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    FILE - In this June 6, 2015, file photo, a customer, bottom, pays for goods while shopping at the Atlanta Farmers Market in Atlanta. The Commerce Department issues the first of three estimates of how the U.S. economy performed in the July-September quarter on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
    David Goldman/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy grew at a healthier clip in the third quarter than initially thought, but strong inventory accumulation by businesses could temper expectations of an acceleration in growth in the final three months of the year.

    The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the nation's gross domestic product grew at a 2.1 percent annual pace, not the 1.5 percent rate it reported last month, as businesses reduced an inventory bloat less aggressively than previously believed.

    The pace of economic growth, which was also boosted by upward revisions to business spending on equipment, suggests a resilience that could help give the Federal Reserve confidence to raise interest rates next month.

    With growth like this, the Fed has the data it needs to light the candle finally and lift off on Dec. 16.

    While consumer spending was revised down a bit, its pace remained brisk, suggesting consumers were cash-flush.

    "The economy continues to move along at a good clip relative to its potential. With growth like this, the Fed has the data it needs to light the candle finally and lift off on Dec. 16," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

    When measured from the income side, the economy grew at a sturdy 3.1 percent clip, the fastest in a year and an acceleration from the second quarter's upwardly 2.2 percent pace. Wages and salaries increased $109.3 billion, $61.6 billion more than initially estimated.

    The third-quarter's respectable expansion should set up the economy to achieve at least 2 percent growth in the second half of the year, around its long-run potential. In the wake of robust job growth in October and strong domestic demand, the Fed is expected to raise rates at its Dec. 15-16 policy meeting.

    Other data released Tuesday showed consumer confidence fell further in November, hitting a 14-month low, as sentiment towards the labor market surprisingly soured. Economists suspected the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris and rising tensions in the Middle East had weighed on consumer confidence.

    Despite the drop, more consumers say they plan to buy homes, automobiles and other big-ticket items over the next six months.

    "The bigger picture suggests that domestic demand is still firm, spending plans are evolving positively and the housing market continues to post gains," said Robert Kavcic, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

    A third report showed house prices rose solidly in August.

    U.S. financial markers were little moved by the data as investors worried about global security after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane.

    Large Inventory Accumulation

    In the third quarter, businesses accumulated $90.2 billion worth of inventories, instead of the $56.8 billion reported last month. That followed more than $100 billion worth of inventories accumulated in each of the prior two quarters.

    As a result, the change in inventories chopped off only 0.59 percentage point from third-quarter GDP growth, rather than the 1.44 percentage points the government reported in October.

    That, however, suggests inventories could be a drag on fourth-quarter growth.

    "The bigger inventory overhang helps explain why manufacturing sentiment remains cautious early in the fourth quarter, and does present downside risk to our 2.5 percent estimate for current-quarter GDP growth," said Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.

    Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, grew at a still strong 3 percent rate in the third quarter, down from the 3.2 percent rate estimated last month. The downward revisions mostly reflected weak outlays on communication services and utilities.

    A measure of private domestic demand, which excludes trade, inventories and government spending, was revised down to a still sturdy 3.1 percent pace from the previously 3.2 percent rate.

    Though there are signs consumer spending slowed early in the fourth quarter, it should continue to be supported by strong income gains. Income at the disposal of households after adjusting for inflation rose at a robust 3.9 percent pace in the third quarter.

    A trade deficit that was larger than previously estimated subtracted 0.22 percentage point from GDP growth in the third quarter. Data released Tuesday showing a smaller goods trade deficit suggested trade would contribute to fourth-quarter growth.

    Deep spending cuts by energy firms following a collapse in oil prices continued to weigh on growth. Spending on mining exploration, wells and shafts tumbled at a 47.1 percent rate, rather than the 46.9 percent pace reported last month.

    However, business spending on equipment was revised up to a 9.5 percent rate from a 5.3 percent pace.

    The Commerce Department also reported that corporate profits after tax fell at a 1.6 percent rate in the third quarter after rising at a 2.6 percent pace in the second quarter. Profits, which have been undercut by the dollar's strength and lower oil prices, were down 8.1 percent from a year ago, the biggest decline since the fourth quarter of 2008.

     

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    Shoppers Inside A Target Corp. Store Ahead Of Black Friday Sales
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesTarget shoppers on Black Friday, November 2014
    By Kylie Gumpert and Nandita Bose

    NEW YORK and CHICAGO -- Target's (TGT) 10 percent discount on a $30.49 pair of embroidered curtains wasn't nearly enough to entice Valerie Jenkins, shopping in Chicago the weekend before Thanksgiving.

    She expects the 60 to 70 percent off she got during the last holidays. "There were some very good deals this time last year," she said.

    Jenkins represents a problem for retailers going into what traditionally has been the peak shopping day of the holiday season, Black Friday. Big retailers are keeping discounts for the weekend following Thanksgiving at around the same level as last year, according to data supplied to Reuters by MarketTrak.

    But polls by Reuters/Ipsos and some others show shoppers, who got even bigger discounts closer to Christmas last year, are cautious with their spending and willing to wait for deals.

    The Reuters/Ipsos survey found more people planned to cut holiday spending than increase in every category surveyed: clothing, jewelry, electronics, food and toys, and that 46 percent felt they could wait longer in the season to buy because of faster shipping.

    Black Friday shopping will help set the tone for the rest of the holiday season, signaling to retailers whether they need to drop prices or change promotions. While Black Friday isn't always a strong forecaster of holiday spending, last year reports of poor Black Friday spending were followed by deeper discounting and a rush of buying in the week before Christmas.

    J.C. Penney (JCP) offered an average 58 percent off in Black Friday ads this year, down from 59 percent last year, according to MarketTrak, which looks at circulars from top retailers. Kohl's (KSS) is offering 54 percent off, up from 51 percent in 2014, and discounts from Staples (SPLS) and Office Depot (ODP) are both a touch less than last year, at 45 and 50 percent, respectively.

    Appliances, entertainment items, infant products and hardware showed narrowing discounts, MarketTrak reported, while promotions for apparel, toys and electronics were getting bigger.

    Kurt Jetta, head of retail industry researcher TABS Group, found the discounts underwhelming.

    "The fact that retail has been so weak coming in to the season would suggest they may need to ramp up efforts to make up for this later," Jetta said.

    Consumers were cautious going into the holidays, with sales at Macy's, Nordstrom Inc and Best Buy missing expectations in recent quarterly results. Target's online sales fell due to a drop in demand for electronics.

    Looking for Discounts

    The Reuters/Ipsos survey of 4,639 adults from Nov. 12-23 found 28 percent of consumers expected discounts of 50 percent or more on most items, 36 percent hoped to see promotions of at least 33 percent while 49 percent expect a minimum discount of 20 percent on most products.

    A survey for Boston Consulting Group found 70 percent of consumers would spend the same or less as last year, describing the consumer outlook as "tepid."

    Still, spending intentions are difficult to gauge and Gallup reported Americans plan to spend $830 on gifts this season, up from $720 a year ago at this time.

    The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to rise 3.7 percent, slower than last year's 4.1 percent growth rate, due to stagnant wages and sluggish job creation.

    Many retailers including Macy's (M) came into the season with high winter clothing inventory after warm weather in September and October, which also will increase discounting pressure.

    "Consumers have been trained to know that they can wait, and they will wait and that will force the retailers to continue to be promotional," said Joel Bines, managing director at AlixPartners.

    -Nathan Layne in Chicago and Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bangalore, India, contributed reporting.

     

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    Engagement ring and cash
    Getty Images
    Marriage is amazing.

    That is, if all goes well. And many times, it doesn't.

    There are many issues married couples must deal with that singles don't experience -- and they aren't simple issues to solve, either.

    Think about it. When you want to buy that new car you've been eyeing since the fourth grade, you remember and think to yourself, "Oh yeah, I'm married. I just can't go out and buy a car!" At least, if you're an experienced married person, you won't make the mistake of purchasing something big without talking with your spouse first. And that, can be complicated. Convincing your spouse isn't always the easiest thing to do.

    When you slip that ring onto their finger, it's no longer all about "me," it's all about "we." Unfortunately, many newlyweds aren't truly ready for that level of commitment. So they learn as they go.

    Whether you're learning as you go, you're doing well or you're preparing for marriage, make sure you avoid these financial blunders in marriage.

