|Phone talk ages driver style||Instant Tax Refund Loans|
(Reuters) - Drivers who talk on mobile phones end up driving like
old people, with slower reaction times and a tendency to miss what is
right in front of them, U.S. researchers say.
Even when they used "hands-free" devices, young drivers who normally have the quickest reflexes drove like 70-year-olds, the team at the University of Utah found.
"If you want to act old really fast, then talk on a cell phone while driving," said Frank Drews, an assistant professor of psychology who worked on the study.
"If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, their reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver who is not using a cell phone," added David Strayer, a psychology professor who led the study and who has been studying the effects of cell phone use on driving for years.
Writing in the journal Human Factors, Strayer's team said they tested people aged 65 to 74 against drivers aged 18 to 25.
Preliminary tests showed older people were slower in processing information, which is normal and expected.
Then the volunteers used a driving simulator with dashboard instruments, a steering wheel and brake and gas pedals, surrounded by three screens showing freeway scenes and traffic.
An image showed a car in front repeatedly hitting its brakes.
Each volunteer drove four simulated 10-mile (16-km) freeway trips lasting about 10 minutes each, talking on a mobile phone with a research assistant during half the trips and driving without talking the other times.
Only hands-free devices were used.
The older drivers hit the brakes more slowly to avoid the car in front, tended to hit the brakes twice, took longer to regain speed and had a greater following distance.
Mobile phone use made older people drive even worse and younger drivers act like elderly drivers.
"Once drivers on cell phones hit the brakes, it takes them longer to get back into the normal flow of traffic," Strayer said. "The net result is they are impeding the overall flow of traffic."
Braking time slowed 18 percent when young or elderly drivers used a mobile phone, the researchers found. Chatting on the telephone caused a 12 percent greater following distance, apparently an effort to compensate for paying less attention to the road.
But that tactic didn't always work.
"There was also a twofold increase in the number of (simulated)
rear-end collisions when drivers were conversing on cell phones,"
the researchers wrote.
This is the time of year when a lot of people are eagerly awaiting tax refund checks from the government. For those who can't wait, many tax preparers now offer so-called instant refunds which enable taxpayers to get the money they're owed in as little as a day. But consumer groups say the spread of these programs is disturbing. They say instant refunds are little more than very high interest loans aimed at people in desperate financial shape.
On a busy block in the working-class Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush, there are music stores, ethnic restaurants, tiny grocerettes(ph), and at least three separate tax preparation offices. Each one has a huge sign in the window offering instant tax refunds. At lunchtime recently, a woman stopped by the Jackson Hewitt office on Livingston Street to pick up a check. The day before, she had applied for a refund anticipation loan from the company.
"I needed my money now. I have an emergency. I need my money now." she said.
Instant refund programs such as these have become highly popular in recent years offered by tax preparers both large and small. But to consumer groups, these programs represent one of the worst deals a person can make. The programs typically work like this. Someone is owed a refund and doesn't want to wait for it. So the tax preparer agrees to advance the person a loan using the refund as collateral. In exchange, the taxpayer has to pay a fee. The fee may not seem large, but Jean Ann Fox of the Consumer Federation of America says when you consider the fact that it may be weeks or even just days before the federal government reimburses the tax preparer, these programs amount to short-term loans with very high annual percentage rates.
Ms. JEAN ANN FOX (Consumer Federation of America): The annual percentage rate for these loans ends up from, at the very best circumstance, 50 percent APR up to 100s of percent APR. But because it's 25, 35, $ 45 for just a few days, it does raise the red flags of this is outrageous.
Fox says tax preparers get away with charging such high interest rates because they form partnerships with banks chartered in states that allow high rates. She also says the only people who would agree to pay the loan's high rates are people in desperate shape financially, and she says that's who the programs are marketed to. It's a charge tax preparers usually reject. Linda McDougall is a spokeswoman for H&R Block which does some two million refund anticipation loans each year.
Ms. LINDA McDOUGALL (H&R Block): I can tell you that a wide range of people in all income levels are taking refund anticipation loans especially since the product is now offered online. And, of course, people who are doing their taxes online and using online tools are often a more sophisticated, perhaps higher educated, higher income level client.
As for the high interest rates charged for the loans, McDougall compares them to the hefty fees charged by banks for wiring money into someone's account.
