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    Hackers Release Confidential Member Information From The Ashley Madison Infidelity Website
    Carl Court/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. government employees with sensitive jobs in national security or law enforcement were among hundreds of federal workers found to be using government networks to access and pay membership fees to the cheating website Ashley Madison, The Associated Press has learned.

    The list includes at least two assistant U.S. attorneys, an information technology administrator in the White House's support staff, a Justice Department investigator, a division chief, and a government hacker and counterterrorism employee at the Homeland Security Department. Others visited from networks operated by the Pentagon.

    Federal policies vary by agency as to whether employees could visit websites during work hours like Ashley Madison, which could be considered akin to a dating website. But such use raises questions about what personal business is acceptable -- and what websites are OK to visit -- for U.S. workers on taxpayer time, especially those with sensitive jobs who could face blackmail.

    Hackers this week released detailed records on millions of people registered with the website one month after the break-in at Ashley Madison's parent company, Toronto-based Avid Life Media. The website -- whose slogan is, "Life is short. Have an affair" -- is marketed to facilitate extramarital affairs.

    Few connecting from federal networks had listed government email accounts when subscribing. But the AP was able to trace their government Internet connections, logged by the website over five years and as recently as June. They encompass more than two dozen agencies, such as the departments of State, Justice, Energy, Treasury and Transportation. Others came from House or Senate computer networks.

    Records also reveal subscribers signed up using state and municipal government networks nationwide, including those run by the New York Police Department. "If anything comes to our attention indicating improper use of an NYPD computer, we will look into it and take appropriate action," said NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis.

    The AP isn't identifying the government subscribers it found because they aren't elected officials or accused of a crime.

    Many federal customers appeared to use nongovernment email addresses with handles such as "sexlessmarriage," ''soontobesingle" or "latinlovers." Some Justice Department employees also appeared to use prepaid credit cards to help preserve their anonymity but nonetheless connected to the service from their office computers.

    "I was doing some things I shouldn't have been doing," a Justice Department investigator told the AP. Asked about the threat of blackmail, the investigator said if prompted he would reveal his actions to his family and employer to prevent it. "I've worked too hard all my life to be a victim of blackmail. That wouldn't happen," he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was deeply embarrassed and not authorized by the government to speak to reporters using his name.

    Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed Thursday the Pentagon was looking into the list of people who used military email addresses. Adultery can be a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    "I'm aware of it," Carter said. "Of course it's an issue because conduct is very important. And we expect good conduct on the part of our people. ... The services are looking into it and as well they should be. Absolutely."

    Focused Probe

    The AP's review was the first to reveal that federal workers used their office systems to access the site, based on their Internet Protocol addresses associated with credit card transactions. It focused on searching for government employees in especially sensitive positions who could perhaps become blackmail targets.

    The government hacker at the Homeland Security Department, who didn't respond to phone or email messages, included photographs of his wife and infant son on his Facebook page. One assistant U.S. attorney declined through a spokesman to speak to the AP, and another didn't return phone or email messages.

    A White House spokesman said Thursday he couldn't immediately comment on the matter. The IT administrator in the White House didn't return email messages.

    While rules can vary by agency, Homeland Security rules, for instance, say devices should be used for only for official purposes. It also prescribes "limited personal use is authorized as long as this use does not interfere with official duties or cause degradation of network services." Employees are barred from using government computers to access "inappropriate sites" including those that are "obscene, hateful, harmful, malicious, hostile, threatening, abusive, vulgar, defamatory, profane, or racially, sexually, or ethnically objectionable."

    The hackers who took credit for the break-in had accused the website's owners of deceit and incompetence, and said the company refused to bow to their demands to close the site. Avid Life released a statement calling the hackers criminals. It added that law enforcement in both the U.S. and Canada is investigating and declined comment beyond its statement Tuesday that it was investigating the hackers' claims.

    -Associated Press writers Alicia Caldwell and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Jake Pearson in New York and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.


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    Company Signs
    Getty Images
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the king of coffeehouses expanding its evening fare and a retail giant disappointing investors with its quarterly results.

    Starbucks (SBUX) -- Winner

    The baron of baristas is also apparently open to tapping a keg or uncorking a wine bottle as the hours drag. The cult-fave premium coffeehouse chain rolled out Starbucks Evenings on Tuesday, transforming some of its units in select markets into lounges complete with beer, wine and appetizers after 4 p.m. Yes, you can still get all of its signature beverages at that time.

    It's a smart move. Business peaks in the morning at Starbucks and while it's not exactly a tumbleweed-infested ghost town at night, there's clearly not the same kind of demand for caffeinated blasts of coffee later in the day. It's a great way to expand its offerings at a time when baristas have more time on their hands.

    Starbucks will be taking things slow. It envisions Starbucks Evenings at just a quarter of its more than 12,000 stateside locations in five years. If the concept takes off, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the rollout escalate.

    Ashley Madison -- Loser

    Some hackers apparently aren't cool with adultery. The mailing list of Ashley Madison -- the fling site that proudly positions itself as a place for married people to hook up -- was compromised. Reports Tuesday indicated that 32 million registered account addresses were made public following the hack.

    In a juicy twist, many of the email addresses apparently belong to the domains of some of big banking giants of New York City as well as federal employees. Let that be a lesson to anyone who thinks that it's OK to use a workplace email to register for a site that can come to haunt you in the future.

    Lumber Liquidators (LL) -- Winner

    One of this year's worst stocks bounced back on one of the market's darkest days. Shares of Lumber Liquidators soared 9 percent on Thursday with the rest of general market taking a hit.

    The hardwood flooring retailer got a rare boost after a Wall Street analyst upgraded her rating on the stock, raising her price target from $15 to $18 along the way. Cantor Fitzgerald's analyst recently toured a store with senior management, walking away with a feeling that gross margins in the long term won't be as low as she had initially feared.

    Lumber Liquidators has walked the plank this year. The stock had fallen nearly 80 percent in 2015 before Thursday's pop, most of that damage coming after "60 Minutes" ran a scathing report alleging that its China-sourced laminates had dangerous levels of formaldehyde. However, after months of analyst downgrades and plunging price targets, there's finally someone ready to pound the table.

    Walmart (WMT) -- Loser

    It isn't easy being Walmart these days. The stock hit another 52-week low after posting uninspiring quarterly results. Walmart lowered its profit guidance for the entire fiscal year. Adding insult to injury, rival Target (TGT) also reported fresh financials, and it actually boosted its outlook.

    Home Depot (HD) -- Winner

    The orange aprons are cleaning up. Home Depot came through with a strong quarterly report. The home improvement superstore chain experienced a 5.7 percent spike in comparable-store sales since the prior year, and it's also boosting its guidance.

    The strong report earned Wall Street's attention. Analysts at Argus and Credit Suisse raised their price targets on the retailer.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot, Lumber Liquidators and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lumber Liquidators and Starbucks. 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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    oil well pump
    NEW YORK -- U.S. crude oil prices on Friday dove below $40 a barrel for the first time since the 2009 financial crisis, notching their longest weekly losing streak in 29 years after a further rise in U.S. drilling and a drop in Chinese manufacturing.

    Oil prices pushed briefly below the $40-pivot mark following weekly data that showed U.S. energy firms added two oil drilling rigs last week, the fifth increase in a row. The rise in rigs, which is emerging now after a second quarter lull in prices, is adding to concerns U.S. shale production is proving slow to respond to falling prices, prolonging a global glut.

    "Everyone is still looking at it saying, 'Wow, you still don't have production coming down,' " said Tariq Zahir, founder at Tyche Capital in Laurel Hollow, New York.

    Energy markets slid early in the day as world stock and currency markets joined an extended rout across raw materials this week, a slump accelerated on Friday by data showing activity in China's factory sector shrank at its fastest pace in almost 6½ years in August.

    The market is stuck in a relentless downtrend. The trend is down -- stick with it.

    With deepening gloom over demand growth from the world's second-biggest oil user, and expectations for a significant build-up in surplus oil stocks this autumn, dealers said most oil traders were unwilling to fight the tide.

    "The market is stuck in a relentless downtrend," said Robin Bieber, a director at London brokerage PVM Oil Associates. "The trend is down -- stick with it."

    U.S. October crude fell $1.07, or 2.6 percent, to $40.25 a barrel by 1:41 p.m. Eastern time, having touched a new 6½-year low of $39.86 a barrel. Front-month U.S. crude has fallen 33 percent over eight consecutive weeks of losses, the longest such losing streak since 1986.

