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    Supreme Court Health Overhaul
    Andrew Harnik/AP
    By ANDREW TAYLOR and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR

    WASHINGTON -- Repealing President Barack Obama's signature health care law would modestly increase the budget deficit, while the number of uninsured Americans would rise by more than 20 million, said a nonpartisan government study released Friday.

    The report from the Congressional Budget Office comes ahead of a highly anticipated Supreme Court ruling that could have a major impact on the Affordable Care Act, nullifying health insurance subsidies for some 6 million people in more than 30 states. The budget analysts said that would add a host of new uncertainties to their estimates.

    Republicans now in control of both chambers of Congress say they aren't backing away from their promise to repeal "Obamacare."

    But repealing the law's spending cuts and tax increases would add $137 billion to the federal deficit over the coming decade, CBO said, even though almost $1.7 trillion in coverage costs would disappear. Repeal would reduce deficits in the first few years but increase them steadily as time goes on.

    Repeal would up the number of uninsured people by about 24 million people, and the share of U.S. adults with health insurance would drop from roughly 90 percent now to about 82 percent, the report said.

    On the other side of the balance sheet, the report says that completely repealing the law would, on average, boost the economy by 0.7 percent a year after the start of the '20s. That's mostly because more people would enter the workforce or work more hours to make up for the lack of government health care subsidies.

    But the positive economic effects of repeal would fade over time, the budget agency said, offset by the increased budget deficits.

    The CBO provides lawmakers with nonpartisan budget and economic analysis. Republicans controlling Congress have increasingly asked the office to incorporate a broader range of potential economic consequences of major legislation into its work. CBO analysts always caution that their studies of legislation can be uncertain, especially over many years.

    Previously, CBO analyses wouldn't have taken into account such a broad range of economic consequences. The agency said that using its earlier approach would have resulted in a bigger estimated impact on the deficit, an increase of $353 billion over the coming decade. Adding the economic factors cuts the repeal's effect on the deficit by more than half over 10 years, the report says.

    The budget scorekeepers also offered a cautionary note to Congress: Obama's law is by now so enmeshed with the health care system that uprooting it would create its own issues.

    'Major Challenges'

    "Implementing a repeal of the ACA would present major challenges," the report said. "In the five years since its enactment, nearly every key provision of the law has taken effect and has been incorporated into final rules and other administrative actions. Undoing the ACA would thus be quite complicated."

    Unwinding changes to Medicare would be particularly difficult, the CBO said.

    The health care law offers subsidized private health insurance policies to people who don't have access to coverage on the job, along with an expanded version of Medicaid geared to low-income adults, in states that have accepted the expansion.

    If the law is repealed, about 18 million fewer people would have individual health insurance policies, and about 14 million fewer people would be covered under Medicaid, the report said. Gains in employer coverage would partially offset those losses, with 8 million more covered through job based insurance.

    About 30 million people are still uninsured, even after two full years of coverage expansion under the law.

    The study comes as Washington awaits the Supreme Court's decision on subsidies.

    In a twist, the budget office suggested that if those subsidies are curtailed, it would reduce the projected savings from repealing the rest of the law. That's because the government wouldn't be spending money to subsidize coverage in the affected states.

    Conservatives who brought the lawsuit say the law's literal wording prevents the federal government from subsidizing private health insurance premiums in states that failed to set up their own insurance markets. Most haven't done so, reflecting continued political opposition to the program. The administration argues that the law intended subsidies to be available in all states.

    The Supreme Court is expected to issue the decision by the end of June.

    Republicans in control of the House and Senate have said that if the court strikes down subsidies in the mostly GOP-held states that would be affected, they would advance legislation to ease the immediate effect on people who would lose coverage.

     

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    BIZ CAR SALES
    David Zalubowski/APThis 2006 image shows a row of 2007 Vibes at a Pontiac dealership in Littleton, Colo.
    DETROIT -- General Motors (GM) is adding more than 243,000 compact hatchbacks in the U.S. and Canada to the growing recall for air bags that can explode with too much force.

    The company said Friday that the expanded recall for passenger air bags covers the Pontiac Vibe from 2003 through 2007. The cars were designed by Toyota (TM) and made at jointly owned factory in California. They're twins of the Toyota Matrix, which was recalled earlier.

    The Vibe recall comes after Takata Corp. of Japan agreed in May to double the size of its air bag inflator recall to 33.8 million, making it the largest automotive recall in U.S. history.

    The propellant in some Takata inflators can burn too quickly, blowing apart a metal canister and sending shrapnel into the passenger compartment. The problem has been blamed for at least seven deaths and more than 100 injuries.

    Last month Takata bowed to pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and declared many of its products defective, agreeing to double the number of air bag inflators being recalled.

    The giant recall covers driver and passenger air bags in cars and trucks made by 11 automakers. Takata, the automakers and NHTSA are still trying to determine what exactly causes the inflators to malfunction.

    Owners can find out if their car is part of the giant recall by going to https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/ and keying in their vehicle identification number. The number is located on many state registration cards and is stamped on the dashboard near the bottom of the driver's side windshield.

    NHTSA says the numbers of all the recalled cars have been entered into its database.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Rodrigo Campos

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell Friday ahead of a summit next week that could decide whether Greece will need to print its own currency and ditch the euro.

    Eurozone leaders are scheduled to meet Monday night in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal with Athens. As bank withdrawals across Greece ballooned to about 4.2 billion euros this week, the European Central Bank boosted its emergency funding for Greek banks.

    It's sort of the last lifeline they are going to throw out to Greece and people are selling ahead of that because of the uncertainty.

    Friday's decline in stocks "has to do with the meeting on Monday," said King Lip, chief investment officer at Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco. "It's sort of the last lifeline they are going to throw out to Greece and people are selling ahead of that because of the uncertainty."

    Lip said, however, that any sharp selling because of developments Monday could be yet another buying opportunity for investors in U.S. stocks.

    "If Greece leaves the union, that removes an uncertainty and is actually good for the markets over the long run; if there is a resolution, that is also good," said Lip. "In some way, whatever happens on Monday is a win-win and [a market selloff] is a buyable dip."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 101.56 points, or 0.6 percent, to 18,014.28, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 11.48 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,109.76 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 15.95 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,117.00.

    For the week, the Dow gained 0.6 percent, the S&P added 0.7 percent and the Nasdaq, which had closed at a record high Thursday, rose 1.3 percent.

    Movers and Shakers

    Utilities led the S&P 500 decline in percentage terms, down 1 percent as a group after gaining 2.7 percent over the previous three sessions.

    A market debut fizzled, with shares of 8point3 Energy Partners (CAFD) down 2.4 percent at $20.49. It offered 20 million shares that priced at $21, the top-end of the filed range.

    ConAgra Foods' (CAG) shares jumped 10.9 percent to $43.37 after activist hedge fund Jana Partners took a stake in the company. ConAgra's peer Pinnacle Foods (PF) rallied 8.6 percent to $46.81 after earlier hitting a record high of $47.21.

    Macerich (MAC) slumped 6.8 percent to $76.87. Sources told Reuters Simon Property Group was selling its ownership stake in the No. 3 U.S. mall operator. Simon fell 1.3 percent to $179.48.

    KB Home (KBH) rose 9.4 percent to $16.37 after the homebuilder's quarterly results beat estimates.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,788 to 1,257, for a 1.42-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,557 issues fell and 1,254 advanced for a 1.24-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 29 new 52-week highs and 2 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 161 new highs and 40 new lows.

    About 7.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 6.03 billion daily average so far this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    What to watch Monday:
    • The National Association of Realtors releases existing home sales for May at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

     

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    Dollars and Euros
    Getty Images
    The dollar is so strong these days, especially against the euro, that it is spurring many Americans to chase their dreams of visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, riding a gondola through the canals of Venice or hiking the majestic Bavarian Alps.

    It makes a lot of sense. By traveling when the dollar is strong, you can save yourself a small fortune. That helps bring down the cost of foreign travel to a level that seems manageable to many Americans who might have previously felt those sorts of trips were beyond their reach.

    Some unscrupulous merchants abroad might try to take advantage of the dollar's strength -- and your enthusiasm -- to fill their own pockets a bit more with a sneaky tactic called "dynamic currency conversion." However, if you keep alert and know what to look and listen for, you can head these bad guys off at the pass before they're able to rip you off.

