Archive for June, 2010

An end to free checking?

Consumers keep getting hit by fallout from the banking crisis.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Bank of America and other banks are preparing new fees on basic services as they try to replace revenue lost to regulatory rules.

This is expected to spell an end to free checking accounts for many Americans, the WSJ writes.

Free checking accounts, which have been widely available for more than a decade, have been a boon to middle-class consumers and attracted low-income customers to the banking system for the first time, the WSJ says.

But customers will likely be required to pay new monthly maintenance fees on the most basic accounts that don’t generate a lot of activity.

To avoid a fee, customers will have to maintain certain account balances or frequently use other banking services, such as credit and debit cards, automated teller machines and online accounts, the WSJ reports.

“If you put $1,000 in a checking account and don’t do anything with it, it will be hard to get …

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Power Breakfast: Jobs go vacant at DeKalb 911 center, Ga. unemployment dips, Home Depot, Tara Field, BP

This is disturbing. Almost a third of the 122 jobs assigned to DeKalb’s 911 center are vacant, AJC reporter Megan Matteucci writes.

The 911 center is so understaffed that dispatchers sometimes can’t take bathroom breaks, county officials say.

Matteucci reports that the county is investigating complaints of slow ambulance response times as it seeks to hire 31 officers and seven supervisors for 911 dispatch.

County officials have said they hope to address these problems with additional staff and training, but that will take several months.

“It will take about six months to get the positions filled. For now, we’re using overtime to cover it,” Police Major James Conroy told commissioners.

Also in the AJC:

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Georgia’s unemployment rate dips slightly to 10.2 percent

Georgia’s unemployment rate declined to 10.2 percent in May, from 10.3 percent in April, the state labor department reported Thursday.

But the number of long-term unemployed keeps rising. People out of work 27 weeks or longer now make up 47 percent of the state’s jobless, the labor department said.

“It’s disturbing that the number of long-term unemployed Georgia workers is growing by the thousands,” state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said in a statement. “There are some signs of improvement in the job market, but we must have robust private sector job creation before our economy will fully recover.”

In May, there were 225,700 long-term unemployed in Georgia. That represents an increase of 143 percent from a year ago and 5 percent from April, the labor department said.

The state’s 10.2 percent  jobless rate remains seven-tenths of a percentage point higher than it was a year ago. May is the 32nd consecutive month Georgia has exceeded the national unemployment rate, …

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Wal-Mart takes small stake in debit-card seller

Is this just the beginning for Wal-Mart?

The giant retailer has taken a minor stake in the prepaid debit-card seller Green Dot Corp. — a move that would give Wal-Mart indirect access to the U.S. financial industry, the Financial Times and Reuters are reporting.

California-based Green Dot sells prepaid debit cards and reloading services to U.S. consumers at about 50,000 retail stores including Wal-Mart, Walgreen and 7-Eleven, Reuters reports.

Wal-Mart’s stake represents less than 1 percent of the combined voting power of its outstanding common stock, Green Dot said in a government filing.

An attempt by Wal-Mart to open a U.S. bank was abandoned in 2007 after intense lobbying by the financial industry.

On Tuesday, Wal-Mart began a push into Canada’s financial industry, launching a domestic bank and a rewards credit card, Reuters reports.

Do you think Wal-Mart will try again here?

Would you sign up?

Or do you think Wal-Mart is big enough already and should stay out of …

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Power Breakfast: How to start a new business, minority populations, AirTran, iPhone 4, Obama and BP

I’m no genius. So a book with a name that starts “The Complete Idiot’s Guide …” generally grabs my attention.

Atlanta CPA and consultant Gail Margolies Reid has written a new book called “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Low-Cost Startups” to help would-be entrepreneurs navigate the process of doing it on their own, AJC reporter David Markiewicz writes.

Reid, 55, of Alpharetta, said that the beauty of the low-cost venture — which she fixes at $1,000 or less — is that most people can try it with minimal financial risk.

She offers information on more than 100 business opportunities, such as landscape installation, elder companionship and pet daycare, Markiewicz reports.

Reid includes estimates of startup costs, first-year revenues, expected time commitment and pricing suggestions.

