Black Friday Gives Way to Gray Thursday

by Gerri Willis

Black Friday ain’t what it used to be. Promotions and discounts have already gotten underway for holiday shoppers at national retailers across the country. And now, more than ever, the big names, like Macy’s, Walmart and Best Buy are opening on Thanksgiving Day, much to the consternation of many employees.

But the real action is already starting. According to the website, BGR, Walmart has 115 deals listed in its pre-Black Friday Sale, which is already underway. Notable deals include discounts on 58-inch Samsung LED HDTVs and 40-inch Samsung HDTVs.  Meanwhile, Aeropostale  is promoting a 50 percent off promotion and Home Depot has 12 pages worth of deals. That’s a small sample of the deals out there. But you get the picture, retailers who’ve had two years of punk holiday sales are desperately trying to prime the pump and get consumers’ attention with early markdowns. The National Retail Federation has predicted the season will yield good, but not spectacular, results for retailers with a gain of 4 percent in sales through year end.

This trend is definitely in consumers’ favor, but you’d be well advised to compare prices no matter where you shop. Online, retailers engage in dynamic prices, which means they change prices constantly to try to find the best possible price point for them. Andrea Woroch, consumer analyst with Kinoli, suggests using price comparison apps, such as PriceGrabber and Google Shopping, to make sure you score the best price.

Whether you shop on Black Friday or not, my advice is to keep an eagle eye out on what you’re paying. 

Stroller Recall

by Gerri Willis

Graco is recalling millions of strollers because they could injure a child. Here's more information from the Consumer Protection Safety Commission:

Product: Aspen, Breeze, Capri, Cirrus, Glider, Kite, LiteRider, Sierra, Solara, Sterling and TravelMate Model Strollers and Travel Systems

Hazard: The folding hinge on the sides of the stroller can pinch a child’s finger, posing a laceration or amputation hazard.

Remedy: Repair

Consumer Contact: Graco Children’s Products at (800) 345-4109 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or online at www.gracobaby.com and click on the “Help Center” at the top and Recall and Safety Notifications for more information. 

This recall includes eleven Graco and Century-branded strollers with model names Aspen, Breeze, Capri, Cirrus, Glider, Kite, LiteRider, Sierra, Solara, Sterling and TravelMate.  All models are a single-occupant stroller with an external sliding fold-lock hinge on each side and a one-hand fold release mechanism on the handle. Strollers with a manufacture date from August 1, 2000 to September 25, 2014 are included in the recall. Model numbers and the date of manufacture are printed on the white label located at the bottom of the stroller leg just above the rear wheel. 

For more information:

http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2015/Graco-Recalls-11-Models-of-Strollers/

Takata Airbag Recall: Is Your Car On This List?

by Gerri Willis

AFFECTED VEHICLES

 

Acura: 2002–2003 CL and TL; 2003–2006 MDX; 2005 RL

BMW: 2000–2005 3-series sedan and wagon; 2000–2006 3-series coupe and convertible; 2001–2006 M3 coupe and convertible

Chrysler: 2005–2008 Chrysler 300; 2007–2008 Aspen

Dodge/Ram: 2003–2008 Dodge Ram 1500; 2005–2008 Ram 2500, Dakota, and Durango; 2006–2008 Ram 3500 and 4500; 2008 Ram 5500

Ford: 2004 Ranger; 2005–2006 GT; 2005–2007 Mustang

Honda: 2001–2007 Accord; 2001–2005 Civic; 2002–2006 CR-V; 2002–2004 Odyssey; 2003–2011 Element; 2003–2007 Pilot; 2006 Ridgeline

Infiniti: 2001–2004 Infiniti I30/I35; 2002–2003 Infiniti QX4; 2003–2005 Infiniti FX35/FX45; 2006 Infiniti M35/M45

Lexus: 2002–2005 SC430

Mazda: 2003–2007 Mazda 6; 2006–2007 Mazdaspeed 6; 2004–2008 Mazda RX-8; 2004–2005 MPV; 2004 B-series

Mitsubishi: 2004–2005 Lancer; 2006–2007 Raider

Nissan: 2001–2003 Maxima; 2001–2004 Pathfinder; 2002–2006 Nissan Sentra

Pontiac: 2003–2005 Vibe

Saab: 2005 9-2X

Subaru: 2003–2005 Baja, Legacy, Outback; 2004–2005 Impreza, Impreza WRX, Impreza WRX STI

Toyota: 2002–2005 Toyota Corolla and Sequoia; 2003–2005 Matrix, Tundra

 

 

Best Tech Gifts Under $200

by Gerri Willis

Let’s face it; inevitably there is always someone on your Christmas shopping list who is a tech geek. And, whether you are a geek or not, you may be forced to find them the perfect gizmo. For that reason, we turned to our friends at Consumer Reports, who test hundreds of products, including tablets, TVs and cameras. Here are their top 5 picks for the season.

