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Airlines passengers cope with fuel prices

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NEW YORK (6/30/08)--Cheap travel options are dwindling as the prices at the pump continue to rise. Airlines are feeling the gas pinch as well, and soaring fuel prices have prompted them to implement drastic changes in flying policies, airfare prices and flight availabilities (The New York Times June 19). Some airlines implementing “a la carte pricing” now ask passengers to pay for checked luggage, on-flight headsets and non-alcoholic beverages--items that once were included in the price of the ticket. Additionally, many airlines have plans to ground planes, reduce the number of flights, and eliminate or restrict some services, all in an attempt to manage the gas squeeze. But just how much do airlines actually spend on fuel? While four years ago fuel comprised about 10% to 20% of the ticket price, today more than half of the ticket price translates to fuels costs on many routes (The Wall Street Journal June 10). This provides a small margin for airlines to cover numerous other maintenance fees, leaving them to scramble for new ways to squeeze pennies from passengers. With rapid changes in airline policies, there are things you can do to help soften the blow:
* Be prepared. Burkhalter Travel, Madison, Wis., recommends always checking your carrier’s website for current baggage policies. You’ll have fewer surprises when checking in at the airport. Find airline and airport websites at oag.com/northamerica/airlineandairport/airlinedirectory1.asp. * Pack light, pack smart. Eliminate unnecessary items to avoid heavy baggage fees. Substitute a paperback for a hardcover. Wear heavier clothing such as sweaters, coats, jeans, and tennis shoes, and pack your lighter clothing. Find a light suitcase; suitcases with handles and wheels weigh more than those without. Pack light and weigh your suitcase before you head to the airport to save money. * Use your carry-on. While size restrictions exist, few airlines have weight limits for carry-on bags. For short trips, pack light and omit checked baggage. This will save you the $15 charge on United, US Airways, and American Airlines. Manage bulky items by using compression bags, packing folders, or carry-ons with compartments. * Do your research. Search airline websites, use flight search engines and consult travel agents. They can help you find the cheapest days of the week to fly, airlines offering lower fares, and other money saving tips.
For more information, read “Ten Ways to Avoid Airline Flight Delays,” in Home & Family Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Experts talk summer travel tips gas mileage

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WASHINGTON (6/27/08)--For anyone about to hit the road in the coming weeks, this week’s H&FF Radio show is particularly timely: summer travel, getting better gas mileage, and tips for saving money. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EDT on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA’s Web sites. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Ten Tips for Getting Better Gas Mileage,” with Jack Gillis, president, Gillis & Associates, and director of public affairs, Consumer Federation of America, Washington, D.C.; * “Sound Sleep, Sound Mind,” with Dr. Barry Krakow, internist, author, Albuquerque, New Mexico; * “Summer Vacation Travel Tips That Save You Money” with Jennifer Burrows, senior marketing programs manager, Co-op Financial Services, Ontario, Calif.; * “Great Threads For Less Bread: Listener’s Best Money Management Tip,” with Susan Tiffany, CUNA's director of personal finance information for adults, center for personal finance, Madison, Wis.; and * Host Paul Berry Answers Your Questions: Hiring movers, co-signing a loan, prepaid credit card for college students, money market accounts.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Visa; and Western Corporate FCU and its member credit unions. For more information, listen to “Audio: Summer Travel Tips,” and “Audio: Vacation Planning” in Plan It: Retire Ready Toolkit.

