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    Sky Tower and city at dawn from Westhaven Marina, Auckland, North Island, New Zealand, Pacific
    Getty ImagesSky Tower and city at dawn from Westhaven Marina, Auckland, New Zealand
    2013 was a record year for expatriation.

    In 2014, we broke that record.

    According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 2,999 U.S. citizens and long-term residents moved abroad and gave up (or abandoned efforts to obtain) American citizenship in 2013. A year later, Treasury Department statistics showed a 14 percent increase in expatriations, to 3,415.

    And that could be just the beginning.

    The Trouble With Taxes

    Reporting on the trend of more and more Americans severing their ties with America, TaxNews.com noted that July 1, 2014 was the deadline for complying with the new Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

    FATCA, which requires taxpayers to declare assets and income owned abroad so that the Internal Revenue Service can tax them, was apparently a big reason that so many Americans decided to hand in their passports and leave the country last year.

    But it's not the only reason. And folks looking to dodge American taxes aren't the only ones casting longing glances abroad.

    1 in 3 See a Better Alternative

    According to a new poll conducted by British money transfer firm Transferwise, about 35 percent of the Americans it surveyed would consider leaving the U.S. and moving abroad. Only about half of those surveyed, however, cited a desire for lower taxes as one of their "major" motivations.

    Nearly equally important, it seems, is the view that there are better educational opportunities abroad (48 percent cited that as a major motivation, versus 51 percent citing lower taxes). Even more important was the perception that health care is "more affordable" in countries outside the U.S.

    What Would Make You Leave?

    While the dream of leaving the motherland and wandering strange paths abroad may be more of a daydream than a real option for some, many Americans appear to be giving a move some serious thought. If 35 percent of Americans "would consider" moving abroad eventually, perhaps around retirement age, fully 14 percent of us -- or 4 in 10 of those who "would consider" leaving the States at all -- say they would consider a move "within the next five years."

    What might push them over the edge, and into action? Not taxes. Rather, Transferwise says the three reasons most often named for considering a move abroad are:
    • "a better quality of life" -- 36 percent;
    • "a lower cost of living" -- 33 percent;
    • and just plain "to have new experiences" -- 31 percent.
    Where Can You Find That?

    Choosing a foreign country to relocate to based on cost of living alone could be problematic. Countryranker.com, for example, just published a list of the top 15 cheapest places to live. But before you get too excited, be forewarned. Six of the top 10 cheapest places to live either have ongoing civil wars or active insurgencies. A seventh is an arguable narco-state, and an eighth is at imminent risk of invasion by Russia. (And the other two are Nepal and Macedonia.)

    On the other hand, if you're willing to spend a bit more in search of a better quality of life, your options may improve. Human resources consulting firm Mercer recently published its 2015 Quality of Living rankings covering 35 leading global cities. Topping the charts are:
    • Vienna, Austria
    • Zurich, Switzerland
    • Auckland, New Zealand
    Bonus points: In New Zealand, you wouldn't even need to learn a new language. Rumor has it that the local Hobbits speak a variant of English.

    And of course, if it's just "new experiences" you're after, the horizons expand even wider. Fact is, for an American seeking new experiences, a few weeks' vacation abroad may be all you need, before returning to the land of the free and the home of the IRS.

    Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith is planning a vacation of his own this summer, to the Land of Disney. He wonders how hard it will be to get a visa.

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

     

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    Whisper Words
    Getty Images
    By Marisa Torrieri

    You're hanging out with other parents at the playground when you overhear someone discuss their kid's recent birthday party.

    You smile and nod, but you're secretly wondering, "What are they thinking paying $1,500 for a bouncy house and a three-foot 'Frozen' cake ... for a 4-year-old?"

    Welcome to modern-day parenting -- and indulging. And it doesn't necessarily end when kids leave the nest, either.

    Just read what these financial planners across the country have to share.

    We asked money pros to share some of the most outrageous things -- from plunking down serious dough to buy siblings his-and-hers convertibles to bankrolling a tanking business -- they've heard parents do for their grown (and nearly grown) kids.

    "I'm Buying Convertibles for Both of My Children."

    "I had a client who received $1 million in a divorce settlement some 10 years after the marriage had ended.

    She only made $35,000 a year, so this windfall was all the money she would probably ever have in savings.

    Shortly after she came into the money, she told me that she wanted to buy each of her kids a car -- a new convertible Mustang for her daughter and a BMW convertible for her son -- because she felt bad that they'd done without for so many years.

    I told her I understood her desire to give her kids a treat, but she'd be better off buying them used Hondas for $10,000 each, getting a house in the $150,000 to $200,000 range and then putting away a significant chunk for her own retirement.

    After telling me, 'I really want to do this for them,' she purchased the convertibles, anyway -- and burned through about $240,000 instead of investing it."

    -- Karen Lee, certified financial planner, Karen Lee and Associates

    "I'm Taking a Home Equity Loan and Doubling My Workload -- So My Kid Doesn't Have Student Loans."

    "I recently worked with parents who didn't want their child to take out any loans for college. While the sentiment is understandable, they weren't in a position to do it.

    I tried to discuss with them why I thought they should take advantage of the financial aid package they were offered, which included subsidized student loans and a work-study award.

    But they didn't want to do either -- or even let their child work part-time.

    Instead, they decided that the mother would double her workload and they'd take out a home equity loan to help pay for the private school.

    While the situation isn't disastrous, letting the child shoulder some of the responsibility of college tuition would have given the kid a sense of ownership over costs -- and served as a confidence builder for their post-college years."

    -- Marguerita M. Cheng, certified financial planner, Blue Ocean Global Wealth

    "I Want to Give My Daughter $250,000 to Save Her Restaurant."

    "A few years back, one of my retired clients came to me because her child was in a desperate situation: Her daughter and son-in-law owned a small seaside restaurant that was going bankrupt.

    My client was living on Social Security, a small pension and the earnings from her savings, which were around $300,000 at the time. She wanted to lend them $250,000 -- and the interest they'd pay on the loan would fund her retirement.

    I strongly cautioned her against the move, explaining that if the 'investment' didn't work out, she would not have enough monthly income to live on.

    "I had a situation in which the parents of a grown woman were helping her to cover most of her family's six-figure lifestyle costs -- including vacations."

    The bottom line is that you should never lend money to your children -- unless you can afford to lose it, because you're not always guaranteed to get paid back.

    Unfortunately, she did it, anyway.

    As it turned out, her daughter couldn't make the interest payments -- and my client ended up moving to Seattle to live with them, since she didn't have enough income to pay her bills. She now also works at the restaurant to earn extra money."

    -- Les Szarka, certified financial planner and CEO, Szarka Financial Planning & Investments

    "I Support My Grown Daughter ... and Her Entire Family."

    "I had a situation in which the parents of a grown woman were helping her to cover most of her family's six-figure lifestyle costs -- including vacations and schooling costs for her two children.

    Fortunately, right on the cusp of receiving yet another big infusion of cash, the daughter came to me and admitted that she knew she needed to make a change.

    So I ran financial models that illustrated how her family's cost of living was unsustainable. I also helped her see the toll the situation was taking on her self-image -- and her relationship with her parents.

    She had to make significant changes -- and work to earn more money, rather than be subsidized by her parents -- but she is well on her way to being on her feet.

    For parents like hers, treating their children as though they are unable to earn their own living may end up creating exactly that result."

    -- Colin Drake, certified financial planner, Drake Wealth Management

     

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    Berkshire
    Nati Harnik/APBillionaire Warren Buffett
    By Paul Sisolak

    Billionaire Warren Buffett is known as one of the richest investors in the world, with a net worth that seems to grow by the day. But the "Oracle of Omaha" wasn't always as filthy rich as he is today. In fact, 99 percent of his immense wealth was earned after his 50th birthday, reports Business Insider.

    That doesn't mean Buffett, 84, was a late bloomer in any sense. He started his financial path toward wealth at a very young age and built his fortune slowly over the years, decade by decade -- something we can all do with a little perseverance and a lot of hard work.

    Warren Buffett's Wealth Through the Years

    Buffett was born in 1930, at the height of the Great Depression, and showed a savvy business acumen as a child. At 11 years old, he was already buying stock: multiple shares of Cities Service Preferred for $38 apiece. When he was just a teenager, he filed his first tax return, delivered newspapers and owned multiple pinball machines placed in various businesses. By the time he graduated high school, Buffett had already bought a 40-acre farm in Omaha, Nebraska, and sold his pinball machine venture for $1,200.

