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Dear ABC News Fixer: Kid Got Sick in College, Now We're Out Tuition Money

iStock/ThinkstockBy STEPHANIE ZIMMERMANN, ABC News Fixer

Dear ABC News Fixer: I have a son who was attending Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. In mid-April, he was diagnosed with a condition called chronic osteomyelitis. Essentially his right femur had staph and pseudomonas bacteria growing inside his bone.

Over the four weeks he had three surgeries. He has been told he will face more surgeries.

When he became ill, we reached out to the college requesting incompletes for the semester, and we requested that he be allowed to finish his work over the summer. The school professors have refused. Scott will not be able to complete his classes and we are facing a loss of $23,000 in tuition and fees.

The four courses were intro freshman classes. I do not understand why they will not work online or provide other options for completing his classes.

- Kay Hunsberger, Perkasie, Pa.

Dear Kay: Talk about a double-whammy – first, your son comes down with a truly awful illness and then you get to watch all that college money just go down the drain.

By the time the ABC News Fixer got involved, Elizabethtown College had already figured out a refund of tuition, room and board and other fees, based on the number of spring semester weeks that had gone by before your son formally withdrew. That came to about $7,100. Unfortunately, they weren’t willing to budge on your request that Scott be able to finish the classes over the summer, nor were they willing to increase the amount of your refund. You told us that in the end, you’re still out about $11,000.

We're sorry this didn't work out better.

But your problem got us thinking: What about all the thousands of kids heading off to college this fall? Is there any way to avoid the financial hit that comes when a student gets sick in the middle of the semester?
There are few things students and their parents can do to mitigate the financial fallout, according to Kal Chany, college finance expert and author of Paying for College Without Going Broke...

Click here to continue reading…

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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Dow and S&P Close Down After Week of Gains

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Friday marks the first losing day of the week for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500. 

The Dow lost 38.27 points closing at 17,001.22, while the S&P lost 3.97, closing at 1,988.40.

The Nasdaq went up 6.45, ending the day at 4,536.55.   

Gap is reporting a 10% jump in profits in the second quarter, while Aeropostale reported a loss and cut its outlook for full year sales.

The SLS Las Vegas Casino opens at midnight, after a $415 million renovation of the former Sahara Casino.   This is the first new casino in four years. 

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When Sears Was a Retail Star & Not Losing $1B in Six Months

Sears Media(NEW YORK) -- Sears was once a sparkling star of the retail world going back to the days before there was such a thing as a chain store, but now it is best known as a venerable brand in a steady decline.

Sear Holdings, the parent of the namesake department store and Kmart, announced this week a loss of more than $500 million over the last three months. Similar losses in the previous quarter means the 128-year-old firm has lost almost $1 billion in the last six months.

Eddie Lampert, CEO of Sears Holdings since January 2013, called his firm's second quarter earnings "unacceptable" during a conference call on Thursday. Sears Holdings was formed in 2005 when Sears and Kmart merged.

Chris Brathwaite, a spokesman for Sears, told ABC News the company has detailed efforts to return it to profitability.

Business wasn't always tough for Sears.

The first Sears store gained fame with rural folks and farmers through its mail-order business. Those early Sears catalogs featured jewelery and watches, but the company quickly added a vast array of items, including a "Stradivarius model violin" for $6.10, according to Sears Archives. At times, the catalog was free and other times it cost 50 cents.

Richard Sears started the R.W. Sears Watch Company in Minneapolis in 1886, back when there weren't even 40 states in the union, according to Sears Archives. Sales in 1893 were more than $400,000. Two years later, when the Sears catalog was 532-pages long, sales were more than $750,000, according to the archives.

It wasn't until 1931 that Sears store sales topped mail-order sales for the first time. Stores accounted for 53.4 percent of total sales of more than $180 million, according to the archives.

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When World War II began in 1941, Sears had more than 600 stores.

Sears' first retail store outside the U.S. was in Havana, Cuba, in 1942. Five years later, a store opened in Mexico City, followed by additional stores in Europe and Central and South America. Eventually in 1953, the company made a foray into Canada.

Like many department stores, the company these days has been hit by flailing in-store electronics sales, in part due to steep competition from the Internet.

Today, there are more than 1,320 Sears-branded stores in America and Canada, with more than 790 stores of those in the U.S. alone. Sears has closed about 500 stores.

Sears Holding, which encompasses Kmart stores, includes more than 2,350 retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.

To stop the bleeding, the company said is planning to reduce costs and focus on improving its loyalty program, Shop Your Way.

