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    Elderly woman reading paperwork
    Getty Images
    By Cameron Huddleston

    Do you expect your parents to leave you a financial legacy? Nearly half of working-age Americans assume that they will receive an inheritance that will support them later in life, according to a recent survey by financial services company HSBC.

    Perhaps the bigger question, though, is how to even approach this topic with your parents. "No matter how you look at this, it's such a sensitive issue," said Gwen Morgan, author of the "What If ... Workbook," a guide that helps people give loved ones necessary information if anything happens to them.

    You don't want to appear greedy by asking your parents, "Do I have an inheritance?" But you do need answers to certain questions to ensure that your parents' financial wishes are carried out and there is a smooth transition of wealth and assets. Here's how to approach this touchy subject and get the information you need.

    How to Start the Conversation About Your Inheritance

    The burning question on your mind might be how much money you'll get in your inheritance from your parents. However, you shouldn't ask how much you stand to inherit because the amount can change over your parents' remaining lives, said Chris Blackmon, a certified public accountant with wealth management firm Biggers Blackmon. Plus, you don't want your parents to mistake your question as a sense of entitlement, he said. Instead, you should start by asking your parents about whether they have an estate plan.

    You can say, "I don't want to know the numbers. I just want to be able to follow your instructions out of love," said Saul Simon, a certified financial planner and author of "Simon Says: Love Your Legacy." It's important that your parents know that you want to know what they want if something happens to them, he said.

    A good way to start this conversation is to reference a resource, such as a book or an article you read about the importance of estate planning. You could share what you've learned or offer to let them read the resource themselves.

    Or, you could say that you're doing your own estate planning so that there is no question about who gets what when you're gone, then ask whether your parents have taken any similar steps. "You might even acknowledge how awkward and difficult this conversation is for you as you don't wish their demise but are just trying to figure things out," said Ruth Nemzoff, an expert in family dynamics and author of "Don't Bite Your Tongue."

    If one approach doesn't work, try another. Above all, be respectful and recognize that it could take time, said Simon.

    When to Talk About Your Inheritance Plan

    Both Blackmon and Simon said that the holidays are a good time to address estate planning with your parents if your family will be gathering together. "It is important that all are included and feel equally included," said Blackmon.

    This doesn't mean you should bring up your potential inheritance from your parents at the dinner table right after you ask Mom or Dad to pass the turkey. But, you should take the opportunity when everyone is gathered to start a conversation.

    You'll likely get a better reception from your parents if you let the conversation happen naturally rather than scheduling a time to talk, said Morgan. That's when using a story about your own financial planning or an example of someone's failure to plan can be effective.

    What You Need to Know

    Regardless of the way or when you approach the topic of an inheritance from your parents, the goal of the conversation is to make sure parents have a plan in place so there will be a clear path for whomever is left behind to go forward, Morgan said. Start by finding out whether they have these key legal documents:
    • A will
    • A power of attorney document that designates someone to financial and legal decisions if they are unable to do themselves
    • A living will or health care directive to designate someone to make health care decisions and specify end-of-life care
    Find out where your parents keep these documents and how you can access them if necessary. Also, ask if they have written funeral or burial instructions.

    You also need to ask your parents to provide other important information so you can handle their finances if they are unable to or when they die:
    • Account numbers and passwords
    • Insurance policies and contact information for their insurers
    • Contact information for their accountant, attorney, financial planner or other financial professional
    • Contact information for their retirement plan or pension administrator
    Morgan said most parents won't be willing to provide their children with their account numbers and passwords. So, she recommends that you ask your parents to make a list of accounts or use "The What If ... Workbook" to record important financial information and store it in a fireproof safe in their home along with their Social Security card, passport, deeds and other important documents.

    When Not to Ask About Your Inheritance

    The key to having any conversation about money is establishing trust. You don't want to talk to your parents about their estate if you've recently argued with them or haven't demonstrated to them that you can be financially responsible, said Nemzoff.

    Nor do you want to ask about their finances at times of turmoil, such as the recent drop in the stock market, Morgan said. Your parents might think you're touching on the topic only because you're concerned about whether there will be money left for you.

    This story, How to Talk to Your Parents About Your Inheritance, originally appeared on


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    Businessmen Eating Lunch
    Getty Images
    By Ryan Ermey

    We all love to eat at restaurants with great service and delectable food. But how do you indulge without running up an outrageous tab? This former waiter talked to restaurant owners and industry insiders to find ways to save money.

    Know the margins. Alcohol is notorious for high markups, but fountain sodas are also items for which diners often overpay. "We charge $2.50 for a 20-ounce soda," one owner says. "Even with a free refill, that costs us maybe 20 cents to deliver." Other profit leaders include pasta, salad and egg dishes. The best values in entrees: seafood and steak.

    Sit at the bar. Most restaurant-industry people do that when they eat out. The bartender likely won't try to peddle all the peripheral items, such as sparkling water, appetizers and desserts, that servers push to pad a check. Plus, you may be more comfortable ordering, say, a smattering of appetizers instead of an entree.

    Ask about corkage. Many restaurants will let you bring your own bottle of wine for a fee (typically from $10 at a casual eatery to $50 or more at a high-class restaurant) and some places will uncork your first bottle free. If you drink a Lafite-Rothschild or even a Caymus cabernet, you'll come out ahead. Note that it's bad form to bring a bottle that the restaurant already has on its list. And don't carry in a bottle of bottom-shelf wine or, heaven forbid, a jug.


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    A real estate agent standing by a FOR SALE sign
    By Brian O'Connell

    NEW YORK -- The U.S. real estate market, like most economic sectors, has been buffeted by the zig-zagging stock market, rising energy prices and the uncertainty over whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year, as many experts predict.

    Still, the outlook for the autumn residential real estate market seems robust, according to industry analysts. "Recent stock market volatility and seasonal trends may give buyers better financial options and more time to make purchase decisions entering the fall," says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for "August data remains positive with regard to overall housing health as both demand and supply continue to grow." In particular, Smoke points to an 8 percent rise in domestic median home prices on a year-to-year basis (to $233,000) and shorter "time on the market" for homes (down 6 percent on a year-to-year basis, reports).

    Smoke says buyers and sellers are both trying to find that elusive sweet spot where supply and demand merge in a way where deals are fair to everyone. "This year we [saw] inventory continue to grow in August, and while overall demand is strong, the trend in median days on market is suggesting that the market is finding more of a balance," says Smoke. "This bodes well for would-be buyers who have been discouraged by the inability to find a home to buy this spring and summer."

