‘House of Cards’ a boon for Netflix, Weight Watchers’ stock slims down and …





Stocks struggling to end the month on a high notes today after shrugging off a GDP number that, while positive (2.2%), came in below analyst expectations. For those keeping score at home, the Nasdaq (^IXIC) remains about 20 points from 5000.

February Consumer Confidence came in above expectations but below the January number which was an 11-year high. The recent trend higher in gas prices contributed to the slide in confidence.

Pending Home Sales came in 1.7% higher month-to-month at 8.4 percent and now sit at an 18-month high.

Weight Watchers’ stock slimmed down
The weight loss specialist is seeing its stock hit harder than any other day since the company went public in 2001. Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke says, “Even worse, Weight Watchers hasnt been able to recreate its group support vibe online. Membership numbers in the virtual world were off more than 16%.”

As the online landscape continues to grow more competitive, the Weight Watchers(WTW) and Avons (AVP) of the world will continue to get crushed by the likes of Amazon (AMZN), Macke posits.

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Hou$e of Card$
Netflix (NFLX) has released the third season of House of Cards today as binge watchers across the country prepare to dive into the latest exploits of Frank Underwood (FYI – spoiler alert in the attached video). Can Netflix bank on this one wildly successful show to impact its bottom line?

“It’s difficult to say with specificity how much money any one show actually drives for the bottom line of Netflix,” notes Yahoo Finance’s Aaron Task. He admits though that Netflix is very good at keeping you in its world once you’ve watched one of its shows.

Yahoo Finance Senior Columnist Michael Santoli broke down a Netflix chart around the time of last year’s House of Cards release of season two:

How Your Cellphone Can Help You Build Credit

Mobile alerts from your credit card issuer can do much more than alert you to possible fraud. You can use that information to help you improve your credit.

First, a word about how credit scores work. The two biggest factors are paying on time (35%) and the amount of credit you use relative to your credit limit (30%).

And mobile alerts can help you with both, by reminding you when your payment is due (you can choose the number of days in advance; some default to five) and when you are approaching your credit limit.

If you are certain there will be enough money in your checking account to cover it, you can automate the payment to be sure you will never be late with a payment. Whether you do this or not, its smart to go over your statement carefully, looking for any charges you dont recognize. Those could suggest fraud and should be investigated. Identity theft experts recommend you check your accounts every day. Checking often will also keep you aware of the amount owed, so the bill wont come as a shock.

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Second, you can set up a mobile alert for spending limits. Under one of my cards, there is an approaching limit choice, and it can be customized to any amount you choose. If you have several choices of cards with available credit, you could set this low — at, say, 10% of your credit limit, so that you get an email or text letting you know youve reached that. At that point, you could choose to pay what you owe, so that you once again are at 0%, or you could switch to a card that has a lower balance, relative to its limit.

Finally, you can use credit alerts to help you catch credit card fraud faster. You can set up the alerts so that you get an email or text if there is a card not present transaction, a foreign transaction, or if there is a charge above an amount you designate as a maximum for a single purchase. While this will not directly benefit your score, it may prevent your score from dropping because of fraudulent transactions.

Not sure what your score is? You cant monitor it unless you know. Some credit card statements now come with a score, and you can also get two scores for free, updated every 30 days, from Credit.com. Youll also see personalized grades showing how youre doing on the factors that go into your score. One caution: When looking at your scores, be sure you compare the same score and scale each month to keep track of your progress. Scores fluctuate, and a few points up or down shouldnt be of great concern; the trend is far more important.

More on Credit Reports amp; Credit Scores:

  • How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
  • How Do I Dispute an Error on My Credit Report?
  • What’s a Bad Credit Score?

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How Does Obamacare Affect My Tax Return? The Premium Tax Credit

If you received advance payment of the credit during the year, when you file your 2014 tax return, you must reconcile the advance payments based on your estimated household income to the credit amount to which you are entitled based on your actual 2014 household income.

