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    Depressed Senior Adult Man With Stacks of Papers and Envelopes
    Getty Images
    By Martha Lynn Craver

    Retirees, adjust your budget: Double-digit price hikes for Medicare Part B premiums are coming next year.

    The actual rates for Part B (which covers the costs of doctor visits and outpatient care) will be announced in October and take effect Jan. 1. The boost may be 15 percent for all participants or a whopping 52 percent for some, depending on whether Social Security recipients see a cost-of-living raise for 2016.

    If Social Security checks are increased, everybody will pay more for Part B, bumping the monthly premium to $120.70 from $104.90 to cover higher expenses. That's the scenario for a 15 percent increase in costs.

    But without a raise in Social Security benefits, higher Medicare fees couldn't be charged to most folks. So the larger increase would apply to about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries:
    • Those who enroll in Part B in 2016
    • People who don't have their premiums deducted from Social Security payments
    • Individuals with annual incomes above $85,000
    • People eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid
    For the last group, known as "dual eligibles," Part B premiums are paid by the state where they live.

    Medicare beneficiaries in these groups would see bills jump to $159.30 a month unless the Obama administration took steps to lessen the pain. That's possible, but not certain.

     

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    Durable Goods Up 2% in July

    By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

    WASHINGTON -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods rose for a second month in July, and demand in a key category that tracks business investment plans jumped by the largest amount in 13 months.

    The Commerce Department said Wednesday orders for durable goods -- items expected to last at least three years like refrigerators and cars -- increased 2 percent in July after a 4.1 percent gain in June.

    The result adds to a string of recent economic data that indicate the U.S. economy is on solid ground even in the face of various global headwinds. Deepening concerns about China's economy have sent shock waves through the world's financial markets in recent days.

    "As global equities continue to be roiled by uncertainty in China, we can be grateful that at least the heavyweight in the developed world is growing," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, of the United States. "We already had a string of very positive data. And now, the weak link also known as business investment appears to be turning the corner."

    Orders in a category that serves as a proxy for business investment expanded 2.2 percent in July following a 1.4 percent rise in June. These orders had fallen in four of the previous five months, reflecting the soft patch that manufacturing has faced this year.

    Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, called the gain in business investment "really good news." He described the result as a solid indication that the big cutbacks in investment spending by oil companies were starting to taper off.

    The July increase in orders for durable goods was bigger than economists had been forecasting. They rose even though demand for commercial aircraft fell 6 percent during the month following a 69.7 percent surge in June.

    Orders for machinery rose by 1.5 percent, and demand for communications equipment increased 1.8 percent. Orders for computers and primary metals such as steel both fell.

    While the July durable goods report is encouraging, U.S. manufacturers must still contend with a host of risks that could set them back in the months ahead, including turbulence in China, a strong dollar and falling oil prices.

    The higher value of the dollar against foreign currencies makes U.S. goods more expensive and less competitive in major export markets. The lower oil prices have led energy companies to scale back their investment plans.

    The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at an annual rate of 0.6 percent in the January-March quarter before reviving to a growth rate of 2.3 percent in the April-June period.

    Many economists believe the second quarter figure will be revised higher to above 3 percent when the government issues its second look at GDP in the spring Thursday.

     

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    Earns McDonalds
    Don Ryan/AP
    By CANDICE CHOI

    NEW YORK -- This probably isn't what the United Nations had in mind when it established the International Day of Peace: Burger King is asking McDonald's to join forces to create a "McWhopper."

    In full-page newspaper ads Wednesday, Burger King said it's calling for a truce with McDonald's so that they can create a mashup of their most famous burgers -- the Big Mac and the Whopper. Burger King says it wants to serve the concoction for a single day at a popup location in Atlanta, a midway point between the headquarters of the two chains.

    Burger King is tying the publicity stunt to a nonprofit called Peace One Day, which says it promotes Peace Day. The United Nations created the International Day of Peace in 1981 to coincide with its annual opening session in September. It then designated Sept. 21 as the annual "day of non-violence and cease-fire" in 2001.

    This photo provided by Burger King shows a 'McWhopper.' In full-page newspaper ads Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, Burger King said it's calling for a truce with McDonald's so that they can create a mashup of their most famous burgers, the Big Mac and the Whopper.   Burger King is tying the publicity stunt to a nonprofit called Peace One Day, which says it promotes Peace Day. (Burger King via AP)
    Burger King via AP
    In a response posted on its Facebook page, McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said the proposal was inspiration for a good cause, and that he thinks the two companies could do "something bigger to make a difference." Then he took a dig at the ploy by Burger King.

    "Let's acknowledge that between us there is simply a friendly business competition and certainly not the unequaled circumstances of the real pain and suffering of war," Easterbrook said.

    He added "P.S. A simple phone call will do next time."

    The proposed mashup of the Big Mac and Whopper would include elements of each, such as flame-broiled beef patty and a middle bun, according to a website Burger King set up. Burger King notes on the site that it's open to discussing the proposal, but that details would have to be worked out in time for Peace Day.

    "Proposals like McWhopper make noise," Burger King says in a video on the site.

    Burger King said the ads asking McDonald's (MCD) about the proposal were to run Wednesday in The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, the latter of which is based near McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

    Burger King, based in Miami, is owned by Restaurant Brands International (QSR), which also owns Tim Hortons.

     

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    Americans Financial Health
    Richard Drew/APA screen above the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows Tuesday's closing number for the Dow Jones industrial average.
    By JOSH BOAK

    WASHINGTON -- Many Americans have just absorbed a financial beating -- at least as measured by their stock holdings. It's the kind of blow that can feed a sense of helplessness about retirement, college savings and higher-than-expected bills.

    But take a look at other gauges of Americans' financial health, and a more nuanced picture emerges:

    Hiring and home values are up. Gas prices and mortgage rates are down. Inflation is low. The pace of layoffs has dwindled.

    Add it up, and the evidence suggests that many Americans -- though certainly not all -- are doing comparatively well.

    Even the stock-market swoon can be put in perspective: Yes, the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index (^GSPC) has tumbled 10.7 percent over the past five days of trading. Since the end of 2008, though, the S&P index remains up about 120 percent.

    For some, the stock sell-off has been an occasion to take a breath, recall previous down markets that eventually recovered and summon the patience to wait for their investments to rebound.

    "Hell, yes, I am worried," said Shannon Miller, a 27-year old digital content manager in St. Louis. "But what goes down ... will probably go back up."

    Here's a look at key measures of Americans' financial well-being:

    Jobs. This is a clear bright spot. Employers have added a total of 11.5 million jobs over the past 58 months. All that hiring has helped cut the unemployment rate to 5.3 percent from a peak of 10 percent in 2009. And just about everyone who has a job is getting to keep it: Applications for unemployment aid, which reflect the pace of layoffs, has hit a 15-year low.

    The surge in hiring is not concentrated in dead-end McJobs.

    It's true that the solid hiring has yet to provide meaningful pay raises for most people. Average hourly earnings are up a subpar 2.1 percent over the past 12 months.

    But there's evidence that the job market is being retooled for occupations and college graduates who command higher pay. Nearly 44 percent of the jobs added during the recovery paid a median income of more than $53,000, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The economy includes a greater proportion of these jobs now than in 2008, after having shed "middle-wage jobs" -- those that paid $32,000 to $53,000.

    "The surge in hiring is not concentrated in dead-end McJobs," the report concluded.

    Investments. No doubt the latest stock market plunge has dealt a setback to many retirement accounts.

    But plenty of people have diversified their portfolios, as they should, so that stocks don't represent an outsized portion of their holdings. And many individuals have richly profited from the most recent bull market. A thousand dollars invested in an S&P 500 index fund at the end of 2008 would now be worth roughly $2,200.

