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Where the Jobs Are in 2010 and How You Get One; Seeking Financial Freedom: Digging Out of Debt; Putting Infomercial Products to the Test

Aired January 9, 2010 - 09:30   ET


GERRI WILLIS, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Gerri Willis and this is YOUR BOTTOM LINE. Spend half an hour with us every Saturday morning and we will save you money. That's a promise.

On tap today, where the jobs are in 2010 and how you land one. We've got your game plan. And seeking financial freedom? We'll help you dig out of debt and give you the power to prosper. Plus, we'll put those infomercial products on the test from the PedEgg to the Snuggie and the Magic Jack. Don't make your move until you see us put them to the test.

It's a new year and for many that means new motivation to tackle the job market. So what should you be doing differently in 2010? Tom Musbach is a career expert and the senior editor of "Yahoo! HotJobs."

Great to see you again, Tom.

TOM MUSBACH, YAHOO! HOTJOBS: Thank you. It's great to be here.

WILLIS: All right, we're talking 2010, the world's a different place. People are still pessimistic, according to your own survey, 66 percent think that the economy could be the same or worse this year. Is there any reason for optimism?

MUSBACH: There is a little bit of optimism from the survey. We found that one in three of the people who took the survey who identified as managers, hiring manger, recruiters said that they expect to increase their hiring activity in 2010 over last year. So, that's a good sign. I hope they all follow through.

WILLIS: All right. So that's great news. Of course, a lot of us, if we're applying for jobs, you're up against a lot of other people, now. There are so many people in the job market. What are the best industries to starting looking at, if maybe you're going to cast your net a little wider this year?

MUSBACH: Well, definitely health care is the industry that keeps adding jobs month after month, which is great. But also there's strength in technology we're seeing, in certain parts of the country, energy is strong. In terms of categories, sales. People need sales everywhere, so, sales is certainly a strong category, at least on our site.

WILLIS: You know, I mean, the problem for so many of us if you're looking for a job is that you can apply online, you can apply in the real world. I mean, what's the best way to do your research and then find the job itself?

MUSBACH: You've really got to cast a wide net. So, use your online channels, use off line channels. In terms of where you're searching, I mean, use sites like Yahoo! HotJobs, but also use company Web site, use the newspaper. You know, if you have alumni resources you can access do, that. I mean, you've really got to cast a wide net, today.

WILLIS: Absolutely. OK, so one of the big problems out there is only 38 percent of people say they're satisfied in their current job. This means we could unleash a whole new large group of people looking for new employment. What do you have to say to people like that? Do you do it now? Do you wait?

MUSBACH: I would say for people like that, and you're right, there's a lot of them, that it's better to probably wait. I mean, the adage goes, you know, it's easier to find a job when you have a job and that's really true.

A lot of times recruiters are looking for what they call "passive candidates" and for some reason having a job does make you more attractive in the job market. If you want to start your job search part time on your own time, that's probably a better thing than just up and quitting right now in this economy.

WILLIS: Yeah, that would be a bad thing to do. Tom Masbach, thank you for that, we appreciate your time.

MUSBACH: Thank you.

WILLIS: Well, the first step to landing quality employment is a good education. And, hey, who couldn't use some help when it comes to the skyrocketing costs of college? Here to discuss FAFSA 2010 is our good friend, Janet Bodnar, the editor of "Kiplinger's Personal Finance."

All right, so welcome, Janet. And we're going to show folks this free application for federal student aid. The process, of course, is easier than ever before. You're looking at this right now online at FAFSA.ed, that's for edition dot gov. Janet, let's start with how this is different this year. This is a new form, available now online. What will be different for parents looking at it for the first time?

JANET BODNAR, KIPLINGER'S PERSONAL FINANCE: Well, it will be a lot more streamlined. I think what they've done is cut out some of the questions. For example, female students don't have to fill out questions regarding selective service, that kind of thing. So, I think for people who intimidated intimidate just by the idea of filling out the form, the form is going to be a lot easier.

Also, it will be a lot more clear what has to be filled out of the parents and what information is required of the children. Parents are probably going to be filling out the whole form, but they will know what to fill out for themselves and what to fill out for their kids.

WILLIS: All right and so easier to use. Do you think that people should just at least give it a shot even if they think they might not be eligible?

