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The Consumerist

Proposed Rules Target Fees Collected By Retirement Financial Advisers, Brokers

Mon, 2015-02-23 18:41


When visiting a financial adviser for consultation about retirement savings one might assume those counselors have their best interests in mind. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. To better ensure consultants are working for consumers and not for fees, the Labor Department will propose new rules to increase standards for brokers who recommend investments for retirement accounts.

The Washington Post reports that the proposed rules, which will be submitted for approval from the Office of Management and Budget, aim to crack down on the fees charged by brokers and financial advisors who consult consumers regarding retirement savings.

Under the rules, brokers would be required to justify if they are recommending a security that is more expensive than other options available or that may be underperforming.

Currently, rules don’t place emphasis on cost or performance. Instead, they only require that an investment be “suitable.”

The Post reports the changes target Individual Retirement Accounts, which are used by more than 40 million consumers and currently hold more than $7 million in savings.

According to research released by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, current weak consumer protections cost IRA investors up to $17 billion a year in excessive fees.

“When you have a broker who has their compensation directly tied to the advice they’re giving to a person, they’re going to systematically have a big incentive to steer clients to investments that aren’t necessarily in their best interest,” Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers tells the Post.

The new rules are not expected to eliminate commission payments.

Additionally, the Council reports that nearly $1.7 trillion in IRA assets are invested in products that provide payments to advisors and can lead to three types of conflicts of interest.

The Post reports the first conflict occurs when investors are encouraged to roll over assets from a 401(k) plan into an IRA without warning that the fees may be higher than their previous investments.

Another conflict occurs when brokers recommend that investors buy and sell a fund or security more often that is needed, leading consumers to pay fees repeatedly.

The final conflict involves advisers attempts to justify their fees by recommending that clients use actively managed funds. However, when those funds underperform, investors are stuck with higher investment costs.

The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that such conflicts reduce consumer saving by more than a quarter over 35 years. For example, if consumers put away a $10,000 investment that would normally grow to more than $38,000 over 35 years, conflicts would result in the investment being worth only $27,500.

David Certner, legislative policy director at AARP, tells the Post that more often than not consumers are unaware of the conflicting interests or their likelihood of leading to smaller savings.

“Most of the general public has no idea that there are different kinds of advisers or different kinds of standards,” he says. “Most of them assume that the advisers are working in their best interest.”

Consumer advocates were quick to applaud the new proposed rules.

Our colleagues at Consumers Union say the new rules would help protect millions of Americans from predatory sales tactics.

“These reforms are critically important to consumers who are dealing with the enormous complexity of retirement savings,” Pamela Banks, senior policy council for CU says in a statement [PDF]. “The last thing you want is for your nest egg is to be eaten away by unnecessary fees and bad investments. These rules haven’t been updated in 40 years. We welcome this proposal to update the rules to make sure the investors’ interests are the top priority.”

Investors will have a chance to submit comments in writing and in a public hearing. After a review, the Administration will determine what to include in a final rule.

Obama calls for higher standards on brokers giving retirement advice [The Washington Post]

Twitter Decides It Loves Net Neutrality, Endorses Proposed FCC Plan

Mon, 2015-02-23 18:13
(Tom Raftery)

(Tom Raftery)

With the FCC set at long last to vote on strong net neutrality protections later this week, everyone is getting their last digs in. While many tech companies have previously spoken out on the issue, both for and against, the big social networks have been slow to plant their flags. That changed today, when Twitter came out swinging, cheering on the FCC’s plan.

Twitter made their announcement today in a rare communication greatly in excess of 140 characters. In a blog post called, “Why Twitter faves #NetNeutrality,” public policy manager Will Carty called net neutrality explained the platform’s outlook.

Calling true net neutrality “critical to American economic aspirations and our nation’s global competitiveness,” Carty laid out the economic argument for net neutrality, saying:
This openness promotes free and fair competition and fosters ongoing investment and innovation. We need clear, enforceable, legally sustainable rules to ensure that the Internet remains open and continues to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. This is the heart of Twitter. Without such net neutrality principles in place, some of today’s most successful and widely-known Internet companies might never have come into existence.

Opponents of Title II have framed the issue as one that would create a tightly regulated environment in which new companies would be unable to invest freely in new innovations and technologies, so Twitter’s framing is important. The company went public late in 2013, and so is one of those new, innovative businesses that counts on unfettered internet access to grow and survive.

Carty’s post also alludes several times to the reputation Twitter has gained over the past years for being a catalyst connecting and enabling protest movements, from far flung events like the Arab Spring to domestic movements like the one that began in Ferguson, MO in 2014.

Net neutrality, Carty writes, has “important implications for freedom of expression.” Under net neutrality protections, consumers themselves get to decided what they want to do, make, access, or share.

“Empowering ‘lesser’ or historically less powerful voices to express themselves and be heard globally is at the core of Twitter’s DNA,” says Carty. “Currently, the Internet provides an almost frictionless experience for an individual to communicate with the world, and it also provides the lowest barrier to competitive entry for businesses the world has ever seen. It serves as a great equalizer in the access to information and in reaching a global audience.”

