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    Kold as Ice? Watch the $300 Keurig Kold in Action

    The same company that revolutionized the way you drink coffee at home is now trying to give carbonated beverages a shot. Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) began selling Keurig Kold on Tuesday, a beverage maker that fizzes up carbonated drinks at a cool 39 degrees Fahrenheit in all of 90 seconds.

    Keurig is the same company behind the namesake brewers that redefined the way we consume single servings of coffee, introducing "K-Cup" into the vocabulary of tens of millions of java junkies. Now it's teaming up with Coca-Cola (KO) and Dr Pepper Group (DPS) to let folks make fresh eight-ounce servings of brand-name soda at home or anywhere else.

    If you're even a casual soda sipper, you might be tempted to want one, but let's go over the three important questions whose answers will dictate if you actually want to buy one.

    1. Is Keurig Kold Worth the Initial Investment?

    Making your own soda is a novel concept, but the cover charge is a bit steep. Keurig Kold starts at $299 and the initial model that comes with two glasses retails for $369. That's a lot of money for a soda maker, especially when SodaStream (SODA) has a few models available for less than $100.

    To be fair, Keurig Kold is a far more sophisticated machine than anything that SodaStream has put out. Keurig Kold serves beverages at a chilled temperature, something that SodaStream doesn't offer even though it means that you have to have your Keurig Kold turned on for at least two hours before use. Keurig Kold also doesn't need CO2 canisters like SodaStream: The fizzing elements are contained within the K-Cup-like pods. The benefits are neat, but is it worth an initial investment of at least $300 to see if it's right for you?

    2. Am I Cool With Paying More for Soda I Make at Home?

    Crafting your own Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite or Dr Pepper at home is convenient, but it's not cheaper than buying it in bottles or cans at the store. The brand-name soda pods cost $4.99 for a box that contains four pods. We're talking about $1.25 a serving, and we're talking about 8 ounces here. A traditional can of soda contains 12 ounces.

    The Keurig Kold serving is comparable to the petite cans that began rolling out a few years ago, and buying those in a six-pack at your local supermarket will cost you roughly half as much per serving as using Keurig Kold.

    3. Am I Comfortable with the Risks of Being an Early Adopter?

    Folks who need to get shiny new toys first take on the risks of overpaying or buying into flops that get abandoned. Just as entry-level Keurig coffee brewers got cheaper over time, it's a safe bet that Keurig Kold machines -- if successful -- will get more affordable in future generations.

    The big question is whether there will be future generations. Keurig Kold was supposed to be available everywhere by now, but as of now it's limited to Keurig's website. In a few weeks it will start popping up in select markets. Keurig doesn't expect mass-market penetration until next year. If you're comfortable buying your pods online, that may not be a problem, but you might want to wait for it to actually take off. You would hate to spend $300 on a machine that flops, especially since you need production to continue so you can restock your machine with Kold pods.

    Keurig Kold is cool, and even the steep initial investment may be worth it if it makes you the star of your holiday parties this year. However, there are also plenty of reasons to be cautious at a time when soda consumption in general is on the decline.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Keurig Green Mountain and SodaStream. The Motley Fool owns shares of SodaStream and has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola, short January 2016 $43 calls on Coca-Cola and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola and Keurig Green Mountain. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    The Spirit Halloween pop-up store in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York attempts to unload unsold merchandise
    Alamy
    By Louis Ramirez

    October can be a precarious month for shoppers. Although it's packed with respectable sales thanks to Columbus Day and Halloween, it's also the month when we first see Black Friday ads and leaks. As a result, some shoppers may feel the need to abstain from making any purchases this month.

    But we're here to tell you that October is actually a great month for some purchases, as long as you're making the right ones. Below, we've created a list of nine items you should buy this month, alongside a list of nine items that will be cheaper in November. That way you know you're getting the most out of your buck.

    Still uncertain about what to buy? Be sure to sign up for the DealNews Select Newsletter so you don't miss one of the best deals.

    Nine Deals You Should Buy in October

    If you're putting off the following purchases because you think that you'll score a better deal next month, then think again! These items are at their hottest this month.

    Cars. October is traditionally one of the best months to purchase a new car. By now, hundreds of 2016 models have entered the market and dealerships are more eager than ever to clear 2015's inventory. That means consumers have the upper hand when it comes time to negotiations. According to MarketWatch, the longer you wait to buy a car, the greater the bargain you'll find. However, don't wait too long; by November and December, selection can become an issue. So head to the dealership now that the time is ripe and remember that you have the upper hand.

    Costumes. Make no mistake, the best time to buy a Halloween costume is on the day after Halloween, when retailers discount all of their unsold costumes by as much as 75 percent with stackable coupons and free shipping. However, most people don't buy their costumes that far in advance, so the second-best time to purchase a Halloween costume is during the week before Halloween. That week you'll find sales that range from 20 to 70 percent off from retailers like Costume Express, Pottery Ban Kids, ThinkGeek and BuyCostumes.

    Gamers should also take note that for the past few years Steam has been holding its own Halloween sale, taking up to 90 percent off a selection of horror- and zombie-based video games like "The Walking Dead" and "Plants vs. Zombies," with prices starting as low as 19 cents.

    European vacations. According to travel expert Rick Steves, October can be an excellent time to book a European vacation, since October is the start of Europe's off-season. That means travelers will "find more budget rooms, spend less time in lines, and meet more Europeans than tourists." Combined with a strong dollar, that means travelers can expect to have an overall better vacation experience while saving money on the side.

    Patio furniture. New patio furniture is probably the last thing on your shopping list this month, but the truth is October can be a great time for patio furniture deals. Retailers are desperately clearing out their inventory and furniture that didn't sell in September. Last year, for instance, Sears took 70 percent off its patio furniture in September and added a stackable dollar-off coupon during the month of October. By comparison, patio furniture deals in November were significantly harder to come by and discounts generally topped off at 40 percent.

    55-inch 1080p LCD HDTVs. We've said it before and we'll say it again, Black Friday is the best time of the year to purchase a new HDTV. However, last Black Friday we noticed that 55-inch sets didn't drop much in price and that's because this category size has hit a price plateau, meaning retailers have discounted them as much as they're willing to.

    You can currently find deals on 55-inch HDTVs for about $400, which is the same price we're predicting for Black Friday. So if you're in the market for a TV in this size range, you might as well purchase it this month, as it won't drop significantly next month. Moreover, by making your purchase this month, you can shop at your leisure and avoid the stress of shopping during the holidays.

    Jeans. Back-to-school sales have come and gone, but certain back-to-school items -- such as denim -- are still on sale this month with deals that won't get any better next month. For instance, Lucky, Nautica and Levi's have all slashed their jeans with discounts that range from 40 to 60 percent off. Come November, these discounts won't be as strong, or if they are, they'll have certain purchase or shipping requirements. So your best bet is to shop now and enjoy the same discounts without the purchase requirements.

    Pizza. October is National Pizza Month, which means you can expect to find numerous deals this month from the likes of Pizza Hut, Papa John's, California Pizza Kitchen and Domino's, to name a few. Last year Pizza Hut offered its best BOGO offer of the year, whereas Papa John's offered its best percent off discount, taking 50 percent off a regular or large pizza.

    Camping gear. Although you won't find sales on winter sports gear, October is still a great month for deals on end-of-season gear like water sports and hiking equipment. Check stores like REI and Sierra Trading Post for sales that knock from 40 to 60 percent off select merchandise. While it's likely you'll see similar sales in November, the sales are more frequent in October and come with no minimum purchase requirements.

    Select produce. According to Oprah.com, October is the best time of the year to purchase certain kinds of produce because they're at their peak season and lowest price of the year. Some of the produce you should purchase this month includes pumpkins, cranberries, grapes, oranges, sweet potatoes and yams.

    Wait Until Black Friday to Buy ...

    While there are some great deals in October, there's no denying that November is a month full of stunningly low prices on a variety of electronics and other goods. Below we've focused on some of the bigger Black Friday deals that you should plan to buy in November.

    Appliances. Although appliance manufacturers tend to release their new models in September and October, it turns out that November is actually the better month for deals on large appliances. That's because many of these items will be deeply discounted during Black Friday as stores like Home Depot, Sears and Lowe's kick off their sitewide sales. Our deal archives show that November will on average offer more than twice as many appliance deals as we see on any other month of the year. Also, roughly 35 percent of our November appliance deals were marked Editors' Choice last year. By comparison, only 15 percent are marked as such throughout the rest of the year.

