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DailyFinance.com

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    Industrial Production
    Carlos Osorio/APA Buick Verano is assembled at General Motors' Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich.
    By TOM KRISHER

    DETROIT -- General Motors' third-quarter profit fell slightly, but the company rode strong North American sales to overcome $1.5 billion in costs from its deadly ignition switch recall. Its shares rose more than 4 percent in morning trading Wednesday.

    The Detroit automaker's net income slipped 1.4 percent from a year ago, but still was $1.36 billion, or 84 cents a share. That compares with $1.38 billion, or 81 cents a share, a year ago.

    Without the recall costs, GM would have made a $1.50 a share, soundly beating Wall Street expectations. Analysts polled by FactSet expected $1.18 a share.

    The company posted a record $3.3 billion pretax profit in North America, more than offsetting a small decline in China and a loss in South America.

    The news pushed GM (GM) shares up 4.2 percent, or $1.39, to $34.87 in morning trading Wednesday.

    Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said the GM's North American profit margin, the percent of revenue it gets to keep, hit a record 11.8 percent for the quarter. The company had set a goal of 10 percent North American margins by next year, but Stevens said GM will achieve the target a year early.

    Revenue from July through September fell 1 percent to $38.8 billion, but still beat analysts' forecasts. Almost three quarters of GM's revenue came from North America.

    In China, GM reported pretax income of $463 million, down 4 percent from a year ago, but profit margins rose from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent because the company sold more expensive Cadillacs and SUVs. "China has not fallen off the cliff as everyone had expected," Stevens said.

    South America, though, is still the big trouble spot for GM and other companies. The company lost $217 million in the region, almost seven times the loss from a year ago, and Stevens said there isn't an end in sight to economic troubles there.

    In Europe, GM's loss narrowed to $231 million and Stevens said GM is still on track to be profitable there next year. GM Financial, the company's auto loan arm, posted a 13 percent profit gain to $231 million.

    The recall costs included $900 million to fend off criminal prosecution over the ignition-switch scandal and about $600 million to settle multiple wrongful death and shareholder lawsuits stemming from the problem.

    The switches in older model small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt can slip out of the "run" position and cut off the engine. They have been linked to at least 169 deaths.

    GM said in September that ignition-switch scandal cost it over $5.3 billion. Even with the settlements, GM can't close the books on the scandal. It still faces more than 400 death and injury cases that have yet to be settled. Six cases are scheduled for trial, including one in January.

     

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    Test Drive Of The New Toyota Crown
    Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By YURI KAGEYAMA

    TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) is recalling 6.5 million vehicles worldwide for a defective power window switch that can overheat, melt and lead to fires.

    One injury in the U.S., a person who suffered a burn on the hand, has been reported related to the defect. Toyota has also received 11 reports of cases in which the switch or part of the car door burned -- seven in North America, two in Japan and two in other areas -- the Japanese automaker said Wednesday.

    The recall includes 2.7 million vehicles in North America, 1.2 million in Europe and 600,000 in Japan. It involves the Yaris, Corolla, Matrix, Camry, RAV4, Highlander, Tundra and other models, according to Toyota.

    The defect was caused by grease which was sprayed on improperly during the manufacturing of electrical contact modules. Debris or moisture could enter the module, and that could lead to a short circuit, Toyota said.

    Toyota has promised to be quicker with recalls after suffering a scandal starting in 2009 which ballooned into a massive recall over various problems, including faulty floor mats, defective brakes and sticky gas pedals. The scandal resulted in fines imposed on Toyota by U.S. authorities.

    Other automakers have been embroiled in scandals since then, including General Motors Co. (GM) over an ignition switch recall, Japanese supplier Takata Corp. over defective air bags, and more recently Volkswagen (VLKAY) of Germany over rigged emissions tests.

     

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    Activision Reveals Guitar Hero Live's GHTV At E3 2015 In Los Angeles
    Rachel Murray/Getty Images for ActivisionConvention goers enjoy Activisions Guitar Hero Live booth at E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in June.
    The days of video gamers flying through the frets of plastic guitars are back. Activision Blizzard (ATVI) released "Guitar Hero Live" on Tuesday, trying to breathe new life into the once-popular franchise.

    It's been five years since Activision Blizzard last put out a "Guitar Hero" game, and naturally folks will be skeptical about investing $100 in the new game, which includes the software and redesigned guitar controller.

    Let's go over a few things that may be rolling around your head as you decide whether you want to hop back onto the "Guitar Hero" franchise.

    1. Your Old Guitars Won't Work

    If you were a fan of the original series, there's a good chance that you still have one if not more of the early guitar controllers around. Unfortunately, they're only decorative at this point, unless you want to fire up your old "Guitar Hero" games. "Guitar Hero Live" comes with an all-new controller with six buttons on the frets. Your old guitar is not compatible with the new game. Sorry.

    2. Guitar Hero TV Is Your Friend

    There are dozens of tracks included in the game, and that should be enough to entertain your faux-strumming needs for some time. However, the real adventure awaits online, where Guitar Hero TV -- a platform that offers hundreds of playable songs -- is where things really get interesting.

    Basic access to Guitar Hero TV is free. However, if you want to cherry-pick songs to keep playing or take advantage of premium content offerings, you will have to make some in-game purchases. In short, if you can resist the features that will cost you money, it does enhance the disc-based game.

    3. Double Your Pleasure for $50 More

    If you plan on jamming with a friend, there is a $150 bundle that includes two of the wireless guitar controllers. Activision Blizzard isn't selling individual guitar controllers just yet, but one would think that they will cost slightly more than $50 if the bundle is being promoted as a value at $150 compared to $100 for the one-controller version.

    If you need an extra controller for a friend -- or maybe when you get angry and go all Pete Townshend on your first plastic guitar -- the dual-guitar bundle could be the better investment.

    4. Activision Blizzard Discontinued Guitar Hero Once ...

    It's easy to buy into the refreshed platform, and the new ad with Lenny Kravitz and James Franco jamming to the new game is going to generate some initial buzz. However, keep in mind that this was the same franchise that Activision Blizzard temporarily discontinued five years ago. The first game came out in 2005. Sales peaked in 2008. By 2010 it was the end of an era.

    Activision Blizzard will naturally nix this franchise again if it's not selling briskly, and even if it does come back in a few years, we already saw that Activision Blizzard isn't afraid of making older guitar controllers incompatible. Make the investment based on the included tracks and the current state of Guitar Hero TV. Don't count on the music living on forever.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days, and check out our free report for one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    woman looks into a piggy bank....
    Shutterstock
    Every now and then, I'll reach out to the Good Financial Cents community for their input regarding what they'd like to see on the blog.

    One person said their biggest financial fear wasn't generating enough income to maintain their current plan. I thought I'd address that fear in this post. After all, that's pretty scary, right?

    Imagine not bringing in enough income to pay your bills or those unexpected expenses that come up every so often. Perhaps you don't have to imagine that scenario -- you're living it!

    You know exactly what it's like to be late on your bills and have to borrow using credit cards to make ends meet. Whether you're in that scenario or you want to know what to do should you find yourself there, this post is for you.

    The Financial Blogger's Conference community provided me with some of their best tips that I'll incorporate into this article. You'll love what they have to say.

    Alan Steinborn at DestinationDebtFreedom.com has some important preliminary advice for those who find themselves in this situation:

    One important thing is to not be hard on yourself. It doesn't usually help anything, and the truth is that most everyone falls short of their expectations sometimes. Once you have taken a few deep breaths, walked around the block and made a mental list of all that is good in your life, you will have the mental clarity to make some new decisions.

    So sit back, don't sweat it and let's figure out what to do when you don't make enough money to fund your budget.

    It's All About Income ... or Expenses ... or Both!

    When you don't make enough money to fund your budget, there are two areas that often need to be analyzed: your income and expenses. Simple, right? What's simpler is if you have a million dollars -- or some other large amount of money -- sitting in your closet that you forgot about.

    If that's the case, you don't have an urgent financial issue and you should probably read this article instead. Assuming you don't have a swimming pool full of dough, you're going to have to work on improving your income, or your expenses, or both. Teresa Mears at LivingontheCheap.com had it right when she said:

    You really only have two choices: make more money or spend less.

    Bingo. Short and sweet. Lance Cothern at MoneyManifesto.com spells it out for us a bit more:

    The first thing you should do is figure out if you have an income problem or a spending problem. If you're only spending on basic essentials and you still don't have enough money to get by, work on finding higher paying work or more hours of work. If you're spending on cell phones, cable TV, and vacations, you may have a spending problem and should work on cutting nonessential expenses until your budget balances or until you can earn more income to cover those luxuries.

