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    Amazon Cheap Tablet
    Eric Risberg/AP
    By MAE ANDERSON

    NEW YORK -- Amazon will stop allowing the sale of Google and Apple video-streaming devices on its site as it focuses on its own Prime Instant Video streaming service.

    Prime Video has become an important part of Amazon's $99 annual Prime loyalty membership program. The video-streaming devices sold on the site should be able to work with Prime Video, the company said Thursday.

    It's important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.

    "It's important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion," the Amazon said.

    Along with Amazon's Fire TV, the site will still sell other companies' video-streaming devices that are compatible with Prime Video, including Roku, Xbox and PlayStation. But Apple TV and Google's Chromecast won't be sold.

    Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple Inc. (AAPL) didn't immediately respond to requests for comment

    Seattle-based Amazon has been rapidly expanding its Prime Video Service, including recently inked deals to stream NBCUniversal's critically acclaimed drama "Mr. Robot" and a multiyear licensing agreement with CBS.

    Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) shares ended Thursday trading up $8.83, or 1.7 percent, to $520.72.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK -- The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed slightly higher Thursday in a choppy start to the fourth quarter as investors waited for the monthly U.S. jobs report and the quarterly earnings season.

    After starting with a brief rally, stocks fell before edging up again after the latest in a spate of volatile trading days for an equities market where rallies quickly evaporate amid uncertainty about the global economy and U.S. interest rates.

    [U]nless we get a lousy jobs number tomorrow I think the Fed is going to be on the hook to explain themselves if they're not going to raise.

    Many investors were holding fire ahead of Friday's crucial U.S. nonfarm payrolls data and the third-quarter earnings season, which starts Oct. 8 with Alcoa's (AA) report.

    "We're going to get a number investors can sink their teeth into [Friday] and next week kicks off earnings season which is vitally important to the direction of stocks for the rest of the year," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.

    The jobs number should give investors reassurance about the U.S. economy and clues as to whether the Federal Reserve will raise U.S. interest rates this month, according to Ablin.

    "The Fed is fixated on jobs and its ability to throttle inflation. Meanwhile, unless we get a lousy jobs number tomorrow I think the Fed is going to be on the hook to explain themselves if they're not going to raise," he said.

    Data released Thursday showed that the pace of growth at U.S. factories slowed in September, but new jobless claims pointed to a tightening labor market.

    Earlier in the day, data from China showed factory activity fell again, but not as much as feared.

    The market has been jittery about signs of slowing global economic growth, especially in China.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 12.69 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,272.01, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 3.79 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,923.82 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 6.92 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,627.08.

    Half of the S&P's 10 industry sectors closed higher led by a 1 percent rise for materials and a 0.9 percent rise for health care. Both sectors had their third straight day of gains after a recent bout of selling.

    The utilities index's fell 1.2 percent after rising 2.6 percent in September when nervous investors preferred more defensive sectors in a shaky market.

    Energy Slips

    Oil prices settled lower Thursday after altered weather forecasts snuffed out an early rally. Fears a hurricane could damage East Coast oil installations had lifted energy stocks earlier in the day.

    Shares of Twitter (TWTR) fell 8.4 percent to $24.68, after a report that co-founder and interim Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey was expected to be named permanent CEO.

    Dunkin' Brands (DNKN) fell 12.2 percent to $43 after it gave a weak full-year forecast and said it would shut 100 stores.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,733 to 1,262, for a 1.37-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,774 issues fell and 952 advanced for a 1.86-to-1 ratio favoring decliners. The S&P 500 posted four new 52-week highs and 27 lows; the Nasdaq recorded 13 new highs and 169 lows.

    More than 7.54 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, slightly ahead of the 7.25 billion average for the previous 20 sessions, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Abhiram Nandakumar and Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting from Bangalore.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Labor Department releases employment data for September at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Commerce Department releases factory orders for August at 10 a.m.

     

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    I'm worth way more than that! Unhappy woman with banknote
    iStockphoto/Getty Images
    Financial rules of thumb have their place. They can help remove the complexity from financial decisions we have to make. Relying on them blindly, however, can be a costly mistake. In fact, some rules of thumb are flat out wrong in many cases.

    Here are five of them to watch out for as you make your next big financial move.

    1. Pay off debt before saving for retirement. I cringe every time I hear this one. It's sad to see families toiling away for what can be years paying down debt while ignoring retirement savings. Watching them is like watching a movie where everybody but the heroine knows the bad guy is lurking behind the door. And If they are foregoing a company match with their 401(k), they might as well just peek behind that door and get it over with.

    Debt, particularly consumer debt, creates financial hardships. And getting out of debt is an important goal. But ignoring all other financial goals in the process is rarely the best option. Instead, guard your credit score, refinance debt to the lowest interest rates possible, and begin saving for retirement as part of a comprehensive, holistic approach to your finances.

    2. Spend three times your income on a home. It's been said that you can buy a home that costs roughly three times your family income. This rule of thumb is generally accurate. With reasonably good credit and a down payment most can qualify for a mortgage of 2½ to three times their income. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Being house poor feels as suffocating as a packed elevator stuck between floors. Trust me, I've been there.

    Rather than going "all in" with a house, save a bit longer for a bigger down payment. Scale back your desire for a McMansion and work to keep your housing costs at no more than 20 percent of your income. And remember, asking a mortgage broker how much you can afford is like asking a barber if you need a haircut.

    3. Pay off your smallest debt first. This old chestnut has sometimes wrongly been referred to as the "debt snowball." The debt snowball has nothing to do with what order you pay off your debts. Rather, it refers to paying the same amount each month even as your minimum payments go down. By doing so, you get out of debt faster than if you paid just the monthly minimum payments. Be that as it may, many now refer to the debt snowball as paying off your smallest debt first regardless of the interest rate.

    The theory is that paying off one debt quickly will help motivate folks to stay on track. There may be some truth to this for some people. The problem is that it can be very costly, depending on your other debts and interest rates. Rather than mindlessly paying off the smallest debt first regardless of the interest rate, figure out just how much this approach will cost you. It's easy to do with a free calculator such as unbury.me.

    Armed with actual numbers, you can then make the best choice for you. (Spoiler alert: it's almost always paying off the highest interest rate debts first.)

    4. Own your age in bonds. This rule of thumb is intended to help investors create an investment strategy. The most significant asset allocation decision one makes is how much to invest in stocks and how much in bonds. With the "own your age in bonds" rule of thumb, a 30 year old would stash 70 percent in stocks and 30 percent in bonds. At age 50 the bond allocation would rise to 50 percent. I'm not sure what the centenarians among us would do (perhaps leverage a 100 percent bond portfolio).

    This investment approach is easy to apply, and that brings to an end the good things we can say about it. The problem is that stocks have historically returned significantly more than bonds. Further, the investing horizon of somebody who is 30 isn't significantly different than somebody who is 50. They both have more than a decade before retirement.

    A better approach for long term investors (10 years or more) is a portfolio tilted toward equities. A portfolio of 75 percent equities or more is a good starting point, so long as you can stick to the plan during bear markets.

    5. Credit cards cause you to spend more money. I've heard it repeated over and over again that paying with plastic causes you to spend more money. This conclusion is drawn from a number of academic studies, and it has some intuitive appeal. Applying it mindlessly to everybody for all purchases, however, is a mistake.

    Here's the truth. Paying with a credit card causes some people to spend more on some things than they otherwise would. If that's you, by all means don't use a credit card for those purchases. But not everybody spends more simply because they use plastic.

    I don't spend more on gas because I pay with credit. I drive my car until it nears empty and then gas up. It would be no different if I paid with cash or a debit card. Same is true with groceries and my monthly Netflix subscription (does Netflix even take cash?).

    As another example, I didn't spend more on my daughter's college tuition by paying with a credit card. I did, however, nab 2 percent cash back. In fact, since getting my Citi Double Cash card last year I've earned $1,674.19 in cash back. The vast majority of these purchases weren't influenced by the use of plastic.

