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    Takata Air Bags
    Alex Brandon/APNHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, left, along with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, speaks Tuesday at a news conference about Takata air bags.
    By TOM KRISHER

    DETROIT -- U.S. auto safety regulators fined Japan's Takata Corp. $70 million for lapses in the way it handled recalls of millions of explosion-prone air bags that are responsible for eight deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide.

    Regulators also ordered Takata to stop making the air bag inflators at the heart of the problem unless the company can prove they are safe.

    Under a five-year agreement reached with Takata, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the authority to add up to $130 million to the penalty if the company fails to abide by the terms. In the deal, Takata admitted that it knew the inflators were defective, but failed to recall them in a timely manner.

    The penalty would be a record if it grows to $200 million.

    Takata's air bag inflators can spew shrapnel into drivers and passengers in a crash. So far, about 23.4 million driver and passenger inflators have been recalled on 19.2 million U.S. vehicles sold by 12 automakers.

    Takata's air bags are inflated by an explosion of ammonium nitrate, and investigators so far have found that prolonged exposure to airborne moisture can cause the propellant to burn too fast. That can blow apart a metal canister designed to contain the explosion and shoot out metal fragments. Most of those injured or killed live in high-humidity states that border the Gulf of Mexico.

    Unless new evidence emerges, the company will have to recall all of its inflators.

    Still, the company and investigators have yet to discover the exact cause for the rupturing of the inflators. Because of that, the agreement announced Tuesday "lays out a schedule for recalling all Takata ammonium nitrate inflators now on the roads, unless the company can prove they are safe or can show it has determined why its inflators are prone to rupture," NHTSA said in a statement.

    "Unless new evidence emerges, the company will have to recall all of its inflators," said Anthony Foxx, head of the Department of Transportation, at a press conference to announce the agreement.

    Regulators will also monitor the recalls to ensure replacement inflators are first sent to regions with the greatest chance of inflator problems.

    Takata also still faces hundreds of lawsuits and a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

    NHTSA continues to investigate whether the company's side air bag inflators also should be recalled.

    The order calls for an independent monitor who would make sure Takata abides by the terms. The monitor could be extended to a sixth year.

    A total penalty of $200 million would be the largest ever imposed by NHTSA, surpassing the record $105 million penalty levied against Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) earlier this year for failing to report safety issues and follow through on 23 different recalls.

    But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a frequent NHTSA and Takata critic, said the $70 million fine seems like a slap on the wrist and should be larger. "The penalty seems small compared to the consequences of the concealment and disregard" for the law, he said.

    Those injured, mainly in driver's seats, have suffered severe neck cuts and facial injuries and have lost eyesight and hearing due to the explosions.

    The agency also could announce additional recalls. It has sent letters to seven more automakers warning them that their Takata inflators could be subject to recall.

    Shortly after the NHTSA investigation began in June of last year, Takata resisted and said NHTSA didn't have the authority to make it do any recalls. But the company later relented and agreed to the agency's demands.

     

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    Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman Rings NYSE Opening Bell
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
    By Lewis Krauskopf

    NEW YORK -- Big tech and energy sector gains drove U.S. stocks higher Tuesday, as an index of 100 major Nasdaq companies finished at a record closing high.

    The three major indexes continued a positive start for November, after posting their best monthly performances in four years in October. The Nasdaq 100 index closed up 0.3 percent at 4,719.05, surpassing for the first time levels reached during the dot-com boom in 2000.

    The S&P energy sector rose 2.5 percent, its fifth straight daily increase, as crude prices rallied. Oil majors Exxon (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) rose 1.8 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively, making both stocks among the top influences on the Dow and S&P.

    People are looking for beaten down names in industries that may represent value.

    While energy stocks have risen about 22 percent since late August, the sector is still down roughly 10 percent year to date.

    "People are looking for beaten down names in industries that may represent value," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth in New York. "Towards the end of the year, the market starts to move up and people are fearful they're going to be left behind."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 89.39 points, or 0.5 percent, to 17,918.15, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 5.74 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,109.79 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 17.98 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,145.13.

    Six of the 10 S&P sector groups ended positive, including a 0.6 percent rise for the tech sector. Apple rose 1.1 percent to $122.57 and Microsoft (MSFT) rose 1.7 percent to $54.15, with both companies the most positive influences on the S&P and Nasdaq.

    Big Game Deal

    Activision Blizzard (ATVI) rose 3.6 percent to $35.82 and was the sixth biggest boost on the Nasdaq after the video-game company said it would buy "Candy Crush" maker King Digital for $5.9 billion. King (KING) soared 14.9 percent to $17.85.

    As the third-quarter earnings season winds down, investors will be looking to Friday's employment report and other economic data for clues as to whether the Federal Reserve will raise rates in December.

    U.S. companies have posted stronger-than-expected quarterly results in general so far this earnings season. As of earlier Tuesday, of the 379 S&P 500 companies that had reported results, 70 percent beat profit estimates, compared with 63 percent in a typical quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

    One exception was insurer AIG (AIG), whose shares fell 4.4 percent to $60.96 after the insurer's quarterly profit missed estimates by a wide margin. CEO Peter Hancock said Carl Icahn's proposal to break up the company didn't "make financial sense."

    Agribusiness Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) dropped 6.8 percent to $43.15 after missing profit estimates. Altria fell 4.4 percent to $57.85 after a rating cut. The two were the biggest drags on the consumer staples sector.

    Sprint (S) fell 7 percent to $4.51 after the wireless carrier reported lower-than-expected results.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,789 to 1,283, for a 1.39-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,676 issues rose and 1,124 fell for a 1.49-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 20 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 82 new highs and 29 new lows.

    -Sinead Carew, Rodrigo Campos and Abhiram Nandakumar contributed reporting.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • The Commerce Department releases international trade data for September at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Institute for Supply Management releases its service sector index for October at 10 a.m.

    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Facebook (FB)
    • Honda (HMC)
    • Liberty Media (LMCA)
    • MetLife (MET)
    • Prudential Financial (PRU)
    • Qualcomm (QCOM)
    • Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN)
    • Time Warner (TWX)
    • Twenty-First Century Fox (FOX)
    • Whole Foods Market (WFM)

     

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    Holiday Shopping
    Robert F. Bukaty/AP
    By Krystal Steinmetz

    Christmas is still about eight weeks away, but retailers and many shoppers don't seem to care. Holiday shopping is in full swing.

    Gone are the days when shoppers waited until Black Friday, once revered as the biggest shopping day of the year, to hit the stores and snatch up great deals on everything from clothing to electronics. Instead, early-bird shoppers are purchasing items off their holiday lists earlier than ever.

    According to a new survey from coupon destination site RetailMeNot, just 10 percent of consumers today believe that Black Friday savings are really worth the wait and 85 percent of shoppers expect retailers to start their holiday promotions before Black Friday. "Consumers in record numbers are questioning the value of offers on Black Friday," said Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor at RetailMeNot. "While early bird behavior is beneficial for the strategic buyer, RetailMeNot's offer data still suggests that deals during the five days of savings from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday are stronger on a percent-off basis than in prior weeks."

    For example, RetailMeNot said the deepest discounts on electronics and computers -- ranging from 38 to 40 percent off -- can be found between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, and oftentimes into the first week of December.

    But if you're shopping for little ones this holiday season, RetailMeNot suggests that you "act fast and purchase toys early." Because toy prices remain relatively stable throughout the holiday season, if you wait too long you might not have much to choose from if inventory runs low.

    RetailMeNot said it's easy to score Black Friday-worthy discounts whenever you want if you follow this simple approach:
    • Purchase a discounted gift card, which are typically sold post-Cyber Monday, at your favorite retailer and get an instant savings of 2 to 20 percent.
    • Use the discounted gift card in conjunction with a coupon code or digital rebate. "RetailMeNot users report an average savings of $20 per transaction," said Kristen Larrea, RetailMeNot shopping expert. If you want to score even bigger savings, pay for your purchase with a cash-back credit card.
    The survey also found that the most attractive promotions to shoppers are: money-back purchase options (44 percent), holiday sales (37 percent), flash-sale deals (31 percent) and door-buster offers (27 percent). Consumers said they can also be lured into stores by gift-wrapping services (24 percent) and good holiday music (16 percent).

