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DailyFinance.com

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    Financial Markets Wall Street Federal Reserve
    Richard Drew/APCarrying big debts? You'll want to pay them down as soon as possible before credit card APRs rise.
    Credit card interest rates have largely been in a holding pattern for the past few years, but that's not going to last much longer, thanks to the Federal Reserve.

    Sometime in the next few months, we're going to see the nation's central bank raise a key lending rate. When that happens, your credit card's APR will go up shortly thereafter. The first time it goes up, it won't move much -- you might not even notice it, honestly. However, it's likely the Fed won't stop with just one rate increase, choosing instead to boost rates slowly, steadily over the course of months and years.

    While none of those individual increases will be huge, add them all up and they can have a significant impact on your credit card. The good news is that you have time to prepare your finances to handle these changes, and save yourself some money.

    Before jumping into that, we'll explain why this mysterious group of folks in Washington has so much sway over your credit card:
    • The vast majority of American credit cards are variable-rate credit cards, meaning that their APRs fluctuate.
    • Most variable credit card interest rates are tied to the prime rate. That means when the prime rate moves up or down, variable-rate credit card APRs will move up or down as well.
    • What makes the prime rate move? The prime rate moves when the Federal Reserve adjusts its key interest rate called the federal funds rate, which is the rate that banks use to lend to each other.
    • That means when the Fed raises or lowers the federal funds rate, the vast majority of American credit card APRs will rise or fall by the same amount.
    The federal funds rate hasn't increased since 2006, and it hasn't been lowered since December 2008. In order to help spark a floundering economy, the rate was slashed repeatedly in the midst of the Great Recession until it reached its current level -- a range of zero to 0.25 percent, the lowest ever -- but has been left alone since.

    It's only a matter of time before that changes. Here's what you should do to prepare:

    1. Get those balances down. As if you need more incentive to pay off your debts quickly, now you can add in the potential for higher interest rates. Again, the rates won't skyrocket your balances immediately, but over time, the increase will impact your bottom line if you're carrying big debts.

    Consider this:
    • Say you have a $5,000 balance on a card with a 15 percent APR (the typical APR for a new credit card these days). If you make a monthly payment of $150, you'll end up paying $1,508.52 in interest and taking 44 months to pay the balance in full.
    • Increase that APR to 15.25 percent APR -- as would happen with a small interest rate increase by the Fed -- and keep the other variables the same, you'll pay $1,544.74 in interest and pay it off in 44 months. That's an extra $36 over the life of the balance.
    • However, bump that rate up to 16 percent as the result of a series of increases over a year or so, and suddenly you're up to $1,656.82 in interest and a 45-month payoff period. That's an extra $150 in interest from the original calculation.
    Of course, shrinking your balance is often easier said than done, but small moves can make an impact. Try to free up cash to increase your monthly payments. Reduce some unnecessary expenses. Sell something of value that you no longer use. It doesn't take much to make a real impact, and once you see those balances falling, all your sacrifices will be worth it.

    2. Consider a balance transfer credit card. Zero percent balance transfer offers are everywhere these days. However, many people think these offers could become an endangered species once the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

    Here's why: Since the federal funds rate is at basically zero, that means banks essentially are borrowing money for free -- getting a zero percent loan. Because the banks are getting a free loan, it can make financial sense for them to offer the same deal to cardholders on a short-term basis. All that will come to an end when the Fed begins to raise its rates. If the banks aren't able to borrow for free anymore, they likely won't let you do it either.

    Therefore, if you're thinking of getting a new balance transfer credit card, now is probably the time. These zero percent offers may become a thing of the past. Or if the banks don't eliminate the zero percent offers altogether, they might make you pay more to get them. For example, they could raise their balance transfer fees from an average of about 3 percent up to 4 or 5 percent, making that great balance transfer offer instantly less appealing.

    3. Ask for a reduced interest rate. People don't realize how much power they have in their relationship with their credit card issuer. A July CreditCards.com survey of 1,497 adults showed that 65 percent of people who requested a lower interest rate from their issuer were successful. Unfortunately, only 23 percent of cardholders asked. That means a lot of people are paying a lot of extra interest unnecessarily.

    Even a reduction of a few percentage points can save you hundreds of dollars in interest over the long term, so ask away. It'll probably help if you have good credit, but even if your credit isn't spotless, it's worth giving it a try. Just don't try too often: The creditor probably will be receptive the first time you ask, but less so if you're asking for the fourth time in six months.

    4. Stay calm. The Federal Reserve's process of raising rates is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint. You should have plenty of time to prepare yourself for what's ahead before you start to feel any big impact. And that's important because people tend to make far better decisions when they can take their time rather than when they feel rushed and pressured.

    Matt Schulz is the senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, a site dedicated to helping people make smart decisions about obtaining and using credit. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewschulz.

     

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    man in supermarket
    Shutterstock
    By Andrea Lynn

    Not everyone was born a coupon clipper. But there are numerous ways to net supermarket savings without going the coupon route. With these 20 tips, shoppers can save on grocery staples, either by capitalizing on store pricing policies or by bypassing the supermarket altogether for certain items.

    Shop the Dollar Store. Remember to put dollar stores into the rotation for pantry staples. A recent Cheapism.com investigation found a basket of items, including aluminum foil, cereal, dish soap, sugar and spices, priced lower at the dollar store than at Walmart. While the dollar store doesn't naturally come to mind for groceries, shoppers will find deals on packaged goods such as oatmeal and pancake mix.

    Choose Budget-Priced Olive Oil. Taste-offs staged by food-centric media outlets as well as Cheapism.com have put supermarket olive oils to the test. Trader Joe's Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($5.99 for 33.8 ounces) emerged victorious in a couple of these competitions. Goya Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($3.99 for 250 milliliters) also earned its stripes as the best cheap olive oil in Cheapism's taste test and a top thrifty pick elsewhere.

    Freeze Staples. The freezer can be a thrifty consumer's best friend. Keep an eye out for buy-one-get-one-free deals and other discounts and stock up at the supermarket bakery, in the dairy aisle, in the refrigerator case, and even in the produce department. Freeze the extra and thaw when needed. Bread and blueberries stay fresh in a deep-freeze state for up to one year, milk for three months, butter for six, and fresh orange juice for four.

    Find Cheaper Baking Ingredients. Buying generic or store-brand flour, sugar and baking soda, as chefs often do, is a sure way to save money. Many supermarkets charge upward of $10 for vanilla extract but sell vanilla flavoring for a dollar or two, and experts at Cook's Illustrated detected no difference in taste in sampled baked goods.

    Ditch Fresh Produce for Frozen. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that the average American tosses out 20 pounds of food a month, including large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce is nutritionally satisfying and certainly looks good, and in season it can be a bargain. But opting for frozen fruits and vegetables saves consumers year-round. Frozen produce lasts far longer and often costs less up front (e.g., an ear of fresh corn costs at least 25 cents while a 10.8-ounce bag of frozen kernels costs $1 or so).

    Buy Milk at Convenience Stores. Shop around for the best bargain when it comes to milk. Convenience stores and drugstores may charge 30 to 50 cents less than grocery stores for a gallon of milk, according to a tip from Reader's Digest. These stores lure shoppers with low prices on staples in hopes they'll stick around and buy more items with higher margins.

    Catch Frozen Seafood. That same seafood labeled "previously frozen" at the seafood counter is often available for far less in the freezer aisle. Allowing a little extra time to thaw the fish at home before cooking could net big savings.

    Purchase Cereal in Early Fall. AllYou magazine points out that cereal companies offer coupons and promotions in the fall (primarily September and October) to accompany the start of the school year. Take advantage of the offerings and buy multiple boxes. Check the expiration dates when purchasing, although unopened packages should stay fresh for many months.

    Cut a Whole Bird. A whole chicken is a cheaper cut of meat than precut poultry portions. Net savings of about $1 a pound by doing the carving yourself. Rusty on butchering techniques? Grab a good knife and check YouTube for lessons.

    Look Up. Expensive name-brand items are usually stocked at eye-level on grocery store shelves. Survey the whole scene, looking up and down for the less-obvious cheaper options.

    Stockpile Meat and Seafood. Buying meat, seafood, and poultry during a sale and freezing it for later use could yield hundreds of dollars in savings over the course of a year. Another tip for saving on animal protein staples: Ask the store butcher when perishables nearing their expiration date are "reduced for quick sale."

    Shop the Deli Counter. A study by ShopSmart magazine found that meat sliced straight from the deli counter was 31 percent cheaper than commercially packaged versions of the same product. This applies to cheese, as well; prepackaged Alpine Lace Swiss cheese cost $15.99 a pound compared with the same brand for $10.99 a pound at the deli counter.

