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DailyFinance.com

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    Airlines Higher Fares
    Nick Ut/AP
    By DAVID KOENIG, SCOTT MAYEROWITZ and ERIC TUCKER

    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government is investigating possible collusion among major airlines to limit available seats, which keeps airfares high, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

    The civil antitrust investigation by the Justice Department appears to focus on whether airlines illegally signaled to each other how quickly they would add new flights, routes and extra seats.

    A letter received Tuesday by major U.S. carriers demands copies of all communications the airlines had with each other, Wall Street analysts and major shareholders about their plans for passenger-carrying capacity, or "the undesirability of your company or any other airline increasing capacity."

    The Justice Department asked each airline for its passenger-carrying capacity both by region, and overall, since January 2010.

    'Unlawful Coordination'

    Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce confirmed that the department is looking into potential "unlawful coordination" among some airlines. She declined to comment further or say which airlines are being investigated.

    On a day when the overall stock market was up, stocks of the major U.S. airlines ended the day down 1 to 3 percent on news of the investigation.

    American Airlines (AAL), Delta Air Lines (DAL), Southwest Airlines (LUV) and United Airlines (UAL) all said they received a letter and are complying. Several smaller carriers, including JetBlue Airways (JBLU) and Frontier Airlines, said they hadn't been contacted by the government.

    The airlines publicly discussed capacity early last month in Miami at the International Air Transport Association's annual meeting. After hearing about that meeting, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., requested a Justice Department investigation.

    The department had tried to block the most recent merger, the 2013 joining of American Airlines and US Airways, but ultimately agreed to let it proceed after the airlines made minor concessions.

    Capacity Problem?

    Some Wall Street analysts argue that to remain financially strong, airlines shouldn't expand capacity faster than the U.S. economy. And from January 2010 to January 2014, they didn't.

    In that 4-year period, capacity on domestic flights was virtually flat while the U.S. economy grew about 2.2 percent a year. From January 2014 to January 2015, however, the airlines expanded by 5.5 percent, topping the economy's 2.4 percent growth for 2014.

    Thanks to a series of mergers starting in 2008, America, Delta, Southwest and United now control more than 80 percent of the seats in the domestic travel market. They've eliminated unprofitable flights, filled more seats on planes and made a very public effort to slow growth to command higher airfares.

    It worked. The average domestic airfare rose an inflation-adjusted 13 percent from 2009 to 2014, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And that doesn't include the billions of dollars airlines collect from new fees. During the past 12 months, the airlines took in $3.6 billion in bag fees and $3 billion in reservation-change fees.

    That has led to record profits. In the past two years, U.S. airlines earned a combined $19.7 billion.

    This year could bring even higher profits thanks to a massive drop in the price of jet fuel, airlines' single highest expense. In April, U.S. airlines paid $1.94 a gallon, down 34 percent from the year before.

    That worries Wall Street analysts and investors. Cheap fuel has led airlines to make money-losing decisions in the past, rapidly expanding, launching new routes and setting unrealistically low fares to lure passengers. Airlines already flying those routes would match the fare, and all carriers would lose money.

    Market Jitters

    Such price wars are long gone, but today's low fuel costs along with recent comments from airline executives have given the market jitters.

    Airline stocks plunged in May after the chief financial officer of Southwest said at an industry event that the carrier would increase passenger-carrying capacity by 7 to 8 percent, an increase over an earlier target.

    Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay, who hosted that May 19 conference, told investors in a note afterward that the big airlines are unhappy to be restraining growth while low-cost airlines like Spirit (SAVE) grow much faster. He urged the major airlines to "step up" and cut routes for the good of the industry.

    On June 1, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said his airline would cap its 2015 growth at 7 percent. That sparked a rally in airline stocks, as investors were more assured that capacity growth would be limited.

    Keay said Wednesday that he had not been contacted by the government and doesn't think the airlines have been acting inappropriately.

    "The analyst community is bringing up the subject. You certainly can't fault an airline executive for responding to the question," Keay said. "The capacity continues to grow at the airports people want to fly to and air travel remains a particular good value for the consumer, especially for the utility that it provides."

    -Koenig reported from Dallas, Mayerowitz from New York.

     

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    Electrolux AB Buys General Electric Co.s Home Appliances Unit For $3.3 Billion
    Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    NEW YORK -- The U.S. government is seeking to stop Electrolux from buying General Electric's appliance division, saying the combined company would dominate sales of kitchen appliances to customers like homebuilders, property managers, hotels and governments.

    General Electric (GE) says it will defend the sale in court and aims to complete the $3.3 billion deal this year. The companies announced the sale in September.

    The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit asking a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to block the sale. It says GE and Electrolux, the owner of the Frigidaire brand, have been competing for decades to sell appliances like ranges, cooktops, and wall ovens.

    The agency says Electrolux would eliminate a major competitor if it buys the GE division, and Electrolux and Whirlpool (WHR) would be the only major companies selling appliances to many customers.

    The Justice Department said the deal would be bad news for buyers of major cooking appliances, but it is most concerned about "contract channel" sales, where suppliers sell to homebuilders, to the builders and managers of apartment buildings and condominiums, hotels and motels; and to governments. It said Electrolux has made major efforts to win more contract channel business over the last decade, but is now seeking to acquire GE's business instead of competing with it.

    Electrolux is based in Stockholm, and the deal would be its largest acquisition ever. Electrolux is ranked as the world's second biggest home appliance maker after Whirlpool.

    GE wants to focus on an industrial core and has been selling or leaving other businesses. It sold NBCUniversal to Comcast Corp. and also sold its insurance operations, spun off its consumer credit card business into a new company called Synchrony Financial, agreed to sell its GE Capital lending business and most of its GE Capital Real Estate unit and said earlier this month that it will sell its private equity business.

    Shares of GE were little changed, rising 4 cents to $26.61 in afternoon trading.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK -- Stocks closed higher Wednesday but were down from earlier highs as energy stocks declined and Greece's debt crisis showed no clear signs of resolution.

    The benchmark S&P 500's energy sector was dragged down by the biggest slide in oil prices since April after traders were surprised by a report that showed U.S. crude stockpiles rose for the first time in more than two months.

    Eurozone central bank chiefs kept in place their cap on a funding lifeline to Greece, maintaining pressure as Greece's lenders run out of cash. The country's banks have been shut since Monday ahead of a Sunday referendum on the bailout package offered by its international lenders last week.

    Until it's all said and done they're just jockeying for position back and forth. The negotiation process still isn't over.

    Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Athens aims to secure a deal Monday and would be willing to accept "strict" conditions in a new bailout package, if the sustainability of Greece's debt is guaranteed.

    Investor hopes for a Greek debt deal, which earlier had helped drive a rally, ebbed during the day, according to Michael Matousek, head trader at U.S. Global Investors in San Antonio.

    "Until it's all said and done they're just jockeying for position back and forth. The negotiation process still isn't over," Matousek said.

    Many investors were also holding off ahead of Thursday's scheduled release of the closely watched U.S. non-farm payroll report for June while the three-day weekend celebrating the Fourth of July holiday kept others away, said Brian Fenske, head of sales trading at ITG in New York.

    While the market was primarily driven by Greece's woes, stronger-than-expected jobs and construction data gave stocks some support as did Swiss insurance giant ACE Ltd.'s (ACE) $28 billion offer for upmarket property insurer Chubb.

    Chubb's (CB) shares ended up 26 percent to $119.99, making it the second biggest boost for the S&P 500. Rival Travelers (TRV) rose 2.7 percent, the biggest driver for the Dow.

    Upbeat Economic News

    U.S. private employers added 237,000 jobs in June, the biggest gain since December, while construction spending rose in May to its highest level in just over 6½ years, reports showed.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 138.4 points, or 0.8 percent, to 17,757.91, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 14.31 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,077.42, and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 26.26 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5,013.12.

    The S&P energy sector fell 1.3 percent, the only S&P sector in the red Wednesday. U.S. crude oil futures settled down 4.2 percent at $56.96 a barrel. Brent settled off 2.5 percent at $62.01.

    Airline stocks tumbled after the U.S. Department of Justice said it was investigating whether some carriers were colluding to keep ticket prices high.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,914 to 1,179, for a 1.62-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,475 issues rose and 1,288 fell for a 1.15-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 14 new 52-week highs and 22 new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 76 new highs and 89 new lows.

    About 6.4 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.4 billion average for the last five sessions, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

    -Siddharth Cavale contributed reporting from Bangalore.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases employment data for June and weekly jobless claims.
    • At 10 a.m., the Commerce Department releases factory orders for May, and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.

     

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    Gay Marriage Mississippi
    Jeff Amy/AP
    By Krystal Steinmetz

    Brace yourselves for wedding bells and an economic windfall.

