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    Consumer Sentiment
    Michael Dwyer/AP

    WASHINGTON -- Plummeting stock prices have taken a toll on U.S. consumer confidence, though there are signs the setback may be temporary.

    The University of Michigan says its consumer sentiment index fell to 91.9 this month from 93.1 in July. The index is still up 11.4 percent from a year ago.

    The figures provide an early read of the impact on consumers from the 1,900 point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average over six days through Tuesday. Stock prices have since recovered some of those losses.

    The University of Michigan surveys consumers throughout the month and so some of the responses were tallied as stock prices plunged. The University said it extended its interviews until Aug. 23.

    Many economists were reassured by the limited drop in the index.

    The relatively small adjustment augers well for how consumers are taking the news.

    "The relatively small adjustment augers well for how consumers are taking the news," Tim Quinlan, an economist at Wells Fargo, said.

    The survey also found that Americans remain confident about the U.S. economy and their personal finances.

    Richard Curtin, director of the survey, said the decline in confidence occurred late in the month, as global financial markets fell sharply. The volatility was driven by mounting evidence that China's economy, the world's second largest, is faltering, and by growing uncertainty about the Federal Reserve's next move on interest rates.

    William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said earlier this week that he would watch the University of Michigan's index closely to get a sense of how Americans were reacting.

    The drop is in contrast to the Conference Board's consumer confidence index, which was released earlier this week and found that confidence rose to its highest level in seven months in August. But that survey was completed before the stock market's gyrations.

    About 61 percent of U.S. households own stocks, Curtin said, so plunging stock prices can broadly affect the consumer outlook. Most Americans own equities in their retirement accounts, so the impact of lower stock prices on actual spending is limited. And the dollar value of stock holdings is highly concentrated: the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own 80 percent of shares.

    As a result, consumer sentiment may bounce back, assuming the stock market stabilizes or recovers. Americans remain optimistic about their own financial health: 45 percent said their financial situation has improved, just below a recent peak of 47 percent in April. And half expect their incomes to increase in the year ahead.

    In contrast to the stock market's violent fluctuations, recent economic data has largely been positive. The economy expanded at a 3.7 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, the government said Thursday, a much healthier pace than its previous estimate of just 2.3 percent. Stronger consumer and business spending boosted output.


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    Couple Behind Ashley Madison
    Eugene Hoshiko/APNoel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media, poses during a 2014 photo session.

    NEW YORK -- The CEO of the company that runs adultery website Ashley Madison is stepping down in the wake of the massive breach of the company's computer systems and outing of millions of its members.

    The abrupt departure of Noel Biderman, which came without the appointment of an interim replacement, could be another sign that the website's days may be numbered, experts say.

    "Unless they can immediately assure the public that their information is protected, then their business is over," says Lawrence Kellogg, a partner with the law firm Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider & Grossman, who specializes in class action lawsuits.

    The only reason for an adulterer to join the service is to keep their information private. Absent that, they don't have a business.

    "The only reason for an adulterer to join the service is to keep their information private. Absent that, they don't have a business."

    Kellogg says that if the lawsuits from Ashley Madison members keep piling up, Avid Life Media Inc., Ashley Madison's parent company, may ultimately end up filing for bankruptcy protection.

    And while those who sue the company may have a tough time proving their claims, costs related to the court fights could drain the company dry, he says.

    In its statement, Avid Life says Biderman's departure is effective immediately and was a mutual decision. The company will be led by its senior management until a replacement is named.

    "This change is in the best interest of the company and allows us to continue to provide support to our members and dedicated employees," Avid Life's statement reads. "We are steadfast in our commitment to our customer base."

    Biderman didn't immediately return an email sent to his work account seeking comment.

    Biderman, who touted himself as "the king of infidelity," made millions off the philosophy that cheating is a natural part of married life. The site charges a fee each time a member sends a potential lover a message.

    Biderman has written books espousing his views on adultery, including one published in 2011 titled: "Cheaters Prosper -- How Infidelity Will Save The Modern Marriage." At the same time, the married father of two has claimed to be a devoted husband and that his wife of 12 years would be heartbroken if he ever broke his vows to her.

    Privately held Toronto-based Avid Life grossed $115 million in earnings last year, according to tax documents and figures shared by Biderman with Forbes.

    'Actively Adjusting'

    Avid Life's statement released Friday went on to say that it's "actively adjusting" to the fallout from the hacking and continues to provide access to its services. The company, which has offered a $500,000 Canadian (U.S. $378,204) reward for information leading to the arrest of the hackers, adds that it continues to cooperate with international law enforcement in their investigations.

    While Biderman's departure was a necessary move, it alone won't be enough to save the company, given how much it marketed its promises of confidentiality, says Aaron Gordon, a partner with Schwartz Media Strategies, a Miami-based public relations firm that does crisis management.

    "They can fold up and call it a day, but realize that there's a demand for these kinds of services and that something else will bubble up and take over the market," Gordon says.

    "Or they could rebrand and come back to the market with a new brand centered on trust and security, but not confidentiality."

    Gordon pointed to ValuJet as an example of a company that was able to successfully remake itself after a disaster.

    After a Florida plane crash in 1996 that killed all 110 people aboard, ValuJet bought AirTran, adopted the smaller rival's name and moved its headquarters to Orlando, Florida. The company was subsequently acquired by Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV).

    Fake Profiles

    Hackers originally breached Avid Life's systems in July, accusing it of filling the site with fake profiles and charging fees for wiping profiles that were never truly deleted. The hackers posted the information online a month later after the company didn't comply with their demands to shut down.

    The posting of the data -- including names, emails, home addresses, financial data and message history -- has so far resulted in a flurry of lawsuits throughout the U.S. There also have been reports of extortion attempts and two unconfirmed suicides, according to Canadian police.

    The credit-card information of U.S. government workers -- some with sensitive jobs in the White House, Congress and the Justice Department -- also was revealed in the breach. And hundreds of email addresses in the data release appear to be connected to federal, provincial and municipal workers across Canada.

    Ashley Madison, whose slogan is "Life is short. Have an affair," purports to have nearly 40 million members.


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    Federal Reserve
    Susan Walsh/APFederal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer

    WASHINGTON -- Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said Friday that incoming economic data and market developments will likely determine whether the Fed boosts interest rates in September.

    Before the recent turbulence in financial markets, there was a "pretty strong case" for starting to hike rates in September, Fischer said in an interview with CNBC. But he stressed that the Fed is watching how events unfold following the surprise Aug. 11 move by China to devalue its currency.

    The Chinese action has roiled markets around the globe because it raised concerns that the world's second largest economy is sliding into a steeper-than-expected slowdown that could threaten global growth.

    Fischer said that the Chinese slowdown was unlikely to have major direct impact on the U.S. economy. But it could ultimately hurt the U.S. if it dragged down the rest of Asia.

    Central bank officials haven't made a decision yet on whether to raise rates, Fischer said. But he added that they will be closely following data such as next week's jobs report and market moves before the Sept. 16-17 meeting.

    The Fed hasn't raised interest rates in nearly a decade, and its key rate has been at a record low near zero since December 2008.

    Fischer reiterated that once it begins raising rates, the Fed plans to move very slowly and gradually. He said the first hike would likely be a quarter-point increase followed later by another quarter point move.

    "We are adjusting the knob slightly," Fischer said, noting that rates would remain at historically low levels that will continue to provide support through low borrowing costs for consumers and businesses.

    The immediate market reaction to Fischer's comments sent stock prices down slightly and pushed the dollar up -- signals that traders were interpreting Fischer's remarks as boosting the likelihood of a September rate hike.

    Fischer said his "level of confidence is pretty high" that U.S. inflation will move back to the Fed's preferred target of 2 percent annual prices increases. The big drop in energy prices, which has been a major factor keeping inflation below target, was a temporary factor, he said.

    Fischer was interviewed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where central bank officials from around the world are attending an annual conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Fischer is scheduled to deliver a speech Saturday on inflation to conference participants.


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

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street ended a tumultuous week with a flat close Friday as investors shrugged off concerns that a September rate rise was more likely than some investors expected.

    Shares traded lower earlier in the session after Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer told CNBC the Fed hadn't yet decided whether to raise interest rates in September. However, the market largely recovered in the final moments of trade.

