Consumer Confidential: Safer small cars, cheaper gas, higher BofA checking fee
--You can save money at the gas pump and consider yourself safe to boot. None of the 13 small, fuel-efficient cars recently tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety were rated poor in any of the four key crash tests. Six of them were even given the coveted Top Safety Pick rating in their size class. The ratings are based on performance in front-, side-, rollover- and rear-impact evaluations. Cars that earn the top rating of good in each test and come with electronic stability control qualify for Top Safety Pick. Among the safest small cars: the 2012 Ford Focus, 2011 Hyundai Elantra, 2011 Lexus CT 200h hybrid, 2011 Nissan Juke and the 2011 Toyota Prius. The Dodge Caliber, Honda CR-Z and Insight hybrids, Nissan Sentra and Versa, Scion xD, and Suzuki SX4 also were rated but didn't come in as top safety picks.
--Speaking of saving money at the pump, it looks we'll be keeping a little more cash in our pockets this Memorial Day weekend. The national average price for unleaded regular gasoline was $3.81 a gallon on Thursday -- 9 cents less than it was a week ago, according to AAA. Consumers in California, Washington, Illinois and five other states are paying the highest prices, between $3.91 and $4.28 a gallon. The lowest prices, between $3.57 and $3.69 a gallon, can be found in Wyoming, Arizona, parts of the Midwest and the South. Pump prices are expected to drift lower through the holiday weekend, reflecting lower oil prices, which are down about 12% since the beginning of May. AAA predicts nearly 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend, a slight increase from 2010.
--Lastly, Bank of America customers with basic checking accounts should brace for a 34% increase in their monthly service charge. The bank is now charging $12, up from $8.95. BofA and other banks have been hiking fees (and adding new ones) to counter what they say are losses related to new regulations imposed on their practices. BofA will waive the monthly fee if you make at least one direct deposit a month into the account, but now you have to put in a bigger amount. In the past, that direct deposit could be any sum. Now it has to be at least $250. An average balance of at least $1,500 will also allow you to steer clear of the $12 monthly charge. Or you can perhaps pay a visit to your local credit union and see how they're prepared to compete for your business.
-- David Lazarus
Photo: Crash tests show that a car doesn't have to be big to be safe. Credit: Associated Press