Archive

Archive for the ‘consumer issues’ Category

NAR Identifies Best Purchase Markets for Aspiring Millennial Homebuyers

July 25, 2014 Comments off

NAR Identifies Best Purchase Markets for Aspiring Millennial Homebuyers
Source: National Association of REALTORS®

First-time homebuyers have been largely absent from the housing market in the current economic recovery, but some metropolitan areas – particularly in the Midwest and West – are well positioned to see increases in home-buying from the Millennial generation in upcoming years, according to new research by the National Association of Realtors®.

NAR analyzed current housing conditions, job creation and population trends in metropolitan statistical areas1 across the U.S. to determine the best markets for aspiring, leading edge Millennial2 homebuyers. Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City were identified as top standouts for Millennials for having a young adult population with solid job growth rates and still relatively affordable home prices. Seven of the 10 metro areas recognized are in the Midwest and West.

About these ads

When Doctors Don’t Listen: Sample Worksheet Towards Your Diagnosis Before You Go to the Doctor

July 25, 2014 Comments off

Sample Worksheet Towards Your Diagnosis Before You Go to the Doctor (PDF)
Source: When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests (book, by Dr. Leana Wen and Dr. Josh Kosowsky)

General Tips

  • Use your own words, as if you are speaking to a family member
  • Being your own advocate will save your life.
  • Speak up! Interrupt if you do not feel like you are not being heard.

An Imperative for Consumer Companies to Go Green

July 25, 2014 Comments off

An Imperative for Consumer Companies to Go Green
Source: Boston Consulting Group

Goods labeled organic, natural, ecological, and fair trade are no longer a niche in the food, personal-care, and household products sectors. These goods have entered mainstream retailers and become a large part of the market, with a broad base of consumers now purchasing them. In an otherwise stagnant industry, these “responsible consumption” (RC) products represent a major area of profitable growth.

The Boston Consulting Group has worked with market research company Information Resources Inc. to analyze point-of-sale data from nearly all retail chains in the U.S. (grocery, convenience, department, and wholesale-club stores). Not only do RC products account for 15 percent of all sales in these chains but also sales have grown about 9 percent annually in the past three years—making up 70 percent of total growth. Similar turnover and growth levels are expected across developed markets. Global surveys point to future growth as well, as most consumers intend to expand the number of categories in which they seek out RC products.

Most of this growth, however, is going not to A brands—the major product brands—but to specialty brands and to both specialty and conventional retailers. Most A-brand manufacturers, in fact, have weak or nonexistent offerings in this area. Continued inaction may cost A brands one-third of their current consumers over the next few years.

While A brands bring major scale and distribution advantages to the table, consumers are less likely to trust them when it comes to RC products. To build trust while leveraging these advantages, A brands can either acquire a specialty brand and grant it considerable autonomy or build an RC brand internally with external validation. A third option is to embrace “responsible” criteria for the entire A brand. Any of these options is preferable to maintaining a wait-and-see approach.

First OECD PISA financial literacy test finds many young people confused by money matters

July 25, 2014 Comments off

First OECD PISA financial literacy test finds many young people confused by money matters
Source: OECD

Around one in seven students in the 13 OECD countries and economies that took part in the first OECD PISA international assessment of financial literacy are unable to make even simple decisions about everyday spending, and only one in ten can solve complex financial tasks.

Some 29 000 15 year-olds in 18 countries and economies* took part in the test, which assessed the knowledge and skills of teenagers in dealing with financial issues, such as understanding a bank statement, the long-term cost of a loan or knowing how insurance works.

Shanghai-China had the highest average score in financial literacy, followed by the Flemish Community of Belgium, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Poland.

The gender gap in financial literacy was much smaller than in OECD PISA tests in maths or reading, with there being no significant difference between the performance of boys and girls, except in Italy.

But the inequality gap mirrors that in key school subjects: more socio-economically advantaged students scored much higher than less-advantaged students on average across participating OECD countries and economies. Non-immigrant students also performed slightly better than immigrant students from a similar socio-economic status. The gap between the two groups is larger than the OECD average in the Flemish Community of Belgium, Estonia, France, Slovenia and Spain.

The survey also revealed that skills in mathematics and reading are very closely related to financial literacy. However, high proficiency in one of these subjects does not always signal strong performance in financial literacy.
</blockquoteL

UK — Ofcom publishes report on internet safety measures

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Ofcom publishes report on internet safety measures
Source: Ofcom
Ofcom has today published a report for Government outlining measures the UK’s largest internet service providers have put in place to help parents protect children from harmful content online.

