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    $100 dollar bills scattered on a table.
    Getty ImagesBefore putting your money in investments such as index funds or mutual funds, you should consider paying down debt and stashing away some money for retirement.
    By Stephanie Steinberg

    You've padded your emergency fund, paid off your debt and saved up a few thousand dollars -- $5,000 to be exact -- that you're ready to invest. But is it best to put it in a mutual fund, certificate of deposit, index fund or exchange-traded fund?

    "If you're asking what's the best way to invest $5,000, it's kind of like asking what should I have for dinner tonight? Well, it depends," says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst of Bankrate (RATE). "What do you like? What don't you like? Do you have any allergies? What are you in the mood for? The same thing [applies] here."

    Before you get to specifics, such as how much risk you can stomach or what to choose off the menu of investments, start with the basics. "The first question you need to ask yourself is, 'When do I need to spend that money?'" says Manisha Thakor, founder and CEO of MoneyZen Wealth Management. "My rule of thumb is investing is something you do for the long run, which I would define as a minimum of five years and ideally 10-plus years. Once you are sure it's long-term money, now you're ready to really get into the nuts and bolts."

    To help you delve into those nuts and bolts, we asked financial experts for advice on the best way to invest your $5,000. They suggested options for both the short and long term, if you're hoping to grow that money for retirement decades down the road.

    Short Term Online savings account. The best place for money you need in a moment's notice is an online savings account, McBride says. Even though interest rates for online savings accounts are low -- hovering around 1 percent -- they "pay the best returns relative to the savings account offers among all the financial institutions," he says. The returns currently compare to those of CDs, but without the early withdrawal penalties.

    CDs and money market accounts. If your time horizon is less than five years, Thakor recommends putting the money in a CD with a maturity date that matches your goal. This option may be ideal if you have a low risk tolerance, since CDs are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. up to $250,000 per depositor. The downside? You can't touch those dollars for a predetermined time without paying a penalty.

    Alternatively, money market accounts, which are also insured by the FDIC, earn slightly less interest than CDs, but you can withdraw the money at any point. Just keep in mind that interest rates are generally inversely correlated with access to your money. As Thakor puts it: "If you want unlimited access to your money, you'll get slightly lower rates. If you don't mind tying it up for a defined period of time, which is what you do with a CD, then you can get a slightly higher rate."

    Given their low yields, CDs and money market accounts are better for shorter-term investments, since they don't always keep up with the cost of inflation. "Even though on paper it might look like you're protecting your principal and [your] deposit is growing a little bit in value, you're actually losing ground because the purchasing power is not holding," says Paul Granucci, a financial solutions advisor with Merrill Edge.

    Long Term

    Actively managed mutual funds. Investors with a longer time horizon can afford to take on more risk for a greater return by putting their money in the stock market. Mutual funds offer an easy way for investors to gain exposure to a broad range of stocks. If picking stocks makes you nervous, fear not. With actively managed funds, a fund manager makes all the decisions for you, including what sectors of the economy to invest in and which companies are undervalued or poised for growth. But beware: Mutual funds come with fees. The average actively managed stock fund charges an annual fee of 1.26 percent, according to fund tracker Morningstar (MORN), and Thakor advises against buying mutual funds with an expense ratio of more than 1 percent.

    If you do go the actively managed route, Granucci recommends a globally balanced mutual fund, which is diversified in stocks, bonds and cash and contains domestic and international investments.

    Index funds. "If the goal is to try to achieve a lot of diversification and build a portfolio that you can more or less kind of set and forget, it's hard to beat index funds," says Christine Benz, director of personal finance for Morningstar.

    With index funds, you don't have the opportunity to beat the market, but you can keep up with the market, "which is not a bad place to be given that most active fund managers do not outperform their benchmarks over long periods of time," Benz adds.

    Thakor points out that index funds are the healthiest option on the menu -- without organic food prices. "Index funds are the financial equivalent of a superfood like chia seeds or kale," she says. "Depending on what type you pick ... you can get exposure to literally thousands of stock and bond issues at a very nominal fee." The average expense ratio for stock index funds is 0.75 percent, according to Morningstar.

    ETFs. Mutual funds and ETFs are very similar. "When you buy one share of an ETF or one share of a mutual fund, you're buying a small piece of a lot of different investments that make up that fund," Granucci explains. "The difference is how they are managed."

    There's no active management with ETFs, so if you're thinking about investing in a handful, be prepared to rebalance your portfolio at least once a year (mutual fund portfolios should be rebalanced, too). Advantages include costs that are a lot lower than those of mutual funds (Morningstar reports ETFs have an average annual fee of 0.57 percent) and no minimum investment requirements. While mutual funds may demand initial investments of $1,000 or $3,000, ETFs -- which are traded on exchanges and fluctuate in price during the day -- cost only their current trading price, like stocks.

    ETFs offer exposure to asset classes ranging from bonds to domestic and international stocks, and even alternative investments like commodities. "Instead of trying to do one fund that's going to do it all, you might need to find three or four ETFs that are going to fill all the different buckets that you want to hit," Granucci says.

    Before diving in. You might be ready to put that $5,000 to work, but before you settle on one of the above investments, McBride points out three places where your money would be better spent:
    1. Paying down high-interest debt.
    2. Saving for retirement in a tax-advantaged account, such as a 401(k) or individual retirement account.
    3. Starting an emergency savings fund that covers six months of living expenses.
    "For the vast majority of Americans, tackling those three priorities is going to more than chew up that $5,000," he says.

    And there's a reason why paying debt is at the top of the list: You'll get a higher risk-free rate of return by paying down credit card debt than you will investing in financial securities. As McBride says, "Paying off a 15 percent credit card balance is like earning 15 percent risk-free."

    But let's assume you've paid off your debt, contribute to a 401(k) or IRA and have enough savings for a rainy day. Now you're ready to sit down at the table. The experts might have different tastes, but they all agree on one thing: You have to know what you're ordering.

    In other words, if you don't understand what you're investing in, you might make some mistakes.

    "The power of investing comes from compounded returns and time, and if you don't understand what you're doing and you're afraid to ask questions, when the inevitable hiccup comes in the market," Thakor says, "you will be more likely to change your course."

    Updated on July 6, 2015: This story was originally published on April 10, 2014 and has been updated to include more current returns data.

    Stephanie Steinberg is an Assistant Editor for Money and Health & Wellness at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter @Steph_Steinberg, connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google Plus or email her at ssteinberg@usnews.com.

     

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    Couple Calculating Home Finances
    Getty Images
    By Ellen Chang

    NEW YORK -- Calculating a realistic figure on how much Gen-Xers and Millennials need to save for their retirement can be an unnerving task.

    Many financial advisers recommend saving at least $1 million since life spans are increasing, but even half of that amount appears to be daunting and unattainable for many people who are saddled with both student loans and credit card debt.

    While there are various rules of thumb for people to determine a number of how much money they will need, there is no magic number for retirement savings, said Jamie Hopkins, a retirement professor at the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. People often need 10 to 25 times their pre-retirement income to "maintain the same quality of life in retirement," he said.

    One of the first things Gen-Xers and Millennials should calculate is how much they plan to spend each year once they quit working.

    Evaluate your current assets and if you plan to include income from Social Security. If you plan to move to a smaller town or a state without income tax when you retire, your expenses will be lower.

    Two of the largest assets that Americans can factor into the equation are the equity of their home and the amount of Social Security they will receive. While home equity cannot always be used to generate retirement income, some retirees wind up downsizing to a smaller home or strategically using a reverse mortgage, Hopkins said.

    "Instead of aiming at a specific amount of retirement savings, people should reconsider if they are saving enough money each and every year to meet their retirement income needs," he said.

    One gold standard for retirement is saving 18 times what you plan to spend each year in retirement. For a person who wants to spend $48,000 a year in retirement, the individual would need to save $864,000 to fund the stream of income at age 65, said Greg Owens, a vice president and senior financial planner for Washington Trust Bank, a Spokane, Washington-based financial institution. This scenario calls for the person to spend 25 years in retirement.

