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Entries in Consumer Reports (33)

Sunday
Jul212013

5 Grocery Shopping Apps That Can Save You Time and Money

Jupiterimages/Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The editors of Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine took the time to test and try different programs and separated the good from the bad.

"Download a few convenient apps that can help you save big on the things you need the most," advised editor-in-chief Lisa Lee Freeman.

Here are some favorites from the magazine's recommendations:

1. ZipList
A startling number of people still don't make a list before they shop, even though study after study shows it saves you money by helping avoid impulse buys. This Apple and Android app creates a master list of groceries you buy over and over again, so you only have to do it once. It even organizes the list according to the aisle-by-aisle layout of participating stores.

2. Weekly Ads & Sales
Planning your menus around what's on sale in the supermarket circulars is another huge money saver, but some people can't stand all that paper pushing. This Apple app puts those circulars in electronic form. ShopSmart liked that it covers big grocery chains like Safeway and Kroger but also specialty chains like Old Navy and Best Buy.

3. Grocery iQ
Ever get that sinking feeling at checkout when the clerk asks if you have any coupons and --doh!-- you wonder if there are any good ones for the items you just loaded on the belt? This Android and Apple app finds coupons for the things on your list. ShopSmart found it works best for repeat purchases that you tend to buy every week.

4. SavingStar
Are you a guerilla grocery shopper who hunts down the very best deals at multiple markets? This app, which works on Apple, Android and Blackberry allows you to register all your loyalty cards. You're then given exclusive offers, such as $5 off of $30 spent on Charmin, Gilette or Ivory products. ShopSmart liked what's called the "One or Many" feature which lets you buy items over multiple trips to hit the quantities required for maximum savings.

5. Cellfire
Here's an app that sort of idiot-proofs your grocery shopping, even if you have no list, no circulars and no plan. Sign up via Apple, Android or Blackberry and it zings coupons directly to your loyalty cards. When you scan your card or put in your phone number at checkout, relevant coupons are waiting. There's also a store alert feature which can remind you about available coupons as you walk into the store!

To see more recommended supermarket shopping and coupon apps, check out the September 2013 issue of ShopSmart magazine, available now.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jul062013

Waffle Ratings: Best Also Cheapest

Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- Just in time for a sunny summer holiday weekend, Consumer Reports tested 12 frozen waffles and waffle mixes, selecting Aunt Jemima Original Pancake & Waffle Mix, the least expensive, as the best-tasting.

In its August issue, the magazine said Aunt Jemima Original is “slightly sweet and eggy, crisp outside and moist inside.” Aunt Jemima Original and Trader Joe’s Multigrain were selected as Consumer Reports’ “best buys.”

Most nutritious is Kashi 7 Grain, with fewer calories and more fiber than the other products, Consumer Reports said.

Here are Consumer Reports’ top seven list of “very good” recommended brands, in taste order, and its five “good” brands:

“Very Good” Brands

1. Aunt Jemima Original Pancake & Waffle Mix:  $0.29 per serving
220 calories

2. Trader Joe’s Multigrain: $0.50 per serving
230 calories

3. 365 Everyday Value Organic Homestyle (Whole Foods): $1 per serving
200 calories

4. Eggo Nutri-Grain Honey Oat: $0.67 per serving
190 calories

5. Eggo Homestyle: $0.58 per serving
190 calories

6. Kashi 7 Grain: $0.98 per serving
150 calories

7. Aunt Jemima Homestyle: $0.40 per serving
170 calories

“Good” Brands

1. Great Value Homestyle (Walmart): $.070 per serving
180 calories

2. Eggo Thick & Fluffy Original Recipe: $0.48 per serving
160 calories

3. Market Pantry Homestyle (Target): $0.38 per serving
180 calories

4. Nature’s Path Organic Homestyle Gluten Free: $1.07 per serving
210 calories

5. Van’s Wheat Gluten Free: $1.08 a serving
230 calories

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Apr132013

Advocates Question Justin Bieber's Prepaid Debit Card Endorsement

ABC/RANDY HOLMES(NEW YORK) -- Justin Bieber has been named a spokesman for a prepaid debit card company, raising eyebrows among some consumer advocates who caution against fees associated with the products.

SpendSmart Payments Co., based in San Diego, announced on Friday that the pop star will be a brand ambassador, headlining a series called “Real Talk.” The company says its SpendSmart prepaid card aims to educate families and teenagers about responsible spending habits. It also allows parents to monitor real-time spending online.

Bieber’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

“You know when I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money, so me and my family had to watch the money that we spent,” Bieber explains in a video. “I learned if you have $100 or $100 million, if you spend more than you have, you’re going to go broke.”

