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Consumer Reports

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    Don't Let a Clogged Sink Ruin Your Thanksgiving

    It’s no coincidence that garbage disposals often break on Thanksgiving Day—or that the day after is Roto-Rooter’s busiest of the year. Poultry skin, potato peels, rice, celery, fats, and pumpkin pulp are clog culprits; it’s better to toss them in the garbage or compost what you can.

    Liquid grease solidifies when it cools, coating and clogging pipes. Collect grease in a jar and throw it away. In most cases if the disposal is broken and clogged, the sink won’t drain easily. So reach for a small hand-crank plumbing snake to push debris into the branch drain line, or try a plunger (accordion-style ones worked best in Consumer Reports' past tests). Cans of pressurized gas, sold at home centers and online, worked even better.

    For a double sink, put a drain cover over the drain you’re not plunging to allow the pressure you’re creating to work. Drain cleaner should be the last resort, and if it doesn’t do the trick, let a plumber know that it’s in the line so that he can protect himself against its caustic lye.

    To avoid hanging out with your plumber this holiday weekend consider these clog-preventing tips from Roto-Rooter.

    • Don't put fats or cooking oils down drains.
    • Do remove grease from pans with paper towels then toss.
    • Don't put stringy, fibrous, or starchy waste in your garbage disposal.
    • Do make sure the disposal is running when you toss in food.
    • Don't wait until disposal is full to use it.
    • Do ask weekend guests to wait 10 minutes between showers so slower drains have time to drain.
    • Don't flush cotton balls or swabs down the toilet. They cause clogs since they don't dissolve.

    And always ask your plumber if there's an extra holiday service fee. If you need a new garbage disposal, check our Ratings. Our past tests found some standouts. And in our toilet tests, we found some excellent models that resist clogging and still save water.

    —Kimberly Janeway

    Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide

    Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our countdown calendar for top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

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

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    All-New 2016 Chevrolet Volt Extends Its Appeal

    When the Chevrolet Volt was originally introduced at the end of 2010, it was part of a turning point for electric cars. Together with the Nissan Leaf, the Volt presented customers with an approachable mass-market electric car experience. The Volt added a significant measure of practicality and peace of mind with its gas engine that would kick in for longer distances. Now, five years later, the Volt enters its second generation as a more mature and capable car. It replaces the original Volt’s science experiment ambience with more conventional looks and expanded capability. While we’re waiting to take delivery of our own Volt, we rented one from GM for an initial taste.

    The 2016 Chevrolet Volt sees a battery capacity increase from 17.1 kWh (originally it was 16.5 kWh) to 18.4 kWh—that bumps the electric-only range from 35 miles to a claimed 53 miles. A new 1.5-liter engine replaces the previous 1.4-liter unit.  

    Pricing starts at $33,170 for the LT and goes up to $37,520 for the Premier version. That’s about a $6,000 price drop compared to the original Volt we tested in 2011. Plus, the Volt still benefits from the $7,500 federal tax incentive available to electric car buyers. That means that the effective purchase price will end up being about $26,500.

    While driving the 2016 Chevrolet Volt in late fall at temperatures of about 50 degrees, we observed an electric-only range of 48 miles without even trying. Once the battery level drops to a low level (about 20 percent), the car makes a commendably smooth transition to gas mode. In that mode, the car operates pretty much as a hybrid with sufficient electric power for low speed driving, typically up to 20 mph. In that mode alone we observed an average of 36 mpg. With the Volt’s small 8.9 gallon fuel tank, that translates to additional 320 miles range, in addition to the electric-only portion, for a total range of 370 miles. That puts the 2016 Chevrolet Volt almost on par with conventional cars. No range anxiety here.

    Regardless of mode, the Volt benefits from an immediate and smooth power delivery thanks to the electric motor’s torque. GM claims a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 8.4 seconds.

    With our 240-volt connector, we observed a charging time of 4.5 hours. A portable home kit allows for charging on regular household 120-volt line, but that will take at least twice as long. Even still, an overnight charge is still quite feasible.  

    Ride comfort and noise isolation are significantly improved in the new Volt. The suspension irons out just about any bumpy pavement, lending the car a more solid and mature feel than before. It is more quiet, with engine, wind, and road noise notably suppressed.

    Handling is sound and responsive in regular driving. But when you really want to maximize the electric range and refrain from slowing down for the corners, the car becomes a bit reluctant to cooperate. Some body lean and more steering input will be required. No one will confuse the Volt’s agility with that of a BMW i3, another electric car choice. On the other hand, brake pedal modulation feels more traditional now despite the regenerative braking feel that typically plagues EVs.

    The Volt retains its versatile hatchback configuration, even though it could pass for a sedan when viewed from a side profile. Moving up from the previous four-place configuration, the 2016 Chevrolet Volt is at least theoretically a five-passenger car. That middle position in the rear is largely symbolic, being more useful for a child seat than transporting an adult. On the Premier we tried, the console containing the cup holders and rear seat heater switches gobbled up any leg room.

    While we could get by without extra cupholders, those seat heaters are essential, because in an electric car, heat isn’t free; Cabin heat will always suck down the battery more rapidly. We found the heat output to be rather tepid, but thanks to quick-acting seat and steering wheel heaters we were able to keep comfortable. Unfortunately, there is no lumbar support adjustment even in the Premier trim line.

    Thankfully, the Volt’s new control layout is much more conventional. There are no more capacitive-touch buttons. Instead, there are rather conventional buttons for most functions and a prominent touch screen with a version of GM’s MyLink, which we found intuitive enough. Other instrumentation is much more EV-friendly now, including stats for MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). A mesmerizing, on-screen power flow diagram allows the driver to interact with the car and adopt economical driving habits.

    The 2016 Chevrolet Volt may not appear as radical as its predecessor, but with increased electric driving range, more conventional controls, and vastly improved refinement and livability, we embrace the changes wholeheartedly.

    We look forward to taking delivery of our own Volt and putting it through our tests.  

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

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    3 Dangers to Avoid in Packed Parking Lots

    As you navigate the mall parking lots during this holiday season, you may think that squeezing into an open space will be your biggest challenge. Think again. That’s because parking lots are not only rife with car accidents, but they are where most mall-related crime occurs. Drivers and walkers navigating the lot are vulnerable to being hit by cars and falling prey to theft. Also, unattended vehicles loaded with packages are open invitations for break-ins.

    Here’s some advice on how to keep safe and accident-free this holiday season.

    Be choosy where you park

    Finding the perfect parking spot during the bustling holiday season can be tough, but at least hunt down a spot in a populated area instead of settling on one in a dark, remote location, especially if you are alone. Parking in a well-lit area deters thieves. If you—or the kids—have to take valuables such as tablets, games, and mobile phones with you, take time to stow them away out of sight before you lock the car. Remember, nothing says "valuable electronics inside" more than those telltale charging cables. So hide those away, too.

    For more on parking-lot safety, read "5 Ways to Keep Your Car Secure While Holiday Shopping."

    Stay attentive to cars and pedestrians

    It's important to be on alert when you're driving in the parking lot, and walking to and from your car. Most people behind the wheel are so focused on finding a parking spot that they aren't watching what else is going on. Children can be very difficult to see in a busy parking lot, especially at night. An excited child can dart out from between cars and in front of you in an instant.

    When you are walking to and from your car, keep your head up and pay attention. Too often people walk with their face buried in their mobile phone, while checking e-mail, posting status updates, texting, or making calls. Watch for cars backing up. Remember that visibility is quite limited to the corners when backing up; make sure you are visible to drivers and be predictable. That includes looking to the front, side, and rear when walking to and from a store. Being aware of your surroundings lessens your chances of becoming a victim or getting struck by a car.

    Keep calm and use your mirrors and camera

    Chances are you're going to be parking between an SUV and minivan at least once this season. Being flanked by large vehicles makes it especially difficult to back out of parking spots, because you can't see the cars or pedestrians in the travel lanes. If you are driving a sedan, it's even worse, because you aren't sitting high enough to see through the windows of larger vehicles. So make sure you rely on all of your rearview mirrors and, if you have one, your backup camera. Use them together to avoid backing out in front of a vehicle, backing over a child or adult pedestrian, or even bumping into a shopping cart that broke free from the herd. And if you’re shopping for a car, consider one equipped with cross-traffic alert.

    Everyone tends to be in a rush during the holidays, but taking your time and being conscientious in your actions can help keep the season happy for yourself and others.

    —Jon Linkov

    See our holiday gift ideas and Black Friday guide.

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

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  • 11/23/15--09:44: The Most Fuel-Efficient Cars
  • The Most Fuel-Efficient Cars

    Fuel economy is an important factor to consider when buying a new car, even when gas prices are down—they won't stay that way forever. Many conventional cars today offer impressive fuel economy, especially in contrast to what you may be trading in. Further, alternative powertrains offer an increasing arrary of choices, with diesels, electrics, and hybrids each carry appeal for different drivers.  

    Measuring fuel economy is among our more than 50 tests we conduct on each car we purchase. Our fuel economy numbers are derived from a precision flow meter and are rounded to the nearest mile per gallon (mpg).

    CR's overall mileage is calculated from equal portions of city and highway driving.

    The chart that follows features the most fuel-efficient cars currently sold that Consumer Reports has tested (see our list of the most fuel-efficient SUVs). Also see our Ratings comparison by category (available to online subscribers), which lists each vehicle's overall mileage.

    Rank Make & model CR Overall MPG City MPG Highway MPG
    1 BMW i3 Giga 139* 135* 141*
    2 Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE 111* 104* 116*
    3 Ford Focus Electric 107* 108* 107*
    4 Nissan Leaf SL 106* 86* 118*
    5 Chevrolet Volt 99* / 32** 76* / 23** 118* / 41**
    6 Ford C-Max Energi 94* / 37** 87* / 36** 98* / 38**
    7 Tesla Model S P85D
    87* 64* 110*
    8 Tesla Model S (base, 85kWh) 84* 65* 102*
    9 Toyota Prius Four 44 32 55
    10 Toyota Prius C Two 43 37 48
    11 Toyota Prius V Three 41 33 47
    12 Lexus CT 200h Premium 40 31 47
    13 Honda Civic Hybrid 40 28 50
    14 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE 39 35 41
    15 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 38 32 43
    16 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 35 38
    17 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 29 45
    18 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    37 28 47
    19 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 29 43
    20 Lexus ES 300h 36 28 44
    21 Honda CR-Z EX (MT) 35 26 45
    22 Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 25 46
    23 BMW 328d xDrive 35 24 49
    24 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 34 29 38
    25 Scion iQ 34 27 40
    26 Fiat 500 Pop (MT) 34 25 42
    27 Fiat 500 Sport (MT) 33 24 42
    28 Honda Fit EX 33 24 42
    29 Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 23 45
    30 Ford Fiesta SE sedan 33 22 45

    * = MPGe
    ** = MPG on gas only

    When buying a car, in addition to research and reviews, Consumer Reports offers subscribers access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional cost. Through this service, a nationwide network of about 10,000 participating dealers provide upfront pricing information and a certificate to receive guaranteed savings off MSRP (in most states). The pricing information and guaranteed savings includes eligible incentives. Consumer Reports subscribers have saved an average of $2,919 off MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, and most fun to drive. Plus, check out our guide to fuel economy for gas saving tips.

