Consumer Affairs en-US 2014 Tax Day Freebies and Discounts <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/2014-tax-day-freebies-and-discounts" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="woman holding burger" title="woman holding burger" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="141" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Dreading April 15? You should be looking forward to it! Whether you owe taxes or are looking forward to a refund, you can count on a day filled with freebies and discounts. Here's a comprehensive list of Tax Day offers. All offers are for April 15, 2014 only, unless otherwise noted. (See also: <a href="">Birthday Freebies</a>)</p> <h2>Arby's</h2> <p>Free curly fries. Check <a href=""></a> for the coupon.</p> <h2>AMC Theaters</h2> <p>Free small popcorn at AMC Theaters <a href="">with this coupon</a>, April 12-15</p> <h2>Bob Evans</h2> <p>Free dinner when you buy one, after 4 p.m., <a href=";_X=86Z-LtJrgGgY0">with coupon</a>.</p> <h2>California Tortilla</h2> <p>Say &quot;taxes shmaxes&quot; and get a <a href="">free chips and queso</a> or salsa. (Despite the name, this chain is in DC, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.</p> <h2>Dunkin Donuts</h2> <p>Free turbo shot, must <a href="">download their app</a> and show coupon on mobile device.</p> <h2>Great American Cookies</h2> <p>Free <a href="">regular chocolate chip cookie</a>.</p> <h2>Hard Rock Cafe</h2> <p>Sing a complete song on stage, <a href="">get a free entree</a>, between 5 and 7 p.m. Contact your local Hard Rock to sign up.</p> <h2>HydroMassage</h2> <p><a href="">Print this coupon</a> for a free &quot;experience.&quot;</p> <h2>Office Depot</h2> <p>Up to 5 lbs. free shredding <a href="">with coupon</a>.</p> <h2>Schlotzsky's</h2> <p><a href="">Free small The Original sandwich</a> with purchase of 32 oz. drink and bag of chips.</p> <p>In addition to the free offers listed above, a number of businesses are offering special discounts for Tax Day.</p> <h2>Boston Market</h2> <p>Two half chicken meals, served with two sides and cornbread, for $10.40, no coupon needed.</p> <h2>Bruegger's Bagels</h2> <p>Get a Big Bagel Bundle for $10.40, April 12-15, <a href="">with this coupon</a>. That includes 13 bagels and 2 tubs cream cheese.</p> <h2>Buca di Beppo</h2> <p>15 percent off any purchase with <a href="">this coupon</a>.</p> <h2>Entertainment Book</h2> <p>Normally $15, these coupon books will go for <a href="">$10.49 plus $2.49 shipping</a>, April 15-17.</p> <h2>Orange Leaf</h2> <p>Fill a <a href="">cup with frozen yogurt</a> and toppings for $4.15.</p> <h2>Sonic</h2> <p>Half price drinks and slushes.</p> <h2>White Castle</h2> <p>15% off order <a href="">with this coupon</a>, good April 12 through April 15.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="2014 Tax Day Freebies and Discounts" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Carrie Kirby</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs discounts freebies tax day Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:34:56 +0000 Carrie Kirby 1135644 at 12 Loyalty Rewards Programs You Didn't Know Existed <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/12-loyalty-rewards-programs-you-didnt-know-existed" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="credit card" title="credit card" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>We've all heard of reward or loyalty programs for things like airlines, hotels, retailers, and restaurants, but there are also some other lesser-known places where you can rack up points for cash or goods. Check out the programs below, so you don't miss out. (See also: <a href="">Best Travel Reward Credit Cards</a>)</p> <h2>1. Upromise</h2> <p><a href="">Upromise</a>, which is owned by Sallie Mae, allows you to earn money towards college on your everyday spending at more than 800 online stores and thousands of supermarkets, drug stores, and restaurants. Members simply register their credit card to a Upromise account to earn 1%-25% cash back on qualified purchases. You can choose to invest your earnings in a savings account or 529 plan, or use your funds to pay down a student loan or other college expenses. (See also: <a href="">Upromise Review</a>)</p> <h2>2. Health Insurance Rewards</h2> <p>Check to see if your health plan offers specific reward programs. Depending on your plan, you can earn anything from gift certificates to out-of-pocket credits just by taking health assessments, participating in healthy living programs, or going on routine preventative visits. <a href="">HumanaVitality</a>, for example, even allows you to earn &quot;Vitality Bucks,&quot; which you can turn into movie tickets, hotel stays, or electronics at the HumanaVitality Mall.</p> <h2>3. Shopkick</h2> <p>Location based app <a href="">Shopkick</a> allows you to accumulate points (&quot;kicks&quot;) just for visiting many of the nation's top retailers, like Macy's, Old Navy, and Best Buy. Scanning items on your smartphone and making purchases can earn you even more points. Points can be redeemed for gift cards at your favorite stores.</p> <h2>4. Bing</h2> <p>You can earn rewards just for using <a href="">Bing</a> as your search engine. You can sign up using a Microsoft account that will automatically track your credits for each search. You can also earn by trying out new features, tips, and making Bing your homepage. Rewards include gift cards for popular brands like Starbucks, Amazon, and Xbox, as well as charities. You can even use rewards to get Skype credits.</p> <h2>5. Product Rewards</h2> <p>You may be familiar with <a href="">Coke</a> and <a href="">Pepsi's</a> reward programs, but you may not realize there are other brands where you can earn points for your purchases. Baby care brands, such as <a href="">Huggies</a>, <a href="">Pampers</a>, and <a href="">Earth's Best</a>, all allow you to earn points by entering product codes from your purchases to use towards things like free merchandise, gift cards, and other perks. Some other brand rewards programs include <a href="">Kellogg's</a>, <a href="">Lean Cuisine</a>, and <a href="">L'Oreal</a>. It's great to get rewarded for what you'd be buying anyway, but note that you need to take the time to manually enter your product codes in order to earn points.</p> <h2>6. Regal Cinemas</h2> <p>If you like going to the movies, don't forget to sign up for Regal Entertainment Group's theatre loyalty program, <a href="">Regal Crown Club</a>. This allows you to earn credits for box office and concession purchases, which you can redeem for free tickets, drinks, and popcorn at future visits. Considering Regal has the largest and most geographically diverse number of theaters in the U.S. (over 7,400 screens in 581 theatres), chances are there's a location near you. (See also: <a href="">Watch Movies in the Theater for Free</a>)</p> <h2>7. Rewards for Exercising</h2> <p>Most people don't realize they can actually earn rewards (other than fitness and weight loss) by exercising. Mobile apps, like <a href=";uo=4&amp;at=10lpjh">Everymove</a> and <a href="">Earndit</a>, which connect to popular fitness trackers, like Fitbit, RunKeeper and My Fitness Pal, allow you to earn points for going to the gym, exercising, or participating in fitness events. Rewards generally include fitness products and donations to charities. (See also: <a href="">Top 5 Strength Training Apps</a>)</p> <h2>8. Amex Twitter Sync</h2> <p><a href="">Amex Twitter Sync</a> is a twist from the traditional rewards approach. Apart from Amex Rewards, you can now sync your eligible Amex card with your Twitter account to earn savings rewards. The program requires members to Tweet special Amex deal hashtags, which then make them eligible for special savings upon purchase. Please note: Most Amex cards do come with annual fees.</p> <h2>9. StubHub</h2> <p>For those into sports, concerts, and events, <a href="">StubHub Fan Rewards</a> allows you to earn 2% in reward credits on every eligible StubHub ticket purchase. Reward credits are redeemed in $10 increments (called &quot;FanCodes&quot;) to be used on future StubHub purchases. Superstar status gets you 3% reward points, seat upgrades, and priority invitations.</p> <h2>10. Viggle</h2> <p><a href=";uo=4&amp;at=10lpjh">Viggle</a> is an app for iOS and Android where you can earn points for watching TV shows. You can check in through the app to register the shows you are watching and earn points for the amount of viewing time. While it takes a good number of points to reach rewards, which include gift cards to popular retailers, it's easy enough to make a few cents watching your shows.</p> <h2>11. Amtrak</h2> <p>We all know that you can earn rewards for airline travel, but many people forget that <a href="">Amtrak</a> also has a rewards program. All those business trips can easily earn you points if you sign up with the program. Amtrak even has an online shopping mall as an additional way to earn. Points can be redeemed for free Amtrak tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, and gift cards at popular retailers.</p> <h2>12. Recyclebank</h2> <p>With <a href="">Recyclebank</a>, you can earn points on your weekly recycling pickup. The program works by teaming up with waste haulers to award points based on the weight of your recycling collection. You can also earn points by pledging green actions or taking tutorials on the site. Points can be used towards free magazines, grocery store credits, charities, and discounts at local stores, restaurants, and services.</p> <p><em>What are some of your preferred reward programs that others may not know about?</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="12 Loyalty Rewards Programs You Didn&#039;t Know Existed" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Kelly Medeiros</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Deals and Coupons Consumer Affairs discounts loyalty programs rewards Mon, 10 Mar 2014 11:24:14 +0000 Kelly Medeiros 1129400 at What to Buy (and Avoid Buying) in March <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/what-to-buy-and-avoid-buying-in-march" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="woman jumping" title="woman jumping" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="141" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Right now, it may not feel like spring is approaching; many of us still have snow on our lawns and extra blankets on the bed. But, in a few months we'll be unpacking the shorts and light jackets, and getting ready to tune up the lawn mower. As always, stores are way ahead of consumers when it comes to stocking the shelves. They clear out products you want right now in favor of items you will soon need. But that makes for great bargains, if you know what to look for. (See also: <a href="">Wise Bread's Shopping Calendar</a>)</p> <h2>First, What to Buy&hellip;</h2> <p>There are plenty of awesome holidays this month. March 4th is Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day in the UK). In the UK, Mother's Day is Sunday, March 30th. And we also have the spring equinox on March 20th. Let's take a look at some of the bargains that accompany them.