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    A promotional event by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is seen in the South Street Seaport in New York
    AlamyA Keurig coffee machine at an event by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in New York.
    By CANDICE CHOI

    Making a glass of Coke at home will soon be possible, if you don't mind paying more than $300 for a machine that sits on your kitchen countertop. Plus an extra dollar or so per drink.

    Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) says it will start selling a machine Tuesday that makes single servings of cold beverages including Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper and flavored seltzer waters. The machine is similar in concept to Keurig's brewers, which let people make cups of coffee and tea by inserting a pod into the machine and pressing a button.

    Coca-Cola (KO) is betting big on Keurig Kold, too; the world's biggest soda maker owns a 16.8 percent stake in Keurig Green Mountain.

    Still, it's not yet clear who will buy the Keurig Kold, which is the size of a very large crockpot. Keurig says the suggested retail price for the machine is $369.99, but that prices could be as low as $299 depending on promotions. Each pod will cost between $1.12 and $1.25 and make an 8-ounce serving. That means it's not really a way to save money, since people can buy 2-liter bottles and 6-pack cans of soda for less, on a per-serving basis.

    keurig green mountain coca cola soda machine
    Keurig Green Mountain via APThe Keurig Kold machine and single serving pods.
    Instead, Keurig CEO Brian Kelley said Kold is a way for people to have a variety of drinks at their disposal, without having cans and bottles take up space in their homes. Among the other drinks the machine can make are "craft" sodas made by Keurig, and later this year, cocktail mixers.

    "It's a premium -- it's about choice and convenience," Kelley said.

    The idea of making sodas and other drinks at home isn't new. SodaStream International (SODA) also sells a carbonation machine that makes seltzer and other flavored drinks. But its machine differs from the Keurig Kold.

    With SodaStream, people fill a bottle with water and press down on a button to carbonate the liquid. They can add as much carbonation and flavoring as they want. A complaint among some users is that the carbonation comes from a CO2 canister, which needs to be replaced every several weeks or so, depending on how often it's used.

    The Keurig Kold, by contrast, is more controlled. People fill the machine's water tank, then insert a pod to create a specific drink, such as Coke. The pods have two chambers -- one with the carbonation, and one with the syrup or flavor. The machine makes the drink in about 90 seconds or less, chilling the water in the process.

    In addition to its high price, Phil Terpolilli at Wedbush Securities thinks a barrier to Kold's popularity will be that soda is already so widely available.

    "The consumer can already can go into a fridge and crack open a Diet Coke," Terpolilli said.

    Still, Keurig thinks its Kold machine could eventually be bigger than its coffee brewers, which it says are in about 17 percent of U.S. households. In addition to going on sale on its website Tuesday, the company says the Kold will be available starting in October at select retailers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York.

    Those who don't want another machine taking up space on their countertop might want to wait a few years; Keurig says it's working on a machine that could make both hot and cold drinks.

     

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    Home Prices
    Nick Ut/AP
    By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. home prices rose at a solid pace in July, as would-be buyers competed for a diminished supply of available housing.

    The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index climbed 5 percent in July from a year earlier. That's up from a 4.9 percent annual pace in June.

    Home prices rose in all 20 cities over the past 12 months. San Francisco posted the biggest gain of 10.4 percent, followed by Denver with 10.3 percent.

    Steady job growth and an economic recovery in its seventh year have encouraged more Americans to buy homes. That lifted sales to an eight-year high in July. Yet those buyers have bid up prices in many areas because the number of homes for sale remains below levels that are typical in a balanced market.

    The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. The index measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The July figures are the latest available.

    Consistent price gains can make homeowners feel wealthier and more likely to spend, providing a boost to the economy. Higher home values also reduce the number of Americans who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, a condition known as being "under water."

    Still, housing faces several challenges in the coming months. Prices are rising at more than double the rate of wages, which have increased just 2.2 percent in the past 12 months. That is likely pricing many would-be buyers out of the market.

    And while mortgage rates are still very low by historical standards, they could be headed up soon. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has indicated that the Fed may raise short-term rates for the first time in nine years before the end of the year. That would eventually push up mortgage rates.

    Those trends may already be weighing on sales of existing homes. They slid nearly 5 percent in August from July's eight-year high to the lowest level since April, the National Association of Realtors said last week.

    And fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in August. That suggests sales may slip further in the coming months. A signed contract typically precedes a completed sale by one or two months. Still, existing home sales are 6.2 percent higher than a year ago.

     

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    Stacks of coins growing in flowerpots
    Getty Images
    There is a big percentage of Americans who don't like complex financial problems. It's why things get crazy around tax season. It's why personal debt and credit are out of control for many. And it's why so many Americans don't invest for their retirement. Sure, there are plenty of people who rightly say they don't have the extra money to invest. But I suspect that these people are actually in the minority. With careful planning, it's possible for most people to invest in such a way that -- at least -- they will be somewhat financially secure upon retirement.

    The problem is, learning how to invest well is a challenge. It takes time, research and a little daring. There's a lot of conflicting information out there. And events like the recent Chinese stock crash don't help matters. Many people are simply intimidated by investment, enough that they keep all of their money insulated from its peaks and valleys.

    It's true that global markets are volatile. I was one of the millions of people who saw my IRA suddenly lose 10 percent of its value overnight this past month. But I also understand that this is all part of the plan. Long term investment strategy is built upon a foundation that is stronger than temporary market fluctuations. If new investors understand this, they can make a plan which will carry them for the long term. Here are some considerations to make when formulating your first investment strategy, as well as reasons why now is a great time to do so.

    Invest Now, but Not Because the Market is Down

    Somebody somewhere once said, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." The same goes for investing. The stock market is inherently unpredictable. This has been proven by thinkers and analysts all around the world. People who try to get their money invested in anticipation of a sudden rise are gambling. I've heard it compared to trying to catch a falling knife: you might catch it unscathed, or you might really hurt yourself. One way to invest in a growing market as a whole, is through ETFs (cheaply priced shares of mutual funds). The best way to invest in mutual funds or ETFs is whenever you have money. The market will rise and fall, but it has a tendency to grow over time. Most new investors will need to adopt a strategy of slow, steady growth. If you've never invested, invest now. Once invested, stick to your plan.

    Choose Funds That Take the Guesswork Out of Investing

    There are some investors who are famous for getting rich by hand picking winning stocks. These people are either professionals or lucky -- probably both. For the most part, stock pickers fail to beat the market. That's why many mutual funds and ETFs are built on indexes. This means that each fund represents a tiny fraction of dozens of different companies that make up the best-performing segment of various markets. The owner of these funds benefits from the overall growth of the entire market, even if certain stocks fall by the wayside. You can easily buy your own funds from Vanguard or use a service like Betterment to do it for you for a small price.

    Invest When You Have Money and Don't Listen to the Noise

    To listen to stock market analysis, you'd think that the world was ending every time the markets take a dip. It's true that lots of people lose lots of money when this happens. But you also already know that this is going to happen. Consistent investment contributions to ETFs or mutual funds, using a tax protected account like an IRA, will tend to result in slow steady growth, making up the money they lose in temporary setbacks. Over time, the effects of compound interest will set in, and your investment will start to grow more and more quickly. But to achieve this, you've got to invest when you have money and you have to ignore the media bloviators who want to convince you to jump ship.

    This investment strategy I've mapped out is a very conservative one. There are lots of ways to invest. But this one will work for many kinds of people. It's a plan that requires little upkeep, puts investors in the way of minimal risk, and has the potential to make individuals very wealthy within their lifetimes. So do what you need to do and get started today. The best time to start investing was years ago. The second best time to start investing is right now.

     

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    Volkswagen AG Automobiles Await Shipping At A Distribution Logistics Park As German Prosecutor Opens Emissions Probe Into Former
    Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesThe logos of Volkswagen and Audi stand on signs outside the VW logistics park, in Villers-Cotterets, France.
    By Andreas Cremer

    BERLIN -- Volkswagen (VLKAY) announced plans Tuesday to refit up to 11 million vehicles and overhaul its namesake brand following the scandal over its rigging of emissions tests.

