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    Secure Online Cloud Computing Concept with business man
    Getty Images
    By Aaron Crowe

    Anyone with a computer has probably been a victim of a phishing attempt, where hackers pose as a trustworthy entity and try to get your username, password, credit card details, and other sensitive information that your mom told you never to give to anyone.

    But mom's advice isn't enough. The U.S government may be able to afford $14 billion for cybersecurity to protect its networks from hackers, but the rest of us can't. Here are some free and inexpensive ways to keep safe online.

    1. Passwords That Go Beyond Your Dog's Name

    Strong, unique passwords are a must-have for each site you visit, but especially for those storing sensitive personal information.

    Using your dog's name and the year you graduated from high school as a password isn't terribly secure. The website 1Password creates and stores strong passwords for you, so that you don't have to remember for each website you visit. You just need to remember the main password to enter 1Password; just don't make it a simple one your dog could remember.

    2. Different Email Addresses

    Use a different email address for site registration and recovery than you use for everyday email. If your regular email address is compromised, an attacker can't also reset all of your sensitive passwords.

    Whatever email system you do use, pick one with a robust spam filter to avoid phishing attacks. I'm a fan of Gmail.

    3. Two-Step Verification

    Set up two-step verification for Gmail and Apple to protect your accounts with your password and your phone. The Google verification requires entering a password as you normally would when signing in. Then, a code is sent to your phone via text, voice call, or through Google's mobile app. Or, a security key can be inserted into your computer's USB port.

    Once signed in, you can choose not to use two-step verification again on that computer -- only your password. If someone tries to sign into your account from another computer, two-step verification will be required.

    4. Buy an Online Security Program

    An all-in-one online security program such as Norton Security with backup provides virus detection, password storage, file backup, parental controls, and firewall protection. Buying programs for those features individually is expensive, and free options may not provide the same level of threat protection.

    The parental controls are especially strong. According to a study by AV-Comparatives, the premium edition of Norton scored ahead of all other antivirus programs for overall parental controls and blocked 99 percent of all pornography.

    5. Monitor Your Credit for Free

    You can pay a credit monitoring service to alert you to any significant changes or suspicious activity on your credit report and credit cards, but you can do the same thing yourself for free.

    Your bank or credit card provider may already offer fraud alerts and other protections for free. For example, you can choose to be notified via email or text message if your credit card is used to withdraw cash or a transaction happens outside the U.S.

    Logging into your account every day and checking your account activity is another free way to monitor your credit, though that can be a lot of work.

    One of the best ways to protect your credit is to get a free credit report each year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Consumers are entitled to a free report yearly from each of the three main credit reporting agencies. Request one report every four months to cover an entire year. If you find any errors, report them to the credit bureau you got the report from immediately.

    6. Talk to Your Kids

    Lastly, talk to your children about the importance of staying safe online. I check out websites my daughter wants to visit before allowing her online, but it's easy to run into dangerous sites without knowing you're doing it.

    Safekids.com offers advice on online safety, including how to avoid cyberbullying, parental guides for Facebook and Instagram, and recognizing when a sexual predator is manipulating children.

    What steps have you taken to increase your cybersecurity?

     

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    Senior Couple With For Sale Sold By Owner House SIgn
    Getty Images
    By Carleton English

    NEW YORK -- Most people still believe they can achieve the American dream, even after slow employment growth following a harsh recession, but many now define it as having a comfortable retirement rather than owning a home.

    About 96 percent of people responding to a Wells Fargo/Gallup poll conducted at the end of May cited a financially secure retirement as their version of the American dream. That's an increase from 92 percent a year ago, and higher than the 93 percent of people who identified success as buying a home. The poll surveyed a mix of retired (28 percent) and non-retired (72 percent) adults with at least $10,000 in savings and investments. Forty-one percent of respondents reported an annual income of $90,000 or more.

    The exact definition of the American dream has changed somewhat since the term was popularized in James Truslow Adams' 1931 book "The Epic of America." In it, he wrote: "The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement."

    Since then, social and economic mobility have generally been associated with such markers as owning a home, attaining higher education, and living as well as -- if not better than -- one's parents. Specifying a comfortable retirement as part of that goal wasn't necessary in previous years as many retirees were almost guaranteed one via their employer's pension plans. As 401(k)s became more the more popular employer-sponsored retirement plan following the Revenue Act of 1978, workers increasingly found themselves on the hook for ensuring that they had enough money to last them through old age.

    "There has been a rapid, systemic shift in risk and responsibility from the government to the individual in managing retirement," said Andrew Eschtruth, an associate director at Boston College's Center for Retirement Research. "Most individuals don't yet fully grasp this change."

    In fact, data from the center pinpoints when that shift occurred. In 1983, of workers surveyed who had access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, 62 percent were relying solely on a pension plan, 12 percent were relying on a 401(k) plan, and 26 percent were relying on a mix of the two. Less than ten years later, in 1992, workers were almost split in how they received their retirement benefits, with 44 percent citing a pension, 40 percent using a 401(k), and 16 percent relying on a mix. Today, 72 percent of employees rely on a 401(k), and only 17 percent rely on a pension.

    While an encouraging 84 percent of respondents to Wells Fargo's poll said they believe they can achieve the American Dream, only 69 percent of non-retired respondents said they have a specific plan to reach their retirement goals. And, of the respondents with a plan, only half of them have it in writing.

    Achieving Financial Goals

    Of course, a plan is only good if followed, but having one in writing suggests that risks and other contingencies have at least been considered. Those who don't have a written plan say they haven't had the time to create one (35 percent) or they haven't given it much thought (26 percent). Even so, written plans are hardly foolproof. Only 37 percent of those with a written financial plan are highly confident that it will ensure they reach their goals.

    "While the number of people with written plans is slowly trending higher, it's still less than half of investors. It is critical to have a financial plan in place that spans life's major milestones in order to reach your financial goals," said Mary Mack, President of Wells Fargo Advisors.

    Despite the seeming optimism Wells Fargo survey participants reported about achieving the American Dream, there are reasons to be less sanguine. The 401(k) generation is just starting to retire and data from the Boston College center suggests that they may not have saved enough. Of workers aged 55-64 with 401(k) accounts, the combined balance is just over $100,000, which only offers about $400 a month, according to Eschtruth. For most people, $400 a month combined with social security may still not be enough to support them through retirement.

    Workers need to save more to meet the demands of increasing life expectancy and rising healthcare costs before retiring, Eschtruth said. Unfortunately, workers who are near retirement age have had to do the last years of their retirement saving in a low interest-rate environment in which yields on traditionally safer investments lagged normal inflation rates. Workers have had to save more or invest in traditionally riskier assets to make up for the shortfall.

    "The problem with retirement is twofold," Eschtruth said in an interview. "People need more and they expect less."

     

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    Couple watching  movie in cinema
    Getty Images
    It's shaping up to be a big summer for movies. That's welcome news for exhibitors, which sold just 1.26 billion tickets last year, the industry's lowest tally in nearly 20 years. Large audiences may not be so great for moviegoers, and not just because there's a higher chance that you'll be sitting in front of a habitual seat-kicker or just down the aisle from that guy who won't stop talking about upcoming plot points.

    A rebound at the local multiplex could lead exhibitors to inch ticket prices higher, again. Let's get ahead of that trend by pointing out a few ways to save some money at the movies this season.

