MONEY deals

Freebie Frenzy! It’s Peak Season for Free Stuff

Crowds watch the eruption of Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.
Lisa Corson—Gallery Stock Crowds watch the eruption of Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park.

If you love getting free stuff—ice cream, pretzels, milkshakes, cookies, burgers, coffee, park admissions—you are loving life right about now.

Freebie promotions pop up throughout the year. Donut Day giveaways are always in early June, free Slurpees are slurped up on 7-Eleven Day (held, of course, on July 11), National Coffee Day is in late September, IHOP hosts a free pancake day every March, and so on. The calendar is sprinkled with all manner of fake holidays and their corresponding giveaways and marketing promotions.

But sometimes the deals are clumped together in what amounts to a freebie frenzy. Were are in the midst of just such a period—Peak Freebie if you will.

Freebie momentum began ramping up roughly a month ago, with Dairy Queen and Rita’s dishing out free ice cream and free Italian ices, respectively. Things really picked up steam last week, with back-to-back-to-back giveaways of ice cream (at Ben & Jerry’s), coffee (Wawa), and all manner of foods and services (to soften the blow of Tax Day).

And the fast and furious freebie gravy train isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot. Here are more freebies to take advantage of in the very near future:

• The National Park Service kicks off National Parks Week with free admission for all visitors on Saturday and Sunday, April 18-19.

• In honor of Earth Day (Wednesday, April 22), the giveaways include free organic milkshakes at the chain of Evos cafes and free kids crafts at Anthropologie stores.

• Between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 23, all Jamba Juice customers are welcomed to order their choice of a free classic smoothie or juice.

• National Pretzel Day is Sunday, April 26, with freebies available from Pretzel Maker, Auntie Anne’s, and Wetzel’s Pretzels.

• Tuesday, April 28, is being celebrated as Hero Appreciation Day at Krispy Kreme, and anyone who purchases a dozen original glazed donuts gets a second dozen for free. The Krispy Kreme offer is being promoted as a way to celebrate the heroes in your life. But if you show up at home or the office with two dozen donuts, we all know who will be looked at like the real hero.

MONEY Autos

Here’s a Good Indication of How Much People Hate Car Dealerships

man in car dealership showroom
Adam Gault—Getty Images

If it were possible and practical, most people would never set foot in a car dealership when purchasing a vehicle.

Accenture surveyed 10,000 people in the U.S. and a handful of other countries about buying cars, and the results show that most consumers aren’t exactly fans of the standard car dealership experience. In fact, three-quarters said that “if given the opportunity, they would consider making their entire car-buying process online, including financing, price negotiation, back office paperwork and home delivery.”

Some cultures are keener on purchasing via the web than others. Overall, the poll showed that Chinese, American, and Brazilian drivers are “more interested in online digital experiences than other countries,” specifically countries in Europe. For instance, 75% of Brazilians and 90% of Chinese would buy a car in an online auction, versus 45% of Germans and just 35% of French.

The survey findings didn’t reveal all that much about why consumers don’t seem to think it’s important to make the big-ticket purchase of an automobile the old-fashioned way, in person at a car dealership. But anyone who has bought a car probably has an idea about why online purchasing is appealing. For many, buying a car at a dealership is too much of a confusing, high-pressure, unreasonably long process. It’s easy to see how it’s preferable to haggle over prices and options and review the fine print at one’s leisure in front of a screen rather than surrounded by salespeople and their “let me talk to the manager” games. After all, a classic negotiation tactic is walking away from the deal on the table, and walking away from an online offer is as simple as ignoring an email.

For another indication of the degree to which consumers don’t like the traditional car-buying experience, check out a recent survey conducted for Autotrader. Of the 4,002 consumers polled, only 17 said they like the current car buying process just as it is. The rest said they “want significant changes, particularly in the test drive, deal structuring, financing paperwork and service phases.” Many said they’d like to see the nitty-gritty of deals conducted online rather than in person. For instance:

Consumers indicate that they would like to see a big change in the way they go about negotiating the deal structure. Of those who liked the idea of online deal building, over half, 56 percent, want the ability to start the negotiation on their own terms—preferably online—and 45 percent would like to remain anonymous until they lock in the deal structure.