    New Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller said the German carmaker would tell customers in the coming days they would need to have diesel vehicles with illegal software refitted, a move which some analysts have said could cost more than $6.5 billion.

    Europe's biggest carmaker has admitted cheating in diesel emissions tests in the United States and Germany's transport minister says it also manipulated them in Europe, where Volkswagen sells about 40 percent of its vehicles.

    We are facing a long trudge and a lot of hard work. We will only be able to make progress in steps and there will be setbacks.

    The company is under huge pressure to address the worst business crisis in its 78-year history, which has wiped more than a third off its market value, sent shock waves through the global car market and could harm Germany's economy.

    "We are facing a long trudge and a lot of hard work," Mueller told a closed-door gathering of about 1,000 top managers at Volkswagen's Wolfsburg headquarters late Monday.

    "We will only be able to make progress in steps and there will be setbacks," he said, according to a text seen by Reuters.

    Volkswagen did not say how the planned refit would make cars with the "cheat" software comply with regulations, or how this might affect vehicles' mileage or efficiency, which are important considerations for customers. It said it would submit the details to Germany's KBA watchdog next month.

    Manipulating emissions results allowed Volkswagen to keep down engine costs in a "clean diesel" strategy that was popular in Europe and at the heart of a drive to improve U.S. results.

    Mueller was appointed CEO Friday to replace Martin Winterkorn. German prosecutors said Monday they were investigating Winterkorn over allegations of fraud.

    Embarrassment

    The crisis is an embarrassment for Germany, which has for years held up Volkswagen as a model of its engineering prowess and has lobbied against some tighter regulations on automakers. The German car industry employs more than 750,000 people and is a major source of export income.

    Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters he wasn't worried about damage to the economy from Volkswagen's problems, "at least, not if we deal with it sensibly."

    There must be no "soft pedaling, no obfuscation and no covering-up" by Volkswagen, he added.

    The KBA had set Volkswagen an Oct. 7 deadline for a plan to bring diesel emissions into line with the law.

    Investors are impatient for answers, too.

    A survey of 62 institutions by investment banking advisory firm Evercore ISI found around two-thirds said it wouldn't be possible to invest in Volkswagen over the next six months if costs, fines, legal and criminal proceedings were outstanding or inadequately quantified.

    VW's brand image has also slumped this month, market researchers YouGov said, citing a survey of about 2,000 consumers.

    Millions of Cars

    Volkswagen said previously about 11 million vehicles were fitted with software capable of cheating emissions tests, including 5 million at its VW brand, 2.1 million at luxury brand Audi, 1.2 million at Skoda and 1.8 million light commercial vehicles.

    Refitting 11 million cars would be among the biggest recalls in history by a single automaker, similar in scale to Toyota's 2009-2010 recall of more than 10 million vehicles over acceleration problems, though dwarfed by the number recalled by multiple carmakers due to faulty Takata air bags.

    Volkswagen sold 10.1 million vehicles in the whole of 2014.

    The company said last week it would set aside 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) to help cover the cost of the crisis.

    But analysts think that may not be enough, as it faces potential fines from regulators and prosecutors, as well as lawsuits from cheated customers.

    Spain's industry ministry said Tuesday that Volkswagen's local business had agreed to return fuel-efficiency subsidies on vehicles that had broken rules. It said Spain, which offered subsidies of 1,000 euros for energy efficient car purchases, would ask for the money back from the car manufacturer and not consumers.

    At 1520 GMT, Volkswagen shares were down 3.3 percent at 96 euros.

    Mueller also said Volkswagen's core VW division, struggling with high-fixed costs and low profit margins, would be given more autonomy, akin to the independence enjoyed by premium flagship brands Audi and Porsche.

    Analysts have long urged the company to tackle underperformance at its core mass-market brand, and to dilute control from the center which has been blamed for product delays and problems adapting to local markets.

    A source familiar with the matter also said the executive committee of Volkswagen's supervisory board would meet on Wednesday to discuss progress with the company's investigations and engaging U.S. law firm Jones Day to lead an external probe.

    Budget Freeze

    Klaus Mohrs, mayor of Wolfsburg where Volkswagen employs around 70,000 people, said Monday he expected a sharp decline in business taxes due to the crisis, and announced an immediate budget freeze and hiring ban.

    The emissions scandal has sent ripples through the global car market too, with manufacturers fearing more costly regulations and a drop in diesel car sales.

    The European Commission is working on plans to reform the European system for approving new models of cars by the end of the year.

    Volkswagen's Belgian importer, D'Ieteren, said it would offer engine upgrades to 800 customers who had ordered a vehicle with one likely to have been fitted with illegal software. The importer said it would cover the expected 2 million euros cost.

     

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    Wal-Mart Announces Its Increasing Wages
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    By Nathan Layne and Sruthi Ramakrishnan

    Walmart Stores (WMT) is expanding free grocery pickup service to several U.S. markets as it seeks to capitalize on its network of physical stores amid growing competition with Amazon.com (AMZN) and others investing in home delivery.

    The world's largest retailer said Tuesday that it would start offering curbside pickup for groceries ordered online in eight new markets this month -- including Atlanta and Salt Lake City -- with more to be added in the coming weeks.

    Walmart has been testing online grocery delivery services in two markets and pickup in the five markets of Denver, Phoenix, San Jose, California, Bentonville, Arkansas, and Huntsville, Alabama.

    "We are not walking away from delivery. "But right now the focus for us is pickup, driven largely by what our customers are telling us.

    Tuesday's announcement solidifies a strategy of playing to its bricks-and-mortar footprint, with an estimated 70 percent of the U.S. population living within five miles of one of its 4,600 stores.

    "We are not walking away from delivery," said Michael Bender, chief operating officer of global e-commerce at Walmart. "But right now the focus for us is pickup, driven largely by what our customers are telling us."

    The move comes as rivals attempt to find the right business model for tapping demand for pickup and delivery services.

    Target (TGT) this month partnered with Instacart to deliver groceries for $3.99 an order in a pilot offering in Minneapolis. Amazon.com is testing delivery in Seattle, New York, Philadelphia and California, for a $299 annual fee.

    Bender said Walmart is targeting pickup in part because it allows customers to pinpoint a pickup time, rather than having to be at home at a set delivery time of fresh items. He cited a busy mother with children as an example of the type of customer that would benefit from the service.

    Shoppers can choose from about 30,000 items, roughly the same assortment as in stores. After ordering and paying online, customers drive to the outlet at a designated time and workers load items into their cars. Fayetteville and Charlotte, North Carolina; Ogden, Utah; Nashville, Tennessee; Tucson, Arizona; and Colorado Springs, Colorado, are the other new markets for the service.

    Walmart will add a new role of "personal shopper" to retrieve and store the items. In some cases, that will entail promoting workers within a store, but overall it expected to add some headcount related to the service, Bender said.

    Neil Stern, senior partner at retail consultancy McMillan-Doolittle, said investing in pickup makes sense from a cost perspective.

    "The economics of pickup are much better for a retailer. Delivering to the home remains costly, even as services like Instacart and Shipt attempt to reinvent the model," Stern said.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended higher after a volatile session Tuesday as concerns about the health of the global economy kept investors cautious after more than a month of turbulence.

    The S&P 500 recovered after falling earlier to within 0.26 percent of lows it touched in August, when fears of a slowdown in China shocked global markets.

    I would never have expected that we would take out that low and we haven't yet, but we sure are close.

    "I would never have expected that we would take out that low and we haven't yet, but we sure are close. A retest is a good thing but it needs to hold," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab (SCHW) in Austin.

    Seven of the 10 S&P sectors rose, with the health care index up 0.9 percent, ending a seven-day losing streak, thanks in part to gains in Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Gilead Sciences (GILD).

    Pharmaceutical and biotech stocks had faced pressure after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized drug pricing last week.

    The Nasdaq composite ended lower and the S&P technology index fell 0.6 percent. Apple (AAPL) fell 3 percent a day after reporting record first-weekend sales of its newest iPhones.

    Although the market's recent rout has forced many strategists to slash their year-end expectations, a new Reuters poll shows the S&P 500 ending 2015 roughly 11 percent above current levels.

