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    A Case for Phone Insurance?

    By Landon Dowdy

    It's a millennial's most prized possession. Yet, they are also the most irresponsible compared to other generations when it comes to caring for their smartphone, according to a survey by insurance company Protect Your Bubble.

    The president of the Financial Planning Association, Ed Gjertsen II, said consumers, in general, are careless about how they treat such a valuable device and, as is the case with his own teenage children, "they throw it in their backpacks and all over the place."

    A whopping 90 percent of millennials even take their phones in the bathroom with them, according to Protect Your Bubble's survey. The "liquid drop" -- or the phone falling in the toilet -- is one of the most common ways phones get damaged, according to online warranty company SquareTrade, in addition to the most common standard hand drop where the device simply slips from their grasp with 30 percent of people dropping their phone accidentally.

    Thankfully, phones are progressively getting more durable. The website iFixit reports that the Apple (AAPL) iPhone 6S and 6S Plus sport a combination of new technology that makes them far more resistant to liquid damage than previous-generation iPhones. CNBC tested the 6S out and after multiple drops in the toilet, the phone continued to work properly. That's not to say there wasn't any internal damage to the phone, but on the surface, the phone was functional. Which raises the question -- do you need phone insurance?

    Like any type of investment, it's about your risk tolerance. If you damaged your phone tomorrow could you go out and buy a new one -- even at full price?

    With a two-year contract the iPhone 6S 16 GB costs $199, but if you damage or lose your phone before the two years is up you must pay the full $650 for a replacement. "That is what a lot of people miss at times," Gjertsen said. If you're good with the cost, then you are more than likely good without insurance.

    But if you are a habitual phone breaker and don't want to cough up $650, it's probably a good idea to cover yourself. If you don't fall into either camp or just aren't sure, here are some things to consider:

    "I think the case for insurance is threefold: to protect your investment, protect against Murphy's Law and also to help you stay connected to your world if something does happen," explained Matthew Pufall, product director at Protect Your Bubble.

    If you are thinking about getting your phone insured, "the details are incredibly important because what you are paying for and what you think you might be covered for could be two totally different things," warned Gjertsen. For example, under most insurance plans, you're covered if you totally destroy your phone, but if your screen cracks, that's out of pocket.

    When it comes to insurance, there are a few different options.

    Your Carrier

    You could get phone insurance through your phone carrier, but plans vary with each provider. For AT&T, (T) insurance is $6.99 a month and offers coverage for loss, theft, accidental damage or out-of-warranty malfunction of your phone. It will provide you with a replacement as soon as the next day and you can make two claims within a 12-month period for a total of $1,500.

    Verizon (VZ) offers coverage if your device is lost, stolen, damaged (including liquid damage) or defective after the manufacturer warranty expires for $9. You can file two claims within any consecutive 12 months with a maximum value of $400 to $1,500, depending on the device.

    For $9 to $13, Sprint (S) offers coverage against loss, theft, and liquid or physical damage with the ability to file three claims within 12 months for a total of $1,500.

    T-Mobile's (TMUS) Jump! provides coverage against accidental damage, malfunction due to mechanical breakdown, loss or theft for $10 a month. Like the others, T-Mobile allows you to make two claims each year with a limit of $1,500 for each loss.

    Outside Provider

    Using an outside provider is another option to insure your phone. Protect Your Bubble, for example, offers coverage for $5.99 a month in case of mechanical breakdowns, water and liquid damage and even cracked screens. There is no limit on number of claims and if an exact replacement is not available, the company will issue a check for the replacement value, minus the deductible.

    SquareTrade insures for mechanical and electrical failures and accidental damage but not theft or loss. You can purchase coverage for $4 a month for a three-year plan or up to $8 pay for a month-to-month plan.

    You could also insure your phone under your existing homeowners insurance as a valuable personal article for up to $50 a month. However, most home insurance policies have a $1,000 deductible, which is more than the cost if you went and purchased a new phone out of pocket.

    Buying phone insurance could give you that extra peace of mind knowing that if you drop it, you are covered -- just be sure to read the fine print to know what you are covered for and for how much. Even $12 a month for insurance, not including the cost of a deductible (usually around $150), will start to creep up to the cost of buying a new smartphone.

    It depends on your level of risk tolerance -- and tendency toward mishaps -- with your most prized possession.


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    Inside A Gap Inc. Store As Earnings Figures Are Released
    David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesSome stores almost always have discounts.
    By Lisa Koivu

    If you're the kind of person who likes deals, then you're in luck, because there are some stores that almost always offer mega-discounts to customers. As long as you know where to look, you can buy what's in your shopping cart without doing too much damage to your bank account.

    We might actually have the Great Recession to thank for these plentiful discounts. When the economy was struggling a few years ago, retailers started trying all kinds of tactics to get people shopping again. Sample sales and daily deal sites sprang up everywhere. While those types of sites are far less plentiful now that the economy has stabilized a bit, one thing that hasn't changed is that retailers are still coupon crazy. Stores that once would rarely offer coupons now offer them constantly.

    Some say that in response to the coupons, the retailers have actually raised their prices and thus are breaking even, and perhaps that is the case. What I do know is that regardless of the retailers' intent, there are some stores where the coupons are so plentiful that it would be unwise to shop without one.
    Here are five stores where you will never want to pay full price online. Just be sure to always look for any coupon codes you need to enter before checking out to take advantage of all available discounts. Sometimes it can also pay to be patient and wait for sales to roll around if you happen to be shopping at a time when the sales codes are sparse.

    1. J.Crew. J.Crew has steadily gotten more expensive throughout the years, but over the past couple of years, they've been releasing coupons nearly as often as the other retailers on this list. You can normally find a J.Crew coupon at least once a week. Sometimes it will be an extra percentage discount on their sale section while other times it will be 25 to 30 percent off full-priced items. (Sometimes you might get really lucky and also score free shipping.)

    In addition to using a web search to find any available coupon codes, you can also search for "free shipping" and "J.Crew" in case any additional discount codes pop up.

    2. Ann Taylor. I've never once looked at the Ann Taylor website and not found a coupon available. If you don't see one on the day you are order, come back the next day. Just check the website for any coupon codes and enter them at checkout. You can also check popular sites like RetailMeNot for listed sales.

    3. The Body Shop. I remember being a teenager and not being allowed to shop at The Body Shop because it was too expensive. These days they frequently offer 50 percent off site-wide deals, as well as buy one get one deals. Additionally, discounted vouchers for The Body Shop regularly pop up on Groupon. When you visit the website, be sure to look under the "Offers" section. You can find everything from free ground shipping to two for one deals.

    4. Kohl's. There are so many ways to save at Kohl's these days. In addition to the store's regular coupons that can usually save you anywhere from 15 to 25 percent (sometimes 30 percent if you have a Kohl's charge card), be on the lookout for their Gold Star Clearance Days when prices get heavily slashed, and you can almost always earn $10 in Kohl's Cash for every $50 spent. Kohl's Cash can then be used on your next $10 and up purchase. Of course, the holiday season is prime time for the deepest discounts, so when you're out hunting for other people's gifts, be sure to look out for yourself, too.

    5. Gap. There are maybe one to two days each week when you will not find a Gap coupon listed on their website. Gap sends out near-daily emails with new codes. In addition to the frequent online codes, coupons are frequently released for Gap Outlet. You might also receive "GapCash" to spend on your next visit if you make a big purchase. It's so enticing that you might have to stop yourself from buying items you don't need just to nab the discounts.

    If you head to any of these sites and are unable to find a coupon highlighted be sure to check out a coupon aggregator site such as for any available codes.

    Lisa Koivu is the founder of, a budget fashion and shopping blog for women who want to have the best for less.


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    How to Pick the Best Target Fund

    If you've given some thought to retirement savings, you've probably encountered target date funds. These mutual funds are age-based investment vehicles geared to the year you plan to retire so they automatically rebalance your assets as the target date approaches.

    They can be owned outside a retirement plan, but because they are designed for retirement investing, they are often among the choices offered within 401(k)s and other retirement accounts.

    These funds follow the conventional wisdom on investing: When you are further from retirement, they allocate more of your money to stocks to maximize returns. As you get closer to the magic year, the fund allocation becomes more conservative, shifting a greater portion of your assets from stocks to bonds and cash.

    For people who want a more hands-off investment style, they can be an attractive way to save. However, target date funds aren't created equal and don't suit everyone. Here are six things to consider before you choose one.

    1. Check the numbers. As is true with any sort of investment, past performance doesn't guarantee future performance. Still, it can be valuable to see the returns various funds are getting. A word of caution, these numbers can be skewed by the portfolio allocations. A fund with a higher percentage of stocks is more likely to have spikes in value if the stock market is having a good year. As always, look at results over time, which should help smooth out the differences.