    Many say that though "balance" is desirable, other sweet spots aren't really all that sweet. "I'm seeing higher-income buyers pulling back and buying smaller, less expensive homes, and lower income buyers reaching too high and buying homes they can't afford," says Rick Thorpe, a Doylestown, Pennsylvania-based mortgage broker. "But I'm busy -- there's no doubt about that."

    Right now the hottest real estate markets in the nation reside largely in two states -- California and Texas. The former has six of the U.S.'s "Top 10" markets (including San Francisco and San Diego), while the latter has two (Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston). The hottest markets in the country are little changed from July, reinforcing the strength of supply and demand demonstrated by each market on the list, says Smoke.

    "Continuing the trend of California domination this year, 11 of the 20 hottest markets this month sit in the Golden State," Smoke says. "California's tight supply and strong economic growth continues to propel its cities to the top month after month."

    Still right now, though, balance and stabilization are buzzwords many industry professionals are using. "The Houston market is normalizing," says Sissy Lappin, co-founder of, in Houston. "We have lost the majority of the transferee market from oil companies, so the market is stabilized." Lappin says sellers need to be flexible, as multiple offers are down, while homes are taking up to 60 days to sell. "The market is not crashing; it's just returning to a normal market. 2014 was crazy and sellers could dictate the price and terms. That's no longer the case."

    In California, and in many other parts of the U.S., fall is known as a "divider" to real estate professionals.

    "That is, when the seasons turn, those who continue to find success are the buyers and sellers who are more motivated to make the transaction, rather than the casual "summer-goers" who "like to go out and see what's on the market as an adventure and go to open houses as a hobby or casually list their homes to see what offers come in," says Virginia Clark, an agent with Carrington Real Estate in Orange, California.

    "Sellers looking to target these more motivated fall buyer need to maintain a "show-ready" home -- free from odors, clutter, laundry on the floor, etc. -- so that when the buyers come in, they can visualize themselves in the house and want to move quickly on the sale," she says.

    That's the ticket, for both buyers and sellers in the U.S. real estate market this autumn. Be aggressive, be ready to pounce, and be determined to cut a good deal -- those are the hallmarks of what looks to be a fairly vibrant market over the next few months.


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    Pickup Surge
    Seth Perlman/AP2012 Ram pickup

    DETROIT -- Fiat Chrysler is recalling more than 1.5 million trucks to fix problems with side-impact and driver's air bags.

    The biggest of two recalls announced Thursday covers 1.35 million Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks and 3500, 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs, mainly in North America. All are from the 2012 through 2014 model years.

    Fiat Chrysler says a company investigation found that some trucks may have steering wheel wires that can wear due to contact with a spring. That can cause a short circuit that could make the driver's side air bags inflate without a crash.

    The company says it knows of two injuries caused by the problem but no crashes. It says an analysis of warranty data found that less than 1 percent of trucks repaired for the problem had air bags that inflated without a crash.

    In some affected trucks, an air bag warning light will come on before there's a problem.

    Dealers will inspect each vehicle, tie off the wiring harness and install protective caps on the springs. The company is now mailing notices to owners telling them about the recall.

    The second recall covers about 188,000 Ram Quad Cab pickups from the 2014 and 2015 model years.

    Fiat Chrysler says the side curtain air bags don't comply with federal regulations that protect rear passengers if the trucks roll over.

    The company says it knows of no crashes, injuries or complaints.

    Owners will be told when they can make an appointment to fix the problem.

    The company says drivers and passengers should wear seat belts in addition to relying on air bags.


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    Eric Risberg/APApple's new iPad Pro is displayed in three different finishes following an Apple event Wednesday.
    This holiday shopping season is shaping up to be the tale of two tablets. Apple (AAPL) introduced the high-end iPad Pro on Wednesday, starting at a steep $799 that goes all the way up to $1,079. (AMZN) is reportedly going the other way, rolling out the cheapest Kindle Fire tablet that it has ever produced, at a mere $50.

    Apple and Amazon aren't merely at opposite ends of the pricing spectrum. As Apple gets bigger -- the iPad Pro measures in at a beefy 12.9 inches -- The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Amazon's $50 tablet will be just 6 inches.

    Now, to be fair, Apple did lower the price of its entry-level iPad mini 2. It will now be available at $269, and some will argue that this is the Apple device that will be competing with Amazon's new bargain-priced device. Either way, with Apple and reportedly Amazon pushing cheaper value-priced gadgetry to market, it's going to be a tempting holiday shopping season for someone in the market for a tablet.

    Breaking the $50 Barrier

    The cheapest Kindle Fire on the market right now will set you back $99. It's also 6 inches, but it's HD. The Wall Street Journal speculates that several aspects including the display, battery life and processor of the $50 tablet will all be inferior and rightfully so: Amazon's already working on razor-thin margins when it comes to hardware.

    However, that $50 price could be the sweet spot for many shoppers. Parents won't have a problem handing a $50 tablet to a toddler when that's less than the price of a single console video game. The low price makes them less likely to be stolen at school for older children.

    A $50 tablet would also open the door for newspaper subsidization that has yet to materialize. The original Kindle hit the market at $399 and no newspaper would dare eat some of that cost by bundling with a discounted subscription. At $50, the options change. It may not be long before your local paper offers you a free Kindle Fire if you commit to a digital subscription of the publication.

    There are also plenty of commercial applications. More restaurants could switch to table-side tablets or even make them available on busy nights to folks waiting for a table. Schools that were set on going iPad next year may be pressed to consider the significantly cheaper Kindle Fire.

    Take Two Tablets and Call Me in the Morning

    The beauty of a $50 tablet is that the product itself will make its way deeper into the mainstream market. That's what Amazon wants. It's never been shy about professing that it would rather make a profit selling digital media than the hardware that plays it.

    Folks stepping up for the cheap Kindle Fire will find themselves drawing closer to the Amazon ecosystem of digital delivery and discounted real-world merchandise. After the flop of its Fire Phone, Amazon needs a hit. It priced its smartphone too high relative to what Apple already had on the market. It won't make the same mistake this time around.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns and recommends and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on the Apple Watch to learn where the real money is to be made for early investors.


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    Unemployment Benefits
    Lynne Sladky/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. labor market appeared to gain momentum in early September as fewer Americans filed for weekly unemployment benefits, but weak inflation pressures may complicate the Federal Reserve's decision whether to raise interest rates.

    Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 275,000 for the week ended Sept. 5, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the 27th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is usually associated with a strengthening labor market.

    The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, ticked up 500 to 275,750 last week.

