Do You Want a Reliable Car?

If you are shopping for a new car or perhaps trading in for a newer used model what do you look for? Many of us simply want a reliable means of transportation. Nobody wants to spend half their time with their car in the shop getting fixed. And for cars out of warranty no one wants to spend every last penny on repairs. Do you want a reliable car? If so, here is a reliable car list from Consumer Reports, as published by

Cars considered most reliable by those who registered their opinions with Consumer Reports are at the top of the list and those least reliable are at the bottom. The number following the model name is the number of places it either rose or fell since last year.

Top 5

Toyota            +1
Lexus               -1
Kia                  +2
Audi                (no change)
BMW             +4

These are high end cars, except for KIA and the ranking comes from consumer opinions. However, JD Power ranks KIA at the top and its 7 year warranty is a good indication of what the company thinks about how well its cars will hold up over time.

Second 5

Subaru           +5
Infiniti             +1
Buick             -5
Honda            +1
Hyundai         -3

Buick sits at number 8, down from number three last year. What happened? Buick has been the only US car in the top ten for years but it was in the top 5 for one year. One of the reasons Buick has done well is that there are fewer models, no SUVs and no pickups so the focus on just a few car types seems to work.

Unfortunately competition at the top is fierce and Buick only lasted at number 3 for a year.

Second 10

Nissan        +2
Mazda           -6
Porsche         +3
Mercedes-Benz   +3
Ford    +3
Volkswagen +6
Chrysler        +10
Chevrolet       -3
Acura           -7
Jeep   +

Ford, Chrysler, Chevrolet and Jeep finally show up in the rankings in the second 10. Chrysler is a surprise, up 10 in the rankings from last year. Volkswagen is making a comeback after the emissions scandal.

How Do You Measure Reliability?

Consumer Reports simply asks car owners to rate cars for reliability. JD Power takes a more scientific approach to rating vehicle dependability. They look at three year old cars and measure problems per 100 cars.

The study, now in its 28th year, examines problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 2014 model-year vehicles. Overall dependability is determined by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100), with a lower score reflecting higher quality. The study covers 177 specific problems grouped into eight major vehicle categories.

Top performers are these:

Lexus and Porsche: 110 problems per 100 vehicles
Toyota: 123 problems per 100 vehicles
Buick and Mercedes-Benz: 131 problems per 100 vehicles
Hyundai: 133 problems per 100 vehicles
Hyundai is also the most improved in the JD Power rankings for dependability.

Models showing best improvement were Dodge, Ford with improvements of 21 fewer problems per 100 vehicles over the previous year.

Our vote goes to the JD Power method as it measures specific problems as opposed to a general sense of reliability which Consumer Reports measures.

What Do You Do Without Affordable Health Insurance?

Republicans have hated the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, ever since the law went into effect. However, now that the GOP controls congress and has its man in the White House they have been unable to repeal Obamacare and enact their own law. The reason they have failed is that several Republican senators voted against repeal because it would deprive many poor people of affordable health insurance. Now the president has taken his own actions via executive order. Money Watch reports on Trump’s actions to end Obamacare subsidies and how that will affect consumers.

The Trump administration’s announcement late Thursday that it will immediately end key cost-sharing subsidies under the Affordable Care Act could translate into higher, in some cases unaffordable, health insurance costs for consumers who rely on the individual insurance market. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the health care exchanges are “imploding.”

The president added on Friday that he considered the subsidies “almost a payoff” to the insurers, and he’s ending the payments because he doesn’t “want to make the insurance companies rich.”

Subsidies to insurers were necessary to get enough congressmen and senators on board to pass the bill at the beginning of the Obama administration. If Trump is successful in removing subsidies by executive actions here are four things that will happen according to Money Watch.

  • Low-income people will face debilitating out-of-pocket costs
  • Everyone will pay higher premiums
  • Insurers will disappear
  • Consumers may turn to alternative insurance plans

If this affects you what do you do without affordable health insurance. One option may be to go with a totally no frills plan that would not qualify under the affordable care act. The other part of Trump’s executive action was to allow small businesses and individuals to buy slimmed down health insurance policies that don’t qualify for Obamacare. The problem if you have preexisting conditions you won’t be covered or the cost of the slimmed down policy will still be too expensive to purchase.