    2. What's your glide path? With any sort of investment, your personal tolerance for risk plays a role. In this case, the "glide path" will be a key component of the risk. Glide path is the lingo fund managers use to determine how quickly funds shift from stocks to bonds. For people in their 20s, most funds will place the vast majority, in some cases even 100 percent, in stocks. For folks a couple of years from their target date, the portion of funds in stocks may be closer to 50 percent, maybe even slightly lower. It's the in-between years, where they shift from one to another that can end up making a big difference in the balance in the end -- too soon and you could miss out on a bull run, too slow and a bear market could eat up lots of your savings.

    3. When should it stop? There are basically two types of target funds. One type, called "to retirement," stops changing the stock-to-bond ratio once you hit the date, the other type continues to adjust as time goes on, called "through retirement." To-retirement funds end up being less risky at the expense of seeing your investments stop (or almost stop) growing when you hit the target date. Some experts prefer the through-retirement option, arguing that it's important to continue managing the balance as you age, rather than risk outliving your money.

    4. What does it cost? Of course, there will be fees. But just because a fund has a higher fee, don't dismiss it outright. As with many things, you get what you pay for. A fund with a higher fee, but also with a higher return, may end up netting you more money in the end. As with everything, there are low-priced options that excel and high-cost flops. Do your homework.

    5. How's it managed? Whether active or passive management is more successful in boosting returns is an ongoing debate among investors. Passive funds usually invest assets to reflect the makeup of a market index, thus tracking the ups and downs of that index. They provide broad market exposure and low operating expenses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 are two prime examples. They're not terribly exciting, but they take out a lot of the guesswork from investing. Generally, actively managed funds will cost you more, but they may net you a higher return, if you have the right manager.
    Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson is deeply skeptical of the value of these investment managers, as he explains in this article:
    There's a mountain of evidence suggesting market timing is tough. For example, despite the fact that mutual funds employ both the smartest people and best technology on the planet, the average professionally managed mutual fund underperforms a simple, unmanaged index.
    6. Do you really need it? Basically, a target date fund helps shift your portfolio from stocks to bonds as you get older. It's something that you can probably do easily enough by yourself, or with the help of a financial adviser (especially if you're mostly in index funds anyway). Some people prefer the hands-off approach, they don't have to worry about rebalancing their investments every few years. But if you have the time and inclination to do the rebalancing yourself, you may do well to skip the target date fund and its fees altogether.

    What's your experience with target date funds? 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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    3 Reasons Women Will Never Retire

    By Cameron Huddleston

    When it comes to saving for retirement, women might be pleased to learn that they are more likely to enroll in their workplace savings plans than men and to save at higher rates. That's the good news, according to a just-released study by investment management company Vanguard.

    The not-so-good news is that, even though women are setting aside a higher percentage of their incomes for retirement, their account balances remain smaller than those of male workers. In fact, Vanguard found that men who participated in workplace savings plans had account balances that were 50 percent larger on average than women participants.

    What's more troubling is that a separate study by Financial Finesse -- a workplace financial wellness provider -- showed that women's shortfalls in retirement savings were exacerbated by the fact that they need bigger nest eggs than men. Not only do women live longer, but they also have higher healthcare costs throughout their lives.

    "If you as a woman want to ensure your financial independence, you have to save more than a man does," said Kelley Long, a certified financial planner with Financial Finesse.

    How much more? According to Long, Financial Finesse estimates that women need to save 26 cents more on the dollar than men to replace 70 percent of their income in retirement and cover healthcare costs. In light of these figures, it's clearly essential that women take steps to overcome the retirement wage gap.

    How Women Can Save More

    When it comes to retirement saving, women are already doing a lot of the right things, Long said. As the Vanguard study found, women are 11 percent more likely than men to participate in workplace saving plans. With plans with voluntary enrollment, they are 14 percent more likely to join than men. Further, those who participate save at rates 7 percent to 16 percent higher than their male counterparts. Women's investment returns over the past five years have also been on par with those of men.

    While women are surpassing men in some aspects of retirement saving, research shows that they are lagging behind where it really matters -- the amount they are actually putting aside. According to Jean Young, senior research analyst at the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research and author of the latest study, the discrepancy stems from varying income levels.

    "Men have always had higher balances, but it's a function of wages," said Young. According to her study, the men who participated in workplace savings plans had wages that were 25 percent to 33 percent higher than women. However, when the authors controlled for differences in income, the retirement savings gap between men and women all but disappeared.

    Still, both men and women need to save more if they hope to live comfortably in retirement. "At the end of the day, everyone would be better off saving more," Young said.

    This doesn't mean you won't ever be able to retire, said Long, who stressed that individuals still have time to make changes for the better. According to Long, "Little tweaks can make a huge difference."

    Run the numbers to see if you're saving enough. Many people simply don't know if they're saving enough for retirement. According to Long, half of her financial planning clients have never done any sort of retirement calculation prior to meeting. If you haven't done a savings projection already, Long says that this is a wise place to start.

    Of course, the amount you will need depends on various factors including the lifestyle you want to have in retirement and how much you plan to spend. According to Long, a good rule of thumb is that you should save 10 to 16 times your annual income. Don't forget to factor in the value of Social Security benefits, as they will constitute a big portion of your savings.

    A free online tool such as the Vanguard retirement income calculator or the Financial Finesse retirement estimator can help you run the numbers to see if you're on track for retirement. You can also check to see if your workplace retirement plan administrator offers an online calculator. Once you have an idea of how much you need to save, you might be more motivated to boost your actual contributions.

    Automate savings. Once money reaches your checking account, it's easy to spend it on bills and other expenses. Instead of giving yourself a choice to set aside money every month, automate your savings so that contributions to your workplace retirement plan are withdrawn from your paycheck. You can also set up automatic deposits from your checking account to an individual account such as an IRA.

    With this approach, the money is deposited into savings before you have a chance to spend it. "It's the true pay-yourself-first scenario," Young said.

    Contribute enough to get an employer match. The Financial Finesse study found that fewer women than men report taking advantage of their companies' retirement plan matching, which means they're essentially leaving free money on the table.

    To make the most of this saving opportunity, check with your human resources or benefits department to find out if your employer offers a 401(k) match and how that match is determined. The most common type of match is 50 cents for every $1 contributed by an employee, up to a certain percentage of salary -- typically 6 percent, according to Contributing enough to get your employer's full match is an easy way to boost retirement savings significantly.

    Increase contributions annually. It's easier to save income that you aren't used to having in the first place. One of the best ways to boost your annual contributions is to set aside money from raises and bonuses, said Long, who went on to advise that employees elect to have contributions automatically increased each year.

    Ideally, both women and men should aim to set aside 12 to 15 percent of their income annually (including employer contributions), according to Young.

    "It's not as painful as you might think to increase the amount you're saving," Young said, stressing that those who reach this level of savings sooner in their lives are more likely to accumulate enough for a comfortable retirement.

    Choose the right investments. When it comes to investing, women tend to be less confident than men, according to Financial Finesse. If you're worried you won't choose the right investments for your retirement portfolio, you might want to consider target-date investments, according to Long.

    Target-date funds gradually shift from more aggressive holdings that offer growth to more conservative investments that reduce risk as your retirement date approaches. Vanguard research has found that investors who use these and other professionally managed funds enjoy better outcomes than those who construct portfolios on their own.

    Don't borrow from your 401(k). A greater percentage of women than men surveyed by Financial Finesse report having taken out loans from their retirement plans. Although individuals can borrow up to half of their 401(k) balances for a maximum of $50,000, they will ultimately have to repay themselves with interest, which can be lower than the rate of return they would have received if the money was left in the account. Ultimately, by taking out these loans, you're shortchanging your retirement savings.

    Stay the course. If your account balance drops because of a downturn in the stock market, it's important not to panic and pull out your money -- this is especially essential if you're years away from retirement. If you cash out your account while the market is down, you will have missed out on an opportunity for your investments and account balance to rebound, and you'll be paying higher prices to get back in, according to Long.

    So when the market drops, "remember that the next time you put money in, you're buying stocks on sale," Long said. Continue your savings efforts so you can retire comfortably, confidently and securely when the time comes.

    This story, How Women Can Get Ahead of the Retirement Savings Gap, originally appeared on


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    This Dec. 2, 2009 file photo shows the 2011 Hyundai Sonata at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles. On Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, Hyundai is recalling nearly 305,000 Sonata midsize cars because the brake lights can stay on when the driver isn't stopping. The recall covers cars from the 2011 and 2012 model years. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
    Jae C. Hong/AP2011 Hyundai Sonata
    DETROIT -- Hyundai is recalling nearly 305,000 Sonata midsize cars because the brake lights can stay on when the driver isn't stopping.

