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UPDATE: Focus on finance


Credit card fees; state taxes; gas mileage.



Focus on Finance

By Yvonne Chilik Wollenburg

Jump to:
Choose article section...Retirement savers beat the stock market Smoking, drinking, and shopping could cost more Here's another reason to watch your credit card bills Stretch your gas mileage Kids' funds aren't worth the expense Relief proposed for cell phone users

Retirement savers beat the stock market

If you have a defined contribution plan like a 401(k), the news isn't as bad as you thought, especially if you followed some old-fashioned advice—save a little every month, but don't put all your eggs in one basket. The average 401(k) account fared better than the market as a whole did during the past three years, says The Vanguard Group, a mutual fund company.

The average 401(k) saver lost about 6 percent of his investment from 2000 through 2002, compared to the 15 percent decline suffered by the stock market. Diversification protected 401(k) plans, which typically have a mix of stocks, bonds, and other investments.

Smoking, drinking, and shopping could cost more

Nearly half the states are considering various tax increases to help close ballooning budget shortfalls of around 10 percent, says the National Conference of State Legislatures. Residents should watch for increases in taxes for:

• Cigarettes: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia.

• Alcoholic beverages: Alaska, Georgia, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, South Dakota.

• Sales: Arkansas, California, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma.

• Income: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey.

• Other items: Arizona (health plan premiums), Kentucky (businesses), Missouri (gaming), Montana (rental cars, video games, accommodations), Nevada (businesses and property), New Jersey (hotel/motel), Ohio (motor fuels).

Here's another reason to watch your credit card bills

The average fees for exceeding your credit limit are creeping upward, says CardWeb.com, an online credit card analysis firm. The average fee went up to $28.01 as of February 2003, compared to $12.50 back in 1994. Five of the top issuers—Chase, Discover Card, FleetBoston Financial, Household, and Providian—now charge $35.


Stretch your gas mileage

Gasoline prices have you cursing your SUV? Here are ways to make a gallon go a little farther, compliments of the Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of business, government, environmental, and consumer leaders:

• Change your air filter regularly.

• Slow down. Each mile per hour you drive over 60 mph is like paying an extra 10 cents a gallon.

• Back off. Rapid acceleration and braking, as well as speeding, can cut your mileage by up to 33 percent at highway speeds.

• Use cruise control on the highway.

• Inflate your tires to the proper setting.

• If your vehicle has an overdrive gear, use it when appropriate.

Kids' funds aren't worth the expense

Mutual funds designed to teach kids about investing are pricey tutors, says a Standard & Poor's analysis. Two types of funds are aimed at children: those that provide educational materials to children, and irrevocable trusts that can be set up by parents or others as a gift. One of the largest of the teaching funds, Liberty Young Investor Fund—Class Z Shares, offers quarterly newsletters, a Web site for kids ( www.younginvestor.com), and an annual essay contest. But it has failed to beat the S&P 500 in four of the last five years, and charges up to 1.76 percent for expenses, as compared to an average of 1.55 percent among the fund's peers.

Performance is better for some of the irrevocable trust types of mutual funds, but they're restrictive and require lengthy lock-up periods. The report suggests that parents consider other options, including state college saving plans, known as 529 plans.

Relief proposed for cell phone users

Imagine switching cell phone providers and yet keeping your old cell number. It could happen if a bill proposed by US Sen. Charles Schumer of New York is enacted. The Federal Communications Commission originally said that cell numbers had to be portable by 1998, but it has extended the deadline five times, most recently until November 2003. Schumer's bill would keep the deadline from being pushed back again.

The proposed bill would require that information on cell phone service be monitored and collected so consumers could compare signal strength among carriers.


Yvonne Wollenberg. UPDATE: Focus on finance.

Medical Economics

Apr. 25, 2003;80:12.

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