No. 1: If you’re looking for a TV, the Samsung UN28H4000 if great for the college student or child. The 28-inch LCD TV has good high definition picture quality and excellent color. Cost: $200.

No. 2: Bose FreeStyle earbuds. This in-ear model works for IPods, iPads and cellphones delivering good overall sound quality. Cost: $130.

No. 3: Sonos Play: 1: Wireless speakers are everywhere but the Sonos speakers deliver good sound at a reasonable price. There’s no remote. They just play music directly from your phone, tablet or computer. Cost: $200.

No. 4: Samsung Gear Fit: An activity monitor and a watch. You can receive phone calls and text messages but the product also has a built-in heart rate sensor. The folks at Consumer Reports note that the device is only compatible with Samsung smart phones. Cost: $150.

No. 5: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX: Wi-Fi 16 GB. This portable, 7-inch tablet has a super clear screen. The Amazon app market isn’t as big as Apple’s but Amazon Prime members get access to plenty of free movies and music. Cost: $180.

Consumer Reports December issue has more picks in its December issue. Join us tonight on The Willis Report when associate electronics editor Terry Sullivan gives us even more ideas.

The Dirty Little Secrets of Gift Cards

by Gerri Willis

It’s hard to ignore the convenience of gift cards. No muss. No fuss. No messy wrapping paper and tape. Plus you get the ultimate flexibility because the recipient actually makes the hard choices.

But there is a big debate out there about whether gift cards are an overdone trend or the hottest thing since sliced bread. According to a survey conducted by the Consultancy Deloitte LLP, the proportion of people who say they will buy gift cards this holiday season – 43 percent – is down sharply from a peak of 69 percent set back in 2007. Yet, the vast majority of Americans – 72 percent – say they have given gift cards in the past, and according to Mercator Advisory Group, Americans spent $6 billion on gift cards last year.

Retailers, for their part, are adding bells and whistles to the old-fashioned gift card to make them even easier to use. Nearly 60 percent are now offered over the web adding to their appeal.

Keep in mind, though, that gift cards have downsides. All general-purpose gift cards – and by that we mean ones issued by banks and other financial institutions – carry a purchase fee ranging from $3.95 to $6.95, that’s according to a survey by Bankrate. Only 7 percent of store cards carry purchase fees. Losing a gift card or having the store you bought it from go out of business is something to think about as well.

Bottom line, gift cards work for that person on your list that is hard to buy for, but I’d try to find out where they shop and buy the store card rather than pay a fee to a bank for the privilege of buying one. 

How to Get The Most From Online Holiday Shopping

by Gerri Willis

The proportion of holiday shoppers who will buy from their laptop or mobile device is growing. Nearly half or 44 percent of shoppers will stay close to home to shop. And, that brings its own set of issues.

The Internet savvy know that web merchants change prices on high-demand goods nearly constantly, which means the onus is on you to get the best deal. What’s more, after last year’s Target debacle over the holidays, consumers are concerned that retailers – online or otherwise – will be hit by hackers, and customer financial information will go to the bad guys.

Fortunately, there is a good side to online shopping. It’s convenient and fast. And, even if you worry that the item you are buying isn’t just right, you can often chat with a live sales associate to ask questions. What’s more, many merchants will offer some of their best prices, especially for electronic equipment on the web.

To combat the downsides, Kinoli consumer analyst Andrea Woroch suggests comparing prices with apps like PriceGrabber, Google Shopping and The Find. Also, clear your browser’s cookies. By doing that, you can stop retailers who track your purchasing and browsing patterns so they can target you with higher prices.

Get the promotions by following your favorite store brands on social media, where you’ll be offered exclusive coupons and can track prices. You can even Tweet a brand or send a Facebook message to get a coupon extended.

