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    Small present box
    Getty Images
    By Lauren Greutman

    Bah humbug, the holidays are approaching but you are broke. What do you do?
    Do you want to save on holiday spending this year? If you do, then don't do it looking like a Scrooge!

    There are so many ways to save money on your holiday shopping without looking cheap, so here are some of my top tips on how to get your most bang for your buck around the holiday season.

    1. Shop at cashback sites to earn money back on your purchases. One company I really like is I've been using the site for years; they actually were a big part of me being able to pay for Christmas one year just from surveys and cash back shopping. You simply take surveys to earn cold, hard cash! You can get a percentage of your purchase in cash back as well, so it really helps by stacking the savings. One of my favorite ways to save is the 5 percent cash back deal on Groupon.

    2. Make sure every purchase you make has a triple dip savings. That means stacking savings. For example, buy your gift cards at a discount through your grocery store or places like and then shop through cash back sites like and then use a coupon code to shop online. If you are lucky, you can get a quadruple dip and get free shipping, too.

    3. Make a list and stick to it. I have 14 nieces and nephews under the age of 10. Instead of buying junky gifts for everyone and going broke in the process, each kid picks the name of a cousin. Then they shop for that cousin with a $20 to $30 budget, so each kid gets one quality gift. Instead of spending over $200 on gifts for all the nieces and nephews, I now spend under $100, plus my kids get gifts that they are really interested in (instead of dollar store junk).

    4. Instead of paying full price, price match everything. There are so many stores that will price match competitors prices. I use Retale, an app for the best savings at major retailers close to you, to check circulars for in-store deals and coupons. But a really cool added benefit is the ability to pull up store flyers in your area to compare prices. You can also use it to create and manage shopping lists. It's the go-to digital hub for the on-the-go shopper.

    Many stores are open about their price matching policies. All you have to do is ask. Target will price match many online stores; you can get all the details on the Target website. Just make sure you have a way to validate the prices, like the Retale app.

    Walmart will also price match any store, as long as the lower price is for the exact same product. Just be sure you have clear proof of that lower price, and read about all the details of Walmart's policy on its website.

    Kohl's will also price match competitor's prices, but not online prices. You'll need a flyer with you for proof of the lower prices. Best Buy's policy is to price match all local retail competitors, including their online prices, as well as major online retailers, including Amazon, Dell and HP. As you can see, there are so many options for price matching that with just a few minutes of homework you will be able to save a lot of money. Don't be afraid to do some research and ask questions if you aren't sure how to proceed; the effort can really pay off.

    5. Opt to skip giving gifts altogether. This strategy might sound like the most Scrooge-like of all, but it's not, if you simply replace gifts with experiences. Movie tickets, ski tickets, a free night of babysitting -- all are great gifts. One year I gave my nephew tickets to see Sesame Street Live, and we had so much fun.

    Just because you opt out of giving gifts doesn't mean you are a real Scrooge. It just means that you value time spent more than dollars paid.

    If you follow these tips, you can enjoy this holiday season without being a broke Scrooge. Plan ahead, save money and enjoy this year!

    Lauren Greutman is a frugal living expert who focuses on teaching people how to enjoy life on a budget. She is an author, public speaker and professional writer on her websites and


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    Couple relaxing with coffee by boxes in new home smiling
    By Ellen Chang

    The number of people purchasing their first home, especially millennials, could be impacted negatively by shifting demographics as the median age for marriage is rising.

    A recent survey by NeighborWorks America, the Washington, D.C.-based affordable housing organization, found that 43 percent the respondents said they intended to buy a home when they "got married or moved in with a life partner." The median age for a first marriage has risen to 29.3 years old for men and 27 years old for women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2000, men first got married at 26.8 years old while the median age for women was 25.1 years old.

    Other respondents said they would wait to buy a home when other changes occurred, with 22 percent who will purchase one when they have children and 18 percent who are still seeking their first full-time job.

    Many millennials are delaying the purchase of a home because not only are they waiting until they are older to get married, a large percentage are also saddled with a large amount of student loans. The survey also demonstrated that 57 percent respondents admitted that student loans were either "very much" or "somewhat" of an obstacle, a rising concern compared to 49 percent who expressed this sentiment in 2014.

    "Homeownership rates are likely being impacted by declining marriage rates as life events that impact the composition of the household are drivers of housing demand," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of, the San Jose, California-based real estate service company. "Student debt, limited savings and housing affordability are substantial obstacles facing millennials as they consider the path to homeownership, and those issues are all connected."

    Another compelling factor is that with two incomes, couples are more likely to qualify for a mortgage and have enough savings for a downpayment.

    "Having more singles means fewer households are in a financial position to buy," he said. "So with fewer young married households, there would be less demand for owning."

    Older Millennials Buying Homes

    Some older millennials, or those who are 25 to 34 years old, are buying homes in "large numbers this year," due to a stronger job market, Smoke said. The number of first-time buyers of current homes increased to 32 percent in August compared to 28 percent in July, according to the National Association of Realtors, the Chicago-based trade group. Half of all home sales for the first six months of the year can be attributed to people buying a home for the first time, he said. Millennials make up 68 percent of all first-time homebuyers, according to the trade group.

    "They are the single biggest age group for homebuyers, so there are clearly substantial numbers of them who are able to overcome these obstacles," Smoke said.

    Rising Debt Delaying Home Purchases

    Student debt is a large factor in whether millennials can qualify for a mortgage, depending on their income, said Smoke. The burden increases substantially for people who attended college and took out loans to fund their education, but never received a degree.

    "For those who did get a degree, but have above average loan debts as well as other types of debts, there is no question that at a certain level, debt will exceed the upper limits of the debt to income qualification ratios," he said.

    Potential lenders want to know if you can afford to pay back the money you borrowed.

    Millennials and Gen-Xers are relying more heavily on loans to fund their educations nowadays. The Federal Reserve estimates the average amount of undergraduate student loan debt for the class of 2014 at just over $33,000, a substantial increase from $18,600 in 2004.

    A 2014 analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that from 1992 to 2011, college students are borrowing more money in all income groups, ranging from low to high income brackets. The standard amount of cumulative student debt for their undergraduate degree increased from $12,434 for the class of 1992-93 to $26,885 for the class of 2011-12 (figures adjusted for inflation).

    By 2012, "a record share of the nation's new college graduates or 69 percent" had used student loans to finance their degrees and the "typical amount they had borrowed was more than twice that of college graduates 20 years ago," the report said.

    Categorizing student loans as good debt is a misnomer, because lenders are examining a consumer's debt to income ratio and the odds that they can make monthly payments on time, said Jeff Golding, chief growth officer at IRH Capital, a Northbrook, Illinois-based financial company.

    "Potential lenders want to know if you can afford to pay back the money you borrowed," he said. "If you are maxed out on all your loans, you have already extended all the credit that's been given to you."

    High Rent and Other Factors

    Other issues hindering millennials from buying a home is the ability to save up enough money for a downpayment. Until the increase in monthly rent prices throughout the U.S. for apartments and other housing is abated, it poses a "substantial" barrier for Gen-Yers to save an adequate amount of money, Smoke said.

    "Unfortunately, rents continue to rise as a result of record numbers of renters and low vacancies, so this situation will not get better until we see a substantial increase in the construction of affordable housing," he said.

    Several reports and studies have shown that millennials are returning home and living with their parents while they obtain full-time jobs or establish their careers.

    "The state of the economy has interfered with their ability to maintain a steady income and this has likely delayed marriage," said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School. "As a result, they are less likely to become homeowners."

    What's more, the lack of job security in the current economy has dampened many people's enthusiasm to own a home.

    "Buying a home is a big commitment to your future self and your family: 'I will make that mortgage payment come hell or high water,' " he said. "Fewer people are going to want to make that commitment if the job market does not give them a reasonable basis to believe that they can live up to it."


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    USA, Utah, Salt Lake City, Young woman sitting at table with laptop looking at paper bill
    Getty Images
    By Dan Rafter

    You know you should pay all of your bills on time. But what if you're short on cash this month? Is it better to pay certain bills late?