    1. Not creating and sticking to a budget. If you hear the word "budget" and cringe, don't worry, you're not alone. In fact, I hate budgeting. Why do I hate budgeting? It's usually pretty boring.

    Still, if you're married, it's absolutely necessary to budget in order to keep fights down to a minimum and to maintain one's sanity. Seriously.

    When your wife buys $500 worth of clothing in one day because you don't work a budget together, and you get mad at her, how do you think she's going to feel? After all, if that's how she has always spent money, why should she do anything different?

    OK, OK, perhaps she should have had the wisdom to ask you first before making such a large purchase. But it may not have even crossed her mind that $500 is a lot of money to spend on clothing in one day -- at least, she had no clue that it was a lot of money to you.

    Maybe your husband has been eyeing that new truck and decides to give it a test spin. The salesperson is good and your husband buys the truck because you aren't working a budget with him. Similar scenario, but much more costly. Yikes.

    You see, budgets keep both spouses on the same page regarding what should be spent and what should not be spent (and on what money should be spent on). Perhaps, for example, you and your spouse can agree to only spend $200 a month on clothing. Maybe you decide to only spend $600 a month on groceries. It could be that you decide to have some discretionary fun money that can be spent on whatever you each individually want.

    As you start to budget together, you'll find that many times having a budget frees you to spend money freely without hesitation -- because it's in the budget. This is very liberating -- which is pretty profound as many people feel budgets restrict people instead of free them.

    Learn how to make a budget that works and get to it. You'll be glad you did.

    2. Not communicating regularly about financial goals. Now, budgeting in a marriage lends itself to having a higher degree of communication about money, but it doesn't necessarily help all the way.

    That's where communicating regularly about financial goals comes into play. In fact, when you're creating your budget, you should also be budgeting for large purchases you may want to make (including a down payment on a home, saving for retirement or saving for your children's college education).

    If you're not communicating with your spouse about what you want your lives to look like in 10, 20 or 30 years, what you're really doing is leaving your future completely up to chance or up to whoever has the strongest will. Instead, talk about the future regularly and dream together about your goals and ambitions. By doing so, you'll be able to build those goals into your finances and make them much more likely to be accomplished.

    3. Maintaining debt because of a lack of contentment. There are a number of circumstances when incurring debt might be a reasonable option. There also might be circumstances when keeping debt around temporarily is reasonable as well. However, if you're increasing your debt as a couple because of your lack of contentment (when you really should be content with what you have), there's a problem.

    This financial blunder can have devastating effects on a marriage. Why strain your marriage over debt when you don't have to have debt? Do you really think that getting that fancy new car you can't afford to gambling with your credit card is going to make you happy over the long-term? Forget about it.

    Instead, find contentment. Don't become materialistic.

    4. Keeping separate bank accounts. This financial blunder should be a no-brainer -- avoid it.

    If you're going to be working a budget together as you should, why keep your bank accounts separate? There should be no secrets in marriage. If you're married, you should definitely have joint bank accounts. This will also put more pressure on both of you to work together toward your shared goals.

    I realize that some people have separate bank accounts because perhaps one account is for the bills and another account is for one-time purchases. Why can't both of these accounts be joint accounts?

    Really, the way I see it, there's no reason to have separate bank accounts. In marriage you're one, and so should be your access to bank accounts.

    5. Not having an emergency fund. Emergency funds play a critical role in financial plans. Should something happen to you, your spouse, your children, or your property, your emergency fund should help offset the financial losses.

    Why is having an emergency fund particularly important in marriage? Some married people feel pretty comfortable not having much money in the bank. They simply trust that money will somehow always be around or that emergencies won't happen to them. But here's the thing: spouses of these people don't always feel the same way.

    Being on the brink of not being able to pay one's bills sends some people's stress levels into orbit. They can't fathom being comfortable with $1,000 or $2,000 in the bank -- they want more just in case.

    And you know what? They're right: a couple thousand dollars in an emergency fund isn't nearly enough over the long-term.

    Imagine getting into an accident where you hit a telephone pole and you don't have collision coverage. Oops. Now you need a new car and you both figure you need to spend more than two grand for reliable transportation.

    The big oops? You didn't save enough money in your emergency fund. If you're the spouse who felt comfortable with just a couple grand in the bank, imagine the look on your spouse's face when they discover that there's not enough money to pay for your accident.

    6. Keeping important business decisions private. Your spouse should be involved in all aspects of your life -- not just your personal life. If you're planning on taking out a loan for your business, for example, you should definitely talk with your spouse first.

    When I was thinking about signing up for a pricey business coaching program, I first asked my wife. Sure, she didn't jump for joy and approve right away -- but eventually she agreed and it proved beneficial to my business. Now, can you imagine if I would have just dropped over $7,000 on a coaching program without talking with her first? She wouldn't have been happy, to say the least.

    Talk with your spouse about your important business decisions before you make them.

    7. Not forgiving financial mistakes. Yes, this, too, is a financial blunder.

    When you first get on a budget together, do you really think you're both going to abide by it with perfection? Hardly. It's going to take some time to adjust to the new rules.

    So when your spouse makes a mistake, don't make the mistake of not forgiving their error. Don't hold these things against them. Intentional deviation deserves a serious conversation (still with forgiveness), but unintentional mistakes deserve a try-harder-next-time-and-no-worries sentiment (along with forgiveness).

    If you can't forgive your spouse and you harbor anger, do you really think they are going to willingly work the budget with you or communicate about finances? Probably not. They'll most likely want to hide. And that can be financially damaging, too.

    Avoid these financial blunders in marriage, and you'll be on a road not many travel -- but boy will it be worth the effort.

     

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    Janet Yellen Speaks At Monetary Policy Implementation Conference
    Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen
    By Lindsay Dunsmuir

    WASHINGTON -- The number of regional Federal Reserve banks pushing for a hike in what commercial banks are charged for emergency loans rose to nine in October, a sign the U.S. central bank may be close to tightening monetary policy, minutes from its discount rate meeting showed Tuesday.

    Eight Fed banks had voted to raise the discount rate at the prior meeting in September, a jump from five in July and August.

    Ahead of the central bank's Oct. 27-28 policy meeting, directors of the Boston Fed joined their counterparts in St. Louis, Atlanta, San Francisco, Cleveland, Dallas, Philadelphia, Kansas City and Richmond in asking the Fed's board to increase the discount rate to 1 percent from 0.75 percent, according to the minutes.

    The nine regional banks that requested a hike want to normalize the spread between the discount rate governing Fed lending to banks and the overnight federal funds rate, which is the central bank's primary economic lever.

    U.S. interest rate futures Tuesday suggested that traders saw a 74 percent chance of the central bank raising its benchmark interest rate next month for the first time in almost a decade, according to CME Group's FedWatch.

    The Fed board opted to hold the discount rate steady last month, a decision that was backed by two other regional Fed banks. The Minneapolis Fed again voted to cut the rate to 0.5 percent.

    Minutes from the October meeting showed that some directors reported reduced labor slack, with recruiting difficulties and signs of wage pressures in some sectors and parts of the country.

    Those that wanted to raise the discount rate saw it as "as appropriate in light of the improvements in labor market conditions this year and their expectations for inflation to rise gradually toward the Federal Reserve's 2 percent objective," the minutes said.

    Some directors favored an increase as they thought an earlier start to policy normalization "could allow for a more gradual pace of adjustment," the minutes added.

     

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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK -- U.S. shares closed higher Tuesday as energy stocks rose along with oil prices after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border.

    The three major U.S. indexes recovered from a morning sell-off that was triggered by the overseas news despite some strong U.S. economic data.

    You came in this morning and everybody was talking about this potential escalation of violence between Turkey and Russia.

    Oil prices were up more than 2 percent after a spike in Middle East tensions.

    "You came in this morning and everybody was talking about this potential escalation of violence between Turkey and Russia," said Andrew Frankel, co-president of Stuart Frankel & Co. in New York. He added that investors settled down after it appeared that Russia's response wouldn't be as confrontational as they initially feared.

    Relatively light trading appeared to exaggerate swings in the market, according to Frankel, as many market participants were away ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Markets will be closed all day Thursday and close early Friday.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 19.51 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,812.19, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 2.55 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,089.14 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 0.33 points -- basically flat -- to 5,102.81.

