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Financial Beat


Auto Safety, Retirement, Credit Cards, Airlines, Cell Phones, Travel, Spending, Investor Fraud, Cars


Financial Beat

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Choose article section... Auto Safety: Danger may lurk in small trucks and a minivan Retirement: Will you be able to kick back as planned? Credit Cards: Late payments could send your interest rate sky-high Airlines: You may have to pay to use a travel agent Cell Phones: When you want children to stay in touch, but not too much Travel: Forget Europe. Redeem your miles for outer space Spending: Uncertain times make Americans conservative Investor Fraud: Want to get rich? Gotcha! Cars: Don't assume your car is too old to be stolen

By Yvonne Chilik Wollenberg

Auto Safety: Danger may lurk in small trucks and a minivan

Children riding in the back seat of small pickup trucks with extended cabs are more than four times as likely to be injured in an accident than those in the rear of other vehicles, says a study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The injury rate is also more than twice that for children in the rear compartment of full-size pickup trucks.

Even riding in the front of these trucks isn't safe for kids, warn the study's authors. Children riding in compact pickup trucks were nearly three times more likely to be injured than in other vehicles, whether they sit in the back or the front. What's more, riding in the front carries the same additional risk of injury to a child as in any vehicle. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety confirms that these trucks have much higher death rates than the average for all other passenger vehicles.

And if you're thinking of choosing a minivan instead of a small truck, avoid the 2002 Kia Sedona; according to the IIHS, its air bags and bumpers performed worse than those of any minivan ever tested. The air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger unexpectedly deployed during a 5 mph crash test, cracking the windshield and causing damages of more than $4,000. The Sedona's bumpers failed when the vehicle backed into a pole; tailgate, rear body panels, and lights had to be replaced at a cost of nearly $3,000.

Retirement: Will you be able to kick back as planned?

Most people say they've lost retirement money; nevertheless, most don't plan to put off the day they can stop working, says a survey of affluent investors conducted for Intuit, a financial software company. More than three-quarters of those responding say the value of their retirement portfolio has dropped since the stock market peaked in March 2000, and nearly a third say they've lost more than 25 percent. But 86 percent say they won't have to delay their retirement because of the current recessionary environment.

Retirement plans are shakiest for older investors. Nearly 25 percent of those 65 or older and 23 percent of those 55 to 64 say they'll have to delay retirement, compared with 13 percent overall. The survey polled investors with annual incomes of at least $75,000.

Credit Cards: Late payments could send your interest rate sky-high

Lower federal interest rates brought the average annual percentage rate on credit cards down to 11.7 percent in January, 3.4 percentage points below last year's average. But that won't help much if you're late with a payment, says an annual survey by Consumer Action, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

Late fees have gone up 7 percent to an average of $28. And that may be only part of the price you'll pay. Nearly three-quarters of the credit cards surveyed raise the interest rate on the balance owed by delinquent customers. The penalty rates range from 12 percent to more than 29 percent.

Airlines: You may have to pay to use a travel agent

Expect to spend more to fly if you buy airline tickets from a travel agent. Most major US airlines have stopped paying agents a commission for tickets sold in the US and Canada. Delta, which was the first major carrier to drop the payments, says it's cheaper to sell tickets online directly to passengers. American, Continental, Northwest, US Air, and United also have eliminated commissions. Travel agents are expected to charge a service fee to cover the lost revenue.

Cell Phones: When you want children to stay in touch, but not too much

If you want your youngsters to stay connected with you, but are afraid they won't be able to disconnect from their friends, check out a prepaid cell phone service that lets you limit airtime. Prepaid phone kits include a phone and a set amount of airtime. VoiceStream EasySpeak offers a kit for $99.99 that includes a prepaid card worth $30 of air time, AT&T Free2Go Wireless costs $99.99 with a $25 card included, Verizon Wireless [FREEUP] costs $99.99 with a $15 card and a $30 mail-in rebate, and TracFone Wireless runs $79 with a $10 card. All the plans offer additional time with refill cards of different denominations; all the cards expire within 15 to 60 days.

Travel: Forget Europe. Redeem your miles for outer space

Rack up enough miles with US Airways and you can blast off at twice the speed of sound into the inky blackness of space. The airline has teamed up with Space Adventures, a "space tourism" company based in Virginia and Moscow, to offer space travel as a reward to its Dividend Miles members. For a mere 10 million miles, you can sign up for a 30- to 90-minute suborbital space flight that will take you 62 miles above the earth. These flights are scheduled to begin operations by 2005.

Don't have 10 million miles? For only 275,000 miles plus $8,000, you can ride in a MiG-25 Foxbat aircraft up to 85,000 feet above sea level, where you'll be able to see the curvature of the Earth. The tour includes a two-night stay in Moscow, where the flight originates.

For a more affordable option, you can travel to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness a live countdown and space shuttle launch. The price tag: 30,000 dividend miles and $650.

Spending: Uncertain times make Americans conservative

Many consumers changed their spending habits after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, according to a survey sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America and Bank of America. A third of the respondents say they're now more interested in personal savings, and a quarter are more interested in paying off debt. Some 36 percent say they've lost interest in making luxury purchases, and 29 percent have less interest in buying lottery tickets.

Investor Fraud: Want to get rich? Gotcha!

If you click on an online investment offer that promises you fabulous returns, you might get a lecture from the federal government instead. The Securities and Exchange Commission has planted hoaxes on the Internet for unsuspecting investors.

The SEC issued a phony news release promoting McWhortle Enterprises, a fictitious company that supposedly makes biohazard detectors that beep and flash in the presence of anthrax and other deadly germs. A bogus Web site, www.mcwhortle.com , received 150,000 hits in three days. Clicking through the site eventually brings you to a warning from the SEC that responding to a similar investment scheme could get you scammed. The SEC won't identify other phony sites that it has posted on the Internet.

Cars: Don't assume your car is too old to be stolen

The Toyota Camry is a favorite of car thieves, but the most-stolen model last year was 10 years old. The 1991, 1989, and 1990 Camry models won the top three spots on the most stolen list for 2001, says CCC Information Services, which produces technology for the automotive claims and collision repair industries. Cars are often stolen for the value of their parts, and Camrys and Honda Accords—another favorite of car thieves—tend to have interchangeable parts. For example, a bumper from a 1987 Camry is likely to fit any Camry from 1987 to 1991.

1991 Toyota Camry
1989 Toyota Camry
1990 Toyota Camry
2000 Honda Civic Si
1994 Chevrolet C1500
1995 Honda Accord EX
1994 Honda Accord LX
1994 Honda Accord EX
1988 Toyota Camry
1996 Honda Accord LX
1993 Chevrolet C1500
1997 Ford F-150 4X2
1990 Honda Accord EX
1991 Honda Accord LX
1996 Honda Accord EX
1987 Toyota Camry
1997 Honda Accord LX
1992 Honda Accord LX
1991 Honda Accord EX
1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4X4

Yvonne Wollenberg. Financial Beat.

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