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    Markets Await Fed Chair Yellen's Testimony On Interest Rates
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- The S&P 500 suffered its biggest drop since late September on Thursday as the European Central Bank disappointed market hopes for greater stimulus.

    The ECB move triggered a spike in the euro that caught investors by surprise, forcing them to shift positions that hit most asset classes. Bond prices dropped after the announcement.

    At the same time, the CBOE Volatility index, the stock market's fear gauge, jumped 13.8 percent, closing at its highest since Nov. 17.

    The biggest influence was the [ECB President Mario] Draghi talk this morning; it didn't satisfy the U.S. markets.

    The ECB cut its deposit rate deeper into negative territory and extended its asset buys by six months, as expected. But some market participants had hoped for greater stimulus.

    All 10 S&P 500 sectors fell in a second day of sharp losses for U.S. stocks. Health care ended down 2.2 percent, leading the day's decline in the S&P 500, followed by energy, down 2 percent.

    "The biggest influence was the [ECB President Mario] Draghi talk this morning; it didn't satisfy the U.S. markets," said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's comments suggested the Fed was on track to raise interest rates this month.

    Yellen told lawmakers the U.S. central bank was close to lifting its overnight interest rate from near zero. She gave an upbeat view of the economy, saying "growth is likely to be sufficient over the next year or two to result in further improvement in the labor market." The Fed's next policy meeting is on Dec. 15-16.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI)​ fell 252.01 points, or 1.4 percent, to 17,477.67, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC)​ lost 29.89 points, or 1.4 percent, to 2,049.62 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC)​ dropped 85.70 points, or 1.7 percent, to 5,037.53.

    The S&P 500 posted its biggest daily percentage decline since Sept. 28 and closed at its lowest since Nov. 13.

    Some of the selling was related to leveraged funds that were likely forced to close positions as volatility spiked. According to Bank of America (BAC) research, these funds, which were heavily involved in the dramatic selloff in late August, have since returned to the level of leverage they had prior to that downturn.

    Slow Week

    Volume was elevated in S&P 500 index options expiring on Friday, particularly in put options that suggest people were hedging against the possibility of losses, said Henry Schwartz, president of options analytics firm Trade Alert, in New York.

    "After a really slow week it does look like hedgers are taking some action today," he said.

    Data released Thursday showed initial U.S. jobless claims for last week rose but remained at levels consistent with a strengthening labor market. Friday's employment report is expected to show the U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in November.

    Zafgen (ZFGN) shares were down 5.1 percent at $5.96 after the company said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was putting on complete hold a late-stage study testing its experimental obesity drug.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,518 to 579, for a 4.35-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 2,159 issues fell and 674 advanced for a 3.20-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 9 new 52-week highs and 26 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 53 new highs and 78 new lows.

    What to watch Friday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases employment data for November and the Commerce Department releases international trade data for October.


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    Target Store exterior
    John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
    By Kyle James

    There's no arguing that Target has a loyal following among many shoppers. While the retail giant may not always have the lowest prices, it certainly attracts consumers happily willing to pay a little extra to avoid the crowded aisles of some other discounters.

    But there are certain items which are almost always cheaper at Target (TGT) compared to other retailers. Here are eight such items that'll save you money on your next Target shopping trip.

    1. 'Green' Cleaning Products

    Not only has Target led the natural cleaning trend over the past few years, but they often do it at a price lower than the competition. For example, Target sells the 28-ounce bottle of Method All-Surface Cleaner for an affordable $2.99, while Walmart sells the same product for $5.49 and Amazon sells it for $8.
    Another great example is Green Works laundry detergent in the 90-ounce size; at Target you'll pay $11.99, while you'll pay $23.27 at Walmart and $19.21 at Amazon. You'll also find similar savings at Target on other popular natural cleaning brands, including J.R. Watkins, Honest and Seventh Generation.

    2. Kids' Bedding and Decor

    When buying bedding for your child's room, your wallet will likely benefit greatly from shopping at Target. You'll find steep savings on sheet and comforter sets, throw blankets and even decorative pillows. This is especially true when buying "character" bedding from Star Wars, Disney and Sesame Street. For example, you can purchase the popular Star Wars Classic Twin Sheet Set from Target for $19.79, while you'll have to pay $26.07 on Amazon. If you're shopping for a girl, you'll also save at Target, as you can buy the four-piece Disney Frozen bed set for $31.49 where you'll have to pay $36.97 at Walmart.

    3. Photo Frames

    When compared to the competition, Target is a great place to shop for picture frames and save money. While they easily beat the price at specialty stores like Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric, they surprisingly also undercut the likes of Walmart and Amazon. For example, at Target you can buy 8x10 inch frames (set of two for $13.99, while you'll have to pay $19.97 at Walmart and $18.99 at Amazon.

    The savings you'll find at Target aren't limited to the popular 8x10 size -- it's seen across all picture frame sizes and designs. Plus, they often have coupons available via their Cartwheel app on home items and decor that will bring the price down even further.

    4. Beauty Items

    Target is where you'll get the most bang for your buck when buying cosmetics and makeup. While prices are generally better at Target when compared to Amazon, Walmart and Macy's, the real savings comes in the gift card deals they offer. A current example is a free $5 Target gift card when you buy three L'Oreal products. When the gift card is factored into the price, Target easily beats the competition.

    Other examples include a free $5 Target gift card with the purchase of three Aveeno items and buy one, get one for 50 percent off with all fragrances. Also, be sure to always check for printable Target coupons before you visit to ensure you get the lowest price on beauty items.

    5. Name-Brand Baby Gear

    Brands like Graco, Britax and Evenflo are often cheapest at Target. For example, Target currently sells the Graco Pack 'N Play Playard for $59.99 (color: Pasadena), while the cheapest color currently on Amazon is $69.97. The same can be said for the Evenflo High-Back Booster seat; you'll find it for $33.99 at Target and have to pay $39.98 at Amazon, $35.98 at Walmart and $39.99 at Babies R Us. It's always a smart idea to check pricing at Target before buying baby products, as you'll often find the lowest price.

    6. Men's Deodorant

    Target is a great place to save money on deodorant and anti-perspirant for men. For example, Target sells the two-pack of men's Old Spice High Endurance Deodorant for $3.97, while Walmart sells the same product for $5.97. Also, you can find a two-pack of Axe Phoenix Anti-Perspirant at Target for $6.29, compared to $7.37 at Walmart. I found similar savings on other popular brands like Gillette, Degree and Dove Men's Care as well.

    For whatever reason, women's deodorant is cheaper across the board at Walmart and Amazon. But if you're a guy, or buying for one, purchase from Target and take advantage of the lower prices.

    7. Tall Kitchen Bags

    This one might seem a bit random, but kitchen trash bags -- the tall variety -- are 25 percent cheaper at Target compared to Walmart. Specifically, I'm talking about the store brand at each store. At Target, you can get the Up & Up brand in a 110 count box for $9.99, while you'll pay $12.52 for a box of only 100 bags of the Walmart brand. Both bags received strong customer reviews, making the Target brand a solid buy.

    8. Wedding Registry Gifts

    Because of the exclusive discounts they offer, wedding registry gifts are simply cheaper at Target. If the wedding couple registered at several stores and Target is one of them, always choose to shop with them and you'll save. For example, they currently have a discount code (WEDDING20) that is good for 20 percent off your $100 or more regular-priced wedding registry gift. So if you're buying the couple the KitchenAid Mixer they registered for, you'll only pay $200 instead of $250 -- a price that beats all of the major competition.

    By the way, having been married for 15 years, I can honestly say that this mixer is the only gift we received that we still use today. It clearly falls under the category of quality items worth the price.

    By knowing the items at Target that provide the most savings, you can plan your next trip accordingly and save money. Also, it's worth noting that most of the products listed above provide the same savings in-store as they do online. Happy savings.

    (Note: Prices as of October.)​

    What items, if any, do you usually find cheaper at Target compared to other major retailers?


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    Young woman holding hammer, looking through hole in wall, smiling
    Getty Images

    Are you considering converting your home's garage into a man cave? Before you permanently ditch parking and storage space in exchange for a testosterone-friendly getaway, you may want to consider this: your garage man cave project could hurt your home's value and make it harder to sell.

    Turning your garage into a living space is one of four home improvement projects highlighted by MarketWatch that could end up sucking the value out of your home.

    Homeowners need to think carefully before they get rid of their garage and turn it into a man cave, family room or extra bedroom, because it could make their home less attractive to many people, New York real estate agent Brendon DeSimone, author of the book "Next Generation Real Estate," told MarketWatch.

    A recent survey by real estate investment and operating firm Crescent Communities found that 74 percent of homebuyers said having a garage is extremely or very important. If you still want to proceed with your garage project, consider leaving the garage doors on the outside so if you do sell your house, a buyer has the option to easily turn the space back into a garage, Michele Silverman Bedell, of New York-based Silversons Realty, told Marketwatch.

