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    How to Be a Great Regifter (Without Getting Caught)

    Thinking of regifting this holiday season? You're probably not alone.

    A few years ago, 92 percent of those surveyed by the yard sale aggregator site said that recycling gifts was OK, and almost as many were pretty sure they had received regifted items.

    Done poorly, the practice can be downright insulting. Some of those surveyed reported receiving "gifts" such as 2-year-old fruitcake, monogrammed items (with someone else's initials), fingernail clippers and a used toilet seat.

    Then why regift? Several reasons:
    • It's a budget booster. Having a couple of great things you can give means two gifts you won't have to buy.
    • It's eco-friendly. Instead of buying more stuff, you are recycling unused items.
    • It busts clutter. It helps clear your house of items collecting dust. These regifting guidelines can help you from crashing and burning on Christmas Day:
    1. Make sure it looks new. Original packaging is best, folks. Something that's been sitting unprotected on a shelf has likely picked up grime and might have faded where the sun hit it. If it's been in the basement, it might smell musty.

    If you have to blow dust off it, pass.

    2. Remove any sign that the item is recycled. Flip through books to see if your dad underlined a certain passage and wrote, "This sounds like you!" in the margin.
    Check to see that your mom didn't paint your name and "Christmas 2013" on the underside of that hand-decorated ceramic snowman.

    In other words, make sure there's nothing to indicate to the new recipient that this wasn't purchased just for him or her.

    01/07/2007. Studio. Los Angeles. Story about regifting
    Getty Images
    3. Keep track of who gave what. I once read about a woman who gave a cookbook with a $100 bill tucked inside as a wedding gift. A couple of years later, the happy couple regifted that cookbook to her for Christmas.

    How did she know? Because the $100 bill was still where she'd placed it. (See "flip through books," above.)

    Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson suggests labeling items you receive with the date and the giver's name, so you don't goof up.

    He also advises keeping a running list of regiftable items to which you can refer when it's time to give a present. That's much easier than rummaging around in closets or dresser drawers, searching in vain for that journal or picture frame.

    4. Don't give garbage. Your practical-joker brother gave you a T-shirt with an offensive joke on the front. If you'd never wear it, why would you inflict it on someone else?

    Ditto items such as musical snow globes, self-published books of poetry, or bath products with overly strong fragrances. Maybe a secondhand store would take such things.
    If not, don't feel guilty about throwing them away.

    5. Don't regift handmade items. Your great-aunt put in a lot of time crocheting that pink-and-purple afghan. You don't have to keep it, but you shouldn't give it to someone else. That is, unless that person thinks you know how to crochet.

    Before throwing such things away, however, see if a thrift store will accept them. Or try to keep in mind that it was made with love and that an extra afghan can come in handy on chilly winter evenings.
    Either that, or sell it to a hipster who's decorating his living room in neo-kitsch.

    6. Don't regift 'gently used' items. Don't wrap up something you've already worn, listened to, read or watched.

    A book you've read a dozen times probably looks a bit dog-eared and might even bear a coffee drip on page 127. That cashmere scarf may look brand-new to you, but your sister might remember your having worn it last winter.

    And while some people love getting gift cards for the holidays, don't give a partially used one. Nothing says, "You're so special to me!" like being handed a Subway card with an $11.47 balance.

    7. Make sure it's a good fit. If your teenage niece is a die-hard video gamer, giving her a scented candle isn't the way to go. The relative who loves barbecue will likely fail to appreciate a book about vegan cooking.

    Imagine the tables being turned -- people who supposedly love you looking at Christmas as a chance to get rid of unwanted items, whether or not the gift suits you. Doesn't feel so good, does it?

    Got any tips on regifting, or any "regifting gone wrong" stories to share? Share them in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

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


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    Mortgage calculator. House, noney and document. 3d
    Getty ImagesThese factors will help you decide if its better to invest excess cash or pay off your mortgage early.

    Living debt-free sounds great, and depending on where you are in life it may actually be attainable. But even if you can pay off your mortgage early, should you?

    Although it may be tempting, first consider the opportunity cost of paying off your mortgage early at the expense of other goals or investment options, as well as the impact to your tax situation.

    Opportunity cost. By paying off your mortgage early, you'll save on the additional interest expense that would have been incurred in your regular payments. This savings can be significant, and will increase with the prepayment amount. However, by directing excess cash towards paying down a mortgage, those funds are no longer available for investment. The lower your interest rate, the less you stand to benefit through early retirement of debt.

    How can you decide whether it is best to invest excess cash or pay off your mortgage early? Consider the following example:

    Suppose the stated interest rate on your mortgage is 4 percent and you are in the 28 percent federal income tax bracket. Your after-tax mortgage rate is roughly 2.9 percent, perhaps lower if you can also deduct the mortgage interest on your state income tax return. For many investors, investment portfolios are constructed using a risk tolerance that carries a much higher annualized expected investment return than 2.9 percent.

    For some, the "guaranteed" 2.9 percent savings is more attractive than a higher expected market return, subject to greater volatility and risk. For those with a much higher after-tax mortgage rate, paying off a mortgage early likely becomes a more attractive option.

    Here are some other considerations:

    Taxes. For many, the ability to deduct mortgage interest is a key component to their tax strategy. Consider whether you will still be able to itemize deductions without mortgage interest.

    Investing. Realistically consider whether you'll invest the cash that would have been directed towards paying down your mortgage or spend it. Consider direct deposits into your brokerage account or increasing your monthly 401(k) contribution in an effort to "set it and forget it."

    Other needs. Aside from the ability to invest excess cash, are there any other more pressing goals on the horizon? Look at your whole financial situation including student loans, credit card debt and whether you have adequate emergency reserves.

    Life stage. The decision to pay down a mortgage will vary depending on your life stage, risk tolerance and time horizon. If you're nearing retirement you may have a more conservative asset allocation, and investing the excess cash in the market may mean taking on unnecessary risk. Being debt-free may also become more important later in life.

    Time horizon. If you are planning to stay in your home for the long term, it makes more sense to consider overpaying your mortgage than if you don't anticipate ever paying off the note.

    As you weigh the options, set realistic expectations and ensure the proper plan is in place to achieve your objectives. Discuss the decision with your financial adviser and tax professional before committing to a strategy. As with all financial goals, it pays to be flexible. If you're still unsure which direction is best or whether you have adequate reserves, think about opening a dedicated savings account for your excess cash flows and revisit the decision in three to six months. By separating the funds, you will be less likely to spend it on daily expenses while you consider the options.

    Kristin McFarland is a blogger for The Smarter Investor and director of strategic partnerships at Darrow Wealth Management, an SEC registered investment adviser in Massachusetts. The material contained in her articles is for general information only and should not be construed as the rendering of personalized investment, legal, accounting or tax advice. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.


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    financial growth plan for 2016...
    By Paul Sisolak

    From professional football player to speaker and financial coach, Chris Hogan has been a staple among personal finance experts. The money guru once worked as vice president of a mortgage company and later turned to helping people successfully manage their money. As a finalist in the 2015 GOBankingRates "Best Money Expert" competition held in collaboration with Ally Bank, Chris Hogan offers this money tip for 2016:

    The best thing you can do for your finances is to create a plan. Think about what your financial goals are and create a plan to reach those goals. The necessity of a plan sounds simple, but it is the one thing that many people overlook when it comes to their money. And a dream without a plan is simply a wish.

    Follow these five steps to apply Hogan's 2016 money tip to your life. From identifying key financial goals to paying down low balance debts, you can get your finances on track.