"We are taking steps to address our performance on several levels including reducing costs, investing in the acceleration of our transformation, rationalizing our physical footprint to focus on our better performing stores and markets, and improving our pricing and promotional design to yield higher gross margins," CEO Lampert said during yesterday's conference call.

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Fed Chair: Economy Has Made Considerable Progress Since 2009

United States Federal Reserve(JACKSON HOLE, Wyo.) -- The U.S. economy now has more jobs than before the Great Recession, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen announced Friday during her annual speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

"If you take a look at some of the things she points out in her speech, first off she says we've created more jobs in the recovery than were lost in the downturn, and that in May of this year we finally exceeded the previous peak in January of 2008," ABC News' Chief Business and Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis says.

"She also said that job gains this year have averaged 230,000 a month; that's up from 190,000 a month that happened in the last two years. And the unemployment rate, at 6.2 percent in July, has now declined nearly 4 percent since the 2009 peak. Of course, 2009 was the midst of the Great Recession. That's when unemployment was at its very worst," Jarvis adds.


Yellen said little, however, about the direction of interest rates, which have been at 0 percent since the Great Recession, leaving investors uncertain about when the Fed will begin raising them.

"The bottom line is we know the Fed eventually is going to raise interest rates, but the question is when. And now you have some that are saying, 'Well, the economy's improving enough. The Fed will probably do it sooner rather than later.' And then you have others that say, 'Janet Yellen is what's known as a dove, and she's not going to be interested in raising interest rates for a much longer time; potentially very late next year, even early the following,'" says Jarvis.

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Florida Man Deliberately Scuttles Another 'Pay It Forward' Starbucks Line

iStock/Thinkstock(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) -- A Florida man put an end to another "pay it forward" streak at a local Starbucks because he said he thinks people were participating out of "guilt," not "generosity."

Peter Schorsch, a blogger, drove to the Starbucks drive-thru in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Thursday after hearing about the pay it forward phenomenon there that ended with customer No. 458, a woman, the day before. After he ordered two Venti Mocha Frappuccinos, the barista told him his first drink had been paid for by the previous customer and asked if he would like to pay for the next customer.

"I told him no," Schorsch, of St. Petersburg, told ABC News. "When the barista asks you to pay it forward, it is no longer spontaneous."

Though Schorsch didn't pay for the next customer at the drive-thru, he said he tipped the barista $100.

"I'm really not trying to be a Grinch," Schorsch said. "I know things are hard for baristas and I am willing to help people."

"I just don't want to be forced into doing something," said Schorsch, who is also a political consultant. "This is turning into a social phenomenon and I had to put an end to it."

When baristas ask customers to pay for the next customer, some patrons simply oblige out of guilt, not generosity, he said.

Watch more news videos | Latest from the US"Although I can't prove it, I think this has become an organic marketing ploy for Starbucks," Schorsch said. "I love Starbucks. I have nothing against them. But this takes away the genuineness."

Schorsch said some patrons are driving to this particular store after they heard about the pay it forward streak.

"This is turning into something ridiculous and cheesy," Schorsch said.

"It just seems like a First World problem to me. Middle-class people sitting in their cars at a drive-thru, sipping a $5 drink and worrying about someone breaking the ranks," Schorsch said.

"There is a little humor being a contrarian, but I think if you really want to help, find someone that obviously needs help, like the homeless," Schorsch said.

"Also, I got a $6 Venti Frappuccino. Someone might just get a $2 coffee," Schorsch said. "This is unfair to that person who paid for me."

An employee at this Starbucks location referred ABC News to the company's corporate media relations hotline this morning.

Linda Mills, Starbucks' spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for a comment.

This store's pay it forward chain lasted for 10 hours on Wednesday, with 457 customers following the practice, until customer No. 458 refused.

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Florida Sam's Club Startles Shoppers with Christmas Display

Scott Olson/Getty Images(BRANDON, Fla.) -- Summer lovers still wearing bathing suits and white, enjoying long sunny days and squeezing the last ounces out of their favorite season before Labor Day, may not want to linger for long at a Sam’s Club in the Tampa Bay area.

Visitors to that Brandon, Florida, store are met nearly at the door by a prominent display of Christmas trees, lights and more.

“We put up our display up on Thursday or Friday of last week,” Brandon store manager Steve Tycoliz told ABC News Friday. “This is earlier than last year, but we’ve had it up as early as July before.”

Tycoliz, a 24-year veteran of the retail chain that is owned by Walmart, says that all of Sam’s Club’s 600-plus stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico are expected to be “fully outfitted” for the holiday season by mid-September.