Move to California?

No everyone in every state will be affected equally by the new rules. KPCC writes that California feels protected from the coming changes.

California officials are denouncing President Trump for ending the subsidies that help cover out-of-pocket medical costs for 670,000 lower-income Californians. But experts believe the state’s health care marketplace is mostly insulated from a move that could hit the industry hard in other parts of the country.

The federal payments that lower out-of-pocket costs will end immediately, but the 11 insurance companies doing business on Covered California are still legally obligated to provide the discounts. State officials estimate that will mean a loss of $188 million for the remainder of 2017.

Covered California’s decision this week to add a 12 percent surcharge to silver-tier plans was designed to protect most consumers from the effects of the Trump administration’s move, because separate federal subsidies that help pay for consumer premiums will grow to cover most of the additional cost.

Yes, Californians may pay a bit more for some insurance options but having a system that integrates well with the Affordable Care Act protects folks in California from the worst of Trump’s actions.

What Problems Might You Have if You Buy Bitcoins?

You have probably heard about bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. If you have then you know that the value of a bitcoin has gone up significantly of late. This makes it tempting to buy a bitcoin or two or just a fraction of one. But when going into any new investment you need to consider. What problems might you have if you buy bitcoins? A useful article noting reasons you should not buy bitcoins was published in Forbes a few years ago.

Discussion of the digital currency known as Bitcoin is divided into two camps. People who understand the currency well tend to be enthusiastic boosters. Those who are critical of Bitcoin tend not to understand the currency very well and, as a consequence, their criticisms tend to be superficial, misguided, or just plain wrong.

That’s unfortunate because Bitcoin does have some real weaknesses. The lack of knowledgeable critics has created an echo chamber effect that I worry may produce (or may have already produced) a bubble. I’m generally a Bitcoin fan (and, full disclosure, I own some Bitcoins), but in the interest of balance, here are four reasons you should think twice before buying Bitcoins.

The four reasons are these.


There is no consumer protection in the bitcoin world. If someone steals your credit card you can call VISA and shut down the account. If you bank goes into bankruptcy you can still get money from Federal Deposit insurance. And holding bitcoins can be an active process that means you need to have a reliable computer, not get hacked and not lose your data. Or you can, for a fee, delegate this task to someone who knows what they are doing. But, again, there is no consumer protection.

Are you buying bitcoin because you believe it will become more valuable over time? This is very volatile way to invest and it may be easy to lose your shirt.


A problem for the governments of the world with bitcoin is that organized crime uses this as a means of making payments, moving money and hiding their ill-gotten gains. The system is hard to control and there is always the risk that governments of the world will simply declare it illegal and shut it down. And there would go your investment.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Because of the way transactions are checked and retained the system becomes more and more data intensive. That could be a problem if more and more people use this. And it already is a problem if no one is processing your transaction. This is not like going to your bank and telling them to skip the money transfer. You just need to wait and hope that someone in the decentralized system does the work for your transfer.

How Much Growth?

The current price of bitcoin is probably not going to last. But can you be in it for the long haul like a buy and hold stock investor? There are no fundamentals to tell you how much a bitcoin is likely to be worth ten years from now so don’t expect bitcoin to grow like Microsoft in the early days. The best advice in bitcoin is only to invest what you can afford to lose.

Consumer Laws You Did Not Know About

It is what you don’t know that can hurt you with consumer issues and life in general. The Huffington Post reminds us with an article about consumer laws you didn’t know about but really should.

It might be a stretch to say that American consumers are legally illiterate. After all, don’t we watch Law & Order?

In fact, one recent survey found that 10 percent of U.S. college graduates believed Judge Judy was on the Supreme Court. (In our political climate, I suppose anything is possible.)

But when it comes to federal consumer laws, there is real ignorance. Day after day, I see consumers banging their heads against the wall. They know what’s happening to them is wrong, that there ought to be a law, but they don’t know enough about the law to invoke it.