    1. Identify your financial goals. Hogan said it best: Without a plan, your goals are a pipe dream. In 2016, consider what you would like to do for the next few years, and how you can manage your finances to make your dreams come true. Whether you're saving for a house or car, as soon as you start mapping out what's in store for the new year, you'll see how much money you'll need to save and what other steps you'll need to take to reach those goals.

    Hogan suggested you set deadlines, allowing you to see upcoming milestones. Just make sure the budget you have laid out allows you to succeed.

    2. Set up a budget. Budgeting is one of the most essential parts of any money plan, yet about two-thirds of Americans don't have one in place, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. One essential step to developing a budget is to write out your monthly income and expenses, like rent, mortgage, car insurance and groceries, and compare them. Knowing how much you're spending in each category will help you identify where you're overspending.

    Cutting costs in certain categories, Hogan said in an ABC interview, is like getting a raise: "When you begin to give spending limits, it's like you've given yourself a raise. You've now given yourself some money you can begin to save or attack debt [with]."

    3. Tackle small debts first. As an associate of Dave Ramsey, Hogan is well versed in helping people reduce their debt. He suggested attacking low-level debt first: "The little $200 Home Depot store credit card? Knock that thing out, pay it off and get it out of your life, and then move to the next card."

    By paying off low-balance debts, you free up money you can put toward an emergency fund or other debts. By tackling debts with high interest, you also save yourself the money you would have otherwise put toward interest. Just be careful that as you free up more money every month you don't start increasing spending.

    4. Build up an emergency fund. One of the biggest elements of making a better money plan for 2016 is making room for an emergency fund. Hogan suggested opening a money market account, which can help your savings grow. "Once you get out of debt," he said, "you need three to six months of money, however much it takes you to run your household, tucked away in a money market account for that rainy day." If you're struggling to make ends meet, set up a jar in the kitchen or bedroom and dump your change in it at the end of each day. Over time that money can help you curb the cost of an unexpected repair or other emergency.

    5. Save for retirement even when you're behind. Thirty-six percent of American workers have less than $1,000 in savings and investments, not including their primary residence or defined benefits like pensions, according to a survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Sixty percent have less than $25,000 saved for retirement. J.P. Morgan, however, advises you have at least $55,000 saved for retirement by age 40 if you make $50,000 a year. By 50, you should have $115,000 saved.

    Don't worry if you've fallen behind in retirement savings. Even if you can't hit retirement savings checkpoints laid out by wealth advisers, the more money you save now will help reduce your reliance on Social Security when you're older. "There's still time on the clock," Hogan said in a YouTube video. "We just have to get focused." He advised you look to build additional income streams.

    Whether you tutor on the side or sell a unique skill you have, generating additional income specifically for retirement is a great way to catch up when you've fallen behind. As part of your money plan for 2016, look to eliminate small debts holding down your budget, establish spending goals and a small emergency fund, and start contributing to your retirement.

    This story, 5 Ways to Make a Better Plan for Your Money in 2016, originally appeared on


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    NEW YORK -- This week's back-to-back equities sell-off might have been a chance to ride a U.S. stocks rally towards the end of the year, amid the goldilocks economy scenario of a strong job market and falling oil prices.

    The S&P 500 rallied 2 percent Friday to eke a slight gain for the week, the ninth up week out of the last 10, after the U.S. economy added more jobs than expected in November in a show of the economy's resilience.

    The data likely paved the way for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this month for the first time in nearly a decade, while still keeping the U.S. central bank committed to a shallow and slow pace of increases.

    I see nothing on the calendar outside a geopolitical event that is going to make them [the Fed] change course at this point.

    "The story today in the U.S. is growth with modest inflation, which is great for equities," said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer, multi-asset strategies and solutions at Voya Investment Management in New York.

    "I see nothing on the calendar outside a geopolitical event that is going to make them [the Fed] change course at this point," he said.

    Markets have for weeks expected the Fed to raise rates after its Dec. 15-16 meeting.

    Earlier in the week, stocks sold off after the unwinding of short bets on the euro seeped into most asset classes. The euro posted its largest daily gain against the U.S. dollar in more than six years on Thursday after ECB President Mario Draghi's statement fell short of expectation for further easing.

    Some of the selling was related to leveraged funds that were likely forced to close positions as volatility jumped. According to Bank of America (BAC) research, these funds, which were heavily involved in the dramatic stocks sell-off in late August, had returned to the level of leverage they had prior to that downturn.

    Draghi said Friday the ECB could deploy more stimulus if needed, leading traders to reestablish short positions in the bloc's single currency.

    "In many ways he was trying to undo some of the damage from the perception that he didn't do enough," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

    In contrast to Draghi, she said, Fed Chair Janet Yellen isn't expected to surprise markets.

    "As long as she sticks to the script that she wrote the market shouldn't be shocked. The market is again factoring in the rate hike, today's good [payrolls] news should be good news that ultimately is a positive."

    Oil, Seasonality Support Bulls

    Adding to the strong job data as a bullish stocks catalyst, crude prices resumed their fall after news that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was planning to maintain its production near record highs despite already depressed prices.

    "The headwind of falling oil in 2015 in terms of earnings will become a tailwind in 2016," said Steve Chiavarone, associate portfolio manager at Federated Investors in New York, pointing to the benefits of lower oil prices for main street.

    "When you take a wide look at the consumer, not just retail sales, the consumer looks healthy."

    Retail sales data out Friday could confirm the upbeat state of consumers heading into the key holiday season.

    The end of year seasonality could also be supportive of higher stock prices. December is historically the best month for the S&P 500 (^GSPC) according to data from the Stock Trader's Almanac.

    "We should enjoy the rally and perhaps wait until we transition into the new year to focus back on fundamentals," Krosby said.


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    Close up of stopwatch on 20 dollar bills
    Getty Images
    By Cameron Huddleston

    Live the life you want without working all the time. That's the message of Tim Ferriss -- entrepreneur, angel investor, public speaker and author of several bestselling books, including "The 4-Hour Workweek." And it's helped him achieve massive success.

    Tim Ferriss is a finalist in GOBankingRates' 2015 "Best Money Expert" competition held in collaboration with Ally Bank. As part of the competition, we asked top finance experts to share their best money tips for 2016. The advice Ferriss offered gets to the heart of his message about living the life you want:

    The lifestyle value of each dollar you have is determined by your control of two other currencies: time and mobility.

    According to Ferriss, time and mobility are the currency of what he calls the New Rich. The New Rich are people he says use these currencies to take control of their lives to escape 40-hour workweeks without sacrificing their lifestyles. Here's how you can live a life of luxury without working yourself to death.

    How to Make More Money Without Working More

    Ferriss went from working 14-hour days to working four hours a week earning $40,000 a month. He writes on his blog,, that he "separated income from time and created my ideal lifestyle in the process, traveling the world and enjoying the best this planet has to offer." And he did it using the principles of DEAL, an acronym for Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation.

    Given that a Gallup survey found that the average workweek is actually 47 hours, you might have a hard time whittling yours down to just four hours. But by using Ferriss' strategies, you might be able to get more done in a shorter period of time and boost the amount you earn in the process.

    Define What You Want

    By definition, Ferriss means that you should define your ideal lifestyle. Ask yourself what you want to be doing, what you want to have and how much that lifestyle will cost you.

    This might be easier said than done. A 2015 University of Phoenix survey found that about 60 percent of working adults want to change careers, but nearly 40 percent of those adults aren't sure what other career to choose. The adults surveyed cited other barriers to change including lack of adequate education, lack of financial security and fear of the unknown, such as when starting a business.

