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

News in September 2016

Browse by year

2016

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    Unsubscribe at any time.

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

    Feds hit Wells Fargo with $24 million penalty for mistreating servicemembers

    The bank did not grant servicemembers the rights they are entitled to under federal law

    Besides Wells Fargo's other transgressions and tribulations, it's been ordered in two separate actions to pay $24 million for violating the rights of armed forces members. 

    The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) assessed a $20 million civil penalty against the embattled bank on Thursday and ordered it to make restitution to servicemembers who were harmed by the bank’s violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

    In addition, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Wells Fargo has agreed to change its policies and pay over $4.1 million to resolve allegations that it violated the SCRA by repossessing 413 cars owned by protected servicemembers without obtaining a court order.

    The penalties are on top of the $185 million in fines to settle charges that bank employees opened accounts in customers' names without the customers' permission, as part of an intensive sales effort to increase service-fee revenue.

    Wells Fargo also faces class action lawsuits, a Congressional investigation, and punitive action by California, which is breaking off all business relations with the bank. CEO John Stumpf has agreed to forfeit $41 million and forgo his salary during an investigation of the bank's practices.

    OCC penalty

    The OCC found that between approximately 2006 and 2016, Wells Fargo violated three separate provisions of the SCRA. The bank failed to: (i) provide the 6-percent interest rate limit to servicemember obligations or liabilities incurred before military service; (ii) accurately disclose servicemembers’ active duty status to the court via affidavits prior to evicting those servicemembers; and (iii) obtain court orders prior to repossessing servicemembers’ automobiles.

    The $20 million penalty reflects a number of factors, including the duration and frequency of violations, the financial harm to the servicemembers, deficiencies and weaknesses in the bank’s SCRA compliance program, and ineffective compliance risk management. The penalty will be paid to the U.S. Treasury.

    Repo cases

    In the reposession case, the Justice Department launched an investigation after it received a complaint in March 2015 from the U.S. Army’s Legal Assistance Program alleging that Wells Fargo had repossessed Army National Guardsman Dennis Singleton’s used car in Hendersonville, North Carolina, while he was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom. 

    After Wells Fargo repossessed the car, it sold it at a public auction and then tried to collect a deficiency balance of over $10,000 from Singleton and his family. 

    In October 2014, while seeking assistance with debt consolidation, Singleton met with a National Guard attorney, who informed him of his rights under the SCRA and requested information from Wells Fargo about the original loan and repossession.

    The attorney never received a response from Wells Fargo. The department’s subsequent investigation corroborated Singleton’s complaint and found a pattern of unlawful repossessions spanning more than seven years.

    “Wells Fargo Bank unlawfully repossessed hundreds of servicemembers’ cars without the proper process, and the bank will now rightfully pay for its violations,” said Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer.

    "Auto lenders cannot repossess the cars of the brave men and women who risk their lives to defend our freedom without providing them the required legal protections under the SCRA,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement should help ensure that servicemembers are not penalized financially for protecting our nation.”

    The settlement covers repossessions that occurred between Jan. 1, 2008 and July 1, 2015.  The agreement requires Wells Fargo to pay $10,000 to each of the affected servicemembers, plus any lost equity in the vehicle with interest.  Wells Fargo must also repair the credit of all affected servicemembers. 

    Besides Wells Fargo's other transgressions and tribulations, it's been ordered in two separate actions to pay $24 million for violating the rights of armed...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      Unsubscribe at any time.

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

      Should you be paying with a cash-back credit card?

      If you have the discipline to pay the bill in full each month, it will pay off

      A new survey of college students by Discover has found that overall, they are managing their money wisely.

      Once upon a time, students were bombarded with credit card offers the first week they arrived on campus, sometimes with predictable bad results. Reform legislation put an end to that and students appear to now be choosing the card that best suits their needs.

      Or are they?

      The Discover survey contends that students are leaving money on the table by not selecting the most advantageous cash back credit card. In fact, the survey found that 45% of students prefer to pay for everyday purchases with their debit card.

      There's a lot to be said for that. Using a debit card takes money directly from your bank account, so you don't spend money you don't have. On the downside, debit cards can be a little riskier when it comes to fraud. They usually don't provide much in the way of rewards and don't boost your credit score.

      Cash back cards

      The point of the survey, of course, is to highlight Discover's cash back credit card for students – the Discover It for Students Card.

      Fair enough – here's what the card offers: 5% cash back in rotating categories and 1% cash on everything else. The card offers a match of all cash back at the end of the first year for new card members. It pays $20 each school year the cardholder maintains a 3.0 or higher grade point average, up to five years.

      Meanwhile, CreditCards.com has picked the Citi Double Cash card as its choice of the best cash back credit card. It pays 2% for all general purchases – 1% when the purchase is made and 1% when the bill is paid.

      Simpler is better

      "When it comes to credit cards, the simpler, the better," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "Unlike many cash back cards, the Citi Double Cash card doesn't make you chase bonus categories. It just gives you up to 2% cash back on everything."

      The problem with putting everything on a credit card is it is easy to lose track of your spending. When the bill is bigger than you anticipated, it's easy to let much of the balance slide to the next month. That is how big credit card balances begin.

      But it you have the discipline to pay your balance in full each month, a cash back credit card is like getting a small discount on every purchase. You just have to choose the card that makes the most sense for you.

      Blue Cash Preferred from American Express

      In addition to the Discover It for Students Card and the Citi Double Cash card, the Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express is worth checking out, even though it carries a fairly steep annual fee of $95.

      Ordinarily, an annual fee is a deal-breaker, since there are so many good choices that don't have a fee. However, the Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% cash back on groceries on up to $6,000 of spending per year, and 3% cash back at gas stations and some department stores.

      It's not a good choice for college students on a budget, but for large families that spend a lot each month, it might pay off.

      A new survey of college students by Discover has found that overall, they are managing their money wisely.Once upon a time, students were bombarded wit...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 available that can help.

      Most are free. Some carry a small cost. Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Operations at Equifax, says a consumer's lender or creditor may be the first place to turn.

      “Depending on a person’s unique financial situation and the setback they’re experiencing, it may make sense to call their lenders and creditors, explain the situation, and get more information about what options may be available – as far as negotiated credit card rates and payment options,” she told ConsumerAffairs.

      Moogalian says other resources include the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which offers helpful information to consumers -- including what rights they have and answers to frequently asked questions.

      Credit counselors

      The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) represents non-profit credit counselors in over 600 communities. NFCC vice-president Bruce McClary says the counselors sometimes charge a small fee, but sometimes they provide free services.

      “The member agencies of the NFCC can be found at at NFCC.org,” McClary said in an interview. “People can connect with a counselor who can address a number of financial concerns or issues, and help people get back on track with their finances.”

      Counselors are primarily known for helping with credit card debt and getting people back on a plan to repay their credit card debt, rebuild their savings, and get back on a reasonable budget. But McClary says they can advise on other debt as well.

      “Our counselors are able to help in many cases with housing issues, such as helping homeowners avoid foreclosure,” he said. “Also, we can help people learn about the home buying process, so they can get off to a good start when it comes to homeownership.”

      He says in recent years, some counselors have specialized in helping people with student loan debt.

      Heather Battison, vice-president at TransUnion, says her company's blog is often a source of sound financial information that can help consumers stay on track. She also says obtaining your free credit report once a year, as you are allowed by law to do, can be a powerful tool in monitoring your credit health.

      Other resources

      The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards is another resource. During the month of October, it will sponsor 22 Financial Planning Days in cities across the U.S. At those events, financial professionals will partner with city governments to offer free financial counseling.

      America Saves, a partnership between the Consumer Federation of America and American Savings Education Council, offers a resource for helping to build savings and reduce debt for Americans who have not saved adequately.

      Money Smart, an FDIC initiative, provides a financial education curriculum designed to help people outside the financial mainstream build their financial skills and learn how to get the most out of banking relationships.

      Visa's Financial Football uses the NFL to make learning about money exciting for sports fans. The game can be played online or ordered at no cost.

      There is no shortage of organizations – both private and governmental – willing to lend a hand to consumers who want to get control of their financial lives. You just have to take advantage of them.

      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...

      VarageSale eradicates anonymity to make online buying, selling safer

      The free app lets users buy and sell to verified, local members

      Buying and selling items online may be simple, but most of us feel at least somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of meeting a stranger to complete the transaction.

      VarageSale, an app to buy and sell used items locally, wants to take the fear factor out of buying and selling online. Instead of an anonymized email address, VarageSale users see Facebook-verified profiles and bios of buyers and sellers in their area.

      To further verify that a member is trustworthy, users can check reviews from other members. Prospective buyers and sellers can also breathe easy knowing that every aspect of the service is moderated by admins. 

      Full names and profile photo

      For those who may feel some level of trepidation about giving out a home address, the app may be a welcomed alternative to sites like Craigslist.

      "Buying and selling online can be intimidating for a lot of people, especially women," said Angus Tucker, Executive Creative Director at john st., the agency behind the campaign. "That whole 'having some total stranger come to your house to buy your stuff' thing is a real pain point."

      A survey conducted by VarageSale found that 90% of respondents would feel more comfortable buying and selling online if they were able to see a person’s full name and a profile photo.

      85% female

      To assuage member fear, the app removes anonymity and lets members “know who they’re dealing with,” says Tami Zuckerman, Co-Founder of VarageSale.

      "VarageSale is the only buy/sell app made up of private local communities, creating a trusted shopping experience," Zuckerman said in a statement.

