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Consumer

Make the move to reduce your mortgage

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SAN FRANCISCO (9/1/10)--So you’ve given up your daily café coffee, your weekly dinner date, and your monthly massage to save money. But, if you’re looking to save big money, look no further than your mortgage. That loan most likely is your biggest monthly expense--while interest rates remain at record lows (MarketWatch.com, Aug. 25). Here are ways to reduce your home loan expense:
* Refinance--Refinancing at a lower rate can cut your monthly payment by hundreds of dollars. And if you can afford to refinance to a shorter term, you could save thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. * Automate it--Many financial institutions offer an even lower rate if you set up automatic mortgage payments. It’s an easy step and one less check to worry about writing each month, or one less bill to pay through automatic bill pay. * Ask about fees--It doesn’t hurt to ask the loan officers at your financial institution if lower fees are available on some mortgage costs. If you have good credit, the lender may even waive a few charges. * Take out the loan in one spouse’s name--If either you or your spouse has a tarnished credit score, or if one of you is self-employed with not much income, consider taking the loan out only in the name of the person with the higher credit score. You still can have both names on the title, but only one name on the loan.
Also, check what you’re paying in private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI is insurance that lenders require from most home buyers who obtain loans for more than 80% of their new home’s value. The Homeowner’s Protection Act of 1988 requires mortgage lenders or servicers to automatically cancel PMI coverage on most loans once you pay down the mortgage to 78% of the value and are current on your loan. Talk to a loan officer at your credit union for help with these decisions. And, to run the numbers on refinancing, use the “Calculator: What Will My Monthly Mortgage Payment Be?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Curb cash crunch in retirement

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NEW YORK (8/30/10)--What are the chances you’ll run short of money in retirement? The Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington, D.C., predicts that 47% of early baby boomers ages 56 to 66 and 43% of late boomers ages 46 to 55 are at risk of having insufficient income in retirement to cover basic retirement expenses, as well as uninsured health care costs (EBRI July 27). To help, Smart Money.com (Aug. 20) identifies six relatively painless ways to close the income gap:
* Ditch high-cost debt. Aim to step into retirement debt-free. Pay as much as you can afford on highest interest-rate debts first while still making minimum payments on all other debts. Once you pay off the highest-cost debt, keep whittling away until you pay off all of them. Getting rid of mortgage, auto, and credit card payments in retirement could save you thousands of dollars or more a year. * Weed out unnecessary insurance. You probably don’t need a disability policy in retirement. Similarly, weigh the pros and cons of cashing in your life insurance policy if you no longer have dependents and your spouse could easily support him or herself. When making the decision, calculate the financial loss to your family if you die, and then factor in the cost of the premiums. * Scale down this old house. Fewer rooms and square footage translate to lower expenses--upkeep, maintenance, utilities and taxes. Or, move to a less expensive area. * Get rid of energy guzzlers. Replace older appliances with new Energy Star models, switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, and ask for a free or discounted home energy audit. Visit doe.gov for guidelines to conduct an audit on your own. * Trim high investment fees. You may be paying too much if your fees are more than 1% of your portfolio value. Ask for a fee reduction if you think you’re being overcharged, or search for a fee-only adviser at NAPFA.org. * Lose the landline. If cell phone reception is a problem, consider getting a signal booster. Visit BillShrink.com for the low-cost cell phone plans.
For more information, listen to “Are You Worried About Your Financial Adviser?” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Back-to-school ed resources fraud prevention

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WASHINGTON (8/27/10)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program presents back-to-school warnings about identity theft and fraud, back-to-school resources from the federal government, ways to improve your credit profile and the advantages of using direct deposit. The 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:
* “Three (More) Reasons to Use Direct Deposit.” Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director of consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., explains how direct deposit can have a positive impact on your cash flow and overall financial situation. * “Back-to-School Resources on USA.gov.” Sarah Roper, acting director of USA.gov, Office of Citizen Services and Communications, U.S. General Services Administration, Washington, D.C., discusses resources for parents, teachers, and students on the official U.S. government Web portal. * “Seven Tips That Will Improve Your Credit Profile.” Steve Kramer, vice president, electronic payments, Western Union, New York, covers steps you can take to elevate your credit profile. * “Back to School With a Focus on Consumer Issues.” Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder, Credit.com and IdentityTheft911.com, Scottsdale, Ariz., advises students on credit, debt, privacy, and identity theft issues as they head back to school.
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; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio 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. 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. For more information, read “Three (More) Reasons to Use Direct Deposit” and watch the “Build Your Best Credit Score” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