BODNAR: It is absolutely critical that you fill out this form because even if you're not eligible for financial aid based on your own financial need, if you want to or if your children want to apply for federal student loans, and I would think that a lot of students would, you need to fill out the FAFSA, you need to have that information into the system.

So, it's really important that anybody who is applying for school or who has kids who are going to be applying for school during this academic year and might even want to take out federal loans, should fill out the form.

WILLIS: All right, and you will need your social security card, you're going to need your W-2s, there's a whole list of things you're going to need to actually fill out that form, but it's far easier than it has been. As you're filling it out, is it going to be spitting information back to you? Are you going to be learning more about the process, too?

BODNAR: Yeah, you're going to be getting additional information. You're going to be getting information about the schools. You have to find out what schools you want to get this information and you're going to be getting some additional info on the form about those particular schools.

Also, you're going to be getting some information act what types of aid you might be eligible for. Are you, in fact, eligible for grants which is the best thing part financial need is concerned. Or would you be eligible for student loans, subsidized student loans, unsubsidized student loans, as far as Stanford loans, the federal loans are concerned.

WILLIS: Janet, is there any advantage forgetting this in early?

BODNAR: I think there is, yes, because first of all, you get it out of the way and also, schools look at the FAFSA, as well as -- it's a federal form, but schools have a look at it and they have a limited amount of student aid to disburse. So, the earlier you get it in the better your shot at getting that financial aid.

WILLIS: All right, I want to get this in, because I think it's a great list. You guys have a top values in public colleges, a great list, great education, low price. What's at the top?

BODNAR: At the very top is UNC Chapel Hill.


BODNAR: Are you an alum?

WILLIS: My brother is. It's a great school. BODNAR: But we've got -- this is "Kiplinger's 100 Best Values in Public Colleges and Universities". All the information is on our Web site, and not only do you get to read about the schools but you get to parse that information, finding out how much financial aid the schools actually give, what you or your student's indebtedness might be at graduation, lots of really great information. And these are all top flight academic institutions, as well.

WILLIS: Top flight. All right, Janet, thank you for your help, today.

BODNAR: Oh, my pleasure, Gerri.

WILLIS: Up next, we'll help you keep your New Year's resolution, dig out of debt and protect your bottom line. Plus, everything you need to know about early termination fees, as well as infomercial mania.


WILLIS: Getting into debt isn't hard to do, especially during the holiday season. Last year we introduced you to the Hildebrandt's, a Wisconsin family that managed to dig themselves out of a six-figure debt in less than five years. And this year they're pledging to stay debt free.


WILLIS (voice-over): Lights, presents, debt. For some, it's inevitable after the holiday season. But not for the Hildebrandt's. The family we first met last October, after they climbed out of a whopping $123,000 of debt.

KANDY HILDEBRANDT, STAYING DEBT FREE: This beautiful little Victorian I got at a craft store, but on an after-Christmas sale I probably got it 65 percent, 70 percent off for her.

WILLIS: This year the Hildebrandt's survived the holiday shopping debt free. The kids still got stocking stuffers, but Kandy didn't spend more than $30 on each. One tip, thrift store shopping.

(on camera): How much would you pay for one of these turtlenecks?

K. HILDEBRAND: The low price going now, it's about $2.99 to $3.99.

WILLIS (voice-over): Another cost, focusing on family traditions like baking cookies or singing Christmas carols at a local nursing home instead of expensive holiday entertainment.

Just one year ago Russell Hildebrandt was working a second job as a night janitor, sleeping in his car to save on gas money. Kandy stretched their dollar with cheap meals. Today they're finishing the last of the hash browns that got them through the worst of it.

(on camera): The hash browns were part of your strategy for when you were desperate, really, saving money.

K. HILDEBRANDT: Absolutely. This was pretty much a mainstay, when there wasn't any extra money for groceries. And we'd make hash brown, we had it for breakfast, I'd make, as a side dish for dinner. As you see, soup and, yeah.

WILLIS: Any way you could?

K. HILDEBRANDT: Any way we could.

WILLIS (voice-over): It's a new age of thrift for them, a strategy that will front and center for the new year.

RUSSELL HILDEBRANDT, STAYING DEBT FREE: And we're going to go over our year, the things that we want to get and set up putting money away for certain things and staying debt free. That's our No. 1 one goal.