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

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    Tricks That Help You Transport Holiday Dishes

    You’ve put a lot of work into baking a pie or a casserole for a party, and now you have to worry about packing it up and getting it there in one piece. Some foods—mac and cheese, cookies—travel well. But others, such as pies with delicate crusts and hors d’oeuvres, can easily get smooshed or slide off a serving dish and onto a driveway. To make sure your holiday dishes arrive safely, try these wrapping tricks from the test-kitchen experts at Consumer Reports plus Julie Carrion, executive chef at The Kitchen at Billings Forge in Hartford, Conn., and Cyd McDowell, a food stylist.

    Sides and salads

    Even holiday dishes that travel well, such as roasted or puréed veggies, need some TLC for transport. (Forget about salad greens, which can wilt, and boiled or steamed vegetables, which can suffer in reheating.) The key: Make sure to tape down pot lids. Blue painter’s tape won’t leave sticky stuff behind. And a drawer liner that grips can keep dishes from sliding around in your car.

    Deviled eggs

    Can’t get those eggs to sit still? To steady them (and other wobbly food) during transit, layer three damp paper towels on a tray and place eggs on top close together. Pack the tray in a cooler and keep it flat, not on the car’s backseat, which tilts.

    Crudites

    To keep veggies in place on a car trip, use what the pros call a caterer’s wrap. Instead of putting a sheet of plastic wrap over the dish, place the dish on top of the wrap, then twist the wrap as many times as you think necessary to hold everything down. Wrap the dip separately and arrange it on the platter at the party.

    Casseroles

    For keeping holiday dishes warm while you travel, you can try a couple of things. If you go to a lot of potluck events, consider buying an insulated casserole carrier; they cost about $15 and up. You can also line a cooler with towels, tuck your dish in, and then place extra towels around it for insulation and to help keep it steady for the trip.
    Bonus: The towels can also sop up any spills if something leaks. Just keep the cooler closed to hold the heat inside. No cooler? Cradle the dish in towels and put it in a flat-bottomed box to avoid tipping. Or spring for a slow cooker with a locking lid.

    Pies

    If you don’t have a special carrier, cover the pie with a metal pie plate secured with aluminum foil. For a pie with a delicate crust, cover it with a bowl taped to a baking sheet to keep it from sliding.

    Cupcakes

    If you make them a lot, a cupcake carrier with a plastic lid is a great way to keep frosting from getting squished during a sharp turn or from plastic wrap.
    Bonus: A carrier can also do double duty as a dip-and-sauce transporter. If you don’t have room to store one, Carrion suggests investing in baking pans with snap-on lids. Or save the clamshell containers from store-bought cupcakes to tote your own.

    Cakes

    Sheet cakes are the way to go; the flat shape and low center of gravity ensure safer transport. (Layers—and height in general—are a recipe for disaster.) But if a single layer won’t do, try this food stylist’s trick: Dab a tablespoon of jam on a serving plate, then assemble the cake on top. That helps to keep it from sliding. And put long wooden skewers through the layers to keep them intact and prevent plastic wrap from smudging the frosting.

    —Adapted from ShopSmart

    Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide

    Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our countdown calendar for top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

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

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  • 11/23/15--09:59: The Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs
  • The Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs

    SUVs are very versatile vehicles for transporting passengers and cargo, and now you don't have to sacrifice fuel economy to get the space you want. Many SUVs now have fuel economy on par with large sedans. There are a few hybrids and diesel SUVs, but regular gasoline engines can be gas sippers in SUVs, as well.

    Among Consumer Reports' more than 50 vehicle tests are fuel economy measurements. Our fuel economy numbers come from our measurements using a precision flow meter and are rounded to the nearest mile per gallon (mpg).

    Our overall mileage is calculated from equal portions of city and expressway driving.

    The chart that follows features the most fuel-efficient SUVs that Consumer Reports has tested. (See our list of the most fuel-efficient cars). Also see our Ratings comparison by category, which lists each vehicle's overall mileage. 

    Rank Make & model CR Overall MPG City MPG Highway MPG
    1 Lexus NX300h 29 23 34
    2 Honda HR-V LX 29 20 39
    3 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
    28 21 35
    4 Mazda CX-3 Touring
    28 20 36
    5 Lexus RX 450h 26 22 31
    6 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250
    26 19 35
    7 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 19 34
    8 Mini Countryman S 26 19 33
    9 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 26 18 35
    10 Hyundai Tucson Sport (1.6T) 26 18 35
    11 Mazda CX-5 Touring 2.5L 25 19 32
    12 Chevrolet Trax LT
    25 18 34
    13 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. 25 18 32
    14 Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 18 31
    15 Lexus NX 200t
    24 17 33
    16 Hyundai Tucson SE (2.0L) 26 18 35
    17 Jeep Grand Cherokee LImited (diesel)
    24 17 32
    18 Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 17 31
    19 Nissan Rogue 24 17 30
    20 Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 16 32
    21 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 23 17 30
    22
    BMW X1 xiDrive28i 23 16 32
    23 Buick Encore Leather 23 16 32
    24 Honda CR-V EX 23 16 32
    25 Fiat 500X Easy 23 16 31
    26 BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 16 30
    27 Kia Sportage LX (4-cyl.) 22 16 30
    28 Ford Escape SE
    22 15 31
    29 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.) 22 15 31
    30 Ford Escape Titanium
    22 15 29
    31 Jeep Compass Latitude 22 15 29
    32 Acura RDX 22 14 31
    33 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 21 16 27
    34 Kia Sportage SX (turbo) 21 15 29
    35 Nissan Murano SL
    21 15 29
    36 Jeep Patriot Latitude 21 15 28
    37 Lexus RX350 21 15 27
    38 Honda Crosstour EX-L 21 14 32
    39 Acura MDX Tech
    21 14 31
    40 Ford Edge SEL (2.0L EcoBoost) 21 14 31
    41 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT (4-cyl.) 21 14 30
    42 Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    21 14 30
    43 Audi Q5 Premium Plus 21 14 29
    44 Jeep Cherokee Limited (V6)
    21 14 29
    45 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 21 14 29
    46 BMW X5 xDrive35i 21 14 28
    47 Land Rover Discovery Sport
    21 14 28

    In addition to research and reviews, Consumer Reports offers subscribers access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional cost. Through this service, a nationwide network of about 10,000 participating dealers provide upfront pricing information, as well as a certificate to receive guaranteed savings off MSRP (in most states). The pricing information and guaranteed savings includes eligible incentives. Consumer Reports subscribers have saved an average of $2,919 off MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, and most fun to drive. Plus, check out our guide to fuel economy for gas saving tips.

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

    Subscribe now!
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  • 11/23/15--09:59: Best & Worst Fuel Economy
  • Best & Worst Fuel Economy

    The lists below highlight the vehicles within each category that achieved the best or worst gas mileage in our tests. We have selected mpg cutoffs that are relative to each category. For example, a vehicle that gets 19 mpg would not be a standout among wagons, but it would be among the highest in the midsized SUV or minivan categories. 

    Click through to each model overview page to find out how the vehicles rate in our road tests, reliability, safety, and more.

