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Consumer groups ask Facebook to clarify content removal policies

The company has said that it will be allowing more 'newsworthy' and 'significant' content in the future

As social media continues to flourish in the Internet Age, many consumers are beginning to first hear about news through their online accounts. First-hand...

PhotoAs social media continues to flourish in the Internet Age, many consumers are beginning to first hear about news through their online accounts. First-hand accounts of incidents straight from the people who witnessed them can be very powerful, but many worry whether some of these accounts are being censored.

That’s the case for over 70 rights groups that reportedly asked Facebook on Monday to clarify its policies for removing content. The groups allege that the social media giant has repeatedly acquiesced to governments and agencies that ask it to block user content and posts that show human rights violations.

They cite recent examples, in which the company blocked content showcasing police violence and Vietnam imagery, as well as the suspension of two accounts belonging to Palestinian journalists. The groups say that this kind of censorship is dangerous because it deprives people of news from the source.

“News is not just getting shared on Facebook: it’s getting broken there. .  . When the most vulnerable members of society turn to your platform to document and share experiences of injustice, Facebook is morally obligated to protect that speech,” the groups said in a letter.

Preventing censorship

The letter goes on to say that censoring content not only prevents the spread of news, but perpetuates the injustices that many posts seek to expose. The groups say that blocking content related to police brutality “sets a dangerous precedent that further hurts and silences marginalized communities, particularly communities of color.”

In particular, the groups point out the case of Korryn Gaines, whose account was deactivated by Facebook after she was fatally shot by Maryland police after an armed standoff. According to multiple sources, the deactivation occurred after Baltimore police issued an emergency request through the company’s “law enforcement portal.”

The groups asked Facebook to clarify its content removal policy, especially in regards to live broadcasts and journalistic material. It also asked the company to provide a platform in which users could protest the removal of content.

Facebook responds

In an announcement made later in the day, Facebook addressed the issue of content removal and said that it would be allowing more content in the future that would have been removed previously.

Senior executive Patrick Walker addressed “The Terror of War” photo – a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photo of a Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War – which was blocked from the accounts of a Norwegian author and newspaper last month. He affirmed that Facebook would be doing more to make sure controversial and newsworthy material was being protected and circulated.

“We have made a number of policy changes after The Terror of War photo. We have improved our escalation process to ensure that controversial stories and images get surfaced more quickly. . . in the weeks ahead, we are going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest, even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” he said.

Though he could not provide further details, Walker told Reuters that Facebook was beginning to address its guidelines for removing content so that changes can be implemented.

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Why move to Canada when Mexico beckons?

Despite the vilification we heap on Mexico, it is a friendly and welcoming country

As my colleague Mark Huffman notes in a report on migrating to Canada, it's not something to be taken lightly. For one thing, Canada doesn't much want you...

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How to immigrate to Canada

Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump supporters may find this helpful

In the election cycles since the American population became so ideologically polarized, there has always been a celebrity or two declaring “I'm leaving the...

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How to prepare your dog for the arrival of a new baby

Set the stage for a harmonious future by teaching your pup how to interact with the baby

Although opinions on the term pet “parent” may vary, there’s no denying the fact that pet ownership is a big responsibility. In households without children...

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Southwest reaffirms its stance on not charging baggage fees

CEO Gary Kelly spares 'no thought whatsoever on charging bags'

The airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in reve...

PhotoThe airline industry can be a harsh business. In a world where money is king and companies are always looking out for the bottom line, not scraping in revenue from every available source is practically unheard of.

However, “practically” may be the operative word. Southwest Airlines has been under pressure to generate more revenue. The company is the only one of the largest commercial airliners in the U.S. that doesn’t charge a baggage fee, so the money is there for the taking. But, according to a Los Angeles Times report, CEO Gary Kelly has stated that the company won’t be doing that, at least for now.

“We have a unique and beloved position in the industry with this approach and we would be foolish to squander it, so no thought whatsoever on charging bags,” Kelly said in a recent quarterly earnings call.

Southwest woes

The decision to let bags fly for free is great for consumers, but it potentially costs Southwest millions every year. Last year, the top 13 airline companies raked in $3.8 billion in bag fees, along with another $3 billion in charges that consumers paid for changing or canceling flight reservations – another service that Southwest doesn’t charge for.

As a result, investors have cranked up the heat on the company to start tapping these revenue streams. Recent earnings reports haven’t been very favorable; last quarter’s earnings were down by nearly $200 million year-over-year, and the recent technology outage in July cost the company dearly. Kelly also cites increased competition as a major factor in the company’s bad fortunes.

“The fare environment is very competitive and we have seen an increase in competitor seats in our markets that is fairly significant year-over-year,” he said.

The CEO says that he has plans to bring in more revenue soon, though he remained tight-lipped about what those plans actually involved. “Well, it’s just not ready for prime time. And I’d rather not share with our competitors where we see opportunities for a variety of reasons,” Kelly explained.

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Hospitals show some improvement in safety

But an estimated 200,000 Americans still die from medical errors

When people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to...

PhotoWhen people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to find yourself.

In the past, hospitals didn't always have access to the latest treatments. Today, most have excellent capabilities, but they don't always have the resources or systems to handle the patient load. This can lead to breakdowns in safety that can result in patient injures and infections.

According to Leapfrog, which conducts annual hospital reviews, hospital mishaps kill over 200,000 Americans each year, making hospital mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Making the grade

Since not all hospitals are alike and some have much better safety records than others, it might be prudent to consult the data before selecting a hospital. In the latest Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, which judged 2,633 hospitals and assigned letter grades, 844 earned an "A," 658 earned a "B," 954 earned a "C," 157 earned a "D" and 20 earned an "F."

That means 57% of hospitals were ranked as either “excellent” or “good,” and only 6% were found to be “poor” or a “failure.” Of course, that's small comfort for patients admitted to that 6% of hospitals.

Leapfrog found that geography sometimes plays a role, with some states able to attract the best hospital administration and best medical talent. North Carolina is a prime example. It was ranked 19th in spring 2013 for the number of “A” rated hospitals. In the current ranking, it's number five.

Idaho has moved from number 45 – the the bottom of the list in 2013 – to number two today, one reason that the state has begun to attract more retirees. At the same time, Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C., have no “A” rated hospitals.

Not equally competent

"In the fast-changing health care landscape, patients should be aware that hospitals are not all equally competent at protecting them from injuries and infections,” said Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder. We believe everyone has the right to know which hospitals are the safest and encourage community members to call on their local hospitals to change, and on their elected officials to spur them to action.”

You might think with hospital errors causing so many deaths each year, health policymakers would carefully keep track of them. However, they don't. The 200,000 figure is only an estimate.

As we reported earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins have called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a category for hospital errors, much as it has for other health threats. The researchers say cancer and heart disease tend to get most of the attention. They say that since "medical errors" isn't an official category, it doesn't get the funding it needs.

You can find out how hospitals in your area ranked here.

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Experimental Alzheimer's drug shows promise

Cleveland Clinic researchers say NTRX-07 targets the disease, not the symptoms

Despite potential breaththroughs in Alzheimer's disease research, a cure has remained out of reach.But researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have present...

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IRS unveils 2017 pension plan limitations

There's no change in the limit for 401(k) contributions

An increase is on the way from the Internal Revenue Service pertaining to income ranges and determining eligibility for making deductible contributions to...

PhotoAn increase is on the way from the Internal Revenue Service pertaining to income ranges and determining eligibility for making deductible contributions to traditional IRAs, contributing to Roth IRAs, and claiming the saver’s credit.

You can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA if you meet certain conditions. For example, if during the year either you or your spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction may be reduced, or phased out, until it is eliminated -- depending on filing status and income. If neither is covered, the phase-outs of the deduction do not apply.

Next year's phase-out ranges

  • For single taxpayers covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $62,000 to $72,000 -- up from $61,000 to $71,000.
  • For married couples filing jointly, where the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $99,000 to $119,000, versus $98,000 to $118,000.
  • For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $186,000 and $196,000 -- up from $184,000 and $194,000.
  • For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The new income phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $118,000 to $133,000 for singles and heads of household. This year it was $117,000 to $132,000.

For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is now $186,000 to $196,000, versus $184,000 to $194,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The income limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $62,000 for married couples filing jointly, up $500; $46,500 for heads of household, up $375; and $31,000 for singles and married individuals filing separately, up $250.

No change for these limitations

  • The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $18,000.
  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $6,000.
  • The limit on annual contributions to an IRA is unchanged at $5,500. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000.

Details are outlined in IRS Notice 2016-62.

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September's consumer spending increase outpaces incomes gain

Durable goods accounted for the bulk of spending

Consumers enjoyed an increase of $46.7 billion, or 0.3%, in personal income in September.The Commerce Department reports disposable personal income (DP...

PhotoConsumers enjoyed an increase of $46.7 billion, or 0.3%, in personal income in September.

The Commerce Department reports disposable personal income (DPI), what's left after the government takes its cut, rose $37.0 billion.

Last month's rise was due mainly to increases in compensation of employees and nonfarm proprietors’ income.

Spending on the increase

At the same time personal consumption expenditures (PCE), also called consumer spending, jumped 0.5% or $61.0 billion. The advance was largely the result of an increase in spending for durable goods -- things like cars, refrigerators, and computers.

The PCE price index, a measure of inflation, was up 0.2%, with the “core Rate,” which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, inching up 0.1%.

Personal saving totaled $797.8 billion last month – down $9.8 billion from August, although the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of DPI -- remained at 5.7%.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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Jury awards $70 million in baby powder cancer case

Plaintiffs charge Johnson & Johnson knew of alleged cancer risk; the company denies it

Concerns that women were unknowingly placing themselves in danger by using baby powder for feminine hygeine date back to 1971, when gynecological researche...

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How to make sure your child's Halloween costume is safe

Tips to help parents avoid costume-related health and safety dangers

For children, picking out a costume is often half the fun of Halloween. But parents have the responsibility of making sure that every element of their chil...

PhotoFor children, picking out a costume is often half the fun of Halloween. But parents have the responsibility of making sure that every element of their child’s costume is safe.

Not every look-completing accessory or article of clothing your child chooses to don on Halloween may be safe. Before allowing kids to head out for a night of trick-or-treating, parents should know that their child’s costume won’t cause any frightening consequences.
 

Face makeup and other popular Halloween accessories can cause irritation and infection, while the fit of the costume itself can also cause problems. To help ensure kids’ safety on Halloween, it can be smart to take the costume for a test run a few days before the big night.

Using costume caution

Here’s what parents can do ahead of Halloween to make sure their child’s costume is safe, according to Jill Creighton, MD, Medical Director of Ambulatory Primary Care Pediatrics.
  • Test makeup beforehand. Two to three days before Halloween, parents can test out non-toxic face makeup on their child’s arms to make sure there’s no skin reaction. After the kids are home from trick-or-treating, make sure to wash off all makeup to avoid eye and skin irritation.  
  • Avoid decorative contact lenses. As we reported, decorative contact lenses aren’t always safe or even legal. They can impair vision, cause an infection, and irritate the eye. Creighton recommends not allowing children to wear decorative contact lenses at all.
  • Prevent trip-ups. Costumes and shoes should be checked by parents to make sure they fit properly. Creighton notes that a baggy costume that drags on the ground may cause trips, slips, and falls. Oversized high heels can also cause falls.
  • Choose fire-resistant fabrics. Costumes and accessories should be flame-resistant, just in case your child brushes up against a candle-lit Halloween decoration during the night.
  • Keep kids visible. The U.S. National Safety Council recommends placing reflective tape on costumes and trick-or-treat bags to help other people and motorists see children after the sun has set. Choosing light-colored costumes can also keep kids from blending into the night. 
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How the presidential election is affecting consumers' holiday spending this year

The National Retail Federation says uncertain consumers are being more cautious

With November just around the corner, many consumers across the U.S. would normally be shopping up a storm for the upcoming holiday season. While that’s st...

PhotoWith November just around the corner, many consumers across the U.S. would normally be shopping up a storm for the upcoming holiday season. While that’s still sort of true this year, a report from the National Retail Federation shows that many are modifying their plans. Why, you might ask? Well, it has something to do with another important event happening in early November.

According to an NRF flash poll conducted earlier in October, a quarter of consumers said that the upcoming presidential election will impact their spending for the holiday season. Forty-three percent said that they would be more cautious with their spending due to the uncertainty of who will win the race.

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay says the campaign season has also forced retailers to delay advertising for holiday deals, which may have affected consumers.

“Everywhere you turn – whether you’re picking up a newspaper or watching television – political advertisements are taking up ad space that retailers typically use to get holiday shopping on the minds of consumers across the country,” he said.

However, NRF says that while spending will be down from last year, it will still be at a relatively high level. The association estimates that consumers will spend an average of $935.58 on gifts for others, self-spending, food, flowers, decorations, and greeting cards for the holidays. That’s a decrease of $17 from last year, but it’s the second highest total since 2004.

“Once the election has passed, we anticipate consumers will pull themselves out of the election doldrums and into the holiday spirit,” said Shay. “Retailers should prepare for a rush of consumers in the weeks following the presidential election as they get more economic and political certainty and are looking to take advantage of promotions and deals that are too good to pass up for their friends, family and even themselves.”

Self-spending increases

NRF also predicts that self-spending will increase this holiday season, as consumers try to take advantage of good deals. Poll results indicate that 58% of shoppers plan to buy something for themselves; NRF predicts that consumers will spend an average of $139.61 on these purchases, up 4% from last year.

“Many shoppers are taking the approach of ‘one for you, two for me’ this holiday season. Retailers are preparing by offering a wide array of merchandise and promotions – items shoppers want to give as great gifts at prices so good they want to buy for themselves too.”

Spending on others will still eclipse self-spending, though, as the NRF says consumers will spend an average of $588.90 on gifts for family and friends.

When it comes to where they’ll shop, consumers indicated that they’ll split their time pretty evenly between department stores (57%), online sources (57%), and discount stores (56%). Online shoppers will be looking to take advantage of free shipping as much as possible, though some will pay a little extra by opting for expedited shipping (17%) or same-day delivery (10%). 

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Feds make arrests in major international scam

Elaborate scheme was based out of five call centers in India

Indictments in connection with massive scams are rare. Arrests are even rarer, since the perpetrators tend to work outside the U.S.Despite that, the Ju...

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Economic growth gets a bump in the third quarter

Consumer spending helped power the increase in GDP

The economy stepped it up in the third quarter of the year, according to the government's "advance" look at how things are going.According to the Comme...

PhotoThe economy stepped it up in the third quarter of the year, according to the government's "advance" look at how things are going.

According to the Commerce Department, real gross domestic product (GDP) expanded at an annual rate of 2.9% in the July-September period after growing just 1.4% in the second quarter.

It's important to note that the information used to calculate economic performance is incomplete and/or subject to further revision. An updated estimate will be released in late November.

Growth factors

The third quarter increase in real GDP reflects contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE) -- consumer spending -- exports, private inventory investment, federal government spending, and nonresidential fixed investment. Those were partly offset by declines in residential fixed investment and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

The acceleration from the second quarter came from an upturn in private inventory investment, an acceleration in exports, a smaller decrease in state and local government spending, and a turnaround in federal government spending. They were partly offset by a smaller increase in PCE, and a larger increase in imports.

Not much to cheer about

Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza isn't impressed. She points out that even with the 2.9% growth rate for the third quarter, "with such minimal growth across the first six months of the year, the average pace of activity for the year thus far remains a disappointing 1.7%."  

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

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H-E-B recalls star chairs due to fall hazard

Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from the base

H-E-B is recalling about 650 Brazos Embossed star chairs.Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from base, posing a fall hazard to consumers....

PhotoH-E-B is recalling about 650 Brazos Embossed star chairs.

Weld defects can cause the armrest to detach from base, posing a fall hazard to consumers.

The company has received one report of the armrest detaching from the base. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Brazos Embossed star chairs that are brown metal with welded construction and an embossed star design on the back of the chair.

The white hangtag on this item has the following product identification: UPC number 8502430906 and item code number 194781. The chair is 24 inches wide and 33.5 inches high.

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at H-E-B stores in Texas from February 2016, through September 2016, for about $60.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chair and return it to the store where purchased for a full refund.

Consumers may contact H-E-B at 800-432-3113 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.heb.com and click on “Recalls” for more information.

 

 

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Twitter cuts 9% of its workforce and decides to shut down Vine

The moves are an attempt to halt a long stretch of slowing revenue growth

The hardships seem to keep mounting for Twitter. Due to stagnant user growth and a compendium of other factors, the company recently began looking to sell...

PhotoThe hardships seem to keep mounting for Twitter. Due to stagnant user growth and a compendium of other factors, the company recently began looking to sell itself off. In the last few weeks, there seemed to be a good number of buyers lining up for a shot to snap up the social media platform – including Google and Disney.

A deal has yet to pan out, though, and many companies have walked away from the negotiating table. That may very well have contributed to an announcement today that the company would be cutting 9% of its workforce, mostly in sales and marketing, and shutting down its Vine mobile app, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Company struggles

While Twitter started off very well, recent times have not been kind to the company. It has produced nine straight quarters of slowing revenue growth and the number of monthly active users began stalling as early as last year; the well-known social media platform boasts 700 million accounts, but only 317 million are active each month, and an even lower number are active on a daily basis.

Shareholder expectations have also gradually lowered for Twitter, as share prices have declined by 50% since the summer of 2015. Altogether, the company lags far behind its competitor Facebook, which has done very well during the same period and attracted more advertisers.

“Twitter monetizes its user base at about half the rate of Facebook, and we are not sure it can close the gap entirely,” said Mark Mahaney of RBC Capital Markets.

Despite the hardships, the company has said it is committed to finding a sustainable path forward. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey has stated that adjusting the user interface will be a key element of the company’s future strategy.

“We will make tweeting easier and more meaningful by providing more context and letting people not only broadcast to the world but also have deeper, open conversations about the topics they care about. . . We’re focused on building the largest, most comprehensive news network on the planet,” he said in a statement.

Shutting down Vine

In a separate announcement today, Twitter said that it will be shutting down its Vine mobile app in the coming months. Twitter bought Vine before it had even launched in January, 2013, and for a while it did pretty well. The app uses a six-second format that has been great for capturing sports highlights, singing exhibitions, or comedically timed moments.

However, Vine never seemed to live up to Twitter’s performance standards. The founders of the app gradually left, and the launch of other services like video on Instagram stunted its potential. Over half of the top 9,725 accounts on the app had been deleted or had stopped posting by July, with content creators leaving for greener pastures on sites like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

Although Twitter hasn’t given a precise date for when the app will be shut down, it has guaranteed users that they will be able to download their videos before the plug is pulled.

“We value you, your Vines, and are going to do this the right way. You’ll be able to access and download your Vines. We’ll be keeping the website online because we think it’s important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website,” the company said in a statement.

“To all the creators out there – thank you for taking a chance on this app back in the day. To the many team members over the years who made this what it was – thank you for your contributions. And of course, thank you to all of those who came to watch and laugh every day.”

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Purple Carrot meal kits may be heading to Whole Foods

Could grocery store shelves be the next stop for gourmet meal kits?

In an effort to cater to younger consumers’ love of convenience and plant-based meals, Purple Carrot is bringing its meal kits to Whole Foods stores.In...

PhotoIn an effort to cater to younger consumers’ love of convenience and plant-based meals, Purple Carrot is bringing its meal kits to Whole Foods stores.

In an increasingly busy world, home-delivered meal kits are streamlining the cooking experience and making it easier than ever for consumers to whip up a meal fit to be shared on social media.
 

But the ability to pick up a Purple Carrot meal kit at the grocery store may have advantages of its own. In a statement, Andy Levitt, founder and CEO of the company, noted that consumers seem ready to see healthy, portioned-out meal kits somewhere other than on their doorstep.

“Over the last year, we’ve listened to the feedback of our busy consumers who also wanted to find our products on grocery shelves. With that in mind, we have created a new product so people can pick up their meal kits when they shop at Whole Foods Market,” Levitt said in a statement.

No subscription

Purple Carrot meal kits are currently only available in one Boston-area Whole Foods store, but more locations are expected to follow if the pilot program is successful.
 
Offering consumers the ability to purchase meal kits individually instead of requiring them to commit to a subscription may signal a new trend in meal kits.
 

As Fast Company reported, one of the biggest challenges for the meal kit industry is holding onto clients. Only half of Blue Apron customers continue after the first week of service and other meal kit programs face similar hurdles in getting clients to stick around.

"We recognize that now, more than ever, our customers are in need of convenience without the sacrifice of quality and nutrition,” said Kimberley Rose, Vice President of Purchasing for Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic region. “Purple Carrot has created a great product that will help us to provide our customers with one more way to continue to eat well even on the busiest of days.”
 

Purple Carrot's in-store meal kit offerings are set to include Mongolian Seitan Stir Fry, Pan Seared Tofu and Black Rice Noodles, and Cashew Korma with Cauliflower Rice. Each meal kit will be available for $19.99.

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Three highly rated airline credit cards

Consumers who travel a lot might benefit from one of these

Consumers should be aware by now that there are big advantages to using a rewards credit card, and in particular, a card that rewards certain things.Fo...

PhotoConsumers should be aware by now that there are big advantages to using a rewards credit card, and in particular, a card that rewards certain things.

For example, most consumers are probably better off with a cash-back credit card, which pays as much as 2% on all purchases or as much as 5% on certain categories.

But frequent air travelers might profit more from using a card that rewards in miles. We've identified three such cards that are worth a look.

Capital One VentureOne Reward

Consumers who carry the Capital One VentureOne Reward Card earn an unlimited 1.25 miles on every purchase, making it easy to rack up miles. As an added bonus, there is no annual fee – a rarity in this class of credit card.

When you earn 100 miles, you've earned $1 dollar in travel rewards. But the rewards come a lot faster for new cardholders, who get 20,000 bonus miles if they make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card activation.

You can redeem your miles as a statement credit. As added perks, the rewards don't expire and you can carry a balance the first year without paying any interest.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard's Rewards

Another good choice for frequent travelers is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard's Rewards Card. You earn two times the miles on all purchases.

Right off the bat, new cardholders get 50,000 bonus miles if they spend $3,000 in the first 90 days of card activation. That adds up to a $500 travel statement credit.

The miles don't expire and you get 5% miles back every time you redeem, to use toward the next redemption. There's an $89 annual fee, but it's waived the first year. The card also has a 0% introductory balance transfer rate for 12 months if the transfer is made within the first 45 days.

Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

For consumers who find themselves flying Delta most of the time, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express might be a good fit. It pays two miles for every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta, and a mile for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

New card members earn 30,000 bonus miles if they make $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of card activation and earn an extra $50 statement credit just by making a Delta purchase during that time.

There are also some air travel-specific perks as well. Card members can check their first bag for free on every Delta flight, saving $100 on a round-trip. They also enjoy jumping to the head of the line with priority boarding.

There's a $95 annual fee, but it's waived the first year.

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Verizon executive says the company needs more information on the Yahoo data breach

What they find out could affect how much they pay for their acquisition

It’s been a little over a month since Yahoo confirmed details of its massive data breach, which compromised information on roughly 500 million user account...

PhotoIt’s been a little over a month since Yahoo confirmed details of its massive data breach, which compromised information on roughly 500 million user accounts. When the news broke, many people speculated whether it would affect Verizon’s acquisition of the company – a deal that had been struck in July for around $4.8 billion.

Those rumors began heating up at the beginning of the month when reports suggested that Verizon was pushing for a $1 billion discount because Yahoo had not disclosed information about the breach. And now, only a couple of weeks later, talk will be swirling about what Verizon actually intends to pay.

According to a report from Reuters, a Verizon executive stated at a tech conference that buying up Yahoo still made good business sense. However, she said that Verizon still needed more information about the breach, which will ultimately affect how much the company plans to pay.

“I’ve got an obligation to make sure that we protect our shareholders and our investors, so we’re not going to jump off a cliff blindly,” said Marni Walden, president of Product Innovation and New Businesses at Verizon.

Uncertain future

As we reported previously, the Yahoo acquisition gives Verizon a lot of advantages. The company acquired AOL back in 2015, and combining it with Yahoo would give the company a strong competitive rival to the likes of Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market.

At the conference, Walden showed her enthusiasm for the prospective combination, pointing out that the deal could allow Verizon to cater more to brands, since Google and Facebook focus more on social media and search, respectively. “We can help other brands build inside of a very open, friendly marketplace,” she said.

However, not having all the information on Yahoo’s data breach could be a sticking point. When asked if Verizon could potentially back out of its acquisition deal, Walden was non-committal, simply asking for the next question. Leaving the door open in this way certainly won’t make the folks over at Yahoo sleep any easier.

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New car sales drop sharply in October

For consumers, that can create some bargains

Consumers continue to flock to new car showrooms, but in fewer numbers this month. With October drawing to a close, industry analysts are predicting sales...

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Pending home sales head higher in September

Sales are now at their fifth highest level over the past year

Following a drop of 2.5% in August, pending home sales have climbed to their their fifth highest level over th...

Photo
Photo (c) davizro photography – Fotolia

Following a drop of 2.5% in August, pending home sales have climbed to their their fifth highest level over the past year.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that increases in the South and West helped push its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, up 1.5% in September to 110.0.

The index has now risen year-over-year for 22 of the last 25 months and is up 2.4% from the same time a year ago.

“Buyer demand is holding up impressively well this fall with Realtors reporting much stronger foot traffic compared to a year ago,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Although depressed inventory levels are keeping home prices elevated in most of the country, steady job gains and growing evidence that wages are finally starting to tick up are encouraging more households to consider buying a home."