WILLIS: It took five years for the heldebrants to come out of their six-figure debt. But to hear them tell it, the real savings is more than dollars and cents.

K. HILDEBRANDT: You know, we found out that you really could do without things. Our quality of life did not decrease because life became more simple, you know, without all the clutter of the things that we get trapped with.


WILLIS: Fantastic family. Well, whether you're under a pile of debt or just looking to get off on the right financial foot this year, my next guest has some creative solutions. Michelle Singletary is a nationally syndicated columnist for the "Washington Post" and the author of "The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom."

Welcome, Michelle.


WILLIS: Great to have you here. Now, you say we're all addicted to debt. We have a bad relationship with debt. Tell me about that.

SINGLETARY: Well, you know, for years Americans have lived the American dream on credit. Whatever we wanted, we bought, we just put it on our credit card. And then when the recession hit, people realized that they couldn't afford this massive amounts of debt. It's like we're in a bad relationship. We couldn't get out of. And so now, you know, that relationship is coming forefront and people really are starting to realize how much they were addicted to credit.

WILLIS: Yeah. And everybody encouraged you to do it, from the credit card operators to the people who wrote your mortgage. In a lot of ways the whole society made this happen. You have a solution, though, a 21-day debt diet that you're encouraging people to go on. What does it mean? SINGLETARY: Well, the 21-day challenge is a 21-day financial fast. And essentially for 21 days, you can't buy anything that is not a necessity. So, that basically means food and medicine. When I say food I mean groceries. I mean, no eating out, no shopping, no window shopping, you can't get your hair done, forget the nails.


SINGLETARY: I tell you, it's -- I mean, we're saying shut down everything. And you can't use credit, including your debit card. No plastic whatsoever.

WILLIS: All right. Stop right there.


WILLIS: No debit card? I mean, if I'm using my debit card, I'm still, you know, only using money that I have in my bank account, right now. It's not a credit card, after all. Why do you draw the line there?

SINGLETARY: Well, Gerri, you probably do that, but I've sat down with people who use a debit card and over-spend from their account. Because here's the thing, people sort of assume that a debit card is the same as cash and it's not. And it's not because you can over-draw your account.

And what I've found is a lot of people are shifting away from credit cards to debit cards but the problem is, it's still that ease of, you know, swiping that credit card. And people are swiping, swiping, swiping and not realizing how much they're spending. I tell you, when you put cash in my hand you have to wrestle me to the ground before I spend it.

WILLIS: I love that. OK. Amen to that. OK, talk to me just a little bit about what you expect people to get out of this fast. Is it long enough, 21 days, three weeks, to really start new habits and really become practiced at saving?

SINGLETARY: Absolutely. Studies show that it takes about this long for you to sort of have a sea change, a brain change, if you will, in how you do things. The fast for me developed out of a fast I did for my church. It's called a Daniel Fast, where you only eat no meats and vegetables -- only vegetables and fruits and things like that. And so essentially, what I'm trying to do is shut you down, shut down all the consumption to get you to concentrate on the things that matter your life.

If you stop shopping and stop always thinking about consuming, this is what makes things so hard is because we are consumer consumers. We consume everything. We know that we have to stop that. And so during this fast when you get the book, every day there are tasks that I ask you to do.

For example, on the seventh day I ask you to really do a budget. On the "Post" Web site, because I work for the "Washington Post,", I have budget templates for you to go and do your budget. And I'm telling you, I've seen this happen. I've done the fast and I'm really cheap and I found some areas where I can improve.

I've seen couples save their marriage. I've seen people save for the first time in their life. And I've seen people get out of the debt. I'm not talking about people who are making six-figure salaries. I'm talking about single mothers and couples who have lost a job, because they really get into the fast and what it means. It's not just about money. It's about changing your life and your financial legacy.

WILLIS: Well, that is an inspirational presentation if I ever -- Michelle, thank you.

SINGLETARY: You are so welcome.

WILLIS: You can e-mail us at We would love to hear from you on this topic if you're trying to save money, get in contact with us, we want to tell your story.

Still ahead, we're here to keep you from getting nickeled and dimed. We're going to tell you everything you need to know about early termination fees.