    Best

    Rank Make & Model Overall mpg City mpg Highway mpg
    FUEL-EFFICIENT HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 38 or higher 
    1 BMW i3 Giga
    139* 135* 141*
    2 Mitsubishi i-MiEV SE 111* 104* 116*
    3 Ford Focus Electric 107* 108* 107*
    4 Nissan Leaf SL 106 * 86 * 118 *
    5 Chevrolet Volt 99* / 32** 76* / 23** 118* / 41**
    6 Ford C-Max Energi 94* / 37** 87* / 36** 98* / 38**
    7 Toyota Prius Four 44 32 55
    8 Toyota Prius C Two 43 37 48
    9 Lexus CT 200h Premium 40 31 47
    * = MPGe
    **
    = MPG on gas engine only
    SUBCOMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 31 or higher
    1 Mitsubishi Mirage ES
    37 28 47
    2 Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 25 46
    3 Scion iQ 34 27 40
    4 Honda Fit EX 33 24 42
    5 Ford Fiesta SE sedan 33 22 45
    6 Hyundai Accent SE hatchback (MT) 32 24 40
    7 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback (MT) 32 23 42
    8 Toyota Yaris LE 32 23 41
    9 Nissan Versa SV sedan 32 23 40
    10 Nissan Versa Note SV 32 22 42
    11 Chevrolet Spark 1LT
    31 22 39
    12 Hyundai Accent GLS sedan 31 20 45
    COMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 29 or higher
    1 Honda Civic Hybrid 40 28 50
    2 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 29 45
    3 Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 23 45
    4 Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback
    32 24 41
    5 Toyota Corolla LE Plus 32 23 43
    6 Mini Cooper (3-cyl)
    31 22 41
    7
    Honda Civic EX
    30 21 40
    8 Volkswagen Jetta SE (1.8T) 30 21 39
    9 Nissan Sentra SV
    29 21 38
    10 Hyundai Elantra SE (1.8L) 29 20 39
    SPORTY CARS/ROADSTERS Overall mpg = 28 or higher (tested with manual transmission)
    1 Honda CR-Z EX 35 26 45
    2 Fiat 500c Pop 34 25 42
    3 Fiat 500 Sport 33 24 42
    4 Mini Cooper S 30 23 38
    5 Hyundai Veloster 31 24 37
    6 Scion FR-S 30 23 37
    7 Subaru BR-Z Premium 30 23 37
    8 Ford Fiesta ST
    29 21 36
    9 Honda Civic Si 29 20 39
    10 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn
    29 20 39
    11 Fiat 500 Abarth 28 21 34
    12 BMW Z4 sDrive28i 28 19 38
    MIDSIZED CARS Overall mpg = 26 or higher
    1 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 39 35 41
    2 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 38 32 43
    3 Mazda6 Sport 32 22 44
    4 Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 31 21 44
    5 Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.) 30 21 40
    6 Chrysler 200 Limited (4-cyl.)
    30 19 44
    7 Volkswagen Passat SE (1.8T)
    28 19 39
    8 Toyota Camry LE (4-cyl.) 28 19 38
    9 Hyundai Sonata SE (4.-cyl) 28 18 40
    10 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium 26 17 39
    11 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT 26 17 38
    12 Toyota Camry XLE (V6) 26 17 37
    13 Honda Accord EX-L (V6) 26 16 39
    UPSCALE/LUXURY CARS Overall mpg = 24 or higher
    1 Tesla Model S P85D 87* 64* 110*
    2 Tesla Model S (base, 85 kWh) 84* 65* 102*
    3 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 29 43
    4 Lexus ES 300h
    36 28 44
    5 BMW 328d xDrive
    35 24 49
    6 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 34 29 38
    7 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec
    30 21 41
    8 Audi A7 3.0 TDI 28 19 41
    9 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 28 19 39
    10 BMW 328i 28 19 39
    11 Acura ILX Premium 28 18 42
    12 Acura TLX 2.4L 27 18 41
    13 Audi A3 Premium
    27 18 40
    14 Buick LaCrosse Leather (4-cyl.) 26 18 39
    15 Mercedes-Benz C300 (AWD) 26 18 35
    16 Volkswagen CC Sport 26 18 35
    17 Nissan Maxima Platinum 25 17 36
    18 Audi A4 Premium 25 17 35
    19 Lexus ES 350 25 17 35
    20 Infiniti Q70 Hybrid 25 17 33
    21
    Acura TLX SH-AWD 25 16 36
    22 Toyota Avalon Limited 24 16 34
    23 Buick Verano Leather 24 16 33
    24 Buick Regal Premium I (turbo) 24 15 35
    WAGONS & HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 26 or higher
    1 Toyota Prius V Three 41 33 47
    2 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 35 38
    3 Ford Focus SEL 28 19 39
    4 Fiat 500L Easy 27 18 37
    5 Hyundai Elantra GT 27 18 37
    6 Kia Soul Plus 26 19 33
    7 Subaru Impreza Sport Premium 26 19 33
    SMALL SUVS Overall mpg = 22 or higher
    1 Lexus NX 300h 29 23 34
    2 Honda HR-V LX 29 20 39
    3 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid 28 21 35
    4 Mazda CX-3 Touring 28 20 36
    5 Mercedes-Benz GLA
    26 19 35
    6 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 19 34
    7 Mini Countryman S 26 19 33
    8 Subaru Forester 26 18 35
    9 Hyundai Tucson Sport (1.6T) 26 18 35
    10 Mazda CX-5 Touring (2.5L) 25 19 32
    11 Chevrolet Trax LT 25 18 34
    12 Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 18 31
    13 Lexus NX 200t 24 17 33
    14 Hyundai Tucson SE (2.0L) 24 17 32
    15 Nissan Rogue SV 24 17 30
    16 Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 16 32
    17 BMW X1 xDrive28i 23 16 32
    18 Buick Encore Leather 23 16 32
    19 Honda CR-V EX 23 16 32
    20 Fiat 500X Easy
    23 16 31
    21 BMW X3 xDrive28i 23 16 29
    22 Kia Sportage LX (4-cyl.) 22 16 30
    23 Ford Escape SE (1.6)
    22 15 31
    24 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.)
    22 15 31
    25 Ford Escape Titanium (2.0) 22 15 29
    26 Jeep Compass Latitude
    22 15 29
    27 Acura RDX 22 14 31
    MIDSIZED/LARGE SUVS Overall mpg = 18 or higher
    1 Lexus RX 450h 26 22 31
    2 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd.
    25 18 32
    3 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (diesel)
    24 17 32
    4 Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 17 31
    5 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 23 17 30
    6 Nissan Murano SL
    21 15 29
    7 Lexus RX 350 21 15 27
    8 Acura MDX Tech 21 14 31
    9 Ford Edge SEL (2.0L EcoBoost)
    21 14 31
    10 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT (4-cyl.) 21 14 30
    11 Kia Sorento EX (V6)
    20 13
    28
    12 BMW X5 xDrive 35i 21 14 28
    13 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 20 14 29
    14 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec
    20 14 28
    15 Volvo XC90 T6 Momentum 20 14 28
    16 Toyota Highlander XLE 20 14 27
    17 Honda Pilot EX-L 20 13 28
    18 Porsche Cayenne (base) 19 14 26
    19 Infiniti QX60 (3.5L) 19 13 26
    20 Mercedes-Benz ML350 18 13 25
    21 Nissan Pathfinder SL 18 13 25
    22 Infiniti QX70 18 13 24
    23 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE 18 13 23
    24 Cadillac SRX Luxury 18 12 26
    25 Ford Explorer XLT
    18 12 26
    26
    Chevrolet Equinox LTZ (V6)
    18 12 25
    27 Dodge Durango Limited (V6)
    18 12 25
    28 Ford Flex SEL
    18 12 25
    29 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6)
    18 12 24
    30 Toyota 4Runner SR5 (V6) 18 12 24
     MINIVANS Overall mpg = 19 or higher
    1 Ford Transit Connect XLT (2.5L)
    21 15 27
    2 Honda Odyssey 21 13 31
    3 Toyota Sienna XLE (FWD) 20 14 27
    4 Kia Sedona EX 20 13 28
    5 Toyota Sienna XLE (AWD) 19 13 24
    6 Nissan Quest SL 19 13 24
    PICKUPS Overall mpg = 16 or higher
    1 Ram 1500 Big Horn (diesel) 20 14 27
    2 Chevrolet Colorado LT (V6)
    18 13 26
    3 Toyota Tacoma (base, V6) 17 13 21
    4 Ford F-150 XLT (2.7 EcoBoost)
    17 12 22
    5 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT 16 11 23
    6 Ford F-150 XLT (3.5 EcoBoost) 16 11 22

     

    Worst

    Rank Make & Model Overall mpg City mpg Highway mpg
    SMALL CARS Overall mpg = 24 or less
    1 Scion xB 23 16 30
    ROADSTERS/SPORTY CARS Overall mpg = 17 or less
    1 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS convertible 17 11 25
    UPSCALE/LUXURY SEDANS Overall mpg = 18 or less
    1 Chevrolet SS 17 12 23
    2 BMW 750Li 18 12 25
    3 Mercedes-Benz S550 (AWD)
    18 12 28
    MIDSIZED/LARGE SUVS Overall mpg = 14 or less
    1 Nissan Armada Platinum 13 9 18
    2 Toyota Land Cruiser 14 10 20
    3 Ford Expedition EL 14 10 19
    MINIVANS Overall mpg = 17 or less
    1 Chrysler Town & Country Touring-L 17 11 27

     

    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including the most fuel-efficient SUVs, best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, and most fun to drive. Plus, check out our guide to fuel economy for gas saving tips.

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

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    Gas-Saving Vehicles with the Best Combination of Fuel Economy and Acceleration

    You don't always have to give up engine performance in return for good fuel economy. To prove this, Consumer Reports compiled this list of vehicles that provided the best combination of fuel economy and acceleration in our tests. Vehicles are ranked within each category based on the overall miles per gallon and 0-to-60-mph acceleration times they achieved in our tests. Both were weighted equally.

    For more on saving gas, see our guide to fuel economy.

    Best fuel economy and acceleration by category based on CR tests

    Make & model

    Fuel economy
    (overall mpg)

    Acceleration
    0-60 mph (sec.)