Regional breakdown

  • Pending home sales in the West shot up 4.7% last month to 107.3, and is now 4.0% above a year ago.
  • The index in the South rose 1.9% to a reading of 122.1 and stands 1.7% above where it was in September, 2015.
  • The PHSI fell 1.6% to 96.5 in the Northeast, but is still 7.7% the same time last year.
  • In the Midwest the index slipped 0.2% to 104.6 and is now 1.0% below its level in September 2015.
Photo
Photo (c) Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Jobless claims

From the Department of Labor (DOL), there's word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits fell in the week ending October 22 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000.

That's down 3,000 from the previous week and marks 86 consecutive weeks of initial claims below 300,000 -- the longest streak since 1970.

The four-week moving average, considered by many economists to be a more accurate barometer of the labor market, inched up by 1,000 to 253,000.

The complete report is available on the DOL website.

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Dodge Vipers with airbag issues recalled

The wires for the driver's front airbag may be pinched.

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 14 model year 2016 Dodge Vipers manufactured May 24, 2016, to August 28, 2016 on which the wires for the driver's front...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 14 model year 2016 Dodge Vipers manufactured May 24, 2016, to August 28, 2016 on which the wires for the driver's front airbag may be pinched.

If the wires are pinched, the airbag may not deploy properly in the event of a crash necessitating airbag deployment, increasing the risk of injury.

What to do

Dodge will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front airbag and clockspring, free of charge.

The recall is expected to begin on November 18, 2016. Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's recall number for this recall is S75.

 

 

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Toyota recalls model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles with braking issue

The foot-operated parking brake system that has a parking brake cable that may disengage

Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 91,585 model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles manufactured August 6, 2015, to October 3, 2016.The re...

PhotoToyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 91,585 model year 2016-2017 Prius vehicles manufactured August 6, 2015, to October 3, 2016.

The recalled vehicles are equipped with a foot-operated parking brake system that has a parking brake cable that may disengage.

If the parking brake cable disengages from the mechanism and the transmission is left in a gear other than 'Park' while the ignition is on and the driver leaves the vehicle, the vehicle may roll unexpectedly, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will install a clip at the parking brake cable end to prevent the cable from disengaging, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 11, 2016.

Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-270-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is G01.

 

 

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Gaiser's European Style Provision recalls chicken and pork bologna products

The products may contain nonfat dry milk, an allergen not declared on the label

Gaiser’s European Style Provision Inc., of Union, N.J., is recalling approximately 3,895 pounds of chicken and pork bologna products formulated with meat a...

PhotoGaiser’s European Style Provision Inc., of Union, N.J., is recalling approximately 3,895 pounds of chicken and pork bologna products formulated with meat and poultry products that were not federally inspected.

Additionally, the products may contain nonfat dry milk, an allergen not declared on the product label.

There are no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following bologna items, produced from October 6, 2016 – 20, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “Gaiser’s RUSSIAN BRAND PROFESSORSKAYA BOLOGNA” pork bologna with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 10-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “Gaiser’s PROFESSORSKAYA” pork bologna with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “NetCost Market PROFESSORSKAYA BRAND BOLOGNA” with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “Gaiser’s CHICKEN BOLOGNA” with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 3-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “Gaiser’s CHICKEN BOLOGNA” with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.
  • 1-lb. chubb artificial casing containing “NetCost Market CHICKEN BOLOGNA” with various packaging dates from Oct. 10, 2016 to Oct. 21, 2016.

The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 5385 or P-5385” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations and/or for institutional use in California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

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 Igor Denisenko at (908) 686-3421.

 

 

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Google parent Alphabet pulls the plug on Google Fiber

Companies back away from fiber, which helped free them from the yoke of oppressive regulations

If you've been waiting for Google Fiber to come to your city, you can stop waiting. It's not coming. Like Verizon and other carriers that once enthusia...

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EpiPen rival resuming sales next year

The Auvi-Q was recalled because of dosage problems that the company says have been resolved

Mylan NV’s aggressive pricing of its EpiPen emergency injector has brought Congressional investigations, widespread denunciation from consumer and health a...

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FanDuel, DraftKings, reach settlement with New York

Both firms pay the state $6 million over marketing practices

The long and bitter war between the two major daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises and the state of New York has reached a peaceful conclusion.New Yo...

PhotoThe long and bitter war between the two major daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises and the state of New York has reached a peaceful conclusion.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached separate $6 million settlements with both companies, which run games where players can win money based on the performance of actual players on their “fantasy” teams.

Last fall, as DFS games were reaching their height of popularity, Schneiderman sued both DraftKings and FanDuel, claiming both were in violation of New York's gambling laws. The two companies fought the suits, saying they offered games of skill, not chance.

In the end, the settlement revolves around Schneiderman's charges that both companies engaged in false and deceptive advertising. The complaint alleged both companies misled novice players about their chances of winning, giving “false and misleading” statistics about the odds.

During the protracted litigation, Schneiderman secured an injunction preventing both companies from offering games to New York residents. Between March and August, the companies were not allowed to accept money from New Yorkers.

Terms of the settlement

In agreeing to terms, both DraftKings and FanDuel agreed to change marketing practices, providing clear disclosure of terms and conditions and information about expected performance.

“Today’s settlements make it clear that no company has a right to deceive New Yorkers for its own profit,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “DraftKings and FanDuel will now be required to operate with greater transparency and disclosure and to permanently end the misrepresentations they made to millions of consumers. These agreements will help ensure that both companies operate, honestly and lawfully in the future.”

The issue of whether DFS violates New York's gambling laws went away in August, when New York enacted legislation that specifically says DFS is a legal activity. Most other states have enacted similar laws.

Fantasy sports began as an informal hobby among sports enthusiasts. These informal “leagues” lasted an entire season, with participants getting points each week based on how their players performed in real games.

DFS made it a professional enterprise, allowing participants to form different teams daily or weekly, winning money if their “team” won. Critics said there was little difference between that and betting on the outcome of a game.

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Scientists plan to release more mosquitoes in fight against Zika

Introducing mosquitoes with a counteractive infection should lower mosquito-borne diseases

You might think having more mosquitoes around would aggravate mosquito-borne viruses like Zika, chikungunya, and dengue fever. However, according to a BBC...

PhotoYou might think having more mosquitoes around would aggravate mosquito-borne viruses like Zika, chikungunya, and dengue fever. However, according to a BBC report, that’s just what scientists plan to do in Brazil and Colombia to fight recent, dangerous outbreaks.

The $18 million project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an international team of donors, will release millions of mosquitoes that are infected with a certain bug called Wolbachia -- a natural bacterium that makes mosquitoes less able to transmit viruses to people.

While the bug already infects around 60% of mosquitoes worldwide, scientists have modified it over the past decade so that it also affects mosquitoes in the Aedes genus, the group most responsible for spreading diseases like Zika and Dengue.

The plan is for these infected mosquitoes to be introduced into the greater population and breed with uninfected mosquitoes. The resulting offspring will also carry the bug and will be less able to contract dangerous viruses and pass them along to humans, effectively cutting transmission rates. Wolbachia also uses many of the resources that dengue and Zika need to replicate, so the added competition makes it much harder for the diseases to survive.

Safe for humans

The scientists working on the project want to make it clear that they have done extensive research on Wolbachia. Consistent findings show that it does not harm humans.

“In the communities we have already worked with there have initially been two concerns. One was that the mosquitoes might harm them in some way or that there might be some unintended consequences. It is a testament to our community engagement teams working really closely with communities to answer questions that all the communities we work with are fully supportive,” explained Professor Scott O’Neill from the Eliminate Dengue Program.

“We explained Wolbachia bugs are present in so many insects worldwide that millions of humans come into contact with them everyday with no problems. And in the six years we have been doing these trials there have been no problems,” he added.

Affordable, sustainable protection

The plan has the potential to provide a great deal of protection against dangerous viruses that plague us now.

“It’s affordable, sustainable, and appears to provide protection against Zika, dengue and a host of other viruses. We are eager to study its impact on how it can help countries,” said Dr. Trevor Mundel of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Researchers plan to start trials in large urban areas in Bello, Colombia, parts of Antioquia, and the greater Rio de Janeiro areas. The program will be monitored for three years to see how effective it is at reducing cases of dengue fever, Zika virus, and chikungunya virus.

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What parents can do to make Halloween healthier for kids

Here's what to do with all that candy your child brings home

Halloween and candy go hand-in-hand, but consuming too many sugary treats can be harmful to kids’ health. So how can parents keep their children from overi...

PhotoHalloween and candy go hand-in-hand, but consuming too many sugary treats can be harmful to kids’ health. So how can parents keep their children from overindulging in sweets this year?

To start, it’s important to recognize that moderation is key. Allowing kids to have one or two pieces of candy after trick-or-treating is okay, says Karla Shelnutt, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences nutrition expert.
 

But after Halloween, parents should make sure to watch kids’ candy intake. Shelnutt recommends that parents space out the rest of the candy over days or even weeks. In addition, parents may want to explain to their kids why eating too much candy at once isn’t a good thing.

What else can parents do to limit kids’ sugar and fat intake during the spookiest time of the year? Here are a few tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Tips for a healthier Halloween

Shelnutt notes that kids who are between the ages of 6 and 8 need around 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day; just one or two candy bars can provide about 10% of those calories.
 
To keep kids healthy and reduce the risk of childhood obesity, parents can make an action plan to help reduce the temptation that may stem from having too much candy around.
 
Here’s what parents can do to keep an influx of Halloween candy from impacting kids' health, according to the academy: 
  • Consider not buying candy
  • Don’t open the candy too early
  • Establish limits
  • Portion control
  • Make candy trades by finding things your kids want more and switch out for the candy
  • Don’t leave candy in plain sight
  • Be mindful
  • Donate extra candy

Alternative treats 

Parents can also consider buying healthier alternative treats to pass out on Halloween and have around the house during the days and weeks that follow.

Having several fun, non-candy options around can go a long way towards helping kids stay healthy. Here are a few alternative treats to consider: 

  • Cheddar flavored crackers
  • 100% fruit snacks or leathers
  • Sugar-free gum
  • Animal-shaped crackers
  • Mini rice cereal treat bars 
  • Cereal bars made with real fruit
  • Individual fruit cups
  • Mini 100% fruit juice boxes 
  • Low-fat pudding cups 
  • Pretzels 
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Target unveils holiday shopping strategy

Survey shows growing backlash against Thanksgiving Day openings

Retailers are trying to get a leg-up on competitors in the holiday shopping sweepstakes, especially as spending continues to migrate to the internet. Many...

PhotoRetailers are trying to get a leg-up on competitors in the holiday shopping sweepstakes, especially as spending continues to migrate to the internet. Many retail analysts believe Amazon is poised to capture a bigger slice of the pie, which may motivate competitors to offer even more enticing deals.

Target has taken the wraps off its 2016 holiday strategy, saying it plans to offer new and exclusive inventory in every product category, as well as a wide range of bargains.

“Target is at our very best during the holidays, and we’re building on last year’s winning formula to make the 2016 holiday season even better,” said Target CEO and Chairman Brian Cornell.

Cornell said the strategy is built around helping consumers save both time and money, both in stores and online.

“Most importantly, guests will find truly exceptional value through broad and simple offers timed to maximize savings on the most-shopped merchandise at each point in the season,” he said.

Introducing the Wondershop

New this year is Wondershop, sort of shop within a shop that specializes in Christmas decorations. The company has also developed Wonderlist, which it says is a tool to find gifts for family and friends.

For children, Target says it will feature about 1,000 new items from the recently introduced Cat & Jack line, with price tags under $30. There will be more than 1,800 new or exclusive toys, an increase of about 15% over 2015.

Preparing for a burst in virtual reality popularity, Target says it will feature newly released VR products, including PlayStation VR and VR One Plus.

Frowning on Thanksgiving openings

Target is among the major retailers that have not yet announced plans for Thanksgiving Day. While a large number of stores plan to remain closed the day before Black Friday, Target is among the retailers expected to try to get a jump on holiday spending.

Shopping site BestBlackFriday.com is out with a survey of consumers that shows an overwhelming number prefer stores to close Thanksgiving Day and give employees the holiday off. Its survey shows only 8.18% of consumers “strongly favor” a store being open Thanksgiving Day, while 37.72% “strongly dislike” the idea.

“The vast majority of the population does not view the practice of stores dragging their employees and shoppers out of their homes on Turkey Day in a positive light,” the authors write.

Even so, the site suggests plenty of consumers will shop on Thanksgiving, most likely ordering things online rather than going to stores.

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Don't get tricked by zombie debt

There are ways to deal with debt that has come back to life

Calls from debt collectors are always unpleasant. But when the calls are trying to collect so-called “zombie debt,” they can be downright scary."As the...

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A September bounce-back for sales of new homes

Prices of all homes continued climbing

New home sales have rebounded from the sharp decline they posted in August.Figures released by the Commerce Department s...

Photo
Photo (c) Gajus - Fotolia

New home sales have rebounded from the sharp decline they posted in August.

Figures released by the Commerce Department show sales jumped 3.1% in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 593,000. The increase also puts sales 29.8% above the rate of 457,000 chalked up a year earlier.

Pricing and inventory

The median sales price -- the point at which half cost more and half less -- was $313,500, up $19,700 from August and $5,900 from September 2015. The average sales price was $377,700, a gain of $21,500 from the previous month and $9,900 year-over-year.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of September was 235,000, which translates to a supply of 4.8 months at the current sales rate.

The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

Photo
Photo (c) waldemarus

Home prices

From the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), word that home prices were on the rise in August.

According to the agency, its House Price Index (HPI) was up 0.7% following an advance of 0.5% in July. On a year-ovcr-year basis, prices were up 6.4%.

For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from July 2016 to August 2016 ranged from no change in the West North Central division to +1.2% in the New England division.

The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +3.3% in the Middle Atlantic division to +7.9% in the Pacific division.

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

The complete report may be found on the FHFA website.

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Mortgage applications on the decline following slight uptick

Contract interest rates were mixed

Following a move -- albeit small -- to higher ground the previous week, mortgage applications posted a decline of 4.1% in the week ending October 21.Th...

PhotoFollowing a move -- albeit small -- to higher ground the previous week, mortgage applications posted a decline of 4.1% in the week ending October 21.

The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the Refinance Index dropped 2% from the previous week, although the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 62.7% of total applications from 61.5% a week earlier.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came in at 4.2% of total applications, the FHA share inched down to 11.1% from 11.3% the week prior, the VA share was 12.2%, 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) dipped two basis points -- from 3.73% to 3.71% -- with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.36 (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) slipped to 3.71% from 3.72%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose two basis points to 3.56%, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went down to 3.01% from 3.03%, with points increasing to 0.28 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dropped four basis points to 2.93%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

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

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Airline ticket costs decline

But the add-ons keep mounting

Consumers traveling by air this past spring saw the amount they paid for a ticket go down.The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Stat...

PhotoConsumers traveling by air this past spring saw the amount they paid for a ticket go down.

The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reports the average domestic air fare dropped to $353 in the second quarter down 9.6% from $390 at the same time a year ago, adjusted for inflation.

The second-quarter 2016 fare was down 26.2% from the average fare of $478 in 1999 -- the highest inflation-adjusted second quarter average fare in 21 years since BTS began collecting air fare records in 1995.

Nickle-and diming you

In recent years, the amount of additional revenue obtained from fees charged to passengers as well as from other sources has increased. U.S. passenger airlines collected just 74.3% of their total revenue from passenger fares during the second quarter of 2016, compared with 87.6% in 1995.

Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include fees for optional services, such as baggage fees, and do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares.”

BTS reports average fares based on domestic itinerary fares. Itinerary fares consist of round-trip fares, unless the customer does not purchase a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included.

The complete report is available on the BTS website.

 

 

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Fiddle Diddles recalls car seat strap systems

Small internal parts can pose a choking hazard to young children

Fiddle Diddles of Maple Grove, Minn., is recalling about 250 LullaBelay car seat strap systems.The carabiners attached to the strap system contain smal...

PhotoFiddle Diddles of Maple Grove, Minn., is recalling about 250 LullaBelay car seat strap systems.

The carabiners attached to the strap system contain small internal parts that can become dislodged, posing a choking hazard to young children.

No incidents or injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Fiddle Diddles LullaBelay adjustable car seat strap system with model number LB1001. The strap system includes two fabric straps, carabiner hardware, a mesh car seat cover and a tote bag. The carabiners are used to hang a car seat from a shopping cart.

The model number is printed on the gray straps. “Fiddle Diddles” is printed on a fabric label attached to the mesh car seat cover, tote bag and fabric straps.

The strap system, manufactured in China, was sold online at Amazon.com from November 2015, through June 2016, Fiddlediddles.com from May 2015, through June 2015, and at Zoolikins stores in Arizona from November 2015, through June 2016, for about $40.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the LullaBelay strap system and contact Fiddle Diddles for a free repair kit with three new carabiners. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

Consumers may contact Fiddle Diddles toll-free at 888-741-2957 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at info@fiddlediddles.com or online at www.fiddlediddles.com and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom of the page for more information.

 

 

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Crider recalls canned organic roasted chicken breast

The product may be contaminated with foreign materials

Crider Inc., of Stillmore, Ga., is recalling approximately 5,610 pounds of canned organic roasted chicken breast that may be contaminated with foreign mate...

PhotoCrider Inc., of Stillmore, Ga., is recalling approximately 5,610 pounds of canned organic roasted chicken breast that may be contaminated with foreign materials.

The company has received a report of a potential injury associated with consumption of this product.

The following Wild Planet Organic Roasted Chicken Breast, produced on January 16, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 1,496 cases of 5 ounce cans of “Wild Planet Organic Roasted Chicken Breast – 100% Chicken Breast & Sea Salt – No Liquids Added” with a Best Buy Date of 01/16/18

The recalled item, bearing establishment number “EST. 31812” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to multiple distributors for further distribution.

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 Judy Tridico at (912) 562-9162

 

 

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Court approves $15 billion VW diesel settlement

The approval closes another chapter in the 'clean diesel' scandal that shook confidence in automakers

A federal court judge today approved the $15 billion settlement between Volkswagen and consumers who owned or leased a Volkswagen or Audi 2.0-liter TDI "cl...

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DirecTV Now will provide 100 channels for $35

AT&T says the bargain-priced service will debut later this year

Taking a page from Walmart's "falling prices" slogan, AT&T; says its streaming TV package, DirecTV Now, will cost just $35 a month for 100 channels when it...

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What's in a name? A bit less, if it's Trump

Trump's vulgar remarks about women have damaged his brand as well as his campaign

The video clip showing Donald Trump making vulgar comments about women didn't do much for his campaign prospects and studies have also found it damaged his...

PhotoThe video clip showing Donald Trump making vulgar comments about women didn't do much for his campaign prospects and studies have also found it damaged his hotel and consumer product brands. But daughter Ivanka's brands appear unscathed.

A study by the New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy Brand Keys, Inc., revealed that in 100% of the categories Brand Keys has tracked, the Donald Trump brand had been negatively affected. But in a follow-up survey regarding Ivanka Trump, Brand Keys found that the damage to her brand was insignificant compared to that of her father's.

In a national survey conducted among Millennial female shoppers, Brand Keys found that 83% were positively disposed to Ivanka Trump'’s line of clothing or shoes– despite her involvement in her father'’s presidential campaign.

"“It'’s apparent that consumers can separate the political from the paternal,”" noted Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys.

Still willing

A study conducted among 950 female Millennial shoppers found more than half (51%) are still extremely or very willing to keep the Ivanka Trump brand on their shopping lists. Asked how likely they would be to consider buying her line of shoes or clothing,” responses fell as follows:

Extremely Likely 18%
Very Likely 33%
Somewhat Likely 32%
Not Very Likely 11%
Not At All Likely 6%

"While some groups have called for a boycott of all things Trump, “Ivanka'’s comments have been pretty balanced regarding the campaign overall,"” said Passikoff. "“She'’s been extraordinarily articulate about issues and generally supportive of her father, something anyone should have expected.”"

But, Passikoff noted, she did not rush to her father's defense when the obscene video surfaced on Oct. 7, perhaps a strategically wise move given the lack of damage her brand appears to have incurred.

Passikoff said his firm has been tracking the Trump brand for more than 20 years and at one point, it was the most powerful "human brand" ever, scoring higher than even Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods.

"But recent revelations, and his ongoing political rhetoric, have badly damaged his brand, and history proves that when a brand has been damaged this badly, it generally doesn’t come back," Passikoff said.

Defensive move?

Damage to the Trump brand has perhaps been felt most sharply in the hotels that bear his name. The new Trump Hotel that is about to open in Washington, D.C., has reportedly slashed room rates in response to lower than anticipated reservations.

In Chicago, event planner Beth Bernstein asked the local Trump Hotel to take her name off its list of preferred vendors. "“I simply cannot bring myself to walk in the door there any longer,” she said, according to a widely quoted Associated Press account.

For now, at least, the D.C. hotel -- housed in an old post office building -- is sticking with the Trump name, but a new chain of hotels being planned by the Trump Organization will be known as Scion. The name, notes a Trump news release, designates a "descendant of a noble family."

But unlike the 14 luxury Trump Hotels, Scion will be a more modest chain, similar to W Hotels and will feature rooms renting for just a few hundred dollars per night.

The company claims, not surprisingly, that it had never planned to plaster the Trump name on the new chain, wanting to build it as a distinct brand aimed at younger, less affluent guests. 

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Do you really need a brick-and-mortar bank?

If so, you may have a hard time finding one soon

With direct deposit, ATMs everywhere, and the ability to deposit that birthday check from your grandmother with your mobile phone, do you really need to go...

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Airbnb sues New York after the passing of anti-sublet legislation

The state will not enforce its new law until after the suit has been resolved

It seems that New York has reached a decision regarding its enforcement of short-term rental laws. This past Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill th...

PhotoIt seems that New York has reached a decision regarding its enforcement of short-term rental laws. This past Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that makes it possible for regulators to fine consumers $7,500 if they violate a previous law that forbids rentals of less than 30 days on apartments if the owner or tenant isn’t present.

The law is intended to crack down on apartment owners who rent out their apartments on services like Airbnb instead of using them for long-term rentals; being able to charge at a nightly rate is much more lucrative than setting up a long-term living arrangement, after all. 

However, immediately after the bill was signed, Airbnb sued New York, claiming that the new law “would impose significant immediate burdens and irreparable harm” to the company. Further, it says the law violates Airbnb’s right of free speech and the protection it’s guaranteed under the Communications Decency Act – a provision that protects websites from being held responsible for anything published by its users.

Law won't be enforced right away

Josh Meltzer, head of Airbnb’s public policy in New York, has voiced his disgust at the passing of the new legislation, indicating that lobbying from New York’s hotel industry had a heavy hand in the decision.

“In typical fashion, Albany backroom dealing rewarded a special interest – the price-gouging hotel industry – and ignored the voices of tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, the state agreed that it would not enforce the law until Airbnb’s suit was resolved, but the potential loss of the New York City market could be a big blow to the company. As of this past August, New York City accounted for 45,000 Airbnb listings, while the rest of the state combined accounted for only 13,000 listings.

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Honda preparing launch of fuel cell model

The Honda Clarity will debut in California in the next few weeks

Lately, the automotive world has been focused on self-driving technology. But automakers are also developing ways to make vehicles more fuel efficient, reg...

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AT&T: most cyber attacks use old weapons

Report says businesses need to do better job of using existing cyber defenses

The denial of service attack that last week briefly blocked access to major web sites was amazingly simple. Hackers used malware to infect millions of inte...

PhotoThe denial of service attack that last week briefly blocked access to major web sites was amazingly simple. Hackers used malware to infect millions of internet-connected devices, then ordered them all to access Amazon and other sites at the same time.

A new report from AT&T suggests that attack may have been typical of the kinds of threats businesses are facing. Most of today's cyber-attacks, the report claims, are “known threats.” In other words, protections and protocols should be in place to mitigate them. In many cases, however, they aren't.

Because these attacks are not that complicated, the report warns that anyone from a nation state to a student is capable of bringing down an organization's network, or as we saw last Friday, of tying up a big chunk of the internet.

The AT&T study shows that 90% of companies reported a malware attack in the last year, where infected software infiltrated their network. Also, in the last year, 73% of companies reported at least one distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

Perhaps of greatest concern was that there was a 700% increase in ransomware attacks, where a hacker encrypted a company or organization's files and would not release them until a ransom was paid.

Even when an organization has adequate security procedures, an employee who makes a mistake – clicking on a bad link, for example -- can cause a dangerous breach.

The enemy we know

"The daunting depiction of newly discovered security threats often gets attention from media and business leaders alike. But in fact, most attackers are targeting businesses using forms of attacks we already know about and can help defend against," said Mo Katibeh, senior vice president of Advanced Solutions, AT&T.

That makes it important, he says, for businesses to remain on guard and constantly improve and update core security protections.

Instead of being focused on what new threats might be emerging, the AT&T report suggests organizations should build their security around the threats that are known, since those are the ones they are most likely to encounter.

In addition to keeping systems updated, the authors stress the importance of the human factor. They say employees should receive extensive training in how to avoid security breaches as part of a security culture within an organization.

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Consumer confidence down for first time in three months

The short-term outlook softened a bit

After posting gains in each of the previous two months, consumer confidence in the economy took a negative turn in October.The Conference Board reports...

PhotoAfter posting gains in each of the previous two months, consumer confidence in the economy took a negative turn in October.

The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index slipped 4.9 points in October -- to 98.6, with the Present Situation Index dropping from 127.9 to 120.6 and the Expectations Index falling to 83.9 from 82.7 the month before

“Consumers’ assessment of current business and employment conditions softened, said Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “while optimism regarding the short-term outlook retreated somewhat.

