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DailyFinance.com

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    Consumerism: Garage sale posted in suburbs. Home, summer.
    Getty Images
    By Tahirah Blanding

    It's time to rethink your household junk. What may appear to be useless clutter could actually be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. According to a Nielsen survey conducted for eBay, the average home has $3,100 worth of unused items, mostly clothing and electronics. If you look carefully, you may find that your attic, garage, and closets contain valuable stuff that can put money in your pocket. Cheapism.com rounded up some common household items that collectors are looking for.

    Vintage Toys. Older toys are in high demand and you may be surprised by the value of the kids' playthings sitting in your closet. On eBay, a pair of vintage pogo sticks are selling for $50. Original Cabbage Patch Dolls are listed for hundreds of dollars. And some old Matchbox cars are worth more than $1,000.

    Comics and Magazines. Even if you aren't a comic book collector, you still might have some valuable comics lying around. Early issues of X-Men, Flash, and Strange Tales are selling for $50 an issue on eBay. Collectors are also looking for vintage issues of Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, and Time magazine.

    Books. Scan your shelves for interesting titles and first editions. There are lots of online resources to help you estimate the value of your books; the popular used books website AbeBooks lets you search by author, title, or ISBN number. As a general rule, the rarer the book, the more you are likely to get. For example, AbeBooks is selling a first edition of Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" for $13,500.

    Designer Clothes. If there's a designer label among the clothes, shoes, and accessories lurking in the back of your closet, you can cash in. Prices for many used and vintage designer items can be surprisingly high. For example, a pair of Christian Louboutin high heel shoes that sold for $675 new are listed on Tradesy, a high-end online consignment shop, for $556. Other potential marketplaces include Craigslist and consignment shops.

    Gaming Consoles and Accessories. Old video game consoles from PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo don't usually sell for thousands of dollars, but you can still cash them in for a third or even half of the original selling price. For example, a PlayStation 2, which debuted in 2000, is selling for $100 on eBay, while an unused PlayStation 2 is listed for an impressive $1,800. Another eBay user listed a Nintendo Game Boy for $139. Pawn shops are also a good place to sell old consoles and games.

    Stereo Equipment. Old audio equipment is in high demand. Stereos made in Japan in the 1970s are particularly desirable, so if you have an old Pioneer or Marantz receiver sitting in the closet you may want to put it on eBay or Craigslist. Boomboxes from the 1980s are also gaining value, as are Sony Walkman cassette players.

    Small Appliances. Many of us have small, rarely used appliances tucked away in the kitchen. They're relatively easy to turn into cash through various online marketplaces. An Oster mixer from the 1960s might bring $100, while a vintage Hamilton Beach milkshake mixer from the 1950s might be worth several times that. More recent kitchen equipment in good working order is also in demand, for prices that are close to new.

    Costume Jewelry. Jewelry is a big seller online and buyers aren't always looking for expensive gems or stones. Costume jewelry is typically made of plated metal and other inexpensive materials and can appear to be worthless. Before you toss dull-looking or gaudy jewelry aside, try pricing it on eBay, which has a large costume jewelry category -- you might be pleasantly surprised. Local pawn shops readily purchase costume jewelry as well. And if you have an abundance of costume pieces, try setting up an online jewelry boutique on Etsy.

    Furniture. Furniture may not be easy to ship but mid-century modern furniture is easy to sell. Interior designers, collectors, and the design-savvy are always looking for unique furniture, and pieces with a Scandinavian look are extremely popular right now. Chairish, an online marketplace for used and vintage furniture, helps coordinate the sale and shipping in return for a 20 percent cut of the price. Prices are robust; a mid-century modern-style table lamp is going for $499 on Chairish, for example. Etsy is another online marketplace for furniture; a vintage Danish-style sofa bench is currently listed at $795.

    Vinyl Records. If you don't have any vinyl records, you may know someone (such as a parent) who does. Most vinyl records are vintage at this point, and records made by certain artists can be worth hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Music stores are the best option for selling old records, and eBay has fairly extensive listings as well. One eBay user has listed an Elvis Presley record collection for $4,500.

    Board Games. Vintage board games don't sell for as much as other household items, but they still may be worth their original price or better. Monopoly and Mahjong are two of the most sought-after board game sets. For example, a 1991 collector's edition Monopoly is selling for about $52 on eBay.

    Glass Bottles. Glass bottle collectors will pay top dollar for old bottles. Collectors focus on bottles from the 1800s and 1900s, with mouth-blown and imprinted bottles receiving the most attention. Collectors Weekly maintains a useful list of the most-wanted specimens. Some of the bottles on the list are fairly common, so there's a good chance some may be in your house.

    Typewriters. Even though the technology is now outdated, buyers are willing to pay $100 or more for old typewriters. Rare metal-plated typewriters receive high bids on sites like eBay. The most expensive typewriter currently on eBay, a Sholes & Glidden Remington 1, is priced at $14,999 and more than 100 potential buyers are watching the auction. But even ordinary typewriters of more recent vintage are worth something. Typewriters were a household staple for many years, so there's a good chance you still have one somewhere.

    Photographs. You can make good money selling old photographs, especially those with celebrities or from specific eras. Old Photographic, an online vintage photography magazine, buys rare and vintage photos, albums, and negatives, and some vintage shops also buy old photographs. One photographer sold a collection of Beatles photos taken by an amateur at Shea Stadium in 1965 for 30,000 pounds ($46,000). You never know what pictures you may have tucked away in old family photo albums. Pictures of generals, celebrities, old war equipment, or famous events could bring in hundreds of dollars.

    Workout Gear. Surprisingly, brand name aerobics and fitness attire from the '80s and '90s is currently a hot commodity. For example, a vintage Adidas windbreaker is going for $49.99 on eBay. Old equipment is selling too: A 1961 belt massager, which originally sold for $94.95, is listed on eBay for more than $200.

     

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    Final notice bill
    Getty Images
    By Ellen Chang

    NEW YORK - Consumers who are facing delinquent car or mortgage payments should start by negotiating with their lender instead of ignoring the problem.

    Dealing with the lenders head-on when you know a late payment is imminent will help you in the long-run, because they will be more willing to work with you and offer a variety of payment options. This can be one way to salvage your credit score. If you are coping with a budget crunch or if the unemployment checks have nearly run out, start addressing the issue of having to skip a payment.

    The worst thing consumers can do is disregard the issue entirely and believe they can start making payments on their delinquent account once they start earning a salary. Depending on your lender and if you routinely pay on time, the company might have a grace period of a week before incurring a late fee or will reverse it, said Leslie Tayne, a Melville, New York, attorney specializing in debt relief.

    Some companies allow borrowers to qualify for a forbearance, which provides temporary relief from your full payment or to skip a couple of payments, said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

    "You never know if you qualify for these or other options unless you take the first step and call the lender before things get worse," he said.

    Auto Lenders Are Less Forgiving

    Many lenders are less merciful when it comes to missing a car payment and repossession is more likely to be on the table.

    Some lenders will repossess the vehicle "as soon as a payment is missed in some cases," said McClary. Discuss your options with the lender to avoid further delinquency. Some lenders will want to avoid the extra work and expense of repossessing your car and might allow consumers to skip or defer a payment, he said. Don't count on it and call them to see if it is a viable option. Others might be more lenient and can offer to change the terms or refinance the loan for more affordable payments.

    "If those actions don't look possible, you can try to sell the car or turn in the keys for a voluntary repossession," McClary said.

    Car Loan Payment Options

    Consumers who believe it is just a temporary setback might be able to skip a payment or make lower ones for a few months. The lender will want you to add the missing amounts at the end of the loan.

    Refinancing your current auto loan might be worth it if you need to save more money in the long term, said Kevin Gallegos, vice president of the Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network, a consumer debt resolution company. This means you would wind up with a lower interest rate or a longer loan term, so start by asking your current lender.

    Selling your car might seem like a worst case scenario, but it means you will have the flexibility of having extra cash to pay bills, especially your rent or mortgage or the option to buy a cheaper car.

    First, do some research, and find out if it's worth selling. Determine how much you owe on the car and see if you can sell the car for more than the amount of your existing loan.

    "You would be able to pay off the bank, maintain your credit profile and hopefully have enough cash to purchase a less expensive car," he said.

    Once you have hit 90 days of not making any kind of a payment, the lender will definitely send your account to collections and the car will be repossessed, said Katie Ross, education and development manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling, an Auburndale, Massachusetts-based financial education nonprofit organization.

    If you run into financial trouble, it is crucial to explain your situation to the lender.

    "If the situation is dire, a bank may even allow a buyer to miss a payment or two while things get better," said Matt Jones, a senior editor for Edmunds.com, a Santa Monica, California-based car shopping website.