    Compare Unit Prices. Sometimes packaging makes it hard to spot a bargain. For many pantry staples, the best deal comes in larger sizes; a 15-ounce jar of Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise might cost $3 or so while the 30-ounce size might cost less than $1 more. That's not always the case, though. Be sure to check unit prices before deciding which size to buy.

    Stock Up During Holiday Sales. Look for promotional prices on items associated with a particular holiday or season. Ground beef, hot dogs, chicken, soda, chips, beer and paper goods go on sale around Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day. Thanksgiving brings discounts on stuffing, turkey, frozen pies and baking items. Steaks are discounted for Father's Day and Valentine's Day. Nonperishables, such as canned goods and oatmeal, are at their lowest prices during the winter.

    Use a Cash-Back App. Apps such as Snap, Shrink and Shopmium award cash back for specific purchases. Some ask for scanned grocery receipts or a product's barcode -- both relatively quick and painless processes. Better yet, combine these incentives with in-store coupons for more savings.

    Skip the Plastic-Wrapped Meat. Some grocery store butchers will trim and cut a large piece of meat at no charge. If this service is available, avoid the custom shrink-wrapped cuts. A chuck roast can be transformed into cubes for stew, for example, and a flank steak can become the star of a stir-fry.

    Beware of Produce Aisle Pitfalls. Don't pay extra for the grocery store to perform simple food prep chores. Opt for vegetables in their natural state rather than washed and cut. A head of romaine lettuce, for example, might cost less than half the price per pound of separated leaves packaged in plastic. A single lemon or pepper might be cheaper than the unit cost of a multipack. Whip out a calculator to make sure buying in bulk is really a bargain when it comes to produce.

    Ask About Incentives. Don't be shy about asking supermarket employees for free perks that might be available -- tenderizing meat at the butcher counter, for example, or adding extra greenery at no cost in the floral department.

    Cut Your Own Filet Mignon. Every whole T-bone steak contains a small filet mignon on one side of the bone and a New York strip on the opposite side. Grab a T-bone at the grocery store and butcher it at home. This little trick can yield savings of $3 to $5 a pound for filet mignon.

    Prepare Food at Home. Oftentimes it's more cost effective to stick with homemade, especially for products such as salad dressing, cold-brewed coffee, hummus, salsa and granola. For example, a 15.5-ounce can of chickpeas -- the primary ingredient in hummus -- costs about 72 cents. Add a small amount of lemon juice, garlic and olive oil, and compare the total outlay against a 17-ounce container of hummus that sells for about $4.

     

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    Elderly couple receiving financial consultation
    Getty Images
    By Jennifer Liu

    So you consider yourself a planner, do you? You may have your annual checkups booked through December, funds set aside for that European trip next summer, and a family calendar color-coded to the T.

    But getting your estate plans settled? Not so much.

    Tasks like creating a will or naming guardians have a tendency to fall off the to-do list for many of us -- even the most organized. New survey results from Everplans confirm it: while 69 percent say they've seriously considered drafting a will, just 34 percent have actually done so.

    More than 1 in 4 people who say they're in charge of handling estate plans admit they're not doing a good job of preparing for the unexpected. And among those not in charge, half feel it'd be a struggle to get all the necessary documents together.

    Even fewer people are broaching the topic of eldercare arrangements; only one in four have a solid plan in place.

    Despite this reluctance to take action, 87 percent of parents say it's important to discuss estate matters with their children.

    So what's holding them back?

    Turns out, it's not necessarily because discussing end-of-life plans is a taboo topic -- only 18 percent avoid the discussion because it's too depressing.

    Instead, a lack of financial know-how seems to be the main culprit. A whopping 95 percent agree that services and access to information about creating estate plans would help them take action.

    Looking for some such guidance? Before a heart-to-heart with your parents, read up on how best to approach five eldercare questions everyone should ask.

     

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    Earns Whole Foods
    Julie Jacobson/AP
    By Damian Davila

    When it rains, it pours.

    Not only is Whole Foods losing ground to other major grocery chains with cheaper organic and socially conscious offerings, but Whole Foods has also been slammed twice (first by California authorities and then by New York authorities) for overcharging its customers.

    The CEOs of Whole Foods Market (WFM) have admitted that some of their stores overcharged their customers in New York City and California for certain items. So to help you avoid spending your "Whole Paycheck," here are seven of the most outrageously expensive Whole Foods products to be wary of next time you're strolling their aisles.

    1. Chicken Tenders. You may be thinking, "Come on, good ol' chicken tenders are neither exotic nor fancy. How can they be that expensive at Whole Foods?" And at $9.99 a pound of chicken tenders, this Whole Food product may seem harmless.

    However, an investigation of the Department of Consumer Affairs in New York City found that customers were overcharged by $4.13, on average. From its sample, one package of chicken tenders was overpriced by $4.85. Now that's some expensive "air!"

    2. Air Plants. Air can be very expensive indeed at Whole Foods. Take for example, these air plants that cost $69.99 each at their store in Atlanta, Georgia. The main selling point of these southeast succulents is that they are grown locally. However, you could find similar local plants at a nearby Pike Nursery for just a few dollars.

    3. Morel Mushrooms. Let's talk about the Cadillac of mushrooms. Morel mushrooms command a premium because they are hard to cultivate (only grow on decaying organic material, mostly in forests after a fire), to pick (some states require a permit to pick morel mushrooms in national forests), and to distribute (very perishable).

    There are premiums and there is the Whole Foods premium. Depending on type of morel mushroom, availability, location, and quality, you could expect to pay between $249.99 a pound and $421.99 a pound of morel mushrooms at Whole Foods. For example, this cook found morel mushrooms at $320 a pound at Whole Foods Del Mar in San Diego.

    4. Emu Eggs. If you think that the most expensive type of egg that you can you find at Whole Foods is the one laid by a free-range chicken that has access to a pasture environment, eats organic feed, receives a diet supplement with omega-3 essential fatty acids, and is raised with roosters ... then you haven't heard of emu eggs.

    Local emu eggs to be more exact. Shoppers have spotted these green, prehistoric-looking eggs at Whole Foods starting at $29.99 a unit and reaching $34.99 a unit.

    5. Saffron. At $65 for the highest quality crop, saffron can demand a higher price than that for gold. Some Iranian saffron producers report prices of $2,000 a kilo (roughly 2.2 pounds).

    At some Whole Foods stores, you can find this expensive spice at $3,196 a pound. This means that $7.99 would get you only 0.0025 pounds of saffron.

    6. Anything With Kale. People often taunt Whole Foods about its ridiculous products. The most cited example is anything that is born out of the kale craze. While fresh kale has an average retail price of $2.81 a pound, anything kale-ified at Whole Foods gets a hefty premium.

    Here are some examples of Kale-steins that are 100 percent real: 7. Asparagus Water. A cartoon about a probiotic asparagus at $17.99 a bunch may have been too prophetic. In a true case of life imitating art, a Whole Foods store in California recently came up with "asparagus water" (three stalks of asparagus in a bottle of water) and decided to charge $5.99 for a 16-ounce bottle.

    People on social media were quick to call out Whole Foods about this outrageous idea, and a spokesperson explained that the product was made incorrectly and has since been pulled from shelves.

    Now to be fair: certain foods are actually cheaper at Whole Foods. Just make sure you're not washing them down with asparagus water.

    What outrageously priced products from Whole Foods have you spotted?

     

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    General meeting of AUDI AG in Neckarsulm.
    Ulrich Baumgarten/Getty ImagesVolkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn
    By Andreas Cremer

    BERLIN -- Volkswagen (VLKAY) said a scandal over falsified U.S. vehicle emission tests could affect 11 million of its cars worldwide as investigations of its diesel models multiplied, heaping fresh pressure on CEO Martin Winterkorn.

    Volkswagen has brought forward a meeting of senior supervisory board members to Tuesday evening from Wednesday, with Winterkorn's future on the line, a German newspaper reported, citing board sources.

    The report, in the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung followed an earlier story in the Tagesspiegel newspaper saying the board would replace 68-year-old Winterkorn with Matthias Mueller, the head of the automaker's Porsche sports car business.

    A Volkswagen spokesman denied the Tagesspiegel report. Winterkorn didn't mention his future in a video message posted on the company's website in which he repeated his apology for the scandal.

    But a key Winterkorn ally withheld public support for the chief executive.

    "I don't want to preempt the upcoming intense deliberations and will not comment on details or any consequences," Stephan Weil, head of the German state of Lower Saxony, told reporters in Hanover when asked about Winterkorn's future.

    Weil, a supervisory board member representing Volkswagen's second-largest shareholder, earlier this year helped Winterkorn fend off a challenge to his leadership by long-time chairman Ferdinand Piech and earlier this month backed the CEO's contract extension.