Less driving may mean insurance savings

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NEW YORK (6/25/08)--As the price of gasoline reaches record highs across the country, millions of Americans are finding ways to cut back on driving to save money. What drivers may not know is they may be eligible for lower insurance rates as a result of driving less (The Wall Street Journal June 12). Whether it’s from combining errands, biking or carpooling, a recent study by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) found that Americans who cut back on driving can save up to 15% on auto insurance. According to the study, the average auto insurance premium in the U.S. is $830, so a savings of 15% could mean more than $120 back in your wallet. Insurance rates are based on several factors, one of which is the number of miles you drive. If you’ve stopped driving to work, CFA estimates your insurance costs may drop 10% to 15%. If you now only drive partway to school or work, your savings may average 5% to 10%. And even if you’ve simply cut back on errands or consolidated your driving, you still may be eligible for a rate cut. J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for CFA, recommends you call your insurance company and ask if you qualify for an immediate rate reduction (consumerfed.org June 10). Savings will vary depending on your coverage, but it never hurts to check on it. If you call your auto insurance agent, be prepared to make your case. Explain what you’re doing to drive less, and estimate the number of miles you save each month. For more information, read “Finding Extra Savings on Auto Insurance” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Flood victims Where to go for help

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MADISON, Wis. (6/23/08)--The devastating effects of floodwaters are taking a toll--both personally and financially--on city dwellers and farmers throughout the Midwest and beyond. If you have been affected by any natural disaster, know where to go for help. The Credit Union National Association center for personal finance has compiled a list:
* FEMA. If your area is designated a disaster area by the president, do this first: Apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) online at fema.gov (click “Apply for Assistance”) or call 800-621-FEMA (621-3362). You must register to qualify for grants or low-interest loans. Have these items handy when you call: Social Security number, current and predisaster address, telephone number where you can be contacted, insurance information, total household annual income, and routing and account number from your financial institution if you want disaster assistance direct deposited to your checking account quickly. You’ll also need to provide a description of your losses caused by the disaster. After you apply, you’ll receive a FEMA application number; keep this number for future reference. It may take seven to 10 days for an inspector to arrive. Don’t wait--begin the clean-up process as soon as you can. Keep receipts for repairs already made. * U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. Funding is available to help individuals and organizations affected by recent natural disasters in several states in the Midwest (U.S. Department of Agriculture June 16). Grant and loan funds provide assistance for housing and shelter, public safety, health care, and community facilities and business recovery assistance. For more information, visit rurdev.usda.gov. * American Red Cross. RedCross.gov contains the latest news on current disasters, as well as links to disaster services, preparedness, blood services, volunteering, tips for military members and families, and more. Contact your local American Red Cross chapter or call 800-REDCROSS (733-2767). * Salvation Army. Visit salvationarmyusa.org for links to current programs helping victims, or contact your local chapter. * Your insurance agent. Discuss claims and be ready to document your personal belongings with photos, videotape, or lists if you have them. Ideally, this documentation should be in your safe deposit box or already on file with your insurance agent. For information about the National Flood Insurance Program, visit Floodsmart.gov. * County health department. Officials can tell you of local disaster and health services, community health problems, and environmental health hazards. * Local radio stations. Listen for road closures, food and water distribution sites, and other local aid services.
Anyone wishing to donate to disaster relief efforts can contact:
* Red Cross: Call 800-HELP-NOW (435-7669) or visit redcross.org; * Salvation Army: Call 800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769) or visit salvationarmyusa.org; and * Local relief charities.

Consumer advocate Beware the shrinking container

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WASHINGTON (6/20/08)--Described as a sneaky price increase, some manufacturers are shrinking the container and charging the same price as before--instead of asking you to pay more, according to former Massachusetts assistant attorney general Edgar Dworsky, one of this week’s guests on the H&FF Radio show. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EDT on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA’s websites. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Product Downsizing: Paying the Same for Less,” with Edgar Dworsky, consumer advocate, Consumer World and Mouse Print, Boston; * “Long-Term Care Insurance,” with Bonnie Burns, training and policy specialist, California Health Advocates, Sacramento, Calif.; * “Will the Cost of Gas Kill Your Family Summer Road Trip?” with Troy Green, spokesman, AAA, Washington, D.C.; * “Tweens’ Spending Habits and Money Management,” with Deborah Haynes, professor, Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont.; and * Listener Q&A.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Visa; and Western Corporate FCU and its member credit unions. For more information, read “Making Sure Merchants Measure Up” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Coupon clipping without the scissors