However she notes that consumers’ expectations regarding their income prospects in the coming months were relatively unchanged. “Overall, sentiment is that the economy will continue to expand in the near-term, but at a moderate pace,” she concluded

The view from consumers

Appraisal of current conditions softened this month, with those who said business conditions are “good” dipping from 27.7% to 26.2% and those who think they're “bad” rising from 15.8% to 17.7%.

Consumers’ assessment of the labor market was also less positive than last month. Those who see jobs as “plentiful” dropped to 24.3% from 27.6%; however, those who think jobs are “hard to get” slipped from 22.3% to 22.1%.

There was less optimism regarding the short-term outlook in October. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months declined to 16.0% from 17.0%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen increased from 10.8% to 12.2%.

Regarding the labor market, the proportion of consumers expecting more jobs in the months ahead fell from 15.7% to 13.1%. At the same time, though, those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 18.1% to 17.0%.

The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to increase was unchanged at 17.5%, while the proportion expecting a decline dropped to 9.8% from 10.4%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cut-off date for the preliminary results was October 13.

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Home prices continue to climb

Portland, Seattle, and Denver led the way

Home prices continued their gains in August on both an annual and month-to-month basis.According to the S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the Nation...

PhotoHome prices continued their gains in August on both an annual and month-to-month basis.

According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the National Home Price Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, was up 5.3% from the same time a year ago.

The 10-City Composite showed a 4.3% annual gain, while the 20-City Composite reported a year-over-year advance of 5.1%.

Portland, Seattle, and Denver reported the highest year-over-year increases among the 20 cities over each of the last seven months. Portland posted an 11.7% year-over-year price increase, followed by Seattle at 11.4%, and Denver with an 8.8% increase.

Ten cities reported greater price increases in the year ending August 2016 than in the year ending July 2016.

Month-over-month

Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index was up 0.5% on a a month-over-month basis, with both the 10- and 20-City Composites posting a 0.4% increase.

The National Index recorded an advance of 0.6% after seasonal adjustment, while both the 10-City Composite and the 20-City Composite reported 0.2% month-over-month increases.

After seasonal adjustment, 14 cities saw prices rise, two cities were unchanged, and four cities posted declines.

This isn't the only encouraging housing news. David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices notes that, “Other housing data including sales of existing single family homes, measures of housing affordability, and permits for new construction also point to a reasonably healthy housing market.”

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Media Megadeal: AT&T buying Time Warner for $85 billion

The biggest media consolidation yet redraws the landscape

It started when Comcast bought NBCUniversal for $30 billion. Then Verizon snapped up AOL and Yahoo. Now the consolidation of media content and distribution...

PhotoIt started when Comcast bought NBCUniversal for $30 billion. Then Verizon snapped up AOL and Yahoo. Now the consolidation of media content and distribution has perhaps climaxed with AT&T's $85.4 billion deal to buy Time Warner, the corporate parent of HBO, CNN, and other media treasures.

The sweeping roll-ups are basically a hedge against a future in which fast-growing rogue players like Netflex, Amazon, or Facebook might be a consumer's first choice for information and entertainment.  

The immediate effect on consumers isn't likely to be noticeable, but, assuming the deal is approved by antitrust regulators, it should make it easier for consumers to get access to the content they want without having to pay hefty cable television fees.

Of course, the downside of consolidation is that it puts more power in fewer hands, often stifling innovation and raising prices over the long term. Those concerns are certain to be studied by the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Justice Department as they review the anti-trust aspects of the transaction.

Trump says no

Among the announced opponents of the deal is none other than GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who told a crowd in Gettysburg, Pa., that if he wins the election, his administration will block it, CNBC reported.

While Verizon's purchase of AOL and its still-pending takeover of Yahoo got lukewarm receptions, the Time Warner acquisition is generally seen as a winner for AT&T. The boards of both companies unanimously approved the deal over the weekend and executives at both firms say it is a natural fit. 

"It's the revolution of both of our businesses," Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes told reporters after the deal was announced. "Whether its the movies, television series, or an original show, we want our audiences to access them whereever they are, whenever they want to. We think AT&T gives us tremendous access to do that."

"Time Warner, we believe, is the clear leader in premium content," said Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T's CEO. Besides HBO and CNN, Time Warner's table includes Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, and Turner Sports. It earlier spun off many of the older Time Inc. print titles as well as AOL.

Besides its vast cellular network, AT&T provides cable service and also operates satellite provider DirecTV. It has announced plans for a streaming version of DirecTV. Time Warner's cable operations were recently taken over by Charter Communications. 

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Feds press carmakers to beef up cybersecurity

High-profile hacks of cars have brought pressure from Congress for stiffer rules

The challenge of making cars safe from hackers is a recent one, and there aren't really any rules of the road that cover the issue. The National Highway Tr...

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Proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger likely to face strong opposition

Public interest, political sectors grow increasingly skeptical of these deals

Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.Over the weekend, AT&...

PhotoConsolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.

Over the weekend, AT&T confirmed that it wants to buy Time Warner for more than $85 billion. It comes on the heels of Verizon's deal to buy Yahoo and AT&T's own purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

But Yahoo Finance reports the deal may have a tough time getting a green light from government regulators. It quotes analysts as saying both the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice are likely to put the deal under a microscope to determine how it will affect consumers.

Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, says these kinds of deals are almost always better for the combined businesses than for their customers.

Time to grab your wallet

"Any time you hear media executives talking about synergies, throwing around the business-babble that always accompanies these rumors, you know it’s time to grab your wallet and hang on tight,” Wood said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Big mergers like this inevitably mean higher prices for real people, to pay down the money borrowed to finance these deals and compensate top executives.”

Wall Street, of course, was quick to celebrate the proposed deal, because reducing competition and combining resources is usually good for the bottom line. But Wood says the evidence is clear that it doesn't help consumers. He says AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV was followed by price hikes.

"It’s a good thing there’s a renewed interest among lawmakers and antitrust enforcers in addressing this merger-mania,” Wood said. “It’s also a good thing we have solid Net Neutrality rules on the books — even though companies like AT&T continue to test those rules in the market, threaten them in Congress, and challenge them in the courts.”

Bipartisan opposition

Opposition to the proposed deal also surfaced on the presidential campaign trail. Speaking in Pennsylvania, GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump denounced the deal in unusually harsh terms, saying “deals like this destroy democracy.” If elected, Trump said his Justice Department would move to quash the merger.

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) took to Facebook over the weekend to express his reservations.

“I'm skeptical of huge media mergers because they can lead to higher costs, fewer choices, and even worse service for consumers,” Franken wrote in a post. “And regulators often agree, like when Comcast unsuccessfully tried to buy Time Warner Cable, a deal that I fiercely opposed.”

In the coming days, Franken said he will press for further details about the proposed deal and how consumers would be affected.

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Airbnb plans rule changes in anticipation of coming New York legislation

The company hopes to stop renters from taking advantage of the system

Last week, we reported on how a new bill making its way through the New York legislature could impose strict fines on consumers who violate the state’s ren...

PhotoLast week, we reported on how a new bill making its way through the New York legislature could impose strict fines on consumers who violate the state’s rental laws. If passed, this could create a big problem for Airbnb, a company that relies on offering short-term rentals from users to make its money.

It is already illegal in New York to rent an apartment or living space for less than 30 days if the owner or tenant of a property isn’t present, and proponents of the bill say that services like Airbnb hurt hotels and take apartments off the long-term rental market because owners are more willing to rent them out on a nightly basis for more money.

However, the new changes that Airbnb is suggesting for New York would limit hosts to having one rental listing at a time, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The company has also vowed to kick users from the service if they violate the rule three times.

Additionally, Airbnb has stated that it will be seeking authority from the state to collect and remit taxes from hosts, as well as require additional registration, so that regulators can more easily crack down on illegal activity and keep permanent housing at a safe level.

Placative measures

Airbnb’s proposal can be seen mostly as a placative measure to change lawmakers’ minds about the state’s proposed bill. It is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo, but if it is passed into law then consumers may face fines of up to $7,500 if they advertise illegal rentals. It would be a big deterrent for hosts who use Airbnb to make a little money when they’re out of town.

Airbnb has come out against the bill, saying that it leaves consumers in a touch financial spot by cutting off a potential source of revenue.

“It’s baffling to us in this time of economic inequality that folks would be looking to impose fines of as much as $7,500 on a middle-class person looking to use the home that they live in to help make ends meet,” said Airbnb head of global policy Chris Lehane.

Whether the company’s changes will be enough should be decided by the end of the month. Gov. Cuomo has until October 29 to sign or veto the bill. Choosing not to act on it will result in it becoming law anyway. 

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For men, the effects of a happy childhood may span decades

Having a caring family could translate to a more secure marriage, study finds

Growing up in a warm, caring household could give men an advantage when it comes to managing stress. Researchers say this could, in turn, make them more li...

PhotoGrowing up in a warm, caring household could give men an advantage when it comes to managing stress. Researchers say this could, in turn, make them more likely to be in a happy marriage when they’re older.

Findings from a recent study, published online in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that a nurturing childhood could pave the way for a secure marriage later in life.

According to researcher Robert Waldinger of Harvard Medical School, loving families play a big role in helping children develop certain social and emotional skills that can help them in their relationships decades later.

Better emotional management

To conduct the study, Waldinger and his colleagues studied 81 men for over six decades, beginning when they were teens. Half of the men went to Harvard; the others were from inner-city Boston.
 

The researchers gathered information on participants’ early home environment through questioning, interviews with their parents, and developmental histories recorded by a social worker.

By the time the men reached middle age, the researchers discovered that those who had grown up in caring homes were better at managing stress. This important ability was found to come in handy in participants’ marriages.  

“Our study shows that the influences of childhood experiences can be demonstrated even when people reach their 80s, predicting how happy and secure they are in their marriages as octogenarians,” said Waldinger.
 

“We found that this link occurs in part because warmer childhoods promote better emotion management and interpersonal skills at midlife, and these skills predict more secure marriages in late life.”

"Far-reaching effects"

It’s no surprise that the effects of a happy childhood can be felt within a marriage, but these findings show just how long-lasting the effects can be.
 
Having a happy home life as a kid can have "far-reaching effects on well-being, life achievement, and relationship functioning throughout the lifespan," Waldinger said.
 
The study’s co-author, Marc Schulz, a professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, adds that it is “remarkable that the influence of childhood on late-life marriage can still be seen” decades after adolescence.
 
Dr. Waldinger's TED talk on the study can be viewed here
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Credit card worries weighing on consumers

Survey finds credit cards are a much bigger concern than student loans

Student loan debt has been a growing concern over the last three years, as the outstanding loan total has surged past $1 trillion.And make no mistake,...

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TD Ameritrade to acquire Scottrade

Consolidation continues among online stock brokers

Two online brokerages, which retail investors use to make stock purchases without paying a traditional full-service broker, are merging.TD Ameritrade h...

PhotoTwo online brokerages, which retail investors use to make stock purchases without paying a traditional full-service broker, are merging.

TD Ameritrade has announced plans to acquire rival Scottrade in a cash and stock transaction valued at $4 billion. Both companies give consumers the ability to purchase financial assets online for commissions of $10 or less per transaction. Of the two firms, Scottrade has the lower fee.

The proposed merger, which must first clear regulatory hurdles, will take place in two steps. TD Ameritrade will buy Scottrade Bank from Scottrade Financial Services, Inc. for $1.3 billion in cash considerations.

Scottrade Bank will be absorbed into TD Bank, N.A., an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary. TD will also purchase $400 million in new common stock from TD Ameritrade in connection with the proposed transaction.

After that, TD Ameritrade will acquire Scottrade Financial Services, Inc. The companies did not say whether Scottrade would continue as a separate service and brand, but it is unlikely that it would. The statement announcing the deal said it would provide $450 million a year in synergies, and Scottrade founder and CEO Rodger Riney will be appointed to the TD Ameritrade board.

Built on mergers

TD Ameritrade is the product of a series of mergers going back more than 30 years. It began as a small bank in Omaha, Neb., and introduced a telephone-based stock ordering system in 1988.

When the internet produced a number of small, discount online brokerages, Ameritrade made several acquisitions between 1995 and 2006. In 2006, it acquired one of its largest rivals, TD Waterhouse, adopting the TD prefix to its brand.

Scottrade was founded in 1980 as a retail stock brokerage that offered no advice, but simply took orders over the phone. It became an online brokerage in 1996.

TD Ameritrade currently charges $9.99 on transactions to buy or sell assets. Scottrade charges $7.

TD Ameritrade said it values Scottrade for its strong customer service reputation. It notes that the company ranked “Highest in Investor Satisfaction with Self-Directed Services” in the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Self-Directed Investor Satisfaction Study.

Assuming regulators approve, TD Ameritrade said it expects the deal to close by the end of September 2017.

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Brookwood Farms recalls pulled pork product

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

Brookwood Farms of Siler City, N.C., is recalling approximately 126,570 pounds of pulled pork product.The product contains soy, an allergen not declare...

PhotoBrookwood Farms of Siler City, N.C., is recalling approximately 126,570 pounds of pulled pork product.

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

There have been no confirmed reports of injury, illness, or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following fully cooked, pulled pork item, produced between June 12, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 5-lb. plastic bags containing “COOKED PULLED PORK CARNITA STYLE.”

The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 1740” inside the USDA mark of inspection and code 15006 on the label, was distributed for institutional use nationwide.

What to do

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

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Craig Wood at (919) 663-3612 ext.226. 

 

 

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Model year 2015-2016 Ford Edge vehicles recalled

The vehicles may have incorrect Antilock Brake System and Electronic Stability Control software

Ford Motor Company is recalling 53 model year 2015-2016 Ford Edge vehicles manufactured February 9, 2015, to August 12, 2016.During dealer servicing, t...

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How technology can help save your trip

Here are some handy gadgets that will help keep your travels on track

It wasn’t until we boarded our train that my husband realized he was missing his travel bag with his iPad. Our techie daughter remotely locked the device a...

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Why the internet has gotten so annoying

Advertising threatens to obscure the web's more useful functions

Once upon a time – let's say five or 10 years ago – the average internet user could enjoy a wide range of free content on the internet in relative peace....

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New York looks to crack down on Airbnb

A prospective law could mean fines of up to $7,500 for consumers who list their homes

Airbnb has faced regulatory obstacles for years now. In the past, several state agencies had called on the company to make the names of hosts available. An...

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Study suggests fast food calorie posting is probably pointless

Consumers need to know what calories mean and be motivated to reduce them

Fast food chains will soon be required to post calorie information on menus but researchers at New York University say that based on the experience of chai...

PhotoFast food chains will soon be required to post calorie information on menus but researchers at New York University say that based on the experience of chains that have already taken that step, it won't help. Consumers, they predict, will still make unhealthy food choices.

They've written up their findings in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

McDonalds, Subway, and many other fast food franchises already put calorie information on their menus. While that's laudable, the researchers say only about 8% of customers are digesting the data and using it to order a healthier meal.

Study author Andrew Breck says health policies should focus on what is known about effective messaging and behavior change.

Information by itself is not enough

“The success of fast-food menu labeling depends on multiple conditions being met, not just the availability of calorie information,” he said.

The calorie-posting initiative assumes that consumers will make healthy choices if given the right information. But the obesity epidemic should be evidence that we don't always act in our best interests, even when we know better. Most people know that eating too much food, especially too much of the wrong food, will pack on the pounds. Yet we do it anyway.

The research team says part of the problem is the information about calories simply isn't enough. Consumers need additional information.

First, they must be aware of the labeling. Everyone looks at the menu but not everyone recognizes those numbers beside the menu item.

Motivation is required

Second, the researchers say consumers have to want to eat healthy. Unless they are motivated to do it, they won't.

Third, they have to know what the calories mean. To many, being told the triple cheeseburger and fries has 1,176 calories might not mean anything unless they know that's about half their recommended daily calories.

Interestingly, earlier research done at Arizona State University found similar evidence that most consumers didn't benefit from the calorie information. Those who did, it found, were the most affluent and educated consumers -- consumers who knew how many calories they were supposed to consume each day and were motivated to stay within that number.

This latest study suggests that, until all consumers have a better understanding of calories and have the motivation to eat a healthier diet, they'll probably ignore the soon-to-be-mandated calorie information.

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Child traffic deaths vary widely among states

Child deaths 12 times higher in Mississippi than in Massachusetts, study finds

Children are much more likely to die in a car crash in Mississippi than in Massachusetts. That's among the findings of a new study that found wide variatio...

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Should you open a store credit account?

If you already have a general purpose credit card, probably not

When checking out at a chain department store, the clerk might ask if you would like to open a charge account and get 10% off your purchase. Should you? Pr...

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How to stop yourself from catching a cold

Tips that can help keep your immune system in tip-top, cold-fighting shape

Getting sick isn’t cheap. In fact, a recent study by GoBankingRates found that coming down with a few colds per year can end up costing adults around $1,00...

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Conference Board forecasts continued moderate economic growth

First-time jobless claims shot higher last week

The latest economic forecast from The Conference Board suggests continued moderate growth into 2017.The Board's Lead...

Photo
Photo (c) Melpomene - Fotolia

The latest economic forecast from The Conference Board suggests continued moderate growth into 2017.

The Board's Leading Economic Index (LEI) inched up 0.2% in September following a decline of the same magnitude the month before.

The increase “suggests that the economy should continue expanding at a moderate pace through early 2017.” said Ataman Ozyildirim, Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board.

Housing permits, unemployment insurance claims, and the interest rate spread were the main components lifting the index in September.

Overall, Ozyildirim pointed out, “the strengths among the leading indicators are outweighing modest weaknesses in stock prices and the average workweek.”

How it works

The LEI is a composite average of several individual leading indicators. It's constructed to summarize and reveal common turning point patterns in economic data in a clearer and more convincing manner than any individual component -- primarily because it smooths out some of the volatility of individual components.

The ten components of the LEI include:

  1. Average weekly hours for manufacturing
  2. Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
  3. Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods, and materials
  4. Institute for Supply Management Index of New Orders
  5. Manufacturers' new orders and nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
  6. Building permits for new private housing units
  7. Stock prices of 500 common stocks
  8. Leading Credit Index
  9. Interest rate spread and 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
  10. Average consumer expectations for business conditions
Photo
Photo (c) Marzky Ragsac Jr. - Fotolia

Jobless claims

From the Department of Labor (DOL), word that initial jobless claims surged by 13,000 in the week ending October 15 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000.

Even with that increase, the claims level has been below 300,000 for the 85th consecutive week, the longest streak since 1970.

The four-week moving average, which lacks the weekly headcount's volatility and is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, came in at 251,750 -- up 2,250 from the previous week.

The full report is available on the DOL website.

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Summer Classics recalls swivel rocking lounge chairs

The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base

Summer Classics of Pelham, Ala., is recalling about 800 swivel rocking lounge chairs.The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base...

PhotoSummer Classics of Pelham, Ala., is recalling about 800 swivel rocking lounge chairs.

The seat bucket of the lounge chairs can break away from the base while a user is in the chair, posing a fall hazard.

The firm has received six reports of the lounge chairs breaking. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Summer Classics swivel rocking lounge chairs in the Aire, Belize, Bentley, Charleston, and Skye styles in multiple colors and finishes. The chairs are made for outdoor use and are designed to swivel 360 degrees and rock back and forth.

All the chair styles, except the Bentley style, come with detachable cushions. An “SC” brass logo is affixed to the back of the chairs.

The following chairs are being recalled:

 

Style

Color/Finish

Dimensions

Aire

Ancient Earth/Black Walnut

27”W 27”D 36.25”H

Belize

Oyster

27.25”W 29.5”D 36”H

Bentley

Oyster

29.5”W 31.83”D 35.5”H

Bentley

Black Walnut

29.5”W 31.83”D 35.5”H

Charleston

Mahogany

31”W 36.5”D 37.75”H

Charleston

Oyster

31”W 36.5”D 37.75”H

Skye

Black Walnut

27.25”W 32.5”D 36.75”H

Skye

Oyster

27.25”W 32.5”D 36.75”H

 

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Summer Classics stores and other stores nationwide from September 2015, through October 2016, for between $1,100 and $2,400.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lounge chairs and contact Summer Classics for a full refund. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

Consumers may contact Summer Classics toll-free at 888-868-4267 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.summerclassics.com for more information.

 

 

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Model year 2017 Lincoln Continentals recalled

The headlights may have been built with incorrect lenses

Ford Motor Company is recalling 1,827 model year 2017 Lincoln Continentals manufactured June 14, 2016, to September 23, 2016 and equipped with high intensi...

PhotoFord Motor Company is recalling 1,827 model year 2017 Lincoln Continentals manufactured June 14, 2016, to September 23, 2016 and equipped with high intensity discharge (HID) headlights.

The headlights may have been built with incorrect lenses, adversely affecting the turn signal visibility as well as not being properly marked. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Assoc. Equipment."

Reduced turn signal visibility to other drivers and pedestrians can increase the risk of a crash.

What to do

Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the headlights, replacing them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 7, 2016.

Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16C15.

 

 

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Tyson Foods recalls frozen popcorn chicken products

The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials

Tyson Foods of New Holland, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,148 pounds of frozen popcorn chicken products.The products may be contaminated with extra...

PhotoTyson Foods of New Holland, Pa., is recalling approximately 1,148 pounds of frozen popcorn chicken products.

The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically hard plastic.

There have been no confirmed reports of injury or illness due to consumption of these products

The following frozen, ready-to-eat, whole grain popcorn chicken items, produced on August 10, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 35 cases of 32.79-lb. “TYSON FULLY COOKED, WHOLE GRAIN GOLDEN CRISPY POPCORN CHICKEN, CHICKEN PATTIE FRITTERS” with a case code of “70368/928” on the upper right hand side of the label, and a lot code of “2236NHL33,” which can be found next to the case code.

The recalled products, bearing establishment number “P-1325” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to a wholesale distributor in Illinois and further distributed to schools and food services in Missouri and Illinois.

What to do

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

Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Christina Self at (866) 886-8456. 

 

 

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All Tesla vehicles to have self-driving technology

Industry analyst says it's a big step forward for the auto industry

Tesla's so-called “Autopilot” feature remains somewhat controversial, after a couple of high-profile accidents this year, and the German government wants T...

PhotoTesla's so-called “Autopilot” feature remains somewhat controversial, after a couple of high-profile accidents this year, and the German government wants Tesla to drop the phrase from its advertising.

But the high-tech car maker is doubling down on self-driving technology, announcing that it will be integrated into all Tesla models, including the Model 3.

“Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range,” Tesla said in a statement announcing the move. “Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.”

Tesla also said it is upgrading the onboard computer in Tesla cars with one that processes data 40 times faster than the current one. While Tesla has made clear that its present Autopilot system is merely a driver-assist technology, Akshay Arand, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says the latest move appears to be much closer to true auto pilot.

Big step for the industry

“If Tesla is closing in on Level 4 or even Level 5 autonomy being released to consumers, it’s a big step for the industry,” Arand said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “The question then becomes how it translates to the consumer.”

For example, will each Tesla owner need specific training for handling a car with true autonomous driving capability? Arand says Tesla still has a lot to prove.

“Whether fair or not, Tesla has been under scrutiny with a few accidents concerning Autopilot this year, and the scrutiny will be magnified with this announcement and as the Model 3 edges closer,” Arand predicts. “For now, though, the bigger question is still how Tesla ‘gets there’ in terms of profitability and longer term sustainability.”

Meanwhile, Tesla said the Model S and Model X with the new hardware are already in production. However, the new features won't “go live” until later, after what the company said will be millions of miles of real world driving.

Earlier this year, federal safety investigators began a probe of Tesla's Autopilot system after one of the cars in Autopilot mode hit a truck that had pulled in front of it.

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Red light camera fraud draws prison sentence

Campaign contributions were funneled to local politicians to win contracts

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Google putting together a 'skinny' streaming video bundle

'Unplugged' will offer network shows that make it easier to dump cable

In the race to own the streaming video space, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other services have sort of left Google's YouTube in the dust. Hoping to change th...

PhotoIn the race to own the streaming video space, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other services have sort of left Google's YouTube in the dust. Hoping to change that, Google is starting a new cost-conscious TV package, a "skinny" bundle of TV networks.

Dubbed "Unplugged," the service is apparently meant to appeal to cable cutters who don't want to lose access to major networks and shows. Reports say it will be priced around $25 to $50 a month, which is several times what Netflix and Amazon cost. They don't offer live network shows yet but are rapidly becoming the prime producers of original content.

Google isn't saying anything about Unplugged, but the Wall Street Journal today reported that CBS is one of the first content providers to sign up, with Disney and 21st Century Fox said to be close behind.

Unplugged will use YouTube's infrastructure but will be a separate service and won't be covered by the existing YouTube Red subscription. 

This might bring back memories of Aereo, an audacious start-up that back in 2013 started trying to sell a streaming video service that consisted of local TV channels, also designed as a cable replacement. But because it didn't bother to license the content it was distributing, it was eventually forced to shut down after a series of court challenges.

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Retailers firming up holiday shopping plans

Sam's Club and Macy's take opposite Thanksgiving paths

With Black Friday just over a month away, more retailers are revealing their plans, not only for the official shopping season kick-off, but for advance pro...

PhotoWith Black Friday just over a month away, more retailers are revealing their plans, not only for the official shopping season kick-off, but for advance promotions as well.

Sam's Club has announced a series of pre-holiday sales events, along with its Scan & Go app that allows members to use their smartphones to bypass the checkout line.

To get a jump on Black Friday, the retailer is planning special sale prices starting at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 12. It says the same sale prices will be offered online five hours earlier, before the brick-and-mortar stores open.

