Fire Hazard Fears Prompt Recall of USB Car Charger Adapters

Some popular mini USB car charger power adapters, universal USB power adapters and 8-pin USB data sync charging cables are being recalled due to a hazard of fire from their use, according to The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A company called Popkiller sold the recalled devices – mostly in stores in Southern California. The items were made by Shenzhen Qiwei Electronic Co., Ltd., Guangdong, China, and have some unique identifying characteristics:

According to the company, the car charger has model number HHT-001 located on the flat side of the charger below the USB port. The charger measures two inches tall and one inch in diameter at its widest point.

The Universal USB Power adapter has model number A1265 printed directly above the plug blades on the grey surface. The adapter measures 1.5 inches at its longest point and one inch wide.

There is no model number printed on the 8-pin USB charging cables.

All of the recalled products are sold separately and come in the colors red, orange, green, blue, purple and pink.

The recall involves around 2,500 units. Concerned consumers can call Popkiller toll-free at (888) 345-0724 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

People can also reach the company online at Click on “About Us” located at the bottom of the home page, then click “Important Recall Notice” for more information.


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Social Media Still Lags as a Customer Service Tool

A new survey finds that people still like pick up the phone and talk to a live human when they have a customer service issue, despite the growing use of social media technology.

Customer service software firm NICE Systems said it surveyed 1,206 consumers between the ages of 18 and 65 to gauge their satisfaction with various customer service channels.

What they found was that people across age groups overwhelmingly prefer the more traditional ways of resolving problems with companies and organizations.

For instance, 88% of NICE’s respondents said they preferred to speak with a live customer service rep over the phone. While 83% used website self-service, they still liked having the option of turning to a live human as a next choice.

The company found that social media, live chat, and Smartphone app use has doubled since 2011.  In fact, 73% of survey respondents said they have used multiple contact methods in the past six months to resolve a customer service issue.

However, social media still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of effectiveness: while social media channels were used to successfully solve a problem 29% or the time, traditional phone contact has a 69% success rate.

But what about today’s tech-savvy Millennials? Surprisingly, the 18-35 age group still prefers speak with a live rep via phone or use website self-service when resolving customer service issues.

These results aren’t that surprising, given the current state of social media use by companies. While FAQs and other “self service” online methods can lead to a speedy resolution to a problem, many other social media tools used by companies are a bit gimmicky. (For instance, “live chat” that turns out to be nothing more than you talking to a computer.)

Until companies fully integrate their social media channels within their customer service function – and offer immediate response by empowered humans – people will still “cut to the chase” by calling toll-free customer service numbers when self-service fails.


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What Came First, the Chicken or the Free Range?

You’ve no doubt noticed all the so-called “specialty” eggs available in the market these days: cage-free, free-range, organic, etc. Some of these designations carry a big premium in price, so it’s good to know exactly what they mean.
Research shows that these specialty designations are important to consumers. According to a poll done for egg producer Vital Farms, 50% of respondents said they look for the free-range label. Right behind that in popularity were cage-free (48%), then organic (47%).
When asked to describe the terms “free-range” and “cage-free” meant, most people thought these terms referred to hens roaming and feeding on open pastures, Vital Farms said. They were wrong.
The pastoral image of truly “free” egg-producing hens is a life guaranteed only to those that are “pasture-raised.” Yet, only 24% of the poll respondents said they looked for this designation on the label.
Vital Farms tells us that to be called “pasture-raised” or “pastured,” each hen must have unlimited daytime access to a minimum of 108 square feet of outdoor space. They must have sunlight and fresh air available to them, and must have freedom to forage for any foods that are naturally available on their pastures.
These hens are also rotated to new pastures every few days, so their vegetation is always fresh.
To be considered “free-range,” hens need only have limited access to an outdoor area that, according to Mother Earth News, may just be a pen with a concrete or dirt floor. Many “cage-free” hens are packed into barns with little or no access to the outdoors, Vital Farms said.
These hens may not actually be in a cage, but they certainly aren’t living the lives many consumers imagine when they pay extra money for those eggs.
Vital Farms adds that only the term “organic” on labels is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No other labeling terms are regulated.
So, “organic” actually means something, and the term “pasture raised” must be on the label if you want eggs produced by chickens raised in that happy farm setting you have in your mind’s eye.