    Cold weather apparel. As a general rule of thumb, you should never buy apparel that's in-season because you'll wind up paying higher prices for it. However, Black Friday is the exception. Every clothing retailer from Macy's to J.Crew will discount its cold weather apparel and accessories, which means it's worth waiting until November to refresh your wardrobe. Expect apparel retailers to offer their best coupons of the year with discounts that can take up to 50 percent off or more from your purchase.

    Most apple devices. Retailers crushed the Apple Store's Black Friday sale last November with discounts that undercut Apple's prices by as much as 13 percent. And although we're used to seeing that every year, last November was an exceptionally great month for Apple deals as we saw dozens of deals on Apple's MacBook Air, iPad, iPhone, iMac and iPad mini. This year we expect to see a repeat, particularly on the 11-inch MacBook Air and iPad Air 2, which have been gradually dropping in price since the summer.

    Laptops. November is the best time of the year to buy a new laptop. If your budget is tight, we expect to see 11-inch budget notebooks as low as $99, a price we saw last November. If you require a more sophisticated machine with current-generation hardware, such as one of Intel's latest processors, then you'll want to look at 15-inch mainstream models, which could hit as low as $300. Expect to find these sales from retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Staples.

    HDTVs. HDTVs are the meat and potatoes of most Black Friday sales. For many screen sizes, you simply won't find better deals any other time of the year. And with prices that start as low as $70 (for a 32-inch set), it's no wonder most shoppers wait all year to buy their TVs in November. And if you think its only off-brand TVs that see discounts, think again. Last year we saw an increase in the number of name-brand 4K HDTV deals, and we can expect that to occur again this November.

    General electronics. November is the best month of the year for making general electronics purchases. That means you'll find price lows on tablets, cameras, home theater gear and media players. Unfortunately, there's no way of guaranteeing that the specific device you want will go on sale next month, but the chances are in your favor that at least one retailer will discount it.

    Domestic travel. According to Hopper, which tracks airfare prices throughout the year, domestic flights will be up to 5 percent cheaper this fall and winter than they were last year. However, whereas Hopper predicts October prices will be in the $248 range, they predict December rates will be slightly cheaper, averaging just $244.

    Video games. October promises to be a busy month for video games, with major releases like "Assassin's Creed Syndicate" and "Halo 5: Guardians" scheduled to drop on Oct. 23 and 27, respectively. For gamers looking to save money, that means October will be somewhat of a quiet month in terms of deals. Instead, leave your shopping for November, which is when we traditionally begin to see the first deals on those late-2015 releases.

    Photo services. The holidays are a great time not just for taking pictures, but also printing them. During the week of Black Friday we traditionally see sales from a variety of photo printing services. Last year, for instance, Vistaprint saved its biggest percent-off discount of the year for the week of Black Friday, taking 60 percent off sitewide. Other services like Shutterfly followed suit, as it announced its biggest sale of the year during the lead up to Black Friday.

    Ready to put this information to use? Sign up for the DealNews Select Newsletter or download the DealNews app in order to keep abreast of any and all of these best buys in October. Want to jump ahead through the year? Check out all our monthly guides.

     

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    U.S. Gas Prices Continue Long Decline
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
    Rick Hudnett recently pulled into a Chevron station near his home in Orlando. He wishes he hadn't.

    The $2.41 price a gallon was a few cents lower than average, so he assumed he had found a bargain. And he did, except for one teensy detail. When he swiped his credit card, Hudnett saw that the rate had jumped to $2.45. He asked an employee why.

    "The clerk mentioned that the rate advertised is only for those who have a Chevron credit card," says Hudnett, a marketing executive based in Florida. "Once he pointed out the tiny sentence under the advertised price on the corner sign and it indicated that particular price was only for Chevron credit card holders, I knew he got me."

    Hudnett's not the only one who feels that way. With the summer driving season over, many motorists are scratching their heads as they review their gas receipts. Simply put, they paid more than they expected. Did they get duped?

    A Chevron (CVX) representative said a "vast majority" of its service stations are independently owned and operated, and that most states also regulate the display of motor fuel prices on signs and dispensers at gas stations.

    "It is the responsibility of Chevron-branded retailers to investigate and comply with all applicable legal requirements," said Braden Reddall, a Chevron spokesman. "We do not track how many elect to offer multitiered pricing."

    Chevron's website prominently offers 3-cents-a-gallon fuel credits when you use one of its credit cards. It is less clear about how it advertises the card's benefits to motorists who may be looking for a low price.

    Hudnett, for his part, thinks it wasn't clear enough.

    "I refuse to buy gas from that location again," he says.

    Gas price shenanigans aren't new, but I'm hearing more complaints about them. Maybe it's because American motorists drove 1.54 trillion miles in the first half of 2015, beating the previous record, 1.5 trillion, set in 2007, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

    High Drama Schemes

    The schemes include price misrepresentations, restrictive terms and conditions that force you to use a particular payment method and -- in some cases -- outright fraud.

    Judy Colbert, a writer based in Glen Burnie, Maryland, tells the story of a friend who saw a sign for $2.53 gas at an independent station in Waldorf, Maryland, a few weeks ago. When he checked his receipt, he found the rate had jumped to $2.69. He was upset but wasn't going to drive back to the station to complain.

    "Two weeks later, the police called my friend for details," she says. "Apparently, the guy who worked at the station pocketed the difference and the rest of it, too, and fled the country."

    Run of the Mill Deception

    But a majority of gas-price high jinks don't result in an arrest. I know, because I've been tracking this issue since 2012, when I became ensnared in a deceptive pricing scheme at an Arco station in Oregon.

    At the time, fuel prices were pushing $4 a gallon, so everyone was looking for a way to save. And I thought I'd hit the jackpot. The station was offering gas a full 10 cents lower than the competition. But as I prepared to swipe my card, a gas station employee approached me.

    "I'm sorry," he said. "Our credit card machine isn't working."

    No problem. I walked into the station and handed the cashier my credit card. That's when I saw the sign. Arco accepted only debit cards, which added a 50 cent "transaction" fee. In my case, it would have negated the savings on the gas. How clever.

    A year later, while driving through California, I encountered a similar bait-and-switch, this time at a Safeway in Willits, California. The price was a then-reasonable $3.87 a gallon. But as I rolled closer, I saw the price was available only to Safeway card members. All others had to pay 10 cents a gallon extra.

    I remember confronting the employee about the price difference. How could Safeway prominently advertise gas at one price that was available to only a select few?

    She told me, as a teacher explains to a new student, how earlier that year "the credit card companies" had raised their fees and that Safeway had to pass the costs along to customers.

    Slow to Catch On

    Regulators are slow to catch up with these advertising tricks. An Oregon jury recently sided with consumers in a case against BP West Coast Products, which also operated numerous Arco-branded stations. The jury said the stations charged more for gas than the amount registered at the pump and failed to properly disclose its prices when it charged a 35 cent fee to consumers who used debit cards to pay.

    You have to be vigilant. One of the newest gas-price scams is the "with car wash" rate. That's when a below-market price is displayed, usually for regular unleaded gas, with the phrase "with car wash" in small print. In fact, the Mobil station around the corner from my house shows its gas prices this way. Without a car wash, the price is 20 cents higher.

    With fuel prices near historic lows and fewer drivers on the road now that summer is wrapping up, expect to see more price discrepancies. Look at the rate before you pump, then review the receipt after you're done fueling. You may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

    Christopher Elliott's latest book is "How To Be The World's Smartest Traveler" (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his new forum, elliott.org/forum or by emailing him at chris@elliott.org.

    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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    How to Choose a Financial Advisor

    By Landon Dowdy

    If you could have Jessica Alba or Warren Buffett as your financial adviser, who would you choose? Nearly half of millennials said they'd pick the so-called Oracle of Omaha, according to a survey by the Insured Retirement Institute and the Center for Generational Kinetics. But more than 1 in 10 preferred to get financial advice from Alba, the actress and co-founder of The Honest Company. Another 32 percent would turn to Oprah Winfrey, and 4 percent said they'd choose NBA superstar LeBron James.

    Of course, just because someone has a successful brand -- or even a successful investing history -- doesn't mean he or she would be the right choice as your financial adviser. "These are successful superstars and [some] have successful companies, but I'm sure they have knowledgeable financial planners who help them ... plan financially and diversify their money," said Hans-Christian Winkler, a certified financial planner at Claraphi Advisory Network in New York City.

