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    6 'New' Things Introduced By Apple That Aren't So New

    Apple's reputation as an innovator has always been built on the refinement of existing ideas—Palm sold touchscreen phones before the iPhone, and Sony made ultra-lightweight laptops years before Apple launched the MacBook Air. Apple's focus on high-end materials and build quality with its hardware and attention to detail with its software tend to produce popular products that have the effect of sweeping aside history. Apple cultivates this aura of "specialness" by adding its own branding to industry standard components (iSight and FaceTime cameras, Retina displays, Airport wireless) and launching its products at glitzy events with plenty of talk about how "revolutionary" it all is.

    It's hard to fault a company for being proud of its  creations and selling them to the best of its ability. But we couldn't help but notice at Apple's latest event that many of the new features of the Apple TV, iPad Pro, and iPhone 6s and 6s Plus seemed awfully familiar. Here are six of Apple's new innovations that actually have a bit of history to them.

    1. Live Photos

    The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will automatically take a few seconds of video with every still photograph. When you press on the photo, it comes to life.

    Where we've seen it before: In 2013, HTC showed a similar feature called Zoe (a reference to zoetropes) on the HTC One (M7) smartphone.

    2. Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil

    Steve Jobs famously derided the stylus shortly after the introduction of the original iPad, saying, "If you need a stylus, you've already failed." Apple has obviously overcome its famous founder's discontent with pointy sticks with the new Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro. And our first impresions of the $99 Pencil and the click-on $170 Smart Keyboard were pretty positive, although the prices do seem pretty high.

    Where we've seen it before: Apple has been called out by many in the tech press for copying the accessories of the Microsoft Surface line, which has had stylus and keyboard covers since it first launched back in 2012. But Microsoft's history with stylus interfaces actually dates back to 2002 with its introduction of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. In fact, one of the earliest stylus-based devices was Apple's own Newton hand-held organizer back in 1993, so maybe Apple deserves credit for bringing this innovation to market after all.

    3. 4K Video

    The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus have upgraded iSight cameras with 12 megapixel sensors that we can't wait to test in our labs. These cameras also shoot video in 4K (3840 x 2160) at 30 frames per second—a first for Apple smartphones.

    Where we've seen it before: Apple is pretty late to the party on 4K (or ultra HD). Smartphones have been shooting ultra HD since 2013, and our current ratings list 17 models that shoot ultra HD, including the Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4, and HTC One M9.

    4. Apple TV With Siri

    The upgraded Apple TV has an all-new remote control with a touchpad, Bluetooth connectivity, and a built-in microphone. That microphone is to allow search and voice control of the Apple TV through Apple's Siri digital assistant.

    Where we've seen it before: The Amazon Fire TV and Roku 3 both offer voice control already (although Roku's voice control is pretty spare). Amazon also has a pretty sophisticated digital assistant, named Alexa, that shows up on that company's Echo speaker. For the moment, it looks like the functionality that Siri brings to Apple TV could outpace what Amazon and Roku's devices can do in response to voice commands, but if Amazon brings Alexa to the Fire TV, that would definitely give Siri a run for her money. We look forward to a showdown in our labs, but until then, here's how the various streaming boxes stack up against each other.

    5. Apple TV as a Gaming Device

    Now that the Apple TV's tvOS platform is open to developers, expect to see plenty of iOS games ported to the big screen. There were plenty of demos at Apple's launch event of games such as Manticore Rising, Guitar Hero, Crossy Road, and Beat Sports. The new Apple TV remote can be used as a game controller and has built in motion sensors to let you interact with games through gestures. There is also some support for third-party gaming controllers.

    Where we've seen it before: Roku devices and Amazon Fire TV already have robust app networks for their streaming media boxes. The Roku 3 comes with a remote that doubles as a controller and has built in motion control. Amazon also already makes its own accessory game controller for the Fire TV. But when it comes to the type of physically interactive casual gaming that Apple TV (and for that matter, all of these streaming boxes) is aiming at, it's really Nintendo that paved the way with its original Wii system. And it's probably Nintendo that stands to lose the most as Apple, Amazon, and Roku continually chip away at Nintendo's remaining audience.

    6. 3D Touch

    Both the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus have sensors built in to the display that can detect how much force a finger is exerting. The screens also have a haptic actuator (Apple calls it a "Taptic Engine") to deliver force feedback. The effect feels like pushing a physical button when you're pressing on a virtual button. On the iPhones, this is used to reveal pop up menus for apps without having to launch them, or to "peak" at content (for instance, you can view a web page from a link without switching to the browser).

    Where we've seen it before: Actually, Apple launched this same technology under a different name earlier this year. Both the Apple Watch and MacBook use a pressure-sensitive, haptic-feedback technology called Force Touch. Now, there is an argument that the two technologies are slightly different, since 3D Touch has an additional level of sensitivity. There has also been the argument that Apple renamed the technology due to some unfortunate associations with the name Force Touch.

    For those with a longer view of history, whatever you call Apple's haptic technology, it is remarkably similar in concept to—although mechanically very different from—the screen of the 2008 RIM Blackberry Storm. That phone included a technology RIM called SurePress, which provided a satisfying click whenever you pushed a button on the screen. Both SurePress and Apple's 3D Touch are essentially tricking the senses of the user—Apple uses it's technology to jiggle the screen when you press in on an icon that has 3D Touch functionality, the screen of the old BlackBerry Storm was essentially one big button, so wherever you pushed, it was going to click. That said, Apple's selective use of 3D Touch in its interface is a better idea than BlackBerry's implimentation. The Storm required a firm press for everything from typing to app selection.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    A New Way to Invest Your Spare Change

    For years, automated savings programs such as Bank of America's Keep the Change and Way2Save from Wells Fargo have been helping consumers trying to save a little cash.

    Swipe your debit card at the grocery store or, say, Starbucks and if the charge comes to $6.50, for example, the bank would round up the amount to $7 and put the extra 50 cents in spare change into your savings account.

    Great idea, but with yields on savings accounts paying close to zero percent interest, such a service that moves funds from one account to another seems a bit pointless.

    But now there may be a better way. Acorns, a startup with an app for iPhone and Android smartphones, is taking the automatic micro-transfer a step further, by investing those spare change roundups in low-cost index funds.

    From Swipes to ETFs

    To begin investing your spare change, you typically link at least one account, often a debit or credit card, to Acorns, which will then monitor your expenses for possible roundups, and a bank account, from which those roundups will ultimately be deducted. Acorns will round up every transaction made to the nearest dollar. If you use your debit card to spend $8.49 on lunch, then that 51 cents in spare change will be set aside in your checking account. Once the total amount reaches $5, Acorns deducts it from your checking account and funds your investment account.

    Those funds are then used to purchase six exchange-traded funds, in a portfolio chosen to match your tolerance for risk (Acorns administers a short risk tolerance quiz to prospective investors). The accounts are SIPC insured, just as they are at an online discount brokerage.

    How much money could you save? It depends on how much you spend, but Acorns projects that in 15 years a $10 monthly investment into its moderately aggressive portfolio will grow to $3,200. If that doesn't seem worthwhile, an alternative could be Betterment's Smart Deposit. Instead of basing periodic investments on transactions, it sweeps a preset amount (it can be hundreds of dollars per week or month) into its similar ETF-based portfolios.

    Then there are the fees. Acorns fees are undeniably clear, but depending on how much you save, expensive. For an investor who has accumulated $500, for example, the $1 monthly fee amounts to a huge annual expense of 2.4 percent. Only after you've invested $3,000 or more with Acorns do the fees become more commensurate with other robo-adviser portfolios like Betterment and Wealthfront, although they're still somewhat higher (Acorns does facilitate larger lump sum investments).

    On the other hand, Acorns charges just $12 a year, which isn't much of a hardship if it helps educate consumers otherwise intimidated by investing. And Acorns waives the fees for students and anyone between the ages 18 and 24, a market that might be suited for a basic service like this. Best of all, saving five dollars at a time using Acorns will likely offer a better return than less sophisticated methods.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The proposed 21st Century Cures Act needs an overhaul

    Patients desperate for medical breakthroughs should never have to sacrifice safety in the name of innovation, but legislation underway in Congress could do just that.

    Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives passed a medical innovation bill known as the “21st Century Cures Act”—or simply “Cures”—that has several key provisions that would significantly weaken consumer health protections and could lead to patients being exposed to potentially unsafe or ineffective drugs and medical devices.

    Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has serious concerns with the bill, including:

    Drug Safety

    The 21st Century Cures Act would weaken the FDA’s ability to ensure safe and effective medicines by fast-tracking certain antibiotics and antifungals for approval based on less rigorous testing.                            