To keep your private information just that, private, be sure to use different passwords for every shopping site you use. Check your credit card website frequently – and I mean daily during the holiday season – to make sure someone isn’t using your card without your knowledge. And, keep the debit card in your wallet. Fraud on your debit card is a far more serious matter than fraud on your credit card.

Bottom line; keep track of your purchases. Remember, when you are roaming around online it can be difficult to remember exactly what you purchased and for how much.

The Best Strategies for Holiday Shopping

by Gerri Willis

Christmas shopping used to be so simple. Wait until the very last possible minute and score the best deals. But a shift in trends is underway. After two years of less-than-stellar results, retailers are priming the pump by offering deals earlier than ever. According to Adobe, the steepest discounts during last year’s holiday season actually came on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Adding to shopper woes, some retailers ran out of the most popular products by Black Friday.

And, this year, retailers are getting even more aggressive. Forget Black Friday. As we’ve reported, JCPenney, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Sears are among the many stores opening on Thanksgiving Day. Kmart is setting a record by staying open 42 consecutive hours starting at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving. And, according to research from Adobe Systems, the biggest prices cuts online may well come before Black Friday. In other words, get shopping now.

But, of course, the devil is in the details. Part of when you shop depends on what you are shopping for. Shop for cheap electronics on Black Friday rather than Cyber Monday, according to Matthew Ong, a senior retail analyst for NerdWallet. Others say that clothing deals will emerge on Cyber Monday.

To score the best prices, you’ll have to comparison shop. Keep in mind, online retailers change prices continuously on the most popular items. For example, the fitness band Jawbone Up24, was on sale in October for as little as $110.05 at Amazon, but the price also bounced up to $129 on the same website in the same month. Walmart’s website showed similar price moves, and at Sears, the price for the same product climbed as high as $149.

In other words, prices are a completely flexible thing and you simply can’t count on prices staying the same. For that reason, personal finance expert Vera Gibbons suggests using price comparison apps like ShopSavvy or PriceGrabber.

Finally, late shoppers may do well at the very end of the season when retailers attempt to clear inventory though it may be difficult to find the exact item you’re searching for. Flexibility is key for late shoppers. If there is a specific retailer you plan to patronize, follow the stores on social media where you can track sales. Ask about return policies in advance and whether the store matches lower prices from competitors. The trends shaping up now indicate a good year for shoppers, if not store operators.

           

Medicare Open Enrollment: What You Need To Know

by Gerri Willis

Medicare Open Enrollment is on and there are big changes underway recipients need to know. Bottom line: Many seniors will see higher costs and fewer options. For example, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are fewer Medicare Advantage plans for 2015. In fact, 320,000 enrollees are enrolled in plans that are exiting the market.

What’s more, enrollees in six of the 10 most popular plans this year will experience double-digit premium increases if they stay in the same plan for 2015.

The good news is this: The Part D “donut hole,” that is the coverage gap for prescription drug plans continues to shrink. Those who enter the coverage gap in 2015 will get a 55 percent discount on brand-name drugs and a 35 percent federal subsidy for generic drugs.

If you are considering keeping the same plan you have right now, be sure to check whether there are any changes in your plan. You may find a drug you need isn’t covered or not to the level you expect. Don't miss our User's Guide to Choosing the Best Health Insurance 5pmET on FOX Business.

Health Insurance: Workplace Enrollment

by Gerri Willis

It’s that time of year again. Companies are opening enrollment in health insurance plans, and if you haven’t gotten a peak at the 2015 changes, be advised, you may get sticker shock when you do. Deductibles will rise 7 percent this year as companies forecast higher healthcare costs.

Premiums and copays are likely to rise as well. If you work for a small company, watch out because your prices may rise even more than that 7 percent average.

The changes are more of the same. According to Kaiser, worker contributions to health care coverage have nearly doubled since 2003, from $2,412 to $4,565. Deductibles have jumped from $584 a decade ago to $1,217 today.

As you begin to compare plans, don’t assume your plan from last year is the same this time around. Plans are converging and looking more and more like each other. While HMOs, or health maintenance organizations, originated the co-pay, now PPOs or Preferred Provider Organizations are charging them as well.  Given that, you’ll want to think about what services you’ve used in the past and are likely to use again as you shop.

And, remember that premiums aren’t the sum total of everything that you will pay. Check out deductibles, co-pays, and whether you have to pay co-insurance even after paying your deductible.  If you are not a big user of health care, you might want to think about a high-deductible plan which will give you lower premiums. If you choose this route, consider setting aside money in a health savings account to cover your costs.