    Investors steered clear of many of Nasdaq's higher-valuation stocks like Netflix (NFLX) and instead took safety in cheaper stocks due to geopolitical concerns, according to J.J. Feldman, portfolio manager at Los Angeles-based Miracle Mile Advisors.

    "When you get that kind of thing people say they're going to get out of the high-flyer expensive P/E stocks and into the flight-to-quality value stocks that have been beaten down," he said.

    Travel Stocks Hit

    Travel-related stocks fell after the State Department issued a global travel alert for Americans. The Dow Jones Airlines index ended down 2.7 percent, led by a 5-percent decline in Allegiant Travel (ALGT). United Continental (UAL), Delta Air Lines (DAL) and Spirit Airlines (SAVE) all fell around 3 percent.

    Six of the 10 major S&P sectors rose and energy led with a 2.4-percent increase, followed by a 0.8 percent increase in materials.

    Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) shares fell 3.4 percent in extended trading after the close when it reported a revenue decline for the fifth straight quarter, its last before it split into two companies.

    The U.S. economy grew at a 2.1 percent pace in the third-quarter, compared with an earlier estimate of 1.5 percent, data showed, but consumer sentiment in November was the weakest since September 2014 ahead of the crucial holiday shopping season.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,893 to 1,162, for a 1.63-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,659 issues rose and 1,121 fell for a 1.48-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 9 new 52-week highs and 8 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 63 new highs and 74 new lows.

    About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges below the 7.2 billion average for the last 20 sessions, according to Reuters data.

    -Abhiram Nandakumar contributed reporting from Bangalore, India.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims and the Commerce Department releases durable goods for October, and personal income and spending for October.
    • At 10 a.m. Eastern time, the Commerce Department releases new home sales for October; the University of Michigan reports Consumer Sentiment for November; and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.
    • Deere & Co. (DE) releases quarterly financial results before markets open in New York.

     

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    Tips to Stay Within Your Holiday Gift Budget
    The holidays are almost here, and that means gift-giving season is right right around the corner. Unfortunately, that also means buying expensive presents for friends and loved ones. Luckily, there are ways to buy that perfect gift without unraveling your savings.

    First, when it comes to buying gifts, figure out how much you can afford. Financial advisers suggest spending no more than 1.5% of your annual take-home income during the holiday season. For example, if your annual take-home income is $50,000, just multiply $50,000 by 0.015 and you'll see that your holiday budget should be $750.

    Now that you have a budget, think about who to spend that money on. One effective way to determine who to focus your finances on is by using a three-tiered system. The first tier is for family. If it's within your budget, exchange bigger ticket gifts with each person in your immediate family. The second tier is for friends. Try doing a single-family gift for your friends, like movie tickets or a fun board game. And finally, the third tier is for neighbors and co-workers. For a nice touch that doesn't cost too much, bake them homemade goods or give them handmade cards.

    Lastly, to make sure you don't overspend, start shopping before you feel festive. The best time to do your holiday shopping is from October 1 to December 1. The closer people get to the holidays, the more they spend on gifts.

    Before you start your holiday shopping, remember these tips. By creating a smart budget, you can spread the holiday cheer without being a Scrooge.

    View Poll

     

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    Nurse talking to patient in doctor's office
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    By Kimberly Lankford

    Q. How much will I have to pay each month for Medicare Part B in 2016? Will there be a huge jump in premiums, as originally predicted?

    A. Medicare beneficiaries who have Part B premiums withheld from their Social Security checks -- about 70 percent of beneficiaries -- will continue to pay $104.90 a month for Part B. If you aren't collecting Social Security yet or will enroll in Medicare in 2016, you will have to pay $121.80 a month in 2016. The $121.80 monthly premium also applies to people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid and have their premiums paid for by their state. And if your income exceeds certain limits, you'll pay more -- from $170.50 to $389.80 a month (see the table below).

    The premiums aren't as high as they were expected to be. Because Medicare Part B premiums are designed to cover 25 percent of total Part B costs each year, the monthly premium would have been $120.70 across the board in 2016 if everyone were on the hook for the increase, according to the Medicare trustees' report. But most Medicare beneficiaries are protected by the "hold-harmless provision," a law that prohibits Social Security benefits from being reduced because of an increase in Medicare premiums. In most years, Medicare cost increases are covered by the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. But there will be no Social Security COLA for 2016 because of low inflation, which means that the monthly premiums will be capped at $104.90 for Medicare beneficiaries who have their premiums withheld from their Social Security benefits.

    Under the rules, the remaining 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries must cover the rest of the cost of Part B, which would have boosted their premiums to $159.30 a month in 2016. But under pressure from retiree advocacy groups, the budget deal signed by President Obama on Nov. 2 reduced the increase for 2016. Anyone not protected by the hold-harmless provision will have Part B premiums capped at $121.80 a month.

    To help pay for the shortfall, a $3 surcharge, which is included in the $121.80 premium, will be added to monthly Part B premiums for the next few years. Those protected by the hold-harmless provision won't pay the extra $3 this year, but $3 may be added to their premiums in 2017 if there is a Social Security COLA next year.

    Single filers with modified adjusted gross income of more than $85,000, or more than $170,000 if married filing jointly, have been subject to a high-income surcharge since 2007. In 2016, these people will have to pay the $121.80 base amount plus a high-income surcharge of $48.70 to $268 a month, depending on their income. "Modified adjusted gross income" includes all taxable income, whether from a job, interest, dividends, capital gains or a pension, plus it adds in tax-exempt interest.

    Your income is usually based on your last tax return on file, which would be your 2014 return, for 2016 premiums. But you may be able to get the high-income surcharge reduced or eliminated if your income has decreased since then because of certain life-changing events, such as the death of a spouse, divorce, retirement or reduced work hours. In that case, you can ask Social Security to use your more recent income instead. Contact the Social Security Administration, estimate your 2015 income, and provide evidence of the change, such as a marriage or death certificate, a signed statement of retirement from your employer, or pay stubs showing your reduced income. See Medicare Premiums: Rules for Higher-Income Beneficiaries for more information.

    How Much You'll Pay for Medicare Part B in 2016
    Single Filer Income Joint Filer Income 2016 Monthly Premium
    Up to $85,000 Up to $170,000 $121.80 or $104.90*
    85,001 - $107,000 $170,001 - $214,000 $170.50
    $107,001 - $160,000 $214,001 - $320,000 $243.60
    $160,001 - $214,000 $320,001 - $428,000 $316.70
    More than $214,000 More than $428,000 $389.90
    * If protected by the hold-harmless provision

     

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    How to Get the Best Black Friday Deals

    By Donna Doyle

    Almost every major retailer has unveiled their Black Friday ad by now, and even a week out, some of our predictions have been blown out of the water by lower prices. Many will definitely qualify for the coveted coveted Editors' Choice nod. And with price matching driving down prices next week, more will likely follow.

    We tallied up the spoils that debuted Nov. 21 to 29 last year and selected the top five stores that had the most Editors' Choice deals. These vendors offered the best prices on the most popular items and we're already seeing them attempt to repeat this year.

    Now, all that's left to do is allocate your cash wisely, prepare some comfortable running garb and get your Black Friday game face on.

    Top 5 Stores With the Best Black Friday Week Deals

    Amazon: 259 Editors' Choice Deals


    Best For: People who like to shop for all sorts of cheap things and don't mind the stress of fast-selling "Lightning Deals."

    Few stores ever come close to touching Amazon during the shopping season, and this year is no different; for the fifth year running, the megastore has topped our list of the best Black Friday stores. Last year, we listed a whopping 259 Editors' Choice deals from the store -- that was 23 percent of the total number of all Editors' Choice deals during that time.

    After a massively disappointing Prime Day, the mother of all online stores has a lot to live up to come Black Friday. As is now customary, Amazon will keep our editors busy by matching and undercutting prices at Walmart and Best Buy throughout the season. Just keep in mind that a lot of these deals will sell out quickly, so you'll need to have your fingers at the ready to buy.

    Hottest Deals: Last year, Amazon offered 40 popular Android game, office and music apps for free, which became one of the store's most popular deals. Also on sale was a selection of NHL jerseys and apparel, which dropped as low as $8. Those looking for even cheaper thrills scored a host of Editors' Choice-worthy Blu-ray movies, which had been discounted to just $4, beating its previous year's price by another buck. Informed 2015 shoppers should thus look to the store for some free apps, as well as super cheap movie deals.