    "This can be a shock to those nearing retirement," Owens said.

    Retirees who don't have that amount saved will "be forced to rely on Social Security and possibly state Medicaid," Owens said.

    If you started saving for retirement much later in your 30s and 40s or received negative returns for a couple of years because of downturns in the economy, you will likely need more than 18 times of your expenditures.

    While some people tend to spend less money after they stop working because their commuting expenses are eliminated, others tend to increase their spending because of health problems.

    "There are many factors that will change the '18 times' calculation, and it's not the end of the world if you don't hit that number," he said. "Rates of return and inflation are constantly changing and are impossible to predict."

    While housing remains the single largest expense for people, transportation follows close behind, said Michael Lynch, vice president of strategic markets at Hartford Funds, a Radnor, Pennsylvania. provider of mutual funds.

    "Prior generations were able to count on the three-legged stool of retirement -- Social Security, pension and personal retirement savings," Lynch said. "Now two of those three legs may be a little wobbly -- pensions and Social Security."

    While this all may appear to be baffling, the best "retirement rule of thumb" is to figure out how much money you need each month once you retire, said Craig Steinhoff, a principal at HBK CPAs and Consultants, a Youngstown, Ohio-based accounting firm. That granular approach helps you conceptualize the entirety of your retirement strategy. So if you plan on spending $3,000 a month, you need to have $36,000 to spend a year. That means, you should multiply that number by 18 to have about $648,000 saved for a 25-year retirement.

    "The most conservative retiree [in this scenario] will want to generate $36,000 each year from their savings or investment portfolio and assuming a 6 percent return, that will mean you need $600,000 in retirement savings and investments," he said.

    Ensuring that you are have no debt by the time you retire is crucial because it gives you more options especially as health care costs will rise, said Klea Theoharis, an executive vice president at Crescendo Communications in New York.

    "The changing landscape for health care insurance is the wildcard that all of us face these days," she said. "Costs are spiraling out of control, and it is important to create a hefty financial cushion just in case."

     

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    Music Katy Perry Super Bowl
    APPop star Katy Perry is among a long list of celebrities who have had money troubles.
    By Molly Triffin

    You can cruise around in a convertible and sip champagne like it's water, but a high net worth doesn't automatically grant you a high FQ (financial quotient).

    "People tend to assume that wealthy individuals must either be pretty darn fiscally smart in order to make that much money in the first place -- or they are able to afford the very best in professional advice," says Judy McNary, a certified financial planner and founder of McNary Financial Planning in Boulder, Colorado.

    "While this can be true -- Mick Jagger, for instance, studied at the London School of Economics -- there are far more examples of celebrities who have fallen prey to poor money decisions," McNary says. You need look no further than the late actor Heath Ledger, Katy Perry, Madonna, NBA player Tim Duncan, and even current White House contender Sen. Marco Rubio, who all have one thing in common -- seriously mismanaging their money.

    From succumbing to lifestyle inflation to turning a blind eye to proper estate planning, we look at the various ways some of the world's brightest (and wealthiest) luminaries have botched their financial lives, so you can avoid the same costly mistakes.

    Mistake No. 1: Neglecting to Draft an Estate Plan

    Like a cluttered garage, a will is probably something you know you should tackle... just as soon as you have a spare afternoon.

    But not putting thought into an estate plan has its consequences. Just look at actor Heath Ledger. When he passed away in 2008, his will hadn't been updated since 2003, which meant that his partner, actress Michelle Williams, and their daughter, Matilda, weren't included. So Ledger's millions went to his parents and sisters.

    "Nearly two thirds of Americans don't have a will," says attorney Andy Mayoras, coauthor of "Trial and Heirs." "Part of the reason is that people don't want to think about dying."

    "Many of us also mistakenly assume that we don't have a big enough estate to merit a will," adds "Trial and Heirs" coauthor and attorney Danielle Mayoras. "But when you add up home equity and personal belongings, there's often a substantial estate."

    How not to make the same mistake. Consider hiring an attorney who specializes in estate planning -- and once your plan is in place, review it every three to five years.

    "Your financial and family situation can shift, as do the laws, so you need to reevaluate accordingly," says Danielle Mayoras. For example, the threshold for estate tax laws has changed dramatically over the years, which might influence you to give away more money during your lifetime or set up an additional trust.

    Plus, legwork now can prevent conflict later. "Families tend to fight over estates when the proper groundwork isn't done," says Andy Mayoras.

    Mistake No. 2: Succumbing to Lifestyle Inflation

    After inking an $800,000 book deal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio proceeded to splurge on all sorts of luxury items that he really couldn't afford -- like an $80,000 speedboat and a leased $50,000 Audi Q7.

    As a result of his mounting debt, Rubio had to liquidate a retirement account, sell his home at a loss, refinance his mortgage, and even take on a second job teaching.

    It's called lifestyle inflation -- and it's often driven by a need to maintain appearances.

    "Celebs may feel they need to show a level of status to promote their image and maintain their success," McNary says, adding that plenty of average earners also fall victim to the temptation to live a more lavish lifestyle than their income can cover. In fact, McNary once had a client say, "I don't get it -- my husband and I both make good money and we're still driving Toyotas. How are our friends affording McMansions and fancy cars?"

    How not to make the same mistake. The hard truth is that someone will always have more than you, so try to avoid comparisons. Instead, identify the indulgence that's most important to you and focus your savings efforts there.

    "It's fine if a speedboat is your thing. After all, we work in order to be able to do things we enjoy," McNary says. "But you need to scale back on other purchases."

    Once you've pinpointed your key splurge, set up a dedicated savings account to fund it and have a portion of your paycheck automatically deposited into that account.

    "The better you are at controlling your everyday spending," she says, "the more you'll have left over for the fun stuff."

    Skier Lindsey Vonn owed $1.7 million in back taxes. She claimed that she had been unaware of the balance because she wasn't handling her own finances.

    Mistake No. 3: Not Paying Your Taxes on Time

    April 15 can trigger waves of dread, but simply ignoring your taxes will only make things worse.

    Consider the case of photographer Annie Leibovitz. According to New York magazine, the I.R.S. put $1.9 million worth of liens on her properties because she failed to pay income tax.

    Or skier Lindsey Vonn, who owed $1.7 million in back taxes. In a Facebook post, she claimed that she had been unaware of the balance because she wasn't handling her own finances.

    How not to make the same mistake. Hiding your head in the sand and pretending a financial problem doesn't exist is a natural impulse.

    There's even a term for it: "the ostrich effect." Economist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University describes it as a human tendency to "avoid information following neutral or bad news, which can induce costs due to delays in information acquisition in adverse environments."

    Fail to pay enough in taxes, and you could be slapped with a penalty equaling 0.5% of your total unpaid sum per month. If you never file in the first place, the fine rises to 5%. On top of that, you'll have to pay interest on the unpaid tax liability -- the federal short-term interest rate, plus an additional 3 percent. (There's a different program for those who owe more than $50,000.)

    If you find yourself owing big bucks, Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant and tax expert for TurboTax, says overwhelmed taxpayers have options.

    "Under the I.R.S. Fresh Start program, you can set up an installment plan to pay your tax debt back over six years," she explains. There's an initiation fee of $100, plus nominal interest, but the I.R.S. will slash the penalty on your bill from 0.5 to 0.25 percent.

    To try and avoid a hefty year-end tax bill altogether, Greene-Lewis has a few suggestions: If you're self-employed, pay estimated quarterly taxes. Expecting a bonus or raise? Readjust your withholdings. And consider maxing out your retirement accounts, if possible, to lower your taxable income.

    Mistake No. 4: Skipping a Prenup

    A prenup spells out what happens to your financial assets in the event of divorce or death. But the legal document does more than simply safeguard the money you already have -- it also shields you from any debt your spouse might accrue, and protects your future earnings.

    Consider the defunct marriage of Madonna and director Guy Ritchie. Even though her fortune was much more substantial, the Material Girl never sought a prenup from her director-husband-to-be.