    After several volatile sessions that at one point pushed the S&P 500 to its lowest level since October 2014, the three major U.S. indexes ended the week with gains.

    A lot of investors are rebalancing their portfolios before going into the weekend.

    "A lot of investors are rebalancing their portfolios before going into the weekend," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab (SCHW) in Austin.

    Many on Wall Street have been hoping the recent global market turbulence and worries about China's economy would lead the Fed to hold off raising rates. This expectation was reinforced Wednesday by comments from New York Fed President William Dudley.

    However, following Fischer's comments Friday, overnight indexed swap rates implied traders now see a 35 percent chance the Fed would raise rates in September, up from 22 percent earlier in the week.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) ended down 0.07 percent at 16,643.01 while the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) edged up 0.06 percent to 1,988.87. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 0.3 percent to end at 4,828.33, driven by a 2.5 percent rise in Intel (INTC).

    For the week, the Dow gained 1.1 percent, the S&P rose 0.9 percent and the Nasdaq added 2.6 percent.

    Still in the Red

    The S&P remains down more than 5 percent from when the market began to sell off on Aug. 18. The turmoil has prompted several strategists to cut their end-of-year forecasts for indexes.

    Credit Suisse (CS), for example, cut its year-end target for the S&P 500 to 2,100 from 2,200 Friday.

    Half of the 10 major sectors rose, with the energy index jumping 2 percent as oil added to gains. The utilities index lost 0.4 percent.

    Chevron's (CVX) 3.6 percent gain provided the biggest boost to the Dow and the S&P 500.

    Data released Friday showed consumer spending picked up a bit in July, further evidence of strength in the economy.

    Autodesk (ADSK) dropped 5 percent after the maker of computer-aided design software cut its full-year profit and revenue forecast.

    Big Lots (BIG) was jumped 15.7 percent after its second-quarter profit beat expectations and the company raised its full-year adjusted profit forecast.

    While the Dow and S&P were negative, advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,917 to 1,114. On the Nasdaq, 1,882 issues rose and 877 fell.

    The S&P 500 index showed one new 52-week high and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 21 new highs and 22 new lows. Volume was lighter than in recent days. About 7.8 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, compared to an average of 11.2 billion in the past five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Monday:
    • The Institute For Supply Management - Chicago releases its regional purchasing managers index for August at 9:45 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas releases its survey of manufacturing conditions in Texas at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time.


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    retirement concept displayed on ...
    By Ellen Chang

    NEW YORK -- Americans are still woefully lacking in their retirement savings with only 19 percent who are saving more this year compared to last year.

    One in 10 working Americans didn't contribute to their retirement this year or even last year, putting them at risk of not having enough money once they stop working, according to an August survey conducted by, the North Palm Beach, Florida-based financial content company. The report found that 14 percent of consumers are saving less while 55 percent are saving about the same amount.

    With millions of Americans behind in their retirement savings, it is important not only to save, but to save more each year.

    "With millions of Americans behind in their retirement savings, it is important not only to save, but to save more each year," said Greg McBride,'s chief financial analyst. "Even for those saving the maximum, 401(k) contribution limits increased for 2015, affording the opportunity to put more away for retirement. The keys to successful savings are paying yourself first and automating the process as much as possible."

    The report found that while 14 percent of Americans are currently saving less for retirement, this is a massive improvement from 2011 when 29 percent of Americans were saving less for their golden years.

    The Financial Security Index by Bankrate slipped for a third consecutive month to 101.2 and demonstrates the lowest reading since October 2014. Any number above 100 indicates improved financial security compared to one year ago. The Financial Security Index has been above 100 every month since June 2014, a long streak of 15 consecutive months.

    While feelings of job security rebounded from last month's decline, the readings for each of the other components -- savings, debt, net worth and overall financial situation -- have all declined.

    Women's feelings of financial security turned negative for the first time this year, the report said. While men's feelings remain positive, they tied the lowest reading of the year. Both men and women continue to say they feel less comfortable with their savings now as compared to one year ago. Women's comfort level with the amount of debt also turned negative this month for the first time since December 2014.

    Catching Up on Savings

    Amid the negative sentiment consumers have about their savings, increasing their allocation for their retirement portfolio can be an easy feat.

    The easiest way for the majority of employees to save each month is to sign up for their company's 401(k) plan, which takes the money "automatically from your paycheck and getting it to work for you without having to think about it," said McBride. Many plans now automatically enroll employees into the 401(k) plan and other companies have opted to increase the amount employees save by increasing it each year.

    "The increasing use of auto enrollment and auto escalation in 401(k) plans has helped increase plan participation and increase the amount participants are saving each year," he said. "Auto enrollment defaults new employees into the 401(k) plan without them having to take action and auto escalation increases their deferral percentage by one percentage point each year."

    While many people rely on their company 401(k) to amass a retirement portfolio, consumers whose employers don't offer one should still contribute to an IRA.

    "Even if your employer lacks a 401(k) or similar plan, if you or your spouse have earned income, you are eligible to contribute to an IRA," McBride said. "Particularly if you don't have a workplace plan, grab the bull by the horns and open an IRA. Many mutual fund companies will permit you to open an IRA with regular monthly contributions in lieu of an initial opening investment."

    Investors who are just starting out in their career might not be able to max out their 401(k) or fully fund a Roth IRA, but that shouldn't prevent them from getting started, said J.J. Montanaro, a certified financial planner at USAA, a San Antonio, Texas-based financial institution. Even contributing as little as 1 percent into the plan at work or $50 a month into an IRA can "provide a retirement beachhead that you can expand in time," he said. A Roth IRA also gives investors some flexibility because you have the option to withdraw your contributions without having to pay taxes or penalties anytime.

    Instead of spending your annual tax refund, turn it into retirement savings during the year, Montanaro said.

    Tracking Spending

    "Adjust your withholding and bump up your contribution to your retirement instead of waiting for the big refund that's usually a reality each year for many people," he said. "Before you can save, you've got to know where your money is going, so tracking your spending can actually yield some low hanging fruit and opportunities to cut back or cut out to free up money for retirement."

    Consumers who have improved their credit scores should look into refinancing their mortgages or even car loans. The money saved from paying less interest and lower payments could be allocated toward a retirement portfolio, Montanaro said.

    A recent survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found similar results with nearly 3 in 10 people who don't save any money for retirement. Out of the people who are saving money, 65 percent are stashing it in a savings account and only 30 percent have investments or mutual funds, 29 percent have a 401(k) plan and 25 percent save their money in IRAs. A surprising 9 percent are keeping their savings in their home.

    Learning to cut back on expenses can yield extra money each month that can go towards retirement, said Bruce McClary, spokesman for the NFCC.

    "Living lean is the key to maximizing every opportunity for retirement savings," he said. "Place reasonable limits on discretionary items like eating meals out, trips to the grocery store and use of electricity in the home."

    Also, watch out for unintended fees that you incur from making late payments on utilities or credit cards which add up quickly and leave you with less money for retirement contributions.

    "It is also a good idea to steer clear of unnecessary fees by keeping scheduled medical appointments and practicing safe driving," McClary said. "Limit the use of high interest credit cards by consolidating accounts into the lowest available rate and paying the balances before interest starts to accrue."


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    money background of american...
    ShutterstockWith companies seeking to lock in long-term borrowing costs, corporate bonds have gained popularity.
    If it's fizzy, it's iffy. That's the key thing to know about bond funds this week.

    With drama engulfing the stock market, bonds look safe. But all bond funds aren't the same, and analysts say it's imperative to understand what's in a bond fund before shifting money into it -- especially if you are seeking stability.

    Right now, the most unsettled segment in bonds is funds comprised of "illiquid, lower-rated bonds in exchange-traded funds," says Dan Heckman, senior fixed-income strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, based in Kansas City, Missouri. The problem there is that the funds are difficult to value and even harder to sell, but the funds trade minute by minute. That's a profound mismatch, he says, that explains why some of these funds dropped on Monday by as much as 25 percent of their underlying value.

    Another sore spot is foreign bonds, thanks to turmoil in currency markets. "You can pick up some yield, based on the volatility, but that's dangerous until currencies are on firmer ground," Heckman says.

    Attempting to reap high yields through bonds invariably translates to low credit quality, especially in this cycle, and that means those bonds will be more volatile and harder to manage.