Ms. McDOUGALL: If it's important to me to have my money within 24 or 48 hours, then the fees that are charged for tax preparation, for the bank and the transaction, doing the paperwork, doing the credit check is worth the 29 to $ 86 that's charged.
McDougall says refund anticipation loans are an optional service for customers who want their money right away, but she also acknowledges they're not for everyone. Critic say these loans make even less sense today because the government sends out refunds faster than it used to. Taxpayers can file their returns electronically and they can have the money wired into their checking accounts by filling out a few lines on their tax returns. Alan Weiner is immediate past president of the New York State Society of CPAs.
Mr. ALAN WEINER: Anybody that can wait for the refund should wait for the refund. Anybody that can put their checking account number on page two definitely should do that. And they should avoid rapid refunds and advance loans and even paying to have somebody else electronically file their return merely because they want to get the refund a little bit earlier.
Whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch may have been right. But for millions of eligible taxpayers this year, there is Free File. Free File is online tax preparation and electronic filing through a partnership agreement between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, LLC. In other words, you can e-file... free.
If you qualify, you can prepare and file your federal tax return using Free File. But you may have to pay to file your state return. You are under no obligation to buy any products or services. When choosing a company, be sure to link to their Web site through IRS.gov. By going directly to a company's Web site, you may not get the free offer.
Each company has limits on who
can qualify for the free service. You should check with the company.
Start on this page
FOR MORE INFORMATION TO
Step 1. How to Get Started: From the "Free File Home Your link to Free Online Filing" page, click on the "Start Now" button. You will go to an IRS.gov Free File page where you may start your search for a Free File company.
Step 2. Determine Your Eligibility: You must first determine your eligibility for using a particular company. Each company has a simple description of their eligibility criteria for using their free service. You may also find additional information on IRS.gov Free File pages under the "more details" links.
Step 3. Link to Free File Company Service: After choosing a company, click on the company's title, which sends you directly to the company's web site (you will be notified you are leaving IRS.gov and being sent to a commercial web site). You may begin the preparation of your tax return.
You have two options for selecting a Free File company on IRS.gov:
A. Review the complete list of companies and their descriptions of services. Scan the listing of Free File companies on the IRS.gov page after clicking on the "Start Now" button on the Free File Home page. Upon determining eligibility for a free service, you may link directly to the company's web site by clicking on the company's title. Upon doing so, you will be notified that you are leaving the IRS.gov web site and entering the company's web site. You will be located on the company's web site and you may want to start the process of preparing your federal income tax return. You will also find a description of a company's service under "more details" on the IRS.gov free file page.
B. Alternatively, if you are having trouble choosing a company by scanning the list of Free File companies, you may want to use the interactive help tool, "Guide Me To A Service" to narrow down the possible companies offering free preparation and e-filing for you. Click on the button "Guide Me To A Service" to start searching for the companies that may provide free services for you.
If you are uncertain about your answers for the questions contained, you may want to view the complete list of companies and their services. The accuracy of the results is dependent on the accuracy of the information you provide the "Guide Me To A Service" tool.
Step 4. If you do not qualify for the selected company's free offer, you may want to check other free file company offers by accessing the IRS.gov Free File page. If you are on the company's web site, look for the link that takes you back to IRS.gov and search for another Free File service. Go back and scan the listing of free company services as described in Step 3.
If you do not qualify for the company's free offer but continue with the preparation and e-filing process with this company, please be aware you will be charged a fee for preparing and e-filing your federal tax return. For example, if you select a company whose free services are provided to individuals with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $26,000 or less and, based on your tax data, the company determines your AGI exceeds the $26,000 limit, you will be notified you may be subject to a fee. It is important you understand each of the company's eligibility criteria before selecting a company. You may find the fee by looking under "more details" next to the company's description on the Free File pages.
Step 5. Prepare and e-File Your Federal Income Tax Return: The
company's software prepares and e-files your income tax returns using
proprietary processes and systems. Electronically filed returns are
transmitted by the company to the IRS using the established e-file
system, which uses secure telephone lines. An acknowledgment file,
notifying you that the return has been either accepted or rejected,
is sent via email from the company.
Charles G. Ransom
Multicultural Studies Librarian
(734) 764-7522 Office Phone
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