How retailers get you to buy more

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CHICAGO (8/25/10)--Spending more than you planned while shopping lately? It could be because retailers are doing more to target your senses and emotions in ways you may not notice (Chicago Tribune Aug. 15). A consumer’s best defense is to be aware of tricks and traps that entice you to indulge, according to Martin Lindstrom, author of “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy”:
* Touch. You’re more likely to buy a product because you touched it. A smart book store clerk won’t simply point you to the right aisle, but will retrieve a book and place it in your hands. * Start high, end lower. A salesperson’s best way to increase buyer spending considerably is to frame a decision by asking the customer to make choices. The customer is shown a full-featured product and asked which features to eliminate, rather than starting with the basic model and asking what to add. In most cases, the customer will not want to “give up” features not originally considered. * "Sincere" flattery. Salespeople use comments that may not be sincere but sound like it. You might not believe a clerk who says, “That dress looks great on you.” But if she says, “I had to tell another woman that dress didn’t look good on her, but it looks great on you,” the compliment sounds more sincere. * Live models. Customers are more likely to buy clothes they see on a live model than on a mannequin, according to a new field of research called neuroeconomics. That’s because neurons in the brain associated with empathy are stimulated by a human, but not by a mannequin. * Music. Does that tune make you feel happy and relaxed while in the store? Playing music with a rhythm slower than your heartbeat helps buyers linger longer, and ultimately spend more.
One way to avoid getting sucked in by retailer tactics is to shop with a list. Retailers want consumers to linger in the store so they can persuade them to buy additional or more expensive items. If you don’t have a shopping list, you’re more likely to be a good target for their agenda. Another option: Wait to buy. Shopping can raise the dopamine levels in the brain, creating a rush. Building in a 48-hour waiting period for discretionary purchases can help answer that “Do I really need it?” question.

Dropping health care not wiseand151in any economy

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MADISON, Wis. (8/23/10)--More than a quarter of Americans report reducing their use of routine medical care since the recession began in 2007, says a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (New York Times Aug. 16). That’s nearly five times comparable numbers for Canada, three times greater than in Britain, and two and a half times greater than in Germany—countries where universal health care systems operate. Individuals and families in all countries studied have lost income because of unemployment and lost wealth because of falling stock prices. Many are being forced to make hard choices. This news is juxtaposed with new research from the American Cancer Society and the Livestrong Foundation that shows, in 2008, cancer alone cost the global economy nearly $895 billion in economic losses from premature death and disability (CNN Money.com Aug. 17). Researchers contend that disability and premature deaths from cancer are greater costs to productivity and the economy than any other cause of death. Cancer is projected to be the world’s leading cause of death, at 20% higher than heart disease, which caused $753 billion worth of economic losses in 2008. “While the two studies are not linked, the reality is that these economic times are driving some consumers to make poor choices,” noted Jim Hanson, vice president of the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) center for personal finance. Those who've lost jobs are particularly hard hit. COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act) is a federal law that allows individuals to buy the health insurance their employer formerly provided. Standard COBRA rules give employees 60 days to decide to purchase insurance by paying its full cost for up to 18 months. Doing nothing as COBRA coverage expires is the biggest mistake consumers can make, according to Ankeny Minoux, president of the Foundation for Health Coverage Education (FHCE), San Jose, Calif., and reported in CUNA's Home & Family Finance Resource Center. FHCE offers easy-to-use information, including a state-by-state review of public programs, to help people learn more about health-insurance options. Susan Tiffany, CUNA’s director of consumer periodicals, recommends consumers having financial difficulties and no health care coverage visit the Find a Health Center website from the Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide helpful resources for consumers and advice. For more information, read “Anticipate End of COBRA to Maintain Health Insurance” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Help for leases marketing adult children

