Stores don’t have to honor ad errors

via Stores don’t have to honor ad errors, clarionledger.com

I’ve heard from a few consumers in the past few weeks who mentioned they saw an unbelievably good advertised price for an item in an ad circular or newspaper, but when they went to the store or restaurant to take advantage of it, they were told it was an error and the merchant wouldn’t sell it at that price.

Let’s say you see an ad in the newspaper for a microwave oven for $25 at your local discount store. “At that price, I’ll get two,” you exclaim gleefully, and take the ad with you to the store. You’re a little skeptical, but it was in print, so you decide to take a chance. But when you get there and find the oven on the shelf, the price is $250.

By now, you’re getting upset, so you find the manager and present him with the printed ad. He consults with a couple of employees, who run over to the shelf. They return shortly, and the three have a little conference out of earshot. The manager comes back to you and tells you he won’t sell you the microwave for $25 because the price in the ad was missing a zero. He is willing to knock a few dollars off the price for your trouble, but won’t budge otherwise. A few minutes later, a sign appears on the store’s door acknowledging the error and offering an apology.

This scenario happens quite frequently, especially in businesses that advertise a lot. It’s easy to miss a few errors as ads are composed, and although most publications take great care to review everything, mistakes slip through. But although many people believe the store must honor any price in an ad, store sign or even a shelf tag, it’s a myth. A store is under no legal obligation to honor a mistaken price, so long as there is not a pattern of such behavior and there is no intent to deceive.

One example that got a lot of publicity was in 2013, when Macy’s put out a national ad for a necklace that ordinarily cost $1,500, but had discounted it to $47. The only problem: The actual discounted price was $479; whoever composed the advertisement had mistakenly left off the “9.” Macy’s quickly acted to put up signs in its stores, but it was too late; the necklace had already sold out in the company’s Dallas location. Since Macy’s was unable (or unwilling, given the potential social media backlash) to try to recover the thousands lost due to the mistake, they canceled unfilled online orders instead. A few people managed to make significant profit from the situation.

This is, of course, much different from “bait-and-switch,” in which a business advertises an item at an unusually low price but has no intention of honoring the price and is instead trying to get customers to come in so they can be “upsold” to higher-priced merchandise. Repeated complaints of this type of behavior can catch the attention of law enforcement and make a business end up in court.

In cases of errors, though, most sources I consulted would agree the seller is expected to correct the mistake quickly and preferably in the same medium that carried the mistake in the first place. If a merchant makes an honest mistake, it’s under no obligation to honor the mistaken price. Mississippi’s consumer protection law doesn’t prescribe specifically what to do in the case of such mistakes, although it does mandate that a merchant can’t advertise goods or services “with intent not to sell them as advertised.” It also prohibits advertising with “intent not to supply reasonably expectable public demand, unless the advertisement discloses a limitation of quantity.”

To avoid such problems, merchants should have clear, written policies spelling out what they will do in case of errors. Examine the copy carefully before publication and be sure to include limitations or expiration dates that may apply.

And if you’re the customer, try to reason with the business calmly. Many stores and restaurants empower their clerks and customer-service representatives to grant discounts (up to a point) to make the customer happier. You might not get exactly what you want, but most businesses will try to accommodate you as much as possible within reason. If you have evidence of “bait-and-switch” or other illegal practices, file a complaint with law enforcement.

In an age in which a simple typo can make your company a social-media pariah in minutes, owning up to the error and being generous can help keep a business’ reputation and customer goodwill (which are, in fact, any business’ most valuable assets anyway.)

Military families face financial stresses

From Military families face financial stresses, clarionledger.com

Serving your country in the military means a great many things for both those who serve and their families. For those defending our nation around the world, it often means sacrificing time with family and friends, in a job that might cost life or health. For families left back home during deployment, it means being without a spouse, parent or child, taking an incalculable toll on a family’s well-being. Often, it means financial stress as well, as one partner is left to deal with the everyday bills that keep coming.