And this:

Nearly three fourths of consumers, 72 percent, want to complete the credit application and financing paperwork online. The key factors driving this desire are to save time at the dealership (reported by 72 percent of those who favor online paperwork) and to have less pressure while filling out paperwork (reported by 71 percent of those who favor online paperwork).

There’s no big mystery as to why car dealerships and automakers are reluctant to make online vehicle purchasing more practical and readily available. Doing so would put car sales staffers out of jobs and likely result in lower profits for automakers and dealerships. Let’s not forget that one of the supposed purposes of car dealerships is to provide a place for consumers to kick the tires, test-drive vehicles, and (hopefully) get good insights and advice from employees. A car is a major purchase, and a good car dealership will help steer you in the right direction.

Nonetheless, there’s considerable pressure to change the often-maddening experience—to make it quicker, more transparent, less stressful, and less complicated—and some auto brands are becoming more open to online purchases.

“There aren’t too many things out there anymore that you can’t buy in an online way, and it’s really automotive that’s lagging pretty much every other industry out there,” Doug Murtha, Scion’s brand chief, acknowledged in a recent Bloomberg story about how the Toyota-owned brand is attempting to make car purchasing “Feel More Like Buying an iPad.”

Most customers have been able to use Scion’s new options to buy a car in less than two hours—less than half the usual time suck—and the goal is to get the process chopped down to under an hour. Meanwhile, some Auto Nation dealerships in South Florida have been attempting to make it possible for shoppers to seal the deal on a new or used car in a Domino’s-delivery-like 30 minutes or less, thanks to customers doing much of the browsing and completing of paperwork online in advance.

MONEY Food & Drink

Why You Should Blame Millennials for Spicy Fast Food

flame made out of still life of jalopeno peppers
Gallery Stock

If you want to know why fast food menus are being overloaded with hot flavors and extra spicy sauces, look no further than millennials and their "adventurous" tastes.

Walk into almost any chain restaurant in America and you’re sure to encounter spicy new menu items that’ll put a little sweat on your brow. A few examples:

• This week, Wendy’s rolled out two hot-hot-hot limited-time menu items: the Jalapeno Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwich and Ghost Pepper Fries.

Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. introduced El Diablo, a burger featuring not one but “four sources of fiery flavor”: sliced jalapenos, crunchy Jalapeno Poppers, spicy habanero bacon sauce, and pepper-Jack cheese. The company has described the El Diablo—which translates to “like a fighting chicken,” according to Ricky Bobbie in Talladega Nights—as both “fast food’s hottest burger” and a “lava bomb.”

• New chicken-and-rice bowls from KFC offer the magic combo of spicy flavors for millennials—Sweet ‘n Spicy BBQ and Zesty Tex-Mex—and a cheap price point of just $5, including a medium drink and a cookie.

Burger King introduced both a Spicy Big Fish Sandwich and a Spicy BLT Whopper in 2015, as well as an April Fool prank burger-scented perfume called “Spicy.”

• The menu at Popeye’s had Ghost Pepper Wings for a limited time earlier this year, featuring the intense spice of one of the world’s hottest peppers.

Denny’s, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut are among the outlets that have mixed Sriracha sauce into the menu of late.

What’s behind the up-spice, so to speak? Surely the most extreme flavors will only appeal to a small subset of customers, won’t they?

“I think ghost peppers and other really spicy ingredients are gimmicks,” Nation’s Restaurant News senior food editor Bret Thorn said in a recent discussion about fast food trends. Still, reasonably spicy food is rapidly becoming more mainstream: “We actually are seeing a seismic shift in how Americans respond to spicy food. In fact, now the majority of Americans say they like spicy food.”

“When it comes to spicy food, a lot of the consumer research being done on the topic today clearly shows that the public’s desire for heat just keeps growing and growing every year,” Brad Haley, chief marketing officer of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, said in a press release announcing the El Diablo burger. “We’ve witnessed that phenomenon in our own restaurants, where potential menu items that used to be rated as ‘too spicy’ in our market tests just a few years ago are now just right.”