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WASHINGTON (8/20/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program presents help for drivers who no longer want or need a car lease, businesses interested in using social media as a marketing tool, and parents with adult children living at home. The 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:
* "Your Car Lease Options." John Sternal, vice president marketing communications, LeaseTrader.com, Aventura, Fla., covers options for the person looking for someone to take over the remainder of a car lease contract. * "The Complete Guide to Social Media Marketing." Jennifer Abernethy, CEO, The Sales Lounge, Ashburn, Va., describes the steps business can take to select and use social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, You Tube, and MySpace to market their products and services. * "How to Raise Your Adult Children." Gail Parent, Emmy award-winning comedy writer and television producer, and Susan Ende, psychotherapist, Pasadena, Calif., present advice from their new book for parents who have adult children living with them or who are struggling to relate to their adult kids.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio 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. 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. For more information, read "Loans Among Friends and Family: Win-Win, or Sure Loss?" and use the “Should I Purchase or Lease?” calculator in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Teens and older adults need help with auto choices

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NEW YORK (8/18/10)--Teenagers and senior citizens share one thing when it comes to choosing a car: They don’t always make the best choices (CBSNews Aug. 4). Teenagers may want flashy, fast cars--a parent’s nightmare--but what they need are reasonably powered cars with good test results and numerous safety features. Senior citizens have different issues but, like teenagers, they’re making auto-buying decisions based on a lack of information. Many seniors aren’t aware of the new brands and models that could meet their age-specific needs. A common misunderstanding is to give a teen the biggest car possible. But big cars are more difficult to control, and teenagers are the least experienced drivers on the road. Give them a car that handles well, is agile, and has as many safety features as possible. This usually means getting your teenager a new car, rather than handing down an old one. And it means not giving them a large SUV or pickup, which have high centers of gravity, making them more prone to roll than other vehicles, or a sports car, which can tempt drivers to go fast. Sports cars also are involved in a higher rate of accidents than other cars. Look for a reasonably sized sedan that has safety features such as electronic stability control and curtain air bags, good crash-test results, not too much power, and a strong structure. When researching safety features, be aware that electronic stability control has different names from different manufacturers. Earlier this year, Consumer Reports named 11 models safe for young people, based on test results as well as government and insurance-industry crash-test results. Among the top picks:
* Three small sedans: Hyundai Elantra SE (2008 or later), Mazda3 (2007 or later), Scion xB (2008 or later) * Three midsized sedans: Acura TSX (2004 or later), Honda Accord (2008 or later), Kia Optima (2007 or later) * Two small SUVs: Honda CR-V (2005 or later), Nissan Rogue (2008 or later)
Mature drivers have different needs than teenagers. For example, they often need more time to process events and to react. Complicated vehicle controls can cause confusion, waste precious time, and increase the chances of an accident. Older drivers need easy in-and-out access, good visibility in all directions, a comfortable driver’s seat, and easy-to-read and understand controls. Consumer Reports recommends five new models that perform well, are reliable, and have the kinds of features suitable to the needs of an aging population. They are:
* Minivan: Honda Odyssey * Small SUV: Subaru Forester * Upscale sedan: Hyundai Azera * Family sedan: Honda Accord * Microvan: Kia Rondo
The 2010 Honda Accord is the only vehicle to make both lists. For teenagers, it has enough performance to make them happy, has standard stability control, handles easily, and is crashworthy. These features are important for older drivers as well, even if for different reasons. In addition, seniors appreciate the ease of getting in and out of the wide seats; the simple, well-marked controls; the supportive seats; and excellent driving position with impressive visibility. Regardless of age, everyone needs a car with good safety features and crashworthiness.