For all those reasons, Carty concludes, Twitter “strongly supports” the FCC’s action.

The FCC will vote on the proposed new net neutrality rule on Thursday, February 26.

State Lawmaker Says Cable Company Blocking Broadband Legislation

Mon, 2015-02-23 18:07

(Jeremy Schultz)

(Jeremy Schultz)

While we all know that companies don’t spend piles of cash on campaign contributions and lobbying just to support candidates they believe in, it’s rare to hear an in-office politician openly calling out his colleagues for bending to the will of a corporate backer.

But that’s exactly what happened last week when West Virginia delegate Randy Smith spoke publicly about opposition he’s faced trying to get two pieces of broadband-related legislation through the state assembly.

One bill would forbid ISPs in the state from advertising “high speed broadband” for anything slower than 10 Mbps. That’s still lower than the FCC’s recently revised 25 Mpbs definition, but given the number of rural users in West Virginia, supporters believe it’s a reasonable standard. His second bill would allow consumers to take broadband billing disputes to the state’s attorney general’s office.

The two pieces of legislation are doomed, says Smith, because they could mean more rules for Frontier Communications, which he dubs “the only game in town for many rural communities in West Virginia when it comes to Internet service.”

“After introducing the legislation, I spoke with someone in leadership and was told it’d go nowhere because it would hurt Frontier,” wrote Smith in a Facebook post last week. “In other words, Frontier has its hands in our state Capitol. The company knows how to play ball with the legislative process.”

Speaking to the Charleston Gazette, Smith said one member of the assembly leadership told him the bills would not get support “because they feel like it’s targeting Frontier.”

But the delegate says these bills are not meant to single out Frontier, but are “intended to protect the consumer from all companies.”

Additionally, he points out that the 10 Mbps bill doesn’t require Frontier or any other broadband provider to increase speeds, only to be more honest in their ads.

“They could still sell the slower service, but they couldn’t advertise it as high-speed Internet,” explained Smith. “Companies are advertising high-speed Internet, but not providing it.”

A rep for the company, which was sued last year by West Virginians for allegedly failing to deliver promised broadband speeds, said Frontier sees the legislation as “having a negative effect on further development of rural broadband services.”

And, unlike too many other things in politics, this particular standoff is not about party lines. Both Smith and leadership allegedly blocking the bill are all on the same side of the aisle.

The state’s Majority Leader tells the Gazette that there is no blanket policy where the state assembly sides with Frontier, while also openly defending the company.

“Frontier has been trying to spend money to upgrade service, but it hasn’t been easy for those guys,” he explained. “We’re trying to expand broadband and improve the speeds everywhere we can. We try to nudge Frontier when we can, push them when we can, while we respect their investment.”


Passenger Rights Group Calls For Cap To Airline Change Fees For International Flights

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:29
(Eric Spiegel)

(Eric Spiegel)

Under certain circumstances – like significant weather events – airlines allow passengers to change their travel plans at no extra cost.But generally travelers can expect to pay upwards of hundreds of dollars to revise their travel plans. Now a group of passenger rights advocates are asking U.S. regulators to adopt a more reasonable change fee cap of $100 for international flights.

The Los Angeles Times reports FlyersRights has petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt a fee cap for the often exorbitant fees consumers must pay to airlines when changing a reservation.

The group contends that airlines are now making record profits but continue to increase change fees for simple flight changes.

Officials with the group say that just a few years ago change fees were as low as $50 to $100 for a nonrefundable international ticket, but now those charges can be as high as $500.

Airlines have also increased their change fees for domestic flights.

In 2013, a number of airlines such as United and American hiked their change fee by $50. Those fees now range from nothing to up to $200.

FlyersRights says that while the Dept. of Transportation no longer has the authority to regulate domestic flight change fees, it can make a difference when it comes to international charges.

The Times reports that the industry brought in $2.8 billion for reservation change fees in 2013, and that the figure is only expected to grow in Dept. of Transportation’s 2014 report.

“They are enormously profitable now and it appears they are engaging in rampant cartel-like behavior,” Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights, tells the Times.

Unsurprisingly, the airline industry group Airlines for America contends that the current change fees aren’t excessive.

“FlyersRights’ petition fails to demonstrate that there has been a market failure when it comes to what airlines charge for changed reservations,” a spokeswoman for the trade group tells the Times. “Airline pricing is extremely transparent and customers are aware of what they are purchasing and at what price before they buy their air transportation.”

While airline fees don’t appear to be changing just yet, passengers can attempt to avoid add-on charges and fees in a number of ways.

Passenger rights group calls for a cap on airline change fees [The Los Angeles Times]

As McDonald’s Turns 60, Burger King Reminds Everyone That It’s Slightly Older

Mon, 2015-02-23 16:59

Burger King's trademark application seems to indicate the company's intention to remind consumers that it's 4 months older than McDonald's Corp.

Burger King’s trademark application seems to indicate the company’s intention to remind consumers that it’s 4 months older than McDonald’s Corp.