    Brent oil fell $1.27, or 2.8 percent, to $45.35 a barrel, after hitting a low of $45.09 and threatening to break below $45 a barrel for the first time since March 2009.

    Although the current collapse in oil prices, the second this year, has raised alarm within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, including some of its core Gulf members, there is no indication they will reverse their policy of keeping production wide open to defend market share, delegates told Reuters this week.

    As a result, oil traders are looking for further signs of a slowdown in U.S. production to put a floor under the market, something that appears to be taking far longer than expected as drillers grow more efficient and drive down costs.

    Deferred oil prices have fallen sharply this week as a result, hit even harder than near-term futures. The December 2006 contract fell $1.50 on Friday, taking its weekly loss to over 9 percent, the biggest drop in over four years. December 2018 was down more than $2 a barrel.

    Oil producers are "finding a way to make lower prices work, and the forward prices are adjusting to it," said Scott Shelton, commodities specialist at ICAP in Durham, North Carolina.

    -With additional reporting by Christopher Johnson in London and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Singapore.


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    Dow Plunges 500 Points Amid Fears Of China's Slowing Economy

    By Chuck Mikolajczak

    NEW YORK -- The S&P 500 suffered its biggest daily percentage drop in nearly four years Friday and the Dow confirmed it had entered into correction territory as fears of a China-led global slowdown rattled investors around the world.

    A report overnight showed China's manufacturing sector shrank at the fastest pace since 2009, exacerbating worries about the health of its economy and whether the government would take further steps to stem its slowdown.

    The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks (^RUT) also confirmed a move into correction territory, a 10 percent decline from its most recent closing high on June 23.

    A lot of people know this is way overdone. They are just waiting and they are going to step back in next week.

    The S&P slumped 5.8 percent for the week, its biggest weekly percentage decline since September 2011.

    "People are using China as the main thing as an excuse for selling," said Keith Bliss, senior vice-president at Cuttone & Co. in New York.

    "A lot of people know this is way overdone. They are just waiting and they are going to step back in next week."

    The sell-off was broad, with all 10 major S&P sectors in the red. The energy sector was one of the worst performers as U.S. crude oil slipped below $40 a barrel for the first time since the 2009 financial crisis. The S&P energy index dropped 2.6 percent.

    The CBOE Volatility index, a measure of the premium traders are willing to pay for protection against a drop in the S&P 500, jumped as much as 48.3 percent to 28.38, its highest since October. The index also notched its biggest-ever weekly percentage gain.

    Many investors anticipate the U.S. central bank to begin to raise interest rates by the end of the year, although expectations for a September hike were tempered by Wednesday's release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's July meeting.

    Apple (AAPL) fell 4.6 percent to $107.44 as investors continued to fret over its prospects in China, a key market for the iPhone-maker. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P and the Nasdaq.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 530.94 points, or 3.1 percent, to 16,459.75, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 64.84 points, or 3.2 percent, to 1,970.89 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 171.45 points, or 3.5 percent, to 4,706.04.

    Big Weekly Losses

    For the week, the Dow dropped 5.8 percent and the Nasdaq tumbled 6.8 percent.

    The drag from Apple served to push the technology sector down 4.2 percent. The consumer staples index fell 2.6 percent, moving into the red for the year. Eight of the 10 S&P sectors are now in negative territory for the year.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,664 to 440, for a 6.05-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 2,004 issues fell and 823 advanced, for a 2.43-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The benchmark S&P 500 posted no new 52-week highs for the first time since Aug. 8, 2011 after S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating, while there were 75 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 13 new highs and 276 new lows.

    Volume was heavy, with about 10.36 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, well above the 6.85 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.


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    Getty Images
    By Elizabeth Sheer

    Our house in the country is under renovation just about all the time. It's not particularly old, just particularly quirky. Much of it was built by the previous owners. Some features, such as the plumbing, are mostly jerry-rigged; others are just plain odd; and still others are beginning to fall apart. We're fixing things a little at a time, so that when we move in permanently, seven to 10 years from now, the house will be completely renovated and the infrastructure up to code. We save money where we can, but there is ongoing tension between time and money. What can we do ourselves and what should we pay someone else to do?

    Because this is a house we don't live in full time, we delegate several maintenance tasks we would normally handle on our own. One of those chores is plowing the snow. The driveway is about 75 yards long and must be plowed before we arrive, or the path to the house would be impassable. We pay $40 for each plowing, and in the snowy winter of 2015, we spent $400 to clear the drive.

    Other than that, we celebrated the new year with a determination to hold the line on maintenance costs. But our good intentions were dashed when the upstairs bathroom pipes burst in February, even though we're always careful to leave the heat on and the water turned off before leaving during the winter. The good news: The damage was minimal; the pipes that froze were on the outside of the wall. The bad news: The damage was minimal -- too small for homeowners insurance to cover. Fixing the pipe and replacing the parts cost $250. The contractor opened the kitchen ceiling to make sure there was no mold (there wasn't) and estimated four hours to repair the ceiling for a total of $480. Instead, after he put in a drywall patch, I took over and saved us $400.

    In the time vs. money debate, the former doesn't always win. My husband works long hours during the week, and sometimes on weekends, and there is only so much you can do around the house. Last fall, we decided to forgo chopping wood for the stove and had two cords of firewood delivered ($500). We moved enough logs into the house to last most of the winter, but the rest sat outside, covered with a tarp. We wanted to move the remainder to a small studio about 100 yards from the house and my husband concluded that the $100 cost of having someone else haul it was well worth the price.

    Last year's big project was installing a stone patio and moving and extending the balcony above it to serve as a pergola. For this we budgeted $10,000. But right away, things went awry. Removing the old balcony pulled off a chunk of siding and the existing electrical outlets were dead. The cost of additional labor and materials: $1,180. The patio work wasn't completed by the time snow started falling. When I was finally able to contemplate the patio in April, I realized the plans drawn up independently by the stonemason, the contractor and myself didn't mesh. So this spring, the patio was amended and extended, with drains and a gravel/stone-dust mix in the driveway to ease spring flooding and a flower bed around the perimeter edged in steel -- all for an extra $2,800.

    Once the weather warms, my primary job is the garden. We have about an acre and a half of lawn, and I would like to replace half of it, little by little, with flowers and bushes. I do the digging myself, although dig is something of a euphemism. The soil is typical rocky New England shale and you can't so much dig as hack at it with a pick-ax, which makes very slow going. In the perpetual tug between time and money, I opted for time and resigned myself to spending five to seven years to bring the gardens to fruition. We budget $1,000 a year for the garden and this spring I spent about $1,020 on plantings and soil amendments. I easily could have overspent by calling in a backhoe at a rate of $350 a day, plus labor.

    To prepare for next year's beds, I've laid compost-covered corrugated cardboard over large swathes of lawn to kill the sod and turn into mulch. This tactic, however, complicated the lawn mowing and the guy we hired quit. So we're back to the time-money debate again. Should we look for someone else to mow or buy a mowing tractor that I can use? In the past we've spent about $600 a year for mowing, so a tractor would pay for itself in four to five years. But no one seems to want this job and in the end we had no choice but to buy a tractor, with attachments, for $2,700. The next phone call was to an arborist, who wanted $2,000 to remove dead trees, dangling branches and cut off parts of a diseased tree. We opted for a less professional approach and saved $1,400.

    I really wanted this year's project to be a laundry room so I could stop dragging sheets and towels to the city and back. But we're using our home improvement budget for maintenance again: Several windows need to be fixed, so I'll be transporting laundry for some time to come.


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    Mother with Baby Using a Laptop
    By Marianne Hayes

    Five years ago Sarah Hosseini had a great gig as a TV producer for a news station in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    She loved the work, and expected a continual -- and satisfying -- climb up the career ladder. So she never imagined that having a baby at 25 would forever change that trajectory.

    But that's exactly what happened.

    "I wanted to take a little time off for the birth of my child -- more than the three months of maternity leave my corporate job was willing to give me, but definitely less than a year," Hosseini, 30, recalls.

    When she asked her boss about possibly extending her maternity leave, or implementing partial work-from-home hours for a bit, she was met with a hard no -- it was all or nothing.

    Because her $30,000 salary would have been completely eaten up paying for full-time day care, Hosseini decided to quit her job.

