Home Renters Dinged on Car Insurance

May 4, 2016

Good drivers pay more for auto insurance if they rent, rather than own, their home, according to new research by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” renter Autumn Yoakum said.  “There’s no difference between me and a homeowner besides a mortgage.”

Said renter Karim Maghaaoui: “If you’re a good driver, your insurance should be lower.”

The average increase in 10 states surveyed showed renters were charged 7 percent more for their premiums, an average of $112 a year.

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Money Saving Tips for Road Trips

March 9, 2016

Forget the crowds and hassle of the airport.

Hitting the road for spring break and summer travel is the way to go for many folks like Ken Martin who is headed to Jekyll Island.

“A year or two ago, gas would have been 2-3 times what I’ll be paying on this trip,” Martin said.

AAA says gas prices typically go up about 50-cents a gallon, as travel season gets underway; but this year, with prices already so low, gas is expected to be cheaper than it’s been in years.

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The Dirty Truth about Washing Produce

February 23, 2016

When you buy pre-packaged lettuce at the grocery store, most of us just eat it right from the bag without a second thought, but should you be washing your “pre-washed” produce?  What about organic or homegrown fruits and vegetables?   Even though you might not have to worry about pesticides, there are other factors you might want to consider.

Rewashing Pre-washed Produce

Pre-washed produce has been given a commercial bath in chlorinated water before packaging, so there’s no need to wash it again, unless it just makes you feel better.

Beware of Fecal Matter

As far as organic and home-grown fruit and veggies – yes, you should wash.   It can be so tempting to bite into that vine-ripened tomato, still warm from the sun, picked in your backyard garden, but unfortunately, wiping it on your shirt, just isn’t enough.

While there may be an absence of pesticides on your home-grown and organic produce, there could be fecal matter in the compost-enriched soil which may have splashed up during harvesting, or even just plain dirt. Either way, the produce should be thoroughly rinsed off.

What about those wild blackberries you find?  Is it safe to just pop a few in your mouth?   That depends on whether the thought that a bird or critter may have peed on the berry bush bothers you.  Consider, too, that contaminants may have washed down with the rain.  Also, with organic produce from a market,  you don’t know how much it has been handled, or how.  Better to take the time than to take the risk.

When to Wash

Wait until just before you’re ready to use it, since bacteria can grow on produce while it’s stored in your refrigerator. Also, many, if not most, fruits and vegetables will spoil faster when they have damp skin.  Return unwashed, unused produce to the fridge as soon as possible, wrapped to prevent as much air as possible from affecting it.

Best Technique to Wash

To wash:  Rinse the produce under clear running water (doesn’t have to be hot or even warm), rubbing or scrubbing gently with a vegetable brush.  Ordinary tap water has been shown to do a perfectly fine job and removes 98% of bacteria.  If you’re concerned about your tap water, you can invest in distilled water.  Chemical washes claim to do a better job, but it’s unclear whether the residues left after using them are safe to eat.   Once it’s thoroughly cleaned, pat dry gently with a clean towel.

What About Produce That Will Be Peeled?

Always rinse the outside of the fruit or vegetable even if you don’t plan to eat the outer part (think: cantaloupe, cucumbers, squash) since you could spread bacteria from the outer shell to the inner fruit via your knife.  When peeling, be sure to use a clean utensil that has not been used on other foods you’re preparing, especially raw meat.

Food For Thought

Now that you know your fruits and veggies are clean, think about how to eat them.  Often the skin of produce contains valuable nutrients, so don’t always peel.   An unpeeled apple has nearly double the fiber, plus more vitamin A and potassium than a peeled apple.  A potato peel contains 20% of the vegetable’s nutrients, including B vitamins and fiber. If the peel and the inner part of a vegetable are the same color, like carrots, they have equivalent nutrients.

For more information on this and related subjects, visit ModernFarmer.com

 

Who Needs a Will and Why?

February 15, 2016

For Nora and Bill Massaro, having a will gives them peace of mind.

“To me, it was kind of a relief that I was taking care of my children,” Nora Massaro said.

If you die without a will, there’s no guarantee who will inherit your assets.  Basically, the court decides, distributing your property according to the laws of the state.  It’s called probate, and it can be a costly and slow moving process.

