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2000 Financial Checklist Issue

Table of Contents

Consumer Action targets housing discrimination

By Linda Sherry

Consumer Action, for the first time, has become involved in the fight against an illegal practice that hurts millions of families every year: housing discrimination.

According to Andrew Cuomo, secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), "When the Fair Housing Act became law 29 years ago, not all Americans could live in the neighborhood of their choice. Today, whether housing discrimination is practiced openly or in more subtle ways, it remains a serious problem, and an unworthy reflection on our people and our ideals. HUD is proud to enforce this law to make this country what it can and should be."

In early 1999, Consumer Action received a $2 million grant from HUD to shape a nationwide multilingual public education campaign to alert people to the many forms of housing discrimination. Public service announcements featuring Edward James Olmos are airing nationally on TV and radio. Next year, a public service announcement featuring Joan Chen will debut. In addition, educational materials in Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese have been created.

Consumer Action developed the multilingual television, radio and print public service announcements to educate the public about housing discrimination and encourage victims of discrimination to file complaints with HUD.

Housing hotline

If you or someone you know is a victim of housing discrimination, you can call HUD at (800) 669-9777. HUD operators can help you file a complaint or answer your questions about suspected discrimination.

The campaign includes free multi-lingual consumer education publications-brochures, posters and an advocates' training guide-as well as videos featuring real life stories of discrimination. These materials are being distributed for free to community and non-profit organizations as well as state and local government offices, churches, health clinics and other public centers.

CA has worked closely with Eva Plaza, assistant secretary, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, who is the chief enforcer of fair housing regulations. She has doubled the rate of enforcement actions taken against violators and succeeded in obtaining millions of dollars in settlements.

"HUD wants to tear down the barriers that keep housing discrimination alive and deprive many Americans of equal opportunities in housing," said Plaza. "Knowledge is power. HUD's partnership with Consumer Action is providing fair housing education and outreach to many hard-to-reach and underserved populations who may not be aware of their fair housing rights, including recent immigrants, the homeless and non-English-speaking people."

Consumer Action developed the PSAs and videos in partnership with the Hastings Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm.

Multilingual brochures

A set of three housing discrimination brochures, titled "Fair Housing: It's Your Right," are available in Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese in printed form and on our website. They are:

  • "Discrimination in Housing is Illegal" explains what housing discrimination is, what types of housing transactions are covered and the role of HUD in countering it.
  • "Know the Signs of Housing Discrimination" contains tips on spotting housing discrimination in a variety of housing transactions, including rentals and sales.
  • "Fighting Back Against Housing Discrimination" outlines the process of filing a housing discrimination complaint with HUD.

CA Executive Director Ken McEldowney, project supervisor, noted that while many fair housing campaigns have reached out to African Americans, there has been little or no language specific outreach to Latinos or Asian Americans. "As a popular nationwide source of multilingual consumer education, Consumer Action is uniquely suited to designing and implementing a multilingual outreach program," said McEldowney.

"We welcome this opportunity to create awareness about housing discrimination," said McEldowney. "People need to know how to avoid becoming victims, and how to fight back if they are discriminated against. Real estate agents, lenders, insurers and landlords need to know that housing discrimination is illegal."

If you are interested in obtaining these educational materials, please send a letter, e-mail or fax to Consumer Action's San Francisco office. (See "Order Free Consumer Action's Publications.")

Housing discrimination can happen in many ways

By Linda Sherry

All U.S. residents have the right to rent or buy a home in any neighborhood they can afford. Any effort to block your right to fair housing is called housing discrimination.

The federal Fair Housing Act, signed into law in 1968, gives the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) the power to investigate and take legal action to fight housing discrimination. HUD estimates that 2.5 million cases of housing discrimination take place each year in this country.

HUD is the federal agency responsible for enforcing U.S. fair housing laws-it does so by handling complaints from victims, holding hearings before its administrative law judges, representing victims in court and bringing lawsuits on behalf of victims. It also funds state and local fair housing organizations and conducts audits and tests designed to identify housing discrimination. HUD also is responsible for educating the public and the housing industry about discrimination.

Housing discrimination can happen in many ways. The most common discrimination is when property owners, landlords or homeowners associations try to keep certain people-including people of color, families with children and the disabled-from living where they want.

For instance, if a landlord will not rent to people of color, this is housing discrimination. Or, if a real estate agent warns prospective clients that a house is in a neighborhood primarily occupied by African Americans, that too is illegal.