    Oh, and did we mention, many of Amazon's 2015 Black Friday deals are available right now? For more, check out our Amazon Black Friday ad analysis and our complete list of Amazon's advertised Black Friday prices.

    Newegg: 113 Editors' Choice Deals

    Best For: PC and tech lovers who don't mind redeeming a mail-in rebate in order to nab a great deal.

    For the second year running, Newegg pipped Best Buy and Walmart to the post, earning second place on our coveted list. Although last year's Black Friday didn't see quite as many Editors' Choice deals from Newegg as the year before, more than 100 of the electronics store's deals still earned the honor.

    It's worth noting that, although Amazon remains our go-to store for overall Black Friday deals, it will be easier for most shoppers to get their hands on Newegg deals since the stock at Amazon can be famously low on Black Friday.

    Hottest Deals: Whether you're on the hunt for a low-cost laptop, HDTV or some in-house security items, Newegg is the place to (virtually) be this Black Friday week. The most popular of the store's Editors' Choice deals last year was an Acer Aspire 15.6-inch laptop that fell to an impressive all-time price low. (It remains the second-best offer we've seen for this build to date.) It seems that consumers were also keen to protect their big buys too, since a LaView DVR Surveillance System was among the most popular deals of the season, at $140 off.

    We're currently processing Newegg's Black Friday ad and will post our top picks from it soon.

    Best Buy: 75 Editors' Choice Deals

    Best For: Studious shoppers who prefer to prepare extensively with pre-released ads containing buzz-worthy doorbusters.

    Of the many Best Buy deals listed by our crew last year, a pretty impressive 75 were marked Editors' Choice. It's worth noting that the majority of these deals came on Thanksgiving and not on Black Friday itself.

    Hottest Deals: Similarly to Newegg, tech items will be the most impressive during Best Buy's Black Friday sale. Last year, it was the tablet deals that drew particular praise from our picky editors. The Apple iPad mini 3 dropped to a $74 price low in all three sizes, beating every other store we saw. Android lovers were also kept happy when the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro dropped an extra $50 in price from the week before, to an all-time low.

    We also saw great savings on a selection of cheap and cheerful laptops and smartphones (mostly for those that didn't mind signing up for a 2-year contract).

    For more, check out or Best Buy Black Friday ad analysis and our complete list of Best Buy's advertised Black Friday prices.

    Walmart: 60 Editors' Choice Deals

    Best For: Savers who want to get their purchases in early, but who don't mind a trip in-store to collect their spoils afterwards.

    Despite posting 13 fewer Editors' Choice deals than the year before, Walmart remains in fourth place in our list of best Black Friday stores. Like Best Buy, the store also listed most of these top deals on Thanksgiving Day -- 28 percent of them to be precise.

    Hottest Deals: Whether you're getting an early start on your holiday gift list or looking for some household essentials on the cheap, Walmart is likely to offer big discounts on a wide range of goods across the store. Looking at last year's best and brightest, we can expect some big price drops on a selection of video games; we saw many just-released titles fall to around $20 less than any other store, including FIFA 15 and Madden NFL 15. We also saw the best ever price for a new 40-inch 1080p LED LCD TV in the run up to Black Friday, as an Element model fell to just $115.

    For more, check out our Walmart Black Friday ad analysis and our complete list of Walmart's advertised Black Friday prices.

    Target: 55 Editors' Choice Deals

    Best For: Shoppers who are looking to stock up on discounted gifts ahead of the holidays or nab some tech items bundled with high-value gift cards.

    Knocking TigerDirect out of the fifth and final spot on our honored list this year is Target. We listed 55 Editors' Choice offers from the department store through the shopping season.

    Hottest Deals: The very best of the store's tech offers came with the then recently released Apple iPad Air 2, which was bundled with a massive $140 Target gift card. We're likely to see a myriad of popular Blu-ray and DVD movies fall to impressive prices, too, including even contemporary titles. Those shopping for smaller kids can also expect to nab some discounted toys from the store, especially if you're willing to opt for in-store pickup on cheaper items from Fisher-Price and Lego.

    For more, check out our Target Black Friday Ad Analysis and our complete list of Target's advertised Black Friday prices.

    Honorable Mention

    EBay: 69 Editors' Choice Deals

    It might not be fair to include eBay in our ranking, since the deals are actually offered by a multitude of third-party sellers, but we'd be remiss if we didn't give the store an honorable mention once again. We saw a number of unlocked iPhone models fall to all-time low prices, including refurbished units of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5c.

    The Best Black Friday Deals Breakdown

    How, exactly, does the DealNews team determine if something is to be honored with the Editors' Choice accolade, you might wonder? Throughout the year, our sale-savvy staff will pick only the best deals to honor with the label, which means that the item is at or close to an all-time low price, or is receiving a notable or rare discount.

    So, when Black Friday and its mill of doorbusters hit the site, you can rest assured that those earning the nod are only the finest deals available. As such, this list focuses not on the stores that listed the most deals, but on those that spit out the best deals.

    Whatever these stores have to offer, the deals are sure to be plentiful. So be selective with your time and money, arm yourself with the knowledge in our daily DealNews Select Newsletter, and brace yourself. Black Friday is coming.

     

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    Plumbers working on pipes under sink
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    By Geoff Williams

    Sometimes all the safeguards the real estate industry has put in place to help prevent buyer's remorse after purchasing a house still don't work.

    The process takes time for a reason, and you aren't getting a home inspection for the fun of it. It can happen. You can buy a plot of disappointment.

    It's never easy to bounce back from purchasing a house you quickly wish you hadn't bought. You've moved in. You may have nowhere else to go. You've not only spent a lot of money, but a lot of time and energy. And the law isn't necessarily on your side. Still, if you're determined to get your money back, or at least some satisfaction, you'll want to remember the following.

    Know your rights. Here's the good news. You are (probably) within your rights to sue someone who knowingly sells you a house with serious problems.

    "Most U.S. states have a home seller disclosure law that requires a seller to disclose defects in the home that they are aware of. Such defects include foundation and structural issues, roofing, HVAC, fireplace, basement, plumbing, electrical, siding, floors, walls, windows and even appliances," says Lance Luke, owner of Construction Management Inspection, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    Maybe most importantly, he adds: "The seller disclosure case law actually mandates that the seller disclose not only what they know, but what they should have known."

    It's another story in the Lone Star State, says Matthew Young, owner of Autus Properties, a custom home builder in Plano, Texas.

    "Generally, Texas is buyer beware when buying a home," Young says. "The real estate promulgated form gives buyers time periods to make inspections of anything and everything they feel is relevant."

    Moreover, Young says, "for Texas, generally once an issue is fixed, a homeowner no longer has to disclose it."

    If you buy a house from someone who had a roof leak, and it was fixed, you're under no obligation to know that because the seller doesn't have to disclose it, Young says.

    The burden of proof is on you. And here is the bad news (or worse news, since the good news wasn't great): It's hard to prove anyone knowingly sold you a dump.

    That's why real estate experts urge homeowners to hire a qualified and competent home inspector or perhaps purchase a home warranty that covers unknown defects. If you're going to get a court to side with you, generally, you have to prove that the seller actually knew about the defects when they sold you the house, says Peter Boscas, owner of Red Cedar Real Estate in Columbia, Maryland.

    And that isn't easy.

    Every once in a while, you may get lucky. "I had a client come across proof of deception once completely by accident," Boscas says. "They had called a local plumber randomly out of the phone book to come repair a sewage issue in the basement that had come up a few weeks after settlement. When the plumber arrived, he made a comment to the new homeowners that he had been to the house already four or five times in the last couple of months for the same exact issue."

    If the new homeowners hadn't happened to call the same plumber, who noted he'd given the old homeowners estimates of what it would have cost to repair the water issues, though they took no action, there would have been no proof that they had been knowingly sold a problematic home.

    As it turns out, Boscas says the new homeowners confronted the sellers about the plumbing, "and to avoid litigation, the sellers agreed to cover half the cost of the repair."

    Which should be encouraging. If you really have a case, just threatening to sue may work.

    Don't rush to your lawyer. Yes, you're angry. Yes, something needs to be done. Yes, you may have the right to sue. But Ron Rovtar, a real estate broker with Cherry Creek Properties in Boulder, Colorado, says that he would recommend you first go to your agent.