This follows an agreement between the Government and BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, the four largest fixed line internet service providers (ISPs), announced in July 2013. Each ISP committed to offer new customers ‘family-friendly network-level filtering’ by the end of December 2013.

This is the second of three reports the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has asked Ofcom to produce on internet safety measures to protect children. The DCMS asked Ofcom to look at the approach taken by each ISP to implement family-friendly filtering services which block content that may be inappropriate or harmful for children, rather than assess the effectiveness of the filters.

The report also describes measures taken by ISPs to present a pre-ticked ‘unavoidable choice’ to new customers on whether or not to activate the filter, and includes initial take-up data among new customers offered filters.

The filters apply to all web based internet content, on any device that is connected to the fixed broadband network in the home.

Upcoming Federal Court Decision Could Mean Premium Increases for Nearly 5 Million Americans

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Upcoming Federal Court Decision Could Mean Premium Increases for Nearly 5 Million Americans
Source: Avalere Health

A new analysis from Avalere Health finds that without action from the federal government nearly 5 million Americans would receive an average premium increase of 76 percent if the courts ultimately rule that consumers in the federal exchange cannot receive premium subsidies.

Halbig v. Burwell asserts that the Internal Revenue Service exceeded its authority in issuing a May 2012 rule that provides premium subsidies to individuals purchasing coverage through the federally facilitated exchange. While the ACA specifies that subsidies should be administered “through an exchange established by the state,” the law also gives the federal government the authority to establish an exchange on the state’s behalf. Only 16 states and the District of Columbia opted to create their own exchanges in time for the 2014 plan year.

“The court case has major implications for future insurance coverage and access to care for millions of Americans,” said Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health. “Depending on the ultimate decision by the courts and absent some other remedy, individuals in at least 25 states who remain in their current plans could see an average premium increase of over 70 percent.”

High Interest GAO Report — GAO-14-705T, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: Preliminary Results of Undercover Testing of Enrollment Controls for Health Care Coverage and Consumer Subsidies Provided Under the Act, July 23, 2014

July 23, 2014 Comments off

GAO-14-705T, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: Preliminary Results of Undercover Testing of Enrollment Controls for Health Care Coverage and Consumer Subsidies Provided Under the Act, July 23, 2014
Source: Government Accountability Office

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) officials told us they have internal controls for health care coverage eligibility determinations. GAO’s undercover testing addressed processes for identity- and income-verification, with preliminary results revealing questions as follows:

  • For 12 applicant scenarios, GAO tested “front-end” controls for verifying an applicant’s identity or citizenship/immigration status. Marketplace applications require attestations that information provided is neither false nor untrue. In its applications, GAO also stated income at a level to qualify for income-based subsidies to offset premium costs and reduce cost sharing. For 11 of these 12 applications, which were made by phone and online using fictitious identities, GAO obtained subsidized coverage. For one application, the marketplace denied coverage because GAO’s fictitious applicant did not provide a Social Security number as part of the test.
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires the marketplace to provide eligibility while identified inconsistencies between information provided by the applicant and by government sources are being resolved through submission of supplementary documentation from the applicant. For its 11 approved applications, GAO was directed to submit supporting documents, such as proof of income or citizenship; but, GAO found the document submission and review process to be inconsistent among these applications. As of July 2014, GAO had received notification that portions of the fake documentation sent for two enrollees had been verified. According to CMS, its document processing contractor is not required to authenticate documentation; the contractor told us it does not seek to detect fraud and accepts documents as authentic unless there are obvious alterations. As of July 2014, GAO continues to receive subsidized coverage for the 11 applications, including 3 applications where GAO did not provide any requested supporting documents.
  • For 6 applicant scenarios, GAO sought to test the extent to which, if any, in-person assisters would encourage applicants to misstate income in order to qualify for income-based subsidies. However, GAO was unable to obtain in-person assistance in 5 of the 6 initial undercover attempts. For example, one in-person assister initially said that he provides assistance only after people already have an application in progress. The in-person assister was not able to assist us because HealthCare.gov website was down and did not respond to follow-up phone calls. One in-person assister correctly advised the GAO undercover investigator that the stated income would not qualify for subsidy.

A key factor in analyzing enrollment is to identify approved applicants who put their policies in force by paying premiums. However, CMS officials stated that they do not yet have the electronic capability to identify such enrollees. As a result, CMS must rely on health insurance issuers to self-report enrollment data used to determine how much CMS owes the issuers for the income-based subsidies. Work is underway to implement such a system, according to CMS, but the agency does not have a timeline for completing and deploying it. GAO is continuing to look at these issues and will consider recommendations to address them.