    You might be able to test the waters of a new field before making a switch by looking for volunteer opportunities. Or look for a mentor in the field you're interested in to understand the requirements and help you find new opportunities. You can also explore your interests with free online courses on or on the websites of colleges and universities.

    Eliminate Time-Consuming Activities

    Once you know what you want, you can focus on Elimination -- getting rid of the static that interferes with your ideal lifestyle. One of the key things you should eliminate is an addiction to information, especially the need to constantly check emails.

    Using an autoresponder to let people know you only check emails twice a day can reduce unnecessary back and forth. And people who might reach out to you over email for help will be forced to be more solution oriented. By putting down your phone and establishing a set time to check emails, you can cut down on interruptions, allowing you to use your time more effectively.

    Automate Tasks

    Ferriss has said in interviews and written that you should automate and outsource daily tasks, such as making appointments, paying bills and even conducting research. He's recommended services like GetFriday, and DoMyStuff to find assistants to help put some aspect of his life on autopilot.

    He insists that you don't have to be a Fortune 500 company to outsource tasks. In fact, it can be a low-cost way to get a lot of work done by others so that you have more time to focus on tasks that will make you more money.

    Liberate Yourself

    This is where mobility comes into play in Ferriss' equation for living the life you want. "Liberation is not about cheap travel; it is about forever breaking the bonds that confine you to a single location," he wrote on his blog. Liberation and mobility is about how you spend your time.

    One way to untie yourself from a 9-to-5 job in an office is to work as a freelancer from home -- or coffee shop or hostel in a city or country of your choosing. More than one-third of the U.S. workforce does freelance work, according to a study commissioned by Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk. Although some just do it to earn money on the side, many make their living as independent contractors.

    So rather than focusing on working harder to get paid more, use time and mobility to your advantage to get the life you want. As Ferriss wrote on his blog: "Can you use the same principles to double your income, cut your hours in half or at least double the usual vacation time? Most definitely."

    This story, How to Get Richer Without Getting a Raise, originally appeared on


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    Secret Ways to Save Big Bucks on Amazon

    Millions of Americans are in love with shopping on It's terrifically convenient, and pricing can often be lower than in brick-and-mortar stores.

    However, if you know a few tricks, there are even bigger bargains to be found. Following are 10 secret ways die-hard Amazon shoppers shave even more money off store prices.

    1. Amazon Associates. Amazon Associates is the website's affiliate program. Every time you send someone to Amazon, you get paid a percentage of whatever they spend. It's really geared toward bloggers and small businesses, but according to Amazon:
    All you need to join is a Web site that does not violate intellectual property rights or promote sexually explicit materials, violence, illegal activities, or discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age.
    The key to making it work is to find a friend who is a regular Amazon shopper and also willing to sign up. You can't earn an affiliate commission on your own purchases, but you can on someone else's.
    So, the plan is that you and your friend both sign up as affiliates. Then, when you shop on Amazon, you use their affiliate link and when they shop, they use yours. It's an easy way to make up to 10 percent cash back on each other's purchases.

    2. Subscribe and Save. If you want to be sure you never run out of toilet paper or laundry soap, use the Subscribe and Save feature available on many household items.

    Basically, it works like this: You agree to receive regular, automatic shipments of certain products, and in exchange you get free shipping and a discount. The discount starts at 5 percent for a single item and climbs to 15 percent if you subscribe to five eligible items.

    Since you can cancel at any time, some people sign up for Subscribe and Save, receive one shipment at the reduced price, and then cancel.

    3. Amazon Prime. For heavy-duty Amazon buyers like me, Amazon Prime is the way to go. It costs $99 for an annual membership but you get free two-day shipping, which can more than pay for the price of the membership.

    Plus, you can borrow from an extensive Kindle library for free, and stream video for free. There's also free streaming music and free unlimited cloud picture storage.

    Maybe you aren't sure you spend enough at Amazon to justify shelling out $99. You're in luck: Amazon gives you a free one-month trial before they charge you -- a one-month trial that may be perfect for, say, the holidays.

    4. Deal tracker sites. Regular Amazon shoppers know that prices at the online store fluctuate all over the place.

    That's where deal tracker sites come in handy. Websites such as and can show you historical Amazon price data, as well as send alerts when a price on a certain item reaches a preset amount.

    Operations Inside An Inc. Fulfillment Center On Cyber Monday
    Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    You can price watch on your own by clicking "Save for Later" on the items that interest you. Creating a wish list is another option. Sometimes, if you put an item in your cart and leave it there for a few days, the price will drop -- presumably to entice you to buy.

    5. Amazon Mom. Moms are big business for retailers. The cost of all those diapers adds up quickly, but you can get 20 percent off a diaper subscription with Amazon Mom.

    In addition, Amazon offers a one-time 10 percent discount -- up to 15 percent for Amazon Prime members -- on select items from your baby registry 60 days before your child's arrival date.

    6. Amazon Student. Why should moms get all the savings? Poor college kids need a break too.
    Amazon Student is essentially a reduced-price version of Amazon Prime. For half the price of Prime, you get the same benefits, plus special student offers and promotions.

    You can also get a six-month free trial of Amazon Student compared with the 30-day trial offered to Prime members. During those six months, you don't get access to free video or music streaming, or the Kindle lending library. But with six months of free two-day shipping, it's hard to complain.

    To get an Amazon Student membership, you need an .edu email address or must be able to otherwise verify your enrollment status.

    7. Unearth the deep discounts. Every day can be like Black Friday on if you know where to look.
    • Used items. Amazon allows third-party sellers and individuals to sell used items through its site. Some of these "used" items are actually new and sold at a deep discount. Look for items that are eligible for free shipping. And shop carefully -- beware those penny books that come with $15 shipping and handling charges.
    • Deal of the Day. Every day, Amazon has a new deal. You can find it by clicking on Today's Deals next to the Amazon logo at the top of the page.
    • Lightning Deals. These are also found on the Deal of the Day page. They offer a limited number of deeply discounted items for only a couple of hours.
    • Outlet Department. The Amazon Outlet can be buried on the site and may be difficult to find unless you stumble upon it. Here's a direct link to the Outlet, where you'll find some of the best deals on new items.
    8. What's that all about? Aren't we talking about Amazon here?

    Sure, and Warehouse Deals is the quick link to Amazon's warehouse, where you can find all their refurbished and open-box items.

    9. Amazon freebies. If you watch our Deals Section, you probably already know that Amazon regularly offers promos including free music downloads, free apps, free e-books and free streaming video credits.
    In addition, look for items that come with built-in freebies. One of the most common deals to find on Amazon is a free instant video for streaming with the purchase of select movies.

    10. Get your swag on. Finally, one of the best ways to save on Amazon may be to go off of Amazon. A number of rewards and survey websites let you earn points that can be redeemed for Amazon gift cards. and are examples of sites offering Amazon gift cards. Another option is to shop through and get cash back on your purchase.

    What's your favorite way to save? Let us know in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

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


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    When to Sign Up for Medicare Coverage

    Many retirees rely on Medicare. Part A, which pays for hospitalization, is free. There's a monthly premium for Part B, which covers outpatient care, such as doctors' visits.

    You're eligible for Medicare at 65. If you're already receiving Social Security, you'll be automatically enrolled and receive your Medicare card three months before your birthday. If not, you must enroll yourself.

    You can sign up for Medicare without penalty beginning three months before until three months after your 65th birthday. If neither you nor your spouse has health insurance through a current employer, sign up for both Part A and Part B.