    Corporate bonds have been popular recently as companies seek to lock in long-term borrowing costs, says George Rusnak, co-head of fixed-income strategy at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. He anticipates a little bit of fizziness if companies in troubled sectors default, triggering shudders of additional problems. Usually, analysts say, a rush of selling indicates that a category was fizzy, though at that point there's little investors can do but gain insights to apply to the next cycle of high-yield bond excitement.

    Mortgage bonds are one subsector that looks a bit carbonated, Rusnak says. Residential mortgage-backed bonds are less of a worry than bonds backed by commercial properties. "The lending standards are loosened, so there's probably going to be a little more volatility," he says.

    Energy and mining is another sector that has analysts worried. Falling energy commodity prices could result in some corporate defaults. As well, the unusual turmoil in those categories ripples through related categories, such as shipping, which could undermine debt repayment for business partners.

    The current conflagration is a bit of a distraction from the ongoing debate about the existence -- or not -- of a bond bubble.

    The classic definition of a bubble is a disconnect between the underlying value of the bonds and the momentary market value of the bonds or bond fund. "It's when they're not being valued properly in the short term versus what they should be in the long term," Rusnak says. At the moment, rates are very low, compared with norms over the last three decades.

    That's largely because the Federal Reserve and central banks of other major countries have been buying their own countries' bonds. That keeps interest rates low and stable, but it also raises the question of what will happen when the central banks sell those bonds.

    Pent-Up Demand

    "They took bonds from the market last year, but they'll be adding them to the market this year. Will those bonds then flood the market, so prices will be weak? We don't believe that will happen. The Fed is now discussing how it will go about selling those bonds," Rusnak says.

    As well, there's plenty of pent-up demand for Treasury bonds, especially from retiring baby boomers looking for safe investments and institutions craving stable returns. "They'll easily absorb those extra Treasuries coming on board," Rusnak says.

    Corporate bonds and high-yield bonds, though, react more quickly to momentary market trends, Rusnak says, and that's the issue for this week's market.

    Safety can be at odds with risk.

    He's on the lookout for a "liquidity event" within the high-yield bond sector. That could pinch some investors that had temporary amnesia about risk in their pursuit of yield. "We're trying to get people to rethink -- did you buy high-yield bonds because of the income, and did you know about the potential vulnerability?" he says.

    "Safety can be at odds with risk," says Ike N. Ikeme, assistant professor of finance and economics with Salt Lake Community College. For most people, the goal is to maintain the right balance of income, growth and stability for the long haul -- a sustainable strategy that overrides momentary market bumps, he adds.

    Heckman recommends sticking with domestic bonds: Treasury and municipal bonds. Analysts agree that rising interest rates are likely, but say the role of traditional bonds is still invaluable for most individual investors.

    "You have to be very diversified and lean in to credit quality," Heckman says. "You may not like the returns, but you'll like the return of your principal."


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    atlanta  georgia   march 5 ...

    By Marilyn Lewis

    Stockpiling food and water is like buying insurance. Your household may never face a devastating earthquake, a crippling storm, a flu pandemic or other disaster, but if it does, and you are cut off even for a week from food and services, your stored food and water may be priceless to you.

    Beyond Paralysis

    Many of us are paralyzed by the job of home emergency planning. We have good intentions, but it's hard to plan for the unknown in any case and even harder to imagine an extraordinary event. If your money is tight, it's understandably difficult to spend it on food you might not ever need. And where will you find room for all those emergency supplies, anyway?

    Fortunately, none of these obstacles is insurmountable. You don't have to do it all at once. Here are 14 easy ways to jump-start your process and get going:

    1. Set a goal. Begin by deciding how much you ultimately want to store. Should you aim for three days' worth of supplies? Or three weeks? Or three months? Advice varies, depending on the kind of emergency that might strike where you live and how long you anticipate being cut off from supplies.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a flu pandemic is bound to hit eventually, and so it advises stockpiling a two-week supply of food and water:

    Although the flu pandemic may last several months, buy and store at least two weeks' supply of food, water, medicine and face masks. (Food and supplies may be hard to get during a pandemic.) When you have to stay home, these supplies will support your family and pets.

    On the website for Latah County, Idaho, a writer calling herself "Average Concerned Mom" describes her plan for a two-week stockpile (although a six-to-12-week supply is ideal, she says) for households on a limited budget and with limited space.

    2. Start small. Make it cheap and easy to get started by setting your initial goal low. Just aim at first for enough food to keep your household going for three days, for instance. When you hit that goal, you can keep going, moving the goalposts to one or two weeks. Keep it up until you've reached your ultimate goal, whether it's two weeks, three months or three years.

    3. Stockpile water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says a normally active person will drink two quarts of water a day. You'll need more than that, though. The CDC recommends storing one gallon a day for each person and each pet. Set a goal of stockpiling at least a two weeks' supply of water.

    If you have to choose, it's better to stockpile water than food. Both are necessary, of course. However, humans can make it for three weeks without food but only for three days without water, says LiveScience.

    4. Store your water safely. "Unopened commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable emergency water supply," says the CDC, which offers these storage tips:

    • If you use store-bought water, check expiration dates and replace regularly.
    • Replace water you've stored yourself every six months.
    • Keep a bottle of unscented liquid chlorine bleach with your water supply for cleaning and sanitizing and for disinfecting water.
    • Don't use scented bleach or types with color-safe or cleaning additives. Look for a bleach label that says the product is safe for disinfecting water.
    5. Make a 72-hour emergency kit. Rebecca Mongrain, a news writer with Seattle's KOMO News, started on her stockpile by building a 72-hour emergency kit that fits easily in a compact space. She includes a useful list of nonfood supplies she put in the kit and points to the Red Cross' online store, which sells emergency kits and supplies.

    6. Buy everything at once. If you have the money and space, one way to go is to purchase a large amount of commercially prepared emergency supplies. A few examples: 7. Invest in these foods. Eating from a stockpile can get boring. Real Simple lists great foods to include that are nutritionally dense, provide a lot of food value for the bulk, are tasty and need no cooking. The list includes: peanut butter, whole wheat crackers, nuts and trail mix, power bars and granola bars, dried fruit and canned meat, tuna, vegetables, chili and beans, sports drinks, sugar, pepper and salt, powdered milk and multivitamins.

    8. Include seeds for sprouting. Seeds, beans and nuts for sprouting are a good addition to your stockpile. Snapguide tells how to sprout fresh greens in a Mason jar. Vegetarian Times lists seeds and nuts that make good sprouts. Noting that sprouts can become contaminated with dangerous bacteria such as E. coli, the article tells how to safely make and consume sprouts.

    9. See trouble? Stock up on these items. If you see trouble coming and are able to buy fresh foods, Real Simple recommends these items that store well in a cool, dry, dark place: apples, citrus, winter squashes, unripe avocados, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams, unripe tomatoes and dry salami, which lasts up to six weeks without refrigeration.

    10. Buy dried foods for the long haul. Cans and granola bars are fine for the short term. But stockpiling economically for weeks or months means you'll need to include dried grains, powdered milk and dehydrated vegetables and fruits.

    Latah County's Concerned Mom's plan (on page 6 of her article) includes a list of ingredients to nutritiously feed two adults and two children for two weeks. The entire supply fits in a 66-gallon storage box, including these five groups of foods:
    • Starches. Rice, flour, cornmeal, pasta, dried potatoes and oatmeal, for example.
    • Proteins. Like beans, lentils, dried milk, canned fish and meat, seeds, nuts, dry cheese, boxed tofu, powdered eggs and powdered cheese.
    • Vitamin foods. Canned tomatoes and pumpkin, dried vegetables and fruit.
    • Vitamins.
    • Flavorings. Cooking oils, chocolate, jam, salsa, seasonings, yeast and spices, for instance.
    Using this system, Concerned Mom suggests starting your stockpile by making one two-week box. As money and space permit, you can add identical boxes, building the stockpile two weeks at a time.

    11. Economize by buying in bulk. To stockpile affordably, shop around, comparing costs. Food cooperatives, buying clubs and warehouse stores all are good sources for lower prices. Shop sales and learn where to get discounts for bulk purchases. Walmart sells bulk quantities of emergency foods like mixes for bread and pancakes, dehydrated onions, powdered honey and butter and dehydrated stews.

