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      Ford recalls model year 2017 Fusions

      Stowed luggage may move into the passenger compartment

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 35 model year 2017 Ford Fusions manufactured September 27, 2016, to September 28, 2016.

      The left rear seat backs pivot pins may have been improperly welded. During a crash, the improper welds may fail, allowing any stowed luggage to move into the passenger compartment, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left hand, second row seat back frame, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin January 9, 2017.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 16S43.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 35 model year 2017 Ford Fusions manufactured September 27, 2016, to September 28, 2016.The left rear seat backs pivot p...
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      VW reaches settlement for 3.0-liter TDI diesels

      Details of the settlement have not yet been released

      Volkswagen has encountered another hefty toll on the dirty diesel highway, agreeing to pay $1 billion to fix or buy back about 80,000 VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles equipped with 3.0-liter TDI diesel engines.

      The agreement settles suits brought by federal and California regulators. So far, VW has tossed about $17.5 billion into the coin basket and it still faces billions of dollars in fines and expenses as it tries to settle state and federal damage claims and criminal investigations.

      Besides the buybacks, VW will help fund electric vehicle programs in California. Volkswagen's U.S. chief, Hinrick Woebcken, said it was "an important step forward in our efforts to make things right for our customers."

      The latest settlement was announced Tuesday at a status conference by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco. Breyer last year signed off on a $15 billion settlement under which VW buys back or tries to fix about 475,000 cars with 2.0-liter diesel engines.

      “We are pleased to be moving forward on an agreement in principle to compensate consumers who purchased affected Volkswagen and Audi 3.0 liter vehicles and look forward to resolving the final details," said Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in a prepared statement. "The FTC, with its partners, secured $10 billion in compensation for the vast majority of consumers harmed by Volkswagen’s deceptive advertising earlier this year, and today’s agreement will provide redress for a smaller but no less important group of consumers who were not part of the original settlement."

      What to do

      Details of the latest settlement have not yet been released. Owners of the affected vehicles should wait until the court approves a final settlement. Vehicle owners and lessees can also obtain information about their options at: www.VWCourtSettlement.com and www.AudiCourtSettlement.com.

      “As reported today by Judge Breyer, we have reached an agreement-in-principle with Volkswagen on substantial aspects of relief for 3.0-liter TDI Generation 1 and Generation 2 class members, and are working to resolve remaining issues. We will have no further comment, as the Court has instructed the parties that its confidentiality order still applies,” said Elizabeth Cabraser, court-appointed Lead Counsel for the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in an emailed statement.

      Earlier this week, VW agreed to pay about C$2.1 billion to buy back polluting VWs in Canada. VW said today that German regulators had approved the company's plan to fix VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat cars sold across the European Union, Automotive News reported.

      In yet another development, Robert Bosch GmbH, the company that produced the software used in the polluting diesels, has reportedly agreed to pay more than $300 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by U.S. diesel owners, according to a Reuters report. 

      Volkswagen has encountered another hefty toll on the dirty diesel highway, agreeing to pay $1 billion to fix or buy back about 80,000 VW, Audi, and Porsche...
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      Are artificial sweeteners or natural, calorie-free sweeteners better for losing weight?

      Daily calorie intake is the same either way in the short-term, researchers say

      Consumers who want to lose weight or just control their blood sugar may often be plagued by decisions on what they should be eating or drinking at any given time. When it comes to certain beverages, the decision becomes even trickier.

      Some people believe that indulging in a beverage with artificial sweeteners can help reduce appetite and keep them from overeating at their next meal. Others say that choosing a drink with natural or non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) is better because it cuts down on overall sugar consumption.

      So, which option is actually better for you? One study suggests that arguing for one over the other is a moot point in the short-term. Researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore tested four beverages and found that daily energy intake, glucose levels, and insulin levels the blood was the same no matter what. The reason: what calories we avoid by drinking certain beverages is made up by the foods we eat throughout the day.

      Energy intake is initially the same

      The researchers set out to test four different kinds of beverages for their short-term study: one containing sucrose (sugar), one containing aspartame (an NNS), one made with a plant-derived NNS (Stevia), and one made with monk fruit (Mogroside V).

      Thirty healthy male participants were asked to randomly consume one of the four beverages on each day of the trial period, while adhering to a similar daily schedule; each person woke each day and ate a standardized breakfast, drank one test beverage at mid-morning, and ate a lunchtime meal where they were asked to eat until comfortably full and write out a food diary.