    The recall covers cars from the 2011 and 2012 model years.

    The company says the stopper pad between the brake pedal and the plunger that turns the lights on can deteriorate. That can make the plunger stick and cause the brake lights to stay illuminated. Also, the transmission could be shifted out of park without the brake on, and the system that lets the brakes override the gas pedal may not work.

    Hyundai says no crashes or injuries have been reported.

    The company plans to tell owners to take their cars to dealers to have the stopper pad replaced. No date has been set for the recall to start.


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    Music Adele
    Chris Pizzello/Invision/APBritish pop star Adele
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with hot shows debuting on leading video streaming services and a once-popular clothing retailer making an unusual acquisition.

    Walmart (WMT) -- Winner

    The turnaround at Walmart continues. The world's largest retailer posted better-than-expected quarterly results this week. This is the fifth quarter in a row of positive comparable-store sales, and that means that this is the first time in several years that Walmart has padded positive comps from the prior year's quarter.

    There are concerns about how Walmart's bottom line will play out in the future. The retailer has already said that a spike in wages will eat into next year's profitability. However, now that sales are growing at the store level, one would think that Walmart is in a strong position to do right by its employees when it bumps its minimum starting wage early next year.

    Urban Outfitters (URBN) -- Loser

    If you can't make dough one way, you may as well try another. Urban Outfitters stunned the market Monday by announcing that it would be acquiring the Pizzeria Vetri chain. The retailer had experimented in the past with offering food at some of its stores, and apparently it thinks that this could be a novel approach. The market isn't buying it.

    It's true that gourmet pizza is popular, lacking the lumpy seasonality and fickle fashion of specialty retail. If the ultimate plan winds up being combining trendy apparel and high-end pizza under the same roof, it would certainly be a differentiator. However, the real concern here -- and why this move falls into the "loser" camp -- is that it will make it harder for the parent company of Anthropologie and its namesake concept to focus on the turnaround that's necessary.

    Streaming Television -- Winner

    Two major TV shows debuted Thursday -- "Jessica Jones" and "The Man in The High Castle" -- and neither one is on traditional television. Netflix's (NFLX) "Jessica Jones" is the latest serialized superhero series from the service's partnership with Marvel.'s (AMZN) "The Man in The High Castle" is an alternative reality series set in 1962 as if the Nazis and Japanese had won World War II.

    Both shows have generated positive buzz, but that's not much of a surprise. Original programming for both Netflix and Amazon has already won Emmy awards. Streaming television has been validated, and having two big shows premiere on the same day is a milestone worth celebrating.

    Streaming Radio -- Loser

    It may have been a great content-grabbing week for Amazon and Netflix, but the same can't be said about streaming radio. Adele's "25" hit record stores Friday, but as The New York Times reported Thursday, the highly anticipated release isn't being made available for streaming services.

    Folks have been flocking to Spotify and Apple (AAPL) Music as a substitute for buying individual tracks, but if too many prolific releases are missing from the catalogs, the services become less compelling. The first Adele single from the record is called "Hello," but it's feeling more like goodbye for the streaming radio providers.

    Square (SQ) -- Winner

    It seemed as if it was going to be an embarrassing IPO for Square. The fast-growing payment platform was hoping to go public between $11 and $13 a share, but lukewarm demand found it settling for just $9 a share.

    A profitless past and breaking off a partnership with Starbucks (SBUX) this summer could have given institutional investors cold feet, but Mr. Market had other plans. The stock began trading Thursday morning at $11.20, closing just above $13 -- the high end of its initial range -- by the end of the trading day.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends, Netflix and Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends Urban Outfitters. 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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    FILE - In this May 22, 2015 file photo, travelers wait in line to check in their luggage at Miami International Airport in Miami.  Heading into winter, fliers should take extra precautions with their checked luggage, December and January are traditionally the worst months for lost bags. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
    Alan Diaz/AP

    NEW YORK -- Heading into winter, fliers should take extra precautions with their checked luggage -- December and January are traditionally the worst months for lost bags.

    To avoid problems, arrive at the airport early enough to let your bag get to the plane, and print out a copy of your itinerary from the airline's website and stick it inside just in case all the tags get ripped off.

    In the U.S. during the first nine months of this year, 3.3 bags for every 1,000 passengers didn't make it to their destination on time, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That's not great if you are one of those people whose bag is delayed or lost. But consider this: during the 2007 peak in air travel, airlines were mishandling more than twice as many suitcases -- 7.2 bags per 1,000 passengers.

    Globally, the baggage-mishandling rate has fallen 61 percent from its peak in 2007, according to SITA, an aviation communications and technology provider. That has saved the industry $18 billion.

    The vast majority of bags -- 80 percent -- aren't lost but just delayed, according to SITA. And it takes about a day and a half to reunite passengers with their bags. Another 14 percent are damaged or have their contents reported stolen. And nearly 6 percent of bags are lost or stolen completely.

    December and January tend to be the worst months because there are a lot of infrequent travelers checking multiple bags, and a few snowstorms can add to delays and suitcases that miss connections.

    The overall improvements to baggage handling come after carriers spent millions of dollars to upgrade their systems.

    Tug drivers now get real-time updates of gate changes so they can change their path and ensure that bags make their connection. Scanners allow bags to be tracked throughout the system, preventing a suitcase bound for Chicago from being loaded onto a plane to Detroit. Gate agents have printers to help tag bags that are checked at the last minute because of full overhead bins. And, overall, fewer bags are being checked because of bag fees.

    "We continue to invest in technology and in processes so we understand where bags are at all times, and we can manage the failure points," says Bill Lentsch, senior vice president for airport customer service and cargo operations at Delta Air Lines (DAL).

    Airlines are also starting to empower passengers -- or at least keep them better informed.

    Delta was the first airline to allow fliers to track their own checked luggage, first on the airline's website in 2011 and then on its mobile app in 2012. Bag tags are scanned when the suitcase is dropped off, loaded onto a plane, loaded onto a connecting flight and then again before being placed on the carousel at baggage claim. Passengers can see all those scans.

    American Airlines (AAL) followed suit in August, allowing passengers to see when a suitcase was loaded or unloaded from a plane. Right now, it is only available on the airline's website but will eventually be part of the mobile app.

    Sitting on a plane ready for takeoff and knowing that your suitcase isn't in the hold below might be frustrating. But airlines say they would rather have passengers know it then and talk immediately to a baggage representative, once on the ground, instead of standing at the carousel waiting for a suitcase that isn't there.

    If your bag is late, you might be able to get some bonus frequent flier miles or even a voucher toward a future flight.

    Since 2010, Alaska Airlines (ALK) has promised that suitcases will be on the carousel within 20 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate. If not, passengers get a $25 voucher for a future flight or 2,500 bonus frequent flier miles. Delta copied that policy this year, offering 2,500 bonus miles to existing members of its frequent flier program -- but no voucher. Act quickly: Alaska requires you to reach out within two hours of arrival; Delta within three days. And ultimately it's your stopwatch against the airlines' -- they are the final arbiter of tardiness.

    And if you wanted to get that $25 checked bag fee refunded, you are out of luck.


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    young woman  shopping online...
    A recent survey indicates that just 61 percent of millennials have at least one credit card. This makes some sense given that new laws about marketing credit to people under the age of 21 have gone into effect in recent years. But now that most millennials are in their young adulthood, we should expect to see those number rise in the coming years. At least I hope so!

    Credit cards get a bad name and it's not entirely undeserved. Some credit is designed to get people caught up in a never ending cycle of borrowing and repayment. We all know someone buried in debt, with little hope of ever digging their way out. Having grown up in the post-Recession world, many millennials are paranoid about taking on debt of any kind.

    The thing is, some debt is necessary to build the kind of financial life that most of the readers of this post will want to have. One of the best ways to move in this direction is to have one or more credit cards. Doing so can help you in the following ways.

    1. You need credit to borrow money in real life situations. There are some financial advisers in pop culture (who will remain unnamed) who recommend that their listeners never get a credit card at all. Instead, these talking heads talk about the power of cash and spin stories about buying new cars with briefcases of big bills. Almost nobody can live out this fantasy. Most of us start with very little money and very little income. To make necessary purchases in life (a car, a house, a business expense), we'll have to borrow.

    Unless we've demonstrated to creditors that we have the ability to pay our debts back responsibly, we'll be unlikely to find a lender to give us money. Those that do give us a loan will likely charge us very high interest rates, just in case we don't pay back the loan. After all, we have no credit history to show that we're honest and trustworthy with borrowed money. A credit card is a simple way to show that you can handle a little bit of credit. You don't have to spend more money just because you have a credit card. Open the account, use it, pay it off quickly, never carry a balance if you can help it and you'll start to build immaculate credit which will result in cheaper money for those times when you absolutely need to borrow.