    Eight years later, when she filed for divorce in 2008, she had to fork over between $76 million and 92 million to her ex-nearly a fifth of her net worth at that time.

    But even if you and your partner are in the same financial boat when you wed, your career could soar over the years while his stagnates.

    Katy Perry earned an estimated $44 million during her marriage to Russell Brand -- far outpacing his pay. They, too, didn't have a prenup. So Brand was legally eligible to receive half of her assets, although he decided not to go after her money.

    "Highfliers will often have the opportunity to remake the money they lost in a divorce, but if you lose half your retirement nest egg, you may not have a chance to rebuild it," says matrimonial lawyer Arlene Dubin, author of "Prenups for Lovers."

    How not to make the same mistake. If you're already married, you can opt for a postnuptial agreement -- although it's not as watertight.

    Los Angeles Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt signed a postnup in 2004, yet it was thrown out as invalid during their legendary 2011 settlement. Theirs was one of the most expensive divorce proceedings in California history -- and highlights how a postnup can be too little legal protection, too late.

    So if you're getting married, bring up the P word as part of a broader conversation about how you'll approach your finances as a team, making it feel like a truly collaborative process.

    "Be open and honest, and express what your motivation is," Dubin says. "Try something like, 'We've had a seaside cottage in my family for years, and I need to make sure it will remain in my family,' or 'I have substantial student loan debt, and I don't want you to ever be saddled with that.' "

    Another advantage of a prenup is that it requires full disclosure of each person's assets, liabilities and income -- getting it all out in the open prior to the Big Day.

    "Go with someone who has professional credentials, like a CFP, CFA or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS). These advisers will lay out all your options, but you are ultimately responsible for deciding how you want to invest."

    Mistake No. 5: Delegating Too Much Financial Responsibility

    A financial adviser can help you navigate all manner of potential money mistakes, but before you partner with anyone, do your homework to ensure you're working with an accredited professional.

    In 2014 Rihanna won a $10 million settlement after claiming that her accountant mismanaged her funds, leading to tens of millions of dollars in losses. And San Antonio Spurs MVP Tim Duncan recently sued his financial adviser, alleging he forged his signature and siphoned his earnings, costing Duncan over $20 million.

    In other words, you can pay a high price for assuming that hiring a money manger gives you license to check out of overseeing your finances.

    How not to make the same mistake. "Go with someone who has professional credentials, like a CFP, CFA or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)," McNary says, highlighting the subset of no-fee planners who have a fiduciary responsibility to put their clients' needs first and are not licensed to receive commissions.

    "These advisers will lay out your options, but you are ultimately responsible for deciding how you want to invest," explains McNary.

    And when you have an initial meeting with a potential planner, McNary suggests saying something like, "We have an extra $100,000 and are considering using it to expand our house, contribute to our IRA, or build up our son's college fund. How would you work with us?"

    "If they tell you exactly what you should do, such as directing you to put it all in a brokerage account rather than present you with different options, that's a red flag [in that first meeting]," McNary warns.

    So heed the hard-earned lessons of these celebs, and take control of your finances -- regardless of how many digits make up your net worth.

     

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    Honda Motor Co. Headquarters And Cars As Air-Bag Deaths Draw Congress Scrutiny As Recalls Widen
    Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesHonda vehicles are displayed outside company headquarters in Tokyo.
    By Minami Funakoshi

    TOKYO -- Honda Motor (HMC) said Thursday it is recalling about 4.5 million more cars globally to replace air bag inflators made by supplier Takata Corp., the latest move in the Japanese automaker's efforts to deal with a safety scare that has seen firms around the world recall tens of millions of cars.

    Of the 4.5 million, 1.63 million are being recalled in Japan, Honda said.

    Takata is at the center of the recalls of vehicles equipped with air bag inflators that can explode with too much force and spray metal fragments inside vehicles. Regulators have linked eight deaths to the component, all in cars made by Honda.

    North America isn't included in this latest recall, he said.

    The automaker independently collected about 1,000 Takata-made air bag inflators from Honda cars not covered in previous recalls for investigative purposes, which Takata then analyzed, the spokesman said.

    Honda, based on its own analysis of data provided by Takata, found that a variance in the density of gas-producing chemicals in inflators may lead to abnormal deployment of air bags in the future and issued the new recall, according to the spokesman.

    Earlier Thursday, Honda chief executive Takahiro Hachigo told reporters that while his firm will continue to investigate the issue with Takata, and work as a business partner with the supplier, it has no plans to provide financial aid to Takata.

    Honda last month restated its financial results for the business year ended March, to account for additional costs related to its recalls of cars equipped with Takata air bag parts.

     

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    Earns PepsiCo
    AP
    By Sruthi Ramakrishnan

    PepsiCo reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and sales and recorded revenue growth in its Americas beverages business for just the second time in nearly four years, helped by higher demand and an increase in prices.

    The company also raised its full-year adjusted earnings forecast.

    PepsiCo, like other soft drink makers, has been battling falling soda sales in the United States, with customers turning to healthier drinks that use natural ingredients.

    However, revenue from the company's Americas beverages business, its largest, rose 1 percent to $5.34 billion in the second quarter, helped by a 1 percent rise in organic volume sales and its strategy of raising product prices overseas to offset the impact of a strong dollar.

    The company said Wednesday that it would report results for its North America beverages business separately from the third quarter, instead of clubbing it with Latin America beverage sales.

    PepsiCo plans to report Latin America beverage sales together with Latin America food sales from the current quarter.

    Analysts welcomed the move, saying it would increase transparency into the company's North America beverages business.

    PepsiCo took a net charge of $105 million in 2014 as it reassessed the value of its assets in Venezuela after the devaluation of the bolivar, and said exchange mechanisms in the country are still shrouded in significant uncertainty.

    Frito-Lay snacks sales in North America, PepsiCo's second-largest business, grew 2 percent to $3.45 billion in the quarter. The business sells snacks such as Doritos tortilla chips and Cheetos.

    The company raised its forecast for 2015 adjusted earnings per share growth to 8 percent on a constant currency basis, or about $5 a share, from 7 percent.

    Net income attributable to PepsiCo rose to $1.98 billion, or $1.33 a share, in the quarter ended June 13. Excluding items, it earned $1.32 a share, beating the average analyst estimate.

    Net revenue fell 5.7 percent to $15.92 billion as a stronger dollar continued to weigh on overseas sales, but also trumped estimates.

    PepsiCo (PEP) shares rose 0.7 percent to $96.35 in early trading Thursday.

     

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    Travel During July 4th Holiday Weekend Expected To Be Heavy, Spurred In Part By Lower Gas Prices
    Getty Images
    By John Kemp

    LONDON -- Consumption of gasoline in the United States is surging according to estimates prepared by the Energy Information Administration.

    More than 9.5 million barrels per day of gasoline were supplied to domestic customers over the last four weeks.

    Consumption is running about 480,000 bpd above the 2014 level and 250,000 bpd above the 10-year seasonal average.


    The amount supplied to domestic customers has to be estimated from refinery production, imports, exports and stockpiles so it is subject to some estimating errors but the data all paint a consistent picture of strong demand.

    Refineries are running flat out to meet fuel demand from motorists. U.S. refineries have been processing a near-record 16.5 million bpd of crude in recent weeks,1 million bpd higher than the seasonal average.

    Gasoline production is running at almost 10 million bpd, a level only ever exceeded for a few weeks in 2014.

    But gasoline stockpiles have fallen 25 million barrels, 10 percent, since February and are now just 4 million barrels over 2014 levels and 5 million barrels over their long-term average.

    Hitting the Gas

    After almost a decade in which gasoline consumption remained in the doldrums, demand has come back strongly.

    Gasoline consumption peaked in summer 2007 at almost 9.7 million bpd. But then soaring fuel prices and the recession took their toll and sent demand as low as 9.2 million bpd in summer 2009.