    Missing Mortgage Payments

    Mortgage lenders tend to be more tolerant if you miss one or two payments and the timeline for a foreclosure is longer.

    Missing a second payment makes your situation even more dire. While a foreclosure typically can't start until your mortgage is at least 120 days past due, it is a serious problem, said McClary.

    Since most lenders require homeowners to make a payment by the first a month, a grace period is usually only given until the 15 of the month. Once you have surpassed that date, your payment will be considered delinquent, said Kevin Gallegos, vice president of the Phoenix operations with Freedom Financial Network, a company that helps consumers with debt issues.

    The good news is that the majority of lenders won't report that the payment is late to the three credit bureaus until it has been 30 days late. Your credit score can be "hit hard and sometimes up to 100 points for just one missed payment," he said.

    Mortgage Payment Options

    If you know your situation is just temporary, the lender may be willing to work with you on a payment plan, Gallegos said. Some homeowners will seek a forbearance agreement for a temporary hardship, and it will grant a homeowner the option to lower or eliminate payments for a "limited time," he said.

    Loan modifications are a permanent change to the terms of the loan and will lower the payment by extending the loan's term or incorporate the delinquencies into future payments.

    By the time you have missed a couple of payments, refinancing might not be a viable option. Lenders will likely only give you a higher interest rate, which means it won't lower the monthly payment.

    Free Counseling Programs

    Before you head into a potential foreclosure, one option is to seek free advice from a Housing & Urban Development-approved housing counseling agency, said McClary. These nonprofit agencies can help identify "sustainable ways to preserve home ownership or transition to more affordable housing while avoiding foreclosure," he said.

    There are also two federal government programs whose goals are to help struggling homeowners and were founded in the aftermath of the 2008 housing market crash and global financial crisis. The Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, assists homeowners who are in danger of a foreclosure and will help them refinance their mortgages to lower their monthly payments.

    The second, known as the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, helps homeowners who have loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and haven't missed any payments yet, but don't have much equity in their home or owe more on their mortgage than the home's current value.

     

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    Need Help With Debt? Here's Where to Find It Free

    By Stacy Johnson

    According to NerdWallet, at the end of 2014, the average credit card debt for households that carried a balance was a whopping $15,609. That's enough to bust nearly any household budget. Fortunately, for those needing help, it's both easy to find and free.

    Here's this week's question:
    Are there any services available for consumers to use for credit card debt repayment? Ones that are safe and you can trust? -Dawn
    The answer to your first question is simple, Dawn. Yes, there are tons of services that help consumers with credit card debt. The answer to the second question is also yes, but requires a bit more explanation.

    Credit Counseling

    Several years ago, a close friend of mine was in debt hell. Because of a bad relationship (her live-in boyfriend refused to work), she was unable to pay her bills. In addition to an overdrawn bank account and maxed-out credit cards, she even owed thousands of dollars on an engagement ring her beau had bought and never paid for. The only solution she could see, other than ending the relationship, was moving back in with her parents until she could regain her financial footing.

    I offered another option: credit counseling. It's something I know a lot about. I've covered these services for decades and have sat on the board of two agencies.

    A reputable credit counseling agency will put you on a debt management plan. This means they step between you and your creditors. They'll make the collection calls stop, help you prepare a repayment plan, possibly get some interest rates reduced and fees eliminated, and offer a specific date when you'll be debt-free. After entering a debt management plan, you'll stop using credit cards and start sending one check monthly to the agency, which they'll divide into prearranged payments and forward to your creditors.

    Credit counseling worked for my friend because she had income -- you can't repay debt without it. Because she had a good job, all she needed was some room to breathe, and credit counseling offered it. Her plan, like most, took just more than four years to complete. Today she's debt-free, has a nice, fat savings account, and a much better boyfriend.

    The vast majority of credit counseling agencies are nonprofit and free. In fact, if you ever have questions about anything debt related, you should call one of theses agencies and fire away: They're typically both friendly and knowledgeable.

    While the advice is typically free, debt management plans aren't. You'll normally pay a monthly fee of $25 to $50, although that can be waived if you can prove hardship.

    Finding the Right Credit Counseling Agency

    The potential problem with the credit counseling industry is how they keep the lights on. Since they're charging their clients very little, they have to raise money somewhere. One of the chief providers of their funding has historically been the banking industry.

    Since credit card companies and other lenders are the ultimate beneficiaries of people paying their bills, they often return a portion of the money collected by debt management plans to the counseling agency. This is called "fair share." While fair share payments aren't as generous as they used to be, they can still provide an incentive for employees of these agencies to put you on a plan. After all, that's the only way for them to make money.

    There have been instances in which unscrupulous agencies jammed everyone who called into a debt management plan, even if they didn't belong in one. For example, some people can pay off their bills with just a little coaching -- they don't need a formal plan. Others are too far gone and should file bankruptcy. But because those options didn't create income for the agency, they weren't offered.

    We've partnered with Consolidated Credit Counseling Service, a credit counseling agency I've known personally for many years. You can find them on this page of our Solutions Center and can reach them either online or on the phone.

    But whether you use our partner or choose another agency, it's important to know how to find a reputable credit counseling agency. Here's what to look for.

    Quality counseling agencies:
    1. Disclose all fees, and keep them small. According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, "any set-up fee or monthly fee should be reasonable, usually defined as $50 or less, with monthly fees in the $25 range. The agency should be willing to waive all fees in cases of true hardship."
    2. Are accredited by COA and affiliated with NFCC. If an agency is certified by the Council on Accreditation, you can be sure their counselors have had training. Another way to locate a reputable credit counseling group is to search through NFCC, which has a 60-year record and only supports legit groups. They also have a lot of advice on what to expect from credit counseling.
    3. Work with you and all your creditors as long as necessary, by whatever means necessary. A serious organization will keep working with you until you don't need them. They'll offer service by phone, online and in person. They'll take a holistic approach and sound like a counselor, not a salesperson.
    4. Spend resources educating people, not on lots of TV advertising. Our partner, Consolidated Credit Counseling, does do some advertising, but my experience suggests most quality agencies put what little money they have into helping people, not into ads.
    5. Offer honest assessments of your credit and options. A good counselor will help choose among every available option, from tweaking your budget to filing bankruptcy. They'll also let you know that signing up for a debt plan won't damage your credit score but could look bad to some lenders.
    6. Tailor the plan to your needs. Some people just need to trim a little spending to repay their debt, while others need a debt plan. A good agency will listen to what you need, rather than pushing prepackaged solutions.
    7. Help anyone who asks. Reputable groups don't place restrictions on whom they help, as long as they can provide the necessary paperwork. They're not judgmental, either.
    8. Are licensed, insured and answer to you. Trustworthy agencies earn trust by proving that they have the proper legal backing and by providing you with a statement at least quarterly.
    If You Have a Problem, Make a Call

    The worst mistake you can make is letting fear and anxiety cause you to freeze like a deer in the headlights. If you've got a problem and need help, make a call. Not soon, right now. It will cost you nothing, will definitely make you feel better and could very well change your life for the better.

    Got a Question You'd Like Answered?

    You can ask a question simply by hitting "reply" to our email newsletter. If you're not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here.

    The questions I'm likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don't ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don't get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get way more questions than I have time to answer.

    About Me

    I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I've earned a CPA (currently inactive), and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate. Got some time to kill? You can learn more about me here.

    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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    NATPE 2015 Conference - Day 1
    Aaron Davidson/Getty Images
    By Beth Pinsker

    NEW YORK -- On ABC's "Shark Tank," Daymond John scrutinizes the business plans of wannabe entrepreneurs, but how does he manage his own finances?

    A self-made businessman, John is actually pretty realistic -- working his way up many ladders and learning from failures. A native of Queens, New York, John founded FUBU at age 23 in 1992, riding the wave of hip-hop fashion trends.

    Now 46, he has been with "Shark Tank" since its debut in 2009. He serves as a consultant, gives motivational speeches, writes books and is a spokesman for other businesses, such as Gillette.

    Reuters spoke with John about how his acumen for business translates to managing his own money:

    Q: How much of your net worth is locked away for the future, and how much is at your disposal now?

    A: I've probably put in 50 percent for long-term, and the rest I play with. I have squirreled away enough to not have to worry about it. Hopefully, I'll never have to touch it, and it will be passed onto my kids or a great organization.

    What I play with now, it can fluctuate. I can end up using a good percentage of it on a great acquisition, or I can hold it.

    Q: How involved are you in the management of that money?

    A: There are several levels of it. I'm involved when I'm doing my day-trading. When we're talking about asset allocation, I have very different approaches. I'm with Goldman [Sachs] and various other firms. I kind of let three out of five of them do their own thing. For two out of five, I monitor [my account] over the course of every month or so.

