Entries in Costs (14)


National Gas Average Falls to $3.43

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Gas prices are continuing on downward trends heading into the Thanksgiving holiday.

It's not a huge decline, but gas prices are down two cents more in the past week. The average price of regular unleaded gas is now $3.43 a gallon, according to the Energy Department. That's six cents higher than a year ago at this time.

Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy says, aside from tensions in the Middle East, there are no supply problems in the immediate future.

"The Northeast is still obviously battling from remnants of Sandy and supply pressures there, which have meant higher prices," he says. "But throughout the rest of the country refineries aren't really at the forefront.  Things are just humming along, refineries coming out of maintenance and that's keeping pressure to the downward side of prices."

DeHaan says he expects prices will continue in this range in the coming winter months.

"We would expect that prices will remain very close to where they are today, that is the national average will probably hover in the mid-$3 range," he says.

California still has the most expensive gas in the country, but it's coming down.  The Energy Department says gas is down eight cents more in the past week to $3.78 a gallon.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Shrinking Products: Paying the Same for Less

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Big brands are selling smaller products for the same price and one of the many consumers noticing the differences and alerting others is not even old enough to drive.

“I usually feel cheated because I’m paying the same price for less of an item,” Jared Goodman, 13, told ABC News.  “I usually look for labels that say ‘new and improved.’  Because that probably means the product’s been downsized.”

Goodman is part of a growing army of shoppers who are fed up with what’s called “downsizing.”  Consumers from all over the country send their tips to Edgar Dworksy, the founder of, who posts the findings online.

“[Downsizing is] very common,” Dworksy said.  “It’s been going on for years, but there seems to be a surge right now.”

On ABC News’ trip to the supermarket, 14 products were found that had recently gotten smaller.  Here were some of the changes:

  • Kashi cereal had shrunk, with a slightly taller box actually containing less cereal.
  • Boxes of Scott Tissues contained 12 less tissues.
  • There were 48 fewer chocolate chips in Ghirardelli chocolate chips.
  • Planters Deluxe Mixed Nuts contained 52 fewer nuts than it had previously.
  • A can of Maxwell House Coffee used to have enough coffee for 270 cups, now it will make only 240. The one thing that didn’t change was the price, it still costs $9.59.
  • Pillsbury Cake mixes were reduced by three ounces. When made as instructed on the package, the old mix made 24 cupcakes; the new one, which costs the same, barely makes 21.
  • Brawny paper towels new roll had four and a half feet fewer paper towels than one of its older rolls.  And again, the price remained the same.

ABC News confronted the manufacturers about the disparity and they said they downsize products because customers prefer that to higher prices.

“We regularly improve Brawny to compete against other well-known towel brands, and last year made Brawny stronger when wet to better meet consumer needs,” Georgia-Pacific, the maker of Brawny, wrote to ABC News.  “To cover the costs of this improvement, we slightly reduced the sheet count and size, and our consumers’ response to these changes have been positive."

“We aim to provide the right value to our consumers -- and may introduce new package sizes or adjust package sizes of our base products (upward or downward) based on delivering the right value,” Lynne Galia from Kraft Foods Corporate Affairs wrote to ABC News.  Kraft makes Maxwell House coffee as well as Planters Deluxe Mixed Nuts.

In the end, the power is with the purchaser: consumers can always switch brands, but it’s important to remember that when one brand shrinks, its competitors often do the same.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Education Department Introduces College Cost ‘Window Stickers’

JupiterImages/Comstock Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Education has released a new tool it says will help consumers understand the costs of higher education before making the choice of whether, and where, to enroll.

Dubbed the “Shopping Sheet,” the Obama administration introduced on Tuesday nationally standardized financial aid award letters they say will lay out all costs associated with a particular school, while tailored to the individual student.  Loan interest rates, scholarship options, housing rent, food, books, and veterans benefits will all be displayed on this single form, serving as a calculator.

