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DailyFinance.com

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    Financial Markets Wall Street Twitter Layoffs
    Richard Drew/APThe Twitter logo appears on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The microblogging site said Tuesday it would lay off about 8 percent of its global workforce.
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell Tuesday, with the Dow snapping a seven-day winning streak, on renewed fears of slowing growth in China and another bout of selling in biotech shares.

    Biotechs led the S&P 500 and Nasdaq lower and the S&P health care index, down 1.2 percent, had the biggest losses among S&P sectors, followed by industrials, down 1.2 percent. The Nasdaq biotech index was down 3.2 percent, extending recent declines.

    There's a little nervousness about earnings reports that we'll be seeing over the next couple or three weeks.

    Worries about third-quarter earnings reports continued to weigh on sentiment. S&P 500 companies are expected to report a nearly 5 percent fall in profit, the biggest decline in six years, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    "There's a little nervousness about earnings reports that we'll be seeing over the next couple or three weeks," said John Carey, portfolio manager at Pioneer Investment Management in Boston.

    "The international situation continues to weigh on people's minds, and commodities were weaker earlier. In the absence of any strong new economic data or blow-away type earnings results, people are still cautious, waiting for the Fed to decide on whether it's going to raise rates or not," he said.

    After the bell on Tuesday, shares of Intel (INTC) were nearly flat in choppy trade following results, while shares of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), which also reported results, were down 1.7 percent.

    Earlier in the day, data showed Chinese imports fell 20 percent in September due to weak domestic demand, indicating growth in the world's second-largest economy was sputtering.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 49.97 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,081.89, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 13.77 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,003.69 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 42.03 points, or 0.9 percent, to 4,796.61.

    A devaluation of the yuan currency in late August triggered a steep sell-off in global equities. A bounce back in commodities has helped stocks recover in recent sessions, as well as investors' bets that the Federal Reserve will keep rates near zero until next year.

    On tap this week are results from the big banks and other earnings bellwethers, including Goldman Sachs (GS), Bank of America (BAC) and General Electric (GE).

    Shares of Ryder System (R) were down 9.3 percent at $68.63 -- the biggest percentage decliner in the S&P 500 -- while FMC Corp. (FMC) was down 3.1 percent at $36.35, both following disappointing forecasts late Monday.

    About 6.1 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.5 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • At 8:30 a.m., the Labor Department reports producer prices for September, and the Commerce Department reports retail sales for September.
    • The Commerce Department reports business inventories at 10 a.m.
    • The Federal Reserve releases its survey of regional economic conditions for end of summer and early fall at 2 p.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Bank of America (BAC)
    • BlackRock (BLK)
    • Delta Air Lines (DAL)
    • Netflix (NFLX)
    • PNC Financial Services (PNC)
    • Wells Fargo (WFC)

     

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    Se5_Ep271_SmartAppliances.Mov
    As our devices get smarter, our appliances are starting to catch up. Smart appliances actually work in similar ways, by doing tasks for you so you don't have to. But is buying a smart appliance a dumb investment? Let's look at the pros and cons.

    First, a great advantage to smart appliances is their energy savings. Smart machines like dishwashers, water heaters and thermostats are especially good at reducing energy usage. Some of these devices can even determine the best time to run base on electricity peak hours on your grid. You'll quickly see the savings on your electric bill.

    Next, while some smart appliances are worth buying, you may want to hold off on others. Machines like refrigerators, ovens, washers and dryers have also been given the energy saving treatment, but in some cases you're paying for extra features that can be done just as easily with your smartphone. For these gadgets, do a little more research before you buy.

    Before you buy a smart appliance, consider if it has features you'll be using in the long run. By smartening up on these devices, you'll be sure to make a wise investment.

    View Poll

     

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    Distressed woman on telephone
    Getty ImagesHere's how to decide if you should cut ties with your landline.
    By Geoff Williams

    Consumers have been dumping their landlines for years now, but if you're still hanging onto yours, you aren't crazy. There are good reasons to keep it.

    Still, 41 percent of U.S. households only have a wireless phone, according to a study that came out last year from the National Center of Health Statistics.

    If you're looking for reasons to keep or ditch your landline, let's spell out some of the pros and cons.

    Con: Landlines can be expensive. According to CostHelper.com, the average cost for a landline is $15 to $30, which may not sound like much, but that's for basic service. Odds are, you have caller ID, call waiting and voice mail, and your price is considerably higher. Throw in taxes and additional fees, and your price goes up as well.

    If you bundle with your cable or Internet, your phone bill may go down, but unfortunately, it may still feel expensive, since a cable/Internet/phone bill can easily go north of $100 or even $200 a month.

    I've known plenty of people who run successful businesses with only a mobile phone, but I don't think it's for me. I need the hard line option.

    Pro: Landlines sound better. You may disagree, but talk with your friends and family, and you'll likely come up with a consensus that the landline sounds a little better -- and if nothing else, you'll have far fewer dropped calls on a landline.

    That's why Heath Fradkoff, who lives and works in Brooklyn, recently added a landline to his home office after starting his own public relations business, Ward 6 Marketing.

    "I've known plenty of people who run successful businesses with only a mobile phone, but I don't think it's for me. I need the hard line option," Fradkoff says, adding: "Honestly, it's mostly for sound quality. I'm old enough to remember those late-80s Sprint long distance commercials with the pin dropping. Sound quality used to be really important to consumers. Since the mobile revolution, however, that's gone mostly by the wayside."

    Con: Landlines are conduits for spam. In 2003, the Federal Trade Commission launched a "Do Not Call Registry," which allowed consumers to put themselves on a list, stating that they didn't want to receive phone calls from telemarketers. For a while, it seemed to have stopped telemarketers cold.

    But it appears to have been an epic failure. In 2013, apparently the last numbers available, there were more than 3.7 million complaints to the FTC about telemarketers (and think about all the consumers besieged by calls who didn't complain).

    According to the Federal Communications Commission, it's illegal for telemarketers to call you on your cellphone. The phone industry might want to consider trying to get similar regulations in place for landlines.

    "Marketers killed it for us. Ironic, considering my business," says Ben Landers, a resident of Gaithersburg, Maryland, and the owner of a company that specializes in online marketing. "When we had a home phone, the only calls we ever received were from marketers."

    Landers got rid of his landline five years ago and has thought about getting his landline reinstalled, but because of all the telemarketing calls, he says, "I highly doubt we'll ever switch back."

    On the other hand, you may enjoy the marketing calls, to an extent. Brent Csutoras, a business owner in Boca Rotan, Florida, says when Caller ID shows that the call isn't coming from someone he knows and he is positive it's a telemarketer, he lets his young son answer the phone.

    "It makes for a great experience as well for my 3-year-old, who loves answering the phone," Csutoras says. "When it rings, I just let him have fun with it."

    Pro: They're useful in emergencies. The reason Landers has considered returning a landline to his house is because he worries about what might happen in an emergency, and what might happen if his kids were somehow trapped in their room and needed to call for help.

    "Back in the old days, there would almost certainly be a phone in the room. Today, that's not the case," Landers says, adding that he realizes it's unlikely that his kids would really wind up trapped in their room and need a phone.

    Still, Frankie Wood-Black, an owner of Sophic Pursuits, a firm that specializes in environmental and safety regulatory compliance in Ponca City, Oklahoma, says, "From an emergency-planning perspective, keep the landline. Not a [Voice over Internet Protocol] or cell -- the landline, and make sure that it is hard line connected or at least has that ability. During [hurricanes] Katrina and Rita, when all other power and infrastructures went down, the landlines still worked," she adds.

    Rhonda Moret, a public relations professional who lives in Del Mar, California, agrees with Wood-Black. She says she didn't have a landline to save money, but after going on a nighttime run in December of last year with her Siberian husky, she missed a pothole in the road and fell flat on her face. She hobbled back home with a broken ankle, half in shock and her face covered in blood, and her 10-year-old was able to use Moret's cellphone to call 911.

    After that incident, and after her daughter received a 911 hero award from the San Diego Fire Department, Moret had a landline installed. She figures she was lucky that time. She wonders now: "What if we couldn't find a cellphone, or the cellphone is dead? These situations are realities which I would rather not deal with if and when we are dealing with a situation where we need help."

    Con: It may be more expensive to drop the landline. It will drive you crazy if you think about it for too long, but with bundling phone services into your Internet and cable, you may find that when you try to drop your phone service, the price goes up.

    Csutoras says his landline phone service is bundled with his cable and Internet, and he recently looked into dropping it. But as is the trend lately, companies often charge you more if you don't keep your phone connected to your home, which was the case for Csutoras, and he decided to keep his.

    Until that falls out of favor, it may be a while before it's the end of the line for landlines.

     

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    Florida Houses Ahead Of Existing Home Sales FiguresBy Farran Powell

    NEW YORK -- Similar to stock brokers feeling queasy over their job security with the advent of online trading, real agents are feeling anxious given that their commissions are expected to change with the rise of consumer savvy real estate sites. The role of this long-standing middleman is expected to evolve with most multiple listing services available online. With many people finding information online, new models for home sales are changing commission rates -- creating some savings for sellers and buyers.

    A recent survey conducted by SurveyMonkey Audience for Seattle-based Redfin, an online real estate brokerage, finds that 17 percent of people bought a house in the last two years without an agent. The same survey also reports that discounting commissions is widespread. A third of those polled said they received some form refund or commission savings of $500 or more.

    Listing a typical home with a conventional Realtor costs around 6 percent of the sales price. On a $230,000 home, which is close to the National Association of Realtor's median value for a single-family home, that commission would tally up to $13,800.

    Selling a home without a Realtor is estimated to save the owner at least 3 percent in commission fees.

    Recent research by ForSalebyOwner.com, a site for self-directed real estate sales, reports around a half of Americans would consider selling their homes themselves. The same report found that 55 percent of Millennials would like to use the "for sale be owner" model to sell their home despite representing only 21 percent of sales on the site. Generation X leads the majority of for-sale-buy-owner sales.

    "We're seeing a dramatic transformation of the real estate industry with today's consumers, especially millennials exerting more control over the buying and selling process than we have ever seen before," said Lisa Edwards, director of business strategy at ForSaleByOwner.com. ForSaleByOwner.com says its site increased its listings by over 57 percent during the height of the spring selling season this year. The majority of the site's sellers are in Northeast, living in major metro cities -- such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

    A for-sale-by-owner sale is more likely to happen in an urban area, according to the National Association of Realtors.