    Shares in the world's biggest carmaker by sales plunged almost 20 percent Monday after it admitted using software that deceived U.S. regulators measuring toxic emissions in some of its diesel cars.

    The stock tumbled another 20 percent to a four-year low Tuesday after some countries in Europe and Asia said they would launch investigations themselves. Preference shares were down 19.7 percent at 106.1 euros at 1500 GMT.

    At the lowest point, the declines in the preference and ordinary shares wiped more than $30 billion off the company's market value.

    Volkswagen said it would set aside 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in its third-quarter accounts to help cover the costs of the biggest scandal in its 78-year-history, blowing a hole in analysts' profit forecasts.

    It also warned that amount could rise, saying diesel cars with so-called Type EA 189 engines built into about 11 million Volkswagen models worldwide had shown a "noticeable deviation" in emission levels between testing and road use.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that Volkswagen could face penalties of up to $18 billion for cheating emissions tests. The carmaker also faces lawsuits and damage to its reputation that could hit sales, and media reports have said the U.S. Department of Justice has opened a criminal inquiry into the matter.

    In addition, New York and other state attorneys general are forming a group to probe the scandal, a spokesman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

    The probe would focus on potential violations of environmental and consumer fraud laws, the spokesman said.

    'Complete Transparency'

    The crisis has also sent shockwaves through Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel calling for "complete transparency" from a company long seen as a symbol of the country's engineering excellence.

    Winterkorn was due to have his contract extended at a supervisory board meeting Friday but is now facing questions over how the scandal came about.

    Volkswagen, which for several years has been airing U.S. TV commercials lauding its "clean diesel" cars, was challenged by authorities as far back as 2014 over tests showing emissions exceeded California state and U.S. federal limits.

    The company attributed the excess emissions to "various technical issues" and "unexpected" real-world conditions. It wasn't until the EPA and the California Air Resources Board threatened to withhold certification for its 2016 diesel models that Volkswagen in early September admitted its wrongdoing.

    "Winterkorn either knew of proceedings in the U.S. or it was not reported to him," Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst said. "In the first instance, he must step down immediately. In the second, one needs to ask why such a far-reaching violation was not reported to the top and then things will get tough too."

    Porsche's Mueller was promoted to Volkswagen's executive board on March 1 and was previously its head product strategist. As a management board member of family-owned Porsche SE , he is also close to the Porsche-Piech clan that has a controlling stake in Volkswagen.

    'Totally Screwed Up'

    Winterkorn has built Volkswagen into one of the world's top-selling brands since he took the helm in 2007, with brands ranging from budget Seats and Skodas to premium Audis and top-end Lamborghinis.

    But he has also faced criticism for a centralized management style which some analysts say has hampered the company's efforts to address long-standing underperformance in North America.

    Workers in Wolfsburg, where Volkswagen employs over 50,000 people, were dismayed by the damage to the company's image. "If Winterkorn knew of the manipulation, then he must go," said one staffer who works in human resources at the plant.

    Late Monday, Volkswagen's U.S. chief Michael Horn said the company had "totally screwed up" and promised to make amends.

    There have been no suggestions so far that other carmakers have engaged in the same practices as Volkswagen. Germany's BMW and Daimler have said the accusations against Volkswagen did not apply to them.

    Contagion

    But shares in those companies as well as rivals including Peugeot, Renault and Fiat Chrysler fell Tuesday amid signs regulators across the world will step up scrutiny of vehicle tests, which environmentalists have long criticized for exaggerating fuel-saving and emissions results.

    The EPA said Monday it would widen its investigation to other automakers, and French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Tuesday an EU-wide inquiry was needed too.

    Germany's Transport Ministry said it would send an investigative commission to study whether cars built at Volkswagen's headquarters complied with German and European emissions guidelines. Italy asked VW to prove the cars sold in that country do not contain the "defeat devices" at the center of the scandal, while Switzerland also said it would investigate Volkswagen's diesel vehicle emissions tests.

    The European Commission said it was in contact with Volkswagen and U.S. authorities, and it was premature to say whether specific checks on the carmaker's vehicles were needed.

    In Asia, South Korea's environment ministry said it would investigate 4,000 to 5,000 of Volkswagen's Jetta, Golf and Audi A3 vehicles produced in 2014 and 2015, and it could expand its probe to all German diesel cars if it found problems.


    Volkswagen Apologies Pile Up

     

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    petersburg illinois march 5 ...
    Shutterstock
    Which is the best canned tuna? Chicken of the Sea, you say? For the next two months, at least, you might want to rethink that answer.

    You see, class action litigation "settlement administration" firm Kurtzman Carson Consultants has recently begun alerting consumers of StarKist tuna to the settlement of a lawsuit against StarKist. It seems that from Feb.19, 2009 through Oct. 31, 2014, at least, the Korean-owned company that describes itself as the marketer of "America's favorite tuna" may have sold Americans a bit less tuna than was supposed to be contained in their 5-ounce cans.

    According to a lawsuit filed in California back in February 2013, and since updated, StarKist "under-filled certain 5-ounce canned tuna products in violation of state and federal law." StarKist denies it did anything of the sort. But to make the lawsuit go away, StarKist has agreed to settle the plaintiffs' claims with the following proposition:

    The Offer

    StarKist will contribute $8 million in cash and $4 million in vouchers "redeemable for StarKist tuna products" into a settlement fund. Anyone who is willing to swear that they bought at least one can of StarKist tuna at any time between Feb. 19, 2009 through Oct. 31, 2014, can join the "class" of plaintiffs participating in this lawsuit-cum-settlement. As a member of that class, they will be entitled to claim from StarKist either:
    • a cash payment of $25, or
    • $50 in product vouchers redeemable for StarKist tuna products.
    No proof of purchase need be produced. And it doesn't matter how much tuna you actually bought. All you need to do is state, under penalty of perjury, that within the dates mentioned above, you bought a (supposedly) 5-ounce can of StarKist:
    • Chunk light tuna in water,
    • Chunk light tuna in oil,
    • Solid white tuna in water, or
    • Solid white tuna in oil.
    Voila. Do not pass "Go." Do collect $25 (or $50 worth of fish).

    Catch of the Day

    So what's the catch, you ask? Well, there are a few, but they're pretty small fry. First of all, to fish in this particular class action lawsuit, you must fill out a claim form detailing why you qualify to join the class and claiming your part of the settlement.

    Second, you should hope that not too many of your friends and relations do the same thing. Because StarKist is only putting $12 million in this kitty. If more than 240,000 people try to sign up, then there's a chance the settlement will have to be divvied up "pro rata." (Essentially, this means that the more people sign up, the less compensation each individual plaintiff will receive.)

    Also, if you're really ticked off about the too-little-tuna issue, to the extent that $50 worth of free fish won't assuage your hurt, you need to specifically ask to be excluded from the class of plaintiffs. Because once StarKist has paid out its $12 million -- that's it. Anyone who hasn't notified the court that they intend to sue StarKist separately will be legally forbidden from suing.

    Oh, and the final catch? The real "catch of the day"? If $25 or $50 seems like a lot of compensation for getting a few ounces less tuna than you had bargained for, sit yourself down and prepare to hear how much the lawyers are asking to be paid on this lawsuit: As much as $4 million in legal fees.

    That's the real whopper.

    Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith loves tuna and if given his druthers will opt for the $50-worth-of-free-tuna settlement. He has no (other) financial interest in any company named above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Governors Meeting
    Steve Helber/APSecretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell
    WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration says it's getting harder to sign up those remaining uninsured under the president's health care law.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Tuesday has given three reasons why the 2016 sign-up season will be a bigger challenge: The most eager customers have already signed up; many of the remaining uninsured are young adults who may not see the value of coverage and those who remain are juggling tight household budgets.

    Burwell says an estimated 10.5 million Americans who remain uninsured are eligible for subsidized private health insurance through HealthCare.gov and state-run insurance markets.

    Open enrollment starts Nov. 1. The administration is focusing on five major metro areas: Dallas, Houston, Northern New Jersey, Chicago and Miami.

    The law already has driven down the uninsured rate.

     

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    Don't Be Fooled by Sneaky Retail Tactics
    After years of research, retailers have invented many tricks of the trade to get as much of your money as possible. Here are a few ways you can hang on to your savings without getting duped.

    First, while you're shopping, don't always follow your nose. Many retailers actually spray pleasant fragrances that are engineered to make you buy more. As it turns out, the smell of leather and cedar convinces us to buy luxury furniture, while citrus encourages us to browse longer and spend more. Instead, shop on a full stomach. This will serve as a barrier between your wallet and your nose.

