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    Most Americans Give Gifts Over Experiences: Survey


    By

    A gift card is an easy choice if you want to treat friends and co-workers this holiday season --but your card may be third or fourth one that someone receives if you choose a crowd-pleaser like Starbucks cards.

    If you want your present to stand out and be remembered, consider giving the gift of choice. Here are some cards that will allow the people on your list to choose something they really want from among hundreds or millions of items.

    1. Multimedia online stores: Google Play and iTunes App Store

    When you don't know which type of media -- mobile apps, music, games, TV shows, movies or e-books -- someone likes most, Apple and Google gift cards can satisfy almost any preference. Their online stores have extensive lists of apps as well as well-rounded multimedia collections.

    Google Play and Apple's iTunes gift cards, which have no fees, are limited to online purchases, so they can't be used on accessories, phones or tablets. These cards may be particularly attractive to adults ages 18 to 24: Over 55 percent of them want books, video games, DVDs and CDs for the holidays, the highest percentage of all age groups, according to an October National Retail Federation survey.

    2. Restaurants: OpenTable and Restaurant.com

    Food is also a huge part of the holidays, and the NRF found out that restaurant gift cards are the most popular type of gift card overall. But instead of buying a card for a single restaurant, buy one that works at many.

    Restaurant reservation company OpenTable and digital marketing website Restaurant.com both sell gift cards that can be used to foot the bill at diners, bistros and other eateries across the U.S. The people who receive your gift cards can redeem them online for a certificate from the restaurant of their choice.

    Both companies work with thousands of restaurants nationwide -- OpenTable cites over 3,500 restaurants and Restaurant.com over 20,000 -- but neither guarantees that all venues on their listings are available. Restaurant.com also provides deals on these cards; for example, a $50 gift card is available for $20 on their site. Although there are no purchase fees for the gift cards themselves, note that users may be required to spend more than the gift card amount at restaurants.

    3. Retail giants: Amazon and Wal-Mart

    If you want to provide a wider selection of products with your gift card, try some of the biggest retailers out there. Amazon and Wal-Mart gift cards don't have purchase fees, and they can be redeemed online.

    Apart from selling millions of items, these two retail giants offer gift card features that might not be available from other retailers. Wal-Mart cards can be loaded with up to $1,000, and recipients can consolidate multiple Wal-Mart gift cards for purchasing items. Amazon's gift card can hold up to $2,000, and you can schedule the day it lands in the recipient's email inbox. Unlike most gift cards, both of these offer reload options.

    4. Bank gift cards: Visa, MasterCard and American Express

    For maximum flexibility and choice, you can buy general-purpose gift cards. These can be used at millions of merchants nationwide, wherever the payment network is accepted. The cards act much like debit cards, but you can't get cash from them or reload them. If you want to give someone the most buying options, this type of gift card is easily the best choice.

    These cards do tend to have one or two fees. Visa and MasterCard gift cards often don't have purchase fees when obtained at banks and credit unions, but there are charges for card replacements and inactivity after one year. When you buy either of those two cards at retailers or on websites, there is generally a $3 to $7 purchase fee but no subsequent costs for use, inactivity or card replacements.

    American Express gift cards aren't available at banks or credit unions, but you can find them at major retailers or online; they have a similar purchase fee. As with any gift card, funds never expire; but the card itself can, meaning the recipient will need to request a replacement if it goes unused past its expiration date.

    If you want to give someone more choices than a peppermint mocha or a caramel brulée latte this season, these four types of gift cards are the ticket. Together, they offer as close to an infinite number of choices as you can get.

     

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    401k savings plan
    Shutterstock
    By Ryan Ermey

    BrightScope recently identified the industries with the best 401(k) plans. Which industries came out on top?

    Our rating system is based on how quickly the average participant in a given 401(k) plan is going to accumulate the money we believe someone needs to retire comfortably within his or her industry. Law firms, utilities, mining companies and airlines were top scorers because they typically offer plans with low fees and some form of profit-sharing. Employees in these industries are highly educated and well paid. They tend to contribute at a higher rate than do employees in lower-ranked plans, and they let those dollars grow over time.

    How can I tell if my company's 401(k) plan isn't up to snuff?

    High plan fees are a red flag. But remember that fees vary depending on plan size, industry and other factors. And fees pay for services; a 24-hour help line through which employees can get great advice may be worth the money. Also, the investment menu should meet your needs. If you're nearing retirement, for example, make sure there are investment options that will get you there securely -- for instance, a low-volatility fixed-income investment such as a stable-value fund.

    Haven't people sued their employers for offering funds in expensive share classes?

    The onus is on the company to provide the best plan possible. But if you work for a small company, expensive share classes may be all that your plan provider can afford. The smaller the value of the assets, the more you pay in fees.

    What recourse do you have if you're not happy with your plan?

    Search for your company plan on BrightScope.com and compare the plan's price and performance with those of similarly sized companies in the same industry. If your plan doesn't measure up, present your concerns to the plan sponsor, usually someone in the human resources department. He or she has the legal duty to manage the plan responsibly, but might not even know that the plan is problematic.

    What if everything is above-board, but your plan still stinks?

    Do the math and determine whether it's worth it to be part of the plan. Investing enough to get an employee match, for instance, probably is. If investing beyond that amount isn't worth it, consider an IRA. You can't contribute as much as you can to a 401(k), but you still get the power of tax-deferred compound growth. That's a big win.

     

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    Senior African American couple paying bills
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    By

    Retirement sounds like fun, doesn't it? It can be. But it also involves a major change in your life, and therefore represents a stressful transition. On the "life events scale" used by psychologists to determine stress levels, retirement is rated as the 10th most stressful event you can experience - behind the death of a spouse, divorce or a jail term, but ahead of the addition of a new family member, the death of a close friend or foreclosure on your home.

    In addition, other stressful events may occur at about the same time. Your spouse may also be retiring, or there may have been a change in your health. Or perhaps you're moving. All these events add to your stress levels. The way to cope is to anticipate what will happen, make some plans and then don't harbor any regrets for what you've left behind. Here's how to look ahead to the opportunities in front of you.

    It's a big change. First of all, accept the fact that you are making a big move. It's normal to feel a little apprehensive as you start a new phase of life, so don't beat yourself up about it. You are no longer on the clock. You are free to do what you want. There are no more meetings, sales calls or work-related travel. So remind yourself that, once you get settled, the lifestyle you are about to embrace should be easier and less stressful than your work life, and is often more personally fulfilling.

    There's a lot of excitement. Retirement is something most of us have been looking forward to for years. We've been anticipating the road ahead and are about to embark on a journey that is entirely of our own making. The opportunities are endless and perhaps a bit daunting. There is no more commute, schedule or limits at all, except the ones you put on yourself. Excitement adds to stress. But just remember, you're not throwing out the entire script of your life, just turning the page to a new chapter. Yes, it's a big change, but you're still grounded in your family, friends and your own self-identity.

    You're faced with a new challenge. Retirement brings many unknowns. What if you run out of interesting things to do? Are you afraid you'll be bored? If you're worried about that, then perhaps it's time to set a goal. It might be traveling to all seven continents, starting a new business, volunteering for a favorite cause or stepping in to help take care of your grandchildren. The younger you are when you retire, the more ambitious you can get. But if you're not retiring until age 70 or later, maybe it's time to just relax. You've earned it.