Though the McDonald brothers opened their first restaurant in 1940 in California, the McDonald’s Corp. company that came to dominate the fast food market was born on April 15, 1955, when Ray Kroc debuted his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, IL. But as the Golden Arches turns 60, the competition at Burger King is reminding people that it’s a few months older.

The first Burger King was opened in Miami on Dec. 4, 1954, but unlike McDonald’s — which has played up its origin story with overseas offerings like the “1995 Burger” — BK rarely mentions its history (unless you count the misguided Yumbo idea).

However, as noticed, BK recently filed a trademark application for the phrase “Since 1954,” with an illustration of a muscly, apron-bedecked man flipping burgers. The company also trademarked the similar phrase/illustration combination in Spanish.

The mark has already been spotted on a press release from BK Japan, and BurgerBusiness’s Scott Hume expects that we’ll be seeing it a lot more going forward, especially if McDonald’s makes a big deal about its 60th anniversary.

Of course, both of these aging statesmen of fast food are relative youngsters compared to White Castle, which will hit the 95-year mark in 2016.

The Very Last Bugatti Veyron Has Been Manufactured And Sold

Mon, 2015-02-23 16:25



If you’ve been dreaming of a fresh-from-the-factory Bugatti Veyron, there’s some bad news: the last of the super-super cars has been assembled and sold, and the money-hemorrhaging production supercar line shut down. Yes, a line of cars that sold for more than $2 million each still lost money, because of the amount it costs to develop such a super supercar.

A total of 450 Veyrons were made during the 10 years that the model was manufactured. One expert estimates that Volkswagen, owner of the Bugatti brand, lost more than $5.2 million euro on each car that they sold. This wasn’t the questionable business decision that it might appear to be, of course: Volkswagen’s plan all along was to sow that it could make super-powered supercars and affordable cars in its other brands. Yet having a high-end corporate cousin benefited, say, Audi.

About half of those 450 Veyrons went to homes in Europe, and about 25% were exported to the United States. The final car was exported, as it turns out, to an anonymous buyer somewhere in the Middle East.

Bugatti Sells 450th and Last Veyron [Bloomberg Business]

Uber Drivers Are Quietly Rating & Blacklisting Passengers

Mon, 2015-02-23 16:23

uberappAnyone who’s hired an Uber car knows that you can give your experience a star rating when it’s done, but the thing you probably aren’t aware of is that Uber drivers are keeping tabs on passengers, and that supbar customers can end up being blacklisted.

“What we want is for people to respect the driver, and for drivers to respect the customer. We go above and beyond,” one veteran Uber driver explains to CBS Los Angeles. “They can give us a low rating. It can go both ways. That way, we can police each other.”

And this isn’t some informal system where drivers get together and say things like “Don’t pick up the Chris guy; he’s too handsome.” It’s a system where drivers can actually decide to not answer calls from passengers with low scores.

On Bay Area woman tells CBS that she found out she’d been blacklisted after having trouble getting an Uber to pick her up.

“I asked the driver what was going on. And he basically told me I had a really low Uber rating: under three out of five,” she explains. She believes her low score is unfair, claiming it likely resulted from her choosing to work on her phone during a ride than have a conversation with the driver. “I feel really judged for being blacklisted for not being really friendly.”

If you want to know your rating in the system, you can ask your driver. Uber says that a future version of the app will allow passengers to see what they have been rated by drivers so at least they won’t be standing outside their houses wondering why no one will pick them up.

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Honda President, Chief Officer Out Following Record Fine And Reporting Issues

Mon, 2015-02-23 16:02
(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Following a number of issues including a record $70 million fine from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for reporting inaccuracies and the recall of millions of vehicles, Honda announced a shakeup of its top office.

The New York Times reports that Honda will replace its president and chief officer in a sign that the automaker is ready to put its recent safety problems in the rearview mirror.

Honda has faced a number of issues and complications under Takanobu Ito, who became president of the company in 2009.

Since 2009, the automaker has been involved in the massive recall of millions of vehicles equipped with potentially defective Takata airbags that can spew pieces of shrapnel at passengers and drivers.

Following those recalls, the company faced scrutiny from federal regulators regarding its injury and fatality reporting. NHTSA determined in January that the company failed to report over 1,700 injuries and deaths over a period of 11 years and fined the company $70 million.

The company also issued several recalls of the Honda Fit subcompact after the redesigned model was introduced in 2013.

The Times reports that under Ito, Honda rapidly expanded the company’s production capacity while purchasing parts from smaller, more unknown companies.

Ito defended the move saying it would keep the car competitive and open it to more stability.

Auto analysts say that while Ito says he made the decision to step down himself, the move is an indication of diminished confidence in the executive.

“There’s a strong element in this personnel move of taking responsibility for Honda’s recent problems, including the recalls,” Takaki Nakanishi, an auto analyst and head of the Nakanishi Research Institute, tells the Times “It indicates a change of direction, and that’s positive.”

Ito will be replaced by Takahiro Hachigo, who most recently oversaw Honda’s European and Chinese operations. The change is expected to take effect in June.

Ito will remain a senior advisor on the Honda board, the Times reports.

