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January 2010


Today’s guest on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast is Samir Kothari, co-founder and Vice President of Products at BillShrink.

Tom Dziubek speaks with Samir about how the terms of the Credit CARD Act of 2009 have been addressed by credit card issuers so far and what credit card customers can expect in the upcoming months.

Production Number: S02E15
Segment Number: 52

[podcast flashvars="titles: 'Consumerism Commentary Podcast 41: 2010-01-31'"]http://www.consumerismcommentary.com/audio/podcast-041-samir-kothari-credit-card-act-compliance.mp3[/podcast]

To listen, use the player above (Adobe Flash required), download the podcast here, subscribe to the podcast RSS feed, or use the iTunes link. Note: open links in a new window (Ctrl-click or Command-click) to avoid interrupting the podcast.

[00:00] Introduction from Flexo
[00:30] Interview with Samir Kothari
[00:43] About BillShrink
[02:08] Interest rates during the holidays
[04:01] Remaining fixed rate credit cards
[05:52] Credit CARD Act of 2009 items already in effect
[06:52] Credit card issuers in compliance
[11:06] “Act” items going into effect in February
[16:11] Other credit card regulations being discussed
[19:11] End

We always welcome feedback from listeners. If you have any comments for this episode or for any other, or if you have suggestions for future episodes, please leave us comments here or email us at podcast at this domain name.

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What the iPad Is and Is Not

This article was written by in Consumer. 42 comments.

I’m an Apple fan, which I define as being anybody who takes time out from the workday two or three times a year to watch their media events and keynote speeches. I’m happily using a Mac Mini as our entertainment hub at home (Boxee, Front Row and Hulu Desktop? Yes, thanks), I use a MacBook Pro for work, and both my wife and I have an iPhone.

Earlier this week Apple showed off their forthcoming device called the iPad, which they explained is something in between a laptop and an iPhone (or iPod Touch). They pointedly contrasted it with Netbooks, as well they should, since tablets and netbooks serve different purposes. If you sold hardware, and you had to decide which aisle to put the iPad in, you’d put it in the “tablet” aisle.

The rumors and speculation leading up to the reveal were rabid and annoying, as is the resulting disappointment and backlash. I admit I was initially disappointed, too, but I gave myself some time for the information to percolate, and here’s what I’ve concluded.

It’s the User Interface, Stupid

There will always be a kind of person who can’t understand Apple’s appeal. All they see is another computer, but more expensive. My main problem with Apple used to be that you couldn’t buy software for it in the mall, you had to use a catalog, but the Internet fixed all that. I spent more than ten years suffering through Windows before I finally had the resources to switch. And I’m happier for it, since I’ve found that Apple developers think through many more user scenarios than their Windows counterparts do. The interface just makes more sense to me, but it’s clearly not for everyone. You have to unlearn a lot of Windows before you can learn OS X.

“It’s just a huge iPod Touch.”

There’s only one positive hardware difference between the iPad and the iPod Touch: it’s much bigger. But I’ve never had trouble reading anything on my iPhone. When something is too small, I just zoom in. So at first, the iPad was looking nearly useless.

At the Apple event, they made one huge mistake, which was that they didn’t show off any third-party apps which took advantage of the bigger screen. (Gaming might be enough for some audiences, but not yours truly.) They showed off some existing apps, but zoomed them in. Whoops. It wasn’t until the next day that I started imagining special iPad-sized apps for, say, Nurses, or engineers on oil drilling platforms, or cruise directors, or stage managers at fashion shows, maybe. You know, people that you often imagine holding a clipboard. People that need to see a lot of information at a glance.

Is It an E-reader?

Apple talked about the iPad being great for books, newspapers and magazines. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried reading an entire book off of a normal computer screen, versus something that uses electronic ink like Amazon’s Kindle. I have, and I failed each time. It simply hurts the eyes. I tried the Kindle app on my iPhone, and had the same problem. I will reserve official judgment until after it starts shipping and I get some reviews from normal folks, but my suspicion is that it’s not good for reading books.

Is It an iPhone Replacement?

I would say that if you already have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you won’t be replacing that with an iPad, if only for this reason: it doesn’t fit in your pocket. That means you can’t plug in some headphones and take it outside to go rake the leaves.

“That keyboard looks weird to type on.”

I agree. Especially in the preview video, when typing with both hands, it looks awkward. But then I remember that I had the same doubts when the iPhone was new. In fact, the software keyboard was, in my opinion, going to make or break the iPhone’s success. Then I taught myself to type on it, and it’s fine. I’m hoping that with the iPad, you’ll still be able to reach around with your thumbs and type that way. I’ve gotten pretty fast.

“What’s this about no multi-tasking?”

While I haven’t personally found much need to run simultaneous apps on my iPhone, I can understand the usefulness. Contrary to some reports you may have heard, you can listen to music while using other apps. That is unless Apple has grown more stupid since the success of the iPhone, because I can do that on my iPhone.

