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UPDATE: Focus on finance


Traffic; checking accounts; credit card fees; Internet fraud; state & local taxes



Focus on Finance

By Yvonne Chilik Wollenburg

Jump to:
Choose article section... Call ahead for traffic updates Checking accounts cost more, earn less Judge says No to hidden credit card fees Be careful when bidding online  Pitch your pennies for charity How state income and local taxes vary

Call ahead for traffic updates

Drivers in 13 states can use their phones to get current traffic information from a new travel advisory system run in conjunction with the US Department of Transportation. By calling 511, drivers can get information about traffic tie-ups caused by accidents, road construction, traffic congestion, or bad weather. Unlike traffic reports on radio stations, this service will allow callers to get information for the specific route they plan to use.

The system is currently available in all or parts of Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia. Services are under consideration, or are being implemented, in 27 other states.

Checking accounts cost more, earn less

You'll need to shell out an average of $832 to open an interest-bearing checking account—up 14 percent from the $728 minimum required just six months ago, says's semiannual checking account study. But the average yield on interest-bearing checking accounts dropped to 0.47 percent, down from 0.57 percent in October 2002.

To top it off, it now takes an average minimum balance of $2,964 to avoid paying fees in an interest-bearing account, another 14 percent increase in six months. One-quarter of all such accounts require a minimum balance of $5,000 to avoid paying monthly fees, and some banks will charge you a fee no matter how much you've stashed in the account.

Judge says No to hidden credit card fees

If you used Visa or MasterCard on an overseas trip in the past few years, you could be due a refund. A California judge ruled in April that Visa and MasterCard misled consumers by charging them a currency conversion fee of 1 percent of foreign transactions—without listing the fee on billing statements or application forms. The court order to refund such fees paid by customers since February 1996 applies to all Visa customers because Visa is based in California. MasterCard, which is based in New York, is required to make refunds only to California residents.

A similar complaint against American Express, charging that the company's 2 percent currency exchange fee is not properly disclosed to cardholders, is pending.


Be careful when bidding online

Nearly half of all complaints filed with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center were about online auctions, making it the largest category of fraud complaints for the third straight year. The total number of fraud complaints referred to law enforcement agencies tripled in 2002.

Nondelivery of merchandise or nonpayment for other Internet transactions was the second largest category of complaints, at 31 percent, while credit and debit card fraud made up nearly 12 percent. The largest average monetary loss came from "Nigerian letters," a scam involving nonexistent government funds, typically claiming to involve the government of Nigeria.

The complaint center is a joint operation of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Nigerian letter
Identity theft
Check fraud
Online con games
Investment fraud
Online auction
Business fraud
Nondelivery of merchandise/payment
Communications fraud
Credit/debit card


Pitch your pennies for charity

Coinstar machines now let you send your pocket change to the World Wildlife Fund. You can support the Pennies for the Planet program by donating your spare change at most Coinstar machines, located in supermarkets across the country. You'll get a tax-deductible receipt for the amount of your donation.

Coinstar also lets you donate your change to the American Red Cross, the US Fund for UNICEF, and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. For locations of Coinstar machines, go to

How state income and local taxes vary

Combined state and local tax burden*
District of Columbia
New York
Rhode Island
Combined state and local tax burden
New Hampshire


Yvonne Wollenberg. UPDATE: Focus on finance.

Medical Economics

Jun. 6, 2003;80:10.

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