    The Supreme Court's recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the United States will drive an estimated $2.6 billion in spending over the next three years, leading to $185 million in state and local tax revenue, and creating at least 13,000 jobs, according to a December 2014 report by the Williams Institute, a think tank based at the UCLA School of Law.

    "Same-sex couples and their out-of-town guests spend money to celebrate weddings," said Williams Institute Distinguished Scholar M.V. Lee Badgett in a statement. "As we have seen in states that already extend marriage to same-sex couples, this spending boost can lead to an influx of tourism dollars that benefit local businesses and an increase in state and local tax revenue."

    While the wedding industry will receive the most obvious boon from the legalization of gay marriage, other businesses also stand to benefit, from airlines and hotels to stores that sell wedding gifts and attire for wedding guests.

    Before last week's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, 13 states outlawed the practice. Based on projections from the Williams Institute, these five states that had same-sex marriage bans in effect before the ruling will benefit the most from gay marriages over the next three years:
    1. Texas: The Lone Star State can expect a $181.6 million boost from same-sex marriages.
    2. Georgia: Marriage equality means an extra $78.8 million will flow into the state economy.
    3. Ohio: The Buckeye State can expect a $70.8 million economic boost over the next three years.
    4. Michigan: Over the next few years, the state economy of Michigan can expect an extra $53.2 million because of marriage equality.
    5. Tennessee: Marriage equality means a $36.7 million boost to the economy in Tennessee.
    For more about the potential economic impact from marriage equality, click here.

    Also, check out "15 Ways to Save Big on Your Dream Wedding."

    What do you think about the potential economic windfall of same-sex marriages? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.


    Wedding Gifts That Keep On Giving

     

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    a man receiving money from the...
    Shutterstock
    By Elyssa Kirkham

    Independence Day is always observed on July 4, and many workers will get this day off from work -- some will even get July 3 off as well. If you're one of the many Americans enjoying the holiday, you might want to run errands and head to the bank on those days.

    But are banks open on the Fourth of July and July 3, the Friday before the holiday? Here's a look at which banks are open or closed on both days.

    Is the Fourth of July a Bank Holiday?

    The Federal Reserve designates bank holidays based on the federal government's designated public holidays. This includes Independence Day. The Fourth of July is a bank holiday, so Federal Reserve banks and branches will be closed.

    Are Banks Open on July 3?

    Because July 4 falls on a Saturday this year, the usual bank hours during the week will be unaffected. Even though many agencies and offices will close early Friday in recognition of Independence Day, July 3 isn't a bank holiday and most banks will be open.

    Chase, Bank of America and Other Banks Closed on July 4

    So will your bank be open on Independence Day? To help you quickly find out if your bank will be closed on July 4, GOBankingRates confirmed Fourth of July hours from 21 of the biggest financial institutions, including Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank.

    GOBankingRates found that a couple of banks will likely offer July 4 hours at certain locations, listed below. In addition to visiting these locations, bank customers can also complete a number of transactions -- including depositing check and withdrawing cash -- using banking technology:
    • PNC Bank might keep select branches open on the Fourth. Visit PNC Bank's website to verify holidays observed by your local branch.
    • U.S. Bank confirmed that some regular branches might open on Saturday, while in-store branches will generally remain open. U.S. Bank customers should check with their branches to verify Fourth of July hours.
    Additionally, GOBankingRates confirmed that the following banks are closed on July 4:
    • Bank of America is closed on July 4 in observance of Independence Day.
    • Bank of the West is keeping locations open July 3, but will close the next day for the Fourth of July.
    • BB&T recognizes July 4 as a holiday and will close branches that day.
    • BBVA Compass offices and locations are closed on the Fourth of July.
    • Capital One follows the bank holidays set by the Federal Reserve, so it will open on July 3 and close for Independence Day.
    • Chase Bank will close all branches on July 4 but open on July 3. Most call centers will be open on July 4 as well.
    • Citi will close all branches on the Fourth of July, but branches will follow normal hours on July 3.
    • Citizens Bank will follow regular hours on July 3, but it will be closed Saturday for Independence Day.
    • Fifth Third Bank will close on the Fourth of July, while keeping doors open on July 3.
    • Huntington Bank hours won't be affected July 3, but all locations (including Meijer and Giant Eagle branches) will be closed on the Fourth of July.
    • KeyBank branches will close on July 4.
    • M&T Bank is closed on July 4 for Independence Day.
    • People's United Bank will close branches on the Fourth of July.
    • Union Bank will be open July 3 and closed for the holiday on Saturday.
    • Regions Bank is observing Independence Day and will close branches on July 4.
    • Santander is closed on Independence Day.
    • SunTrust Bank locations will be closed on July 4 for the holiday.
    • TD Bank will close on the Fourth of July.
    • Wells Fargo is closing most branches on both July 3 and July 4, though there might be some exceptions. Customers can check their local branches or call their local store to verify hours.
    This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Putting golden egg in nest
    Getty Images
    By Karla Bowsher

    Where you retire directly impacts your savings and thus your quality of life in retirement.

    As the financial website GOBankingRates reports:

    Deciding where to retire shouldn't be something you do based on weather or even proximity to kids. ... If you want to retire and maintain your nest egg, you should be looking at important regional factors, such as taxes, local living expenses and the affordability and accessibility of health care.

    Those are the factors GOBankingRates recently analyzed in every U.S. state to determine the best and worst states in which to retire rich.

    The top three states are:

    New Hampshire
    • Pros: No sales tax, no Social Security income tax, no estate tax, no inheritance tax, excellent health care, above-average Medicare payouts
    • Cons: High cost of living, above-average home prices, middling deposit account rates, second-highest median property tax in the country, above-average individual health insurance premiums
    Delaware
    • Pros: No sales tax, no Social Security tax, no inheritance tax, low property tax, high Medicare payouts
    • Cons: Estate tax (16 percent), above-average cost of living, above-average home prices, pricey average individual health insurance premiums
    Idaho
    • Pros: No Social Security tax, no estate tax, no inheritance tax, fairly low property taxes, low local tax rates, low cost of living, above-average local deposit rates for retirees, low average individual insurance premiums
    • Cons: Average score for seniors' health care, average Medicare payouts
    The states that made up the top 10 are:
    1. New Hampshire
    2. Delaware
    3. Idaho
    4. Wisconsin
    5. Wyoming
    6. Alaska
    7. South Dakota
    8. Michigan
    9. Utah
    10. Arkansas
    The worst states are:
    1. New York
    2. New Jersey
    3. Illinois
    4. Connecticut
    5. California
    6. Vermont
    7. Rhode Island
    8. Massachusetts
    9. Washington
    10. Nebraska
    To learn more about preparing for a comfortable retirement -- regardless of how far off it might be for you -- be sure to check out "The 10 Golden Rules of Retiring Rich."

    Have you thought about what state you want to retire in? Have you considered state-specific factors like taxes that would affect your retirement savings? Share your thoughts in a comment below or on Facebook.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!


    Retiring Soon? Don't Make These Mistakes

     

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    Woman putting coin into piggy bank
    Getty ImagesResearch shows millennials have more diversified portfolios and take better advantage of types of retirement accounts.
    By Joanne Cleaver

    Accustomed to algorithms that anticipate their needs for shopping, travel and content, millennials appear to be adopting a contrarian approach to investing, preferring a more hands-on strategy.

    New research from TD Ameritrade (AMTD) and Wells Fargo (WFC) finds that millennials' portfolios tend to be better diversified than those of older generations. "They skew a little more to individual stocks," says Nicole Sherrod, managing director of the trader group at TD Ameritrade. "They are pickers. They're tremendously conscious when it comes to brand."

    Complementary findings by Wells Fargo, in examining 401(k) plans it administers, indicate that 82 percent of millennials' plans meet the Wells Fargo definition of a diversified portfolio, with at least two equity funds, a fixed-income fund and employer stock comprising no more than 20 percent of the asset allotment.

    Millennials also take better advantage of types of retirement accounts, according to the Wells Fargo data: Twelve percent of millennials contribute to a Roth 401(k) account -- 50 percent more than four years ago. By comparison, 11 percent of Generation X and 7 percent of baby boomer investors use Roths, which enable account holders to contribute in after-tax dollars and withdraw funds tax-free after retiring.

    Sherrod says millennials (those ages 25 to 34) have taken the classic investing advice of "buy what you know" to a new level. Their favorite investing brands are Apple, with 13 percent holding the technology stock in some form. Older generations love Apple (AAPL), too, making it the "No. 1 investment on any given day in 2014," Sherrod says.

    Millennials also prefer eco-conscious equities, such as Tesla (TSLA), and are enthusiastic about international stocks, such as Alibaba (BABA). Amazon.com (AMZN) is one of the top picks for Gen-Xers who are in their busy midlife phase and are likely to be using it nearly daily, Sherrod says.

