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Customers would prefer that banks deny debit card purchases.

By Karen Datko Oct 8, 2009 12:37PM

This post comes from James Limbach at partner site


Banks and credit unions collected nearly $24 billion in overdraft fees last year, an increase of 35% from just two years earlier, according to a new study by the Center for Responsible Lending.


The explosion in overdraft charges has drained the wallets of as many as 51 million Americans whose accounts become overdrawn each year. It is particularly harmful to financially vulnerable families already hit hard by the recession.


"Banks and credit unions have become so sophisticated in driving up overdrafts that Americans now pay more in overdraft fees every year than they do for books, cereal, or fresh vegetables," said CRL senior researcher Leslie Parrish. "These billions of dollars drained from consumers each year represent lost opportunities for families to save for a rainy day or buy necessary goods and services that could help spark the economy."


Even Neiman Marcus is touting cheaper gifts.

By Teresa Mears Oct 8, 2009 11:53AM

If we didn’t already know it’s going to be a lean holiday season, we do now. Not only is the National Retail Federal predicting less spending by consumers, even the Neiman Marcus fantasy catalog is touting more frugal choices this year -- if you consider $75 plaid stockings a bargain.


A survey commissioned by ING DIRECT found that 54 percent of American adults plan to spend $300 or more on holiday gifts, a 10% decrease from what Americans last year said they typically spend.


With shoppers looking to spend less, retailers are pushing less expensive toys for the 2009 holidays. Toys R Us lists the Zhu Zhu Pets Hamster, at $9.99, as one of the top toys of this year, though we would reject it immediately because it makes noise. Wal-Mart is expanding last year’s successful “10 for $10” program and offering more than 100 $10 toy items. We like the LEGO Bionicle Legends set. Kmart announced its Fab 15 toy list last week, too, with 15 items selling from $10.99 to $99.99. The company says those items represent the “best long-term play value.”


Service also lets friends bail you out 'from the comfort of home.'

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2009 4:19PM

Debit cards are increasingly popular, so why shouldn’t jail inmates have them. How about a get-out-of-jail prepaid debit card when they’re set free?


They can. (Does this strike anyone else as kind of strange/funny?)


Continental Prison Systems Inc., doing business as EZ Card & Kiosk, is installing its booking and release kiosks and debit card services in jails here and there about the country.


Here’s what’s offered:

  • Pay your bail with your own credit or debit card or cash at the self-serve kiosk. Or if it’s more than you can handle, your friends and relatives can post bail at the kiosk or via a handy Web site "from the comfort of their own home," the company says. No more early morning trips down to the hoosegow to bail a misbehaving family member out.

Savers took a hit in 2008 but the 5-year average looks good.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2009 1:49PM

If you’ve stashed money in your 401k regularly over the last several years, a MarketWatch story can help you feel good about yourself.


A study of the performance of 401ks owned by 6 million consistent savers from 2003 through 2008 showed that:

… average account balances for these workers rose about 7% annually, even including the stock market crash in 2008 -- thanks in part to market gains in the years preceding the crash, but also thanks to workers' and employers' ongoing account contributions.

Now, let’s examine that more closely.


We get very little vacation time and we still don't take it.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2009 10:52AM

This post comes from Nora Dunn at partner blog Wise Bread.


Here is a frightening (or enlightening, depending on how you look at it) passage from Wanderlust and Lipstick about the American approach to vacations:

A 2009 survey from Expedia found that 1/3 of employees don’t take all of their vacation time. While this speaks (to a certain degree) to how individuals make personal choices, there might be something else underlying our reluctance to hit the road.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research calls the U.S. the "no-vacation nation." In a 2007 study, they determined that the U.S. is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation for employees. That means you can take a job, work your 40 (or more) hours a week, and it’s considered a bonus to be given paid vacation time.
But when we are blessed with vacation time, what keeps us from taking the time off we earn and deserve? According to the Expedia survey, people who don’t take their vacation time do so for several reasons. They hope to receive compensation for unused time, they have a hard time planning ahead or their partner can’t travel during the same time period. What’s worse? One in five respondents admitted to canceling a vacation because of work.

No wonder we have so much trouble balancing work and life.


It sounds creepy, but some people recommend it.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2009 3:37AM

True confession: We made some extra money in college by drinking a prodigious amount of vodka in a hospital setting. By participating in this study, we earned $200, or maybe it was 50 bucks. (The memory was probably damaged by all the brain cells we killed.)


Have you ever helped the cause of science to make extra cash? Several bloggers wrote recently that they have.


Hank of Own The Dollar, guest posting at Budget Are Sexy, said he made a quick $40 by participating in a study about vaccines. "I was given the money for about 30 minutes of my time, a brief medical questionnaire, and five small vials of blood. Not bad for a half hour’s worth of 'work,'" he wrote.


Company's size is mind-boggling.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2009 3:27AM

Have you seen the e-mail making the rounds that says Wal-Mart's size is so immense that it's mind-boggling and scary? (The e-mail concludes with the statement, "Let Wal-Mart bail out Wall Street.")

It lists some amazing statistics about the recession-proof retail behemoth and, according to Snopes, almost all of them are true, including this one: "Wal-Mart will sell more from Jan. 1 to St. Patrick's Day (March 17) than Target sells all year."

And, in terms of sales, Wal-Mart truly is bigger than Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Sears, Costco and Kmart combined.

But is Wal-Mart truly the biggest company in the history of the world? (Imagine Keith Olbermann saying that.)


It's easy to opt out, but just hanging up won't do the trick.

By Karen Datko Oct 7, 2009 3:18AM

We're on the Do Not Call list, but we still get prerecorded calls from the likes of "Heather" and her fellow drones. Why is this happening? It's terribly annoying.

Luckily we came across this post by Herb Weisbaum, aka ConsumerMan at MSNBC, while we were researching another topic. He says you can now opt out of these calls -- and can do it quite simply. 



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