    Even if you're still working at 65, sign up for Part A. If your employer has fewer than 20 employees, sign up for Part B, too, since employee coverage generally becomes secondary to Medicare at age 65. Otherwise, you must sign up for Part B within eight months of retiring from your job.

    There's a lot more you need to know about Medicare, including other common Medicare mistakes to avoid. Kiplinger's special report on Navigating Medicare can help.


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    USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Close up of woman's hand putting money into jar
    Getty ImagesThe money you put in an annuity typically isn't available for emergencies or bequests.

    Investing can be scary, especially in the short term. When you retire, it's hard to watch the value of your lifetime of savings fluctuate as financial markets bounce up and down. Fear is a powerful sales tool.

    Immediate annuities are an insurance product that prevents you from losing money and offers the benefit of guaranteed payments. However, there is a catch with those guarantees. Many annuities aren't guaranteed to keep up with inflation, so the purchasing power of those guaranteed payments could decline over time. Tying up a significant portion of your money in an annuity also takes away some of your financial options and flexibility, because you can't always get the money back out easily. And some annuities are outright expensive.

    Here are some of the issues you could face if you invest your retirement savings in an immediate annuity.

    Inflation risk. Inflation has been artificially low for years due to manipulation by central banks and the slow growth patterns of the economy. As a result, many people have forgotten how inflation can reduce the buying power of fixed income payments and guaranteed rates of return.

    Inflation is a normal occurrence as the cost of goods and services increase over time. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, inflation hit double digits.

    A diversified investment portfolio has the ability to grow and provide a return above inflation. However, if you purchase an annuity in today's low interest rate environment, you could find yourself in a situation where your "guaranteed" rate of return isn't keeping pace with the rising costs of goods.

    It wasn't too long ago that the average rate of return on savings accounts insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. exceeded 4 percent at your local bank. With the Federal Reserve planning to increase interest rates, the risk of inflation should be factored in to any annuity purchase.

    Loss of flexibility. Putting a portion of your savings into an annuity means that it won't be available for current expenses or emergencies. Here's how you limit your options when you purchase a guaranteed rate of return from an insurance company:
    1. Penalties. If you change your mind or incur an emergency expense and want to pull your money out of an annuity, you're probably going to face surrender charges. You could find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being subjected to surrender charges that exceed 10 percent. The insurance company is able to provide you with a guaranteed return due to the restrictive nature of the investment that makes it expensive if you want to withdraw your money early.
    2. No legacy options. Fixed annuities provide guaranteed payments during your lifetime. But when you pass away the payments typically cease, and your initial investment is retained by the insurance company. In some cases you can buy additional insurance riders that act as life insurance and repay the principal if you die unexpectedly. However, this additional protection has an extra cost that can add to the annual fees and ultimately lower the return or guaranteed payment, which is why you likely purchased the annuity to begin with.
    3. Limitations. Some annuities are designed to mimic the behavior of the stock market. Equity-indexed annuities supposedly make money like the stock market without the risk of losing principle. However, your participation in the returns of equity markets is capped or restricted. It varies by policy, but the limits typically kick in around 8 percent. That may sound generous, but consider how much money you would have been shorted in 2013 when the S&P 500 returned 32 percent. Make sure you read all disclosures and fine print before investing in an equity-indexed annuity.
    High fees and commissions. Insurance products have multiple layers of fees. These can include mortality expenses, administrative costs and sales commissions. The fees can be steep. The Securities and Exchange Commission estimates that the average mortality expense is around 1.25 percent, and sales commissions are typically 5 to 6 percent.

    Annuities are complicated insurance products with strict limitations on the guaranteed income. Given the current low interest rates and potential for increasing inflation, annuities certainly won't be a good fit for everyone. Make sure the broker, agent or adviser you are working with truly understands your situation, needs and all of the investments available to you -- not just the products that are the most lucrative for them.

    Some tell-tale signs that you may need to seek a second opinion are:
    • A persistent recommendation of one product without clearly articulating (in easy to understand language) why it's the best fit for you.
    • A limited knowledge of the entire realm of possible solutions, such as fixed versus variable products and immediate versus deferred annuities.
    • Recommendations that don't make sense or that you can't easily understand.
    • Offering insurance solutions for non-insurance problems, such as saving for college, paying off debt or emergency reserves.
    Brian Preston and Bo Hanson are fee-only financial planners who host the podcast, "The Money-Guy Show."


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    Inside A J.C. Penney Co. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesJ.C. Penney is enjoying better than 6 percent growth, while Walmart, Kohl's and Macy's are all seeing stagnating or falling same-store sales.
    By Ryan Derousseau

    Describing 2015's stock market returns is like offering up reactions to toast with butter. [Meh. Yawn.]

    While 2015 had some cringeworthy moments -- like when China's market took a dive this summer -- for the most part, stocks are ending the year close to where they began, showing only a 1.5 percent boost in the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC). It's a far cry from the 63 percent return we saw through the three prior years.

    Consumer discretionary companies, however, offered a bright spot. As a whole, the sector rose 12 percent; consumers have more money to spare, thanks to lower gas prices and unemployment, combined with higher wages. It's a good time if you're a company selling cars, homes or apparel.

    But has the moment passed? With the Federal Reserve expecting to raise interest rates in December, tighter lending could persist. Although gas prices remain low, could oil soon become pricey again? And with seven-year long bull market rolling along, is it time for a correction? These are all primary concerns going into 2016.

    To navigate this, we talked to portfolio and money managers to help find bright spots within consumer companies that could show signs of life, even if these issues become a problem.

    American Eagle Outfitters (AEO). The Fed rate increase will certainly impact consumer companies. Historically, when rates move up, consumer discretionary and consumer staple companies perform the worst in the 12 months after the boost. But this isn't your normal rate rise -- unlike past increases, the Fed isn't "really trying to tighten monetary policy, but normalize it," says Brad Sorensen, an analyst at Charles Schwab (SCHW).

    Since rates are already at historic levels, the increase isn't to halt inflation, which remains low. Instead, it's to move the rates back to a normal level. While typical rate raises hurt consumer companies, this time around they may be spared. But that doesn't mean you should look to consumer-focused companies in droves. "We're advising clients not to get too aggressive," Sorensen says.

    Instead, it's time to get picky. One company that Jeannie Wyatt, CEO of South Texas Money Management, likes is American Eagle Outfitters. The stock fell 50 percent from 2012 to 2014 as teenagers shunned high-priced brands and American Eagle failed to control its inventory.

    But in 2014, embattled CEO Robert Hanson left and American Eagle closed 100 stores that performed poorly. It has done a better job of making sure it's not overstocked with clothes, creating a 17 percent return this year. Wyatt gives AEO stock a price target of $24, and the stock also pays a generous 3.1 percent dividend.

    Group 1 Automotive (GPI). While gas prices sit near $2, there's fear that they could rise in the next year, pinching consumer pockets.

    Don't expect them to change dramatically, though. Oil inventory levels remain high, which means there's an overabundance of supply. This has continued even as consumers pump more gasoline. Outside of a major Middle East conflict or military intervention, Sorensen doesn't see gasoline rising above $3 in 2016.

    But there's "not a lot of correlation between gas prices and consumer stocks," he says. That's because of other factors at play, like higher health care costs, which limit directly using funds saved from gas for mall purchases.

    It does, however, push people to buy more gas-guzzling vehicles that offer many auto companies higher margins. One company that Eric Marshall, a portfolio manager at Hodges Mutual Funds, likes is the dealership Group 1 Automotive.