    1. Get In for Free. Studios often host free screenings of movies just before they actually come out. Hollywood does this to gauge audience reactions, but also to begin generating buzz ahead of the national premiere. We live in the age of social media, and it seems as if you can't set a hashtag trending soon enough.

    How do you get into an advance screening? It helps to get connected to sites including Gofobo and AdvanceScreenings.com that list upcoming showings in your area. Some movie studios even have their own programs through which registered users get sent passes for advance showings, including Sony's (SNE) SonyScreenings.com. You can also follow different studios or movie-centric public relations firms on Twitter.

    If you do manage to get your hands on a free pass, keep in mind that the studios overbook under the assumption that many people won't show up. You will want to arrive early, since the passes are only good until the theater is at capacity.

    2. Go Early in the Day. A popular trick is to check out a movie early in the afternoon. Matinee prices are often lower than evening tickets. This is also a good idea if you're trying to avoid crowded theaters, but some chains have plans that can save you even more.

    AMC Entertainment (AMC) offers A.M. Cinema at some of its locations, where movies that begin before noon -- typically on weekends and during peak summer and holiday periods -- are even cheaper than matinees.

    3. Warm Up to Rewards Clubs. Most of the leading chains have loyalty clubs through which frequent guests can rack up points that can be exchanged for free or discounted admissions or concessions. Regal Entertainment (RGC) has the Regal Crown Club and it's free to join. Cinemark (CNK) has a program called CineMode available on its smartphone app, where moviegoers can earn coupons.

    AMC has AMC Stubs. It's not free: It will set you back $12 a year. It offers reward rebates -- $10 in ticket or concession credits for every $100 spent -- but it also offers a neat perk at the concession stand. AMC Stubs members get their soda and popcorn orders automatically upgraded so large sizes are charged at the medium-size price.

    4. Just Say 'No' to 3-D and IMAX. There's no denying that 3-D specs or super-sized IMAX (IMAX) screenings raise the bar on the moviegoing experience. However, the same films are typically offered at the same multiplex as traditional screenings for a few dollars less. Unless it's a special effects epic along the lines of "Avatar" or "Gravity" that begs to be watched in an immersive experience, there's no shame in going the cheaper route.

    5. Conceding Concessions. It's easy to suggest that you should sneak in your own snacks to enjoy during the movie given the sky-high prices charged for concessions, but that's against the rules. You can get tossed out for cracking open a can of soda or hiding a Kit Kat bar in your pocket. It rarely happens, but as a private business, the exhibitors are the ones that make the rules that they can enforce as long as you're a customer.

    The best legal tip to offer is to make smart decisions at the concession stand. You don't need to order a soda, as most theaters will provide you with cups that you can fill at a water fountain. If you happen to be at a theater that offers free refills on large soda or popcorn purchases, there's no harm in asking for a refill on the way out to enjoy at home or wherever you're off to next. You can also eat before a movie so you are less tempted to load up on overpriced snacks. Approach the concession stand cautiously, and you don't have to break the bank the next time you're at the corner multiplex.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of IMAX. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Is your portfolio ready for a change? Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Getting the cash
    Getty Images
    By Ari Cetron

    Wounds of the Great Recession are slow to heal when it comes to confidence in the banking industry. Gallup recently released results of a phone survey that found that only 26 percent of Americans have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in banks. The number is the same as last year, but higher than the historical low of 21 percent in 2012.

    This doesn't mean that three-quarters of Americans are keeping their money under their mattress. Gallup also found that an additional 43 percent had "some" confidence in banks, while 28 percent had "very little" and 2 percent had "no" confidence.

    Banks, like other large institutions, have taken a big hit in confidence in recent years, but still rank in the middle of the 17 institutions about which Gallup collects opinions. Banks did best in 1979, the first year Gallup started asking the question, when 60 percent of Americans had confidence in banks. It dropped to 30 percent in 1991 during the height of the savings and loan crisis. From there it drifted up to 53 percent in 2004, but fell off a cliff during the Great Recession, bottoming out in 2012.

    A person's politics seem to be a factor. Gallup found the Republicans are most likely to have confidence in banks, at 35 percent, followed by Democrats at 27 percent and independents at 25 percent.

    Similarly, 39 percent of people who are generally satisfied with the way things are going are confident in banks. But only 24 percent of those generally unsatisfied are confident.

    The phone survey of 1,527 adults was taken June 2-7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

    What's your level of confidence in banks? What about other financial institutions, such as credit unions? Share your opinion with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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


    Credit Unions Vs Banks: Which Is Better?

     

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    Apple-Taylor Swift-Future of Streaming
    John Davisson/Invision/APApple's abrupt about-face on paying royalties for songs during a free-trial period for its new music service was a symbolic victory for superstar Taylor Swift and other artists.
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with a supermarket store operator delighting the market with a payout hike while another came under fire for potentially overcharging its customers.

    Apple (AAPL) -- Winner

    It could've been a challenging week for Apple. Taylor Swift had announced that she was pulling her wildly popular "1989" album from the upcoming Apple Music service. Swift argued -- just as many less famous artists have contested -- that Apple's policy not to pay royalties for subscribers during the generous three-month free trial is wrong: It puts the burden of Apple Music's acquisition costs on the artists when it should be on the consumer tech giant itself.

    Apple agreed. It reversed its decision, agreeing to pay music royalties during the free trials. Swift then announced during the week that "1989" will be available on Apple Music when it launches later this month. Apple turned negative publicity into positive free advertising, and there are no royalties that need to be shelled out for that particular victory.

    Lululemon Athletica (LULU) -- Loser

    There's another recall at Lululemon, but this time it's not as embarrassing as the 2013 recall of black Luon yoga pants because they were see-through when some wearers engaged in certain yoga positions. The chain of high-end fitness apparel is recalling the elastic drawstrings of its hoodies after a few customers have complained of injuries or near injuries resulting from the hard tips snapping back.

    It may not seem like much, but it could be a pretty serious issue if one of those hard tips swings back and hits an eye. At the end of the day, it's another recall for Lululemon, and that's not welcome news given the premium that shoppers pay to own the chain's luxury-priced athletic apparel.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Winner

    Shares of Netflix hit another all-time high after it announced a 7-for-1 stock split. Stocks moving higher on a stock split may be silly, since it's a zero-sum game. However, the split does make the stock more accessible to folks with limited funds to establish a position in the leading premium streaming service.

    A couple of analysts downgraded Netflix after the pop on valuation concerns, but one analyst made a bold forecast. FBR & Co. relied on usage data on Netflix and its 40 percent compound annual growth rate to forecast that Netflix will have a larger daily audience than all broadcast networks within a year. Netflix is a pretty big deal.

    Whole Foods Market (WFM) -- Loser

    Markups may not be natural at Whole Foods. The high-end grocer specializing in organics came under fire this week on accusations that it's overcharging its well-heeled clientele in New York City.

    The Department of Consumer Affairs is alleging that the supermarket is overpricing customers on some of its pre-packaged foods, and was troubled to find that the New York City stores continued to overcharge even after being told that it was under investigation late last year.

    This naturally doesn't help the previously golden reputation of Whole Foods. It also comes at a time shortly after Whole Foods announced that it will roll out a new concept called 365 next year, stocking lower-priced organic merchandise in an effort to reach jaded millennials.