Bieber is far from broke now, however. He earned $55 million in the year ending May 2012, Forbes reported. And Bieber is earning $3.75 million for a 14-month contract, plus potential monthly royalties tied to the growth of active SpendSmart cards, according to SEC documents, the New York Times reported.

The deal includes stock options to buy 2 million shares of SpendSmart stock, which was trading around 40 cents a share Friday.

SpendSmart said it won’t comment on the specifics of the deal.

Consumer Reports urged caution related to prepaid cards for exorbitant fees in a report published last year. Among 15 prepaid cards analyzed by Consumer Reports, 14 charged for ATM withdrawals, 13 charged monthly fees from $2.95 to $9.95, while five charged for inactive periods.

Mike McCoy, CEO of the SpendSmart Payments Company defended the card, saying the SpendSmart Prepaid Card gives teens “freedom and independence while also teaching them the fundamentals of  financial responsibility.”

“More importantly, the SpendSmart Card gives parents control over their teens spending habits, supporting them in instilling valuable financial literacy fundamentals,” he said.

Other features include the ability to lock the card from your mobile device and block inappropriate spending as well as many other tools that families can feel safer with, he said.

SpendSmart fees include a monthly fee of $3.95, loading fees of $2.95 from a credit card or 75 cents from a checking account. A single scheduled monthly automatic payment from a checking account is free.

To withdraw from an ATM, there is a fee of $1.50 plus ATM surcharges. For an ATM balance inquiry, it costs 50 cents. SpendSmart charges $3 for 30 days of inactivity.

“Most fees are avoidable and no fees have been changed in light of our partnership with Justin Bieber,” McCoy said. “For the last three years this is and has been available as a prepaid card and not a celebrity card. We’re confident in Justin Bieber’s ability to be an ambassador for our brand, and in his ability to help his generation and their parents talk about responsible spending.”

Michelle Jun, a lawyer with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, told the New York Times, “We would not recommend that parents use prepaid cards for their teens. It doesn’t help your teen establish a credit history or a relationship with a financial institution, so we recommend going the traditional route and opening up a checking account at your bank or credit union of choice.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb272013

Highway Deaths Rise May Highlight Need for Newer Cars, Safer Technology

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For the first time in seven years, fatalities on the nation’s roads went up five percent, in the first half of 2012, according to the National Safety Council.

For teenagers ages 16 and 17, the results were even more staggering, with a 19-percent increase in deaths and 240 youngsters killed over the same time period, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

So why are highway deaths on the rise?

With more than 320 million cell phones in America, distracted driving is one guess. In an effort to cut down on distracted driving, lawmakers have responded, with 10 states banning talking on hand-held devices and 39 states banning texting while driving, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Experts from both the NSC and the GHSA say the reason for the spike is that we are driving more because of the improving economy and good weather. A better economy means more money for gas and more big rigs making deliveries.

But with the average age of a car on the road being 11 years old, many have kept their old cars that may not have the latest, safety technology.

“Certainly, a base model today is probably much more safe, or safer than a mid-level vehicle five years ago,” Jonathon Linkov, managing editor & data supervisor autos for Consumer Reports, told ABC News.

For a closer look at the latest safety features designed to save your life, ABC News traveled to the Consumer Reports test track in rural Connecticut.

One Mercedes-Benz model can detect whether or not the driver is exhibiting signs of drowsiness.

The feature detects if you swerve or make moves to stay awake, and alerts you, even telling you where the closest coffee shop is.

With families in mind, Ford is installing inflatable seat belts in the back seats of some of its models. Think of it as an airbag for your kids in booster seats. In an accident, the inflatable seat belt disperses crash energy over five times more area of the body than traditional seat belts, according to a claim on Ford’s website. They are designed to provide additional protection for children and older passengers, who can be more vulnerable to head, chest and neck injuries.

One of the simplest contributors to accidents that can be fixed easily is proper tire inflation. Since 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required all new passenger cars to come standard with a tire pressure monitoring system. A new feature from Nissan tells you when you’ve put enough air in the tire by emitting three quick beeps.

Consumer Reports hopes such technology to keep us safe will become standard on more vehicles soon.

“We don’t want to see safety be something you have to make a decision with your wallet,” said Linkov. “We want safety to be something you can get at an easy price point, making it safety for everybody.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec272012

Toyota Prius Tops "Consumer Reports" Ratings

Toyota(NEW YORK) -- The Toyota Prius topped Consumer Reports' annual list of Best and Worst New-Car Values for the first time, with the magazine saying the hybrid’s cost to operate is about one-half that of a conventional vehicle.

The Prius (at 26,$750 for the Four model) knocked the much cheaper $16,915 base-price Honda Fit out of first place -- a position that car has held for the past four years.  Consumer Reports said the Fit’s lower reliability rating was the reason for its fall from number one.