You calculate the Premium Tax Credit on new IRS Form 8962. If the advance payments received are more than the actual credit you are entitled to, you must pay back the excess on Line 46 of the 2014 Form 1040 or Line 29 of Form 1040A. If the credit determined on Form 8962 is more than the advance payments received during the year, you can claim the additional amount on Line 69 of Form 1040 or Line 45 of Form 1040A. The additional credit amount is refundable.

Premium tax credit brings changes to tax return

When filing your 2014 federal income tax return, you will see some changes related to the Affordable Care Act.

Millions of people who purchased their coverage through a health insurance marketplace are eligible for premium assistance through the new premium tax credit.

The premium tax credit offers individuals a choice to either have part of their premiums paid upfront to their insurers to lower their monthly premiums, or receive the credit when they file their taxes.

When you bought your insurance, if you chose to have advance payments of the premium tax credit, the marketplace estimated the amount based on information you provided about your expected household income and family size for the year.

If you received the benefit of advance credit payments, you must file a federal tax return and reconcile the advance credit payments with the actual premium tax credit you are eligible to claim on your return.

You will use IRS Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit to make this comparison and to claim the credit. If your advance credit payments are in excess of the amount of the premium tax credit you are eligible for, based on your actual income, you must repay some or all of the excess when you file your return, subject to certain caps.

If you purchased your coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you should receive in the mail a Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement from your marketplace. You should receive this form by early February.

Form 1095-A will provide the information you need to file your taxes, including the name of your insurance company, dates of coverage, amount of monthly insurance premiums for the plan you and other family members enrolled in, amount of any advance payments of the premium tax credit for the year, and other information needed to compute the premium tax credit.

It is advisable that you consult with a tax professional, or use a tax software program to be sure that the Premium Tax Credit is calculated and handled correctly.

A reminder that for tax year 2015, every US citizen and resident alien must have health insurance. Failure to have insurance will result in a penalty. There are some situations where certain individuals may be exempt from this requirement.

So, if your employer does not provide health insurance coverage, you can obtain coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace by visiting www.healthcare.gov   

For more information about the Affordable Care Act and filing your 2014 income tax return, visit www.IRS.gov/aca  

o Linda Vitale has been a tax professional for 18 years. You can read her previously written articles at www.lindastaxservices.com or on www.yourwestvalley.com.

Zillow CEO says housing market doesn’t look so bad





Existing home sales fell sharply to their lowest level in nine months in January, according to new data from the National Association of Realtors. Tight inventory is hurting sales and driving up prices which may further keep first-time buyers from getting into the market. And thats a trend that has hurt the recovery so far.

“There is a notable speed bump that the housing market hit in January,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, labeling the start to the year as disappointing. Sales of existing homes account for nearly 90% of all purchases in the US Sales are still 3.2% higher than a year ago, the NAR reports.

Two other housing reports will be out this week– new home sales and the Samp;P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index– and will help firm up the housing picture. Economist Robert Shiller, Nobel prize winner and creator of the home price index that bears his name, told Yahoo Finance last week, this is the biggest housing slump weve ever seen.

[Get the Latest Market Data and News with the Yahoo Finance App]

Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, however, doesnt think things are so bad. Home values came down about 30% from the peak, and they bounced back up to where were around 9% below the peak so weve come way back from the bottom. But at the same time, things arent necessarily coming up roses. 2015 will be a year of slower growth, says Rascoff. Zillow data shows that each of the last 9 months has had a slower rate of appreciation. In 2014, home values were up 5%. In 2015, Zillow predicts home values will appreciate 2-3% year-over-year.

Rascoff thinks a slower appreciation isnt always a bad thing. We think housing is best when its boring, he says. The market has also become very hyperlocal with real estate in the places like the Bay Area seeing prices increasing rapidly up about 20% last year. This year, Zillow expect prices to be up just 7% there.

The buying market is also wary of an uptick in mortgage rates, which surprises Rascoff because, If you take the longview, all of these are incredibly low mortgage rates so youd think that it wouldnt matter that much. Zillow has found that people tend to spend more time researching a car or vacation than getting a mortgage. People obsess over whether they should bid $300,000 or $310,000 for a home but then they dont think about whether their mortgage is 3.5% or 3.7%.