    The investment company Vanguard reported in June that clients with retirement accounts at the end of 2009 had enjoyed a median gain of 137 percent over five years, reflecting both market returns and additional contributions.

    Consider: An Associated Press analysis last week found that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would have multiplied his fortune more by investing in a generic stock index than in heavily-branded luxury real estate.

    Gas prices. Prices at the pump haven't been this low at this time of year since 2004, according to the American Automobile Association. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.58 a gallon, down from $3.44 at this point in 2014. Analysts expect prices to fall further after summer.

    The price decline has slowed economic growth because energy companies have slashed their drilling activity and equipment orders to manufacturers.

    Yet for individual Americans, falling gas prices are a windfall: Families have more cushioning in their household budgets and can direct some of their gas savings to pare debt, invest or spend.

    Home values. The housing market has solidly recovered from the depths of the recession, when defaults on subprime mortgages caused a crushing wave of foreclosures and depressed prices.

    The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index is up 5 percent from a year earlier. And the National Association of Realtors said last week that sales of existing homes in July reached an annual rate of 5.59 million, the strongest pace since 2007.

    Homeowners are also behaving more prudently: Mortgage debt remains about $1.3 trillion below the 2008 peak, according to the Federal Reserve.

    "While the stock market can fluctuate wildly, real estate is slow and steady and has returned to very healthy conditions," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Realtor.com.

    Mortgage rates. The Fed's low-rate policies have kept mortgage rates near historic lows for much of the recovery. And even as stocks have tumbled, it's become cheaper for homebuyers to borrow. The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 3.93 percent last week from 4.09 percent in mid-July, according to mortgage firm Freddie Mac.

    The low rates have benefited many homeowners who have adjustable-rate mortgages from before the recession. Mortgage rates tend to track the yields on long-term Treasurys. The declining stock market has held those yields low -- welcome news for homeowners such as Conal Crawley, a 49-year-old sales rep from Boston.

    "It'll keep my interest rate down as long as the economy doesn't get overheated," he said.

    -AP business writer Marley Jay contributed to this report from New York.

     

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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    This has been a rough month -- and a rough year -- for the stock market. Some may argue that it's hard to make money in this climate, but some investors have actually made a lot of it.

    Let's go over a few of the stocks that have more than doubled in 2015 as of the Aug. 25 market close.

    Skechers (SKX) -- Up 139 percent

    The athletic-footwear maker is on fire, blowing Wall Street profit targets away in each of this year's first two quarters. Sales clocked in at a record $2.4 billion last year and they're already surging 39 percent higher through the first half of 2015.

    The company that was once known for cheap sneakers has evolved into its own brand. Skechers recently announced a 3-for-1 stock split, which will take place in October.

    Eldorado Resorts (ERI) -- Up 124 percent

    The house always wins, but that doesn't always play out for casino operators. Things have certainly panned out for Eldorado. It's been seeing improving performance metrics at most of its five properties, and a recent deal to acquire Circus Circus Reno and MGM's 50 percent interest in Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno will bring its casino count up to seven.

    Sector consolidation has helped boost the shares of small regional players with domestic assets. Eldorado certainly fits the bill, and with buyouts likely to continue, it will keep drawing interest from more than just gamers.

    LendingTree (TREE) -- Up 117 percent

    Low interest rates and a booming housing market have been beneficial to lead providers for the mortgage industry and LendingTree has been one of them. Interest in refinancing has been sluggish since it's been a low-rate environment for so long, but demand for financing home purchases continues to grow.

    The biggest driver in LendingTree's top-line growth has been its push into personal loans. It's a volatile niche, but it's also a logical expansion market for the company.

    Wayfair (W) -- Up 113 percent

    The online furniture retailer didn't seem to live up to the initial hype in its first year as a public company. Wayfair went public at $29 last October, and even though it opened at $36, it wound up losing ground by the end of 2014.

    It's been a different story this year. Investors have applauded the heady sales growth at Wayfair, forgiving its shortcomings on the bottom line. It helps that the losses are shrinking as its sales expand. A few years ago, some would have argued that furniture was a bust for e-tailers. Customers like to kick the ottoman, so to speak. Shipping is too cost-prohibitive. However, it's working for Wayfair.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Up 108 percent

    The most valuable company to double this year in terms of market cap is Netflix. The leading premium video service grows more popular with every passing quarter. Its global base of streaming subscribers has grown to 65.55 million from 50.05 million over the past year.

    Magnetic original content and strong acquisitions overseas -- where most of its growth has been coming from over the past year -- continue to make Netflix the undisputed top dog, serving billions of hours of content a month.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Netflix. 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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    Oscar Mayer, Turkey Bacon
    JeepersMedia/Flickr
    NEW YORK -- Kraft Heinz Foods Co. (KHC) is recalling more than 2 million pounds of turkey bacon products that may be unsafe because they could possibly spoil before the "Best When Used By" date.

    The US. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said that it has received reports of illness tied to individuals eating the items.

    The turkey bacon products included in the recall were produced between May 31 and Aug. 6. They were shipped across the U.S. and exported to the Bahamas and St. Martin.

    Consumers with questions about the recall can contact the Kraft Heinz Consumer Relations Center at 800-278-3403.

    The recall includes:
    • 56-ounce cardboard boxes (containing four plastic wrapped packages) labeled as Oscar Mayer "Selects Uncured Turkey Bacon." The plant number is P-9070, the line number is RS19 and the Product UPC 0 4470007633 0. It has "Best When Used By" dates of 24 AUG 2015 through 26 OCT 2015.
    • 36-ounce cardboard boxes (containing three plastic wrapped packages) labeled as Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon "Smoked Cured Turkey Chopped and Formed." The plant number is P-9070, the line number is RS19 and the Product UPC 0 7187154874 8. It has "Best When Used By" dates of 28 AUG 2015 through 20 OCT 2015.
    • 48-ounce cardboard boxes (containing four plastic wrapped packages) labeled as Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon "Smoked Cured Turkey Chopped and Formed." The plant number is P-9070, the line number is RS19 and the Product UPC 0 7187154879 3. It has "Best When Used By" dates of 3 SEPT 2015 through 30 OCT 2015.

     

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    Airlines Cheap Fares
    Nick Ut/AP
    By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ

    Airline fare wars are making a comeback.

    Don't expect widespread sales or cheap flights home for Thanksgiving. But a number of cities are seeing ridiculously low prices at off-peak hours -- prices the industry has spent the years trying to eliminate.

    Fliers have been able to fly Chicago to Boston for $80 roundtrip, San Francisco to Las Vegas for $67 roundtrip and New York to Los Angeles, with a connection, for $150 roundtrip.

    This is the big break consumers have been waiting for in response to lower fuel prices.

    "This is the big break consumers have been waiting for in response to lower fuel prices," says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of industry newsletter Airline Weekly.

    The price of oil is at the lowest level in 6½ years and the industry is saving billions of dollars on fuel, giving airlines leeway to cut fares but still post healthy profits. Airlines have also added larger, more efficient planes to their fleets while packing more seats into existing jets. So, while the number of domestic flights is down slightly over the past 12 months, there are now 3.4 percent more seats for sale -- too many to meet the demand in all cities. To fill those extra seats, airlines have had to offer discounts.

    Still, airlines are being very selective. Forget finding a deal for busy holidays or on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays when business travelers fly. The best prices are for flights on traditionally slow days like Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. And it helps if Southwest Airlines (LUV), Spirit Airlines (SAVE) or Frontier Airlines flies the route.

    For instance, Frontier recently had a sale for members of its club who pay an annual $50 fee. Tickets were being offered for $15 one-way including taxes.

    American Airlines (AAL) and -- to a lesser extent -- Delta Air Lines (DAL) and United Airlines (UAL) are matching some of the discount fares. By doing so, they actually undercut the ultra-low-cost carries because Spirit and Frontier charge customers extra to use overhead baggage bins or to have a drink of water.