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NEW YORK (6/18/08)--The economic slump has consumers scrambling for ways to save a dollar or two. With the popularity of coupons on the rise, retailers, marketers and manufacturers are developing ways to make coupons more accessible and appealing to shoppers, who are ditching the scissors (SmartMoney.com June 2). For the past 16 years, coupon clipping has been a declining practice among American consumers. Last year, however, 2.6 billion shoppers redeemed coupons, reversing the downward trend, according to CouponInfoNow.com. To keep this movement on the rise, new technologies are being introduced to the coupon clipping department. Here are three new ways to “clip” coupons without the scissors:
* Loaded loyalty cards. Sites such as AOL’s shortcuts.com allow you to load manufacturers’ coupons directly to their store loyalty cards. When in the checkout line, all you have to do is make sure your swipe your card and your coupons are redeemed. * Shopping widgets. A new Mealbox widget (mealbox.meijer.com) developed by grocery chain Meijer Inc. lets you set up meal plans and online shopping lists, and it automatically attaches available coupons to the shopping list. You simply print the list and take it in for scanning at the checkout line. Meijer runs 182 stores throughout Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. * Cellphone coupons. Cellfire is leading the way in the mobile coupon field, which is expected to yield $7 billion annually by 2011, says United Kingdom-based Juniper Research. Cellfire is a Web browsing tool that downloads and stores coupon codes onto cellphones in easy-to-navigate lists, eliminating the need for clipping coupons or searching the Web for the best deals. You show the coupon code on your phone to retailers for redemption.
Marketers know coupons can help develop brand loyalty and customer relationships, so as they contend for ways to best target and engage their consumers, expect new distribution methods to continue to hit the market.

Save time money Put payments on autopilot

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MADISON, Wis. (6/16/08)--Streamlining your finances is a good idea anytime, but it’s especially important when your budget is under pressure from high gas and food prices. A few simple changes can make a significant difference, and one change is to put your bills and other payments on autopilot, according to the Credit Union National Association center for personal finance. The most recent Consumer Bill Payment Survey, sponsored by CheckFree Corp. and released January 2007, revealed that online payments made up 39% of all bill payments among online households. Spend some time enrolling and setting up payees in exchange for these important benefits:
* Simplify bill payment. You won’t be scrambling to find envelopes, stamps, and paper statements. * Save time and money. If you pay 10 bills each month, that’s more than $50 a year just for stamps, not to mention the time it takes to write the checks and deposit them in a secure mailbox. * Avoid late fees. If you’re prone to paying late, stay away from paper checks and snail mail (CNNMoney.com June 10). This also helps avoid credit-score dings. * Schedule bills to be paid ahead of time. When you get the bill, you can designate when you want the bill to be paid and then forget about it. * Automate recurring bills. If some of your payments are for the same amount each month, payable at the same time, schedule them to be automatically paid. If you have to evacuate your home for any reason, this feature helps ensure that your bills continue to be paid even if you’re in temporary quarters elsewhere. * Maintain flexibility. You can manage your payments from any computer at any time. * Stay safe. You’re more at risk paying bills with paper checks than using online bill pay. Paper checks can be lost—or stolen—during the mailing process, putting you at risk of identity theft and other types of fraud. * Help the environment. Paperless bill options will help save the world’s dwindling forests and overflowing landfills.
For more information, read “Before You Stop Automated Payments” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Program helps military families make ends meet