    "We're taking a breather after the carnage we saw yesterday and in the last few days," said Robert Francello, head of equity trading for Apex Capital in San Francisco. "I wouldn't be surprised if we go a little lower before we stabilize."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 0.3 percent to end with 16,049.13 points and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 0.1 percent to 1,884.09. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 0.6 percent to 4,517.32.

    Fresh Data on Tap

    Investors are awaiting data scheduled to be released this week, culminating in nonfarm payrolls numbers Friday.

    A report Tuesday showed the consumer confidence index rose to 103 in September, topping economists' expectation of 96.1.

    With third-quarter earnings season looming, Goldman Sachs (GS) said it expects sales growth for S&P 500 companies to shrink this year for the first time in five years.

    After the bell, Diamond Foods (DMND) posted fiscal fourth-quarter sales that missed Wall Street's expectations and its stock lost 4 percent.

    During the regular session, Yahoo (YHOO) shares rose 2.4 percent, a day after the Internet company's board decided to proceed with spinning off Alibaba (BABA) stake.

    Nexstar (NXST) rose 8 percent after activist investor Starboard Value urged regional TV company Media General to sell itself to Nexstar.

    Republic Airways (RJET) surged 12.9 percent after Deutsche Bank (DB) raised the stock to "buy" and the airline reached agreement on new contract with its pilots.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,732 to 1,353. On the Nasdaq, 1,759 issues fell and 1,053 advanced. The S&P 500 index showed one new 52-week high and 70 lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 15 new highs and 323 lows.

    About 7.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 7.3 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -With additional reporting by Charles Mikolajczak in New York, and Abhiram Nandakumar and Sweta Singh in Bangalore.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • Paychex (PAYX) releases quarterly financial results before U.S. markets open.
    • Automatic Data Processing (ADP) releases the ADP Employment Report at 8:15 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Institute For Supply Management - Chicago releases the Chicago purchasing managers index at 9:45 a.m. Eastern time.
    • Janet Yellen speaks at the St. Louis Fed community banking conference at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

     

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    Is Your Shampoo Worth Its Price?
    We all need to wash our hair, but buying fancy shampoos and conditioners can quickly tangle up your finances. Here we investigate whether all those moisturizing, smoothing, and revitalizing ingredients are they really worth paying extra.

    First, higher prices don't mean better shampoos. What's most important are the active ingredients which can generally be found in equal measure in both salon and grocery store shampoos. Some of the key ingredients you should look for are: ammonium laurel sulfate, sodium laurel and sodium laureth sulfate. These are all the cleansing ingredients in shampoos, and sodium laureth sulfate is the most gentle on your hair, but keep in mind it's also the most expensive of the three.

    Next, watch out for exaggerated advertisements. For instance, claims that cheaper brands are watered down, or have a higher pH levels compared to their pricier counterparts just aren't true.

    Lastly, don't fall for fancy ingredients in your shampoo. Some companies will add foam boosters, fragrances and even caviar to make the shampoo more alluring. Do these extravagant ingredients actually make a difference? Not really.

    Before you buy your next bottle of shampoo, remember these tips. By knowing what's in the bottle, you can cut your spending -- one wash at time.

    View Poll


     

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    A View Of The Comcast Center
    Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Comcast
    If you're still looking for the perfect icebreaker or pickup line, try this one on for size:

    "Hey, you look like you're not happy with your current cable or satellite television provider."

    It's true. Most of us are dissatisfied with our pay-TV provider. Prices keep moving higher with every passing year as they pass on escalating programming costs to customers. Outages seem to happen at the worst possible time. Then we get to the horrendous reputation that the industry has when it comes to customer service. Good luck getting a technician to honor an appointment, and good luck canceling when you face a hard sell or ridiculous hurdles to jump through when it's time to return your equipment.

    Unhappy cable and satellite television subscribers have had enough. They're ditching their pay-TV subscriptions, even if it means that they still have to deal with their former television service companies as Internet providers. Thankfully, the pay-TV giants are starting to address the concerns. They're tired of being hated.

    There's an App for That

    Dish Network (DISH) is launching My Tech, a new feature for subscribers with service appointments that actually tracks where repair techs are before they arrive. The new feature from Dish's website lets users track the dispatched technician an hour before the estimated arrival time, complete with a countdown time.

    Dish isn't the first pay-TV company to offer up Uber-like tracking. Comcast (CMCSK, CMCSA) has been testing a similar offering since late last year, but it's the country's second-largest satellite television provider that has become the first to roll it out nationally.

    Comcast was awarded Consumerist's annual Worst Company in America award last year, and many of its smaller rivals were finalists. The ugly distinction has forced Comcast to shake up its consumer-facing operations. Back in May it announced that it would be creating thousands of new customer service jobs. It's testing a revamped customer service experience in the Northwest that will be rolled out to all Comcast customers if it's successful.

    Comcast is also making it easier to cut the cord -- realizing that it will probably still keep the customer on a broadband account -- by making it easier to return rented cable equipment. It struck a deal with UPS (UPS) last year that allows customers to drop off their cable boxes and other Comcast gear at any UPS mailing facility. Anyone who has ever had to waste a day at a crowded Comcast center should be grateful for that.

    None of these moves will make your cable bill cheaper, though the revamped customer service experience reportedly makes the bills easier to read. However, pay TV is tired to be the punch line of the service industry's joke. We'll have to see if some of these new initiatives are enough to drive you to come up with a new conversation starter.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends United Parcel Service. 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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    closeup portrait  senior mature ...
    Shutterstock


    The shimmering dream of retirement beckons to many people as the primary goal of work. Retirement holds the promise, finally, of time to call your own and the chance to pursue what matters most to you if work has kept you from it.

    Retirement, though -- at least the 20th-century middle-class ideal of it in the United States -- is under siege. Here are nine reasons why, for many Americans, retirement may not be what they dreamed.

    1. You might have to retire before you're ready. Forty-nine percent of retirees surveyed in 2012 had to retire sooner than they'd planned, usually because of health problems, according to the Retirement Income Reference Book published by LIMRA, a research firm focused on insurance and financial services.

    Other reasons that early retirement is forced on workers include job loss or burnout and negative work conditions, reports Mark Miller, publisher of Retirement Revised.

    2. It's no fun hanging out with your spouse 24/7. Financial planners say many couples have trouble getting used to spending more time together. Writes MainStreet.com:

    "Everyone gets excited about retirement -- they think they're going to walk out the door and never look back and spend their days relaxing and traveling with their spouse, but then they get home and they find they can't actually stand the person they've been married to for the last 30 years," says Deana Arnett, senior planning consultant at Rosenthal Wealth Management Group. "I've seen it happen more times than I care to tell you."

    To be sure, many couples love 24/7 togetherness. But not everyone. A financial planner I know sees the toll retirement can take on marriages. He observes that husbands who have been extremely focused on their jobs in particular seem to struggle with the hole it leaves in their lives after they stop working.

    Relationships can endure this transition. Finding retirement pursuits that give life meaning -- philanthropy or volunteering, and not just a life built around golf and travel -- will give both spouses a sense of renewal.

    For some ideas, check out 12 Ways to Connect and Contribute in Your Community after Retiring.

    3. It's boring. When you hate your boss and feel overwhelmed by work, it may be hard to imagine, but retirees often long for the camaraderie, structure and sense of purpose work delivers. Not to mention the money.

    A funny, engaging blog, Retirement: A Fulltime Job, tracks the evolution of former CPA Sydney Lagier, who retired in 2008 at age 44. After two months of retirement, she sounded a little surprised to find that retirement hadn't changed her much, inside:

    What will you spend your time doing after you retire? Whatever you spent your time doing before you retired, minus the job. While I'm sure my interests will evolve over the years (just as they did while I was working), I now spend my time doing exactly what I did before I retired, only more of it.

    As it turns out, she has dipped in and out of retirement since. "Maybe I was taking retirement for granted, maybe I just needed to shake things up a bit," she writes, about taking part-time consultant work.

    She's not the only retiree to crave stimulation. "[M]any new retirees find themselves easily bored without working part-time, even if they don't need a paycheck," Next Avenue writes.

