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Your Money | CONSUMER CHECKLIST / KATHY M. KRISTOF

These Are Unsafe in Any Household

August 23, 1996

Recall news

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a raft of recalls this month, and it renewed a call for turning in two unsafe portable cribs. Here are the items that have been recalled and what you can do if you've got one:

* Home & Roam or Baby Express portable cribs and playpens manufactured before 1995 may collapse into a V shape even after parents think they've locked them securely in place. The cribs were recalled last year after two babies died and two were injured. However, the commission knows that not all the cribs have been returned because another baby recently died from a crib collapse in California. The manufacturer, Baby Trend, says newly manufactured models are not dangerous because a lock has been added to prevent collapse. To find out if you have a recalled crib and to arrange for a free repair, call (800) 421-1902.

* E-Force Cross Trainer manufacturer CSA Inc. is issuing repair kits for about 300,000 E-Force Cross Trainer exercise machines that are believed to have defective welds. About 54 individuals have been injured because the welds have cracked or broken while the machines were in use. The cross trainer, which resembles a bike and is operated by pulling the handlebars to rock the seat forward, was sold through retailers and infomercials for $180 to $249. Consumers are advised to stop using the machine and to call (800) 651-8090 to get a retrofitting kit. Retrofitting is expected to fix the problem.

* Mini-hammocks that do not have spreader bars--generally a piece of wood that stretches across the top and bottom to keep the hammock open--have killed 12 children over the last 11 years. When not in use, a mini-hammock looks like a loose rope a few inches thick. When a hammock lacks a spreader bar, it can easily entangle and strangle a child. About 3 million of these hammocks have been sold. Individuals who have purchased this type of hammock should return them to the place of purchase for a refund or replacement. Those who can't recall where they purchased their hammocks should simply destroy them to avoid the risk of injury.

Those who need more information about recalls or who want to report a dangerous product may call the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772.

* Investing booklet

Vanguard Group, one of the nation's largest mutual fund companies, has added a nifty little booklet to its Plain Talk educational series. "Mutual Fund Basics: How to Start a Sound Investment Program" explains the benefits and detriment of mutual funds and how you can effectively measure fund performance. It also has primer-style information on examining fees and a glossary that defines some often-used yet arcane terms. To get a free copy, call (800) 276-7235.

* Pension check

About 4,000 small companies with underfunded defined-benefit pension plans will have to notify their workers of the shortfall this year as the result of legislation passed in 1994. The Retirement Protection Act requires most companies with pension plans that are less than 90% funded to notify their workers and retirees. Big companies--those with 100 or more workers--were required to provide this notification by last year. Small companies were exempt until this year, however. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. expects that most of the 4 million workers affected by under-funding will receive notices this fall.

Defined-benefit pensions are those that promise monthly benefits at retirement. These usually amount to a set percentage of a retiree's working wages multiplied by his or her years of service. These pensions are insured by the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. to certain limits. If you would like to learn more about government pension guarantees, you can write for a free booklet, "Your Guaranteed Pension." Send requests to the Consumer Information Center, Dept. YGP, Pueblo, CO 81009.

* College buys

Caltech rated first in Money magazine's annual survey of "best buys" among U.S. colleges and universities in terms of career return on educational investment. But that doesn't mean it's cheap. For a year, the school charges roughly $18,216 in tuition and fees, and it estimates that room and board add $5,478 to the annual cost. But thanks to a hefty endowment, the school spends $46,613 per student on instruction and has a 3-1 student-faculty ratio, according to Money's September issue.

Consumer Checklist is a weekly feature that covers a range of pocketbook issues of interest to Californians. To contribute information about new legislation, products, services or surveys, write to Kathy M. Kristof, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; or e-mail kathy.kristof@latimes.com.

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