    Q: Most of what you do on 'Shark Tank' can be considered alternate investments, but do you do anything beyond that to diversify your portfolio?

    A: My larger investments have been apparel brands. As for real estate, I'm part of a fund, but I've never been that great at real estate.

    Q: When you do a promotion like for Gillette's Shave Club, do you have an investment in that, or is it just for promotion?

    A: It's a brand association. It's just an investment of my time and my face and my integrity. I don't take it lightly.

    Q: You lend your name to a lot of causes as well. How do you decide what charities get your time and money?

    A: It's not really a planned thing. I try to give on various platforms, and not do too much check-book philanthropy. For some, I will try to make more people aware of the plight, and help get more people to give. To some I will dedicate time, such as my desire to get out word about dyslexia.

    Q: Do you have planned giving worked into your estate plan?

    A: I don't have that formal plan -- some will go to family and certain small organizations. One is animal related, one is dyslexia, one is hip-hop against violence.

    Q: Who first taught you about finance and money management?

    A: I got the knowledge by blowing about $20 to $30 million the first time I made it. I'm not one of the few who hit lotto or peaked at 25 as an athlete. I have had several other bites at the apple.

    Q: You have listed Robert Kiyosaki's 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' as one of your favorite books. What have you learned from it?

    A: The fundamental lesson to it is it's not how much you make, it's how much you save. You should go after small opportunities that have the potential to grow into large opportunities. That educated me on the tool of money.

     

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    Retail Signage Ahead Of Chain Store Sales Figures
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. retail sales surged in May as households boosted purchases of automobiles and a range of other goods even as they paid a bit more for gasoline, the latest sign economic growth is finally gathering steam.

    While other data Thursday showed a slight increase in new applications for unemployment benefits, the number remained in territory associated with a tightening labor market. The signs of a firming economy could likely prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in September.

    Retail sales increased 1.2 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.2 percent gain in April, the Commerce Department said. April sales were previously reported to have been unchanged. March sales were also revised to show them rising 1.5 percent instead of 1.1 percent.

    The dollar rallied against a basket of currencies on the retail sales data, while prices for U.S. Treasury debt fell. U.S. stock index futures were little changed.

    The U.S. central bank has kept its short-term interest rate near zero since December 2008. Solid retail sales data added to robust job growth in May and stabilizing manufacturing activity in suggesting the economy was finding momentum after getting off to a slow start in the second quarter.

    The government's most recent growth estimate showed gross domestic product contracted at a 0.7 percent annual pace in the first quarter.

    But revisions to March retail sales together with upbeat data on health care spending, as well as already reported revisions to construction spending, trade and wholesale inventory data suggest that output was probably not that weak.

    Broad-Based Gains

    Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services increased 0.7 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.1 percent rise in April.

    These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. Economists had forecast core retail sales rising 0.5 percent after they were previously reported to have been flat in April.

    Consumer spending is likely to remain fairly strong in the coming months, supported by high savings, rising house prices and a tightening labor market, economists say.

    In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 279,000 for the week ended June 6.

    It was the 14th straight week that claims held below the 300,000 threshold, which is usually associated with a firming labor market. The government reported last week that 280,000 jobs were created in May, up from 221,000 in April.

    Last month, overall retail sales were buoyed by a 2 percent jump in receipts at auto dealerships.

    Sales at service stations rose 3.7 percent, reflecting a rise in gasoline prices. Sales at electronic and appliance stores gained 0.1 percent, while receipts at furniture stores increased 0.8 percent.

    Sales at clothing stores surged 1.5 percent. Receipts at online stores climbed 1.4 percent and sales at sporting goods stores increased 0.8 percent. Sales of building materials and garden equipment advanced 2.1 percent.

    Sales at restaurants and bars nudged up 0.1 percent.

     

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    StumbleUponStumbleUpon CEO Mark Bartels.
    By Rachel Sugar

    Everybody wants to hire stars. But StumbleUpon CEO Mark Bartels isn't looking for people who shine alone -- instead, he prioritizes candidates who are true collaborators.

    Which isn't to dismiss the value of people who thrive alone. "You always want different types of people that you're working with, and individual contributors are great," Bartels tells Business Insider. "They're very productive, and they can have very high output." There's just one limitation: ultimately, they're only one person.

    That's why he looks for what he calls "enablers" -- people who are not only high achievers, but also make everyone around them better. "You hire one person," he explains, "but then that one person goes on and trains and shares ideas with three other people." The result is "a way more productive team" -- and fewer single points of failure.

    In their natural habitats, enablers "tend to collaborate a lot," says Bartels. "They communicate a lot with other groups outside their particular pod. You'll see them programming with other engineers, they seem to want to organize meetups, and they tend to want to share trade secrets if it gets the job done faster." They're less protective of their own knowledge, and as a result, they "empower people around them."

    But it's one thing to appreciate enablers in action, and another to spot them during the hiring process, before you've had the chance to see them in action.

    In Bartels' experience, though, there's an easy tell: "Look for the words they use," he advises. While individual contributors tend to talk about "I" and "me," enablers rely on phrases like "we," "us," and "team." "When you ask them about a project, they'll talk about the team, and a lot of the time, they'll give credit to other people," he says. "And I don't see that as a weakness -- I see that as a positive."

     

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    WSJ. Magazine 2014 Innovator Awards
    Andy Kropa/Invision/APRupert Murdoch
    By David Faber

    Rupert Murdoch, the 84-year-old chief executive officer and controlling shareholder of 21st Century Fox (FOXA), is preparing to step down as CEO of the media giant and hand that title to his son James, according to numerous sources close to the Murdoch family.

    An announcement is expected in the near term, while it's unclear whether the reorganization would take place this year or at the start of 2016. Rupert Murdoch will continue to be the executive chairman of Fox, while his son Lachlan would also become an executive co-chairman of the company.

    As part of the management reordering at Fox, COO Chase Carey will step down and take on a yet undefined role as an advisor at the company. Carey was widely expected to exercise his right to an early release from his contract, allowing him to leave the company at the end of this year. Now, sources tell me, he is likely to remain in some capacity through 2016. He didn't return a call for comment,

    While James Murdoch, 42, would take over the day-to-day management of Fox, he will work in tandem with his 43-year-old brother Lachlan and his father. Sources who have spoken with the Murdochs in recent weeks tell me they have shared their plans openly and describe the Murdoch brothers' new roles as a "partnership."

    A Fox spokesperson said that the matter of succession is on the board of director's agenda at its next regularly scheduled meeting and declined further comment.

    While no one doubts the elder Murdoch will still have the final say on whatever goes on at Fox, Carey's stepping down as COO will leave the company without a layer of senior management outside the family for the first time. For many years that role was filled ably by Peter Chernin, who departed as News Corp.'s COO in 2009 and was succeeded by Carey, who is widely lauded by shareholders for his management of the company's cable networks.

    James Murdoch, who gave up his job running BSkyB after the U.K. hacking scandal engulfed the company four years ago, has been winning fans among the Fox investor base for his work as co-COO. They tell me they believe James has matured as a leader, has a detailed knowledge of the company's operations and is the driving force behind its expansion in digital distribution. As one source who knows both James and Lachlan well described it, "James will have the primary role in running Fox while Lachlan will take on a broader strategic role from his co-chairman position."

    Rupert Murdoch, who through the Murdoch Family Trust controls 39.4 percent of the voting shares at Fox, isn't expected to change much of what he does day to day as chairman of both Fox and News Corp. (NWS), but the change at Fox is clearly an acknowledgement that the next generation of Murdochs is ready to take its place in leading the media giant.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

    WASHINGTON -- A rising stock market and climbing home prices boosted Americans' net worth to a new high in the first three months of the year.

    The Federal Reserve said Thursday that the value of Americans' stock holdings, real estate and other assets rose to $84.9 trillion from $83.3 trillion in the final three months of last year. Stock portfolios rose $487 billion, home values by $503 billion.

    Still, households remained cautious about borrowing. Total household debt, which includes mortgages, credit cards, auto loans and other borrowing, rose 2.2 percent, the slowest pace since the end of 2013.

    The Fed's figures aren't adjusted for population growth or inflation. Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of homes, stocks and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts.

    Household net worth has steadily recovered after the Great Recession wiped out nearly $13 trillion in wealth. Total net worth has since surpassed the pre-recession peak of almost $68 trillion.

    Greater household wealth can lift spending and economic growth. When consumers feel richer, they are more likely to spend from their wealth, rather than just from income.

    Still, the typical household isn't necessarily benefiting. The stock market's steady climb since it hit bottom in the spring of 2009 has been the primary driver of household wealth. Home prices have increased, but not by as much.

    As a result, the rise in total U.S. net worth has primarily benefited wealthier families. Just 10 percent of the richest households own 80 percent of stocks, according to research by Edward Wolff, an economist at New York University. Housing wealth, which is more widely owned, hasn't recovered as much as the stock market.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks climbed Thursday as retail sales data lifted the outlook for consumer spending and as health care shares gained.