    When do you do most of your holiday shopping? Are you an early-bird shopper or a last-minute bargain hunter? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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

     

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    Men doing finances
    Alamy
    By Ellen Chang

    Same sex couples who are married can purchase a family health insurance plan without being concerned about any restrictions.

    The landmark Supreme Court case that legalized same sex marriage in June, Obergefell v. Hodges, paved the way for consistent insurance options for married same sex couples.

    "This provided same sex couples with the same access to family health insurance as heterosexual couples and uniform access from one state to another," said Nate Purpura, vice president of consumer affairs at eHealth.com, an online health insurance exchange based in Mountain View, California.

    The Supreme Court ruling protects against discrimination and insurance companies must offer the same coverage for both same sex and opposite sex spouses, according to Healthcare.gov.

    "This is true regardless of the state where: the couple lives, the insurance company is located and the plan is sold, issued, renewed or in effect," the website says.

    Married same sex couples can also qualify for subsidies, which lower the amount of their monthly premiums, making them more affordable and accessible.

    "Like other married couples, married same-sex couples who file taxes jointly may be eligible for government subsidies, if they meet the income requirements of the Affordable Care Act," Purpura said.

    Moving to another state is no longer an issue with the Supreme Court ruling and couples can buy comparable coverage in another state.

    Is Family Coverage the Right Option?

    In many cases, seeking family coverage saves people money on not only monthly premiums, but also deductibles. With most plans, you typically "share a family deductible equivalent to two individual deductibles," said Purpura. "If you have children and hence have three or more persons on your plan, you can potentially save a significant amount of money in terms of your annual deductible."

    It may make more sense to cover your dependent spouse on an individual plan of his or her own.

    Depending on the coverage offered at your company, family coverage may not prove to be the best financial decision as individuals determine what plan to purchase since open enrollment began on November 1. Some employers will pay a larger share of your health insurance premium but offer little for your dependents. In these instances and similar to many heterosexual couples, you might determine that it is better to have separate individual plans financially, he said.

    "It may make more sense to cover your dependent spouse on an individual plan of his or her own," Purpura said.

    Only couples who file their taxes together can qualify for subsidies. The government subsidies help lower the cost you pay each month for health insurance and married families with household income of 400% of the federal poverty level or less may qualify for them. In order to qualify, the federal tax return must be filed as "married filing jointly.

    Companies don't need to ask employees for documentation of a domestic partner either in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships in order to be eligible, said The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the Washington, D.C.-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.

    "The Human Rights Campaign Foundation encourages employers to treat all beneficiaries equally when requesting documentation to determine eligibility," said the civil rights organization. "In other words, documentation should not be required of partners if it is not required of spouses."

    Domestic partner coverage for couples who aren't married might be facing the possibility that it might be phased out in the future. Some state and federal entities are reconsidering the domestic partner laws or policies which existed before the Supreme Court ruling that gave same-sex couples access to coverage.

    "To learn more about your options, contact your state's department of insurance," Purpura said. "If you're in a legal same-sex domestic partnership, you may need to get married in order to keep your family covered under a family health insurance plan."

    What the Previous Health Insurance Market Was Like

    Before the ruling in June, same sex couples faced a myriad of inconsistent policies when they were choosing health insurance options. Moving to another state often meant even more confusion and headaches, depending on whether same sex marriage was legal.

    "There was a patchwork of laws and regulations that often varied significantly from one state to the next," Purpura said.

    When couples lived in states that already deemed same sex marriage as legal, married couples could purchase family health insurance plans like heterosexual couples. In a state where legal same sex domestic partnerships were recognized, but not marriages, often family health insurance plans were also made available.

    Residing in a state without any recognition for same sex domestic partnership or marriage, finding a family health insurance plan was nearly impossible unless the insurer or sponsoring employer chose to offer the coverage, he said.

    Moving meant many couples lost their coverage for health insurance, leaving them vulnerable and at risk of having no coverage, putting them at greater risk financially.

     

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  • 11/03/15--21:00: 5 Surprising Sources of Debt
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    Caucasian car driver woman smiling
    Getty ImagesWith strict mileage limits and a slew of fees, leasing a car can significantly add to your debt burden.
    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    Unemployment, medical bills, a shopping addiction -- these all may be obvious causes of debt, but they certainly aren't the only ways people end up in the red.

    Other forms of debt are more insidious. They arrive looking like a big break or a money-saving option. But instead of getting you out of your financial hole, they actually dig you in deeper.

    Don't let these five hidden sources of debt say "Gotcha!"

    Your New Job

    The problem: Your new job is supposed to be your ticket out of paycheck-to-paycheck living, but a big boost in income is often accompanied by a big boost in spending.

    "When people get a new job, it looks like a limitless amount of money so they splurge on a new car or a buy a lot of clothes," says Joe Heider, founder of Cirrus Wealth Management in Cleveland.

    Cecilia Beach Brown, a certified financial planner at Lincoln Financial Securities in Annapolis, Maryland, says it's a common trap. "When the money's there, it's hard to say 'no.'" Then people lose their job or are otherwise unable to maintain their new lifestyle.

    The solution: Rather than increase your spending, continue to budget based on the amount you previously earned. Then, bank the extra for retirement, travel or a big spending goal, whether that be paying cash for a car or a 20 percent down payment on a house.

    A Financial Windfall

    The problem: Like a new job, a windfall can be your financial undoing. Whether it's an inheritance, divorce settlement or lottery winnings, Brown says people notoriously mishandle large sums of money that fall into their laps.

    "People tend to spend money more than once in their head," Brown says. "It's the mental accounting that gets them in trouble."

    By spending without a plan, people blow through their money and end up financing big purchases they can't afford that push them into debt.

    The solution: Brown advocates that everyone use the one-third rule when dealing with an inflow of cash of any kind. One-third of the money should be set aside for taxes, the second third should be put in savings for the future and the final third can be used for fun.

    Leasing a Car

    The problem: Leasing seems like a good way to get more car for your money, but contracts can include expensive provisions that make it difficult to simply turn in a vehicle without owing cash.

    When people lease a car, they're excited and don't pay attention to what happens when they turn it in.

    "When people lease a car, they're excited and don't pay attention to what happens when they turn it in," Heider says.

    Leased cars have strict mileage limits, and people who go over could get hit with fees that run from 10 to 20 cents a mile driven over the limit. In addition, there may be acquisition fees, disposition fees and early termination fees. In many cases, Heider says drivers roll one lease into another to avoid paying fees out of pocket. Then, they never get out from under their monthly vehicle payment. The solution: Think twice before leasing a vehicle, or at least read the fine print more carefully. Be realistic about how many miles you drive, and add up the total cost, including taxes and fees, to determine whether buying a reliable used car is a better deal.

    A New Cellphone

    The problem: You want that shiny new smartphone, and the cellphone company is happy to give it to you -- provided you sign up for a two-year contract. The phone seems like a freebie, but you have, in fact, just signed up for more debt.

    "Really what you're doing is taking a loan out to pay for the phone," says Phil Jacobson, managing director at United Capital in Rockford, Illinois. You're not getting the phone for free; you're financing it with your cellphone contract.

    Your new phone could also cause further problems if you have an expensive data plan you can't afford. There's no way to cancel most cellphone contracts without paying a sizable fee.

    The solution: Reconsider contracts. Many wireless providers now offer non-contract service options, and those may be a better choice. While it costs more to buy a new phone out of pocket, you might save money on a monthly plan. If you still want a new phone, look for a cheaper, refurbished one or get a used one from a trusted source.

    Buying a House

    The problem: Obviously, buying or building a house typically comes with the debt of a mortgage. However, some people compound that debt by insisting on new furnishings or expensive renovations before moving in.

    "What's a couple hundred here? What's $500 there?" Heider says of many people's mindset when constructing a new home. "Then they realize they're $20,000 to $30,000 over budget."

    Buying or building a house can feel like permission to replace appliances, furniture and electronics. However, it's a trap that can create a vacuum of debt and turn a dream home into a nightmare.