Mortgage rates have a much larger monthly significance on a homebuyers out-of-pocket than the actual price of the home, says Rascoff.

More from Yahoo Finance

Robert Shiller: Buying a home isnt necessarily a good investment

Rand Paul defends his war on the Fed

An Oscar brings prestige, but not necessarily money

FAQs about the Anthem breach, credit freezes for minors and more: Plain Dealing

In a word, the Anthem Blue Cross data breach is Breach-aggedon.

The names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of up to 80 million people were in a database that was hacked by what appears to be a Chinese cyber-espionage ring. Anthem has said no medical information was accessed in the breach, but it remains unclear whether medical codes – which could contain clues to medical information – are involved.

Of all the data breaches I have seen, this is the one Im most concerned about because of the scope of the information taken, the amount of data involved and the sophistication of the people that breached Anthem, says Paul Stephens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Anthem announced Friday that it is offering two free servicestocustomers for the next two years.

Anthem customers who become ID theft victims — that means their personal information was used by a thief, not just stolen by one — will have free access to anID theft repair program operated by AllClear ID. Anthem customers do not have to enroll to access this service. Its available by default.

Separately, Anthem is offering two years offree credit monitoring to any customers who enroll inAllClear Pro. If you have a credit freeze, credit monitoring may not benefit you.

Parents worried about minor children, however, may want to look over AllClear Pros ChildScan service. That program, according to Anthem, scans websites to see if a childs Social Security number is being used or sold on scammy websites.

You can find out more about the program details throughwww.anthemfacts.com or by calling 1-877-263-7995.

Its stressful to be involved in a breach. But you cant weigh your or your childs ID theft risk until you know 1.) ifyour or your childs data was actually accessed during the breach, and 2.) exactly what data was compromised.

In the meantime, here are answers to some of your questions about identity theft, credit freezes for children, and other breach fallout.

Q. Why is the Anthem breach potentially worsethan the Target or Home Depot breaches?

A. Those breaches involved exposure of card information – and you are protected by law from liability from unauthorized use of your credit cards and to a lesser extent, your debit cards.

Stolen social security numbers pose a much greater ID threat because they can be misused in many different ways. For example, a thief could use your SSN to create new credit accounts in your name – wracking up debts that could land on your credit report. (Thats called new account fraud and an effective DIY tool for battling that is a credit freeze- its not a fraud alert– that you can put on your own reports for a nominal fee.

Scammers also could use stolen SSNs to claim big tax refunds in your name (which could seriously delay your ability to get yourrefund) or for medical ID theft, which is a kind of insurance billing fraud done in your name. And there also is a booming business in government benefits fraud that ID thieves armed with Social Security information could cash in on.

Q. If I pay $15 to freeze my credit reports at all three credit bureaus, will Anthem reimburse me?

A. No. Anthems credit monitoring/ID theft protection offer is take it or leave it. According to Anthem spokeswoman Kim Ashley, Anything that a consumer chooses to do outside of those services is at his/her own expense. Additionally, Anthem told employers that if they independently offer their employees credit monitoring or other services, Anthem will not reimburse them.

That said, the breach has already spawned a number of lawsuits, and it is not yet clear if Anthem will have the final word.

Q. Should I get credit freezes for my minor children?

A. If you get confirmation from Anthem that your childs Social Security number was accessed in the breach, privacy advocates say yes, you should request a credit freeze for your minor child. Financial ID theft involving minors can go undetected for years. Because its had longer to perpetuate, its harder to clean up, says Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum.

But, vexingly, it may not be possible to get a freeze for your minor child. People who dont use credit (ie, kids) dont have credit reportsto freeze. Equifax will create a report for a minor and then freeze it if a parent requests it — but theres a lot of documentation involved and it has to be mailed. Experian, on the other, says if a file doesnt exist, it wont create a securityfreeze for a minor unless the child lives in a state with a child credit freeze law (Ohio is not one of those).

Itmay be easier to enroll kids in the AllClear Pro ChildScan program that Anthem is offering — but wait for confirmation from Anthem that your childs data was hacked before you commit.