    In a finding that won't surprise any grandma anywhere, Facebook (FB) is the No. 3 most popular stock for younger boomers. (Facebook may be on the screens of retirees and older boomers but it is less likely to be in their portfolios.)

    As of mid-May, the most widely held stocks across all generations, according to TD Ameritrade, were Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B), General Electric (GE), Microsoft (MSFT) and Bank of America (BAC).

    Millennials were the only generation with Disney (DIS) in their top 10 stock holdings, while Verizon (VZ) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) were equally popular only with retirees age 65 and older. In general, older boomers preferred consumer goods stocks less than older generations.

    Swarn Chatterjee, an associate professor in the University of Georgia's Department of Financial Planning, Housing & Consumer Economics, says that like other generations, millennials buy what they know, but what they know tends to be technology stocks and related services.

    [Millennials'] investment choices are based on what they are more familiar with, which differs from baby boomers.

    "Their investment choices are based on what they are more familiar with, which differs from baby boomers," Chatterjee says. Accustomed to having algorithms curate their choices in movies, friends, content, travel and shopping, millennials are conversant in researching stocks and in gathering input from friends via online channels, he adds.

    What can the generations learn from each other?

    In Chatterjee's opinion, millennials "probably are overlooking some blue chip stocks." This generation also needs to be careful to not underestimate volatility, he adds.

    Millennials are engaged in saving and investing, agrees Joe Ready, head of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust, but they need to be sure that they don't assume that the market performance of the past five years will continue uninterrupted.

    "Don't think that the market will win the day for you. Work on your savings rate. Inch it up 1 percent a year. When you combine that with the allocation decisions they make, they've got something," Ready says.

    Meanwhile, boomers have become risk-adverse, he adds, especially those nearing retirement who are wary of having much -- or any -- money in stocks.

    A Wells Fargo-sponsored survey released last fall, which surveyed more than 1,000 middle-class Americans, found that 71 percent of non-retirees ages 50 to 59 weren't confident they will have saved enough to "to live the lifestyle they want" in retirement.

    "They've done the right things, and they're close to the finish line. They've gotten conservative," Ready says. "It's important to keep in mind that you'll have a long time in retirement. You have to manage risk but you also have to have a reasonable exposure to it. If you get too conservative, inflation and overall, over time, may erode your purchasing power if you're not adequately diversified."

     

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    Earns Wal-Mart
    Seth Perlman/AP
    By Gina Martinez

    Walmart is known for stellar deals, but these days it has some serious competition from dollar stores. A recent price comparison of 42 products showed Walmart (WMT) neck-and-neck with Family Dollar (FDO) and Dollar General (DG), which sell party supplies and seasonal items, office and school supplies, personal care products, household goods, and other merchandise for less than $10.

    Analysts expect to see even lower prices at Family Dollar now that the chain is merging with Dollar Tree, where everything really does cost no more than $1. This aggressive pricing model helps consumers find better bargains at Dollar Tree than Walmart on many low-cost items. On a recent shopping trip, Cheapism.com rounded up 28 Dollar Tree products that cost less than the cheapest comparable item at Walmart. (Dollar Tree doesn't carry many national brands, so in most cases, it wasn't possible to compare identical products.)

    Aluminum Foil. Most households keep aluminum foil in the kitchen, and when the roll runs out, the $5-plus price tag at many grocery and convenience stores is an unwelcome expense. At Walmart, 90 square feet of aluminum foil sells for $2.97 under the retailer's Great Value private label, while Dollar Tree's 40-square-foot Ultra-brand roll costs $1. That's 2.5 cents a foot compared with 3.3 cents at Walmart.

    Baby Oil. Lots of parents use baby oil to soothe newborns' skin, and it's handy to have around for everything from removing eye makeup to untangling jewelry chains. At Dollar Tree, 10 ounces of Angel of Mine baby oil goes for $1, whereas Walmart's Equate brand is priced at $1.98 for 14 ounces. At 10 cents an ounce vs. 14 cents an ounce, it's a close call but still a win for the dollar store.

    Bandages. Whether you have active kids, can be a bit clumsy, or just want to be prepared for anything, it's nice to have a stockpile of bandages. A box of 100 assorted bandages costs $3.98 if you buy the Curad brand at Walmart but only $1 if you opt for Assured-brand bandages at Dollar Tree.

    Batteries. Dollar Tree customers can get a 10-count pack of Sunbeam AA batteries for $1. Walmart, by contrast, has Go Green batteries in 20-count packs for $4.44, more than twice the price per battery. You may not want to buy batteries at the dollar store, however. They've been shown to contain less stored energy than brand-name batteries.

    Cereal. If you're looking to save on generic cereal, should you choose Walmart's Great Value brand or Dollar Tree's Malt-o-Meal? The dollar store is the answer, but not by much, with 10-ounce boxes of cereal in classic varieties for $1 each (10 cents an ounce). That compares to $2.18 for 14- to 20-ounce boxes at Walmart, or about 11 to 16 cents an ounce. Wondering about taste? Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs and Frosted Mini Spooners are unanimous recommendations in reviews on the Dollar Tree website.

    Cotton Swabs. Consumers can save on these toiletry essentials at Dollar Tree, where 250 swabs sell for $1. At Walmart, the best options are 500-count packages from several different brands for $2.98. On the Dollar Tree website, most reviewers recommend the Assured brand product. They say the swabs are sturdy enough, with paper sticks instead of plastic, but several warn that the cotton has come off in their ears.

    Dish Soap. The LA's Totally Awesome line gets good reviews on the Dollar Tree website, and dish soap sells for an almost-too-good-to-believe price of $1 for a 50-ounce bottle in stores. At Walmart, the cheapest choice is 52 ounces of Ajax for $2.96, almost three times the price.

    Flashlight. As a precaution, it's smart to stow flashlights around the house and in the car. Walmart sells two for $4.97, but Dollar Tree has the retail giant beat once again, with flashlights for a buck each. Like the Walmart product, they take two DD batteries and measure between 7 and 8 inches. Reviewers recommend them as long-lasting and convenient, although some customers who ordered cases of 24 online found a few duds.

    Glass Cleaner. Cleaning products are one of the best things to buy at the dollar store. At Dollar Tree, consumers can find a 40-ounce bottle of Solutions glass and multi-surface cleaner for $1. It's formulated with vinegar and works well, reviewers say. At Walmart, the cheapest options (Glass Plus and the store's Great Value brand) were $2.17 for 32 ounces.

    Hand Sanitizer. Hand sanitizers available at Dollar Tree (Assured brand) and Walmart (Germ-X) both contain more than 60 percent ethyl alcohol, the minimum recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The prices: $1.98 for 10 ounces at Walmart compared with (of course) $1 for the same size bottle at Dollar Tree.

    Headphones. If you're convinced that even the best cheap headphones don't sound that great and will break soon enough, you may just want to go for the cheapest option available. Earbuds and on-ear headphones start at $4.14 at Walmart vs. $1 at Dollar Tree.

    Hydrogen Peroxide. Use it for wound treatment, cleaning, stain removal, and personal health and beauty, but don't pay too much for hydrogen peroxide. A 16-ounce bottle at Walmart runs $1.41, whereas Dollar Tree offers twice that amount (32 ounces) for about 70 percent of the Walmart price.

    Educational Flashcards. Anything to help children be successful in school and get them away from ubiquitous screens, right? At Dollar Tree, flashcard packs for math and word recognition cost $1 each. The cheapest analogous flashcards at Walmart were twice that much, and most of the options were even pricier.

    Kitchen Storage Containers. Cheap, reusable containers store everything from leftovers to art supplies and are an economical choice for people who like to give away food. The most affordable option at Walmart was five 5-ounce Glad containers for $2.57. Dollar Tree offers a huge variety of $1 sets of varying sizes, including three 8-ounce containers and four 9.4-ounce containers. There are a few reports online of lids popping off, but overall the Sure Fresh brand garners positive reviews.

    Notebooks and Paper. This one's no contest: At the dollar store, a 120-sheet spiral-bound notebook costs $1 compared with $4.60 each for similar products at Walmart. Composition books are 100 sheets for $1 vs. 50 sheets for $1.72 (about 70 percent less per sheet). A 150-sheet pack of paper comes to $3.98 at Walmart but just a buck at the dollar store.

    Party Supplies. Why overspend on one-time-use items such as balloons, streamers, and the like? These things add up when you're planning a party. At Dollar Tree, $1 buys 10 invitations, three gift bags, 12 party cups, 20 party napkins, a 12-foot banner, or a foil balloon. These items are all costlier at Walmart, where invitations start at $1.49 for eight, gift bags are 79 cents a pop, cups are $1.98 for eight, and napkins are $1.67 for 16. Foil balloons and comparable banners start at $2.49 and $1.29, respectively.

