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    Beginner's Guide to Buying Your First Car

    By Allison Martin

    There's nothing more exciting than the thought of cruising down the highway in the driver's seat of your new car.

    No more carpools and public transportation; just you and your new ride.

    But it takes a little time and effort to make those dreams a reality. You don't want to be bamboozled by a slick car salesman. Following is a step-by-step approach to buying your first set of wheels.

    Step 1: Know your dough. Resist the temptation to ride in style and instead stick with a realistic budget that won't put you in a bind each month. As Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson says, "Cars are for transportation, not status."

    Consumer Reports recommends you zero in on two figures that will dictate how much car you can afford:
    • What is your down payment? Since this is your first car, you won't have a trade-in. However, a down payment of 20 percent will put a noticeable dent in the size of your monthly payments.
    • What is your monthly payment? CR says your total monthly debt load should not exceed 36 percent of your gross monthly income. So figure out your monthly income and subtract all monthly debts and other costs. What's left is how much you can reasonably afford to spend on a car.
    An affordability calculator, such as the ones offered by Cars.com and Edmunds.com, will help you figure out how much a car payment will set you back each month. Taxes and registration should be figured into your total. And don't forget car insurance costs.

    However, don't focus solely on the monthly cost. That car salesman will try to talk you into a lengthy payment plan that lowers your monthly payment, but costs you much more in interest over time. When you arrive at the dealership, have a set total price in mind and stick to it.

    Step 2: Arrange financing. Never walk into a dealership without financing already preapproved by a lender.

    Compare rates you find online with those offered by local financial institutions. You may find that you'll get the best rate from a credit union.

    You may also learn from lenders that you'll get a better interest rate if you wait and take steps to improve your credit score before you apply. See: "10 Ways to Raise Your Credit Score Fast."

    Step 3: Do your homework. Assess your needs, not your wants. A two-passenger convertible may be more fun, but it won't work if you'll be traveling with a family of four. And if you commute 30 miles in heavy traffic, don't buy a gas hog.

    Look for vehicles with a strong track record of reliability and affordable maintenance. These sites will help you rate a car's reliability: Read online reviews from industry experts and owners to get a better feel for the cars that make your final cut.

    Step 4: Take your prospects for a spin. Head to the dealership or lot to test-drive your top picks. This is your opportunity to see if you and your family will be comfortable in the car, and whether its performance and handling meet your expectations.

    Bring along a checklist to evaluate the vehicle. Here are some good sources: Step 5: Have the vehicle inspected. A brand-new car will be protected by a warranty. (See: "Are You Driving a Lemon?")

    Looking to buy used? Have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic before you buy. A good mechanic can spot problems that require costly repairs or affect the car's safety systems.

    Step 6: Negotiate the sale price. As we said, a car salesman will focus on the monthly payment, rather than the total cost. Keep your price firmly in mind. See: "10 Tips for Buying Your Next Car for Less."

    Consumer Reports recommends skipping extras such as rust-proofing, fabric protection and an extended warranty. CR says they aren't necessary.

    Nervous about face-to-face negotiations? The dealership's Internet sales department is an option that can ease your worries and save you money. Edmunds.com notes:

    There's no question that using the Internet department saves time and stress. When buyers are shopping in person at a dealership, they run the risk of making costly, spur-of-the-moment decisions on financing or additional products, such as extended warranties. Working via the Internet department minimizes that risk. It also is good for people who don't have an appetite for negotiations.

    If you can't reach an acceptable agreement with the seller, take your business elsewhere.

    Remember when you bought your first car? What did you learn that can help others? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

    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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    Businesswoman Counting Bank Note
    Getty Images
    By Sandra Block and Kathy Kristof

    Back in the day, TVs were all basic black-and-white sets with on-off knobs and a choice of four channels. People saved money in a bank account, carried a department-store charge card and could fit all of their important papers in the proverbial shoebox. Today's big-screen entertainment centers come with hundreds of channels and multiple remotes. Likewise, consumers are free to choose among a vast array of financial products and services. That's a boon to your finances, but it also makes life more complex and can become overwhelming. To cut through the clutter, we suggest that you think one and done: one credit card to maximize your rewards points, one manager for all of your retirement accounts, a single do-it-all mutual fund. Even if you make only one or two of our nine moves, you'll cut your stress and have more time to kick back -- and you'll save money, too.

    1. Carry just one credit card in your wallet. Why tote around a clutch of credit cards for retail stores you no longer patronize or gas stations that are nowhere near your home? By consolidating your purchases on one rewards card that best matches your spending patterns, you can lighten your wallet and streamline your monthly bills; stockpile rewards points, frequent-flier miles or cash-back bonuses; and reduce the hassle if your wallet is lost or stolen. (See our slide show Find the Best Rewards Credit Card for You.)

    The flip side is to get rid of the cards you don't need. Even if you keep more than one and carry a backup card when you travel, the key is to prune your accounts judiciously. Canceling credit cards outright can hurt your credit score because a big component of your score is your credit-utilization ratio. That's the amount of credit you've used expressed as a percentage of your overall credit line. You want to keep that ratio as low as possible (ideally below 30 percent or, even better, below 20 percent). Closing a number of accounts can bump up the ratio, even if you pay off your balance every month.

    Start by ordering your credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. You're eligible for one free report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus. Once you have the list in hand, look for cards with low credit limits. If you have $50,000 in available credit, closing a department-store card with a $500 limit won't make a big dent in your utilization ratio. Still, if you're planning to apply for a mortgage or a car loan, it's a good idea to put off closing unwanted credit cards until after the loan has been approved, says Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian.

    Or you could simply put aside all but one of your cards in a safe place. Your utilization ratio won't suffer, and you won't be tempted to use the cards.

    2. Use a single insurer. Keeping your homeowners, auto and other insurance policies with the same company will cut down on the number of bills you have to pay and may even improve the service you get. For example, if you're happy with the way your auto insurer handles claims, it makes sense to use the same company to insure your home (and possibly your life).

    That's especially true if the company rewards your loyalty with a generous discount. Most major insurers offer discounts if you buy more than one policy. Purchase multiple policies from Allstate, for example, and you can save up to 20 percent on your auto insurance premiums and up to 35 percent on your homeowners policy. Liberty Mutual offers savings of up to 10 percent on its homeowners, condo or rental coverage if you bundle it with auto insurance. The company may offer a discount on the auto insurance premiums, too. Most insurers also cut you a break on auto insurance if you cover more than one vehicle. And Nationwide offers a discount of up to 50 percent on boat insurance if you have multiple policies.

    Buying all of your policies from one insurer won't always deliver the best deal. For example, bundling may not lower your insurance costs if you need a nontraditional policy, such as insurance for a home built with green technology, says Jeanne Salvatore, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. But you can streamline your search by getting price quotes from an insurance agent who deals with several companies (go to www.iiaba.net to find one near you). Don't overlook insurers that sell directly to customers, such as Geico and USAA.

    3. Create one master password. Hardly a week goes by without news of another massive security breach that has exposed thousands of people to identity theft. Yet despite this threat, the most common password is 123456, according to SplashData, a provider of password-management systems. The second most common password is "password."

    Clearly, we need to do better. But who has the time to come up with (and remember) difficult-to-decipher passwords for all of their online accounts? One solution is to use a password-management system that stores all of your passwords in a single file. All you need to remember is one master password (your dog's name is not a good choice) to access all of your other user names and passwords. Most password managers offer a free basic version; you'll need to update (and pay) to use the service on multiple devices.

    Unfortunately, these programs aren't bulletproof. In June, LastPass, one of the most popular password-management systems, announced that its network had been hacked, exposing users' e-mail addresses and password reminders. The company said encrypted master passwords were not compromised, although users were prompted to change them.

    If you're uncomfortable storing your passwords in the cloud, there are alternatives. KeePass stores all of your passwords in an encrypted file on your computer. As is the case with the cloud-based systems, you use a master password to access the file. Just make sure your computer is protected from hackers with strong antivirus software, or you'll lose the benefits of storing your passwords locally. (For more advice on protecting yourself against data breaches, see our Guide to Preventing and Overcoming 5 Types of Identity Theft.)

    4. Store your files in one place. Among the mountains of paper in your home office are a number of documents that you should save forever: birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, education records, life insurance policies, marriage license, divorce decree and record of military service. Hold on to home-purchase documents and records of improvements for as long as you own the property. The same goes for the titles to your vehicles.

    In addition, the IRS generally has three years from the tax-filing deadline to audit your return, so keep your return and supporting documents for at least that long. Some experts recommend, though, that you hold on to your tax returns in­definitely because they can be useful for other purposes, such as applying for disability insurance or a mortgage. Starting with tax year 2014, you're also required to keep records that show you and your family had health insurance, along with records of any subsidies you received to cover health insurance premiums.

    Once you've stored all of those documents in a bank or a couple of file drawers at home, feel free to toss, toss, toss. After you've paid your credit card bill, shred the monthly statement unless you need it to claim tax deductions. Monthly bank statements can also go into the shredder unless you need them for tax purposes. Shred pay stubs after you've received your Form W-2 and checked it for errors. You can dispose of brokerage statements once you receive your annual statement, unless they show a gain or loss that you'll need to report on your tax return. Hold on to statements that show the cost basis for an investment you still own.

    You can also harness technology to reduce paperwork. The IRS accepts digital copies of supporting tax documents, so you can scan documents you'll need, such as letters from charities, and convert them to digital files. Back up the files with an external hard drive or flash drive.