    The Dynamic Currency Conversion Trap

    Here's the situation: Say you're at a shop near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You've just spent a day taking in all the sights in one of the world's most spectacular cities, and now you're buying a bottle of wine and some bread and some cheese so you can have a picnic in the park and relax as the world passes by. You even splurge a little bit on the bottle because the dollar is strong and because, well, it's Paris.

    You walk up to the counter and pull out the chip-and-PIN credit card you got specifically for your trip because you're a savvy traveler. (And since you're a savvy traveler, you also don't have to worry about your bank refusing the transaction because you took the time to call the bank before you left to tell them where you were going and when you'd be there.)

    "Bonjour, madame," the man behind the counter says. Then, in broken English as he holds your credit card, he says, "Would you like for your transaction to be done with dollars or with euros?"

    You pause. "Oh, I didn't realize I had a choice. But I guess since the dollar is so strong, I'll go ahead and pay in dollars."

    And you've just fallen into the trap.

    It's called dynamic currency conversion, and paying in dollars instead of the foreign currency is pretty much never a good idea, even though it sounds like one.

    Reasons to Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion

    Here's why paying in dollars is a bad idea:

    Your credit card issuer offers a better exchange rate than a merchant ever could. In this situation, the merchant -- not the credit card company -- is doing the currency conversion. That's a problem. Credit card exchange rates are pretty hard to beat. That small Parisian merchant wouldn't be able to match that. The currency exchange booth at the airport won't be able to either.

    The merchant will likely tack on a bunch of fees. If you just let your credit card issuer do the currency conversion, there's a good chance you won't pay any extra fees for the service. That's because most credit cards have eliminated foreign transaction fees. Those fees used to add 1 to 3 percent on top of your bill when you purchased something overseas, but not anymore. In recent years, those foreign transaction fees have become far less common.

    Let the merchant do the conversion, and it's a different story. The fee a merchant will charge you for this service can reportedly run as high as 7 percent of the transaction. So make sure the card you travel abroad with doesn't charge extra for foreign purchases.

    The merchant might not give you all the details. Don't expect full disclosure of fees if you agree to dynamic currency conversion. Stores in tourist areas of major European cities are busy and crowded, and sometimes a cashier just won't think to give you all the information you need. And then, of course, there's the more sinister possibility: They know that it is a bad deal and don't want you to know what fees will be added on to the charge.

    What You Should Do Instead

    If someone asks you if you want your credit card transaction to be done in dollars instead of the local currency, the solution is simple: Just say no.

    There will be times when a store owner won't take no for an answer, however.

    Thankfully, this doesn't happen often, but if it does, you have a couple options. You could either offer to pay cash for the items, or you could simply walk away. There's a good chance that the merchant will give in if he thinks that pushing currency conversion will cost him a sale. If he doesn't give in, however, just keep walking. Chances are that you'll be able to find that bottle of wine and cheese at some other store that will be a bit more welcoming.

    Finally, when your trip is over, be sure to go over your credit card statements with a fine-toothed comb. Keep your eyes open for any charges that seem unusual for any reason, and don't hesitate to call and ask the bank about anything that looks amiss. After all, the last thing you want is for some unscrupulous storekeeper to take advantage of you and tarnish your treasured memories of a magical, once-in-a-lifetime trip.

    Matt Schulz is the senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, a site dedicated to helping people make smart decisions about obtaining and using credit. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewschulz.

     

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    Woman checks cell phone
    Getty Images
    Digital music services have come a long way. Pandora (P) and Spotify combine for more than 150 million active listeners, and now Apple (AAPL) is making its biggest play for the streaming market with the rollout of Apple Music.

    It has never been easier to rely on Internet services to provide a steady flow of tunes. Whether you're craving the personalized radio stylings of Pandora or prefer to pick out your own tracks through Spotify, the way that a growing number of consumers are experiencing music is changing. If you're not one of the 154.2 million people who actively listen to Pandora or Spotify, there's a good chance that you will inevitably be one of them.

    With tens of millions of songs available on most of the leading streaming platforms, access to these deep jukeboxes is as close as an online connection. Even Internet access isn't required all of the time for some premium services that can store select playlists for you to crank out when you're offline.

    So let's talk about that record collection of yours. It may have been pretty impressive at one time. It was the soundtrack of your youth. However, if your vinyl records and CDs are collecting dust, there's a good chance that you don't need physical recordings anymore. Your record collection served you well, and now it's time to cash in on your music.

    Passing Along the Music

    There are plenty of ways to unload your catalog of albums. You don't need to settle for a garage sale, though that's not necessarily a bad idea unless you're sitting on some valuable rare editions.

    The same Internet that's providing you with instant access to tens of millions of songs is also your tool to make some dough on your physical recordings. If you're loaded with vinyl, your first and perhaps only stop should be Discogs.

    The leading marketplace for vinyl makes it easy to list and sell an old record. Listing an item is free, and Discogs collects a reasonable 8 percent from any album that's sold (with a minimum of a dime and a cap of $150). You'll have to assign your vinyl a grade based on its condition, but it's a great way to see what others are selling that record for. You don't want to give away a valuable recording for pennies at a garage sale.

    Discogs also connects buyers and sellers with 8-track and cassette tapes, but vinyl is the top draw. Discogs' marketplace also lets users swap CDs, but there are plenty of other outlets available for compact discs, which are easier to ship and less prone to scratching.

    One popular place to sell CDs is Amazon.com's (AMZN) trade-in program. CD owners will receive instant quotes on used CDs that Amazon is willing to buy. It usually won't be as much as you could generate in a private sale, but at least it's instantaneous. Amazon also foots the postage when you ship your approved titles to the leading online retailer.

    Get the Word Out

    Just listing your music on a marketplace may not be enough. It may sit there for a long time, and it may be easier to reach out directly to fans. It's easier than ever these days thanks to social media.
    Sellers can post on Facebook fan pages for the bands whose albums they are looking to unload. There are also online forums where you can reach out to devout fans who may be willing to pay a premium for recordings that aren't easy to obtain.

    It all boils down to simplifying your music collection. You may not make a mint by selling off your music, but it will generate at least some incremental revenue. Creating space is also something that is appealing. The digital music revolution is here, and now it's time to cash in.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple and Pandora Media. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Retirement
    Getty Images
    By Donna Fuscaldo

    To save or not to save for retirement isn't the question. For most investors, the question that matters is which retirement savings strategy is more beneficial: Roth IRA or traditional IRA.

    With a Roth IRA or 401(k), the investor pays taxes on contributions, but once they are 59½ or older, account withdrawals, including any gains, are tax-free. With a traditional IRA or 401(k), the investor puts off paying taxes on contributions until they begin making withdrawals. At that time, however, they pay taxes on their contributions and account earnings.

    Which strategy makes more sense depends on the investor's tax bracket and earnings potential, but that doesn't mean they have to choose one over the other. Thanks to a handful of different strategies, savers can get the benefits of both pre-tax contributions and tax-free gains.

    Basic Considerations: Current Income & Future Earnings Potential

    When choosing between contributing to a Roth or traditional account, the biggest factors to consider are the income limits for IRAs, your tax bracket, and your future earning potential.

    Income limits. Individual investors whose adjusted gross income exceeds $71,000 (or $118,000 for married couples filing jointly) aren't eligible to make tax-deductible IRA contributions. Individuals whose AGI is $61,000 or lower ($98,000 for married filing jointly) can take the full deduction for their IRA contributions in 2015. There is one exception: investors who don't have an employer-sponsored retirement account at work qualify for tax-deductible contributions regardless of income.

    Future earnings. Future earnings potential, on the other hand, plays a role choosing between Roth and traditional IRA options. A Roth IRA or 401(k) doesn't give you an upfront deduction, but the earnings grow and can be withdrawn tax-free. "Someone in an entry level job working on their MBA, who will have the opportunity to amass significant savings over time, is better off paying taxes upfront," says Christine Benz, director of personal finance at Morningstar (MORN). But if you have already reached your peak earnings level and find yourself in a higher tax bracket than you believe you will be in upon retirement, the upfront deduction of a traditional IRA account may make more sense.

    Mix and Match to Get the Most Out of an IRA

    "If you put a thousand financial advisers in a room, [a third of them] will tell you to put everything in pre-tax [accounts] and a third will tell you to put it in a Roth. I'm in the camp [that says] do a little of both," says Larry Rosenthal, a certified financial planner and president of Rosenthal Wealth Management Group.