WILLIS: With every break-up comes a price, especially when it comes to your cell phone, cable service or car lease. They're called early termination fees. And if you want out of that contract, well, our next guest is here to tell you the tips you need to know before you get socked with a boatload of charges. Bob Sullivan is the author of "Stop Getting Ripped Off."

Bob, welcome.

BOB SULLIVAN, "STOP GETTING RIPPED OFF": Hi, thanks for having me.

WILLIS: All right, so we have to start with this $350 early termination fee. Is it Verizon that's charging this?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, Verizon for their expensive smart phones. We thought we had these termination fees for cell phones.

WILLIS: Smart phone, stupid fees.

SULLIVAN: That's right., yeah But we don't know how much these things are going to cost. They're trying to keep the up-front costs down to compete with the iPhone and other smart phones. But on the back end, if you want out after a year or 18 months you're going to pay hundreds of dollars.

WILLIS: That's ridiculous.


WILLIS: What about cable and satellite? I know they have early termination fees.

SULLIVAN: Well yeah, the cable and satellite companies are now basically following the lead of the cell phone companies. Some termination fees in the pay television space can be $480.


SULLIVAN: $480. If you get equipment from a company like DirecTV and you don't stick around for the two years, they can charge you up to almost $500 for quitting. And that's...

WILLIS: $500?.

SULLIVAN: That's like being in consumer jail. Right? You can't compare other services. There's all these great TV services out there, just like as there are with cell phones. You have one of these termination fees like a ball and chain, you can't shop around. That's bad for the consumers and I think it's bad for the companies, too.

WILLIS: Yeah, nobody wants to deal with a company that's going to charge them $500 to walk away.

SULLIVAN: They're kicking you on your way out the door. Right?

WILLIS: Absolutely. We mentioned cars and karlising. No, it's not really an early termination fee you're talking about here, but it's another fee.

SULLIVAN: Well, leases are back and for a while they'd disappeared, but now auto companies are experimenting with this again with slightly different terms and leases really can work for some people. But the biggest trap of all, are folks who don't expect -- a lot of people are, I think, overly optimistic that they can keep their mileage down.

And something happens in the course of three years, next thing you know, you pay a huge fee when you turn in the car for over mileage. It can be over $1,000 or more if you drive too much. And anything can happen. You might lose your job and suddenly have to commute more than you expect. So, you have to be very, very careful when you sign up with car leases.

WILLIS: All right, gym memberships. Now I know most people ,this is a fee you charged you might get there someday and you never use the gym.

SULLIVAN: Right, if I pay $100 a month, maybe I'll lose weight. Yeah.

WILLIS: A deal with the devil. But, you say it's difficult to end that membership.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, often it is.

WILLIS: What happens? SULLIVAN: Here's one important tip with gym memberships. A lot of these folks will want access directly to your bank account and that can be the hardest thing of all to cancel. Once they have a direct route to grab your money, they often won't stop and it can take months and months to get rid of that money. Now, there are individual state laws about gym memberships. Here's how difficult that business is. Most states in America have actually passed specific regulations just for gym companies.


SULLIVAN: So you have extra rights. You can check with your state attorney general, but there are extra rights for getting money back from gyms, so don't give up easily, there.

WILLIS: But, this information shouldn't be in any contract you sign. Right?

SULLIVAN: In most cases it is. Although, I've heard from folks in the pay television space they have had their contracts extended, for example, without their knowledge, something that used to happen often with cell phones and not everybody really understands those terms. One other trick, maybe it's in print somewhere but there's one contact when you sign the form, another contract on the Web site, another changes in your bill. So, for some consumers all the terms and conditions aren't in one place, which is almost as bad as it not being there at all.

WILLIS: All right, so look in the contract. Is there specific language to look for?

SULLIVAN: Early termination fee. Very important.

WILLIS: Just that phrase. And who do I go to if I can't get satisfaction?

SULLIVAN: It's very, very difficult, especially in the cell phone space. But the recommendation that always comes up and it is worthwhile is to go to your attorney general and file a complaint. The state of Washington just sued DirecTV over issues like this. And if you have a registered complaint on file at the AG's office, you're first in line to get a refund. So, it really is important to do that paperwork.

