The Checkout

Archive: November 2008

A Knee-Jerk Reaction to a Loss in Retirement Savings

If you think you're the only one losing money in your 401(k), think again. In its analysis of 2.7 million employees' plans, Hewitt Associates, a global human resources consulting company, found that the average 401(k) balance dropped 14 percent in 2008 to $68,000, down from $79,000 last year. In just two months, on average, employees have lost 18 percent of their assets, with some losing up to 30 percent. This is how American workers are responding: They're moving their 401(k) retirement savings into less risky investment funds. According to a study released this week, the amount of 401(k) assets in...

By Nancy Trejos | November 26, 2008; 7:02 AM ET | Comments (0)

Traces of Melamine Found in U.S.-Made Infant Formula

Not sure how this jibes with the Food and Drug Administration's recent risk assessment which said it was "unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns" but you be the judge! From Bloomberg News Service : By Justin Blum Nov. 25 (Bloomberg) -- The industrial chemical melamine has been found in infant formula made in the U.S. in low amounts that pose no health concern, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The finding was expected because of the chemicals use in can liners and manufacturing, said Stephanie...

By Annys Shin | November 25, 2008; 5:30 PM ET | Comments (0)

"Results May Vary"

We've all seen that line, flashing across the screen in tiny print during some infomercial as a svelte young gal or guy explains they lost a gazillion pounds by trying the Flabinator or some other drug and/or exercise device. The Federal Trade Commission wants to know what you think about some changes the commission has proposed to its guidance on advertising endorsements and testimonials. Among the substantive changes the FTC wants is to make advertisers that use a testimonial of an atypical experience to clearly tell consumers what the typical results would be, rather than just flash these three familiar...

By Annys Shin | November 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Mystery of the Missing Sentences

So some eagle-eyed observers of recall releases noticed a change in the boilerplate about the Consumer Product Safety Commission that runs at the end of them. This is the old version: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. Deaths, injuries and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $800 billion annually. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire,electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. The...

By Annys Shin | November 21, 2008; 4:21 PM ET | Comments (0)

Sen. Boxer Says CPSC Got It Wrong on Phthalates

Earlier this week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's General Counsel issued a legal opinion laying out how the agency plans to enforce the temporary ban on certain kinds of phthalates in teethers, pacifiers and other children's products. The ban was mandated by the new product safety law that was enacted in August. Phthalates are used to make soft plastic and have been linked to reproductive problems. The CPSC decided that the ban would apply to products made after Feb. 10 when the ban is to take effect. This was a huge relief to manufacturers still grappling with how to comply...

By Annys Shin | November 21, 2008; 3:05 PM ET | Comments (0)

IKEA Recalls Roman Shades After Death of Toddler

Federal safety officials are expected to warn consumers today about an emerging hidden hazard: Roman Blinds or Shades. They typically have two inner cords, one on each side that run in and out of the panel and allow the shade to open and close. They are separate from the operating cords, which have some kind of pull at the end. The inner cords can be pulled to form a loop that can then form a noose around a child's neck. Strangulation has long been a potential hazard with blinds that come with looped operating cords, but did not pose a...

By Annys Shin | November 20, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

If You Need Help, You're Not Alone

In another sign of how much consumers are hurting these days, more and more of them are turning to credit counselors for help. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), the largest national nonprofit credit counseling organization, reports that the number of calls to its National Locator Line, which automatically connects consumers with counselors, has set new records each week. In October, calls were up 70 percent over the same month in 2007. Year-to-date, the number of calls is up 31 percent over the same period last year. Meanwhile, year-to-date visits to the organization's Web sites through Oct. 31 are...

By Nancy Trejos | November 20, 2008; 1:15 AM ET | Comments (0)

Nancy Nord - Not Going Anywhere, Thank You.

On Tuesday, Acting Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Nancy Nord told staff in an e-mail and those gathered at an international product safety conference in Brussels where she was speaking that she intends to serve out her term on the commission, which ends in 2012. The announcement makes official what has been known for some time, which is that despite everything that happened in the past two years--a few trips to the congressional hot seat, repeated calls for her resignation ("Time for Nord to find an exit sign and follow it," the Chicago Tribune opined in September), and the arrival...

By Annys Shin | November 19, 2008; 3:28 PM ET | Comments (0)

The Return of Layaway

You thought it was a relic of your parents' -- or even your grandparents' -- generation. But layaway is making a comeback. This week, Sears reinstituted layaway in its stores across the country after a hiatus of nearly two decades. Company spokesman Tom Aiello said customer demand for the service, which allows shoppers to put merchandise on hold with a small down payment and pay it off over time, has spiked as the economic downturn lingers on like a bad cold. Sears phased out layaway in 1989 because of waning demand, though it kept the service in its jewelry department,...

By Ylan Mui | November 19, 2008; 7:01 AM ET | Comments (2)

Babywearing Ad Turns into a Huge Pain for Makers of Motrin

The blogosphere hath no fury like babywearers scorned. Over the weekend, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the makers of the pain reliever Motrin, took a virtual beating over an online and print ad that it originally posted on Sept. 30 that featured a supposed first-time mom talking about babywearing as if it was a painful fad. What set people off, I think, was really the tone, which made baby slings and Moby wraps sound like skinny jeans and high heels--only worse. A brief list of ironies: 1. McNeil was forced to pull the ad during International Babywearing Week. 2. Plenty of parents...