    The S&P 500 health care index gained 0.5 percent and was among the day's best-performing sectors, led by shares of Eli Lilly.

    Eli Lilly (LLY) hit a 14-year high, closing up 4.1 percent at $86.59, with investors anticipating data from an extended trial of an experimental Alzheimer's drug that could become available to doctors in the coming weeks.

    S&P utilities rose 0.7 percent, the day's strongest sector, as U.S. bond yields retreated. Utilities and other dividend payers tend to compete with bonds for investment money.

    U.S. retail sales increased 1.2 percent in May, more than expected, as households boosted purchases of automobiles and a range of other goods even as they paid a bit more for gasoline. The S&P retail index was up 0.2 percent.

    "You had good retail sales today and slightly above expectations. Remember how weak retail sales were in the winter, so you would expect a bounceback here," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 38.97 points, or 0.2 percent, to 18,039.37, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 3.66 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,108.86 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 5.82 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,082.51.

    Solid retail sales data followed robust May job growth numbers and stabilizing manufacturing activity, suggesting the economy is gaining momentum after a slow start in the second quarter.

    Caution remained over Greece. The International Monetary Fund said its delegation had halted negotiations in Brussels and flown home because of differences with Athens.

    Movers and Shakers

    Citrix Systems (CTXS) rose 6.7 percent to $70.39 after shareholder Elliott Management said the software-maker should sell some units, cut costs and buy back shares.

    Krispy Kreme (KKD) soared 13.9 percent to $19.81. The doughnut chain raised the bottom end of its 2016 profit forecast.

    Hess (HES) rose 4.9 percent to $68.83. The oil and natural gas producer said it would sell half of its Bakken midstream assets to a private equity firm for $2.68 billion.

    After the bell, shares of Twitter (TWTR) rose 8.5 percent as it said Dick Costolo is stepping down as chief executive.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,866 to 1,204, for a 1.55-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,403 issues rose and 1,348 fell for a 1.04-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 31 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 118 new highs and 27 new lows.

    About 5.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.1 billion daily average for June so far, according to BATS Global Markets.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Labor Department releases the Producer Price Index for May at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The University of Michigan releases its preliminary index of consumer sentiment for June at 10 a.m.

     

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    Public Pensions Kansas
    John Hanna/APKansas Gov. Sam Brownback
    10 years ago, Harper's Magazine columnist and "What's the Matter With Kansas?" author Thomas Frank dropped a bombshell on his home state.

    Blasting politicians from the Sunflower State for leaving their poor and middle classes to wither on the vine, Frank argued that politics in the Heartland favored the rich. Kansas, wrote Frank, had created "a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining."

    10 years later, Kansas is doing it again.

    Heartless in the Heartland?

    Last month, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law legislation that will, among other things, forbid welfare recipients from spending government financial assistance to purchase massages or manicures, cigarettes or cruise ship excursions, jewelry, liquor or lingerie. Agree or disagree with these restrictions, there's one line in Kansas's new law that should simply shock the conscience of taxpayers -- be they conservative, liberal or none-of-the-above.

    From now on, Kansans subsidized by taxpayers under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program will be forbidden from withdrawing more than $25 a day from their ATMs.

    Supporters of the restriction argue it is designed to make it harder for TANF recipients to spend money on luxuries, to focus instead on the necessities, and, as Kansas State Sen. Michael O'Donnell, the Wichita Republican who sponsored the bill, put it, to thereby achieve "prosperity." "This is about having a great life," the senator said.

    But things may not work out quite as well as proponents intend.

    TANF Isn't Food Stamps

    Like the similar food stamp program (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), TANF funds are disbursed via electronic debit card. Unlike SNAP though, which can only be used to purchase food, TANF is designed specifically to provide low-income families with money to pay for electric bills and other utilities, rent and bills for other necessary goods and services. TANF cardholders can withdraw cash from ATMs for these purposes.

    Indeed, thanks to Kansas' new law, they may have to make a lot of withdrawals.

    Consider: If a cardholder uses her TANF card to pay the $750 rent on an apartment, for example, then under Kansas' new $25-a-day withdrawal rule, it would take 30 separate trips to the ATM to withdraw enough cash to make the entire rent payment. That's literally an ATM visit a day, every day of the month, just to make one transaction.

    And even that may not be enough.

    Welfare for Bankers and Bureaucrats?

    You see, the Kansan government charges TANF cardholders a $1 fee for every withdrawal they make from an ATM, and notes that "the ATM may also charge an additional fee." According to Bankrate.com, ATM fees charged by banks now average anywhere from $2.77 to $4.35 a transaction, depending on whether the ATM is "in-network," and whether the person withdrawing the funds is a customer of the bank.

    As a result, for every $25 TANF card withdrawal, combined state and bank fees could eat up anywhere from 15.1 to 21.4 percent of the cash withdrawn.

    That's a huge transaction cost on TANF. It's also a huge diversion of financial benefits that taxpayers are paying to subsidize our least-well-off fellow citizens. Instead of going to the needy, these taxpayer dollars will be diverted to the pockets of government functionaries ($1) and the banks that own the ATMs ($2.77 to $4.35). Suffice it to say, this isn't likely what Kansas voters were looking to accomplish when they approved the $25 daily-withdrawal limit on TANF cardholders.

    And it makes us ask, again -- emphatically if rhetorically -- "Seriously, folks. What is the matter with Kansas?"

    Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith counts it as a claim to fame that he actually read "What's the Matter With Kansas?" before writing about it. He doesn't own shares of any of the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool doesn't, either. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Paying cash
    Getty Images
    Remember those funny green rectangles that you used to exchange for goods and services? Those dead Presidents are dying off.

    The last refuge of cash is transactions between individuals, where credit and debit cards don't make any sense. A series of apps are chipping away at that last cash realm by allowing people to transfer money electronically to each other -- otherwise known as peer-to-peer, or P2P, payment. PayPal has been in the field for some time, but Venmo, Square Cash and Google Wallet are all competing for your P2P transaction business. Even Facebook will be entering the fray soon with the ability to send money through its Messenger app.

    Here's a look at the current contenders, all of which run on both iOS and Android systems.

    PayPal: PayPal is the longest-established option, with many familiar users via the eBay connection and an established record overseas. Create an account and link to your preferred method of payment and transfer. Credit and debit cards are charged a 2.9 percent fee plus a 30-cent transaction fee, but bank account transfers are free.

    If both parties have PayPal accounts, simply use the "Request Money" tab and you will be prompted to fill in the necessary information. You can place/maintain a balance in your PayPal account to pay others, or accept payment into your account and transfer to your linked bank account at any time.

    Venmo: A newsfeed, similar to Facebook, makes Venmo different from all the other options. Part payment system and part social media outlet, Venmo is popular enough that it has become a verb to younger users. We will not be surprised if "just Venmo me" becomes an advertising campaign.

    After downloading the app, you will need to set up an account. Add your banking information of preference -- credit card transactions cost 2.9 percent while debit cards and bank account transfers are free. Add friends to create a network through which you can send or receive money.

    Money passes into your Venmo account in a way similar to PayPal and is held there for payments to your Venmo friends. To bring your funds out of Venmo you "cash out" into your bank account. Transfers take place within one business day and limits are $300 a week or $2,999 with ID verification; weekly cash out limits are $999.99 without ID verification and $19,999 with.

    Keep in mind that Venmo can make your transactions public; if you prefer privacy, make sure you select that option for transactions.

    Square Cash: Square Cash is based solely on debit card transactions. Its advantage is that an account isn't required. Simply send your debtor an e-mail with the amount to be paid, along with any other information you want to include and CC the address request@square.com. You will both receive a secure link to enter banking information. The transfer takes place within 1-2 business days. Transfer limits are $250 a week or $2,500 with ID verification.

    Square Cash is perhaps the easiest to use but there is one concern that the other options do not have -- make sure your debtor understands Square Cash or they are likely to assume the e-mail is a scam.

    Google Wallet: Google Wallet is as much a money management system, including gift and loyalty cards, as it is a payment method. It allows you to attach payments to any Gmail message by using the dollar sign symbol in the toolbar. Both parties need Google Wallet for the transfer to take place. Transfers may take up to three days; limits are $10,000 per transaction or $50,000 per any five-day period. Debit and credit card transactions incur a 2.9 percent fee, but bank transfers are free.

    All four apps address security by maintaining compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard and offer 24-hour services for fraud/protection issues. All four use either PINs or security codes to allow transactions. However, it is wise to limit the use of these apps in public, unsecure places.