    Demand only began growing again in 2013 and 2014 when prices stabilized and the economy started to recover. In 2015, demand appears to be accelerating as the expansion matures and fuel prices remain 25 percent lower than a year ago.

    Traffic volumes on U.S. highways are running at least 3 percent higher than year-ago levels according to data from state transportation agencies.

    At the same time, Americans are driving larger vehicles. Demand for large sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks with relatively higher fuel consumption per mile is growing fast, encouraged by lower fuel bills.

    The share of light-duty vehicles classified as trucks rather than cars was 54 percent in June 2015, up from 50.6 percent in June 2014, according to Autodata.

    Fuel consumption has been the big story in the first half of 2015 as the strongest demand in almost a decade has helped keep refining margins strong and support crude prices despite rising output from OPEC.

    (John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.)

     

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    Unemployment Benefits
    M. Spencer Green/APJob seekers at a career fair in Chicago.
    By Elvina Nawaguna

    WASHINGTON -- New applications for U.S. unemployment insurance benefits rose last week to their highest level since February, suggesting some slowdown in the labor market recovery.

    Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 297,000 for the week that ended July 4, the Labor Department said Thursday.

    Even with the rise in claims, the latest report marks the 18th consecutive week of new filings below 300,000, which is considered consistent with a firming labor market.

    The previous week's claims were revised to 282,000, showing that 1,000 more people filed than initially reported.

    Economists polled by Reuters had expected new applications to fall to 275,000 last week.

    The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations and is therefore considered a better gauge of the labor market, rose 4,500 to 279,500 last week.

    U.S. Treasuries erased some losses after the data, while the dollar trimmed gains against the euro and the yen. Stock index futures were unchanged.

    The claims report covered the period which included the Independence Day holiday, but a Labor Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state level data last week. He did note that claims data tends to be volatile in July because of retooling by auto plants during that period.

    Trend readings of both initial and continuing claims remain low from a historical perspective, which we expect to continue.

    Jesse Hurwitz, an economist at Barclays Capital, said that because of the holiday and auto plant shutdowns, he was inclined to look past the volatility in the report.

    "Trend readings of both initial and continuing claims remain low from a historical perspective, which we expect to continue," he said.

    Continued claims -- the number of people still claiming jobless benefits after an initial week of aid -- rose 69,000 to 2.334 million in the week ended June 27, the Labor Department said.

    The labor market has been tightening, with the unemployment rate not too far from the 5 percent to 5.2 percent range that most Federal Reserve officials consider consistent with full employment.

    A government report last week showed employers adding 223,000 jobs in June, a slowdown from the prior month, and the U.S. unemployment rate sliding to 5.3 percent.

     

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    Pay Bills with Your Selfies

    By Alex Heath

    MasterCard is taking mobile payments one step further.

    Instead of merely using your fingerprint to authorize a transaction like Apple Pay, MasterCard is going to let you take a selfie. Buy a drink with your MasterCard, and the app sends a notification to snap a picture of your face to confirm your identity.

    The hope is that Snapchat-obssesed millennials will love the idea.

    "The new generation, which is into selfies... I think they'll find it cool," MasterCard's Ajay Bhalla told CNN in an interview. "They'll embrace it."

    As an added security measure, you have to blink when taking a selfie. (That way someone wouldn't be able to just hold up a photo of you to trick the app.) MasterCard's app will also support fingerprint scanning for authorizing purchases.

    The feature is still in the early stages of development, and MasterCard plans to let 500 cardholders test it before everyone else.

     

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    Save When Shopping at the Farmers' Market
    A lot of people think that shopping at a farmers' market will cost you more than going to a supermarket, but that's simply not true. In fact, if you have a good game plan you can find great local produce without overpaying. Here are a few ways to save.

    First, if you want to get more for your money, buy fruits and vegetables in bundles. You'll be much more likely to score a deal if you're buying in bulk. So, if there's a particular type of produce you eat often, like tomatoes, buy a bunch and save them for later. You can use them to make sauce and freeze it, so you won't have to buy more when they're no longer in season.

    Speaking of in-season, you can take your savings a step further and buy produce during its peak season. For instance, by shopping a few weeks into summer, that cantaloupe or eggplant will be in heavy supply, which means you'll pay even less than you would have at the start of the season.

    Another great way to save at the farmers' market is by knowing when to pay for organic produce. While some items like strawberries, peaches and celery are known to have lots of pesticide residue, others like avocados and onions don't. Only pay extra for organic fruits and vegetables when you need to, and if you're unsure if certain foods have pesticides or fertilizers, ask your farmer what they use so you can be confident about what you're buying.

    Lastly, don't judge a piece of produce by its cover. Most of the time, farmers will mark down the prices of bruised or overripe fruit, even though there's nothing wrong with it. Look past the blemishes and save a ton of money on a perfectly good piece of produce.

    The next time you head out to buy fruits and vegetables, remember these tips and give the farmers' market a try. You'll see that with a solid game plan, you can get fresh local produce without spoiling your budget.

    View Poll

     

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    ann arbor  mi   august 24 ...
    ShutterstockPanera Bread was the first chain to voluntarily display calorie information at all its cafes nationwide in 2010.
    By Natalie Grover

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would extend the deadline for chain restaurants to disclose calorie counts on menus by a year to the end of 2016.

    The FDA set a national standard for restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets late in 2014, to make people more aware of the risks of obesity posed by fatty and sugary foods as part of the Affordable Care Act.

    More than a third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The calorie rule covers meals at sit-down restaurants, take-out food, bakery items, ice cream from an ice-cream store and pizza, which will be labeled by the slice and whole pie.

    They were required to display calories on all menus and menu boards by the end of 2015. Nutritional details, including calories from fat, cholesterol, sugars and protein, must be made available in writing upon request.

    The rule also includes movie theaters, amusement parks and alcoholic beverages served in restaurants, but not drinks mixed or served at a bar.

    At the time of publication in December last year, the FDA had given restaurants a year and vending machine operators two years to comply with the rule.

    Since then, industry, trade and other associations, have asked for an additional year to comply, the regulator said Thursday.

    To keep the process moving, the FDA plans to issue in August a draft guidance to answer frequently asked questions the agency has received to assist covered establishments in complying with the rule, it said.

    Panera Bread (PNRA) was the first company to voluntarily display calorie information at all its cafes nationwide in 2010. Others, including McDonald's (MCD) and Starbucks (SBUX), followed suit.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Seth Wenig/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks closed higher Thursday after Wall Street found relief in Beijing's efforts to halt a rout in Chinese stocks, which lifted markets around the world.

    Shares of Apple bucked the market and logged their first five-day losing streak since January as investors worried that consumers in China might have less money to spend on iPhones.

    Wall Street had fallen sharply in the previous session as market turmoil in China, a rout in commodity prices, the Greek debt crisis and a major outage on the New York Stock Exchange spooked investors.

    China's securities regulator, in its most drastic step yet to arrest a selloff on Chinese stock markets, banned shareholders with large stakes in listed firms from selling for the next six months.

    About 30 percent has been knocked off the value of Chinese shares since mid-June. Some investors fear that the turmoil in the Chinese market could destabilize the global financial system, making it a bigger risk than the Greek crisis.

    Adding to cautious optimism on Wall Street, European markets rose on hopes that Greece might be able to win a deal that could keep it in the eurozone. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has until midnight to propose spending cut plans.

    "There a relief that [China's sell-off] didn't continue. There's a relief that there doesn't seem to be any belligerent tone coming out of Greece," said Steve Goldman, principal of Goldman Management in Short Hills, New Jersey.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 33.2 points, or 0.2 percent, to end at 17,548.62. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 4.63 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,051.31 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 12.64 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,922.40.

    All three indexes earlier traded up 1 percent or more.

    "There was a bit more optimism this morning and then just a general fallback as the day went on," said Giri Cherukuri, head trader at OakBrook Investments in Lisle, Illinois, which oversees $1.3 billion.

    Seven of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were higher, with the financial index leading the gainers with a 0.8 percent rise.