By Annys Shin | November 17, 2008; 6:20 PM ET | Comments (0)

Monday Round Up

Welcome to another installment in our semi-weekly round-up of Stories To Help You Weather the Recession. (I've given up tacking on Financial Crisis cause I think the R-world pretty much sums things up.) First up is your money. Financial planner and analysts say now may be a good time to put money into certificates of deposit. In flush times, four percent interest seemed laughable. Right now, it's looking pretty darn good. Nancy Trejos wrote about seniors older than 70 and 1/2 who face a unique situation. By law, they have to withdraw money from their retirement counts by the end...

By Annys Shin | November 17, 2008; 12:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

All Chinese Food Imports Containing Dairy Held Up at U.S. Border

The Food and Drug Administration has begun stopping imports of Chinese dairy and dairy-based products from entering the country in an effort to keep out food contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. Melamine is the chemical at the heart of the Chinese infant formula scandal that has killed at least two infants and sickened more than 50,000. Scraps of melamine, which is used to make plastic and fertilizer, were added to milk as a way of boosting the milk's protein content in order to pass quality tests. The same thing was done with wheat gluten, which was then used to...

By Annys Shin | November 13, 2008; 2:22 PM ET | Comments (20)

Federal Safety Regulators Say Toys Safer than Ever

On Wednesday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission held its annual toy safety press confab where it lists the top five toy-related safety hazards and generally comments on the state of toys today. Instead of CPSC HQ in Bethesda, the event was held at the Shops at Georgetown Park off Wisconsin Ave. and M Street NW, much to the delight of some of the folks in the audience who I overheard rejoicing in the proximity of a coffee shop. (There is a Starbucks close to CPSC HQ but I guess it's hard to beat a Seattle's Best 50 paces away.) Acting...

By Annys Shin | November 13, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Tougher Crib Regulations May Soon Be in the Works

With all that hoopla last week -- something about a historic election -- a wee note went out unnoticed by most folk outside the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It was a staff briefing package to the Commission recommending tougher safety standards for cribs. The commission will vote later this week on whether to move forward with new mandatory standards. The staff based its recommendation on the work of a special group of experts within the agency that looked at more than 1,200 crib incidents. They pinpointed problems with hardware, drop sides and the quality of wood components as potential causes...

By Annys Shin | November 10, 2008; 6:28 PM ET | Comments (0)

The Mathematics of Melamine

At the recent Food and Drug Administration's Science Board meeting, FDA officials briefed the board about its efforts to track economic adulteration of food. It was a timely talk given that Chinese officials are reportedly in the middle of a crack down on melamine-tainted animal feed after the industrial chemical turned up in eggs. Melamine is used to make fertilizer and plastic but the factories where it is made regularly sell melamine scraps to whoever wants them. The scraps, in turn, are frequently used to make protein powders that are used to spike animal feed and watered down milk in...

By Annys Shin | November 10, 2008; 7:01 AM ET | Comments (0)

Amazon Seeks to Free Consumers from the Clamshell

If you've ever bought small electronics or toys, you've probably tussled with a clamshell or two. By clamshell, I mean that plastic packaging that encases everything from remote controls to Rubik's cubes. I've routinely slashed, stabbed, dug my nails into and even tried to bite them in order to get them to disgorge their contents. Someone has finally heard our grunts of frustration: Amazon.com. The Web retailer on Monday declared war on "wrap rage" with a multi-year "Frustration-Free Packaging" program, starting with 19 best-selling products. They include a computer mouse and Barbie's Party Cruise ship. Check out the list here....

By Annys Shin | November 4, 2008; 7:12 AM ET | Comments (0)

Credit Cards Become Next Issue for Consumers

It's getting much more difficult for consumers to get credit cards, or if they have them, to maintain their limits, according to a Federal Reserve survey of lenders released on Monday. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they had tightened lending standards on credit card loans. About 50 percent reported raising the minimum required credit scores on credit card accounts over the past three months. For those who have cards, maintaining favorable terms has become tougher. About 20 percent of domestic banks reported having reduced credit limits on existing accounts to prime borrowers, who are considered more credit worthy. It...

By washingtonpost.com Editor | November 3, 2008; 7:38 PM ET | Comments (0)

Retirees Worried Their Savings Won't Last and Recession-Proof Jobs

Howdy. It's Monday. And not just any Monday. It's the day before what David Broder would say has been "The Best Election Ever"--that is if he was a 20-something who had nothing better to do but watch VH-1 all day. (This weekend he wrote a piece on how Obama v. McCain was the best election he's ever covered, topping even the 1960 JFK v. Nixon contest! Take that Gore v. Bush!) So I know you've got hours of staring at red-and-blue colored maps ahead of you. Not to mention the headache you'll probably get watching the outlines of Ohio, Virginia,...

By Annys Shin | November 3, 2008; 10:07 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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