    There may be a simpler alternative to all of these apps if both parties in the transaction use the same bank. Larger well-established banks have their own apps for online banking and those portals typically allow you to transfer funds directly to another account within the same bank. Funds are usually available within 24 hours, and transfer limits will vary by bank. You will need to initiate the transaction as the sender and may need account information.

    As a rough distinction: Venmo appeals to those who like the social media aspects, Square Cash's appeal is in convenience and simplicity, PayPal is well-established and works around the world, and Google Wallet appeals to those who like the associated money management extras. Check out all of the P2P payment apps available to see which one is right for you.

    However, you may still want to keep some of those funny green rectangles around just in case. Systems do go down on occasion, and believe it or not, there may be an occasion when you are stuck without your phone.

     

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    How to Reduce Your Housing Costs in Retirement
    Getty ImagesFrom downsizing to living with others, here's how you can slash one of your biggest monthly bills in retirement.
    By Emily Brandon

    Housing is likely to be your biggest retirement expense. But there are a variety of ways to pay less for housing in retirement. Here's what you can do to bring down your housing costs after you retire.

    Pay off your mortgage. Paying off your house eliminates one of your biggest monthly bills. Insurance, taxes and maintenance costs are likely to be only a small fraction of the amount you were paying for your mortgage. For example, homeowners ages 65 and older in Jacksonville, Florida, pay a median of $1,271 in monthly housing costs if they have a mortgage but just $433 monthly if they have a paid-off home, according to Census Bureau data. If you don't have the resources to pay off your mortgage before retirement, you might be able to reduce your interest rate by refinancing. "If your interest rate is high, you can look to refinance to take advantage of lower rates," says Christopher Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "Nowadays it's not uncommon for people in their 50s and 60s to refinance to take advantage of lower rates, and they are extending the time they are going to be paying their mortgage well into retirement."

    Downsize. Once your children grow up, you no longer need multiple bedrooms or an expansive yard. And you may not want to take care of a large property that only one or two people use. Downsizing to a smaller house can add money to your nest egg and free up the time you would have spent mowing a large lawn and cleaning several stories of rooms. Downsizing from a $300,000 home to a $150,000 house could add $100,000 to your nest egg, even if you spend $50,000 on selling and moving costs and home improvements. "After their kids move out, a lot of my clients downsize their home, and then they put the surplus into an investment account so that it can start growing," says Angela Dorsey, a certified financial planner for Dorsey Wealth Management in Torrance, California. "This reduces their mortgage, their utilities, their property taxes, and they're really at a point in their life when they don't want to maintain a larger home." You may also be able to generate some extra cash by selling off the furniture and appliances from your former home.

    Relocate. Retirees don't need to live in expensive cities that are close to their jobs or in high-cost suburbs with good school districts. You are finally free to live anywhere in the world that has the entertainment options and amenities you desire. You might choose to live near the beach or in a place where you can play golf every day, or you could relocate to a sleepy college town with a low cost of living. If you move to a place where housing costs significantly less than where you live now, you can use the extra cash to help pay for your retirement expenses. "Many people sell their home in California, and then they pay all cash for a home in another state," Dorsey says. "They are able to move to Texas or Florida and buy a home all in cash, and now have no mortgage, and they usually end up with a bigger home." For example, if you sold your home in San Jose, California, for the median home price of $636,900 and purchased a home in Austin, Texas, for the median home value of $192,000, you could add over $300,000 to your nest egg, even after accounting for transaction costs. Senior citizen homeowners also qualify for property tax discounts in many parts of the country, which can further reduce your housing costs.

    Become a renter. Homeownership can be expensive and a lot of work, especially if you live in an older home in constant need of repairs. Becoming a renter in retirement frees up the equity in your home to use for living expenses, might allow you to relocate closer to the city center where you could walk to shops and local attractions and makes someone else responsible for the major upkeep of the property. The downside of renting is that your monthly rent could be increased significantly each time your lease is renewed, which can be difficult to cope with on a fixed income. "To sell your home and then rent gives you a nice cash infusion, but [retirees] have to be careful because there may be tax consequences, and you're not protected from inflation because your rent can go up," Dorsey says. And you could be asked to move, which creates the burden of finding a new place to live.

    Reverse mortgage. Retirees ages 62 and older can use a reverse mortgage to tap their home equity to pay for retirement expenses while remaining in the home as long as they live. But reverse mortgages also have a variety of fees, and if you move or sell the home, the loan becomes due. Plus, your children won't be able to inherit the home unless they repay the loan. "A reverse mortgage removes the obligation for monthly payments going forward, and under certain circumstances it might provide tremendous financial security, but it's something that should be used as a last resort," Herbert says.

    Share your living space. Many retirees eventually find themselves living alone, especially after a spouse passes away. It can improve your finances and your social life if you live with others. You could rent out a room in your home and use the money to help defray retirement expenses. "I live in a college town, and a lot of people will rent out their house on game weekends during football season," says Roger Pine, a certified financial planner for Briaud Financial Advisors in College Station, Texas. "That reduces the overall cost of ownership." Or you could take on a roommate for part or all of the year. Moving in with your children or grandchildren is another option that can benefit both parties financially, especially if you thoughtfully negotiate who will be responsible for what chores and expenses ahead of time.

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

     

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    What You Need to Know About LED Lighting

    By Marilyn Lewis

    "Smart" LED lightbulbs are one of the coolest new technologies for homes. These bulbs are brighter than incandescent bulbs and about 90 percent more efficient, meaning that they use far less electricity. They also have lifespans of up to 20 years or more. (Here is how to shop for LED lightbulbs.)

    But there the resemblance between LEDs and old-style bulbs ends. For better and worse, these LED bulbs are poised to change life as we know it. That's because LEDs can be embedded with computer chips, transforming lightbulbs into "smart" devices that can be networked and, through networks, controlled remotely. So what, you say? Read on.

    Networked Lightbulbs

    Already, you can buy LED bulbs that can be controlled with an app or through a home network to change the color of your bulb's light or dim without a dimmer wall switch. CNET reviews 10 smart bulbs currently available (cost: $15 to $200) and describes their capabilities, costs and networkability.

    It's early days for smart bulbs. Not all are ready for prime time. Thus, "When you turn over control of your lights to an app, the basic act of turning on a light can become slow or ludicrously complicated," The Wall Street Journal says.

    At Home

    Dimming and changing color are parlor tricks compared with what's to come. Smart bulbs use Visible Light Communication technology to communicate with a smartphone and pinpoint your location more accurate​ly​ even than GPS," Marketwatch says.

    At home that will allow, for example, the lights in your kitchen to turn on when they sense your smartphone is nearby. The Journal article says that LED bulbs:
    ... can be programmed to wake you in the morning, turn on when you're coming home or change the mood to 'romantic dinner' with a click on your phone. They can sync up with other electronics in your home like thermostats or TVs, manage themselves to save electricity and even alert you if there's a fire.
    At the Store

    In the grocery store, the smart bulbs will be able to transmit a code to your smartphone's camera, sending you personalized offers for products as you pass a shelf display. Marketwatch says:
    ... the accuracy is down to 5 to 10 centimeters while other location-finder technologies are accurate only to within a few meters. That means that when consumers opt in to a retailer's app, the retailer can send to their phones product information or promotions tied specifically to the item they are interested in, especially when there are many other items showcased nearby.
    "Another potentially huge application would be keeping tabs on food expiration dates, to minimize spoilage," according to Heather Clancy, who writes commentary at Forbes.

    As smart bulbs link the ability to identify us with our history of purchases and preferences, they will be increasingly able to anticipate our wants and needs. "In the future, the smart network could track everyplace we go, everything we buy, everything we do, all the time," says LEDs Magazine. It continues:
    This successful data-mining might initially seem intrusive, but as the app adapts to the individual user's patterns, more and more of the offers begin to actually fit our lifestyles, predicting when we're in the shopping mode, and what we might actually be shopping for.
    As these ubiquitous networks get to know us better, the magazine says,
    Our personal wearable technologies, whether the simple RFID in our employee badges or more complex data communication from our bio-monitoring smart watches, will be used to correlate our presence and status with our learned preferences to deliver everything from customized lighting scenes to optimized temperature and humidity levels.
    Always On, Always Watching

    LED streetlights are more than streetlights: Because lights are everywhere and already wired into electrical networks, smart bulbs are naturals to act as always-on data collectors. They will "forecast the weather, improve parking in cities, heighten security, and facilitate communication," writes Digital Trends. This article describes GE's plans to use LEDs as centers for command and control of home, industry and public spaces:
    Networked LED streetlights will have the ability to direct drivers to available spaces with the help of built-in sensors and wireless transceivers, GE explained. The same streetlight could serve as a sensor and give warnings in the event of a hurricane or other events through a public-address speaker concealed within the light post. Or direct first-responders.
    Already, San Diego and San Jose, California, and Jacksonville, Florida, are investing in LED streetlights that promise to repay their cost in energy and money saved. "Existing LED lights can be retro-fitted with sensors to monitor pollution, measure snowfall and sniff out a dirty bomb before it can spew radiation," reports CBS News.