      Currently, 85% of the app's members are female. VarageSale notes that most women use the app to buy or sell items such as clothing, baby gear, and home decor.

      The app is available as a free download on iTunes and Google Play.

      Buying and selling items online may be simple, but most of us feel at least somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of meeting a stranger to complete the tran...

      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 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. 

      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...

      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%, 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.

      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%,...

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

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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, 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.

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

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 median 2015 household income rose 5.2%, or $2,798, over 2014.

      It would be nice to think that this extra money could go straight into a savings account, but since this is the first increase in median household income since 2007, many households are still struggling to make ends meet.

      So is it unrealistic to think these consumers, currently living paycheck to paycheck, can start a savings plan? Not at all, says Bruce McClary, a vice president at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

      But McClary says saving is firmly connected to budgeting. Only when you have made out a budget, he says, will you be able to maximize your savings.

      Budgeting is critical

      “A lot of people say they don't have room for savings, so then I ask if they're tracking their spending, and a lot of times the answer is no,” McClary told ConsumerAffairs. “Once they go back and track their spending, they can usually find places where they can save. Then it's a matter of putting together a plan, asking how much can you save on a regular basis.”

      What about consumers who are paying off credit card debt? Heather Battison, a vice president at TransUnion, says it may be possible to both save and pay down debt, but not at the expense of missing a credit card payment, or paying less than the minimum.

      “Missed payments will likely be reflected in a credit report, which may have a negative effect on the score,” Battison said in an interview. “If there are funds left over after fulfilling payment obligations, the surplus can be used for a savings plan.”

      Emergency fund

      It's also helpful to have a goal for savings, but Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Operations at Equifax, says one of the first goals should be to create an emergency savings fund. As the name implies, it's a fund you can dip into when faced with an unexpected expense.

      “By creating an emergency budget, you may be able to avoid having to rely on other means of financing emergencies such as credit cards, which may carry high interest rates,” she said.

      And it doesn't take a lot to get started. Kristen Holt, CEO at GreenPath Financial Wellness, says depositing just $20 a week into an emergency fund will yield over $1,000 cash in a year. That, she says, could make a huge difference if you need a new set of tires or to replace the water heater. It will keep those expenses off your credit card.

      McClary suggests automating the savings process so that you will pay yourself first each payday. He recommends setting up an auto deposit or transfer from one account to another. He says once you get started, you won't miss the money and the savings process is relatively painless.

      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...

      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 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. 
      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...

      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 things, according to a report card on the American diet published today in Nutrition Action Healthletter.

      The average American consumes about 2,500 calories per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, up from about 2,000 calories a day in the 1970s -- more calories than the average sedentary consumer needs.

      The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which publishes the newsletter, gave the American diet a D+ in the category of Meat, Poultry, & Seafood.  Chicken began edging out beef starting in 2004, but Americans still eat more red meat (beef, pork, lamb, and veal) than white meat. 

      Red meats, especially processed meats like bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage, raise the risk of colon cancer, heart disease, and stroke, the report notes. 

      Fruits & vegetables

      The report card gives Americans’ Fruit & Vegetable consumption a B-, saying that Americans are ignoring experts’ advice to fill half their plates with vegetables and fruits. Vegetable consumption (minus white potatoes) climbed in the late 1980s but has been inching down since. Fruit (minus juice) has been fairly flat.

      Grains got a C-, since we’re still eating far more (mostly white) flour in bagels, buns, tortillas, muffins, cupcakes, doughnuts, cookies, pasta, and pizza crust than in the 1970s.

      CSPI issued a D+ on Beverages because sodas (which are mostly sugary, not diet) are still the dominant beverage.

      “It’s clear that Americans aren’t now following, nor have they ever followed, the advice dished out by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other health authorities,” said CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman, author of the Nutrition Action article. 

      “Americans are eating the diet recommended by food manufacturers and restaurants’ marketing departments, which encourage overconsumption of everything except for fruits and vegetables,” she added.

      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...

      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 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. 

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

      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 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.

      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...

      Aetna reveals plan to subsidize cost of an Apple Watch for some customers and employees

      The health insurance company's partnership with Apple has already spawned many coming initiatives

      Many experts believed that wearable fitness devices were going to be a top trend going into 2016, and for the most part they’ve been correct. While arguments have been made on both sides as to how effective they are at helping people lose weight, consumers have certainly been buying the products.

      Now, it seems that health insurance companies are taking a hard look at the devices and finding that they could be helpful. After announcing a partnership with Apple earlier this week, health insurance giant Aetna has revealed a plan that will help its customers and employees get an Apple Watch at rock-bottom prices.

      The company has decided to make the Apple product available to “select large employers and individual customers during open enrollment season,” according to a report by The Verge. The insurer has pledged to reduce “a significant portion” of the cost of the Apple Watch through monthly payroll deductions, which boils down to a nice subsidy for consumers.

      Apple partnership

      Additionally, Aetna has said that it will be giving Apple Watches to 50,000 employees at no cost if they choose to participate in the company’s “wellness reimbursement program.” The company hopes it is among the first of many initiatives that it will be able to offer through its partnership with Apple.

      “We are incredibly excited to use iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch to create simple, intuitive and personalized technology solutions that will transform the health and wellness experience for our members. This is only the beginning – we look forward to using these tools to improve health outcomes and help more people achieve more healthy days,” said Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini in a statement.

      “We are thrilled that Aetna will be helping their members and employees take greater control of their health using Apple Watch,” added Apple CEO Tim Cook.

      Aetna customers should also be on the lookout for a number of iOS-exclusive apps, which are scheduled to appear in early 2017. Some features of these apps include being able to check deductibles and pay bills through Apple Wallet; receiving care management and wellness advice/support from nurses and consumers who are going through similar health events; getting reminders to take medications and order refills; and receiving health plan on-boarding advice.

      “Aetna’s new initiatives will be a powerful force toward creating better customer experiences in health care, and we look forward to working with Aetna to make them successful,” said Cook.

      Many experts believed that wearable fitness devices were going to be a top trend going into 2016, and for the most part they’ve been correct. While argumen...

      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 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.

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

      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 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.

      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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.”

      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...

      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, just as in the Chrome browser's incognito mode.

      Google says it has also added some "under the hood" improvements that will make the app run better and crash less often.

      The incognito search is sometimes derided as nothing but protection for porn addicts, but recent research leaves little doubt that consumers are determined to eke out a little privacy on the web.

      A Pew Research Center poll earlier this month found that 86% of internet users have tried to cover their online tracks, with many saying they would like to do more. 

      Some actions that consumers say they've taken include clearing cookies, using phony names, and using virtual networks to mask their actual IP address.

      "Social surveillance"

      In addition, Pew found that 55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government. Many say the purpose of their attempted anonymity is to avoid “social surveillance” by friends and colleagues, rather than the government or law enforcement. 

      The Pew research shows that virtual life isn't all that different from real life, with 33% of internet users saying they want to avoid hackers and criminals, 28% hoping to evade advertising, and 19% wanting to avoid people from their past. Rounding out the top five were certain friends, witih 19%, and people who criticize or harass them, at 17%. 

      It's not all that different from ducking around the corner when you see a nosy neighbor or PTA loudmouth walking towards you.

      Google said it also added another security feature. This one lets you open YouTube videos in the search results without having to open an app or go to the YouTube mobile page, thus reducing load time.

      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,...

      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 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.

      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...

      A number of low-cost auto leases currently available

      Just make sure leasing works for you before jumping at a low monthly payment

      In recent years, auto leasing has made up a bigger slice of car sales. The reason is fairly obvious – it offers a lower monthly payment than if you were purchasing the car.

      A lease is not a purchase – you don't have any equity at the end of the lease – but it can make sense for some consumers under the right circumstances. And right now there appears to be some pretty low-cost lease deals available from a variety of manufacturers.

      Wantalease.com, a website devoted solely to finding auto leases, reports that not only are there deals on several brands currently being offered, the monthly costs are comparatively low. It finds that the Nissan Sentra SV currently offers the lowest monthly payment of just $129 a month.

      Less than $150 a month

      In addition, two other makes have models going for less that $150 a month. The Volkswagen Jetta S has a lease deal at $139 a month and the Ford Focus has one at $149.

      Meanwhile, seven models can currently be leased for less than $200 a month. The Toyota Corolla has a special lease deal at $159.00; the Chevy Cruze at $169.00; the Honda Civic at $179.00; and the Chrysler 200 Limited, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Volkswagen Passat all at $189.00 per month.

      "As the year progresses, we can expect to see more deals on leases as dealers continue to find ways to compete against last year's auto sales totals," said Scot Hall, Executive Vice President of Wantalease.com.

      Exercise caution

      While this all sounds very attractive, consumers need to exercise caution when considering a lease, making sure they are not focused solely on the monthly payment. It's true that the monthly payment could make driving a new car fit into your monthly budget, but that is not the only consideration. Nearly all leases require a 10% down payment, for example.

      Automotive experts say consumers considering a lease should focus on the actual cost of the vehicle and not just the monthly payment. If the vehicle isn't competitively priced, the lease won't be the good deal it appears to be.

      In an auto lease, the consumer pays for the part of the vehicle he or she will be using. In a three-year lease, the starting point is the purchase price of the vehicle. The end point is the estimated “residual value” of the vehicle at the end of the lease. The difference, plus an interest rate and minus the down payment, is the basis for the monthly payment.

      Things that can increase the cost

      Make no mistake, a low monthly car payment is nice. But remember there are things that can lead to significant costs at the end of the lease. Going over the mileage allowance, for example, is very expensive, as costs can be 15 to 25 cents a mile.