According to a 2013 Technomic survey, 54% of consumers said they preferred spicy foods and sauces, and high percentages indicated they’re driven to try new flavors (37%) and that new flavors can push them into visiting restaurants (41%). With that in mind, it’s easy to see why more and more restaurants are periodically adding hot new flavors to their menus.

For that matter, this is hardly a new trend. Red Robin first offered a Ghost Pepper burger in 2012, while McDonald’s, Sonic, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Subway have added menu items dashed with habanero, jalapeno, chipotle, and of course Sriracha in recent years.

Yet lately hotness on fast food menus seems to have picked up, well, heat. And, as with so many consumer categories nowadays, appealing to the tastes of millennials is a big motivating force behind the shift. Nearly 75% of millennials say they want to experience more flavors at restaurants, according to Mintel data, while 62% describe themselves as “adventurous eaters” (compared with 54% of all U.S. adults). Sriracha has been declared the “go-to condiment” for millennials as well.

By adding spicier options, restaurants can draw in more adventurous—and younger—customers, and they don’t seem nearly as concerned about alienating their core clientele as they used to be. In the NRN discussion, Thorn recalled that a decade or so ago, in order for a new item to be approved to go national, “it had to score high among the vast majority of their customers, and that meant that they never offered really spicy food because it was considered polarizing.” Tastes have changed for many consumers, and so has the thinking about what’s a good addition to restaurant menus. “Now,” says Thorn, “the food even at mass-market chains has gotten a lot spicier.”

MONEY Airlines

This Airline Just Made Your Butt Happy

150415_EM_SouthwestSeats
Southwest Airlines—Wieck Soon, Southwest passengers will enjoy wider seats on the new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

Airline travelers are used to the economy section getting more and more cramped. So Southwest Airlines' move to make seats slightly wider is a blessing.

This week, Southwest Airlines announced that its new 737 airplanes will boast seats with a rare commodity: a little extra room for your butt. The bottom seat cushions will be 17.8 inches across, whereas the typical seat width on 737s is 17 to 17.3 inches.

“The new aircraft seats are the widest economy seats available in the single-aisle 737 market, and offer a unique design that gives our customers what they asked for: more space,” Bob Jordan, Southwest’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said in a press release announcing the new seats.

Passengers won’t get to enjoy the extra seat width until mid-2016 at the earliest. That’s when Southwest’s forthcoming 737-800s will first hit the runway and begin accepting passengers.

Will the new seats transform the flying experience of passengers? Honestly, probably not. An extra half-inch or so of space is nice, but for most travelers it won’t feel like a true game changer. Besides, the seats in some other airlines’ economy sections are already wider than Southwest’s new seats. According to SeatGuru, carriers that commonly use 737s, such as Alaska Airlines and Southwest, currently have seat widths of 17 to 17.1 inches. But on JetBlue, which prefers different aircraft (Airbus, Embraer E-190), the seat widths range from 17.8 to 18.25 inches.

Meanwhile, Airbus has argued that airline seats should be at least 18 inches wide, pointing to studies that show sleep quality is 53% better on 18-inch seats compared with 17-inchers. Airbus also pointed out that human beings today tend to simply be larger and heavier than prior generations, and that other industries are more accommodating. The typical modern American movie theater seat, for instance, is 22 inches wide, one inch more than the average of a decade ago.

Nonetheless, Southwest’s move is a welcome change, if for no other reason than that it goes against the trend of airlines cramming in more and more seats and scaling back passengers’ personal space in economy sections, with the hopes of boosting profits—which are already at record highs thanks to high airfares and low fuel prices. Southwest remains an anomaly in the industry for maintaining its free checked baggage policy. Slightly wider seats could prove to be another way the airline can differentiate itself from the pack in a passenger-friendly way.

Read next: These Are the Airlines With the Most Passenger Complaints

MONEY Sports

Why NFL Players Are So Likely to Declare Bankruptcy

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp wipes his face as he is inducted into the team's Ring of Honor during half time in an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, in Tampa, Fla.
Brian Blanco—AP Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp wipes his face as he is inducted into the team's Ring of Honor during half time in an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, in Tampa, Fla.