    The Challenge to Privacy

    To see the LED future in action, CBS visited a Silicon Valley building where "40 lampposts in the parking lot [hold] 83 LED lights, and they're connected to seven cameras in a seamless grid that tracks and records people's moves." The cameras record license plates and follow individual people's movements. All this data can be accessed from the cloud by authorized users.

    Smart bulbs will include built-in cameras and sensors connected through a wireless network. At Newark Airport, where smart lights recently were installed, bulbs can monitor security, point out an unattended bag and keep an eye on the flow of foot traffic, CBS News says.

    "There is no end to the kind of information you could gather," CBS learned.

    The challenges to personal privacy are obvious yet "technology is evolving faster than our policies to control it," Linton Wells, of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., tells CBS.

    Without that evolution, it would be difficult to envision the precise nature of the threat to privacy. Now that we can see the technology's potential, there is an opportunity for privacy management, Hugh Martin, president of Sensity Systems, a Silicon Valley company at the forefront of LED technology, explained to CBS.

    What's your reaction to the privacy challenges of smart bulbs? Would you mind trading the loss of some privacy for the convenience they offer? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

    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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    young couple trying to save their piggy bank
    Getty ImagesDon't get caught off guard by these fees and fines.


    It's almost impossible to get through life without running into the occasional unfair fee or fine - those you feel are unnecessary or excessive.

    So what can you do?

    Actually, that part is relatively easy. Over and over, you hear from consumers and financial experts that if you get slammed with a fine or fee you feel is unfair, stand up for yourself. Talk to whomever you need to. Don't give up, at least not right away.

    What's less obvious is how to recognize that an obnoxious fee is coming, or to even notice it in the first place. So as you make your monthly payments and navigate your finances, keep an eye out for fees and fines in these scenarios.

    The unfair fee buried in the legitimate fees. Sometimes, when you pay for a service or product, it comes with fees, and that's just the way it is. Think of some airlines, or when you invest money or buy a car.

    Buying a house is also an experience notorious for its closing costs, which are a series of fees: a survey fee, an appraisal fee, a commitment fee, an administration fee and the beat goes on.

    Kim Parr, a part-time optometrist in Cortez, Colorado, who blogs about financial issues at EyesontheDollar.com, says that a few years ago, when she was refinancing her home, she was looking over the extensive list of fees, and there it was: a courier fee.

    "Since everything was done electronically, I thought it was pretty odd that we were being charged for a courier," Parr says.

    She was only charged 12 bucks, but as Parr says, "We paid thousands in closing costs ... I was not about to pay extra for a fee that became obsolete years ago."

    It took some back and forth, but Parr wore down the lender and the fee was removed.

    The easy-to-misunderstand fee. Todd Brabender, who owns a public relations firm in Lawrence, Kansas, says that he and his wife, Trish, were recently in Florida, watching their daughter compete in a collegiate dance team competition. When Brabender was at the baggage claim, his wife went to the counter of the rental car agency.

    The sales clerk said she could "give you an upgrade at a discount," which the Brabenders took to mean they were getting an upgrade and a discount from the $38-a-day price they found through a booking service. So they thought they'd be paying less than $38 a day.

    They were upgraded from a Toyota Corolla to a convertible Mustang and then charged an additional $38 a day, on top of the initial $38.

    Apparently, the clerk meant that without the discount, they would have been charged even more than $38 for the upgrade.

    "My wife noticed the charge on the credit card bill and had to call them five different times before they fixed it, and we got the refund of the overcharges," Brabender says.

    The fine print fee. Marilyn Santiesteban, an assistant director of career services at Texas A&M University, says that when she was paying for an expensive home renovation, she was hammered with fees from a big-name bank.

    "I moved money into my checking account from another account at the same bank. I waited two days, and then wrote some big checks for materials and to the electrician, plumber," Santiesteban says. "A few days later, I was shocked to get hit with bounced check fees."

    The fees totaled over $300.

    When Santiesteban wrote her checks, she knew her money was still in "pending," but the website she'd been looking at said it took two days to transfer. She had neglected to look at every page on the bank website. If she had, she would have noticed the fine print that mentioned that while it usually took 24 hours to make a transfer, sometimes it took five days.

    But adding insult to injury, the money did show up on the same day that the checks came through. The bank, however, processed the checks first, and then put her money into the account.

    Despite being a customer at the bank for over 20 years and knowing everyone at the local bank, the manager didn't reduce or refund the fees. Santiesteban left, choosing a small regional bank and hasn't paid an overdraft fee since. That was seven years ago.

    The rules-have-changed fee. If you don't know that the rules for a bank, credit card or some other service have changed, then there isn't much you can do. (Life is too short to be on the lookout for every tweak a business makes in how its customers pay.) But if you do know that changes are coming, watch out. It may be that the service you're using feels you've been getting by far too long without paying an extra fee.

    For instance, Gary Frisch, a Philadelphia resident who also owns a public relations firm, says that his mortgage bank had a grace period for late payments, so that if you didn't pay on the first of the month, you had until 3 p.m. on the 16th to pay, and you wouldn't be late.

    But a couple of months ago, he says his mortgage lender revamped its website and the online payments page.

    "That month, I went online [at] about 11 a.m. on the 16th to make the payment. I was concerned that the new payment page only gave me the option of the 17th as my payment date, but I continued anyway," Frisch says. "Wouldn't you know my next mortgage bill included a $47 late fee?"

    Like so many consumers before him, Frisch argued his case, telling everyone he could at his mortgage servicing company that just because the payment processing system was changed without warning, he shouldn't be held liable for a late fee. It took talking to several people along the ladder, but eventually Frisch found a supervisor who was willing to reverse the charge.

    The invisible fee.​ Those are the fees that may be legitimate, but there is nobody and nothing around to alert you of their presence, and you have absolutely no reason to suspect they would exist. Still, if it happens to you, maybe you'll feel better knowing that you aren't alone - and that you should try and fight this scenario.

    For instance, Judy Williams, who works for an emergency fire and water restoration company, moved three years ago to Racine, Wisconsin, parked her car in front of her new house and was soon given a parking ticket.

    She was perplexed and drove to the police department to ask why she had a ticket. "To my utter surprise, I was informed that there is alternate street parking, and I had been parked on the wrong side of the street," Williams says.

    She mentioned that she hadn't seen any street signs. The officer's response: "Well, there are no signs. Everyone knows about it."

    Two months later, Williams showed up in court to contest the $20 ticket (it was the principle of the thing), stressing that she was new to the neighborhood and couldn't possibly have known about this. The judge sided with her, but apparently the rules of the court forbade him to eliminate the ticket altogether. He did reduce it, however, to 10 bucks.

    "It was the best that was going to happen, so I had no choice to agree to it," Williams says, "though it seemed like I was being penalized for not knowing the rules, yet they didn't make the rules visible."

    The rule didn't make much sense either. Naturally, Williams asked why she couldn't park on her side of the street. She was told that cars couldn't park there to free up space for snow removal.

    It was July.

     

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    Twitter Costolo
    Jae C. Hong/APTwitter CEO Dick Costolo
    By BRANDON BAILEY

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, who helped turn the trendy messaging startup into a global town square, is stepping down amid criticism over the company's disappointing financial performance and a recent stock slide.

    Co-founder Jack Dorsey, who served as CEO during Twitter's early years, will temporarily take the reins while the San Francisco company looks for a permanent replacement.

    Investors greeted the move with enthusiasm, driving Twitter shares (TWTR) up nearly 6 percent in late trading after the announcement Thursday afternoon. Both Dorsey and Costolo, however, expressed confidence in the company's direction and said the board isn't seeking major changes.

    I believe in the course the company is on and the management team's ability to fulfill that and execute on it.

    "I believe in the course the company is on and the management team's ability to fulfill that and execute on it," Dorsey, who is also board chairman, said during a joint conference call with Costolo and Wall Street analysts.

    Both men characterized Costolo's departure, effective July 1, as voluntary. The 51-year-old Costolo said he began talking with Twitter directors about leaving last year, although he did not say what he plans to do next. He won't receive any severance.

    Costolo had been Twitter's CEO for five years and led the company through a successful stock market debut in 2013. Though he once worked as a stand-up comedian, Costolo has a degree in computer science and led three earlier tech startups, including one that he sold to Google (GOOG). He was hired as chief operating officer for Twitter in 2009, three years after its launch.

    His efforts to turn the once-quirky messaging service into a significant industry player, and a major venue for online advertising, made Costolo a respected figure in Silicon Valley. Two years ago, Time magazine named him "one of the most influential minds in tech."

