Thursday, March 26, 2015

Archive: September, 2011

POSTED: Friday, September 30, 2011, 12:07 PM
A Bank of America customer at a Los Angeles ATM.The firm said it will charge a $5 monthly fee for purchases, but not at ATMs. (KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/ Getty Images)

Bank of America plans to impose a new $5-a-month charge - $60 a year - for the privilege of using your debit card, its favored alternative to cash and checks. Other big banks, including Wells Fargo and Chase, are testing the waters with new $3-a-month fees, according to reports such as this.

It's hard to say how customers will respond to the new fees, which are partly a response to new Federal Reserve regulations that go into effect tomorrow limiting how much banks can charge for processing debit-card transactions but also a response to earlier rules that clamped down on lucrative debit-card overdraft fees.  If you're unhappy with the fee, you may want to consider your own alternatives, especially at smaller regional banks or credit unions.

Before you make any moves, it's worth understanding what's going on, which is little tough to see clearly amid all the spin.

POSTED: Wednesday, September 28, 2011, 11:42 AM
Reebok EasyTone, available at Lady Foot Locker ($99.99) (Photo: (Business Wire)

Can a particular brand of sports shoe offer "better legs and a better butt with every step"?  That's what Reebok claimed in ads for its EasyTone and RunTone shoes in 2009 and 2010. As one commercial put it, using Reebok's EasyTone shoes would provide "11% more toning in your thighs and calves 28% more toning in your butt."

This morning, the FTC announced that Reebok had agreed to pay $25 million to settle claims that it lacked adequate evidence for making such specific claims. The money will provide refunds to customers who purchased the shoes from retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Famous Footwear, Lady Footlocker, and Nordstrom. (For information, go to

Although FTC officials said they were unsure how many consumers had bought the shoes, primarily marketed to women, they said toning shoes are a big business. A complaint made public along with the settlement said U.S. toning-shoes sales rose from about $17 million in 2008 to $145 million in 2009 and to nearly $1 billion in in 2010.

POSTED: Friday, September 23, 2011, 11:28 AM

In commercials, Sprint has been touting itself as the only major carrier that still offers its customers limitless downloads.  Sprint says its smartphone plans distinguish it from AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, which offer capped plans plus overage charges, and from T-Mobile, which slows down transmission beyond 5 gigabytes per month.

But that will change Oct. 2 for one class of customers, according to a report at those who pay $30 a month to use their phones as mobile hotspots for their laptops or tablets.

BGR's Zach Epstein writes:

POSTED: Thursday, September 22, 2011, 4:14 PM

Maybe this video of Elizabeth Warren campaigning in Massachusetts isn't the "must see TV" that TNR's Jonathan Cohn portrays it as, but the clip is worth watching - especially the segment where she shoots down charges that it's "class warfare" to propose raising taxes on people who earn $1 million or more a year.

That's been a consistent line of attack on right-wing talk radio ever since President Obama included higher taxes on the richest Americans in his plan for reducing the nation's deficit.  Dom Giordano, the morning guy on WPHT-AM (1210), has repeatedly called the proposal "punishment" of the wealthy and successful. Rush Limbaugh compares it to Mao's "cultural revolution." (Never mind that some other successful people, such as Warren Buffet, think it a good and necessary idea.)

There's nothing magical about a particular tax rate, and there's nothing about adjusting tax rates, up or down, that is intrinsically good or bad, even if everyone prefers lower rates when the nation can afford them. Right now, we plainly can't - and lowering them at the same time we waged two wars was a phenomenally bad idea, as Warren also points out. The trick of the moment is how to raise more revenue while doing minimal damage to the economy, and raising rates on the highest earners is the best possible bet.

POSTED: Wednesday, September 21, 2011, 12:18 PM

I wrote Sunday's column about the alternate reality presented by Republican politicians who look at the recent history of deregulatory fervor - supported by leaders of both parties since the late 1970s - and want to double down on deregulation rather than address its consequences. If the GOP gets its way, for example, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be hobbled before it gets off the ground.

Today, Salon's Joan Walsh uses data from a new book by Ron Suskind to describe one of the worst of  those consequences: creation of a "debt machine" that enriched Wall Street and the financial industry for more than two decades while papering over the growing income disparity between the wealthiest Americans and nearly everybody else.

Walsh's piece is about the revelations in Suskind's book, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President, which centers on the Obama administration's missteps in managing the economic disaster it confronted on Inauguration Day.  She hopes that Obama's recent determination to address the deficit in part by raising taxes on people who earn more than $1 million a year signals a new willingness to fight for a balanced approach to getting the nation's finances in order, despite the instant and predictable accusations of "class warfare." She doesn't sound hugely hopeful.

POSTED: Wednesday, September 7, 2011, 11:57 AM

Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general named to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, faces a formidable obstacle as he seeks Senate confirmation: More than 40 Republican senators, enough to sustain a filibuster, have pledged to block any nominee to be director of the new bureau, demanding that it instead be run by a bipartisan commission.

Stephen Koff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer described Tuesday's confirmation hearing this way:

... Only two of the Senate banking committee's 10 Republicans showed up. And both of them let Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, and other Democrats know that unless Congress or the White House overhauls the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it will never have a director confirmed by the Senate.

About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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