    Yes, actually. Some bills are not reported to the three national credit bureaus of TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Bills in this category include utility bills, cell phone payments, medical payments, and cable bills. This doesn't mean that you should pay these bills late. But if you have to do some emergency financial juggling this month? Pay your cable late, not your mortgage or credit card payment.

    Here are five bills you should always pay on time, each month. Not doing so could damage your credit, leave you with huge financial penalties, or even cause you to lose your home or car.

    1. Your mortgage. Dave Hardin, president of Hardin Financial Group in Troy, Michigan, says that no late or missing check will hurt your credit score more than a missed mortgage. A single late mortgage payment can cause your credit score to fall by 100 points.

    "If you pay that late, that will have the single greatest effect on your credit score," Hardin said. "Your mortgage is the big one."

    If you miss too many payments, your mortgage lender will foreclose on your home, evicting you and taking ownership of your property.

    But don't panic if you're two days late on paying your mortgage. As Hardin says, your mortgage lender won't report your payment as officially late until it is at least 30 days past the deadline. This gives you some leeway if you are struggling to scrape together enough cash to pay your mortgage this month.

    "That doesn't mean you should wait that long to pay your mortgage," Hardin said. "But late officially means 30 days late, not two days."

    Paying your mortgage bill late can also set you up for future financial pain. Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of O'Dell, Winkfield, Roseman & Shipp in Rockville, Maryland, says it's easy for your finances to spiral out of control when you miss a mortgage payment.

    "Say you miss your $2,000 mortgage payment one month. Now you have to come up with $4,000 the next month to catch up," Winkfield said. "That's not easy."

    2. Student and auto loans. You should never miss your student or auto loan payments either, Hardin said. That's because these are fixed payments that you know are coming up each month. Missing fixed payments is a big deal because lenders are more likely to believe that you didn't send in your payment not because you forgot about it, but because you couldn't pay it.

    Your car payment is an especially important bill, because your loan is secured by your actual car. This means that lenders have something to go after should you stop making your payments.

    "Be vigilant about making your car payments," said Scott Sadar, executive vice president of Somerset Wealth Strategies in Portland, Oregon. "If you are not, your car could be repossessed."

    Again, these payments aren't officially late until 30 days have passed.

    3. Credit card payments. Missing your credit card payment could leave you with a double whammy of pain. First, credit card companies will report your missed payments to the credit bureaus if you are 30 days late or more, causing your credit score to fall.

    Secondly, if you pay late by 60 days or more (in some cases less), your credit card company can assess a penalty interest rate on your card. This can be financially devastating if you carry a balance on your credit cards each month. Sadar says that these rates can hit 22 percent or higher, which can cause existing balances to grow quickly, even if you don't make any new payments with your card.

    4. Your rent. It wasn't until last year that Experian and TransUnion began collecting data for on-time rent payments. The third major national credit bureau, Equifax, still doesn't do this. But even if the credit bureaus weren't tracking your rent payments, you'd still want to make this payment on time every month. Simply put, you don't want to lose your home, and missing too many rent payments could lead to that.

    It's not easy for landlords to evict tenants, and it will take more than one or two late payments. But if you fall too far behind, your landlord will start the eviction process, possibly leaving you without a place to live.

    You always want to protect the roof over your head. That holds true whether you own a home or you are renting.

    "You always want to protect the roof over your head," Winkfield said. "That holds true whether you own a home or you are renting. Always make the payments that keep that roof over your head."

    Of course, you don't ever want to be in the position where you can't pay all of your monthly bills. Yes, paying your cable bill late one month isn't going to destroy your finances. But if you're juggling payments every month, that's a sign that there is a problem. It's also a sign that you need to take a closer look at your budget to determine if you there are expenses you can eliminate.

    "Sometimes we get too wrapped up in our wants instead of our needs," Winkfield said. "If things are tight -- and we've all been there -- then you might need to eliminate some of the wants from your budget."

    And if you are struggling to pay certain bills? Don't hide. Hardin says that the best move you can make is to call the creditors behind the bills and explain to them that you are struggling. Many will work with you to find at least a temporary solution. If you call, creditors are less likely to report you as late to the credit bureaus.

    "If you don't call, the lenders have no choice but to think that you aren't paying just because you don't want to pay," Hardin said. "You should not be embarrassed to call your creditors. You'd be surprised at how easy creditors make these conversations. They don't want to lose you as a customer, so they usually are willing to work with you."

    Have you ever fallen behind on your bills? How'd you cope?


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    New Job? What to Do With Your Old 401K

    They're called orphans. They're the sad, lonely 401(k)s that workers leave behind when they change jobs.

    What should you do if you have one? Well, you have four choices:
    • You could leave it with your old employer.
    • You could roll it into a 401(k) at your new employer.
    • You could roll it into an IRA of your choosing.
    • You could cash it out.
    Now, forget we ever mentioned No. 4 because it isn't just a bad idea, it's a very, very bad idea. Cashing out your 401(k) has the potential to put you back at square one for retirement savings. What's more, you'll pay a 10 percent penalty on that money plus income taxes if you're younger than 59½. Trust us, that's not going to look pretty come April 15.

    Instead, you should consider what type of retirement fund you want to hold your money. There's nothing wrong with keeping your cash in a 401(k), but might we suggest an IRA could be a better choice?

    Here are five reasons why you should consider rolling over your old 401(k) account into an IRA:

    Reason No. 1: You could be paying outrageous fees. Maybe your old 401(k) plan is awesome, but it could also nickel-and-dime your nest egg with all sorts of fees. You can get up to speed on the subject with our primer on 401(k) fees.

    Before leaving your retirement money with a former employer, take a close look at how much you're paying for the plan. Then, compare that to what's available through an IRA. If the IRA is cheaper, then your decision to roll over should be easy.

    Reason No. 2: An IRA may give you more options and control. Even if the fees are reasonable, your orphaned 401(k) may come with limited plan options. By rolling the balance into an IRA, you get the luxury of shopping around for the funds that will best meet your savings needs.

    What's more, in the event your 401(k)'s current investment option is discontinued, a former employer may take it upon themselves to choose where your money will be reinvested. You will be notified of the change, but if you move and forget to update your account information, you may never know.

    Reason No. 3: Our memories are not always reliable. Speaking of forgetting, orphaned 401(k)s lend themselves well to being out of sight and out of mind. ING Direct found 11 percent of those with orphaned 401(k)s had no idea how much money was in the account. Can you imagine?

    But let's take that idea a little further and consider what happens after you've gone through four or five jobs. It's not inconceivable that 20 years down the line, you could completely forget you even had a 401(k) at one of those jobs.

    Finally, you want to make sure your investment is actively managed and periodically rebalanced. A 20-year-old orphaned 401(k) might still be invested in funds that are more appropriate for a 30-year-old than a 50-year-old. Moving money to an IRA may help you remember to re-evaluate risk and reallocate balances as you age.

    Reason No. 4: Your old employer is unstable. Fortunately, federal law prevents a company from dissolving and taking your 401(k) money with it. However, if your former employer does go belly up, it could end up being a pain to access your retirement funds.

    A bigger concern would be if your retirement money was heavily invested in the company's stock. In that case, your 401(k) balance could drop through the floor should the business head to bankruptcy court.

    Reason No. 5: It will make your life easier. Perhaps the most important reason to find a new home for your old 401(k) is that it will simplify your life. You won't have to review plan options for a handful of accounts. You won't have to update your beneficiary and account information with multiple companies. You won't need to remember where the money is and how to access it.

    Having a single IRA for all your money can give you a more complete picture of how close you are to your retirement goal. It can also free up head space and reduce the paper clutter that comes from trying to manage multiple accounts.

    There may be good reasons to consider keeping your money at an old employer, but that decision shouldn't be made blindly. Decide whether these reasons apply to your situation and if so, talk to a trusted financial professional about the rollover process.

    Have you left 401(k) plans behind, or rolled them over into new investments? Share your experiences and advice with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page. And feel free to share this article with a friend who may need a friendly reminder to pull her investments together.

    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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    What Millennials Want: Survey

    By Steve Liesman

    Conventional wisdom holds that the millennial generation, influenced by the 9/11 attacks, burdened with student debt and reared in a world of high-speed mobile devices, is a unique group of young people.