</p> <h3>1. Chocolates, Chocolates, Chocolates</h3> <p>Something the stores never want hanging around are seasonal items, especially edible ones. Valentine's Day may be long gone, but the stores still have plenty of goodies on the shelves. And they want to get rid of it quickly! You'll see 90% savings on perfectly good <a href=";bbn=16322461&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;qid=1393616528&amp;rh=n%3A16310101%2Cn%3A!16310211%2Cn%3A16322461%2Cp_n_intended_use_browse-bin%3A2257371011&amp;rnid=2257345011&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">boxes of chocolates and other candies</a>, and all because they're in heart-shipped boxes and flowery red packaging. It's silly, but it's good for your wallet. (See also: <a href="">15 Reasons to Eat More Chocolate</a>)</p> <h3>2. Frozen Foods</h3> <p>March is National Frozen Foods month. Who knew? That means you'll see a ton of great coupons in the circulars and discounts in stores. If you have space in your freezer, now is the time to use it up. Or grab yourself a <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=B001CWDZYI&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">cheap freezer</a> off Craigslist and stock it up! Remember, these foods can last a year or more, but the deals don't ever last that long. (See also: <a href="">Make-Ahead, Freezable Hot Breakfasts</a>)</p> <h3>3. Intel-Based Laptops</h3> <p>If you need a new laptop for school, college, the workplace, or just to have around the house, now is the time to check out deals on Intel-based laptops. Now, there are several types of Intel processors, from the older Ivy Bridge and <a href=";bbn=565108&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;qid=1393617812&amp;rh=n%3A172282%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A541966%2Cn%3A565108%2Cp_75%3A20-%2Cp_n_feature_four_browse-bin%3A1264444011&amp;rnid=676578011&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">Celeron</a> models, to the newer Haswell versions. Strangely enough, the better deals seem to be on the <a href=";bbn=565108&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;qid=1393617812&amp;rh=n%3A172282%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A541966%2Cn%3A565108%2Cp_75%3A20-%2Cp_n_feature_four_browse-bin%3A1264444011&amp;rnid=676578011&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">Haswells</a>, so if you have $500 to spend, you can get a fast and reliable Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, or Sony laptop with a Haswell Core i5 or Core i7 processor.</p> <h3>4. Big Screen TVs</h3> <p>It won't be too long before <a href=";bbn=6459736011&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;qid=1393618062&amp;rh=n%3A172282%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A1266092011%2Cn%3A172659%2Cn%3A6459736011%2Cp_n_size_browse-bin%3A3578041011&amp;rnid=1232878011&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">42&quot; LCD TVs</a> are given away free with boxes of cereal. Seriously, every year big screen TVs get cheaper and cheaper. A few years ago, a <a href=";bbn=6459736011&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;qid=1393618062&amp;rh=n%3A172282%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A1266092011%2Cn%3A172659%2Cn%3A6459736011%2Cp_n_size_browse-bin%3A3578041011&amp;rnid=1232878011&amp;tag=wisbre03-20">60&quot; 1080p LCD TV</a> would have set you back a few thousand dollars. This year, you will get change out of $800. And those <a href=";bbn=172659&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;pf_rd_i=1266092011&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1737263342&amp;pf_rd_r=1MYVBWR356V9CBB81KHK&amp;pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-3&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;rh=i%3Aelectronics%2Cn%3A172282%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A1266092011%2Cn%3A172659%2Cp_n_feature_keywords_three_browse-bin%3A7688788011%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964&amp;tag=wisbre03-20">4K TVs</a> are also going to drop in price, too. If you have plans for a home theater, this is a great month to buy, especially if you're expecting a tax refund.</p> <h3>5. Luggage</h3> <p>Now's the time to stock up on travel gear. If past performance is any indication of how things will go this year, <a href=";bbn=172659&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;pf_rd_i=1266092011&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1737263342&amp;pf_rd_r=1MYVBWR356V9CBB81KHK&amp;pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-3&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;rh=i%3Aelectronics%2Cn%3A172282%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A1266092011%2Cn%3A172659%2Cp_n_feature_keywords_three_browse-bin%3A7688788011%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964%2Cn%3A!493964&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">luggage and baggage deals</a> kick into high gear in March. New luggage models (do people really care about the trendiness of their suitcases?) come out now, so old models are priced to move. From retail stores like Sears and Walmart to online retailers like eBags and Amazon, you should find yourself some sweet bargains. Hopefully, flights will be just as good to you. (See also: <a href="">Packing Secrets From a Pro Traveler</a>)</p> <h3>6. Snow Gear</h3> <p>If you like fresh powder, there's still time to enjoy it while wearing some <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;node=6443707011&amp;pf_rd_i=1036592&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1714561622&amp;pf_rd_r=100MKAQG0588ZYM9282P&amp;pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-8&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">snazzy new gear</a>&hellip;and it doesn't have to cost full price. Just like last month, there are deals to be had on those big winter jackets, snow boots, hats, and all sorts of other stuff designed to keep the icy weather at bay. These deals won't last too much longer, so grab them now.</p> <h3>7. St. Patrick's Day Merchandise</h3> <p>Once again, the green beers will be flowing on March 17th &mdash; St. Patrick's Day. And as soon as the sun sets on the 17th, the stores start discounting <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;node=6361262011&amp;pf_rd_i=507846&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1740538522&amp;pf_rd_r=1MB94V0H98599B98XPAX&amp;pf_rd_s=right-csm-1&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">St. Paddy's Day merchandise</a> with a determination that would make the Little Engine That Could jealous. In the past, Target has quickly and massively discounted the green gear. Remember, until the 17th you won't see many deals, but after then you can scoop up the bargains and stock up for next year.&nbsp;(See also: <a href="">Ways to Serve Potatoes on St. Patrick's Day</a>)</p> <h3>8. Amazon Prime&nbsp;</h3> <p>If you've been debating an <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=B00DBYBNEE&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">Amazon Prime</a> membership, now could be the best time to jump on it. Over the past year, changes have been made to Amazon Prime that have made it less of a deal than it used to be. For instance, the change to &quot;add on items,&quot; which were once free to ship with Prime, but are now only shipped free if included with an order that brings your total over $25. Rumors have it that Amazon is going to hike the rates by 50% or more. Get in now, and enjoy free two-day shipping and a massive library of free TV and Movies to stream whenever you want.</p> <h3>9. Seeds and Plants</h3> <p>Of course, with frost and hard ground to contend with, you won't be planting a whole lot right now. But you can order what you need now and save 50% or more on <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;node=3480662011&amp;pf_rd_i=2972638011&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1715557162&amp;pf_rd_r=01NXSG4MF9P76MRC1ZN5&amp;pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-1&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">seeds</a> that will make your garden grow. (See also: <a href="">Guide to Container Gardening</a>)</p> <h3>10. Silverware and China</h3> <p>Wedding season is not until June. Christmas is over. The stores want to get some of their silverware and china stock cleared. If your <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;node=13162311&amp;pf_rd_i=1055398&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1685437002&amp;pf_rd_r=1EPWRPMZ4CHPZGWSA50J&amp;pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-4&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">plates, bowls and cutlery</a> are looking a little past their prime, now is a great time to refresh them all. And remember, the old ones can be donated to charity for a family that really needs them.</p> <h2>What to Avoid&hellip;</h2> <p>There's a lot of flimflam in March too. It starts at the beginning of the month with Oscar Night 2014, and let's not forget Daylight Savings Time on March 9th &mdash; one hour of sleep lost, one extra pot of coffee on Sunday. Let's see what we should be looking to avoid this month.</p> <h3>1. Sexy Lingerie</h3> <p>It's not the same as candy; <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;node=14333511&amp;pf_rd_i=1040660&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1740541382&amp;pf_rd_r=01Y3ZE0BQEDWEG6FAM9S&amp;pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-leftnav&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">lingerie</a> is lingerie, and it is still popular despite Valentine's Day being over for another year. When it comes to sales, most lingerie stores follow the lead of the biggest and most infamous &mdash; Victoria's Secret. And as their semi-annual sale is in June, you should hold off on your shopping until then.</p> <h3>2. Xbox One Systems and Games</h3> <p>The <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=B00CMQTVUA&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">Xbox One</a> is still a hot item, but the discounts are coming in April. Now that the rush is over for Christmas, and the big fans have already picked up their systems, sales are on the decline. Microsoft doesn't want to see the PS4 gaining any more market share, and the best way to combat that is with discounts. Keep your eyes peeled, but don't buy anything just yet.