The company says it will offer savings on electronics and other popular gift categories. Additional promotions are scheduled for the following two Saturdays.

Black Friday plans

Sam's Club says it will kick-off Black Friday online at 12:01 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, but brick-and-mortar stores will be closed. Stores, however, will open Friday, November 25, at 7:00 a.m. Special sale items will be available throughout the weekend, as long as supplies last.

Cyber Week deals start at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, November 27 and continue through Friday, December 2, with new sale items added daily.

Macy's bucks the trend

Macy's, meanwhile, reportedly will open its stores at 5:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, bucking the trend of more retailers giving their employees the holiday off. Though there has been no official announcement, the shopping site BestBlackFriday.com said it has been able to confirm Macy's plans unofficially.

“In 2015 and 2014, they opened at 6:00 p.m., so this is one hour earlier than last year,” BestBlackFriday's Phil Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. “Whether other major retailers decide to move up their opening time on Thanksgiving remains to be seen, but Macy's is the first one to make their decision.”

Dengler says the growing public backlash may be one reason fewer stores are choosing to open on Thanksgiving, but there is also a more practical reason.

Some rtailers fear the Thanksgiving Day sales detract from Black Friday the following day. Others know they can probably generate significant sales online, since increasingly, that's how consumers prefer to shop.

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Sales of existing homes rebound in September

First-time buyers were a major factor

After declining a month earlier, sales of previously-owned homes bounced back in September, thanks to the entry into the market of large numbers of first-t...

PhotoAfter declining a month earlier, sales of previously-owned homes bounced back in September, thanks to the entry into the market of large numbers of first-time buyers.

According to figures released by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- rose 3.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.47 million.

The advance pushed sales to their highest pace since June and 0.6% above a year ago.

Newbies in the market

A big reason for the September increase was the entry into the market of first-time buyers, who accounted for 34% of purchasers -- a level not seen in over four years

"The home search over the past several months for a lot of prospective buyers, and especially for first-time buyers, took longer than usual because of the competition for the minimal amount of homes for sale," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

"Most families and move-up buyers look to close before the new school year starts. Their diminishing presence from the market towards the end of summer created more opportunities for aspiring first-time homeowners to buy last month."

Prices and supplies

The median prices for all types of existing homes shot up 5.6% in September to $234,200 -- the 55th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.

Total housing inventory at the end of last month was up 1.5% to 2.04 million existing homes available for sale. Still that inventory level is down 6.8% from a year ago and has now fallen year-over-year for 16 straight months.

Unsold inventory is at a 4.5-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.6 months in August.

Distressed sales -- foreclosures and short sales -- dropped to a new low of 4% in September, with 3% foreclosures and 1% short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 15% below market value, while short sales were discounted 11%.

Sales by region

  • Existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 5.7% in September to an annual rate of 740,000 -- the same as a year ago. The median price was $261,600, a year-over-year gain of 2.1%.
  • In the Midwest, sales grew by 3.9% to an annual rate of 1.32 million in September, and are now 2.3% above a year ago. The median price was $184,500, up 5.9% percent from September 2015.
  • Sales in the South in September inched up 0.9% to an annual rate of 2.16 million, but are still 0.9% below the same month last year. The median price in the South was $204,000 -- a gain of 6.6% from last year.
  • The West enjoyed a sales gain of 5.0% to an annual rate of 1.25 million, which is 1.6% above a year ago. The median price surged 8.1% to $345,400.
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Airline runway delays abound in August

On-time arrival and cancellation rates were mixed

Getting off the ground in August was something of challenge if you were traveling by commercial airline.According to the Department of Transportation's...

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Foreclosures drop sharply in August

Rates are the lowest in several years

The nation's foreclosure inventory plunged 29.6% and completed foreclosures were down an even sharper 42.4% from a year earlier, according to the CoreLogic...

PhotoThe nation's foreclosure inventory plunged 29.6% and completed foreclosures were down an even sharper 42.4% from a year earlier, according to the CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report.

In another way of looking at it, the number of completed foreclosures nationwide posted a year-over-year decline of 27,000 -- to 37,000 in August 2016 -- representing a drop of 69% from the peak of 118,221 in September 2010.

Foreclosure inventory

The foreclosure inventory represents the number of homes at some stage of the foreclosure process and completed foreclosures reflect the total number of homes lost to foreclosure.

Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 6.4 million completed foreclosures nationally. Since homeownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 8.5 million homes lost to foreclosure.

As of last August, the national foreclosure inventory included approximately 351,000, or 0.9%, of all homes with a mortgage. A year earlier, it was 499,000 homes, or 1.3%.

The August 2016 foreclosure inventory rate is the lowest it’s been since July 2007.

“With the foreclosure inventory now under 1% nationally, the need to boost single-family housing stocks through new construction will become more acute in the coming months and years,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic.

Mortgage delinquencies

In addition, CoreLogic reports the number of mortgages in serious delinquency was down 20.6% from August 2015, with 1.1 million mortgages, or 2.8%, being the lowest level since September 2007.

The decline was broad-based with decreases in serious delinquency in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Report highlights

  • On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures increased by 7.7% to 37,000 in August from the 34,000 reported for the previous month. As a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.
  • On a month-over-month basis, the August foreclosure inventory was down 3.2% from July.
  • The five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in August were Florida (55,000), Texas (27,000), Ohio (23,000), California (22,000), and Georgia (21,000).These five states account for about 35% of completed foreclosures nationally.
  • Four states and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in August 2016: the District of Columbia (212), North Dakota (341), West Virginia (469), Alaska (624), and Montana (717).
  • Four states and the District of Columbia had the highest foreclosure inventory rate in August 2016: New Jersey (3.2%), New York (2.9%), Maine (1.8%), Hawaii (1.8%), and the District of Columbia (1.8%).
  • The five states with the lowest foreclosure inventory rate in August 2016 were Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Utah, and Michigan -- all at 0.3%.
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Husqvarna recalls lawn mowers

The engine and blades may continue to operate when they should shut down

Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 235,000 lawn mowers sold in the U.S. and Canada.The operator presence contro...

PhotoHusqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling about 235,000 lawn mowers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

The operator presence control bar can malfunction and cause the engine and blades to continue to operate when they should shut off, posing a laceration hazard to the operator.

The firm has received 53 reports of the engine not shutting off after the operator presence control bar was released. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Husqvarna, Poulan Pro, Jonsered, Craftsman, Yardworks, Murray, and Brute brand walk-behind gas powered lawn mowers with Briggs & Stratton 7.25 HP engines.

The mowers were sold in red, orange, blue and yellow/black colors and have either four similar-sized wheels or two larger rear wheels and two smaller front wheels, a long handle with an operator presence control bar that is pushed down towards the mower handle to start the engine, a mowing deck, and may have come with or without a collecting bag in the rear.

The brand names are printed on the mowers, and a Briggs & Stratton logo is printed on the engine shield. The mower model and serial number can be found on the rear of the mowing deck, next to the rear wheel.

The following model and serial numbers are included in the recall:

 

Brand

Model Name

Serial Number Range

Brute

961480058

110115M00001 - 082516M50000

Craftsman

10176

10178

37275

37489

Husqvarna

LB155S

LC121P

HU725AWDEX

HU725AWDH

HU725AWDHQ

Jonsered

LM 2153CMDA

LM 2155MD

LM 2153CMDA

Murray

21P68H30

Poulan Pro

961320100

961420133

PR675Y22RHPE

PR725Y22RHP

961490006

Yardworks

961380047

961480057

 

The mowers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Lowe’s, Sears and other hardware stores, home centers and equipment dealers nationwide from November 2015, through August 2016, for between $250 and $450.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled lawn mowers and contact Husqvarna or go to http://husqvarna.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1255/ to determine if their unit needs a free repair.

Consumers may contact Husqvarna toll-free at 877-257-6921 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at recalls@husqvarna.com or online at http://husqvarna.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1255/ for more information.

 

 

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National Meat and Provisions recalls beef and veal products

The products may may be contaminated with E. coli O26

National Meat and Provisions of Reserve, La., is recalling approximately 2,349 pounds of beef and veal products.The products may may be contaminated wi...

PhotoNational Meat and Provisions of Reserve, La., is recalling approximately 2,349 pounds of beef and veal products.

The products may may be contaminated with E. coli O26.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following raw non-intact beef and veal items, produced and packaged on Sept. 14-15, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 51.40-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND COMPANY BURGER BLEND,” packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of “00028584” and case codes of 53085/CB136 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 50.00-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND COURSE STEAK TRIM,” packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of “00028582” and case codes of 53080/02300H in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.00-lb. of VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND FRESH,” packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of “00028583” and case codes of 53110/02300P in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 50.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHIMES FINE,” packed on 9/14/2016 with a lot number of “00028581” and case codes of 56660/02300C in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 51.46-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND COMPANY BURGER BLEND,” packed on 9/15/2016 with a lot number of “00028597” and case codes of 53085/CB136 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF FAT OF RIB CAP,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028595,” and case codes of 50010/1138 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.83-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHUCK DAT DOG,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028593,” and case codes of 56135/02150 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.23-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHUCK BRISKET BURGER,” packed on 9/15/2016 with a lot number of “00028596,” and case codes of 53060/208116120 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 5.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF STEAK CUBED 5#,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028594,” and case codes of 50565/04902 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.00-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHUCK 10#,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028592,” and case codes of 53015/02100 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.11-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF STEAK CUBED,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028591,” and case codes of 50555/1100GJ in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 10.32-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “BEEF GROUND CHUCK BRISKET 8 oz.,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028585,” and case codes of 53050/05M8 in the upper left-hand corner of the label
  • 9.98-lb. VACUUM-PACKED “VEAL SIRLOIN CUBED POLY BAGED,” packed on 9/15/2016, with a lot number of “00028590,” and case codes of 56070/0776 in the upper left-hand corner of the label

The recalled products bearing establishment number “EST. M-22022” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to a distributor, as well as hotels, restaurants and institutions in Louisiana.

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 Amy Philpott at (703) 472-6615.

 

 

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Nissan recalls Versas with airbag performance issue

A seam in the fabric section of the side curtain airbags may tear during deployment

Nissan North America is recalling 1,754 model year 2017 Versas manufactured August 1, 2016, to August 16, 2016.A seam in the fabric section of the side...

PhotoNissan North America is recalling 1,754 model year 2017 Versas manufactured August 1, 2016, to August 16, 2016.

A seam in the fabric section of the side curtain airbags may tear during deployment, potentially affecting the performance of the airbag. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 226, "Ejection Mitigation", and number 214, "Side Impact Protection."

If the side curtain airbags do not deploy as intended there would be an increased risk of injury.

What to do

Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left and right side curtain airbags, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

 

 

 

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Consumers to get refunds for delayed airline baggage under new federal rules

Airlines must also more accurately report on-time arrival rates and other measures

A new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed by excessiv...

PhotoA new set of regulations passed by the Obama administration will come as welcome news to air travelers who feel they’ve been nickeled and dimed by excessive fees.

Announced on Wednesday, the new consumer protection rules will guarantee refunds on baggage fees if an airline delays returning luggage after a flight.

Additionally, airliners will be charged with more accurately reporting on-time arrival rates, the number of bungled wheelchair requests, and the rate of lost or mishandled baggage. The new regulations are meant to fulfill the administration’s promise of imposing tougher consumer protections on the airline industry.

“The travel community is grateful that the administration continue to shine a light on many of the more frustrating issues that ail the air travel experience in the U.S.” said Roger Dow, chief executive of travel industry trade group U.S. Travel Assn.

Airline industry pushes back

The changes are meant to provide travelers with a better sense of how well an airliner operates when it comes to factors like handling baggage and being on time, but the industry says that too many regulations may hurt performance.

“Efforts designed to re-regulate how airlines distribute their products and services are bad for airline customers, employees, the communities we serve and our overall U.S. economy,” stated Nicholas Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America.

Industry officials point out that airlines are already required by the Department of Transportation to reimburse customers if their bag is lost. Under the new regulations, they would also have to pay customers if luggage is “substantially delayed,” but what the threshold for this term is hasn’t been defined, they say.

Airlines aren’t the only ones subject to the new rules, though. The regulations also provide provisions for online travel agents, who must disclose to fliers if they have a bias based on financial arrangements for offering flights tied to a certain airline.

The new reporting provisions of the regulations are meant to take effect on January 1, 2018, with the rest of the rules slated to be enacted 30 days after changes are published in the Federal Register.

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Do you save money shopping online?

It all depends on what you are buying

Each year more consumers do more of their shopping online. A recent study by UPS found more than half of all shopping now takes place on the web, increasin...

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Facebook's political candidate endorsement feature: is this really a good idea?

Some people think there is already too much politics on the social media site

Every four years Facebook becomes a battleground, where “friends” get into heated arguments over politics.Millions of people, it seems, believe the res...

PhotoEvery four years Facebook becomes a battleground, where “friends” get into heated arguments over politics.

Millions of people, it seems, believe the rest of the world needs to know their political opinions, and they often express them as though they were auditioning to host a talk show.

Facebook apparently believes there isn't enough political give-and-take on its pages, so it has introduced a new feature that encourages users to endorse a political candidate.

It works like this: a user goes to the Facebook page of their favored candidate. There, he or she selects the “Endorsement” tab, and then selects “Endorse.” A user can also post a comment to go along with the endorsement.

Limiting visibility

Facebook has built into the endorsement feature a way to limit who can see your endorsement, but that assumes you know the political leanings of all your Facebook friends. Most likely it's designed to keep peace between friends and family members who are known to hold strong opposite political views.

But one has to wonder whether such an endorsement feature is necessary, since people posting on Facebook are rarely shy about sharing their views. And in years past it has damaged friendships, and even family relationships.

As recently as August, Politico reported that the presidential campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was wrecking friendships. Democratic consultant Brent Blackaby told the site that when Trump suggested “Second Amendment people” might stop Clinton, he broke ties with his Trump-backing uncle. Before it was over, he said the arguments and name-calling spilled over to his extended family.

You're waiting your times

An anonymous poster on Slashdot appealed to Facebook users to do everyone a favor and keep their opinions to themselves, claiming spouting off for one candidate or against another is pointless.

“Those long rants about how Trump is a bully and a buffoon, Hillary is a crook, and conspiring against Bernie Sanders has doomed America forever aren't changing voters' minds,” the poster wrote. “A staggering 94% of Republicans, 92% of Democrats, and 85% of independents on Facebook say they have never been swayed by a political post, according to Rantic, a firm that sells social media followers.”

So why do we do it? Would we say the things we post on Facebook to someone's face? Probably not. The safe distance afforded by the internet likely makes us bolder, which is not always a good thing.

So one as to wonder what Facebook was thinking by introducing its new political endorsement feature. In the meantime, people sick of looking at their politics-riddled Facebook pages might want to check out this Facebook group, a refuge for people who want to escape politics.

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Millennials' housing market impact may be bigger than expected

More are trying to buy homes but still face challenges

Since the housing crash eight years ago, it has been widely assumed that Millennials, who were just coming of age at that time, would be a generation of re...

PhotoSince the housing crash eight years ago, it has been widely assumed that Millennials, who were just coming of age at that time, would be a generation of renters.

After all, lenders wanted sterling credit scores and ample down payments before agreeing to a mortgage. Many young people did well just to find a job.

But today, it's Millennials who are driving the housing market. A report by real estate marketplace Zillow shows first-time home buyers, overwhelmingly Millennials, are both buying and selling homes.

Millennial buyers want what the generations before them wanted: a home that's a good investment and a reflection of their personal tastes. But more than previous generations, Millennials' first instinct in searching for a home is to turn to the internet.

Using the internet

“These young adults came of age during a recession, but they are buying their first homes in a high-priced and fast-paced market,” said Zillow chief economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “They're using every available resource, including online research and real estate professionals, and taking on the challenge with gusto."

But Millennials' entry into the housing market has been more difficult than previous generations. The Zillow report finds this group remained renters longer than previous generations and 52% of buyers said they considered remaining renters a while longer, in part because of the difficulty in raising a down payment, and then finding a house they liked. Fewer than half said they were able to buy the first house on which they made an offer.

When they do make an offer on a house, 83% of Millennials say they want to purchase a single-family home. Nearly half end up purchasing a home in the suburbs.

A different slant

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has released research of its own, an annual profile of both buyers and sellers. While the Zillow report is the first to be conducted, the NAR research has been done every year since 1981.

Its big takeaway is that, despite the changes in the housing market over time, what consumers are looking for has remained essentially the same.

It differs from the Zillow conclusions in one major area; realtors say the participation of first-time buyers remains “subdued.” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun says the evidence suggests first-time buyers are struggling against rapidly-rising prices and a dwindling supply of available homes.

“A strong majority of current renters under the age of 34 say they want to own a home in the future, but their impending rise will be a gradual one and is not likely to increase substantially in the 2016 survey,” Yun said.

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Mortgage applications inch higher

Contract interest rates were the highest in several months

The Mortgage Bankers Association is reporting a slight uptick of 0.6% in new mortgage applications in the week ending October 14. The tally includes an adj...

PhotoThe Mortgage Bankers Association is reporting a slight uptick of 0.6% in new mortgage applications in the week ending October 14. The tally includes an adjustment for the Columbus Day holiday.

The Refinance Index, on the other hand, dipped 1% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity dropping to 61.5% of total applications from 62.4% a week earlier.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.1% of total applications, the FHA share rose to 11.3% from 10.9% the previous week, the VA share was up to 12.8% from 12.0%, and the USDA share of total applications held steady 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 five basis points to its highest level since last June -- 3.73% from 3.68% -- with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.35 (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) jumped from 3.67% to 2.72%, the highest level since June, with points increasing to 0.29 from 0.24 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was unchanged at 3.54%, with points increasing to 0.30 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs came in at 3.03%, a gain of six basis points to its highest level since June, with points decreasing to 0.27 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 rose to 2.87%, its highest level since last May, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

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Kuster's recalls shredded, sliced and cubed cheese

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Kuster's, Inc. of Camden, Mich., is recalling 14,238 pounds of its shredded, sliced and cubed cheese.The product may be contaminated with Listeria mono...

PhotoKuster's, Inc. of Camden, Mich., is recalling 14,238 pounds of its shredded, sliced and cubed cheese.

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The shredded cheese was sold in 5-lb. plastic bags and packaged under the following labels:

  • Kuster's Dairy Foods Three Blend (pack date 10/05/16)
  • Fata's Best Four Blend Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
  • Fata's Best Mozzarella Muenster Provolone Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
  • Fata's Best Monterey Jack Feather Shred (lot date 27916)
  • Fata's Best PepperJack Feather Shred (Lot date 27816)
  • Nor-Tech Dairy Mozz/Muenster/Prov Feather Shred (best used by: 12-05-2016)
  • Nor-Tech Dairy Sharp White Cheddar Feather Shred (packed on 10.04.2016)

The shredded cheese was distributed in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The cubed cheese was packaged under the following label:

  • Nor-Tech Dairy PepperJack 3/4" Cubed (packed on 10/04/2016).

The sliced cheese was packaged under the following label:

  • Kuster's Dairy Foods Sliced Colby Jack

What to do

Customers who purchased any of the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to Kuster's for a full refund.

Cosumers with questions may contact the company at 517-368-5174 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (EST).

 

 

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Jeep Wranglers with wiring issue recalled

The front airbags and seat belt pretensioners may not deploy

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 182,308 model year 2016-2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured June 16, 2015, to August 14, 2016.In certain crash conditio...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 182,308 model year 2016-2017 Jeep Wranglers manufactured June 16, 2015, to August 14, 2016.

In certain crash conditions, the front impact sensor wiring may be pulled until it detaches before a signal can be received by the Occupant Restraint Controller (ORC).

If the ORC module does not receive a signal from the front impact sensor, both front airbags and the seat belt pretensioners will not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

What to do

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

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S76.

 

 

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Nutricrush Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bar recalled

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Nutrisystem Everyday, the retail division of Nutrisystem, Inc., is recalling Nutricrush Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bars.The product may be contaminate...

PhotoNutrisystem Everyday, the retail division of Nutrisystem, Inc., is recalling Nutricrush Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bars.

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported.

The bar was sold as a 5-count carton, and can be identified by the UPC 6 32674 85579 4, Enjoy by Aug 22 2017 and Lot Code NF082216A.

All code information is found on the back panel of the carton.

The recalled product was distributed to ShopRite and Hannaford stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, and online through Amazon.com and Walmart.com.

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should not eat it, but discard it or return it to the place of was purchase for a full refund.

Consumers seeking information may contact the company toll-free 1-866-293-8118, Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. (EDT), and 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays (EDT).

 

 

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LF Products recalls barstools

Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall hazard

LF Products of Singapore is recalling about 114,200 Sawyer barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada.Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall haza...

PhotoLF Products of Singapore is recalling about 114,200 Sawyer barstools sold in the U.S. and Canada.

Screws on the barstools can loosen, posing a fall hazard to the user.

The firm has received 15 reports of loosened hardware resulting in four reports of fall injuries.

This recall involves LF Products Sawyer swivel barstools sold in black, white, distressed blue, and dark brown. The recalled barstools have a tan cushion and were sold in two heights, 24 inches and 30 inches. “LF Products” is printed on a label affixed to the barstool.

The barstools, manufactured in Malaysia and Thailand, were sold exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond stores nationwide and online at bedbathandbeyond.com from May 2012, through March 2016, for between $90 and $110.

What to do

Consumers should immediately check to ensure that the hardware on their barstools is secure. Consumers with barstools that have loosened screws should download and review the revised assembly instructions at www.bedbathandbeyond.com/sawyerstoolinstructions, and reassemble the barstools.

Consumers may contact Bed Bath & Beyond at 800-462-3966 anytime or online at www.bedbathandbeyond.com and click on “Product Recall Information” for more information.  

 

 

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Survey suggests U.S. consumers are starting to save more

Researchers say 65% of Americans are tightening up their monthly budget

In the wake of the financial crisis, consumers found themselves in dire straits when it came to meeting expenses. Many were forced to cut back on certain l...

PhotoIn the wake of the financial crisis, consumers found themselves in dire straits when it came to meeting expenses. Many were forced to cut back on certain luxuries and activities they enjoyed to make up for stagnant incomes and to pay for necessities.

That trend of limiting spending has continued into recent years, but a new report suggests that it may be for different reasons. Instead of doing so out of necessity, a new survey from Bankrate.com suggests that the majority of consumers are tightening up their monthly budgets to save money for the future.

“With pay raises now spreading out among the broad population, Americans are finally limiting spending for a good purpose – to save money. This is the first time in 4 years that the top reason wasn’t stagnant income,” said Bankrate.com Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride.

Limiting spending by generation

Although saving money is now the top reason for limiting spending – as indicated by 30% of respondents -- the survey found that there were still other strong economic reasons. Consumers said they were also being more careful with their monthly budgets because of stagnant income (25%), worries about the economy (15%), and because they had too much debt (10%). Only 3% of respondents indicated that worries about job security limited their spending.

Millennials led the way among those who said they needed to save more, at 48%, and Generation Xers were the next most likely group to say the same (31%). Americans over the age of 62 were most likely to say stagnant wages led to a tightened budget, most likely because many retirees in this age range live on a fixed income.

Older Millennials ranging in age from 26-35 were more likely to cite debt as a reason for tightening their budget than any other group, while the Silent Generation – those aged 71 and up – were most likely to say they saved because of worries about the economy.

Political affiliation effects outlook

The survey also revealed a bit of political bias when it came to gauging personal financial security. According to the Financial Security Index -- wherein a rating over 100 indicates increased financial security over the past year and a rating below that mark indicates deterioration of financial security – Democrats’ felt more financially secure, with their score rising from 103.6 to 106.0.

Figures for Republicans declined from 99.4 to 98.0, and Independents seemed to split the difference between these groups, rising from 97.0 to 99.2.

The survey was taken by a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults from the continental U.S from October 6-9, and the margin of error was calculated at3.7 percentage points. 

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Three low-cost home security devices

Each can help you keep an eye on your home and prevent intruders

Your home and the people who live there are worth protecting, but it’s likely that you can’t be there every moment to protect your palace.Fortunately,...

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Apple will likely win big over Samsung's Note 7 disaster, analyst says

The expert says Apple will likely gain between 5 and 7 million customers

Samsung’s Note7 debacle has truly shaken the mobile division of the company, along with its customers’ confidence. While the South Korean company will be s...

PhotoSamsung’s Note7 debacle has truly shaken the mobile division of the company, along with its customers’ confidence. While the South Korean company will be scrambling for some time to mitigate the damage, competitors like Apple are likely to enjoy a bit of a boom.

But how much should the tech company expect to gain from the situation? According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, quite a lot. The expert says that Apple will likely gain 5-7 million customers because of Samsung’s phone disaster. Kuo says that many disenchanted Note7 owners will make the leap to the iPhone 7 Plus because of the device’s dual camera, which will be a big drawing point.

The analyst arrived at the prediction after examining sales of the Note7. Before reports surfaced about their tendency to catch on fire, Samsung’s device was a hot commodity; around 12 million of the devices were originally sold.

Half may defect

Kuo says around 50% of those customers are likely to choose an Apple device as a replacement, while the other 50% of customers will consider devices sold by Android manufacturers Huawei and Google, which recently released its new Pixel smartphone.

While Kuo’s prediction is only an educated guess, real numbers on Apple’s performance confirm that the company has been thriving as of late. The company’s stock has risen in recent weeks due to the Note7 issues, and fourth quarter projections look pretty favorable. Investors will be able to learn more when Apple releases its earnings report on October 25.

Meanwhile, Kuo predicts that the Note7 failure will only impact Samsung for a couple more months. However, if more of its devices continue to have technical problems, then its image may take a long-term hit. Customer complaints have flooded in over many the company’s other products recently, so it will likely be something the manufacturer will need to be careful of going forward.