    "They're trying to force them out of the market and they have the power to do this because they are making record profits," says George Hobica, founder of travel deal site AirfareWatchdog.com.

    Legacy Carriers Fight Back

    Spirit and Frontier each carries less than 2 percent of all domestic passengers. American, United and Delta made $6.6 billion in combined profits during the first half of this year, so they afford to fight back on routes such as Chicago to Atlanta.

    American spokesman Casey Norton says the airline "constantly looks at how we compete against a wide variety of airlines -- from low cost carriers to premium global brands."

    Delta and United declined to comment. However, Delta has expanded its "Basic Economy" fare to more than 450 markets. Fliers booking these tickets typically save $15 each way, but are not given advanced seat assignments, can't cancel or change the flight and are last to board.

    Fare wars were destructive to the industry in the 1980s. Airlines were focused on being the largest carrier on a route, even though it often meant losing money.

    Today's airline industry is more disciplined, so the fare wars cause much less damage. The airlines still collect substantial fares on highly-profitable business routes and for holiday travel. Additionally, they take in billions in dollars fees for checked baggage fees and other things that were included in the ticket price back in the 1980s.

    Bit of Relief

    Even passengers unable to take advantage of today's bargain-basement deals are getting a tiny bit of relief.

    The average cost of a roundtrip domestic ticket, including taxes, purchased during the first seven months of this year was $494.12. That's down $5.41, or 1.1 percent, from the same period last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies.

    Prices are still higher than they were in 2011, 2012 and 2013, even when adjusted for inflation. And the small drop in ticket prices is nothing compared to the 31-percent savings airlines have seen on their fuel bills since the start of this year.

    One city having an outsized impact on fares is Dallas, where a federal law that banned most long flights from Dallas Love Field was lifted in October.

    Led by Southwest Airlines, the Dallas market has seen an 8.6 percent increase in seats for the 12 months ending in August, more than double the growth for the entire country.

    Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay says that two out of every five domestic flights -- local market ones or connecting trips -- can be affected by what happens in Dallas.

    For instance, if Southwest offers a cheap fare from New York to Los Angeles, connecting in Dallas, American tries to match that. That forces United to match the fare for its flights, even if they connect in Chicago.

    "If passengers are willing to connect in Dallas, they are willing to connect in Chicago," says Keay.

    Cheap Fare

    The Associated Press purchased a $40.10 one-way ticket on American Airlines from New York's JFK Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth, departing at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Government taxes and fees were $15.91, leaving American with $24.19 for the 1,391-mile trip.

    All but five seats on the 160-passenger jet were occupied. Many passengers were coming off highly profitable international flights that arrived earlier in New York. Others were just connecting in Dallas, heading on to places like Oklahoma.

    Brandon Perdue, a college student, booked the cheapest one-way ticket he could find from New York to his home in Los Angeles four days before traveling. Even with a connection in Dallas, it cost $650.

    "I feel ripped off," Perdue says. It didn't help that he paid $25 to check a suitcase and an extra $100 fee because it weighed more than 50 pounds.

    The AP bought its ticket 22 days in advance, at a time that American's booking algorithm predicted low demand for the flight.

    "If you hadn't booked the ticket, the seat would have likely gone empty. They're better off taking your low fare than nothing at all," says Kaplan of Airline Weekly. "But American would lose a lot of money if everybody on the plane was paying what you paid."

     

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    Markets Open Sharply Higher After Days Of Tumult
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street racked up its biggest one-day gain in four years on Wednesday as fears about China's economy gave way to bargain hunters emboldened by expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve might not raise interest rates next month.

    Led by Silicon Valley stalwarts Apple, Amazon and Google, the surge put the brakes on a six-day losing streak that saw the S&P 500 surrender 11 percent.

    In a sign that a faltering Chinese economy and slumping global financial markets could affect U.S. monetary policy, New York Fed President William Dudley said the prospect of a September rate hike seemed "less compelling" than it was just weeks ago.

    All 10 major S&P 500 sectors jumped, led by a dizzying 5.3 percent jump in the technology index, its largest one-day rise since 2009.

    Some of the late-day rally was driven by short-term traders, including many who had bet the market would fall and rushed to cut their losses, said Michael Matousek, head trader at U.S. Global Investors in San Antonio.

    A strong rally Tuesday evaporated in the final minutes of trading and turned negative.

    "A lot of people were anticipating the last half of the day would roll over and fall off and that hasn't happened," Matousek said. "You could see the buying accelerating at mid-day and people saying 'I'm wrong', and starting to cover their shorts."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) finished 4 percent higher at 16,285.51. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 3.9 percent to 1,940.51 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 4.2 percent to end at 4,697.54.

    Waiting on the Fed

    Data earlier Wednesday appeared to strengthen the case for a rise in interest rates at the Fed's Sept. 16-17 policy meeting.

    Durable goods orders rose 2 percent in July, compared with analysts' average forecast of a 4 percent fall. Orders for core capital goods, a proxy for business investment, rose 2.2 percent in the biggest gain in 13 months.

    Following weeks of concerns about demand in China for iPhones, Apple (AAPL) shares provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite index, jumping 5.7 percent to $109.69.

    Up to Tuesday's close, the Dow had lost 10.7 percent in the past six trading days and the Nasdaq composite had shed 11.5 percent.

    The S&P is now down 5.8 percent in 2015.

    "We're still in a period of searching," said Kurt Brunner, a portfolio manager at Swarthmore Group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "You have more people taking advantage of upside. But we're in for some sloppy trading and I don't think it's over today. I don't think it's a straight shot up."

    The recent pummeling in U.S. shares reduced valuations some investors had seen as pricey. The S&P 500's valuation was down to about 14.8 times expected earnings, compared to around 17 for much of 2015 and below a 15-year average of 15.7, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data for Tuesday, the most recent available.

    Google (GOOG) surged 7.7 percent after Goldman Sachs (GS) raised its rating to "buy" from "neutral." Amazon (AMZN) jumped 7.38 percent.

    NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 2,474 to 646. On the Nasdaq, 2,136 issues rose and 713 fell. Underscoring the market's frailty, the S&P 500 index showed no new 52-week highs and 28 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded five new highs and 142 new lows.

    Volume was heavy, with about 10.5 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, far above the 7.6 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    -Tanya Agrawal and Sweta Singh contributed reporting.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Commerce Department releases second-quarter gross domestic product, and the Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims.
    • At 10 a.m., the National Association of Realtors releases pending home sales index for July, and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Burlington Stores (BURL)
    • Dollar General (DG)
    • Gamestop (GME)
    • J.M. Smucker Co. (SJM)
    • Michaels Cos. (MIK)
    • Signet Jewelers (SIG)
    • Tiffany & Co. (TIF)
    • Ulta Salon (ULTA)

     

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    The Boardwalk
    Getty ImagesThe boardwalk at Disney World in Orlando.
    Orlando overtook New York City as the country's top tourist draw last year, and summertime is the peak travel period to the world's largest collection of theme parks. However, with schools starting back up and tourists starting to head back home, this might make it an opportunistic time to check out Disney World, Universal Orlando and other area attractions.

    Let's check out three reasons that trekking out to see what Disney (DIS) and Universal parent Comcast (CMCSA) have to offer in the coming weeks is a good idea.

    1. Off-Season Rates Are Kicking In

    Theme park tickets cost the same all year round, but lodging is an entirely different story. Hotels will mark down their vacancies after the peak summer crowds head out. Even Disney has already started to offer Florida residents and passholders discounts of as much as 35 percent off its rack rates from now through late September.

    If Disney is discounting, you can be sure that off-site properties will be even more aggressive in filling up their rooms. Keep tabs on MouseSavers.com for any promotions and discount codes that can make your last-minute getaway that much cheaper.

