Monday, June 21, 2010

Kaiser Survey Finds Premiums in Non-group Market Rise 20 Percent

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Survey of People Who Purchase Their Own Insurance

While most people in the U.S. get health insurance through their employer, about 14 million people under age 65 have coverage through the non-group or individual market, which has faced scrutiny recently in news reports about some insurers’ steep rate increases and in the market reforms in the new health reform law that will take effect in 2014.

Read more.

FTC Alert on Oil Spill Scams

Source: Federal Trade Commission

FTC Urges Consumers to Watch Out for Scams Related to Gulf Oil Spill

As the nation follows news of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, so do scammers. The Federal Trade Commission issued an alert urging consumers and businesses to watch out for con artists trying to take advantage of the oil spill in the gulf and to report their experiences to federal and state authorities.

In a new consumer alert, FTC Warns of Oil Spill Scams, the agency said scammers will likely use e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, flyers, mailings and telephone calls to solicit money by claiming they’re raising money for environmental causes or offering fraudulent services related to the oil spill. In reality, many could be trying to get inside consumers’ homes or get access to their personal information. The consumer alert advises consumers to check with the Better Business Bureau to get information on businesses and charities, and offers tips on how to avoid these scams.

Office of Public Affairs

Updated Data on Rollovers in Health Savings Accounts

Source: EBRI

Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements: Assets, Account Balances, and Rollovers, 2006–2009

June 2010
EBRI Issue Brief #343
Paperback, 32 pp.
PDF, 546 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2010

Download Issue Brief PDF pdf

Executive Summary

ASSET LEVELS GROWING: In 2009, there was $7.1 billion in consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs), which include health savings accounts (or HSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (or HRAs), spread across 5 million accounts. This is up from 2006, when there were 1.2 million accounts with $835.4 million in assets, and 2008, when 4.2 million accounts held $5.7 billion in assets.

DIFFERENCES IN ROLLOVER AMOUNTS: Men rolled over more money than women, whites have higher rollover amounts than minorities, and the youngest adults and the oldest adults had the largest rollover amounts in 2009. Rollover amounts increase with household income and education, and individuals with single coverage rolled over a slightly higher average amount than those with family coverage. There was no statistically significant difference in rollover amounts by health status, although individuals who smoke had higher rollover amounts than those who do not and obese individuals had lower average rollover amounts than nonobese individuals. Individuals who talked to their doctor about treatment options and costs, those who used an online cost-tracking tool provided by the health plan, and those who asked their doctor to recommend a less costly prescription drug had higher rollover amounts than those who did not take such actions.

Report on Loan Modification and Financial Rescue Scams

Source: Financial Crimes Enforcement Network


June 17, 2010
CONTACT: Steve Hudak,

FinCEN Analysis: Foreclosure Rescue Scam Reports Increase
Nature of Foreclosure Rescue Scams Shifts

VIENNA, Va. – The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today released its first analysis of suspicious activity reports (SARs) containing information about potential foreclosure rescue scams. The report, Loan Modification and Foreclosure Rescue Scams – Evolving Trends and Patterns in Bank Secrecy Act Reporting , involved an analysis of more than 3,500 SARs filed from 2004 through 2009, of which the great majority, 3,000, were filed last year. Additionally, FinCEN today also provided updated guidance to the financial industry concerning new scam techniques that financial professionals should watch for and report.

“The increase in reporting of suspected foreclosure rescue scam activity could mean that there is an increase in fraudulent activity but it also reflects an increase in awareness among financial institutions of the fraud perpetrated,” said FinCEN Director James H. Freis, Jr. “This report emphasizes the importance of including the specific term ‘foreclosure rescue scam’ in the SAR narrative to enable law enforcement to search for and identify fraudulent activity more easily when reviewing SAR information, which assists in focusing investigative resources and ultimately reducing these scams.”

In addition to the increase in reported activity, the analysis shows that the nature of foreclosure rescue scams had shifted during the period examined in the study. Early SARs containing information about loan modification/foreclosure rescue scams identified subjects purporting to be loan modification or foreclosure rescue specialists. These subjects targeted financially troubled homeowners with promises of assistance. The scams involved the homeowners signing quit claim deeds, and resulted in loss of equity in or title to their property. The scammers used straw borrowers, who misrepresented income, employment, or occupancy, or provided other fraudulent information to deceive a new lender into making a new mortgage loan.

