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    Consumer Reports Realigns Technology and Marketing Operations to Foster Growth and Impact

    Pete DiRenzo from Re/Code Appointed Chief Technology Officer

    YONKERS, NY ─ Intensifying its focus on digital capabilities, Consumer Reports today announced a strategic realignment of its technology and marketing operations in order to accelerate growth, expand reach, and effect positive change in the marketplace.

    “Today, we are consolidating and reorganizing areas where collaboration means better results, promoting internal talent, and building leadership expertise in areas where we need deeper knowledge,” said President & CEO Marta Tellado.

    Tellado announced that all technology operations have been consolidated under VP-Digital Jason Fox, and that Pete DiRenzo will join CR on Oct. 1 as Chief Technology Officer. DiRenzo is presently Director of Digital Operations & Technology at Re/code.

    “We are very fortunate,” Tellado said, “to have recruited a creative, award-winning, and innovative leader with over 20 years of experience developing technology solutions for consumer-facing products at places such as eBay, Time Inc., Wenner Media, and Conde Nast. Attracting a leader like Pete from a highly-influential tech media start-up such as Re/code underscores CR’s commitment to bolstering its ranks with top-tier talent from innovative brands as well as our push to accelerate digital mastery as an organization.” 

    Tellado added that CR is also supplementing technology innovation by promoting Andrew Danyluk to the position of Chief Enterprise Systems Officer. Danyluk, who has extensive operational and leadership experience at CR, will oversee the project management office and enterprise systems and services, reporting to Fox.

    “Andrew’s command of our internal systems and management skills will help align our IT infrastructure with organizational priorities. Andrew and Pete represent a powerful partnership,” Tellado said.

    Tellado also announced that CR will appoint a Chief Marketing Officer and align several departments under the new CMO “as we shift from a product-centric approach to one that is more consumer-centric. This effort will require centralized leadership to unite all marketing activities and customer touch points and develop a cohesive strategy for results and growth.”

    “I believe these changes further position us to serve and reach consumers in new and dynamic ways, making us even more effective agents of marketplace change,“ Tellado said. “As a flatter organization with deeper expertise in all key areas and more holistic ways of working, we’ll be more successful than ever in serving our customers and helping to shape a marketplace that is safer and fairer for all consumers.”

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    How to Post SLR Photos Instantly to Facebook With a Wi-Fi SD Card

    Q. Do I have to replace my still-great SLR in order to be able to post my photos to Facebook instantly?

    A. Many people take photos and videos with smartphones to share quickly. But many like the better quality and features of an advanced camera, and most models that are more than two years old don’t include built-in Wi-Fi. Don’t want to shoot with a camera and phone? Try an Eyefi card, a Wi-Fi SD memory card that stores photos and connects to wireless devices. These Wi-Fi SD cards are available in 4GB to 32GB capacities and cost $30 to $100.

    Here’s how they work: Once the Eyefi card in your camera is recognized by your smartphone, tablet, or computer, it will appear on the list of networks in the settings for those devices. Select it; once it’s paired, the Wi-Fi SD card will automatically transfer copies of your photos and videos to your device, and you can share them from there.

    Note that this type of Wi-Fi SD card is compatible with many—but not all—older cameras, and it won’t work with SLRs that store photos on CompactFlash cards. Find your model at, then watch the demo in the video below.

    For related information you can check our digital camera buying guide.

    Send your questions to

    This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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

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    Lab Report: Connected Printers Have a Security Glitch

    This lab report was prepared by Dean Gallea, who tests connectivity and computer security technologies at Consumer Reports. He is one of dozens of engineers and technicians in our 50-plus labs.

    Background: How Remote Printing Works

    Most computer printers can connect to a home network, either through Wi-Fi (the most common method) or wired Ethernet. This allows easy sharing among computers and mobile devices in the home, and gives the printers access to an Internet connection.  

    Among other things, this makes it possible to print remotely. The user creates an online management account through the manufacturer’s website or the printer’s embedded Web server, and registers the printer. The user receives an e-mail address to which messages, documents, and photos can be sent.

    Such e-mails go to the manufacturer’s server, where the attachments are rendered into a printer-compatible format. They are then forwarded to the Internet address established for the printer in the user’s home. The content gets printed automatically. So far, so good.

    Potential Security Threat

    We theorized that manufacturers might not guard against a printer being connected to a different network from the one the user originally designated for remote printing. Such a network change might occur if, for example, a user sells the printer on eBay, gives it to a friend, or even discards it in the trash and it gets picked up by a passer-by.

    If we were right, this could pose a threat to privacy and security. If the original user's friend or accountant sent documents to the remote-printing email address, those documents would print out regardless of who now owned the printer or where it was located.

    Why would the manufacturers do this? They might want to ensure that remote printing would be reliable even though IP addresses are frequently rotated by Internet service providers, and home routers are occasionally replaced.

    What We Did

    We devised a test to see if a printer’s assigned email address would still work if the printer were connected to a new ISP and network. We looked at two recent-model all-in-one printers, an HP Envy 5660 and a Canon MB5350.

    After setting up the printers on the manufacturers’ websites and getting email addresses assigned, we tested our theory by sending the printers the same test print jobs (.doc, .excel, and .jpg files) twice: initially, while the printers were still connected to the wireless network we normally use in our computing test labs, and again after connecting them to another wireless network using a different Internet provider.

    What We Found

    When we sent attachments to the email address assigned to either of the printers, the items were printed regardless of which network they were connected to. Neither printer requested verification after we switched networks.

    We also tried printing to the Canon printer using Google Cloud Print, a different remote-printing method available for most networked printers. We found the same behavior: The printer didn’t care what network it was connected to when it was sent a remote print task.

    Conclusion and Recommendations

    Based on our tests, it appears that a new user of either of these printers could easily receive material intended for the original owner. (Conversely, the original owner could send offensive content to the new users, or use up their ink and paper maliciously.)

    We think that manufacturers should inform consumers of the risk that remotely printed content might get sent to an unintended recipient. Further, printers, like every Internet-connected device, should have security and privacy protection designed into them. Manufacturers should program the printer’s firmware to detect a change in the connected network and disable remote printing until the user re-authorizes the capability through a secure online account.

    As for consumers, if they have enabled a printer for remote printing, either through the manufacturer’s own method or through Google Cloud Print, they should treat the printer as they would any device containing personal information, and erase its settings before repurposing or discarding it. This can universally be done by using a “Reset to default” or similarly named process initiated through the control panel on the printer. The other option—and one that would still work if the user had already sold an insecure printer—would be to log into the website for the account they established for remote printing, and “remove” their printer from the account. This process deactivates the originally assigned email address, and deactivates Google Cloud Print, requiring a subsequent owner of the printer to establish a new account in order to print remotely.



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

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    Cheap Printers for People Who Want B&W Text, And Nothing More

    When you’re ready to print a report, résumé, or recipe, the last thing you need is an “out of ink” warning that sends you digging through your desk for an ink cartridge or, worse yet, racing to the store to buy one.

    With many inkjet printers, you’ll encounter that message more often than you’d like, especially when the color cartridges run dry. Some inkjets guzzle ink like a Humvee consumes gas. Others won’t print black text if any cartridge is empty—even though there’s no color at all on the page. (Read our report on the high cost of wasted printer ink.)

    Here we recommend four cheap printers that excel at producing black and white text. We've even got a few ways for you to avoid headaches and save a few extra bucks every time you print.