    Picture Frames. To get a good deal on picture frames at Walmart, consumers generally have to buy a set, such as six 8x10 frames from store brand Mainstays starting at $11.76. Dollar Tree offers comparable frames in various sizes for $1 each. The only way to get that rate at Walmart is to purchase a dozen 4x6 or 5x7 frames for $12.

    Plastic Tumbler. Like to bring your own beverages? Colorful, 35-ounce plastic tumblers come with lids, straws, and $1 price tags at Dollar Tree. Smaller 16- and 22-ounce cups from Walmart run $5.79 and up. Hundreds of online reviewers vouch for the quality of Dollar Tree tumblers of various sizes.

    Pool and Beach Toys. Available for $1 each at Dollar Tree: a pool noodle, a kids' swim mask, a pail and shovel, and inflatables such as tubes and arm bands. Walmart's prices for these items were considerably higher and the quality seemed comparable (floating products are durable and goggles leak-free, according to Dollar Tree reviews). The best deals we saw at Walmart were floats and arm bands for $4.17 each; tubes for $3.40 each; a six-pack of noodles for $11.69; and swim masks for $4.37 each.

    Pot and Pan Brush. Dollar Tree sells a Scrub Buddies pot and pan scrubbing brush with a long handle for -- you guessed it -- $1. The only comparable item at Walmart was a Scotch-Brite brush for $2.99. The dollar store product has earned the unanimous approval of more than a dozen reviewers, many of whom say it's more durable than pricier brushes from big-box stores.

    Potholders. Walmart packages potholders from its Mainstays brand in sets of two starting at $2.98. At the dollar store, customers can get a pack of two potholders plus an oven mitt for the usual $1 price. All the products come in a variety of colors to match kitchen decor.

    Pregnancy Tests. This might come as a surprise, but many women swear by dollar-store pregnancy tests, and studies have shown they're as accurate as more expensive varieties. At Dollar Tree, a New Choice test will set you back $1. The cheapest option at Walmart is the house brand Equate, at $2.98.

    Shampoo and Conditioner. Low-end shampoos such as White Rain and VO5 come in 12.5- and 20-ounce bottles for $1 at Dollar Tree. A comparable brand, Suave -- available in a variety of scents, like the others -- costs $2.74 for 28 ounces at Walmart. That's about 10 cents an ounce vs. as low as 5 cents an ounce at Dollar Tree.

    Spices. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, and many other basic dried spices are available at Dollar Tree in standard-size bottles of varying weights (1 ounce to 5 ounces depending on the item). At $1 apiece, or as little as 50 cents an ounce, you could accumulate a uniform spice collection on the cheap. At Walmart, the best value tends to be extra-large McCormick-brand containers (10 ounces to 20 ounces) at about 55 cents an ounce or more. Smaller bottles are more expensive. Reviewers assert that the quality at the dollar store matches supermarket brands; just be sure to check the expiration dates.

    Sugar. Domino is one of the relatively few national brands Dollar Tree stocks. At Walmart, 1 pound of the white sugar is $1.28, as opposed to $1 at Dollar Tree. Light and dark brown sugars are likewise $1 a pound at Dollar Tree. Walmart commonly sells 2-pound boxes of brown sugar for $2.34 each. These differences are slight but relevant if you're on a tight budget and saving your pennies, especially given that you're getting an identical product.

    Sunglasses. Dollar Tree has a selection of "fashion sunglasses" for a mere $1 each, whereas Walmart's lowest-priced sunglasses for kids are between $2 and $3 and the least costly adult options are at least $5.99. Of course, you can't expect high quality sunglasses from either store, but for cheap shades you don't have to worry about losing or breaking, Dollar Tree is the place.

    Sunscreen. Proper sun protection requires a lot of sunscreen, but you don't have to shell out big bucks for broad-spectrum, SPF 50 coverage. Walmart's best deal is 16 fluid ounces of Equate sunscreen for $9. At Dollar Tree, customers can get a 3-ounce bottle for a purse or pocket from the brand EAD. Buy six for a total of $6, and you get more sunscreen for less cash than you'd spend at Walmart.

    Vases. From collecting spare change to holding cooking utensils, a cheap vase can do much more than display flowers. At Dollar Tree, 8-inch vases in assorted colors cost $1 each. The cheapest option we saw at Walmart was a 5-inch vase for $4.

     

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    Job Market Less Bang For The Buck
    M. Spencer Green/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- Job growth slowed in June and Americans left the labor force in droves, tempering expectations for a September interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve.

    The Labor Department said Thursday nonfarm payrolls rose 223,000 last month after a downwardly revised 254,000 increase in May, with construction and government employment unchanged, and the mining sector purging more jobs.

    April payrolls were also lowered, meaning 60,000 fewer jobs were created during the two months than previously reported. The unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 5.3 percent, the lowest since April 2008, but that was a sign of weakness as 432,000 people dropped out of the labor force.

    ... this report certainly isn't pushing the Fed to accelerate the liftoff timeline.

    "While we've been seeing positive signs of the economy picking up moving into the second half, this report certainly isn't pushing the Fed to accelerate the liftoff timeline," said Ted Wieseman, an economist at Morgan Stanley in New York.

    Still, June's payrolls increase ran well above the average for the first five months and the jobless rate is near the 5 percent to 5.2 percent range most Fed officials consider consistent with full employment.

    Before the report, interest rate futures were pricing in a more than 50 percent chance of a December hike, but bets shifted to early 2016. Economists still believe the Fed, which has kept its short-term interest rate near zero since December 2008, will tighten monetary policy this year.

    The dollar fell marginally against a basket of currencies, while prices for U.S. Treasury debt ended higher. U.S. stocks closed little changed on festering worries over Greece's debt crisis.

    From consumer spending to housing and consumer confidence, economic reports had taken a decisively strong tenor since May, prompting many forecasters to raise their second-quarter growth estimates to above a 3 percent annual pace.

    Caution Urged

    The economy contracted at a 0.2 percent rate in the January-March quarter. While the weak employment report raises the risk that growth will slow in the third quarter, economists cautioned against reading to much into the disappointing report as calendar and seasonal quirks could have influenced the data.

    The labor force participation rate fell to 62.6 percent, the lowest since October 1977, from a four-month high of 62.9 percent in May.

    "By far the biggest source of the increase in non-participants was people transitioning from employment to not in the labor force," said Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan (JPM) in New York. "Far fewer transitioned from unemployed to not in the labor force."

    Economists had forecast nonfarm payrolls rising 230,000 last month and the unemployment rate dipping to 5.4 percent.

    Average hourly earnings were unchanged as mining and manufacturing wages fell. However, manufacturing overtime touched a 4-month high in June. Average hourly earnings increased 2 percent in the 12 months through June, decelerating from 2.3 percent in May.

    Anecdotal evidence and other measures of wage growth suggest paychecks are getting fatter.

    State and local governments have raised the minimum wage and surveys show entry-level wages for new college graduates are rising. In addition, Walmart (WMT), the nation's largest private employer, has announced wage increases twice this year.

    Though construction payrolls were unchanged in June, construction spending hit a more than 6½-year-high in May. Residential construction, building permits and new home sales are all at cycle highs.

    "With housing showing so much forward momentum, we find it hard to accept that not a single net new person was hired in the construction industry," said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at The Economic Outlook Group in Princeton, New Jersey.

    Not All Bad

    There were, however, some encouraging signs in the employment report. Though the participation rate tumbled last month, other labor market measures that Fed officials are eyeing as they contemplate raising interest rates for the first time since 2006 improved significantly.

    A broad measure of joblessness that includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they can't find full-time employment fell to 10.5 percent, the lowest since July 2008, from 10.8 percent in May.

    The number of discouraged workers in June was the lowest since October 2008. In addition, the number of long-term unemployed continued to fall, touching its lowest level since late September 2008. Americans are also experiencing shorter spells of unemployment.

    Last month, factory jobs increased 4,000, adding to a 7,000 gain in May. Retail payrolls rose a solid 32,900 and temporary help, a potential harbinger of future permanent hiring, increased 19,800 jobs, the most since December.

    The mining sector, however, lost 3,000 more jobs because of layoffs in the energy industry. But the pace of declines is slowing. The sector shed 18,000 jobs in May.

    Oil-field companies, including Schlumberger (SLM), Baker Hughes (BHI) and Halliburton (HAL), have announced thousands of job cuts after a more than 60 percent plunge in crude oil prices last year.