    Still, mapping out a long-term financial plan, or even finding a financial adviser, can feel daunting to many -- especially younger investors. In fact, 60 percent of millennials in the same survey said it's harder to plan for retirement than to stick with a diet, and about the same percentage said they'd like to be walked through every step of the retirement planning process.

    If you're looking for someone to help you manage your money and financial planning, here's what to keep in mind.

    Know your needs. Think about your goals before you begin the search for an adviser. Maybe you're just starting out and need help setting up a basic budget and financial plan. Or, perhaps, you're a little further into your career and are wondering how best to invest the money you've saved. Finding the right adviser depends both on your specific needs and your financial goals.

    Check credentials. Anyone can call themselves a financial adviser. But certified financial planners must pass strenuous exams to get their certification and adhere to a fiduciary standard when providing financial planing, meaning they must put your interests above their own with their financial advice. If you are looking for specific investment advice, consider a registered investment adviser, an adviser who is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or a state's securities agency and must also adhere to the fiduciary standard.

    Be sure you're clear on how they're paid. Some are fee-based or fee-only, meaning they charge a flat fee. Others charge a percentage of what they manage and some are commission based. For a directory of CFPs, you can check the CFP Board's site or the Garrett Planning Network, which lists more than 300 independent, fee-only financial planners. You can also find a fee-only adviser through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and look for an investment adviser through the Securities and Exchange Commissionor the financial information company BrightScope. Check to see if an investment adviser has had any disciplinary or regulatory problems, and be sure that he or she is registered or licensed, through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

    Test the chemistry. Once you've done your research, narrow it down to two or three advisers and try to schedule meetings with each one. (That should also give you a good idea of how accessible each is, too.) It's a relationship like any other relationship: You want someone you can trust and are able to build up trust with over time. "I'm a big fan of the gut feeling [when choosing an adviser]," said certified financial planner Elizabeth Scheiderer for NCA Financial Planners in Cleveland. Ask them what kind of results you can expect under their guidance, and ask enough questions to make sure their services, values and products align with your goals.

    "It's almost like a first date because you are establishing that relationship" to see if you trust that person with your money and want to move forward with him or her, said Winkler. And, if it goes well, it could last a lifetime.

     

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    ConAgra Brand Products On the Shelf Ahead of Earnings Figures
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Anjali Athavaley and Sruthi Ramakrishnan

    ConAgra Foods (CAG) said it would cut about 1,500 jobs and move its headquarters to Chicago from Omaha as part of a plan to save at least $300 million in three years.

    The maker of Chef Boyardee pasta and Healthy Choice dinners is under pressure to cut costs and accelerate growth as consumers shift from packaged food to options they consider fresher, healthier alternatives. In July, the company added two directors to its board as part of an agreement with Jana Partners after the activist hedge fund took a stake in the company.

    While we believe that we can create a lot of value with ConAgra Foods, that's only going to happen if we make bold change, and we're going to continue to push for change.

    The job cuts mark the latest changes implemented by ConAgra Chief Executive Officer Sean Connolly, who joined in April. The company also announced in June that it would divest its struggling private-label business.

    "While we believe that we can create a lot of value with ConAgra Foods, that's only going to happen if we make bold change, and we're going to continue to push for change," Connolly said in an interview. He added that the move to Chicago allowed the company to consolidate its consumer foods business in one location.

    The job cuts, which exclude the private label business, represent about 30 percent of ConAgra's office-based workforce. Overall, ConAgra had about 32,900 employees as of May.

    About 1,200 employees will be left in Omaha following the cuts, down from roughly 2,400, excluding ConAgra's private brands workers, Connolly said.

    Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement that he regretted ConAgra's decision, and that the government would be ready to assist Nebraskans seeking reemployment due to the restructuring.

    Beginning next summer, about 700 employees, including the company's senior leadership, will be located at the new Chicago headquarters.

    The workforce reductions, in addition to the company's adoption of zero-based budgeting, which requires managers to justify each year's costs from scratch, will account for $200 million in savings. The other $100 million will come from more efficient spending on promoting products within stores, ConAgra said.

    "While we view these efforts as prudent, we don't believe ConAgra is poised to post operating margins on par with the midteens generated by industry peers, given its lagging brand set," said Morningstar analyst Erin Lash, noting that increased investments in marketing and innovation would partly offset savings.

    ConAgra estimated restructuring-related cash charges of about $345 million over the next two to three years.

    Shares of ConAgra were little changed Wednesday at $40.54.

     

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    A Car Dealership Ahead Of Motor Vehicle Sales Figures
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By DEE-ANN DURBIN and TOM MURPHY

    DETROIT -- September was a blockbuster sales month for the U.S. auto industry -- except at Volkswagen, where an emissions scandal forced the company to halt sales of most of its diesel-powered vehicles.

    Strong consumer demand, easy credit and generous incentives combined to fill dealer showrooms. The industry sold 1.44 million cars and light trucks last month, up 15.8 percent from a year ago.

    Ford's U.S. sales grew 23 percent in September, Nissan surged 18 percent and Fiat Chrysler's U.S. sales jumped nearly 14 percent. Sales at General Motors rose 12 percent, while Toyota posted a 16 percent gain. Honda's sales were up 13 percent.

    Analysts had expected big increases because Labor Day was included in September this year versus August a year ago. Labor Day weekend is typically one of the biggest sales periods of the year, as dealers offer discounts to clear cars off their lots before the new model-year vehicles arrive.

    The Volkswagen brand struggled after Sept. 18, when the U.S. government revealed that nearly 500,000 VW and Audi diesels sold in the U.S. had software that let them cheat on emissions tests. Volkswagen halted sales of 2015 and 2016 diesel models of the Passat, Jetta, Golf and Beetle.

    Right now, the scandal appears to only be hurting only the German automaker. VW's sales were up less than 1 percent over last September. Diesels accounted for just 11.7 percent of the company's total sales, compared with the usual 20 percent.

    The U.S. market has remained a bright spot for automakers as the Chinese economy slows. China is still the No. 1 market globally, but sales there were up just 2.6 percent in the first eight months of the year. U.S. sales grew nearly 4 percent in that time period.

    "The economy still has room to grow and so do auto sales, particularly now that the [millennials] are entering the workforce and starting households," said GM's chief economist, Mustafa Mohatarem, in a statement from the company.

    There is some concern that the momentum could cease if an impasse in contract talks between the Detroit automakers and the United Auto Workers isn't resolved soon.

    Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with KBB, said sales could drop significantly if automakers and the UAW can't come to an agreement on new contracts for GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. It wouldn't take long for a strike at their U.S. plants to crimp vehicle availability. On Thursday, the union said Fiat Chrysler's factory workers rejected a proposed contract; 65 percent of workers voted against it.

    Here are more details of automakers' September sales, which were released Thursday:
    • There was a bright spot for Volkswagen. Its luxury Audi brand -- which has one model, the A3, involved in the scandal -- saw sales climb 16 percent and said September was a record month for the brand in the U.S. Sales of Audi's big SUVs like the Q5 and Q7 were strong, and A3 sales rose 16 percent.
    • General Motors Co. (GM) sold 251,310 cars and trucks. Total Chevrolet sales rose 11 percent, and the company said GMC had its best September since 2004.
    • Ford (F) sold 221,599 vehicles, with its F-Series pickup truck -- the top-selling vehicle in the country -- climbing 16 percent to more than 69,000 trucks. Ford's Lincoln luxury brand notched a 20 percent sales increase thanks to new SUVs.
    • Toyota (TM) sold 194,370 vehicles. Prius hybrid sales rose 12 percent despite relatively low gas prices, while RAV4 SUV sales jumped 18 percent.
    • Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) sold more than 193,000 vehicles for its best September since 2000. Jeep sales rose 40 percent, offsetting slower growth elsewhere. Sales for the company's Ram and Dodge brands climbed 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
    • Honda (HMC) sold 133,750 vehicles. The CR-V small SUV set a monthly record, with sales up 26 percent to nearly 30,000.
    • Nissan sales rose to 121,782, helped by a 30 percent increase for its Infiniti luxury brand.
    -Murphy reported from Indianapolis.

     

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    US-FOOD-DOUGHNUT
    Eva Hambach, AFP/Getty Images
    By Sruthi Ramakrishnan and Ramkumar Iyer

    Dunkin' Brands comparable sales growth slowed at its U.S. Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in the third quarter and the company said 100 U.S outlets would be closed.