    Elizabeth Colegrove at ReluctantLandlord.net says that you need to evaluate the issue before you decide what to do:

    Evaluate the issue (earning potential or excessive expenses) and create a plan of attack (reduce commuting/housing costs, look for a new job, relocate). It's also important to keep in mind that there will be seasons of feeling or being poor in order to obtain that next goal or milestone (school, graduate school, new job, launching of a new company, etc.).

    Kate Dore at CashvilleSkyline.com believes in attacking income or expenses based on what's doable over the long-term:

    When you've realized you don't make enough money to fund your budget, you need to make a tough decision. Earn more money by asking for a raise, adding a side hustle, or changing careers -- or trimming the excess expenses, paying off debt, and living on less. What's most important? Making sure the choice is sustainable for you and your family.

    Increase Your Income

    If you're making minimum wage, I'm sorry, that just won't cut it. Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. If you work 40 hours an week every week for a year, that equals only slightly more than $15,000. Weak sauce. Now, it's great if you're just starting fresh out of high school or you need a temporary job to help your family out, but minimum wage shouldn't be a lifelong pursuit. It's good to aim higher. Stefanie O'Connell at TheBrokeandBeautifulLife.com likes to promote making more income:

    Make more money! It sounds so common sense, but when you're in the moment and struggling with not having enough, there's a tendency to put so much focus on the lack, that the very practical solution of tackling the other side of the equation -- generating more cashflow -- often gets overlooked.

    Reduce Your Expenses

    Another approach to ensure you're making enough money to fund your budget is to lower your budget. Jaymee at SmartWomanBlog.com agrees with this approach:

    What's one important thing you should do when you don't make enough money to fund your budget? I would audit my expenses -- cut back on what I can or get rid of what I don't need.

    Brandon Marcott at EdifyFP.com believes in focusing on reducing expenses as the sole way to ensure you're spending within a budget:

    You really need to prioritize the spending items you value most. Is an extra $100 eating out more or less valuable than the $100 you want to save for some future purchase or $100 you want to give to your church or charity? It needs to be focused around your values, otherwise a change in spending habits is hard to stick with. In regards to the idea of "make more money," I find this a complete fallacy. Why? Because oftentimes, as soon as you make more, you find more things to spend it on and you end up in the same predicament. Hence, stick with values spending.

    Michelle Schroeder-Gardner at MakingSenseofCents.com believes cutting expenses is the way to go:

    One important thing a person would do when they don't make enough money to fund their budget is to find ways to cut their budget. Whether that means cutting something completely out (such as a gym membership), negotiating for a lower rate, or cutting back in an area, something needs to be done so that you can stop living paycheck to paycheck.

    Jessica Garbarino at EverySingleDollar.com points out the essence of what it means to cut back expenses:

    Get very critical about which budget items are truly "needs" and truly "wants." Start by cutting back on the "wants."

    Because the level of necessity of certain budget items are controversial, it's best to ask a few friends to see if you're out of line. This helps when you're looking at, say, your coffee budget: "It's a need! No it's a want! No it's ... ugh I can't decide!" What you're really doing when you're making these "need" and "want" decisions is you're prioritizing. In fact, Jacob Wade at IHeartBudgets.net has a great idea for prioritizing your expenses:

    Write out a budget in order of priority (#1 shelter, #2 food, #3 utilities, etc.). Fund each item in order using your income. When the money is gone, draw a hard line. Anything below the line does not get funded. Done.

    Great idea Jacob. He goes on to say that finding money-making ideas is a great followup idea:

    Part two of this is to research hundreds of ways to make extra money now! Jay Monee's side hustle series is a great place to start.

    Agreed. But let's focus on expenses for a moment. What are some expenses that can be cut back? Jeff Fruhwirth at SustainableLifeBlog.com says:

    [What do you do] when you don't make enough money to fund your budget? Fix your budget. Get rid of cable TV, change phone plans, sell your car, move to a cheaper place, stop eating out.

    Here are some more specific ways to save money:

    1. Eye your groceries and cut them back. If you're seeing some chocolate cookies or ice cream in your shopping cart when you're at the grocery store and you're asking yourself, "I wonder how those got there?" I'll tell you: You put them in your shopping cart! Come on! If you're on a tight budget, you don't need that junk food. Instead, try something that will make you more like The Rock: veggies and fruits or lean meats. You get the idea. Believe it or not, you'll probably save money even when eating healthy -- junk food, in my opinion, has the capacity to take up a large portion of your grocery budget. Rosemarie Groner at BusyBudgeter.com agrees that cutting your grocery budget is a great idea:

    Cut your grocery budget. It's the easiest place to "find" extra money and depending on what you're spending now, that can free up several hundred dollars. If you eat at home and pack your lunches for work, that can buy you some time to figure out other solutions.

    Grocery spending is often identified as impulse spending. That leads me to my next point ...

    2. Watch out for other impulse purchases. Grayson Bell at DebtRoundup.com understands the danger of impulse purchases:

    Cut the "fat" and rein in the impulse spending. Most people think they don't have enough to fund their budget because their budget is funding lifestyle inflation and "wants." People don't focus much on needs anymore due to our consumer culture. Get really honest with yourself, learn to track every penny, and make changes. If all else fails, get a second job and make more money!

    How to Reach Your Goals

    Whether you have an income issue, expense issue, or both, there are some tactics you can use to reach your goals. Let's take a look.

    1. Find an accountability partner or group. Toni Husbands at DebtFreeDivas.com recognizes the importance of having someone walk through your financial journey with you:

    Find an accountability partner or group. Find someone you respect and that is fiscally responsible to talk with about your challenges. Often, an objective, unbiased perspective can help sort through issues to determine if you have a spending problem or making more income is really the best solution. An accountability partner will apply positive peer pressure so you can stick to the goals you've outlined.

    2. Stay positive. Mark Greutman at MarkandLaurenG.com advises people to stay positive so they can reach their financial goals:

    Keep a positive mindset and recognize this as a temporary situation. If you get used to spending more than you make, you might never get out.

    3. Don't panic. Panic can cripple you. Michelle Jackson at ShopMyClosetProject.com understands this:

    When you find yourself with more budget than income the first thing you have to do is resist panicking! Panic creates opportunities to make bad decisions. Take a walk outside, clear your head, and with a clear mind look at your overall situation. You'll make better decisions by managing your emotions.

    4. Come to terms with your need to change. Making a change isn't always easy -- but sometimes it's necessary. Daniel Zajac at FinanceandFlipFlops.com understands that accepting change is a part of reaching your goals:

    When you spending exceeds your budget, the single most important thing you need to do is acknowledge this can't go on forever. Something needs to change. Change might mean reevaluating your budget by giving up a "luxury" such as a coffee or eating out. Other change could be asking for a raise or getting a second job. Once you accept the need for change, you can begin to correct the problem.

    5. Tap into your original motivation. Why do people try to save money and make more money? There's always a reason! Johnny at OurFreakingBudget.com says finding your motivation is important when it comes to fixing the problem of overspending or not making enough money:

    Take a deep breath and remember why you started a budget in the first place. Whether it was to get or stay out of debt, save for retirement, or put money toward a beach getaway, tap into that motivation and ask yourself, "Is [budgeted expense] more important than my goal?" If you're truly motivated, you'll find or make ways to cut back and/or earn more money.

    In order to want to do something, you have to be genuinely motivated. If you don't have a reason to accomplish your goals, you're not going to achieve them.

    Concluding Thoughts

    As you can see, there are a bunch of suggestions regarding what to do when you don't make enough money to fund your budget.

    Some feel cutting expenses is the most important part of the equation, and others feel that raising income is the best way to go. Others advocate both approaches.

    So what should you do if you're having this financial problem? Well, that depends on your individual scenario. I would advise you to target the area (income or expenses) that will make the most difference in your life, and then move on to the other one.

    If you need to focus raising your income, I have a whole bunch of home-based business ideas in this article: 65 Home Business Ideas You Can Do From Your Kitchen Table.

    If you need to focus on cutting your expenses, check out 70 Super Easy and Practical Ways to Save Money.

    Need to make money fast? Check out 100 Ways to Make $100 Fast.

    Whatever you do, don't make yourself overwhelmed. Pick a couple of things to try out, see how they work for you, and move on to the next ideas once you've exhausted your first ones. Stay motivated, and one morning you'll wake up and discover you have enough money to pay your bills. That's a dream worthy of pursuit!

    If you're not going through this financial problem right now, make sure to keep your expenses low and income high. You might be able to avoid having this problem in the future, and you should always try. You're doing great and I encourage you to continue to do so.