Honda, Grappling With Quality Problems, to Replace Its President [The New York Times]

Ridiculous Copyright Claim Seeks Takedown Of Skype, Java, Whatsapp, Dropbox & 91 Others

Mon, 2015-02-23 15:55

The Google Transparency Report shows the sheer volume of DMCA requests made by Total Wipes in just the last few months.

The Google Transparency Report shows the sheer volume of DMCA requests made by Total Wipes in just the last few months.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows content companies to ask Google and others to remove sites from search results because they contain material that infringes on their copyright. But one music company has been on a tear recently, sending DMCA notices claiming that everything from news stories about file-sharing to the generic “downloads” pages of some of the Internet’s biggest sites are violating its copyright.

The folks at TorrentFreak point us to this recent request from German company Total Wipes Music, which has filed more than 40,000 DMCA requests with Google — representing nearly 200,000 separate URLs — since just last summer. In just February 2015, the company has filed complaints with Google about around 60,000 URLs.

Ninety-five of those came in a single request sent on Feb. 5, for a Total Wipes label called Aborigeno Music. While that one notice is only a small fraction of the total number of takedown requests filed by Total Wipes, it’s notable because not a single URL mentioned in the list contains anything even vaguely musical. Nope, the request merely claims that these sites’ “downloads” pages — you know, the web pages where you download things like software, firmware updates, and user manuals — are apparently infringing on the copyright of some album called In To The Wild — Vol. 7.

What makes these DMCA requests even more outrageous is the list of sites involved. Somehow, Total Wipes’ scanning system thinks that the website for Microsoft-owned Skype is sharing this unheard-of music, or that the page where you download Dropbox must also be installing this album. The same with sites run by Java, WhatsApp, ICQ, Vuze, OpenOffice, Gimp, Ubuntu, Python, MySQL, VLC, Joomla, RaspberryPI, Apache, MalwareBytes, Pidgin, uTorrent, Evernote, Origin, Plex and dozens of others.

And this isn’t the first time that Total Wipes’ automated antipiracy system has totally wiped out. Last August it sent out a slate of DMCA complaints about sites that allegedly infringed on another album you’ve never heard of to companies like IKEA, Caribou Coffee, Dunkin Donuts, Buzzfeed, the NY Times,, Keurig, Starbucks, Yelp and just about any other site mentioning “coffee.”

After the latest Torrent Freak story was posted, Total Wipes issued a statement on its Facebook page apologizing for the error and blaming it on a server error.

“Due to technical servers problems on the first february week our script sent hundreds DMCA to hundreds domains not related at all any copyrights of our contents,” reads the statement. It was our fault, no doubts about it. The DMCA is a serious issue and it must be carefully managed.”

The company says it contacted most of the companies involved and claims to “understand the damage of it for small and medium companies that have to remove and manage them manually.”

In the statement, the company says that its antipiracy system was taken down a week ago, but as you can see from the link above, Total Wipes was still sending notices to Google as recently as yesterday. Let’s just hope these are legitimate claims.


Mercedes-Benz Recalls Nearly 150,000 Sedans Because Fires Aren’t Part Of The Driving Experience

Mon, 2015-02-23 15:09


There are a number of places you might expect to see a fire: camping, in the fireplace on a cold night. But one place you don’t want to experience a blaze is in your car’s engine. For that reason Mercedes-Benz is recalling nearly 150,000 sedans and station wagons.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notice [PDF], Mercedes issued a recall of 147,224 model year 2013 to 2015 CLS-class sedans and E-class sedans and station wagons because of an increased risk of fire.

The company reports that the vehicles have a rubber seal in the engine compartment that can fall onto the exhaust system when the car’s hood is closed.

If the rubber seal falls into the engine compartment, it may contact parts of the exhaust system creating an increased likelihood of fire.

Mercedes will notify owners of affected vehicles in March and dealers will attach four additional retaining clips to the rubber seal to ensure it stays in place.

In all, the recall covers the following vehicles: E350 sedan, E350 4Matic sedan, E350 4Matic station wagon, E400 Hybrid sedan, CLS 550 CGI, and CLS550 4Matic,; model year 2013-2014 E550 4Matic sedan, model year 2013 E63 sedan, E63 station wagon and CLS63; 2014-2015 CLS63 4Matic, E63 4Matic sedan, E63 4Matic sedan “S”, and E63 4Matic station wagon; 2015 CLS400, 2015 E400 sedan, E400 4Matic sedan and CLS400 4Matic and 2014 CLS63 “S”.

American Airlines Leaves Travelers Stranded Around Globe Without Luggage

Mon, 2015-02-23 14:42

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Beyond just getting you through security and into your seat on the plane, there are a lot of systems that have to work together to get a flight off the ground with all its passengers and all their stuff. But when one important system went down at a major airport on Friday, American Airlines decided to fly a bunch of planes without luggage rather than delay or cancel flights.

The problem, reports, was that the baggage conveyor belts at Miami International glitched out for eight hours on Friday, meaning thousands of pieces of checked luggage could not get out to the waiting planes.