    But a special CNBC All-America Economic Survey focusing on millennials finds that while the generation has some unique characteristics, young people today in some critical areas are more similar to the rest of the population than they are different.

    Looking at the importance of six traits in a potential employer -- ethics, environmental practices, work-life balance, profitability, diversity and reputation for hiring the best and the brightest -- millennial preferences are just about the same as the broader population on all six. For example, 18 percent of millennials say work-life balance is the most important trait in a company, compared with 19 percent of the population.

    At 25 percent, millennials are somewhat less likely to say "ethical practices" is the most important trait, compared with 29 percent for all adults, but the 4-point difference is within the polls margin of error for employed adults. The poll surveyed 900 Americans nationwide from Oct. 1-4, including an over-sample of 100 additional millennials ages of 18-34. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points for all responses and 4.7 points for employed adults, which represents about half the sample.

    It shows just slight preferences among millennials for companies with strong environmental sustainability practices and for reputations for "hiring the best and the brightest."

    Far from being a generation of disgruntled and whiny youth, millennials appear to be more satisfied with specific aspects of the workplace than the average worker. For example, 87 percent are satisfied with the training and skills development they receive at work, compared with 76 percent of the rest of the population; 76 percent say they are satisfied with their opportunities for promotion and advancement, 10 points higher than the rest of the population.

    Millennials are different in some key areas: They are more likely to be concerned about opportunities to advance in their careers and about flexible work hours. They also care less about an employer's retirement benefits. But it's difficult to know if these are the differences of a unique generation, or if they are simply the expected results from a younger generation.

    Millennials are more optimistic about the economy than other age groups, but not by very much. They don't rate the current state of the economy any better than the overall population. But their expectations for the economy to improve is marginally brighter. Twenty-two percent of all adults say the economy will get better in the next year, compared with 26 percent of millennials. A third of the public sees the economy getting worse, a bit more downbeat than the 26 percent of millennials who see the economic landscape growing darker. So, net optimism among millennials is zero, compared with minus 10 percent for the public as a whole and minus 17 percent for seniors.

    When it comes to investments, millennials also lack much youthful optimism. Just a third thinks this is a good time to invest in stocks, about the same as the overall population, with 46 percent of millennials and all adults saying it's a bad time to invest. Fewer millennials, however, say it's a "very bad time" to invest.

    As a group, they are somewhat more risk-averse than the rest of the population. For example, 21 percent chose savings account and cash as their top investment choice, compared with 14 percent for all adults. But millennials chose real estate as their top pick, the same as all adults, which challenges some conventional wisdom that younger generations have less affinity for owning homes. Somewhat fewer millennials, however, chose real estate than all adults.

    When asked what they are doing with extra money from lower gas prices, 27 percent of millennials say they are saving more, compared with 19 percent of all adults. Twenty percent say they drive more, compared with 14 percent of all adults.

    Millennials are set apart in their belief about the viability of Social Security. Fifty-one percent say they are "not confident at all" in benefits from the government's retirement program, compared with 43 percent of all adults. Thirty percent of millennials say they are just somewhat confident. But just 44 percent of millennials with those doubts say they are planning to save more; 42 percent say they "plan to save more."


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    FILE - In this June 24, 2015, file photo, a worker washes a car at Bob's Car Wash in Roseville, Calif. The Labor Department releases third-quarter productivity data on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
    Rich Pedroncelli/APA worker washes a car at Bob's Car Wash in Roseville, Calif.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- New U.S. applications for unemployment benefits last week recorded their largest increase in eight months, but remained at levels consistent with a fairly healthy labor market.

    Other data released Thursday showed a surprise rise in productivity in the third quarter after a drop in self-employment led to overall hours worked falling for the first time in six years, restraining labor-related production costs.

    Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 276,000 for the week ended Oct. 31, the Labor Department said. It was the largest weekly increase since late February.

    There is no evidence that there has been a pickup in involuntary job separations and we continue to expect an increase of 200,000 in private payrolls in October.

    Still, last week marked the 35th straight week that claims were below the 300,000 threshold normally associated with a strong jobs market. Claims had hovered near 42-year lows for much of October.

    "There is no evidence that there has been a pickup in involuntary job separations and we continue to expect an increase of 200,000 in private payrolls in October," said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York.

    The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it strips out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,500 to 262,750 last week.

    Last week's claims report has no bearing on the October employment report due for release Friday. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls rose 180,000 in October, well above the average gain of 139,000 jobs for August and September. The unemployment rate is forecast at 5.1 percent.

    Solid payroll gains in October could seal the case for a December interest rate increase from the Federal Reserve.

    The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 17,000 to 2.16 million in the week ended Oct. 24. The four-week moving average of continuing claims, however, fell to the lowest level since November 2000.

    The trend in continuing claims suggests more long-term unemployed are finding work, consistent with a low jobless rate.

    The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies, while price for U.S. Treasuries fell. Stocks on Wall Street were trading lower.

    Weak Productivity Trend

    In a second report, the Labor Department said productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, increased at a 1.6 percent annual rate after advancing at an upwardly revised 3.5 percent rate in the second quarter.

    Manufacturing productivity grew at its fastest pace in four years, led by the durable goods sector. Economists had expected productivity to contract at a 0.2 percent rate in the July-September quarter after expanding at a previously reported 3.3 percent pace in the second quarter.

    Despite the surprise rise in the third quarter, the trend in productivity remained weak. Productivity increased only 0.4 percent from the same period last year. That was a slowdown from 0.8 percent in the second quarter.

    Economists blame softer productivity on a lack of investment, which they say has led to an unprecedented fall in capital intensity.

    "The nature of much tech investment these days may not be doing much to help productivity. Mobile apps that make it easier to waste time at work may be leisure enhancing, but they don't support labor productivity," said Ted Wieseman, an economist at Morgan Stanley (MS) in New York.

    While weak productivity has boosted employment growth as companies hired more workers to increase output, it has contributed to stagnant wages and lowered the economy's speed limit. Persistently anemic productivity could continue to limit wage growth even as the labor market approaches full employment.

    In the third quarter, hours worked declined at a 0.5 percent rate, the first drop since the third quarter of 2009. That reflected a fall in self-employment as well as adjustments to hours for nonprofit and government enterprise workers.

    Unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, increased at a 1.4 percent rate in the third quarter after dropping at a 1.8 percent rate in the prior quarter. Unit labor costs rose 2 percent compared to last year.

    Economists say a tightening labor market could boost productivity as employers seek to cut production-related costs.

    "As qualified labor is becoming scarce and the unemployment rate has now reached a level that historically has been associated with building wage pressures, firms may be more motivated to invest in labor-saving equipment that could lead to an acceleration in output per hour," said Kevin Cummins, a senior economist at RBS in Stamford, Connecticut.


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    JPMorgan Chase & Co. And Wells Fargo & Co. Bank Branches Ahead Of Earnings
    Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Suzanne Barlyn

    Wells Fargo (WFC) will pay $81.6 million to homeowners for denying them a chance to challenge mortgage payment increases imposed during bankruptcy proceedings, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

    Wells violated a 2011 U.S. bankruptcy law by failing to send a type of legal notice to the homeowners that includes certain disclosures that fees and charges by banks for homeowners in bankruptcy are accurate, the Justice Department said.

    A Wells Fargo spokesman declined to immediately comment.

    The settlement between Wells Fargo and the Justice Department's U.S. Trustee Program, which oversees the U.S. bankruptcy system, also requires Wells to hire a compliance monitor and change its internal procedures to prevent a recurrence of the problem, the Justice Department said.

    The Justice Department said it will distribute the funds to groups of homeowners who were in bankruptcy proceedings from late 2011 through March, 2015.

    Wells Fargo failed to timely provide more than 100,000 notices to homeowners about payment changes and also didn't timely perform more than 18,000 escrow analyzes in cases involving nearly 68,000 accounts of bankrupt homeowners during the period, the Justice Department said.


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    Ways to Make Extra Cash This Holiday Season
    Did you know there are some lesser known jobs where you can earn extra cash this holiday season? Here are a few examples.