    Kroger (KR) -- Winner

    We've covered a grocer and a stock split, so let's wrap things up with a story that combines the two. Kroger announced a stock split. The giant supermarket chain also hiked its dividend, and announced an ambitious buyback plan. Now that is how you stock the shelves in your favor.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Lululemon Athletica, Netflix and Whole Foods Market. 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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    hand with few dollar 9
    Shutterstock
    By PAUL WISEMAN

    WASHINGTON -- Consumer sentiment rose this month to the highest level since January, suggesting that spending will strengthen this year.

    The University of Michigan says its consumer sentiment index rose to 96.1 this month from 90.7 in May. The June reading was the highest since January's 98.1. The index is up from 82.5 a year ago.

    For the first six months of 2015, consumer optimism improved at the fastest pace since 2004, three years before the Great Recession, said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the Michigan survey.

    Curtin says the readings are consistent with a 3 percent increase in consumer spending this year. That would be the fastest pace since 2006. The Commerce Department reported this week that consumer spending rose at an annual pace of 2.1 percent from January through March.

    "An improving economy was the most important component," Curtin said.

    Americans at all income levels registered improving optimism.

    The optimism reflects a strong job market. Employers have been adding jobs -- nearly 3.1 million over the past year -- at a pace not seen since the boom years of the late 1990s. Unemployment stood at 5.5 percent in May, down from 6.3 percent a year earlier. Wages have been slower to improve.

     

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    Supreme Court
    Jacquelyn Martin/AP
    By Kelley Holland

    In a landmark decision for gay rights, the Supreme Court on Friday ruled 5-4 that the Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry.

    "In many ways we feel like it happened so fast, but the very first applications for marriage that I'm aware of were back in the 1970s, so it seems like it took a long time," said Stuart Armstrong, a certified financial planner with Centinel Financial Group who has served on the board of directors of PridePlanners, financial planners serving the LGBT community. "It's a sea change."

    Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. He joined the court's four more liberal members: Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

    In terms of planning strategies, in many ways it will make our jobs easier.

    The ruling gives unprecedented recognition in America to same-sex couples. And on a practical level, same-sex couples will see their financial lives dramatically simplified. No married same-sex couples will need to file two sets of tax returns, a joint return to the federal government and two separate filings to their state. And all married same-sex couples will have clarity about Social Security benefits when one partner dies as well as state estate taxes.

    "In terms of planning strategies, in many ways it will make our jobs easier," said Armstrong.

    The road to Friday's ruling has been long and winding, partly because each state establishes its own marriage laws. States didno' explicitly allow or ban same-sex marriage until 1973, when Maryland added a line to its Family Law Code stating that "only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State."

    Others followed suit, and couples sporadically contested some of the rules for many years. Then in 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

    DOMA, as that law was known, had myriad implications for same-sex couples, but one of the more frustrating involved taxes. When one spouse died in an opposite-sex marriage, the other could inherit their assets tax-free, thanks to the marital deduction -- but same-sex couples didn't have that benefit. In addition, same-sex couples had to file their federal tax returns separately, which was more cumbersome and often meant they had to pay more in taxes and accountants' fees. They also had to remember to carry their marriage license and other documents with them when they crossed state lines.

    DOMA remained on the books even as various states and communities passed laws allowing either civil unions or same-sex marriages. The first legally recognized same-sex marriage took place 11 years ago, and the Supreme Court struck down DOMA exactly two years ago, on June 26, 2013, with a decision that stated, in part, that DOMA led to "deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment."

    That ruling allowed same-sex couples to file joint federal tax returns, but left them having to file separately in states that didn't recognize their marriage.

    It also left important uncertainties about same-sex marriage, notably whether states that didn't recognize those unions were required to recognize marriages that took place in other states, and whether states themselves have the right to ban same-sex marriage.

    The case before the Court, Obergefell v. Hodges, was consolidated with several others. In the original Obergefell suit, James Obergefell, an Ohio resident, married his longtime partner John Arthur when Arthur was dying from ALS. Because Ohio doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, they flew to Maryland and were married on an airport tarmac. Obergefell sued after Arthur died and Ohio would not list him on the death certificate.

    Tim Bresnahan, head of Northern Trust's national LGBT and nontraditional families practice, said the ruling will have very different implications for same-sex couples depending on their circumstances. Those already married in states that were recognizing same-sex marriage may not feel much difference, he said. Married couples in states that weren't recognizing same-sex marriage will see important benefits when it comes to estate taxes and the like. Even long term couples that do not plan to marry may see changes, he said.

    It will be extremely important for couples to obtain advice from financial advisors, accountants, or lawyers, Bresnahan said, since each state has different tax and inheritance laws. For example, in Texas, which did not recognize same-sex marriage, the homestead law holds that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse automatically has the right to remain in the home. That wouldn't have applied to a same-sex couple before Friday's ruling.

    "Same-sex marriage at the state level have only been valid for 11 years, so this area of law is still new," he said.

    Friday's ruling may be a landmark one, but even so, same-sex couples may face hurdles, Armstrong said. Localities may still challenge some of the provisions.

    "There are still things people are going to have to do," Armstrong said. "You still have to carry travel documents -- your marriage certificate, your durable power of attorney, your health-care proxy. Frankly, I would do this even with marriage equality. Couples may still face resistance.

    "My husband and I have been together for a number of years and have been together for a number of years before we got married, and then the Supreme Court ruled on [the DOMA case] and it really made a difference for us," said Armstrong. "Many states don't have job discrimination laws and housing protection, but to know we don't have to be thinking about all these workaround strategies and worrying about what state do we move to -- it's hugely important, hugely symbolic."

    -CNBC's Tom Anderson contributed to this report.

     

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    East Meets West Downtown At The New York Stock Exchange: Amira Foods Celebrates 100th Anniversary With Basmati Bus And Bollywood
    Getty Images for Amira FoodsBollywood dancers Wanted Ashiqz perform outside the New York Stock Exchange to honor Amira Nature Foods (ANFI) 100th anniversary.
    By Ryan Vlastelica

    NEW YORK -- The S&P 500 closed flat Friday but ended lower for the week, with investors cautious ahead of a meeting in Europe that could decide whether Greece will default on critical loans.

    The Dow closed higher, boosted by strong results from component Nike, while the Nasdaq ended solidly lower on disappointing results from Micron Technology, which weighed on chipmakers like Intel.

    In Europe, Greece rejected a five-month extension of bailouts Friday, a day before eurozone finance ministers will meet to decide the country's fate. Greece needs fresh funds to avoid defaulting on a $1.8 billion debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday. If it defaults, it may have to leave the euro or the European Union, potentially shaking the region's economic foundations.

    "If this issue gets resolved, then we're set up for a fairly decent market, but it could be that everything falls apart on the 30th," said James Meyer, chief investment officer at Tower Bridge Advisers in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. "Market valuation is high in an absolute sense."

    Nike (NKE) rose 4.3 percent to $109.71 and was the biggest boost to the Dow after reporting a better-than-expected quarterly profit, lifted as it sold more high-margin shoes and apparel at higher prices.

    Micron Technology (MU) sank 18 percent to $19.66 a day after forecasting a further decline in prices of chips used in personal computers. It also gave a revenue outlook for the current quarter that was well below market estimates. The PHLX Semiconductor index fell 2.4 percent. Intel (INTC) fell 3 percent to $31.02.

    Consumer Sentiment Heats Up

    In the latest economic data, University of Michigan's final reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment for June was 96.1, higher than the preliminary reading of 94.6.