     

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    Gulf Oil Spill Anniversary
    Patrick Semansky/APAn inspector walks in an area of dead marsh grass on Fourchon Beach in Port Fourchon, La., in 2011, affected by oil from the BP oil spill.
    By Abhiram Nandakumar, Ron Bousso and Kathy Finn

    BP has reached a comprehensive $18.7 billion settlement with the U.S. government and five states, a landmark deal that effectively ends years of litigation over environmental damage and human casualties caused by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.

    It could be the largest settlement with a single entity in U.S. history, the U.S. Justice Department said.

    The April 20, 2010, rig explosion killed 11 workers and spewed millions of barrels of oil for nearly three months onto the shorelines of several states.

    The agreement covers U.S. Clean Water Act fines and natural resources damages, along with claims by Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and 400 local government entities.

    This is a realistic outcome which provides clarity and certainty for all parties.

    BP's London-listed shares rose as much as 5.3 percent as the extent of the company's liabilities became clear for investors, even as it increased its cumulative pretax charge for the disaster by about $10 billion to $53.8 billion. BP's (BP) New York-traded shares rose 5 percent to $41.20.

    "This is a realistic outcome which provides clarity and certainty for all parties," BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said in a statement. "For BP, this agreement will resolve the largest liabilities remaining from the tragic accident."

    The size of the settlement was slightly more than the $17.6 billion that investors had feared BP would be fined under the Clean Water Act for gross negligence.

    The maximum possible Clean Water Act fine was later trimmed to $13.7 billion after U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier found 3.19 million barrels spilled, less than the U.S. government claimed.

    Barbier was expected to rule on that issue later this year, but even after that, BP would have still faced years of lawsuits to address claims by states and by the federal government under a natural resources damage assessment.

    The settlement announced Thursday closes off the remaining liabilities and will bring over $6.8 billion to states.

    "This agreement will not only restore the damage inflicted on our coastal resources by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it will also allow Louisiana to continue aggressively fighting coastal erosion," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

     

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    Slash Your Summer Cooling Bill
    Summer is here and as the temperature continues to rise, you've probably noticed that your energy bill does, too. However, by following a few easy tips, you can keep the cool air flowing without overpaying.

    First, if you have a window AC unit, put it in a spot that doesn't get a lot of sun. By keeping it cool, the unit will run up to 10 percent more efficiently, and save you money in the long run. Once you've found a window with shade, seal the perimeter with some weather stripping to keep the cold air from escaping. You can pick some up at the hardware store for under 10 bucks.

    Another easy way to keep your AC unit running smoothly, is by cleaning the filter once a month. Simply pop open the front cover and slide out the filter. Then, rinse it with warm water until all of the dirt and debris is gone. Once it's completely dry, put the filter back in its slot and you're good to go. By doing this regularly, you'll reduce the amount of energy your air conditioner uses by up to 15 percent, which means a lower electricity bill for you each month.

    Next, if you have central air, use a programmable thermostat so that you don't waste money cooling off the house while no one's home. When you are home, keep it set to 78 degrees. It's a great balance. You'll still feel cool and comfortable and by keeping it set to that magic number, you can knock up to 20 percent off your bill.

    Finally, one of the best ways to lower your cooling bill is by using a ceiling fan. Not only will it allow you to set your thermostat to a higher temperature, they cost less than a penny an hour to run. And since you can pick one up at a home improvement store for as little as $40, it's a really affordable way to keep cool.

    Remember these tips to save on your energy bill this summer. You'll see that with a few small adjustments, you can keep your house cool without breaking the bank.

    View Poll

     

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    Auto Sales
    Carlos Osorio/APFord Focus vehicles in a storage lot in Ypsilanti, Mich.
    NEW YORK -- Ford is recalling 432,000 Focus, C-Max and Escape vehicles because of a software problem that could keep their engines running after drivers try to shut them down.

    Ford Motor (F) says there is a flaw in the body control module software in the vehicles. As a result of the problem, the engine could keep running after the key is turned to "off" and removed, or after the start/stop button is pressed to turn the engine off.

    The Dearborn, Michigan-based company says no injuries or accidents have been associated with the problem. Ford says dealers will update the software at no cost to consumers.

    The recall covers some model 2015 Focus cars, C-Max hybrids and Escape sport utility vehicles. The Focus vehicles were made in Michigan as far back as June 2014, while the C-Maxes were made in Michigan starting in April 2014 and the Escapes were built in Louisville starting in April 2014.

    About 375,000 of the cars were sold in the U.S., 52,000 in Canada and 5,000 in Mexico.

    Last week Ford said it would recall 203,500 Transit Connect vans and Escape sport utility vehicles in North America because of instrument panel and seatbelt problems.

     

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    Whole Foods Dispute
    Julie Jacobson/AP
    NEW YORK -- Whole Foods Market (WFM) is apologizing to its shoppers for incorrect pricing, a week after a New York investigation found that the natural food grocer routinely overcharged for prepackaged fruits, vegetables and deli meats.

    "Straight up, we made some mistakes," said co-CEO Walter Robb, as he stood beside co-CEO John Mackey in a YouTube video posted Wednesday. "We want to own that."

    We apologize to our customers for any discrepancies that may have occurred.

    Robb and Mackey said that the pricing mistakes were unintentional and that the company will increase its training at stores across the country. Going forward, Whole Foods will give items away for free if customers discover they were overcharged. "We apologize to our customers for any discrepancies that may have occurred," the company said in blog post.

    Last week, New York's Department of Consumer Affairs said it was expanding its investigation after finding that Whole Foods stores in the city regularly ripped customers off, including overcharging $14.84 for a package of coconut shrimp and $4.85 for eight chicken tenders. The department tested 80 types of prepackaged items and found all of them had mislabeled weights. The investigation focused on eight stores in the city.

    In a statement, Commissioner Julie Menin said that the Department of Consumer Affairs was "gratified" that Whole Foods admitted to issues with its prepackaged food labels.

    In the YouTube video, Mackey said there was a "very small percentage" of weighing errors with items made in stores, including sandwiches, fresh juices and cut fruits.

    "We know they are unintentional because the mistakes are both in the customer's favor and sometimes not in the customer's favor," Robb said.

    Based in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market operates 422 stores around the world.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK -- Stocks closed slightly lower Thursday after the International Monetary Fund warned Greece ahead of its Sunday referendum that it faces a huge financial hole and mixed jobs data dampened the U.S. economic outlook.

    While the IMF was warning that Greece needed an extra 50 billion euros over the next three years to stay afloat, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was urging voters to reject a bailout offer from lenders and saying he hoped to sign a new deal Monday.

    Given the referendum on Sunday in Greece and the holiday weekend, at least for today the action was somewhat muted compared to the rest of the week.

    "Given the referendum on Sunday in Greece and the holiday weekend, at least for today the action was somewhat muted compared to the rest of the week." Michael Arone, chief investment strategist for State Street Global Advisors' U.S. Intermediary Business.

    Trading volume remained low ahead of a long weekend. U.S. markets won't open Friday to observe Independence Day.

    Slowing U.S. job growth in June tempered expectations for a Federal Reserve interest rate increase in September.

    Nonfarm payrolls increased 223,000 last month, below the 230,000 expected by economists polled by Reuters, while average hourly earnings were unchanged in June, taking the year-on-year increase to a paltry 2 percent.

    The Fed has said it will raise interest rates only when data shows a sustained economic recovery.

    The utilities sector was the best performer in the S&P, rising 1.4 percent. That sector has been battered by a 10.6 percent decline so far this year as investors have been switching positions in anticipation of an interest rate increase.

    Investors also faced uncertainty over volatility in China's stock markets and a debt crisis in Puerto Rico.

    "There's not enough certainty to be taking long positions going into the holiday weekend," Richard Weeks, managing director at HighTower Advisors in Vienna, Virginia.

    The Day in Numbers

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 27.8 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,730.11; the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) slipped 0.6 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,076.78, and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 3.91 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,009.21.

    All three indexes fell for the week, with the S&P 500's decline the biggest since March. The Dow had its biggest weekly decline since April, while the Nasdaq had its biggest weekly decline since early May

    BP's (BP) U.S.-listed shares rose 5 percent to $41.29 after the company agreed to settle claims from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill for $18.7 billion.

    Xoom (XOOM) shares rose 21 percent to $25.05 after PayPal, which is slated to separate from eBay later this month, said it would buy the digital money transfer provider. EBay (EBAY) rose 2.4 percent.

    Western Union (WU), the S&P's biggest percentage loser, fell 6.9 percent to $18.99 after Evercore ISI cut its rating on the stock to "hold" from "buy," citing the Xoom deal.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,536 to 1,516, for a 1.01-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,761 issues fell and 1,015 advanced for a 1.73-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 17 new 52-week highs and 9 new lows; the Nasdaq composite was recording 48 new highs and 80 new lows.

    About 5.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 7.6 billion average for the last five sessions, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

    -Rodrigo Campos contributed reporting.

