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October 5, 2015

Small Business Saturday Stunner

Filed under: Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:34 am

Shop SmallSince 2010, American Express has promoted the Saturday after Thanksgiving as “Small Business Saturday.” It is designed to get shoppers to “shop small” and patronize small retailers across the country, particularly those that accept the American Express card.

As an inducement from the very beginning, AMEX has offered their cardholders a $25 statement credit if they spent at least that much at a participating store. In 2013, they dropped the rebate to a mere $10, but made up for it last year by offering three $10 credits if one shopped at three different stores.

That was then, and this is now. For 2015, the company quietly dropped a bombshell on bargain hunters. Buried in a set of frequently asked questions, was the news.


Small Biz Saturday

No statement credits this year.

It was great while it lasted, but it had to have cost the company millions and millions of dollars. It was one of the most generous promotions that any cardholder could take advantage of once a year, and it will be missed.


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September 15, 2015

Credit Cards Cutting Back on Benefits

Filed under: Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:16 am

  Consumers who ignored the flurry of “update” notices sent by a number of credit card issuers this summer may be in for a rude surprise this fall when some longstanding benefits disappear from popular credit cards.

For example, collision damage waiver, and half a dozen other travel and purchase benefits including 2-5% back in points at Sears and Kmart will be removed from the Sears platinum MasterCard issued by Citi as of October 1. Bank of America is eliminating five benefits on its Better Balance Rewards MasterCards as of November 1. And Discover, as of last month, removed from its cards benefits for lost or delayed luggage, travel insurance, and emergency roadside service. (See chart below.)

“Credit card issuers have used a host of benefits to attract customers to their cards, but now they are quietly removing many of them,” explained Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “Some customers may be in for quite a surprise when they go to use one of these benefits but only then discover that it no longer exists.”

Most of the MasterCard changes were made by the card company itself last year for their standard, gold, and platinum cards, but the cuts are only being implemented now by some individual banks. MasterCard says it evaluated which benefits cardholders preferred and actually put to use for everyday transactions in deciding what set of core benefits to offer and which to drop. For these basic cards, the new core benefits funded by MasterCard only include Extended Warranty, Price Protection, Identify Theft Resolution, and lost card services. Individual banks can supplement the core benefits with other perks, or even buy back deleted ones.

A Visa spokesperson said it had no plans to reduce benefits on its cards. AMEX did not respond to inquiries.

At the same time that they are reducing benefits, some of the card issuers say they are adding or improving some perks. For example, FIA Card Services, a unit of Bank of America that issues credit cards for Fidelity Investments, is expanding its “extended warranty” benefit on certain cards. Starting in November, it will double a manufacturer’s warranty up to two additional years (up from one year) for warranties of 24 months or less.

Sears MasterCard claims that as of October 1 it is improving “Extended Warranty” and “Price Protection” on its platinum cards, but PR representatives at neither MasterCard nor Citi could provide any details of the enhancements.


Credit Card Benefits Changes Summer/Fall 2015
credit card benefits

Before making a critical purchase, cardholders are urged to check with their card issuer to ensure that a particular benefit traditionally associated with their card is still in effect. For example, don’t assume you still have automatic collision damage waiver protection when renting a car, counseled Consumer World.

Upper tier cards like World MasterCard, World Elite MasterCard, and Visa Signature tend to offer more benefits than basic cards. Many of the eliminated benefits are still available on them and on many basic cards that have opted not to adopt the changes (yet).


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May 18, 2015

Ambiguous 2-Fer Offers

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:34 am

  Everybody loves a bargain, and when a company offers a second product free or at reduced price, that can be an attention-grabber.

The problem is that too often companies advertise 2-fer offers that are ambiguous at best, causing the shopper to jump to a conclusion about pricing that might be erroneous.

Example 1:

4.95 checks

Okay, what are these people offering? Is it two boxes of checks for a total of $4.95 and you get a third box free? Is it merely buy one box for $4.95, get a second box free? Or is it $4.95 for each box, and if you buy two, you get the third box free?


The answer in this case: This is a straight buy one box for $4.95, get another one free. (That’s an amazingly low price until you factor in mandatory handling charges of $3.45 per box.)

Example 2:

49 cents checks

Now, what’s this deal? Is each book of checks 49 cents? Is one box 49 cents when you buy two other boxes for $13.44 each? Are two boxes $13.44 period?


The answer when you clickthrough to their website is that this is a buy one for regular price offer, get the second box for 49 cents. So, apparently the first box is $12.95.

Incidentally, two many of these cheap check printers do not disclose how many checks are in a box. If memory serves correctly, it was standard practice to get eight books of checks in a box, or 200 total. Now some sellers only provide 150 checks, and others only 100.