    At The Wall Street Journal, a panel of experts advises taking on new challenges by learning, working, advising, volunteering and experimenting. One aging expert says she learned that saying, "Yes," to new experiences opens doors to much-needed variety.

    4. Working until age 70 may not be an option. In an astounding show of grit, nearly 75 percent of preretirees surveyed by LIMRA said they expect to work in retirement.

    Sadly, for most, that vow stands to be derailed by life's realities. Today, three-quarters of retirees are not working, LIMRA says.

    In recently published research, the AARP Public Policy Institute says:

    Extended unemployment, coupled with age discrimination and other barriers, can add to the challenges older workers face in finding a job. Even older jobseekers who do find work may have trouble recovering financially. Many end up accepting jobs at lower pay, with fewer hours, and with limited benefits.

    Depending on your profession, it might be wise to invest in disability insurance. Click here to learn about the costs and considerations.

    5. Money's tight -- really tight. Although Social Security pays only $1,290 a month, on average, most retirees have very little money in savings. In its annual Retirement Confidence Survey this year, the Employment Benefit Research Institute looked at the savings of current retirees, not including the value of a primary residence or a defined-benefit pension, reporting that:
    • 35 percent have less than $1,000 in savings.
    • 61 percent have less than $50,000 in savings.
    Poverty already has a firm grip on 3.5 million to 6 million seniors, depending on how your measure it. Fifteen percent of people 65 and older are living at the poverty level, and nearly half of them live on less than the supplemental poverty level, another measure of low-income status, according to this report to Congress by the Kaiser Foundation. Older women and minorities are by far hardest-hit.

    Even if these percentages stay steady, millions more seniors stand to fall into poverty as the baby boom generation, now ages 51 to 69, becomes elderly. But current trends suggest that poverty will increase.

    "With the decline in employer-sponsored pensions and retiree health coverage, fewer retirees in the future will have benefits that have helped keep seniors from falling into poverty," the Kaiser study says.

    6. It's hard to get used to growing old. Growing old is a lot like being a teenager. Your body and your looks change rapidly and that can be surprising and discomforting. Lagier captures this with humor. Shocked when well-intentioned bystanders stood up to offer her their seats, she described her "three phases of aging":

    The first phase is where you feel young because you actually are young. The third phase is where you feel old because you actually are old. And the phase in between is where you feel young but everyone thinks you need to sit down.

    A more scholarly look at the stages of retirement outlined here on the Ohio State University website was devised by Robert Atchley, a leader in the field of gerontology. There's preretirement planning and the exciting early phase of retirement. Those give way to disenchantment followed by a phase of reorientation. After that, retirees typically settle into a new life routine, he observed.

    That all sounds bumpy but pretty good, except that Atchley's last stage closes with the onset of illness, disability or death.

    That inevitability can be tough to deal with, especially if you've made plans only for your finances. Before you receive that gold watch for retirement, do some thinking about what you want your retirement life to look like. This website provides a reading list to help you think about the process of aging, finding meaning in retirement and coping with mortality.

    7. You might spend a lot of it caring for old parents. Taking on the care of elderly parents forces many workers, women particularly, into retirement. Eldercare consultant Carol Bradley Bursack got an earful when she wrote Should You Quit Your Job to Care for Your Elderly Parent? at AgingCare.com. More than 100 readers commented, many describing their anguish at having to choose between their financial security and caring full-time for parents. One, "Caregiveryes," tells of managing her own aging and health problems along with her parents':

    It was sad when Mom passed away, but I was physically and emotionally spent and had to take early retirement. My marriage also suffered. Weekend evenings out with friends dwindled to none. My husband and I have already made arrangements so our children do not even have to consider taking on this responsibility. And, it has nothing to do with love or commitment, for me it was more than I could handle physically and emotionally.

    Another, "Bruce1013," writes:

    In 2006 I quit my job and apparently lost a good career to become full-time caregiver for my 87 y/o mother. She suffered a stroke while hospitalized with double pneumonia and I was told in no uncertain terms she would need to spend the rest of her life in a full-time care facility. I decided then and there my mother would spend her remaining days in the home she had lived in since 1950 so I moved in and became her caregiver.

    ... I am now 57 years old and no one in my previous field will hire me. Interviewers give me "reasons" I don't get hired but I know it's simply because of age.

    8. You could pick up an STD. Seniors, including 72 percent of men and 45 percent of women ages 57 to 72, are sexually active, says this study from The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

    Well, good for them, you might say. But STDs are growing fast among the older set. When you think about retirement communities, "[t]hink about sex -- unsafe sex," writes The New York Times:

    Combine retirement communities, longer life, unfamiliarity with condoms and Viagra -- and what do you get? You get an S.T.D. epidemic among the Social Security generation that rivals what we imagine is happening in those "Animal House" fraternities.

    For example: STDs are growing faster in areas where retirees cluster, points out Psychology Today:

    For instance, in Arizona's retirement-heavy (and, for what it's worth, extremely socially and politically conservative) Pima and Maricopa counties, reported cases of syphilis and chlamydia among those 55 and older rose 87 percent from 2005 to 2009. Central Florida saw a 71 percent rise in the same timeframe, and South Florida saw a 60 percent rise.

    The solution? Simple: use condoms.

    9. You may outlive your money. Longer lifespans today put the nest eggs of even the most-scrupulous retirement savers at risk of being exhausted in their owners' lifetimes. Six in 10 financial advisers predict that their clients could outlive their income, LIMRA finds.

    What's worse, just a quarter of preretirees believe they're at risk to outlive their income, LIMRA says. In fact, only a third of people near or in retirement have even tried to calculate how long their assets will last.

    This unpleasant outcome can be avoided in many cases, but it's a lot easier if we pull our heads out of the sand. For ideas on how to save enough for retirement, and how to invest it, check out The 10 Golden Rules of Retiring Rich, Retiring soon? Don't Make These Money Mistakes and Could You Retire Early? Take this Test to Find Out, just for starters.

    What's your idea of an ideal retirement and what are your fears? Share your thoughts and questions in comments 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!


    How to Invest Your Retirement Savings

     

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    Countdown to Midnight 12 O'Clock New Year's Eve December 31
    Getty Images
    By Cameron Huddleston

    Do you have money on your mind? If so, you're not alone. A recent GOBankingRates survey found that 1 in 4 Americans think about money more than anything else.

    To make the most of your money this year in order to get ahead financially in 2016, now is the time to get serious. Take these 10 steps before year's end to rein in spending, save more and lower your tax bill.

    Create a Budget for the Holidays

    To avoid going overboard with holiday spending, create a budget now, said Nick Bradfield, founder of subscription-based financial advising firm Divvy Investments. "If we start to budget early, then we may be able to find some ways to either cut back on things or save up a bit for the holidays so that the credit cards don't swell," he said.

    Think of budgeting as making better choices rather than cutting out things, Bradfield said. Review your bank statement from the past month to see where your money went. Then pinpoint expenses that can be scaled back. Create a plan for the next month so you'll be on track to have enough cash to cover holiday expenses.

    Review Your Tax Withholding

    Now is a good time to make sure you're on track with your tax withholding so that you won't owe money next April, Stein Olavsrud, a certified financial planner at FBB Capital Partners. Otherwise, you'll need to increase your withholding during the final months of the year.

    On the flip side, if you received a big tax refund in the spring and didn't adjust your withholding, that means you're allowing Uncle Sam to hold your money interest-free. File a new W-4 form with your employer to claim additional allowances and get less tax withheld. IRS.gov has a withholding calculator you can use to figure out how many allowances to claim.

    If you received a refund of $3,000, for example, you should get an extra $250 in your paycheck each month by adjusting your withholding. Then use that money to cover extra expenses around the holidays, pay down debt or boost retirement savings.

    Check Your Credit Report

    Don't let the opportunity to check your credit report for free slip by. Every consumer is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax (EFX), Experian and TransUnion, said Katie Ross, education and development manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling. You can get your free copies at AnnualCreditReport.com.

    Review your report to make sure it's accurate. Also review your outstanding debt and develop a plan to get your credit cards paid off, Ross said.