Here are the consumer laws you did not know about and really should.

Electronic Funds Transfers Act (EFTA)

Have you have lost money at an automatic teller machine? This law mandates that financial institutions involved investigate and disclose to you what happened. The same applies to making purchases which also involve the transfer of money.

Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA)

This law has to do with mortgage loans, their servicing and enforcement. Look on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website. For example if you are in danger of foreclosure your lender is required to work with you in a process called loss mitigation to help you avoid this.

Fiduciary Rule

This is part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). In short it requires that you financial advisor act in your best interest. It applies to pension plans, retirement funds and health plans. If you think your financial advisor has a conflict of interest check this out. The Department of Labor explains fiduciary responsibility in regard to health and benefit plans.

Online Privacy Requirements (California)

For folks living in California this may be important. The California Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA) requires a conspicuous privacy policy listing for anyone collecting personal information from California residents. If, for example, you end up being the victim of identity theft because an online business’s sloppy handling of your information you could use this law to go after them providing that they do not have a clear privacy policy for you to read.

Consumer Warranties and Service Contracts

Investopedia discusses consumer protection laws you should know about. Specifically they discuss warranties.

An express warranty is a promise from the seller, either written, oral or in an ad, promising that the item will perform its function for a specified period. Whether the item purchased is new or used, an express warranty is a guarantee that the item will work. However, not all items come with an express warranty.

The law automatically provides the second type of warranty, the implied warranty. Implied warranties are a part of all retail sales of new and used consumer goods. Basically, the retailer of an item implies that the item will work properly and be of average grade and quality, as long as it is used for the purpose it was sold.

The implied warranty goes back to old tort law in which the buyer of a product or service is allowed to believe that what they are buying will function as described for a reasonable length of time and will not harm them.

Does Hurricane Insurance Do You Any Good?

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have come and gone and now Maria is tearing through the Caribbean. If you get hit by a hurricane how much does your insurance cover? The Atlanta Constitution Journal wonders if insurers are stalling on claims for Irma and offers some thoughts on what is and what is not covered by your insurance. Does hurricane insurance do you any good?

Insurance regulators should publish running tallies on claims related to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey so that consumers can determine if their insurer is doing its job, a leading consumer advocate says.

However, it appears that Georgia consumers won’t have access to such information.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this weekend that many victims of the recent storms may face difficulty getting their damages covered by insurers. That’s because insurers exclude certain types of damage – such as flooding – from a typical homeowners policy. And the fine print in some policies may make it difficult to collect on other types of storm damage, the AJC found.

If you had damage from one of the hurricanes and are not getting paid or are being offered too little by the insurer here are some info and some suggestions.

Demand that the insurer show you the detailed language in the policy that served as the basis for their offer.

If you feel you have been misled, it might be time to talk to a lawyer.

Another problem in the fine print: Insurers may no longer pay the additional costs of bringing a cost up to code. So, a local government may require that a new home be elevated to avoid flood risk, but the insurance policy will only pay for a home like the old one, which wasn’t elevated.

If you have both wind and water damage, some insurers have a provision that if you have an insured event (wind damage) and also an uninsured event (flooding) they will cover neither.

If you are not getting satisfaction from your insurer consider these actions.

Complain to senior staff at your insurance company

File a complaint with your state insurance commissioner. Information on how to file a complaint in Georgia is here.

Consult with an attorney

Hurricane Insurance Is Not Enough

In hurricane prone areas like Texas, Louisiana and Florida your homeowners policy will typically exclude any damage from a hurricane. But, even if you are willing to pay extra for a separate hurricane insurance policy it will typically not cover damage from a storm surge. So you will also need flood insurance. provides some useful info about hurricane insurance.

If you live in an area subject to hurricanes, you should weigh your need for hurricane insurance. Your decision, and the costs you have to pay, will be based on several factors, such as where you live, what your house is worth, and how high a deductible you’re willing to pay.