Example 3:

Staples paper

So cases of paper are $4.99 after rebate at Staples “when you buy two.” So do you have to buy two cases at regular price and then get the third for only $4.99? Or are two cases $4.99 total? Or are cases $4.99 each, but you have to buy two of them to get that price?


In this example, unlike the check ads, the stated price is meant to apply per item. So, paper is $4.99 each case, but you must buy two to get that price each.

With these three examples, you have to wonder if sellers ever look at their offers to make sure that they are clear and unambiguous.


• • •

April 26, 2015

Despite Crushing Publicity, TurboTax Sales Surge

Filed under: Finance,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 8:56 am

  In January, we were the first to call national attention to TurboTax’s nasty and inconspicuous ploy of stripping its flagship desktop income tax preparation software of key tax forms, thus forcing long-time users to upgrade to significantly more expensive versions. (See series of Mouse Print* stories.) Customers were livid and nearly 3000 of them posted one-star reviews on Amazon.

Major media picked up on the story, and after three weeks of a public pummeling, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, finally relented (after some half-hearted attempts to satisfy customers) and offered free upgrades to everyone.

Then came the revelation that crooks were claiming income tax refunds via TurboTax’s online software before their rightful owners could. Some states temporarily stopped accepting TurboTax returns. The FBI, Congress, and the FTC all launched investigations. And Intuit finally strengthened verification of identities on its website. This dual onslaught of negative press spanned most of January and February.

TurboTax headlines

One would think with the crushing and sustained negative publicity the company received over this period in the height of tax season that their sales would surely plummet. After all, consumers were mad as hell about the costly upgrades being forced on them, and worried as hell that TurboTax online was facilitating theft of their tax refunds.

According to, however, TurboTax desktop sales dropped only 6% or about 300,000 units, but online sales surged by two and a half million additional tax returns.


Unit Sales of 2015 TurboTax
TurboTax Sales

It is unfathomable to MrConsumer that millions felt more comfortable with TurboTax online this year than last, and that only relatively few abandoned the company’s desktop product. Wasn’t anyone paying attention except the two people who sued Intuit last week? Are all the alternatives just not up to the task? Or were those extra 2.5 million returns all filed by crooks?


• • •

January 22, 2015

Intuit Offering Partial TurboTax Upgrade Rebates

Filed under: Electronics,Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 9:24 pm

TurboTax Deluxe(BOSTON – January 22, 2015) – Following a public outcry from regular TurboTax Deluxe users who learned that the popular tax preparation software’s maker had stripped the program of key functionality this year, Intuit today apologized and somewhat reversed course by offering a $25 rebate to purchasers to partially cover the cost of having to upgrade to a more expensive version.

Without clear advance disclosure that its flagship product had changed and could no longer help users easily report all income from investments, self-employment, and rental property (Schedules C, D, and E), the company had sought $30 to $40 in upgrade fees disclosed partway into the program in order to restore its original functionality.

“Intuit offered a full apology but only a partial refund. They should be providing free automatic upgrades this year, and not requiring users to remember to send in for a rebate possibly months from now after they file their taxes,” commented Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “The rebate doesn’t even cover the full cost of the upgrade in many cases.”

As of today, customers have posted over 1500 one-star reviews of TurboTax Deluxe on Amazon. And competitors like H&R Block have already offered disgruntled TurboTax customers their tax software free.

Dworsky launched a media blitz on January 6 to warn the public about the crippled TurboTax software, and to pressure the company to give all affected customers automatic free upgrades to restore the product’s full functionality. Until now, Intuit was only informally offering free or discounted upgrades to buyers who called to complain.

To save the company money, Intuit has narrowly defined who can get the $25 rebate. To qualify, customers have to had filed their 2013 income taxes using TurboTax Deluxe, and filed their 2014 return using either TurboTax Premier or Home & Business. And by using a rebate that can’t be submitted until one’s taxes are filed, the company will benefit from those who forget or can’t be bothered dealing with rebates.

UPDATE: Intuit has clarified whether you have to e-file or not to qualify for the rebate. If you e-file both the 2013 and 2014 return, their website can automatically validate your rebate request. If you paper filed, they will have to process the request manually by having you call their 800 number.

Intuit is not new to controversy or nickel-and-diming tactics. In 2008, it added a $9.95 fee to print or e-file a second return from TurboTax, but quickly rescinded the charge following a storm of criticism. And for years, it has arbitrarily “sunset” (deactivated) the online downloading and electronic bill payment functions of its popular Quicken checkbook software thus requiring consumers to buy a new version of the program every three years.


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