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      Consumer agency warns of high pay-by-phone fees

      Companies should clearly disclose fees for different payment options

      There are usually several ways you can pay a bill to a company or government agency. Often the most expensive is the pay-by-phone option, a fact many consumers overlook, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) noted today in a warning to companies.

      “The Bureau is warning companies about tricking consumers into more expensive fees when they pay bills by phone,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are concerned that companies are misleading consumers about pay-by-phone fees or keeping them in the dark about much cheaper or no-cost payment options.”

      Customers who choose the pay-by-phone option may find that fees differ depending on what method of payment they choose, such as payment by electronic check, debit card, or credit card.

      Consumers may also be charged an additional fee to expedite phone payments, though many companies offer consumers no-fee or lower-fee pay-by-phone options that post after a delay.

      The CFPB said it does not mandate any particular way to inform consumers about pay-by-phone options and fees. However, the Bureau expects companies to review their practices for potential risks of violating consumer financial laws and to address any issues. 

      The CFPB recommends that financial institutions take steps to ensure that they are following laws related to pay-by-phone fees. Companies should review state and federal laws to confirm they can charge such fees, and review their policies and procedures. Companies should also review consumer complaints about fees that are charged.

      Photo (c) AdobeStockThere are usually several ways you can pay a bill to a company or government agency. Often the most expensive is the pay-by-phone...

      When dining out, pay attention to calories

      Here are some tips for avoiding extra, and unhealthy pounds

      Nutritionists will tell you that there is more to weight control than counting calories. But it can't be denied that piling up the calories will usually lead to packing on some extra pounds.

      When you prepare meals at home you can take steps to minimize extra calories and increase awareness of the ingredients that go into your food. When you dine out at restaurants, it's not as easy.

      That requires some discretion when you order from the menu, avoiding dishes that, just from the descriptions, you know are packed with extra calories. In its latest release of the Xtreme Eating Awards, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) highlights a few dishes in particular that may be very tasty, but are high in calories.

      The group singles out chain restaurants for top honors, saying some dishes have twice the calories a person should consume in a single day. You'll find the full list of this year's "honorees" here.

      Pancakes as a side dish

      “Leave it to America’s chain restaurant industry to market a stack of pancakes as a side dish, or to lard up quesadillas and pasta with pizza toppings, or to ruin a perfectly good sweet potato,” said CSPI senior nutritionist Lindsay Moyer. “These meals are extreme, but even the typical dishes served at restaurants are a threat to Americans’ health because they increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more.”

      But the experts at Fitness Magazine say it is possible to dine out without going overboard on calories. It starts with arriving at the restaurant without a huge appetite. If you're famished, chances are you'll fill up on bread before the food arrives.

      Go easy on the wine. There's about 100 calories in each glass. That goes for cocktails too.

      Look closely at dishes labeled "light." They may qualify because they are low in carbs, but may still have lots of calories.

      Portion control

      Portion control is a big factor. Restaurants like to serve huge portions of food because they believe that's what their customers want. But no one needs to eat that much food. Just eat some of it and take the rest home. It might feed you for several days.

      Several months from now it will be easier to keep tabs on calories when dining out, as the Food and Drug Administration's final menu labeling rule takes effect in May 2018. That rule will require restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie information on menus and menu boards. Many fast food restaurants have already taken that step.

      The rule has been expanded to include supermarkets, but last week the House Energy & Commerce Committee approved a bipartisan bill to give grocery stores added flexibility.

      The Food Marketing Institute pushed for the bill, saying the FDA rule did not take into account the variety of foods and formats found in grocery stores.

      Nutritionists will tell you that there is more to weight control than counting calories. But it can't be denied that piling up the calories will usually le...

      American Airlines announces new baggage alert system

      Customers will now be notified if their baggage is delayed and advised on steps they can take

      Nothing annoys air travelers quite so much as arriving at their destination only to get stuck waiting at baggage claim for luggage that never comes. While airline companies are constantly striving to reduce the amount of lost or delayed luggage, many are also looking into ways of promptly notifying customers when something goes wrong.

      Yesterday, American Airlines announced that it will be doing just that with the introduction of its Customer Baggage Notification (CBN) system. The company says that CBN will notify customers about the status of their checked baggage shortly after they land if it was not on the same plane. The system will also provide information on the next steps fliers should take.

      “CBN is an exciting innovation that helps take care of our customers and our team members. Customers get more information quickly and our team members get more time to help those who have complicated baggage claims,” American Airlines said.

      Customer alerts

      American Airlines says that fliers who use the CBN system will receive one of three types of alerts when they land at their destination. They include:

      • Early Baggage Arrival: This message lets fliers know that their baggage has arrived before them and will direct them of where to go to pick it up.
      • Late Baggage Arrival – Go to the Baggage Service Office: This alert tells customers that their baggage will be arriving late and directs them to see an agent at the BSO office to resolve the issue.
      • Late Baggage Arrival – Mobile Baggage Order (MBO): This alert will advise travelers to fill out a Mobile Baggage Order (MBO) on their mobile device. The form will ask for the customer’s delivery details and a bag description to help expedite the process of getting checked luggage back to its owner. Taking this step will allow customers to forego going to the Baggage Service Office to file a claim.

      To receive alerts from the CBN system, customers will have to download the American Airlines app, sign up for an AAdvantage account, or provide contact information during booking or check-in.

      Nothing annoys air travelers quite so much as arriving at their destination only to get stuck waiting at baggage claim for luggage that never comes. While...

      U.S. economy shifts gears

      Output in the second-quarter was stronger than it was three months earlier

      An advance look at how the economy was doing in the second quarter of 2017 indicates things were going better than they were in the January – March period.

      According to the Commerce Department, real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy -- grew at an annual rate of 2.6%, considerably better than the downwardly revised 1.2% rate chalked up in the first quarter.

      Keep in mind that this set of figures is subject to revision and that another estimate is due out at the end of August.

      The improved numbers for the April – June quarter were due primarily to a pickup in consumer spending and higher outlays by the federal government.

      The complete GDP report may be found on the Commerce Department website.

      Jobless claims

      A big jump has been reported in the number of people signing up for first-time state unemployment benefits.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims shot up by 1,000 in the week ending July 22 to a seasonally 244,000. The previous week's estimate was revised up by 1,000.

      The four-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market due to its relative lack of volatility, was unchanged from a week earlier at 244,000.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.

      An advance look at how the economy was doing in the second quarter of 2017 indicates things were going better than they...

      Why do we have to file a tax return, Congressman/CPA asks

      Rep. Brad Sherman says the IRS already has all the information it needs

      Did you ever wonder why you have to file a tax return? After all, the IRS already knows how much you made from the W-2 and 1099 forms filed by your employer and others. It knows how many dependents you have, as well as other routine information from your previous returns.

      So, unless you itemize your deductions, why doesn't the IRS just calculate your tax for you?

      Good question, and one that Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a CPA, seeks to answer with a bill he has introduced in Congress. Sherman's Tax Filing Simplification Act of 2017, would direct the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to develop a new program to provide taxpayers with a pre-prepared tax return with their income tax liability or refund amount already calculated.

      “Under the Tax Filing Simplification Act, most Americans would receive a tax return already prepared by the IRS. They could hit ‘submit’ and they’re done.  Or they could make changes and then hit ‘submit’,” said Rep. Sherman. “Or they could simply ignore the IRS pre-prepared return and submit their returns just as they do now.”

      The bill would also require the IRS to create new software to allow all taxpayers to prepare and file their taxes directly through the IRS. 

      Additionally, the bill would allow taxpayers to download information the IRS already has (like their W-2 and 1099 forms) directly from the IRS’s website.

      Co-sponsors of the measure include Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Grace Napolitano (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Tim Ryan (D-OH), and Tom Suozzi (D-NY). 

      The bill is based on legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

      ...

      How difficult is it to resolve a problem with your cellphone company?

      Survey links problem-solving with customer satisfaction

      If you are the typical cellphone customer, you're generally happy with your carrier's coverage and service plans.

      In fact, you're pretty content -- until a problem crops up. And if you're the typical cellphone customer, that's when you tend to lose your patience.

      A new report by J.D. Power finds that customers' biggest complaint about cellphone companies is they make the customer work too hard to solve a problem. Automated phone trees are a huge bone of contention.

      Getting a human on the line

      The survey asked consumers if it requires a lot of effort to speak with a live representative. When consumers "strongly" or "somewhat" agreed, J.D. Power found consumers' satisfaction level dropped by 210 points.

      Also, the survey found that average hold time and time spent on the line have a lot to do with customers' perceptions of their wireless provider. The shorter the average hold time, the more likely consumers were to give the wireless company higher marks for the way it resolved problems.

      When consumers were left hanging from 10 to 21 minutes, on average, there were much more likely to say it required a lot of effort to resolve a problem with their wireless carrier.

      Getting it right the first time

      Consumers also lose patience when their wireless provider can't resolve the problem on the first attempt. The consumers who were able to get satisfaction 85% of the time on their first try were much more likely to give their carrier high marks than those who had to make repeated efforts.

      The survey also uncovered this interesting fact -- consumers who post reviews on sites like ConsumerAffairs and social media end up experiencing much higher levels of satisfaction than consumers who do not.

      Peter Cunningham, technology, media & telecommunications practice lead at J.D. Power, says consumers don't want to spend a lot of time dealing with an issue that they shouldn't have had in the first place.

      "Customers believe carriers have a ways to go when it comes to reducing the amount of effort involved in problem resolution," he said.

      By focusing more effort on problem resolution, the report concludes that wireless companies can not only make their customers happier, but reduce the number of defections to other companies.

      If you are the typical cellphone customer, you're generally happy with your carrier's coverage and service plans.In fact, you're pretty content -- unti...

      Credit card rates hit another record high

      CreditCards.com puts the average rate at 16.11%

      The Federal Reserve this week decided not to raise a key interest rate, but credit card rates are still going up.

      The Fed's Open Market Committee left the Federal Funds Rate at present levels Wednesday, through market-watchers are betting on another hike in December, as the Fed works to get rates back to normal.

      Perhaps because of that assumption, the interest rate consumers pay on their credit card balances continues to go up. In its weekly report, CreditCards.com puts the average credit card interest rate at another record high, 16.11%.

      The average is made up of the rates on 100 popular cards covering different categories. The national average of 16.11% is up from 15.42% six months ago.

      This week, student credit cards saw the biggest rate increase, rising from 15.14% to 15.64%. Cash back credit cards were not far behind, with the rate rising from 16.21% to 16.34%. The rate on rewards credit cards is 16.20%, up from 16.14% the previous week.

      Capital One drives the increase

      The credit card comparison site reports Capital One was responsible for much of this week's rate increase by raising the APR on its Journey Student Rewards card by four percentage points. Students now pay a single 24.99% rate, highest of any student card that CreditCards.com tracks.

      Increases by Credit One and TD Bank also helped boost the national average with fairly hefty hikes.

      Citi raised the maximum rate on its CitiBusiness Aadvantage Platinum Select card to 24.74%, but it left the card's minimum rate of 16.74% unchanged.

      According to CreditCards.com, the national average credit card interest rate has risen from 15.42% to 16.11% over the last six months. On a credit card balance of $8,000, that works out to an additional $55 in interest charges per year.

      A 2016 report by personal finance publisher NerdWallet put the average household credit card balance at more than twice that -- $16,425.

      The Federal Reserve this week decided not to raise a key interest rate, but credit card rates are still going up.The Fed's Open Market Committee left t...

      Grande Produce recalls Caribeña brand papaya

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Grande Produce is recalling a limited quantity of Papaya Maradol with the brand name Caribeña on the cartons.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Forty-seven cases of Salmonella have been reported nationally, five of them in Maryland where Grande Produce distributed the product on July 10 and July 19.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not eat it, but dispose of it instead.

      A full refund is available at the place of purchase or from Grande Produce , which may be contacted at (888) 507-2720 Monday through Friday from 8:00am – 6:00pm (CST).

      Grande Produce is recalling a limited quantity of Papaya Maradol with the brand name Caribeña on the cartons.The product may be contaminated with Salmo...

      Model year 2017 Ram 1500 trucks recalled

      The vehicles may have a broken fuel tank control valve

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling four model year 2017 Ram 1500 trucks.

      The fuel tanks in the recalled vehicles may have a broken fuel tank control valve which might leak fuel if the vehicle were to become inverted.

      As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 301, "Fuel System Integrity."

      In the event of a rollover crash, leaking fuel in the presence of an ignition source can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel tanks, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 21, 2017.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T45.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling four model year 2017 Ram 1500 trucks.The fuel tanks in the recalled vehicles may have a broken fuel tank control val...

      Senate fails again to undo Obamacare

      Straight repeal of the healthcare law loses 43-57

      Obamacare is the Timex watch of laws.

      For those not old enough to recall, watchmaker Timex once ran an advertising campaign subjecting the inexpensive watch to all manner of torture, only to show it emerge unscathed, with the ad's tag line declaring Timex "takes a licking and keeps on ticking."

      With control of the House, Senate, and White House, Republicans have made several attempts to repeal the health care law, only to come up short. At this point, Obamacare is still ticking.

      The latest attempt in the Senate failed Tuesday after Sen. John McCain, battling cancer, dramatically returned to the capital to cast a deciding vote to allow a vote on the Senate's latest effort -- a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

      But on Twitter, McCain made clear he was only voting to allow debate on the GOP bill. He wasn't going to support the measure itself.

      'Shell of a bill'

      "It's a shell of a bill right now, we all know that," McCain tweeted. "I have changes urged by my state's governor that will have to be included to earn my support for final passage of any bill."

      When it came time to vote Tuesday, McCain and eight other Republicans joined all Democrats in voting against the repeal legislation, despite a plea from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell expressed his frustration on the Senate floor before the vote.

      “The American people elected a House with a vision of a better way on health care, then a Senate, then a president. Now, we have a duty to act," McConnell said. "The president is ready with his pen. The House has passed legislation already. Today, it’s the Senate’s turn."

      But the repeal measure lost badly, 43-57. And a former high-ranking GOP congressional leader predicts it will keep on losing.

      Mission impossible

      The Washington Post has posted video of former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), speaking to a trade show audience in Las Vegas suggesting the GOP Congress faces a nearly impossible task.

      "Here we are, seven months into this year, and yet they've not passed this bill," Boehner said. "They're not going to repeal and replace Obamacare. It's been around too long and the American people have gotten accustomed to it."

      There is a longstanding truism in American politics that you don't remove an entitlement once people are benefiting from it. According to Boehner, it's too late.

      Politics has also complicated the Republicans task. Politico boils down the problem for Republicans in two sentences.

      "Moderates oppose repealing Obamacare without a replacement, and conservatives don’t like the idea of significantly replacing it," the political website notes. "Both policies are expected to get a vote, but both are expected to fail."

      And so Obamacare is likely to keep on ticking for a while longer.

      Obamacare is the Timex watch of laws.For those not old enough to recall, watchmaker Timex once ran an advertising campaign subjecting the inexpensive w...

      Choosing the right cash back credit card

      Pick one card that rewards your biggest area of spending

      Millennials have been slow to embrace credit cards.

      Coming of age in the wake of the financial crisis, they appeared leery of using credit, preferring to make purchases using debit cards. Many are still more comfortable doing that.

      But a new report from Bankrate.com suggests Millennials are leaving money on the table by using debit cards instead of paying with credit cards. The authors note that rewards credit cards offer cash back on the kinds of purchases that this younger generation tends to make.

      They eat out a lot, they spend a lot on groceries, and they all have smartphones. Those purchases, the authors say, could be returning some cash.

      Cautionary note

      But Maya Kachroo-Levine , a Forbes contributor, sounds a cautionary note. She writes that Millennials should resist the temptation to sign up for too many credit cards just to reap the rewards.

      "Free travel, shopping discounts, rental car deals, hotel deals, and cash back rewards all sound great when you’re signing up," she writes. "However, opening up multiple credit cards makes it harder to manage your money and easier to lose track of your spending."