    Additionally, as your tax bracket and income can change over time, so too should the way you save for retirement.

    Most people age 25 to 35 typically are on the lower side of their potential earnings and may benefit from a Roth IRA, says Rosenthal. The ideal time to begin saving in a traditional IRA is once an investor moves to a higher tax bracket (assuming they still qualify for the deduction), so they can take advantage of a bigger write-off.

    401(k) Considerations: Roth or Traditional

    Increasingly, employers are beginning to offer a Roth option within their 401(k) plans. This can be a boon to investors who are phased out of Roth IRA contributions, but believe that their tax bracket will be higher in retirement. "The Roth 401(k) doesn't have any income restrictions, so it's a good way to get some tax-free growth if you can't contribute to a Roth IRA," says Robert Brokamp, senior adviser at The Motley Fool (a DailyFinance content partner).

    Backdoor IRA Rollover

    Roth IRAs have income eligibility requirements that may disqualify higher earners from contributing. Roth IRA eligibility for 2015:
    • Individuals with AGI between $116,000 and $131,000 and married couples filing jointly who earn between $183,000 and $193,000 qualify for a reduced contribution.
    • Those with AGI higher than the upper limits above don't qualify for Roth contributions.
    One way around those requirements is a backdoor Roth IRA. With this strategy, investors contribute to a traditional nondeductible IRA, which is available to anyone regardless of income, and then convert that to a Roth.

    There is, however, a caveat to this strategy for investors who already have assets in a traditional or rollover IRA (with assets that have not yet been subject to taxation); the taxable portion of the conversion will be prorated over all IRA assets. In order to take advantage of the backdoor Roth conversion, the investor will need to convert all other IRA accounts to Roth. This may present an investor who has a large pre-tax IRA balance (including any rollover IRAs) with a sizeable tax bill. Before taking any steps, it's best to consult with a tax professional, such as a CPA.

    Donna Fuscaldo is a contributing writer at SigFig. Nearly a million people use SigFig to track, improve and manage over $300 billion in investments.

     

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    Couple signing contracts
    Jupiterimages
    So you have a little money saved, and you're wondering how to invest it. Should you buy stocks? Bonds? And what about those commercials about gold I keep seeing on TV?

    Actually, if you ask most Americans, there's just one answer: According to Gallup, we believe real estate is the No. 1 "best long-term investment" you can make.

    Survey Says ...

    Conducting a nationwide poll of 1,015 adults earlier this year, Gallup found that 31 percent of respondents choose real estate as their favored investment. Real estate beats out stocks (25 percent), gold (19 percent), bank savings (15 percent) and bonds (just 6 percent) in popularity. What's more, 2015 was the third year in a row that Americans polled by Gallup chose real estate as their favorite investment, and the fourth year in which Gallup's poll showed real estate rising in popularity relative to other potential investments.

    (In contrast, gold, bonds and savings accounts have all been generally declining in popularity. Other than real estate, stocks is the only category of investment that's been gaining.)

    Not only is real estate the most popular long-term investment, generally. It's also preferred as an investment vehicle within just about every demographic breakdown Gallup examined. Men prefer to invest in real estate, as do women. Men 18-49 prefer real estate, and so do women over 50. The poor (people with income under $30,000 a year) like it; and the middle class, too.

    In fact, only two demographic categories prefer stocks over real estate -- millennials ages 18 to 34, and rich folks earning $75,000 or more a year. And even among these two groups, real estate is the second favorite investment.

    Do What We Say, Not What We Do

    And yet, Americans seem increasingly leery of taking their own advice. According to a separate poll published just days after the first one, Gallup found that even as more and more Americans agree that real estate is the best investment, fewer and fewer are willing to ante up and make that investment. This second poll finds that the number of Americans agreeing that now is a "good" time to buy a house has dropped 5 percentage points in the past year, to 69 from 74 percent.

    So why are Americans reluctant to take their own advice, and invest in real estate?

    There may be a couple of factors at play. On one hand, Gallup observes, home sales have been perceived as "lackluster" in the early months of 2015. Between March and April, for example, the National Association of Realtors reported a 3.3 percent drop in sales of existing homes in the U.S. On the other hand, NAR's chief economist attributes slowing sales to "lagging supply relative to demand and the upward pressure it's putting on prices" (emphasis added).

    Indeed, Bankrate.com (RATE) points out that median sales prices in April were up 8.9 percent year over year. Those higher prices may have scared off some buyers between March and April. Higher prices may also explain why investors, despite broadly agreeing that real estate is a good investment, are reluctant to ante up for the chance at earning a profit.

    That's a reluctance they might want to try to overcome, though.

    Do What You Know You Should Do

    Consider: According to Gallup's more recent poll, most Americans (59 percent) expect home prices to keep on rising over the next 12 months. This belief is even stronger in the South and West regions, where 61 percent and 76 percent of Americans, respectively, foresee continued rising home values. If they're right, it would make sense for them to buy before prices rise -- whether they're buying a home to own, or buying in hopes of selling for a profit.

    Yet commenting on these figures, Gallup hypothesizes, "Those widespread expectations of higher prices may explain why fewer Westerners," for example, "believe now is a good time to buy a home."

    However, if you truly believe that prices are going to rise -- as 76 percent of people in the West believe -- then you should want to buy before they do rise. Yet only 64 percent of these folks think that's a good idea.

    The case for buying real estate only gets stronger when you consider that interest rates, which are still at historically low levels, appear to be heading higher. According to data from Freddie Mac, 30-year mortgage rates have already jumped nearly half a percentage point off their February lows of 3.59 percent, and averaged 4.04 percent in the second week of June. That's a big jump, but still leaves rates lower than what they were a year ago (4.17 percent), close to where they were two years ago (3.98 percent), and significantly cheaper than what a 30-year fixed mortgage cost in mid-June 2010 -- 4.75 percent.

    When you add up the three factors: More Americans choosing real estate as the best investment, widespread agreement that real estate prices are heading higher, similar agreement that interest rates are also going higher -- and demonstrable proof in the numbers that the last two beliefs have been correct so far -- it makes sense for anyone interested in buying a home to do so sooner rather than later.

    Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith doesn't own shares of any of the stocks mentioned above. (Nor does The Motley Fool). Rich does, however, own some real estate -- more than he can comfortably mow in an afternoon -- and so won't be buying anymore anytime soon, no matter where prices go.

    Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Frustrated woman using cell phone next to car wrecked on guardrail
    Getty Images
    By Jerry Kronenberg

    NEW YORK -- A 20-year-old married male pays 21 percent less on average for car insurance than a 20-year-old single male, but 22 percent more than what a 20-year-old married female spends for the same coverage.

    But don't worry, he'll get a better rate than the married female does when they both turn 30 -- until, of course, they reach 56, at which point she'll enjoy lower premiums again.

    It's all part of the complicated way that auto insurers factor in age, gender and other data when calculating how much you have to pay for coverage.

    People are shocked when they find out how many variables go into car-insurance rates.

    "People are shocked when they find out how many variables go into car-insurance rates. Where you live, whether you're married -- all of that impacts what they charge," says Laura Adams of InsuranceQuotes.com, which recently analyzed how different factors affect premiums.

    Carriers have long used a wide variety of data beyond just driving record or claims history to set rates. Firms generally look at everything from age to credit score, unless you live in a state where insurance rules ban the use of a given factor.

    The industry maintains that its statistical analysis accurately predicts how much you're likely to cost your carrier in claims -- and therefore what your premiums should be.

    "These underwriting criteria have been tested for almost a century now and have been demonstrated to [work]," says Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group.

    For instance, he says, male teenage drivers have far more accidents and higher claims than female ones, so charging guys higher rates means keeping prices lower for the ladies.

    Still, InsuranceQuotes' study -- which analyzed market tracker Quadrant Information Systems' database of typical rates that different kinds of consumers paid as of February -- uncovered some surprising differences in average premiums based on demographics.

