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    mourning woman on funeral with...
    ShutterstockExperts say there are several major money missteps widowers and widows tend to make after a partner's death.
    By Geoff Williams

    In the wake of a spouse's death, it may seem too soon to think about how to manage your money from here on out. And you would be right.

    But at some point, it's one of those topics you need to examine carefully. If this was the love of your life, and you're in deep grief, then you're in a state of mind that's prone to making financial mistakes. According to a number of financial experts, there are at least four major money missteps widowers and widows tend to make once a spouse passes on.

    Shaking up your life too soon. Whatever your situation, you probably have some major decisions to make with your partner's passing, but what seems like a logical decision today may not seem so smart tomorrow.

    Give yourself some time to really think about what you're doing, financial experts say

    "Some people want to immediately pay off a mortgage and make other large changes too quickly. That can create a situation where there [are] little liquid funds available, which may be more important for the survivor," says Rochelle Odesser, vice president of Madison Planning Group, a financial planning firm headquartered in White Plains, New York.

    Myra Salzer, who owns The Wealth Conservancy, a Boulder, Colorado, wealth management and financial planning firm, agrees. "Before one has experienced a new equilibrium, decisions that are made tend to be poor ones," she says, reeling off some of the things surviving partners may get wrong: "Widows might sell the family house for less than it's worth, just to get rid of it, or invest IRA assets in annuities to guarantee an income, even though the IRA is already tax-advantaged and the annuity might not pay out enough for the minimum-required distributions."

    And for good measure, Roger Bell, president of Roger R. Bell & Co., a planning and investment consultancy in Pulaski, Virginia, concurs.

    In that first year, he says, "too often, the surviving spouse expends large sums of money to purchase vehicles, improve their house or take extended and numerous trips."

    It's understandable. You're recovering from a huge loss. A positive change, like making home improvements or taking a trip abroad, is going to clear your head. But if you aren't careful, it will also clear out your bank account.

    This is a time, Bell says, when your "capacity to reason and think clearly is impaired." But he adds: "In time, the surviving spouse will regain their capacity to address matters in a rational and timely manner."

    Spending too much. If your husband or wife was the one who paid the bills and made the financial decisions, you may find it empowering to be in control of the purse strings. But be careful. You may not have as much money as you think.

    William Matthews, a financial counselor in Houston, says he often sees widows and widowers doling out loans and monetary gifts to family and friends.

    "Stop," he says. "You're emotional and shouldn't rush in to help others without thinking about it. You're down to one income, and you need it."

    It doesn't mean you can't help your kids with small purchases, Matthews says, but he was struck by what he saw with the daughter of a friend. After losing her husband, the widow gave the couple's daughter $2,000 toward a car down payment and gifted her $5,000 to go toward moving into an apartment. But she shouldn't have parted with so much money, according to Matthews.

    "She struggled to pay her bills ... and almost lost her home," he says.

    Being too trusting. "The biggest mistake I have seen is being too quick to trust someone, especially in places you may typically have your guard down," says Jeff Weeks, a certified financial planner with ATX Portfolio Advisors in Austin, Texas. "Be wary of the salesperson you know only through places like church and social clubs."

    Twice, Weeks says, he has tried to help widows who lost large portions of their nest eggs, over $100,000, "in what turned out to be Ponzi schemes. In both cases, their spouse had been the primary decision maker in financial matters and died prematurely from sudden illness."

    In each case, the widow found her financial adviser through referrals at church.

    But those are extreme situations, Weeks says. "What's much more common are predatory insurance salespeople or stockbrokers that sell expensive commission-based investments that may qualify as suitable, but that benefit the salesperson more than the client. The salespeople count on unsophisticated clients that are unlikely to read or understand the language in an insurance contract or prospectus."

    Weeks makes the observation that "con people rely on a certain level of trust."

    It's tough, though. Wouldn't everyone like to think that if they're getting a referral through church, it's as solid a referral as they come? But no -- at least, you can't make that assumption.

    Switching financial advisers. Maybe this falls under the category of not being trusting enough. Quite a few financial advisers have mentioned that after a spouse dies, the surviving partner will often change financial advisers.

    "A recent study by Fidelity Investments found that 70 percent of widows dismiss their adviser within a year after their spouse dies," says Robert Johnson, president and CEO of the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. "There can be significant costs to changing advisers both in terms of time and money. Surviving spouses should give the adviser the benefit of some time to establish a trusting relationship with them."

    Switching a financial adviser can fall into the category of making a big decision too quickly. If you haven't been running the financial show for a while, and your financial adviser has been assisting with your finances for some time, there is a pretty good argument that switching advisers for someone who doesn't know you and your finances well is the last thing you'd want to do in haste.

    If anything, that is the money lesson to grab hold of when you're grieving: Take your time making any decision. The status quo may not be sustainable, but it probably is for a little while longer, at least until you can think clearly. You probably feel like there's a gaping hole in your life. Creating a gaping financial hole to go along with that is the last thing you need.

    Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to U.S. News. He is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away," about the great flood of 1913, "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race," about the infamous Bunion Derby of 1928 and "Living Well with Bad Credit." You can follow him on Twitter @geoffw.

     

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    Young woman holding shopping bags in arms
    Getty Images
    By Stacy Johnson

    From eating too much to drug addiction, sometimes we engage in self-destructive behavior. Why would we deliberately do things we know to be against our self-interest? Often we're doing it because of an unaddressed emotional issue.

    Here's this week's question:

    How can I curb emotional shopping? When I'm in a bad mood, one of my go-to things to feel better is to buy something online. It's always small stuff, but crap I don't need really hurts the wallet. Any tips? -Whitney

    I sat down with a psychiatrist a few years ago to discuss this issue.

    The upshot? It's one thing to surrender to the occasional impulse buy -- that watch gleaming from behind the display case, or a pair of black shoes that will add the perfect dash of sophistication to your favorite business suit. But when your purchases shift from impulsive to compulsive, you might be a shopping addict.

    Researchers estimate that up to 6 percent of Americans are so-called shopaholics. In our society, the phrase "shop till you drop" translates as frivolous and fun, but when spending becomes a problem, the glamour fades.

    Psychologists call it compulsive buying disorder, which is characterized as an impulse-control issue, just like gambling or binge eating, and has the potential to create emotional and financial distress.

    Here are seven signs of a potential problem. For a more complete analysis, check out the Compulsive Buying Scale, developed by psychologist Gilles Valence and his associates.
    • You have many unopened or tagged items in your closet. This isn't the sweater your aunt gave you last Christmas; it's about items you bought. Maybe you forgot about some of this stuff -- boxes of shoes lining the bottom of your closet or jackets that have never seen the light of day.
    • You often purchase things you don't need or didn't plan to buy. You're easily tempted by items you can do without. A fifth candle for your bedroom dresser, a new iPod case, even though yours is fine ... you get the idea.
    • An argument or frustration sparks an urge to shop. Compulsive shopping is an attempt to fill an emotional void. Do you find yourself shopping to deal with a feeling of anxiety?
    • You experience a rush of excitement when you buy. Shopaholics experience a "high" or a rush, not from owning something, but from the act of purchasing it. Experts say dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure, is often released in waves as shoppers see a desirable item and consider buying it. This burst of excitement can become addictive.
    • Purchases are followed by feelings of remorse. This guilt doesn't have to be limited to big purchases. Compulsive shoppers are just as often attracted to deals and bargain hunting.
    • You try to conceal your shopping habits. If you're hiding shopping bags in your daughter's closet or constantly looking over your shoulder for passing co-workers as you shop online, this is a possible sign you're spending money at the expense of your loved ones or even your job.
    • You feel anxious on the days you don't shop. Shopaholics have reported feeling out of sorts if they haven't had their shopping fix, and have even admitted to shopping online if they can't physically pull away from their day's responsibilities.
    If the characteristics above sound a lot like you or someone you know, here are some ways to help kick a shopping habit:

    Find a new activity. Jogging, exercising, listening to music, watching TV -- any activity could potentially substitute for shopping and would be a much lighter burden on your wallet.

    Identify triggers. Take note of what's likely to send you off to the nearest department store, whether it's an argument with your significant other or frustration after a business meeting. When these feelings overcome you, resist shopping at all costs and find a healthier way to work it out.

    Remove temptation. It's no secret that you shouldn't walk through your favorite boutique if you're trying to curb your spending. Try to limit your shopping trips and go only when absolutely necessary. If online shopping is your weakness, resist the urge to surf your favorite stores' sites and even consider keeping your laptop out of reach, especially when you're feeling vulnerable.

    Leave home without it. Leave your debit and credit cards at home. Create a shopping list with estimated costs, and stick to it when you're at the store.

    Get help. If you're still struggling with compulsive spending, don't be afraid to ask for help. You can start with self-help books or by asking a friend or family member to help keep you in check, but it might also be wise to enlist professional help. Consider therapy, resources like Stopping Overshopping or support groups such as Debtors Anonymous.

    Got any words of wisdom you can offer for this week's question? Share your knowledge and experiences below or on our Facebook page.