The design is aesthetically similar to the costs sheet displayed in new vehicle windows at auto dealerships, and would be distributed by colleges in their financial aid packages.

Colleges and universities already make all of this information available to potential students, but some schools have been criticized for confusing language in awards letters and the difficulty in piecing together the numbers scattered across an abundance of school-related correspondence.


In a conference call with reporters, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the lack of uniformity in how schools provide the information “makes comparison shopping, which we think is important, almost impossible.”

“These letters all look different, contain different information, and often do a poor job of making clear how much a student will receive in aid, in grants, in scholarships, and how much they will have to take out in the form of student loans,” he said.

Participation in the program by colleges and universities is voluntary, but the government hopes schools will view it as a way to bring in students who may otherwise fail to understand what options are within their reach.

This fall, millions of students will begin freshman classes at colleges around the country.  But between rising tuition rates and calculating student loan interests, more Americans are coming to believe those costs aren’t worth the payoff.  The federal government reports the average cost of public education rose 15 percent between 2008 and 2010, with two thirds of students owing more than $26,000 in loans upon graduation.

“Too many students I meet across the country tell me the first time they really understood how much debt they were in was when the first bill arrived,” Duncan said.  “And clearly, that’s far too late and is simply not fair.”

Richard Cordray of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau joined Duncan on the call.

“There are now more than $8.1 billion in defaulted private loans, and even more are in delinquency,” he said.  “The bottom line is that no consumer should take on a large amount of debt without understanding the costs and the risks up front.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dental Plans: Why Americans Are Paying More for Less

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With all the attention paid to affordable health care, experts say standard dental coverage has changed little over the last 20 years while leading to greater out-of-pocket costs for consumers.

As with the rising costs of overall health care, many times only the wealthiest have access to important dental care.

Dr. Paul Glassman DDS, professor of dental practice and director of community oral health at University of the Pacific, said dental benefits and the cap on dental health plan benefits have not changed much in the past 20 years. But the cost of dental care has increased "dramatically." As a result, more people are paying out of pocket if they want additional work done, he said.

And those who struggle to afford oral health care may find even more problems down the line, with gum disease possibly contributing to ailments like diabetes and heart disease.

Real out-of-pocket dental expenditures increased to $332 in 2008 from $270 in 1996, according to the American Dental Association's (ADA) report published in April called, "Breaking Down Barriers to Oral health for All Americans: The Role of Finance." The ADA said the figure dropped to $323 in 2009, but "this likely reflects the state of the economy, rather than any improvement in dental benefits."

Real per capita expenditures on overall personal health care reached $6,819 in 2009.

Glassman said a number of issues have contributed to dental care's higher costs. One major reason is that labor costs have increased in dental offices.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a bill on Thursday called the Comprehensive Dental Reform Act of 2012 that tries to fill the gap for the 130 million Americans who have no dental insurance. Medicare covers almost no dental care, and no dental services for the elderly. Medicaid dental benefits vary by state and are often only for the most dire emergencies.

Part of the bill proposes pilot programs for dental therapists, who would have more training than dental hygienists, to perform certain procedures. So far, Alaska and Minnesota allow some dental therapists to provide procedures that only dentists are permitted to do elsewhere. Sanders' bill authorizes National Health Service Corps loan repayments for individuals licensed by a state as dental therapists.

The American Dental Association has opposed this provision of the bill, telling Sanders in a letter that "only dentists can diagnose, develop treatment plans and provide complex treatment."

"Only 20 percent of the nation's practicing dentists provide care to people with Medicaid, and only an extremely small percentage devote a substantial part of their practice to caring for those who are underserved," Sanders said in a statement when he introduced his bill in Washington, D.C. "This bill addresses this by creating an incentive to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for dentists by assisting the states in covering those costs."

President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act, which will roll out by 2014, will impact some dental policies, such as small group and individual market policies.