Helping build financial capability across America

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Helping build financial capability across America
Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

We just published our second annual financial literacy report to Congress. It outlines our strategy and what we’ve done over the past year to enhance financial literacy and capability. In the report, you’ll find out about the tools and information we provide to help consumers navigate financial choices. You’ll see how we collaborate with organizations that reach consumers where they are, and how we research effective approaches to financial education.

Financial literacy is gaining attention worldwide. For the first time, a study of educational achievement has compared the financial literacy of young people across the globe. The results show that 15-year-olds in the United States are in the middle of the pack, compared to their peers in 17 other nations and regions that participated in the study.

We’ll put these results to work—collaborating with other government and educational agencies to look at promising solutions, innovative approaches, and scalable strategies for educating the next generation of young Americans.

UK consumers believe that they can’t do without the internet and mobile phones, new Ofcom research reveals

July 23, 2014 Comments off

UK consumers believe that they can’t do without the internet and mobile phones, new Ofcom research reveals
Source: Ofcom

The study examined which communications services UK consumers consider ‘essential’ in their day to day lives and whether they are affordable, particularly for the most vulnerable in society.

This forms part of Ofcom’s on-going work to ensure consumers receive value for money from their communications services. Encouraging and promoting consumer participation in the communications markets is also a key priority for Ofcom.

There was broad consensus among consumers on what ‘essential’ means in relation to communications services.

People said the ability to contact the emergency services, keep in touch with family and friends, or access information, education and entertainment were among the key functions of essential services.

Overall, the study found that telephone services, in particular mobiles, and internet access were most essential to UK consumers. Some 61% of consumers rated voice services (mobile or landline) as essential, 59% considered mobile voice or text services as essential, while 57% regarded personal internet access as essential.

The research also revealed that certain services are considered essential by some, but less important by others, with age being a key factor. Landline telephone services are considered essential by people aged 75 and above (61%), compared to just 12% of 16-24 year olds. However, accessing the internet via a smartphone was considered essential to 53% of 16-24 year olds, but to no one aged 75 and above.

New From the GAO

July 21, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Consumer Finance: Credit Cards Designed for Medical Services Not Covered by Insurance. GAO-14-570, June 19.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-570
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664256.pdf
Podcast - http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/664738

2. State Department: Implementation of Grants Policies Needs Better Oversight. GAO-14-635, July 21.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-635
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664905.pdf

3. African Growth and Opportunity Act: Observations on Competitiveness and Diversification of U.S. Imports from Beneficiary Countries. GAO-14-722R, July 21.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-722R

Impact of San Francisco’s Toy Ordinance on Restaurants and Children’s Food Purchases, 2011–2012

July 21, 2014 Comments off

Impact of San Francisco’s Toy Ordinance on Restaurants and Children’s Food Purchases, 2011–2012
Source: Preventing Chronic Disease (CDC)

Introduction
In 2011, San Francisco passed the first citywide ordinance to improve the nutritional standards of children’s meals sold at restaurants by preventing the giving away of free toys or other incentives with meals unless nutritional criteria were met. This study examined the impact of the Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance at ordinance-affected restaurants on restaurant response (eg, toy-distribution practices, change in children’s menus), and the energy and nutrient content of all orders and children’s-meal–only orders purchased for children aged 0 through 12 years.

Methods
Restaurant responses were examined from January 2010 through March 2012. Parent–caregiver/child dyads (n = 762) who were restaurant customers were surveyed at 2 points before and 1 seasonally matched point after ordinance enactment at Chain A and B restaurants (n = 30) in 2011 and 2012.

Results
Both restaurant chains responded to the ordinance by selling toys separately from children’s meals, but neither changed their menus to meet ordinance-specified nutrition criteria. Among children for whom children’s meals were purchased, significant decreases in kilocalories, sodium, and fat per order were likely due to changes in children’s side dishes and beverages at Chain A.

Conclusion
Although the changes at Chain A did not appear to be directly in response to the ordinance, the transition to a more healthful beverage and default side dish was consistent with the intent of the ordinance. Study results underscore the importance of policy wording, support the concept that more healthful defaults may be a powerful approach for improving dietary intake, and suggest that public policies may contribute to positive restaurant changes.

Halbig v Burwell: Potential Implications for ACA Coverage and Subsidies

July 18, 2014 Comments off

Halbig v Burwell: Potential Implications for ACA Coverage and Subsidies
Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

A new report quantifies what’s at stake—in terms of health coverage and dollars—in the Halbig v. Burwell decision expected soon. Urban Institute researchers estimate that 7.3 million people, or about 62 percent of the 11.8 million people expected to enroll in federally facilitated marketplaces by 2016, could lose out on $36.1 billion in subsidies. Residents in Texas and Florida would lose the most, $5.6 billion and $4.8 billion respectively in subsidies at risk in this court decision.