    Got a question you'd like answered? A great way to get answers to just about any money-related question is to head to our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth and, most important, post questions and get answers. It's also where I often look for questions to answer in this weekly column. You can also ask questions by replying to our daily emails. If you're not getting them, fix that right now by subscribing here.

    About me I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I've earned a CPA (currently inactive), and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate. Got some time to kill? You can learn more about me here.

    Sign up for our free newsletter 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!

    Are You a Shopaholic?

     

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    Democratic Presidential Candidates Attend Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
    Scott Olson/Getty ImagesDemocratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa.
    By Beth Braverman

    About seven months after Hillary Clinton announced that she'd run for president in the 2016 election -- and years after the press began predicting that she'd win the Democratic nomination -- the former secretary of state has begun to formally lay out her proposed economic policy for the country.

    As her lead in the Democratic polls diminished in the past few months while rival Bernie Sanders gained steam, she recently announced a plan that focuses on jobs, the middle class and small business. Here's a look at where Clinton stands on the key issues and how those positions could affect the U.S. economy and your wallet if she is elected president.

    1. Tax cuts for the middle class. While she hasn't released too many details on how she'll do it, Clinton has promised to cut taxes for the middle class so people can increase their take-home pay. She also advocates closing tax loopholes and enacting the "Buffett Rule," which would require millionaires and billionaires to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. Additionally, she wants to incentivize businesses to share their profits with workers by providing a 15 percent tax credit to companies that do so.

    Where she has gotten more specific is her plan to raise the capital gains tax, which is paid on the profits made by individuals when they sell property, stocks, businesses or other assets after holding them for a short period of time. Under Clinton's plan, investors would be taxed 39.6 percent on their gain on assets held for less than two years, with that rate phasing out to the current 20 percent after the six-year mark, according to CNBC. This change, which is meant to encourage longer-term investing and economic growth, would apply to those in the highest tax bracket, which is nearly $465,000 for married joint filers and $411,500 for single filers. "For most Americans, an increase in the capital gains tax won't affect them at all," said Tom Wheelwright, certified public accountant and author of "Tax-Free Wealth." "For the average investor who has their money in an IRA or a 401(k), there is no impact by all of this."

    2. Protection for the CFPB. Clinton has publicly urged Democrats in Congress to fight a Republican proposal that would limit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created in the wake of the financial crisis to supervise financial institutions' dealings with the public. The agency is responsible for supervising and enforcing the laws that cover consumer financial products and services, and it aims to provide better transparency for the consumers who use them.

    "The [CFPB] has only one mission: protecting Americans from unfair and deceptive financial practices -- and it's succeeding," she wrote in an open letter to Congress.

    3. Increased wages for the 99 percent. Reducing income inequality is one of the central tenets of Clinton's campaign. The gap between the richest and poorest Americans is wider than the gap in any other democracy in the developed world, according to U.S. News & World Report.

    "Corporate profits are at near record highs, and Americans are working as hard as ever, but paychecks have barely budged in real terms," Clinton said in a July 2015 speech. "Families today are stretched in so many directions, and so are their budgets."

    Clinton supports raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour. Despite minimum wage hikes by many state and local governments, and by high-profile employers like Walmart and Target, the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour, the same rate it has been at since 2009. Many advocates of a higher minimum wage, including Clinton competitor Bernie Sanders, want a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour nationwide.

    Even moving the minimum wage to $12 would raise wages for one in four U.S. workers, according to Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst with public policy organization Demos. "That's a big segment of the workforce, and it would make a big difference for a lot of people," she said. "It would be really good for consumers' wallets." Clinton has also backed President Obama's expansion of overtime rules to more workers. Starting in 2016, that plan extends overtime protection to nearly 5 million workers, covering salaried workers who make up to $50,400.

    4. Options to avoid or refinance student debt. Student loan borrowers carry a mean balance of $26,700, and nearly 17 percent of all borrowers are late or in default on their loans, according to a 2015 report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Furthermore, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston shows that student loan borrowers appear to be less likely to own a home and have more difficulty accumulating wealth. Clinton addresses the student debt crisis with her "New College Compact."

    Advocating for "debt-free" college, her proposal would allow students to go to in-state public colleges without borrowing any money for education. She also supports a plan to allow Americans with existing student loans to refinance at more favorable rates, which her campaign claims would save the typical borrower about $2,000 over the life of the loan.

    5. No cuts to Social Security. The 2015 annual report on Social Security projected that retirement and disability trust funds would be depleted in 2034 and then would "pay about three-fourths of scheduled benefits for 50 years," according to The New York Times. The future of Social Security, however, has long been a big point of contention between the parties. Republicans, in particular, have been calling for cuts and privatization to address the situation.

    In April 2015, Clinton called Republicans who want to cut back Social Security "just wrong" and said she'd preserve the retirement benefit. "We do not mess with it, and we do not pretend that it is a luxury -- because it is not a luxury," she said at a New Hampshire campaign event. "It is a necessity for the majority of people who draw from Social Security."

    Clinton also has stated that she believes women especially need better access to Social Security and has promised to work to "enhance" the program.

    6. Paid family leave and affordable child care policies. It's been more than 20 years since Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows families to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child and deal with their own or a family member's health needs. That provision puts America behind most other developed countries which offer paid leave for women -- and often men.

    I believe that what's good for women is good for America.

    As part of her goal of getting more women in the workforce at higher wages, Hillary Clinton supports family-friendly policies such as paid family leave and affordable child-care policies.

    "I believe that what's good for women is good for America," she wrote in a 2015 op-ed for women's lifestyle media platform SheKnows. "Take child care. It's a women's issue. It's also an economic issue. You can't go to work every day if you can't afford a safe place to leave your kids."

    This issue has gained more visibility in recent months as several Silicon Valley companies have announced changes to their parental leave policies that extend more generous benefits to both men and women, according to Wired. Currently, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington and the District of Columbia offer paid family leave.

    7. Pursuit of a new foreign trade agreement. Clinton broke with President Obama and with previous statements recently in opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which would put in place one of the largest free trade areas in the world.

    "I still believe in the goal of a strong and fair trade agreement in the Pacific as part of a broader strategy both at home and abroad, just as I did when I was secretary of state," Clinton said in a statement in October. "I appreciate the hard work that President Obama and his team put into this process and recognize the strides they have made. But the bar here is very high and, based on what I have seen, I don't believe this agreement has met it."

    8. Help for small businesses. Clinton wants to "jump-start small businesses" by reducing the time it takes to start a business, expanding access to capital, simplifying and cutting the taxes paid by small businesses, and using technology to allow small businesses to access new markets both domestically and globally.

    "Despite generations of progress on so many other fronts, it's still too hard to get a business started today," Clinton wrote on LinkedIn in May. "Credit is too tough to come by. Too many regulatory and licensing requirements are uneven and uncertain."

    9. Repeal of the Obamacare 'Cadillac tax.' While she has supported the Affordable Care Act and its goal of reducing the number of uninsured Americans, Clinton announced in September that she is opposed to the so-called "Cadillac tax," which imposes a tax on employers with the most expensive health plans. The goal of the tax is to reduce overall health care costs, but critics say it's encouraging employers to simply reduce the quality of their insurance and push costs onto consumers.

    If she were to succeed in repealing the tax, the Congressional Budget Office has said that, without such a tax, the Affordable Care Act might not actually reduce health care costs.

    This story, How Hillary Clinton's Financial Plan Will Affect Your Wallet, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Labrador puppy
    Getty Images
    By Beth Pinsker

    NEW YORK -- When some 120 million employees start filling out their open enrollment choices this fall, they will be presented with the usual health, dental and vision options. But a slew of other voluntary benefits are now popping up, ranging from critical-illness coverage to pet insurance.

    Some group deals your employer will offer are true group discounts. Others merely make it easier for employees to sign up for coverage but provide no real cost savings.

    Spotting the difference between a good deal and merely a convenient one requires shopping around to know the market value of the policies you are considering, according to benefit consultants.

    "Some of those policies are going to be a perfect fit and valuable, and other things are not going to be useful," says Jennifer Benz, who runs her own benefits firm based in San Francisco.

    Here is what you need to know before you sign up:

    Supplements Matter

    For employees with a high-deductible health plan, which now accounts for about 25 percent of the workforce, a supplemental policy like critical illness insurance (for cancer and other major illnesses) can be helpful as a hedge, said Karen Frost, senior vice president of health strategies and solutions for Aon Hewitt, a benefits consultant.

    "It's a really inexpensive way to fill a gap with high-deductible plans," said Frost, adding that supplemental premiums can run as low as $5 a month and typically don't require medical underwriting.

    Many employers who offer high-deductible plans will provide some level of critical illness coverage and also hospital indemnity policies, which cover a flat dollar fee for hospital stays that would defray a person's out-of-pocket costs, Frost added. Then employees can pay extra for higher levels of coverage.

    The same applies to personal accident insurance as well as short- and long-term disability policies.

    "We recommend accident more than life insurance, especially if you don't have a family," said Frost.

    When plans like these are bundled together during open enrollment, workers with high-deductible plans choose them much more than when they are offered other times, with enrollment jumping from around 4 percent to 15 to 20 percent, Frost said.