    Seasonal repair work can boost your budget while you spread some cheer. During the holidays, big retail toy stores, in particular, are in need of handy employees to put together things like bikes, train sets and doll houses.

    To find these gigs, go online and check out You'll be surprised by how many opportunities you can find in your area.

    If you'd rather earn from home, you can do that by testing out websites and apps. Sign up at and you can earn $10 for testing websites and mobile apps for only 20 minutes of work!

    This holiday season, don't let Santa's little helpers do all the work. Try out these tips to earn some extra cash and maybe even boost your gift budget.

    View Poll


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Lewis Krauskopf

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks edged lower Thursday as investors digested mixed tech and health care earnings a day ahead of Friday's employment report.

    Energy shares dragged more than other sectors as crude prices fell. Qualcomm (QCOM) weighed the most on the S&P 500, falling 15.3 percent to $51.07 after the chipmaker forecast first-quarter profit below expectations. Biotech Celgene (CELG) fell 5.3 percent to $120.46 after its quarterly revenue missed targets.

    Overall declines were limited by a rise in Facebook shares following the social media company's strong quarterly results, and a 0.4 percent gain in the financial sector. Facebook (FB) shares jumped 4.6 percent to $108.76.

    Investors were looking to Friday's nonfarm payrolls report as they gauge whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in December.

    "This is a big piece of data as to what the Fed is looking for," said Scott Colyer, chief executive officer of Advisors Asset Management in Monument, Colorado. "I think everybody wants them to move or not move. The month-to-month stuff is killing everybody."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 4.15 points, or 0.02 percent, to 17,863.43, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 2.38 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,099.93 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 14.74 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,127.74.

    The declines paused a rally that took shape in October, the best monthly performance for major stock indexes in four years.

    "We have had in the past month ... a very strong market, a very sharp rebound, and I think that's also probably causing some profit taking more than you might expect from the news that's out there," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in New York.

    Seven of the 10 major S&P sectors finished lower. The S&P energy sector fell 1 percent, with Chevron (CVX) off 2.3 percent to $94.55 and Exxon Mobil (XOM) down 1.4 percent at $84.81.

    The utilities group dropped 0.8 percent and materials declined 0.5 percent.

    The S&P health care sector fell 0.4 percent, weighed down by Celgene's results.

    Drug Price Probe

    A U.S. Senate panel began a probe Wednesday into drug price increases, seeking documents from four drugmakers including Valeant Pharmaceuticals. U.S.-listed Valeant (VRX) shares tumbled 14.4 percent to $78.77 on Thursday.

    The probe hit the entire biotech group and the broader market as well, said Larry Peruzzi, a senior equity trader at Cabrera Capital Markets in Boston.

    HomeAway surged 25.3 percent to $40.15 after Expedia said it would buy the vacation rental site for $3.9 billion. Expedia (EXPE) rose 2.4 percent to $137.40.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,561 to 1,488, for a 1.05-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,497 issues fell and 1,283 advanced for a 1.17-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 22 new 52-week highs and 7 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 94 new highs and 71 new lows.

    About 7.3 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 7 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    -With additional reporting by Sinead Carew and Caroline Valetkevitch in New York and Abhiram Nandakumar in Bangalore, India.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Labor Department releases employment data for October at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Federal Reserve releases consumer credit data for September at 3 p.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B)
    • Cigna (CI)
    • Humana (HUM)


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    Senior couple using tablet computer at home
    Getty ImagesWith a few adjustments, the home where you raised your children can be an excellent place to retire.
    By Tom Sightings

    The typical retirement dream involves riding off into the sunbelt, golf clubs and beach umbrella in hand. However, the reality is that the majority of retirees never leave home. Most people opt to age in place, or if they do move, they find a smaller house near their old neighborhood.

    Only about 7 percent of older Americans move every year, according to a long-term study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. And even though more people have recently been relocating with the improving economy, an AARP survey found that most people approaching retirement hope to remain in their current residence as long as they can.

    Here's why retirees resist the siren call of the beach and tropical breezes:

    Home is where the heart is. Many people feel attached to their home towns. Whether they grew up there or moved there to raise a family, they still enjoy going to the park where they took their kids as toddlers. They feel comfortable knowing about the best hardware store and the best pizza place. Many old-line suburbs have developed programs and amenities for their older population. Another benefit: urban centers in the north provide better public transportation than the retirement meccas of the sunbelt. There's no subway in San Diego or T in Tampa.

    Home is where your friends are. You go to the library and see familiar faces. Maybe you belong to a book club, or regularly meet friends for lunch, tennis or golf. All the research says that a strong social network is crucial for successful aging. Friends not only supply emotional support, but sometimes offer practical benefits like loaning you a book or DVD, helping with a project at home or giving you a ride. Why should you uproot yourself, move a thousand miles away and then be faced with the sometimes difficult challenge of finding a new group of like-minded friends?

    People retire in the last place they land. Some people never settle down to live in one place for 20 or 30 years to raise their kids in a single community. Many baby boomers have moved around for work, or just because they're restless, and then finally put down roots when they're in their 40s or 50s. For example, my sister-in-law grew up in New Jersey, then moved to Michigan, Texas and finally in her late 40s settled down in Pennsylvania. She's pretty adamant that she's not moving again.

    You don't necessarily save much money. It costs a lot to move. You give up about 10 percent of the selling price of your house in real estate commissions, legal fees and taxes. Then there's the cost of buying, moving and resupplying your new house. If you're moving a long distance there are additional expenses involved in traveling and researching your new location. You might need to rent for a while or store some furniture. It's not worth it if you only save a couple thousand dollars a year in your cost of living.

    It doesn't have to cost a lot to age-proof your home. Of course you can spend a lot of money if you want to remodel your entire house. But many of the safety issues involved in age-proofing a home involve modest expenses. Improve the lighting in stairways and outdoor areas. Change out doorknobs for lever handles that are easier to manipulate. Install bathroom grab bars and raised toilet seats. Get rid of scatter rugs, and put down colorful traction strips on the front edge of your stairs to help prevent falls. None of these changes costs much money. Depending on the layout of your home, it may even be possible to turn a study or den on the first floor into a master suite, converting the upstairs rooms into guest quarters.

    Visit a virtual village. Virtual retirement villages can help seniors access resources to make it easier to age in place. A virtual village is a local non-profit organization that posts information online, providing referrals to member-recommended service companies and volunteers available to help out with dog walking, yard work and other homeowner needs. Some villages host social activities such as concerts, restaurant gatherings and group trips. Check out Village to Village Network to find out more information on what villages do and how they work.

    Tom Sightings blogs at Sightings at 60.


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    Millennials Say 'Venmo Me' To Fuel Mobile-Payment Surge
    Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesThe trend toward digital payments and away from cash is increasing the need for easy exchanges between friends.
    When Victoria Scipione has to pay back friends after a weekend getaway, she pulls out her phone and uses the Venmo app. Since it's linked to her bank account, she can quickly reimburse them for anything from dinner to Uber. "I'm extremely guilty of not always carrying around cash, and when I go out to dinner with friends we usually split the bill -- that's when Venmo comes in handy," says Scipione, 23, a communications coordinator in New Jersey.

    Venmo is one of the many new tools that make it easier than ever to reimburse friends and family. Choosing the right one for you often comes down to personal preference and needs -- whether you're moving funds domestically or overseas and your reason for sharing money in the first place.
    Scipione says she's drawn to Venmo largely because all her friends have the app, too. "When I think of PayPal, I think of my parents," she says. Her generation, she adds, tends to prefer the social aspect of Venmo, which makes it easy for users to send each other friendly notes about payments, almost like texting. (Venmo is part of PayPal and charges a 3 percent processing fee per credit card and some debit card payments; receiving the funds is free.)

    PayPal is also offering a new-and-improved service, called PayPal.Me​, which launched in September.​ Users can create a personalized link they can share with others to collect payments. Sending money to friends and family within the U.S. is free if it's done using a PayPal balance or bank account. If it's done using a debit or credit card, there is a fee of 2.9 percent plus 30 cents, paid by either the sender or recipient. ​

    People were looking for a quick and easy way to collect money for group payments.