    Consider Ink Costs, Not Just the Price of the Printer

    A $40 inkjet printer might sound like a steal, but the devil’s in the ink usage. Printer manufacturers can make more money on repeat ink sales than on the initial printer sale, so there’s a business reason to lowball the hardware and clean up on the ink. But you’ll pay the price. If you’re constantly buying cartridges, the cost of using that so-called bargain printer will skyrocket.

    There are two things to check before buying an inkjet printer: the estimated monthly cost for ink and maintenance ink use. Our experts test both and include the results in the printer Ratings. The monthly ink cost (listed under the Features & Specs tab) is based on typical consumer usage. Maintenance ink use reflects how much ink a printer uses for cleaning printheads and other maintenance chores. Note that laser printers, which use toner rather than ink, don’t use any of that toner for maintenance.

    Choose a Printer That Works Even When One Cartridge Runs Out

    Many inkjet printers use separate cartridges for black and colored inks. Some stop printing if any one of them runs out—even if it’s the red cartridge and you’re printing black text. But other models will keep chugging along in that situation. Oddly, this sometimes varies by models within a brand. For example, the HP Officejet Pro 6230 won’t let you print with an empty color cartridge, but the HP Deskjet 1010 will. Check the manufacturer’s specs to see whether the printer you’re buying supports printing with empty cartridges.

    Conserve Ink by Using Draft Mode

    You can minimize ink consumption by using draft mode for works in progress or for any document that doesn’t have to be high quality—say, for lecture notes or a first pass at a term paper. Draft mode uses fewer ink droplets per page than the best mode, so the ink goes further. See how good a job your printer does in draft mode. Some look better than others, and draft mode would be good enough for many projects.

    Get a Cheap Laser Printer

    If speedy, high-quality text is your primary concern and you’re tired of feeding your inkjet printer, consider a black-and-white laser printer. Usually reserved for home offices or small businesses, laser printers now come at prices that make them attractive for personal use too. You’ll see some models selling for less than $100. Some toner cartridges can print a few thousand pages, and the cost per page is usually less than 3 cents. Just keep in mind that you won’t be able to print Web pages, flyers, or photos in color.

    Four Cheap Printers That Deliver Pristine Text

    Canon Pixma iP7220
    This $80 inkjet printer churns out excellent text at a good clip, at a cost of 6 cents a page. It has a dedicated black ink cartridge for text, but it won’t print if any of the color cartridges run out. The Canon Pixma iP7220 has Wi-Fi networking for printing without hooking up cables, a plus if you want to print from multiple devices or when you’re not right next to the printer.

    Samsung Xpress M2020W
    The no-frills Samsung Xpress M2020W laser printer is cheap (we saw it on sale for less than $65) and gets the job done. With fast print speeds and excellent text output that costs 4 cents per page, plus Wi-Fi capabilities, this black-and-white printer is a perfect fit for anyone with basic printing needs.

    Canon Maxify iB4020
    At $100, the Canon Maxify iB4020 is an inkjet printer that rivals lasers in many ways. The cost-per-page for text documents is 2 cents, and you can still print text documents even if you have low or empty color cartridges. It uses more ink for maintenance than some other models, but the estimated monthly ink costs are on the low side.

    HP Officejet Pro 8100
    The $100 HP Officejet Pro 8100 inkjet might seem a little pricey, but it can save you cash in the long run with its low ink cost per month and 2-cent pages. Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity let you hook up your home or dorm room with print capabilities.

    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 French-Door Refrigerators

    French-door refrigerators have become the most popular type of refrigerator, and with good reason. They keep fresh-food items—the milk and juice and veggies and other stuff you reach for all the time—at an accessible eye level. Plus the narrow door swing of the side-by-side doors can be an essential space saver in smaller kitchens. And given the popularity of the configuration, it’s where manufacturers have invested the most research dollars, resulting in a slew of innovations related to storage, features, and more. Here’s a round-up of top-rated French-door refrigerators from Consumer Reports’ latest tests.  

    Current co-champs. We’re testing new models all the time, so our leader board is in constant flux. But on this day in September 2015, the highest score in our refrigerator Ratings of more than 200 models across all refrigerator configurations is shared by the $2,800 Kenmore Elite 74093 and the $3,600 LG LFXS32766S. Both combine superb temperature control, energy efficiency, and quietness, plus their dual evaporative cooling system should help keep food fresh by maintaining optimum humidity levels. Paying more for the LG gets you the door-in-door feature, which allows you to access beverages, condiments, and the like without reaching into main compartment.

    Top choice among cabinet-depth. As the name implies, cabinet-depth refrigerators sit flush with the cabinets, for a clean, streamlined look. Our testers were very impressed by the GE Profile PWE23KMDES, $2,600, which might be our highest scorer, if not for the fact that it’s a tad noisier than our top models (it’s still very quiet). It lacks a through-the-door ice and water dispenser, which many consumers value. On the other hand, refrigerators with the feature are more repair prone, plus its absence gives the GE a clean look, enhanced further by the fingerprint-resistant slate finish.

    Four-door favorites. The French-door category has evolved to include models with four doors, instead of the traditional three. A top-performing example is the Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4, whose freezer section is divided into two separate compartments. The compartment on the right can convert to fresh-food storage allowing you to adjust the ratio of fridge to freezer space, based on your needs. The four-door model, the second from Samsung to dispense sparkling water, via SodaStream CO2 cartridges that you insert into the unit (the Samsung RF31FMESBSR was the first). At $5,400, the Samsung Chef Collection is the priciest French-door model in our Ratings. Its brandmate, the Samsung T9000, features the same four-door configuration for $3,500, though you’ll have to do without the sparkling water dispenser.

    Feature-rich dispensers. Samsung’s sparkling water isn’t the only example of dispenser innovation. Check out the GE Profile PFE28RSHSS, $2,800, with its unique hands-free dispenser, which lets you walk away while the dispenser automatically fills any container with filtered water. The color LCD above the dispenser lets you upload your own photos. GE also launched the first-ever dispenser with a built-in, single-serve coffeemaker from Keurig. It’s on the GE CFE28USHSS, $3,300, but we haven’t tested it.

    Budget buys. If $3,500 doesn’t sound like a bargain, consider one of the true values in our Ratings. At $1,500, the LG LFC24770ST is the least expensive model on our recommended list, though it lacks external ice and water. If the dispenser is a must, consider the $2,000 Samsung RF28HFPDBSR. Both models deliver excellent temperature control and humidity-enhancing dual evaporators, proof that you  don’t have to spend top dollar on a fridge that will do its basic task of keeping food fresh. For more great choices, see our full refrigerator Ratings and recommendations

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

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    Cook Like a Pro With LG ProBake

    LG aims to stand out in the crowded range aisle by offering innovative features. Their ProBake convection is impressive engineering, but what does it mean to you, the shopper, the cook? Consumer Reports tested two LG ranges with ProBake and other add-ons to help you decide. 

    We bought the $1,800 LG LDE4415ST  electric smoothtop range and the $2,000 LG LDG4315ST gas model and put them through our kitchen range tests for simmering, baking cakes and cookies, broiling burgers, and self-cleaning a very dirty oven. We measured oven capacity and timed how long the most powerful burner brought a 6-quart pot of water to a near boil.

    These are double-oven ranges, pairing a smaller top oven with a larger oven below. Both made our top range picks—the gas range is top rated and very good overall; the electric range scored excellent. Keep in mind that the best gas ranges do not perform as well overall as the top electric ranges in Consumer Reports’ tests. Typically that’s because the high-powered gas burners aren’t as fast as the fastest high-powered electric elements, and broiling isn’t as good. That’s true with these LG ranges too. Here's a look at the added features that make both ranges expensive and attention grabbing.  

