Financial Beat

May 24, 2002

Credit Cards, Privacy, College Funds, Airlines

 

Financial Beat

Jump to:Choose article section... Credit Cards: Want a better deal? Just ask College Funds: Underused 529 plans could be enriched with a little shopping Privacy: Who's watching you on the Web? Airlines: Which carrier is most likely to give you grief?

By Yvonne Chilik Wollenberg

Credit Cards: Want a better deal? Just ask

When consumers called their credit card company to ask for a lower annual interest rate, more than half were successful, says a report by the US Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy group. With a five-minute phone call, 56 percent of consumers cut their annual percentage rates by an average of one-third, from 16 percent to 10.47 percent.

Consumers who had good credit ratings and had been with the credit company the longest were the most successful. Other helpful factors were a low unpaid balance compared to the credit limit and no history of late payments. For more information on how to lower your credit card bills, visit www.truthaboutcredit.org, a PIRG Web site.

College Funds: Underused 529 plans could be enriched with a little shopping

Few investors are taking advantage of tax-free college savings plans offered by states, according to a survey sponsored by Strong Capital Management. Only 16 percent of respondents who are saving for college have invested in a 529 plan, which is exempted from federal income taxes while the fund accumulates.

Two rebate programs can help you put aside a little extra in these plans. Upromise and BabyMint let you earn rebates when you shop; participating merchants pay the rebates and the money is transferred into a college savings plan. Upromise (www.upromise.com ) members can earn up to 10 percent on purchases from thousands of restaurants, retail stores and online merchants. BabyMint (www.babymint.com) members can earn up to 20 percent of their purchases. Best of all, both programs let grandparents and friends of the family contribute to an account.

Privacy: Who's watching you on the Web?

Fewer Web sites than two years ago are tracking consumers as they browse through the Internet, says a study sponsored by the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think tank. Among the 100 most popular Web sites, the proportion using third-party cookies to monitor the sites consumers subsequently visit dropped from 78 percent to 48 percent.

Consumers also are getting more control over the use of personal information. More than 90 percent of the most popular sites let consumers decide whether information, such as their e-mail address, can be shared with other companies, up from 77 percent in 2000. And 84 percent currently collect information such as a visitor's name or phone number, down from 96 percent in 2000.

On the other hand, some Internet companies are still trying to profit from personal information, such as postal addresses and phone numbers. For example, Yahoo! recently changed the privacy policy posted on its Web site to say it has the right to contact registered users by postal mail and phone, unless users fill out an online opt-out form.

Airlines: Which carrier is most likely to give you grief?

Delta Air Lines gets the highest marks for passenger service while United gets the lowest of 10 carriers rated by Consumers Union . The nonprofit consumer group ranked the airlines by their performance October through December 2001 in four categories: on-time arrivals, cancellations, lost baggage, and consumer complaints.

Believe it or not, over the last year service has improved for the 10 largest domestic airlines. The number of on-time arrivals rose to 85 percent in February, up from 74 percent a year earlier, says the US Department of Transportation. The carriers canceled only 1 percent of scheduled domestic flights, compared to 3 percent in 2000. Airlines mishandled four bags per 1,000 passengers, compared to five a year earlier. Disgruntled passengers filed 965 complaints about airline service in February, down from 1,251 a year earlier.

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The author is a freelance writer in Teaneck, NJ.

 

Yvonne Wollenberg. Financial Beat. Medical Economics 2002;10:11.