    Maximize Your 401k

    You can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401k in 2015 plus an additional $6,000 if you're 50 or older. If you can't set aside that much, at least make sure you're contributing enough to take advantage of the employer match, said Greg de Jong, a certified financial planner with Savant Capital Management.

    Talk with your workplace benefits coordinator or access your 401k account online to adjust your contribution before the end of the year. The more you contribute, the more you lower your taxable income because contributions are tax deferred.

    Because the stock market has taken a hit this year, you can buy some stocks at a lower cost, said Travis Sollinger, a certified financial planner with Fort Pitt Capital Group. "The golden rule is to buy low, and you can actually do this in 2015 because the market is down year-to-date," he said. "Don't let one performance deter you from saving for a retirement that is 15 to 20 years down the road."

    Open a Solo 401k

    A great way for the self-employed or business owners with no employees to save for retirement is the solo 401k Olavsrud said. Although you have until the tax-filing deadline in April to make a contribution, you must open an account before Dec. 31, he said.

    You can contribute $18,000 in 2015 and another 25 percent of compensation, up to a maximum contribution of $53,000. If you're 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,000. The 401khelpcenter.com has a list of solo 401(k) plan providers.

    Donate to Charity

    Make charitable contributions before the end of the year to take advantage of the tax break you'll get. Usually you can deduct donations of cash or property made to qualified organizations up to certain limits if you itemize on your federal tax return. Be sure to get receipts for all contributions.

    Sell Stock Losers to Offset Winners

    Now is a good time to review your portfolio to determine whether to cash in on winning stocks and sell losers to offset capital gains, Olavsrud said. If you hold an asset for more than a year and sell it at a profit, you must pay tax on your capital gains, typically 15 percent or 20 percent for high-income taxpayers. Those in the 10 percent and 15 percent brackets pay no tax. If your losses are more than your gains, you can deduct the difference up to $3,000 as a loss on your tax return to offset other income.

    Review Insurance Policies

    Before winter weather takes hold, review your homeowners insurance policy to make sure you have adequate coverage. Damage caused by wind, ice, snow and burst pipes typically is covered by standard policies.

    But sewage backup, which can be caused when melting snow overburdens sewer systems, isn't covered by most homeowners policies, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Adding this coverage costs $40 to $50 a year.

    You also might be able to save money on your insurance premium by raising your deductible. Boosting it from $500 to $1,000 could shave 25 percent off your premium.

    Make an Estate Plan

    "Investing in an estate plan at year end is a great way to not only plan for the future, but also to revisit your assets and financial circumstance," said Elise Rodriguez, an estate-planning attorney in Miami. Meet with an attorney to draft a will, a power of attorney and a living will to spell out end-of-life care wishes. Appoint a trusted relative or family member to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated.

    Do Take Required Minimum Distributions

    If you have an IRA and are 70½ or older, you must take a minimum required distribution by Dec. 31. However, for retirees who reach age 70½ during 2015, the deadline for taking their first RMD is April 1, 2016.

    The penalty for not taking that withdrawal is 50 percent of the required distribution amount. So if you're required to withdraw $10,000 but don't do this on time, you'll be hit with a $5,000 penalty.

    "This is mandatory and it's easy for some people to forget, especially if they don't need the money to live on," Sollinger said.

    Find worksheets to calculate your RMD at IRS.gov. Also be aware that you must take RMDs if you an inherit an IRA, Olavsrud said.

    This article, What You Should Do With Your Money Before 2015 Ends, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Couple calculating their home expenses
    Getty ImagesDitching your gym membership or finding an alternative to that $4 morning coffee can help you cut costs.
    By Stephanie Steinberg

    Household expenses often have a sneaky way of getting past you without you noticing. In fact, many of the costs you're shelling out for on a daily or weekly basis might be ones that you can cut from your budget altogether. Here are 10 expenses you should consider getting rid of today:

    Cable. The average 2015 cable bill is expected to reach $123 a month, according to the market research company NPD Group. But the Internet makes paying for cable unnecessary, says Ginger Dean, founder of girlsjustwannahavefunds.com. "If you only watch certain shows, then paying for a fully loaded cable package might not be the best deal for your wallet," she writes. Services such as Hulu, YouTube, Netflix and Roku can satisfy your TV fix for a drastically reduced rate or for free.

    Cellphone. The average monthly cellphone bill was $148 at the end of 2013, according to research firm Cowen and Company. The survey of 1,876 customers found other cellphone providers weren't much cheaper, with monthly Sprint bills running $144 and T-Mobile at $120. "Monthly plans like these must be wreaking havoc on family budgets all over the country," says Holly Johnson, founder of ClubThrifty.com. "And, even for those who can afford it, it has to hurt." Luckily, there's a way to ease that pain -- by not signing up for an expensive two-year contract. Many cellphone carriers offer low-cost plans with no long-term contract commitments. For instance, the average Republic Wireless no-contract plan was about $14 in August, and Straight Talk Wireless offers no-contract plans for as low as $30 a month.

    Energy bills. Nothing sets fire to your wallet like a blazing heating bill. But did you know you can save 3 percent on your heating bill for every one degree you lower the thermostat? "If you normally keep your apartment temperature at 75 degrees and lower it to 72 degrees, you'll save 9 percent on your utility bill or 9 cents on every dollar," says Niccole Schreck, rental expert for Rent.com.

    Transportation. If you live in a city, taking public transportation can help you save money on gas and auto expenses. "With cost-saving and eco-friendly options like buses, trains and subways available, there's no need for you to be making a car payment and paying for car insurance each month (and, let's face it, accruing a few parking tickets every now and then)," Schreck says.

    Dining out. "Eating out often costs more than cooking at home, so even if you hate cooking, it pays -- literally -- to do some reading up on easy, fast recipes," says Mint.com spokeswoman Holly Perez. Avoid the temptation to pop in a fast food joint or restaurant for lunch by making large dishes over the weekend, freezing them and then bringing portions to work the next week.

    Gym membership. The average gym membership costs $40 to $50 a month, which adds up to hundreds of dollars a year, says WiseBread blogger Sabah Karimi, but you can work out and not pay a penny. "You could sign up for fitness classes at a neighborhood recreational center, join the YMCA, take advantage of a corporate wellness program or commit to following DVD fitness programs at home," Karimi says. And, of course, it's always free to run or walk outdoors.

    Groceries. The average monthly cost to feed a family of four was between $568 and $1,107 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you want to pare down your food budget, shop at a warehouse club where you can buy items in bulk that will last a while. But avoid the 10-pound bags of vegetables and perishables. "Think about how long it will really take to get through that box of candy or family pack of deli meat, and make sure you're buying items that won't expire any time soon," Karimi says.

    Coffee. "While a $4 morning coffee can satisfy the soul, it can also hurt the budget," says​ retail expert Hitha Prabhakar. Consider buying a French press or Keurig machine to brew your favorite coffee drinks at home. "It's a larger out-of-pocket expense, but it will easily pay for itself over time," she says.

    Medications. Prescription drugs can do some damage to your bank account, but you can likely find the medication you need at a cheaper price by choosing generic drugs. "Generics are the bio-equivalent of brand-name drugs, but cost 80 to 85 percent less," says Hal Bundrick, a certified financial planner and NerdWallet contributor. He recommends using apps such as GoodRx, LowestMed and Prescription Saver to compare drug prices at nearby pharmacies. Signing up for a pharmacy discount card can save you about 10 to 25 percent, too.

    Entertainment. Between the tickets, popcorn and soda, a date night at the movies could cost more than $35. But if you sign up for a loyalty club, you can pay less for tickets and concessions. "Regal Entertainment Group, for example, offers $2 popcorn on Tuesdays to club members," says Teresa Mears, publisher of Living on the Cheap. Other theaters, like AMC, offer kids snack packs and free popcorn and drink refills when you purchase a large size. You can also find free movie screenings at museums, libraries and parks. "In the summer, the major movie chains show free or discounted movies for kids on weekday mornings," Mears adds.

    Stephanie Steinberg is an Assistant Editor for Money and Health & Wellness at U.S. News. She is the editor of the new book "In the Name of Editorial Freedom." You can follow her on Twitter @Steph_Steinberg, connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google Plus or email her at ssteinberg@usnews.com.