    Here are three other home renovation projects that could dent the value of your home:
    • Removing one bedroom to make another bedroom (or room) bigger: Reducing the number of bedrooms in your house is a big no-no from a real estate standpoint. "When you start eliminating bedroom space, you've completely changed the comparable value of your home in the neighborhood," David Pekel, president of Pekel Construction and Remodeling, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, told MarketWatch. By reducing the number of bedrooms in your house, you've also reduced the number of potential homebuyers who would be interested in your home, despite how big another bedroom or living space is.
    • Removing closets: People want, and typically need, closets. Bedell said she had a client who removed the closet from their master bedroom and built a big master bath in the space. The result? The home was much harder to sell.
    • Wallpaper: Sure, wallpaper can really spruce up a room, but many people don't like it. Plus removing it can be difficult. I can attest to that. Every single room in my house had wallpaper circa 1979 -- think orange and avocado green flowers, silver trees and flocked brown and gold geometric patterns. My husband and I made the mistake of thinking it would be easy to remove. Every room we worked on was awful and time-consuming, and I will never purchase another house with wallpaper. Bedell said overdoing wallpaper or any other finish can deter potential homebuyers and hurt your home's resale value.
    Of course, you shouldn't shy away from a home renovation project you really want just because it may hurt your home's value if you sell it. It's just something to be aware of. If you do decide to move forward with a potentially home-devaluing home improvement project, DeSimone recommends that you "do it in a way that you can put it back when you go to sell."

    On the other end of the spectrum, check out these 8 Home Improvement Projects That Pay Off Big.

    What home renovation projects have you completed on your home? Share your 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!

    Stop Putting Off These Home Repairs


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    Person filling tax returns before deadline
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    By Jason Notte

    A few months ago, we suggested getting your tax strategy together before it was time to panic.

    Well, it's time to panic.

    We're less than a month to the end of 2015 and any plans you have to lessen your tax hit by the end of the year should probably be implemented now. Rebecca Pavese, a certified public accountant, financial planner and portfolio manager with Palisades Hudson Financial Group's office in Atlanta says that, at the very least, you should be calculating your income, tax payments and deductions to date, and estimating your totals for 2015.

    "You need this baseline information before making any moves," she says.

    Once you've done that, the easiest way to save is by reducing your taxable income. Bankrate's (RATE) Kay Bell notes that boosting your retirement savings can be particularly helpful. If you haven't made your maximum $18,000 contribution 401(k) ($24,000 for people age 50 or older) or $5,500 contribution for an IRA ($6,500 for people age 50-plus), now is the time.

    "If your employer permits you to make extra contributions to your 401(k), put in as much as you can afford.

    "If your employer permits you to make extra contributions to your 401(k), put in as much as you can afford," says Bill Ringham, vice president and senior wealth strategist at RBC Wealth Management. "You typically contribute pretax dollars, so the more you invest, the lower your taxable income. Your earnings also grow on a tax-deferred basis."

    Ringham also notes that 529 plan contributions are tax deductible in several states, so contributing to your kid's college fund will allow your earnings grow tax-free, provided they are used for qualified higher education expenses. Just make sure it's going toward college, however, as distributions not used for qualified expenses may be subject to income tax and a 10 percent penalty. Meanwhile, it's also time to take inventory of your other investments in 2015 ... and root for the losers."Tax-loss selling can minimize or eliminate capital gains on one asset by realizing a loss to offset it," Pavese says. "There's dollar-to-dollar offset. If for instance you've had $5,000 of capital gains, you can offset them completely with $5,000 of capital losses."

    The best part is that you can carry those tax losses forward indefinitely. If you don't need those losses to offset capital gains right away, you can use the excess loss to offset gains in a future year. That's particularly helpful since net capital losses (capital losses minus capital gains) can only be deducted up to a maximum of $3,000 in a given tax year. Any losses beyond $3,000 must be carried over, which also makes it worth your while to consider putting off selling some of your "winners" until next year."

    "Capital gains can increase your adjusted gross income -- and, consequently, your tax bill," Ringham says. "So if you are considering selling an asset that has increased in value, such as a stock, you may want to wait until January so the gain will be realized next year."

    If you're in a really desperate situation, there's also a chance you can just give some of those investments away. Highly appreciated stocks or mutual funds you've owned for more than one year can go directly to a charity, so if you've purchased shares for $1,000 and they are now worth $10,000, giving those share to a qualified charity would give someone in the 28 percent tax bracket a $2,800 tax deduction, based on the current market value of the donated shares.

    "You benefit three ways," Pavese says. "First, you're doing good. Second, you won't pay the capital gains tax you'd owe if you sold the security instead. And third, you'll get a deduction if you itemize."

    Once all of that is complete, you'll want to consider doing some housekeeping.

    Bankrate's Bell suggests homeowners submit January mortgage payment and property taxes by Dec. 31 so they can deduct the interest for 2015. Also, if you haven't taken advantage of your flexible spending account for health care, now is a great time to schedule doctor's appointments or buy eligible supplies ranging from glasses to knee braces to cold medicine. Pavese, meanwhile, suggests filing a new W-4 form with your employer and adjusting your December tax withholding just to keep from running afoul of penalties and interest. However, just about anything you can do to lower your adjusted gross income is helpful.

    "Lowering your income has many potential benefits," she says. "If you can lower your taxable income to below $74,900 for a married couple filing jointly or $37,450 for a single filer, you will pay zero percent federal tax on sales of assets you've held longer than one year and zero percent on dividends. Even if you can't get your taxable income quite so low, you may be able to lower it enough to step down to the next lowest capital gains tax rate."

    Lowering income can also lower deduction hurdles that are calculated as a percentage of that income. For example, unreimbursed medical expenses can only be deducted if they exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income, and investment expenses must exceed 2 percent. However, if you can't adjust to a desirable level for 2015, now is the time to start banking deductions for 2016. Pavese suggests that, instead of paying your estimated quarterly state income tax by Dec. 31 and deducting it on your 2015 return, you can pay it Jan. 1-15 and get a 2016 deduction. Also, if an additional deduction would trigger alternative minimum tax, pay your fourth-quarter state income tax and real estate tax installment in January.

    "If your bracket will go up next year, consider deferring certain deductions, such as state taxes and real estate taxes, so you can claim them on your 2016 return," Pavese says. "The higher your bracket, the more the same deduction can save you."

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor.


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    Female hands with prescription drugs on white background

    Just 17 percent of people comparison shop for their prescriptions to find better deals, a new survey shows.

    That means 83 percent are potentially paying hundreds of dollars more than necessary each time they fill a prescription, according to Consumer Reports.

    The nonprofit found that medications can cost as much as 10 times more at one retailer compared with the cost at another.

    Lisa Gill, prescription drug editor at Consumer Reports, tells "CBS This Morning":

    "[We] discovered enormous price variations around the country, but also within the same zip code. Most people would not think, 'Hey, I'm going to pick up the phone and call around,' but you can save a bundle of money if you do."

    For its survey, Consumer Reports had secret shoppers call the pharmacies of more than 200 stores in six metros across the country to price five common generic prescription drugs. Their findings included:

    Those with the highest prices were:
    • In Raleigh, North Carolina, the price for one month's supply of generic Cymbalta, an antidepressant that's also used to treat pain, ranged from $43 (at Costco) to $249 (Walgreens).
    • In Dallas, the price for generic Plavix, a blood thinner, ranged from $23 (independent Preston Village Pharmacy) to $150 (CVS).
    • In Denver, the price for generic Actos, for Type 2 diabetes, ranged from $15 (Cherry Creek Pharmacy) to $330 (grocery store Albertson's Save-On).
    Overall, the retailers with the lowest prices were:
    • Costco
    • Independent pharmacies
    Those with the highest prices were:
    • Walgreens
    • Rite Aid
    • CVS
    Medication prices vary more for consumers who are paying out of pocket rather than with insurance. Consumer Reports found, however, that even consumers paying a flat insurance copay can sometimes save money by shopping around:
    Sometimes the price you'd pay out of pocket (what those without insurance are charged) might be less than your copay -- a fact pharmacists may neglect to mention. Case in point: Metformin -- used to treat type 2 diabetes -- sells for just $4 for a month's supply, or $10 for a three-month supply, at stores such as Target and Walmart, while a copay for a month's worth averages about $11.
    To learn more, check out 10 Ways to Get Your Medications for Less.

    Do you comparison shop for your medications? Let us know what you've learned by doing so below or in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

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

    How to Fight High Medical Bills


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    Three generations portrait of three women
    Getty ImagesWhen caring for your children and parents, it is especially important to hone your budget and routinely assess your financial situation.
    By Kimberly Palmer

    When her father was diagnosed with a respiratory disease about seven years ago, Joy Frank-Collins juggled her work schedule and parenting demands to maximize the time she spent by his side. Frank-Collins, a 41-year-old who heads her own communications firm in Marietta, Ohio, also coordinated with her siblings to pay for expenses that weren't covered by insurance. "If you know your parents will need your help, you have to think, 'What can I set aside to provide the necessary support for my parents?'" she says. After a long fight with his illness, her father died at age 75 in January.