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Consumers doing a better job of managing debt payments

Bank card default rate hits seven-month low in September

The health of the economy often depends on the financial health of the consumer. The consumer's pulse can usually be measured in how he or she is managing...

PhotoThe health of the economy often depends on the financial health of the consumer. The consumer's pulse can usually be measured in how he or she is managing debt.

So far in the first nine months of this year, consumers appear to be doing a slightly better job. The S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices show a slight drop in default rates between August and September and remain lower for the year.

Mortgage defaults were nearly a point lower in September. Not a big surprise, since lenders have significantly tightened mortgage underwriting standards. The foreclosure rate has been consistently lower.

More auto loan defaults

The one area of concern, however, is auto loans. In September, the default rate was up four basis points from August – but still well within historical norms.

Perhaps most impressive was the bank card default rate, which dropped to 2.76% in September, a seven-month low.

David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, says the trend is running in a positive direction.

Positive trend

"Despite the continued growth in total consumer credit extended and the currently very low interest rates, we are not seeing any deterioration in consumer credit defaults,” he said. “Rather, the default rates for major categories and for the five cities highlighted in this report continue to drift down to the lowest figures seen in 12 years.”

In fact, four of the five major cities in the survey saw their default rates go down in the month of September. The decline was most pronounced in Miami, reporting in at 1.12%, down nine basis points from August. Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles also has lower default rates. Dallas stood out as the lone exception, but its default rate didn't rise, it just remained the same as August.

Eight years removed from the financial crisis, the difference appears like night and day. In October 2008, millions of homeowners were in foreclosure and millions more were headed in that direction, amid widespread layoffs that sent the unemployment rate over 10%. Consumers were also maxing out credit cards and unable to keep up with the payments.

Today, Blitzer says a steadily improving economy, though still weak, has helped. He also notes that mortgage debt has declined since 2008, with fewer people buying homes. He says consumers have also taken on less debt overall in the last eight years.

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How to avoid unnecessary bank fees

NerdWallet study finds just three fees can total $1,000 over a decade

An analysis by personal finance site NerdWallet found the average consumer with a checking account paid nearly $1,000 in fees over a 10-year period. Most o...

PhotoAn analysis by personal finance site NerdWallet found the average consumer with a checking account paid nearly $1,000 in fees over a 10-year period. Most of that could have been avoided, the company says, if customers had chosen the most consumer-friendly bank account.

Three fees tended to hit consumers the hardest – monthly maintenance fees, ATM and account use fees, and overdraft and nonsufficient funds fees.

“Checking accounts are the keystone of American personal finance,” said Sean McQuay, credit and banking expert at NerdWallet. “My checking account is the center of my financial life. That’s where all my money goes in and out, so I need to trust my bank.”

There are ways to avoid these fees. The easiest to avoid is the monthly maintenance fee, which can be $10 to $12 at the nation's largest banks. That's $120 or more a year.

There is no reason to pay this fee, which is usually placed on a bank's most basic checking account. By doing a little research, you should be able to find a checking account that not only does not charge a monthly fee, but pays you interest on the balance.

Things you might have to do

These accounts usually require things on your part – perhaps maintaining a minimum balance, a certain number of debit transactions each month, and a direct deposit. With a little planning, most checking account customers should be able to manage these requirements.

The second set of fees, ATM fees, can be avoided by only using your bank network's ATMs. But again, having the right kind of checking account can help as well.

Some rewards checking accounts, offered primarily at credit unions, online banks, and small community banks, offer a set of perks that includes reimbursement of ATM fees. ATM fees can also be avoided by always withdrawing extra cash when making a debit card purchase at the supermarket or some other retail location that allows cash back.

Do not opt in

Overdraft fees can be avoided a couple of ways. First, do not “opt in” for overdraft “protection” from your bank. You bank wants to provide this “service” to you, covering any purchase you make with insufficient funds. However, it will charge you an average of $34 for this service, in the form of an overdraft fee.

That will protect you against overdrafts on debit purchases, but a bounced check will still carry a fee. To avoid bouncing a check, consider keeping your savings in your rewards checking account to pad your balance. Most rewards checking accounts pay a higher interest rate than a passbook savings account. If you do this, however, you'll need to keep careful track of your spending to make sure you don't eat into your savings.

The NerdWallet analysis shows using the most consumer-friendly checking accounts cost consumers just $31 a year, and that's if they have a couple of overdrafts per year, which can be avoided. If all consumers switched to the best free checking accounts available, they could save a total of more than $7 billion a year.

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Scammers cashing in on election season

Fraudsters exploiting loophole in Do Not Call law

The election is just three weeks away and chances are, your telephone has been ringing more than usual.That's because even if your number is on the Do...

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Builder confidence slips in October

However, sales expectations were on the rise

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), a gauge of builder confidence in the market for newly constructed...

PhotoThe National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), a gauge of builder confidence in the market for newly constructed single-family homes, dipped in October.

Still, even with a decline of two points to a level of 63, builder confidence stands at its second-highest level of the year.

NAHB Chairman Ed Brady calls that, “a sign that the housing recovery continues to make solid progress,” but notes that builders in many markets “continue to express concerns about shortages of lots and labor.”

The builders' view

The HMI, which is based on a monthly survey, 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.

Two of the three HMI components posted losses in October. The one gauging current sales conditions dropped two points to 69 and the index charting buyer traffic fell one point to 46. On the other hand, the index measuring sales expectations in the next six months rose one point to 72.

The three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores show the West increased two points to 75 while the Northeast, Midwest, and South each posted one-point gains to 43, 56, and 65, respectively.

“The October reading represents a mild pullback from a jump in September, and indicates that the housing market continues to make slow and steady gains,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Moreover, mortgage rates remain low and the HMI index measuring future sales expectations has been over 70 for the past two months. These factors will sustain continued growth in the single-family market in the months ahead.”

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Hyundai recalls model year 2010-2016 Genesis Coupes

The passenger front airbag may deploy improperly

Hyundai Motor America is recalling 84,500 model year 2010-2016 Genesis Coupes manufactured December 12, 2008, to June 11, 2016.The electrical harness c...

PhotoHyundai Motor America is recalling 84,500 model year 2010-2016 Genesis Coupes manufactured December 12, 2008, to June 11, 2016.

The electrical harness connector for the front passenger seat Occupant Classification System (OCS) may dislodge when the seat is moved.

In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger front airbag, the disconnected OCS would -- by default -- cause the first stage, and only the first stage, of the air bag to deploy, whether there is a child seat in the front seat and the bag should not deploy or if the crash is severe and both stages should deploy. Either scenario increases the risk of injury to the front seat occupant.

What to do

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will secure the OCS connector to prevent it from disconnecting, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin December 2, 2016.

Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 151.

 

 

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Chimparoo baby carriers recalled

The carrier's side strap can loosen unexpectedly from the buckle

L’echarpe Porte-bonheaur Inc., of Canada is recalling about 1,130 Chimparoo baby carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.The carriers’ side strap can loos...

PhotoL’echarpe Porte-bonheaur Inc., of Canada is recalling about 1,130 Chimparoo baby carriers sold in the U.S. and Canada.

The carriers’ side strap can loosen unexpectedly from the buckle, posing a fall hazard to the child in the carrier.

The firm has received one report of a strap loosening unexpectedly from the carrier’s side buckle. No injuries have been reported.

This recall involves Chimparoo brand Trek baby carriers that allow the user to carry a baby tummy to tummy, on the hip or on the back. The 100% twill fabric carriers were sold in 18 solid, striped and pattern color combinations.

The carriers attach to the wearer’s body with adjustable straps made of polypropylene webbing and plastic buckles. “Chimparoo” is printed on the upper right hand corner of the carrier. “Trek” is embroidered on the belt.

The carriers, manufactured in Canada, were sold at children’s boutique stores, such as Granola Babies, of Costa Mesa, Calif., Eat/Sleep/Play, of Summerville, S.C., and Top to Bottom, of Omaha, Neb., and online at www.Amazon.com and www.Chimaparoo.ca from May 2016, through July 2016, for about $170.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled baby carriers and contact Chimparoo for a free replacement buckle for the baby carrier’s side buckle.

Consumers may contact Chimparoo toll-free at 855-289-5343 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at safety@Chimparoo.com or online at www.Chimparoo.ca/en/recall and click on “Product Recall” at the bottom of the page.  

 

 

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Verizon's PopData looks to give consumers short periods of unlimited data

Critics argue that the service falls well short of the mark, though

Consumers have been attempting to manage the data they use on their mobile devices for years, with mixed success. But as technology continues to advance an...

PhotoConsumers have been attempting to manage the data they use on their mobile devices for years, with mixed success. But as technology continues to advance and new media trends take hold, it has gotten more and more difficult to do. Certain services, such as video streaming, can take a big bite out of users’ data if they’re not careful, which can lead to hefty overage charges.

It is for this reason that many providers have changed or abandoned unlimited data plans, which are potentially less lucrative than raking in exorbitant fees related to data limits. However, Verizon recently announced a new mobile data plan that allows users to buy unlimited data for small chunks of time.

The plan, called PopData, allows consumers to take advantage of 30- and 60-minute periods of unlimited data, which could be very useful if you need to download a large file or find yourself in an area without Wi-Fi. The company is pricing the 30-minute periods at $2 per extension and the 60-minute periods at $3 per extension, and the total cost of all extensions will be added to each customer’s bill at the end of the month.

Shortcomings

While the new plan may seem great at first glance, critics have been quick to point out its shortcomings. First, customers should be aware that PopData is only available while they’re in an LTE network; consumers in an area where Verizon’s 3G network is only available WILL NOT be able to use PopData, so data limits will still apply. The plan is also only available to postpaid subscribers, which means prepaid customers won’t be able to access it.

Perhaps more worrying is the way that the timer works on the plan. Once a user selects an extension and starts the timer, there is no stopping it. If there are network problems, like slow speeds or bad performance, the timer will continue to tick down anyway.

For users on less congested networks, this might not be too much of an issue. But for those who might be sharing a network in a city or highly-populated area, having a set time of unlimited data isn’t all that helpful if the network speeds are slow.

So, before signing up for a block of unlimited data, consumers should be well aware of network conditions and how it might affect their mobile activities. To learn more about PopData, visit the plan’s page here and peruse the FAQ section here.

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A warning for open-heart surgery patients

A device used during surgery may have been contaminated with long-lived bacteria

Federal health officials have a warning for open-heart surgery patients: a device used during your surgery may have been contaminated with bacteria when it...

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Why you should do your holiday shopping with a credit card

The rewards can be significant

The holiday shopping season is fast approaching and surveys have shown that many consumers have been making purchases since Labor Day.So now might be a...

PhotoThe holiday shopping season is fast approaching and surveys have shown that many consumers have been making purchases since Labor Day.

So now might be a good time to point out that if you plan to do a lot of end-of-the-year spending, doing it with a rewards credit card might help you save as much money as hitting the stores early on Black Friday.

In recent years personal finance experts have emphasized rewards credit cards as an easy way to save money. Like any credit card, a rewards card needs to be used responsibly, but if utilized to make purchases you would ordinarily make with a debit card or cash, credit card purchases can put money in your pocket.

How much varies from card to card, but the folks at Discover have rolled out some special holiday promotions, upping the rewards consumers can earn during the holidays, using the Discover it Card or Discover it for Students. Both cards normally pay 1% on all purchases but also have special quarterly promotions.

5% bonus

For example, for the fourth quarter Discover will pay a 5% cashback bonus on purchases at Amazon.com, department stores, and Sam's Club – places where consumers probably do the lion's share of their shopping. The 5% bonus applies to a total purchase amount of $1,500. Above that, any additional spending earns the regular 1% cash back.

“We try to make sure that we don't make our program complicated,” Maureen Powers, vice-president of rewards for Discover, told ConsumerAffairs. “We don't want customers to have to start planning how they are going to earn their rewards, or having to do math.”

Added bonus for new customers

There's an even better payoff for consumers who just recently obtained a Discover it Card, or plan to get one soon.

“Our card members can earn Cash Back Match,” Powers said. “They are earning all of these rewards, and then at the end of the first 12 months that they have the card, we will double all of those rewards.”

How much can that add up to? Let's assume you are a new cardholder who ends up spending $1,750 at Amazon, a number of department stores, and Sam's Club. You earn $75 on the first $1,500 and $2.50 on the difference between $1,500 and $1,750. Then, because you qualify for Cash Back Match, the amount is doubled for a total of $155 in cash rewards.

Powers also says Discover offers price protection, in case you find the item you purchase later at a lower price.

“What consumers will do is send in the receipt and show where they found a better price, and Discover will refund the difference up to $500, if you do it within 90 days of the purchase,” she said.

While doing your holiday shopping with cash may keep you from overspending, it doesn't put money in your pocket. But it bears repeating, using a rewards credit card for all your holiday purchases will only put you ahead if you exercise discipline and don't over-spend.

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Pepsico plans to put consumers on a diet

Beverage and snack manufacturer plans to reduce calories, increase nutritution

It's no secret that consumers get a lot of their daily calories from beverages and snacks. As obesity rates have climbed over the last 30 years, companies...

PhotoIt's no secret that consumers get a lot of their daily calories from beverages and snacks. As obesity rates have climbed over the last 30 years, companies that make these products have come under increasing pressure.

Pepsico, a conglomerate that makes soft drinks, snacks, and fast food, has announced a major initiative that it says will reduce the calorie count of most of its products by 2025.

"To succeed in today's volatile and changing world, corporations must do three things exceedingly well: focus on delivering strong financial performance, do it in a way that is sustainable over time and be responsive to the needs of society," said PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.

Doing well by doing good

Nooyi says the plan will build on what she said is the company's progress so far. She points to Pepsico's rising stock price as evidence of “doing well by doing good.” She said the company has been addressing environmental, health, and social priorities in all of its global markets.

So far, Nooyi says Pepsi has removed a lot of sugar from its products. That trend will continue, she says, as the company shoots for at least two thirds of its beverages containing 100 calories or less per 12 ounce serving over the next nine years.

By 2025, PepsiCo also plans to have three-quarters of its food products with no more than 1.1 grams of saturated fat per 100 calories and containing no more than 1.3 milligrams of sodium per calorie. It also plans to enhance its nutritional output, increasing products with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and hydration.

Seizing the high ground

The company appears to be attempting to capture the high ground from rival Coca-Cola, which last year endured a protracted public relations controversy over its involvement in obesity research.

Pepsi, meanwhile, says it has also been producing more diet beverages, repackaging Diet Pepsi with the sweetener aspartame. Nooyi says the goal is to harness technology to produce low-calorie/no-calorie products that taste the same as those rich in calories.

"PepsiCo's journey is far from complete, and our new goals are designed to build on our progress and broaden our efforts," Nooyi said. "We have mapped our plans against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and we believe the steps we are taking will help lift PepsiCo to even greater heights in the years ahead. Companies like PepsiCo have a tremendous opportunity - as well as a responsibility - to not only make a profit, but to do so in a way that makes a difference in the world."

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GITI recalls a quarter-million passenger car replacement tires

The tires may develop cracks in the lower sidewall

GITI Tire (USA) is recalling 250,620 imported Primewell Valera Touring II tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 225/50R18 95T; 20...

PhotoGITI Tire (USA) is recalling 250,620 imported Primewell Valera Touring II tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 225/50R18 95T; 205/65R16 95H, GT Radial Champiro Touring A/S tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, 205/65R16 95H; and 225/50R18 95T, and Dextero Touring DTR1 tires, sizes 205/50R17 93V XL, 215/50R17 95V XL, 225/50R17 94V, manufactured by PT. Gajah Tunggal TBK in Indonesia.

The replacement passenger car tires may develop cracks in the lower sidewall, potentially resulting in a loss of air.

A loss of air pressure may result in sudden tire failure, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

GITI will notify owners, and dealers will replace the affected tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in October 2016.

Owners may contact GITI customer service at 1-877-342-0882.

 

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Osage Gardens Organic Micro Greens recalled

The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

Osage Gardens is recalling its Osage Gardens Organic 2-oz. Micro Greens that has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have bee...

Osage Gardens is recalling its Osage Gardens Organic 2-oz. Micro Greens that has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The recalled product, packed in a clear plastic clamshell with a UPC Code 709376615008 and Julian codes from 266 to 279, was distributed to Whole Foods stores in Colorado and Kansas.

What to do

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

Consumers with questions may contact Osage Gardens at 970-876-0668 Monday-Friday, 8am-4:30pm.

 

 

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Postcard from Mount Rushmore

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U.S. Treasury enacts regulations to stop earnings stripping

The new rules would make it harder for some corporations to dodge taxes

One of the main political sticking points for candidates over the years has concerned taxes – more specifically, how to make sure U.S. companies pay their...

PhotoOne of the main political sticking points for candidates over the years has concerned taxes – more specifically, how to make sure U.S. companies pay their fair share of them.

Many have called the tax system broken over the years because of how easy it is for a company or corporation to acquire a business overseas and move its tax address. This allows multinational businesses to engage in “earnings stripping,” which is the term that describes a company that pays deductible interest to a parent company or affiliate in another country that has lower taxes. Simply put, it allows a business to avoid paying as much as they should in U.S. taxes.

But in an interview with CNBC on Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced new regulations that will limit companies’ ability to take part in this kind of “egregious” tax avoidance. The new rules will seek to end earnings stripping and mandate that corporations file documentation on interest deductions on related-party loans.

“This administration has long called for legislative action to fix our broken tax system. In the absence of Congressional action, it is Treasury’s responsibility to use our authority to protect the tax base from continued erosion,” said Treasury Department Secretary Jacob J. Lew in a statement.

“We have taken a series of actions to make it harder for large foreign multinational companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes and reduce the incentives for U.S. companies to shift income and operations overseas. Such tax avoidance practices are wrong and should be stopped.”

Exceptions and exemptions

The proposed regulations were submitted back in April, and were subject to months of scrutiny from stakeholders before being finalized. As a result, the finalized version allows for several exceptions and exemptions for situations where there is a low risk of earnings stripping.

Feedback from the public also led to exemptions for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational corporations, transactions between pass-through businesses, cash pools, and limited exemptions for financial institutions and insurance companies that are subject to regulatory oversight for their capital structure.

The final regulations also include more relaxed documentation requirements than those suggested in April, as well as more exceptions for ordinary course transactions like stock acquisitions associated with employee compensation plans. The regulations will go into effect on January 1, 2018.

Mixed reviews

Republicans and Democrats have remained divided on the new regulations. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex) claims the regulations were pushed through too quickly and may damage U.S. workers and the economy. “By rushing the review process – despite the extensive comments received – and finalizing these regulations so quickly, it appears the Obama Administration has ignored the real concerns of people who will be most impacted by these far-reaching rules,” he said.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich) said the new regulations were a step in the right direction towards restoring fairness to the tax system.

“For years, companies have been inverting and engaging in earnings stripping to unfairly lower their tax bills. In the absence of Republican action on tax reform, Treasury has used its Administrative authority to help bring fairness to the tax system. Today’s regulations from Treasury—which took into account extensive comments from the public and intensive meetings with Republicans and Democrats in Congress—go straight to the core of that fairness issue by strongly limiting a company’s ability to use this tax avoidance strategy, which involves disproportionately leveraging a U.S. company with debt and ‘stripping’ the U.S. tax base through deductible interest payments,” he said.

One tax expert found both positives and negatives to the new regulations, saying that some necessary steps were taken but that some parts were still worrisome.

“On the plus side, the documentation rule’s applicability of 1/1/18 and the exception – for the time being at least – for foreign issuers were responsive to comments and were absolutely necessary. . . But the rules’ general response regarding cash pooling will still be highly burdensome where they apply as will the retroactive application of the re-characterization rules,” said Ronald Dabrowski, a principal of KPMG LLP, a Washington National Tax practice.

So, based on the mixed reviews, consumers may have to wait and see if the new regulations save the tax system or lead to the collapse of the country as we know it. The smart bet may be to expect something in between. Consumers can learn more by visiting the Treasury's fact page here.

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DeVry University agrees to limit job placement claims

Settlement with Education Department is latest action to rein in for-profit schools

DeVry University has agreed to limit job placement claims as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, which has been cracking ...

PhotoDeVry University has agreed to limit job placement claims as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, which has been cracking down on the for-profit college industry.

The DOE had charged that DeVry used unsubstantiated job placement claims in recruitment and advertising materials. 

“Students deserve accurate information about where to invest their time and money, and the law is simple and clear: recruitment claims must be backed up by hard data.” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

If a postsecondary institution advertises job placement statistics to recruit students, federal law requires that the institution be able to substantiate the truthfulness of such claims. In August 2015, DOE had asked DeVry to back up its claim that since 1975, 90 percent of its graduates were employed in their field of study within six months of graduation.

No evidence

After reviewing the information that DeVry provided, the department found that DeVry could not provide evidence to substantiate this claim.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued DeVry, charging that its advertisements deceived consumers about the job placement rates in graduates’ chosen fields of study, and falsely claimed graduates would earn more than those graduating with bachelor's degrees from other colleges or universities. 

Today’s agreement settles only the issue of a single, unsubstantiated claim and does not prohibit the Department from imposing future enforcement actions against DeVry in the event of additional findings.

“We are grateful to our federal partners at the Federal Trade Commission for their ongoing support in our investigation,” said U.S. Department of Education Chief Enforcement Officer Robert Kaye. “Together, we’ve put an end to the use of an unsubstantiated claim by this institution, and we will continue our efforts to ferret out similar unlawful practices.”

Effective immediately, DeVry University will be participating in the federal student aid programs only through a provisional program participation agreement. As a result of this settlement, DeVry’s provisional status may last as long as five years. Moreover, DeVry also agreed that its continued participation in Title IV federal student aid programs will be contingent on complying with additional requirements.

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Obama removes limits on Cuban cigars travelers can take home

But cigar stores will still be unable to import them for resale

There's a famous story that in 1962, hours before he was to extend an economic embargo against Cuba to include all trade and all products, President Kenned...

PhotoThere's a famous story that in 1962, hours before he was to extend an economic embargo against Cuba to include all trade and all products, President Kennedy sent an aide to every cigar store in Washington, buying every available box of Cuban cigars. He reportedly stockpiled over 1,200 fine cigars using his insider information.

It's only fitting that another president is taking action to now make Cuban cigars more plentiful in the U.S., even if you won't find them for sale in cigar stores.

President Obama has signed a Presidential Policy Directive that further loosens restrictions on travel and trade between the United States and Cuba, and those who enjoy a quality smoke now and then might take notice of one particular provision. From now on, there is no limit on the quantity of Cuban cigars and rum American travelers may take home.

As many as your suitcase can hold

Previously, American travelers to Cuba could only return with $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products. The measure is not a lifting of the embargo against Cuba – only Congress can do that – so you won't be able to find Cuban cigars for sale in the U.S. until the embargo is lifted. But the President would clearly like for that to happen.

“This new directive consolidates and builds upon the changes we've already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people,” Obama said in a statement.

The embargo was declared at the height of the Cold War, shortly after Fidel Castro seized power and alligned the island nation with the Soviet Union. In addition to cigars and rum, Cuban sugar has been excluded from U.S. store shelves.

There is growing support, mostly in the Democratic Party, for ending the embargo. The Miami Herald reports Patrick Murphy, the Democratic candidate for one of Florida's two Senate seats, has advocated ending the embargo. The Herald notes it's the first time a Florida candidate from either party has done that.

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Housing market frustrating for first-time buyers

Prices continue to go up but the selection keeps going down

As we head into the end of the year with an economy that remains anemic, one factor economists are closely watching is the housing market.After crashin...

PhotoAs we head into the end of the year with an economy that remains anemic, one factor economists are closely watching is the housing market.

After crashing in 2009, housing has recovered nicely, with prices rising nearly to pre-crash levels. But one of the biggest reasons for the price rally, especially lately, is that the supply of homes hasn't kept pace with demand.

So where does it go from here, and what does it mean for the economy? The latest ValueInsured Housing Confidence Index is not overly encouraging. While home prices are rising, confidence among consumers in the housing market is about the same as it has been all summer.

“Home prices rose over the summer, putting them out of reach for many renters who also saw their rents rising,” said Joe Melendez, ValueInsured's CEO. “Another factor suppressing housing confidence is the unsettling presidential contest and uncertain future it entails.”

Put those considerations together with the hangover from the 2009 housing crash and Melendez says many prospective buyers really need a confidence boost.

The Millennial factor

Millennials are being a large and powerful block of consumers who are shaping the housing market, and the survey breakdown shows this generation continues to have economic anxiety and uncertainty. They're skeptical and prepared for volatility.

Sixty percent of Millennials questioned by survey takers worry the housing market has entered a bubble and could face a correction in the next two years. Only 47% of Americans as a whole hold that view. The survey finds that prospective first-time buyers, in particular, are worried about instability in the housing market.

Indeed, the latest data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggests a slowing housing market going into the end of the year. At the end of September, NAR reported pending home sales – a statistic based on contracts signed but not yet closed – fell in August by 2.4%.

Fewer homes for sale

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun attributes it mostly to fewer available homes for sale. Where there were higher inventories of homes, Yun says, sales were higher. It's just simple math.

He also has a warning – without an increase in new home construction, the housing recovery could, in fact, stall.

He notes that housing inventory has shrunk year-over-year for 15 straight months. That has meant homes sold faster and for more money. So it might not be all that surprising that people searching for a home to buy are feeling some angst.

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Honda recalls 2016 Civics to fix parking brake

The car could roll away if the brake is not properly engaged

American Honda is recalling about 350,000 Civic Coupes and Sedans from the 2016 model year to update software affecting Electric Parking Brake (EPB) functi...