    So do something about it. Make a plan, including a financial plan. You'll save yourself a lot of anxiety if you know where you stand financially, and where your monthly income is coming from. Take inventory of your IRAs and 401(k)s, and do your homework on Social Security and Medicare. Retirement is also a popular time for people to assess their health, and perhaps start some lifestyle changes that will keep you healthy, and therefore more stress-free.

    Keep your options open. Sometimes your retirement dream turns out to be a nightmare. A couple might move to Florida and find they can't stand the heat and humidity and traffic. A business executive who volunteers for a nonprofit could find the new atmosphere stifling and frustrating. But in retirement, as opposed to the workforce, you are now in control. Some people move back home after they've tried Florida, and there's no shame in quitting your volunteer job and trying something else. One thing to remember about retirement is you no longer have to compete in school, contend for dates or climb the corporate ladder. You have much less to gain or lose. That should take the pressure off.

    Keep your sense of perspective. Remember, retirement is a relatively new concept. It's only been around for about a hundred years. We are fortunate to be able to enjoy this stage of life. Not everyone lives to see retirement. Over 2 million baby boomers have already died, never reaching this stage of life. So count yourself lucky, and go out and enjoy what is truly a lifetime bonus.

     

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    Holiday Gifts That Cost Next to Nothing
    With the holidays almost here, it's shopping season, but buying all those gifts can quickly drain your budget. Luckily, here are a few DIY gift ideas that will spread cheer to your friends, family and bank account.

    First, try bringing some joy to old photos with cookie cutter frames. Simply place a cookie cutter on top of your photo. Then, trace the outer edge of the cookie cutter. Carefully cut your photograph along the traced edge, and finally pop your photo into the back of your cookie cutter. For an added festive feel, get some ribbon and turn your cookie cutter frames into Christmas tree ornaments.

    Next, try mixing things up with your own hot chocolate mix. Just layer unsweetened cocoa powder, powdered milk, sugar, salt, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows in a jar. This gift also has great decorative possibilities. Try decorating the jar with labels, ribbons, and other crafty things.

    Finally, rejuvenate your gift budget with a homemade Sugar Cookie Foot Scrub that calls for ingredients you might already have in your pantry. Just mix brown sugar, white sugar, olive oil and vanilla extract. Then, pour the mix into a jar that you've spruced up with some personal decorations. Adding your personal touch to these gifts will make the holidays especially joyful.

    These are just a few of the many great gifts you can make without paying too much. By getting creative with these tips, you can overcome the naughtiness of overspending and be nice to your savings.

    View Poll

     

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    Row of Credit Cards
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    Lindsay bought a memory foam mattress from a store that guaranteed no interest financing for two years. Fourteen months after the purchase, interest charges surfaced on her bill.

    A credit card David did not open showed up on his credit report as delinquent. The debt, which he discovered because he kept getting denied new credit, will remain on his credit history for seven years.

    Joyce's son purchased a wedding band on her credit card without her approval. When she contacted the jeweler, the store refused to do anything about it.

    Though their names have been changed for this article, these are all real complaints consumers have filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

    U.S. News & World Report's Best Credit Card rankings​ take into account consumer stories​ like these to evaluate credit cards on the market​. One factor of the methodology​, customer experience, uses CFPB complaints to determine how satisfied customers are with their credit cards.

    Of the 18 credit card companies U.S. News reviewed, the issuers offering the best customer experience included American Express, BB&T and JPMorgan Chase.​ ​

    To control for differences in the size of credit card issuers (banks and credit unions that offer credit cards)​, U.S. News divided the number of customer complaints filed for each issuer by the issuer's annual purchase volume in 2014. (The purchase volume, or total dollar amount of credit card transactions, was used as a size proxy, since most issuers keep customer base data private​.) The data revealed that issuers receiving a relatively large number of complaints seem to respond to complaints in a way that satisfies customers, on average, whereas issuers with relatively few complaints seem to ​respond in a way that dissatisfies customers.​

    Therefore, if customer service is important to you, you may want to consider a card with one of the credit card companies at the top of this chart:

    Best Credit Cards chart.

    Our analysis suggests complaint resolution is a high priority for creditors with a large number of customers. For example, JPMorgan Chase has over 64 million credit card customers and ranks No. 3 on U.S. News' list for customer satisfaction. Last year, the CFPB received 1,609 credit card complaints concerning Chase. While the agency requires issuers to acknowledge customers' complaints within 15 days and resolve them within 60 days, Thomas Horne, head of customer service and card operations for JPMorgan Chase​, says a team of Chase employees attempt to resolve complaints within 24 hours. Afterward, the team will take a customer complaint and "tear it apart," Horne says. "We recreate whatever the interaction was that caused a problem with a customer or a complaint ... and then figure out what we need to do differently to get better."

    The Top Consumer Complaints​

    The CFPB, created in 2011 by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, launched the Consumer Complaint Database in June 2012. The goal is to collect consumer complaints and then work with the companies under fire to resolve the issues. As of July 1, 2015, the CFPB has received roughly 650,700 complaints about financial products. The most common complaints concern mortgages (28 percent), debt collection (25 percent), credit reporting (15 percent) and credit cards (11 percent).​

    Since it started collecting complaints in July 2011, the CFPB has received nearly 73,600 credit card complaints. As of last month, the CFPB has published over 51,500​ credit card complaints in the public database, which only lists complaints companies have had an opportunity to respond to.​ Consumers filing a credit card complaint can choose among 30 issues​. Excluding the "other" category, the top issues filed since 2011 include billing disputes with 8,519 complaints; identity theft, fraud or embezzlement with 4,278 complaints; and APR or interest rate with 3,891 complaints.

    For consumers experiencing a problem with a credit card company, the first step is to have a conversation with the company and try to resolve it, says Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. If you're not making progress with the creditor, the CFPB can step in as a third party to help​. "It's important for people to take action to resolve problems quickly before they become difficult to unravel and cause permanent financial damage," McClary warns.

    So what can you do if you're facing one of these common consumer complaints? U.S. News talked with credit card experts to get their advice.

    Billing Disputes

    Last year, the CFPB received 2,411 billing dispute complaints. Controlling for creditor size, U.S. News found PNC Bank had the least number of billing dispute complaints, followed by American Express and JPMorgan Chase in 2014.
    "Billing errors can be costly to the consumer," McClary says. "The sooner those things are fixed, the better off the consumer is going to be."

    When reporting a billing error, the burden of proof is on you. McClary says consumers should gather records, including receipts, billing statements and other documents that can validate a claim. "If they're missing any of that, the chances are they may not find satisfaction in how the creditor responds," he says. The records should be sent with a letter that states the date, your name, address, account number, amount in dispute and why you believe it is an error. (See the Federal Trade Commission's sample letter here.)​

    Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumers have a right to dispute charges and not have it​ impact their credit report​. Gail Hillebrand, CFPB associate director for consumer education and engagement​, advises consumers to contact their credit issuer immediately when they spot an erroneous charge​. "Once you have done that, the company cannot charge you while they are investigating," she says, adding that the issuer can't take adverse action like report your unpaid charge to a credit bureau. (You do, however, need to pay any charges on your bill you did make.​)

    A creditor must resolve a dispute within two complete billing cycles of being notified, and the payment suspension ends once a decision is made. if the creditor determines the charge was a mistake, it must credit your account and explain any corrections in writing. If the creditor dismisses your dispute, it must also explain the decision in writing, and you will have to pay the amount owed.