      So that makes picking the right rewards credit card all the more important. The first step, then, is to analyze your monthly spending, looking for where you spend the most money.

      If you have a long commute, gasoline may be your biggest expense. Then again, if you take public transit and have a fuel efficient car, maybe it's not.

      If you dine out a lot, or spend a lot at the supermarket each week, maybe you need a card that rewards those kinds of purchases.

      Get 3% cash back on gasoline

      If you find you spend the most each month on gasoline, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards card could be a good choice. It pays 3% back on gasoline purchases for the first $2,500 spent each quarter.

      It's also a pretty good card if you spend the most money each month on groceries, paying 2% cash back on those purchases.

      If you are a member of Amazon Prime and tend to buy a lot of stuff from Amazon each month, the Amazon Prime Rewards card will get you 5% off Amazon purchases.

      To overcome a fear of running up an ever-increasing credit card debt, follow this simple step. Get a cash back card that generously rewards your biggest spending category. Only use the card for those purchases. Pay off the balance in full each month.

      Millennials have been slow to embrace credit cards.Coming of age in the wake of the financial crisis, they appeared leery of using credit, preferring t...

      Mortgage applications post second straight weekly gain

      Contract interest rates continued their decline

      Another week of increases for mortgage applications -- the second in a row.

      Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey shows applications were up 0.4% during the week ending July 21.

      The Refinance Index rose 3% from the previous week, putting the refinance share of mortgage activity at 46.0% of total applications -- up 1.3% from a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.8% of total applications, the FHA share dropped to 10.2% from 10.7% the week before, the VA share of total applications dipped to 10.5% from 10.7% and the USDA share of total applications inched up to 0.8% from 0.7% the previous week.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) was down five basis points -- to 4.17% from 4.22%, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.31 (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 $424,100) dropped from 4.18% to 4.06%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA fell five basis points to 4.05%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.30 (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 3.45% from 3.48%, with points increasing to 0.45 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs decreased three basis points to 3.29%, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.21 (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.

      Another week of increases for mortgage applications -- the second in a row.Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Su...

      New home sales edge upward in June

      Prices, however, were mixed

      Sales of new single-family houses rose in June for a second straight month.

      The Commerce Department reports sales last month totaled a seasonally adjusted 610,000, up 0.8% from may's revised estimate of 605,000 and 9.1% above the same month a year ago.

      Sales soared in the West (+12.5%) and Midwest (+10.0), but were flat in the Northeast and down in the South (-6.1%).

      Prices and inventory

      The median sales price of new houses $310,800, down $10,800 from June 2016. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less The average sales price, on the other hand, rose $15,200 to $379,500.

      The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of June was 272,000 -- a supply of 5.4 months at the current sales rate.

      Supply is clearly a concern for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

      "While new home inventory rose slightly in June," said NAHB Senior Economist Michael Neal, "it remains tight as builders face lot and labor shortages and increases in building material costs."

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Sales of new single-family houses rose in June for a second straight month.The Commerce Department reports sales last month totaled a seasonally adjust...

      Stefano's Foods recalls Stromboli

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

      Stefano’s Foods of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling approximately 981 pounds of Stromboli.

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

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

      The following product, produced on June 24, 2017, and incorrectly packaged in a box labeled as pepperoni and Italian sausage Stromboli, is being recalled:

      • 18.5-oz. boxes containing two pieces of “SCREAMIN’ SICILIAN PIZZA CO. STROMBOLI SUPREMUS MAXIMUS PEPPERONI & ITALIAN SAUSAGE” with an “Enjoy by: 2/19/2018” date and lot code of 70010117517.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 19140” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to a distribution center in Wisconsin.

      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 Kathleen Kirkham at (888) 295-8727.

      Stefano’s Foods of Charlotte, N.C., is recalling approximately 981 pounds of Stromboli.The product contains eggs, an allergen not declared on the label...

      House panel to hold hearing on Net Neutrality

      CEOs of major tech companies asked to appear

      Under the Trump Administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has embraced a rollback of the previous administration's Net Neutrality policy, much to the chagrin of consumer advocates and many media companies.

      Now, Congress has signaled its intention to get involved. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has announced he will invite the CEOs of leading tech companies that are on opposite sides to appear at a Sept. 7 hearing on the issue.

      Walden made the announcement at Tuesday's hearing on FCC funding and oversight. While Net Neutrality has largely been seen as a Democratic Party issue, Walden says a "strong consensus" has formed across party lines that it's time for Congress to get involved and set clear ground rules for the internet.

      Intertwined goals

      “In some form or another, we have been working for at least 20 years on the intertwined goals of incentivizing the huge investments needed to connect Americans, while keeping the internet open and protecting consumer privacy," Walden said. "With almost everyone in agreement about fundamental principles to prevent anti-competitive behavior such as throttling and blocking, I think we are closer than ever to achieving a lasting resolution. The time has come to get everyone to the table and get this figured out.”

      To that end, Walden says the committee has invited the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and Netflix, along with broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Charter Communications to appear before the full committee.

      Contrasting points of view

      The media companies and the ISPs may present very different points of view. Media companies say the internet should treat all content the same, and not favor some over other. ISP's generally argue that they paid to build out their networks and that they should not be treated as public utilities.

      Consumer advocates who support Net Neutrality worry about a "slippery slope" if the FCC reverses course, and allows ISPs to favor content from large companies over that produced by small companies and non-profit groups.

      Some Republicans in Congress have complained that the FCC under President Obama exceeded its authority when it adopted the Net Neutrality rule, benefiting some companies at the expense of others. Walden's announcement suggests lawmakers may be ready to enter the debate, looking to resolve the matter with legislation rather than regulations.

      Under the Trump Administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has embraced a rollback of the previous administration's Net Neutrality policy,...

      Zillow: median home value now over $200,000

      Home values are higher than at the peak of the housing bubble

      The thing that jumped off the page from Monday's existing home sales report was the fact that home sales went down in June, yet home prices went up.

      Sales were down 1.8% but the median price was up nearly 7%, largely due to the fact that there simply aren't enough homes for sale to meet demand.

      As a result, real estate marketplace Zillow reports the median U.S. home value is now over $200,000 for the first time ever, eclipsing the $196,600 reached at the peak of the housing bubble.

      Inventory down 11%

      Zillow's numbers show the number of homes for sale in the U.S. is down 11% from 12 months ago. At the same time, national home values have been rising at a 7% annual rate over the last month months, with many markets recording double-digit gains.

      "The national housing market remains red hot and shows no signs of slowing, even as some local markets like the Bay Area have noticeably cooled," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell.

      But even where the housing market has backed doff from its frenetic pace, Gudell says selection is limited and home values remain at or near their peak levels.

      "Given these high costs and high competition, the most important thing you can do is get your finances in order so you know what you can comfortably afford, and find an agent who has experience with bidding wars and will help you stand out in a competitive market, especially if you're buying for the first time," she advises.

      Dallas, Seattle, and Las Vegas see biggest gains

      Home values are rising fastest in markets with strong economies and high-paying jobs. Seattle and Dallas are rising fastest, along with Las Vegas, which had a long way to go since it was among the hardest hit markets in the housing crash. Home values in all three metros are up double-digits year-over-year.

      Finding a home to purchase is hardest in San Jose, Calif., where inventory levels are down 40%. San Diego and Columbus, Ohio, are also seeing very tight inventories, with 33% fewer homes for sale than 12 months ago.

      Fortunately, rents have not been going up as fast, making renting now more affordable than buying in more markets. Zillow reports nationwide, rents have rising at an annual rate of 1% over the last six months. Seattle, Los Angeles, and Sacramento reported the biggest increases among the top 35 metros.

      City-by-city prices

      This chart, provided by Zillow, shows home values, yearly changes and rental costs, ranked by market size. 

      Metropolitan 
      Area

       Zillow Home

      Value 
      Indexv

       (ZHVI)

      Year-over-
      Year

      ZHVI 
      Change

      Zillow

      Rent

      Index 
      (ZRI)

      Year-over-
      Year ZRI 
      Change

      Year-over-Year 
      Inventory 
      Change

      United States

      $               200,400

      7.4%

      $                1,422

      1.1%

      -11.4%

      New York, NY

      $               422,300

      9.2%

      $                2,376

      -1.6%

      -17.6%

      Los Angeles-Long

      Beach-Anaheim, CA

      $               609,800

      6.1%

      $                2,682

      4.2%

      -16.8%

      Chicago, IL

      $               211,200

      6.5%

      $                1,638

      -0.4%

      -11.9%

      Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

      $               211,000

      10.5%

      $                1,584

      2.9%

      9.0%

      Philadelphia, PA

      $               218,700

      4.8%

      $                1,567

      -0.9%

      -15.3%

      Houston, TX

      $               178,400

      3.9%

      $                1,538

      -2.8%

      10.6%

      Washington, DC

      $               382,600

      3.1%

      $                2,126

      0.2%

      -20.2%

      Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL

      $               253,100

      7.6%

      $                1,849

      -1.9%

      1.6%

      Atlanta, GA

      $               179,900

      8.1%

      $                1,348

      3.0%

      -12.3%

      Boston, MA

      $               427,700

      7.8%

      $                2,364

      2.6%

      -21.2%

      San Francisco, CA

      $               854,300

      5.7%

      $                3,372

      -0.5%

      -25.8%

      Detroit, MI

      $               141,000

      9.5%

      $                1,162

      -1.6%

      -20.9%

      Riverside, CA

      $               328,800

      6.1%

      $                1,793

      3.5%

      -19.8%

      Phoenix, AZ

      $               236,900

      6.5%

      $                1,322

      2.2%

      -11.5%

      Seattle, WA

      $               447,100

      13.1%

      $                2,142

      5.4%

      -24.1%

      Minneapolis-St

      Paul, MN

      $               247,400

      8.6%

      $                1,593

      3.5%

      -30.4%

      San Diego, CA

      $               548,000

      6.9%

      $                2,484

      2.9%

      -32.5%

      St. Louis, MO

      $               148,600

      3.6%

      $                1,140

      0.0%

      -12.7%

      Tampa, FL

      $               185,700

      10.1%

      $                1,353

      1.7%

      -20.8%

      Baltimore, MD

      $               261,000

      3.8%

      $                1,727

      -0.5%

      -20.7%

      Denver, CO

      $               370,000

      8.8%

      $                2,009

      0.2%

      -3.6%

      Pittsburgh, PA

      $               137,400

      5.0%

      $                1,074

      -3.9%

      -10.5%

      Portland, OR

      $               367,400

      8.3%

      $                1,825

      3.5%

      4.0%

      Charlotte, NC

      $               174,800

      8.2%

      $                1,263

      1.6%

      -21.2%

      Sacramento, CA

      $               369,200

      8.7%

      $                1,744

      4.5%

      -14.5%

      San Antonio, TX

      $               162,700

      6.9%

      $                1,332

      1.1%

      -2.4%

      Orlando, FL

      $               207,000

      9.6%

      $                1,405

      2.7%

      -14.5%

      Cincinnati, OH

      $               152,600

      6.6%

      $                1,257

      1.2%

      -22.7%

      Cleveland, OH

      $               134,600

      5.5%

      $                1,149

      0.1%

      3.3%

      Kansas City, MO

      $               159,400

      6.8%

      $                1,266

      2.0%

      7.7%

      Las Vegas, NV

      $               225,500

      10.2%

      $                1,252

      1.1%

      1.4%

      Columbus, OH

      $               162,500

      4.7%

      $                1,303

      0.8%

      -32.9%

      Indianapolis, IN

      $               138,100

      5.0%

      $                1,189

      -0.4%

      -24.0%

      San Jose, CA

      $            1,013,700

      5.9%

      $                3,472

      -1.1%

      -39.4%

      Austin, TX

      $               271,500

      7.1%

      $                1,695

      -1.1%

      23.1%

      About Zillow

      The thing that jumped off the page from Monday's existing home sales report was the fact that home sales went down in June, yet home prices went up.Sal...

      Study finds more poison center calls tied to dietary supplements

      The rate surged 50% from 2005 to 2012

      As dietary supplements have gotten more popular, there has been an increase in their link to adverse reactions.

      New research published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology has found the rate of calls to poison control centers, related to supplements, jumped 50% from 2005 to 2012.

      However, in most cases the incidents did not stem from normal, adult use of the supplements. The researchers found that 70% of the cases involved a child, younger than six, who found the supplements and swallowed them.

      Dr. Gary Smith, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and senior author of the study, says consumers mistakenly believe dietary supplements are similar to over-the-counter medication.

      “Dietary supplements are not considered drugs, thus they are not required to undergo clinical trials or obtain approval from the FDA prior to sale, unless the product is labeled as intended for therapeutic use,” Smith points out.

      Miscellaneous substances

      In fact, Smith says miscellaneous substances in the supplements were often the cause of a reaction. Those substances include botanicals and hormonal products.

      The researchers said energy products, along with botanical and cultural medicines, accounted for the largest proportion of serious medical events. Among botanicals, yohimbe accounted for the largest proportion of serious medical outcomes.

      The researchers says almost 30% of yohimbe exposure calls resulted in moderate or major effects, which can include heart beat rhythm changes, kidney failure, and heart attack.

      Childproof packaging

      Henry Spiller, a co-author of the study and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, says a lack of federal oversight has caused inconsistencies in the quality of supplement products. He said mandating child-proof packaging for supplements would be a first step.

      Sales of supplements have increased in recent years, along with the growth in the population of older adults. According to the staff at the Mayo Clinic, supplements aren't necessary for people who eat a well balanced diet, but they may be helpful for older adults who don't live in an assisted living facility.

      The staff recommends talking with your doctor about what supplements and doses might be appropriate, and says to ask about any potential side effects or interactions with prescription medicine you take.

      As dietary supplements have gotten more popular, there has been an increase in their link to adverse reactions.New research published in the Journal of...

      Wells Fargo ordered to re-hire whistle-blower

      OSHA says branch manager was fired after reporting fraudulent activity

      The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the Labor Department, has ordered Wells Fargo to reinstate a branch manager allegedly fired after she reported what she believed to be fraudulent activity at her branch.

      The OSHA ruling orders the bank to rehire the unnamed executive with back pay and damages, totaling $577,000.

      In a statement to Reuters, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the bank disagrees with the findings and will request a full hearing on the matter. She noted that the OSHA order is preliminary and that no hearing on the merits of the case has been held.

      Unauthorized accounts scandal

      This particular case goes back to 2011, but OSHA says it is connected to last year's revelations that Wells Fargo opened credit card and checking accounts in customers' names without their consent.

      According to OSHA, the Wells Fargo branch manager in question raised concerns with her superiors, alleging that the bank's "private bankers" were opening accounts for customers without their permission.

      The manager’s disclosures were found to be protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010. The agency suggests the manager's reports were at least a contributing factor in her firing.

      “No banking industry employee should fear retaliation for raising concerns about fraud and practices that violate consumer financial protections,” said Barbara Goto, OSHA regional administrator in San Francisco. “The U.S. Department of Labor will fully and fairly enforce the whistleblower protection laws under its jurisdiction.”

      Warren weighs in

      Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a frequent critic of banks in general and Wells Fargo in particular, was quick to react to the order. After last year's revelations of the unauthorized accounts, she pressed the Labor Department to investigate.

      "Whistleblowers who come forward to call out abusive, predatory, and illegal practices in their workplaces should be applauded, not subjected to retaliation," Warren said.

      Warren also said she was pleased to see the Department of Labor investigation is continuing under the Trump Administration.

      While Wells Fargo has signaled its intention to appeal, OSHA says an appeal does not stay the preliminary reinstatement order.

      The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the Labor Department, has ordered Wells Fargo to reinstate a branch manager allegedly fir...

      Consumer confidence back on track in July

      Economic growth is seen continuing through the year

      Following two straight monthly declines, the confidence of consumers in the nation's economy is on the rise again.

      The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index, which had been revised to show a decline in June, was up 3.8 points to 121.1 in July.

      The Present Situation Index rose from 143.9 to 147.8, while the Expectations Index went to 1.3.3 from 99.6 last month.