Many organizations and scholars have studied the toll that military families must face before, during and after deployment. In a study released last July, a group called the Military REACH Team at the University of Minnesota reviewed a comprehensive list of studies, publications, and resources about the financial stresses faced by military families.

Although the study’s authors noted that the topic still needs to be explored, they found a number of unique effects on military families such as the pressures related to relocation; cash flow problems during deployment; difficulties in transitioning back to normal family life after deployment and problems related to separating from service. These factors are in addition to other life events that nearly everyone faces (but which cause unique pressure on military families) such as childrearing, effects on marriages, mental illness and others.

Previously in this column, we’ve discussed ways financial predators can prey on military families, including targeting military families with scams, ripoffs and predatory marketing and lending practices. But even day-to-day financial issues, such as paying bills, dealing with credit and money management can also hit families hard.

“Finances are often identified by service members and their families as one of their most significant stressors — even more than deployments and personal relationships,” said Corey Carlisle, executive director of the ABA Foundation (of the American Bankers Association). “Financial concerns at home make it extremely difficult for service members to focus on the mission at hand. Planning ahead as much as possible is key for the millions of military families who face unique financial challenges like deployments and relocations.”

As a military family, there are a number of things you can do to prepare for and lessen the stress caused by financial issues. To help, the ABA Foundation offered these tips:

 

  • Contribute automatically to a Thrift Savings Plan. Military members have access to the federal Thrift Savings Program, which offers the lowest-cost retirement savings plan available. You can have automatic contributions withdrawn from your paycheck. The plan has about 4.8 million participants and provides advice and tools to help you manage your savings.
  • Plan for deployment. Before deployment, have a family conversation about managing the household budget. Consider granting power of attorney to your spouse, should they need to make any urgent financial decisions while you are gone. Check with your bank to see if it has pre-printed forms you can use for bank accounts. Military personnel also receive additional funds while deployed. Decide on the best use for that extra cash, whether it is paying off debt or increasing Thrift Savings Plan contributions.
  • Meet with your banker before active duty. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers all military personnel entering active duty a variety of financial protections. It covers issues ranging from interest rate reductions to limits on debt accrual. Ask your banker about the key provisions of this law and how they can help you.
  • Set up automatic bill pay. Whether you’re stationed stateside or overseas, automatic bill pay will give you and your family one less thing to worry about each month. It can be particularly helpful during deployments in regions where internet access is unreliable and mobile banking isn’t an option, and it is generally more secure than mailing checks.
  • Consider housing options. With mortgage rates at notably low levels, home ownership may seem like a no-brainer. However, service members should consider their options. Frequent relocations and deployments can make owning a home challenging and expensive. Renting may be a smart option for short-term assignments. Decide what’s best for your family and your finances.
  • Consult a financial adviser. Schedule a visit at a Personal Financial Management Program office, located in your military and family support centers. They offer free one-on-one counseling, as well as other financial education resources.
  • Finally, ask for help. If you get into a serious financial situation, there are numerous resources which can help and advise you. For example, the office of the Mississippi attorney general has a list of tips and resources on its website at http://bit.ly/2qsEB7M.

 

Blue Book: Everything you want to know about Mississippi

Blue Book Front Cover.jpgSource: Blue Book: Everything you want to know about Mississippi, clarionledger.com

PDF:Blue Book

Mississippi is a big, vibrant place, changing as constantly as the river for which it’s named. To keep up with it all, the Mississippi secretary of state has the job of keeping official records of the Magnolia state.

Last week, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann rolled out the current edition of the Blue Book, which includes just about everything you’d need to know about Mississippi in its 812 pages.

Want to find out how many incorporated towns are in Jones County? There are four (Ellisville, Laurel, Sandersville and Soso). Want to know where to send mail to the Mississippi Blues Commission? That would be Indianola. But the book is more than just a book of Mississippi trivia; it also contains vital information for educators, businesses and economic developers. A digital version of the book (along with other publications from Hosemann’s office) can be viewed or downloaded at http://bit.ly/2qciuQf.