    Since then she's become a freelance writer, and had another child. And while she earns about the same amount as she did at her old job, she goes without such employee benefits as paid time off and subsidized insurance coverage.

    Returning to a full-time job in television production is appealing, but Hosseini knows that she'd have to start at a lower-level position, along with a salary cut -- and she can't afford that.

    "My old career path has run dry," she says. "I never wanted to be forever banished from my career, or thrown off my professional track, all because I had kids."

    The 30 Percent Mommy Penalty

    Working Mom: 'I Opted Out for a Few Years - and Paid for It'
    Courtesy: Angelina CapalboAngelina Capalbo went from making $75,000 a year to $22 an hour when she went back to work.
    Stories like Hosseini's aren't uncommon. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a woman's earnings generally take a 30 percent dive after being out of the workforce for two to three years.

    "There's a ton of discrimination for women who've taken time off to care for their kids, which is technically illegal but doesn't stop people from doing it," says Sarah Jane Glynn, director for women's economic policy at the Center for American Progress.

    There's even a name for the phenomenon: "the mommy penalty."

    From an employer's perspective, Glynn recognizes the rationale used in paying less. Should someone who hasn't been working for an extended time really command the same type of salary and position as someone who's been consistently working and keeping their skills fresh?

    The answer, says Glynn, depends on your industry and your role.

    "If you're talking about someone who works in technology, it can make an enormous difference in terms of whether or not you're up-to-date on skills," she explains. "But if you're a high school teacher, taking time off probably isn't going to mean that you'll be unable to keep up with your peers if you return to work."

    However, she argues that, in most cases, women can be brought back up to speed pretty quickly. So why are so many women still being hit with the mommy penalty even if they're able to hit the ground running?

    It may be about more than just the amount of time spent away.

    The way moms are perceived in the workplace can be an additional salary factor -- whether or not they took a break from their job.

    Dads who live with their kids experience an over 6 percent pay bump. On the flipside, mothers are hit with a 4 percent pay decrease for each kid they have.

    Battling the Mommy Bias

    According to research out of the University of Rhode Island, working moms are often viewed as being less competent, committed and productive as their childless peers.

    "We don't have these same assumptions about men," Glynn says. "There are actually studies that show the reverse -- people assume that fathers are going to be more dedicated to work because they now have an additional mouth to feed."

    One recent study from the research group Third Way found that, on average, dads who live with their kids experience an over 6 percent pay bump. On the flipside, mothers are hit with a 4 percent pay decrease for each kid they have.

    "People have this idea that, when you're a mom, your life is going to revolve around your kids in particular ways -- that's going to be your No. 1 priority. And it's going to distract you from being a good worker," Glynn says.

    All of these factors, adds Glynn, can make women who take a break more financially vulnerable to unexpected changes -- from a partner's job loss to divorce -- in their family's financial situation.

    Angelina Capalbo, a 35-year-old administrative worker in Unionville, Connecticut, dealt with this firsthand.

    When she had her daughter six years ago, the original plan was for Capalbo to stay home until her child was ready for kindergarten, while relying on her husband's salary to keep them afloat.

    But when they divorced two years later, Capalbo was hastily thrown back into the workforce.

    Prior to having her daughter, she'd been making $75,000 a year, plus bonuses, as an executive assistant. Unfortunately, walking back into that type of setup proved impossible.

    The only gig Capalbo was able to secure was an administrative position that paid just $15 an hour. Since then, she's bounced around to similar jobs and is currently earning $22 an hour as a temp-to-perm office worker.

    And short-term financial struggles aren't the only concern for Capalbo. She's also had to put building up her emergency fund and saving for retirement on the back-burner -- moves that could put her future in jeopardy.

    "I think that's a nasty surprise that women, in particular, end up experiencing when they've taken extended spells out of the labor force [to stay with children]," Glynn says. "Anybody who understands how compound interest works knows that it's really important to be putting money away during your 20s and 30s, so if those are the years that you're taking off, that can really hit you down the line."

    How to Get Back in the Game -- and Get Paid Your Worth

    Salary Confessions of Working Moms: 'I Opted Out for a Few Years—and Paid for It'
    Courtesy: Alison RissoAfter losing her job post-maternity leave, Alison Risso snagged a better, higher-paying gig.
    When Alison Risso, now a public relations professional in the Washington, D.C., area, had her second child nine years ago, her boss assumed that a slower work pace might be a better fit for her.

    "While I was on my maternity leave, I got a call saying I'd be switched over to a smaller department," recalls Risso, 42. "I wasn't expecting it -- and wasn't consulted about it."

    The lateral move came with the same salary, but a less hectic workload. And Risso says her boss, also a mom, had good intentions, thinking she was doing Risso a favor by lightening her load a bit.

    The new department was indeed less hectic -- because it was generating less revenue and not performing as well as others. And this all played into the reason why Risso was laid off later that year.

    The situation had a happy ending, though: Risso snagged a better position at another company, and was able to negotiate a higher salary.

    According to Evelyn Murphy, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and founder of the WAGE Project, knowing your worth -- and being ready to negotiate -- is critical for moms who are navigating a return to the workforce.

    Many women -- regardless of where they are in the earning spectrum -- don't know how to assess their worth in the marketplace.

    "It shouldn't really matter if you've been out of work for several years raising kids or not," Murphy says. "It's about what you'd bring to the job."

    And that's why Murphy advises moms who are just getting back in the game to approach the situation without assuming they'll have to take a demotion or pay cut just to secure a job.

    Murphy, who's been leading salary negotiation workshops for nearly a decade, says that many women -- regardless of where they are in the earning spectrum -- don't know how to assess their worth in the marketplace in an independent way.

    Her advice? Before you walk into any interview, thoroughly research what the current going rate is for that particular job in your given area -- and then use that information during the negotiation process.

    Glynn adds that women opting out of full-time work for a few years should also think about their big-picture plans. Do you want to eventually return to your career? If so, staying connected to your industry can be the key to a smooth reentry.

    This might mean working part-time, or doing some freelance work during the years you're at home, which will help keep your resume fresh and current.

    "Even if it's something as simple as keeping in touch with your colleagues and regularly having coffee with them, just maintaining that network is super important," Glynn says. "Not only so you're abreast of what's happening in your field, but also because those kinds of networks, frankly, are increasingly how people find jobs."


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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Minnesota Vikings
    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
    How do you go from being on top of the world with a multimillion-dollar contract to filing for bankruptcy? By spending like it is never going to end. Former football superstars are finding that out the hard way.

    Studies have shown that a high percentage of NFL players declare bankruptcy after their playing days, and many others suffer financial difficulties. A Sports Illustrated article from 2009 indicated that after two years of retirement, a whopping 78 percent of former NFL players went bankrupt or suffered financial stress due to joblessness or divorce -- although in fairness, that analysis falls into the heart of the Great Recession.

    A recently released study by the National Bureau of Economic Research focused on the bankruptcy aspect. The NBER working paper studied NFL players who had been drafted between 1996 and 2003. The authors found that bankruptcy filings began relatively soon after retirement and continued all the way through the first dozen post-retirement years.

    Taken in total, almost 16 percent of the players studied declared bankruptcy during the first twelve years of retirement. The bankruptcies didn't correlate with the amount of money made over a career or the length of time in the league.

    Keep in mind that there are plenty of undrafted players who spend some time in the NFL (just over 31 percent in 2013 according to the Elias Sports Bureau) and most make nowhere near the money that drafted players do. Adding those players could skew the statistics either way -- the undrafted players made less money to save, yet the undrafted player may have a greater sense of how short the NFL experience can be and may be more likely to engage in financial planning.

    Financial planning, or more precisely the lack of it, is the main point. While the NFL Players Association started a financial wellness program around the time of the Sports Illustrated article, too many players either don't take the advice or don't fully understand it. It is hard for an NFL athlete to fully grasp the fact that his career is short-lived and that he must plan for the future.

    The NBER paper points out that NFL players don't follow the "life-cycle model" of savings. In this model, people try to balance their consumption over their lifetime and save for the future, instead of simply consuming more in proportion with their current income. One could argue that most Americans don't follow that model either -- but most Americans don't get annual contracts averaging millions of dollars, especially knowing in advance that the income is short-term.