    ProBake convection
    LG claims this is groundbreaking technology to help you bake like a pro. They’ve moved the lower oven’s heating element from the bottom of the oven to the back wall, claiming even, precise heat on every rack. This is the first time we’ve seen this on a freestanding gas range, although for years we’ve seen a variation of this on electric ranges. Be ready to bend down very low for that second rack of cookies since ProBake is in the lower oven. The upper oven operates like a typical range with the burner under the oven’s floor and is for single rack cooking. 

    In the LG LDG4315ST gas range, ProBake delivered a blazing fast 4 minute preheat to 325° F using convection bake. Baking was very good, consistently serving up evenly browned cookies and cakes, says Tara Casaregola, the engineer who oversees Consumer Reports’ tests of cooking appliances. The LG LDE4415ST electric smoothtop range took 8 minutes to preheat—not really noteworthy. Baking was very good overall, turning out evenly browned cakes and cookies. 

    For small messes and light splatters, LG promises a clean oven in 10 minutes without chemical odors or high heat. But the manual’s 11-step process includes scraping debris from the oven cavity with a plastic spatula, spraying with water, and wiping dry. Both ranges also have a regular self-clean option and you'll see the self-cleaning scores in our Ratings.  

    Smart features
    You’ll see a Smart ThinQ logo on the control panel of both ranges, referring to its Tag On capabilties that work with Android smartphones with NFC (near-field communication). We tried Tag On and changed display settings and beep volume. The real usefulness of this feature seems to be when the range isn’t working properly and you can try and solve the problem with LG’s Smart Diagnosis. Fortunately, the ranges we tested didn’t have any problems so we couldn’t put Smart Diagnosis to the test. The manual does say that features can be added or deleted when the LG Smart Oven application is updated.

    Need help finding a new range? 
    Then see our range Ratings. We’ve tested dozens of electric smoothtops, induction, coil tops, gas, dual-fuel, and pro-style ranges. Check the range buying guide to help you get started. Use the Ratings’ range selector to narrow your choices, the features & specs tab to compare, and the brand reliability data to learn which brands are more repair prone. Questions? Email me at

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

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    Is Frequent Flying a Radiation Risk?

    Q. I’m a frequent flyer. Is it true that airplane flights can expose me to a lot of radiation?

    A. When you're on the ground, and especially at sea level, the earth’s atmosphere does a pretty good job shielding you from exposure to atmospheric radiation. But when you're flying at 30,000 to 40,000 feet, the thinner atmosphere at that altitude does increase radiation exposure, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. But no one has determined whether frequent flyers face any increased health risks from that exposure.

    “There is no definitive proof of any harm, although no real data exists” on cancer rates in frequent flyers versus similar people who don’t travel by air, according to radiological physicist Robert Barish, Ph.D., who has authored several papers on the topic.

    And a 2010 report suggested that even if you fly more than 85,000 air miles per year, although your radiation exposure might be more than the average person’s, it won’t exceed safety limits for nuclear power plant workers.

    A variety of factors influence radiation exposure when flying, including the flight's altitude and its route. According to NASA, flights over the poles are exposed to the most radiation. The amount of radiation is also affected by the number of sunspots on the face of the sun and the intensity of solar storm activity.

    According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, about half of the radiation we’re exposed to comes from natural background radiation and half is from man-made sources.

    Natural background radiation includes radiation from radon, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that’s linked to 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. It's found in soil and as well as some water and even the air. The other main source is ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which is linked to skin cancer. (See our reviews of radon test kits and sunscreens.)

    Most all of the man-made radiation we’re exposed to is from medical procedures such as CT scans and X-rays. Cell phones also expose you to a small amount of radiation, though the effect of exposure to cell-phone radiation is unclear.  

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

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    Making Sense of the Volkswagen Diesel Mess

    As the Volkswagen emissions certification mess continues to unwind, our “Talking Cars With Consumer Reports” video podcast takes a look at the implications for consumers.

    VW has admitted to circumventing the emissions control system in about 482,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States since 2008 with the 2.0-liter TDI engine. An inevitable recall to make these vehicles emissions-legal may have effects on the reliability, performance, and fuel economy of these cars, and there are questions about potential diminished resale value because of TDI's tarnished reputation.

    Much of the outrage stems from what turned out to be deceptive advertising. Volkswagen promoted their diesel technology as being "clean diesel," an alternative to gasoline-powered hybrids for the environmentally conscious.

    VW was able to cheat because certification tests are conducted on a dynamometer, much like a treadmill for cars. Since the other wheels aren't turning, the car's stability control would be triggered. To circumvent this problem, “dyno mode” programming was added, intended to be used only during the test. Once the test is complete and the car is restarted, the car reverts to its normal function where it has been discovered that nitrogen oxide levels increased by 10 to 40 times the federal standard, according to the EPA.

    Right now, it's difficult to determine what changes would be required by a recall in order to make the cars compliant. It could range from a software update—which is more likely to work on newer TDIs with urea-injection systems—to adding expensive and bulky urea-injection systems to the vehicles that don't have them.

    For now, Consumer Reports has suspended its “recommended” Rating of two VW vehicles: the Jetta diesel and Passat diesel. We currently own both of these vehicles in our test fleet, as well as a Golf SportWagen TDI. Consumer Reports will re-test these vehicles once a recall repair has been performed to assess whether the fix has adversely affected performance or fuel economy.

    Finally, in this show, we discuss the future of diesel-powered cars in the United States. No question, the VW scandal is dealing a tough blow to diesel's reputation. This set back follows multiple manufacturers, including Honda, Mazda, and Subaru announcing they would bring diesels here, only to scuttle their plans. At a time when gasoline-powered engines are making tremendous efficiency gains, diesel is in a fragile position. We put this in perspective in our latest show.  

    As with the other Taking Cars, 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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    EPA to Test All Diesel Cars In Effort to Find Cheaters

    As a result of the willful deceit by Volkswagen to pass emissions certification tests through manipulation of its vehicles' software, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will conduct sample tests on all diesel passenger car models to be sold for the new model year.

    The EPA strives to hold manufacturers accountable to the latest emissions standards by validating their performance through laboratory and real-world evaluations. However, the EPA's testing protocol is based on the assumption that automakers would not cheat. Volkswagen has provided a wake-up call to the possibility for a company to creatively drive through loopholes in the process.

    As a result, the EPA will add new tests to detect so-called "defeat devices" that can bend the rules in an automaker’s favor. The EPA will not release details on how it will seek out the cheats, but it is notifying all manufacturers of the general changes to its test program.

    Currently, the agency is actively collecting diesel cars from consumers and rental fleets to augment models culled from manufacturers. These cars will be put through a battery of tests. This effort is being coordinated with Environment Canada, a similar agency.

    In a media conference call today, EPA officials explained that they do not need more resources to accomplish these goals. Instead, it is a matter of shifting resources from commercial truck emissions—as big rigs are the source of most on-the-road pollutants.  

    Volkswagen’s School of Hard NOx

    VW admitted to circumventing the emissions control system in about 482,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States since 2008 with a 2.0-liter diesel engine. Volkswagen concealed facts from the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, and ultimately misled consumers who were attracted to “clean diesel.”

    The EPA states that the investigation into Volkswagen’s actions are ongoing. When asked to speculate as to the penalties the German automaker might face, an EPA official repeated that the potential fine could be as much as $37,500 per vehicle.

    This process is leading up to a recall to bring the affected cars into conformity with emissions regulations. When issued, the recall will come from Volkswagen, and the repairs will be performed at no cost to owners.