    The company also maintained the full-year profit and revenue forecasts it had issued in April, helping send its shares down as much as 12.7 percent, their biggest intraday percentage decline ever.

    Dunkin' on Thursday said comparable sales at its U.S. Dunkin' Donuts outlets rose 1.1 percent in the quarter ended September, compared with a 2 percent rise a year earlier.

    The restaurants are being closed in 2015 and 2016 as convenience store chain Speedway plans to exit about 100 locations with Dunkin' Donuts franchise outlets, Dunkin' said.

    Speedway will continue to remain a franchisee of Dunkin' Brands.

    Nearly all of the roughly 8,200 Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in the United States are owned and operated by franchisees.

    Dunkin' said the restaurants being closed accounted for 0.1 percent of its U.S. sales. The company gets about three-quarters of its revenue from Dunkin' Donuts U.S. outlets.

    The company still expects full-year adjusted earnings of $1.87 to $1.91 a share and revenue growth of 6-8 percent, it said in a presentation on its investor day.

    Analysts on average are expecting earnings of $1.92 a share and revenue to grow 7.3 percent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

    Dunkin' (DNKN) shares were down about 10 percent at $44 in afternoon trading, recouping some losses after hitting a near nine-month low of $42.75.

     

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    economy ism factory manufacturing weekly jobless claims
    Rick Bowmer/APA Boeing employee works on a horizontal stabilizer for a Boeing 787 Dreamliner at the company's plant in Salt Lake City.
    By Jason Lange

    WASHINGTON -- The pace of growth at U.S. factories slowed in September, a sign that the chill falling over the global economy could complicate the Federal Reserve's plans to raise interest rates.

    Other data released Thursday pointed to a tightening labor market and stronger spending on home construction, highlighting the split in the economy between strong domestic growth and weakness abroad.

    This is causing headaches at the Fed, which cited concerns last month about "global economic and financial developments" when it surprised much of Wall Street by holding off on hiking rates.

    The Institute for Supply Management said its index of national factory activity fell to 50.2, its lowest since May 2013 and just below the median forecast in a Reuters poll.

    While any reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing, growth has slowed sharply over the last year as a strong dollar has crimped exports.

    More recently, a slowdown in China has sent a chill throughout the global economy. The ISM's index for exports held steady at 46.5, marking a contraction in activity for the fourth straight month.

    The dollar drifted lower while yields on Treasury debt also declined. Wall Street stocks were trading lower.

    Despite the weakness abroad, the domestic economy and the labor market have appeared on more solid footing, which has boosted expectations the Fed could hike rates this year or in early 2016.

    The Labor Department said the number of new applications for U.S. jobless benefits rose modestly last week, although they remained near 15-year lows and a gauge of the trend in claims fell.

    Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 277,000 for the week ended Sept. 26.

    "Filings at this level are incredibly low by historical standards, speaking to how tight labor markets are getting," said Stephen Stanley, an economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.

    U.S. construction spending climbed in August to the highest level since 2008, the Commerce Department said in a separate report. The gains were boosted by a surge in outlays for residential projects and gave a sign the housing market was helping the overall economy.

    In another sign of domestic strength, the three U.S. automakers -- General Motors (GM), Ford Motor (F) and the U.S. operations of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) -- reported a jump in September sales as cheap gasoline and ultra-low interest rates drove demand for sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

    -Sam Forgione contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    By JOSH BOAK

    WASHINGTON -- Los Angeles-based auto lender Westlake Services faces $48.35 million in cash relief and penalties for deceiving customers and falsely threatening criminal prosecution, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says.

    The CFPB found that Westlake and its subsidiary Wilshire Consumer Credit masked their identities when phoning borrowers, faking calls from pizza delivery shops, florists and family members. Beginning in 2010 through the middle of last year, the companies falsely told borrowers they faced criminal charges, pressuring them into making urgent payments to avoid an investigation.

    The companies also contacted borrowers' employers, friends and family members without permission, implying to them that the borrowers were behind on loan payments and that their vehicles would be repossessed in addition to the risk of criminal charges.

    The CFPB has ordered Westlake and its subsidiary to provide customers with $44.1 million in cash relief and balance reductions. The federal agency also announced a $4.25 million civil penalty against the companies.

     

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    Amazon Cheap Tablet
    Eric Risberg/AP
    By MAE ANDERSON

    NEW YORK -- Amazon will stop allowing the sale of Google and Apple video-streaming devices on its site as it focuses on its own Prime Instant Video streaming service.

    Prime Video has become an important part of Amazon's $99 annual Prime loyalty membership program. The video-streaming devices sold on the site should be able to work with Prime Video, the company said Thursday.

    It's important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.

    "It's important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion," the Amazon said.

    Along with Amazon's Fire TV, the site will still sell other companies' video-streaming devices that are compatible with Prime Video, including Roku, Xbox and PlayStation. But Apple TV and Google's Chromecast won't be sold.

    Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple Inc. (AAPL) didn't immediately respond to requests for comment

    Seattle-based Amazon has been rapidly expanding its Prime Video Service, including recently inked deals to stream NBCUniversal's critically acclaimed drama "Mr. Robot" and a multiyear licensing agreement with CBS.

    Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) shares ended Thursday trading up $8.83, or 1.7 percent, to $520.72.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK -- The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed slightly higher Thursday in a choppy start to the fourth quarter as investors waited for the monthly U.S. jobs report and the quarterly earnings season.

    After starting with a brief rally, stocks fell before edging up again after the latest in a spate of volatile trading days for an equities market where rallies quickly evaporate amid uncertainty about the global economy and U.S. interest rates.

    [U]nless we get a lousy jobs number tomorrow I think the Fed is going to be on the hook to explain themselves if they're not going to raise.

    Many investors were holding fire ahead of Friday's crucial U.S. nonfarm payrolls data and the third-quarter earnings season, which starts Oct. 8 with Alcoa's (AA) report.

    "We're going to get a number investors can sink their teeth into [Friday] and next week kicks off earnings season which is vitally important to the direction of stocks for the rest of the year," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.

    The jobs number should give investors reassurance about the U.S. economy and clues as to whether the Federal Reserve will raise U.S. interest rates this month, according to Ablin.

    "The Fed is fixated on jobs and its ability to throttle inflation. Meanwhile, unless we get a lousy jobs number tomorrow I think the Fed is going to be on the hook to explain themselves if they're not going to raise," he said.

    Data released Thursday showed that the pace of growth at U.S. factories slowed in September, but new jobless claims pointed to a tightening labor market.

    Earlier in the day, data from China showed factory activity fell again, but not as much as feared.

    The market has been jittery about signs of slowing global economic growth, especially in China.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 12.69 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,272.01, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 3.79 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,923.82 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 6.92 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,627.08.

    Half of the S&P's 10 industry sectors closed higher led by a 1 percent rise for materials and a 0.9 percent rise for health care. Both sectors had their third straight day of gains after a recent bout of selling.

    The utilities index's fell 1.2 percent after rising 2.6 percent in September when nervous investors preferred more defensive sectors in a shaky market.

    Energy Slips

    Oil prices settled lower Thursday after altered weather forecasts snuffed out an early rally. Fears a hurricane could damage East Coast oil installations had lifted energy stocks earlier in the day.

    Shares of Twitter (TWTR) fell 8.4 percent to $24.68, after a report that co-founder and interim Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey was expected to be named permanent CEO.

    Dunkin' Brands (DNKN) fell 12.2 percent to $43 after it gave a weak full-year forecast and said it would shut 100 stores.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,733 to 1,262, for a 1.37-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,774 issues fell and 952 advanced for a 1.86-to-1 ratio favoring decliners. The S&P 500 posted four new 52-week highs and 27 lows; the Nasdaq recorded 13 new highs and 169 lows.

    More than 7.54 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, slightly ahead of the 7.25 billion average for the previous 20 sessions, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Abhiram Nandakumar and Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting from Bangalore.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Labor Department releases employment data for September at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Commerce Department releases factory orders for August at 10 a.m.

     

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    I'm worth way more than that! Unhappy woman with banknote
    iStockphoto/Getty Images
    Financial rules of thumb have their place. They can help remove the complexity from financial decisions we have to make. Relying on them blindly, however, can be a costly mistake. In fact, some rules of thumb are flat out wrong in many cases.

    Here are five of them to watch out for as you make your next big financial move.