    2. A credit card gives you another way to approach spending. While it's important to spend less than you earn, there are times in life when you'll need to spend on credit. Maybe you work for yourself and you're waiting for an invoice to be filled, but you've got to pay your electric bill. Maybe you need to reserve some money in your bank account while you cover an unusual purchase with your credit card.

    Furthermore, there will come a time when you'll have an emergency you need to cover (you're broken down on the side of the road, you need to change your flight at the airport, you need to break up your emergency room bill into a few monthly payments rather than a lump sum). Personal finance can get complex and anyone serious about it has found times when a credit card comes in handy. You should always pay off a balance as fast as possible, but there are some times in life when a credit card is indispensable. If you have a solid emergency fund in place, this plays really well with the convenience of credit card spending.

    3. Credit cards give you rewards when you use them. Credit card companies like when you use their product. It's how they make their money, so the more you spend, the better for them. This is why they provide rewards for big users. Rewards have been known to ensnare people in debt cycles, but if you use a credit card for necessary purchases, then pay it off with cash, you can get all the benefits of good rewards with none of the downsides. For people who like to travel internationally, like to eat at awesome restaurants, or enjoy seeing sporting events in person, this is a great method to take advantage of the best perks. Do some research about a credit card that kicks off rewards for stuff you're interested in. This might be a good first card for you.

    You don't have to use a credit card even if you open up an account. Simply having a credit account open for a long time works wonders for your credit score. So, at the very least, simply open up a single credit card, put it in a box and never think about it again.

    Secured credit cards are another way to open up a first credit account without fear of going into debt. Whatever you choose, having a credit card that you don't use is better than nothing. Read up, sign up and enjoy the benefits of your own credit card. It's part of being an adult and it'll help you a lot in the future if you use it right.


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    By Dan Levine

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Major sugar companies and corn refiners including Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) have settled litigation over an ad campaign about high fructose corn syrup, the parties said Friday in a joint statement.

    Terms of the settlement, which was reached in the middle of trial, weren't disclosed.

    Several sugar refiners including global leader ASR Group alleged in a 2011 lawsuit that a Corn Refiners Association advertising campaign describing high fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar" and "natural" was false. The corn refiners countersued, saying the Sugar Association falsely said in its newsletter that corn syrup caused obesity and cancer.

    The case came amid an overall decline in sweetener demand, particularly of corn syrup. The U.S. slowdown is due in part to concerns about high rates of obesity and diabetes.

    Corn refiners argued that sugar processors weren't damaged because they enjoyed record sales and profits during the ad campaign. The sugar growers sought $1.1 billion in compensatory damages over the campaign. The corn refiners asked for about $530 million in their countersuit.

    Both sides "continue their commitments to practices that encourage safe and healthful use of their products, including moderation in the consumption of table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners," the parties said in a joint statement on Friday.

    In 1999, the average American consumed 85.3 pounds of corn sweeteners a year, compared with 66.4 pounds of sugar, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. However, by 2014 corn sweetener consumption had dropped to 60.7 pounds, while sugar consumption stood at 68.4 pounds.

    Overall, the average American consumed 131.1 pounds of sweetener in 2014, down from 153.2 pounds in 1999.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 ruled that corn syrup, used to sweeten foods including soda, couldn't be called sugar.


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    Booking Hotels
    With loads of options and reviews, online travel agencies can be useful resources for your next trip, but if you're using them to book a hotel, you might be paying too much. Let's take a look at a few reasons why.

    First, did you know that online travel agencies charge hotels up to 30 percent to be listed on their sites? As a result, the hotels don't profit as much on those bookings. So, if you book with a hotel directly, the hotel saves more and you can too.

    Hotels are not legally allowed to undercut online travel agencies, but if you call them directly there are no regulations. Chances are they will match the lowest price you find, or sweeten the deal with things like a room upgrade or free WiFi.

    Finally, when you book directly, you also get more choice and flexibility. Hotels only set aside a certain amount of rooms for online travel agencies, but they typically keep the best rooms for themselves to sell directly.

    By calling the hotel you can book a room that's better than what you would've gotten online. Best of all, if you have any issues with your reservation, you'll be connected to the hotel and not an automated number.

    So, before you make reservations, remember these tips. When you book directly with a hotel, you might be surprised by how much you can save.

    View Poll


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street racked up a solid week Friday, with health care, technology and consumer stocks making gains and investors looking beyond a widely expected December interest rate hike.

    The S&P 500 ended its strongest week in almost a year, while the Dow Jones industrial average erased its year-to-date loss, led by a 5.5 percent jump in Nike (NKE), which announced a $12 billion share buyback and a 2-for-1 share split.

    The sporting goods-maker helped send the consumer discretionary sector up 1.2 percent, making it the top gainer among the 10 major S&P sectors.

    There's more risk now that if they don't raise in December, then people will worry that we're still not out of the woods.

    Health care rose 0.7 percent, led by Allergan's (AGN) 3.5 percent increase. The drugmaker rose on reports that the U.S. Treasury's new tax inversion rules were unlikely to thwart its proposed deal with Pfizer (PFE).

    Minutes from the Fed's October meeting, released Wednesday, hardened expectations of a December interest rate hike and hinted at a cautious approach after that.

    Many on Wall Street believe that raising rates next month will be interpreted as a sign of confidence in the U.S. economic recovery.

    "There's more risk now that if they don't raise in December, then people will worry that we're still not out of the woods," said Jerry Braakman, chief investment officer at First American Trust, in Santa Ana, California, which manages $1 billion.

    With little inflation on the horizon, the Fed is likely to raise borrowing costs only gradually next year, which should help keep Wall Street content, Braakman said.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 0.5 percent to end at 17,823.81 points and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 0.4 percent to 2,089.17. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 0.6 percent to 5,104.92.

    The S&P gained 3.3 percent for the week, its best showing since December. The Dow rose 3.4 percent for the week and the Nasdaq added 3.6 percent.

    Next week is likely to see tepid trading volume, with many investors taking time off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

    Movers and Shakers

    Alphabet (GOOGL), Google's parent company, rose more than 2 percent after Reuters reported the company was planning to launch the Chinese version of its Google Play smartphone app next year. The stock was the biggest influence on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

    Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) surged 25 percent. Its quarterly profit more than doubled and same-store sales fell less than expected.

    Sprint (S) tumbled 5.4 percent after the wireless carrier said it would raise about $1.1 billion in cash through a sale and lease-back deal with a company backed by Japan's SoftBank.

    Tesla Motors (TSLA) lost 0.8 percent after it said it was recalling 90,000 Model S sedans to check for a possible seatbelt defect.

    Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,819 to 1,249. On the Nasdaq, 1,751 issues rose and 1,014. The S&P 500 index showed 32 new 52-week highs and nine new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 76 new highs and 81 new lows.

    About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.2 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Abhiram Nandakumar contributed reporting from Bangalore, India.

    What to watch Monday:
    • The National Association of Realtors releases existing home sales for October at 10 a.m. Eastern time.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results.
    • GameStop (GME)
    • Palo Alto Networks (PANW)
    • Tyson Foods (TSN)


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    By Cameron Huddleston

    Managing your finances can be confusing. You might hear all sorts of advice that seems prudent. And you might assume that you're taking the right approach by acting on this advice.

    But what seems like a smart course of action might actually jeopardize your financial security. Here are 10 personal finance statements that financial experts have heard at least once from clients or others that weren't wise moves.

    1. 'I want to cash out my IRA and buy a new truck.'

    Jeff Rose, a certified financial planner and founder of Alliance Wealth Management, said a client once said he wanted to use the money in his IRA to buy a new fully loaded GMC Denali. It might have seemed like a good idea to Rose's client because he would be using his own money rather than borrowing to make the purchase. But there's a high price to tapping an IRA before retirement.

    "When I explained to him the taxes he would be paying by cashing out his retirement account were almost half of what the truck's sticker price was, he back pedaled a bit," Rose said. IRA withdrawals are treated as taxable income and subject to an additional 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if you take money out of your account before age 59½. Plus, cashing out an IRA before retirement might mean you won't have enough money saved to retire.

    2. 'I'm going to pull my money out of stocks and wait until the market straightens out to get back in.'

    Investors often say this during market downturns because they're afraid their investments will lose value, said Ken Weber, president of Weber Asset Management and author of "Dear Investor, What the Hell Are You Doing?" But their reasoning is flawed.

    "When you get out when the market is low, you're locking in your losses and you're locking yourself out of the eventual recovery," Weber said. As long as you have a diversified portfolio of mutual funds, you should stay the course during downturns.

    3. 'I'll save for retirement after I pay off student loans, buy a house and send the kids to college.'