Retirement is supposed to represent one's golden years. But for former NFL players—who are typically out of the game by age 30—retirement is often accompanied by a slew of problems.

According to a new study in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), former NFL players go broke at an alarmingly high rate considering how much money they make as pro athletes.

The median NFL player is in the league for six years and during that time earns $3.2 million in 2000 dollars—more than a typical college graduate makes in a lifetime, noted this Quartz post. And yet, nearly 16% of the players included in the study—everyone drafted from 1996 to 2003—filed for bankruptcy within 12 years of retirement.

A 2009 report from Sports Illustrated found that “78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce” after they’d been retired only two years. Some of the stories of pro athletes losing their fortunes, chronicled in the ESPN documentary “Broke” and elsewhere, are astonishing. Warren Sapp, the seven-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Fame defensive tackle, earned $82 million during a 13-year career that ended in 2007. By the spring of 2012, however, he filed for bankruptcy, even though he was still pulling in $116,000 per month at the time as a TV analyst.

What is it about so many professional athletes—and football players in particular—that causes them to go broke in swift and dramatic fashion, despite their lofty salaries? Here are some the key factors–several of which can potentially screw up the retirement plans of anyone, not just a pro athlete.

NFL careers (and peak earning years) are short. The average annual salaries and career lengths for NFL players are smaller than their counterparts in other big-time sports. A 2013 study showed that the average (as opposed to the median noted above) NFL player earned $1.9 million per year and was in the league for 3.5 years. Both are much lower than the averages in Major League Baseball ($3.2 million annually, 5.6-year career) and the National Basketball Association ($5.15 million, 4.8-year career).

Not only do NFL players tend to earn less overall, their careers are over much more quickly. The typical NFLer is out of the game and done with his peak earning years well before he’s even turned 30. This is when the typical worker’s earning potential is just taking off.

They ignore sound investing advice. “If they are forward-looking and patient, they should save a large fraction of their income to provide for when they retire from the NFL,” the NBER study explains. But many NFL players are neither forward-looking nor patient, and they don’t save much, if anything. That goes even for players with good careers, per the study: “Having played for a long time and having been a successful and well-paid player does not provide much protection against the risk of going bankrupt.”

In the opening anecdote of the Sports Illustrated story, Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, the Notre Dame superstar who played in the CFL and NFL and earned as much as $4.5 million per year, recalled how impervious he was to financial advice early on in his career. “I once had a meeting with J.P. Morgan,” he said, “and it was literally like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher.”

They get bad advice and make bad decisions. Ismail blew money on a wide range of sketchy investments, including a religious movie, a music label, and various high-risk restaurant and retail endeavors. Many players have sued their advisors after allegedly being scammed out of millions. In one suit filed in 2013, a group of 16 former and current NFL players claimed they were collectively bilked for more than $50 million based on the actions of an advisor who had allegedly invested the money in an illegal casino.

“Regulated or not, shady advisors have made quite a mark on the NFL financial scene,” the authors of the 2014 book Is There Life After Football? Surviving the NFL wrote. “Before closer scrutiny was instituted, at least 78 players lost more than $42 million between 1999 and 2002 because they trusted money to agents and financial advisors with questionable backgrounds.”

More recently, seven-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney sued Bank of America for $20 million, because a former adviser from the bank supposedly defrauded him by (illegally) wiring millions of dollars out of Freeney’s account. In another recent case, it is a former NFL player who is himself being accused of operating a sketchy investing scheme. In early April, the SEC filed a federal fraud complaint against former NFL player Will Allen and a business associate, who together allegedly ran a Ponzi scheme, using money from some investors to pay off others. The operation was supposed to be loaning money to athletes who were short of cash, but the suit claims roughly $7 million raised from investors was used instead for personal expenses of Allen and his associate.

They get used to a certain lifestyle. Warren Sapp reportedly had 240 pairs of collectible sneakers, including 213 sets of Air Jordans, which wound up selling for more than $6,000 at auction. Former standout wide receiver Andre Rison famously blew $1 million on jewelry and routinely walked around clubs with tens of thousands of dollars in cash in his pockets, he recalled in the “Broke” documentary. Troubled cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones has said that he once dropped $1 million in a single weekend in Las Vegas.