Also in the AJC:

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How to cope with joblessness

Mental health counselors like Don Durkee have been talking more about jobs and 401(k)s and less about “family-of-origin” issues when helping clients reduce stress in their lives.

Don Durkee

Don Durkee

It wasn’t long ago, Durkee said, that the lion’s share of the one-on-one conversations in his Sandy Springs office focused on a client’s aspirations for the future.

“Aspiration is choice and the exercise of power,” said Durkee, incoming president of the 2,800 member Licensed Professional Counselors Association of Georgia.

But the economic crisis of the last few years knocked choice and power out of many workers’ lives.

“The issue became not growing, but surviving,” Durkee said. “The environment shifted and clients felt a loss of control. People are feeling powerless.”

What happens when they feel that way?

“They’ll wonder ‘what’s wrong with me,’” he said. “There are feelings of failure, even if the layoff is not caused by the person.”

Stress, anxiety, substance abuse, depression and suicide …

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Interested in a smaller home and price tag?

Are you interested in a home finished by a new building strategy?

Some builders are taking advantage of lower lot prices to resume work in stalled housing developments, AJC reporter Michelle Shaw writes.

But they’re not necessarily the same builders that started the work, and the homes they’re building may not be in the same size or price range, Shaw reports.

At the Estates at Old Atlanta, for instance, Pulte Homes inherited building rights in a buyout and this year started putting up homes of no more than 3,200 square feet, priced at $270,000 to $330,000. The eight original homes had an average of 3,500 square feet and sold for $335,000 to $460,000.

The change in strategy creates another twist in the fallout from the housing bust, Shaw writes. People who bought the first homes in subdivisions started at the height of the housing boom may see less expensive homes going up all around them.

If you’re an existing homeowner, does that worry you? Or is living in a …

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What does President Obama need to say and do?

The stakes are enormous. President Obama makes his first Oval Office speech tonight by tackling the disaster in the Gulf.

Up to now, BP has been a textbook case for what not to do.

The federal government, meanwhile, has tried to distance itself from the company recently and take a more forceful stance. Some believe it’s been too little too late.

What do you believe?

What does the president need to convey tonight? How specific does he need to be about the administration’s immediate and long-term plans?

Beyond words, what actions need to be taken?

Please keep comments focused on the oil spill. Thank you.

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Power Breakfast: Elaborate airport send-off, new homebuilding strategy, Delta, Screen on Green, BP, Obama

An elaborate going-away party for Ben DeCosta, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, cost $22,418 and is now under a city ethics review, AJC reporter Kelly Yamanouchi writes.

For a June 7 dinner feting DeCosta at the Georgia International Convention Center, more than $10,000 was spent for catering, $1,200 for entertainment and a song created for the departing airport official, $6,000 for audio-visual needs, $856 for flowers and $3,000 for a program, banner, posters, souvenir booklets and signs, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request.

Entertainment for the event included a tribute song to DeCosta entitled “Our GM” that was performed by Heather Hayes Experience; Hayes is the daughter of entertainer Isaac Hayes. DeCosta also was given a portrait of himself that cost $200, Yamanouchi reports.

The airport has said it did not use public funds for the 250-guest dinner, but questions …

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Power Breakfast: ‘Say on pay’ shareholder proposals, Atlanta foreclosures rise, solar power, tax foe, BP and Obama

The “say-on-pay” debate appears to be heating up, given the enormous compensation of some CEOs.

Home Depot and Coca-Cola opposed shareholder proposals this year to hold such nonbinding votes on executive compensation at future annual shareholder meetings, AJC reporter Russell Grantham writes.

Coke’s major bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises, likewise opposed a shareholder proposal seeking a say on large future exit packages called “golden parachutes.” Shareholders rejected the proposals at all three companies, Grantham reports.

But their victories could be short-lived, because lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are working on legislation that could make the votes mandatory at all publicly traded companies’ annual meetings.

The “say on pay” provisions are in both the House and Senate versions of financial reform legislation that lawmakers are trying to meld into a final bill this summer, Grantham writes.

While experts debate how much impact the proposed votes would have, it’s …

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