    If retirement is far off in your future, it might seem smart to prioritize other financial obligations. "Saving for retirement is last on people's list in our immediate gratification society," said Robert Johnson, president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services, which provides education for financial professionals.

    However, time is what people need to be able to save adequately for retirement. "Success in investing is not about timing the market, but time in the market," he said. "You simply can't wait until retirement is approaching to start planning for retirement."

    4. 'Let's consolidate our credit card debt with a personal loan.'

    Using a personal loan that carries a lower interest rate can be a good way to pay off high-interest credit card balances and wipe out your debt quicker. However, if you continue using those cards and charge more than you can afford to pay off, then you are setting yourself up for financial trouble because you'll have a personal loan and credit cards to pay, said Michelle Black, a credit expert with the credit education and restoration company Hope4USA.

    "Consolidation must be coupled with a commitment to financial change," she said. "Otherwise, you are only creating a larger problem for yourself to try to deal with down the road."

    5. 'Take advantage of buy now, pay later.'

    This advice was given to Jason Hull when he was buying his first home. Hull, a certified financial planner and chief technology officer for online financial planning service myFinancialAnswers, was considering a Department of Veterans Affairs mortgage offer to veterans and service members that often doesn't require a down payment.

    "While putting no money down meant that we could purchase a house that we otherwise could not have purchased for lack of a down payment, it also encouraged bad financial behavior right as we were starting out: namely, buying now and paying later," Hull said. The better course of action is to rent until you've saved up enough for a 20 percent down payment so you're not saddled with excessive mortgage debt.

    6. 'The way this country is going, I don't want to invest.'

    Weber said that he's heard this countless times over the years because people are afraid by what they hear or read in the news. Don't let fear guide your investing decisions, he said. Instead, if you need guidance, hire a professional who can help you pick the right mix of investments that will offer growth while meeting your tolerance for risk.

    7. 'I have credit card debt but want to open a new card to get 25,000 airline miles.'

    As tempting as the offer may be, you shouldn't take advantage of it, says Heather Lovett, director of public relations for DealNews. "If you are carrying credit card debt, your only goal should be paying off that extremely expensive debt," she said.

    Most credit cards that offer travel rewards require that you spend a minimum amount to accrue points or free miles. "Those free miles will suddenly be very expensive when the $3,000 minimum spend costs you 22 percent in interest per year," Lovett said. "And if you fall further behind, your credit score will drop, making any future borrowing more expensive."

    8. 'I don't need to worry about retirement savings because I expect to get an inheritance.'

    It's unwise to assume that just because your parents are retired and seem to be doing well, you will inherit a significant sum, said Michael Fuhr, a certified financial planner with SageVest Wealth Management. Your parents may need a large portion of their assets for health-related expenses, especially if they require nursing home care and don't have long-term care insurance to cover it, he said. If there are multiple siblings, a potential inheritance may be reduced further.

    Or your parents might decide to spend their hard-earned money on themselves during retirement. "If you don't know what their plan is, then you can't assume it includes you in a significant way," Fuhr said. It's always best to be disciplined and save for your own retirement.

    9. 'Let's use our savings to start a business.'

    It's good to have an entrepreneurial spirit. But you should also realize that many businesses fail, said Priyanka Prakash, a lending specialist at "A lot of people with hopes of owning a business dump their entire life savings into it," he said. If the business goes belly up, they might have to declare bankruptcy.

    Prakash said new business owners should have saved enough to cover six to 12 months' worth of expenses to fall back on if the venture doesn't succeed or grow as fast as expected. He also suggested that they limit exposure to their personal assets by finding outside investors for their business.

    10. 'That won't happen to me.'

    People often assume they don't need to insure themselves against disaster, said Jeff Jones, a certified financial planner with Longview Financial Advisors. He also said that many believe they won't need long-term care.

    "We are living longer and a long-term-care need, such as an extended nursing home stay, may be one of the largest single financial risks to a retiree's financial plan," he said.

    The average annual cost of care in an assisted-living facility is $43,200 and is $91,250 for a private room in a nursing home, according to Genworth's 2015 Cost of Care Survey. Medicare offers limited coverage. Medicaid programs typically require that all of your assets are spent before coverage becomes available, Fuhr said. However, a long-term-care insurance policy can help offset the tremendous cost of assisted living and nursing home care.

    This story, 10 Infamous 'Last Words' of Personal Finance, originally appeared on


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    By Emily Lugg

    Chilly winter weather is synonymous with cozy sweaters, hot cocoa -- and steep energy bills. It's no surprise that running the heating system on high nonstop pushes monthly costs sky high. But there's no reason to go broke staying warm. Here are 15 energy-efficient tips that should make heating bills less burdensome.

    Take the heat down a notch. Each degree lower on the thermostat for a period of at least eight hours -- when everyone is asleep or at work -- can cut the heating bill by 1 percent, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy. This doesn't mean freezing at night. Just throw on warmer pajamas or snuggle under an extra blanket.

    Install a programmable thermostat. Anyone afraid they won't remember to turn down the heat before leaving the house or going to bed should consider installing a programmable thermostat. These nifty devices control the indoor temperature 24/7 and will generate the most savings if no one messes with the settings when they feel chilly. Grab a sweater instead.

    Reduce drafts. Realize savings up to 30 percent on energy bills by covering up drafty windows and doors and sealing air leaks, according to the Department of Energy. A rolled-up towel is an easy and cheap way to stop a draft. Seal small spaces open to the outdoors with a scrap of fabric or an old necktie filled with sand. Cover up windows with insulating plastic to keep heat in.

    Install storm doors and windows. This is a more permanent way to cut down on drafts that enter the house through inefficient doors and windows. The home improvement site ImproveNet lays out the costs and the pros and cons of this project, and asserts it can boost a home's energy efficiency by 45 percent.

    Change furnace filters. Dirty furnace filters can restrict airflow, making the heating system work harder, which in turn can boost heating bills. Filters should be cleaned or replaced monthly during the cold season. Keeping tabs on the furnace filter also can pare medical bills. The more efficient the filter, the more allergens and debris it catches, thus preventing these irritants from circulating in the air.

    Run fans in reverse. Changing the direction of a ceiling fan can shave as much as 10 percent off monthly heating bills. Flipping a switch on the fan turns the traditional counterclockwise rotation that produces a cool breeze to a clockwise rotation that pushes warm air back into circulation.

    Turn down the water heater. The standard setting for a hot water heater is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. But The Simple Dollar notes that dialing down to 120 degrees, which is still plenty warm, can push energy costs down by 6 to 10 percent. Other strategies, such as a tankless or solar water heater, may have a bigger impact but require an initial investment of at least several hundred dollars.

    Be diligent about maintenance. Just like any other major appliance, a furnace needs regular tune-ups. Keeping it clean and properly adjusted helps it run efficiently and prolongs its lifespan. Check with the local utility company or the furnace manufacturer about annual inspections -- some offer this service at no charge. And plan ahead, because many consumers will be calling for a technician as the weather turns colder.

    Use caulk and weather stripping. Windows and doors aren't the only spots where warm air leaks out of the house. Keep an eye out for places where two types of building materials meet -- corners, chimneys, and around pipes and wires. Test for leaks by waving a stick of incense around the house and noting areas where the smoke wafts. Walk around the outside of the house with a hair dryer and aim it at trouble spots, such as windows; if a lit candle on the inside flickers or goes out, there's a leak. Plug up these energy suckers with caulk and weather stripping.

    Seal the ducts. The Energy Department warns that about 20 percent of heated air can escape through the ductwork in a house. Have the ducts evaluated by a professional to determine if sealing or any other improvement is necessary. Although there's a cost to these repairs, annual savings can hit $120. Properly sealed ductwork also better protects against dust and mold.

    Keep an eye on warm water usage. Who doesn't love a long, hot shower in the depths of winter? But the more water a shower head disperses, the more heat is needed to warm it. Installing a low-flow shower head saves money in two ways: It cuts down on energy usage as well as on water usage. Insulating the water tank yields even more savings.

    Look at the clock. Energy is cheaper during off-peak hours; that is, before about 7 a.m. and after about 10 p.m., depending on the local utility. Set the thermostat to heat the house shortly before and after off-peak hours end and begin, and to turn off when the desired temperature is reached. A well-sealed home will retain the heat until everyone leaves for the day or retires for the night. Also, running appliances at off-peak times shaves dollars off monthly energy bills.

    Heat a smaller space. Why heat the rest of the house when you're using only one room? Buy a space heater for about $30 and set it up in the most heavily used area of the home. By concentrating the heat in one spot, it's possible to lower the thermostat. Although running the portable heater certainly has a cost, it may be less than keeping the entire house at a toasty temperature.