    The solution: Having a written budget for building or renovating a house is the first step to avoiding this debt trap. The second step is to stick to the budget. Also, consider whether an existing home will have expensive maintenance issues in the near future and look for a house that is move-in ready. If you don't start a renovation project, you can't overspend on it.

     

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    Long-Term Care Insurance Policy
    Getty Images
    By Beth Pinsker

    NEW YORK -- As a financial planner who also sells long-term care insurance, Regi Armstrong always planned to buy a policy at some point. The only question was when.

    The Florence, South Carolina, resident and his wife made the leap early, when they were still in their 40s, and today he is glad they did. Three years into paying premiums of $3,800 a year, his wife, now 49, got diagnosed with a serious auto-immune disorder that would have disqualified her.

    Life is fickle. You don't know when you are going to get sick.

    "Life is fickle," says Armstrong, who is 50. "You don't know when you are going to get sick."

    Of the 4.8 million people who have long-term care insurance, the average age to purchase it is 57. More than 80 percent of buyers are 50 or older, according to financial services research group LIMRA.

    Among the chief arguments for buying long-term care insurance early is that you could, at any time, develop an illness that would disqualify you while forcing you to incur tremendous expenses.

    Care costs an average of $46,000 a year in the home and $80,000 in a nursing home, according to a survey from Genworth (GNW), one of the largest long-term care insurers.

    The danger in waiting jumps by age, said Jesse Slome, president of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, a trade group.

    Between ages 60 and 69, 27 percent of individuals who applied were rejected for health reasons. Go up a decade, and the decline rate is 45 percent. But below 50, it is just 14 percent.

    Comparing Costs

    The other main concern is price. The earlier you sign up, the less you pay.

    A 45-old-woman would pay on the order of $215 a month for a fairly typical policy from Genworth. A 55-year-old would pay $250.

    But wait a few years and the numbers multiply. Armstrong regularly prices coverage for clients who are trying to see if they can get better deals. His rule of thumb is that if a policy is older than two years, it is hard to improve on it.

    One client, who is now 66, is paying about $1,000 a year for a policy he got about 15 years ago. "He's paying half of what I'm paying, and he's 16 years older," Armstrong said.

    According to a study by insurance carrier John Hancock, a 50-year-old would pay 15 percent less over a lifetime of premiums than a person who started a policy at age 55, while a 40-year-old would pay 40 percent less than that 55-year-old.

    Group policies can offer more savings. Most carriers have stopped offering them, although Genworth is starting to expand in that area again, said Chris Conklin, senior vice president of product development.

    (The premium on my own group policy, which I bought into a few jobs ago when I was in my 30s, hasn't yet cracked $25 a month after 10 years.)

    Benefit of Planning

    The argument to buy early isn't likely to sway most people because long-term care insurance itself is pretty much a non-starter for non-planners, says Robert Applebaum, professor of Gerontology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

    For one thing, it is a costly monthly reminder of all the bad things that can befall you before you die -- even more of a downer than thinking about life insurance.

    Also, policy parameters and the companies offering them change often, so it isn't always easy to compare deals. Some carriers are now bundling long-term care insurance features with life insurance or annuities, Applebaum said.

    These are increasing in popularity, according to LIMRA, while stand-alone long-term care policies are declining.

    Many people don't like the idea of paying premiums for years and never getting the benefit, either because they won't need it or because they won't be able to keep up payments.

    Slome's suggestion for managing costs: Buy a policy that is expandable. Start with a limited benefit when you are young to keep premiums low, and then pay up as you age.

     

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    The Most Effective Ways to Blow Your Money

    By Donna Freedman

    Money. Just about everybody has an opinion on it, and most of us wish we had more of it.

    Look around you, though. Doesn't it seem like a lot of us can't spend our funds fast enough? From cash advances to time shares and constant tech upgrades, we fall for that old rationalization: "It's only money -- I can always make more of it."

    What is money for, anyway, except to enjoy? You work hard for a living and deserve all the perks that salary will buy. Be daring, not dull.

    Thinking like that is a great way to put yourself perpetually into debt, or at least living paycheck to paycheck. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, here are 10 surefire ways to blow your money.

    1. Drive a super-hot car. It goes without saying that your wheels will be expensive. The best always costs more, right?

    So what if a high-octane sports car or top-of-the-line luxury vehicle is a bit beyond your price range? These days you can get an eight-year car loan. Drive on!

    2. Buy a huge home in a posh neighborhood. Many of us believe that where we live should make a statement: "I'm successful! Look at my house!"

    With this mentality, bigger always be better. After all, you might decide to have kids someday. Each child will need his or her own room. You'll also want a hobby room, a man cave, a family room ...

    Don't worry about saving up a large down payment, or having to swing a monthly payment that leaves you at the edge of your budget. Remember, you've got the rest of your life to work and pay it off!

    3. Decorate on a grand scale. Think how much fun you and your significant other will have making that house your own. Start by buying a bunch of home decor magazine and books. Then, watch as much HGTV programming as one human possibly can stand.

    Maybe you can hire an interior decorator to come up with grand designs that will make family and friends ooh and ah. No money? No problem! Just sign up for zero percent financing for three years and get all the furnishings you want.

    Yes, the bill will come due someday. But that is just some other time, right?

    4. Eat out often. Why spend your valuable free time slaving over a hot stove. Sure, it's less costly than eating out. But by spending at every dining option in your area, you are doing your part to help the local economy.

    Your kids will benefit by having tried varied cuisines, even if they refuse to eat a lot of it. Making cooking more of a hobby than a habit is a time-honored way to blow money.

    5. Try new stuff, constantly. Hobbies are good for you! Whether it's taking up a new sport, art or craft, learning new things keeps life interesting.

    Sure, it can be expensive, especially if you splurge for top-of-the-line supplies. But that's the price you pay -- you can't impress everyone on the golf course by pulling around a bag of bargain clubs, can you?

    And what if most of these new hobbies come to nothing, and those expensive golf clubs or quilting fabrics end up collecting dust? Oh, well -- you only live once.

    6. Dress to impress. Stay out of discount stores. Instead, wear designer fashions that you get from specialty shops. At a more exclusive boutique, you get one-on-one attention from a sales associate who takes time to get to know you. You might hire a personal shopper to make sure you look your best.

    Put the new duds on a credit card. Wear now, pay eventually.

    7. Waste money perfecting your body. Great-looking clothes on a so-so body would be jarring. Sign up for a personal trainer at the best gym in town.

    If the gym seems like too much of a hassle, consider plastic surgery and Botox injections. Get your hair cut and styled frequently so that you always look freshly coiffed. Change the color now and then because ... well, why not?

    Isn't it fun to waste all this money?

    8. Be an early adopter. Stay on top of the latest technology and purchase each iteration for every member of the family. You don't want your children's classmates looking down on them.

    Keep your own iPhone or e-Whatever fresh, too. Suppose your boss saw you using an 18-month-old smartphone: The horror!

    9. Indulge your children. In addition to those gadgets, make sure your kids have lots of expensive clothing and toys.

    That goes for college, too. Make sure they go to their dream schools. If a bank is willing to finance their educations, so much the better!

    10. Get away from it all. Take plenty of vacations. You deserve them! Stay in the nicest places you can find. Better yet, buy a time share in a luxury resort because -- again -- you only live once.

    It doesn't matter if you don't have the ready cash for any of this. Let someone else -- a credit card company, bank or credit union -- finance your good times.

    Follow these 10 spending patterns is a guaranteed way to impoverish your future. But look on the bright side -- the fond memories of all those good times and fancy toys will comfort you during retirement, when you are eating ramen noodles in your dorm-sized apartment.

    What are some of the ways you've seen friends and family blowing cash? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

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

     

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    Trade Gap
    Nick Ut/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- Private employers maintained a steady pace of hiring in October and the trade deficit hit a seven-month low in September as exports rebounded, suggesting the economy was strong enough to support an interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve in December.

    The ADP National Employment Report showed Wednesday that private payrolls increased 182,000 last month on top of the 190,000 jobs added in September.