    Of course, the EPA will validate the fixes to ensure they not only work but also that there isn’t a negative impact on consumers. Consumer Reports currently has three VW diesels in our test fleet, and once the recalls are performed, we will re-evaluate their fuel efficiency and performance.

    It is expected that a software fix can readily bring 2015 models into line. However, VW might need some time to determine a proper solution for older models, which have different diesel-emissions systems.

    For now, the cars are safe and legal to drive. No action is needed by drivers. CARB has said it will permit the private-party sale of used VW diesels

    Also read "Will Volkswagen's Penalty Be High Enough?" by Consumer Reports President and CEO Marta L. Tellado, Ph.D., on

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

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    Hyundai Sonata Engine Failures Prompt Recall

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a recall for Hyundai Sonata sedans from the 2011 and 2012 models years because of the potential for a major engine failure.

    The vehicles in question were built between December 11, 2009, and April 12, 2012, at Hyundai's Alabama, manufacturing facility, equipped with either a 2.0-liter turbo or 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. According to the NHTSA recall notice, metallic debris may not have been removed from the engine crankshaft during the manufacturing process. This could lead to restricted oil flow, damaging internal parts.

    A symptom of the damage is a metallic, cyclic knocking noise from the engine, and the result is possible engine failure. This could lead to the vehicle stalling, resulting in the risk of a crash. NHTSA estimates that the problem exists with about 2 percent of the cars.

    A New Engine, If Necessary

    Hyundai will mail affected owners an interim recall notification by November 2, 2015, instructing them to contact their dealer for a service appointment. The dealer will inspect the vehicle and, if necessary, replace the engine free of charge. A second notification will be mailed when parts are available.

    In addition, Hyundai Motor America will increase the warranty for the engine sub-assembly to 10 years/120,000 miles for both original and subsequent owners of 2011 and 2012 Sonatas manufactured at Hyundai's Alabama plant with the 2.0- and 2.4-liter gasoline engines.

    These same engines, built at the same manufacturing plant, were also used in Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs, Kia Optima sedans, and Kia Sorento SUVs assembled in West Point, Georgia. According to Kia spokesperson Jame Hope, Kia is not impacted by this recall.

    Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-671-3059 or by visiting  

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

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    Initial Test Results: iPhone 6s and 6s Plus

    The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus arrived in stores today, and we have preliminary tests from the engineers in our labs. The first thing we looked at was the rear-facing camera, which has a 12-megapixel sensor, a jump from the 8-megapixel chip of the iPhone 6. That might sound like a big increase, but our testing found that the camera performed just slightly better than the old one. Video recording remained about the same. We also tried out the new Live Photo feature, and had mixed feelings.

    But the biggest change is the advent of the 3D Touch interface. In our opinion, it gives the new iPhones a significant edge over the older models, particularly for multitasking. In essence, this interface modification provides the phone with something akin to the right-click capabilities of a mouse. It lets you perform an impressive array of tasks with an app without having to open it.

    More Megapixels, Same Picture Quality

    To test the new phones, we captured still images and videos under indoor, low-light, and simulated outdoor conditions. In all those situations, the new iPhones produced slightly better still images than the old ones. The higher resolution helped the camera capture textures, patterns, and shadings in greater detail. However, dynamic range, noise in low light, and color accuracy were all virtually the same as in the older iPhone 6.

    In our initial testing, videos shot at 1080P at 30 frames per second (fps) and 60fps were virtually identical to those shot with the iPhone 6 camera, which is quite good as far as smartphones are concerned. The S-series models are the first iPhones that can shoot Ultra HD, or 4K, videos. We’ll be testing UHD video more thoroughly in the days ahead, but so far the video quality seems comparable to what we’ve seen from other smartphones.

    Live Photos are GIF-like, 3-second movie clips. Apple says that Live Photo, a mode that’s on by default, is a great way to “relive life’s moments.” But the Live Photos my colleagues and I took seemed a bit jerky, beginning and ending at moments that either made no sense or, more often, made the subject look awkward. Live Photos don't play automatically, you need to keep your finger pressed to the screen—covering part of the image.

    A Live Photo isn't actually one file. It’s a 12-megapixel .jpg still image sandwiched between two, 1.5-second .mov video clips. The camera is constantly buffering a few seconds of video; once you press the shutter it grabs a snippet of that video from before and after the still image. Live Photos can only be produced by these new iPhones, but they can be viewed on any mobile device running iOS 9, as well as Mac computers running OS X El Capitan, which is due for release soon. But you can play the video file of a Live Photo on any computer that supports the .mov format. And if you send a Live Photo to your friends’ Android phones? They’ll only see the 12-megapixel still.  

    Apple has said that Live Photos files are about twice the size of still images. But in our testing, using a standard, static pattern, the file was about three times as large. 

    3D Touch: An Easier Way to Navigate

    We found the “Peek and Pop” aspect of 3D Touch worked quite well. Apple says it has designed the 3D Touch display to interpret many levels of finger pressure for performing varied app actions. While app developers might take advantage of such finessed functionality, right now Apple’s own apps only respond to only two levels of pressure: soft and firm.

    A soft press lets you preview emails and calendar appointments without opening them, as well as take actions such as reply, forward, flag, and mark as read. You can also delete emails or accept or decline calendar appointments.

    The feature also works with movies and music. For instance, soft press an artist's name in your iTunes music library, and you’ll see all of his or her songs in your collection. And if you have any Hollywood movies, a soft press will show you its plot summary.

    If you're already in an app, a firm press fully opens files or engages controls such as the play/pause buttons of the music or video player. If you're on the phone's desktop, a firm press reveals a "quick-action" menu.

    3D Touch also makes it much easier to edit text that you're typing. Firmly pressing on the space bar gives you fine control over the cursor. This is similar to the functionality found on many Samsung and LG smartphones.

    We’ll have more on the new iPhones as our tests continue.

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

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    Making a Slideshow to Preserve Your Memories

    My father recently celebrated a milestone birthday. To commemorate the event, I created a digital slideshow to showcase family photos recounting his life: black-and-white shots of my grandparents, images of my uncles and my father in their younger days, and more recent photos of my children and my brother's kids. One of my favorite parts of the project was compiling the shots my dad took nearly every year for our Christmas card from the late 1960s (when I was born) to the late 1980s. (You can find a link to that montage here or at the bottom of this blog.)

    If you’re thinking about creating a similar slideshow as a birthday, wedding, or holiday gift, I highly recommend it. With applications like iMovie, it's relatively simple to do. And by posting your work online or on a social media site such as Facebook, you can quickly and easily share your memories with others. Before you start, though, I suggest that you look for online tutorials on the app you want to use. (Hello, YouTube!) This can help uncover features that may not be readily apparent.

    Here are the basic steps in creating a slideshow.

    Sketch Out Your Slideshow

    Draw a simple timeline and decide how you want to organize your images. Chronologically? By family member? Maybe by hairstyle? Feel free to be creative. It's up to you.

    Scan or Photograph Old Prints

    Digital images are easy to import into your project, but if you're looking to include old images, such as prints from a family or wedding album, you'll want to scan those. If you have an all-in-one printer with a built-in scanner, use that. If not, shoot photos of the images with a digital camera; just make sure you have good lighting when you do it. For best results, you should also wipe the dust from the vintage photos with a soft cloth. Once you have digital images of everything, you can even touch them up or enhance them with an image-editor

    Import Your Photos

    There are many ways to get your images onto a mobile device. For my project, I used DropBox, which allowed me to transfer the photos to my iPad. I could then locate them on my Camera Roll in the Photos app. If you're not sure how to import photos to your device, look online. There are lots of tutorials. Once you've completed the task, drag the shots into the device's video-editing app. I used the iMovie app. Most video-editors let you place your images on a timeline. This lets you shift the pictures around until you're happy with where they appear in the video. You also get to decide how long each photo remains in view on the screen. A fraction of a second? Ten seconds? Even more? Better be a beautiful shot.  