This year’s volume is a little heavier than usual, thanks to a special section prepared for Mississippi’s bicentennial year. The 59-page section highlights Mississippi history, along with a diverse host of business, medical and creative success stories. They include 29 businesses, 41 business leaders, and figures in sports, literature and the arts.

“Mississippi has come so far in its first 200 years,” Hosemann said in a news release. “The faces lining the introductory pages of the Blue Book illustrate our resilience, growth and progress.”

A key role of the Blue Book is in keeping an official record of elections. The Blue Book has a listing of all recent federal, state and local election results, along with listings of local, county, state and federal officials. It also has detailed statistics on cities and counties, along with information about transportation, media, census data and climate.

The book is published every four years, after each Mississippi general election. It’s been published at least since 1904 (although not always called the Blue Book), and this year Hosemann’s office printed 10,000 copies at a cost of $217,674 for the whole project. Jackson ad agency Maris, West & Baker assisted with design, with Hederman Brothers handling the printing.

Copies of the printed book are available from Hosemann’s office by calling 601-359-6344 or emailing bluebook@sos.ms.gov.

“We wanted to show our history and where we’re going,” Hosemann said. “It’s an official stake in the ground for where we can move forward.”

Burger King ad explores new, controversial frontier

Source: Look out! Burger King is watching!, clarionledger.com

PDF: Burger King explores new ad frontiers

Advertising has been around in some form practically since the dawn of civilization. As long as there have been people with something to sell, they’ve tried to figure out ways to get people to buy it. With each wave of technological innovation, advertisers have sought to use them to create demand for products.

But never before in human history has it been possible to reach so many people so easily. Technology has given advertisers an unprecedented level of reach into our daily lives in ways never thought possible. But at what point does advertising cross the line from being ultra-smart to just being plain creepy?

Imagine this scenario, which has already happened: You’re relaxing comfortably on your couch, watching your favorite TV show after a long day at work. Nearby, your new Google Home device sits patiently on a table. As the show cuts to commercial, you hear a Burger King commercial. But this ad’s different.

“You’re watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich,” notes the Burger King employee as he urges the camera closer. “But I got an idea. OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Immediately, your Google Home device awakens, and starts reading the “Whopper” Wikipedia entry (which has reportedly been edited to be more descriptive).

Burger King is being praised and panned at the same time for exploiting the very features that make search-assistant devices such as Google Home, Amazon Echo and a host of smartphone apps so convenient: they respond to certain voice commands. For several months, people have been reporting that these devices have been inadvertently triggered by ads and TV shows, prompting “idea” light bulbs to pop up in the minds of ad agency copywriters. Why not use that expensive TV ad time to cross the proverbial “fourth wall” which separates the actor from the audience? Perhaps it was just a matter of time.

Madison Avenue and the online world in general seem to be having trouble coming up with a consensus on the ad. The Verge (a tech news website owned by Vox Media) called the ad “… horrible, genius, infuriating, hilarious, and maybe very poorly thought-out”.

The Verge also pointed out the project’s Achilles’ heel: Relying on Wikipedia is fraught with danger. As every eighth-grader knows, Wikipedia is subject to editing by pretty much anybody and is generally forbidden for use as a primary source for school research reports. Since it’s crowdsourced, people with nefarious intentions towards the establishment (or Burger King in particular) could edit the entry so it says anything they want it to say (including the gross and ridiculous). In fact, that has already occurred numerous times since the ad first started running on April 12 — before Wikipedia locked the site for further editing. Since then, Google and Burger King have been engaged in a sort of geeky arms race, with Google initially blocking the device from reading the ad, and Burger King trying to get around it.

We’ve also seen a lot of news in recent months regarding Google Home and other devices; one Amazon Echo device was listed in a search warrant during an Arkansas murder investigation. Potentially, privacy advocates worry, these and similar devices could record a lot of things.