    The average age of cars on the road is 11.5 years, a new high. When the economy struggled, people held off on purchasing new vehicles. And as improvements took hold, the last to feel the benefits were middle-class Americans. That has started to change, as wages increase and employment levels remain high. "We're still in the early innings of the replacement," Marshall says. "As long as employment is doing well, we think auto replacement consumptions will continue."

    Group 1 is cheap -- GPI stock is trading at 11 times 2016 earnings. That's below most of the industry, which trades 13 to 15 times 2016 earnings. Marshall has a price target at $110 for GPI stock.

    J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) The biggest drag on a number of companies heading into 2016 may just be their outsized performances over the past few years. But that doesn't mean the market won't grow. You just can't expect the large growth rates seen from 2012 to 2014. Sorensen expects growth next year of "mid-to-upper single digits."

    Finding companies that have much room to improve will be important since the ceilings for many stocks have already been reached. That can also mean taking a bet on companies that have struggled for years. Marshall sees that opportunity in J.C. Penney.

    In many ways, Penney's became a laughing stock of the retail world over the previous five years. Trying to adapt to weakening sales due to online shopping, it tried everything from marketing to higher end consumers, cutting back promotions and altering stores. They all dramatically failed. But now the company has gotten back to its roots with strong promotional plans, keeping its inventory at proper levels and cutting expenses.

    While Walmart Stores (WMT), Kohl's (KSS) and Macy's (M) all see stagnating or falling same-store sales, it's Penney's that has better than 6 percent growth. And JCP stock is positioned to go up. "It's been so bad for so long, it now has opportunity to gain back market share," Marshall says.

    The stock is priced at $8, which is the value that Marshall places on the company's real estate alone. A fair price for JCP stock, he says, would be $16, which offers growth in a market where there's little to find. "You're buying the real estate, but getting the retailer for free."

    Ryan Derousseau is a journalist with nine years of experiencing writing about investing and leadership issues. His work has been read in Fortune, Money, CNNMoney and Fast Company, among other publications. You can find more from him on Twitter @ryanderous.


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    GE Appliances Sold To Electrolux Of Sweden For 3.3 Billion
    Scott Olson/Getty Images
    GE has scrapped a $3.3 billion plan to sell its home appliance business to the Swedish company Electrolux, a deal opposed by U.S. regulators over concerns about competition.

    The Fairfield, Connecticut, conglomerate said that it will continue to run the business as it looks for other options to sell it.

    General Electric Co. offered no reason for its decision in a brief statement released Monday.

    Electrolux is the world's second-biggest home appliance maker after U.S. rival Whirlpool (WHR). The Stockholm-based company sells most of its products in the U.S. under the Frigidaire brand.

    The U.S. Department of Justice had sued to stop the deal in July, saying the combined company would dominate sales of ovens and other cooking-related kitchen appliances, especially to customers such as homebuilders, property managers, hotels and governments.

    An antitrust attorney representing Electrolux downplayed competitive concerns by noting that Asian brands like Samsung and LG have rapidly increased their share of the large appliance market over the past decade. The attorney also said huge retailers such as Home Depot (HD) and major homebuilders can pressure manufacturers to keep prices low and competition intense.

    Electrolux said Monday that it "regrets that GE has terminated the agreement while the court procedure is still pending."

    The Swedish company said settlement proposals that it considered to be reasonable were offered to federal regulators and would have addressed concerns about competition, but the Department of Justice rejected those proposals.

    General Electric has been selling parts of its portfolio as it pushes to focus more on core industrial businesses that make large, complicated equipment for other companies.

    It said Monday that it was entitled to a breakup fee of $175 million from Electrolux.

    GE (GE) shares fell 9 cents to $30.40 in premarket trading Monday about an hour ahead of the U.S. market open, while Electrolux shares dropped 11 percent in afternoon trading in Stockholm.


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    Non-Recyclable Keurig Coffee Pods Come Under Fire--And Continue To Sell
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    By Sruthi Ramakrishnan

    Keurig Green Mountain, the maker of K-Cup single-serve coffee pods, said Monday it would be bought by an investor group led by Germany's JAB Holding Co. for about $13.9 billion, creating a global coffee giant.

    The deal, pitched at a 78 percent premium to Keurig's Friday close, is the latest by JAB as it seeks to become a formidable competitor to world coffee market leader Nestle.

    JAB formed a joint venture in July called Jacobs Douwe Egberts -- now the largest coffee company -- by combining its D.E. Master Blenders 1753 business with the coffee business of Mondelez International (MDLZ).

    JAB, the investment vehicle of the billionaire Reimann family of Germany, bought U.S. coffee companies Caribou Coffee Co. and Peet's Coffee & Tea in 2012.

    Keurig's (GMCR) shares were trading at $90.05 in early trading Monday, short of the $92 a share offer.

    The stock last traded at $92 in May. Nearly 13 percent of the company's total float is held by short sellers.

    "The 78 percent premium should keep other bidders at bay," SunTrust (STI) Robinson Humphrey analyst William Chappell wrote in a client note.

    Keurig, which had lost more than 60 percent of its market value this year up to Friday's close, has struggled with declining sales of its single-serve coffee pods and brewers due to intense competition.

    The company's latest countertop device, a cold drink brewer called Keurig Kold launched in September, failed to excite buyers.

    Coca-Cola Co. (KO), Keurig's biggest single shareholder, said it would receive cash for its 17.4 percent stake in the Vermont-based company. The stake is valued at about $2.4 billion at the offer price. Coke's shares were little changed.

    JAB is acquiring Keurig in partnership with investors who are already shareholders in Jacobs Douwe Egberts, including Mondelez and entities affiliated with BDT Capital Partners.

    JAB's other holdings include controlling stakes in cosmetics company Coty (COTY) and luxury goods-makers Jimmy Choo (CHOO).

    The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2016.

    Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) and Credit Suisse (CS) provided fairness opinions to Keurig Green Mountain.

    -Martinne Geller contributed reporting from London.


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    close up of woman hands with tablet pc and money
    Getty Images
    By Liz Weston

    LOS ANGELES -- Earlier this year a tax pro mentioned the FileThis organizing app to me. Within seconds of installing it, I wondered, "Where has this been all my life?"

    I have tried an absurd number of software programs that promised to simplify, streamline and de-clutter our family's financial life. Most fell short, offering too little benefit, steep learning curves or both. A few insanely useful ones, though, made it to the mobile Hall of Fame, otherwise known as my home screen.

    If you are trying to get a grip on your money, you may find these to be helpful:

    1. FileThis. The app does what I frequently forget to do since going paperless several years ago -- download account statements.

    It also gives you an overview of your accounts and gives you bill due-date reminders.

    I use FileThis' free version to automatically fetch statements from up to six "connections" or links to financial institutions.

    I have multiple accounts at each institution, so I am able to track far more than just six accounts. The free version offers 500 megabytes of cloud storage.

    To get more connections and storage, you can pay $2 a month for up to 12 connections and 1 gigabyte of storage or $5 for up to 30 connections and 10 gigabytes of storage. Users also can opt to have documents downloaded to a number of other storage sites, including Dropbox and Evernote, or to their computers.

    2. ItsDeductible. We donate a ton of clothes, toys, books and household goods to local charities, but I always put off attaching values to the donations until our taxes were due and it became a big, unpleasant chore.

    The free ItsDeductible app from Intuit (INTU) allows me to record contributions as we make them and offers values for common items. I print out an annual report for our tax pro, although TurboTax users can download the information directly into their returns.

    3. DropBox. Accessing files from any device or location is essential for my work, but cloud-based storage also helps when we travel and in preparing for natural disasters. So I regularly upload travel documents, insurance policies, appraisal reports, home inventories, scans of old tax returns and other important paperwork.