    12. Stockpile protein bars. An odd but possibly practical approach is stockpiling protein bars. They cost around $2 each. U.S. News writes about a Baltimore couple who:

    ... eat a Quest protein bar from GNC every three hours from the time they wake up until they go to bed. They started this habit in April, and he's lost 78 pounds so far.

    They also eat Power Pak pudding once a day, which contains 30 grams of protein per can and less than 200 calories. The protein bars have 20 grams of protein and less than 200 calories. They estimate that they spend less than $400 per month on food and drinks, saving money by buying in bulk during sales.

    13. Economical supplies of dried foods. Dried foods may not be the tastiest items you'll eat in an emergency, but they provide concentrated nutrition and can be purchased less expensively in bulk. They are long-lasting when kept dry and consume less space than cans.

    14. Rotate stored foods. To make sure your stored food is safe and nutritious when you need it, pay attention to the shelf life of each item. Rotate foods near the end of their shelf life by using them in your kitchen and adding fresh foods to the stockpile.

    Properly prepared and stored, food can last a long time. Some examples:
    • Manufactured emergency supplies. Manufacturer Mountain House, for example, says its buckets and pouches of emergency food last 12 years when handled correctly and its #10 cans last 25 years.
    • Dry staples. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), on its site encouraging stockpiling food and food safety, says staples such as wheat, white rice, and beans last 30 years when packaged and stored correctly. Nonfat milk and dehydrated carrots have a 20-year shelf life. Other foods -- vegetable oil, for example -- should be rotated every year or two.
    • Cans. "Most expiration dates on foods in cans range from one to four years -- but keep the food in a cool, dark place and the cans undented and in good condition, and you can likely safely double that shelf life from three to up to six years," says Mens Health.
    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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    Food Katrina Restaurant Scene
    Max Becherer/APNames restaurant owner Hieu Doan talks with customers in New Orleans. The Vietnamese restaurant infuses the famous flavors of New Orleans with traditional Asian favorites.

    NEW ORLEANS -- Talk to folks on the street about the "holy trinity" and you're as likely to get a lesson on onions, celery and peppers as you are Catholicism. That's New Orleans, a city where eating has long been a serious business.

    But 10 years ago, that seemed imperiled. Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches that flooded the coast threatened that rich culinary history. Restaurants were shuttered amid the chaos and destruction; waiters, bartenders and chefs -- along with the institutional memory of the cuisine they held -- dispersed across the country; customers were nowhere in sight.

    There would be restaurants again, of course. But many wondered whether the food scene truly could recover and return.

    It has indeed. Since Katrina, the city's food scene not only recovered, it grew. And it changed, becoming more ethnically diverse.

    I don't know if there has ever been a transformation of an inner city in the U.S. quite like this one.

    "I don't know if there has ever been a transformation of an inner city in the U.S. quite like this one, and it's really a story told through food," said New Orleans restaurateur and celebrity chef John Besh.

    He's seen and often led the resurgence. When Katrina hit, he ran two restaurants, had 124 employees and plenty of debt. Worried he'd have to close, he nonetheless pitched in, feeding red beans and rice to first responders and others for free. But he didn't close, and today he has 12 restaurants, about 1,000 employees and has another cookbook, "Besh Big Easy," that focuses on New Orleans recipes coming out in September.

    And Besh is just one example. The U.S. Census Bureau reports there are 11 percent more restaurants in the metro area than in 2005 -- even though the population is smaller than pre-Katrina. Tom Fitzmorris, who wrote "Hungry Town" detailing the comeback of the city's restaurant scene post-Katrina, has kept a detailed count of the number of independent sit-down restaurants in the city. By his count, there are roughly 1,400, about 600 more than before.

    Not surprisingly, the established powerhouses of New Orleans cuisine -- Commander's Palace, Galatoire's and Antoine's, where you can get classics like turtle soup, shrimp etouffee and bread pudding with warm whiskey sauce -- weathered the storm and thrived. But the growth is coming in more casual, mid-range restaurants, and it's fueled largely by a rebound in tourism as well as an influx of millennials seeking an affordable city with culture.

    The cuisine also has evolved. Restaurants serving Vietnamese food and Latin American food, previously found mostly in enclaves off the beaten track, have become mainstream and upscale. Restaurants like MoPho, Mint and Namese sell the traditional pho, but also Vietnamese tacos and basil-lemon grass martinis.

    When people dispersed after Katrina, they were exposed to new cuisines, then brought those flavors back when they returned, said Amy Sins, chef at Langlois, a cross between cooking school and dinner party. She and her staff prepare Creole and Cajun food that goes far beyond the traditional gumbo and jambalaya. A recent meal featured cold smoked rib-eye with mojo verde sauce, cold corn soup and Canary Island potatoes -- reflecting the city's Spanish and Caribbean influences.

    Food Katrina Restaurant Scene
    Gerald Herbert/APChip Apperson, left, stands outside his High Hat Cafe with his head chef, Jeremy Wolgamott, on Freret Street in New Orleans.
    Food is ever-evolving in New Orleans, said Sins, who pointed out the influence of Germans (sausages) and Sicilians (canned tomatoes) on the city. The next transition? Honduran food reflecting more recent immigrants, she said.

    "We have this internal conflict," said Sins. "We want to hold on and preserve and embrace but we're kind of excited about the new things that we get to try."

    The geography of the food scene also has expanded. At High Hat Cafe on Freret Street, diners dig into shrimp Creole accompanied by summer squash fritters and followed by a slice of peach and fig pie. Don't want to choose between whipped cream or ice cream? You get both. High Hat, with its catfish baskets, fried chicken and Delta hot tamales, is now one of the anchors on a street that years ago was a culinary ghost town.

    "The renaissance has happened faster than we thought it would," said High Hat co-owner Chip Apperson.

    Not that any of this has been easy. Chefs and restaurateurs across the city say life has become more financially difficult for their staffs. At Maurepas Foods in the Bywater, chef Michael Doyle said wages have remained stagnant as rents have skyrocketed, forcing many people to live father from their jobs.

    Chefs also mourn the restaurants that didn't survive. Besh used to take visiting chefs to Mandich on St. Claude Ave., but they never reopened. Neither did Christian's, a Mid-City restaurant in a former church. Doyle said many of the neighborhood places that served hot lunches and daily specials also didn't survive. "We definitely lost a lot of places that were the foundations, and I worry about that," he said.

    For now, the restaurant boom has only one outpost in the Lower 9th Ward, one of the city's hardest-hit neighborhoods. Longtime resident Keisha Henry opened Cafe Dauphine with relatives -- marking a rare sit-down restaurant in an area that traditionally has had only corner stores and takeout.

    As the Katrina anniversary approaches, she wants people to realize that some areas of the city are still recovering. But in her corner of the ward, where local families gather for a Sunday brunch of well-seasoned New Orleans home cuisine, she also wants people to realize there's a growing community here as well.

    "I feel like we deserve the finest things just like anybody else," she said.


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    Forbes' 2015 Philanthropy Summit Awards Dinner
    Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty ImagesWarren Buffett speaks during the Forbes' 2015 Philanthropy Summit Awards Dinner in June.
    By Laurie Kulikowski

    NEW YORK -- When it comes to Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathway (BRK-A), the numbers are often mind-boggling: $70 billion net worth; shares that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars each; dozens of portfolio companies and more.

    To top it all off, Berkshire Hathaway is getting even bigger, with the $37.2 billion purchase of Precision Castparts announced less than three weeks ago: It's the biggest deal yet for Buffett, who turns 85 on Sunday.

    If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed, here's a handy visual guide to bring some of those numbers back down to earth. Below, you'll find a bevy of Buffett facts culled by our editors, and organized into a neat infographic that you can save and share. It's a ready reference to key dates in the 85-year life of the "Oracle of Omaha" and his company, along with key statistics and the company's biggest investments.

    Have other facts you'd like to see visualized? Let us know in the comments below.


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    Hackers Release Confidential Member Information From The Ashley Madison Infidelity Website
    Carl Court/Getty Images
    TORONTO -- Hundreds of thousands of people signed up for infidelity website Ashley Madison in the last week, parent company Avid Life Media said Monday, even after hackers leaked data about millions of its clients.

    The company also struck back at reports that the site had few genuine female users, saying internal data released by hackers had been incorrectly analyzed.