Extravagant spending is ingrained in NFL culture, insiders say. “Around the locker room, players’ cars, clothes, houses and ‘bling’ are constantly scrutinized. If they’re not up to par, they’re ridiculed,” former Green Bay Packers’ George E. Koonce, Jr. and his fellow authors explained in Is There Life After Football? “Players don’t see their bills or keep track of their payments. They’re in the dark about taxes. They lose touch with their own money.”

Once they retire and the millions stop flowing into their bank accounts, many players find it impossible to dramatically shift gears and adapt to life on a limited fixed income. It’s all the more difficult because they’re still relatively young and aren’t anywhere near ready to embrace the sensible, low-key, downsized lifestyle of the typical 70-year-old retiree.

They’re often crippled, mentally and physically. The consensus is that of all the major pro sports, football takes the largest toll on the minds and bodies of its combatants—making it exceptionally difficult to make a living once their (short) athletic careers are over. Studies show that players suffer concussions at disturbingly high rates, and that the frequent brain injuries of players cause a wide range of neurological problems down the road. The high level of former NFL players committing suicide (Junior Seau among others) has been tied to concussions in football games as well.

Even if players retain their cognitive skills, they often live with chronic pain in knees, hips, and joints. Debilitating pain, debilitating brain disease, or both obviously hamper one’s ability to make a living outside of football.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story included widely disseminated information regarding the likelihood of lower life expectancy among former pro football players. Harvard researchers working on a multi-year project with the NFL concerning the medical risks of playing football say the information is outdated and inaccurate. The NFL disputes the data indicating that its players have shorter life expectancies as well, pointing to a 2012 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study in which researchers “found the players in our study had a much lower rate of death overall compared to men in the general population. This means that, on average, NFL players are actually living longer than men in the general population.”

The same study also found that NFL “players may be at a higher risk of death associated with Alzheimer’s and other impairments of the brain and nervous system than the general U.S. population. These results are consistent with recent studies by other research institutions that suggest an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease among football players,” though the report noted that the “findings do not establish a direct cause-effect relationship between football-related concussions and death from these neurodegenerative disorders.”

MONEY Tech

Lots of Apple Watch Listings on eBay Are Attracting Zero Bids

Apple Watch
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sellers are asking extremely high "Buy It Now" prices at eBay to take advantage of strong demand for Apple Watches. But in many cases, consumers aren't biting.

By most accounts, the Apple Watch did a terrific business on the first day customers could place preorders. Apple reportedly received roughly one million orders last Friday, and demand has been so high that orders placed now won’t be delivered until June or even later in the summer.

The first customers who preordered Apple Watches, however, will have their shiny gadgets in hand starting on April 24 or soon thereafter. Part of the draw of being an early adopter is the opportunity to get one’s hands on the newest tech before everyone else, and a certain group of consumers is sure to be too impatient to wait until summer to get their hands on the new Apple Watch.

Naturally, this combination of strong demand and limited short-term supply led Apple Watches to begin appearing for resale on eBay almost as soon as Apple started accepting preorders. As ReCode noted over the weekend, most eBay listings for Apple Watches were of the “Buy It Now” variety, in which sellers post a flat price for the item rather than putting it up for an online auction. We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some sellers appear to be exceptionally opportunistic and greedy, occasionally posting “Buy It Now” prices that are 200% to 600% higher than retail.

Mind you, anyone can place an order and pay the retail price at the Apple Store for these exact same watches; the only reason anyone would pay a premium for an Apple Watch via eBay is that—assuming the listing is legitimate—you’d be able to show it off a few weeks sooner.

OK, so people selling stuff online are trying to make a quick buck by taking advantage of impatient Apple fans: Nothing new here. Are people actually paying up?