Regardless of whether this ad is successful, it’s generated a lot of coverage for Burger King, Google Home, Wikipedia and others involved, along with a lot of questions to be answered. Just how far can (or should) advertisers be allowed to invade our homes? What is the responsibility of tech companies to ensure customers’ privacy and rights?

Perhaps we’ve crossed an invisible barrier, inconceivable just a generation ago; the future of advertiser-customer interaction may have changed in ways we can’t imagine.

Penny auction sites: The house always wins

Source: Penny auction sites: The house always wins, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170424_A003_0 (1)

If you were in the market for a ring that would ordinarily cost $1,000, but only had to pay $50 for it, you might consider that a good deal. Owners of some websites are betting you would and have made millions doing it.

Brands such as DealDash and Qbids are called “penny auctions” and are part of a fast-growing online industry. They work quite differently from traditional auction sites such as eBay. With traditional sites, a seller places an item for bid, and potential buyers place their bids. As time runs out, whoever bid the highest amount is the winner and then must purchase the item.

But on penny auction sites, bidders pay regardless of whether they win. Participants pay for every bid and often buy bids in “packs,” sometimes costing hundreds of dollars. With each bid, the cost rises by a penny or more. With many auction sites, you’re not necessarily buying the item; you’re buying the right to buy it at the final price. If you win, you must claim the item within a specified amount of time or lose not only the item, but your bid money as well.

Consumer watchdogs and government regulators have warned the public for years about penny auctions. Last week in a Minnesota district court, a man filed a class-action suit against DealDash, one of the larger online penny auction sites, complaining that the company was advertising top-name brands, but was actually selling generic items sold by companies with a connection to DealDash’s founder. In addition (among a host of other allegations), the plaintiff alleges the deals advertised don’t really reflect the true cost paid by winners — or losers.

The plaintiff called DealDash auctions “perverse lotteries in which U.S. consumers have lost tens of millions of dollars in their fraud-induced pursuit of sham merchandise.” One concern, the suit contends, is that participants must register up front, and enter a credit or debit card number. The customer then is required to purchase a certain number of bids in a bid package (between 60 and 2,400), with costs varying. (The lawsuit contends the bids cost between 12 and 15 cents per bid). Thus, the consumer ends up paying a lot, sometimes exceeding the amount it would have taken to purchase the item at full price.

 There’s much more in the lawsuit; Consumerist (a blog run by Consumer Reports) has it available at https://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/dealdash.pdff.

If you’re considering entering a penny auction, you should be aware of a few things. In a blog post about penny auctions, the Federal Trade Commission notes there are several potential problems with penny auction sites, including:

  • Time lags. Many auction sites are slow to deliver merchandise, and sometimes the quality of merchandise isn’t as advertised.
  • Misleading terms. Terms like “bonus bids” might trick you into thinking the bid is free, when it isn’t.
  • Hidden cost. Some sites make you pay membership or subscription fees, or have other costs hidden in the fine print.
  • Complaint problems. Many dissatisfied customers have tried to complain to the company hosting the auction, only to find that they get no response or are told they have no recourse.

And finally, you’re betting against the house. These sites would not be in business if they didn’t make money. To ensure that, some operators are using automated software to push bidding higher, and the sites are designed to build excitement around a bidding process with flashy graphics and countdown clocks. If you participate, it’s a good idea to remember the old gambling adage: The house always wins.

What does ‘Made in the USA’ mean, anyway?

Made in USA Stamp

Source: What does ‘Made in the USA’ mean, anyway?, clarionledger.com

As you read this, look around at the products near you. Chances are, many of them were made outside the United States. On my desk is a videotape, made in Japan. A coffee cup says “China” on the bottom, and a three-ring binder comes from Mexico. The global economy is a reality, and it’s sometimes difficult to truthfully claim your product originates in the U.S.