      “Consumers’ assessment of current conditions remained at a 16-year high (July 2001, 151.3) and their expectations for the short-term outlook improved somewhat after cooling last month,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco. “Overall, consumers foresee the current economic expansion continuing well into the second half of this year.”

      How they see it

      Consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved in July, with those who say business conditions are “good” increasing from 30.6% to 33.3%; those who believe conditions are “bad” was virtually unchanged at 13.5%.

      The view of the labor market was also more favorable. Those who think jobs are “plentiful” jumped to 34.1% from 32.0%, with the opposite view down a touch from 18.4% to 18.0%.

      There's also more optimism about the short-term outlook. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months rose from 20.1% to 22.9%, while those expecting a worsening dropped from 10.0% to 8.2%.

      Consumers’ outlook for the labor market improved. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead was unchanged at 19.2%, while who think there will be fewer jobs declined to 13.3% from 14.6%.

      However, they were not as upbeat about their income prospects. The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to improve slipped from 20.9% to 20.0%, while the proportion anticipating a decline rose from 9.3% to 10.0%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was July 14.

      Following two straight monthly declines, the confidence of consumers in the nation's economy is on the rise again.The Conference Board reports its Cons...

      Another record high for the CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index

      A government gauge of house prices was also on the rise

      There doesn't seem to be an end in sight for the spiraling cost of housing.

      According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price NSA Index, prices posted an annual gain of 5.6% in May -- the same as in April.

      The annual increase for the 10-City Composite was 4.9%, while the 20-City Composite advance came in at 5.7%. The biggest gainers were Seattle (+13.3%) followed by Portland Ore. (+8.9%) and Denver (+7.9%). In all, nine cities reported greater price increases in the year ending May 2017 versus the year ending April 2017.

      “Home prices continue to climb and outpace both inflation and wages,” said S&P Dow Jones Indices Index Committee Chairman David M. Blitzer. “Housing is not repeating the bubble period of 2000-2006.”

      “For the last 19 months,” he said, “either Seattle or Portland was the city with fastest rising home prices based on 12-month gains.

      Month-over-month

      On a month-over-month basis, the National Index was up 1.0% in May, with the 10-City Composite posting a 0.7% increase and 20-City Composite advancing 0.8% increase. All 20 cities reported increases in May.

      Unlike the earlier period when rising prices were almost universal, increases vary across the country. Blitzer points out that the number of homes sold annually is 20% less today than in the earlier period and the months’ supply is declining, not surging.

      “The small supply of homes for sale, at only about four months’ worth, is one cause of rising prices,” he said, noting that, “new home construction, higher than during the recession but still low, is another factor in rising prices.”

      Government gauge of house prices rises

      A second measure of home prices -- the Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI) -- inched up 0.4% in May.

      The previously reported 0.7% increase for April, meanwhile, was revised to show a gain of 0.6%.

      The monthly HPI uses home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. On a year-over-year basis, prices shot up 6.9% in May.

      For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from April to May ranged from -0.5% in the Middle Atlantic division to +1.0% in the West South Central division.

      The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from a gain of 4.0% in the Middle Atlantic division to an 8.7% surge in the Pacific division.

      The complete report may be found on the FHFA website.

      There doesn't seem to be an end in sight for the spiraling cost of housing.According to the S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price NSA Index,...

      iRover recalls self-balancing scooters/hoverboards

      The lithium-ion battery packs in the self-balancing scooters/hoverboards can overheat

      iRover of Fair Lawn, N.J., is recalling about 2,800 self-balancing scooters/hoverboards.

      The lithium-ion battery packs in the self-balancing scooters/hoverboards can overheat, posing a risk of smoking, catching fire and/or exploding.

      There have been two reports of the battery packs in the recalled self-balancing scooters/hoverboards smoking and overheating. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

      This recall involves iRover self-balancing scooters, commonly referred to as hoverboards, model numbers 87645 and 87644.

      The hoverboards have two wheels at either end of a platform and are powered by lithium-ion battery packs. The boards have “iRover” printed on the front outer casing and come in black and white.

      The model number is listed on the bottom of the unit.

      The hoverboards, manufactured in China, were sold at Fallas Stores of Los Angeles, California, and T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores nationwide from December 2015, through December 2016, for between $300 and $400.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled scooters/hoverboards and contact iRover for instructions on returning their hoverboard for a free UL2272-certified replacement unit.

      Consumers may contact iRover toll-free at 888-348-6434 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.iroverus.com and click on Recall Notice for more information.

      iRover of Fair Lawn, N.J., is recalling about 2,800 self-balancing scooters/hoverboards.The lithium-ion battery packs in the self-balancing scooters/ho...

      Model year 2017 Dodge Challengers recalled

      The transmission may not remain in the PARK position

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 7,802 model year 2017 Dodge Challengers equipped with 5.7L V8 engines and eight-speed automatic transmissions.

      The transmission may not remain in the PARK position if that gear is selected, the engine is still running and the driver exits the vehicle.

      If the vehicle is exited without the transmission remaining in the PARK position and without the parking brake set, the vehicle may roll, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will update the transmission control module software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 21, 2017.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T41.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 7,802 model year 2017 Dodge Challengers equipped with 5.7L V8 engines and eight-speed automatic transmissions.The tr...

      Nissan recalls a half-million Versa Sedans and Hatchbacks

      The driver front airbag inflator may rupture

      Nissan North America is recalling 515,394 model year 2007-2011 Versa Sedans and model year 2007-2012 Versa Hatchbacks.

      The vehicles have a driver front airbag inflator that may rupture due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to moderate absolute humidity, temperatures, and temperature cycling.

      An inflator rupture may result in metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the inflator with a new one manufactured by a different supplier, free of charge. Remedy parts are not currently available.

      An interim owner notification letter will be sent by the end of September 2017, followed by a second letter when remedy parts are available.

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

      Nissan North America is recalling 515,394 model year 2007-2011 Versa Sedans and model year 2007-2012 Versa Hatchbacks.The vehicles have a driver front...

      Sales of previously-owned homes drop in June

      Only the Midwest saw an increase

      Low supplies sent sales of existing homes lower last month, with three of the four regions of the U.S. reporting declines.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports total sales of previously-owned -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- fell 1.8% in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.52 million.

      Even with the decline, last month's sales pace was 0.7% above a year ago, but is the second lowest of 2017.

      “Closings were down in most of the country last month because interested buyers are being tripped up by supply that remains stuck at a meager level and price growth that's straining their budget," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "The demand for buying a home is as strong as it has been since before the Great Recession. Listings in the affordable price range continue to be scooped up rapidly, but the severe housing shortages inflicting many markets are keeping a large segment of would-be buyers on the sidelines."

      Price and inventory

      The median price for all types of existing-homes in June was $263,800 -- up 6.5% from the previous June. That tops May as the new peak and is the 64th straight month of year-over-year gains.

      The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.

      Housing inventory at the end of last month was down 0.5% to 1.96 million existing homes available for sale, and is now down 7.1% from a year ago and has fallen year-over-year for 25 consecutive months.

      Unsold inventory is at a 4.3-month supply at the current sales pace, versus 4.6 months a year ago.

      Sales by region

      • Existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 2.6% last month to an annual rate of 760,000, but are still 1.3% above a year ago. The median price was up 4.1% year-over-year to $296,300.
      • Sales in the South tumbled 4.7% to an annual rate of 2.23 million, unchanged from a year ago. The median price there was $231,300 -- up 6.2% from a year ago.
      • Previously-owned home sales in the West totaled 1.21 million, down 0.8% from May, but 2.5% above a year earlier. The median price shot up 7.4% from June 2016 to $378,100.
      • In the Midwest, the only region to post a gain, sales rose 3.1% to an annual rate of 1.32 million in June -- the same as June 2016. The median price was $213,000, up 7.7% from a year ago.

      Low supplies sent sales of existing homes lower last month, with three of the four regions of the U.S. reporting declines.The National Association of R...

      Chrysler recalls model year 2017 Jeep Compasses

      The User's Guide contains incorrect jump start information

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 12,989 model year 2017 Jeep Compasses.

      The affected vehicle's User's Guides contain incorrect information regarding the jump start procedure. Specifically, the polarity of the battery terminals are reversed in the battery terminal graphic.

      If a customers follow the User's Guide, they may hook up the battery jumper cables incorrectly, increasing their risk of injury.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners and will replace the User's Guides with a corrected version, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 21, 2017.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T46.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 12,989 model year 2017 Jeep Compasses.The affected vehicle's User's Guides contain incorrect information regarding t...

      Ford recalls model year 2017 Lincoln MKZs and Ford Edges & Fusions

      The vehicles may lose the ability to move

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 5,215 model year 2017 Lincoln MKZs and Ford Edges & Fusions.

      On vehicles with 2.0L gas engines and six-speed automatic transmissions, the torque converter weld studs may have been inadequately welded.

      If the torque converter weld studs fail, the torque converter will not be connected to the engine flexplate and the vehicle will lose the ability to move, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford or Lincoln will notify owners, and dealers will replace the torque converters, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 14, 2017.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 17S16.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 5,215 model year 2017 Lincoln MKZs and Ford Edges & Fusions.On vehicles with 2.0L gas engines and six-speed automatic t...

      Minnesota fines Farmers for auto rate-setting policies

      State says company charged renters more for car insurance than homeowners

      Auto insurance companies have different ways of assessing risk and assigning rates, but in Minnesota, the state charges one method Farmers used violated state law.

      Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said his office found that Farmers was charging a higher auto insurance rate to drivers who did not own their home. He says state law prohibits that.

      “You should not be forced to buy a house in order to get a fair price on your auto insurance,” said Rothman. “It is not only unfair, but in Minnesota it is also illegal for an insurance company to charge more or discriminate against drivers simply because they happen to rent their homes.”

      $315,000 in refunds

      As a result, Rothman says Farmers will pay a $75,000 penalty and refund $315,000 to more than 1,600 Minnesota drivers, while changing its policy.

      The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says Minnesota is not the only state where this was happening. The consumer group produced a report last year showing that drivers in a number of states often pay a surcharge for being renters.

      J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s director of insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner, said the Minnesota official was correct to take action.

      "It is critical that he and commissioners around the country make it clear that auto insurance prices must be based on real risk factors and not personal or economic characteristics such as whether or not you can afford to buy a home,” Hunter said.

      Renters pay 7% more

      In its report last year, CFA documented that consumers paid, on average, 7% more for the same auto insurance coverage if they were a renter instead of a homeowner. The group says that hurts lower-income consumers who already have less disposable income.

      CFA suggests such a measure has the effect of basing rates on income, since the average income of renters in 2013 was $27,800 but $63,400 for homeowners.

      In the past, the insurance industry has generally defended the use of non-driving criteria used in setting rates, citing studies showing a correlation with risk.

      In recent years, CFA has tried to focus attention on various non-driving risk factors that insurance companies use to set rates. For example, in all but three states, many insurers use a customer's credit score as one way to assess risk. California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii specifically prohibit the practice.

      While the Minnesota law specifically bars the use of homeownership in setting auto rates, CFA says most states have laws that could be reasonably interpreted to ban the practice.

      Auto insurance companies have different ways of assessing risk and assigning rates, but in Minnesota, the state charges one method Farmers used violated st...

      Types of boat insurance and what they cover

      Skippers should always know where they stand when it comes to their insurance

      For some consumers, there’s nothing that beats taking the boat out on the water during a hot summer’s day. But just as with any other vehicle, accidents can happen – and when they do, it’s important to know what your insurance will cover.

      With this in mind, the Insurance Information Institute (III) has provided an overview of what kind of insurance policies are out there and how they work. Consumers should keep in mind that the type and value of their water craft will largely determine how much they pay for insurance coverage and what benefits they receive.

      Levels of insurance

      For smaller types of boats, such as canoes, small sail boats, and small power boats with less than 25 miles per hour of horse power, III says that coverage can usually be provided under a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. The coverage is usually either $1,000 or 10% of the home’s insured value and protects the boat, motor, and trailer combined.

      This kind of policy usually doesn’t have any liability coverage, but consumers can often elect to add it as an endorsement to their homeowner’s policy. However, be sure to check with your insurance representative to see what the limits are.

      Consumers who own larger and faster boats, such as yachts, jet skis, or wave runners, will generally not be covered by their homeowner’s or renter’s policy and will need to acquire a separate boat insurance policy. Generally, there are two types of policies to choose from.

      An actual cash value policy pays for replacement costs less depreciation at the time of an accident or loss. If your boat is completely lost, then this kind of policy will use boat pricing guides and other resources to determine its market value. Partial losses are handled by taking the total cost of the repair and subtracting a percentage for depreciation.

      An agreed amount value policy is different because it’s based on a value that you and your insurer agree upon before an accident or loss. When this event occurs, you’ll be paid that amount. This kind of policy also replaces any old items on your boats for new ones in the event of a partial loss and does not deduct anything for depreciation.

      Exclusions and liability limits

      Certain types of physical damage may be excluded from these policies, such as normal wear and tear, damage from insects, mold, animals, zebra mussels, defective machinery, or machinery damage. However, they will often provide coverage for several scenarios, including:

      • Bodily injury – for injuries caused to another person;
      • Property damage – for damage caused to someone else’s property;
      • Guest passenger liability – for legal expenses incurred by someone using the boat with the owner’s permission;
      • Medical payments – for injuries to the boat owner and other passengers; and
      • Theft.

      Most insurance companies will offer liability limits on a policy starting at $15,000, but consumers can choose to increase them up to $300,000 or more by checking with their insurance representative. III says that common deductibles may include $250 for property damage, $500 for theft, and $1,000 for medical payments.

      Certain discounts for policies are also available and may provide umbrella coverage for a consumer’s boat, car, and home.

      Boating safety

      While having good boat insurance is important, not having to rely on it in the first place is the best-case scenario. III suggests that consumers take the following steps to ensure proper boat maintenance and safety.

      • Check weather forecasts before heading out;
      • Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return;
      • Check engine, fuel, electrical and steering systems, especially for exhaust-system leaks;
      • Carry one or more fire extinguishers, matched to the size and type of boat and have them readily accessible in case of emergency;
      • Equip your boat with required navigation lights and with a whistle, horn, or bell; and
      • Carry additional safety devices, such as paddles or oars, a first-aid kit, a supply of fresh water, a tool kit and spare parts, a flashlight, flares, and a radio.

      Consumers should also follow these steps to ensure their safety and the safety of their passengers:

      • Make sure all passengers wear a life-jacket while on-board;
      • Obey marine traffic laws and learn about various distress signals;
      • Stay alert for other watercraft, swimmers, shallow waters, and any floating debris;
      • Load your boat carefully so that weight is evenly distributed and within certain limits; and
      • Do not operate your boat if you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
      For some consumers, there’s nothing that beats taking the boat out on the water during a hot summer’s day. But just as with any other vehicle, accidents ca...

      Preventing childhood falls around the house

      What parents can do to keep kids safe around windows, stairs, and backyard play sets

      Play is a huge part of childhood -- but unfortunately, so are playtime-related tumbles and falls. Scraped knees and bruised shins are often just a part of life for an active kid, but some accidents can result in more serious injuries.

      Falls from windows send more than 5,000 children to hospital emergency departments each year, according to a 10-year study published in the journal Pediatrics. These types of falls can result in concussions, fractures, bleeding or even death.

      Parents and caretakers may not be able to prevent all falls, but there are a few ways to make things a little safer for kids, says Emmy Sasala, a health educator with the Pediatric Trauma and Injury Prevention Program at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

      Preventing falls from windows

      While children under 5 are the most likely to fall from windows, older children and even teenagers have ended up in the ER with window-related injuries.

      To help keep children safe around windows, Sasala recommends taking the following precautions:

      • Move furniture. Many kids tracked in the Pediatrics study fell through a window they accessed by climbing onto furniture. To help keep kids safe, remove furniture and nearby items that could be used as a platform.
      • Use window guards. Consider installing window guards or stops that prevent windows from opening more than four inches.
      • Keep windows locked. Always keep windows locked when they are closed. A strong child may be able to push up a closed window, Sasala noted. Also know that a window screen cannot prevent a fall.