    "In the past, data and tools like MLS weren't available to consumers," Edwards said. "Today [sellers] can quickly understand market conditions by using free online pricing tools, reviewing recently sold homes and homes currently for sale online without the help of an agent."

    But, some real estate experts say savvy buyers know about the 6 percent commission savings and will try to negotiate sellers out of that extra cash. The advantage of using Realtors is they know a hot market, handle the paperwork and coordinate the effort to complete the sales transaction.

    Redfin charges a 1.5 percent fee to sellers. The 1.5 percent transaction can be significant savings compared to the traditional 3 percent charge on the seller side. On a $500,000 home, that discounting represents a $7,500 saving.

    In some markets, such as the Washington, D.C., metro area, Redfin only charges sellers 1 percent for their listing.

    The [commission] savings is gaining market share," says Rachel Musiker, spokeswoman for Redfin."We use technology, so our agents can work more efficiency. And, so consumers shouldn't have to pay the 3 or 6 percent commission."

    The tech-driven real estate brokerage firm's biggest markets are Seattle and the Washington, D.C., metro area. The brokerage now operates in some parts of New York City's boroughs, such as the Bronx and Brooklyn, but is still working on its plans to bring its service to Manhattan.

    Musiker says that the growing tech in the real estate is causing the industry to respond and change.

    "Real estate agents are reacting to more competition in the market," the Redfin spokesperson said, adding that traditional brokers are offering different forms of refunds and commission reductions to be competitive.

     

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    Couple shopping on internet
    Getty Images


    Applying or cosigning for a credit card with your loved one has its risks. The credit card and its activity appear on both of your credit reports, and you're both responsible for the balance. If your loved one has good financial habits, however, a joint credit card account comes with a lot of perks.

    From helping you combine your finances to building credit and racking up rewards, a joint credit card is a great financial tool for couples. Here are seven reasons why you should open one.

    1. Earn Credit Card Rewards Faster A credit card rewards program offers one of the fastest and simplest ways to earn freebies. If your card features this perk, you can earn points or cash back on every purchase. After you accumulate enough points, you can redeem them for merchandise, travel, statement credits or cash. But even if you're earning one point or 1 percent cash back on every dollar you spend, it takes time to accumulate rewards. A joint credit card, on the other hand, helps you rack up more points.

    Since you and your loved one will have access to the same credit line, you will have more opportunities to earn points. In this way, a joint credit card can be an excellent tool if you and your partner are planning a vacation and want to accumulate as many points as possible to redeem for free airline tickets, hotel stays and more.

    2. Boost Both of Your Credit Scores A joint credit card appears on both of your credit reports and affects both of your credit scores. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how the two of you manage the account. It might be your partner's responsibility to send payments each month. Just know that if he consistently makes late payments, your credit report will reflect this.

    On the other hand, if you both manage the credit card responsibly by paying the bill on time and only charging what you can afford, both of your credit scores will benefit. A higher credit score means you'll be able to qualify for lower rates when applying for financing in the future.

    3. Qualify for Credit Cards With Lower Rates

    One in three U.S. adults say their households carry credit card debt from one month to the next, according to the 2015 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey prepared for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. If you don't pay off your credit cards every month, it's important to find a card with the lowest rate possible. This reduces interest charges, allowing you to pay off balances faster.

    Unfortunately, if you have less-than-perfect credit and apply for a credit card alone, you're not likely to get a low-rate card. The higher your rate, the more you'll pay in the long run. If you apply for a joint credit card with your partner, however, and they have excellent credit, you might qualify for a card with a lower rate and higher credit limit.

    Your credit card company will evaluate both of your credit scores when determining whether to approve your joint credit card application. In some cases, one applicant's good credit history can compensate for the other applicant's fair or bad credit history.

    4. You Are More Accountable for Purchases

    If you have your own credit card and you're the only one managing the account, it's easier to overspend, purchase things you don't need and ring up a huge credit card bill. When you share an account with your partner, there's an accountability factor.

    "It just gives both parties a reason to pause a moment and give some extra thought before making a purchase. You know that another person will see what is being charged," said Joan Fradella, a certified family mediator at Divorce thru Mediation. "It causes you to think about whether you are being reasonable about your total charges compared to income."

    When you're fully aware that another person will see every single charge you make -- and likely ask questions or become upset over unreasonable charges -- you're liable to be more responsible, forgoing impulse purchases and maintaining a reasonable balance.

    5. Joint Credit Card Accounts Are Easier to Close

    Nobody wants to think about death, but it's an unfortunate part of life. If your spouse dies, you might decide to close all of his or her personal credit card accounts after paying off the balances. But when you're not an account holder, shutting down an account for someone isn't as simple as calling the credit card company and making a request.

    It's faster and easier to close a credit card account when you're a joint account holder. Marcia Noyes, director of communications at Catalyze, learned this lesson the hard way when her husband died in 2013. "With a joint credit card, one person can shut down the account when the other dies," she said. "Without it being a joint account, it takes an act of Congress -- death certificate, Letters of Testamentary and your information."

    6. Manage Shared Expenses More Easily

    If you share expenses with your spouse, such as groceries, entertainment or recreation, using a joint credit card might be one of the best ways to track and split expenses down the middle. Since everything appears on the statement, you'll know exactly what was spent between the two of you. You and your partner don't have to worry about exchanging money or writing each other a check. Simply use the joint credit card and then pay off your share of the balance.

    7. You Have Full Privileges and Access

    Getting a joint credit card isn't the only way to share an account with someone. You can also add someone as an authorized user to one of your credit cards. This person can use your credit card account, and this account might appear on his credit report -- allowing him to benefit from your good credit habits. But since this person isn't a primary account holder, he doesn't receive the same privileges as a joint account holder.

    He can't call the credit card company to inquire about balances, request a credit limit increase, ask for a lower rate or dispute a charge. A joint account holder, however, has full account privileges.

    Some people might discourage you from getting a joint credit card account because of the inherent risks. But depending on your situation, a joint account can be financially beneficial. When opening your joint credit card make sure you understand the risks and benefits, and only share a credit card if you trust that the other person will use the account responsibly.

    This story, 7 Perks of a Joint Credit Card, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Couple Talking About Bills
    Getty Images
    By Jason Notte

    NEW YORK -- Well, U.S. workers, feel better: you aren't the only ones failing to make long-term financial plans.

    The deVere Group, a U.K.-based financial advisory group recently surveyed 650 people around the world who aren't using a financial adviser. They asked simply, "Do you plan your finances a year ahead, one to three years ahead, or three years or more ahead?" Of that group, 71 percent chose the first option.

    Many people believe the myth that planning for the longer-term is more difficult than planning for the short term -- this is not true.

    Granted, that's an improvement from 2013, when the same poll had 82 percent of respondents provided that answer. However, when nearly three-quarters of a group from the U.S., U.K., Spain, Australia, France, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates gives that answer, it makes the financial advisers a little nervous.

    "Many people believe the myth that planning for the longer-term is more difficult than planning for the short term -- this is not true," said Nigel Green, deVere Group chief executive and founder, when those findings were announced "The difficult part is starting to plan long-term. But procrastination will leave you in limbo and is likely to cost you dearly." The upside -- sort of -- is that it isn't just the U.S. that isn't planning or saving. Earlier this month, a survey by GOBankingRates found that 62 percent of U.S. bankers have less than $1,000 in their savings account. Sure, nobody wants to stash cash in accounts that earn some of the lowest yields in banking, but the GOBankingRates folks see that revelation as a symptom of a much larger illness.

    "It's troubling how many Americans aren't thinking about long-term planning or retirement, with little to nothing stashed away in a savings account," said Casey Bond, editor-in-chief of GOBankingRates. "Saving money is an uphill battle for many, but there are a number of simple ways people can consistently grow their nest egg over time, such as automating their savings. Even a small contribution is better than nothing at all."

    Savings Delayed

    Procrastination is something U.S. workers excel at, and the financial straits of the recent economic crisis haven't helped matters. According to a survey earlier this year by financial firm Edward Jones, 45 percent of non-retired U.S. workers aren't saving for retirement. We put it off by age (90 percent of young workers say they'll start saving in their 30s or earlier, but only 64 percent of folks ages 35 to 44 follow through), we put it off until the kids get older (39 percent of singles aren't saving, compared to 51 percent those in a household of three or more) and, according to a survey by financial services firm Franklin Templeton, we put it off altogether (30 percent of those 18 to 24 say they'll never retire).

    But why is the rest of the world suddenly in the same year-to-year financial scenario. Well, there was a reason why it was a global economic crisis. Thanks to austerity measures implemented by countries around the world, some of the more socialized benefits offered to retirees just aren't available anymore.

    "Long-term financial planning has never been more important because governments are being forced to cut age-related benefits, meaning that in the future most people will not be able to rely on governmental support to the same extent they have done in the past, so we have to be more financially self-reliant in retirement," Green says. "Plus, as we're all living longer, and as such the money we accumulate throughout our lives has to go further than it ever has done before."

    Also, much of the joblessness that swept Western nations over the duration of the crisis affected the youngest workers. The Principal found that 63 percent of workers ages 23 to 35 began saving before they turned 25, but fewer than a third saved 10 percent of their salary. With cash tight thanks to either joblessness or settling for low-wage employment until better positions opened up, long-term saving for retirement competed with rent (65 percent), food (38 percent) transportation (30 percent), student loans (20 percent) and credit card debt (16 percent) for their dollars.

    Obstacles to Saving

    "Many millennials may see these large expenses -- especially student loans and other debt -- as primary obstacles to saving anything for retirement," says Jerry Patterson, senior vice president of retirement and investor services at The Principal. "But in most situations, it's possible and necessary to both save for retirement and pay down debt by creating a plan and sticking to it."

    According to Voya Financial, nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) working Americans say they are very or extremely concerned about outliving their savings in retirement and 74 percent have never calculated their monthly retirement income needs. However, if they just think ahead a bit, they can start making sound savings decisions now. A diverse and somewhat non-conservative portfolio helps.