In some cases, they are indeed, but often not to the extent that sellers might hope. In one eBay auction that closed on Monday, a 42 mm Stainless Steel Apple Watch with link bracelet that retails for $999 was purchased for $1,400. Another Apple Watch, a 38 mm with a Black Sport Band, received 20 bids and sold for $561, barely over the retail price ($549). The results of some of the online auctions ending on Monday were puzzling: In one auction for a 38 mm Stainless Steel with Black Classic Buckle Apple Watch, the final bid was $610 (original price: $649), while a 42 mm version of the same Apple Watch (original price: $699) went for $910 in an auction that ended at almost the exact same time on Monday afternoon. Yet another Apple Watch auction that ended Monday, for a 38 mm model that retails for $349, wound up selling for $480.

It’s hard to draw many conclusions about the height of Apple Watch demand and the state of consumer patience from such all-over-the-map results. One thing that’s particularly interesting is that dozens of listings with “Buy It Now” prices and many with side-by-side “Buy It Now” prices and high starting bid prices came and went on Monday after attracting no bids whatsoever. For instance, no one bid on a 42 mm Milanese Loop Apple Watch listed at a “Buy It Now” price of $1,499, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the gadget can be purchased at retail for just $699.

Obviously, some sellers are trying to test the market with the hopes of making as large a profit as possible on their timely device purchase. In general, buyers are paying only moderate premiums in Apple Watch resales. For now at least, it looks like consumers aren’t going completely overboard in the quest to slide an Apple Watch onto their wrists a few days before their neighbors and coworkers.

MONEY

Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day Is Tuesday, April 14

Guy Bell—Alamy

Free ice cream arrives at Ben & Jerry's on Tuesday, in the form of the company's 36th annual Free Cone Day.

Tuesday, April 14, is Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry’s shops all over the globe. Starting at noon, customers at participating Ben & Jerry’s locations are welcomed to choose their flavor of ice cream, on the house. In an online poll on the company website, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is beating Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Cherry Garcia as the favorite flavor people will pick on the big giveaway day. Ben & Jerry’s anticipates that shops will give away more than one million scoops on Tuesday.

What’s particularly surprising—in an awesome way—about this freebie event is that Ben & Jerry’s apparently has no problem with folks coming back for second helpings of free ice cream. Normally, giveaways come with fine print stipulating that customers limit themselves to a single freebie. A recent Free Cone Day at Dairy Queen, for instance, was a strict “limit one per customer” deal. That’s pretty much the standard when it comes to freebies.

But Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day promotion includes no such fine print. What’s more, Ben & Jerry’s posted the video below on YouTube and its own website, in which customers bask in the glory of their free ice cream—and a few explain that one freebie simply doesn’t cut it. “You get to get ice cream, and then get to get back in line and get more ice cream,” says one customer. Others tell the camera that they’re on their second, fourth, fifth, or seventh cone of the day.

Apparently, the only things that’ll limit how many free ice cream cones you’ll get on Tuesday is how many times you’re willing to wait in line—and how much your stomach can handle.

MONEY deals

Best Tax Day Deals and Freebies

Hard Rock Cafe, Denver, Colorado
Alamy Hard Rock Cafe, Denver, Colorado

Tax relief arrives annually in the form of freebies and deals on April 15. On the special promotion menu this year are cookies, burgers, hotels, coffee, and shaved ice.

Here’s a roundup of the best freebies and promotions on or around Tax Day, April 15:

Boston Market: Buy one individual meal on Tax Day, and a second is free.

California Tortilla: Any customer who makes a purchase and says, “Taxes, Shmaxes,” on April 15—ideally in “a bored, funny voice”—gets free chips and a choice of queso or salsa.

Great American Cookies: Relieve the stress of Tax Day with a regular sugar cookie on the house, no purchase necessary.

Hard Rock Café: Locations around the country allow customers to “Sing for Your Supper” on April 15. Specifically, you’ll get a free Local Legendary Burger by belting out a song in front of the rest of the dinnertime crowd.

Hotel Deals: A range of hotels are hosting promotions for Tax Day or the springtime tax season, with 15% or more off regular room rates.

Kona Ice: Shaved ice and Hawaiian leis will be handed out from Kona Ice trucks parked outside post offices and other businesses around the country on April 15.

Schlotzky’s: Buy a 32-ounce drink and chips and an Original sandwich is free of charge at this deli chain on Tax Day.

Wawa: You’ll have to wait for April 16 for Wawa’s freebie—free coffee, served all day, for the company’s anniversary.