Sometimes, a landlord, seller or real estate agent tells people of color that an advertised rental dwelling or home for sale is no longer available when it still is. The person interested in the rental is turned away with a friendly smile and a handshake, and leaves without suspecting that they were victims of housing discrimination.

Businesses such as mortgage companies and insurance firms may discriminate in more subtle ways. They may routinely refuse loans or insurance to prospective buyers of older homes in neighborhoods where home values are low. Often in such neighborhoods, residents and prospective buyers are minorities, so these practices result in fewer loans or insurance policies for people of color.

A financially healthy new year

By Linda Sherry

Financial Checklist Out with the old, and in with the new: the new year is a good time to evaluate last year's finances and plan for the future. To get you off to a good start, we've created a package of stories in this issue that can help you with your financial tune-up.

If you haven't done so already, create files that will make your annual check-up a breeze. An accordion folder or a loose-leaf notebook with pocket pages work well to help you organize your personal paperwork.

Keep copies of the past three years' income tax returns and bank statements handy. Many questions can be answered quickly by referring to them. Keep all statements and trade confirmations from your broker in a safe place-these are documents you may need to keep for many years, especially if they pertain to investments you still own or tax-deferred retirement accounts.

It's a good time to give some thought to your financial goals. Marriage or divorce, a job change, buying a house, having children or paying for a child's college or wedding can alter your priorities.

A budget can help you by itemizing what you have and what you'll need in the coming year. A long range plan can outline what you hope to accomplish in 10, 20 or 30 years.

Whether you like to take care of your own finances or hire professionals, the stories in this issue offer a wealth of resources to help you.

Tax help now for retirement

By Linda Sherry

Financial Checklist Many companies offer plans that allow employees to funnel pre-tax income into retirement savings accounts. Some programs get a boost from the companies themselves, which match employee contributions. However, many employees do not take part-that's a big mistake.

Yes, the money you choose to put into the retirement plan does mean less take-home pay, but you don't pay tax on contributions in the year you make them. You pay the income tax when you withdraw the funds in your retirement, any time after you reach age 59 1/2.

If your company doesn't offer a retirement program, you can open an individual retirement account (IRA). To qualify for an IRA, you must have income from a job, self-employment or alimony. The most you can put into an IRA each year is $2,000 or 100% of your compensation, whichever is less. You may withdraw money from the account after you reach age 59 1/2 and you must make withdrawals each year after age 70. Earlier withdrawals carry a tax penalty. If you're working but your spouse is not, you can contribute up to $2,000 of your income to an IRA for your spouse.

IRAs are available at banks and credit unions, mutual fund companies and brokerage firms. There are several kinds of IRAs:

  • Tax-deductible IRA: For many people, the annual contribution of $2,000 is fully deductible from their income taxes. However, people with higher incomes may not be able to deduct the full $2,000 from their taxes, but they may be able to pro-rate their deductions.
  • Roth IRA: You contribute after- tax dollars to a Roth IRA and no part of your contribution is tax deductible. However, all deposits, earnings and income generated in the account are tax free. Withdrawals before age 59 1/2 can be made without penalty for college tuition, certain medical expenses, payment of health insurance premiums by an unemployed person and first-time home buyer expenses.
  • SEP IRA: Self employed individuals may open SEP IRA accounts for themselves and their employees.

More information on IRA rules and limitations is available from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in its Publication 590, available at the IRS web site (www.irs.gov).

Many online publications carry in-depth information on retirement accounts, including Smart Money (www.smartmoney.com/retirement) and Kiplinger (www.kiplinger.com).

Why pay those bank fees?

By Sarah Hinds

Financial Checklist Do you groan every time you open your bank statement? If fees are getting you down, why not try to reduce some of these charges? Here are some ideas that might help:

  • Overdrafts result in the highest bank fees, but the good news is they are also the easiest fees to avoid. Balance your checkbook often and record each transaction so you don't overdraw your account. Ask your bank about overdraft protection, a feature that covers an overdraft with money from another account or your credit card. Overdraft protection has its costs, but it's preferable to-and less expensive than-bouncing checks.
  • Look for a checking account with no monthly maintenance fee, or one that requires you to keep only a low monthly balance to avoid a charge.
  • Review your bank statements to make sure all the charges and fees are warranted. Complain if you find an error.
  • Call your bank. Sometimes there are special deals available, like free checking if you have your paycheck directly deposited.
  • Report missing ATM or debit cards as soon as possible to avoid responsibility for unauthorized transactions.
  • Check out www.bankrate.com. This site includes comparisons of checking, ATM and debit card fees charged by many banks. Review what your bank's competitors are offering-you might find a better deal.