WILLIS: All right, well you've opened our eyes and now we know our wallets are open, too. Bob, thank you.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

WILLIS: Don't delay. Call now. If you do, we'll double your order. Hey, we've heard it all when it comes to infomercial pitches that promise you everything from smooth feet to fresh vegetables. Well, not to worry, "Consumer Reports" is here to put those pesky products to the test.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WILLIS: Infomercial products, you see the commercials everywhere, even on our air. They claim to make your life easier for only $19.95, but do they really work? Our next guest is here to tell us which products should you buy now and which ones will only cause you buyer's remorse. Mandy Walker is a senior editor with "Consumer Reports".

Mandy, welcome, great to see you.


WILLIS: Well, let's get right down to business, here. You brought us a Magic Jack. And I haven't seen this one, so tell me what this is supposed to do and whether it works.

WALKER: They say no more phone bills forever, you can plug this into the USB port of your computer and your phone into that and you can have voiceover Internet phone calls.

WILLIS: That's cheaper, right?

WALKER: So, you can use the Internet to make the phone calls. But, in fact, it is. And we tested the clarity of it and it was pretty clear, not quite as good as a corded phone, but pretty darn good. And it's cheap. It's $40 for the first year to buy the product and for the first year of service, and only $20 a year afterwards. A lot cheaper than Vonage or Skype service, which are pretty...

WILLIS: That's amazing.

WALKER: It's $200 for Vonage and about $100 for Skype.

WILLIS: All right, so, this is something that is familiar to all CNN viewers, I think, the PedEgg.

WALKER: The PedEgg.

WILLIS: I want to show people kind of the hype around the PedEgg. It's like a grater on your feet.

WALKER: A little more gentle than that. Yeah. We had about 26 women and three men try it on calluses and rough skin compared to a pumas stone. And we found out it does work better overall than a pumas stone and it's only $10.

And one of the things about these products is it will cost you more to have them shipped to you, but you can find the PedEgg and a lot of the other products at different stores, then you can avoid the shipping and handling, which is almost as much or more than the product sometimes. And the shavings, right, are caught in the bottom, mostly. We found they weren't all caught, so the one little caution that had, do it over a wastebasket or something else.

WILLIS: The famous Snuggie. Everybody loves the Snuggie. Now what's the downside? You say there's a downside to the Snuggie. WALKER: There is a downside to the Snuggie. In particular, it's not so snug, it's gigantic. And people that short, it can actually be a tripping hazard. The sleeves are very long. We washed it 10 times, just to see how it would do.

WILLIS: How did that go?

WALKER: We got a bunch of lint every time we washed it and we found out that after 10 washings there were little bare spots in it.

WILLIS: Oh. So, it doesn't hold up well.

WALKER: It does not hold up well.

WILLIS: All right, well, I'm a little disappointed.

WALKER: So, for 20 bucks, probably take a pass. Throw a blanket on yourself.

WILLIS: Get a blanket. What else do we have here?


WILLIS: Let's get started by showing people what the promise is. It's a gutter cleaner like nothing you've seen. OK, here's somebody trying to clean their gutters the old-fashioned way, right, and then they show this machine, this tool that -- did you test this?

WALKER: We tested it. And they say, yeah, you only have to go up once instead of going up the ladder a million times. You put it in, it's got a little remote control that comes off the top here, you send it down your gutter and it whirls around and cleans all the debris supposedly out of your gutter.

WILLIS: Sounds great.

WALKER: And it should take 10 minutes, 60 feet in 10 minutes. Well we found that, not so great. A lot of the debris is thrown back up on the roof or comes back into the gutter. It took a lot longer than they said, especially if it was very heavily impacted, there's a lot of debris in the gutter. It took about an hour to do 50 feet. So, you'll be going it if it's stuck, you'll have to go up and down the ladder several times, anyway. And it's $170. It's expensive.

WILLIS: Wow, that's a lot of money. Most efficient machine is maybe your husband, maybe somebody else.


WILLIS: All right, Mandy. Some yes, some no. We appreciate your coming in and telling us. Great information. Thank you.


WILLIS: As always, thanks for spending part of your Saturday with us. We'll wee you right back here next week. And you can hear much more about the impact of this week's news on your money on YOUR MONEY with Christine Romans and Ali Velshi, today at 1:00 p.m. Eastern and tomorrow at 3:00, right here on CNN.

Don't go anywhere. Your top stories are next in the CNN NEWSROOM. Have a great weekend.