PhotoAmerican Honda is recalling about 350,000 Civic Coupes and Sedans from the 2016 model year to update software affecting Electric Parking Brake (EPB) functionality, free of charge.

No crashes or injuries have been reported related to this issue, which was discovered through warranty claims associated with the illumination of the brake warning light.

The software for the Vehicle Stability Assist Electronic Control Unit may prevent application of the EPB when it is applied immediately after turning the vehicle ignition off. (This condition will not occur if the EPB is applied before turning off the vehicle ignition.)

If the EPB cannot be applied, the "BRAKE" warning indicator in the instrument panel will blink for 15 seconds to alert the driver. Additionally, if the EPB does not properly set and a parking gear is not selected by the driver, the vehicle may roll away, increasing the risk of a crash.

Honda is announcing this recall to encourage each owner of an affected vehicle to take it to an authorized dealer for repair as soon as they receive notification of this recall from Honda. Mailed notification to customers will begin in early November 2016.

Additionally, owners of these vehicles can determine if their vehicles require repair now by going to www.recalls.honda.com or by calling (888) 234-2138.

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Amid scandal, Wells Fargo CEO decides to retire

John Stumpf had felt lawmakers' wrath in Congressional appearences

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Why not getting your flu shot could cost you

Consumers spent roughly $9 billion last year in medical costs from not being vaccinated

No one likes getting sick, but it seems that many Americans are loathe to go out and get a vaccination when flu sea...

Photo
Photo (c) Michail Petrov - Fotolia

No one likes getting sick, but it seems that many Americans are loathe to go out and get a vaccination when flu season comes around. Unfortunately, it might not just be hurting their health, though.

A new collaborative report shows that U.S. consumers spent $5.8 billion on medical costs related to the influenza virus. But monetary problems don’t stop there. In all, Americans spent roughly $9 billion in 2015 on treating diseases that can be avoided by vaccination.

All of this begs the question, what do consumers have against vaccines?

Economic repercussions

Photo

Chart showing the amounts spent on preventable diseases in 2015 -- Photo (c) Health Affairs

The debate over vaccinations became very polarizing and high-profile in recent years after a scientific study stated that they may be linked to autism. The study was later debunked and the findings were retracted, but the notion has stuck with consumers ever since.

While the debate over whether or not a parent should vaccinate their child continues to rage, many adults have stopped getting vaccinations as well. Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the majority of U.S. adults avoided getting their flu shot last year, and the study’s authors believe that this hesitance could have major economic repercussions.

“Vaccines save thousands of lives in the United States every year, but many adults remain unvaccinated. Low rates of vaccine uptake lead to costs to individuals and society in terms of death and disabilities, which are avoidable, and they create economic losses from doctor visits, hospitalizations, and lost income,” they said.

Addressing the issue

The researchers admit that increasing the rate of vaccination won’t entirely erase the amount of money lost by consumers. In fact, they even go far as to say that vaccines are not always a 100% guarantee of good health. However, they say that opening the public’s eyes to this growing problem should encourage consumers and lawmakers to look at the problem critically so that it can be addressed.

“By highlighting the tremendous financial burden that unvaccinated individuals place on the economy and the health system, we hope that our estimate will spur creative policy solutions,” they said.

The full study has been published in Health Affairs.

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Cheapair.com expands flights to Cuba

Site now offers 36 routes to 10 Cuban destinations

With the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, it's easier now for Americans to visit the island nation, and there are even more ways to get there.CheapAir.com...

PhotoWith the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, it's easier now for Americans to visit the island nation, and there are even more ways to get there.

CheapAir.com reports it has expanded the number of flights on its site between the U.S. and Cuba. It says it now offers 36 routes from 11 U.S. cities to 10 Cuban destinations, adding over 280 weekly flights that have been approved by the Department of Transportation.

Americans can fly to Cuba on eight major airlines – JetBlue, American Airlines, United, Delta, Alaska, Spirit, Frontier, and Silver Airways. In addition, CheapAir users may also access a Miami-Havana flight on Public Charters, operated by Havana Air.

Direct flights

Currently, there are direct flights to Cuba from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Newark, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta, to destinations that now include Havana, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Holguin, Cienfuegos, Vardero, Cayo Largo del Sur, Manzanillo de Cuba, Santiago de Cuba, and Cayo Coco.

In the future, CheapAir said it will have direct flights from Orlando, Tampa Bay, and Minneapolis.

“Last year, when the rule changes for travel to Cuba opened up a historic opportunity, we jumped on it,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. “We haven’t had enough inventory to accommodate the demand, so we’re thrilled to have all these new flights. We’ll continue to offer more ways to travel to Cuba than any other site on the internet.”

Even though the U.S. And Cuba have re-established diplomatic relations, it doesn't mean Americans can travel to that country for any reason. Tourist travel is still outlawed.

Only 12 reasons you can visit

However, the U.S. Embassy in Havana says there are 12 categories of travel that are permissible. They include:

  • Family visits
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
  • Certain authorized export transactions.
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Feds charge 'tech support' pop-up ads were phony

Scam artists hijacked consumers' computers, charged hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs

Tech support scams keep popping up, just like the pop-up ads that are often used to rope in unsuspecting victims. In the latest case, the Federal Trade Com...

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Holiday sales expected to grow by 3.6% this year

All told, the NRF expects consumers to spend $655.8 billion this holiday season

As we continue to march through October, consumers across the country are gearing up for the coming holiday season. In fact, many have already begun shoppi...

PhotoAs we continue to march through October, consumers across the country are gearing up for the coming holiday season. In fact, many have already begun shopping for end-of-the-year events, and the National Retail Federation (NRF) believes that this will be a big year for retailers.

The organization made a prediction earlier this month that sales -- excluding those made in the automotive, gas, and restaurant spheres -- would be 3.6% higher in November and December than they were last year, accounting for $655.8 billion in spending. That mark would beat the current 10-year average of 2.5% growth, and would even put sales above the current 7-year growth average of 3.4%, the period of time since economic recovery began in 2009.

“All of the fundamentals are in a good place, giving strength to consumers and leading us to believe that this will be a very positive holiday season. . . This year hasn’t been perfect, starting with a long summer and unseasonably warm fall, but our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and industry expectations,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

If the prediction proves to be true, it would be a continuance of positive growth for the economy during the holiday season; in 2015, sales increased by 3.2% over the previous year. Over the course of this year, consumers seemed more willing to pay down purchases with credit, which is a positive sign for future sales figures.

“Consumers have seen steady job and income gains throughout the year, resulting in continued confidence and the greater use of credit, which bodes well for spending throughout the holiday season,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. However, he notes that both global and domestic political uncertainty, along with unseasonably warm weather, could still negatively impact consumer confidence going forward.

In addition to a positive sales forecast, the NRF is predicting that seasonal employment will also stay on track in 2016. The organization believes retailers will hire between 640,000 and 690,000 workers this holiday season, in line with the 675,300 employees hired last year. Recent reports that Amazon will hire 120,000 holiday workers may pad those numbers even more.

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Why are gas prices going up?

The national average price has shot up eight cents a gallon in the last month

It's fall, when oil refineries are turning out cheaper winter-grade gasoline. Oil prices remain at $50 or less a barrel and supplies are ample.So why i...

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WHO urges countries to reduce consumption of sugary drinks

The organization suggests placing a tax on certain certain drinks in order to lower obesity rates

As a general rule, consumers don’t much appreciate being told what they should or shouldn’t be eating or drinking. As such, regulation in the food and beve...

PhotoAs a general rule, consumers don’t much appreciate being told what they should or shouldn’t be eating or drinking. As such, regulation in the food and beverage industry is often met with resistance. One recent example can be seen in a lawsuit submitted by the beverage industry, along with residents and businesses in the Philadelphia area, who want to stop the city from imposing a soda tax.

However, regulators and health agencies applaud such efforts and believe that they should be implemented more often. Now, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) is pushing for countries around the world to follow Philadelphia lawmakers’ example and impose taxes on sugary beverages. The organization believes that doing so would go a long way towards reducing health risks like type 2 diabetes and obesity.

“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes. . . If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services,” said Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

Health crises

WHO’s report was released on World Obesity Day to draw attention to how much the condition is affecting consumers around the globe. According to the report, the prevalence of obesity more than doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2014, with roughly 39% of adults over the age of 18 fitting that description by the end of the period.

Further, the report states that childhood obesity has become a very real problem; an estimated 42 million children under the age of 5 were diagnosed as being obese in 2015, up 11 million over a 15-year period. Those living with diabetes also went up from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million by 2014, and 1.5 million deaths were attributable to the disease in 2012 alone.

These disturbing upward trends are the primary reason why WHO is pushing for the reduction of free sugars in food and drink products. The organization points out that any added sugar is actually unnecessary.

“Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet. WHO recommends that if people do consume free sugars, they keep their intake below 10% of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5% for additional health benefits. This is equivalent to less than a single serving (at least 250 ml) of commonly consumed sugary drinks per day,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.

Fiscal recommendations

The fiscal changes that WHO recommends countries undertake come from a meeting of global experts that took place in mid-2015. The recommendations primarily focus on giving incentives for healthier alternatives and curbing excess sugar consumption. They include:

  • Subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables that reduce prices by 10-30%, which could increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • Taxation of certain foods and drinks, particularly those high in saturated fats, trans fat, free sugars, and/or salt, which could reduce their level of consumption.
  • Excise taxes that apply a specific amount of tax on a (1) given quantity or volume of a product, (2) a particular ingredient, or (3) a certain percentage of the retail price.
  • Generation of public support for the taxes by putting the earned revenue towards improving health systems.

Thus far, many countries have already taken steps to curb the amount of sugar in its foods and beverages. Mexico has implemented an excise tax on non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar; Hungary has placed a tax on packaged products with high levels of sugar, salt, and caffeine; and countries like South Africa, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and the Philippines have announced intentions to impose taxes on sugary drinks.

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Amazon launching new music service

Company also reportedly plans a chain of convenience stores

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Government sees tightening labor market

There were a lot fewer job openings in August than July

If you have been searching for a job lately, you might have noticed employment is a little harder to come by.The U.S. Labor Department's latest Job Ope...

PhotoIf you have been searching for a job lately, you might have noticed employment is a little harder to come by.

The U.S. Labor Department's latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) shows that at the beginning of September there was a drop in the number of posted job openings in the U.S., with fewer people leaving or starting jobs.

That happens to coincide with the September employment report, which showed a slight uptick in the unemployment rate to 5%, mainly because more people were actively looking for jobs.

According to the government numbers, there were 5.4 million job openings on the last day of August, 388,000 fewer than at the end of July. The job openings rate was 3.6% in August, with the number of openings dropping over the month for both government and the private sector.

New hiring was mostly flat from the month before. The report shows 5.2 million people started new jobs in August, at a hiring rate of 3.6%.

Fairly static labor market

The Labor Department says the numbers point to a fairly static labor market, with about the same number of layoffs in August as in July.

Other data suggests job growth is slowing. For example, the economy produced 156,000 new jobs in September, after averaging 229,000 a month in 2015.

Analysts say this particular set of data tends to be volatile, so it is hard to draw many conclusions. However, should this become a trend, it could be a sign that business is losing confidence in the economy, and people seeking jobs may have to look longer and harder.

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The disappearing PC getting even more rare

Analysts suggest that consumers just don't see the need

Does anyone use a personal computer anymore? You know, those big, clunky boxes that sit on or under a desk, connected to a keyboard, monitor and mouse?...

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FCC fines Comcast $2.3 million for billing errors

The company billed customers for services they had not ordered, an investigation found

Comcast has been fined $2.3 million after the Federal Communications Commission found that it wrongfully charged cable TV customers for services and equipm...

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Sprint announces initiative to provide low-income students with free wireless devices and service

The 1Million Project will help close the digital divide and give students equal opportunity to succeed

The educational system has been greatly enhanced through technology in recent years. While smartboards, interactive maps, and a plethora of online tools ha...

PhotoThe educational system has been greatly enhanced through technology in recent years. While smartboards, interactive maps, and a plethora of online tools have benefited students in the classroom, having access to something as basic as the internet outside of school also lends a huge advantage.

Unfortunately, not all students are able to go online outside of school. Children of families that can’t afford expensive smartphones or other internet-connected devices can often lag behind, which contributes to ever-widening educational and opportunity gaps. But a new announcement from Sprint may go a long way towards evening the playing field.

The company announced today that it will be giving away one million internet-connected devices and providing four years of internet access to low-income high school students across the U.S. It marks the largest corporate initiative to bridge the digital divide and close the “Homework Gap," according to the company.

“Education is the foundation for our society to prosper, and the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. But it’s a huge problem in America that we have 5 million households with children that lack internet connections. Those kids have a huge disadvantage and we are failing them. All of us at Sprint are committed to changing this by providing 1 million students in need with free devices and free wireless connections,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.

Equal opportunity to succeed

Sprint’s new initiative, called the 1Million Project, may go a long way towards giving low-income children an equal opportunity to succeed. A report from the Pew Research Center found that students who come from low-income families are four times more likely than middle- and upper-income students to have no access to broadband internet. This is a big problem, since the report also found that 70% of teachers are assigning homework that requires some kind of web access.

Not having access to the internet also tends to lower parent engagement in their children’s education. Teachers often choose to correspond with parents via email these days, and online grading systems make it possible for parents with an internet access to keep tabs on how their child is doing in class. Not having those connections can result in parents who are simply out of the loop.

And when it comes time for a student to graduate, not having internet access could hamper future prospects. Applicants often have to apply for jobs online, and students wishing to learn more about scholarship opportunities and college applications will find the information on the internet.

Providing devices

In order to accomplish its goal, Sprint will be partnering with various non-profit agencies and manufacturers to provide free devices. Students may choose to receive a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or hotspot device, along with 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month.

For students who go over the 3GB limit, unlimited data at 2G speeds will be available. Students who choose a smartphone will be able to use it as a hotspot and can use the device for unlimited domestic calls and texts while on the Sprint network.

Funding for the initiative will come from donations from device manufacturers and through special events, donation drives, and other events hosted by Sprint and the Sprint Foundation. A pilot program is planned for launch in January of 2017.

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Hiro Baby app walks parents through the first year of parenting

New parents have lots of questions, and Hiro Baby can answer them

Embarking on the journey of parenthood is accompanied by a range of feelings. Behind the sleep-deprived eyes of a new parent, there is often stress and sha...

PhotoEmbarking on the journey of parenthood is accompanied by a range of feelings. Behind the sleep-deprived eyes of a new parent, there is often stress and shaky confidence to be found.

Navigating parenthood is hardly a walk in the park, but a new app could help make the first year easier for parents. Hiro Baby aims to show overwhelmed new parents the ropes as their baby grows.

To begin reaping the wisdom of this digital personal assistant, all parents need to do is enter their child’s age and information. The app will use this information to provide updates on your baby’s development, offer expert advice, and recommend helpful products.

Stay ahead of milestones

With notifications that let you know when a milestone is fast approaching, parents can stay one step ahead of their child’s development.

Hiro Baby lets you know, for example, that your baby will be crawling within the next few weeks, so it may be wise to pick up childproofing supplies. TechCrunch reports that the app can also let you know when to be concerned if your child misses an important milestone.

Instead of a frantic Google search, parents who use Hiro Baby can message or speak to an expert who can offer advice or recommend helpful products. But who exactly are these baby experts?

Hiro Baby’s co-founder and CEO, Phillip Buckendorf, says they’re humans who work in combination with AI technology. Information and advice within the app is generated by a neural network and screened by human agents (most of whom are parents) who approve the suggestions.  

The app, which has been described as "Siri with a maternal instinct," can also be helpful to expectant mothers. Hiro Baby can recommend strollers and other products that will be helpful once an infant arrives. 

Although the app is free (on iTunes), tapping into its premium service will cost parents $20 per month.

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Experian reports many organizations still open to cyber attack

Many have developed plans but fewer have updated them

As a consumer, you trust your personal information to countless businesses and organizations.You trust your doctor to keep your health records private,...

PhotoAs a consumer, you trust your personal information to countless businesses and organizations.

You trust your doctor to keep your health records private, your mortgage company to protect your financial information, and your bank to secure your money from cyber attack.

However, a new report from Experian Data Breach Resolution presents a mixed picture on whether that trust is misplaced.

On one hand, the report found the number of organizations that have prepared a plan to deal with and prevent data breaches rose from 61% in 2013 to 86% this year. But it also found only 38% have fixed procedures and timelines for reviews and updates.

In fact, 29% of organizations haven't conducted a review or update since the plan was put in place.

No substitute for being prepared

"When it comes to managing a data breach, having a response plan is simply not the same as being prepared," said Michael Bruemmer, vice president at Experian Data Breach Resolution.

Bruemmer said it seems some organizations are simply “checking the box” when it comes to cyber security. He says developing a plan is only the first step in an ongoing process that unfortunately, must evolve to keep current with threats.

Of all the threats out there, ransomware appears to be growing fastest, posing the greatest risk to organizations. Successful hackers who are able to find the weakest link in a corporate network can encrypt all files on the network, making them inaccessible until a ransom is paid.

725 breaches so far this year

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) keeps a running count of reported data breaches in the U.S. As of early October, it had counted 725 successful breaches, with nearly half involving health care records.

These records, which usually include extensive personal history, including Social Security numbers, make it easy for hackers to steal identities.

The Experian report is not all bad news. For example, it shows 58% of organizations have increased their level of preparedness. But Bruemmer says that number needs to be higher to ensure the safety of U.S. consumers.

"Investing in breach preparedness is like planning for a natural disaster,” he said. “You hope it will never happen, but just in case, you invest time and resources in a response plan so your company can survive the storm."  

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Diesel dead? GM doesn't think so

It plans to bring diesel-powered Cruze and Equinox models to the U.S.

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Anthem won't pay for new muscular dystrophy drug

It says the new drug is still 'investigational' even though it's approved by the FDA

There is only one drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which generally strikes children between 3 and 5...

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Facebook announces new app that exclusively handles events

Whether or not users will have to download it in the future is uncertain

Facebook users may remember back a couple of years when the social media giant decided to create an app that exclusively handled its messages feature. The...

PhotoFacebook users may remember back a couple of years when the social media giant decided to create an app that exclusively handled its messages feature. The decision ended up being very controversial, with many consumers saying that they preferred to deal with all of their Facebook-related activities in one place instead of having to download a different app to divide the work up.

Since then, things have cooled down significantly and mobile users have gotten used to dealing with both apps. But in an announcement on Friday, Facebook said that it will be creating an app that exclusively deals with its “Events” feature, appropriately called “Events from Facebook.” Whether or not there will be backlash from users is uncertain, since the Events feature is much less used on Facebook than Messenger is -- although the company says the former draws 100 million users.

The new app doesn’t really add anything new to the Events experience, but it will allow users to keep track of all their social occasions without having to launch the base Facebook app. Users can also open the app and see what events friends are “interested in,” or see events that are linked to pages they have “liked.”

Additionally, users can use a feature that allows them see what events are happening in their area. The events are sorted by time, location, and personal interests, and they are viewable on the app’s interactive map. Users can also check out future events in any city, possibly facilitating activities on an upcoming vacation or trip.

At this time, users can still access their events on the base Facebook app, but whether or not the company will force the use of Events from Facebook in the future like it did with Messenger is still up in the air. The app is currently available on iOS and will launch on the Android platform in the near future.

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Can real doctors match online diagnosis?

Human physicians beat computers 72-34 percent in a Harvard Medical School study

Have a headache, indigestion, or a weird-looking mole? You can head to any number of websites to input your symptoms and get a list of potential diagnoses,...

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Hone your home improvement skills with DIYZ

Doing it yourself isn't always easy, but this new app may change that

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The monthly payment isn't the only thing to be concerned about

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Good Earth Egg Company recalls shell eggs

The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

Good Earth Egg Company of Bonne Terre, Mo., is recalling shell eggs that have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.The following products a...

PhotoGood Earth Egg Company of Bonne Terre, Mo., is recalling shell eggs that have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

The following products are being recalled:

  • Various sizes of shell eggs packaged in the following ways: 6-count cartons, 10-count cartons, 12-count cartons, 18-count cartons, 15 dozen cases, and 30 dozen cases.

The dates and codes on the cartons and cases will include everything prior to and including date code 252 – Sell By 10/08/2016, with “Packed for” or “Produced for Good Earth Egg Company”

The recalled products were distributed throughout the Midwest, including Missouri, Illinois and Kansas, at the retail and wholesale level, institutions, restaurants and to walk-in customers.

Good Earth eggs were sold at Dierbergs, Straubs, Midtowne Market and Price Chopper in the metropolitan St. Louis area.

What to do

Customers do not need to return the product to the store where it was purchased. Instead, they should discard any product and its container. The company will work directly with each consumer to manage replacement of its product.

Consumers with questions may contact Good Earth Egg Company at goodeartheggco@hotmail.com.

 

 

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Daily's Premium Meats recalls bacon product

The product may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes

Daily’s Premium Meats of Salt Lake City, Utah, is recalling approximately 170 pounds of ready-to-eat bacon product.The product may be adulterated with...

PhotoDaily’s Premium Meats of Salt Lake City, Utah, is recalling approximately 170 pounds of ready-to-eat bacon product.

The product may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes.

There have been no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The following item, produced on September 22, 2016, is being recalled:

  • 17 CASES of 2-5 lbs. PACKAGES IN CARDBOARD BOXES, CONTAINING “48108 REGULAR ENDS PRECOOKED BACON NET WT. 10 lbs. 2/5 lbs.” with a packaging date of “9/22/16” and use by date of “6/19/17.

The recalled product bears establishment number “EST. 6133” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to Associated Foods retail locations in Idaho and Utah.

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 regarding the recall may contact Barry VanderVeur at (801)-707-6145. 

 

 

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Silver Springs Farms expands beef products recall

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

Silver Springs Farms of Harleysville, Pa., is expanding its earlier recall to include an additional 7,230 pounds of ground beef patties and burgers, and an...

PhotoSilver Springs Farms of Harleysville, Pa., is expanding its earlier recall to include an additional 7,230 pounds of ground beef patties and burgers, and an undetermined amount of various sandwich steak products.

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

There have been no confirmed reports of illness or adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The ground beef items were produced on August 19 – 20, 2016. The exact production dates for the various sandwich steak products are unknown at this time, but are believed to have been produced between August 19 and September 19, 2016.

The following products are being recalled:

  • 20-lb. cases containing 4 packages of 5-lb ground beef 80/20.
  • 10-lb. packages of “Camellia Beef Pattie 80/20,” with package codes 6235 and 6242.
  • 10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Beef Pattie 80/20,” with package codes 6242 and 6237.
  • 10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Beef Pattie 80/20 Flat,” with package code 6237.
  • 10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Gourmet Beef Burger Flat,” with package code 6235.
  • 10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Gourmet Beef Burger 80/20,” with package code 6237.
  • 10-lb. packages of “Silver Springs Farm Gourmet Beef Pattie 80/20,” with package code 6242.

The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 4771” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to a distributor in Virginia and institutional food establishments in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

What to do

Consumers 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 Dan Fillippo at (215) 256-4321.

 

 

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Model year 2012-2013 Audi A6s and A7s recalled

The fuel hose in the engine compartment may degrade and leak fuel

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 28,249 model year 2012-2013 Audi A6s andA7s.The vehicles have a fuel hose in the engine compartment that may d...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 28,249 model year 2012-2013 Audi A6s andA7s.

The vehicles have a fuel hose in the engine compartment that may degrade and leak fuel. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

What to do

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the under hood fuel pump and fuel hose, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. VW's number for this recall is 24BZ.

 

 

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Travel souvenirs you’ll savor every day

Look for smaller items like caps and cups that you can use often

Each morning my spouse decides where he’ll have coffee. This morning it was Lucerne, Switzerland, yesterday it was Ghent, Belgium, and tomorrow, maybe Time...

PhotoEach morning my spouse decides where he’ll have coffee. This morning it was Lucerne, Switzerland, yesterday it was Ghent, Belgium, and tomorrow, maybe Times Square in Manhattan.

He’s not traveling, but making a selection from the collection of Starbucks mugs he’s brought home from his travels. This isn’t his only collection. He wears a baseball cap to protect himself from the sun each day and he buys them at every destination.  It’s not only a happy reminder, but a great conversation starter.

My spouse isn’t the only one in our household who enjoys souvenir shopping. While I have brought home my share of artwork, decorative items, and jewelry, the items that bring me the most joy are the smaller ones I use every day, like my wallet. I bought it on the island of Bellagio on Lake Como. Every time I use it I’m reminded of a picture-perfect sunny day, wandering the streets and alleys of this charming island. While I’m extracting a credit card, I might remember how much fun it was to practice my limited Italian or how hard it was to choose a flavor of delicious gelato.  

It’s fun to seek out the everyday items we use as travel souvenirs. They become frequent reminders of relaxed days, new experiences, and faraway places.

What can you purchase?

Annual calendars are a great memento of destinations you’ve visited. Last year I bought one from the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, and next year I will be using one from my trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Bookmarks are sold most often in museum gift shops and bookstores. They are perennial favorites of mine and I take the time to look through them all when starting a book.

Wallets and small leather items, such as gloves, business card holders, and belts are both useful and pack well.

Scarfs can be unique to your destination, useful, and reasonable. The pashminas I buy abroad are distinctive and often higher quality than those I find at home.

Fun items

Mugs can be fun items. Obviously you can use them for coffee and tea, but they are also great for storing pens, markers, cosmetic brushes, artist supplies, and anything requiring vertical storage.