The Brandon store’s display went up last week because there was room on the display floor and Tycoliz knew his store’s clientele, mostly businesses, would appreciate the early shopping opportunity.

“They expect us to have the merchandise out in front because they have to decorate their businesses and they have to look at how they’re going to budget for gifts for their employees,” Tycoliz said. “We had room for it because we had sold out of a lot of our patio items and, rather than wait, we just went ahead and put it up.”

Though walking in from the heat of summer to the sight of Christmas trees may be a bit jarring for Floridian shoppers, Tycoliz says the feedback from his customers has been more shock than anger.

“They’re more just like, ‘Wow, it is right around the corner again,’” he said of Sam’s Club members. “I haven’t received any negative comments.”

“The merchandise is selling,” he added.

As of Friday, there are 124 days until Christmas.

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GM Legal Department Draws Federal Scrutiny on Recalls

General Motors(NEW YORK) -- Federal prosecutors are probing the legal department of General Motors on a potential concealment of evidence from regulators that may have hindered the recall of potentially flawed vehicles, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The automaker is said to be cooperating with the investigation, which is still in its very early stages, involving the faulty ignition switches on 15 million vehicles across 20 different models.

At least 13 deaths have been linked to the faulty ignition switches that prompted a wave of recalls.

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Does 'Flappy Bird' Follow-Up Live Up to the Hype?

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- How can a simple game be so shockingly difficult?

It's been a day since "Swing Copters," the hotly anticipated follow-up to "Flappy Bird," was released and it's already causing plenty of sore thumbs.

"This is just crazy. It moves too fast," said one reviewer in the Google Play store.

Many players also lamented the fact that it was difficult to score in the game -- but it didn't stop them from trying again and again.

"Swing Copters" comes a little more than six months after creator Dong Nguyen yanked "Flappy Bird" from app stores because he believed it was too addictive and had ruined his "simple life."

"Swing Copters" has many of the same features that made "Flappy Bird" addictive. First, there's the familiar looking bug-eyed bird. However, this one has a propeller. One-tap game play is also back.

What is different, however, is that instead of swiping right, "Swing Copters" utilizes upward scrolling, providing a new perspective. And the pipes from "Flappy Bird" have become swinging hammers.

The game has managed to frustrate players in a way that "Flappy Bird" did not.

The physics of the game -- from the speed of the bug-eyed character to the touch screen mechanics -- were common complaints, according to reviews left in the Google Play store, which came to a consensus: It's no "Flappy Bird."

"Swing Copters" is available for free for iOS and Android -- or users can tip Nguyen $0.99 for an ad-free version.

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Don't Fall Victim to Data Theft

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- UPS, Target and P. F. Chang's are just three of the many companies hit by data breaches in the past year.

Given the amount of information that can be stolen in one of these breaches, consumers should be cautious of falling victim to data theft.

One of the first signs to watch out for is a glaring error in your credit report.

"If the information is incorrect you could have a problem. It can also be an early warning sign of identity theft," says Adam Levin of the security firm Identity Theft 911.

"One of the problems that we have in this country is that people have this tendency to think that credit happens to them," he says.

Instead, consumers need to be proactive, Levin says.

"You have to build it, nurture it, manage it, protect it and step number one is you've got to look at your credit report," he explains.

You can check out your credit report for free at annualcreditreport.com.

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As College Students Begin Classes, Debt Likely to Pile Up

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Over 20 million college students will begin classes nationwide this fall, with more than a few of those students taking out federal and private loans to finance their education.

Total U.S. student debt stands upwards of $1 trillion in 2014, outpacing even national consumer credit card debt, having risen 14 percent in the last year.

Meanwhile, universities are not helping students in lowering their educational borrowing costs, as average tuition has risen 27 percent at public universities and 14 percent at private universities in the past five years, according to The College Board Annual Survey of Colleges.

Debt.org estimates that $3,000 of student loan debt accrues every second, while the average borrower in 2013 owes $32,500.

While the old maxim may still hold true -- school comes first -- many students are finding they must work throughout the school year in order to bear the costs of their education. A 2013 survey conducted by Citigroup and Seventeen magazine found that nearly 80 percent of college students worked while attending school, with the average student working roughly 19 hours per week.

With the pressures of schoolwork and consistent employment to contend with, often before their 21st birthday, a mounting debt burden adds another piece to a seemingly unsolvable puzzle for a generation looking for a learning experience.

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Why Workers Are Skittish About Taking Time Off

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Attention American workers: if you’ve got paid time off, why on Earth aren’t you using it?