      Stair and bed safety tips

      Stairs can pose a fall risk to children age 3 and younger, but baby gates can help keep children safe around stairs, says Sasala.

      She recommends installing hardware-mounted baby gates at the top of stairs, and at the bottom as well, if possible. Sasala says she prefers hardware-mounted gates because they can’t be pushed open as easily as pressure-mounted gates.

      Beds can also present a fall risk to kids age 3 and younger. Parents should never allow children to use the bed as a trampoline. Infants should never be placed on an adult bed to sleep. If an infant is placed on a bed when awake, they should never be left unattended.

      Playgrounds and backyard play sets

      School-age children can, and do, fall from playground equipment. To help absorb the shock and force of a fall, Sasala recommends making sure the playground equipment sits atop a surface such as wood chips, rubber, synthetic turf or pea gravel.

      Additionally, make sure all playground equipment is a good fit for your child’s ability level.

      Play is a huge part of childhood -- but unfortunately, so are playtime-related tumbles and falls. Scraped knees and bruised shins are often just a part of...

      Withholding -- too much vs. too little

      Some easy steps for having the right amount taken out

      When tax time comes every April, do you find yourself celebrating because you're getting a refund or griping because you owe taxes?

      There's a way to avoid both.

      The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) advises you to check your tax withholding from time to time as there are a number of factors that could determine whether you get money back or have to send more in.

      It's important to remember that when you get a refund, it's YOUR money you are getting back, not the government's. By withholding too much, you're giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. This is money you could invest and put to work for you. Whether you would or not is a topic for a separate discussion.

      In any event, when you have the correct amount taken out, you get closer to having a zero balance when you file your return -- no taxes owed, no refund.

      What to do

      In many cases, a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, is all you need to make an adjustment. Just submit it to your employer, and the employer will use it to figure out how much federal income tax to withheld from your pay.

      The IRS offers several online resources to help you bring taxes paid closer to what you owe. They include:

      Self-employed taxpayers, including those involved in the sharing economy, can use the Form 1040-ES worksheet to figure their estimated tax payments.

      If they also work for an employer, they can often forgo making these quarterly payments by instead having more tax taken out of their pay.

      When tax time comes every April, do you find yourself celebrating because you're getting a refund or griping because you owe taxes?There's a way to avo...

      Manhattan Toy recalls activity toys

      The product's colored plastic tubes can become brittle and break into small pieces

      The Manhattan Toy Company of Minneapolis, Minn., is recalling about 15,400 Winkel Colorburst activity toys sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The colored plastic tubes on the product can become brittle and break into small pieces, posing a choking hazard to infants.

      The firm has received four reports of plastic tubes breaking. No injuries have been reported.

      The Winkel Colorburst teething and activity toy has multi-color plastic tubing inserted into a plastic cube with rattle beads inside. The model number and lot code are printed on the center of the cube and on the hang-tag and product packaging near the UPC code.

      Only activity balls with the following lot codes are included in this recall: 206880 DH; 206880 EH; 206880 HH; 206871 EH.

      The activity toys, manufactured in China, were sold at toy stores nationwide and online at www.manhattantoy.com and other websites from May 2015, through September 2016, for about $15.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled toys away from infants and return it to the store where purchased or contact Manhattan Toy for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact The Manhattan Toy Company at 800-541-1345 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. (CT) Fridays, or online at www.manhattantoy.com and click on Recall Information at the bottom of the page for more information. 

      The Manhattan Toy Company of Minneapolis, Minn., is recalling about 15,400 Winkel Colorburst activity toys sold in the U.S. and Canada.The colored plas...

      Model year 2011-2016 Toyota Tacomas and 4Runners recalled

      The accessory hood scoop could detach from the vehicle

      Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET) is recalling 3,547 model year 2011-2016 Toyota Tacomas and 4Runners equipped with accessory hood scoops installed by SET or SET dealers.

      The adhesive attaching the hood scoop may weaken, allowing the hood scoop to detach from the vehicle.

      If the hood scoop detaches, it may become a road hazard, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      SET will notify owners, and dealers will mechanically fasten the scoop to the hood, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 28, 2017.

      Owners may contact SET customer service at 1-954-429-2000. SET's number for this recall is SET17B.

      Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET) is recalling 3,547 model year 2011-2016 Toyota Tacomas and 4Runners equipped with accessory hood scoops installed by SE...

      Toyota recalls Avalon and Camry Hybrids

      The vehicles could suffer a loss of propulsion

      Toyota Motor North America is recalling 671 model year 2016 Avalon and Camry Hybrids.

      The vehicles' front drive shaft assembly may have been misassembled. This could cause vehicle vibration and certain components in the drive shaft assembly to separate, resulting in a loss of propulsion while driving and the transmission not holding the vehicle when shifted into the Park position.

      A loss of propulsion while driving at higher speeds could increase the risk of a crash.

      In addition, if the driver exits the vehicle without applying the parking brake, the vehicle could roll away with the transmission in Park, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota dealers will check the serial numbers of both front drive shafts. If necessary, they will be replaced with new ones at no cost to customers.

      Owners with questions may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. 

      Toyota Motor North America is recalling 671 model year 2016 Avalon and Camry Hybrids.The vehicles' front drive shaft assembly may have been misassemble...

      Scientists calculate the amount of plastic on earth

      Most of it goes into landfills or the environment

      You go into a fast-food restaurant and order a salad. It comes in a plastic bowl, covered by a clear plastic top.

      The salad dressing is in a plastic bag and the utensils to eat the salad are made of plastic. They are encased in a clear plastic wrapper. When you're finished eating, all of that plastic goes into the trash.

      And that's just one example of how nearly every consumer product produces some kind of plastic waste, waste that for the most part either ends up in landfills or the natural environment and doesn't break down over time.

      Writing in Sciences Advances, researchers from several different universities point out that large-scale of production of plastic has only occurred since around 1950. Since then, production has surged, fueled by what is known as "single use" plastic -- material used in packaging or to produce the forks and spoons at fast-food restaurants.

      8.3 billion metric tons

      In that time, we've produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, the researcher write. They say their analysis is the first to look at global plastic production, how it's used and where it goes.

      Of the 6.3 billion tons of plastic that becomes waste, the researchers say only 9% was recycled and 12% was incinerated. Seventy-nine percent, they say, ended up in landfills or the natural environment.

      “Most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years,” said Jenna Jambeck, study co-author and associate professor of engineering at UGA. “Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices.”

      12 billion tons by 2050

      Jambeck and her colleague say that if current trends continue, 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will end up in landfills or the environment by 2050. To put 12 billion tons in perspective, that's about 35,000 times as heavy at the Empire State Building.

      Researchers say part of the problem is in how plastic, an incredibly durable material, is used. They point out that steel is also durable, but once it is produced it usually goes into buildings and other structures, where it stays for decades.

      An increasing amount of plastic, however, falls into the "single-use" category. The plastic elements in the fast-food salad mentioned above are used just once. Roland Geyer, lead author of the paper, says half of all the world's plastic becomes waste after four or fewer years of use.

      The researchers say they aren't suggesting a total removal of plastic from the marketplace. Instead, they say there needs to be a more serious examination of how plastic is used and what happens to it after.

      You go into a fast-food restaurant and order a salad. It comes in a plastic bowl, covered by a clear plastic top.The salad dressing is in a plastic bag...

      GOP tries to claw back new rules allowing class actions against financial institutions

      The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau issued the new rules earlier this month

      Earlier this month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau banned banks and other financial institutions from blocking consumers' rights to file class action lawsuits. Today, GOP lawmakers in Congress began efforts to block the CFPB's action.

      "This bad rule must be reversed," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), House Financial Services Committee Chairman as he announced he would introduce a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution of disapproval to repeal the arbitration rule, with a floor vote in the House coming as early as Tuesday. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is expected to introduce a similar resolution in the Senate this week.

      The CRA allows a new regulation to be eliminated with a simple majority in both chambers. Several of former President Obama's late-term regulations have already been eliminated through the CRA.

      Consumer groups were quick to respond.  

      "The CRA introductions follow a new poll showing that three out of four voters support the CFPB’s mission and that two out of three voters back the ban on forced arbitration rip-off clauses in consumer financial contracts," said Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen's vice president of legislative affairs in a prepared statement.

      "Rip-off clauses"

      "Big banks and other financial entities such as payday lenders bury 'rip-off clauses' in the fine print of take-it-or-leave-it contracts to block class-action lawsuits and push disputes into secret and rigged proceedings biased toward companies," Gilbert said. "Since few consumers can afford to fight small-dollar disputes by themselves, banks can trick and trap customers with illegal charges and then pocket billions in stolen money."

      CFPB Director Richard Cordray said arbitration clauses "allow companies to avoid accountability by blocking group lawsuits and forcing people to go it alone or give up. Our new rule will stop companies from sidestepping the courts and ensure that people who are harmed together can take action together."

      The U.S. Chamber of Commerce disputed that and said the arbitration rule would "pad the wallets of trial lawyers by foreclosing consumers’ access to subsidized arbitration and forcing them into class action lawsuits. That outcome would be very bad for consumers."

      Rep. HensarlingEarlier this month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau banned banks and other financial institutions from blocking consumers' ri...

      Moderate alcohol intake and restricted sleep are a bad combination for drivers

      Even moderate amounts of the two impair drivers more than either one alone

      It’s well-known how dangerous driving can be when you’re under the influence of alcohol or haven’t gotten enough sleep. However, a new study shows that combining even moderate amounts of the two can be much worse.

      Researchers from Monash University in Australia have found that moderate alcohol intake (within the legal limits for driving) and moderate sleep restriction led to even greater drowsiness and impaired attention than either sleep restriction or alcohol intake alone. The findings show that this impaired effect can last for several hours and can pose a great risk to consumers.

      “Many individuals may make a decision to drive based on the amount of alcohol consumed and the time since consumption,” says co-author Dr. Claire Anderson. “Our data suggest this represents an unperceived risk following inadequate sleep, since performance impairment remains many hours after alcohol was consumed.”

      Most impaired

      Anderson and fellow co-author Jessica E. Manousakis came to these conclusions after examining 16 healthy males between the ages of 18 and 27 under four counterbalanced conditions. These included (1) alcohol intake leading to a BAC over .05%, (2) sleep restriction of less than five hours in bed, (3) a combination of sleep restriction and alcohol intake, and (4) a baseline where no alcohol was consumed and sleep was not restricted.

      The results of the study showed that the combined condition led to greater drowsiness and impaired participants the most. The researchers say that the greatest deficit in attention occurred around 90 minutes after alcohol was consumed and 30 minutes after their BAC levels peaked.

      Perhaps most importantly, Anderson and Manousakis say that participants weren’t able to return to their baseline awareness until 2.5 hours after consuming alcohol, even after receiving rest breaks in between testing. This indicates that consumers have a large time period after drinking where they may be at increased risk of getting into an accident if they are also tired.

      “These findings suggest that (a) falling BrACs are an inadequate guide for performance/safety and (b) rest breaks without sleep are not a safety measure for mitigating performance impairment when consuming alcohol following restricted sleep,” the authors said.

      The full study has been published in Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experiemental.

      It’s well-known how dangerous driving can be when you’re under the influence of alcohol or haven’t gotten enough sleep. However, a new study shows that com...

      Google steps up protections against phishing attacks

      Users will now be notified before installing an app that hasn't been verified

      Back in February, Google rolled out new tools to help fight against phishing attacks – one of the oldest forms of cyberattacks where hackers try to obtain sensitive information by posing as a trustworthy source in an email or other electronic communication.

      Now, the company is stepping up its efforts once again by offering protections against unverified apps. In an announcement made Tuesday, Google said that it is expanding requirements for verification status of new apps and adding visible warnings that will inform consumers when they’re about to download an app that hasn’t been verified. The company says that in the coming months this new feature will be added to existing apps as well.

      “Beginning today, we’re rolling out an ‘unverified app’ screen for newly created web applications and Apps Scripts that require verification,” the announcement reads. “The ‘unverified app’ screen precedes the permissions consent screen for the app and lets potential users know that the app has yet to be verified. This will help reduce the risk of user data being phished by bac actors.”

      Fostering a "healthy ecosystem"

      In addition to protecting consumers from malicious apps, company officials say that the new update will help developers by helping them test their apps more easily.

      Previously, developers had to go through Google’s OAuth client verification process before they could test their apps out, but since the new change allows users to acknowledge an app’s unverified status, Google says this will no longer be necessary. However, Google says that the changes may also require more time before a web application can be published, so it’ll be important for developers to plan out and schedule their work.

      “We’re committed to fostering a healthy ecosystem for both users and developers,” Google said. “These new notices will inform users automatically if they may be at risk, enabling them to make informed decisions to keep their information safe, and will make it easier to test and develop apps for developers.”

      More information about the new security protections can be found here.

      Back in February, Google rolled out new tools to help fight against phishing attacks – one of the oldest forms of cyberattacks where hackers try to obtain...

      Where rents are rising the most (and least)

      Rents are being pushed up as fewer people can afford to buy the median-priced home

      Extremely tight supplies of houses for sale and rental housing have pushed up the cost of both, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

      The Center reports that in 2015, nearly 19 million households paid more than half their income for housing. While home prices account for some of that, much of the increase is being driven by rising rents.

      The Harvard researchers point out that slowing home sales may be driven in part by tighter inventories, but they say affordability is also a significant factor.

      Nearly half of renters can't afford to buy

      The found that on average, 45% of the renters in U.S. metro areas could not afford the monthly payments on a median-priced home in their area. In several of the most expensive metros, the share drops to only 25%.

      That means these consumers remain renters and are competing with other renters for available housing, making rents more expensive.

      But it turns out rents are rising more, and faster in some metros than others. Personal finance publisher GoBankingRates.com dug into the numbers to see where rents are going up the fastest. Not surprisingly, the top five are on the coasts.

      Where rents are rising fastest

      Number one is Marina del Rey, Calif., where the average rent rose $441.50 over 12 months. Second is Medford, Mass., at $405. Third is Jersey City, N.J. where the average rent rose $285, followed by Columbia, Md., at $277, and Corona, Calif., at $273.50.

      But despite rising rent affordability issues, GoBankingRates researchers also found markets where the average rent is going down, sometimes for obvious economic reasons, sometimes because rents rose too far, too fast. Bronxville, N.Y., for example, saw the average rent plummet by $475. Buffalo experienced an average rent decrease of $355.

      But even San Francisco, one of the most expensive housing markets in America, saw the average rent decline $226. The average rent in Walnut Creek, Calif., went down $225. Danbury Conn., saw the average rent go down $217.

      What can consumers do with this information? The researchers say it could be useful for renters who have options about where to live. They say it may also prove useful in helping renters decide if it makes sense to try to purchase a home.

      And, for that matter, landlords can use the information to see if they are wringing every last dollar out of their tenants. 

      You can check out the full results here.

      Extremely tight supplies of houses for sale and rental housing have pushed up the cost of both, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. ...

      Jobless claims plunge

      The outlook for economic growth continues to be positive

      There was a huge drop last week in the number of people filing initial applications for state unemployment benefits.

      The Labor Department reports seasonally adjusted first-time claims totaled 233,000 in the week ended July 15 a drop of 15,000 from the previous week's revised, which was revised upward by 1,000.

      The less volatile 4-week moving average, considered a more accurate barometer of the labor market, fell by 2,250 from a week earlier, was 243,750.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      Leading Indicators

      Another encouraging reading from a key indicator of how the economy is likely to be performing in the months ahead.

      The Conference Board reports its Leading Economic Index (LEI) jumped 0.6% in June following an advance of 0.2% in May and a 0.2% increase in April.

      It's the LEI's tenth consecutive monthly gain.

      "The U.S. LEI rose sharply in June, pointing to continued growth in the U.S. economy and perhaps even a moderate improvement in GDP growth in the second half of the year," said Conference Board Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research Ataman Ozyildirim. "The broad-based gain in the U.S. LEI was led by a large contribution from housing permits, which improved after several months of weakness."

