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Monday
Mar142011

New Social Network Allows for Calls, E-Mail to Other Drivers

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock (AUSTIN, Texas) -- Have you ever wanted to call another driver to complain about cutting you off? Or to tell him that his brake lights aren't working? Or even to ask him out on a date? Now you can.

Through a new start-up called Bump.com, drivers across the country can use their license plates to connect with each other via e-mails, text and voice messages and even access discounts to local stores based on the locations where they're driving.

"It's kind of like a Groupon and a Foursquare meets AAA and LoJack -- all of which you can't turn off," said Mitch Thrower, Bump.com's San Diego, Calif.-based founder and CEO.

The company is powered by a program that scans and automatically recognizes license plate numbers in pictures taken by security cameras on the road. It then matches up those numbers with e-mail accounts, mobile phones and location systems to let people communicate.

For two years, Bump.com has been in "stealth" mode, Thrower said, building up the technology behind the company and assigning e-mail addresses and voicemail boxes to license plates across the country.

At the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas on Monday, the company officially launched on an open-invitation basis. To join, you can register on the company's website for an invitation to "claim your plate." After receiving the invitation, users can go to Bump.com to verify car ownership and set up a profile.

But even if you don't want to be a part of a social network for the streets, Bump will capture images of your license plate and assign it an identity. Other drivers will be able to send messages to your car, but you only receive those text and voice messages if you sign up for the network and register yourself as the license plate owner.

Bump.com not only lets drivers communicate -- a chance to exchange both gripes and Good Samaritan messages -- it can also let parents track their children and companies and taxi companies monitor their fleets.

Thrower is also working with towing companies on a system that would alert drivers when their cars are towed. Instead of calling the police department to track down your towed car, the towing company would just send you an e-mail or voicemail, he said.

But messaging capabilities are just one piece of the puzzle, Thrower said. Bump.com will also offer drivers a AAA-type membership program that gives drivers discounts and promotions based on their locations for a $49 annual fee. For example, at the upcoming Coachella Music Festival in California, Bump.com will give attendees discounts on iTunes downloads of songs played at the festival, if the service spots their license plates.

Eventually, members could receive discounts from nearby stores as the service spots them driving by, as well as roadside assistance.

Recognizing that distracted driving is an increasing concern, Thrower said, Bump.com disables texting while the car is moving and sends all messages straight to voicemail to keep drivers focused on the road.

While some might be alarmed that a single company is amassing so much information about people's location and driving habits, Thrower emphasized that the company automatically defaults to the most private settings, won't turn over information to insurance companies and filters out obscenity-laced road-rage messages. But in cases of child abductions and other public safety situations, he said, Bump.com technology can help law enforcement track down criminals. "The Good Samaritan piece is a big one for us," Thrower said. "We want to make the roads safer."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Monday
Mar142011

Survey: Four Out of Ten Millionaires Do Not Feel Wealthy

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The nation's millionaires have spoken, and the magic number above which they feel wealthy is $7.5 million. Four out of 10 millionaires surveyed say they do not feel wealthy, even though they reported an average of $3.5 million in investable assets.

Among the 58 percent of responders who do feel wealthy, they said they began to feel so at $1.75 million in investable assets.

Gail Graham, an executive vice president in Fidelity Institutional Wealth, the group that conducted the survey, said the she believes different definitions of "wealthy" are can be attributed "how much retirement influences how people feel."

While their near-term confidence in the U.S. economy remains negative, their outlook is at the highest level since Fidelity began tracking millionaires' views in 2006.

Graham said the attitudes of millionaires are both a "leading indicator and a causal factor" of the direction of the economy. Representing 56 percent of the nation's wealth, she said the millionaires "have the power to make what they believe happen."

The survey of 1,011 financial decision makers in U.S. households with investable assets of at least $1 million, excluding any real estate holdings and workplace retirement accounts, was conducted online Oct. 18-29, 2010.

The average millionaire who participated in the survey is 56 years old, male, and has $3.5 million in investable assets with an annual household income of $379 thousand. The majority -- 86 percent -- have college degrees, and 46 percent hold graduate degrees.

Those surveyed represent only 5 percent of U.S. households. Sixty percent of participants were male, while 40 percent were female.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Stock Market Reflects Concerns About Japan, Middle East

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The economic fallout of the massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear shutdowns in Japan is weighing on investors.

Oil prices fell below $99 per barrel as analysts tried to calculate how much the disaster in Japan will affect global energy demand.

On Wall Street, shares were at six-week lows.

Berkshire Hathaway said it plans to buy chemical company Lubrizol for $9 billion in cash.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Retailers Revamp Political Giving Policies Ahead of 2012 Campaign

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Two of the nation's most prominent retailers, Target Corp. and Best Buy, quietly have revamped their political expenditure policies following a stinging controversy from the 2010 election campaign that continues to reverberate.

The changes, appearing in policy statements on the companies' websites last month, said that proposed political donations must align with the companies' core values, not just their business interests, and be reviewed by internal committees that include a diversity of viewpoints.