What It Does Well

To summarize, I think the iPad will be good for:

  • People who often carry clipboards
  • People who spend too much time on airplanes (because of the battery life)
  • People who sell books, magazines and newspapers. If you’re in this group, please consider choosing just one business model instead of insulting your subscribers with advertising.
  • People in the entertainment industry. It’s likely more effective to show off your demo reel on a tablet screen as opposed to a mobile phone screen.
  • Helpless early-adopters and interminable show-offs. (Not judging, I swear. I love you guys. You let me play with the shiny toys before I decide if I want to buy one.)

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Earlier this month, I stopped my automatic monthly investment of $1,000 in the stock market through Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX), and it’s possible that this will prove to be a good decision. Shawn Tully from Fortune Magazine identifies four current asset bubbles that all investors should heed, and one of these bubbles is the stock market.

I began my monthly dip into the market with an investment in stocks through my SEP IRA last year around the end of March, so I benefited from one of the lowest recent points to get in the market. I followed that with the automatic monthly investment in my non-retirement account. Through 2009, I was dollar-cost-averaging as the stock market and the price of VTSMX increased.

According to Shawn Tully, you should avoid investing in the stock market, Treasuries, gold, and oil. These investments have all climbed too high recently although the recession is not too far in the past. For stocks, Tully looks at the market’s overall price to earnings ratio, which is historically high right now. This means that companies’ earnings are not high enough to justify the price of shares.

Here is the author’s warning about gold:

Prices are so high all over the world that people who once treasured their gold jewelry are now rushing to sell it. Swiss refiners are offering irresistible prices for bracelets and brooches, “cash-for-gold” stores are in Chicago malls, and suburbanites are hosting Tupperware-style parties where neighbors show up to hock their gold teeth.

When this happened in the early 1980s with silver, prices plummeted from $50 to $15 in less than a year. Look for gold to end up below $500 an ounce within two years.

Are you investing in the stock market or in gold right now?

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Another day, another recall. Normally, automobile recalls are not much of a problem. A recall usually involves bringing your car to a dealership, subjecting yourself up to some sales pitches, getting your car fixed, and driving home. Toyota’s recent string of recalls is more complicated because some of the problems do not have solutions yet.

If you own one of the many Toyota cars affected by one of the company’s recalls, you probably have already received a letter.

Here is what has happened so far:

  • November 2, 2009. Toyota/Lexus recalls recent models of the Camry, Avalon, Prius, Tacoma, Tundra, ES350, IS250 and IS350 due to a tendency for the floor mats to obstruct the accelerator pedal. This was a voluntary recall whose solution was simply to remove the driver’s side floor mat. Later that month, Toyota announced a solution to the problem that will require a visit to the dealer.
  • November 24, 2009. Toyota recalls 2000-2003 models of the Tundra due to the possibility of excessive corrosion on the frame rear cross-member caused by road salt.
  • January 21, 2010. Toyota issues a voluntary safety recall for recent models of the RAV4, Corolla, Matrix, Avalon, Camry, Highlander, Tundra, and Sequoia. This recall is to remedy another problem with the accelerator. In these cars, there may be a tendency for the accelerator pedal to stick, and this is not related to the floor mat problem. On Tuesday, January 26, after months of working with federal safety officials, Toyota decided to stop selling these cars until the problem has been fixed.
  • January 27, 2010. Last night, Toyota added to its initial recall pertaining to floor mats obstructing accelerator pedals. Added to the initial list are recent Highlanders, Corollas, Venzas, Matrixes and Pontiac Vibes. The Vibe shares design and construction with the Toyota Matrix.

According to the New York Times, sudden, uncontrolled acceleration in Toyota vehicles has caused 275 crashes and 18 deaths. Researchers have identified 2,274 incidents of sudden acceleration.

Over the past few months, Toyota has recalled 7.6 million cars. General Motors was quick to respond with an incentive for Toyota owners who want to get rid of their cars in favor of one of the American automaker’s vehicles.

Toyota has a strong reputation or being reliable, but these recent events inspire doubt. Here in the United States, shares of Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) have fallen 13% since January 19. If you believe that Toyota will recover, and if you have money you don’t mind losing while gambling in the stock market, it might be a good time to buy Toyota’s stock. I expect Toyota will recover and after some time, their reputation will remain mostly unharmed.

Update: I decided that if I should talk about buying TM, and if I think it’s a good idea for the long term, I should live up to my decision. I bought 10 shares of Toyota Motor Corp.’s ADR today.

Do you see the latest string of crises as an opportunity for investors?

