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Pay Dirt
A daily look at what we buy, how we spend, and the companies that do right - and wrong - by their customers.

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  • Aug 31, 2012
    3:03 PM ET

    How to Save on College Health Plans

    As colleges upgrade their health plans to comply with the Affordable Care Act, some students (or their parents) may end up paying higher premiums.

    New regulations require the phasing out of caps on benefits, coverage of certain “essential” services and the elimination of co-pays for preventive care, including contraceptives. To cover these extra costs, several colleges have raised the price of their health plans. Others, particularly smaller schools, are choosing to drop coverage altogether.

  • Apr 6, 2012
    1:49 PM ET

    Do iPhones Make Us Narcissists?

    There’s no app for arrogance. Smartphone users don’t need one, says the author of a new book.

    Addiction to gadgets is a national malady, says Larry Rosen, whose book “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us,” relates the social and psychological consequences of dependence on iPhones, Androids and Blackberrys. The average teenager sends and receives 3,417 text messages per month, according to Nielsen, or between 7 and 8 per waking hour. In another 2011 study carried out by Rosen, he found younger people’s anxiety escalates when they check their messages.

    Stalking Facebook and Twitter causes people to become more depressed and more narcissistic, Rosen says. “Social networking is a predictor of many disorders,” he says. All the talk of “me, me, me” on Facebook suggests social networking has gone too far, he says. Studies also show that one-in-three Generation Xers and one-in-six baby boomers constantly check their devices. Rosen offers some solutions: write a status update or tweet, then take a break. If the words “me” or “I” appear more frequently than “we” or “us,” he says it might be worth re-writing or even deleting it.

    We spoke to Rosen about the increasingly tight grip technology has over Americans:

  • Feb 6, 2012
    3:52 PM ET

    Real Estate’s Hail Mary Sales Pitch

    In today’s real estate market, you don’t need a broker – you need a superhero.

    At least, that’s the message of Century 21’s first-ever Super Bowl commercial. Their agents will successfully negotiate with buyers as picky as Donald Trump, according to the celebrity-studded ad, which premiered Sunday night. They’ll have absurdly lavish open houses that will impress even Deion Sanders. And, as a buyer, they’ll get your offer accepted at speeds faster than Apolo Ohno.

  • Oct 13, 2011
    11:55 AM ET

    Could Airline Bathrooms Go the Way of Free Peanuts?


    Accidents are relatively uncommon on commercial flights, but that could change if Ryanair’s plan to remove two-thirds of its bathrooms catches on.

    With each bathroom creating room for three seats, the European discount carrier, which is known for proposing bizarre cost-cutting measures, says it could save passengers $6 on a $120 ticket. “It would fundamentally lower air fares by about 5% for all passengers,” CEO Michael O’Leary told The Independent.  “We’re trying to push Boeing to re-certify the aircraft for six more seats, particularly for short-haul flights — we very rarely use all three toilets on board our aircraft anyway.”

  • Oct 12, 2011
    12:42 PM ET

    BlackBerrys Are Back, But Will Refunds Follow?

    RIM says BlackBerry service has been restored, which is some comfort for the users around the world who have suffered withdrawal over the last several days. The largest telecom operator in the United Arab Emirates did say it would compensate users en masse for service interruptions, but BlackBerry users in the U.S. may not get the same treatment.

    Getty Images

    When service outages occur, it’s typically up to the phone companies to decide whether to compensate users who’ve been affected, says Todd Day, a mobile and wireless communications analyst at Frost & Sullivan. Typically, that would take the form of a credit to a phone bill, extra minutes or additional data use.

    Telecoms outside of the UAE haven’t said whether they’ll offer refunds or credits, and in the U.S., there are a few reasons they might not: The service disruptions seem to be affecting BlackBerry Messenger and Internet browsing, which are processed by Research in Motion’s own network – not by the carriers, which provide service for phone calls. (RIM did not respond to requests for comment.) Separately, consumer contracts with carriers don’t include a guarantee of service. In other words, the phone companies don’t promise that customers’ phones will work all the time.

  • Oct 11, 2011
    12:36 PM ET

    Community Banks Not Ruling Out Debit-Card Fees


    Consumers looking to switch to small community banks and credit unions to escape the newly imposed debit-card fees may want to think twice. While smaller institutions are technically exempt from the new federal regulations which forced Bank of America and others to impose the charges, industry experts say that might not last for long.

    “The smaller institutions have not had to yet – ‘yet’ is the operative word,” says Jason Kratovil, a vice president at the Independent Community Bankers of America.

  • Oct 7, 2011
    11:36 AM ET

    Why a $5 Debit Card Fee Is a Good Thing


    For the past couple of days I have watched in disbelief how everyone has piled onto Bank of America for announcing a $5 monthly fee for debit cards.

    People are swamping the bank with hate. Outraged customers jammed its website.

    The president of the United States denounced the move, which he said was exactly the kind of thing the new consumer watchdog is supposed to prevent – and denied banks have “an inherent right to get a certain amount of profit, if your customers are being mistreated.” On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and others piled on too.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to or tweet @SMPayDirt.