    ID Theft, Fraud and Embezzlement

    At 1,418 complaints, ID theft, fraud and embezzlement represent the second-highest complaints to the CFPB last year. In the U.S. News analysis, the companies that handled the least number of these complaints when controlling for size were American Express, JPMorgan Chase and USAA Savings.

    There are two kinds of ID theft that spur​ credit card complaints: when someone uses a victim's existing credit card and when someone applies for a new credit card using a victim's personal information. "Consumers are fairly well protected when identity theft leads to either of those situations because, under federal law, they have the right to dispute credit card charges they have never authorized," says Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at the Consumer Federation of America.

    However, if a thief runs up charges on your credit card, and those charges go unpaid, it can damage your credit report. "Those are not necessarily the hardest problems to resolve on your credit report," Grant says, "but it can be time-consuming and aggravating for consumers to get errors on their credit reports fixed."

    To ensure you haven't fallen victim to ID theft, you can order a free copy of your credit report each year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and check it for any accounts you don't recognize. Hillebrand also suggests reviewing your monthly credit card statements. "With online banking, it's really easy to pay your bill without ever looking at your statements, so we encourage people to take that extra step," she says.

    If you are a victim of ID theft or fraud, it's important to contact your credit card issuer directly. McClary points out that reporting it first to the CFPB would "insert another layer of communication that could actually delay resolution rather than expedite it." And time is of the essence when it comes to ID theft and fraud. "The later you wait, the less your chances of having things resolve," McClary says, and that could cause "collateral damage to your credit score that can have implications for years."

    Once you report ID theft, the creditor should close your account, issue a new card and credit​​ any fraudulent charges. "If you don't hear from them within 24 hours after submitting the report, follow up," McClary says. If the creditor doesn't resolve the problem in a timely manner, Grant says that's when consumers should file a complaint to the CFPB.

    There's no need to report ID theft to the CFPB if the credit card company resolves the problem. However, Grant recommends reporting the issue to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov because the information helps law enforcement. "If, for instance, they are investigating what appears to be a criminal ring involving identity theft, the information about your particular situation about the ID theft could be useful, regardless of the fact that you already resolved it with the issuer," she says.

    APR or Interest Rate

    Coming in third, the CFPB received 851 complaints about interest rates and APRs (interest charged on credit card balances not paid in full) last year​. Controlling for size, American Express had the least number of APR and interest rate complaints, followed by BB&T and Navy Federal Credit Union.

    McClary says consumers are likely disputing interest rate increases or denials of lower interest rates they requested. Horne of JPMorgan Chase puts it bluntly: "People just don't like to pay interest, so at times, that will be the driver of a complaint."

    As long as you pay your bills on time, your interest rate won't hurt your credit. "If you didn't get the interest rate you'd expect, it might be costing you more than you wanted to pay, but it doesn't affect your credit history," Hillebrand says.

    To avoid getting hit with an unexpected APR, McClary advises reading a credit card agreement before signing up. Similarly, you should also review fees, including balance transfer and cash advance fees, which are among the least common CFPB credit card complaints. "Understand how the fees work and when it's appropriate for a creditor to charge a fee," McClary says. "Somebody might be blindsided by one of these fees, not because the fee shouldn't be charged, but because it was something they weren't aware of, and they didn't read the details of their credit card agreement."

    When Filing a Credit Card Complaint

    Have a problem with your credit card company you want to resolve? Follow these tips:

    1. Gather records. When filing a complaint, you need documentation to back it up. "Especially when it comes to billing errors, fees charged, incorrect reporting to credit bureaus, identity theft [and] credit fraud, you need to have as much documentation as you can in order to get the best result," McClary says.

    2. Document conversations. "In a lot of cases, people make a phone call, and they'll talk to a customer service person without putting the complaint in writing," McClary says. "That leaves a gap there for things to fall through the cracks." He recommends documenting your conversation with the representative and sending a copy detailing the conversation and date to the creditor via mail. If you send it by email, check the box that requires recipients to confirm they opened the message. "This shows them you're keeping track of things, and that helps move the needle," he says.

    3. Seek help from a third party. If the credit card issuer has not solved the issue, you have a few options: You can file a complaint to your state attorney general's office or department of financial services, which both review complaints about financial products. "[But] the best route beyond going directly to a creditor would be the CFPB," McClary says. You can file a complaint to the CFPB at consumerfinance.gov/complaint.

    "If [consumers] don't get satisfaction, then they find us," Hillebrand says. "... We do hope over time to see more companies handling these complaints themselves, so their consumers don't have to come to us."

     

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    Financial, charts and numbers
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    By Dr. Penny Pincher

    Understanding a few basic numbers can give you a good picture of your financial health and help you plan your future. You may have seen these terms mentioned in personal finance articles and in the news. Learn what these numbers mean and how to use them to improve your money situation.


    1. Net Worth


    Net worth is the most important measure of your overall financial health. The calculation of net worth is simple - in short, subtract everything you owe from everything you have:

    Net Worth = Total Assets - Total Liabilities

    Assets include all property you own (including cars, a home, etc.), savings, investments, and the money in your checking account.

    Liabilities include credit card debt, student loan balances, mortgage balance, auto loan balances, and other debt. It is possible to have negative net worth if your liabilities exceed your assets - this is a common situation for new college graduates who have student loan debt and few assets, for example.

    There are two ways to improve your net worth: Increase your assets, or reduce your debt. Do both simultaneously, and you'll be on your way to improving your financial health quickly.


    2. Home Equity


    Home equity is a measure of how much of your home you own based on its current value, including improvements and appreciation. Here's how to calculate your home equity:

    Home Equity = Current Market Value of Your Home - Mortgage Balance

    You can see that the calculation of home equity does not include the price you paid for your house. Home equity depends only on the current market value of your home - in other words, how much would it sell for today?

    As with net worth, home equity can also be negative in some situations. If your home value declines to less than your mortgage balance, you have negative home equity. This is also known as an "underwater mortgage."

    A great way to increase home equity is by doing your own home improvement projects and repairs that increase the value of your home by more than the cost of doing the improvements.


    3. Gross Income


    Gross income is your total income before taxes and withholdings. If you are an employee, taxes and withholdings are taken out before you get each paycheck. You can find your gross income on your paystub.

    Most salary offers and salary statistics are given in terms of gross income. This is also the number that you report on income tax forms. Gross income can be confusing for budget planning, since you'll never really have this much money to spend. Use your net income instead.


    4. Net Income


    Your net income is how much money you get after taxes and withholdings are taken out. This is an important number because this is how much money you have available to work with to pay bills and to save and invest.


    5. Market Salary


    Market salary is how much you are worth in the labor market, depending largely upon your length of job experience, education, and location. Your market salary may not be equal to your actual salary if you are overpaid or underpaid. You can find your estimated market salary on survey websites (such as Salary.com).

    It is useful to know your market salary to bargain for a raise or to know when it would be worthwhile to look for a higher paying job.


    6. Monthly Expenses (Burn Rate)


    Monthly expenses (burn rate) is one of the most important financial numbers, and one that you have a lot of control over. This is the total of your expenses over a month, including housing, food, clothing, and transportation.