    "People were looking for a quick and easy way to collect money for group payments," says Meron Colbeci,​ senior director for global consumer product management at PayPal. "People find collecting money to be very awkward, and by giving a link right there in the email or text message, it hopefully reduces that awkwardness," he adds. A PayPal Money Habits Study of 4,000 consumers released earlier this year found that, on average, adults owe friends almost $450, but many people said they were afraid to ask for reimbursement because they felt uncomfortable doing so.

    Because of the trend toward digital payments and away from cash, the need for easy exchanges between friends is growing, Colbeci says. "Down the line, cash will be a very small portion of the overall wallet," he adds.

    In September, Google announced the Google Wallet app, which allows users to send money for free to anyone within the U.S. using an email address. While Google is rolling out different features​, the app is currently available on Google Play and the App Store.​

    Blended families exchanging child support payments often have specific needs when it comes to money, and that's where the payment platform SupportPay can help. Founder Sheri Atwood ​says that as the ​child of divorced parents and who is now a single mom, she saw the need for making easier payments. "My parents constantly fought, and it seemed like everything they cared about was about money," she says. She was determined to have a more amicable divorce, but she still found it hard to track the multiple payments and expenses shared between her and her ex-husband. "I was a single mom and now a debt collector," she says -- and that latter role is not one she wanted.

    SupportPay, which is currently used by ​30,000 parents, keeps a record of support agreements as well as payments and receipts. "It's like an expenses management system," she says. It also assures the parent paying child support that the money goes toward the child's expenses and not the other parent's lifestyle. SupportPay, which has a free version as well as a premium version that is $19.99 a month, also handles notifications and billing, so divorcees don't have to make requests of their exes.

    For those exchanging money with people overseas, TransferWise aims to reduce costs associated with bank exchange rates. "Twenty percent of people in the U.S. will need to send money abroad at some point in the year, whether they're paying friends or family abroad or booking travel," says Joe Cross, ​U.S. general manager of TransferWise. "It's incredibly expensive and hard. We're trying to do what Skype did for international calling," he adds, which is to keep it simple and cheap.

    TransferWise works by finding a counterpart in Europe, for example,​ who wants to send money to the U.S, so the dollars go to that recipient and the money stays in the country of origin​. That way, paying exchange rates can be avoided. After the launch in the U.S. about a year ago, customers have already used TransferWise to transact around ​$4 billion. The company charges a small fee, typically 1 percent, to handle the transaction. "We believe it should be as close to free as possible," Cross says.

    Banks are also joining the friend repayment party: Chase launched QuickPay in 2009​, making it one of the first banks to launch its own "person to person" payment service, according to company spokeswoman Lauren Francis. ​Customers can access QuickPay through Chase apps or the website, and they made 30 million transactions on mobile devices in 2014, an 80 percent increase from 2013.​

    After comparing the perks and fees of each tool, you can pick the one that makes the most sense for you -- and reimburse your friends for that fun night out.

    Kimberly Palmer is a senior editor for U.S. News Money. She is the author of the new book, "The Economy of You." You can follow her on Twitter @alphaconsumer, circle her on Google Plus or email her at


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    Macy's Black Friday
    Paul Abell/AP Images for Macy's
    By Brian Sozzi

    Black Friday may be on life support.

    The day after Thanksgiving, replete with doorbuster deals at jam-packed department stores and long lines at electronics purveyors, has for years marked the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. But Black Friday continues to diminish in importance for shoppers as major retailers start offering deals online right after Halloween in order to get the jump on one another and drive more holiday sales overall, and more people choose to shop on their mobile devices at their own leisure.

    Black Friday was named for the start of the period when stores traditionally began to claim a profit for the year, with black ink used to mark profits by accountants, versus red ink for losses. But Black Friday shopping as a relic of years past is once again starting to take shape this November.

    On Nov. 1, Walmart (WMT) began offering discounts on thousands of items online, including toys and electronics. For example, Apple's (AAPL) iPad Mini 2 is being sold for $199, down from $268. A 48-inch RCA smart TV could be had for $299.99 compared to $319.99 previously. At the top of its homepage, Walmart is promoting "hot holiday rollbacks all season long", likely in an attempt to reawaken sluggish sales in the U.S. before the holiday season kicks into gear.

    Walmart's fiercest rival, Amazon (AMZN) isn't standing idly by. On Nov. 2, Amazon rolled out its new "deals of the day" holiday season promotion, which will lead up to its more serious discounts for Black Friday on Nov. 27.

    Reminiscent of once popular flash sales, Amazon's deals are timed, in order to create a sense of urgency among gift-seeking consumers. Some of the first deals offered by Amazon include video-game Metal Gear Solid 5 for Sony's (SNE) PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox One, which is discounted to $39.99 from $59. A pair of Saucony running sneakers is listed for $39.99, down from $70 previously. While Walmart and Amazon do battle online for holiday dollars in the early going, Target (TGT) isn't joining the fray. The Minneapolis-based retailer began to stock its stores with holiday merchandise on Nov. 1, but isn't offering any specific deals in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. Target didn't return a request for comment.

    Meanwhile, department store retailer J.C. Penney (JCP) downplayed the declining relevance of Black Friday, saying via email that "Black Friday remains an important shopping period for the company."

    "Black Friday is not dead, but it's definitely different -- I don't think it will ever die, but it has to change because customers are changing," said Kathy Grannis Allen, senior director at the National Retail Federation. Those changes to traditional Black Friday buying, fueled by a combination of more mobile shopping and earlier deals offered by retailers, were front and center during Black Friday 2014.

    U.S. shoppers spent $9.1 billion at brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday last year, according to data from research firm ShopperTrak. That represented a drop of 7 percent compared with Black Friday in 2013. In 2013, sales at physical retailers declined an even steeper 13.2 percent from the previous year.

    Customer traffic on Black Friday has also declined by a similar amount, falling 5.6 percent in 2014 and 11 percent in 2013, according to ShopperTrak.

    However, online and mobile shopping have surged. Online sales on Thanksgiving Day last year increased 14.3 percent over 2013, with sales on Black Friday up 9.5 percent year over year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Black Friday mobile traffic reached 49.6 percent of all online traffic, an increase of 25 percent from 2013. Black Friday mobile sales accounted for 27.9 percent of total online sales, up 28.2 percent from a year earlier.

    "Black Friday is not irrelevant, it's just that a lot more people are [buying] on mobile devices," says Hannah Egan, product strategy specialist at IBM Commerce. Egan notes that mobile buying experiences have improved, as retailers have done a better job of targeting consumers with specific promotions on mobile devices.

    Adds Egan, "the mobile device has become one's personal shopper -- those retailers that will win are the ones who treat their customers as one customer, offering good deals both online and in-store."

    If traditional Black Friday shopping at physical stores is starting to become a thing of the past, there may be some distinct winners and losers from the retail sector.

    Winners could include companies that sell electronics such as Best Buy (BBY) or Amazon, as consumers look for good deals on these products throughout November and December and not just on Black Friday weekend. On the other hand, companies hawking impulse items people would buy for themselves while they're out shopping on Black Friday, such as winter coats, boots and other apparel, may be hurt.

    "Athleisure normally sells well over Black Friday weekend because it's never discounted," noted Allen, suggesting the likes of Lululemon (LULU) and Nike (NKE) could be impacted if fewer consumers are in the malls to buy yoga pants and joggers.

    And this year, November may also mean another in which the Black Friday buying orgy fades further into the background of importance for retailers.


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    More going out than coming in?
    Getty Images
    By Louis DeNicola

    Short-term savings often take the form of an emergency fund -- the three to six months' worth of living expenses everyone should have in case of a layoff, family crisis, medical emergency or other misfortune. Savings can also be set aside for short-term goals or expenses that may come up in the next one to three years, such as a vacation, renovations or a car.

    It's important to stash this money somewhere safe and accessible, rather than tie it up in risky investments. "You're going to need it, and you don't want it flushed away," says Chad Smith, a certified financial planner in North Carolina. "Avoid doing anything aggressive with it."

    So, where should short-term savings go?