     

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    SPECIAL SECTION BRIDE & GROOM
    Steve Matteo/AP
    By Jennifer Liu

    You don't need to tune in to "Bridezillas" to appreciate that planning a wedding can take a toll on your emotions -- and your wallet.

    Just consider that the average 2014 wedding topped $31,000, not including the honeymoon.

    And sure enough, money is top of mind for many couples preparing to say "I do." A new joint survey from The Knot and PayPal finds one-third of couples establish a financial plan right after getting engaged.

    But that head start doesn't guarantee smooth sailing -- 68 percent of brides admit they find themselves thinking about the wedding budget and finances all the time. Maybe that's because, despite being proactive in setting an initial budget, only 29 percent of couples manage the wedding finances together.

    What happens as a result? Missteps, like going over budget (the case with a whopping 76 percent of couples) and even going into debt (which 57 percent of couples admitted to doing).

    How to Get on Track

    Wedding budgeting could set a precedent for how you'll manage future finances with your partner, so it's important to get it right from the start.

    Amanda Miller, PayPal's "Wedding Guru" and the Head of Global Communications at PayPal Credit, offers a few suggestions on how couples can work with each other -- and their budget -- to have a memorable wedding.

    Learn to Compromise: When you're disagreeing on expenses, look at areas of possible compromise -- say, forgoing a live band for a DJ, or going digital with your invites instead of printing pricey invitations. Don't make a unilateral decision though -- discuss these compromises together.

    Be Clear on Priorities: "Try to be realistic about needs versus wants and be sure to write them down so that you can reference your priorities along the way," Miller advises. This will keep you from overindulging on things you don't care about.

    Roll Up Your Shirt Sleeves: Think about what you can do together as a couple to help save money. About three in four couples are planning to negotiate their way down on vendor costs, and 82 percent plan to DIY some aspect of their wedding to keep expenses in check.

    If you're looking for some big-day budget inspiration, read how one couple financed their nuptials on less than $1,000.

     

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    Twitter Seeks To Avoid Facebook's IPO Stumble With Its Own Debut
    Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the country's second-largest discounter getting aggressive in price guarantees for online sales and the country's leading organic grocer handing out pink slips.

    Twitter (TWTR) -- Winner

    Have you ever started pecking out a tweet, only to find that the character countdown goes negative before you are positive that you've finished? Twitter hears you. The social-media giant is considering scrapping its limit of 140 characters per post, according to tech blog Re/code.

    The 140 Plus initiative doesn't mean that folks will have unlimited publishing power. The options that Twitter is weighing reportedly include bumping it to just 150, excluding some aspects of a post such as links and usernames, or creating a rich publishing platform for extended tweets. With user growth slowing, Twitter is right to tweak its platform.

    Whole Foods Market (WFM) -- Loser

    Things continue to come undone at the leading organic grocer that until recently was a market darling. Whole Foods announced Monday that it would be cutting 1,500 jobs over the next two months. Two days later it revealed that it will take a pre-tax charge of as much as $22 million to cover the layoffs.

    It's true that 1,500 jobs may not seem like much for a company with 91,000 employees, but it has to rattle morale at a company that has historically prided itself as a great place to work. Perhaps even more problematic than the layoff is the reason for the pink slips: Whole Foods is trying to shave its overhead so it can deliver lower prices. It may seem honorable for a company to pass on cost savings to its shoppers, but it's also an admission that Whole Foods may not be offering a compelling value to today's organics-hungry consumer.

    Target (TGT) -- Winner

    It's going to be a competitive holiday shopping season, but Target is getting a jump on the competition. The cheap-chic retailer announced that it's now matching its online prices with those offered at 29 other online stores.

    Target is also extending the amount of time that customers can have their prices adjusted. They now have two weeks to request the difference. These moves can always backfire if it's forced to keep up with steep discounts from online retailers with lower cost structures, but these guarantees will give consumers the confidence they need in approaching Target's online storefront in the first place.

    Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) -- Loser

    It took a while, but Keurig Kold has finally hit the market. Keurig's new machine makes name-brand carbonated beverages, served chilled, no less. That may seem like a winning move, but keep in mind that the machine can only be ordered from Keurig's website, for now.

    It also needs to be turned on for at least two hours if you want the beverage to come out chilled. It's also not cheap, with an eight-ounce serving of Coke, Fanta or Canada Dry Ginger Ale costing about $1.25. That's a lot more than the retail price for a larger 12-ounce store-bought can. Then we get to the price tag of the machine itself. Paying $300 for a soda maker may be too rich of an investment for a product that isn't necessarily convenient or cheaper than the traditional way we consume soft drinks.

    McDonald's (MCD) -- Winner

    It's been easy to kick the world's largest burger chain when it's down, but at least one Wall Street pro thinks that a turnaround is in the works. Credit Suisse (CS) analyst Jason West upgraded the stock this week, boosting his price target from $100 to $112.

    West's research shows improving sales at the store level, and that's a pretty big deal since comparable-restaurant sales have been largely negative for nearly two years. The Golden Arches might be shiny again.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Keurig Green Mountain. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Twitter and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool recommends Keurig Green Mountain. John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Children raking autumn leaves
    Getty ImagesIf you prefer to rake your leaves rather than mulch them, be sure to do so frequently.
    By Jon Lal

    If you're a gardener, or even if you keep up with some minor landscaping, then you've probably spent considerable time and money over the last two seasons planting, weeding and cultivating. Now that you've made a significant investment into your yard, you'll want to protect it over the harsh winter months, which will be here soon. Follow these steps to prepare your garden for the off-season.

    Take advantage of fall-friendly flowers. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you can still plant during the cool season of autumn. Mums do very well in fall temperatures, as do pansies, which will bloom again in the spring. You can still get a bit of color in your yard before winter arrives.

    Plant for spring. This is also an important time to add to your spring garden. Look for perennials and bulbs that bloom in the spring, such as daffodils, tulips, peonies and hyacinth. You can also plant vegetables in the fall, especially bulbs like garlic and shallots. The fruits of your labor will eventually be delicious in stews and pastas.

    Maintain your perennials. Take an assessment of the perennials you currently have in your garden. Break apart flourishing plants from those that aren't doing well, and then replant in new holes. Cut back any dry stems after the first frost, and pull up any spent vines for the compost. Remove diseased plants and throw them away. You can also add chopped leaves to your perennial mulch beds to protect the plants and the soil.

    Weed some more. As always, this is a good time to weed your garden. At least the weather is cooler for more comfortable work. Weeding can be a great, and frugal, way to spend time together as a family. Just make sure you reward everyone for their effort afterward with a nice meal, because it burns up a lot of energy.

    Don't forget to properly store your patio furniture. Keep your outdoor tables and chairs under cover during the winter to prevent wear and tear or further damage. Store cushions in rubber bins after cleaning.

    Protecting your trees. If you planted new trees this year, avoid animals gnawing at the thin trunks by surrounding them with chicken wire. You can protect trees with vulnerable, thin bark by wrapping them with paper tree wrap to avoid the bark splitting during freezing temperatures. Don't forget to keep watering trees through the fall season.

    Take care of your leaves. Here's the good news. There's an alternative to the back-breaking work of raking and bagging leaves, especially if you're interested in feeding the grass on your lawn. Instead of raking, mow the leaves on your lawn into mulch. You can use your lawn mower with the grass catcher removed, or buy a specific mulching mower. Running a mower across the leaves on your lawn will shred them into very small pieces, which will quickly be absorbed by microbes. This helps your lawn stay healthy, and even keeps weeds at bay. You can gather extra leaves and clippings for mulch elsewhere in the garden, or to add to your compost. (And if you don't yet have a compost pile, consider creating one. See below for more details on how to do that.)

    Even if you'd prefer to rake your leaves instead of mulching them, be sure to do so frequently. Leaves that aren't removed from your lawn (or reduced to tiny pieces) will block the sunlight and suffocate your grass.