    Your burn rate is the amount you are actually spending each month, and there is always room to reduce this number to leave you with more money available to pay down debt or invest.


    7. Investment Balance


    Good for you if you are regularly contributing to investment accounts. Your investment balance is an important number since this will largely determine if and when you will be able to retire. Check it regularly to determine whether your investment strategy is meeting expectations.


    8. Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA)


    The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the stock market value that is most often reported in the news. This is calculated based on the value of a handful of large company stock prices and is currently around 18,000. The DJIA provides a general indication of the stock market's overall valuation and performance, and may give you a rough indication of how your stock portfolio is performing (assuming it's broadly diversified).


    9. Cash Balance


    Net worth does not reflect how much of your assets are liquid. For example, if all of your assets were invested in land holdings, you might have a hard time getting cash in a timely manner to buy food or pay your real estate taxes. Access to cash and other liquid assets (assets that can be sold rapidly to get cash) is important to be able to pay expenses.

    When I ran a small business, I learned that the three most important rules for success were:
    1. Never run out of cash;
    2. Never run out of cash; and
    3. Never run out of cash.
    These three rules apply to personal finance, as well. Make sure to have some cash available at all times to cover expenses that come up.


    10. Emergency Fund Balance


    Building an emergency fund is a step that many financial planners recommend for people trying to get out of debt. Putting cash into an emergency fund provides a cushion against using credit cards to cover unexpected bills. This practice also establishes the habit of saving money from every paycheck instead of spending it all.

    How much money do you have available to handle an emergency without running up debt? Experts recommend a minimum of three to six months worth of living expenses.


    11. Credit Card Balance and Interest Rate


    Many households carry a credit card balance. It is important to keep track of all debt, but credit card debt is especially important, since it usually carries the highest interest rates of any debt, and since it is easy to increase your debt without noticing.

    If you are paying a high interest rate on your credit card debt, save money by making a balance transfer to a card with a lower interest rate. Try to reduce expenses so you will be able to pay off credit card balances faster. (See also: Best 0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards)


    12. Monthly Nut


    I encountered this unusual term in an entrepreneurship course back in my college days. Your monthly nut is the minimum amount of money you would need to make it through a month. Your monthly nut includes basic housing, minimal food, and other essential expenses after unnecessary spending is eliminated.

    Your monthly nut is an important number to understand when you are planning to use as much of your income as possible to meet a goal, such as starting a business or getting out of debt as quickly as possible.


    13. Inflation Rate


    If you want to have enough money to buy the things you need in the future and throughout retirement, you'll need to account for the effects of inflation. Prices tend to rise over time, reducing the purchasing power of money in the future. Historical average for inflation rate is around 3%, but inflation rates in recent decades have varied from over 10% down to the current inflation rate of nearly 0%.

    For retirement planning, you will want to estimate your expenses, and then scale the expenses up based on the expected effect of inflation over the years.

    What key numbers do you track to monitor your personal finance health?

     

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    Existing U.S. Home Sales Rise to Second-Highest Since 2007
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    By

    The hottest housing market to watch in the new year is not among those that regularly make the news for high demand and quick sales.

    Instead, Providence, Rhode Island, scored the top spot because it's "just now seeing signs of recovery based on substantially better economic conditions forecasted for next year," according to Realtor.com.

    The real estate website identified the United States' 10 most up-and-coming metropolitan markets for 2016 after predicting future values for home sales and prices for the 100 largest markets.

    In Rhode Island's capital, for example, existing home sales and median sale price are each projected to increase by 10 percent next year.

    Realtor.com chief economist Jonathan Smoke explains to CNN Money:
    "Providence is closely connected to Boston, which continues to show incredible economic growth. There is a quite a bit of positive spillover effect."
    Boston came in No. 10 on Realtor.com's hot list for 2016. Its existing home sales are projected to increase by 10 percent and its median sale price by 6.09 percent.
    Boston made the list for a different reason than Providence, however. Smoke explains on Realtor.com that several different underlying dynamics helped land cities in the website's top 10 for 2016:
    • Some markets have been hot and remain hot (San Diego, Sacramento, Boston, Atlanta).
    • Some markets are just now seeing signs of recovery based on substantially better economic conditions forecast for next year (Providence; New Orleans; Virginia Beach, Virginia; St. Louis).
    • Some markets are spillover markets from very hot markets (Providence; Sacramento, California).
    Most markets have one or more key demographic driving demand. Those key demographics are:
    • Older millennials (25 to 34 years old)
    • Younger members of Generation X (35 to 44 years old)
    • Retirees (65 to 74 years old)
    The top-ranked cities are:
    1. Providence, Rhode Island
    2. St. Louis
    3. San Diego
    4. Sacramento, California
    5. Atlanta
    6. New Orleans
    7. Memphis, Tennessee
    8. Charlotte, North Carolina
    9. Virginia Beach, Virginia
    10. Boston

     

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    Awash in Oil: The Impact of Falling Crude Prices



    U.S. stocks recovered from early losses on Monday to close higher, helped by firmer oil prices, as investors awaited an expected Federal Reserve interest rate hike later in the week.

    The S&P 500 benchmark index rallied in the afternoon after falling earlier in the session in a volatile trading day. Concerns about high-yield bonds, oil price swings and the Fed made for a skittish market, said Peter Costa, president of Empire Executions Inc.

    "It's a lot of uncertainty," he said.

    While investors widely expect the Fed to announce its first rate hike in nearly a decade on Wednesday, they are also waiting for commentary from policymakers about what will happen next.

    Traders see an 83-percent chance that the Fed will lift rates by 25 basis points, according to the CME Group's FedWatch program.

    The Dow Jones industrial average rose 103.29 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,368.5, the S&P 500 gained 9.57 points, or 0.48 percent, to 2,021.94 and the Nasdaq Composite added 18.76 points, or 0.38 percent, to 4,952.23.

    The S&P energy sector was up 0.8 percent. U.S. crude oil settled up 1.9 percent after moving within a hair of 11-year lows, but analysts and traders said it is still too early to declare the market reached bottom.

    Although stocks closed higher, equity investors are still concerned about the high-yield bond market. Third Avenue Management LLC's junk bond fund collapsed last week and the company said Monday its chief executive agreed to leave.

    "It's just the fear of the unknown," said Angel Mata, managing director of listed equity trading, Stifel Capital Markets in Baltimore. "2008 - though it was seven years ago - is still fresh in everybody's mind and the fear is we could have a kind of situation that we had back then, which was driven by the fixed-income side."

    Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors ended the day higher.

    S&P materials were the only sector to show losses, down 1.4 percent, hurt by Dow Chemical and DuPont, which agreed on Friday to merge. DuPont shares were down 3.6 percent, while Dow Chemical fell 3.9 percent.

    Newell Rubbermaid was down 6.9 percent at $42.15. Newell, known for its food containers, agreed to buy Sunbeam and Coleman products maker Jarden Corp for more than $15 billion. Jarden was up 2.7 percent at $54.09.

    NYSE declining issues outnumbered advancing ones 2,326 to 810, for a 2.87-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,804 issues fell and 1,034 advanced, for a 1.74-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 2 new 52-week highs and 54 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 18 new highs and 236 new lows.

    About 8.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges on Monday, above the 7.03 billion average for the last 20 sessions, according to Thomson Reuters data.