    I used the free service for years but recently approached the 2 gigabyte storage limit and upgraded to 1 terabyte of storage for $99 a year.

    4. Mobile banking. I dismissed mobile check deposit as a fad until I actually tried it. Now I agree with financial planner Michael Kitces, who calls it "a crucial aspect" of his financial life.

    "The only time my wife or I have set foot in a physical bank branch for the past two years was to get a legal document notarized. It's glorious," said Kitces, research director at Pinnacle Advisory Group in Columbia, Maryland.

    All the other stuff my bank app does -- transfer money, pay bills, send alerts, find fee-free ATMs -- makes this one of my most-used mobile money tools.

    5. Mint. Intuit's free personal finance aggregator allows its 2.5 million monthly users to track their spending, monitor their credit scores and spot potential fraud by automatically downloading transactions from bank, credit card and investment accounts.

    It is also a favorite among financial advisers.

    "Mint allows you to combine all of your finances into one location so that you can take a high level view," said David Almonte, a certified public accountant in Providence, Rhode Island.

    If you are an active investor, you might prefer Personal Capital, which has a better free portfolio manager. I liked Personal Capital's elegant, ad-free dashboard. I didn't like, however, being emailed and called about signing up for its fee-based investment advisory service, which is the site's raison d'etre.

    While some worry about security with aggregator sites where you have to hand over your account login credentials, I am comfortable with these sites' privacy and security policies.

    As the victim of several database breaches, including those at Anthem (ANTM) and Sony (SNY), I know that staying offline is no guarantee of safety. Too much of our private information is stored in insecure databases over which we have no control. With these sites, at least, I have some choice over what I share.

    (The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)


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    Cash Payment Tips
    Getty Images
    By Stacy Rapacon

    With the New Year rapidly approaching, it's a good time to reflect on the past year and think about all the people who have helped you get through it -- and how best to show them your appreciation. "The root of the word gratuity is gratitude," says Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of etiquette empress Emily Post and coauthor of the 18th edition of "Emily Post's Etiquette." "An annual or holiday tip is an opportunity to really think about the people who are oftentimes the most important people in our lives."

    Your hair stylist, babysitter and trash collectors, for example, have helped care for you, your kids and your home, respectively. (See our comprehensive list of people you should consider tipping for the holidays.) It'd be nice of you to thank them.

    Emphasis on "it'd be nice." You shouldn't feel required to tip for the holidays at all. "It's not an obligation," says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "It depends on your budget. You really just want to tip the people that you really feel from the heart that you want to give to."

    And whether you want to or not, there are plenty of people you shouldn't even consider tipping for the holidays. As helpful as they might have been throughout the year, you shouldn't hand out cash or valuable gifts to:
    • doctors
    • lawyers
    • accountants
    • financial advisers
    Basically, no tips for financial pros of any kind -- not even your favorite personal finance writer (but I appreciate your appreciation!).

    These types of professionals typically earn a nice living without relying on or expecting any gratuities. They may even be insulted by such a gesture. "You're not going to give cash to these people; it would just not be appropriate," says Gottsman. "If you want to show them consideration for the holidays, certainly you can send, let's say, a tray of treats to the office."

    You also want to skip tipping your children's teachers. As much as they do for your kids, offering them cash may be misconstrued as some kind of bribe --perhaps to boost your kids' grades or gain them more personal attention. The same might be said of tips for the school principal or coaches. "It's hard to say don't tip them because they oftentimes seem the most deserving," says Post Senning. "But it can create a potentially awkward situation if some kids in class are giving their teachers expensive gifts and other kids aren't."

    Instead, Post Senning recommends giving deserving teachers a personal card, gift or treat -- even better if it's something your child helped make. "It's a great way to teach kids the value and importance of thanking people without putting the teacher in an uncomfortable position."

    And at your office, don't even think about tipping the boss. "You don't want to send any expensive gifts up the food chain," says Post Senning. In this situation, as well as for teachers, find out if you can get in on any group gifts.

    If you're a supervisor, don't give cash to your staff, no matter how much you want to acknowledge their work. A deserved bonus from the company, of course, would be great and happily accepted, I'm sure. But a little extra straight from a supervisor would be awkward at best. Again, a small gift or sincere note would be a better move.

    In general, be sure to check company policies before giving a tip or gift to anyone. Some organizations don't permit their workers to accept cash or extravagant presents. For example, the U.S. postal service prohibits employees from accepting money and limits gifts to a value of $20. "You don't want your giving to make somebody feel uncomfortable," says Gottsman. "When somebody says 'I really can't,' you have to accept that."


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    Money-Saving Items That Pay for Themselves
    If you're trying to live a frugal lifestyle, it can seem counterintuitive to spend extra money on products. However, certain items can actually help you save more in the long run. Here are a few to consider.

    First, think about investing in a slow cooker. The average family spends about $50 at a restaurant, and ordering out a few times a week can quickly add up, but with a slow cooker you only pay a fraction of the cost in ingredients to make a great meal. Just throw them in the cooker and by dinnertime your meal will be ready.

    Next, swap out your incandescent bulbs for cost-effective LEDs. Incandescent bulbs use more energy, costing up to eight times more on your electric bill. While LED's be a bit costly, they last up to 23 times longer, which means less replacement and less money spent.

    Finally, you can eliminate rental costs from your cable company by buying your own modem. Many people don't realize that they're being billed up to $10 a month to "rent" their cable modem. Instead of paying that fee regularly, invest in a modem that's compatible with your cable provider for about $100 and you'll break even in less than a year.

    The next time you're at the store, remember these money-saving products, because sometimes you have to spend money to save money.

    View Poll


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  • 12/08/15--21:00: 4 Golden Rules of Investing
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    4 Golden Rules of Investing

    Whether you're new to investing or a market veteran, these time-tested tips can help you build your fortune.

    Rule Number 1: Diversify. Since some investments zig when others zag, divvy your money across several investment categories, from stocks to bonds to real estate. Also diversify within categories. Diversification spreads risk and guards against a catastrophic decline in any one investment.

    Rule Number 2: Rebalance. Review your portfolio yearly to make sure your mix of investments hasn't strayed from your original goals. If it has, sell investments that have performed well and use the proceeds to invest in underperformers to regain balance.

    Rule Number 3: Dollar-cost average. Fear can cause investors to miss buying opportunities when prices are low. Euphoria can cause them to buy high. By investing the same amount in the same investments on a regular basis, dollar-cost averaging takes emotion out of the equation.

    Rule Number 4: Keep costs down. You can't control how much your investments earn, but you can control how much you pay to invest in them. Save by using an online discount broker, and stick with low-fee index funds and actively managed no-load funds.

    Read more about how to be a better investor in today's market.


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    Marissa Mayer on Yahoo's Future

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Internet pioneer Yahoo (YHOO), under pressure from unhappy shareholders and desperate to avoid a huge investment-related tax bill, will break itself apart - just not in the way it had previously planned.

    The company will now aim to spin off its struggling Internet business - essentially, everything associated with the Yahoo brand name - into a new company. Yahoo itself would then become little more than a holding company for its $32 billion stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

    For most of the past year, Yahoo had planned instead to spin off the Alibaba stake into a separate holding company called Aabaco. That corporate maneuver was designed to sidestep more than $10 billion in taxes Yahoo might otherwise owe. But the IRS jeopardized that plan by refusing to guarantee a tax exemption.