Even more importantly, if you have young children, a will lets you designate specifically whom you want to get custody, so the court can follow your wishes.

“They would look to relatives of the deceased parents, but you might want your sister so and so in Baltimore and not your sister so and so in Brandon, you know, just preferences,” attorney Craig Hall said, who’s been creating wills for clients for 30 years.

If you DON’T have a will, this is generally how Probate plays out:

  •   If you were married with kids, your surviving spouse and children inherit your assets.
  •   If you had minor children, the state will choose their guardians.
  •   If you were single and childless, your state will likely determine which of your relatives will inherit your financial assets and property.

Revocable Trust

This is the second marriage for both Nora and Bill.  They didn’t want any conflict between their kids from previous marriages, so they also created a revocable trust to try and avoid probate altogether.

“It can’t be contested. Period. End of story. It eliminates them going to court and having to fight back and forth. The trust dictates what our wishes are,” Bill Massaro said.

“The three sons get a long great,” Nora added, “We want to keep it that way.”

In the big picture, a revocable trust can be contested, but it is much more difficult. An individual who tries to challenge a trust must file a lawsuit and prove he/she has standing to make the challenge.

More Flexibility

A revocable trust, also known as a living trust, gives you more flexibility and control over how your assets are distributed.  For example, it allows you to avoid giving a minor child a big lump sum of money all at once.  You can distribute allotted payments up to a certain age like 25 or 30, when they would receive the balance.

“That helps to give you peace of mind, because young adults often aren’t ready– responsible enough, to receive a large, lump sum of money,” said Hall. The revocable trust gives you more control to make sure that money won’t be squandered.

The “living” trust also gives you more control over your assets while you’re still alive should you become incapacitated. You designate how your property should be handled, by putting it into the trust.

“You don’t know what you’re going to need. You don’t just transfer it, because the kids are going to get it eventually.  You need to protect yourself,” Hall explained.

Execute the Will Properly

If you don’t use an attorney, several websites, like Legal Zoom, offer programs to create a will yourself, but you do have to be careful.

Be sure to execute the will properly to avoid challenges.  The minimum requirement in Florida is two witnesses.

Even better, create a ‘self-proving’ will by taking witness names under oath and notarizing.

“So that you need not go find a witness 20 years from now and have them go to the courthouse, to prove up the will,” Hall said.

Also, be aware, you can’t make any handwritten changes to the will once it’s been witnesses and signed.  That will make the document null and void in a court of law.

Getting Started

The hardest part is often just getting started.

“Thinking it out, as far as, mine, hers, ours is a complicated situation,” said Bill Massaro, “So we had to really sit down and put it on paper.”

Take stock of everything you own from bank accounts to insurance policies to that cherished fishing pole you got from your dad.

Pick the Right Executor

It’s also important to name a ‘responsible person you trust’ as the executor of your will.

“That’s the person who would be handling the transactions, payment of your debts, satisfaction of your bills, and the distribution of your assets per your will,” said Hall.

It’s a big job, so choose carefully.  This is the person who will oversee the process and make sure your wishes are carried out.

Store it in a Safe Place

Once it’s completed, store your will in a safe place in your home or a safety deposit box at the bank.  And let the executor know where it is and how to get access to it, when the time comes.

So what’s the cost of a will?

  •   If you go to an attorney—expect to pay anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to more than a thousand, depending on the complexity of your assets.
  •  Sample forms online can cost as little as $10 to $20 for a basic will, while complete fill-in-the-blank templates average around $100 to $500, depending on the complexity of your personal circumstances.

Why don’t people have wills? 

According to a survey by Rocket Lawyer:

  •  57% said they “just haven’t gotten around to making one”
  •  22% felt that making a will wasn’t urgent
  •  17% didn’t think they needed a will
  •  14% don’t have a will because they don’t want to think about death

 

Sugar: It’s the New Tobacco

February 11, 2016

You won’t find a Surgeon General’s warning on your bag of sugar, nor is it regulated by the FDA. Yet sugar can be far more addictive than cocaine, and Americans consume way more than they should.  Much of it is found in processed foods and sweetened drinks.  According to a study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine in April 2014, most U.S. adults consume about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.