If you still want to check to see if your minor child has a credit report, or if your teenager might have a credit report because he or she uses credit cards, you can find out more about checking childrenscredit report or child security freeze policies at each of the three bureaus:

Equifax- 1-800-525-6285

Experian-1-888-397-3742

TransUnion-1 800 680 7289

Q. I tried to freeze my credit reports at Equifax but after my payment was accepted, I got a message the request couldnt beprocessed. Now myreport is frozen but I dont have the PIN.

A. Equifax says it cant detect a problem with its system, but many readers who tried recently to use both the phone and computer service reported this problem. If you ordered a freeze from Equifax but couldnt get your PIN, you can talk to a human at Equifax at 1-866-239-4149 during normal business hours.

Q. If I am married, is my spouse covered by the credit freeze I put on my credit report?

A. No. Even if you have joint credit, you and your spouse will have separate credit reportsand will need separate freezes.

Q. If I freeze my credit reports, do I have to pay for a thaw to see my free annual credit reports?

A. No. You are entitled by law to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every 12 months. Freezes dont stop your creditors from reporting info about you to the bureaus, so you should continue to check your reports regularly for errors. Order free reports through annualcreditreport.comor 1-877-322-8228.

Q. Does a credit freeze affect my ability to use my credit cards?

A. Not at all. A freeze attaches to your credit reports – your history of credit use and payments as reported bylenders — not to your credit cards.

Q. Ive heard that if Im an Anthem customer, I should get an online Social Security account.

A. Stolen SSNs can be used to claim or divert Social Securityor other government benefits. If you receive Social Security payments, you can make it harder for a criminal to nab yourpayments by creating an online Social Security account through http://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/.

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EmailSherylat sharris @plaind.com

Why Now Might Be a Good Time to Get a New Rewards Credit Card

If youve been considering applying for a new rewards credit card, now might be the time to do it. Credit card sign-up bonuses are 25% more valuable this year than they were at this time last year, according to a report from rewards and travel blog The Points Guy.

Before we get to naming some of the best sign-up bonuses out there, a few things about rewards cards: Theyre fantastic financial tools but they arent for everyone. You should only use a rewards credit card if you pay your statement balance in full every month, because the amount you pay in interest on any balance you carry can negate the value of the rewards. Rewards cards typically have higher APRs than standard credit cards (hence the advice to pay it off every month), and they sometimes carry annual fees. Do a little math before you sign up for one of these cards — if you need to pay to use it, make sure youre earning more in rewards than that fee costs you, otherwise its not worth it.

You also should make sure youre using what you earn. That doesnt mean jumping at every offer the issuer pitches you, but you can score some serious savings using credit card rewards. According to The Points Guys survey (a nationally representative poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International), 79% of travel credit cardholders have never transferred their rewards points into an airline or hotel loyalty program. If you have the good credit to qualify for a rewards card, pay the balance each month but dont take advantage of the perks, perhaps its time to look into a new card.

Issuers are looking to nab new cardholders with some sweet deals right now. Per The Points Guys research, these are some of the best sign-up bonuses available for travel cards at the moment:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Sign-up bonus: 40,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.

Other perks: Two points per dollar spent on dining and travel, no foreign transaction fees, annual fee ($95) waived the first year and points are transferrable to 11 major airlines and hotel loyalty programs.

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Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

Sign-up bonus: 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days.

Other perks: Two miles per every dollar spent, 10% bonus on miles redeemed for travel, annual fee ($89) waived the first year, no foreign transaction fees and points can be redeemed with any airline.

Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard

Sign-up bonus: 50,000 American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

Other perks: Admirals Club membership privileges, a free checked bag on every flight, no foreign transaction fees and annual fee ($95) waived the first year.

Generally, these and other rewards cards are available to consumers with the best credit scores, so if your score isnt good enough yet, you can use your desire for these rewards as motivation to improve your credit. Before applying for a credit card (or any loan), you should have an idea of where your credit stands, because you dont want to apply for credit you wont get. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com and see how those scores may help you qualify for certain credit cards, too. Keep in mind that applying for new credit will cause a small, temporary drop in your credit scores, so its best to apply sparingly and only for products you think you qualify for.