    As a member of the sandwich generation -- adults who simultaneous care for children and aging parents -- Frank-Collins had to navigate what is becoming an increasingly familiar challenge. "Individuals who find themselves in the sandwich generation are forced with contemplating taking care of things today in a way that may negatively impact their future," says Rebekah Barsch, vice president of financial planning for Northwestern Mutual. Family members might cut back on their work hours or sacrifice savings in order to care for aging parents, she adds. "The pressure, both financial and emotional, weighs on people," she says.

    Those pressures are one reason that 37 percent of Gen X, who are between ages 35 and 49, don't feel financially secure, according to the 2015 Northwestern Mutual Planning & Progress Study of 5,474 adults. About 1 in 4 said they are "not at all confident" they will achieve their financial goals, and 2 in 10 said they believe they will never retire, largely because they won't have enough retirement savings.

    "The number of people who find themselves sandwiched between generations continues to grow as the baby boom generation gets older and is expected to live longer than ever before -- longer than they're capable of caring for themselves," says Phillip Rumrill, ​a professor of rehabilitation counseling at Kent State University and co-author of "The Sandwich Generation's Guide to Eldercare: Concrete Advice to Simultaneously Care for Your Kids and Your Parents."

    At the same time, he adds, children are living at home for longer, which means people in middle age are often caring for, and financially supporting, both generations at once. "We estimate that 1 in 8 Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 are caring for both children and parents or grandparents at once," he says. That caregiving often coincides with intense years of career demands as well as the need to save for retirement.

    If you're a member of the sandwich generation, here are six financial strategies to help your family get through the challenge:

    Pick your priorities. "Maybe we start saving for college tuition later, or we save less now with the idea of ramping it up later, when our incomes are back at full stride," Barsch says. She recommends making it a priority to continue saving for retirement, but to scale back in other areas, such as spending on luxuries such as vacation and cars.

    Stick to a revised budget. Taking on responsibility for parents can make it especially important to hone your budget​, says ​Stacy Newton​, North and South Carolina division executive for SunTrust Bank. "Because they have so much on their plates, making a plan is critical. We encourage people to set limits on spending, shopping sales and to stay within their means," she says. When it comes to vacation or holidays, for example, Newton suggests focusing on shared family experiences rather than dollars spent. She also urges people to use their banks' spending alerts to stay within budget.

    Give yourself an annual checkup. "It's like going to the doctor," Newton says. "Take a few minutes off work and sit down with a financial adviser to review current financial priorities, and make sure everything is aligned." A recent SunTrust survey of 519 adults with incomes $75,000 and up found that among those in middle age (ages 45 to 54), just 37 percent say they are saving enough to live comfortably in retirement, compared to ​57 percent in other age groups. An annual check up can help determine where you stand and what adjustments need to be made.​

    Plan for eldercare. While parents often anticipate the costs that come with children, they are less likely to budget for the expense of caring for their parents, Rumrill says. Those costs can include paid caregivers, a nursing facility or medical expenses, he adds. Budgeting in advance, as well as checking for any available benefits through the federal government, particularly Social Security or veterans' benefits, can help ease some of that pressure, he says.

    Make use of new technology. Kyle Hill ​co-founded, a website that helps families find and hire in-home care for seniors in California and has plans to expand to other states in 2016. Users can browse caregivers and also use the site to make payments. For Hill, the need is personal: He watched his father struggle to care for his 98-year-old mother from a different state. "There was no easy way to manage her care from far away," he says, particularly to oversee caregiver shifts and activities. Automating the process through a website makes it easier and more affordable for family members to find high-quality, paid caregivers, he says.

    Coordinate with siblings. Lan Jewel​, 45, a communications professional in New York, worked out a plan with her four siblings about 15 years ago, before any of them had the additional financial pressure of children. Her parents had limited savings, so the siblings all chipped in to purchase long-term care insurance, and some also send money to them once a month. ​"It has definitely put a strain on our relationships since the financial burden has increased," she says, and the stress from the Great Recession didn't help. "But this is an obligation that I feel I have to juggle, even as the expenses of rearing two​ children in New York City increase as my kids get older. My parents sacrificed so much for ​us kids," she says.

    Frank-Collins also suggests working through any tensions with siblings and other family members before a health crisis hits, because coordination becomes essential. "We would almost tag each other out at the hospital," she recalls, referring to the frequent bedside visits when her father was sick. "You have to sit down and have these conversations that you never thought you would have. Because you're the person in the middle, you have to prepare."

    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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    November Nonfarm Payrolls  Up 211,000

    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. employment increased at a healthy pace in November, in another sign of the economy's resilience, and will most likely be followed by the first Federal Reserve interest rate rise in a decade later this month.

    Nonfarm payrolls rose 211,000 last month, the Labor Department said Friday. September and October data was revised to show 35,000 more jobs than previously reported.

    The unemployment rate held at a 7½-year low of 5 percent, as people returned to the labor force in a sign of confidence in the jobs market. The jobless rate is in a range many Fed officials see as consistent with full employment and has dropped 0.7 of a percentage point this year.

    The clear message from the labor market to the Fed is: 'Just do it!'

    "The employment report should remove the final doubts about a rate hike at the December meeting. The clear message from the labor market to the Fed is: 'Just do it!'" said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Research in New York.

    The closely watched employment report came a day after Fed Chair Janet Yellen struck an upbeat note on the economy when she testified before lawmakers, describing how it had largely met the criteria the U.S. central bank has set for the Fed's first rate hike since June 2006.

    Yellen said the economy needs to create just under 100,000 jobs a month to keep up with growth in the working age population.

    A Reuters survey of banks that deal directly with the Fed showed all but one of the so-called primary dealers expect the Fed will hike rates at the Dec. 15-16 meeting. They see only a gradual pace of monetary policy tightening through 2016.

    The U.S. dollar firmed against the euro after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said in New York that the ECB could deploy more stimulus if needed. U.S. Treasury debt yields initially rose, but later fell after OPEC failed to agree an oil production ceiling. U.S. stocks ended higher.

    Soft Patch

    The second month of strong job gains should allay fears the economy has hit a soft patch, after reports showing tepid consumer spending in October and a slowdown in services industry growth in November. Manufacturing contracted in November for the first time in three years, according to one business survey.

    A strong U.S. dollar and spending cuts by energy companies have been headwinds to the economy. A separate report from the U.S. Commerce Department on Friday showed the international trade deficit widened in October as exports hit a three-year low.

    US Economy
    Wilfredo Lee/APJob seekers attend a job fair at the Dolphin Mall in Miami.
    Though wage increases slowed last month, economists say that was mostly payback for October's outsized gains, which were driven by a calendar quirk. Anecdotal evidence, as well as data on labor-related costs, suggest that tightening job market conditions are starting to put upward pressure on wages.

    "Payroll gains were despite continued weakness in manufacturing and energy sectors, suggesting little spillover into the rest of the economy," said Samuel Coffin, an economist at UBS in Stamford, Connecticut.

    Average hourly earnings increased 4 cents, or 0.2 percent from 0.4 percent in October. That lowered the year-on-year reading to 2.3 percent from 2.5 percent in October. The average workweek, however, fell to 34.5 hours from 34.6.

    Other labor market measures watched by Fed officials were mixed.

    The labor force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job, rose to 62.5 percent from a near 38-year low of 62.4 percent.

    Broad Gains

    But a broad measure of joblessness that includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment rose 0.1 of a percentage point to 9.9 percent. That reflected an increase in part-time workers.

    Employment gains in November were broad-based, though manufacturing shed 1,000 positions. Factory employment has declined in three of the last four months.

    Manufacturing has been crippled by dollar strength, efforts by businesses to reduce bloated inventory and investment cuts by energy companies scaling back well drilling and exploration in response to the sharply lower oil prices.

    Mining purged 11,000 jobs, with oil and gas extraction losing 2,400 positions. Mining employment has dropped by 123,000 since reaching a peak in December 2014. Three quarters of the job losses over this period have been in support activities for mining.

    Oilfield services provider Schlumberger (SLM) this week announced another round of job cuts in addition to 20,000 layoffs already reported this year.

    Construction payrolls increased 46,000 last month, the largest gain since January 2014. Retail jobs rose 30,700 and transportation and warehousing employment rebounded after two straight months of declines.

    Professional services added 27,000 jobs and government payrolls increased 14,000 last month.

    "It's hard not to like today's reading on the labor market. We can anticipate further improvement ... next year," said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco.