    Or store scanned documents on the Internet, using free cloud-based services such as Apple iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive (see our story The Mysteries of Cloud Storage Explained).

    5. Get your bank to pay your bills. Why waste time paying your bills when your bank or credit union probably offers an electronic bill-payment program, most likely at no charge? Even if one of your accounts doesn't accept e-payments, the bank will send a paper check.

    You can set up e-mail or text reminders of due dates, which will reduce the risk you'll incur late-payment fees. Or arrange for recurring payments to be made automatically every month before the due date.

    Although auto-pay can be a godsend for busy people, there are downsides, too. Changing banks can be a hassle because you must unwind all of your auto-payment plans before closing your old account (most banks and credit unions provide switch kits that help you with this process). If you're hit with an erroneous charge, you'll be out the money while you dispute the payment. Even when bills are accurate, you need to make sure there's enough money in your account to cover the automatic payment. Otherwise, you'll be hit with hefty overdraft fees.

    One way to avoid that problem is to put your savings on autopilot, too. Have your paycheck deposited electronically in your bank account and, if your employer permits it, consider having a portion of your check deposited in a savings account set up for emergencies. You can arrange for your bank to withdraw money automatically from your savings whenever there's a shortfall in your checking account.

    6. Consolidate retirement accounts. Over the course of your working life, you may have accumulated a raft of 401(k) plans from former employers and individual retirement accounts at various financial-services firms. You can reduce paperwork, lower fees and make sure your port­folio is appropriately diversified by rounding up these accounts under one umbrella.

    For IRAs, consolidating with one firm will help you avoid low-balance fees that could eat into your returns. As long as mutual funds in your IRA are included in the financial institution's funds network, you won't have to sell your funds when you consolidate. You can combine the same types of IRAs (such as traditional IRAs) in a single account, which makes it easier to keep track of your portfolio.

    Increasing the size of your account could also make you eligible for perks, such as a discount on tax software or a free portfolio review by a financial planner. Changing and updating beneficiaries is also easier when all of your IRAs are in the same place. And when you retire, taking withdrawals from your IRAs will be easier if you have all of your accounts with the same firm.

    Your IRA provider will happily help you roll over old 401(k) plans into your account, too, but that's not always in your best interest. Some large-company 401(k) plans offer institutional-class mutual funds with lower fees than retail funds offered by IRAs. Many also offer stable-value funds, which are attractive low-risk alternatives to money market funds and are only available in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

    If you're still working, there's a one-step alternative: Roll your former employer's plan (or plans) into your current employer's 401(k). Most large companies allow plan-to-plan rollovers. You'll streamline your retirement savings accounts without sacrificing the benefits offered by a 401(k).

    7. Pick one broker or fund firm. It's also a good idea to put taxable investment accounts under one roof: You can see what you have at a glance, compare your asset allocation to your target mix of investments, and reduce the amount of paperwork you have to contend with at tax time.

    All of the big fund com­panies, such as Fidelity, T. Rowe Price (TROW) and Vanguard, have brokerage arms, so you can transfer both individual securities and mutual funds to them. Big brokerage firms, such as Charles Schwab (SCHW) and TD Ameritrade (AMTD), let you buy and sell funds as easily as stocks. Know, too, that you usually don't have to sell an investment to transfer it. Just stipulate that you want to transfer it "in kind" and your current brokerage will transfer your securities without triggering a potentially taxable gain.

    Going simple will not only make your life easier, it could also improve your results, partly because you'll find your portfolio easier to understand. That cuts down on shocks that can lead to poor, emotionally driven decisions, says Ben Carlson, author of the book "A Wealth of Common Sense: Why Simplicity Trumps Complexity in Any Investment Plan."

    To see if your investment mix is well diversified, make a stop at the portfolio "Instant X-ray" tool at Morningstar.com, a free service that lets you plug in your investments and get a snapshot of your portfolio's composition. Among other things, the tool tells you the degree to which your investments overlap and what percentage of your assets are in broad investment categories, such as big U.S. growth companies or investment-grade corporate bonds, as well as industry sectors, such as technology or financial services. For advice on making changes, you can upgrade to Morningstar's (MORN) premium membership ($199 a year).

    8. Invest in an "all-in-one" fund. If you'd rather let someone else pick your tax-deferred or taxable investments and make sure they stay in proper balance, you're a candidate for an all-in-one fund. They come in three main flavors: Balanced funds typically hold 60 percent to 70 percent of their assets in stocks and the rest in bonds. Lifestyle funds assemble a mix of investments geared to your tolerance for risk. A conservative lifestyle fund might have 40 percent of its assets in stocks, while an aggressive one might have 80 percent in stocks. Asset allocations in both balanced and lifestyle funds tend to remain fairly constant over time.

    The asset allocation in target-date funds, by contrast, changes as the fund ages. The idea is to pick a fund, such as Fidelity Freedom 2050 (FFFHX), the target date of which matches your particular goal -- usually retirement, but the funds may also be used to save for college or other purposes. A fund with a target year far into the future typically has a high percentage of stocks. Over time, the fund gradually trims its allotment to stocks and adds more bonds and cash. Note, however, that this so-called glide path can vary dramatically from one fund sponsor to another.

    Which type of all-in-one-fund should you choose? A balanced or lifestyle fund is fine for investors who want to temper the risk of an all-stock portfolio. But for goals with a clear estimated date of arrival, such as college or retirement, a target fund is just the ticket, says Christopher Philips, a senior manager in Vanguard's Institutional Investor Services Group. "It's globally diversified, it's professionally managed, it's regularly rebalanced, and it gets more conservative as you age. For someone who wants to keep things really simple, that's a good option."

    9. Sign up once and forget it. To procrastinate is human. To automate is divine. "Humans, by their very nature, fail to follow through," says Philips. "They may want to do something, but something else comes up and they just never execute. Automatic investment plans are a great way to overcome human nature."

    You may have already automated an aspect of your finances by signing up for a 401(k) plan or direct deposit of your paycheck. You can do the same thing with your investment accounts. Every major brokerage firm, fund company and bank offers automatic savings programs that allow you to establish a timetable designating how much you want to save and how often, the account that should be tapped to make the contributions, and where you want the money to go.

    You can specify a money market fund if you're saving for a short-term goal, or even a state 529 savings plan for college bills. No immediate goal? Then set up the savings to go into a balanced fund; Dodge & Cox Balanced (DODBX) and T. Rowe Price Balanced (RPBAX) are solid choices. "Automate as many decisions as you can," Ben Carlson advises. "It makes things simpler and keeps you from making decisions on the fly."

     

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    Woman getting mail from mailbox
    Getty ImagesLow interest rates make the refinancing of student loans an attractive option for many investors.


    There has been a growing concern around student loan debt for quite some time. The New America Education Policy Program reported in 2012 that about 40 percent of all student loan debt was from graduate students.

    Why is this important? One in four borrowers took out more than $100,000 in loans, according to the study, and interest rates for graduate programs can be 50 percent higher than what their less-leveraged undergraduate counterparts can expect.

    Is there anything you can do about your federal or Direct PLUS student loan debt?

    1. Take no action. Depending on your interest rate and financial situation, you may be best suited to take no action at all. Refinancing or consolidating will limit flexibility in the future for loan deferment, forbearance and forgiveness. Since there is no prepayment penalty, you have the flexibility to make additional payments to the principal of your loan as your income changes without getting locked into a higher monthly payment.

    2. Consolidate. Designed to help simplify payments on multiple loans, some borrowers decide to consolidate their loans into one. By consolidating your loans, a new interest rate will be applied, based on the weighted average of the loan balances and associated interest rates. This approach is typically not advisable as it usually costs more over the life of the loan and limits your ability to refinance only a portion of the loan in the future. Since automatic payments can be set up and managed easily online, there is little need for consolidation.

    3. Refinance. The decision to refinance student loans can save some borrowers thousands in interest expense over the life of the loan. Similar to most credit applications, your eligibility and rate will be determined by numerous factors, such as your income, credit score and total outstanding debt. Strong candidates can see a dramatic reduction in their interest rate -- even a few points. It isn't right for everyone though, and there are some very important caveats to consider. With only a few exceptions, it is generally advisable for all student debt holders to at least explore a refinancing scenario. Depending on how long you've been out of school, your annual income and credit history is likely to have improved. One of the main factors for the interest rate you may qualify for is current market interest rates, which are currently very low.

    Why doesn't everyone refinance?

    There are a few good reasons why refinancing isn't for all borrowers. Many of the big student loan refinancing lenders only consider candidates with excellent credit and income profiles, sometimes even limiting which academic institutions are accepted. Refinancing also tends to cost more in the short term, which not all borrowers can afford. Refinancing typically requires the borrower to enter into a shorter repayment period, often five to 15 years. Even with a reduction of one or two points on your interest rate, shaving five to 10 years off the life of the loan may result in monthly payments outside your current budget.

    Refinancing federal student loans to a private lender also has lesser-known implications. Federal loans have benefits such as loan deferment and forbearance, which can help a borrower when they're having financial struggles. Depending on which you qualify for, you may be granted a period in which you can defer all loan payments, or at least only pay interest. When refinancing to a private lender, you lose these options, along with student loan forgiveness. Finally, if someone dies with outstanding federal loans, the balance is forgiven. With private lenders, this isn't necessarily the case, especially if there is a co-signer on the loan.