    Add Transitions

    This is the really fun part. The transitions in particular add a wonderful effect, giving your slideshow a professional-looking sense of animation. You get to decide if one image fades or dissolves into another. Or maybe you'd rather have them slide one on top of another. If you're feeling very bold, consider the Ken Burns effect—named after the famous documentary filmmaker—which lets you slowly zoom in on a specific section of a photo or pan side-to-side across it. I used this technique a lot in my slideshow.

    Add the Audio

    I created an original soundtrack for my slideshow using the Garageband app. But you don't have to go that far. Many apps provide you with music options. You can also add songs, sound clips, or other forms of audio from the music library on your device. And since most mobile devices come with voice-recording features, you can even ask family members to email you voice clips and quickly add their birthday or holiday greetings to the presentation.  

    Add Text, Then Complete and Upload the Project

    This is another fun way to impress viewers with the level of quality in your project. I placed text on photos and used them as title pages at the beginning and end of the project. Once that was done, I saved the slideshow and uploaded it to YouTube. You can also save it as a video file, depending on which app you use.

    More Video-Editing Apps

    There are plenty of ways to put your photo documentary skills to the test. You can use video-editing software on a computer, for instance, to get more control over the various special effects. You'll also find several iOS-friendly app alternatives to Apple’s iMovie. And here are three Android options with comparable features. As they say in the entertainment business, break a leg!


    To see the slideshow I created, click on the image below.

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

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  • 09/28/15--03:59: How to Buy the Right TV
  • How to Buy the Right TV

     I t’s a strange time to be shopping for a television. The technology is halfway through its evolution from high-definition past to ultra high-definition future (more on that later). For some shoppers, the best strategy may be to wait and see how it all shakes out. But there are also plenty of good reasons to spring for a new set now. Maybe you just upgraded from a cramped apartment to a spacious new home, and your peewee TV seems lost in the living room. Or maybe you’d like a screen in the kitchen to watch those cooking shows. Then again, maybe your 5-year-old set just gave up the ghost and now you have an excuse to get something modern. Our advice is to ignore all the hoopla and focus on finding something that truly fits your needs.

    Go big

    Sometimes the widely hyped “next big thing” in TV tech turns out to be a painful waste of money, which is why a lot of 3D glasses are hibernating in drawers right now. But you rarely regret investing in screen size. If you have the room for it, a mega-television inspires maximum awe for your dollar and showcases your favorite movies, TV shows, and games in all of their high-def glory.

    As you’d expect, bigger TVs take a bigger bite out of your budget, especially when the screen gets into the stratosphere of 65 inches and larger. But prices have in fact been falling. You can still spend upward of $3,000 for a loaded flagship model from a major brand, but you’ll also find 60-inch sets with top-notch picture quality starting at about $900. In our latest TV Ratings, which include at least 40 sets with screens 60 inches or larger, more than half cost $1,500 or less.

    Of course, “big” is relative. In some rooms, a 70-inch set looks impressive; in others, it just seems menacingly large. But thin-bezel designs and super-slim depths common in many new models make them far less imposing.

    When it comes to the right TV size, there are no hard-and-fast rules; personal preference and even visual acuity come into the picture, so to speak. But there are general guidelines. To figure out the size that’s best for you, use one of the many online calculators or apply the following simple guidelines.

    With a 1080p set, pretty much standard for high-def resolution right now, measure the distance in feet between your couch and where you’d like to place the TV. Then divide that number by 1.5 and multiply the result by 12 to determine the size of the optimal set in inches (measured diagonally). If you’re going to sit 8 feet from the set, for example, you should shop for a model that’s no bigger than 60 inches.

    With UHD TVs, which have higher-resolution screens with more densely packed pixels, you can go even larger.

    The goal is to create a comfortable, immersive viewing experience. You don’t want to be so close that you can’t see the whole picture or so far back that you miss the high-def detail you just paid for. Ideally, that Discovery Channel documentary on lions should fill your field of vision.

    In terms of screen technology, the decision pretty much has been made for you, which may come as a relief to confused consumers. Manufacturers no longer make plasma sets, and OLED TVs, which combine the deep blacks and unlimited viewing angles of plasma sets with the thinness and energy efficiency of LCD TVs, are prohibitively pricey.

    So the average buyer will almost certainly be purchasing an LCD set. Just don’t confuse so-called LED TVs with OLED sets; LED TVs are just LCDs with LED backlights. The downside to LCDs, however, is that many models have fairly narrow viewing angles, so the picture can look washed out or hazy if you’re seated too far to the side of a room instead of directly in front of the screen. Don’t rely on the manufacturer’s viewing-angle claims of 170° or better. Consult our Ratings and spot-check TVs while in a store by stepping off to each side and viewing from above and below the center of the screen to assess the picture quality from various positions.

    Before You Buy a UHD TV, Read This

    These days, most manufacturers spotlight Ultra HD TVs—which can display greater detail than regular 1080p sets—as the premium models in their lineup. Almost all of them are LED LCD models, though LG offers a few UHD OLED sets. Here are three compelling reasons it may pay to wait before buying one:

    1. You’ll still pay a premium. Prices have fallen in the past eight months, but some big-screen flagship models still sell for $3,000 to $4,000—and OLEDs for many thousands more. We expect significant price drops by this time next year.

    2. There’s not a lot of 4K content. To date, only a trickle of movies and programs—primarily from streaming services such as Amazon, M-Go, and Netflix—have taken advantage of the greater picture detail. But expect to see the first 4K UHD Blu-ray players and discs later this year, and a lot more ultra-high-def streaming options in 2016.

    3. Standards are still evolving. Some UHD features, such as high dynamic range (HDR) and a wider range of color, have yet to reach their full majesty. And some new TVs claim HDR capability. But we think it makes sense to wait until all of the standards—for TVs, streaming media, and Blu-ray discs—are nailed down to ensure that your TV can take full advantage of them.

    Go small

    Giant-screen TVs are great for a living room or basement home theater, but you probably don’t want to shoehorn a 65-inch set into a bedroom or tiny apartment. You can find plenty of TVs at 32 inches and smaller without skimping on features or picture quality.

    Start by thinking about what content you’ll be watching. If you’re looking for a bedroom TV for talk shows or nightly reruns of “Seinfeld,” a basic set may do. But if you plan to stream movies and TV shows from Amazon Prime or Netflix, a smart TV with built-in Internet access may be a better choice. Don’t pay too much more for that access, though, because you can add a streaming media player for as little as $35 if your TV has an extra HDMI input.

    You can get 1080p on even the smallest screen sizes, but it’s not necessary. Many viewers will be just as happy with a 720p model. At normal viewing distances, you won’t notice the dip in detail and resolution. (But if the TV is doubling as a computer monitor, go with the higher resolution. It will produce clearer, easier-to-read text and more detailed images.)

    The viewing angle is just as important with a small TV as a large one, especially when the set isn’t placed directly in front of your bed, chair, or sofa. Most of the smaller models we’ve tested have fairly narrow angles, but there are a few standouts that will let you get a clear view of Jimmy Fallon’s hijinks even if you’re sacked out on the side of the room.

    Relatively few TVs this size have 120Hz refresh rates, but don’t sweat it. Here again, it’s hard to detect a difference at normal viewing distances.