    2. Some Attractions Are Going Away

    Disney and Universal do a great job of announcing new attractions, but they're not as vocal in letting you know the ones that are going away. With all of the changes coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios, it's a safe bet that more attractions will be closing in the coming months to make way for the replacements.

    Sometimes you don't have to guess. Universal Orlando announced that the popular Incredible Hulk roller coaster will close on Sept. 8 -- the day after Labor Day -- for a long refurbishment. Universal promises that when it opens again in time for next summer's crowds, it will offer new story-line enhancements and ride vehicles, and a new overall experience.

    Another Universal Orlando attraction that is reportedly closing on that day is Disaster, the earthquake simulator that pays tribute to disaster movies. Online reports claim that it will close to make way for a "The Fast and the Furious"-themed attraction that would open come 2017. Either way, this is your last chance to ride Hulk in its current state, and possibly your last time to enjoy Disaster.

    3. Shorter Lines Mean Wider Smiles

    Many families don't have a choice in deciding to hit up Disney World when school's out, and that's a shame. The parks are crowded. The lines are long. Afternoon thunderstorms are common.

    Heading out to Orlando's theme parks during the final few weeks of summer may still be hot and potentially stormy in the afternoon, but at least the crowds are bearable. The parks may have shorter operating hours than they do during the summer, but you will be able to accomplish a lot more by flying through the shorter queues. You may as well go now before conventions and Halloween events draw crowds again come October.

    If saving money on lodging or saying farewell to departing attractions doesn't sway you, a shot at saving time with shorter lines may do the trick.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends 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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    Man in kitchen looking at checkbook, resting on arm
    Getty ImagesA checking account that fits your lifestyle can reduce the amount of money you'll give away to your bank.
    By Teresa Mears

    If you think bank fees are getting higher and more numerous, you're right. A study by WalletHub of 35 large banks found that the average consumer checking account has 25 different fees, and the average customer pays about $470 in fees every year.

    "Bank fees are getting more expensive, and they're getting harder to avoid," says Richard Barrington, senior financial editor for MoneyRates.com, which found in a 2015 survey that monthly maintenance fees for checking accounts have risen 8.36 percent in the past three years, twice the rate of inflation, and that only 25 percent of checking accounts didn't charge a monthly fee. "Checking is getting more expensive, and it's getting harder to avoid the monthly maintenance fee," he says.

    Bank fees can include monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, online bill pay fees and returned check fees. You probably also will pay to send or receive wire transfers, get cashier's checks or money orders, and you may have to pay for mailed delivery of statements, online access to old statements, downloading financial data into a program such as Quicken, copies of canceled checks and going into a bank and talking to a human. Accounts you rarely use can accrue dormant account fees or bad address fees.

    While the number of fees is increasing, and the fees themselves are rising, it's not always easy to know before you open an account exactly what fees will be included. "They're not all disclosed, and they're not all disclosed upfront," says Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for WalletHub, which recently analyzed checking account offers from the 30 largest banks and five largest credit unions that offer online applications.

    If you really want the ins and outs of these checking accounts, you're going to have to get to a phone and hopefully talk to a human.

    The large brick-and-mortar banks offered clearer disclosures than the online-only banks or credit unions, the study found, but it was impossible to do complete comparison shopping with the information disclosed online.

    "If you really want the ins and outs of these checking accounts, you're going to have to get to a phone and hopefully talk to a human," Gonzalez says.

    Consumer advocates are pushing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to require for checking accounts the equivalent of a "Schumer box," the standard disclosure that is required for credit card fees and named for Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. So far, about 30 banks, including the 12 largest ones, have voluntarily adopted such a disclosure, says Susan Weinstock, director of the Pew Charitable Trust's consumer banking project, which has advocated for better disclosures and more reasonable fees on consumer checking accounts.

    "One of the things we would like to see is fees that are more upfront," Weinstock says. "What we want to see is a competitive marketplace where the consumer could fully shop around."

    By far, the most lucrative channel for banks is the overdraft fee. Overdraft fees average $35 per occurrence. Each swipe of a debit card, for example, is an occurrence, meaning that if a check you deposit bounces and you spend $5 on coffee, $6 on a sandwich and $12 on a movie, you could be hit with more than $100 in overdraft fees.

    Banks often reorder the transactions, putting through the highest one first so you go in the red faster, creating more overdrafts and therefore more fees. Several consumer advocacy groups are pushing to put an end to this practice. Pew found that 58 percent of large banks also charge what's called an extended overdraft fee if you don't pay the money back within a few days.

    Here are nine ways consumers can avoid or minimize bank fees:

    Choose no-fee checking and savings accounts. If you shop around, you can still find a free checking account, though you may be required to maintain a minimum balance, have other accounts at the same bank, agree to electronic statements or have your paycheck direct-deposited. Make sure you do what is required.

    Opt out of overdraft protection. One way to avoid overdraft fees is to opt out of what the banks call overdraft protection. If you opt out, and you don't have the money in your account, your transaction will be declined, so you won't incur an overdraft fee. In 2010, the law changed to make opting out the default, but banks will push you to opt in by framing overdraft protection as a consumer service. "It's just too expensive," Barrington says. "It's protection in the same way some underworld enforcer will offer you protection."

    Sign up for alerts. Most banks let you get alerts via text or email if your balance goes below a threshold you choose.

    Avoid ATMs that are not part of your network. If you use an out-of-network ATM, you may be charged by both the ATM network and your bank. Take your ATM habits into account when you choose your bank or credit union, especially if you need to withdraw money in multiple cities. Know what ATMs are part of your network. Apps can help you track down in-network ATMs. Remember that you can often get cash back with no fee at grocery stores or other retailers.

    Ask for accounts for older people or students. Many banks offer free or low-cost checking accounts to people over 50 or students. Some of these accounts may offer free checking with a lower minimum balance than what's required in a regular account.

    Keep more money in checking. While conventional wisdom says you should keep the bulk of your excess funds in a savings account, it might be more economical to keep additional money in checking to avoid a monthly fee. "Interest rates are so low right now that if you do the math ... you're probably better off taking some money out of savings," Barrington says.

    Shop around for accounts that fit your lifestyle. Some customers visit ATMs often, and others never use them. The same goes for debit cards, paper checks and online banking. Look for the banks that offer the services you need at the lowest cost. Check out large banks, online-only banks and credit unions to find the best fit. Remember that you won't be able to do all this research online since the information needed to comparison shop isn't available.

    Negotiate. Branch managers sometimes have the discretion to waive fees, especially for good customers with high balances and multiple accounts. "You push back a little bit and threaten to pull your money, and sometimes you'll get results," Barrington says. This kind of negotiation is usually best done in-person, although telephone customer service can sometimes help you find better deals that aren't advertised.

    Keep an eye on your accounts online. This tips you off immediately to fraudulent transactions, returned checks, errors and low balances. A good rule of thumb is frequent debit card users should check their transactions every day.

     

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    Financial Advisor Assisting Senior Woman
    Getty ImagesA professional can help you avoid spending too much or becoming unnecessarily frugal in retirement.
    By David Ning

    Financial advisers have a bad reputation in many circles, because some of these professionals are simply interested in taking your money. Yet, a competent manager can be worth many times the cost. Here's how a financial adviser can help you throughout your retirement years.

    Crisis management. Transitioning the day to day management of your financial portfolio to your spouse or heirs will be seamless if you already have a financial adviser. I love thinking about my portfolio, and I believe no one can manage our family's assets more efficiently than I can. But our finances will be managed haphazardly if I suddenly fall ill and cannot manage our portfolio. My wife has absolutely no interest in figuring out all the jargon on her own, so it's better for us if I find someone who can competently carry out our investment strategy while I'm still able to just in case something happens to me.