    If you're financially secure and think refinancing could benefit you, shop around a bit to find the best rate. That ultra-low variable rate may look appealing, but for the vast majority of borrowers, the risk isn't worth the reward, especially for those carrying high balances. If you have multiple loans outstanding, it probably makes sense to start with the highest balance or interest rate. Trying to tackle all your loans at once may not be feasible, but depending on the amount of debt, you can still save thousands by choosing one.

    Most refinancing lenders don't charge any fees to refinance, and some even offer bonuses. Before signing on, be sure you're comfortable with the terms and check if there are prepayment penalties, as you may want to put a bonus towards your loans or refinance again in the future. As a final consideration, ensure the new monthly payment is within your budget and doesn't derail any other financial goals. If you're saving up for a down payment on a home, you may not want to divert an extra couple hundred dollars each month to your loans should your payments increase.

    While interest rates remain low, consider your financial situation and whether it could be a good opportunity to refinance student loan debt. While the stock market cannot guarantee returns, by locking in a lower fixed rate on your loans you can actually calculate a guaranteed rate of savings over the original loan. As part of a diversified savings and investment approach, capitalizing on historically low rates by refinancing existing debt could be a good option for investors of any risk tolerance.

    Kristin McFarland is a blogger for The Smarter Investor and director of strategic partnerships at Darrow Wealth Management, an SEC registered investment adviser in Massachusetts. The material contained in her articles is for general information only and should not be construed as the rendering of personalized investment, legal, accounting or tax advice. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.

     

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    Asian woman paying bills
    Getty Images
    By Tim Lemke

    A savings account is an essential tool of money management. It'll enable you to save for emergencies and financial goals, and you might even get a little bit of interest income along the way. But not all savings accounts are the same. Some are extra-stingy on interest. Some have high fees. And some are just terrible all around.

    Here's a look at some ways your savings account may actually be making your financial situation worse, and how to find the best savings account for you.

    1. Terrible interest rates. No bank has high rates these days. But some are offering practically no interest at all. Don't hesitate to shop around for higher rates; it's still possible to get rates higher than 1 percent, especially on the Internet. Online savings accounts such as Discover Bank and CapitalOne360 offer some of the best rates around, so look there first. (See also: 5 Best Online Savings Accounts)

    2. Fees. Many banks charge fees for a wide range of things, from low balances and overdrafts, to frequent deposits or withdrawals. You might even get dinged if you want a paper statement, or want to use an ATM from another bank. If your bank seems to be bleeding you dry with fees, find a different place to put your money. Many online savings accounts offer no fees or minimums.

    3. You're putting too much into it. Let's be clear: There's nothing wrong with saving. We love saving! But if you are placing virtually every dollar of surplus cash in a normal savings account, you're hurting your future self financially. That's because it's also important to put as much money as you can retirement accounts, such as your 401(k) or Roth IRA. Putting some money in stocks and other investments will lead to higher returns and more cash in the long run, and these accounts have great tax advantages. Even taxable brokerage accounts are fine if you're investing in things that generate a higher return than your savings account.

    4. A lack of sub-accounts. A savings account is good, but when it's just a pile of money without a designated purpose, it's not as effective as it could be in helping you reach your goals. If you have the ability to open sub-accounts for specific purposes, such as a new car, home repairs or vacation, you'll find that it's much easier to be disciplined. If you have an account labeled "new car fund," for example, you'll be less tempted to dip into that account until absolutely necessary. Many online savings accounts offer sub-accounts free of charge, so take advantage of them if you can.

    5. The online security stinks. It seems like every day, we're hearing about a company suffering from a major data breach, potentially placing customers' personal and financial information at risk. Credit card users are often the most vulnerable, but be aware if your bank has also had issues protecting the information of account holders. Be sure you're comfortable with the security measures in place to prevent criminals from logging in to your accounts. Loyalty to a bank isn't going to mean much if you spend thousands of dollars getting a case of identity theft resolved.

    6. Poor access to good CDs. CDs offer terms of varying lengths; the longer the term, the better the rate. But not all banks allow you to easily move cash from a savings account to CDs. And many that do offer them don't have a great selection. When researching a savings account, also research the CD offerings from the same bank.

    7. A dearth of online and mobile services. In this day and age, you need a bank that allows you to save and manage your money in the same way you live your life. This means having access to online banking and mobile apps that let you check balances, pay bills, and move money around when necessary. It means mobile check cashing. It may even mean the ability to make payments to other people from your account, when necessary. If you are still relying on visits to physical banks and monthly paper statements, you're wasting time and money.

    8. It's not even your account. Imagine having an account in which a bank takes your money and places it in its own savings account. Imagine having to ask the bank to transfer money back to you when you need it. Seems absurd, right? But that's exactly what happens if you sign on with the online banking service known as Digit. The service is designed to move money from your checking account to savings when money is available, theoretically encouraging people to save. But the customer doesn't actually own the savings account, and worst of all, Digit offers absolutely no interest to customers, but it makes money by generating interest on your savings. Get it? Me neither. Stay away from banks and services like this one.

    How is your savings account holding you back?

     

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    Earns Disney
    Jae C. Hong/AP
    By Arathy S. Nair

    Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) studio unit said customers of Amazon.com (AMZN) and Microsoft's (MSFT) video services will get access to the collection on its cloud-based movie storage service beginning Tuesday.

    Studios such as Disney, which has made blockbuster films like "Frozen" and Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy," have been attempting to steer movie fans towards digital purchases as sales of DVDs decline.

    Walt Disney Studios added that it would launch the app on video streaming-device maker Roku Inc and Google's (GOOG) Android TV on Sept. 15, coinciding with the DVD release of "Cinderella."

    The collection in Disney Movies Anywhere can be accessed through its new app for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and for Amazon's Fire tablets, Fire TV and Fire TV Stick.

    The media company launched Disney Movies Anywhere in February 2014 with Apple's (AAPL) iTunes, and in November partnered with the Google Play online store and Walmart Stores' (WMT) online store Vudu.

    The two new additions come on the same day as its early digital release of Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

     

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    Apple fans queue up for iPhone 6
    Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
    By Jim Gold

    Could it really be time for a new iPhone?

    Just a year after it revealed the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple is expected to unveil its latest incarnation Wednesday: the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, along with a slew of new products including Apple TV upgrades, tech industry analysts say.

    The hype around Apple products is enough to exert a pull like few other brands. In the nine months ending June 2015, Apple reported in its most recent quarterly earnings statement, it sold 183 million iPhones.

    Maybe you bought one; maybe you clung to an older model and you're ready for a big change; or maybe you're an Android or Windows phone fan. But before you are sucked into the Apple vortex, stop and think.

    Deciding whether to plunk down hundreds of dollars for the latest iPhone starts with what is important to you, says Money Talks News tech expert Dan Schointuch.

    "Unless they've already identified some specific feature that they know they want, or their current 6 or 6 Plus is broken and not covered under warranty, then most people will probably be just as happy with the 6 as they would be with the 6S," he said. The change from an iPhone 5 or 5S would be more substantial.

    Still, if there is a feature that appeals to you, "it may be worth buying on that basis," Schointuch said. For him, that feature is the camera, one of seven points to consider about whether the new iPhone will be right for you.

    1. How important is the camera to you? As earlier reported by Money Talks News, the new iPhone is expected to feature a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera, which allows users to take higher-resolution photos than the 6's 8-megapixel camera.

    It's also expected to have enhanced 4K video, about four times higher resolution than the 1080p in current phones.

    For MTN's Schointuch, the camera specs are important.

    "I tend to upgrade my phone each year for the camera improvements," he said. "My feeling is that 10 years from now, when I can't even remember what made the 6S different from the 6, I'll still have all of the pictures I took with my phones, and I'd like those pictures to be as good as was possible at the time."

    Also, big for selfie shooters, the front-facing camera will go to 5 megapixels and a flash, up from 1.2 megapixels and no flash, tech-watcher 9to5mac.com said. Software modes will allow for slow-motion video capture and panoramas, it said.

    2. How much speed and battery life do you need? Apple's A9 chip coming inside the 6S and 6S Plus will pack thousands more transistors than the A8 chip in the 6 and 6 Plus. That means, says 9to5Mac, greater performance and more energy efficiency in a chip about the same size as the A8. It also will come with 2 GB RAM, instead of 1 GB. To you, it means the phone should handle the higher resolution photos and videos as well as improved game graphics with ease and without running down the battery faster.

    Apple will continue to offer 16GB, 64GB and 128GB capacity phones, but the smallest will fill up pretty quickly if you keep a lot of 4K videos on it.

    3. Concerned about getting 'the bends'? The new iPhones will likely look just like the current models. But remember reports of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus getting the bends? That may be solved with the use of something called Aluminum 7000, that's aluminum strengthened with zinc, says Lewis Hilsenteger in an Unbox Therapy video.

    A new color will also be available, rose gold, says Mashable.

    4. Looking for a different touch? Look for Force Touch, though not necessarily by that name, which is also on the Apple Watch and the trackpad on the MacBook and MacBook Pro, says Mashable. The phone will know how hard you're pressing on the glass, which could change the way you launch apps or access features.