    How would you or are you dealing with this situation? Leave a comment.

     

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    close up of hands giving house...
    Shutterstock
    As a brand new homeowner, I didn't know as much as I do now about buying and selling houses. I'm still not an expert by any means, but I've learned some important principles about how to buy a home that earns you money over time.

    It's all about choosing the right property and improving it strategically. If you're looking for the right situation, you can buy a home that makes you money for years to come, all with minimal effort on your part. Let's get right into it.

    1. Make Money By Buying a House that is Undervalued

    This takes research and perspective. Homes may be undervalued for many reasons. Oftentimes, a home may start out overpriced, but sit around on the market for months. The longer a house sits around for sale, the less likely it is to sell and the more motivated the seller may be to accept a much lower offer.

    Other homes are "ugly ducklings." They may be the worst house on a nice street, or require some renovation to make them all they can be. If you're handy, or if the price you negotiate leaves you with enough money to perform repairs and later turn a profit, a home like this can be a good choice. In general, be ready to buy a house, but wait to pull the trigger until you know you've found a diamond in the rough. There are so many factors which contribute to an undervalued home. With time and practice, you'll know one when you see one.

    2. Make Money While You Own the Home

    On average, homes tend to appreciate in value over time at a rate of 3 to 5 percent a year. This rate increases if you find a home that's in a growing or developing neighborhood. You can further increase this value of your home by performing strategic improvements to the house. Remodels which add a bathroom or bedroom, or improve key features like the kitchen or master bath, can add more than 100 percent of their cost in equity. Other people add significant square footage to their homes through inexpensive additions. Again, these must be well-chosen renovations. But if you take your time and pick good projects, you'll be investing in a home that will be worth much more when you sell it someday.

    3. Make Money When You Sell or Rent

    There are many pieces of advice on how to invest in real estate out on the Internet, but the people who do it the best are the ones who are willing to get creative. Some people are able to sell their own homes, to avoid an agent's fee. Some accomplish this by becoming agents themselves. But the most successful homeowner/sellers are the ones who have a knack for marketing. Take great pictures, pick a good price, make your home visible in every local and national real estate advertising forum you can find (in print and online) and have a timeline for how long you'll wait before lowering the price. If your home is priced accurately, and is in move-in condition, you'll stand a good chance of selling the home fast and on your own.

    Other people follow these first steps and decide not to sell. Instead, they use their home to generate cash flow or passive income, in order to improve their lifestyle, increase savings/investments or fund the purchase of an additional property. This will work well for some people, and not others, and you likely already know how you feel about the idea. But you can clearly see how selecting the right house in the first place gives you excellent options like this one, even years later.

    Make it Happen For You

    There are many more ways to add value to your home as you own it, but selecting the right home in the first place is the most important. If you get a good deal on your home, make realistic improvements that increase your equity, enjoy appreciation in your home's value and sell (or rent it out) at the right time and for the right price, you will have maxed out your home in terms of its wealth-building potential.

    Now that you've done it once, you can do it again. I'm not trying to turn you into a full time real estate investor. It's simply a good idea to make the most of your purchase if you ever decide to become a homeowner. With many a personal finance blog covering general investment, decisions like these deserve extra attention. For new homeowners and those still aspiring, it's very reasonable to do this process several times, some people even recommending that young people try to do it once every two years. Once you've done it right the first time, there are many ways to expand. So focus on your first house and make it a solid foundation for your future financial success.

     

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    WireImage/Getty ImagesChristopher Lloyd, Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson and writer/director Robert Zemeckis attend the 'Back To The Future' 25th anniversary Trilogy Blu-Ray release celebration in New York City.
    By Jim Gold

    The future is today, and it's about time!

    At least, that's what those celebrating "Back to the Future Day" say.

    In the second installment of the popular trilogy, 1989's "Back to the Future Part II" characters Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) land their time traveling DeLorean in what is now our present day, Oct. 21, 2015.

    Through their eyes, we see the future envisioned by producer Steven Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis. Through our eyes we can see how close they got -- and in some cases, what we got instead.

    Time Travel

    No, we still don't have time machines, and we don't even have scientists agreeing on whether we could time travel, but that doesn't mean we stopped experimenting with the possibility, as Space.com reports. Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia recently simulated how time-traveling photons might behave, the Daily Mail reported. Their research suggests that if we ever could travel back through time, we could deal with the grandfather paradox cited in "Back to the Future": If we stop our grandparents from meeting, we wouldn't be born to travel back in time.

    Flying Cars

    Weren't we supposed to have flying cars by now? They haven't really gotten off the ground yet. Envisioned long before "Back to the Future," they were featured in movies, including "A Visit to A Small Planet" with Jerry Lewis and television's "The Jetsons." Boston-based Terrafugia says its model is coming soon, and you can reserve one now. It's even making a vertical takeoff model, it told the BBC, that would be ready in less than 10 years.

    In the meantime, as the BBC notes, we've got electric cars and garbage-fueled cars. And don't forget self-driving cars, they're here, thanks to Mercedes, Google and Apple.

    Picture Phones

    As movie character Needles (Flea) talks in a video phone call, on-screen text lets a middle-age McFly see his caller's personal likes and dislikes. We've got Skype and other video conferencing tools. Personal details don't flow automatically yet, but during a Skype call, we could call up or search for details about people with whom we're talking. Also, we've got FaceTime on iPhones, putting live video chats in the palms of our hands.

    Fax machines seem ubiquitous in the movie, but their use in our real lives has diminished with the growth of email, PDFs and JPEGs.

    Flat Screens

    Not only does the movie showcase flat screen TVs, they appear to be at the 16:9 aspect ratio we enjoy now on high-definition sets rather than the 4:3 ratio that was still standard in 1989. While the plasma flat screen was invented in 1964, HDTVs didn't become common until the late '90s. Digital TV transmission became mandatory in 2009. The movie also showed flexible screens the size of window shades. Flex screens exist in smaller formats and are in development for larger sizes.

    Thumbprints In 2015, according to the film, thumbprints open door locks and pay bills, such as a taxi fare. That does happen now, at least to a degree. You can buy keyless "biometric" locks activated by your thumbprint or fingerprint, as well as by keypad and card reader. If you've got an iPhone, you can activate it with your thumbprint and in turn activate apps that unlock doors or pay bills via PayPal or your credit and debit cards. Yale locks recently partnered with Nest, the Google-owned technology firm, to sell a door lock that can be remotely controlled by a smartphone app.

    Video Glasses

    The McFly children of 2015 wear video glasses to watch entertainment and receive phone calls. Voice-activated Google Glass came -- with parts of a smartphone, a processor, 16GB of storage, a Bluetooth radio, a small battery and more -- but earlier this year went, when Google halted consumer sales of its $1,500 eyewear. Google reportedly will revive Glass under a new name.

    Meanwhile, Facebook's Oculus Rift and Microsoft's HoloLens virtual reality headgear are due early next year.

    And we've got other wearable devices foretold by a talking jacket worn by McFly, from the Apple Watch and FitBits to clothing that monitors your heart rate, respiration rate and skin temperature and can even send EKGs (electrocardiograms). Nike has applied for a patent for self-lacing footwear.

    Marty McFly in "Back to the Future II" fears he's about to be gobbled by a holographic shark.

    Holograms

    We don't have a holographic version of "Jaws 19," but you can attend your own funeral and hang out for eternity as a hologram. Full-color, pop-up, floating 3D displays that can be viewed without glasses, are coming.

    Hoverboard While the movie features a chase scene on hoverboards, that wouldn't work now for real. Hoverboards designed by Lexus and a rival called Hendo, designed with skateboard star Tony Hawk, work on magnet-based technology and can't leave their metal tracks hidden below skatepark surfaces.