Consumer Reports noted in 2013 that nearly eight in 10 Americans would choose an American-made product over the same product that had been made abroad, so it’s no wonder why companies would want to make this claim. Increasing numbers of companies are jumping on this bandwagon, and although most such claims are honest, some are not.

The “Made in USA” issue has even become part of national politics. On Tuesday, President Trump visited the Kenosha, Wisconsin, headquarters of Snap-On Tools to sign an executive order on a new policy called “Buy American, Hire American.” The order includes instructions requiring federal agencies to review purchasing procedures to ensure American companies are prioritized when purchasing goods and services.

To claim something is “Made in the USA” has for years been a serious matter and can get companies in hot water with federal officials and watchdog agencies if not used correctly. The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for enforcing “Made in USA” policies and just this week announced the closure of two recent cases in which companies had made “Made in USA” claims. In the first, Georgia-based iSpring Water Systems settled charges it had deceived customers by claiming U.S. origins for its products, when in fact (the agency alleged), the company’s water filtration systems were imported and composed mostly of foreign-made components.

In the second case, Texas-based Block Division Inc., which sold pulley block systems, was accused of claiming their products had been made in the USA, and even had metal plates stamped “Made in USA” imported from overseas. The company’s products, the FTC alleged, included “significant imported parts that are essential to their function.”

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll. the vast majority of Americans say they prefer lower prices instead of paying a premium for items labeled “Made in the USA.” Wochit

It’s sometimes difficult to say where all the parts to something were made. Even some products that look deceptively simple are not. For example, a simple, painted wooden toy might seem easy to examine; the wood components can probably be easily traced, but what about the paint? The fasteners? And for electronic products, the issues multiply exponentially. For example, a typical computer might have parts from dozens of countries.

 Because the “origin” question can lead to one rabbit hole after another (making it exceedingly difficult to say exactly where a product was made), the standard for evaluating “Made in the USA” claims requires that “all or virtually all the product” has been made in the U.S. All “significant” parts, processing and labor that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. That guideline would apply to any product being sold with a “Made in USA” label or claim (other than automobiles, textiles and wool products, which have their own specific standards.)
So, if you’re looking to buy American, here are a few things you might want to consider (from various sources, including www.themadeinamericamovement.com):
  • Read the labels carefully. Keep in mind that “Made in America” does not necessarily mean “Made in the USA.” Some products may contain this wording, while the products actually could come from Canada or Mexico.
  • Know the difference between “made” vs. “assembled.” Some products may say honestly that they were assembled in the U.S. instead of being manufactured here.
  • Be careful of flags. Patriotic Americans might buy a product that had an American flag on the label, and marketers know that. It could be a ruse to get you to think the product was made domestically. Look for a “Made in USA” label in addition to the flag.
  • Shop wisely. There are many websites that list companies making products in the United States. That’s fine, but such lists may be inaccurate, out of date or deceptive. Dealing with local merchants you trust is often a good hedge against deception.

To find out more about “Made in the USA” guidelines, visit https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/media-resources/tools-consumers/made-usa.

What are the top 100 brands in US?

Source: What are the top 100 brands in US?, clarionledger.com

PDF: Brands

Quickly, before you think about it: What is the first name that comes to mind when you think of quality watches? What about e-commerce companies? Candy? Underwear?

If you named Rolex, Amazon, Hershey and Fruit of the Loom, you would be in good company. Those brands are among the top 10 on a list of the most highly regarded brands in the U.S. today, according to a study by the Reputation Institute.he organization compiles U.S. RepTrak 100, an annual list of the Top 100 brands most associated with positive attributes across a range of behaviors, including quality of products, use of innovation and others. rolexThe survey evaluates responses from 42,000 people who completed a survey in the first three months of the year. All this data is evaluated, analyzed and compiled into a cumulative score, resulting in a ranked list of the Top 100 companies.