    Someone else to crunch the numbers. You probably want to focus on something else in retirementthan thinking about the numbers all day. Retirement can be fun when you get to spend all of your energy on something that makes you happy. If portfolio management doesn't excite you, then getting someone else to think about it for you is a good idea. You can outsource a job that doesn't interest you, just as you might hire a house cleaner or gardener. The convenience can really enhance your quality of life.

    Guard against cognitive declines. Even if you are a wealth building expert, you may not be able to properly manage your portfolio one day in the future. You could experience cognitive or physical declines or other health problems that render you unable to properly manage your money. You may think it's too early to find a third party to take care of your assets now, but it may be too late once you realize something is definitely wrong.

    A second opinion on your spending plan.
    The accumulation phase of retirement planning is straight forward for many people: Save aggressively, have a solid investment plan and stay the course. But spending down assets is an art as much as a science. Many people have trouble spending down their portfolio in retirement and end up skimping on their lifestyle because they fear running out of money. A well trained financial adviser can bring much needed comfort, because he can help coach you on how best to deal with seeing a smaller portfolio balance on a continuous basis.

    A voice of reason. A financial adviser can help to keep you from selling low in a panic once you no longer earn a salary. It's one thing to hold onto stocks during a financial crisis when you have a stable job, but it's an entirely different scenario if stocks plunge 60 percent with no end in sight when you are retired and need that portfolio to hold up to a few decades of withdrawals. Far too many retirees bail out of stocks in every bear market. If a financial adviser is able to convince you to stay the course next time the markets drop, then she would have earned her pay many times over.

    Financial networking. A financial adviser can refer you to other financial professionals. You might need a lawyer to discuss how much liability you need to insure against, a certified public accountant to work on your taxes and an estate planner to update your trust documents. Finding the right person to handle your needs can be a tedious process. Your financial adviser, who already knows your situation well, can save you time by referring you to someone who already deals with clients who have similar levels of assets and concerns as you.

    David Ning is the founder of MoneyNing.com.

     

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    Packed frozen vegetables in freezer.
    Mert Toker/Shutterstock
    By Raechel Conover

    It's high produce season in most parts of the country, with tons of fruits, vegetables and herbs ripe for the picking. While you're busy making recipes with fresh ingredients, you're probably wondering how to freeze vegetables and fruits so you can carry that fresh flavor and nutrition over into the winter months, when nothing seems to be ripe or cheap. Freezing ripe summer produce is easier and less expensive than canning. All you really need is a freezer (preferably a deep freezer) set to zero degrees or lower and some airtight containers. Some extra time and a few tools can help ensure top quality.

    If you know how to freeze fruits and vegetables, they can last more than six months; casseroles, soups and stews prepared with fresh vegetables can be frozen for up to three months and still retain taste and texture, according to the Department of Agriculture (and be safe to eat indefinitely).

    Berries. Summer fruits such as berries and peaches can be frozen with little effort. For berries, just clean them, dry them, cut off the stems if necessary and arrange them on a cookie sheet so they won't stick together. Once they're frozen, move them to an airtight bag, which makes for easier storage and helps prevent freezer burn.

    Peaches and Nectarines. Peaches and nectarines, among other fruits, turn out best when put in the freezer at peak ripeness and benefit from a light dusting of sugar before freezing. Simply slice them, lay them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar and freeze. Move the frozen slices to an airtight container.

    Apples and Other Fruits. Other fruits suitable for freezing with the sprinkle-of-sugar approach include plums, grapefruits, oranges and pears, while others, such as grapes and cherries, can be frozen whole. Pineapple, watermelon and other melons should be cut up in cubes (without the rind) to be frozen. Apples are perhaps best frozen in applesauce form.

    Freezing Fruit in Syrup. Fruits frozen in syrup or liquid can contribute to delectable uncooked desserts. The easiest and most healthful method is to freeze the fruit raw in a compatible fruit juice. If sweetened fruit is preferred, simmer it in a syrup made of water and sugar, honey, or maple syrup before freezing.

    Blanching and Freezing Vegetables. Some vegetables are a little more complicated to freeze than fruit because they need to be blanched first. This protects the vegetables in the freezer and helps maintain the proper texture. A nutrition specialist at the University of Missouri Extension provides extensive information on water, steam and microwave blanching, as well as instructions for specific vegetables including asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, onions, peppers and potatoes.

    Spinach, Bell Peppers and Green Beans. Other vegetables such as spinach, bell peppers and green beans are easier to prepare for winter eating: Simply rinse well, pat dry and freeze in an airtight bag.

    Squash, Peas and Beans. Squash, peas and beans can be cleaned and frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Like fruit, these vegetables should be moved to an airtight container once frozen.

    Zucchini. Zucchini can be grated in small amounts and frozen for use in recipes such as zucchini bread.

    Tomatoes. We're going to sidestep the debate about whether tomato is a vegetable or a fruit and just suggest turning tomatoes into pasta or pizza sauce and freezing them that way. Another option is to prepare them raw: Dip tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen the skins, then peel and freeze.

    Herbs. To take advantage of fresh herb flavor year-round, chop them up fresh, place in ice cube trays and cover in water to freeze. Store the frozen cubes in an airtight bag and use them one or two at a time, thawing only as much as needed for a particular recipe. This works especially well with chives, mint, basil and parsley, but almost any herb can tolerate the treatment.


    The Science to Keeping Fruits and Vegetables Fresh

     

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    Walmart
    Danny Johnston/AP
    By Terence Loose

    Walmart (WMT) has earned its reputation as a money-saving store by offering low prices on just about everything from car accessories to canned goods. And while no one will doubt Walmart is a great place to save money, that doesn't mean some items can't be found elsewhere for less.

    To help you maximize your savings, GOBankingRates.com asked a variety of experts to list items you should snatch up at Walmart -- and items you should steer clear of. Find out if you're shopping smart at Walmart.

    10 Best Walmart Deals

    The nationwide retailer has become synonymous with "savings" -- and for good reason! With net sales increasing by 1.9 percent in the fiscal year ending on Jan. 30, 2015, it's obvious that many people are capitalizing on Walmart's low prices. Click through to see which 10 items are good deals at the retail giant.

    1. Legos. While kids' toys are a hit and miss at Walmart, Walmart is the place to be if your kid is into Legos, said Regina Novickis of Slickdeals.com. Members of the site post great deals they find, with the best of the best appearing on the front page. "Over the past year, our deal community of 9 million has front-paged more Legos deals from Walmart than any other merchant, including Target and Toys 'R' Us," she said.

    2. Disposable Razors. If you're not into paying a premium for smooth skin, Novickis said Walmart can help with name-brand razors. And savings expert Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com said her site found Walmart's prices were up to 50 percent less than drugstores' prices. "For example, a three-pack of Venus Women's disposable razors was $6.97 at Walmart and $12.99 at some drugstores," she said. Pavini also added that Coupons.com offered a dollar-off coupon, making the razors just $5.97.

    3. Organic Foods. Eating healthy and organic food doesn't mean you have to pay a high sticker price. Pavini said that Walmart is actually making going organic affordable. "You can find many brand-name organic foods for less," she said. Coupons.com found Organic Heinz Ketchup at Walmart for $2.58 compared with $3.69 at the grocery store. And Amy's Kitchen Soup was $2.25 at Walmart and $3.69 at the grocery store.

    4. Photo Announcements/Cards. Want to make that birthday party or summer party announcement really personal? Lori McDaniel, senior content manager for Offers.com, said that Walmart is a smart place to go for photo announcements. "You can get personalized photo invitations or cards for as low as 28 cents a piece, compared to about $1.27 a piece at a site like Shutterfly. That's a 78 percent savings," she said.

    5. Photos. You don't have to throw a party to save on photo printing, said Pavini. Walmart is also a smart choice for photos, with 4-by-6 prints as low as 9 cents each, she found. "The trick to getting the best deal is choosing the home delivery option, which gets you the lowest price," she said.