Ingestion of sugar, like many drugs, causes a release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain.  For those who are prone to addiction, eating “junk food” which contains added sugars can cause a craving for more sugar which can only be satisfied with increased and steady doses.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added simple sugar (not counting whole foods, fiber, or starch) recommended per day is:

  • Men — 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons)
  • Women — 25 grams (6 teaspoons)
  • Children– 12 grams (3 teaspoons)
  • Pre-Teens/Teens — 20 grams (5 teaspoons)

To compute the caloric count, multiply by four.  For example, 25 grams of sugar is equal to 100 calories.

Overuse of sugar is a leading contributor to obesity in both children and adults, and has been linked to high cholesterol and heart disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, inflammation, suppression of the immune system and headaches.

Read the Label

Many common foods, which one might not think of as sugar-laden, have a surprising amount of it.  For example:

  • 1 Tb catsup – 4 g
  • Starbucks Latte Grande – 17 g
  • Graham cracker – 8 g
  • 20 oz Vitamin Water – 33 g
  • 12 oz can of soda – 39 g

Know What You’re Reading

There are literally dozens and dozens of names for sugar and artificial sweeteners found in processed foods.  Some common ones are Aspartame, corn syrup, fructose,  Saccharine, Splenda and Sweet’n’Low.   Some not-so-well-known names are gluten, isolate, sodium cyclamate and truvia, and anything ending in “ose,” such as dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose or sucrose.

Food for Thought

Be a smart and healthy consumer.  “Everything in moderation” is good advice when it comes to most things.  However, if you are one of the unlucky ones with an addictive personality and have a problem with sugar, learn the names used for added sugar in food, read all labels, and avoid something that can cause you so much harm. Stick with whole foods, including fruits (but not juices), and use raw honey to satisfy that craving for sweets.

Top Complaints about Airline Travel

February 5, 2016

When it comes to flying, getting where you want to go on time always seems to be an issue. Flight delays and cancellations top the list of complaints.

“You keep watching your departure time go up and up and up. That is quite frustrating,” said traveler Frank Evans who had just flown into Tampa from Canada.

Dana Hampton, who was headed to Atlanta, echoed that frustration, “Nobody wants to be delayed ‘cause you have to change everything, so no one likes it.”

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Best Products & Treatments for Scars

January 27, 2016

Pictures of Wesley’s lip after the car accident: with stitches & after healing

Today, you can barely tell where facial plastic surgeon Dr. Ed Farrior stitched up Wesley Winer after a terrible car accident, a few years ago.

“It was bad.  I lost a big portion of my lip,” Wesley said.  “I had just really come to the conclusion that I was going to be scarred for life, like horribly.”

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Are Vitamins and Supplements Safe?

January 21, 2016

Many of us take a vitamin or supplement (or several of them) every day hoping it will make us healthier.  Unfortunately, when it comes to vitamins and supplements, there’s little regulation to determine if what you are taking is actually effective or safe.

It’s quite remarkable when you consider it’s a $30 billion dollar industry, but the Food and Drug Administration does not evaluate these products before they hit the shelves.  Supplement manufacturers have few requirements placed upon them. The law prohibits them from selling products that are adulterated or mislabeled, and they cannot claim to cure things they don’t; but there is little oversight or enforcement.

The PBS program Frontline took an in depth look at the issue in its recent report Supplements and SafetyClick here to watch the program.

Frontline also shared this information to help you decide whether to take supplements:

Here are five questions a consumer may want to ask when considering supplements.

1. Has the product triggered any health warnings or sanctions?

Searching for a product or its maker on the FDA’s website will unearth any safety advisories or sanctions issued against them. The agency also maintains a list of all recent recalls and market withdrawals.

Because the supplement industry is constantly releasing new products, a product may be dangerous even if there are no advisories against it. A few minutes of online research may reveal key concerns about a supplement or its producer; the FDA has tips for searching the Web for information on supplements.

Researching individual ingredients can also be productive. For instance, Consumer Reports compiled a list of the “dirty dozen”: Twelve ingredients linked to serious adverse health effects, but that remain on shelves. The Federal Trade Commission also has a list of substances that have raised safety concerns.