</p> <h3>3. Spring Apparel</h3> <p>Spring is not just around the corner. But the stores have a different story. They're stocking up for spring right now, and they have no plans to offer any kind of discounts just yet. <a href="">Spring gear</a> is still priced at or close to the recommended retail price. Wait a month or two, and those prices will come down just in time for you to get a month or two of good use out of everything you buy.</p> <h3>4. New Smartphones</h3> <p>The <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;node=2407748011&amp;pf_rd_i=2335752011&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1716418262&amp;pf_rd_r=00XHABXX9A3H6TWYH2E3&amp;pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-6&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;tag=wisbre03-20">latest models</a> are everywhere, and they're full price. By all means use this time to start looking around for models you'd like to have, but hold your horses. Give it a few months and those full price phones will start falling in price.</p> <h3>5. Gym Memberships</h3> <p>If you're a regular at the gym, you should have seen the New Year's rush die down by now. But, it's far from over yet. People are still trying to fulfill that <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;node=3408271&amp;pf_rd_i=3407731&amp;pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_p=1712840642&amp;pf_rd_r=1G6D6ZGAWBG8VVMNDYK6&amp;pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-5&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;tag=whattobuy03-20">resolution to get fit</a>, and gyms are not struggling to make their numbers. Wait a few more months. Once the sun is shining and people can run outdoors, they'll start hitting you with offers.</p> <p><em>Are you planning to make any purchases in March? Where are you finding deals?</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="What to Buy (and Avoid Buying) in March" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Paul Michael</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Shopping buying guides deals discounts what to buy Mon, 03 Mar 2014 11:36:40 +0000 Paul Michael 968384 at 9 Ways to Get Exactly What You Want From Customer Service <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/9-ways-to-get-exactly-what-you-want-from-customer-service" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="140" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This post is brought to you by <a href=";dc_trk_aid=277387999;dc_trk_cid=56380682;ord=[timestamp]?;migSource=adsrv2&amp;migTrackDataExt=3744016;104476096;277387999;56380682&amp;migRandom=%25n&amp;migTrackFmtExt=client;io;ad;crtv&amp;migUnencodedDest=;sc=KCC4&amp;cmpgnid=dp_dca_inet-it-mcomfico&amp;dfaid=1">Discover it</a>.</em></p> <p>I&rsquo;m a fan of companies that goes the extra mile for their customers. Unfortunately, not all companies offer the greatest customer service. Most of us have had a frustrating customer service experience at some point &ndash; but it doesn&#39;t have to be that way. If you follow these suggestions, you can get exactly what you want from customer service &ndash; and even have fun doing it.</p> <h2>Before You Do Anything Else, Bypass the Automated Phone System</h2> <p>If you&rsquo;re calling customer service, the biggest problem you&rsquo;ll face with problem resolution is robots; you can&#39;t be friendly to a phone system (well, you can, but it probably won&#39;t be all that friendly back). The best way to do this is to tap into the <a href="">GetHuman database</a>. Look up the company you&rsquo;re dealing with, and the website will tell you the quickest way to speak to a real person. <a href="">ContactHelp</a> is also a great option.</p> <p>Now, here are nine ways to help get what you want every time you talk to a customer service representative (CSR).</p> <h2>1. Treat Your CSR Like a Friend</h2> <p>Look at it this way &ndash; these people spend 95% of their time dealing with customers who are upset. So give them a break &ndash; be nice. Ask them their name and how they&rsquo;re doing. You&rsquo;ll be amazed at how quickly the mood lightens when you initiate a friendly conversation. Where are they in the country? What&rsquo;s the weather like? Did they see that nail biter football game? If it&rsquo;s the holiday season, are they looking forward to the New Year?</p> <p>Get a conversation going, and get them smiling and laughing. Make sure you reciprocate, and be genuine. The CSR is now dealing with someone they like, not someone they want to get rid of. And when CSRs deal with people the like, they treat them well.</p> <h2>2. Say &ldquo;We&rdquo; as Much as Possible</h2> <p>My dad used to have a saying, and I still use it: &ldquo;&rsquo;I want&rsquo; never gets.&rdquo; You want the CSR to think of himself as part of your team. So, don&rsquo;t say &ldquo;I,&rdquo; say &ldquo;we.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Hey John, how are <em>we</em> going to get this resolved today?&rdquo; brings the CSR on your side. They&rsquo;re now working with you, rooting for you to succeed. On the other hand, &ldquo;How am <em>I</em> going to get this solved?&rdquo; is your problem. It&rsquo;s a tiny change in tone, but it works wonders.</p> <h2>3. Get Them Saying Yes, Yes, Yes</h2> <p>By asking questions that can only be answered &ldquo;yes,&rdquo; you get the CSR in a pattern of agreement. &ldquo;So, this is the deal I have right now? And you say I&rsquo;ve been with you for six years? And I am considered a loyal customer?&rdquo; Yes. Yes. Yes. Then you slip in something that you want them to say yes to. &ldquo;And is there something you can do for me, today, because I&rsquo;m a valued customer?&rdquo; That&rsquo;s a really tough one to say no to.</p> <h2>4. Ask Them for Their Opinion</h2> <p>The CSR knows way more about your options than you do &ndash; which means that they might know of a way to help you that you weren&#39;t aware of. Explain the situation, and then say &ldquo;What would you do in my position?&rdquo; Now they&rsquo;re thinking about this from your perspective, but with their incredible knowledge of the system. I have used this several times, most recently when I was about to be charged $125 by an airline for an overweight bag. I said &ldquo;Oh wow, that&rsquo;s just something I didn&rsquo;t budget for; what would you do in my position?&rdquo; After a few seconds, I was charged for two bags instead of one overweight bag, saving me $100.</p> <h2>5. Be 100% Prepared</h2> <p>Information such as when you ordered, when the product arrived, when you made a return, and when you previously spoke to customer service can all be helpful. Make sure you have all this information before contacting customer service. Oh, and you know how they always give you those reference numbers at the end of a call? Actually write them down.</p> <p>Also, it can help to read up on the company&#39;s policies. I know I said in the previous point that the CSR probably knows more than you &ndash; but they might not know everything. If you come across any parts of the policy that might be helpful to you, have them handy.</p> <h2>6. Call at the Best Time</h2> <p>Customer service software maker ZenDesk did a study of the <a href="">best time to call customer service</a> and discovered that people who call between 9 and 11 am generally have their issues dealt with the fastest. It makes sense &ndash; when you call in the morning, you&#39;re dealing with CSRs who are just starting their day and have a clean slate. And the &ldquo;call&rdquo; part is also key &ndash; ZenDesk reported that using the phone gets much faster results than email or social media.</p> <h2>7. If You Need to, Take Things Up a Level</h2> <p>If you aren&#39;t getting anywhere, try going further up the chain of command. This could mean asking nicely to speak to a supervisor, or you could use what&#39;s often called &ldquo;Executive Customer Service.&rdquo; Utilizing this usually takes you to people who have a lot of power within the company you have an issue with. Google it for the company you want to contact, and you should find the name, phone number, and/or email address of someone who might have more power to assist you.</p> <h2>8. Mention You Might Take Your Business Elsewhere</h2> <p>The old saying is true &ndash; it is much cheaper for a company to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. If you&rsquo;ve exhausted all options, consider telling your CSR that you might take your business elsewhere. Your CSR will go into &ldquo;save sale&rdquo; mode. You will probably be transferred to a department called retention that has the skills and power to keep you. They will offer you options the regular CSR cannot.</p> <h2>9. Always Reward Good Behavior</h2> <p>If you have a great customer service experience, always take the time to let the company know. Fill out surveys if you receive them, or take the time to write a short email to the company (and make sure to include the call reference number so they know which representative helped you). The more you reward good behavior, the more likely it is that customer service centers will be staffed with helpful people. And who knows &ndash; maybe you&#39;ll even help the CSR get a raise or bonus. Isn&#39;t it nice to help people who help you?</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="9 Ways to Get Exactly What You Want From Customer Service" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Paul Michael</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs General Tips Shopping Mon, 23 Dec 2013 11:30:45 +0000 Paul Michael 1099945 at 68% of Shoppers Are Getting Ripped Off <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/68-of-shoppers-are-getting-ripped-off" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Haggling is no longer limited to car dealerships, swap meets, and yard sales. Nor do you have to follow strict retailer rules on <a href="">price-matching</a> (like not accepting Amazon pricing). Walk into any big brick and mortar retail store and you can haggle down the price of anything -- even up to <a href="">10% under a competitor&rsquo;s price</a>.</p> <p>Stores like Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe&rsquo;s, and Kohl&rsquo;s are authorizing their managers to offer deep discounts (but only if you ask). High end stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale&rsquo;s also have price matching policies that shoppers rarely know about. But here&rsquo;s the thing: they are able to offer these deals because the majority of shoppers won&rsquo;t ask -- <a href="">68% in fact</a>.</p> <p>If you&rsquo;re not haggling, you&rsquo;re not only paying more than you have to, you&rsquo;re also subsidizing someone else&rsquo;s discount.