    Legend has it that during his younger years Buffett once said, quite prophetically, that he would be a millionaire by age 30, "and if not, I am going to jump off the tallest building in Omaha."

    Here's a look at Warren Buffett's net worth and earnings (according to Dividend.com) and also the median household income provided by data from the U.S. Census Bureau throughout the years. Find out exactly how rich Warren Buffett was at your age and compared with the rest of America during that time.

    Warren Buffett's 20s: The First $100,000

    After graduating college, Buffett worked for his father's brokerage firm as a stockbroker. When Buffett was 21, his net worth was shy of $20,000, reports Dividend.com.

    At age 24, Buffett was offered a job by his mentor, Benjamin Graham, with an annual salary of $12,000. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, this was already about three times the annual median income for the average family in 1954 -- proof that Buffett was well on his way to fortune. By the time Buffett reached 26, his net worth was $140,000.

    Warren Buffett's 30s: Millionaire Status

    When he reached 30 years of age, Buffett's net worth was $1 million. In 1960, the average family income in the U.S. was $5,600 a year. Compared with Buffett's $1 million net worth at the time, men who were working full time only made $5,400.

    By age 35, according to Dividend, Buffett's partnerships had grown to $26 million. Buffett bought controlling stock in Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) in 1965, according to CNN, and by 1968 his partnerships grew to $104 million. Going into his forties at age 39, Buffett's net worth was listed at $25 million.

    Warren Buffett's 40s: Bounces Back From Financial Troubles

    By age 43, Buffett's personal net worth was at a high of $34 million. He used some of this capital the year prior to purchase See's Candies for $25 million, reports The Motley Fool, and it became an investment that's still profitable in 2015. But, the mid-1970s proved to be a rough period for Berkshire. By 1974, its decreasing share price lowered Buffett's net worth to $19 million when he reached 44, reports Dividend.

    Never one to let his savvy investment skills fall by the wayside, Buffett was able to recover financially. By the end of the decade, he had increased his net worth to $67 million at age 47. By the close of the 1970s, the median U.S. household income was $16,530.

    Warren Buffett's 50s: Becoming a Billionaire

    Buffett's net worth in 1982 was $376 million and increased to $620 million in 1983, according to Dividend. In 1986, at 56 years old, Buffett became a billionaire -- all while earning a humble $50,000 salary from Berkshire Hathaway.

    Meanwhile, the average American family in 1986 was making nearly half of what the Oracle of Omaha was earning in salary; the median household income in 1986 was $24,900. As Buffett neared 60 years old, he was worth $3.8 billion.

    Warren Buffett's 60s: Berkshire's and Buffett's Net Worth Grow

    In a letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in 1990, Buffett wrote that he thought the company's net worth would decrease during this decade, and the second half of 1990 supported that. But late in the year, the company was able to close with a net worth of up to $362 million. As he entered further into his 60s, Buffet's personal net worth grew as well -- to $16.5 billion by the time he was 66 years old, according to Dividend.com.

    The average American family began to creep up to Buffett in earning power during the 1990s. According to Census data, the median household income by the end of the decade was close to $42,000.

    Warren Buffett's 70s: Philanthropy and Growth

    Within six years -- from age 66 to 72 -- Buffett's net worth more than doubled. His net worth at 72 years old was listed at a whopping $35.7 billion. But, Buffett is about sharing the wealth. In 2006, he released pledge letters that stated he will donate 85 percent of his wealth to five foundations over time, reports CNN.

    The median household income in 2000 was $42,148.

    Warren Buffett's 80s: The Sky's the Limit

    As of mid-August 2015, Buffett's net worth is $67 billion, making him one of the richest billionaires in the world, behind Bill Gates and Carlos Slim Helu. At 84, Buffett shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. And while he might have an 11-figure fortune, Buffett reportedly earns only $100,000 a year at Berkshire Hathaway and spends it frugally.

    Still, the master investor is making much more than the average American. According to the most recent Census Bureau data, the median household income in the U.S. is $51,939.

    This story, How Rich Was Warren Buffett at Your Age, originally published on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Mature Woman Receiving an Injection to Her Forehead
    Getty Images
    By Mia Taylor

    NEW YORK -- In the competition among women to stay slim, beautiful and youthful, (and we all know there is such a competition), things appear to have taken a new turn.

    A recent survey conducted by the website RealSelf shows that women are now putting off major life events and milestones -- such as getting married, buying a house or even child rearing -- in favor of undergoing plastic surgery.

    The website, which had 51 million unique visitors last year and is devoted to gathering and sharing information about elective procedures, polled 700 people on the topic. The site asked individuals who had contacted a doctor about cosmetic surgery if they put off any major activity, in favor of going under the knife.

    The answers are more than a little surprising.

    About 44 percent of survey participants said they delayed at least one big purchase or life event, in order to have money for altering their appearance. One-third of respondents said they delayed a vacation. Home improvements were second on the list of activities sidelined in favor of seeking physical perfection. Further down the list, at 14 and 6 percent respectively, were delayed child bearing and postponed marriages.

    More Available, Acceptable

    "It's something that's becoming more available and socially acceptable," Tom Seery, CEO of RealSelf, says of the trend. "We're seeing in our data that people come from all over the country, all demographics, and all slices of household income."

    In other words, cosmetic surgery is fully out of the closet. There is no shame in it anymore. Quite the contrary, it is now very middle America, and no longer just the provenance of billionaires' wives or the Beverly Hills demographic. By some accounts, it's becoming so commonplace, that those not undergoing anti-aging or self-maintenance procedures are the ones being viewed askance.

    A recent report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons supports such notions.

    The 2014 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report says that a staggering 15.6 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2014. Americans spent $12.9 billion on those procedures, among the most popular of which is breast augmentation.

    The real drivers are a very strong cultural factor and personal factor -- improvement, our culture is somewhat obsessed with self.

    But beyond it simply being more widely accessible, why exactly has it become so commonplace and such a top priority?

    "The real drivers are a very strong cultural factor and personal factor -- improvement, our culture is somewhat obsessed with self," says Seery. "There is this expectation, for better or for worse, that has been shifted onto all of us."

    In order to meet those expectations, people are tapping lines of credit, withdrawing 401(k) funds and delaying other significant purchases or life events, says Seery.

    In addition, says Seery, the RealSelf survey responses are an indication of people simply planning carefully for major purchases in their life. Before taking on the lifelong expense of a child, for instance, they're getting other big-ticket goals or dreams out of the way, such as self-improvement.

    "It's about being thoughtful, and making sure the timing is right and that you have the appropriate resources," he says.

    Last October, Texas resident Chipo Marowah started saving for a home purchase. A professional nurse, she managed to set aside nearly $12,000 toward her goal.

    But at the same time Marowah's savings account was growing, so were her body issues.

    Something for Herself

    "My body image kept bothering me," says the 35-year-old mother of three. "I'm always doing things for the kids. So I wanted to do something for me."

    Marowah, who is from a very traditional African family, says there was little support for her decision. None of her family members were in favor of a cosmetic procedure. But she underwent breast augmentation anyway, enlisting a friend to drive her to and from the procedure and paying for it with $10,000 she had set aside for a home.

    "I'm so happy with it, I wouldn't trade it, or take it back," Marowah says now of her surgery, adding that the procedure has made her more confident and happier about proceeding with other goals in her life, such as a new home.

    "And once I did it, I realized a lot of other people had done it as well," she adds. "They all started showing me. It seems like at least 60 percent of my company had breast augmentations, but they don't talk about it."

    Still have we reached new heights in delaying marriages, children and home purchases? And is there any negative impact when our pursuit of physical improvement is prioritized over other experiences?

    Not necessarily, says Austin plastic surgeon and RealSelf contributor Dr. Jennifer Walden. The pursuit of happiness takes all forms and sometimes a cosmetic procedure provides a much-needed emotional boost, she says.

    "I think it's whatever gets you there -- to a state of feeling happy with your life, and comfortable with the skin you're in," explains Walden. "If that's adding to your family and having more children, so be it. I come from a liberal, feminist standpoint. There are a lot of very normal women who seek cosmetic surgery just because they want to look as good as they used to. I don't think it's bad or vain. I think it can do the trick for some people just like a two-week vacation in Bora Bora can for some people. If done well, these are definitive results and can last 15 or 20 years."

    Walden says the increasing number of people engaging in cosmetic improvements may also be fueled by the fact that many procedures no longer require surgery, and involve very little down time.

    Middle-Age Majority

    Indeed, of the 15.6 million procedures performed last year, only 1.7 million were surgical procedures. The lion's share, around 13.9 million, were minimally invasive cosmetic procedures. The top minimally invasive procedures are Botox and other soft tissue fillers. Meanwhile, the majority of those undergoing cosmetic procedures, 49 percent, are 40 to 59 years old.

    No matter how you parse the numbers, the increasing acceptance of cosmetic surgery in America has been great for business, says Walden.

    "Austin is interesting," says Walden. "Texas is a very conservative state, but Austin is this liberal, booming city, and I'm up to my ears in patients who want plastic surgery."

    Meanwhile, Marowah, the Texas nurse who recently underwent breast augmentation, has a bit of advice for others who may be contemplating a procedure: do what makes you feel good about yourself.

    Among her circle of friends and acquaintances, Marowah says she knows of one person who is putting off continuing education in favor of undergoing plastic surgery first and another who is delaying a car purchase.

    "Don't listen to what anyone thinks," says Marowah. "At the end of the day, when you're looking into that mirror, it's your self image ... Whenever you are happier about your body image, you are happier to do other things."

     

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    FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015, file photo, Tori Smith, center, director of the Southwest Branch of the Boys and Girls Club in Wichita Falls, Texas, and employees of Academy Sports and Outdoors help several club members pick out new backpacks for school. To get the best back-to-school deals, experts say it's all in the timing. (Torin Halsey/Wichita Falls Times Record News via AP, File)
    Torin Halsey/Wichita Falls Times Record News via AP
    By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO

    NEW YORK -- The start of the school year is just around the corner, and you haven't shopped yet?

    Don't fret. To get the best deals, it's all in the timing.

    Need sweater? Wait until later in the fall. Backpacks? Hold off until late September, if you can.

    "I think it is knowing and planning ahead of time. What am I going to need in the next six months?" said Kristin Cook, managing editor of Ben's Bargains, an online deal site that put together a list of the worst things to buy right now for the back-to-school season.

    Of course, some discounters have consistently low prices. Walmart Stores (WMT), which pushes everyday low prices, has launched extra discounts for the back-to-school shopping period. Earlier this month, it launched thousands of new price cuts, including on the 10 most-searched items online so an assortment of $12.88 backpacks are now $7.
    And you should take advantage of limited free shipping offers. Target (TGT) is temporarily waiving the minimum purchase order of $25 for free shipping on all items until Saturday. However, oversized handling fees may still apply.

    There are also other gimmicks. J.C. Penney (JCP), which operates 800 stores nationwide, is offering $10 haircuts for kids for grades kindergarten through sixth until Aug. 31.

    You can also take advantage of tax-free back-to-school shopping. Seventeen states have such sales tax "holidays."

    "Arm yourself with information," said Traci Gregorski, vice president of marketing for research firm Market Track, which tracks promotions at various retailers. "Lots can be found on websites, apps and circulars."

    Here are the best times to buy the following types of items:

    School Supplies

    Start shopping now for pens, notebooks and other supplies.

    Staples brought back its "Less List," which offers basics like one-subject notebooks for 25 cents and two-pocket folders for 15 cents, as well as a 24-pack Crayola crayons for 50 cents.

    Walmart rolled back prices on all three Texas Instrument calculators to $88. These graphing calculators are for high school and above and are normally $96 to $125.

    Target is testing a new way to shop for supplies online called School List Assist, which is an online hub that offers a selection of the most common supplies for grades kindergarten through eighth grade.

    For those stores with high spending thresholds for free shipping, just go to the store, said Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor at DealNews, because you'll just spend more trying to meet that $50 minimum.

    Clothing and Accessories

    Now is a good time to stock up on summer clothing, taking advantage of clearance sales. Gap's Old Navy, for example, is offering up to 60 percent off on summer tops. Macy's (M) is highlighting lightweight casual dresses for teens that are $29.99 and under.

    But it's best to wait to buy jeans, boots, sweaters and until well after school starts.

    Gregorksi monitored circulars at 13 stores including J.C. Penney, Macy's, Sears (SHLD), Target and Walmart the past two years.

    "The key takeaway here is that the best chance to get a deal on these fall clothing items is in October," said Gregorski. "Not only are there more products on promotion, but the deals are as good and often better than the back-to-school months."

    If you can hold off on buying boots a little longer than that, just take advantage of the Black Friday sales, Cook says.

    Computers and Smartphones

    Hold off on upgrading Apple iPhone and Apple iPad because Apple typically announces new launches later in the fall.

    But Glaser notes late August is the best time to buy a laptop before Black Friday sales hit. Right now, the average discounts for laptops are 15 percent, but you can get 25 percent off by the end of the month, he said.

    "Laptops are making a comeback, especially the sub-$200 models, due to the influence of Google's Chromebook," Cook says. "In fact, sub-$150 models are popping up as of late and should continue through the end of the year."

     

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    Producer Price Index
    Mark Humphrey/APWorkers prepare chocolate molds at Olive and Sinclair Chocolate in Nashville, Tenn.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. industrial output advanced at its strongest pace in eight months in July as auto production surged, another bullish sign for third-quarter economic growth that boosts the prospects of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike next month.

    While other data Friday showed a drop in consumer sentiment early this month, households were upbeat about their personal finances, a good omen for consumer spending. July employment and retail sales data also struck an optimistic note on the economy.

    It adds to the steady drum-beat of solid indicators that suggest the economy is getting off to a much better start in the second half of the year...

    "It adds to the steady drum-beat of solid indicators that suggest the economy is getting off to a much better start in the second half of the year and further increases the odds toward a September rate hike by the Fed," said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

    Industrial production shot up 0.6 percent last month after a downwardly revised increase of 0.1 percent in June, the Federal Reserve said. Economists polled by Reuters had looked for a rise of 0.3 percent in July.

    The gain in output reflected a 0.8 percent increase in factory production that was spurred by a 10.6 percent surge in motor vehicle output, the largest increase since September 2009.

    Auto manufacturers typically shut down production lines in summer for retooling, but economists speculated they probably had done so for only a short period, leading to the jump in vehicle production. Apart from autos, manufacturing rose 0.1 percent last month.

    Mining production edged up 0.2 percent as oil and gas well drilling output grew for the first time in 10 months, suggesting the energy sector was starting to stabilize after being undermined by last year's plunge in crude oil prices.

    Despite the surge in July, industrial production remains constrained by a strong dollar and lower oil prices.

    "We continue to see a stronger dollar and lower energy prices as posing headwinds for industrial output and do not look for a strong rebound in the sector this year," said Jesse Hurwitz, an economist at Barclays in New York.

    U.S. stocks were trading marginally higher, while the dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies. Prices for U.S. government debt fell.

    Benign Inflation Outlook

    In a separate report, the University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index slipped to 92.9 in early August from a reading of 93.1 in July. Still, it was the highest nine-month average since 2004 and consistent with a 3 percent annualized rate of increase in consumer spending.

    The Labor Department also reported Friday that its producer price index for final demand increased 0.2 percent last month as the cost of services rose. The PPI gained 0.4 percent in June.

    In the 12 months through July, the PPI fell 0.8 percent after declining 0.7 percent in June. It was the sixth straight 12-month decrease in the index.

    But inflation pressures are likely to remain benign due to the strong dollar, falling oil prices and China's recent devaluation of its currency. Inflation has been persistently running below the Fed's 2 percent target.

    "Looking ahead there appears to be further downward price pressure in the pipeline as a result of slowing global demand, and of course the recent devaluation of the yuan is likely to only exacerbate that pressure on commodity prices," said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel Fixed Income in Chicago.

    The volatile trade services component, which mostly reflects profit margins at retailers and wholesalers, rose 0.4 percent in July after increasing 0.2 percent in the prior month.

    A key measure of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services rose 0.2 percent last month after increasing 0.3 percent in June. The so-called core PPI was up 0.9 percent in the 12 months through July.

    -Tim Ahmann contributed reporting from Washington.

     

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    Germany Earns Volkswagen
    Ferdinand Ostrop/AP
    By Andreas Cremer and Bernie Woodall

    BERLIN -- Volkswagen is recalling about 461,300 cars in the United States and Canada to fix a fault that could prevent air bags from deploying.

    The world's biggest carmaker said Friday that the recall included VW Golf, Passat, Jetta and Tiguan models assembled between 2010 and 2014.

    No accidents or injuries related to the problem have been reported, VW said.

    The recall comes as the German group struggles to overcome underperformance in the United States, where the sale of VW-branded cars plunged 10 percent to 367,000 last year, less than half its ambitious target of 800,000 by 2018.

    VW said there will be 420,000 models recalled in the U.S. market and another 41,300 in Canada. VW is examining whether such issues affect cars delivered to other markets, a VW spokesman said.

    The spokesman said that debris could, under certain circumstances, interfere with the clock spring that keeps the vehicles' air bags powered, but added that no such incident has been reported.

     

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    Shake Shack Results
    John Locher/AP
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with a fast-growing gourmet burger restaurant putting the pedal to the metal in terms of expansion and a pioneer in mail-order music filing for bankruptcy.

    DirecTV -- Winner

    The leading satellite television provider is making it easier for nonsubscribers to enjoy its NFL Sunday Ticket. AT&T's (T) DirecTV -- yes, the wireless phone giant completed its acquisition of DirecTV late last month -- announced on Monday that it will be offering streaming access to the package that includes all out-of-market football games for folks who can't subscribe to DirecTV.

    The packages start at $50 a month. That's not cheap, but a lot of football fans won't mind. DirecTV is also offering the plan for just $25 to all students at four-year universities. As cash-strapped as many college kids may be, it's going to be a compelling purchase for out-of-town coeds missing their hometown teams. It's also a smart way for AT&T to promote DirecTV and its flagship wireless products to eventual college grads.

    Columbia House -- Loser

    The owner of Columbia House -- the once iconic mail-order music company -- filed for bankruptcy on Monday. For those too young to remember, Columbia House was a juggernaut in the 1990s. Its introductory offer of more than a dozen CDs for a penny was followed with monthly mailings at retail prices until a member completed the required obligation. At its peak in 1996, Columbia House generated $1.4 billion in revenue.

    However, as consumers grew jaded about the commitment (the next monthly CD would be shipped automatically unless you proactively canceled) and CDs shifted to digital downloads, the Columbia House model was stuck. It stopped mailing CDs a couple of years ago, and now under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it will likely sell off anything that may have any value.

    Shake Shack (SHAK) -- Winner

    This year's hottest IPO continues to get hotter. Shake Shack moved higher after announcing blowout quarterly results. Revenue for the current period nearly doubled since the prior year, and comparable-restaurant sales moved 12.9 percent higher. It boosted its top-line guidance.

    Shake Shack also announced that it would be opening a dozen new company-owned eateries this year, two more than it had originally announced. It expects to open at least 12 restaurants annually in the coming years. As overvalued as the stock may seem, raising the bar on expansion and growth finds investors focusing on the ceiling instead of the floor.

    Disney Japan -- Loser

    This week's social media blunder belonged to Walt Disney Japan, where Disney (DIS) has a minority stake in the Japanese theme park resort. Walt Disney Japan sent out a controversial Twitter (TWTR) post Sunday.

    "A very merry unbirthday to you," read the tweet, a nod to the catchy tune from Disney's original "Alice in Wonderland." That may not seem so bad, but in Japanese that roughly translates into "Congratulations on a not special day," and Sunday just happened to mark 70 years since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki that left tens of thousands of civilians dead. Walt Disney Japan apologized, naturally, but a flub is still a flub.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Winner

    The top dog among premium video services continues to nab first-run content. Netflix announced on Tuesday an exclusive deal to release "Mascots," the latest mockumentary project from Christopher Guest. "This Is Spinal Tap," "A Mighty Wind," and "Best in Show" are previous mockumentary projects that Guest has been associated with, all of them standing the test of time as cult faves.

    Netflix keeps making the most of its growing base of streaming subscribers, investing in more original content.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Netflix, Twitter, 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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    new york city   mar 26  the...
    Shutterstock
    By Simon Maierhofer

    NEW YORK -- The average age of a bull market is 39 months. This bull market is already 76 months old. Although it has one foot in the coffin, this bull keeps hanging on.

    What makes it so resilient?

    Many investment pros and celebrities predicted a market crash already last year (click here for a list of infamous "crash prophets" humiliated by Mr. Market).

    Ironically, the persistent bull-market heckling is exactly what keeps the market going. How so?

    The stock market needs new buyers to keep going higher, like a fire needs wood. Every person who "heckles" the bull market is a potential buyer. Yesterday's heckler is tomorrow's buyer.

    How many investors who taunted the market in 2013 are still on the sidelines now? Few forces are as persuasive as rising prices, and nobody likes to be left behind.

    My September 2013 article "Who or What Can Kill this Bull Market" observed that phenomenon and stated the following:

    "A watched pot never boils or a mistrusted market never tops. Every time stocks decline a bit, investors think: 'That's it, the gig is over.' But the propensity for investors to turn instantly bearish is likely to keep sell offs contained."

    Bull markets climb a wall of worry. Pessimism is like fuel for stocks, and the same mistrust that was present in 2013 still exists, although there's one condition that's in place now, which wasn't in 2013 (more on that toward the end).

    Here are a couple of charts that illustrate current investor sentiment.

    Retail Investors

    Last week, retail investors polled by the American Association for Individual Investors were about the most bearish they've been in years.



    The pessimism we saw last week is unusual, especially when considering that the S&P 500 is still within striking distance of its all-time high.

    Option Trader

    The chart below plots the S&P 500 against the Chicago Board Options Exchange equity put/call ratio, a measure of option trader sentiment. Call options are basically bets on a rising market, while put options benefit from falling stocks.



    The ratio between put and call options showed that option traders purchased more than 0.78 puts for every call earlier this week. That is the second highest ratio in years. Option traders are afraid of lower prices.

    In other words, many market participants are expecting a market top, an outright crash, or at the very least a correction. But the market rarely does what's expected.

    Under normal conditions, this kind of pessimism would be reason to buy.

    As mentioned earlier, unlike in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and even the first quarter of this year, the stock market is showing the early warning signs of a major market top. That may neutralize the normally bullish effect of investor pessimism, as this S&P 500 deep-tissue analysis shows.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor.

     

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    Hillary Clinton Campaigns In New Hampshire
    Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesDemocratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a town hall meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, where she discussed college affordability and student debt relief.
    On Monday, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton unveiled her New College Compact, with the ambition of making public colleges debt-free for students. Her plan is estimated to cost $350 billion over 10 years, and focuses on three key areas. First, federal grants of $150 billion would be given to states to fund public colleges. These grants would only be given to states that agree to increase funding for education and commit to making debt-free study a reality. If the state refuses to spend local money, federal money will not follow.

    Second, the plan would make community colleges free. This provision echoes President Barack Obama's proposal. Third, the plan would reduce the interest rates for people who already have student loan debt, while making sure all borrowers can take advantage of a simplified version of income-based repayment. The massive refinance proposal has been promoted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a while.

    Hillary Clinton hopes to make it easier for people who have debt to become debt-free. And she wants to help students attend college without having to borrow. To pay for this $350 billion expense, Clinton would cap the value of itemized tax deductions that wealthy families can take on their tax returns.

    Although the goals are laudable, I see three big issues.

    1. Spending by State Colleges Remains Out of Control

    Many universities have been spending like drunken sailors over the last 20 years. In a battle to win tuition money, universities have been building ever more elaborate campuses, complete with rock climbing walls and athletic facilities that would make most country clubs jealous. In addition, the number of administrators has been growing at a dramatic pace. Investing in education is critical to our nation's success. Investing in a beautiful residential facility feels like a waste.

    Tuition growth is slowing. However, the total cost of a college education has still increased 42 percent from 2004 to 2014. If the federal and state government money is used to fund continued runaway expense growth, the problem isn't solved. Spending growth at universities needs to get under control.

    2. The Biggest Default Risk Is With Students Who Don't Graduate

    Graduation rates remain shockingly low at some institutions. In her announcement, Clinton cited the statistic that 40 percent of college students don't graduate within four years. Some schools have atrocious graduation rates, often below 10 percent.

    The highest default rates for student loans are with borrowers who have the smallest balances. Although that may seem counter-intuitive, it makes sense. If you only go to school for a few years and never graduate, you will have student loan debt but no degree. Without a degree, your earnings potential will be significantly reduced, along with your ability to repay debt for a degree you never received.

    Colleges don't feel the impact of poor graduation rates. The federal student loan money continues to pour in, financing their schools. And the responsibility of repaying the debt remains with the student. Schools that consistently fail in their ability to graduate students should feel accountability.

    3. For-Profit Schools Have the Potential to Remain Leaches on the System

    Although Corinthian Colleges is the most famous, many for-profit schools with questionable practices remain. They charge high tuition. They are experts at obtaining federal financial aid and loans for their students. They profit, regardless of their graduation rate or education quality. And they disproportionately target people with lower incomes.

    The flow of taxpayer money to questionable, for-profit educational institutions needs to stop.

    You Don't Need To Wait

    Student loan debt remains a big problem for this country. I applaud Clinton for making an early proposal, to ensure that we have a debate about the issue. However, you don't need to wait for the election if you want to refinance or are having difficulties repaying your debt.

    The private sector has already noticed that many borrowers are paying interest rates that are too high on their student loan debt. A number of providers have started offering student loan refinancing, with variable rates as low as 1.9 percent. You can find a list of institutions offering refinancing at MaginifyMoney.com. If you have a good job and good income, you could qualify for dramatic savings.

    If you are having difficulty repaying your federal student loans, help already exists with income-based repayment programs. You can have your monthly payments capped, based upon your ability to pay. The details are outlined by the Department of Education, and you should speak to your loan servicer. After an average of 20 years of repayment, your remaining balance would be forgiven. Just remember that if you ever refinance your federal student loan into a private loan, you give up the option for income-based repayment.

    These solutions can help a number of people. But there is still a lot of work to be done. Hopefully Clinton's proposal is just the first step in a meaningful debate.

    Nick Clements is a former banker, author and co-founder of MagnifyMoney.com. He used to run the largest credit card company in the United Kingdom, and now he is helping you save money.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended a volatile week higher Friday after upbeat U.S. economic data and as eurozone finance ministers agreed to launch a third bailout program for Greece.

    All three major indexes also ended the week with slight gains, bouncing back from losses earlier in the week set off by worries over a slowdown in China and a yuan devaluation.

    Gains in shares of retailers helped buoy the market. Nordstrom and J.C. Penney both rose after the department store chains posted better-than-expected quarterly results.

    Stocks hit session highs late in the session after Belgium's Finance Minister told Reuters in Brussels that eurozone finance ministers had agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding drafted by institutional negotiators, "with some additional measures."

    U.S. producer prices rose for a third straight month in July, suggesting the drag on inflation from weaker oil prices was easing, while industrial output advanced at its strongest pace in eight months.

    Though the Chinese currency devaluation added some uncertainty to the outlook for a Federal Reserve interest rate hike, most traders and economists are still expecting a September increase.

    That kept the market from breaking out of its trading range, said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

    "I think the bulls are nervous and bears are hoping for a big market decline once the Fed does finally hike rates," he said.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 69.15 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,477.4, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 8.15 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,091.54. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC), which swung 167 points from its low this week to its high, added 14.68 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,048.24.

    Week of Gains

    For the week, the Dow rose 0.6 percent, the S&P 500 added 0.7 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.1 percent.

    The day's economic data followed strong employment and retail sales data for July on Thursday, which overall suggested the third quarter was off to a healthy start.

    Nine of the 10 S&P 500 sectors ended higher.

    Energy shares slipped in afternoon trade and the energy index ended down 0.2 percent. Still, the energy index rose 3.2 percent for the week, its biggest gain since March.

    J.C. Penney (JCP) rose 5.6 percent at $8.52, Nordstrom (JWN) jumped 4.3 percent to $78.13 and was among the biggest percentage gainers in the S&P 500, while the S&P retail index rose 0.4 percent.

    Restaurant operator El Pollo Loco (LOCO) fell 20.7 percent to $14.56, below its IPO price, after weak quarterly results.

    Sysco (SYY) rose 7.4 percent to $41.38 after Nelson Peltz reported a 7-percent stake in the food distributor and said he would seek representation on the company's board.

    NYSE advancers outnumbered decliners 2,072 to 962; on the Nasdaq, 1,697 issues rose and 1,096 fell. The S&P 500 posted 21 new 52-week highs and 11 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 62 new highs and 101 new lows.

    About 5.2 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.1 billion daily average for the month to date, according to BATS Global Markets.

    What to watch Monday:
    • The Federal Reserve Bank of New York releases its survey of manufacturing conditions in New York state at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The National Association of Home Builders releases its housing market index for August at 10 a.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Agilent Technologies (A)
    • Estee Lauder (EL)
    • Urban Outfitters (URBN)

     

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    car repair
    Shutterstock
    By Louis DeNicola

    New cars and trucks lose value as soon as they're driven off the lot, but owners who want to preserve a vehicle's remaining value can do so with a little tender loving care. This means changing the oil regularly and replacing parts as soon as necessary. Automotive parts and supplies can be expensive, though, and the specialty stores aren't necessarily the cheapest. To help vehicle owners save money, Cheapism.com compared the prices of eight common automotive products at AutoZone and O'Reilly Auto Parts with those available at Walmart and Target. The big-box stores beat out the auto parts retailers every time.

    With the lowest price on seven out of eight products, Walmart saves vehicle owners up to $39.50 in this comparison. Identical items were selected when possible, although in some cases a similar item had to stand in. The specialty chains stock many more options than the big-box stores; the selection at Target is particularly limited. Prices are listed online and may vary by location or be reduced with coupons. In store, customers may find employees at retailers that specialize in auto parts and accessories to be more knowledgeable than those at the mass merchandisers.

    Here's how the prices compare on products from brake pads to wax.

    Windshield wipers. Driving in the rain without working windshield wipers invites an accident. Although there are some very cheap options, it may be worth spending a few extra bucks for wipers that work well. The prices below are for a single, 22-inch Rain-X brand wiper.
    • Target: $16.99 (Latitude)
    • Walmart: $13.97 (Latitude)
    • AutoZone: $28.19 (Quantum)
    • O'Reilly Auto Parts: $23.99 (Latitude)
    • Winner: Walmart (up to $14.22 in savings)
    Spray-on wax. Waxing can add a protective coat and nice shine to a vehicle, which also helps maintain its value. The prices below are for a 26-ounce bottle of Turtle Wax 1-Step Wax and Dry. (Mr. Miyagi from the 1984 movie "Karate Kid" might be disappointed to learn just how easy waxing a car can be, as this wax comes in a spray bottle.) After washing, spray the car down, then dry and shine with a cotton towel or microfiber cloth.
    • Target: $4.99
    • Walmart: $4.00
    • AutoZone: $7.49
    • O'Reilly Auto Parts: $7.49
    • Winner: Walmart (up to $3.49 in savings)
    Motor oil. An at-home oil change is one of the more common facets of DIY car maintenance. The comparisons below are for a single quart of Mobile One synthetic 10W-30 motor oil. Many vehicles require four to five quarts during an oil change, and it's important to check the vehicle's manual to see which type of oil to use.
    • Target: $7.99
    • Walmart: $7.98
    • AutoZone: $8.99
    • O'Reilly Auto Parts: $9.19
    • Winner: Walmart (up to $1.21/quart in savings)
    Antifreeze and coolant. Coolant keeps a vehicle's engine from overheating, which could lead to a dangerous and costly breakdown. At the same time, drivers who live in cold climates must watch out for coolant that freezes. The prices below are for 1 gallon of Prestone 50/50 prediluted antifreeze and coolant, which should address both issues.
    • Target: $9.59
    • Walmart: $9.42
    • AutoZone: $13.99
    • O'Reilly Auto Parts: $14.99
    • Winner: Walmart (up to $5.57 in savings)
    Battery jumper. A smart backup, especially for drivers headed out on a road trip, a battery jumper holds a charge for months and comes with attached cables that can restart a dead engine in a pinch. Several options below also double as air compressors.
    • Target: $67.99 (Wagan 900-amp with air compressor)
    • Walmart: $86.60 (Wagan 900-amp with air compressor)
    • AutoZone: $89.99 (Duralast 900-amp)
    • O'Reilly Auto Parts: $99.99 (Super Start 1,000-amp with air compressor)
    • Winner: Target (up to $32 in savings)
    Jumper/booster cables. Drivers who forgo a full battery jumper can keep a set of jumper cables in the trunk and hope that nearby drivers will lend a hand. Each set of cables in this comparison comes from a different brand, but they are all 8 gauge. Lower gauge means more power, but that's generally enough for a car.
    • Target: $19.99 (AAA)
    • Walmart: $17.94 (Everstart)
    • AutoZone: $19.99 (Duralast)
    • O'Reilly Auto Parts: $21.99 (Super Start)
    • Winner: Walmart (up to $4.05 in savings)
    Brake pads. Changing brake pads can be daunting, but with many cars it's relatively simple. Instructional videos on YouTube can walk car owners through the process. Alternatively, lower the cost of a professional job by buying brake pads and bringing them to a mechanic. This is another category where finding the same brand (or, in the case of Target, any brand) wasn't possible.
    • Target: N/A
    • Walmart: $10.86 (Centric)
    • AutoZone: $11.99 (Duralast)
    • O'Reilly Auto Parts: $18.99 (BrakeBest)
    • Winner: Walmart (up to $8.13 in savings)
    Mud guards. Whether smaller trucks need mud guards is often a back-and-forth debate, but for drivers who are interested, PlastiColor makes inexpensive 9x15-inch flaps. Some are simple, blank, black flaps, but many have decorative symbols.
    • Target: N/A
    • Walmart: $17.16/pair (PlastiColor with Chevy symbol)
    • AutoZone: $19.99/pair (PlastiColor)
    • O'Reilly Auto Parts: $19.99/pair (PlastiColor)
    • Winner: Walmart (up to $2.83 in savings)

     

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    Car Buying Services - Are They Worth It?

    By Michael Koretzky

    The last two new cars I bought, I did so without speaking to a salesman.

    I bought a vehicle in 2004 after emailing every dealer within a 50 mile radius of my house. I haggled via email with a half-dozen of them, probably spending about the same amount of time it would have taken to visit a couple of showrooms.

    My car before that, a brand-new 1996 Oldsmobile, was an easier experience. I simply hired a car broker I learned about from a co-worker. The broker called me, asked what I was looking for, discussed prices and options, and went on his merry way. A week later, he found the perfect car at a near-perfect price. He even had it delivered to the parking lot at my office building. Best I can tell, I saved a couple thousand dollars by buying a car online, and slightly less buying a car through a broker. These are two of the options to consider if you want to buy a car. Here's a guide to these and related ways to make this important purchase, and other key considerations before you take the leap.

    1. Not all services are the same. As you saw in the video above, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson recently used a car buying concierge service, Authority Auto, that saved him $2,000, but he spent $795 to do it, so he only netted $1,205. Still, spending $795 to make $2,000 is a 60 percent return on investment within a very short time -- good by pretty much any standard.

    In my case, the broker I hired didn't cost me a dime. He made his money by charging the dealer instead of charging the customer. Brokers often have close relationships with a handful of dealers in the area who are willing to give them a discounted price because of the volume of sales they generate.

    I could have gone to a car concierge like the one Stacy used. They generally charge customers a flat fee or a percentage of the savings they generate for the buyer. Generally, a concierge scores deals by casting a wider net. As the name implies, concierges excel at buying luxury or harder-to-find vehicles.

    In addition, there are car-buying services available through membership organizations, such as the AAA Auto Buying Service and the Costco Auto Program. (AAA is regional or sometimes just by state, so it's best to just track down the link on your local club's website. Go to www.aaa.com to get started.) Many credit unions also offer this service, including those from PenFed and USAA.

    Before selecting a service, get the answers to these questions:
    • How is the service paid? If the service is being paid by the dealership, what gives it the incentive to find you the best possible price?
    • What services are included? Will the contract be ready for your signature? Will the car be delivered to you? Is the service simply introducing you to potential sellers? What else is involved?
    2. Consider selling your old car on your own. In my case, the car broker offered to include my old car in the deal for a new one. But I quickly figured out I could sell my ancient, no-frills Nissan hatchback on my own for a few hundred more.

    Then I had a change of heart and let the broker handle the trade-in. Why? Because I was willing to lose some value if I could gain some free time.

    Do this math for yourself. If you're willing to put in the hours, sell your trade-in and pocket the cash. If it's too much hassle, or if you live in a small town where your customer base may be limited, consider doing what I did.

    3. Do your own research. A broker, concierge or buying service can save you legwork, but you still need to do your homework. Spend some time online studying what vehicle you want, the options you crave and those you could do without. You want to give the service as much detail as possible. In my case, the broker said I would save time and money if I didn't care what color my Oldsmobile was. So I ended up with a red car, which was fine with me.

    4. Line up your financing in advance. There's no point in shopping for a car, or anything else, until you know you have the money to buy it. Shopping for a car before securing the loan is like stepping on the gas before you're in gear: You may make a lot of noise, but you're not going anywhere.

    5. Figure out what happens afterward. What happens if you get a lemon? What if you just don't like the car when you show up on the lot or it's delivered to your door? Also, if you want it to be maintained by a dealership, where's the nearest one that services your make? Besides the potential savings, a major advantage to embracing one of these services is sparing you time and hassle. If you don't ask these questions upfront, you could be facing complications and demands on your time after the sale.

    6. Consider what your time is worth. If I had to do it all over again, would I use another broker or buy on my own? At the time I called the broker, I was starting a new job, so it was invaluable to me to have someone else handle the purchase -- even worth forgoing a few hundred dollars on the sale of my old car -- so I could focus on proving my value at work. And I ended up getting a great deal on the car.

    However, shopping and comparing prices online continues to become more efficient, so hunting down the best deals on a new car and selling an old car becomes an increasingly worthwhile DIY project. If you're willing to put in the time online, you can save more, especially if you're buying a popular, midpriced model that many dealers have stacked on their lots.

    Have you used a car-buying service? Share your experience in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

    -Ari Cetron contributed to this post.

    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!

     

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    Mixed race woman shopping online on sofa
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    NEW YORK -- There is no shortage of ways for shoppers to save cash online, although some methods, no doubt, work way better than others.

    For savings-savvy shoppers, the hunt for the best discount consumer shopping sites is both a valuable one (yes, you can save money) and a fun one (who wouldn't get a kick finding that Hermes scarf or Calloway 3-wood at 90 percent off?)

    The challenge is cutting through myriad discount and coupon sites and slicing the wheat from the chaff.

    In that spirit, let's through our hat in the ring with some top nominations for the best discount online consumer shopping site in the U.S.:

    Snagshout: In the company's own words, Snagshout creates a social connection between shoppers and brand owners. "With Snagshout, shoppers can 'snag' a deal for their favorite products (up to 90 percent off) and then write an honest review to help other potential customers make a decision," the company says in a statement. Snagshout works alongside Amazon to serve as a product discovery platform for shoppers to purchase consistently updated products ranging from groceries to clothing in exchange for their honest review, the company reports.

    FatWallet: FatWallet is popular among shoppers for its cash-back reward program. According to the company, FatWallet works with retailers to let customers know about thousands of special offers, discounts and coupon codes. When a customer takes advantage of a deal, the brand receives commission that they return back to customers as a cash back reward. "It's really a triple threat for deal hunters and saves the average shopper the time of doing all the research, with hot deals and insider tips from your peers (deal forums), coupons and discounts from retailers, and cash back from FatWallet," says Brent Shelton, spokesman for FatWallet.

    Overstock.com: Consumers may recognize the name from Overstock's ubiquitous advertising campaign, where the deals seem to be flying. Shoppers seem to agree. "I love shopping through Overstock," says Angie Nelson, a frequent visitor on the site. "I recently purchased several rugs through the site that were priced less than 50 percent of what they were at our local home furnishings store. And, the shipping was free. Plus, the Liquidations category often features deals at 75 percent off or more." You can also stack those savings with an additional 3 percent cashback, when you go through Ebates first, Nelson adds.

    Rather-Be-Shopping.com: For a quick return on your money, try this online discount site, where visitors spend on average, three minutes on the Rather-Be-Shopping site, and save $14 when they do so, claims the company. "We also currently have over 10,000 online coupons on the website, and users can sign up for free 'coupon alerts', which allows them to pick their favorite stores and get an email when we add a coupon that fits their criteria," says founder Kyle James. "You never miss a coupon again."

    Raise.com: Raise bills itself as an online gift card marketplace that has popped $27 million back into consumer pockets so far this year, according to Meghan Fox, the company's marketing manager. "On the marketplace, you can buy gift cards below face value with average savings up to 16 percent off or sell your unwanted gift cards for cash," Fox notes. With more than 3,000 brands featured on the site, she adds, consumers can find the best deals before stacking with in-store sales or coupon codes. Currently on Raise.com, Fox says you can by a McDonald's gift card for 20 percent off, a Bed, Bath & Beyond card for 8 percent off and a Home Depot card for 7 percent off.

    Other competitive online discounting sites include Price Grabber, Passion For Savings and Yipit. Try any of the above, and see if they can't cut your retail spending by 10 or 15 percent -- or way more, depending on the price of that Hermes scarf.

     

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    Finishing high school gives you a sense of accomplishment. It's the familiar path to higher education and higher earnings -- college graduates earn twice as much as high school dropouts. But if you were to discuss this topic with some celebrities, they might argue that a traditional high school education isn't the only path to success.

    Some of your favorite singers, actors and entertainers didn't finish high school. Read about 13 celebrities who dropped out of high school.


    This article, 13 High School Dropouts Who Are Millionaires Now, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    By Karla Bowsher

    Friday marked the 80th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's signing of the Social Security Act of 1935 during the Great Depression.

    The U.S. Social Security Administration's anniversary slogan is "Celebrating the Past and Building the Future." But Gallup Poll results released Thursday show that most Americans doubt the SSA's ability to help secure their future.

    This year, 66 percent of Americans polled said Social Security is either in a state of crisis (21 percent) or has major problems (45 percent).

    While that is down from a high of 77 percent in 2010, at least two-thirds of Americans have viewed the system as being in crisis or having major problems since 1998. And that's unlikely to change without movement in the nation's capital, according to Gallup:

    These negative views likely will continue until elected officials in Washington take action to tackle the system's long-term problems or the projections about the system's financial strength improve as a result of shifts in the economy.

    Gallup's poll results are based on phone interviews conducted this month and last month of 2,020 adults from every state and the District of Columbia. Among Americans who have yet to retire, 51 percent doubt the system will be able to pay them benefits when they retire.

    That's not much higher than it was when Gallup first measured in 1989, when 47 percent felt that way. It is also down from an all-time high of 60 percent in 2010.

    But the younger a worker is, the more likely he or she is to doubt getting benefits. On one end, 64 percent of people age 18 to 29 are doubtful. On the other end, 3 percent of nonretirees age 65 and older are doubtful.

    Gallup notes that Americans' doubts about Social Security appear to be grounded in reality.

    An annual report released last month by the trustees who oversee the Social Security Disability Insurance program stated that the reserve for its funds is projected to be depleted in 2035.

    Do you think Social Security is in crisis or has major problems? Do you think future retirees will have their benefits cut? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth and, most important, post questions and get answer.

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    How to Get More Social Security When You Retire

     

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    Family having popcorn while watching TV
    Getty Images
    Fall is quickly approaching, which means many favorite TV shows are soon to return, not to mention baseball playoffs and the start of football.

    With that in mind, have you taken a close look at your cable bill lately? Unless you moved recently, chances are you haven't changed your subscription. And if you have the same service as a few years ago, your cable costs have likely increased. Before the fall season begins, now is a good time to evaluate whether your shows are worth the expense.

    Consider how much you spend each month versus how much of your cable subscription you use. Are you watching all the channels you pay for or just flipping between the same 20 options?

    If you're happy paying the bill every month for what you watch, and aren't willing to give up access to all cable has to offer, then canceling might not be the best option for you. Before you decide, consider a few pros and cons of cutting the cord:

    Pros

    When you cancel your cable subscription, the first obvious benefit is saving money. And the savings don't mean you have to sacrifice your favorite shows.

    There are tons of streaming services and devices on the market that make it easier to cut ties with cable, especially when devices connect to the Internet and provide instant access to your must-see shows. With so many options, you may want to use an app like Yidio which can help you find a show or movie and see whether it's available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes (all cheaper options than or cable) or through free online streaming.

    For some people, there is another unexpected benefit of canceling cable. Instead of flipping on the television and watching whatever is on (sometimes for longer than intended), watching TV becomes a more intentional act. If you're looking to spend less time in front of a screen, this is a plus.

    Cons

    There are a few cons to cutting your ties with cable, depending on your viewing preferences. One major change is losing access to live coverage of news and sports.

    This can easily be remedied with the Internet's myriad sources of news and live streaming of major events. However, watching sports coverage sometimes requires a workaround when you don't have cable. With the exception of national games aired on major networks (which stream online for free), you won't have access to the live sports coverage on ESPN and other cable channels.

    Another consideration: If you follow local sports teams, you'll likely be part of blackout restrictions and won't be able to stream those games online.

    One more con for dedicated viewers is the delay of watching current television series. If you're waiting for a season to be uploaded to Netflix, it can be difficult to avoid spoilers for those months in between. For hard core fans, even waiting to watch a new episode a few days later can be a challenge.

    Lastly, there is some content that is still "cable-locked" -- HBO used to be one such network with limited access, but recently unveiled a new HBO Now service for people who don't have a cable subscription. Other channels like Showtime and AMC haven't yet relinquished their newer episodes to streaming.

    Making the Decision

    With all the options available, you might find a new setup confusing and not worth the effort. On the other hand, if you can find a setup that works for you, it can be a new and improved level of convenience -- a TV watching experience that is catered to your personal preferences.

    For those afraid of cutting the cord entirely, try "cord shaving," and just cut back on your cable subscription for a cheaper bill that still allows access to some channels. It's all about finding what works for your household and your budget.

    Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 an order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.

     

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    Lifebuoy on wooden wall
    Getty ImagesWhole life insurance can make your portfolio more complete by offering steady balance and also help subsidize retirement planning.
    By Lou Carlozo

    If portfolio investments were people at a party, then the cool kids -- growth stocks, real estate, retirement accounts and exchange-traded funds -- would huddle in a closed circle. Those dull-yet-dependable bonds would stand just outside, trying to fit in. And alone in a corner, not far from the annuities, you'd have whole life insurance: complicated, frumpy and arguably not worth the time and trouble.

    Indeed, the notion of skipping life insurance as an investment -- and plowing the saved cash into more profitable areas -- has its allure for some investors. Term life policies, while they don't build cash value, are more affordable, simpler to grasp and easy to comparison shop.

    Life insurance products -- whether they are term life, whole life or another variety -- are meant to be financial protection for your heirs.

    "If you're pricing out term and permanent life policies, and term will provide sufficient coverage, consider buying the term policy," says Melinda Kibler, portfolio manager with the Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Use the difference in premiums to add to your investment portfolio, as opposed to using the permanent life policy as an investment option."

    And so the question arises: Is life insurance a good investment at all?

    "Life insurance products -- whether they are term life, whole life or another variety -- are meant to be financial protection for your heirs," says Jim Poolman, executive director of the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council. "They are not meant to be investment products and shouldn't be regarded as such, because they will never live up to products designed as investment vehicles."

    "There is merit to the negative argument among non-annuity insurance products," says Andrew Murdoch, president of Somerset Wealth Strategies in Portland, Oregon. He cites the variable annuity universal life policy, which invests in sub-accounts such as mutual funds under a life insurance wrapper. "This type of account has to perform well enough to pay for the cost of insurance and provide growth over and above it."

    'Peace of Mind'

    Murdoch characterizes life insurance as "more a peace of mind play than a growth play." But he adds: "Not all insurance investments are bad. Annuities issued by insurance companies are generally good and the only product offering guaranteed income for life."

    If not all are bad, could insurance investments possibly be good, then?

    "Most circumstances don't call for whole life insurance with the exception of estate planning, buy-sell arrangements, executive benefits or pension maximization," says Mike Chadwick, CEO of Chadwick Financial in Unionville, Connecticut. "Almost all other situations call for term insurance, and it's far less costly."

    That's not to say others don't reap rewards from whole life -- those who push it, that is. "Insurance is certainly sold, and there are very sophisticated sales techniques to sell it," he says.

    But some contend that most objections to whole life are simply unfounded.

    "Insurance has been a smart investment for years," says David F. Keefe III, a financial adviser for 4-Point Financial in Waltham, Massachusetts. Keefe cites the Great Recession as an example: "If you needed cash from your portfolio in January 2009, and you had $50,000 in a mutual fund and $50,000 cash value insurance, where would be the best place to take it from? Over a six-year period to now, that could have saved you $50,000 in additional mutual fund growth."

    Whole life can also build up tax-sheltered savings that can subsidize retirement planning, and make portfolios more complete by offering steady balance, insurance experts say.

    "Insurance products are used to complement and balance the risk of an investment portfolio," says Mark S. Cardoza, founder of the Retirement Education Resource Center of North America. "Whole life insurance within a mutual company will produce 6 to 8 percent growth between interest and dividends during a down market, thus at times outperforming the market."

    Poolman says that annuities, a close cousin of life insurance and sold by the same agents, can serve a key purpose in a portfolio. Those products guarantee income streams upon retirement; "It can never be outlived, which is a solution to one of the most significant financial obstacles aging Americans face today," he says.

    Tax Strategy

    And while it's not an investment move, life insurance policies with cash value -- whole, universal and variable -- can serve as part of a broader tax strategy.

    "Once cash value is built up in your policy, you can use it as collateral to take a loan from the insurance company," says Sean A. Quigley, author of "The Cash Play: Capitalizing on the Opportunity Value of Cash."

    Here's how it works: "You set up your own unstructured loan with no repayment schedule, which allows you to skip traditional bank financing. Since it's a loan and not a direct distribution, you do not owe any income tax," Quigley says.

    Even if you want to bypass whole, don't overlook life insurance as a whole; that's the equivalent of flying without a financial safety net. "The question of whether or not to buy whole life shouldn't be confused with whether or not to buy life insurance at all," says Jeremy Hallett, founder and CEO of Quotacy, an online term insurance marketplace. "Everyone needs life insurance if they have others who depend on them financially in any way."

    And so let's return to the portfolio party, where whole life may never make it into that charmed investment circle. But it shouldn't be kicked out on a whim, either -- it might just be, if you will, a life saver.

    "Insurance and investment portfolios should be kept separate and managed separately," Cardoza says. "The purpose for investing in insurance products should be to protect the individual from the risk in an investment portfolio -- or life in general."

     

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    Wall street, New York, USA.
    Alamy
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

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

    Aquinox Pharmaceuticals (AQXP) -- Up 112 percent last week

    The market's biggest winner last week was Aquinox Pharmaceuticals, more than doubling after revealing positive mid-stage clinical trial results. Aquinox is trying to get a treatment for eczema and bladder pain approved, and the encouraging results suggest that it will happen.

    Wayfair (W) -- Up 36 percent last week

    The Web-based furniture retailer soared after posting blowout quarterly results. Wayfair saw its sales soar 66 percent since the prior year, and its loss was only half as much as Wall Street was expecting. Wayfair's online platform continues to attract new furniture shoppers. Its active customer count now stands at 4 million, 54 percent ahead of where it was a year ago.

    magicJack (CALL) -- Up 25 percent last week

    Another big winner last week was magicJack. The company behind the namesake Internet-based phone service connected with investors after posting better-than-expected financials. Revenue did post a year-over-year drop in its latest quarter, but shrewd cost-cutting helped deliver a strong pop in profitability. The eventual adjusted profit of 30 cents a share was well ahead of the 19 cents a share that the pros were forecasting.

    There are now 2.62 million subscribers to magicJack's platform. Its monthly churn clocked in at 2.8 percent, and while that may seem like a lot of turnover, it's actually magicJack's best churn rate in several years.

    Christopher & Banks (CBK) -- Down 47 percent last week

    The New York Stock Exchange's biggest sinker was Christopher & Banks. The specialty women's apparel retailer warned that sales for the quarter that will end later this month will clock in closer to $94 million. The chain's earlier guidance called for $100 million to $103 million in net sales.

    Christopher & Banks started to experience weakness in late June across all of its product categories, and that hasn't improved through the summer. It now sees comparable-store sales plunging 12.4 percent since the prior summer. That would be acceptable if Christopher & Banks were scoring generous markups on those diminished sales, but margins are also going the wrong way. It's not a pretty situation, and Christopher & Banks is bringing in an outside consultant for an operational review.

    Papa Murphy's (FRSH) -- Down 26 percent last week

    The top dog in take-and-bake pizzas that are assembled at its stores but customers bake at home slumped after posting quarterly results. It wasn't a bad performance. Revenue climbed 33 percent since the prior year, juiced up by the expansion of company-owned stores and a 4.5 percent uptick in comparable-store sales. That was actually ahead of Wall Street's expectations.

    Papa Murphy's adjusted profit of 9 cents a share was in line with analyst targets, but the chain spooked the market by raising its guidance for capital expenditures this year, something that could sting on the bottom line even if it results in more company-owned stores opening. Even with the big hit last week, the stock is still beating the market this year with a 28 percent gain so far in 2015.

    King Digital Entertainment (KING) -- Down 12 percent last week

    Finally, we have the mobile gaming giant behind "Candy Crush Saga" and "Farm Rescue Saga" getting crushed after offering up weak financials. Once again we're seeing gross bookings, revenue, and earnings continuing to slide. "Candy Crush Saga"'s financial performance peaked in the latter half of 2013, and pushing out several new games hasn't been able to offset the slide. The number of active paying players has fallen 27 percent across all of King's games, and that's not going to sit well with Mr. Market.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Older First Time Homebuyers
    Michael Conroy/AP
    By JOSH BOAK

    WASHINGTON -- Short of cash and unsettled in their careers, young Americans are waiting longer than ever to buy their first homes.

    The typical first-timer now rents for six years before buying a home, up from 2.6 years in the early 1970s, according to a new analysis by the real estate data firm Zillow (Z). The median first-time buyer is age 33 -- in the upper range of the millennial generation, which roughly spans ages 18 to 34. A generation ago, the median first-timer was about three years younger.

    The delay reflects a trend that cuts to the heart of the financial challenges facing millennials: Renters are struggling to save for down payments. Increasingly, too, they're facing delays in some key landmarks of adulthood, from marriage and children to a stable career, according to industry and government reports.

    These shifts help explain why homeownership, long a source of middle class identity and economic opportunity, has started to decline. The share of the U.S. population who own homes has slid to 63.4 percent, a 48-year low, according to the Census Bureau.

    And when young adults do sign the deed, their purchase price is now substantially more, relative to their income, than it was decades ago. First-time buyers are paying a median price of $140,238, nearly 2.6 times their income. In the early 1970s, the starter home was just 1.7 times income.

    HOMEBUYERS
    Millennials are "still very interested in buying a house, but they're delaying that decision," said Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow. "Once they start having kids, they begin looking for homes. We're also finding that -- given how much rental rates are currently rising -- a lot of folks are having a hard time saving for a down payment and qualifying for a mortgage."

    Millennials increasingly find themselves in a situation like that of Lou Flores, a 30-year-old portfolio manager in San Diego. He shares a one-bedroom apartment with his boyfriend, paying $1,400 a month to live within walking distance of Balboa Park and the zoo.

    Flores' parents had built their nest egg by steadily upgrading their homes, ingraining him with the notion that "renting was a waste of money." But the median home in San Diego costs more than a half million dollars, according to the area's association of Realtors.

    So Flores figures ownership is at least a few years away.

    "Here in California, if you're not married or with someone, it's impossible to buy a home without financial backing from your parents," Flores said.

    Few first-timers around the country can lean on their parents. Among homebuyers last year under age 34, 14 percent received down payment help from family or friends, according to a Federal Reserve survey.

    Higher Rental Prices

    Most first-timers still depend on personal savings for at least some of their down payments. But rising rental prices have complicated the task of socking away money for a down payment. Fueled by a surge of renters across all age ranges, rental prices nationally have grown at roughly twice the pace of average hourly wage growth, which was a paltry 2.1 percent over the past year.

    A result is that those prices are consuming more income. A striking 46 percent of renters ages 25 to 34 -- the core of the millennial population -- spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent, up from 40 percent a decade earlier, according to a report by Harvard University's Joint Center of Housing Studies. (The housing industry generally regards a figure above 30 percent as financially burdensome.)

    Some of the cost burden stems from a shift toward people who envision themselves renting for several years and therefore seeking the kinds of amenities more commonly associated with home ownership. Based on searches for rentals on RadPad in June and July, for example, apartments with stainless steel appliances and swimming pools were disproportionately popular in cities with lower homeownership rates such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington.

    Nearly a fifth of Washington-area searches sought apartments with stainless steel appliances, compared with 5 percent nationwide. More than a third of Chicagoans wanted an apartment with a pool, versus 18 percent nationally.

    Job security has become a more central consideration for first-time buyers. The Money Source, a mortgage lender and servicer, examined applications from 5,404 millennial homebuyers. It found that the buyers had averaged nearly 4.5 years in their field of work and had held their current job for slightly more than three years. Those figures point to how critical career stability has become for a generation that entered the workforce during the Great Recession and its slow-growth recovery.

    Housing industry experts note that surveys still show a strong desire to buy among millennials, but that their timelines for purchasing depend on achieving more stability in their careers.

    "As long as there is the job market to support millennials -- just as it has for previous generations -- I don't believe their habits will change," said Darius Mirshahzadeh, CEO of The Money Source.

     

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