2. Has the product been tested by independent labs?

Gaps in regulation have led to lapses in quality, even among mainstream brands. For instance, the New York Attorney  General’s tests found that pills labeled as medicinal herbs sometimes contained little more than fillers like rice or houseplants. In some cases, supplements were filled with substances that could be harmful to those with allergies. Similar results were reached by researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada, who in 2013 DNA tested 44 herbal products from a dozen companies. They found that only two of the companies had products without any substitution, contamination or fillers in their products.

A handful of private, independent nonprofits have stepped in to partially fill gaps in regulation, inspecting some dietary supplements and reporting the results. The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) runs a voluntary program to inspect and certify the quality of a company’s products and facilities. Those that pass can place the organization’s yellow and black “USP Verified” seal on their product — less than 1 percent of all supplements on the market have this label. The international public health nonprofit NSF International runs a similar program aimed at sports supplements.

Two other organizations, ConsumerLab.com and LabDoor, randomly test dietary supplements and report their findings. Both groups provide general review information for free; full results are accessible to paid members. ConsumerLab has also aggregated a long list of health warnings and recalls for more than a decade.

3. Is the product too good to be true?

Supplement producers are prohibited from making unfounded claims of health benefits — which is why many avoid declarations like “cures disease” in favor of softer assertions like “supports immunity.” Nonetheless, it is not uncommon to find pills that make overzealous claims. Such instances are red flags that a product may be fraudulent in other ways, according to the FDA.

So before taking a supplement, consider what is being offered. Is it being sold as a miracle cure? A magic pill? A wonder drug? The FDA says consumers should beware of products that claim to do it all, and to do so instantly. Experts warn that products that primarily offer evidence in the way of personal testimonials are worthy of skepticism, as are products that use suspect medical jargon, like these examples offered by the FTC: “molecule multiplicity,” “glucose metabolism,” “thermogenesis,” or “insulin receptor sites.” And just because something is labeled “natural” is no guarantee that it is safe to consume.

There are millions to be made through medical fraud, so consumers are asked to consider how they heard about a product. If the person recommending or prescribing it stands to gain financially, they may not have a consumer’s best interest at heart.

Many manufacturers offer money-back guarantees, no questions asked. But getting that money back may prove difficult or impossible. “Marketers of fraudulent products rarely stay in the same place for long,” writes the FDA’s division of emergency preparedness. “Because customers won’t be able to find them, the marketers can afford to be generous with their guarantees.”

4. Is there evidence that the supplement does what it promises?

Thousands of studies have been conducted on the effect of various substances on the human body. The National Institutes of Health has summarized what is known about the most commonly consumed supplements — vitamins and minerals — in a series of fact sheets. These explain how each vitamin or mineral behaves in the body, and the scientific evidence behind its health impacts. The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus has similar information about other drugs, herbs and supplements. For a deeper dive into the science behind a specific supplement, explore the Library of Medicine’s PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset. The database includes scientific literature on vitamin, mineral, phytochemical, ergogenic, botanical, traditional Chinese medicine, and herbal supplements in humans and animal models.

Resources are also available for certain groups: The Department of Defense offers information about the safety of specific supplements to service members. Older adults can find resources aimed at them created by the FDAthe Federal Trade Commission, National Institute on Aging, and NSF International.

5. Do I really need supplements? If so, am I taking the right amount?

Health experts will say that your doctor is the best person to consult on whether vitamins or supplements are appropriate for you, and a pharmacist or registered dietitian may also have valuable input. People taking medications should exercise particular caution, since some supplements can interfere with their treatment.

As you research a supplement, think about dosage. Some otherwise safe vitamins and minerals can cause health problems if they are taken in excess. The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board produces recommended daily dietary allowances as well as tolerated upper intake levels.

Also worth considering is that a supplement may have considerably higher quantities of a vitamin or mineral than it says on the bottle. Because certain vitamins degrade over time, manufacturers often provide more than the labeled quantities, to ensure there is still the labeled amount at the expiration date. The federally funded Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database hosts a multivitamin/mineral calculator that estimates the true quantity of a vitamin or mineral in a pill based on its labeled quantity.