Not only is MIA a large airport, it’s also a hub for American, meaning delayed or canceled flights out of Miami could cause a ripple effect that slowed down the airline’s global network.

“What would you expect them to do? We had to get passengers to where they were going,” a rep for the airline tells IBTimes.

So it’s understandable that AA would tell passengers, “Sorry, we’ve gotta go now, but your luggage will catch up to you.” Problem is, the airline didn’t let customers know their planes were in the air without all their bags.

It wasn’t until travelers arrived at their destinations and were greeted with empty baggage carousels that they were told about the snafu.

And there was further confusion as American couldn’t get its story straight. One traveler says she called AA to find out where her bags were and was told they’d been left behind because the plane had been overweight.

“That was completely ludicrous, because no one on the flight got their luggage,” says the passenger.

Some travelers were told to file claims for their delayed luggage, while others waited seven or more hours for their bags to finally arrive in destinations from Boston to Cozumel.

Thanks to Adam for the tip!

Sale Of 1,100 Radio Shack Leases Approved

Sat, 2015-02-21 00:28

Radio Shack Old Logo They took down the sign and the old logo was underneath. This was the 1974-1995 logo.

(Phillip Pessar)

Hey, buddy. Want to rent an abandoned Radio Shack? The quasi-relevant electronics chain received approval from the bankruptcy court today to sell off 1,100 store leases. These stores are open for bidding by anyone interested in taking over the lease––in some locations, Radio Shack has already held store-closing sales and taken off so they won’t have to pay rent in March.

Stores on the closing list in this round are the same 1,100 locations that the company wanted to close a year ago, but didn’t have approval from the lenders that kept the company going before its bankruptcy. While closing stores would keep the company going in the long term, it costs money to close a store, liquidate merchandise, and pay severance to employees.

The stores will now close by the end of February. The bankruptcy judge approved the sale just two hours before bids were due, since the Shack and potential buyers have already been negotiating.

Bidders for the leases could be any retailer interested in a small store space, since Radio Shack has some prime locations and some kind of crappy ones. Amazon was reportedly part of the pre-bankruptcy negotiations, planning to rent some stores to use as pickup and dropoff centers as well as showrooms for its Kindle and Fire product lines.

RadioShack cleared to sell leases to 1,100 abandoned stores [Reuters]

Why Don’t We Use More Cheap Caskets Imported From China?

Fri, 2015-02-20 23:03



Caskets: they’re boxes that we use for a funeral service and maybe a wake, then either stick in the ground or burn up. Why do we spend so much money on them. More importantly, why are 95% of all caskets used in the United States made in this country when everything from the device you’re using to read this post to the sweater I’m wearing right now was made in China?

There are two ways to look at this: it’s nice that the casket business hasn’t migrated offshore, keeping American manufacturing jobs in the important sector of corpse boxes. Yet the reasons why casket showrooms aren’t full of $400 Chinese versions of caskets that usually cost five times that much will make you want to put down the flag you’re waving.

Bloomberg Business profiled Jim Malamas, founder of Ace Funeral Products, a company that sells shipping containers full of caskets wholesale to funeral homes. The three companies that dominate the wholesale casket business in this country have sued distributors of foreign-made products, accusing Ace Funeral Products of stealing its designs.

While it’s easier, survivors aren’t limited to the selection in a local funeral home’s showroom. The FTC Funeral Rule gives us the right to purchase a casket from anywhere and have it shipped to the funeral home, whether you’re buying from Trappist monks or from Costco.

Rest in Peace for Less With Caskets Made in China [Bloomberg Business]

Hungry Shoppers Also Buy More Non-Food Stuff

Fri, 2015-02-20 22:57
(Michael G. Chan)

(Michael G. Chan)

It’s a long-held belief that shopping while hungry leads to a larger than normal grocery bill. A new study claims that you might want also want to avoid hitting the department store on an empty stomach.

HealthDay News reports that a new study found hunger may push consumers in to buying more nonfood items than they normally would on a full stomach.

The report, aptly called “Hunger Promotes Acquisition of Nonfood Objects,” is based on five experiments that aimed to determine if people’s biological drive to acquire food goes beyond edible products, making consumers want more “stuff in general.”

“Hunger is assumed to motivate eating, which satisfies the caloric needs underlying the motivation,” a summary of the report states. “However, hunger’s influence extends beyond food consumption to the acquisition of nonfood items that cannot satisfy the underlying need.”

The experiments, which included 76 participants each, found that hunger increases consumers’ intention to acquire not only food but nonfood items regardless of whether they are free or must be purchased.

In the first experiment, the participants were asked to recall and make note of flashcards depicting either actual words or gibberish, HealthDay News reports.

Those who said they were hungrier during the test were more likely to correctly identify real words related to hunger or acquisition, such as “famine” and “obtain.”

A second group was asked to gauge their craving for both food and nonfood items while entering a cafe to eat, and again when they left. Most participants indicated a greater desire for both food and nonfood items before entering the cafe.

The third and fourth groups took part in experiments that attempted to quantify consumers’ desire for nonfood items while hungry.