    Next, take a closer look at sales, because some deals aren't always steals. At the supermarket, for instance, you may see a sign that says "10 boxes of pasta for $10," but what many consumers don't realize is that this is just another way of advertising 1 box for $1, and that they don't have to buy all ten boxes to qualify.

    Finally, if you've ever gotten lost in a store and couldn't find your way out, that might not be an accident. Retailers will re-arrange store layouts and intentionally locate crucial things like changing rooms towards the back of the shop. This way, you'll spend more time in the store, looking at items you didn't plan to shop for. Next time, just get in, get what you need and get out. If you can't find what you're looking for, ask an associate.

    When you go to the store, remember these tips. You'll find that you can outsmart the retailers, and spend wisely, too.

    View Poll

     

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    Stocks Close Down Day After Federal Reserve Leaves interest Rate Unchanged
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell Tuesday as a sell-off in commodities dragged down materials shares and Volkswagen suppliers' shares dropped following the German carmaker's emissions scandal.

    S&P materials, down 1.8 percent, led the decline for the S&P 500, but the sell-off was broad-based, with all 10 major sectors lower.

    More worries about slower growth in China pushed commodities to two-week lows, with copper prices and industrial metals leading losses. U.S. crude oil also settled lower.

    Shares of Volkswagen suppliers BorgWarner, Honeywell and Delphi Automotive fell after the German carmaker admitted cheating on vehicle emission tests. BorgWarner (BWA) shares were down 7.6 percent at $39.37, while Honeywell (HON) fell 1.7 percent to $96.04 and Delphi (DLPH) lost 3.6 percent to $74.44.

    Biotech stocks fell for a second day after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she would propose a $250 monthly cap on prescription drugs. The Nasdaq Biotech Index was down 1.7 percent.

    "It's China. It's the Fed. It's slowing global growth. The news on Volkswagen is overhanging the auto industry. There is a bit of a bubble in the health care area," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 179.72 points, or 1.1 percent, to 16,330.47, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 24.23 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,942.74 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 72.23 points, or 1.5 percent, to 4,756.72.

    Volatile Market

    The Fed's decision last week to keep rates near zero has left investors guessing when the central bank will make its big move, increasing volatility in the market.

    Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said Monday a rate hike later this year was still possible. Lockhart is scheduled to speak again later Tuesday. Fed Chair Janet Yellen speaks Thursday.

    The CBOE Volatility index, Wall Street's fear gauge, jumped 11.4 percent to 22.44, above its long-term average of 20.

    Goldman Sachs (GS) fell 1.9 percent to $179.83 and was the biggest drag on the Dow after Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein said he had a "highly curable" form of lymphoma.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,442 to 623, for a 3.92-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 2,171 issues fell and 636 advanced for a 3.41-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted one new 52-week high and 35 lows; the Nasdaq recorded 16 new highs and 118 lows. About 7.3 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the roughly 8.3 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting from Bangalore.

     

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    By Mikey Rox

    When it comes to managing your money, there's a piece of the puzzle that some don't consider: If you're determined to improve your personal finances, you can start by boosting your level of confidence. You might be thinking one has nothing to do with the other, but low confidence can stand in the way of financial success.

    Here's how boosting your confidence can also boost your pocketbook.

    1. You're Not Afraid to Ask for What You Want

    About 10 years ago, I had a friend who had recently graduated college and found his first "real job." He became frustrated with the pay after only six months and felt he deserved more because he finished college with a high GPA and had prior experience through internships. He told me that he was going to walk into his employer's office Monday morning and ask for a $15,000 a year raise -- "negotiable, of course" (which got the side-eye from me) -- but wouldn't take anything less than $10,000.

    We looked at him like he was crazy. He was only 24 years old and fresh out of college. We told the dummy to slow his roll -- because that's what friends do. Let me rephrase that -- that's what negative, house-poor friends do.

    He didn't listen to us, and that's a good thing, because he got exactly what he wanted -- a higher salary and a better position. I don't remember what he said to his boss, but I learned a valuable lesson that day: Don't be afraid to go after what you want, and don't listen to naysayers. If he had listened to us, who knows how long it would've taken him to move up in the company.

    The point: Lack of confidence can cause you to doubt your abilities. And when there's doubt, you might miss opportunities that can result in a higher salary. A confident person, on the other hand, believes in himself. He's not afraid to ask for what he wants and deserves. From a financial standpoint, confidence gives you the strength to negotiate your salary and get paid your worth.

    Just imagine what you could do with an increase in income. You could stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, open a retirement account, or finally put a dent in your credit card debt. And you'd also pick up the tab for your idiot, low-paid friends the next time you go out. That goes without saying, of course.

    2. You'll Appear More Competent to Employers

    Even if you don't ask your employer for more money, she might notice your confidence and feel you're the right fit for a challenging position when she's ready to offer promotions.

    Employers don't only look for people who have a particular skill set or level of experience. They also assess an employee's boldness, poise, and assertiveness. Being confident can get you to the top faster than someone who's unsure or second-guesses himself. This is especially true for women, who tend to demonstrate less confidence in the workplace, suggest Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of "The Confidence Code."

    If your employer thinks you lack confidence, he might unfairly conclude that you're not ready for certain responsibilities. And when you're constantly passed over for promotions, you might stay stuck at the same pay grade living paycheck-to-paycheck for much longer than you'd like.

    3. You Don't Have Anything to Prove

    It's sad, but some people will risk serious debt just to prove they can maintain the same lifestyle as their friends. I understand not wanting to be left behind when your friends eat at nice restaurants or take exotic vacations together. But under no circumstances should you get into major debt or end up flat broke from supporting a lifestyle you can't afford.

    It all goes back to confidence. A confident person isn't going to sacrifice their financial wellbeing so they can rub elbows or kick it with the Joneses. They don't get in over their heads financing expensive cars or houses, and they certainly don't rack up credit card debt to give the appearance that they're doing better than they actually are.

    Confident people know that financial success isn't about material possessions, but rather how well they manage their money. Someone can earn a lot and be broke, whereas someone who earns far less can have a bigger bank account. When you're a confident person and have absolutely nothing to prove, you're more apt to keep your personal expenses low and enjoy more disposable income. Thus it becomes easier to save a three to six-month cash cushion, and you're able to reach other financial goals, such as paying off credit card debt, saving for a kid's education, or making home improvements that can boost your property value.

    Life is better -- and cheaper -- when you're not trying to be someone you're not.

    Are there other ways you think confidence can improve your finances? Let us know in the comments below.

     

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    By Ashley Redmond

    Even those who have committed to a budget find the process difficult. One in 5 Americans say their biggest financial challenge is sticking to a budget, according to GOBankingRates 2015 Life + Money Survey.

    But budgeting doesn't have to be scary. There are numerous ways to make a friendly budget that caters to your individual needs.

    And the payoff is worth the effort. The Life + Money Survey found that one in five Americans named always living paycheck-to-paycheck as their biggest financial fear. Budgeting can give you the financial discipline to save enough money to keep such fears at bay.

    Following are 10 ways to take the fear out of creating a monthly budget.

    1. Visualize Yourself Reaching the Goal

    Close your eyes. Picture yourself walking around and smiling because all of your debt is paid off. Your credit card is in your wallet and it has a zero balance. You know how much money is in your checking account, and you even have some money in your savings account.

    How amazing does that feel? Jim Afremow, a sports psychology specialist for Arizona State University, calls this technique "visualize to actualize."

    Visualizing helps turn your ideal image into reality. Use this technique as motivation to propel you toward your financial goal.

    2. Set Small Financial Goals

    By making financial goals smaller, they automatically become more attainable. For example, a small goal could be starting an emergency fund, paying down your credit card or saving for a down payment.

    In fact, according to Forbes, research has shown that setting overly ambitious goals is a surefire way of not doing what you set out to do.

    Keep in mind that financial goals vary by generation. For example, GOBankingRates Life + Money Survey found that older millennials (ages 25 to 34) are more concerned with saving for a home than any other age group.

    3. Share Your Financial Journey on Social Media

    Announce your financial goals on social media, whether it's via Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. Let the world know your budgeting plans and show them your progress.

    This will help keep you accountable. Paula Pant writes in U.S. News & World Report's The Frugal Shopper blog that public accountability is a great tool for keeping you on your game. Plus, it doesn't seem like bragging if you share both the frustrations and the victories.

    You may even want to consider starting your own blog. This may be beneficial because there's a strong community of supportive bloggers focused on budgeting.

    4. Track Your Spending

    If you are new to budgeting, start by tracking your spending, said Brittney Castro, founder and CEO of Financially Wise Women.

    "You need to track your income and expenses to get a solid idea of where you are spending your money," she said. "Try tracking this for a three-month period because some months are anomalies and you just need the average."