    Some key findings:
    • Premiums drop nearly in half once you hit age 25. The typical 25-year-old driver pays a hefty 41 percent less than a 20-year-old of the same gender for identical coverage. After you turn 25, you rate slowly continues to drop every year for decades. It'll fall another 18 percent by the time you reach 60.
    • Once you're 60, your premiums will rise gradually again, but only by 17 percent by the time you're 75. And even with those increases, the average 75-year-old will still pay 43 percent less than what a 20-year-old forks over for identical coverage.
    • Married people usually enjoy lower premiums than singles, but the gap shrinks as you age. As noted, a married 20-year-old pays 21 percent less for coverage than a similar single. But the difference drops to 7 percent at age 25 and just 2 percent or so once you hit 30.
    • Women don't always pay lower rates than men. True, a 20-year-old male does face 22 percent higher premiums than a 20-year-old female for identical coverage, but the gap narrows to just 3 percent at age 25.
    • At age 30, single males actually pay 0.62 percent less on average for coverage than 30-year-old single females. Such discounts continue to age 56, at which point women begin getting the better rates again.
    • As noted, some states ban insurers from using certain criteria when setting rates. Hawaii has some of the strictest rules, prohibiting the use of age, gender or marital status. California bans the use of age, but not years of driving experience, while Massachusetts and North Carolina don't let carriers use gender when setting rates.
    Adams says that while consumers can't do anything about their ages, and won't change their marital status or gender (a la Caitlyn Jenner) just for insurance purposes, savvy shoppers will make sure they get the rates they're entitled to. For instance, she says newlyweds should tell carriers they're getting hitched so their premiums drop.

    "If you get married this summer and wait to report that to your insurance company until your policy renews next year, you'll be missing out on savings that whole time," Adams says.

    Methodology: InsuranceQuotes' study analyzed average premiums paid by consumers who drive 2012 sedans and have a job, a bachelor's degree, a clean driving record, excellent credit and no lapse in coverage. Researchers also assumed that all policies included $100,000 bodily injury per person, $300,000 bodily injury per accident, $100,000 property damage per accident, $10,000 personal-injury protection and a $500 deductible for comprehensive and collision.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) -- Up 36 percent last week

    The biggest gainer on the New York Stock Exchange was Martha Stewart Living. The crafty lifestyles publisher soared on speculation that it was in talks to be acquired by a retail licensing company. But shares fell Monday, after Sequential Brands Group (SQBG) announced it would buy Martha Stewart's namesake business for $353 million. The cash-and-stock deal values the company at $6.15 a share.

    TripAdvisor (TRIP) -- Up 20 percent last week

    It will be easier to book a room at a Marriott (MAR) on TripAdvisor. The two struck a partnership deal that will allow Marriott's entire global portfolio of properties to be booked through the online travel website's Instant Booking option, where lodging seekers can reserve a room at one of Marriott's more than 4,200 hotels without leaving TripAdvisor's own site.

    The partnership helped push shares of TripAdvisor higher. Expanding its roster of properties that can be booked instantly on its site will naturally make the reviews aggregator more popular when future travelers are researching a hotel stay.

    Town Sports International (CLUB) -- Up 17 percent last week

    Sometimes all you need is a timely departure to get your stock moving again in the right direction. Town Sports moved higher after announcing its CEO was leaving the company. Some companies would be rattled if they lost a helmsman, but Town Sports has been struggling under the current regime. The market's hoping that the transition could result in either a dynamic new CEO or a buyout offer.

    The operator of 158 fitness clubs reported another quarterly loss last month on declining revenue. There are plenty of ways to stay in shape these days, but it's hard for Town Sports to stick around if it keeps building on its streak of six consecutive quarterly deficits.

    Avalanche Biotechnologies (AAVL) -- Down 62 percent last week

    The market's biggest loser last week was Avalanche, living up to its name when the stock shed nearly two-thirds of its value after a disappointing clinical trial. Avalanche is working on a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of elderly blindness.

    Biotechs can be volatile, particularly companies that have so much riding on a single potentially promising treatment's ability to clear the mighty hurdle of FDA approval.

    Mindbody (MB) -- Down 17 percent last week

    Not every IPO is a winner out of the gate. Mindbody priced its offering at $14 after Thursday's close, but the stock plunged 17 percent on Friday. Mindbody is a provider of cloud-based management solutions for the wellness and fitness industries, but it has struggled to turn a profit despite a client base that's 42,000 businesses deep. I guess you can say that the stock was a downward-facing dog.

    Etsy (ETSY) -- Down 14 percent last week

    It's been a rough road for Etsy shareholders since it went public at $16 two months ago, nearly doubling to close at $30. Uninspiring results and the threat of Amazon.com (AMZN) rolling out its own arts and crafts marketplace have weighed on the stock, and now it's trading below its IPO price.

    Etsy seemed to have a chance to bounce back on Tuesday when it announced a new crowdsourcing platform, but the excitement didn't even last until the end of the trading day. Etsy shares declined every single day last week.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com and TripAdvisor. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Etsy, Inc., and TripAdvisor. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Fed Stimulus Did It Work
    Manuel Balce Ceneta/APFormer Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
    By PAUL WISEMAN

    WASHINGTON -- Former Federal Reserve chief-turned blogger Ben Bernanke is calling for the U.S. Treasury to abandon plans to drop Alexander Hamilton from his featured spot on the $10 bill and to dump Andrew Jackson from the $20 instead.

    Bernanke wrote Monday that he is "appalled" by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew's plans to replace Hamilton with a woman. In a post entitled "Say it ain't so, Jack," Bernanke wrote that adding a woman is "a fine idea, but it shouldn't come at Hamilton's expense."

    Given his views on central banking, Jackson would probably be fine with having his image dropped from a Federal Reserve note.

    He called the first Treasury secretary "without doubt the best and most foresighted economic policymaker in U.S. history."

    By contrast, Jackson, president from 1829 to 1837, was "a man of many unattractive qualities and a poor president." Jackson opposed attempts to establish a U.S. central bank.

    "Given his views on central banking," Bernanke wrote, "Jackson would probably be fine with having his image dropped from a Federal Reserve note."

    Treasury last week revealed plans to put a woman on the $10 note, which has featured Hamilton since 1929. Candidates include Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks. Treasury says that Hamilton wouldn't disappear from the redesigned $10 bill and that it might print two bills, one with Hamilton.

    On his blog, Bernanke was effusive about Hamilton, noting that he helped create the U.S. Constitution and knit 13 fractious states into a single economic unit. The 19 countries that use the euro currency are struggling now with similar issues - which is why Bernanke says he recommended Ron Chernow's 2004 biography of Hamilton to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

    Bernanke stepped down as Fed chair in 2014 and is a distinguished fellow and blogger at the Brookings Institution.

    Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show the first name of the figure on the $10 bill is Alexander, not Andrew.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Ryan Vlastelica

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended higher Monday, with the Nasdaq closing at a record as hopes grew that a deal would be reached to prevent Greece from defaulting on loans.

    Equities have been largely driven by the situation in Greece of late, with investors concerned that if the country defaults on its loans, it may have to leave the euro or the European Union, potentially shaking the region's economic foundations.

    This takes one anxiety off the table, even if it doesn't yet resolve the primary issues that made investors anxious in the first place.

    Athens presented new reform proposals which were cautiously welcomed by eurozone finance on Monday, though the Eurogroup said the proposals required detailed study and that it would take several days to determine whether they can lead to an agreement. Greece needs fresh funds to avoid defaulting on a $1.8 billion debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund on June 30.

    "This takes one anxiety off the table, even if it doesn't yet resolve the primary issues that made investors anxious in the first place," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank in Cleveland, Ohio.

    Sentiment was also lifted by merger and acquisition activity. The S&P energy index rose 1 percent as the top-performing sector of the day after Energy Transfer Equity confirmed it had made a $48 billion unsolicited bid for Williams Cos. (WMB), hours after Williams rejected the offer as significantly too low.

    Shares of Williams surged 26 percent to $60.90 and were the biggest percentage gainer on the S&P 500 by far.

    Separately, Cigna (CI) rose 4.8 percent to $162.65 after the health insurer rebuffed Anthem's $47 billion merger proposal Sunday. Anthem (ATHM) rose 3.6 percent to $171.04.

    Home Sales Rise

    Homebuilders rose as existing home sales grew more than expected in May, surging to their highest in five- and-a-half years. The PHLX Housing index rose 0.9 percent while Lennar (LEN) added 1.7 percent to $49.49.

    Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) slumped 12.5 percent to $6.11 on heavy volume after Sequential Brands (SQBG) agreed to buy the company in a deal that values it at about $353 million, or $6.15 a share. Martha Stewart shares had risen about 37 percent over two days after news of the deal emerged.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 104.53 points, or 0.6 percent, to 18,120.48, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 13 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,122.99 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 36.97 points, or 0.7 percent, to 5,153.97.