Note: Its important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

At publishing time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com may be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

More on Credit Cards:

  • 6 Smart Credit Card Strategies
  • Tips for Paying Off Credit Card Debt
  • How to Get a Credit Card With Bad Credit

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Note: Its important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

Double Credit

David wanted to buy a new cell phone. He browsed online and found a great deal at Moishies Mobile. He ordered a phone and two silicone shields, with delivery promised within 7 business days.

Two weeks passed and David had not received the phone. He contacted the store. I ordered a phone two weeks ago and still havent received it, he said.

Let me check, replied the customer service representative. One moment… Indeed, there was error in processing your order. I will resubmit it. Please contact us again if you do not receive your phone next week.

Another week passed, and the phone still did not arrive. David contacted customer service again. Whats going on? he asked.

Im happy to verify the status of your order, said the representative. Somehow, another error occurred. I will have your phone sent express delivery. In addition, as compensation for your trouble, we will send you a universal USB charger free of charge and credit you the value of the silicone shields.

Thanks, said David, but please make sure the order is sent ASAP.

Two days later, David received the order – almost. The phone arrived, as well as the USB charger, but not the silicone shields. David was exasperated; he contacted customer service once again.

Were terribly sorry, the representative said, but the silicone shields for that particular model have been discontinued; they are not available.

Then please refund my money for the shields, requested David.

Our records show that we already credited the money for the shields, replied the representative.

That was compensation for the trouble, replied David. You still owe me the shields or their value!

Sir, we already sent you a USB charger as compensation and credited you for the shields, replied the agent. Now you want an additional refund for money that was already credited?

I did not ask to credit the value of the shields as compensation, replied David. You decided to! However, once you agreed to that, you still owe me the shields or a refund!

I will have to consult the store owner on this, replied the agent. I will contact you tomorrow.

Very interesting case, Moishie mused when he heard the story. I wonder what Rabbi Dayan has to say about this!

Moishie called Rabbi Dayan and explained the situation. Theres a question of how I want to handle customer relations, but Id like to know the halacha, he said. If the money for the silicone shields was already credited as compensation, must I give an additional refund if the shields are not available?

Halacha differentiates between giving a gift, forgoing a debt [mechila], and granting permission to take something, answered Rabbi Dayan. Giving a gift requires a kinyan [act of transaction] to be halachically binding. While an upstanding person should honor his words, a person is not viewed disparagingly if he retracts from a verbal commitment to give a large gift, since the recipient is not fully reliant on such a gift panning out. Retracting from a small gift without due cause, though, is considered mechusar amana, lacking trustworthiness. (CM 204:8; 241:1)

What about forgoing a debt? asked Moishie.

On the other hand, mechila of a debt, or even of returning an entrusted item, is valid with words alone, replied Rabbi Dayan. It does not require any official confirmation, receipt, or kinyan [act of transaction]. This is because the money or item is already in the hands of the recipient; the owner has only a claim to have it returned. The minute he relinquishes this claim his statement takes effect and the recipient can retain possession. However, the term mechila does not apply to granting items currently in the givers hands. (CM 241:2).

And what did you mean about granting permission to take “? asked Moishie.

When you grant someone permission to take something of yours, it is possible to retract until the person takes the item, explained Rabbi Dayan. Until then, it is just words; once he takes the item, he acquires it with permission. According to the Shach, mechila can also apply here. When the person takes the item, the owner has a claim to demand it back, which he forgoes. (CM 241:3; Shach 241:5)

Thus, if you simply promised to give free silicone shields as compensation, you could retract, concluded Rabbi Dayan. Conversely, if the customer owed you money for them and you said there is no need to pay – thats classic mechila. In this case, since he paid you money for the shields, you owe him the items or a refund. When you decided to credit him their value as compensation without cancelling the order, once you credit the money it is a gift he already possessed. Thus, you still owe him the shields or a refund of their cost.

About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.