    Many small TVs will let you down in audio quality. Few in our Ratings do a bang-up job there. But if the dialog is intelligible, even so-so sound from the built-in speakers may be sufficient for newscasts and sitcoms. If you watch a lot of concerts, movies, or action-oriented fare, you may want to consider adding a sound bar speaker. Many of them have Bluetooth, so they can be used to play music from a phone or tablet as well.

    Don’t forget about the TV’s connections, too. Smaller sets generally have only one or two HDMI inputs, the most common way to connect Blu-ray players, cable boxes, game systems, and other devices. Make sure your set has enough for all of the high-def sources you use. If it doesn’t, you may need to spend another $30 to $80 on a separate HDMI switcher. You may also want to think about a USB slot for playing songs and displaying photos stored on a flash drive, or a headphone jack for listening to late-night programs when your partner is trying to sleep.

    What you get is a good deal: Expect to pay about $230 to $300 for a basic 32-inch set from a major brand and as little as $160 from a lesser-known manufacturer. A smaller set can be had for even less.

    Go frugal

    You can get a great set of any size without spending a fortune, especially if you forgo some of the bells and whistles that drive up the price. In fact, the secret to choosing a budget TV isn’t deciding what you want, but what you’re willing to give up. Here are a few suggestions:

    Stay in the second dimension. Three years ago, 3D was the rage. Now? Not so much. In fact, some manufacturers, including Vizio, don’t even offer 3D-capable sets. Unless you’re a die-hard 3D-movie fan, skip that feature—and the 3D Blu-ray player. That will save you money on 3D glasses, too.

    Be fine with flat. Curved screens are another specious trend. Some people find them visually attractive. But our testing shows they do little to enhance picture quality. And when mounted, they don’t sit flat against the wall.

    Don’t pay a premium for pixels. Prices for UHD sets continue to drop, but we think most budget-conscious buyers would be just as happy with a 1080p TV. For one thing, when watching from normal distances viewers often have a hard time seeing the greater picture detail that UHD sets provide. You won’t find a lot of native 4K content, either. Many things about UHD sets are still being finalized—read “Before You Buy a UHD TV, Read This”—and they still command a hefty premium over regular HD TVs, although prices will almost certainly fall soon. For now, a top-performing 1080p set is still a smart choice for most people unless you’re buying a huge TV and have a huge budget.

    Skip the ‘smart’ set. If you want to keep your spending in check, prioritize picture quality over Internet connectivity. We like smart TVs that can stream video, but that can add $100 or more to the price. By contrast, a streaming media player provides similar functionality at a cost of about $35 to $100. 

    Save on speed. Some sets have refresh rates of 120Hz to 240Hz, which can help reduce blurring motion during fast scenes. But for many viewers, especially those who don’t watch a lot of sports, a regular 60Hz set is good enough. Our tests have found that some 120Hz models perform no better than 60Hz sets. If you decide you simply can’t live without a fast refresh rate, check the motion-blur test scores in our Ratings and find a model judged at least Good overall.

    Count your inputs. Many budget TVs have only one or two HDMI inputs, which can be a major drawback if you have a lot of gear to connect, such as a cable box, Blu-ray player, streaming media player, and game console. We recommend that you choose a model with at least three HDMI inputs unless you’ll be connecting your devices to a home-theater receiver.

    —James K. Willcox

    This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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

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    2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Proves Slick and Efficient

    We’ve just started testing the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and so far it’s proving to be a welcome addition to our test fleet. The regular Sonata bowed in its current iteration back in the summer of 2014, but it took a year for Hyundai to phase in the hybrid. It’s good they took their time because the previous-generation Sonata Hybrid, which we tested in 2011, was pretty much a flop, with fuel economy barely better than the conventional version and annoyingly rough transitions between electric and gasoline propulsion.

    Following a brief stint in a rented Sonata Plug-In Hybrid earlier this year, we purchased a less costly mid-trim SE in standard hybrid form, which rang in at a reasonable $26,950.

    This time around the hybrid powertrain consists of a 2.0-liter four cylinder augmented by an electric motor, a pairing that yields 193 horsepower. A compact lithium-ion battery, tucked between the rear seat and trunk, motivates the electric drive system. Unlike many other hybrids, which employ some type of continuously variable automatic (CVT), the Sonata uses a conventional six-speed automatic. That’s turning out to be a sound decision.

    Our hybrid Sonata takes off smartly and quietly, aided by the electric motor’s instant torque delivery. The gas engine wakes up in due course, and when it does, the transition is unobtrusive except for some added thrum if you keep your foot down on the pedal.

    This car maximizes electric operation, typically remaining in electric mode up to 20 mph, so long as you use a light touch on the throttle. But at any opportunity that presents itself, such as when coasting, it’ll shut off the engine and sail along in electric mode—so long, that is, as you’re coasting at less than 75 mph. Ask for more power and unlike with other hybrids, which let their CVTs provoke a sudden bump in engine noise, the Sonata’s six-speed delivers the added oomph with an unobtrusive downshift or two.

    So far we’ve been observing 40 mpg overall— impressive for a midsized sedan. That also translates into a 600-mile-plus driving range on a tank of gas, a domain occupied only by diesels and some other hybrids.
    Ride comfort is a strong suit, as well. The Sonata Hybrid rides very comfortably, with the pliant suspension smoothing out even the worst pavement. This ride is every bit as comfortable as a Toyota Camry Hybrid and steadier than the Honda Accord Hybrid.

    On the handling front, the Sonata corners soundly but it’s not particularly agile or sporty. Those yearning for both sporty and green should opt for the hybrid version of the Ford Fusion.

    Like the regular Sonata, the hybrid boasts a roomy cabin with a very commodious rear seat. Unfortunately, if you get the SE and not the $30,000-plus Limited, you can’t get a power seat or any type of adjustable lumbar support. Omissions like that are rare for Hyundai, and a pretty big oversight since you feel the lack of lumbar support after about 20 minutes behind the wheel.  

    Unlike the Honda Accord Hybrid, the Sonata's drive battery doesn’t hog much trunk space. As with most hybrid sedans, though, the rear seat loses its ability to fold down and create more cargo space as a packaging concession.

    This second-generation Sonata Hybrid shows huge progress from the initial attempt. This package delivers a compelling combination of frugal fuel consumption, generous interior space, quiet cabin, and comfortable ride—all for less than $27,000.

    Stay tuned for our complete road test, when we’ll see how this car stacks up against other midsized fuel sippers.  

    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 Manage Mom and Dad's Money When They Grow Older

    Helping an older person manage her money without making her feel like she's lost her independence is a challenge for many adult children and grandchildren. But as seniors age, it can be smart to have others watching out for them. That's especially true because there are so many scammers angling for seniors' money.

    But there's plenty of advice available to help you understand what your responsibilities are when you handle someone else's money—and how best to do it. Those concerns are addressed in the brochure series, Managing Someone Else's Money, published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans. One brochure discusses how to go about getting power of attorney for the older senior. Another is meant for those who are court-appointed guardians. A third is for trustees, and a fourth is for government fiduciaries, the people who oversee 401(k) plans.

    The brochures are written with a national audience in mind. To deal with differing state laws, the CFPB also is rolling out specific guides for individual states. Its Virginia brochure became available in August; guides for Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Oregon are expected to follow.