    But even if you go for the one-hour photo, Pavini said you're still only paying a few cents a photo. Her bonus tip: "Create a free account with Walmart Photo, and you may receive a sign-up gift," she said. "We got 25 free one-hour photo 4-by-6 prints."

    6. Simple Furniture. Need a few practical furniture items for your home? Walmart might be a smart stop, said Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for DealNews.com. "Walmart consistently offers basic desks, shelves, futons and more for a lot less than most other stores," she said. "Many of Walmart's furniture does include free shipping, which isn't something you can say from most furniture stores."

    McDaniel gave an example. "You can get a simple student desk for as low as $44 right now at Walmart, versus $79.99 at IKEA," she said. "That's a 45 percent savings."

    7. Baby Gear. While there is some conflicting input for name-brand baby items, like diapers -- some experts touted Walmart and some said these items are cheaper elsewhere -- McDaniel said other newborn and toddler items, such as the Graco Pack 'n Play Playards, are a go.


    8. Walmart-Brand Grocery Items. If you're looking to fill that pantry with staple items for a little less money, Walmart could help, said savings expert Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com. Walmart has an extensive line of its own low-priced store brands that Nelson said are of comparable quality to supermarket brands.

    "For example, I compared the cost of basics like rice, sugar, dried legumes, canned tuna, flour, sweeteners and condiments," she said. "Overall, Walmart's store brand staples were 20 percent less than the supermarket options."

    9. Coffee and Tea. Brand-name coffee, tea and many other brand-name grocery store items that rarely go on sale can often be snatched up for far less at Walmart, said Nelson. "For example, my favorite brands of coffee and tea are both 27 percent less at Walmart," said Nelson. And what's even better, she added, is that Walmart will also accept coupons on those items, making them an even better deal.

    10. Laundry Detergent. Walmart is a pretty good place to keep your clothes clean for less, said savings expert Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com. "You'll find the lowest prices at Walmart for name-brand laundry detergent when comparing prices at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers," he said, noting that the savings can be as significant as a few dollars less.

    Pavini found that you can save about 30 percent on detergent at Walmart compared with online stores. The exception is when Amazon runs a sale, "but if there's no sale going on, Walmart is a safe bet not to overspend," she said.

    10 Worst Walmart Deals

    Like with every store, there are some items you should avoid at Walmart. You might be better off buying products at some of Walmart's competitors, such as Target, Amazon, Costco or Ikea. Read on to find out which 10 items savings experts say you should skip at Walmart.

    1. HDTVs. It's true that Walmart has low prices on High-Definition TVs, but McDaniel said she doesn't categorize them as good deals. "Walmart's HDTVs are at 'low' prices because they are the lower-quality versions than those sold elsewhere," she said. "Get higher-quality at low prices at a warehouse store like Costco."

    2. Nuts and Seeds. It's a given that nuts and seeds are healthy snack choices, but Walmart's might not be the healthiest for your wallet," said Novickis. "You'll find much better deals on nuts and seeds at stores like Aldi and Trader Joe's." She added, "On average, Walmart is about $1.50 more per pound for whole almonds than Trader Joe's, and mixed nuts are about $1 more per bag than at Aldi."

    3. Gift Cards. Gift cards can be a great way to make someone's day, but Walmart might not be the most savvy place to shop for them, said Novickis. "There's no need to pay full price for gift cards," she said. "Shop sites like CardCash.com to find discounted gift cards," she said. While the discounts vary greatly depending on the merchant, they can be up to 27 percent off, said Novickis.

    4. Laptops. Avoiding getting your next laptop from Walmart, advised Sakraida. "In the past two months, less than 1 percent of DealNews' price-checked laptop deals were sold at Walmart, which means your chances of finding a good price there are very slim," she said. For better deals, she suggested Newegg or Microsoft Store, as well as directly from Lenovo, HP and Dell. Just remember to look for coupons, she added.

    5. Wrapping Paper. Did you score a great deal on Legos at Walmart for that upcoming birthday party? You might want to find the wrapping paper elsewhere, said Novickis. The quality of the wrapping paper you'll find at Walmart is comparable to the paper you'll find at dollar stores for a lot less, she said.

    6. Appliances. If you need to replace your refrigerator, Walmart might not be the place to find the coolest deal, said McDaniel. "You're better off shopping at a store like Sears or Best Buy, which frequently run specials that include free disposals of old machines, or free delivery and installation," she said.

    7. Batteries. Batteries are pricey. In fact, they can make a decently priced toy suddenly expensive. So, it's important to get the best deal -- and that's likely not at Walmart. "Hands down, it's best to buy these at a warehouse club store," said Novickis. Move batteries to your Costco or Sam's Club shopping list.

    8. Bedding. Ah, bedding. Just saying it sounds peaceful. And Walmart's prices might seem soothing as well. But if you're at all worried about quality, said Novickis, you might want to give Walmart's bedding section a rest. "While the price might seem right, given how many hours are spent in bed, a better quality can be found at a comparable price at merchants such as T.J.Maxx, Ross and Home Goods," she said.

    9. Straight Talk Wireless. Walmart's Straight Talk month-to-month wireless service for $45 for a 30-day plan might seem appealing, but Sakraida and DealNews strongly advise against it. "DealNews readers almost unanimously panned the quality of coverage, customer service and Straight Talk-compatible phones," said Sakraida. "Many customers who tried to save with Straight Talk service and a phone ended up going back to their original carrier."

    10. Meats, Cereal, Soda. Many grocery items that seem like a good deal at Walmart, you can get for less at the grocery store, said Nelson. "Some [grocery store] items are priced below the wholesale cost in order to lure customers into the store and are usually featured on the first page of the store ad," she said. "These sale prices are generally less than Walmart's Everyday Low Price for the same items." Her examples include 50 percent off chicken, beef, pork, cereal, packaged items like crackers and cookies, and soft drinks.

    This story, 10 Best and Worst Deals at Walmart, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Economy GDP
    M. Spencer Green/APA Ford Motor Co. employee works on the engine assembly of a 2016 Ford Explorer at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy grew faster than initially thought in the second quarter on solid domestic demand, showing fairly strong momentum that could still allow the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates this year.

    Gross domestic product expanded at a 3.7 percent annual pace instead of the 2.3 percent rate reported last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday in its second GDP estimate for the April-June period.

    The U.S. economy entered the current market turbulence with momentum, which will help it to shrug off the drag from China and other developing economies.

    The GDP report, which was released in the wake of a global stock market sell-off, should assure investors and cautious Fed officials that the United States is in good shape to weather the growing strains in the world economy.

    "The U.S. economy entered the current market turbulence with momentum, which will help it to shrug off the drag from China and other developing economies," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago.

    Concerns over slowing economic growth in China sent global equity markets into a tailspin last week, raising doubts that the U.S. central bank would raise its short-term interest rate next month. Markets have since recouped some of the huge losses.

    On Wednesday, New York Fed President William Dudley said that prospects of a September lift-off in the central bank's key lending rate "seems less compelling to me than it was a few weeks ago."

    U.S. stocks rose sharply on the GDP data, a day after posting their biggest one-day gain in four years. Prices for U.S. government debt fell, while the dollar firmed against a basket of currencies.

    "The Fed could certainly hold off until later this year, citing the recent market turmoil, but the economic fundamentals would also justify a small September rate increase," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.

    The upward revisions to second-quarter GDP growth also reflected the accumulation of $121.1 billion worth of inventories, $11.1 billion more than previously estimated. That meant inventories contributed 0.22 percentage point to GDP instead of subtracting 0.08 percentage point as reported last month.

    While the huge inventory build will likely weigh on growth in the third quarter, the blow could be softened by rebounding business investment in capital goods.

    Economists had expected that second-quarter GDP growth would be revised to a 3.2 percent rate. The economy grew at a 0.6 percent rate in the first quarter. Output expanded 2.2 percent in the first half of the year compared to growth of 1.9 percent during the same period in 2014.