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    Customers leave a Chipotle restaurant with food in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. Chipotle started reopening its restaurants in the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday after an E. coli outbreak sickened about 45 people, a high-profile example of foodborne illnesses that are more common than the public realizes, health experts say. Forty-three outposts of the Mexican food chain in Washington state and the Portland, Oregon, area were closed at the end of October because of the outbreak that hospitalized more than a dozen people. The first restaurants opened for lunch Wednesday. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
    Don Ryan/AP
    By Candice Choi

    An outbreak of E. coli linked to Chipotle has expanded to nine states, with a total of 52 reported illnesses.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday seven additional people were sickened, including in three more states: Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The most recent illness started on Nov. 13, it said.

    The majority of the illnesses have been in Oregon and Washington, where cases were initially reported at the end of October. Additional cases were later reported in California, Minnesota, New York and Ohio.

    Of the 52 people infected, the CDC says 47 reported eating at a Chipotle restaurant the week before the illness started. The agency hasn't yet determined the ingredient that made people sick.

    The CDC also said illnesses that started after Nov. 11 may not be reported yet.

    People usually get sick from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, the bacteria commonly associated with foodborne outbreaks, for two to eight days after swallowing the germ, according to the CDC. Most infected people get diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

    Earlier Friday, Chipotle said it was tightening its food safety standards.

    The Denver-based chain known for touting the quality of its ingredients said it hired IEH Laboratories in Seattle to help improve its procedures. It said it will implement testing of all produce before it is shipped to restaurants and enhance employee training for food safety and handling.

    Chipotle hasn't yet said how sales have been affected by the bad publicity from the outbreak, but plans to provide a financial update before a presentation for analysts and investors Tuesday. In October, the company had forecast sales at established locations would be up in the low- to mid-single digit percentages for 2015.

    The company's shares fell 2.7 percent to $550.25 in trading Friday afternoon.

    Chipotle said it tested ingredients before, but that it is moving to testing smaller batches and a larger number of samples.

    "In testing for pathogens, in many ways you're looking for needles in haystacks. Through this high resolution testing program, we are making the haystacks smaller by working with smaller lots," the company said.

    It said that no ingredients that are likely to have been connected to the incident remain in its restaurants or supply system.

    Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), said the company's local produce suppliers may not all be able to meet the new standards. The company noted that its local produce program accounts for a "relatively small percentage" of the produce it uses, and only runs from around June through October in most parts of the country.


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    Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty ImagesFederal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen
    By Jason Lange, Lindsay Dunsmuir and Jonathan Spicer

    WASHINGTON and PHILADELPHIA -- Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has the evidence of U.S. labor market health she wanted in order to raise benchmark interest rates for the first time in a decade this month, but she may have a tougher time selling further hikes.

    Yellen's arguments against potential dissenters at the Dec. 15-16 Fed policy meeting were strengthened by Labor Department data Friday that showed employers hired 211,000 people in November while even greater numbers joined the workforce.

    Federal funds futures contracts imply a 79-percent chance that the Fed will end seven years of near-zero interest rates at its December meeting and about even odds of a second rate rise by March.

    Beyond that the outlook is more mixed. Interest rate futures maturing in the second half of next year are rising slightly, showing traders are wagering the Fed will manage no more than two further hikes before the end of next year.

    You have an open debate between doves and hawks as to what the pace of increases should look like.

    The differences among Fed policy makers were on display at a Philadelphia Federal Reserve conference Friday where Narayana Kocherlakota, in his last speech as president of the Minneapolis Fed, gave a sharp critique of a central bank that he said was too anxious to begin raising rates and thus would fail to create perhaps millions of jobs in a timely manner.

    James Bullard, the more hawkish head of the St. Louis Fed, followed that presentation with one that argued it is time to raise rates and to begin shrinking the central bank's $4.5 trillion balance sheet which was bulked up in recent years to boost the economy.

    "You have an open debate between doves and hawks as to what the pace of increases should look like," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York, referring to the divisions within the Fed over readiness to tighten monetary policy.

    The Fed has appeared gun shy on tightening policy twice already this year, in June and September. Its key policy rate has been 0-0.25 percent since the depths of the financial crisis in late 2008.

    Mixed Messages

    Wall Street's top banks said Friday in a Reuters poll that they expect the central bank to maintain a slow pace of rate hikes, with the median forecast for the fed funds rate for mid-2016 about 0.75 percent and 1.125 percent for the end of the year.

    The Fed's policymakers hold very different views of where the central bank's benchmark rate will end next year, ranging from less than zero to 3 percent, according to projections released in September that were based on their views of appropriate policy. The median outlook was for four quarter-point rises next year, while their views of the long-term normal level range from between 3 percent and 4 percent.

    Worryingly for a consensus-seeking Yellen, it isn't just traditional "doves" such as Gov. Lael Brainard who are questioning the pace of rate rises. Even some of the hawks, who would typically worry more about inflation risks than weak economic growth, are weighing a possibility that they may face a long spell of below normal economic growth and low inflation.

    Bullard noted that rates have remained low in most advanced economies. If that persists it "may be leading us to an outcome with low nominal interest rates and low inflation that can last for a very long time," he said, adding the Fed needs to be willing to pause and also to speed up its pace of tightening.

    Earlier this week, Yellen said the process of rate increases could be gradual but she has yet to spell out what gradual means.

    One driver for the pace of rate rises will be whether inflation picks up next year, and Friday's data suggested workers might not be getting big enough raises for businesses to raise prices much.

    Average hourly earnings rose 2.3 percent in November from a year earlier, down from 2.5 percent in October. Without more inflationary pressures, policymakers likely want to raise rates more gradually.

    Friday's jobs report also highlighted Brainard's argument that weakness in the global economy could constrain U.S. growth more than policymakers currently expect. Manufacturing jobs, which are among the most exposed to the global economy, actually fell by 1,000 in November, the third drop in the last four months.

    "While this report can help justify a rate hike in December, it can't justify anything more than a very gradual path of rate hikes," said Brian Jacobsen, a portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

    -Ann Saphir in San Francisco, and Dion Rabouin and Rodrigo Campos in New York contributed reporting.


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks rallied Friday, giving the S&P 500 its biggest gain since early September, as employment data suggested the economy was strong enough to sustain a Federal Reserve rate hike this month.

    Financials, which benefit from higher borrowing costs, led the rally. The S&P financial index jumped 2.7 percent.

    JPMorgan Chase (JPM) rose 3.2 percent to $67.89 after European antitrust regulators dropped charges against the bank on blocking exchanges from derivatives markets.

    We're going to see the market focused on what the U.S. economy is doing, rather than Fed policy.

    But the rally, which followed two days of sharp losses, included most sectors and allowed the three major indexes to post slight gains for the week.

    "Stocks are going to have to shift to a domestic economic performance focus. We're going to see the market focused on what the U.S. economy is doing, rather than Fed policy," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Massachusetts.

    "I think we see a continued upward trend for the rest of the year."

    Nonfarm payrolls increased 211,000 in November, the Labor Department said, while September and October data were revised to show 35,000 more jobs than previously reported.

    Analysts said the report, which also showed the unemployment rate held steady at 5 percent, most likely paves the way for the Fed to raise rates this month for the first time in nearly a decade.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI)​ rose 369.96 points, or 2.1 percent, to 17,847.63, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC)​ gained 42.07 points, or 2.1 percent, to 2,091.69 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC)​ added 104.74 points, or 2.1 percent, to 5,142.27.

    For the week, the Dow and Nasdaq were up 0.3 percent, while the S&P 500 was up 0.1 percent.

    Nine of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors ended up. The energy index slipped 0.5 percent as oil prices fell on news that OPEC was planning to maintain its production near record highs despite depressed prices.

    December Rate Hike

    The closely watched employment report came a day after Fed Chair Janet Yellen struck an upbeat note on the economy when she testified before lawmakers, describing how it had largely met the criteria for a rate hike. The Fed's policy-setting committee will meet on Dec. 15-16.

    Avon Products (AVP) rose 5.8 percent to $4.22 after a private equity investor group led by Barington Capital proposed a restructuring of the cosmetics maker.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,999 to 1,045, for a 1.91-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,840 issues rose and 965 fell for a 1.91-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 22 new 52-week highs and 20 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 69 new highs and 101 new lows.

    About 7.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 6.9 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Lewis Krauskopf contributed reporting from New York.

    What to watch Monday:
    • The Federal Reserve releases consumer credit data for October at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
    • H&R Block (HRB) releases quarterly financial results after U.S. markets close.


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    close up of woman hand holding...
    By John Persinos

    "Buy now, pay later" is the modern way of life. Credit cards are a highly profitable business for the companies that issue them, so it's no surprise that banks continue to inundate consumers with credit card offers, especially during the shopping frenzy of the holiday season. These come-ons are among several financial traps lurking out there today.

    Visa (V), MasterCard (MA), Discover Financial Services (DFS) and American Express (AXP): Their cards are common fixtures in hundreds of millions of wallets around the world. According to Federal Reserve data, the average credit card debt per card-holding U.S. household is $16,140. In total, the average American consumer owes $918.5 billion in credit card debt.