    "Consistently low readings for initial and continuing jobless claims suggest that the separations side of the labor market remains healthy, and we see little reason to expect a meaningful shift in labor market dynamics in the near term," said Jesse Hurwitz, an economist at Barclays in New York.

    In another report, the Labor Department said import prices fell 1.8 percent last month as the cost of petroleum and a range of goods dropped, after sliding 0.9 percent in July.

    August's drop in import prices was the largest in seven months and suggested a strong dollar and soft global demand continued to put downward pressure on imported inflation. Import prices now have declined in 12 of the last 14 months.

    In the 12 months through August, import prices declined 11.4 percent, the largest drop since September 2009.

    Very low inflation, in the face of a tightening labor market and strengthening economic growth, poses a challenge for the Fed's policy-setting committee, which meets on Sept. 16-17.

    Economists are divided on whether the U.S. central bank will raise rates at that meeting in the wake of recent volatility in global financial markets, which was sparked by fears of slower growth in China and other major emerging markets.

    The Fed hasn't raised rates in nearly a decade.

    "Coming at a time when the Fed is contemplating a lift-off in rates, the weak tone of this report should come as a key reminder to the Fed that the disinflationary impulse is re-emerging," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    U.S. stocks were generally flat, while prices for longer-dated U.S. government debt rose. The dollar was slightly weaker against a basket of currencies.

    Healthy Job Market

    The labor market is tightening rapidly. Job openings are at a record high and the economy has added an average of 221,000 jobs monthly over the past three months, far more than the amount needed to keep up with population growth.

    The unemployment rate, which is at a 7½-year low of 5.1 percent, is within the range that most Fed officials see as consistent with a low but steady rate of inflation. That could bolster expectations that a pick-up in wages will help lift inflation toward the central bank's 2 percent target.

    For now, inflation is trending lower. Last month, imported petroleum prices tumbled 14.2 percent, the biggest drop since January, after falling 5.9 percent in July.

    Import prices excluding petroleum slipped 0.4 percent in August, the eighth consecutive monthly drop.

    That likely reflects the impact of the dollar's 17.5 percent rise against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June 2014. Imported food prices rose modestly last month and prices for capital goods automobiles fell.

    A third report from the Commerce Department showed wholesale inventories fell in July for the first time in nearly two years, a tentative sign that businesses were starting to whittle down a huge stockpile of merchandise that could weigh on production in the second half of the year.


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    Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty ImagesHave an older iPhone model? You're better off upgrading to the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, instead of shelling out for the 6s.
    By Mike Cetera

    The iPhone 6s will almost certainly be one of the best smartphones on the planet when it goes on sale later this month.

    Don't buy it.

    The 6s and its big brother, the 6s Plus, will cram an enormous amount of power into a small space, making for a very, very fast mobile computing experience.

    Don't buy it.

    It will have an improved camera that will capture stunning pictures and video, rich with color and depth. It will incorporate new touch controls that promise to change how you use apps. And the new iPhone will even come in four -- count 'em -- four colors.

    Don't buy it.

    If the gushing passages above haven't made a convincing case that you should shun the latest Apple product, consider these five reasons why you really, truly, definitely should not buy the iPhone 6s -- at least not yet.

    It's not really that much better than previous models.

    Innovation is kind of slowing. It's harder to come up with a sort of whiz-bang, must-have feature that's on a phone.

    When smartphones first hit the market, there were huge technological jumps from one year to the next. For example, the base model second generation iPhone, the 3G, doubled the speed and storage capacity of the first generation model introduced just a year earlier.

    That doesn't happen anymore. Improvements are far more incremental, which means an older model still should suit most users just fine.

    "Innovation is kind of slowing," says Marguerite Reardon, a senior writer with CNET, a tech news and review website. "It's harder to come up with a sort of whiz-bang, must-have feature that's on a phone."

    This is good for consumers, Reardon argues, because it means smartphone owners should no longer feel compelled to replace their phones every two years.

    Speaking of which ...

    You should hold onto your phone longer.

    This applies primarily to people who bought a phone without a contract -- a situation that will become far more common now that wireless carriers have begun moving away from phone subsidies. Those are the "deals" that allow you to take home a phone for as little as $200. But each month you pay for the phone -- even after you've repaid the subsidy -- because the cost is baked into your monthly bill.

    Today, you can pay for the phone in full upfront or on an installment plan. Once the phone is paid off, your monthly bill should become cheaper.

    This move by the carriers is going to retrain consumers, Reardon says, to keep their phones longer. And, if your phone is in working condition, there's no need for you to upgrade.

    "I say hold onto it as long as you possibly can, until it doesn't work anymore," says Reardon, who writes the Ask Maggie column for CNET.

    That means you, too, iPhone 5s owners.

    So your phone is now two generations old. That must mean it's time to retire it, right?

    "The iPhone 5s should run well on iOS 9 [Apple's latest mobile operating system update]," says Louis Ramirez, a senior features writer at DealNews, a bargain-hunting website. "However, your best plan of action is to wait and let others install the new OS on their phones before you install it on yours."

    In other words, let someone else be the guinea pig to make sure iOS 9 works properly on older phones. However, if you absolutely need to buy a new phone, but your budget won't accommodate the 6s, last year's model -- the iPhone 6 -- is "your best bet," Ramirez says.

    And there's good news there, too.

    The iPhone 6 is about to get much cheaper.

    Last year's iPhone was pretty cool. All the hip tech reviewers said so:
    • "The iPhone 6 is an exceptional phone in nearly every way except its average battery life: it's thin, fast and features the excellent iOS operating system. It was the best overall phone introduced in 2014." -CNET
    • "With fast performance, a great display, an elegant new design and a much-needed software update, it's one of the best smartphones you can buy right now." -Engadget
    • "The iPhone 6 is one of the best-built, best-performing smartphones you can buy. You can find a sharper display, you can find a better camera ... you can find better speakers, but you can't find all of them together in such a capable package." -Gizmodo
    Now this phone that everyone raved about is about to land in the discount bin.

    Apple will continue to sell both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and you'll pay $100 less for each model -- $99 and $199 respectively on a two-year contract.

    You'll also be able to find deals on resale websites, particularly now that some iPhone 6 owners are looking to upgrade. The market is about to get flooded with last year's model, says Kendal Perez, a savings expert for

    "There are so many used devices out there," she says. "It's a really great way to save money on smartphones."

    One caveat: Before buying a used or refurbished phone, research the store's return policy and find out what kind of warranty your phone comes with, DealNews' Ramirez says.

    Hey, wait, the iPhone 6s also will get cheaper.

    Apple and the major wireless carriers aren't likely to offer you any deals on the latest and greatest smartphone. But other retailers soon will. If you absolutely must buy the new iPhone, you can save a few bucks by waiting a month or two, Perez says.

