Archive for the ‘FYI’ Category

Internet Price Protection

December 15, 2007

Use the Internet to maximize price protection

There’s a service for airline customers called Yapta.com. Yapta lets you know if you’re eligible for a refund or credit if airfare drops after you’ve made a purchase. Now that same idea is being applied to the world of retail. Many stores offer a price-protection policy. So if you buy something and the price drops within 30 days, the retailer may give you a refund. But who’s really combing over circulars and online ads after you’ve made your purchase? Enter the magic of the Internet. There are a couple of free, ad-supported websites that will do it for you! They include RefundPlease.com and PriceProtectr.com. You simply enter the make and model of what you bought and they’ll send you an e-mail if the price drops. PriceProtectr.com claims to have saved consumers more than $500,000, while RefundPlease.com says its more in the $100,000 range.

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To Re-Gift or Not To RE-Gift…That is the Question

December 14, 2007

Re-gifting, returning and selling gifts online

 

When you give someone a gift, do you think it’s OK for them to re-gift it or sell it online? U.S. News and World Report says that 70 percent of people think it’s acceptable. Some 50 percent admitted to actually doing this. I believe there’s nothing wrong with re-gifting or selling a gift if you don’t want it. But be careful; don’t re-gifted something back to the initial giver! So make sure you know who gave it to you before you go giving it back to them. When it comes to doing a return, retailers may require you to have a gift receipt because they’re trying to crack down on internal theft rings. So when you give a gift, try taping the gift receipt to the gift itself — not just to the wrapping paper. Do not go back to the stores until the first week of January. The return lines are maddening and the merchandise is actually pricey between Christmas and Jan. 1.

A Whole New Meaning to Thrill Rides

December 13, 2007

Consumer advocates lost the battle to make amusement park rides safer after members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce voted to withdraw an amendment that would have given the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) the authority to regulate rides found at parks like Disneyland and Six Flags.At the markup hearing on the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act of 2007, members voted 25-10 not to include the provision which Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has tried for seven years to turn into law.

Amusement park rides are subject to almost no regulation and lobbyists have spent millions of dollars to keep it that way, as the Washington Post documented in a report last week.

In 1981, lobbyists, including Washington attorney Kenneth Starr, convinced Congress to take fixed thrill rides out of CPSC’s jurisdiction. The CPSC still has jurisdiction over mobile carnival rides, the kind that are hauled around from one carnival to another by independent operators.

The Post revealed that many states don’t have the means, authority or expertise to ensure that these rides are safe.

In Florida, for example, safety inspectors can only come into an amusement park when invited. The consortium of parks in Florida invite the inspectors to an “educational seminar” once a year, but don’t let them inspect anything.

On average, four people die and thousands more are injured every year, according to federal estimates. At the hearing today, Markey argued that thrill rides kill and injure more people than lead-tainted toys.

He sparred with representatives from Florida and California, whose states are home to the largest number of amusement parks in the U.S.

Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.) argued that most people injured on the rides did so because of their own error or pre-existing conditions.

Due to a long list of amendments and today’s busy action on the House floor, the vote on the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act of 2007 has been postponed for the second time, probably until Tuesday morning. It was originally set to be voted on a week ago but was postponed due to the Energy Bill votes.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who is the main sponsor of the bill, said during his opening remarks that he hoped the bill would reach the House floor before the Holiday recess. That seems unlikely now.

The Sizzler

At the center of The Post’s investigation was the Sizzler, a spinning carnival ride manufactured by Wisdom Industries. Since 1997, the approximately 200 Sizzlers believed to be in operation have killed at least four and injured dozens more.

The CPSC, which operates with a stretched budget and shrinking staff, has 90 field investigators responsible for ensuring the safety of carnival rides and 15,000 other products within the U.S. Rather than taking proactive investigations into dangerous rides, they often arrive at the scene of an accident after the ride has been dismantled.

CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson told ConsumerAffairs.Com that the agency does everything it can to prioritize an investigation after the agency learns of a serious injury or death at a traveling carnival.

The most recent action taken for carnival rides was in 1999 when the agency prepared a repair program for the spinning Himalaya ride which killed two and injured three.

The CPSC responded last year to the Sizzler deaths and injuries by saying ride operators need to pay “greater attention to safety.”

Traveling carnivals often sell a dangerous ride after it has killed or seriously injured a customer rather than fix it or put it out of service. State inspectors told The Post there’s no way to track those rides.