At 49 cents a mile to operate, the Prius costs about half as much to run than the average car, said the magazine, which looked at over 200 models for its annual buying guide.  

Consumer Reports looks at the five-year cost of ownership for each vehicle, road-test scores and predicted reliability.  Toyota and its Lexus cars topped the best values in six of 10 of the magazine's categories.

These are some of the Consumer Reports best and worst values in the most popular categories:

  • Best Value Small Hatchbacks: Toyota Prius Four
  • Worst Value Small Hatchbacks: Ford Focus SE
  • Best Value Family Sedan: Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
  • Worst Value Family Sedan: Chrysler 200 Limited (V6)
  • Best Value Large-Luxury SUV: Lexus RX 350
  • Worst Value Large-Luxury SUV: Nissan Armada Platinum
  • Best Value Minivan-Wagon: Toyota Prius V Three
  • Worst Value Minivan-Wagon: Chrysler Town & Country Touring-L
  • Best Value Small SUV: Honda CR-V EX
  • Worst Value Small SUV: Mini Cooper Countryman S

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec062012

Ford Hybrids Not Living Up to MPG Claims?

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Are you a car buyer who trusts what you read on the window sticker?  New findings by Consumer Reports may make you think twice.

The magazine says its tests show the new Fusion Hybrid and C-Max hybrid don’t live up to Ford’s claims that they get 47 miles per gallon.

“We actually just completed our formal instrumented testing of them in fuel economy,” says Jake Fisher at Consumer Reports.  “We got 37 miles per gallon for the C-Max and 39 for the Ford Fusion Hybrid.”

That is significantly lower than Ford’s mileage claim and the biggest discrepancy Consumer Reports has ever found between a manufacturer’s estimate and actual real-world performance.

Fisher predicts, “If someone were to buy these vehicles and see 47 miles per gallon and get 39 or 37, they’d probably be pretty disappointed.”

Despite achieving 10 miles per gallon less than advertised, Consumer Reports finds both vehicles actually get excellent fuel economy, even at 37 mpg.  It’s the best mileage testers have ever seen in mid-size vehicles.

In a written statement to ABC News, Ford responds: “Early C-Max Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid customers praise the vehicles and report a range of fuel economy figures, including some reports above 47 mpg.”

Ford insists that different driving styles will yield different results.  The company says there are tools inside the hybrid vehicles to optimize fuel economy.

Despite Ford’s assertion that 47 mpg is achievable, Consumer Reports says it doesn’t believe that is the case in real-world, typical driving conditions.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep262012

Consumerist Website: Was It Hacked?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The consumer advocacy website Consumerist, which has been down nearly a week, had a spotty return Wednesday afternoon using the online publishing platform WordPress and alternate content.

Owned by the non-profit group Consumers Union, publisher of the venerable consumer testing site Consumer Reports, Consumerist publishes stories about consumer customer service issues and news.

The site normally requires users to register with an email address and password to comment on stories. However, the commenting functionality was temporarily disabled on an alternate version of the website posted Wednesday via its new hosting provider while Consumerist investigated its problems, a spokesman said.

On the new Consumerist site, a Q&A called “What’s Up With Consumerist?” said that the site “received reports that some of our pages had been altered to begin redirecting our traffic to spam websites. We took down [sic] as quickly as possible and began investigating.”

Consumerist was investigating if it has been hacked and will publish its findings on the site and notify users via email.

“The passwords are secured in accordance with industry best practices,” the Q&A said. “They are salted and hashed. As a matter of prudence and good practice we always recommend that you do not use the same password at more than one site, including Consumerist.”

Over the summer, Consumerist notified registered users that it had two “security issues.”

“We do not yet know for sure whether any user names, email addresses, or passwords were compromised; all password files were encrypted,” the site said at the time.

Michael Schreiber, editor-in-chief of the money and security site Credit.com, said it was “strange” that Consumerist may have been targeted because it is a site devoted to consumer financial protection.

“They have a long history advocating for the little guy,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun282012

The Best Chain Restaurants in the US

Emile Wamteker/Bloomberg News(NEW YORK) -- Travelers often scoff at chain restaurants, preferring instead to seek out local flavor and unique dining experiences in the cities they visit.

[See Travelers’ Picks for the Best Restaurants in the U.S.]

But if you’ve ever been on the road, far from home and lonely, there’s a good chance you’ve come across a chain and breathed a sigh of relief. Then you parked your car in the vast lot and waited for your table while sipping a frozen daiquiri and admiring the bartender’s flare.

You’re not alone. Hey, there’s a reason there’s a Red Lobster (and a Bubba Gump Shrimp and an Applebee’s) in Times Square. And who could forget the Olive Garden review that went viral?