Selection and Costs for Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance in the Private Sector, 2013 versus 2012

July 18, 2014 Comments off

Selection and Costs for Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance in the Private Sector, 2013 versus 2012
Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (Medical Expenditure Panel Survey)

Highlights

  • In 2013, 51.3 percent of private-sector employees enrolled in employer-sponsored health insurance chose single coverage, rather than employee-plus-one or family coverage. This percentage did not differ from that for 2012.
  • Average annual total premiums across all three coverage types were up in 2013 compared to 2012. Single premiums rose 3.5 percent, employee-plus-one premiums rose 3.5 percent, and family premiums rose 3.6 percent.
  • The average annual dollar amount that employees contributed toward the premium also rose for all three types of coverage in 2013 versus 2012.

The Cost of Abortion, When Providers Offer Services, and Harassment of Abortion Providers All Remained Stable Between 2008 And 2012

July 18, 2014 Comments off

The Cost of Abortion, When Providers Offer Services, and Harassment of Abortion Providers All Remained Stable Between 2008 And 2012
Source: Guttmacher Institute

Access to abortion services is affected by a variety of factors, including the cost of the procedure, the gestational age limits at which providers offer services and antiabortion harassment. According to “Secondary Measures of Access to Abortion Services in the U.S., 2011-2012: Gestational Age Limits, Cost and Harassment,” by Jenna Jerman and Rachel Jones of the Guttmacher Institute, there was relatively little change in any of these measures between 2008 and 2011–2012. The new analysis relies on data from the Institute’s 16th census of all known abortion providers in the United States.

In 2011–2012, the median cost of a surgical abortion at 10 weeks’ gestation was $495, and an early medication abortion cost $500. By comparison, the inflation-adjusted charge in 2009 for the same procedures was $503 and $524, respectively. The cost varied by facility size: facilities with the largest caseloads charged the least ($450), while those that performed fewer than 30 procedures per year charged the most ($650). Because women were more likely to obtain abortions at facilities that charged less, on average, women paid $480 for a surgical procedure at 10 weeks in 2011–2012, compared with $483 in 2009 (adjusted for inflation).

Congress Should End – Not Extend – the Ban on State and Local Taxation of Internet Access Subscriptions

July 16, 2014 Comments off

Congress Should End – Not Extend – the Ban on State and Local Taxation of Internet Access Subscriptions
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), enacted in 1998 and temporarily renewed in 2001, 2004, and 2007, imposed a moratorium on new state and local taxes on monthly Internet access fees while preserving (“grandfathering”) existing Internet access taxes. The House Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill to eliminate the grandfather provision and permanently ban all state and local taxation of Internet access subscriptions. This represents the first time that Congress has seriously considered a permanent ban on taxing Internet service for all states, including those now using these taxes to help support public services. Rather than extend ITFA indefinitely, Congress should lift the ban and let states decide whether they and their local governments will impose their sales and telecommunications taxes on Internet access charges.

At What Cost? How Community Colleges that Do Not Offer Federal Loans Put Students at Risk

July 16, 2014 Comments off

At What Cost? How Community Colleges that Do Not Offer Federal Loans Put Students at Risk
Source: Institute for College Access and Success

In 2013-14, nearly one million community college students across the nation were denied access to federal student loans, the safest and most affordable way to borrow for college. Our issue brief includes national and state-by-state analyses of loan access by race/ethnicity and urbanicity, and takes an in-depth look at North Carolina, California, and Georgia.

CEOs and Consumers Disconnected on Sustainable Products and Services, Says Accenture, Havas Media report

July 16, 2014 Comments off

CEOs and Consumers Disconnected on Sustainable Products and Services, Says Accenture, Havas Media report
Source: Accenture

Only a third of consumers regularly consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions, according to a global study by Accenture (ACN: NYSE) and Havas Media RE:PURPOSE, which reveals the reasons for the disconnect between business and consumer expectations of sustainable products and services.

The report, “From Marketing to Mattering”, is based on a survey of 30,000 consumers in 20 countries. The study was commissioned in response and as a companion to the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, published in 2013, in which two thirds of CEOs admitted that business is not doing enough to address sustainability challenges, similar to the 73 percent of consumers in the latest research that say businesses are failing to take care of the planet and society.

The two studies reveal that, although CEOs see engagement with consumers as the most important single factor motivating them to accelerate progress on sustainability, they are often out of step with what motivates consumers to buy sustainable products and services. 81 percent of CEOs believe that their company’s reputation for sustainability is important to consumers, but the new research shows that less than one-quarter (23 percent) of consumers report that they regularly seek information on the sustainability performance of the brands whose products they purchase.