UPDATE: Here are a few more Tax Day deals that have surfaced since we published our original post.

Hooters: Special all-you-can-eat wings deals are available at Hooters around the country. Depending on location, all-you-can-eat prices range from $11.59 to $12.99 for boneless wings and $13.99 to $14.99 for traditional bone-in wings.

Sonic: Half-price cheeseburger buddies are on the menu all day on April 15.

White Castle: Bring this coupon in (or just show it on your phone) to a participating White Castle location and get 15% off your bill on April 15.

Whole Foods: Many stores are giving out free coffee on Wednesday.

MONEY Taxes

You’re Not Paying Enough in Taxes on These 7 Things

junk food (candy, soda and chips)
iStock

That's what proponents of various tax hikes, or entirely new taxes, would have you believe.

The last thing most consumers want to hear—especially around April 15—is that they should be paying more in taxes. But for a wide range of reasons, including health, safety, fairness, the environment, and simply raising more funds for government projects and infrastructure, some say higher taxes are needed in the following categories.

Alcohol
“In 1951, the federal excise tax on a standard shot of 80-proof whiskey was about 90 cents in today’s dollars. Today it stands at about 13 cents, a seven-fold decrease,” the Washington Post noted recently. “The real federal beer tax has fallen about fivefold over the same period, with a more modest drop for wine.”

That and other articles point to new research from the University of Florida, which shows that higher alcohol taxes can save lives—because people drink less when booze costs more. “Alcohol tax increases implemented across the country could prevent thousands of deaths from car crashes each year,” said Alexander C. Wagenaar, a UF College of Medicine professor and one of the researchers involved in the study.

Junk Food
Commonly referred as a junk food tax, the Healthy Dine Nation Act went into effect on April 1 in the Navajo Nation, which extends into parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The law adds a 2% tax on chips, fried foods, soda and other sweetened beverages, and other products with “minimal-to-no-nutritional value.” Funds raised from the tax are supposed to be allocated to health initiatives, including exercise facilities and community gardens. The tax is also aimed at dissuading people from eating poorly—diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease are all big problems on the reservation.

The idea of a state or national junk food or “fat tax” surfaces from time to time, with proponents calling special attention to how costly obesity is. “America spends $96 billion treating diseases caused by cigarette smoking—far less than the $190 billion spent on obesity,” the Committee for Economic Development noted last fall. Yet some research indicates that to be noticeably effective in changing consumer behavior, a junk food tax has to be big, perhaps 20% or higher.

Soda
While a blanket junk food tax would include soda and sweetened beverages, some health advocates specifically target soda as especially appropriate for a new tax. The nation’s first soda tax was passed in Berkeley, Calif., last fall, and lawmakers in San Francisco have been trying to reduce soda consumption, via possible taxes and package warnings among other measures. Several other cities have tried (but failed) to institute soda taxes, and we’ll have to wait and see if Berkeley is a trendsetter or an oddball anomaly. One 2014 study suggests that a tax equivalent to 6¢ on each 12-ounce soda would significantly curb soda consumption.

Gas
The idea of hiking gas taxes has grown more popular since gas prices collapsed in the U.S. The national gas tax hasn’t budged since 1993, and the thinking is that people will be more open to higher gas taxes at a time when the cost of gas is cheap. Forecasts call for gas prices to stay low indefinitely, and that makes it more likely that a gas tax increase will happen.

Driving
One problem with taxing gas is that today’s drivers use less of it, thanks to the rise of alternative-fuel cars and across-the-board improvements in fuel efficiency. After all, when people use less gas, they pay less in gas taxes too, and plummeting gas taxes collected means that there are fewer funds to keep our highway infrastructure from crumbling further.

One frequently suggested alternative to taxing gas is taxing miles driven. This concept is riddled with unknowns, but we should all know more about how such a system would work in the near future. An experiment charging a few thousand drivers 1.5¢ per mile gets under way in Oregon starting this summer.

E-cigarettes
According to a 2015 Pew Charitable Trusts study, two states already tax e-cigarette sales (North Carolina and Minnesota), and proposals to add e-cigarette taxes have been on the table in at least a dozen more states. Among them, Ohio is considering a tax that would effectively triple the current cost of electronic cigarettes.