    "The private sector continues to add jobs at a healthy pace and I think it's likely strong enough that if this pace of job growth continues -- if this continues over the month -- it will be enough to justify a rate hike in December," said Omer Eisner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington.

    The ADP report, which is jointly developed with Moody's Analytics, was released ahead of Friday's more comprehensive employment report from the Labor Department. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls increased 180,000 jobs in October, well above the monthly average of 139,000 jobs for August and September.

    While below 200,000, economists say the expected job gains in October would be seen as sufficient for the Fed to raise its benchmark interest rate from near zero at its Dec. 15-16 policy meeting. The unemployment rate is forecast steady at 5.1 percent.

    U.S. stock index futures held gains after the data, while yields on shorter-dated Treasuries jumped. The dollar was stronger against a basket of currencies.

    Trade Deficit Lowest Since February

    In a second report, the Commerce Department said the trade gap fell 15 percent to $40.8 billion, the smallest deficit since February. Lower crude oil prices also helped to curb the import bill.

    The drop in the trade deficit reversed the widening seen in August, though the prior month's figure was revised slightly down to $48 billion from the previously reported $48.3 billion. When adjusted for inflation, the deficit fell to $57.2 billion in September from $63 billion in the prior month.

    Trade had a neutral impact on gross domestic product for the third quarter, which expanded at a 1.5 percent annual rate. The sharp step-down in growth from the second quarter's brisk 3.9 percent rate mainly reflected a slow pace of inventory accumulation and ongoing spending cuts by energy firms.

    The dollar has gained 16.8 percent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June 2014, undercutting export growth. Lackluster global demand also has put a damper on exports.

    Exports in September rose 1.6 percent to $187.9 billion, with exports of services hitting a record high. There were increases in exports of capital goods and automobiles. Exports of industrial supplies and materials, however, were the lowest since October 2010.

    Exports to Canada, the European Union and China rose in September. Exports to Japan, however, fell 13.8 percent to their lowest level since April 2010.

    Imports fell 1.8 percent to $228.7 billion, the lowest level since February. They had received a boost in August from Apple's (AAPL) new iPhone model.

    Imports of industrial supplies and materials fell to the lowest level since August 2009. Petroleum imports were the lowest since May 2004, reflecting increased domestic energy production and lower oil prices.

    The price of petroleum averaged $42.72 a barrel in September, down from $49.33 in August and $92.52 in September 2014.

    Imports from China hit a record high in September, leaving the politically sensitive U.S.-China trade deficit at an all-time high of $36.3 billion. That was up 3.8 percent from August.

    -Rodrigo Campos and Dion Rabouin contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    san atanasio's  church  los...
    Sleepy La Villa de Los Santos played an important role in Panamanian independence.
    By Kathleen Peddicord

    November in Panama is the Mes de la Patria, the month when Panamanians celebrate their country's road to freedom. Nov. 3 is the first of two independence days, this one remembering the break from Colombia in 1903. This is followed by Flag Day on Nov. 4 and Colon Day on Nov. 5. That last is like Columbus Day in the United States, remembering Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World.

    Then comes the Primer Grito de la Independencia on Nov. 10. In English, this means the first cry for independence. It is the starting point in Panama's history as an independent nation, and it took place in the village of La Villa de Los Santos on the eastern coast of Panama's Azuero Peninsula. On this day in 1821, the people of Los Santos wrote a letter to Simón Bolívar complaining about the Spanish and asking for some revolutionary assistance. Eighteen days later, on Nov., 28, the country officially declared its independence from Spain. Needing a protector to help face whatever conflict might follow, the fledgling country aligned itself with Bolívar as part of the Gran Colombia. That didn't work out so well from Panama's point of view. Thus, there was a second declaration of independence about 80 years later.

    Understandably, La Villa de los Santos holds a sentimental spot in the heart of every Panamanian. But few people outside the country have heard of it. In this part of the country, Pedasi, Las Tablas and Chitre get all the attention. However, depending what kind of lifestyle you're looking for, La Villa, as it's known among the locals, could top them all.

    La Villa was home to the oldest civilizations in Panama almost 11,000 years ago. The Smithsonian Institution manages an archeological dig here. It was only about 500 years ago that the Spanish Conquistadors arrived on the scene.

    La Villa, with its long and noteworthy history, is today a sleepy town that has managed to retain its authentic local charm. Unlike Pedasi and Las Tablas, La Villa has no established community of expats or foreign retirees. Living in La Villa, your neighbors would be Panamanians and your way of life would be local.

    The cost of living in La Villa is exceedingly affordable, and has much lower costs than more established communities of expat retirees. But you still get to enjoy the same package of benefits and tax breaks for Panama resident retirees. When you want a dose of more developed world living, you could travel the half-hour south to Pedasi or four hours up the peninsula and then east along the Pan-American Highway to Panama City. Comfortable air conditioned buses service the route daily.

    Not much goes on in La Villa most of the year. Then, in November, businesses close, the streets are shut off to traffic and people from across the country make their way here to celebrate their country's heritage. The town's year-round population of 9,000 explodes to many multiples of that. Party goers fill the central square and the surrounding neighborhoods.

    After the Mes de la Patria celebrations, La Villa goes to sleep again until April, when it reawakens for the annual Azuero Fair. As during the month of independence, La Villa's population expands into the hundreds of thousands for this once-a-year agricultural festival. It's like a state fair in the Midwest, with livestock exhibits, roping competitions, games, rides and live music. Farmers and ranchers come to shop for farm equipment, cattle, seeds, plants, even boots and belt buckles. It wouldn't be a party in Panama without drinking and dancing in the streets, so there's plenty of that, as well.

    Outside those two festival months, life in La Villa is simple and quiet. This is Panamanian country living without any frills. It's not for everyone, but it'd be hard to imagine a sweeter, safer lifestyle or one that's more affordable. A couple could live in La Villa on $700 a month. The cost of living is low largely because rents are low. You can also live here without owning a car, and food is local, organic and a bargain. Frankly, there just isn't much to spend money on.

    Change is coming, though, as this Panamanian coastal region attracts more attention. La Villa still has no real estate agency. However, five housing developments are under construction, and a small mall is scheduled to open next year. But for the moment, La Villa remains one of the friendliest and most affordable spots in all of Panama.

    Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group.

     

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    Janet Yellen Testifies Before House Financial Services Committee
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesFederal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testifies Wednesday before the House Finance Committee in Washington.
    By Howard Schneider and Jason Lange

    WASHINGTON -- Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen pointed Wednesday to a possible December interest rate "liftoff" but said rates would rise only slowly from then on to nurture the U.S. economic recovery.

    In her first public comments since the Fed's meeting last week Yellen laid out what now appears the base case at the U.S. central bank -- that low unemployment, continued growth and faith in a coming return of inflation means the country is ready for higher interest rates.

    Her remarks pushed bond yields higher and stocks lower. They also caused investors to reset their expectations of a December rate hike above 60 percent, a sign that markets are finally taking the Fed's language seriously after a period in which U.S. central bankers were frustrated by the gap between their own outlook and market bets about their likely course of action.

    If the incoming information supports that expectation then our statement indicates that December would be a live possibility.

    "What the committee has been expecting is that the economy will continue to grow at a pace that is sufficient to generate further improvements in the labor market and to return inflation to our 2 percent target over the medium term," Yellen said at a House Financial Services Committee hearing.

    "If the incoming information supports that expectation then our statement indicates that December would be a live possibility."

    William Dudley, the influential president of the New York Fed and a permanent voter on policy, said later on Wednesday that he would "completely agree" with Yellen. December "is a live possibility, but we'll see what the data shows," he told reporters in New York.

    Yellen, Dudley and the other 15 Fed policymakers now have six weeks to analyze new data, debate and decide whether at their Dec. 15-16 meeting to end the ultra-low interest rates set in response to the 2007-2009 economic crisis and recession.

    Moving sooner rather than later to begin tightening policy, Yellen said, would allow the Fed to take a gradual approach to further hikes, slow enough to ensure that housing and other key markets are not disrupted by rising rates.