    Medical Device Safety

    The 21st Century Cures Act would allow the FDA to approve medical devices based on case studies or medical journal articles alone, rather than clinical trials. This means that real world testing would happen only after the device is already on the market and being used by patients. Additionally, the bill would allow medical device companies to make changes to the highest risk devices, like heart valves and brain stents, without first telling the FDA or proving that the altered device remains safe and effective. (Read our earlier report on dangerous medical implants and devices.)

    Antibiotic Resistance

    The 21st Century Cures Act includes incentives to prescribe newly developed antibiotics. Hospitals would receive a bonus for using new antibiotics, which could lead to overuse and antibiotic resistance, undermining one of the very problems the legislation is supposed to address. (Read our investigation on how your hospital can make you sick.)

    Transparency in Physician Payments

    The 21st Century Cures Act would create a huge loophole in the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. The Sunshine Act, which Consumers Union strongly supports, requires medical device and pharmaceutical companies to disclose payments they make to physicians and to teaching hospitals, which can include large amounts for speaking engagements, or covering large fees for doctors to attend conferences.

    Access to Generic Drugs

    The bill would keep certain generic drugs off the market longer, giving pharmaceutical companies extended monopoly power to sell costly, brand name drugs.

    But it’s not too late to fix these issues. The Senate is working now on its version of a medical innovation bill and they want to hear from you. We can work to pass legislation focused on improved treatments that are safe and effective for patients—without compromising the effectiveness of the treatments or the safety of patients.

    Consumers Union supports other options to discover the next medical breakthrough while keeping patients safe, like the Helping Effective Antibiotics Last (HEAL) Act that would protect patient safety in the FDA approval process while encouraging the development of proven and safe new antibiotics. We are urging Senators to include this approach in their medical innovation legislation.

    Your senators have the chance to do the right thing, and remove these pharma giveaways while making sure innovative, safe cures reach the market. Tell your senators you support safe, effective, and affordable cures. 

    This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

    Read past installments of our Policy & Action feature.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Forward-Collision Warning With Braking to Become Standard

    Automotive safety has made dramatic improvements over the past decades, with seatbelts, airbags, electronic stability control, and sophisticated body structures all demonstrably reducing injuries and deaths. Consumer Reports feels the next critical advance involves forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking. This proven, life-saving technology would have such a positive impact on safety that Consumer Reports has called for it to be standard on all new cars. (Also read “Government Pushes Autonomous Braking Technology.”)

    That’s why we’re pleased with today’s announcement by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). At the dedication of IIHS’ expanded Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Va., the safety organization and NHTSA jointly announced that 10 automakers have committed to making automatic emergency braking (AEB) standard: Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

    Automatic emergency braking systems could drastically reduce rear-end crashes—either in avoiding them altogether, or at least reducing the velocity of the collision. The price-per-car for a frontal-collision warning system is $250 to $400—a fraction of the typical charge for an ambulance ride.

    The National Transportation Safety Board cites that, in recent years, almost half of all two-vehicle crashes involved a rear-end collision–claiming about 1,700 lives per year and causing 500,000 injuries. And the IIHS estimates as many as 1.9 million total crashes could be prevented or mitigated each year if all vehicles were equipped with forward-collision systems. Further, studies by the IIHS and others show that automatic emergency braking technology could reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent.

    Automatic emergency braking systems have been available for years on luxury cars, and this advanced safety feature is beginning to trickle down to mainstream vehicles, often as part of pricey options packages. It’s time for this technology to become a standard feature.

    Consumer Reports has evaluated numerous automatic emergency braking systems through our vehicle test program, both on the track and in real-world situations.

    “Forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking is the biggest safety advancement since the introduction of stability control over two decades ago,” says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports. “This is such an important safety feature that all other manufacturers should bring it to their vehicles as soon as possible.”

    “Consumer Reports and Consumers Union have long advocated for this system, and are very pleased to see today’s announcement,” said William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “We look forward to working with government, automakers, and safety groups on these and other advanced technologies, such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications and autonomous driving. These improvements could further transform auto safety.”

    How the Systems Work

    Forward-collision warning (FCW) uses cameras, radar, or laser (or some combination thereof) to scan the road ahead and to alert the driver if the distance to a vehicle ahead is closing too quickly.

    The systems alert the driver with an audible, haptic (touch), and/or visual cue. More advanced systems include automatic emergency braking that can stop a car quickly enough to avoid a collision at modest speeds, or at the very least reduce the closing speed. At freeway speeds, the systems may not be able to completely stop the car in time, but they will still apply the brakes to reduce the force of the collision. Some system prepare the cabin’s seat belts and airbags for impact. (Learn more about car safety features.) 

    Bottom Line

    When shopping for your next new car, choose a model that performs well in Consumer Reports' dynamic tests, has better-than-average predicted reliability, and strong marks for safety in crash tests performed by the government and insurance industry.

    To put safety odds further in your favor, consider investing in the latest advanced safety features, such as forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, and lane-departure warning.

    See our guide to models with advanced safety features.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    LG Twin Wash and Other Washer Wows

    When did things get crazy in the washer aisle? What with prices nearing $2,000 and capacities so big they fit 28 pounds of laundry. Manufacturers continue to up capacities and add features to win you over and to boost the price. On the other hand, some manufacturers skip the fancy extras and and still raise the price. Here’s a look inside three washers with new innovations recently tested by Consumer Reports, including LG’s Twin Wash.

    LG Twin Wash

    Here’s a smart use of space, if only it weren’t so expensive. LG’s Twin Wash pairs a front-loader with a mini-washer where a pedestal might be. LG has turned a storage drawer into a 1-cubic-foot mini-washer that can be used at the same time the front-loader is running. Together they’re known as Twin Wash and rely on the same water supply. The $700 mini-washer can be paired with any LG front-loader made from 2009 on. It has six cycles, allows warm and cold wash temperatures, and an extra rinse. The mini-washer doesn’t deliver the cleaning power of a front-loader, based on our tests of 2- and 4-pound loads, but took only 40 minutes using the normal cycle. It’s meant for lightly soiled clothes.

    The LG WM9000HVA front-loader is $1,800 and of the dozens of washers we tested, only the $1,900 Speed Queen AFNE9BSP113TW01 costs more. Sure, the high-scoring  LG did an excellent job getting laundry clean, was water- and energy-efficient, and has a jumbo capacity that fit about 26 pounds of laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.1 cubic feet. This washer was gentle on fabrics, relatively quiet, and vibration wasn’t an issue. But $1,800? And the normal wash time, using the heavy-soil setting, was 105 minutes—and that’s using the time-saving TurboWash.

    Samsung Activewash

    Another smart use of space. Inside some new Samsung high-efficiency top-loaders you’ll see a water jet and built-in sink with ridges, a feature known as Activewash. You can use the sink’s ridges as if it were a washboard. Rub a stained shirt for a minute or two against the ridges, working detergent or pretreatment solution into the stain. No need to work up a sweat—the shirt then goes straight into the washer. The high-scoring Samsung WA52J8700AP has Activewash and is $1,000.

    Staber Stays Small

    Bucking the trend of 28-pound capacities, Staber continues to use its unique tub design—just 2-cubic feet—on high-efficiency top-loaders. “The tub held 12 pounds of our laundry and it was a tight fit,” says Emilio Gonzalez, the engineer who oversees Consumer Reports’ tests of washers and dryers. Even though this is a top-loader, the small metal tub rotates in one direction, pauses, rotates in the other direction, just like a front-loader does. We tested the Staber HXW2404. It’s $1,700 and ended up near the bottom of our washer Ratings. Cleaning and water efficiency was impressive, but capacity was not, and this washer was noisy and vibrated.

    More choices. Check out our full washer Ratings and recommendations to find out how these machines stack up compared to the dozens we tested. Any questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 09/12/15--03:00: Sound Bars at Every Price
  • Sound Bars at Every Price

    The next time you’re admiring your TV’s super-svelte profile, consider that its inspired design probably makes for less-than-stellar sound quality. The reason is fairly simple—there’s less room for a powerful sound system with bigger speakers. That's why only a handful of the 145 televisions in our TV Ratings—all of them larger models—earned at least a very good score for sound. Most sets were judged only good, and a considerable number fell short of even that unremarkable mark.

    Good sound quality is probably perfectly adequate for routine programming—sitcoms, reality shows, talk shows, and the like—but for movie soundtracks and even TV dramas you might want richer, fuller sound. You could remedy that shortcoming with a pricey surround sound system or home-theater-in-a-box, but there’s a simpler, cheaper, space-saving solution: a sound bar speaker.