    Help for agents under a power of attorney, for instance, outlines what it means to be a fiduciary, entrusted with handling another person's money and property in that person's best financial interests. Here are some highlights, paraphrased from the brochure:

    • As much as possible, involve the older person in decisions. If the person can't say what she wants, try to find out what she would have wanted, by recalling past decisions, actions or statements. Talk to others who know her to get their views about what she might want to have happen. Put her well-being above the financial interests of the people who stand to inherit her property and money. That may mean spending money that her heirs would prefer you didn't spend.

    • Avoid conflicts of interest. For example, you cannot buy a car with the older person's money if you'll be using it mostly for your own needs, rather than for driving her to appointments and doing errands on her behalf. Don't hire a relative to do repairs to the older person's home if it's not the least expensive and best option; if appears to benefit your family more than the older person, it's a conflict of interest.

    • Don't pay yourself for the time you spend dealing with the older person's business. The exception is if it's allowed by the power-of-attorney document, or by state law. If you pay yourself, document how much you paid yourself. It must be a reasonable amount.

    • Never mix the older person's money and property with your own, or anyone else's. Don't deposit her money into someone else's account. Avoid joint accounts, or get legal advice before making changes to an existing joint account. Keep title to the older person's money and property in her name. Pay her expenses from her funds, not yours.

    • Keep good records. Make sure that all transactions are documented, including receipts and expenditures. Avoid paying in cash; don't use her ATM card to withdraw cash or write checks to "cash."

    Lookout for scams and exploitation

    Changes in a senior's behavior, or in her accounts or the type of phone calls, mail, and email she receives, may indicate she's been a scam victim. For example, does she receive a lot of mail or email for sweepstakes or contests? Has she paid people you don't know, especially in other states or countries? Has she withdrawn large sums of money while with another person—especially a new "friend?" You probably should follow up. Other warning signs:

    • Money or property appears to be missing. Or, the older person tells you that it's missing.

    • Spending or savings patterns have changed. The senior suddenly withdraws a lot of money from a bank or investment account without explanation, or tries to wire large sums. Or, she's making uncharacteristic or frequent ATM withdrawals. She may struggle to explain how she is spending her money. She may suddenly say she can't afford to pay for necessities like food, medicine, or utilities.

    • Bank statements or bills suddenly aren't arriving. Checks in her checkbook may be missing.

    • The older person is making new or unusual gifts. You may recognize the recipient, or it may be an individual or entity you've never heard of.

    • The senior changes beneficiaries. Check for recent copies of the senior's will, life insurance policy, or retirement account.

    • Someone new is suddenly handling her money. If you investigate and suspect or determine foul play, report the crime. A few options for reporting: your local sheriff or police department; Adult Protective Services (through the National Eldercare Locator); and your state attorney general (through the National Association of Attorneys General. Check out our story, "Lies, Secrets, and Scams" for more resources.

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

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    Financial Adviser Fees Can Add Up to More Than You Realize

    This month, Personal Capital, an online firm that looks at your investment holdings and recommends improvements, released a study based on more than 100,0000 of those portfolios. Its conclusion: you're paying a lot if you're using one of the larger brokerages to manage your wealth.

    The average annual total fees you'll pay at one of these brokerages, according to Personal Capital data, ranges from 1.06 percent annually at USAA, to nearly 2 percent annually at Merrill Lynch. And while that may not sound significant, over time the fees accumulate. For an account of $500,000, for example, even the least expensive of these brokerages will cost an investor nearly half a million dollars over a 30-year investing career—as much as the initial investment.

    The bulk of these fees are in the form of advisory fees, which range from 0.82 percent to 1.53 percent. Then, on top of that, are the fees you'll pay for the funds that these hypothetical investors own. Scottrade investors were found to own the least costly funds at 0.17 percent. But Merrill Lynch investors were paying four times that, an average expense ratio of 0.68 percent. 

    The conclusion may feel familiar. Two years ago, PBS television's investigative news program, Frontline, reported that high fees and higher-cost mutual funds can cost retirement savers more than $155,000 over a lifetime.

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

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    The Arbitration Clause Hidden in Many Consumer Contracts

    Last year a firestorm erupted after General Mills, the maker of Bisquick, Cheerios, and other food brands, changed the legal terms on its website, requiring that all disputes related to the purchase or use of any of its products be resolved through mandatory arbitration. Legal experts and consumers were outraged that by downloading coupons or entering a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest they could be waiving the right to sue. General Mills ended the practice days later, writing on its blog, “We’ve listened—and we’re changing our legal terms back.”

    Sound outrageous? You probably do business with many firms that tuck forced arbitration clauses into their terms and conditions. They are in hundreds of millions of consumer contracts, according to the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Amazon, Groupon, Netflix, and Verizon are among the companies whose contracts have the clauses. They’re in the fine print of terms for car loans and leases, credit cards, checking accounts, insurance, investing accounts, student loans, and even certain employment and nursing home agreements; you can be legally bound to forced arbitration by signing a contract or clicking “I agree” on a website. Once you do, if you eventually have a complaint against one of those companies, you will be obligated to take your dispute to an arbitration firm. 

    Businesses Have the Edge

    Usually, if you are bound by a mandatory arbitration clause, the company picks the arbitrator, who is not required to have a legal background (although many do) and, unlike a judge, doesn’t have to consider legal precedent. The decision is usually private, so other consumers in the same position won’t know about the case. And there’s little basis on which the decision can be appealed, says Daniel Blinn, a consumer law attorney with the Consumer Law Group in Rocky Hill, Conn. 

    Arbitration clauses often restrict you from pursuing any type of litigation outside of the arbitration, including a class-action lawsuit, where a group of similarly harmed individuals can sue a company. In class actions (as well as in certain other types of litigation) lawyers generally work for a portion of eventual winnings, so participants have no out-of-pocket costs, and the company does not get to pick the judge the way it gets to pick an arbitrator.

    A series of Supreme Court decisions have backed mandatory arbitration. For example, in a 2013 ruling, the court found that a company can use its arbitration agreement to stop class-action suits, even if the dispute involves a violation of federal antitrust laws. “The system is rigged against the consumer,” says Paul Bland, executive director of the consumer-rights law firm Public Justice. “The purpose is to say that even if companies break state truth-in-advertising laws, or debt collection laws, or lemon laws, there is nothing consumers can do but arbitrate.”

    Arbitration Can Cost You

    Proponents of mandatory arbitration say it benefits consumers. “Arbitration is a time-tested, cost-effective alternative to litigation,” says Michael Clark, vice president of marketing and public relations for the American Arbitration Association, one of the nation’s largest providers of arbitration and mediation services. But there is the potential cost of long-distance travel and filing fees. You may have to cover some of the arbitrator’s charges—generally in the range of $200 to $300 per hour. A 2012 study by ­InsideCounsel, a publication for legal professionals, found that arbitration may cost more than a court hearing. But it can benefit companies, which might pay less in damages than they would in litigated cases.

    A few arbitration clauses offer the option to resolve a dispute in small claims court. It’s often less costly than arbitration, but the amount you can win is capped, usually at $2,500 to $25,000, depending on the state. “Companies generally only go that route when they are trying to collect a debt from you, because it saves them the arbitrator’s fee,” Blinn says.

    Protect Yourself

    We believe that consumers should not be forced into arbitration. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should use its authority to stop forced arbitration in financial services; it recently announced it's holding a hearing on October 7 in Denver to discuss the topic, and may make an announcement then. Congress should enact legislation to make arbitration voluntary in other consumer contracts. In the meantime:

    Look for exceptions. It’s difficult to find a credit-card, mobile-phone, or checking-account agreement where arbitration isn’t required, but some companies don’t impose it. For example, midsized banks and credit unions are more likely to skip those clauses.