"Almost no states cover dental benefits now," said Glassman. "Adults who are low income are almost out of luck in terms of having benefits now."

Burton Edelstein, pediatric dentist and Columbia University professor of dental medicine and health policy and management, said the basic design of dental plans has not changed dramatically over the past 20 years. He said dental plans are "essentially pre-paid dental benefits, rather than risk-shared insurance per se."

Edelstein said under current and proposed legislation, states and the federal government can develop plans to provide more intensive dental care to those with greater needs and less to those who don't need it.

Whether you have an employer subsidized dental plan, there are some steps you can take to make sure you are getting the most affordable dental care you can:

1. Many experts suggest seeking low-cost dental care, such as through Federally Qualified Health Centers. Sanders' bill proposes increasing funding for oral health services at these public clinics, which have a sliding pay scale, and for school-based dental services. He also proposes new funding for mobile and portable services. Glassman is also a proponent of telehealth services in which dentists could provide remote supervision and collaboration without seeing every patient in person.

2. Put money in a health savings account (HSA). Nancy Metcalf of Consumer Reports said she often discourages people who do not have subsidized dental plans from getting individual dental coverage.

3. Research and negotiate prices. Metcalf said allows people to look up prevailing prices for local services. "Call up the dentist and make a deal with them," she said. "Say that you'll go to them for a root canal for $1,000. You're probably going to do just as well if you don't have dental insurance."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cars Cost More to Operate But Keep Their Value

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Americans should appreciate the fact that their two-and-three-year-old cars are hardly depreciating in value.

Auto club AAA's annual report on the cost of owning and operating a vehicle finds that because the economy is still soft, people are reluctant to trade in older cars for newer models.

It should be no surprise that it costs more to own and operate cars, AAA says, up 1.9 percent from last year, with much of that due to rising gasoline prices.

For instance, if you drive an average of 15,000 miles annually, AAA figures you're paying 59.6 cents per mile or $8,946 based on depreciation, fuel, insurance, finance charges, maintenance and tires.

That's the downside of the study. The upside is that the demand for used cars is so high right now that if your vehicle was worth $15,000 in 2011, chances are it's nearly worth that much now.

Dealers normally have a good supply of two-to-three-year-old used cars on hand, but with owners less inclined to trade them in, these models are being sold at a premium.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Italian Cruise Ship Wreck Costs Could Surpass $130 Million

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images(GIGLIO, Italy) -- The near-sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship will send a tidal wave of bills at the owners that could reach $130 million -- if the ship can be salvaged.

If it is determined that the $650 million luxury liner is too badly damaged, the owners -- Costa Cruises and its parent company Carnival Cruises -- will have to absorb the loss of the ship.

"They just lose," said Jaime Katz, an equity analyst for Morningstar Inc., an independent investment research firm.  "The ship is gone.  They will have to start over or have one less ship in that market."

That determination has yet to be made, but even a bill that big would not sink the company, experts said.

Carnival Cruises is the largest company in the cruise industry with more than 100 ships in service and 11 global brands. Nevertheless, the company is bracing for an iceberg of bills heading its way.

Already, the disaster has affected Carnival's stock. On Tuesday shares of Carnival were down nearly 14 percent to $29.53.  Bloomberg said it was the biggest drop for the company since April 2009.

Morningstar has estimated that the company will face $85 million to $95 million loss in revenue while the ship is out of service.

Carnival, which is based in Miami, has a $30 million insurance deductible for damage to the ship.

Lawsuits will also sink the company's bottom line. The company reportedly has a $10 million deductible on third-party personal injury liabilities, and Italian laws regarding civil suits may protect Carnival and Costa from mega suits that are common in the U.S.

And, according to Bloomberg, Carnival said it, "further anticipates other costs to the business that are not possible to determine at this time."

But despite the public relations nightmare, Katz said that passengers would continue to sail the high seas after a bit of assurance from the industry, especially Carnival and Costa.