    5. Is the price right? These are the rumored prices and storage options, with and without two-year contracts from major carriers:
    • iPhone 6S, 16GB: $199; $649.
    • iPhone 6S, 64GB: $299; $749.
    • iPhone 6S, 128GB: $299; $849.
    • iPhone 6S Plus, 16GB: $299; $749.
    • iPhone 6S Plus, 64GB: $399; $849.
    • iPhone 6S Plus, 128GB: $499; $949.
    Schointuch advised against subsidized deals with two-year contracts with AT&T (T) or Verizon (VZ) "unless you specifically need to use one of those providers" or get substantial discounts with them, perhaps through an employer.

    "Time [magazine] ran the numbers, and most of the time you'll end up paying more than you would have had you purchased the phone outright and opted for a monthly plan from T-Mobile (TMUS), Sprint (S) or Cricket Wireless."

    6. Can you trim the cost? You can offset the price by selling or trading in your old phone. Schointuch looked into some options.

    MacRumors found that the best value came from selling your phone yourself through a site like eBay (EBAY) or Craigslist. It also had examples from Gazelle and NextWorth, each guaranteeing best prices.

    "But if you're looking for a more convenient experience, Amazon's trade-in store was the next best thing offering $360 for a 16GB iPhone 6, $389 for an iPhone 6 Plus, and $175 for an iPhone 5S, assuming you're OK with receiving that money in the form of an Amazon gift card," Schointuch said.

    If you want the iPhone experience without the 6S price, you could get a 6 or 6 Plus at a discount once the newest models are released, Schointuch said.

    Apple (AAPL) will cut the price of a new iPhone 6 by $100, analysts said. Deals for new and used 6s can be found online.

    7. What do you really value in a cellphone? Determining how you use your phone will go a long way toward figuring out if you need a new one. Do you take a lot of pictures? Do you rely on your phone's apps for information, games or productivity? Are you the type to use your phone to write papers and create spreadsheets? Or, are you really -- when you get right down to it -- a person who mainly uses a phone to make phone calls? Answer these questions honestly, and you may save yourself hundreds on unnecessary upgrades.

    Are you going to spring for a new phone or wait? Share with us in the comment section or on our Facebook page.

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    Bankrate.com website
    NetPhotos3/Alamy
    By MARCY GORDON

    WASHINGTON -- Bankrate Inc., an online publisher of widely read consumer finance data, has agreed to pay a $15 million fine to settle federal regulators' charges of manipulating its financial results to meet analyst expectations.

    The Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday announced the settlement of civil charges of accounting fraud with Bankrate and a former vice president of finance. Bankrate, based in North Palm Beach, Florida, neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. It has agreed to refrain from future violations of the securities laws.

    The former vice president, Hyunjin Lerner, agreed to resolve allegations that he and two other Bankrate executives ran a scheme to inflate revenues and omit some expenses from reports to meet analyst estimates for the second quarter of 2012. Lerner is paying a $150,000 fine and making restitution of $30,045 that he allegedly gained from selling Bankrate (RATE) stock after the company announced the false results and the share price rose to $17.57 from $15.95.

    Lerner also was barred for five years from serving as an officer or director of any public company, and for at least five years from working as an accountant for one.

    The SEC is continuing the case against the two others who are contesting the charges, former chief financial officer Edward DiMaria and ex-accounting director Matthew Gamsey.

    "We allege that at the highest levels of its accounting department, Bankrate improperly inflated its financial performance to avoid falling short of Wall Street's expectations," SEC Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney said in a statement.

    The company is best known for its Bankrate.com website, which lists current data on interest rates, credit cards, insurance, mortgages, auto loans and other areas. Bankrate also licenses content to news organizations including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today.

    Bankrate said in a statement that it restated its earnings to resolve the allegedly false accounting. The company also said it previously set aside $15 million to cover the settlement amount.

     

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    Consumer Credit
    Julie Jacobson/AP
    By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer borrowing climbed to a fresh record in July, the latest evidence that the U.S. economy is on track to grow at a healthy pace in the second half of this year.

    The Federal Reserve says consumer borrowing rose by $19.1 billion in July, pushing the total to a record $3.45 trillion. This followed an even larger $27 billion increase in June, the biggest one-month gain in credit since November 2001. The June increase was revised up significantly from an initial estimate of $20.7 billion.

    Economists believe strong job gains will support increased borrowing and consumer spending, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of economic activity.

    In July, borrowing in the category that includes auto and student loans rose $14.8 billion, while the category for consumer card debt expanded $4.3 billion.

    The Fed's monthly report on credit doesn't cover home mortgages or other loans secured by real estate such as home equity loans.

    On Friday, the Labor Department said employers added 173,000 jobs in August and the unemployment rate dropped to a seven-year low of 5.1 percent.

    The economy grew at an annual rate of 3.7 percent in the April-June quarter after turning in an anemic 0.6 percent increase in the first. Economists believe growth will average around 3 percent in the third and fourth quarters this year.

    Over past year, consumer borrowing has risen 6.8 percent, paced by a 7.9 percent surge in borrowing for auto loans and student loans. The credit card category has risen a more moderate 3.9 percent.

     

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    Senate
    Andrew Harnik/APSen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks at a press conference in July on the positive affects of the Affordable Care Act.
    By CARLA K. JOHNSON

    CHICAGO -- About 9.9 million people have signed up and paid for health insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law, the administration said Tuesday, a slight drop from a previous count but on track toward the administration's year-end goal of 9.1 million.

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that 84 percent of those, or more than 8.3 million, were receiving tax subsidies to help with the cost. A Supreme Court decision earlier this summer upheld insurance subsidies in all 50 states, a major victory for the White House.

    They still have a tough hill to climb over the next couple of years to increase enrollment and get more people covered.

    The report was the first update since June on how the health care law's insurance markets are performing across the nation. Enrollment shifts are to be expected as people cancel coverage or newly enroll as their circumstances change. A previous report had put the number at 10.2 million as of the end of March.

    In 2014, the enrollment number peaked at around 8 million in the spring and dropped to 6.3 million by the end of the year. Hanging on to customers is a major priority for HealthCare.gov as well as state-run exchanges, amid a growing sense that it may take three to five years for the taxpayer-subsidized markets to approach their full potential.

    "They still have a tough hill to climb over the next couple of years to increase enrollment and get more people covered," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

    People unable to verify U.S. citizenship or immigration status appeared to be a big reason for the drop-off in enrollment seen in Tuesday's report, with approximately 423,000 consumers losing 2015 coverage when they didn't produce required paperwork; nearly three-quarters of those were dropped from coverage since April 1.

    "That's more people than I would have expected who initially got coverage and weren't able to document their immigration status," Levitt said, adding it shows the verification system works better than it did last year when eligibility determinations lingered until late in the year.

    Florida's enrollment number dropped by more than 100,000, the biggest decline among the states. Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas also saw declines.

    Obama's law offers subsidized private insurance through online markets called exchanges, plus an expanded version of Medicaid in states that adopt it. Independent surveys and government reports have documented steady gains in coverage since the 2014 launch of the insurance exchanges and the health law's Medicaid expansion. The nation's overall uninsured rate now stands at about 9 percent, a historic low.

    "Consumers from coast to coast are continuing to show how important health coverage is to their families," Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. The figures released Tuesday cover the period through June 30.

     

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    4 Extra-Cheap Warehouse Club Items
    We've all heard about the great deals you can find at warehouse clubs, but certain items can save you more than others. Here are some surprising tips on specific warehouse purchases that can help you stock up on savings.

    First, buying prescriptions at a warehouse club can save you up to 80 percent. This can be the perfect antidote to overspending. Even if you don't have a club membership, these pharmacies are required by law to serve the public, so take advantage of the savings.

    Next, not many shoppers realize that their clubs also offer great deals on tickets. Instead of paying full price at the megaplex or amusement park, you can save up to 30 percent if you buy your tickets in advance from a warehouse club.

    Finally, aside from buying in bulk, you can also get great deals on larger items -- like cars. Many clubs actually sell most brand-name vehicles with pre-negotiated prices that can save you up to 10 percent off the sticker price. However, you don't need a car to drive away with a good deal. Tires are also discounted up to 20 percent off.

    So, the next time you're in your warehouse club, remember these tips. You'll see that stocking up on the right goods will help you bulk up your savings.

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    Costco's Swatch Sales Trigger High Court Import Clash
    Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesRings and bracelets are displayed for sale at at a Costco store in Arlington, Va.
    By Nate Raymond

    NEW YORK -- Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) willfully infringed Tiffany & Co.'s (TIF) trademarks by selling counterfeit diamond engagement rings bearing the luxury retailer's name and must face a jury trial to assess damages, a U.S. judge ruled Tuesday.

    U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in Manhattan rejected claims by Costco that Tiffany's trademarks were invalid because they sought to prevent others from using the word "Tiffany" as a generic description of a type of ring setting.

    Instead, Swain said evidence established that Costco, the largest U.S. warehouse club chain, had infringed Tiffany's trademarks by selling engagement rings and confused consumers by using the word Tiffany in display case signs.

    "Despite Costco's arguments to the contrary, the court finds that, based on the record evidence, no rational finder of fact could conclude that Costco acted in good faith in adopting the Tiffany mark," Swain wrote.

    Under the ruling, Tiffany may now take Costco before a jury to seek damages, including a recovery of Costco's profits from the sale of the diamond rings and punitive damages.

    Swain set a hearing for Oct. 30 and directed Tiffany and Costco to "make good faith efforts to settle the outstanding issues."