    Try to opt out. Read contracts and terms of use in full to see whether you can opt out of arbitration, Blinn says. A few contracts, such as certain nursing home agreements, allow it.

    Make some noise. “Companies think no one reads these clauses and that it’s not an important issue to people,” Bland says. “But the General Mills case clearly shows that when enough consumers strongly object to them, companies will reverse course.”

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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

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    Spend $5 More to Get an Iron That's Safe

    Some product features add a safety measure that you've come to expect. New irons typically have an auto shutoff feature. It turns off the iron when it's motionless after a bit, sensing that you’ve forgotten there’s a hot iron on—handy when you’ve run to answer the phone and can’t get rid of a telemarketer. But Consumer Reports latest tests found three irons that do not have auto shutoff. And while it isn’t a required safety feature, our testers are steamed.

    Even the $18 Proctor-Silex has auto shutoff, but we found three irons that cost $10 to $35 that do not. And some consumers have gotten accustomed to having auto shutoff so they depend on it. Of the 39 irons in Consumer Reports' tests only these do not have auto shutoff: The $35 Panasonic NI-P300T, the $10 Rival Shot of Steam ES280 from Walmart, and the $15 Continental CE23111. Spend an extra $5 and you can buy the $20 Black & Decker Xpress Steam Iron IR08X from Walmart. It has auto shutoff and provides a lot more steam, which makes ironing go faster.

    How auto shutoff works
    An auto shutoff iron turns off in about a minute when motionless and on its side or when the soleplate is down (touching the ironing board). When the iron is upright and in its usual resting position, but motionless, auto shutoff turns off the iron within 8 to 15 minutes. Irons vary on time. At 15 minutes, the three tested irons without auto shutoff scorched the tablecloths we were pressing as part of our test. 

    Home fires involving irons
    Irons caused 312 home fires annually, on average, between 2007 and 2011. That’s the most recent data available from the National Fire Protection Association. The fires resulted in eight civilian injuries and $10 million in property damage a year.  

    Choosing a new iron
    Any iron can get the job done, but a hot iron that provides plenty of steam, glides easily, and feels comfortable in your hand is just the thing you want when faced with a basket of wrinkled clothes or a shirt that needs a good pressing. Our steam iron Ratings feature 39 irons, including six that made our top picks, such as the $45 T-Fal FV4495 Ultraglide. Use our Ratings to compare irons. The features & specs tab lets you know how heavy each iron is, and the steam iron buying guide describes features and is a good place to start. Any questions? Email me at

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

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    Presidential Advisory Council on Antibiotic Resistance To Hold First Public Meeting Today

    Consumers Union Testimony Calls for Quicker Implementation of Publicly Accountable Antibiotic Stewardship Programs & Notice to Patients of Superbug Outbreaks at Hospitals

    Consumers Union’s Lisa McGiffert and Patient Safety Activists Available for Media Interviews

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lisa McGiffert, Director of the Safe Patient Project for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, will testify today at the first public meeting of the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria.  The Advisory Council was established to provide recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services on the implementation of President Obama’s National Action Plan for addressing the public health threat posed by dangerous superbugs.     

    The unrestrained use of antibiotics has resulted in the proliferation of drug resistant bacteria and secondary infections that sicken at least 2.25 million Americans each year, resulting in 37,000 deaths.  McGiffert’s testimony offers support for the National Action Plan’s recommendation that all hospitals should be required to establish antibiotic stewardship programs but calls for public reporting of the results and quicker implementation of those efforts. 

    “Implementing accountable hospital antibiotic stewardship programs is the single most important first step toward reducing inappropriate antibiotic use and preserving the effectiveness of these critical medications,” said McGiffert.  “These programs must include documenting antibiotic use and the drug resistant infections that occur at hospitals.  This information should then be reported to the public so hospitals can be held accountable for keeping patients safe.” 

    The Action Plan calls for HHS to propose regulations by March 2016 requiring antibiotic stewardship programs, but it does not make clear when those rules must be in place.  In addition, the plan appears to give hospitals between three to five years to implement accountable stewardship programs once the regulations have been finalized.  Given the urgent need to curb the spread of superbugs in hospitals, Consumers Union is calling on HHS to enact those regulations by December 2016 and for hospitals to begin implementing those programs immediately after the rules have been adopted.

    While the Action Plan’s primary focus is on preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics and preventing health-care acquired infections, it does not address the needs of patients who are exposed to superbug outbreaks or those coming into the hospital vulnerable to being exposed. 

    “Patients and health authorities need to know when superbugs are spreading within a hospital,” said McGiffert.  “But there is no national policy requiring hospitals to notify patients about outbreaks and the risk they may face as a result.  We need hospitals to report superbug infection outbreaks to patients, physicians and the CDC as they are occurring.”

    Consumers Union is also very concerned about antibiotic use in farm animals and believes that the Action Plan falls short of what is needed to address the misuse of these drugs for meat production.  “We urge the Advisory Council to support the elimination of medically important antibiotics in healthy food animals – not just for growth promotion, but for disease prevention as well,” said McGiffert.  “We believe this step is critically important to reducing overall use of antibiotics.”

    Consumers Union will be joined at the Advisory Council meeting by patients and family members who have been personally impacted by superbug infections who will testify about the need for stronger action.  The following day, these patient safety activists will meet with members of Congress to urge them to remember the dangers of antibiotic misuse as they consider new medical innovation legislation. 

    The Presidential Advisory Council on Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria will take place on Tuesday, September 29, from 9:00am – 5pm ET.   The meeting will be livestreamed at  For more details, see the Advisory Council’s Public Meeting Announcement

    To connect with McGiffert or the patient safety activists while they are in Washington, D.C., contact Kara Kelber (

    Media Contacts:
    Michael McCauley, Consumers Union, 415.902.9537 (cell) or
    Kara Kelber, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or

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    Consumers Union: New federal principles for student loan servicing will help clean up system

    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to explore potential industry-wide rules to increase borrower protections

    WASHINGTON, D.C.  ̶  In response to the escalating crisis of student loan debt and defaults, the federal government today issued a set of principles to strengthen consumer protections for student borrowers.

    The principles aim to clean up the notoriously murky system of student loan servicing by promoting more accountability, accuracy, consistency, and transparency among the servicers who manage student accounts. This framework was issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Treasury Department, and Department of Education.  The CFPB said it intends to explore potential industry-wide rules to increase borrower protections.

    Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said this is encouraging news as more than 41 million Americans now owe more than $1.2 trillion in student debt.  CU has worked closely with federal regulators on ways to reform student loan servicing.  CU provided the CFPB with more than 500 personal stories from consumers who were harmed by the failures of the system.

    Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for Consumers Union, said, “The process for education loan servicing today is a mess.  Your servicer is supposed to manage your account and help you avoid default.  Too often, a servicer provides the student with information that isn’t accurate or consistent, and that can drive students deeper into debt.  Students and families deserve better treatment from their loan servicers, and they truly need change now.”

    Martindale added, “We applaud the regulators for taking students' complaints seriously.  The CFPB is exploring new rules of the road for all education loan servicers, which would be a big step in the right direction.  Holding student loan servicers to a higher standard is long overdue.”

    The CFPB today issued a new report on student loan servicing that outlines what the bureau called "widespread servicing failures reported by both federal and private student loan borrowers." The report analyzes recent input and recommendations from a variety of stakeholders, including Consumers Union. This past year, Consumers Union filed formal comments with the CFPB in support of comprehensive reforms.


    Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.  Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization.  Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. 

    Media Contacts:
    David Butler, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or
    Kara Kelber, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or

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