    You probably get credit card offers in the mail all the time; the volume of unsolicited offers tends to increase the day after Thanksgiving. Here's some important information that will help you sort through the pitches and separate the good values from the rip-offs.

    The Introductory Rate

    The introductory rate, or "teaser rate," expires after a designated period of time. Federal law requires introductory rates to remain in effect at least six months after signup. This rate is below market and typically applies only to balance transfers and cash advances, although they can also apply to purchases. Introductory rates are usually extremely low, ranging from zero to 4 percent for up to 12 months. Be sure to read the fine print for what the percentage rate will be once the initial introductory period ends.

    Annual Percentage Rate -- Fixed vs. Variable

    If you don't pay your balance in full by the due date, you'll be charged interest on the remaining balance. How much interest you pay is determined by the annual percentage rate, or APR, on the card.

    If you pay the full balance on your credit card every month, you won't have to pay any interest on your balance ($0), and can ignore APRs.

    All credit cards have either a fixed or variable APR, determined largely by the "prime rate," which is the interest rate commercial banks charge their most creditworthy customers, which are usually corporations. For example, if a bank is offering a credit card at "prime plus 5" and its prime rate is 6 percent, then the bank is essentially offering customers an 11 percent loan (6 percent + 5 percent).

    A fixed APR locks in your rate so that it does not fluctuate with changes to the prime rate on which it is pegged. The variable APR, on the other hand, moves in step with the prime rate. If conditions are volatile and interest rates spike, the variable APR that originally enticed you can end up bearing little resemblance to what you actually pay.

    While it's preferable to have a card with a fixed APR, these cards are few and far between. As of this writing, the average fixed APR is at 13.1 percent and the average variable APR rate stood at 15.7 percent.

    Cards for Bad Credit

    Everyone deserves a second chance. At least that's the premise behind credit cards for those with bad credit. In most cases, these types of credit cards are "secured," which means that the person must put money onto the card upfront before he or she can access the credit via the card.

    Some companies offer "unsecured" credit cards with low credit limits and high interest rates. These rates can reach up to 20 percent or higher.

    The rationale for secured and unsecured cards is that, in today's society, a credit card confers legitimacy on people and makes life easier. It's becoming harder and harder to function by simply using cash. Also, if you have bad credit but you rack up a good history with these types of cards, you can repair your damaged credit score.


    Some credit cards are tied to charges for hotels, rental cars, air travel, grocery and gas purchases, etc. The premise is that the more products and services you purchase, the more "points" you earn in return for free or discounted rewards.

    But beware: Many of these incentive-based cards come with high interest rates and big annual fees. That said, if their interest rates aren't excessive and there aren't a lot of hidden restrictions or fees, reward cards can be a good deal, offering free hotel rooms, bonus rental car use, free airline tickets -- you name it.

    Nonetheless, cast a discerning eye on the agreement. For most frequent flyer credit cards, you'll see high interest rates and restrictions for the privilege of getting miles in return. It's not worth it and tantamount to paying for overvalued stocks.

    Evaluating the Key Areas

    Now that you've been tutored on the basics, here are the most important areas to scrutinize when weighing the pros and cons of a credit card offer:

    What's the interest rate? Compare fixed and variable APRs. If you think interest rates will remain stable, you might want to opt for the lower variable rate. Remember, that's a risky option. If interest rates go up, you lose.

    Thanks to the new credit card laws, the companies that issue cards can't raise rates on existing balances during the first year unless a prior promotional rate expired, the index on a variable index rate increased, or you were 60 days late in paying your bill. If your rate rises because of a late payment, the bank is required to restore it to its lower rate once you've made six consecutive monthly payments, on time of course.

    Is there an introductory rate? If so, what is it and how long does it last? If the introductory rate is more than 13.1 percent (the average fixed APR) and doesn't last at least six months, forget it.

    Is there an annual fee? A credit card annual fee is a yearly fee -- typically ranging from $15 to $300 -- charged by the credit card company for the privilege of letting you have the card. Don't agree to pay much more than about $50. If you can, opt for a card with no annual fee.

    What's the late fee? If you make a late payment, what will you get charged? A typical credit card late fee is about $35.

    What's the over-the-limit fee? Look for cards that don't impose a charge of this kind. Some cards will notify you if you've gone over your limit without hitting your pocketbook with a penalty.

    Are there any hidden fees? Some cards charge balance transfer and account termination fees. Avoid these cards. You can find cards that don't incur such fees.

    Also beware of fishy interest calculations. There are many ways a card issuer can calculate interest owed. One of the shadiest tricks is to use a late payment as a reason to jettison the interest-free period for new purchase transactions and then calculate the interest as far back as the original purchase date.

    Another dodgy maneuver is to charge daily interest on the full purchase amount even if partially repaid on deadline. Read the fine print on your credit card statement. If the contract allows the card company to get away with either of these schemes, cancel your card and look for one that only charges interest from the date the new statement was produced.

    John Persinos is editorial manager at Investing Daily. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.


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    By Simon Constable

    Nervous investors should think twice before diving into so-called defensive stocks, especially those securities with high dividends. You might end up putting more risk into your portfolio than you realize.
    Stocks that have less volatility than the overall market and pay higher dividends than most other stocks are often seen as a way to reduce risk in a portfolio. Traditionally, these are found in the defensive sectors, including consumer staples, utilities and health care.

    Given the state of the world, it's easy to see why investors would want to get defensive. The war in the Middle East is certainty getting hotter. Cities are under the threat of terrorist attacks, and tensions between Russia and Turkey increased when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border. Meanwhile, the European economy still looks saggy and the once-fast growing Chinese economy is decelerating. And the Federal Reserve looks set to start raising the cost of borrowing money sooner rather than later.

    Sectors are trading at high multiples. The problem is that "the defensives are expensive," says Ramona Persaud, portfolio manager for Fidelity Global Equity Income fund (FGILX), the Fidelity Dividend Growth fund (FDGFX) and the Fidelity Equity Income fund (FEQIX). Many of the traditional stock sectors that might once have helped reduce risk in a portfolio are trading at relatively high multiples.

    She warns that investors could easily lose more money from a declining stock price than they gain from a healthy dividend.

    In fact, that may already have happened to some investors. The Utilities Select Sector SPDR exchange-traded fund (XLU), which tracks a basket of utility stocks, has retreated around 10 percent this year, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) of major stocks is up slightly over the same time. Contrast that loss with the current 3.6 percent dividend yield on the fund. Clearly, those holding the fund since the beginning of the year would have resulted in a net loss, not including the effect of taxes.

    Over the years, the Fed's low interest-rate policies forced yield-seeking investors toward dividend-paying stocks like utilities, bidding up prices and valuations, explains Jeff Carbone, senior partner and founding member of Cornerstone Financial Partners, a wealth management company in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    That yield seeking effect is now happening in reverse, with investors selling their holdings in anticipation of what Carbone says is an "imminent increase" in interest rates by the Fed. To reiterate, the pullback in dividend stocks like utilities was happening before the Fed has actually done anything. That anticipation of future event is normal in the stock market.

    How do you find dividend stocks now? "Let's find something with a similar yield that is growing," says Mike Boyle, head of asset management at advisory Advisors Asset Management in New York. It is better to find stocks that are growing their income and will likely use those increased earnings to boost the dividend. "Focus on areas with strong earnings and income growth, like technology," he says.
    A good example of a company that is growing earnings and has a huge potential to grow its dividends is Apple (AAPL).

    Using the combo approach also tilts the scales in the investor's favor in the current market. You pay a lower multiple of earnings for a company that is growing its dividends. For Persaud, the trick is buying quality companies at a bargain. "Dividend growth is just cheaper."

    That's why she purchased Israeli generic drug company Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA), which she purchased at a discount relative to U.S. pharmaceutical giants Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (BMY) or Pfizer (PFE).

    Know the warning signs. Whenever you invest with the expectation of receiving dividends, you need to be on the lookout for potential problems.

    "Usually when the yield gets unreasonably high, that's a telltale sign something is wrong," says Eric Ervin, CEO of ETF provider Reality Shares in San Diego.

    For instance, if a stock usually yields 3 percent, but suddenly shows a 6 percent dividend, then that could be a sign that investors expect the dividend to be cut in half. Again, investors discount expected future events.

    You should also look to see whether the payout of dividends as a ratio of earnings is sustainable. Companies do need to retain some of their income for capital expenditures and to buy back stock. If the payout is too high for too long, then management may be stretching things too far and it could eventually result in a dividend cut.

    The average payout ratio of dividends to earnings is now around 40 percent for the S&P 500, Ervin says. Normally, it's more like 50 percent, he says.

    Simon Constable is a columnist and author. In addition to following the financial markets, he likes to watch his cat play with string. You can follow him on Twitter @simonconstable.


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    How to Be a Great Regifter (Without Getting Caught)

    Thinking of regifting this holiday season? You're probably not alone.

