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Personal Finance: Dirty Money

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 8:58 AM

The next time you pull money out of an ATM, you might want to wipe your hands afterward.

A study conducted by a U.K. firm found that ATMs had more bacteria than some nearby public toilets, according to a report in The Daily Mail.

After swabbing ATM keys and letting the samples grow overnight, researchers found that the swabs contained pseudomonads and bacillus, bacterias which are known to cause sickness, including diarrhea.

"We were surprised by our results because the ATM machines were shown to be heavily contaminated with bacteria," Richard Hastings, a microbiologist for BioCote told the Daily Mail.

Of course, the company may be a bit bias. BioCote makes an anti-bacterial coating that can be used on ATM keys.

Should you be worried about the findings? Not particularly, according to William Schaffner, a preventative medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"Bacillus is trivial," he told CBS News. "It only causes infections in the most compromised people in hospitals. Pseudomonads is quite similar."

Still, I'm keeping a hand wipe nearby the next time I visit the ATM.

Celebrity Cash

Dashing away from a pre-paid debit deal may cost the Kardashians $75 million dollars.

Revenue Resource Group is suing the Kardashian sisters -- Kim, Khloe and Kourtney -- for terminating their contract to promote what was dubbed the Kardashian Kard. The ladies bailed on the endorsement deal following criticism about the debit card's high fees, reports CNNMoney.com.

The reality stars' mother, Kris Kardashian Jenner, along with the family's company, Dash Dolls LLC, were also named in the lawsuit.

An attorney for the Kardashian sisters said the bad publicity threatened their public image. (I won't even go there).

Revenue Resource had worked with MasterCard and the Kardashians to create the prepaid card. The fee-structure for the card was crazy. A 12-month Kardashian Kard cost $99.95 to own, including a $9.95 to buy the card and 12 monthly fees of $7.95. A typical bank debit card does not require an initial fee for purchasing it and has monthly maintenance fees averaging about $13.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal launched an investigation into the predatory fees, saying it was "particularly troubling because of its high fees combined with its appeal to financially unsophisticated young adult Kardashian fans," reports CNN.com writer Blake Ellis.

A lawyer for Revenue Resource said the sisters could have saved the deal. "The negative publicity comes out and says the fees are too high, and instead of educating the public about the good things about the card, they said, 'Nope, we're out.'"

Revenue Resource is right about one thing. It doesn't appear that the sisters really thought about the cost of the card. Or maybe they did and just didn't care that the fees were outrageous as long as they got paid.

Live Video and Online Text Chat Today

What's your money makeover plan for the new year? Ready to get rid of your credit card debt or want to save more money?

Join me for my live video chat at 11:45 a.m. ET in which I will answer your money questions.

At noon ET, join me for my live text chat. It's just you and me, so send in your money questions early or read the transcript later.

New Year, No Debts

Want a virtual pat on the back for paying off your outstanding debt?

I'm looking for folks who want the world to know they have defeated their debts. If that's you, send me details of how much debt you've paid off and how you did it. Send your "Debt Defeater" story to colorofmoney@washpost.com.

If selected, you will receive a shout out on my live video chat and a special gift - a Debt Defeater t-shirt. Wear the t-shirt and maybe it will inspire others to shed their debt.

Will Plumper Paychecks Help Save The Economy?

In an effort to stimulate the economy, President Obama's tax-cut package will give consumers a little more money in their paychecks. But what will Americans do with the additional funds--spend or save?

This year workers will see a 2-percentage-point reduction in the federal payroll tax. The administration hopes the increase in take-home pay - about $1,000 for an average family - will boost consumer spending, which in turn drives the nation's economy reports the Post's Ylan Q. Mui.

If you start spending more, it could bolster the broader economy, but it will also impact your own wallet. With that in mind, should individuals spend the money, save it or pay down debt?

This week's Color of Money Question: "What do you plan on doing with the extra money in your paycheck?"

Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com and put "Plumper Paychecks" in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

Financial Foresight

What kind of money year do you think we will have in 2011? Following the recession, people began to save again. But as the economy gets better, will consumers abandoned their frugal ways? Will credit cards shed their ugly image?

Tamara Holmes from creditcards.com consulted some experts on what they predicted would be the financial trends for 2011. Here are just a few:

-- Credit card makes a comeback.

Consumers received approximately 1.2 billion offers for new credit cards during the third quarter of 2010 compared to 391 million offers a year ago. "Credit card solicitations are up including to people with bad credit," says Kathleen Day, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending.

-- Consumer love affair with debit cards may end.

Debit cards are the most widely-used form of non-cash payments, accounting for 35 percent of the non-cash payment market, according to a Federal Reserve study. But proposed rules by the Fed would cut the interchange fees that banks charge retailers for debit card transactions. Such a move would cut the profit margin on debit cards dramatically. This may make using a debit card more expensive.

-- New scams for identity thieves.

Expect identity theft to continue to increase in 2011, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter will also become more of a hotbed for fraud.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

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