    For one, he says, "court cases are expensive." Moreover, he adds: "It has been my experience that often a more direct approach is the best first option for solving a post-closing problem."

    He advises you at least talk things out and see if you can come up with a decent resolution with the seller before you call your attorney. If you can't do that, or you're convinced that you have to go to court, he strongly suggests, "Do not drop this bomb until you have indeed talked to an attorney."

    There are two reasons for that, Rovtar says, explaining: "You may find that you really do not have a case, or that the payoff will probably be too small. The law and the way courts interpret it can be confusing to us non-lawyers."

    Besides, Rovtar points out that you'll likely be asked for the name and phone number of your attorney; all the more reason to have actually spoken to one. "In this business, legal threats are made all the time. No one will take you seriously if you have not at the least talked to a lawyer," he says.

    Prevention is, well, you know. Nobody wants to hear this if they're in a jam. But if you were worried about this sort of thing, and you, say, brought in a real estate attorney, he or she probably gave you an escape clause, like adding a rider to a standard purchase and sale agreement, says Robert Pellegrini, president of PK Boston, a real estate law firm.

    "Without affirmations in writing, the buyers will have a difficult time defeating the well-established principal of caveat emptor, buyer beware," Pellegrini says.

    But all is not lost if you don't have the rider, Pellegrini says.

    "You should look for any evidence that the sellers may have known about the condition," he says, adding that if you can prove the seller took steps to hide the defects, you may be able to seek damages.

    Of course, attorneys don't come cheap, and if you have the money to go to court to try and force the seller to make repairs or amends in some other way, you probably have the income to fix your house. When you don't have the money for either the attorney or repairs, that's when you may have to learn to love your house, even the parts of it you hate.

    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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    Female hands using mobile banking
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    The money question is blunt: should you pay -- will you pay -- to make deposits with your smartphone by clicking a picture? Know this: Some banks charge for mobile deposit, typically at 50 cents a deposited item, sometimes more.

    It may be free at your bank. Most in fact offer it as a gratis perk, said Bob Meara, who tracks banking for research firm Celent. "The vast majority of banks offer the option with no charge," he says.

    For instance, at Amplify, Karen Pollack, a vice president at the Austin-based credit union, said, "I don't want to charge the member -- we don't want to put fees on our members back." At that institution, photo deposit is free.

    But there are some institutions that are imposing fees and the question has to be asked -- in the fee-happy banking universe of today, will more banks follow?

    This matters, because mobile deposit is one of the hottest features in mobile banking. So-called mobile remote deposit capture (abbreviated MRDC in the trade) has proven to be a hit with consumers. And why not? You could get in your car and drive five miles to the nearest bank branch and wait in line to deposit the $5 birthday check from Aunt Tillie (that's $2.50 in expense, calculated at 50 cents a mile) or you could slap the check on your dining table, call up a mobile app and, inside a minute, sned the image of the check to your bank or credit union.

    By federal law (the 2004 Check 21 Act), that image is as good as the real, paper product.

    Financial institutions, too, reap savings when you use MRDC. Some experts claim that the cost to a bank of a teller line deposit is $4. The same deposit made via MRDC costs maybe 40 cents.

    So why do some banks charge? Among those that do are U.S. Bank in Minneapolis, a top-10 bank. Also known to charge is Regions, based in Birmingham, Alabama, and KeyBank, based in Ohio -- both large regional institutions. Many small banks are also said to charge for MRDC.

    At Regions, customers are presented with a menu of fees for mobile deposit. Want the funds in the deposit immediately? That will cost you 1 to 3 percent of the check, depending on the type and amount, with a $5 minimum. Want the item processed that night, so it is available for items processed that same day? That costs $3. You'll settle for standard availability? That will nick you 50 cents. "Deposits made before 8 p.m. Central time will typically be available in two business days," Regions said. "Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays are not business days."

    At KeyBank, a mobile deposit costs 50 cents with many accounts. (Some get free MRDC.)

    At U.S. Bank, there is a fee of up to 50 cents an item.

    As for the rationale behind the fees, Leon Majors of Phoenix Marketing International's Payments System Practice said that some banks want to recoup their costs of offering the service. That's despite the money saved compared to the costs of using a teller.

    What should you do if your bank charges fees? If the fee is for a basic, straightforward MRDC transaction, think about changing banks. Said Majors: "Personally, I would look for a [bank] that offered the service for free (mine does), compare that to the cost (some people write almost no checks now) and then compare that to the hassle factor of changing financial institutions."

    But maybe not all fees are evil. Meara is a fan of the service -- as offered by Regions, for instance -- that will make funds deposited via MRDC available immediately for a fee. He explained: "We do think some banks have a good idea in charging consumers for accelerated funds availability as an option. This has been a big hit among small businesses, for example, that might get paid by check at the end of a job and need the funds immediately to pay workers."

    It might even be a good idea for some consumers. If your rent check will bounce unless that $500 loan from your brother -- paid via personal check -- is immediately credited to your account, paying $10 or $15 for fast access might be economically wise.

    The lesson: not all MRDC fees are entirely anti consumer. But if the fees rub you the wrong way, know that at the biggest banks -- Chase is a case in point -- and at most credit unions there currently are no fees for using mobile deposit. It's your choice.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor.

     

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    a woman with unpaid bills has...
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    By Stacy Johnson

    I get a lot of questions about the best way to get out of debt, but few about the morality of different choices. Here's a reader email that addresses the issue.

    My name is Jodi. I currently owe about $20,000 in credit card debt. I was told by a lawyer that I should file for bankruptcy. I don't feel right about bankruptcy because it's my bill and I feel I should at least make an effort with the companies to see if they could lower the amount so that I can consolidate the bills. Can you please educate me as to what would be a better deal for me? Your newsletters are very helpful.

    While dealing with debt is pretty cut-and-dried, dealing with the moral obligation to repay a debt is a bit slippery. The type of person you are, your resources and the type of debt you owe all play a part. Over the years I've met many people who agonized over the moral dilemma of filing bankruptcy and many others who never gave it a thought. Before becoming a consumer advocate, I believed that if you borrow money, you should pay it back, period. My opinion is different today. Now I believe, providing you've done your best, you should be more concerned about what best serves your financial interests and less about moral imperatives. This is especially true when it comes to debts like credit cards.

    When should you file bankruptcy? Something a bankruptcy lawyer told me in the course of an interview years ago stuck with me: Consider bankruptcy when your minimum payments exceed your ability to meet them.

    In Jodi's case, a lawyer has advised her to file. Granted, this lawyer isn't necessarily objective since he stands to profit from Jodi's case. But if the advice rings true to Jodi, she should probably follow it. If not, she should get a second opinion, perhaps from a credit counseling agency or another lawyer.

    Important: When you're reasonably certain you're ultimately going to have to file bankruptcy, do it as soon as possible. It makes sense financially: If you're going to have your credit card debt discharged in court, making monthly payments is just throwing good money after bad. It also makes sense emotionally, because the sooner you file, the sooner you can stop staring at the ceiling all night.

    What about negotiating with the creditors? Jodi is wondering if it's worth a try to call her creditors and see if she can negotiate lower amounts so she can pay her debts. The answer: Sure, why not? But while she can do it herself, I'd suggest she get a professional to help.

    A credit counseling organization can step between you and your creditors, set up a repayment plan and probably get some of your rates reduced and fees waived. Read more about that option here.

    A lawyer, like a bankruptcy lawyer, can help you negotiate a lump-sum payment with the creditor. In Jodi's case, for example, she could offer $10,000 today as payment in full for her $20,000 debt. The obvious problem is she'll need $10,000.

    There are also companies that offer to settle debts. They do this by instructing you to stop paying your creditors and send them the payments instead. When you've saved the necessary lump sum, they negotiate the settlement for you. The problem? Many are shady and charge high fees. Read more about that option here.

    What about your moral obligation? As I've already said, years ago, to me the answer to the question of "Should I pay my debts?" was simple: Of course.

    This is the way I was raised, Jodi was raised and if you had typical parents, you were raised: A person of honor meets his or her obligations. Your word is your bond. A person who reneges on his debts isn't to be trusted.

    But after nearly 25 years as a consumer reporter, this is no longer black and white. One reason: Many lenders expect you to have morals, but exercise few themselves.