The scams described in later SARs and analyzed in this report, reflect an evolution into advance fee schemes, in which purported loan modification or foreclosure rescue specialists promised to arrange modification of a homeowner’s mortgage for more favorable repayment terms. Following receipt of large advance fees, scammers rarely, if ever, provided any service. A variation of the advance fee scam involved phony debt elimination programs in which the homeowners paid advance fees and were given bogus documents, or were instructed to contact their lenders with specious assertions that the original mortgage debt was illegal.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Should Brokers be Held to Higher Standards?

Source: WSJ

This question is addressed in this video from the Wall Street Journal.

Fiduciary Standard is A Complex Question 6/10/2010 1:26:07 PM

A higher standard for brokers could offer more protection for investors, but could create some limits that wouldn't be best for investors, says Arthur Laby, a professor at Rutgers School of Law-Camden.

At Least for Now, the Sun is Still Free

Source: IRS

IRS Issues Regulations on 10-Percent Tax on Tanning Services Effective July 1

The Internal Revenue Service has issued regulations outlining the administration of a 10-percent excise tax on indoor tanning services that goes into effect on July 1. The regulations have been published today in the Federal Register.

In general, providers of indoor tanning services will collect the tax at the time the purchaser pays for the tanning services. The provider then pays over these amounts to the government, quarterly, along with IRS Form 720, Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return.

The IRS announced that the tax does not apply to phototherapy services performed by a licensed medical professional on his or her premises. The regulations also provide an exception for certain physical fitness facilities that offer tanning as an incidental service to members without a separately identifiable fee.

Alternatives to PayDay Loans

Source: National Consumer Law Center

The NCLC examines affordable alternatives to PayDay loans. They indicate that an affordable alternative should satisfy the following requirements.

• Have an annual percentage rate (APR), including fees, of 36% or less;
• Have a term of at least 90 days, or one month per $100 borrowed;
• Require multiple installment payments rather than a single balloon payment;
• Not require that the borrower turn over a post-dated check or electronic access
to a bank account.

Read report.

New Circuit Breaker Rules on Stock Trades

Source: SEC

SEC Approves New Stock-by-Stock Circuit Breaker Rules

Washington, D.C., June 10, 2010 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today approved rules that will require the exchanges and FINRA to pause trading in certain individual stocks if the price moves 10 percent or more in a five-minute period. The rules, which were proposed by the national securities exchanges and FINRA and published for public comment, come in response to the market disruption of May 6.

Read more.

Friday, June 11, 2010

USDA Updates the Cost of Raising Children

Source: USDA

Since 1960, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided estimates of expenditures on children from birth through age 17. This technical report presents the most recent estimates for husband-wife and single-parent families using data from the 2005-06 Consumer Expenditure Survey, updated to 2009 dollars using the Consumer Price Index. Data and methods used in calculating annual child-rearing expenses are described. Estimates are provided for major components of the budget by age of child, family income, and region of residence. For the overall United States, annual child-rearing expense estimates ranged between $11,650 and $13,530 for a child in a two-child, married-couple family in the middle-income group. Adjustment factors for number of children in the household are also provided. Results of this study should be of use in developing State child support and foster care guidelines, as well as in family educational programs.

Lino, Mark. (2010). Expenditures on Children by Families, 2009.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
Miscellaneous Publication No. 1528-2009.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Expansion of Cobra Subsidy Has Had Little Impact

Source: EBRI

Income of the Elderly Population Age 65 and Over, 2008,’ and ‘Examination of the Short-term Impact of the COBRA Premium Subsidy and Characteristics of the COBRA Population’

June 2010, Vol. 31, No. 6
Paperback, 16 pp.
PDF, 563 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2010

Current data indicate that the COBRA subsidies that became available in April 2009 do not appear to have had an immediate impact on the percentage of individuals with coverage through a former employer, but it is too early to tell from nationally representative surveys if and when take-up of COBRA accelerated. Data through August 2009 (and limited data through November 2009) are expected to be available in September 2010, when it will be possible to examine the impact that the premium subsidy has had on take-up of COBRA.