    In a statement, Tiffany General Counsel Leigh Harlan welcomed the ruling, saying it "further validates the strength and value of the Tiffany mark and reinforces our continuing efforts to protect the brand."

    Representatives for Costco didn't respond to requests for comment.

    Tiffany filed the lawsuit on Valentine's Day in February 2013, saying it believed hundreds, if not thousands, of Costco members bought engagement rings they wrongly believed were authentic Tiffany products.

    Tiffany said that in 2012, a person shopping at a Costco in Huntington Beach, California, complained to Tiffany that she was disappointed to see Costco offering for sale what were promoted on in-store signs as Tiffany diamond engagement rings.

    Tiffany said a subsequent investigation revealed rings in a display case at the Huntington Beach Costco labeled with the word "Tiffany" and that a salesperson there referred to them as such.

    Prior to the lawsuit, Tiffany contacted Costco and secured a commitment that it would remove references to Tiffany from its display case signs, according to Tuesday's ruling.

    Costco also previously sent a letter to customers who bought the rings offering a full refund if they were unsatisfied, the ruling said.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks rose more than 2 percent on Tuesday, bouncing after steep losses last week and a China-fueled rebound in global equities.

    Gains were broad-based and followed a three-day U.S. holiday weekend. All but one of the 10 major S&P sectors ended with gains of more than 2 percent.

    Hopes for more stimulus measures from the Chinese government increased after data on Tuesday showed that China's imports shrank far more than expected in August, falling for the 10th straight month.

    Chinese stocks surged in a late rally, sparking a rebound in global equities. Late on Monday, China said it would remove a tax on dividend incomes for investors who hold stocks for more than a year in an effort to encourage longer-term investment.

    We had some nice buying opportunities with the sell-off in August.

    "We had some nice buying opportunities with the sell-off in August, and I think people are starting to take advantage of that and put money to work," said Larry Peruzzi, senior equity trader at Cabrera Capital Markets in Boston.

    "In China it seems like there is a willingness to continue with stimulus, so hopefully those markets will stabilize."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI)​ rose 390.3 points, or 2.4 percent, to 16,492.68, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC)​ gained 48.19 points, or 2.5 percent, to 1,969.41 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC)​ added 128.01 points, or 2.7 percent, to 4,811.93.

    All three major U.S. stock indexes posted losses of at least 3 percent for last week.

    Global financial markets have been rattled in recent weeks by fears that China's slowdown could drag on already sluggish global growth, prompting some investors to bet that the U.S. central bank will delay a hike until the end of the year.

    Fed Watch

    A mixed report Friday on the U.S. job market for August added to investor uncertainty about whether the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates at its Sept. 16-17 meeting.

    Apple (AAPL) shares gave the biggest boost to the S&P and the Nasdaq, rising 2.8 percent at $112.31, a day before the iPhone-maker is expected to unveil new offerings.

    Fitbit (FIT) was up 11.2 percent at $35.46 after Morgan Stanley (MS) upgraded the stock to "overweight."

    Media General (MEG) fell 6 percent to $10.48 after it said it would buy diversified media company Meredith for about $2.34 billion to create the third-largest local TV station owner in the United States. Meredith (MDP) was up 9.9 percent at $50.47.

    After the bell, Yahoo (YHOO) shares were down 3.1 percent at $29.95 after it said it was considering its options following an Internal Revenue Service denial of its request on a tax ruling related to Yahoo's plans to exit a stake in Alibaba Group (BABA).

    In addition, shares of United Continental Holdings (UAL) were down 2.8 percent at $55.90 after the bell following the company's announcement that Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek had stepped down.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,439 to 644, for a 3.79-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 2,202 issues rose and 646 fell for a 3.41-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index posted one new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 46 new highs and 30 new lows.

    About 6.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 7.6 billion daily average for the month to date, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • The Labor Department releases job openings and labor turnover survey for July at 10 a.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Barnes & Noble (BNS)
    • Conn's (CONN)
    • Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (KKD)
    • Palo Alto Networks (PANW)

     

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    Christmas border with layaway sign
    Catherine Lane/Getty Images
    It seems as if the holiday shopping season keeps creeping earlier into the year and we saw that on display late last month when Walmart (WMT) kicked off its Christmas layaway program. Retailers have always tried to get shoppers on a tight budget to start prepaying for their holiday purchases early through the layaway process, but Christmas in August seems like a bit of a stretch.

    Walmart's annual layaway program kicked off on Sept. 16 in 2012, Sept. 13 in 2013, and Sept. 12 in 2014. This year it rolled out on Aug. 28. Clearly, the world's largest retailer wants you to commit your holiday spending to Walmart as early as possible this summer, but that alone should make you skeptical.

    Layaway is a noble concept in theory, giving shoppers the ability to prepay for merchandise through installment payments until it is paid in full by mid-December, but let's not kid ourselves: Layaway is often more about the retailer than the shopper.

    The Dark Side of Layaway

    Walmart used to charge shoppers $5 to open a layaway program. That initiation charge was done away with in 2013, but the retailer decided to reintroduce a $10 cancellation fee that it had eliminated a year earlier.

    That cancellation fee is still in place for anyone who doesn't fully pay and pick up an order by Dec. 14. Payments made up to that point will be refunded after subtracting the $10 cancellation fee. That would be adding insult to injury, but it's not the only reason that going the layaway route could be a losing proposition.

    Deciding what you want to buy as early as August is problematic. We still don't know what the hot holiday toys will be this season. Walmart kicked off this year's layaway program a whole week before the new "Star Wars: A Force Awakens" merchandise was unveiled and nearly two weeks before Apple's (AAPL) big product release event. Who knows how many cool wearable cameras, video games and licensed products will hit stores closer to the actual holiday shopping season?

    One shouldn't need layaway. Tucking away that money under the mattress and having greater freedom to shop around -- in terms of both products and pricing -- has to be the smarter way to go. Sure, Walmart and most layaway-offering chains will match competitors' prices, but isn't it better to actively seek out those deals instead of handing your money to a retailer for months? What happens if you lose your job, your roof leaks or a medical emergency comes up, forcing you to reconsider how much you can spend on gifts this year?

    There's a stigma to layaway, but it would be out of line to call it a poor tax. It's not as predatory as advance payday loans that are tagged with ridiculous borrowing costs. Then again, the money is going the other way in layaway. You pay high interest rates at advance-payday and check-cashing establishments to get your money early, but Walmart isn't paying the layaway shopper interest on the money that they are holding for months before having to deliver the purchased merchandise.

    The bottom of your mattress isn't going to be paying you interest on your money either, but at least you'll be sleeping better at night knowing that you have greater flexibility in how you will ultimately allocate your holiday shopping.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Apple. 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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    pest control worker spraying...
    Shutterstock
    By Craig Donofrio

    Americans are having a problem keeping critters outdoors where they belong, as evidenced by the growing field of exterminators: Pest control employment is expected to grow by 20 percent through 2022 according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

    But exterminators should be your last resort. If you take steps to create a hostile environment for bugs and other pests, you won't need to spend big bucks on the bug man.

    1. Seal and repair openings. Check your basement for cracks and gaps, especially where pipes exit through the wall. Go outside and look for openings around exterior outlets, laundry vents and utility meters: These areas are likely to have invitingly large cracks for bugs. Check weather stripping on doors and windows and repair holes in screens. (I've used these screen repair adhesive patches for a quick fix.) Also make an effort to keep your garage door shut.

    2. Give your pets a dining space. I left my dog's pet food in a bowl on the floor once. Big mistake. Bits of food he knocked out of his dish ended up across the room (I must have kicked them) and attracted ants. Make it harder for ants to get to pet food by giving your pet a dining area on a rubber mat. This will make spilled food easier to spot and clean up.

    If you're having an ant problem with pet food left on the floor, put the food bowl into a larger bowl with water in it -- the ants can't cross the moat to get to the food.

    3. Keep a clean kitchen. Because just about every unwanted pest is attracted to leftover bits of food, keeping a clean living area is important to keep bugs out. Here are a few quick tips:
    • Keep all leftovers stored in lidded containers.
    • Check for sugar spills near the coffee maker.
    • Wipe residue off containers containing sugary stuff like peanut butter and jelly.
    • Keep fruit out of direct sunlight and check frequently for spoiled produce.
    • Vacuum or sweep regularly.
    • Rinse containers before putting them in the recycling bin.
    4. Keep a dry home. Insects love damp environments, so eliminate moisture and wet spots. To eliminate them, you can start by applying caulk to fix leaks around tubs and sinks. In your basement, check for stains on the ground that indicate dripping pipes and inspect above for cracks or loose fittings. Look for water spots in your ceiling that could mean a hole in your roof; in addition to an obvious roof issue, holes can also be an entry spot for bugs.

    5. Clean up the yard. Insects are likely to congregate under grass clippings, compost heaps and decaying leaves. They will also use branches touching your home as pathways, so trim branches and shrubbery to keep insects confined to plants. Clean up pet poop, and keep trash bins and compost heaps securely covered and away from your house.

    6. Invite birds. Birds are prettier to look at than bugs, and they like to eat them. Consider getting a bird feeder -- it's cheaper than a bird bath and it won't create a stagnant pool of water. Or you can make one free; check out Audubon.org for six examples. It's a nice weekend project for the family!