      After each round, the researchers recorded participants’ blood glucose and insulin levels. Lead author Siew Ling Tey said that the results were “surprising” because the amount of total daily energy intake was the same across all four beverages, meaning that participants consumed the same number of calories regardless of what they drank.

      Short-term vs. long-term weight loss

      Tey attributes this to participants reducing or increasing meal intake depending on the beverage they consumed earlier. Those that drank the sucrose-sweetened drink tended to reduce the amount of food they ate at lunch, while those who drank an NNS-sweetened beverage tended to eat more at meals.

      “The energy ‘saved’ from replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweetener was fully compensated for at subsequent meals in the current study, hence no difference in total daily energy intake was found between the four treatments,” said Tey.

      However, the researchers point out that longer-term studies have found that using NNS sweeteners for significant periods of time eventually reduces overall energy intake and body weight. The takeaway, then, may be that quick weight loss is not decided by the type of sweetened beverage we consume, but it should be a consideration when making a long-term diet plan.

      The full study has been published in the International Journal of Obesity.

      Consumers who want to lose weight or just control their blood sugar may often be plagued by decisions on what they should be eating or drinking at any give...
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      Carmakers getting more time to meet tougher fuel economy standards

      A government agency says it is bowing to reality

      In a change of heart, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has agreed to push back the date that it will start imposing penalties on carmakers for failing to meet new fuel economy standards.

      In response to pleas from several automotive companies and their advocacy groups, the government agency has agreed to hold the 2019 models to the new standard.

      NHTSA said it is simply bowing to the reality that carmakers design their products well in advance. Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, says it was the right move.

      “In a month of political posturing by outgoing and incoming administrations, this action by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adds a needed dose of reality to the conversation around fuel economy and emissions,” Nerad said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

      By delaying the penalties until the 2019 model year, Nerad says the agency is giving the auto industry some “much-needed breathing room” in their efforts to meet standards that are made more difficult to reach by the fact that fuel is reasonably inexpensive and expected to stay that way for at least a few years to come.

      Low gas prices equal lower mileage ratings

      Automakers have discovered that it is much harder to sell smaller, more fuel-efficient cars when gasoline prices are barely over $2 a gallon. Instead, consumers have been buying less-efficient trucks and SUVs.

      An automaker's fuel economy rating is based on the cumulative mileage rating of its entire fleet. The more trucks and SUVs a company sells, the lower its rating.

      As recently as August, NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly finalized fuel economy and pollution standards, sticking with the original deadline.

      In extending its deadline, NHTSA also granted a request by carmakers for a way to clear up discrepancies between the two different mandates administered by the two separate government agencies.

      In a change of heart, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has agreed to push back the date that it will start imposing penalties on...
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      Gas prices rising sharply in the Midwest

      But the price in the most expensive states is actually going down

      Gasoline prices are still relatively low but are rising nationwide, at a time when they are normally headed lower.

      This week, prices in the Midwest have moved sharply higher, outpacing the increases in the rest of the country. In fact, some of the nation's most expensive states for gasoline have actually seen prices at the pump go down.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price for self-serve regular is $2.25 a gallon, up only three cents in the last week but 12 cents more than a month ago. Last year at this time, the national average price was just under $2 a gallon.

      Sharp rise in the Midwest

      In the Midwest, Michigan is seeing the largest increase in prices at the pump, with the statewide average rising nine cents a gallon, to $2.38, since yesterday. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy, Tweeted that a plunge in temperatures caused problems at the Exxon Mobil refinery near Joliet, Ill., sending spot gasoline prices higher in the region, particularly in Chicago.

      The current statewide average price of gasoline in Illinois is $2.36 a gallon, up nine cents from a week ago.

      As for the rest of the country, the rising price of oil is mostly responsible for the unseasonable rise in prices at the pump. There is still a glut of oil on the world market, but AAA reports oil prices are rising on speculators' expectation that OPEC's recent agreement curtailing production will reduce supplies in the future.

      Falling prices on the West Coast

      Motorists on the West Coast still pay some of the highest fuel prices in the nation. Hawaii, which is always the most expensive, leads at $2.95 a gallon. But elsewhere, western consumers have seen prices actually come down in recent days.

      Motorists in Idaho are paying 18 cents a gallon less this week while prices have dropped eight cents a gallon in Nevada.