    Savings Account. Savings accounts are one of the best ways to make sure your money is secure and available when needed. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund guarantee that if a bank or credit union goes under, each customer's lost money gets reimbursed up to $250,000. The downside is that the average interest on a savings account is 0.41 percent, according to Bankrate (RATE), although online banks may offer higher rates. Ally Bank savings accounts earn 1 percent.

    High-Interest Checking Account. Often the highest interest rates are offered by regional banks or credit unions, and many of these regional institutions let anyone join, no matter where they live. Lake Michigan Credit Union, for example, opens up membership to people living in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and those who have a family member with an account -- but also anyone who makes a $5 donation to the West Michigan chapter of the ALS Association.

    The LMCU Max Checking account offers members 3 percent APR for the first $15,000; additional funds accrue no interest. The account also refunds up to $15 in ATM fees each month and is part of a national network of ATMs with free withdrawals.

    Most high-yield checking accounts have monthly requirements. In LMCU's case, account holders must make 10 debit card purchases, log in to the account four times, sign up for emailed statements, and set up direct deposit. At many banks and credit unions, transfers from other bank accounts, including personal accounts, count as direct deposits. Some people buy small-denomination gift cards online or buy gas to meet the 10-purchase requirement.

    It's a bit of a hassle, but using a high-yield account for everyday checking and short-term savings can be rewarding. The difference between 0.41 percent interest and 3 percent interest on $15,000 over three years is $1,206.

    Credit Card Debt. Paying off debt may not seem like a way to save money for an emergency, but consider that the average interest rate for credit card debt is 15.72 percent, according to Bankrate. That means paying off debt yields a guaranteed return of 15.72 percent -- much more than a safe short-term investment would make.The idea here is to use money that would otherwise go into an emergency fund to pay down credit card debt, and fall back on the credit card in case of an emergency. However, keep in mind that some payments cannot be made with a credit card. It is wise to save at least several months' worth of funds for cash-only expenses such as rent rather than put all your savings toward eliminating high-interest debt.

    CD Laddering. This tactic is a bit more complicated but might result in a better yield, and a bank or financial planner can lend a hand. CD laddering is intended for short-term savings that might be needed in one to two years, as opposed to an emergency fund, which should be kept in a liquid account.

    To build a CD ladder, invest equal amounts of money in certificates of deposit with different maturity dates. (The longer the term, the higher the interest rate.) For instance, buy CDs that mature in six months, one year, 18 months, two years, and so on. As the CDs mature, renew them for the longest term on your ladder. This strategy ensures that cash will be available regularly to use if necessary. In the meantime, the money earns more interest than it would in a most savings accounts.


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    Anxious father paying bills online
    By Shannah Game

    The word "budget" strikes fear and panic in many. No one likes to think about them, let alone talk about them. The truth of the matter is that most budgets fail, and they fail badly, because most budgets lie. Yes, that's right -- they lie. A budget can represent whatever numbers you put in it. If you forget to add a bunch of expenses in each month, then it makes sense that you would be over budget month after month after month

    To break this silly cycle of money mayhem, here's an easy eight-step system you can use to master your budget in only 20 minutes a month. Open up a spreadsheet and let's get started!

    1. Create a Second Column

    Not to be redundant, but we've got to first start with the budget. Why most budgets fail is because they only have one column, the budgeted column. We've already gone over why this doesn't work. Instead, upgrade your budget to a two-column layout for success. Your first column is the "What I Think I Will Spend" column, and the second column is the "What I Actually Spent" column. Basically, you create two mirror columns to accurately display what is going on in your budget for a given month.

    2. Fill in 'What I Think'

    The "What I Think" column should be the easiest column to complete and shouldn't take you more than a couple of minutes at most. This column represents all of your budgeted items. It's an approximation of what you think you will spend during the month. Most of the numbers should be easy to access from your normal monthly expenses. Don't labor over this column too much, but make sure that you attempt to accurately itemize each income and expense item.

    3. End of Month

    The end of the month is where things start to get a bit more analytical (but don't let that scare you). At the end of each month, print off your most recent bank or credit card statements in which you've incurred your expenses for the month. This is the easiest step in the eight-step process, but it's critical to analyzing what went on during the month.

    4. Add It Up

    Once you're armed and ready with your statements (and receipts, for cash spending), get out a handy calculator and some highlighters. Color-code your statements for budget expense items like groceries, eating out, gas, clothing, utilities, phone, and so on. Then go through the list and highlight each item in each category. This makes it easy to add it all up when you are finished. There's nothing yet to analyze in this step, you are simply categorizing for step six. This will take you the longest out of all the steps, so allow 10 minutes to conquer your statements. Once you do this process for a month or two, it should be very easy to go through your statements in five minutes or less. Practice makes perfect.

    5. 'What I Spent'

    Now it's time to fill in the second column, "What I Spent." Simply take the numbers from your statements and input them into the budget template. If you notice that you've left off a category on your budget, add it and put it in bold so it can jog your memory next month. Each month has its own twists and turns, so it's common that you might leave out a category by accident.

    6. Compare the Columns

    You've done the heavy lifting now, and are almost through your 20 minutes this month. Take a look at your budget and compare the two columns. Are there any areas that surprise you? Did you come in under or over budget, and why? What about those missing categories, are they essential to include going forward? You see the power is in comparing these two columns. It gives you a chance to evaluate your budget from estimation in the beginning of the month, to an absolute at the end of the month.

    7. The Envelope Trick

    If you have a category that is always your Achilles' heel, and month after month you are overspending, then it might be time to kick it old school. For instance, let's say eating out is always an area you overspend in. If you've budgeted $200 for the month in your first column, then at the beginning of the month you can withdrawal that $200 in cash, and stick it in an envelope. For the entire month, every time you eat out, you must dip into this envelope. Once the money is gone, your eating-out budget is gone. While this might seem harsh, it's an old school way to force you to stay within budget. At the end of the day though, none of these steps will work unless you put effort in and are committed to mastering your budget.

    8. Reward Yourself

    We all love a good reward, and you should pat yourself on the back if you've completed these steps for the month. No matter the outcome, you've taken small moves that will lead to big changes in your cash flow. Pick a dollar amount that you are comfortable with at the beginning of the month, and set a goal for yourself. Maybe you want to treat yourself to an extra cupcake at the end of the month, or go to that concert that you are dying to see. Whatever it is, give yourself a pat on the back, but not for too long -- next month is coming quickly and it will be time to restart the 20-minute system.

    What's your budgeting system?


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

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. job growth surged in October and the unemployment rate hit a 7½-year low of 5 percent in a show of economic strength that makes it much more likely the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in December.

    Nonfarm payrolls increased 271,000 last month, the largest rise since December 2014, the Labor Department said Friday. In addition, average hourly earnings rose a respectable 9 cents.

    The unemployment rate now stands at its lowest level since April 2008 and is in a range many Fed officials see as consistent with full employment.

    Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, called the jobs growth figure "astounding."

    It's pretty clear that the Fed would be justified in hiking in December if the economy doesn't hit another air pocket.

    "It's pretty clear that the Fed would be justified in hiking in December if the economy doesn't hit another air pocket," Jacobsen said.

    The reaction in financial markets was swift and sharp.

    Prices for U.S. Treasuries plummeted, pushing yields higher, and the dollar rose to a 6½-month high against a basket of currencies as investors braced for higher borrowing costs. U.S. stocks were trading lower.

    Futures markets shifted to imply a 72 percent chance of a rate hike next month, up from 58 percent before the data.

    "We've indicated that conditions look like they could be right for an increase," Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans, who has argued against a rate hike, said in an interview with CNBC. "The real side of the economy is looking a lot better."

    The solid report added to strong services sector and automobile sales data in painting an upbeat picture of the economy at the start of the fourth quarter.

    With speeches from several Fed officials, including Chair Janet Yellen, suggesting a low bar for a December rate increase, economists had said ahead of the report that monthly job gains above 150,000 in October and November would be sufficient grounds for the first increase in overnight borrowing costs since 2006.

    The U.S. central bank has held rates near zero for nearly seven years.

    The Fed has made clear, both in its statement after its last policy meeting in October and subsequent comments from Yellen, that a rate hike is firmly on the table at its Dec. 15-16 meeting.