    When tracking, focus on two main areas: How much money is coming into the household every month, and how much is going out.

    At GetRichSlowly, Holly Johnson stresses the importance of being honest with yourself. If you are shocked by some results, try and remember that the goal is to improve your financial life. Embrace it.

    5. Use 50/20/30

    Once you have tracked your expenses, Castro says you should see how they measure up to a 50/20/30 guideline. She says your spending should be divided up as follows:
    • Fixed expenses (mortgage, rent, insurance): 50 percent
    • Fun (dining out, Jay-Z concert -- anything you want): 30 percent
    • Financial obligations (extra debt payment, emergency cash and retirement): 20 percent
    "When comparing your expenses against the 50/20/30 ask yourself, 'Where do I fall?' And, 'Where should I focus my attention?'" said Castro.

    6. Get the Whole Family Involved

    Teach everybody in the family the basics about savings and living within their means.

    "You may not necessarily want them involved in all conversations, but it's important to give them the broad scope of the family household budget," said Castro.

    7. Download Budgeting Apps

    Castro said most of the available budgeting apps are pretty good.

    "You just have to find one that works for you and stick with it," she said.

    Examples of budgeting apps include:
    • Pageonce Money and Bills
    • Mint.com
    • Expensify
    • BlackGold
    Castro urges you to remember that downloading an app is the beginning of the process, not the end.

    "Just because you download the app doesn't mean you'll stick to your budget," she says.

    Whatever app you choose, make sure you follow the budget that you implement.

    8. Make a Money Date

    A money date is a predetermined time when you review your budget. Castro suggests making a habit of a weekly one-hour review.

    "Most people say I will do my budget tomorrow or maybe next week, but if you set a weekly money date it becomes more bite-sized," said Castro.

    9. Get Familiar With Free Activities

    Remember when you were little and the best activities were free? Well, going to the beach or hanging out in a park all day still doesn't cost you.

    Google free activities in your city or town. A quick Web search may yield some surprising results.

    One example: The Art Institute of Chicago is free for Illinois residents Thursday evenings from 5-8 p.m. And kids under 14 always get in free.

    Figure out what activities are free in your city and mark down those that interest you, or your family and friends.

    10. Accept That Failure is OK

    Sometimes, you have to be bad at something before you get better at it. You may not hit your budgeting goals the first time around.

    Failure can be merely a step in the process of creating success.

    Turn your failure into improvement. Think of the places where you mess up on your budget as signs pointing to opportunities to improve.

    This story, 10 Ways to Take the Fear Out of Budgeting, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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  • 09/22/15--22:00: Mutual Funds Fit for a Pope
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    Cuba Pope
    Tony Gentile/Pool via AP
    By Nellie S. Huang

    It's safe to say that Pope Francis isn't worried about making money in the stock market. Not only does he live modestly, he also chose to be named after St. Francis of Assisi, who spurned the good life (he was the son of a rich merchant) to be an itinerant friar in Italy.

    And that's just as well because if the Pope wanted to make money, and he wanted to do so by investing in funds that follow the principles of the church, his options would be decidedly mediocre. Four firms, in fact, offer mutual funds that hew to Catholic values. The newest entrant to this Catholic subgroup of morally responsible-investment funds is SEI. But those funds, which launched in late April, are available only if you invest through an adviser.

    The other fund firms -- Ave Maria, Epiphany FFV and Luther King Capital Management Aquinas, sponsor of the LKCM funds -- offer a total of 11 funds, and anyone can invest in them. The problem: The records of most of these funds are ho-hum. Ave Maria is the biggest, with five funds (three U.S. stock funds, one foreign-stock fund and one bond fund) totaling $1.6 billion in assets. The funds follow screening criteria that are set by a seven-member advisory board, whose members include Larry Kudlow, of CNBC's "The Kudlow Report," Domino's founder Thomas Monaghan and conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. Among other things, the funds bar investment in companies that are involved in abortion or pornography.

    Ave Maria Rising Dividend (AVEDX) is the firm's biggest fund, with $770 million in assets. The fund favors firms with above-average earnings and dividend growth and a history of dividend increases. It holds just 45 stocks, and only three are health-care related: drug firm Abbott Laboratories (ABT) and medical device-makers Medtronic (MDT) and St. Jude Medical (STJ). The three represent 9 percent of the fund's assets, compared with health care's 16 percent weighting in Standard & Poor's 500 stock index (^GSPC).

    Rising Dividend weathered 2008 well, losing 23 percent while the S&P 500 plummeted 37 percent. That's one reason the fund's 10-year annualized return of 8.2 percent outpaces the S&P 500 by an average of 1.1 percentage point per year. But the fund's performance has been only so-so since (that same low exposure to health-care stocks is one reason). Over the past seven calendar years (including so far in 2015), Rising Dividend has lagged the typical fund in its category (funds that focus on large-company stocks with a blend of growth and value characteristics) in four years. Over the same period, the fund trailed its peer group by an average of 1.1 percentage point a year. (Unless otherwise indicated, returns are through Sept. 17.)

    Epiphany FFV (for Faith and Family Values) offers three funds: Epiphany FFV Strategic Income (EPIAX), an intermediate-term bond fund; Epiphany FFV (EPVNX), a large-company U.S. stock fund; and Epiphany FFV Latin America (ELAAX), which, not surprisingly, invests in Latin American stocks. All three normally charge a 5 percent load, but you can buy Epiphany FFV at Fidelity and Schwab with no transaction fee and no load.

    All of the funds invest in companies that pass the FFV scorecard test, which is a set of criteria based on the investment guidelines set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Unfortunately, none of the Epiphany funds is a winner. For starters, the funds charge above-average fees, with annual expenses of 1.25 percent for the bond fund, 1.5 percent for the U.S. stock fund and 1.75 percent for the Latin America fund.

    The Latin America fund is the best performer of the trio on a relative basis, but that's not saying much. This fund, which was launched in March 2012, has posted an annualized loss of 11.5 percent since inception. Pretty dismal, but it's better than the typical Latin America fund's 15.4 percent annualized loss over that period.

    LKCM Aquinas funds follow the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops investment guidelines, too. But like the Epiphany funds, the Aquinas funds also come with above-average annual fees. And their performance in recent years has been poor, relative to their peers.

    LKCM Aquinas Growth (AQEGX) and LKCM Aquinas Value (AQEIX), both large-company stock funds, have three-year annualized returns of 8 and 10.01 percent, respectively, placing them behind 99 and 84 percent of their peer groups. LKCM Aquinas Small Cap (AQBLX) doesn't fare much better; its three-year annualized return of 7.3 percent ranks among the bottom 96 in the category of funds that invest in small, growing companies.

    If your sole objective is to base your investments on Catholic principles, then consider some of the funds mentioned above, in particular Ave Maria Rising Dividend. But if performance and fees take precedence over faith when it comes to your portfolio, check out the Kip 25, a list of our favorite no-load mutual funds.

     

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    By Tom Sightings

    Last week the entire financial world was on tenterhooks, wondering whether or not Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve would dare to raise interest rates -- which are now at virtually zero percent -- by a quarter of a point. I turns out, they didn't. Interest rates are still at zero.

    For most of the last decade -- ever since 2007 -- the U.S. government, courtesy of the Federal Reserve, has been looking at interest rates through the wrong end of a telescope, watching them get smaller and smaller until they have all but disappeared. The result: Americans who are retired, and trying to supplement their Social Security benefits with some income from their savings, have been forced to take a huge pay cut.

    Interest rates for American savers are so low, they're even below our current low inflation rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation for 2015 is running about 1 percent, depending on what measure you use. (Inflation in energy is actually negative, but for health care it's over 2 percent.) If you want to keep your money safe and secure, and invest in a two-year U.S. Treasury bill, you will get paid less than 1 percent. So you're actually losing purchasing power. If you go to the bank to buy a certificate of deposit, or if you keep your savings in a money market mutual fund, you'll get virtually nothing. The going rate is less than a tenth of a percent.

    A little arithmetic will illustrate the point. If you've done a good job of saving money over the course of your career and you have $1 million in the bank, you will receive about $500 or $600 a month from a five-year CD. That's pretty paltry for a millionaire, and doesn't go very far in paying your bills. Plus, the $500 or $600 is subject to federal and state income taxes. So, you will likely get even less than that.

    The artificially low interest rates are especially punishing for retired people trying to supplement their income with interest from a bank or a bond fund. It also hurts seniors who might want to buy an annuity or get a reverse mortgage. One result is that senior citizens are deprived of income they need to live. Another result is many retirees have reached for more income by purchasing corporate bonds or dividend paying stocks. This strategy has worked, so far. But it exposes our elderly to the gyrations of the stock market, at a time in life when they can least afford to suffer a financial loss.