      One reason for this is a surge in West Coast refinery output. The Energy Information Administration reports gasoline production in the region reached a one-month high of 1.6 million barrels a day, and inventories remain at a 15-week high.

      The nation's cheapest fuel is still found in the South and Southeast. Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Tennessee all have statewide averages of $2.05 a gallon or less.

      Gasoline prices are still relatively low but are rising nationwide, at a time when they are normally headed lower.This week, prices in the Midwest have...
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      The high cost of getting sick

      Researchers say cancer is especially 'financially toxic'

      Illness doesn't take just a toll on health, though that understandably is the primary focus.

      There is also a financial toll to getting sick, including a loss of income and expensive medications, which may not be fully – or even partially – covered by insurance or financial aid programs.

      Chronic diseases are probably the most expensive and, of these, cancer is in a class by itself. Researchers at an international medical conference in Malaysia have presented findings showing that cancer's financial toll is not limited to the United States, but even to countries that provide free health care.

      The study determined that more than half of cancer survivors spend at least a third of their yearly income on treatment and associated costs. They are often required to pay for cancer drugs that are not funded by the government.

      A global problem

      While the study results were based on the situation in Malaysia, health officials attending the conference said it is common throughout the world. Whatever kind of health care system a country has, citizens who get cancer face severe financial hardships, what the Malaysian researchers called “financial toxicity.”

      "The loss of work, a carer's income and early retirement can all contribute to the financial burden on the household," said lead author Anupriya Agarwal, a cancer specialist from Sydney, Australia. “Our study aims to provide insight into these costs and assist policymakers in finding ways of reducing this burden on patients."

      Very expensive drugs

      Part of the expense lies in the cost of the drugs that treat cancer. It has been well-documented that some drug companies have significantly raised the price of older cancer treatment drugs without making any improvements to them. But new and effective cancer drugs are even more expensive.

      Last year Drugwatch.com reported that a new Bristol Myers Squibb cancer drug that was shown to be highly effective against melanoma will cost $141,000 for the first 12 weeks of treatment and $256,000 for a year of treatment.

      The American Cancer Society says patients are generally hit with costs for doctor visits, lab tests, clinic visits for treatment, imaging tests, radiation treatments, drug costs, hospital stays, surgery and home care. Insurance plans might not cover all of these costs.

      To help patients plan, the American Cancer Society offers these tips.

      Illness doesn't take just a toll on health, though that understandably is the primary focus.There is also a financial toll to getting sick, including a...
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      VW reaches deal with Canadian diesel owners

      The company will pay C$2.1 billion to buy back 105,000 polluting diesel vehicles

      U.S. consumers have expressed their fair share of outrage over Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Since last September, when news first broke on the defeat devices, the company has faced a barrage of litigation from all sides.

      In October, a court approved the company’s $15 billion settlement in the U.S. that covered consumers who bought or leased Volkswagen or Audi 2.0-liter TDI “clean diesel” cars. While the U.S. is obviously not the only country that Volkswagen must worry about when it comes to making reparations, the company made progress by recently reaching an agreement with our neighbors to the north.

      Reuters reports that Volkswagen has agreed to a C$2.1 billion agreement with Canadian diesel owners. The deal, which was struck on Monday, will buy back approximately 105,000 polluting diesel vehicles in the country.

      Additionally, Volkswagen will pay a C$15 million civil administrative monetary penalty connected to the buyback. Approval hearings for the full deal are scheduled to be held in two Canadian courts in March. Reports suggest that most owners of affected vehicles should receive anywhere from C$5,100 to C$5,950 in compensation on top of the estimated value of their vehicle if they choose to turn it in.

      “Volkswagen’s primary goal has always been to ensure our Canadian customers are treated fairly, and we believe that this proposed resolution achieves this aim,” said Maria Strenstroem, CEO and President of Volkswagen Group Canada.

      Volkswagen is expected to announce a deal in the near future that also addresses 80,000 polluting 3.0-liter vehicles in the U.S., with experts saying that the company may incur an additional $200 million in fines based on the estimated amount of diesel pollution. That’s a small drop in the bucket, though, considering that the company may face billions in fines going forward if it is found guilty in federal and state investigations. 

      U.S. consumers have expressed their fair share of outrage over Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Since last September, when news first broke on the defeat de...
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      Study suggests loosening the age limits on kidney donors

      Donors over 65 are only accepted on case-by-case basis

      If you need a kidney transplant, you have to wait for a donor who has a healthy organ and is a good match.