    The author of the 2009 Sports Illustrated article, Pablo Torre, created four general categories that often lead NFL players astray.
    • The Lure of The Tangible -- Owning a restaurant, bar, or car dealership is a tangible, sexy idea. Investing a portion of your wealth in a diversified portfolio containing lower risk assets isn't.
    • Misplaced Trust -- Bad financial advice is a common thread. Too often there is a trusted adviser who didn't deserve that trust, whether through incompetence or fraud. Players that lack the financial understanding to understand risk or spot fraud can easily fall for "can't miss" investments.
    • Family Matters -- Divorce is common among athletes; prenuptial agreements aren't. Divorces with NFL athletes tend to occur after retirement, when the athlete has far less income (if any) than during his playing days. In essence, he loses a disproportionate amount of his likely lifetime wealth.

      The other aspect of family matters involves prolific procreators such as former running back Travis Henry. Paying child support for one child can be a financial burden. Multiply that by 11 children with 10 different women, and you end up in jail for failure to pay child support (as Henry did).
    • Great Expectations -- Your peers are living large, and you have a new set of "friends" that sap your resources. What is an NFL athlete to do? Young NFL players often follow the pack with spending and don't think about being taken advantage of by hangers-on.
    If the NFLPA's efforts succeed in raising financial awareness among NFL players, perhaps a follow-up study in a few years would show dramatic improvement. While no one can blame these working players for having fun both on the field and off, this research shows that a hard-hitting tackle of spending trends will prevent them from being blindsided in retirement.


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    Never Exceed Your Smartphone Data Cap Again

    By Ari Cetron

    The smartphone has become one of those how-did-we-survive-before-we-had-it types of inventions. As of 2013, about two-thirds of Americans own the devices, which let you send text messages, check your email, check Facebook, get a stock quote, read the newspaper, play games, take pictures, send those pictures to friends, look up the name of the guy from that movie whose name you can't remember right now. Apparently, you can even use them to make a phone call.

    But so many of those activities use data. Pretty much everyone who has one of these phones is familiar with the three parts of the contract: making calls, sending texts and data usage. Of these, it's the third that can easily run up your bill. Now, there are a lucky few who got an iPhone 1 with an unlimited data plan that's been grandfathered in.

    The rest of us have our lives measured in megabytes. At the end of the month, we need to ponder whether posting this one thing on Facebook is worth going over the data cap -- and seeing a huge jump in our bills. The best way to avoid that modern-day conundrum is to keep on top of your data over the course of the month. Here are 10 ways to help you keep it under control.

    1. Figure out how much data you need. The best way to avoid going over your cap is to have your cap in the right place. If you find yourself hitting or exceeding the cap regularly, it's probably cheaper to get a higher cap than to pay the overage fees. AT&T has a calculator that can help you figure out how much data you might use in a month. The questions are fairly generic, so it should work if you use another carrier, too.

    2. Use Wi-Fi early and often. If you are on a Wi-Fi network, the information goes to a router and then off into the Internet, instead of going through a phone company's antennas. This means that data you use via Wi-Fi doesn't count toward your total for the month. Many people have routers set up in their home. If not, they can be fairly cheap and easy to set up nowadays. And if buying the router helps you stay under your data cap, it should be a good investment over time. If you're not home, use someone else's Wi-Fi wherever possible. Many businesses offer free Wi-Fi to customers. And it is considered socially acceptable to ask for a friend's Wi-Fi password when you're at their house.

    3. Watch the photos. In the scheme of data usage, photos are not the worst. But if you're a heavy Instagram user, or you really, really like to tweet out a picture of your dinner, that can easily change. You can take pictures all day long without impacting your data plan, it's only when you send them out that they start to matter, so be judicious about which ones you share.

    4. Careful with the music. People just don't listen to the radio, or their playlist, like they used to, but streaming music can eat up data. Apps can stream at a very high bit rate, sometimes up to 320 Kbps, which means you're using 2.4 MB per minute. Check your preferences, and go for the lower bit rate. Or just listen to all those songs you downloaded before you started listening to Pandora.

    5. Careful with the video. Video is, of course, sound with moving pictures, so it stands to reason that it uses more than either photos or audio. Streaming a video can use 50 MB per minute, a number that can get you to your data cap pretty quickly. Instead, try downloading the video to your phone when you're on a Wi-Fi network and playing it back later. Yes, everyone wants to see the dancing cat video right now, but if you wait 10 minutes until you're on Wi-Fi, it will end up saving your wallet a bundle.

    Uploading videos also can be a data-heavy enterprise. It's tempting to put up the video of the kid's graduation right there while you're watching it, but does it need to be done in real time? Wait until you're back home and can do it the old-fashioned way -- on a Wi-Fi network, or from your desktop after you sync.

    6. Games can be costly. Things like "Words with Friends" or "Angry Birds" -- does anyone still play "Angry Birds"? -- aren't too bad. But the action-packed shooters or kinetic driving games eat data. Everyone likes those time-wasters now and then, but be careful with them.

    7. Stop the video chats. These are basically video and use data the same way. So Skype or FaceTime, or whatever app you use is using lots and lots of data. You are actually both sending and receiving video; it's a double-whammy that you should try to avoid.

    8. Turn off auto-updates and notifications. This is sort of a stealth data hog. Your phone will constantly be checking in with apps you use frequently to see if there's an update. Email, Facebook, games you might play, the weather. If you allow push notifications, it means your phone is constantly looking for notifications to push at you. Each time it looks, it uses data. A small amount, generally, but it adds up. Go to your settings and turn off these pushes. You'll still be able to check the app, but it will only use the data when you want it to, not when it wants to.

    9. Buy the app. Tons of apps are free to use, as long as you put up with ads on the screen, but if you buy the app, no more ads. Those ads, besides being visually annoying, are using your data. If it's an app you use regularly, buying it will remove the visual blight of the ads, and save you on data costs.

    10. Get a data compression program. This will degrade the quality of your photos or videos, but it will save you lots of data. There are numerous options for both iPhone and Android, so shop around and find one that works for you.

    Have other tips to share? Let us know in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.

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


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    Young Family with Real Estate Agent in Front of New House
    Getty ImagesYou can't get money from a credible financial institution without an appraisal, so, they're pretty important.
    By Geoff Williams

    When you think about buying a house, you think about the plentiful cabinet space you hope to find in the kitchen, or ample bedroom size. You probably aren't thinking about the home appraisal.

    If you're selling a home, you're probably daydreaming about the home you plan on moving into next. You're probably wondering how much you can sell your home for, too.

    But whether you're selling or buying, you probably aren't thinking much about the home appraisal process. It isn't one of the most glamorous parts of buying or selling a home, and yet if home appraisals disappeared tomorrow, the real estate market would come crashing down.

    So if you're about to buy or sell a home and know little about appraisals, it's time to change that.

    What are they? A home appraisal is a very educated guess as to how much your property is worth.

    Why are home appraisals important? No credible financial institution will lend you money for a house without an appraisal.

    The appraisal lets a bank or lender know what the loan collateral will sell for in a worst-case scenario.

    "The appraisal lets a bank or lender know what the loan collateral will sell for in a worst-case scenario," says Bart Jackson, an appraiser in Charleston, South Carolina, who is also a real estate agent with Charleston Preferred Properties, a residential real estate brokerage firm.

    In other words, to go with an extreme example, the bank doesn't want to be stuck with a home they lent the borrower a million dollars for but can only sell for $100,000 because that's all it is worth. The homebuyer shouldn't want that either, of course.

    So appraisals exist for good reason, but what can make them a tense time for all parties is that they're conducted after you've negotiated a price, agreed to buy or sell the house and signed the contract. So it's in everyone's best interest that the appraisal is close to the price that both seller and buyer have agreed on.

    That said, if it turns out you're about to buy a house for a wildly inflated price, that doesn't necessarily mean you're obligated to buy the house. But if you aren't careful, it could mean just that.

    The sales-and-purchase agreement should address the possibility that your appraisal comes in below the purchase price, and allow you to terminate the contract or renegotiate the price, says Robert Pellegrini, a real estate attorney based in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

    "If not, you could be obligated to cover the difference for a lowball appraisal, and that could mean you're on the hook for thousands," Pellegrini says.

    Who pays for the home appraisal? Usually, it's the seller who pays for it at closing, which can be as high as several hundred dollars. The national average cost for a property appraiser is $309, according to data compiled by

    How do home appraisals differ from home inspections? The two often get confused, but they aren't the same thing. Both an appraiser and inspector will walk around the house and take a good look at it (usually, the inspector comes first), but they're each at the house for different reasons. The appraiser is looking at the value of the home; the inspector is looking for any defects with the home that may cause you financial grief later.