    Over 40 million retired people live on Social Security. Many, like me, rely on interest from their savings to supplement their standard of living. But over the past few years that income has been squeezed down to almost nothing.

    But it's not just seniors. Low interest rates punish anyone who is saving for the future. Trying to save money to build up equity to buy a house, send your child to college or prepare for retirement is a fool's game. The more you save, the more you lose.

    Of course, the low interest rate policy is a good deal for the federal government, which is borrowing money. It's also been a big help to the real estate industry and the auto industry, as well as banks and financial institutions. The artificially low interest rates have also helped people applying for a mortgage or a car loan -- although it doesn't help, as many young people have discovered, if you can't qualify for the loan. But for the 60-plus crowd, it's meant nothing but financial distress.

    So, perhaps the Fed has been helping out corporate America long enough. Maybe it's time to help out retirees for a change. How about raising interest rates so we can earn a little bit of income from our retirement savings? A lot of retired folks, if they got a little better yield on their CDs, would go right out and spend that money. I think they'd do a better job than the banks in stimulating the economy. Don't you?

    Tom Sightings blogs at Sightings at 60.

     

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    LAX Expected To Be Busiest US Airport During Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Period
    David McNew/Getty ImagesPassengers departing from some markets are paying less for airfare than they did a year ago.
    By Eric Reed

    NEW YORK -- Don't believe the hype. Airfare may be going down, but prices in the skies haven't caught up with those at the pump by a long shot.

    It's become an article of faith among many members of the media that airfares are falling thanks to inexpensive oil prices. Headlines like "Your Florida Vacation Just Got Cheaper" proclaim a new era in dirt-cheap travel and, taken at their word, suggest that the savvy shopper should buy tickets for their next vacation now, now, now while the deals last.

    And yes, it is both true that oil prices have plummeted over the past few years and that airfares have also ticked somewhat (but noticeably) down. Unfortunately, the rest of this narrative falls apart upon closer examination.

    The nose dive in oil has been a huge boon to drivers out there and, according to some economists, to the entire economy.

    Yet while drivers benefit immediately from any change in oil prices, it takes a long time for that to trickle down to airfare, and jet fuel is only one, minor component of ticket prices (although, perversely, one of the airline industry's biggest costs). In fact, according to airline industry journalist Brian Sumers, when it comes to airfares the price of fuel takes a back seat.

    We're seeing some compression in airfares, but mainly in pockets that are competitive.

    It's all about competition.

    "We're seeing some compression in airfares, but mainly in pockets that are competitive," Sumers said. "It's almost all market driven pricing. The price of fuel by itself doesn't lead airlines to lower their prices, but what happens is airlines can be a little more competitive when fuel is cheap, because they can go into a new market that they might not have gone into when fuel was more than $100 a barrel and stimulate the market a little bit." "One of the things that you're seeing is that bigger airlines are [right now] much more likely to match Spirit Airline pricing, so you're seeing $30, $40, $50 pricing for one way tickets," Sumers added.

    Sumers's competition analysis catches what many have mistaken for a market-wide response to fuel prices. Yes, airfare is down on average... but not everywhere, not all at once and not by nearly as much as fuel prices. Prices are falling where there is pressure pushing those prices down.

    For the rest of the country, airlines have already found what the market will bear.

    That's not to say the price of fuel has no impact or that prices haven't moved at all in uncompetitive markets. Fares are dropping nationwide, but it's important not to mistake a single factor (oil prices) as predominant in a market where prices have dropped consistently over the past 20 years.

    Instead, according to Sumers, tumbling fuel prices have allowed airlines more flexibility to reduce prices when they have to compete. As the slash-and-burn approach to costs employed by companies like Spirit Air has made them apex predators against legacy carriers like American and United, bottoming out fuel prices allows legacy carriers to "compress" their prices and stay competitive against the newcomers to the market.

    The airline industry is an oddly segmented beast, however. It's not as easy as strolling down the aisle and giving Delta a try just because it's on sale; some markets are considerably more closed off than others. Few airlines seriously try breaking into Atlanta, for example, Delta's stronghold for decades, and as a result, price wars there are far less likely.

    Cities like Los Angeles or Chicago on the other hand, according to Sumers, are anyone's game.

    For example, according to Department of Transportation data, from the first quarter of 2014 to the first quarter of 2015, average fares out of Chicago dropped about $25 a ticket. Flying out of Atlanta got more expensive by $22 a person.

    "It's not an industry that prices its fares based on how much it actually costs to get from point A to point B," Sumers said. "It prices its tickets based on how much it thinks its customers want to go from point A to point B."

    Which makes sense, particularly for an industry with such heavy investment in infrastructure. Tumbling fuel prices have given airlines a chance to cut costs and pass that along to the customers but only when the pressure's on to do so.

    What does this mean for saving money on tickets, especially with the holiday travel season coming up? Unfortunately for the average consumer not a whole lot. Travelers headed through New York or Chicago, or anyone who can convince dad to carve a turkey-topped deep dish this November, will save a bit of money. Travelers headed into locked markets will spend a little bit more.

    That's the signal, not to be confused with the noise of sliding airfares overall. Yes, oil prices are way down, and for many pieces of the economy (if not the environment), that's a good thing. But it's just one cost in a very complicated machine.

     

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    Volkswagen CEO Resigns: 'Stunned' by Misconduct

    By Andreas Cremer

    BERLIN -- Volkswagen Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn resigned Wednesday, succumbing to pressure for change at the German carmaker, which is reeling from the admission that it deceived U.S. regulators about how much its diesel cars pollute.

    Volkswagen needs a fresh start -- also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation.

    "Volkswagen needs a fresh start -- also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation," Winterkorn said, following a marathon meeting with the executive committee of the VW board.

    The world's biggest carmaker by sales has admitted to U.S. regulators that it programmed its cars to detect when they were being tested and alter the running of their diesel engines to conceal their true emissions.

    Volkswagen (VLKAY) didn't name a successor, but said proposals on management appointments would be made to a full board meeting Friday.

    Porsche chief Matthias Mueller, Audi chief Rupert Stadler and the head of the VW brand, Herbert Diess, are seen as the front-runners to replace Winterkorn, three people familiar with the matter said. Mueller is seen as the favorite among the three due to his years of experience within the group, two of the people said.

    Mueller, a former head product strategist, is also a management board member of Porsche SE, and so close to the Piech-Porsche family that controls Volkswagen.

    Winterkorn, who during his eight years in charge oversaw a doubling in Volkswagen's sales and an almost tripling in profit, said he was shocked that misconduct on such a massive scale had been possible at the company.

    The carmaker was under huge pressure to take decisive action, with its shares down more than 30 percent in value since the crisis broke.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel had urged Volkswagen to move "as quickly as possible" to restore confidence in a company held up for generations as a paragon of German engineering prowess.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that Volkswagen could face penalties of up to $18 billion.

    Since then the crisis has snowballed, with the U.S. Justice Department launching a criminal inquiry, according to a source familiar with the matter. European and Asian countries as well as Canada have also said they are investigating the matter.

    Senior members of Volkswagen's board said in a statement they expected more heads to roll as an internal investigation seeks to identify who was responsible for the wrongdoing.

    German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Winterkorn was taking responsibility for decisions made when he was at the helm of Audi, rather than Volkswagen.

    No Option

    Volkswagen said Tuesday about 11 million of its cars were fitted with Type EA 189 engines that had shown a "noticeable deviation" in emission levels between testing and road use.

    The company sold 10.1 million cars in the whole of 2014.

    The story has shocked the car market, with dealers in the United States reporting people holding back from buying diesel cars and "#dieselgate" trending on Twitter.

    "The magnitude of this scandal did not leave another option," said Metzler analyst Juergen Pieper of Winterkorn's departure.

    "Winterkorn did a good job and does not deserve to be sacrificed. But given the scale of the problem and that he was responsible for R&D, one has to swallow the pill if something goes wrong," he said.

    Winterkorn had also famously pledged to overtake Toyota Motor (TM) and General Motors (GM) as the world's largest automaker. But the quest for volume has now backfired for Volkswagen as it did with its top Japanese and U.S. rivals. Toyota ultimately acknowledged that it had dropped the ball on quality, contributing to alleged unintended acceleration of its cars. And GM, of course, went bankrupt.

    Volkswagen shares closed up 5.2 percent at 111.5 euros, after earlier touching a four-year low of 95.51. At the stock's lowest point, more than $30 billion had been wiped off the company's market value since the crisis began -- more than the combined equity values of rivals Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot.

    While Volkswagen said Tuesday it was setting aside 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) to help cover the costs of the crisis, analysts doubt that will be enough.