One group was asked what they thought of binder clips and how many they would like to try for free. Members of the group that said they were hungry tended to ask for more free clips. However, researchers say that hunger did not have an effect on consumers’ thoughts about the clips.

Participants in the second group were told to not eat for four hours before the experiment. Upon entering the room, some were told to eat a provided cake, while others were not. Those who ate the cake asked for fewer binder clips while those who did not eat wanted more of the free office supply.

For the fifth experiment, researchers went outside the lab and polled actual department store shoppers when they exited the store – which sold mostly nonfood products.

The shoppers were asked to gauge how hungry they were, while the researchers scanned their receipts. In all, the experiment found that shoppers who were hungrier purchased more nonfood items from the store.

While the researches tell HealthDay News that the study doesn’t prove cause-and-effect, it does show that hunger can influence consumers’ shopping habits for nonfood items.

“I think consumers should be aware of this — that they may spend more money online or in a store if they’re hungry while they shop,” the study’s lead author Alison Jing Xu, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, says. “If you’re hungry, think twice.”

Hungry in the Department Store? Your Spending May Rise [HealthDay News]

Judges Question FCC’s Need To Share What Comcast & DirecTV Pay To Broadcasters

Fri, 2015-02-20 22:39

(Rosalyn Davis)

(Rosalyn Davis)

Those following the merger of Comcast with Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV may remember that the FCC had hoped to make some of the cable companies’ confidential contract information available to parties with a direct interest in these deals. In November, a federal appeals court preliminarily sided with the broadcasters and temporarily blocked the FCC from sharing this info, and this morning the court heard arguments from both sides on whether or not these contracts should be kept under lock and key for good.

The FCC believes it needs and has the authority to share these documents, which would include information about how much the pay-TV companies pay to carry cable and network TV programming, with lawyers for a small number of parties who may be impacted by these mergers.

After the Commission rejected a request by the media companies to rethink this sharing, the broadcasters — CBS, Disney, Fox, Time Warner, Viacom, Univision — got a federal appeals court in D.C. to issue a stay preventing the FCC from making the info available.

The FCC was allowed to review the documents for its evaluation of the two mergers but no one outside the Commission currently has access to them.

This morning, the three-judge appeals panel probed the necessity of making these documents available to interested parties and whether the FCC had sufficiently considered the broadcasters’ objections to its policy.

The broadcasters claim that the FCC only took five days to consider their initial concerns before narrowly deciding to move ahead with sharing the confidential info. In court today, the networks’ lawyers said the Commission had previously taken 20 days to consider such issues.

But FCC Deputy General Counsel David Gossett told the panel that the Commission pointed out its policy change twice and that five days was a reasonable amount of time to make a call regarding the broadcasters’ concerns.

“Time is of the essence in merger reviews,” which Broadcasting & Cable reports got a bit of a laugh from the audience who has seen the Comcast/TWC merger stretch beyond the 1-year mark.

The FCC contended that the networks’ issue isn’t that the Commission didn’t think enough about the objections, but that five days wasn’t a long enough delay in the process.

The judges questioned whether there was definitely a “necessary link” between sharing this confidential information and upholding the public interest or if this sharing was being done based on the mere possibility that these parties might find something material in the documents.

The lawyer for CBS accused the FCC of “crowdsourcing” opinion on the mergers, while Gossett pointed out that the FCC has previously made relevant documents available to affected parties and that there is a benefit to third-party input on mergers.

If the court decides that the documents are to remain confidential and can’t be shared, that might slightly expedite the last stages of the FCC’s review of these two mergers, both of which are headed into the home stretch anyway.

Judges Probe FCC On Document Release [B&C]

Why Are Borrowers With Less Student Loan Debt More Likely To Default?

Fri, 2015-02-20 21:11
(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

Just days after the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that student loan delinquency rates were once again on the rise, a new Fed report finds it’s student loan borrowers with the lowest levels of debt who typically are the most delinquent.

The FRBNY reports that it’s often the people with the least amount of student loan debt who have the hardest time paying off their loans, in part, because they may not have finished college.

“The highest default rates, at nearly 34%, are among the borrowers who owe less than $5,000,” the analysis points out. “These borrowers made up 21% of the 2009 cohort,” referring to the block of student loan borrowers who entered repayment during that fiscal year.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that borrowers with the least amount of student loan debt were actually more likely to default.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that borrowers with the least amount of student loan debt were actually more likely to default.

Additionally, the report found that the default rate for borrowers who leave school with more than $100,000 is almost 50% lower, coming in at just 18%.

The FRBNY suggests that higher default rates for borrowers with less student loan debt may be a result of those students not finishing their college education.

“Defaults appear to be concentrated among the lowest-balance borrowers, who may not have completed their schooling, or may have earned credentials with lower payoffs than a four-year college degree,” the report states.

The new analysis from the FRBNY also took a deeper look at when borrowers were more likely to default.

Data from the FRBNY found that default rates continue to grow after the typical three-year cohort default window used in some studies.

Data from the FRBNY found that default rates continue to grow after the typical three-year cohort default window used in some studies.

Because most reports look at a smaller window of about three years after borrowers leave school, the FRBNY analysis examined cohort default rates three-, five- and nine-years after leaving school.

