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The law aims to discourage tobacco use with a surcharge. Critics say that will fall most heavily on the people who can least afford it.

By MSN Smart Spending editor Aug 20, 2013 11:52AM
This post comes from Jay MacDonald at partner site Bankrate.com.

Bankrate logoSmokers could face sticker shock when shopping for individual or small-group health insurance in the new state health marketplaces scheduled to open this fall, due to a controversial clause in the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, that allows insurers to penalize smokers by continuing to charge higher rates to tobacco users.

Man smoking (© Steve Mason/Photodisc Blue/Getty Images)President Barack Obama's landmark health insurance reform legislation ends decades of advantageous underwriting practices by barring insurers from, among other things, limiting lifetime benefits and denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

But the law widely known as Obamacare also aims to discourage tobacco use, the nation's largest preventable health hazard, which kills some 443,000 Americans each year at an annual cost to the nation of $193 billion in medical care and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How do you combat tobacco use without discriminating against smokers? The ACA attempts this balancing act by allowing insurers to continue their practice of charging tobacco users a so-called "smoker surcharge" but limiting it to 50% above the rates they charge customers who do not use tobacco, beginning in 2014. 

Mediation can help couples end their marriages as peacefully as possible, and for far less money than a traditional divorce.

By Smart Spending Editor Aug 20, 2013 10:37AM
This post is by Geoff Williams of partner site U.S. News & World Report.

MSN Money PartnerMany people visualize themselves getting married, but nobody daydreams about the legal ramifications of stabbing their spouse with a salad fork.

No image info in photo listFor couples ready to part ways, a collaborative divorce is a strategy taken by those who want to avoid the slash-and-burn route that divorces often take. It's the concept that you were once partners -- even if not good ones -- and you should be able to end it together as well, deciding how to split assets and co-parent in a way that doesn't disappoint either party. 

"Most people can agree that litigation is a terrible process for a family to endure," says Jacqueline Newman, the managing partner of Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, LLP, one of the few divorce law firms in New York City that specializes in collaborative law, litigation and mediation. "The collaborative process is one of the most productive ways to divorce when it works."

When it works. Sometimes it doesn't. And even when a collaborative divorce does work, that doesn't mean it's pleasant. 

Brews like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller Lite have increased nearly 7% in price because of their 'retro' appeal. Wine and liquor are going up, too, but for different reasons.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 20, 2013 9:46AM
Logo: Beer (Corbis)It's not your imagination: Your bar tab has gone up. Alcohol prices increased as much as 11.2% between November 2012 and April 2013, according to a new study.

Hipsters were recently accused of killing American razor sales. Now we can go after them for skewing beer prices, too: It seems that the brew passing between those unbarbered lips isn't artisanal ale but rather Pabst Blue Ribbon.

They're showing "a retro attraction" to brands like PBR, Miller Lite and Budweiser, according to Chuck Ellis of the Restaurant Sciences market research firm.

Ellis told the National Restaurant News that despite widespread interest in craft beers, it was the "mass market" stuff that showed the highest rate of increase.

While it's easy to pick on hipsters, they aren't to blame for other alcohol price increases. 

What one writer learned on her summer vacation is that America is behind the times when it comes to secure credit card transactions.

By Smart Spending Editor Aug 19, 2013 6:24PM

This post is from MSN Money editor Julie Tilsner.


Couple taking photo of Eiffel tower in Paris (© Les and Dave Jacobs/Cultura/Getty Images)We took a family vacation to Europe this summer, introducing our two teenagers to the continent my husband and I had  backpacked through years earlier. We'd be visiting five countries in a whirlwind two weeks, visiting old friends and family.

It had been a few years since I last was in Europe, but I knew traveler's checks  were a thing of the past. To avoid carrying around a fat wad of euros, I had planned to put large purchases, like train tickets, on my credit card.

But as I stood in an Amsterdam train station, trying to buy tickets to our next destination, I was told they couldn't take my card. It wasn't a "chip and PIN."