    Commerzbank's Sascha Gommel said if Volkswagen had to recall all 11 million affected cars, the cost of that alone could top 6 billion euros. And the company still faces likely regulatory fines, lawsuits, criminal investigations and a possible hit to sales from a damaged reputation.

    The new CEO will need to address Volkswagen's years of underperformance in the United States -- something which the company's "clean diesel" cars were supposed to help address.

    Some analysts have long called for Volkswagen to relax Winterkorn's highly centralized style of management, which they say made it slow to adapt to local conditions in markets such as the United States and delayed product launches.

    'Investor's Nightmare'

    Environmentalists have long complained that carmakers game the testing regime to exaggerate the fuel-efficiency and emissions readings of their vehicles. European politicians voted on Wednesday to speed up rules to tighten compliance with pollution limits on cars.

    European car association ACEA said that so far there was "no evidence that this is an industry-wide issue."

    But Deutsche Bank called the scandal an "investor's nightmare" and cut its recommendation on Volkswagen shares to "hold" from "buy," predicting rising costs for making diesel cars would wipe out its cost-cutting program.

    Traders said the plunge in Volkswagen shares had prompted some talk it could become a takeover target, with Fiat Chrysler openly looking for a partner, though there is no sign that VW's controlling Piech-Porsche clan is looking to sell.

    Diesel engines power less than 3 percent of new cars sold in the United States but around half of cars in Europe, where governments have encouraged their use to meet fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas targets.

    Their biggest selling point is fuel economy and low carbon emissions compared with standard gasoline engines. But they emit far more nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas blamed for health problems.

    The suggestion that their emissions are worse than reported in tests could harm the whole sector and alter the future of the car industry worldwide, though the head of Germany's VDA auto industry association warned against calling all diesel technology into question because of the crisis.

    "The Volkswagen issue is another black eye for the diesel engine overall," Mike Jackson, the chief executive of the AutoNation (AN), the largest U.S. car retailer, told CNBC, adding the "brand position" of Volkswagen was at risk in the U.S. market.

     

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    Halloween Pop-ups
    Mel Evans/AP
    By JOYCE M. ROSENBERG

    PARAMUS, N.J. -- Like something out of a horror tale, an abandoned store in this northern New Jersey city has come back to life, as a Halloween retailer.

    Spirit Halloween, a chain of more than 1,150 pop-up shops across the country, has reincarnated the former Staples store and filled it with 4,000 costumes and accessories with themes ranging from zombies to superheroes and princesses to prison inmates. And gory displays: a zombie-filled subway, a swamp surrounded by bloody and screaming animated creatures.

    Spirit Halloween crams a lot of business into a short time. Its staff swells from the hundreds to more than 20,000 starting in June. It makes its revenue for the year in less than three months. The Paramus store, which took six days to set up, opened Aug. 21 and closes Nov. 1.

    We are equivalent to an army operation in terms of the way we mobilize and move products.

    "We are equivalent to an army operation in terms of the way we mobilize and move products," says Steven Silverstein, CEO of the Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey-based company.

    Pop-up stores have been around for decades, but the trend got a big boost when retailers got the idea of short-term rentals for holidays like Halloween and Christmas. Spirit Halloween was launched in 1983, as the holiday's focus was evolving from children and trick-or-treating to parties for people of all ages, Silverstein says.

    Planning for this Halloween began over a year ago. For example, it takes 18 months to design and produce displays like the subway and swamp, which are set up in all the Spirit Halloween stores.

    Employees scout for locations throughout the year. Some are vacant stores in shopping malls, while others occupy stores shuttered by big chains. A second Spirit Halloween in Paramus is five miles up the road in a former Kmart. High visibility is key; both stores are on Route 17, one of New Jersey's busiest shopping boulevards.

    Merchandise starts rolling into Spirit Halloween's warehouses in May. By the summer, sites have been chosen, and by mid-August, the stores are prepped to receive the goods. Trucks start arriving, and the locations go from bare walls and floors to racks and shelves bursting with costumes, accessories, props and home decor.

    Adults' interest in continuing or reviving the Halloween fun of their youth has turned the holiday into a huge money maker. Estimates of what consumers spend on Halloween vary widely, running as high as $11.4 billion on costumes, decorations and candy in 2014, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Spirit Halloween, which is privately owned, doesn't announce its sales figures.

    "It has become the national party that everyone participates in," Silverstein says.

     

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    Woman Looking At Banking App On Digital Tablet
    Getty Images
    Since the financial crisis of 2008, some banks have struggled to regain their form. In addition to huge losses suffered during the crisis, traditional banks now face competition in the form of leaner, meaner online-only banks. With decreasing profits and low interest rates, banks have been forced to use different tactics in order to attract new customers.

    This is great news for consumers. With banks fighting to earn your business (and your dollars), you can take advantage of some great deals. In fact, many banks are actually offering you cash simply for opening a new account with them. Here are seven excellent banking promotions available today.

    Capital One 360 Savings - Up to $500 Bonus

    Capital One 360 Savings is offering a bonus of up to $500 for opening a new 360 Savings account. The online/mobile banking account currently offers a 0.75 annual percentage yield with no maintenance fees. In order to qualify for the bonus, you need to transfer at least $5,000 from an account outside of Capital One to your new 360 Savings account within 10 days of opening.

    You also need to maintain that balance for at least 90 days. An important point to note is that I said up to a $500 bonus. Capital One 360 Savings determines the bonus based on a graduated scale. Bonus amounts begin at $50 and climb to $500 on deposits of $50,000 or more. You can see a chart of the complete scale here.

    Chase Checking & Savings - Up to $250 Bonus

    If you're looking for great bank bonuses, Chase has some of the best around. Currently, you can get $150 for opening a new Chase Total Checking account. Just make a minimum deposit of $25 and a qualifying direct deposit within 60 days to earn the bonus. Additionally, you're eligible for a $100 bonus when depositing $10,000 into a new Chase Savings account, provided that you maintain that balance for at least 90 days.

    You may combine both offers to earn the complete $250 bonus. To get the promotion, you must enter your email to receive a coupon, which you'll then need to bring into your local Chase branch. Also, be aware that you aren't allowed to close the accounts within six months of opening or you'll lose the bonus.

    Chase Premier Plus Checking - $300 Bonus

    Chase does it again, offering a $300 sign-up bonus for opening a Premier Plus Checking account.

    Although the basic Chase Total Checking account requires only a $500 direct deposit or $1,500 minimum daily balance to avoid account maintenance fees, the Premiere Plus is a little more strict. You must maintain a $15,000 daily balance or link your account towards automatic payments of your Chase mortgage to avoid the $25 monthly fee.

    However, the account does earn interest and allows you to avoid Chase fees at non-Chase ATMs. Just open a new Premier Plus Checking account with a minimum deposit of $25, and make a qualifying direct deposit within 60 days to earn the bonus. Again, you'll need to receive the offer coupon by email and bring it to your local branch when opening the account.

    Santander Bank - $20 Monthly Bonus

    Rather than offering new customers an upfront bank bonus, Santander Bank's approach is a little bit different. Santander looks to reward customers for their loyalty by offering a $20 bonus each month. Simply open a Santander Bank extra20 checking and savings account with a minimum deposit of $25 and $10, respectively. You'll earn $10 per month for making qualified direct deposits totaling $1,500 within each service fee period. You can earn an additional $10 bonus for paying at least 2 bills through their online bill pay system each month. The bonuses will be directly deposited into your extra20 savings account.

    PNC - $200-$400 Bonus

    PNC offers several different ways to earn a bonus. New customers can earn a $200 bonus for opening either a new Performance Checking or a Virtual Wallet with Performance Spend account. Simply, make qualifying direct deposits of $2,000 or more and pay at least one bill through their online bill payment systemt. You can also earn a $400 bonus for making direct deposits which total at least $5,000 and making one online bill payment. Regardless of the offer, the terms must be completed within 60 days. This offer is only valid for accounts that are opened online.

    BMO Harris - $200 Bonus

    If you are looking to open a new checking account, BMO Harris will offer you $200 to do it with them. Open any one of their three checking accounts, and you'll be eligible for the bonus. Simply, set up qualifying direct deposits to be made to your new account, and you're set to go. The direct deposits must be no less than $300 and be set up to occur no less than on a monthly basis. Further, the first deposit must be made within 60 days of opening the account. To take advantage of the deal, either apply online or have a coupon emailed to you and present it at a local branch.

    Key Bank - Up to $300

    Key Bank is offering new customers up to $300 in bonuses for opening a new checking account. First, you can earn $100 for opening a Key Hassle Free Checking account. The account features no monthly maintenance fees, no minimum balance fees, and no overdraft fees. All you need to do is make direct deposits totaling at least $500 and use a combination of five debit card or bill payments within 60 days. You can also earn a $300 bonus by opening a premier checking account through Key. To earn the bonus, you must make direct deposits totaling at least $1,000 and use a combination of five debit or bill payments within 60 days. Enter either the promo code MASH0615 or MASC0615, depending on the offer chosen.