    Brokers Needed

    With supplemental life insurance, long-term care insurance or any other complicated product that is typically sold by a licensed broker, employees should definitely talk to a professional before taking the leap.

    Rates can vary by company and a person's age, but adding four times your pay to basic coverage could cost in the range of $40 a month. An individual $250,000 "term" policy for a healthy 40-year-old man could cost $36 a month, according to ValuePenguin.com.

    Many employers provide individual discussions with a financial professional over the phone as part of their educational outreach. Half of workers offered supplemental insurance at work buy into it, according to LIMRA, the life insurance trade association. "Although it's not the sit-down with a broker, they do get insights," said Frost. For instance, a young single person will need less life, but more accident coverage.

    Group life insurance rates may be competitive in the open market. Rates for specialty products like long-term care insurance may not be.

    For these, what is called a "group" is sometimes just individual policies packaged together, said Jesse Slome, president of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

    "If you are healthy or married, you might get a better price as an individual," said Slome.

    A typical individual long-term care policy for a 55-year-old healthy woman could be $250 a month, according to Genworth (GNW), one of the leading providers.

    Club Discounts

    Your workplace may also be able to help you insure your car, your house and your pet, but don't count on getting the greatest deal. An average pet policy, for instance, averaged $36 a month in 2014, and a group employer discount typically knocked off 5 percent, said Randy Valpy, president of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

    "The convenience of payroll deduction is where those begin and end. Potentially you're getting a discount, but it's not really something I'd consider a generous benefit," said Hall Kesmodel, consultant at Sequoia, an employee benefits firm headquartered in San Mateo, California.

     

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    Earns Walgreen
    Charles Krupa/AP
    By Brian Sozzi

    To better serve aging U.S. baby boomers and the growing number of Americans with health insurance under Obamacare, becoming bigger may be better for Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA).

    On Tuesday evening, Walgreens Boots Alliance announced that it will acquire smaller rival Rite Aid for $9 a share in cash, for a total enterprise value of approximately $17.2 billion, including acquired net debt. The purchase price represents a premium of 48 percent to Rite Aid's closing price on Oct. 26, the day before the agreement was signed.

    Shares of Rite Aid (RAD) spiked about 43 percent Tuesday, but fell roughly 6.9 percent in after-hours trading. Walgreens shares rose roughly 6.8 percent Tuesday, and tacked on another 0.8 percent in after-hours trading.

    "This combination will further strengthen our commitment to making quality healthcare accessible to more customers and patients -- our complementary retail pharmacy footprints in the U.S. will create an even better network, with more health and wellness solutions available in stores and online," said Walgreens Boots Alliance Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Stefano Pessina in a statement.

    The combined company would be a drugstore retailing monster, operating over 12,000 locations in the U.S. and filling more than 1 billion prescription drugs each year. A merged Walgreens and Rite Aid would have an especially commanding presence in California and New York, operating more than 1,000 stores. Walgreens would also be able to beef up in Rite Aid's second-largest market in Pennsylvania, where it operates over 500 sites compared to Walgreens' 130 stores.

    A tie-up between the two companies would pose a serious threat to CVS Health (CVS), which operates roughly 8,300 locations across the U.S. It would also bring New York City's drugstore icons in the Rite Aid and Duane Reade brands under the ownership of Walgreens. Walgreens acquired Duane Reade for about $1.1 billion in 2010.

    There are several reasons why Walgreens sought out a blockbuster deal like this, which will require a debt issuance to fund and will warrant close scrutiny by regulators who are also deliberating Staples' (SPLS) proposed buyout of Office Depot (ODP).

    First, the smaller Duane Reade and Rite-Aid brands would likely be rebranded as Walgreens over time as the retailer strives to develop a bigger national presence. Becoming more top-of-mind among consumers would be important as Walmart continues to focus on improving its prescription drug and basic preventative care services inside of its super centers. Furthermore, 1,660 Target (TGT) stores across the country are about to be retrofitted with CVS Health shops, giving the drugstore chain a more significant national presence than is the case today.

    Walgreens hinted at this on Tuesday's press release. According to the company, Rite Aid will "initially operate under its existing brand name." But, says Walgreens, "decisions will be made over time regarding the integration of the two companies, ultimately creating a fully harmonized portfolio of stores and infrastructure." Walgreens will likely have to close hundreds of stores to satisfy regulators, as well as more profitably operate a store network where Walgreens and Rite Aid stores are often right next to one another.

    [E]ven though you will be left with two large traditional pharmacies, this is a very competitive market.

    Second, the combination would likely bring cost synergies in the form of sharper prices from branded and generic drug manufacturers. Saving money on the medications they sell is vital given the likely long-term upward trajectory in healthcare costs due to Obamacare and more boomers moving onto Medicare/Medicaid. Walgreens outlined that it expects to realize synergies in excess of $1 billion.

    If a combined Walgreens/Rite Aid is able to negotiate lower costs for their prescriptions, it could be reinvested in making retail prices more competitive for consumers and help wrestle market share away from Walmart, Target and CVS Health.

    Portfolio manager Chris Pultz at Kellner Capital, which specializes in merger arbitrage, said that "even though you will be left with two large traditional pharmacies, this is a very competitive market. You still have the specialty pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers like Express Scripts(ESRX) and mail order firms like Unh's, Optimum RX and even Walmart (WMT) -- in the end, divestitures should be able to solve any problems the Federal Trade Commission may have."

    Added Pultz, "Rite-Aid has been closing stores over the last few years in order to stabilize its business, and I would expect there to be additional store closures as the two companies are integrated."

    Walgreens Boots Alliance declined to comment for this article, while CVS Health didn't respond to requests for comment.

     

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    This product image provided by Ford Motor Co. shows the 2010 Lincoln MKX. Ford on Wedensday, Oct. 28, 2015 announced it is recalling approximately 129,000 2009 and 2010 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX midsize SUVs in parts of the U.S. and Canada to fix potential fuel leaks. (Ford Motor Co. via AP)
    Ford Motor Co. via AP2010 Lincoln MKX
    DETROIT -- Ford is recalling 129,000 midsize SUVs in parts of the U.S. and Canada to fix potential fuel leaks.

    The company says the recall covers the 2009 and 2010 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX.

    In places where salt is used to clear the roads of snow, the fuel tanks can rust under the reinforcement brackets that hold them to the SUVs. This can cause a fuel leak or activate the check engine light. A leak could cause a fire.

    Ford (F) says it doesn't know of any fires caused by the problem.

    Dealers will inspect the fuel tanks and repair or replace them at no cost to customers.

    The recall affects SUVS that are registered or were sold in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. In Canada, it covers New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.

     

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    Caucasian businessman working on patio
    Alamy
    By JOYCE M. ROSENBERG

    NEW YORK -- Don't look for a small business boom anytime soon.

    Many company owners aren't interested in expanding, and many have no plans to hire.

    They don't trust the economy. In a survey released in September by Bank of the West, 80 percent of nearly 500 small business owners called the economy a barrier to growth.

    There are indeed signs the U.S. economy may be slowing because of weakness in trading partners like China and Canada. Earnings are down at many big U.S. companies, and manufacturers are exporting fewer goods. These developments have an impact on small businesses and contribute to a vicious cycle -- when small companies aren't trying to grow or hire, it helps slow the economy further.

    They're saying, '2015 hasn't been as great as we thought it was going to be. I'm not ready to invest or hire.'

    Owners' caution was clear in September hiring reports, including one from payroll company ADP (ADP) that counted 37,000 new jobs at its small business customers, down 63 percent from a monthly average of nearly 100,000 the first eight months of the year.

    Owners were more optimistic in the spring when the economy was recovering from a tough winter, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, whose Small Business Optimism index was at a high for the year of 98.3 in May; in September it was at 96.1.

    Gene Marks, owner of The Marks Group, a consulting firm based in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, says the owners he's spoken too aren't as confident as they were earlier this year.

    "They're saying, '2015 hasn't been as great as we thought it was going to be. I'm not ready to invest or hire,' " Marks says.

    Uncertainty about the economy piles onto concerns individual owners have about their businesses:

    Once Burned, Twice Shy

    Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell have always known a weak economy could threaten their business selling products like food, clothes and bedding made on farms.

    They started the company, Beekman 1802, in 2009 after both lost jobs to the recession. They've built the business by reinvesting money they've made back into it, never taking on debt.

    "We believed the reason the economy faltered was because people were playing around with money that wasn't theirs," says Ridge, whose company is located in Sharon Springs, New York.

    They've added two or three people a year the past few years, bringing their staff to 11, after getting a deal to sell pasta sauce to 250 Target stores. Now, the discount store chain wants their products in all its nearly 1,800 stores.

    Still, while Ridge says the company has been thriving, he and Kilmer-Purcell plan to hire only when they really need to.

    "I don't think there's ever going to be a time when we throw caution to the wind," Ridge says.

    Learning From the Past

    Orit and Robert Pennington learned taking on too many employees can jeopardize a company.