    1. Pay off debt before saving for retirement. I cringe every time I hear this one. It's sad to see families toiling away for what can be years paying down debt while ignoring retirement savings. Watching them is like watching a movie where everybody but the heroine knows the bad guy is lurking behind the door. And If they are foregoing a company match with their 401(k), they might as well just peek behind that door and get it over with.

    Debt, particularly consumer debt, creates financial hardships. And getting out of debt is an important goal. But ignoring all other financial goals in the process is rarely the best option. Instead, guard your credit score, refinance debt to the lowest interest rates possible, and begin saving for retirement as part of a comprehensive, holistic approach to your finances.

    2. Spend three times your income on a home. It's been said that you can buy a home that costs roughly three times your family income. This rule of thumb is generally accurate. With reasonably good credit and a down payment most can qualify for a mortgage of 2½ to three times their income. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Being house poor feels as suffocating as a packed elevator stuck between floors. Trust me, I've been there.

    Rather than going "all in" with a house, save a bit longer for a bigger down payment. Scale back your desire for a McMansion and work to keep your housing costs at no more than 20 percent of your income. And remember, asking a mortgage broker how much you can afford is like asking a barber if you need a haircut.

    3. Pay off your smallest debt first. This old chestnut has sometimes wrongly been referred to as the "debt snowball." The debt snowball has nothing to do with what order you pay off your debts. Rather, it refers to paying the same amount each month even as your minimum payments go down. By doing so, you get out of debt faster than if you paid just the monthly minimum payments. Be that as it may, many now refer to the debt snowball as paying off your smallest debt first regardless of the interest rate.

    The theory is that paying off one debt quickly will help motivate folks to stay on track. There may be some truth to this for some people. The problem is that it can be very costly, depending on your other debts and interest rates. Rather than mindlessly paying off the smallest debt first regardless of the interest rate, figure out just how much this approach will cost you. It's easy to do with a free calculator such as unbury.me.

    Armed with actual numbers, you can then make the best choice for you. (Spoiler alert: it's almost always paying off the highest interest rate debts first.)

    4. Own your age in bonds. This rule of thumb is intended to help investors create an investment strategy. The most significant asset allocation decision one makes is how much to invest in stocks and how much in bonds. With the "own your age in bonds" rule of thumb, a 30 year old would stash 70 percent in stocks and 30 percent in bonds. At age 50 the bond allocation would rise to 50 percent. I'm not sure what the centenarians among us would do (perhaps leverage a 100 percent bond portfolio).

    This investment approach is easy to apply, and that brings to an end the good things we can say about it. The problem is that stocks have historically returned significantly more than bonds. Further, the investing horizon of somebody who is 30 isn't significantly different than somebody who is 50. They both have more than a decade before retirement.

    A better approach for long term investors (10 years or more) is a portfolio tilted toward equities. A portfolio of 75 percent equities or more is a good starting point, so long as you can stick to the plan during bear markets.

    5. Credit cards cause you to spend more money. I've heard it repeated over and over again that paying with plastic causes you to spend more money. This conclusion is drawn from a number of academic studies, and it has some intuitive appeal. Applying it mindlessly to everybody for all purchases, however, is a mistake.

    Here's the truth. Paying with a credit card causes some people to spend more on some things than they otherwise would. If that's you, by all means don't use a credit card for those purchases. But not everybody spends more simply because they use plastic.

    I don't spend more on gas because I pay with credit. I drive my car until it nears empty and then gas up. It would be no different if I paid with cash or a debit card. Same is true with groceries and my monthly Netflix subscription (does Netflix even take cash?).

    As another example, I didn't spend more on my daughter's college tuition by paying with a credit card. I did, however, nab 2 percent cash back. In fact, since getting my Citi Double Cash card last year I've earned $1,674.19 in cash back. The vast majority of these purchases weren't influenced by the use of plastic.

     

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    SPECIAL SECTION BRIDE & GROOM
    Steve Matteo/AP
    By Jennifer Liu

    You don't need to tune in to "Bridezillas" to appreciate that planning a wedding can take a toll on your emotions -- and your wallet.

    Just consider that the average 2014 wedding topped $31,000, not including the honeymoon.

    And sure enough, money is top of mind for many couples preparing to say "I do." A new joint survey from The Knot and PayPal finds one-third of couples establish a financial plan right after getting engaged.

    But that head start doesn't guarantee smooth sailing -- 68 percent of brides admit they find themselves thinking about the wedding budget and finances all the time. Maybe that's because, despite being proactive in setting an initial budget, only 29 percent of couples manage the wedding finances together.

    What happens as a result? Missteps, like going over budget (the case with a whopping 76 percent of couples) and even going into debt (which 57 percent of couples admitted to doing).

    How to Get on Track

    Wedding budgeting could set a precedent for how you'll manage future finances with your partner, so it's important to get it right from the start.

    Amanda Miller, PayPal's "Wedding Guru" and the Head of Global Communications at PayPal Credit, offers a few suggestions on how couples can work with each other -- and their budget -- to have a memorable wedding.

    Learn to Compromise: When you're disagreeing on expenses, look at areas of possible compromise -- say, forgoing a live band for a DJ, or going digital with your invites instead of printing pricey invitations. Don't make a unilateral decision though -- discuss these compromises together.

    Be Clear on Priorities: "Try to be realistic about needs versus wants and be sure to write them down so that you can reference your priorities along the way," Miller advises. This will keep you from overindulging on things you don't care about.

    Roll Up Your Shirt Sleeves: Think about what you can do together as a couple to help save money. About three in four couples are planning to negotiate their way down on vendor costs, and 82 percent plan to DIY some aspect of their wedding to keep expenses in check.

    If you're looking for some big-day budget inspiration, read how one couple financed their nuptials on less than $1,000.

     

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    Twitter Seeks To Avoid Facebook's IPO Stumble With Its Own Debut
    Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the country's second-largest discounter getting aggressive in price guarantees for online sales and the country's leading organic grocer handing out pink slips.

    Twitter (TWTR) -- Winner

    Have you ever started pecking out a tweet, only to find that the character countdown goes negative before you are positive that you've finished? Twitter hears you. The social-media giant is considering scrapping its limit of 140 characters per post, according to tech blog Re/code.

    The 140 Plus initiative doesn't mean that folks will have unlimited publishing power. The options that Twitter is weighing reportedly include bumping it to just 150, excluding some aspects of a post such as links and usernames, or creating a rich publishing platform for extended tweets. With user growth slowing, Twitter is right to tweak its platform.

    Whole Foods Market (WFM) -- Loser

    Things continue to come undone at the leading organic grocer that until recently was a market darling. Whole Foods announced Monday that it would be cutting 1,500 jobs over the next two months. Two days later it revealed that it will take a pre-tax charge of as much as $22 million to cover the layoffs.

    It's true that 1,500 jobs may not seem like much for a company with 91,000 employees, but it has to rattle morale at a company that has historically prided itself as a great place to work. Perhaps even more problematic than the layoff is the reason for the pink slips: Whole Foods is trying to shave its overhead so it can deliver lower prices. It may seem honorable for a company to pass on cost savings to its shoppers, but it's also an admission that Whole Foods may not be offering a compelling value to today's organics-hungry consumer.

    Target (TGT) -- Winner

    It's going to be a competitive holiday shopping season, but Target is getting a jump on the competition. The cheap-chic retailer announced that it's now matching its online prices with those offered at 29 other online stores.

    Target is also extending the amount of time that customers can have their prices adjusted. They now have two weeks to request the difference. These moves can always backfire if it's forced to keep up with steep discounts from online retailers with lower cost structures, but these guarantees will give consumers the confidence they need in approaching Target's online storefront in the first place.

    Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) -- Loser

    It took a while, but Keurig Kold has finally hit the market. Keurig's new machine makes name-brand carbonated beverages, served chilled, no less. That may seem like a winning move, but keep in mind that the machine can only be ordered from Keurig's website, for now.

    It also needs to be turned on for at least two hours if you want the beverage to come out chilled. It's also not cheap, with an eight-ounce serving of Coke, Fanta or Canada Dry Ginger Ale costing about $1.25. That's a lot more than the retail price for a larger 12-ounce store-bought can. Then we get to the price tag of the machine itself. Paying $300 for a soda maker may be too rich of an investment for a product that isn't necessarily convenient or cheaper than the traditional way we consume soft drinks.

    McDonald's (MCD) -- Winner

    It's been easy to kick the world's largest burger chain when it's down, but at least one Wall Street pro thinks that a turnaround is in the works. Credit Suisse (CS) analyst Jason West upgraded the stock this week, boosting his price target from $100 to $112.