    Start or add to your compost. If you're an avid gardener, chances are you already have a compost pile. Winterize your compost by giving it a roof or tarp to protect it from the elements. A protective barrier around it will also do well to ward off the frost. Maintain a balance of compost materials, including food waste, plant trimmings and leaves. The smaller the materials, the better your pile will develop, so shred and tear your materials when you can. Don't feel like you need to rotate or turn your compost pile in the winter like you do in the warm weather. It will stay insulated this way.

    With these tips, you're on your way to a healthy and protected garden during winter, which means you'll be a much happier gardener in the spring. You'll also be severely reducing your chances of experiencing unexpected costs related to your garden.

    Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, 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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    a woman with unpaid bills has...
    Shutterstock
    By Ellen Change

    NEW YORK -- Kristina McKinney was left with no recourse when her mother used her identity and rented six apartments during her stint in the army, leaving her on the hook for the unpaid rent.

    When the creditors started garnishing her wages, McKinney, 23, who is now a manager at a Walgreens drug store in Colorado Springs, Colorado, faced only two heartrending options -- file a police report and send her mother to prison for fraud for the leases she signed over five years or file for bankruptcy. Unable even to obtain a cellphone contract or rent her own apartment because of the debt, McKinney decided her only option was to file for Chapter 7 in January.

    "I feel like I did the right thing even though it sucked," she told MainStreet. "The debt made me look like an irresponsible person."

    "I don't have that much to my name, but I did it more so that we could survive since I am about to have a baby," she added.

    While many millennials and Gen-Xers may have more debt than assets, they should determine if they need to file for bankruptcy

    Seek Counseling Before Filing

    McKinney sought the free advice of a free credit counselor from Transformance, a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which provides free or low-cost credit counseling for consumers.

    "She was super nice and talked me through the process," she said. "She made me feel like I had options and didn't treat me as though I was stupid."

    In 2011, McKinney's car was totaled during a car accident, and because she didn't purchase gap insurance, she still owed $13,000 out of a $23,000 car loan. The auto loan, plus the thousands of dollars she owed the creditors of the six apartment buildings, meant that she would have "been in debt forever," she said.

    "I am not a hateful person, and did not want to file a police report and send my mom to jail," McKinney said. "The apartment debt made it impossible for me to climb out of debt without filling charges against my mom."

    Consumers are required by law to seek pre-filing bankruptcy counseling, which can "expose them to other options such as a debt management plan, settle with creditors or not pay the debt at all," said Catherine Carter, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, branch manager for Transformance, a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which provides free or low-cost credit counseling for consumers.

    Deciding Whether to File for Chapter 7 or 13 ...

    Most consumers should seek the advice of a credit counselor or bankruptcy attorney before they file for Chapter 7 or 13 to learn the consequences of each type of filing on their credit report, said Jim Triggs, a senior vice president of counseling and support of Money Management International, a Sugar Land, Texas-based non-profit debt counseling organization. Filing for Chapter 7 means the unsecured debt will be discharged while filing for Chapter 13 results in a situation where consumers pay their debt for a number of years before having a certain portion of that debt being discharged, he said.

    "All of this has a large cumulative negative effect on their credit rating and the bankruptcy will stay on their credit for seven to 10 years," he said.

    When the law changed in 2005, consumers now have a harder time filing for Chapter 7 to have all their unsecured debt discharged. Both private and government-backed student loans aren't included if consumers file for bankruptcy with very few exceptions.

    Individuals who file for Chapter 13 have to pay a portion of their debt back and are typically on a five-year plan, said Carter. Depending on their income and reasonable living expenses, a portion of the debt is paid each month and could be as low as $50 a month.

    Consumers should be prepared to gather documents such as paycheck stubs, tax returns and bank statements whether or not they seek the advice of an attorney, said Ryan Dove, a Houston bankruptcy attorney.

    "All of these personal documents will be used to help create their bankruptcy documents," he said. "Some of these documents are required to be filed with the court as a part of the case and/or sent to the bankruptcy case trustee."

    Filing for bankruptcy isn't for the faint-hearted because the consequences are long-lasting and can impact your credit score for up to 10 years, making it challenging to receive credit with lower interest rates to buy a car or house or obtain credit cards.

    Consequences

    "Declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy comes with immediate and long term consequences," said Bruce McClary, a spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization. "In the short-term, it becomes challenging to obtain credit approval from prime lenders and impossible to finance at the lowest rates."

    While consumers can be approved for a loan or credit card after a bankruptcy is discharged, the cost of "borrowing becomes steep," he said. If a consumer's loans and credit cards become delinquent once again, the options are more limited.

    Consumers who wait 24 months after their bankruptcy has been discharged, which means it was accepted by the bankruptcy court, can access credit again from credit card companies and some mortgage and auto loan lenders. Depending on the car dealership, interest rates can be as high as 21%, Carter said.

    "Some lenders will consider giving consumers a mortgage or auto loan," she said. "It can be done, but they pay a really high interest rate. Waiting 24 months is a good guideline for getting any type of credit to receive decent interest rates."

    Rebuilding your credit score slowly is the best course of action because the ramifications are steep. Examine your current your household budget first and seek "entry-level credit options which can be used to establish a new record of timely payments," McClary said.

    "Keep the balance well below the assigned credit limit, monitor your credit and score regularly and look for opportunities to qualify for better credit terms as the score increases," he said.

    Other Options ...

    A good deterrent to filing for bankruptcy is following through with a debt management plan, which is a plan in which the creditors will accept lower payments, decrease interest rates and stop collection activity including late and over limit fees, Triggs said. This plan allows the consumer to pay off their unsecured debt based upon their income and get out of debt within five years. Consumers should sign up for the plan through a non-profit credit counseling agency.

    The consequences for entering this agreement is also severe and means consumers must be ready to change their current spending habits. Consumers are required to stop using their credit cards and close the accounts. In addition, they must make one or two payments to the credit counseling agency monthly and the agency disburses that money to the creditors, he said.

    Even though a debt management plan also affects a consumer's credit score and report, the impact is minimal and a result of the closure of the credit card accounts.

    "It's usually nowhere near the impact that a bankruptcy will have on their credit score and often not much of a negative impact at all," Triggs said. "Their credit score doesn't get killed."

    The hard lesson that McKinney learned was "don't trust everybody and make sure you check your credit report at least once a year," she said. "It's tough to be so trusting, especially when it comes to your credit," she said.

     

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    How to Save with High-Deductible Health Plans

    By Karen Datko

    As employers try to cut their costs for providing health insurance to workers, they're offering more high-deductible health plans. The premiums are lower, but you'll pay $1,000 or more -- sometimes a lot more -- out-of-pocket before the insurance coverage kicks in.

    High deductibles also are the rule for many plans available on the federal and state health insurance marketplaces.

    How do you get the best use of this kind of coverage? Here are 10 tips:

    1. Claim your freebies. Under the Affordable Care Act, certain preventive health services are free to you, even with a high-deductible policy. Make sure the doctor's office or hospital accurately codes any such procedure you have. That way, the insurance company will know it's one of the free services and will cover the cost.

    You can find the list of free procedures and screenings at HealthCare.gov. There's a separate list for women and for children.

    Before you have a test or screening, check to make sure which costs are covered. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson found out the hard way that some of his annual physical was provided at no cost to him, but that much of the rest wasn't.

    2. Ask for a discount. Tell your doctor's office or the hospital that you have a high-deductible plan and ask if there's a discount for paying cash. (My dentist provides a discount, but the doctors and hospital where I live do not.) You may even find that a doctor will give you a considerable discount if she knows you have to cover the entire cost out-of-pocket.

    If you can't afford to pay, ask the doctor or hospital for a low- or no-interest installment plan. Some still offer them.

    Needless to say, you should ask whether a less expensive, alternative treatment is available.