    With the day's gains, the Nasdaq ended at a record while the S&P closed 0.3 percent away from its own record close. Currently, the S&P trades at 17.3 times earnings, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data, above its long-term average.

    "Valuations are somewhat high, but there aren't many alternatives that look attractive," said McCain. "Stocks will probably get a lot higher before there's any serious risk of a pullback on valuation."

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,830 to 1,238, for a 1.48-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,819 issues rose and 988 fell for a 1.84-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 51 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq composite was recording 207 new highs and 26 new lows.

    About 5.31 billion shares traded on all U.S. platforms, according to BATS exchange data, compared with the month-to-date average of 6.17 billion.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • Carnival Corp. (CCL), Darden Restaurants (DRI) and BlackBerry (BBRY) release quarterly financial results before U.S. stock markets open.
    • The Commerce Department releases durable goods for May at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Commerce Department releases new home sales for May at 10 a.m.

     

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    Never Buy These Used Items
    Buying things at a discounted price can be great for your wallet, but there are some things you should never buy used.

    For instance, a secondhand crib simply isn't worth the risk. Since 2007, nearly 10 million cribs have been recalled, so there's a good chance that a used one isn't up to code.

    The same goes for old car seats, which actually expire after six years, and need to be replaced after a crash, so buying a hand-me-down could end up being a dangerous decision. These days, car seats go for as little as $50, so you're better off choosing safety first and buying new.

    And when it comes to digital cameras, stay away. Since they're so portable, there's a good chance they've already been through several spills and drops. The wear and tear may not be obvious on the outside, but the damage on the inside might be expensive to repair. Instead, do a little bit of research, and find a new camera that fits both your needs and your budget.

    If you're trying to save with used items now, think twice about your purchases or they could end up costing you a lot more later on.

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    Save With These Shoe Hacks
    Do you have a pair of shoes that just don't seem to fit the way you want them to? Well, before you throw them away and buy a new pair, here are some tips to help you save your shoes, and your wallet.

    For leather shoes you just can't seem to break in, try stretching them out with these simple steps. Pour a mixture of half water and half rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle. Then, dampen the inside of the shoe, focusing on the spots that feel tight. After that, put on a couple pairs of socks and wear the shoes around the house for a few hours. The alcohol will cause the leather to stretch and conform to the shape of your foot.

    When it comes to breaking in other types of shoes, here's a solution that only takes a few minutes. Start by putting on a couple pairs of socks and then slip your shoes on. Next, aim a hairdryer on the tight sections for a few seconds. To maximize the stretching, wiggle your feet at the same time. After they cool off, take off the extra socks and test them out. By this point, your shoes should feel much more comfortable.

    Finally, did you know that the time of day affects the size of your feet? It's true. Your feet can swell up to half a size bigger as they day goes on, so try to shop for shoes in the afternoon or evening. You'll get a much more accurate measurement, which means a better fit for your feet.

    Remember these tips to save your uncomfortable shoes from getting tossed away. You'll see that you with a few easy steps you can hold onto your shoes, and your money.

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    Young female passenger at the airport, using her tablet computer
    Getty Images
    Choosing a travel rewards credit card can be overwhelming. Every week, American consumers receive millions of pieces of direct mail from credit card issuers offering large sign-on bonuses and fast ways to travel for free. If you search for the best travel card on Google, you will be presented with millions of results. It can be very difficult to find the best card.

    Most credit card comparison tools are either blog posts or static lists of credit cards. One of the oldest in the market is CreditCards.com, which has a page dedicated to travel and airline credit cards. The top result is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

    Is Capital One Venture the best card for everyone? As my research reveals, it depends upon your situation. I used the customizable tool at MileCards.com to review three different scenarios, and I received three different recommendations. Now more than ever personalized recommendations are important to earn the best rewards.

    Scenario 1: The Frequent Flier

    Bob flies United Airlines all the time for business. He is earning 50,000 miles every year from business travel and wants to top up those miles with a credit card. He spends about $3,000 each month on his personal credit card and about $800 of that is in restaurants.

    Based upon Bob's information, the recommendation was the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The card allows you to earn 2 points for every $1 you earn on dining, and you can transfer the Sapphire points directly to United Airlines. Including the first year bonus, Bob would earn 91,600 points in the first 12 months. Capital One Venture doesn't allow you to transfer points to existing frequent flier programs, and would not have been the best option for Bob.

    Scenario 2: The Infrequent Flier With Hawaii Dreams

    Sarah never flies. A recent graduate, she wants to visit Hawaii soon, but only if she can get a free flight. And she doesn't want a card with an Annual Fee. She spends about $1,000 a month, and most of it is spent on groceries and gas.

    After inputting Sarah's information, the Amex Everyday Credit Card was the top result. There is no annual fee on the credit card. You earn 2 points for every $1 spent in grocery stores, up to $6,000 each year. And Sarah can transfer those points directly to Delta Airlines. In the first 12 months, Sarah will earn 31,600 points. So long as Sarah pays her bill on time and in full every month, those points won't have cost her a dime. That would be enough for a flight anywhere in the continental United States and she would be on her way towards that Hawaii trip.

    Scenario 3: The Big Spender

    Emily has a big job and likes to spend what she earns. She spends $4,000 a month on her credit card and pays the balance in full every month. Her spending is evenly split between travel, clothing and restaurants. Emily is always looking for ways to get more free travel. And Emily isn't afraid to pay an annual fee if she is able to get value.

    After inputting Emily's information, the top recommendation is the Citi Prestige Card. There is a steep $450 annual fee. However, the rewards are significant, especially in the first year. Although Emily has to pay the $450 fee, she will get $250 of air travel credit. So, on the next flight that she books using the Citi Prestige Card, she would immediately get $250 of her $450 fee back.

    She would earn 3 points for every $1 spent on travel and 2 points for every $1 spent on travel. Even better, after Emily spends $3,000 she would receive a 50,000 point welcome bonus offer.

    So, during the first 12 months, Emily would earn 135,200 points with a true cost of $200 (after the refund of the air travel). MileCards values those points at $1,993. Emily is more than happy to spend $200 to receive $1,993 of value.

    The Best Travel Credit Card of 2015: It Depends

    The right travel rewards credit card really depends upon your unique situation. It pays to do your homework and find the card that meets your specific needs. The Capital One Venture Rewards Card recommended by CreditCards.com isn't a bad card. But it may not be the best card for your situation. That is why is you should look for tools, like MileCards, that provide personalized results.

    Just remember, these cards are only worthwhile if you have a lot of self discipline. If you don't pay your balance in full and on time every month, you will be hit with steep interest charges. The interest you would pay on your credit card debt would likely end up costing much more than the free travel that you receive. But if you have the discipline to make your payments on time every month, free travel awaits.

    Nick Clements is the co-founder of MagnifyMoney, a price comparison and financial education website. You can follow him on Twitter @npclements.

     

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    Congress Keystone
    J. Scott Applewhite/APSen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
    Elizabeth Warren would like to change the way you bank.

    The Massachusetts Senator and consumer advocate firebrand may not be running for president. But her backing of the U.S. Postal Service's plan to begin offering budget-priced banking services to U.S. savers could remake the American landscape regardless.

    An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

    In May, USPS admitted to losing $1.5 billion in its most recent fiscal quarter. If the losses keep up at this rate, the Post Office's budget deficit could surpass last year's $5.5 billion loss, and swell into a $6 billion annual deficit. Last month, though, the USPS Office of Inspector General refloated an idea to close the Post Office's budget gap. Simply put, the Post Office should turn itself into a bank.

    Not entirely, of course. Under the Inspector General's plan, backed by Sen. Warren, USPS would still deliver mail and such. But it would also begin expanding the kinds of financial services it offers, permitting "unbanked" and "underbanked" customers to take out small loans, cash checks, pay bills, and open savings accounts -- all at their local post office. According to the Inspector General, entering this market could help USPS reap as much as $10 billion in annual revenue -- and close its budget gap with a resounding snap.

    Even just expanding the financial services the Post Office already offers, by adding electronic wire transfers and ATMs to existing offerings of selling paper money orders and prepaid cards, and executing international money transfers, could raise as much as $1.1 billion in additional revenues for USPS.

    An Idea Whose Time Came a Year Ago ...