    Investors have been keeping a keen eye on data to see if the U.S. economy has recovered from a slow start at the beginning of the year. The Federal Reserve has said it remains data dependent and expects to raise rates when it sees a sustained rebound in the economy.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 56.72 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,947.08, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 0.71 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 2,101.6 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 31.69 points, or 0.6 percent, to 5,080.51.

    For the week, both the Dow and S&P 500 fell 0.4 percent while the Nasdaq fell 0.7 percent. Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,752 to 1,334, for a 1.31-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,647 issues fell and 1,152 advanced for a 1.43-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index was posting 16 new 52-week highs and 21 new lows; the Nasdaq composite was recording 137 new highs and 62 new lows. About 6.17 billion shares traded on all U.S. platforms, according to BATS exchange data, compared with the month-to-date average of 6.09 billion.

    Friday's volume was impacted as the FTSE Russell rebalanced its indexes. As companies move from one index to another, managers of index-following funds are forced to buy or sell shares to mimic the performance of the index.

    What to watch Monday:
    • The National Association of Realtors releases its pending home sales index for May at 10 a.m.
    • The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas releases its survey of manufacturing conditions in Texas for June at 10:30 a.m.
    • Apollo Education Group (APOL) releases quarterly financial results after U.S. stock markets close.

     

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    US Supreme Court Gay Marriage Georgia
    John Bazemore/APBoyd Beck, left, and Jerry Hill, center, are married Friday by Fulton County probate Judge Pinkie Toomer during a mass wedding at the Fulton County Government Center.
    By Mark Miller

    CHICAGO -- Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage will give a huge boost to the retirement security of LGBT Americans. That will be especially true in the realm of Social Security -- where it pays to be married.

    The ruling will affect everything from access to spousal pension and retirement accounts, health benefits and more. But Social Security really is the headliner. Recognition of same-sex marriage in all 50 states will guarantee access to Social Security's spousal and survivor benefits, which are the most valuable features of the program.

    Just how valuable? Financial Engines, a large financial advisory firm, ran numbers recently for a hypothetical same-sex couple and found that marriage could be worth $343,000 in additional lifetime benefits.

    Spouses usually don't have the same lifetime earnings history, and hence their Social Security benefits differ. That is why many married couples take advantage of rules that permit a spouse to receive up to half of a living spouse's benefit if it is larger than his or her own. And the survivor rules permit widows or widowers to receive up to 100 percent of a deceased spouse's benefit or his/her own benefit, whichever is greater.

    The big payoff comes when couples coordinate the timing of their Social Security benefit claims. You can claim as early as age 62, but that would reduce the lifetime value of your benefit by 25 percent. Or, you could wait until after the full retirement age (currently 66) to claim -- that gives you a whopping delayed retirement credit of 8 percent for each 12-month period of delay -- up until age 70.

    Filing later means higher annual income for life, which can be a great hedge against the risk of running out of money in old age. The downside is that it can mean fewer total lifetime years of benefits, depending on your longevity. That is where a lesser-known, more complex strategy called file-and-suspend enters the picture.

    In this scenario, the higher-earning spouse files for benefits at full retirement age, then immediately files a notice to suspend payment of those benefits. That permits the lower-earning spouse to file for a spousal benefit, which is equal to half of the spouse's benefit.

    That gets some benefit flowing to the household while the higher earner continues to accrue higher benefits through delaying, perhaps until age 70; at that point, the lower-earning spouse converts to his or her own full benefit. (Note: The spouse can convert to a full benefit only by waiting until full retirement age to file for a spousal benefit.)

    Financial Engines illustrated the value of these rules with a hypothetical same-sex couple named Henry and Logan. Henry is 64, Logan is 62; analysis assumes that Henry will live to 84, Logan to 90. Henry is the higher earner -- his benefit at his full retirement age is $2,500 per month, compared with $1,100 for Logan.

    The analysis found that if Henry and Logan file separately now, they would receive lifetime combined benefits of $797,000. With recognition as a married couple, they would get $938,000 -- with the difference coming through spousal and survivor benefits for Logan. And, if they execute a file-and-suspend, they would receive $1.14 million lifetime -- just under $343,000 in additional benefits. (In that scenario, Henry files and suspends at 68, and Logan, age 66, starts receiving a spousal benefit.)

    The Social Security Administration should be able to issue new rules quickly to its field offices, according to Webster Phillips, a senior policy analyst for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

    NCPSSM has been holding Social Security education meetings for same-sex couples around the country.

    (The writer is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

     

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    Investment Statement Closeup
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    By Donna Fuscaldo

    Portfolio rebalancing is a topic investors come across often. The advice may vary depending on whom you ask, but most financial advisers tend to touch on two main issues: how often to rebalance and when.

    Equally important is when and why not to rebalance. Rebalancing is a strategy to maintain one's asset allocation in line, should significant market swings or dividend payments affect it. It shouldn't be a knee-jerk or emotional reaction to every market move, and it should most definitely not be done in the pursuit of the next hot investment opportunity.

    "Rebalancing won't increase the rate of return," says Michael Brady, founder and president of Generosity Wealth Management in Boulder, Colorado. "The purpose of rebalancing is to stick with the plan."

    Not only might overly frequent rebalancing increase investment costs, but it also risks cutting off a cycle before it runs its course, Brady explains. "Whether the cycle is multiple quarters or multiple years, you'll never catch the upward cycle if you are always shifting away from the downside," he says. Not to mention that rebalancing could create a tax situation if it causes short-term realized gains.

    Is Rebalancing Necessary?

    When it comes to rebalancing, there are two schools of thought. Some investors avoid rebalancing entirely. "I don't think there is any great data out there that says investors need to do it at a particular interval," says Jeff Tjornehoj, a senior research analyst at Lipper. "Both [stock and bond] markets tend to perform well over time, with stocks moving up and bonds producing income," he explains. "Non-balancing is a hands-off approach."

    Others argue that rebalancing forces you to pay attention to and understand your portfolio. "If you don't rebalance, you end up having a lopsided portfolio," says John Piershale, wealth adviser at Piershale Financial Group.

    Rebalancing Strategies

    1. Calendar rebalancing. This is the most common rebalancing strategy among everyday investors. With calendar rebalancing, an investor picks a time interval to review their portfolio and make adjustments, if needed, to get investments back in line with their original allocation. Calendar rebalancing can happen quarterly, yearly, or once every few years. For average investors, Brady says rebalancing on an annual basis is sufficient to prevent the portfolio from deviating too far from the original plan.

    2. Asset class rebalancing. In a properly diversified portfolio, the investor's assets are spread among several asset classes. An appropriate time to rebalance is when one or more of those asset classes' share of the portfolio deviates by a wide enough range.

    For example, say your ideal stock-bond allocation is roughly two-thirds in stocks and a third in bonds. But in a year, the stock market rises 20 percent and bonds fall 20 percent. This would bring your allocation to 75 percent stock and 25 percent bonds: a much riskier portfolio than where you started. Rebalancing will take care of the deviations from your ideal portfolio by buying when prices are low and selling when prices are high, says Aaron Gubin, director of research and wealth management at investment firm SigFig.

    3. Tactical rebalancing. This strategy's goal is to avoid substantial downturns by acting on movements in the markets instead of adopting a stay-the-course mindset. "During normal market conditions, we continually identify, rank and invest only in the most favorable areas," says Piershale. "If market conditions deteriorate substantially, then we have a well-defined exit strategy that our clients understand." This strategy attempts to take advantage of what's happening in the markets at that particular time, depending on the conditions.