    "Generally, people should have at least 70 percent of their annual income in order to have a secure retirement with a similar lifestyle," says James Nichols, head of retirement income and advice strategy and Voya Financial. "Of course, some people will need more than that and some will need less depending of their lifestyle desires, health expenses, retirement plans and other factors. You may have 30 years or more of retirement, so your money needs to continue to grow during that time."

    Sometimes, that saving means sacrificing in the short-term in favor of your long-term goals. Joe Boyle, a retirement coach with Voya in Beverly Hills who specializes in helping Millennial clients, notes that some of his younger clients with good jobs, who can afford to live on their own, make the choice (in concert with their parents) to live at home so that they can save money towards buying their first home. In one case, a younger client who is an attorney had no student loans or credit card debt lived at home for three years to save a 20 percent down payment on a home near her office.

    "She said that 'there were some small sacrifices' to her social life that came with living with her folks, but that it allowed her to buy her first home and it was definitely worth it," Boyle says. "The trade-off for many millennials living at home is giving up some of their independence today for greater financial freedom tomorrow."

    With The Principal's survey noting that, though 84 percent of millennials believe that they should be independent by age 25, many still rely on parents for help with their cellphone bill (12 percent), car insurance (8 percent), health insurance (7 percent) and rent (7 percent). However, deVere's Green warns that current conditions shouldn't always put a damper on future plans.

    "If you're serious about reaching your big, life-enhancing financial objectives," he says, "you must think and plan with a perspective that's longer than 12 months."

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor.

     

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    Old city hall of Phoenix
    Getty ImagesIn places like Dallas, Minneapolis and Phoenix (shown above) retirees can pay for housing, food, transportation, health care and utilities on $100 a day.
    By Emily Brandon

    You can retire sooner or with less savings if you are willing to significantly cut your expenses. One way to quickly lower your retirement costs is to move to a place with a low cost of living.

    Reducing your housing costs can add to your retirement savings and make your ongoing bills more affordable. "Downsizing to a less expensive, more manageable house has numerous benefits," says Paul Staib, a certified financial planner for Staib Financial Planning in Aurora, Colorado. "You could use the proceeds from the sale of your current home to add to your retirement savings, thereby providing a bigger source of retirement income, while significantly potentially cutting other housing-related costs, including property taxes, insurance, utilities and ongoing maintenance and management costs."

    U.S. News analyzed U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data to determine where a retiree could cover his or her basic expenses, including typical costs for housing, food, transportation, health care and utilities, with less than $100 a day, or $36,500 a year, in retirement income.

    It's important to note that in many of these cities $100 a day just barely covered these five basic expenses. The analysis does not factor in the costs for recreation, clothing, consumer goods, hobbies or travel. A little extra income from savings or a part-time job would make you much more comfortable living in many of these places.

    Housing costs are the biggest driver of retirement expenses, but they also vary considerably based on whether retirees rent, own or have paid off their mortgage, with homeowners who are living mortgage-free paying the lowest housing costs. "You can't eliminate housing costs 100 percent because you still have property taxes to pay and insurance, but you could live with less if you find someplace that is cheaper for you to live or if you can get rid of your mortgage," says Edward Fulbright, a certified public accountant and CEO of Fulbright Financial Consulting in Durham, North Carolina. It's also important to factor in the transaction and moving costs when you relocate to a new city.

    Here are 10 places where it's possible to cover basic monthly costs on just $100 a day:

    Aurora, Colorado. Aurora has 97 parks and over 5,000 acres of open space for hiking, biking and fishing. The Aurora Center for Active Adults has exercise equipment and fitness classes that Aurora resident seniors can use for as little as $18 a month, with further discounts available if you purchase your membership as a retired couple. The city also has a day trip program for retirees that provides low-cost excursions that might include transportation to a local hike, sporting event, concert or tour. Health care is available at the University of Colorado Hospital. Housing costs for retirees are $1,623 with a mortgage, $904 for renters and just $440 monthly with a paid-off house.

    Cleveland. Located on the shore of Lake Erie, Cleveland's reasonable housing prices for retirees include a median of $1,278 monthly with a mortgage, $652 a month if you rent and $478 each month if you own a paid-off house. And the bargain housing costs get you a high quality of life. The Cleveland Clinic is a top-ranked hospital for geriatric care. Music lovers will delight in attending events at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the many free concerts at the Cleveland Institute of Music. And Case Western Reserve University has an audit program for senior citizens that permits those age 65 and older to take courses at a reduced tuition rate of $40 a credit hour.

    Dallas. This city in the Lone Star State has many innovative programs specifically for retirees. The Senior Source manages the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, which helps connect seniors to volunteer opportunities that match their desires and talents. The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden holds weekly events specifically for people ages 65 and older and offers a senior discount on admission. And the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is nationally ranked for its geriatric care. Retiree renters in Dallas pay a median of $911 a month, while homeowners pay $1,544 monthly if they have a mortgage or $518 a month if they are mortgage-free. Texas doesn't have a state income tax, but remember to factor in the property tax bill when purchasing a home.

    Durham, North Carolina. Durham is the home of Duke University, which includes Duke University Hospital, and is one of the corners of the research triangle, known for its high-tech research and development. People ages 65 and older are eligible to ride the Triangle Transit bus system free of charge. There's also an affordable door-to-door van option for people with disabilities. Median housing costs for older homeowners are $1,420 with a mortgage and $456 without one. Retiree renters pay a median of $857 in monthly housing costs.

    Jacksonville, Florida. Jacksonville provides pleasantly mild winters and is just a short drive from white-sand Atlantic Ocean beaches. But housing in Jacksonville costs far less than many other parts of Florida. Retirees age 65 and older pay a median of $910 monthly to rent an apartment in Jacksonville. That cost climbs to $1,340 among homeowners with a mortgage, but that dips to $433 for retirees who have paid off their house. There's also no state income tax in Florida.

    Kansas City, Kansas. There are many ways to live on less money in Kansas City. Google Fiber built a pilot fiber optic network in Kansas City, and after a one-time $300 installation fee, basic broadband is free for up to 7 years. The median housing cost for retirees is $1,388 with a mortgage, but that drops to $486 among people without a mortgage. The median rent is $772 a month. The University of Kansas Hospital is nationally ranked for its geriatric care.

    Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin's state capital is the home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Wisconsin residents age 60 and older are eligible to audit classes for free. This college town is affordable for students as well as retirees. Housing costs a median of $1,624 a month with a mortgage, but it decreases to $622 once you pay off your home and $868 if you rent. There's also plenty of scenic beauty. The city is located near five lakes -- Kegonsa, Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Wingra -- which are popular for boating and recreation.

    Minneapolis. Those who dream of a retirement on the water have many options in Minneapolis, which offers access to a chain of lakes and the Mississippi River. The Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway provides plenty of walking and bicycle paths to enjoy the parks and scenery. Housing for retirees in the Minneapolis metro area, which includes St. Paul and Bloomington, costs a median of $1,594 a month with a mortgage, $520 with a paid-off house and $843 if you rent. Health care is available at the Abbott Northwestern Hospital. In nearby Rochester, Minnesota, you'll find the top-ranked hospital in the country for geriatric care, the Mayo Clinic.

    Phoenix. Arizona's state capital is among the sunniest places in the country and is known for its hot summers and mild winters. Whatever professional sport you enjoy, Phoenix is likely to have a nearby team to root for, perhaps including the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Suns or Coyotes. Phoenix has its own branch of the Mayo Clinic, as well as the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. Housing costs a median of $905 a month for renters and $1,330 for homeowners with a mortgage, while people who own their home mortgage-free pay just $392.

    Pittsburgh. Sports fans have many professional teams to choose from, including the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins. The UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is ranked 11th in the country in geriatrics. But this city full of noteworthy museums and colleges continues to have affordable housing prices. The median monthly housing cost is $1,227 with a mortgage, $453 without a mortgage and $642 if you rent. Plus, Pittsburgh retirees age 65 and older are eligible to ride the bus, T or Monongahela Incline for free.

    Emily Brandon is the senior editor for Retirement at U.S. News. You can contact her on Twitter @aiming2retire, circle her on Google Plus or email her at ebrandon@usnews.com.

     

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    retail sales economy gdp consumer spending
    Michael Dwyer/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. retail sales barely rose in September and producer prices recorded their biggest decline in eight years, raising further doubts about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year.

    The weak reports Wednesday were the latest suggestion that the economy was losing momentum in the face of slowing global growth, a strong dollar, an inventory correction and lower oil prices that are hampering capital spending in the energy sector. Job growth braked sharply in the past two months.

    The softness of September's figures supports our view that the Fed probably isn't going to hike interest rates until early next year.

    "The softness of September's figures supports our view that the Fed probably isn't going to hike interest rates until early next year," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

    The Commerce Department said retail sales edged up 0.1 percent last month largely as cheaper gasoline pushed service station receipts down 3.2 percent. Giving the report a weak tone, sales in August were revised down to show them unchanged instead of rising 0.2 percent.

    Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services slipped 0.1 percent last month after a downwardly revised 0.2 percent gain in August.

    These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product and were previously said to have advanced 0.4 percent in August.

    Last month's weak core sales and the downward revision to August's figure, together with another report from the Commerce Department showing business inventories were again unchanged in August, prompted JPMorgan to cut its third-quarter GDP estimate by half a percentage point to an annual rate of 1 percent.

    The economy grew at a 3.9 percent pace in the second quarter. Some economists, however, cautioned against reading too much into the soft retail sales report, noting that discretionary spending remained fairly healthy.

    Consumers boosted their purchases of automobiles and furniture and spent more on hobbies, clothing and eating out. That points to underlying strength in domestic demand which should provide some cushion against softening global growth.

    Consumer Spending Still Strong

    "But the overall message is that consumer spending has remained extremely strong. If sentiment had indeed shifted, it would be hard to explain why sales of cars, certainly among the more expensive items, jumped in September to their highest level since July 2005," said Harm Bandholz, chief economist at UniCredit Research in New York.

    Sales of electronic goods were soft despite the launch of Apple's (AAPL) latest iPhone. Some economists said they expected the boost from the iPhone in October.

    Stocks on Wall Street fell after Walmart Stores (WMT) warned that its full-year sales would be flat because of dollar strength. Prices for U.S. Treasury debt rose, while the dollar dropped against a basket of currencies.