      Oh yeah, one other thing. The donor needs to be a certain age. Currently, organs from donors older than 65 are often turned down and are only accepted on a case-by-case basis.

      But now a new study suggests these age limits on donors prevent life-saving kidneys from getting to patients who need them. Writing in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers argue that even kidneys from 80 year-old donors can function for years.

      The researchers say kidneys from older people are routinely rejected because of age. But with a current shortage of available organs, they say it's time to rethink that age limit.

      The study, conducted in Italy, examined information on more than 600 kidney transplants in which the donor was beyond the usual age cut-off. Some were 60 years-old or older, while others were between the ages of 50 and 59 but had certain risk factors.

      Comparable survival rates

      They performed a follow-up nearly five years later and found the survival rates were comparable among all age groups, even those over 80. However, some of the patients that received the oldest kidneys had undergone second transplants.

      “The results of this study support the use of extended criteria donors, even donors older than 80 years, but they have to be accurately selected and managed with dedicated protocols,” the authors write.

      A kidney transplant is an option when a patient's kidneys fail. The other option is dialysis. The National Kidney Foundation says patients often opt for the transplant because they feel it affords them greater freedom and quality of life.

      Patients receiving a transplanted kidney may receive one from a deceased donor or from a family member, since it is possible to survive with a single kidney.

      The National Kidney Foundation says the chances a transplanted kidney will function properly in the recipient's body are high – between 89% and 95%. It says success rates have improved in recent years.

      If you need a kidney transplant, you have to wait for a donor who has a healthy organ and is a good match.Oh yeah, one other thing. The donor needs to...
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      Are you ready to file your tax return?

      We have a checklist of things you need to do

      While the deadline for filing your 2016 federal income return is still several months off, there are some things you should be doing now in preparation.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notes that for most of us, December 31 is the last day to take actions that will affect our tax returns.

      What to do

      • Charitable contributions are deductible in the year made. Donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2016 count for the 2016 tax year, even if the bill isn’t paid until 2017. Checks to a charity count for 2016 as long as they are mailed by the last day of the year.
      • If you're over age 70 ½ you are generally required to receive payments from your IRAs and workplace retirement plans by the end of the year. However, a special rule allows those who reached 70 ½ in 2016 to wait until April 1, 2017 to receive them.
      • Most workplace retirement account contributions should be made by the end of the year, but taxpayers can make 2016 IRA contributions until April 18, 2017. For 2016, the limit for a 401(k) is $18,000. For traditional and Roth IRAs, the limit is $6,500 if age 50 or older and up to $15,500 for a Simple IRA for age 50 or older.
      • Taxpayers who have moved should tell the U.S. Postal Service, their employers, and the IRS. To notify the IRS, mail IRS Form 8822, Change of Address, to the address listed on the form’s instructions. Taxpayers who buy health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace should also notify the Marketplace when they move out of the area covered by their current Marketplace plan.
      • If you changed your name due to marriage or divorce, notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) so the new name will match IRS and SSA records. Also notify the SSA if a dependent’s name changed. A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of your return and may even delay your refund.
      • Starting January 1, 2017, any Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) not used at least once on a tax return in the past three years will no longer be valid for use on a return. In addition, an ITIN with middle digits 78 or 79 will also expire on Jan. 1. Those with expiring ITINs who need to file a return in 2017 must renew their ITIN. Affected ITIN holders can avoid delays by starting the renewal process now.
      • Be sure to allow seven weeks from January 1, 2017, or the mailing date of the Form W-7, whichever is later, for the IRS to notify you of your ITIN application status -- nine to 11 weeks if you wait to submit Form W-7 during the peak filing season, or send it from overseas. Those who fail to renew before filing a return could face a delayed refund and may be ineligible for some important tax credits. For more information, including answers to frequently-asked questions, visit the ITIN information page on IRS.gov.
      • Keeping copies of tax returns is important as the IRS makes changes to protect taxpayers and authenticate their identity. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income amount from a prior tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign their tax return at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.
      While the deadline for filing your 2016 federal income return is still several months off, there are some things you should be doing now in preparation. ...
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      Consumers see cash as defense against holiday hackers

      But survey shows plastic remains the payment of choice

      If more consumers doing last minute Christmas shopping are paying with cash, it could mean they are trying to stick to their budget in the final shopping frenzy.