    "Recent media reports predicting the imminent demise of Ashley Madison are greatly exaggerated," the company said in a statement. "Despite having our business and customers attacked, we are growing."

    Recent media reports predicting the imminent demise of Ashley Madison are greatly exaggerated.

    On Aug. 18, hackers who claimed to be unhappy with Avid Life's business practices released Ashley Madison customer data. A second data dump contained thousands of emails and other company documents. Reuters hasn't independently verified the authenticity of the data, emails or documents.

    Last week, tech blog Gizmodo published a widely cited analysis of the customer data. It said thousands of users had listed email addresses that ended with and that very few, about 1,500, female members had ever checked the site for messages.

    Avid Life said Monday that an unnamed reporter had wrongly concluded that the number of active female members on Ashley Madison could be calculated based on assumptions about the meaning of fields contained in the leaked data.

    "Last week alone, women sent more than 2.8 million messages within our platform," Avid Life said, adding that 87,596 women had also signed up for Ashley Madison last week.

    On Friday, Avid Life said Chief Executive Officer Noel Biderman had left the company by mutual agreement.

    For at least three years before the publication of details about its members, Avid Life had been struggling to sell itself or raise funds, according to internal documents and emails that hackers also released. (Reporting by Allison Martell;


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    Is Cheap Gas Worth the Trip?
    Driving around for cheap gas doesn't always take your budget the extra mile. Here's when you should make the trip.

    If you're filling up you're tank and saving 10 cents per gallon, it's probably worth taking the detour. However, if you're only filling up the tank half way, and prices are only 3 cents cheaper, you're likely not saving much time or money.

    So, incorporate nearby gas stations during your day instead of going out of your way. If you're smart about where you fill up, your bank account won't have to run on empty.

    View Poll


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    Fiat Chrysler
    Carlos Osorio/AP2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk
    DETROIT -- Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) is recalling 206,668 Jeep Cherokee SUVs because the windshield wipers can stop working unexpectedly.

    Cherokees from the 2014 model year are affected. There are 158,671 in the U.S., 18,366 in Canada and 3,582 in Mexico. The rest were sold outside North America.

    Fiat Chrysler says static buildup may occur if the wipers are used when it's dry. Static buildup can affect the module that powers the wipers and potentially disable them.

    The company says it's not aware of any accidents or injuries related to the issue.

    Customers will be notified and dealers will repair the vehicles for free.


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    Will Fed Raise Rates in September?

    By Jeff Cox

    For months, Federal Reserve officials have been urging investors to shift their focus from the timing of rate hikes to the path the central bank expects to take toward normalcy.

    In effect, they've been trying to quell speculation over whether they vote to move in September, that it really doesn't matter when the rate-hiking cycle begins because it's going to happen slowly no matter what.

    That's wrong.

    The date for liftoff will matter tremendously, particularly if the central bank's Open Market Committee decides to move in a month that's likely to be a highly volatile one for financial markets. And if we've learned one thing from this supposedly data-dependent Fed, the most important data point of all is how markets react.

    September is setting up as a difficult month for a variety of reasons: Expected continued volatility in stocks, weak corporate sales figures and an economy likely to give back at least some of the gains it achieved in the second quarter.

    Throw in some fairly daunting historical trends and it probably adds up to a Fed that stays on hold still longer in the midst of an unprecedented nearly seven-year run of zero interest rates.

    Low consumer price inflation as the Fed prefers to measure it provides plenty of cover for the Fed to talk a lot and do nothing.

    "The Fed's foremost goal is to support asset prices, and recent market volatility is likely to make the Fed cautious," David Santschi, CEO of market data firm TrimTabs, said in his weekly report for clients Monday. "Low consumer price inflation as the Fed prefers to measure it provides plenty of cover for the Fed to talk a lot and do nothing."

    Equity market volatility increased a record 36.4 percent last week, according to Goldman Sachs (GS), as investors contemplated global economic softness, particularly in China, against a backdrop of potential Fed tightening in September.

    Though the week ended up being a tale of two markets -- plunges in the first two days, rallies in the next two and a flat Friday -- Monday started on a rough note and was threatening that August would be the worst month since May 2010, when the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) slumped nearly 8 percent.

    Bad Augusts frequently lead to bad Septembers, and in this case a particularly difficult backdrop for the Fed.

    "Is the worst behind us? Possibly not. On Tuesday, we start a month with a bad reputation," Sam Stovall, U.S. equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ, said in a note to clients Monday. "September is the only month in which the S&P 500 (^GSPC) fell more frequently than it rose."

    That's bad enough in itself, but here's another statistic from Stovall: In Augusts when the index fell more than 5 percent (it was down 6 percent by around lunchtime Monday) September followed with a decline 80 percent of the time, with the average drop almost 4 percent.

    The rest of the macro picture doesn't get any better.

    While corporate profits overall in the second quarter ended up just above flat, the third quarter is expected to show a decline of about 4 percent, according to the latest numbers from S&P Capital IQ that are heading still lower. At the beginning of the year, quarterly earnings were projected to rise more than 6 percent for the period, so even if companies beat expectations by the usual 3 or 4 percentage points, that still makes for a dismal quarter.

    Missed Opportunity

    The broader economic outlook isn't much better, either. After a second quarter where gross domestic product unexpectedly jumped 3.7 percent, the third quarter is tracking at just a 1.2 percent gain, according to the latest reading from the Atlanta Fed. A stronger dollar, the slowdown in China and notoriously volatile payroll growth figures from August further compound things.

    In short, the Fed appears to have missed its window for raising rates.

    Since the officially stated end of the Great Recession in 2009, corporate profits had been steadily climbing, albeit amid slow revenue gains, the stock market had soared more than 210 percent and GDP growth held around 2 to 2.5 percent while the economy has been adding jobs at a regular clip. During that time, the Fed chose to keep rates anchored near zero while pumping in $3.7 trillion of liquidity through its monthly bond-buying program called quantitative easing.

    The climate for a rate increase could well be better later in 2015 or in early 2016, but September appears to be creating the perfect storm of headwinds for a Fed move.

    "Although we continue to see economic activity in the U.S. as solid and justifying modest rate hikes, we believe the Federal Reserve is unlikely to begin a hiking cycle in this environment for fear that such a move may further destabilize markets," Barclays economists said in a note last week in which they pushed the expected date for hiking out to March 2016. "Given the uncertainty around the current global outlook, the timing of the rate hike seems more uncertain than usual."


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street ended lower Monday and wrapped up its worst month since 2012 after a senior Federal Reserve official heightened fears among investors of a potential U.S. interest hike in September.

    Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said Saturday that U.S. inflation would likely rebound as pressure from the dollar fades, allowing the Fed to raise interest rates gradually.

    Many analysts took Fischer's comments as a sign the Fed would raise rates in September, instead of December. That shook investors who were already jumpy after weeks of turbulence caused by concerns about a stumbling Chinese economy.

    What you see in the market today is caused by Fischer's comments over the weekend.

    "What you see in the market today is caused by Fischer's comments over the weekend. If they move in September, it's going to cast a lot of doubt about where they will stop," said Stephen Massocca, chief investment officer at Wedbush Equity Management in San Francisco.

    Fischer's remarks at the global central banking conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, suggested the Fed doesn't see the recent stock market drop and concerns about China as reasons that would keep it from raising rates.

    A decade of near-zero interest rates has helped the U.S. stock market stage a spectacular bull-run since the financial crisis and investors are worried those gains many end once rates start to climb.

    The CBOE Volatility index, known as Wall Street's "fear gauge," rose about 9.1 percent to 28.43, above its long-term average of 20. It spiked to as high as 53.29 last week.

    Investors will keep a sharp eye Friday on the Labor Department's monthly jobs report, which will be the last one before the Fed meets Sept. 16-17.

    "We can still expect to see some significant drops in the market until we get some direction from the Fed regarding a rate increase," said John DeClue, chief investment officer of U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) lost 0.7 percent to end at 16,528.03 points and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) fell 0.8 percent to 1,972.18. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 1.1 percent to 4,776.51.

    Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower with the health index's 1.85 percent fall leading the decliners.

    Energy Gains

    The S&P energy index rose 1.1 percent and was on track for its best four-day gain in seven years, boosted by ConocoPhillips (COP) and Phillips 66.