     

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    Credit Reports-Assistance
    Elise Amendola/AP
    By Nicholas Pell

    NEW YORK -- If you've ever gone to pull your credit report, you know that there are three different credit reporting bureaus. And if you've ever pulled your score, you've probably noticed that they're not all the same. So if you have three different scores and three different credit reports, why? What are the differences between the three major credit reporting bureaus?

    The Pre-History of Credit Reporting Agencies

    Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com, points out that part of the reason for different credit scores is the past of the credit reporting industry. The "big three" of TransUnion, Experian and Equifax (EFX) were the result of the consolidations of the late 1980s. The consolidation of smaller credit bureaus also gave a regional flavor to things.

    "Not every place reports to all three," says Randy Padawer, a consumer education specialist with LexingtonLaw. "Some smaller and middle-sized companies report to just one or two out of the three."

    This is a holdover from the regional days. "The larger lenders will report to all three," he says. "But that's not going to be true of smaller and medium-sized firms."

    Detweiler likens the differences to variations between soda pop brands. "They're each a little different, and when you go out to a restaurant, you don't get to pick what you want," she says. "Your creditor reports to them, or they don't." Similarly, your creditors will pull the report they want, not the report that makes you look the best.

    The Credit Score Arms Race ...

    Detweiler says that the scores are where things begin to get interesting.

    "The credit-reporting bureaus are for-profit businesses in competition with each other," she says. "Their customers are the lenders. They all claim to have the most complete and accurate reporting." However, they all use algorithms purchased from FICO, a separate company from all three. They then build custom scoring systems using the system purchased from FICO. "They have a menu of different scores they send to customers for different purposes," she adds.

    What's more, the three reporting bureaus have even come up with their own scoring system, called VantageScore. Detweiler says that the bureaus claim that their system is more consistent. But there are also in-house scores. "There's FICO and VantageScore and proprietary scores for each bureau," says Padawer. "When you use different scoring systems, even small variations create noticeable differences in the resulting credit scores."

    What You Need to Know as a Consumer

    There are some things, outside of major credit cards, that are always going to appear on all three credit reports. "A judgment is a public record, and it would be very unlikely that it would not be on all three credit reports," says Detweiler. And while big bank credit cards will be on all three, smaller credit unions might not be. What's more, some collection agencies might not report to all three. "It might save the company some money or it might be a compliance issue. Anyone who reports to a credit agency has to be set up to handle disputes," she says.

    Detweiler says that while you're often told to stagger getting your credit reports, you shouldn't do that the first time you pull your credit reports. "If there's a mistake on one and not on the others, that's going to be easier to spot once you get all three," she says. "After that you can stagger them."

    When you're repairing your credit, you're probably going to have some interactions with the credit bureaus. "Even though the three credit bureaus are in the same business, they're different countries with very different cultures," says Padawer. He notes that won't impact your credit score per se, but you will likely find something different in the way the companies communicate with you, as well as procedures for getting information changed. Don't assume that what you do at one agency is what you need to do at another to ensure accurate information on your credit report.

     

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    Inside A Target Corp. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO

    NEW YORK -- Starting Thursday, Target (TGT) will now match its online prices with more than two dozen online competitors including Amazon.com (AMZN) and Walmart.com (WMT).

    The change in policy marks a big step for the Minneapolis-based retailer, which until now only matched prices at its own stores. Target is also allowing 14 days, up from seven, for shoppers to get a price adjustment. And the retailer is increasing the number of online rivals that it will match from five to 29. That includes for the first time stores that require membership, such as Costco (COST) and Sam's Club.

    The latest move underscores how Target aims to rev up its e-commerce business, which increased by 30 percent in the latest quarter. It also wants to win market share from rivals, a key part of its strategy under its CEO Brian Cornell, who took the helm in August 2014.

    Target made a splash last holiday shopping season when it offered free shipping without any minimum dollar order. Earlier this year, it permanently lowered its free shipping threshold to $25 from $50. But the latest move underscores how Target is trying to align its online price-match policy with its brick-and-mortar stores and create a seamless experience for shoppers jumping from stores to online.

    "These are simple changes, but they mean a lot for our guests," Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com told a packed room of 13,000 store managers at a recent meeting held in Minneapolis.

    In January 2013, Target announced that year-round it would match the prices of its store purchases with five online retail rivals that included Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Bestbuy.com (BBY). Target had started to match prices of store purchases with a group of online rivals in 2012 but that was only during the holiday shopping season.

    Target's latest change in policy follows the lead of Walmart, Best Buy and Staples (SPLS), all of which match their online prices with online rivals. But Target's adjustment puts it ahead of other retailers like Toys R Us, which matches prices for in-store purchases with online rivals but only match their online prices with its own stores.

    Late last year, Walmart formalized its policy of matching its store purchases with online prices found on sites like Amazon.com. It also matches its online prices with select online rivals.

    Sucharita Mulpuru-Koadali, an analyst at Forrester Group (FORR), says fewer people take advantage of price matching when they buy a product online versus buying it in a store because the process is more tedious. Target's spokeswoman Jenna Reck says that shoppers can price match by calling a Target.com customer service team. That's similar to what other rivals like Walmart asks online shoppers to do.

    "They have to get on the price-matching bandwagon," Mulpuru-Kodali said of Target.

     

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    Jobless Claims In U.S. Rose More Than Forecast Last Week
    Laura Buckman/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Richard Leong

    NEW YORK -- U.S. companies hired workers at a solid clip in September, but data showed factory activity in the Midwest contracted, muddying the economic picture for the Federal Reserve on whether to raise interest rates later this year.

    U.S. private employers added 200,000 jobs in September, payroll processor ADP (ADP) said Wednesday, the strongest reading since June. It beat a forecast 194,000 increase among economists polled by Reuters.

    Private payroll gains in August were revised down to 186,000 from an originally reported 190,000 increase.

    The U.S. central bank's policy-setting group, the Federal Open Market Committee, decided against ending its near zero interest rate policy in September, citing concerns about global risks and market turbulence stemming from China.

    In recent days, several top Fed policymakers including Chair Janet Yellen have said the Fed could raise rates later this year if the economy shows further improvement.

    "As for the FOMC reacting to this report, the market can continue to view them as the suitor wondering why it should matter when he gives the engagement ring as long as she knows they are eventually going to be married," Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG in New York.

    Interest rates futures implied traders see a 11 percent chance the Fed would raise rates in October and a 39 percent chance it would do so in December, according to CME Group's FedWatch program.

    The latest ADP data supported expectations for private and government jobs gains to be reported by the U.S. Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

    Economists polled by Reuters expect Friday's report to show U.S. employers hired 203,000 workers in September, improving from August's 173,000 increase which was the smallest in five months. The unemployment rate was forecast to hold at 5.1 percent, a near 7½ year low.

    "If we are able to hold on this type of jobs growth, the odds are pretty good we'd be back to full employment in the summer of 2016," Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi told reporters on a conference call.

    Moody's Analytics jointly developed the private jobs report with ADP.

    U.S. stocks rose partly on the better-than-expected ADP data, while Treasuries prices stayed in negative territory and the dollar tacked on earlier gains.

    Midwest Factory Slump

    As the labor market seemed to hum along, manufacturing activity in the Midwest took an unexpected downturn as a strong dollar and weak overseas demand have hurt U.S. exports.

    The Chicago Purchasing Management Index fell in September to 48.7, its weakest since May, from August's 54.4. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a reading of 53.

    A reading below 50 suggests the Chicago-area factory sector is contracting despite strong vehicle demand.

    A manufacturing gauge on the upper Midwest region fell to its lowest level since 2009.

    Marquette University and the Institute for Supply Management-Milwaukee said its regional business barometer fell to 39.44 in September from 47.67 in August.

    "In aggregate, growth still looks strong to keep the unemployment rate trending down," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York.

     

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    Ralph Lauren New CEO
    Jason DeCrow/APDesigner Ralph Lauren, right, poses in his office with Stefan Larsson, global brand president for Old Navy.
    By Siddharth Cavale and Kylie Gumpert

    NEW YORK -- American designer Ralph Lauren, who built a fashion powerhouse on luxury designs inspired by country club chic, announced Tuesday he is stepping down as chief executive officer and named the head of Gap Inc.'s (GPS) populist Old Navy brand to the position.