    4. Glide path rebalancing. Glide path rebalancing is essentially the strategy of target-date funds. The portfolio's asset allocation is determined with a specific retirement date in mind, and becomes more conservative as this date approaches.

    With many people living thirty years or longer in retirement, glide path rebalancing can also play a role in making sure the investment portfolio is generating decent returns, while protecting their savings. For instance, Brady says an investor might have 40 percent of their portfolio in equities in the first ten years of retirement, then pare their equity position down to 30 percent in the second ten years, and 5 percent for the remainder of their lifetime.

    Rebalance For the Right Reasons

    At the end of the day, rebalancing should be about keeping your investments in line with your investment goals and strategy. Whether you do it based on a predetermined time or age, the key is to make sure it keeps you on track with your plan.

    Be Tax- and Cost-Efficient

    One of the strongest arguments against frequent rebalancing is that, much like with market timing, the investor is likely to incur trading costs, and possibly trigger short-term capital gains if they sell assets held less than a year.

    One way to rebalance with taxes and costs in mind is to utilize cash dividends and fresh cash deposits to do "sale-free" rebalancing, says Gubin. "We spend fresh cash on the most under-weight security to bring it back up to its target weight, without having to sell assets that are overweight," he explains. "This is tax- and trading cost-efficient because we don't have to sell anything, or execute unnecessary trades. We can buy assets with the new cash to keep client portfolios on track."

    Donna Fuscaldo is a contributing writer at SigFig. Nearly a million people use SigFig to track, improve and manage over $300 billion in investments.

     

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    Harry Potter Diagon Alley
    John Raoux/APShops on Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.
    Orlando's theme parks have been pretty crowded this summer, once again positioning the country's top tourist destination for another season of record attendance. A generation ago, a trip to Central Florida basically meant a trip to Disney (DIS), but these days it's hard to ignore what Universal Orlando is up to just a few exits northeast on Interstate 4.

    Between the magnetic Harry Potter attractions at both Universal Orlando parks and parent company Comcast (CMCSK) continuing to expand with new hotels and attractions, a trip to Orlando now doesn't seem complete without checking out Universal's fast-growing resort.

    Universal attracted 16.4 million guests to its Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure theme parks combined last year, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. That's a sliver of the 51.5 million turnstile clicks that rival Disney generated across its four Disney World theme parks, but momentum is the key here. Disney World's attendance rose 3 percent last year, according to Themed Entertainment Association. Universal Orlando experienced a more robust 8 percent spike.

    A day at any of the major Central Florida theme parks doesn't come cheap. We covered ways to save money at Disney World a couple of weeks ago. Now let's go over a few of the ways to make Universal Orlando more bearable on your pocketbook.

    1. Know your ticket discounts. Universal Orlando's latest rate increase kicked in back in March. A one-day ticket to either park will set you back $108.63 (that's with tax included), and if you want to experience the Hogwarts Express -- the richly themed train experience that connects the two parks -- you will have to pay $156.56 for a one-day ticket that includes access to both parks.

    Aggressive discounts were easy to find several years ago when Universal Orlando was desperate. Steep markdowns were offered at area supermarkets, warehouse clubs, and fast-food chains. That's obviously not the case now. There are still some deals to be had, but they won't shave more than a few bucks off your entrance fee.

    If you belong to the AAA driving club, you can get a discount at the gate or by buying your tickets in advance. Military discounts are offered for those buying in advance. Florida residents can get a discount, but only on multiday or annual passes.

    2. Find an annual pass holder. If you have friends in Central Florida, you may want to ask them if they have an annual pass to Universal Orlando. If they do, you may want to tag along. Annual pass holders can get guests in at a 10 percent discount. Depending on the type of annual pass -- they vary in price from $239 to $479 before tax -- other perks may include free parking and discounts on food and merchandise.

    It may be tempting to get an annual pass yourself if you plan to visit the park for more than a couple of days. Annual visitors may even want to consider buying a pass, and timing the trips so they take place within that 12-month span. However, at the very least, hitting the park with a pass holder has its benefits.

    3. Load up on souvenirs before you arrive. If you're traveling with young children, know going in that the parks are loaded with stores. Some rides even exit through gift shops, something that Universal and other park operators have learned from the theme park mavens at Disney.

    The easiest advice is to resist the temptation. No one needs a souvenir. However, if you feel that resistance will be futile, it may make sense to stock up on discounted character merchandise ahead of time. Universal Orlando is full of licensed properties: Marvel, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park have entire sections of the parks devoted to the popular franchises, and odds are that you can load up on related merchandise at a discount if you shop around before you arrive.

    4. Stay at a non-Universal resort -- unless it makes financial sense. Universal now has four lavish hotels at its resort. It's building a fifth. They're not cheap, but perks include complimentary transportation to the parks (saving guests on parking fees) and early entry. Three of the four hotels even allow guests to bypass the lines at most of the rides, something that day guests have to pay at least $35 extra per person to buy.

    Work the math and staying at a Universal Orlando hotel may not be outrageous, at least for the days in your vacation when you plan to check out the parks.

    However, with hundreds of lodging options in the area offering more than 90,000 hotel rooms, it certainly doesn't hurt to shop around. If the math favors an off-site property, make the most of it and take advantage of the cheaper restaurants available outside of the resort.

    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. And check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Senior man with headache
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    By Paul Sisolak

    In a perfect world, the perfect retirement is where life begins. But for people like Debra Leigh Scott, there's the very bleak possibility that retirement is where life might end.

    "Suicide is my retirement plan," Scott, a 60-year-old adjunct professor, said in an interview with Vitae. "Unless you have a spouse or partner, you're looking at dire poverty in old age. In addition to poverty, you're looking at getting no additional work because of your age, or you're looking at dropping dead in the classroom."

    Scott, a divorced mother of two grown children, has been teaching for over a quarter century but never received the tenured position she hoped for. After years of financial struggles -- including the loss of a home -- she has no money saved for retirement.

    Fewer Americans than ever before are adequately prepared financially to retire. In a survey this year by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald & Associates, 28 percent said they have less than $1,000 in savings and investments poised for retirement. A 2014 Federal Reserve survey paints a more discouraging picture: 31 percent of non-retired respondents have zero retirement savings -- 19 percent of them ages 55 to 64.

    Scott's story is a real-life reminder that paints a painful portrait most people would rather avoid. With their golden years well ahead of them, many people assume there will be enough money stored up to retire without a hitch. And they don't even want to think about considering the alternative. But for many adults behind on retirement savings, they might be unaware of the realities of retiring without enough money in the bank.

    Is Retiring With No Savings an Option?

    Opinions vary on how much money people need in retirement to sustain their current lifestyle, but 70 percent to 80 percent of pre-retirement income is often recommended. If your household is at the national median of $54,000 a year, for example, you'll need to save up enough during your working years to have $37,100 to $42,400 annually at your disposal during retirement.

    "That might be enough if you've paid off your mortgage and are in excellent health when you kiss the office goodbye," CNNMoney wrote. "But if you plan to build your dream house, trot around the globe, or get that Ph.D. in philosophy you've always wanted, you may need 100 percent of your annual income -- or more."

    If that money isn't there by the time you retire, that ideal retirement -- world travel, time spent with family, and a life of leisure, relaxation and hobbies -- will have to come with some major downgrades to compensate for your lack of savings.