Don’t miss our User’s Guide to Choosing the Best Health Insurance tonight 5pmET on FOX Business

Ready or Not, Here Comes Round No. 2 of Obamacare

by Gerri Willis

Ready or not, here comes Round No. 2 of Obamacare. And, as much as I’d like to start this blog with an analysis of costs, details such as premiums for Obamacare 2015 policies won’t be made public until open enrollment starts Nov. 15, conveniently after the election. So forget getting your arms around price tags. At least for now.

To be sure, though, some details are already out. First off, there is a new website where you’ll go to enroll for the first time. Given the original healthcare.gov website’s glitch-plagued rollout a year ago, this could be a good thing. But, again, we don’t know because this website is still being tested. (Want to know how the testing is going? Again, forget it. That information isn’t being shared.) To their credit, the website designers have managed to shorten the number of screens in the online application from 76 on the original site to just 16 on the new site.

Unfortunately, if you bought Obamacare coverage last year, you’re stuck with the old website which is famously unreliable. Some of our sources maintain the backend of the website still isn’t complete a year after launch. And, re-enrollers will face a time crunch. They’ll have just one month – until Dec. 15 – to get on the site and update their financial information – a move that is required to have coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2015. You’ll want to have handy a 14-character identifier number to keep any current insurance policy. If you don’t re-enroll, you may be reassigned to your old plan, but you’ll also get this year’s subsidy amount, which may be smaller than they would be entitled to for 2015.

On top of all of this, it’s possible that several hundred thousand people across the country may face cancelled health insurance policies because those policies are not in compliance with Obamacare. Initially these policies were granted a reprieve, but break time is over. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia plan to cancel policies that don’t offer the level of services required by the Affordable Care Act. Federal law requires a 60-day notice of plan changes, so if you’re getting bad news in the mail, it will probably come no later than Nov. 1 (right before midterm elections.) 

So, truth be told, Obamacare Year 2 remains a mystery, though Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has already said that it won’t be perfect. That’s reassuring.

Don’t miss our User’s Guide to Choosing the Best Health Insurance all next week 5pmET on FOX Business         

 

Black Friday Gives Way to Gray Thursday

by Gerri Willis

Black Friday ain’t what it used to be. Promotions and discounts have already gotten underway for holiday shoppers at national retailers across the country. And now, more than ever, the big names, like Macy’s, Walmart and Best Buy are opening on Thanksgiving Day, much to the consternation of many employees.

But the real action is already starting. According to the website, BGR, Walmart has 115 deals listed in its pre-Black Friday Sale, which is already underway. Notable deals include discounts on 58-inch Samsung LED HDTVs and 40-inch Samsung HDTVs.  Meanwhile, Aeropostale  is promoting a 50 percent off promotion and Home Depot has 12 pages worth of deals. That’s a small sample of the deals out there. But you get the picture, retailers who’ve had two years of punk holiday sales are desperately trying to prime the pump and get consumers’ attention with early markdowns. The National Retail Federation has predicted the season will yield good, but not spectacular, results for retailers with a gain of 4 percent in sales through year end.

This trend is definitely in consumers’ favor, but you’d be well advised to compare prices no matter where you shop. Online, retailers engage in dynamic prices, which means they change prices constantly to try to find the best possible price point for them. Andrea Woroch, consumer analyst with Kinoli, suggests using price comparison apps, such as PriceGrabber and Google Shopping, to make sure you score the best price.

Whether you shop on Black Friday or not, my advice is to keep an eagle eye out on what you’re paying. 

Stroller Recall

by Gerri Willis

Graco is recalling millions of strollers because they could injure a child. Here's more information from the Consumer Protection Safety Commission:

Product: Aspen, Breeze, Capri, Cirrus, Glider, Kite, LiteRider, Sierra, Solara, Sterling and TravelMate Model Strollers and Travel Systems

Hazard: The folding hinge on the sides of the stroller can pinch a child’s finger, posing a laceration or amputation hazard.

Remedy: Repair

Consumer Contact: Graco Children’s Products at (800) 345-4109 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or online at www.gracobaby.com and click on the “Help Center” at the top and Recall and Safety Notifications for more information. 