    A few years ago, 92 percent of those surveyed by the yard sale aggregator site said that recycling gifts was OK, and almost as many were pretty sure they had received regifted items.

    Done poorly, the practice can be downright insulting. Some of those surveyed reported receiving "gifts" such as 2-year-old fruitcake, monogrammed items (with someone else's initials), fingernail clippers and a used toilet seat.

    Then why regift? Several reasons:
    • It's a budget booster. Having a couple of great things you can give means two gifts you won't have to buy.
    • It's eco-friendly. Instead of buying more stuff, you are recycling unused items.
    • It busts clutter. It helps clear your house of items collecting dust. These regifting guidelines can help you from crashing and burning on Christmas Day:
    1. Make sure it looks new. Original packaging is best, folks. Something that's been sitting unprotected on a shelf has likely picked up grime and might have faded where the sun hit it. If it's been in the basement, it might smell musty.

    If you have to blow dust off it, pass.

    2. Remove any sign that the item is recycled. Flip through books to see if your dad underlined a certain passage and wrote, "This sounds like you!" in the margin.
    Check to see that your mom didn't paint your name and "Christmas 2013" on the underside of that hand-decorated ceramic snowman.

    In other words, make sure there's nothing to indicate to the new recipient that this wasn't purchased just for him or her.

    01/07/2007. Studio. Los Angeles. Story about regifting
    Getty Images
    3. Keep track of who gave what. I once read about a woman who gave a cookbook with a $100 bill tucked inside as a wedding gift. A couple of years later, the happy couple regifted that cookbook to her for Christmas.

    How did she know? Because the $100 bill was still where she'd placed it. (See "flip through books," above.)

    Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson suggests labeling items you receive with the date and the giver's name, so you don't goof up.

    He also advises keeping a running list of regiftable items to which you can refer when it's time to give a present. That's much easier than rummaging around in closets or dresser drawers, searching in vain for that journal or picture frame.

    4. Don't give garbage. Your practical-joker brother gave you a T-shirt with an offensive joke on the front. If you'd never wear it, why would you inflict it on someone else?

    Ditto items such as musical snow globes, self-published books of poetry, or bath products with overly strong fragrances. Maybe a secondhand store would take such things.
    If not, don't feel guilty about throwing them away.

    5. Don't regift handmade items. Your great-aunt put in a lot of time crocheting that pink-and-purple afghan. You don't have to keep it, but you shouldn't give it to someone else. That is, unless that person thinks you know how to crochet.

    Before throwing such things away, however, see if a thrift store will accept them. Or try to keep in mind that it was made with love and that an extra afghan can come in handy on chilly winter evenings.
    Either that, or sell it to a hipster who's decorating his living room in neo-kitsch.

    6. Don't regift 'gently used' items. Don't wrap up something you've already worn, listened to, read or watched.

    A book you've read a dozen times probably looks a bit dog-eared and might even bear a coffee drip on page 127. That cashmere scarf may look brand-new to you, but your sister might remember your having worn it last winter.

    And while some people love getting gift cards for the holidays, don't give a partially used one. Nothing says, "You're so special to me!" like being handed a Subway card with an $11.47 balance.

    7. Make sure it's a good fit. If your teenage niece is a die-hard video gamer, giving her a scented candle isn't the way to go. The relative who loves barbecue will likely fail to appreciate a book about vegan cooking.

    Imagine the tables being turned -- people who supposedly love you looking at Christmas as a chance to get rid of unwanted items, whether or not the gift suits you. Doesn't feel so good, does it?

    Got any tips on regifting, or any "regifting gone wrong" stories to share? Share them in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

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


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    Mortgage calculator. House, noney and document. 3d
    Getty ImagesThese factors will help you decide if its better to invest excess cash or pay off your mortgage early.

    Living debt-free sounds great, and depending on where you are in life it may actually be attainable. But even if you can pay off your mortgage early, should you?

    Although it may be tempting, first consider the opportunity cost of paying off your mortgage early at the expense of other goals or investment options, as well as the impact to your tax situation.

    Opportunity cost. By paying off your mortgage early, you'll save on the additional interest expense that would have been incurred in your regular payments. This savings can be significant, and will increase with the prepayment amount. However, by directing excess cash towards paying down a mortgage, those funds are no longer available for investment. The lower your interest rate, the less you stand to benefit through early retirement of debt.

    How can you decide whether it is best to invest excess cash or pay off your mortgage early? Consider the following example:

    Suppose the stated interest rate on your mortgage is 4 percent and you are in the 28 percent federal income tax bracket. Your after-tax mortgage rate is roughly 2.9 percent, perhaps lower if you can also deduct the mortgage interest on your state income tax return. For many investors, investment portfolios are constructed using a risk tolerance that carries a much higher annualized expected investment return than 2.9 percent.

    For some, the "guaranteed" 2.9 percent savings is more attractive than a higher expected market return, subject to greater volatility and risk. For those with a much higher after-tax mortgage rate, paying off a mortgage early likely becomes a more attractive option.

    Here are some other considerations:

    Taxes. For many, the ability to deduct mortgage interest is a key component to their tax strategy. Consider whether you will still be able to itemize deductions without mortgage interest.

    Investing. Realistically consider whether you'll invest the cash that would have been directed towards paying down your mortgage or spend it. Consider direct deposits into your brokerage account or increasing your monthly 401(k) contribution in an effort to "set it and forget it."

    Other needs. Aside from the ability to invest excess cash, are there any other more pressing goals on the horizon? Look at your whole financial situation including student loans, credit card debt and whether you have adequate emergency reserves.

    Life stage. The decision to pay down a mortgage will vary depending on your life stage, risk tolerance and time horizon. If you're nearing retirement you may have a more conservative asset allocation, and investing the excess cash in the market may mean taking on unnecessary risk. Being debt-free may also become more important later in life.

    Time horizon. If you are planning to stay in your home for the long term, it makes more sense to consider overpaying your mortgage than if you don't anticipate ever paying off the note.

    As you weigh the options, set realistic expectations and ensure the proper plan is in place to achieve your objectives. Discuss the decision with your financial adviser and tax professional before committing to a strategy. As with all financial goals, it pays to be flexible. If you're still unsure which direction is best or whether you have adequate reserves, think about opening a dedicated savings account for your excess cash flows and revisit the decision in three to six months. By separating the funds, you will be less likely to spend it on daily expenses while you consider the options.

    Kristin McFarland is a blogger for The Smarter Investor and director of strategic partnerships at Darrow Wealth Management, an SEC registered investment adviser in Massachusetts. The material contained in her articles is for general information only and should not be construed as the rendering of personalized investment, legal, accounting or tax advice. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.


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    financial growth plan for 2016...
    By Paul Sisolak

    From professional football player to speaker and financial coach, Chris Hogan has been a staple among personal finance experts. The money guru once worked as vice president of a mortgage company and later turned to helping people successfully manage their money. As a finalist in the 2015 GOBankingRates "Best Money Expert" competition held in collaboration with Ally Bank, Chris Hogan offers this money tip for 2016:

    The best thing you can do for your finances is to create a plan. Think about what your financial goals are and create a plan to reach those goals. The necessity of a plan sounds simple, but it is the one thing that many people overlook when it comes to their money. And a dream without a plan is simply a wish.

    Follow these five steps to apply Hogan's 2016 money tip to your life. From identifying key financial goals to paying down low balance debts, you can get your finances on track.

    1. Identify your financial goals. Hogan said it best: Without a plan, your goals are a pipe dream. In 2016, consider what you would like to do for the next few years, and how you can manage your finances to make your dreams come true. Whether you're saving for a house or car, as soon as you start mapping out what's in store for the new year, you'll see how much money you'll need to save and what other steps you'll need to take to reach those goals.

    Hogan suggested you set deadlines, allowing you to see upcoming milestones. Just make sure the budget you have laid out allows you to succeed.

    2. Set up a budget. Budgeting is one of the most essential parts of any money plan, yet about two-thirds of Americans don't have one in place, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. One essential step to developing a budget is to write out your monthly income and expenses, like rent, mortgage, car insurance and groceries, and compare them. Knowing how much you're spending in each category will help you identify where you're overspending.

    Cutting costs in certain categories, Hogan said in an ABC interview, is like getting a raise: "When you begin to give spending limits, it's like you've given yourself a raise. You've now given yourself some money you can begin to save or attack debt [with]."

    3. Tackle small debts first. As an associate of Dave Ramsey, Hogan is well versed in helping people reduce their debt. He suggested attacking low-level debt first: "The little $200 Home Depot store credit card? Knock that thing out, pay it off and get it out of your life, and then move to the next card."

    By paying off low-balance debts, you free up money you can put toward an emergency fund or other debts. By tackling debts with high interest, you also save yourself the money you would have otherwise put toward interest. Just be careful that as you free up more money every month you don't start increasing spending.