    3. Save on medications. Ask your doctor if a generic exists for the drug he or she wants to prescribe. If so, don't stop there. A couple of years ago, Consumer Reports found a 447 percent difference in the price when it surveyed stores for the cost of generic versions of five widely prescribed medications. Costco was the cheapest, CR said.

    Also, see our post about 10 ways to save on prescription drugs.

    4. Compare prices of medical providers. We've previously reported that hospital prices across the country vary wildly for the same procedure. While cost shouldn't be the sole basis for selecting a health care provider, it should be part of your process.

    The New York Times has a tool that lets you see how prices at your local hospitals compare with the national average. The federal government makes data available, too. Other websites can also help you find the best prices for the procedures you need.

    When you call around to compare prices, make sure you identify your insurance company so you're quoted the rate charged to it and not the so-called "chargemaster" rate normally used for people who don't have insurance. The latter is likely much higher than the rate your insurance company has negotiated with the provider.

    5. Stay in your network. Even though you're paying out-of-pocket, you'll typically pay the lower in-network rate if you stick with the health providers in your insurance plan's network.

    6. Open a health savings account. With qualifying high-deductible plans, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to create a health savings account -- a savings or investment account where you can deposit pretax earnings to spend on health care.

    Any money and interest earned that you don't spend remains in the account year after year. Many employers kick in some money too.

    This year, high-deductible plans that qualify for an HSA have a minimum deductible of $1,300 for individual coverage and $2,600 for a family. An individual can set aside $3,350 in an HSA this year, and a family can save up to $6,650. Increase the number by $1,000 if you're 55 or older.

    For 2016, minimum deductible amounts remain unchanged. An individual again can set aside $3,350 in an HSA next year, while a family can set aside $100 more than in 2015 -- $6,750. Again, increase the number by $1,000 if you're 55 or older.

    7. Have a super-solid emergency fund. It's asking for trouble to buy a high-deductible plan without having money at least equal to the deductible in a savings account or HSA.

    That healthy emergency fund will keep you from racking up interest on the unpaid balance you owe to the local hospital or clinic, or prevent you from putting your bill on a high-interest credit card.

    8. Keep good records. Keep copies of all your medical receipts, just in case the insurance company makes an error.

    9. Do some research. It's unwise not to go to the doctor when you have a problem. But you don't need to see a professional for a simple case of the sniffles. Many insurance providers have online information and nurse advice lines that can help you understand symptoms.

    Of course, if any of this feedback indicates that you require care, don't delay. Waiting to see a doctor could end up costing you substantially more if the condition worsens.

    10. Work the system. NPR told the story of a man who met the $4,500 deductible of his plan when his appendix had to come out. After that, the insurance covered the cost of a nonemergency procedure he'd put off.

    In some cases, you may still owe a copayment or coinsurance after you reach the deductible, but you'll still pay for less.

    Are you among the growing number of Americans with a high-deductible health plan? Were you surprised about how much you had to pay out-of-pocket? Have you delayed medical care because of that?

    Share your story in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

    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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    US Created 142K Jobs in Sept.

    By Jason Lange

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. employers slammed the brakes on hiring over the last two months, raising new doubts the economy is strong enough for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates by the end of this year.

    Payrolls outside of farming rose by 142,000 last month and August figures were revised sharply lower to show only 136,000 jobs added that month, the Labor Department said Friday.

    That marked the smallest two-month gain in employment in over a year and could fuel fears that the China-led global economic slowdown is sapping America's strength.

    You can't throw lipstick on this pig of a report.

    "You can't throw lipstick on this pig of a report," said Brian Jacobsen, a portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

    The weak job growth took Wall Street by surprise and U.S. stocks sold off while the dollar also weakened and yields for government bonds fell.

    Bets on interest rate futures showed investors only saw a 30 percent chance of a Fed rate hike in December, down from just under 50 percent before the job report's release.

    "[With) a weak report here, in combination with some of the other weakness that we are seeing across the globe, the odds get dinged for December," said Tom Porcelli, an economist at RBC Capital Markets.

    Investors saw virtually no chance the Fed would end its near-zero interest rate policy at its only other scheduled meeting this year, to be held later in October. Futures prices indicated investors were betting the Fed would probably hike in March.

    U.S. factories are feeling the global chill and shed 9,000 jobs in September after losing 18,000 in August, according to the Labor Department's survey of employers.

    "We saw events in China lead to some global financial turmoil and you're seeing that in the data here," White House chief economist Jason Furman told Reuters.

    New orders received by U.S. factories fell 1.7 percent in August, the Commerce Department said in a separate report.

    Paul Ryan, a top Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives, said the weak turn in the economy should be a wake-up call for Washington to reform the national economy with new tax laws, free trade agreements and policies to get people off welfare.

    "This recovery continues to disappoint, but we can't accept it as the new normal," Ryan said.

    The recent pace of job growth should have been enough to push the unemployment rate lower because only around 100,000 new jobs are needed a month to keep up with population growth.

    But the jobless rate held steady at 5.1 percent. The unemployment rate is derived from a separate survey of households that showed 350,000 workers dropping out of the labor force last month, as well as a lower level of employment.

    The share of the population in the work force, which includes people who have jobs or are looking for one, fell to 62.4 percent, the lowest level since 1977.

    Average hourly wages fell by a cent to $25.09 during the month and were up only 2.2 percent from the same month in 2014, holding around the same levels seen all year and pointing to marginal inflationary pressures.

    Bright Spots

    The report did have a few bright spots that might be welcomed by Fed chief Janet Yellen, who said last week the economy was doing well enough to warrant higher rates this year.

    The number of workers with part-time jobs but who want more hours fell by 447,000 in September to 6.0 million.

    Yellen has signaled that the elevated number of these workers points to hidden slack in the labor market that isn't captured by the jobless rate. A measure of joblessness that includes these workers and is closely followed by the Fed fell to 10 percent, its lowest level since May 2008.

    Economists polled by Reuters had expected job growth of 203,000 in September.

    All told, revised estimates meant 59,000 fewer jobs were created in July and August than previously believed.

    In another grim sign, the number of hours worked in the country fell 0.2 percent, raising the specter that some broader softness might have gripped the economy last month.

    Some of the strongest headwinds on the U.S. economy come from the commodity sector, which has slowed in part because of weaker demand from China.

    The price of oil has fallen nearly 50 percent over the last year, and U.S. mining payrolls, which include energy sector jobs, fell by 10,000 in September, the ninth straight month of declines.

    -Rodrigo Campos and Karen Brettell contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    A T-Mobile US Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Jim Finkle

    Experian, the world's biggest consumer credit monitoring firm, disclosed Thursday a massive data breach that exposed sensitive personal data of some 15 million people who applied for service with T-Mobile US (TMUS).

    Connecticut's attorney general said he will launch an investigation into the breach.

    Experian said it discovered the theft of the T-Mobile customer data from one of its servers on Sept. 15. The computer stored information about some 15 million people who had applied for service with telecoms carrier T-Mobile during the prior two years, Experian said.

    Obviously I am incredibly angry about this data breach and we will institute a thorough review of our relationship with Experian.

    T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere said the data included names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers and passport numbers. Such information is coveted by criminals for use in identity theft and other types of fraud.

    "Obviously I am incredibly angry about this data breach and we will institute a thorough review of our relationship with Experian," T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere said in a note to customers posted on the company's website. "But right now my top concern and first focus is assisting any and all consumers affected."

    The Experian breach is the latest in a string of massive hacks that have each claimed millions -- and sometimes tens of millions -- of customer records, including the theft of personnel records from the U.S. government this year, a 2014 breach on JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and a 2013 attack on Target's (TGT) cash register systems.

    It is also the second massive breach linked to Experian. An attack on an Experian subsidiary that began before Experian purchased it in 2012 exposed the Social Security numbers of 200 million Americans and prompted an investigation by at least four states, including Connecticut.

    Experian said Thursday it had launched an investigation into the new breach and consulted with law enforcement.