    I can point to many examples: Credit card companies that double interest rates when you're a day late with a payment. Banks charging multiple $35 bounced-check fees if you overdraw your account by $2. Tax preparation companies charging triple-digit rates so you can have your tax refund a week early. Mortgage lenders lying on loan paperwork to get unqualified borrowers approved. Payday lenders, rent-to-own furniture stores and pawn shops that target the poorest and least educated in our society.

    Giant corporate lenders wouldn't hesitate to use bankruptcy to eliminate any obligation they have to you. In fact, some of America's biggest companies routinely use bankruptcy to get out of union contracts, retiree health care and other obligations.

    In short, the playing field isn't level. Because, while most people feel guilt when they fail to meet an obligation, corporations aren't people. They don't feel anything.

    None of this, of course, relieves you of your moral obligation to act responsibly and do your best. But when your best isn't good enough, there's no shame in taking advantage of a system that exists entirely to give those who deserve it a second chance. More than a million Americans use it every year.

    The Bottom Line

    If your debt problem arose from something beyond your control, like illness, injury or a job loss, there was absolutely nothing you could do to prevent it, so you have nothing to feel guilty about. Even if your problems arose solely from irresponsible behavior, if you have any sense at all, you'll hopefully learn not to repeat your mistakes.

    Either way, Jodi, you have more than an obligation to your credit card company. You have the obligation to protect your sanity, your future and your family by using the lawful system you support with your tax dollars. If it's your best path, don't hesitate to take it.

    And remember, should you feel guilty when you file bankruptcy, there's no law prohibiting you from repaying a lender on down the road. Bankruptcy only relieves you of the obligation to repay debts, not the ability.

    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 now.

    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.

    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!
    Need Help With Debt? Here's Where to Find It Free

     

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    FILE - In this March 13, 2015, file photo, a worker inspects a new 2015 aluminum-alloy body Ford F-150 truck at the company's Kansas City Assembly Plant, in Claycomo, Mo. The Commerce Department releases its October report on orders for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
    Charlie Riedel/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- Consumer spending barely rose in October as households took advantage of rising incomes to boost savings to their highest level in nearly three years, pointing to moderate economic growth in the fourth quarter.

    Anemic consumer spending did little do change expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month as other data released Wednesday showed a surge in business spending plans in October and a drop in new applications for unemployment benefits last week.

    As far as fourth-quarter GDP goes, that is likely to keep estimates close to 2 percent. That's enough to justify a rate hike as long as next Friday's employment report is not a disaster.

    "As far as fourth-quarter GDP goes, that is likely to keep estimates close to 2 percent. That's enough to justify a rate hike as long as next Friday's employment report is not a disaster," said Chris Low, chief economist at FTN Financial in New York.

    The Commerce Department said consumer spending edged up 0.1 percent after a similar increase in September. That suggests consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, has slowed from the third quarter's brisk 3 percent annual pace.

    The tepid rise in consumer spending could combine with an anticipated drag from an ongoing inventory reduction to hold the economy to around a 2 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter.

    But the economy, which expanded at a 2.1 percent pace in the third quarter, could get support from business spending.

    In a second report, the Commerce Department said non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, jumped 1.3 percent last month after rising 0.4 percent in September.

    Coming on the heels of data this month showing a solid increase in manufacturing output in October, it suggested the worst of the drag from a strong dollar and deep spending cuts by energy firms was over.

    Fed officials had held off raising rates at their last two meetings as they assessed the degree to which dollar strength and a slowing in economies overseas would weigh on the United States.

    "The surge in core capital goods orders could be a crucial signal that this important sector of the economy may be at a turning point, further bolstering the Fed's confidence in the sustainability of the economic recovery," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief U.S. economist at TD Securities in New York.

    Manufacturing, which accounts for 12 percent of the economy, has been slammed by the buoyant dollar and energy sector spending cuts. The greenback has gained 18.1 percent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June 2014.

    The pace of appreciation, however, is gradually slowing. Economists also believe that the bulk of spending cuts by oil field firms such as Schlumberger (SLM) in response to lower crude prices have already been implemented.

    U.S. Treasury debt prices rose modestly, while the dollar hit an eight-month high against a basket of currencies. U.S. stocks were flat.

    Wages Rising

    Economists say rising rents and medical costs are diverting money from discretionary spending. While consumer sentiment increased in November from October, households continued to fret over their financial prospects, another report showed.

    But as the labor market continues to tighten, there is optimism that wage growth will pick up and encourage consumers to loosen their purse strings and boost spending.

    A fourth report from the Labor Department showed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits declined 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000 for the week ended Nov. 21.

    Claims have now held below the 300,000 threshold for 38 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch in years, and are near levels last seen in 1973.

    Strengthening labor market conditions are gradually lifting income. The Commerce Department said personal income increased 0.4 percent last month after rising 0.2 percent in September. Wages and salaries shot up 0.6 percent, the largest gain since May.

    Savings increased to $761.9 billion, the highest level since December 2012, from $722.9 billion in September. Higher savings could over time buoy consumer spending.

    There was still no sign of inflation, which has persistently run below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target.

    A price index for consumer spending rose 0.2 percent in the 12 months through October after a similar rise in September. Excluding food and energy, the personal consumption expenditures price index was up 1.3 percent for the 10th straight month.

    In another report, the Commerce Department said new homes sales jumped 10.7 percent in October, which could allay concerns of a significant slowdown in housing.

     

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    A motorist fuels his vehicle Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Gilbert, Ariz. With Thanksgiving gas prices at its cheapest since 2008, the number of travelers is expected to rise. (AP Photo/Matt York)
    Matt York/APA motorist fuels his vehicle Tuesday in Gilbert, Ariz. With Thanksgiving gas prices at its cheapest since 2008, the number of travelers is expected to rise.
    By JUSTIN PRITCHARD

    LOS ANGELES -- An expanded version of America's annual Thanksgiving travel saga was under way Wednesday with gas prices low and terrorism fears high.

    An estimated 46.9 million Americans are expected to take a car, plane, bus or train at least 50 miles from home over the long holiday weekend, according to the motoring organization AAA. That would be an increase of more than 300,000 people over last year, and the most travelers since 2007.

    Among the reasons given for the increase: an improving economy and the cheapest gasoline for this time of year since 2008.

    On Tuesday, some travelers were gearing up for an early exit.

    Fanni Farago, 26, of Tempe, Arizona, sat in the Albuquerque airport with her sister Flora Farago, 30, while waiting for their parents to arrive from Dallas. The family was planning on driving to the mountain resort of Red River, New Mexico to revive a family Thanksgiving tradition.

    "My parents warned us about the travel warning so we decide to get started early," Fanni Farago. "And since it's so cheap to drive, we are going to rent a car to go up to Red River."

    Americans prefer auto travel because it provides more control over expense, trip distance and duration, said Susan Hiltz, AAA spokeswoman in Michigan.

    "Auto travel volume tends to be evenly spread out over the five-day holiday, but airports are especially busy on Wednesday and Sunday," she said.

    Anyone trekking to a major airport should factor in 50 extra minutes on the road, according to the traffic data company INRIX -- and that's just getting to the airport, never mind getting through security.

    Though there have been no changes to the nation's terror alert status, the recent attacks in Paris, West Africa and elsewhere prompted the State Department to warn American travelers about the risks overseas.

    On Tuesday, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, Peter Neffenger, boasted that the U.S. has the world's best aviation security and assured the public that TSA is "taking every measure to protect the millions of air travelers in the coming weeks."

    At the Phoenix airport, Teri Robert said the notion of flying from Arizona to West Virginia to see family gave her pause, but in the end she decided she had to go.

    "I'm not going to let the terror alerts and things stop me, because then they win," she said.

    Airfares have increased just 69 cents on average since last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies.

    -Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Corey Williams in Detroit, Brian Skoloff in Phoenix and Russell Contreras in Albuquerque contributed.

     

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    In this Sept. 29, 2015, photo, the Marvel Avengers Remote Control Hulk Smash XPV from Jakks Pacific is displayed at the TTPM Holiday Showcase in New York. The U.S. toy industry is expected to have its strongest year in over a decade, with anything robotic expected to help drive holiday sales. The growth is being fueled by the increasing popularity of toys based on Hollywood blockbuster films and better technology that allows toys to do things like talk back to children. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
    Mark Lennihan/APMarvel Avengers Remote Control Hulk Smash XPV from Jakks Pacific
    NEW YORK -- Which toys will warm the hearts of parents and kids for the holiday 2015 shopping season?