    1. You'll need to live off your Social Security benefits. The average Social Security check for retirees is $1,287. "Social Security can help boomers make ends meet during their golden years, but for many, it won't be enough," wrote Donna Fuscaldo of Fox Business. If you're single and qualify for Supplemental Security Income, you might be able to barely live off Social Security and SSI, but if you have any extenuating expenses, like a mortgage or supporting adult children returning to the nest, you can't.

    2. You might have to get a roommate. Steve Vernon of CBS MoneyWatch offered the example of a single, 65-year-old woman with a $50,000 annual salary -- and no savings or assets to invest -- looking to retire. "To help cover her living expenses, one option she may want to consider is the 'Golden Girls' solution of sharing living quarters with other people in her situation," he wrote. "If she owns her house, she may want to consider renting a room to bring in more income."

    If personal space and quiet are important to you, new retirees with no savings might not have the patience or inclination to go the roommate route -- though Vernon noted that this arrangement could reduce feelings of loneliness common in elderly people. Rooming with adult children can be a more comfortable alternative and can bring family closer together.

    3. You'll have to alter your lifestyle and spending. If Vernon's hypothetical retiree wants to retire full time at age 70, "she'll need to focus on buying 'just enough' to meet her needs and be happy. Most likely this will be a struggle, unless she has paid off the mortgage on her house, which will make things a little easier," he wrote.

    4. You might have to continue working. You could delay retirement until 70, which is completely realistic for a healthy senior. "Others, who can't live off of Social Security alone, will need to find ways to supplement their incomes with part-time work," according to Mike Dang of The Billfold. A good idea in theory, but will you earn enough money in those few years to actually retire on?

    "Eventually she'll need to reduce her living expenses, though, because chances are good she won't be able to work much past 80," Vernon wrote. "Many people might groan at the idea of working into their 70s, but our hypothetical retiree really doesn't have much of a choice unless she's able to dramatically reduce her standard of living."

    5. You'll need to consider downsizing. Selling your big house or car and downgrading to smaller, more affordable living arrangements and transportation can save money. If every decade of your working life has been to dream bigger and bigger, however, scaling down smaller and smaller in retirement might seem a bit anticlimactic.

    6. You could end up homeless. In all honesty, ending up homeless isn't far from reality for people with zero savings or assets to their name. But in some corners of the world, it's a way of life for a number of baby boomers. A 2014 Harper's article brought this sad fact to light as "a growing trend of older Americans for whom the reality of unaffordable housing and scarcity of work has driven them from their homes and onto the road in search of seasonal and temporary employment across the country," Lynn Stuart Parramore wrote of AlterNet. These displaced seniors have no choice but to keep working as RV-roaming nomads in whatever farm, factory or amusement park that will have the "workampers."

    Start Saving for Retirement Now

    It's never too late to begin a retirement savings plan, no matter what stage of life you're in. Here are retirement savings tips for different age groups:
    • In your 20s: You've got 40-plus years to build a nest egg, but don't procrastinate. A recent LearnVest study found that a saver who begins putting away $600 a year in a retirement fund at age 25 will have $72,000 by age 65.
    • In your 30s: With your career hopefully in full swing, this is the decade to take advantage of investments and high interest rates to strengthen your retirement nest egg. This is the period when you should be considering savings vehicles like index funds and contributing heavily to your IRA or 401(k). Start building a financial relationship with a broker to guide you down your savings path.
    • In your 40s and 50s: With the retirement savings ball rolling, middle age is the time to keep honing and managing your finances to save up some extra cash. Stay on top of your budget, build an emergency fund, take steps to minimize spending and lower high-interest debt, and find extra income through insurance. By this point, you should be homing in on the dollar figure you'll need if you intend to retire between 65 to 70.
    Trying to retire without any savings in the bank can be difficult, and that difficulty is compounded by other factors senior citizens need to keep in mind as they age, like health issues and mobility. If saving money is not possible for you, retirement doesn't have to pass you by. There are plenty of government-assisted and nonprofit programs that can help you, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Medicare, senior housing help from Housing and Urban Development and other resources.

    This story originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Friends looking at menus in bistro
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    By Miriam Cross

    Dining out should be an opportunity to relax with friends, impress a client or bond with someone special, not fret over the protocol for paying and tipping. Here's how to handle three awkward situations.

    When I try to pay the check, I get an argument. If you have formally invited someone to join you for a meal (for example, "I want to take you out to celebrate"), you're the host -- be prepared to pay. But if your guest insists on splitting the tab, accept the offer rather than argue.

    When you're determined to treat someone for a special occasion, do some advance planning: Choose a restaurant you know well, arrive early and slip the waiter your credit card with instructions to charge the meal and gratuity to the card.

    As the invitee, it doesn't hurt to offer (sincerely) to share the bill; most hosts appreciate the gesture, even if they plan to pay. If you get no for an answer, simply thank your host and say the meal is on you next time. Don't spoil a pleasant occasion by bickering over the bill.

    For occasions such as a large birthday dinner at a restaurant that you're not planning to host, let guests know ahead of time that you're putting together a pay-your-own-way type of event, says Daniel Post Senning, spokesman for the Emily Post Institute. Keep your tone casual when spreading the word.

    The group wants to split the bill evenly, but my meal costs less. Light eaters or sparing drinkers may resent having to subsidize their tablemates' lobster entrees or bottles of wine. If you're out with a regular group of friends and suspect you'll end up feeling stiffed, request a separate check from your server -- but do so when he or she is taking your order, says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. (Volunteer an explanation to your friends if you like, such as "I'm just having a salad tonight" or "I'm sticking with water this time.") Once everyone is throwing their credit cards down for the waiter to charge equally, you've missed the chance to bow out gracefully.

    In other situations -- especially business contexts -- avoid the nickel-and-diming. "You run the risk of looking cheap," says Gottsman. Instead, be prepared to fork over your equal share and enjoy the group experience.

    I noticed my host left a terrible tip. Much as you might like to add to the tip yourself, "that's making a comment on the generosity of your host," says Post Senning. He advises dropping the issue altogether. If your conscience won't let you shortchange the waiter by proxy, however, walk out with your host and say good-bye, then discreetly return to make up the difference, advises Gottsman.

     

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    summer travel
    Getty ImagesThis summer, save some cash and BYOU (bring your own umbrella) to the beach.
    By Sabah Karimi

    Summer is the time kick back, relax and just take things easy for a few months. While this means you may be feeling a little lax with your budget, you don't have to waste those hard-earned dollars on frivolous purchases and expenses that can easily be avoided. Even if you aren't tracking your spending on a daily basis, there are some things you can do to be more mindful about your spending habits and make better money decisions all season long.

    Whether you're enjoying some vacation time this summer or just working your way through those hot summer days, here are six sneaky summer expenses you can avoid.

    1. Excessive toll charges. You may be relying on your GPS to provide you with the shortest route and turn-by-turn directions to your final destination, but make sure you aren't required to pay a lot of toll fees along the way. Consider taking an alternative route -- even if the trip takes slightly longer -- so you don't end up paying extra money in toll charges on a single trip. Factor in the extra cost of gas on the alternate route if needed so you really are saving money on the total cost of that drive.

    2. Car rental insurance. If you're planning a road trip but don't want to put miles on your own car or you end up needing a rental car when you're on vacation, don't add more to the cost of your trip by purchasing rental car insurance. Almost all major credit card companies offer car rental insurance coverage as a benefit to cardholders -- regardless of their balance. Check with your credit card provider to find out if it offers car rental insurance and also check with your insurance company to see if car rentals are included in your coverage. In many cases, your car insurance will provide primary coverage and the credit card will take care of secondary coverage, such as towing charges and other fees.