    "Moving in a timely fashion -- if the data and the outlook justify such a move -- is a prudent thing to do because we will be able to move in a more gradual and measured pace," she said.

    'Very Gradual Path'

    "It's been a long time that interest rates have been at zero, but markets and the public should be thinking about the entire path of policy rates over time. And the committee's expectation is that that will be a very gradual path."

    As the central bank approaches the critical decision, there has been division at the highest levels over whether the time is right. Fed governor Lael Brainard has expressed among the deepest concerns about whether a weak global economy could damage the U.S. recovery, but on Wednesday struck a slightly more upbeat note.

    "The improvement in the labor market has been extremely steady," Brainard said at a conference in Germany. "There are certain aspects of the U.S. outlook that are encouraging."

    Both Brainard and Yellen emphasized that the Fed has not yet made a decision, and that incoming economic data would have to meet the central bank's expectations of how the economy is performing.

    Another top Fed official, Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, is scheduled to speak at a forum in Washington later on Wednesday.

    "At the moment what we see is a domestic economy that is pretty strong and growing at a solid pace, offset by some weakening spilling over to us from the global economy," Yellen said. "On balance, as we said, we still see the risks to economic growth and the labor market as balanced."

    -Jonathan Spicer contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    Earns Kraft Foods
    AP
    By RYAN J. FOLEY

    IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Kraft Heinz (KHC) will close seven plants in the U.S. and Canada as part of a downsizing that will eliminate 2,600 jobs, or roughly 14 percent of its North American factory workforce, the newly merged food company announced Wednesday.

    The company said the closures, which will take place over the next two years, are part of a plan to save $1.5 billion in operating costs by the end of 2017. The plants slated for closure are in California, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ontario.

    Among the hardest hit cities will be Madison, Wisconsin, where a nearly century-old Oscar Mayer plant that employs 700 production workers will close. Kraft Heinz said it would also move about 250 corporate jobs from Madison to Chicago, the company's co-headquarters along with Pittsburgh.

    One of the plant's workers, 46-year-old Rick Schroeder, said he was stunned to hear about the closing through news reports rather than from the company. He said his father also worked at the plant for 35 years and operated a pig farm, and remembers going with his father to deliver pigs to the plant.

    "They always say when one door closes, another opens," said Schroeder, a janitor at the plant. "Gotta have faith. Move on, that's all you can do. Sad day in Madison."

    The company said it would also close plants in Fullerton and San Leandro, California; Federalsburg, Maryland; St. Marys, Ontario, Canada; Campbell, New York; and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. The plants make a range of products, including cold cuts, salad dressing, macaroni and coffee.

    The company also will shift meat production from its Oscar Mayer plant in Davenport, Iowa, to a planned $203 million plant that will be built several miles away. City and state officials said the new plant is expected to retain at least 475 jobs, compared to more than 1,200 jobs at the existing plant, which is touted as the world's largest bologna factory.

    "Our members are scared of the unknown," said Jerry Messer, president of the Davenport chapter of the United Food and Production Workers, which represents employees. But he said he was glad jobs weren't expected to be cut for two years, and he hoped the new factory would eventually bring growth.

    The Iowa Economic Development Authority will meet Thursday to consider approving a package that includes $1.75 million in tax benefits for the new plant and a $3 million forgivable loan to the company to demolish the old one. The city is expected to add a 15-year tax rebate worth an estimated $10 million.

    Authority spokeswoman Tina Hoffman defended the investment, despite the expected job cuts.

    "It's certainly an unfortunate situation," she said. "We have been working closely with the community to make sure we could position Davenport to retain as many jobs as possible and position that facility for future growth."

    Some downsizing had been expected following the merger of Kraft and Heinz earlier this year. After the facilities close, Kraft Heinz will have 41 plants in North America that employ about 18,000 people.

    "Kraft Heinz fully appreciates and regrets the impact our decision will have on employees, their families and the communities in which these facilities are located," Michael Mullen, a senior vice president, said in a statement.

    He said affected workers would be offered severance benefits, and that the changes were "a critical step in our plan to eliminate excess capacity and reduce operational redundancies for the new combined company."

    In Madison, Mayor Paul Soglin said the local plant will be hit in three waves of layoffs. He called the workers the "heart and soul" of the city's north side.

    "It's an institution for the city of Madison," added state Sen. Fred Risser, 88, who said he worked at the plant as a teenager during World War II. "We're going to miss it. It's like a death in the family."

    -Associated Press reporter Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.

     

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    Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Rings The NYSE Opening Bell For The First Day Of Regular-Way Trading
    Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks edged lower Wednesday, retracing recent gains along with energy shares, while comments by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen pointing to a possible rate hike in December added to investor caution.

    S&P energy, down 1 percent, led the day's decline.

    The fall snapped a run of five straight days of gains for the index, with shares of Chevron (CVX) down 1.4 percent at $96.77 and Exxon Mobil (XOM) down 1 percent at $85.98.

    Stocks added to losses after Yellen's comments, which caused investors to reset their expectations of a December rate hike above 60 percent.

    Yellen said December remains a "live possibility" for a rate increase, and William Dudley, the president of the New York Fed and a permanent voting member of the Fed's policy panel, said later on Wednesday that he would "completely agree" with Yellen.

    Still, S&P utilities, which tend to fall in a higher-interest rate environment, were up 0.4 percent, the day's best-performing sector.

    The market is consolidating after a big rally, said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

    "The gains have been strong over the past five weeks and we're due for more of a breather here," said O' Rourke.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 50.57 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,867.58, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 7.48 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,102.31 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 2.65 points, or 0.05 percent, to 5,142.48.

    Stocks rallied after the Fed's statement last week, when it signaled a December rate hike was still on the table, yet the ongoing debate over when the Fed will actually make its move has added uncertainty to the market.

    "It's really that uncertainty -- investors don't know whether to applaud a rate hike or to fear it," said Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist, Bolton Global Asset Management in Boston.

    A raft of data released Wednesday suggested the economy was strong enough to support ending an era of near-zero interest rates.

    The ADP National Employment Report showed U.S. private employers maintained a steady pace of hiring in October, while data from the Institute for Supply Management showed a jump in new orders buoyed activity in the services sector.

    The reports come ahead of Friday's nonfarm payrolls data, the most widely watched U.S. economic indicator.

    Movers and Shakers

    Time Warner (TWX), down 6.6 percent at $72.20, weighed on the S&P 500 the most after the company said ratings for its "key" domestic entertainment networks have dropped more than anticipated, while shares of Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) dropped 5.2 percent to $29.65 after it reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue.

    Other media stocks such as Disney (DIS), Viacom (VIA) and Discovery (DISCA) also fell.

    U.S. health insurers also slid, with UnitedHealth (UNH) falling 2.6 percent to $114.64.

    Groupon (GRPN) lumped 26.3 percent to $2.97 after it forecast weak fourth-quarter and 2016 revenue.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,849 to 1,214, for a 1.52-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,398 issues fell and 1,362 advanced for a 1.03-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 16 new 52-week highs and 1 new low; the Nasdaq recorded 69 new highs and 43 new lows.

    -Sinead Carew contributed reporting from New York.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases third-quarter productivity data and weekly jobless claims
    • Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates 10 a.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU)
    • Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC)
    • Molson Coors Brewing Co. (TAP)
    • Monster Beverage (MNST)
    • Nvidia (NVDA)
    • Ralph Lauren (RL)
    • Symantec (SYMC)
    • Toyota Motor (TM)
    • TripAdvisor (TRIP)
    • Walt Disney Co. (DIS)

     

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    Small present box
    Getty Images
    By Lauren Greutman

    Bah humbug, the holidays are approaching but you are broke. What do you do?
    Do you want to save on holiday spending this year? If you do, then don't do it looking like a Scrooge!

    There are so many ways to save money on your holiday shopping without looking cheap, so here are some of my top tips on how to get your most bang for your buck around the holiday season.

    1. Shop at cashback sites to earn money back on your purchases. One company I really like is InboxDollars.com. I've been using the site for years; they actually were a big part of me being able to pay for Christmas one year just from surveys and cash back shopping. You simply take surveys to earn cold, hard cash! You can get a percentage of your purchase in cash back as well, so it really helps by stacking the savings. One of my favorite ways to save is the 5 percent cash back deal on Groupon.

