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Consumer Confidential: Pay TV, check cashing, federal rentals

August 10, 2011 | 10:12 am

Tvpic Here's your wink-wink Wednesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--One way that people are adjusting to these tough economic times is by cutting the pay-TV cord. Viewers are canceling or forgoing cable and satellite TV subscriptions in record numbers, according to an analysis of the companies' quarterly earnings reports. The U.S. subscription-TV industry first showed a small net loss of subscribers a year ago. This year that trickle has turned into a stream. The chief cause appears to be persistently high unemployment and a housing market that has many people living with their parents, reducing the need for a separate cable bill. But it's also possible that people are canceling cable, or never signing up in the first place, because they're watching cheap Internet video. If so, viewers can expect more restrictions on online video as TV companies and Hollywood studios try to make sure that they get paid for what they produce.

--Wal-Mart is getting deeper into the check-cashing business. Like it does on most products and services, Wal-Mart's check-cashing fees largely undercut those charged by a typical check-cashing outlet, where consumers pay an average of 2% to 4% of the face value of the check to cash it. "This expanded program now enables Wal-Mart to bring everyday low price cashing services to more customers who have a need for immediate access to their cash," says Daniel Eckert, head of Wal-Mart Financial Services. That's nice. But it also highlights the fact that many people don't have access to the banking system and thus have to pay additional fees just to get their cash.

--Uncle Sam may be expanding as a landlord. The Obama administration is considering turning thousands of government-owned foreclosures into rental properties to help boost falling home prices. The Federal Housing Finance Agency says it is seeking input from investors on how to rent roughly 300,000 homes owned by government-controlled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration. All of the homes are in foreclosure. The government rescued the two mortgage giants in September 2008 and has funded them since the financial crisis. Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of the nation's mortgages and nearly all new mortgages. The homes include single-family homes and condos.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: More TV viewers are saying "no thanks" to cable and satellite subscriptions.