Serving pieces made from unique materials are also a great find. I’ve found useful ones in olive wood, stainless, china, and pewter. They’re easy to pack and delightful to use.

Cocktail napkins are useful and I enjoy the wonderful ones I find in my travels. They are the same price that I would pay at home but with distinctive motifs.

I love my heavy duty beverage glasses, one a gift from my daughter from her travels and the other from my Alaskan trip. When one broke I replaced it with one from an inn at Yellowstone.

Most of my table linens come from faraway places. Each week I choose a different table runner, maybe one from Provence, or Orvieto, or maybe Tallinn. I find you can never have too many placemats and they are so easy to pack.

Lastly, I bring home note pads. I constantly replenish my stack and use them daily.

Avoid buying souvenirs that will languish in a drawer or closet. Instead, find things you will use often so each time you see or handle it, it will trigger a memory, a smile, and warm your heart. That’s what travel is all about.

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What to do after the hurricane has passed

The Consumer Federation of America offers some advice

With Hurricane Matthew roaring up the Florida coast and threatening parts of Georgia and South Carolina, now might be a good time to review what happens wh...

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GM putting ads in cars

The geo-targeted ads will be displayed on the car's infotainment system

Buses and subways are plastered with ads, and airlines increasingly are finding ways to display ads while you're strapped into your seat. So why shouldn't...

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Verizon seeks a $1 billion discount on its Yahoo acquisition

The data company's massive data breach has put a strain on negotiations

When we first reported details about Yahoo’s massive data breach, which compromised user data on 500 million accounts, we mentioned how the timing of the d...

PhotoWhen we first reported details about Yahoo’s massive data breach, which compromised user data on 500 million accounts, we mentioned how the timing of the disaster might negatively affect the acquisition deal it established with Verizon.

The telecommunications giant snatched up the struggling data company in July for $4.8 billion. However, since the breach happened in 2014 and it wasn’t properly communicated, that gives Verizon some leverage to re-negotiate a price or back out of the deal entirely.

Now, a new report from the New York Post says that Verizon is pushing for a $1 billion discount off the deal. It seems that news of the breach, along with allegations that Yahoo scanned emails for terrorist signals for a government agency, has put a strain on the negotiations.

“In the last day we’ve heard that [AOL boss] Tim [Armstrong] is getting cold feet. He’s pretty upset about the lack of disclosure and he’s saying, ‘Can we get out of this or can we reduce the price?’” said a source close to Verizon.

Yahoo pushes back

Asking for a discount simply makes good business sense, since the scandal and any financial consequences diminishes Yahoo value. On top of the discount, sources say that Verizon is putting aside $1 billion in reserve to deal with any fallout from the breach. It’s a move that former Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn detailed to CNBC on Wednesday.

“If I’m sitting at Verizon right now . . . just from a business standpoint, I’d probably reserve a bunch of money against the deal or go back to Yahoo and ask for a discount,” he said.

At the same time, however, Yahoo is pushing back against the suggestion. The company has balked at the prospect of a discount, saying that Verizon should honor the established deal and that it has no legal avenue to change the terms at this point. Yahoo’s board is set to meet in two weeks to address the issue, but discussions will continue up to that point.

“Tim was out there this week laying the law down and [Yahoo CEO] Marissa [Mayer] is trying to protect shareholders. . . Tim knows how to be fair, while Verizon is pushing him, he can bridge the gap,” said a source close to the situation.

Incentive for a deal

On Verizon’s end, the breach comes at an inopportune time for its other business prospects. The company acquired AOL nearly a year and a half ago for $4.4 billion and had hoped to combine it with its Yahoo acquisition to create a competitive rival to Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market.

Estimates suggest that the combination will reach 1 billion consumers if it closes in the first quarter, and that number could grow to 2 billion by 2020. Wanting to get the Yahoo acquisition put together may provide incentive for Armstrong to hammer out a deal quickly, but at this point the going may be slow and nothing is set in stone.

“They’re being cautious because they don’t know what they’re going to find,” one source said.

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Parents spend more time with their kids than they used to, study finds

Compared to 50 years ago, parents spend more time each day on child care

When it comes to clocking quality time with the kids, you may be doing better than you think. A new study finds that parents across most Western countries...

PhotoWhen it comes to clocking quality time with the kids, you may be doing better than you think. A new study finds that parents across most Western countries are spending more time with their children than parents did in the 1960s.

The study, which compared data collected in 1965 and 2012, also resulted in the conclusion that parents with higher levels of education tend to spend the most time with their kids.

To conduct the study, researchers examined one day in the life of 122,000 mothers and fathers. Participating parents used a daily diary to record how much time they spent on child-care activities such as meal preparation, feeding, bathing, playing, reading, and helping kids with homework.

In comparing the data, researchers found that today’s busy moms and dads are outdoing parents of previous generations.

Fathers’ time quadrupled

Fifty years ago, mothers were spending roughly 54 minutes on child-care activities each day. In 2012, however, moms are logging around 104 minutes daily. And dads have really stepped up the plate.

Fathers in 1965 spent a measly average of just 16 minutes with their kids each day. Today’s dads, on the other hand, are spending around 59 minutes per day taking care of their daddy duties.  

"Contemporary fathers -- having more egalitarian gender views -- want to be more involved in their children's lives than their own dads were," said study co-author Judith Treas, UCI Chancellor's Professor of sociology. 

Treas adds that the increase in the amount of time parents are spending with their children is certainly a good thing. “The time parents spend with children is regarded as critical for positive cognitive, behavioral and academic outcomes." 

College Vs. No college

When researchers sorted the more recent data into two categories, parents with a college education and parents without, they found an unexpected difference: less educated moms and dads spent less time with their kids.

College-educated mothers spent approximately 123 minutes taking care of the kids each day, while less educated mothers spent 94 minutes daily.

The same finding held true for fathers. Degree-holding dads spent 74 minutes a day with their kids. Fathers without a degree spent a daily average of 50 minutes on child care.

This finding surprised researchers, because, as Treas explained, "According to economic theory, higher wages should discourage well-educated parents from foregoing work to spend extra time with youngsters. Also, they have the money to pay others to care for their children."

The exception: France

The study authors note that France was the only country that showed a decrease in time spent with the kids. As for why this may be, Treas says there is no clear answer. There are, however, several possibilities.

“No one is certain why the French are exceptional. Public spending on child care is fairly high in France, lightening parental responsibilities. Some experts speculate that the French simply believe children can accommodate successfully without parents making big changes to their lifestyles.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

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Zillow sees biggest rent increases in the West

After already steep climbs, Seattle renters could face another 7% rise

Home prices have risen the fastest in the major Western U.S. markets, so it shouldn't come as a shock that rents in these metros are rising as well. The la...

PhotoHome prices have risen the fastest in the major Western U.S. markets, so it shouldn't come as a shock that rents in these metros are rising as well. The latest report from real estate marketplace Zillow suggests there's no relief in sight for some of these Western renters.

Rents are up generally because more consumers are renting instead of buying. That increases competition for apartments and condos and single-family homes on the rental market.

In the West, there's another contributing factor – high-paying tech jobs. As competition increases for the limited number of rental properties, landlords know there are plenty of people with good jobs who can pay a higher rent.

Up 7% in Seattle

Zillow predicts that rents will go up the most in Seattle and Portland over the next 12 months. While rents have begun to level off in some U.S. markets, renters in Seattle could see rents rise 7%, while Portland renters should brace for a 6% increase.

On the other hand, the rise in rents should slow in the red-hot tech markets of San Francisco and San Jose, where the cost of renting a home is projected to rise about 4% – still more than twice the rate of inflation.

It's not just the West where renters need to hold onto their wallets. Rents are generally rising in markets that have seen the most home price appreciation, and that includes Denver, Miami, and Cincinnati, the only Midwestern market to make the Zillow list of fastest growing rental markets.

High demand, low supply

Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell says high rent growth in these markets is being driven by high demand and low supply.

"We have more renters today than in the past and most newly formed households are renter households,” she said. “This taken together with a lack of new rental construction at less expensive price points has been a recipe for rising rents.”

But the news is not all bleak. Gudell says she expects rents in the hottest markets to begin to slow by the middle of next year.

“Instead of the 10% rental appreciation we've been seeing in some places, expect growth more along the lines of 4% to 7%,” she said. “This is still high, but will hopefully give renters some relief."

If you have a good job and get regular raises, you might be able to scrape by. But U.S. Census data shows half of all renters, and 83% of those with incomes less than $20,000, pay more than 30% of their incomes for rent.

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Backpage CEO arrested, charged with pimping

California brings criminal charges against the site's executives

For years, law enforcement officials and child welfare groups have decried the role of Backpage.com, a website that they say hosts ads for escort services....

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Job creation slips as unemployment rate inches upward

There were fewer new jobs than analysts expected

September turned out to be something of a disappointment in terms of job creation.The Department of Labor (DOL) reports employers added 156,000 private...

PhotoSeptember turned out to be something of a disappointment in terms of job creation.

The Department of Labor (DOL) reports employers added 156,000 private payroll positions last month after creating 167,000 jobs in August. The consensus forecast for September from Briefing.com was for 176,000 new jobs.

In addition, the unemployment rate edged up to 5.0% from the August reading of 4.9%. That translates to 7.9 million people who are out of work, a figure that has shown little movement over the past year.

A "so-so September jobs report," is the way Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza characterizes the latest employment news, adding that, "U.S. employment has noticeably lost -- not gained -- momentum since the December liftoff," which saw creation of around 250,000 jobs.

Who's working and who's not

Among the major worker groups, the jobless rate for Hispanics rose to 6.4% in September, while the rates for adult men (4.7%), adult women (4.4%), teenagers (15.8%), Whites (4.4%), Blacks (8.3%), and Asians (3.9%) showed little or no change.

The number of long-term unemployed (those out of work for 27 weeks or more) was virtually unchanged at 2.0 million, accounting for about a quarter of the unemployed.

Both the labor force participation rate (62.9%) and the employment-population ratio (59.8%) were little-changed.

Where the jobs are

Professional & business services and health care were the job-creation leaders in September, adding 67,000 and 33,000 workers, respectively.

More jobs were also seen in food services and drinking places (+30,000) and retail trade.

Mining employment was unchanged in September along with construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and government.

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose last month by six cents -- to $25.79, and over the year are up 2.6%.

The complete report is available on the DOL website.

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Volkswagen recalls Audi Q5s and Q7s

The fuel cap flange on the affected vehicles may crack

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 143,214 model year 2009-2012 Audi Q5s, and 2007-2012 Audi Q7s equipped with gasoline engines.The fuel cap flan...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 143,214 model year 2009-2012 Audi Q5s, and 2007-2012 Audi Q7s equipped with gasoline engines.

The fuel cap flange on the affected vehicles may crack, allowing fuel to leak.

A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

What to do

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will clean the pump flange and install a butyl rubber band to protect the pump, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. Interim notices will sent in early November 2016. A second notice will be sent when parts are available.

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 20W9.

 

 

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Fresh Express recalls American Salad

The product may contain egg, milk, wheat and anchovy, allergens not declared on the label

Fresh Express is recalling of 480 cases of 11-oz. Fresh Express American Salad with a Product Code of G264A12A and Use-By Date of October 5.The product...

PhotoFresh Express is recalling of 480 cases of 11-oz. Fresh Express American Salad with a Product Code of G264A12A and Use-By Date of October 5.

The product may contain egg, milk, wheat and anchovy, allergens not declared on the label.

No illnesses are reported.

The following product is being recalled:

BRANDPRODUCT NAMESIZEUPCPRODUCTION CODEBEST IF USED BY DATEPOSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION STATES
Fresh ExpressAmerican Salad11 oz.0 71279 241005G264A127A05-OctAL, FL, GA, NC, SC, TN

What to do

Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it.

A refund is available at the place of purchase or by contacting Fresh Express toll-free at (800) 242-5472 from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. (ET).

 

 

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Burning Samsung phone causes airliner evacuation

Owner says it was one of the replacements but Samsung won't confirm

Brian Green had just boarded a Southwest Airlines flight in Louisville, bound for Baltimore. As he settled into his seat, he said he remembered to power do...

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Researchers: exploding e-cigarettes more common than you think

Doctors urge greater monitoring of design and manufacturing process

When e-cigarettes were introduced a few years ago, they were presented as a safer alternative to cigarettes. They delivered the same nicotine but not the t...

PhotoWhen e-cigarettes were introduced a few years ago, they were presented as a safer alternative to cigarettes. They delivered the same nicotine but not the tars and some other contaminants present in tobacco.

What might have gotten lost in the discussion, however, is another safety issue. Users are putting an electronic device in their mouths. And just as we have seen with other electronic devices, like smartphones, they sometimes explode.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina's (UNC) Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program decided to focus solely on e-cigarette safety rather than any other adverse health effects they might have.

They said that in the first half of this year, doctors at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals treated 10 inpatients with severe burns and facial fractures. The injuries, they say, all came from e-cigarette explosions.

Serious injury

According to their study, most of the injuries required surgery, and one patient lost his eye when an e-cigarette exploded while he puffed on it.

Clare Meernik, lead author of an editorial published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), says the UNC burn center's experience is not an outlier.

“We think these explosions are happening to a greater extent than the current medical literature suggests,” she said.

Other safety officials have recognized a threat. E-cigarettes have been banned from airline luggage, for fear they could ignite a fire while the plane is airborne.

The BMJ editorial says there should be better monitoring of e-cigarette-related injuries, as well as better oversight of the manufacturing process.

Dr. Felicia Williams, of the UNC School of Medicine, says victims of an exploding e-cigarette suffer from flame burns, but also from exposure to chemicals. She's concerned most emergency rooms, where victims tend to first be treated, are unaware of the severe nature of the burns.

No way to track

Currently, the researchers say there isn't a system in the U.S. health care system to track these injuries. Most cases are gleaned from media reports. They point to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that more than nine million people in the U.S. are using e-cigarettes as a reason to increase the focus on safety.

“We believe the FDA should immediately develop safety standards that all manufacturers must comply with, Williams said. We know that some explosions are related to battery issues, but other mechanisms may also be involved.”

Improved safety standards, she says, would reduce the number of severe burns and other injuries. Since the FDA now has the authority to regulate e-cigarettes, the researchers say that authority should extend to the design and manufacture of these devices.

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Feds probe airbag deployments on Nissan Versa

Slamming the door can have unexpected consequences

If you have a Nissan Versa, you may want to be careful about slamming the door. Federal safety regulators are looking into complaints that slamming the doo...

PhotoIf you have a Nissan Versa, you may want to be careful about slamming the door. Federal safety regulators are looking into complaints that slamming the door can cause the airbag to deploy.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into complaints of airbag deployments in about 252,000 Versas from the 2011 and 2012 model years.

Complaints indicate that the driver or passenger curtain and seat-mounted airbags deployed when the front door was shut in a “possibly aggressive manner,” a summary on NHTSA’s website said.

In one complaint, the consumer reported that the Versa was parked in the driveway. "Upon entering and closing the vehicle doors, the air bags deployed without warning," the report said. "The vehicle was taken to the dealer where it was diagnosed that the air bag deployment was the result of the driver forcibly clsoing the [door]."

“I closed the passenger side door and the airbag from the door exploded. Just that easy,” read one complaint.

No injuries have been reported. It was not clear which company supplied the airbag components to Nissan. 

Nissan said it is cooperating with regulators in investigating the matter.

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VW shrugs, names its new crossover Atlas

German executives are seriously trying to repair the company's U.S. image

First there was the Touareg, then the Tiguan, Volkswagen crossovers that have been admired for their looks and handling but not for their Teutonic nomencla...

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Don't put off holiday travel plans

Planning ahead saves both money and headaches

Traveling over the holidays? If you haven't already, now is the time to make your plans.Booking airfare is always like rolling the dice. When you do it...

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Shopping for Halloween accessories online? Watch out for counterfeiters

Scammers may be selling potentially dangerous fakes

Bringing certain Halloween costumes to life often requires a few special touches. For add-ons such as makeup or spooky novelty contact lenses, consumers of...

PhotoBringing certain Halloween costumes to life often requires a few special touches. For add-ons such as makeup or spooky novelty contact lenses, consumers often head to the web. But not all Halloween costumes and accessories found online may be safe.

According to brand protection firm MarkMonitor, the internet is rife with counterfeit Halloween costumes and accessories. Those hunting for a Halloween bargain may be directed to a site selling potentially dangerous counterfeits.

Purchasing a counterfeit item could lead to lasting physical damage, says Akino Chikada, senior brand protection manager at MarkMonitor. To avoid having a fright-filled night become truly scary, consumers should be cautious when shopping online for Halloween accessories.

Decorative contact lenses

Popular Halloween looks often involve the use of colored contacts or fake blood, but these accessories can cause harm if not purchased from a reputable site.

“Anything that has direct application or contact with your body can be a danger,” Chikada told ConsumerAffairs, adding that novelty contact lenses found online may, in fact, be counterfeit.

Unwittingly purchasing decorative contact lenses from a counterfeiter can lead to eye infections, poor eye health, or other serious repercussions. Chikada notes that only licensed doctors can legally sell contact lenses.

Spotting a counterfeiter  

The internet can be a great place to find unusual items that may be difficult to track down in stores, but consumers should be on the lookout for counterfeiters. Here are a few of the tip-offs that may differentiate a counterfeiter from a legitimate site.

  • Low, low prices. If search terms such as “cheap” or “discount” originally led you to the site and the prices look too good to be true, be careful. It may be a counterfeiter.  
  • Lack of details. The site may look professional at a glance, but a scammer may not have a legitimate “About” or “FAQ” page. A slight misspelling of a popular domain name (called “typosquatting”) can also be a red flag.
  • Failure to spell out return policy. Reputable sites will let you know what the return policy is up front.
  • Bad reputation. Do a search for “vendor+scam” and see if the website or seller you’re dealing with is mentioned on any scam warnings.
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Announced job cuts surge in September

The education sector led the increase

Employers across the U.S. announced plans to cut their workforces by 44,324 payroll positions in September -- up a whopping 38% from August.Figures rel...

PhotoEmployers across the U.S. announced plans to cut their workforces by 44,324 payroll positions in September -- up a whopping 38% from August.

Figures released by outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas show that despite the spike in terminations, cuts were down 25% from September 2015.

So far this year, employers have announced a total of 435,612 planned job cuts, 12% fewer than for the first nine months of the previous year.

“Heavy job cutting in the energy sector defined the first half of the year,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger. “But, each quarter has seen the number of overall job cuts decline, as this sector stabilized and the economy continued to improve.”

Heavy education cuts

The education sector took the heaviest hit last month, as job cuts shot up 363% to 8,671. The bulk of the firings came from the collapse of for-profit college ITT Technical Institute, which led to 8,000 job losses.

The computer industry lost another 4,152 job cuts during the month, bringing the annual job-cut total for the sector to 59,719 -- second only to the energy sector, which has announced 98,733 terminations to date.

The retail sector, which announced 7,296 job cuts in September, ranks third in year-to-date job cuts with 51,939 through three quarters. However, those losses will be more than offset by seasonal hiring that has already seen nearly 230,000 new hires.

“It is not unusual to see a decreased job-cut activity in the third quarter, as many employers postpone major workforce decisions during the summer months,” Challenger noted, adding, “We could see a resurgence in cuts to close out the year. The fourth quarter is typically when companies make strategic moves to prepare for the coming year.”

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Office Depot recalls Winsley chairs

The chair can tip over when the user is leaning back

Office Depot of Boca Raton, Fla, is recalling about 129,000 Winsley Mid-Back chairs.The chair can tip over when leaning back, posing a fall hazard....

PhotoOffice Depot of Boca Raton, Fla, is recalling about 129,000 Winsley Mid-Back chairs.

The chair can tip over when leaning back, posing a fall hazard.

No incidents or injuries are reported.

This recall involves Winsley Mid-Back Chairs (Office Depot item #388262 for black or #907932 for white or the OfficeMax item #25100033 for black or #25100649 for white) sold on or before August 2016.

The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Office Depot and OfficeMax stores nationwide and online at officedepot.com from August 2015, through August 2016, for about $150.

What to do

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chair and contact Office Depot to receive a free repair kit.

Consumers may contact Office Depot at 800-949-9974 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, or online at www.officedepot.com and click on Recall Notices at the bottom of the page for more information. 

 

 

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Silver Springs Farms recalls beef products

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

Silver Springs Farms of Harleysville, Pa., is recalling approximately 740 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7....

PhotoSilver Springs Farms of Harleysville, Pa., is recalling approximately 740 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

There are no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The the following ground beef items, produced on August 19, 2016, are being recalled:

  • 20-lb cases containing 4 packages of 5-lb ground beef 80/20.

The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 4771” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to a distributor in Virginia.

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 Dan Fillippo at (215) 256-4321.

 

 

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Model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees recalled

The rear tow hook bracket or tow eye bracket may be loose

Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 21 model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured August 8, 2016, through August 16, 2016.The rear tow hook brack...

PhotoChrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 21 model year 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured August 8, 2016, through August 16, 2016.

The rear tow hook bracket or tow eye bracket may be loose, which could allow the bracket to detach from the vehicle while being it is being driven -- possibly becoming a road hazard.

If the bracket detaches during a vehicle recovery, there may be a loss of control of the towed vehicle. Either scenario increases the risk of a crash.

What to do

Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will confirm both tow hook bracket bolts are properly tightened, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on November 6, 2016.

Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is S73.

 

 

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Mall of America acts to preserve the sanctity of Black Friday

Translation: the giant mall will close on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever

Thanksgiving is perhaps the biggest American holiday. It originated on these shores and remains unique to the U.S. The Mall of America is America's biggest...

PhotoThanksgiving is perhaps the biggest American holiday. It originated on these shores and remains unique to the U.S. The Mall of America is America's biggest shopping mall and in recent years, the two have co-existed, with shoppers jumping up from the dinner table to start their holiday shopping.

But not this year. The giant Minnesota mall announced today that it will be closed on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever. The mall's 520 stores can open if they want to but few are expected to do so.

Mall management says it simply wants to give employees a day off and get the holiday shopping emphasis where it belongs -- on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

“We’ve been talking about this for months, looking at the numbers, looking at the pros and the cons,” said Jill Renslow, the mall’s senior vice president of marketing and business development, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We’re excited to give this day back to our employees so they can celebrate with their families.”

"Special magic"

Renslow also hopes the move will "bring that special magic back to Black Friday" and noted that the mall will throw open its doors at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, welcoming shoppers perhaps still somewhat besotted with family, food, and friends.

Critics have warned that Thanksgiving has been in danger of becoming little more than an elaborate luncheon that kicks off Black Friday, as stores great and small began opening for at least part of the traditional holiday in recent years.

For their part, retailers have complained that the extra hours have not generated appreciably more revenue but have simply spread it out over a greater time period while increasing labor, utility, and advertising expense.

That apparently mirrors Renslow's thinking. 

“By closing on Thanksgiving, we’re confident we’ll still get those strong numbers throughout the Black Friday weekend.” she said, according to the Start-Tribune.

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Report: Yahoo scanned email for U.S. intelligence

Reuters reports that the government was looking for certain combinations of characters

On the heels of news that millions of Yahoo user accounts had been compromised, a published report claims the tech company complied with a government order...

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Chicago announces one-year suspension of city business for Wells Fargo

The city will not use the company's underwriting, brokerage, or trustee services

The bad news just keeps coming for Wells Fargo. After revelations that its employees signed customers up for accounts without their permission, the bank ha...

PhotoThe bad news just keeps coming for Wells Fargo. After revelations that its employees signed customers up for accounts without their permission, the bank has faced a slew of lawsuits and actions from several agencies and states.

About a week ago, California announced that it would be suspending financial ties with institution, saying that the Treasurer’s Office would make no investments in Wells Fargo securities and that the state would stop using its brokerage and underwriting services. Now, the city of Chicago will be taking similar steps.

The Chicago City Council announced on Wednesday that it had approved a one-year suspension of Wells Fargo from city business, according to Reuters. The suspension will include the cessation of underwriting, brokerage, and trustee services.

“I hope this action by the city of Chicago will echo around the nation and make it clear to other institutions this conduct is unacceptable,” said Alderman Edward Burke, head of the council’s finance committee.

Wells Fargo released a statement on the suspension, suggesting that it may be a poor choice since the city will need the services it can provide. “Wells Fargo is disappointed that the Chicago City Council has chosen to suspend a relationship with one of the nation’s safest and strongest financial institutions at a time when the city needs access to dependable financial partners,” the statement read.

The action may be one of the first in a long line of similar decisions to come. On Monday, Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs suspended $30 billion in investment activity with Wells Fargo, and it’s possible that other states and cities may do the same going forward.

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Should seniors delay getting a flu shot?

A later shot might be more effective but the danger is too many people will fail to get vaccinated

October is when there is usually a push for people to get flu shots. The vaccine is especially recommended for seniors and pregnant women.Seniors usual...

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Laptop buyback offers were scams, feds charge

A Georgia company is accused of deceiving customers wanting to sell used electronics

Getting rid of old electronic devices isn't always easy. You're not allowed to dump the stuff just anywhere and there's not much of a market for many used...

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ATM fees hit another record high

But a Bankrate.com survey finds many other bank costs have dropped slightly

A new report by Bankrate.com suggests the reason so many consumers prefer not to use a bank is not all that mysterious. It can be expensive.The headlin...

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Prepaid cards get new federal protections

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issues new rule to cover all prepaid cards

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)  has issued a new rule covering prepaid debit cards, providing a series of new consumer protections. The ru...

PhotoThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)  has issued a new rule covering prepaid debit cards, providing a series of new consumer protections. The rule goes into effect October 1, 2017.