    2. Make sure every purchase you make has a triple dip savings. That means stacking savings. For example, buy your gift cards at a discount through your grocery store or places like cardpool.com and then shop through cash back sites like InboxDollars.com and then use a coupon code to shop online. If you are lucky, you can get a quadruple dip and get free shipping, too.

    3. Make a list and stick to it. I have 14 nieces and nephews under the age of 10. Instead of buying junky gifts for everyone and going broke in the process, each kid picks the name of a cousin. Then they shop for that cousin with a $20 to $30 budget, so each kid gets one quality gift. Instead of spending over $200 on gifts for all the nieces and nephews, I now spend under $100, plus my kids get gifts that they are really interested in (instead of dollar store junk).

    4. Instead of paying full price, price match everything. There are so many stores that will price match competitors prices. I use Retale, an app for the best savings at major retailers close to you, to check circulars for in-store deals and coupons. But a really cool added benefit is the ability to pull up store flyers in your area to compare prices. You can also use it to create and manage shopping lists. It's the go-to digital hub for the on-the-go shopper.

    Many stores are open about their price matching policies. All you have to do is ask. Target will price match many online stores; you can get all the details on the Target website. Just make sure you have a way to validate the prices, like the Retale app.

    Walmart will also price match any store, as long as the lower price is for the exact same product. Just be sure you have clear proof of that lower price, and read about all the details of Walmart's policy on its website.

    Kohl's will also price match competitor's prices, but not online prices. You'll need a flyer with you for proof of the lower prices. Best Buy's policy is to price match all local retail competitors, including their online prices, as well as major online retailers, including Amazon, Dell and HP. As you can see, there are so many options for price matching that with just a few minutes of homework you will be able to save a lot of money. Don't be afraid to do some research and ask questions if you aren't sure how to proceed; the effort can really pay off.

    5. Opt to skip giving gifts altogether. This strategy might sound like the most Scrooge-like of all, but it's not, if you simply replace gifts with experiences. Movie tickets, ski tickets, a free night of babysitting -- all are great gifts. One year I gave my nephew tickets to see Sesame Street Live, and we had so much fun.

    Just because you opt out of giving gifts doesn't mean you are a real Scrooge. It just means that you value time spent more than dollars paid.

    If you follow these tips, you can enjoy this holiday season without being a broke Scrooge. Plan ahead, save money and enjoy this year!

    Lauren Greutman is a frugal living expert who focuses on teaching people how to enjoy life on a budget. She is an author, public speaker and professional writer on her websites iamthatlady.com and markandlaureng.com.

     

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    Couple relaxing with coffee by boxes in new home smiling
    Alamy
    By Ellen Chang

    The number of people purchasing their first home, especially millennials, could be impacted negatively by shifting demographics as the median age for marriage is rising.

    A recent survey by NeighborWorks America, the Washington, D.C.-based affordable housing organization, found that 43 percent the respondents said they intended to buy a home when they "got married or moved in with a life partner." The median age for a first marriage has risen to 29.3 years old for men and 27 years old for women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2000, men first got married at 26.8 years old while the median age for women was 25.1 years old.

    Other respondents said they would wait to buy a home when other changes occurred, with 22 percent who will purchase one when they have children and 18 percent who are still seeking their first full-time job.

    Many millennials are delaying the purchase of a home because not only are they waiting until they are older to get married, a large percentage are also saddled with a large amount of student loans. The survey also demonstrated that 57 percent respondents admitted that student loans were either "very much" or "somewhat" of an obstacle, a rising concern compared to 49 percent who expressed this sentiment in 2014.

    "Homeownership rates are likely being impacted by declining marriage rates as life events that impact the composition of the household are drivers of housing demand," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of Realtor.com, the San Jose, California-based real estate service company. "Student debt, limited savings and housing affordability are substantial obstacles facing millennials as they consider the path to homeownership, and those issues are all connected."

    Another compelling factor is that with two incomes, couples are more likely to qualify for a mortgage and have enough savings for a downpayment.

    "Having more singles means fewer households are in a financial position to buy," he said. "So with fewer young married households, there would be less demand for owning."

    Older Millennials Buying Homes

    Some older millennials, or those who are 25 to 34 years old, are buying homes in "large numbers this year," due to a stronger job market, Smoke said. The number of first-time buyers of current homes increased to 32 percent in August compared to 28 percent in July, according to the National Association of Realtors, the Chicago-based trade group. Half of all home sales for the first six months of the year can be attributed to people buying a home for the first time, he said. Millennials make up 68 percent of all first-time homebuyers, according to the trade group.

    "They are the single biggest age group for homebuyers, so there are clearly substantial numbers of them who are able to overcome these obstacles," Smoke said.

    Rising Debt Delaying Home Purchases

    Student debt is a large factor in whether millennials can qualify for a mortgage, depending on their income, said Smoke. The burden increases substantially for people who attended college and took out loans to fund their education, but never received a degree.

    "For those who did get a degree, but have above average loan debts as well as other types of debts, there is no question that at a certain level, debt will exceed the upper limits of the debt to income qualification ratios," he said.

    Potential lenders want to know if you can afford to pay back the money you borrowed.

    Millennials and Gen-Xers are relying more heavily on loans to fund their educations nowadays. The Federal Reserve estimates the average amount of undergraduate student loan debt for the class of 2014 at just over $33,000, a substantial increase from $18,600 in 2004.

    A 2014 analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that from 1992 to 2011, college students are borrowing more money in all income groups, ranging from low to high income brackets. The standard amount of cumulative student debt for their undergraduate degree increased from $12,434 for the class of 1992-93 to $26,885 for the class of 2011-12 (figures adjusted for inflation).

    By 2012, "a record share of the nation's new college graduates or 69 percent" had used student loans to finance their degrees and the "typical amount they had borrowed was more than twice that of college graduates 20 years ago," the report said.

    Categorizing student loans as good debt is a misnomer, because lenders are examining a consumer's debt to income ratio and the odds that they can make monthly payments on time, said Jeff Golding, chief growth officer at IRH Capital, a Northbrook, Illinois-based financial company.

    "Potential lenders want to know if you can afford to pay back the money you borrowed," he said. "If you are maxed out on all your loans, you have already extended all the credit that's been given to you."

    High Rent and Other Factors

    Other issues hindering millennials from buying a home is the ability to save up enough money for a downpayment. Until the increase in monthly rent prices throughout the U.S. for apartments and other housing is abated, it poses a "substantial" barrier for Gen-Yers to save an adequate amount of money, Smoke said.

    "Unfortunately, rents continue to rise as a result of record numbers of renters and low vacancies, so this situation will not get better until we see a substantial increase in the construction of affordable housing," he said.

    Several reports and studies have shown that millennials are returning home and living with their parents while they obtain full-time jobs or establish their careers.

    "The state of the economy has interfered with their ability to maintain a steady income and this has likely delayed marriage," said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School. "As a result, they are less likely to become homeowners."

    What's more, the lack of job security in the current economy has dampened many people's enthusiasm to own a home.

    "Buying a home is a big commitment to your future self and your family: 'I will make that mortgage payment come hell or high water,' " he said. "Fewer people are going to want to make that commitment if the job market does not give them a reasonable basis to believe that they can live up to it."

     

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    USA, Utah, Salt Lake City, Young woman sitting at table with laptop looking at paper bill
    Getty Images
    By Dan Rafter

    You know you should pay all of your bills on time. But what if you're short on cash this month? Is it better to pay certain bills late?

    Yes, actually. Some bills are not reported to the three national credit bureaus of TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Bills in this category include utility bills, cell phone payments, medical payments, and cable bills. This doesn't mean that you should pay these bills late. But if you have to do some emergency financial juggling this month? Pay your cable late, not your mortgage or credit card payment.

    Here are five bills you should always pay on time, each month. Not doing so could damage your credit, leave you with huge financial penalties, or even cause you to lose your home or car.