Check your policy for any limitations on wind and water damage. Your home owners insurance may cover damage from wind and wind-driven rain.

Make sure your home owners policy doesn’t exclude hurricane-related damages altogether. This is especially likely in hurricane-prone states like Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, where insurers may require supplemental hurricane insurance or separate windstorm and flood policies.

Check exclusions even if you do have hurricane insurance: your policy may exclude damage from floods caused by rising water, no matter the source. In that case, you will need separate flood insurance.

In short, hurricane insurance may not do you any good if you are hit by a storm surge. You will need separate flood insurance for that or perhaps you simply need to move to higher ground and farther inland.

Be Careful When You Donate

The news has been full of sad stories after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Many folks would like to help. However, if you live in Alaska, for example, you are not in a position to bring food or help out personally with the cleanup. But you may be willing to send some money to help out. Be careful when you donate money after a natural disaster because now is the time that scammers will set up web sites to harvest your dollars and not give a cent to those in need. How do you know where to send your money and if it is going to a good purpose? The Federal Trade Commission has a web page of consumer information on charity scams.

If you’re thinking about giving to a charity, do your research to avoid fraudsters who try to take advantage of your generosity. Here are tips to help make sure that your charitable contributions actually go to the cause you support.

What You Need to Know

Learn the signs of a charity scam and get tips for researching a charity.

Charitable Gifts-in-Kind FAQ

When you think about donating to a charity, you may think about donating money. But there’s another type of donation you may not be aware of ‘ gifts-in-kind.

Before Giving to a Charity

Tips to help make sure your charitable contributions are put to good use

Follow the links for useful information before sending your hard earned cash.

Another source to look at is a web page by CNN on charity scams.

Every spring, when the National Weather Service announces potential names for the upcoming hurricane season, scammers race to create deceptive websites and accounts soliciting donations using variations of those storm names.

After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the FBI said more than 4,600 websites advertising relief efforts popped up, most of which law enforcement suspected were fraudulent. The Red Cross asked the FBI to investigate 15 sites that mirrored its own website in the days following Katrina.

One of the most brazen Katrina-related fraud cases Green recalled involved two men who registered a fake Salvation Army domain name — “” — and used it to collect nearly $50,000 in donations. Another man who claimed he was flying to Louisiana with medical supplies collected $40,000 in two days on “,” according to a Justice Department spokesperson. He never arrived.

Go to these web sites to check charities before giving.

Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance

Charity Navigator

Charity Watch


When giving never give cash. Use a credit card or write a check to the organization. Never, never pay money to an individual when you want money to go for a charitable purpose.

The Most Effective Use of Your Money

Aside from being careful of scams when you give to charities you also want the charity to use your money to help people and not eat up your cash in salaries and overhead. has a lot of information about cost effective charities. And don’t forget your church. As an example the Methodist Church has missions all over the world. They are already staffed and paid for. Any money that you put in the collection plate with instructions to send to a specific cause will arrive there without any deductions along the way. The same is probably true with churches in hurricane damaged areas.

Who Will Care for You When You Need Help?

Everyone hopes to lead a long life. But what happens in old age when you cannot get around as well, cannot see as well and perhaps have a variety of ailments? If you are wondering who will care for you when you need help in your later years Consumer Reports published a useful article about elder care and assisted living.

For older Americans, assisted living offers a compelling promise. Your aging parent can live in an apartment with hotel-like services and receive help with medication, bathing, and other tasks of daily living.

By contrast, a nursing home provides 24/7 care for seniors needing medical support. Other kinds of senior-living communities are designed for people who are more active and high-functioning. But these differences are very loosely defined, which can make comparing facilities difficult. And whereas more hospital-like nursing homes are regulated at the state and federal level, oversight of assisted living facilities is uneven at best. A good one can be an excellent choice for someone who can no longer live on his or her own. A bad one could put your loved one at risk.

One of the benefits of modern medicine is that people live longer. The down side is that we often need help in our later years. Assisted living is therefore a growth industry with the number of US residents on assisted living passing 800,000 in 2014. A well-chosen assisted living situation can provide seniors with maximum freedom consistent with their abilities. A badly chosen situation can be overly expensive and even dangerous.