    The company offered two years of credit monitoring to all affected individuals. People, however, said that they didn't want credit protection from a company that had been breached.

    Legere responded by promising to seek alternatives.

    "I hear you," he said on Twitter. "I am moving as fast as possible to get an alternate option in place by tomorrow."

    Experian said the breach didn't affect its vast consumer credit database.

    Legere said no payment card or banking information was taken.

    T-Mobile had nearly 59 million customers as of June 30. A representative for the carrier said that not all 15 million of the affected applicants had opened accounts with T-Mobile.

    The telecom carrier's shares were down 1.3 percent in extended trading after closing little changed at $40.13 on the New York Stock Exchange.

    In the earlier data breach affecting Experian, a Vietnamese national confessed in U.S. court last year to using a false identity to opening an account with the unit, known as Court Ventures, sometime before Experian purchased it in 2012.

    A spokeswoman for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said Thursday that it would investigate the latest attack.

    The spokeswoman, Jaclyn Falkowski, declined to elaborate on the T-Mobile incident, but said the investigations of the Court Ventures matter "is active and ongoing."

    -Karen Friefeld and Arathy Nair contributed reporting.

     

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    FRANCE-GERMANY-AUTOMOBILE-VOLKSWAGEN-INVESTIGATION
    Franck Fife, AFP/Getty Images
    By Andreas Cremer and Barbara Lewis

    BERLIN and BRUSSELS -- Volkswagen (VLKAY) is under pressure to give details within the next week of its plan to refit up to 11 million diesel vehicles, with its U.S. chief due to testify to lawmakers Thursday and German regulators also demanding swift action.

    The German carmaker needs to fix software that allowed it to cheat emissions tests, the discovery of which has sparked the biggest business crisis in its 78-year history.

    The scandal has wiped more than a third off Volkswagen's share price, forced out its long-time chief executive and rocked both global auto markets and the German establishment.

    Europe's biggest carmaker said Thursday it would take several months to get to the bottom of who was responsible for the software, although it promised to "inform the public in regard to solutions found for the problems next week."

    But analysts say it could be a challenge to do the refits without leaving owners with vehicles that deliver diminished fuel economy and performance, or require more maintenance -- problems that could potentially multiply lawsuits against the company and further sully its reputation.

    In a sign of the complexity, Belgian car importer D'Ieteren told Reuters it hadn't heard any technical details about the refit yet, and that Volkswagen had committed only to having a plan set by the end of this month.

    Volkswagen said Friday it was taking time to come up with solutions because automatic and manual vehicles and models with different engine categories needed different fixes.

    In the coming days, the carmaker will launch country-specific websites where customers can enter details of their vehicles to find out if they're affected, it said.

    In the meantime, customers and dealers are seething.

    "There's been no news whatsoever from Volkswagen, from the dealer, any letter, any phone call, nothing whatsoever," said Giacomo Corrado, who lives outside San Francisco and leases a diesel Golf.

    Bradley Hoffman, chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers, said Volkswagen hadn't communicated well "out of the gate," although he was confident they would ultimately make things right with customers.

    "I want them to get off their you know whats and handle this thing swiftly and correctly. But I know they will," he said. "This is urgent for them because it's a public relations nightmare ... They're still in assessment mode."

    Volkswagen shares, which have lost more than $30 billion in value since the crisis began, dipped to a new 4-year low of 91.60 euros Friday.

    Two-Speed Response

    The scandal has thrown the spotlight on problems with the availability and quality of official emissions data that campaigners have complained about for years.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which announced Volkswagen's cheating in diesel emissions tests on Sept. 18, provides detailed information on vehicle performance in tests. Published data from German counterpart KBA, upon which some other national bodies rely for tests on Volkswagen vehicles, don't break down the test performance of individual vehicle models.

    Asked whether there was any way, other than asking the manufacturer, for the public to find out if a specific model complies with EU rules, a spokesman for the KBA said: "I dont think so."

    U.S. authorities have generally been quicker to respond to the crisis too, leaving Europe open to the charge of letting down consumers and being too close to its struggling car industry -- a key source of jobs and export income.

    The EPA, which said on Sept. 25 it would toughen tests for all carmakers, will scrutinize at least 28 diesel models made by BMW, Chrysler, General Motors, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz, the Financial Times reported Friday.

    A U.S. congressional oversight panel said Thursday it had called Volkswagen's U.S. chief, Michael Horn to testify on Oct. 8, while more than 30 U.S. state attorneys general have banded together to conduct an investigation into Volkswagen, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Friday.

    European authorities are seeking answers too. Germany's KBA has set Volkswagen an Oct. 7 deadline to present a plan to bring diesel emissions into line with the law.

    But the response in much of Europe has been slower.

    French prosecutors only opened a preliminary inquiry into Volkswagen on Friday, whereas the U.S. Department of Justice was reported Sept. 21 to have started a criminal investigation.

    European carmakers are lobbying hard to limit the fallout from the scandal, which they fear could lead to costlier regulations and hit sales of diesel vehicles -- which account for almost a half of sales in Europe compared with a small fraction in the United States.

    We understand that the U.S. want to challenge the leadership role that the European manufacturers have taken globally in this technology.

    In a letter dated Sept. 29 to the European Union's council of ministers, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association said manufacturers would need until 2019 to fully meet some new pollution limits.

    It also suggested U.S. authorities had an ulterior motive for their actions. "We understand that the U.S. want to challenge the leadership role that the European manufacturers have taken globally in this technology," said the letter, seen by Reuters, referring to diesel cars.

    The car industry is particularly important to Germany, Europe's largest economy, where the likes of BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen employ more than 750,000 people. Berlin has in the past lobbied the EU against tougher regulations on carmakers.

    German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who once sat on Volkswagen's board, said Friday the investigations into the company shouldn't turn in to a campaign against the industry as a whole.

    Philippe Lamberts, co-chair of the Greens group in the European Parliament, said the auto industry had to change.

    "They should shut up and put up with it. It's not a question of profits, it's about health, it's about the rule of law," he told Reuters.

    Jos Dings, director of campaign group Transport & Environment, said the EU should set up a new Europe-wide vehicle inspection agency akin to the EPA, but wasn't optimistic.

    "Member states will try their utmost to keep that power with their national type approval authorities -- despite the fact that it is clear they have not done much more than indeed approve vehicles," he said.

    -Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage in San Francisco, Tom Bergin in London and Reuters bureaus in Europe and the United States.

     

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    chick-fil-a new york city restaurant nationwide push
    Mark Lennihan/APPedestrians look at a costumed Chick-fil-A cow in the window of a new Chick-fil-A restaurant in New York City.
    By CANDICE CHOI

    NEW YORK -- Chick-fil-A will open an outpost Saturday in New York City, marking a high-profile milestone in its push to become a bigger national player.

    The Atlanta-based chain known for its fried chicken sandwiches with pickles has been stepping up its expansion and is opening nearly 100 new locations a year. The chain now has more than 1,900 stores in 42 states, although its heaviest presence is in the South.

    "We feel like we're pretty small and we could build restaurants for a long time," said David Farmer, Chick-fil-A's vice president of menu strategy and development. "There are so many places where we have no presence, or limited presence. It's just a lot of opportunity."

    Among the areas the company doesn't have as many stores are New England and the Northwest.

    chick-fil-a new york city restaurant nationwide push
    Mark Lennihan/APAn employee breads chicken breast prior to frying it in the kitchen of a new Chick-fil-A restaurant in New York City.
    For those who don't live near a Chick-fil-A, the chain may be better known for the Christian beliefs of its founder Truett Cathy than for its sweet tea and waffle fries. On its website, the privately held company says its corporate purpose is to "glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us."

    Its stores are closed Sundays, and the New York City location won't be an exception.

    In 2012, Chick-fil-A touched off protests by gay rights advocates after CEO Dan Cathy voiced support for "biblical families." The company has since tried to draw a distinction that the beliefs of its ownership and its business.