    1. Your mortgage. Dave Hardin, president of Hardin Financial Group in Troy, Michigan, says that no late or missing check will hurt your credit score more than a missed mortgage. A single late mortgage payment can cause your credit score to fall by 100 points.

    "If you pay that late, that will have the single greatest effect on your credit score," Hardin said. "Your mortgage is the big one."

    If you miss too many payments, your mortgage lender will foreclose on your home, evicting you and taking ownership of your property.

    But don't panic if you're two days late on paying your mortgage. As Hardin says, your mortgage lender won't report your payment as officially late until it is at least 30 days past the deadline. This gives you some leeway if you are struggling to scrape together enough cash to pay your mortgage this month.

    "That doesn't mean you should wait that long to pay your mortgage," Hardin said. "But late officially means 30 days late, not two days."

    Paying your mortgage bill late can also set you up for future financial pain. Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of O'Dell, Winkfield, Roseman & Shipp in Rockville, Maryland, says it's easy for your finances to spiral out of control when you miss a mortgage payment.

    "Say you miss your $2,000 mortgage payment one month. Now you have to come up with $4,000 the next month to catch up," Winkfield said. "That's not easy."

    2. Student and auto loans. You should never miss your student or auto loan payments either, Hardin said. That's because these are fixed payments that you know are coming up each month. Missing fixed payments is a big deal because lenders are more likely to believe that you didn't send in your payment not because you forgot about it, but because you couldn't pay it.

    Your car payment is an especially important bill, because your loan is secured by your actual car. This means that lenders have something to go after should you stop making your payments.

    "Be vigilant about making your car payments," said Scott Sadar, executive vice president of Somerset Wealth Strategies in Portland, Oregon. "If you are not, your car could be repossessed."

    Again, these payments aren't officially late until 30 days have passed.

    3. Credit card payments. Missing your credit card payment could leave you with a double whammy of pain. First, credit card companies will report your missed payments to the credit bureaus if you are 30 days late or more, causing your credit score to fall.

    Secondly, if you pay late by 60 days or more (in some cases less), your credit card company can assess a penalty interest rate on your card. This can be financially devastating if you carry a balance on your credit cards each month. Sadar says that these rates can hit 22 percent or higher, which can cause existing balances to grow quickly, even if you don't make any new payments with your card.

    4. Your rent. It wasn't until last year that Experian and TransUnion began collecting data for on-time rent payments. The third major national credit bureau, Equifax, still doesn't do this. But even if the credit bureaus weren't tracking your rent payments, you'd still want to make this payment on time every month. Simply put, you don't want to lose your home, and missing too many rent payments could lead to that.

    It's not easy for landlords to evict tenants, and it will take more than one or two late payments. But if you fall too far behind, your landlord will start the eviction process, possibly leaving you without a place to live.

    You always want to protect the roof over your head. That holds true whether you own a home or you are renting.

    "You always want to protect the roof over your head," Winkfield said. "That holds true whether you own a home or you are renting. Always make the payments that keep that roof over your head."

    Of course, you don't ever want to be in the position where you can't pay all of your monthly bills. Yes, paying your cable bill late one month isn't going to destroy your finances. But if you're juggling payments every month, that's a sign that there is a problem. It's also a sign that you need to take a closer look at your budget to determine if you there are expenses you can eliminate.

    "Sometimes we get too wrapped up in our wants instead of our needs," Winkfield said. "If things are tight -- and we've all been there -- then you might need to eliminate some of the wants from your budget."

    And if you are struggling to pay certain bills? Don't hide. Hardin says that the best move you can make is to call the creditors behind the bills and explain to them that you are struggling. Many will work with you to find at least a temporary solution. If you call, creditors are less likely to report you as late to the credit bureaus.

    "If you don't call, the lenders have no choice but to think that you aren't paying just because you don't want to pay," Hardin said. "You should not be embarrassed to call your creditors. You'd be surprised at how easy creditors make these conversations. They don't want to lose you as a customer, so they usually are willing to work with you."

    Have you ever fallen behind on your bills? How'd you cope?

     

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    New Job? What to Do With Your Old 401K



    They're called orphans. They're the sad, lonely 401(k)s that workers leave behind when they change jobs.

    What should you do if you have one? Well, you have four choices:
    • You could leave it with your old employer.
    • You could roll it into a 401(k) at your new employer.
    • You could roll it into an IRA of your choosing.
    • You could cash it out.
    Now, forget we ever mentioned No. 4 because it isn't just a bad idea, it's a very, very bad idea. Cashing out your 401(k) has the potential to put you back at square one for retirement savings. What's more, you'll pay a 10 percent penalty on that money plus income taxes if you're younger than 59½. Trust us, that's not going to look pretty come April 15.

    Instead, you should consider what type of retirement fund you want to hold your money. There's nothing wrong with keeping your cash in a 401(k), but might we suggest an IRA could be a better choice?

    Here are five reasons why you should consider rolling over your old 401(k) account into an IRA:

    Reason No. 1: You could be paying outrageous fees. Maybe your old 401(k) plan is awesome, but it could also nickel-and-dime your nest egg with all sorts of fees. You can get up to speed on the subject with our primer on 401(k) fees.

    Before leaving your retirement money with a former employer, take a close look at how much you're paying for the plan. Then, compare that to what's available through an IRA. If the IRA is cheaper, then your decision to roll over should be easy.

    Reason No. 2: An IRA may give you more options and control. Even if the fees are reasonable, your orphaned 401(k) may come with limited plan options. By rolling the balance into an IRA, you get the luxury of shopping around for the funds that will best meet your savings needs.

    What's more, in the event your 401(k)'s current investment option is discontinued, a former employer may take it upon themselves to choose where your money will be reinvested. You will be notified of the change, but if you move and forget to update your account information, you may never know.

    Reason No. 3: Our memories are not always reliable. Speaking of forgetting, orphaned 401(k)s lend themselves well to being out of sight and out of mind. ING Direct found 11 percent of those with orphaned 401(k)s had no idea how much money was in the account. Can you imagine?

    But let's take that idea a little further and consider what happens after you've gone through four or five jobs. It's not inconceivable that 20 years down the line, you could completely forget you even had a 401(k) at one of those jobs.

    Finally, you want to make sure your investment is actively managed and periodically rebalanced. A 20-year-old orphaned 401(k) might still be invested in funds that are more appropriate for a 30-year-old than a 50-year-old. Moving money to an IRA may help you remember to re-evaluate risk and reallocate balances as you age.

    Reason No. 4: Your old employer is unstable. Fortunately, federal law prevents a company from dissolving and taking your 401(k) money with it. However, if your former employer does go belly up, it could end up being a pain to access your retirement funds.

    A bigger concern would be if your retirement money was heavily invested in the company's stock. In that case, your 401(k) balance could drop through the floor should the business head to bankruptcy court.

    Reason No. 5: It will make your life easier. Perhaps the most important reason to find a new home for your old 401(k) is that it will simplify your life. You won't have to review plan options for a handful of accounts. You won't have to update your beneficiary and account information with multiple companies. You won't need to remember where the money is and how to access it.

    Having a single IRA for all your money can give you a more complete picture of how close you are to your retirement goal. It can also free up head space and reduce the paper clutter that comes from trying to manage multiple accounts.

    There may be good reasons to consider keeping your money at an old employer, but that decision shouldn't be made blindly. Decide whether these reasons apply to your situation and if so, talk to a trusted financial professional about the rollover process.

    Have you left 401(k) plans behind, or rolled them over into new investments? Share your experiences and advice with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page. And feel free to share this article with a friend who may need a friendly reminder to pull her investments together.

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

     

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    What Millennials Want: Survey

    By Steve Liesman

    Conventional wisdom holds that the millennial generation, influenced by the 9/11 attacks, burdened with student debt and reared in a world of high-speed mobile devices, is a unique group of young people.

    But a special CNBC All-America Economic Survey focusing on millennials finds that while the generation has some unique characteristics, young people today in some critical areas are more similar to the rest of the population than they are different.