    FUEL-EFFICIENT HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 38 or higher; 0-60 mph = 12.0 or less
    BMW i3 Giga 139* 7.5
    Ford Focus Electric 107* 10.2
    Nissan Leaf SL
    106*
    10.3
    Chevrolet Volt
    99* / 32**
    9.4
    Ford C-Max Energi
    94* / 37** 8.1
    Toyota Prius Four
    44 10.6
    Toyota Prius C Two 43 11.3
    Lexus CT 200h Premium
    40 11.0
    *=MPGe, **=MPG on gas only    
    SUBCOMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 31 or higher; 0-60 mph = 12.0 or less    
    Ford Fiesta SE (3-cyl., MT)
    35 9.0
    Scion iQ 34 10.6
    Honda Fit EX 33 10.0
    Ford Fiesta SE sedan 33 10.9
    Hyundai Accent SE (MT) 32 8.5
    Nissan Versa SV sedan 32 10.6
    Ford Fiesta SES hatchback (MT) 32 10.7
    Toyota Yaris LE 32 10.8
    Hyundai Accent GLS 31 10.3
    Nissan Versa Note SV 31 10.9
    COMPACT CARS Overall mpg = 29 or higher; 0-60 mph = 11.0 or less
    Honda Civic Hybrid
    40 10.9
    Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE 37 8.1
    Mazda3 i Touring sedan 33 8.3
    Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback 32 8.2
    Toyota Corolla LE Plus 32 9.9
    Mini Cooper (3-cyl.) 31 8.3
    Volkswagen Jetta SE (1.8T) 30 8.5
    Honda Civic EX
    30 9.6
    Hyundai Elantra SE (1.8L) 29 9.5
    Nissan Sentra SV 29 9.7
    SPORTY CARS/ROADSTERS Overall mpg = 25 or higher; 0-60 mph = 7.5 or less (Manual unless otherwise noted)
    Mini Cooper S 30 7.0
    Scion FR-S 30 7.2
    Subaru BR-Z Premium 30 7.2
    Volkswagen GTI Autobahn 29 6.6
    Honda Civic Si 29 7.1
    Ford Fiesta ST
    29 7.3
    BMW Z4 sDrive28i 28 6.1
    Volkswagen GLI Autobahn 27 7.2
    Subaru Impreza WRX Premium 26 6.0
    Ford Mustang Premium (2.3L EcoBoost, auto)
    25 6.4
    Ford Focus ST 25 6.6
    BMW M235i 25 5.2
    MIDSIZED CARS Overall mpg = 24 or higher; 0-60 mph = 11.0 or less
    Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 39 8.3
    Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE
    38 7.6
    Mazda6 Sport 32 7.5
    Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 31 8.2
    Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.) 30 7.7
    Chrysler 200 Limited (4-cyl.)
    30 9.8
    Toyota Camry LE (4-cyl.) 28 8.6
    Volkswagen Passat SE (1.8T)
    28 8.6
    Hyundai Sonata SE (4-cyl.) 28 9.2
    Honda Accord EX-L (V6) 26 6.3
    Toyota Camry XLE (V6)
    26 6.4
    Chevrolet Malibu 1LT 26 8.1
    Chrysler 200 C (V6) 25 6.9
    Kia Optima LX 25 8.6
    Nissan Altima 3.5 SL (V6)
    24 6.3
    Kia Optima SX (turbo) 24 6.6
    Chevrolet Malibu 2LTZ 24 7.0
    Ford Fusion SE (1.5T) 24 9.2
    UPSCALE/LUXURY CARS Overall mpg = 23 or higher; 0-60 mph = 8.5 or less
    Tesla Model S P85D
    87* 3.5
    Tesla Model S (85 kWh) 84¹ 5.6
    Lexus ES 300h 36 8.2
    Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 8.2
    BMW 328d xDrive
    35 8.5
    Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec
    30 8.3
    BMW 328i 28 6.3
    Audi A7 3.0 TDI 28 6.6
    Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 28 6.6
    Acura ILX Premium 28 7.5
    Acura TLX 2.4L 27 7.4
    Audi A3 Premium 27 8.3
    Mercedes-Benz C300 (AWD) 26 6.8
    Volkswagen CC Sport
    26 7.5
    Infiniti Q70 (V6) 25 5.6
    Acura TLX SH-AWD 25 6.5
    Nissan Maxima Platinum 25 6.5
    Lexus ES 350 25 6.7
    Audi A4 Premium 25 7.2
    Volvo S60 T5 Drive-E
    25 7.9
    Toyota Avalon Limited 24 7.0
    Buick Regal Premium I (turbo)
    24 7.4
    Buick Verano Leather
    24 8.5
    BMW 535i 23 6.1
    Acura RLX Tech 23 6.5
    Cadillac ATS Luxury
    23 6.5
    Lincoln MKZ 2.0 Eco Boost 23 7.4
    SMALL SUVS Overall mpg = 21 or higher; 0-60 mph = 11.0 or less
    Honda HR-V LX 29 10.5
    Mazda CX-3 Touring 28 9.6
    Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid 28 10.1
    Mercedes-Benz GLA250
    26 6.9
    Mini Cooper Countryman S 26 8.3
    Hyundai Tucson Sport (1.6T) 26 8.4
    Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium 26 8.7
    Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium 26 9.7
    Mazda CX-5 Touring (2.5L) 25 8.0
    Chevrolet Trax LT 25 10.8
    Toyota RAV4 XLE 24 9.0
    Nissan Rogue SV 24 9.5
    Jeep Renegade Latitude 24 9.9
    Hyundai Tucson SE (2.0L) 24 11.0
    BMW X3 xDrive 28i 23 7.3
    BMW X1 xDrive28i 23 6.8
    Buick Encore Leather 23 11.0
    Honda CR-V EX 23 9.2
    Fiat 500X Easy    
    Acura RDX 22 6.6
    Ford Escape Titanium (2.0) 22 8.2
    Ford Escape SE (1.6) 22 9.9
    Jeep Compass Latitude 22 10.3
    Kia Sportage LX 22 10.3
    Jeep Cherokee Latitude (4-cyl.)
    22 10.9
    Mercedes-Benz GLK350 21 6.1
    Kia Sportage SX (turbo)
    21 7.1
    Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Pure 21 7.2
    Jeep Cherokee Limited (V6)
    21 7.7
    Audi Q5 Premium Plus 21 7.9
    Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 21 8.5
    Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE
    21 8.6
    Jeep Patriot Latitude 21 10.3
    MIDSIZED SUVS Overall mpg = 18 or higher; 0-60 mph = 9.5 or less
    Lexus RX 450h 26 7.7
    Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd.   25 8.3
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (diesel)
    24 8.6
    Volkswagen Touareg TDI 24 8.4
    Acura MDX Tech 21 6.8
    Lexus RX 350 21 7.3
    BMW X5 xDrive 35i 21 7.4
    Kia Sorento EX (V6) 21 7.4
    Nissan Murano SL
    21 7.7
    Ford Edge SEL   21 8.8
    Honda Pilot EX-L
    20 7.5
    Toyota Highlander XLE 20 7.5
    Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 20 7.6
    Porsche Cayenne (base) 19 7.8
    Infiniti QX60 (3.5L) 19 8.3
    Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE
    18 6.5
    Mercedes-Benz ML350 18 6.8
    Infiniti QX70 18 6.8
    Cadillac SRX Luxury 18 7.1
    Chevrolet Equinox LTZ (V6) 18 7.1
    Nissan Pathfinder SL 18 7.7
    Toyota 4Runner SR5 (V6) 18 7.7
    Ford Explorer XLT 18 7.9
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6) 18 8.0
    LARGE SUVS Overall mpg = 15 or higher; 0-60 mph = 10.0 or less
    Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 20 8.2
    Dodge Durango Limited (V6)
    18 9.4
    Ford Flex SEL 18 8.5
    Cadillac Escalade Premium
    16 6.1
    Chevrolet Tahoe LT 16 7.7
    Chevrolet Suburban LTZ 16 7.9
    Chevrolet Traverse LT 16 8.8
    Infiniti QX80 15 6.9
    Lincoln Navigator Base
    15 7.0
    Toyota Sequoia Limited 15 7.1
    Buick Enclave CXL 15 7.9
    MINIVANS Overall mpg = 19 or higher; 0-60 mph = 9.0 or less
    Honda Odyssey EX-L 21 8.4
    Toyota Sienna XLE (FWD) 20 8.8
    Kia Sedona EX 20 8.0
    Nissan Quest SL 19 8.4
    Toyota Sienna XLE (AWD) 19 8.5
    PICKUP TRUCKS Overall mpg = 15 or higher; 0-60 mph = 10.0 or less
    Ram 1500 Big Horn (diesel)
    20 9.5
    Toyota Tacoma (base, V6) 17 7.6
    Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT 16 7.5
    Toyota Tundra SR5 (5.7, V8) 15 6.7
    Ram 1500 Big Horn (V8) 15 7.1
    Chevrolet Colorado LT (V6)
    18 7.5
    Ford F-150 XLT (3.5L EcoBoost)
    16 7.2
    WAGONS/HATCHBACKS Overall mpg = 23 or higher; 0-60 mph = 11.0 or less
    Toyota Prius V Three 41 10.7
    Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 8.4
    Ford Focus SEL hatchback
    28 9.3
    Fiat 500L Easy
    27 9.5
    Hyundai Elantra GT 27 9.8
    Kia Soul Plus 26 8.8
    Subaru Impreza Sport Premium 26 9.4
    Subaru Outback 2.5i
    24 10.5
    Scion xB 23 9.4
    Mazda5 Grand Touring 23 9.6

     

    Best and worst new cars

    See our best and worst section to help filter down your purchase considerations including best new cars under $25K, best and worst new car values, and most fun to drive. Plus, check out our guide to fuel economy for gas saving tips.

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

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    What to Do After a Car Accident

    Whatever your reactions after a car accident (cursing might be the first), it’s vital to keep a clear head. These 10 steps could reduce the risk of further damage or injury, prevent hassles, and save you money later on.

    You might want to keep this list in the glove compartment, just in case.

    1. NEVER leave the scene of an accident until you have exchanged information and (if necessary) talked to authorities. If you leave too early, you may be subject to criminal charges.
    2. Double-check yourself and your passengers to make sure no one is hurt. Even a minor fender bender can cause injuries that are not immediately noticeable. Summon medical help if there is even the slightest doubt. If someone is unconscious or has neck or back pain, do not move them unless they are in immediate danger.
    3. If there is a fire, or if you smell gasoline, get everyone out of the car as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that what looks like smoke doesn't necessarily mean fire. Some airbags are coated in cornstarch or talcum powder, and will produce a (harmless) white cloud when they deploy. Front-end collisions often damage the vehicle's radiator, causing coolant to escape as steam.
    4. If the accident is minor, move your car out of traffic. Turn off the ignition (even if the car is not running) and set the parking brake. Turn on the hazard flashers and put out warning triangles or flares, if you have them.
    5. Stand a safe distance away from the road and the vehicles while you talk to other drivers or wait for help.
    6. Call the police, especially if there has been substantial damage, if anyone is injured, or if someone is acting confrontational. Ask for the investigating officer’s name and contact information, and request the accident report number so that you can follow up. Some states require a police report if there are any injuries or damages beyond a specific monetary amount.
    7. Stay calm. Don’t admit blame and don't argue over who is at fault.
    8. Obtain the name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, plate number, and insurance information of any other drivers involved in the accident, along with the names of anyone with injuries and any witnesses. You can use your cell phone camera to photograph plates, driver's licenses, registration, and insurance cards.
    9. If possible, take photos of the scene and the damage to the vehicles. You may want to photograph the area of the accident to show skid marks or other evidence of what  happened. Draw a diagram showing the cars’ positions while the accident is still fresh in your mind.
    10. Contact your insurer right away. You should find a phone number for the claims department on your insurance card.

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

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    Best Small Appliances for Making Brunch

    Mention brunch, and it’s sure to get some people whipped up. Paying $15 for a mediocre omelette after waiting in a long line is nuts, they’ll argue. Brunch at home is the way to go, especially if your guests are staying over this holiday season. Here’s a look at the best waffle maker, skillet, juicer, and more from Consumer Reports’ tests.

    Cuisinart Breakfast Central Belgian Waffle Maker WAF 300, $100
    All six waffle makers Consumer Reports tested turned out perfectly good waffles, but the Cuisinart (shown below) served up plate after plate of Belgian waffles that were nicely and evenly cooked on both sides, whether on low or high heat. A beep alerts you that the waffle maker is ready to cook and again when the waffles are done—handy when you’re doing several things at once. See our full report for a look at all six waffle makers and our favorite recipe, Aretha Frankenstein’s Waffles of Insane Greatness. We found it on the Food52 website. 

    Cuisinart Crystal SCC-1000 Limited Edition coffeemaker, $200
    Accented with sparkling crystals, this drip coffeemaker was the only one in our tests that can brew a full 14 cups. It served up top brewing and the carafe was easy to hold and pour from. The coffeemaker is programmable, with both a small-batch setting and brew-strength control. Prefer a coffeemaker without the bling? See our coffeemaker Ratings for more choices.  