 

Get a call about missing jury duty? Don't fall for it -- and certainly don't pay out! It's a scam that is making the rounds, experts warn.

By Mitch Lipka Aug 19, 2013 6:16PM
Image: Phone (© Corbis)If you get a call that claims you missed a jury duty assignment, watch out if the caller asks you to pay a fine. It's a scam that's running hot right now -- prompting a spate of warnings.

Officials scattered from Massachusetts to South Carolina and Alabama to California and Utah have put out the word about residents getting shaken down to clear their records. Often the calls come from out of state, but because caller ID can be faked, they can also appear to be coming from the local courthouse or a law enforcement agency.

The most likely people to fall for this sort of scam are older folks who think they are doing the right thing and want to avoid getting a bad mark on their record, said Eduard Goodman, chief privacy officer of the personal security firm IDT911. Plus, he said, the calls can be quite convincing -- right down to including background noise that makes it seem like the call is coming from a police station.

 

It's easy to see why subscription-based companies love the automatic renewal. But many consumers hate it.

By Credit.com Aug 19, 2013 5:45PM

This post comes from Bob Sullivan at partner site Credit.com.


MSN Money PartnerWhen was the last time you tried to give a company $100 and it refused to take it?

Image: Credit card © Mike Kemp, Getty Images, Getty ImagesThat happened to me this week as I bargained with Sirius XM Radio over continuing my membership to the satellite radio service.  I said I would renew for a year, but only if the firm put in writing that it would not automatically renew my account. I'd had a bad time twice with the firm's renewal policies, as have many others, and I told them I wouldn't play renewal roulette again.

Sirius turned down my money rather than agree to my terms. That's how critical automatic renewals are to Sirius XM’s business model.
 

Even when money is tight, you should never have to choose between feeding yourself vs. feeding your pets. Here are 5 resources to find low cost food for your animals.

By Smart Spending Editor Aug 19, 2013 3:40PM
This post is by Val McCauley of Living on the Cheap.

MSN Money PartnerOwning a pet can be one of the most rewarding relationships in your life. Pets are loyal, loving and even provide health benefits for their owners, such as lower blood pressure and stress reduction. Unfortunately, pets can be expensive between food costs, supplies and trips to the vet. 

Image: Dog (© Alley Cat Productions/Brand X/Corbis)Many people consider their pets members of the family and are willing to spend the money to care for their pets, but when faced with money issues, sometimes there just isn’t any extra room in the budget to care for them. During tough economic times, there is often a steep rise in the number of cats and dogs being surrendered to animal shelters or abandoned as owners face unemployment, foreclosures, evictions and other financial hardships. 

And when shelters get full, they often have no choice other than to euthanize innocent animals.

Fortunately there are ways to get help without abandoning Fido or Fluffy. Local and national organizations can help people care for their pets over the short-term and long-term. Here are 5 ways to find help caring for your pet during hard times. 

Jeans, sports equipment or winter coats someone else has outgrown may be just exactly what your student needs, and at a fraction of the original cost.

By MSN Smart Spending editor Aug 19, 2013 12:51PM
This post comes from Tisha Tolar at partner site Wise Bread.

WiseBread logoThrift store shopping is not for everyone; some people find it intimidating, thinking that you need a lot of time or skill to find a great deal. While it helps to have the right mindset and an eye for a find, just about anyone can score real deals on quality stuff at thrift stores.

Mother helping son with homework © KidStock, Blend Images, Getty ImagesAnd during the coming back-to-school frenzy, a thrift store deal is exactly what parents need to help save some much needed time and money.

From designer jeans to new-to-your-kid dorm furniture, your local thrift store probably has lots of ways to save you a bunch of cash during your back-to-school shopping spree. Consider these six.

1. Jeans and uniforms

The price of jeans for kids who are still growing is almost obscene. They often cost as much as the adult-sized versions but only may be usable for a single semester of school. The good news is that because kids grow out of jeans so quickly, many pre-owned pairs donated to the local thrift store are still in like-new condition but priced for just a few dollars.  

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