    Most sound bars are long, thin enclosures, about 40 inches or longer, that are mounted on the wall or placed on a shelf above or below the TV. Sound bars typically house two to five speakers (some might have more), plus amplification, in a single enclosure, and some come with a separate subwoofer (often a wireless model).

    There are also pedestal-style sound bars, called sound bases, that can serve as a base for a TV. (Check the weight of your set to make sure the stand can support it.)

    Just connect the sound bar to your TV, plug the power cord into a wall outlet, and you can start enjoying better sound. Few of even the best-sounding TVs can rival a top-notch sound bar speaker system.

    Many sound bars sell for $200 to $600 or so, with a handful priced as low as $100 and other models costing up to $1,000 or more. Here are three great choices at various price points:

    Sharp HT-SB602, $250

    Got a he-man-sized TV with wimpy sound? Add some sonic muscle with this 2.1-channel sound bar, designed for TVs 60 inches or larger. The Sharp HT-SB602 offers very good overall sound quality, and the piano-black finish on the sound bar and matching wireless subwoofer make them an attractive couple. The speaker has Bluetooth with NFC for easy pairing with mobile devices, and its two HDMI inputs let you connect and switch between two other pieces of gear using the included remote control.

    Samsung HW-J6500, $550

    OK, you were enticed by the appealing aesthetics of a curved TV, and you've found that its sound isn’t as banging as its looks. This Wi-Fi model from Samsung, designed to match the curves of its, and others’ TVs, is one elegant solution. Sporting an attractive aluminum enclosure that houses both front- and side-firing speakers, the sound bar can connect to your home network using either a wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection, and to a compatible Samsung TV via Bluetooth. The sound bar, which comes with a wireless subwoofer, can access streaming music services, and become part of a multiroom sound system when paired with other Samsung wireless audio speakers.

    Sonos Playbar, $700

    This Wi-Fi model from Sonos is a sound bar with ambition. Not only does it work as a speaker for your TV and team up with other Sonos speakers to become part of a multiroom setup, but unlike the Samsung it can also be used as the front-channel speakers in a full-blown multichannel surround-sound system in one room. In addition to playing TV sound, the Sonos Playbar can stream audio from other devices or connect directly with several Internet-based music services. A downloadable app can turn your phone or tablet into a remote control.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Don't Let Snow Tire Deals Melt Away

    Although it's tempting to put off thoughts of shopping for winter gear until the first big freeze, that's the worst time to buy winter tires. That's because these seasonal items have a very short sales window, generally just October and November. (Based our experience, December might be too late, particularly if you need a common size tire.)

    While all-season and even summer-only tires have customers in all 50 states, winter tires are far more region specific. And given the narrower window of time where you need these seasonal tires, it's pretty easy to understand that manufacturers and retailers want to get them manufactured, shipped, and sold from inventory as quickly as possible. And that's where snow tire deals enter the picture.

    Act Fast for Hot Deals on Cold-Weather Tires

    But just because there is a narrow buying window doesn't mean you can't get a deal. In fact, the two largest online retailers, Tire Rack and Discount Tire Direct, are offering rebates ranging from $50 to more than $100 on select winter and all-season tires. Other retailers might offer similar rebates or match these offers.

    Most of these tire deals are for mainline tires in normal sizes. Some of the tires might be leftovers from last year, but retailers are also stocking up and including some rebates on this year's latest models.

    Of course, some restrictions apply. The Tire Rack offer is applicable only on tires purchased from the in-stock inventory until September 28, 2015. The rebate is in the form of a prepaid credit card, and it is valid only for up to six months; after that, the funds are forfeited.

    In addition to those restrictions, Discount Tire Direct goes one step further for its tire deals, requiring you to use a Discount Tire-branded credit card to qualify for the rebate. Interestingly, Discount Tire's purchase period is quite long, running through March 31, 2016.

    In the end, whether you are buying online or in a brick-and-mortar store, buy the freshest tires that you can, no more than two-years old. The date appears on the tire side wall, starting with DOT and the last four number are the week and year of manufacture. And as with any tire purchase, buy four of the same type. Don't replace just two tires at one time.

    For more information, Check our tire buying guide and tire Ratings.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Turn Off These 3 Features in Your TV

    So you've finally sprung for that colossal-sized Ultra HD TV, set it up in your family room, and well, it doesn't look quite as awesome as you imagined. In fact, everything looks a bit fake and unnatural, surely not what you anticipated when you plunked down your cash for a state-of-the-art television.

    Before you race back down to your local TV barn to demand a refund, take a deep breath—you may be a victim of your TV's out-of-box settings rather than a conniving salesman looking to unload a lackluster piece of technology.

    Many new TVs come withy a bevy of features that are turned on by default, and a few could be robbing you and your set of the best picture possible. Here are three features we recommend you shut off—or at least turn way down—when you get the TV home. (Save your anger for the salesman who insisted that the set wouldn't work right without pricey "Ultra HD" cables.)

    1. Noise Reduction

    "Hey," you might argue, "why do I want to turn off noise reduction? I don't want to see any noise on my TV!" That would seem to make sense, except it doesn't. Noise was a bigger issue with older analog TVs, and especially with lower-definition analog signals. And, yes, when TVs upconvert video signals from lesser-quality sources you may see still some noise. But for the most part, you're getting much cleaner, higher-quality digital source content these days, whether its over-the-air digital broadcasts, high-def signals from cable and satellite TV services, or pristine video from Blu-ray discs.

    The problem with engaging noise reduction is that it comes at the expense of detail and fine texture—these tend to get smoothed over when the feature is active. Turn off noise reduction and you'll have more picture detail and a more natural-looking image.

    2. Sharpness Control/Edge Enhancement

    Another denizen of the "sounds good, but really isn't" department is sharpness control, which oxymoronically doesn’t actually make the image sharper. What it really does is artificially boost fine detail and texture, while accentuating the edges of images in the picture. At first glance this might give the impression of greater detail, but what it's actually doing is masking fine detail—and oversharpened images can add a halo around objects. So turn it way down, or completely off. Note: Some models have a zero setting in the center of the control, so lowering it beyond that point might actually soften the image.

    3. Motion Smoothing

    Like a spy or credit-card fraudster, motion smoothing has many names, including smooth motion, motion estimation/motion compensation, and motion interpolation. To make things even more confusing, companies tend to give this feature their own proprietary names, such as Auto Motion Plus (Samsung), Motionflow (Sony), and TruMotion (LG). And it's yet another one of those features that sounds like a good thing—who, after all, wants an unsmooth picture?

    For one, movie lovers, who are uncompromising when it comes to preserving the "film look," which means faithfully reproducing a slightly stuttering effect called judder. This appearance comes about because movies and a lot of prime-time TV shows are shot at a relatively slow 24 frames per second, or 24Hz. The jerky motion is most evident on scenes with camera pans.

    In contrast to movies, video is typically shot at 60Hz. That's why video of sports, and reality and game shows, has smoother motion than 24Hz films. When a TV's smooth motion feature is activated, movies can start to lose much of their character. This is referred to as the "soap opera" effect, because soap operas are typically shot with 60Hz video cameras.

    So what, exactly, is motion smoothing? LCD TVs have a tendency to blur during fast-moving scenes, and manufacturers have found ways to reduce that effect, including repeating frames, or inserting black frames into the video signal. (Check out our TV Ratings, available to subscribers, to see how well each set we've tested does with motion blur.)

    Motion smoothing involves a more sophisticated technology, called frame interpolation. The television analyzes adjacent video frames, makes a guess as to what the in-between frames would look like if they'd been captured, and inserts those new frames into the video stream. It's smart technology, but it can make TV shows shot at 24 frames per second look hyper-realistic and somehow less natural than what you're accustomed to.

    The easy fix is to turn off smooth motion. Most sets with 120Hz and higher refresh rates let you do this. Unfortunately, in many televisions,  anti-blurring processing—which can be beneficial—is  tied to motion smoothing, so you can't get one without the other. But other TVs do let you adjust these features independently. What you want to do if you've got such a TV is to shut off the anti-judder feature while engaging the anti-blurring processing.

    Here's a final note. Our advice to anyone buying a new TV is to experiment with the various picture-control settings to find the best ones for your room and viewing conditions. While we recommend turning these three features down or all the way off, play around with them and see what effect they have on your set's picture quality. And don't worry about straying too far—most TVs have a reset button to restore factory settings.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Piloting the 640-hp Cadillac CTS-V Super Sedan

    For the past few days we’ve been sampling a new 2016 Cadillac CTS-V, rented from GM, and we’ve enjoyed barnstorming the countryside and our own track in this $99,735 super sedan.

    As a reminder, the V designation is to Cadillac what M is to BMW and AMG is to Mercedes-Benz: the in-house, high-performance engineering boutique used for building and marketing best-available power, speed, and exclusivity.