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More People Are Choosing Expensive Vehicles

People are paying more for vehicles these days, according to vehicle pricing guide Kelley Blue Book.
KBB said that estimated average transaction price (ATP) for light vehicles during June was $32,342, which is up from June 2013.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that vehicles are getting more expensive, only that people are spending more per given vehicle. For instance, automakers’ total sales include a higher percentage of upscale models. Also, people are choosing to include more optional equipment on a given model.
However, vehicle prices have risen as well: KBB said that new-car prices are up $454 (or 1.4%) versus June 2013. They rose $113 (0.4%) just since last month.
So, a combination of factors results in the higher average transaction prices.
Among automakers, General Motors posted a 5.4% year-over-year gain in average transaction price – largely due to increased sales of pricey trucks and SUVs. Meanwhile, Nissan saw a 1% decrease in its average transaction price, due to the Japanese company getting more of its mix of sales from its economy car lines.
KBB said this happened despite Nissan’s new vehicle sales numbers going up from 2013 to 2014.
Overall, this is shaping up to be a warm summer for auto sales, and prices are up. Things may slow down a bit later in the year, so if you’re in the market you may find the best deals after the summer heat is off.

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Credit Card Rates Inch Higher

For the first time in two months the average interest rates on new credit card offers moved higher last week. This according to online credit card marketplace, who publish a weekly survey of rates offered to U.S. consumers.

The average rate for all credit card offers surveyed by last week was 15.02%. This was up from 15.01% the week before but still down from the 15.06% measured six months ago.

Among the different types of cards on offer, only Airline cards (15.38%, up from 15.30% the week before) and Reward cards (14.98%, up from 14.97%) showed any real movement.

A range of card offers were unchanged from the previous week, including Low Interest (10.37%), Balance Transfer (12.64%), Business (12.80%), Student (13.27%), Cash Back (14.91%), Instant Approval (28%) and Bad Credit (22.73%) card offers. said its weekly credit card rate survey looks at 100 of the most popular credit cards in the country.


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Why Your July 4th Barbeque Is Getting Expensive

If you’re finding that the cost of a traditional 4th of July barbeque is higher than it’s ever been, you can blame certain commodity prices.

According to the inaugural 2014 Rabobank BBQ Index, the price of a typical 10-person barbeque has risen from $51.90 in 2004 to $66.82 in 2014.

The Netherlands-based financial institution — which serves the global food, beverage and agribusiness industry — said that the increase in barbeque price comes from some rather dramatic rises in the prices paid for certain “BBQ-related” commodities.

For instance, beef prices have taken off like a 4th of July rocket, rising by 71% over the past five years. Rabobank points out that U.S. cattle herds are the smallest they’ve been in 63 years, while U.S. beef exports have grown substantially.

Using chicken as a substitute meat can bring some relief, but meat alone does not make a barbeque.

Cheese and ice cream prices are up by around 15%, on rising exports. Produce costs have also risen.

Which brings us to beverages.

According to Rabobank, beer accounts for 28% of the total cost of a typical U.S. barbecue, and beer prices are up. The Index tracked pricing on 20 different beers, and found their pricing up by around 10%, on average, over the past five years.

So, if you are doing some last-minute 4th of July barbeque shopping, consider using chicken as a meat choice, and looking for a good deal on beer. (Of course, you can always forego the beer entirely, and choose bottled water instead. Yea, we thought not.)

Or, you could just swallow the extra cost along with all that delicious barbeque. Have a great 4th!


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Used Car Luxury Values

These days, you can buy a lot of late-model luxury car for under $30,000, according to car valuation firm Kelley Blue Book.

KBB has put together its list of the 10 Best Certified Pre-Owned Luxury Cars Under $30,000, showing that consumers can often “step up” in vehicle luxury for the cost of an run-of-the-mill new car.

While many of these cars on the list can be had for less money, the valuations quoted here are for “certified” used cars. These are cars that have been put through a lengthy inspection, and have been determined to be in tip-top shape.

Certified used cars are often backed by good warranties, and for many consumers represent the “safest” way to buy a used vehicle. Particularly a used luxury model.

Here, then, are KBBs top 10 picks:

The #1 pick is the 2011 BMW 3 Series, which carries a Kelley Blue Book CPO Price of $25,464. Next is the 2011 Lexus ES ($27,751), followed by the 2011 Acura TL ($23,943), the 2011 Audi A6 ($29,525) and the 2011 Cadillac CTS ($23,208).

Picks 5-10 are the 2011 Infiniti G ($20,717), the 2011Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class ($28,383), the 2011 Cadillac DTS, ($28,227), the 2011 Volvo XC60 ($24,297) and the 2011 Audi A4 ($22,627).