Avoiding ATM fees

  • Call your bank and find out which of its ATMs are closest to your home and work. Use your bank's ATMs to avoid the fees charged by other banks as well as the fee your bank charges when you use another bank's machine.
  • Avoid other banks' ATMs by getting cash back when you make point-of-sale purchases with your debit card at grocery markets or drugstores.
  • Plan ahead: Get enough cash ahead of time so you won't be forced to go to another bank's ATM. As an alternative, use a debit card to pay for purchases.

Banks that do business only on the Internet may offer better deals. In May, CA News surveyed 19 virtual banks and 10 of the largest U.S. brick and mortar banks. We found that virtual banks tend to have free or low cost accounts and lower fees. To read the study, view the May issue Online Banking Issue or write to CA.

How's your credit?

By Sarah Hinds

Financial Checklist Your credit report contains information about your past and present loans, payments and credit limits. Companies that have loaned you money or given you credit supply this information to credit reporting agencies.

Landlords, credit card companies, lenders and employers are allowed to look at your report to determine how well you handle your credit obligations. They use the information to decide whether or not to rent you an apartment, give you credit or a loan or offer you a job.

Check your credit report every year to make sure that it is correct and up-to-date. Make sure that all the information is accurate, from your name to your account numbers, and that you opened all of the credit accounts yourself.

There are three major credit reporting agencies:

Equifax
1-800-685-1111
www.equifax.com

Experian
1-888-397-3742 (1-888-EXPERIAN)
www.experian.com

Trans Union
1-800-916-8800
www.tuc.com

Credit reporting agencies can report negative credit information on your credit report for seven years, and bankruptcy information for seven to 10 years. You cannot remove information if it is accurate and current. However, if something has been inaccurately reported, you can complain about it by following the credit reporting agency's procedure for disputes. (A description of this process is included when you order a copy of your credit report.)

The cost to obtain a copy of your credit report varies by state (it is free in a few states), but is never more than $8.50. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from a particular credit reporting agency if:

  • You have been turned down for credit, insurance, employment or a rental dwelling because of information provided by that credit bureau within the last 60 days.
  • You are unemployed and plan to seek employment in the next 60 days.
  • You receive public welfare assistance.
  • You suspect your credit report may contain errors due to fraud.

Never too early to make a will

By Sarah Hinds

Financial Checklist

If you have property or assets, it is never too early to make a will. When you die without a will, state law determines who inherits your property, and it might not end up where you would like it.

If you have no spouse or children, your property will go to your parents or siblings. If no relatives can be found, your property will go to the state. For parents, another hazard of dying without a will is that the court will decide who becomes the guardian of your children if their other parent is unable to take on this responsibility. If you are involved in a domestic partnership, your partner will not receive any of your property after your death unless you have a will.

Making a will does not have to be difficult or expensive. Nolo.com, a legal self-help web site, offers information about how to write or change your will without the help of a lawyer.

Look at your will every year in order to make sure it is up-to-date with your life. Some changes that might trigger an update are:

  • Divorce. Each state has different rules about what happens to a will after divorce. In some states, divorce could cause your existing will to become null and void.
  • Marriage. Revise your will to make sure your spouse will receive only what you intend. If you don't specify your wishes in your will, your spouse may receive more than you wish, at the expense of your children, friends or relatives.
  • Birth of a child. Be sure to name a personal guardian for your child in case anything should happen to you and your spouse or partner.
  • New stepchildren. Unless you legally adopt your stepchildren, they have no legal right to inherit anything from you unless you name them in your will.
  • Domestic partnerships. Without a will or alternate estate plan (such as a living trust) that names your domestic partner as your beneficiary, he or she will not receive anything from your estate. This holds for both same-sex and heterosexual couples. Vermont is the only state that offers "civil unions" for same-sex couples, which result in automatic property inheritance if one partner dies without a will.

Check beneficiary designations on all your financial accounts to make sure they agree with your will. Sometimes, the beneficiaries you named on brokerage accounts, life insurance policies, mutual funds or IRAs (individual retirement accounts) can supersede those named in a will.