      The dealer also charges for scratches, nicks, and dents when the car is turned in, even for overly worn tires. Consumers should get familiar with the hidden costs of an auto lease before signing on the dotted line.

      In recent years, auto leasing has made up a bigger slice of car sales. The reason is fairly obvious – it offers a lower monthly payment than if you were pu...

      Researchers claim bias in industry-backed artificial sweetener studies

      Study points finger at reviewers with alleged conflicts of interest

      A study by Australian researchers has questioned the integrity of other studies funded by the artificial sweetener industry.

      Writing up their findings in PLOS ONE, researchers at the University of Sydney claim studies funded by artificial sweetener companies were nearly 17 times more likely to reach conclusions favorable to the industry.

      "It's alarming to see how much power the artificial sweetener industry has over the results of its funded research, with not only the data but also the conclusions of these studies emphasizing artificial sweeteners' positive effects while neglecting mention of any drawbacks," said co-author Lisa Bero.

      Bero says the results of these studies can have enormous influence, since they are often used by governments in the development of dietary guidelines.

      Conflict of interest?

      The researchers also point a finger at the authors of these studies, claiming many had undisclosed conflicts of interest. In fact, they say 42% of the reviews were written by people with a conflict of interest.

      "Our analysis shows that the claims made by artificial sweetener companies should be taken with a degree of skepticism, as many existing studies into artificial sweeteners seem to respond to sponsor demands to exaggerate positive results, even when they are conducted with standard methods,” Bero said.

      Many consumers turn to products with artificial sweeteners in an effort to reduce sugar consumption. In its analysis of artificial sweeteners, the Mayo Clinic reports there may be some advantages, as well as drawbacks.

      Pros and cons

      On the plus side, the Mayo Clinic says these sweeteners may help you control weight, and be a good alternative to sugar if you have diabetes. It says artificial sweeteners usually don't raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates.

      At the same time, the Mayo Clinic acknowledges that there have been health concerns about artificial sweeteners over the years, including possible links to cancer.

      “But according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there's no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems,” the Clinic says on its website.

      But in recent years, some researchers have questioned artificial sweeteners' effectiveness in weight control. A 2008 Purdue University study linked artificial sweeteners to weight gain.

      More recently, researchers in the UK suggested people who were obese and consumed artificial sweeteners could have complications with glucose management.

      A study by Australian researchers has questioned the integrity of other studies funded by the artificial sweetener industry.Writing up their findings i...

      Researchers discover possible cause of Crohn's disease

      Their study reveals that a fungus may play a key role

      Earlier this month, we reported that scientists were making strides towards treating Crohn’s disease. That research, from the University of British Columbia, revealed the genetic cause of fibrosis, one of the disease’s primary symptoms.

      Now, researchers from Case Western Reserve University may have discovered the key factor behind the development of the disease as a whole. They found that a fungus present in the intestines plays a major role in whether or not a person develops Crohn’s – proving the association by connecting it to bacteria that have already been associated with the disease.

      "We already know that bacteria, in addition to genetic and dietary factors, play a major role in causing Crohn's disease," said Dr. Mahmoud A Ghannoum, senior author of the study. “Essentially, patients with Crohn's have abnormal immune responses to these bacteria, which inhabit the intestines of all people. While most researchers focus their investigations on these bacteria, few have examined the role of fungi, which are also present in everyone's intestines.”

      The finding is potentially groundbreaking and could lead to new treatments for the inflammatory bowel disease. In a best-case scenario, researchers could eventually develop a cure for Crohn’s using the information that was gathered.

      Cause of inflammation

      The researchers came to their conclusions after studying the fungal and bacteria cultures in Crohn’s patients and their first-degree relatives in northern France and Belgium. They found that the relationship between two bacteria and one fungus was very close and prominent in Crohn’s patients, whereas the interaction and number of them in healthy family members was much lower.

      After further testing, Ghannoum and his colleagues discovered that the three microorganisms actually worked together to create a biofilm that coated part of the intestines. This biofilm was found to prompt inflammation, which is a primary symptom of Crohn’s disease.

      "Among hundreds of bacterial and fungal species inhabiting the intestines, it is telling that the three we identified were so highly correlated in Crohn's patients. Furthermore, we found strong similarities in what may be called the 'gut profiles' of the Crohn's-affected families, which were strikingly different from the Crohn's-free families,” said Ghannoum.

      Promising future treatments

      The discovery is remarkable because it is the first time that a fungus has been linked to Crohn’s disease in humans. However, at this point, the researchers are not saying that the microorganisms are the definitive cause of the disease. Going forward, they say that they will be keeping an open mind about “identifying precipitators and contributors of Crohn’s.”

      Still, the team does have some optimism that their findings will be put to good use in the future.

      “Our study adds significant new information to understanding why some people develop Crohn's disease. Equally important, it can result in a new generation of treatments, including medications and probiotics, which hold the potential for making qualitative and quantitative differences in the lives of people suffering from Crohn's."

      The full study has been published in mBio.

      Earlier this month, we reported that scientists were making strides towards treating Crohn’s disease. That research, from the University of British Columbi...

      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 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.

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

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

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

      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, 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.

      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...

      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 can really afford. It's a big reason consumers get in financial trouble.

      So what is “living below your means” and how does that help?

      The concept goes to the heart of lifestyle. The kind of lifestyle you lead will ultimately determine how much money you have left over at the end of the month. Bruce McClary, a vice-president at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says a big part of that is determined by how much debt you are willing to take on.

      “It's really taking a step beyond most of the advice out there. Because even some of the advice from financial experts suggests it is acceptable to allocate up to 20% of your income toward your unsecured debt payments,” McClary said in an interview. “And maybe you can handle that, but on the other hand, if you keep your debt payments lower than that, then you're ahead of the game.”

      Two areas where savings add up

      A household that has a mortgage, a car payment, and credit card balances pays a lot of its monthly income toward debt service. But if you are willing to live in a more modest home than you might otherwise be able to afford, or drive a less expensive car, your monthly savings in those two areas alone could be several hundred dollars.

      Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Operations at Equifax, says it is also important to examine the little things – what she calls “C&C: coffee and convenience.”

      “Visiting your favorite coffee shop every morning adds up quickly,” Moogalin told ConsumerAffairs. “And you may not realize by how much.”

      Her advice? Consider making coffee at home and putting the money you would be spending at your favorite coffee shop into your emergency savings or rainy day funds. You could also do the same thing if you tend to eat out every day for lunch.

      $2,600 a year for lunch

      “If you work Monday through Friday and you’re spending roughly $10 for lunch, that amount adds up to approximately $2,600 a year,” Moogalin said.

      Under the convenience category, she suggests looking at the expenses you have that aren’t absolutely mandatory. Do more things yourself instead of hiring someone to do them, for example.

      “Sometimes just sitting down and listing out the dollars being spent on the conveniences in your life can help you determine what’s absolutely necessary,” she said.

      How do you know if these steps are paying off? You'll know if you are able to maintain, and even increase, your level of monthly savings. Living below your means simply means you will usually have money left over at the end of the month.

      Will you ever be able to treat yourself or your family, splurging on a special purchase or a vacation? Of course, because if you are truly living below your means, you'll have the money to pay for it and you won't have to put it on your credit card.

      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...

      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 knowing the exact value can make budgeting your shopping pretty easy.

      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.

      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...

      Combating fall allergy symptoms in kids

      What parents can do to keep sniffles and sneezes at bay

      As the leaves swirl and weed pollen proliferates, fall allergies may begin to surface. Fall is prime allergy season for kids as well as adults, and mold and ragweed are the most common culprits.

      If you’re an adult who suffers from allergies, you know just how bothersome the symptoms can be. Chances are you don’t want your kids to have to suffer the same symptoms.

      So how can you tell if your child is suffering from fall allergies? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, symptoms to watch for include cold-like symptoms that linger for a week or longer, nose rubbing, sniffling, and itchy, runny eyes.

      Additionally, keep in mind that allergies may run in families. If you or your partner have an allergy, the odds are greater that your child will also have an allergy.

      Easing allergy symptoms

      Reducing your child’s exposure to allergens is often the first step toward helping children feel better, but parents don’t need to keep children strictly indoors for the duration of the season. 

      Allergy symptoms can be squashed in a number of other ways. Here are a few things parents can do to ease allergy symptoms:

      • Clean air vents throughout your home. Vents may be home to particles that can trigger or make allergy symptoms worse. Keep these particles from building up by cleaning them thoroughly.
      • Keep windows and outside doors shut. Prevent allergens from creeping in by sealing off your home during pollen season. 
      • Keep the house clean and dry. This can help reduce mold and dust mites.
      • Encourage your child to drink warm liquids. Warm liquids, such as tea and soup, can help loosen nasal congestion.
      • Wash clothes thoroughly after kids play outside. This can include backpacks, shoes, and even hats.
      • Give kids an over-the-counter allergy relief. For stubborn allergy symptoms, find an OTC treatment that can combat congestion as well as itchy, watery eyes.
      • Plan outdoor activities for the morning. Weed pollen is most abundant in the middle of the day, so plan activities accordingly.
      • Don't let kids play in dead or wet leaves. The moisture on fallen leaves can be a breeding ground for mold.
      • Stay current on pollen and mold counts. Watch the news for updates, and consider keeping kids indoors during peak hours.
      Home remedies may be helpful, but parents should speak with their child's pediatrician if allergies are severe. A doctor may prescribe an antihistimine or nasal corticosteroid or refer kids to an allergy specialist.
      As the leaves swirl and weed pollen proliferates, fall allergies may begin to surface. Fall is prime allergy season for kids as well as adults, and mold an...