     

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    Newell Rubbermaid CEO: Right Time for Jarden Deal



    Newell Rubbermaid Inc, known for its food containers, agreed to buy Sunbeam and Coleman products maker Jarden Corp for more than $15 billion in a deal that will give it more leverage with retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

    The deal announced on Monday comes amid growing pressure for retailers to hold down prices as they compete with online players such as Amazon.com Inc.

    Reuters reported in October that Wal-Mart, which provides nearly 13 percent of Newell Rubbermaid's revenue, was asking suppliers to cut prices.

    The deal, while primarily aimed at accelerating growth, will make it easier for Newell to fend off demands for price cuts, Neil Saunders, chief executive of research firm Conlumino, told Reuters.

    Based on 220.35 million Jarden shares outstanding as of Oct. 30, the deal has a value of $13.22 billion.

    However, Newell Rubbermaid said that on a fully diluted basis the offer was valued at $15.4 billion.

    The combined company, to be called Newell Brands, will have annual sales of $16 billion.

    Newell Brands' revenue from Wal-Mart is expected to be more than 2.6 times Newell Rubbermaid's 2014 revenue from the retailer, the Newell Rubbermaid said in an investor presentation, while revenue from Target Corp stores is expected to be 1.9 times bigger.

    From Amazon, revenue is expected to grow by 1.8 times after the deal closes in the second quarter of 2016.

    The deal -- which gives Newell Rubbermaid ownership of more than 120 Jarden brands, including Yankee Candle, Crock-Pot cookware and class rings maker Jostens Inc -- will also significantly increase its U.S. distribution network.

    PREMIUM DISAPPPOINTS

    Newell Brands will be led by Newell Rubbermaid Chief Executive Michael Polk. Martin Franklin, Jarden's founder and executive chairman, will be on the board.

    Jarden shareholders will receive $21 in cash and 0.862 Newell shares for each share held, implying a $60 per share offer. The offer is at a 24 percent premium to Jarden's closing stock price on Dec. 4, the day before reports emerged that the company was in talks to combine with Newell.

    Jarden's shares were up 1 percent at $53.30 in early afternoon trading, far below the offer price, while Newell's stock was down 10.5 percent at $40.51.

    Analysts attributed the gap between the offer price and Jarden's shares to disappointment in the premium and the exclusion of Franklin from an executive role in the new company.

    Newell Rubbermaid shareholders will own about 55 percent of Newell Brands.

    The companies said they expected to realize cost savings of $500 million in the four years after the transaction closes.

    Goldman Sachs was lead financial adviser to Newell Rubbermaid, while Centerview Partners advised the board.

    Barclays was the lead financial adviser to Jarden, with UBS Investment Bank also advising.

    Jones Day and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett provided legal counsel to Newell Rubbermaid, while Greenberg Traurig LLP and Kane Kessler PC were legal advisers to Jarden.

     

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    AMD6XD Couple Looking at Bills taxes man; 30-40; year; old; 40-50; year; old; woman; business; food; people; computer; technolog
    Alamy


    By Tim Lemke

    After several years of sluggish growth, it appears that the economy is getting better. Unemployment has dropped. The stock market has been setting record highs. But are you poised to take full advantage of the rebound? (See also: 8 Ways Rising Interest Rates Can Help Your Wallet)

    Here are eight ways to position yourself for the best result once the economy kicks into high gear.


    1. Pay Off Debt


    If the economy is getting better and you find yourself earning more, getting rid of debt should be your first priority. The last thing you want is to miss out on an economic boom because you're handcuffed by loans and credit card bills, so pay that stuff off. And do it fast, because a good economy often comes with higher interest rates. So if you have debt, it's best to rid yourself of it before it gets pricier to pay down later.


    2. Spend Less


    The flipside of higher interest rates is that you'll be making more on any money you have in your bank account. So there's an incentive to save now. What's more, you may be earning more in general during strong economic times, so you have the double whammy of stashing more money into those saving and retirement accounts, plus a higher return.


    3. Pump Those Retirement Accounts


    There's never a truly bad time to begin investing, especially if you have a long savings window. So get started now, before stock prices get too out of hand. Consider upping your 401(k) contribution. And if you have an IRA, you have until April 15 to make contributions that count toward 2014's tax bill.


    4. Lock In Whatever Prices You Can


    A good economy often comes with some inflation. So it might make sense to explore ways to secure long-term price stability on items or services you use frequently. Locking in a price on a cable or mobile phone bill might make sense, and you may even be able to lock in prices on electricity and other utilities.


    5. Build Up Your Emergency Fund


    If you are fortunate enough to have some extra money come your way, consider using it to build up your savings to protect yourself. Opinions vary on how much liquid cash you should have socked away, but at least three months of salary is a good rule of thumb.


    6. Consider Buying That House


    If interest rates do go up, mortgages could get pricier. So it may be wise to try and purchase a home now while rates are still historically low. If you've been on the fence about when to buy, now may be the time.


    7. Ask for That Raise


    When the economy was slow, employers were loath to give out pay raises. "Times are tough, we've got to tighten belts," was the common response. Now, with things improving, it's harder for your boss to make the argument that you're not worth a bump in pay. If your organization has done well financially and you feel you've played a role in that, go ahead and ask for that increase.


    8. Update Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile


    If things are getting better, employers may starting looking for new hires. Take advantage of the situation by updating your online presence and doing what's necessary to look good to recruiters. If you stopped working during the downturn, maybe its time to get back into the workforce. If you hate your job, maybe now is when you find a better one. And if you like your job, it never hurts to build up your network and see what else is out there.


    Are you ready for a better economy? How do you plan to profit from it?

     

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    Stocks That Do Well When Rates Rise



    U.S. stocks rallied broadly on Tuesday, led by energy and financial shares ahead of Wednesday's interest rate decision from the Federal Reserve.

    The Dow Jones industrial average rose 156.67 points, or 0.9 percent, to 17,525.17, the S&P 500 gained 21.45 points, or 1.06 percent, to 2,043.39 and the Nasdaq Composite added 43.13 points, or 0.87 percent, to 4,995.36.

     

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    Space
    Getty

    By ANDREA SHALAL

    The U.S. aerospace industry is expected to post a record trade surplus in 2015, buoyed by strong demand for U.S. commercial airplanes and weapons, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) said on Tuesday.

    But the AIA, the sector's largest trade group, warned there were signs of an early slowdown in orders and monthly backlog. New orders for aerospace products have fallen 32 percent to $210.3 billion in the nine months ended September 2015 from a year earlier.

    AIA Chief Executive Officer David Melcher told reporters the U.S. aerospace trade balance grew by $19 billion over the past five years to reach a record $62 billion in 2014, and was on track to top the record this year.

    AIA said the sector exported $92 billion worth of manufactured goods in the first nine months of 2015, an increase of 5.8 percent from the same period of 2014. The total included $81.3 billion in civil aircraft, engines, parts and space systems, and $10.7 billion in military aerospace systems.

    Imports also grew by 2.7 percent in the first three quarters of 2015 to $43.6 billion.

    In remarks prepared for the group's annual year-end luncheon, Melcher lauded increased efforts by the U.S. Commerce Department and other government officials to promote U.S. aerospace and weapons trade, but said more was needed.

    Melcher said the AIA had fought hard to revive the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which provides credit financing for U.S. aircraft and satellite exports among other things.