    A Few Movie Misses
    • The Web: Although the film depicts data-driven technology, and the Internet was around when the film was made, the World Wide Web was in its infancy.
    • Smartphones: "It's the Swiss Army Knife of today," screenwriter Bob Gale told The Hollywood Reporter. "The fact that everyone can have one device that's a computer, that's a camera, that's a recording device, that's a calculator, that's a flashlight ... we didn't think of that." Marty Jr. uses an AT&T payphone in the movie. The film does show, however, tabletlike devices. However, it also relies on a print version of USA Today to change as the film's characters change history. And who could foresee the USA Today logo change?
    • Pizza hydrators: Black & Decker never did develop the kitchen gadget that would blow up a miniature pizza to full size. However, Gale did foresee pizza remaining popular.
    How to Celebrate
    • See it again: If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch all three "Back to the Future" movies for free in October. Universal also recently released a 30th anniversary Blu-ray set (the first movie came out in 1985). Go back to the big screen as the movies are playing in many cities.
    • Go behind the scenes: The documentary film "Back in Time," featuring interviews with Fox, Zemeckis and Spielberg, will be released digitally Oct. 21.
    • Keep up: Check out updates for Doctor Brown on Facebook, where he seems to have returned to 2015.
    • Visit: If you're near Reston, Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb, you can visit Marty McFly's hometown of Hill Valley, thanks to the Washington West International Film Festival. It will be screening "Back to the Future Part II" with actor Lloyd and screenwriter Gale in attendance.
    • Watch the Cubs, even though they are facing off against the Mets on Oct. 21. In the movie, they beat a not-then-real Miami team to win the 2015 World Series.
    Which "Back to the Future" prediction do you wish had come true? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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

     

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    DYK_Ep103_TravelSites_FINAL.Mov
    Did you know that your browsing history can affect your travel budget? Many travel sites store your browsing information and, in some cases, your zip code, too. Depending on how many times you've searched for the same fare, or if you're browsing from an affluent area, sites can raise prices accordingly.

    So, how can you keep the costs from climbing? It's a breeze. Simply delete your cookies and browsing history before you search and you can make yourself appear as a first-time visitor to the site.

    Also, try searching from different browsers and devices and you may just see the prices take a dive. Remember: buying plane tickets online doesn't have to stall your savings.

    View Poll

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street Ferrari's Debut
    Richard Drew/APFiat Chrysler chairman John Elkann, second left, Ferrari CEO Amedeo Felisa, center, Piero Ferrari, son of Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari, second right, and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange to mark Ferrari's IPO, Wednesday.
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell Wednesday as a sharp drop in Valeant Pharmaceuticals hit health care shares, while the energy sector dropped along with oil prices.

    Adding to the negative tone, Yahoo (YHOO) shares fell 5.2 percent to $31.12, a day after the Internet company's quarterly earnings and profit missed expectations.

    Valeant Pharmaceuticals' (VRX) U.S.-listed shares sank to an intraday low of $88.50 on record volume, losing about $9.6 billion in market capitalization, after short-seller Citron Research released a report critical about the company.

    The stock later pared losses after investor Bill Ackman said Wednesday he increased his Valeant stake by about 2 million shares. The stock ended down 19.2 percent at $118.61, its lowest level since October 2014.

    Shares of Allergan (ACT), which has a business model similar to that of Valeant, was down 1.7 percent at $259, cutting earlier losses after the company said nearly all of its drugs are being distributed through traditional wholesale and retail channels.

    Also in the health care sector, insurers Aetna (AET), Humana (HUM), Anthem (ANTM) and Cigna (CI) all fell at least 3 percent after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she had "serious concerns" about the mergers the companies were proposing.

    A drop in crude oil prices weighed on the S&P 500 energy sector, which fell 1 percent. That led sector declines for the S&P 500, followed by materials, down 0.9 percent, and S&P health care, also down 0.9 percent.

    Lower Oil Prices

    "Oil inventories were up quite a bit, so energy was down and that weighed down the market. Going into the afternoon the buyers were just lined up to watch as we drifted lower into the the close," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

    "Also there was weakness in health care, not just in individual stocks, but that sector underperformed."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 48.5 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,168.61, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 11.83 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,018.94 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 40.86 points, or 0.8 percent, to 4,840.12.

    On the plus side, shares of General Motors (GM) rose 5.8 percent to $35.42, while Boeing (BA) rose 1.7 percent to $141.19, after both industry heavyweights reported better-than-expected results.

    Ferrari (RACE) was up 5.8 percent at $55 in its debut on the New York Stock Exchange.

    Stocks have mostly gained this month following a sharp selloff in the third quarter.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,173 to 888, for a 2.45-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 2,066 issues fell and 717 advanced for a 2.88-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 27 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 52 new highs and 82 new lows.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • At 10 a.m., the National Association of Realtors releases existing home sales for September, and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • 3M Co. (MMM)
    • Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL)
    • Amazon.com (AMZN)
    • Caterpillar (CAT)
    • McDonald's (MCD)
    • Microsoft (MSFT)
    • Southwest Airlines (LUV)
    • Union Pacific (UNP)
    • United Continental Holdings (UAL)

     

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    stillwater  mn usa   june 27 ...
    Shutterstock
    By Varsha Bansal

    To compete with FedEx (FDX) and UPS (UPS), the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service is testing enhanced services in select locations.

    Mail notification. This new service, which is expected to launch in New York City, will tell customers what's coming to their mailbox every day by sending e-mails they can read on their mobile device. The service doesn't include packages.

    Sunday delivery. This holiday season, some cus­tomers can expect their gifts and packages to be delivered on some Sundays leading up to Christmas. Sunday delivery will be offered in most major U.S. cities with high package volume.

    Same-day delivery. The USPS has a pilot program for same-day delivery in New York City.

    Grocery delivery. Working with Amazon, USPS is delivering groceries in some locations in California and New York.

    Alcohol delivery. Postmaster General Megan Brennan has said that delivering beer, wine and spirits would make the USPS more competitive. Current law prohibits U.S. mail carriers from delivering alcoholic beverages, so Congress would have to give its blessing.

     

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    Never Hold for Customer Service Again



    Internet and mobile phone users may be accustomed to instant communication in daily life, but it can be back to the Stone Age when you call a company's customer service operation. Understaffed call centers, customer service numbers with complicated phone-tree menus and representatives without decision-making powers are the top obstacles to customer satisfaction, Consumer Reports' recent survey of consumers' experiences found. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they've hung up in frustration before resolving the complaint they'd called about.

    Keep Cool

    As Scott Broetzmann, president of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, tells CR, "Many companies today are simply awful at resolving customer problems, despite investments in whiz-bang technologies and considerable advertising about their customer focus."

    But there's no need to drive up your blood pressure. There are ways around the customer-service mess, including apps that help you bypass the customer-service runaround. Here are nine tips for staying sane while getting the help you need -- quickly:

    1. Use phone tree finesse. Here's how to reach live help faster when calling customer service:
    • Press "0." Hitting the "0" button repeatedly on your phone will get someone on the line at many companies. (Inside Edition, however, says the technique has lost effectiveness as companies are dodging this customer work-around.)
    • Ask for "operator." When dealing with a voice-activated system that wants you to state the reason for your call (but fails to understand your answer) say "operator" repeatedly when prompted to explain the reason you are calling.
    • Select a different department. "Forget support entirely and press the prompt for 'sales' or 'to place an order,' where companies are likely to roll out the red carpet," say customer service experts polled by Consumer Reports. At the minimum, someone in another department may be able to direct you to the correct extension.
    • Time your call. Make your call during slow times, not lunch time. Avoid Mondays and Fridays, a company's busiest days.
    • Vent. Go ahead and yell at the recording. It just might help. Some automated systems are able to recognize the anger in your voice and bump frustrated callers to the head of the queue, Inside Edition says.
    2. Reach a real person with GetHuman. Let me tell you a story about GetHuman. I used it for the first time recently when I tried calling a well-known shoe retailer with a question about a return. I dialed the customer service number on my receipt, full of goodwill toward the company. After 10 minutes on hold, the line seemed to go dead. I hung up and tried again. My second call ended 40 minutes later when I hung up because I had no more time to waste. By then I was furious with the company.

    I'd read about GetHuman, an online app that shows users the shortest path to a live customer service representative, so I decided to give it a try. At GetHuman.com I typed in the name of the company whose customer service department I wanted to reach. GetHuman replied with the same number I'd been using, but with instructions to say, "Place an order." I followed GetHuman's directions. Someone at the shoe company picked up on the second ring and resolved my issue in minutes.

    Also, GetHuman offers additional assistance:

    Tell us why you're phoning. We'll try to help before Chase picks up the phone.

    This allows GetHuman to try supplying either an answer to your question from its database or a phone number specifically appropriate to your issue. GetHuman also offers ways to ask a question about a company and read users' experiences, reviews and tips.

    GetHuman mobile apps are available on the Google Play and the iTunes store.

    3. Let LucyPhone place your call. Once you finally get through to customer service, there's still the possibility of being stuck on hold.LucyPhone prevents waiting on the line and listening to elevator music. Instead, the free service instructs you to hang up so you can receive a call back when customer service is on the line.

    At LucyPhone's website or mobile app, find the company you want to contact and let LucyPhone connect you to the customer service line. LucyPhone's directions:

    First we'll connect you to the company.
    If you get put on hold, press * * and we will wait in your spot for you.
    When your call reaches an agent, you will get a call back.