    Broad-Based Gains

    Economists had forecast nonfarm payrolls increasing 180,000 last month and the unemployment rate remaining at 5.1 percent. In addition to the unexpectedly stronger job gains last month, data for August and September were revised to show 12,000 more jobs created than previously reported.

    The report bolstered views that economic growth will regain momentum in the fourth quarter after braking sharply to a 1.5 percent annual pace in the July-September period.

    Last month's rise in wages, which have been almost stagnant despite a tightening labor market, lifted the year-on-year reading to 2.5 percent. That was the biggest increase since July 2009 and could give the Fed confidence that inflation will gradually move towards its 2 percent target.

    There were improvements in other labor market measures that Fed officials are eyeing as they contemplate a rate hike.

    A broad measure of joblessness that includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they can't find full-time employment fell 0.2 of a point to 9.8 percent, the lowest level since May 2008.

    The employment-population ratio rose to 59.3 percent from 59.2 percent in September. But the labor force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job, held at a near 38-year low of 62.4 percent.

    Employment gains in October were broad-based, though manufacturing added no jobs and mining shed 4,000 positions.

    Manufacturing has been hurt by a strong dollar, efforts by businesses to reduce bloated inventory and spending cuts by energy companies cutting back on well drilling and exploration in response to lower oil prices.

    The mining sector has shed 109,000 jobs since peaking in December 2014. Oilfield services provider Schlumberger (SLM) last month announced further layoffs in addition to the 20,000 jobs it has already eliminated.

    Construction payrolls, however, increased 31,000 last month, the biggest gain since February.

    The services sector added 241,000 jobs in October, with large gains in retail, health and leisure. Professional and business services added 78,000 jobs, the largest gain since last November. Government payrolls increased 3,000 last month.

    -Tariro Mzezewa contributed reporting from New York.


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    A lone shopper enters a K mart retail store, one of many corporate outlet stores throughout the nation. Elmhurst, Illinois.
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with a once red-hot maker of mobile apps finding an exit strategy in the hands of an acquirer and a popular restaurant chain having to close down several of its burrito shops after an illness outbreak.

    HBO -- Winner

    Jon Stewart's retirement didn't last very long. The iconic host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" stepped down this summer, and on Tuesday Time Warner's (TWX) HBO announced that it had signed him to an exclusive four-year production deal.

    Stewart won't be getting a new full-length show. He'll be contributing short-form content throughout the day that will be made available on its stand-alone HBO Now streaming platform. That's a great way to draw attention to the new online service, and it's something that should help HBO compete in a world with a growing number of video entertainment options.

    Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) -- Loser

    The "food with integrity" champ of fast-casual dining has a brand integrity issue on its hands. Chipotle had to temporarily shutter 43 of its eateries in the Northwest after several customers became ill with symptoms suggesting an E. coli outbreak. At least 39 customers in Washington and Oregon have become sick after eating at Chipotle, with a few of them having to be hospitalized.

    Chipotle will get over this. It's not the first time that it has had an issue with customers and even employees getting sick. However, Chipotle's appeal is based on the premise that its natural ingredients are superior and worth paying a premium for. As the headline became a national story it will be that much harder for Chipotle to win back the trust of its burrito-loving audience.

    King Digital Entertainment (KING) -- Winner

    Sometimes social gaming can have a happy ending. Activision Blizzard (ATVI) announced that it would be acquiring King Digital -- the company behind "Candy Crush Saga" and other mobile apps -- in a $5.9 billion deal.

    King Digital shareholders will be cashed out at $18 a share. That is a discount to the $22.50 price tag that it went public at last year, but it's a premium to where it was trading when the deal was announced.

    King Digital saw its gross bookings for "Candy Crush Saga" peak in late 2013, and while it countered that with an uptick in new releases, none of the games failed to surpass the popularity of the original. King Digital had the resources to stick around on its own and fade quietly, but now it has a better chance to succeed with a much larger video gaming company taking the wheel.

    Checkpoint Systems (CKP) -- Loser

    There's some irony to be had when you specialize in arming retailers with theft-prevention devices but you miss something going amiss in your own house. Checkpoint Systems announced that it has overstated its earnings in its two most recent quarters. Checkpoint will be adjusting its bottom-line results lower for the first and second quarters of this year.

    Kmart -- Winner

    The blue lights are swirling again at Kmart. Parent company Sears Holdings (SHLD) rolled out its iconic Bluelight Specials this past weekend through all of its stores. At any point in the day the blue light siren will go off and an announcement will be made on deals that will only be available for 15 minutes.

    Kmart's been a fading discount department store chain for more than a decade, and bringing back the Bluelight Specials that it retired in 1991 should help drum up store traffic. After all, the deals aren't announced ahead of time, so you just have to be inside a Kmart to see if it's worth it. It's a smart move just as the holiday shopping season is getting started.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard and Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Motley Fool recommends Time Warner. 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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    Arlington, Virginia. An aerial view of the Pentagon.
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    After the storm comes the calm.

    As the clock ticked down toward the end of the Pentagon's fiscal year on Sept. 30, Defense Department acquisitions specialists rushed to shovel money out the door, awarding contracts left and right in the final days of September. By the time all the dust settled, $34.76 billion in contracts had been awarded.

    The month of October, by contrast, was relatively calm. "Only" $17.1 billion in contracts were handed out by the Pentagon last month. And thanks to the Defense Department's open books policy, and its commitment to publishing all contracts of substantial size on the day they're awarded, for public review, we know how much each of these contracts was worth, who won them, and what they bought for taxpayers.

    Today, we're going to review a few of the most interesting things that your tax dollars bought for the Pentagon last month, beginning with...

    Zen and the Art of Drone Maintenance

    In America and around the world, militaries are spending billions of dollars annually to acquire unmanned aerial vehicles -- "drones," in the popular parlance. But buying a drone is just the first step. Once it's bought, you need to keep the device tuned up and well maintained so it will work as expected. As it turns out, that's pretty lucrative work in its own right.

    In October, the U.S. Air Force awarded drone-maker Northrop Grumman (NOC) $204 million to perform maintenance and support, and to run logistics supply chains for its fleet of Global Hawk drones.

    Holy Rollers

    Unarmed drones such as the Global Hawk can be useful for spotting artillery strikes, advising Army artillerists on how to adjust their fire to hit their targets. Of course, you still need to buy the artillery in the first place. Last month, the U.S. Army awarded British defense giant BAE Systems a $245 million contract to supply it with 30 M109A7 "Paladin" self-propelled howitzers, and also 30 M992A3 tracked ammunition carriers to keep the Paladins well supplied.

    Lebanese Fighters

    Like it or not, arms sales are an international business. One contract that illustrates just how international the arms trade has become is a $172 million contract awarded to private U.S. defense contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation. In a contract spanning at least three countries, SNC will build six A-29 Super Tucano fighter planes in cooperation with Brazilian aerospace giant Embraer (ERJ). The U.S. Pentagon will then broker a sale of these fighters to the Lebanese military in what the government refers to as a "foreign military sales" contract.

    Missiles From Heaven

    Yet another aerospace giant, this time America's own Lockheed Martin (LMT) landed a $305 million contract in October. The funds will be used to purchase an unspecified number of Lockheed's new Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles for the U.S. Air Force. Armed with 2,000-pound conventional warheads, these missiles are designed to be launched from U.S. B-1, B-2, and B-52 strategic bombers, and from tactical fighter jets such as the F-15, F-16, and the new F-35 stealth fighter jet.

    And Bombers From Boeing

    Lockheed Martin's archrival in the U.S. is aerospace giant Boeing (BA). Best known for its Boeing 737, 747 and 787 commercial jetliners, Boeing is also a big name in the defense world. Last month, Boeing landed a monster $898 million award to supply the U.S. Navy with 15 EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft "and associated airborne electronic attack kits." Designed to knock out enemy radar and anti-aircraft defenses before an attack, the Growler is a derivation of Boeing's vaunted F/A-18 Hornet. Together, these two aircraft make up the bulk of naval aviation aircraft flying for the Navy today.

    Of course, these awards represent only a small sampling of the hundreds of contracts your tax dollars funded last month. To see the rest, check out the U.S. Department of Defense contracts website.