      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 who start a diet soon give up.

      Nutrition author Phoenix Gilman says the main reason diets fail is carbohydrate craving, leading to an overwhelming appetite.

      "Millions of people still tragically believe in the low fat myth,” she said. “That alone has perpetuated our obesity epidemic, among numerous other diseases.”

      Gilman says the simple answer to losing or controlling weight is learning what is healthy to eat and consuming reasonable portions of it. She says it's also important to understand the role of chemicals produced by the brain.

      Gilman works with individual clients to help them lose weight, specializing in women over 40.

      "As a woman myself, and one who's 57, this is a major turning point for women who are now looking in the mirror and asking, 'What happened?' Most have devoted their life to husbands, careers and raising children. Their health wasn't often a priority,” she said.

      Laundry list of problems

      Gilman attributes a laundry list of problems to poor nutrition -- from obesity, diabetes, and addictions, to depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Highly processed foods, she maintains, adjust brain chemicals that often send people running to the refrigerator.

      Academic researchers have been onto this for some time. Back in 2007, researchers at UCLA conducted a study that concluded diets lead to temporary weight loss, at best.

      "You can initially lose 5% to 10% of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back," Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study, said at the time. "We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more.”

      It's true, Mann said, that a small minority of dieters were able to sustain their weight loss. It is also true, she said, that the majority regained all their weight.

      Mann went so far as to contend that most dieters would have been better off not even trying to lose weight.

      Gilman obviously disagrees, with the caveat that sensible portions of healthy, nutritious food is one diet that can work.

      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...

      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 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. 

      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...

      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.

      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.

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

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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. 

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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).

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

      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 anomaly during the curing press set-up operation, incomplete adhesion between the tread and the top belt may have occurred.

      Incomplete adhesion may result in tread separation of the tire while in use, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Goodyear will notify the vehicle manufacturers that purchased the tires, as well as those that purchased the tires as replacement equipment. The vehicle manufacturers will notify their owners. Dealers will replace the affected tires with a similar tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 15, 2016.

      Owners may contact Goodyear customer service at 1-800-592-3267.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      Samsung Galaxy customers heating up over phone exchange

      Like most recalls, this one is full of exceptions, misunderstanding, and confusion

      Recalls sound simple, but whether it's cars, infant strollers, or smartphones, too often they just don't work very well in practice. Take the recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which has a bad habit of bursting into flames.

      The company said last week that it had shipped half a million replacement phones to the U.S. and urged consumers to immediately turn their phone in for a new one.

      Sounds simple but it hasn't worked out well for many consumers. 

      "Wasted hours of my time dealing with their support channels over a Note 7 recall," Matthew of Pittman, N.J., said in a recent ConsumerAffairs review (not yet posted at the time this story was filed). "Tried calling, using Twitter, direct messaging -- and got nowhere. Aside from the recall replacement phone having battery issues, they wouldn't even replace a screen protector I purchased for my original phone that was useless when removed from the recalled phone."

      "Samsung has confirmed that I have a defective phone from them. However, they will not replace it," said Kellee of Pleasantville, Ohio,  "They expect me to send them my phone, wait for a repair, and then they will send it back. No help whatsoever, and I was told that if I am not happy with their process I should not buy Samsung products. Good idea people!"

      Residence issues

      Thomas of Brentwood, Calif., has a slightly more complicated problem. He bought his dual-SIM Note 7 in Singapore. When the recall was announced, he contacted the retailer who had sold it to him.

      The retailer offered a refund but Thomas said he would rather have a replacement and quoted Samsung's web advisory -- http://www.samsung.com/sg/note7exchange/ -- which says phones will be replaced in the customer's country of residence: "Please contact the Samsung Customer Service Centre in your residing country for information on the exchange process in your residing country. We assure you that we will be assisting all Galaxy Note7 customers in the exchange, regardless of your residing country and the country where you purchased the device."

      Thomas contacted Samsung in his home country and, after several days, was told to contact the Samsung office in Singapore, which expressed surprise that the matter hadn't already been resolved.

      "After waiting several days, they said I can only exchange it if I send it at my own expense to someone in Singapore who is willing to bring it to Samsung and exchange it, then send the new phone back to me," Thomas said.

      "If they won't exchange a Note7 from Singapore outside of Singapore, then they should have said so, rather than lying to the retailer and lying on their website," Thomas said. "I've wasted almost two weeks on this nonsense and in the end, Samsung did absolutely nothing. Even if I did know someone in Singapore, the deadline for arranging an appointment is Sunday, and I have a lot of things to do, so I doubt I could get it arranged in time."

      Others get hot too

      Of course, it's not just the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 that can get hot. Other smartphones, laptops, and many other battery-powered devices can heat up.

      That's what happened to Lori's son, who is away at college.

      "My son woke up to his phone extemely hot -- hot enough to burn his hand.
      I cannot get through to anyone at Samsung. Multiple phone calls, emails, and perpetual hold."

      Lori, who lives in Marietta, Ga., didn't say what model phone her son had. If it's a Note 7, she should go to the Samsung recall website to arrange an exchange. If it's another model, she should ask her son to take it to the retailer or carrier from which it was purchased -- perhaps Verizon, AT&T;, or T-Mobile.

      The first rule of thumb for consumers is to be careful with battery-powered devices. Don't take them to bed with you and don't leave them lying around on flammable surfaces. If you take your phone or laptop on an airplane, turn it completely off.

      Oh, and finally, don't fall asleep with your phone in your pants pocket.

      Recalls sound simple, but whether it's cars, infant strollers, or smartphones, too often they just don't work very well in practice. Take the recall of the...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      Wells Fargo employees sue, saying they are 'biggest victims' of fraud

      The employees say they were driven to the 'breaking point' by pressure to open new accounts

      Employees past and present are the latest to sue Wells Fargo, claiming they are the "biggest victims" of the widespread fraud that allegedly resulted in more than 1.5 million unauthorized accounts being opened in customers' names.

      In a class action suit, the employees say the bank pressured them to open additional accounts for customers, whether they wanted them or not, driving employees to the "breaking point," Courthouse News Service reported

      Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $185 million in fines and penalties to various federal agencies. It also faces possible Congressional action, shareholder litigation, and lawsuits by customers, although the bank is expected to argue that its customer agreements require that disputes be submitted to arbitration and ban class action suits.

      The employees, many of whom were fired, are seeking $2.6 billion in damages. 

      "The biggest victims of this scheme are a class of people that nobody else has talked about. The biggest victims of Wells Fargo's scam is the class of victims that were fired because they did not meet these cross-sell quotas by engaging in the fraudulent scam that would line the CEO's pockets," the class says in its lawsuit. "The good employees with a conscience who tried to meet the sales quotas without engaging in fraudulent scams are the biggest victims of this scam. They are the employees that this lawsuit seeks to redress."

      Stock soared

      The suit notes that Wells Fargo's stock price soared and its CEO, John Stumpf, made millions in bonuses and stock appreciation while the $12-per-hour bank employees were dummying up new accounts.

      The suit alleges that employees were monitored constantly to ensure that they were pushing customers to take out new loans, apply for credit cards, and open additional deposit accounts. Many were fired for failing to book enough new business while others were later fired for allegedly resorting to fraud to meet quotas.

      Federal regulators say that as many as 1.5 million unauthorized accounts were opened in the bank's efforts to increase billings.

      Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) last week said Stumpf should resign and face a criminal investigation. She also called on the Labor Department to investigate the employee firings.

      If Stumpf decides to retire, he stands to receive $123 million in severance and stock value, USA Today reported, quoting the consulting firm Equilar. 

      Employees past and present are the latest to sue Wells Fargo, claiming they are the "biggest victims" of the widespread fraud that allegedly resulted in mo...

      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 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.

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

      West Elm aims to fuel growth by launching a hotel chain

      Rooms will be staged with West Elm furniture and decor

      How do you grow as a contemporary furniture retailer without opening more stores? West Elm plans to do so by launching its own hotels.

      In addition to putting a roof over travelers’ heads, the boutique hotels will showcase West Elm furnishings. From light fixtures to linens, all decor featured in each room will be available for guests to purchase online or via the company’s app.

      The try-before-you-buy themed rooms won’t feel exactly like sleeping in a West Elm store, of course. Price tags will be hidden and dim lighting will pervade. Area-specific touches will also be added.

      Incorporating local goods

      West Elm president Jim Brett tells the Wall Street Journal that managers at each hotel location will be given money to buy goods from local craftsman.

      “Managers can buy from our designs depending on what is right for their local customers,” Brett said.

      He adds that by “adapting the framework design of each hotel to reflect the mood and identity of its host city, we will continue to engage the adventurous spirit of our customers as they follow us to our next level of hospitality.”

      Alternative path to growth

      Brett, who has been at the helm since 2010, says the company’s venture into hospitality could fuel growth while keeping it from making a mistake commonly made by other retailers: opening too many stores.

      “Where many retail brands have put the nail in their coffins is by opening too many stores,” Brett said. Although Brett doesn’t envision opening another 100 brick-and-mortar locations, he says eventually West Elm could have as many hotels as retail locations.

      West Elm Hotels, the result of a partnership with hospitality management company DDK, are slated to open in Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia, North Carolina, Indianapolis, and Indiana in late 2018.

      Each hotel will have between 100 to 250 rooms. The WSJ reports that rates will start at $175, but luxury suites may cost upwards of $400.