    The NYSE, which accounted for about 13 percent of the volume of U.S. stocks traded last month, said Wednesday's halt was due to a technical problem that stemmed from new software rolled out
    the previous evening.

    Earnings Season Begins

    Second-quarter earnings season is getting under way with major U.S. banks scheduled to report next week.

    Shares of Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), the largest U.S. drug store chain, jumped 4.2 percent after the company raised its full-year profit forecast.

    Coty (COTY) shares fell 4.7 percent after Procter & Gamble agreed to sell its beauty business to the company in a deal that values the business at $12.5 billion. P&G (PG) shares fell 0.4 percent.

    Apple (AAPL) dropped 2 percent to $120.07, just over a dollar above its 200-day moving average, closely watched by traders.

    On Friday, investors will look to a press conference by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen for new clues about when the central bank will begin to raise interest rates for the first time since 2006.

    A hike in interest rates increases the cost of borrowing, crimping corporate profit margins.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,773 to 1,284, for a 1.38-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,757 issues rose and 997 fell for a 1.76-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 9 new 52-week highs and 17 new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 34 new highs and 84 new lows.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Commerce Department releases wholesale trade inventories for May at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

     

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    Black businessman looking out airplane window
    Getty Images
    By Lou Carlozo

    So what do the well-to-do do daily? That is, besides ask the butler to clear the tablecloth with one of those chrome, crumb-scraper thingies? Or send their laundry out via stretch limo? Or visit the bank vault the way some people pop by Trader Joe's?

    It's true that money can't buy many things -- but some things can buy money, and wealthy people practice them daily. That's because whether they're eccentric or exceptional, wealthy people think and act differently from most of us: It's how they made their riches in the first place.

    What follows is a list of 15 things that the rich embrace as daily habits. What's it worth to you? You do the math: If you know of someone who's a millionaire and does all of these things, that means each one is worth $66,666.67. Or if you prefer round numbers -- and what tycoon doesn't? -- call it $70,000 a habit for a cool $1.05 million. Speaking of which ...

    1. They Keep Their Cool

    To write his 1937 book "Think and Grow Rich" (which has sold more than 70 million copies, reported Forbes in 2011), author Napoleon Hill studied the habits of more than 500 wealthy people. Among the crucial factors he identified for likable people: When you're trying to build wealth, overreaction gives people a poor impression. As Hill wrote in another essay, "Remember that silence may be much more effective than your angry words."

    2. They Maintain a Daily to-Do List

    Certified public accountant Tom Corley, the president of Cerefice & Co. accounting firm in Rahway, New Jersey, conducted a self-styled, five-year study on wealthy and poor people. His results appear in the book "Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals," and if buying it isn't on your to-do list, maybe it should be. When Corley asked about to-do lists, 81 percent of rich people said they kept them, compared to 19 percent of those in poverty. Two-thirds of wealthy listers complete 70 percent or more of their daily tasks. And if they're falling short on some items, look at it this way: Leveraged buyouts take time.

    3. They Don't Watch TV

    This action item (or non-action item) has more to do with "Judge Judy" reruns being hazardous to your mental health. It's about productive use of time, as Corley relates on his Rich Habits website. Only 23 percent of the rich watch more than an hour of TV a day, compared with 77 percent of the poor. That leaves time for wealthy folks to do other things that broaden their financial horizons, such as reading. Ah yes, but what?

    4. They Read the Financial Times

    Go ahead, make fun of those sissy, salmon-colored newsprint pages; the FT crowd is laughing all the way to the bank. In February, Harvard's Nieman Foundation ran an article on the Financial Times' supposed struggles. Its website ranks only 44th in the U.S. business news category, but it appears some folks are counting the wrong numbers. The piece also cites FT's own stats, which estimate average subscriber income at $250,000 -- while 13 percent of readers are millionaires.

    5. They Network

    Like poor Cubs fans, rich people tend to hang out with each other. They also dedicate time to widening their circles of acquaintance and influence, whether through business organizations, LinkedIn or groups that attract ambitious, entrepreneurial minds, such as the Chicago Lean Startup Circle, a high-tech hub.

    6. They Eat Healthy

    It's hard to get your moneymaking brain in high gear if you feed it Twinkies and Diet Coke all day long. And the sad news is that diets of low-income people are getting worse, while those of high-income people are improving, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. This is not merely a function of money; food like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats aren't only heart healthy, but relatively inexpensive -- especially when compared to, say, caviar.

    7. They Educate Themselves

    Books on MP3. Avid reading. TED Talks videos. Whatever the forum, wealthy folks are absorbing more knowledge, according to Corley. His research showed that 63 percent of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work versus 5 percent of poor people.

    8. They Invest

    This might sound like a no-brainer -- if you're rich, you have plenty of money to invest, right? But the wealthy track and pour much more money by percentage into pensions and insurance, whether actively or passively, on a daily basis. In its Consumer Expenditure Survey released in 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that those in the upper 20 percent of wealthy spend 15.6 percent of their income on pensions and insurance. That's more than six times as much as the lower 20 percent.

    9. They Avoid Gambling

    For some people, playing the market might seem like a gamble. But for the wealthy, temptations such as the lottery and casinos are less pronounced, says a study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions. The institute found that the poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling: It was twice as likely in neighborhoods with the highest levels of concentrated poverty compared to neighborhoods with the lowest poverty levels.

    10. They Rise Early

    The early bird gets more than the worm, it seems. "Take 100 millionaires from across the world, and I'll bet you not one of them sleeps in," wrote Murray Newlands, a startup adviser, investor and entrepreneur. "The majority of these individuals are up at 6 or 7 a.m. slaving away while the rest of us are still eating pancakes."

    11. They Exercise

    OK, not every wealthy person does; we all know the fat cat stereotype. But Psychology Today reported in 2013 a study of 5,042 Finnish twin males. (Who knew there even existed 5,042 Finnish twin males?) The results showed that being physically active positively influenced 15-year income, with physically active males making 14 percent to 17 percent more than less active males. In other words, they made it to the Finnish line sooner. (Insert groan here.)

    12. They Set and Stick to Goals

    This advice comes from Idan Shpizear, who parlayed $3,000 into a $27 million business, 911 Restoration, which helps homeowners recover from water damage. He says that focusing on goals makes the difference between survival and success. "A lot of people jump straight to business but don't have a vision or strategy and goals. If you go through this process every day, your life will change."

    13. They Set Aside Time to Be Creative

    New York Times best-selling author Brendon Burchard -- who hangs out with the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson -- consistently blocks out time to create. He says it's a habit of the super-successful, as noted in Entrepreneur magazine.

    14. They Buy Up Company Stock

    When Fidelity Investments looked at clients who had $1 million or more in their 401(k) accounts, they found that a whopping 75 percent of their assets invested in company stock and stock mutual funds. So while the rest of us hit the vending machine at work, they dedicate a daily portion of their salary to becoming millionaires.

    15. They Know When to Call It a Day

    Newlands -- the same expert that talked about "slaving away" -- is by no means saying the rich are workaholics and that we should be as well. Rather, they save their energy to take on tomorrow just as they did today: "Stop working at 5 or 6 p.m. and do not do anything work-related (which includes checking your phone or emails) until the next day."

     

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    Realtor showing senior couple view from balcony
    Alamy
    By Robert McGarvey

    NEW YORK -- For generations the advice about housing for seniors has always been the same: Own, preferably pay with cash, and have the peace of mind of knowing where you lay your head at night is taken care of. Except now, new voices are increasingly heard that advise seniors to rent -- a strategy that may provide superior piece of mind.

    There is a lot right about the advice to own outright. Yet it is also fact that the last decade has seen a roller coaster homeownership market in which many thousands lost big money -- sometimes in foreclosure, sometimes in short sales -- often because the owner had to sell at a loss just to unload a home that was no longer wanted. Those painful memories are why a big rethink is going on around senior living arrangements.

    Although home ownership has been part of the American dream, for many retirees who feel they can't retire comfortably, it can become the American nightmare.