    In a separate report, the Labor Department said its producer price index fell 0.5 percent in September, the largest drop since January, after being unchanged in August.

    In the 12 months through September, the PPI fell 1.1 percent after declining 0.8 percent in August. It was the eighth straight 12-month decrease in the index.

    The weak inflation environment is one of the obstacles confronting Fed policymakers who are contemplating raising rates for the first time in nearly a decade. The U.S. central bank has kept its short-term interest rate near zero since late 2008.

    "It is the uncertain course of inflation that could keep the Fed from hiking rates this year. Unfortunately, the gang that cannot communicate straight is still sending out as many unclear signals as possible," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

    Top Fed officials are divided on whether to tighten monetary policy, with Governor Daniel Tarullo saying Tuesday the central bank should not hike rates this year. Fed Chair Janet Yellen and Vice Chair Stanley Fischer have recently said they support raising rates this year.

     

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    Debate Over Vehicle Emissions Intensifies As Volkswagen Scandal Widens
    Matt Cardy/Getty Images
    By Georgina Prodhan and Jan Schwartz

    FRANKFURT and HAMBURG, Germany -- The man Volkswagen (VLKAY) tapped less than three weeks ago to head its North American business resigned Wednesday, dealing a blow to the German carmaker's efforts to recover from a scandal over its rigging of U.S. diesel emissions tests.

    News of the resignation of company veteran Winfried Vahland came as Germany's Spiegel magazine reported that at least 30 Volkswagen managers were involved in the test cheating. VW said the figure was without any basis.

    Last week, the head of Volkswagen's U.S. business, Michael Horn, said he thought only "a couple of software engineers" were responsible.

    VW is facing massive challenges and a completely new start.

    "Vahland was a good manager," said London-based analyst Arndt Ellinghorst at banking advisory firm Evercore ISI. "VW is facing massive challenges and a completely new start."

    Europe's largest carmaker is in crisis after admitting last month it installed software in diesel vehicles to deceive U.S. regulators about their true level of toxic emissions.

    The scandal has wiped about a quarter off Volkswagen's market value, forced out its long-time chief executive and rocked both the global car industry and the German economy.

    On Tuesday, the company said it would cut investment plans at its core VW division by 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) a year through 2019 and speed up savings as it braces for a clean-up bill which some analysts believe could reach 35 billion euros to cover regulatory fines, vehicle recall costs and lawsuits.

    The premium Audi division, source of about 40 percent of group profit, will also cut spending in the coming years, two Volkswagen sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

    Audi managers are reviewing the brand's 2015-19 budget of 24 billion euros and are due to outline possible cost cuts to its supervisory board by its next meeting on Dec. 3, they added.

    Differences of Opinion

    Vahland was at Volkswagen for more than 25 years, leading its rapid expansion in China before heading Czech division Skoda.

    Skoda said he was leaving of his own choice because of unspecified differences of opinion over the company's organization of its North American business, confirming what sources close to the matter earlier told Reuters.

    "This decision is expressly not connected to the current events around the diesel topic," a Skoda statement said.

    German weekly Auto Bild earlier reported Vahland's departure, noting he was passed over for the top job at Volkswagen after Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn resigned Sept. 23 because of the scandal.

    Volkswagen had appointed 58-year-old Vahland to join the management of the VW brand on Nov. 1 as head of its operations in the United States, Mexico and Canada as part of a broader reshuffle that led to Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller taking the helm of the group.

    Sources had told Reuters before Vahland's appointment that he was also the favorite to get a new management board position to oversee the group's North American operations, which were struggling even before the test rigging scandal.

    Investigations

    Volkswagen is under pressure to identify those responsible for the wrongdoing and fix up to 11 million affected diesel vehicles. It has been criticized by politicians, investors and consumers for the time it is taking to produce answers.

    Spiegel, citing preliminary results of investigations by law firm Jones Day and Volkswagen itself, said the dozens of managers implicated in test rigging would be suspended.

    It also cited a person familiar with the matter as saying the circle of those involved or who knew about the cheating could widen further.

    New CEO Mueller is expected to speak to top management Thursday about the current state of the investigations, steps to refit affected models and possible spending cuts.

    As part of its response to the crisis, the company announced plans on Tuesday to step up development of electric and hybrid vehicles.

    German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned Wednesday against condemning diesel technology as a whole due to the problems at Volkswagen, but said Germany needed to do better in switching to alternative engines.

    The car industry employs more than 750,000 people in Germany and is a major source of export income. Diesel vehicles are particularly important in Europe, accounting for about a half of sales compared with just a small fraction in the United States.

    Gabriel said he was in favor of incentives to reduce the price difference between electric and conventional vehicles. However, the German finance ministry said it saw such incentives as "problematic."

     

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    The market seems to be going nowhere this year. There have been plenty of ups and downs, but the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) is trading 3 percent lower than where it was when the year began. That doesn't mean that all stocks have been merely marching in place.

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

    Anacor Pharmaceuticals (ANAC) -- Up 233 percent

    There are only a handful of companies that have more than doubled this year, and Anacor is one of the few in that already elite lot to more than triple. Anacor took off after Crisaborole -- a promising skin cream for the treatment of atopic dermatitis -- delivered positive late-stage clinical trial results.

    Crisaborole won't hit the market until 2017 at the earliest, and that's if it clears regulatory approval. However, at least one market projection has the treatment generating nearly $2 billion in annual revenue in five years.

    Coca-Cola Bottling (COKE) -- Up 144 percent

    Carbonated beverages in general and Coca-Cola (KO) in particular may not be doing so hot, but the same can't be said about the soda giant's largest independent bottler. Shares of Coca-Cola Bottling have been fizzing all year, but it got even more effervescent last month when it announced it that would be purchasing Coca-Cola's manufacturing plants in Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Maryland. The move dramatically expands the reach of the bottler.

    Consolidation helps the players left standing, even if Coca-Cola itself isn't telegraphing a very upbeat portrait of the bottling industry by diversifying into new product categories.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Up 125 percent

    Just one of the 500 stocks making up the S&P 500 has doubled this year and it just happens to be the same stock that was the biggest gainer of the popular index two years ago. Netflix has been on fire this year, armed with 65.55 million global subscribers as of the end of the second quarter.

    It's running away with the premium video streaming market, and with most of its growth these days stemming from international growth, it's fair to say that the rest of the world is just as smitten with Netflix and binge viewing as the U.S. is.

    LGI Homes (LGIH) -- Up 111 percent

    Homebuilders have been thriving in this climate with low mortgage rates and an improving economy. LGI Homes went public two years ago, and the stock has gone on to nearly triple in that time.

    LGI Homes is posting double-digit sales growth, and earnings have been growing even faster. It has sold 2,458 homes so far this year, 44 percent ahead of where it was after the first nine months of 2014.

    Builders FirstSource (BLDR) -- Up 101 percent

    Most of this year's gains at Builders FirstSource came after a single acquisitive event. Shares of the building materials supplier took off after it announced that it would snap up ProBuild. Acquiring a rival in a $1.63 billion deal would create a company that would combine for $6.1 billion in trailing revenue last year. The news sent the shares 90 percent higher in a single week.

    The market doesn't typically bid up an acquirer, but this move made perfect sense. It also only helped that Builders FirstSource revealed that it was targeting as much as $200 million in annual cost savings for the combined building materials giant.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool 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. 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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    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen Lecture On Inflation Dynamics And Monetary Policy
    Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen
    By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

    WASHINGTON -- The Federal Reserve says steady consumer spending and an improving housing market spurred modest U.S. economic growth in the late summer, though factory output was sluggish in part because of the strong dollar.

    The Fed said Wednesday in its latest snapshot of the economy that nine of its 12 regional banks reported that growth was moderate or modest from mid-August through the beginning of October. Two banks said economic activity increased while the Kansas City Fed said the economy slowed slightly.

    The Fed's report echoes other recent data that suggests the U.S. economy, while still expanding, has run into headwinds from overseas and lost some momentum. Most analysts forecast that growth will fall sharply in the July-September quarter to an annual pace of about 1.5 percent from 3.9 percent in April-June.

    The report, known as the beige book, will be used by Fed policymakers as a basis for discussing the economy's health when they meet next on Oct. 27-28. The beige book is released eight times a year and consists of anecdotal reports from businesses in each of the 12 districts.

    Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the Fed may raise short-term interest rates before the end of the year should the economy continue to expand. Yet most analysts expect that if an increase does occur this year, it will happen in December rather than this month.

    Americans generally boosted their spending, likely because of solid hiring in the past year that has put 2.8 million people to work. Auto sales were even stronger, particularly in the Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas districts.

    Hiring rose at a modest to moderate pace in nine of the 12 bank districts, the beige book said. The Boston Fed said that advertising and consulting firms were planning to add jobs, while manufacturers were laying off workers.

    Yet even as job gains were steady, wage growth "remained subdued" in most regions, the Fed's report said. Eight districts said that only slight to modest pay gains occurred from mid-August through early October.

    Steep drops in oil and gas prices in the past year continued to weigh on many energy producers, which are still cutting jobs in Texas, the Dallas Fed said. Oil and gas drillers are also ordering less steel pipe and other equipment, dragging down factory output, according to many districts.

    Manufacturers are also struggling because of the strong dollar, which has increased about 13 percent in value against a basket of other currencies in the past 12 months. That makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas and lowers the price of foreign goods in the United States, cutting into U.S. exports.

    The stronger dollar has also discouraged many overseas tourists from visiting the United States by raising the cost of hotel rooms and other goods and services. The New York, Minneapolis and Dallas districts reported that tourism was restrained by the strong dollar.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell Wednesday as Walmart skidded after issuing a weak profit forecast, dragging down other big retailers, and as JPMorgan (JPM) slipped after disappointing results.

    The news added to worries about the outlook for U.S. earnings, with S&P 500 profits forecast to have dropped more than 4 percent in the third quarter compared with a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    Following the market close, shares of Netflix (NFLX) sank 8.7 percent to $100.61 after the company reported U.S. subscriber additions below its own forecast.

    Separately, CNBC said supermarket operator Albertsons' initial public offering was likely to price at $20 or less as bidders are concerned about the Walmart forecast, while First Data's IPO is likely to price at $16. Earlier this month, Albertsons said it expected its IPO to price between $23 and $26 a share, and First Data estimated its would price between $18 and $20 a share.