“We find that default rates continue to grow after three years and that performance by cohort worsened in the years leading up to the Great Recession,” the analysis states.

The FRBNY found used Consumer Credit Panel data to determine that default rates for consumers who borrowed in 2009 increased 7% when looked at from three years out to five hers out.

“The pattern for earlier cohorts strongly suggests that this rate will continue to rise,” the FRBNY writes. “Our 2005 cohort had a three-year default rate of 13%, but this is only half of the defaults that we see nine years out (nearly 25%).”

Looking at Student Loan Defaults through a Larger Window [Federal Reserve Bank of New York]

Report Claims That You Secretly Love Airline Fees

Fri, 2015-02-20 20:57

(Chris Rief)

(Chris Rief)

If we were to head over to any airport in the country today and ask travelers whether they liked being charged add-on fees for checking bags, sitting in an exit row, food, entertainment, headphones, WiFi, or priority boarding, the consensus would undoubtedly be that these costs are a nickel-and-diming nuisance. But one airline industry analyst claims that travelers are secretly in love with these charges.

The Chicago Tribune reports on new research from an industry analyst at Wolfe Research, which claims that it’s an “inconvenient truth” that consumers actually enjoy paying for things that were once included in our airfare.

“Maybe that sentence would be better received if we had said ‘customers like paying only for what they use.’ Well, guess what… that’s the same thing,” contends the report, which echoes similar previous statements from America’s most notorious airline CEO Ben Baldanza of Spirit.

Speaking of Spirit, one of the few domestic carriers to charge for carry-on bags, the Wolfe Research report claims that the other airlines are missing out on this “mother lode” of fee revenue by allowing passengers to bring free carry-on bags, even if they’re booking through third-party sites like Orbitz or Expedia.

By forcing passengers to either book directly or pay for carry-ons, the report claims American Airlines alone could rake in $259 million a year in fee revenue while saving $74 million in costs.

And lest you think airlines can’t strip down your ticket any further, the analyst suggests that airlines start charging for things like oversized carry-ons and soda.

“That isn’t just about revenue — it’s also about lowering distribution costs,” reads the report. “And it clears up more bin space for good customers (those with status) at the expense of bad customers.”

There is certainly some logic to the idea of saving consumers money on base airfares by stripping away everything but the seat you are required to sit in (though some carriers have discussed making passengers stand), but the problem with this a la carte approach is that the fees rarely match the savings.

For example, when an airline charges $35 to check a bag, are we supposed to believe that this is the actual cost of checking and stowing a single piece of luggage? Or is this just a figure that the airline economist determined the market will bear? Did my ticket price go down $35 because of this fee or did the airline just make more money?

Obviously not, or else analysts like this one wouldn’t be talking about the opportunities for revenue elsewhere.

If, as fee-proponents try to argue, fees are just about pulling out the cost of a service from the base airfare, then airlines would actually be losing money rather than bragging about the millions they make in ancillary revenue each year.

Think about it. Before checked-bag fees, many travelers preferred to have their luggage stowed rather than try to cram as much as possible into overhead bins and under seats.

So say an imaginary airline flies 1 million passengers a year at an average ticket price of $500 that includes the cost of checked bags. That’s $500 million a year.

But introducing baggage has cut down on the number of checked bags, as is evident by the popularity of those rolling suitcases that seemingly every traveler tries to pass off as a carry-on bag just so they don’t have to pay for checking as many bags.

At the same time, we’re supposed to believe that we’re saving on airfares if we don’t check our bags.

So going back to the fictional airline above, imagine that 10% of passengers choose to avoid paying baggage fees by going carry-on only. Meanwhile, the average ticket price drops by $35 because we’re all saving money with this supposed a la carte model, right?

That would mean that the airline would make $465 million from ticket sales, and another $31.5 million from the 900,000 passengers who decide to pay for checked bags. That leaves the airline $3.5 million short of where it was before the fee was instituted.

Thus, it follows that the only way that airlines can make a profit off baggage fees and other charges is by charging significantly more than these services and products were worth before they were deducted from the airfare — or by never actually deducting them from the airfare to begin with.

And what’s particularly evil about the idea of charging people for carry-ons is that the analyst is basically telling the airlines to hold the passengers’ wallets hostage. Check your bag? That’s a fee. Carry on? That’s a fee.

That’s not an option. That’s not customers only “paying only for what they use.” That’s a de facto airfare increase.

If fees actually did result in lower airfares, then maybe people would love them. The mere fact that people are willing to pay the fees doesn’t mean they are good for consumers.

Here Are Creme Egg Cookies And Easter Grass Twizzlers Because Why Not

Fri, 2015-02-20 20:30

Have you always wanted to grab handfuls of the plastic grass in your Easter basket and chomp on it? Have you always secretly wished that Cadbury Creme Eggs came in a form that you could pass off as a normal dessert instead of a chocolate egg? The answer to both of those questions is probably “no,” but this is America, where progress marches on whether we want apple-flavored licorice grass or not.