"People are not going to be booking as quickly," she said. "[Carnival] is going to have to assure people this is a safe way to travel."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


11 Items That Will Cost More This Year

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The new year can bring a fresh start for many people and, unfortunately, higher prices on a number of consumer goods.

Commodity prices increased around the world in 2011, leading to hikes in everything from food to gold. Natural disasters, shrinking supplies of various materials, and other events lead to higher prices for many products.

In 2012, some increases could be expected, like ever-rising gas prices, while others, like a potential 25 percent hike on tap water, are more surprising, according to Dealnews.

1. Domestic and International Airfare:
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with The NPD Group, said he has already experienced higher airfares in bookings for 2012. That's coupled with a slew of flights being dropped, he said. "Many smaller markets are now having three daily flights cut to two or even one," Cohen said. "That will drive fares up to those locations."

Travel to and within Europe will be hit especially hard.  The European Union implemented a "green tax" to reduce emissions, levying a fee of about $15 per passenger, each way, for flights to the U.S.  Fees on shorter flights within the European Union will be taxed slightly less, Dealnews reports.

2. New Digital Camera Models: Digital cameras with new technology, such as high-end digital SLRs, will have higher prices. But on existing models, the prices will decrease according to the natural maturation of electronics, Cohen said.

3. Hard Drives: Tragic flooding in Thailand in 2011, which has killed 780 people, has also led to a shortage of some electronics products, like hard drives.  Dealnews expects continued shortages throughout the first quarter of 2012, when experts predict that production will begin to catch up with demand.

4. Desktop Computers: The consolidation of desktop features into monitor-integrated units, many with touchscreens, will drive desktop prices higher next year, according to Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at The NPD Group.  Dealnews said it expects average selling prices to increase roughly 30 percent on new desktops.

5. Food for Home Preparation: Food prices will jump in 2012 as the costs to harvest, transport, and store food will increase, and those hikes will be passed to consumers, said Cohen. Food costs rose 6 percent last year and will likely rise at least 2 percent more in 2012, Dealnews reported.

6. Mobile Device Data Plans: As carriers expand 4G services and move away from unlimited plans, data is set to become more expensive in 2012, according to Ross Rubin, executive director of Connected Intelligence at The NPD Group.

7. City-Enforced Fees: Dealnews said fees for everything from dog licenses to vehicle registration may increase as municipalities continue to try to plug holes in their budgets. Parking rates and infraction-related fines are also subject to increase.

8. Water: Water is one of the most basic commodities in the world but it is becoming more precious, said Cohen. Inclement weather around the world is creating greater shortages. Moving water to places that are lacking it will also drive this basic element to become more costly, he said.

9. Gas: Gas was already set to rise, but geopolitical issues in the Middle East, and a limited amount of domestic oil exploration due to Obama administration policies and environmental regulations are already set to exacerbate increasing gas prices. Last week, Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil waterway that borders Iran, if other countries sanction his country's crude exports because of its nuclear ambitions.  That could disrupt roughly a third of the world's tanker traffic and send oil prices skyrocketing, analysts say.

10. Gold: Gold is set to achieve its 11th consecutive year of growth, according to Dealnews.  Analysts expect the precious metal to rise about 12 percent next year.

11. Shipping: As the U.S. Postal Service may increase rates and eliminate one-day delivery to fill a budget deficit, FedEx and UPS are also expected to increase small package rates by 4.9 percent.  The loss of revenue for shipping companies and the increased cost of shipping creates a recipe for higher shipping costs all along the route, Cohen said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How to Cut Home Heating Costs This Winter

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Winter’s here. Snowstorms are hitting the Great Lakes, and temperatures are dropping further south. It’s time to make sure you’re not wasting energy -- and wasting money -- on home heating costs. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average U.S. family spends over $2,000 a year on home energy, with nearly half of that going to heat and cool the home.