As result of the disconnect on the importance of a company’s sustainable reputation, only 32 percent of consumers say they ‘often’ or ‘always’ consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions.

Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses

July 16, 2014 Comments off

Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses (PDF)
Source: British Journal of Nutrition

Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers’ perceptions that they are more nutritious. However, scientific opinion is divided on whether there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods, and two recent reviews have concluded that there are no differences. In the present study, we carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods. Most importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/ crop-based foods, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19 (95% CI 5, 33) %, 69 (95% CI 13, 125) %, 28 (95% CI 12, 44) %, 26 (95% CI 3, 48) %, 50 (95% CI 28, 72)% and 51 (95% CI 17, 86)% higher, respectively. Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd. Significant differences were also detected for some other (e.g. minerals and vitamins) compounds. There is evidence that higher antioxidant concentrations and lower Cd concentrations are linked to specific agronomic practices (e.g. non-use of mineral Nand P fertilisers, respectively) prescribed in organic farming systems. In conclusion, organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants, lower concentrations of Cd and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic comparators across regions and production seasons.

UK Consumers Open to Pure Digital Banks, According to Accenture Survey

July 16, 2014 Comments off

UK Consumers Open to Pure Digital Banks, According to Accenture Survey (PDF)
Source: Accenture

One-quarter (25 percent) of UK consumers would consider using a pure digital bank – a bank with no branches or call centres that is only accessible via laptops and mobile devices, according to the latest survey of UK current account customers conducted by Accenture (NYSE: ACN).

Customers aged 25 to 34 are most keen on the idea of a pure digital, branchless bank; 33 percent would consider using one, while the youngest group of bank customers – those aged 18 to 24 – are the least receptive, with only 22 percent saying they would consider it.

Based on interviews with more than 3,600 UK current account holders, the survey points to continuing growth in the use of digital banking channels. It shows that 80 percent of customers went online at least once a month to interact with their banks, while monthly mobile banking usage has risen to 27 percent of customers compared with 21 percent in 2012 and 10 percent in 2011.

However, the survey also points to a rise in customers using branches. According to the survey, the number of customers going into a branch at least once a month has risen from 45 percent in 2012 to 52 percent this year, with the most pronounced increase among customers aged 18 to 24. Fifty-four percent of the youngest group, say they visit their bank branch each month compared to 39 percent of the same group in 2012.

Impact of Finances 50+ Training Classes on Individuals’ Financial Behaviors

July 15, 2014 Comments off

Impact of Finances 50+ Training Classes on Individuals’ Financial Behaviors
Source: AARP Research

AARP Foundation, in collaboration with Charles Schwab Foundation, designed and disseminated a financial capability curriculum targeted to the 50+ age group to approximately 11 organizations nationwide. Classes were offered beginning in September 2012 through December 2013. Approximately 2,775 people participated in these classes.

The purpose of the report is to evaluate the impact of the financial training by:

  • Comparing behaviors relating to key financial topics before and after participating in the class
  • Determining whether desired financial behaviors increased after participating in the class

A pre-test post-test evaluation methodology was designed by AARP in which financial behaviors, including behaviors around spending, saving, budgeting, investing, handling debt, etc., were measured prior to training and at two follow-up time points (3- and 6-month post training). Analysis of respondents’ financial behaviors pre- and post-training reveals notable findings on the impact of the training classes:

1. Participants’ levels of anxiety about their financial situations decreased significantly from before to after the training, with the proportion “very worried” dropping by 36% (from 22% to 14%) from pre-training to six months post-training, while those “not very/not at all worried” increased 24% (from 34% to 42%) during the same time period.

2. Participant scores on the Financial Management Behavior Scale (FMBS) measured at three points in time show that there was a statistically significant improvement in average scale scores pre- and post-training.

3. Looking at other discrete indicators of change in financial behaviors, most significant post-training (6-month) change was found in the following “positive” behaviors:

  • calculating net worth
  • reducing financial fees
  • reducing spending and/or increasing earnings
  • prioritizing debt payment
  • reviewing credit card statement

Likewise, frequency of some “negative” behaviors declined significantly 6 months post, including:

  • being overdrawn
  • being contacted by a collector
  • taking out a payday loan

4. Developing a clear financial goal was a major accomplishment for those who took the training, with a 50% improvement rate in participants setting a goal. Among those with a defined goal, the proportion with an Action Plan increased 40% by the end of the study period.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 857 other followers