    Strong Domestic Demand

    Underscoring the solid economic fundamentals, a measure of private domestic demand that excludes trade, inventories and government expenditures rose at a 3.3 percent rate in the second quarter, instead of the previously reported 2.5 percent pace.

    Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, grew at a 3.1 percent rate, rather than the 2.9 percent pace reported last month. Consumer spending got off a to brisk start in the third quarter, with retail sales rising solidly in July.

    A strong labor market, cheaper gasoline and relatively higher house prices are boosting household wealth, helping to support consumer spending.

    The employment picture was further brightened Thursday by a separate report from the Labor Department showing initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 271,000 for the week ended Aug. 22.

    It was the 25th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is usually associated with a strengthening labor market.

    Economists also said they expected the recent stock market rout to have only a limited impact on the economy.

    "As long as this is a garden-variety correction, the impact on the U.S. economy should be modest," said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

    The Commerce Department said investment in nonresidential structures was revised to show an increase rather than a contraction, reflecting stronger spending on commercial and health care construction.

    Spending on residential construction, which includes brokers' commissions, was raised. More gains are likely this quarter after a third report Thursday showed an increase in contracts to purchase previously owned homes in July.

    In the second quarter, business spending on equipment wasn't as weak as initially thought.

    The energy sector continued to weigh on growth as it struggles with the lingering effects of deep spending cuts by oil-field companies like Schlumberger (SLM) and Halliburton (HAL) in the aftermath of a more than 60 percent plunge in crude oil prices in the past year.

    Spending on mining exploration, wells and shafts plunged at a 68.3 percent rate in the second quarter, the largest decline since the second quarter of 1986.

    The trade deficit was smaller than previously reported, adding 0.23 percentage point to GDP growth.

    The GDP report also showed a rebound in after-tax corporate profits, but a strong dollar and lower oil prices remain a constraint.

     

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    serious mature male student...
    Shutterstock
    I'm in my mid-thirties. I've cobbled together a career I'm happy with, a little more than 10 years after I finished a two-year degree at a tiny school. It has been hard work and it has paid off. But I can imagine how it just as easily might not have paid off. That's the reality a lot of people my age are realizing. The education they have hasn't gotten them as far as they wished.

    That can be a troubling conclusion. It's no secret that expensive university education has gotten a bad name since the Great Recession. Many are the college graduates working entry-level positions they could have easily gotten without the four years of effort (and associated debt). I wasn't able to afford a four-year degree when I was 18. And today I'm glad I couldn't. I don't think I was ready. I didn't know enough about myself or about the world, not to mention the value of education itself. Even though I'm not planning on it, in many ways I think school would be more valuable for me now, now that I'm mature enough to take advantage of it.

    A lot of people feel this way. And it begs the question, "Should I go back to school at this point in my life?" In 2013, 40.5 percent of higher education enrollees were age 25 to 39. Clearly, many people are taking this step. But should you? And what if you're older than that? I've thought about this a lot, and I have a few requirements that I think everybody should demand of their education, especially if you are taking it on as an adult.

    1. How fast will your education pay for itself? My "back of the napkin" equation for determining the value of adult higher education is: it's got to pay for itself within two years. If I'm going to get a degree and enter a new field, I want a job as soon as a graduate. And I want the extra income I earn as a result of this education I've received to pay off that education within two years. In order to do this, I've got to pick out the right degree in the right field, one which has a reliable job available to me when I complete my program. Some degrees will accomplish this and others won't. So whatever you do, be realistic about the money it's going to add to your bottom line. Unless this new career path is extremely fulfilling, it's not worth the effort if it's not going to pay for itself quickly.

    2. Is this program a realistic time commitment? Grown up people are busy. You might have kids. You might have any number of demands upon your time. Many adults begin schooling programs that they ultimately can't complete. They may learn some good things in the meantime, but unless they're able to transfer this learning into a job, this is time and money that is largely wasted. So you've got to spend some time to figure out if you can handle all aspects of your school or degree program: the commute, the homework, the change to your schedule and the demands of your family and outside work. Don't let this stuff surprise you. You need to anticipate time demands well in advance.

    3. Is this the best program for you? If you can afford it and handle the time demands, have you chosen the most beneficial program for your needs? What is your most important priority? Pursuing a field that you enjoy? Finding a job that pays the most money? Getting a career that gives you more time with your family? Identify the most important outcome of your new school or degree program and make sure you pick a program that maximizes the payoff in that specific area. The best choice may be a program that surprises you.

    I think going back to school can be appropriate for people of all ages. But because of the economics involved, it is important to make careful considerations before signing on the dotted line. This can be the difference in a degree that pays for itself and a degree that weighs you down.

     

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    Walmart
    Danny Johnston/AP
    NEW YORK -- Walmart is giving customers a head start on holiday shopping, launching its annual layaway program two weeks earlier than last year.

    It's the latest sign of retailers getting more aggressive about grabbing holiday shoppers early. Stores have offered holiday discounts earlier as they battle competition from online retailers.

    Shoppers at Walmart can put their items on hold starting Friday. Each item must cost $10 or more, down from the $15 limit last year. All items held must be worth a total of $50. Customers will have more time to pay for their items this year, 90 days instead of the 60 days they were given last year.

    Walmart Stores (WMT), based in Bentonville, Arkansas, says it will start to offer exclusive "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" toys starting Sept. 4.

     

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    TEC Apple Event
    Richard Drew/APApple CEO Tim Cook
    By BRANDON BAILEY

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple (AAPL) has announced plans for a new product event on Sept. 9 in San Francisco, where the giant tech company is expected to show off new iPhones and other gadgets.

    The company has introduced a new iPhone model every year around this time. But in typical fashion, Apple is only dropping vague clues about its plans.

    Invitations sent Thursday to reporters and analysts were headlined, "Hey Siri, give us a hint." Apple has previously said it plans to expand the capabilities of Siri, its voice-activated personal assistant, in an upcoming version of its operating software for iPhones and iPads.

    Industry insiders have also speculated Apple may introduce a larger iPad for business users, a new set-top box for televisions and possibly other products. The company, however, hasn't confirmed any plans.

    While Apple usually holds such events on a regular schedule, they are still the subject of much anticipation in the tech industry, given that Apple products tend to be popular and influential.

    Apple says the Sept. 9 event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco. The auditorium seats up to 7,000 people, which is a much larger capacity than San Francisco's 750-seat Yerba Buena Theater, where Apple often holds such events.

    As for Siri, the digital service had clearly been programmed to play it coy about the Sept. 9 event. When queried for a hint on a reporter's iPhone, the digital assistant only said to expect "a big announcement."

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street rallied more than 2 percent Thursday as strong U.S. economic data and hints that a September interest-rate hike was unlikely fueled optimism that the worst of recent market turmoil was over.

    The Dow Jones industrial average scored its biggest two-day percentage gain since 2008, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite racked up their biggest two-day increases since 2009.

    The worst is probably behind us but it's going to take a while before we get back to normal and we might still see some downward risk.

    "The worst is probably behind us but it's going to take a while before we get back to normal and we might still see some downward risk," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

    With Thursday's gains, the S&P has recovered about half of the 11 percent meltdown it suffered over a six-day losing streak caused by fears of slowing growth in China.

    The market slump stopped Wednesday after New York Fed President William Dudley said the case for a September hike had become "less compelling."

    Data released Thursday showed that the economy grew 3.7 percent in the second quarter -- much faster than the previous estimate of 2.3 percent.

    "It's the U.S. economy versus the global economy," said Peter Kenny, chief market strategist at Clearpool Group in New York. "Can the U.S. economy prove the naysayers wrong? Well, so far it has been able to do that and today's data really puts a line under that."

    Data Curated by findthecompany.com

    Traders gave a one-in-four chance that the Fed would increase interest rates in September even after the upbeat economic growth number.