    Wrapping It Up

    If you're in the market for a new bank, it pays to shop around. Compare each accounts features and make sure that they fit your needs. And, of course, take a look at each bank's promotional offers. Remember, most offers don't last forever, so take advantage of them while you can.

     

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    Baby Clothes on a Budget
    Buying baby clothes doesn't have to rattle your savings. Here are some tips on how to save on styles for your kids.

    Newborns will outgrow their clothes in a matter of months, so try to avoid buying new. Instead, go to a mom-to-mom sale where moms get together to sell the baby items they no longer need.

    Simply do a web search for "mom-to-mom sale" and the name of your city. You'll be surprised by how many you can find in your area.

    If you'd rather shop from home, check out Loteda. They have brands you'll love that are up to 90 percent off retail value. Best of all, you can buy or sell an entire season's worth of children's clothes in one transaction, saving money and time.

    Buying baby clothes doesn't have to hamper your budget. Use these tips and save on all kinds of outfits for your little one.

    View Poll



     

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    Esquire Network Rings The Nasdaq Stock Market Opening Bell
    Slaven Vlasic/Getty ImagesNasdaq and Esquire Network officials ring the opening bell Wednesday at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Manhattan.
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended down slightly Wednesday, led by losses in materials and energy shares as weak Chinese and U.S. factory data added to growth worries.

    Trading was choppy once gain, with the S&P 500 briefly trading higher following afternoon comments by Chinese President Xi Jinping that his country was capable of maintaining a relatively high growth rate for a long time.

    The S&P 500 is down 2.8 percent since Thursday, when the Federal Reserve decided to hold interest rates near zero.

    Data showed U.S. manufacturing growth stayed at a two-year low in September, while Chinese factory activity shrank to a 6½ year low in the month, underscoring worries about demand.

    Boeing (BA) said it had won orders and commitments from China for aircraft valued at about $38 billion at list prices. But its shares fell 1.7 percent to $131.67.

    The S&P materials index, down 2.1 percent, led the decline for the S&P 500 for a second day, followed by the energy index, which was down 1.4 percent.

    U.S. crude oil futures ended down 4.1 percent, while shares of Chevron (CVX) were down 1.5 percent at $76.12.

    "The market looks tired and flat, and there is some hesitation to commit with earnings coming out in two weeks and worries about China and the impact on companies that do a lot of business overseas," said Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager at Synovus Trust Company in Atlanta.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 50.58 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,279.89, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 3.98 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,938.76 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 3.98 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 4,752.74.

    Skittish Investors

    Worries over a China-led global economic slowdown and uncertainty over when the Fed may raise rates have left investors skittish.

    S&P 500 earnings are projected to decline 3.9 percent in the third quarter from a year ago, Thomson Reuters (TRI) data showed.

    Volume was light due to the Yom Kippur holiday. About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the roughly 8 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    First Niagara Financial was up 14.5 percent at $10.26 after Bloomberg reported the regional bank was exploring a sale.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,784 to 1,242, for a 1.44-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,609 issues fell and 1,185 advanced for a 1.36-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 1 new 52-week high and 38 lows; the Nasdaq recorded 24 new highs and 135 lows.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims, and the Commerce Department releases durable goods for August.
    • At 10 a.m., the Commerce Department releases new home sales for August, and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:

     

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    Never Get Another Robocall Again

    By Marilyn Lewis

    The mobile life is a good life, for the most part, but along with the fun and convenience is a universally hated byproduct: robocalls -- calls and texts sent to your phone without your consent.

    They are illegal. The 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act and other rules limit telephone soliciting and automatic dialing. But some unwanted calls are legal and others may get past the walls built to protect consumers.

    Slippery Devils

    It's hard to stop robocalls completely and forever. Some telemarketers are slippery devils, constantly finding new ways to fly beneath the radar. You can block most, though, using apps, phone features, common sense and by signing up for protection through a federal registry. Here are 12 best ways to protect yourself from robocalls:

    1. Don't pick up. Don't answer it. Well, duh, you say: Sometimes you can't tell when a call is from a solicitor. But there are clues. Unfamiliar phone numbers and numbers not recognized by your phone's contact list, for instance. If you're unsure about a call, screen it by letting it go to voicemail.

    2. Join the 'National Do Not Call' registry. Ignoring calls doesn't always stop them, though. In 2004 the Federal Trade Commission launched a national registry where consumers can sign up to block phone and text solicitors. It is super easy to use. It doesn't stop all annoying calls and text spam (see below), but it helps.

    To sign up, go to Do Not Call and enter your phone number or numbers -- cellphones and landlines -- and your email address. You'll get an email immediately with a link to click for activating your request. That's it.

    Telemarketers have 31 days to stop calling a registered phone. But there are some exceptions:
    • Faxes aren't covered.
    • Only personal phones are covered. Business phones aren't covered by the registry.
    • Registering won't stop all solicitations. "Calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors would still be permitted, as would calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you've provided express agreement in writing to receive their calls," the Better Business Bureau says.
    3. Ignore bogus calls from 'the registry.' The Do Not Call Registry doesn't make phone calls. Scammers may call, claiming to represent the registry and trying to get you to "sign up." Don't do it. Hang up.

    4. Complain. If a robocaller persists after the 31-day deadline is up, write down the phone number that appears on your caller ID and use it to file a complaint here, with the FTC. Or call 888-382-1222 (TTY 866-290-4236).

    To complain you'll need the date you received the call and either the company's name or phone number. The FTC requires telephone solicitors to tell you -- if you ask -- their name, whom they're calling on behalf of and their address or phone number. But of course many just hang up when asked.

    5. Block text spammers. Text spam is illegal, too. You can report and block it. Register with the federal Do Not Call Registry (see above). Customers of AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint or Bell can block the spammer's number by forwarding the text, free of charge, to 7726 (SPAM). You'll get a free text back confirming receipt of your spam report.

    "This free text exchange with the carrier will report the SPAM number and you will receive a response from the carrier thanking you for reporting the SPAM," says CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry group. Alas, this only works with spam sent from a phone number. It's not effective with emailed texts.

    6. Think before you click. Train yourself -- and your children -- to be ultra careful replying to text messages. Do not click on links in texts. Those can introduce malware onto your computer and take you to authentic-looking "spoof "sites that steal your personal information, the FTC warns. Never respond to a text, email or phone request for personal information, account numbers or passwords, even from a company that looks or sounds legitimate.

    7. Hands off the dial pad. Some robocall messages ask you to press a number to be removed from a caller list. That may just add you to more calling lists. Best guidance: Don't respond. You might have seen or heard about key combinations to press when you get a robocall that helps block these calls. But this just tells telemarketers and scammers that you've received their call, encouraging them.

    8. Download apps. Many apps are available to block robocalls. The Wireless Association has links to a number of them, most free and none over $10. Here are the association's links to download apps for each wireless operating systems and brief descriptions of the apps: Before downloading an app, read reviews of it, at an app store or elsewhere online. The safest sources for apps, besides the Wireless Association site, are Google Play and the App Store (read 8 Simple Steps to Avoid Getting Burned by New Apps on finding and downloading apps safely).

    9. Change your phone's settings. If you are getting harassed by calls, you can block a phone number to prevent calls or texts from it to your phone. Do this through a feature in your phone's settings. Watch brief, simple videos showing how to do this at the links above for Android, Microsoft, iOS and Blackberry devices.

    10. Be wary of sharing your phone number. Help keep your number out of the hands of scammers and robocallers by taking care when giving it out. Treat it as private information. Avoid entering it in forms if possible, or use an old, out-of-date number or a made-up number instead.

    11. Keep an eye on your phone bill. Read your bill each month to spot unauthorized charges. Report any you find to your carrier.

    12. Ignore rumors. Rumors and viral emails about the Do Not Call Registry sometimes make the rounds. One such scam warns that if you've signed the registry you need to re-register or your name or phone number will be made public. Or you may be asked to sign a petition to prevent registry names and numbers from becoming public. Don't bite.

    Says Fox News:

    For the record, mobile telephone numbers have never been in any danger of being made public or released to telemarketers. There has never been a deadline to register your cellphone. And you don't need to renew every five years (this was a rule for landlines that was axed in 2007).

    The best defense against scammers and spammers is to be on guard against emails carrying warnings or rumors that require your action. Never click a link from inside an email. If you must check it out, copy the link address from the email and paste it into a browser.

    Have you been able to prevent robocalls and texts? Share with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

    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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