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Elite status comes with perks worth the extra trip. But how do you get it without overpaying?

By Karen Datko Oct 8, 2010 10:57AM

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

 

Seth Miller has neither family nor business in Spokane, Wash., but that didn't stop the New Yorker from making three cross-country trips to the Eastern Washington city this year. Miller went solely for the miles, to secure his 2011 status as a platinum-level elite flier on Continental Airlines. "I didn't know what I was going to do there," he says. "I booked the (sale) fare and figured it out after."

Late-fall "mileage runs" are common among frequent fliers who are just a few miles shy of the 25,000 they need for "elite" status, which includes perks like seat upgrades and waived baggage fees. For the more casual traveler, such unnecessary trips might seem like flights of fancy. But with fares and fees on the rise, elite status is starting to confer tangible benefits. "Getting elite status used to be all about seat upgrades," says Randy Petersen, the founder of InsideFlyer, which tracks frequent-flier programs. "Today it's about saving money."

 

One man's tale of how 'requirements creep' crept into his kitchen remodeling plans and spread to the bathroom.

By Karen Datko Oct 8, 2010 7:55AM

This guest post comes from Len Penzo at Len Penzo dot Com.

 

As I've previously mentioned, the Penzo household is in the middle of a long-awaited home renovation project.

 

Originally, it was supposed to be a fairly modest kitchen renovation that involved replacing our porcelain tile countertops with granite and adding a new tumbled stone backsplash. It also included some new appliances.

Then, one quiet evening not too long ago, while we were watching the 6,000th episode of "House Hunters," the Honeybee decided to see if she could push the budget boundaries just a tad.

 

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?

 

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