    7. Store firewood away from the house. Termites, ants and cockroaches like to hide out in woodpiles and the damp ground underneath. Keep firewood stacked on an elevated surface and stored away from your home. If you have lots of wood, you may want to look into getting a firewood rack, which allows wood to be stacked neatly and off the ground. Otherwise stack wood somewhere like a wheelbarrow or bench and cover it with a tarp.

    8. Make a homemade flytrap. I hate fruit flies. They pop up wherever there's something sweet and seem to linger forever. So after I got tired of running after them, trying to crush them in my clapping hands while yelling "fruit fly!" I took to a more scientific approach.

    I've tried several homemade flytraps, but I've had the most success with this: Add a squirt of dish soap to half a cup of apple cider vinegar in an open container. The flies are attracted to the sweet-smelling vinegar and the soap breaks the surface tension, drowning the fly. Put a few of them around the house where you see the pests, but don't put them near open windows; it encourages more to come in.

    9. Don't kill mice, trap them. I don't like killing mice because their dead bodies are a breeding ground for insects and bacteria. Instead, try this simple trap ($7 on Amazon), which has a 4-star average review and is reusable. There's also this slightly more expensive trap for $13.87, but it has even more positive recommendations and its transparent walls let you see if a mouse has been caught. To prevent mice from getting inside in the first place, plug holes like those found near baseboard heaters and dryer vents with steel wool.

    10. Practice mosquito management. Mosquitoes are annoying bloodsuckers that, at best, leave itchy red welts and, at worst, can transfer disease. We discussed ways to ward off the annoying bugs in "5 Cheap Steps to Eliminate Mosquitoes," like:
    • Get rid of standing water: Mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water, so take away their breeding ground by overturning water in open containers, and throwing mulch or soil over yard puddles.
    • Place minced garlic around your porch. Garlic's odor acts as a natural repellent to many insects, including mosquitoes.
    • Adding citronella, eucalyptus, cinnamon or castor oils to sunscreen can repel mosquitoes for when you need to work outside -- just be sure to follow the instructions and don't dump a cup of citronella on your face.
    • When you're sitting outside on the porch, use an oscillating fan. You'll love the nice breeze and wind is a mosquito's enemy.
    What do you do to eliminate bugs at your place? Tell us below or on our Facebook page!

    Kari Huus contributed to this report.

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    Senior businessman sitting at  computer holding hands to head
    Getty ImagesBefore officially retiring, test out a few ways to make working more tolerable.
    By David Ning

    Almost everyone hopes they will be able to retire someday, but many people are surprised that retired life isn't as good as they thought it would be. Part of the problem is that some people retire to escape from an unpleasant career, rather than to begin a whole new lifestyle. Before you make the mistake of resigning too soon, consider these moves if you are experiencing burnout.

    Look for a different source of income. No one who is already overworked and overtired wants to hear that they need to continue to work even harder. And finding new streams of income isn't always easy. But when you successfully find new ways to make money, you will be able to quit your old boring career and spend more of your time on something more exciting and fulfilling.

    Try to start another career. You may have to take a pay cut when you switch jobs, but it can still pay off if you enjoy the job enough to continue working longer than you would have stayed in your previous career. Perhaps you would like to work in an entirely new field or do similar work for a different industry. Either way, the unfamiliarity is likely to be refreshing enough for you to feel excited to learn again.

    Switch companies. If you don't have the desire or resources to change careers, switching to a different company in the same field could give you a bit of an energizing boost. Every company has its own culture, and you may find that you fit better into a new firm. Just because you are unhappy at your current job doesn't mean you are not fit for work anywhere. Don't give up. Find a place that's doing amazing things that you feel excited about.

    Spend to make life easier. Taking more vacations could help you to ease burnout. Hiring a few helpers around the house to do chores can also help you to feel less overwhelmed. Since you are staying at your job longer, you can afford to spend more of what is coming in to make life a little easier. You may think every frustration is work related, but feeling more relaxed because you have fewer chores and more time off may give you enough extra breathing room to have a better outlook when job tensions flare up.

    Make your work environment suit your lifestyle more. Speak up at work if there's a situation bothering you. Too few people are bold enough to voice their opinions, but chances are good that you aren't the only one with the same concern. Management may even appreciate your candidness. At the very least, your coworkers will show you more respect because you will become a voice of reason in a sea of messy corporate shenanigans.

    Find a hobby that forces you to exercise. I can't stress enough how much exercising helps. The long-term health benefits of exercise are well documented, and the increased energy can help you cope with the challenges of the everyday grind. Plus, exercising stimulates endorphin production, chemicals released by your body that trigger happiness.

    Try to climb the corporate ladder. Yes, there's still time to do this as you approach retirement. A job higher up in the hierarchy often means more autonomy at work, giving you power to make the work environment suit your personality. The increased freedom is at least part of the reason quite a few small business owners never want to quit. These individuals spent years finding people that work well with them, so there's no point leaving a job that meets their needs.

    Retired life can be incredibly rewarding, but that doesn't mean you should quit your job right away. If you are tired of the grind, try a few strategies to stay in the working world before you call it quits. Sometimes, a change of scenery is all it takes to inspire yourself to work a few years longer.

    David Ning is the founder of MoneyNing.com.

     

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    Inside Costco Wholesale Co. Ahead of Earnings ReleaseBy Raechel Conover

    When it comes to savings on household goods, groceries, and more, Costco (COST) has always been a winning solution in terms of slashing costs. Warehouse shopping is usually cheaper and Sam's Club, Costco and the like provide exceptional membership benefits. But what if you don't have a membership? All isn't lost. There are still ways to land discounts at Costco without paying the annual membership fee.

    Shop with a Member. The good old-fashioned way is to visit Costco with a member and fill your cart. While the member will need to pay for your order at checkout, Costco will kindly ring up two separate orders; just have cash or a check ready for the member upon leaving the store.

    Use a Costco Cash Card. Another option is to buy Costco cash cards in denominations up to $1,000 while at Costco with a member. Your member buddy will need to load the card for you, but then you can use it to enter the store and buy items without an escort. This is especially helpful for big-ticket purchases such as a TV, so you don't pay a membership fee for just one item.

    Use a Business Account. If your employer has a Costco business membership, lobby to be one of the two people whose name is on the account. While you may get stuck with a few office supply runs, you'll also be able to use the card for your own personal savings.

    Buy Alcohol. In about a dozen states, alcohol sales cannot be prohibited due to a club or membership. Check the laws in your state and, if it's allowed, explain to the door attendant that you are buying non-member goods. This can be a handy way to slash the cost of alcohol for parties or other events.

    Take Advantage of Health Services. Health services such as optical exams and hearing screenings are non-member allowances that Costco makes. However, if you need to buy glasses, contacts or hearing aids, a membership is required. Find a member willing to purchase and be reimbursed for these items or use a loaded Costco Cash Card.

    Use the Pharmacy. A Consumer Reports survey of generic drug prices found Costco to be the cheapest among more than 200 pharmacies, and prescription medications can be filled at the Costco pharmacy without a membership. Also available to non-members are immunizations such as the flu vaccine.

    Shop Online. Non-members can shop on Costco's website to take advantage of the warehouse club's bargain prices on certain items. Gift cards, for example, can be purchased at a discount online without a membership -- currently, score a $100 iTunes gift card for $84.49. The disadvantage is that non-members may be hit with a 5 percent surcharge on some orders.

    Use Instacart. The grocery delivery service Instacart will shop Costco on your behalf -- even if you don't have a membership. Consider this nice little loophole for Costco-priced groceries.

    Enjoy the Food Court. A Costco membership is required to get in the door and into the food court at many Costco locations. Yet if you live in a warmer climate where the food court is outside the store, food can be purchased without membership. Costco is known for serving pizza, hot dogs, and other morsels for less than $5.

    Buy a Membership. Although you can shop Costco without a membership, the $55 fee for a basic Costco membership may be worth the money if you expect to shop at the warehouse club regularly.

     

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    Family sitting on sofa watching television
    Erik Isakson/Getty Images
    By Naomi Mannino

    NEW YORK -- Ever click through all 700 HD channels on your cable or satellite service channel lineup only to announce, "Nothing's on..." with a long sigh?

    Maybe you added a streaming service such as Netflix (NFLX), Hulu Plus or Amazon (AMZN) Prime to get more shows when you want them. Or maybe you want to cut the cable cord entirely and just use video streaming but are worried about missing live sports and live news. To your cord-cutting arsenal, you can add SlingTV, a new streaming package by Dish Network (but without the dish) released in March that just might make cutting the cable cord a viable option.

    Sling TV includes ESPN and CNN among others and is a great option for people who want to cut the cable cord but can't live without those additional live sports and live news channels.

    Now there's another choice: CBS (CBS) will sell Showtime as a standalone over-the-top content through Hulu for $8.99 a month, cheaper than the $14.99-a-month HBONow.

    "Sling TV includes ESPN and CNN among others and is a great option for people who want to cut the cable cord but can't live without those additional live sports and live news channels," says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert.

    Officially termed SVOD (subscription video-on-demand) and over-the-top TV-watching, online streaming services like these add more options to the traditional TV channel lineup from a paid cable or satellite provider.

    Digital TV Research projected the number of worldwide households using SVOD would grow from 21 million in 2010 to 83 million in 2014 and 199 million in 2020. Almost half (46 percent) of households in the U.S. have streaming service as of July, according to Nielsen. That percentage jumps to 62 percent among Millennials.