    Ralph Lauren Corp. (RL), founded by 75-year-old Lauren in 1967, appointed Stefan Larsson, the global president of Gap's Old Navy division, as CEO effective in November. Lauren will continue to serve as executive chairman and head its design team, the company said in a statement.

    Lauren, who got his start designing neckties, plans to stay active at the company and Larsson will report to him.

    When they start designing things I can't understand, I'll quit.

    "When they start designing things I can't understand, I'll quit," Lauren told the New York Times in an interview.

    The company has been struggling to boost profits as a stronger dollar reduces the value of sales from overseas. Net revenue in its first quarter ended June 27 fell 5 percent, mainly due to currency fluctuations.

    Odeon Capital analyst Rick Snyder said the company had grown to a size where it needed more "systems and controls." The change in CEO "is just a natural progression," Snyder said.

    Milton Pedraza, a fashion industry analyst at the Luxury Institute, said Larsson's appointment follows a trend of luxury brands hiring leaders from mass-market companies in recent months. He cited the appointment of Grita Loebsack, a former vice president at Unilever Plc, as CEO of Kering's emerging brands, which include Stella McCartney and Gucci.

    Larsson, 41, is credited with reviving sales at Old Navy, successfully implementing a model of offering trendy clothes at low prices.

    Annual sales at the division rose 8 percent in 2014 and became Gap's biggest business. Sales for the division were $6.62 billion, or 40.3 percent of Gap's total.

    Lauren's fashion empire includes some 25 brands including Polo, Club Monaco and Denim & Supply, and the company makes clothing, accessories, furniture, home decor items and footwear under its labels.

    Larsson, a Swede who before joining Gap was global head of sales at Hennes & Mauritz, brings experience of managing a fast fashion business with a supply chains considered to be among the most efficient within the apparel industry.

    His appointment would be a good fit for Ralph Lauren which is seeking to reorganize and centralize business units and brands, Snyder said.

    "If he comes from a place like H&M, he understands global supply chains and that's one of the things that Ralph Lauren is trying to implement right now," Snyder said. "It's going to be very positive for them."

    From Wild West to Hip Hop

    Despite the aura of Anglo-Saxon elitism around his company, Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx in 1939. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Belarus, and he changed his name to Lauren at age 16.

    Lauren's designs drew inspiration from elite and exotic realms including East Coast prepsters, the Wild West, colonists on African safari and czarist Russia. He designed the wardrobe for the 1974 film version of "The Great Gatsby" including a pink suit for star Robert Redford.

    The Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, which debuted in 1972, became a signature item for the company with a tiny polo player embroidered on the chest.

    His designs have been worn by presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and actor Johnny Depp.

    Lauren was also, perhaps surprisingly, influential in the hip hop world. His bright colors and bold clothing became staples for some New York gangs, and rappers such as Kanye West and Lil Wayne have mentioned Lauren and his designs in their rhymes.

    The company also said that Jackwyn Nemerov, chief operating officer, would retire in November at which time she will become an adviser to the company.

     

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    Credit Card Changes Q and A
    Matt Rourke/AP
    By Beth Pinsker

    NEW YORK -- The U.S. credit card industry and merchants face a Thursday deadline to make progress with the transition to cards with chip technology, but less than half of consumers have the new cards in their wallets.

    A new study from CreditCards.com found that only 40 percent of cardholders have chip cards, which employ an extra level of security above the traditional magnetic stripe to prevent fraud.

    We were expecting a little bigger number, but we also understood that this is going to be a long process.

    Known as EMV technology, the chips in the cards -- which can work in conjunction with PIN codes -- help prevent thieves from making copycat cards. Consumers dip the cards instead of swiping them, and then follow keypad instructions. Other areas of the world, particularly Europe, have already widely adopted the technology.

    This week's deadline was not about getting cards into the hands of consumers, but rather about a liability shift between credit card issuers and merchants. In fact, there is no firm deadline by which all consumers are supposed to get cards.

    "We were expecting a little bigger number, but we also understood that this is going to be a long process," says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

    MasterCard reported this week that 40 percent of all U.S.-branded consumer credit cards are chip cards. A quarter of U.S. merchants have already transitioned to accept these cards, according to a MasterCard press release. For stores that have not, the chip cards can still be swiped the old-fashioned way.

    Right now, you are most likely to see a chip payment station at a major national retailer like Target (TGT) or Home Depot (HD), Schulz said. Small merchants are likely to lag behind for years.

    Get Your Card

    The CreditCard.com study also found that those with annual income over $75,000 are more than twice as likely to have a chip card than people with lower incomes.

    That is because the earliest adopters of chip cards are frequent international travelers, according to Schulz.

    That transition to a broader group of consumers is just going to take time, he said, because card issuers are drawing it out due to the expense of replacing cards.

    For consumers impatient to get a chip card, they can call and request one from their issuer, or seek more information on the industry's explanation website. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has information and can take complaints for consumers having issues.

    Otherwise, consumers are likely to just get a new card in the mail seemingly at random -- driven by a renewal date or by high-profile deadlines like the one this week.

    "It's not a coincidence to get a card around this time," said Carolyn Balfany, senior vice president, U.S. product delivery for MasterCard Worldwide (MA).

    The change consumers will likely notice most is that more and more stores will turn on their terminals as of Thursday. But don't expect too many problems, said Balfany: "It's not Y2K."

     

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    AUTO INDUSTRY
    Getty ImagesA Ford Windstar minivan
    DETROIT -- Ford (F) is recalling some older Windstar minivans to because a previous rear-axle recall repair might not work.

    The recall covers about 342,000 vans from 1998 through 2003. The company said Wednesday that the Windstars were recalled in 2010 due to axle cracks that could grow and lead to complete failure and a crash.

    They're being recalled again because a reinforcement bracket from the first recall could have been installed incorrectly. The bracket was designed to mitigate problems if the axle failed. The company says it has reports of a small number of accidents but no injuries. The exact number of wrecks wasn't available.

    Dealers will inspect the vans, and if the brackets weren't installed right, replace the axles. If they were correctly installed, customers will be offered a $300 discount on the price of an axle replacement. The recall is taking place in the U.S. and Canada.

    Also Wednesday, Ford said it was recalling 37,000 F-150 pickups from the 2015 model year in the U.S. and Canada to fix a problem with the adaptive cruise control system that automatically brakes the trucks to avoid a crash.

    The company said that when passing a large truck, the radar could incorrectly determine that it's in the F-150's travel lane when it isn't. The system could apply the brakes until it senses that the truck is no longer in the way.

    Ford says it has a report of one crash caused by the problem but no injuries. Dealers will update software to fix the problem.

     

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    Stocks Drop Sharply On Economic Data From China
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks closed sharply higher Wednesday as investors sought bargains among beaten-down stocks and the recently battered biotechnology index bounced back on the last day of Wall Street's worst quarter since 2011.

    For much of the third quarter, global markets were rocked by fears of slowing growth in China and uncertainty over timing for a U.S. Federal Reserve hike of interest rates. Biotech had a seven-day sell-off kicked off by drug price regulation worries.

    I don't think there was a specific piece of news driving the market today. We got very oversold.

    "I don't think there was a specific piece of news driving the market today. We got very oversold," said Brian Fenske, head of sales trading at ITG in New York. "When everybody gets bearish quickly, you tend to get these bounces."

    Investment strategists and traders said it was too soon to expect Wednesday's rally to be sustainable. However, instead of trying to bet on the rate hike timing, Fenske said that investors will now focus on economic data and look ahead to the third-quarter earnings season, which begins next week.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 235.57 points, or 1.5 percent, to 16,284.7, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 35.94 points, or 1.9 percent, to 1,920.03, and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 102.84 points, or 2.3 percent, to 4,620.17.

    For the quarter, the Dow fell 7.6 percent, the S&P lost 6.9 percent and Nasdaq fell 7.4 percent. For September, the Dow fell 1.5 percent while the S&P dropped 2.6 percent and Nasdaq fell 3.3 percent.