Click here to read more from Frontline.

Understanding What Makes You Buy & How Retailers Get You to Buy MORE

January 19, 2016

Retailers spend billions of dollars to understand what makes you buy something as a consumer.  Understanding the psychology behind our shopping behavior can help make you a savvier shopper.

Why we buy

For a lot of folks, shopping is more than just buying something you need.  It actually improves your mood.

“Picks me up when I’m down,” shopper Leslie Martin told Consumer Wise host Angie Moreschi.

Psychologist Dr. Harold Shinitzky, who is he author of several books on behavior, says there’s a reason you feel that way.

“When someone goes shopping there’s this wonderful release of endorphins and dopamine,” Dr. Shinitzky said.  “It just feels good!”

Retailer Tricks to Increasing Buying

Retailers know this and spend billions to figure out how to maximize your experience so you’ll buy more, for example, the layout of a store.

“Where the more desired products are on the far side of the store, so you have to see distracting things, that might increase your probability of purchasing,” Shinitzky said.

Online search tools like Google track you and create pop-up ads to fit your interests.

“It’s kind of big brotherish, but that’s where the money’s made these days,” shopper Eric Long said.

“I think it’s annoying and I think it’s an invasion of privacy,” another shopper, Cassandra Earle, said.

Appeal to Your Senses

Another thing retailers do to entice you to buy more is appeal to your senses.

At a grocery store, for example, when you walk into the fruits and vegetables section, there is high intensity lighting to make the products shine more.  And they spray water on them to make them glisten, so they look more appealing. Then, you might notice you’re funneled through the flowers section and bakery, both of which create lovely scents to tempt you.

“All of this is to draw you in for your senses, all five of your senses; and the more they can stimulate, the more likely you are to feel good about the environment and purchase more,” said Dr. Shinitzky.

Smart Phone Tracks Buying Habits

More and more the tool of choice for tracking your buying habits is your smart phone.  Location services and all those apps you download give retailers a window into how you shop.  Besides what deals you click on, it also can tell researchers how long you linger in a certain location. The longer the so-called “dwell time’ as they call it, the more you tend to buy.

“When someone passes 40 minutes of spending time shopping, that’s the point where we start seeing 50% of all of their impulse purchasing,” Dr. Shinitzky said.

Binge Shopping

Shopping can become addictive, so be on-guard for warning signs.

“Purchasing things you don’t need, didn’t want, can’t afford… you need to really take a hard look at your decision making,” Dr. Shinitzky said.

Take this insight into why you buy and how retailers try to get you to buy more and use it to empower yourself, so you can avoid impulse buying and buyer’s remorse.

*Angie Moreschi is the Consumer Wise Reporter for Bay News 9 in Tampa and News 13 in Orlando*

Nursing Home Giant to Pay $125 Million in Whistleblower Settlement

January 13, 2016

Nursing home therapy giant RehabCare has agreed to pay the government $125 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit alleging it knowingly caused facilities it contracted with to inappropriately bill Medicare for services.  Money from the settlement will be returned to the taxpayers, under the False Claims Act.  The FCA makes it possible for private citizens to file suit on the government’s behalf, if they learn of fraud against the government.  The whistleblower ultimately gets a percentage of the money recovered.

In the lawsuit, the whistleblowers and government alleged that RehabCare, whose parent company is Kentucky-based Kindred Healthcare, set unrealistic financial goals and scheduled therapy to get maximum reimbursements regardless of patients’ actual needs, according to an article in Business Insurance, a sister publication of Modern Healthcare.

Among other things, RehabCare allegedly scheduled and reported therapy after the patients’ treating therapists had recommended they be discharged from therapy. It also allegedly reported that skilled therapy had been provided to patients who were sleeping at the time or otherwise unable to undergo or benefit from therapy.

The provider also allegedly placed patients in the highest therapy reimbursement levels rather than determining their levels of care based on individualized evaluations.

Two former RehabCare employees filed the original whistleblower lawsuit; one was a physical therapist and manager, and the other was an occupational therapist.

Click here to read more in Business Insurance.

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