    4. Get customer service to call you. In another twist, FastCustomer gets a representative to contact you. On the FastCustomer website, search for the company you want to contact. FastCustomer takes care of the rest. The service tells you what your wait time is likely to be.

    Some 3,000-plus companies are listed, including Apple, Verizon, Bank of America and AAA. Apps are available for iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire and Chrome.

    5. Let GripeO manage your complaint. Type your complaint into GripeO's website and your gripe is taken straight to the business that's the focus of your complaint. GripeO contacts the business on your behalf.

    "Unlike Yelp, which publishes complaints publicly, GripeO keeps the conversation private between the customer and the company in question," says this article in Buffalo Rising, adding:

    If a company ignores or fails to respond to a complaint, that complaint will be auctioned off to other businesses. The business that purchases the complaint can provide the customer with a solution to their complaint and possibly attract more business with that and other customers. In this way, [Creative Director Jim] Proulx said smaller companies could compete with larger ones by offering superior customer service.

    The key to GripeO's ambitions, though, may be in the other side of its business: complaint management for businesses.

    6. Use live chat. Whenever you see a live chat feature offered, give it a try. Many companies are using live chat effectively to provide real-time help, making it a real time saver for customers. Some live support options are staffed by clueless agents who seem unable to understand or respond to requests but it costs you nothing to try it out.

    7. Vote with your feet. You'll find alternatives even to cable monopolies these days (read You Can Stop Paying for Cable TV Now) and banks (read Is It Time to Divorce Your Bank?), for just two examples. Next time you find yourself trying for the umpteenth time to connect with customer service, fire your annoying provider and find a new one. Just be sure to research the alternatives before you jump:
    • Ask friends, family and co-workers for recommendations.
    • Read online reviews of companies' customer service.
    • Search for news about a company.
    • Read through the website of a company you are considering using, focusing especially on the customer service options and policies.
    In fact, Consumer Reports found that dropping a service often inspires its customer service staff to pull out all the stops to get the business back:

    When the half-price HBO promo ended for one of our shoppers and the cable company refused to extend it, he dropped the package. "Once I quit, they offered it to me again -- in the same phone call," he said. Another shopper dropped Cablevision completely when his bill skyrocketed. After he quit, the company was willing to deal to regain his business.

    8. Take your problem public on social media. Social media is a potentially powerful way to get a company's attention. It's simple to use: Post your complaint on a company's website or Tweet about the problem you're having. Smart companies today are monitoring social media and have staffers dedicated to responding to negative comments and resolving them.

    I've saved this option for last, though, because it could get you in hot water. Cautions U.S. News:

    [K]keep in mind that some companies have a nondisparagement clause buried in their terms of service. "If you're going to make a complaint online, be sure that you state supportable facts," says Anthony Giorgianni, an associate finance editor at Consumer Reports. "You leave yourself open to a lawsuit if you start making factual claims that are not correct."

    If you do use social media, don't just lash out. Posting a friendly question is safer, more-civil and potentially more effective than launching a nasty screed, anyway.

    9. Bring in the big guns. If you have exhausted other avenues (and you are dealing with a Fortune 500 company) try contacting the company's executive customer service operation.

    "Executive customer service is a person or team attached to the executive offices of most major companies that, unlike some call center jockeys reading off binders, have the ability to solve nearly any problem," Ben Popken tells readers at Next Avenue. Popken is a former managing editor at Consumerist.com.

    Caveat: Executive customer support can be hard to locate and success is not guaranteed. Here's how to find and use it:
    • It's a last resort. To have credibility with the executive suite, you'll need to have tried the usual support channels that we've listed above and struck out.
    • Bring your A game. Getting what you want at this level requires respectful approach. No venting, no ranting. Be polite and be ready to deliver a quick, concise description of your problem, including the solution you want.
    • Find the number. It may take creativity to find a company's executive customer service as these teams or staff members are not typically listed on the company website. Start your search by typing the business' name into Google Finance or Yahoo Finance to find a phone number for the company headquarters and names of its top executives.
    • Place the call. Call the headquarters and ask for one of the top execs by name. When you reach the executive or, mostly likely, a secretary or administrative assistant, deliver your brief explanation and request. You may be routed elsewhere or, in the best of all possible worlds, the person on the other end will say, "Let me see what I can do to help."
    • Try emailing. Look for email addresses on the company's website for a company directory (usually in the "about" area. If you can't find the addresses you need, use Consumerist's tips for sussing out contact information for executives. Popken's Next Avenue article has more tips on resolving complaints via email.
    Have you tried any of the tips and techniques described here? We'd love to know what worked for you and to hear your customer service war stories, good and bad. Post a comment below or at our Facebook page.

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

     

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    Halloween pumpkins on dark background
    ShutterstockSeasonal decorations at stores might even get you to spend more.
    By Kendal Perez

    Treats and trickery are popular themes this month as families prepare to celebrate Halloween.

    They're also strategies used by retailers to get consumers to spend more.

    Customers focused on getting a bargain may not notice the following traps used to part them with their hard-earned cash. And these traps aren't the shriek-inducing ones that shock you on Halloween; they're subtler and often disguised as treats, making them far more deadly to your budget.

    Strategic staging:

    'Tis the season for changing leaves, hearty meals and pumpkin-spiced everything, a fact retailers won't allow consumers to overlook. Pretty displays of pumpkins and swirling scents of cinnamon play on consumers' nostalgia during this time of year. While these sensations bring smiles to shoppers' faces, the underlying strategy is far from innocent. "During the holidays, it's important that our store features seasonal aromas and music," says Miles Bergsma, director of brick & mortar for etailz Inc., speaking about Wollnick's General Store in Spokane, Washington. "We've found that if customers are greeted with a shopping experience that reflects the season, they will stay longer and spend more."

    Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor for DealNews, agrees. "Researchers have found that certain colors, sounds, smells and even physical sensations can increase spending," he says.

    The color red, for example, has an interesting influence on diners and shoppers. "In a restaurant, seeing red makes you think you're hungry," says Joanie Demer, co-founder of The Krazy Coupon Lady. "In a store, it makes you think you're getting a deal, even when you aren't."

    Tricky upsells:

    When it comes to online shopping, there's no promotion more coveted than free shipping. According to the 2015 Holiday Shipping Survey published by Pitney Bowes, 60 percent of surveyed shoppers admitted to increasing their spending to qualify for free shipping. Threshold offers, as they're called, are a common upselling trick, says Mari Corella, director of digital merchandising for a global beauty company. "A popular practice for online retailers is to offer free shipping, a discount or a free gift once a certain order value is reached," she says.

    Online shoppers likely recognize the strategy, but they may be surprised to learn this next part: "This order value is often up to 50 percent more than the average order value." In essence, retailers double customer spending while making them feel they received a good deal in free delivery. Sneaky indeed!

    Scheming prices:

    The order in which shoppers are presented products can contribute to how much they spend. Consumer psychologist and retail consultant Bruce D. Sanders found hotel room shoppers paid an average of $19 more per room when they reviewed options from highest price to lowest price, compared to those who were presented with the list in reverse. "The price of the first item considered becomes an anchor for what the shopper expects to pay," Sanders says.

    Sorting products by highest-rated may seem like a smart way to find the best value among low- and high-priced items. However, it's more complicated than that, Corella says. "Even when sorted by 'most relevant' or 'recommended,' price point plays a large role in the algorithm, making higher-priced items sort to the top."

    A related tactic is something called the "decoy effect," where the existence of one product is designed to increase sales for another product. Vassilis Dalakas, professor of marketing at California State University San Marcos, offers an example from Williams-Sonoma. "The store was offering a bread maker for around $279 but had difficulty selling it," he says. So they introduced a pricier bread maker for $429, which drove consumers to purchase the lesser-priced option. "From a consumer psychology standpoint, it's important to recognize the power of reference points," Dalakas says. "As consumers, we often have difficulty making a decision, so we try to use something that makes it easier for us to compare available options so we can decide on which one is best."

    Deceptive discounts:

    Consumers love using coupons to knock down the price of their purchases, while retailers lament their negative impact on profit margins. Jerry Jao, CEO of Retention Science, a customer data and retention marketing company, points to dynamic discounting as a popular method for retailers to stay competitive while maximizing profits. Based on data collected by a retailer, one customer may receive an email for 20 percent off her purchase, while another receives an email for only 10 percent off her purchase. "The retailer knows what it takes to convince each to make a purchase," Jao says. "By not giving away the biggest discount to all buyers, retailers can avoid cannibalizing the impact of big promotions around the holidays."

