Best Domestic Airlines of 2016

March 7, 2017

Many of us love to travel to wonderful vacation spots, but hate the process of getting there.  Airlines often get the brunt of criticism for making the trek frustrating, but some airlines are doing better than others to smooth the way.

Travel and Leisure is out with its list of the Five Best Domestic Airlines.  These are the ones that can make us smile with a quirky comment by the flight attendant, free snacks, and even better, free bags.

Here’s the list of the winning domestic airlines that charmed passengers in 2016:

  1. Virgin America
  2. JetBlue Airways
  3. Hawaiian Airlines
  4. Alaska Airlines
  5. Southwest Airlines

Click here to read more from Travel & Leisure.

Top Scams & Who They Target

March 7, 2017

ScamThe best defense against scams is making consumers aware of them.

That’s exactly what the Better Business Bureau‘s Scam Tracker does.

The Scam Tracker

The Scam Tracker is a free interactive tool online that gives consumers a place to report scams and fraud. The tool also allows consumers to warn others of malicious or suspicious activities at a grass roots level.

“These are consumers in your community letting you know that a scam has happened,” Better Business Bureau Public Relations Director Bryan Oglesby said, pointing to red dots on the BBB’s Scam Tracker website.

According to Scam Tracker data, there were more than 700 scams in Florida alone in 2016 — everything from email phishing to tax collection, travel scams, and on and on.

“Scam artists are good,” Oglesby said. “They know how to reach out to consumers. Tell them what they want to hear and really encourage them to do things they normally wouldn’t do.”

Users can search using a variety of filters to see what scams are happening in their area, track a particular type of scam, or even see how much money has been lost.

The BBB collects the data and also shares it with law enforcement agencies for use in identifying and prosecuting scammers.

Millennials at Greater Risk

According to a BBB study, contrary to popular perception, it’s not mainly the elderly or uneducated who are victims of scams. We’re all at risk and, it turns out, millennials are the most common victims.

“Millennials are most vulnerable, because they suffer from optimism bias. They don’t think it’s gonna happen to them,” Oglesby said.

We asked a millennial, 24-year-old Dillion Wostbrock, if he would be surprised to learn that members of his generation are actually the most common victims of scams. His response: “Yeah, I would be.”

It’s true. The BBB survey shows:

  • 69 percent of victims are under 45
  • 78 percent hold college or graduate degrees

Another finding by the BBB:  Men are actually more susceptible to scams than women.

Most Popular Scams

“Scammers are looking for ways to steal your money year round,” an IRS spokesperson said in an IRS produced video.

IRS tax scams are among the most common. That’s were scammers call you and claim to be with the IRS.  They say you owe money and demand you pay now.

They claim that if you don’t you will be arrested or have legal action filed against you.

Oglesby says don’t fall for it.

“(The IRS) not going to use high pressure tactics. They’re not going to force you to pay now,” he said.

Another red flag is the method an individual tells you to use to pay them.

“If they’re asking you to pay via wire transfer or money card, to go to your local Walgreens, right now, get a money card, pay us over the phone, give us those numbers. Those are red flags,” Oglebsy said.

Other popular scams include:

  • Employment scams:  where you’re asked to buy supplies for a job upfront.
  • Check scams:  where you’re told you were overpaid and need to return funds
  • Home improvement scams:  where you’re approached, often after a disaster to have work done

Be On Guard

Scammers like to prey on people when they’re at their most vulnerable.

“When there’s a natural disaster or something happening in the news media, scammers see that as an opportunity to take advantage of their victims,” Oglesby explained.

Remember: Don’t think it can’t happen to you. The most important step to protect yourself against a scam is realizing we’re all vulnerable.

For ten steps on how to avoid scams, click here.

Check out the story on Bay News 9.

History of FHA Mortgage Insurance Rates for Non-Jumbo Loans

August 30, 2012

Data includes Loan Terms of More than 15 Years &  Impact of FHA Streamline Refinance Done after June 11, 2012

Created using letters released by HUD identifying program changes

*Payments based on $200,000 non-jumbo loan with term of over 15 years.