    But even though Twitter Inc. had $1.4 billion in revenue last year, primarily from digital ads, it hasn't made a profit as a public company. And its shares haven't recovered since they lost almost a third of their value after the company's last quarterly financial report in April, when it missed Wall Street revenue estimates and prompted some analysts to question the company's leadership.

    At that time, the company also lowered its financial outlook. On Thursday, Dorsey said the company is making no further changes in its financial projections.

    While Twitter reported 301 million monthly users in the first quarter of this year, up 18 percent from a year earlier, it hasn't seen the kind of growth that its bigger rival Facebook (FB) has enjoyed.

    Under Costolo, the company introduced new advertising products and user features, including Periscope, which allows users to post live streaming video. But if its fans are fiercely loyal, critics say newcomers still find it daunting to learn Twitter's quirky terminology and customs.

    "The vast majority of people who signed up no longer use the service," said Nate Elliott, a social media analyst at Forrester Research. "They need to do a much better job at giving people a reason to come back every day and making marketers happy."

    "There were lingering concerns among some investors around the leadership capabilities of Mr. Costolo," added stock analyst Colin Sebastian of RW Baird, in a note to clients after the announcement.

    Costolo will remain on Twitter's board of directors. Dorsey said the company will consider internal and external candidates for his permanent replacement.

    According to a company filing, the board won't decide until later this year if he is to receive extra pay for taking on the CEO duties. The 38-year-old Dorsey said he'll also continue to run Square, the payment processing startup he founded after a previous stint as Twitter's CEO ended in 2008.

    Costolo tweeted about the change Thursday afternoon. Greeting Dorsey by his Twitter handle, Costolo wrote "Welcome back, @jack" and linked to the official Twitter announcement.

    While Dorsey said a search committee will set criteria for selecting the next CEO, he added, "We're looking for someone who really uses and loves the product."

    -Technology Writer Mae Anderson contributed from New York.

     

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    The Cinderella Castle
    Alamy
    A day at one of Disney's (DIS) Florida theme parks isn't cheap. The family entertainment giant bumped one-day admissions for its flagship Magic Kingdom to $105 earlier this year, and it recently sent a survey to park guests to see if they would be willing to pay as much as $125 to visit the park during peak period.

    However, a trip to Disney's theme park haven doesn't have to break the bank. Let's go over a few of the ways to save some money on your next trip to the self-proclaimed happiest place on Earth.

    1. Reschedule Your Trip

    Party poopers will argue that the easiest way to save money on your next trip to Disney World is not to go at all. That's cruel, but there's at least some logic to putting off your trip beyond the peak summertime tourist season.

    Disney charges the same prices for its theme parks all year long -- for now -- but that doesn't apply to its resort hotels, where there is tiered pricing throughout the year. A standard room at the resort's newest Art of Animation property has a rack rate of $183 on weekdays and $214 on weekends this summer, moving even higher during holiday weekends. That drops to just $129 on weekdays and $156 on weekends beginning Aug. 16, when kids start heading back to school.

    A welcome perk of hitting the parks during the off-season is that the crowds will also be smaller, even if that also means that the operating hours of the theme parks could be shorter.

    2. Stay at a Non-Disney Resort

    Disney makes it awfully tempting to stay at one of the more than 30,000 rooms that it makes available at its massive resort. It offers guests complimentary transportation to its parks, saving them $17 a day in parking. It opens select parks an hour earlier or keeps them open two hours later for resort guests only. Disney also lets booked guests reserve access to expedited FastPass queues before day guests and annual pass holders.

    However, you can naturally get a lot more bang for your buck by staying at a hotel just outside of Disney World. As many rooms and hotels as the family entertainment giant makes available, there are far more options outside the resort. This also makes the non-Disney resorts more competitive and promotional.

    You have to work the math, of course. You have to take parking and on-site perks into consideration. However, you will also be staying near a broader range of cheaper restaurants and attractions.

    3. Eat Smarter

    Getting hungry at a Disney park isn't a cheap proposition, but there are ways to stretch your dollar. For starters, you may consider having lunch instead of dinner at sit-down restaurants, since pricing does change at many locations. Selections and portion sizes change, too, but it's a lot easier to settle for dinner at the counter-service eateries that stick to the same pricing all day long.

    Another thing you can do is bring your own food to eat at the park. This doesn't have to be some clandestine smuggling operation. Disney allows guests to bring snacks and other food items that don't require heating, and there are plenty of tables around the park to host your unlikely picnic.

    You can also eat outside the resort. Arrive when the park opens -- and that's naturally a great idea since park lines are their shortest early in the morning -- and you may be done by dinner. Families with young children often take a break during the day to go back to the hotel and get some rest or hit the pool, and that can also accompany an outside meal.

    4. Make Off-Site Meals and Attractions Even Cheaper

    Those staying outside Disney property -- or resort guests with cars to explore the area -- will discover a wide array of mini golf venues, go-kart racing tracks, and dinner shows out there. Orlando has overtaken New York City as the country's top tourist draw, and there's no shortage of diversions available.

    There's also no shortage of ways to make many of those experiences cheaper. Complimentary coupon books are available outside many restaurants, gas stations, and hotel lobbies. They may look cheap, but the markdowns are real.

    Another smart thing to do is to check into Orlando deals through Groupon (GRPN), Living Social, and other sites that offer prepaid vouchers for discounts on meals and attractions. Don't be the family that pays full price for an airboat ride or a round of putt-putt!

    Yes, a Disney World vacation isn't cheap, but there are plenty of ways to make it less expensive.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. He's also spending the summer in Celebration, Florida, covering the industry at mouse level. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Producer Price Index
    David Goldman/APMaria Cantellano tosses a Watermelon to her daughter as they load up a customer's pickup truck at their stand at the Atlanta Farmers Market in Atlanta.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. producer prices in May recorded their biggest increase in more than 2-1/2 years as the cost of gasoline and food rose, suggesting that an oil-driven downward drift in prices was nearing an end.

    The stabilization in producer prices should support views that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. While the labor market has tightened, there have been few clear signs that inflation was poised to rise back toward the Fed's 2 percent target.

    "This report essentially confirms that the disinflationary impulse in headline prices, which has been brought about by the collapse in energy prices, is beginning to abate as crude prices shift higher," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    The Labor Department said Friday its producer price index for final demand increased 0.5 percent last month, the largest gain since September 2012. That followed a 0.4 percent decline in April.

    In the year to May, the PPI fell 1.1 percent, marking the fourth straight 12-month decrease. Prices dropped 1.3 percent in the 12 months through April, the biggest fall since 2010.

    Prices of U.S. government debt were largely unchanged after the data, while the dollar pared gains against a basket of currencies. U.S. stock index futures were trading lower.

    A sharp decline in crude oil prices since last year and a strong dollar have weighed on producer prices. While rising oil prices are easing some of the downward pressure on inflation, the upward trend in producer prices is likely to be gradual because of the dollar's strength.

    The greenback has gained about 13.2 percent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June 2014.

    Last month, gasoline prices surged 17 percent, the largest increase since August 2009. Food prices rose 0.8 percent in May, the biggest gain in just over a year, snapping five straight months of declines.

    Bird Flu Fallout

    Higher food prices were driven by a shortage of eggs after an outbreak of bird flu led to the culling of millions of chickens. Wholesale egg prices soared a record 56.4 percent last month.

    While the spillover from producer prices to consumer prices has weakened, higher gasoline and food prices are likely to feed into the May consumer price index. May consumer price data will be published next week.

    The volatile trade services component, which mostly reflects profit margins at retailers and wholesalers, increased 0.6 percent in May after falling 0.8 percent in the prior month.

    May's rise likely reflects improving profit margins at services station, which had been pressured by falling gasoline prices.

    A key measure of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services slipped 0.1 percent last month after ticking up 0.1 percent in April. The so-called core PPI was up 0.6 percent in the 12 months through May.

    The cost of airline passenger services, a proxy for airline fares, fell 0.4 percent in May after being flat in April.

    Physician care costs nudged up 0.1 percent after slipping 0.3 percent in April. This component feeds into the personal consumption expenditures, or PCE, price index, which is the Fed's preferred inflation measure.

     

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    Gadget Show Future of TV
    Jae C. Hong/APJoe Clayton, president and CEO of Dish Network, debuts Sling TV last January in Las Vegas.
    This has been a defining year for streaming television services. It kicked off in February with the launch of Dish Network's (DISH) Sling TV. Since then we've seen the arrival of PlayStation Vue and HBO Now, and now even Showtime is jumping into the fray with its own stand-alone online platform.