    Of course, if the appraiser notices a problem, she won't ignore it. If the appraiser spots a leaky sink or some loose wiring, she may request an inspection, says Staci Titsworth, regional manager for PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh.

    How long does the appraisal process take? It used to take a couple of days, but in recent years, ever since the recession -- when federal guidelines changed the appraisal process -- it's more often a week or two. Underwriters can request more information about the house than they could in past years, and gathering that data and photos can take time for the seller and real estate agent, which can mess up the closing date, putting everyone on edge.

    What factors go into deciding the worth of a house? Plenty. "The appraiser is looking at the key characteristics of the property including square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, condition of the home, current recently sold comparables that are close in proximity and health and safety issues," Titsworth says.

    That said, most real estate agents will tell you that it's the recently sold comparables -- that is, houses that are similar to your own -- that are the main factors in appraising a home. It's all about property values.

    If you're a homeowner, what can you do to improve the process? Nothing, once it starts. "You're powerless during the appraisal process," Pellegrini says. But before the appraiser comes by, you can take these common-sense steps.

    "It's important to have the property look as good as it possibly can. You want to help the appraiser see your property's potential so they will possibly reconcile a value closer toward the upper end of the range," Jackson says.

    After all, appraisers are only human. You could have a really cool house easily worth between, say, $300,000 and $325,000, but if it's junkie, it's easy to imagine the appraiser coming down closer to $300,000.

    To that end, Jackson says the day the appraiser comes, the lawn should be mowed, the landscaping weeded and the bushes trimmed. Clean the house. Get out the air freshener. Turn on the lights and open the blinds, Jackson says.

    "It's also very helpful to sit down the day or night before the appraiser arrives and make a list of repairs and improvements that have been done to the house over the past several years," he says.

    So if you've put on a new roof or bought a new hot water heater, let the appraiser know, Jackson says. "Note anything you can think of -- the appraiser will decide what is important to the value. It does not have to be formal or detailed. Just thoughtfully note everything so you can give it to the appraiser before he or she leaves."

    But don't get too excited if you've spent a lot on repairs and renovations. Your $30,000 kitchen remodel may help the appraisal, but it won't automatically mean your house is worth an extra $30,000.

    What a good real estate agent will do. If you're selling the home, your agent will be there to meet the appraiser and share the home improvements you've jotted down -- and offer other data as well.

    "In the past, we would just meet the appraiser to open the door so that they could view the home," says Josh Muncey, a real estate agent in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Now, Muncey will come armed with a folder of information on comparable homes that justify the sale price.

    "We even call around to other brokers to ask what other properties that have not closed yet are currently under contract for since they are often slated to sell for a price well above asking, and it's critical that the appraiser has this information."

    Basically, says Melissa Terzis, a real estate agent in the District of Columbia: "The more information a seller and their agent can give an appraiser that they can't find out just from checking the listing and walking through the home, the better."


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    Senior African American woman paying bills
    Getty Images
    By Kate Appleton

    For many Americans, lack of savings is making even the thought of retirement feel increasingly stressful.

    A survey examined the state of our nest eggs -- and found that 1 in 10 working Americans haven't contributed to retirement funds at all in this year or last.

    "That data point is a trouble spot," admits Greg McBride, chief financial analyst. "It's the highest it's been in polls we've done and does dilute the good news we saw in other areas."

    The limited availability of employer-sponsored 401(k)s and unfamiliarity with alternatives like IRAs are two possible obstacles. Stagnant incomes, McBride adds, continue to hold back saving rates.

    In the race to retirement, millennials (aged 18 to 29) are at the back of the pack, with those survey respondents least likely to be contributing to 401(k)s or IRAs.

    Sure, their golden years are a long way off, but millennials are missing out big by delaying. Financial pros like to say that time is your greatest ally in saving for retirement because of the power of compound growth.

    As for that good news? It turns out that 19 percent of Americans are socking away more this year than last, while only 14 percent are falling behind. (About half are holding steady.)

    "We've never seen a gap that big in favor of those saving more -- it's a reversal over the past few years that's consistent with greater job stability," he points out. "And it suggests recognition that retirement savings won't happen if you don't do it."

    The pressure's increasingly on you, the future retiree, and maybe that's a reason why the overall sense of financial security declined, especially among women surveyed.

    There isn't necessarily a quick fix to get yourself into that 19 percent power group of savers. But you can watch out for these common retirement mistakes as you shore up your nest egg.


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    Couple sitting on chairs at beach, smiling
    Getty Images
    By Jason Notte

    NEW YORK -- Fall doesn't start for about another month, but welcome to the start of fall's bargain travel season.

    The travel calendar is loaded with great off-peak dates in the early weeks of December, much of January and even early summer, but seldom does everything come together as well as it does in late August and the September weeks following Labor Day. Rick Seaney, chief executive of travel site, notes that Aug. 25 begins fall bargain travel season by taking a huge bite out of the price of travel. With children going back to school, older kids headed to college and their parents immersed in back-to-school shopping and fall routines, Seaney notes that demand for hotel rooms and flights plummets starting on that date, recovers briefly for Labor Day and slides into a deep autumn lull.

    "As for airfare prices, they can drop as much as a third or more over summer airfare," Seaney says. "For my money, autumn is the best time of the year for a vacation: it packs the one-two punch of great weather and great airfare prices."

    Back in July, Seaney and his crew put this theory to the test by pricing out late-August flights from Dallas to New York, Los Angeles to New York and Chicago to Miami. A Dallas-NYC weekend trip that cost $282 from Aug. 21-23 dropped 23 percent to $217 for Aug. 28-30. A four-day trip from L.A. to New York that fetched $382 from Aug. 20-24 fell 18 percent to $312 when it was pushed back to Aug. 28-31. If you're looking to escape Chicago for Miami, the $230 cost of a week-long trip from Aug. 11 to 17 drops 27 percent to just $167 from Aug. 25 through Aug. 30. Granted, Atlantic hurricane season has a whole lot to do with the discount on that last entry, but FareCompare wasn't alone in noting the steep drop-off in airfare pricing nationwide around this time of year.

    Way back in May, travel site Hopper noted that flights to Seattle, Denver, San Francisco and New York that averaged $430 to $490 in late May and June dropped by $100 or more by the week of Aug. 30. Granted, you wouldn't want to book the last week of August now, but late September tends to be just as charitable and falls within FareCompare's recommended booking window of 30 days to three months before departure. An added tip: If you book online on a Tuesday at about 3 p.m. Eastern, you stand the best chance of hitting an airline sale and getting the best price on tickets.

    Meanwhile, the folks at TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals note that the cost of rental homes are sliced nearly in half from August to September. The houses in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on Martha's Vineyard, that averaged nearly $3,000 a week in August, drop to about $2,150 a week in post-Labor Day September. Spots in Ocean City, Maryland, that fetched $1,500 a week in August slump to less than $1,100 by September.

    "Early fall is a great time for a vacation -- travelers can avoid the humidity and crowds of the peak summer travel period, but still enjoy beautiful warm weather, while saving substantially on the cost of their vacation rental," says Laurel Greatrix, a TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals spokesperson. "Rates drop across most of the U.S, particularly in beach destinations, and budget-conscious travelers can easily save themselves one-quarter to half of what they'd pay in July or August. Beyond the savings, vacation rentals offer travelers flexibility, amenities such as full kitchens, pools and patios and more space, making them a great option for travelers of all types."

    While some of the biggest rental discounts can be found at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and North Topsail Beach, North Carolina (both 34 percent less than their summer peak), the best deal is found a bit further up the Atlantic Coast. Bethany Beach, Delaware -- with its massive homes and ocean views -- offers a 44 percent cut that drops the average price of a weekly rental from $1,900 during the peak summer months to less than $1,100 in early fall. That's a 44 percent decrease that offers all of the offseason discount with none of the wintry chill.


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    Highway Funding States
    Ted S. Warren/AP
    By Jeffrey Dastin

    NEW YORK -- The average price of a gallon of gasoline remained steady in the past two weeks, as price rises in several Midwest cities offset cuts in the West, according to the Lundberg survey released Sunday.