    Congress reauthorized the bank for four years in December after a five-month shutdown that cost U.S. exporters hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and thousands of lost jobs, according to the export-import bank's chairman..

    Melcher said the AIA was now pressing Congress and the White House to ensure the trade bank could approve loans larger than $10 million. It cannot make larger loans until the Senate approves a nominee for at least one of three vacant board seats.

    The group also remained concerned about U.S. military spending cuts in fiscal 2017 that it said are expected to disproportionately hit procurement and research and development.

    Melcher decried "a serious mismatch" between the current national security threat and the U.S. military budget, noting that mandatory budget cuts passed in 2011 came before the rise of the Islamic State militant group, Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine and tensions with China over the South China Sea.

    Watch more coverage:

    Does the ISS Have a Future Without Nasa?

     

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    Two women outdoors embracing and smiling

    By

    Few milestones in life are as laden with dreams and fantasies as the day when a person retires. Will it be a slow downshift into a life of travel and time with grandchildren? A chance for gradually increasing immersion in a lifelong hobby? Perhaps it will be all of the above.

    Or perhaps future retirees' experience will be more in line with the reality of retirement as depicted in a new report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. The study found that two-thirds of workers aged 50 or older expect to work past 65, at least part time, but the median age at which current retirees left the workforce was 62.

    Not only that, two-thirds of those who did leave the workforce did so because of work-related reasons like job loss, a reorganization, or a buyout. And only 5 percent of retirees actually are working in retirement.

    "So many workers want to work longer, or transition into retirement, yet very few say their current employers have practices in place to facilitate this," said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center. Many, she said, "are ill prepared for life's unforeseen circumstances."

    Many 50-somethings have only limited retirement nest eggs: the center found just $135,000 in median savings in retirement accounts for that age cohort. That may explain why their worries about retirement tend to relate to outliving their savings. They are also nervous about not being able to support their families or maintain access to reasonably priced health care.

    Retirees tend to be less worried about running out of money and more concerned about experiencing cognitive decline and being unable to find meaningful ways to spend their time, the study found.

    But a sizable minority of both groups is worried about paying off debt, with 18 percent of workers aged 50 or older and 13 percent of retirees saying that paying down credit card or consumer debt is a key priority.

    "Working longer and retiring at an older age seems like a sensible option for workers to earn money and bridge savings shortfalls," the report concluded, but "many retirees retired sooner than expected, before age 65, for employment-related reasons, including job loss, reorganizations and others. The variables in the equation simply don't add up."

    Millennials, by contrast, appear to be doing more to prepare for retirement. Some 68 percent are currently saving for retirement, according to a recent study by the Insured Retirement Institute and the Center for Generational Kinetics. That is an improvement on the 64 percent of workers aged 50 or older who told the Transamerica Center surveyors they were doing so.

    Then again, only 29 percent of millennials are actually planning for retirement, the IRI survey found, and 15 percent listed winning the lottery as an element of their retirement strategy. In addition, more than half of millennials think they will never retire or will not be able to retire when they want to.

    Millennials also demonstrated a skewed perception of the cost of living in retirement. Some 70 percent thought they would spend less than $36,000 per year, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual spending by people aged 65 to 74 in 2013 averaged $46,757.

    The millennial generation "is largely not on track to attain financial security in retirement," the IRI researchers concluded.

    One reason for boomers' and millennials' skewed view of retirement finances may be their shifting financial circumstances. Boomers in their 50s are more likely than current retirees to have little or nothing in the way of pension income, for example. Roughly three-fourths of the boomers in the Transamerica Center survey said they wished they had saved more consistently and been more knowledgeable, since for them, it will matter more.

    As for millennials, many are contending with heavy student debt burdens. The Institute for College Access and Success found that among the 69 percent of students who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges with debt in 2014, the average amount owed was $28,950.

    There are reforms in the works to improve retirement security in the future. For example, the Treasury Department in November announced the creation of the myRA, a type of retirement account that Collinson believes could prove quite helpful to part-time workers and people just starting out in the workforce. In addition, a number of states are considering or implementing state-based retirement plans to help those without retirement programs at work put money away.

    Still, for now the disconnect between boomers' hopes for remaining in the workforce and the age when retirees step out is cause for alarm, Collinson said.

    "The red warning lights are flashing. We are facing major issues up ahead and the sooner we can recognize them and address them, the better positioned we are societally to solve them."

     

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    Woman paying bills at laptop talking on telephone
    Getty


    By

    Think you'll never get out of debt? You're not alone.

    A new CreditCards.com survey released Wednesday found that 21 percent of Americans believe they will never be able to pay off their debt. That's up slightly from 18 percent the previous year and comes even as the job market shows signs of improving.

    The Labor Department said Friday the U.S. economy added 211,000 jobs last month and the overall unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5 percent.
    Still, people are weary about their job security, said Matt Schulz, senior analyst at CreditCards.com. "This shows there is a real debt problem in America and it's not improving very much."

    The survey also found that the number of people who are debt free increased to 22 percent this year from 14 percent the year earlier. In fact, Schulz said that, surprisingly, individuals making up to $30,000 a year are the most likely to say they are free of debt.

    Those making at least $75,000 per year are the least likely to be free of debt, the survey said. However, they are also the ones most confident in their ability to pay off that debt, while those making less money are more likely to feel trapped by it. People with no children were also more likely to say they'll never get out of debt than parents.

    Among those in debt, about half, or 48 percent, said they'll remain that way into their 60s.

    "Even [for] people who don't see themselves getting out of debt, it's important not to be paralyzed by hopelessness," he said. Schulz advised people in debt to take certain small steps toward paying it down, including making a budget and asking for lower interest rates on credit cards or transferring to a zero-percent interest card.

    Millennials most optimistic about debt?

    The study also found that - despite their high-levels of debt - millennials are the most optimistic about paying it down, with only 11 percent saying they will never live debt free.

    "It kind of speaks to the optimism of youth," Schulz said.

    Schulz said he believes more people will have a better outlook regarding debt as their perception of the economy improves.

    The survey polled 1,004 adults living in the U.S. and was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Nov. 19 until Nov. 22 with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.

     

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    Fed Raises Interest Rate 1/4 Point

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade on Wednesday, signaling faith that the U.S. economy had largely overcome the wounds of the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

    READ MORE: Here's how the Fed's rate decision affects mortgages, auto loans, and credit cards

    The U.S. central bank's policy-setting committee raised the range of its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point to between 0.25 percent and 0.50 percent, ending a lengthy debate about whether the economy was strong enough to withstand higher borrowing costs.

    "With the economy performing well and expected to continue to do so, the committee judges that a modest increase in the federal funds rate is appropriate," Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in a press conference after the rate decision was announced. "The economic recovery has clearly come a long way."

    Data curated by FindTheCompany

    The Fed's policy statement noted the "considerable improvement" in the U.S. labor market, where the unemployment rate has fallen to 5 percent, and said policymakers are "reasonably confident" inflation will rise over the medium term to the Fed's 2 percent objective.

    The central bank made clear the rate hike was a tentative beginning to a "gradual" tightening cycle, and that in deciding its next move it would put a premium on monitoring inflation, which remains mired below target.

    "The process is likely to proceed gradually," Yellen said, a hint that further hikes will be slow in coming.

