Dan Ray

Daniel P. Ray

I'm Daniel P. Ray, CreditCard.com's editor in chief, and I've been writing and editing consumer-oriented stories about personal finance -- especially debt-related issues -- for about 10 years. Before joining CreditCards.com in July, 2007, I was an editor at Bankrate.com, including six years as editor in chief...

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Have you ever voluntarily handed over your credit card to someone else for them to use? I have, maybe you have too. Despite all the worries about credit card fraud, a new survey shows that handing over your card for someone else to use is a common practice, but I didn't realize how common until I surveyed CreditCards.com staffers.
Farewell, noble scion of a Libyan oil fortune; I shall miss your misspellings. Adieu, widowed princess of a diamond-producing country with troubled politics and tortured syntax. For decades, I have enjoyed and destroyed your urgent entreaties to rescue you and your vast, somewhat shady fortune. I always thought it odd that I could be of service only if I would give you my bank account information, but no matter anymore. A scam, known today as the Nigerian or 419 scam, is going away. So says the Federal Trade Commission, which again this year has published its list of biggest consumer complaints.

We've had binders full of women, Big Bird and bayonets, but until Saturday, hardly a peep has been uttered by the presidential candidates about consumer protection.

With his weekly radio address Saturday, Obama broke the near-silence on the topic. He touted the recent work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in beginning to regulate credit bureaus, and in winning multimillion-dollar awards from credit card issuers over business practices unfavorable to consumers.

I'm glad to see the discussion, even if it is late. I'm about to enter my 15th year as a personal finance editor, and the past four years have seen more pro-consumer activity from the federal government than the 10 prior years combined. If you like the additional protection, that's one more reason to vote for Obama. If you don't think we can afford them, it's another reason for voting for Romney.

An old urban myth is getting passed around on by email again, and it's as false as it ever was, even though there are new, ugly reasons to wish it were true. The bogus email says that, if you're ever forced by a robber to withdraw money from an ATM, you can send a silent alarm to police by punching in your PIN number in reverse. A series of forced-at-gunpoint robberies may have led to the renewed circulation of this rumor.
Dear Mr. [name withheld]; I've been shopping for a big-screen TV. Thanks for offering to buy me one. What? You say you don't know me? You say you didn't want to buy me a big-screen TV? Then don't ever do again what you just did: Send a stranger your name, address, and, most importantly, your credit card number.
After one year in operation, the federal watchdog over consumer financial products has issued its first annual report. Within it are statistics on how likely you are to get money back if you complain about credit cards, mortgages, etc. The good news for consumers? The odds of getting money back are nearly 50-50 for those who have a complaint about credit cards.

President Obama tells personal finance writers about his early years managing debt: "I went to law school and much of my college was on scholarship. So did my wife. We were still paying off our student debt nine years after I graduated from law school. Our first home was a modest condo and I remember scraping together the down payment to purchase it at prevailing interests rates.

"When Michelle and I first met, the car I was driving I think I bought it for $500 and it had a big rust spot in it that you could see the road from the passenger side, so I know Michelle wasn't marrying me for my money. We had credit card debt that was tough to pay off."

We're watching you. That was the message that Richard Cordray, the head of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had for credit card issuers when he spoke this week to the business journalists attending the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference this week in Indianapolis. Cordray kept his formal remarks short, leaving lots of room for questions from the attending journalists. I got one in about credit cards, asking, "Just over two years ago, the major tenets of the Credit CARD Act went into effect, so the question is, has it worked? And to the degree it hasn't, will there be a need for another round of regulation or a CARD Act II?" My short version of his answer: Yeah, it's worked. I'm really close to this issue, and while the CARD Act eliminated the worst abuses, more may need to be done. We're digesting what consumers have to say, and we'd really like it card issuers could come up with card agreements a human can understand. Here's the long version, a full transcript of his four-minute answer.
Looks like consumers are in a fee-fighting mood, and are switching away from big banks that try to impose them. An independent study shows a distinct increase in the number of bank switches toward smaller banks. The J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Bank Customer Switching and Acquisition Study, released Monday, shows that an increased number of American consumers switched banks late in 2011 -- and when they did, fees were a big reason.
The irony of it all. Financial personality Suze Orman's new and controversial prepaid Approved card has a glitch that few in the media have reported on: In order to load the card with your money, you need to already have another form of plastic. Her prepaid Approved card has generated gobs of press and decidedly mixed reviews, mostly over its fair-to-middling fee structure. But this one aspect of the orange-hued celebrity's purple-hued card really bugs me: the discussion of whether it may help those with no bank account (aka "the unbanked") get a credit score. If you have to have a card to get the card, it's highly likely you're already "banked" and the point is moot.
You've probably seen, whether in person at your local high school or on TV at the Olympics, false starts in foot races at the track. The athletes carefully toe into the starting blocks, set their hands down carefully, and then "Bang! Bang!" The starter pistol fires twice and the athletes slow down because someone jumped the gun. I'm calling a false start on this holiday shopping season.
Somewhere here in Texas, an anonymous actress has filed a federal lawsuit against a website over what has traditionally been an unwritten right of celebrities -- to lie about their ages. Her betrayer: her credit card, and a website that insists it's OK for it to use the card's data to investigate her and find her real age. I love the story, in part because I know a bit about celebrity puffery and media complicity in it.
Thanks to the folks at the BeatingBroke blog for including one of my posts in this week's Carnival of Personal Finance.
A new paper by staffers from the New York Federal Reserve compares what people say they owe to hard numbers derived from lenders on what they actually owe, and finds we generally know what we owe, with one exception:

Credit cards. Only on credit cards is their a difference, and it's a big one. We underreport what we owe on our cards by a third to one-half, the researchers say.
The research sheds some new light on a topic that's at once a foundation of the card industry, and a mystery: the fog that comes over consumers when they pull credit cards out of their wallets.