    Trading was heavy Wednesday with 8.52 billion shares changing hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 7.28 billion average for the previous 20 sessions, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    Economic Concerns

    The Fed has said it needs to see more improvement in the labor market and be confident that inflation will increase before raising rates for the first time since 2006. Inflation remains below the Fed's 2 percent target.

    Yellen said last week the central bank remained on track to raise rates this year. The Fed meets next on Oct. 27-28.

    Data released Wednesday showed the U.S. private sector added more jobs than expected in September, raising hopes for a strong reading in the government's payrolls report due Friday.

    All 10 S&P sectors were higher, with the consumer discretionary index's 2.7 percent rise leading the gains. The Nasdaq biotechnology index closed up 4.5 percent as investors sought bargains in the sector, but was still down 11.5 percent for the month after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized drug pricing last week.

    Although the market's recent rout has forced many strategists to slash expectations, a Reuters poll showed the S&P 500 is expected to end 2015 roughly 11 percent above current levels.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,340 to 758, for a 3.09-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 2,063 issues rose and 783 fell for a 2.63-to-1 ratio favoring advancers. The S&P 500 posted 3 new 52-week highs and 18 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 22 new highs and 179 new lows.

    -Abhiram Nandakumar and Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • At 10 a.m., the Institute for Supply Management releases its manufacturing index for September; the Commerce Department releases construction spending for August; and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.
    • McCormick & Co. (MKC) and Micron Technology (MU) report quarterly financial results.

     

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    Couple Watching 3D Film In Cinema
    Getty Images
    It's that creepy time of the year when Hollywood tries to frighten you. Several horror movies will be making their theatrical debuts in the coming weeks, hoping to cash in on the Halloween frenzy that tends to dominate October.

    Let's go over some of the more promising slated releases and then wrap things up with a few tips to save money as you test your jump-scare mettle at the local multiplex.

    'The Final Girls' -- Oct. 9

    The first of October's horror flicks is more campy than creepy. "The Final Girls" stars Taissa Farmiga from "American Horror Story" fame as a girl who gets transported back to a 1980s camp-based slasher flick that starred her now-deceased mother. There's humor. There's blood. There's family bonding. Think of it as "The Purple Rose of Cairo" meets "Scream" and you will be in the ballpark of what to expect.

    The film gets its title from the slasher flick trend where the last female character left standing -- the final girl -- is often the one that does in the baddie at the end of the movie.

    'Crimson Peak' -- Oct. 16

    If you're hungry for highbrow horror, the art-house pick this season will be Guillermo del Toro's latest release. "Crimson Peak" details an aspiring author torn between two lovers as she takes up residency in a haunted house with a bloody past.

    Golden Globe winner Jessica Chastain stars. When del Toro takes on horror -- as he did in "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" -- it's usually in a cerebral way. Did I mention that "Crimson Peak" is a period piece?

    'Goosebumps' -- Oct. 16

    What could very well be the top box office draw in October is the highly anticipated return of R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" series that entertained readers and viewers through the 1990s. Nostalgia will play a big part in packing movie houses, and the plot -- where classic "Goosebumps" characters are freed into a Maryland town -- should pique the interest of adults who grew up enjoying Stine's work.

    "Goosebumps" stars Jack Black, and director Rob Letterman's earlier works include kid-friendly fare "Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Shark Tale." The PG rating suggests that the movie is the one entry this season targeting families.

    'Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension' -- Oct. 23

    There's apparently still some life left in the found-footage genre that was initially popularized by "The Blair Witch Project" in 1999. The genre features stories that are told from the perspective of recorded footage, lending an element of realism.

    The original "Paranormal Activity" was made on a shoestring budget, and now we're up to the sixth installment in the franchise. As long as folks keep watching them, the studio will probably keep making them.

    'Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse' -- Oct. 30

    We'll get to see three scouts and a cocktail waitress take on zombie strippers, partygoers, and even a cat on the eve of Halloween. It's a lighthearted zombie romp, along the lines of "Zombieland" and "Shaun of the Dead," where the joke counts often get as high as the body counts.

    The film stars Patrick Schwarzenegger as the head scout, notable because he's the son of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.

    Treats for Tricks

    If you're looking to save some money at the movies this October, your first thought may be of stuffing your pockets with Halloween candy to save on concessions -- something that's frowned upon by most multiplex operators. You naturally know that you can save money by attending matinees earlier in the day as well as other ways to make a theater outing cheaper, but one option you might not know about is monthly movie passes.

    MoviePass offers a way to get into roughly 90 percent of the theaters out there for as little as $30 a month. You are limited to one movie a day, and you can't see the same movie twice. It also won't work on 3D or IMAX (IMAX) screenings. However, if you plan on seeing all or even most of the horror films coming out in October, you may never find a situation where the pass presents a better value.

    The MoviePass takes about a week to arrive after ordering it, and you will want to cancel after your first month unless you are looking forward to the slate of not-so-scary fare in November. The horror flicks are coming. Don't be caught by surprise.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns and recommends IMAX. 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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    approved real estate mortgage...
    Shutterstock
    If you've ever taken out a mortgage loan, you know just how long and arduous a process it can be to get financing to buy your dream home. Between gathering all your financial information, completing bank applications, waiting for credit reports to get pulled, and navigating various state and federal regulations, the home-loan process has been a nightmare for many homebuyers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is aiming to change that, and with its new disclosure rules taking effect on Oct. 3, the CFPB hopes that mortgage borrowers will have a much improved experience in buying a home going forward.

    What the New Mortgage Rules Require

    The purpose of the CFPB in modifying its mortgage disclosure rules is to ease the process of taking out a mortgage. The rule changes contribute to that goal in two ways. First, instead of having four disclosure forms, some of which present the same information multiple times, mortgage borrowers will only have to look at two disclosure forms, the Loan Estimate and the Closing Disclosure. Second, the period of time you have to review mortgage documents will extend from 24 hours to three days, with the previous requirement of having to specifically request advance notice no longer applying.

    The CFPB anticipates several positive benefits from the rule changes. It believes that the new disclosure forms will be a vast improvement on the old forms, presenting information in a way that's easier for most borrowers to understand. In particular, the CFPB helped to design the Loan Estimate in a manner that makes it easier for would-be borrowers to take offers from different lenders and compare them more easily, and the agency clearly wants borrowers to shop around for the best terms possible rather than relying on a single lender's offer.

    Meanwhile, the three-day waiting period gives borrowers a long enough period to get any lingering questions answered about their mortgages. Whether you go to your lender directly or consult a professional like a real-estate lawyer or a specialized housing counselor, three days often gives you opportunities to get more information that a shorter 24-hour period didn't.

    Getting the Scoop on the New Forms

    Even with these streamlined disclosure rules, homeowners can still have a tough time figuring out what the documents they see actually mean. That's one reason the CFPB has provided a guide to help borrowers go through the forms and get the information they need. The new "Your Home Loan Toolkit" will be sent directly to mortgage applicants when they first apply for a home loan, but it's also available from the CFPB's website. The guides take you step-by-step through the disclosure documents, helping you understand what information they contain and making sure it matches up to your expectations of what your mortgage loan terms include. You can also get definitions of key legal terms included in the disclosures, allowing you to ensure that an unfamiliar provision doesn't get the better of you during the loan process.

    Despite the CFPB's positive view on the changes, it's likely that home borrowers will have to endure some short-term challenges after the provisions take effect. Whenever industry professionals have to use a different form than they've worked with in the past, it takes some time to get used to using the new disclosures. Similarly, the three-day waiting period will make it somewhat more difficult for lenders and borrowers to work together to make last-minute changes, as any revisions will restart the clock on a new waiting period. That could jeopardize a rate lock or other aspects of the loan.

    Overall, though, the new mortgage disclosure rules could go a long way toward helping mortgage borrowers understand what they're getting into when they take out a home loan. By making information available to them, the CFPB believes that its latest efforts will help borrowers "know before they owe" -- and that could help prevent a repeat of the housing bust nearly a decade ago.

    Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger sees mortgage loans as a necessary evil. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google Plus. 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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