    During the regular session, Walmart (WMT) sank 10 percent to $60.03 in its biggest one-day percentage decline in years and heaviest trading day since January 2009, after it forecast a drop of up to 12 percent in earnings per share in fiscal 2017. The day's decline erased more than $20 billion off the retailer's market value, and the stock was among the biggest drag on both the Dow and S&P 500.

    Also weighing on retailers, data showed retail sales in the United States barely rose in September.

    Rival big-box retailer Target (TGT) was down 3.5 percent at $76.20, and Sears (SHLD) fell 3 percent to $24.41. The S&P 500 retail index dropped 1.2 percent.

    JPMorgan (JPM) shares fell 2.5 percent to $59.99 after the bank reported disappointing third-quarter results late Tuesday.

    "In these next three weeks in the earnings season, we're going to get some clear guidance not just on earnings for the third quarter but guidance for the fourth quarter and for next year. That's going to be crucial," said John Canally, investment strategist and economist for LPL Financial in Boston.

    ​The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 157.14 points, or 0.9 percent, to 16,924.75, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 9.45 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,994.24 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 13.76 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,782.85.

    Wells Fargo (WFC) fell 0.7 percent to $51.50, while Bank of America (BAC) rose 0.8 percent to $15.64 also following their results.

    Among other big decliners, shares of Boeing (BA) dropped 4.3 percent to $134.22.

    Shares of Delta Air Lines (DAL) rose 1.8 percent to $48.59 after it said it will put the brakes on its expansion of flight capacity in 2016, in a move to fill up more planes and sell more seats at higher fares.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,809 to 1,241, for a 1.46-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,759 issues fell and 1,005 advanced for a 1.75-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 7 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 21 new highs and 57 new lows.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Commerce Department releases the Consumer Price Index for September; the Labor Department reports weekly jobless claims; and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York releases its survey of manufacturing conditions in New York state for October.
    • ​Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates, 10 a.m.​
    • The Treasury Department releases its budget report for September at 11 a.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results.
    • Citigroup (C)
    • Goldman Sachs Group (GS)
    • Philip Morris International (PM)
    • UnitedHealth Group (UNH)

     

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    Theme parks tout their contributions to scientific research
    Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty ImagesGuests check out a mural at the animal science center at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
    Disney (DIS) is no stranger to price hikes at its theme parks. It's been raising the cost of its one-day tickets to Disney World on an annual basis since 1989, and more often than not that means eventually boosting the price for its annual passes.

    Some are arguing that Disney may have gone too far with its latest move, jacking up the price for a full year of access to Disneyland by as much as 35 percent. The increases at Disney World weren't as severe, but all comparable annual passes have gone up in the double digits.

    It's not just annual pass holders feeling the pain: Your car is going to be paying more the next time it wants to visit one of Disney's six domestic theme parks. Disneyland parking prices increased by a buck, with Disney World's parking lots rolling out a steep $3 hike.

    Use the Force, Luke

    The increases are substantial, and they might seem to be coming at the most unlikely time. Disney's boldest expansion project -- the 14-acre Star Wars Land that will spice things up at both Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland in California -- is still several years away.

    Some of Disney's parks are woefully incomplete, for now. Animal Kingdom in Florida is closing at 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. most days this month. That will change when a nighttime Rivers of Light show debuts in a few months, along with an Avatar-themed expansion that will follow a year later. Disney's Hollywood Studios is even more barren. It has gone from Disney's third most visited park to its fourth most visited park after gutting several attractions over the past two years. Most of the additions up to this point have been petty, replacing former attractions with temporary "Frozen"-themed shows or the saddest lounge you will ever see.

    However, making this move when the parks are in an inspirational lull is a smarter move than you might think. For starters, keep in mind that annual pass holders don't pay the new rates until their current passes expire. That could be as far as a year away, when Disney's parks should offer more than they do right now. Between Epcot's "Frozen" ride and "Star Wars" Launch Bay pavilions opening in a few months, the parks will already be on the upswing before the hike kicks in.

    Patrons also play lower renewal rates on these passes, creating an incentive to renew now rather than pay even more for a pass once the new attractions go live. From Star Wars Land on both coasts to the arrival of Pixar Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios, the parks will be a lot more magnetic in the future. Disney's just asking investors to make an investment now.

    New pricing tiers also find Disney offering value passes with blackout dates. The cheaper annual passes don't include summer and/or key travel holidays. That may be a deal breaker for out-of-town regulars, but for locals it's one way to save money while also pushing them through the turnstiles on quieter non-peak days. That's part of Disney's master plan to alleviate the heavy crowds that converge on both resorts in late December and during the spring break holiday.

    A New Perk That's Sheer Genius on Disney's Part

    One thing that Disney's doing to ease the sting of higher prices is including free PhotoPass access to all guests at the higher annual pass tiers. PhotoPass is the cloud-based storage solution whereby guests have all of their snapshots taken on rides and by roaming staff photographers. Disney's making digital downloads available to many pass holders at no additional charge.

    That's a pretty big deal for folks who take a lot of pictures, but one can also suggest that annual pass holders aren't the type to be posing with park photographers outside of Cinderella's castle. They are regulars, and that makes them less likely to value a pro snapshot the way that an infrequent visitor would.

    However, that's also what makes this brilliant for Disney. It will get annual pass holders to collect more digital downloads of their in-park photographs and in this day of social media, it likely means sharing them on Instagram and Facebook (FB).

    Even annual pass holders who don't normally spring for photos of crazy Splash Mountain poses will be tempted to see the perceived value in the perk. It doesn't cost Disney a thing, beyond possibly hiring more staff photographers to account for the spike in snapshot requests.

    So, sure, higher-price annual passes aren't fun, but between new attractions on the way and a new clever perk, Disney's got you just where it wants you.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    By Raechel Conover

    Every year Halloween creeps up and scares thousands into last-minute, costly costume choices. But just a little planning can lead to a timely and cheap Halloween costume for 2015. Here's the easy way to do it: Identify pop culture, movie, and TV icons from the past year. Then narrow the list to celebrities, real or imagined, who can be easily and cheaply replicated.

    Zombies. Even after years of zombie madness, the march of the undead doesn't seem to be abating. "The Walking Dead" has spawned a prequel, "Fear The Walking Dead," making this a good year to resurrect an old zombie costume -- or ask someone who once dressed as a zombie to loan you a severed limb or two. Alternatively, make a costume with old clothing and ghastly makeup.

    Minions. Spinning off from the "Despicable Me" franchise, the Minions took to the screen for their own movie this year. This is an easy costume to put together: Pick up some overalls and a yellow hooded sweatshirt. Add sprouts of brown pipe-cleaner hair on the hood of the sweatshirt and wear goggles or oversize glasses.

    Donald Trump. All you need to dress as the Republican presidential candidate is a suit and a cheap comb-over wig (or a comb-over of your own hair). Walmart is selling the wigs for $15.95 and already sold out at least once -- perhaps an indication of the costume's popularity this year.

    Hillary Clinton. A Hillary Clinton costume is also easy to pull off. Simply wear a women's pant or skirt suit and style hair or a wig in a blonde bob parted to the side. Of course there are Hillary Clinton masks ($17 on Amazon), but save the money by sporting a name tag that reads, "Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate."

    Hillary and Bill. Hillary and Bill Clinton is a cheap couples costume that's sure to be a hit. The formula is the same for Bill as for Hillary: a suit and a mask ($12.25 on Amazon). Or, forgo the mask and use baby powder to turn hair white.

    The Dress. Remember the dress that took social media by storm this year because no one could agree if it was white and gold or blue and black? can be approached two ways: Go with a friend and each wear a different version of the dress, or fly solo and wear a dress that's half gold and white, half blue and black. Either way, find a white dress secondhand and use spray paint or fabric paint to make the stripes.

    Katy Perry's Left Shark. Remember Katy Perry's Super Bowl halftime show, and the costumed dancer who just couldn't keep up? He became a sensation -- and now a clever Halloween costume. Start with a blue hoodie and white, black and light blue sheets of foam paper. Use the foam paper to create eyes, teeth (around the opening of the hood), gills, and a fin for the back. Attach to the hoodie with a hot glue gun.

    Sadness from 'Inside Out.' This movie-inspired costume falls on the extreme cheap side to recreate: Wear blue leggings, a light blue sweater, blue face paint, blue latex gloves, blue socks and slippers, a blue wig or hair color, and large, dark-rimmed glasses. Many closets hold these items already, and they can be found at low price.

    Deflategate. One of the biggest sports scandals of the year, in which the New England Patriots and popular quarterback Tom Brady allegedly tampered with footballs before the AFC Championship Game, makes for an easy costume. All it takes is a Patriots jersey or T-shirt and a deflated football. These items can be found secondhand or borrowed from a friend who's a Patriots fan.

    Ariana Grande. Oh, Ariana. The little pop princess (er, diva) was famously accused of (and caught on camera) licking a doughnut in a shop. Replicate her look on the video with a light-colored, plain hooded sweatshirt; hair piled high into a ponytail; dark, winged eye makeup; and knee-high, black stiletto boots. Carry around a tray of doughnuts.

     

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    It's too easy to come up with excuses for not saving enough money and getting ahead financially. You don't earn enough. Your student loan debt is suffocating. You need new clothes. Your furniture is old. Your kids are expensive. And the list goes on. But unless you're going to inherit millions of dollars, it's probably best that you start making financial choices today that will bring you the financial security you deserve.

    Here are eight common excuses that are keeping you from financial success. If these sound familiar, it's time to make a change.

    1. I Can't Afford to Save

    It's not uncommon for people to believe that they don't make enough money to put a portion into savings. Even some workers at generous income levels feel this way.

    "The culprit behind this excuse is usually lifestyle inflation," said David Melnyk, a financial planner with Verus Wealth Management. "As someone earns more, they often feel they are able to spend more. Spending money on things that make your life fulfilling is totally necessary and important to do but make sure you aren't cashing out your dreams and goals in the process."

    To combat the slow creep of living expenses, craft a budget that will help you to save and stay on track.

    2. I Can Always Save Later

    It's easier and more appealing to live for today and not worry about tomorrow. And it's one of the biggest reasons many people fail to take action and save.