    Heart Stereo Blend coffee, $18 a pound
    Of the 10 coffee blends we tested from boutique roasters and mail order suppliers, Heart Stereo was the winner. It's a bright clean cup of java with big flavor and a fairly strong aroma. A complex blend of citrus and chocolate notes, consider sipping and savoring without milk or sugar. At $18 a pound, a 6-ounce-cup of coffee costs 44 cents (based on manufacturer's preparation instructions). Most other coffees we tested have a similar price per cup.

    Juiceman JM8000S juicer, $100
    A cinch to use, and you won’t have to waste time cutting up fruits and vegetables since even an apple the size of a tennis ball can fit through the feed tube. The rapidly whirling disk cuts the fruits and vegetables into tiny pieces that are then spun to separate juice from pulp. The juice comes out fairly frothy, like all extractors, due to the high speed of the cutting blades. But the blades can handle carrots, beets, and other harder produce. Check out all our juicer Ratings to compare models.

    Cuisinart CPT-440 four-slice toaster, $100
    This four-slice toaster has a sleek stainless finish and delivers evenly browned toast almost every time. A push-button operated motorized lift raises and lowers the toast. There’s an LCD countdown timer and a beep signals when the toast is ready. Settings for bagels, defrost, and warm/reheat are part of the deal. For a look at all the two- and four-slice toasters in our tests, see our full toaster Ratings.

    Swiss Diamond Classic 10-inch nonstick frying pan, $90
    Made of aluminum and with a lifetime warranty, this skillet cooked food evenly. And food released easily when it was new, so cleanup was a snap. This pan was very good at withstanding our nonstick durability test in which steel wool is rubbed over a pan for up to 2,000 strokes. The handle is sturdy and stays cool to the touch. If you think $90 is too much for a frying pan, then look at the $40 Calphalon Simply Nonstick 10-inch Omelette Pan. It's a CR Best Buy. Cooking evenness was even better, but the frying pan’s handle wasn’t as sturdy or comfortable.

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

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  • 11/24/15--03:00: How to Fire Your Bank
  • How to Fire Your Bank

    It’s not easy to switch banks. That’s partly because today’s digital banking is superconvenient, with checking, savings, and other accounts linked together at the same bank. Direct deposit, automatic bill pay, and other services bind customers to their bank even tighter. And bank-account closing fees, rules, and other hassles are just enough of an obstacle for most folks to give in to inertia.

    But it shouldn’t be that way. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has called on Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to remove those obstacles. Banks should make it easier for consumers to transfer funds, automatic bill pay, and direct deposits to new accounts; eliminate unfair fees for closing accounts; and be prohibited from reopening closed “zombie” accounts. But until regulators take action, here’s how to switch banks as painlessly as possible:

    1. Open a new checking account as a secondary one at your new credit union, virtual bank, or smaller regional or community bank without closing the existing one. For virtual banks, that’s a relatively easy online process; for the others, the process may take 30 minutes to an hour and require a deposit of $50 or less.

    2. While you’re waiting for your debit card to come, contact your employer to move the direct deposit of your paycheck to the new institution (it may take a few weeks).

    That may also make you eligible for free checking. If you really want to get the new account up and running fast, use the old bank’s online bill pay to transmit funds to the new account, or write a check from the old account to deposit into the new one—but see steps 3 and 4 first.


    More on Banks

    Choose the Best Bank for You
    • How Secure Is Your Bank Account?
    • Spread Your Wealth to Save Money
    • Is a Prepaid Card an Alternative to Checking?
    • Join Our Fight for Better Banking Services
    • Bank and Credit Union Buying Guide and Ratings



    3. 
    Stop auto bill payments. That can be easily done online if you have been using the bank’s bill-pay feature, where you control when so-called “push” payments are sent out. If you auto-pay by authorizing a payee to “pull” the payment from your account, you’ll need to contact the company and follow its procedures for stopping payment. Then we recommend that you never use that method again, so that you retain complete control of your account.

    4. Keep the old account open at least until the last check you have written from it clears.

    5. Set up the additional features you need for the new account after the direct-deposit flow starts there, including online bill pay, mobile banking, and alerts.

    6. Go to your old bank to close your account. Zero out any remaining balance by having the old bank electronically transfer the funds to your new account, or by obtaining a cashier’s check or cash. There should be no fee to close accounts you have had for more than a few months.


    Editor's Note:
     This article also appeared in the January 2016 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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  • 11/24/15--03:00: Choose the Best Bank for You
  • Choose the Best Bank for You

    The glass-sided Umpqua Bank branch on Sansome Street in San Francisco’s Financial District could easily be mistaken for an upscale community center. Umpqua, a small, regional bank that operates mainly on the West Coast, tailors its “stores” (its name for branches) to the communities where they’re located. So the Sansome branch regularly hosts events for its clientele—mostly young professionals—including yoga and networking get-togethers. The Noe Valley branch across town, which caters to a more family-oriented customer base, sometimes calls in its ice-cream truck to serve free treats. The bank considers these events part of “Umpqua life,” and the goal is to connect with customers in ways beyond banking.

    But at Umpqua, even conventional banking is conducted unconventionally. For example, customers fill out deposit slips at a “banking bar” that looks like the reception desk at a fancy hotel, and when they need to sign something, a “universal associate” might pass them free cookies or a cup of Umpqua’s proprietary blend coffee along with a pen.

    In contrast, many customers of USAA bank would be hard-pressed to find a branch at all. The San Antonio-based bank has just 20 nationwide compared with Umpqua’s 331 (or Chase’s more than 5,400). That’s because USAA, which mainly serves military families scattered all over the U.S. and the world, doesn’t put much emphasis on face-to-face contact. It operates primarily as an online bank; most customers transact business via computers, smartphones, telephone call centers, and ATMs. Account holders can get free checking without maintaining a minimum balance, and they can pay bills online, use debit cards, and withdraw cash fee-free at more than 65,000 networked ATMs nationwide.

    Those two seemingly opposite approaches to retail banking—one lifestyle oriented, the other digital and largely transactional—have one thing in common: both lead to highly satisfied customers. In fact, Umpqua and USAA were among the better-rated banks in our survey of more than 49,000 subscribers, who provided more than 74,000 bank and credit-union ratings.


    More on Banks

    • How Secure Is Your Bank Account?
    • How to Fire Your Bank
    • Spread Your Wealth to Save Money
    • Is a Prepaid Card an Alternative to Checking?
    • Join Our Fight for Better Banking Services
    Bank and Credit Union Buying Guide and Ratings



    That’s not the case for the largest banks. The past 30 years have brought a wave of consolidation as large banks have grown even larger through mergers or by gobbling up smaller banks in acquisition sprees. Now about 40 percent of all U.S. commercial bank assets are held by just four mega banks: Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo. Large banks have the marketing muscle to heavily advertise, put their names on sports stadiums, sponsor tennis tournaments, and open branches in expensive neighborhoods. Those efforts get them the lion’s share of public attention, but that doesn’t seem to help when it comes to customer satisfaction. All four mega banks scored in the bottom fifth of our overall rankings, though as a group, our readers were still satisfied with them in general.

    What are smaller institutions like Umpqua and USAA doing that the mega banks aren’t? There’s no single answer, but our survey suggests that the little guys benefit by focusing on the unique needs of their customers. In Umpqua’s case, that means in-person service and community engagement. USAA uses technology to offer virtual customer service and low fees.

    Those two banks aren’t anomalies. Despite all of the consolidation, there’s still a remarkable amount of choice and innovation in the banking industry. Our survey found more than 60 smaller banks—including ones that operate mostly online—and credit unions that provide compelling alternatives for customers dissatisfied by or uninterested in big banks. For those who do appreciate the nationwide reach and convenience of many branches, one of the big four banks may well be the best option.

    The good news in banking is that consumers have options; no one has to settle for merely acceptable service. Moreover, consumers who were unwilling or unable to open bank accounts because of high fees and minimum balance requirements now have more options than they may realize. If you like your current bank and feel like sticking with it, great. But read on, because we’ll help you structure your accounts to make sure you’re getting the lowest fees and highest interest rates possible. And if you feel like ditching your bank, our survey Ratings can help you find a better one.

    Here’s a guide to help you understand your options:

    Mega Banks: Best for Convenience, Technology, Security

    Pros
    Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo have a significant nationwide presence: a combined 17,000-plus branches and more than 80,000 fee-free ATMs coast to coast, including some located in supermarkets, drugstores, and convenience stores. “For the 40 percent of our customers who live paycheck to paycheck, it’s all about convenience,” says Thong Nguyen, president of retail banking at Bank of America. He says they think about “how fast can I deposit money and have access conveniently, seamlessly, and with no surprises,” such as unexpected holds or fees.

    To achieve that, big banks offer state-of-the-art digital banking platforms. And because high-profile brands are under constant attack by cyber criminals, mega banks have sophisticated security systems, according to a 2015 study by the Government Accountability Office. The biggest ones are also more likely to deploy advanced security measures, such as fingerprint log-in for mobile banking. Wells Fargo is experimenting with voice- and face-authentication systems. Keeping your accounts safe means less hassle for you and lower fraud costs passed on to all depositors.

    Cons
    All that cutting-edge technology isn’t always enough to stay ahead of the bad guys, as evidenced by the theft of identifying information from 76 million Chase households in 2014. (Chase maintains that no actual fraudulent activity resulted from that breach.) And despite the popularity of online and mobile banking, consumers still go to branches to interact with tellers or bankers. But for customer service, the Big Four banks landed near the bottom of our rankings, with only middling ratings in that area.

    Nguyen of Bank of America admits that smaller banks often have an advantage because of their more personalized knowledge of their customers. He says his bank is working on developing a more “intimate” experience by hiring more specialists and full-time tellers in its branches.

    “Branches absolutely remain an important part of how we serve customers,” says Andrew Brent, a Citibank spokesman. “We are aware that today’s consumers have new and heightened expectations of what the branch experience should be.” Wells Fargo said it puts more stock in its own customer surveys. Chase declined to comment about our findings.

    Big-bank banking can also be pricey. Although our readers reported that free checking is widely available, 57 percent who had such an account at a big bank had to meet minimum balance requirements, compared with only 49 percent at smaller banks, 25 percent at credit unions, and 13 percent at primarily online banks. That’s because credit unions, for example, tend to offer absolutely free checking regardless of account balances.

    Credit Unions: Best for In-Person Customer Service, Lower Costs

    Pros
    Credit unions are among the highest-rated services we’ve ever evaluated, with 93 percent of their customers highly satisfied, on average, vs. 69 percent for the four biggest national banks. That satisfaction is driven by good customer service, not surprising when you consider that credit unions are owned and managed by their members.