    Following our stint with the smaller Cadillac ATS-V, we were expecting more of everything from the Cadillac CTS-V, but the real question is, did it put a bigger smile on our faces?

    In short, not for all of us. Starting at $83,995, there is no question that the Cadillac CTS-V is one terrific, enormously capable super sedan that can give luxury-marque muscle sedans like the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG a run for their money. It’s the real deal. But the enthusiasm wasn’t unanimous. One test engineer said, “I know I’m supposed to love this car, but there’s something missing for me here.”

    With a 640-horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter V8 borrowed from the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, you’ll not go begging for forward thrust when piloting the Cadillac CTS-V. GM claims a 0-60 mph sprint of 3.5 seconds; anywhere close to that is approaching orbital escape velocity.

    Some may find the supercharger’s whine a little annoying—yours truly thinks it takes away from the purity of the natural induction and exhaust sounds—but you’re more apt to be subjected to that whine when driving gently in Tour mode than when tromping on the go pedal at a race track.

    The eight-speed automatic is simply superb, orchestrating gear changes swiftly and appropriately. And when you find yourself blasting toward the end of a straightaway at triple-digit velocity, the Brembo brakes will bring you back down to earth in a heck of a hurry.

    Low to the ground, the Cadillac CTS-V carves corners resolutely, remaining flat and unfazed, delivering sharp handling that has the tautness and agility of a true sports car. The fat Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires contribute to phenomenal cornering grip and impressive composure at the outer limits.

    Turn-in response is immediate but somehow the steering is short on feedback, which takes away from the fun-to-drive quotient and that man-machine connection.

    Driving modes include Tour, Sport, and Track. The Sport setting ups the ante mildly, while Track amplifies the exhaust and sharpens every response, including keeping the revs higher, using more aggressive shifts, and dialing back on the stability control.

    Thankfully, despite all its super-car capability this Caddy doesn’t beat you up. Ride comfort is fairly civilized, with reasonable absorption, suppressed body motions, and some semblance of luxury. The cabin stays quiet, at least when you’re just loafing around in town or country, and the interior is beautifully furnished with suede, chrome, and touches of piano black. The sporty Recaro seats, a $2,300 option, hug tightly without overly constricting.

    Like other Cadillacs, the Cadillac CTS-V has the frustrating Cue infotainment system, a glitzy showcase that might impress a stranger, but it is a pain to live with.

    Maybe our reservations about the supercharger whine and steering fidelity could be seen as nitpicking, but the larger issue is whether a car like the CTS-V is the right car for someone who doesn’t have a track in their back yard.

    As a reality check, you need look no further than the next version down the CTS hierarchy, the CTS V-Sport.

    The V-Sport may not let you brag that you got there the first with the mostest, but honestly, so what, who cares? The 2016 Cadillac CTS-V brings a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience. Despite its 220 fewer horses and taking one second longer to pounce to 60 mph, the V-Sport makes for just as effective an executive express as the V, while carrying a price tag that’s about $25,000 lighter—depending on equipment.

    Read our complete Cadillac CTS road test.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Hidden Dangers of Push-Button Start

    In a striking example of the law of unintended consequences, a popular automotive convenience feature, push-button start, can lead to accidental death from carbon-monoxide poisoning. A simple technical fix—an attention-grabbing warning audible from outside the car—could head off the problem before it happens.

    In cars that have keyless, push-button ignition, an electronic key fob is recognized by the car to authorize driving and the use of power accessories. That fob can conveniently remain in the driver’s pocket or purse, as the ignition switch itself is just a button on the dash.

    Danger can arise, though, if a driver inadvertently leaves the car running when exiting the vehicle—an easy thing to do intentionally or accidentally. Even if you take the key fob with you, the engine can keep idling. If the car is parked in a closed garage attached to a house, especially a basement-level garage, carbon monoxide fumes from the idling engine may seep into the living area, possibly harming anyone in the house.

    A subset of keyless-ignition cars, hybrids and plug-in hybrids, pose an even stealthier problem, because they are virtually silent when in electric mode, which they may well be when sitting still after parking. A driver doesn’t have to be absent-minded to assume that the car is shut down—after all, the engine isn’t running. But the car may not be truly off. The engine could restart itself, say to address a climate control need, potentially sending carbon monoxide into the residence.

    News reports have linked more than a dozen carbon-monoxide deaths to keyless ignitions, and a number of lawsuits have been filed against automakers including a potential class action suit against the 10 largest automakers, filed in late August. That suit, brought in California, alleges that automakers have known about this issue for years but ignored it.

    However, many vehicles already try to warn someone that they’ve left the car running. They sound either an external chime or a chirp of the horn, if drivers leave the engine idling and walk away with the electronic fob. A quick scan of our current test-car fleet turned up both kinds of signals, chimes and horn chirps, and some cars that remain quiet.

    Those brands with audible alerts include:

    • Ford
    • GM
    • Honda
    • Hyundai
    • Mazda
    • Mitsubishi
    • Nissan
    • Toyota 

    Those brands with no audible warning include:

    • Chrysler
    • Land Rover
    • Mercedes-Benz
    • Volkswagen
    • Volvo

    Rules for warnings

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been aware of this issue for some years. NHTSA hasn’t put related rules in place, but not for lack of trying. The agency attempted to make that audible alert mandatory but some automakers objected, arguing that the proposed sound level was “much too loud” and would be an annoyance.

    Another approach, and one demanded by the California class action launched this August, is an automatic engine shut-off. If a car is left idling, it would shut down after some specified period, say 30 minutes, and stay off until a person restarts it.

    NHTSA, however, raised a concern about making such a system mandatory in proposed rule documentation filed with the Federal Register: “There are scenarios, such as leaving pets in the vehicle with the air conditioning or heating system on while the driver shops or is at a restaurant, where an automatic shut off of the propulsion system would have adverse results.”

    Consumer Reports thinks that a simple reminder is a good thing, and we would like to see it on every car with push-button start/stop. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best Electric Ranges for $800 or Less

    Spend more, get more? It depends. Spending more on an electric range often gets you more style, a second oven, or innovations such as induction and virtual flames—useful reminders that your induction elements are on. What it doesn’t guarantee is faster heat, better baking, or just-right simmering. If your budget is $800 or less consider these impressive electric ranges from Consumer Reports’ range tests.

    We tested dozens of electric smoothtop ranges, single and double ovens, coil, and induction ranges. The highest scored 89, the lowest 44. And our Annual Product Reliability Survey found that Whirlpool and GE were among the least repair prone brands of electric ranges and Jenn-Air, Electrolux, and KitchenAid were among the more repair prone brands.

    So here’s what $800 or less can buy you. The price shown is for the tested model in a particular finish. A few are shown in stainless steel, but keep in mind that all of these electric smoothtop ranges are available in stainless although that ups the price.  

    Samsung FE-R300SB and Samsung NE594R0ABSR

    The Samsung FE-R300SB, $600, has four burners, including two high power. Cooktop heat is fast and simmering is superb. Baking is impressive, and broiling and self-cleaning are good. The oven is large and has a steam clean function for small messes.

    The Samsung NE594R0ABSR, $800, has two high power burners, convection, and a large oven with steam clean for light cleaning are part of the package. Superb simmering, fast cooktop heat, and impressive baking, broiling, and self-cleaning are too.

    LG LRE3083SW

    The LG LRE3083SW, $800, is the only one in this batch to make our list of top range picks. There are four burners, including two high power that deliver fast heat. Simmering is excellent, and so is the broiling. The large oven was impressive at baking at self-cleaning. There’s a convection option and steam clean function for light cleaning.

    GE JB650SFSS

    The GE JB650SFSS, $800, is not the range for bakers—it was only good at baking cakes and cookies. It is impressive at broiling, has a large oven with a steam clean function, and aced our tough self-cleaning tests. Simmering is excellent and rangetop heat is fast.

    Frigidaire FFEF3018LW

    The Frigidaire FFEF3018LW, $600, scored very similarly to the Samsung NE594R0ABSR, $800,, but was excellent at self-cleaning. It has four burners, two are high power.

    Prefer coils? And if an electric coil burner is what you prefer, check out the Kenmore 94142. At $430 and top rated, it’s a CR Best Buy. Use our range Ratings and the features and specs tab to compare models. Questions? E-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to Keep Your Trees in Tip-Top Shape

    During a violent storm, even a healthy tree can be imperiled by wind, rain, snow, or hail. And if you’re unlucky enough to have one fall from rough weather, a further complication is that tree professionals will be in demand and slow to arrive after a storm. So here’s how to avoid tree problems before they happen and, if you decide to tackle a fallen tree yourself, how to keep safe:

    Give Your Trees a Physical

    You can’t identify every potential problem, says Mark Chisholm, an arborist with the family-owned Aspen Tree Expert Co. in Jackson, New Jersey. “In the case of a major storm and a super-saturated soil condition, the most stable tree becomes unstable—it’s hard to predict that,” he says. Other identifiers include hollows or splits, which show weakness, and dead giveaways such as fungal growth and branches without leaves at the time of year they should have them.