Photo credit: Collin Allen
Dealers Swamped by Worried Toyota Drivers, Associated Press, January 28, 2010

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Buying a Second Car

by Kelly Whalen

If my husband had a car to drive to work and had taken my son to school, I would have saved three hours of my day. Yes, three hours. We are a family of six with one car. This is the result of a decision we made a few months ago when our second car ... Continue reading this article…

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IRS Will Force Businesses to Disclose Borderline Tax Shelters

by Luke Landes

Starting in 2011 or later, the IRS will be requiring businesses to volunteer more information about their tax avoidance practices and transactions. I use the word “volunteer” loosely. Currently, businesses and even savvy individual taxpayers do all that is possible to reduce the amount of tax owed to the government, even to the point at ... Continue reading this article…

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Smithee Debt Update, January 2010

by Smithee

The last time I talked about my credit card debt here, one of our community said that he didn’t know the specific numbers of my problem, and it got me thinking that I’ve probably lost sight of one of the main reasons I wanted to be writing here in the first place: to keep myself ... Continue reading this article…

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12 Greenest Cars of 2010: Do You Consider the Environment?

by Luke Landes

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently released an updated list of the twelve greenest cars of 2010. The council rates each car with a score, with higher scores going to those cars produce less pollution and are more fuel efficient, resulting in lower energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. Here are the ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 40: Getting Back on Track in 2010, David Bach

by Luke Landes

Today’s guest on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast is David Bach, author of Start Over, Finish Rich: 10 Steps to Get You Back on Track in 2010, a book in which David discusses getting out of debt in 2010 and how to make the most of the recovering economy. David is a former senior vice president ... Continue reading this article…

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In Detail: How to Claim the New Home Buyer Tax Credit on 2009 Tax Returns

by Luke Landes

In November of last year, President Obama and Congress expanded the home buyer tax credit to cover more people who have purchased houses in 2009 and 2010 and to further stimulate the real estate industry. Earlier this month, the IRS released an updated tax form to include the new rules. If you want to claim ... Continue reading this article…

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Democracy, Incorporated

by Smithee

The following is at least as much opinion as fact, but if I say something that isn’t factual, please tell me. Our American version of democracy has never been pure or particularly representative. From women’s suffrage to civil rights to lobbyist influence to rumors that can spread around the world before truth gets up off ... Continue reading this article…

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The Volcker Rule: Obama Proposes New Banking Regulations

by Luke Landes

If President Obama is able to enact the new plan for banks called “The Volcker Rule,” the era of banks too big to fail should be over. Obama has been speaking with former head of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker, who is advising the President to adopt a plan different than those suggested by Treasury ... Continue reading this article…

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Help a Reader Who Inherited $10,000

by Luke Landes

Does anyone have advice for Sibyl? She commented on an article reviewing Jane Bryant Quinn’s latest book with a question pertaining to her own finances. Sibyl was kind enough to include many details about her family’s finances. I have some suggestions, but this is always a good opportunity to have readers provide theirs as well. ... Continue reading this article…

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The 5 Worst Forms of Debt

by Luke Landes

I suppose you could live your entire life without going into debt, though modern middle class society in the United States seems to be designed to require at least some debt. Even if young adults can complete their education without taking on student loan debt, just about all new homeowners need a mortgage in order ... Continue reading this article…

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Debt Relief: Reminders of What You Are Doing Right

by Kelly Whalen

This article is presented by Kelly Whalen, Consumerism Commentary staff writer. Like many Americans my family has debt. We are working diligently to pay off our debt. We’ve slashed expenses, given up hobbies, and even become a one car family. We have a plan. A timeline. We’re constantly working on creative ways to shave some ... Continue reading this article…

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Donations For Haiti Relief Will Be Deductible For 2009 Taxes

by Luke Landes

Earlier today the House of Representatives passed a bill to encourage more charitable contributions for recovery in Haiti. Once this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by the President, and I expect it won’t be long until this law is official, those of us who have donated or will donate cash before ... Continue reading this article…

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$10 Discount Off Quicken Essentials for Mac 2010, 50% Off Other Quicken Products

by Luke Landes

In February, Intuit will release a long-awaited update to the Mac desktop version of Quicken. The new software has been renamed again. When it appears on shelves with the retail price of $69.99, it will be labeled “Quicken Essentials for Mac.” You can pre-order Quicken Essentials for Mac now and receive $10 off the full ... Continue reading this article…

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19.99% APR On My Citi Credit Card, True Cost of Credit

by Luke Landes

Editors Note: The rates in this article reflect the authors credit card rates at the time this article was originally written, these rates do not reflect current credit card rates. Because I check my credit card activity online almost every day to ensure nothing unexpected has been charged to me, it’s rare that I examine ... Continue reading this article…

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Between a Rock and a Hard Debt

by Smithee

Well, I didn’t want to have to make this decision, and I know that all of you smart people will think I’m making a mistake, but I’ve decided for the time being to stop making pre-tax investments into the 401(k)-like thing that my company operates. Over the last year I’ve directed $1,879.18 out of my ... Continue reading this article…

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U.S. Mint: Making Money By Making Money

by Luke Landes

I hardly use cash anymore. Almost every financial transaction I make as I go about my business is accomplished electronically or with plastic. Since putting to rest my cash-only experiment a year ago, I’ve only used cash in a couple of circumstances: food delivery when I’m too exhausted to cook, getting my clothing laundered or ... Continue reading this article…

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