Carnival rides are a small portion of the thrill ride industry. Stationary ride companies, such as Disney and Six Flags, funnel millions of thrill-seekers into their parks every summer but have no federal oversight and a minimal state-by-state patchwork.

Severed feet

Four individuals died on rides this summer. But the gruesome story that grabbed headlines was that of 13-year-old Kaitlyn Lasitter whose feet were severed by a loose cable on the Tower of Power at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. Surgeons could only reattach her right foot.

Lasitter’s father told The Post he was shocked to discover there is no federal inspection program for the ride that left his daughter traumatized and suffering from frequent nightmares.

Need a Lawyer?

December 12, 2007

When is a lawyer really necessary?

There’s a lot of debate about when to go to a lawyer. The truth is that in some situations they’re necessary, and in others they’re not. Take the situation of making a will. Most people don’t have a will or they have one that’s grossly outdated. The danger in those situations is that the state may decide who gets your money, or your kids could end up with that relative who is your worst nightmare when you die. People are usually reluctant to do a will because they’re either afraid of death, afraid of lawyers or both! One simple way to do a will is with NOLO.com. This legal self-help service features the highly respected WillMaker software. This may be a good option if you have simple family arrangements and aren’t filthy rich. WillMaker asks you questions and then pops back answers as you make your will. If you get confused, stop and see a lawyer. Or proceed with WillMaker and then pay a lawyer to review the will you create. But you definitely want to hire a lawyer if you have family members who will squabble over money, or if you have any kind of complicated family arrangements. Ditto with divorces. In some states, you can obtain a divorce yourself by using a kiosk at a courthouse. This may be a wise choice if there are no assets to fight about and there are few debts. Just be sure to hire a lawyer if there are custody or financial issues.

The Texas Bar Association actually got the state legislature to make it a crime for Texans to purchase a NOLO book. NOLO got so much publicity in the process that their sales skyrocketed elsewhere. On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona is one state that’s very progressive and where you don’t always need a lawyer. Likewise, paralegals in California will prepare documents for you to file at a courthouse.

Pay Now or Pay Later

December 11, 2007

Bill Me Later a win/win for online shoppers and merchants

 

Do you often shop online? If so, you may see an option when you’re checking out called Bill Me Later. This Baltimore-based company allows you to shop online without divulging your credit card information to every vendor. It’s fast becoming the friend of merchants and customers alike, while Visa, MasterCard and the other traditional cartels grow to despise it. With Bill Me Later, you simply enter the last four digits of your Social Security number and you either get instant approval or you’re denied. This is a more secure method to shop online. The other advantage is that Bill Me Later sometimes offers extended payment times at no interest. In addition, this is a money saver for businesses too. Merchants pay a lower fee per transaction than they would to process a normal credit card transaction. So Bill Me Later is a win/win situation for both consumers and businesses.

Housing Not Looking Good

December 10, 2007

The national average value of homes in the U.S. is likely to drop further before rebounding, according to a report by the financial service, Moody’s Economy. The report predicts the housing market will not begin to recover until 2010. Another report finds a record number of homes in foreclosure and delinquencies continuing to rise.At its most dire, the report, co-authored by Mark Zandi, chief economist, and Celia Chen, director of housing economics, suggests housing markets will crash in some of the hardest-hit markets. For example, the authors say prices in Punta Gorda, Florida and Stockton, California could plunge 30 percent from their peaks.

Nationwide, the price of the average home is forecast to fall 13 percent from their 2005 peaks through early 2009. The report says further incentives may be required to sell some property, pushing the average decline to as low as 15 percent.

The report also goes into detail about the reasons for the housing market woes, and not all are tied to the subprime mortgage fiasco, which is only now beginning to be addressed by the U.S. government.

The report says the sudden withdrawal of investors in some areas and over-building by some home builders have also contributed to the glut of homes on the market, which in turn has led to slower sales and more foreclosures, creating a vicious cycle.

Effect on the economy

It remains to be seen how the declining housing market impacts the overall economy.

At the height of the real estate boom, housing was a huge contributor to the economy, accounting for nearly a full point of Gross Domestic Product. The authors predict the current recession in the housing market will remove more than a full point from this year’s GDP and perhaps a point and a half in 2008.

Moody’s areas of greatest predicted price declines closely match regions of the country where foreclosure rates have so far been the greatest. The most significant loss of home value is predicted for California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada – states where speculators were particularly active.

While falling home prices may be painful for homeowners, many economists say the price declines may be the only real cure for the housing market. Even the Moody’s report sees the large and increasing inventory of unsold homes as the root cause of the problem. Once prices dip enough to attract new homebuyers, the market will rebound.