Little-known discounts help college budgets

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MADISON, Wis. (8/16/10)--The cost of attending a four-year public college has risen sharply over the past decade. The price tag has climbed an average of 4.9% above the general rate of inflation during that time (The College Board July 2010). Add in the effects of a tough economy and the back-to-school season is financially difficult for college-bound students and their families. Relief is available in the form of discounts and incentives. But while these sales tactics can save money on back-to-school purchases, they also can entice you to purchase items and services that you could do without. Here are five retail categories to keep an eye on for potential savings of 5% to 25%, according to SmartMoney.com, with some suggested alternatives from CUNA’s Center for Personal Finance:
* Technology. Major manufacturers and retailers hope to lure students with aggressive advertising of the latest, most powerful computers by offering steep discounts on hardware and software. Some manufacturers are extending these discounts for as long as you remain in school. But if you don’t need maximum computing power for schoolwork, you probably can squeeze a few more years out of your current laptop. As for video games, hey, what are friends for? * Cell phones. Discounts on hardware and service plans are one way cell phone companies try to hook students into contracts after graduation. Compare service plan features and fees carefully at least once a year to find the best deal. Now that you can keep your phone number when you change local providers, there’s one less disincentive to switch. Just be sure you understand all the costs of local number portability, including whether you need to buy a new phone. * Travel. Airfare and lodging discounts are common and change constantly. Monitor deals online for frequent opportunities. Include train travel, especially with the purchase of a rail pass. And don’t overlook the network of youth hostels that spans the world. Hostelling membership brings eligibility for a wide array of additional travel discounts. * Health clubs. Competition among gyms can lead to local price wars, so shop around. Be sure to ask about periodic promotional incentives that might save you even more than a student discount. But many universities give students access to gym facilities at a reasonable cost. And, if you exercise on campus, you’re more likely to run into people you’ll want to get to know than you will at a gym open to the general public. * Clothing. Store sales run almost constantly these days, and brand name bargains are easy to find. But if you can’t get away with a retro look based on second-hand clothes from a thrift shop while you’re a student, when will you ever be cool?

HandFF Radio How to save buy insurance build credit

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WASHINGTON (8/13/10)--Sunday's Home and Family Finance Radio program presents advice about insurance coverage for young singles, how to save at any age, ways to build good credit to achieve goals such as buying a car or a home, and how to complain to get results from an unsatisfactory transaction. The 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:
* “Insurance Coverage Single People Should Consider.” Loretta Worters, vice president communications, Insurance Information Institute, New York, covers what 30-somethings need to know about auto, home, life, health, disability, and long-term care insurance, and what affects cost and availability for this stage of life. * “How to Save at Any Age: Tips for People in Their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s+.” Bill Losey, certified financial planner, senior adviser, and retirement coach, Wilton, N.Y., reviews savings targets for each decade leading to retirement and explains why--given longer life expectancies and the economy--saving should begin as early as possible. * “The ABCs of Building Credit.” Gail Cunningham, vice president public relations, National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Silver Spring, Md., shares ways anyone, including recent college graduates, can build good credit to achieve their life dreams. * “Complain for Results.” Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director of consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., outlines the steps consumers can take to achieve customer satisfaction when a deal, service, or purchase is unsatisfactory.
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; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio 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. 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. For more information, read “June Financial Fitness Challenge--Complain for Results” and view the “Build Your Best Credit Score” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Social Security takes double hit from recession retirees

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MIAMI (8/11/10)--The long recession has seen many late-career job losses, forcing jobless workers to take Social Security earlier than they planned (Associated Press Aug. 8). Pair the reduced tax collections received from fewer workers with an unexpectedly high withdrawal rate, and the Social Security trust is experiencing a rare shortfall this year. A record number of workers, 2.74 million, applied for Social Security in 2009, with a marked rise in the number of recipients receiving reduced benefits because they filed before their full retirement age. That age rose to 66 last year. The Social Security Administration indicated that 72% of men, up from 58% the year before, filed for early benefits in 2009. Similarly, 74.7% of women, up from 64.2% the previous year, filed for early benefits. While many workers retired earlier than planned, others are working longer and postponing retirement because their retirement savings are not up to their financial needs. “But we’re seeing more people taking early benefits than staying in the work force longer,” Jason Fichtner, an associate commissioner of the Social Security Administration, told Associated Press. Some late-career unemployed workers are making do with reduced Social Security benefits and unemployment benefits. The Social Security program released its annual report last week, showing that payments will be more than revenues for 2010 and 2011 as a consequence of the deep recession. The report predicted the program will be back in the black in 2012 through 2014, with benefit payments again exceeding tax collections in 2015. From that year forward, the report projected that Social Security will pay out more than it takes in, as 78 million baby boomers begin retiring. Still, there is no expectation that early retirees will drain Social Security funds much over time. That’s because early claimants receive smaller checks; they ultimately won’t receive more money than if they had waited until their full retirement age to collect Social Security benefits. At a time when no one’s job is secure, be proactive if you’re still working. Credit Union National Association editors from the Center for Personal Finance made these suggestions:
* Save as much as you can; you need both liquid funds and long-term retirement funds. * Live below your means; examine every purchase. * Get an estimate of pension or 401(k) or 403(b) income potential; determine when you will be eligible for retirement. * Get an estimate of your Social Security benefits from ssa.gov or call 800-772-1213. * Determine whom you'll be providing for in retirement, and plan for long-term care for any dependents. * Set a retirement savings goal and make a plan to reach it.
For more information, read “Live Simply to Reap Savings” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Back-to-school shopping a teachable moment