    Scott Jamieson, a vice president with Bartlett Tree Experts in Stamford, Connecticut, also suggests tapping the trunk of a tree with a rubber mallet (it should not sound like a drum) and looking for carpenter ants crawling in and out of a soft spot. Over time, arborists will also measure changes in the way the tree is leaning.

    Act Before a Storm Approaches

    Not every tree that looks troubled needs attention, but if you’re concerned and don’t have an arborist, it’s worth your while to get a complete tree inspection, which could range from free to a $150 or so. “It’s definitely better to fix the problem before any damage occurs,” says Chisholm. Many arborists use an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) score, called a Tree Risk Assessment, by which they judge a tree both for its apparent integrity and also for whom and what it could imperil by falling. A dead tree out in the middle of a field might not require attention, but a tree with slight decay in a busy city courtyard might warrant removal. “At the end of the day, it becomes a judgment,” says Jamieson. “Does the homeowner want to take the risk of keeping that tree around?”

    Check The Pro's Credentials

    Arborists are often hired based on word-of-mouth referrals, but any pro you hire should still be able to show certification from the ISA and accreditation by the Tree Care Industry Association—plus municipal or county licensing. (Only some arborists have these credentials; state-specific organizations also certify arborists.) The tree surgeon should also be able to present proof of insurance and workman’s compensation. Chisholm warns penny pinchers: “You may try to hire someone who has a cheaper price by $100. But if he isn’t insured and gets hurt, it goes on your homeowner’s insurance. It could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”

    Don’t Rush DIY Tree Work

    Have a tree down across your driveway? With arborists scarce, you might be tempted to do the job yourself. But both Chisholm and Jamieson advise you to take it slow:
    • Wear the appropriate protection: snug-fitting clothing and sturdy work boots, Kevlar chaps over the legs, protective gloves, a helmet with a face shield, and hearing protection.
    • Watch for fallen electrical lines. “There won’t be any indications there’s a live wire,” says Chisholm. “You won’t hear things or see smoke, but there’s often electrical current in the ground or entangled in the tree.” Always treat any downed line as live and wait for the utility crew’s okay.
    • Before cutting, examine the tree for branches under pressure. “Rarely does a tree fall flat,” says Jamieson. “When a tree comes down in an unnatural position and you start cutting on it, some of that will be under tension and could act like a spring and throw wood around—and at you.”
    • Don’t work alone, even if you only have someone near who can help you quickly in case of an emergency.

    Need a New Chain Saw?

    Consumer Reports' chain saw Ratings of more than 40 models include heavy-duty gas models such as the Echo CS-590-20, $400, lighter-duty gas models including the Stihl MS 180 C-BE, $230, the corded-electric Worx WG303.1, $100, and the battery-powered EGO CS1401, $300. If your chain saw is corded and the work you’re doing extends beyond 100 feet (the longest extension cord you should use), that’s one safe use of the built-in AC receptacles on a portable generator. Also see our buying guide for chain saws.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Avoid Investor Whiplash With the Dow Chart Challenge

    Up. Down. Up. Down. Stock markets around the world took investors on a roller-coaster ride last month. China’s sputtering economy and slumping currency, the falling price of oil and the rising price of the dollar, were enough to agitate any market. But add to that the latest twist in the ongoing Greek debt drama, the fear that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates—or that it won’t raise interest rates—and the possibility of Japan sliding back into deflation and it’s enough to give the average investor a bad case of whiplash.

    How much of all this is a signal—a real reason to act? How much is noise—random events that have no ultimate effect? And how can investors tell the difference and what should they do?

    Match the Year to the Chart

    To help you decide, we present the Chart Challenge, conceived by Dave Yeske, CFP, managing director of Yeske Buie, a wealth management firm. The six charts below represent the daily value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average during the latest bull market, from the beginning of January through the end of August for each of the past six years (from 2010 to 2015). Your challenge: Match each chart to its respective year. (The answers are at the bottom of the page.)

    Why Things May Not Be So Bad

    Did you feel your stomach sinking along with the Dow?

    Now take a look at this final chart: It’s an illustration of the cumulative performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from January 2010 through the present. 

    How to Stay Calm in a Stormy Market

    The key takeaway from these charts, according to Yeske, is that six or eight or even 12 months is too short a timespan to be able to see what’s really happening. “Short timespans are dominated by random events. You have to pull back and look at a longer timespan before you can see what the real underlying trend is.”

    The real trend over longer timespans is always the same, he says: Upward. “This is because the underlying real economy, which ultimately drives what’s going on in the stock market, has a natural propensity for growth, notwithstanding the occasional, and inevitable, downturn.”

    The best course of action for smart investors during an up and down market: Build resilience into your portfolio through a diversified mix of global stock and bond funds. Make sure you have an emergency fund to help you weather short-term needs without having to sell your investments during a market downturn. That way, even as the market rides out the inevitable cycles, you’ll be able to maintain your equilibrium. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    What Is an Alternative Motion Machine?

    If you spend a lot of time in gyms and fitness clubs, you've maybe noticed a strange Transformer-like machine over by the cardio equipment, a kind of cross between a treadmill and an elliptical. Maybe you even asked your fellow gym-goers its name, and got a variety of responses, from “hybrid elliptical” to “zero runner” to “anti-gravity treadmill.” In fact, the industry itself is still settling on a term, though the one that seems to be sticking is “alternative motion machine.” As more major manufacturers bring their own residential alternative motion machines to market, it could become the next big thing in exercise equipment.

    Combining elements of the treadmill and the elliptical, these machines allow you to control the length and speed of your stride at will, without the press of any button, in a low-to-no impact motion. Alternative motion machines also borrow from stair-stepper technology by enabling an up-and-down movement that’s murder on the quads and glutes.     

    Though commercial alternative motion machines have been around for years, our fitness experts started seeing residential units only in the last 12 months or so, starting with the Precor AMT 835. It was followed by Octane’s Zero Runner ZR7 and NordicTrack’s FreeStride Trainer FS7i. All three machines are currently in our labs for testing. The final results won’t be ready for a few weeks, but you can read more about the models in “Cardio fitness gear that's easy on your joints.”

    Meanwhile, LifeFitness, another major name in workout equipment, recently launched its own alternative motion machine called the FlexStrider. The machine has many of the same features of its competitors, including a futuristic look and dynamically variable stride length, ranging from 0 to 36 inches. That’s comparable with the NordicTrack and Precor, but shorter than the Octane, which opens up to an impressive 58 inches.

    Like other alternative motion machines, the FlexStrider also has a steep price tag. It’s actually outdoing the competition in that regard, with a trio of models ranging between $10,000 and $12,000, compared with the $2,000 to $9,000 for the models in our tests. Paying top dollar for the FlexStrider gets you a number of upgrades, including at-your-fingertip resistance controls on the moving arms and touchscreen controls on the Bluetooth-compatible LCD display.

    So do alternative motion machines represent the future of cardio equipment? At their current prices, definitely not. But, of course, new technologies are often expensive, so we expect costs to come down. What’s more, our first impressions of the machines are positive enough to think they’ll probably find an audience, however niche. But before you drop five figures on your own alternative motion machine, we suggest you try one of the commercial units at your local gym to see how one might enliven your workout.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The best matching washers and dryers

    Matching washer and dryer pairs are a popular choice although some don't make a great couple. Their coordinating style and color make a statement, but you'll question how a terrific washer and a noisy dryer that's tough on clothes ended up together. Enter the matchmaker. Consumer Reports tests found matching pairs that are worth a look.

    Now about the prices. The top-rated washers and dryers are expensive. Blame it on the rising cost of manufacturing and transportation, as well as much larger capacities, stainless-steel drums, added cycles and features, and better styling. Specialty cycles take out the guesswork, but up the price. Our tests have found that basic cycles can handle most of your laundry needs. So ask yourself if you want to pay extra for a bedding cycle or one for your jeans. 

    Did you know? The washer and dryer Buying Guides offer a look at the advantages of each washer type and features. Use the Ratings selector to narrow your choices by brand and price, and click on the Features & Specs tab to compare features. The Brand Reliability tab offers helpful information and so do user reviews. And if you have questions e-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org. 