    What to watch Friday:
    • U.S. stock and bond market is closed for Independence Day (observed).

     

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    Next Generation Coupons
    Rick Bowmer/AP
    By Lisa Poisso

    If the eye-rolling and heavy sighs of impatient customers waiting for the cashier to process your stack of coupons leave you utterly mortified, extreme couponing might not be for you. But, that doesn't mean you should avoid couponing altogether. After all, more people than not use coupons.

    People are fine with saving on their J. Crew sweater, but they're embarrassed saving on a box of cereal.

    Coupons in the News reports only 11 percent of people surveyed in 2014 for the 2015 Promotion Industry Analysis said they never use coupons. And, the most prodigious users of coupons (22 percent) are actually shoppers with six-figure incomes, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute.

    Even so, some shoppers feel too embarrassed to present coupons at the register. "People are fine with saving on their J. Crew sweater, but they're embarrassed saving on a box of cereal," said Joanie Demer, co-founder of TheKrazyCouponLady.com. "It's inexplicable."

    But thanks to technology, there are numerous ways shoppers can use their coupons without the fear of embarrassment. Load-to-card rewards, rebate apps and other types of electronic coupons -- sometimes called e-coupons -- allow shoppers to save money before or after the checkout lane. "There's lots of new ways to coupon without taking any action at the store and keeping everything on the down low," said Demer.

    Time-Saving Electronic Coupons and Coupon Apps

    The beauty of electronic coupons is how quick and easy they are to use. By using electronic coupons or coupon apps, shoppers are more likely to perceive you as a savvy insider than a deals-hungry discount digger. In fact, using a smartphone during checkout has become routine -- it's predicted that more than 74 million Americans will use smartphone mobile coupons this year.

    Paper coupons are still big business, but easier, high-tech alternatives help shoppers save without all the clipping and organizing. These new types of coupons and savings tools help you save in all the same ways you remember from traditional paper coupons and sales: discounts, free shipping offers, buy-one-get-one deals, first-time customer incentives and more.

    1. Electronic coupons. Electronic coupons can refer not only to digital coupons you store and show on your smartphone, but also a handful of other digital savings tools as well:
    • Printable coupons you find online: Print these coupons out and carry them along to present at the register.
    • Coupon codes, typically used for online shopping: Plug in these alphanumeric codes to the discount or coupon field when you're placing an online order to get an instant discount.
    • Store loyalty cards: Sign up for these promotional programs advertised in your favorite stores or on their websites to receive your loyalty card. Show or scan your store card at the register to receive credit for your purchase or any special discounts or coupons. If your wallet fills up with too many cards, digitize them on your smartphone with an app like Key Ring, which can also digitize your loyalty cards.
    • Card-linked offers: These are digital coupons or discounts loaded directly onto your store loyalty card, debit card or credit card. At checkout, the deals and savings are applied to your card.
    2. Smartphone coupon apps. Many smartphone coupon apps help you track down and manage digital and printable coupons. These apps all work a little differently, though, so research each one before you start downloading.

    For example, Cellfire lets you view all of your saved coupons and allows you to save grocery coupons to your store loyalty card. You can even receive email notifications so that you know about existing offers when you walk into the store. With Grocery IQ, you can print out coupons or add coupons to you savings card as well.

    When you download the SavingStar app, you can select the offers you want and link them to your grocery or drugstore loyalty card. After checkout, or after you take a picture of your receipt, you will receive your savings in your SavingStar account. Once you've earned $5, you can cash out to your bank or PayPal.

    There are also apps affiliated with specific stores and retailers. Demer calls Target's Cartwheel app the best all-around savings tool she uses today. In the app, choose up to 10 offers you want. Then at checkout, have the cashier scan the barcode on your smartphone to receive the discounts. "It's one barcode, no matter how many offers, so you're not going to be holding up the checkout lane," said Demer.

    3. Amazon subscriptions and coupons. Amazon has a "Subscribe & Save Coupons" page where you can see all available coupons. You can redeem a coupon you find on Amazon by clicking on it, selecting "Subscribe Now" and setting a delivery quantity and frequency.

    Demer is a huge fan of this service, even though she's not affiliated with Amazon in any way. "Their prices are really competitive," she said. "I really feel like I want to hitch my bandwagon to Amazon ..."

    The trick to earning the 15 percent discount on your entire order for Amazon's subscription items is to make sure you're receiving at least five subscription items on your monthly delivery day. Since you can set subscription intervals from one to six months, be sure you have five items in each monthly delivery in order to earn the discount.

    Many products on Amazon, such as snacks, personal care items and household basics, come with coupon orders. Just "clip" the coupon to receive the discount at checkout.

    "You can add a coupon and subscribe to the item, so it's sort of like extreme couponing online," Demer said. "You're stacking multiple ways to save."

    4. Rebate apps. Rebate apps give you cash back based on what you actually buy at the store. Because rebate apps do their work once you've come home from the store, they might be one of the most discreet coupon and savings tools out there.

    With rebate apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51 and Snap by Groupon, all the work happens before or after you shop. There's absolutely no action required at the checkout -- in fact, you can leave your smartphone at home with some rebate apps.

    To use a rebate app, browse and add any offers you're interested in before you go shopping. Once you're home again after shopping, take a picture of your receipt and upload it to the app to receive cash back for the items you purchased.

    A final word of advice if you're using any type of electronic coupon or deal: Store employees aren't always comfortable with e-coupon technology. Should you run into technical difficulties during checkout, discreet couponers will probably prefer to try it again at another time rather than attempting to troubleshoot at the register.

    Where to Find Electronic Coupons

    A savvy coupon shopper will use different methods to find coupons, including coupon websites, brand websites, retailer websites, search engines and social media. Try Coupons.com or TheKrazyCouponLady.com to get started. You can also find online coupons and discounts on sites such as CouponSherpa and RetailMeNot. And don't forget about coupons for smartphones and apps such as Cellfire and Grocery IQ.

    Here's a neat trick for nudging online retailers into sending you email coupons and coupon codes: Abandon the items you want in your online shopping cart without purchasing them. In an attempt to close the sale, some retailers will email you a coupon code for whatever you've left in the cart.

    You can often score coupons by being a supportive follower on social media, too. Some stores and brands will share coupon codes and deals with their social media fans. Or, they might use newsletters and brand clubs.

    Finally, don't neglect the power of an internet search to find the coupons you want. Hit your favorite search engine with the name of the store or brand plus the word "coupon."

    Top Brands and Stores That Offer Coupons

    With electronic coupons and rebates, it's easy and convenient to keep your couponing profile low key while still enjoying coupons for popular and high-end stores and brands, including Lacoste, J. Crew Factory, Banana Republic, Athleta and Aero. You can link these brands' offers right to your debit or credit card through Coupons.com.

    The best card-loaded deals and electronic grocery coupons, according to Demer, come from Safeway, Vons and its affiliates. Stores known for their great deals, such as Kohl's, also tend to offer coupons.

    The Best Coupon Savings Strategy

    The tools that ultimately save coupon expert Demer the most money just happen to be the most discreet, a real bonus for users who prefer not to advertise their affinity for coupons. Surprisingly, as easy and convenient as they are, card-loaded offers and other electronic coupons don't form the backbone of her ongoing savings.

    "I am able to save more -- a great deal more -- with rebate apps, for example," she said.

    The other big gun in Demer's arsenal is the double whammy of Amazon subscriptions and clickable coupons. "I'm seeing pretty significant price savings -- that's how I'm beating Costco prices," she said.

    But, it's good old-fashioned sales that save Demer the most money, even more than couponing.

    "It's still for me all about the combination," she said. "But the No. 1 driver that's going to reduce your budget is the mental shift that says, 'Instead of shopping around what I ran out of or the recipes I just found on Pinterest, I'm going to look at my sale circular. I'm going to visit TheKrazyCouponLady.com, and I'm going to make my purchase decisions based on what's on sale.' "

    This story originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Retail Sales
    APJuly Fourth is a great time to celebrate our country and grab a deal or two.
    By Lori McDaniel

    The scorching heat and humidity are reason enough to head indoors and shop the Fourth of July sales. An even better idea? Shop online and completely skip venturing out in the heat. However, determining which stores have the best sales can be a bit tricky, so I've rounded up my favorite holiday sales to help you navigate the crowds and net the most savings.

    Best Buy

    If you've been waiting to buy an appliance, now's a great time. Through July 15, Best Buy is running its July Fourth Major Appliance Sale. Get up to 44 percent off French door refrigerators or as much as 33 percent off washing machines and dryers from top brands Samsung, Whirlpool and LG. If you need a stove, you'll save 40 percent on brands like Frigidaire, Amana and GE. You'll also find deals on built-in dishwashers and over-the-range microwaves. Layer a coupon and save even more.