    If past practice holds true, Perez says, retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy should start offering a $10 to $20 discount on the iPhone 6s within about a month. Wait even longer and those discounts could grow to $50 to $100, she says.

    Still not convinced that you shouldn't rush to buy an iPhone 6s? In the end, it's your call on whether to upgrade. Just ask yourself if it's necessary.

    "As long as you're able to run the apps that you want at a speed you're comfortable with, that's all that really matters," Ramirez says.

    Mike Cetera is the mobile finance editor for, a personal finance website that provides news and advice to help consumers make informed money decisions.


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    Shoppers Inside A Kmart Store Ahead Of Black Friday Sales
    Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Nathan Layne

    Kmart has expanded its layaway program and dropped a required down payment on a lease-to-own plan, joining other U.S. retailers in trying to get a jump start on grabbing holiday shoppers.

    Kmart, a unit of Sears Holdings (SHLD), started allowing customers to buy in installments with no down payment last week, an option it will offer every day through the end of November.

    During last year's holiday season it limited the no-money-down option to certain weeks, said Jai Holtz, president of financial services at Sears.

    There is absolutely a trend to an earlier holiday. And so we are trying to meet that demand.

    Kmart is also allowing customers to tap its rent-to-own program without a down payment for big-ticket items such as refrigerators and televisions for the first time since it was launched in 2013. The option also runs through the end of November.

    The moves by Kmart come as rivals try to capture holiday business. Walmart Stores (WMT) started its layaway program in late August, two weeks earlier than 2014. The largest Texas supermarket chain, H-E-B, which also sells toys and appliances, has also launched a layaway plan and related promotions.

    "There is absolutely a trend to an earlier holiday. And so we are trying to meet that demand," Sears' Holtz said, noting research by the National Retail Federation showed more than 40 percent of Americans begin holiday shopping prior to October.

    Holtz said toys, electronics and apparel were among the top categories in layaway. While many customers used the program to budget their spending, others use it to store toys that might be discovered by kids if they were in the house, Holtz said.

    The leasing program has a minimum purchase of $69 and ownership can come at a cost. Using a calculator on Kmart's website, a customer seeking to buy an item worth $500 would end up paying $692 to buy out the lease after financing it over five months.

    Holtz said the company had devised early-purchase options at 30, 60 and 90 days that would limit the premium paid over the initial price.

    Similar to Walmart, Kmart's customer base tends to skew toward the lower end of the income scale.

    Holtz said the layaway and leasing program were designed to tap into demand at various income levels.

    "We see a great layaway business in our Beverly Hills Kmart store. This is a program that goes across all demographics," he said.


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    By Cameron Huddleston

    When you're in your 30s, retirement planning is probably not at the forefront of your mind. After all, it's at least 30 years away, and you likely have more immediate concerns, such as paying off student loans, saving for a house or starting a family.

    The earlier you start planning your retirement, however, the better your chances of being able to retire when and how you want. Regardless of your current situation, you should be thinking about your future now and taking steps to secure it. Here are 10 ways you can set your retirement plan in motion.

    This story, 10 Quick Steps to Plan for Retirement in Your 30s, originally appeared on


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended higher Thursday in another day of broad swings as investors showed nervousness ahead of next week's much-anticipated Federal Reserve meeting, but gains in Apple and biotech shares supported the day's advance.

    Apple (AAPL) shares rose 2.2 percent to $112.57, rebounding from losses the day before when the iPhone and iPad maker unveiled new offerings.

    It's this tug of war, and that gives big moves going both ways at the moment. Obviously investors are very unsettled with regard to their conviction.

    Biotech also boosted the market, with Gilead (GILD) up 3.3 percent at $107.25, giving the second-biggest boost to the S&P 500 and Nasdaq after Apple. The Nasdaq biotechnology index was up 1.9 percent.

    The day's gains follow Wednesday's 1 percent market decline and weeks of volatility largely tied to worries about a slowdown in Chinese growth and its impact on the global economy. Investors also have been nervous about next week's Fed meeting and whether the central bank will decide to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

    "It's this tug of war, and that gives big moves going both ways at the moment. Obviously investors are very unsettled with regard to their conviction," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

    "It certainly doesn't seem as though we have a groundswell of demand coming into stocks that can push the market up significantly."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 76.83 points, or 0.5 percent, to 16,330.4, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 10.25 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,952.29 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 39.72 points, or 0.8 percent, to 4,796.25.

    Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, led by the health care, up 0.9 percent, and technology, up 1 percent.

    Adding to uncertainty surrounding the Fed's next meeting, data showed the U.S. labor market appeared to gain momentum in early September as fewer Americans filed for weekly unemployment benefits, while another report showed import prices fell last month.

    Influential fund manager David Tepper of Appaloosa Management told CNBC that corporate earnings may not rise as much as expected and he wasn't overly bullish on stocks next year.

    Notable Losers

    Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (KKD) fell 11.7 percent to $15.65, a day after the doughnut chain cut its 2016 profit forecast.

    Also, shares of Avon Products (AVP) fell 9.5 percent to $4.10, reversing earlier gains. The Wall Street Journal reported the company was in talks with private equity firms about an investment through a stake sale in the struggling company.

    Lululemon Athletica (LULU) was down 16.4 percent at $53.54. The yogawear retailer's gross margins continue to be under pressure as it spends more on product development and sourcing.

    NYSE advancing issues outnumbered declining ones 1,623 to 1,398, for a 1.16-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,656 issues rose and 1,155 fell for a 1.43-to-1 ratio favoring advancers. The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 1 new 52-week high and 8 lows; the Nasdaq recorded 28 new highs and 62 lows.

    About 6.8 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 8.1 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Friday:
    • Kroger (KR) reports quarterly financial results before U.S. markets open.
    • The Labor Department releases the Producer Price Index for August at 8:30 a.m.
    • The University of Michigan releases its initial survey of consumer sentiment for September at 10 a.m.
    • The Treasury Department releases federal budget for August at 2 p.m.


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    Get Multiple Uses Out of Hair Conditioner
    Hair conditioner can do more than just soften your hair. It can soften your spending, too.

    Instead of shelling out cash at the dry cleaners, use hair conditioner to wash your favorite silk shirt at home. Simply fill the sink with water and add a tablespoon of conditioner. Next, immerse the shirt in the water and let it sit.

    The hair conditioner will soften your shirt more than regular detergent. After about five minutes, rinse the shirt and hang it up to dry. You just saved yourself time and money.