You can see from this photo that the tipster who sent those Creme Eggs in to The Impulsive Buy had them in his cart, because this food is simply impossible to resist. That’s my theory, anyway.


Meanwhile, over in the candy aisle, Twizzlers has introduced green “Easter grass” flavored licorice ropes, because regular Twizzlers are not gross enough as it is.


Time Out Chicago opened up a bag of this stuff, and the individual strands are loose, making it resemble plastic Easter grass to a disturbing extent. You could use this to line a child’s Easter basket, but I’m not sure that anyone would want to eat it after it sat out, which in turn defeats the point of using edible Easter grass in the first place.

Wait, I thought green apples went with candy apples to form one of the official flavors of fall! These holiday mashups are too much to bear.

SPOTTED ON SHELVES: Twizzlers Easter Grass Candy and Limited Edition Cadbury Creme Egg Cookies [The Impulsive Buy] Open Enrollment Extended As Uninsured File Taxes

Fri, 2015-02-20 19:52



If you went without health insurance during 2014, you’re now facing a modest financial penalty of $95 or 1% of your income. Next year, that penalty will increase. All of this is news to some uninsured people. That’s why, as predicted, the federal government and some state exchanges are creating an extra open enrollment period to help these people out.

The extra period is for people who who haven’t been paying close attention to the latest and hottest Affordable Care Act information. The penalty has been an unpleasant surprise for them as they file their 2014 tax returns. In case they would prefer to just get some health insurance instead already, the open enrollment period is opening back up just for them.

The open enrollment season and tax season don’t line up very well: without a qualifying life event like switching jobs or a divorce, new insurance enrollments end on February 15. That’s when most people are just getting their documents together to file their tax returns.

The extended enrollment period will run from March 15 to April 30, with new insurance plans beginning on the first of the month following signup. Those dates are for states that use the exchanges.

Feds Grant Obamacare Tax Extension [NBC]

70% Of Americans Want All-Day Access To Breakfast So Why Can’t It Happen?

Fri, 2015-02-20 19:41

(Morton Fox)

(Morton Fox)

It’s 1 p.m. as I write this and I haven’t eaten since early yesterday evening. I’m consumed with mental images of syrup-slathered waffles and piping-hot savory sausages, and the data says I’m not alone in craving breakfast in the afternoon. So why aren’t more fast food places making this a reality?

The answer, according to this story in QSR Magazine, lies in some combination of tradition and cost.

While a National Restaurant Association survey found that 70% of Americans want restaurants to serve breakfast throughout the day, and that younger adults love eating breakfast for dinner more than any other age group, most major fast-fooderies draw a distinct line between their breakfast menu and lunch/dinner.

Part of that is due to the fact that, for all the affection we claim to have for breakfast, it’s a meal that many people eat at home (or skip entirely).

“Breakfast hasn’t traditionally been the most common dining-out daypart,” explains the Restaurant Association’s director of research communications, “but with the increasingly busy lifestyles we lead today, consumer interest is definitely stemming from the blurring of normal meal periods.”

While McDonald’s has openly mulled over the notion of all-day breakfast — and serves some breakfast menu items at McD’s stores that are open all night — it still hasn’t done a full-fledged test of selling McMuffins and McGriddles beyond 10:30 a.m.

Likewise, while Taco Bell has made a big splash with its relatively new breakfast menu, you can’t get these items after 11 a.m. in most locations.

One fast food chain that does do breakfast all day is Sonic, whose chief marketing officer says that the company is just giving customers what they want.

“At breakfast, we focus on unique menu items that we can offer quickly and consistently,” he explains to QSR Magazine. “Those same items… also happen to be great options for other dayparts.”

One big roadblock to breakfast for dinner is the added logistics and cost of being able to prepare two full menus’ worth of food in the afternoon. Diners and restaurants can do it because customers aren’t expecting to be served and out the door in two minutes, but fast food patrons want their order and they want it now.

An exec for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. explains that for these two chains, it’s a matter of kitchen resources.

“Most other chains cook their lunch and dinner menu items on a flat grill, so that lends itself to cooking breakfast items all day, as well,” he says. “At Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, the predominant cooking platform for our lunch and dinner items is a charbroiler, so we would have to run two separate cooking platforms to be able to prepare breakfast items all day, and that would significantly complicate operations.”

So maybe rather than asking established burger, taco, and chicken chains to figure out how to make breakfast and lunch in an affordable manner, it’s time for newer entrants to offer fast-food solutions to appease consumers’ breakfast cravings.

That would explain why Denny’s says it is planning to expand its college-focused fast-casual spin-off called The Den, which offers burgers and burritos alongside a slate of breakfast items in an environment more akin to what you’d get at Chipotle.

The Den has locations on a handful of college campuses and recently opened its first off-campus store.

The fast-casual approach may be the answer, as customers are not generally expecting to be get their food in seconds, but they also aren’t forced into a sit-down meal.

“This trend is really starting to go beyond the big chains, and that’s what’s making this so unique,” says the Restaurant Association rep. “Breakfast is kind of an unexplored daypart, and chains are starting to see that breakfast can definitely be a successful area for growth.”