    Regular grade gasoline dropped just one-third of a cent to average $2.71 a gallon, according to the biweekly survey conducted on Aug. 21.

    While a rebound in gasoline supply has helped lower prices in California, motorists elsewhere in the country reeled from increases as the largest crude distillation unit of BP's Whiting, Indiana refinery remained closed for repairs.

    The average price of gasoline is down 77 cents a gallon from the same year-ago period, according to the survey.

    "From here, big retail gasoline price cuts are very likely, unless crude oil prices reverse course and climb back up to the May and June levels," said survey publisher Trilby Lundberg in Camarillo, California.

    U.S. crude touched a new 6½-year low of $39.86 a barrel Friday following weekly data that showed U.S. energy firms added two oil drilling rigs last week, the fifth increase in a row. It settled at $40.45 a barrel.

    The rise in the number of rigs emerging after a second-quarter lull in prices is adding to concerns that U.S. shale production is responding slowly to falling prices, prolonging a global glut.

    Lundberg said the lower U.S. crude price may cause refiners and gasoline retailers to slash selling prices -- spoiling their currently wide margins -- as they try to gain a leg up on their competition.

    "Retail gasoline prices may well fall more than 20 cents a gallon in coming weeks if crude oil prices do not surge," Lundberg said.

    The highest-priced gasoline in the survey area of the 48 contiguous U.S. states was in Los Angeles at $3.67 a gallon, down from $3.80 in the Aug. 7 survey.

    The lowest price was in Charleston, South Carolina at $2.10 a gallon.


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    iPhone Glitch
    Rogelio V. Solis/AP
    By Anya George Tharakan

    Apple (AAPL) said it would replace a limited number iPhone 6 Plus phone cameras due to faulty back cameras that take blurry photos.

    The affected phones were mostly sold in a 4-month period between September 2014 and January 2015, Apple said on its website.

    The company, whose shares were set to open at their lowest this year on Monday, said a small component in the affected 6 Plus's iSight back camera may fail.

    Apple said it would replace the phone's camera free of charge if it takes blurry photos and falls into a particular serial number range.

    Eligible serial numbers can be checked on Apple's website.

    CORRECTION: This story has been corrected from an earlier version to note that Apple will replace cameras not recall the phone.


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    Wall street, New York, USA.
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    Zulily (ZU) -- Up 42 percent last week

    One of the market's biggest winners was Zulily, which soared after agreeing to be acquired by QVC's parent company. It's been a wild ride for investors. Zulily went public at $22 in late 2013, trading as high as $73.50 just three months later. Investors were impressed by the online retailer's growth potential, but sentiment turned when sales growth began to decelerate and profitability was meager.

    The stock had plunged all the way into the single digits by May of this year, and that's probably around the time that QVC began sniffing around before making a cash-and-stock offer that was initially valued at $2.4 billion.

    New York & Co. (NWY) -- Up 26 percent last week

    One retailer moving higher during an otherwise ugly week was New York & Co., taking flight after posting a blowout quarter. Comparable-store sales rose nearly 4 percent relative to a year earlier, positioning the apparel retailer nicely for the back-to-school shopping season.

    New York & Co. landed at the high end of its earlier guidance, and its new outlook for the current period calls for more improvement in comps and operating results.

    Sprint (S) -- Up 13 percent last week

    The country's third-largest wireless carrier moved higher after introducing the iPhone Forever plan. The plan lets customers pay just $22 a month for the entry-level iPhone with the ability to upgrade whenever they want the latest model.

    It's a sweet deal that the major carriers are unlikely to match. It should attract those on rival services who want the low monthly rate with access to the shiniest new iPhone release.

    Amira Nature Foods (ANFI) -- Down 60 percent last week

    The New York Stock Exchange's biggest sinker was Amira Nature Foods. The distributor of basmati rice got off to a bad start when BMO Capital Markets downgraded the stock on Tuesday, but things got substantially worse when it announced a day later that it was replacing its accounting firm with a new independent auditor.

    Prescience Point Research Group called into question its past three years of financial statements earlier this year. Amira is standing by its numbers, but the replacement of its bean counters (or grain counters, if you will) is naturally going to alarm some investors. The stock should bounce back if the malfeasance accusations don't hold up.

    The Fresh Market (TFM) -- Down 34 percent last week

    If you're going to put up a bad quarter, doing so during the market's worst week in four years is only going to make things worse. The Fresh Market got tossed like bad produce after posting unflattering financials. The upscale grocer saw comparable-store sales decline for the quarter, and its adjusted profit of 36 cents a share -- flat with the prior year's showing -- fell short of analyst expectations.

    This has generally been a lousy year for premium supermarket chains. If you're selling high-end fare like the Fresh Market does, or selling organics, your stock is probably trading substantially lower in 2015.

    Ambarella (AMBA) -- Down 17 percent last week

    Finally, we have video-chip maker Ambarella stumbling on reports that it will soon face competition in the promising drone camera market. Re/code reported that Qualcomm (QCOM) is eyeing the video-chip market for airborne cameras on drones, leading some to worry that the fat margins that Ambarella has scored in recent years as the provider of choice for leading wearable and surveillance cameras will be challenged in the future.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Ambarella and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Ambarella and Qualcomm. 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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    Target-Subscription Service
    Steven Senne/AP
    MINNEAPOLIS -- Target (TGT) has agreed to pay $2.8 million to settle a hiring discrimination claim filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency announced Monday.

    Three employment assessments formerly used by the Minneapolis-based retailer disproportionately screened out applicants for professional positions based on race and gender, and the tests weren't sufficiently job-related, the EEOC said in a statement. The commission also said an assessment that was performed by psychologists violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from subjecting applicants to medical exams prior to making a job offer.

    Thousands of people were adversely affected and the settlement money will be divided among them, the EEOC said.

    Target agreed to take several steps to ensure the validity of its hiring process, including keeping better data for assessing the impact of its hiring procedures.

    The number of people covered by the settlement is "in the four-figure range" out of tens of millions of applicants who applied for positions with Target over the past decade, Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said in an email. She also said the EEOC didn't find any disparities in Target's actual hiring, just potential adverse impacts.

    Target is no longer using those tests and it is no longer working with the vendor that performed the psychological assessments, she said.

    "We continue to firmly believe that no improper behavior occurred regarding these assessments," Snyder said, but added that Target agreed to settle to save the costs of litigation.


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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    Fresh off Wall Street's worst week in four years -- one that saw the Dow Jones industrial average lose 10 percent of its value and the Standard & Poor's 500 index slip below the magical 2,000 barrier -- financial advisers have two words of advice for gun-shy investors.

    Don't panic.

    "We're starting to get some calls, as should be expected," says Erik Jensen, president and founder of Jensen Wealth Advisors in Palm Desert, California, and a registered principal with LPL Financial. "We empathize with them; nobody likes seeing drops like last week. However, we recommend they keep a long-term perspective, understanding that corrections are the norm, not a calamity."

    Sure, last week may have felt like a calamity if you were watching your portfolio shrink by the hour. But there were tell-tale signs -- after riding an extraordinary bullish market since 2009, Wall Street had been essentially trading sideways until this month. Then the market's softening became a full-blown meltdown Thursday and Friday.

    Wall Street's darling stocks -- the tech sector -- were among the hardest hit. Netflix (NFLX) lost nearly 16 percent; Apple (AAPL) and Facebook (FB) were both down nearly 9 percent and Microsoft (MSFT) fell 7.7 percent.

    Banking stocks were also horrid, as Bank of America (BAC) fell 9 percent, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) fell 6.3 percent and Wells Fargo (WFC) -- arguably the best banking stock of 2015 -- dropped nearly 6 percent for the week.

    Meanwhile, crude oil fell below $40 a barrel for the first time since 2009, and the CBOE Volatility Index -- the so-called "fear index" -- jumped more than 45 percent Friday and more than 90 percent for the week.

    "While investors should avoid panicking over short-term movements in the value of their long-term investments, the recent volatility ought to serve as a wake-up call to re-examine risk and stress-test your portfolio against the possibility of further declines," says Kurt Rossi, president of Independent Wealth Management in Wall, New Jersey. "Be especially careful if you were like many investors that were pushed into taking on higher risk investments due to the low-yield environment. Consider reviewing the compatibility of your portfolio and your financial planning goals, making changes to your investments if the two are out of alignment."