Keep your will in a safe place-in a shared bank safe deposit box or at your lawyer's office. Let your family know where your will is to save them needless hassle during a difficult time.

Big refund or balance due? Check your withholding

By Linda Sherry

Financial Checklist Check your income tax withholding at least once a year. The goal is not to have too little or too much tax withheld from your paycheck. If too little tax is withheld, you will owe tax at the end of the year. You also might have to pay interest and a penalty if you did not withhold enough money.

If you have too much tax withheld, you are giving the government a free loan. By adjusting your withholding, you can use the extra money in each week's paycheck instead of waiting for a refund after you file your tax return. If you save that money, you will earn interest on it, too.

There are many reasons that you may not be withholding enough from your paycheck. You may have investments that have generated interest or dividend income or capital gains over the year. Or you might lose an exemption if your child moves out of the house. And when you can no longer file as "head of household," your tax liability probably will increase.

Form W-4, available from your employer, has a worksheet on the back to help you figure how much you should be withholding to meet your federal income tax obligations. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has worksheets and directions for changing your withholding in its Publication 919. You can read or download the publication at the IRS web site (www.irs.gov). Kiplinger, a personal finance web publication, has an interactive calculator (www.kiplinger.com/tools/withholding/) for estimating your withholding.

Beyond savings accounts

Choosing the right investments may help boost your bottom line

By Linda Sherry

Financial Checklist Would you like to see a better return on your money than the interest rates paid by savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs)? Over long periods of time, investments in stocks and bonds have outpaced inflation, but savings accounts and CDs have not.

Unlike insured bank accounts, investments are never insured-not by the government or anyone else. This means you will probably have no recourse if you lose money in an investment.

All investments carry an element of risk. A general rule is that the greater the potential reward, the greater the potential risk. If an investment sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Investments are widely available to suit all types of investors. Banks, brokerages, insurance companies and mutual fund companies sell investments, including mutual funds, annuities, stocks, bonds and government securities.

Spread the wealth

To invest on the safe side, consider dividing the money you have to invest-your assets-among several categories of investments such as stocks, bonds and government-backed securities. This is referred to as diversification-it helps you to spread the potential risk of loss among numerous companies. You can do this by purchasing shares in several different companies, or by investing in a well-diversified mutual fund that invests in many industries.

However, some mutual funds invest in one area, such as communications, and may lack the advantage of industry diversification.

Brokers and financial planners charge fees and/or commissions. You have a right to know how the broker or planner is being compensated. You may be asked to pay a flat fee or hourly fees for their services.

Some brokers and planners do not charge flat or hourly fees, but, like commissioned salespeople, earn commissions only when they buy or sell investments for you.

Before making any investment or opening an account with a brokerage, ask about the total costs, including sales charges and fees. These costs usually fall into two categories-up front charges and ongoing expenses or management fees.

Before you make any investment, you have the right to ask for information about it. You have the right to investigate the background of investment firms and their salespeople. If they have been in trouble with the government, you have the right to know that.

Never allow yourself to be pressured by anyone into making an investment. Obtain and read the prospectus-a document describing the investment and all costs associated with it. Always keep a close eye on your account and never allow any transactions that you do not understand completely.

It is not rude to ask questions about a broker's education, training, licensing, experience and disciplinary record-in fact a professional broker will expect it. If you decide to seek financial advice, you should interview several experienced professionals before making a decision.

Information & assistance

There are many sources of investment information. If you are a novice investor, we recommend you visit the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Investor Education site (www.sec.gov/investor.shtml) for basic and in-depth information on investing. If you have had trouble with an investment, the SEC offers an online complaint form. (To order SEC publications, call (800) 732-0330.)

The National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), in partnership with the American Association of Individual Investors, has a new series of short online video lectures called "Investor's Streaming University" (www.streamingu.org) designed for investors who already have some investing experience.

If you want some amusement along with your investment advice, The Motley Fool site (www.fool.com) might appeal to you. As the Fool says, "Being smart about your money can be a lot of fun, really!" The Fool's advice is solid and anything but silly.

Insurance: We've got you covered

By Linda Sherry

Financial Checklist Insurance just isn't "sexy," but it is a fact of life. We need it or are required to have it-there's just too much to lose without it. The Internet has revolutionized shopping for insurance by making it easy to compare premiums on many types of policies. Here are some tips and pointers to help you get a good deal.