    USPS actually first voiced this suggestion early last year (when it was promptly and publicly taken up by Sen. Warren). Back then, Warren explained that 68 million Americans currently have no active checking accounts, yet still need the kinds of banking services associated with such accounts. To get these services, they pay through the nose.

    According to Warren, banks and -- in particular -- payday loan and check cashing stores, charge unbanked customers "an average of $2,412 per household" annually for ordinary financial services. The Senator notes that "the average underserved household spends roughly 10 percent of its annual income on interest and fees -- about the same amount they spend on food."

    What It Means to Them

    This means that in one fell swoop, expanding financial services offerings at post offices could both solve USPS's chronic budget deficit and prevent millions of Americans from being overcharged for basic banking services.

    No longer would the "unbanked" be stuck paying high monthly service fees to maintain a bank checking account with a too-low balance, or even higher costs for small loans from a payday lender. These low-margin activities, too unprofitable for many banks to bother with them, could be offered at the post office instead. As a side benefit, these folks would then have thousands of extra dollars a year to spend on things they actually want to spend their money on, helping to grow the economy.

    What It Means to You
    Of course, if you already have a bank account, you may think USPS's plan is interesting, but not really relevant to you. It could become relevant, however.

    In recent months, we've seen multiple stories of traditional banks closing down their physical branches to cut costs and take advantage of the cheapness of online banking. SNL Financial reports 332 bank closures across the U.S. in the first quarter of 2015. One single bank, JPMorgan Chase (JPM), says it's planning to close 300 branches over the next two years.

    Assuming this trend continues, finding a physical branch of your bank at which you can cash a check or get a money order when you need it could become increasingly difficult. Knowing that the local post office can help you out, on the other hand, could turn increasingly attractive.

    Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith doesn't own shares of any of the stocks mentioned above. (Nor does The Motley Fool.) Rich admits, he does most of his own banking online. But he's willing to give post office banking a try if it will help poor folks out, save the Post Office and thereby secure our Strategic National Junk Mail Reserve.

    Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Man lifting weights in gym
    Getty Images
    By Brian Sozzi

    NEW YORK -- Discount gyms offering affordable memberships and endless rows of cardio machines are exploding in number and popularity, and one prominent chain may even soon go public.

    On May 26, Planet Fitness, a fast-growing chain owned by private equity firm TPG Consumer Partners, filed draft documents for an initial public offering. The submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn't disclose what ticker symbol the company would be listed, and the number of shares to be sold and the price range have yet to be determined, according to Planet Fitness.

    Should Planet Fitness raise cash via an IPO, it would be well-positioned to expand even more aggressively in what remains a very fragmented gym facility industry.

    According to research firm IBIS World, the 50 largest gym companies in the country together control only about 30 percent of the market, and there are only a dozen or so companies that own more than ten centers. Currently, there is only one publicly traded gym company -- Town Sports International (TOWN), which operates popular brands such as New York Sports Club and Boston Sports Club in over 150 locations along the East Coast. Lifetime Fitness, a high-end gym operator, was purchased by Leonard Green & Partners and TPG Capital in 2015 in a transaction valued at more than $4 billion.

    TheStreet takes a look at the three of the biggest discount gym chains in the business today, ranked from smallest to largest.

    1. Retro Fitness
    • Founded: 2002
    • Founder: Eric Casaburi
    • Membership costs: $20 a month
    • Number of locations: 132 in the U.S.
    • Primary regions: Northeast
    • Total revenue: Undisclosed
    What it's known for: Bright orange and yellow branding and fitness equipment; founder was on popular show "Undercover Boss" in 2013

    "We are at 132 locations right now, we will open 30 to 40 this year, and are looking to open 50 to 100 per year," said Retro Fitness founder Eric Casaburi in an interview with TheStreet at the International Franchise Expo. Newer markets for Retro Fitness are in prime locations for baby boomers such as Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida, where retirees are looking to improve their health and live longer. A visit to Retro Fitness for $20-a-month is an easy sell to a boomer. According to Casaburi, Retro Fitness is "making money" and cash flow positive.

    One way Retro Fitness is seeking to differentiate relative to larger rivals in Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness is through the use of technology. The chain is developing tools for members that may be wearing Apple's (AAPL) Apple Watch or a Fitbit (FIT). "Fitness wearables is something we adopted early, we are looking over the next two quarters unveiling some amazing technology in our gyms that will blow our members minds -- it will be able to track your fitness when you are walking outside, or on one of our treadmills," said Casaburi.

    2. Planet Fitness
    • Founded: 1992
    • Founder: Chris Rondeau
    • Membership costs: $10-a-month base; $19.99 premium.
    • Number of locations: Opened its 1,000th club in Washington, D.C., on June 9.
    • Primary regions: Northeast; Central
    • Total revenue: $211 million in 2013, according to Moody's.
    What it's known for: Bright purple interiors and gym equipment, open 24 hours, guests can come for free if a member has a premium membership, tanning beds

    A customer can be asked to leave a Planet Fitness for repeatedly violating the "lunk alarm," which rings loudly if someone makes noisy, intimidating grunts while working out. Planet Fitness, according to founder Chris Rondeau, wants to be the non-intimidating place to grab a workout.

    If it were to stop accepting new agreements today, Planet Fitness would have a development pipeline of at least 500 additional locations. "Being healthy is becoming more mainstream," said Rondeau in an interview with TheStreet in December.

    3. Anytime Fitness
    • Founded: 2002
    • Founder: Chuck Runyon
    • Membership costs: Average cost is $40 a month, but exact price depends on location.
    • Number of locations: Over 3,000 in all 50 U.S. states and in 20 international markets.
    • Primary regions: Northeast, Central
    • Total revenue: Projected system-wide sales of $1.1 billion in 2015, growing 14 percent year-over-year, according to the company.
    What it's known for: Tanning services, 24/7 hours, members have access to all locations, outdoor classes, largest gym operator in Australia with 400 locations

    "The fact is that you have less hassles with the experience, it's a quicker workout, alongside a friendly staff that takes away the fear and intimidation for members", explained Anytime Fitness founder Chuck Runyon on his chain's appeal. Anytime Fitness banners are popping up in local strip mall centers, notably inside of old Blockbuster sites. The membership mix is split about 50/50 between male and female, with the average member age at 30 years old.

    Today, Anytime Fitness' newer locations are kicking it up a notch. They have more functional space, points out Runyon, including personal training areas. "We are also doing pop-up fitness, outside the club in your local park with a trainer or a group," says Runyon, capitalizing on the growing popularity of outdoor endurance races such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race. Every Saturday in May, for example, Anytime Fitness offered free outdoor bootcamp sessions.

    Although Anytime Fitness plans to open 350 locations a year for the next six years, Runyon doesn't believe the company needs the cash from an IPO to make it happen. "We do not have any plans to IPO, and we really don't have any need -- we are well financed."

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

     

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    diy couple in home improvement...
    ShutterstockAbout 70 percent of Americans plan to take on a DIY home improvement project this year.
    By Abby Hayes

    Nearly one-third of Americans are planning a home renovation this year, according to a Liberty Mutual Insurance survey of 2,000 adults. Of those, 7 in 10 plan to do at least some of the work themselves. DIYing it can be a great way to save money, but you have to be careful with the projects you choose to tackle on your own.

    Projects that look enticing and easy on Pinterest can easily go awry if you're an inexperienced DIYer. Even experienced DIYers can have trouble handling some of the more difficult home improvement projects.

    So which projects should you tackle to increase your home's value, and which ones should you hire out to a professional? Master carpenter Chip Wade of "Ellen's Design Challenge" and HGTV's "Elbow Room" weighs in.

    To DIY

    Let's start with the hopeful side of this equation. You can give your home a boost this summer and save money by doing it yourself. You just have to be careful which projects you choose. Chip's top three projects for homeowners to DIY include landscaping, seating and interior painting.

    1. Landscaping. This can be a huge project, but you can use a few simple tricks to add some curb appeal and comfort to your home. "A tip I always give is for homeowners or renters to start by removing dead plants, or trimming unhealthy plants that may bloom later on in the season," Wade says. This simple trick can make your home appear more pulled-together. Then, add splashes of color with easy-care perennials in a front garden bed, or place potted annuals on the porch.