    Another deceptive discount is the bounce-back offer. Mark Harrington, vice president of marketing at Clutch, a consumer technology provider, describes these deals as "a bonus to be used at a later date for spending a minimum amount and often requiring a minimum spend." For example, spend $50 now and receive a coupon for $25 off your next purchase of $75 or more from Nov. 1 to Nov. 15. "These types of offers get the shopper to return and make additional purchases, increasing revenue, margin, shopping time and customer affinity for the brand."

    Corella considers bounce-back offers one of the best deals merchants can provide to shoppers. "However, the redemption is incredibly low as customers often times forget to redeem."

    Keep these retail tricks in mind, dear shoppers, for the holiday shopping season looms and with it the prospect of disappearing dollars.

    Kendal Perez is a spokeswoman for CouponSherpa.com, a popular source for online, in-store and mobile coupons. She also blogs at Hassle-Free Savings and enjoys yoga, decluttering, craft brew and obsessing over her dogs.

     

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    Retire at 75? That'll Be the Norm for Today's College Grads

    By Landon Dowdy

    As if student-loan debt wasn't enough of a burden for new college graduates. A report predicts that young workers will need to work until they're 75 on average to save enough for retirement.

    Researchers at Nerdwallet, the financial site that published the report Wednesday, blamed rising rents and student debt levels. "Millennials are facing a unique challenge in ever-rising student debt that is really impacting their ability to save early in their careers," said NerdWallet investing manager Kyle Ramsay.

    Meanwhile, the cost of renting a home in the U.S. has risen to its least affordable levels ever, taking up a record proportion of income in most major cities, according to a study from property website Zillow (Z). Renters in the U.S. can now expect to pay around 30.2 percent of their monthly income for rent on average, even more in some high-cost areas like Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

    The NerdWallet calculations were made based on a 23-year-old saving 6 percent of his or her salary (the median savings rate for that age group) who graduated owing $35,051, the average student loan debt carried by 2015 graduates.

    But there are ways to tilt the balance in the other direction.

    You might be laughing now at your friends who moved back in with mom and dad after graduating from college, but they may get the last laugh.

    According to NerdWallet's calculations, if that same new graduate lives at home until age 25, he or she could retire five years earlier at 70. (That's still eight years later than the current average retirement age.)

    "It may not be the best course of action" to move out just because you can, said Deena Katz, a certified financial planner and associate professor at Texas Tech University. "Even if you contribute (while living at home), it will be less expensive than going out on your own."

    Ramsay agrees. "There are expenses you can't control and there are those that you can and the ability to save on something like rent by living at home is a great option," he said. If that's not an option, consider getting a roommate or two.

    Lowering your housing costs means you can also put more money toward paying off your student loan debt. There also are other steps you can take to speed up the pay-off process and lower your overall balance.

    First, consider all of your repayment options for federal student loans. The Department of Education's federal student aid website offers seven repayment plans, including some that allow you to tie loan payments to your income and even have some of your balance forgiven.

    For two plans -- income-based repayment and "pay as you earn" -- you'll generally make payments no higher than 10 to 15 percent of your discretionary income. Remaining balances on your federal loans will be forgiven after 20 to 25 years as long as you've made your payments on time. There's also a public service loan forgiveness program through which the remaining balance on your loans will be forgiven after you've made 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer in sectors like public safety, education or the military.

    Katz said such plans are "an excellent idea, particularly if you are prepared to go into certain [public service] programs."

    Another option for lowering your monthly payments is to refinance your loan through a private lender like SoFi, CommonBond or Earnest. If you have had time to build up your credit and still have a lot of debt to pay off, this might be a good option. Most private lenders require proof of steady employment and a minimum credit score of 640.

    Some employers are also willing to make a lump-sum payment toward the loan as part of the compensation package if you guarantee them you'll stay there a minimum number of years.

    If you are able to cut back on other expenses, that will also free up money to pay down your debt and start investing for your retirement. Even contributing $10 or $20 a week toward your retirement can make a difference. "You've got the wonderful, magical world of compounding, so whatever you save today is worth much more [in the future]," said Katz.

     

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    Senior man pouring prescription medication into hand, close-up
    Getty Images
    By Ellen Chang

    Prescription drug prices are expected to spike again, especially among some generic medications, following last year's swift increase.

    Even among generic medications, prices have risen several hundred percentage points, increasing the burden for consumers who are already saddled with higher health care costs and other debt. The rapid increase has been a surprise even to some pharmacists, prompting the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging to look into the issue last November. Hillary Clinton has even made the fight for cheaper drugs a significant campaign issue. While the price to produce drugs could have some effect, the fact that the number of competitors has lessened due to mergers and acquisitions could be a larger contributor.

    "Competition is the most important factor in driving prices down," said Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a New York-based health care non-profit organization. "The rise in the price in generics is an unfortunate play by insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to increase profits at the expense of consumers. The continued contraction of the generic industry is not good for consumers, especially when it comes to certain drugs."

    The rise in the cost of generic drugs is alarming, because they entail 80 percent of all prescriptions, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

    A May report by the AARP Public Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit consumer advocacy organization, found that while 73 percent of generic medications declined in price in 2013, 27 percent of them rose. The costs skyrocketed among some commonly used drugs such as doxycycline hyclate, an antibiotic, which rose steeply from $20 for 500 100-milligram capsules in October 2013 to an astounding $1,849 in April 2014. A cholesterol medication, Pravastatin sodium, climbed sharply from $27 to $196 for a one-year supply of 10-milligram tablets.

    A recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a Menlo Park, California-based non-profit organization focusing on national health issues, found that 54 percent of Americans are taking a prescription drug currently with 24 percent who said paying for these medications is difficult. The survey also found that 72 percent of people said the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable.

    We expect this trend to continue for consumers who rely on prescription medications.

    After jumping 11 percent during 2014, prescription drug prices have been climbing again over the past year, especially branded drugs which rose by 15.7 percent and specialty drugs which increased 9.43 percent, said Stephany Verstraete, general manager at Truveris, a New York-based drug pricing and benefits analytics company.

    "We expect this trend to continue for consumers who rely on prescription medications," she said.

    Shopping around is essential, because prices can vary widely among pharmacies even in the same ZIP code, said Michael Rea, CEO of Rx Savings Solutions, an Overland Park, Kansas, health care software company used by companies to help their employees find lower cost alternatives to the drugs and cheaper pharmacies. Depending on where you go, a month's supply of a generic medication used to lower cholesterol can vary from $17 to $150, he said.

    Don't hesitate to check with your pharmacist, doctor or an online tool which can compare prices before you head out the door.

    "In every facet of life, Americans are savvy shoppers with the exception being health care," Rea said. "If you're simply looking up a price for a medication in your ZIP code, check out www.medfisher.com."

    Another strategy is to get a second opinion and see if there are other existing therapies which can treat your condition, he said. Companies are overspending money on prescriptions by 22 percent.

    Universal Increases

    "In 2014, prescription drug prices saw the largest price increase across all of the segments of health care," Rea said. "This year is expected to lead the way with the increased use of specialty medications as well as the price spikes seen on many common generic medications that have been around for decades."

    Another smart tactic to employ: bypass the national pharmacy chains and shop at independent community pharmacies to find cheaper alternatives, because those locations are "often able to negotiate lower prices and are price competitive," said Kevin Schweers, spokesman of the National Community Pharmacists Association, the Alexandria, Virginia-based organization which represents independent pharmacies.

    Local pharmacists can recommend generic or alternative medications or inform patients of manufacturer coupons and discounts, he added.

    Check your health insurance plan to determine what type of coverage it provides for certain medications or if it is even covered, said Anthony Lopez, senior manager small business at eHealth.com, an online health insurance exchange based in Mountain View, California.

    "If the drug is not covered or only covered at a high price, ask if there are alternative drugs available that might cost you less out of pocket," he said. "Some mental health drugs like Abilify can run $900 a month, so it's worth asking if less costly options are available."

    Saving Money

    Choosing a plan with a lower deductible can sometimes help consumers save money, because the coverage for prescription drugs might be more comprehensive, requiring them to shell out less money for out of pocket expenses.

    "The first time when people buy coverage on their own, they tend to look only at the monthly premium and overlook copayments and deductibles," Lopez said. "If you use prescription drugs, copayments and deductibles should matter a lot to you."

    Supplemental forms of coverage such as critical illness insurance can be helpful if you have a family history of cancer or other serious medical diagnoses. The payout from a critical illness plan can cover your deductible and other personal costs during an illness or treatment, he said.

    Certain medication types are also worth keeping an eye on to avoid eye-opening price tags.

    "Cancer drugs are notorious for being costly and can put you on the line for your full deductible in no time," Lopez said.