Auto insurance

  • Comparing premiums can save most drivers some money. Contact your state insurance department to see if it has a survey of typical prices charged by different insurers. Call at least four firms to check premiums on the same coverage.
  • There are many web sites that help you comparison shop for auto insurance. Try a few of them, because some offer quotes from different groups of companies. Progressive, the fourth largest auto insurer in the country, quotes its own rates as well as those of selected competitors on its web site (www.progressive.com).
  • Talk to your agent or insurer about raising your deductibles on collision and comprehensive coverage to at least $500 or, if you have an older car, dropping your collision or comprehensive coverage. You could save hundreds of dollars a year.

Health insurance

  • If you are laid off, the federal law known as COBRA allows you to continue medical coverage under your former employer's plan for up to 18 months, at your own expense. If you are a student, you can seek coverage for 18 months under your parents' employer-paid plan.
  • If you are forced to buy your own health insurance because your employer does not offer it or you are self-employed, ask about high-deductible policies that will not pay routine medical bills but will cover you if you have a catastrophic health problem.
  • Ask professional organizations you belong to, or those in your field, if they have group health insurance plans for their members. eHealthInsurance.com lets you compare small-group or individual HMO plans. However, the plans are not available in all states.
  • Many financial experts recommend disability insurance coverage for at least 60% of your pre-tax income. Some disability policies allow you to convert to a long-term care policy at a future time.
  • Buying a long-term care policy while you are healthy in your 50s can result in a savings of 20%-60% off the same policy when you are 65. Some companies will deny applicants if they wait too long.

Home & renters insurance

  • Ask your state insurance department for a list of licensed home insurers. Call at least four insurers for price quotes. If you switch companies, keep your old policy in effect until you are sure the new one is in place.
  • Let your insurer know if you have added security measures at home, such as deadbolt locks, smoke detectors or an alarm system. Many insurers offer discounts for more secure homes.
  • Make an inventory of your possessions, including original purchase prices and photos or videotapes. Keep the inventory at home in a fireproof receptacle or in your bank safety deposit box.
  • Some items-furs, jewelry or fine art-are excluded from most home-owners policies. You can list special items on a separate "rider" to your policy for an additional premium.
  • Purchase enough coverage to replace the house and its contents. Review your coverage at least every three years to make sure it is enough. Most policies pay to rebuild your house in its current condition and don't take into account the added costs of local construction, building standards and safety codes.

Life insurance

  • If you want insurance protection only, and not an investment, buy a term life insurance policy. Term insurance covers policy holders for a fixed span of time, such as 5, 10 or 25 years. It is affordable for most people and can be dropped without penalty when you no longer need it-such as when your children are grown and supporting themselves.
  • Cash value insurance is also known as "permanent" insurance because it is sold for indefinite periods. Variations include whole life, universal life and variable life. If you buy a cash value policy, plan to hold it for at least 15 years. Canceling these policies after only a few years can double the cost.
  • Don't be talked into replacing a cash value insurance policy without finding out all the ramifications. Most of the fees and commissions are paid when you take out the policy, so buying a new one can set you back financially.
  • Don't buy a policy without get-ting quotes from several agents or companies-you could end up paying thousands of dollars more than you need to. Compare premiums, cash value, death benefits and fees.
  • Life insurance is a long-term commitment. Check that your insurer is financially stable by using a free insurance rating service such as Standard & Poor's at (212) 438-2000; Moody's at (212) 553-0377; or Fitch at (312) 368-3198. Stick to companies with high ratings for five years or more.

Comparison shopping online

There are many great sources of information about insurance online. You can comparison shop with the click of your mouse-and even buy some types of policies online. Here are some sites we've found to be helpful:

Plastic fantastic! Get a handle on credit card costs

By Sarah Hinds

Financial Checklist Is your credit card interest rate too high? Are fees and other costs on your card getting you down? Here are some ideas to help you save money:

  • Consolidate all of your balances onto one low-rate card. Be sure to cancel old cards after you transfer your balances to other cards.
  • Check if your cards have annual fees. There are plenty of cards out there with no annual fee, and it might be worthwhile to switch, especially if you are not carrying a balance from month-to-month.
  • Cancel cards you don't use. It's not worth it to pay annual fees if you never use the card. And even if the card doesn't have a fee, it can affect your credit record if you have too much outstanding credit.
  • If you use a credit card on a regular basis and pay the bill in full each month, consider switching to a rewards card, such as one that offers you airline miles with each purchase.