    Holiday toys hit the shelves in recent weeks. And so far, just as in the past few years, there's no single hot toy emerging. But anything "Star Wars," lifelike robotic pets and remote controlled toys should drive sales.

    As the holiday shopping season kickoff starts over Thanksgiving weekend, toy sales will heat up.

    The Associated Press has compiled a list of some of this year's expected hot toys and trends for 2015:

    'Star Wars'
    • The Black Series Kylo Ren Force FX Lightsaber by Hasbro: toy weapon makes light and sound effects. $199.99.
    • BladeBuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber set from Hasbro: system allows kids to customize weapons. $49.99.
    • The Force Awaken's BB-8 Droid by Sphero: remote-controlled robot that connects to an app. It changes expression and even perks up when given voice commands. $149.99.
    • Star Wars Millennium Falcon RC Quad by Spin Master: remote-controlled version of the iconic ship. $140
    Robotic Pets
    • Little Live Pets CleverKeet from Moose Toys: interactive, singing and talking bird. He responds to voice. $59.99.
    • Imaginext Ultra T-Rex from Mattel's Fisher-Price: robotic dinosaur that has sound effects, walks, stands and fires projectiles. $99.99.
    • FurReal Friends StarLily My Magical Unicorn from Hasbro: robotic unicorn with a horn that lights up. Also can spread and flutter her wings. It connects to an app. $119.99.
    • Smart Toy Bear from Mattel's Fisher-Price: plush bear that connects to an app and customizes based on the child's preferences. $99.99.
    • Bright Beats Dance & Move BeatBo: Press BeatBo's tummy or any of the buttons on his feet to activate fun songs. Parents or the baby can record a phrase that can be remixed into a song for language and communication skills. $39.99.
    Other
    • Kidizoom Smartwatch DX from VTech: smartwatch for kids that can take pictures and videos. $64.99
    Fast and Furious:
    • Nerf Rival from Hasbro: latest blaster under Nerf that has a trigger lock and high-impact rounds. $49.99 (1200 blaster) $24.99 (700 blaster).
    • Marvel Avengers XPV Remote Control Hulk Smash Vehicle from Jakks-Pacific: remote-controlled Hulk that smashes, flips and does wheelies. $69.99.
    • Anki Overdrive robotic car set: radio-controlled car set that works with an android or iPhone device. $149.99.
    • Paw Patroller from Spin Master: toy truck inspired from Nickelodeon's animated series "Paw Patrol" features a working elevator, a functional Command Center inside and sound effects. $59.99.
    • Pie Face from Hasbro: Kids put whipped cream or a wet sponge on the "hand" of the game and start turning the handle. It could go off any minute -- and splat. $19.99.

     

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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/APNew York Stock Exchange executive Douglas Foley and his daughter meet Santa Claus from the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on the trading floor before Wednesday's opening bell.
    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK -- The major U.S. indexes were virtually unchanged Wednesday at the close of a quiet trading day with gains in health care and consumer stocks after data showed U.S. modest economic growth.

    Trading volume was low as many market participants were away in the last session before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Markets will be closed Thursday and most of Friday afternoon.

    The news this morning was a little better than worse, so the market went up.

    "The news this morning was a little better than worse, so the market went up," said Peter Costa, president of Empire Executions, citing mixed economic data.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 1.2 points, or 0.01 percent, to 17,813.39, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 0.27 points, or 0.01 percent, to 2,088.87 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 13.34 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,116.14.

    Data showed claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected to 260,000 last week, while durable goods orders for October, excluding aircraft, increased 1.3 percent, far more than the 0.4 percent expected.

    However, other reports suggested consumers weren't in a spending mood, with consumer spending increasing just 0.1 percent in October compared with the 0.3 percent expected.

    The University of Michigan's final index of consumer sentiment for November also fell short of estimates.

    While investors cited good conditions for consumers, they were cautious about global security issues and the impact from the first U.S. interest rate hike since 2006, which is widely expected to happen in December.

    "With market valuations where they're at right now, there's potential downside if the next data point or global political event is negative," said Jeff Morris, head of U.S. equities at Standard Life Investments in Boston.

    'Swing Factor'

    Traders turned their focus to the crucial U.S. holiday shopping season, which starts around Thanksgiving.

    "That's going to be the key, the swing factor for the next couple of weeks -- how holiday sales shape up," said Michael Baele, senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank Private Client Reserve in Portland, Oregon.

    "When you consider the job market, low energy costs [and] low interest rates, the consumer's in pretty good shape."

    Four of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, with gains in the health care and consumer discretionary sectors leading the way, while the energy and utilities sectors were lower.

    HP Inc. (HPQ), the new company that houses the former Hewlett-Packard's printer and PC businesses, dropped 13.7 percent after its profit forecast missed estimates.

    Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), HP's corporate hardware and services businesses, rose 3 percent after it maintained its full-year profit forecast.

    NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 1,852 to 1,185, for a 1.56-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,853 issues rose and 947 fell for a 1.96-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 17 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 91 new highs and 42 new lows. Just under 5.2 million shares changed hands Wednesday on U.S. exchanges, well below the 7.19 billion average for the last 20 sessions.

    -Abhiram Nandakumar contributed reporting from Bangalore, India.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • U.S. financial markets are closed for Thanksgiving.

     

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    Never Skip This Home Winterizing Task
    Cleaning your gutters twice a year, can stop your money from going down the drain. Here's how.

    Clogged gutter systems overflow with rainwater and can damage the foundation of your home, costing you thousands in repairs. So how do you get them clean?

    It's easy. One clever trick is to use a leaf-blower attachment to blast the debris away. If you don't have a leaf blower, the next best method is using a garden cultivator to rake the debris away.

    Or, finally, you can do it the old fashioned way. Simply put on a pair of gloves, climb a ladder, and use your hands.

    This winter just remember: keeping your gutter clean can make your wallet overflow with savings.

    View Poll


     

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    Happy Thanksgiving greeting card
    Getty Images
    As Thanksgiving approaches, we think about all of the people and things in our lives that we are thankful for -- but how often do we think about being thankful for our economic good fortune? The 24-hour news cycle can make it seem like we are in a constant state of economic crisis. However, with some holiday perspective, we can see some of the more positive aspects of the US economy.

    Do you need some help getting into the optimistic mode? We are here to help. Consider the following bits of good economic news to put you in a thankful frame of mind.
    • Shrinking deficit -- We may still be increasing our debt, but at least we are headed in the right direction by decreasing our deficits. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the budget deficit for fiscal 2015 was $435 billion. That is down from $483 billion in 2014, and well below the trillion-dollar deficits of 2009-2012. As much as the sequestration was ridiculed, it can take some credit for the decreasing deficit via throttling back government spending.
    • Job growth -- According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States has reported a greater number of jobs every month since early 2010 -- 68 straight months of job growth in the private sector. Unemployment has reached 5 percent, the lowest it has been since February of 2008. It may be slow growth, but it is still growth, and that is certainly something to be thankful for if you have been unemployed at any time over the last few years.
    • Low gas prices -- The oversupply of crude oil has sent gas prices plunging to levels not seen in years. As of this writing, the national average price for a gallon of gas is $2.20 and is predicted to dip all the way to $2.03 in December before rising slightly. Compare that to the average national gas price of $3.68 per gallon in 2012. Even better, prices are expected to stay relatively low at least through 2016 with a $2.38 per gallon average.
    • Healthy stock market -- Stocks took a mid-year plunge resulting in a correction (a 10 percent loss in value), but the market has rebounded since then. It is back to the values at the beginning of the year with the Dow Jones Industrials near 18,000. For perspective, think back to Black Monday on October 19, 1987, when the Dow plunged 22.6 percent to reach a low mark of 1,738.70. Since then, the Dow has grown tenfold in value. You would have to go back almost four decades to find another tenfold increase in stock value.
    • Low inflation -- Low oil prices played a large role in 2015's near-zero inflation rate, but the rate has been relatively low for a long time -- averaging close to 2.8 percent over the last 30 years. For a contrast, consider 1970-1982 when inflation averaged 7.7 percent and hit a peak of 14.8 percent in March 1980. Inflation eats away at your purchasing power over time, and forces you to earn even greater returns on your investments to meet your goals for savings and retirement.
    History tells us that all of these positive conditions will change at some point, so enjoy these economic upsides while we have them. It is easy to be a cynic and a pessimist about the overall economy, but why dwell on the downside? Join the glass-half-full club and you will find plenty of things to be thankful for, whether the subject is economic factors or other life situations. We at MoneyTips wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

     

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    Woman Adjusting Bow on Gift
    Getty ImagesSpend Black Friday making a list of thoughtful gifts - instead of grabbing discounted items your friends probably don't want.


    Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- has become associated with a huge rush of shopping for many Americans. Stores offer a variety of sales, and people run to get discounted items to check off their holiday gift list or to get something new for themselves.

    For some, however, Black Friday has become an experience to avoid. The crowded stores, the sales on items they don't really need, the spending of money on unthoughtful gifts -- it adds up to an event that many people want to skip.

    Still, if you have Friday off from work, why not use it to prepare for the holidays in other ways? Here are five great ways to spend Black Friday without rushing to the stores and opening your wallets wide.

    Make homemade gifts. One great gift-giving strategy for the holidays is to make your own gifts. It's not too difficult to make batches of homemade soap, jams, custom stationery or even homemade beer.

    The real trick with homemade gifts is that they take time more than anything else, and that's exactly what Black Friday gives to many of us -- particularly when we're not shopping. Pick up your supplies just before Thanksgiving, then settle in with a good movie or some holiday music and spend the Friday after Thanksgiving making gifts for your friends and family.

    Write thoughtful holiday cards. One of the best ways to show your friends, professional contacts and family members that you truly care is a handwritten card during the holiday season. A simple, tasteful card with a thoughtful note on the inside that says something about the connection that you share is a spectacular way to maintain a relationship and show someone that he or she really matters to you.

    Settle in a nice workspace including a few pens, a stack of cards and envelopes, some stamps and your address book, and write a few dozen thoughtful cards for people on this Black Friday. Drop them in the mail, and they'll find their way to the important people in your life, giving them something to smile about when they check their mail.

    Make a truly thoughtful gift list. Many shoppers simply make a list of people who they need to buy gifts for and brainstorm ideas as quickly as possible, often grabbing thoughtless items at the last minute or giving generic gifts that don't match the recipient's interests at all. Nothing tells people that they were a footnote like giving them a thoughtless gift they wouldn't want or use.

    Spend Black Friday doing some thinking and research into the people you care about. Visit their Facebook pages, and see if you can figure out things that interest and excite them. What do they post about? What do they have listed as interests? Those will often lead you right to a great gift idea that matches the person well.

    Decorate your home tastefully and frugally. A festive home adds a special flavor and joy to the holiday season, but it often feels like an incredible chore to get out all those decorations and fill the house with them. It can also be a big expense.

    Take a different approach this Friday. Spend some time in a park gathering pinecones or other materials for handmade natural decorations. String popcorn or dried berries together. Teach your children how to make handmade paper snowflakes, and use them for decor. These inexpensive decorations can give your home a festive and natural look for the holiday season.

    Make a plan so you're not panicked before the big holiday. What are your plans for the holiday season? Are you going to have guests over? Are people going to stay at your house? Are you traveling? What kinds of meals are you going to be expected to prepare?

    Get a jump on these things now, and spend Friday figuring out exactly what you need to do. Then, come up with a plan for the month of December that allows you to get all these things done one step at a time. Give yourself some tasks for the first week, some for the second week, and then a few daily tasks after that, so that if you follow the plan, the holidays go off without any unexpected hitches or big expenses.

    You don't have to go out shopping on Black Friday to fill yourself with the holiday spirit. A day spent doing other things, like making homemade gifts or writing holiday cards for friends and family, can put you in the holiday mood without spending a lot of money on stuff you don't need and your family likely doesn't want.

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

     

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    How Warehouse Stores Get You to Spend More

    By Donna Freedman

    Everything is larger than life at Costco (COST), Sam's Club (WMT) and BJ's Wholesale Club: product sizes, shelves, even the shopping carts.

    Whether you're a family stocking the pantry on a budget or a soccer coach looking for post-game snacks in bulk, you can trundle some killer deals out the door.

    Yet we also have to remember that like any other retailer, warehouse stores stay in business because they know how to part us from our dollars.

    Following are six tips to avoid being trapped by warehouse stores' tricks of the trade.

    1. Ignore 'warehouse' decor. The floors are concrete. The beams are exposed. Stuff is stacked on plain metal shelving or on pallets.

    Here's what that spartan appearance says to us consumers: "They don't waste money on décor and carpeting and Muzak, so we're bound to get unbelievable deals."

    Generally, that's true. Just make sure that fear of missing a great price doesn't keep you from doing the math. Remember, too, that low prices might tempt us to buy stuff we don't strictly need.

    2. Remember that you are paying extra. Part of the reason we pay less is that we pay each year for the privilege of walking through the door. The annual fee offsets some of our savings.

    Generally speaking, the membership fee will easily pay for itself, especially if you're purchasing basics like over-the-counter medications, gasoline, tires, meat, dairy products and pet food. (See "10 Best Buys at Warehouse Clubs" for more information.)

    At times you can get a better deal at regular stores, especially when combining sales and coupons. (Hint: Sites like CouponMom.com and regional coupon blogs will do all the legwork.)

    However, getting a pretty good price consistently at the warehouse likely beats getting super prices every so often and so-so deals the rest of the time at supermarkets and drugstores. If you're the kind of person who doesn't want to fuss with coupons, warehouse stores might be for you.

    3. Don't buy food you can't eat. Large quantities are the hallmark of warehouse stores. But even if you really like an item, be honest: Are you going to be able to consume that much bagged salad, cookies or whatever?

    Put another way: I love grape tomatoes. They make a wonderful snack and of course they're delicious in salads. But we probably couldn't finish several pounds of the things before they rotted.
    If you're throwing food away, you're not saving money.

    4. Beware the deadly FOMO and WWLT. "Fear of missing out" drives a lot of irrational buying. Knowing that the inventory changes constantly might cause you to pull the trigger on a purchase even if you're not sure you need/want it.

    Just as bad is WWLT: "Wouldn't (whoever) love that?" You see the camouflage-printed jammies or the hardback mystery novel that would be perfect for someone in your life. (Like, say, yourself.)

    Come clean: Have you ever gone to Costco for milk, oranges and canned goods and walked out with a trampoline? It happens.

    If it's something you don't need, or something you want but can't pay for right now, then it's no bargain.

    5. Put on your track shoes. As soon as you enter the store, run. Do not be distracted by the bright shiny big-screen televisions, smartphones and all those other pretty toys by the entrance.

    If you've been wavering about making a purchase like this, the discounted price tag might be enough to convince you. But if that new iWhatever isn't currently in your budget, you've just made another decision: to carry a credit card balance or to withdraw money from savings.

    Much better to wait until you've saved enough to pay with cash.

    6. Be an informed consumer. The same consumer tactics you use everywhere else also apply at warehouse stores: Make a list, compare unit prices, and carry cash vs. plastic.

    And once more, with feeling: Learn the difference between wants and needs. Sure, that next-generation smartphone or giant-screen TV might improve your life, but it shouldn't do so at the expense (so to speak) of your everyday budget.

    How do you keep from being snookered into buying more than you really need at a warehouse store? 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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    Kiplinger Which States Tax Social Security

    Build a sizable nest egg? Check. Purchase a new set of golf clubs? Check. Plan for taxes on your retirement income? Chhhh ... Wait a minute. Plan for what?

    Lots of retirees are surprised by the big bite that taxes can take out of their savings. And depending on where you live, the tax hit can be especially painful. In fact, some states even tax Social Security benefits, the most important source of income for many retirees.

    The 13 states that tax Social Security are:
    • Colorado
    • Connecticut
    • Kansas
    • Minnesota
    • Missouri
    • Montana
    • Nebraska
    • New Mexico
    • North Dakota
    • Rhode Island
    • Utah
    • Vermont
    • West Virginia
    But just because a state taxes Social Security doesn't mean it's a bad place to retire. Overall, Colorado and West Virginia are actually tax-friendly places to live in retirement despite the tax on Social Security. Weigh a state's entire tax picture -- from income tax to sales tax to property tax -- to better understand how your money will be taxed and how you can budget for those costs.

    Kiplinger's tax maps can help. Check out the most tax-friendly states for retirees and the least tax-friendly states for retirees to identify your best place for retirement.

     

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