Numbers could vary depending on balance at time of refinance.


To Enlarge, Click the Table You Wish to View.

Toyota Memo Brags of Saving $100 Million by Limiting Recall

February 22, 2010

A damaging memo has been uncovered that makes Toyota look as if  the safety of its customers is just a pawn in a game of profits. The troubling document surfaces just as Toyota executives are set to head to Washington D.C. this week to face Congressional hearings.

The Detroit Free Press explainsToyota’s leading U.S. executive boasted to the automaker’s Washington staff last summer that they had saved the company more than $100 million by limiting regulatory action on sudden acceleration to a recall of equipment such as floor mats.  That is according to documents turned over to a key U.S. House committee which will hold the hearings beginning Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal reports the claim was made in a presentation for Toyota executives titled “Wins for Toyota Safety Group.”  Among the “wins” the document lists are the savings claim, as well as a federal government “decision to close safety investigations of the Toyota Tacoma truck without ordering recalls, and delays to new safety rules that saved the company hundreds of millions of dollars.”  The presentation, the Journal speculates, “By linking safety issues to corporate profits, could prompt difficult questions for company executives, including President Akio Toyoda, who is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Oversight Panel.”

The carmaker’s chief executive, Akio Toyoda, is set to testify before the oversight panel on Wednesday. The House Energy and Commerce Committee opens the round of hearings on Tuesday, while a Senate committee will meet on Toyota next week.

Valentine’s Day Flowers 3 Days Later

February 12, 2010

Local Florist Day 3

FTD Bouquet Day 3

Teleflora replacement Bouquet Day 2

ProFlowers Bouquet Day 3

1-800-flowers Bouquet Day 3

Roadside Flowers Bouquet Day 3

Fried Turkey for Thanksgiving Can be Dangerous

November 25, 2009

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we wish you a happy and safe holiday.  Click here to see why roasted turkey is better than deep fried.

Is Grandmom Still Renting Her Old Telephone?

March 25, 2009

Some of us remember when telephones were clunky black objects with long cords and a big rotary dial face. Our monthly Ma Bell bill contained a small charge for renting the telephone equipment.

Incredibly, some people are still paying that monthly rental charge, with lifetime payments high enough to have bought hundreds of telephones. Some no longer even have the telephones they are “renting.” Who? Mostly elderly customers who may have no idea they are still paying to rent their old telephones.

A few months ago a Staten Island woman who had lost her job and had plenty of free time decided to carefully examine her monthly bills. She discovered that the quarterly $21.55 AT&T telephone bill she been faithfully paying for years included a rental fee for a “Trimline” telephone she had thrown away years ago. She also noticed that the AT&T logo at the top of the bill had changed to “QLT Consumer Lease Services.” When she called and informed the company that she no longer had the telephone, she was told she would get a refund. A refund check arrived shortly thereafter. The amount? $2.16.

In 1982 AT&T agreed in an anti-trust settlement with the government to break up into regional telephone companies, thereby instituting competition with new companies and ending its monopoly on the production and leasing of telephones. Telephone equipment became cheap and easily available. Today, more and more people (almost 20%) are even leaving their landlines behind and relying exclusively on cell telephones.

But many people, oblivious of quickly advancing telephone technology, continued to pay their monthly telephone bills, unaware that included in the bill was a lease payment for their phone.

A class action was eventually filed against AT&T for overcharging people for rental payments that vastly exceeded the actual cost of the equipment. A settlement in 2002 set aside a $350 million fund to compensate almost 30 million class members, but only 92,000 claims were filed, with payouts ranging between $15 and $80.

Today it is hard to gauge how many people still rent their telephones. The entity that was in charge of leasing, AT&T Customer Lease Services, changed its name in October, 2008, to QLT Customer Lease Services. Who are QLT’s primary customers? That’s not hard to figure out, since QLT also offers a “Lease Reward Card” that helps save money on vision and hearing aids and prescription drugs.