    Matthew Tuttle, CEO of Tuttle Tactical Management in Stamford, Connecticut, says the S&P 500 is in a critical area of technical support. "We believe the bull market will end in 2016 or 2017 and believe we need one more rally to the upside before the market crashes, so unless we see the S&P go into the 1,700s, we would use weakness as a buying opportunity. Now, more than ever, investors should be in tactical investments that can shift out of the market if this is the end of the bull market, but that can stay invested if it is not."

    Like Tuttle, financial advisers say the recent weakness in the stock market isn't a reason to abandon stocks in favor of greener -- or less volatile -- pastures. Instead, it's an opportunity to reassess holdings, particularly for investors who are taking a long-term approach.

    Steve Sanduski, president of Belay Advisor in Mequon, Wisconsin, says the biggest mistake investors can make is fleeing the market at the wrong time. He says investors should hold tight, but he recommends a diversified portfolio that contains low-cost investments and a time horizon of at least 10 years. "On a regular basis, do the best you can at estimating your 'sleep allocation,' meaning, what's the allocation among stocks, bonds and cash that allows you to sleep comfortably at night," he says. "If the thought of a certain percentage drop in your portfolio makes you break out in a cold sweat, it's time to dial down the risk."

    Andrew Carrillo, president of Barnett Capital Advisors in Miami, also recommends the diversification approach. "What exactly investors should do depends on their time frame, risk tolerance and their ability to be nimble in their investing, but based on valuations, there is much more downside over the next year to the market than upside at current bubble territory."

    Sam Seiden, chief education officer for the Online Trading Academy, says investors can expect more downside in the short term. "The major problem for investors is that they think like average investors and not like Wall Street pros, and let themselves get into these risky situations to begin with, which are certainly avoidable," Seiden says. "There are plenty of simple things the average investor can do to not only protect themselves, but also profit when markets decline just like Wall Street does."

    For example, short-term investors can move funds into safe high-yield corporate bonds, where they will receive interest.

    "Then, use the interest to participate in market moves without any market risk to your principle," Seiden says. "This is one of many simple strategies Wall Street uses that the average investor can use also. The key is to stop thinking like a retail investor and start thinking like Wall Street with your hard-earned money."

    Long-term investors, meanwhile, should look for opportunities to buy cheap stocks and rebalance their portfolio. And they should have the assistance of a financial planner to help them, says Bill Keen, founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors in Overland Park, Kansas.

    "Success in long-term investing is about thinking ahead and not being caught off guard by the inevitable market corrections when they come," Keen says. "We spend a lot of time providing perspective to our clients -- talking about the expected volatility of various asset classes. Long-term perspective is something that investors are in desperate need of."


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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    Investors rattled about China sent U.S. stock indexes almost 4 percent lower Monday in an unusually volatile session that confirmed the S&P 500 was formally in a correction, even after a dramatic rebound by Apple (AAPL).

    The Dow Jones industrial average briefly slumped more than 1,000 points, its most dramatic intraday trading range ever.

    Monday's drop followed an 8.5 percent slump in Chinese markets, which sparked a sell-off in global stocks along with oil and other commodities.

    Wall Street had stayed in s narrow range for much of 2015, but volatility jumped this month as investors became increasingly concerned about a potential stumble in China's economy and after Beijing surprisingly devalued its currency.

    Some investors unloaded stocks ahead of the close after looking to make money from volatile price swings earlier in the session.

    "If things don't settle down in China, we could have another ugly open tomorrow and you wouldn't want to be caught holding positions you bought this morning," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin.
    Apple's Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, in comments to CNBC, took the unusual step of reassuring shareholders about the iPhone-maker's business in China ahead of a dramatic 13 percent drop and rebound in its stock, which closed down just 2.5 percent at $103.15.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) closed down 588.4 points, or 3.6 percent, at 15,871.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 77.68 points, or 3.9 percent, to 1,893.21, putting it formally in correction mode.

    An index is considered to be in correction when it closes 10 percent below its 52-week high. The Dow was confirmed to be in a correction Friday.

    The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 179.79 points, or 3.8 percent, to 4,526.25, also in correction.

    The CBOE Volatility index, popularly known as the "fear index," briefly jumped as much as 90 percent to 53.29, its highest since January 2009.

    Preliminary data from BATS Global Markets show that there were 1,287 trading halts on U.S. stock exchanges due to excessive volatility or the tripping of circuit breakers, far more than usual.

    The S&P 500 index showed 187 new 52-week lows and just two highs, while the Nasdaq recorded 613 new lows and eight highs.

    Betting on Emotion

    "Emotions got the best of investors," said Philip Blancato, chief executive at Ladenberg Thalmann Asset Management in New York.

    The conjecture that the Chinese economy can propel the U.S. economy into recession is ridiculous, when it's twice the size of the Chinese economy and is consumer-based.

    "The conjecture that the Chinese economy can propel the U.S. economy into recession is ridiculous, when it's twice the size of the Chinese economy and is consumer-based."

    All of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were down, with energy losing 5.18 percent.

    U.S. oil prices were down about 5 percent at 6½-year lows, while London copper and aluminum futures hit their lowest since 2009.

    Exxon (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) each fell more than 4.7 percent. U.S. oil and gas companies have already lost about $310 billion of market value this year.

    The dollar index was down 1.7 percent. It fell more than 2 percent earlier to a 7-month low as the probability of a September rate hike receded.

    Traders now see a 24 percent chance that the Federal Reserve will increase rates in September, down from 30 percent late Friday and 46 percent a week earlier, according to Tullett Prebon data.

    Wall Street's sell-off shows investors are becoming increasingly nervous about paying high prices for stocks at a time of minimal earnings growth, tumbling energy prices, and uncertainty around a rate hike.

    Alibaba (BABA) lost 3.5 percent to $65.80, below its IPO price of $68, making it the second high-profile tech company to fall below its IPO price in the past week, after Twitter (TWTR) on Thursday.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE 3,064 to 131. On the Nasdaq, 2,632 issues fell and 281 advanced.

    Volume was heavy, with about 13.9 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, well above the 7.0 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • Standard & Poor's releases S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices for June and the second quarter at 9 a.m. Eastern time.
    • At 10 a.m., the Commerce Department releases new home sales for July and the Conference Board releases the Consumer Confidence Index for August.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Best Buy (BBY)
    • DSW (DSW)
    • Toll Brothers (TOL)
    • Valspar (VAL)


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    Angry businesswoman screaming
    Getty Images
    "Voice mail hell." defines the expression this way:

    "When accessing a voice mail phone answering system, one becomes lost, going down the wrong path or getting stuck in a loop, unable to get pertinent information or leave a message with the appropriate party."

    We've all been there, trying to get through to someone in customer service at a company, only to find there are a half-dozen menus we must navigate before reaching someone who can help. Or more likely, reaching a point where we're put on hold waiting for someone who might be able to help ...

    Welcome to Voice Mail Hell. Please Take a Number

    In 2013, Time magazine reported that the average American spends 13 hours a year on hold. Over the course of a lifetime, that's 43 days spent on hold, says Huffington Post.

    On a smaller scale, receptionist services company Conversational Receptionists reported last year that U.S. callers wait on hold for an average of 56 seconds a call. And according to The Washington Post, calls to one notable suburb of voice mail hell -- the IRS -- kept taxpayers on hold as much as 30 minutes a call last tax season. And many of those calls were ultimately dropped through an Orwellian service described as "courtesy disconnects."

    Inc. magazine estimates that across the nation, time wasted in voice mail hell drains $130 billion from the U.S. economy every year in lost worker productivity. But it doesn't have to be that way.

    Time Is Money

    As the Inc. statistic confirms, time (lost in voice mail hell) really is money. But two great companies are doing their best to put time back in your hourglass, and money back in your pocket.

    The first, CallPromise, looks at the problem from the perspective of the company taking the calls. With products such as "in-call virtual queuing," CallPromise enables a company to estimate the time a new caller will wait on hold before his or her call can be answered. In a prerecorded message, it then offers the caller the option of not waiting around, hanging up instead, and getting a callback when a customer service rep is available.

    Putting You Back in Control

    A second company tackles the problem from the consumer's perspective. GetHuman will give you several options for avoiding voice mail hell.

    In cooperation with CallPromise, GetHuman permits you to look up a company or government agency on its website -- the IRS, for example -- enter your phone number in a callback box, and then ... Just go about your business, and wait for the IRS to call you back. No 30-minute wait times. No dropped calls.