      The LEI, a composite average of several individual leading indicators, is 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 LEI's components include:

      • Average weekly hours, manufacturing
      • Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
      • Manufacturers' new orders, consumer goods and materials
      • ISM Index of New Orders
      • Manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
      • Building permits, new private housing units
      • Stock prices, 500 common stocks
      • Leading Credit Index
      • Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
      • Average consumer expectations for business conditions

      Photo (c) designer491 - FotoliaThere was a huge drop last week in the number of people filing initial applications for state unemployment benefits....

      Honda recalls model year 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid vehicles

      The engine fuel feed hose and a fuel purge hose may be damaged

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 193 model year 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid vehicles.

      The engine fuel feed hose and a fuel purge hose that may have been misrouted during vehicle assembly.

      The misrouting can cause the hoses to be damaged from contact with other components, potentially resulting in a fuel leak. A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source may increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Acura will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the routing of the fuel feed hose and the fuel purge hose. If misrouted, the hoses will be replaced and installed correctly, free of charge.

      Owners may contact Acura client relations at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is KF8.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 193 model year 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid vehicles.The engine fuel feed hose and a fuel purge hose that may have...

      Polaris recalls Sportsman 570 ATVs

      Fuel can leak into the headlight pod,

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 25,600 Sportsman 570 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

      Fuel can leak into the headlight pod, posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received 30 reports of fuel leaks and four incidents involving a fire. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2014 Polaris Sportsman 570 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The ATVs were sold in several colors. “Polaris” is printed on the front grill, and “Sportsman 570” is printed on the side panel.

      The following vehicles are included in the recall:

      YEAR

      MODEL

      DESCRIPTION

      2014

      A14MH57AA

      SPORTSMAN 570 EFI SAGE GREEN

      2014

      A14MH57AD

      SPORTSMAN 570 EFI INDY RED

      2014

      A14MH57AC

      SPORTSMAN 570 EFI POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      2014

      A14MH5EAA

      SPORTSMAN 570 EPS SAGE GREEN

      2014

      A14MH5EAJ

      SPORTSMAN 570 EPS BRIGHT WHITE

      2014

      A14DH57AA

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 EFI SAGE GREEN

      2014

      A14DH57AJ

      SPORTSMAN TOURING 570 EFI BRIGHT WHITE

      2014

      A14MH5EAC

      SPORTSMAN 570 EPS POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      The ATVs, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Polaris dealers from April 2014, through May 2017, for between $6,500 and $7,700.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact Polaris to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Polaris toll-free at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off Road Safety Recalls” for more information. 

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 25,600 Sportsman 570 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).Fuel can leak into the headlight pod, posing a...

      Ford recalls F-150 and model year 2017 F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 trucks

      The doors could unlatch in a side impact collision

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 14,410 model year 2015-2017 F-150, and model year 2017 F-250, F-350, F-450, and F-550 trucks originally produced with black or body colored exterior door handles that may have been subsequently equipped with a chrome exterior door handle cover accessory kit purchased from a Ford dealer.

      The door handle covers may cause the doors to unlatch in a side impact collision.

      As such, these vehicles may fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 206, "Door Locks and Door Retention Components."

      If the doors unlatch and open in a side impact collision, the occupants have an increased risk of injury.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will remove the accessory covers and refund the purchase price. The recall is expected to begin July 21, 2017.

      Owners may contact Ford at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for the recall is 17C09.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 14,410 model year 2015-2017 F-150, and model year 2017 F-250, F-350, F-450, and F-550 trucks originally produced with black...

      Santander introduces new cash back credit card

      'Ultimate Cash Back' pays 1.5% on everything

      Rewards credit cards have grown in popularity in recent years, especially cash back cards.

      Many rewards cards pay more for certain categories, such as gasoline or groceries, but Santander Bank has introduced what it calls the Ultimate Cash Back Credit Card that's fairly straightforward.

      The bank says the card pays 1.5% cash back on all purchases, no matter how much you spend. The card also has no annual or transaction fees.

      "The Ultimate Cash Back Credit Card is the most straightforward card on the market," said Ravi Acharya, head of consumer lending and innovation at Santander Bank.

      Acharya says cardholders get the same amount of cash back, whether they are eating at a restaurant, gassing up the car, or buying groceries, or it becomes an all-purpose card.

      Removing the guesswork

      "We designed the Ultimate Cash Back Credit Card to take the guessing out of cash back rewards," he said. "Consumer research tells us that credit card users want a flexible, easy-to-use credit card that doesn't nickel and dime them with unnecessary fees and ensures they're going to earn money back on their purchases."

      New cardholders will get a bonus of $100 cash back if they spend $500 on new purchases within the first 90 days of activating and using the card. If they spend an average of $500 a month with the card, the cash back would be $7.50 a month.

      It might not sound like a lot, but consider that what the average savings account used to pay each month on a modest balance -- something it doesn't do any more.

      Santander also recently announced that its customers are able to add their Santander credit and debit cards to Apple Pay. The bank says that makes it easier to make secure payments in stores and online.

      It says upgrades to its mobile platform are coming later this year.

      Rewards credit cards have grown in popularity in recent years, especially cash back cards.Many rewards cards pay more for certain categories, such as g...

      Blind consumers hope autonomous cars arrive sooner rather than later

      But legal and technological roadblocks may push that dream down the road

      Many consumers are lukewarm about autonomous cars, saying they are doing just fine without them, thanks. But there is one group of consumers for whom a fully autonomous car could make a vast difference. We're talking about blind people.

      The notion of a blind person driving a car may seem outlandish, but if they're designed properly, autonomous cars should be fully suitable for use by blind and near-blind people, as well as those with other disabilities that hinder driving.

      The challenge now is to be sure that autonomous cars are designed with blind and other disabled people in mind. That's why the National Federation of the Blind is joining automakers and others in lobbying Congress to move quickly on setting standards for self-driving cars. Equally important, they want to be sure that existing laws which prohibit blind people from driving are modified when the time is right.

      Some states, including New York, Florida, and Michigan, already require the operator of an autonomous car to have a driver's license, which isn't available to those who are legally blind. 

      Many roadblocks along the way

      Anil Lewis, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind’s Jernigan Institute, which works to develop technologies and services that help the blind. says that autonomous cars are"going to create an improved ability to travel that doesn’t currently exist,” according to a report in the Insurance Journal. 

      But while it sounds promising, there are many roadblocks along the way, as a House committee is learning today as it holds hearings on legislation intended to pave the way for autonomous cars. Google, which has largely pulled out of the race to make a self-driving car, popularized the notion of a car that has no steering wheel or brake pedal but experts say it will be a long time before that becomes a reality.

      Robotaxi fleets and other developments yet to be realized may go a long way towards improving mobility for the blind, elderly, hard of hearing, and others who today often find themselves left at the curb. But taxis -- self-driving or otherwise -- don't fully answer the mobility needs of many Americans who would prefer to travel in their own car and who say the Ubers of the world give scant attention to serving the disabled.

      “In theory, the concept is a wonderful idea,” said Alex Epstein of the National Safety Council. “The question is how does the auto industry and the tech industry get to that place.”

      Many consumers are lukewarm about autonomous cars, saying they are doing just fine without them, thanks. But there is one group of consumers for whom a ful...

      Hotels increasingly push loyalty programs to get customers to book directly

      The idea is working, but chains have to be careful about giving away too much

      For consumers who travel and often stay in hotels, online booking sites can be fantastic for finding an affordable room. Because of rate parity rule agreements, consumers are always guaranteed to find the most competitive rates, which sort of makes them a no-brainer. However, while they may be necessary for drumming up business, it’s understandable that hotels wouldn’t want to keep paying out commissions.

      It’s for that very reason why consumers may have recently noticed more offers for hotel loyalty programs. Reuters reports that awarding free stays and discounts to loyal customers is one way that hotels are trying to gain ground on online travel sites, and it’s working surprisingly well.

      While companies like Expedia, Trivago, and Priceline still rake in the vast majority of U.S. hotel bookings, audience insight company Hitwise reports that six of the top 10 hotel brands had direct bookings increase year-over-year from May 2016 to May 2017, and only three of the top eight online travel agencies had more bookings during that period. Analysts attribute that largely to changes to loyalty programs.

      Loyalty programs working out

      According to the report, Marriot had the largest volume of direct bookings, coming in at 26.21% in May 2017. Wyndham Worldwide Corp. – which currently ranks in at #3 among hotel chains by market cap – also showed big gains by more than tripling its share of direct bookings, up to 9.61%.

      Morningstar analyst Dan Wasiolek says that Wyndham’s success can be traced to a $100 million expansion of its loyalty program, which eliminated a large number of blackout dates and restrictions that commonly plague other chains’ rewards programs. Wyndham’s chief marketing officer Barry Goldstein said much of the same, pointing out that revamping the company’s rewards program, website, and app made a big difference.

      Other chains have been even more aggressive when it comes to getting customers to stop using online travel agencies. Hilton launched its “Stop Clicking Around” advertising campaign in February 2016, which offered discounts to members who booked directly on the company’s site.

      But while loyalty programs are one of only a few options that hotels have to draw customers away from online booking sites, experts say that they might be something of a double-edged sword. While direct bookings may increase due to favorable reward terms, there’s always the risk that travelers might get too used to getting a discounted room or free stay. Wasiolek says that hotels will have to walk a fine line to make sure that they’re getting the best return without giving too much away.

      For consumers who travel and often stay in hotels, online booking sites can be fantastic for finding an affordable room. Because of rate parity rule agreem...

      Mortgage applications on the rebound

      Contract interest were mostly lower

      After dropping during the week that included the Fourth of July holiday, mortgage applications are on the rise again.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association reports loan applications rose 6.3% in the week ending July 14.

      The Refinance Index shot up 13%, sending the refinance share of mortgage activity to 44.7% of total applications from 42.1% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 6.7% of total applications, the FHA share inched up to 10.7% from 10.4%, the VA share dropped to 10.7% from 11.5% and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.7% prior.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) was unchanged at 4.22%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.40 (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 $424,100) dipped to 4.18% from 4.19%, with points remaining unchanged at 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80%LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was down two basis points 4.10% from 4.12%, with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs edged down to 3.48% from 3.50%, with points decreasing to 0.39 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs held steady at 3.32%, with points decreasing to 0.21 from 0.31 (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.

      After dropping during the week that included the Fourth of July holiday, mortgage applications are on the rise again.The Mortgage Bankers Association r...

      Improvements earn Kia Forte TOP SAFETY PICK+ award

      The vehicle's front crash prevention system received a superior rating

      A stronger performance in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front crash test has earned the 2017 Kia Forte the TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

      Among the improvements in the vehicle are an optional, superior-rated front crash prevention system and available good-rated headlights.

      The vehicle has longer side-curtain airbags than earlier models, and Fortes built after March have beefed-up structure at the door hinge pillar and the door sill.

      Improvement in small overlap test

      Those changes gave Fortes built after March a good rating in the small overlap test, which represents a crash in which the left front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or with an object such as a tree or utility pole.

      In the test, the driver's space was maintained well, with maximum intrusion of three inches at the footrest. The dummy's movement was well-controlled, and measures from the dummy indicated a low risk of injuries in a crash of this severity.

      Earlier models of the Forte earned a marginal rating, with intrusion reaching 8 inches at the lower hinge pillar. In addition, the dummy's head contacted the instrument panel, and the side curtain airbag failed to provide sufficient forward coverage.

      To qualify for the 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK award, a vehicle must have good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests and an available front crash prevention rating that earns an advanced or superior rating.

      The "plus" is awarded to vehicles that meet those criteria and also have good or acceptable headlights.

      A stronger performance in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front crash test has earned the 2017 Kia Forte the TOP SAFETY P...

      Garden of Light recalls Woodstock Organic Matcha Vanilla Oats

      The product may be be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Garden of Light, doing business as Gluten Free Solutions of East Hartford, Conn., is recalling Woodstock Organic Matcha Vanilla Oats, which is manufactured by Garden of Light for Blue Marble Brands.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled product, which comes in a 1.8-oz. paperboard cup with a green laminated film lid, has the UPC Code 0-42563-01786-6 and is marked with the Best Buy Date Code of “SELL BY MAY 11 2018” on the bottom of cup.

      It was distributed in retail stores nationwide.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should destroy it and bring the purchase receipt to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Blue Marble Brands at (888) 534-0246, M – F between 9 am and 5 pm, or at www.woodstock-foods.com.

      Garden of Light, doing business as Gluten Free Solutions of East Hartford, Conn., is recalling Woodstock Organic Matcha Vanilla Oats, which is manufactured...

      Polaris Recalls RZR 570 and RZR S 570 ROVs

      The front brake can detach, posing crash and injury hazards

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 1,160 Polaris RZR 570 and RZR S 570 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      The front brake can detach, posing crash and injury hazards.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves all model year 2017 Polaris RZR 570 and RZR S 570 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs), including RZR EPS 570 or RZR S 570 EPS vehicles which have electronic power steering.

      Model number Z17VJE57AR was sold in red, model number Z17VHE57AU in silver and model number Z17VHA57A2 in white.

      The model number can be found on the manufacturing data label, near the right front fender.

      The two-seat ROVs have “Polaris” stamped on the front grill and RZR or RZR S on the side of the rear cargo.

      The vehicle identification number (VIN) is printed on the frame on the driver’s side towards the rear of the vehicle.

      The ROVs, manufactured in Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from December 2016, through June 2017, for about $8,500.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact Polaris to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. (CT) Monday and Friday, or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off Road Safety Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 1,160 Polaris RZR 570 and RZR S 570 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).The front brake ca...

      Teens and young adults who binge drink increase risk of dangerous brain changes

      Researchers say drinking at a young age can have detrimental long-term consequences

      In a recent study, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that binge drinking is becoming a growing problem in the U.S., with 32 million Americans admitting to having more than four drinks on any one occasion in 2013.

      While it’s bad enough that adults are engaging in these unhealthy behaviors, researchers from Oregon State University say that teens are reporting heavy drinking habits as well. In a recent mini review, assistant professor Anita Cservenka says that this is particularly dangerous because of the adverse effects that alcohol can have on brain health.

      "Adolescence is a time when the brain still matures including not only biological development but also maturation of psychosocial behaviours,” she said. “Given the increase of binge and heavy drinking in young people, understanding the effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and the impact on cognitive skills is very important.”

      Alcohol use disorders

      The review analyzed cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of young binge and heavy drinkers and how their habits affected their brain structure. In particular, the researchers examined six areas of brain development: response inhibition, working memory, verbal learning and memory, decision making and reward processing, alcohol cue reactivity, and socio-cogntive/socio-emotional processing.

      MRI scans taken of patients’ brains showed that binge and heavy-drinking teens and young adults had brains that were physically different from teens who didn’t drink. Specifically, the researchers said that teens who drank had systematically thinner and lower volume in the prefrontal cortex and cerebellar regions of their brain, as well as reduced white matter development. This is crucial, they say, because these brain areas play a key role in memory, attention, language, awareness, and consciousness.

      Additionally, the findings showed that young people who excessively drink alcohol can alter the neural structure of their brains over time, which could make them more susceptible to having alcohol dependence issues when they get older.

      “[The] brain alterations, as a result of heavy alcohol use during adolescence and young adulthood, could result in increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder later on in life,” said Cservenka. “It is therefore important to continue raising awareness of the risks of binge drinking and to promote future research in this area.”

      The full study has been published in Frontiers of Psychology.

      In a recent study, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that binge drinking is becoming a growing problem in the U.S., with...

      U.S. to lift laptop ban for flights from Middle Eastern countries

      However, airlines will soon have to adapt to new security measures

      Back in March, the U.S. Transportation Department imposed a ban that prohibited electronic devices from airline cabins on some flights originating in Middle Eastern countries. The news was not received well by critics, who said that the new rule would put a strain on U.S. relations with foreign nations and business interests.

      But just last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced new security measures for commercial flights coming to the U.S., and among the changes was a proposed rollback of the electronics ban. Now, it seems that rollback is just about complete.