      Or, it could be a defensive move, an effort to prevent getting caught up in a retailer's data breach.

      Thales, an IT and cybersecurity firm, reports most consumers would change their shopping behavior in some ways if they knew a particular retailer had suffered a system hack. While 20% of consumers in a Thales survey said they would avoid shopping at the store, the majority – 55% – said they would continue shopping at the retailer but would pay using cash.

      The return to old fashioned currency bucks the recent trend of electronic payments that has caused some to speculate on the eventual demise of cash. But the Thales survey makes clear that consumers view cash as a firewall against their data being compromised.

      Still using plastic

      That's not to say that consumers have abandoned electronic payments. Far from it. The survey found that more than 90% of holiday shoppers will use a credit card, debit card, or mobile wallet to pay for at least some of their purchases.

      And while mobile wallet use is on the rise, it has a long way to go to catch up with plastic, and even cash. Only 16% of shoppers said they planned to pay with their smartphones this holiday season.

      In a promising sign for consumers' financial health, the survey found more shoppers plan to use debit cards and cash over credit cards. Since debit card purchases come directly out of a consumer's bank account, it suggests there could be less of a shopping hangover when credit card bills arrive in January.

      Cash is still an important tool

      Cash might not be king, but Jose Diaz, director of payment strategy at Thales e-Security, says it remains an important tool for consumers, not only for budgeting but in protecting against theft.

      "These survey results offer a stark reminder that a serious data breach could stop many consumers from shopping at a merchant's store or at the very least move them back to cash payments," Diaz said.

      As for the future, Diaz predicts greater use of mobile for both browsing and buying during the holidays. In the next five years, he also sees a sharp rise in the use of mobile wallets.

      If more consumers doing last minute Christmas shopping are paying with cash, it could mean they are trying to stick to their budget in the final shopping f...
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      Parents are more lax about their children's safety when traveling, poll finds

      Researchers found that many common safety precautions were neglected on family trips

      It’s a general rule that safety always comes first when you’re a parent. Making sure your little one is strapped in during car trips and taking all the right medicine as part of the daily routine becomes second nature to most, but the results of a new poll show that this vigilance seems to take a break when families are on vacation.

      Researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a poll and found that parents tended to be much more lax about safety when traveling for the holidays. They stress that it is just as important for parents to be attentive to safety on trips as they would be at home.

      "Parents are typically vigilant about safety measures, making sure toddlers are always in car seats and that medications and cleaning supplies are locked up or out of reach. But they may be less fastidious while on vacation, leaving medications in open suitcases or on hotel tables or not childproofing a relative's house," said Sarah Clark, M.P.H. and the poll’s co-director.

      Neglecting safety precautions

      The researchers found that car safety was particularly lacking for small children while traveling, especially when families decided to take a taxi or call for a pick-up on a ride-sharing app. Fifteen percent of parents who answered the poll said they decided not to use a car seat for their toddler on every car ride of a trip.

      "Car crashes are a leading cause of injury and death among toddlers, which is why it's critical that parents plan ahead to make sure their child is properly restrained during every car ride on vacation. Planning for car seats can be inconvenient in certain destinations, but going without is never worth the risk," said Clark.

      Additionally, the researchers say that 25% of parents weren’t careful about how they stored certain medications while traveling, with many just leaving them in open suitcases where a child could easily get to them. Thirty-three percent also said they didn’t properly secure cleaning supplies or other dangerous items when staying in a hotel, and another 33% said they neglected to check the hot water temperature where they were staying.

      "Traveling with a toddler can be a daunting task. Many parents spend quite a bit of time planning ahead to avoid meltdowns by scheduling days around naps and packing items that will keep their kids entertained. It's just as important that parents plan for measures to keep kids safe on the road," said Clark.

      Safety tips

      In order to keep children safe while traveling, Clark and her fellow researchers have made several suggestions that parents should consider. They include:

      • Bringing a car seat or renting one while traveling;
      • Asking family, friends, or hosts to store medication, cleaning supplies, or other dangerous substances out of reach;
      • Packing portable safety devices, such as cabinet latches or baby gates to use as barriers; and
      • Conducting a thorough review of any place the family is staying for potential safety hazards;

      The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital has published the full report here.

      It’s a general rule that safety always comes first when you’re a parent. Making sure your little one is strapped in during car trips and taking all the rig...
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