    Jason Hull, a certified financial planner who blogs on myFinancial Answers, offered a powerful antidote for that line of thinking. "Imagine your future self as if you were watching a movie. Think about the potential negative outcomes like having to retire early because of a disability and watch the movie of your future self based on what you're doing now. This will help (you) think of that future self as a family member and make (you) want to do something about it. We need to convince (our present selves) that our future selves are both important and fallible."

    3. It's Too Complicated

    "If you are not sure how to begin, start by investing a small amount from each paycheck into the target date fund that corresponds with your future retirement date in your company's 401(k) plan," said Lawrence Solomon, director of investments and financial planning at OptiFour Integrated Wealth Management.

    "If you want to invest on your own outside of a 401(k), start with a simple broad stock index fund that tracks the Standard & Poor's 500 (^GSPC). Index funds have very low costs, are extremely tax-efficient and can be purchased with low minimum initial investments. With investing, simpler is usually better," he said.

    Two of the most important tenets of successful investing are also the most simple: Set aside savings consistently and get started. There's no need to be paralyzed by indecision. Low-cost index funds that track market performance consistently perform well over the long term, Solomon said. Warren Buffett also advises investors to hit up these funds.

    Of course, there are no guarantees and past performance isn't indicative of future success.

    4. I Just Need to Get This Out of the Way

    Whatever "this" is -- graduate school, a wedding or something else -- it's keeping you from a sound financial future.

    To put the brakes on this kind of procrastination, Trevor Ewen of PearoftheWeek.com, a personal finance and investing blog, urged individuals to "put together a financial projection of the cost and personal investment" of whatever the excuse or event is. "Then use this exercise as a stepping stone to other financial action."

    In other words, use the urgency of an immediate financial goal and take that same enthusiasm and determination to longer-term financial goals. This will help you plan and save beyond the needs of a looming deadline.

    5. I'm Waiting for Less Market Volatility

    Would-be investors eyeing the stock market these days may be using the recent volatility as an excuse to stay on the sidelines. Or some may say they don't want to invest right now because the market is too high, or it hasn't hit bottom yet or they want to wait until it goes back up to get in.

    Solomon has a name for this behavioral pattern: "I call this the timing excuse. There is no such thing as market timing, only market mistiming. We have met with several people who are 100 percent in cash and have been using this excuse since the Great Recession to avoid getting into the market. In the process, they have missed out on more than 200 percent of gains in the U.S. indexes over the last six years and their portfolios will likely never be able to recover from those missed opportunities during their lifetimes."

    Solomon said that inflation will eat up people's purchasing power in time if they're not invested in the market properly. "The returns on cash and other ultra-conservative investments have never historically kept pace with inflation. So if you are in cash or Treasury bills, you are not preserving your capital in real terms because the price of everything you will need in the future is going up and your purchasing power is shrinking over time."

    6. It's Impossible to Get Ahead

    You are in charge of how you spend, how much you earn, how you invest and other financial decisions. By claiming that life is unfair or the game is rigged, you ultimately end up shirking your responsibility to instigate positive change. Be accountable for your money-related decisions and watch how empowered you will feel.

    7. I'm Afraid to Face My Financial Fears

    People who stockpile their student loan bills or credit card statements under the bed -- unopened -- are probably familiar with this fear. Confronting their financial reality is a first step toward gaining security.

    "People don't want to fail," said Josh Nelson, CEO of Keystone Financial Services. "They are afraid that they have procrastinated too long and it's too late for them. The truth is that it is never too late to do the right thing. People can make up for lost ground quickly if they are committed enough."

    Go ahead and face your financial situation head on. See where you stand today so you can start making a plan that will help you move toward the future you desire. Track your spending and earnings. Include your monthly bills and short-term and long-term savings goals. Make the adjustments necessary to bring your financial life back into balance.

    8. I'm Too Busy

    "Probably the most common excuse that we hear is 'I don't have time right now,'" said financial consultant Trent Huston. "[What] they are actually saying is 'I won't make time right now.' The statement undermines their efforts to improve because they have prioritized improving their finances below other things that they do have time for."

    A sound financial future should be your goal and a priority. But time slips away and financial plans get deferred again and again. To break the cycle, investment adviser Steve Lewit of United Advisors said, "Ask yourself, if I keep doing what I'm doing and I don't change, will I get all stressed out or worried. If the answer is yes, then an action needs to be taken to relieve the stress."

    Bring urgency to your financial goals. Resolve to stop making excuses. Realize the connection between your financial actions today and achieving your desired future.

    This story, 8 Excuses That Are Keeping You From Financial Success, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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  • 10/14/15--22:00: How to Sell an Ugly House
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    interior of a pink bedroom in...
    Getty ImagesIf your house is something of an eyesore, you can still sell it.
    By Geoff Williams

    Sometimes you can't sell the house you want to sell. You have to sell the house you have.

    Perhaps you're broke or rushed, and you don't have the time or money to make home improvements, like finishing the basement or painting the house. Maybe even hiring a cleaning crew to scrub down your home seems like a financial reach. You simply need to sell your not-so-awesome house.

    What do you do?

    Money talks. If your house is something of an eyesore, you can still sell it. But you'll almost certainly have to sell it for less than you could have otherwise.

    "Price solves all problems," says Bruce Ailion, a real estate agent and attorney in Atlanta. In addition to selling homes, Ailion manages a hedge fund that buys and rehabs properties to rent or flip. So he has purchased a few dumps in his day.

    "I've sold all sorts of difficult homes, cracked foundations, a side ripped off by strong winds, mold," Alison says. He adds that he was able to sell another home, which had a resident who was something of a dog hoarder. "The pet stains had pet stains, and the smell opening the door was overpowering," he says.

    So as bad as your home may seem, it's probably not unsellable. But you will have to lower the price.

    By how much? Bill Golden, a real estate agent in Atlanta for almost 30 years, has a simple formula. If you have repairs, and you can calculate what it would cost to repair your roof or paint the walls, "simply subtract the cost of the repairs from what the value of the home would be if the repairs were not needed," he says.

    Even there, it isn't quite that simple. Golden adds that buyers will still want enough of a discount to cover what he calls "the hassle factor." Those buyers, after all, are going to have to spend time finding the right painter or flooring company or roofer or whatever contractor they need, and the buyer doesn't know if there will be additional, unexpected costs related to the repairs.

    "The fine line to walk in pricing is to list it low enough that those repairs are taken into account, but with enough wiggle room to offer a further discount so the buyer will feel that it's worth taking on the project," Golden says.

    Don't assume the worst. You may feel like you would never buy your home in its current state, and therefore, nobody else would either. But your real estate agent may not see this as a big deal. For instance, Kella McCaskill, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Tampa Central, in Tampa, Florida, lists some minor issues that may feel major to you:
    1. Your house is outdated.
    2. Your flooring isn't very good.
    3. You have no air-conditioning.
    4. The exterior of the house looks shabby.
    5. There's junk everywhere.
    6. You have minor mold and mildew issues.
    Of course, you may wonder what a major issue would be, and McCaskell cites a few items like structural damage, water damage and drywall problems. So if the house isn't falling apart, you're probably going to get a decent price relative to the area -- just not top dollar.

    Focus on the best. So your house looks shabby in some areas. Work on making the best parts of your home even better.

    McCaskell says she once sold a home with interior fire damage.

    "The only thing that remained intact was the exterior ... the entire inside was destroyed," she says.

    So what did she do?

    "We made sure the grass was cut. The outside was at its best. I wanted anyone interested in buying this home to see the possibilities. I would encourage a seller to do the same. Make the home great in the areas you can make an impact," she says.

    Be transparent. If you're giving your buyer a tour, don't deny the obvious.

    "Never attempt to pretend the horrible smell is not there. Yes, everyone can smell it. They can also see the trash piled to the sky in the backyard," says Chantay Bridges, a real estate agent in Los Angeles.

    Trying to downplay it makes you look shifty, and now you have two problems. Who wants to buy a house that smells or is trashy from a dishonest homebuyer?

    But you can turn a negative into a positive, Bridges says. "Be creative," she suggests. "Say something like, 'It's great that there's a little bit of a mess. It gives you negotiation room, and you can get a great deal because of it.'"

    Clean. OK, maybe you can't hire a professional cleaner, but you can push up your sleeves and try to clean it yourself.

    Here's a checklist of things to buy and tackle, according to Bridges:

    Buy some bleach. "Get rid of smells and odors," she advises; you can add bleach to cups and set them in each room to neutralize smells.

    Bridges also recommends going all out with your cleaning. "Shampoo the carpets," she says. "Wash the walls. Ajax. Windex. Do everything you can to present the home in the best condition possible."

    Buy some garbage bags. "Get rid of clutter, trash, excess of any kind," Bridges says. "Buyers want to imagine themselves living in the home, which is tough to do with mountains of garbage everywhere."

    Go outside. Everything you can do to make the yard look better, do. "Trim trees and landscaping yourself," Bridges says. "Spruce up the yard, mow the grass, pick up dead leaves, sweep, wash down [the house]. Straighten out the exterior. Clean up the garage."

    Check the cabinets and organize the drawers. "Wipe down cabinets, spruce up closets, fold up towels," Bridges says. And why bother? "Buyers open cabinets and look through drawers," she says.

    Remove a lot of furniture. It may improve how everything looks, according to Brad Chandler, CEO of Express Homebuyers, a real estate investment company in Springfield, Virginia.

    "I'd advise the homeowner to get rid of all the clutter, knickknacks and excess," he says. "Leave only the essential pieces of furniture in each room. Then clean and scrub everything from top to bottom. Even if the place isn't in great condition, if it's at least spotlessly clean, it will be more attractive to a buyer."

    Mike Minihan agrees. Minihan, managing broker of Terrace 24 Realty in Atlanta, says, "Dumpy houses are usually filled with dumpy furniture and decorations, so it's best to move everything out. This runs counter to advice an agent would give to most sellers, because a staged house usually shows much better than an empty house."

    Minihan says staged homes usually work better because buyers don't have much imagination, and an empty room forces buyers to work hard to imagine their furniture and belongings in the room.

    "But with the dumpy house, you are in search of a buyer with imagination, and that couch from 1981 with cigarette burns all over it is probably going impede this visionary buyer's creative process more than it will help it," he says.