      According to a Reuters report, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lifted the electronics ban for passengers traveling on Saudi Arabian Airlines on Monday, the last carrier that was still affected by the restrictions.

      With the lifting of the ban from King Abdulaziz International Airport, Saudi Arabian Airlines main hub, the only airport still affected by the ban is King Khalid International Airport. However, TSA officials said that they will be visiting that location “later this week to confirm compliance there as well.”

      Complying with new security measures

      Regarding the new security measures it released in June, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also issued a revised directive to all airlines that will be going into effect later this week on July 19.

      The directive explains in more detail what steps airlines will have to take to avoid new restrictions on laptops in cabins. These include increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas, expanded canine screening, closer inspection of electronic devices, and additional checkpoints where travelers will need to be cleared before departure. Airlines also have until July 19 to put in place increased explosive trace detection screening.

      Airline groups have criticized the new requirements, saying that they will be “extremely difficult” to implement and that the deadlines are too restrictive because of a “lack of availability of screening equipment technology and resources.” But TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says the new requirements are necessary for addressing future threats and keeping electronics available on flights.

      “As we look to stay ahead of the evolving threats, we’ll be working with global aviation stakeholders to expand security measures even further,” she said in a statement, adding that recent world events have led to a “web of threats to commercial aviation.”

      Back in March, the U.S. Transportation Department imposed a ban that prohibited electronic devices from airline cabins on some flights originating in Middl...

      Citi adds perks to its Prestige card

      High-end card raises the competition for the affluent consumer

      Citi has added new perks to its luxury travel credit card, upping the ante when it comes to rewards.

      The Citi Prestige Card, which is metal instead of plastic, offers a number of new benefits, including a free night's stay at any hotel when you book stays of four nights or more and have the savings automatically applied to your statement. That takes effect July 23.

      Another perk is the ThankYou Points program, which rewards cardholders with cash. For example, 50,000 points may be redeemed for $500.

      New Prestige cardmembers will get 75,000 ThankYou Points if they charge $7,500 in purchases during the first three months the account is open. Citi says that works out to more than $935 when used for air travel through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center.

      Increasingly competitive

      Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet's credit cards expert, says the announcement shows just how competitive the premium card market has gotten.

      "Not only will consumers get a new metal card, which many credit card users associate with luxury, but they will also have access to some impressive perks to better compete with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and AMEX Platinum," Palmer said.

      She says the $7,500 spending requirement to receive the bonus points is high, even for a premium card, and may put it out of reach for some frequent travelers.

      "If you do use the card, you’ll get the most value out of it if you track your spending to maximize the benefits while taking care to avoid any interest or fees by paying off the balance in full each month," she said.

      Annual air travel credit

      The card also carries a $250 credit toward air travel each year, helping to offset the $450 annual fee. Chris Fred, head of proprietary products at Citi Cards, says the card has a loyal following among affluent consumers who value an adventurous lifestyle.

      “We continue to see strong interest and engagement in this card, especially among millennials who comprise close to half of the portfolio, so the time is right to augment the Prestige card for a new generation of affluent customers,” he said.

      Other perks include a $100 statement credit for global entry or TSA pre application fee; complimentary, unlimited access to over 1,000 Priority Pass Select Lounges worldwide; no foreign transaction fees on purchases; three times the points on air travel, two times the points on dining and entertainment, and one point for every dollar spent on all other purchases.

      Citi has added new perks to its luxury travel credit card, upping the ante when it comes to rewards.The Citi Prestige Card, which is metal instead of p...

      Another dip in builder confidence

      Rising lumber prices are creating concerns

      Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes fell again in July to its lowest level since last November.

      The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) is down two points from the June level, which was revised downward by one point.

      “Our members are telling us they are growing increasingly concerned over rising material prices -- particularly lumber,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald. “This is hurting housing affordability even as consumer interest in the new-home market remains strong.”

      Taking a closer look

      The NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI, which is derived from 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.”

      In addition, the survey asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      All three HMI components were down in July but remain in solid territory. The components gauging current sales conditions dipped two points to 70, while the index charting sales expectations in the next six months was off two points to 73. The component measuring buyer traffic slipped one point to 48.

      “The HMI measure of current sales conditions has been at 70 or higher for eight straight months,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz, “indicating strong demand for new homes.”

      But, he adds, “builders will need to manage some increasing supply-side costs to keep home prices competitive.”

      Checking HMI scores regionally, the Northeast was up a point to 47. The West and Midwest each edged one point lower -- to 75 and 66, respectively, and the South was down three points to 67.

      Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes fell again in July to its lowest level since last November.The National Associatio...

      Boom time for teen summer hiring

      Over a million young people found work in June

      Things have really turned around in the teen summer job market.

      An analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that 1,023,000 workers aged 16-to-19 landed jobs last month.

      Employment among that age group was revised down in May to just 75,000, down by more than half from the 156,000 job gains in May 2016, and the lowest summer-month total since May 2011.

      The surge in June is up 48% from a year earlier when nearly 700,000 jobs were added, and 126% higher than May's gains. In fact, its is the highest June total since 2007.

      “June typically averages the most job gains of the summer months, with well over 700,000 jobs added on average since 2006,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger, adding that “these are some of the strongest numbers we’ve seen since the recovery.”

      Looking ahead

      If July numbers maintain an average pace of over 400,000 jobs added, this could be the best year for teen summer employment in a decade.

      “While May gains were lower than average this year, June’s more than offset that pace,” said Challenger. “It seems the recent decline of brick-and-mortar retail locations has not subdued hiring among teens.”

      Challenger has tracked over 5,000 announced closures of retail locations since January 2017.

      While June’s teen participation rate ticked up to 42.4%, the highest monthly rate since 2009 when 45.9% teens were working, it isn't even close to the 70s, 80s, and 90s when more than 50% of teens held jobs.

      Things have really turned around in the teen summer job market.An analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & C...

      Model year 2007-2011 Honda CR-Vs recalled

      The front airbag may not deploy as intended, increasing the risk of injury

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 629 model year 2007-2011 Honda CR-Vs that have had the passenger front airbag replaced.

      The airbag inflator repair kit may have been assembled by the supplier with an incorrect wire harness.

      If an inflator with an incorrect wire harness is installed, the airbag may not deploy as intended, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the passenger front airbag inflator, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 1, 2017.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is KF9.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 629 model year 2007-2011 Honda CR-Vs that have had the passenger front airbag replaced.The airbag inflator repair...

      GM recalls model year 2016-2017 Buick Envisions

      The possible lack of energy-absorbing foam blocks in replacement headliners increases the risk of injury

      General Motors is recalling ten model year 2016-2017 Buick Envisions.

      The recalled vehicles received a replacement headliner as part of a repair that might not have had impact energy-absorbing foam blocks attached.

      As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 201, "Occupant protection in interior impact."

      If the service parts do not have energy-absorbing foam blocks, there may be an increased risk of occupant injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the headliner assembly, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300. GM's number for this recall is 17275.

      General Motors is recalling ten model year 2016-2017 Buick Envisions.The recalled vehicles received a replacement headliner as part of a repair that mi...

      Marathon Enterprises recalls 7 million pounds of hot dogs and sausages

      The products may contain bone fragments

      Marathon Enterprises of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling approximately 7,196,084 pounds of hot dogs and sausages.

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically bone fragments.

      There has been one reported minor oral injury associated with consumption of this product.

      The following beef and pork hot dog and sausage items, produced between March 17, 2017, and July 4, 2017, are being recalled:

      Retail Products 

      • 3-lb. package of “SABRETT NATURAL CASING BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 410.
      • 3-lb. package of “SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 414.
      • 14-oz. package of “BUN SIZE SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 416.
      • 14-oz. package of “SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 417.
      • 12-oz. package of “SABRETT NATURAL CASING BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 428.
      • 14-oz. package of “NEW SABRETT ALL NATURAL SKINLESS UNCURED BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 437.
      • 3-lb. package of “SABRETT ALL NATURAL SKINLESS UNCURED BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 438.
      • 40-oz. package of “SABRETT ALL NATURAL SKINLESS UNCURED BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 439.
      • 14-oz. package of “Western Beef THE MEAT SUPERMARKET BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 451.
      • 16-oz. package of “SABRETT HOT SUSAGE” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 479.
      • 14-oz. package of “Jalapeno SABRETT SPICY HOT & SPICY BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 480.  
      • 80-oz. package of “ABOUT 50 BEEF FRANKS SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 644.
      • 48-oz. package of “ABOUT 30 BEEF FRANKS SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 732.
      • 40-oz. package of “ABOUT 25 BEEF FRANKS SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 738.
      • 32-oz. package of “ABOUT 20 BEEF FRANKS SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 740.
      • 80-oz. package of “SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 743.
      • 32-oz. package of “SABRETT 78-82 Pieces SKINLESS BEEF COCKTAIL FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 754.
      • 12-oz. package of “APPROXIMATELY 30 PIECES SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF COCKTAIL FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 771.
      • 12-oz. package of “APPROXIMATELY 30 PIECES SABBRETT BRATWURST SKINLESS BEEF & PORK COCKTAIL FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017. And UPC code 772.
      • 12-oz. packages of Sabrett brand “APPROXIMATELY 30 PIECES SABRETT BEEF & CHEDDAR SKINLESS BEEF COCKTAIL FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 773.
      • 12-oz. package of “APPROXIMATELY 30 PIECES SABRETT ALL NATURAL SKINLESS BEEF COCKTAIL FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 UPC code 774.
      • 48-oz. package of “SABRETT HOT SAUSAGE” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 779.
      • 16-oz. packages of Stew Leonard’s.com brand “beef franks” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017.
      • Various weights and sizes of “PAPAYA KING BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 1420 and 1421.
      • 14-oz. package of “1906 PREMIUM * BEEF FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 1906.
      • 2.5-lb. package of “1906 PREMIUM * BEEF FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 3860.
      • 12.5-oz. package of “24 PIECES SABRETT COCKTAIL FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 761.
      • 1-lb. 9-oz. package of “48 PIECES SABRETT COCKTAIL FRANKS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 762.
      • Various weights and sizes of “SABRETT Exclusively for Wind Mill Natural Casing HOT DOGS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017.

      Institutional products

      • Various weights and sizes of “SABRETT NATURAL BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 with UPC codes 530, 601, 602, 603, 604, 605, 606, 607, 666, 682, 725, 1065, 1201, 1420, 1421, 1530, 1603, 1699, and 1899.
      • Various weights and sizes of “Nathan’s Private Label” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC code 618.
      • Various weights and sizes of “SABRETT SKINLESS BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 and UPC codes 400, 437, 451, 455, 480, 630, 637, 638, 639, 640, 735, 736, 745, 748, 749, 750, 753, 754, 756, 757, 758, 759, 761, 762, 768, 770, 771, 773, 774, 800, 1012, 1013, 1040, 1060, 1061, 1062, 1064, 1066, 1101, 1438, 1440, 1441, 1480, 1637, 1638, 1639, 1644, 1735, 1748, 1756, 1999,2417, and 3860.
      • Various weights and sizes of “SABRETT NATURAL CASING PORK AND BEEF FRANKFURTERS” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 with UPC codes 510, 511, 512, 514, 515, 520, 521, 550, and 2403. 
      • Various weights and sizes of “SABRETT SKINLESS PORK AND BEEF FRANKFURTER” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 with UPC codes 554, 590, 592, 593, 596, 772, and 1100.
      • Various weights and sizes of “SABRETT HOT SAUSAGE” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 with UPC codes 479, 778, 779, and 786.
      • Various weights and sizes of “KATZ’S DELICATESSEN Salami” with a use by/sell by date between June 19, 2017 and Oct. 6, 2017 with UPC codes 950, 951, 952, 953, and 954. 

      The above UPC codes refer to the last three or four digits of the number in the code.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 8854” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail and institutional locations nationwide.

      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 may contact John Terminello at 1-800-SABRETT Monday thru Friday 8:30am to 5:15pm. 

      Marathon Enterprises of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling approximately 7,196,084 pounds of hot dogs and sausages.The products may be contaminated with extrane...

      Model year 2017 Lexus ES350s recalled

      The vehicle could experience a loss of steering

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 1,761 model year 2017 Lexus ES350s.

      The right-hand side tie rod lock nut may loosen over time.

      If the lock nut loosens, the tie rod may separate causing a loss of steering and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the lock nut and, if it is found loose, replace the lock nut, steering gear assembly, and tie rod assembly, free of charge. The recall was expected to begin on July 17, 2017.

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

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 1,761 model year 2017 Lexus ES350s.The right-hand side tie rod lock nut may loosen over time....

      Sprint expands lease option, with accelerated upgrade

      Customers will now be able to lease any phone and upgrade a year later

      Increasingly expensive cars have given rise to a huge increase in automotive leasing in recent years. Could the same thing be happening to smartphones?

      Sprint has announced that it will allow customers to lease any smartphone and upgrade it after one year. Previously, leasing was limited to the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models.

      Robert Hackl, Sprint's senior vice president of leasing, made the announcement in an interview with Reuters.

      "We want to give full flexibility to our customers because you don’t want to get stuck with an old phone," Hackl told the news service.

      More costly phones

      In recent months the big four cellular carriers have stepped up the competition on service plans, providing more data and lowering costs. At the same time, the cost of smartphones has continued to rise.

      The price of Samsung's Galaxy S8 Plus is $840. Apple has made no announcement about its next generation iPhone, expected later this year, but CNET estimates it will sell for $850 to nearly $1,100.

      But just as some consumers lease expensive cars they really can't afford, consumer advocates are cautioning that the same thing can happen when leasing a smartphone, albeit on a smaller scale.

      The Los Angeles Times reported last year that many prepaid wireless companies offer leasing plans, but at very high interest rates.

      High interest rates

      “Is it a good idea for consumers to get a phone when they end up paying 100% interest for it? I wouldn’t do it,” Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, told the Times. “Rent-to-own companies make the promise of the American dream — that you can own anything — but the price is high.”

      Fierce Wireless reports the Sprint lease deal appears to be less costly. It says the terms for low-priced devices is $25 down and $5 a month and $30 down and $10 a month for more costly phones. Customers can upgrade after a year at no charge.

      Increasingly expensive cars have given rise to a huge increase in automotive leasing in recent years. Could the same thing be happening to smartphones?...

      DraftKings and FanDuel terminate their merger agreement

      The decision comes after the FTC said it would oppose the deal

      Last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that it would be moving to block a merger between DraftKings and FanDuel, saying that the anticompetitive harm would be too great if the deal was allowed to go through.

      The daily fantasy sports juggernauts, who not that long ago were fierce rivals, said that the merger would allow them to compete with a broader range of businesses, saying that it was “in the best interest of our players, our companies, our employees, and the fantasy sports industry.” Now, it seems that some officials are backpedaling on that sentiment.

      In a statement released Thursday, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins announced an end to the merger deal, and that DraftKings would benefit in the long-run by staying independent. 

      “We believe it is in the best interests of our customers, employees, and investors to terminate our agreement to merge with FanDuel and move forward as a separate company,” Robins said. “This will allow us to singularly focus on our mission of providing the most innovative and engaging interactive sports experience imaginable, forever changing the way fans connect with teams and athletes worldwide.”

      In a related Q&A section for customers, DraftKings also said that it would be withdrawing from litigation with the FTC over its attempt to block the merger. 

      Last month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that it would be moving to block a merger between DraftKings and FanDuel, saying that the anticompetiti...

      More than 1.1 million model year 2013-2016 Honda Accords recalled

      Water may get into the battery management system causing an electrical short

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 1,148,550 model year 2013-2016 Honda Accords.

      The case for the battery sensor, part of the battery management system, may allow water to get in, potentially causing an electrical short and increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the sensor, free of charge. Remedy parts are currently unavailable. Dealers will perform an interim remedy of applying adhesive to the case to prevent water intrusion.

      Interim notices are expected to be mailed on July 31, 2017. Owners will need to have the permanent remedy completed once they receive a second notice.