Bankruptcy and mortgage studies, plus wildfires

I thought I'd try something new I hope you find useful: Today's reading list. It's headlines and other reports on credit, debt and payments systems that I found newsworthy, interesting or odd enough to be worth passing along.

For me, the highlight of the Teen Choice Awards wasn't Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber or the Harry Potter tribute.

It was Ashton Kutcher giving financial advice.


Gesturing forcefully, and almost Howard Beale-like in his zeal, Rep. Hansen Clarke used his five-minute speech to call on all Americans to cut up their credit cards -- and then whipped out a pair of blue-handled scissors to demonstrate. Roll the tape, C-SPAN!

Run for the Borders!

I told you back in January and now I really mean it: If you have a Borders gift card you've been meaning to redeem, do it now. Now. Let the dog walk himself. Skip the weekly lunch bunch. Tell your boss you have to leave early because you have to meet the sprinkler guy. Whatever. But go as soon as you can, either directly to the store, or online, and cash out that card.

After failing to sell itself off, the company is liquidating, with stores beginning to close as soon as Friday.

Facing 25 online personal finance journalists, President Obama got personal, giving a glimpse into his own financial history -- including the money advice his grandmother gave him and why the $125,000 in student loans he and his wife Michelle racked up was a good investment.

The president was an unscheduled drop-in guest at the Personal Finance Online Summit, an event held Wednesday at the White House. During it, high-level administration economic officials gave an afternoon of on- and off-the-record briefings to an assorted group of online personal finance editors, myself included. The idea for the summit came because, presidential message adviser Stephanie Cutter said, "Americans are looking to take charge of their personal finance issues ... and they're looking to online sources to get it done."

No major news was broken, which is why I'm writing a blog item rather than a news story, but the event had some fascinating moments, leading off with the president's salute to his grandmother's common-sense money advice -- and why in one case it was smart to ignore it.

Thanks to Miss Thrifty for hosting the 311th Carnival of Personal Finance, a weekly, traveling compendium of the best personal finance items from around the blogosphere. In the carnival, Miss T. links to my item from last week on the interesting no-interest deal obtained by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich from Tiffany's.

I'm happy to see that My Personal Finance Journey -- host of the 310th edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance -- likes Smurfs. Or, perhaps more accurately, my blog post from last week titled "A new player in the Smurf game: a parental wallet."

I rise, not to throw glitter on him, or to excoriate him for ill-chosen words, but to defend Newt.

Newt Gingrich's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has gotten off to an ill-footed start, with the aforementioned glitter-dump by a gay activist and a chewing out by an Iowa conservative over unflattering comments about fellow Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan.

Then, this past Sunday, Bob Schieffer, host of CBS's "Face the Nation" program, grilled Gingrich over disclosures he had owed a "revolving charge" account with Tiffany and Co. somewhere between $250,001 and $500,000.

A Washington Post factchecker gave him the unflattering "three Pinocchios" for his explaination of how he paid for it. But what he said was entirely plausible.

For a long time, I've been a fan of the cartoons in "The New Yorker" magazine.

One caught my eye back in 2000, when I was new to writing and editing personal finance stories.

In the cartoon, Dad's sitting on the couch with his son, as Mom stands in the background, fear in her eyes. A computer is in the other room. "It's very important that you try very, very hard," Dad says to his son, "to remember where you electronically transferred Mommy and Daddy's assets."

Eleven years of electronic progress later, many of us are carrying around smartphones and tablet devices. With them come new and even easier ways for our children to drain our bank accounts -- accidentally, through games aimed at children who lack a firm grasp on the difference between real and imaginary money.

News organizations that have sniffed around hacker chatrooms say that some of their denizens are offering 2.2 million credit card numbers they say they hacked from Sony PlayStation's database of online users.

Sony, meanwhile, is trying to reassure its customers, saying there's still no evidence that the card numbers were hacked, and besides, they were stored in an encrypted fashion.

When you signed up to play KillStation or another game online on your PlayStation, I bet you didn't think there would be any real life danger.

Now you know differently.

Sony, which runs the PlayStation network, announced Tuesday that between April 17 and April 19, data from its 77 million account holders was "compromised in connection with an illegal and unauthorized intrusion into our network."

Here's what consumers should know about the situation -- and do to protect their real-world finances:

The closing credits are rolling for Blockbuster gift cards.

As part of its slow-motion bankruptcy, the once-ubiquitous renter of videos (how quaint!) has announced it will no longer honor gift certificates or gift cards after April 6, 2011.

Just a quick note to let the personal finance bloggers in the audience know that Taking Charge has been selected to host next Monday's version of the Carnival of Personal Finance. It will be the 295th edition of the weekly carnival, making it one of the oldest and certainly the most widely known in its genre. We've hosted four previous editions.


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