    CR Tip: Take a look at the washers and dryers that scored very good or better in our tests for noise if you're placing the washer and dryer near bedrooms. You'll know they're working but they shouldn't disturb you. You'll hear the machines that scored good or lower. They make sustained sounds that can be annoying.


    Full washing machine Ratings and recommendations
    .
    Full clothes dryer Ratings and recommendations.

    The quietest couples

    Our tests found pairs that are quiet enough for placement near a family room or bedrooms. All offer large or even jumbo capacities and the dryers have moisture sensors that help save energy by turning off the machine when the laundry is dry. Many have a steam option. Our dryer tests have found that steam didn't remove wrinkles but did remove more odors than conventional dryers, and steam washer settings slightly improved stain cleaning. We frequently show appliances in white but many pairs are also available in other colors and up the price of each machine by $100 or so. 

    Where are LG top-loaders?

    LG pairs that include a high-efficiency top-loader and matching dryer are no longer highlighted here. That's because our latest Brand Reliability data shows that LG top-loaders are significantly worse than most other brands when it comes to being repair-prone. And while they offer impressive performance, their brand reliability keeps them off the recommended list. However, LG front-loaders are among the more reliable brands, and LG is the most reliable brand of both electric and gas dryers, according to Consumer Reports' 2014 Annual Product Reliability Survey of over 100,000 subscribers who bought new washers or dryers between 2007 and the first half of 2014.  

    For more details on their performance and features, see our Ratings of washing machines and clothes dryers and consider these pairs.

    Kenmore set

    Kenmore Elite 41072 front-loader and Kenmroe Elite 81072 electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is near the top of our Ratings and made our top picks. It has 14 cycles, offers excellent washing, was gentle on fabrics, and has a jumbo capacity—it fit about 25 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet. The dryer was excellent at its job and also has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time using the heavy soil setting is 95 minutes. You'll save about 15 minutes by using the normal-soil setting and try the Accela-Wash option. It offers comparable wash performance in about 15 to 20 minutes less. 
    Need to know: Each machine is 29 inches wide—2 more than usual—but can be stacked to save room. Gas dryer is Kenmore Elite 91072, $1,100. 

    LG duos

    LG WM8500HVA front-loader and LG DLEX8500V electric dryer 
    Price: $1,450 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is near the top of our Ratings and both machines make the recommended list and have jumbo capacities, each holding about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet for the washer, 9 for the dryer.The washer was superb at cleaning and gentle on fabrics and has 14 cycles; the dryer excelled at drying. 
    Consider this: It took 90 minutes to do a normal wash on the heavy soil setting, but the TurboWash option offers comparable wash performance in 15 to 20 minutes less time.
    Need to know: Each machine is 29 inches wide, two more than usual, but can be stacked. Only available in a graphite-steel finish. Gas dryer is LG DLGX8501V, $1,550. 

    LG WM4270HWA front-loader and LG DLEX4270W electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each 
    Here's the deal: Neither made our top picks but both were impressive at their task and relatively quiet. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet for the washer, and 7.4 for the dryer. The washer fit 22 pounds of our laundry, was gentle on fabrics, and has 14 cycles. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy-soil setting is 75 minutes. Save 15 minutes or so by using the normal-soil setting. And the TurboWash option offers comparable cleaning in 15 to 20 minutes less time.
    Need to know:  These machines can be stacked. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $1,100. 

    Maytag mates

    Maytag Maxima MHW8100DC front-loader and Maytag Maxima MED8100DC
    Price: $1,400 each
    Here's the deal: This recommended front-loader offers excellent washing and held 22 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet. It was gentle on fabrics and there are 11 wash cycles. The dryer was superb at its task and among the quietest tested. Claimed capacity is 7.3 cubic feet. These appliances are made in the U.S.
    Consider this: The washer took 75 minutes using the normal cycle on heavy-soil setting.
    Need to know: Gas dryer is Maytag Maxima MGD8100DC, $1,500. Washer and dryer can be stacked to save space. The $950 Maytag Maxima MHW5100DW front-loader performed similarly to the Maytag Maxima MHW8100DC and made our top picks, but is relatively noisy. Matching electric dryer is the Maytag Maxima MED5100DW, $950. See this $100 rebate offer from the manufacturer.

    Maytag Bravos MVWB855DW high-efficiency top-loader and Maytag Bravos MEDB855DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,050 each 
    Here's the deal: The washer made our top picks, delivers impressive cleaning, and was very water efficient. It fit about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. There are 11 wash cycles. The dryer was impressive at its job and capacity is claimed to be 8.8 cubic feet. These machines are made in America. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time was 80 minutes. That's using the normal wash on heavy-soil setting. You'll save about 15 minutes using the normal-soil setting. This washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics, but that's true for most top-loaders. 
    Need to know: Maytag is offering a $250 rebate if you buy the pair by October 20, 2015. See details here.  Gas dryer is the Maytag Bravos MGDB855DW, $1,150. 

    Samsung sets

    Samsung WF56H9110CW front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EW electric dryer
    Price: $1,450 washer, $1,500 dryer
    Here's the deal: These recommended models are top rated, excellent at their job, relatively quiet, and have jumbo capacities. The washer held 28 pounds of our laundry and was among the gentlest on fabrics. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet for the washer and 9.5 for the dryer. There are 15 wash cycles.
    Consider this: Normal wash on heavy-soil setting took 90 minutes. Use the normal-soil setting and you'll save about 15 minutes. The SuperSpeed option trimmed wash time of full loads about 15 to 20 minutes without affecting cleaning.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide, three more than usual, and can be stacked. The matching electric dryer is shown in the ratings as ending in "EG" to indicate the tested model has an onyx finish; "EW" is white and listed here as it matches the tested washer. Gas dryer is shown in ratings as the Samsung DV56H9100GP, $1,600. 

    Samsung WF56H9100AG front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EG electric dryer
    Price: $1,200 each
    Here's the deal: This washer has one the largest capacities of the tested front-loaders and fit about 28 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet. It offers impressive cleaning and was gentle on fabrics. There are 15 wash cycles.The top-rated dryer was superb at drying and also has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. Both machines are recommended.
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 85 minutes, but the SuperSpeed option cut wash time of full loads by about 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing performance.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide, three more than usual, and can be stacked. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9100GP, $1,300.

    Samsung WA56H9000AP high-efficiency top-loader and Samsung DV56H9000EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,100 each
    Here's the deal: This washer has a jumbo capacity and can hold about 28 pounds of laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet. Washing was impressive and there are 15 cycles. Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 75 minutes. The dryer was excellent at its job and has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. Both are recommended. 
    Consider this: As with most top-loaders this washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide, three more than usual. The washer's waterproof cycle prevented the washer from becoming unbalanced when we washed several waterproof jackets. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9000GP, $1,200. 

    Samsung WA52J8700AP high-efficiency top-loader and Samsung DV52J8700EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each
    Here's the deal: The washer was impressive at cleaning and made our top picks. The jumbo capacity fit 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet. The dryer was excellent at its job; claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet. Both machines are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Wash time was 75 minutes using the normal wash heavy-soil setting. Try the SuperSpeed option. It cuts wash time by 15 to 20 minutes and cleaning is still impressive. However, the washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics although that's true for most high-efficiency top-loaders tested. It has a water jet and built-in sink with ridges—a modern take on the washboard—that enable you to hand wash and soak stained items before they go into the machine.
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches, the standard width, yet capacity is very large. So when shopping reach into washer to see if you can touch the bottom of the tub. The dryer is Energy Star qualified and using the eco-mode can save you some energy but extends dryer time. 

    Whirlpool pairs

    Whirlpool Duet WFL98HEBU front-loader and Whirlpool Duet WEL98HEBU electric dryer
    Price: $1,500 each
    Here's the deal: Both have a large capacity. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet for the washer and 7.4 for the dryer. The washer offers excellent wash performance and was gentle on fabrics. There are 13 wash cycles. Normal wash time, on heavy soil setting, is 75 minutes. That's faster than most.The dryer was superb at drying and among the quietest tested.
    Consider this: These machines are expensive, in part, because they are Wi-Fi enabled, providing remote control via your smart device that lets you monitor your laundry's progress, start/stop the machine, and more.
    Need to know: Made in the U.S. Machines are only available in silver and can be stacked. Dryer is not available as a gas model.

    Whirlpool Cabrio WTW8500DW high-efficiency top-loader and Whrilpool Cabrio WED8500DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each
    Here's the deal: The washer was impressive and made our top picks.The dryer excelled at drying. Both are relatively quiet. This washer fit 26 pounds of our laundry and was one of the gentlest on fabrics. There are 26 wash cycles. That's right, 26. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet for the washer and 8.8 for the dryer. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy-soil setting was 80 minutes. Save 15 to 20 minutes by using the normal-soil setting.   
    Need to know: Made in the U.S. Gas dryer is the Whirlpool Cabrio WGD8500DW, $1,100. 