      Owners may contact American Honda Customer Support Center at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is KG0.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 1,148,550 model year 2013-2016 Honda Accords.The case for the battery sensor, part of the battery management syst...

      Consumer inflation on hold in June

      Falling energy costs and steady food prices get the credit

      A break from inflation to kick off the summer.

      The Labor Department (DOL) reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI was unchanged in June, thanks to a drop in energy costs and no movement in food prices.

      Over the last 12 months, the CPI is up 1.6%.

      Energy down, food unchanged

      The 1.6% decline in energy costs was spearheaded by a drop of 2.8% in the price of gasoline, following May's plunge of 6.4%. Electricity and natural gas costs were also lower, falling 0.6% and 0.2% respectively.

      Energy costs have risen 2.3% over the last year.

      Food prices held steady last month, with the food at home category -- grocery store prices -- down 0.1% and the cost of restaurant meals -- food away from home -- unchanged.

      Five of the six major grocery store food groups declined, with nonalcoholic beverages down 0.6%, and dairy & related products off 0.5%. Other food at home was down 0.3%, while cereals & bakery products, and fruits & vegetables both dipped 0.1%.

      Meats, poultry, fish & eggs, meanwhile, rose 0.6%, led by a 2.9% surge in the price of beef.

      Food costs are up 0.9% for the 12 months ended in June.

      Core inflation

      The “core” rate of inflation, excluding the volatile food and energy categories, was up 0.1% the third straight increase. Advances came in car insurance (+1.0%), medical care (+0.4%) -- the largest increase since last August, education (+0.3) and housing (+0.2).

      Declines were registered in airline fares (-2.7%), cell phone service (-0.9%), used cars and trucks (-0.7%) and new cars and trucks (-0.3%).

      Over the last 12 months, the core rate of inflation is up 1.7%.

      The full report is available on the DOL website. 

      A break from inflation to kick off the summer.The Labor Department (DOL) reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI was unchanged in June, thanks to a drop...

      TOMY recalls Munching Max chipmunk toys

      Parts inside the toy can break creating a sharp point

      TOMY International of Oak Brook, Ill., is recalling about 14,000 Lamaze Munching Max chipmunk stuffed toys sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      Parts inside the toy can break creating a sharp point that can penetrate the surface of the toy, posing a laceration hazard.

      The company has received one report of a minor laceration injury to a child’s hand.

      This recall involves Lamaze Munching Max chipmunk stuffed toys with item number L27578.

      “Tomy,” “Lamaze” and the item number are printed on a sewn-in fabric label near the tail of the toy. The stuffed toy is multi-colored with a white clip on the head of the chipmunk.

      When the clip is pulled, the chipmunk toy vibrates and simulates eating the cloth nut attached to its arm.

      The toys, manufactured in China, were sold at Babies R Us, Toy R Us and other retail stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com from May 2016, through July 2017, for about $16.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled toys away from children and contact TOMY International to receive a free replacement toy and a TOMY online store coupon.

      Consumers may contact TOMY International toll-free at 866-725- 4407 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (CT) Monday through Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to noon Friday, or online at http://recall.tomy.com

      TOMY International of Oak Brook, Ill., is recalling about 14,000 Lamaze Munching Max chipmunk stuffed toys sold in the U.S. and Canada.Parts inside the...

      Retail sales post second straight decline in June

      Slumping sales at gas stations was a big factor

      Retail sales fell for a second straight month in June following three consecutive increases.

      The Commerce Department reports sales last month totaled a seasonally adjusted $473.5 billion down 0.2% from May, which revised to reflect a dip of 0.1% instead of the 0.3% initially reported.

      Decliners and gainers

      The biggest drag came from gas stations, where sales were down 1.3%, along with department stores (-0.7%), restaurants & bars and sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores -- both down 0.6%, and grocery stores (-0.5%).

      Among the few businesses posting gains were building material & garden equipment & supplies dealers (+0.5%) and nonstore retailers (+0.4%).

      The complete report may be found on the Commerce Department website.

      Retail sales fell for a second straight month in June following three consecutive increases.The Commerce Department reports sales last month totaled a...

      What's your side-hustle?

      A Bankrate report says 44 million of us have one

      In the past, it was called "moonlighting." It was a job you did to earn extra money, in addition to your fulltime job.

      These days, it's referred to as a "side-hustle," and more people have one. In fact, a report by Bankrate estimates 44 million Americans are earning extra cash on the side.

      The research shows that most people with a side-hustle work at it every month, and more than a third of them pocket an additional $500 or more. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be consistent with your outside work.

      However, Millennials tend to earn less on the side than do older employees. Among Millennials, only 19% with a side-hustle earn $500 or more per month.

      Younger Baby Boomers are the most likely age group to earn $1000 a month or more on the side.

      Created out of need

      Side-hustles most likely gained popularity in the years after the financial crisis, when pay raises were few and far between. Of those earning extra money on the side, 54% say they use it to help pay expenses, which tend to go up, even when pay doesn't.

      "A side hustle can be a great way to help pay the bills or pad your savings account on your own schedule," said Sarah Berger, the Cashlorette at Bankrate.com. "It's important to be smart about any extra income you earn. Pay down debt and take care of your monthly expenses first before adding anything to your shopping cart."

      The rise of the so-called "gig economy" has also produced more side hustle opportunities. Many businesses have found it more cost effective to hire temporary contract workers than add to the payroll.

      Internet venues have also created opportunities for people to start a sideline, home-based business to earn a little extra cash.

      Forbes recently identified several side-hustles that aren't that hard to do. They include giving online English lessons on Skype, using your Instagram account to market products and services, and even refurbishing used electronics, if you have that ability.

      In the past, it was called "moonlighting." It was a job you did to earn extra money, in addition to your fulltime job.These days, it's referred to as a...

      Wholesale prices up moderately in June

      The cost of services rose for a fourth straight month

      The prices of goods and services one step shy of the consumer level -- the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand -- barely budged last month.

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the inflation gauge inched up a seasonally adjusted 0.1% in June following no change in May and an 0.5% surge in April.

      For the 12 months ended in June, the PPI was up 2.0%.

      Services prices on the rise

      The cost of services was responsible for 80% of the increase with an advance of 0.2% -- the fourth consecutive increase.

      A major factor was prices for securities brokerage, dealing, investment advice, and related services (+0.4%). Costs for machinery and equipment wholesaling, loan services (partial), insurance, inpatient care, and truck transportation of freight also rose, while apparel, footwear and accessories retailing prices fell 3.7%.

      The cost of goods

      Goods prices edged 0.1% higher in June following a 0.5% decline a month earlier.

      The advance was led by meat prices which shot up 5.5%. Pharmaceutical preparations, light motor trucks, young chickens, potatoes, and butter also rose. Gasoline, on the other hands, fell 1.1% with fresh vegetables (except potatoes), plastic resins and materials, and unprocessed finfish also dropping.

      The “core” rate of wholesale inflation, which strips out food, energy, and trade services, was up 0.2%. For the 12 months ended in June, it rose 2.0%

      The complete report may be found on the BLS website.

      Jobless claims

      In a separate report, the Labor department (DOL) says initial jobless claims were lower last week.

      The number of people filing first-time applications for state unemployment benefits totaled 247,000 in the week ending July 8, down 3,000from the previous week's level which was revised upward by 2,000.

      The less volatile 4-week moving average rose 2,250 from the previous week's upwardly revised average to 245,750.

      The full report is available on the DOL website.

      Photo (c) sakkmesterke - FotoliaThe prices of goods and services one step shy of the consumer level -- the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final deman...

      President's Choice brand Pub Recipe Chicken Nuggets recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Loblaw Companies Limited is recalling President's Choice brand Pub Recipe Chicken Nuggets that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Some illnesses associated with the consumption of this product have been reported.

      The following product, sold in retail outlets throughout Canada, is being recalled:

      Affected products
      Brand nameCommon nameSizeCodesUPC

      President's

      Choice

      Pub Recipe

      Chicken

      Nuggets – Uncooked

      Breaded Cutlettes

      800 

      g

      18 

      MR

      15

      0

      603

      83

      131

      71 5

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should throw them away or return them to the store where they were purchased.

      Consumers with questions may contact the firm's customer service department at 1-888-495-5111 or by email at customerservice@presidentschoice.ca.

      Loblaw Companies Limited is recalling President's Choice brand Pub Recipe Chicken Nuggets that may be contaminated with Salmonella.Some illnesses assoc...

      Consumers voice overwhelming support to keep national monuments intact

      Senators and environmental groups speak out against attempts to reduce or eliminate protected lands

      Back in April, President Trump ordered a review of 27 national monuments across the U.S. to see if their designations by past presidents under the Antiquities Act was done with an “appropriate level of input from all parties.” The idea is that if they weren’t then the government could choose to reduce or eliminate protected areas, opening them up to business interests.

      On Monday, the public comment period for the review ended and environmental organizations say the consensus is clear: consumers want these national monuments to remain intact.  

      “It’s no wonder communities across the country mobilized to submit over 2.7 million comments so quickly when people overwhelmingly disapprove of the Trump administration’s extreme anti-environmental policies,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

      National monument review

      According to Courthouse News, the review encompassed more than 11.2 million acres of land predominantly in the American West and 217 million acres of ocean on both sides of the country.

      Proponents of reducing or eliminating federal ownership of monument lands say that the current designations are too intrusive, restrictive, and stop states from using their own land how they’d like to. They say this is especially true in states like Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California where protected lands are highly concentrated.

      Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is leading the review and says that his investigation aims to assess all sides of the debate before making a final decision. “Too often under previous administrations, decisions were made in the Washington, D.C. bubble, far removed from the local residents who actually work the land and have to live with the consequences of D.C.’s actions,” he said on Tuesday. “This monument review is the exact opposite.”

      However, environmental groups claim that Zinke is already in the pocket of corporate interests, as seen by his recommendation to shrink 1.9 million acres of protected land in Southeastern Utah to allegedly open it up for drilling.

      “Zinke’s public-review process was a complete sham from start to finish. He’s doing the bidding of corporate polluters,” charged Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program.

      Senators speak out

      Several U.S. senators have spoken out on the matter, with many saying that reducing protections for monument lands would be devastating to the states they represent.

      “Erasing America’s national monuments from the map would devastate our thriving outdoor recreation economy, which generates 68,000 jobs and $6.1 billion of annual economic activity in New Mexico alone,” said New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich. “And it could easily lead us down a slippery slope toward the selloff of our public lands to the highest bidder and massive giveaways of public resources to special interests.”

      “The Trump administration’s process to roll back our national monuments is not rooted in Western values, where we sit down, compare priorities, and find common ground,” said Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. “Throughout the comment period, Coloradans and people across the country agreed, sending a unified message: Leave our national monuments alone.”

      Is it legal?

      While other officials like Utah Congressman Rob Bishop have become proactive in trying to undo national monument designations on the grounds that they lack local support, are excessive, or violate the Antiquities Act, legal experts have questioned whether the President Trump has the right to reduce or eliminate national monuments at all.

      On July 7, 121 lawyers specializing in environmental law sent a letter saying that the review “reflect(s) profound misunderstandings of both the nature of national monuments and the president’s legal authority under the Antiquities Act.” They point out that Congress, not the President, has plenary authority over public lands, and that any attempt by the executive office to pass land-use decisions would be illegal.

      The group references an interim report on the Bears Ears protected area in Utah which “implies that the president has the power to abolish or diminish a national monument after it has been established by a public proclamation that properly invokes authority under the Antiquities Act,” saying that such an assumption “is mistaken.”

      The Department of Interior’s review of the national monuments is scheduled to end on August 24.

      Back in April, President Trump ordered a review of 27 national monuments across the U.S. to see if their designations by past presidents under the Antiquit...

      Major tuna producer agrees to sustainable standards

      Greenpeace calls it 'huge progress for oceans'

      Thai Union Group, one of the world's largest tuna producers, is winning praise from the environmental group Greenpeace after it committed to more sustainable fishing methods.

      Thai Union Group markets canned tuna around the world under a number of different brands. In the U.S., its brand is Chicken of the Sea.

      The company has agreed to adopt best practice fisheries, improve other fisheries, and bring more responsibly-caught tuna to key markets.

      Progress for oceans

      “This marks huge progress for our oceans and marine life, and for the rights of people working in the seafood industry,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid.

      McDiarmid said Thai Union's agreement is important because it will pressure other industry players to adopt similar practices.

      The Thai Union commitments include reducing the number of fish aggregating devices (FADs) used in its supply chains by an average of 50% by 2020. FADs are floating, man-made eco-systems that attract tuna. The problem is, they also attract other kinds of marine life, including sharks, turtles, and juvenile tuna.

      Thai Union has agreed to double the amount of verifiable FAD-free fish sold in international markets within the next three years.

      Moratorium on at-sea transshipment

      The company has also agreed to extend its moratorium on at-sea transshipment, which allows ships to continuously fish for months at a time and has the potential to lead to illegal activity, Greenpeace said.

      The agreement also calls for the company to change from longline caught tuna to pole and line or troll-caught tuna for a significant amount of its catch, with the change effective by 2020. Longline vessels are being discouraged because Greenpeace says they can result in catching non-target species.

      As for the company, it says it is willing to take the lead in trying to influence positive change. It has agreed to work with the environmental group to meet sustainable goals.

      Representatives of Thai Union and Greenpeace say they will meet every six months to assess progress and implementation, with a third-party review sometime next year.

      Thai Union Group, one of the world's largest tuna producers, is winning praise from the environmental group Greenpeace after it committed to more sustainab...

      FTC settles with four paint companies over false and misleading claims

      Each company marketed their paint as safe for babies, pregnant women, and other sensitive consumers

      Choosing the right paint for your home doesn’t necessarily boil down to what you think looks best, but what is safest for you and your family. That’s something consumers should be reminded of thanks to a recent settlement reached by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

      The agency announced a settlement with four paint companies over alleged deceptive claims that their products contained no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and were safe before and after application for babies, pregnant women, and other sensitive populations.

      As part of the settlement, the companies -- Benjamin Moore & Co., Inc.; ICP Construction Inc.; YOLO Colorhouse, LLC; and Imperial Paints, LLC – have all agreed to stop making unqualified claims that their paints are emission-free and VOC-free. Each company will also be prohibited from making other unsubstantiated health and environmental claims.

      Four stipulations

      In its four separate complaints (1,2,3,4), the agency said that each company made unsubstantiated claims about the safety of its products and facilitated deception by retailers who sold their paint. In the cases of Benjamin Moore and ICP Construction, officials also said that paints were marketed using environmental seals without disclosing to consumers that they were self-awarded by the companies.

      FTC officials say that each of the four proposed consent orders contain four provisions that will help ensure that the companies don’t engage in similar conduct in the future:

      1. Each company will be prohibited from making emission-free and VOC-free claims unless both the content and emissions are actually zero, or if emissions are at trace levels before and after the paint is applied;
      2. Each company will be prohibited from making claims about emissions, VOC levels, odor, and other environmental and health benefits unless there is competent and reliable scientific evidence to back them up;
      3. Each company will be required to send letters to distributors with instructions to stop using existing marketing materials, along with stickers or placards to correct misleading claims that appear on product packaging and labeling; and
      4. Each company is barred from providing third parties with false, unsubstantiated, or misleading claims about paint products.

      The agreements with each company are subject to public comment for 30 days and will end on August 10, 2017. Consumers who want to submit a comment electronically can visit the agency’s release page here for more information.

      Choosing the right paint for your home doesn’t necessarily boil down to what you think looks best, but what is safest for you and your family. That’s somet...

      IIHS names redesigned Mazda CX-5 a top award winner

      Headlights made the difference

      The redesigned Mazda CX-5 is the latest vehicle to win the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) highest safety award -- TOP SAFETY PICK+.

      The 2017 model, like its 2016 predecessor, has good ratings in all five of the Institute's crashworthiness tests: small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints.

      The small SUV's standard front crash prevention earned an advanced rating, while an optional, higher-speed system was rated superior. Both avoided a collision in the 12 mph IIHS track test, and the optional system avoided a collision at 25 mph.