    The about-face could mean big changes for hundreds of millions of users who rely on Yahoo websites, services like email and other mobile applications. CEO Marissa Mayer plans to outline a cost-cutting reorganization late next month; many analysts speculate that Yahoo may simply sell off that business if the latest overhaul doesn't bear fruit quickly

    The uncertainty and reshuffling threaten more distractions at a time when Yahoo is already struggling in digital advertising against rivals such as Google and Facebook. It also may raise more doubts about whether Mayer will be able to turn around Yahoo, even though company Chairman Maynard Webb said Wednesday that the board of directors remains in her corner after three-and-half years on the job.

    "The bottom line is the saga continues," Macquarie Securities analyst Ben Schachter wrote in a Wednesday note titled "The Never-Ending Story."

    Yahoo's new spinoff plan could be even more complicated than the original Aabaco spinoff. It may take more than a year before Yahoo shareholders get stock in a newly formed company that has yet to be named.

    "This means they have squandered an entire year and now it's going to take another year while the core business continues to get weaker," BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said.

    With Yahoo hanging in limbo, prospective bidders could emerge for the company's Internet operations, which Wall Street has been valuing at next to nothing. Analysts believe Yahoo's websites, mobile applications, ad services and well-known brand eventually could be worth $3 billion to $5 billion. Suitors might include AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications, Comcast Corp., IAC/InterActiveCorp and private equity firms that specialize in buying troubled companies.

    Webb, though, emphasized there are no plans to sell Yahoo's Internet business, which he called "tremendously undervalued" in a Wednesday conference call. The best path forward, Webb said, involves "separating the Alibaba assets from our operating businesses and also turning around the performance in our operating business."

    Those remarks seemed to disappoint investors hoping that Yahoo's latest change in course might be a precursor to a sale. Yahoo's stock fell $1.19, or 3.4 percent, to $33.67 in Wednesday's afternoon trading. The company's stock has fallen by about 33 percent so far this year.

    Yahoo's board met last week to review Mayer's stalled turnaround attempts, as well as whether to move ahead with the previously planned Alibaba spinoff. Although the board unanimously voted in favor of dropping the spinoff, it emerged from last week's meeting with one less director. The company disclosed Wednesday that Paypal co-founder Max Levchin, a director recruited by Mayer, is resigning from the board to concentrate on running his latest financial services startup.

    Mayer said she believes Yahoo's Internet business in significantly better shape than when she arrived, largely because it is pulling in more traffic and advertising in the increasingly important smartphone and tablet market. Even so, Yahoo's net revenue declined by 8 percent from the prior year in the third quarter and an even steeper decline is forecast for the current quarter ending in December.

    When Yahoo announces those fourth-quarter results next month, Mayer also plans to unveil a shake-up that is supposed to jettison the company's least profitable products and likely will lead to layoffs.

    It will be the latest overhaul of a company that is now on its fifth full-time CEO in the past decade, all of whom have struggled to define what Yahoo's mission should be. In the backdrop, Yahoo also has had to ward off a hostile takeover bid from Microsoft Corp. and quell shareholder uprisings spearheaded by activist investors Carl Icahn and Daniel Loeb. Another activist shareholder, Jeff Smith of the New York hedge fund Starboard Value, had threatened to lead a mutiny if Yahoo's board hadn't backed off from the Alibaba spinoff.

    "The narrative around Yahoo and our valuation is complicated," Mayer said Wednesday during an appearance on the financial news channel CNBC.

    The handling of the Alibaba stake is crucial to Yahoo shareholders because of the money involved. If Yahoo is taxed on the gains in its original $1 billion investment, the bill would exceed more than $10 billion.

    Yahoo also owns a stake in Yahoo Japan that's worth $7 billion to $8 billion. The revised plan calls for the Yahoo Japan holdings to move into the new company that will house its Internet operations.


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    Where's The Money? Getting Your Finances in Order

    We all know the drill by now: Make a New Year's resolution to lose weight or reduce spending or finally finish that novel. Fail in miserable fashion. Feel bad about yourself and scarf down a tub of double-chocolate ice cream.

    It is enough to make you want to throw your hands up and not make resolutions at all. Like Cheryl Chen, a freelance writer in southern California.

    "I used to do New Year's resolutions, and then never kept them," said Chen, 27, who stopped making resolutions altogether around three years ago. "I don't see the point in all the pressure. Everyone is always asking about them."

    But before you swear off resolutions forever, check out new data from mutual fund manager Fidelity Investments. Fidelity's just-released New Year's Resolutions study discovered that making financial resolutions does, in fact, help get your fiscal house in order.

    In fact, of those who nearly or completely achieved their resolution for this year, 56 percent said their finances had improved. Of those who fell short, only 34 percent reported better money circumstances.

    "Financial resolutions are actually relatively easy to achieve," said John Sweeney, Fidelity's executive vice president for retirement and investing strategies. "With diet or exercise, you have to get up every single morning and resolve all over again, but with something like a 401(k) payroll deduction, you just set it up once at the beginning of the year, and then it becomes part of your lifestyle."

    In the Fidelity survey, 37 percent of those surveyed planned on making financial resolutions for Jan. 1, up from 31 percent last year.

    The top three financial resolutions: "saving more," cited by 54 percent of respondents; "spending less," with 19 percent, and "paying off debt," with 16 percent.

    The secret fears driving those money resolutions? Most said unexpected expenses, the economy and healthcare costs in retirement.

    All the financial pledges in the world will not mean a thing if you have no firm strategy for how to pull them off. So how do you go from resolution to actual achievement?

    It comes down to forming an action plan.

    "If it's a few seconds to New Year's and you're just throwing something up in the wind, then it's not going to work," said Dr. John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton who has conducted multiple studies on the subject. "It requires preparation. You have to be serious about the endeavor."

    For those who are dedicated to their goal, the statistics are pretty impressive: Norcross found that 46 percent of people were able to keep their resolution for at least six months.

    "We actually stopped doing the study, because we found the exact same thing every time," Norcross said. "People should be comforted that achieving your resolutions is possible."

    His main trick for success? Deliberately design your life so that you are more likely to succeed and not just rely on willpower alone. That means making realistic and attainable goals, publicly declaring them so that others will encourage and help you, and rewarding yourself for your successes.

    It also means tracking your progress, avoiding environments where you will fail (if you are trying to lose weight, don't walk by that French patisserie), and allowing yourself the occasional slip-up, Norcross said. Draw up a specific plan in place for when you screw up, and gobble down a donut or two.

    After about three months, the new routine will have taken over and your behaviors will become automatic.

    Watch more coverage below:

    Need Help Managing Your Finances? There's an App for That


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    Police Raid Home of Rumored Bitcoin Founder

    Australian police raided the Sydney home and office on Wednesday of a man named by Wired magazine as the probable creator of bitcoin and holder of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the cryptocurrency, Reuters witnesses said.

    More than a dozen federal police officers entered a house registered on the electoral roll to Craig Steven Wright, whom Wired outed as the likely real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous figure that first released bitcoin's code in 2009.

    Locksmiths broke open the door of the property, in a suburb on Sydney's north shore. When asked what they were doing, one officer told a Reuters reporter they were "clearing the house".

    A reporter who approached an office listed as the location of two of Wright's registered businesses, DeMorgan Ltd and Panopticrypt Pty Ltd, in another Sydney suburb, was turned away by police with one officer saying: "There's an operation going on at the moment, I can't answer any questions." Several police officers could be seen speaking with workers inside.

    The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has long been a mystery that journalists and bitcoin enthusiasts have tried to unravel.

    The police raids in Australia came hours after Wired magazine and technology website Gizmodo published articles saying that their investigations showed Wright, an entrepreneur and academic, was most probably the secretive bitcoin creator.