    In a fact sheet for the media, Chick-fil-A notes that it "does not have an opinion as an organization."

    Regardless, Chick-fil-A restaurants continue to outperform other chains. Last year, its stores on average pulled in $3.2 million in sales, according to industry tracker Technomic. That's compared with $2.5 million for McDonald's (MCD), $1.2 million for Burger King (QSR) and just $960,000 for KFC (YUM).

    Part of the attraction might be that Chick-fil-A is known for its friendly service. When a customer says "thank you," for instance, workers are trained to respond with "my pleasure" instead of a phrase such as "no problem." The latter suggests that the service provided might have been an inconvenience, said Farmer.

    Chick-fil-A expects its menu and service to win over New Yorkers as well. The location opening Saturday will be its largest in the country, spanning 5,000 square feet over two floors and a basement with an extra kitchen.

    Over the next two years, the company plans to open several more locations in New York City. The company already has a location on the campus of New York University, but the menu is limited.

    Even when Chick-fil-A opens in new markets, the company says transplants from its regional strongholds help generate excitement for its arrival. That is the case for Amanda Haas, a 25-year-old administrative assistant in New York City who grew up in Texas.

    Haas said she likes that the cuts of chicken seem like quality meat, and that there's just "something about the breading." She already mapped the subway route from her apartment to the restaurant.

    "It's a trek to get there, but it's one of those treks I'd make," she said.

    For now, Chick-fil-A is still comparable in size to Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (PLKI), which each have roughly 1,800 locations in the U.S., according to Technomic. By comparison, McDonald's has more than 14,300 locations, and KFC has more than 4,300.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stock indexes jumped more than 1 percent Friday as worries about the economy after a disappointing jobs report gave way to a robust rally in energy and materials stocks.

    The three major indexes clawed back losses of more than 1.5 percent as poor payroll data hinted at economic weakness while strengthening the argument for delaying a long-awaited interest rate hike.

    The recently beaten-down S&P energy index surged 4 percent following a rise in oil prices, while the materials index jumped 2.4 percent.

    The silver lining with this disappointing jobs number is that possibly this could push the rate hike off to the first quarter of 2016.

    "The silver lining with this disappointing jobs number is that possibly this could push the rate hike off to the first quarter of 2016," said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa.

    Friday's strong performance follows over a month of turbulence in global markets that has seen the S&P lose 7 percent of its value over fears that troubles in China's economy could spread around the world.

    Now, with the third-quarter earnings season starting next week, investors are starting to factor in what might be the biggest decline in profits for S&P 500 companies in six years.

    Analysts on average expect third-quarter earnings to decline 4.2 percent, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    "There are a lot of concerns that a weakening global economy may be impacting the U.S., so that certainly doesn't bode well for earnings," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.

    'More Volatility'

    "It's going to be a market where we're going to see more and more volatility and major support levels being tested," Cardillo said.

    Nonfarm payrolls rose by 142,000, far below the 203,000 economists had expected, and August and July figures were revised down. But the jobless rate held at 5.1 percent.

    The report, the last before the Federal Reserve's meeting at the end of October, appeared to contradict Fed Chair Janet Yellen's comment last week that the economy was strong enough to withstand a rate hike this year.

    Odds of a December rate hike fell to a little over 27 percent from 44 percent before the report.

    Following a steep sell-off since late August, the S&P 500 is trading at 15.1 times expected earnings, slightly below the long-term median of 15.6.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose rallied 1.2 percent to end at 16,472.37 points. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 1.4 percent to 1,951.36. It bounced about 3 percent from its intra-day low to its closing level. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) jumped 1.7 percent to finish at 4,707.78.

    For the week, the Dow and S&P both rose 1 percent. The Nasdaq added 0.5 percent.

    Of the 10 major sectors, only the financial index failed to advance Friday.

    Chevron (CVX) rose 4.1 percent and ConocoPhillips (COP) jumped 2.1 percent. Alcoa (AA) jumped 2.8 percent.

    About 8.3 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 7.25 billion average for the previous 20 sessions, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 2,321 to 753. On the Nasdaq, 1,930 issues rose and 882 fell.

    The S&P 500 index showed four new 52-week highs and 56 lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 13 new highs and 189 lows.

    -Charles Mikolajczak, Tanya Agrawal and Abhiram Nandakumar contributed reporting.

    What to watch Monday:
    • Institute for Supply Management releases its service sector index for September at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

     

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  • 10/02/15--22:00: What to Buy in October
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    happy woman holding halloween...
    Shutterstock
    By Raechel Conover

    By shopping standards, October is that odd month sitting smack in the middle of the back-to-school frenzy and the holiday shopping extravaganza. But cost-conscious shoppers need not despair -- there are plenty of October deals to be had. The best buys range from leftover items from previous months to goods discounted in advance of the big shopping days to come. And don't forget, Halloween erupts in October.

    Halloween gear. Unless you thought way ahead and bought a costume and decorations last November when prices were at their lowest, you'll need to be on the lookout for bargains this month. The longer you wait, the bigger the deals. There is a time constraint, however -- you won't find many costume choices and sizes if you wait too long. The best time to buy Halloween gear is mid-month when selection is still decent and prices are lower.

    Denim. Back-to-school shopping is over and the holiday shopping season is just about due and much like the month of October, denim is stuck in the middle. Retailers want to sell off back-to-school denim and make room for holiday trends, so keep your eye out for October deals on jeans.

    Cars. This is the month when auto dealers are eager to make room on their lots for new models. October is prime time for striking a deal on a new car that happens to be stamped with last year's date.

    Summer gear. This is most likely the last month shoppers will see patio furniture, summer yard tools and summer-themed decorations in stores until next spring. And you know where to look: the clearance bins. Add window air conditioner units to the list of October deals and get ready for next summer now, for less.

    Camping gear. With the best of summer hikes and campouts now a memory, camping gear will go on sale this month. Find cheap and discounted sleeping bags, tents and other camping equipment.

    Vacations. Cruises and vacations take a dip in prices in October, the shoulder month between summer vacations and holiday travel. School is back in session but many destinations still enjoy balmy and temperate weather and won't be very crowded. In other words, prices will be significantly lower.

    Food. October is a month to celebrate a couple of food favorites. With football in the air, naming this National Pizza Month makes sense. Check out how Cheapism.com ranked low-cost frozen pizzas and four pizza chains during blind tastings. October is also National Cookie Month and Cheapism's chocolate chip cookie taste-off stacked 10 well-known brands against each other.

    Seasonal produce. October is the month when the fall bounty begins coming in even as some warm-weather plants produce their final yields. Look for cheap apples, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cranberries, grapes, honeydew melon, kale, leeks, lettuce, oranges, pears, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes and yams. If there's an apple orchard nearby, picking your own is cheaper yet. Sometimes the same can be said for pumpkins. Such outings in search of fresh fall produce to incorporate into nutritious and budget-friendly meals make for a fun time with family and friends on a weekend morning.

    Appliances. September and October used to be the prime time to buy big appliances because this is when new models are introduced. In recent years, however, the best big-appliance deals have been popping up in November, so hold off a few weeks before hitting the stores.

    Cookware. Deals on pots, pans and small appliances are also more enticing next month, so don't bother searching right now. Better yet, wait for Black Friday sales.

     

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    Social security card and American money dollar bills
    Getty Images
    By Brian O'Connell

    NEW YORK -- Considering so many Americans rely on Social Security for a good piece of their retirement funding, you'd think retirees would know more, or want to know more, about maximizing their Social Security benefits.

    For example, a 2015 Fidelity Investments study states that 60 percent of couples and 49 percent of baby boomers don't have any idea how much their Social Security benefit might be, "even though the information is readily available on the Social Security website."

    That's just for starters. A separate study from AARP reveals some additional, eye-opening statistics on what Americans "don't know" about Social Security.