Last year, Target sparked outrage among some employees, customers, and community groups for contributions supporting a Republican Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who opposed same-sex marriage and greater legal protections for gays and lesbians.  The company is based in Minneapolis.

Best Buy and several other companies also donated to the conservative political action group, MN Forward, but received less criticism.

The revised policies are signs that some businesses that took advantage of the freedom to give directly to campaigns from their corporate bank accounts after the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, are taking steps to avoid unwanted negative attention in 2012, experts said.

At Target, a committee of senior executives representing a "variety of perspectives" will weigh the need to promote business-friendly policies with "any other considerations that may be important to our team members, guests or other stakeholders," the company said on its website.

Best Buy said it will convene a similar committee to review corporate political contributions, basing its decisions not only on the interests of the business and shareholders but also employees, customers and the company's "core values."

Some critics of the companies' 2010 contributions say the new revisions don't go far enough.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Despite Eased Lending Policies, Loans May Not Be Affordable

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many banks are easing lending policies they tightened back when the recession hit, making it easier for consumers to take out home and auto loans today.

But before taking out a loan, you should think again on whether or not you really can afford to pay it back.

Neil Renquist of Advisers.com says some consumers who qualify for loans today may be putting a big strain on their finances.

"People mistakenly believe sometimes getting approved for a loan from a bank means you can afford it, and banks often times just don't have the full financial picture of the household," Renquist says.

He advises consumers to do an affordability test to make sure they can afford a big loan.

"The household balance sheet is just a great way to get that sense of affordability," he says.  And one way to do that is to "sit down and on a daily basis throughout the month track your spending."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Tax Tip: Using the Right Forms

Ryan McVay/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- There are literally hundreds of IRS tax forms. Fortunately, there are only a dozen or so that apply to most people. When it comes to choosing which 1040 to use, Mary Beth Franklin from Kiplinger's Personal Finance says “pick the simplest tax form for you.”

“If you simply have wage income W-2, you can go with the 1040EZ,” Franklin said. Be aware, however, that the form won't allow you to take anything but the standard deduction, which might be the wrong move, according to accountant Janice Hayman.

“A lot of people file the short form mistakenly when they truly do have enough to use the long form and itemize their deductions," Hayman said. "What is commonly overlooked are the state and local income taxes that are right there on their W-2 form. They are part of the itemized deductions.”

You have to use the full form -- a 1040 -- if you want to itemize your deductions, make more than $100,000, or have self-employment income.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Events Overseas Likely to Affect Stock Market In Early Trading

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Modest gains on Wall Street Friday were not enough to reverse last week's falling fortunes.

For the week, the Dow was down 1 percent, at 12,044, while the Nasdaq shed 2.5 percent.

Meanwhile, oil prices are near $99 a barrel in overseas trading after multiple disasters in Japan threatened to send the world's third-largest economy into recession.  Nuclear power-related businesses in the country had staggering losses, with Hitachi and Toshiba seeing drops of 16 percent.  Mitsubishi Heavy Industries also slumped 10 percent.

On another note, Libya's oil minister says that country's crude production has fallen "drastically" as Moammar Gadhafi's forces battle to regain control of ports and oil facilities along the Mediterranean coast.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Stocks in Japan Drop over Six Percent at Close

Comstock/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- Following the destruction from an 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan Friday, the Japanese stock market plunged as it wrapped up its first day of business since the disaster.

At Monday's opening, the Nikkei Stock Average dropped 5.2 percent and continued to fall throughout the day.  By closing time, it had gone down by 6.18 percent.

The drop came as another reactor at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Plant exploded Monday and worries about radiation exposure increased.  Shares of Tokyo Electric Power, the company that runs the nuclear power plant, also dropped, falling 23.57 percent.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan said Monday that it plans to inject 18 trillion yen into the markets in an effort to secure confidence and minimize the impact on the country's economy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Mar132011

SEC Investigating Former Fannie Mae CEO

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The former chief executive of Fannie Mae announced that he is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission after receiving a Wells Notice - notification of impending charges.

Daniel Mudd, who ran Fannie Mae from 2004 to 2008, when the government took control of the mortgage giant, could be charged with misleading investors on subprime mortgages.

Since his dismissal, Mudd has served as CEO of the New York-based hedge fund Fortress Investment Group.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Mar132011

Tax Tip: Taking Classes? Inquire About Tax Credits

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The government wants you and your children to go to college and offers up a few tax savings to help you foot the bill.

The first is the American Opportunity Credit, which offers a maximum $2,500 credit.

“To qualify for the maximum credit, you only need to spend as little as $4,000, and with the cost of tuition, fees and books what they are today, it doesn't make much to get to that level,” said Eric Smith of the IRS.

“They need to be part of a degree program of some kind,” Smith said. “You need to be at least a half-time student.”

Say you want to take a class – maybe just an evening course to help update your job skills – there’s a tax credit for you, as well.

“The Lifetime Learning Credit may be something they could take advantage of if they're not able to go to school full time,” said H&R Block’s Kathy Pickering.

Check out Publication 970 at IRS.gov to see if you qualify.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio