Fun with Checking Account Fees

See? He’s winking. Dead giveaway.

Check out these dismal numbers!

  • 39: the % of free, non-interest checking accounts. Was 76% in 2009.
  • 25: the % our service fees have risen since 2011, a new record (yay!)
  • 23: the % your minimum balance to avoid fees has increased since 2011.
  • 35: the average $$ of overdraft penalties. Up 1.4% from 2011

Why are all these fees on the rise? Many blame regulatory changes, such as restrictions on when banks can charge overdraft fees and fees charged on swiping cards.

“They are resorting to eliminating free checking accounts and instituting higher fees to help fill that gap,” he said. “If you ran a fast-food restaurant and the government told you that you can’t raise the price of a hamburger, you’d raise the price of soda and fries.” The Ledger

What can you do? Well, this article is full of useful tips, and you should definitely check it out. But some quick tips include searching out a smaller local bank or credit union, which generally have lower fees. Also, actually reading your statements. They REALLY count on you NOT doing that. Like, your free checking account that suddenly is no longer free and you wonder why? It was in your statement!

So, read the article. It’s worth your time. And tell us… are your fees rising? What have you done about it?


A Little Place in the City

Like, a reeeally little place. This is a story that asks “How much space do you need?” And also “How little space can you tolerate?”

In San Francisco, where the average studio apartment rents for more than $2,000/month, the city is ready to vote on a rule allowing developers to build apartments as small as 220 square feet in size. Roughly 10 feet by 20.

At a minimum 150 square feet of living space — 220 when you add the bathroom, kitchen and closet — the proposed residences are being hailed as a pivotal option for singles.  LA Times

They hope the micro apartments will go for $1200-1700/ month. Great for a city where over 40% of the population lives alone. However…

Opponents fear that a wave of “shoe box homes” would further marginalize families of modest means who are desperate for larger accommodations…. And buildings full of micro-units could cause a spike in population density that might strain public transit and already limited parks and public spaces.   LA Times

As for me, I have done the Saturday walking tour of IKEA, where the fake apartments get smaller and smaller, until “Here’s how you can cram into 300 square feet!” And it gave me the creeps!

So what do you think? Clever idea, or the most depressing idea ever? (Or both?)

Penny Auction? Bring a BUNCH of Pennies!

Who wants an iPad for $19 and change? The answer is likely “Me me me me!!!” Well, that’s what “Penny Auction” websites like Beezid, Quibid and Bidfun advertise on TV during the late night Three’s Company reruns. But a new article at Yahoo News is offering that classic advice: if it seems too good to be true… But first, they explain how penny auction bidding works.

To sign up, you have to buy bid packs. The more you buy at a time, the lower per-bid price you pay. For example, you can buy a pack of 30 bids for $27 (that’s 90 cents per bid) all the way up to 1000 bids for $550 (55 cents per bid). Then you find an item you want to bid on, and start bidding. Each time you bid, it raises the price of the item by one cent and often resets a timer for another 10 seconds or so of open bidding. Bidding can be done manually, or you can set up auto-bidding, which will program the site to bid for you, usually at the last second.  Yahoo News

What’s the catch? The author lists several. First, to make a bid that raises the price by a penny, you are actually paying between 55 and 90 cents. Second, you get into a bidding war, make a bunch of bids, and end up not winning the item but still losing a bunch of money. Third, are you really saving? She provides an example where someone actually won an iPad for 83 cents, but used $300 in bids. That’s $301 total when, on that same day, you could buy the iPad on Amazon for $320.  Finally, just like those infomercials where they show you a dollar’s worth of crap, tell you it’s a $30 value and offer it to you for 10 bucks, it seems that some of these Penny Auctions are inflating the value to stir bidding excitement.

A final quote:

These sites bill themselves as “entertainment shopping.”  That’s like calling the craps table “entertainment banking.”   Yahoo News

But, as we say, that’s just one opinion. Have you used one of these bidding sites? What do you think? There’s more at the original article, so check it out. And have a great weekend!


Return of the Robocall!

“Greetings, citizen. This is Marcy from Consumer Credit Counselors…”

This is something I haven’t thought of in forever, since I got rid of my landline. But apparently robocalling is back, big time.  Despite the big fuss, and the establishment of the “Do Not Call” registry…

Government figures show monthly robocall complaints have climbed from about 65,000 in October 2010 to more than 212,000 this April. More general complaints from people asking a telemarketer to stop calling them also rose during that period, from about 71,000 to 182,000.  Associated Press

Also, telemarketers are supposed to check the registry for Do Not Call requests each month, but…

…fewer telemarketers are checking the FTC list to see which numbers are off limits. In 2007, more than 65,000 telemarketers checked the list. Last year, only about 34,000 did so.  Associated Press

Part of the problem is that certain types of calls are exempt from the ban, like political calls (awfully good of the politicians to exclude those!), calls for charities, and informational calls (like the airline calling to tell you that your flight is delayed.) What the scammers do is start the call as a charity, then switch to a pitch for “learn how to clean up your credit rating!”

Also, technology is making the law obsolete. Spoof calls hide their true telephone numbers so that when you try to report them, or call them back, you get nothing.

So, what to do? I still get these calls from time to time on my cellphone. My policy is, if I don’t recognize the number, I don’t answer it. They can leave a message or not. Second, there is a website I use,, where you can type in the phone number and see if there are any complaints. Also, be careful whenever you sign up for, well, anything on the web. There are often little stipulations like “May we contact you at inconvenient times to tell you about useless products and services?” Finally, you can always complain to the FTC, which I am sure is super-effective. They are at or (888) 382-1222.