    Crude oil prices jumped after data indicated surprise cuts to U.S. oil production and as OPEC said it was ready to talk to other producers about the recent drop in prices.

    In August, the S&P lost 6.3 percent, the Dow fell 6.6 percent and the Nasdaq declined 6.9 percent.

    On Monday, Celgene (CELG) fell 4.8 percent, weighing the most on the S&P 500. Phillips 66 (PSX) rose 2.4 percent after Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) disclosed a $4.48 billion stake in the oil refiner.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,724 to 1,339. On the Nasdaq, 1,432 issues fell and 1,380 advanced.

    The S&P 500 index showed one new 52-week high and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 24 new highs and 22 new lows.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • Automakers release vehicle sales data for August.
    • At 10 a.m. Eastern time, the Institute for Supply Management releases its manufacturing index for August, and the Commerce Department releases construction spending for July.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Dollar Tree (DLTR)
    • H&R Block (HRB)


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    Inside A Best Buy Co. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesElectronics and clothing are on sale this month.
    By Jon Lal

    September is sandwiched between the final days of summer and the cooler months leading up to the holidays, making it a unique shopping season. Take advantage of these great deals and hold off purchasing other items until later in the year when the discounts will significantly increase.

    Here's your September shopping guide:

    What to buy:

    September kicks off with Labor Day, and this three-day weekend is a major sales holiday, as well. You can expect sales events when booking travel and hotels, shopping department stores, buying electronics and more.

    First, if you're in the market to buy a vehicle, September is an excellent time to do so. Not only will new models be hitting the lots this month, causing previous years' vehicles to go down in price, but salespeople at car dealerships will be trying to hit their third quarter goals. Use this fact to your advantage and haggle a little harder toward the end of the month.

    Another category that unveils new models this month is major appliances. With the exception of refrigerators (their lowest prices can be found in late spring), take advantage of the lower prices as stores clear out last year's models to make room for new.

    School begins in late August and early September, which means that school supplies and fall clothing will be discounted shortly afterward. Whether you can wait to buy a few of the kids' notebooks and pencils until the last minute, or you want to restock your own office with supplies, this is a cheap time to do so. Fall clothing featured for back to school will head into clearance later in September.

    Throughout the year, jewelry has a few peak seasons, most notably Valentine's Day and the holiday season in December. September is not one of the major "gift giving months" throughout the year, so jewelers are more likely to come down in price if you ask.

    If previous years are any indication, Apple will announce a new iPhone this September. As soon as a new iPhone is released, older models will go on sale. You can also find plenty of pre-owned iPhones for sale when Apple fans decide to upgrade. If you prefer Apple and are okay with a slightly older model, this is an ideal time to get a mobile phone.

    End-of-summer clearance will put an abundance of warm weather items on sale. From heavy duty equipment like grills and lawn mowers to plants, patio furniture and yard tools, stock up on the summer items you need now and you can find rock-bottom prices, though the selection might be a bit picked over.

    Lastly, if you're looking for a romantic getaway, September is an idea time to travel. Between Labor Day and the holiday season is a lighter travel time, so there are tons of discounts and deals. After kids go back to school, resorts are quiet and less crowded. Cruises are cheaper in September and through the fall, right up until Thanksgiving. Amusement parks will have discounts while the weather is still warm right before their closing date, so bring the kids for a day on the weekend and you can get a cheaper ticket. September is known as hurricane season in the Caribbean, but certain parts rarely get storms. Do a little research on weather patterns, and then check out the discounted packages at all-inclusive resorts.

    What not to buy:

    In September, you might spot a few sales or discounts that look tempting, but will ultimately they pale in comparison to the price drops before the holidays. Avoid buying items that are known for their deep discounts during Black Friday week, including televisions and game systems. You will only end up regretting that you didn't wait a few months for significantly lower prices.

    Enjoy what's left of summer and take advantage of the deals September has to offer!

    Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website, which saves shoppers an average of $27 an order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.


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    credit report with score on a...
    By Nicholas Pell

    NEW YORK -- You might be surprised at just how much progress you can make in improving your credit in six months or a year.

    In fact, with a few nifty tricks, you can boost your credit score some 50 to 100 points in no time flat.

    Especially if you're looking at buying a house somewhere in the near future, you're going to want to aggressively pursue raising your credit score for the best rates possible, says John Heath, managing attorney with LexingtonLaw.

    Here's how to make that happen.

    First Things First: Pull Your Credit Report

    To know what you can do for starters, you're going to have to pull your credit report and look it over. That's where any path toward a higher credit score, aggressive or otherwise, is going to begin. What you're looking for is anything that's questionable, anything you don't recognize. "If there's an ID theft issue, contact the appropriate law enforcement agency," says Heath. But if you do see something that you don't recognize, don't assume that you've been a victim. It could be -- and probably is -- something far less insidious, such as an error.

    You'll also want to look at how much of your credit you're using on each of your accounts. This is called your "debt utilization" ratio, and it's the most powerful way to improve your credit in the shortest amount of time. "This factor is evaluated in the individual and the aggregate level," says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education with What this means is that you want both your credit usage on individual cards and across all cards to be less than one third. For example, if you have a $1,000 credit limit on a particular credit card, don't spend more than $300 without paying the balance off.

    Paying Down Debt Works

    The best thing you can do is aggressively attack your balances to lower your debt utilization ratio. "Paying down your balances makes a big difference and can be fixed the fastest," says Detweiler. So you might want to send off big checks, but there's another option: a consolidation loan. Detweiler points out that when you get a consolidation loan, not only are you getting one single payment every month, you're also lowering your utilization ratio to zero.

    "You have the same amount of debt, but it's an installment loan, rather than a revolving account," she says. Don't be surprised if you see a significant jump in your credit score after getting a consolidation loan. From there, you're basically just keeping up with your monthly payments so that you don't have another black mark on your credit.

    Detweiler notes that consolidation loans might not be available for people with credit scores under 620. For those people, she says that a 401(k) loan is an option. "It's not ideal," she says. "But there's no credit check, and it doesn't report to your credit at all." You have to be careful, because a 401(k) loan, not repaid properly, can significantly increase your taxes and come with a 10 percent penalty. But if you think you can do it, and it's your only option, at least give it a think.

    Addressing Errors and Other Black Marks

    If you're going to start attacking the black marks on your credit report, there are two main ways to do this. You either owe the money or you don't. If you don't think you do, you need to send a letter asking the company to prove that you do. After all, if someone approached you in the street and said that you owed them $100, you wouldn't just fork over a C-note. "You don't have to quote a federal law," says Detweiler. "You just have to ask them to investigate it."

    Heath recommends that you call up collection agencies and try to negotiate a settlement in relation to the collection. "You can let them know you'll pay them off if they can remove the collection from your credit report," Heath says. He says it's also not a bad idea to go back and find late payment notices from your original creditors and see if you can get them removed. "It's always a good idea to call them up and ask if they can do it just because you've been a good customer," he says.

    There aren't any shortcuts. But you can seriously make a change in your credit score in a year or less. Start putting your time, energy and money into it and monitor your credit score the whole time.

    Tips for Improving Your Credit Score


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    life insurance protection...
    You may have seen ads talking about "secret 770 accounts," financial vehicles that let you retire 100 percent tax free, aren't reportable to the IRS and never go down in value. Many of these ads have a tone that says "scam" to the more cautious investor. While it isn't fair to call them a scam, it is also not fair to call them retirement programs -- and, arguably, they shouldn't be called accounts either. They are simply a form of permanent, whole-life insurance.

    The name 770 account is derived from Section 7702 of the tax code (sometimes they are referred to as 7702 accounts), presumably to equate them to 401(k) retirement accounts that also get their name from the tax code. Section 7702 concerns the rules regarding taxes and life insurance policies, which can become fuzzy with whole-life policies that contain death benefits as well as investment components.

    With whole-life policies, death benefits are tax-free and the interest and gains in the account aren't included in the policyholder's current income. However, the death benefit could be lowered to impractical levels, making the cash-value so high that the life insurance policy is clearly an investment instead of the life insurance policy it was intended to be. Thus, you could have a more stable life insurance policy with the tax benefits of more risky investments.