    "Although home ownership has been part of the American dream, for many retirees who feel they can't retire comfortably, it can become the American nightmare," said Chris Miles, founder and cashflow expert at MoneyRipples.com.

    Miles said it boils down to a simple equation: do you value flexibility and freedom (that means rent) or control and ownership (that means buy).

    Statistics show that more seniors are opting for renting and its flexibility. Philip Martin, head of market research at Chicago-based Waterton Associates, a real estate investment firm, said that in 2000, 80 to 85 percent of seniors (defined as 55 to 74) owned a home. Today, said Martin, that number is 75 to 80 percent.

    Lee Rawiszer, managing principal of financial advisory company Paradigm Financial Partners, added that more senior citizens are choosing to sell their homes and renting, because they need the added money the sale of their home can provide to boost their retirement portfolios. Some 2.2 million people age 65 and older are projected to become renters in the next decade, added Rawiszer.

    One trigger is that at least in some home markets -- San Francisco, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, to name a few -- there's a sense that the top of the housing market is near so now is the time to sell.

    But there are other factors that may tilt the balance in favor of renting, Martin elaborated. "Renting, as opposed to owning a home, is a lower cost housing alternative," he said. "Boomers can enjoy maintenance-free living and don't have to have equity tied up to move in. Additionally, renting can be a wealth management tool for boomers, as sale proceeds from a home can be redeployed/invested more appropriately to meet the income needs associated with retirement living."

    Martin also said that a trend is for boomers to abandon suburbia -- where their homes probably were - in favor of urban settings where they find richer cultural amenities. And those urban cores may have fewer ownership opportunities, typically at breathtaking prices, thus a nudge into renting.

    Yet another benefit to renting is offered by lawyer Joan Wenner in Orlando, Florida. "One point that should be mentioned is elder fraud which is one factor that has seniors particularly renting in today's world as it is increasingly difficult for them to obtain reputable contractors for home repairs or renovations," she said. "With renting, this burden is shifted to a landlord." That is fact: many criminals prey on seniors, selling them shoddy or unneeded home repairs. All that stops when the senior becomes a renter.

    Renting is not all peaches and cream, however. "Since rental prices in major cities can spike in economic upturns and seniors, who often live on fixed incomes, are more sensitive to such spikes, it's important for a senior to choose a rental home in a place where prices have remained relatively stable," said Michael Greenberg, CEO at New York City brokerage Level Group.

    Like where? Any senior planning a rental lifestyle needs to research particular towns on his wish list but, in a broad stroke, towns with good rent control (New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.) are excellent picks although, often, the rental market is fiercely tight.

    Another variable: sunbelt cities with comparatively abundant apartment rentals, such as Houston and Phoenix, generally offer good supply. That is likely to put downward pressure on rents for years.

    But, bottomline, for any senior contemplating renting, gather info about rent volatility. But also know, the beauty of renting is there is no lock in. If the rent goes up too much, move. That's an important advantage that is a renter's.

    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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    Carowinds 2010
    Edward Beavers/Flickr
    Theme parks and amusement parks across the country are enjoying what could be a record season of turnstile clicks. The improving economy is helping, but many attractions are making their own luck by rolling out new rides to woo thrill-seekers.

    Let's go over a few of the notable rides debuting across the country, and while we're at it, let's talk about ways for you to score deals on cheaper admissions.

    Fury 325 at Carowinds -- North Carolina

    One of the largest coasters to open this season is Fury 325 at Cedar Fair's (FUN) Carowinds park that straddles the border of North Carolina and South Carolina. True to its name, Fury 325's signature element is a chain lift that takes riders up 325 feet before reaching a top speed of 95 mph.

    Discount tip: You can save $15 by going on a weekday and ordering your tickets online through the Carowinds website.

    Thunderbird at Holiday World -- Indiana

    A perennial winner of industry awards for being the cleanest and friendliest park in the country, Holiday World has been a staple for coaster enthusiasts who favor wooden coasters. It has three thrilling woodies in its arsenal, but this year Raven, Legend, and Voyage are joined by Thunderbird.

    Holiday World's first steel scream machine is also a wing coaster, with riders sitting on floor-less seats on both sides of the track. There's also a launch element that catapults thrill-seekers from zero to 60 mph in a little more than three seconds.

    Discount tip: Holiday World prides itself on its value, offering guests complimentary soft drinks and sunscreen throughout their stay. It also discounts late arrivals. Show up after 3 p.m. on any operating day and admission drops to $34.99 at the gate, a $10 discount to what folks arriving earlier have to pay.

    Wicked Cyclone at Six Flags New England -- Massachusetts

    Six Flags (SIX) has decided to dress up a pair of its coasters, rebuilding the track to provide some pretty extreme elements. It did this at Magic Mountain in California, turning Colossus -- the wood dueling coaster that became a Hollywood star with a pivotal role in the original National Lampoon's "Vacation" movie -- into Wicked Colossus. It also worked its track-twisting magic at Six Flags New England with Wicked Cyclone.

    The rebuilt coaster packs a lot of the airtime that the original offered, but introduces some twisting inversions and a rich storm-themed queue leading up to the experience. It's also the first coaster to offer a 200-degree stall loop, taking riders upside down between a pair of banked turns.

    Discount tip: You can save up to $15 if you buy your tickets online ahead of your visit. According to coupon aggregator RetailMeNot, if you click on the "Promo" tab and enter the word COKE -- Coca-Cola (KO) is a Six Flags partner -- you may shave another dollar off the discounted online price. The promotion is expected to run all season long.

    Laff Trakk at Hersheypark -- Pennsylvania

    The new ride at the self-anointed "sweetest place on Earth" doesn't pack the same mammoth drops and inversions as the attractions already noted, but Laff Trakk gives a family-friendly coaster a new tweak by enclosing the entire ride in a fun-house setting with glow-in-the-dark props to provide a jovial family-friendly experience.

    Discount tip: Most amusement parks team up with area grocers and fast-food chains to offer coupons or marked down admissions. In Hersheypark's case, stop by an area Giant supermarket to pre-purchase discounted tickets to shave $15 off the regular $61.95 admission price.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. He spends his summers chasing thrills, and has ridden 175 different coasters at last count. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days, and click here to check out our free report for one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Beginner's Guide to Buying Your First Car

    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    It's a well-known fact that after a house, a vehicle is probably the biggest purchase you will ever make.

    Unfortunately, while your house might gain value over time, your car eventually will turn into a nearly worthless hunk of metal, plastic and upholstery.

    1. Buy used ... usually. You knew this would be the first bit of advice, right? Of course it is. How could it not be when Edmunds reports that the average new car loses 11 percent of its value as soon as it's driven off the lot? That means your $20,000 car is suddenly worth less than $18,000.

    So it almost always makes sense to buy used. Wait two or three years, and you can often get a much cheaper car that is almost as good as one fresh off the assembly line.

    However, if you're planning to get a car that's only 1 year old, a new car may be cheaper in some cases after dealer and manufacturer incentives are factored in.

    2. Do your homework. Regardless of whether you're buying new or used, do your homework first. Research the going price and available options for the cars you're eyeing. Of course, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds are good places to start, but don't stop there. Those sites approximate a car's market value. But in the end, capitalism rules. Supply and demand dictate actual prices.

    Cruise Craigslist and browse the online ads to get a feel for prices in your area. You want to have a good grasp of local prices before you set foot on a dealership lot and get talked into a "good deal" that really isn't a deal at all.

    Speaking of homework, make sure you're doing an apples-to-apples comparison when shopping around.

    I'll go ahead, risk looking the fool and confess to this mistake: I recently bought a Toyota Sienna with an LE trim but had been comparing it with vehicles with an XLE trim when doing online research. It wasn't until after I got the vehicle home that I realized my mistake.

    Although I still got a good price, it wasn't the totally awesome deal I thought I had negotiated.

    3. Embrace high miles. It used to be that a car with 100,000 miles was living on borrowed time.

    How times have changed. Today's cars are built to last 200,000 miles or more. So why are you freaking out about buying a used car with 110,000 miles on it?