    Watch more below:

    What the Fed Rate Hike Means for Your Money


    She added that policymakers were hoping for a slow rise in rates but one that will keep the Fed ahead of the curve as the economic recovery continues. "To keep the economy moving along the growth path it is on ... we would like to avoid a situation where we have left so much (monetary) accommodation in place for so long we have to tighten abruptly."

    Data curated by FindTheCompany

    New economic projections from Fed policymakers were largely unchanged from September, with unemployment anticipated to fall to 4.7 percent next year and economic growth hitting 2.4 percent.

    The Fed statement and its promise of a gradual path represented a compromise between policymakers who have been ready to raise rates for months and those who feel the economy is still at risk from weak inflation and slow global growth.

    Watch more coverage below:

    Yellen: Prudent to Raise Early, Gradually


    "The Fed is going out of its way to assure markets that, by embarking on a 'gradual' path, this will not be your traditional interest rate cycle," said Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic advisor at Allianz.

    Fed officials said they were confident the situation was ripe for them to make a historic turn in policy without much disruption to financial markets, which had expected the hike this week.

    U.S. stocks rallied on the news, in part because the Fed made clear it would proceed slowly with further tightening. Yields on U.S. Treasuries rose, while the dollar was largely unchanged against a basket of currencies. Oil prices fell sharply before paring losses.

    See more of the Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington:

    POLICY STILL ACCOMMODATIVE

    Yellen on Wednesday said the Fed had no desire to curb consumers from spending or businesses from investing. She emphasized that interest rates remained low even after the rate hike, near levels economists regard as appropriate for a recession.

    "Policy remains accommodative," Yellen said. "The U.S. economy has shown considerable strength. Domestic spending has continued to hold up."

    Watch more coverage below:

    Yellen: Eyeing the Longer Term Economic Outlook


    Fed policymakers' median projected target interest rate for 2016 remained 1.375 percent, implying four quarter-point hikes next year. Based on short-term interest rate futures markets, traders expect the next rate hike in April.

    A Dec. 9 Reuters poll showed economists forecasting the federal funds rate to be 1.0 percent to 1.25 percent by the end of 2016 and 2.25 percent by the end of 2017.

    Watch more coverage below:

    What Happens to the Dollar After Fed Rate Hike?

    The rate hike sets off an immediate test of new financial tools designed by the New York Fed for just this occasion, as well as a likely reshuffling of global capital as the reality of rising U.S. rates sets in.

    To edge the target rate from its current near-zero level to between 0.25 percent and 0.50 percent, the Fed said it would set the interest it pays banks on excess reserves at 0.50 percent, and would offer up to $2 trillion in reverse repurchase agreements, an aggressive figure that shows its resolve to pull rates higher.

    The impact on business and household borrowing costs is unclear. One of the issues policymakers will watch closely in coming days is how long-term mortgage rates, consumer loans and other forms of credit react to the rate hike.

    Watch more coverage:

    Fed More Dovish Than Expected: Pro

     

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    Markets React to Fed Decision to Hike


    U.S. stocks trimmed gains but remained in positive territory in afternoon trading on Wednesday, half an hour ahead of a widely anticipated interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve.

    READ MORE: Fed Raises Interest Rates, Cites Ongoing US Economic Recovery

    An increase in the Fed's benchmark rate, from near zero, would be the first since June 29, 2006. Traders see an 81.4 percent chance of a rate hike, according to the CME Group's FedWatch tool.

    The U.S. central bank is expected to raise rates by a token 25 basis points, when it announces the outcome of its policy meeting at 2 p.m. ET (1900 GMT). Fed Chair Janet Yellen will hold a news conference by at 2:30 p.m. ET.

    Data curated by FindTheCompany


    The Fed is expected to move gradually on subsequent rate hikes after the initial liftoff, according to a Reuters poll. That will help soothe jittery markets, which have been roiled recently by a rout in crude oil prices and a fall in the Chinese yuan.

    The rate hike will be a highly symbolic move, coming exactly seven years to the day since the Fed cut rates to near zero as the financial crisis engulfed the world.

    Watch more coverage:

    Yellen: Prudent to Raise Early, Gradually


    Since then, the U.S. stock market has staged a spectacular bull-run, with the S&P 500 index .SPX .INX more than doubling and the Nasdaq composite index briefly breaching its dotcom boom highs.

    "I think we can use a great Star Wars analogy and say that 'the force' will awaken and the Fed will raise that quarter percent today," said Jeff Carbone, managing partner of Cornerstone Financial Partners.

    "Now we've got to look at how Janet Yellen raises rates. Is it going to be too fast, or too slow or just right?"

    At 13:30 p.m. ET the Dow Jones industrial average was up 37.41 points, or 0.21 percent, at 17,562.32, the S&P 500 was up 7.3 points, or 0.36 percent, at 2,050.71 and the Nasdaq Composite index was up 12.14 points, or 0.24 percent, at 5,007.49.

    Seven of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, with the utilities index's 1.87 percent rise leading the advancers.

    Energy and material stocks were down as crude oil prices fell on fresh evidence of growing global oversupply.

    DuPont's 2.7 percent fall weighed the most on the Dow. Oil majors Chevron and Exxon were down about 1 percent.


    Apple was down 1.3 percent at $109.05 as Bank of America Merrill Lynch joined a growing Wall Street chorus, scaling down expectations for iPhone sales.


    Higher interest rates make loans more expensive, crimping profit margins. Banks, however, will benefit.

    Goldman Sachs was up 0.6 percent, while JPMorgan, Bank of America and Citigroup were up 0.4 percent.

    The Fed has said it would raise rates when it saw a sustained recovery in the economy. While the unemployment rate has fallen to multi-year lows, inflation remains stuck below the Fed's 2 percent target.

    "We expect the start of policy normalization to serve as a catalyst for normalization of the investment environment," said Mike O'Rourke, chief market strategist at Jones Trading.

    Watch more coverage:

    Yellen: Eyeing the Longer Term Economic Outlook


    The prolonged period of extremely accommodative monetary policy has distorted investment objectives, he said in a note.

    Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,077 to 953. On the Nasdaq, 1,699 issues rose and 1,063 fell.

    The S&P 500 index showed nine new 52-week highs and eight new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 31 new highs and 75 new lows.

    Watch more coverage:

    The Confluence of Factors the Fed Considers

     

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    Save With Dollar-Store Holiday Items
    The holidays are here, but you don't have to spend a lot on gifts and decorations. Shopping at the dollar store can help you save big on holiday essentials.

    When it comes to Christmas cards, the dollar store is key. Shopping for greeting cards at the supermarket or pharmacy will cost you $5 or more for a measly few cards, but, if you shop at the dollar store, you can get more than 20 cards for a fraction of the price.

    As for wrapping paper, you can typically find $1 rolls at the dollar store, while at big retail stores you might be paying almost three times as much. Wrapping paper is going to get ripped up and thrown out so why not pass the savings along to the gifts instead?

    Finally, let's talk decorations. At the dollar store, you can find a 24-pack of Christmas ornaments, which is three times cheaper than other stores. Beyond decorating the tree, you can get a beautiful bow for your wreath for only $1 -- that's four times cheaper than what you would spend at big box stores.

    This season, you can easily spread cheer without spending big bucks. Give these dollar store deals a try and see the savings for yourself.