    For instance:
    • Only 9 percent of U.S. consumers say they are "very knowledgeable" about how their Social Security benefits are calculated.
    • Only 1 percent of U.S. certified financial planners say their clients are "very knowledgeable" about their Social Security benefits.
    • Only 39 percent of Americans think Social Security will comprise at least 50 percent of their income, even as AARP reports "that as Americans age, their reliance on Social Security increases significantly, with nearly 6 in 10 Americans relying on Social Security for at least half of their retirement income after they reach 80 years of age."
    • 83 percent of Social Security recipients "overestimated or underestimated the amount of money they would receive if they waited to become beneficiaries at their full retirement age."
    • 39 percent of American adults AARP surveyed didn't know that 62 is the age they can first claim early Social Security retirement benefits.
    Social Security experts say future retirees are using some fuzzy math -- and fuzzy logic -- in figuring out when to start taking Social Security, and in many cases that mindset is working against them, financially.

    Andrew McFadden, who teaches Social Security workshops and classes in Fresno, California, has a front-row seat on how many Americans get Social Security wrong. "One big misconception is that Social Security is going bankrupt," he says. "Actually, it's not. The surplus in the [Old Age and Survivor Income] trust fund is expected to run out in 2035."

    There's a negative effect to that skewed line of thinking. "Because of this misconception, people believe that they need to claim benefits as early as possible -- age 62 -- to avoid getting snubbed by Social Security," McFadden says. "As a result, they collect less benefits over their lifetimes than they could have."

    Retirees may not understand how much can be gained by delaying the year they begin taking Social Security.

    If you do take Social Security proceeds out early, as McFadden states, know that you're leaving money on the table after you walk away.

    "Retirees may not understand how much can be gained by delaying the year they begin taking Social Security," says Sean Condon, a financial adviser with Windgate Wealth Management in Chicago. "Every year retirees delay Social Security after full retirement age -- 66 years old if born between 1943 and 1954, 67 years old if born in 1960 or after -- their annual benefit increases by 8 percent. Compared to potential investment returns, this guaranteed return can be very favorable."

    Another Social Security workshop leader, Sev Meneshian, of Chicago-based Public Retirement Planners and a professor of retirement planning at Northwestern University, says there is big confusion among consumers about lump sum payments. "I just did a Social Security workshop, and not one of the 50 attendees knew you can get a lump sum payment for deferred earnings," Meneshian says. "The amount can be over $120,000."

    Confusion plays a role, too, Meneshian says. "For instance, married couples have over 1,500 ways to file for benefits, oftentimes putting over $50,000 more in their pockets by picking a superior filing strategy," he says. Getting professional financial advice can break those options down for you, Meneshian adds.

    With retirement funding options so scarce for many Americans, not knowing what Social Security offers (and when) can lead to big problems down the path into retirement. "Social Security can be viewed as an annuity, and for many, this is the only guaranteed lifetime income they will have, it is important to make the right decision," says Chris Blackmon, a financial planner at Biggers Blackmon Wealth Management in Atlanta.

    But without the right data, that decision might cut into your retirement income, and leave you wondering one day why you weren't paying attention to Social Security -- until it was too late.

     

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    close up of credit card on a...
    Shutterstock
    Using a credit card in stores is now more secure. But for a little while, you might be better off paying with cash, or avoiding shopping altogether.

    That's because today is the credit card industry's self-imposed deadline for providing cardholders with upgraded cards that contain a computer chip. They're called EMV cards and also known as "chip cards."

    The microchip is intended to help reduce fraud. But some customers have yet to receive an EMV card, and those who have are discovering it often takes longer to check out when paying with an EMV card. "EMV" stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, and the technology is becoming the new global standard for fighting credit-card fraud, CreditCards.com reports that the magnetic stripes on traditional credit and debit cards contain unchanging data:

    Whoever accesses that data gains the sensitive card and cardholder information necessary to make purchases. That makes traditional cards prime targets for counterfeiters, who convert stolen card data to cash. ...

    Every time an EMV card is used for payment, the card chip creates a unique transaction code that can't be used again. If a hacker stole the chip information from one specific point of sale, typical card duplication would never work.

    But a survey by CreditCards.com found that more than 6 in 10 U.S. cardholders have yet to receive a microchip-enabled card. People who are using EMV cards -- and the people in line behind them -- are learning that it takes a few seconds longer for stores' credit-card terminals to process the new technology compared with the magnetic strip.

    Cardholders also face a learning curve after receiving their upgraded cards, which are inserted into the front of the terminal rather than swiped on the side.

    Justin Guinn, a market researcher at Software Advice, a company that advises businesses on payment software, tells CNN Money:

    "Until consumers and retailers get used to dipping the credit card as opposed to the autonomic swiping, shoppers (and retailers) can probably expect checkout processes to take a bit longer."

    Have you experienced any issues with EMV cards? Or are you among the majority of cardholders who have yet to receive one? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

    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!


    Sneaky Credit Card Tricks

     

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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/APHistory shows the stock market is a solid predictor of recessions, but a correction doesn't always signal an upcoming recession.
    By Kira Brecht

    Have the recent stock market declines made you queasy? Over the past six weeks, stocks have lurched lower -- down 12 percent from their May high -- bounced back, then fallen again. The roller-coaster ride is enough to make even seasoned thrill-seekers a bit jittery.

    The stock market is a leading indicator for the economy; in fact, it is one of 10 components of the Conference Board Leading Economic Index. So should investors be worried about the economy slipping into recession?

    "The stock market is the best economic barometer out there," says Jeffrey A. Hirsch, editor at Stock Trader's Almanac & Almanac Investor. "In conjunction with the bond market, it is where all the biggest money managers lay their bets on the economic future."

    Pullbacks, corrections and bear markets. How low is low? Market analysts generally define a zero to 10 percent decline in the stock market as a pullback, a retreat of 10 to 20 percent as a correction, and a drop of 20 percent or more as a bear market.

    Now that we've had a correction, it's like the first snowstorm you get for the year in New England -- people forget how to drive in the snow.

    In August, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) dropped 12 percent, which counts as a correction. But sometimes a market just needs to let off a little steam, which can actually be a good thing. "On average, once a year, you will see a 10 percent or more correction. The last one we had was 2011," says John Canally, economist at LPL Financial in Boston. "Now that we've had a correction, it's like the first snowstorm you get for the year in New England -- people forget how to drive in the snow."

    In other words, the market was overdue, and since it's been awhile since we've seen a correction, investors may be a little unnerved. While history shows that the stock market is a good predictor of recessions, not all corrections signal that a recession is ahead.

    "Does a 10 percent-plus decline in the S&P 500 predict that a U.S. recession will soon be at hand? Not according to history, which shows that while all recessions were preceded by corrections or bear markets, there were nearly three times the number of 10 percent-plus declines than there were recessions since 1948," says Sam Stovall, managing director at S&P Capital IQ in New York.

    Canally says that generally, "you get a recession once about every 10 years, but you get a 10 percent correction about once a year." Investors can take some comfort that the recent volatility and stock market weakness doesn't necessarily spell economic recession ahead.

    What's behind the recent stock market nervousness? Pick your poison. Uncertainty about the Federal Reserve and upcoming rate hikes is one factor, but there are plenty of other triggers. "The correction was due to a decrease in investor confidence, lowering valuation levels, caused principally by events in China and emerging markets rather than by a decline in the U.S. economy," says Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network in Boston.

    But looking ahead, stock market bulls remain optimistic. Canally points to a year-end target on the S&P 500 at 2,050. McMillian also expects a rebound by year's end in the S&P 500, which is down about 8 percent year to date.

    "Right now, 2,000 is the most probable level," he says. "This is the upper end of the current range. I do not expect confidence to rise enough to justify breaking this level, but I also expect market improvement toward the end of the year as the U.S. economy continues to grow."

    Moving ahead. The stock market may be taking your 401(k) balance for a roller-coaster ride, but the chance of a recession is remote. "We see the odds of a recession in the next 12 to 18 months as pretty low. History shows the odds of recession are about 10 percent," Canally says.