    Unlike profit-making banks, credit unions are tax-exempt. Members usually have access to free checking, slightly higher interest rates on certificates of deposit, and significantly lower rates for credit card and auto loans. About 80 percent of credit unions offer free checking vs. only about half of conventional banks, according to Moebs Services, a bank research firm in Lake Forest, Ill.

    However, fees still creep in because of overdrafts and other charges. But on average, credit-union members pay annually only $71 per year for checking while bank customers pay $183, according to a study of all transactions and fees in more than 16,000 bank and credit-union accounts by Victor Stango and Jonathan Zinman, professors at the University of California, Davis, and Dartmouth College, respectively.

    And while big banks romance well-to-do customers, credit unions reach out to help underserved communities. Because of their nonprofit status and mission to serve members, “credit unions provide the best alternative for the ‘underbanked,’ since our fees and account requirements are lower or less stringent,” says Joe Fagenstrom, a spokesman for Star One, a credit union in Santa Clara County, Calif.

    Cons
    The average credit union has only three branches; some larger ones, such as those in our Ratings, have many more. But the members of 3,500 credit unions can access account information and cash through systems such as the CO-OP network of 30,000 fee-free ATMs. And members of certain credit unions can also use a network of 5,000 branches nationwide that have tellers. Internet banking is another option, but credit unions tend to trail banks in their digital offerings.

    Another inconvenience: Membership eligibility is limited because credit unions are often linked to an employer or a group, such as a labor union or church. But community-based credit unions have more relaxed rules, and almost anyone is potentially eligible to join a credit union somewhere. To find one (and check eligibility), go to mycreditunion.gov.

     

    Primarily Online Banks: Best for Online Customer Service, Higher Savings Rates, Lower Costs

    Pros
    Like credit unions, banks that operate mostly online earned the highest overall satisfaction levels we’ve seen for any service, with 93 percent of customers highly satisfied. How do those virtual institutions make customers happy when little or no face-to-face interaction is involved? With technology.

    As primarily digital organizations born in the Internet age, virtual banks have the edge when it comes to connecting with customers electronically. Our data found that customers at traditional banks were twice as likely as virtual-bank customers to express frustration with time-consuming automated voice systems, problems with online transactions, or confusing websites. Taking a wide variety of potential problems into account, just 11 percent of the customers of virtual banks complained about the service they received, but 14 percent of credit-union customers, 25 percent of people who used smaller traditional banks, and 32 percent of those who banked at the Big Four did.

    Virtual banks also provide significantly higher yields on savings products. Big banks such as Chase and Wells Fargo were paying only 0.01 percent in annual interest on money in basic savings accounts last November, but online Ally Bank was paying a full 1 percent. That means $25 in earnings over a year for $2,500 on deposit at Ally vs. just 25 cents from Chase and Wells. For a five-year CD, Ally was paying a 2 percent annual yield; Bank of America, 0.15 percent. On a $10,000 deposit, the yield after 5 years with Ally would be $1,052 vs. $75 with Bank of America.

    Customers at traditional banks may have to use their own bank’s ATMs to avoid fees, but withdrawals are free at USAA’s 65,000 Preferred ATMs, which are part of the Allpoint, MoneyPass, and PNC Bank networks. (USAA pays the networks so that its members can use their ATMs.) Capital One 360 also waives ATM fees at the 40,000 machines in its network. Schwab lets customers use any bank’s ATMs and gives them unlimited reimbursements for the fees charged.

    Cons
    If you prefer in-person contact at a walk-in branch from time to time, an online bank is probably not for you.

     

    Smaller Regional and Community Banks: Best for Personal Service

    Pros
    Because they’re more community-based, smaller banks tend to focus more on relationships, and their customers like that. In our survey, 77 percent of respondents were highly satisfied with them.

    Some small banks know that one-on-one engagement is a valuable distinction. When customers phone the 24-hour call center of Frost Bank, a top-rated Texas regional, they get Lone Star State hospitality. “We don’t send you through a call tree to push this number, that number,” says Paul Olivier, its chief consumer banking officer. “Our phones are answered by a human being.”

    Community banks also provide critical capital to local economies; they’re leading providers of credit to entrepreneurs and small businesses. Depending on where you live, a community bank may be your only brick-and-mortar option in any case. They serve 600 counties in the U.S. where there’s no big-bank presence.

    Cons
    Most community banks have only about four to seven branches, according to the Independent Community Bankers of America. And some of them may not be part of a network of ATMs, which could be a major inconvenience and expense when you’re away from home.

    And not all of the smaller banks in our survey rated well. HSBC, which has branches in 10 states plus Washington, D.C., had the lowest overall satisfaction score, doing poorly in customer service, complaints, and fee increases. But Rob Sherman, an HSBC spokesman, said, “We are continuously evaluating our service programs and making improvements to enhance the customer experience.”


    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the January 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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    Flagship Reborn: Driving the Turbocharged 2017 Mazda CX-9

    Mazda has redesigned its three-row SUV for 2017, moving the CX-9 to the company’s latest vehicle architecture. Among the notable changes, the all-new flagship vehicle brings a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and significant weight reduction. Although it is not on sale until next summer, we had a chance to drive on right after its world debut at the 2015 Los Angeles auto show.

    In the process of moving the CX-9 to Mazda’s current engineering philosophy called Skyactive (as demonstrated with the compact 3, midsized 6, and CX-5 small SUV), the CX-9 has shed some 250 pounds, partly due to jettisoning the heavy-and-thirsty 3.7-liter V6. The diet allowed adding some sound insulation to achieve a quiet cabin—a trait typically not associated with Mazda. With a slightly shorter overall length than the outgoing CX-9, the latest iteration gains a couple of inches in the wheelbase. While it has a more dynamic stance, the third-row seat appears to be less roomy than before.

    Acknowledging the notion that small-displacement turbocharged engines don’t deliver the real-world fuel economy expected of them, Mazda Vehicle Development Engineer Dave Coleman explains that the development team focused on drivability and fuel economy rather than trying to hit a specific number in terms of horsepower. And, in an unusually candid way, Mazda specifies two horsepower ratings: 227 hp for regular fuel and 250 hp for premium. Peak torque of 310 lb.-ft. is available from 2000 rpm, intended to provide a smooth and effortless power delivery: more on that later.  

    Mazda is not new to turbocharging, but in the process of expanding this technology beyond sports cars, it had to learn some lessons the hard way. Several previous attempts at turbocharging were less than stellar. The 2006 CX-7, for instance, suffered from so much turbo lag that it could leave you in an awkward situation, such as in the middle of an intersection, craving more acceleration.

    On our roughly 20-mile semi-suburban drive route, the CX-9 delivered smooth propulsion with readily available power. The six-speed automatic provided smooth, timely shifts and prompt downshifts for passing and climbing hills. The only situation where the car felt momentarily unresponsive was when coming to almost a full stop with the intention of resuming progress immediately. This hesitancy tends to plague several models with small displacement turbo engines. The ultimate, oft-elusive, goal for the small turbos is fuel economy. This an area that the CX-9 needs to make significant gains, as the last model returned just 16 mpg.

    That this rather sizable three-row SUV drives like a much smaller vehicle is commendable. The body remains even keel during cornering, and the car seems unfazed even when rushing it on curvy, hilly terrain. The steering is linear, nicely weighted, and not overly responsive lendning the SUV an athletic, confidence-inspiring demeanor. 

    There’s an underlying firmness to the ride that makes the the 2017 Mazda CX-9 feel crisp and alert. And yet, the suspension effectively manages to absorb and filter out bumps and ruts—an impressive feat given that our car was rolling on wide 20-inch tires with a rather short sidewall. Regardless of the surface, the ride remained steady and settled during our drive.

    Noise levels were kept at bay even though one is aware of the road texture with a low level hiss. While no one will perceive the engine to be a smooth, lush V6, the turbo four sounded relatively polished and inoffensive.

    With the 2017 Mazda CX-9, Mazda will offer a more upscale trimline above the Grand Touring, called Signature. As such, the interior looks warm and inviting. Matte wood trim inlays have curvatures that Mazda says were fabricated by Japanese artisans who specialize in making guitars. The leather seats are well-shaped, attractive looking, and supportive. Too bad the passenger side doesn’t get a lumbar adjustment.

    The rear seat is roomy with generous leg room and supports good posture. One can also slide it fore and aft. Access to the third-row seat is facilitated by pulling a lever, which helps slide the rear seat section and is mirrored on the other side. Mazda says production cars will have a mechanism that allows sliding a rear seat section while a child seat is attached.

    The control layout consists of what has become a Mazda standard—a central controller that interfaces with a screen and lets you manage audio, phone and navigation functions. The system has a learning curve to master, but it ultimately proves logical.

    Apparently Mazda engineers prevailed over the marketing guys in choosing not to offer an extra-large sunroof. Although customers love this feature, it adds weight and compromises body rigidity, so there’s only a regular-aperture sunroof for the CX-9.

    The 2017 Mazda CX-9 will compete directly against three-row SUVs such as Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, and Toyota Highlander. Prices are expected to be in line with the current model which range from the mid $30,000s to the low $40,000s. So far, the new CX-9 seems to successfully blend style, driving enjoyment, and family friendly utility.

    The 2017 Mazda CX-9 goes on sale in early summer 2016. We'll buy one for a full road test as soon as we can. 

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    Streaming Device Shootout: Which New Player Is Tops?

    It's probably true that many people get a streaming device such as an Apple TV or Roku because they want to make a non-connected TV smart. But I have a confession to make: I have three smart TVs at home, and yet a standalone streaming device is attached to every one of them.

    There are a few reasons for this. One is that our bedroom TV doesn't offer access to Amazon Prime videos or music, which we use frequently. Another is that many dedicated players, especially newer models, are simply more adept at streaming movies and TV shows, the main things I do with my smart TVs. The latest streaming devices are faster and have the latest dual-band Wi-Fi, and their menus are easier to navigate. They sometimes have access to more content, and they often do a better job of organizing search, especially across multiple services.

    But whether you're looking to add smarts to a non-connected TV, or simply find that the streaming experience on a current Internet TV leaves something to be desired, you might be looking to get a streaming device this holiday season. And with prices starting as low as $35, these gadgets make a great gift for a friend or family member who enjoys watching TV shows and movies.