    3. Cost of personal items on vacation. Don't let running out of sunscreen, bottled water or other everyday essentials put a dent in your vacation budget this season. Buying these items at a hotel, resort or retail store at a vacation hotspot can leave you paying a premium, so make sure to stock up on the essentials before you head out. Make a checklist of must-haves for the beach and beyond so you don't spend extra money on the basics.

    4. Beach umbrella and chair rentals. Many resorts and hotels by the ocean offer beach umbrella and chair rentals for an additional fee. If you can bring your own, you could end up saving upward of $15 a day on these amenities. Call ahead to confirm that you are allowed to bring your own beach items -- some larger resorts may not allow you to use anything but their own -- so you can save some extra money on that overnight stay.

    5. Premium gas prices in tourist towns. If you're heading to a major tourist city, make sure to fill up in the suburbs or anywhere outside of the main tourist zones to avoid the high price of gas. Many gas stations around tourist hubs charge a premium because they know visitors have limited options in the area. Be smart about where you fill up so you aren't paying several cents more per gallon every time you run out of gas.

    6. Movie rental late fees. If you're planning a movie marathon for a group or just binge-watching a few days during that summer vacation away, make sure you don't get stuck with late charges and extra fees on those rentals. Only rent what you can watch that same night so you don't fall into the trap of holding on to the movie for a few extra nights -- and paying late fees. Redbox, for example, only charges $1.50 plus tax a night for most DVD rentals but will charge you the same price for every night you hold onto it. If you're bad about returning movies on time, consider low-cost and free alternatives, such as rentals from the library or borrowing a DVD from a friend to offset some of the costs of movie night.

    Sabah Karimi is a columnist for the blog Wise Bread, where you can find consumer tips like how to select the best balance transfer credit cards.

     

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    Pending Sales Of Previously Owned U.S. Homes Rises
    Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By JOSH BOAK

    WASHINGTON -- More Americans signed contracts to purchase homes in May, as pending sales climbed to their highest level in more than nine years.

    The National Association of Realtors said Monday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 0.9 percent to 112.6 last month. The index has increased 10.4 percent over the past 12 months, putting it just below the April 2006 level -- which was more than a year before the housing bust triggered the Great Recession.

    The steady job growth coupled with low but rising mortgage rates has created greater urgency to buy homes. The gains reflect both a stronger economy but also the pressures to purchase a home before both prices and the cost of borrowing become potentially unaffordable.

    Completed sales of existing homes jumped 5.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million, the Realtors said last week. Median home prices climbed 7.9 percent over the past 12 months to $228,700, about $1,700 shy of the July 2006 peak.

    The recent gains aren't evenly spread.

    Pending sales increased in the higher-priced Northeast and West markets last month, while dropping in the Midwest and South.

    Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.

     

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    This product image provided by Virgin America Airlines shows a demonstration of the airline's in-flight on demand food and drink ordering system. Throughout the flight, passengers can order cookies, chicken sandwiches, margaritas and more on touchscreens in front of them. (Virgin America via AP)
    Virgin America via APOn Virgin America airplanes, passengers can order cookies, chicken sandwiches, margaritas and more on touchscreens in front of them during flight.
    By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ

    NEW YORK -- Packed planes. Less legroom. Fewer frequent flier miles.

    Is that all summer travelers can look forward to?

    Thankfully, no. Amid the unpleasantness, there are a few bright spots where airlines inject a bit of humanity back into our journey. And with a record 222 million passengers expected to fly on U.S. airlines this summer, we could use any little bit of sympathy.

    Here are five things to actually like about flying today:

    Baggage guarantees. The $25 fee to check bags is a fact of life on most airlines. But until recently, only Alaska Airlines (ALK) thought the extra money should guarantee passengers something in return. Since 2010, the airline has promised that suitcases will be on the carousel within 20 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate. If not, passengers get a $25 voucher for a future flight or 2,500 bonus frequent flier miles. Delta Air Lines (DAL) copied that policy this year, offering 2,500 bonus miles to existing members of its frequent flier program -- but no voucher. Act quickly: Alaska requires you to reach out within two hours of arrival; Delta within three days. And ultimately it's your stopwatch against the airlines' -- they are the final arbiter of tardiness.

    Suitcase delivery. Speaking of luggage, you can skip the baggage carousel and have your bags delivered straight to your home, office, hotel or any other location within 40 miles of the airport. Yes, the airlines do charge an extra $30 for one bag, $40 for two or $50 for up to eight suitcases. But for some travelers it is worth that extra price. And the bags are supposed to show up within four to six hours. Alaska, American (AAL), Delta, JetBlue (JBLU), Southwest (LUV) and United (UAL) offer this service through an outside vendor, Bags VIP.

    Streaming video. Airlines are providing more ways for passengers to be entertained -- or at least distracted from the cramped space. The latest innovation: the ability to stream movies and TV shows directly to our tablets and smartphones. Yes, some content does cost money, but there are plenty of free offerings. Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United all offer such a service on some -- but not all -- of their planes. Your best bet to be entertained is on Delta, which offers the service on all but its 50-seat domestic regional jets and on more than half of its international fleet, and on Southwest, which has it on 80 percent of its jets -- basically the newest ones. American only offers streaming on jets without individual TVs; United has the service on just 30 percent of its flights. Passengers may also encounter a lack of electrical plugs to charge all these extra devices. Airlines are working to get each passenger their own plug or USB port but they aren't moving fast enough.

    Food and drinks on demand. Airlines have traditionally controlled when we can eat or drink. Passengers sit waiting for flight attendants to roll the cart down the aisle and then order a beverage or buy a snack knowing that they are unlikely to see the cart for the duration of the trip. Virgin America has a different system. Throughout the flight, passengers can order cookies, chicken sandwiches, margaritas and more on touchscreens in front of them. The airline sells more items and passengers don't have to wait long for a refill. Perfect for today's impatient traveler.

    Coat check. So this isn't going to help with summer vacations but gets points for creativity. JetBlue now offers a coat check at New York's JFK. Yes, leave your jackets in chilly New York while you jet off to Florida or the Caribbean. The only catch: you need to fly back into JFK, it has to be a domestic flight and it costs $2 a day. Still, this service keeps the overhead bins less crowded and prevents passengers from forgetting jackets in their tropical hotel room closets.

     

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    Homeless Veterans-Jobs
    APVeteran Marine David Bowles, 56, a beneficiary of the new Veterans Assistance Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services program.
    By Lisa Cornwall

    CINCINNATI -- David Bowles is excitedly making plans to move from a homeless shelter to an apartment of his own in a few weeks, thanks to a new Department of Veterans Affairs program helping homeless veterans find long-term employment.

    "They saved me," said the 56-year-old former Marine, who got VA assistance in landing a job with a suburban Cincinnati company.

    Job-ready veterans exiting homelessness like Bowles and others on the brink of homelessness can now turn to the VA's Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services for individualized assistance in finding the types of stable jobs needed to sustain housing.

    The program officially launched this month uses 154 community employment coordinators at VA locations nationwide to help identify job-ready veterans and establish relationships with local employers. They also connect veterans with resources to help them succeed after finding work.

    I never expected to end up in a shelter, but one hiccup in life can put you flat on your back.