    2. Seating. If you're hankering to start hammering something, building multipurpose outdoor furniture is a good place to begin. Boxy, bench-style furniture is a great option for cutting your teeth on carpentry. It's fairly easy to build, and there are plenty of tutorials online. This easy, versatile seating can instantly update a front porch or back deck, and give you a more personable outdoor space.

    3. Painting. The easiest of these projects is probably interior painting, and it can make a huge difference! The right paint can make a space look larger and more finished. Or you can simply update the look of your home by opting for a trendy color, like these in the Benjamin Moore Color Trends 2015 palette.

    Not to DIY:

    When it comes to home renovation, Wade says, some projects are simply best left to the professionals. Certain projects, of course, are downright dangerous. For instance, you don't want to go around messing with electrical wiring if you don't know what you're doing. The top three popular projects Wade cautions homeowners against tackling alone include outdoor pathways, retaining walls and large landscaping.

    1. Outdoor pathways. This can seem like an easy, cheap DIY project. Pinterest, after all, is full of cute ideas for outdoor walkways. However, Wade notes, homeowners often skimp on costs by using less expensive materials, which crack in a season and need to be replaced. Plus, ensuring an absolutely level underlayment is essential. Without proper tools and knowledge to level the walkway, even the best materials will crack.

    2. Retaining walls. These are similarly difficult to install properly, though they can look effortless. Most homeowners don't understand the intricacies of properly installing a wall that will last for years to come. Engineering is essential, especially for walls over 2 feet high.

    3. Large landscaping. The last project to steer clear of may seem contradictory. Wade did say that landscaping is a great DIY project, right? However, when it comes to planting medium-to-large sized trees, it's a whole different story. These trees and shrubs need particular care to help them take root. You don't want to spend hundreds on an ornamental tree only to have it die within a season.

    If you decide to hire professionals for some must-do projects this summer, Wade gives some good advice: "A great way to find a professional is to ask friends or neighbors who they have used for their renovations or home projects. Additionally, if you have one trusted professional, he or she may be able to recommend a skilled worker they have worked with in the past."

    DIY projects can be a great way to save on summer upgrades to your home. But you won't save a dime if you waste money on a project that's better left to the pros!

    Abby Hayes is a freelance blogger and journalist who writes for the personal finance blog The Dough Roller, which covers topics ranging from credit scores and banking to how much money you should be saving.

     

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    Focused college student studying at computer
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    By Bob Sullivan

    It seemed like a classic utopian vision. Free prestigious university classes delivered online, open to anyone, offering the potential to slay the college debt monster.

    Instead, so-called Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, proved how little students often learn from online classes. Dropout rates as high as 90 percent were reported, and it seemed that traditional higher ed's stranglehold as the gateway to higher-paying jobs was even tighter.

    But new models of higher education alternatives are rising from those ashes that really can challenge -- or neatly supplement -- a college degree. MOOCs have morphed into hybrid programs with a more human touch, and ultrafocused, skills-based training courses in fields like computer programming are proving to be real contenders, offering 90 percent-plus job placement rates.

    We're trying to democratize education, make it available to as many people as possible.

    The success of programs like General Assembly and The Flatiron School in New York City lead to an inevitable question -- at least if you're technically inclined: Why spend $200,000 on four years of college when you can spend $10,000 on 12 weeks of training and get hired by an app developer for $70,000 or more?

    "We're trying to democratize education, make it available to as many people as possible," said Vish Makhijani, chief operating officer of Udacity, which ran some of those celebrated MOOC failures.

    Udacity has abandoned the idea of giving classes away to huge numbers of people in favor of "nanodegrees" -- boot-camp style, short-term programs with a laser-like focus on preparing students for a career. Nanodegree subjects include Web developer, Android developer, iOS developer ... you get the picture.

    What you don't get is a huge student loan debt. Udacity classes start at $1,200 for a six-month program. The fees have actually helped with online classes' biggest problem: High dropout rates. Turns out, more people stick with classes if they have to pay for them.

    "Our form factor, delivery over the Web and mobile, makes it very affordable. And we've decided to do that away from the traditional university system," Makhijani said. The school has also added an Uber-like version of peer reviews, digital age teaching assistants, which lets students grab virtual roving experts and get one-on-one feedback that was sorely missing from initial MOOCs.

    When Udacity pivoted toward computer programming courses, it found a cottage industry of "hack schools" were already thriving in the space.

    A Better Deal

    General Assembly offers intense, in-person training to students in 14 cities. Co-founder Jake Schwartz comes from a private equity investment background, and thinks higher education institutions will have to offer a better deal to students in the future.

    "What we think of as college now is a luxury good," Schwartz said. "Think of the value proposition. No. 1 is baby-sitting young adults. It's a safe place for them to learn about themselves and learn to drink beer. No. 2 is the liberal arts idea of becoming a citizen of the world. And then No. 3 is helping you prepare for economic life. ... But I ask, 'What is the value proposition?"

    General Assembly's answer to that question: A good job. Tuition isn't cheap. Students pay anywhere from $3,500 for part-time courses to around $10,000 for immersive eight- to 12-week courses, in subjects ranging from Web development to data science to digital marketing. But Schwartz says 99 percent of them get a job within 180 days of completion.

    "We focus solely on in-demand, contemporary skills," he said. "We are trying to deliver an outcome."

    Avi Flombaum is himself a college dropout who went on to co-found The Flatiron School in New York City, which now charges $15,000 for 12-week immersive courses in subjects like Android app development. He brags about a third-party audit that claims essentially all Flatiron graduates get jobs earning at least $70,000 a year upon completion.

    Many are college graduates who need help making the next step in life, he said. But the school does offer an eight-month fellowship program designed to help 18- to 26-year-old New Yorkers without a four-year degree develop the programming skills they need to get hired as Web developers.

    "The college problem is about more than debt," Flombaum said. "It's about students being unprepared and undirected about how to enter the workforce. It's a combination of a skills gap and also a general lack of direction. Students aren't sure what they enjoy doing. They are inquisitive and smart but not sure what job going to allow them to work in that way and make a living."

    Skills-based schools are aiming to disrupt the lives of teachers, too. Fedora is among the several services that allow anyone with expertise to teach anything online. Fedora takes a cut, but teachers keep most of the tuition they charge. Class prices can range from just a few dollars to several thousands. And while there is the odd successful watercolor course, tech classes are by far the most popular says founder Ankur Nagpal.

    'Democratize Teaching'

    "We are moving from a credential-based economy to a skills-based economy. It doesn't matter if you are certified. What matters is that you can do the job," he said. "Who is to say someone with a Ph.D. is better at teaching you how to code? We are trying to democratize teaching."

    So far, these boot camp training programs haven't strayed far from the obvious, focusing primarily on technologically driven courses like coding apps, managing databases and so on. Students who invest so heavily in a specific skill -- rather than a more general topic area like engineering -- might find their options limited in an industry that changes so quickly. After all, who knows how long Android app coding skills will pay well?

    The "hack schools" that dot Silicon Valley promise a shovel during a gold rush, but critics point out that they can't give students the prestige of a brand-name university degree, or the more holistic view of computer science that four years of classes can offer.

    Flombaum argues that coding offers life skills too. "We can teach skills that will never go away: How you approach a problem; being able to articulate a thinking process to a computer; how to understand logic. What coders are really good at is thinking about thinking," he said.

    In what might seem an irony, Flombaum is among the boot camp tech-class crowd that's skeptical of online course delivery. In-person coaching and camaraderie are both essential elements of learning, this group argues.

    'Blended Model'

    "Education is not [just] about content. That's like giving someone a textbook," agrees General Assembly's Schwartz. "It's not just about exercises. There's the emotional journey, career coaching, interactions with peers. All these dynamics are incredibly important to learning ... we are going to have more of a blended model, but we are very skeptical that the core of our business will be online."

    One big advantage skills schools have over other institutions of higher learning: they can be as nimble as the job market. It can take a decade for a university to develop a new major field of study; Udacity says it can create a brand-new nanodegree within four or five months.


    That's particularly important in a world where workers might change careers four or five times in a lifetime. Today's 22-year-old college graduate might raise a family supported by a job in an industry that doesn't even exist yet, and many boot camps think their sweet spot will be in retraining midcareer professionals rather than replacing college. About 40 percent of Udacity's students are 35 or older, the firm says.

    "Most of our students have college degrees. We are disrupting graduate school more than colleges," Schwartz said.

    Opportunities on the Cheap

    But college is clearly in the crosshairs.