    But with all the choices now available, you might be wondering which model is best. We recently completed our tests on several of the newest streaming devices, including the new Apple TV (4th generation), the updated Amazon Fire TV, the redesigned Chromecast, and the Roku 4. After you read our review here, check our streaming media player buying guide and Ratings, which contain comprehensive hands-on evaluations of about 20 different models. 

    Apple TV ($150/$200)

    Apple TV has always made sense for those who already live in Apple's world, but the platform was starting to feel stale. Now a new Apple TV kicks that impression to the curb with a faster processor, Siri voice and gesture control, and a cool new Bluetooth touchscreen remote that has an accelerometer and gyro for gesture-based controls and games. Also noteworthy is the news is that Apple is opening up its app market to outside developers for apps ranging from games, to fitness and wellness titles, to shopping. Unfortunately, the updates come at a price: at $150 for a 32GB version and $200 for the 64GB model, Apple is now among the priciest of the players.  Also, it still doesn't have direct access to Amazon Prime. Next time we fire up the player I'm going to ask, "Siri, why can't the new Apple TV sell for $100?"

    Amazon Fire TV ($100)

    We like the fact that the new Amazon Fire TV (2nd generation) gets a few nifty upgrades—namely support for 4K video and Amazon's Alexa voice-powered digital assistant—but retains its predecessor's $100 price. (There's also a $140 gaming edition with more memory and a game controller.) We also like the Fire TV's speedy performance, which comes courtesy of a faster main processor and a dedicated graphics processor, and its 802.11ac Wi-Fi. It's no surprise you can search for content by speaking into the remote control's microphone, but you can also ask Alexa for all kinds of information, ranging from sports scores and traffic updates to music selections. We're not quite as hot on the fact that while the Fire TV has access to a lot of content, it prioritizes Amazon Prime and Amazon Instant video services.

    Google Chromecast ($35)

    One thing's for sure: Google isn't a quitter. After a few failed attempts—yes, we're talking about you, Google TV—the company found success with Chromecast, which launched the trend for stick-styled players that slide directly into a TV's HDMI slot. But now there's a new Chromecast—still just $35—that's shed its plain-Jane design in favor a circular shape and some eye-catching color choices. But the makeover isn't just skin deep. It's got better Wi-Fi thanks to dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and an three-antenna array, and a "Fast Play" feature uses pre-loading and smart caching so apps and videos start playing faster. And a "What's On" section quickly shows which content can be beamed to your TV from the streaming video apps you've downloaded onto your device.  

    Roku 4 ($130)

    Roku's flagship model is now the Roku 4, which like the Amazon Fire TV provides support for 4K streaming video. In addition to a new flatter, thinner design, the Roku 4 offers speedy performance, plus the category-leading assortment of content we've come to expect from Roku boxes. The Roku 4 does a nice job helping you find 4K content by organized it separately, and its My Feed feature now lets you follow both movies and now TV shows and get alerts when they become available for streaming. Like the $100 Roku 3, which stays in the lineup, the Roku 4 has a headphone jack in the remote control for private listening. And should the remote get lost somewhere in your couch cushions, you can push the small remote-control finder button on the main unit that causes the remote to start beeping.

    The Bottom Line
    The truth is that any of these players, as well as others, could be a great choice, depending on your individual needs. That said, the Roku 4 player is among the top streaming devices we've tested, for many of the same reasons the Roku 3 did earlier: a great interface, an agnostic take on services that doesn't favor one over others, and a widest assortment of content available. And if you're looking for a 4K model, we prefer this to the Amazon Fire TV as the Roku has the most current version of HDMI, which supports a few features the Fire TV lacks.

    But both the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV make a lot of sense if you already live within one of those companies' respective ecosystems. Both the Siri and Alexa voice systems are expansive and work very well, and make search much easier than typing commands. The Fire TV is well priced compared to other top-line settop boxes, though it Apple fans have shown a willingness to pay a bit of a premium.

    If budget is a concern, Chromecast may fit the bill. It works a bit differently from the other devices—and there's no remote, so your smart phone or tablet is indispensable—but its new app is a big improvement, especially the ability to search across all your Chromecast streaming apps. And it's regularly added more content since its launch.

    You really can't go wrong with any of these players. If you're in the market for one this holiday season, let us know which one in the comments section below.

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

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    Walmart's Cyber Monday Sales Start Sunday Night

    If you haven't been looking forward to staying up past midnight to get the best Cyber Monday deals, Walmart has some good news: Its online sales kick off on Sunday night (November 29) at 8 p.m. ET time.

    The retailer will also continue its "Evening Edition" Cyber Monday sales, which the company says will start "after work" on November 30.

    The online promotion on Sunday will include 2,000 special deals. Walmart says it has increased its assortment of several key items based on online search results. For example, it will have three times as many 4K UHD TVs and Star Wars toys, 15 times more drones, and many more 3D printers and accessories than it did last year. You can get free shipping on orders of $50 or more.

    Walmart isn't disclosing many of the specific deals, but they will include:

    • A 65-inch LG UHD TV for $799 with free shipping, a claimed $500 savings. We're guessing it might be the 65UF6450, which we've seen for $900 to $1,000.
    • A Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with free shipping for $599, a claimed $200 savings.
    • An Air Hogs Star Wars Remote Control X-34 Landspeeder for $19, with free shipping to the store, a claimed $15 savings.
    • An Air Hogs video drone for $75, plus free shipping, a claimed savings of $34. It's probably the Helix model, normally $99.

    But if you can't make any of the Cyber Monday sales, don't sweat it: Walmart is extending the day into Cyber Week, which will feature 2,000 onine specials each day through December 4.

    If you plan to shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, check out our Top 10 Black Friday shopping tips. We'll also be posting our top Black Friday TV deals shortly.

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    Target Offers a 15 Percent Sitewide Discount on Cyber Monday

    Tired of sifting through the river of Cyber Monday specials looking for the one item you want? Target has made life a bit easier by discounting almost everything on its website by 15 percent.

    The retailer has even offered to sweeten some of the deals by letting them "stack" on top of other discounts, including those in its current “10 Days of Deals.” If you're shopping for electronics products, though, you may be disappointed. While a TV, headphones, and a game console are among the touted specials so far, the electronics pickings look slim beyond them.

    To get the 15 percent sitewide discount on Cyber Monday, just use the promo code "CYBER15." Target says there will also be nearly 75 "e-doorbuster" specials, nearly three quarters of which will offer—for that one day only—more than 50 percent off the regular price.

    To get a look at the retailer's Cyber Week deals, which launch on Sunday, November 29, visit Target's ad site.

    Here's a quick snapshot of the deals that have been announced:

    Cyber Monday

    • Xbox One 500GB "Gears of War: Ultimate Edition" Bundle, $300, plus a free EA sports game and a three-month subscription to Xbox Live. We've seen this price elsewhere.
    • Licensed kids’ cameras, including "Frozen" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," at 50-percent off.
    • Select Sennheiser in-ear headphones, also 50 percent off.
    • A Swagway x1 Hands-Free Smart Hoverboard, $399, a claimed savings of $100.  

    Cyber Week Deals

    • A 48-inch Samsung UN48JU6400FXZA 4K Ultra HD TV, plus a free $100 Target gift card, for $600. The TV, which is in our TV Ratings (available to subscribers), is usually $900, according to Target, although it's selling for $750 on Target now.
    • A Dyson Ball Compact Allergy Vacuum will be 30 percent off, with 25 percent discounts on all other Dyson vacuums.
    • Select KitchenAid professional 5-quart stand mixers at 50 percent off, plus 20 percent off all other KitchenAid appliances.

    Under the "10 Days of Deals" program, those spending $75 or more at a Target store on Black Friday will get a 20 percent discount off an entire purchase made between December 4 and December 13. And that discount can be stacked onto any of the Cyber Week deals on December 4 or December 5, though not on the 15 percent Cyber Monday deal.

    Despite the lackluster electronics deals for Cyber Week, Target has some good TV deals for Black Friday. We'll be keeping our eyes out for more holiday specials, so keep checking back for updates.

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    Top 10 Black Friday TV Deals for 2015

    If your heart tends to beat a little bit faster at the thought of scoring a super TV deal during Black Friday, you're in luck: Black Friday 2015 is shaping up to be your kind of event.

    Although deals abound for all screen sizes and at all price points—starting with a 32-inch LED LCD set for just $75—we think that this year the best bargains will be on UHD TVs and larger 1080p TVs (those with screens 55 inches or larger).

    While Black Friday doorbusters have always involved super-low prices, the deals have often been restricted to lesser-known brands. But this year you'll find aggressive Black Friday prices for several major brands, notably LG, Samsung, and Vizio, including sets that we've purchased, tested and put into our TV Ratings.

    We expect online retailers to react to each others' deals right through Black Friday itself, so you may want to monitor promotions and pricing until the moment you are ready to buy.

    If you prefer to head out to a store to get the best deals and in-store-only doorbusters, check out our Top 10 Black Friday Shopping Tips before you leave home.

    Enough of the chatter—drum roll, please: Here's our list of the 10 best TV deals of Black Friday 2015. And as a special holiday bonus, we added a few other deals that seem just too good not to consider.

    Consumer Reports' Picks for Black Friday TV Deals

    • A 32-inch no-name TV at Amazon for $75. Despite not knowing the brand, getting a 32-inch TV for this price is what Black Friday deals are all about. Our guess is that it’s a basic 720p 60Hz model. During its much-maligned Prime Day, Amazon had the Seiki SE32HY for the same price.
    • A 32-inch Roku smart TV from TCL for $125 at both Amazon and Walmart. This is price matching at its best. We think it's the TCL 32S3750 set, which is in our current TV Ratings. We like the Roku TV platform, and its wealth of content. While TCL TVs haven’t all been winners in our Ratings, this set did fairly well.
    • A 49-inch Toshiba 49L310UTV at Best Buy for $150. Another deal worth bracing the cold to snag. Toshiba TVs typically offer very good picture quality, but their overall Ratings are dragged down by fair, and sometimes miserable, sound. With the money you save, get a sound bar and it's all good.
    • A 50-inch no-name TV for $149 at Amazon. In an app-only, "Take that, Best Buy" move, Amazon price matches the deal above, but we won't know what make and model until 3 p.m. on Thursday. So we can't compare it to the Toshiba just yet. Still, a 50-inch TV for the price of a month of cable and broadband is a great deal.
    • A 55-inch Westinghouse 1080p TV at Target for $250. No model was listed, but we think it could be the Westinghouse DWM55F1G1.The Westinghouse brand is now licensed by Tong Fang, a Chinese company that also controls the Element and Seiki brands in the U.S.
    • A 55-inch TCL Roku smart TV at Amazon for $349. It's similar to the deal above but in a larger screen size. We think it's the TCL 55FS3700.
    • A 60-inch Vizio M60-C3 UHD TV for $800 at both Dell.com and Amazon. Finally, a deal on a major-brand set—and an Ultra HD model to boot—that's currently in our Ratings.
    • A 60-inch Samsung UN60JU6390 UHD smart TV for $800 at Best Buy. Another good deal on a UHD TV from a major brand. This is a Best Buy exclusive so you can't compare prices, but a Samsung UN60JU6400-series set sells for about $900 at several retailers right now.
    • A 70-inch Vizio smart TV for $898 at Walmart. No model was specified, but we think it could be the Vizio E701i-A3, which normally sells for about $1,100 to $1,200.
    • 65-inch Vizio D65U-D2 UHD smart TV for $1,000 at Best Buy. This is a nice price for a UHD TV this size. It's currently selling for $1,300 to $1,500 elsewhere.