    TPGTEX Label Solutions was successful after its 2002 start, and grew to a staff of about 15. But the Houston-based company, which makes software to print barcode and other labels, didn't have the income to justify its expansion.

    The Penningtons had to downsize, and by 2013 they and a freelancer were the only employees.

    "We were doing things too fast and the business model was not perfect," Orit Pennington says.

    The company is growing again, adding four employees in the last year. But the Penningtons have turned down opportunities to significantly expand the business.

    Uneasy Clients

    Annie Pace Scranton has the money to pay another employee for her company, Pace Public Relations, but she's hesitant to hire.

    She can't be sure her clients, many of them medical practices or other small businesses, won't cut their marketing budgets and in turn, her revenue.

    Scranton already has some saying they don't have the money for marketing. Others hire her five-year-old New York-based firm for several months rather than a year or more.

    She's using more freelancers when there's more work than her staff of three full-timers can handle.

    "I don't think it's smart or fair to a prospective employee to hire them when I can't commit to supporting another salary," she says.

     

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    Views Of The Federal Reserve As Markets Watch For Interest Rate Liftoff
    Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

    WASHINGTON -- The Federal Reserve is keeping U.S. interest rates at record lows in the face of persistent threats from a weak international economy and excessively low inflation. But it suggested the possibility of a rate hike as early as December.

    A statement the Fed issued Wednesday said it would seek to determine "whether it will be appropriate to raise the target range at its next meeting" by monitoring the progress on employment and inflation. It marked the first time in seven years of record-low rates that the central bank has raised the possibility that it could raise rates at its next meeting.

    In a further signal that a rate hike could occur at the Fed's last meeting of the year, policymakers sounded less gloomy about global economic pressures. They removed a sentence from their September statement that had warned about global pressures after news of a sharper-than-expected slowdown in China.

    Some combination of payrolls, unemployment and wages signaling continued improvement will be enough.

    Ian Shepherdson, chief economist in Pantheon Macroeconomics, expects a December rate hike if the jobs reports for October and November show the labor market is getting stronger.

    "Some combination of payrolls, unemployment and wages signaling continued improvement will be enough," he wrote in a note to clients.

    Still, the Fed indicated that the economy is expanding only modestly. And in a nod to recent weaker data, policymakers said in their statement that the pace of job gains had slowed -- an indication that they may be concerned about the pace of hiring.

    Some Fed officials have signaled a desire to raise rates before year's end. But tepid economic reports have led many analysts to predict no hike until 2016.

    The decision, after the Fed's latest policy meeting, was approved on a 9-1 vote, with Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Fed's Richmond regional bank, dissenting. As he had in September, Lacker favored a quarter-point rate hike.

    The Fed has kept the target for its benchmark funds rate at a record low in a range of zero to 0.25 percent since December 2008.

    Yellen and some other Fed officials have said a rate hike is still likely by the end of this year. But many analysts point to a string of weaker-than-expected economic reports in recent weeks that they think will lead the Fed to delay any rate increase until 2016.

    What's changed is a global economic slowdown, led by China, that's inflicted wide-ranging consequences. U.S. job growth has flagged. Wages and inflation are subpar. Consumer spending is sluggish. Investors are nervous. And manufacturing is being hurt by a stronger dollar, which has made U.S. goods pricier overseas.

    Though analysts say a rate hike at the central bank's next meeting in December is possible, two key Fed officials have called even that prospect into question.

    The Fed cut its benchmark rate to near zero during the Great Recession to encourage borrowing and spending to boost a weak economy. Since then, hiring has significantly strengthened, and unemployment has fallen to a seven-year low of 5.1 percent.

    But the Fed is still missing its target of achieving annual price increases of 2 percent, a level it views as optimal for a healthy economy.

    At the start of the year, a rate hike was expected by June. A harsh winter, though, slowed growth. And then in August, China announced a surprise devaluation of its currency. Its action rocked markets and escalated fears that the world's second-largest economy was weaker than thought and could derail growth in the United States.

    Uncertainty was too high, Fed officials decided, for a rate hike in September.

    Since then, the outlook has dimmed further with a hiring slowdown and tepid retail sales and factory output. Also, inflation has fallen further from the 2 percent target because of falling energy prices and a stronger dollar, which lowers the cost of imports.

    The Fed has said it will start raising rates once it's "reasonably confident" inflation will return to 2 percent within two to three years. Yellen has said that confidence should be boosted by a stronger job market, which will help raise workers' pay.

    But this month, two Fed board members -- Lael Brainard and Daniel Tarullo -- questioned the link between falling unemployment and higher inflation. Both expressed doubts about whether the timing would be right for a rate hike this year.

    This week's Fed meeting also followed decisions by other major central banks -- from Europe to China and Japan -- to pursue their own low-rate policies. Against that backdrop, a Fed rate hike would boost the dollar's value and thereby squeeze U.S. exporters of farm products and factory goods by making them costlier overseas.

    Congress may help if a budget deal announced this week wins congressional approval. That could avert a government shutdown and raise the government's borrowing limit -- two threats that concern Fed policymakers.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended sharply higher Wednesday after a volatile session as the Federal Reserve gave a vote of confidence in the U.S. economy by signaling a December interest rate hike was still on the table.

    S&P financials, which benefit from higher borrowing rates, shot up following the Fed statement and led sector gains. The financial index ended up 2.4 percent, its biggest percentage gain in seven weeks. The KBW Nasdaq regional bank index jumped 4.1 percent.

    S&P utilities, which tend to do worse when interest rates are rising, fell 1.1 percent and led S&P sector declines.

    The Fed left rates unchanged, as expected, and, in a direct reference to its next meeting, put a December rate hike firmly in play. It also downplayed global economic headwinds in its statement.

    Stocks initially sold off following the statement, with the S&P 500 erasing close to a 1 percent gain, but quickly rebounded to end at the day's highs as investors saw the statement as a sign the Fed has confidence the U.S. economy can sustain a rate hike.

    "Obviously the first move [in stocks] is down, which is conventional wisdom. However, I do like the idea of the Fed having more confidence in the economy, less concerned about the global backdrop and willing to ring the bell on the long-term health of the U.S. economy with a rate hike," said Michael Marrale, head of research, sales and trading at ITG in New York.

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

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 198.09 points, or 1.1 percent, to 17,779.52, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 24.46 points, or 1.2 percent, to 2,090.35, its highest in more than two months.

    The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 65.55 points, or 1.3 percent, to 5,095.69, while the Nasdaq 100 index of biggest non-financial names rose 0.9 percent to 4,678.57, just shy of a 15-year high.

    Movers and Shakers

    A 4.1 percent gain in Apple (AAPL) shares to $119.27 also helped support indexes a day after stronger-than-expected results.

    The company sold 48 million iPhones in the latest quarter and posted a near doubling of revenue from China, allaying concerns about its business in the world's second-largest economy.

    On the flip side, Twitter (TWTR) shares fell 1.5 percent to $30.87 while Akamai Technologies (AKAM) dropped 16.7 percent to $62.91, Both reported disappointing results late Tuesday.

    The S&P energy sector snapped a three-day losing streak, ending up 2.2 percent, after a sharp rally in crude oil prices .

    After the bell, shares of GoPro (GPRO) dropped 15.2 percent to $25.62 following its results.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,428 to 645, for a 3.76-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 2,252 issues rose and 605 fell for a 3.72-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 35 new 52-week highs and six new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 155 new highs and 82 new lows.

    About 8.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, well above the 7.1 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Chuck Mikolajczak contributed reporting.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims, and the Commerce Department releases third-quarter gross domestic product.
    • At 10 a.m., Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates, and the National Association of Realtors releases pending home sales index for September.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Aetna (AET)
    • Altria Group (MO)
    • ConocoPhillips (COP)
    • Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (GT)
    • Johnson Controls (JCI)
    • LinkedIn (LNKD)
    • MasterCard (MA)
    • Starbucks (SBUX)
    • Teva Pharmaceutical (TEVA)
    • Time Warner Cable (TWC)

     

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    Metal globe resting on paper currency
    Getty ImagesFinancial advisers say it helps to keep long-term goals in mind when evaluating any particular asset class.
    By Kate Stalter

    Large U.S. stocks have notched a mostly stellar performance since their post-financial-crisis rebound, beginning in March 2009. However, the same can't be said for emerging market stocks.

    The Financial Times Stock Exchange emerging index has declined about 15 percent over the past five years. The index tracks large- and mid-capitalization stocks based in 21 emerging markets.

    The largest emerging-market country weightings in the FTSE index include China, India, Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. The index also tracks countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

    A number of factors determine whether a market is considered developed or emerging. For example, emerging nations often have fewer financial-market checks and balances, relative to those in developed countries. Banking and regulatory systems often lag, and these nations may be politically and economically unstable, at least to some degree. That adds up to investors demanding a higher return for taking more risk than with Apple (AAPL), Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) or General Electric Co. (GE).

    Most investors understand intellectually that risk and return are related. But should they continue holding an asset class, such as emerging-market equity, that is suffering a prolonged slump?