The top 10 companies in this year’s just-announced survey are, in order: Rolex, Amazon, Sony, Lego, Hallmark, Netflix, Kimberly-Clark, Hershey, Fruit-of-the-Loom and Barnes and Noble.

“Classic American brands stand out at the top of this year’s US RepTrak 100 rankings, with seven of the 10 companies U.S.-based, and most of these representing what we’d consider ‘nostalgic brands’ like Lego,amazon Hallmark, and Fruit of the Loom,” noted Allen Bonde, Reputation Institute’s chief marketing officer, in an article for Marketing Daily. “Especially appealing to Millennials, we see these types of brands equally focused on good citizenship, active on social media and great at demonstrating their brand purpose across all media channels.”

 While most people know a “brand” when they see one, it’s important to point out the term “brand” is actually a complicated concept through which organizations (and sometimes, individuals) become widely known. Most Americans would instantly recognize most of the brands listed on the Top 100 because they’ve become well-established through advertising, marketing, and retail presence. Most (but not all) dominate their particular market niches, and many are internationally known.

Of course, no brand is immune from reputation damage, and in the social-media-intense world we live in today, a carefully built image can be crushed overnight by many things, including one bad decision by an employee, poor corporate decision-making or just plain bad luck.

There were significant “winners” and “losers” in this year’s report. For example, Rolex edged out Amazon to take first place this year, and Kimberly-Clark (which makes a variety of consumer products, but is best known for its paper products such as Kleenex) broke into the Top 10 for the first time. South Korea-based Samsung took a precipitous drop from No. 3 in 2016 to No. 63 this year after being hit hard by the Galaxy Note 7 recall (but, as the survey authors noted, its previous brand strength helped inoculate it from an even-more disastrous fall.) Yahoo’s reputation dropped after a spate of bad news including a major data breach, and American Express’ iconic image took a hit after a number of recent issues, including ending its exclusive contract with Costco and concerns about its leadership.

The survey also included rankings by industry, categorizing companies into 16 industries by reputation. At the top of the industry rankings were Consumer goods and services, followed by Food and Beverage, Transport, Automotive and Airlines. At the bottom of the list was Energy, followed by Telecommunication, Health care and Financial.

To download the complete report (it’s free, but you’ll need to provide your name, email address and other information), visit http://bit.ly/2nAvLzk.

Watch where you’re going! Pedestrian deaths reach 20-year high

the-traffic-light-2157162_960_720Source: Watch where you’re going! Pedestrian deaths reach 20-year high

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170403_A004_2

Recently, as my son and I were walking across the grocery store parking lot to get some groceries, we were nearly hit by a car whose driver seemed oblivious to our presence as she turned the corner. Luckily, we were paying attention and had time to get out of the way. As we continued into the store, a store employee who was collecting shopping carts and saw the incident shook his head sympathetically and said, “it happens all the time.” It’s actually the second time in a year we’ve been nearly mowed down in the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a dangerous time to be a pedestrian in the United States. The Governors Highway Safety Administration just released its annual study of pedestrian deaths, which examines the problem of people getting killed after being struck by vehicles. The grim statistic: nearly 6,000 pedestrians died in 2016, the highest in 20 years.

That’s a 25 percent increase from 2010, making pedestrians the largest portion of all traffic deaths recorded in the past 25 years. And the 2016 spike marks an 11 percent increase from 2015 (the previous record-holder). The GHSA, a nonprofit made up of state highway safety offices, notes that the numbers could be higher, owing to the under-reporting of incidents. All told, 34 states had increases, and Mississippi ranked 20th in the nation for deaths as a percentage of total population for the first six months of 2016 (that’s actually an improvement from the previous year, but the second-half 2016 statistics haven’t come in yet.)

So, what’s causing all this mayhem? The authors of the study note the rapid increase in the use of smartphones could help explain at least part of the phenomenon because these devices present a “significant source of distraction for both pedestrians and motorists.”