    Looking at the importance of six traits in a potential employer -- ethics, environmental practices, work-life balance, profitability, diversity and reputation for hiring the best and the brightest -- millennial preferences are just about the same as the broader population on all six. For example, 18 percent of millennials say work-life balance is the most important trait in a company, compared with 19 percent of the population.

    At 25 percent, millennials are somewhat less likely to say "ethical practices" is the most important trait, compared with 29 percent for all adults, but the 4-point difference is within the polls margin of error for employed adults. The poll surveyed 900 Americans nationwide from Oct. 1-4, including an over-sample of 100 additional millennials ages of 18-34. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points for all responses and 4.7 points for employed adults, which represents about half the sample.

    It shows just slight preferences among millennials for companies with strong environmental sustainability practices and for reputations for "hiring the best and the brightest."

    Far from being a generation of disgruntled and whiny youth, millennials appear to be more satisfied with specific aspects of the workplace than the average worker. For example, 87 percent are satisfied with the training and skills development they receive at work, compared with 76 percent of the rest of the population; 76 percent say they are satisfied with their opportunities for promotion and advancement, 10 points higher than the rest of the population.

    Millennials are different in some key areas: They are more likely to be concerned about opportunities to advance in their careers and about flexible work hours. They also care less about an employer's retirement benefits. But it's difficult to know if these are the differences of a unique generation, or if they are simply the expected results from a younger generation.

    Millennials are more optimistic about the economy than other age groups, but not by very much. They don't rate the current state of the economy any better than the overall population. But their expectations for the economy to improve is marginally brighter. Twenty-two percent of all adults say the economy will get better in the next year, compared with 26 percent of millennials. A third of the public sees the economy getting worse, a bit more downbeat than the 26 percent of millennials who see the economic landscape growing darker. So, net optimism among millennials is zero, compared with minus 10 percent for the public as a whole and minus 17 percent for seniors.

    When it comes to investments, millennials also lack much youthful optimism. Just a third thinks this is a good time to invest in stocks, about the same as the overall population, with 46 percent of millennials and all adults saying it's a bad time to invest. Fewer millennials, however, say it's a "very bad time" to invest.

    As a group, they are somewhat more risk-averse than the rest of the population. For example, 21 percent chose savings account and cash as their top investment choice, compared with 14 percent for all adults. But millennials chose real estate as their top pick, the same as all adults, which challenges some conventional wisdom that younger generations have less affinity for owning homes. Somewhat fewer millennials, however, chose real estate than all adults.

    When asked what they are doing with extra money from lower gas prices, 27 percent of millennials say they are saving more, compared with 19 percent of all adults. Twenty percent say they drive more, compared with 14 percent of all adults.

    Millennials are set apart in their belief about the viability of Social Security. Fifty-one percent say they are "not confident at all" in benefits from the government's retirement program, compared with 43 percent of all adults. Thirty percent of millennials say they are just somewhat confident. But just 44 percent of millennials with those doubts say they are planning to save more; 42 percent say they "plan to save more."

     

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    FILE - In this June 24, 2015, file photo, a worker washes a car at Bob's Car Wash in Roseville, Calif. The Labor Department releases third-quarter productivity data on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
    Rich Pedroncelli/APA worker washes a car at Bob's Car Wash in Roseville, Calif.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- New U.S. applications for unemployment benefits last week recorded their largest increase in eight months, but remained at levels consistent with a fairly healthy labor market.

    Other data released Thursday showed a surprise gain in productivity in the third quarter after a drop in self-employment contributed to overall hours worked falling for the first time in six years, restraining labor-related production costs.

    Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 276,000 for the week ended Oct. 31, the Labor Department said. It was the largest weekly increase since late February.

    Claims had hovered near 42-year lows for much of October. The prior week's claims were unrevised. Still, last week marked the 35th straight week that claims were below the 300,000 threshold, which is normally associated with a strong jobs market.

    The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it strips out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,500 to 262,750 last week.

    The dollar briefly fell to session lows against the euro after the data, while prices for U.S. Treasuries pared losses.

    Last week's claims report has no bearing on the October employment report due for release Friday. New applications for jobless benefits were low last month relative to September.

    According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls increased 180,000 in October, well above the average gain of 139,000 jobs for August and September. The unemployment rate is forecast at 5.1 percent.

    The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 17,000 to 2.16 million in the week ended Oct. 24. The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 11,500 to 2.16 million, the lowest level since November 2000.

    The trend in continuing claims suggests more long-term unemployed are finding work.

    Productivity Increases

    In a second report, the Labor Department said productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, increased at a 1.6 percent annual rate after increasing at an upwardly revised 3.5 percent rate in the second quarter.

    Manufacturing productivity increased at its fastest pace in four years, led by the durable goods sector.

    Economists had expected productivity to fall at a 0.2 percent rate last quarter after expanding at a previously reported 3.3 percent pace in the second quarter.

    Despite the surprise rise in the third quarter, the trend in productivity remained weak. Productivity increased only 0.4 percent compared to the third quarter of 2014.

    Economists blame softer productivity on lack of investment, which they say has led to an unprecedented decline in capital intensity.

    While weak productivity has boosted employment growth as companies hired more workers to increase output, economists say it has contributed to stagnant wages and lowered the economy's speed limit. Economists say persistently anemic productivity could continue to limit wage growth even as the labor market approaches full employment.

    In the third quarter, hours worked declined at a 0.5 percent rate, the first decline since the third quarter of 2009. That reflected a drop in part-time employment as well as adjustments to hours for nonprofit and government enterprise workers.

    Unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, increased at a 1.4 percent rate in the third quarter.

    They had dropped at revised 1.8 percent rate in the second quarter, which was previously reported as a 1.4 percent pace of decline. Unit labor costs rose 2 percent compared to the third quarter of 2014.

     

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    JPMorgan Chase & Co. And Wells Fargo & Co. Bank Branches Ahead Of Earnings
    Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Suzanne Barlyn

    NEW YORK -- Wells Fargo (WFC) will pay $81.6 million to homeowners for denying them a chance to challenge mortgage payment increases imposed during their bankruptcy proceedings, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

    Wells violated a 2011 U.S. bankruptcy law by failing to send a type of legal notice about homeowners' mortgage payment increases to bankruptcy courts. The law requires the notice to include disclosures to ensure that fees and charges by banks to homeowners in bankruptcy proceedings are accurate, the Justice Department said.

    The settlement between Wells Fargo and the Justice Department's U.S. Trustee Program, which oversees the U.S. bankruptcy system, also requires Wells to hire an independent compliance monitor and change its internal procedures to prevent a recurrence of the problem, the Justice Department said.

    The settlement is subject to approval by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland.

    If approved, the Justice Department said it will distribute the funds to groups of homeowners who were in bankruptcy proceedings from late 2011 through March, 2015.

    "We believe we have made the necessary investments and improvements in our systems and processes to ensure that payment change notices for the bankruptcy court and escrow analyzes for customers in bankruptcy are properly prepared and delivered in a timely fashion," Michael DeVito, executive vice president for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said in a statement.

    The bank will work with the U.S. Trustee's office and independent compliance reviewer to demonstrate the effectiveness of its changes and make payments to customers, DeVito said.

    Wells previously put aside reserves for the settlement, it said.

    The bank was late in providing more than 100,000 notices to homeowners about mortgage payment changes and also did not timely perform more than 18,000 escrow analyzes in cases involving nearly 68,000 accounts of bankrupt homeowners during the period, the Justice Department said.

     

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    Ways to Make Extra Cash This Holiday Season
    Did you know there are some lesser known jobs where you can earn extra cash this holiday season? Here are a few examples.

    Seasonal repair work can boost your budget while you spread some cheer. During the holidays, big retail toy stores, in particular, are in need of handy employees to put together things like bikes, train sets and doll houses.

    To find these gigs, go online and check out AllRetailJobs.com. You'll be surprised by how many opportunities you can find in your area.

    If you'd rather earn from home, you can do that by testing out websites and apps. Sign up at UserTesting.com and you can earn $10 for testing websites and mobile apps for only 20 minutes of work!

    This holiday season, don't let Santa's little helpers do all the work. Try out these tips to earn some extra cash and maybe even boost your gift budget.

    View Poll

     

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