This recall includes eleven Graco and Century-branded strollers with model names Aspen, Breeze, Capri, Cirrus, Glider, Kite, LiteRider, Sierra, Solara, Sterling and TravelMate.  All models are a single-occupant stroller with an external sliding fold-lock hinge on each side and a one-hand fold release mechanism on the handle. Strollers with a manufacture date from August 1, 2000 to September 25, 2014 are included in the recall. Model numbers and the date of manufacture are printed on the white label located at the bottom of the stroller leg just above the rear wheel. 

For more information:

http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2015/Graco-Recalls-11-Models-of-Strollers/

Takata Airbag Recall: Is Your Car On This List?

by Gerri Willis

AFFECTED VEHICLES

 

Acura: 2002–2003 CL and TL; 2003–2006 MDX; 2005 RL

BMW: 2000–2005 3-series sedan and wagon; 2000–2006 3-series coupe and convertible; 2001–2006 M3 coupe and convertible

Chrysler: 2005–2008 Chrysler 300; 2007–2008 Aspen

Dodge/Ram: 2003–2008 Dodge Ram 1500; 2005–2008 Ram 2500, Dakota, and Durango; 2006–2008 Ram 3500 and 4500; 2008 Ram 5500

Ford: 2004 Ranger; 2005–2006 GT; 2005–2007 Mustang

Honda: 2001–2007 Accord; 2001–2005 Civic; 2002–2006 CR-V; 2002–2004 Odyssey; 2003–2011 Element; 2003–2007 Pilot; 2006 Ridgeline

Infiniti: 2001–2004 Infiniti I30/I35; 2002–2003 Infiniti QX4; 2003–2005 Infiniti FX35/FX45; 2006 Infiniti M35/M45

Lexus: 2002–2005 SC430

Mazda: 2003–2007 Mazda 6; 2006–2007 Mazdaspeed 6; 2004–2008 Mazda RX-8; 2004–2005 MPV; 2004 B-series

Mitsubishi: 2004–2005 Lancer; 2006–2007 Raider

Nissan: 2001–2003 Maxima; 2001–2004 Pathfinder; 2002–2006 Nissan Sentra

Pontiac: 2003–2005 Vibe

Saab: 2005 9-2X

Subaru: 2003–2005 Baja, Legacy, Outback; 2004–2005 Impreza, Impreza WRX, Impreza WRX STI

Toyota: 2002–2005 Toyota Corolla and Sequoia; 2003–2005 Matrix, Tundra

 

 

Best Tech Gifts Under $200

by Gerri Willis

Let’s face it; inevitably there is always someone on your Christmas shopping list who is a tech geek. And, whether you are a geek or not, you may be forced to find them the perfect gizmo. For that reason, we turned to our friends at Consumer Reports, who test hundreds of products, including tablets, TVs and cameras. Here are their top 5 picks for the season.

No. 1: If you’re looking for a TV, the Samsung UN28H4000 if great for the college student or child. The 28-inch LCD TV has good high definition picture quality and excellent color. Cost: $200.

No. 2: Bose FreeStyle earbuds. This in-ear model works for IPods, iPads and cellphones delivering good overall sound quality. Cost: $130.

No. 3: Sonos Play: 1: Wireless speakers are everywhere but the Sonos speakers deliver good sound at a reasonable price. There’s no remote. They just play music directly from your phone, tablet or computer. Cost: $200.

No. 4: Samsung Gear Fit: An activity monitor and a watch. You can receive phone calls and text messages but the product also has a built-in heart rate sensor. The folks at Consumer Reports note that the device is only compatible with Samsung smart phones. Cost: $150.

No. 5: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX: Wi-Fi 16 GB. This portable, 7-inch tablet has a super clear screen. The Amazon app market isn’t as big as Apple’s but Amazon Prime members get access to plenty of free movies and music. Cost: $180.

Consumer Reports December issue has more picks in its December issue. Join us tonight on The Willis Report when associate electronics editor Terry Sullivan gives us even more ideas.

The Dirty Little Secrets of Gift Cards

by Gerri Willis

It’s hard to ignore the convenience of gift cards. No muss. No fuss. No messy wrapping paper and tape. Plus you get the ultimate flexibility because the recipient actually makes the hard choices.

But there is a big debate out there about whether gift cards are an overdone trend or the hottest thing since sliced bread. According to a survey conducted by the Consultancy Deloitte LLP, the proportion of people who say they will buy gift cards this holiday season – 43 percent – is down sharply from a peak of 69 percent set back in 2007. Yet, the vast majority of Americans – 72 percent – say they have given gift cards in the past, and according to Mercator Advisory Group, Americans spent $6 billion on gift cards last year.