    View Poll

     

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    Music Adele Sales
    AP


    By Tim Lemke

    Adele is the hottest thing in music these days, as her new album 25 is setting all kinds of sales records and receiving ubiquitous radio airplay.

    The British songstress has some amazing pipes, but there's some evidence that she's also pretty savvy with her funds, and can teach us a thing or two about money management. (See also: The 3 Best Pieces of Financial Wisdom From Oprah Winfrey)

    We may not become multi-millionaires living in large castles in the English countryside, but following the singer's financial lead could mean extra dollars in our wallets. Here are eight financial lessons we can learn from Adele.

    1. Know Your Worth



    When Adele released her latest album, 25, she refused to allow it to appear on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. That's because she had an instinct that people would be willing to pay for the full album itself. And she was right, as it recorded 3.4 million sales in the first week alone.

    2. Own What You Create



    Adele is wealthy not only because she sells a lot of albums and concert tickets, but because she gets other revenue from the ownership of her music and lyrics. In fact, her company, Melted Stone, has a publishing arm that pulled in more than $7.8 million in 2014.

    3. Use an Old Phone



    No fancy iPhone for Adele, it seems -- at least not if her music videos are any indication. In the video to her hit single "Hello," Adele is seen talking into a flip phone. A flip phone! It's unclear from what antique store she bought the phone, but she's probably not concerned about overages on her data plan. While Adele may or may not have a more updated phone in real life, the premise is still valid -- don't buy new technologies you don't actually need.

    4. Shop at Thrift Stores



    British newspaper The Sun reported that Adele isn't keen on shopping at fancy stores, despite her vast wealth. She's been known to frequent thrift stores near her home in the English countryside. "Adele is like any normal girl -- she loves a bargain," a source told The Sun.

    5. Dress Simply and Flexibly



    There's no doubt that Adele will be pushed to set some fashion trends, but she seems most content keeping things basic, especially during performances. The singer is most often seen in simple black dresses, and even the music video for the hit song "Hello" shows her in versatile items like a checked coat, plaid shirt, and printed scarves. "Not only are Adele's vocals in the video beautifully powerful but her fashion choices are attainable," the website Mashable reported.

    6. Avoid Crazy Lifestyle Inflation



    Okay, so she moved into an $8.5 million mansion. That's a big step up. But Adele claims that she isn't suddenly spending extravagantly on luxury items. She told the Daily Mail that she did begin shopping at a higher-end online grocer, but only got a flat-screen television not long ago. "That's probably the biggest change, honestly," she told the newspaper. "That's about it, really. I got a plasma [television]. I used to have that big thick one up until recently."

    7. Find a Good Formula and Stick With It



    Adele has achieved great success by sticking with what has worked for her: singing big, powerful ballads about love and loss. She does it better than anyone else, so why mess with a good thing? This approach can be applied to investing, where it's often best to buy stocks and mutual funds that have a good track record of success and simply letting them do their thing.

    8. Take Care of Your Health



    People don't always think of health as a personal finance decision, but it is. It's hard to work and earn money if you are injured or ill, and ignoring seemingly minor health issues can lead to big, expensive procedures later. Adele underwent surgery on her vocal cords in 2012, and while the ordeal put her on the shelf for a while, it preserved her voice and allowed her to continue her record-breaking career.

    See more of Adele through the years:

     

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    Throw a No-Spend Holiday Party
    It's easy to throw a great holiday bash without spending a lot of cash? Here's how.

    Something as simple as a homemade cider and holiday cookie party can help you save big. Just bake an extra batch of cookies and leave them unfrosted. Then, set up a cookie decorating station with tubes of icing, and bowls of sprinkles.

    This low cost gathering is just one creative way to save. If you want to take your dessert decorating a step further, host a high-concept Gingerbread House Party. Have your guests bring things like candy canes and chocolate morsels and have fun getting crafty on a budget.

    Remember: throwing a creative holiday dessert party can lead to some very sweet savings.

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    Young woman drinking coffee and using her smart phone
    Getty

    By Amanda Dixon

    Now that school is out for the holidays, you're probably looking forward to a few weeks of relaxation. Besides travelling and spending quality time with your family, you likely have nothing planned beyond sleeping in and catching up on your favorite shows. While you certainly deserve a break, it's a good idea to maximize your free time by making some smart financial moves.

    1. Fill out the FAFSA



    Even if your bill for the spring semester has been paid in full, it doesn't hurt to start thinking about financial aid for next year. If you're planning to apply for additional loans, work-study programs or federal grants, you'll need to fill out the FAFSA form again. Many states don't require students to submit their forms until March or June, but it's a good idea to avoid waiting until the last minute.

    Here's why: In some cases, financial aid is available on a first come, first served basis. So if you wait until the last minute, you might miss out on your chance to receive a Pell Grant, for example.

    When the new FAFSA form comes out in October 2016, students will be able to turn in their personal information in the fall. But until then, submitting your FAFSA in early January will give you priority access to the financial assistance you need.

    2. Order Your Textbooks



    While you're enjoying your winter break, textbooks are probably the least of your concerns. But the sooner you place your orders, the less you'll spend on them.

    College students who wait until classes begin to buy their books often have to settle for the ones on the shelves of their campus bookstores. And those textbooks typically cost more than the same ones purchased on amazon.com or rented from other websites. If you're tired of wasting all of your money on textbooks, comparing prices in December, buying some used books and renting the rest can potentially save you hundreds of dollars.

    3. Look for Scholarships and Grants



    If you're worried that it'll take you years to pay off your student loans and your school hasn't offered you enough financial aid, you can try using outside awards to make up for the funding gap. Completing applications takes time and spending your entire break hunched over a laptop doesn't sound fun. If you're serious about reducing your financial burden, however, try to carve out some time to search for scholarships and grants.

    Related Article: 4 Steps to Getting More Financial Aid

    4. Pay for a Couple of Coffee Dates



    All students must one day join the workforce and networking is an integral part of job hunting. Instead of using most of the money in your bank account to pay for alcohol (assuming you're of age!) or unhealthy food, you could use it to buy coffee for someone you connected with at an event or on LinkedIn. Treating a new contact to coffee and conducting an informational interview are great ways to learn more about the field you're interested in.

    5. Lock Down Paid Internships



    Sick of interning for free? Paid internships are usually pretty competitive and in some industries, they're very rare. If you're set on getting a summer internship that'll compensate you for your work, it's best to begin looking for one after finals have ended. Keep in mind though that some companies start recruiting candidates even earlier than that.

    6. Review Your Budget or Create One



    If you've already set up a budget, you're light years ahead of many of your peers. Going through it over your winter break can give you an idea of how well you managed your money during the year. Based on your analysis, you might conclude that you could stand to save more or get a part-time job.

    Students who don't have a budget at all might want to consider creating one. Your budget doesn't have to be ultra-complicated, but having some sort of guideline in place and tracking your spending can give you a sense of where your money is going.

    Calculate the Cost of College

    7. Take Advantage of Student Discounts



    As you finish up your last-minute holiday shopping and meet up with old friends, you might as well make the most of the discounts that businesses extend to college students. Presenting your student ID at certain movie theaters, stores and restaurants can cut as much as 15% or more off the final price you pay.

    The Bottom Line



    You might plan to spend the majority of your winter break in front of the television or under the covers. But it's best to get your finances under control while you're not overwhelmed with projects and papers.

     

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