</p> <p>The next time you walk into a retail store, fill up your cart and then speak to the manager. Whip out your phone and point to a competitor&rsquo;s price and ask for a discount (10-15% is reasonable). If you don&rsquo;t, someone else will.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="68% of Shoppers Are Getting Ripped Off" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Lynn Truong</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Shopping Tue, 17 Dec 2013 11:01:13 +0000 Lynn Truong 1100640 at Don't Pay More! Guide to Price Matching and Cheat Sheet <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/dont-pay-more-guide-to-price-matching-and-cheat-sheet" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="woman shopping" title="woman shopping" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>All the deals and sales this time of year are awesome. Well, except for when they are overwhelming to the point of paralysis. You know what I mean. It&#39;s this track playing on repeat in my mind: &quot;Wow, that&#39;s a good price. I wonder if it&#39;s the best price we&#39;ll see this season. Should I buy it now or wait?&quot; (See also: <a href="">Never Pay Full Price for These 25 Things</a>)</p> <p>Finally, an end to that endless spinning in my head. It&#39;s called price matching. And, retailers&#39; price matching policies are likely <em>more generous</em> than you might realize. Let&#39;s first understand how price matching works, then get into the more generous part before identifying a simple way to cash in this holiday season.</p> <h2>Price Matching 101</h2> <p>You want to buy an item from Retailer A. Then you notice that the exact same item, same model number and everything, is advertised for less at Retailer B. At this point you have two choices:</p> <ol> <li>Load up the car with all the kids and drive across town to Retailer B so you can get the lower price. (Insanity factor rises for the sake of saving a few bucks);<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Go into Retailer A with proof that Retailer B has a lower price. Retailer A honors that lower price and sells you the item at the price you would have paid Retailer B. (This is called price matching.)</li> </ol> <p>&quot;Alex, I&#39;ll take #2 for $200.&quot; Me, too. It preserves my sanity and ensures great prices <em>both</em>. Who doesn&#39;t love a sanity and deals 2-for-1?</p> <h2>Now the More Generous Part</h2> <p>Price matching is not only relevant at the point of purchase. Price matching can be done <em>post-purchase</em>. (See also: <a href="">Get the Best Deal on Airfare Even After You Buy</a>)</p> <p>By post-purchase I mean that if you buy something today, later on you see it for less elsewhere, then you can still get the lower price. Show proof of your purchase and proof of the lower price and voila, you get the difference back. Awesome, huh?</p> <h2>How Much Time Do You Have?</h2> <p>This alphabetical list of retailers is a cheat sheet for you on how much time you&#39;ve got to make a post-purchase price matching claim. Plus, I&#39;ve linked to each retailer&#39;s policy for your light reading enjoyment. (See also: <a href="">Amazon Deal Hacks You May Not Already Know</a>)</p> <ul> <li><a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;nodeId=200726210&amp;tag=wisbre03-20">Amazon (only on TVs)</a>: 14 days</li> <li><a href=";subid=&amp;offerid=308561.1&amp;type=10&amp;tmpid=13127&amp;u1=1098749&amp;">Best Buy</a>: During return period which varies by product; all purchases now through December 31, 2013 can be returned until January 15, 2014 (<a href=";subid=&amp;offerid=308561.1&amp;type=10&amp;tmpid=13127&amp;u1=1098749&amp;">see return policy</a> for details).</li> <li>Costco: Does not price match</li> <li><a href=";subid=&amp;offerid=297133.1&amp;type=10&amp;tmpid=12880&amp;u1=1098749&amp;">Kohls</a>: 14 days</li> <li><a href="">Home Depot</a>: Point of purchase only (<a href="">Policy</a>)</li> <li><a href="">JCPenney</a>: Point of purchase only</li> <li><a href="">Lowe&#39;s</a>: Point of purchase only <a href="">Policy</a></li> <li>Macy&#39;s: Does not price match</li> <li><a href="">Office Depot</a>: 14 days</li> <li><a href="" target="_top">OfficeMax</a>: During return period which varies by product from 14-30 days (<a href=";categorySelect=Delivery_and_Returns">see return policy</a> for details).</li> <li>Sam&#39;s Club: Does not price match</li> <li><a href="">Sears</a>: 14 days (<a href="">Policy</a>)</li> <li><a href="">Staples</a>: 14 days (<a href=";storeId=10001&amp;AID=10921729">Policy</a>)</li> <li><a href=";website=2045">Target</a>: 7 days (<a href="">Policy</a>)</li> <li><a href="">Toys R Us</a>: 7 days</li> <li><a href=";subid=&amp;offerid=223073.1&amp;type=10&amp;tmpid=273&amp;u1=1098749&amp;;RD_PARM2=wmlspartner%3Dv5uUrC7BUMs%2526sourceid%3D02277116131889737841">Walmart</a>: Post-purchase through 12/24 with <a href=";sourceid=02277116131889737841">Christmas Ad Match</a> (excludes Thanksgiving and Black Friday)</li> <li><a href=";subid=&amp;offerid=223073.1&amp;type=10&amp;tmpid=273&amp;u1=1098749&amp;;RD_PARM2=wmlspartner%3Dv5uUrC7BUMs%2526sourceid%3D21844230593618740524">Walmart</a>: Point of purchase only via <a href=";sourceid=21844230593618740524">regular Ad Match</a> <em>includes</em> Thanksgiving and Black Friday</li> </ul> <h2>The Fine Print</h2> <p>As you browse each store&#39;s policy you&#39;ll notice a certain amount of &quot;<em>yes we offer price matching but not on that item or on that day</em>&quot; type fine print.</p> <p>The two biggest exclusions in that fine print are these timeframe exclusions and retailer exclusions.</p> <h3>Timeframe Exclusions</h3> <p>Most stores do not offer price matching on/around Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving Day weekend).</p> <h3>Retailer Exclusions</h3> <p>Many retailers specify which other retailers&#39; prices they are willing to match</p> <p>Specifics vary by retailer, so take a second to familiarize yourself with policies for the two stores you&#39;re most likely to shop this season. (See also: <a href="">Black Friday Savings Tips From the Experts</a>)</p> <h2>One Step to Making This a Reality</h2> <p>Whew, that was a lot of information, wasn&#39;t it? Now, what in the world are you supposed to do with it?</p> <p>Do this right now: Pull out an envelope and write &quot;Price Matching Receipts&quot; on it. That&#39;s it. Now, when you buy something this season that costs over $100, put the receipt in that envelope. That&#39;s more than half the battle right there.</p> <p>Once you&#39;ve done that, I know you&#39;ll keep a loose eye on the sales flyers and holler, &quot;Give me my money! The other guys have it cheaper,&quot; when the time&#39;s right. I look forward to hearing how much you save. (See also: <a href="">How to Get 5% Cash Back During the Holidays</a>)</p> <p><em>Editor&#39;s note: Check out Carrie recently talking about Black Friday and holiday shopping tips on a local CBS news station.</em></p> <p><script type='text/javascript' src=';;playerWidth=605;playerHeight=359;isShowIcon=true;clipId=9539066;flvUri=;partnerclipid=;adTag=News;advertisingZone=CBS.MINN%252Fworldnowplayer;enableAds=true;landingPage=;islandingPageoverride=false;playerType=STANDARD_EMBEDDEDscript;controlsType=fixed'></script></p> <p><em>Be sure to <strong>subscribe to Carrie&#39;s free <a href="">40 Days of Holiday Savings email course</a></strong>. You&#39;ll get one, easy-to-do money-saving tip in your inbox daily. For year-round savings, check out Carrie&#39;s blog, <a href=""></a>, and her book,</em> <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0764210874&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=wisbre03-20">Pocket Your Dollars: 5 Attitude Changes That Will Help You Pay Down Debt, Avoid Financial Stress, and Keep More of What You Make</a>.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Don&#039;t Pay More! Guide to Price Matching and Cheat Sheet" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Carrie Rocha</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Shopping discounts price matching Mon, 25 Nov 2013 11:36:04 +0000 Carrie Rocha 1098749 at Cricket Review: $45 Cell Plan With Unlimited Talk, Text & Data <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cricket-review-45-cell-plan-with-unlimited-talk-text-data" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="phone" title="phone" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="340" src="//" width="605"></iframe></p> <p><a style="float:right;margin:10px 5px 10px 10px;border:none;" href=""><img src="" /></a>Earlier this year, cell phone service provider <a href="">Cricket Wireless</a> sponsored a Wise Bread tweetchat, and our readers were <a href="">very intrigued by the service</a>. After all, the cell phone industry is notorious for customer-unfriendly policies &mdash; locking people into two-year contracts and charging people a lot of money (starting at around $90 a month for a smartphone plan). Cricket, meanwhile, has no contracts and plans starting at just $50 a month (or $45 a month if you sign up for auto pay). Our readers were understandably excited about this inexpensive service, and we wanted to check it out ourselves.</p> <p>Note: While Cricket is a Wise Bread sponsor and they did lend me a phone for review purposes, I want to note that the content of this review is independent.</p> <h2>Price</h2> <p>It&#39;s hard to beat the costs of Cricket&#39;s plans &mdash; they start at $50 a month for unlimited talk, text, data, and music downloads. Granted, that only includes 2.5 MB of full-speed data &mdash; after that, the data speeds are throttled. But according to this <a href="">recent Dealnews comparison</a>, similar plans on AT&amp;T and Verizon are about $40 more. Cricket also has more basic, non-smartphone plans starting at $35 a month. Plus, if you decide that you don&#39;t like the service, not being in contract means that you&#39;re free to switch carriers without penalty.</p> <p>The one potential downside of being out of contract is that your cell phone purchases are not subsidized. So, where you might pay $200 for an iPhone at AT&amp;T, you have to pay full price at Cricket. But, even though your cost is lower up front with AT&amp;T, you end up paying more in the long run due to higher service fees. And if you already have a phone, you can bring it to Cricket, and they&#39;ll format it for use on their network.</p> <h2>Coverage and Reception</h2> <p>The quality of service is great in my area of Los Angeles &mdash; I live at the base of the Hollywood Hills, and service is sometimes spotty in my apartment with my regular cell phone. But I had four bars with Cricket throughout my apartment. I do have some concerns with their coverage in rural areas, and I suggest <a href="">checking out their map</a> to make sure you&#39;re in their service area before you buy; for example, they don&#39;t currently offer service at my parents&#39; house in rural Northern New Hampshire (granted, my parents also live in a town so small that they can&#39;t even get cable, but they do get <em>some</em> cell service).