    Wright is the chief executive of Australian-registered DeMorgan Ltd, which he describes on his Linkedin page as "a pre-IPO Australian listed company focused on alternative currency".

    The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said in a statement that the officers' "presence at Mr. Wright's property is not associated with the media reporting overnight about bitcoins".

    The AFP referred all inquiries about the raids to the Australian Tax Office, which said it could not comment on "any individual's or entity's tax affairs" due to legal confidentiality.

    Emails to various addresses listed for Wright did not receive a reply.

    The Wired and Gizmodo investigations were based on leaked emails, documents and web archives, including what was said to be a transcript of a meeting between Wright and Australian tax officials.

    "Either Wright invented bitcoin, or he's a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did," Wired said.

    Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the documents and transcripts quoted in the reports.


    At Wright's rented home, a modest brick house in the leafy middle class suburb of Gordon, three police workers wearing white gloves could be seen searching the garage, which contained gym equipment.

    A man who identified himself as the owner of the house, Garry Hayres, told Reuters that Wright and his family had lived there for a year, and were due to move out on Dec. 22 to move to Britain.

    Hayres said that Wright had a "substantial computer system set-up" and had attached a "three-phase" power system to the back of the house for extra power.

    Police personnel at Wright's office in nearby Ryde wore shirts tagged "Computer Forensics". A fellow business tenant at the building, who declined to be named, said Wright had not been seen there in the past week.

    Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym of the person or group of people who authored the paper, protocol and software that gave rise to bitcoin.

    The New York Times, Newsweek and other publications have guessed at Nakamoto's real identity, but none has proved conclusive.

    Newsweek identified a Japanese-American called Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto in March 2014, but he has steadfastly denied being the author of cryptocurrency.

    Uncovering Nakamoto's real identity would be significant, not just to solving a long-standing riddle, but for the future of the world's most commonly used virtual currency.

    Unlike traditional currency, bitcoins are not distributed by a central bank or backed by physical assets like gold, but are "mined" by users who use computers to calculate increasingly complex algorithmic formulas.

    As an early miner of bitcoins, Nakamoto is also sitting on about 1 million bitcoins, worth more than $400 million at present exchange rates, according to bitcoin expert Sergio Demian Lerner.

    The treatment of bitcoin for tax purposes in Australia has been the subject of considerable debate. The ATO ruled in December 2014 that cryptocurrency should be considered an asset, rather than a currency, for capital gains tax purposes.

    Australia's major banks announced in September they were closing accounts of bitcoin companies, forcing at least 13 digital currency providers out of business in response to tougher rules on money laundering and terrorism financing.

    A Reuters investigation in October found that Australian businesses were turning their backs on bitcoin as the banks' move accelerated a trend by mainstream businesses to drop the currency.

    Watch more coverage:

    Bitcoin: The Satoshi Nakamoto Riddle


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    Citadel's Griffin Backing Rubio for President

    WASHINGTON, Dec 9 (Reuters) -- Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin of Citadel will support Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for president in 2016, the billionaire said in a statement on Wednesday.

    "Senator Rubio is uniquely qualified to lead our nation with conviction and courage to tackle the pressing issues of our time," Griffin said, citing strengthening the U.S. military and reducing the size of government as key challenges.

    Griffin will raise money for Rubio and contribute "several million dollars" to an outside group supporting him, according to CNBC, which first reported the billionaire's plans.

    Citadel spokesman Zia Ahmed confirmed those plans.

    Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio, confirmed that Griffin would back the senator but gave no details about his involvement. A spokesman for Rubio's Super PAC did not respond to a request for comment.

    Rubio has lagged some Republican opponents in fund-raising, coming in behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in the last quarter.

    But Rubio has picked up some big-time backers recently. Another billionaire, investor Paul Singer, threw his support behind Rubio and sent a letter to other donors in October urging them to back the lawmaker.


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    Retirement Fund


    Contributing to a retirement account qualifies you for tax breaks and employer contributions, both of which will grow your nest egg faster. Here's how to take full advantage of the 401(k) and individual retirement account perks you're eligible for in 2016.

    Max out your 401(k). Workers can contribute up to $18,000 to their 401(k) plans in 2016. To completely max out this account, you will need to save $1,500 per month or $750 per twice monthly paycheck. A worker in the 25 percent tax bracket who tucks the full amount into a 401(k) plan will save $4,500 on his federal income tax bill. Retirement savers in the 35 percent tax bracket will save $6,300 on the same contribution. Income tax won't be due on this money until it is withdrawn from the account. And if you drop into a lower tax bracket in retirement, you will pay that lower rate on the distributions. If you withdraw that $18,000 while in the 15 percent tax bracket, you will only ultimately pay $2,700 on that contribution.

    Make catch-up contributions. Workers age 50 and older can contribute an additional $6,000 to a 401(k) plan in 2016, for a total contribution of $24,000. "If you will turn 50 this year, that's an additional $6,000, and it's all deferred income from taxes," says Helga Cuthbert, a certified financial planner for Cuthbert Financial Guidance in Decatur, Georgia. Hitting this 401(k) limit requires saving $2,000 per month. Saving this much will reduce your tax bill by $6,000 if you are in the 25 percent tax bracket and $8,400 if you pay a 35 percent federal income tax rate.

    Get an employer match. If you can't save enough to take full advantage of the 401(k) tax deduction, at least aim to save enough to claim any matching funds your employer offers. If your company provides a 401(k) match up to 6 percent of pay, remember to set up withholding for that amount. This means saving $200 per month if you are earning $50,000 and $500 monthly if your salary is $100,000. Some companies automatically enroll employees in the plan at 3 percent of pay, and you will need to take action to adjust your withholding if you want to take full advantage of the match. "If you get a raise next year, I would increase your savings rate now so your take home pay is the same as it was before the raise, and instead put that money in your company retirement plan," says Francine Duke, a certified financial planner for Aqua Financial Planning in Chicago. "You won't even notice the difference."

    Take full advantage of IRAs. In addition to saving in a 401(k), you can defer income tax on another $5,500 that you contribute to an IRA in 2016. Workers age 50 and older are eligible to contribute an extra $1,000 for a total of $6,500. Maxing out an IRA requires saving $458 per month if you are 49 or younger and $542 per month for those 50 and older. If you have a 401(k) account at work, you won't be able to claim the full tax deduction for an IRA contribution if your modified adjusted gross income is between $61,000 and $71,000 ($98,000 to $118,000 for married couples), or any deduction if your income tops these amounts. If you are married to someone with a retirement account, the tax deduction for IRA contributions is phased out for couples earning between $184,000 and $194,000 in 2016.

    Consider a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs have the same contribution limits as traditional IRAs, but the tax treatment is different. There's no tax deduction for Roth IRA contributions, but the investment earnings in the account aren't taxed and withdrawals after age 59 1/2 are tax-free. "You can just let that Roth IRA grow in value tax-free and use it as a source to take out money later in life," says Chris Falvello, a certified financial planner for Navigate Financial Advisors in Ocean View, Delaware. "You get the money back tax-free." Roth IRA eligibility phases out for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is between $117,000 and $132,000 ($184,000 to $194,000 for married couples).

    Claim the saver's credit. If you save in a retirement account and your adjusted gross income is less than $30,750 for individuals, $46,125 for heads of household and $61,500 for married couples, you might be eligible to claim the saver's credit. Contributions of up to $2,000 ($4,000 for couples) could earn you a tax credit worth between 10 and 50 percent of your retirement account deposit.


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