    Homelessness is a serious problem among veterans: nearly 50,000 were homeless on a single night in January 2014, according to a count developed through a partnership between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    For Bowles, a job layoff and a failed marriage left him without money for rent or a motel when he returned to his home state of Ohio from South Carolina to hunt for a work.

    "I never expected to end up in a shelter, but one hiccup in life can put you flat on your back," said Bowles who applied for his current job on his own, but had no way to get back and forth.

    The Cincinnati VA's coordinator helped by connecting Bowles to a donated fund the VA uses to provide bus passes for homeless veterans and by reassuring the prospective employer.

    "I could promise he would be able to get back and forth until he got his first paycheck," said Elizabeth Appelman.

    Bowles now works at Advanced Testing Laboratory doing quality control measurements of components for a major medical device manufacturer. The company's human resources manager said Bowles' skills and "can-do" attitude fit their needs and the transportation guarantee helped everything fall into place.

    "It's worked out perfectly for us," said Shelley Cooper.

    Getting to and from jobs is a major hurdle for homeless veterans, especially in rural areas with limited public transportation. Coordinator Paul Schuerenberg at the VA in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, says he is talking with various groups there to see if expanded bus service or some other solution is possible.

    Veterans trying to move from homelessness shouldn't be burdened with trying to figure out where to find transportation assistance or clothes for job interviews or employers willing to hire them, said Carma Heitzmann, national director of the new homeless employment program.

    'More Streamlined'

    "The idea is to try to put all those resources together so it's more streamlined and efficient for the veteran," Heitzmann said.

    The Cleveland VA's coordinator says that while efforts are made to match veterans' skills with employers' needs, veterans' preferences are also considered.

    "We want them to have jobs they have a passion for and want to continue long-term," said Daniel Abraham.

    Dwight Washington, of the Cleveland suburb of Richmond Heights, was able to get such a job with Abraham's help. The 61-year-old Army veteran was on the brink of homelessness after a temporary job through the VA ended. But Abraham connected Washington, who has years of experience with mechanical and electrical maintenance, with a company providing maintenance services for the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland.

    Washington now works there and loves it.

    "It's good to feel normal and be self-sufficient again," he said.

     

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    Earns GE
    Thibault Camus/AP
    By Euan Rocha

    TORONTO -- General Electric said Monday it agreed to sell its fleet management arm in the United States, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand to Canada's Element Financial for $6.9 billion, moving it a step further in its plan to shed financial assets.

    Separately, GE signed a memorandum of understanding to sell its European fleet segment to Arval, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas . GE didn't disclose the sale price for this part, but a source close to the matter said GE is set to receive some $3.3 billion for this business.

    The sale is part of a plan unveiled in April to divest about $200 billion in GE Capital assets as it moves away from finance and focuses on manufacturing industrial equipment.

    We are on track to execute sales of $100 billion by the end of 2015 and expect to be substantially done by the end of 2016.

    "We are on track to execute sales of $100 billion by the end of 2015 and expect to be substantially done by the end of 2016," said GE Capital Chief Executive Officer Keith Sherin.

    GE's deal with Element will transform the Canadian company into North America's largest fleet provider. The business finances and manages vehicles of companies that own vast fleets for sales staff, technicians and others on the move. GE sold its Canadian fleet unit to Element in 2013.

    On closing of the deal, Element's combined fleet management assets will include over a million vehicles under contract and net earning fleet assets of over C$13 billion ($10.5 billion). Its total assets will exceed C$21 billion.

    BTIG analyst Mark Palmer said he sees the acquisition giving Element's stock a "significant boost."

    Element and its advisors, BMO, Barclays, INFOR Financial and CIBC, also helped facilitate the side transaction with Arval for the GE's European fleet assets. The unit's final sale price was not been disclosed since a deal is subject to consultations with the companies' work councils.

    Element said the related transaction expands the Element-Arval Global Alliance in Europe, giving it the capability to manage customer fleets in over 40 countries.

    GE (GE), advised by JPMorgan (JPM), said both deals together represent a total of $8.6 billion in assets. Excluded from the deals is GE's fleet business in Japan.

    Element expects the U.S. and Mexico deal to close in the third quarter of 2015, and the Australia and New Zealand deal in the fourth quarter. The Arval deal is also expected to close in the fourth quarter.

    -Supriya Kurane contributed reporting from Bangalore.

     

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    How to Clean Your Sneakers
    Did you know you can clean your dirty sneakers the same way that you clean your teeth? Here's how.

    To get your trainers sparkling again, all you need is an old toothbrush and some toothpaste with baking soda and peroxide. Just put some toothpaste on a toothbrush, dip it in water, and start scrubbing your sneaks, especially the sides of the soles.

    The toothpaste will work as an abrasive, and you'll see the dirt start to disappear. Once it's gone, simply wipe off the toothpaste with a paper towel. Voila! Your old sneakers will look just like new.

    So, if you've got a pair of sneakers that are looking worn out, shine them back up with this simple solution. They'll be good as new without breaking the bank.

    View Poll

     

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    GOP 2016 Trump
    Charlie Neibergall/APRepublican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Iowa during a rally in June.
    By DAVID BAUDER

    NEW YORK --NBC said Monday that it is ending its business relationship with mogul and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump because of comments he made about Mexican immigrants during the announcement of his campaign.

    The network said it would no longer air the annual Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, which had been a joint venture between the company and Trump. Miss USA has aired on NBC since 2003, and this year's edition was set for July 12.

    At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values.


    "At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values," NBC said in a statement.

    Trump's reply: a "weak" NBC should prepare to meet him in court.

    NBC's action comes less than a week after Univision similarly decided to ditch Trump and the pageants. Trump has also been a fixture on NBC as host of "The Apprentice" and its celebrity offshoot, and an agreement that he would no longer be on the show predated the current controversy. The network said Monday that it and producer Mark Burnett are exploring ways to continue "Celebrity Apprentice" sans Trump.

    Trump said he anticipated losing the business relationship and that he's not apologizing for his statements because they "were correct."

    "Whatever they want to do is OK with me," Trump told reporters in Chicago after a campaign speech to civic leaders.

    But in a statement issued by his company in New York, Trump said "NBC is weak, and like everybody else is trying to be politically correct. That is why our country is in serious trouble."

    He said he'd consider suing, as he plans to do with Univision. He also took a shot at NBC's decision to demote, but not fire, news anchor Brian Williams for telling false stories about some of the reporting he was involved in.

    "They will stand behind lying Brian Williams, but won't stand behind people that tell it like it is, as unpleasant as that may be," he said.

    During his presidential kickoff speech, Trump said Mexican immigrants are "bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists and some, I assume, are good people." He called for building a wall along the southern border of the United States. Trump later said that his remarks were directed at U.S. policymakers, not the Mexican government or its people.

    The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a group of 39 Latino advocacy organizations, had called on NBC to get out of business with Trump. Similarly, a petition urging the same thing on the Change.org website had gathered more than 218,000 signatures.

    Dozens of protesters -- from immigrant and Latino rights groups -- waited outside of a downtown Chicago restaurant where Trump spoke. Their chats included "No more hate!"

    Maritza Vaca, with the Chicago-based Accion Hispano, said immigrants have rights and was upset by Trump's comments.

    "It is racism," she said. "For him to be running for president is ridiculous."

    NBC said it is still determining what it will air in place of the pageant next month.

    -Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen in Chicago and television writer Frazier Moore in New York contributed to this report.

     

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