    "I believe that long-term, growth-oriented investors should have emerging market exposure," says Ryan Wibberley, CEO of CIC Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland. "As the more developed economies continue to mature, the growth rates from these places are most likely going to be lower than the rates found in some emerging economies."

    In a diversified portfolio, all asset classes generally don't move in the same direction at the same time. That lack of correlation tends to smooth returns, but it also worries investors who don't like seeing any of their holdings heading south, especially over several years.

    However, financial advisers say it helps to keep long-term goals in mind when evaluating any particular asset class. From there, an investor can determine what is appropriate for his or her situation.

    "An investor with a long horizon and high risk tolerance can hold a diversified group of emerging market ETFs that filters companies for attractive attributes, such as low volatility," says Chuck Self, chief investment officer of iSectors, an exchange-traded fund strategist in Appleton, Wisconsin.

    Self says retirees, who frequently opt for income-paying investments, may find that some emerging-market funds fit the bill. For example, he cites the WisdomTree Emerging Markets High Dividend Fund (DEM) as an ETF containing high-quality companies that pay high dividend yields.

    Scott Kubie, chief investment strategist at CLS Investments in Omaha, Nebraska, says investors who turn their back on emerging markets may forego gains over time.

    "Emerging markets represent a large and important part of the investment universe. A portfolio without any emerging-markets exposure would not have investments in China, Mexico or much of Eastern Europe. Investors who pass up potential opportunities in emerging markets will miss out on the opportunities in these markets," he says.

    Kubie says that even with the recent outperformance of U.S. stocks, emerging-market equities have a 15-year track record of outperforming the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC).

    While the S&P 500 experienced the so-called "lost decade" between 2000 and 2009, emerging-market stocks outperformed. For the past five years, that situation has essentially been reversed. Proponents of globally diversified portfolios say that's exactly why investors should hold different types of assets at the same time.

    Patience, however, is always key when trying to stick with a portfolio tailored to one's objective and risk tolerance. Investors often tinker with allocations that don't perform as well as they'd hoped or expected. However, attempts to stem losses often result in missed opportunity as an asset class begins rising again.

    Owning emerging markets equities can provide high returns to investors who exercise patience.

    "Owning emerging markets equities can provide high returns to investors who exercise patience," Wibberley says. "These asset classes tend to move quickly, and timing them is very difficult. The advantage of holding these stocks during a downturn is that you no longer need to be a market timing expert -- which I have yet to actually meet one of these people. You capture all of the downside and all of the upside, which can be great."

    Advisers suggest keeping a long-term perspective on the current emerging-market underperformance.

    "Unfortunately, the recent downturn was prolonged by strong decreases in the Chinese growth rate. This has happened to various countries as they attempt to emerge," Self says. He says similar issues occurred with other fast-growing Asian nations in the early 1990s, and with Russia in 1998.

    "Eventually, these stock markets have come back and hit new highs," he says. "Trying to the time the move in and out of emerging markets is tricky, because you have to be correct when you sell, and you have to get back in before the market runs up. Unless they are guided by a rigorous quantitative model, very few investors can make both calls correctly and consistently."

    Even professional investors with a tactical approach say emerging-market exposure is often worth the risk. It comes back to a basic buy-low-and-sell-high philosophy. While investors always like that idea in theory, it's not necessarily easy, in practice, to buy a beaten-down asset class.

    "Holding an asset through a downturn is never fun. The real challenge is knowing when to exit and when to re-enter asset classes. Most investors, we find, are slow to take advantage of opportunities and slow to exit them when they turn. CLS's approach is adjust the allocation to emerging-market stocks up or down based on market condition," Kubie says.

    "Right now, our approach is to emphasize emerging-market stocks in the portfolio because of their attractive valuations," he says. "Emerging markets are cheap compared to most markets, especially the expensive U.S. market."

    Kate Stalter is founder of asset-management firm Better Money Decisions. You can reach her at www.bettermoneydecisions.com or on Twitter @katestalter.

     

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    us dollars and chess. win...
    Shutterstock
    By Lisa Gerstner

    1. A cashless society? Not so fast. From PayPal to Bitcoin to Samsung Pay (the newest contender among mobile wallets), advances in payment technology make pocket change look as if it's headed for the history books. But according to a 2012 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 40 percent of an average consumer's transactions were in cash -- more than for debit cards (25 percent), credit cards (17 percent), electronic payments (7 percent) and checks (7 percent). The number of notes in circulation has grown by about 5 percent per year since then, says Doug Conover, an author of the study.

    2. Currency comes in handy. Most vending machines don't take plastic, and cash works best for all small purchases. In the Federal Reserve study, consumers used cash for two-thirds of transactions smaller than $10 and for half of all payments of less than $50. Merchants are legally permitted to refuse plastic for transactions of less than $10, and they may provide a discount to customers who pay with cash. For most people, $50 or so is an adequate amount of cash to keep on hand, says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com.

    3. Hamiltons can't get hacked. With data breaches of major retailers becoming common, some consumers have turned to cash payments to prevent hackers from obtaining their credit card information. But plastic carries one big benefit that cash doesn't: If a thief racks up charges on your credit card, you're protected by the card networks' zero-liability policies. And banks will most often reimburse you for fraudulent debit card charges.

    4. A cash fix can cost you. Use an ATM outside your bank's network and you'll pay more than $4, on average, in combined fees to the bank and the ATM's owner, according to a MoneyRates.com survey. Check your bank's app or Web site to locate in-network ATMs. Or use a checking account that reimburses ATM surcharges (Ally Bank pays back up to $10 a month). A few banks have introduced ATMs from which customers can get cash by arranging a withdrawal on a smartphone app, then using the app to scan a QR code that the ATM displays -- no card required.

    5. It's a great budgeting tool. If you have trouble controlling your spending when you pay with credit cards, then favoring cash or a debit card is best for your finances. With cash, you can spend only what you have, so you may treat your money more carefully if you see real dollars leaving your hands. Divide the cash into envelopes labeled for each category of your monthly budget -- or at least for discretionary purchases such as eating out and shopping. Unfortunately, doing that means you won't be able to use online tools that automatically track each dollar you spend. But with mobile apps such as GoodBudget and Mvelopes (both are available for Apple and Android devices), you can create virtual envelopes and connect to your bank account to see where the money goes.

    6. But it won't help build your credit history. Consider using a credit card now and then -- perhaps for routine purchases, such as gas, that won't tempt you to overspend. A history of responsible card usage on your credit record can help you get the best terms on a mortgage or other loan. It may even improve your prospects for getting a job or an apartment rental.

     

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    diploma cash
    Getty Images
    Americans have amassed more than $1.3 trillion of student loan debt. 11 percent of borrowers are already in default. Many more borrowers are delaying homeownership and children to deal with their debt burden. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of options out there for both graduates and parents to manage their student loan debt. Two of the most effective methods are federal income-based repayment programs and refinancing options made available by private lenders. While these can be great tools, they aren't for everyone.

    Income-Based Repayment

    According to the Department of Education, "if your outstanding federal student loan debt is higher than your annual income or if it represents a significant portion of your annual income, you may want to repay your federal student loans under an income-driven repayment plan." With the three available plans, your monthly payment would generally be capped to no more than 20 percent of your discretionary income. For people who are struggling to make student loan payments, the savings can be dramatic. You can estimate your monthly payment under the plan by using a payment tool created by the government.

    Once you are enrolled in the program, your monthly payment reduces. However, your situation will be re-assessed every year and you will need to re-enroll. If your salary increases your monthly payment would likely increase. Depending upon the program, any remaining balance would be forgiven after 20 to 25 years. That debt forgiveness would be taxable. The people who benefit the most from this program are individuals with big federal student loan balances and low lifetime earnings.

    It is possible to have your monthly payment reduced to nothing, if you don't earn enough income to make the payment on time. Enrolling in an income-driven plan doesn't harm your credit report or your credit score.

    Unfortunately, income-driven plans are only available for people with federal student loans. Private loans aren't eligible for the program. You can apply for the program at StudentLoans.Gov.

    If you are a parent with a PLUS loan, you are eligible for ICR (income-contingent repayment), so long as your loans are consolidated. Even if you only have one PLUS loan, you can still "consolidate" it and then apply for ICR.

    Refinance

    If you don't have problems making your monthly payment, but you are tired of the high interest rate on your student loan debt, you should consider refinancing with one of the new marketplace lenders. Today there are more than 20 providers (and growing) that offer student loan refinancing at very low interest rates. Fixed interest rates start as low as 3.25 percent, and variable rates start as low as 1.9 percent. You can comparison shop for the best rate at MagnifyMoney. One of the leading providers has disclosed that its average borrower saves $14,000 when refinancing.

    In order to qualify, you need to have an excellent credit score, a good job and strong cash flow. Student loan refinancing companies are offering excellent interest rates to people with the best credit scores. If you have missed payments or have too much credit card debt, you might find getting approved difficult.

    Refinancing student loan debt makes perfect sense for people with private student loans. However, people with federal student loan debt should be cautious. When you refinance a federal loan, you will be giving up income-driven repayment options described earlier. If you are highly confident that you can pay off your student loan debt in the next few years, it may be a risk worth taking. However, if you think it might take 20 years to pay off your debt, you should carefully weigh the risks before proceeding.