</p> <h2>Phone Selection</h2> <p>Cricket has both inexpensive phones (like smartphones starting at $50) as well as the big-name cell phones you see at major carriers, like the iPhone. The phone Cricket gave me to play with is the Samsung Galaxy S4. It has a great camera and screen, and a few weird features that don&#39;t have much benefit &mdash; like tracking your finger before it actually touches the screen.</p> <h2>Favorite Perk: Unlimited Free Music Downloads</h2> <p>But perhaps the best reason to get an android phone like the Galaxy S4 on Cricket is to get their Muve Music service, which gives you unlimited music downloads. You do need a data plan in order to use it, but the song downloads do not count towards your full-speed data usage. There are a couple of quirks to the app &mdash; for example, the music would stop playing for a moment when I took pictures. If you like listening to music on your phone, though, this app gives you access to millions of songs and can potentially save you a lot of money.</p> <p>Overall, I found Cricket Wireless to provide excellent cell phone service for drastically less than most of the big-name carriers. I definitely recommend <a href="">checking them out</a>.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Cricket Review: $45 Cell Plan With Unlimited Talk, Text &amp; Data" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Meg Favreau</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Mon, 18 Nov 2013 12:39:28 +0000 Meg Favreau 1098552 at Here's What You Should Know About Bitcoin <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/heres-what-you-should-know-about-bitcoin" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="bitcoin" title="bitcoin" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="188" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Many people heard of the virtual currency bitcoin for the first time recently when <a href="">U.S. authorities shut down Silk Road</a>, an online marketplace for illicit goods. Bitcoin was the currency used to order everything from heroin to fake IDs on Silk Road &mdash; but the online-only currency is also used by law-abiding citizens who embrace it for a number of reasons, ideological, practical and profit-motivated.</p> <p>Buying and using this digital currency doesn&#39;t make you a law-breaker &mdash; but is it a good idea? Here&#39;s a look at what bitcoin really is, and the pros and cons of using it. (See also: <a href="">Should You Choose Debit or Credit at Checkout?</a>)</p> <h2>What Is Bitcoin?</h2> <p>Bitcoin is a form of money that you can buy online using dollars or other national currencies, then spend at merchants who accept it, or save as an investment. There aren&#39;t any official bitcoin bills or coins; bitcoin holdings exist digitally and are stored on your computer or held for you by an online company.</p> <p>Bitcoins are released into the economy when computers &quot;mine&quot; them by solving increasingly difficult mathematical problems. There are a finite number of bitcoins &mdash; and once they are all mined, no more can be created, since there is no central bank or federal reserve to manipulate the bitcoin supply. (See also: <a href="">How Banks Increase the Money Supply With &ldquo;Quantitative Easing&rdquo;</a>)</p> <p>This system, an open source software protocol, was created by an anonymous person or group known as <a href="">Satoshi Nakamoto,</a> as an alternative to national currencies. Bitcoin is <a href="">decentralized</a>, not under the control of any one government, and is embraced by libertarians, voluntaryists, and <a href="">anarchists</a> as a way to effect transactions without government involvement. However, that doesn&#39;t mean it&#39;s immune to government regulation. U.S. authorities, for instance, are <a href="">requiring companies that transmit bitcoins to register as money services businesses</a>.</p> <p>Another way that bitcoin is different from other forms of currency is that it can be transmitted online from person to person without going through any bank or clearinghouse. Because of this, fees for exchanging or transferring bitcoins are very low.</p> <p>When the first bitcoins were released in 2009, the published exchange rate was just <a href="">$1 for 1,300 bitcoins</a>, but as more and more people became interested, the price climbed to a high of $31. Then, the value <a href="">crashed to a low of $2</a>. Further price gyrations have ensued, even as more bitcoins have been released and more and more people have acquired and used them.</p> <p>Now, there is <a href="">more than $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin in circulation</a>. The value hit a <a href="">record high of $266 in April 2013</a>, and currently <a href="">trades at around $137</a>, making many <a href="">early investors into millionaires</a>.</p> <h2>Why Buy Bitcoin?</h2> <p>This all may sound like a crazy system that only hard-core computer geeks would try &mdash; or worse, some kind of fraudulent scheme. And it&#39;s true that many of the people I have met while writing about bitcoin are computer programmers. But bitcoin does have advantages that could appeal to anyone &mdash; if the downsides aren&#39;t too much for you.</p> <h2>Advantages</h2> <p>Bitcoin users point to a number of advantages bitcoin has over regular currencies.</p> <p><strong>Tiny Fees</strong></p> <p>If you want to send money to family overseas through Western Union or other companies, <a href="">fees can amount to 9% or more of the amount you&#39;re sending</a>. But you can use an online wallet to transfer bitcoin to another person&#39;s online wallet for just a few cents.</p> <p><strong>Privacy</strong></p> <p>Depending on what wallet app you use, you can transfer bitcoin without sharing as much identifying information as credit cards or bank accounts require. Some people call bitcoin anonymous, but because bitcoin transactions can be viewed publicly, <a href="">it is sometimes possible to figure out who people are on the system</a>.</p> <p><strong>Potential Investment</strong></p> <p>Many bitcoin enthusiasts just hold onto their bitcoins, because they believe that the value of the currency will keep going up. Remember that there is a limited number of bitcoins in the system &mdash; so the theory is that if the crypto-currency&#39;s popularity continues to grow, the price will keep growing as well. Some people make money by <a href="">day trading bitcoins</a> &mdash; buying when the price dips in the hopes that it will bounce back again.</p> <p><strong>Merchant Advantages</strong></p> <p>If you operate an online retail business, chances are you pay about <a href="">2.5% of everything you take in</a> to credit card companies. Some merchants have started taking bitcoins just to avoid those fees. Other merchants chafe at credit card company rules &mdash; especially the fact that credit cards can force merchants to issue a refund even if they don&#39;t think the customer deserves one. With bitcoin transactions, only the merchant can decide to issue a refund. (See also: <a href="">How to Get a Refund on Non-Refundable Goods</a>)</p> <p><strong>Liberty</strong></p> <p>A lot of people who collect and spend bitcoins like the fact that it is not a government-issued currency. If you feel like the government has too much influence over your life, using bitcoin can be a small way of rebelling.</p> <h2>Disadvantages</h2> <p>Before you jump in, keep in mind that bitcoin is still relatively new and that it has a lot of challenges.</p> <p><strong>Volatility</strong></p> <p>The price of bitcoin moves around so much that the few <a href="">people who get paid in bitcoins have their salaries pegged to the dollar</a> or other national currencies. Bitcoin Foundation chief scientist <a href="">Gavin Andresen warns, &quot;don&#39;t invest your life savings in bitcoin unless you&#39;re willing to lose your life savings, because it is highly volatile and risky.&quot;</a></p> <p><strong>Legal Uncertainty</strong></p> <p>This is a biggee. As governments grapple with how to regulate this new virtual currency, they have <a href="">frozen and seized accounts at companies such as bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox.</a> If something like this happens to a company that&#39;s storing your bitcoins, you could have trouble accessing them.</p> <p><strong>Theft Risk</strong></p> <p>Hackers can steal bitcoins from your smartphone or computer if you&#39;re not using adequate security measures &mdash; <a href="">a crime that experts say is probably growing</a>. Even <a href="">bitcoin companies have been robbed</a>. And good luck explaining to the local police that someone cleaned out your bitcoin wallet. (See also: <a href="">More Scams Everyone Should Know About</a>)</p> <p><strong>Limited Places to Spend</strong></p> <p>This is probably the biggest reason that most people don&#39;t have any bitcoins. Compared to the number of merchants that accept dollars &mdash; every business in America, since it&#39;s legal tender &mdash; the number that accept bitcoins is tiny. You can&#39;t pay utility bills or taxes in bitcoins. <a href="">You can order pizza</a>, but <a href="">paying your rent in bitcoins can be challenging</a>. Bitcoin enthusiasts I have interviewed spend a lot of time convincing merchants to start accepting the virtual currency.</p> <p><em>Do you own bitcoin? Have you considered buying bitcoin?</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Here&#039;s What You Should Know About Bitcoin" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Carrie Kirby</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs alternative currency bitcoin currency Thu, 14 Nov 2013 11:24:03 +0000 Carrie Kirby 1096004 at Amazon Raises Free Shipping Minimum to $35 <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/amazon-raises-free-shipping-minimum-to-35" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="online shopping" title="online shopping" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="141" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Have you heard? Amazon&#39;s Free Super Saver Shipping for $25 orders is a thing of the past. You now <a href="">need to spend $35 to qualify for free shipping</a>. This marks the first time in a decade that Amazon has changed the order minimum for free shipping in the US.