    CR Tip: Some HE top-loaders come with a warning not to wash waterproof items, or the manufacturer may suggest using the low-spin or no-spin mode to prevent the load from becoming unbalanced, which can cause the machine to shake too much, even damaging the machine and laundry area. Check the manual before you buy.  

    Impressive pairs for $1,700 or less

    You'll pay about $3,000 for a top-rated front-loader and its matching electric dryer, plus $400 to $600 if you want pedestals to boost their height. But if your budget is around $1,700 or less, take a look at these pairs that did well in our tests. The trade-off? It might be capacity, number of wash cycles, or quiet operation.

    CR Tip: Before you give up on your dryer consider that most of the improvements in performance and efficiency are found on washers. If you're set on a matching duo, in general it's smart to select your washer first and then the dryer. Here's a look at several matching pairs, most did not make our recommended list, but all of these washers and dryers were impressive at cleaning or drying. For more details on their performance and features, see our Ratings of washing machines and clothes dryers.

    Kenmore set

    Kenmore 28132 high-efficiency top-loader and Kenmore 68132 electric dryer
    Price: $800 each
    Here's the deal: The washer has eight wash cycles and made the recommended list. It's the least expensive and fastest of the top picks. Cleaning was impressive and it took 60 minutes using normal wash on a heavy-soil setting. Use the normal-soil setting and you can save about 15 to 20 minutes. And here's a way to speed up doing laundry: This washer fit about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. This machine is relatively quiet, as is the dryer. The tested dryer was superb at drying. The dryer highlighted here is a similar model and we expect performance to be similar to tested dryer. Claimed capacity is 8.8 cubic feet.
    Consider this: The washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics although that's true for most HE top-loaders we've tested. The dryer is Energy Star-qualified and you will save some energy but extend drying time using the eco-mode.
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches wide, standard width, and yet capacity is jumbo. When shopping reach into the bottom of the washer to see if you can grab that last sock. 
     

    LG duos

    LG WM3570HVA front-loader and LG DLEX3570HVA electric dryer
    Price: $800 each 
    Here's the deal: They didn't make our recommended list but the washer was excellent at cleaning, gentle on fabrics, and fit about 21 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet. There are 12 wash cycles. The dryer aced its job; claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet. Both machines were relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Wash time on normal wash heavy-soil setting was 95 minutes. Use the TurboWash option. It cut wash time of full loads by 15 to 20 minutes and offers comparable wash performance.
    Need to know: Machines are stackable. These matching models have a graphite finish. In the ratings the dryer model name ends with a "W" to indicate that the tested model was white. It costs about $100 less than the graphite finish. Gas dryer is LG DLGX3571W in white or LG DLGX3571HVA in graphite. 

    LG WM4270HWA front-loader and LG DLEX4270W electric dryer
    Price: $830 each 
    Here's the deal: Not on our top-pick lists but worth considering since LG front-loaders are among the more reliable front-loader brand and LG electric and gas dryers are significantly more reliable than other brands, according to our survey of over 100,00 subscribers. The washer was impressive at cleaning and has 14 cycles. The dryer was impressive at drying. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet for the washer, 7.4 for the dryer. Both have large capacities and are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time using the heavy-soil setting was 75 minutes. Use the normal-soil setting and save about 15 minutes, and the TurboWash option cuts 15 to 20 minutes off wash time and cleaning was just as good in our tests.
    Need to know: Stackable. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $930. 

     

    Samsung sets

    Samsung WA45H7000AW high-efficiency top-loader and Samsung DV45H7000EW electric dryer
    Price: $500 washer, $700 dryer
    Here's the deal: Not top picks but worth a look. The washer has nine wash cycles, was impressive at cleaning, gentle on fabrics, unlike most HE top-loaders, and fit about 22 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet.There's a waterproof cycle for rain gear, shower curtains, and other waterproof items. The washer was relatively quiet. This dryer we tested dryer aced it job and was relatively quiet. The dryer highlighted here is a similar model and we expect it to do the same. Claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet.
    Consider this: Wash time is 80 minutes using normal wash on heavy-soil setting. Use normal soil setting and you'll save about 15 minutes.
    Need to know: 
    Gas dryer is the Samsung DV45H7000GW.

     

    CR Tip: Increasing capacities meant it was time to update the capacity scores in our ratings of washers and dryer. A machine now needs to hold about 25 or more pounds of laundry to earn an excellent capacity score. Most families can get by with a machine that’s rated very good or even good in capacity. Very good indicates that the washer fit about 20 to 24 pounds of our laundry. A good score means the washer held about 15 to 19 pounds.

    How we test washers and dryers

    In addition to washing performance Consumer Reports' washing machine tests look at how gentle a washing machine is on fabric as well as its energy and water efficiency. We also look at such factors as noise and vibration that might annoy you if your laundry room is adjacent to a living area. And we compare cycle times using the normal wash, heavy-soil setting. If you use the normal-soil setting you can save about 15 to 20 minutes. Front-loaders usually take anywhere from 65 to 105 minutes to wash an 8-pound load. Top-loaders are a little quicker, most ranging from 45 to 90 minutes. As for capacity, models rated excellent in capacity fit 25 or more pounds of laundry. Models scoring very good in capacity fit 20 to 24 pounds of our laundry.

    In our clothes dryer tests we run the machines with different sized loads and a variety of fabrics. We also measure noise, capacity and convenience. Models that earned excellent or very good capacity scores in our dryer tests can hold large loads as well.

    You can find more details on the model page for each washer and dryer, and compare up to five washers or dryers using the comparison feature on our Ratings charts. Before you buy, look online for sales as well as manufacturer rebates and utility rebates for Energy Star washers and dryers; the first Energy Star dryers arrived in stores in the summer of 2014. For more information read, "How much energy does an Energy Star dryer use?"

    A word about washer types

    Front-loaders use less water than top-loaders but typically have longer wash cycles—some take 90 minutes or more. That's not the end of the world, but it may be the beginning of laundry pile-up. Since front-loaders use less water, the detergent is more concentrated and the machine's tumbling action can also help boost cleaning. Manufacturers recommend using HE detergent—that's high efficiency—for front-loaders and HE top-loaders. Regular detergents are too sudsy for these machines.

    The best front-loaders clean better and use even less water than most of the top HE top-loaders. Front-loaders spin faster than HE top-loaders so more water is typically extracted, reducing drying time. HE top-loaders don't have a center agitator and use a variety of methods to lift and tumble laundry. They're high-efficiency because they use less water and spin faster than conventional top-loaders, also cutting dryer time.

    —Kimberly Janeway

     

     

     

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    Talking Cars Video Podcast Tackles Tough Listener Questions

    One of the joys of our “Talking Cars with Consumer Reports” podcast is that we get lots of viewer questions, comments, and feedback. We typically get to answer three or four viewer comments or questions per episode, but every now and then, we throw open the floodgates and do an all-question show.

    This episode seemed like a good time to do this, especially after our episode about the Tesla Model S P85D's record-breaking performance in our tests. We respond to owner comments about the viability of the Model S as a "primary" car, the practicality of home charging, and if you need to be able to afford a P85D in order to be able to review it. (The answer: No.) As usual, the wide diversity of feedback shows that like the weather, if you want a different viewpoint, all you need to do is to wait.

    Moving on, a viewer asks about buying a roomy sports sedan for under $30,000. For an added twist, we find out what the viewer actually bought, thanks to the help and advice of our YouTube fan community. Cars for students are featured in our questions, with several buyers who want all-wheel-drive. One fan wants a manual transmission, while another wonders if buying grandma's Dodge Avenger is a good idea. Finally, a reader's mom wants to replace her Honda Odyssey with a super-reliable SUV.

    As with the other shows, this episode is also available free through the iTunes Store. Subscribe to the video or audio. You'll also find the video on YouTube.

    Share your comments on this show below, and let us know if you need any advice for choosing a car.

    Recent past episodes

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    Best Gadgets in Bright Sunlight

    Ah, the great outdoors! Warm days. Ocean breeze. Bright sunlight…uh-oh. Suddenly that beautiful display on your favorite gadget is just one big square of glare.

    Device makers tackle the tricky issue differently, depending on the gadget. Some screens—such as those on smartphones and tablets—use special anti-glare coatings.

    Other devices—digital cameras, for example—have different ways of handling glare. In addition to special coatings, some cameras feature adjustible screens or an old-fashioned view finder that you can put your eye to in order to see what the camera sees.