What Sort of Help Does Grandpa Need?

People naturally want to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. This means that often times the senior is more disabled than one might hope by the time they get to an assisted living center. The issue also has to do with what the facility offers. For example, there are facilities where people live independently with the option to take meals in a communal dining room or make their meals in their own kitchen. Some facilities offer a service of checking in on residents twice a day such as 9 am and 9 pm. This sort of arrangement works well for people with no cognitive impairment and who can get around without help. But what if grandpa is forgetful or has trouble bathing and getting dressed? An additional care giver at additional cost is often needed to extend the period of independence prior to a nursing home or death. The sad fact is that all too many people end up in assisted living situations where the assistance does not fit their needs. Whereas nursing homes are regulated by state governments assisted living facilities are not.

Elder Care

When grandpa needs help you are talking about elder care. Age in Place provides a definition.

Elder care is best defined as any number of personal care and health care services available to seniors that are tailored to help meet their needs as they age. Services can include everything from home care services, assisted living, occupational therapy or transportation; the list is endless. These services provide assistance to seniors who may have trouble with daily needs.

Often times if grandpa needs help with activities of daily living it can be provided in a home setting. There are services that help seniors get around when they no longer can drive a car. There are visiting nursing services and visiting care giver services to attend to medical and daily living needs. Picking the right services and doing so in a timely manner can help reduce expenses and provide the most appropriate services at a given stage of life.

Reasons Why Consumers Make Bad Financial Decisions

There are several reasons why consumers make bad financial decisions. Here are a few and some suggestions that will help you avoid the same. writes about bad financial decisions.

In an ideal world, consumers are making investment and monetary decisions based on facts and thorough research of the markets, careful analysis and guidance from seasoned financial experts. This is not always the case.

A working group of behavioral scientists including Abigail Sussman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, show in a new paper that financial mistakes happen when consumers fail to examine all of their choices when making monetary decisions. For instance, many home buyers don’t comparison shop when applying for a mortgage; they simply go with the first financial institution they contact.

Limited Local Tradeoffs

A common mistake that occurs in financial decisions is not considering broader and longer term outcomes but rather looking at immediate, local and limited tradeoffs. It can be nerve wracking to deal with finances but getting anxious and wanting to make a quick end to an uncomfortable situation usually results in short term tradeoffs that are bad financial decisions in the end.

Whom Do You Trust?

Advertisers have known for years that trust is important in financial decisions. That is why they use well known and trusted actors to promote their products. The problem is that people whom you trust may not be people who know much that will help your financial decision. And just watching what someone else does and then copying it does not always lead to the best financial solution.

Pencil, Paper and a Quiet Room

A wise man once said that there was no problem that could not be solved in a quiet room with paper and pencil. The point in the pre-internet era was that if you take the time to think about financial decisions and do so considering all the options and without distraction you are more likely to come up with a better if not the best solution.

Getting Help

A big financial decision is getting the right mortgage for your circumstances. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau helps clients when they take the information that you provide and giving you options about what will work best for your situation. If getting a mortgage is your current concern look at their mortgages section.

Whether you are getting a mortgage, having trouble paying your mortgage, or want to learn about reverse mortgages, we have answers to your questions.

And if you are deeply in debt, have bad credit and need to consolidate loans take a look at our article on how to consolidate credit card debt.

An excellent way to get a lower interest rate when consolidating loans is to offer something that you own as collateral. A common approach is to offer your residence as collateral. When doing so you will always get a better interest rate than if you simply consolidate you loans. However, you will also be agreeing to a forced sale of your property in case you default on your new consolidated loan. If the offered interest rate is low enough this may be a good way to go.

When making any financial decision take your time, talk to someone whom you trust and who knows what they are taking about and then choose the best option.