    4. Build up an emergency fund. One of the biggest elements of making a better money plan for 2016 is making room for an emergency fund. Hogan suggested opening a money market account, which can help your savings grow. "Once you get out of debt," he said, "you need three to six months of money, however much it takes you to run your household, tucked away in a money market account for that rainy day." If you're struggling to make ends meet, set up a jar in the kitchen or bedroom and dump your change in it at the end of each day. Over time that money can help you curb the cost of an unexpected repair or other emergency.

    5. Save for retirement even when you're behind. Thirty-six percent of American workers have less than $1,000 in savings and investments, not including their primary residence or defined benefits like pensions, according to a survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Sixty percent have less than $25,000 saved for retirement. J.P. Morgan, however, advises you have at least $55,000 saved for retirement by age 40 if you make $50,000 a year. By 50, you should have $115,000 saved.

    Don't worry if you've fallen behind in retirement savings. Even if you can't hit retirement savings checkpoints laid out by wealth advisers, the more money you save now will help reduce your reliance on Social Security when you're older. "There's still time on the clock," Hogan said in a YouTube video. "We just have to get focused." He advised you look to build additional income streams.

    Whether you tutor on the side or sell a unique skill you have, generating additional income specifically for retirement is a great way to catch up when you've fallen behind. As part of your money plan for 2016, look to eliminate small debts holding down your budget, establish spending goals and a small emergency fund, and start contributing to your retirement.

    This story, 5 Ways to Make a Better Plan for Your Money in 2016, originally appeared on


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    NEW YORK -- This week's back-to-back equities sell-off might have been a chance to ride a U.S. stocks rally towards the end of the year, amid the goldilocks economy scenario of a strong job market and falling oil prices.

    The S&P 500 rallied 2 percent Friday to eke a slight gain for the week, the ninth up week out of the last 10, after the U.S. economy added more jobs than expected in November in a show of the economy's resilience.

    The data likely paved the way for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this month for the first time in nearly a decade, while still keeping the U.S. central bank committed to a shallow and slow pace of increases.

    I see nothing on the calendar outside a geopolitical event that is going to make them [the Fed] change course at this point.

    "The story today in the U.S. is growth with modest inflation, which is great for equities," said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer, multi-asset strategies and solutions at Voya Investment Management in New York.

    "I see nothing on the calendar outside a geopolitical event that is going to make them [the Fed] change course at this point," he said.

    Markets have for weeks expected the Fed to raise rates after its Dec. 15-16 meeting.

    Earlier in the week, stocks sold off after the unwinding of short bets on the euro seeped into most asset classes. The euro posted its largest daily gain against the U.S. dollar in more than six years on Thursday after ECB President Mario Draghi's statement fell short of expectation for further easing.

    Some of the selling was related to leveraged funds that were likely forced to close positions as volatility jumped. According to Bank of America (BAC) research, these funds, which were heavily involved in the dramatic stocks sell-off in late August, had returned to the level of leverage they had prior to that downturn.

    Draghi said Friday the ECB could deploy more stimulus if needed, leading traders to reestablish short positions in the bloc's single currency.

    "In many ways he was trying to undo some of the damage from the perception that he didn't do enough," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

    In contrast to Draghi, she said, Fed Chair Janet Yellen isn't expected to surprise markets.

    "As long as she sticks to the script that she wrote the market shouldn't be shocked. The market is again factoring in the rate hike, today's good [payrolls] news should be good news that ultimately is a positive."

    Oil, Seasonality Support Bulls

    Adding to the strong job data as a bullish stocks catalyst, crude prices resumed their fall after news that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was planning to maintain its production near record highs despite already depressed prices.

    "The headwind of falling oil in 2015 in terms of earnings will become a tailwind in 2016," said Steve Chiavarone, associate portfolio manager at Federated Investors in New York, pointing to the benefits of lower oil prices for main street.

    "When you take a wide look at the consumer, not just retail sales, the consumer looks healthy."

    Retail sales data out Friday could confirm the upbeat state of consumers heading into the key holiday season.

    The end of year seasonality could also be supportive of higher stock prices. December is historically the best month for the S&P 500 (^GSPC) according to data from the Stock Trader's Almanac.

    "We should enjoy the rally and perhaps wait until we transition into the new year to focus back on fundamentals," Krosby said.


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    Close up of stopwatch on 20 dollar bills
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    By Cameron Huddleston

    Live the life you want without working all the time. That's the message of Tim Ferriss -- entrepreneur, angel investor, public speaker and author of several bestselling books, including "The 4-Hour Workweek." And it's helped him achieve massive success.

    Tim Ferriss is a finalist in GOBankingRates' 2015 "Best Money Expert" competition held in collaboration with Ally Bank. As part of the competition, we asked top finance experts to share their best money tips for 2016. The advice Ferriss offered gets to the heart of his message about living the life you want:

    The lifestyle value of each dollar you have is determined by your control of two other currencies: time and mobility.

    According to Ferriss, time and mobility are the currency of what he calls the New Rich. The New Rich are people he says use these currencies to take control of their lives to escape 40-hour workweeks without sacrificing their lifestyles. Here's how you can live a life of luxury without working yourself to death.

    How to Make More Money Without Working More

    Ferriss went from working 14-hour days to working four hours a week earning $40,000 a month. He writes on his blog,, that he "separated income from time and created my ideal lifestyle in the process, traveling the world and enjoying the best this planet has to offer." And he did it using the principles of DEAL, an acronym for Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation.

    Given that a Gallup survey found that the average workweek is actually 47 hours, you might have a hard time whittling yours down to just four hours. But by using Ferriss' strategies, you might be able to get more done in a shorter period of time and boost the amount you earn in the process.

    Define What You Want

    By definition, Ferriss means that you should define your ideal lifestyle. Ask yourself what you want to be doing, what you want to have and how much that lifestyle will cost you.

    This might be easier said than done. A 2015 University of Phoenix survey found that about 60 percent of working adults want to change careers, but nearly 40 percent of those adults aren't sure what other career to choose. The adults surveyed cited other barriers to change including lack of adequate education, lack of financial security and fear of the unknown, such as when starting a business.

    You might be able to test the waters of a new field before making a switch by looking for volunteer opportunities. Or look for a mentor in the field you're interested in to understand the requirements and help you find new opportunities. You can also explore your interests with free online courses on or on the websites of colleges and universities.

    Eliminate Time-Consuming Activities

    Once you know what you want, you can focus on Elimination -- getting rid of the static that interferes with your ideal lifestyle. One of the key things you should eliminate is an addiction to information, especially the need to constantly check emails.

    Using an autoresponder to let people know you only check emails twice a day can reduce unnecessary back and forth. And people who might reach out to you over email for help will be forced to be more solution oriented. By putting down your phone and establishing a set time to check emails, you can cut down on interruptions, allowing you to use your time more effectively.

    Automate Tasks

    Ferriss has said in interviews and written that you should automate and outsource daily tasks, such as making appointments, paying bills and even conducting research. He's recommended services like GetFriday, and DoMyStuff to find assistants to help put some aspect of his life on autopilot.

    He insists that you don't have to be a Fortune 500 company to outsource tasks. In fact, it can be a low-cost way to get a lot of work done by others so that you have more time to focus on tasks that will make you more money.

    Liberate Yourself

    This is where mobility comes into play in Ferriss' equation for living the life you want. "Liberation is not about cheap travel; it is about forever breaking the bonds that confine you to a single location," he wrote on his blog. Liberation and mobility is about how you spend your time.

    One way to untie yourself from a 9-to-5 job in an office is to work as a freelancer from home -- or coffee shop or hostel in a city or country of your choosing. More than one-third of the U.S. workforce does freelance work, according to a study commissioned by Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk. Although some just do it to earn money on the side, many make their living as independent contractors.

    So rather than focusing on working harder to get paid more, use time and mobility to your advantage to get the life you want. As Ferriss wrote on his blog: "Can you use the same principles to double your income, cut your hours in half or at least double the usual vacation time? Most definitely."

    This story, How to Get Richer Without Getting a Raise, originally appeared on


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    Secret Ways to Save Big Bucks on Amazon

    Millions of Americans are in love with shopping on It's terrifically convenient, and pricing can often be lower than in brick-and-mortar stores.

    However, if you know a few tricks, there are even bigger bargains to be found. Following are 10 secret ways die-hard Amazon shoppers shave even more money off store prices.

    1. Amazon Associates. Amazon Associates is the website's affiliate program. Every time you send someone to Amazon, you get paid a percentage of whatever they spend. It's really geared toward bloggers and small businesses, but according to Amazon:
    All you need to join is a Web site that does not violate intellectual property rights or promote sexually explicit materials, violence, illegal activities, or discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age.
    The key to making it work is to find a friend who is a regular Amazon shopper and also willing to sign up. You can't earn an affiliate commission on your own purchases, but you can on someone else's.
    So, the plan is that you and your friend both sign up as affiliates. Then, when you shop on Amazon, you use their affiliate link and when they shop, they use yours. It's an easy way to make up to 10 percent cash back on each other's purchases.