      How do you grow as a contemporary furniture retailer without opening more stores? West Elm plans to do so by launching its own hotels. In addition to p...

      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 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.

      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...

      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% 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.

      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%...

      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 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.

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

      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 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. 

      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...

      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, 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      Postcard from Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

      Wildfires, snow, bison, eagles -- it's all right there

      What’s it like to travel to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks after the crowds go home? That’s what we did last week. We specifically chose a group tour the first week after Labor Day to avoid the crowds. What we never checked was activity availability, and we were surprised to learn that many activities and special events shut down after Labor Day.

      Did it spoil our experience? Not really; while we would have liked to have taken a cruise on Jenny Lake, it was pleasant hiking the trails with the aspens turning gold and just a few other tourists on the pathways.

      Float trips down the Snake River are available through September and they are offered during the day and in the evening. It was a relaxing way to view the Grand Tetons from a variety of perspectives and search for wildlife. Bald eagles and magpies were plentiful on our trip; the bison and elk were elusive.

      The weather is unpredictable in September with the temperatures fluctuating from the low-thirties Fahrenheit to the mid-seventies. If you forget something, there are plenty of outdoor stores and the local shops within the parks conveniently carry anything you might have left at home.

      There were winter hats, warm gloves, fleece jackets and vests, and a wide assortment of rainwear. I was tempted to buy one of the attractive fleeces even though I had one with me. While my husband and I packed well, we needed to buy winter hats when we heard snow was definitely in the forecast.

      What we did not expect were the wildfires. Grand Teton National Park is just twelve miles from the South entrance to Yellowstone. A fire closed the South entrance and we drove three hours through Idaho and Montana to reach the West entrance. We crossed two more states off our “bucket list,” but wound up losing a full day. By the time we entered Yellowstone, the snow was falling hard and we were unable to do any hiking after checking into our hotel.

      The following morning, we stood in freezing cold in the snow waiting for “Old Faithful.” It was worth the 45-minute wait as the geyser was just as exhilarating as you imagine it will be. The snow stopped falling and the sun came out, casting a magical glow on the pines and grounds in the park. It was truly a treat to see Yellowstone draped in snow, and once the ground dried and we no longer had wet feet, we were able to appreciate it.

      All along the roadways, through the hot springs and Sylvan Pass, we saw Yellowstone bison, individually and in herds. They are the largest land-dwelling animals in North America and there were plenty of opportunities to take their photos. We kept our distance as, aggressive when disturbed, they can run up to 35 miles per hour. On our second to last day, we got a chance to see an elk and two bear cubs. We got the best shot of the elk and every member of our group insisted on a copy.

      Our national parks are our heritage. They are just as glorious as anything you can see anywhere in the world. A layer of snow did not hamper our enjoyment; it just added to the splendor of our Yellowstone experience.

      What’s it like to travel to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks after the crowds go home? That’s what we did last week. We specifically chose a grou...

      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-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.  

      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...

      McDonald's looks to test new breakfast Happy Meals

      If approved, it would be the first change to Happy Meals in over 30 years

      Earlier this year, we reported that McDonald’s had begun winning back customers. Its global sales were rising, and new initiatives like using fresh ground beef in burgers and offering all-day breakfast had consumers buzzing.

      Now, the chain hopes to capitalize on yet another idea. The company has announced that it will be testing breakfast Happy Meals during morning hours at some locations in the Tulsa area. The kid-friendly option is reported to come in a few different options. Customers have the choice between a new egg and cheese McMuffin or two McGriddle cakes (not the full sandwiches).

      Consumers can also choose from a couple of healthy side options like apple slices or yogurt, or they can elect to get hash browns. A McDonald’s spokesperson was reported as saying that the new breakfast option would be the first change to Happy Meals in over 30 years.

      “All day breakfast has really been a big hit with our customers, and that started from our customers telling us this is what they wanted. Since the launch of all day breakfast, more of our customers have been reaching out to us and asking us for these choices for their kids in Happy Meals,” said Pam Williams, director of innovation at McDonald’s USA.

      If the tests in Tulsa turn out well, consumers around the country can expect breakfast Happy Meals as early as next year. 

      Earlier this year, we reported that McDonald’s had begun winning back customers. Its global sales were rising, and new initiatives like using fresh ground...

      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 colder months.

      For gardeners, this means gardening season is far from over. In addition to selecting Fall-friendly plant varieties, gardeners can prepare their gardens for cooler temperatures by cleaning them out.

      Start by cleaning out weeds, plant debris, and plants that likely won’t survive in colder temperatures. If you can’t bear to permanently part ways with your sensitive plants, consider placing them in a sunny area of your house to continue growing indoors.

      To smooth the summer-to-fall transition for vegetable gardens, try using row covers and cold frames. For added protection, gardeners can plant a cover crop on top of their vegetable garden.

      Autumn plants

      Colder weather doesn’t have to equate to a less colorful garden. Some plants are as bright and cheery as they are hardy. Here are some of the plants and flowers known to be capable of thriving during the fall and winter.

      • Asters. Vibrant New England Asters tend to start showing off around mid-September. While they can be planted at any time, it’s best to plant these butterfly-attracting plants no later than early fall. This can help ensure they have enough time to establish themselves before winter.
      • Coleus. The beautiful fall colors of Coleus leaves can brighten shady spots in your garden. This flowerless, shade-loving plant can be put in the ground after the danger of frost has passed.
      • Mums. With the arrival of fall comes an influx of garden mums at nurseries and garden centers. Plant these orange, gold, or bronze beauties in the spring to enjoy them in your garden when the temperatures drop.
      • Mexican Sage. Mexican bush sage begins to sprout its purple flowers in September and continues to bloom until frost. Plant them in full sun and in well-drained soil.
      • Pansies. Pansies are the perfect addition to a fall garden, window box, or container. Their bright, velvety blooms will last through the winter. To keep them growing into the summer, mulch and remove faded flowers.
      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...

      Accrediting agency for for-profit schools loses its accreditation

      The agency will be permitted to continue operating while it appeals the decision

      In another blow for the for-profit college industry, the U.S. Department of Education is withdrawing its recognition of the independent agency that accredits many for-profit schools.

      The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is appealing the decision and will continue to operate while the appeal is processed. It accredits about 245 colleges that enroll 600,000 students. Many of its colleges are for-profit schools.

      “While we are disappointed in this decision, ACICS plans to continue diligent efforts to renew and strengthen its policies and practices necessary to demonstrate this agency’s determination to come into full compliance with the Department of Education’s recognition criteria and, most importantly, to improve outcomes for the estimated 600,000 students currently attending ACICS-accredited institutions," the agency's interim president, Roger Williams, said in a prepared statement

      ACICS was the accrediting agency for ITT Tech and Corinthian, both of which collapsed under the pressure of multiple investigations by federal and state agencies. 

      Is your school affected?

      If the appeal is not successful, schools accredited by ACICS will have 18 months to find a new accrediting agency. Is your school accredited by ACICS? Find out here.

      In September 2015, a report by the Center for American Progress faulted ACICS for not taking action sooner against Corinthian Colleges.

      “In April 2014—while the Department of Education was actively investigating the company for its questionable job placement rates and just a few months before the department acted to start Corinthian’s closure—ACICS renewed the accreditation of two Corinthian campuses and authorized a new branch campus,” the report noted.

      The report also found that one out of every five borrowers at an ACICS-accredited college defaults on his or her loans within three years of entering repayment, 50% higher than the national average. Many of those loans are backed by federal agencies, meaning that the defaults wind up costing taxpayers.

      In another blow for the for-profit college industry, the U.S. Department of Education is withdrawing its recognition of the independent agency that accredi...

      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, 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.

      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,...

      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 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%.

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

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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."

      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...

      How to get your resume noticed for the right reasons

      Lead with your skills and tailor it to the specific job

      If you've been out in the job market seeking employment, whether you are moving from an existing job or just starting out, you know how tough it can be.

      Hiring managers complain they can't find enough people to fill jobs, but what they are really saying is they can't find people with the needed skills to fill the position. Or at least, they think they can't.

      What you have to do is set yourself apart from the crowd and call attention to your skills and qualifications. And you don't have very long to do it.

      Resume mistakes

      Careerbuilder's annual Resume Mistakes Survey, conducted by the Harris Poll, found that 43% of human resources (HR) managers, the gatekeepers to most jobs, spend less than one minute looking at a resume. About 24% said they spend less than 30 seconds before deciding which pile it goes in.

      That puts enormous pressure on a jobseeker when he or she produces a resume. Making a strong, positive first impression is key to moving to the second phase, meeting with a hiring manager.

      When the survey-takers asked the HR people to provide examples of the wrong approach to getting noticed, they had plenty to offer. These resumes probably got passed around the office, but for the wrong reasons.

      How about a proof reader?

      Some gaffs might have been avoided by just having someone proofread the document. In one case, the applicant’s name was auto-corrected from “Flin” to “Flintstone.” Making matters worse, his first name was Freddie.

      Another applicant claimed he had “great attention to detail,” but misspelled “attention.”

      HR officers say embellishment is also a big problem. Seventy-seven percent said they have spotted a lie on a resume, such as the applicant who listed work at a federal prison as part of his employment history. It turned out he had been an inmate.

      Too much information

      Other applicants reveal too much about themselves that shows they really aren't a serious, business-like person. Such as the applicant who said he had been a prince in a previous life or the applicant who used direct quotes from Star Wars throughout his resume.

      What to do

      Those are some of the things not to do. So what did the HR officials say they want to see on a resume? The biggest thing your can do to help your case is customize the resume for the job.