Consumer Reports knows we Americans love our chain restaurants. It also knows not all chains are created equal. And that’s why they asked 47,500 diners to rank 102 of the nation’s most popular eateries. Nine ranked especially well, according to Consumer Report’s criteria: taste, value, service, mood, noise, menu, and cleanliness.

  • Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano
  • Black Angus Steakhouse
  • Bob Evans
  • Bravo Cucina Italiana
  • First Watch
  • J. Alexander’s
  • Le Peep
  • Elmer’s
  • Fatz Eatz & Drinkz

If you’re not familiar with all of these, here’s how a few more big-name chains fared:

Most healthful dishes: First Watch and Legal Seafood

Worst tippers (highest percentage below 15 percent):
Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Cheddar’s, Country Kitchen, Don Pablo’s, El Torito, Joe’s Crab Shack, Logan’s Roadhouse, Lone Star Steakhouse, McGrath’s, Shari’s and Shoney’s.

Best tippers (tips 20 percent of more): The Capital Grille and Morton’s.

Best mood (ambiance):  McCormick & Schmick’s, Ruth’s Chris, Chart House, Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy and Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano.

Lowest-rated family restaurants: Friendly’s and Waffle House.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May092012

TVs and Cameras' Life Spans Greater Than Other Electronic Gadgets

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- How long will your favorite electronic gadget continue to function before the digital reaper calls it to the junk heap?

According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, the answer differs widely, depending on what kind of gizmo you have.  The repair rate -- meaning failure rate -- for laptop computers three to four years old, for example, is 36 percent.  That’s higher than the rate for desktops (32 percent), LCD televisions (15 percent) or plasma TVs (10 percent) of comparable age.

Laptops, says the magazine, are “among the most repair-prone products you can buy” -- on par with the most troublesome appliances, including riding lawn mowers and side-by-side refrigerators (The survey looked at other kinds of goods besides consumer electronics).

“TVs and cameras are pretty reliable,” says Mark Kotkin, Consumer Reports’ director of survey research.  “Computers less so.”

Digital cameras, he says, typically live eight years before they break, making them among the longest-lived of any gadgets surveyed.

Respondents labeled Gateway’s desktops repair-prone, but Apple’s as reliable.  Reliable, too, were Toshiba and Acer laptops.  LCD TVs made by Panasonic, Sanyo and Sylvania were less likely to die than those made by Westinghouse, Polaroid and Mitsubishi.

Anthony Scarsella, chief gadget officer of Gazelle.com, a website where consumers can resell their broken, outmoded or otherwise cast-off electonics, says Apple’s products are among the best made and least likely to break.  The reason people sell old iPhones through Gazelle isn’t so much because the phones break as because owners want to upgrade to a newer model, Scarsella says.

Even the life cycle of an iPhone, though, is limited: Its built-in battery, according to website eHow, can take only so many rechargings and begins to die after several hundred chargings, or two or three years.  At that point, the owner faces the choice of paying Apple to put in a new battery or buying a new phone.

It’s easier to buy a new model, says Scarcella, and the cost, especially if you resell your dead phone, is not significantly higher.

“The iPhone, the iPad, the MacBook Air, the Macbook Pro -- all hold their value very well,” he says.  “When you sell them, you can get a pretty good return.”

He says he does see dead and broken gadgets, but fewer all the time, since consumers, having wised up to their gadgets’ resale values, are taking better care of them.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
May042012

Nearly 13 Million Facebook Users Don’t Use Privacy Controls 

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A new survey finds millions of Facebook users are potentially exposing valuable personal information beyond their “friends” by not using the site’s privacy controls.

The Consumer Reports State of the Net survey finds nearly 13 million United States Facebook users do not use, or are unaware of the social network’s privacy controls.

The report also projects that some 4.8 million Facebook users have posted information about where they planned to be on a certain day, possibly exposing themselves to burglars. The Consumer Reports survey also finds that 4.7 million users have “liked” a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments, information that could be used against them by insurers.

The survey also determined that some seven million Facebook households experienced site issues in 2011, ranging from someone using their login without permission to being threatened and harassed—a 30 percent increase from 2010.

Americans load all kinds of personal information into Facebook’s database by liking a page, updating their profile and posting status updates on their wall. The following numbers reflect how many people engaged in certain activities during the past 12 months:

• 39.3 million identified a family member in a profile.
• 20.4 million included their birth date and year in their profile.
• 7.7 million "liked" a Facebook page pertaining to a religious affiliation.
• 4.6 million discussed their love life on their wall.
• 2.6 million discussed their recreational use of alcohol on their wall.
• 2.3 million "liked" a page regarding sexual orientation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







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