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WASHINGTON (8/9/10)--Back-to-school shopping is an annual event perfect for talking to your kids about budgeting and saving money, and the difference between needs and wants (Americans for Consumer Education and Competition Aug. 2). If you view shopping as a headache, here’s an opportunity to put some responsibility on the student and lessen your role as the baddie saying, “No, no and no.” If you view shopping as fun and exciting, it's your chance to show your student how to shop responsibly. You can use back-to-school shopping to lay the foundation for sound money management habits these ways:
* Set a realistic back-to-school budget with each child before you shop--use the ads in the Sunday paper as a guideline. * Take a copy of your budget when shopping and let your child enter in all of the actual expenses--paper works fine for young ones; teens might prefer to enter expenses in a cell phone. * Encourage kids to consider ways to cut costs through sales and coupons, and reward them for coming in under budget. Consider splitting the difference with them. * Teach your children to comparison shop and to avoid impulse buying. If it’s not on the list, don’t get it.
The first year is the toughest, so don’t give up if it doesn’t go smoothly. Consider any “discussions” as a success that you’ve struck a nerve. You can build on this experience to begin turning over more purchasing decisions to your student as he or she matures, using entertainment and clothing budgets as an example. Just because school doesn’t start for a couple of weeks doesn’t mean your children couldn’t do with some real-school learning right now. For more teachable moment ideas, see the Home & Family Finance Resource Center article “Holiday spending gives parents a chance to teach.”

HandFF Radio Ideas for retirement readiness health care fitness

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WASHINGTON (8/6/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program offers information about using a fitness program that doesn’t require gym membership, planning for a retirement that meets your financial and happiness requirements, making charitable contributions when times are tough, and using health clinics in a local retail store. The 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:
* "You Are Your Own Gym." Mark Lauren, U.S. Special Operations fitness instructor, Tampa, Fla., outlines a fitness program anyone can do to get in better shape and live a healthier lifestyle--without a health club membership or special equipment. * "What Color is Your Parachute for Retirement?" John Nelson, retirement and life-stage planning speaker, and instructor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, offers help determining retirement readiness in terms of money, health, and happiness. * "Charitable Giving in Hard Times." Eileen Heisman, president/CEO of National Philanthropic Trust, author and speaker, Jenkintown, Pa., answers the question: Is philanthropy only for the rich--or can the average person make a difference? * "Health Care on Aisle 7--The Growing Phenomenon of Retail Clinics." Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and policy analyst at Rand, presents information about the types of patients served, care provided, and whether the clinics’ claims are supported by evidence.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio 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. 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. For more information, read the three-part series "Expert Answers for Your 401(k)" and “Online Tool Makes Tracking Deductions a Snap” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Health insurers now subject to second opinions too

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MADISON, Wis. (8/4/10)--Patients have gained new rights to appeal the denial of health insurance claims. According to rule changes resulting from passage of the Affordable Care Act (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services July 22), consumers covered by health plans that go into effect beginning Sept. 23 must have access to standardized internal appeals as well as to an independent third-party review of claim denials. Before, because of state-by-state inconsistencies, you might not have had recourse if your health insurer refused to cover recommended treatments or pay certain medical bills. External appeals have a history of effectiveness--a 2002 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that, in states with such a process, consumers won against their insurance companies 45% of the time. Under the new regulations, you have these assurances:
* Internal appeal. Your health plan must give you detailed information about the grounds for denial of claims or coverage. It must inform you of your right to appeal a negative decision and tell you how go about it. It must provide a review that is complete and unbiased. * External appeal. Your health plan documents must include clear information about your right to a uniform external appeals process that meets National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ standards. When your insurer denies a claim, it also must inform you of your right to appeal to an independent reviewer who is not a health plan employee or who has no other conflict of interest. You must not be charged more than a nominal fee for the external review, whose decision is binding--if you win, your insurer must pay for the previously denied benefit.
In emergencies, you have the right to institute an external appeal without waiting for an internal review to run its course. Furthermore, insurers must expedite both processes for speedy resolution of disputed claims regarding urgent cases.