</p> <p>Note that this policy change doesn&#39;t affect <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=B00DBYBNEE&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=wisbre03-20">Amazon Prime</a>, which gets you free 2-day shipping (no order minimum!), plus a slew of other perks, for $79 a year. If you&#39;re a frequent online shopper, you&#39;ll easily recoup the membership cost in shipping savings. And with the holiday season just around the corner, this would be great time to check out Prime &mdash; especially the <a href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=B00DBYBNEE&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=wisbre03-20">30-day free trial</a>.&nbsp;Did you almost forget to send Great Aunt Marcy a garlic press? She never has to know.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Amazon Raises Free Shipping Minimum to $35" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Amy Lu</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Amazon free shipping online shopping Wed, 23 Oct 2013 10:36:03 +0000 Amy Lu 1044968 at Counterfeiters Beware: Here's How the New $100 Will Ruin Your Day <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/counterfeiters-beware-heres-how-the-new-100-will-ruin-your-day" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="$100 bills" title="$100 bills" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>The $100 bill is popular with people all over the world, and not just drug dealers and corrupt government officials. (See also: <a href="">10 Ways to Save $100 This Week</a>)</p> <p>In places where the local currency is prone to inflation or currency controls, the dollar is widely viewed as an attractive alternative. Places where the banking system isn&#39;t viewed as sound, actual cash money is an obvious alternative. When those two places overlap, the $100 bill is very popular as a safe way to store wealth. Popular enough, in fact, that nearly two-thirds of all $100 bills are held abroad, according to <a href="">Federal Reserve estimates</a>.</p> <p>This is a big subsidy for the U.S. Every one of those $100 bills got overseas by someone providing $100 worth of goods or services to someone in the U.S. For as long as the bill remains overseas, it amounts to an interest-free loan of $100 to the U.S. economy.</p> <p>Maintaining this situation, where the U.S. gets a $500 billion interest-free loan, depends most particularly in confidence in the security features of the $100 bill. A lot of that currency is being held by individuals who don&#39;t trust their own governments or their own banks, and those people need to be able to verify that a $100 bill is genuine on their own. (See also: <a href="">The Best and Worst Places to Stash Cash</a>)</p> <p>Fortunately, the new $100 has security features to make that easy.</p> <h2>New Security Features</h2> <p>There are two new security features, both immediately obvious when you look at the new $100.</p> <p><strong>3-D Security Ribbon</strong></p> <p>A broad blue ribbon is woven into the paper, just to the right of Franklin&#39;s face. As you tilt the bill, images of bells will change to images of 100s, and the images will move up and down and back and forth in the ribbon.</p> <p><strong>Bell in the Inkwell</strong></p> <p>The image of an inkwell is printed in copper-colored ink, and within the inkwell the image of a bell is printed in color-shifting ink, that will change from copper to green. The result is that as you tilt the bill, the image of the bell will appear and disappear within the inkwell.</p> <p><img alt="" src="" /></p> <h2>Plus Some Old Security Features</h2> <p>Several of the old security features you&#39;re used to are still viewed as effective and have been retained on the new bill. (See also: <a href="">How to Spot Counterfeit Bills</a>)</p> <p><strong>Portrait Watermark</strong></p> <p>On all the bills larger than the $5, the watermark is the same as the portrait on the bill &mdash; on the $100 that&#39;s Benjamin Franklin:</p> <p><img alt="" src="" /></p> <p><strong>Security Thread</strong></p> <p>On all the bills larger than the $2, there&#39;s a security thread running vertically through the fabric of the bill. On the $100, it runs between Ben&#39;s face and the Federal Reserve seal, and says USA 100:</p> <p><img alt="" src="" /></p> <p><strong>Color-Shifting Ink</strong></p> <p>On all the bills larger than the $5, the denomination on the lower right of the front of the bill is printed in color shifting ink. On the new $100 the color shifts from green to copper as you tilt the bill:</p> <p><img alt="" src="" /></p> <p><strong>Microprinting</strong></p> <p>All the new notes feature microprinting, which is hard to reproduce without genuine engraved plates and printing presses. On the new $100 there are repeated &quot;USA&quot; along the bottom of the note in Franklin&#39;s jacket. It says, &quot;The United States of America&quot; along his collar, &quot;USA 100&quot; around the blank space containing the watermark, and &quot;One Hundred USA&quot; along the golden quill.</p> <p><strong>Raised Printing</strong></p> <p>All US currency is printed with a technique called &quot;<a href="">intaglio</a>&quot; that leaves the ink on the surface of the paper, giving it a distinctive feel.</p> <p>The Treasury&#39;s <a href=""></a> website has videos, posters, and brochures on using the security features of all the new US currency.</p> <h2>What Took So Long?</h2> <p>Originally scheduled to be issued on February 10th, 2011, the new $100 was delayed almost three years by production problems printing the new bills. Now, with ample supplies of the new currency on hand, the Federal Reserve will start fulfilling bank orders for $100 bills with the new bills today.</p> <h2>Your Old Notes Are Still Good</h2> <p>The Treasury and the Federal Reserve have a policy that US currency remains legal tender forever. Your old $100 bills are still valid currency, whether they&#39;re series 1996 bills (with the large Franklin portrait and the green-to-black color-shifting ink) or pre-1996 bills (with the smaller portrait and no color-shifting ink).</p> <p>Although the pre-1996 bills are still legal tender, that does not mean that you need to accept a bill in payment if you have any doubt about its authenticity. They are much harder for an individual to authenticate &mdash; tough to do without a magnifying glass, an ultraviolet light, and a magnetic ink detector. If someone wants to give you a $100 bill, and you lack those tools, don&#39;t hesitate to tell the guy that you want the bill authenticated at a bank before you accept it.</p> <p>With the new bills, though, checking their authenticity is something anyone can do in just a few seconds. It&#39;ll be good to have these new bills in circulation. Unless you&#39;re a counterfeiter.</p> <p><em>Have you ever been passed a counterfeit note? How did you find out?</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Counterfeiters Beware: Here&#039;s How the New $100 Will Ruin Your Day" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Philip Brewer</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs $100 c-note currency US Mint Tue, 08 Oct 2013 09:36:04 +0000 Philip Brewer 998087 at Don't Fall for These Common Obamacare Scams <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/dont-fall-for-these-common-obamacare-scams" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="piggy bank" title="piggy bank" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>As the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, begins to roll out, health insurance scams linked to the law have been proliferating. Consumer advocates fear the scams may become even more common as health insurance exchanges come online. (See also: <a href="">Understanding the ACA's Health Insurance Exchange</a>)</p> <p>The Obamacare scams are many and varied. Con artists are setting up fake websites, posing as government workers or insurance agents, and contacting consumers by phone, email, text messages, and even in person.</p> <p>They are selling fake insurance plans, requesting personal financial information, and seeking personal information to commit identity theft.</p> <p>Government officials and consumer advocates are warning Americans about these most common Obamacare scams.</p> <h2>Fees for Help</h2> <p>Fraudsters contact potential victims by phone, email, or text message and offer to help them access the new health insurance exchanges &mdash; for a fee. Beware: They're out to collect bogus fees. They also collect bank account numbers or other sensitive financial information. (See also: <a href="">Obamacare Fraud Alert</a>)</p> <p>Official helpers, called navigators, assisters, or counselors, can help you with the health insurance marketplace. But they don't charge fees or push particular plans. To find people who can help you understand your health coverage options and enroll in a plan, visit <a href="">the government's local help site</a>.</p> <h2>Government Imposters</h2> <p>Some scammers claim they're from the government. It's a lie. No one from the government is calling people about their insurance. Government agencies may send you letters but will never ask for money or credit card numbers.</p> <p>Con artists may use high-pressure tactics, saying &quot;It's the law.&quot; They're known to threaten potential victims with penalties or even jail time if they don't sign up or buy a special insurance card.</p> <p>Such penalties are not possible since the law's individual mandate, which levies a financial penalty on those who don't obtain insurance, does not take effect until 2014 and entails no jail penalty.</p> <h2>Bogus Medicare Cards</h2> <p>In this scam, criminals say you need a new Medicare card because you'll lose coverage if you don't buy a new card. They may ask for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, too.</p> <p>Actually, no one needs a new Medicare card or any other insurance card, and no one will lose insurance coverage.</p> <h2>Discount Plans</h2> <p>Scammers try to sell medical discount plans, calling them insurance policies. They are not. Most discount plans entail club memberships claiming to offer reduced prices from doctors and other medical costs. Many don't deliver any cost savings. Others are just cons designed to collect personal information and commit identity theft. (See also: <a href="">How to Prevent Identity Theft</a>)</p> <h2>Insurance Agent Scams</h2> <p>Scammers may pose as insurance agents. They typically use high-pressure techniques, such as saying you must &quot;act now&quot; to get a discount or that you'll lose access to your current doctors under Medicare if you don't sign up for a Medicare Advantage Plan. That's not true.</p> <p>If you have Medicare, you don't have to do anything different because of Obamacare. Some insurance agents can help you with the Health Insurance Marketplace, but don't provide personal information or pay any money to someone who contacts you.