    For many models, the price starts dropping through the floor once the mileage goes north of 100,000. By saying no to these high-mileage cars, you're rejecting a lot of good deals.

    Not every high-mileage car is a good buy, but if you find a reliable make and model, you can get good quality at a low price.

    4. Time your purchase right. There are two facets to this piece of advice.

    The first is to buy on the right day. As you might guess, the end of the month is often a good time to buy a car, particularly if salespeople are trying to meet their quotas or qualify for a monthly bonus.

    However, the very best day to shop could be Dec. 31. The salesperson wants to make a deal before the end of the year. Plus, there may be fewer car shoppers, meaning more incentive for sales reps to close a deal.

    Be aware of seasonal trends in your area, especially if you're buying from a private party. Four-wheel-drive trucks may be in demand in the winter but cost less in the summer. Meanwhile, convertibles and some jeeps might be cheaper in the fall.

    And you might want to avoid shopping in the spring if possible. When tax refunds start hitting bank accounts, there could be a lot more shoppers in the market, and that could drive prices up.

    5. Forget the monthly payment. Sales reps want to talk monthly payments as soon as you walk in the door. If they can get you thinking in terms of a monthly cost rather than a total cost, they've increased their odds of selling you more car than you intended to buy.

    Remember, the dealer can work some mathematical magic - such as extending the repayment term to six or seven years - to make an overpriced vehicle fit into a meager budget.

    Avoid the trap of ending up with reasonable payments for an unreasonable length of time by negotiating the total price rather than a monthly amount.

    To make sure you are negotiating in the right price range, ask a local bank or credit union whether it offers a preapproval process so you can find out in advance what you can afford.

    6. Think twice about trade-ins. Don't mention your trade-in unless it absolutely has to be part of the transaction. Instead, tell the dealer you haven't decided what to do with your current vehicle.

    Once you have haggled over the cost of your new purchase, negotiate the value of your trade-in. This method helps ensure you not only get the best price on your new car, but also that you maximize what you receive for the trade-in.

    Another trick dealers use is luring in shoppers with promises of huge trade-in values. If you can push, pull or drag in your old vehicle, you'll be guaranteed thousands of dollars for your trade-in.

    That sounds good until you realize that the offer applies only to certain vehicles on the lot. The sales representative will steer you toward the $15,000 vehicle and enthusiastically share that it will be only $12,000 with your $3,000 trade-in.

    It sounds like a deal too good to pass up, except you had planned to spend just $10,000.

    Or another tactic used by dealers is to bump up their car prices before running a trade-in promotion.

    7. Offer to pay with green. Buying with cash is a strategy that may or may not get you a discount.

    New-car dealers make a lot of their income on financing and insurance sales, which means they have little incentive to accept cash.

    On the used lot, you might get a little more negotiating power. That is especially likely if there is a smaller financial incentive for the dealer and the salesperson is eager to avoid the hassle of completing financing paperwork.

    However, private sales are where you'll probably see the biggest discount for a cash payment. Sellers may be eager to unload their vehicle and if you can offer cash, that's often all they need to come down on price.

    8. Buy from private sellers. Speaking of private sellers, you're likely to get a better deal from them even if you don't do any wheeling and dealing. That's one way Money Talks News finance expert Stacy Johnson found a near mint condition $5,000 car.

    Dealerships have huge overhead expenses, which means they have prices higher than what you find on the private market. Of course, established dealers have a reputation to uphold so they may be more likely to stand behind the cars they sell.

    If you're buying from a private seller, be sure to get a full inspection from a mechanic of your choice before forking over any money.

    Do you have your own advice on the subject? Share what you know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

     

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    Greek Speak
    A demonstrator raises his hand and shows the word 'No' in Greek as a Greek flag waves at a rally organized by supporters of the 'No' vote last week in Athens, Greece.
    For many Americans, the ongoing turmoil in Europe seemingly has little or no effect on their daily lives. Yet as Greece has fought both internally and with its European neighbors for months about how to deal with its increasingly burdensome debt obligations, the economic fallout from what's going on across the Atlantic has actually started to show visible effects within the U.S., and depending on what happens next, American homeowners could be the next to feel the pinch of what's happening in Europe. Let's take a closer look at why Europe's big challenges could hurt the value of your home.

    Why Europe's Markets Matter to You

    You might think that unless you're planning on traveling to Europe, what happens overseas doesn't have a big impact on your wallet. Because of the increasingly global economy, however, European troubles do have an effect both on U.S. companies and on the average American. Investors in U.S. multinational corporations, for instance, have seen their earnings from abroad take a hit, as the euro and other major foreign currencies have fallen against the U.S. dollar. Because the money that American companies make in foreign countries is worth less in U.S. dollars when America's currency is strong, they haven't enjoyed as much profit growth as they would if the dollar were stable. Greece's back-and-forth battling about whether to remain a part of the Eurozone or to readopt its old local currency has some commentators questioning whether the euro will be able to survive in the long run, as the precedent of allowing countries to leave the monetary union could destabilize global trust in the currency.

    Even if you're not an investor, though, Europe's markets are relevant to your finances. For more than a year now, as economic conditions worsened on the Continent, bond yields in Europe have plunged, with countries including Switzerland, Germany, and France having actually had negative interest rates on some of their bonds -- meaning that institutions were willing to pay the government for the privilege of holding on to their cash. Now, though, those yields have abruptly reversed direction. In Germany, bond yields soared by nearly a full percentage point between April and June, a lightning-fast response to the belief that the European economy might finally improve.

    Because the bond markets are global, lower rates in Europe helped keep U.S. rates low as well. As rates have bounced back, though, mortgage rates in the U.S. have also climbed, and that could pose a long-term threat to the housing recovery.

    Why Rates Matter for Housing

    The reason rates are so important for the U.S. housing market is that most buyers have to get mortgages in order to afford to buy a home. When interest rates rise, the amount that a bank will lend to a prospective homebuyer goes down, and that in turn could take away one of the underpinnings of the housing market's recent advance.

    For example, mortgage rates hit a low around 3 percent at their lowest point a couple of years ago. Now, you'll pay closer to 4 percent on a 30-year mortgage. On a $250,000 loan, that single percentage-point increase raises your monthly payment to $1,194 from $1,054. That might not sound like much, but if you can only afford that $1,054 payment, then your bank won't let you borrow $250,000. Instead, you'll have to make do with a mortgage loan of around $220,000.

    When buyers can't afford to borrow as much, they also can't bid up home prices as quickly. The inability of potential homebuyers to keep up with soaring housing costs was one of the main contributing factors to the housing bust in the mid-2000s, and at least in some markets across the nation, prices are starting to get close to or even surpass their highs from the housing boom.

    How to Handle European Uncertainty

    The situation in Europe is volatile, with new information constantly changing the prognosis for the eurozone's future. What Americans have to realize, though, is that they can't afford simply to ignore what's happening in Europe. If financial markets abroad start to show structural cracks, the impact could easily ripple into the U.S. and affect seemingly unrelated markets. Therefore, you should make sure that you're comfortable with your housing exposure right now to be sure you can weather whatever storm might come in the future.

    Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger looks forward to cheap euros for his European vacation this year. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google Plus. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Seth Wenig/AP
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with a family entertainment media giant announcing a new movie and an iconic trading exchange experiencing a prolonged outage.

    Disney (DIS) -- Winner

    We're now just five months away from the new Star Wars movie, but Disney isn't done milking its $4 billion purchase of George Lucas' film company. Disney confirmed reports this week that it's developing a new movie centering around the origin story of Han Solo.

    This goes beyond the final trilogy in the Star Wars series. Disney had already announced that it would be spinning off new theatrical properties from the Star Wars universe, including a movie about rebels trying to steal plans for the Death Star and an origin story for bounty hunter Boba Fett. However, now Disney is giving a new spin to one of the franchise's most significant characters. The movie won't hit theaters until 2018, but it's a good bet it will be that summer season's top draw.