We’ve all seen them, and maybe you’ve been one of them: people whose attention is focused on their smartphone while walking carelessly. Videos abound of people falling headlong into fountains, disappearing into open manholes or tripping on the curb while checking their email, posting to Facebook or looking for that elusive “Pokemon Go” character. Others fail to pay attention to oncoming traffic while crossing the street, leading to their being struck and often killed.

Drivers, too, are distracted. It’s been well-established that phone use while driving can present a serious attention deficit for drivers, becoming more serious the faster they drive. Unsurprisingly, alcohol also plays a role here, as it does in auto crashes in general. Thirty-four percent of pedestrians and 15 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated at the time of the crash, noted the study.

And although vehicles are getting better about avoiding crashing into things through collision-avoidance technologies, and local cities and states are taking measures to make things safer, the numbers continue to rise. It could be, the study’s authors note, more people are walking for fitness and economic reasons at the same time the numbers of vehicles on the road has risen because of the improving economy.

“This latest data shows that the U.S. isn’t meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways,” Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director, told PBS Newshour. “Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable.”

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (pedbikeinfo.org) has some helpful tips to make your walk or run safer. Here are a few:

  • Wear brightly colored clothing and reflective tape at night. These can help increase your visibility to motorists.
  • Always walk on the sidewalk if one is available; if not, walk facing traffic so you can see approaching vehicles.
  • Don’t assume drivers will stop. Try to make eye contact with the driver and be prepared to move if he or she doesn’t appear to notice you.
  • Cross streets only at crosswalks, if possible.
  • Don’t wear earbuds or use your phone while walking.

And finally, if you’re a driver in the grocery store parking lot, please … slow down, put down your phone and pay attention. You might save a life.

Here’s how to avoid credit card fees

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Source: Here’s how to avoid credit card fees, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170401_A007_0

Most people who have credit cards pay fees. While a few credit card companies say they offer “no-fee” cards to their customers, many cardholders who fail to read the fine print are stuck with hundreds — if not thousands — in fees each year anyway. And since a lot of people just pay the bottom-line balance without examining their statements closely, they’re likely to be unaware of just how much those fees cost them.

Most people who have credit cards pay fees. While a few credit card companies say they offer “no-fee” cards to their customers, many cardholders who fail to read the fine print are stuck with hundreds — if not thousands — in fees each year anyway. And since a lot of people just pay the bottom-line balance without examining their statements closely, they’re likely to be unaware of just how much those fees cost them.

Planning to use your card while traveling abroad? It can cost you up to 3 percent of your purchase, meaning that $1,000 shopping spree in Paris would cost you up to $30 in fees. Getting a cash advance? While it might seem like an easy way to take care of unexpected needs, you could pay as much as 4.5 percent for that privilege (not to mention high interest rates on that money). Add on annual fees, late and overlimit charges paid routinely by many customers, and many people soon find they’re bailing water on a sinking boat.

But a new study from Creditcards.com finds many cardholders could avoid paying those expensive fees if they just ask. It turns out that credit card issuers find themselves in a highly competitive environment these days, making it more important to try to retain their customers. You could make that work for you, because they’re often willing to waive fees upon request.

“I was surprised at the level of success, especially when it comes to asking for an annual fee waiver,” says Alex Johnson, senior marketing manager at FICO, creator of the widely used credit scoring system. “The takeaway is that you should always ask. The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no. But the data show there’s a pretty good chance they’ll say ‘yes.’”

In the Creditcards.com study, fewer than one in four cardholders (among the 952 surveyed) reported they had actually ever asked for fees to be waived. But among those who requested late fees be waived, nearly nine out of 10 reported success. And it doesn’t just work for fees; it can also help lower your interest rate; almost 70 percent of people who requested a lower interest rate got one.

While credit card companies spend a lot on advertising to tout their rewards programs (such as airline mileage and cash-back rewards), a lot of them charge a hefty annual fee for participating. Savvy cardholders can often get their rewards-program fees lowered or eliminated, though, if they call and ask. But only a paltry 11 percent of cardholders even asked.