</p> <h2>Fake Websites</h2> <p>Scammers set up fake websites to collect sensitive financial information and spread malware. To trick visitors, the sites are designed to look like an official health care exchange, complete with official seal. For instance, as <a href="">The Washington Post reported</a>, the sites and were reported and taken down.</p> <h2>Steps to Take to Avoid Getting Taken</h2> <p>Consumer confusion about the new law creates opportunities for criminals. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that as recently as April 2013, <a href="">4 in 10 Americans did not know that Obamacare was the law</a>. Many thought it had been repealed by Congress or struck down by the Supreme Court.</p> <p><strong>Learn About the Law</strong></p> <p>Read Wise Bread's ongoing coverage of the <a href="">ACA</a> and <a href="">health insurance</a> in general to stay informed, or visit <a href=""></a>. In addition to learning about the law, you can shop for insurance through that website.</p> <p><strong>Keep Detailed Notes</strong></p> <p>Write down the name of anyone who assists you, who they work for, their telephone number, address, email, and website address.</p> <p><strong>Ignore Solicitors</strong></p> <p>Don't respond to unsolicited requests for personal information or someone claiming to be from the government. Better yet, report them by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or visiting <a href=""></a>.</p> <p><em>Have you been contacted by a health insurance scam artist?</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Don&#039;t Fall for These Common Obamacare Scams" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Michael Kling</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Insurance ACA fraud health care health insurance insurance obamacare scams Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:26 +0000 Michael Kling 991234 at Don't Get Taken by the Latest Secure Credit Card Scam <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/dont-get-taken-by-the-latest-secure-credit-card-scam" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="credit card stress" title="credit card stress" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>The Federal government is warning consumers about a secured credit card scam run by a sham bank called AmTrade International Bank. Banking <a href="">regulators released an alert warning that AmTrade</a>,</p> <blockquote><p> involved in a scheme that involves soliciting consumers for semi-secured credit cards through the U.S. mail. Potential victims receive solicitations and program agreements, which may mention that Credit One Bank, N.A., is connected with the card agreement. Credit One Bank, N.A., has no connection to this entity.</p> </blockquote> <p>The fraudsters target consumers with poor credit and offer semi-secured credit cards as a way of repairing their credit. The offers arrive via mail and look like many other such secured credit card solicitations. AmTrade's letter asks victims to send cash deposits of $500 or $900 to secure credit limits of $1,500 or $3,600, respectively. The checks are deposited, but the secured Visa card never arrives. (If you're wondering if you've received one of these offers, take a look at the images at the end of this piece.)</p> <p>This is the second government alert for this kind of scam since July. <a href="">Freedom 1st National Bank was making the same fraudulent pitch</a> to consumers. Credit One Bank was also referred to in Freedom 1st's offers. The scammers may seek to alleviate suspicion by including the name of a legitimate bank in the fine print.</p> <p>Secured credit cards can be a good first step toward repairing poor credit while also offering the credit challenged the convenience and security of a credit card. Scam artists know that people with poor credit do not have many options and are more likely to accept a credit offer, even if it looks suspicious. (See also: <a href="">What Are Secured Credit Cards?</a>)</p> <h2>Protect Yourself From Fraud</h2> <p>If you suspect you have received a solicitation for a fraudulent secured credit card (or any credit product), protect yourself by understanding the offer and learning more about the company behind it.</p> <ul> <li>Do not agree to pay a third party a fee to help you find a secured credit card. This is another common scam.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Many banks do charge modest fees for the use of their cards. Scam operators charge exorbitant fees that consume much of the secured credit.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Read the offer carefully. Often the scamsters don't bother to correct typos or misspellings.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Call any customer service 800 numbers noted in the letter. Scam operations are unlikely to staff customer service departments.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Search for the company online. If anybody else has been defrauded, or if the government has already issued an alert, you'll soon find out.</li> </ul> <p>If you are serious about repairing your credit, you have lots of options, including a secured credit card from a legitimate, recognizable national bank.</p> <p><em>Have you received this secured credit card scam solicitation or one like it?</em></p> <p><a name="scan"></a><img alt="" src="" /></p> <p><img alt="" src="" /></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Don&#039;t Get Taken by the Latest Secure Credit Card Scam" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Lars Peterson</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Credit Cards credit scams secured credit card Fri, 27 Sep 2013 10:30:51 +0000 Lars Peterson 991232 at Obamacare Fraud Alert: Con Artists Prey on Worried Health Insurance Consumers <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/obamacare-fraud-alert-con-artists-prey-on-worried-health-insurance-consumers" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="doctor in monitor" title="doctor in monitor" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="176" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>The Obamacare health insurance exchanges will open for business soon (October 1, 2013), with big changes for health insurance providers and consumers alike. Many Americans have questions about the law's mandates and available plans and who has to buy what from whom. Add to that recent news stories about <a href="">employers such as Trader Joes</a> and <a href="">Walgreen's dropping employer provided coverage</a> (both will provide money to employees to purchase their own insurance, instead), and confusion reigns.</p> <p>(See also: <a href="">Guide to the Affordable Care Act's Health Insurance Exchange</a>)</p> <p>Naturally, unscrupulous scamsters have stepped into the chaos to con people out of their money and their sensitive personal identity information, such as credit cards and Social Security numbers.</p> <p>As reported today in the New York Times, <a href="">the White House is warning consumers to be wary</a> of high pressure sales pitches promising to enroll consumers in a health insurance plan offered on the exchange:</p> <blockquote><p>White House officials said that consumers should be suspicious if anyone asked them for money to enroll in a health plan offered through an insurance exchange. Legitimate insurance counselors and &quot;enrollment assisters&quot; will not ask for money, they said.</p> <p>In addition, White House officials said that Medicare beneficiaries did not need to sign up through an insurance exchange. Advocates for older Americans said that many were confused and wrongly believed that they needed to apply for coverage through the exchanges, scheduled to open Oct. 1.</p> </blockquote> <p>Today's White House announcement is part of a larger effort by the federal government to warn consumers of potential fraud. (See also: <a href="">How to Avoid Credit Card Fraud</a>)</p> <h2>How to Protect Yourself</h2> <p>The government is encouraging Americans to take several steps to protect themselves from fraud.</p> <ul> <li>DO NOT give out personally identifying information such as credit card numbers and Social Security numbers.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>DO NOT agree to pay for help enrolling in an exchange-offered plan.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Current Medicare enrollees DO NOT need to purchase additional coverage via an exchange.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>DO become informed of your rights, responsibilities, and protections under Obamacare at <a href=""></a> and the Kaiser Family Foundation's <a href="">extensive coverage of health reform</a>.</li> </ul> <p><em>Have you been contacted by a con artist offering to help you sign up for insurance on an exchange? Is the new law confusing?</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Obamacare Fraud Alert: Con Artists Prey on Worried Health Insurance Consumers" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Lars Peterson</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Insurance con artists fraud identity thieves obamacare scams Thu, 19 Sep 2013 18:48:52 +0000 Lars Peterson 988401 at 14 Secret Fast Food Menus Revealed <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/14-secret-fast-food-menus-revealed" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="woman eating burger" title="woman eating burger" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Find yourself ordering the same-ol'-same-ol' every time you hit the drive-thru? Next time, go rogue and shake up your junk-food routine by asking for items from your favorite joints' secret menus, the contents of which are revealed right here. (See also: <a href="">Secrets Restaurants Don't Want You to Know</a>)</p> <p>Since these menus are technically a secret, you may experience a few confused faces when placing your order (especially from new employees), but rest assured that these concoctions are totally possible, so don't give up so easily. If you have to, bring this list (compiled with help from the site <a href="">Ranker</a>) with you and educate the friendly folks behind the counter. In the meantime, happy grubbing, fast-food sleuths.