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WASHINGTON (6/13/08)--Making ends meet is difficult enough these days, but the challenges facing military servicemembers and their families can be especially tough. One guest on Sunday’s H&FF Radio show describes a program designed to help troops and their loved ones manage personal finances and steer clear of predatory lenders. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EDT on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA’s Web sites. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Personal Finance Management Program for Military Personnel and Their Families,” with Gordon Genovese, USMC (ret.) and executive director, Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, Columbus, Ohio; * “Travel Cards: Bye-Bye Traveler Checks!” with Christopher Russell, executive vice president and regional divisional director, Outsourcing Travelex Americas, Travelex, Atlanta, Ga.; * “Travel Fraud: Vacation Certificates and Vacation Clubs,” with Collot Guerard, attorney, Consumer Protection Division, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C.; * “Passing on Wealth to Adult Children,” with Mark Kollar, CEO, Kollar Financial Strategies, Chicago, Ill.; and * Listener Q&A.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Visa; and Western Corporate FCU and its member credit unions. For more information, read “New Law Helps Military Servicemembers Avoid Financial Exploitation” and listen to “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Dont fall for economic stimulus scam

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MADISON, Wis. (6/11/08)--Be on the lookout for an e-mail from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) encouraging you to submit a form to make sure you get your economic stimulus check. Why? The e-mail is not from the IRS, and if you click on the link, it’s likely you’ll be the victim of a scam, according to the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA's) center for personal finance. Susan Tiffany, CUNA's director of adult education, warns recipients to report the crime and then hit the delete key. “It’s a very convincing-looking scam that’s sure to trip up many folks who fear missing out on their stimulus check,” says Tiffany. The e-mail Tiffany received urges the reader to click on a link in the e-mail, fill out a form, and submit the form before June 10 for a speedy refund. The end of the message acknowledges that you may have received the e-mail in your spam folder “because of the large amount of e-mails we are sending out or because of the restrictions implemented by your ISP (Internet service provider).” Don’t fall for that line, either. The message is a ploy to redirect you to the crook’s website to capture your personal information and commit fraud. If you receive an unsolicited e-mail claiming to be from the IRS, the IRS offers this advice:
* Never provide personal information in response to unsolicited e-mails. The IRS does not initiate contact with you via e-mail messages, nor does the IRS request PINs, passwords, or other access information for your credit card or for other financial accounts. * Never click on attachments to questionable e-mails. The attachments may contain malicious code that infects your computer with viruses. * Forward the original message to phishing@irs.gov. However, don’t open the message in order to forward it. Create a new message and then drag and drop the original message into the body of the new message. For specific instructions for your e-mail provider (MS Outlook, Outlook Express, Mulberry, and so on), go to irs.gov and type “report phishing” in the search box. * Report the scam to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Call 800-366-4484 to report misuse of the IRS name, logo, forms, or other IRS property. * Report this or other suspicious e-mails to the Federal Trade Commission. Go to spam@uce.gov, or call 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338).
If you think you’ve been the victim of ID theft, call one of the three credit bureau fraud units immediately: Experian: 888-397-3742; Equifax: 800-525-6285; TransUnion: 800-680-7289. Then notify creditors, close affected accounts, and file a police report.

Study Too many strings attached to rewards programs

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YONKERS, N.Y. (6/09/08)--As more retailers push their points programs, a new study finds fewer benefits, more restrictions, and a high level of frustration by consumers trying to cash in on those rewards (Consumer Reports July 2008). Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, reports that about 85% of U.S. households take part in at least one rewards program. And the list of providers keeps growing: supermarkets, drugstores, warehouse clubs, gas stations, bookstore chains, and more (Forbes.com June 2). But the trend seems to be veering away from rewarding loyal customers and leaning toward making it virtually impossible to cash in on those hard-earned points. Even programs that do double duty as credit cards may not be worth the effort (Reuters June 2). For example, many rewards credit cards carry higher interest rates than traditional credit cards, and if you rack up charges just for the points, you may be paying more in interest and fees than you receive in savings and point benefits. What can you do to avoid the rewards program blues? Consumer Reports offers these tips:
* Choose programs based on your own spending habits. Rather than enroll in several programs, concentrate your spending on one or two and build rewards more quickly. * Consider cash-back programs. If you rarely or never redeem your points, cash-back cards may be your best bet to get at least some reward from your spending. * Plan your spending. For example, know how many points you need to get what you want. * Factor in the annual fee. If the rewards program charges you, say, $25 a year and your balance builds ever so slowly, you may be better off ditching the program altogether. * Steer clear of credit card rewards programs if you carry a balance. High interest rates on those balances will quickly erase any rewards benefits you build up. * Watch for limits. Some rewards programs place a cap on benefits earned and a deadline for when the rewards must be used. * Don’t overspend just to get a freebie. If your focus is on the prize rather than the costs associated with getting the prize, you may wind up paying more than it’s worth. * Don’t leave rewards on the table. According to a 2006 survey by GMAC Mortgage and Harris Interactive, more than 41% of reward cardholders either rarely use or abandon their reward stash (CNNMoney.com June 2).