Echo Media, a print media advertising service that allows advertisers to include their inserts into monthly billing services, includes QLT Customer Lease Services as one of the available monthly billers that advertisers can take advantage of. Echo Media states that this “mature audience is comprised of long-standing Consumer Lease customers,” and has a yearly circulation of 1,554,000.

QLT charges $5.95 per month, or $71.40 per year, to rent a standard telephone. You can buy a standard phone for about $20.

So check and see if Grandma is still paying to rent a telephone she could have bought hundreds of times over.

Making Charity Pay

February 20, 2009

The Sallie Mae corporate family funnels charitable contributions to the Sallie Mae Fund, the donor-advised fund managed by the non-profit Community Foundation for the National Capital Region in Washington, D.C.

The Community Foundation, in turn, is paid a management fee, which it says it uses to serve the “compelling charitable needs of Metropolitan Washington.” Forty percent of all its grants are made outside greater Washington.

The Sallie Mae donor advised fund was set up with a $2 million contribution in 1992.  Fund vice president Erin Korsvall would not disclose how much has been contributed since or how it was spent.

Donor-advised funds allow donors to “recommend” which charities will receive donations and how much money they will be given.  While the donor’s advice can be overridden, rejecting a recommendation is “frowned upon” by donors, according to the Journal of Accountancy.

Spending recommendations by the Sallie Mae corporate family were followed without exception, Korsvall said. Later, she said she couldn’t say every recommendation since 1992 was followed.

Public filings by the Community Foundation don’t list how much money was received by or donated from any of the donor-advised funds it manages. One 574-page tax return lists hundreds of contributions to charities, but doesn’t disclose the contributor.

“Because we know so little about these Donor Advised Funds and there are such minimal requirements,”  said Niki Jagpal, the research director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy said, “you have no way of telling whether there’s insider dealing or a conflict of interest of whether the donor receives a benefit.”

“It all comes down to accountability and transparency,” she added. “What is the public purpose.”

On average, the donor-advised fund contributed $2.6 million each year from 2002 through 2007 to its charitable partner, the Sallie Mae Fund, Inc. The non-profit Sallie Mae Fund Inc. receives no money directly from the Sallie Mae corporate family.

Public records don’t disclose how the remainder of the charitable contributions were used. The Sallie Mae Fund trumpets some of its giving in more than 150 pages of press releases, good deeds that it says total more than $125 million since 2001. There’s no detailed accounting from the non-profit.

Here’s a breakdown of how the money was spent from public tax filings through 2007:

  • 20 percent on salaries, or $2.8 million
  • 6.4 percent on expenses, or $891,963.
  • 24 percent on the high-tech bus tour, or $3.4 million.
  • 31 percent on paying for college workshops, or $2.9 million.
  • 12 percent on education materials, or $1.6 million

The 2008 tax filing is not yet available.

Korsvall said the Fund now is staffed by employees from the SLM corporate family and has no employees.

Scholarship applications are directed to either the Community Foundation or individual charities that are sponsored by The Sallie Mae Fund, she said.

Four of the largest scholarship funds are handled this way:

  • The American Dream Scholarships are awarded by the United Negro College Fund. It also employed the United Negro College Fund as a consultant.

How To Help Homeowners?

November 14, 2008

Courtesy ABC NewsWhat did the Federal Reserve Bank researchers recommend?

  • Create realistic programs that simultaneously help borrowers afford and keep their homes and ensure that lenders are better off than they would be from foreclosures.
  • Pay loan servicing companies an incentive to complete “appropriate” loan modifications that keep borrowers in their homes.
  • Streamline the loan workout process to reduce costs.
  • Spur additional loan workouts by giving servicers immunity from potential litigation by investors who may perceive the changes as being too generous to borrowers.
  • Delay foreclosures for homeowners who are close to reaching a loan workout deal.
  • Increase pressure from Congress, the administration and regulators to establish rules that promote loan workouts, subordinate second mortgages and other liens and raise the “quality of [loan] servicing.”
  • Measure each loan servicer’s success at preventing default through detailed analysis of cure rates. Cure rates track loans that move from delinquency to current as well as loans that move from delinquency to foreclosure.