</p> <h2>1. In-N-Out Burger</h2> <p>In-N-Out is arguably the ringleader of the&nbsp;<a href="">secret-menu</a> phenomenon &mdash; thanks to its Animal Style burger (a mustard-smothered grilled-beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, and extra spread) that made headlines a few years ago &mdash; but this isn't the only off-menu item you can order at the primarily West Coast chain. Pair your Animal Style burger with Animal Style Fries (cheese, pickles, grilled onions, and spread), then wash it down with a Neapolitan Shake &mdash; a combination of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream. If you're cutting carbs, ask for a Protein Style burger, which is wrapped in lettuce leaves instead of stuffed between a bun. See also: <a href="">Best Money Tips: The Ultimate In-N-Out Secret Menu</a>)</p> <h2>2. Starbucks</h2> <p>Start your day off a different way with items from&nbsp;<a href="">Starbucks' secret menu</a>, which includes the Zebra Mocha (a blend of white-chocolate and chocolate mocha), the Pumpkin Chocolate Latte (the pumpkin spice latte with chocolate syrup), Cake Batter Frappuccino (a vanilla frappuccino with vanilla bean and almond flavoring), and the Nutella (a Cafe Misto blended with chocolate and hazelnut syrups and caramel sauce).</p> <h2>3. Chipotle</h2> <p>When your passion for gigantic burritos starts to wane, switch to&nbsp;<a href=";page=2">Chipotle's secret menu</a>, which includes: nachos (a no-brainer, really) that feature a bed of tortilla chips covered in melted cheese and your choice of toppings; quesadillas made from a burrito shell folded in half; and the brilliant Quesorito, a burrito/quesadilla hybrid with crunch. (See also: <a href="">Secret Confessions of Employees</a>)</p> <h2>4. Five Guys Burgers &amp; Fries</h2> <p>After you scoop up a handful of peanuts, place an order from&nbsp;<a href="">Five Guys' secret menu</a>, the star of which is deliciously melted cheese. Cheeseheads can get their fix via cheese fries and grilled cheeses, the latter of which you can dress up with toppings like bacon, mushrooms, and onions.</p> <h2>5. Chick-fil-A</h2> <p>Chick-fil-A is already famous for its milkshakes, but these variations from the&nbsp;<a href="">secret menu</a> take the cake &mdash; one of them literally. At locations that serve blueberry cheesecake desserts, ask your server to throw a slice in the blender with your shake. Voila! &mdash; blueberry cheesecake milkshake. In addition to that amazement, you can suck down rootbeer floats; order chicken quesadillas (uh huh!); and if your kid doesn't like his kids' meal toy, he can trade it in for a free Ice Dream instead.</p> <h2>6. Burger King</h2> <p>If you're in the mood to commit dietary suicide,&nbsp;<a href="">Burger King's secret menu</a> may be your best bet. Fittingly, its Suicide Burger &mdash; featuring four beef patties with four slices of cheese topped with bacon and a special sauce &mdash; is available alongside the BK BLT (a BLT on a burger), the Rodeo Burger (a Whopper with onion rings and BBQ sauce on top), a ham and cheese sandwich, and half fries/half onion rings (for when you can't decide between the two).</p> <h2>7. McDonald's</h2> <p>Even with so many menu items already available, there are still&nbsp;<a href="">a few secrets up McDonald's sleeve</a>. The McKinley Mac, for instance, is basically a glorified Bic Mac that features Quarter Pounder patties, while the mammoth Monster Mac piles eight patties into a Big Mac. If you still have room for dessert, try a Pie McFlurry (you guessed it &mdash; your favorite McDonald's pie blended into a McFlurry) or a Coke float. (See also: <a href="">Cracking the McDonald's Monopoly Game</a>)</p> <h2>8. Taco Bell</h2> <p>You don't have to make a run for the border to nosh on&nbsp;<a href="">Taco Bell's secret menu</a>, which features the sometimes-on-the-regular-menu Cheesy Gordita Crunch, Chili Cheese Burrito, Enchirito (an enchilada/burrito hybrid), the Superman (a cheesy double-beef burrito with potatoes, sour cream, guacamole, and crispy tortilla strips), and the Hulk (a bean-and-cheese burrito with guacamole).</p> <h2>9. Jamba Juice</h2> <p>Even when you're trying to drink healthy, you can sneak in a bit of a candy fix with options from&nbsp;<a href="">Jamba Juice's secret menu</a>. Sweet favorites include the Pink Starburst (lemonade, soy milk, raspberry sherbet, frozen yogurt, and fresh strawberries), the White Gummi Bear (featuring a menagerie of fruits like pineapple, oranges, and mangoes), Skittles (with peach lemonade and lime sherbet as the stars), and the Sourpatch Kid (which will make your mouth pucker with lemonade blended with blueberries and lime, pineapple, raspberry, and orange sherbets).</p> <h2>10. Dairy Queen</h2> <p>Get creative with your ice cream selections by ordering from&nbsp;<a href="">Dairy Queen's secret menu</a>, which includes decadent items like the Midnight Truffle Blizzard (full of dark cocoa fudge and truffle pieces), the Peanut Buster Parfait (a hot fudge sundae with crunchy peanuts), and the Lavender Blue Sundae (which adds marshmallow to DQ's original Blueberry Sundae).</p> <h2>11. Sonic</h2> <p>Sonic is known as America's drive-in for its vast array of traditional American junk food like hot dogs and tater tots, but its&nbsp;<a href="">secret menu</a> delves deeper into our culture's love of deep-fried and greasy deliciousness. Unofficial finds include Frito Pie, a savory Southern nachos-esque dish that replaces tortilla chips with corn chips topped with chili and cheese; grilled ham and cheese; Purple Sprite, which combines Sprite, lemonade, Powerade, and cranberry juice; and Pickle-O's, once a menu item, but now only a relic that lives in secrecy.</p> <h2>12. Jack in the Box</h2> <p>Jack in the Box is one of the greatest fast-food chains that teases Northeast Coasters with its total lack of locations east of the Mississippi and above the Mason-Dixon Line, and then pours salt into our wounds with a <a href="">secret menu</a> of indulgent proportions. Items include the Ciabatta Bacon Cheeseburger and Bacon Bacon Cheeseburger (both discontinued limited-time offerings) and the mouthwatering Mint Oreo Cookie milkshake. Jack in the Box also allows you to supersize your meals with even more beef patties per sandwich if you'd like &mdash; for an extra charge of course.</p> <h2>13. White Castle</h2> <p>White Castle is so legendary that it served as the plot point for Harold and Kumar's first adventure together. After one of your own Harold and Kumar inspired adventures, swing into White Castle and order the boys' special request from the restaurant's&nbsp;<a href="">secret menu</a>, which comes with 30 sliders, 5 French fries, and four large diet Cokes &mdash; just for Harold. Kumar ordered the same, except he replaced diet Cokes for the Cherry ones. Hope you have a serious appetite, a few friends for sharing, and a defibrillator.</p> <h2>14. Shake Shack</h2> <p>Perhaps one of the most exciting secret menus on this entire list, Shake Shack solidifies its spot as one of the tastiest and most affordable fast burger joints with its&nbsp;<a href="">secret menu</a> that doesn't mess around. The Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger takes an ordinary sandwich and makes its extraordinary by topping it with ooey-gooey peanut butter, while the Shack-cago Burger transfers its Shack-cago Dog toppings (like cucumber, celery salt, and onion) to a burger. Wash it all down with a shandy &mdash; a beer and lemonade drink sure to provide just the right amount of refreshment when you need it.</p> <p><em>Do you know of other secret-menu items from America's favorite fast-food chains? Let me know in the comments below.</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="14 Secret Fast Food Menus Revealed" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Mikey Rox</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Food and Drink Fast Food food hacks secret menus Sat, 07 Sep 2013 10:36:30 +0000 Mikey Rox 981706 at Cooking Fumes Are Bad For Your Health <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cooking-fumes-are-bad-for-your-health" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="cooking fumes" title="cooking fumes" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="141" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have taken an interest in improving the nation's air quality &mdash; <a href="">it's indoor air quality</a>. More specifically, researchers are studying the quality of the air <em>in your kitchen</em>.</p> <p>That's because a gas stove produces some of the same pollutants responsible for the smog outdoors. In tests of Southern California residential kitchens in which residents cook at least once a week, researchers found the pollutant <a href="">nitrogen dioxide</a> at levels higher than the outdoor health limit in more than half the homes tested. As Jennifer Logue of Lawrence Berkeley, who is conducting the research, explained to NPR:</p> <blockquote><p>If you exceeded the standards outdoors, it would be a really big deal,&quot; she says. &quot;But if you exceed them in your house, nobody's paying attention.&quot;</p> </blockquote> <p>While electric ranges do not produce nitrogen dioxide, all ranges, gas and electric, generate cooking grease and fine particulate pollution. Prolonged exposure to unsafe levels of these pollutants can lead to heart and respiratory problems.</p> <h2>Proper Ventilation</h2> <p>The solution, according to Logue, is a range hood that vents outside. Unfortunately many range hoods vent back into the kitchen, and some of those that do vent outside are only 15% efficient due to the shape of the hood or the strength of the fan.</p> <p>Engineers at Lawrence Berkeley are working on more efficient hood and fan designs, but building codes will have to be updated with kitchen range hood ventilation requirements (such as those required for furnaces and water heaters) before the new designs start appearing in kitchens. That's a complex process involving many government agencies. It could be some time before new regulations and new, more effective range hoods and ventilation systems become widely available.</p> <h2>Steps to Take Now</h2> <p>In the meanwhile, Logue had a few suggestions about how to help reduce the pollution levels in our kitchens:</p> <blockquote><p><strong>Cooking Tips</strong></p> <ul> <li> <p>Always turn your fan on</p> </li> <li> <p>Cook on the back burners</p> </li> <li> <p>Use highest fan setting</p> </li> <li> <p>Clean grease traps periodically</p> </li> <li> <p>If you don't have a hood, open windows</p> </li> </ul> <p><strong>Tips for Buying a New Range Hood</strong></p> <ul> <li> <p>Look for one that covers the entire stovetop</p> </li> <li> <p>It should move 200 cubic feet of air per minute, certified by the Home Ventilating Institute</p> </li> <li> <p>Choose a noise rating of 3 sones or less for a quieter fan</p> </li> <li> <p>Choose a hood shape with a hollow space underneath for collecting fumes</p> </li> </ul> </blockquote> <p><em>What's the air like in your kitchen?</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Cooking Fumes Are Bad For Your Health" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Lars Peterson</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Consumer Affairs Home air quality kitchen kitchen safety kitchen vent pollution Thu, 05 Sep 2013 20:34:31 +0000 Lars Peterson 981776 at