Online Shopping
Last month, a group of U.S. senators introduced a new version of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to collect sales tax on purchases made in other states. Somewhere between one-half and three-quarters of American consumers already pay sales tax on Amazon.com purchases, but there are many examples of online purchases that still aren’t taxed.

“The free ride,” as a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial called it, “comes at a cost: a decline in tax revenue, with a corresponding decline in government service, and a system that unfairly favors online retailing behemoths at the expense of brick-and-mortar stores close to home.”

MONEY TV

Comcast’s Hometown Customers May Hate Comcast More Than You Do

Comcast Center headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Kurt Brady—Alamy Comcast Center headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Comcast customers in Philadelphia, where the cable TV-Internet giant is based, report higher bills and lower satisfaction compared to other cities.

Consumer frustration with Comcast is well documented. It routinely receives among the lowest satisfaction scores of any pay TV and Internet provider—or any business at all—and it is a two-time “winner” of the title of Consumerist’s Worst Company in America competition, based on input from online voters.

One might think that even the most maligned companies would take measures to be on their best behavior in their own backyard. It’s wise to make nice where you work and sleep, after all, not to mention where you hope to receive generous tax breaks and other business incentives. Yet a new study conducted by the city of Philadelphia indicates that Comcast’s hometown customers are treated worse—not better—than comparable cities.

The most striking revelation is how much more Philadelphians pay for Comcast cable TV compared to other cities. The average customer getting cable TV only from Comcast pays $96.75 per month. Customers in the other metropolitan areas cited in the study (Denver and Portland, Ore.) pay between $61 and $65 per month for the same services. The nationwide average monthly price for a basic cable package, according to a 2014 FCC report, is about $67.

To be fair, the Philadelphia study shows that 74% of local Comcast cable subscribers are satisfied with their service. But it’s worth noting that that’s 1% to 11% lower than the satisfaction ratings in other cities mentioned in the report.

According to the study, 64% of subscribers say they had to call Comcast customer service in the last year. The most popular reason for calling customer service related to billing issues. That’s not surprising considering that Comcast is known to raise rates (or remove special promotion pricing) once a year, and to periodically jack up fees for modems and other equipment. It’s notable that among the 26% reporting outright dissatisfaction with Comcast service in Philadelphia, the easiest way for Comcast to improve in their eyes—named by 45%—was to simply make the service cheaper.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Comcast disputes many of the findings in the city’s study. For instance, of subscribers who said they called Comcast customer service over the past year, 61% said their calls were not answered in 30 seconds or less. Comcast’s own data says that more than 90% of customer service calls are answered within 30 seconds. (One wonders when Comcast’s clock actually starts: before or after listening to the automated message, which itself can easily last 30 seconds.) Some 15% of Philadelphians who called customer service say they received a busy signal, while Comcast data shows otherwise, with less than 0.5% of calls resulting in busy signals.

In other words, Comcast is saying that in some cases, Philadelphia subscribers, who were surveyed over the phone, have bad memories or are exaggerating.

Presumably, Comcast also feels like the subscribers who provided written comments in the Philadelphia area are stretching the truth or aren’t representative of the typical customer experience. As a Consumerist analysis of the study shows, 99% of the written responses were unfavorable, and among the most common phrases used were “price” (“Price gouging,” “Prices are outrageous”); “customer service” (“poor,” “lousy,” “nonexistent”); and “monopoly” (“horrible monopoly,” “City should break this monopoly”).

For yet another consumer perspective on Comcast in Philadelphia, let’s turn to user review service Yelp. The vast majority of Yelp reviews in the city for Comcast’s Internet service and cable TV service feature one-star ratings (zero stars is not an option). In a rare two-star review, this is the best the customer could say about Comcast: “despite being a money hungry and evil corporation, when their Internet works, it makes my family happy.”

Not to mention that in most cases, you have little choice but to do business with the company.

MORE:
How to Watch All the TV You Want Without a Cable Bill
If Comcast Did This One Thing, So Much Customer Hate Would Disappear

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