Keep in mind that new cars lose 35% to 40% of their original value due to depreciation in just the first three years. With a certified 2011 model, you get a depreciated vehicle that has been fully inspected for safety — backed by a guarantee from the auto maker.

Before you pull the trigger on a new vehicle purchase, take a look at how much luxury you can get for your money.


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Healthcare Inflation Set to Rise

An improving economy is a good thing, but it can lead to inflation. This seems to be the case with healthcare, which had seen modest employer spending growth in recent years.

Professional services firm PwC’s Health Research Institute reports that medical inflation is projected to rise to 6.8% in 2015 – as consumers act on their “pent up demand” for healthcare, and use more on it.

According to the HRI, this growth in spending comes not only from consumers feeling freer with their spending, but by an increase of new consumers in the healthcare market, as millions of newly-insured patients seek out healthcare.

New drugs and therapies are also pushing up the cost of healthcare. One example of this would be expensive new Hepatitis C therapies, which HRI said are alone expected to be responsible for a 0.2% increase in spending growth.

Healthcare providers are also spending big on IT integration due to a spate of mergers and acquisitions in the sector. Some of these deals are also resulting in higher payments paid to physician practices, especially ones that are being acquired by hospitals and health systems.

However, some of this inflation will result in lower health care costs down the line. For instance, patients who utilize healthcare more stand a better chance of managing their health better. Also, patients who receive expensive new cures today can be healthier later on.

IT investments being made along with mergers can result in more modern, efficient systems being deployed. This can cut down on such healthcare spending wastes as antiquated and redundant record-keeping.

HRI also points out that, while 6.8% medical inflation is up from recent years, it is still way below the double-digit increases seen in the years before this recent round of recession and healthcare reform took off.

So, there’s no need to panic yet that healthcare costs will soar as they did in the nineties and 2000s, the firm said. Some forces are driving them up, and some are working to moderate these costs in the longer term.


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Most Financial Advisors Underestimate the Fees They Charge

A new report finds that nearly two-thirds of financial advisors underestimate the fees they charge to their clients.

In a survey, Peak Advisor Alliance and Cerulli Associates found that nearly 63% of advisors surveyed thought they were charging total fees of less than 1.5%. This estimate was low by 30 basis points, the firms said.

What this means is that advisors are actually charging clients more than they think they are. It’s not that they’re being dishonest per se, since the study didn’t find that the advisors had lied to clients. It’s just that they thought they were giving their clients better value than they actually were.

This study points out a key “must do” of any investment strategy you may consider: know how much you are paying in fees. And verify the information yourself, (since, apparently, many financial advisors aren’t too clear on the subject).

According to a May, 2013 in Forbes, people who hire an investment advisor to manage a mutual fund portfolio or exchange-traded fund (ETF) portfolio can lose as much as 40% per year to fees.

The author of the Forbes Personal Finance piece, Rick Ferri, broke down this 40% as: the fees from the mutual funds added to the advisor fees, divided by the expected portfolio return before fees.

Sound complicated? Well, it is complicated – so if your advisor isn’t even clear on what he or she is charging you, you really need to do your own homework on fees. In the end, it is your money that gets lost to these fees, turning an otherwise good investment into a lousy one.

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Last Winter Still Taking a Bite Out of New Jersey’s Roads

The after-effects of last winter’s harsh weather are still being felt, at least in New Jersey.

Plymouth Rock Assurance said it is seeing a sharp increase in pothole-related claims in New Jersey over the past year.

The insurance company said that ratio of pothole-related claims relative to all collision claims increased by 62% from the winter of 2012-2013 to the winter of 2013-2014.

If you’re seeing (and feeling) more potholes in the roads you drive this year, Plymouth Rock has some advice to offer:

Keep enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you. This allows you time to see and avoid potholes.

Also, keep your tires properly inflated, since tires that are under-inflated are more prone to allowing the tire to bottom out quickly onto the rim during collision with a pothole. This can greatly increase the chance of damage from hitting a pothole.

Take it slow at night, since potholes are more difficult to see during nigh-time driving. Also, by reducing speed you are both increasing your options for avoiding potholes, and lessening the damage they do when you can’t avoid them.

If a pothole appears in your path, try to go around it. But first check that there isn’t another vehicle in the space you would be moving into. When breaking to avoid a pothole, go easy:  slamming on the brakes can increase downforce and the possibility of damage.

Hopefully, road crews will soon have the potholes created by last winter’s brutal weather filled. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled.


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