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Financial Beat


Retirement, Travel, Cell Phones, Autos, Stocks, Used Cars, Traffic, Investing, Real Estate


Financial Beat

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Choose article section... Retirement: Readjust your investments in tough economic times Travel: Should you pack a sandwich? Cell Phones: Changing carriers will still mean changing numbers Autos: Saturn dealers turn out loyal customers Stocks: Popular index now covers only US firms Used Cars: Can you be sure of a car's mileage? Traffic: Commuting is costing us more wasted hours Real Estate: Not many sellers go the do-it-yourself route

By Yvonne Chilik Wollenberg

Retirement: Readjust your investments in tough economic times

Financial experts say you need to re-examine how your assets are allocated every year. But only 20 percent of investors changed the proportion of stocks, bonds, and cash in their 401(k) accounts in 2001, even as the slumping stock market eroded the equities portion of their plans, says a survey by Hewitt Associates, a consulting firm. That figure compares to 30 percent in 2000. Declining stock values pushed down the proportion of assets invested in equities at the end of last year to 76 percent, compared to 81 percent a year earlier.

To help you decide whether to readjust your retirement portfolio, use the Profit Sharing/401k Council of America's online worksheet at www.psca.org/checkup.html .

Travel: Should you pack a sandwich?

Before you board a commercial airplane, check out what your meal might look like. A self-described frequent eater of airplane food has launched a Web site that shows photos of meals and snacks offered by 76 airlines. At www.airlinemeals.net , you can call up photos of what lucky first-class passengers are dining on, and compare them to the less-inspired fare served in economy. You can also get even with the airline that serves you "mystery meat" by snapping a picture of your lunch and posting it on the site yourself. (That is, if you get any food at all.)

Cell Phones: Changing carriers will still mean changing numbers

If you're hoping to keep your cell phone number when you switch carriers, you'll have to wait another year. The Federal Communications Commission gave wireless companies a reprieve from its 2002 deadline for number "portability." Companies now have until Nov. 24, 2003 to let you keep your number if you switch from a wireline to a wireless carrier or change from one wireless company to another.

Autos: Saturn dealers turn out loyal customers

For the first time in 16 years, a nonluxury automobile manufacturer topped luxury carmakers in a customer satisfaction survey of dealer service conducted by JD Power and Associates. Saturn dealers rank the highest; owners cite their friendly and timely service. More than three-quarters of Saturn owners' spending on routine service and repairs is spent at the dealership, compared to an average of 64 percent of the spending on nonluxury cars.

Service quality for dealerships in general is on the rise. Some 85 percent of all new-car customers surveyed say dealerships resolved their repairs in the first visit, compared to 1990, when only two-thirds said the dealer got it right the first time.


1. Saturn
6. Buick
2. Infiniti
7. Acura
3. Lexus
8. Saab
4. Cadillac
9. BMW
5. Volvo
10. Lincoln


Stocks: Popular index now covers only US firms

Standard & Poor's is replacing seven foreign companies listed in the S&P 500 to make it a better measure of the performance of US stocks. The S&P pulled Alcan, Barrick Gold, Inco, Nortel Networks, Royal Dutch Petroleum, Placer Dome, and Unilever from the index. They were replaced by American companies: eBay, Electronic Arts, Goldman Sachs, Principal Financial Group, Prudential Financial, SunGard, and United Parcel Service.

Used Cars: Can you be sure of a car's mileage?

Only 10 percent of used-car buyers ask their state motor vehicles department to check the vehicle's title history to detect the car's true mileage, says a new study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than half of state motor vehicle departments check odometer readings when car buyers file for a title, but few states have a comprehensive detection program to identify cases of odometer fraud. You need to specifically request a title history, and pay on average an extra $4 for it.

For $14.99, you can also check a car's history from Carfax ( www.carfax.com ), an online database of motor vehicle records.

Traffic: Commuting is costing us more wasted hours

A typical city driver spends more than two full days a year delayed by rush hour congestion, says the Texas Transportation Institute. Peak-hour drivers spent an average of 62 extra hours sitting in traffic jams in 2000, up sharply from 16 hours in 1982. The worst traffic is in Los Angeles, where drivers spent an average of 136 hours in delays. If you're dreaming of a shorter commute, move to Anchorage, where the average peak hour driver spent only four hours a year stalled in traffic.

Not only is the time-penalty for rush-hour trips greater, says the TTI, but rush hour itself has extended its time span, and more streets and freeways are affected.


Top 10 cities for traffic congestion

Metropolitan area
Hours spent in traffic delays in 2000
Los Angeles
San Francisco-Oakland
Washington, DC, MD, and VA
Seattle-Everett, WA
Dallas-Fort Worth
San Jose, CA
New York City and Northeastern NJ
Miami and Hialeah, FL


Real Estate: Not many sellers go the do-it-yourself route

Fewer owners are trying to sell their homes by themselves, and the ones who do seem to have homes of less value, says a survey by the National Association of Realtors. Only 13 percent of home sales were made directly by the seller in 2001, compared to 16 percent in 1999. The median selling price of a home sold directly by the owner was $137,400 in 2001, compared to $175,000 for homes sold by an agent.

Houses are selling more quickly these days, with or without an agent. The typical home was on the market for four weeks in 2001, compared to eight weeks in the 1990s. But the average time from contract to closing was five weeks in 2001, up from four weeks in 1999.

The author is a freelance writer in Teaneck, NJ.


Yvonne Wollenberg. Financial Beat. Medical Economics 2002;17:13.

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