    The outlook for drug prices isn't promising because reductions in prices aren't likely to occur in the near term, said Verstraete.

    "Consumers will find they need to do the leg work themselves to contain the cost of expensive drugs in the current environment," she said.


    Tackling Drug Pricing Reform

     

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    mcdonalds earnings sales fast food breakfast burgers
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
    NEW YORK -- McDonald's (MCD) sales edged up at established U.S. locations during the third quarter, snapping a streak of about two years of quarterly declines.

    The world's largest burger chain also said sales rose 4 percent on a global basis at established locations. In the U.S., the figure rose 0.9 percent. The last time the figure rose in the U.S. was for the third quarter of 2013.

    Shares jumped sharply and struck an all-time high in early trading.

    The company attributed the uptick in the U.S. for the period ending Sept. 30 to menu changes as it tries to win back customers and adapt to changing palates and preferences.

    McDonald's introduced a fried chicken sandwich and switched back to butter for its Egg McMuffins, instead of margarine. It's toasting its buns longer and searing burgers. It has also been simplifying its menu and it's making other changes, like shifting to cage-free eggs.

    All of the changes have come under a new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, who took the helm in March. Earlier this month, the company introduced "all-day breakfast," meaning you can get an Egg McMuffin whenever the craving strikes.

    It is also making changes based on broader economics, like a move away from the popular Dollar Menu. Though the menu had become very popular since it was first introduced in 2002, costs for ingredients like beef and cheese have climbed and made it difficult for franchisees to make money.

    The company needs to make up lost ground. In the year ago period, sales declined 3.3 percent at established U.S. locations as customer visits dropped. McDonald's has acknowledged that it failed to keep up with changing tastes and that service suffered as its menu mushroomed.

    Easterbrook has said he wants to transform McDonald's into a "modern, progressive burger company." That has included a pay bump for some workers at company-owned locations amid protests calling on McDonald's and others to give fast-food workers $15 an hour.

    McDonald's said its operating income in the U.S. fell 1 percent during the quarter as a result of its pay hike and other benefits, but that the move would pay off with better performing restaurants.

    For 2015, the company is also closing underperforming stores in the U.S. That is expected to mark the first contraction by locations in at least 1970, according to an Associated Press review of regulatory filings.

    For the final three months of the years, Easterbrook expects comparable sales to be positive once again in all segments. In the U.S., the period would reflect the beginnings of the all-day breakfast rollout.

    The company, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, has more than 36,000 locations around the world.

    For the three months ended Sept. 30, the company said Australia and the United Kingdom delivered a strong performance. In China, where it was hit with supplier problems, McDonald's said its sales performance was "very strong."

    For the quarter, McDonald's earned $1.31 billion, or $1.40 per share, topping the $1.27 per share analysts expected.

    Revenue was $6.62 billion, also above the $6.41 Wall Street expected, according to FactSet.

    Shares jumped nearly 7 percent to $109.40.

     

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    A Mazda logo hangs on a sign outside the Ed Morse Mazda deal
    D. Kevin Elliott/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    DETROIT -- Mazda says it is recalling 1.2 million older cars and minivans in the U.S. because ignition switches could overheat and catch fire.

    The recall covers the 1990-1996 323 and Protege, the 1993-1998 626, the 1993-1995 929, the 1993-1997 MX-6, the 1989 to 1998 MPV and the 1992-1993 MX-3.

    Mazda says it put too much grease on electrical contact points in the switches when the cars were manufactured. The grease can carbonize and reduce electrical insulation. The company says continuous use can cause electricity to flow between the points and make the switches overheat. That can cause smoke and possible fire.

    Mazda says the problem doesn't affect the cars' operation or safety devices. It says there haven't been any crashes or injuries.

    The recall will start in December.

     

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    national association of realtors september home sales
    Lynne Sladky/AP
    By JOSH BOAK

    WASHINGTON -- Americans snapped up more homes in September, suggesting that the U.S. housing sector remains insulated from global economic turmoil.

    The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales of existing homes jumped 4.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.55 million. Buying activity rebounded after slipping in August, indicating that demand for housing continues despite a series of recent economic hits: stock market declines, a slowdown in China, struggles in emerging nations such as Brazil and Turkey, and stagnation in Europe.

    The real estate market appears to have reached a stable plateau in recent months, aided by mortgage rates near historic lows and steady job gains. Yet first-time buyers remain scarce and relatively few properties are being listed for sale, capping the potential growth of the sector.

    Sales have advanced 8.8 percent over the past 12 months, while the number of listings has declined 3.1 percent. The housing market contains 4.8 months' supply of homes, significantly lower than the 6 months associated with a healthy market.

    Tight inventories have fueled rising home values. The median home sales price was $221,900 in September, a 6.1 percent annual increase.

    The rising prices have created affordability pressures that could cap sales growth. Prices have increased at nearly three times the annual 2.2 percent increase in hourly average earnings.

    All four geographic regions -- Northeast, Midwest, South and West -- experienced higher sales last month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

    Yet first-time buyers are largely missing from the market.

    Only 29 percent of sales last month went to first-time buyers, a percentage that continues to be significantly lower than the historical share of 40 percent. The younger millennial generation, ages 18 to 34, suffers from a shortage of down payment savings as they cope with lower starting salaries and high student debt loads.

    A recent survey shows that 20 percent of millennials say they need financial help from their parents to buy a home, compared to just 8 percent of the older baby boomer generation who needed parental assistance, according to the finance company Credit Karma.

     

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    Amazon Expands Grocery Delivery Service To Los Angeles Area
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
    Having fresh groceries delivered to your door by Amazon.com (AMZN) is going to cost you a bit more now. The leading online retailer announced that most customers receiving AmazonFresh deliveries will have to pay $299 a year for a new PrimeFresh plan.

    We're not talking about folks placing an order for an 18-count box of Pringles or any of the other non-refrigerated edibles available through Amazon's traditional storefront and delivery methods. AmazonFresh is a platform that the dot-com darling originally launched in Seattle a few years ago, offering home delivery of refrigerated, frozen and dry groceries. The groceries are delivered in totes with insulated coolers and frozen gel packs. AmazonFresh has expanded into New York City, Philadelphia and major California markets. Deliveries have been free for orders of $50 or more, but that's now changing.

    Amazon's been testing tiered pricing in California, but AmazonFresh customers in Seattle, New York City, and Philly are now being told that they will need to pay $299 a year to continue to receive groceries at home. That's a lot, but that also includes the traditional Amazon Prime subscription that costs $99 a year. In other words, AmazonFresh is effectively $200 a year for existing Prime shoppers. That's still high, but it's not so bad when you consider the time that you may be wasting at your local supermarket.

    Checking Out

    There is naturally some bellyaching from customers. No one likes to pay more for something. However, this is Amazon. It's the company that sells its own Kindle Fire-branded tablets for as little as $50, and even non-Prime customers can get free shipping on some orders. Amazon prides itself on keeping prices low, and passing those savings on to its customers. If Amazon is rolling out a new $299 annual cover charge, it's probably because it's the most cost-effective way to make the offering financially viable.

    It's not easy to run a grocery delivery service. This isn't a new niche. The sudsy dot-com bubble days had traders buying in and out of Webvan, Peapod and traditional supermarket operators that dreamed of a fleet of refrigerated trucks and distribution centers. It didn't end nicely for many of the pioneers.

    One can always argue that Amazon could just build the costs of doing business into the model. It can raise prices of the merchandise. It can go with a high delivery price per order. The tiered pricing in California that it's testing does include both an annual subscription and a per-delivery charge without an annual subscription.

    However, Amazon can also point to the success of its popular Amazon Prime program. It rolled that out a decade ago, and it has had no problem attracting tens of millions of customers -- even after bumping its annual subscription price from $79 to $99 last year. Just as Amazon Prime customers come to rely on the online giant for more of their merchandise needs after signing up, it's safe to assume that someone paying $299 for PrimeFresh will do more than just place a random order whenever a trip to the supermarket isn't convenient.

    Amazon may as well test this price point now before it continues to expand AmazonFresh throughout the country. If Amazon Prime's success is any indication, there may be some initial resistance to paying in advance for a year of subsidized deliveries, but retention of those who do buy in should be pretty healthy.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com. 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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    Company Signs
    Getty Images
    By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO

    NEW YORK -- Best Buy (BBY), the nation's largest consumer electronic chain, will drop all restrictions for free shipping for the holiday season, underscoring big changes in what customers have come to expect when they shop.

    The Minneapolis company typically requires customers to spend at least $35 in order to receive free shipping. Starting Sunday, however, that restriction has been removed as Best Buy aims to compete aggressively with online leader Amazon.com as well as other players like Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT).