    "We have numerous testimonials from people who say, 'I came from a four-year degree program ... and then I pay $79 for an online class that gets me more opportunity than my $30,000 degree,' " says Fedora's Nagpal. "Now, jobs are not the only way of quantifying the value of an education, but it's impossible not to think that's going to change a lot of things."

    Makhijani, of Udacity, talks about "unbundling" the elements of the university experience -- skills training could come from boot camp courses, while community building and more general courses could be delivered separately. "But that will take time."

    One reason for the delay: nanodegrees and bootcamps are so dominated by computer programming offerings that it's unclear the format will work well in other subject areas. While learning to manipulate data is important in every field today ("In reality, every company is a tech company," said Schwartz), you won't soon find many people signing their kids up for a school full of elementary teachers with 10 weeks of training or to be defended by lawyers with nano-law degrees.

    Still, Flatiron School's Flombaum believes that education has become too much of an either/or proposition in the minds of most. Online or in person, college or boot camp, liberal arts or STEM.

    "Look, there are very few bad guys in education. Nobody said, 'Hey guys, let's hike up tuition and totally screw everybody.' We are not an indictment of higher education," he said. "The problem is when [it seems like] the only option is a college buy-in to a four-year degree and $60,000 in debt. ... That's such a myopic view. And you're front-loading your entire education investment, and I don't think we'll ever live in a world where something we learned 10 years ago will work for us today. The opportunity cost is too high for too many people and we pretend that it's not."

     

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    businessman clench us dollars and thumb up
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    By Roger Ma

    NEW YORK -- A Roth IRA is the ultimate retirement vehicle, as it allows you to contribute post-tax dollars to a retirement account. That means a Roth IRA grows tax-free and is withdrawn tax-free since you've paid taxes on the money upfront. Essentially, consumers pay taxes on the seeds they sow instead of the robust crop they harvest in retirement. That's just peachy -- until you bump up against income barriers. If you make too much money, you might find yourself blocked from contributing to a Roth IRA -- that is, unless you go through the backdoor.

    Slipping Into a Roth IRA

    For 2015, only individuals making less than $131,000 a year or a married couple making less than $193,000 a year can contribute directly to a Roth IRA. Thus, higher income earners are effectively locked out from contributing directly to a Roth IRA.

    However, in 2010, income restrictions were removed from Roth conversions, which opened the "back door" to allow anyone to contribute to a Roth IRA, either directly or indirectly.

    If you exceed the Roth IRA income limits, you can perform the below steps to contribute to a Roth IRA:
    1. Open a traditional IRA, if you don't have one already.
    2. Make a nondeductible contribution to your traditional IRA, up to the limit of $5,500 a year for those under 50 and $6,500 a year for those 50 and over.
    3. Shortly thereafter, convert your nondeductible contribution from your traditional IRA to your Roth IRA.
    Upon your conversion, you'll only owe taxes on the growth of your nondeductible investment from the time when you initially made your contribution to your traditional IRA to when you ultimately converted it to your Roth IRA. Since this is typically a very short amount of time, your tax liability from the conversion should be minimal.

    Matthew Heaney, a 51-year-old software engineer based in San Jose, has been utilizing the backdoor Roth IRA strategy since he heard about it five years ago. "Because the money grows and is withdrawn tax-free, what you see is what you get," he said. "During retirement, I'll be able to make withdrawals from my Roth IRA without having to worry about paying taxes or how those withdrawals will affect my taxable income."

    Financial advisers also swear by the Roth. Jeff Jones, a Certified Financial Planner with Cypress Financial Planning in Woodbury, New Jersey, leans on Roth IRAs extensively in his practice. "After ensuring company 401(k) matches are being maximized and high interest debt is eliminated, I make sure every client utilizes a Roth IRA to the fullest extent," he told TheStreet.

    Pre-tax 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, on the other hand, allow you to invest pre-tax monies into a retirement account that grows tax-free. When you begin taking withdrawals from these accounts, you'll be taxed on the entire amount of your withdrawal (contribution and growth) at your ordinary income level.

    This additional tax diversification could be a very valuable benefit, especially if you're able to isolate tax-inefficient investments, such as REITs, into your Roth IRA. That could help those planning for retirement save a bundle in taxes.

    While there is some fear that the government could eventually shut down the backdoor Roth IRA -- trying to put the kibosh on a tax break that seems too beneficial to citizens -- it's a skilled trick retirement savers can safely use to their advantage. As an added bonus, unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs don't have the required minimum distribution that takes effect an an account holder nears age 71. That means, a Roth IRA account holder has the flexibility to let his money grow or take it out for use as needed.

    Beware of the Pro-Rata Rule

    The backdoor Roth IRA strategy works best when you don't have any outstanding traditional, SEP or simple IRAs. If you do have any of these accounts, you should consider rolling the monies into your current 401(k) plan. If that's not an option, you should think twice before doing the backdoor Roth IRA strategy.

    The reason the strategy becomes a little hairy when you have existing IRAs outstanding is the IRS forces you to convert monies on a pro-rata basis rather than allowing you to select specific monies to convert.

    For example, let's say you have $15,000 in deductible contributions in a traditional IRA. You make a nondeductible contribution of $5,000 into your traditional IRA with the goal of converting it into a Roth IRA. Not so fast. Unfortunately, because of the pro-rata rule, in this situation, if you converted $5,000 into a Roth IRA, you would owe taxes on $3,750 of the $5,000 (at your ordinary income level). This is because 75 percent of your IRA is made up of deductible contributions ($15,000 / $20,000 = 75 percent) while 25 percent is nondeductible contributions ($5,000 / $20,000 = 25 percent). When you make the conversion, the IRS assumes the monies are converted on a "pro-rata basis." As a result, 75 percent of the $5,000 you converted is assumed to be made up of deductible contributions, and thus, taxable.

    When employing the backdoor Roth IRA strategy with clients, Jones of Cypress Financial Planning takes care to heed these necessary caveats. "I first take steps to ensure there are no outstanding pre-tax IRA funds due to the pro-rata rule," he said. "Then, each spring, I work with clients to max out their Roth IRA with no adverse tax consequence."

    Bottom Line

    The backdoor Roth IRA strategy is a great tool to allow high-income earners to contribute up to $5,500 a year ($6,500 for those 50 and over) to a Roth IRA. With that said, the strategy works best if you don't have any traditional, SEP or simple IRAs outstanding. Before proceeding with the strategy, make sure to roll over any IRAs to an existing 401(k) to make the conversion as clean as possible and to ensure minimal tax liability.

     

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    Durable Goods
    Charlie Riedel/APWorkers install an engine in a Ford F-150 truck at the company's Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo.
    By PAUL WISEMAN

    WASHINGTON -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell in May, pulled down by a sharp drop in demand for aircraft. But a category that reflects business investment rose last month, a hopeful sign for manufacturing.

    The Commerce Department said Tuesday that total orders for durable goods dropped 1.8 percent in May after falling 1.5 percent in April. Last month's drop was caused in part by a 35.3 percent plunge in orders for aircraft, which is often a volatile category.

    Excluding transportation, orders rose 0.5 percent. Durable goods are items meant to last at least three years, such as cars, home appliances and furniture.

    American factories have struggled this year in part because a strong dollar has made U.S. goods more expensive overseas. Cheaper oil prices also mean energy firms are buying less equipment. So far this year, durable goods orders are down 2.2 percent from January-May 2014.

    A key category that tracks business investment plans -- orders for non-military capital goods excluding aircraft -- rose 0.4 percent in May, reversing a 0.3 percent drop in April. Some economists view the increase as a sign that the damage from lower oil prices is starting to fade.

    "The underlying trend in U.S. core orders and shipments point to stronger activity ahead," Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research note. "It helps that the greenback, though strengthening again recently, is off its highs, and oil prices are steadying."

    But Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, noted that factories reduced inventories in May, a sign that manufacturers expect less demand from customers. Reduced inventories are a drag on economic growth.

    Last week, the Federal Reserve said manufacturing output dropped 0.2 percent in May.

    The Federal Reserve Bank of New York also reported that factory activity in New York state contracted in June. But factories around Philadelphia expanded this month at the fastest pace since December, the Philadelphia Fed reported last week.

    Despite their troubles, factories keep hiring, though at modest levels. The Labor Department reported that manufacturers have added jobs 22 straight months through May, longest streak since the late 1970s.

     

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