The U.S. Travel Association says in a new survey that when people don’t take advantage of their paid time off, the finger of blame can be pointed at both workers and their employers.

Apparently, supervisors aren’t doing such a great job when it comes to reminding their workers about the time off they’re entitled to, as well as failing to encourage people to take vacations.

The survey also faults employees for thinking that if they take paid time off, their bosses or co-workers will think less of them while leaving themselves vulnerable to being replaced.

Meanwhile, the post-Great Recession world is feeding into the perception that employees are not as valued as they were before the economic downturn.

This stress also affects workers outside the office, causing physical and mental exhaustion, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Ironically, most senior business leaders who were also surveyed say they believe in the benefits of paid time-off requests because workers come back to the job energized and in a better frame of mind.

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Starbucks Debuting Mobile Stores at Three Colleges

Chris Hondros/Getty Images(SEATTLE) -- You could call them “Star-trucks.”

This fall, coffee giant Starbucks is launching a food-truck business on three college campuses so that students won’t have to go far for their caffeine fix, according to The Seattle Times.

Starbucks actually tried something like this last November in Switzerland, although it was actually more of a Starbucks-branded train car.

The mobile stores are a first for Starbucks in the U.S. and will appear on the campuses of James Madison University in Virginia, Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina and Arizona State University in Phoenix.

According to Starbucks, if the pilot program featuring a menu “nearly identical” to brick-and-mortar stores turns out to be a hit, the trucks could eventually be rolled out to college campuses all over the country.

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Bank of America Reaches Record Settlement with DOJ

Chris Hondros/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Bank of America reached a record-breaking $16.65 billion settlement with the Department of Justice on Thursday.

The deal resolves an investigation into allegations that the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank misled purchasers of mortgage-backed securities prior to the 2008 financial crisis.

The settlement is the largest ever reached between the federal government and a company.

“At nearly $17 billion, today’s resolution with Bank of America is the largest the department has ever reached with a single entity in American history,” Associate Attorney General Tony West said in a statement Thursday.

The previous biggest bank deal involved JPMorgan Chase, which agreed to pay $13 billion for its role in selling flawed mortgage investments.

Bank of America is expected to pay $9.65 billion in cash; the rest will go toward consumer relief.

“This historic resolution -- the largest such settlement on record -- goes far beyond ‘the cost of doing business,’” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "Under the terms of this settlement, the bank has agreed to pay $7 billion in relief to struggling homeowners, borrowers and communities affected by the bank’s conduct. This is appropriate given the size and scope of the wrongdoing at issue.”

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S&P 500 Reaches Record High

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The S&P 500 reached a new record high on Thursday.

The S&P went up 5.86 points, to a record close of 1,992.37.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went up 60.43 points ending the day at 17,039.56, while the Nasdaq jumped 5.62 points, closing at 4,532.10.

Family Dollar has rejected an $8.9 billion offer from Dollar General, citing antitrust issues.

Ford is recalling more than 160,000 cars in North America for two safety issues. The largest involves the Focus ST and Escape models from 2013 and 2014. The company says engines could hesitate or stall because of a wiring problem.

After a rocky merger with Continental, United Airlines is trying to lure back its frequent business travelers by upgrading first class food options.

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Ten-Hour 'Pay It Forward' Line Ends with Customer No. 458 Who Refuses

iStock/Thinkstock(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.) -- A 10-hour stream of kindness abruptly ended at a Florida Starbucks Wednesday evening when customer No. 458 broke ranks and declined to "pay it forward" for the next drive-thru patron.

"She got a free drink from the previous customer," Celeste Guzman, manager at the Starbucks on Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg, told ABC News on Thursday.

"She was happy about that," Guzman said. "But she didn't want to pay for the next patron.

"It all started at 7:21 a.m. yesterday morning when a woman paid for her iced coffee and decided to pay for the caramel macchiato the customer behind her ordered as well," Guzman said.

For the next 10 hours, more than 450 customers at the drive-thru graciously accepted the kindness of strangers and then paid for the next customer's order.

"Our barista would tell the customers: 'Your drink has already been paid for by the previous customer. Would you like to return their favor and pay it forward?'" Guzman said.

But that all came to a halt at 6 p.m., when a woman pulled up in her white Jeep Commander and ordered an ice-coffee.

"She didn't want to pay for the next customer,” Guzman said. "I don't think she understood the concept of 'pay it forward.'

"Sometimes customers can't pay it forward, because they can't afford the order."

But the random acts of kindness began anew Thursday, Guzman said, when one customer bought a $40 gift card for the next customer at the drive-thru.

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