    Alternatively, the company collects tips from consumers, and conducts its own research as well, to discover the best phone numbers to call to quickly drive through voice mail hell and reach a human customer service rep. For example, for cable company Comcast (CMCSA)(CMCSK), GetHuman offers you:
    • a general support number right up front
    • a different number for new customers to call to set up service
    • a third number to check out deals and packages Comcast is offering
    • plus the CallPromise get-a-callback tool as well.
    Of course, even the numbers GetHuman digs up sometimes have voice mail systems attached to them. For these instances, GetHuman provides a cheat sheet of which buttons to push to move quickly through the system (without having to listen to each prerecorded menu option).

    For example, when calling Comcast, GetHuman suggests you "Press 0# each time it asks for a phone number," and then wait. If you're a current customer, you'll always want to have the last four digits of your Social Security number handy and be ready to enter those, followed by dialing 1, then 2, on the next two menus.

    Is All This Really Necessary?

    It depends. Presumably, most companies have all this information on their websites ... somewhere. But the great thing about GetHuman is that it starts saving you time from the get-go. Search for any company name at all, and if it's in their database, they'll give you a number to call right away, without having to click around a website looking for it.

    And if you don't think that's enough to save you some time... grab a stopwatch, click through to Comcast's website, and see how long it takes you to find a customer service number yourself. Go ahead. I dare you.

    Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no financial interest in any company named above. But he just bookmarked two of their webpages -- and will give you three guesses which ones.

    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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    Farm Heroes Saga 'Farm Club' Floating Farm Celebration
    George Nikitin/Invision for King Digital Entertainment via APMobile gaming fans attend a floating farm party in San Francisco Bay last May.
    When investors buy stocks, they tend to focus on companies instead of industries and that could be a trap. As great as a particular company's prospects may seem, it could very well be in a sector that has historically burned investors.

    "It's different this time," can be a dangerous assumption. Let's take a look at some of the industries that have burned investors.


    This would seem to be a great time to snap up some of the leading air carriers. Jet fuel prices are low, and the improving economy is generating demand for corporate and leisure travel. There's also been a lot of sector consolidation taking place, with mergers helping the financial fortitude of combined companies.

    Shares of United Continental (UAL) have tripled over the past three years and American Airlines (AAL) has nearly quadrupled in that time. That may trick investors into thinking that it's the right runway for their money, but history has a funny way of rerouting the final destination.

    "If a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down," billionaire investor Warren Buffett once joked after getting burned, calling the industry a bottomless pit. The good times don't last because older planes are costly to maintain and even more costly to replace. Then we get to the disruptive labor and union issues that seem to creep up at the worst possible time. If you buy an airline stock, you might want to respect the "fasten seatbelt" light: The ride can get a bit choppy in all of the turbulence.

    Mobile Gaming

    The smartphone is the new PC, and everybody loves apps. This has been great for some phone-makers and wireless carriers, but it hasn't been as lucrative for the companies making the apps. If you have ever played "Words With Friends," "Mafia Wars," or "FarmVille," you know Zynga (ZNGA). If you prefer "Candy Crush Saga," then King Digital Entertainment (KING) is your app publisher.

    Both companies went public with dreams of getting bigger, but it just hasn't happened. Gamers are fickle. Zynga's bookings peaked in 2012 and King appears to have peaked last year. Investors are the ones taking the hit. Shares of King have lost more than 40 percent of their value since going public at $22.50 last year. Zynga has had it even worse, surrendering three-quarters of its value since hitting the market at $10 four years ago.

    Keep playing the games, but don't bank on the game makers.

    Gold Mining

    There's no shortage of gold bugs out there, and that makes sense since the price of gold has risen at an annualized rate of 10 percent over the past decade, just edging out the S&P 500 as the top asset class.

    An increase in demand as China and other emerging markets grow in stature has helped, and gold prices also tend to spike at whiffs of global uncertainty and inflation. However, gold prices have actually fallen sharply since 2011, and if we look out over a longer chunk of time -- decades instead of merely a single decade -- the snapshot isn't as pretty. The price of an ounce of gold actually peaked in 1980 when inflation and political uncertainties ran wild. It can always happen again, but it's been a bad bet over the long haul.

    The risk grows when buying into individual mining stocks, because they are also at the mercy of mining efforts and escalating extraction costs. Stick to mining for gold figuratively instead.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned and neither does The Motley Fool. 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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    A man places a slip of paper into a piggy bank
    By Cameron Huddleston

    A 401(k) plan is a great way to save for retirement. It lets you set aside pretax money from your paycheck, lowering your taxable earnings. Meanwhile, the money you save in a 401(k) grows tax-free.

    Unfortunately, employees often make mistakes when it comes to how much they contribute to their 401(k)s. They might make poor investment choices or even mishandle funds. Here are five things you should avoid doing with your 401(k) so you don't jeopardize your retirement savings.

    1. Own Too Much Company Stock

    It might seem like a good idea to own shares of your company's stock if your employer offers it as an investment option -- and nearly 40 percent of plan sponsors do, according to a report by Aon Hewitt, a human capital and management consulting service. But actually there are risks.

    If you invest too heavily in your company's stock, your portfolio won't be diversified and will be too closely tied to the performance of just one firm, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. After all, if the company's performance tanks, your 401(k) balance is sure to go down with it.

    Plus, some companies place restrictions on employees' ability to sell stock, limiting your control over your investments. Ideally, you shouldn't have more than 10 percent to 20 percent of your total investments in company stock, according to FINRA.

    2. Gamble on High-Risk Investments

    The most common 401(k) investment choice is the mutual fund, which holds a variety of stocks and bonds. However, some plans let participants buy an assortment of securities through a brokerage account.

    Unless you're an experienced investor, you probably want to leave the stock picking up to the pros so you don't end up with risky assets. This means you might want to stick with mutual funds. However, you still need to be careful when choosing funds.

    You don't want to take on too much risk by investing only in stock funds. Even the youngest 401(k) plan participants should still allocate 10 percent of their portfolio to bonds, said Jean Young, senior research analyst with the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research.

    3. Avoid Stocks Altogether

    According to a "How America Saves 2015" report conducted by Vanguard, 5 percent of participants in Vanguard-administered 401(k) plans don't have any stock holdings in their accounts. This is a mistake even for investors with low risk tolerance or those close to retirement. Because most people can now expect to live 20 to 30 years into retirement, they need the higher rate of return that stocks offer as a hedge against inflation, said Young.

    Rather than avoid equities, consider investing in a target-date fund, which automatically adjusts your allocation of stocks and bonds as you approach retirement to lower your risk level. "The asset allocation in our target-date funds is a good proxy for how much equities an individual should hold as they enter retirement," she said. "It's about 50 percent equities at age 65."

    4. Set and Forget Your Contribution Level

    More and more employers are automatically enrolling employees into workplace retirement plans -- which is a good thing because it increases participation and gets people saving. Yet many plan sponsors set the default contribution level for those automatically enrolled at just 3 percent or 4 percent of wages, according to a report by WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association. And if the plan doesn't automatically increase your contribution rate annually or you don't increase it yourself, you might be at risk of not saving enough for a comfortable retirement.

    Most experts recommend saving at least 10 percent to 15 percent of wages annually. At the least, you should be contributing enough to your 401(k) to take full advantage of matching employer contributions. One in four plan participants miss out on receiving a full match by not saving enough, leaving an estimated $1,336 of free money on the table, according to research by Financial Engines, an independent financial advice company.

    5. Borrow Heavily From Your Account

    Plenty of employees take advantage of 401(k) plan provisions that allow them to borrow from their account. But some borrow heavily, which could put a serious dent in retirement savings. Nearly 30 percent of 401(k) plan participants had multiple outstanding loans in 2013, according to Aon Hewitt.

    You can borrow up to half of your 401(k) balance, up to a maximum of $50,000. But you will have to pay yourself back with interest -- which can be lower than the rate of return you would've gotten if you had left the money in the account. You're also liable to incur taxes and early withdrawal penalties.

    Keeping the money you invest in your 401(k) will help you grow your investments over time, while tackling a healthy amount of risk can ensure your savings last through retirement. Create a healthy balance of risk in your portfolio and periodically check in and adjust your investments as needed.

    This story, 5 Things You Should Never Do With a 401(k), originally appeared at


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