    When we review mobile devices—smartphones, cameras, tablets, laptops, and smartwatches—in our labs, one of the many tests we perform is to evaluate its usability under harsh lighting conditions.

    Here are some champions that performed brilliantly under our testers' harsh scruntiny.

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    LG's New Luxury 4-Door Refrigerator

    LG’s new four-door refrigerator, the LG LPCS34886C, is the biggest, most feature-rich fridge we’ve ever seen in Consumer Reports' labs. Whether you want it sitting in your kitchen is another question. We’ll wait for our complete test results—measuring temperature performance, energy efficiency, noise, and more—before issuing the bottom line in our refrigerator Ratings. In the meantime, here are some first impressions, both good and bad.

    This is one giant refrigerator. Storage capacity has become a major selling point with consumers, so it’s no wonder manufacturers keep one upping each other. In terms of usable capacity, which is the total volume of space that can actually be used for storage, the Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4, $5,400, had been our champ, with 23.5 cubic feet. But this new LG takes over the top spot, boasting 24.4 cubic feet. LG managed the feat, in part, by adding to the overall height of the unit; it stands 73 1/4” high to the top of the hinge, several inches above most models in its category.

    Inside, the refrigerator has a bunch of handy storage features, including adjustable baskets and bins on the doors, split folding shelves that make it easy to fit taller items, and pullout drawers in the freezer.              

    It’s a true four-door design. The four-door refrigerator category has grown in recent years, but in most cases the fourth door is actually a pullout middle drawer. The LG has a true four-door configuration, including two bottom freezer doors for two separate freezer compartments. We first saw this design on the Samsung T9000 RF32FMQDBSR, $3,500. In that case, the bottom right chamber can convert from freezer to refrigerator space, for times when you need additional fresh-food storage. With the LG, both chambers are freezer-only, so it’s less versatile.  

    The upper doors are crazy busy. The refrigerator door has been a bastion of innovation for the last few years, with the advent of such features as a built-in coffeemaker and LCD display. This LG is not to be undone. It has not one but two door-in-door compartments that let you access beverages, condiments, and other often reached for items without reaching all the way into the fridge’s main compartment.

    A single door-in-door compartment is a nice convenience. Two might be overkill. At the very least, they’ll take some getting used to, especially since they have different features and operations. For example, the one on the right opens with a trigger on the front of the door, while the trigger for the one on the left is located at the bottom of the door (imagine explaining that to a house full of party guests). Also, while the entire interior panel on the right can be opened, providing access to items on the shelves, on the right just one of the bins tilts out. 

    The second door-in-door compartment means there’s no external ice-and-water dispenser. That’s a popular feature with consumers, though models with it tend to be more repair prone, based on our refrigerator reliability surveys.  So call that one a wash. Though we would have liked to see an internal water dispenser, which are becoming more common.

    Its finish is definitely eye-catching. Stainless steel has ruled kitchen appliances for decades. We keep waiting for something to take its place. This luminous contoured glass finish, as LG calls it, is no doubt unique, and some would say sophisticated, too. The integrated LCD panel, including temperature controls for the refrigerator and freezer, is another cool touch. However, you don’t tend to see a lot of mirrors in the kitchen, so catching your reflection every time you open the refrigerator is another feature of this fridge that might take some getting used to. And while LG claims the finish “resists fingerprints and smudges and is easy-to-clean,” there were definite signs of handling after we got the unit installed in our labs. We should note the fridge is also available in “luminous glass,” but we haven’t experienced it yet.

    It’s expensive. Though built-in refrigerators from brands like Thermador and Sub-Zero cost in the $7,000 to $10,000 range, conventional refrigerators tend to top out around $3,000. Between this $6,000 LG and the $5,400 Samsung Chef Collection, we’re seeing the emergence of a whole new category—call them the luxury four doors. In the case of the Samsung, high-end styling is matched by unparalleled performance. Will the new LG reach similar heights? We'll let you know as soon as testing is complete.   

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    Shopping for Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance

    Q. I’m 65 and planning to work full-time until age 70. I’m healthy, my wife is 10 years younger than I am, and I currently have a $250,000 term life insurance policy that I’m considering terminating. Instead, I'd rather use the money to buy long-term care insurance. Is that a good idea?

    A. Because you want to provide for your much younger wife in the event of your death, don't drop your term life insurance, which we've long recommended as the least-expensive way to provide maximum protection for your dependents.

    Term life insurance gets more expensive as you enter your 70s, especially if your current policy doesn't have a guaranteed level premium past that age. For a New Yorker who is your age and in above-average health, it's possible to buy a new 10-year level-premium term policy for as little as $373 per month, or $4,476 per year. Get quotes from online brokers, such as Accuquote, FindMyInsurance, and LifeQuote.

    Long-term-care insurance, which can help pay for assistance if you become ill or disabled, is more complicated. Prices can vary widely based on your age, the benefits you want, your current health, and where you live.

    Most important, you shouldn’t buy long-term-care insurance if it’s likely that you won’t be able to afford it in the future, because most policies terminate if you stop making payments, and you’ll lose whatever benefits you have accrued.

    Your decision to buy a policy should be based on your income, expenses, assets, and other finances before and after retirement, as well as family longevity and other health concerns.

    Consult a fee-only financial planner, who can help you assess your situation and shop for coverage. Find one at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

    A worthwhile alternative

    Younger consumers have a more flexible option that can provide relatively more affordable long-term care insurance benefits: A whole life insurance policy with a long-term care rider.

    Whole life, itself, isn't cheap. That little-understood mix of life insurance plus a savings or investment vehicle that builds cash value for as long as you pay the premiums, can be 10 times the cost of an equivalent term-life policy.

    But if you can afford whole life, the long-term care rider is a valuable add-on that is relatively inexpensive, compared to straight long-term care insurance. The rider's benefit payout is also significantly less restrictive, so consider it carefully.

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    Your September Financial To-Do List

    Lavish displays of yellow, orange, and red leaves will soon be splashed across the countryside in many regions of the country, but to help get your finances in order this month you need to concentrate on some green.

    Yep, we're talking about your money. You need to manage it well to prosper. Taking a bit of time each month to accomplish a few simple tasks is an easy way to help take control of your finances. Address these five checklist items in September, then come back next month for your October financial to-do list.

    Checklist Item #1

    Start making year-end holiday travel plans. Book as early as possible to get the best rates and availability. September is known as the fall "shoulder season," or the travel time between the peak summer travel months and the fast-approaching holiday travel season.

    Hotels, cruise line operators, theme parks and other travel destinations are pumping out impressive deals now, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo. Deals can be found at 4 and 5 star hotels in New York, Chicago, and Boston now for 60 percent off Thanksgiving and Christmas bookings, for example. Hotel prices around U.S. theme parks now can be 50 percent less than they were this summer.

    Saglie says he's also seen 7-night Caribbean cruise deals for $500 per person through November. Of course, that's also hurricane season in the region, so you might want to tack on some travel insurance. (For travel insurance advice, see the video below.)

    Checklist item #2

    Give your tax adviser or financial planner a ring. Make an appointment to discuss your year-end tax-savings steps. For example, you may want to see if you can reduce your capital gains taxes by offsetting stocks being sold for a gain with losses from other investments you own. You may also be able to cut your adjusted gross income by making one large year-end contribution to an employer-provided retirement plan.

    If your tax planning is DIY, check out IRS publication 544 for details on capital gains and losses, and see our tax guide for tips on preparing, paying, and saving money on your taxes.

    Checklist Item #3

    Spruce up your yard. Take advantage of seasonal sales on shrubs, trees, and perennials at your local garden centers. For cooler regions, planting now through the end of October gives most plants a head start next spring, since roots will grow in still-warm soil long after air temperatures drop.

    Other items on deep discount in September include lawn mowers, gas grills, and snow blowers.

    Checklist Item #4

    Check up on your defined contribution disclosure form. If you're in a 401(k), 403(b), or other defined contribution plan that allocates investment responsibility to participants, call your plan administrator if you haven't received your annual fee disclosure form. Many plans send them out at the end of August, but a new Department of Labor rule may give plans two additional months to provide it.

    Your form should give you a standardized set of disclosures on investment objectives, principal strategies and risks, historical performance, and fees on all the investment options in your plans to help you make better decisions about your available investments.

    Checklist Item #5

    Be ready for emergencies. September is National Preparedness Month. Plan how to stay safe and deal with the financial impact of natural disasters by checking out Ready.gov's advice on what to do if you are impacted by a flood, wildfire, hurricane, or lengthy power outage.

    The site provides advice on making emergency plans and how to stay informed of potential disasters. It also tells you what to put in an emergency kit you can grab quickly if you have to evacuate your home.

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