    Block the chimney. Make sure the damper in the chimney is shut tight. This simple step will prevent heated air from escaping the home out the chimney. The financial benefits are apparent without making any additional investment.

    Insulate the attic and basement. Out of sight and out of mind, perhaps, but the cool air in uninsulated parts of the house contributes to the overall cost of heating. According to the Energy Star program, insulating an attic, crawl space, basement walls and the floor above an unfinished basement can reduce heating costs by an average of 15 percent. Although the price of insulating an attic can exceed $1,000, the investment should pay off in a few seasons.


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    Holiday meal
    Getty ImagesThanksgiving feasts can be tasty without being too pricey.

    With Thanksgiving fast approaching, many of us are already licking our lips at the promise of plump turkeys and flaky apple pies. But those of us who've hosted before know there can be a lot of time, energy and money that goes into laying out the Thanksgiving dinner table.

    With a bit of thoughtful planning and a resourceful shopping strategy, however, you can tackle Thanksgiving dinner without spending a fortune. Below, we've listed 12 frugal shopping tips for saving money while celebrating the season of giving.

    Start early. Thanksgiving planning should begin weeks before Thanksgiving eve. By planning ahead, you allow yourself time to hunt down the best deals and spare yourself the stress of rushing out to find a last minute item on Thanksgiving Day at a corner shop, where prices may be marked up. The more shopping and preparation you are able to do in advance, the more time you'll have on Thanksgiving to relax with family and linger over second slices of pumpkin pie.

    Map out your menu. It's easy to go off budget when shopping for Thanksgiving, when grocery stores employ a variety of marketing strategies to encourage customers to spend. To avoid overstepping your budget, plan your menu carefully and create a shopping list of items you'll need. Divide your shopping list into non-perishables; items you can purchase straight away; and products you need to purchase fresh a day or two before Thanksgiving.

    Narrow down your shopping list. Before heading to the supermarket, explore your pantry to see what items and supplies you already have. If you are inviting friends or family, call them up to ask if they would be willing to bring a side dish, appetizer or drink. Revisit your list to determine which items you can cross off.

    Do your homework. In an effort to compete for Thanksgiving Day shoppers, grocery stores often offer some serious deals on turkeys and other Thanksgiving staples. Check out the websites of your local grocery stores, or compare paper ads and circulars to identify which stores have the best deals on which products. Keep an eye out for coupons and specials.

    Take advantage of loyalty programs. You'll find that most major supermarkets have some kind of loyalty program that rewards members with exclusive deals and discounts. Safeway, Walgreens and Target all have attractive loyalty programs that are free to join. Take advantage of your store's loyalty program by signing up and using your card every time you shop.

    Avoid premade and prepared products. When it comes to side dishes, sauces and desserts, it pays more to do it yourself. Prepared foods and premade items are typically marked up anywhere from 40 to 100 percent. If you allot enough time to simmer up your own sauces, make your own stuffing and bake your own pies, you can maximize both savings and flavor.

    Don't shy away from generics. Buying generic or off-brand products doesn't mean losing out on taste. In fact, many generic products are comparable in every way to their name-brand counterparts in terms of ingredients and quality. Don't be afraid to go for generics over fancy labels, especially when it comes to dry goods, grains and frozen produce.

    Be flexible. While planning a menu in advance is essential, you should be prepared to tweak your list according to what's on sale. For instance, if you had been hoping to make a cherry cobbler, but you find that cherries are pricier than you expected this season, there's no harm in swapping out cherry cobbler for apple pie on your menu.

    Order cookware and gear online. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, you can find great deals on cookware, serving utensils, tableware, Tupperware and other Thanksgiving gear on the Web.

    Go for dollar store decorations. Dollar stores can be a treasure trove of deals on paper goods. You can find everything from paper plates to festive decorations at dollar stores for $1 apiece.

    Be resourceful with leftovers. Before the big day, make sure you stock up on Tupperware and clear out plenty of space in your fridge to make room for leftovers. Leftover turkey can be transformed into hearty stews, spicy curry and kid-friendly sandwiches; while mashed potatoes can be cooked into savory potato and shepherd's pies. Our personal favorite post-Thanksgiving recipe is cranberry-carrot muffins made with leftover cranberry relish for tartness and moisture.

    Plan for next year. After Thanksgiving, harvest centerpieces, decorations and other Thanksgiving-themed merchandise is deeply discounted, as retailers clear their stores for holiday gear. Snatch up these deals today, and you can save yourself money and time next Thanksgiving.

    Maria Lalonde honed her deal-hunting skills while traveling through South America and Southeast Asia, combing colorful local markets for unique finds. Her love of blogging and thirst for deals brought her to, where she blogs about savings tips.


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    Christmas is fast approaching, and that means money is going to start flying out of your pocket at breakneck speed.

    It doesn't matter how much we talk about the spirit of the season being what really counts. The reality is the holidays mean paying for presents, parties and extra food. If you are already struggling under a mountain of debt, it only gets worse.

    It may be tempting to think you'll charge one last holiday and buckle down in January, but that is the mindset that keeps you in debt.

    Trust me. I may be debt-free and have an emergency fund now, but I could tell you about the Christmas we searched for a tree farm that took checks because there was no money in the bank and the credit cards were maxed out.

    What changed? It wasn't our income, that's for sure. It was our mindset. Unless you change yours, here are five reasons you'll never get out of debt.

    1. You don't have a budget or track spending. Some people are number geeks and could spend all day slicing and dicing their budget numbers. You know who you are.

    For everyone else, budgets can be boring, restricting, dumb ... pick your favorite adjective.
    However, if you don't know where your money is going or even how much you make monthly, you'll never get out of debt. Every time you open your bank account, it will be a crapshoot whether there is money there.

    Tracking your expenses used to entail pencils, spreadsheets and agony. Now you can simply use a service like that provided by our partner, PowerWallet, to do everything for you effortlessly and free. No more excuses.

    2. You shop for fun. Once spending money becomes a form of recreation, you can probably kiss your savings goodbye. Unless you have a large amount of disposable income, chances are you can't afford to spend indiscriminately.

    People who shop for fun spend on a whim. They see something they want, and they buy it with no thought to whether they need it or can afford it. If you pass your time wandering aimlessly at the mall or surfing retailers online, don't be surprised if your savings account balance hovers around the single digits while your credit card balance climbs to its ceiling.

    3. You surround yourself with the wrong people. Likewise, you will never get ahead if you are running with a crowd that is constantly trying to "one up" one another. Keeping up with the Joneses is not good for your pocketbook.

    I don't want you to ditch good friends, but I do think it's smart to consider whether you need to spend time with casual acquaintances who are more interested in keeping up appearances than in keeping up your friendship.

    Instead, look for like-minded people who appreciate you for who you are even if you can't afford to be dining at that swanky new restaurant every week.

    4. You have an 'as soon as ... ' mentality. This was one of my downfalls: I always had an excuse for why I couldn't get my money under control.
    • As soon as the holidays are done, I'll write out a budget.
    • As soon as I get a better-paying job, I'll start paying down debt.
    • As soon as I finish buying the last of the Disney movies for the kids, I'll stop spending.
    The timing will never be perfect. Smart money management is like dieting and exercise: You will always find a reason to put it off. Waiting for the stars to align is a surefire way to remain in debt indefinitely.

    5. You have a character flaw. Let's get right down to it: You may be in debt and stay in debt because you are simply too lazy, weak or self-indulgent.


    Remember, I've been there. I'm not judging; I'm looking in the mirror. We want to think our debt is the result of forces outside ourselves -- the hospital stay, the lousy economy, the housing market. However, at the end of the day, we need to take responsibility for our own actions.

    I am not talking about people living in poverty, and I am not talking about those who experienced something catastrophic, such as a total disability, that pushed them over the edge.

    I am talking about middle-class families who live like upper-class families even though our paychecks can't support the lifestyle. We need to acknowledge our part in our debt.

    Just maybe if we lived below our means and saved for a rainy day, we would be able to weather life's storms a little better.

    My character flaws were self-indulgence and weakness. I had a hard time saying no to myself when I could so easily justify purchases with the idea that "everyone uses credit cards."

    By the time I hit that fateful year in which I had no money and no tree a week before Christmas, I had dug myself a deep hole. It took me nearly 10 years to climb out.

    But today, I have money in the bank and don't freak out when the van makes a strange noise because I know I can pay for a repair. It's a wonderful feeling. I love living this way, and I know you will too.

    What do you think? Am I wrong about why people stay in debt? Feel free to tell me in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

    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!

    Household Debt at Highest Level Since 2010: NY Fed


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    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Rebecca Borison (AMZN) is known for keeping quiet when it comes to numbers on its Prime membership program, but analysts certainly have high hopes for the subscription service.

    Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie Securities, recently told The New York Times that by 2020, he expected half of American households would be Prime members. He added that the prediction was conservative. By some estimates, Amazon Prime already reaches about a third of U.S. households.

    In 2013, Amazon shared that it had "tens of millions" of Prime members worldwide, and at the end of 2014, the company said global Prime subscriptions were up 53 percent and North America subscriptions were up 50 percent. But beyond those teases, Amazon has remained tight-lipped.

    When asked about Prime growth during the third-quarter conference call, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky merely said, "We are very happy with the growth, not only in participation, but also purchases and retention, and we had a very successful Prime Day in July that we're really happy [about]."

    The Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that Amazon has reached 44 million U.S. Prime members, and according to analysts at Cowen, U.S. Prime subscriptions reached 40 million in October.

    The question now is how much room there is for growth. Schacter, who estimates that Amazon will have at least 40 million Prime subscribers globally by the end of the year and possibly as many as 60 million, sees the U.S. growth trajectory continuing to a point where at least 50 percent of American households have Prime. There are currently about 115 million households in the U.S., according to Census data, which implies that Schachter believes Amazon will reach at least 58 million Prime subscriptions in the U.S. in the next five years.

    Schachter didn't immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

    Other analysts agree seem to suggest this milestone could be reached even sooner.

    RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney thinks the U.S. number could already be close to 50 million, based on a September survey of 1,617 U.S. consumers in which 40 percent said they were Prime members.

    Needham analyst Kerry Rice also believes Prime is well on its way.

    "If the estimates are correct that there are 30 to 50 million Prime accounts [in the U.S.], it seems that reaching 58 million households should be achievable," Rice said. "The implications are certainly positive for Amazon, as Prime members spend significantly more than non-Prime members."

    Prime membership costs $99 a year and includes free two-day shipping along with a number of other benefits like video and music streaming, cloud storage, and access to Prime Now, which delivers select products within an hour.

    Assuming Amazon keeps the cost of Prime membership at $99 a year, those potential 58 million households in 2020 could generate as much as $5.7 billion a year in revenue.

    But for Amazon, it goes well beyond the annual fee. Prime members tend to spend much more with Amazon than non-Prime members and are incredibly valuable to the company.

    ITG analyst Steve Weinstein estimated that Prime members spend $1,000 more a year on average compared to non-Prime members, and research firm Millward Brown estimates Prime members are almost five times more likely to make a purchase in the same shopping session compared to non-Prime members.

    "What our data suggests is that Prime Members are materially more loyal (more spend, more purchases, more satisfaction, more intent to spend) than non-Prime customers," RBC's Mahaney wrote in a note in September. "What is more, our analysis suggests that as Prime Members mature (Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, etc.), they also become materially more loyal (more spend, more purchases, more satisfaction, more intent to spend)."


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    Rustic Thankgiving Dinner
    Getty Images
    By Emily Lugg

    Thanksgiving is a time for friends and families to share a festive meal and reflect on their blessings. Along with that comes the expectation of a full-on turkey dinner, not to mention the stress associated with planning, spending, and cooking. But hosts have options besides preparing a meal from scratch: carry out from a commercial eatery or grocery store, organize a potluck or dine at a restaurant.

    Believe it or not, the alternatives are easier on the wallet. In a comparative price check, found that a home-cooked meal for eight rang up at $13.20 a person compared with $10 for restaurant takeout, $11.25 for grocery store takeout, and $11.99 for an adult restaurant meal.


    Many restaurants and grocery stores offer prepared meals that include everything needed to satisfy Thanksgiving cravings. A quick survey of takeout menus and prices at several national chains found that a Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings can be procured for about $10 a person.

    Takeout From a Restaurant

    National chain Bob Evans charges $79.99 for a complete turkey dinner for eight ($10 a person). Four can enjoy a similar repast for $49.99 ($12.50 a person).
    • Roasted turkey breast or sliced boneless ham (4 lbs.)
    • Bread and celery dressing (40 oz.)
    • Green beans with ham (40 oz.)
    • Buttered sweet corn (40 oz.)
    • Mashed potatoes with gravy (40 oz. potatoes/32 oz. gravy)
    • Cranberry relish (12 oz.)
    • Rolls (12)
    • Pumpkin bread loaf
    • Pumpkin pie with topping
    Takeout From a Grocery Store

    The Kroger supermarket chain offers the "supreme" Thanksgiving dinner, which serves eight, for $89.99 ($11.25 a person).
    • Roasted turkey (13-16 lbs.)
    • Mashed potatoes (two 24-oz. containers)
    • Stuffing (two 32-oz. containers)
    • Turkey gravy (two 24-oz. containers)
    • Cranberry celebration (two 16-oz. containers)
    • Dinner rolls (two 12-count packages)
    Takeout From a Grocery Store (Express)

    Kroger also offers just the essentials for six diners, which lowers the price to $49.99 ($8.33 a person). When planning the budget, remember to factor in a few homemade side dishes and dessert to round out the meal.
    • Roasted turkey (10-13 lbs.)
    • Mashed potatoes (24 oz.)
    • Stuffing (32 oz.)
    • Turkey gravy (24 oz.)
    • Dinner rolls (12)

    Dining Out

    To avoid meal prep and cleanup entirely, eating out is the way to go. The price is about the same as takeout for adults, and considerably less for children. Many restaurants offer kids' meals at a savings of about $5. A Thanksgiving meal at the Cracker Barrel chain costs $11.99 for adults and $6.99 for children (tip and tax not included).
    • Turkey and gravy
    • Cornbread dressing
    • Sugar-cured ham
    • Sweet potato casserole
    • Cranberry relish
    • Choice of country side
    • Biscuits or corn muffins
    • Slice of pumpkin pecan streusel pie with real whipped cream
    • Beverage

    Cooking From Scratch

    Surprisingly, a Thanksgiving meal from scratch is the most expensive. Based on full prices for Kroger store brands, the grocery bill for eight people eating a complete turkey dinner at home totals $105.59 ($13.20 a person). Halve the number of guests and the price comes to $65.91 ($16.48 a person).
    • Turkey (16 lbs.): $25.44
    • Mashed potatoes/gravy: $15.41
    • Stuffing: $12.01
    • Green bean casserole: $8.86
    • Buttered corn: $4.14
    • Cranberry relish: $3.98
    • Pumpkin pie: $31.96
    • Rolls: $3.79
    Savings Tips for Home Cooks

    Raid the pantry before heading to the store, and keep an eye out for sales and savings that come with a loyalty card. Alternatively, purchase a pre-cooked turkey and the side dishes that are the costliest to make from scratch and prepare the rest of the feast in the kitchen. A no-frills takeout meal that includes mashed potatoes saves $10 for the ingredients, along with the time and effort required to boil and mash them. A store-bought pumpkin pie costs about $5 compared with nearly $15 to bake from scratch. Another money-saving idea: Delegate responsibilities by arranging a potluck. The host provides the turkey or ham and the guests contribute the fixings.


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    Plates of little iced cup cakes for a 70th birthday party UK
    Alamy"Everyone faces financial challenges at different points in life. The older you get, the less wiggle room you have..."
    By Kimberly Palmer

    Our money needs -- and demands -- are constantly shifting as we age. By the time we reach our 60s, if we've planned well, we have a sizable nest egg that will support us into our older years as we scale back or stop work altogether. That doesn't mean it's time to take a hands-off approach to money, however. In fact, many financial advisers say the pre-retirement years comprise a critical period when it comes to making investing, spending and saving decisions.

    "Everyone faces financial challenges at different points in life. The older you get, the less wiggle room you have, with fewer options to right your past wrongs," says Erika Safran, a certified financial planner and founder of Safran Wealth Advisors based in New York. Older adults should also be on guard against potential cognitive decline, financial abuse and increased costs associated with declining health, all while planning to make accumulated nest eggs last a lifetime.

    To compile the following list of money steps to take before your 70th birthday, U.S. News asked members of the Financial Planning Association, a Denver-based organization with over 17,000 certified financial planners, to share their best tips. Here are their suggestions:

    Review your current financial outlook. Safran suggests reviewing all of your current (and future) assets, income and expenses to make sure they are sustainable during retirement. If they aren't, ask yourself what needs to be done, such as reducing debt, working for longer or paying off your mortgage. She urges people to budget conservatively for future costs, which might include additional health care or home upgrades and maintenance.

    Map out any extra big expenses. If you're planning to take a big trip to Machu Picchu, for example, then it makes sense to plan ahead for that expense, says Neal Van Zutphen,​ a certified financial planner in Tempe, Arizona. To figure out just how you might spend your time over the next decade, imagine life in your 70s and take time now to explore activities such as volunteering, mentoring or taking classes​ you might also enjoy later, he adds.