    West's research shows improving sales at the store level, and that's a pretty big deal since comparable-restaurant sales have been largely negative for nearly two years. The Golden Arches might be shiny again.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Keurig Green Mountain. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Twitter and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool recommends Keurig Green Mountain. John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Children raking autumn leaves
    Getty ImagesIf you prefer to rake your leaves rather than mulch them, be sure to do so frequently.
    By Jon Lal

    If you're a gardener, or even if you keep up with some minor landscaping, then you've probably spent considerable time and money over the last two seasons planting, weeding and cultivating. Now that you've made a significant investment into your yard, you'll want to protect it over the harsh winter months, which will be here soon. Follow these steps to prepare your garden for the off-season.

    Take advantage of fall-friendly flowers. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you can still plant during the cool season of autumn. Mums do very well in fall temperatures, as do pansies, which will bloom again in the spring. You can still get a bit of color in your yard before winter arrives.

    Plant for spring. This is also an important time to add to your spring garden. Look for perennials and bulbs that bloom in the spring, such as daffodils, tulips, peonies and hyacinth. You can also plant vegetables in the fall, especially bulbs like garlic and shallots. The fruits of your labor will eventually be delicious in stews and pastas.

    Maintain your perennials. Take an assessment of the perennials you currently have in your garden. Break apart flourishing plants from those that aren't doing well, and then replant in new holes. Cut back any dry stems after the first frost, and pull up any spent vines for the compost. Remove diseased plants and throw them away. You can also add chopped leaves to your perennial mulch beds to protect the plants and the soil.

    Weed some more. As always, this is a good time to weed your garden. At least the weather is cooler for more comfortable work. Weeding can be a great, and frugal, way to spend time together as a family. Just make sure you reward everyone for their effort afterward with a nice meal, because it burns up a lot of energy.

    Don't forget to properly store your patio furniture. Keep your outdoor tables and chairs under cover during the winter to prevent wear and tear or further damage. Store cushions in rubber bins after cleaning.

    Protecting your trees. If you planted new trees this year, avoid animals gnawing at the thin trunks by surrounding them with chicken wire. You can protect trees with vulnerable, thin bark by wrapping them with paper tree wrap to avoid the bark splitting during freezing temperatures. Don't forget to keep watering trees through the fall season.

    Take care of your leaves. Here's the good news. There's an alternative to the back-breaking work of raking and bagging leaves, especially if you're interested in feeding the grass on your lawn. Instead of raking, mow the leaves on your lawn into mulch. You can use your lawn mower with the grass catcher removed, or buy a specific mulching mower. Running a mower across the leaves on your lawn will shred them into very small pieces, which will quickly be absorbed by microbes. This helps your lawn stay healthy, and even keeps weeds at bay. You can gather extra leaves and clippings for mulch elsewhere in the garden, or to add to your compost. (And if you don't yet have a compost pile, consider creating one. See below for more details on how to do that.)

    Even if you'd prefer to rake your leaves instead of mulching them, be sure to do so frequently. Leaves that aren't removed from your lawn (or reduced to tiny pieces) will block the sunlight and suffocate your grass.

    Start or add to your compost. If you're an avid gardener, chances are you already have a compost pile. Winterize your compost by giving it a roof or tarp to protect it from the elements. A protective barrier around it will also do well to ward off the frost. Maintain a balance of compost materials, including food waste, plant trimmings and leaves. The smaller the materials, the better your pile will develop, so shred and tear your materials when you can. Don't feel like you need to rotate or turn your compost pile in the winter like you do in the warm weather. It will stay insulated this way.

    With these tips, you're on your way to a healthy and protected garden during winter, which means you'll be a much happier gardener in the spring. You'll also be severely reducing your chances of experiencing unexpected costs related to your garden.

    Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 an order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.

     

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    a woman with unpaid bills has...
    Shutterstock
    By Ellen Change

    NEW YORK -- Kristina McKinney was left with no recourse when her mother used her identity and rented six apartments during her stint in the army, leaving her on the hook for the unpaid rent.

    When the creditors started garnishing her wages, McKinney, 23, who is now a manager at a Walgreens drug store in Colorado Springs, Colorado, faced only two heartrending options -- file a police report and send her mother to prison for fraud for the leases she signed over five years or file for bankruptcy. Unable even to obtain a cellphone contract or rent her own apartment because of the debt, McKinney decided her only option was to file for Chapter 7 in January.

    "I feel like I did the right thing even though it sucked," she told MainStreet. "The debt made me look like an irresponsible person."

    "I don't have that much to my name, but I did it more so that we could survive since I am about to have a baby," she added.

    While many millennials and Gen-Xers may have more debt than assets, they should determine if they need to file for bankruptcy

    Seek Counseling Before Filing

    McKinney sought the free advice of a free credit counselor from Transformance, a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which provides free or low-cost credit counseling for consumers.

    "She was super nice and talked me through the process," she said. "She made me feel like I had options and didn't treat me as though I was stupid."

    In 2011, McKinney's car was totaled during a car accident, and because she didn't purchase gap insurance, she still owed $13,000 out of a $23,000 car loan. The auto loan, plus the thousands of dollars she owed the creditors of the six apartment buildings, meant that she would have "been in debt forever," she said.

    "I am not a hateful person, and did not want to file a police report and send my mom to jail," McKinney said. "The apartment debt made it impossible for me to climb out of debt without filling charges against my mom."

    Consumers are required by law to seek pre-filing bankruptcy counseling, which can "expose them to other options such as a debt management plan, settle with creditors or not pay the debt at all," said Catherine Carter, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, branch manager for Transformance, a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which provides free or low-cost credit counseling for consumers.

    Deciding Whether to File for Chapter 7 or 13 ...

    Most consumers should seek the advice of a credit counselor or bankruptcy attorney before they file for Chapter 7 or 13 to learn the consequences of each type of filing on their credit report, said Jim Triggs, a senior vice president of counseling and support of Money Management International, a Sugar Land, Texas-based non-profit debt counseling organization. Filing for Chapter 7 means the unsecured debt will be discharged while filing for Chapter 13 results in a situation where consumers pay their debt for a number of years before having a certain portion of that debt being discharged, he said.

    "All of this has a large cumulative negative effect on their credit rating and the bankruptcy will stay on their credit for seven to 10 years," he said.

    When the law changed in 2005, consumers now have a harder time filing for Chapter 7 to have all their unsecured debt discharged. Both private and government-backed student loans aren't included if consumers file for bankruptcy with very few exceptions.

    Individuals who file for Chapter 13 have to pay a portion of their debt back and are typically on a five-year plan, said Carter. Depending on their income and reasonable living expenses, a portion of the debt is paid each month and could be as low as $50 a month.

    Consumers should be prepared to gather documents such as paycheck stubs, tax returns and bank statements whether or not they seek the advice of an attorney, said Ryan Dove, a Houston bankruptcy attorney.

    "All of these personal documents will be used to help create their bankruptcy documents," he said. "Some of these documents are required to be filed with the court as a part of the case and/or sent to the bankruptcy case trustee."

    Filing for bankruptcy isn't for the faint-hearted because the consequences are long-lasting and can impact your credit score for up to 10 years, making it challenging to receive credit with lower interest rates to buy a car or house or obtain credit cards.

    Consequences

    "Declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy comes with immediate and long term consequences," said Bruce McClary, a spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization. "In the short-term, it becomes challenging to obtain credit approval from prime lenders and impossible to finance at the lowest rates."

    While consumers can be approved for a loan or credit card after a bankruptcy is discharged, the cost of "borrowing becomes steep," he said. If a consumer's loans and credit cards become delinquent once again, the options are more limited.

    Consumers who wait 24 months after their bankruptcy has been discharged, which means it was accepted by the bankruptcy court, can access credit again from credit card companies and some mortgage and auto loan lenders. Depending on the car dealership, interest rates can be as high as 21%, Carter said.

    "Some lenders will consider giving consumers a mortgage or auto loan," she said. "It can be done, but they pay a really high interest rate. Waiting 24 months is a good guideline for getting any type of credit to receive decent interest rates."

    Rebuilding your credit score slowly is the best course of action because the ramifications are steep. Examine your current your household budget first and seek "entry-level credit options which can be used to establish a new record of timely payments," McClary said.

    "Keep the balance well below the assigned credit limit, monitor your credit and score regularly and look for opportunities to qualify for better credit terms as the score increases," he said.