“People have far more power with their credit card company than they realize. Competition among card issuers is incredibly high these days and customer retention is a priority,” said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst. “Don’t be afraid to ask for fees to be waived or higher credit limits because, quite often, you’ll actually get it.”

Policies vary by company, and most of the big banks issuing cards have complicated algorithms that help determine whether the customer service rep can help you when you call. Many companies (such as Discover) will routinely waive the first late fees, and possibly more, if you request it.

With these rates of success, you’d think customers would be catching on. Interestingly, though, Creditcards.com noted the percentage of people making requests has barely changed from the last two surveys in 2014 and 2016. Many people are unaware they can make such requests, and others get stymied by long hold times or find it difficult to deal with customer service reps. Whatever their reasons, they’re often leaving good money on the table. But with a little patience and a plan, many customers find their credit-card companies might be willing to make a deal. It’s a call worth making.

Streaming leads to “binge cheating”

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From Streaming leads to “binge cheating”, clarionledger.com

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Recently, I came across an interesting article about a survey that claimed nearly half of Netflix viewers have secretly binge-watched a show without their partner, after they had been watching together.

For the uninitiated, “binge-watching” is when you watch multiple episodes at one sitting on Netflix or some other streaming service. The serial nature of many TV shows, as well as the ease with which you can move from one episode to the next, has contributed to the rise of this phenomenon in just a few years. The term has recently been added to dictionaries.

Many couples find it to be something they can share. So, sitting down together, they’ll watch four straight episodes of “The Walking Dead” (for example), one after the other. But, alas, sometimes we still want to watch something after our partner has gone to bed early or is out of town, and the lure of “The Crown” or “House of Cards” is nearly inescapable.

This phenomenon has tripled since Netflix rolled out the results of its first such survey in 2013. Slightly disturbingly, most viewers who admitted to it say they’d plan to keep doing it if they could “get away with it”. As to which shows are inspiring this behavior, Entertainment Weekly reports that “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards” and “Marvel’s Daredevil” are most often cited.

To be clear, there are far more serious offenses that can jeopardize a relationship, and this behavior is unlikely to cause significant issues on its own. Still, these statistics indicate just how far TV has infiltrated our lives. While the explosion in streaming services has cut significantly into “traditional” TV watching, the average American watches about five hours of TV a day (across all device types), according to a 2016 Nielsen report.

 When it comes to how much binge-cheating is going on, Americans are strictly amateurs. The real action is in Latin America and Europe. In Brazil and Mexico, about six in 10 viewers reported that they regularly “binge-cheated” on their significant others. And in the U.K., the problem has gotten so out of hand that a British ice-cream company created what they call “commitment rings,” wearable gadgets that are linked to each other by radio signals (near-field communication). Clever marketers have sold the product with the tagline, “Love should last more than one season.” A couple buys the rings, then registers through an online app, choosing which shows they plan to watch together. If both rings aren’t in close proximity to each other, the app will prevent the show from streaming.
So — other than buying expensive wearable tech — what’s a committed couple to do to avoid conflict from binge-watching? I’m no marriage counselor (nor do I play one on TV), but after 26 years of wedded bliss, I believe it starts with honesty. My wife and I have a policy of telling each other when we want to keep on watching after the other has left the room. (In the interest of full disclosure, I promptly self-report even unintentional incidents: “Sweetie, I continued to watch ‘Longmire’ after you fell asleep in your chair. Please forgive me.” One can’t be too careful in a marriage.) We have a specific set of shows we like to watch together, and if one of us wants to move on to the next episode alone, we’ll ask. But we’ll generally switch to something else until the next time we can watch together; we’ve found that time we spend together is too valuable.
Having honest dialogue could possibly prevent the conflict altogether. Hmmm, sounds like it could solve much more serious problems than that of trying to hide the fact you watched “Breaking Bad” by yourself.