Consumers often use these cards instead of bank accounts. Money can be directly loaded on the cards, which can be used to make purchases or pay bills. The problem for consumers has been the fees associated with the cards and the lack of transparency for some of them.

That's because not all of these cards are the same. The cards have their distinct set of features, functions, and fees. Right now, it can be hard to compare cards because each card displays fee information differently.

The CFPB says the new rule will require clear, upfront information about fees so consumers will more easily shop for the best deal.

Reins in overdraft fees

The rule also tightly regulates overdraft fees connected to prepaid cards, which Nick Bourke, director of consumer finance at the Pew Charitable Trusts, is one of the most important features.

“The CFPB’s rule on prepaid cards is a big win for consumers,” Bourke said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “First and foremost, it keeps the cards free from overdraft penalties, which aligns with consumers’ preferences.”

Bourke points to research that shows many consumers turn to prepaid cards to control spending and to avoid overdraft fees.

“Moving forward, we strongly encourage the bureau to rein in these harmful fees for checking accounts, the most widely used financial product in the U.S.,” he said.

Growing use

The use of prepaid cards has rapidly grown since the financial crisis, when many consumers joined the “unbanked” population. But Pew researchers say the cards are also widely used by people who also have bank accounts.

Use of prepaid cards rose more than 50% from 2012 to 2014, driven primarily by increased adoption among consumers with bank accounts, with approximately 23 million U.S. adults regularly using prepaid cards, according to Pew data.

Pew found that 72% of unbanked consumers and 45% of those with bank accounts say they use prepaid cards to avoid overdraft fees. A huge majority – 86% – prefer to have a transaction declined for insufficient funds than pay a $35 overdraft fee.

The rule also provides new features to make sure prepaid cards are safer to use at retail point-of-purchase locations and online. Currently, if an unauthorized person accesses a prepaid cardholder's account, the level of protection depends on the issuer. Under the new rule, there will be universal protections for all cards in case they are lost or stolen.

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U.S. home prices continue to climb

The outlook for the year ahead remains positive

Once again, the price of U.S. homes as gauged by CoreLogic was on the rise.The property information provider says it's Home Price Index (HPI) posted a...

PhotoOnce again, the price of U.S. homes as gauged by CoreLogic was on the rise.

The property information provider says it's Home Price Index (HPI) posted a year-over-year advance of 6.2% in August and, on a month-over-month basis, was up 1.1%.

“Housing values continue to rise briskly on stronger fundamental and investor-fueled demand, as well as lack of adequate supply,” said CoreLogic President and CEO Anand Nallathambi. “This continued price appreciation is contributing to a growing affordability crisis in many markets around the country.”

Looking ahead

The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates prices will rise 5.3% from August 2016 to August 2017, and by 0.4% from August to September.

“Home prices are now just 6% below the nominal peak reached in April 2006,” according to Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “With prices forecasted to increase by 5% over the next year, prices will be back to their peak level in 2017.”

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New jobs increase in September -- but at a slower pace

A tightening labor market gets the blame

Private sector employment eased a bit in September.According to the ADP National Employment Report, produced by the payroll firm in collaboration with...

PhotoPrivate sector employment eased a bit in September.

According to the ADP National Employment Report, produced by the payroll firm in collaboration with Moody's Analytics, the economy created 154,000 jobs from August to September.

There were 177,000 new jobs the month before.

"Job gains in September eased a bit when compared to the past 12-month average," said ADP Research Institute Vice President Ahu Yildirmaz. "We also observed softening this month in trade/transportation/utilities, possibly due to a continued tightening U.S. labor market and lackluster consumer spending."

Job creators

Payrolls for businesses with 49 or fewer employees increased by 34,000 jobs in September, employment at companies with 50-499 employees rose by 56,000 jobs, and large companies -- those with 500 or more employees – hired 64,000 new workers.

Companies with 500-999 employees increased their payrolls by 8,000 and companies with more than 1,000 employees added 56,000 workers.

Employment at goods-producing firms was up by 3,000 jobs in September, following a loss of 9,000 in August. Within that sector, employment in the construction industry rose by 1,000 jobs, while manufacturing jobs were down 6,000.

Companies that provide services added 151,000 jobs in September, with professional/business services contributing 45,000. Employment in trade/transportation/utilities increased by 15,000 and financial activities hired another 11,000 workers.

"The current record of consecutive monthly job gains continued in September,” said Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi. “With job openings at all-time highs and layoffs near all-time lows, the job market remains in full-swing. Job growth has moderated in recent months, but only because the economy is finally returning to full-employment."

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Mortgage applications rebound following two declines

Contract interest rates headed lower

Mortgage applications have posted a solid gain after falling for two weeks in a row, rising 2.9% during the week ending September 30.The Mortgage Banke...

PhotoMortgage applications have posted a solid gain after falling for two weeks in a row, rising 2.9% during the week ending September 30.

The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the Refinance Index jumped 5% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 63.8% of total applications from 62.7% the week before.

The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 4.5% of total applications, the FHA share dropped to 10.0% from 10.2%, the VA share of total applications fell to 11.4%, 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) fell four basis points -- from 3.66% to 3.62% -- the lowest level since July 2016, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.33 (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) dipped to 3.60% from 3.64%, with points decreasing to 0.25 from 0.28 (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 decreased by two basis points to 3.50%, with points falling to 0.16 from 0.21 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs slipped to 2.93% from 2.95%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was unchanged at 2.92%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

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Google debuts a new smartphone line-up

The Pixel phones are potential iPhone-killers and won't do much for Galaxy Notes either

Since giving birth to corporate parent Alphabet, Google has been trying to grow up and act like a really serious business instead of a very successful adve...

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Facebook rolls out Marketplace, its answer to Craigslist

Since Facebook requires real names, Marketplace may reduce the creep factor of online buying and selling

People have been buying and selling things on Facebook for quite awhile, even though there has been no official way to do so. So, says Facebook, it's only...

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LeanSpa marketers must pay $11.9 million, appeals court rules

The affiliate marketing group used fake news sites to sell the supposed weight-loss potion

A federal appeals court has upheld an $11.9 million penalty against an affiliate marketing group for its role in promoting LeanSpa, a supposed weight-loss...

PhotoA federal appeals court has upheld an $11.9 million penalty against an affiliate marketing group for its role in promoting LeanSpa, a supposed weight-loss supplement.

In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that LeadClick Media, LLC recruited affiliate marketers that used fake news sites to drive internet traffic to the LeanSpa website. LeadClick knew that the news sites were phony and actively participated in creating their content, the FTC said.

The decision is the first by a court of appeals to hold the operator of an affiliate marketing network liable for deception by third-party marketers.

“LeadClick knew its affiliates were lying to consumers and took steps to help make those lies more effective,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The Circuit Court’s ruling goes a long way toward ensuring that affiliate networks can’t hide behind claims of immunity when their consumer fraud is exposed.”

Legit sites

The court also found that LeadClick bought advertising banner space from legitimate online news sites with the intent to resell it for use with fake news sites, “thereby increasing the likelihood that a consumer would be deceived by the content.”

The case got its start in 2011, when the FTC and the State of Connecticut sued LeanSpa and its principal Boris Mizhen, charging them with using fake news websites to promote their products, making deceptive weight-loss claims, and telling consumers they could receive free trials of acai berry and “colon cleanse” products, while only paying the nominal cost of shipping and handling.

But in fact, the complaint alleged, many consumers ended up paying $79.99 for the “free” trial, and for recurring monthly shipments of products that were hard to cancel. The defendants allegedly made more than $25 million from consumers in the United States.

The FTC and the State of Connecticut settled with LeanSpa and Mizhen and returned more than $3.7 million to consumers who bought the deceptively advertised product.

In early 2013, the FTC filed an amended complaint seeking an injunction against LeadClick, an affiliate marketing network operator for LeanSpa, and its parent company, CoreLogic, Inc.

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How homes of former smokers could be hazardous to your health

Researchers found that tobacco pollutants remain in the home for at least six months after a smoker has quit

Although giving up on smoking is a crucial first step towards improving a person’s health, a new study shows that health hazards from the habit persist lon...

PhotoAlthough giving up on smoking is a crucial first step towards improving a person’s health, a new study shows that health hazards from the habit persist long after the last pack has been thrown out.

Researchers from San Diego State University have found that the smokers’ homes remain polluted by thirdhand smoke (THS) for at least six months after they have quit. THS is made up of minute tobacco particles that penetrate various surfaces in the home – like carpets, upholstery, pillows, blankets, clothes, wallpaper, and ceiling tiles.

“We tend to see smoke in the air and then it’s out of sight out of mind. But it leaves compounds in indoor environments that can do harm to our bodies, especially children, and sometimes we cannot see or smell it,” said lead author George E. Matt.

Pollutants stick around

The researchers came to their conclusions after conducting a six-month study on tobacco smoke pollutants found in the homes of 90 former smokers. They measured home surfaces, dust, and the fingers of the former smokers for THS pollutants at five different intervals to see if levels went down over time.

The data showed that levels of nicotine had a significant short-term reduction on household surfaces and on participants’ fingers, but levels found in dust did not change much over the six-month period. Urine tests also revealed that urinary cotinine levels, which measure exposure to tobacco, were still detectable at the study's conclusion. 

This suggests that residents were still being exposed to tobacco pollution long after they quit, which could have long-term negative impacts on their health.

The researchers say that further study will be needed to fully understand the consequences of continued THS exposure. More work will also need to be done to figure out how to remove THS from the home so that it doesn’t become a health issue.

The full study has been published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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Retailers already competing for your holiday dollars

That's because millions of consumers are already shopping

If you've been in a retail store in the last week or so, you might have noticed something odd. Retailers have completely skipped over Halloween displays an...

PhotoIf you've been in a retail store in the last week or so, you might have noticed something odd. Retailers have completely skipped over Halloween displays and fast-forwarded to Christmas.

The numbers explain why. A survey conducted for BestBlackFriday.com shows a huge number of consumers have already started their holiday shopping, or plan to start very soon. Waiting until Black Friday to start marketing to consumers, the survey suggests, means being late to the party, or even missing it.

The survey found 17.3% of consumers started shopping soon after Labor Day. Nearly as many, 18.3%, say they plan to get started this month. Another 21.16% say they plan to start buying for the holidays in early November. That means 57.2% of consumers plan to start their holiday shopping before Black Friday rolls around.

Only 18.16% plan to start on Black Friday while 25.15% are waiting until December to hit the stores.

Biggest take-away

“The biggest take-away from the survey is that 18.96% of the American public, or over 47 million people, plan to have completely finished their holiday shopping before the month of November even begins,” BestBlackFriday principal Phil Dengler told ConsumerAffairs.

“While many shoppers plan to wait until Black Friday and December for the traditional 'biggest shopping days of the year,' nearly 20% of the population is confident in concluding their shopping by the end of October. Many Americans are still frustrated with the 'Christmas creep,' but it appears as though more may be embracing it as time goes by."

Dengler says while Black Friday, Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday are still extremely important for retailers and shoppers, the majority of Americans are not waiting for them to make their first purchases. Labor Day sales, Columbus Day sales, and Pre-Black Friday sales starting in early November are luring shoppers to begin much earlier than ever before, he notes.

Just over 50% of consumers say they plan to wrap up their shopping by early to mid December while nearly 10% say they have already finished.

Lack confidence in Black Friday deals

One of the more interesting data points is that most shoppers do not believe Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the best times to finish their shopping, meaning they want to see if December brings even steeper mark downs. Past experience suggests that it will. And while more consumers than ever are starting earlier than before, when Christmas week arrives about 50 million people will still be shopping.

Another interesting trend is growing concern about retailers' data security. More than half the consumers in the survey said they are not comfortable sharing personal information with the stores where they shop.

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An IIHS top safety award for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The midsize luxury car aced the battery of tests

And the winner is... The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( IIHS) has bestowed its TOP SAFETY PICK+ award on the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Th...

PhotoAnd the winner is...

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( IIHS) has bestowed its TOP SAFETY PICK+ award on the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The award came as the midsize luxury car earned good ratings in all five of the Institute's crashworthiness evaluations -- small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.

The vehicle also has a standard front crash prevention system that earns an advanced rating. An additional, optional system boosts the car's front crash prevention rating to superior.

The C-Class was redesigned for 2015, but IIHS only recently evaluated it for crashworthiness. The car's structure held up well in the challenging small overlap test with maximum intrusion into the occupant compartment of just 4 inches. The earlier generation of the C-Class had intrusion of 20 inches at the footrest and earned a marginal rating.

The roof strength test also yielded notable results. The C-Class was found to have a strength-to-weight ratio of 7, among the highest ever registered. A ratio of 4 or higher is required for a good rating. Roof strength is important for protection in a rollover crash.

To qualify for 2016 TOP SAFETY PICK+, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the five IIHS crashworthiness tests and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

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Caviness Beef Packers recalls beef products

The products may be contaminated with E. coli O103

Caviness Beef Packers of Hereford, Texas, is recalling approximately 2,100 pounds of boneless beef trim products that may be contaminated with E. coli O103...

PhotoCaviness Beef Packers of Hereford, Texas, is recalling approximately 2,100 pounds of boneless beef trim products that may be contaminated with E. coli O103.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

The 2,100-lb. Combo Bin of “boneless beef trim 84L” products was produced on September 14, 2016 and further processed into ground beef products by another establishment. The recalling establishment has control of all but 320 pounds of ground beef products.

The following products are being recalled:

  • 10 lb. chub - 73% Regular Ground Beef products with a “Use By” or “Freeze By” date of October 10, 2016 and bear UPC number 52846-48935.
  • 2-3 lb. tray pack of - 73% Regular Ground Beef products with a “Sell By” date of September 28, 2016 and bear UPC number 2-01656-00000.
  • 1.5 lb. tray pack of - 73% Regular Ground Beef products with a “Sell By” date of September 28, 2016 and bear UPC number 2-01654-00000.

The recalled products were shipped to retail locations in Texas.

What to do

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

Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Trevor Caviness at (806) 372 - 5781.

 

 

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Congress demands more information over EpiPen price hikes

'Dumbed down financials' in the first hearing didn't make sense, reps say

Mylan Pharmaceuticals is continuing to feel the heat from Congress. Last month, company CEO Heather Bresch was grilled by House members over the price incr...

PhotoMylan Pharmaceuticals is continuing to feel the heat from Congress. Last month, company CEO Heather Bresch was grilled by House members over the price increases of the EpiPen, a life-saving device that skyrocketed from an inflation-adjusted $109 nine years ago to over $600 today.

As we reported, the hearing left many people unsatisfied and settled very little due to incomplete information and statistics that critics say were inflated. Some have speculated that the hearing will lead to no tangible change, but a new letter from two representatives suggests that the matter isn't being dropped yet.

Incomplete information

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) have sent a letter to Mylan requesting additional information about its pricing practices after it was revealed that Bresch left out key information in her testimony regarding taxes and profits.

“When you appeared before the Committee on September 21, 2016, at a hearing on Mylan’s price increases for the EpiPen, you repeatedly stated that Mylan makes $100 profit per every EpiPen two-pack it sells,” the letter states.

“This week, however, the Committee learned that your testimony omitted key tax assumptions that affect the company’s profit per pack. Specifically, neither your testimony, nor the documents Mylan produced to the Committee, clearly disclosed that the company’s profit claim was calculated after factoring in the statutory U.S. tax rate – 37.5 percent.”

"Dumbed down financials"

The representatives go on in the letter to talk about the “dumbed down financials” that Bresch presented during the hearing, saying that many of the claims simply didn’t make sense.

“You know, your numbers don’t add up . . . And it is extremely difficult to believe that you are making only $50 profit when you just increased the price by more than $100 per pen,” remarked Cummings during the hearing. The letter alleges that further scrutiny after the hearing is what led to Mylan’s clarification about including tax figures in the company’s profit figures.

Demanding additional documents

Due to the lack of information presented at the hearing explaining the profit figures, the representatives have demanded additional documents that might shed light on the gap between the actual cost of making the drug for Mylan and the soaring prices it has been subjected to in recent years. Specifically the letter asks for:

“A list of Mylan’s profits and expenses relating directly to the sale of EpiPens for each year from 2007 through 2015, including, but not limited to:

a.) profit (including operating and net);

b.) sales;

c.) cost of goods sold;

d.) operating cost;

e.) rebates (including commercial, Medicare Part D, and Medicaid rebates);

f.) discounts;

g.) allowances;

h.) coupons;

i.) patient co-pay;

j.) charge backs;

k.) direct selling expenses;

l.) medical affairs;

m.) marketing;

n.) research and development;

o.) Patient Assistance Programs;

p.) EpiPens4Schools program;

q.) taxes; and

r.) any other expenses or costs.”

Mylan won’t have much time to put the information together either. The representatives have asked that the information be presented “no later than October 7, 2016,” so it ought to be a busy week for the beleaguered company.

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Should you cancel your fraudulent Wells Fargo credit card?

Doing so will probably lower your credit score, at least for a while

What if you are one of the two million Wells Fargo customers who recently discovered that the bank opened a fraudulent bank or credit card account in your...

PhotoWhat if you are one of the two million Wells Fargo customers who recently discovered that the bank opened a fraudulent bank or credit card account in your name?

If so, you're probably angry, since you didn't ask for the card. So you'll show them – you'll close the account.

But not so fast. Closing a credit card account, even one opened in your name without your permission, can negatively impact your credit score. So you might not want to act until you are able to figure out what the damage will be.

Diane Moogalian, Vice President, Customer Operations at Equifax, one of the three main credit agencies, says closing a credit card account that has no balance will reduce the amount of credit at your disposal. Often, she says, that can be a mark against you.

“Lenders and creditors want to see that a consumer is able to make a financial commitment and honor it – over time," Moogalian told ConsumerAffairs. “In other words, that ability to show responsibility can take time, and sometimes keeping an account open can be a good thing.”

But if you don't want the credit card, you will probably suffer less of a hit by closing it if the card has a low credit limit. Chances are, most of the fraudulent accounts have low credit limits. By closing it, you aren't reducing your credit availability that much.

Is it costing you money?

Moogalian says a consumer may also want to consider closing an account that has no balance if that account is costing money. The trade off between spending unnecessary money and having your credit score go down temporarily should go in favor of not spending money needlessly.

How much will closing a credit card account affect your credit score? It depends on how much credit you have, how much you've used, and how good your credit is.

If you have a total credit limit of $20,000 on all your cards but only have balances totaling $4,000, you have a low credit utilization rate and closing an account that reduces your limit by only $1,000 or so won't make a lot of difference, especially if you already have a pretty good credit score.

And if you do have a good credit score, the hit you take for closing your Wells Fargo account should be fairly small and short-lived. By continuing to pay all your bills on time and not opening new credit lines for a while, your score should quickly recover.

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Report: Google eyes a Twitter acquisition

Google's attempts to build a social network of its own have never quite measured up

Legend has it that Twitter has for years been a twinkle in the eyes of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and now Bloomberg reports that Google...

PhotoLegend has it that Twitter has for years been a twinkle in the eyes of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and now Bloomberg reports that Google parent Alphabet has hired Lazard Ltd. to evaluate a possible acquisition.

Lazard served as the financial adviser for Google’s $625 million takeover of software developer Apigee in September. The deal is expected to close by year’s end.

Rumors of a Google takeover of Twitter have been around since at least 2009. It's seen as a natural fit for both companies and for advertisers who already advertise on both sites to reach their target audiences.

For Google, Twitter would perhaps finally supply what Google has been unable to conjure up on its own -- a successful presence in the social space. Google+ never quite took off, and microblogging site Buzz faded quickly after its 2010 launch. Meanwhile, Twitter has continued to ramp up its user base despite problems figuring out how to majorly monetize it, so to speak.

What the benefits are for everyday consumers isn't quite as clear, but there's no immediately obvious downside.

There could be privacy implications if the sites' user lists were merged after an acquisition, but does anyone really expect privacy in a social network setting?

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App tracks Zika by enlisting the help of 'citizen scientists'

Once a week, Kidenga has users report mosquito activity in their area

Want to help public health investigators come up with new ways to fight the Zika virus? Now you can, with Kidenga -- a free app for iOS and Android devices...

PhotoWant to help public health investigators come up with new ways to fight the Zika virus? Now you can, with Kidenga -- a free app for iOS and Android devices.

The "community-based disease detection system" asks users to report their symptoms as well as mosquito activity in their area. In doing so, citizens may be able to help health experts better track and detect Zika outbreaks.

In addition to tracking “day-biting mosquito populations within a community,” the app keeps users current on confirmed cases of Zika within their community. Kidenga also provides important information on preventing mosquito-borne diseases.  

‘Early alert is critical’

Kacey Ernst, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the College of Public Health, said the app’s use of ZIP codes may help experts zero in on areas that “appear to have an uptick of suspicious symptoms," which may hint at cases of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.

“This early alert is critical to reduce or prevent further spread of the virus," Ernst said in a statement.

Apps like Kidenga and other tools for self-reporting could be especially vital, as not everyone will see a physician if their symptoms are mild. People may be more likely to report symptoms if it can be done on their smartphone.

"Click a button that says everyone is healthy and say whether or not you noticed mosquitoes in your area, and you're done." Ernst told News4 Tuscon.

Arizona, Florida, Texas

Currently, researchers are focused on having the app used in states with high populations of Aedes mosquitoes, such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Controlling populations of Aedes aegypti in states like these, where the climate is humid and subtropical, is no easy task.

Ernst says reducing transmission risk "requires buy-in ranging from grassroots community initiatives to government-operated programs," adding that the app may help. "With more information, we hope that more people will join the fight to control these mosquitoes."

The app was developed by researchers from the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Symptoms of Zika 

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, red eyes, and joint pain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Headaches and muscle pain may also occur, although some individuals may not exhibit any symptoms. 

If you have symptoms or visited an area with Zika, you are encouraged to see your doctor. It is especially important to do so if you are pregnant, as the Zika virus can cause severe birth defects. 

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How to help older adults avoid financial abuse

Using new technology, healthcare and financial services professionals can provide greater protection

With more people living longer, more senior citizens are falling victim to financial abuse or exploitation.The National Adult Protective Services Assoc...

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Obamacare premiums skyrocketing in Minnesota

State's commerce commissioner says hikes not sustainable

October begins open season for changes in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Consumers are now reviewing ...

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Hyundai recalls model year 2007-2008 Azeras

The power-adjustable front driver seat may move unexpectedly

Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 9,700 model year 2007-2008 Azeras manufactured March 7, 2007 through August 14, 2007.The power-adjustable front driv...

PhotoHyundai Motor Company is recalling 9,700 model year 2007-2008 Azeras manufactured March 7, 2007 through August 14, 2007.

The power-adjustable front driver seat may move unexpectedly without the driver's input while the vehicle is being driven.

Unintentional movement of the seat may affect the driver's ability to control the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the power-adjustable seat switch, 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 150.

 

 

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Mt. Kisco Smokehouse recalls smoked salmon

The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Mt. Kisco Smokehouse of Mt. Kisco, N.Y., is recalling two types of smoked salmon that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.No illnesses have...

PhotoMt. Kisco Smokehouse of Mt. Kisco, N.Y., is recalling two types of smoked salmon that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

The following products, distributed through retail stores and restaurants between September 6-16, 2016 in New York and Connecticut, are being recalled:

Atlantic Smoked Salmon Whole

  • lot # 13723516 USE BY 09 12 16
  • lot # 12125316 USE BY 09 30 16

Sliced – Smoked ATLANTIC SALMON, Net Wt. 8 oz (225.89)

  • lot # 12125116 USE BY 09 28 16
  • lot # 12125216 USE BY 09 29 16
  • lot # 11325716 USE BY 10 03 16
  • lot # 11325816 USE BY 10 05 16

The whole product is packed in an unlabeled paper box and delivered to restaurants. The sliced product is sold in a clear plastic package and labeled on the back with lot and use by date.

What to do

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

Consumers with questions may contact the company at 914-244-0702, Monday through Saturday 9:00 am – 5:30 pm, (EST). 

 

 

 

 

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Volkswagen recalls vehicles with lighting issue

The side marker lights may be inoperative under certain conditions

Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 79,895 model year 2016 TT roadsters, A3 cabriolets, A3 sedans and A3 e-trons; 2016-2017 TT coupes; 2017 A4 sedans...

PhotoVolkswagen Group of America is recalling 79,895 model year 2016 TT roadsters, A3 cabriolets, A3 sedans and A3 e-trons; 2016-2017 TT coupes; 2017 A4 sedans and Q7s; and 2015-2017 Q3s.

The vehicles may have been programmed with new software that inadvertently makes the side marker lights inoperative in conjunction with the parking lights or the headlights.

As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108, "Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment."

If the side marker lights do not illuminate, the vehicle may be less visible at night, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will upload revised software to correct the issue, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 97CB.

 

 

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BMW recalls various xdrive vehicles

The driver's front airbag inflator may have been improperly welded

BMW of North America is recalling 3,606 certain model year 2015 BMW X3 sDrive28i, X3 xDrive28i, X3 xDrive35i, X3 xDrive28d, X4 xDrive28i and X4 xDrive35i v...

PhotoBMW of North America is recalling 3,606 certain model year 2015 BMW X3 sDrive28i, X3 xDrive28i, X3 xDrive35i, X3 xDrive28d, X4 xDrive28i and X4 xDrive35i vehicles; and model year 2014-2015 X5 xDrive35i, X5 sDrive35i, X5 xDrive50i, and 2014 X5 xDrive35d vehicles.

The vehicles have a driver's front airbag inflator that may have been improperly welded.

In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver's front airbag, the inflator housing could separate from the base plate and result in metal striking vehicle occupants, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.

What to do

BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front airbag, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin November 11, 2016.

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

 

 

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