    Hair conditioner is also great at preventing rust. Just apply a light coat to things that are exposed to moisture like door hinges or bathroom faucets and it'll keep the rust away.

    So remember, a little bit of hair conditioner can help cut your spending in a big way.

    View Poll


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    Hand drawing Business Goals Chart with marker on transparent wipe board.
    Ivelin Radkov/AlamyThinking big helps you spend small.
    By Karen Cordaway

    In a recent survey on back-to-school promotions, the National Retail Federation revealed coupons, in-store promotions and advertising inserts still carry the most sway when it comes to shopping for back-to-school. If you're tech savvy, maybe you're guilty of liking every coupon website page on Facebook. Perhaps, you even get a 140-character dose of the latest deal updates on Twitter to stay current on sales.

    Whether shopping this time of year, for the holidays or any other time, ask yourself, does social media cause you to spend less when purchasing necessities or more? After all of this effort, if shopping still tends to throw a monkey wrench in goals for spending while at the store, consider forming new shopping habits. Instead of chasing every discount, consider linking your shopping to dream-based goals.

    No matter what new habit you're looking to reinforce, Tom Corley, author of the bestselling book, "Rich Habits" and soon-to-be released book, "Change Your Habits, Change Your Life," emphasizes creating habits around meaningful goals.

    Through his research, Corley discovered the reason why most people fail to achieve their goals. He explains that it's largely due to the goal-setting process. "In order to develop meaningful goals, goals you want to pursue, you need to create those goals around your dreams and wishes. So, the starting point to goal-setting is dream-setting," he says. Here are some tips:

    1. Take your budget along for the trip. Dorethia Conner, financial coach, author of the book "Money Chat" and website owner at, understands traps that people fall into while shopping. She encourages her clients that use spreadsheets to print their budgets out and bring them on the trip to help them stick to their budget.

    She explains that they can fold them up and keep them in their wallets, so they'll have a concrete, visual reminder to cue the new habit of only spending what they can afford when they go to reach for their money. Conner adds that crossing out the former amount and subtracting what you just purchased right then is vital, too. Updating the total keeps you from estimating in your head and potentially spending more than you planned. This approach is especially helpful if you need to head to another store. "It holds them accountable to themselves and helps stop impulse purchases," she explains.

    2. Take time to get a discount even before you shop. Radio and web producer Joel Larsgaard for the Clark Howard Show and website owner at also makes it a habit to keep a budget and emphasizes that not going over is key. After checking it, he makes an effort to maximize his dollars on a regular basis. Larsgaard suggests buying a discounted gift card to get anticipated purchases for less. He adds that choosing stores where you often shop from a site like can work to your wallet's advantage. You get the gift card at a discount so you are spending less before you even begin to shop. If you purchase an item on sale, you can stack the discount.

    3. Take advantage of discounts where you shop on a regular basis. Larsgaard makes it a habit to buy gift cards when he knows he's about to make a big purchase. "For instance, I just bought some new windows for my rental home and I knew roughly what I was going to spend. So I bought a discounted gift card and saved an additional $45 on my purchase," he says.

    4. Take a look at what you have before buying clothes. Kathleen Celmins, website owner at, makes a clean sweep before shopping for clothes. She strongly believes that you shouldn't go shopping until you have cleared out room in your closet. She thinks this will give you a clearer picture of what you actually need. "You'll be motivated by that instead of being swayed by the more expensive fashions the store is trying to get you to buy," she says. This approach can also be applied to grocery shopping or stocking up on any other items needed for your household. Shop your pantry first. I don't know how many times we've purchased duplicate items unnecessarily.

    5. Take a minute to shop online if it stops you from overspending. Though there are certain things I have to get in-store, I personally find it easier to keep better tabs on what I'm spending when I shop online. I can more readily click away from flashy sales and keep myself in the sections where I need to shop. I don't get lured into looking at items I wasn't intending to buy. I can also check in on my subtotal whenever I like to see where I stand without needing a calculator at a store. I find that I tend to be more efficient and can cut back on my shopping time.

    Smart spending patterns can be established with a little planning and practice. Use these tips to better guide your spending when planning a shopping trip. Find a way to link your habits and purchases to dream-based goals so you're more likely to succeed. Remembering the big picture can help you avoid buying impulsively or overspending.

    Karen Cordaway is a teacher and writer who currently shares money saving tips on her website,


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    Used Furniture Store
    Getty ImagesShop secondhand to save money on essentials for your first apartment or house.
    By Trent Hamm

    There is great joy to be found when moving into your first apartment or your first home. You finally have space all to yourself. You can decorate how you want! You can spend your time how you want!

    Sadly, that initial burst of joy is often deflated by the realization that you need a lot of little things when you first move into a place of your own. For many people, that means an online shopping spree on Amazon or a trip to the local department store.

    Instead, consider making your first stop the local secondhand store. Many of the items you need to set up an apartment or a home for the first time or in a new area can be found at a secondhand shop, which means you'll cut back on that big burst of spending that can really hurt your wallet.

    Here are nine items to purchase secondhand for your new place.

    Silverware is a requirement for eating food at home without making a complete mess. Fortunately, most secondhand stores have a selection of silverware on hand. You might not have perfect matching silverware, but you'll have more than enough for your needs at an inexpensive price.

    Dishes are also a dining necessity. Again, it's easy to find plenty of plates and bowls at a secondhand store for a pittance, though you may not find a matching set. Still, you're far better off buying two or three partial sets for pennies than shelling out the money for a single matching set from a store.

    Glasses and cups for consuming beverages are another household essential that's perfect for a secondhand purchase. As with silverware and dishes, you'll likely not find a matching set, but what you will find are many cups and glasses to fill your cupboards at an inexpensive price.

    A toaster or toaster oven both perform the task of toasting bread, bagels, English muffins and other such items. A toaster oven goes further, making it easy to make grilled sandwiches and cook small items. Both can easily be found at secondhand stores in working order and can make for a valuable addition to your kitchen to help you with food preparation.

    Lamps are simple items that are often found in abundance at secondhand stores. All varieties of lamps, from desk lamps and floor lamps to clip lamps and table lamps, can usually be found secondhand at a very reasonable price.

    A dining table is an essential piece of furniture in most apartments, as it provides a place to eat and share meals. You can often find simple dining tables at most secondhand stores, and they often come with simple, solid chairs. The key thing to remember is you can buy an inexpensive starter set, and then upgrade later when you have money to easily do so.

    A side table is often a key part of a living room, providing a place to put a beverage, snack plate or remote controls as you watch TV, study or read a book. Side tables can be incredibly inexpensive; it's easy to find one secondhand for well under $10.