    And try to be confident. Almost any house, as long as it's safe to live in, is likely to be sold.

    "The worst home I was able to sell had dogs living in the bedrooms, with mushrooms coming through the floors and odors that you could smell a mile away," Bridges says. She was still able to sell it, to investors who planned to renovate it -- and they paid for the house in cash.

     

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    Why Smart People Fall For Dumb Scams

    By Marilyn Lewis

    Researchers are coming to new conclusions as they dig into the question of what makes some people and not others fall victim to fraud and online scams.

    Victims often hate to admit they've been conned, so research is difficult. Even so, experts estimate that $40 billion to $50 billion a year is lost to consumer fraud, says a study by the Financial Fraud Research Center at Stanford University's Center on Longevity.

    The Victims Aren't Who You'd Think

    Some 30 million Americans are sucked into some type of financial fraud each year, says the American Psychological Association. Fraud comes in all shapes and sizes, from online dating-site deception, debt-collection scams, fake rental ads and worthless or nonexistent product sales to work-at-home schemes. (This Financial Fraud Research Center diagram gives a detailed breakdown.)

    Victims include older people, yes, but also younger ones. Educated and undereducated. White-collar and blue-collar. Dumb people and smart ones. The Stanford study says:

    An emerging conclusion in profiling research is that there is no generalized profile of a "typical" victim. Profiling studies that analyze victims by type of scam, however, have yielded a clearer picture of scam-specific profiles. In other words, while everyone is vulnerable, some people may be more vulnerable to particular scams than others.

    AARP's 2014 report, Caught in the Scammer's Net, lists risk factors that make adults more likely to become victims of certain types of fraud. You're likely to be targeted if you are:

    1. A white man. The typical victim of investment fraud is a man. He's middle-aged, educated, financially literate and white, and he's under financial pressure, psychologist Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity tells The American Psychological Association.

    This makes sense, when you think about it. People who don't ordinarily buy investments aren't likely to fall for an investment scheme, or even to be offered it. In a phone interview with Money Talks News, Marti DeLiema, postdoctoral research fellow at the Financial Fraud Research Center, said:

    Fraud victimization is really associated with exposure. The more you engage in the marketplace the more likely you are to be vulnerable. You have to be in the market for a product to get hooked.

    2. Older. Elders do get hit hard by scammers and they're more likely to lose a significant amount of money to fraud, but generally that's largely because scammers pick on them more.

    Some susceptibility does come with age-related decline. Researchers have found that older people can have a harder time spotting liars, probably because of a decline in "emotional recognition," or the ability to read others' emotions accurately, the fraud researchers at the Stanford center said. But elders' long experience in life also helps them spot fraud. On balance, they aren't more susceptible than anyone else. DeLiema says:

    We have found that older adults are disproportionately targeted, but once they are targeted they are not more likely to be victims. Most PSAs (public service announcements) are targeted at the elderly. Perhaps those messages are working, and maybe experience can outweigh cognitive decline.

    Some services are marketed as useful to helping keep elders safe from fraud.

    3. Younger. Contrary to popular wisdom, younger adults actually are more vulnerable than older people, according to research by Judy Van Wyk of the University of Rhode Island and Karen A. Mason of Washington State University in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. People 18 to 25 stood a 77 percent chance of becoming victims compared to people 65 to 75, who had a 44 percent chance, according to the study.

    Scam artists alter their tactics depending on the unique vulnerability of their targets, says DeLiema. A young woman might not fall for a 'grandparents scam' (in which con artists pose as a grandchild in trouble) but she might fall for a weight loss scheme or a juice cleanse or an anti-aging cream because she feels insecure about aging.

    4. Living in Florida. Florida is the top state for consumer fraud complaints, with about 1,000 complaints per 100,000 residents, according to a report by 24/7 Wall St. based on Federal Trade Commission data.

    Florida's dubious distinction may be because of its larger population of seniors, who are frequent targets of fraudsters. Other states with high rates of fraud include: Texas, New Jersey, Arizona, California, Maryland, Delaware, Michigan, Nevada and Georgia.

    5. Lonely The AARP's 2014 report says that 66 percent of victims say that they "often or sometimes feel isolated."

    Dating sites are prime territory for fraud, partly because online encounters blur the lines between real and Internet relationships, says another AARP article. Loneliness can make people vulnerable to believing that their prayers have been answered, even when a "dream partner" met online is too good to be true.

    The article tells how Enitan, a former scammer, worked:

    Using stolen credit card numbers, the scammer would flood dating sites with fake profiles. Victims can be found anywhere -- scammers also forage for connections on social media -- but dating services provide the most fertile territory. Profile photos are pirated from social media or other dating sites. To snare women, he'd pose as older men, financially secure and often in the military or in engineering professions. For male victims, he just needed a photo of an alluring younger woman: "Guys are easier to convince -- they're a bit desperate for beautiful girls." The common thread between them: loneliness. All his victims, Enitan says, described themselves as divorced or widowed. "The lonely heart is a vulnerable heart."

    RomanceScams.org, devoted to fighting online dating fraud, tells how to recognize a dating scam and how to proceed if you are a victim.

    6. On the Internet. To many people, telemarketers are linked to fraud, and for good reason: People who listen to telemarketers are more likely to get hooked, DeLiema says.

    However, "the Internet has consistently been the most frequently reported method of contact for fraud victimization in recent years," according to a Financial Fraud Research Center paper, Scams, Schemes and Swindles.

    7. Interested and open. Financial con artists don't get far with people who are introverted or careful. Victims are more likely to be open, agreeable and extroverted. Research by FINRA's Investor Education Foundation (FINRA is the Financial Institution Regulatory Authority) finds that:
    • Victims of affinity fraud (scams among members of close-knit groups) more often are people who are a bit neurotic and open to new experience.
    • Those hit by investment fraud often are extroverted, conscientious and open to new experience. Openness especially is linked to larger financial losses.
    An inclination to take risks is, understandably, another trait associated with fraud victims, DeLiema says.

    In other words, victims are people you'd like to know. Or maybe someone like you.

    8. In debt. Being in debt makes you vulnerable to scam artists who prey on people looking for a way out of a difficult situation. Scam artists can be hard to identify because they pose as legitimate businesses. Be particularly wary of businesses offering debt consolidation and help negotiating with creditors. Scammers also often insert themselves into the businesses of mortgage refinancing and foreclosure counseling.

    9. Desperate. People in desperate situations grasp at straws. Con artists know this and show up for immigrants who need help with their legal status, for example, or for victims of natural disasters who are willing to pay for help filing a claim, finding a home or getting home repairs. One rule of thumb: Never engage a contractor who shows up uninvited to your home.

    10. Human. Most of us are a bit vulnerable, in one way or another. Scams are so prevalent today that almost anyone can get stung. A few of the AARP survey's list of traits shared by vulnerable victims:
    • Job loss
    • Ignorance of bank procedures
    • Downloading apps
    • Clicking on pop-ups
    • Impulsiveness
    How to protect yourself. Here are five tips on staying safe:
    • Get inoculated: In "The 10 Golden Rules of Scam Prevention" Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson outlines tip-offs to cons and scams.
    • AARP's Fraud Watch Network is a good source for people of all ages to learn about new scams and find out how to spot them and to stay safe.
    • The Fraud Watch state map links to law enforcement alerts and notices about scams in your state.
    • Report fraud to the AARP Foundation Fraud Watch Helpline: 877-908-3360.
    • Trust your gut: Back away and get time to think when you feel pressure to buy or invest, or even just simply if your radar goes off and you don't know why. Offering something "only for a limited time" is often a tip-off to a con.
    • Watch your emotions: If you see yourself getting emotionally worked up -- scared, excited or suspicious -- that's a good time to take a break. Scammers stir up emotions to reel in victims.
    What scams have you avoided or fallen prey to? Share with us 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!

     

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    Consumer Price Index
    Danny Johnston/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer prices recorded their biggest drop in eight months in September as the cost of gasoline fell, but a steady pick-up in underlying price pressures should allay fears that a disinflationary trend was reasserting itself.

    The Labor Department said Thursday its Consumer Price Index fell 0.2 percent last month after slipping 0.1 percent in August. In the 12 months through September, the CPI was unchanged for the first time in four months after rising 0.2 percent in August.

    Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI falling 0.2 percent in September and dipping 0.1 percent from a year ago. The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, rose 0.2 percent after ticking up 0.1 percent in August.

    Low inflation, which has persistently run below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target, is a major hurdle to an interest rate hike this year. Policymakers who are divided on when to tighten monetary policy could take comfort in last month's increase in the core PPI.

    Expectations of a lift-off in the U.S. central bank's short-term interest rate have been dealt a blow by an abrupt slowdown in job growth in the last two months and softening economic activity because of a strong dollar, lower oil prices and a weakening global economy.

    In the 12 months through September, the core CPI increased 1.9 percent, the largest increase since July 2014, after rising 1.8 percent in August. The Fed tracks the personal consumption expenditures price index, excluding food and energy, which is running well below the core CPI.

    Last month, gasoline prices fell 9.0 percent, the biggest drop since January, after declining 4.1 percent in August. Food prices increased 0.4 percent, the largest increase since May 2014, after rising 0.2 percent the prior month. The rental index increased 0.4 percent, after rising 0.3 percent in August.

     

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    Close-up on hands raised throwing and catching money in air
    Getty Images
    What would financial success look like for you? Certainly, everyone has a different definition. For me, it's not about having more money than I know what to do with. It's about making wise decisions with the money that I have.

    It's not all about pinching pennies, although, there is a place for managing expenses and keeping them to a minimum. It definitely involves entrepreneurship and generating multiple streams of income. Not so that I can be rich, but that I can give more, provide for my loved ones, and create more freedom and time to do the things that interest me the most.

    If that definition of financial success relates to you, consider these 12 things you can bet financially successful people are doing differently than the average Joe.

    1. Have an eye for entrepreneurship. Financially successful people don't just think about how to manage expenses are cut them back when times are tough. They think about ways to increase their income. They are constantly on the look out for new ideas that will allow them to leverage their skills and abilities to generate additional income.

    For them, there are two parts of a budget. Expenses and income.

    People often just focus on spending and expenses when there is a world of opportunity out there to increase the income side to not only meet expenses, but support their long-term goals and plans. You don't have to think big in this area or come up with the next product on "Shark Tank."