To save money, the EPA recommends taking the following five steps:

1. Make sure your home heating system is operating at maximum efficiency. Are its filters clean? Are any ducts leaking? Especially if your system is more than 10 years old, you should have it checked by a licensed contractor to make sure it’s working properly. After that, check your filters once a month and replace them when dirty. Change them at least every three months.

2. Get a programmable thermostat that can automatically lower temperatures when you’re asleep or away from home. By taking just this one step, you can save up to $180 a year.

3. To avoid losing heat, seal all leaks with caulk, spray-on foam or weather stripping. To retain heat, add insulation. This EPA chart will tell you how much insulation your house needs by region.

4. Use the EPA website’s Home Energy Advisor to see how your home’s efficiency compares with others in your area. The Advisor can offer further suggestions on what steps to take to boost your home’s efficiency.

5. Make sure all the appliances and home-improvement products that you buy are energy-efficient. Look for ones that display the EPA’s Energy Star symbol. The EPA has qualified more than 60 types of products, ranging from heating and cooling equipment to light bulbs.

For more information on cutting energy costs this winter, click here.

For ways to save energy year-round, click here.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


‘Occupy’ Protests Cost Cities Millions

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- With tensions mounting daily, the name Scott Olsen has become a national rallying cry for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Olsen, a 24-year-old Iraq veteran, is in serious condition after suffering a fractured skull during clashes with police in Oakland.

He joined the protests after work Tuesday night and suffered his head wound when police fired tear gas into the crowd during the crackdown. People who came to his aid were then scattered by a gas canister tossed by police.

In an effort to show solidarity with Olsen and their counterparts in Oakland, protesters in New York City marched to City Hall on Wednesday night. The demonstration led to a tense confrontation with police and 10 arrests.

On Thursday, the police union said officers had showed restraint but the union would sue any protester who injured an officer.

So are the confrontations entering a dangerous new stage?

Many city officials are under pressure from constituents tired of unsightly tent cities, dead grass and dangerous conditions. The cost to already struggling municipalities, which must protect and clean up after the protesters, is soaring.

“We know for a fact we’ve crossed the $300,000 threshold in terms of money spent so far for this operation,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

In San Francisco, the bill is more than $100,000.

“It’s just something that has to happen, it’s a worldwide movement,” said protester Dustin Sneed, who has been at the San Francisco protest since the beginning.

Across the country, the figures are growing. In New York City, overtime costs are $3.4 million. In Minneapolis, the sheriff’s department reports spending $200,000. And in Boston, the tally is $2 million and counting.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Public College Costs Surge 8.3%

JupiterImages/Comstock Images(NEW YORK) -- The College Board reported Wednesday that average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges surged 8.3 percent this fall, just as President Obama released details of his plan to help students deal with a debt burden that has expanded to more than $1 trillion.

“The national increase in tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities for the 2011-12 academic year was influenced substantially by the State of California,” the Princeton, N.J.-based group said in a statement Wednesday. “Nationally, the increase for the public four-year sector was 8.3 percent between 2010-11 and 2011-12 including California but only 7.0 percent excluding it. Similarly, the national increase for public two-year institutions was 8.7 percent including California and 7.4 percent excluding it.”

President Obama revealed his “Pay as You Earn” proposal Tuesday to reduce monthly student loan payments starting in 2014. Borrowers will be able to cut their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their discretionary income and the plan will forgive the balance of their debt after 20 years of payments.  Starting this January, an estimated 6 million students and recent college graduates will be able to consolidate their loans and reduce their interest rates.

The College Board said the tuition increases stemmed from a weakened economy and state funding that has not kept pace with the growth in college enrollments. “For the fifth consecutive year, the percentage increase in average tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities was higher than the percentage increase at private nonprofit four-year colleges. While national data provide an important snapshot of overall college prices, this year’s data also reveal substantial state-to-state pricing variations underlying the national averages,” the group said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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