    A bed frame is a key piece of furniture for those who have moved beyond the "mattress on the floor" style of bedroom decor. Bed frames can be expensive if you purchase them at a furniture store, but there are often many varieties of metal and wooden bed frames you can find at secondhand stores if you shop around. It's important to remember that bed frames are purely functional items meant to be covered with a mattress and other decorative materials, so don't worry about beauty.

    Decor might seem like an unusual item to buy secondhand, but it's easy to find things such as picture frames and wall hangings in secondhand stores, particularly in more upscale neighborhoods. If you're creative, you can find a variety of decor items at a very nice discount.

    One final suggestion: Don't buy used furniture unless it comes from a trusted source. Used furniture can be a source of bedbugs or other unwanted travelers that you simply don't want in your home. Solid wood items are fine, but be wary of upholstered used furniture.

    The thing to always remember when buying secondhand items is that they're replaceable as time goes on. They can serve you for a long time if needed, but they simply provide an inexpensive and functional solution that can significantly trim the costs of setting up a new home.

    Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.


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    By Jessica Hulett

    There's a reason disposable cleaning products like wipes and sponges are so popular -- they make keeping your home fresh and shiny much easier.

    But they also often come with a higher price tag than that of their more laborious counterparts. Naturally everyone can decide to pay a premium for convenience, but it's still important to be aware of how much we're actually spending on that convenience.

    We looked at some popular cleaning products to illustrate just how much they'll cost over the course of a year, and some less expensive -- and more sustainable -- alternatives. We searched grocery stores, drugstores, and big box stores to determine a "standard price" that you're likely to pay, and estimated how much a typical consumer would use in a year.

    So, are these disposable cleaning products worth your money?


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    woman lying in bed sleepless at ...
    By Brian O'Connell

    NEW YORK -- Halloween is still six weeks away, but Americans don't need a horror-themed holiday to mull over some frights on the personal financial front.

    Having enough money for retirement, covering college costs, stashing enough cash away for long-term care -- all, and more, are issues that can keep average Americans up at night.

    The financial news and advice website has broken the money "scare factor" down into a list of the financial issues that are both the biggest frights, and the biggest priorities, for U.S. adults.

    As part of the site's 2015 Life + Money survey, here are some of the most troubling financial factors keeping U.S. consumers pacing the floor at 3 a.m.
    • Always living paycheck to paycheck is the No. 1 financial fear of Americans today, followed by living in debt "forever."
    • 20 percent of people say their biggest money challenge is "sticking to a budget."
    • 20 percent of Americans say "planning for retirement is their primary financial focus."
    • More women than men say their "number one" thought is money.
    • Men are more afraid than women of "losing money in the stock market, losing their jobs and not being able to retire."
    • Women are "more fearful" of always living paycheck to paycheck than men (25 percent vs. 18 percent).
    • Planning for retirement is "more of a financial challenge for men than it is for women "(20 percent vs. 17 percent).
    An interesting takeaway from that study, and from conversations the MainStreet recently had with other financial industry professionals, is that fear actually extends out over the long term, with retirement and long-term medical care huge, anxiety-provoking issues among U.S. adults.

    "The biggest fears I see include having to rely on your kids to support you in your old age and having to live in a dirty, dark nursing home," says Laurie Itkin, a San Diego, California-based financial adviser and founder of the financial advice website The Options Lady. "You'd also have to include losing everything in a divorce, and having to sell your home at a loss because you need the money."

    Katherine Gauthier, a Baton Rouge, Lousiana, single mother has both short-and long-term financial fears that any single parent can relate to. "At the top of my list is catastrophic illness, or an injury of my child or myself that demands all of my income and restricts my ability to earn," she says. "As a single parent, there's always the threat of discovering yet more unknown debt that my ex left me ultimately responsible for by defaulting, as Louisiana is a community property state."

    "I never forget that I am one downsizing move or one car accident away from losing financial stability -- that's my reality," Gauthier adds.

    Medical care that could drain a bank or retirement account, even for consumers with health care coverage, is also a common fear among average Americans. "Everyone says the biggest fear is outliving their money, but that's not true," says Alan N. Canton, founder of A.N. Canton Insurance Services, in Fair Oaks, California.

    If people have to live on half of what they have now, they do adjust -- they become vegetarians or move to city where no car is needed, or relocate to a place where the cost of living is low, Canton says. "The real fear is that people will get sick and lose all of their money to the medical system and end up on welfare," he adds. "Sure, they have Medicare, but many don't find out until it is too late that Medicare does not pay 100 percent of everything, and that there are some major gaps."

    Losing a job and having to find a new one, especially at an older age, also haunts Main Street Americans. "Being unable to find a job after being dismissed from one is a big threat," says William L. Seavey, owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Cambria, California. "Older workers are not likely to be able to play the new social media game well when it comes to job seeking."

    Clearly, bogeymen living under your bed are no match for the real financial fear factors in regular Americans' lives -- not having enough cash in retirement, the inability to pay for medical care, and loss of a job, among others. With Halloween now on the horizon, those are the income issues real nightmares are made of.


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    iPhone 5 Launch
    Nati Harnik/AP

    NEW YORK -- Each year, Apple dazzles its devoted fans with faster, sleeker, more powerful iPhones with better cameras and a bevy of bells and whistles. So, what's to become of last year's model?

    Instead of sentencing it to a lonely existence in a desk drawer, there are plenty of ways to reuse, recycle or resell older phones. Here are a few:

    Donate to Charity

    Several charities accept old phones for donation, though it's worth remembering that these groups probably won't physically give your old phones to people in need. Rather, they work with phone recyclers and sell your donated phones to them.

    A nonprofit group called Cell Phones for Soldiers will take your "gently used" phone and sell it to a recycling company. It will then use the proceeds to buy international calling cards for soldiers so they can talk to their loved ones back home.

    The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence works in a similar manner. About 60 percent of the phones it collects are refurbished and resold. The money goes toward supporting the coalition. The remaining 40 percent of the phones are recycled, according to the group's website. It pays for shipping if you are mailing three or more phones. The group also accepts other electronics such as laptops, video game systems and digital cameras.

    $ell for $ome Ca$h

    You can always join the eBay (EBAY) hordes and sell your phone on the site for a few hundred bucks, if you are lucky. There will likely be a flood of the gadgets soon after people start getting their new phones, so it might make sense to wait a little.