    This is all part of the changing tide -- less bland and general cable, more targeted on-demand. In fact, as TheStreet previously reported, when Disney (DIS) announced that ESPN had "modest subscriber losses" in its second quarter, shares tumbled 9.2 percent Wednesday. This is indicative of the future.

    With SVOD apps using a streaming device connecting your TV to the Internet, there is now the option of cutting out the paid cable subscription service (and bill) entirely, but there is a learning curve and you'll need a major attitude adjustment. Once you've learned to watch TV this new way, you'll be getting so much more from your TV while paying much less.

    Cancel the cable or satellite service ... and bill. Cord-cutting is all the rage. The cable industry shrank at a rate of 0.5 percent in the 12 months ending in May, according to media industry research firm MoffettNathanson. That's at least in part due to cost. If you've been paying for cable or satellite TV, you paid an average of $86 a month in 2011, according to The NPD Group. Rising to a 2015 prediction of $123 a month, you could be spending $1,476 a year, just for pay-TV programming. As a result, the U.S. in 2014 lost 176,000 subscribers to cable TV, satellite or fiber services, according to research firm SNL Kagan -- the second straight year of decline.

    Could you use that extra $100 elsewhere in your budget? If so, simply call up your provider and cancel your service. Be prepared for the provider to offer to reduce your rate or try to get you to bundle up and pay even more. Once the cable or satellite box is gone, you'll need to reconfigure your TV for SVOD viewing.

    Connect your TV to a video streaming device. If you hate watching TV on your iPad or computer, you'll need to connect your TV (via the HDMI port) to a video streaming device which connects it to the Internet wirelessly, as 47 percent of households already did in 2014, according to NPD Group. Then, you suddenly have access to a whole new world of viewing content in the form of "apps" that represent each channel you already know and love plus many more you've yet to discover. John Buffone, Connected Intelligence industry analyst for The NPD Group, says one of the big changes this year is increased affordability of these devices with an average one-time price as low as $35. "Since cost is removed from the equation, you can try the one that appeals to you most," he says.
    • Roku: ($47 to $99 on Amazon): This tiny device is loaded with hundreds of free and paid SVOD apps accessed with its own remote.
    • Chromecast: ($32.22 on Amazon): It uses your Smartphone, laptop or tablet as the remote. When accessed via a laptop it can pull up any webpage onto your TV.
    • Apple TV: ($67.87 on Amazon): If you're a big Apple user, the Apple TV (which now has a reduced price of $68) device can access all content from your iPhone and iPad as well as a huge library of TV and movie viewing apps. HBO Now will be available exclusively on Apple TV.
    • Amazon Fire TV Stick ($39 on Amazon): device plugs in directly to your TV's HDMI port and boasts four times the storage and two times the memory of Chromecast. It has a dedicated remote and remote app and voice search capability on the mobile app.
    Other choices include streaming devices from NetGear and the new Amazon Fire TV ($99 on Amazon.com). Blu-ray Disc players and gaming consoles such as PlayStation 3 or Xbox One also double as streaming video devices.

    Pay for a few cheap SVOD services.
    • SVOD or OTT paid subscriptions are extremely inexpensive, a mere fraction of what your cable TV bill was. It used to be if you didn't know about a show you simply missed it or you'd jump in mid-season. Now you can "marathon" or "binge-watch" as many episodes as you want when you want, some from the very beginning of the series. At $7 to $10 a month, these services each offer something different, with a lot of cross over, so choose the one(s) most meaningful to you.Netflix: You can watch an entire production, every season from the pilot to series finale or the last completed year for most major TV series (updated often) such as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" plus have access to some exclusive, original award-worthy Netflix series you may have heard about: "House of Cards," "Orange is The New Black" and "Hemlock Grove" among many 2014 newcomers. There's also a huge catalog of documentaries, kids' shows, reality TV, stand-up comedy and movies. Netflix learns what you like and suggests new shows and movies without ads or added fees. New 2014 members pay $8.99 monthly while existing subscribers keep their $7.99 monthly fee. Use the Netflix free trial month to see if shows you want are available. If not, you might also need Hulu Plus.
    • Hulu Plus: This SVOD service differs in providing current season TV viewing the next day after episodes actually aired. So, for example, if I love to watch Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" (not available on Netflix), I can watch it whenever I want on Hulu Plus which offers many episodes of the current season, but not the entire season or series like Netflix. Hulu Plus also has many original and exclusive shows and costs $7.99 a month (with ads) with no additional fees, although the ads are annoying. If you don't want to suffer through ads, you can pay $11.99 a month for an interruption-free experience. Hulu also added movies from Epix after Netflix dropped its Epix deal, and it has offerings from in-season episodes of hits like Fox's "Empire." Now, some networks are getting smart and not selling the rights to their shows universally or on Netflix or Hulu Plus, and that's when you need Amazon Prime.
    • Amazon Prime: CBS's "Extant" with Halle Berry and "Under the Dome" have exclusive streaming agreements with Amazon Prime, the only place you can see the show on-demand and if you do not have local network access. It's also the only place you can find all previous seasons (1-4) of "Downton Abbey" included (but not the current season, which you can access for free on the PBS app on a Roku every week after each episode airs). And most recently, Amazon gained permission to exclusively stream a vast amount of past and present HBO content and has been pumping out original shows such as the Golden Globe-winning series "Transparent." While they do offer viewing from the pilot to present, the current season and sometimes the prior season are pay per view which defeats the purpose of having Amazon Prime, although you do also get that free two-day shipping. And, they just raised the yearly price to $99 from $79 last year, (still, that's just $8.25 a month).
    • Sling TV: Now you can finally close the gap on some cable channels that are just not available on any other TV streaming service such as ESPN, ESPN2 and CNN. Sling TV by Dish Network (DISH) offers an app for any Roku (it isn't currently available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast). Still the current hook-up availability includes 22 popular channels you may have been missing for just $20 a month. Sling TV will also offer you AMC (for your "Walking Dead" fix), IFC and a movie package. Beware: while you can download the app onto all your devices, only one person can watch Sling TV on your account at one time. Sling TV has a 7-day free trial so you can evaluate whether you watch it enough to warrant the additional $20 a month.
    • HBO NOW: For $14.99 a month, Time Warner (TWC) is offering HBO's Internet-based stand-alone service HBO Now, which allows consumers to HBO's award-winning original programming like "VEEP" and "Girls."
    • Showtime: Starting on July 12 in advance of shows Ray Donovan andMasters of Sex, the commercial broadcast network will offer, Showtime will be offered for $8.99 a month through Hulu as the first premium service to be offered through to Hulu's subscriber base of almost 9 million people nationwide. Of course, new and existing subscribers will have to also pay $7.99 for Hulu use. Showtime had previously said it would offer a $10.99-a-month stand-alone Internet iteration of premium channel Showtime -- including an Apple partnership.
    • Custom TV: This offer from Verizon (VZ) FiOS offers a bulky bundle at $79.99 a month -- including Internet and phone. But it does provide a skinnier bundle and allows consumers to eschew certain channels, like ESPN, while still having access to premium channels like HBO and Showtime at no extra cost for 12 months.
    • CNBC Pro: The business news juggernaut is offering CNBC TV in streaming form for $29.99 a month as part of CNBC Pro, the station's subscription offering. As an added benefit, you get it commercial free.
    So for the three major SVOD services, you have a massive amount of new, current and past programming to explore via apps on your streaming device to use at will for just about $24 a month compared to that $100 monthly paid cable or satellite subscription. If you add SlingTV, you're up to $44 a month plus tax. Woroch advises you use all the free trials for streaming subscriptions if you want to cut the cable or satellite cord entirely too see which you want to watch the most.

    And, there are hundreds more free TV channel apps including those from most network and cable TV channels offering a lot of free content such as History Channel and PBS.

    Do you want local network channels? Sports? Now, if there is still a network show in season that you can't live without such as "The Big Bang Theory" or your local news or even special network events such as the Olympics or local market sports coverage which you want to watch as it airs or it is not available or it is not available on any of SVOD services or devices, then you might want to get a local network antenna.

    Depending on many factors, they can range in their one-time price from $30 for an indoor antenna to $250 for a large outdoor antenna installed. There is no single type of antenna that will work for everyone as TV reception depends on your distance from the broadcast signal, its strength, obstructions and more.

    Check the Consumer Electronics Association's www.AntennaWeb.org website to identify appropriate antenna attributes based on your location. Do you need full market sports coverage?

    With your network antenna you'll have the local market sports coverage from Fox and CBS plus NBC's Sunday Night Football and CBS's Thursday Night Football. The offering includes a special game between the Dolphins and the Jets in London on Oct. 4.

    DirecTV will sell you NFL Sunday Ticket without a full satellite subscription, but it costs hundreds of dollars per season.

    This fall, Yahoo (YHOO) will stream one NFL game, a deal that cost the technology company a reported $20 million. To boot, fans of America's pastime can get wide access to baseball diamonds across the country: the MLB streams out-of-market games for $99 a year, available through Roku, Xbox, AppleTV andSony PlayStation.

    But if that's not enough, you may need a pricier SVOD app such as MLB.TV which cost $125 last season ($10 a month) for access to every out-of-market season game. For the uninitiated, the out-of-market arrangement means you can't stream your local team when it's being shown in your local TV market.

    Forget TV schedules forever. Back when DVR became popular, you could record shows and watch when convenient for you, but with limitations.