There are some great resources that can help you compare rates and find a good deal:

  • Consumer Action does an annual "Credit Card Rates Survey" that can help you tell the winners from the losers. You can view CA's most recent credit card survey at our CA News link.
  • Bankrate.com offers advice, articles and comparisons of thousands of credit cards.
  • CardWeb has monthly surveys on low-rate credit cards as well as information on airline miles and other rewards cards (www.cardweb.com).

Avoid expensive late fees. Late and over-the-limit fees are in the $30 range. If you are late with a payment, your issuer may penalize you with an inter-est rate increase as high as 26%. A bit of planning makes these fees easy to avoid:

  • Get organized: make a list of each credit card, its limit, when the bill comes and when it is due. Examine recent late fees and figure out why you got hit, and what you can do to prevent them in future. If it's the first time, call and ask to have the charge removed.
  • Don't put off payment: if you get in the habit of paying your bills right away, you can avoid late fees altogether.
  • Keep track of credit card spending so that you do not exceed your limits. Issuers usually don't block charges that take you over the limit-they like the income from over-the-limit fees too much.

Consumer advocates gird for a new year's challenges

By Sarah Hinds

Consumer advocates are gearing up to address key concerns as a new federal administration looms. Privacy rights, electronic commerce protections, sub-prime lending and electricity "re-regulation" are some of the top areas of concern expressed by advocates interviewed by CA News.

"Privacy is going to be one of our top priorities," said Ed Mierzwinski of the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) in Washington, D.C. "Industry will try for 'voluntary compliance,' but we will work toward applying consumer protection laws to electronic commerce."

Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), a Boston-based organization, is working toward greater consumer protection for on-line transactions. "We would like to see the issue of e-commerce addressed - specifically, we would like to see the passage of an electronic consumer bill of rights."

At press time, there was still uncer-tainty about the outcome of the presidential election. Saunders said that if the new administration is Republican, the NCLC may have to take a defensive posture on many issues. "We anticipate fighting against attacks on the Truth in Lending Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act," she said.

Mierzwinski said, "We would like to see credit scores disclosed nationwide, and to generally see credit card companies reigned in" on anti-con-sumer practices like exorbitant fees and sky high rates for the credit impaired.

Mierzwinski and Saunders also expressed concern that the credit industry would try to further erode bankruptcy protections.

Unfair lending practices

A hot topic right now is predatory lending, the use of deceptive loan tactics which include payday loans and manipulative, unfair mortgage lending. U.S. PIRG will be working toward payday loan regulation in the coming months, and NCLC will be dealing with similar issues arising out of the profitable subprime lending industry which targets people with impaired credit.

"We expect predatory lending to rear its ugly head. We would like to see regulation of predatory mortgage lenders in the near future," Saunders said.

Privacy rights

Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, hopes for "legislation protecting on-line privacy. We think Congress may pass a law on this issue in the next year." She also believes there is a dire need for legislation restricting the use of Social Security numbers to reduce the incidence of identity theft.

Unsolicited e-mail-or spam-is another bugbear, said Givens. "We might see some spam legislation. It may not prohibit the problem entirely, but hopefully it will at least require spammers to provide a working return e-mail address so that consumers can get themselves off of spam lists."

Electricity re-regulation

Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers Action Network (UCAN) in San Diego, said that while the rising cost of electricity is a hot topic right now, he does not have high hopes for any new federal electricity regulations in the wake of questionable policies to deregulate the industry. "We'll press FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to take some concerted action to bring the wholesale market under control, but I don't believe FERC will do it."

Utility price spikes hit San Diego hard when price controls were lifted there this summer, making the area a testing ground for the effects of electricity deregulation.

Shames also stressed the need for research and education on alternative power sources. "We should also accelerate the development of new, emerging renewable energy technologies, such as fuel cells."

CA's new staffers

Sarah Hinds and Rachel Lanzerotti have joined CA's staff. Hinds came on board in November as an editorial associate. She will help Linda Sherry, CA's editorial director, write and edit CA News, consumer education publications and press releases. Hinds recently graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in English.

Lanzerotti joined the staff in October as associate director of CA's Healthy Children Organizing Project (HCOP). Lanzerotti brings 10 years of experience working as a community organizer and educator to the position. Her focus on social justice has brought her to many places, from providing services in a free clinic for low income women to doing anti-violence work in the queer community. She recently obtained her Masters of Social Work from San Francisco State University, with a concentration in community organizing and advocacy.

 
 
 

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