Morning Minute: Vehicle Crashes Take Big Toll on Economy

The toll from car crashes -- in lives lost, injuries and dollars -- is staggering.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds 33,000 people lost their lives in crashes in 2010, 3.9 million were injured and 24 million vehicles were damaged. The economic toll from all of those accidents totaled $871 billion. The report says that represents nearly 2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product in 2010. The three leading causes of accidents were speeding, drunk driving and distracted driving.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Southwest Airlines (LUV) has been caught using a bait-and-switch tactic. Last year, it advertised flights from Atlanta to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles for just $59, but federal regulators say there were no seats available at that price. This is the second time Southwest has been caught doing this. As a result, it's been hit with $300,000 fine.

The race into space is heating up. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic says it has received U.S. approval to begin planning commercial space flights. The company says 580 people have paid $70 million in deposits for the chance to go into space. Branson, the British billionaire, says he'll be on the first flight.

Separately, Space Exploration Technologies -- known as SpaceX -- unveiled its new Dragon spaceship that can be used to shuttle as many as 7 astronauts to the International Space Station. Company founder Elon Musk says the reusable craft will be able to return to earth and land "with the accuracy of a helicopter." Since retiring the space shuttle fleet in 2011, NASA has had to pay Russia to transports its astronauts. Eventually, Musk sees his spaceship going to the moon and even to Mars. Musk is also the visionary entrepreneur behind the Tesla car.

Here on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) gained 65 points Thursday, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) rose 22, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) added 10 points, setting its third record high in four days.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

6 steps to start a debt payoff plan
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Morning Minute: Vehicle Crashes Take Big Toll on Economy
The first thing you should do is stop charging. Put your card aside, and switch to cash or debit now.
Get your debts in order. Make a detailed list of all the cards you're carrying debt on. Be sure to include each card's balance, its annual percentage rate and its payment due date.
Now that you know what you owe, it's time to make a budget. This will help you keep your finances in order and plan to pay off a big chunk of debt every month. It's also an opportunity to look for ways to trim expenses so that you can devote more money to cutting your debt.
Before deciding which card to pay off first, you should consider consolidating your debt onto a 0 percent balance transfer card. This can save you big bucks in interest, but it's also tricky. There are a lot of factors to consider, including balance transfer fees.
As an alternative to consolidating, you should make it a goal to pay off the card with the highest APR first. Devote all your extra funds to squelching this balance while still making minimum payments on your other cards. Doing so will save you the most money in interest in the long run.
Once you've paid off your highest APR card, attack the card with the second-highest APR next. Then tackle the others using APR as your guide to prioritizing. Keep it rolling until all your cards are paid off.
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