    About 47 percent of consumers polled said that free shipping or shipping promotions are important factors in their decision on where they shop, according to a survey of 7,276 consumers conducted earlier this month for the National Retail Federation.

    Amazon (AMZN) set the standard with its two-day delivery for members of its Prime loyal program, who pay $99 a year.

    Best Buy's free-shipping program runs through Jan. 2.

    The last time Best Buy dropped the shipping fee for all customers was 2012.

    The retailer is also offering a special holiday sales event at 400 of its stores on Nov. 7 that will feature "Black Friday-like deals." Last year's event was limited to Best Buy's Elite and Elite Plus loyalty customers.

    Best Buy has momentum heading into the holiday season as a turnaround spearheaded by CEO Hubert Joly has gains traction. The company is also benefiting from a shift in consumer spending toward big ticket items for the home as home prices rise. An explosion of new gadgets like Apple watch, which is being sold in all Best Buy stores, has also helped.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street Congress Benghazi
    Richard Drew/APHillary Rodham Clinton's testimony before a congressional committee Thursday appears on a television on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- The S&P 500 closed at its highest in two months Thursday as stronger-than-expected earnings from several top companies, including McDonald's, relieved investors' concerns about the profit outlook.

    Adding to the day's optimism, ECB President Mario Draghi said the bank could extend its stimulus program beyond 2016 to boost eurozone growth and boost inflation closer to 2 percent.

    McDonald's (MCD) shares jumped 8.1 percent to $110.87, giving the Dow its biggest boost, after its quarterly results beat estimates as demand recovered in China. EBay (EBAY) rose 13.9 percent to $27.58 after it reported better-than-expected results late on Wednesday.

    Corporate earnings certainly helped because the season started off sort of sluggish and you had some nice surprises today.

    Dow Chemical (DOW) rose 5.1 percent to $49.92 after its results, while the S&P materials index jumped 2.8 percent and led the S&P sector gains along with the industrials, also up 2.8 percent.

    In another sign of diminished concerns, the CBOE Volatility Index -- the market's favored barometer of volatility -- closed at a 2-month low.

    "Corporate earnings certainly helped because the season started off sort of sluggish and you had some nice surprises today," said Eric Kuby, chief investment officer at North Star Investment Management in Chicago.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 320.55 points, or 1.9 percent, to 17,489.16, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 33.57 points, or 1.7 percent, to 2,052.51 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 79.93 points, or 1.7 percent, to 4,920.05.

    Data released Thursday showed new claims for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 3,000 to 259,000 last week, below the 265,000 expected, while existing home sales increased more than expected to an annual rate of 5.55 million units in September.

    The Federal Reserve, which kept U.S. interest rates unchanged near zero in September, has said it will wait for signs of global economic resilience before pulling the trigger on its first rate hike in nearly a decade.

    Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher. Only health care appeared immune to the upbeat mood, declining about 0.5 percent.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,312 to 791, for a 2.92-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,777 issues rose and 1,001 fell for a 1.78-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 41 new 52-week highs and 9 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 82 new highs and 91 new lows.

    What to watch Friday:

    Earnings Season

    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • American Airlines (AAL)
    • Procter & Gamble (PG)
    • Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL)
    • Whirlpool (WHR)

     

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    Surprised woman with tablet on couch
    Getty Images
    By Cameron Huddleston

    Anyone can be a victim of identity theft. I know because both my husband and I had our identities stolen this year by thieves who used our personal information to file fraudulent tax returns -- likely in hopes of getting refunds.

    The signs that we were victims were obvious. We received a letter from the IRS stating that it had received our 2014 tax return but needed more information to process it. However, we hadn't filed a return yet. Not long after that, we received a similar letter from the state of Michigan -- only we don't live in Michigan. So it was clear someone else had tried to file a return in our names.

    Identity theft can range from the unauthorized misuse of an existing account, to the misuse of personal information to open new accounts or other fraud, such as the false tax returns that were filed in our name. In 2014 alone, there were an estimated 17.6 million identity theft victims, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    People typically become aware of identity theft when they're trying to do something such as apply for a loan or rental housing, but are unable to, because their credit has been tarnished by others. "Those are the signs that come up and hit you in the face," said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free victim assistance.

    Here are five signs that you might be a victim of identity theft and what you can do to limit the damage.

    1. Your Credit Card Rate Rises

    You shouldn't ignore an increase in your credit card's interest rate, Velasquez said. It could be something as benign as the expiration of a low introductory rate you got when you signed up for the card. But it could be a sign that your credit score has tumbled because something in your credit report is making you look like an increased risk and, therefore, you card issuer has hike your rate, she said.

    You can get one free credit report a year from each of the three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- at Annualcreditreport.com. Check your report for accounts that you didn't open, and for what are called "hard inquiries," which occur when lenders run your credit when you apply for a loan, mortgage or credit card. If you discover hard inquiries on your credit report from companies you haven't authorized to check your credit, that's a sign that someone else is using your name on credit applications, said Paige Hanson, senior manager of educational programs at identity theft protection service LifeLock.

    2. You're Getting Statements for Accounts You Didn't Open

    If you're getting letters about accounts or services that you didn't sign up for, don't assume that there's been a mistake and simply toss them in the trash. This is a red flag that someone could be using your personal information, Hanson said.

    Contact the companies that mailed you the statements and close the accounts immediately. If money is owed, do not offer to pay what is due, Hanson said. If you do so, "you're saying that those charges are mine," and it will be difficult to contest them, she added.

    3. You're Getting Calls From Debt Collectors

    This is one of the more obvious signs of identity theft, but it doesn't always send up a red flag for people, said Robert Siciliano, a security expert with BestIDTheftCompanys.com, which rates identity theft protection services. "You would be amazed at how many people ignore those calls."

    You might assume that calls from people claiming to be bill collectors are actually scams aimed at getting you to divulge your personal information -- and oftentimes they are, Hanson said. For that reason, you should never give information such as your birth date or Social Security number over the phone.

    However, if you are getting calls from collection agencies, Hanson said, you should find out the name of the lender or service you supposedly owe money to, the date the account was open, and the account balance. Then do an Internet search for that company. If it is a scam, you'll likely see reports of it in your search results. If not, call the lender or service directly to find out if it has an account in your name.

    4. Your Auto Insurance Rates Go Up Unexpectedly

    If your auto insurer raises your premium and you can't figure out why, it might be a sign that someone has used your identity to get a driver's license and has racked up traffic violations in your name, Velasquez said. "Take the time to check it out before it becomes a horrible problem," by calling your insurer, she said.

    The signs that someone else is using a driver's license with your name could be much more obvious. For example, local law enforcement might appear at your door with an arrest warrant if an identity thief living as you is pulled over for a traffic violation and doesn't show up for court, Siciliano said. Or you might get mailings from attorneys seeking to represent you for crimes you didn't commit -- but someone posing as you did, Velasquez said.

    5. You Get Ads in the Mail for a Health Condition You Don't Have

    You might be on mailing lists to receive information about medical equipment or treatments depending on what sort of information you've allowed your medical provider to disclose to third parties, Velasquez said. But a large number of mailings with ads to manage a particular health condition that you don't have, is a red flag that someone could be using your personal information to get medical treatment, she said.

    Signs of medical identity theft also can show up in your insurance statements -- those letters you get from your insurer that you likely toss because they say, "This is not a bill," Hanson said. You need to read these statements carefully to make sure that you actually received the services or treatments that medical providers are reporting to your insurer. If you see a claim or the name of a doctor or hospital you don't recognize, contact your insurer immediately, Hanson said.

    What to Do if You're a Victim

    Start by reporting that you're a victim of identity theft to local law enforcement. The police likely won't be able to identify and catch the person who stole your identity, but they will give you an incident report that you'll need to dispute unauthorized accounts, charges or activities in your name, Siciliano said. "Having that report on hand shows lenders that you have government agency that believes you're a victim."

    Contact lenders, companies and service providers to cancel any unauthorized accounts or dispute unauthorized charges. Siciliano recommends placing a security freeze on your credit report, which will prevent the credit reporting agencies from releasing your credit report without your consent. You'll have to place a freeze through each of the three credit bureaus, and may have to pay a small fee, depending on the state where you live. But this fee should be waived if you have a police report showing that you're a victim of ID theft, Hanson said.

    This freeze will stop identity thieves from taking out credit from traditional sources in your name. But they might still be able to get loans in your name from sources that don't require a credit check, such as payday lenders. And the freeze won't stop thieves from using other personal information such as your health insurance policy number or Social Security number.

    This story, 5 Signs You're the Victim of Identity Theft, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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