    Lock down your estate plans. Consider your legacy, says Juan C. Ros,​ a certified financial planner at the Lamia Financial Group in Thousand Oaks, California. He suggests having not only a will and living trust in place, but also an advance directive for health care and power of attorney for finances. "Seniors approaching 70 should also double check their beneficiary designations in their company retirement plans, their individual retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, bank accounts and life insurance policies," he suggests. He says he often notices clients have no beneficiaries or outdated ones listed.

    Tell your adult children where important documents are located. Just in case you become incapacitated and need to hand over the reins to a family member, you'll want to share the names of the financial professionals whom you work with, says Nivedita Persaud,​ a certified financial planner and managing director at Transition Planning & Guidance in Atlanta. On a similar note, she suggests using your smartphone to make short videos that share your money advice for your children and grandchildren. "It's a great way to pass on financial literacy and values," she says.

    Consolidate retirement accounts. If you've amassed multiple retirement accounts throughout your career, as many people do, then it might be a good idea to consolidate them, says Taylor Schulte, ​certified financial planner and founder of Define Financial in San Diego. "When required minimum distributions begin at age 70½, clients are relieved when they only have to deal with one financial institution to calculate their [required minimum distributions] each year," he says. "It also helps [them] simplify their life and feel more organized as they transition into retirement."

    Delay Social Security. If you think you'll reach the average lifespan​ of 84 years (for men age 65 today) or 86 (for women age 65 today), according to the Social Security Administration, delaying Social Security until age 70 could pay off. You receive a higher monthly payout if you wait, explains Steve Burkett, ​a certified financial planner in Bothell, Washington. He adds that you might want to consider a Roth conversion if you are currently in a low income bracket because of retirement. "Consider locking in that tax rate and converting some IRA money to Roth IRA money, which will help you pay a lower tax rate now -- and lower your future required minimum distributions subject to potentially higher future tax rates," he says.

    Keep investing. "Buy stocks to beat inflation," says Scott Ranby, ​a certified financial planner at Kuhn Advisors in Denver. "Once you reach age 70, you've still got plenty of life ahead of you -- some 14 to 16 years of life expectancy. Avoid the temptation to get overly conservative with your investments, and keep a good portion in stocks," he says. That's because stocks are more likely to stay ahead of inflation than cash or bonds, which can help you maintain your standard of living.

    Start giving money away. If you begin formally gifting money to your children or grandchildren now, it could help reduce your family estate taxes in the long run, says Brian Power, a certified financial planner at Gateway Wealth Management in Westfield, New Jersey. "They most likely need the help," he says, especially if adult children are in the high-cost years of raising a family.

    Travel now. Yes, it's expensive, but spending money on trips now can be a smart idea, too. "Your health may not always be with you in retirement, so don't procrastinate big life experiences. Incorporate at least one bucket list item into your financial plan before you turn 70," says Michael H. Baker, a certified financial planner based in Charlotte, North Carolina, who works primarily with baby boomers. ​

    Spend time with those you love. On the same carpe diem note, Leslie Beck,​ a certified financial planner and principal at Compass Wealth Management in Wood Ridge, New Jersey, encourages clients to spend time with their grandchildren while they're still relatively young and healthy. "The memories made will be precious," she says.

    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 @KimberlyPalmer, connect with her on Facebook or email her at


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    moving boxes  guitar  flower...
    ShutterstockBefore uprooting your life, consider if the money gained is worth the perks you'll lose.
    By Nicole Schreck

    If there's one thing all renters worry about, it's how much they're paying for rent. While most financial experts agree that the amount you pay monthly should be less than a third of your monthly income, young renters with entry-level salaries sometimes have a tough time paying less than half of what they make.

    This is especially true in big cities. For example, take San Francisco: The median rental rate for a one-bedroom is $3,931 a month, according to data, and the census says the per capita income is $48,846. Let's do some quick math: The cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment for 12 months in San Francisco at the median rate is $47,172 -- or 97 percent of the per capita income for the city.

    With rent prices going up across the country, many apartment dwellers are questioning whether paying so much is even worth it. While many people would never give up a great location downtown -- even though they're paying a few thousand more each year -- others may wonder if moving farther away from cities for cheaper rent could help them create a more fulfilling lifestyle. So, what do you think? Is relocating to give yourself a financial break worth it? Here are some tips to help you decide.

    Think about the other side of the coin. If you're considering relocating to a smaller city, town, suburb, or a less expensive neighborhood, you're likely considering the benefits. And these advantages are nothing to scoff at, either: Paying less for rent means more money for necessities, entertainment, savings and retirement. In turn, this means less financial stress overall. For most people, that would be a huge weight lifted.

    However, before taking the plunge and relocating, it's crucial to look at the flip side of the coin. You know what you're gaining, but what might you be giving up? A great location with a lot of things to do nearby? Living in the same city as your friends or family members? Being a quick jaunt away from work on public transit? These factors should be considered.

    Give the commute a try. For many, relocating to pay less in rent means lengthening their commute substantially. Some people in this situation opt to find another job, while others choose to commit to the long commute. However, it can be easy to underestimate the toll of this longer trip from home to work.
    Tacking on an extra 45 minutes to and from work takes almost two hours out of your day. Before committing to the relocation, give the commute a try and see how long it will realistically take. Will you be able to handle it daily if you decide to move?

    Ask friends and relatives. It's never a bad idea to talk to your friends and relatives about whether relocating is right for you. In particular, try to talk to someone who lives in the city or town where you're considering relocating. Does he or she think the move will be worth it? Is it a place he or she could see you flourishing?

    Do some exploring. If you do decide to relocate, what will you miss most about where you currently live? If you live in a big city, spend some time exploring your favorite places and neighborhoods, and really think about whether you would miss having easy access to them.

    Then, explore areas of the city you don't know as well. Walk around neighborhoods that are less expensive than where you're currently living, and see what they have to offer. Maybe you'll find that relocating to a neighborhood that doesn't cost quite as much is a good compromise.

    Don't forget to consider the costs of moving. Moving isn't cheap, so taking all your belongings to a new city or town is probably going to cost you a pretty penny. Whether you hire movers or try to do the whole move yourself, you'll likely drop at least a few hundred dollars on packing and transporting everything, and even more applying for a new apartment and putting down a security deposit.

    If the amount of rent you pay drastically decreases, these moving expenses will balance out over the first few months following your move -- but you'll need to make sure you have some money saved to cover the upfront costs.

    Consider your quality of life. All the tips outlined above are really just about weighing the pros and cons of relocating. In the end, a move out of a city is right for some people and not for others. Consider what you'll be giving up if you relocate, and decide if paying less in rent each month is worth that loss. If you think moving will give you a better quality of life overall, then what are you waiting for? Take the plunge, and do what you know is right for you.

    Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and provides tips on how to move.


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    woman shocked at reading her credit card bill / bank statement
    By Karla Bowsher

    Your wireless bill may have fallen in recent years, but costs are increasing in one area.
    The taxes and fees tacked onto wireless bills have increased in all but one state this year -- and increased to a record high average, the Tax Foundation reports.

    Federal, state and local fees now amount to nearly 18 percent of the average U.S. wireless customer's bill, an increase of about 1 percent from last year and "almost two and one half times higher than the general sales tax rate imposed on most other taxable goods and services," the foundation reports.

    The nonprofit research and educational group explains in a blog post:
    Wireless industry competition has led to significant reductions in average monthly bills, even as consumers get new and expanded wireless plans. However, the consumer benefits of lower wireless prices have been partially offset by increases in government taxes and fees.
    From 2008 to 2015, for example, the average monthly wireless bill decreased from just under $49.94 to $46.64, or nearly 7 percent.

    But going back to 2003, the combined federal, state and local burden increased from an average 15.27 percent to 17.96 percent.

    The only state that didn't increase its wireless taxes this year is Florida. The governor and Legislature opted to reduce Florida's Communications Services Tax to 7.44 percent from 9.17 percent, which the Tax Foundation reports will provide more than $100 million in tax relief for wireless customers and businesses in the Sunshine State.

    Partially as a result of that decrease, Florida is no longer among the five states with the highest wireless taxes, but it remains among the top 10 states:
    1. Washington - 25.15 percent
    2. Nebraska - 24.99 percent
    3. New York - 24.36 percent
    4. Illinois - 23.92 percent
    5. Missouri - 21.25 percent
    6. Rhode Island - 21.16 percent
    7. Florida - 21.12 percent
    8. Arkansas - 20.77 percent
    9. Pennsylvania - 20.60 percent
    10. Kansas - 19.99 percent
    How do you feel about your wireless taxes and fees? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

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

    How to Save 50 Percent on Your Cell Bill


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