Read more.

NCHS Data Brief on Dental Insurance

Source: NCHS

Key findings
  • Among approximately 172 million persons under age 65 years with private health insurance, the majority of persons (73%) had some type of dental coverage. However, approximately 45 million persons had no dental coverage.
  • About 8 out of 10 persons under age 65 years with employment-based private health insurance had dental coverage compared with about 3 out of 10 persons with directly purchased insurance.
  • Among persons under age 65 years with private health insurance, non-Hispanic black persons were more likely to have dental insurance than non-Hispanic white persons, non-Hispanic Asian persons, or Hispanic persons.
  • Among persons under age 65 years with private health insurance, as income level increased, the percentage having dental insurance increased.
  • Adults with at least some college education were more likely to have dental insurance than those with less education among those aged 25-64 years with private health insurance.
  • Summary

Data Brief

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Failed Bank List

Source: FDIC

The FDIC is often appointed as receiver for failed banks. This page contains useful information for the customers and vendors of these banks. This includes information on the acquiring bank (if applicable), how your accounts and  loans are affected, and how vendors can file claims against the receivership

See list.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Countrywide to Repay Excessive Fees Charged Homeowners

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Countrywide Will Pay $108 Million for Overcharging Struggling Homeowners; Loan Servicer Inflated Fees, Mishandled Loans of Borrowers in Bankruptcy

Two Countrywide mortgage servicing companies will pay $108 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they collected excessive fees from cash-strapped borrowers who were struggling to keep their homes. The $108 million represents one of the largest judgments imposed in an FTC case, and the largest mortgage servicing case. It will be used to reimburse overcharged homeowners whose loans were serviced by Countrywide before it was acquired by Bank of America in July 2008.

Read more.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

MEDICARE ADVANTAGE: Relationship between Benefit Package Designs and Plans’ Average Beneficiary Health Status

Source: GAO

GAO examined (1) MA plan benefit packages by average health status of plans’ enrolled beneficiaries, (2) distribution and characteristics of MA plans by average beneficiary health status, and (3) CMS’s process for ensuring that benefit packages do not discriminate with respect to health status.

In 2008, plans in the good health group generally had lower premiums, higher cost sharing for certain services, and fewer additional benefits than plans in the poor health group. Almost half of the plans in the good health group did not have an MA premium for medical or drug coverage, while about one-fifth of plans in the poor health group had no MA premium. Plans in the good health group had higher cost sharing, weighted by enrollment, for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facility stays, and renal dialysis than plans in the poor health group. Plans in the good health group were more likely to have an out-of-pocket (OOP) maximum, but the average OOP maximum for plans in that group, weighted by enrollment, was 55 percent higher than that for plans in the poor health group. Comprehensive dental and hearing aid benefits were more likely to be included in the benefit packages for beneficiaries in the poor health group of plans whereas fitness benefits were more likely to be included in the benefit packages for beneficiaries in the good health group of plans.

Medicare Advantage: Relationship between Benefit Package Designs and Plans' Average Beneficiary Health Status. GAO-10-403, April 30.  Highlights

The Largest Fund Families

Source: Investment News

See Listing.

FRB Releases Database on Credit Card Agreements

Source: Federal Reserve Board of Governors

Release Date: May 24, 2010

For immediate release

Consumer credit card agreements from more than 300 credit card issuers are now online in a searchable database created by the Federal Reserve Board.

The agreements contain general credit terms and conditions along with pricing and fee information. The database will help consumers compare credit card agreements and find a card that best suits their personal finance needs.

The database ( will be updated quarterly; the next submission deadline is August 2, 2010.

Not all consumer credit card agreements are available in the database. For example, the Board's recent credit card rules exempted issuers with fewer than 10,000 open credit card accounts from submission because the overwhelming majority of credit card accounts are held by issuers that have more than 10,000 open accounts.

Additionally, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act of 2009 requires credit card issuers to post account agreements on their websites as well as to make consumer's individual credit card agreement(s) available to them upon request.

More information on the Board's credit card rules can be found in the online publication "What You Need To Know: New Credit Card Rules," at: