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    Man and Wife Shopping for Groceries
    Getty Images
    By Gina Martinez

    Unlike food labels such as "natural" and "free range," use of the word "organic" is strictly regulated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture certifies products as organic if they meet a set of standards, including, but not limited to, using 100 percent organic feed for animals and zero use of synthetic fertilizers, certain pesticides, and genetically modified organisms for fruits and vegetables. Organic proponents generally tout benefits such as higher nutritional value and better taste; less contamination from toxins, chemicals, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria; and less damage to the environment. These claims are hard to verify and are subject to much debate. One factor about which there is no doubt: Organic products typically cost more. Is organic worth it?

    Buy Organic: 'The Dirty Dozen.' The Environmental Working Group lists a "Dirty Dozen" of fruits and vegetables for which organic really matters in terms of pesticide exposure. Apples are usually named as the No. 1 food to buy organic, followed by peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, and potatoes. These 12 fruits and vegetables test consistently -- and alarmingly -- high for pesticide residue. If you want to only buy a few organic items, choose from this list. The "Clean Fifteen," on the other hand, are fruits and vegetables that test lowest for pesticide residue, and include avocados, onions, pineapples, eggplant, grapefruit, mangos, and sweet potatoes. There's little benefit to spending more on organic versions of these.

    Buy Organic: Baby Food. The organic label on baby food matters because the condensed ingredients can mean higher concentrations of pesticide residue. Organic farming reduces those risks significantly. Earth's Best, Gerber's Organics, and Plum Organics are three moderately priced brands; stock up during sales to stretch the food budget. Alternatively, use a blender or food processor to make DIY baby food with organic ingredients. Organic produce is available at many farmers markets and increasingly at local supermarkets, big-box stores, and discount clubs.

    Don't Bother: Olive Oil. Growing olives doesn't require many synthetic inputs (chemicals, pesticides), so buying organic olive oil doesn't make financial sense. Moreover, the organic version is far more expensive than regular (e.g., a 25.5-ounce bottle of the Walmart store brand is 28 cents cheaper than 17 ounces of Filippo Berio organic olive oil) and any health or safety benefits are unproven.

    Buy Organic: Bread and Cereal. Rodale's Organic Life lists bread and cereal among the processed foods to always buy organic -- and for good reason. Grains attract a lot of insects, so millers regularly use pesticides, which leave residues in the finished product. And conventional cereals often contain genetically modified organisms. In general, organic breads and cereals contain fewer chemicals and preservatives.

    Don't Bother: Maple Syrup. Sugar maples grow well on their own, almost always in forests, without help from pesticides or chemical fertilizers. The production process is just as basic: Farmers tap the trees, collect the xylem sap, boil it, and bottle it. Although you can't be 100 percent sure without the organic label, chances are very high that a non-organic buy is pure.

    Buy Organic: Coffee. Non-organic coffee beans are washed in chemicals, such as ammonia, that you probably don't want to consume. And the crop is grown using ample pesticides. Figure on paying about $3 more for a pound of organic coffee, but it's probably worth the tab.

    Buy Organic: Beef. Many health professionals recommend choosing organic meat products whenever possible despite the extra cost. The primary concern about conventional meats is antibiotic use in livestock, which some research has linked to the development of drug-resistant bacteria in humans. Moreover, organic meat comes from animals that have been fed diets free of pesticides, fertilizers, and animal by-products.

    Don't Bother: Quinoa. American consumers have gone quinoa crazy in recent years. The grain crop is highly nutritious, gluten-free, and a complete protein. There's no need to buy organic quinoa because farmers don't use pesticides to grow it. Quinoa plants naturally produce saponins, which help defend against pests. They also leave a bitter coating on the seeds, so be sure to rinse before cooking. Save your pennies for other products that are best in their organic state.

    Buy Organic: Peanut Butter. The anatomy of the peanut is what makes organic peanut butter a worthy buy even though the cost is about double the regular variety. Peanut shells are permeable and peanuts grow underground, absorbing pesticides and chemical fertilizers from the soil. The nuts, due to their high fat content, retain these inputs. The USDA has found pesticide residue in traditional peanut butters.

    Buy Organic: Microwave Popcorn. Pesticides are commonly used when growing corn, and residue remains on the kernels. The microwave variety piles on with preservatives as well as chemicals used to coat the bag. Instead, opt for packs of organic microwave popcorn despite the substantial price difference: at least 30 cents an ounce for a variety of Newman's Own Organics compared with less than 18 cents an ounce for Orville Redenbacher's. Cheaper (and safer) still, buy organic kernels and pop them yourself; scoop into a brown paper bag and microwave until they stop popping.


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    Calculator and bank account
    Getty ImagesEven if you don't have any kids to buy school supplies for, the back-to-school season can serve as an excellent chance to revisit your finances.
    By Susan Johnston

    Many of us give ourselves a little more latitude (financially and personally) during summer. We'll have that extra mojito or leave work a little early on summer Fridays without thinking twice.

    "Here in the Midwest [and elsewhere], we're trying to do as much as we can with travel," says Michael Foguth, president and founder of Foguth Financial Group in Howell, Michigan. "The sun is shining, we're spending more on gas and hotels." Yet as the seasonal spending starts to wind down, Foguth says you should ask yourself: "What do I need to prepare for?"

    With the dog days of summer drawing to a close, back-to-school season is a good opportunity (even if you're not a parent or a student) to revisit your finances and get on track for the rest of the year. Here's a look at expert tips for checking in with your money goals and getting your financial house in order.

    1. Assess where you stand. If you set financial goals at the beginning of the year, now's a good time to check your progress. "How much have you saved?" Foguth asks. "Are you on track for your goals? Or are you behind in that and need to catch up?" A good goal for most people, according to John Rosenfeld, head of everyday banking at Citizens Bank, is to save up at least three to six months' worth of living expenses in an emergency fund. Rosenfeld also suggests looking at financial areas you've been ignoring such as credit card balances or student loans.

    2. Check (or create) your budget. On a more micro level, now's also a good time to check in with your budget (or if you don't have a budget, actually make one). "The majority of Americans do not have any kind of budget and do not monitor their cash flow," says Laura Adams, author of "Money Girl's Smart Moves to Grow Rich." "Most people find that they are overspending in ways that they don't realize, so it's about checking in, and if you're one of those really on-top-of-it people who already have a budget, make sure you're on target through the end of the year." If you've had a change in life circumstance earlier this year, such as a marriage, divorce, new baby or new job, it's doubly important to revisit and recalibrate your budget (and employer withholding) accordingly.

    3. Break down your goals. If you're trying to reach a certain financial milestone by the end of the year, Foguth suggests breaking your goal down into smaller parts. Instead of saying, "I need to save $500 by December 24" (which could feel overwhelming to some people), calculate how much you need to save each week or month to make that happen. "If you need to save and you're behind your goal, re-evaluate your numbers and adjust your goal," Foguth adds.

    4. Review your credit report. Consumers are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year through, so Adams recommends requesting a report from a different credit bureau every four months to spread it out. "Make sure you're not the victim of identity theft," she says. "Criminals can take your personal information and open up new accounts in your name, and you could have no idea that they'd done that unless you saw it on your credit report." In addition to suspicious activity, also make sure that the amount of debt reported matches your own records. If not, it's time to reconcile the difference.

    5. Revisit your insurance needs. Adams recommends checking your insurance coverage once a year. Does the coverage still suit your needs? Are you overpaying for coverage? You can't always switch health insurance at any time of the year, but you can certainly switch homeowners or auto insurance providers if you find a better deal. "Check in, get quotes and compare that to your current coverage," Adams says. "You may find a better deal."

    6. Look for rate-cutting opportunities. Most homeowners know they can refinance their mortgage to a lower rate (provided they qualify based on equity, credit standing and so on). But you can also refinance other types of loans, including student loans. "A lot of people who are paying student loans got them when the rates were much higher," Rosenfeld says. "By refinancing at a lower rate, you can pay less in total interest." If you have credit card debt and a decent credit score, explore zero percent balance transfer offers, but do the math to make sure that the savings won't be offset by other fees. Those without credit card debt might want to see if they can qualify for a credit card with better rewards or other perks. "Select the card that's a better deal than what you may have today," Rosenfeld says.

    7. Optimize your tax strategies. Looking ahead to year-end, Rosenfeld suggests that consumers plan how they'll reduce their tax liability through charitable contributions or retirement contributions. If you haven't reached your 401(k) contribution limit yet and have extra money coming in, consider boosting your contributions to lower your taxable income and put aside extra money for retirement.


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    Inside A Target Corp. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Nandita Bose

    CHICAGO -- Target (TGT) forecast disappointing sales for this quarter and said it expected consumer demand to remain choppy, causing its shares to give up early gains.

    Earlier Wednesday, the fourth-largest U.S. retailer reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit and raised its full-year earnings forecast, citing strong demand for clothing and other merchandise at the center of its growth plan.

    Chief Operating Officer John Mulligan said on a conference call with analysts that he expected sales at stores open at least a year to increase 1 percent to 2 percent this quarter, including digital sales growth of about 30 percent.

    Analysts called the comparable sales estimate conservative.

    Target's same-store sales rose 2.4 percent in the second quarter ended on Aug. 1, which research firm Consensus Metrix said beat market expectations of 2.2 percent. A 30 percent rise in digital sales contributed 0.6 percentage points.

    Target also said it urgently needed to adjust inventory levels so that its shelves are sufficiently stocked.

    In the year since Brian Cornell became chief executive officer, Target has been promoting a narrower set of "signature" products including apparel, baby products and wellness items including organic goods.

    Sales of those products increased three times faster than the company average during the second quarter ended on Aug. 1, Mulligan said.

    Under Cornell, Target has also reshuffled its management, exited its struggling Canadian operations and spent more on online sales.

    In March, Cornell announced a restructuring plan to eliminate several thousand corporate jobs and revamp grocery operations. It also included a $1 billion investment in technology in areas such as supply chain.

    For the fiscal year, Target said it expected earnings of $4.60 to $4.75 a share, excluding special items. Analysts on average forecast $4.62, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

    In May, the company had raised the lower end of its forecast by 5 cents a share to between $4.50 and $4.65.

    Excluding restructuring charges and other special items, earnings rose to $1.22 a share from $1.01 a year earlier. Analysts on average were expecting $1.11, Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S said.

    Net sales rose 2.8 percent to $17.4 billion, meeting Wall Street expectations.

    Target shares rose as much as 5.4 percent in the morning, but were down 1.1 percent at $79.45 by early afternoon. At Tuesday's close, the stock had risen 6 percent this year.

    -Yashaswini Swamynathan contributed reporting from Bangalore.


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    Consumer Prices
    Danny Johnston/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- Consumer prices rose slightly in July, but a solid increase in the cost of shelter suggested inflation was probably stabilizing enough to support expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year.

    The Labor Department said Wednesday its Consumer Price Index edged up 0.1 percent last month as gasoline and food prices increased marginally. July's increase in the CPI was a slowdown from the 0.3 percent gain in June. It was the sixth straight month of increase in the CPI.

    Modest inflation shouldn't hold the Fed back from raising rates this year. Prices are bottoming.

    "Modest inflation shouldn't hold the Fed back from raising rates this year. Prices are bottoming," said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

    Shelter costs, the government's way to track the cost of owning or renting a home and which account for a third of the CPI, shot up 0.4 percent, the largest increase since February 2007. That was on top of a 0.3 percent again in June.

    In the 12 months through July, the CPI climbed 0.2 percent. It was the second month the annual CPI increased after plunging crude oil prices pushed it into negative terrain in January.

    Signs of an ebb in the disinflationary trend, combined with a tightening labor market and strengthening housing sector could give the Fed confidence that inflation will eventually rise toward its 2 percent target.

    "Fed officials made clear that they do not need to see higher inflation before hiking. They just need to have reasonable confidence it will return to mandate," said Michelle Girard, chief economist at RBS in Stamford, Connecticut.

    Most economists expect the U.S. central to raise its short-term interest rate next month for the first time in almost a decade.

    Gradual Tightening

    But the pace of monetary tightening is likely to be gradual given the dampening effect on inflation of a strong dollar, renewed weakness in oil and other commodity prices, and China's devaluation of the yuan, which should push down import prices.

    Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI rising 0.2 percent from June and gaining 0.2 percent from a year ago.

    U.S. Treasury debt prices briefly rose after the data before slipping. The dollar was trading slightly higher against a basket of currencies.

    The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, ticked up 0.1 percent last month after rising 0.2 percent in June. Shelter was the main contributor to last month's rise in the core CPI.

    In the 12 months through July, the core CPI increased 1.8 percent. It was the fourth time in five months that the 12-month change was 1.8 percent.

    Last month, gasoline prices rose 0.9 percent after rising 3.4 percent in June. Food prices gained 0.2 percent, slowing from a 0.3 percent increase in June as the impact of the bird flu on egg prices eases.

    Egg prices rose only 3.3 percent after a June's 18.3 percent surge, which had been the biggest gain since August 1973.

    Declining homeownership and a rental vacancy rate near a 22-year low is driving rents higher. Rents increased 0.3 percent in July. There were also increases in the cost of medical care. Apparel prices increased after declining for three straight months.

    However, airline fares dropped 5.6 percent, the largest decline since December 1995. Prices for used cars and trucks and household furnishings and new motor vehicles also fell last month.


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    Disney Store at D23 Expo 2015
    Jordan Strauss/Invision for Disney Store/AP Images
    A lot of people visit Disney's (DIS) resort in Florida every year. A whopping 51.5 million guests visited Disney World's four theme parks last year, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. Another 4.2 million guests checked out one of the resort's two water parks.

    With more tourists traveling to Orlando than even New York City these days, it's a safe bet that a trip to Disney World may be in your future. It's not cheap: A single-day ticket to visit Disney World's Magic Kingdom is now up to $105, and that's before factoring in travel, lodging, meals and other diversions.

    You may want to start saving up money. Disney announced some pretty impressive attractions coming to Disney World in the coming months and years during this past weekend's D23 expo. Let's go over a few of the things that may make you want to visit or revisit the self-proclaimed happiest place on Earth.

    1. Star Wars Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios

    The biggest and most anticipated announcement at D23 on Saturday was Star Wars Land, a 14-acre themed universe that will take visitors deep into the lore of the George Lucas franchise. One of the two attractions that will anchor the new land lets guests pilot the Millennium Falcon.

    Disney didn't offer up a timeline as to when Star Wars Land will be built. A similar attraction will also open at Disneyland in California. It will probably take several years to flesh this out, making 2018 or 2019 the best educated guesses until Disney tells us otherwise. However, one early treat will come later this year when the existing Star Tours flight simulator adds new ride footage inspired by the upcoming movie.

    2. Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios

    A hot rumor heading into D23's presentation was that the west side of the Disney's Hollywood Studios -- where several attractions have been closing over the past year -- would be transformed into an area themed to Pixar's properties. It was close, but Disney's settling for just infinity and beyond.

    Disney is dedicating 11 acres of the park to be Toy Story Land. The existing Toy Story Mania will stay, and it's in the process of expanding capacity. Two new rides will be added. One is a spinning flying saucer ride where guests ride vehicles decorated to look like the green alien claw game toys from the original movie. The more ambitious ride is a family-friendly coaster where folks of all ages get to ride on Slinky Dog. There's no opening date announced for Toy Story Land, but it's not as elaborate as Star Wars Land and all of the recent attraction closures should make it easy to open by either 2017 or 2018.

    3. Pandora - The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom

    The most ambitious Disney World project outside of Star Wars Land is the richly themed area going up at Animal Kingdom. Set to open in 2017, the new area has been in the works since Disney struck a licensing deal with James Cameron in 2011 to bring his "Avatar" franchise to life.

    We've known the new land is coming for some time, but D23 offered new details and concept artwork of the island with floating mountains. Two major rides will include a thrill ride where park guests ride banshees and a tamer attraction that features a leisurely canoe ride through the film's Pandora planet in its state of permanent bioluminescence.

    4. Frozen Ever After at Epcot

    The popular Maelstrom boat ride closed in Epcot's Norway pavilion last year, and next year it will reopen as a "Frozen" themed boat attraction. There was a rumble of dissent at first. Purists didn't want to see Maelstrom close. Norwegians also aren't happy about a ride being added that doesn't actually take place in Norway; "Frozen" is based in the fictional Arendelle. However, given the box office success of "Frozen" and the popularity of Anna and Elsa merchandise, there will be plenty of people looking forward to the new attraction.

    5. Soarin' Around the World at Epcot

    Soarin' -- a flight simulator at Epcot -- will be updated next year. Instead of footage of classic California landmarks, the new ride will feature soaring vistas from all over the world. Disney is in the process of building out a third theater for the popular attraction that should open in time for the switch, helping keep wait times in check.

    6. Skipper Canteen at Magic Kingdom

    Disney World's most popular -- and expensive -- park isn't getting a major ride anytime soon, but later this year it will open Skipper Canteen just at the entrance to Adventureland. The restaurant will feature wisecracking Jungle Cruise skippers as servers, and hungry patrons will dine in themed rooms. It may not seem like a game changer, but the last major eatery to open at Magic Kingdom -- the Be Our Guest Restaurant -- has been a rousing success.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. He's also spending the summer in Celebration, Florida, covering the industry at mouse level. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    Cheating Website
    Lee Jin-man/APAshley Madison's Korean website as seen on a computer screen in Seoul, South Korea. The matchmaking website for cheating spouses said it was hacked and that some of its users' information was posted online.

    LONDON -- Hackers say they have exposed unfaithful partners across the world, posting what they said were the personal details of millions of people registered with cheating website Ashley Madison.

    A message posted by the hackers alongside their massive trove accused Ashley Madison's owners of deceit and incompetence and said the company had refused to bow to their demands to close the site.

    "Now everyone gets to see their data," the statement said.

    Ashley Madison has long courted attention with its claim to be the Internet's leading facilitator of extramarital liaisons, boasting of having nearly 39 million members and that "thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands sign up every day looking for an affair."

    Its owner, Toronto-based Avid Life Media, has previously acknowledged suffering an electronic break-in and said in a statement Tuesday it was investigating the hackers' claim. U.S. and Canadian law enforcement are involved in the probe, the company said.

    The Associated Press wasn't immediately able to determine the authenticity of the leaked files, although many analysts who have scanned the data believe it is genuine.

    TrustedSec Chief Executive Officer David Kennedy said the information dump included full names, passwords, street addresses, credit card information and "an extensive amount of internal data." In a separate blog, Errata Security CEO Robert Graham said the information released included details such as users' height, weight and GPS coordinates. He said men outnumbered women on the service five-to-one.

    Avid Life Media declined to comment Wednesday beyond its statement. The hackers also didn't immediately return emails.

    The prospect of millions of adulterous partners being publicly shamed drew widespread attention but the sheer size of the database -- and the technical savvy needed to navigate it -- means it's unlikely to lead to an immediate rush to divorce courts.

    "Unless this Ashley Madison information becomes very easily accessible and searchable, I think it is unlikely that anyone but the most paranoid or suspecting spouses will bother to seek out this information," New York divorce attorney Michael DiFalco said in an email. "There are much simpler ways to confirm their suspicions."

    Huge Data Breach

    Although Graham and others said many of the Ashley Madison profiles appeared to be bogus, it's clear the leak was huge. Troy Hunt, who runs a website that warns people when their private information is exposed online, said nearly 5,000 users had received alerts stemming from the breach.

    Although many may have signed up out of curiosity and some have little more to fear than embarrassment, the consequences for others could reverberate beyond their marriages. The French leak monitoring firm CybelAngel said it counted 1,200 email addresses in the data dump with the .sa suffix, suggesting users were connected to Saudi Arabia, where adultery is punishable by death.

    CybelAngel also said it counted some 15,000 .gov or .mil addresses in the dump, suggesting that American soldiers, sailors and government employees had opened themselves up to possible blackmail. Using a government email to register for an adultery website may seem foolish, but CybelAngel Vice President of Operations Damien Damuseau said there was a certain logic to it. Using a professional address, he said, keeps the messages out of personal accounts "where their partner might see them."

    "It's not that dumb," Damuseau said.

    How many of the people registered with Ashley Madison actually used the site to seek sex outside their marriage is an unresolved question. But whatever the final number, the breach is still a humbling moment for Ashley Madison, which had made discretion a key selling point. In a television interview last year, CEO Noel Biderman described the company's servers as "kind of untouchable."

    The hackers' motives aren't entirely clear, although they have accused Ashley Madison of creating fake female profiles and of keeping users' information on file even after they paid to have it deleted. In its statement, Avid Life Media accused the hackers of seeking to impose "a personal notion of virtue on all of society."

    Graham, the security expert, had a simpler theory.

    "In all probability, their motivation is that #1 it's fun, and #2 because they can," he wrote.

    -Technology Writer Bree Fowler in New York contributed to this report.


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    For sale sign hanging in front of house
    Getty Images
    By Jason Lange

    WASHINGTON -- The regulator for U.S. housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac told the two firms Wednesday to provide more support to low-income Americans taking out mortgages and refinancing home loans.

    The Federal Housing Finance Agency released goals for the two government-controlled firms for 2015-2017 that would advance agency chief Mel Watt's aim to widen access to housing credit.

    The rules direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to expand the number of loans they back for low-income families to 24 percent of the their purchases of single-family home mortgages over the period, up from a target of 23 percent in 2014.

    FHFA also asked each firm to make mortgages refinanced by low-income families a bigger share of their refinancing purchases, and to increase the number of mortgages they buy for multifamily properties each year.

    Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been controlled by the U.S. government since taxpayers bailed them out in 2008 during the housing market implosion.

    The two firms don't lend money directly, but buy mortgages from lenders and sell them as packaged securities with a government guarantee. They back most new U.S. mortgages, and their purchases are a major driver of credit access.

    Boosting support for low-income borrowers, however, could stir controversy in the U.S. Congress. Many Republican lawmakers think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac contributed to the housing bubble and 2007-2009 financial crisis with policies aimed at supporting mortgage access for the poor.


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    Fed Reserve Chair Janet Yellen Testifies at Senate Banking Committee Hearing
    Samuel Corum, Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesFederal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen

    WASHINGTON -- Federal Reserve officials in their July discussions appeared to move closer to their first interest rate hike in nearly a decade but expressed wide-ranging concerns about wages, inflation and a significant slowdown in China.

    Minutes of their July 28-29 discussions released Wednesday show that officials believed they were close to achieving their goals on employment. But they were split on whether inflation had risen enough to justify an rate increase.

    "Most judged that the conditions for policy firming had not yet been achieved, but they noted that conditions were approaching that point," the minutes said.

    On China, Fed officials believed that a big drop in the Chinese stock market would have only limited implications for growth prospects in the world's second-largest economy. However, their discussion occurred before Chinese officials devalued their currency, a decision that roiled global financial markets.

    China on Aug. 11 announced the biggest devaluation of the yuan in two decades. The action has raised new concerns about the dollar, which has been rising in value for a number of months. A stronger dollar can act as a drag on the U.S. economy by increasing America's trade deficit, as U.S. exports become less competitive in overseas markets and foreign goods take more market share in the United States.

    The minutes said that Fed officials discussed the risks posed by a divergence in interest rates, which would occur if the Fed began raising rates while central banks in other nations kept their rates low. The Fed minutes said that this could lead to a further strengthening in the value of the dollar, which could cause further weakness in U.S. exports and drag oil prices even lower.

    The central bank has kept a key rate that it controls at a record low near zero since December 2008. With the unemployment rate at a seven-year low of 5.3 percent, many private economists believe the Fed will finally start to raise interest rates at its next meeting on Sept. 16-17.

    However, other economists argue that with inflation still so low, the central bank may decide to wait until December before beginning to raise rates.


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Rodrigo Campos

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell in choppy trading Wednesday as minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting highlighted concern over the state of the global economy, driving markets to question the likelihood that the Fed will raise rates next month.

    The minutes showed policymakers continued to express broad concerns about lagging inflation and the weak world economy even as the U.S. job market improved further. Market expectations for a Fed hike in September fell from one in two to roughly one in three after the minutes were published.

    Utilities stocks, sought by investors when Treasuries yields are seen remaining lower for longer, sharply outperformed the benchmark index with a 0.4 percent gain.

    Energy stocks posted the most losses on the S&P 500 as crude oil fell 5 percent on the day, even as the U.S. dollar also weakened.

    "It looks like based on commodity prices, China, wages not really picking up, that [Fed officials] are not getting any closer to meeting their inflation target and seems like they're probably not going to be willing to go in September" with a rate hike, said Don Ellenberger, head of multi-sector strategies at Federated Investors in Pittsburgh.

    A delay in the start of the tightening cycle is seen as supportive of equities. However, concern about the strength of the global economy, specifically regarding China, kept pressure on commodity prices and weighed on stocks in the energy and materials sectors.

    "Things are deteriorating in China and that's not good for global growth. That deterioration might be enough to impact our exports and manufacturing industry," said Ellenberger.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 162.61 points, or 0.9 percent, to 17,348.73, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 17.31 points, or 0.8 percent, to 2,079.61 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 40.30 points, or 0.8 percent, to 5,019.05.

    Major indexes had fallen more than 1 percent in late morning trading but the Nasdaq and Dow industrials briefly turned positive after the release of the Fed minutes.

    Fed Concerns

    Fed officials were concerned about "recent decreases in oil prices and the possibility of adverse spillovers from slower economic growth in China," according to the minutes.

    Those concerns may have increased since. China devalued its currency nearly two weeks after the Fed meeting in a move seen by some as an attempt to energize exporters, while U.S. oil futures have fallen roughly 17 percent since July 29, the second day of the Fed meeting.

    Materials stocks fell 1.2 percent as copper touched a six-year low on persistent concerns about slowing growth in China.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,274 to 766, for a 2.97-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 2,065 issues fell and 739 advanced for a 2.79-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 20 new 52-week highs and 28 new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 33 new highs and 128 new lows. About 7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 6.62 billion daily average so far this month, according to BATS Global Markets data.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • At 10 a.m., the National Association of Realtors releases existing home sales for July; the Conference Board releases its index of leading economic indicators for July; the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia releases its Business Outlook Survey for August; and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:


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    social security card and money...
    ShutterstockSocial Security provides essential income to the disabled and family members of deceased workers.
    Social Security was initially a program that provided payments to retired workers when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill on Aug. 14, 1935. But the 80-year-old program has since been amended to include payments for the spouses and dependent children of workers who prematurely pass away and disability benefits for those who become unable to work. Here are some of the important features of the Social Security program.

    How much you are paying in. Most workers contribute 6.2 percent of their paychecks to the Social Security system, and employers match that amount. Self-employed workers pay 12.4 percent of their income into the system. The Social Security tax applies to earnings of up to $118,500 in 2015. Earnings above this amount are not subject to Social Security tax or factored into retirement payments.

    The age to sign up. You can sign up for retirement benefits beginning at age 62, but payments are reduced if you sign up before your full retirement age, which is 66 for most baby boomers and 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later. Your monthly payments will increase if you delay signing up past your full retirement age. However, after age 70 there is no additional boost in payments if you wait to claim Social Security. "Assuming you have normal health, try to claim Social Security as close to 70 as you can," says Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

    How much you will receive. Social Security payments are calculated using the 35 years in which you earn the most. If you don't work for 35 years, zeros are factored into the calculation. You can get a personalized estimate of your future Social Security payments at various claiming ages by creating a My Social Security account online at and logging in to view your Social Security statement. These statements also list your earnings history and taxes paid, which you can check for errors. Paper Social Security statements are mailed to most workers who don't have My Social Security accounts about once every five years.

    What happens if you become disabled. "We started off with just a retirement program, and then in 1939 we added survivors benefits and in 1956 we expanded to include people with disabilities," says Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. If you develop a physical or mental impairment that is expected to prevent you from working for a year or more, you may qualify for disability payments. Your Social Security statement will list an estimate of your monthly payments if you become disabled. You may need to provide documentation about your condition and why it will prevent you from working.

    How much your family will get if you pass away. Social Security also functions as life insurance for workers who prematurely pass away. Children ages 19 and younger who are in school, disabled children and a spouse caring for children younger than age 16 will each be eligible for monthly payments from Social Security, which are subject to a maximum amount the entire family qualifies for. Your Social Security statement will list how much your family members are likely to receive if you die. "Social Security is designed to insure against lost wages," says Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University. "The premium that we pay is designed to insure against risk."

    Emily Brandon is the senior editor for Retirement at U.S. News. You can contact her on Twitter @aiming2retire, circle her on Google Plus or email her at

    How and When to Claim Social Security


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    USA, New Jersey, Portrait of woman holding jar with money
    Getty ImagesUnplugging electronics and filling out surveys at the bottom of receipts can boost your bank account.
    When it comes to money, every little bit adds up. That's what everyone always says, but everyone also has their limits.

    For instance, if you see a penny on the ground, these days, you wouldn't necessarily pick it up, even though, hey, it's free money. You've probably also heard a dozen times the tired but true advice that if you gave up your daily drink from the local coffeehouse, you could save well over a thousand dollars a year.

    There are all sorts of money-stretching strategies we can do -- but probably don't. If you're looking for little ways to improve the health of your bank account, here are five ways you could get some more bang for your buck, if only you had more time or energy.

    Unplug electronics. While lights are easy enough to remember to switch off, it can be easy to forget (or to feel it's not worth the bother) that you could also be unplugging your laptop, your PC, your DVD player, your microwave oven, cellphone charger and an array of other electronics when you aren't using them. Because your electronics, when plugged in and turned off, are still using electricity.

    Right about now you're thinking: No way am I going to unplug all my devices after I use them. Who does that?

    Probably next to nobody, which is why you may want to consider buying a few power strips or a surge protector with multiple outlets that -- and this is key -- has an auto power sensor. (A quick window shopping trip through a search engine suggests they can be found for around $30.) Some of these outlet strips will turn off your appliance's power when it isn't in use, to stop energy from being drained.

    How much you can save. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if you turned off all or most of your electronics when they weren't in use, on average, you'd shave 10 percent off your electric bill.

    Look at the bottom of your receipt. Almost every time you shop, some clerk is telling you that if you go to the bottom of your receipt and fill out a survey, you might win a coupon, gift card or perhaps more rewards points. Do you do it?

    Probably not, but maybe you should.

    Phil Benson, a Vietnam vet who retired about 10 years ago and lives in Bayonne, New Jersey, says that several years ago, he started filling out surveys at the bottom of the receipts he was getting at the office supply chain, Staples. He did it in part because he was a regular customer and was on friendly terms with the manager, who said it helped the store out when the surveys were filled out. In any case, it paid off for him: Six months after filling them out whenever he bought something, he won a $5,000 gift card.

    "I bought my wife a laptop, so she would stop using my computer," Benson chuckles, "and we bought a really nice home safe, and then the next couple years, we just wound up spending the balance on little things. That was fun."

    He still fills out these Staples surveys but hasn't won anything since. He now also fills out surveys on his receipts at the home improvement chain, Lowes, but so far, nothing has come of it.

    How much you can save. Obviously, you can go all over the map here, earning nothing if you just fill out surveys in which there's a prize, but it really depends on the store and how strategic you are with those receipts. If you get in the habit of using any coupons that come with your receipts, you may save at least several bucks a week.

    For instance, Carolyn Stone, a public relations executive in New York City, says her CVS drugstore receipts have CVS "cash" on them and coupons for cash off.

    "I usually use them," she says, adding that she probably saves about $20 to $30 a month. "Sometimes more."

    But she admits that's as far as she goes with her receipts. "If I have to email or call or do some effort, I won't do it," she says. She also issues a complaint that is likely shared by many shoppers these days: "My receipts can be more than one-and-a-half feet long."

    Buy generic brands. So little effort here. You either reach for the generic or the name brand. You've been conditioned through advertising to believe the name brand is always the better product, and while that may sometimes be true, often there's no substantial difference, especially when the main ingredients in a product are the same.

    How much you can save. Quite a bit, possibly as much as 20 to 30 percent, per several estimates from various studies. According to a study published last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research, American consumers are spending an estimated extra $44 billion a year on brand-name drugs, health care items and pantry goods.

    Use perks you're already paying for. Your workplace may have certain benefits you aren't using. Your credit card may offer perks you never look at. If you're a member of a bulk warehouse store, or you have roadside assistance, such as AAA, you might have perks or benefits you'd want to use, if you occasionally perused the websites or brochures to remind yourself of what's offered.

    Earlier this year, commissioned Princeton Survey Research, which interviewed 1,003 American adults, to see how people use travel rewards cards and what they do with those rewards after earning them. Seventy-nine percent of travel credit card holders said they had never transferred credit card rewards points to an airline or hotel loyalty program, despite presumably having those rewards points.

    Granted, just because you have accrued credit card points, doesn't mean you should use them. If you can't afford to travel, for instance, unless you have a whopping amount of points, you're still probably going to be overspending. But nonetheless, it's a good reminder that everyone likely has some sort of perk that they're paying for, or entitled to receive, and don't.

    How much you can save. Potentially hundreds and thousands of dollars, depending on what perks you're not using. For instance, many employees forfeit their paid vacations. Last year, the U.S. Travel Association commissioned Oxford Economics to determine how much vacation time Americans are giving up every year, and according to the study, in 2013, Americans permanently lost 169 million days of paid time off, effectively losing $52.4 billion in benefits.

    Find strategies that help you remember the little ways to save. You probably would do more to save money if it were easier to remember to take those little steps that can add up. If the payoff isn't great, or doesn't seem great, it's easier to forget.

    Which is how Donna Maurillo, a Scotts Valley, California, resident who works at a think tank, came up with an interesting strategy when she shops.

    "At CVS," she says, "often they'll have a shelf tag that says, for example, 'Buy two of these, and get $5 in Extra Bucks.' If I just stuff the coupon into my wallet, I'll forget to use it," Maurillo says.

    Instead, now Maurillo takes the two items immediately to the register, pays for them, receives her Extra Bucks coupon and continues shopping. "Then I use the Extra bucks as part of my payment for the rest of my purchase," she says.

    How much you can save. At least a few extra bucks. And if you look for enough little ways to help you remember to save, maybe a lot.


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    three shopper friends buying...
    By Kyle James

    It's called "dynamic pricing," and it's when online retailers change the price of a product depending on factors like your browsing or purchase history, operating system, and even your zip code.

    For example, if you shop regularly at, a retailer could jump to the conclusion that you're more likely to buy at an expensive price point. Online retailers have even been known to use the income level of your zip code to determine the price they should offer. The fact of the matter is you leave a trail when you shop online, and retailers can tap into that trail in an effort to maximize their profits.

    Here is what you need to know about dynamic pricing, along with ways to combat this legal pricing strategy.

    1. Check If the Price Changes

    So how do you go about determining if you're being duped by dynamic pricing? Here is one easy way to tell: After you look at an item online, decide not to buy it, but later return to the item, does the price get higher? If so, you're dealing with this pricing tactic.

    Also, be sure to check the price on your mobile device, or conversely, on a laptop or desktop if you're already on a smartphone. Whether it's the price of an item on Amazon, or the price of a ticket on Orbitz, often retailers will offer a different price depending on your device. If the price changes, then you know you're also dealing with dynamic pricing.

    Okay, so you've been able to determine you're dealing with a sneaky pricing tactic, so what can you do about it?

    2. Browse in Incognito/Private Mode

    By setting your browser to incognito or private mode, none of your browser history is stored on your computer. (Here is a good resource for learning how to set incognito mode on different browsers.) It should also be noted that just because you're in this mode you're not completely anonymous, as each website you visit still has access to your IP address. But they cannot change the price based on your buying and browsing history if you are in incognito or private mode.

    3. Disable Third Party Cookies

    By using browser cookies, which are tiny bits of information about your computer and browsing history, retailers can determine your likelihood to buy at certain price points. By disabling these third party cookies on your browser, you have essentially stopped online retailers from targeting you with advertisements and adjusting prices on items you've perused via those ads. Third party cookies can generally be blocked without causing any major disruptions in your browsing experience. This should be done in conjunction with browsing in incognito or private mode to maximize your results. Here is a good resource on how to disable cookies across multiple browsers.

    4. Shop and Buy on Separate Browsers

    Another easy way to avoid dynamic pricing is to simply shop from one browser and make your purchases from another. For example, read product reviews, do price comparisons, and search for coupons on your Firefox browser, then when you're ready to buy, fire up Google Chrome and make your purchase. By doing this you completely trick the online retailer as they think you're a brand new visitor, with no browsing history, and thus are less likely to jack up the price.

    5. Enter a Different Zip Code

    In recent years, retailers like Office Depot, Staples, and Home Depot have all used your zip code to track your geographical location in an effort to offer different prices to different shoppers. In other words, if you live in a zip code with a high median income, you stand a better chance of being hit by a higher price via dynamic pricing. A simple way to combat this is to enter a different zip code during the checkout process -- perhaps a neighboring zip code with a lower income level -- and see if the price changes. If the price does decrease, then clear your cookies, shop from a mobile device, or shop from a different browser. Only make your purchase when you have the lower price verified in your virtual shopping cart.

    6. The Amazon Factor

    Amazon is famous for constantly changing their prices based on the competition's price, your browsing and buying history, and a bunch of other factors they'll never disclose. Instead of trying to out-think the retail giant, learn to beat them at their own game. Do this by using the free website CamelCamelCamel which allows you to create "Amazon price drop alerts" on millions of products they sell. When the price drops on Amazon for a product you're tracking, you'll get an alert via email or Twitter. You also get access to the price history of over 18 million Amazon products to help you decide when the price is right. Don't let the strange name of this service fool you -- if you use it regularly, you'll never have to worry about getting overcharged by Amazon again.

    As consumers, we have the right to shop with whomever we please. If you feel a website is dynamically raising the price on you, and you're unable to get the lower price, then simply boycott them and take your hard-earned dollars elsewhere. There will almost always be another website or brick and mortar store who can match or beat it.

    Have you ever noticed a website changing the price on you? If so, did you decide to shop elsewhere or go ahead and make the purchase?


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    closeup portrait of poor...
    By Ellen Chang

    NEW YORK -- Four years after graduating from Syracuse University, Dan Kaplan's first priority each month is to pay his student loans, hindering his plan to save for an emergency fund or to buy a car.

    After borrowing $25,000 for his bachelor's degree, the marketing and communications employee for a New York government organization shifted his spending and saving habits. Kaplan has maintained a "fairly strict, $300-a-month approach to my payments" and has allocated nearly all of his end-of-year bonuses from previous jobs and holiday gift money from family members toward the loan balance.

    While this dedicated approach has helped him whittle down the amount of his debts so that they will be paid off by early 2016, Kaplan has also felt the strain of not having a personal rainy day fund for unexpected expenses or other goals such as buying a vehicle or "an eventual home of my own, which has really started to hit home as friends and family members around my age have begun buying these things."

    Kaplan's struggle is becoming more commonplace as tuition costs have risen steadily and more students are borrowing money to fund their degrees, forcing many millennials to postpone purchases of a car or home or other milestones. A July survey conducted by Bankrate, the North Palm Beach, Florida-based financial content company, found that 56 percent of Gen-Yers with student loan debt delayed major life events because of their debt compared with 43 percent of older adults.

    The most common event millennials were compelled to shelve was purchasing a home, followed closely by saving for retirement and buying an automobile. The survey also revealed that 28 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have student loan debt compared with 41 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds.

    Student Loans Affects Generation X, Too

    "Student debt is often portrayed strictly as a millennial issue, but the truth is that Americans of all ages have put their lives on hold due to student debt," said Steve Pounds, a analyst. "Delaying major life milestones such as buying a home or saving for retirement doesn't only affect the individual and his or her family, it also has effects on the overall economy."

    Over half of the borrowers said they lacked receiving adequate information or advice about the ramifications of accruing the debt with 66 percent of millennials who voiced this sentiment.

    Tips to Buy Your Car or First House

    Waiting to conduct major purchases "may be a good thing actually and shows some solid restraint in our consumer-driven society," said J.J. Montanaro, a certified financial planner at USAA, the San Antonio, Texas-based financial institution.

    Unfortunately, the weight of student loan debt could make additional obligations unrealistic or at least a source of financial stress.

    "As a financial planner, my mantra is, 'If you can't do it right, it's not the right time to do it,' " he said. "Unfortunately, the weight of student loan debt could make additional obligations unrealistic or at least a source of financial stress."

    Building up a savings account for emergencies or to fund other purchases down the road is critical for younger consumers, Montanaro said. Even nominal deposits help millennials get in the right mindset for the future.

    "I'm a big fan of saving for the future and would love to see younger investors get things started, even if it's in a small way," he said. "Unlike the major budget commitments required to buy a home or car, it doesn't take a lot to start to build the savings habit."

    Since his final student loan payment will be made early next year, Kaplan is already counting down the months until they are completely paid off and is already planning how he wants to allocate the extra money.

    Budgeting Reduces Debt Faster

    One unintended consequence of having student loans is that Kaplan learned to budget early on, "which is an essential life skill that I don't know if would have otherwise developed to the same extent."

    "While the student loans can be frustrating in the short-term, the long-term benefits can't really be overstated," he said. "I think it's all been absolutely worth it, because there's simply no substitute for the experience I had at Syracuse. I simply wouldn't be where I am in my career today without those four years and to me, that's worth $25,000 any day."

    Although student loans are a "roadblock" for millennials to save for larger purchases, the goal is to develop a plan to pay down the debt quickly, said Rachel Cruze, a Nashville, Tenn.-based author who educates students on staying out of debt.

    "With some people facing $30,000 to $40,000 in student loan debt, it can be difficult to see past the loans," she said.

    In addition to creating a budget and plan to pay off the loans, Gen-Yers need to make sacrifices. "Too many people keep student loans around for years, but I want millennials to get rid of them quickly," Cruze said. "By getting rid of these loans, you'll free up your money to buy a house or invest for retirement."

    Paying off smaller debts first can help many millennials eliminate the debt, she said.

    "Put all your extra money towards your smallest debt, while paying minimum payments on the other debts," Cruze said. "The 'debt snowball' gives you momentum and keeps you motivated."

    Sacrifices such as eating out less or getting an extra job will give someone extra money to get rid of their student loans sooner, she said.

    After serving in special operations in the Army with four combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Phillip Padilla, completed his undergraduate degree at UNC Chapel Hill. Since he had two years left on his GI Bill, the 30-year old Washington resident opted to continue his education by obtaining a master's degree at Georgetown University. Since the GI Bill only funds tuition at the "most expensive public school in a given state, the only public college is the city's community college," he said. This meant Padilla's tuition assistance was $5,000 a year even though Georgetown's tuition was $60,000 a year, leaving him no choice but to take on a large amount of debt to finance the degree.

    While the advanced degree had "its rewards" since Padilla was recruited nearly immediately to work for a prestigious policy think tank, the choice has "come at a huge cost," he said. During the first two years one of the two paychecks Padilla received each month went "solely to paying off the student loans."

    From 'Impossible' to 'Debilitating'

    Although his monthly payments have been reduced to $1,200 from $2,200 due to the Pay As You Earn program, which is based on a borrower's income for federal student loans, Padilla said it has only changed his debt situation from "impossible" to "debilitating" as he continues to drive his 15-year-old truck and remains a renter.

    "It has been a godsend, but it still hasn't changed the fundamental situation," he said. "The loan repayments effectively take away all of my disposable income. Buying a vehicle and saving money simply aren't possibilities."

    The amount of his loans affected other decisions his wife and he made. While they were both eligible for unpaid parental leave after their first child was born recently, the loan repayments "keep us tethered to our desks," Padilla said.

    Ensuring that his credit score is good is paramount for Padilla since he works in national security and a lapse in repayments could cause him to lose his job.

    While it is not easy to gauge if his decision to take on such a debt burden was the right one, Padilla believes in the value of his education amid the setbacks.

    "If I didn't take the loans, I wouldn't have gotten my position or my career in D.C.," he said. "However, my family and I have to forgo an awful lot."

    That's the sacrifice of the student debt burden and the new normal many Americans are facing as they delay major purchases and get their financial house in order.


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    Property taxation
    Getty Images
    By Karla Bowsher

    New Jersey homeowners pay a real estate property tax rate that's 8.5 times higher than that paid by Hawaii homeowners.

    That's because New Jersey has the highest property tax rate in the country (2.8 percent of a home's value), and Hawaii has the lowest rate (0.28 percent), according to a recent analysis by the nonprofit think tank Tax Foundation.

    The analysis of property tax rates on owner-occupied property is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Tax Foundation.

    The states with the highest property tax rates according to the foundation's analysis are:
    • New Jersey: 2.38 percent of total home value
    • Illinois: 2.32 percent
    • New Hampshire: 2.15 percent
    • Connecticut: 1.98 percent
    • Wisconsin: 1.96 percent
    The states with the lowest property tax rates are:
    • South Carolina: 0.57 percent of home value
    • Delaware: 0.55 percent
    • Louisiana: 0.51 percent
    • Alabama: 0.43 percent
    • Hawaii: 0.28 percent
    To view a map with every state's rank and percentage, check out the Tax Foundation's website.

    Before you relocate, though, keep in mind that property taxes are just one type of tax you will pay. Some states with high property taxes may have lower costs in other areas.

    For example, while New Hampshire has the third-highest property tax rate in the country, it's one of the few states in the country without a statewide sales tax and one of the few that do not have an income tax, except on interest and dividends. (See "4 Things You Must Know About How States Tax Retirement.")

    Additionally, the state you live in isn't the only factor that affects your property tax rate. For example, according to real estate data website RealtyTrac's latest annual U.S. property tax report, owners of both very high-end and very low-end homes often have the highest property tax rates:

    Nationwide, the average effective property tax rate for all single family homes in 2014 was 1.29 percent, but the average effective property tax rate was 1.68 percent for homes valued $50,000 or below and 1.40 percent on homes valued between $50,000 and $100,000. Meanwhile the average effective property tax rate was 1.56 percent on homes valued $1 million to $2 million and 1.77 percent for homes valued $2 million to $5 million.

    To learn about ways to reduce your property tax liability, check out "Ask Stacy: What Can I Do About My High Property Taxes"

    How does your state measure up for its property tax rate? Share your thoughts with us below or on Facebook.

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


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    This May 27, 2013 photo shows the head office and logo of Valeant Pharmaceuticals in Montreal. Valeant Pharmaceuticals will pay about $1 billion to buy Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the first prescription drug designed to boost sexual desire in women. The deal Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015,  comes one day after regulators approved the pill. Valeant expects the Sprout pill, Addyi, to be available in the United States in the fourth quarter. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
    Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP
    Valeant Pharmaceuticals will pay about $1 billion in cash to buy Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the first prescription drug intended to boost sexual desire in women.

    The deal comes one day after U.S. regulators approved the pill.

    Valeant expects the pill, called Addyi, to be available in the United States in the fourth quarter. The acquisition of Sprout should close in this quarter.

    The Food and Drug Administration's approval Wednesday of Addyi was a milestone long sought by drugmakers, which have made billions off impotence drugs for men.

    For decades, pharmaceutical companies have tried unsuccessfully to develop a female equivalent to Viagra, the blockbuster drug that treats men's erectile dysfunction by increasing blood flow. But disorders of women's sexual desire have proven resistant to drugs that act on blood flow, hormones and other simple biological functions.

    Sprout's drug acts on brain chemicals that affect food and appetite. The approval of Addyi, known generically as flibanserin, marks a turnaround for the FDA, which previously rejected the drug twice due to lackluster effectiveness and side effects.

    Sales of the drug are expected to be affected by a strong warning label attached to it and an FDA-imposed safety plan for prescribing. The warning will alert doctors and patients to the risks of dangerously low blood pressure and fainting, especially when the pill is combined with alcohol.

    Under the safety plan, doctors will only be able to prescribe Addyi after completing an online certification process that requires counseling patients about the drug's risks. Pharmacists also will need certification and be required to remind patients not to drink alcohol while taking the drug.

    Valeant plans to pay about $500 million at closing for Raleigh, North Carolina-based Sprout. The Canadian drugmaker will then make another milestone-based payment of around $500 million in the first quarter of next year.

    Privately held Sprout, which was spun off from Slate Pharmaceuticals, has been focused solely on developing a treatment for hypoactive sexual desire disorder. The drugmaker will become a division of Valeant. CEO Cindy Whitehead will join Valeant to oversee Addyi's global rollout.

    Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (VRX) slipped $3.95 to $240.96 Thursday, shortly after markets opened amid a broader market sell-off.


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    Properties As Existing Home Sales Figures Are Released
    David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesFor Sale signs displayed in front of houses in San Francisco.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- Home resales rose to a near 8½-year high in July and factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic region picked up this month, fresh signs of steady economic growth that likely keeps the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates this year.

    While other data Thursday showed a slight increase in the number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits last week, the trend remained consistent with strong labor market momentum.

    We continue to expect both economic growth and labor market activity to continue shifting higher...

    "We continue to expect both economic growth and labor market activity to continue shifting higher, providing the justification for the Fed to begin the normalization in monetary policy in September," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    The National Association of Realtors said existing home sales increased 2 percent to an annual rate of 5.59 million units last month, the highest pace since February 2007.

    Demand for housing is being boosted by a strengthening labor market. But supply remains tight, pushing up home prices and sidelining first-time buyers, who are a key part of a strong housing market. The share of first-time buyers fell to a six-month low of 28 percent last month.

    There were 2.24 million unsold previously owned homes on the market in July, down 4.7 percent from a year ago. That pushed the median home price to $234,000, up 5.6 percent from the year-ago period. Although higher prices could curb sales, they are raising equity for many owners and boosting household wealth.

    They also may encourage builders to ramp up construction, further boosting the economy. Housing starts rose to a near eight-year high in July.

    "The market needs more new homes to be built to continue the momentum, so the trade-up buyers can find their next home and provide inventory for those looking to enter the home buying market," said Bill Banfield, vice president at Quicken Loans in Detroit.

    In a separate report, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said its business activity index increased to 8.3 this month from a reading of 5.7 in July. A reading above zero indicates expansion in the region's manufacturing. While demand for manufactured goods remained weak, shipments rebounded strongly and employment in the region's factories improved.

    National manufacturing activity has been stymied by a strong dollar, weak global demand and the impact of lower oil prices on the energy sector.

    Strong Data Streak

    The data added to solid June employment, retail sales and industrial production reports that have suggested the economy got off to a strong start in the third quarter.

    Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.3 percent annual pace in the second quarter. A strengthening economy could encourage Fed officials, who are worried about persistently low inflation, to tighten monetary policy this year.

    Minutes from the Fed's July 28-29 policy meeting published Wednesday underscored policymakers' concerns about tame price pressures, and economists believe that has raised the bar for a September "lift-off" in the central bank's short-term lending rate.

    Futures markets trimmed bets Wednesday for a rate hike next month.

    U.S. stocks fell again Thursday on worries about global growth, with the housing index dropping 1.49 percent. Prices for longer-dated U.S. Treasuries rallied, while the dollar slipped against a basket of currencies.

    In a third report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 277,000 for the week ended Aug. 15.

    The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 5,500 to 271,500 last week.

    It was the 21st straight week that the four-week average remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is usually associated with a strengthening labor market.

    The claims data covered the week the government surveyed employers for the nonfarm payrolls portion of August's employment report. The four-week average of claims fell 7,000 between the July and August survey periods, suggesting another month of healthy job gains.

    "These data show that companies are, for the most part, holding onto labor and reluctant to lay off workers," said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York. "The data are for the August payroll survey week and suggest that the trend of solid job creation remains intact."

    -Jason Lange contributed reporting.


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    Young adult Asian male standing In aisle of grocery store looking confused while pushing cart and looking at selection of grocer
    Getty Images
    By Rhonda Schaffler

    NEW YORK -- The biggest hurdle to a stronger economy is the lackluster wage growth during the current recovery, according to Richard Yamarone, a senior economist at Bloomberg.

    Yamarone said the economy has been muddling along for years because the consumer isn't in the driver's seat. "Consumers are running in place," said Yamarone. "They're not making as much money and, adjusted for inflation, they're really not making a whole heckuva lot of money. And how do you facilitate trade or consumption? By how much money you bring in."

    Yamarone said the lack of consumer spending power explains why GDP growth has been running in a range of 1.5 to 2.5 percent, which he believes is disappointing at this stage of the recovery.

    "We're muddling along. It's not a strong thing, it's not a positive thing," he said. "We're just merely getting by." Ironically, consumers may have to shell out more for products and services in the months ahead.

    Yamarone recently studied 300 quarterly earnings transcripts and found that companies are planning to raise prices because their own costs are going up. "They're facing higher price pressures from minimum wage legislation around particular areas of the country. They're seeing higher costs because of the Affordable Care Act," said Yamarone.

    Admittedly, those higher costs may be offset by a drop in prices elsewhere, such as lower fuel costs. Still, Yamarone remains concerned about the pace of economic growth, especially as the Federal Reserve appears poised to raise interest rates next month.

    Yamarone spoke with TheStreet's Rhonda Schaffler at Camp Kotok, an annual gathering of economists and money managers held each year in Maine. During Camp Kotok, an exclusive survey conducted by TheStreet found that 55 percent of those polled believe the Fed will raise rates in September.


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    Coca-Cola-Executive Compensatio
    Lionel Cironneau/APCoca-Cola Co. Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent

    NEW YORK -- NEW YORK -- Coca-Cola says it will start publishing information about its health and nutrition efforts after it was criticized for funding a group that many felt touted the company's message.

    On Wednesday evening, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said in an editorial published in The Wall Street Journal that he was disappointed that the company's actions have created "more confusion and mistrust." Moving forward, he said the company will publish "a list of health and well-being partnerships and research activities" the company has funded in the past five years.

    That information will be updated every six months, he said.

    The Atlanta-based company came under fire after a New York Times story on Aug. 9 that detailed how Coca-Cola Co. (KO) gave $1.5 million to help start the Global Energy Balance Network. The story said the group promotes the idea that people are overly fixated on how much they're eating, rather than how much exercising.

    In a video announcing the group, Steven Blair, a professor at the University of South Carolina and vice president of the network, noted the media focuses on "eating too much, eating too much, eating too much -- blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks, and so on. And there's really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause."

    Later in the video, Blair said people are getting fatter, but that the "we don't really know the cause, other than, well, too many people are eating more calories than they burn on too many days. But maybe the reason they're eating more calories than they need is because they're not burning many."

    Yoni Freedhoff, a nutrition and obesity expert at the University of Ottawa, said that it has become common for food companies to deflect criticism about their products by talking about the need for physical activity.

    " 'Energy balance' is a term that the food industry has been using for a while," he said.

    Freedhoff learned about the group after noticing Coca-Cola's chief science and health officer mention it on Twitter. When he went to the group's website, however, Freedhoff said he couldn't find information on its funding source.

    That information was posted soon after he pointed out the oversight to the group, Freedhoff said.

    A disclosure at the bottom of the group's "About" page now states that it gets support from various entities, including an "unrestricted grant from The Coca-Cola Company."

    After The New York Times ran its story, the network said in a statement that the suggestion that its work promotes "the idea that exercise is more important than diet in addressing obesity vastly oversimplifies this complex issue."

    Coca-Cola also published a piece on its website by its chief technical officer, Ed Hays, calling the story's portrayal of the company "inaccurate." Hays dismissed the idea Coca-Cola funds research to convince people that "diets don't matter."

    A representative for Coca-Cola said the company expects to release the first wave of information on its health and wellness efforts "within the next few weeks." The company said it will also post information about its work with individuals.

    Earlier this year, The Associated Press reported that Coca-Cola worked with multiple health experts who wrote online posts for American Hearth Month in February, with each including a mini-Coke or other soda as a snack idea. At the time, Coca-Cola said it wanted to help people "make decisions that are right for them." Like others in the industry, it said it works with experts to "bring context to the latest facts and science around our products and ingredients."

    In addition to outlining such relationships, Coca-Cola said it will form an oversight committee of independents experts to advise it on investments on academic research.


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    Extend the Life of Summer Produce
    Buying fresh foods from the farmers' market doesn't have to spoil your savings. There are many great ways to preserve your food that go beyond freezing and pickling.

    For instance, you can "heat shock" produce like berries, peaches and even asparagus. Simply fill a bowl with water that's 130°F and submerge the produce for about 30 seconds. Next, carefully drain the food and gently spin it dry in a salad spinner lined with paper towels. After that, just store the food in the refrigerator and you're done.

    Doing this will keep your produce mold-free for several days longer than their unwashed counterparts. It's that easy.

    Preserve your greens from the farmers' market and you can preserve the green in your wallet.

    View Poll


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Rodrigo Campos

    NEW YORK -- The S&P 500 hit a more than six-month low, closing in negative territory Thursday for the year, on concern a deceleration in China's economy would translate into slower global growth.

    Consumer stocks led the decline on Wall Street with Disney down 6 percent after a brokerage downgrade, while Apple fell 2 percent after a report that overall smartphone sales in China fell in the second quarter.

    Lingering concern over the Chinese economy was underscored by a near 8 percent slide in a major stock index so far this week and after the Commerce Ministry said Wednesday exports could continue falling in coming months.

    The largest issue is certainly the fact that we don't know how much the Chinese economy is slowing.

    "The largest issue is certainly the fact that we don't know how much the Chinese economy is slowing," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

    "That's manifesting itself in lower oil prices," he said, pointing to the correlation between stocks and crude futures.

    U.S. crude edged higher after earlier hitting its lowest since March 2009, while Brent dropped 2.3 percent to hit its lowest since January.

    The 14-day correlation between the S&P 500 and Brent prices is at a five-month high.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 358.04 points, or 2.1 percent, to 16,990.69, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 43.88 points, or 2.1 percent, to 2,035.73 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 141.56 points, or 2.8 percent, to 4,877.49.

    The S&P 500 and Dow posted their largest daily percentage drops since Feb. 3, 2014, while the Nasdaq had its biggest loss since April 10, 2014.

    The S&P 500 is now down 1.1 percent year-to-date. It also traded below its 200-day moving average for the full session, something not seen since last October.

    At Thursday's session low, the S&P 500 was down 4.6 percent from its record intraday high set in late May.

    Media Slump

    Disney (DIS) slumped 6 percent to $100.02 and Time Warner (TWX) fell 5 percent to $73.90, leading a rout in media stocks after a Bernstein downgrade that cited a massive structural upheaval in the industry.

    "The pattern didn't change overnight but it got called by Disney for the first time on their earnings," said Hogan.

    Disney shares have fallen 17.8 percent since reporting earnings earlier this month.

    Apple (AAPL) fell 2.1 percent to $112.65 after a Gartner (IT) report said China smartphone sales fell for the first time ever on a quarterly basis in the second quarter. Apple counts China as a key growth market.

    One bright spot in tech stocks was NetApp (NTAP), up 3.4 percent to $30.78 after the data storage equipment-maker's results beat expectations.

    NYSE declining issues outnumbered advancers 2,612 to 457, for a 5.72-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 2,396 issues fell and 437 advanced, for a 5.48-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 4 new 52-week highs and 40 new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 16 new highs and 208 new lows. About 7.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 6.7 billion daily average so far this month according to BATS Global Markets data.

    What to watch Friday:
    • Markit releases the manufacturing purchasing managers flash index for August at 9:45 a.m. Eastern time.
    Earnings Season
    • Deere & Co. (DE) and FootLocker (FL) are scheduled to release quarterly financial results before U.S. stock markets open.


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