    Other TV Deals

    So those are our top deals for Black Friday 2015. But frankly, there are some other deals worth considering, so here are a few more that might tickle your fancy, or meet a fairly tight TV budget. 

    • A 40-inch Samsung smart TV, plus $90 in Kohl's Cash, for $319.
    • A 43-inch Element 1080p TV for $170 at Target. We think it's the Element ELEFT43643.
    • A 49-inch LG 49UF6700 UHD smart TV for $500 at Target
    • A 49-inch LG 49UF6430 UHD smart TV at Best Buy for $500. We think it's similar to the LG 49UF6400 model in our TV Ratings.
    • A 55-inch RCA 1080p TV at Fry's for $299
    • A 55-inch Element E4SFT551 UHD TV for $400 at Target.

    Remember to check our top 10 Black Friday shopping tips blog before you head out, and let us know in the comments section below the best deals you score over the Black Friday weekend.

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    The Repaye Student Loan Plan Could Help Borrowers

    It's no secret that Americans are struggling under a mountain of student debt. More than 41 million people owe more than $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And about 25 percent of those Americans are delinquent in their payments or have defaulted on their loans.

    But starting in December, applications are expected to become available for a new program that could make it easier to repay those student loans. The program, known as Repaye—“revised pay as you earn”—caps the monthly payment amount at 10 percent of your discretionary income. It's open to anyone with federal student loans, regardless of income or when the loan began.

    That's in contrast to earlier repayment programs that required you to show partial financial hardship to qualify and only accepted loans that began after October 2007. Earlier plans also required you to pay more—15 percent of your discretionary income in monthly payments.

    "It's likely that the Repaye plan will stave off the draconian consequences of defaulting on a loan for some people,” says Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney at Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “But it will also result in those with lower incomes paying a lot more over time.”

    In the past, loan servicers automatically applied a standard 10-year repayment plan to a student loan. If you wanted an alternative, such as a repayment plan based on your income, you had to ask for it. Borrowers often didn't think to do so. Stuck with a standard plan, many found the monthly payments too burdensome and defaulted on their loans.

    Switching to the new, income-based Repaye plan could lower the monthly cost, but there’s a downside as well. The interest on the loan payments, which can continue for 20 years or more, can lead you to pay more, in total, over time.

    Weighing Options

    If you are thinking of applying for the new income-based Repaye plan, you’ll need to consider first whether you are better off with the standard 10-year plan or the new 20-year plan. Consider the interest rate that would be applied to your loan and whether there may be a change in your salary. A big salary increase at work, for example, would mean higher monthly student loan payments.

    Here are more pointers to keep in mind:

    • Don’t default on your loan before applying for Repaye. If you do, you won't qualify until you have made on-time repayments of your loan for 12 consecutive months. 
    • Check to see whether you qualify. Even if you didn’t qualify for earlier repayment plans, you may still qualify for Repaye.  
    • Review different plans. There are five income-based repayment plans to consider. Before choosing one, review all five, as well as the standard 10-year schedule, to see what your monthly and total payments would be.
    • Determine how long the repayment period will be. Plans can range from 10 to 25 years depending on whether your loan covers only undergraduate school or graduate school as well.
    • Think about your taxes. While the balance of your student loan will be forgiven after 20 or 25 years, it will also be treated as ordinary income. That you means you could face thousands of dollars in taxes.
    • Apply online. The income-based repayment plans are all available online at studentloans.gov.

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    Don't Confuse a Mortgage Preapproval With a Prequalification

    Shopping for a mortgage became easier in early October when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began mandating that lenders provide a new, simplified disclosure form to help consumers compare home loans. This disclosure (see below) is most useful after you've found the home you want and need a solid estimate of borrowing costs from a variety of lenders.

    But before you get to that stage, you'll need to prove to a seller that a bank will lend you what you need to close on the deal. To avoid miscommunication snarls, you have to understand the difference among lender guarantees.

    The Prequalification

    A prequalification is really just to get you started, so you have a ballpark idea of how big a mortgage you can afford.

    When a bank prequalifies you, it's giving you a preliminary statement of how much you could borrow, based on income and asset information you've provided. It is not based on any hard evidence, because at this point, you haven't given your bank statements or had bank officers request your credit report. (For more information about the prequalification process, watch this Chase Bank video.)

    The Preapproval

    When the bank tells you you're prequalified, it may ask for your employer's name and your Social Security number to verify your income and creditworthiness, as indicated by your credit reports. That's to start the mortgage preapproval process.

    A bank will issue a mortgage preapproval once it has all your documents in hand. These could include income verification from employers, recent tax returns, bank and brokerage statements, and credit reports. The bank will then have a specialist call an underwriter to determine how much you're capable of paying and how big a mortgage loan you can afford. That assessment will result in a preapproval letter from the lender that you can present when you bid for a home.

    Having a preapproval in hand gives you a jump on other potential buyers. It lets the seller know you're a good candidate, and that the bank is likely to award you a loan. It'll also make you feel more prepared to buy.   

    However, complicating matters, banks don't always define the terms in the same way, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. EverBank, the online lender, for instance, doesn't use the word, "prequalification." Instead, it uses the term "preapproval" for what other banks define as prequalification. And what most banks call a "preapproval" EverBank terms a "credit only approval," which means it has verified your income and creditworthiness. 

    Keep in mind that you're not required to borrow from the bank that issues your prequalification or preapproval.

    How to get started mortgage-shopping

    Consider these tips before you shop for a home or mortgage:

    • Understand what the bank means by preapproval and other terms, and properly communicate to the seller or seller's agent the type of approval you have in hand.

    • Months before you apply for mortgage preapproval, get at least one of your credit reports. This will allow you to troubleshoot any errors in advance of a bank's review. You are each entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—once a year; go to AnnualCreditReport.com, the official, federally-authorized site managed by the three agencies. Your spouse or partner should pull his or her reports as well. We recommend staggering requests so you get one of the three every four months. That way, you can be generally on top of problems.

    • When shopping for mortgages, don't worry that your credit score will take a hit due to multiple inquiries by mortgage lenders. Normally, multiple inquiries can affect your credit score, but the three credit reporting agencies consider multiple inquiries in a short period of time for the same reason—in this case, mortgage shopping—as if they were one inquiry.

    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 Black Friday Video Game Console Deals

    With Black Friday approaching, retailers are announcing post-Thanksgiving deals for video game consoles. Many are offering the same basic price, $299 for an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 console.

    But they are putting together packages with a variety of bundled games and gift cards. There are deals on the Wii U with Nintendo’s most popular games of the season. And some retailers are also offering packages that include controllers and other accessories. 

    If you’re in the market for a new gaming machine, here are some of the best deals being offered; none is available until Black Friday. 

    Nintendo

    Nintendo’s Wii U isn’t as powerful or popular as the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. But there are a ton of family-friendly games for the console. And with Nintendo releasing games like "Bayonetta 2," "Super Smash Bros.," and "Splatoon," there are definitely reasons to go shopping, even if you already own a console.

    Walmart is offering a $249 Wii U bundle that includes "Super Smash Bros." and "Splatoon." Toys "R" Us is offering a similar package for $280.

    Want to go portable this holiday season? The New Nintendo 3DS XL will be available for $179 at GameStop, while Walmart will have the older 3DS XL bundled with "Super Mario 3D Land" for $129.

    Sony

    Sony’s holiday bundles are great for a wide variety of gamers. Stealth games for strategy fans, shooting games for sci-fi buffs, and remastered classics for a bit of high-definition nostalgia.

    Target, Toys "R" Us, GameStop, Best Buy, Sam’s Club, and Walmart are offering a $299 PS4 bundle, which includes the "Uncharted Collection," a remastered version of the first three "Uncharted" games. Meijer is offering the same deal, but bundling it with a $50 gift card.

    Amazon is offering an even better bundle for $349: a PS4 with the "Uncharted Collection," "Assassin’s Creed Syndicate," and "Final Fantasy Type-0 HD."

    If you want to play in a galaxy far, far away, Best Buy has a $349 "Star Wars Battlefront" bundle that comes with a PS4 and "Star Wars Battlefront," the newest Star Wars game for consoles that lets you play as characters such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

    Xbox One

    Retail chain Meijer is offering the Xbox One, Gears of War bundle for $299, which comes with a $50 Meijer gift card.

    Target is offering the same "Gears of War" bundle at $299, but is including a $60 gift card.

    Dell is offering what is basically a steal: a $299 Xbox One bundle with "Gears of War Ultimate Edition," a second controller, and a copy of the new post-apocalyptic "RPG Fallout 4." You can snag this deal on Thanksgiving starting at 6 p.m., but don’t count on this one to last long.

    Toys "R" Us is offering the Xbox One, "The Lego Movie Videogame" bundle for $299, which comes with "The Lego Movie" tie-in game (sans gift card).

    If you’re buying an Xbox One for a fan of shooting games, GameStop has the Xbox One 1TB Elite bundle, which comes with a 1 terabyte solid-state hard drive (double the normal storage space), and a $150 Xbox One Elite controller, all for $449.

    For $349 you can also snag a cheaper Xbox One bundle from Gamestop that ditches the Elite controller and includes "Gears of War Ultimate Edition," "Rare Replay," and "Ori and the Blind Forest."

    For $500, Best Buy’s doorbuster deal is great for those who want the Xbox One, "The Lego Movie Videogame" bundle, which comes paired with a Samsung 40 inch LED TV. Just make sure you’re in line when Best Buy opens at 8 a.m. on Friday.

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

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