      For example, let's say you are applying for a job in sales and your experience is divided between sales and management. Tweak your resume to emphasize your sales experience and make sure it is reflected in your goals. In other words, let the HR official know what you can do in that specific job.

      Also, HR managers say they want to see skills listed first on a resume and they expect a cover letter. If it is addressed to the HR person personally, it will win added points.

      If you've been out in the job market seeking employment, whether you are moving from an existing job or just starting out, you know how tough it can be....

      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 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.”

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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. 

      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...

      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, 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.

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

      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.

      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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      Yahoo to announce details of massive data breach

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

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

      ---

      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. 

      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...

      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." 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?

      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. 

      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....

      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 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. 

      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...

      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, 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:

      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...

      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.

      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.

      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....

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      Study finds high levels of toxic chemicals in household dust

      Phthalates, phenols, and flame retardants linked to serious health problems

      Household dust is a lot more than just an annoyance. A new study finds that it exposes people to a wide range of toxic chemicals from everyday products, including phthalates, phenols and flame retardants.

      "Our study is the first comprehensive analysis of consumer product chemicals found in household dust," says lead author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. "The findings suggest that people, and especially children, are exposed on a daily basis to multiple chemicals in dust that are linked to serious health problems."

      Zota's team conducted a first-of-its-kind meta-analysis, compiling data from dust samples collected throughout the United States to identify the top ten toxic chemicals commonly found in dust. They found that DEHP, a chemical belonging to a hazardous class called phthalates, was number one on that list. 

      There's nothing mysterious about the process. Chemicals from consumer products are released into the air and get into dust, which can settle on household items or on the floor. People can inhale or ingest small particles of dust or even absorb them through the skin.

      Children at risk

      Infants and young children are particularly at risk for exposure to the chemicals found in dust because they crawl, play on dusty floors, and put their hands in their mouths, the authors say.

      Zota and colleagues pooled data from 26 peer-reviewed papers and one unpublished dataset that analyzed dust samples taken from homes in 14 states. They found 45 potentially toxic chemicals that are used in many consumer and household products such as vinyl flooring, personal care and cleaning products, building materials, and home furnishings.

      Ten harmful chemicals are found in ninety percent of the dust samples across multiple studies, including a known cancer-causing agent called TDCIPP. This flame retardant is frequently found in furniture, baby products, and other household items.

      What to do

      Consumers can take a few simple steps to protect themselves, such as keeping dust levels low by using a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter; washing hands frequently; and avoiding personal care and household products that contain potentially dangerous chemicals.

      "Consumers have the power to make healthier choices and protect themselves from harmful chemicals in everyday products," said Robin Dodson, an environmental exposure scientist at Silent Spring Institute. "These things can make a real difference not only in their health but also in shifting the market toward safer products."

      The study was published in Environmental Science & Technology

      Household dust is a lot more than just an annoyance. A new study finds that it exposes people to a wide range of toxic chemicals from everyday products, in...

      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 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.

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

      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 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
      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...

      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 to miss – no annual fee or a low interest rate – others are more subtle and will appeal to one consumer more than another.

      With that in mind, Money magazine and NerdWallet analyzed more than 2,000 credit cards of all types and tried to select the ones most advantageous, based on consumers' spending habits.

      Cash Back

      When it comes to picking the best cash back card, the judges called it an easy choice: the Citi Double Cash card. The card pays 1% cash back on all purchases and another 1% when you pay it back.

      It also has an 18-month introductory period of 0% interest on balance transfers. Coming in second was the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature.

      When it comes to everyday spending, the judges like the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express. The Discover It card took the honors as the Best for Maximizers and the Discover It Miles was picked as the card providing the best incentives in the first year of card activation.

      Travel

      Consumers often choose cards that don't offer the best advantages in their particular situations. For example, if you rarely travel then a travel rewards card may not do you much good.

      However, if you are a frequent traveler then a travel card may be better than a cash rewards card. The judges picked the BankAmericard Travel Rewards as best for overall travel.

      For frequent fliers, however, they recommend the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite. The Starwood Preferred Guest from American Express is the pick for consumers who want to rack up hotel points.

      Carrying a balance

      When it comes to carrying a balance, consumers should look for a low interest rate. The judges found the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum is best in that regard for consumers with a credit score of 720 or better.

      For those with a score below 720, the judges suggest obtaining a credit card through a local credit union. For balance transfers, they recommend the Chase Slate, since it has no balance transfer fee.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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-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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.”

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

      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 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.

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

      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: 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%.

      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.

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

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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. 

      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...

      Why doctors say you should avoid cuddling kittens

      They're cute and cuddly, but some kittens may be carrying a dangerous disease

      Kittens are among earth’s cuddliest creatures, but it may be wise to forgo a cuddle session with these miniature members of the feline species.

      Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently conducted a large-scale survey of cat scratch fever and found that the disease is a bigger concern than previously thought.  

      Because a cat’s mouth may contain a rare bacteria called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, getting up close and personal with one could cause fever, pustules, or other unpleasant symptoms.

      How it’s spread

      “The scope and impact of the disease is a bit larger than we thought,” Dr. Christina Nelson of the CDC told the Telegraph. “Cat-scratch is preventable. If we can identify the populations at risk and the patterns of disease, we can focus the prevention efforts.”

      The disease, which is more likely to be carried by kittens and strays, is spread one of two ways: either when you are scratched by an infected cat, or when you don’t wash your hands (and proceed to touch your face) after petting an infected cat.

      To help stop the spread of the disease, doctors urge cat lovers to wash their hands after touching cats and to avoid kissing cats. Pet owners should also use flea control methods and do their best to keep their pets from interacting with stray cats and kittens.

      12,000 infected each year

      Although the disease is still considered rare, researchers say the instances of serious side effects are on the rise. The survey found that 12,000 people are infected by the disease each year, and 500 are admitted to the hospital for it.

      Children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems are most likely to come down with a case of cat-scratch.

      Those with weakened immune systems may want to consider adopting cats who are older than one year, as playful kittens who scratch and bite are most likely to carry the disease.

      Kittens are among earth’s cuddliest creatures, but it may be wise to forgo a cuddle session with these miniature members of the feline species.Doctors...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 vulnerable population – children.

      The crime is called “sextortion,” because money is not the prime objective, sex is. Unfortunately, parents of vulnerable children are mostly clueless about the danger.

      Here is how it works: the scammer, often a pedophile, reaches out to an adolescent on social media, pretending to be someone her own age, usually of the opposite sex.

      After developing an online relationship, the scammer asks his victim to send him a sexually revealing photograph of herself. If she does, he then drops the ruse and threatens to expose her – technically, she may have broken child pornography laws – unless she meets his demands.

      Increasing the demands

      Those demands might include sending even more explicit photographs, or even meeting him for a sexual encounter.

      “It’s not uncommon, it’s something that we see every day and it’s something that’s concerning because it can inflict a tremendous amount of damage on a child,” Michelle DeLaune, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, told the Washington Post.

      Federal law enforcement officials have recently stepped up their efforts to prevent the crime and educate both parents and children about its dangers.

      Advice from the FBI

      The FBI says children should be aware that these scammer/predators like to hang out in chat rooms to make contact. Sometimes they may record young people who post or live-stream sexually explicit images and videos of themselves.

      If they are really clever – and often they are – they may even hack into a child's device, gaining access to not only files but the device's camera as well.

      What to do

      The FBI suggests parents of teenagers, especially those who are under-age, have a conversation with their children about the danger. Children should understand the legal dangers of sending a sexually explicit image of themselves, or anyone else, over the internet.

      Children should also understand how to secure their devices from intrusion. They should know to never open an attachment from someone they don't know. If their computer has a camera, it should be covered with a piece of tape when not in use.

      Most importantly, the FBI says, if a child falls victim to a sextortion threat, they should tell someone. Letting a child know in advance that a parent will be understanding and helpful in such a situation may make it less likely she will get even deeper into a sextortion plot.

      Meanwhile, the FBI says it wants to know if you have been a victim of this scam by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI.

      Scammers normally like to target senior citizens because they are considered a vulnerable population.But a dangerous new scam targets another vulnerabl...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      Gallo Meats of Colville, Wash., is recalling approximately 82 pounds of various sausage, beef and lamb products.The products did not undergo federal in...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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
      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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, 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.

      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...

      Omega-3 supplements may help kids become better readers, study suggests

      Third graders who were given fatty acids for three months became faster, more efficient readers

      There’s a supplement for just about every health concern under the sun, but could one supplement actually make kids better readers? New research from the University of Gothenburg suggests that the answer may be yes.

      A recent study of 154 nine- and ten-year-old children showed that fatty acids found in omega-3 and omega-6 supplements fueled an improvement in reading skills. 

      Compared with those who were given a placebo, children (especially those with attention problems) who were given omega-3 and omega-6 supplements for three months scored better on tests designed to measure reading skills. 

      "Our study suggests that children could benefit from a dietary supplement with a special formula," said Mats Johnson, chief physician and researcher at the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

      Improved reading

      To conduct the study, researchers first measured children’s reading skills using a computer-based test called the Logos test. In addition to measuring reading speed, the Logos test looked at each child’s ability to read and correctly pronounce nonsense words (a skill known as phonological decoding).

      Following the initial assessment, kids were randomly chosen to be part of either the placebo group or the group that would receive omega-3 and omega-6 supplements.

      At the end of just three months, children whose diets were supplemented with fatty acids showed a noticeable improvement in reading skills compared to kids in the placebo group. Kids' ability to read nonsense words and strings of letters was especially improved by the supplements.