    What if I Have Private Loans and Can't Afford My Payments?

    People with federal loans facing difficulty making payments have great options. Unfortunately, people with private loans are at the whim of their servicing companies. If you are having difficulties making payments, your best bet is to call your servicing company and explain your situation. Private lenders are under increasing scrutiny from regulators to help people in hardship.

    Nick Clements is co-founder of MagnifyMoney.com, a financial education and price comparison company.

     

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    Couple lying down with bills
    Getty Images
    By Charlene Oldham

    Many couples claim to live by the axiom of "what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine," and opening a joint bank account represents one way to put that into practice. With a joint account, both partners have access to the funds and can make deposits and withdrawals. Both are also liable for bounced checks, overdraft fees or any other charges and expenses associated with the account.

    Sometimes having a joint account makes sense for couples, since covering shared expenses is easier. And, for couples on the same banking and budgetary page, a joint checking account can help build trust, accountability and bank balances toward mutual monetary goals. But there are cases when opening a joint account can be a bad idea.

    Here are some warning signs you shouldn't get a joint bank account and why you might want to wait.

    1. You Aren't Married

    "I hate to sound old fashioned, but there are legal ramifications beyond the warm fuzziness of sharing your names on checks. If you're not married, and this is the way you're showing a commitment to each other, reconsider the show of affection," said April Masini, an author and relationship expert at AskApril.com. "Jewelry is a nice gesture that isn't going to require two signatures to close the account. So are shared goldfish. Or a fern."

    While Masini's tone is joking, her advice is anything but. Married couples can rely on the legal system to untangle their finances in the event of a divorce, but unmarried partners usually don't have the same protections. Relying on candid conversations -- and even a contract -- if you elect to open a joint account without being married, is the best you can do.

    The decision to open a joint checking account should come only after numerous discussions of your money management techniques and the concerns and details that might come with a combined account. Then, according to Money Under 30, couples should create a simple contract that outlines which accounts and investments belong to a particular partner and which are to be divided equally. Finally, even the most committed couple should leave some accounts separate if they aren't married or in another type of legally recognized relationship.

    2. You're Still in a 'Partnership' With Parents

    A 2013 Pew Research Center report found that, among adults between 40 and 59 years old with at least one grown child, 73 percent said they'd helped support an adult son or daughter in the prior year, with half of those parents saying they were their child's primary means of support.

    Personal finance educator Taffy Wagner said financial dependence on parental payouts is one sign you and your partner might not be ready to open and manage a joint checking account. For example, if you're married, have taken a loan from parents since tying the knot and made no moves to pay it back, sharing money with someone else is likely a bad idea. Taking handouts can also lead parents to become de facto money managers within the marriage.

    "Your parents are handling you finances even though you are married. They are calling the shots," Wagner said when describing the scenario. "This is interfering with your marriage, but you don't stop them from managing your money."

    So couples need to cut the parental purse strings before deciding on a joint account, for the good of their financial future as well as their romantic relationship.

    3. You Are Spending and Saving Opposites

    "If one of you is a big spender and the other is a big saver, you're going to create big drama by co-owning a checking account," Masini said. "Financial discrepancies can be deal breakers, and they should be taken seriously. Opening a joint checking account can create deal-breaking problems in your relationship."

    Wagner said some other issues can also break the bank. If you or your partner are carrying significant debt without a clear payoff plan or have undesirable spending habits including not paying bills on time, spending money that should be devoted to necessities on meals out or mall binges, or frequently borrowing money from friends and family, those issues should be exposed and addressed before you open a joint account.

    4. You or Your Partner Are Secretive or Sensitive About Finances

    It's a clear indication you aren't ready to open a joint bank account if "whenever the topic of money comes up, you get argumentative as if someone is blaming you when they don't even know your money situation or lack of habits," said Wagner.

    I think the most important factor in doing something like that is that there needs to be total and complete transparency between the parties.

    Opening an account together requires a willingness to be accountable and honest about spending habits, earnings and other financial issues, said Matthew K. Skarin, a family lawyer with Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt & Klein. And some couples in serious romantic relationships, or even marriages, aren't quite ready to share spreadsheets.

    "I think the most important factor in doing something like that is that there needs to be total and complete transparency between the parties," he said. "But it's often difficult to find a happy medium between transparency and being overbearing."

    Skarin and his wife decided to combine finances after about a year of marriage, but each sets some "fun money" aside in an individual accounts that they can spend on gifts for one another or impulse buys that they don't have to justify when the monthly bank statement appears. "And that also gives [us] a feeling of independence," he said. "But, for the most part, we keep everything combined."

    5. You or Your Partner Pay Child or Spousal Support

    "Just because you have a custody schedule worked out or a child support amount set doesn't mean it's set in stone," Masini said "Things change, and it might just be a good idea to ask your attorney about the implications of a joint checking account as opposed to sole and separate accounts until the kids are 'of age' and out of the child support game."

    Legally, Skarin said child and spousal support payments are considered the responsibility of the individual who brought them into a new partnership or marriage. But he agrees it can be a good idea to keep separate accounts for other legal reasons. For example, the individual accounts can be important if the partner responsible for the child or spousal support payments doesn't bring in enough income to cover them and needs to prove that in court.

    "But, absent that, I think if [support payments] come out of a joint account, that's fine as long as everyone knows what to expect," he said.

    Don't Rush a Joint Account

    There's no reason to rush opening a joint bank account with your partner. Make sure you're both on the same page first and communicate your goals and concerns clearly before signing that dotted line.

    Avoiding secrets and surprises is critical for any couple with a joint checking account, said Skarin, also a certified public accountant. He and his wife use spreadsheets and smartphone apps to help manage their joint accounts, which makes it unlikely either will lose track of how much they can afford to spend. When couples are ready to blend some finances, implementing an accounting and accountability system also helps eliminate doubts about money matters overall.

    "With this level of transparency, none of that is an issue," Skarin said. "You have more of a team approach to the family finances. When my wife and I look at the spreadsheets and look at the accounts, we can say, 'This is our project and we're working on it together.' And I think it's actually helped our relationship quite a bit."

    This story, 5 Signs You Aren't Ready to Marry Finances with Your Partner, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    How to Save 50 Percent on Furniture

    By Allison Martin

    Purchasing a home is a massive, yet exciting, undertaking. But what about all of the additional expenses that are part of the equation? Many homebuyers forget to account for them.

    One of the most costly purchases, alongside major appliances, is furniture. It's a must-have, unless you don't mind passing time on the floor.

    Fortunately, you don't have to go further into debt to make your new home cozy and aesthetically pleasing. Besides planning ahead, so you won't engage in impulse shopping, there are other ways to save a ton of money on furniture, both new and used.

    1. Craigslist. You may be skeptical about shopping for furniture on Craigslist, so here's the trick: Search for listings in high-end areas to increase your chances of locating the high-caliber goods. Just be sure that the costs of repairs and cleaning, if necessary, don't add substantially to the purchase price.

    Want to maximize your savings? Check out Freecycle.org for free furniture.

    2. Reupholstering and refinishing. Do you actually need new furniture, or can you spruce things up with a face-lift? If the latter is true, try having your items reupholstered or refinished. The Internet is full of how-to tips and ideas, such as DIY Network. The staff at home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe's are often full of advice on products and shortcuts.

    Then recombine your upgraded furniture in your home with new décor, such as pillows, lamps and rugs.

    Conduct an online search for interior design ideas and try visiting stores, such as HomeGoods, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx, to locate accent pieces and accessories. Small changes can make a huge difference and save you a ton of cash.

    3. Moving sales, yard sales, estate sales. Is anyone in your area moving to another city? If not, check out individual and community garage sales to take advantage of bargains. The "everything must go" mentality is the key to the best deals.

    And if you run across an estate sale, keep in mind that the best items go fast, says Apartment Therapy. However, "if you come after the rush (later in the day or the next day), you will feel less frazzled and are in a better position to haggle," the website says.

    4. Going-out-of-business sales. The retailers must clear out the inventory and equipment in their facility before the doors officially close for good. If you have some flexibility, wait until the final weeks of operation to shop. Although selection may be limited, savings can be huge.

    5. Thrift stores. The items are donated and quite likely will vary greatly in how gently used or abused they were. Still, you might find some great deals that can look like new with a little attention.

    6. Discount furniture stores. In Florida, we have clearance centers, such as American Freight and Big Lots, which sell name-brand furniture at big discounts. The Rooms to Go Outlet also sells items with slight scratches and dents. Check to see if these stores or ones like them are in your area.

    Also, your local furniture store may have great discounts on floor models and items that are a bit dinged.

    7. Furniture swapping. No cash available for new furniture? Try trading with others (here comes Freecycle again) who have items that interest you. Another way to find partners is via Craigslist: The trick is to make sure what they are offering is comparable in terms of value to your goods.

    8. Consignment shops. Furniture at these locations is usually decent enough to generate a profit for the shop, as well as some cash for the original owner. And the boutique shops sometimes carry high-end designer brands.