    Section 7702 draws the line to which something can be called either life insurance or an investment. 770 accounts are life insurance contracts that, if properly designed, take you right up to that line without crossing it. There is nothing wrong with that -- that is why the line exists.

    Newsletters touting 770 accounts point out that big banks have millions of dollars tied up in these investments, and the extremely wealthy can use them as tax shelters. Are you extremely wealthy (or a big bank with thousands of employees)? If not, that is really an irrelevant selling point.

    The more money that you can devote to this form of investment, the more likely it is to make sense to you because of the tax sheltering aspects compared to other options at that income level. Limits on IRA contributions and other investments make 770 accounts far more attractive. However, you don't care how it affects big banks; you only care about whether it makes sense for you.

    As stated above, a 770 account gets as close to the line of a defined investment as possible without crossing it. Essentially, your life insurance policy is "overfunded" to the fullest extent possible. Over time, the growth allows the policy to be borrowed against to fund retirement costs. Keep in mind that that overfunding involves higher premiums -- to pay for the benefits, whole-life policies have far higher premiums than term life policies.

    Meanwhile, you do receive dividend payments (assuming you have purchased your policy from a mutual insurance company and your policy is structured to pay dividends). These constitute the yearly payments that 770 pitchmen refer to. Again, there is nothing special here; that is how life insurance works. Your premiums are designed by the insurance company to take those payments into account.

    Lost in the Marketing

    Also consider that it takes time for whole-life policies to build up sufficient cash value to meet your objectives -- the older you are, the less this form of investment makes sense. Unfortunately, as it is being pitched as a safe retirement program, this aspect can get lost in the marketing.

    Since 770 accounts are individual contracts with an insurance company, the burden is on you to find the collective fees and costs associated with the policy, as well as the interest rates that are charged when borrowing against the policy (guaranteed or variable) and what happens if repayments are late or missed.

    Whole-life contracts are often quite profitable for insurance companies -- that is why they sell them -- but you have to balance those costs against other uses of your money, such as investing in an IRA separately and buying term-life insurance to cover your insurance needs.

    To educate yourself on the topic, start by acquiring a thorough understanding of whole-life insurance policies (in this case, it is usually variable universal whole-life policies) from respected sources. Then if you are still interested, look at individual vendors of 770 plans to see the similarities and differences from a standard plan.

    Our advice isn't to sign anything until you can do a complete cost-benefit analysis, compared to an alternate use of your money (don't forget any life insurance needs you may have). Also, make sure that you understand the fine print of the contract regarding the possibility of interest rate changes or what happens when the money is withdrawn. If you can't do that analysis on your own, seek the advice of an independent financial planner.


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  • 08/31/15--22:00: 4 Dividend Stocks to Avoid
  • Filed under: , , , ,

    Dollar and pen on the chart
    Getty Images
    By Anne Kates Smith

    What's not to like about dividends? Income-seeking investors have flocked to them in recent years as interest rates have plunged. So have investors worried about an aging bull market and those seeking a buffer from volatility; they want to hunker down with dividend payers for the cushion they provide in downturns and for the way they seem to skirt the worst of the market's mood swings.

    Those are all valid reasons to shop at Yields R Us. But not all dividend stocks are alike. Many of the so-called bond proxies to which investors have turned for income, such as utilities, telecommunication companies, real estate investment trusts, or REITs, and companies that make essential consumer goods, are now way overpriced. A lot of them will get whacked when interest rates move higher -- in fact, many of them took a licking in the first half of 2015. And some have little to recommend them, apart from their dividends.

    In fact, says John Bailer, senior portfolio manager at The Boston Company Asset Management, you might consider some dividend payers wolves in sheep's clothing. They pose hidden risks to your portfolio, particularly if you're as interested in stock-price gains as you are in an income stream. Among the lurking dangers:

    Danger No. 1: Price

    No matter how you slice it, bond proxies are expensive relative to historical norms. For example, the median price-earnings ratio for the highest-yielding stocks in Standard & Poor's 500-stock index was recently 2 percent higher than that of companies with the fastest-growing dividends. Normally, the P/E of high-yielders is 12 percent below that of the stocks with the fastest-growing dividends. The least volatile stocks (a group dominated by dividend payers) recently traded at roughly 1.5 times the average P/E of the jumpiest stocks. Normally, there's little difference in P/Es.

    The story is the same if you look at companies by sector. Stocks of companies that make consumer necessities are commanding P/Es that are 8 percent higher on average than the premium P/E they're typically accorded, says the S&P's chief strategist, Sam Stovall. Utilities are even more expensive, despite this year's decline. The P/Es of stocks in the slow-growing utilities sector are normally 18 percent less than the S&P 500's P/E, says Stovall. Now, the discount is a mere 3 percent. "People should not yield to temptation by looking to dividends alone," quips Stovall.

    Overpriced dividend stock to avoid: The Clorox Co. (CLX, $116.15) yields 2.7 percent but trades at 24 times estimated earnings of $4.82 a share for the fiscal year that ends in June 2016. S&P analysts say a P/E of 21.5 times is more realistic for the consumer-goods company. That would put the stock price at $104, down 10 percent from the current level, sometime within the next 12 months. (Share prices and related figures are as of Aug. 19.)

    Danger No. 2: Limited Growth

    When the economy is growing, you want to benefit from the upswing. "If you think the economy is going to accelerate, as we're expecting, money will flow into industrials, tech and companies that make nonessential consumer goods, and people will hide less in consumer staples and utilities," says Wells Fargo global stock strategist Scott Wren. This year, utilities and consumer staples stocks are projected to log earnings growth of just 1.2 and 2.7 percent, on average, respectively -- among the lowest of all S&P sectors, with the notable exception of the beleaguered energy group, which is seeing declining profits. You don't have to forgo dividends in order to migrate to faster-growing, economy-sensitive stocks, you just have be willing to make dividend growth a higher priority than dividend yield. Bailer points out that S&P 500 stocks in the financial and technology sectors have logged average dividend growth of 30 percent annualized over the past three years.

    Low-growth dividend stock to avoid: This may surprise you, because Procter & Gamble (PG, $74.12) has been paying dividends since 1890. By all means, if you own stock in this consume products giant, known for brands ranging from Tide to Pampers, keep cashing those dividend checks. But you might find better potential share-price gains elsewhere. Despite P&G's plans to jettison some 100 brands, it will remain a plodding multinational behemoth, generating nearly $80 billion in annual sales. Dividend growth is slowing, too. The company's recent 3 percent hike is far less than the annualized hikes of 6.6 percent over the past five years. Analysts at UBS Securities are lukewarm on the stock, rating it "neutral." After years of subpar performance, P&G still faces challenges, and the turnaround will be slow, says UBS. And the strong dollar won't help matters.

    Danger No. 3: Rate Sensitivity

    When interest rates rise, the dividend wolves shed their sheep's clothing and can be seen for the risks that they are. In other words, bond proxies act like bonds, and that means they fall in price as rates rise. We've already seen a preview: From late May 2013 through December of that year, yields on 10-year Treasury bonds rose from 1.6 to more than 3 percent -- a debacle nicknamed the "taper tantrum" because it began when then-Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke signaled the end of the Fed's bond-buying program. During that period, a basket of bond proxies tracked by The Boston Co. -- consisting of utilities (mainly gas and electrics), telecom and staples stocks -- fell 5 percent as the S&P rose 17 percent. Earlier this year, when the yields of the 10-year Treasury jumped from less than 1.7 percent in late January to 2.3 percent in late June, the basket of bond proxies fell 4 percent, and the S&P rose 4 percent. Over the same period, the Dow Jones Equity REIT Index fell 14 percent.

    Rate-sensitive stock to avoid: It's hard to think of a more interest-rate-sensitive stock than Annaly Capital (NLY, $10.44), a REIT that invests primarily in mortgage-backed securities. Annaly, currently yielding 11.5 percent, makes money by pocketing the difference between the interest income generated by the longer-term securities it owns and the shorter-term borrowing costs to buy them. When the Fed raises short-term rates -- Kiplinger's expects the central bank to hike short-term rates in September -- it will wreak havoc with the company's interest income, the main driver of profits. Annaly is more at risk than other mortgage REITs, says Daniel Altscher at FBR Capital Markets, because it doesn't hedge against fluctuations in interest rates as much as its peers do. Altscher figures that just a 0.25 percentage-point increase in short-term interest rates could knock annual earnings down by 8 percent.