Retailers, for their part, are adding bells and whistles to the old-fashioned gift card to make them even easier to use. Nearly 60 percent are now offered over the web adding to their appeal.

Keep in mind, though, that gift cards have downsides. All general-purpose gift cards – and by that we mean ones issued by banks and other financial institutions – carry a purchase fee ranging from $3.95 to $6.95, that’s according to a survey by Bankrate. Only 7 percent of store cards carry purchase fees. Losing a gift card or having the store you bought it from go out of business is something to think about as well.

Bottom line, gift cards work for that person on your list that is hard to buy for, but I’d try to find out where they shop and buy the store card rather than pay a fee to a bank for the privilege of buying one. 

How to Get The Most From Online Holiday Shopping

by Gerri Willis

The proportion of holiday shoppers who will buy from their laptop or mobile device is growing. Nearly half or 44 percent of shoppers will stay close to home to shop. And, that brings its own set of issues.

The Internet savvy know that web merchants change prices on high-demand goods nearly constantly, which means the onus is on you to get the best deal. What’s more, after last year’s Target debacle over the holidays, consumers are concerned that retailers – online or otherwise – will be hit by hackers, and customer financial information will go to the bad guys.

Fortunately, there is a good side to online shopping. It’s convenient and fast. And, even if you worry that the item you are buying isn’t just right, you can often chat with a live sales associate to ask questions. What’s more, many merchants will offer some of their best prices, especially for electronic equipment on the web.

To combat the downsides, Kinoli consumer analyst Andrea Woroch suggests comparing prices with apps like PriceGrabber, Google Shopping and The Find. Also, clear your browser’s cookies. By doing that, you can stop retailers who track your purchasing and browsing patterns so they can target you with higher prices.

Get the promotions by following your favorite store brands on social media, where you’ll be offered exclusive coupons and can track prices. You can even Tweet a brand or send a Facebook message to get a coupon extended.

To keep your private information just that, private, be sure to use different passwords for every shopping site you use. Check your credit card website frequently – and I mean daily during the holiday season – to make sure someone isn’t using your card without your knowledge. And, keep the debit card in your wallet. Fraud on your debit card is a far more serious matter than fraud on your credit card.

Bottom line; keep track of your purchases. Remember, when you are roaming around online it can be difficult to remember exactly what you purchased and for how much.

The Best Strategies for Holiday Shopping

by Gerri Willis

Christmas shopping used to be so simple. Wait until the very last possible minute and score the best deals. But a shift in trends is underway. After two years of less-than-stellar results, retailers are priming the pump by offering deals earlier than ever. According to Adobe, the steepest discounts during last year’s holiday season actually came on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Adding to shopper woes, some retailers ran out of the most popular products by Black Friday.

And, this year, retailers are getting even more aggressive. Forget Black Friday. As we’ve reported, JCPenney, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Sears are among the many stores opening on Thanksgiving Day. Kmart is setting a record by staying open 42 consecutive hours starting at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving. And, according to research from Adobe Systems, the biggest prices cuts online may well come before Black Friday. In other words, get shopping now.

But, of course, the devil is in the details. Part of when you shop depends on what you are shopping for. Shop for cheap electronics on Black Friday rather than Cyber Monday, according to Matthew Ong, a senior retail analyst for NerdWallet. Others say that clothing deals will emerge on Cyber Monday.

To score the best prices, you’ll have to comparison shop. Keep in mind, online retailers change prices continuously on the most popular items. For example, the fitness band Jawbone Up24, was on sale in October for as little as $110.05 at Amazon, but the price also bounced up to $129 on the same website in the same month. Walmart’s website showed similar price moves, and at Sears, the price for the same product climbed as high as $149.

In other words, prices are a completely flexible thing and you simply can’t count on prices staying the same. For that reason, personal finance expert Vera Gibbons suggests using price comparison apps like ShopSavvy or PriceGrabber.

Finally, late shoppers may do well at the very end of the season when retailers attempt to clear inventory though it may be difficult to find the exact item you’re searching for. Flexibility is key for late shoppers. If there is a specific retailer you plan to patronize, follow the stores on social media where you can track sales. Ask about return policies in advance and whether the store matches lower prices from competitors. The trends shaping up now indicate a good year for shoppers, if not store operators.