    9. Special promotions. The best time to buy furniture is when stores have to make room for new inventory. The timing varies, but check holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, plus the months of February and August. Hold off, and the price might drop even more.

    Track the prices on your favorite pieces so you can pounce when there's a major mark down.

    MarketWatch says the sale items are often at the back of the store, so that customers are forced to walk through the full-priced items to get there. Don't get distracted. Make a beeline for the discounted stuff.

    10. Haggling. The advertised prices for furniture are not set in stone, and the store owner can easily drop the price and still make a decent profit. Says MarketWatch: "Most furniture retailers mark up their prices by about 80 percent (and in some cases more) to maximize profits."

    11. Price matching. If you find something you like, find out if the store offers price matching for similar or identical products. Check around with competing stores for a lower price to present to the seller. (You can do this on your phone while standing in the store, which often prompts the furniture dealer to offer a lower price even if you don't find the same product elsewhere.)

    12. Wholesalers. The inventory tends to turn over frequently, so pop in as often as you can to take a look. And if you see something you like, jump on it immediately. But be on the lookout for slightly damaged goods.

    What tactics have you used to save big bucks on furniture? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

    Ari Cetron contributed to this post.

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    Mechanic changing tire in auto repair shop
    Getty Images
    By Hana Livingston

    As any driver knows, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the abundance of car-related goods and services, from pricey detailing to third-party warranties to premium fluids. Car owners on a budget must decide when to invest and when to cut corners. Pinching pennies in the wrong places can cost more down the road and raise concerns about safety. Cheapism.com consulted auto manufacturers, technicians and maintenance guides to determine what's worth the money when it comes to your car.

    Regular Tire Rotation. If you've ever looked at the bottom of your shoe and noticed that one area is more worn than another, you already have an idea about the need to rotate tires regularly. Tire treads wear unevenly through normal driving, a process worsened by incorrect tire pressure and uneven alignment. When tires are rotated properly, they wear more uniformly, resulting in a smoother ride, more balanced handling, increased traction and more effective braking. Plus, rotating tires makes them last much longer and improves gas mileage. Use the opportunity to make sure they are inflated to the appropriate pressure.

    Check the owner's manual to see how frequently tires should be rotated. Manufacturers generally recommend doing so every 6,000 to 8,000 miles. If tires make noise even on smooth roads -- typically a loud humming sound -- that can be a sign that they need to be rotated. The job takes less than an hour and the average cost ranges between $27 and $35, according to RepairPal. Car owners who purchased tires from Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart and Sears really have no reason to shirk -- this service comes at no charge.

    Certification Program. When buying a used car it's worth spending the extra few hundred or thousand dollars on one that's "certified pre-owned." These vehicles often come with an extended manufacturer's warranty. Plus, if any problems crop up after the warranty expires, the manufacturer may be willing to help out -- good luck getting anyone to do that for a vehicle that was purchased without the certification.

    Buying a certified pre-owned car also provides assurance that the car is in working order and won't break down as soon as you drive it off the lot. American Honda, for example, requires a 150-point inspection for a vehicle to earn the certified pre-owned title. Among other things, the inspection looks for aftermarket parts on the car, which Honda (and some experts) contend can affect the vehicle's safety, reliability and performance. Moreover, using aftermarket parts generally voids the manufacturer's warranty.

    Oil Changes on Schedule. An oil change is one of the least expensive maintenance services and also one of the most critical, so there's no excuse for neglecting it. Oil keeps a vehicle's engine clear of sludge and build-up and ensures that all components run together smoothly. Dodging regular oil changes can lead to a host of problems, from worn pistons to all-out engine failure, that require extremely expensive repairs.

    Even car owners on a tight budget should stick to the schedule. Having a trusted technician looking at the vehicle on a regular basis is a smart habit because it draws attention to small issues, such as fluid leaks or worn-out parts, before they become unsafe or costly disasters.

    Oil changes generally are recommended every 2,500 to 3,000 miles, but check the owner's manual for the manufacturer's specific recommendation. It will also indicate the recommended grade of motor oil, which is important because the wrong grade can reduce a car's gas mileage by 1 or 2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    Frequent Washes. It might seem frugal to forgo car washes in order to save money, but this is an outlay that pays off. Bird droppings, for example, can cause permanent damage: When the paint on a vehicle gets hot, it softens and molds itself around the hardened droppings. The result is uneven paintwork that appears scratched, pitted and dull. Getting a fresh clear coat is costly and blemished, unsightly paint reduces a car's resale value. The longer the droppings remain, the worse the damage, so remove them promptly and in general wash the car frequently.

    Periodic Waxing. If a future sale is in the cards, occasional waxing is critical to maintaining the value of the car. Wax does more than just add extra shine -- it prevents paint from fading and dulling and preserves the clear coat. Wax protects the car's exterior from the elements, such as UV rays, salt, exhaust, acid rain, ice, bug splatter, scratches, dirt and so on. When it comes time to sell the vehicle, the better the exterior looks, the higher the asking price can be. Prospective buyers always notice the exterior even if they have no idea what to look for under the hood.

    Most experts recommend hand waxing every three months or so or at least every six months. To gauge the need, splash a little water on the car: If it doesn't bead up, it's time for fresh wax. A little practice makes this a cheap DIY job. Alternatively, go the professional route; CostHelper users report paying $40 to $90 for a simple wash-and-wax. Splurge for a hand wax. The wax add-on at automated car washes doesn't offer much real protection.

    Brake Pad Replacement. When it comes to brake pads, a little prevention and maintenance go a long way. If worn brake pads are not replaced, the brake rotors will warp and need to be resurfaced or replaced, both of which are costly. It's easy to get brake pads checked during a standard oil change or tire rotation.

    Brake wear depends on several factors, so there's no hard-and-fast schedule for replacing brake pads -- consult a trusted professional technician. However, if you hear a squeaking, screeching or grinding sound or feel pulsing or vibrating when braking, it may be time for new pads. Decreasing brake effectiveness -- it takes longer to stop or you must press the pedal harder than usual -- is another common sign of brake wear. Replacing brake pads is both a money saver and a crucial safety measure. New brake pads cost cost between $100 and $250 -- an expense that's worth every dime.

     

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    General Motors
    Tony Gutierrez/APA worker inspects an SUV at the General Motors plant in Arington, Texas.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. economic growth braked sharply in the third quarter as businesses cut back on restocking warehouses to work off an inventory glut, but solid domestic demand could encourage the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in December.

    Gross domestic product increased at a 1.5 percent annual rate after expanding at a 3.9 percent clip in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

    The inventory drag, however, is likely to be temporary and economists expect growth to pick up in the fourth quarter given strong domestic fundamentals.

    "The guts of the report were healthy, they still show strong underlying momentum in the economy and that puts a December rate hike firmly on the table.

    "The guts of the report were healthy, they still show strong underlying momentum in the economy and that puts a December rate hike firmly on the table," said Thomas Costerg, a U.S. economist at Standard Chartered Bank in New York.

    The Fed on Wednesday described the economy as growing at a "moderate" pace and hinted at a December rate increase by making a direct reference to its next policy meeting. The U.S. central bank has kept benchmark overnight interest rates near zero since December 2008.

    Stocks on Wall Street and prices for U.S. Treasury debt fell on the data. The dollar weakened against a basket of currencies.

    The economy has struggled to sustain a faster pace of growth since the end of the 2007-09 recession, with average yearly growth failing to break above 2.5 percent. This year, it has faced headwinds from a strong dollar and deep spending cuts by energy firms following a collapse in oil prices.

    Businesses accumulated $56.8 billion worth of inventory in the third quarter, the smallest since the first quarter of 2014 and down sharply from $113.5 billion in the April-June period. There were declines in manufacturing, wholesale and retail inventories.

    The small inventory build sliced off 1.44 percentage points from third-quarter GDP growth, the largest since the fourth quarter of 2012.

    "That inventory drawdown represents a bit of a healthy purge that should set the economy up for stronger growth in the coming quarters," said Jim Baird, chief investment officer for Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

    Consumer Save the Day

    The blow from inventories was, however, blunted by bullish consumers, who are getting a tailwind from cheaper gasoline and firming housing and labor markets.

    Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, grew at a 3.2 percent rate after expanding at a 3.6 percent pace in the second quarter. A measure of private domestic demand, which excludes trade, inventories and government spending, rose at a sturdy 3.2 percent pace.

    Spending is likely to remain supported by a fairly healthy labor market and low inflation, which is boosting household purchasing power. Income at the disposal of households increased 3.5 percent in the third quarter after rising 1.2 percent in the prior quarter.

    "The consumer remains the main engine of economic growth. We expect this dynamic to remain in place," said Jesse Hurwitz, an economist at Barclays in New York.

    A separate report from the Labor Department showed new applications for unemployment benefits last week hovering near levels last seen in late 1973.

    With the dollar strengthening, export growth decelerated in the third quarter. The drag was, however, offset by a slowdown in imports, especially automobiles, leaving trade's impact on growth neutral.

    Ongoing spending cuts in the energy sector also undermined growth. A plunge in oil prices has prompted oil field companies like Schlumberger (SLM) and Halliburton (HAL) to slash investment.