    Instead, think about ways you could generate an extra $500 a month. How about a $1,000? You get the idea.

    2. Assemble a team of experts. I constantly hear about how successful people surround themselves with the right people to support them in what they are doing. Personal finance is no different. Who said it had to all be personal, anyway?

    Successful people have identified where they are experts and where they aren't. Most people will find that at some point in their lifetime they need a good family or business lawyer, accountant, financial counselor (short-term decisions, budgeting, debt management, etc.) and financial adviser (long-term decisions, retirement planning, etc.) to help them along the way.

    Seek out these people now so you don't have to hunt for them later. Aside from the lawyer, the other three subject matter experts are people you'll want to meet with several times a year.

    3. Minimize taxes. Financially successful people look to minimize their tax burden in order for them to get the most out of their money and investments.

    How do they do this? As I mentioned above, they have a certified public accountant on their team so they don't miss applicable deductions when it's time to file their taxes.

    They also invest pre-tax dollars in tools such as a company 401(k) up to the employer match. They also invest after tax dollars in a Roth IRA to avoid paying taxes on their earnings in the future.

    It's always better to pay taxes on today's dollar versus tomorrow's! At the end of the day, taxes are every American's responsibility, but there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of tax benefits to the degree the law allows.

    4. Never stop educating themselves. Walk into the house of the financially successful and you'll perhaps find the latest issue of Money magazine, Entrepreneur and some financial staples, such as Dave Ramsey's "Total Money Makeover," anchoring down their book library.

    That's not to say that they spend all their time reading, rather they stay informed on the latest tips and ideas and seek to be inspired by others in the financial and business industries.

    Even the most financially successful know that there is plenty to be learned from others and life's journey always demands new strategies and ideas.

    5. Build wealth. Building wealth is a top priority in their plans and it's done with steady plodding over time, not overnight. The financially successful seek to maximize retirement investments via their 401(k)'s (up to employer matching) and Roth IRA's, but go further in creating assets that appreciate in value.

    Such assets come in the form of businesses or real estate that can eventually be sold or can generate monthly income to support them later in life, or even replace the need of working for another employer in a full-time capacity. Time is extremely valuable and the investment in assets, which may require work upfront, creates free time once it grows in value and produces passive income.

    6. Don't deprive themselves. While making wise business and financial decisions is core to their nature, they don't deprive themselves of having fun. Doing so would only create more of a tendency to spend money later in life. That's why they make the most of the journey, budgeting for family vacations, date nights and time with their family.

    While these seem like expenses on the surface, they can also be viewed as investments targeted toward their most valued relationships. They also know that it's important to celebrate accomplishments along the way so they can be recharged to accomplish their next business or financial goals.

    7. Set goals. And speaking of goals, the financially successful have them. Who needs goals? You do if you have dreams and aspirations you want to accomplish in life. Interested in replacing your day job with a small business or generate passive income while you sleep?

    Doing so requires a plan and setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) to keep you moving. Otherwise, you'll squander time and just tell yourself you'll get to it tomorrow.

    Setting SMART goals works for their personal finance goals too. Such financial goals help with saving more money and managing spending month to month.

    8. Reinvent themselves. The financially successful know that things change with time and you can't always stick to yesterday's goals and plans. New opportunities arise all the time whether it be in business or in the tools used to manage their finances.

    The last few years have seen a big movement in Cloud technology and how people can now manage their finances online with applications such as Mint, Ready for Zero, Betterment, Credit Karma (for credit scores) and many more.

    There is information at our fingertips and the ability to access it anywhere, anytime. From a business standpoint, social media is here today, but what will it look like tomorrow and what business opportunities will the financially successful capitalize on in the future?

    9. Help others. Financial success isn't always about looking in the mirror. It's about knowing what's within and the most successful know that acquiring money can't be the top priority in life. Putting money first tears apart relationships and the race to acquire more can never be won.

    The financially successful keep money in it's proper place by giving it away. Yes, they make giving their top priority. They give to their house of worship or favorite charity, as well as look to help others.

    10. Avoid personal debt. Debt is the number one thing that robs people from time and freedom. Why? It requires time to work to generate income and make the payments. Sometimes that requires overtime work!

    Brearin Land, financial adviser and CEO of Irvine Wealth Management adds, "Being weighed down by debt puts a damper on a families ability to meet their retirement goals down the road. Don't pass the buck to yourself. Staying out of debt allows you to buy life's most important asset when you need it most -- time."

    Without debt, you have a lot more flexibility and most importantly, get back the time to invest in wealth building activities such as starting a business or in creating products and services to sell. The financially successful know that personal debt is a hindrance and they do everything they can to avoid it.

    11. You Down with OPM. While personal debt might be hindrance, the right kind of debt could give your business the edge it needs. Jude Wilson, financial strategist and founder of Wilson Group Financial, says:

    "Many financially successful clients I work with view the use of debt very strategically. Their focus is, "how can I use "other people's money" to enhance my business opportunities. This is in stark contrast to the way many see debt, as a way to satisfy more immediate desires, like that next grand vacation or a means to purchasing that dream mac-mansion."

    Financially successful people see debt as a tool to purchase or own a greater percentage of an investment -- that if successful, could result in earning far more than the interest on the loan. Of course there are those of us who use debt irresponsibly and others who view debt as something to be avoided at all costs, but the financially savvy relish the chance to leverage debt to maximize returns.

    12. They have persistence. Finally, you will never be successful unless you have persistence. This characteristic is never been more important when striving to attain financial goals, overcome obstacles and certainly, in growing a business into the black.

    The financial successful are persistent and don't give up when the little voice inside says to do so, or when naysayers try to hold them back. Persistence pays off debt, increases retirement savings one percent at a time and continues to create and market products when you don't think anyone is listening.

    There you have it. 12 things financially successful people do differently. They sound simple on the surface, but how many people in your life do you consider to be financially successful?

    Not everyone has the discipline and persistence required. Think about the people in your life you'd like to model after and consider how they live out these 12 things.

    Invite them to coffee or dinner and talk about their success, these 11 characteristics and perhaps learn more things you can add to the list.

     

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    Social Security COLA
    Brett Carlsen/APCarol Mead decorates her home for Halloween, in Montrose, Pa. Mead, 67, is retired and her husband, 70, must work at a local rock quarry to close the gap from her Social Security.
    By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER

    WASHINGTON -- Older Americans got a double dose of bad news Thursday: There will be no cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits next year, and Medicare bills are set to soar for many.

    It's just the third time in 40 years that Social Security payments will remain flat. All three times have come since 2010.

    The annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, by law is based on a government measure of inflation that was released Thursday. Low gas prices -- a boon to all Americans -- are driving down consumer prices. Currently the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.30, about 90 cents less than it was a year ago, according to AAA.

    Regardless of inflation, the lack of a COLA isn't sitting well with many seniors, especially those on a fixed income.

    "The price of food has gone up. [The] price of where you live has gone up unless you live in a government-assisted place. Where are you going to get the money to live on?" said Susan Bradshaw, who lives in a retirement community in Atlanta.

    The COLA announcement did bring some good tax-related news for high-income workers.

    Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages up to $118,500, with half paid by workers and the other half paid by employers. The amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes usually goes up each year. But because there is no COLA, it will remain at $118,500.

    But as far as benefits are concerned, the lack of a COLA will affect more than 70 million people, over one-fifth of the nation's population. Almost 60 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,224.

    It will also trigger a spike in Medicare deductibles and premiums, though dozens of advocacy groups are lobbying Congress to prevent that.

    Most Social Security recipients have their Medicare Part B premiums for outpatient care deducted directly from their Social Security payments, and the annual cost-of-living increase is usually enough to cover any rise in premiums. When that doesn't happen, a long-standing federal "hold harmless" law protects the majority of beneficiaries from having their Social Security payments reduced.

    But that leaves about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries on the hook for a premium increase that otherwise would be spread among all. Those who would pay the higher premiums include 2.8 million new beneficiaries, 1.6 million whose premiums aren't deducted from their Social Security payments, and 3.1 million people with higher incomes.

    social security cola inflation cost of living adjustment
    Their premiums could jump by about $54 a month, to $159. Those with higher incomes could get bigger increases.

    States also would feel a budget impact because they pay part of the Medicare premium for about 10 million low-income beneficiaries.

    Also, all Medicare beneficiaries will see their Part B annual deductible for outpatient care jump by $76, to an estimated $223. The deductible is the annual amount patients pay before Medicare kicks in.

    Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, have introduced legislation that would freeze Medicare's Part B premium and deductible for 2016, but its prospects are uncertain.

    The White House, meanwhile, has said administration officials are exploring options to mitigate the increase in Medicare costs.

    "The COLA announcement not only fails to reflect the actual health care and other expenditures of Social Security beneficiaries, but will actually contribute to a large increase in out-of-pocket health care costs for millions of Medicare enrollees," Nancy LeaMond, AARP's executive vice president, said in a letter to lawmakers.

    The COLA also affects benefits for about 4 million disabled veterans, 2.5 million federal retirees and their survivors, and more than 8 million people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor. Many people who get SSI also receive Social Security.

    Congress enacted automatic cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries in 1975, when inflation was high and there was a lot of pressure to regularly raise benefits. Since then, increases have averaged 4 percent a year.

    But in the past decade, the COLA has been that big only once.

    Little Inflation

    The cost-of-living adjustment is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W, a broad measure of consumer prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    It is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year with prices in the same three months from the previous year. If prices go up, benefits go up. If prices drop or stay flat, benefits stay the same.

    The CPI-W numbers for September were released Thursday. The numbers show that gasoline prices are down by 30 percent from last year. Airfares have fallen by 5.9 percent and clothing prices are down by 1.3 percent.

    But other prices are up. For example, medical care has risen by 2.4 percent, housing costs climbed by 3.2 percent and food prices were 1.6 percent higher.

    Advocates say the government's measure of inflation doesn't accurately reflect price increases in the goods and services that older people use.

    "The CPI-W reflects the purchasing patterns of workers, many of whom are younger and healthier than most Social Security recipients," LeaMond said in her letter.

    -Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Christopher S. Rugaber, and AP video journalist Johnny Clark in Atlanta contributed to this report.

     

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