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Modest gains in car insurance premiums

Car insurance rates are expected to rise by only 1.5 percent this year to an average of $870 per vehicle, the smallest increase in five years, says the Insurance Information Institute. Some drivers with good records and solid credit scores might even see their rates go down. Fewer accidents, safer cars, and new theft-prevention technology have held down costs.

Call, don't click for credit reports?

If you try to order a free credit report online, you could end up visiting one of dozens of imposter Web sites that might try to charge you a fee instead, says the World Privacy Forum, a consumer education and research group. The bogus sites have names that are close misspellings of the official Web site name, AnnualCreditReport.com (www.annualcreditreport.com). Some of these commercial sites are run by the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—but others aren't. They try to sell packages that include additional services, such as credit monitoring. You might also end up at a "pay-per-click" site filled with ads that you can escape only by closing your Internet browser.

The best way to get your credit report is to call 877-322-8228, which is sponsored by the three credit bureaus specifically for free credit report orders.

You can carry on your nail file, but check the hatchet

If your travel plans this summer include a plane ride, forget about taking your golf clubs into the cabin, says the Transportation Security Administration. But it's fine to carry nail files, corkscrews, and knitting needles onboard. Your kid can even bring his toy gun to his seat, as long as it's not a realistic replica. And don't worry if you need to pack a hatchet, brass knuckles, or a cattle prod—as long as they're in your checked luggage, you're okay. For more, see the list of permitted and prohibited items at the Department of Homeland Security's Web site at www.dhs.gov (click on Travel & Transportation, then Travel Security).

How much is that house really worth?

You can't always trust home-appraisal prices. More than half of all real estate appraisers say they've been pressured by mortgage brokers, lenders, and real estate agents to inflate property values, says a study conducted by October Research, a real estate research firm.

Brokers and real estate agents have a vested interest in puffed-up appraisals since they don't get paid if a deal falls through. That puts appraisers in a bind, the American Society of Appraisers says, because they're often pressured to report that a home's value equals the negotiated price to make sure the lender approves the mortgage. However, consumers who rely on an inflated appraisal and later sell in a flat or declining market could end up owing their lender more than their home is worth, and a ripple effect pumps up other home prices when the inflated appraisals are used for comparison in future deals.

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