    This will be Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith's final defense business column for DailyFinance. It's been a pleasure writing for you all. Rich has no financial interest in any of the companies discussed above, but The Motley Fool recommends Embraer-Empresa Brasileira. 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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    Jeh Johnson Rings Opening Bell At New York Stock Exchange
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
    By Lewis Krauskopf

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended little changed Friday, with a rise in financials countered by a slide in utilities and other sectors, as Wall Street took the strong U.S. jobs report as evidence the Federal Reserve will soon raise interest rates.

    Since the Fed last week opened the door to a rate increase in December, investors have been looking to economic reports for clues to whether the central bank will take action. Data released Friday showed U.S. non-farm payrolls growth in October was the best since December 2014, while the unemployment rate fell to 5 percent, the lowest since April 2008.

    While higher interest rates themselves are not a good thing, a vote of confidence in the strength of the economy I think is going to overshadow that over time.

    The three major indexes posted higher weekly performances for the sixth week in a row, after posting their best monthly results in four years in October.

    The overall market Friday was "holding up well," Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments in Lisle, Illinois, who noted that a Fed action would indicate the economy is healthy enough to tolerate higher rates.

    "While higher interest rates themselves are not a good thing, a vote of confidence in the strength of the economy I think is going to overshadow that over time," Jankovskis said.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 46.9 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,910.33, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 0.73 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,099.2 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 19.38 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,147.12.

    The S&P financial sector rose 1.1 percent, leading all sectors. Banks tend to benefit from higher borrowing rates, and shares of JPMorgan (JPM), Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C) each climbed at least 3 percent, making them the biggest positive influences on the S&P.

    The rate-sensitive utilities sector dropped 3.6 percent, the worst performing group. The S&P consumer staples sector fell 1.1 percent, while the energy group dipped 0.4 percent as crude oil prices were down.

    Focus on Rate Increase

    "The market is reacting today as if rates will be increased in December," said Ben Halliburton, chief investment officer at Tradition Capital Management in Summit, New Jersey.

    "They're rotating money to take advantage of that or cut back where they're not going to be advantageous," Halliburton added.

    Alibaba (BABA) fell 2.1 percent to $83.61 after a CNBC report said short-seller Jim Chanos pitched the company as a possible short.

    Shares of Disney (DIS) rose 2.4 percent to $115.67 after it reported a higher-than-expected profit.

    ZS Pharma (ZSPH) shares jumped 40.6 percent to $89.04 after Britain's AstraZeneca (AZN) agreed to buy the biotech company for $2.7 billion.

    Tableau Software (DATA) shares jumped 21.4 percent to $102.44 after higher-than-expected results, with other data analytics stocks also rising.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,931 to 1,186, for a 1.63-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,726 issues rose and 1,086 fell for a 1.59-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 15 new 52-week highs and 9 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 151 new highs and 70 new lows.

    -Charles Mikolajczak and Abhiram Nandakumar contributed reporting.

    What to watch Monday:

    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Dish Network (DISH)
    • Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF)
    • Priceline Group (PCLN)


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    actual last will and testament...
    By Scott Gamm

    The most common estate planning mistake may surprise you.

    "The mistake actually isn't part of the will and trust, said Dan Prebish, head of life services events at Wells Fargo Advisors, based in St. Louis. "It actually has to do with beneficiary designation."

    Prebish said people sometimes fail to designate who will gain control of various assets upon one's death. "It's not uncommon to find that someone still had their ex-spouse named" as the one to receive control of the asset, he added.

    However, the fix is easy. When changing the beneficiary on a retirement account, for example, the update is as simple as filling out a form. Prebish said communication with one's heirs is key, given the uncomfortable nature of estate planning.

    "Surprises are what breeds hurt feelings and even litigation," he said. "Find a way to explain this to your children or heirs."

    He says the starting point to any successful estate plan is a will, which is a legal document that delineates which heirs are to receive which assets or properties you own. "Talk to a local attorney to draft a will,' Prebish added. 'I know people are tempted to go to the Internet and write their own."

    He said the online programs can be helpful. "But if you gave me a Stradivarius, it wouldn't sound good because I don't know how to play the violin," he added. User error is typically how things go wrong when drafting wills without the help of an attorney.

    Another factor to keep in mind: taxes. "An individual who has a total estate of less than $5.45 million in 2016, won't pay any Federal estate tax," he explained. "Above that, we're talking about a 40 percent flat rate." These thresholds were raised slightly for 2016 and stood at $5.43 million in 2015.

    Regardless, federal estate tax generally doesn't matter to the majority of the American public, Prebish said. That's because one would need an estate worth over $5.45 million in order for Federal estate tax to kick in. Keep in mind, however, that individual states have different thresholds -- some in the sixfigures, which may affect a wider demographic.


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    Doctor and patient in office
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    By Louis DeNicola

    Health insurance costs are creeping ever higher. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that average premiums will rise 5.1 percent in 2016 for the lowest-cost marketplace silver plans available to a 40-year-old nonsmoker earning $30,000 a year in 14 major cities. The increase will be lower for people with tax credits, but could still represent a significant jump in the monthly bill.

    While there aren't as many clear discounts for health insurance as there are for auto and renters insurance, there are ways to save. Here are seven tactics that can lower health insurance costs.

    Increase the deductible. Health insurance premiums correspond to the plan's deductible; that is, the total amount you must pay for care before insurance kicks in. Increasing the deductible can be risky -- in a serious emergency the amount due can climb quickly, leaving you on the hook for hefty out-of-pocket expenses. Still, this might be a reasonable choice if you're not concerned about the cost of routine care (which counts towards the deductible) and have funds set aside to cover a major illness or emergencies.

    Choose an insurer with phone-in consultation. For someone who is generally healthy, a plan with a high deductible and a phone-in service might be a good option, says Eric O'Brien, president of Mosaic Employee Benefits, a multistate independent broker. Teladoc, for example, lets plan participants call or video chat with a doctor at any time for diagnoses of minor ailments and prescriptions. In some instances this is cheaper than visiting a doctor or emergency room. Consultation costs vary by telehealth provider but typically settle around $35. The fee may be lower for people with a monthly or annual subscription.

    Pick a narrow-network plan. Save on premiums by choosing an insurance provider that maintains a skinny, or narrow, network in the region. In other words, the insurer may be a large, even national, company but includes only one or two medical centers in its local network. Premiums may be lower than plans with more in-network hospitals and physicians. If you want to stick with your primary care physician, first check to make sure he or she is in the narrow network before opting in.

    Adjust income to be eligible for tax credits. People who buy health insurance through the government marketplaces may be eligible for tax credits depending on their "modified adjusted gross income" and family size. The lower the income, the more credits are available. You can decrease adjusted income by increasing tax deductions. One of the easiest ways to do this is by contributing to a retirement plan -- either a 401(k) or 403(b) plan through an employer or a traditional Individual Retirement Arrangement on your own.

    Quit smoking. Using tobacco (cigarettes, cigars, snuff -- or just plain chewing it) for anyone who buys health insurance. Marketplace plans may charge tobacco users up to 50 percent more than nonusers. Quitting comes with other financial benefits, as well. In addition to not paying for the tobacco products, premiums for life, renters, and homeowners insurance may be lower for nonsmokers.

    Look beyond the exchanges. Instead of limiting your search to or state-run marketplaces, try direct shopping with insurers or compare options on a private exchange, such as eHealthInsurance or GoHealth. Prices may not be lower for identical plans, but you might find a plan that isn't listed on the government exchange and fits your budget better. An added benefit is follow-up convenience: If there are any administrative or billing problems, they can be resolved directly with the insurer rather than having to work through the marketplace.

    Consider a nonprofit health care co-op. An alternative to mainstream health insurance plans is one of the health cooperatives created when the Affordable Care Act passed. Health co-ops are nonprofit insurance organizations governed and owned by their members. A 2013 report by consultants McKinsey & Company found that in 22 states with a health care co-op, the co-ops offered the cheapest insurance plans. Some co-ops are struggling to stay open given lower than expected enrollment rates, but in some places they are a money-saving alternative.


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