    Don't forget about Best Buy's free home delivery, haul-away and recycling for purchases totaling $399 or more. If you're looking for financing options, Best Buy also offers 18-month finances on major appliance purchases of at least $599.

    Overstock

    Find bargains to help spruce up your home at Overstock's Independence Day Sale. You'll find savings of up to 70 percent on area rugs, memory foam mattresses, furniture and more. If your purchase totals at least $50, your order will ship for free. Make sure you look for coupon codes to maximize your savings.

    Sears

    Find deep discounts on power equipment and tools at Sears. You'll get up to 50 percent off tools, 40 percent off appliance hot buys, and an extra 5 percent off power lawn, and garden and outdoor storage items already marked up to 20 percent off. Update your outdoor patio for less with an extra 10 percent off patio furniture sets already marked as much as 40 percent off.

    Look to save even more with free delivery options. Through July Fourth, when you order online and choose the in-store pickup, you'll save an additional $50 off your order when you use a coupon. That easily could be worth a short drive.

    Macy's

    If you're looking to buy new furniture or upgrade to a new mattress, shop Macy's July Fourth Furniture & Mattress sale. You'll score 50 percent to 70 percent off select outdoor furniture, and get free delivery on purchases of at least $999. Plus, get the lowest price of the season on accent furniture. You'll also save as much as 40 percent on beds, select dining room sets and more. And get a whopping 65 percent off mattress sets from respected brands like Beautyrest, Serta, Sealy, Tempur-Pedic and Stearns & Foster.

    Through July 5, Macy's also is offering no down payment and 0 percent, 12-month financing on mattress and furniture purchases of at least $499. Those savings add up.

    Home Depot

    If you're in the market for a new grill, you'll save 10 percent on select models at Home Depot, plus receive free shipping. Brands include Char-Broil, Char-Griller, Broil-Mate, Blue Rhino, Cuisinart and Coleman. You'll find everything from portable and full-sized propane gas grills to charcoal and even electric options.

    Home Depot also has up to 25 percent off ceiling fans and lights from Hampton Bay, Hunter and more. Saving on something that'll keep you cool sounds like a win-win.

    Target

    Let's be real, it's hard to resist the lure of Target, and you'll feel a bit better about those impulse buys if you shop there during its July Fourth sale. You'll save up to 30 percent on patio furniture, accessories, and outdoor lighting; outdoor toys, camping equipment, bikes, and water gear; as well as on furniture, bedding, rugs and other home decor. At $25, Target's spend limit for free shipping is low, and if you decide you're unhappy with your purchase, you can return it for free.

    Old Navy

    Old Navy knows how to do up the Fourth of July. Shop its All-American Summer Sale and get up to 60 percent off the entire store. Check out its Americana the Beautiful collection, which features shirts, shorts and even dresses in patriotic colors. You'll find children's T-shirts as low as $4 and adult T-shirts from $5, as well as women's dresses at $8 and kids shorts for $10. Plus, when you spend at least $50 online you'll get free shipping and returns on all orders are free.

    Hotels.com

    It's not too late to snag a last-minute deal on July Fourth travel. Hotels.com will help you save as much as 50 percent at various locations. Top destinations include Las Vegas; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Phoenix; and Oahu Island, Hawaii. Simply book your travel by July 4 for travel before July 18.

    When choosing your hotel, make sure you take into account minimum stays, which some hotels require before they offer the discount. Finally, look for coupons online for further savings. Hotels.com currently has a coupon for $5 off bookings over $50.

    Whatever sale you decide hit, make sure you look for hidden fees! And again, don't forget to use coupons to save where you can (especially on shipping). I hope you score some great deals!

    Lori McDaniel is the senior content manager at Offers.com. She's a wife and mother of two who can't seem to shake her taste for the finer things in life, which means she always is on the hunt for a great deal.

     

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    Businessman
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    By Sarah Morgan

    Stock-picking is hard, even for the professionals -- and it is only getting harder. A recent study found evidence that it's getting harder and harder for active mutual funds to outperform index funds. Why? Because the mutual fund industry as a whole keeps getting bigger.

    The more investors there are looking for great investing ideas and exciting, underpriced stocks, the harder it is to find anything the rest of the world hasn't already discovered. In fact, the researchers found that active fund managers are actually getting better: they are more skilled at investing, but it doesn't matter, because the industry is simply getting too big. Managers have to be more skilled just to keep up with the increasing competition.

    If the pros are getting more and more skilled without getting ahead, then why do individual investors think they can beat the market? Data from San Francisco investment firm SigFig shows that the more individual investors trade, the less they earn. Individual investors also tend to bet too heavily on single stocks: 60 percent of investors have more than 10 percent of their portfolio invested in a single stock. Picking stocks and trading actively in an effort to beat the market simply doesn't work for individuals.

    So why do investors keep doing it? What makes people think they can succeed where so many others, including highly educated professionals, are doomed to fail? According to a review of the research on investor behavior, there are three reasons why individual investors engage in the self-defeating effort to beat the market:

    1. Investors are overconfident. Research shows that individual investors are overconfident--they think they know more than they do, and they think they know more than the average person. In fact, the more an investor thinks they are knowledgeable about investing, the more they are likely to trade frequently. And, of course, the more they trade, the worse they do. Incidentally, men tend to be more overconfident than women, and tend to trade more often. They are also more likely to lose money in the market than women are.

    2. Human emotions get in the way. Individual investors have an unfortunate habit of selling their winners and holding on to their losers. From a tax perspective, it makes more sense to let gains run and sell losing stocks for the tax credit. But individual investors tend to get a little rush of pride when they sell a winner and realize a gain. When they sell a losing stock, on the other hand, they feel pain and regret. Basically, investors hold on to losing stocks to avoid that pain. This effect might be particularly strong for investors who have chosen the stocks in their portfolio themselves and attach their feelings to it as a result.

    3. The media encourages 'herd mentality' behavior. Investors tend to rush into stocks that receive media coverage. Companies that hit a new stock price high or beat earnings predictions are showered with affection from individual investors, because those news events draw investors' attention. After all, there are way too many stocks out there for any investor to be knowledgeable about them all. A news story about a stock offers information that some may believe is enough to act on, without going through the trouble of doing additional research.

    News stories can also spark selling, of course. A current example are the headlines blaring that Greece is about to default on its debt to the IMF. Investors who sell when stocks start to fall, however, take a loss--and miss the upside when the markets rebound. The best move during a downturn is often no move at all. Stay put, stick to your plan, and keep buying at regular intervals.

    If individual investors cannot beat the market -- and even professional investors, on the whole, can't -- the best plan isn't to try. Choose a diversified set of low-cost index funds and stick with them, avoiding the temptation to trade heavily or jump on the latest over-hyped winner. And remember, if you still think you can do better than the average investor, that may just be your overconfidence talking.

    Sarah Morgan 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 Saving Money
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    By Scott Hanson

    Q: My son is 23 and is working full-time for what I consider to be a pretty decent salary. He's always been a bit of a saver, and he recently asked me if I thought he should contribute to his employer's 401(k) plan, or if he should instead save in a Roth IRA? What is your advice?

    A: Your son is wise to start saving at such a young age. For most of us, it's difficult to get into the habit of putting money away, so it's great if we can begin when we have our first "real" job.

    The question of whether to use a pre-tax savings plan, such as a 401(k), 403(b), 457 or a traditional IRA, or to use a Roth option, is not an easy one to answer. That's because there are so many variables that it's impossible to predict future outcomes.

    Your son's employer-sponsored retirement plan will provide him with a current tax deduction on whatever he contributes, up to a maximum of $18,000. The money invested within the plan will grow tax-deferred for decades, but when he reaches retirement age, everything he withdraws will be taxed as ordinary income, and at whatever the rate that ordinary income is being taxed at in the future.

    These tax-deductible retirement plans have been around for decades and have been endorsed by many experts based upon the premise that most people will find themselves in a lower tax bracket once they retire. With that in mind, it would seem to make sense to take that tax deduction today and defer paying the government its share until later.

    The problem with this argument is that many of the best savers actually find that they are not in a lower tax bracket during retirement. The fact is that, because they've saved and invested well, many retirees end up paying much more in taxes once they leave the workforce than they did during their working years.

    The Roth option -- whether it's a Roth 401(k) through his employer or a Roth IRA funded outside of work -- takes a different approach. A saver receives no tax break for the funds deposited today, but the money is withdrawn tax-free during retirement.

    All things being equal, saving the maximum into a Roth option would provide the greatest chance of high, after-tax income during retirement, and here's why: The problem with traditional retirement plans that offer a tax deduction isn't the plan itself, exactly, it's with the behavior of the person who is contributing to the plan. That's because the tax savings provided by the plan is rarely set aside for the future. Instead, human nature, being what it is, means that the higher take-home pay usually gets spent.