Capital One is a Capital Ofender

December 7, 2007

Fee harvesting is the latest ploy by credit card companies

People with damaged credit have a new bull’s-eye on their backs. The nation’s banks are doing mailings for MasterCards and Visas that are just awful. They’re offering cards with low credit limits of a few hundred dollars. The catch is that they charge fees to get the card that nearly equal the credit limit they’ve given you. This tactic has been called “fee harvesting” by the National Consumer Law Center. That’s because there’s a multitude of subtle fees that they load on. These can include an annual fee, a setup fee, a program fee and a participation fee. The New York Times reports that Capital One and CompuCredit are some of the worst offenders. Except for the annual fee, all of these other fees are completely bogus. You think they’re doing you a big favor by taking you on as a customer. But they eliminate all their risk by hitting you upfront with huge ridiculous fees. This practice is diabolical but pretty clever in a sad sort of way. So beware if you’re suddenly getting an offer for a card and nobody else has wanted you — it could be a fee harvesting ploy coming your way.

Short-term Investments

December 6, 2007

Go safe, not sexy, on short-term investment strategy

 

The state of Florida is in a mess that illustrates something important about how each of us handles cash. Many of Florida’s counties and school systems aren’t able to meet payroll or pay bills. Some of their checks are even bouncing because the state got cute with funds from its local government investment pool. Municipalities were encouraged to put their money from taxes, fees and fines into this pool where they could earn interest until they needed the money. It was kind of like a money market fund for government. But the state tried to goose the returns by investing in risky weirdo mortgage things like CDOs and SIVs. When the local governments caught word of this unsound investment strategy, there was a run on the bank that prompted the state to freeze all investment pool funds. Now the municipalities don’t know how they’re going to pay their bills.

If your goal is to have cash for cash flow’s sake, you can’t have it flowing away. Sometimes you need a parking space like a savings account, a CD or a true money market fund. If even those options seem too risky, try a high-yield savings account from EmigrantDirect.com, INGDirect.com or HSBCDirect.com. You’d be surprised how well they pay. BankRate.com reports that the average savings account at a giant monster mega bank pays .4 percent. Emigrant, ING and HSBC pay more than 10 times that amount, plus they have no fees and no minimums! So go back to basics when you’re analyzing your non-long term investment needs. Sometimes you want safe, not sexy. Just park it and get decent money!

Why I hate Credit Bureaus

December 5, 2007

Credit bureaus reluctant to correct credit-reporting errors

 

What you don’t know about your credit report can hurt you. But what can really hurt you even more is when you report errors to the credit bureaus and they don’t care to update them. Accuracy costs money; the bureaus are only too happy to sell somewhat accurate reports. More than 1 in 4 people have errors on their reports that can lead to higher interest rates, denial of a job and worse. A Florida woman recently sued Equifax because her file was married with someone else’s who had bad credit. She repeatedly provided documentation to clear her name. Equifax refused to do anything about it and the company’s negligence cost the woman $220,000. When the case went to trial, the jury awarded the woman $2.9 million! Equifax has vowed to appeal, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

 

The laws governing the bureaus don’t have enough teeth in them. People should not have to go to the mat and fight repeatedly to get their credit cleared. The problem is that these bureaus are not focused on you and me; they just want to deliver higher value to shareholders. So they won’t be accurate unless they’re required by law. The sad truth is that there is no way to force bureaus to be accurate — short of the Florida woman’s method. I hope the bureaus get knocked around in the courts so much that their bottom line is damaged and they’re forced to change their ways.

Citibank is at it Again

December 4, 2007

Citi/Macy’s issuing new CCs to 3.5 million inactive accounts

I’ve been hearing from people who say they’ve received a new unsolicited credit card in the mail. The complaints stem from Citibank buying Macy’s credit portfolio and mailing out MasterCards to some 3.5 million inactive accounts. This is outrageous, disgusting and it should be illegal. Citi is contributing to account and ID theft by its behavior. A report in The Boston Globe states that Citi says they’ve received positive feedback from customers about these new cards. Citi also goes on to claim that they informed customers about how to decline these new cards, and that there are no privacy or security issues of concern. Lies, lies and more lies. What’s really going on is that Macy’s now has created another credit line for people — also lowering your score, by the way — by reducing the aging on your credit accounts and issuing you a new major credit card when you might not have wanted one. So if you get one of these pieces of trash in the mail, cut it up. And if you do other business with Citi, don’t use their cards. This is the power the marketplace affords you to punish a company that has done the wrong thing.