    Other Options ...

    A good deterrent to filing for bankruptcy is following through with a debt management plan, which is a plan in which the creditors will accept lower payments, decrease interest rates and stop collection activity including late and over limit fees, Triggs said. This plan allows the consumer to pay off their unsecured debt based upon their income and get out of debt within five years. Consumers should sign up for the plan through a non-profit credit counseling agency.

    The consequences for entering this agreement is also severe and means consumers must be ready to change their current spending habits. Consumers are required to stop using their credit cards and close the accounts. In addition, they must make one or two payments to the credit counseling agency monthly and the agency disburses that money to the creditors, he said.

    Even though a debt management plan also affects a consumer's credit score and report, the impact is minimal and a result of the closure of the credit card accounts.

    "It's usually nowhere near the impact that a bankruptcy will have on their credit score and often not much of a negative impact at all," Triggs said. "Their credit score doesn't get killed."

    The hard lesson that McKinney learned was "don't trust everybody and make sure you check your credit report at least once a year," she said. "It's tough to be so trusting, especially when it comes to your credit," she said.

     

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    How to Save with High-Deductible Health Plans

    By Karen Datko

    As employers try to cut their costs for providing health insurance to workers, they're offering more high-deductible health plans. The premiums are lower, but you'll pay $1,000 or more -- sometimes a lot more -- out-of-pocket before the insurance coverage kicks in.

    High deductibles also are the rule for many plans available on the federal and state health insurance marketplaces.

    How do you get the best use of this kind of coverage? Here are 10 tips:

    1. Claim your freebies. Under the Affordable Care Act, certain preventive health services are free to you, even with a high-deductible policy. Make sure the doctor's office or hospital accurately codes any such procedure you have. That way, the insurance company will know it's one of the free services and will cover the cost.

    You can find the list of free procedures and screenings at HealthCare.gov. There's a separate list for women and for children.

    Before you have a test or screening, check to make sure which costs are covered. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson found out the hard way that some of his annual physical was provided at no cost to him, but that much of the rest wasn't.

    2. Ask for a discount. Tell your doctor's office or the hospital that you have a high-deductible plan and ask if there's a discount for paying cash. (My dentist provides a discount, but the doctors and hospital where I live do not.) You may even find that a doctor will give you a considerable discount if she knows you have to cover the entire cost out-of-pocket.

    If you can't afford to pay, ask the doctor or hospital for a low- or no-interest installment plan. Some still offer them.

    Needless to say, you should ask whether a less expensive, alternative treatment is available.

    3. Save on medications. Ask your doctor if a generic exists for the drug he or she wants to prescribe. If so, don't stop there. A couple of years ago, Consumer Reports found a 447 percent difference in the price when it surveyed stores for the cost of generic versions of five widely prescribed medications. Costco was the cheapest, CR said.

    Also, see our post about 10 ways to save on prescription drugs.

    4. Compare prices of medical providers. We've previously reported that hospital prices across the country vary wildly for the same procedure. While cost shouldn't be the sole basis for selecting a health care provider, it should be part of your process.

    The New York Times has a tool that lets you see how prices at your local hospitals compare with the national average. The federal government makes data available, too. Other websites can also help you find the best prices for the procedures you need.

    When you call around to compare prices, make sure you identify your insurance company so you're quoted the rate charged to it and not the so-called "chargemaster" rate normally used for people who don't have insurance. The latter is likely much higher than the rate your insurance company has negotiated with the provider.

    5. Stay in your network. Even though you're paying out-of-pocket, you'll typically pay the lower in-network rate if you stick with the health providers in your insurance plan's network.

    6. Open a health savings account. With qualifying high-deductible plans, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to create a health savings account -- a savings or investment account where you can deposit pretax earnings to spend on health care.

    Any money and interest earned that you don't spend remains in the account year after year. Many employers kick in some money too.

    This year, high-deductible plans that qualify for an HSA have a minimum deductible of $1,300 for individual coverage and $2,600 for a family. An individual can set aside $3,350 in an HSA this year, and a family can save up to $6,650. Increase the number by $1,000 if you're 55 or older.

    For 2016, minimum deductible amounts remain unchanged. An individual again can set aside $3,350 in an HSA next year, while a family can set aside $100 more than in 2015 -- $6,750. Again, increase the number by $1,000 if you're 55 or older.

    7. Have a super-solid emergency fund. It's asking for trouble to buy a high-deductible plan without having money at least equal to the deductible in a savings account or HSA.

    That healthy emergency fund will keep you from racking up interest on the unpaid balance you owe to the local hospital or clinic, or prevent you from putting your bill on a high-interest credit card.

    8. Keep good records. Keep copies of all your medical receipts, just in case the insurance company makes an error.

    9. Do some research. It's unwise not to go to the doctor when you have a problem. But you don't need to see a professional for a simple case of the sniffles. Many insurance providers have online information and nurse advice lines that can help you understand symptoms.

    Of course, if any of this feedback indicates that you require care, don't delay. Waiting to see a doctor could end up costing you substantially more if the condition worsens.

    10. Work the system. NPR told the story of a man who met the $4,500 deductible of his plan when his appendix had to come out. After that, the insurance covered the cost of a nonemergency procedure he'd put off.

    In some cases, you may still owe a copayment or coinsurance after you reach the deductible, but you'll still pay for less.

    Are you among the growing number of Americans with a high-deductible health plan? Were you surprised about how much you had to pay out-of-pocket? Have you delayed medical care because of that?

    Share your story in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

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

     

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    US Created 142K Jobs in Sept.

    By Jason Lange

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. employers slammed the brakes on hiring over the last two months, raising new doubts the economy is strong enough for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates by the end of this year.

    Payrolls outside of farming rose by 142,000 last month and August figures were revised sharply lower to show only 136,000 jobs added that month, the Labor Department said Friday.

    That marked the smallest two-month gain in employment in over a year and could fuel fears that the China-led global economic slowdown is sapping America's strength.

    You can't throw lipstick on this pig of a report.

    "You can't throw lipstick on this pig of a report," said Brian Jacobsen, a portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

    The weak job growth took Wall Street by surprise and U.S. stocks sold off while the dollar also weakened and yields for government bonds fell.

    Bets on interest rate futures showed investors only saw a 30 percent chance of a Fed rate hike in December, down from just under 50 percent before the job report's release.

    "[With) a weak report here, in combination with some of the other weakness that we are seeing across the globe, the odds get dinged for December," said Tom Porcelli, an economist at RBC Capital Markets.

    Investors saw virtually no chance the Fed would end its near-zero interest rate policy at its only other scheduled meeting this year, to be held later in October. Futures prices indicated investors were betting the Fed would probably hike in March.

    U.S. factories are feeling the global chill and shed 9,000 jobs in September after losing 18,000 in August, according to the Labor Department's survey of employers.

    "We saw events in China lead to some global financial turmoil and you're seeing that in the data here," White House chief economist Jason Furman told Reuters.

    New orders received by U.S. factories fell 1.7 percent in August, the Commerce Department said in a separate report.

    Paul Ryan, a top Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives, said the weak turn in the economy should be a wake-up call for Washington to reform the national economy with new tax laws, free trade agreements and policies to get people off welfare.

    "This recovery continues to disappoint, but we can't accept it as the new normal," Ryan said.

    The recent pace of job growth should have been enough to push the unemployment rate lower because only around 100,000 new jobs are needed a month to keep up with population growth.

    But the jobless rate held steady at 5.1 percent. The unemployment rate is derived from a separate survey of households that showed 350,000 workers dropping out of the labor force last month, as well as a lower level of employment.

    The share of the population in the work force, which includes people who have jobs or are looking for one, fell to 62.4 percent, the lowest level since 1977.

    Average hourly wages fell by a cent to $25.09 during the month and were up only 2.2 percent from the same month in 2014, holding around the same levels seen all year and pointing to marginal inflationary pressures.

    Bright Spots

    The report did have a few bright spots that might be welcomed by Fed chief Janet Yellen, who said last week the economy was doing well enough to warrant higher rates this year.

    The number of workers with part-time jobs but who want more hours fell by 447,000 in September to 6.0 million.

    Yellen has signaled that the elevated number of these workers points to hidden slack in the labor market that isn't captured by the jobless rate. A measure of joblessness that includes these workers and is closely followed by the Fed fell to 10 percent, its lowest level since May 2008.

    Economists polled by Reuters had expected job growth of 203,000 in September.