    Fed interest rates kept near zero helped fuel the stock market to historic levels since the financial crisis.

    Even if the Fed doesn't tighten policy in September, expectations of an eventual hike will remain a major overhang on sentiment, warned Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research in Chicago.

    "The era of easy money would officially be over," Bianco said. "A rate hike would mean putting the needle away, no more drugs, time for the methadone."

    To that end, investors will keep an eye on an annual conference of some of the world's top central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, over the next few days for further clues on interest rates.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) added 2.3 percent to end at 16,654.77 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) jumped 2.4 percent to 1,987.66. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 2.5 percent to 4,812.71.

    In the past two sessions, the Dow is up 6.3 percent, the S&P is 6.4 percent higher and the Nasdaq has gained 6.8 percent.

    Broad Gains

    All 10 major S&P sectors rose sharply, with the energy index's 4.9 percent jump leading the advancers as oil prices soared more than 9 percent in one of the biggest one-day rallies in years.

    Giving the biggest boost to the S&P and Nasdaq, shares of Apple (AAPL) surged 2.94 percent. The company invited journalists to a Sept. 9 event, where it is expected to unveil new iPhones.

    Tesla Motors (TSLA) was up 8.1 percent after its Model S P85D received the highest possible score in tests by Consumer Reports magazine.

    The recent pummeling in U.S. shares reduced valuations some investors had seen as pricey. The S&P 500's valuation was about 15.4 times expected earnings as of Wednesday's close, compared to around 17 for much of 2015, according to the most recent available Thomson Reuters StarMine data.

    Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,803 to 324. On the Nasdaq, 2,209 issues rose and 638 fell.

    The S&P 500 showed one new 52-week high and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 19 new highs and 49 new lows.

    About 9.9 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges and the 15-day moving average of 8.1 billion was the highest this year, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Tanya Agrawal and Chuck Mikolajczak contributed reporting.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Commerce Department releases personal income and spending for July at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The University of Michigan releases its survey of consumer sentiment for August at 10 a.m.

     

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    Anxious Woman Looking At Computer Monitor
    Getty Images
    By Sarah Morgan

    An individual retirement account can hold just about any type of investment. That suits many investors like having wide-open options, but some find that too much choice is overwhelming. That's why some investors turn to an adviser to try to sort through the vast universe of funds and figure out what to buy. Unfortunately, that advice can be expensive.

    SigFig data shows that investors who work with advisers are almost twice as likely to pay load fees for the mutual funds they own: 37 percent of IRA investors with an adviser pay load fees, compared to 21 percent of investors without an adviser.

    A load fee is a fee paid on the purchase of a mutual fund. It is essentially a form of commission -- a fee that goes to the adviser you have paid to help you choose a fund. These fees range widely. The average IRA investor pays 0.46 percent in fees on their investments, but 28 percent pay 0.8 percent or more in total fees. That means a substantial number of investors are paying almost double the average in fees. And even small differences in fees can cut thousands of dollars out of your nest egg over the course of your investing lifetime.

    Higher fees might be worth it if the pricier funds that advisers recommend outperformed the market. Unfortunately, they typically don't. Investors who use advisers in their IRAs are paying more, but they aren't getting more: the median trailing 1-year net return for investors who use advisers is 1.2 percent, and the median return for investors who go it alone is 1.5 percent. Investors who have chosen their own investments are actually doing better than investors who have sought pricey advice. SigFig data has shown this consistently: pricier investments simply don't perform well enough to justify their fees.

    Which Advisers Charge the Most?

    SigFig's analysis shows that some firms are more likely to charge certain types of fees than others. Ameriprise Financial, Edward Jones and American Funds are at least three times as likely as the average firm to charge a sales commission or a type of fund marketing fee known as a 12b-1 fee.

    Wherever the fee is coming from, it is hard to justify paying high fees on investments that simply don't outperform the broader market indices. If your adviser steers you towards expensive funds, it is time to ask a few questions about how they make their money and why they aren't trying to control one of the only things you can control about your investments' performance: how much they cost.

    If you choose to work with an adviser, it is best to work with someone who is paid on a fee-only basis, or one that charges a small percentage of assets under management, such as a robo-adviser. Fee-only and robo-advisers don't make commissions from selling you pricey products. Look for advisers who hold themselves to a fiduciary standard, meaning they are legally bound to put your interests ahead of their own. Anyone who isn't held to this standard can steer you towards investments that are broadly suitable for you, but not necessarily the best, or cheapest, possible option. As SigFig's data proves, too many investors are already paying the price for bad advice.

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

     

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    oslo gardermoen  norway   ...
    ShutterstockAirport kiosks can be money drains.
    By Mel Bondar

    I don't know about you, but for me, the airport is one of my major spending zones. It's the moment when vacation mentality totally kicks in, whether I'm traveling for business or pleasure.

    The people who run the airport stores know that, too. I mean, why else would you be able to find crazy high-end stores in some airports? Even just the stores full of electronics? Who goes to the airport to buy an MP3 player? Did I miss some memo?

    I even have a little ritual where I buy a gigantic bottle of water and a copy of Cosmopolitan (which, yes, is very trashy, and why it's only allowed to be read on planes). This ritual keeps me calm while flying.

    The thing is, there have been vacations with layovers in a couple of airports where I realize that before the vacation even starts, I've dropped $75 to $100 on food, trinkets or reading material. To make matters worse, I did it mindlessly! It doesn't have to be this way.

    Here are a few tricks for navigating the airport to help you save a few dollars:

    1. Pack snacks and empty water bottles. Did you know you can bring pretty much any solid food into an airport that you want? Got a favorite bakery or deli near home? You could cut your food costs in half by just picking up what you want to eat before you get to the airport.

    Clearly you can take it a frugal step further and just make sandwiches or bring leftovers from home.

    The only thing you have to remember is to avoid liquids. On that subject though, if you bring an empty water bottle, you can fill it at a water fountain once you're past security with no problem.

    2. Check your credit cards for perks. While this won't work for everyone, it's helpful to see if you have any perks available on your credit cards while flying, especially if you have a card that specializes in miles for a particular airline. I have a United Mileage Plus credit card and once a year I get two passes to their United Club, which has free snacks and drinks in it. Several other credit cards offer the same perk.

    Additionally, you can often save money on checked bags or even get one for free by using cards that are linked to a specific airline. Be sure to check before shelling out that fee, though, because they can be pretty high!

    3. Sign up to mystery shop before going on vacation. Why on earth would you want to spend your vacation mystery shopping? Because mystery shopping companies often have mystery shops in airports and trouble getting them filled. Sinclair Customer Metrics is almost always looking for people to mystery shop major airports. You might even make more money per shop, too, because retailers are so desperate for the feedback. If you have a long layover, you might even be able to earn as much as $100 on mystery shopping gigs. You could end up scoring some free food, too.

    4. Use coupons. Lots of stores in the airport are actually chains. You should be able to use your coupon for McDonald's in the airport just as well as at the one down the street. You can check out which restaurants are available in most domestic airports on their websites and see if you have coupons for any of the options on your trip.

    5. Bring reading material with you. You know where you won't find any kind of deal at all? At the bookstores and magazine kiosks. They also know that delays happen and people need to be entertained while waiting around for their flights, as well as while they're in the air. By ensuring you have all the entertainment you need, be it reading material, DVDs or coloring books for the kids, you won't fall into their (expensive) trap.

    Thinking ahead and planning is always the key step when it comes to successfully saving money. When you're traveling, it's no different. You have to be aware of where the money drains are and make sure they're worth the cost, whether you're on vacation or traveling for work.

    Mel Bondar blogs at brokeGIRLrich, where she explores topics including how not to totally panic over adulthood, working in the arts and retirement strategies that don't involve living in a cardboard box under an overpass.

     

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