    Schlumberger said this month it didn't expect a recovery in demand before 2017 and anticipated that exploration and production spending would fall again in 2016.

    Spending on mining exploration, wells and shafts tumbled at a 46.9 percent rate after dropping at a 68 percent pace in the second quarter. Investment in nonresidential structures contracted at a 4 percent pace, also weighed down by weak spending on commercial and healthcare structures.

    Despite strong domestic demand, dollar strength and cheaper gasoline dampened inflation.

    The personal consumption expenditures price index rose at a 1.2 percent rate after rising 2.2 percent in the second quarter. Excluding food and energy, prices increased at a 1.3 percent pace, slowing from a 1.9 percent rate in the second quarter.

     

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    wall street sign in new york
    Shutterstock
    I recently wrote about some surprising stocks that have more than doubled so far this year, but now it's time to check out some of the more unfortunate investments. Let's go over some of the stocks that have lost at least half of their value in 2015 as of the Oct. 25 market close.

    Lumber Liquidators (LL) -- Down 78 percent

    Things seemed to be humming along for the country's largest stand-alone hardwood flooring retailer until a "60 Minutes" report called out the potentially hazardous nature of some of its laminate flooring. The scathing segment tested Lumber Liquidators' China-sourced laminates, finding many of them to contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

    Lumber Liquidators initially denied the claims, but ultimately decided to stop selling the flooring altogether. By then the damage was done. Sales took a dive, and they have yet to recover. This isn't the first time that Lumber Liquidators has courted controversy, but it's the first time that the implications have had health concerns. That's hard to bounce back from in the near term.

    Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) -- Down 60 percent

    The company that revolutionized the way that we consume premium coffee at home with the original Keurig single-cup brewer has been quite decaffeinated in 2015. The downfall may have started in 2012 when the patents for its K-Cup portion packs expired, but things got really bad last year when it rolled out Keurig 2.0.

    Armed with a label scanner, the new brewers only work with new K-Cups. Sure, clever java junkies have circumvented the process by slapping a new label on old, reusable or third-party portion packs, but the brand has taken a hit all the same. Year-over-year sales fell for the first time in its latest quarter, and the new Keurig Kold machine that makes chilled carbonated beverages isn't garnering rave reviews since last month's launch.

    Yelp (YELP) -- Down 55 percent

    The site that many foodies turn to for crowdsourced reviews has been giving investors indigestion this year. Yelp has been dogging allegations from disgruntled merchants for years that the site buries negative reviews for local businesses that pay to advertise on Yelp. It's been a different story on the consumer end, with folks relying on the site for peer reviews of restaurants, shops, spas, and other businesses.

    The rub here is that mobile growth is slowing, and desktop usage is actually declining. There are also fears that Yelp relies too heavily on Google (GOOG, GOOGL) searches for traffic, something that could prove to be a sticking point if the leading search engine decides to promote its own ratings platform.

    GoPro (GPRO) -- Down 54 percent

    One of last year's hottest IPOs has wiped out this year. GoPro made wearable cameras cool, but decelerating growth can't seem to justify the lofty valuation the company had after last year's frenzied surge. GoPro's HERO cameras continue to sell well, but analysts see sales slowing considerably this holiday season.

    Fossil (FOSL) -- Down 53 percent

    Folks have been predicting the death of the designer watch for years. Who needs a wrist-hugging timepiece when there's a smartphone in the pocket? Now the death knell is all about smartwatches.

    Fossil was able to defy gravity in recent years, but that hasn't been the case in 2015. Sales have started to decline, and profitability is taking an even bigger hit. Fossil is finally starting to live up to its name.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Keurig Green Mountain. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A and C shares), GoPro and Lumber Liquidators. The Motley Fool recommends Fossil, Keurig Green Mountain and Yelp. 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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    Pending Home Sales
    Wilfredo Lee/AP
    By JOSH BOAK

    WASHINGTON -- September marked a slowdown in Americans signing contracts to buy homes, the second consecutive decline for a real estate market that has been rebounding for the first half of 2015.

    The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index dropped 2.3 percent to 106.8 last month. The index has risen 3 percent over the past 12 months, aided by solid hiring levels and low mortgage rates that fueled stronger demand during the traditional summer buying season.

    But evidence of fading momentum has surfaced in recent months. Sales of newly built homes fell 11.5 percent last month, as choppy financial markets and rising home prices are creating affordability pressures for would-be buyers. The strong demand for housing due to stronger job market -- with unemployment at a robust 5.1 percent -- has failed to produce an influx of new listings that could help sales.

    Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A lag of a month or two usually exists between a contract and a completed sale. Signed contracts fell in the Northeast, Midwest and South last month, while slipping slightly in the West.

    Over the past 12 months, sales of existing homes have risen 8.8 percent over the past 12 months. But the inventory on the market has dropped 3.1 percent, the Realtors said last week.

    A mere 4.8 months' supply of homes is available for would-be buyers, substantially below the 6 months associated with a healthy market.

    The tight inventories have pushed up home values. The median home sales price was $221,900 in September, a 6.1 percent annual increase.

    But historically low borrowing costs have offset the impact of rising prices.

    The average fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage this week was 3.76 percent, down from 3.98 percent a year ago, according to the mortgage firm Freddie Mac.

     

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    Increased Healthcare Costs
    Getty Images


    The Obama administration and congressional leaders have finally reached a tentative budget agreement that will prevent a 52 percent spike in Medicare premiums for millions of Americans.

    Without the bipartisan budget deal about 17 million Medicare recipients would see their Medicare Part B premiums soar to about $160 from $104.90, USA Today reports. Instead, those same Medicare beneficiaries, who represent about 30 percent of older Americans covered by Medicare, will see a 14 percent premium increase to $120 a month next year, plus a monthly surcharge of $3.

    According to The Washington Post, the 17 million Medicare beneficiaries affected by the premium increase do not have their insurance payment automatically deducted from a Social Security check. "Among this group are people who do not collect Social Security, will be enrolling in Medicare's Part B next year for the first time, have incomes great enough that they are charged higher premiums, or are poor enough that they also qualify for Medicaid," the Post said.

    The unprecedented spike in Part B rates for the rest would have come about in order to keep the Medicare system in actuarial balance.

    A provision of federal law that links Medicare premiums to Social Security benefits, which won't increase for the third year in a row because of low inflation, is shielding the other 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries from increased premiums.

    "The unprecedented spike in Part B rates for the rest would have come about in order to keep the Medicare system in actuarial balance," the Post explained.

    A loan from the U.S. Treasury to the Medicare trust fund will cover the cost of Medicare Part B in the new budget deal, according to USA Today. The loan will be paid back over the next five years with slight increases ($3 a month) in Medicare premiums.

    "The approach to financing ... will allow premiums to increase more gradually, while spreading the cost over a longer period of time, and across a broader group of beneficiaries," Tricia Neuman, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told USA Today.

    Medicare Part B covers most health care service outside hospitals.

    Although the budget deal wards off a massive increase in Medicare Part B premiums, it does little to address the long-term financial stability of Medicare.

    "While we have concerns about the way in which the Part B cost-sharing resolution is paid for, we are glad people who rely on Medicare can breathe a bit easier -- knowing their premiums and deductible will not skyrocket next year," Judith Stein, founder and executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, told USA Today.

    Will you be affected by the Medicare Part B increase in 2016? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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    How to Pick a Medicare Supplement Plan

     

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    A Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Location Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Nathan Layne

    Walmart Stores (WMT) said it would offer fewer "this weekend only" short-term deals during the holiday shopping season while discounting thousands of items for 90 days as it seeks to entice customers by being more consistent on pricing.

    The retailer also said it was launching a new mobile application to reduce waiting times for in-store pickup of online orders as part of an effort to expand a service in which it believes it has an advantage over rivals, like Amazon.com (AMZN), which lack a bricks-and-mortar presence.

    The moves were announced in a media briefing to outline its strategy for the November to December holiday shopping season, a crucial time for retailers during which they earn an outsized portion of their annual profits and sales.

    We will not be beat on pricing this holiday. If we need to react we will.

    The decision to offer fewer short-term discounts comes at a time when Walmart is seeking to burnish its reputation for low prices amid relentless competition online from Amazon.com, supermarkets and dollar stores. It said customers were frustrated by "gimmicks" and wanted more consistent pricing.

    "We will not be beat on pricing this holiday," said Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer for Walmart's U.S. operations, noting its policy of matching rivals' prices at its stores. "If we need to react we will."

    Walmart said that it would have more "rollbacks," or discounts that last for 90 days, than the 20,000 offered last year, although it didn't give an exact figure. Bratspies said the discounts would be across all categories.

    Walmart also said it was introducing a "mobile check-in" function to its mobile phone application that would allow shoppers picking up online orders to easily notify the store when arriving to cut down on waiting times.

    Walmart said that it was focusing on in-store pickup as a way to take advantage of its 4,500 stores in the U.S. It has recently expanded curbside pickup for groceries ordered online to 23 markets, with plans to add 20 more early next year.

     

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