    If you are a long-term investor with a time horizon of five or more years, sit tight, McMillan says. "You can do more damage to your portfolio than the market can over the long term. For money you need in the short term, reduce your risk exposure to something you feel comfortable with in the event of a market downturn."

    The price retreat also means there could be bargains to be found. "A number of high-quality stocks have fallen more than 20 percent from their 52-week highs, meaning they themselves have undergone a bear market and represent a buying opportunity," Stovall says. He points to the energy sector, where earnings are expected to be off nearly 66 percent in the third quarter. "But that will likely be the trough quarter for that sector, and things will gradually improve from here," he says.

    Continue to stay the investment course if you are fully invested, Stovall says, adding: "Don't let your emotions become your portfolio's worst enemy."

     

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    I knew you could do it!
    Getty Images
    By Janet Bodnar

    Several members of our staff recently went to an investment conference at which a hot topic was women and money, and they suggested that we do a story on the subject. The office reaction was mixed. "It sounds patronizing," said one female colleague.

    For me, it was a case of déjà vu. Ten years ago, I was asked to write a book about women and money, and I had a similar discussion with my editor at the time. Money is gender-neutral, he argued, so any financial story we did should apply equally to men and women. Wouldn't it be unnecessary, even insulting, to suggest otherwise? I replied that it certainly would be insulting if we adopted the attitude that financial information needed to be dumbed-down (or softened up) for women. But we'd be doing a real service if we reflected reality: Women often need specific financial advice tailored to their needs.

    In the end, I wrote the book, originally titled "Think Single! The Woman's Guide to Financial Security at Every Stage of Life." The idea of "thinking single" had nothing to do with a woman's matrimonial state. Rather, it referred to a state of mind in which women think independently about money -- even if their lives are bound up with parents, spouses or children -- and are confident of their ability to manage and invest it. A reviewer praised the book for "avoiding the patronizing finger-wagging and sticking to advice that women can use."

    That has always been our philosophy here at Kiplinger for both men and women. But women often use financial products in different ways than men and have different priorities, depending on the situations they face.

    Retirement is a perfect example. Despite the influx of women into the workforce, women still tend to have more-checkered work careers and amass less in savings than men. As a result, certain retirement products are a boon for women. For instance, a stay-at-home mom can establish a spousal IRA funded by her spouse's earnings. The account lets the couple double down on saving, but it also lets her control money of her own if something should happen to her spouse.

    Similarly, both men and women are eligible to make catch-up contributions to IRAs and 401(k) accounts once they reach age 50. But the extra savings can be particularly valuable for a woman if she has been out of the workforce and is making up for lost time.

    Upbeat outlook. Statistically, women live longer than men. So it's not surprising that in one Fidelity study, 60 percent of the women interviewed said they worry about outliving their money. Our cover story on making your money last in retirement isn't specifically aimed at women, but it addresses their concerns head-on.

    Senior editor Jane Bennett Clark, our retirement specialist, says covering the subject has made her more optimistic about funding a secure retirement. "Many people I talk to make the point that people are flexible and adjust," says Jane. "They find places where they can spend less, or get a part-time job, or take less out of their investments if the market is down."

    As a woman who found herself single and planning her own retirement at age 60, Jane is equally upbeat. "It's satisfying to feel you have control over your own destiny," she says. That's what it means to think single.

     

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

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

    Horsehead Holding (ZINC) -- Up 125 percent last week

    Last week's biggest winner was Horsehead Holding, more than doubling after a larger rival announced that it would be scaling back its zinc production. Horsehead is a producer of zinc, zinc oxide and nickel-cadmium batteries. It's also a recycler of electric arc furnace dust and metals-bearing waste. Glencore's decision to slow its production sent zinc prices higher. That naturally benefits Horsehead, as it's able to command more money for its wares.

    One company hating the big move is Wall Street firm Oppenheimer. The analysts there downgraded Horsehead a week earlier, missing out on the big pop.

    Lumber Liquidators (LL) -- Up 34 percent last week

    The hardwood flooring retailer has been walking the plank all year, but it caught a break last week after settling a case on illegally sourced wood from Eastern Russia and Myanmar. This was the scandal at Lumber Liquidators before this year's fallout on safety concerns of its Chinese-sourced laminates and putting it to rest helps. However, the stock continues to be one of this year's biggest disappointments, off 72 percent so far in 2015 even after last week's settlement-driven pop.

    Customers still need some time before trusting Lumber Liquidators again for their flooring needs. The retailer did the right thing by eventually nixing all ties to Chinese laminates, but public opinion is usually slow to come around.

    LGI Homes (LGIH) -- Up 21 percent last week

    Some homebuilders are doing just fine these days. LGI Homes announced that it closed on 303 homes last month, up from just 200 a year earlier. It wraps up what has been a solid quarter for LGI Homes, with 934 homes handed over to new owners -- and 2,458 through the first nine months of 2015. That's 44 percent more than it did during the first nine months of 2014.

    Container Store (TCS) -- Down 21 percent last week

    The retailer of home storage solutions couldn't find a place to stash its latest quarterly report. Container Store shares slumped after falling short of Wall Street expectations. Sales inched marginally higher to $195.5 million and profitability was shaved by more than half to 6 cents a share. Analysts were holding out for net income of 7 cents a share on $197.7 million in sales.

    Yum Brands (YUM) -- Down 14 percent last week

    The parent company of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut also came up short in its latest quarter. Yum Brands' profit of $1 a share was well below the $1.07 a share that analysts were targeting. It's a big disappointment for a fast-food giant that had blown through Wall Street forecasts with ease in the two previous quarters.

    Shake Shack (SHAK) -- Down 12 percent last week

    Finally, we have trendy burger-flipper Shake Shack getting smacked down after filing to sell 26.2 million shares. Secondary offerings are often dilutive, but that's not the case this time. All 26.2 million of the shares are being sold by existing investors. Shake Shack won't receive any of the proceeds, and the share count will remain the same. This still leaves investors' faith rattled given the sheer volume of insider bailing.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Horsehead Holding, Lumber Liquidators, and The Container Store Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Fed Bank Of Atlanta Conference On Federal Reserve: Past and Present
    Stephen Morton/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesRichard Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, left, and Dennis Lockhart, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta at a conference in Georgia in 2010.
    By Ann Saphir and Lindsay Dunsmuir

    CHICAGO and ORLANDO, Fla. -- Two Federal Reserve policymakers whose views are often at odds both suggested Monday they could well support an interest rate hike in December, as long as the economic data don't disappoint and that rate hikes once begun are gradual.

    While two doesn't make a crowd, their apparent agreement on the plausibility of a December rate increase came just a day after Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said he, too, expects a 2015 hike.

    Indeed a large majority of Fed officials believe it will be appropriate to raise rates this year, but after the Fed opted to keep rates near zero at their meeting last month, investors have been increasingly doubtful. Weaker-than-expected data on job creation since the Fed's most recent meeting has fueled their skepticism, along with few signs that the global economy is poised to pick up.

    Traders see about a 40 percent chance the Fed will hike in December, and give about even odds for the January meeting. For October they see a less than 1 in 10 chance, though both Dennis Lockhart, the centrist chief of the Atlanta Fed, and Chicago Fed president Charles Evans, whose views are more dovish, sought to keep even October in the market's sights.

    "I think October is a live meeting, clearly there is the potential that the data coming in, in advance of the October meeting will be sufficient we have a lot more in December," Lockhart said in Orlando, Florida.

    Speaking separately in Chicago, Evans said that while for him waiting until mid-2016 to raise rates would be the "best choice," doing so earlier wouldn't necessarily adversely affect his forecast for the economy.

    "There is wiggle room" on the timing of the rate hike, he told reporters after a speech, and the economy could probably even withstand a slightly steeper set of rate increases than he, personally, would view as optimal.

    It is "way too early," he said, to know whether a December rate hike, or even an October one, would be appropriate.

    The Fed next meets Oct. 27-28.

     

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