    All told, revised estimates meant 59,000 fewer jobs were created in July and August than previously believed.

    In another grim sign, the number of hours worked in the country fell 0.2 percent, raising the specter that some broader softness might have gripped the economy last month.

    Some of the strongest headwinds on the U.S. economy come from the commodity sector, which has slowed in part because of weaker demand from China.

    The price of oil has fallen nearly 50 percent over the last year, and U.S. mining payrolls, which include energy sector jobs, fell by 10,000 in September, the ninth straight month of declines.

    -Rodrigo Campos and Karen Brettell contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    A T-Mobile US Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Jim Finkle

    Experian, the world's biggest consumer credit monitoring firm, disclosed Thursday a massive data breach that exposed sensitive personal data of some 15 million people who applied for service with T-Mobile US (TMUS).

    Connecticut's attorney general said he will launch an investigation into the breach.

    Experian said it discovered the theft of the T-Mobile customer data from one of its servers on Sept. 15. The computer stored information about some 15 million people who had applied for service with telecoms carrier T-Mobile during the prior two years, Experian said.

    Obviously I am incredibly angry about this data breach and we will institute a thorough review of our relationship with Experian.

    T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere said the data included names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers and passport numbers. Such information is coveted by criminals for use in identity theft and other types of fraud.

    "Obviously I am incredibly angry about this data breach and we will institute a thorough review of our relationship with Experian," T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere said in a note to customers posted on the company's website. "But right now my top concern and first focus is assisting any and all consumers affected."

    The Experian breach is the latest in a string of massive hacks that have each claimed millions -- and sometimes tens of millions -- of customer records, including the theft of personnel records from the U.S. government this year, a 2014 breach on JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and a 2013 attack on Target's (TGT) cash register systems.

    It is also the second massive breach linked to Experian. An attack on an Experian subsidiary that began before Experian purchased it in 2012 exposed the Social Security numbers of 200 million Americans and prompted an investigation by at least four states, including Connecticut.

    Experian said Thursday it had launched an investigation into the new breach and consulted with law enforcement.

    The company offered two years of credit monitoring to all affected individuals. People, however, said that they didn't want credit protection from a company that had been breached.

    Legere responded by promising to seek alternatives.

    "I hear you," he said on Twitter. "I am moving as fast as possible to get an alternate option in place by tomorrow."

    Experian said the breach didn't affect its vast consumer credit database.

    Legere said no payment card or banking information was taken.

    T-Mobile had nearly 59 million customers as of June 30. A representative for the carrier said that not all 15 million of the affected applicants had opened accounts with T-Mobile.

    The telecom carrier's shares were down 1.3 percent in extended trading after closing little changed at $40.13 on the New York Stock Exchange.

    In the earlier data breach affecting Experian, a Vietnamese national confessed in U.S. court last year to using a false identity to opening an account with the unit, known as Court Ventures, sometime before Experian purchased it in 2012.

    A spokeswoman for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said Thursday that it would investigate the latest attack.

    The spokeswoman, Jaclyn Falkowski, declined to elaborate on the T-Mobile incident, but said the investigations of the Court Ventures matter "is active and ongoing."

    -Karen Friefeld and Arathy Nair contributed reporting.

     

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    FRANCE-GERMANY-AUTOMOBILE-VOLKSWAGEN-INVESTIGATION
    Franck Fife, AFP/Getty Images
    By Andreas Cremer and Barbara Lewis

    BERLIN and BRUSSELS -- Volkswagen (VLKAY) is under pressure to give details within the next week of its plan to refit up to 11 million diesel vehicles, with its U.S. chief due to testify to lawmakers Thursday and German regulators also demanding swift action.

    The German carmaker needs to fix software that allowed it to cheat emissions tests, the discovery of which has sparked the biggest business crisis in its 78-year history.

    The scandal has wiped more than a third off Volkswagen's share price, forced out its long-time chief executive and rocked both global auto markets and the German establishment.

    Europe's biggest carmaker said Thursday it would take several months to get to the bottom of who was responsible for the software, although it promised to "inform the public in regard to solutions found for the problems next week."

    But analysts say it could be a challenge to do the refits without leaving owners with vehicles that deliver diminished fuel economy and performance, or require more maintenance -- problems that could potentially multiply lawsuits against the company and further sully its reputation.

    In a sign of the complexity, Belgian car importer D'Ieteren told Reuters it hadn't heard any technical details about the refit yet, and that Volkswagen had committed only to having a plan set by the end of this month.

    Volkswagen said Friday it was taking time to come up with solutions because automatic and manual vehicles and models with different engine categories needed different fixes.

    In the coming days, the carmaker will launch country-specific websites where customers can enter details of their vehicles to find out if they're affected, it said.

    In the meantime, customers and dealers are seething.

    "There's been no news whatsoever from Volkswagen, from the dealer, any letter, any phone call, nothing whatsoever," said Giacomo Corrado, who lives outside San Francisco and leases a diesel Golf.

    Bradley Hoffman, chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers, said Volkswagen hadn't communicated well "out of the gate," although he was confident they would ultimately make things right with customers.

    "I want them to get off their you know whats and handle this thing swiftly and correctly. But I know they will," he said. "This is urgent for them because it's a public relations nightmare ... They're still in assessment mode."

    Volkswagen shares, which have lost more than $30 billion in value since the crisis began, dipped to a new 4-year low of 91.60 euros Friday.

    Two-Speed Response

    The scandal has thrown the spotlight on problems with the availability and quality of official emissions data that campaigners have complained about for years.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which announced Volkswagen's cheating in diesel emissions tests on Sept. 18, provides detailed information on vehicle performance in tests. Published data from German counterpart KBA, upon which some other national bodies rely for tests on Volkswagen vehicles, don't break down the test performance of individual vehicle models.

    Asked whether there was any way, other than asking the manufacturer, for the public to find out if a specific model complies with EU rules, a spokesman for the KBA said: "I dont think so."

    U.S. authorities have generally been quicker to respond to the crisis too, leaving Europe open to the charge of letting down consumers and being too close to its struggling car industry -- a key source of jobs and export income.

    The EPA, which said on Sept. 25 it would toughen tests for all carmakers, will scrutinize at least 28 diesel models made by BMW, Chrysler, General Motors, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz, the Financial Times reported Friday.

    A U.S. congressional oversight panel said Thursday it had called Volkswagen's U.S. chief, Michael Horn to testify on Oct. 8, while more than 30 U.S. state attorneys general have banded together to conduct an investigation into Volkswagen, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Friday.

    European authorities are seeking answers too. Germany's KBA has set Volkswagen an Oct. 7 deadline to present a plan to bring diesel emissions into line with the law.

    But the response in much of Europe has been slower.

    French prosecutors only opened a preliminary inquiry into Volkswagen on Friday, whereas the U.S. Department of Justice was reported Sept. 21 to have started a criminal investigation.

    European carmakers are lobbying hard to limit the fallout from the scandal, which they fear could lead to costlier regulations and hit sales of diesel vehicles -- which account for almost a half of sales in Europe compared with a small fraction in the United States.

    We understand that the U.S. want to challenge the leadership role that the European manufacturers have taken globally in this technology.

    In a letter dated Sept. 29 to the European Union's council of ministers, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association said manufacturers would need until 2019 to fully meet some new pollution limits.

    It also suggested U.S. authorities had an ulterior motive for their actions. "We understand that the U.S. want to challenge the leadership role that the European manufacturers have taken globally in this technology," said the letter, seen by Reuters, referring to diesel cars.

    The car industry is particularly important to Germany, Europe's largest economy, where the likes of BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen employ more than 750,000 people. Berlin has in the past lobbied the EU against tougher regulations on carmakers.

    German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who once sat on Volkswagen's board, said Friday the investigations into the company shouldn't turn in to a campaign against the industry as a whole.

    Philippe Lamberts, co-chair of the Greens group in the European Parliament, said the auto industry had to change.

    "They should shut up and put up with it. It's not a question of profits, it's about health, it's about the rule of law," he told Reuters.

    Jos Dings, director of campaign group Transport & Environment, said the EU should set up a new Europe-wide vehicle inspection agency akin to the EPA, but wasn't optimistic.

    "Member states will try their utmost to keep that power with their national type approval authorities -- despite the fact that it is clear they have not done much more than indeed approve vehicles," he said.

    -Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage in San Francisco, Tom Bergin in London and Reuters bureaus in Europe and the United States.

     

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