    There are also plenty of other options. A company called Gazelle will make an offer for your old phone based on its condition, your phone carrier and other information. For example, a 64 gigabyte iPhone 6 on AT&T (T) in good condition (no cracks, major scratches or scuffs, turns on and makes calls), would get you $305 this week. The same phone on Sprint (S), meanwhile, would rake in $220. also offers to help you resell your old phone. A recent check showed the same iPhone, with charger included, getting you $376.10 -- provided there is a buyer.

    Trade In for Something Else

    Apple will give you store credit for old devices that you can then use for new gadgets. You can do this in a retail store or online, where you'll get an estimate before mailing in your phone. An online check for the phone above yielded an estimated $325 Apple Store gift card this week.

    The video game retailer GameStop (GME), meanwhile, offers cash or store credit for old iPhones (along with iPods and iPads).

    Reuse, Repurpose

    Even without cellular service, you old phone will be able to get on Wi-Fi, so you can use it to stream music, post on Facebook (FB) or do pretty much anything else you want provided you are in Wi-Fi range. Keep it for yourself, or load it up with kid-friendly apps and games and hand it down to your children.


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    Producer Prices
    Stephan Savoia/APWorkers at athletic shoemaker New Balance's manufacturing facility in Boston.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer sentiment hit its lowest in a year in early September and producer prices were flat in August, signaling moderate economic growth and tame inflation that could weigh on the Federal Reserve's decision whether to hike interest rates next week.

    The slump in consumer sentiment and persistently weak inflation reported Friday are in stark contrast with a tightening labor market. Sentiment was likely undermined by recent stock market volatility amid worries over China's slowing economy, while a strong dollar is dampening price pressures.

    "The sharp deterioration in consumer confidence and the re-emergence of the disinflationary thrust in goods prices will factor prominently in the Fed's deliberations next week, and both are likely to add to the case for caution as they consider raising rates," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    The University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index fell to 85.7 early this month, the lowest since September last year, from a reading of 91.9 in August.

    The survey's gauge of consumer expectations also dropped to a one-year low, as households expected slower growth overseas to hit the U.S. economy. Consumers' expectations for current and future personal finances also took a knock.

    But even as households took a dim view of the economy's outlook, there were only mild declines in sentiment towards motor vehicle and home purchases.

    "We look to the final September survey results for any evidence of significant pass-through from weaker sentiment to actual purchasing activity, but expect robust income and job growth to outweigh these factors in actual consumption data," said Jesse Hurwitz, an economist at Barclays in New York.

    In a separate report, the Labor Department said its producer price index was unchanged in August after gaining 0.2 percent in July. The drag on producer prices from lower crude oil prices and a buoyant dollar was offset by an increase in margins for apparel, footwear and accessories retailing.

    In the 12 months through August, the PPI fell 0.8 percent after a similar decline in July. It was the seventh straight 12-month decrease in the index.

    Fed's Conundrum

    The ebb in consumer sentiment and benign price pressures despite a rapidly tightening labor market pose a dilemma for Fed officials who are contemplating raising rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

    Though job openings are at a record high and the unemployment rate is at a 7½-year low, wage gains have been lackluster. Tepid wage growth and dollar strength have combined to keep inflation well below the Fed's 2 percent target.

    The U.S. central bank's policy-setting committee meets Sept. 16-17. The likelihood of a lift-off in the Fed's benchmark overnight interest rate has been diminished by recent financial market turbulence.

    Stocks on Wall Street were trading lower on the data. Investor sentiment was also hurt after Goldman Sachs said crude oil prices could fall to as low as $20 a barrel, citing oversupply and concerns over China's economy.

    The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies and prices for U.S. government debt rose.

    Producer inflation is likely to remain muted in the near term after a report Thursday showed import prices fell 1.8 percent in August, the largest drop since January.

    The index for final goods fell 0.6 percent last month, with a 7.7 percent decline in gasoline prices accounting for nearly two-thirds of the drop. There also were decreases in the cost of jet fuel, grains, light motor trucks, and iron and steel scrap.

    The volatile trade services component, which mostly reflects profit margins at retailers and wholesalers, shot up 0.9 percent in August after rising 0.4 percent in the prior month.

    Almost half of the increase in August was attributed to a 7 percent surge in margins for apparel, footwear and accessories retailing.

    A key measure of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services edged up 0.1 percent in August after rising 0.2 percent in July.

    The dollar's 17.5 percent rise against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June 2014 is restraining gains in the so-called core PPI. Core PPI was up 0.7 percent in the 12 months through August.

    -Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss contributed reporting from New York.


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    Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty ImagesEddie Cue, senior vice president of Internet software and services for Apple, speaks Wednesday during a media event in San Francisco.
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the world's largest consumer electronics company introducing plenty of shiny new gadgetry and a once high-flying yoga apparel retailer stumbling in its latest quarter.

    Apple (AAPL) -- Winner

    Wall Street wasn't impressed with Apple's iPhone 6s event Wednesday. The stock actually fell on the day. However, Apple had one of its more productive media events in some time. It obviously introduced the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus with an upgraded processor, camera and display. It also introduced an updated Apple TV, the iPad pro and nifty $99 stylus to go with the new high-end tablet.

    Apple also launched a clever in-house iPhone upgrade program, taking what many wireless carriers are doing but making it its own. It was a great day for Apple to shine, even if the stock chart says otherwise.

    Lululemon Athletica (LULU) -- Loser

    If quarterly reports were yoga positions, the latest financials out of Lululemon would have to be a downward-facing dog. Shares of the high-end yoga apparel retailer took a hit Thursday after it posted a rough report.

    Sales were weak, margins contracted, and inventory levels ballooned. The spike in inventory suggests that Lululemon is going to have to do some discounting to get its merchandise stock down to a reasonable level. The chain also lowered its fiscal guidance.

    Stephen Colbert -- Winner

    David Letterman's replacement at CBS (CBS) is off to a strong start. Stephen Colbert took over Tuesday as host of "Late Show," drawing 6.6 million viewers. That may not seem like a lot of homes tuning in, but keep in mind that it was more than twice the viewership of any rival's late-night audience. It was also three times what Letterman himself drew a year earlier and a lot more than Colbert was drawing at Comedy Central.

    The real challenge here is to see if he can keep it going. That's no easy task in the competitive late-night market, but at least Colbert and CBS are kicking things off the right way.

    United Continental (UAL) -- Loser

    There's turbulence at a major air carrier. United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek resigned this week. Given the federal probe surrounding the airline's dealings with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, it isn't a surprise.

    Moving on could be seen as a smart move, but the abrupt departure leaves investors with even more questions and doubts about the situation.

    Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) -- Winner

    Sales of Keurig's single-cup brewers may have peaked -- judging by the surprising dip in sales in its most recent quarter -- so Keurig Green Mountain is turning to a new brew. Keurig is teaming up with Campbell Soup (CPB) to roll out soups that come in the form of K-Cups, just like Keurig coffee, tea and hot cocoa. The brewed broth is accompanied with packets that are stirred in containing noodles, spices and other garnishes.

    The partnership is old news: It was originally announced two years ago. However, the new Campbell soups will improve the value proposition of owning a Keurig. It's not just about morning beverages anymore, justifying the initial investment for the brewer.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Keurig Green Mountain. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Apple and Lululemon Athletica. The Motley Fool recommends Keurig Green Mountain. 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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    closeup portrait business woman ...
    By Ellen Chang

    NEW YORK -- Student loan borrowers can expect the interest rates of their current private loans to rise slightly once the Federal Reserve increases rates.

    Although it is uncertain how much the Fed plans to hike interest rates, many experts have said they believe it will be 0.25 percent. While some experts still predict the rate hike won't take place until 2016, others say a hike could still occur this fall. The good news is that the majority of borrowers will only see a minimal increase in their monthly payments unless a particular graduate borrowed larger amounts.

    "A potential Fed rate increase of 0.25 percent wouldn't have much of an impact on the monthly payment for the average student loan borrower," said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

    Students do not react to rate changes the way auto or homebuyers might, because their needs are more static.

    The interest rates of federal student loans don't change during the duration of a loan. Individuals who took out a private loan with a fixed interest rate won't have to worry about having to pay extra either.

    Borrowers who took out a private student loan with a variable interest rate should expect an increase in rates and their monthly payment, because the variable rate is tied to the prime rate, said Jason Vasquez, a spokesman for Wells Fargo (WFC), the San Francisco-based financial institution.

    Interest rate increases are never favorable for the borrower whether they are student loans or credit cards, said Raj Rajan, CEO of Ceannate, a Rolling Meadows, Illinois, company that works with the U.S. Department of Education on student loan and default issues. Graduates can look into plans which offer a reduction in monthly payment amounts, he said.

    "Students do not react to rate changes the way auto or homebuyers might, because their needs are more static," he said.

    Refinancing Loans

    Refinancing current student loans is another option since the amount students are borrowing to pay for their four-year undergraduate college degrees in escalating across all income groups. The current low interest rates are also an advantage for graduates considering refinancing.

    Many private lenders including Wells Fargo also offer modification programs based on employment status, salary amount or other variables, said Vasquez. "Wells Fargo customers who find themselves having difficulty making their monthly payments as a result of the change in the interest rate can contact us to see if they qualify for the modification program," he said. Private student loan lenders determine the interest rate a borrower will pay based on his credit score, said Andrew Hopkins, vice president of Discover Student Loans, based in Riverwoods, Illinois. Although variable rates can be a good option, because the rates are lower than fixed ones, they tend to rise during the term of the loan.

    "Unlike federal student loans, the interest rate is not the same for every borrower," he said. "Students applying with a creditworthy cosigner may receive a lower interest rate."

    The variable rates for Discover's range from 2.99 percent APR to 9.12 percent APR or the three-month Libor plus 2.62 percent to the three-month Libor plus 8.74 percent. The unknown factor with variable rates is that the three-month Libor rate could increase due to market condition, Hopkins said.

    Advantages of Fixed Rate Loans

    The fixed rates at Discover range from 5.99 percent APR to 11.49 percent APR, also depending on the credit score of the borrower.

    Fixed rate loans give borrowers "a sense of stability" because the monthly payment amount is never altered unless the individual choses a period of deferment or forbearance, he said.

    Benefits of Variable Rates

    The advantage of variable interest rates is that they start lower than fixed interest rates, but the majority are likely to increase over the life of the loan, Hopkins said.

    "While a variable rate loan can help save money as rates drop, the reverse is possible when market conditions send the prime rate up," said McClary. "Variable rate student loans are considered most beneficial to consumers when the trend indicates decreasing interest rates while fixed rate loans are the preferred option when rates are on the increase."


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    Budget Deficit
    Andrew Harnik/AP

    WASHINGTON -- The federal government ran up a much smaller budget deficit in August than a year ago, remaining on track to record the smallest annual deficit in eight years.

    The Treasury Department said Friday that the deficit in August totaled $64.4 billion, a drop of 50 percent from the same month a year ago.

    Much of that improvement reflected quirks in timing related to the calendar. Some $42 billion in August benefit payments were made in July because Aug. 1 fell on a Saturday.

    Through the first 11 months of this budget year ending Sept. 30, the deficit is running 10 percent below last year's level. The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that the deficit for the full year will drop to $426 billion, down 11.8 percent from the previous year as a stronger economy brings in more tax revenue.

    The 2014 deficit was an improvement from a deficit of $679.5 billion in 2013. For the four years before 2013, the deficit ballooned to annual deficits above $1 trillion, reflecting a deep recession that cut into tax revenues and expanded government spending on such programs as unemployment benefits and a stimulus package aimed at jump-starting growth.

    Through the first 11 months of this year, government revenues total $2.88 trillion, up 8 percent from the same period a year ago. Government spending over the past 11 months is up 4.8 percent to $3.41 trillion.

    The CBO's forecast of a 2015 deficit of $426 billion would be the lowest imbalance since the deficit stood considerably lower at $160.7 billion in 2007.

    The huge deficits over the past eight years pushed the national debt up to a current level of $18.1 trillion, $25 million below the current debt limit set by Congress. Since March, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has been employing emergency measures to keep the government from going over the debt limit.

    In a letter to Congress on Thursday, Lew estimated that the emergency measures he is now employing will last until late October or possibly into early November. He urged Congress to move to increase the debt limit to avoid the brinksmanship that occurred in August 2011 when a standoff over raising the debt limit prompted the first-ever downgrade of the nation's credit rating by Standard & Poor's.

    Republicans in the House Ways and Means Committee passed legislation this week which supporters said would take the threat of an unprecedented default by the United States on its debt obligations off the table. The bill would allow the government to keep borrowing to pay investors in Treasury bonds as well as Social Security recipients. Federal workers and retirees, soldiers and veterans would not get paid until the debt limit was raised.

    All Democrats on the committee voted against the measure, and the Obama administration has rejected a piecemeal approach to meeting the government's obligations. The bill now goes to the full House.

    In addition to facing a fall deadline for raising the debt limit, Congress also faces an Oct. 1 deadline for approving a budget for the start of a new budget year. Without a new budget, portions of the government would be forced to shut down until the spending impasse is resolved. The last partial government shutdown lasted for 16 days in October 2013.


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