface (GUI, pro...

Photo[UPDATE 3:15 p.m. EST]

As expected, the iPhone 7 will have no earphone jack but will instead communicate wirelessly with a new series of earpieces and headphones. The wireless earphones are being called "Apple Airpods." Cute, no?

Eliminating the jack will make the 7 more waterproof and it supposedly will get two hours more battery life than the 6. The price stays the same, $649. The iPhone 7 Plus will start at $769.

The iPhone 7 also gets a second camera, as expected, increasing photo quality.

The Apple Watch 2 will also be water-resistant.

---

First it was Windows 95. Twenty-one years ago, August 24, 1995, lines snaked along city streets as the first mass-market graphical user interface (GUI, pron: "goo'-ee") showed its face. Jennifer Aniston narrated an hour-long instructional video to help users become accustomed to the notion of clicking on screen icons instead of typing commands.

But with Windows 95 came the "blue screen of death," "plug and pray," and other frequent disasters that took some of the shine off Microsoft's GUI, allowing Apple to jump the queue and snatch the gold ring signifying it to be the producer of all things worth waiting for.

And so today, the world waited for the unveiling of the iPhone 7, just as England once awaited the installation of its new king, Henry VII, who among his other achievements (six marriages) managed to separate the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, sparking a schism that persists to this day.

He also invoked the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, which hasn't worn all that well. And today there are those who speculate that the Divine Right of Apple to invoke shock and awe with each new product it foists upon the world is also about to go into eclipse.

The jack's been ripped ...

If indeed the world's most valuable company is about to lose some of its luster, it will not be for anything as pedestrian as an excess of amorous partners, but rather for want of an earphone jack.

Courtiers in the House of Apple have for months now sparked rumors that the iPhone 7 has not been beheaded but dejacked -- that it will be lacking an earphone jack, thus rendering useless the millions of little white earbuds by which the Apple Faithful have long displayed their loyalty. 

The rationale for this is that removing the jack makes it possible to render the iPhone more water-resistant, thus resolving a vulnerability that has long plagued the priceless smartphone. It of course means that earbud wearers will need new buds, but Apple has never been reluctant to render peripheral devices obsolete. 

Sales of the iPhone have lately been somewhat soft, a condition some attribute to a growing "loss of cool." Others, however, blame it on the new pricing policies of wireless companies like AT&T and Verizon, who are no longer subsidizing purchases of the devices, which can cost more than $600. 

When the purchase price was buried in the monthly cell phone bill, it was regarded as tolerable. But when it appears in stark black and white, iPhoners find it more objectionable. That's the theory, anyway. 

Henry VII was a robust and charismatic figure in his youth but became severely obese, bloated, and unappealing as he aged. Whether Apple suffers the same fate remains to be seen. 

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Gun-makers resist Massachusetts safety probe

Glock, Remington file suit to thwart the state's investigation

Guns are sort of like airplanes. Everybody knows they're dangerous so you have to be really careful with them. Likewise, when safety defects are found, the...

PhotoGuns are sort of like airplanes. Everybody knows they're dangerous so you have to be really careful with them. Likewise, when safety defects are found, they need to be fixed quickly.

In the aviation world, the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies enforce safety rules and certify aircraft designs. But what about guns? They're not regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Food and Drug Administration, or any of the many agencies that oversee various consumer goods and services.

But that's not stopping Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey from opening her own investigation into alleged safety defects in certain Glock and Remington weapons.

The investigation came to light when the companies filed suit to block Healey's investigation, saying it was overly intrusive, according to a Bloomberg report. The companies said Healey was demanding internal company documents incuding safety-related complaints from customers.

Hair trigger

The Glock, which is widely used by police departments around the country, has long had a reputation for having a hair trigger. It fires with relatively little pressure, and its safety mechanism is built into the trigger, which some critics say is counter-intuitive and ineffective. The company has said it is safe when handled by properly trained users.

Remington has had two recalls of its hunting rifles in recent years because of accidental discharges blamed on an excessive bonding agent in the trigger assembly.

The manufacturers might be said to have jumped the gun by filing suit against Healey before she filed suit against them, but they were apparently spooked when Healey used the Massachusetts consumer protection law to demand the companies' internal documents.  

A little gun shy

The gun industry is already a little gun shy when it comes to Healey, who in July moved to ban the sale of military-style rifles that had been altered to evade the state's ban on assault weapons.

A Healey spokesperson said the gun manufacturers' response to Healey's request is "unfortunate."

“As the chief law enforcement office in Massachusetts, we are seeking that information to better inform our residents and to protect them from any safety or manufacturing issues with guns sold here,” Cyndi Roy Gonzalez said. “It’s unfortunate that these gun manufacturers have taken our office to court rather than comply with a simple request for consumer complaints and related information.”

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Why an irregular heartbeat could mean trouble for your health

Researchers have connected atrial fibrillation to a variety of dangerous health problems

Medical experts have long understood that having an irregular heartbeat meant that a person was at an increased risk of stroke. But a new study found that...

PhotoMedical experts have long understood that having an irregular heartbeat meant that a person was at an increased risk of stroke. But a new study found that the risk goes far beyond that one condition.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been able to make associations between atrial fibrillation -- the most common form of irregular heartbeat -- and a variety of different health problems. In addition to stroke, they say that having an irregular heartbeat increases risk of heart attack, heart failure, chronic kidney disease, sudden cardiac death, cardiovascular disease, and many other issues.

The study analyzed data from over 100 studies that included over 9 million participants, nearly 600,000 of which had atrial fibrillation. The researchers examined health outcomes for each patient and found that having an irregular heartbeat correlated with increased risk of all-cause mortality, ischemic heart disease, chronic kidney disease, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death.

Additionally, it was found that participants with atrial fibrillation were 2.3 times more likely to have a stroke and five times more likely to experience congestive heart failure, the highest risk outcome that was measured.

Future interventions

The researchers say their work “adds to the growing literature on the association between atrial fibrillation and cardiovascular outcomes beyond stroke.” While they admit that their findings are not definitive, they say that there was general consistency across multiple analyses. They concluded by saying that their findings could be useful in developing interventions that can ultimately lower consumers’ health risks.

“There is merit in developing clinical risk prediction models for outcomes such as congestive heart failure; particularly given our relative and absolute risk estimates. . . our study could have implications for the prioritisation of public health resources and the development of novel interventions for adults with atrial fibrillation,” they said

The full study has been published in the BMJ

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