    New York Stock Exchange -- Loser

    There's never a good time for a technical glitch, but Wednesday's three-hour trading halt on the New York Stock Exchange was pretty bad. It came at a time when confidence in the market was getting dicey.

    It was also bad timing since there were other problematic glitches taking down The Wall Street Journal's website and temporarily grounding United flights.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Winner

    The leading premium video streaming service has been striking deals for original movies in recent months, and this week we finally got some firm release dates.

    Cary Fukunaga's "Beasts of No Nation" will come first, debuting on Oct. 16. In a unique twist, it will also hit movie theaters at the same time. Two months later we get the first of the flicks out of Adam Sandler's multi-movie deal when "The Ridiculous Six" premieres on Dec. 11. "Pee-wee's Big Holiday," with Paul Reubens reprising his signature role, will hit Netflix next March.

    It remains to be seen if original movies will fare as well as original shows that have proven so magnetic for Netflix, but it could be another game changer for a dot-com darling that's already changed the game a lot. At least one Wall Street pro seems to like Netflix's prospects following the release dates: An analyst at Raymond James bumped his price target on the stock to $730 from $585.

    A. Schulman (SHLM) -- Loser

    There weren't a lot of companies reporting quarterly results this week, giving A. Schulman the perfect opportunity to shine. It didn't. The maker of high-performance plastic compounds and resins was once again held back as the stronger dollar resulted in sales drying up overseas. That's a pretty big deal, since international orders make up the lion's share of its business.

    A. Schulman missed Wall Street's revenue and profit targets. Making matters worse, it also hosed down its forecast for the entire fiscal year. A recent capital restructuring and challenges in incorporating a recent acquisition are weighing on its performance. It's hard to shine in that scenario when you have the stage practically all to yourself.

    Carnival (CCL) -- Winner

    There will be a new port of call at the world's largest cruise line next year: Carnival will begin taking travelers to Cuba come May. It was granted approval by the Treasury and Commerce departments after meeting all 12 criteria for authorized travel.

    Yes, there may be some backlash in Carnival's home turf of Miami, where many exiles naturally aren't warm to the communist regime. Many were imprisoned, and far more had their properties seized. It's a safe bet that the first wave of cruise passengers will have to drive past picketing protesters to go on a sailing.

    However, Carnival will still be a winner here. Adding Cuba to some of its sailings should result in an uptick in traveler interest, and given that fuel costs are a big part of Carnival's operations, it's worth noting that Cuba is just 90 miles off the coast of Key West.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Netflix 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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    Mar. 29, 2010 - Graniteville, Georgia, U.S. - Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff..Salesperson Mike McMullen leans against a Buick Enclave du
    Augusta Chronicle/ZumaPress.com
    DETROIT -- General Motors (GM) is recalling nearly 780,000 crossover SUVs mainly in North America because the rear power lift gates can suddenly fall and hit people.

    The recall covers the Buick Enclave from the 2008 to 2012 model years and the Chevrolet Traverse from 2009 to 2012. Also affected are the GMC Acadia from 2007 to 2012 and Saturn Outlook from 2007 to 2010.

    GM says in documents filed with U.S. safety regulators that dirt can get into the gas struts that hold up the gate, causing them to wear and fail. The company has 56 reports of injuries.

    Dealers will replace faulty struts and update lift gate control motor software to prevent rapid closing.

    GM says struts on SUVs built after March 1, 2012 were installed differently and are less vulnerable to dirt particles.

     

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    McDonalds Toy
    Kiichiro Sato/APImages of Minions adorn a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago.
    By MARLEY JAY

    NEW YORK -- McDonald's swears up and down that the little yellow "Minions" Happy Meal toy is speaking only nonsense words and not something a little more adult.

    Experts say the company may be right, and the fault may lie in how our brains are primed to find words even when they're not really there.

    The world's largest hamburger chain and purveyor of Happy Meals said Friday that it doesn't plan to take the talking Happy Meal toy out of distribution, even though some customers say it sounds it's cursing.

    A toy acquired by The Associated Press made a sound that could be interpreted as the phrase often abbreviated as "WTF." Another phrase sounded like it could be "Well I'll be damned." The sound quality of the toy makes it hard to say definitively who is right.

    The little yellow Minion characters speak a nonsense language and McDonald's (MCD) said the Minion Caveman toy makes three sounds -- "ha ha ha," ''para la bukay," and "eh eh." The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company issued a statement saying it received only a few comments from customers about the toy, which was introduced July 3.

    Nonsense speech will sometimes sound a bit like a real language, and experts say human brains are also wired to look for meaning in noise and images. So people will sometimes hear words in gibberish -- including words they might think are inappropriate.

    This Friday, July 10, 2015 photo shows a Minion toy in New York, distributed in McDonald's restaurant's Happy Meals. The company says the talking toy is speaking only nonsense words and not something a little more adult. Experts say McDonald's may be right, and the fault may lie in how our brains are primed to find words even when they're not really there. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)
    Patrick Sison/AP
    "The brain tries to find a pattern match, even when just receiving noise, and it is good at pattern recognition," says Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine. "Once the brain feels it has found a best match, then that is what you hear. The clarity of the speech actually increases with multiple exposures, or if you are primed by being told what to listen for" -- as most people who heard the toy online already had been.

    The technical name for the phenomenon is "pareidolia," hearing sounds or seeing images that seem meaningful but are actually random. It leads people to see shapes in clouds, a man in the moon or the face of Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich.

    The audio form of pareidolia has been causing confusion for years and years. In the 1960s the FBI investigated The Kingsmen's version of the song "Louie Louie" after concerned citizens complained that the lyrics were obscene. The band denied it, but hardly anybody could figure out the lyrics, including the FBI. The agency officially declared the words unintelligible.

    A similar phenomenon could have contributed to the belief that rock bands would put messages in their music that could only be heard by playing a record or running a tape backward.

    That contributed to the "Paul Is Dead" conspiracy theory -- in which the Beatles were supposedly covering up the death and replacement of Paul McCartney, but were constantly dropping hints about the cover-up in their songs -- and lawsuits against heavy metal bands.

    Last year a group of researchers published a paper called "Seeing Jesus in toast: neural and behavioral correlates of face pareidolia." They wanted to understand what happens in the brains of people who see a face pop out of the toaster, and they received an Ig Nobel Prize, given to scientists who do unusual, imaginative or odd work of questionable importance.

    The McDonald's promotion is scheduled to run through the end of July. The film "Minions," a prequel to the "Despicable Me" movies, premieres Friday. Some moviegoers will probably be listening intently to the Minions' dialogue.

    -AP Writer Candice Choi contributed to this report.

     

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    Wholesale Inventories
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
    By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. wholesalers boosted their stockpiles in May by the largest amount in six months, while sales rose by a modest amount.

    Wholesale stockpiles rose 0.8 percent, double the gain in April and the largest one-month rise since November, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Sales were up 0.3 percent in May following a 1.7 percent surge in April. That had been the biggest sales increase in more than a year.

    The strong increase in inventory building in May could be evidence that businesses are growing more confident about the future. A decision to accelerate inventory stocking would help bolster overall economic growth.

    The May rise left inventories at the wholesale level at a seasonally adjusted $449.8 billion, 3.8 percent below a year ago.

    Economists believe sales at both the wholesale and retail levels will rebound in coming months after a slowdown in the first quarter that was caused in part by unusually frigid weather. A pickup in consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, is expected to translate into stronger economic growth for the rest of the year.

    The government has already reported that retail sales accelerated solidly in May.

    The big inventory gain in May reflected larger stockpiles of autos and auto parts as well as furniture, lumber and computers.

    In the January-March quarter, the harsh weather and other factors sent the economy into reverse with the gross domestic product contracting at an annual rate of 0.2 percent. But analysts are forecasting a strong pickup in the current growth to GDP growth of around 2.5 percent.

    They expect growth will accelerate further in the second half of the year to a rate around 3 percent.

     

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