HandFF Radio Help working kids start Roth IRA

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WASHINGTON (6/6/08)--Teenagers with summer jobs have an opportunity to put their hard-earned pay to work for a long time: Invest some of their earnings in a Roth IRA, according to one of this week’s H&FF Radio show guests. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. EDT on the Radio America Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA’s Web sites. Sunday’s show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Roth IRAs for Working Kids,” with Nancy Granovsky, professor, extension family economics specialist and regents fellow, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas; * “How to Determine How Much Money You Made In Your Portfolio This Past Year,” with Barbara O’Neill, extension specialist, Financial Resource Management, and professor, Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, New Brunswick, N.J.; * “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate,” with Marlene Stum, founder, and professor, Family Social Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; * “What Makes a Good Checking Account and Other Banking Tips,” with Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director and advocate, National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups (U.S. PIRG), Washington, D.C.; and * Listener Q & A: Generic medicines; lower your homeowner’s insurance cost; save money at the gas pump; and improve your credit score.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; Visa; and Western Corporate FCU and its member credit unions. For more information, read “Roth IRA Early Withdrawals May Prompt Penalties” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Key to investing in recession Stay calm

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NEW YORK (6/4/08)--Despite a struggling economy, don’t make the assumption that you should stay away from--or get rid of--stocks. If you do, you may be missing out on some potentially hefty long-term returns (CNNMoney.com May 28). Stock investors already are looking ahead to a recovery, and investment experts say this is the time to be buying stocks, not selling them (Bankrate.com March 3). And with prices relatively low right now, the longer you hold those stocks in a well-diversified portfolio, the greater the likelihood you’ll build up a sizeable stash. Whether you’re a beginning or a serious investor, it’s important to stay calm and get your financial ducks in a row:
* Pay off high-cost debt. If you want an exceptional return in a hurry, pay down high-interest credit card debt. The return is likely to far exceed what you’ll get in the stock market--at least in the short run. * Line up a line of credit. Have this as a backup plan in case you’re faced with high-cost repairs, medical debt, or a layoff. * Revisit your risk tolerance. If you’re less comfortable with higher-risk investments than when you established your accounts, make adjustments so you can get a better night’s sleep. * Find money to save. Even a small amount invested regularly over time adds up. Consider this: Substitute home-made coffee into your regular routine, have that $50 you save every month direct-deposited into a diversified stock mutual fund, and you’d generate more than $29,000 over 20 years if your average rate of return is 8%. Over 30 years, that $50 a month could yield more than $74,000 with the same average rate of return. * Beef up your 401(k). Contribute as much as you can to your company-sponsored plan and take advantage of the company match. If you don’t, you’re leaving free money on the table. * Stay the course. Once you decide on an investment strategy with a well-diversified portfolio, leave it alone. Revisit your strategy periodically--say, once a year--while keeping your sights on a longer investment horizon.
For more information, use the “Financial Longevity” tool in Plan It: Retire Ready Toolkit.