    2. Subscribe and Save. If you want to be sure you never run out of toilet paper or laundry soap, use the Subscribe and Save feature available on many household items.

    Basically, it works like this: You agree to receive regular, automatic shipments of certain products, and in exchange you get free shipping and a discount. The discount starts at 5 percent for a single item and climbs to 15 percent if you subscribe to five eligible items.

    Since you can cancel at any time, some people sign up for Subscribe and Save, receive one shipment at the reduced price, and then cancel.

    3. Amazon Prime. For heavy-duty Amazon buyers like me, Amazon Prime is the way to go. It costs $99 for an annual membership but you get free two-day shipping, which can more than pay for the price of the membership.

    Plus, you can borrow from an extensive Kindle library for free, and stream video for free. There's also free streaming music and free unlimited cloud picture storage.

    Maybe you aren't sure you spend enough at Amazon to justify shelling out $99. You're in luck: Amazon gives you a free one-month trial before they charge you -- a one-month trial that may be perfect for, say, the holidays.

    4. Deal tracker sites. Regular Amazon shoppers know that prices at the online store fluctuate all over the place.

    That's where deal tracker sites come in handy. Websites such as and can show you historical Amazon price data, as well as send alerts when a price on a certain item reaches a preset amount.

    Operations Inside An Inc. Fulfillment Center On Cyber Monday
    Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    You can price watch on your own by clicking "Save for Later" on the items that interest you. Creating a wish list is another option. Sometimes, if you put an item in your cart and leave it there for a few days, the price will drop -- presumably to entice you to buy.

    5. Amazon Mom. Moms are big business for retailers. The cost of all those diapers adds up quickly, but you can get 20 percent off a diaper subscription with Amazon Mom.

    In addition, Amazon offers a one-time 10 percent discount -- up to 15 percent for Amazon Prime members -- on select items from your baby registry 60 days before your child's arrival date.

    6. Amazon Student. Why should moms get all the savings? Poor college kids need a break too.
    Amazon Student is essentially a reduced-price version of Amazon Prime. For half the price of Prime, you get the same benefits, plus special student offers and promotions.

    You can also get a six-month free trial of Amazon Student compared with the 30-day trial offered to Prime members. During those six months, you don't get access to free video or music streaming, or the Kindle lending library. But with six months of free two-day shipping, it's hard to complain.

    To get an Amazon Student membership, you need an .edu email address or must be able to otherwise verify your enrollment status.

    7. Unearth the deep discounts. Every day can be like Black Friday on if you know where to look.
    • Used items. Amazon allows third-party sellers and individuals to sell used items through its site. Some of these "used" items are actually new and sold at a deep discount. Look for items that are eligible for free shipping. And shop carefully -- beware those penny books that come with $15 shipping and handling charges.
    • Deal of the Day. Every day, Amazon has a new deal. You can find it by clicking on Today's Deals next to the Amazon logo at the top of the page.
    • Lightning Deals. These are also found on the Deal of the Day page. They offer a limited number of deeply discounted items for only a couple of hours.
    • Outlet Department. The Amazon Outlet can be buried on the site and may be difficult to find unless you stumble upon it. Here's a direct link to the Outlet, where you'll find some of the best deals on new items.
    8. What's that all about? Aren't we talking about Amazon here?

    Sure, and Warehouse Deals is the quick link to Amazon's warehouse, where you can find all their refurbished and open-box items.

    9. Amazon freebies. If you watch our Deals Section, you probably already know that Amazon regularly offers promos including free music downloads, free apps, free e-books and free streaming video credits.
    In addition, look for items that come with built-in freebies. One of the most common deals to find on Amazon is a free instant video for streaming with the purchase of select movies.

    10. Get your swag on. Finally, one of the best ways to save on Amazon may be to go off of Amazon. A number of rewards and survey websites let you earn points that can be redeemed for Amazon gift cards. and are examples of sites offering Amazon gift cards. Another option is to shop through and get cash back on your purchase.

    What's your favorite way to save? Let us know in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

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


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    When to Sign Up for Medicare Coverage

    Many retirees rely on Medicare. Part A, which pays for hospitalization, is free. There's a monthly premium for Part B, which covers outpatient care, such as doctors' visits.

    You're eligible for Medicare at 65. If you're already receiving Social Security, you'll be automatically enrolled and receive your Medicare card three months before your birthday. If not, you must enroll yourself.

    You can sign up for Medicare without penalty beginning three months before until three months after your 65th birthday. If neither you nor your spouse has health insurance through a current employer, sign up for both Part A and Part B.

    Even if you're still working at 65, sign up for Part A. If your employer has fewer than 20 employees, sign up for Part B, too, since employee coverage generally becomes secondary to Medicare at age 65. Otherwise, you must sign up for Part B within eight months of retiring from your job.

    There's a lot more you need to know about Medicare, including other common Medicare mistakes to avoid. Kiplinger's special report on Navigating Medicare can help.


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    USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Close up of woman's hand putting money into jar
    Getty ImagesThe money you put in an annuity typically isn't available for emergencies or bequests.

    Investing can be scary, especially in the short term. When you retire, it's hard to watch the value of your lifetime of savings fluctuate as financial markets bounce up and down. Fear is a powerful sales tool.

    Immediate annuities are an insurance product that prevents you from losing money and offers the benefit of guaranteed payments. However, there is a catch with those guarantees. Many annuities aren't guaranteed to keep up with inflation, so the purchasing power of those guaranteed payments could decline over time. Tying up a significant portion of your money in an annuity also takes away some of your financial options and flexibility, because you can't always get the money back out easily. And some annuities are outright expensive.

    Here are some of the issues you could face if you invest your retirement savings in an immediate annuity.

    Inflation risk. Inflation has been artificially low for years due to manipulation by central banks and the slow growth patterns of the economy. As a result, many people have forgotten how inflation can reduce the buying power of fixed income payments and guaranteed rates of return.

    Inflation is a normal occurrence as the cost of goods and services increase over time. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, inflation hit double digits.

    A diversified investment portfolio has the ability to grow and provide a return above inflation. However, if you purchase an annuity in today's low interest rate environment, you could find yourself in a situation where your "guaranteed" rate of return isn't keeping pace with the rising costs of goods.

    It wasn't too long ago that the average rate of return on savings accounts insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. exceeded 4 percent at your local bank. With the Federal Reserve planning to increase interest rates, the risk of inflation should be factored in to any annuity purchase.

    Loss of flexibility. Putting a portion of your savings into an annuity means that it won't be available for current expenses or emergencies. Here's how you limit your options when you purchase a guaranteed rate of return from an insurance company:
    1. Penalties. If you change your mind or incur an emergency expense and want to pull your money out of an annuity, you're probably going to face surrender charges. You could find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being subjected to surrender charges that exceed 10 percent. The insurance company is able to provide you with a guaranteed return due to the restrictive nature of the investment that makes it expensive if you want to withdraw your money early.
    2. No legacy options. Fixed annuities provide guaranteed payments during your lifetime. But when you pass away the payments typically cease, and your initial investment is retained by the insurance company. In some cases you can buy additional insurance riders that act as life insurance and repay the principal if you die unexpectedly. However, this additional protection has an extra cost that can add to the annual fees and ultimately lower the return or guaranteed payment, which is why you likely purchased the annuity to begin with.
    3. Limitations. Some annuities are designed to mimic the behavior of the stock market. Equity-indexed annuities supposedly make money like the stock market without the risk of losing principle. However, your participation in the returns of equity markets is capped or restricted. It varies by policy, but the limits typically kick in around 8 percent. That may sound generous, but consider how much money you would have been shorted in 2013 when the S&P 500 returned 32 percent. Make sure you read all disclosures and fine print before investing in an equity-indexed annuity.
    High fees and commissions. Insurance products have multiple layers of fees. These can include mortality expenses, administrative costs and sales commissions. The fees can be steep. The Securities and Exchange Commission estimates that the average mortality expense is around 1.25 percent, and sales commissions are typically 5 to 6 percent.

    Annuities are complicated insurance products with strict limitations on the guaranteed income. Given the current low interest rates and potential for increasing inflation, annuities certainly won't be a good fit for everyone. Make sure the broker, agent or adviser you are working with truly understands your situation, needs and all of the investments available to you -- not just the products that are the most lucrative for them.

    Some tell-tale signs that you may need to seek a second opinion are:
    • A persistent recommendation of one product without clearly articulating (in easy to understand language) why it's the best fit for you.
    • A limited knowledge of the entire realm of possible solutions, such as fixed versus variable products and immediate versus deferred annuities.
    • Recommendations that don't make sense or that you can't easily understand.
    • Offering insurance solutions for non-insurance problems, such as saving for college, paying off debt or emergency reserves.
    Brian Preston and Bo Hanson are fee-only financial planners who host the podcast, "The Money-Guy Show."


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