           

Medicare Open Enrollment: What You Need To Know

by Gerri Willis

Medicare Open Enrollment is on and there are big changes underway recipients need to know. Bottom line: Many seniors will see higher costs and fewer options. For example, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are fewer Medicare Advantage plans for 2015. In fact, 320,000 enrollees are enrolled in plans that are exiting the market.

What’s more, enrollees in six of the 10 most popular plans this year will experience double-digit premium increases if they stay in the same plan for 2015.

The good news is this: The Part D “donut hole,” that is the coverage gap for prescription drug plans continues to shrink. Those who enter the coverage gap in 2015 will get a 55 percent discount on brand-name drugs and a 35 percent federal subsidy for generic drugs.

If you are considering keeping the same plan you have right now, be sure to check whether there are any changes in your plan. You may find a drug you need isn’t covered or not to the level you expect. Don't miss our User's Guide to Choosing the Best Health Insurance 5pmET on FOX Business.

Health Insurance: Workplace Enrollment

by Gerri Willis

It’s that time of year again. Companies are opening enrollment in health insurance plans, and if you haven’t gotten a peak at the 2015 changes, be advised, you may get sticker shock when you do. Deductibles will rise 7 percent this year as companies forecast higher healthcare costs.

Premiums and copays are likely to rise as well. If you work for a small company, watch out because your prices may rise even more than that 7 percent average.

The changes are more of the same. According to Kaiser, worker contributions to health care coverage have nearly doubled since 2003, from $2,412 to $4,565. Deductibles have jumped from $584 a decade ago to $1,217 today.

As you begin to compare plans, don’t assume your plan from last year is the same this time around. Plans are converging and looking more and more like each other. While HMOs, or health maintenance organizations, originated the co-pay, now PPOs or Preferred Provider Organizations are charging them as well.  Given that, you’ll want to think about what services you’ve used in the past and are likely to use again as you shop.

And, remember that premiums aren’t the sum total of everything that you will pay. Check out deductibles, co-pays, and whether you have to pay co-insurance even after paying your deductible.  If you are not a big user of health care, you might want to think about a high-deductible plan which will give you lower premiums. If you choose this route, consider setting aside money in a health savings account to cover your costs.

Don’t miss our User’s Guide to Choosing the Best Health Insurance tonight 5pmET on FOX Business

Ready or Not, Here Comes Round No. 2 of Obamacare

by Gerri Willis

Ready or not, here comes Round No. 2 of Obamacare. And, as much as I’d like to start this blog with an analysis of costs, details such as premiums for Obamacare 2015 policies won’t be made public until open enrollment starts Nov. 15, conveniently after the election. So forget getting your arms around price tags. At least for now.

To be sure, though, some details are already out. First off, there is a new website where you’ll go to enroll for the first time. Given the original healthcare.gov website’s glitch-plagued rollout a year ago, this could be a good thing. But, again, we don’t know because this website is still being tested. (Want to know how the testing is going? Again, forget it. That information isn’t being shared.) To their credit, the website designers have managed to shorten the number of screens in the online application from 76 on the original site to just 16 on the new site.

Unfortunately, if you bought Obamacare coverage last year, you’re stuck with the old website which is famously unreliable. Some of our sources maintain the backend of the website still isn’t complete a year after launch. And, re-enrollers will face a time crunch. They’ll have just one month – until Dec. 15 – to get on the site and update their financial information – a move that is required to have coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2015. You’ll want to have handy a 14-character identifier number to keep any current insurance policy. If you don’t re-enroll, you may be reassigned to your old plan, but you’ll also get this year’s subsidy amount, which may be smaller than they would be entitled to for 2015.

On top of all of this, it’s possible that several hundred thousand people across the country may face cancelled health insurance policies because those policies are not in compliance with Obamacare. Initially these policies were granted a reprieve, but break time is over. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia plan to cancel policies that don’t offer the level of services required by the Affordable Care Act. Federal law requires a 60-day notice of plan changes, so if you’re getting bad news in the mail, it will probably come no later than Nov. 1 (right before midterm elections.) 

So, truth be told, Obamacare Year 2 remains a mystery, though Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell has already said that it won’t be perfect. That’s reassuring.

Don’t miss our User’s Guide to Choosing the Best Health Insurance all next week 5pmET on FOX Business         

 

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