Smart SpendingSmart Spending

American Tax Relief's ads on TV, radio and the Internet said it could settle customers' tax debt for a fraction of what they owed.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2010 5:20PM

This post comes from James Limbach at partner site ConsumerAffairs.com.

 

A federal judge has halted a national operation accused of bilking consumers out of more than $60 million by falsely claiming it can reduce tax debts.

The California state business license of American Tax Relief was suspended last year for nonpayment of its own taxes, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which is seeking to make the defendants pay restitution to victims.

 

"We've made it a top priority to go after scammers who try to exploit the financial hardship of others," said David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

 

Citing obesity epidemic, New York wants to add sugary drinks to the list of items you can't buy with food stamps. Is that fair to the poor?

By Teresa Mears Oct 7, 2010 3:52PM

New York has a modest proposal: Don't let people use food stamps to buy soda.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Jay Patterson have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, to authorize a two-year demonstration project in New York City in an effort to combat obesity.

 

The ban would apply to any beverage that contains more than 10 calories per 8-ounce serving (soda has 150), except for milk and fruit juices without added sugar.

 

Being of the mind that no one should drink soda except as an occasional treat, we think this sounds like a great idea.

 

Economic woes keep many folks out of the housing market, and those who want a loan will must surmount bureaucratic obstacles.

By Teresa Mears Oct 7, 2010 12:32PM

Mortgage rates have again hit historic lows, with the average rate for a fixed-year mortgage at 4.27% this week, down from 4.32% last week.

That rate is the lowest since Freddie Mac began keeping statistics in 1971 and the lowest rate seen since 1950, according to National Bureau of Economic Research statistics from a time when loan rules were different.

 

Are we starting to sound like a broken record here? Maybe you should get out your 78 rpms, because you probably were still playing them the last time rates were this low. At least the value of vinyl is rising.

 

This year's previous low for mortgage rates was last week's  4.32%, also seen the week of Sept. 2, according to Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey. The average rate for a 15-year loan was 3.72%, down from 3.75% last week. That also is the lowest rate recorded since record-keeping began in 1991.

 

There are ways to try out the service before you buy, but it's a labor-intensive process.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2010 11:38AM

This Deal of the Day comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.

 

Kevin Van Dyk is perfectly willing to talk about why he is counting the days until he can ditch his cell phone service provider, AT&T, in March 2011. But you might not be able to get a hold of him.

"My phone only works half the time in my house," says Van Dyk, a Spring Hill, Fla., resident. He isn't sure if any of the other providers can do better -- spotty service is a problem in and around the small town, too. But with rampant billing errors and poor service from AT&T, he says, they can't do much worse.

 

A new product is making a splash. It's cheaper up front but monthly costs are higher.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2010 9:38AM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis of MSN Money.

 

A new, lower-cost reverse mortgage unveiled this week could make a difference for some older people who're thinking of drawing equity from their homes. Lenders now are selling "the Saver," insured by the Federal Housing Administration, and it's getting a lot of attention.

But that's not to say buying a reverse mortgage has become cheap, or an easy call. Or that even this new product is right for everyone. These still are expensive loans.

 

As weath increases, so do your expectations, and lots of income doesn't feel like quite enough.

By Karen Datko Oct 6, 2010 8:02PM

Have you heard of Todd Henderson, the law school professor who blogged that if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire for America's highest earners, he's going to have to make some budget cuts -- like firing the housekeeper or the yard guy?

 

The mortgage on his large Chicago home, the kids' private school tuition, his physician wife's student loan bills -- plus the regular household expenses -- consume most of the family's $250,000-plus annual income, he wrote.

Henderson titled the controversial post at his blog "We are the super rich" -- his sarcastic attempt to point out that he's not. Still, it's rarefied air. Only 2.47 million U.S. households had income of $250,000 or more in 2008, according to the U.S. Census.

 

Why do Henderson and others in his shoes feel so strapped?

 

Parents are still saving, but some are struggling and some are using retirement accounts, not the best choice.

By Teresa Mears Oct 6, 2010 3:06PM

The good news is that families are saving more for college.

The bad news is that they may not be keeping those savings in the most appropriate types of accounts, according to a new Gallup survey commissioned by Sallie Mae, which provides student loans and college savings plans.

 

Almost one-fourth of all college savings is in retirement accounts, including 401ks and IRAs.

 

A Consumer Reports survey finds that credit card customers are still dissatisfied despite the Credit CARD Act.

By Karen Datko Oct 6, 2010 2:13PM

This post comes from partner site ConsumerAffairs.com.

 

With the provisions of the Credit CARD Act of 2009 now in full effect, a national survey shows a slightly lower level of dissatisfaction among consumers with their credit cards than last year.

However, Consumer Reports says credit cards remain one of the lowest-rated services it has ever analyzed, with only 45% of respondents saying they are completely or very satisfied with their cards.

 

Still in the red

The survey, conducted in July by the magazine's National Research Center, also shows that consumers are carrying less credit card debt, with median balances of $3,793 -- $1,100 lower than in 2009.

 

DATA PROVIDERS

Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

ABOUT SMART SPENDING

Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

VIDEO ON MSN MONEY

TOOLS

More