    Here's an example: Two people work for the same employer. One contributes the maximum into the traditional 401(k), while the other contributes the maximum into the Roth 401(k). Both amass $1 million in their plans and then retire.

    So who is better off? The person who used the traditional 401(k) had a larger paycheck each month because of the tax break (but as mentioned earlier, she will, in all likelihood, spend that extra take home pay), and so she now has $1 million that will be fully taxable when she withdraws and spends the money. With that in mind, that million-dollar plan may be worth "only" $750,000 once the taxes have been paid.

    The person who used the Roth 401(k) may not have had as large as a paycheck while working, but she now has a retirement plan that will be free of taxes. The $1 million in retirement savings will not be degraded in any way.

    So, to answer your question, because your son has begun to save so early in his career, I think the Roth is a better option.

    The caveat is that no one can predict what tax rates will be like in the future. Will we move to a flat tax? Will Congress adopt a lower income tax burden along with a national sales tax? Will Roth withdrawals be taxable for higher income retirees?

    Because it's impossible to know what will happen, I believe it's prudent to diversify tax strategies in the same manner one diversifies investments. Ideally, it would be great to reach retirement with some funds in a traditional 401(k) or IRA, some money in a Roth, funds in a brokerage account, perhaps some real estate, and so on. (Of course, this level of diversification is the reason why a good saver will likely find his or herself in a higher tax bracket once they retire: more income from more sources.)

    So, given all of the uncertainties of the future, rather than choose one retirement plan option, I would recommend your son contribute equally to both the traditional 401(k) as well as a Roth IRA. He has roughly 40 years until he reaches retirement age and, no doubt, a lot will change by then. With that in mind, having some diversity with his tax-advantaged retirement plans seems the best route to follow.

    Scott Hanson is a certified financial planner. He answers your questions on a variety of topics and also co-hosts a weekly call-in radio program. Visit MoneyMatters.com to ask a question or to hear his show. Follow him on Twitter at @scotthansoncfp.

     

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    Federal Reserve
    Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
    By Peter Morici

    NEW YORK -- On Thursday, the Department of Labor reported that the economy added 223,000 jobs in June -- hardly robust given that monthly gains averaged 260,000 last year -- but still good enough to push the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates soon.

    Economists expect stronger consumer spending, housing activity and business construction to boost gross domestic product growth to nearly 3 percent by the second half this year.

    Stronger productivity -- not accelerated jobs creation -- will support expansion. That should convince the Fed that the American economy is finally getting healthy and easy credit has done as much as it can to heal labor markets.

    Here are five reasons why.

    First, the historic pace of productivity growth is close to 2 percent a year, but thanks to West Coast port slowdowns, a severe winter and lower oil prices, worker productivity fell a lot last fall and winter. Businesses have too many underutilized employees, and with growth picking up, employers will use those already in the door to help meet higher demand. Second, business balance sheets and tangible competitive assets are remarkably stronger than in recent years. A lot has been made of companies using extra cash to buy back stocks, but debt-to-equity ratios are down.

    Quietly, businesses have been purchasing new equipment and software and tightening supply chains to sharpen execution. Investments for these purposes relative to depreciation have been stronger than during the boom years of the past decade, and we can expect a burst of productivity soon.

    It may already be happening, but we haven't seen second-quarter data yet.

    Third, as much as businesses see opportunities to raise sales and productivity, the latter requires more skilled workers than they can find. Many unemployed workers including those with college degrees working in coffee shops or hawking cell phones only have general educations or lack the problem-solving skills to be effective in high-performance work environments where career ladders and high wages await.

    Fourth, merger and acquisition activity this year is on pace to challenge the record set in 2007. Although the desire to accomplish the benefits of scale and synergies by combining complementary assets is always present, businesses increasingly cite the absence of skilled workers as a key constraint on internally generated growth.

    Many fewer jobs are being cut during the current M&A frenzy than were eliminated during the heady days of the mid-2000s because businesses are using these new combinations to get the workers that they can't find in the job market.

    Finally, the strong dollar remains a constraint on GDP growth, both by cheapening imports and making goods made by U.S.-based workers more expensive for export to foreign markets. Even firms doing well assembling products in the United States such as automakers are importing more components to keep costs down.

    All this spells a more robust American private sector even if blemished by a strong dollar and labor shortages that constrain what it can deliver. Average wages remain stagnant because good-paying job openings go wanting for lack of qualified applicants, and an army of low-skilled workers in the service sector pulls down average wages.

    Expect jobs growth to remain at about 220,000 a month, but continued low rates can't do much to fix problems emanating from a broken educational system and other social ills.

    Fed policymakers have good reason to want to return rates to more historically normal levels. Keeping short rates low for more than six years has encouraged too much speculation and bubbles in real estate, junk bonds and other asset markets, and it is time to rein all that in before it poses threats to financial stability. Fed Chairman Janet L. Yellen will likely read the situation this way and raise the federal funds rate a notch in September and a bit more before the year ends.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor.

     

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    US-GAMES-MONOPOLY-NASDAQ
    Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty ImagesMr. Monopoly and Hasbro executive Eric Nyman ring the closing bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York last March.
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with a toy giant striking a deal to get another of its playthings turned into a motion picture and the leading theme park operator confirming more attraction closures.

    JetBlue (JBLU) -- Loser

    One of the lone remaining holdouts among major airlines that don't charge for checked baggage is changing its tune. JetBlue will now be charging as much as $25 for a checked bag, no doubt contributing to the same problem with legacy carriers struggling with overhead cabin space as passengers turn to rolling carry-ons to lug around their travel essentials.

    Now it's true that JetBlue is lowering its fee for the second checked bag from $50 to $35, but that's not much of a consolation prize. We're still talking about a passenger with two checked bags having to go from paying $50 before to $60 now for those same two bags. JetBlue is doing this at a time when the cyclical industry is at the top of its game, as low jet fuel costs and buoyant bookings are combining for record profitability. The move doesn't make sense. JetBlue now becomes one of the bad guys in the eyes of consumers. Tell me that at least the unlimited in-flight snacks of animal crackers and blue potato chips are still complimentary.

    U-verse -- Winner

    It seems as if the scariest things on television these days are the expiring carriage rights scenarios between major networks and the television service providers. The industry skirted another potential disaster this week as AT&T's (T) U-verse and CBS (CBS) reached an agreement to keep local CBS stations and CBS-owned Showtime on the air for U-verse customers.

    It would have been a lose-lose situation. U-verse would've suffered cancellations from customers if CBS and Showtime were blacked out, and CBS would've lost out on local network ad revenue and premium Showtime subscriptions. It's a situation that cleaned itself up with the deadline looming, and for that, U-verse is a winner.

    Selfie Sticks -- Loser

    On Tuesday, Disney (DIS) banned guests from taking selfie sticks into its Disneyland and Disney World theme parks, sending shares of wearable camera darling GoPro (GPRO) lower on the news. Disney had prohibited the use of selfie sticks on many of its attractions earlier for safety concerns, but now it won't let the extendable camera sticks into any of its six theme parks across Florida and California.

    Selfie sticks have become punch line fodder, but a lot of that comes from the unfortunate name. Selfie-stick users often use them to take group shots without having to leave somebody out or trouble a passing stranger. In the end, it doesn't matter. The extended camera mounts aren't going to Disney World anymore.

    Hasbro (HAS) -- Winner

    It's time to see if Hasbro can mine box office gold from another of its game properties. Hasbro and Lions Gate (LGF) are teaming up to make a movie based on the toy giant's Monopoly board game. Andrew Niccol -- best known for his work on "The Truman Show" -- has been tapped to write the screenplay.

    A Monopoly movie seems far-fetched, but Hasbro has been able to turn its Transformers and G.I. Joe action figures into major theatrical properties. Battleship and Ouija didn't pan out as well, but you can't go anywhere without rolling the dice. That's something that Monopoly gamers know all too well.

    Disney World -- Loser

    Disney also made news for confirming the closure of two attractions at its massive Florida resort. On Monday it revealed that it will be closing down a popular animation-themed attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The move will pave the way for yet-to-be-announced replacements, but closing four attractions over the past year at Disney World's least visited park isn't going to help justify stiff admission prices this summer.

    Then Tuesday, Disney confirmed that it will be closing DisneyQuest, a five-level high-tech arcade in the Downtown Disney retail area of the resort. It will be replaced by an NBA-themed venue, but the rub for consumers here is that DisneyQuest admission is included in the chain's premium annual passes. Disney is unlikely to credit passholders for the subtraction when it does close, and that's more goofy than Goofy.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool and owns shares of GoPro, Hasbro, Lions Gate Entertainment and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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