    Consumers want to cherry-pick the shows and movies that they want to see -- and perhaps just as important, they want to dictate exactly when they want to watch their desired programming. That's enough to send shock waves through the realm of cable and satellite television providers, but an unlikely industry may come to save the day for the cable providers and spoil the party for consumers.

    You can't stream content without connectivity, and we're starting to see mobile and broadband companies turn to data caps as a way to combat the spike in traffic that they are experiencing as a growing number of video buffs access chunky TV show and movie files.

    Going Down the Rabbit Hole

    Comcast (CMCSK) is the country's largest cable provider, but now it has as many broadband customers as it does video subscribers. That finds it in a complicated situation where it's losing pay-TV customers, yet offsetting some of the "cord cutting" sting by selling folks speedy access to the growing number of streaming TV offerings.

    Comcast began testing data caps in Nashville three years ago, where it limits the amount of included data, charging extra for additional consumption. It expanded the test last year. Limiting home Internet accounts to as little as 300 gigabytes a month may not seem like such a big deal. That's a lot of data by today's standards. However, the improving quality of high-def streaming is going to find more people bumping up against that ceiling in the coming years. The arrival of streaming TV will be even more taxing to consumption as folks rely on bandwidth instead of cable or satellites to deliver content.

    Now that Netflix (NFLX) has warmed up to Ultra HD 4K for some of its content, data caps will be put to the test. After all, streaming 1080p in all of its intended glory on Netflix takes 4.7 gigabytes an hour, but that quadruples to 18.8 gigabytes an hour in 4K. Unless there are bandwidth-saving workarounds in place, we're talking about going through an entire month's worth of data within a single day of binge viewing.

    Deeper Into the Rabbit Hole

    The widening data files and increasing appetite for streaming TV could be a recipe for disaster, but that's where mobile and broadband companies can start to turn to the different premium TV platforms to pitch in. AT&T (T) raised a few eyebrows last week after asking the Federal Communications Commission to block a request made to prohibit wireless carriers from granting data cap exemptions to streaming TV services.

    AT&T already has a sponsored data plan in place where businesses pay to be excluded from the data tally. Companies send money to AT&T so that the meter stops running when someone's on their site. Given AT&T's seemingly low ceilings of 150 gigs a month for DSL and 250 gigs a month for U-verse, that could be a pretty compelling point for companies serving up chunky media files.

    This is the kind of plan that would seem to be working in favor of consumers, but the request that AT&T is trying to block was actually made by a consortium of businesses and consumer advocacy groups. How is that so? Well, the fear here is that streaming TV services will have to charge consumers more to cover the broadband subsidies.

    This places us at the doorstep of a challenging tomorrow as the dominant broadband and mobile Internet providers often double as pay-TV providers. It's easy to see why they would want streaming TV to fail if it means losing customers paying fat monthly cable and satellite television bills. It's a small problem today, but it could be a big problem tomorrow.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Want to make 2015 a winning investment year? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Earns EBay
    Paul Sakuma/AP
    By Bob Sullivan

    The Federal Communications Commission sent a letter Thursday to PayPal that was highly critical of the firm's robocalling and robo-texting fine print, which I first chronicled earlier this month. The letter says PayPal's new terms of service "raise serious concerns for the [FCC] enforcement bureau."

    In a report last week, I described an update to PayPal's user agreement that is set to take effect in July, when the payment firm is set to split from corporate parent eBay (EBAY). In those terms, the firm says users must agree to grant PayPal the right to robocall or robo-text them at any phone number "you have provided to us or that we have otherwise obtained." The calls and texts can be used in attempts to collect debts, for marketing purposes or a host of other reasons, the agreement says. On its Facebook page, PayPal recently told a consumer that there was no opt-out for the provision.

    In a letter signed by Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, the agency said much of the policy could violate federal law:
    "FCC requirements directly prohibit requiring a consumer to consent to receive autodialed or prerecorded telemarketing or advertising calls as a condition of purchasing any property, good, or service, and the company must give consumers notice of their right to refuse to give such consent," the letter says. "PayPal 's amended User Agreement does not give consumers notice of their right to refuse consent to calls that require consumer consent from PayPal, its affiliates, and its service providers. If PayPal fails to include this required notice and/or fails to allow its users to refuse such consent, we are concerned that consent is in fact a condition of purchase of PayPal's service and thus violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and could subject PayPal, its affiliates, and its service providers to penalties of up to $16,000 per call or text message.

    "Second, we direct your attention to the requirement that the written agreement must identify the specific telephone number(s) to which the consenting consumer gives his or her consent to be called or texted," it continues. "A blanket User Agreement that purports to apply to 'any telephone number that [consumers] have provided us or that we have otherwise obtained' does not meet the level of specificity required by law. Many consumers have more than one telephone line. Consumers have the right to choose on which line(s) they wish to receive telemarketing or advertising calls, if they elect to receive such calls at all.

    "Finally, the Commission has ruled that should any question about the consent arise, the seller will bear the burden of demonstrating that a clear and conspicuous disclosure was provided and that unambiguous consent was obtained," it says. "We direct your attention to this statement because it underscores the importance of complying with federal law when structuring your agreements to collect the prior express written consent of consumers."
    The letter was addressed to Louise Pentland, PayPal's general counsel.

    "We have received a letter from the FCC and look forward to responding," PayPal said in a statement. "We strive to be as clear as possible with our customers and clarified our policies and practices last week on the PayPal blog."

    In that post, Pentland noted the robocalling and robo-texting language isn't new, and consumers can opt out, though the post doesn't explain why PayPal said previously there was no opt out.

    "We value our relationship with you and have no intention of harassing you," it read, in part. "Our contacts with you are intended to benefit our relationship. For example, we may contact you as part of our fraud prevention efforts to keep your PayPal accounts safer and more secure. In reaching out to you for account service purposes, such as fraud alerts, we occasionally use technologies that allow us to contact you efficiently. To use this approach we seek your permission through our User Agreement.

    "Our goal is always to create clarity in our communication with our customers. We're sorry if this wasn't the case. We aim to give you the information you need and hope this blog post helped to clear up any confusion," she wrote.

     

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    ABJREK Las Vegas, Nevada, America
    Alamy
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the leading burger chain posting another month of negative comps and an overseas digital music platform upstaging the consumer tech giant's latest push into premium music.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Winner

    The leading premium streaming video service continues to be a globetrotter. Netflix announced that it would be expanding into Italy and Portugal in October. A strong push overseas has helped push Netflix to more than 60 million global subscribers with a third of those located outside of the U.S. market.

    Another reason that Netflix is a winner this week is that it made the third season of "Orange Is the New Black" available on Thursday night, several hours before it was supposed to be released.

    Harley-Davidson (HOG) -- Loser

    The leading motorcycle company is slowing down. Wedbush analyst James Hardiman downgraded his rating on Harley-Davidson, slashing his price target from $75 all the way down to $57.

    Hardiman's opinion soured after channel checks showed unimpressive demand through April and May, particularly on the entry-level end of the market. With kind weather and the relaunch of Harley's Road Glide, this should have been a strong springtime for Harley-Davidson, but at least one analyst doesn't see it playing out that way.

    Spotify -- Winner

    This was supposed to be Apple's (AAPL) week to make waves on the digital music front. The consumer tech giant used its annual WWDC expo for developers to introduce Apple Music, a streaming platform that incorporates the best of its existing offerings.

    However, Spotify quickly found a way to deflate Apple's balloon by announcing that it now has more than 20 million paying subscribers. Getting folks to pay for music online has been the industry's biggest challenge, and it's where Spotify is clearly excelling.

    McDonald's (MCD) -- Loser

    We're not getting any closer to a turnaround at McDonald's, at least when it comes to its stateside restaurants. The world's largest burger chain posted another month of negative store-level sales on Monday with year-over-year comparable-store sales declining 0.3 percent worldwide in May. Things got even worse at its struggling domestic eateries, where comps clocked in with a 2.2 percent slide.

    Making matters worse, McDonald's recently announced that it would stop providing monthly sales data starting next month. In other words, we'll have to deal with quarterly snapshots out of Mickey D's. It's true that having monthly updates was a luxury for investors, but it sure seems as if McDonald's is suspending the practice because it's tired of dishing out bad news.

    PepsiCo (PEP) -- Winner

    The world's second-largest carbonated beverage company is bringing back a cult fave. PepsiCo strongly suggested that it's bringing Crystal Pepsi back after YouTube celebrity L.A. Beast turned to his more than 1.2 million followers to help him bankroll a campaign that was anchored by 15 billboards and an active online presence.

    It's a smart move, even if Crystal Pepsi only had a brief shelf life that lasted between 1992 and 1993. It's not just about the appeal to the folks who are old enough to have tried the original. The buzz will naturally smoke out a lot of younger soda drinkers to check out the clear and caffeinated beverage.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Netflix and PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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