So, how about you? Are you in the Registry? Do you still get these calls? How do you handle it?


The Mall of the Future!

How will shopping change over the next 30 years?

The way Blake Nordstrom sees it, fashion has always been about change — “creating a reason for the customer to buy something new” — and the next three decades will bring more of it. The next 30 years of retailing will be all about the customer’s interests. And it will be up to merchants to keep up with or anticipate their every desire.”

Yes, he’s that Nordstrom. We don’t have any of those around me, but I have always heard stories of their legendary customer service. Nice to see that they are thinking ahead.

Anyway, what does the future of shopping look like?  It’s all about technology:

  • Digital fitting rooms with parametric technology that simulates your body type and gives you a sense of look and fit.
  • 3-D printers that will allow you to make products in their own homes.
  • Smartphone technology that lets retailers dig into your personal data to figure out their tastes and potential interests.
  • Cash registers disappear as all transaction occur using cell phones.

The thing is, every one of these things exist right now, so it makes sense that somebody is going to find a way to use it for (your) fun and (their) profit.

But don’t expect stores filled with touch-screens and robots rather than hangers and sales associates. Though one day the ideal shopping experience might not involve human contact, Nordstrom says, “we’re not there yet.”

What do you think? Do these sound like improvements to you? What changes would you like to see in retail? Let us know, and have a great weekend!


Stupidity Fees?

Here is the typical drill. A consumer is completely surprised and shocked by some retailer’s stated policy, so she complains on Facebook. A big firestorm develops, and maybe they do a story on the local news that goes viral on YouTube. The embarrassed company relents, apologizes to the consumer and changes the policy.

Yeah, well, that didn’t happen this time.

An Irish family of 5 was on vacation in Spain. On the return trip, they arrive at the airport and go to the kiosk to print their boarding passes. They discover that the airline charges a 60 Euro ($76) printing fee PER BOARDING PASS. Four hundred dollars and one heart attack later, the mom is complaining on Facebook, has a million-billion Likes, and is demanding justice.

How does the airline CEO respond?

“We think she should pay 60 euros for being so stupid. She wasn’t able to print her boarding card at an Internet café? At the hotel? She couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home could print them and fax them to her?”

His point? The terrible bad printing fee is a stated policy. If you didn’t read the fine print, then you should pay the Stupidity Fee.  This particular airline, Ryanair, is one of those low-cost outfits. And part of the low cost magic is crazy weird fees like this one, such as bag fees, exit row seat fees, and even potty fees.

So, is this right? If it’s in the fine print, can a company do whatever it wants? How closely do you read the fine print? Should you have to? Check out the original article to read about the pros and cons, and let us know your opinion.

Organic Food – Yea or Nay?

The term organic shopper helps develop a picture of a consumer who appears to be more in the know about what’s best for their bodies and what isn’t.  But are those who purchase organic foods better off than those who don’t? Maybe not.  Consumer Affairs

Some people (or maybe it’s just me) envision the Organic Shopper as a hippie in hemp sandals and a tie-dye T-shirt. But the truth is that a LOT of people – from every stripe of life – are concerned about bacteria, pesticides and antibiotics in their meat and produce. So they have gone organic in their shopping habits and, for the most part, don’t mind paying a little extra for the peace of mind.

But are they really seeing the benefits? This study is unconvinced.

Twelve Stanford University researchers examined 240 studies on organic foods that were previously conducted between 1996 and 2011. The goal of the researchers was to determine the true differences between conventional foods and organic, in terms of nutrient levels and the amount of contaminants. Consumer Affairs

The good news is that there ARE fewer pesticides present in organic foods. 7% of organic foods had some trace of pesticide, compared to 28% of non-organic foods. BUT…all foods tested were within government safety standards.  Also, they found no big difference in the levels of vitamins A, C and E between the two.

What’s the takeaway? Well, some people just want their organic food, don’t mind paying for it, and that’s cool. But if you are somebody – like many of us – who has to keep tightening their belt month after month but you are still concerned about the safety of your food, non-organic seems to be a safe way to go.

There’s more at the original article, so check it out. And have a great weekend!


Restaurant Rant

Here’s a somewhat (very) lightweight after-holiday post. Top 10 consumer peeves about restaurants! Here are some of the ones that struck me. How many do you share?

Feed the kids! Everybody knows that hungry, cranky kids are a time bomb waiting to explode all over your good time. Something, anything, just get some food in them as soon as you sit down.

Plate timing: What’s the old rule? Knife and fork across the plate means I am done. Don’t yank it away too soon, and don’t leave it sit for the rest of the evening.

Attentive, not obnoxious: Ever try to have a conversation, and the server keeps interrupting? The tea is empty, so fill it. No need to ask EVERY time. Of course, the flip side to this is “Where is our waitress? Do you even remember what she looks like?”

Policy, schmolicy: Dumb stuff like they won’t seat you until the whole party has arrived. Or, there are only 3 tables being used, and they have to seat you right on top of each other. If it’s busy, or you are understaffed, I get it. Otherwise, you are just following rules for rules’ sake.

Can the commentary: “Wow! Looks like SOMEBODY was HUNGRY!” Seriously, just shut up.

There is a bunch more at the original article, as well as a friendly reminder that we, as the customer, also have some responsibilities. So check it out. Did they miss any?