      The CX-5's Grand Touring and Sport trim lines have headlights that earned an acceptable rating. The former trim includes high beam assist, a feature that automatically switches between high beams and low beams, depending on the presence of other vehicles.

      To qualify for the 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK award, a vehicle must have good crashworthiness ratings across the board and an available front crash prevention rating that earns an advanced or superior rating.

      The "plus" is awarded to vehicles that also have good or acceptable headlights.

      The redesigned Mazda CX-5 is the latest vehicle to win the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) highest safety award -- TOP SAFETY PICK+.The...

      A drop in mortgage applications

      Contract interest rates continued to rise

      After posting their first gain in four weeks, mortgage applications are headed lower again.

      According to the weekly survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association, applications were down 7.4 during the week ending July 7 -- a week that includes an adjustment for the Independence Day holiday.

      The Refinance Index plunged 13% to its lowest level since January, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 42.1% percent of total applications from 44.9% a week earlier.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity came in at 6.7% of total applications, the FHA share inched up 0.2% to 10.4%, the VA share of total applications rose to 11.5% from 10.3% the week before, and the USDA share of total applications slipped to 0.7% from 0.8% the prior week.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) inched up two basis points -- from 4.20% to 4.22%, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.31 (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 $424,100) shot up to 4.19% from 4.10%, with points increasing to 0.3 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA jumped eight basis points to 4.12%, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.33 (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 from 3.43% to 3.50%, with points increasing to 0.45 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs fell five basis points to 3.32%, with points increasing to 0.31 from 0.22 (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.

      After posting their first gain in four weeks, mortgage applications are headed lower again.According to the weekly survey by the Mortgage Bankers Assoc...

      Superpedestrian recalls electric bicycle conversion wheels

      The rear axle can fail, posing fall and crash hazards

      Superpedestrian of Cambridge, Mass., is recalling about 230 electric bicycle conversion Copenhagen wheels.

      The rear axle can fail, posing fall and crash hazards to riders.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the Copenhagen Wheel electric bicycle conversion wheels with serial numbers 01031708600020000000 through 01031710400250000000 for multi-speed wheels, and 02031708600020000000 through 02031710400250000000 for single speed wheels.

      The Copenhagen wheel converts a standard bicycle into an electric bike. It is compatible with 26 inches and 700c (about 28 inches) wheel sizes. All components are housed inside the wheels red hub. The Superpedestrian logo appears in white on the hub.

      The serial number can be found on the wheel’s user interface panel just above the axle.

      The wheels, manufactured in the U.S., were sold exclusively at Superpedestrian.com from March 2017, through April 2017, for about $1,500.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled electric bicycle conversion wheel and contact Superpedestrian to receive a free replacement -- including shipping.

      Consumers may contact Superpedestrian collect call at 617-945-1604 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at Superpedestrian.com and click on “Support” for more information.

      Superpedestrian of Cambridge, Mass., is recalling about 230 electric bicycle conversion Copenhagen wheels.The rear axle can fail, posing fall and crash...

      Trump administration delays rule that encourages immigrant-founded companies

      Business leaders call the decision a 'big mistake'

      Critics are decrying a decision made by the Trump administration to delay and potentially eliminate a federal rule that encourages foreign entrepreneurs to set up their companies in the U.S., according to the New York Times.

      Business leaders and executives say that rolling back the rule will hurt American business, especially in fast-growing industries like technology.

      “Today’s announcement is extremely disappointing and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the critical role immigrant entrepreneurs play in growing the next generation of American companies,” said Bobby Franklin, president and chief executive of the National Venture Capital Association.

      Following orders

      The decision to delay the International Entrepreneur Rule was announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday, and it will push the effective start date of the regulation from July 17, 2017 to March 14, 2018 while the agency seeks public comments for a proposal to rescind the rule altogether. The rule had previously been published in the Federal Register on January 17, 2017 under President Obama.

      Under the rule, foreign entrepreneurs who received financial backing for a new business venture could come to the U.S. for 30 months to build their companies, a stay that could be extended if they raised $250,000 or more for their business from American investors or $100,000 or more from government entities.

      Officials under the Obama administration estimated that nearly 3,000 entrepreneurs could be eligible to come to the U.S. under the rule. However, DHS said that it delayed the start date because of an executive order signed by President Trump on January 25 that tightened restrictions for border security and immigration enforcements.

      Under that order, the DHS Secretary was asked to “take appropriate action to ensure that parole authority under [the Immigration and Nationality Act] is exercised only on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the plain language of the statute, and in all circumstances only when an individual demonstrates urgent humanitarian reasons or a significant public benefit derived from such parole.”

      In its decision, DHS determined that the International Entrepreneur Rule violated this order and decided to delay it accordingly.

      Big mistake

      Investors and business interests have expressed outrage at the decision, with some saying that it is a big mistake that will reduce jobs. “Immigrant entrepreneurs are job makers not job takers,” remarked Steve Case, founder of AOL, in a Twitter post.

      “The 44 immigrant-founded billion-dollar start-ups now in the U.S. have created an average of 760 American jobs per company,” added Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association in a statement.

      “Without these immigrant entrepreneurs, it is unlikely America would stand as the beacon of innovation that it is today.”

      Critics are decrying a decision made by the Trump administration to delay and potentially eliminate a federal rule that encourages foreign entrepreneurs to...

      Spotify tests new 'Driving Mode' feature

      Users say activating it enables enlarged buttons, song announcements, and voice commands

      Spotify users may soon find it easier to manage their music while they’re driving. According to several consumers on the popular public forum site Reddit, the music streaming service is testing a new feature called “Driving Mode” on the Android platform.

      Those who have been given access to Driving Mode say that it comes with enlarged buttons, song announcements, and voice control features, though the last has not yet been enabled. According to the Verge, the feature is activated by clicking on a car emblem in the bottom corner of the "now playing" window.

      Users who have access to Driving Mode have given mixed reviews. Original poster Chris54721 said that it was “still a bit buggy, but it’s pretty neat,” while others say that the song announcements come across as annoying or obnoxious.

      Of course, there is no indication that Driving Mode will eventually roll out to the general public. Some experts have even questioned whether non-company employees were ever meant to get access to the feature. However, it’s likely that some iteration of the technology will eventually become available given how much users tend to use the service when driving.

      After all, improving your app to make it safer to use on roadways can only benefit Spotify in the long-run – and every other driver on the road.

      Spotify users may soon find it easier to manage their music while they’re driving. According to several consumers on the popular public forum site Reddit,...

      Microsoft launching major rural broadband initiative

      Plans to harness TV 'white spaces' to connect the last mile

      Microsoft has announced a plan to speed up the process of bringing high-speed internet to rural areas of America, connecting some of the hardest-to-reach regions.

      Microsoft President Brad Smith says the Rural Airband Initiative aims to use "white spaces," a wireless technology that harnesses the space between television channels, to provide service for two million consumers over the next five years.

      Microsoft will reportedly focus its efforts on 12 states and provide money to local telecommunications companies to offer the service to consumers in their area. The software giant made clear that it has no intention of becoming an internet service provider (ISP), it is only trying to address a public policy need, and will do so through local partnerships.

      Microsoft has launched a pilot project in a rural area of Virginia and produced the video below to explain the results.

      'Very ambitious goal'

      Technology publisher ReCode suggests Microsoft has set a very ambitious goal. It notes that "white spaces" are not available everywhere and would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set aside more spectrum for that use.

      "Nor are 'white spaces' some panacea for the country’s broadband ills: Even Microsoft acknowledges in its announcement that other technologies, like internet delivered by satellite, are necessary to improve connectivity in the country’s most remote regions," ReCode points out. "At the moment, Microsoft has not announced any specific investments in that technology."

      In a blog posting, Smith says the time is right to set "a clear and ambitious but achievable goal," bringing wide areas of rural America into the broadband world by 2022.

      Smith calls it a strategic approach combining private sector capital investments with public sector support.

      Microsoft has announced a plan to speed up the process of bringing high-speed internet to rural areas of America, connecting some of the hardest-to-reach r...

      Job openings on the decline in May

      However, the month saw a net increase in employment

      There were fewer job openings at the end of May than there were the month before.

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs up for grabs had dropped to 5.7 million on the last business day of May, from 6.044 million in April. That put the job openings rate at 3.7%.

      Openings for the private sector employment fell by 283,000 and were little changed for government. Increases came in retail trade (+72,000) and educational services (+17,000). A number of suffered declines including in construction (-46,000) and transportation, warehousing, and utilities (-45,000). The number of job openings decreased in the Midwest.

      Hires

      The number of hires jumped by 429,000 to 5.5 million for a rate of 3.7%. Hires increased for the private sector (+423,000) but was little changed for government. There were increases in professional and business services (+121,000), other services (+78,000), and educational services (+25,000), with the number of hires increasing in the South.

      Separations

      Total separations includes quits, layoffs & discharges, and other separations, and is referred to as turnover.

      The number of total separations shot up by 251,000 to 5.3 million in May, with the total separations rate rising from 3.4% in April to 3.6%. While there was little change for government, total separations were up by 245,000, led by in retail trade (+73,000) but falling in the federal government (-8,000). The number of total separations rose in the South.

      Net employment change

      Net employment change results from the relationship between hires and separations. When the number of hires is higher, employment rises. On the other hand, when the number of hires is less than the number of separations, employment declines.

      Over the 12 months ending in May, hires totaled 63.2 million and separations totaled 60.9 million. The result is a net employment gain of 2.4 million.

      The totals include workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

      The complete report is available on the BLS website.

      There were fewer job openings at the end of May than there were the month before.According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs...

      Perron brand and Beurre du Lac brand butter recalled

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      The Canadian firm, Industry, is recalling Perron brand and Beurre du Lac brand butter that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

      The following products, sold in Quebec, are being recalled: 

      Brand

      Product

      Size

      UPC

      Codes

      Perron

      Butter

      454 g

      7 72622 72454 0

      143 069

      Beurre du Lac

      Butter

      454 g

      0 62260 00455 6

      143 032

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the store where they were purchased.

      The Canadian firm, Industry, is recalling Perron brand and Beurre du Lac brand butter that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.There have b...

      Amazon gets set for Prime Day

      Toys R Us counters with 20% off for 36 hours

      Amazon's third annual Prime Day is Tuesday, but just like Black Friday, things get started early. Sales available exclusively to Prime Members in 13 countries get started tonight.

      Meanwhile, other retailers aren't just standing idly by. Toys R Us has announced all customers -- and its press releases emphasizes "all customers" -- will get 20% off the list price when they order online over a 36-hour period.

      The sale, at Toysrus.com and Babiesrus.com, coincidentally, starts at 6pm ET tonight, three hours earlier than Prime Day, on thousands of products.

      Walmart is not running any special promotion designed to go head-to-head with Prime Day, but its website is promoting a big sale on electronics, with savings of up to $30 on Google products.

      The same is true for Best Buy, which is simply running its normal weekly specials on its website, including $150 off on an LG 55-inch 4K Ultra HD television set.

      Preview of Prime Day deals

      Meanwhile, Amazon has taken the wraps off some of its featured Prime Day deals. On Amazon products, you can save 50% on an Amazon Echo and get $15 off the smaller Amazon Dot.

      Deals on TV sets include the newly released Element 55-inch 4K Ultra HD smart LED TV for $399.99; 25% off select TCL smart TVs, starting at $119.99 for a 28-inch model; $99 for a 32-inch 720p TCL TV; and a 40-inch 1080p TCL TV, for $199.99.

      Other offerings include:

      • 40-50% off on Prime Exclusive clothing, handbags, and more

      • 30% off on select clothing, shoes, and more for men, women, kids, and babies

      • One carat diamond stud earrings for 499.99 or ½ carat diamond stud earrings for $239.99

      • 70% off on select Samsonite two-piece spinner sets

      • 40% off on select furniture, mattresses, and rugs

      • 20% off on nursery essentials

      • $100 off on the Bissell multi reach cordless stick vacuum

      The deals are only available to consumers who are members of Amazon Prime. The company says last year's Prime Day was its biggest single sales day ever, eclipsing Cyber Monday.

      Amazon's third annual Prime Day is Tuesday, but just like Black Friday, things get started early. Sales available exclusively to Prime Members in 13 countr...

      Amazon hires tech experts to provide consultations and in-home installation services

      The initiative caters to the growing interest in smart-home technologies

      For some time now, consumers who needed a certain kind of service – ranging from automotive needs to computer and electronic assistance -- could visit Amazon and check out listings provided by third parties. Now, the online retailer figures it’s time to start offering services of its own.

      According to a Recode report, Amazon will now be hiring and maintaining its own tech expert employees to assist consumers with setting up and installing smart home systems and other electronic gadgets in their homes. These employees will also be available for free 45-minute Alexa smart-home consultations, where consumers can ask questions and receive recommendations based on their needs.

      The new offering caters to a growing interest for in-home services and smart home electronic features. Amazon will be charging $99 for installation services on products like the Ecobee4 – an Alexa-enabled smart thermostat – but multi-device setups and installations that take longer than an hour may be more expensive.

      Experts point out that the new initiative finally brings it in line with services provided by other retailers. Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” has been around for nearly 15 years and similarly offers free smart-home consultations and paid in-home installation services.

      The in-home services are currently available in seven markets in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Orange County, Calif. Consumers who want to browse Amazon’s services and schedule an appointment can do so through the company’s website here.

      For some time now, consumers who needed a certain kind of service – ranging from automotive needs to computer and electronic assistance -- could visit Amaz...

      The job market looks strong for the rest of the year

      Survey shows 60% of employers plan to hire full-time employees

      There's good news for people looking for a job, or hoping to change jobs.

      Last week's release of the June employment report showed strong job creation, and a survey by employment site CareerBuilder suggests that trend will carry through the rest of the year.

      The survey found 60% of companies plan to hire full-time, permanent employees in the second half of 2017, a double-digit increase from last year.

      Thirty-six percent of companies said they plan to hire permanent part-time employees between now and the end of the year, while 42% revealed plans to hire temporary, or contract employees. In all three categories, hiring is expected to increase over last year.

      Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder, says the hyper-partisan political atmosphere may be having a polarizing effect, but it hasn't distracted businesses from their growth plans. He says it's good news if you're looking for a job.

      "Job seekers stand to benefit not only from having more options, but also from the growing intensity in the competition for talent,” Ferguson said. “Employers are moving quickly to recruit candidates and they are willing to pay more across job levels.”

      There's greater competition for talent

      How much more? If you're a job seeker, Ferguson says you don't need to be shy when discussing salary. Among a group of hiring managers spotlighted in the survey, 72% said they believe it will be necessary to pay higher wages to attract the right talent – even for entry-level employees.

      Not surprisingly, information technology (IT) is the area where expected hiring is the greatest. But manufacturing, healthcare, and financial service jobs are also expected to be plentiful.

      Areas where employers say they plan to take on additional personnel include skilled trades, software as a service, cybersecurity, sales, talent management, managing and interpreting Big Data, social marketing, and e-commerce.

      In terms of geographic breakdown, more than 50% of all companies in each region of the country plan to add personnel between now and the end of the year, but the West leads the country with 67%.

      There's good news for people looking for a job, or hoping to change jobs.Last week's release of the June employment report showed strong job creation,...

      General Motors recalls model year 2016-2017 Buick Envisions.

      The front seat head restraint posts may not fully engage in the seat back

      General Motors is recalling 768 model year 2016-2017 Buick Envisions.

      An accessory NSV Universal Tablet Holder may have been installed incorrectly onto the front seat head restraints, preventing the head restraint posts from fully engaging in the seat back.

      If so, the head restraints would fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 202a, "Head Restraints."

      If the head restraint posts are not fully engaging in the seat back, the head restraint may loosen or dislodge, increasing the risk of injury in a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the head restraints and tablet holders for the correct installation, reinstalling them as necessary, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300. GM's number for this recall is 17239/17258.

      General Motors is recalling 768 model year 2016-2017 Buick Envisions.An accessory NSV Universal Tablet Holder may have been installed incorrectly onto...