Why a Reverse Mortgage Can Be a Bad Idea

According to CU Insight the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just released an advisory regarding why a reverse mortgage can be a bad idea.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today issued a report warning older consumers about taking out a reverse mortgage loan in order to bridge the gap in income while delaying Social Security benefits until a later age. The CFPB report found, in general, the costs and risks of taking out a reverse mortgage exceed the cumulative increase in Social Security lifetime benefits that homeowners would receive by delayed claiming. The Bureau also released a consumer guide and video to help prospective borrowers and their families understand how reverse mortgages work so that they can make an informed decision before agreeing to borrow.

The advisory first deals with the specific case of a person delaying receipt of social security until they will receive the maximum but then taking out a reverse mortgage on their home in order to provide an income stream until social security kicks in. It turns out that as a rule this does not work out very well. The cost of the reverse mortgage typically exceeds the benefit of waiting for a larger social security check. Why else might a reverse mortgage be a bad idea?

Pros and Cons of Reverse Mortgages


The good side of a reverse mortgage is that you can tap into value of your home which for most folks is the most valuable asset they have. The reverse mortgage is a source of income in old age and can be set up to provide regular payments to add to your social security check. There is no tax penalty for doing this and you will never owe more than the value of your home when the loan comes due and the home is sold.

In addition payments will continue after the value of your home is exceeded and so long as you are alive and still living in your home.


If you need to move out of your home the loan becomes due. These are commonly adjustable rate mortgages so you may have little or no equity left when you need to move. If you dreamed of leaving your home to your children this is a problem because when you move out the loan is due and if there is no equity left they would need to repurchase the home.

This can especially be a problem for elderly parents taking care of a disabled child unless the name of the child is on the property and the mortgage along with the parents.

Sources of information about reverse mortgages can be obtained from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority at their web sites.

The bottom line is that a reverse mortgage can be a life saver that lets the elderly remain in their home while taking advantage of its built up equity. The downside is that in the end people are essentially selling off their homes bit by bit in order to meet living expenses and may end up having to move out and lose their home and equity as well.

Safe Ways to Watch the Eclipse

On August 21 there will be a solar eclipse. You should watch it but don’t hurt your eyes looking into the sun. The NASA web site shows where there will be a total eclipse (sun completely covered by the moon for two minutes and 40 seconds) and where there will be a partial eclipse in which some of the sun will be covered.

On Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun. Anyone within the path of totality can see one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights – a total solar eclipse. This path, where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere – the corona – can be seen, will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse where the moon covers part of the sun’s disk. NASA created this website to provide a guide to this amazing event. Here you will find activities, events, broadcasts, and resources from NASA and our partners across the nation.

This is a rare event so don’t miss it but you need to be prepared. There is no risk if you are simply outside during an eclipse but there are safe ways to watch the eclipse and ways that will hurt your eyes. The Science Line at UCSB writes about how long it takes before your eyes get damaged looking at the sun.

Damage to the eyes from sun exposure can take two forms: short-term damage and long-term damage. Short-term damage (“solar retinopathy”) occurs when a person stares directly at the sun, and is a result of too much ultraviolet light flooding the retina. In extreme cases this can cause blindness, but is so painful that it is rare for someone to be able to stare at the sun for that long.

Don’t test this out as damage from the sun is not reversible. What are some safe ways to watch the eclipse? ABC News has a helpful article and tips for safe viewing of the eclipse.

There’s no health risk to simply being outside during an eclipse. But the only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun during this astronomical event is through special-purpose solar filters.

NASA recommends checking the safety and authenticity of eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers to make sure they meet all the following:

  • Have certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard.
  • Have the manufacturer’s name and address printed somewhere on the product.
  • Have no scratched or damaged lenses.

Sunglasses are not strong enough so don’t use them or other homemade filters.

Total Eclipse

If you are in the path of the total eclipse it will be safe to look for the two minutes and 40 seconds that the sun is totally covered by the moon. The sun’s corona will be visible around the moon which is safe to watch and is remarkable. If you are not in the path of the total eclipse you need safe ways to watch the eclipse. One simple way to monitor the progress of the eclipse is to use a pinhole projection. Follow this link to the NASA site for how to make a pinhole projector to watch the eclipse.

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