      Tests showed that children with mild attention problems (as identified by their parents) experienced an even greater improvement in reading skills after three months of receiving fatty acid supplements.

      ‘Important for signal transmission’

      In previous studies, the effect of omega-3 supplements on learning have not been as positive. However, Johnson believes further studies should delve deeper into the link between polyunsaturated fats and children’s learning.

      "Our modern diet contains relatively little omega-3, which it is believed to have a negative effect on our children when it comes to learning, literacy and attention," Johnson said, adding polyunsaturated fats account for a significant portion of the cell membranes in our brains.

      "There are studies that indicate that fatty acids are important for signal transmission between nerve cells and the regulation of signaling systems in the brain," Johnson noted.

      This study was the first of its kind to show that omega-3 and omega-6 could improve the reading skills of third grade students. To confirm the finding that children may benefit from a dietary supplement with a special formula, Johnson says future studies should seek to replicate its results.

      The study has been published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

      There’s a supplement for just about every health concern under the sun, but could one supplement actually make kids better readers? New research from the U...

      Here are three highly-rated business credit cards

      The Capital One Spark Cash for Business makes just about everyone's list

      What's the best business credit card? Opinions vary, but it all depends on what kind of business you have and where and how you'll be spending money.

      CreditCards.com picks the Capital One Spark Cash for Business as its choice of best business card. The Spark earns points for its cash-back program, low rates, and a generous, one-time initial bonus.

      The Spark pays 2% cash back on every purchase, not just certain kinds of purchases. The judges found that to be an advantage because business spending can range over a wide number of categories.

      "Spark Cash for Business keeps it simple, and that's perfect for busy businesspeople," said CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. “Business owners don't want to hassle with transferring miles and chasing bonus categories. They just want a good, straightforward cash-back rate with low fees."

      The Spark also pays $500 cash back when users spend $4,500 or more during the first three months of card activation.

      NerdWallet also rates the Capital One Spark among its top business cards, but it should be noted that the Spark, like most business credit cards, carries an annual fee. In the case of the Spark, it's $59 a year.

      Chase Ink Cash Business

      Also high on NerdWallet's list is the Chase Ink Cash Business Credit Card, which is the rare business credit card that does not carry an annual fee. It only pays 1% cash back and has a lower sign-up bonus – $200.

      However, cardholders earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services each account anniversary year. They also earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year.

      At CardHub.com, another card comparison sight, the Capital One Spark and Chase Ink Cash Business Card rank one and two among business credit cards.

      US Bank Business Edge

      But its third choice, the US Bank Business Edge card, is definitely worth a look, especially for smaller businesses with only “good” credit. It has no annual fee and pays between 1% and 3% cash back. The highest rate of cash back is on cellular, gas, and office supply store net purchases. It pays 1% on all other purchases.

      The card also pays an initial sign-up bonus of $150 if you spend $500 in the first three months of activation.

      What's the best business credit card? Opinions vary, but it all depends on what kind of business you have and where and how you'll be spending money.Cr...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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."

      Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes was higher in September for a second consecutive month.The National Association o...

      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 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.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 42,500 Polaris Ranger 900 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).The heat shield can fall off...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.
      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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-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.

      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...

      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 with a suitable plan to reorganize under bankruptcy. Now it seems that Golfsmith, one of the few dedicated golf retailers, may also be closing many of its doors.

      The retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday. Experts say that the shrinking popularity of the sport, along with location issues specific to Golfsmith and its inability to find a buyer, led to the move.

      “It’s the same story line as before – the game is still shrinking. Plus, stores are too big and they are too close to each other,” said Bloomberg analyst Chen Grazutis.

      Declining popularity

      The financial problems that Golfsmith faces can be traced primarily to the diminishing popularity of golf with consumers. Since 2003, the number of golfers has dropped from 30.6 million to 24.1 million, according to the National Golf Foundation. The sport has fallen out of favor especially with young people, with statistics showing a 30% drop in participation over the past 20 years.

      This has led to liquidity problems for retailers like Golfsmith, who relied on getting low prices from suppliers in order to beat out its competitors. When people stopped buying as much merchandise, these favorable deals began to disappear, which put even more pressure on the company. Inevitably, it had a large influence on its decision to file for bankruptcy, said Chief Restructuring Officer Brian Cejka.

      Winners and losers

      Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy isn’t a surefire indicator that a company will go out of business, though. Golfsmith will now have the opportunity to try to reorganize in order to stay afloat and pay its creditors over time. However, its inability to find a buyer may indicate that it will have to close many stores in order to make it out of the woods.

      The company currently operates 109 stores in the U.S. and 55 in Canada, but closing too many may hurt other businesses that supply it with inventory. Nike Inc., Adidas AG, and Under Armour Inc. all do a good amount of business with Golfsmith and would suffer from its closings.

      However, one company that may benefit from Golfsmith’s struggles is Dick’s Sporting Goods. If the former were to close many of its stores, that would open the door for the latter to snatch up many displaced customers. Dick’s may also consider buying some of Golfsmith’s closed locations, much like it did with Sports Authority.

      Experts point out that while Dick’s may win out in the long-run, it may suffer in the immediate wake of store closings. In order to clear out inventory, Golfsmith will likely be offering huge discounts at many of its closing locations that should attract customers.

      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...

      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 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.

      New York's attorney general is reportedly looking into Exxon's accounting practices, with potential impact on Exxon Mobil shareholders.New York Attorne...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      Debt collection companies sued for $10 million over robocalls

      Prosecutors say that consumers were harassed even if they didn't owe any money

      Debt collection company iQor, along with its subsidiary Allied Interstate LLC, have been sued for $10 million by four district attorneys in California. The state officials said that the companies violated a number of consumer protection acts when they used automatic dialing systems to harass consumers with robocalls.

      The complaint states that consumers were hounded by these calls for months, even when they owed no money. Prosecutors say that one consumer from San Jose received 126 calls in less than a month, while another man from Sunnyvale received 88 calls over a three-month period until he finally blocked the number.

      iQor has defended its actions, and the actions of its subsidiaries, saying that the district attorneys were too quick to “suspend productive dialogue” centered around Allied’s “long-retired debt collection practices in favor of protracted litigation.”

      “Allied enjoys an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau, is currently under no material regulatory restrictions at the federal or state level and is committed to consumer protection both within the state of California as well as the rest of the country,” said iQor officials in a statement. “Allied looks forward to defending this matter and continuing to improve its collection practices as industry expectations evolve.”

      Violations

      The charges do not look favorable for either of the companies, though. Prosecutors say that both firms violated a number of provisions from California’s Rosenthal Act, the state’s constitutional right to privacy, and the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act – which forbids companies from using automatic dialing systems to call consumer cell phone numbers without consent.

      The district attorneys also charged that the companies violated established consumer protections by calling before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. The companies also allegedly tried to collect debts that had previously been discharged during bankruptcy.

      It isn’t the first time that Allied has faced regulatory scrutiny. From 2004 to 2011, the company was embroiled in several legal battles with state agencies across the country, including cases in Minnesota, Arizona, West Virginia, Maryland, Oregon, California, Florida, and Ohio. The company also paid $1.75 million to the FTC in 2010 for harassing consumers and trying to collect debts from the wrong people.

      Debt collection company iQor, along with its subsidiary Allied Interstate LLC, have been sued for $10 million by four district attorneys in California. The...

      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 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).

      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...

      Beverage industry sues to block soda tax in Philadelphia

      The complainants say the new tax is unconstitutional

      Back in June, Philadelphia became one of the first cities to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, the funds for which would go towards aiding pre-kindergarten education and other initiatives. However, the proposal did not sit well with small businesses or the beverage industry, and now a lawsuit from these groups will seek to block it.

      The American Beverage Association, along with residents and businesses in the Philadelphia area, allege that the new tax is unconstitutional because it duplicates the effects of a 6% sales tax that is already imposed on sugar-sweetened beverages.

      “The relevant question is whether the City’s Tax is imposed on the same subject matter, personal property, and/or transaction as a preexisting Commonwealth tax,” stated the complaint, adding that the current tax on soda and soft drinks is “precisely the same subject and property” of a preexisting city tax.

      Unconstitutional?

      Proponents of the bill say it isn’t unconstitutional because the tax is imposed at the distributor level, not the retail level. Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney, a major backer of the bill, says he’s confident that the moneyed interests of the beverage industry won’t be able to defeat the bill.

      “While it is repugnant that the multi-billion-dollar soda industry would try to take away these educational and community programs from the hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who need them, we were not surprised by their lawsuit given the ten million dollars they have already spent opposing the tax,” he said.

      Those against the bill responded to Kelly’s statements saying that they’re not against education, but that the structure of the bill is unsound.

      “We are not against pre-K, but it should be funded the right way. As we’ve said throughout, rather than relying on [a] tax based on speculative revenue projections and paid for on the backs of small businesses and low-income families, the city should seek a broad-based solution to sustainably fund these programs,” said Anthony Campisi, member of the advocacy group Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax Coalition.

      Unfairly burdens consumers

      Detractors say that the main problem with the bill would be that it unfairly burdens consumers with additional costs, especially those at the low-income level and those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The burden will fall to consumers, they say, because businesses will raise prices to offset the extra costs.

      “Due to the Tax, a low-income Philadelphia resident making the same purchases he or she had made prior to enactment of the Tax will be able to purchase fewer groceries for the same amount of money than prior to the imposition of the Tax. The grocery bill increase will be dramatic for a SNAP recipient, who bears the entire cost of the Tax on the purchase of a soft drink,” said the complainants.