    Danger No. 4: Fundamental Hurdles

    Dividend investors shouldn't let a generous dividend blind them to industrywide or company-specific challenges that could trip up their stocks. For many multinational consumer-products companies that sell their goods overseas, for example, that could be the strong dollar. Electric utility stocks will struggle to maintain growth, says Bailer, as customers turn to solar and wind-generated power, or employ smart thermostats to conserve energy.

    Struggling dividend stock to avoid: GlaxoSmithKline (GSK, $43.30). The British pharmaceuticals giant is beginning to face stiff generic competition for its blockbuster respiratory drug, Advair, which accounts for 16 percent of sales; other respiratory therapies and a promising vaccine business have been slow to develop. The stock yields 5.5 percent, but if Glaxo continues to make such generous payments, its dividends threaten to swallow all of the company's free cash flow. Even though the stock has retreated 25 percent since early 2014, it still looks expensive, given Glaxo's deteriorating growth prospects, say analysts at Mirabaud, a London-based stock research firm.


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    Using a credit card.
    Getty Images
    By Allison Martin

    Many credit cards offer a slew of incentives to consumers who use them -- from cash back and other rewards to zero liability in case of fraud.

    But credit cards aren't always your best form of payment, especially if you aren't great with debt. In many cases, you are better off keeping the plastic tucked away.

    Here are 10 purchases you should probably avoid making with your magic plastic:

    1. Household bills. If you are already cutting it close for the month, you may be tempted to use plastic to pay the utility, cellphone or cable bill. But if you're not paying off your full balance each month, the interest you will be charged makes those monthly bills even more expensive.

    2. Cars. Car dealers often don't allow credit-card purchases, or may limit the amount of the purchase price you can put on your card. Dealers don't like credit card payments because they have to pay the 1 to 3 percent fee the card company charges to process the transaction

    You could exercise the cash advance option. But you'll pay a fee and a higher interest rate. Also, you won't get a grace period on the interest -- it will begin to accumulate right away.

    Instead of using a card, go to a credit union or bank to get financing approved at a reasonable interest rate before shopping for a car.

    3. Student loans. If you can't afford to pay your federal student loans, you have options, such as an income-based repayment plan, deferment, forbearance and possibly loan forgiveness. Take a look at "Finding Help With Your Student Loans" to learn more.

    Paying your student loan debt with a credit card increases the amount of interest you're paying on the debt. Even if you have a zero-percent introductory credit card offer, it will expire in time.

    And while the federal government will accept a credit card payment for loans in default, many student loan servicers won't allow this form of payment.

    4. Retail therapy. Think a new purchase will cheer you up? Perhaps. But remember that cash is king if you choose this mode of "therapy." That way, you won't let your credit card balance spiral out of control.

    5. Medical bills. If you use a medical credit card available through your health care provider's office to pay bills, be careful to read the fine print about your obligations.

    Also consider steps you can take to reduce health care costs. See "10 Ways to Fight High Medical Bills."

    6. A night on the town. Handing your credit card to an unscrupulous waitperson equipped with a skimming device isn't your only worry. If you're out on the town throwing back drinks, it's easy to run up a tab you can't afford.

    In these scenarios, it's best to pay with cash.

    7. Big-ticket items you can't pay off immediately. Credit cards offer great purchase protections and should be used for many big-ticket purchases. But buying something on credit when you can't afford to pay it off right away isn't smart.

    8. Credit card payments. You can't charge your monthly credit card payment on another credit card. But perhaps you've been tempted to use a cash advance from a credit card to bolster your checking account so that you can pay your other bills.

    We've already explained the folly of cash advances. Your credit card isn't an ATM and should not be used as one.

    There are real benefits, however, to transferring high-interest credit card debt to a new card with a generous zero-percent balance transfer offer. Just be aware of the balance transfer fee and the length of the offer.

    9. 'Sale' items. Convinced that you may miss out on savings if you don't purchase a specific item on sale right away? That's one of the warning signs of an impulse buy.

    Wait a day and think about whether you really need the item. Nine times out of 10, the answer will be "no."

    You aren't saving money by spending it for something you don't need.

    10. Unsecured online purchases. Does the Web address have an "https" at the beginning? If not, that's your cue to take your online shopping elsewhere.

    In fact, do your homework before purchasing anything online to make sure a company is reputable and not the source of many consumer complaints.

    What purchases do you refrain from making with your credit card? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

    Pop Quiz: Credit Cards


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    A Car Dealership Ahead Of Motor Vehicle Sales Figures
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesA financing offer is displayed on the window of a 2015 Dodge Charger vehicle at a dealership in Moline, Ill.

    DETROIT -- As China's auto market recoils, the U.S. remains a bright spot as it rolls on toward its best performance in more than a decade.

    China is still the No. 1 market, but sales there are slowing as the economy cools and cities impose car ownership limits to curb smog and congestion. At the same time, U.S. sales remain on pace to top 17 million this year for the first time since 2001.

    It's a reversal from six years ago, when U.S. vehicle sales plunged during the recession and China easily surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest car market. At least temporarily, automakers are left to rely on the U.S. -- and a recovering Western Europe auto market -- for sales growth.

    Sales figures for August released Tuesday by Sweden's Volvo Cars tell the story: Volvo's U.S. vehicle sales jumped 18.3 percent as the new XC90 SUV went on sale, and they rose 6.5 percent in Europe. But its sales in China plunged 10 percent. One of every five vehicles Volvo sells globally is sold in China.

    All major automakers released U.S. sales figures Tuesday. Total sales fell less than 1 percent to 1.58 million, but primarily because sales for a late-arriving Labor Day weekend will be included in September figures. Labor Day is typically a big sales weekend as dealers hold model year-end clearance sales. Last year the holiday was counted as part of August sales.

    Global figures for August will be released later this month.

    Increasingly confident U.S. consumers are being lured to dealerships by low interest rates, low gas prices and enticing new small SUVs like the Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V despite some angst in the stock market caused by fears of the economic slowdown in China.

    For August, Ford (F) reported a 5 percent gain as sales of its new F-150 gained steam, and Fiat Chrysler's (FCAU) sales rose 2 percent thanks to strong demand for Jeep SUVs. Hyundai's sales were up 3 percent thanks to its new Santa Fe SUV. General Motors' (GM) U.S. sales were flat last month; it saw strong demand for the Chevrolet Silverado pickup but Cadillac sales declined.

    Toyota's (TM) U.S. sales fell 9 percent and Honda's (HMC) sales fell 7 percent, hurt by their car-heavy lineups in a market where buyers want SUVs. Volkswagen's sales dropped 8 percent. Nissan's sales were flat.

    Global Sales

    In Western Europe, car sales have risen for 22 months in a row, coming off a trough caused by the global recession and the debt and financial crisis in the countries that use the euro currency. Sales were up 7 percent through July, according to LMC Automotive.

    Lower European oil prices have put more money in consumer's pockets, and governments have eased austerity cutbacks aimed at reducing debt. But sales in Eastern Europe tumbled 11 percent because of the deteriorating economy in Russia.

    Now there is concern about China, where new vehicle sales fell by unexpectedly wide margins of 3.3 percent in June and 6.6 percent in July. August sales figures should reflect Chinese consumers' reaction to a further 12.5 percent drop in the Shanghai Composite Index.

    Chinese sales growth peaked at 45 percent in 2009, the same year U.S. sales sank to a 30-year low of 10.4 million vehicles. But growth has steadily declined since then. Forecasters who had expected sales to grow 8 percent in China this year recently slashed that to as low as 1.7 percent.

    Slumping sales are likely to force German automakers, which are unusually dependent on sales to China, to issue profit warnings, said Bernstein analyst Max Warburton in an Aug. 27 report.

    If the sales slowdown in China continues, U.S. buyers could eventually see more vehicles imported from China, as automakers try to maximize production at the plants they have built there. Automakers could also shift vehicles planned for China to the U.S., but that could be a challenge because vehicles popular there -- like big sedans -- aren't necessarily popular here.

    "We're in a wait and see mode for China right now," said Akshay Anand, a market analyst with Kelley Blue Book.

    -AP Business writer Joe McDonald contributed to this report from Beijing. AP business writer David McHugh contributed from Frankfurt.


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