    "These new apps coupled with the devices remove the need to remember schedules or record shows," Buffone says. "They are simply there when you want to watch them."

    For those addicted to "Game of Thrones," there's HBO Now. Or for those desperate to watch the current Season 5 of "The Walking Dead" or the much-awaited prequel to "Breaking Bad" -- "Better Call Saul," which premiered on AMC this past February -- there's Sling TV. Inevitably, in some cases, it's impossible to see some show sand current episodes without paying for cable or paying per episode on Amazon Prime. But, channel lineups and licensing agreements are constantly changing and many other major players are scrambling to get into the streaming game.

    Woroch adds, ""The problem now is that people want it all and now that Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime are all producing exclusive shows -- think: Netflix's "House of Cards" among many others -- consumers may want to keep all the streaming subscriptions including the paid cable."

    For this reason, Buffone says most people won't actually cancel their cable subscription and adopt this cheaper, more flexible way of watching TV and instead add SVOD on to their paid subscriptions. What about you?

     

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    Chicken farms must convert to cage free in California
    Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images
    By CANDICE CHOI

    NEW YORK -- McDonald's says it will switch to cage-free eggs in the U.S. and Canada over the next decade, marking the latest push under CEO Steve Easterbrook to try and reinvent the Big Mac-maker as a "modern, progressive burger company."

    Under pressure to revive slumping sales, McDonald's (MCD) has already announced a number of changes since Easterbrook stepped into his role earlier this year. In March, the Oak Brook, Illinois, company said it would switch to chickens raised without most antibiotics. And in April, it said it would raise pay for workers at company-owned stores, which represent about 10 percent of its domestic locations.

    The decision to switch to cage-free eggs, meanwhile, signals a growing sensitivity among customers to animal welfare issues. That has been fueled in part by places such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) that have made animal welfare standards part of their marketing.

    It's a real watershed moment. It makes it clearer than ever that cages just do not have a future in the egg industry.

    Animal welfare activists also have long called for the banishment of battery cages, which confine hens to spaces so small they're barely able to move. For at least the past 10 years, the Humane Society of the United States has pressed McDonald's to switch to cage-free eggs at the company's annual shareholders meeting, said Paul Shapiro, the group's vice president of farm and animal protection.

    "It's a real watershed moment," Shapiro said of the decision by McDonald's. "It makes it clearer than ever that cages just do not have a future in the egg industry."

    Regulatory changes could also be making it easier for companies to agree to change. In California, a law now requires that egg-laying hens be given enough space to stretch, turn around and flap their wings.

    Among the companies that have said they will switch to cage-free eggs are Subway and Starbucks, although neither of those chains has laid out a timeline for when they expect the transition to be complete.

    Already, McDonald's says it buys about 13 million cage-free eggs a year in the U.S. But that is still less than 1 percent of the 2 billion eggs it uses annually to make menu items such as Egg McMuffins. Overall, only about 6 percent of the nation's egg-laying hens are cage-free, according to the United Egg Producers. Chad Gregory, CEO of the industry group, said he expects that figure to climb.

    Marion Gross, senior vice president of the North American supply chain at McDonald's, said the company is working with its existing egg suppliers to convert housing systems for hens. Gross said she thinks the change will be "truly meaningful" to customers.

    "They know how big we are, and the impact we can make on the industry," Gross said.

    McDonald' is also likely to increase its egg purchasing over time; starting Oct. 6, the company plans to offer select breakfast items all day in the U.S.

     

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    Gas Prices
    Lynne Sladky/AP
    By John Kemp

    LONDON -- As the summer driving season ends, U.S. gasoline prices have fallen to the lowest level for the time of year since 2004, wiping out the effect of more than a decade of rising fuel bills.

    The average retail price of gasoline across the United States was just $2.53 a gallon Monday, including federal, state and local taxes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

    Retail prices have fallen by $1 a gallon, approximately 30 percent, compared with the same time last year and haven't been this low at the end of the driving season since 2004.

    Reuters
    Gasoline prices are seasonal, reflecting higher demand in summer than winter and the limited capacity of the refining system.

    Over the last decade, gasoline prices have generally fallen on average by 50 cents a gallon between the close of the driving season and the end of the year.

    If that pattern is repeated, average gasoline prices could finish the year around $2 a gallon, which would again be the lowest in nominal terms since 2004.

    On the West Coast, fuel remains relatively expensive, owing to problems with the region's refineries, which have left gasoline stocks unusually low.

    But in the rest of the country, fuel is comparatively cheap and prices are sending a strong signal to consumers that it is okay to use more of it.

    Economic expansion and rising employment are also boosting driving but cheaper fuel is turbo-charging fuel consumption.

    Demand Responds

    In response to lower gasoline prices, motorists are using their cars more and buying larger vehicles which offer more power and more space but get fewer miles a gallon.

    Statistics on gasoline consumption, traffic volumes and auto sales all tell a consistent story about strongly rising demand.

    Gasoline consumption averaged 9.5 million barrels per day during August, according to the EIA, the highest seasonal level since 2007.

    low gas prices fuel demand
    Reuters
    As the summer drew to a close, consumption was up by around 400,000 bpd, about 5 percent, compared with 2014.

    The volume of traffic on U.S. roads is also rising fast, and the increase is apparent in states as diverse as New Hampshire and Florida.

    Florida's traffic rose by almost 3 percent in the first six months of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, the fastest increase since 2005, according to the state department of transportation.

    New Hampshire's traffic was up by around 2.5 percent between January and July compared with the same months in 2014, the fastest increase in more than a decade.

    Motorists are also buying larger, more fuel-hungry vehicles. Car sales were up by 2.7 percent in August compared with the prior year but light truck sales surged 5.5 percent, according to Wards Auto.

    For the first eight months of the year, car sales actually edged down slightly while truck sales soared by almost 10 percent, according to Wards.

    International Sales

    In general, traffic volumes and fuel sales are more closely related to macroeconomic variables like income and employment rather than fuel prices ("Dynamic demand analyzes for gasoline and residential electricity" 1974).

    But the drop in fuel prices over the last 12 months has been so large it is having a measurable impact on both the type of vehicles motorists are choosing and the amount they drive.

    As the driving season ends, traffic volumes and fuel consumption volumes will slow seasonally through the end of the year.

    But the structural increase in demand from larger vehicles and more usage will continue to boost fuel consumption compared with prior year levels.

    Moreover, it isn't confined to the United States. Traffic volumes and fuel consumption are also growing rapidly in Britain, according to the U.K. Department for Transport.

    low gas prices fuel demand
    Reuters
    Most OECD countries tax fuel much more heavily than the United States so changes in the cost of crude oil have a smaller percentage impact on the final cost of fuel.

    Heavy fuel taxes make consumption even less responsive to changes in oil prices than in the United States. But the drop in fuel prices over the last 12 months has been so large it is having a measurable impact even in high-tax countries.

    Traffic on Britain's roads increased almost 3 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period in 2014, the fastest increase since 2002 (excluding periods affected by unusually bad weather).

    Low fuel prices are stimulating the fastest growth in rich-country oil demand in a decade which will gradually help force the oil market back into balance.

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

     

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    Unemployment Benefits
    Alan Diaz/AP
    By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

    WASHINGTON -- The number of available jobs jumped sharply in July to the highest level in 15 years, evidence that confident employers sought to step up hiring to meet greater demand for their goods and services.

    Job openings soared 8 percent to 5.75 million, the most since records began in 2000, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Yet overall hiring slumped, suggesting that employers are slow to fill the jobs they have advertised.

    The big jump in openings in July would typically point to greater hiring in the months ahead. Yet China's economy stumbled in August, raising fears among investors of weaker global growth and causing violent swings in the U.S. and overseas stock markets.

    That may cause employers to take a cautious approach in coming months toward actually placing people in open positions.

    At the same time, the sharp rise in available jobs could lead to larger paychecks. As more employers compete to fill available jobs, they may be forced to raise wages to attract candidates from the dwindling number of unemployed.

    The data ... now signal unambiguously that the labor market is unable to supply the people companies need.

    The surge in openings may also be a sign that employers are having difficulty finding workers with the skills they need. That would leave jobs open for longer periods and boost the number of positions available.

    "The data ... now signal unambiguously that the labor market is unable to supply the people companies need," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note to clients. "Usually, that means wages will accelerate, though the evidence for that now is mixed."

    In the past 12 months, average hourly pay has increased just 2.2 percent, up from a 2 percent pace in July. But that is below the 3.5 percent to 4 percent that is typical in a healthy economy.

    The figures come after last Friday's jobs report pointed to steady, if modest, hiring. Employers added 173,000 jobs in August, the fewest in five months, but job gains in June and July were revised higher.

    As a result, in the three months from May through August, job gains averaged a solid 221,000 a month, up from an average of 189,000 in the preceding three months.

    The unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent, the lowest in seven years, from 5.3 percent. Still, a broader measure that includes those looking for work, people working part-time but who would prefer full-time jobs, and Americans who have stopped looking for jobs, stood at 10.3 percent.

    That suggests the job market isn't quite as healthy as the unemployment rate would indicate.

    The job gains reported by the government on Friday are a net total: Jobs gained minus jobs lost. The data reported Wednesday, in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, are more detailed. They calculate total hires, as well as quits and layoffs.

    Wednesday's JOLTS data contain figures for July, a month behind last week's jobs report.

     

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