      “Given how great the tax burden is relative to the market price at the retail level and wholesale price at the distribution level for many beverages, it would be economically infeasible for a distributor or retailer to absorb the Tax.”

      Gearing up

      The new tax is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, and both sides seem to be gearing up for the ensuing legal battle, with neither giving much ground to the other.

      “Philadelphia has lots of ways to raise revenue,” said Shanin Specter, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “But this tax on beverages is plainly illegal.”

      “We have always been confident that the Sweetened Beverage Tax was a proper exercise of City Council’s authority and that it will be upheld in Court,” countered City Solicitor Pedro Tulante in a statement.

      Back in June, Philadelphia became one of the first cities to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, the funds for which would go towards aiding pre-kinde...

      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 a freak accident. But further investigation pointed to the vehicle's electronic gear selector, which critics said could contribute to so-called "rollaway" incidents.

      Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.1 million Jeeps and other models to modify the gear selector after saying it knew of 212 accidents, 41 of them involving injuries. 

      Now two Jeep owners have filed separate injury lawsuits, saying their cars rolled over their legs, leading to months of physical therapy and life-changing impairment.

      Began to roll

      New Hampshire plaintiff and mother of five, Becky Peoples, was injured when her Jeep rolled over both of her legs after it dragged her and knocked her face-first onto the ground in a fight to stop the vehicle.

      Peoples had put her vehicle in park while preparing to leave home with her daughter. After she exited the Jeep, it began to roll. As she fought to regain control of the rollaway Jeep, it hit a neighbor’s mailbox and rolled across the street, dragging her along and rolling over her legs.

      The damage to her legs left her unable to walk, and she was in braces for 12 weeks.

      Fiat Chrysler sent an investigator to evaluate Peoples' car, but then sent her a letter stating the accident was her own fault, the lawsuit alleges.

      Mailing a letter

      In the second lawsuit, Daneen Holcomb, of the Charlottesville area of Virginia, suffered severe ankle sprains, soft tissue injury, contusions, and deep lacerations to her heels and feet. She endured tremendous swelling of her feet and ankles and intense pain. 

      According to the lawsuit, Holcomb had stopped at the end of her driveway to place outgoing mail in her mailbox. She put the car in park, then opened the door and stepped out. The Jeep began to roll, the open door pushed Holcomb to the ground and the front wheel of her Jeep rolled over her feet and ankles.

      The Jeep continued to roll off Holcomb’s property and into the neighbor’s yard, where it struck a parked school bus.

      Failure to fix problems

      Fiat Chrysler also faces a national class-action lawsuit which alleges that the defect affects 811,000 vehicles, according to the Hagens Berman law firm, which also filed the individual suits on behalf of Peoples and Holcomb. The class action charges the automaker fraudulently concealed and failed to remedy the defect.  

      “811,000 is no small figure,” attorney Steve Berman said. “That’s 811,000 individuals who could wind up suffering the life-altering traumatic injuries that our clients have faced. We want to put a stop to it, and Fiat Chrysler has shown that unless it is forced to act, it will sweep these injuries under the rug.”

      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...

      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. 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.

      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...

      Welspun sheets aren't made of Egyptian cotton as advertised, class action alleges

      Linens at many big box retailers were falsely labeled

      Textiles supplier Welspun India Ltd. has landed itself in hot water recently. Consumer groups say sheets and towels being passed off as 100% Egyptian cotton are actually made from much cheaper cotton.

      Last month, Target severed ties with Welspun over the misrepresentation. Now, two class action lawsuits have been filed against the supplier.

      “Consumers who have purchased Welspun bed linens have overpaid for an inferior product,” a plaintiff alleged in the first lawsuit, which was filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP. On Aug 31, a second class action case was filed in a Missouri federal court.

      ‘Widespread fraud’

      Welspun, India’s largest textiles manufacturer, supplies home goods to a number of U.S. retailers including Wal-Mart, Macy’s, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

      Wal-Mart recently ousted Welspun sheets from its stores, but Target was the first retailer to completely end its relationship with the supplier. Target is considering filling the void left by Welspun with linens made by Trident Ltd., another Indian textiles supplier.  

      Other retailers who stock Welspun home goods have begun to investigate the matter further. Since the fallout, Welspun shares have fallen 2.2% to 56.6 rupees, Bloomberg reports.

      In an effort to make amends, Welspun has hired Ernst & Young LLP to audit its supply processes. The supplier says it will also adopt new labeling practices.

      What to do

      If you purchased Fieldcrest sheets from Target between Aug 2014 and July 2016, you may be entitled to a refund.

      Target has begun letting consumers know that they will get a refund on certain products (two lines of Egyptian cotton bedding) under the Fieldcrest label, as they may not be made of Egyptian cotton as stated. To request a refund, consumers can submit a web form.

      If you purchased the Better Homes and Gardens brand or Canopy brand 400 thread count damask striped sheet sets and pillowcases marked as "100% Egyptian cotton" from Wal-Mart, you may return them for a refund.

      Textiles supplier Welspun India Ltd. has landed itself in hot water recently. Consumer groups say sheets and towels being passed off as 100% Egyptian cotto...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 to figures released by the Department of Labor (DOL) The PPI was also unchanged for the 12 months ended in August.

      Goods and services prices

      The cost of goods one step shy of the retail level was down 0.4%, with 80% of that due to a decline of 1.6% in food costs. In addition, energy prices were down 0.8%.

      A breakdown shows meat prices fell 3.6%, with prices for gasoline, fresh and dry vegetables, jet fuel, chicken eggs, and diesel fuel also lower. The cost of pharmaceutical preparations, meanwhile, jumped 1.0%, with prices for electric power and natural, processed, and imitation cheese also higher. Goods prices excluding foods and energy inched up 0.1%.

      Services costs, on the other hand, edged up 0.1% in August with prices for outpatient care (partial) advancing 0.5%. Also on the rise were the costs of apparel, jewelry, footwear, and accessories retailing; guestroom rental; portfolio management; and residential real estate services (partial).

      Conversely, prices for machinery and equipment wholesaling plunged 2.9%. Chemicals and allied products wholesaling, services related to securities brokerage and dealing, and airline passenger services also fell.

      Core inflation

      The PPI less foods, energy, and trade services, so-called “core inflation,” was up 0.3% in August after no change a month earlier.

      For the 12 months ended in August, the core rose 1.2% -- the largest rise since a 1.3% surge for the 12 months ended December 2014.

      The complete report may be found on the DOL website.

      Inflation on the wholesale level -- what the government calls “the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand” -- showed no change last month, according t...

      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% 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.

      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.

      Retail sales dipped in August -- the first decline in five months.According to the Commerce Department, sales were off 0.3...

      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 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.

      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...

      Mercedes-Benz recalls GLC 300 SUV, GLC 300 4Matic SUV, C300 Sedan and C300 4Matic vehicles

      The Electronic Stability Program control unit may have been damaged before being installed

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 62 model year 2016 GLC 300 SUV, GLC 300 4Matic SUV, C300 Sedan and C300 4Matic vehicles manufactured February 8, 2016, to May 18, 2016.

      The recalled vehicles may be equipped with an Electronic Stability Program (ESP) control unit that may have been damaged before being installed.

      A damaged ESP control unit may inadvertently activate the stability control altering the vehicle's path. Additionally, the electronic parking brake may not function. Either condition may increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the ESP Hydraulic control units, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in October 2016.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 62 model year 2016 GLC 300 SUV, GLC 300 4Matic SUV, C300 Sedan and C300 4Matic vehicles manufactured February 8, 201...

      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. 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.

      Widespread problems hit Google's popular Gmail service late this morning, Eastern Time. There was no immediate explanation from Google, but users flooded s...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.”

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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?

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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'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.

      Hackers and cybercriminals keep getting smarter and more sophisticated, making government and private IT professionals scramble to keep up. Perversely, it'...

      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 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.

      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...

      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, 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.

      From the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), word that mortgage applications rose for a third consecutive week.According to the MBA's weekly survey, ap...

      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 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.  

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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."

      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...

      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 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. 

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      AT&T, Verizon lift data caps for some customers

      Net neutrality activists are unhappy about the 'zero rating' plans

      Net neutrality is supposed to mean that all content on the Internet is treated equally by carriers, but wireless carriers are finding ways to push the envelope.

      In the latest example, AT&T is lifting wireless data caps for customers who also subscribe to DirecTV or U-Verse, meaning those customers can watch life or recorded shows on their wireless device without burning up their monthly data ration. 

      To take advantage of it, you'll need the latest DirecTV app, already available for iOS and coming soon for Android.

      Verizon, meanwhile, has added NFL mobile service to its Go90 short video service on the "zero rating" list. Verizon Wireless customers can watch either without eating into their data cap. But be careful! If you gorge on ESPN or YouTube, it's a different story -- each digit will count against you.

      You can thank T-Mobile for starting all this with its Binge On service, which offers zero data usage counts for a long list of video attractions.

      It's basically a marketing ploy intended to encourage customers to load up on services from the same provider -- to get both wireless and satellite or cable TV from AT&T or Verizon. 

      It's a sore point, though, for consumer activists, who say that while the zero rating deals may be technically legal, they violate the spirit of net neutrality. They're pushing the Federal Communications Commission to clamp down on the practice, but so far the FCC has apparently found nothing actionable about it.

      Net neutrality is supposed to mean that all content on the Internet is treated equally by carriers, but wireless carriers are finding ways to push the enve...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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.

      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...

      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 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