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DailyFinance.com

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    Couple sorting out bills
    Getty


    By Marilyn Lewis

    f you have focused all your retirement planning energy on your 401(k), you may be missing a key piece of the puzzle: Social Security.

    You can influence your eventual payout from this safe, dull old-age safety net to a surprising degree by making some adjustments and changes in your planning.

    The time to get started pumping up your Social Security checks is now, even if you've got decades to go before retirement. Here are some ways to do just that.

    From our Solutions Center: Maximize your Social Security benefits


    1. Work more years


    You must work at least 10 years to collect Social Security. The size of your benefit checks is decided by a formula that is based on your 35 highest-earning years of work. If you didn't work 35 years, the formula uses zeros for the missing years. Zero years lower your benefits, so add as many more years of work as you can.

    SocialSecurity.gov explains the details and shows how benefits are calculated.


    2. Avoid claiming too early


    The age at which you start collecting Social Security makes a big difference in the size of your checks. (This chart shows how.) You can start as early as age 62, but your checks will be forever 25 percent to 30 percent less than you're due, depending on when you were born. And if you die first, your spouse's Social Security survivor benefits will be smaller than if you'd waited.

    Some people have no choice. Many retirees stop work earlier than they planned because of illness or unemployment, or to be caregivers. In that case, try to use other sources of income if possible, so you can hold off claiming until you're older.


    3. Aim for full retirement age


    Social Security calculates monthly checks based on your "full retirement age." That's when you are eligible for 100 percent of your Social Security benefit.

    Full retirement age varies: It's age 66 for people born from 1943 to 1954, increasing gradually to 67 for those born after 1959. To get all the benefits you can, use this Social Security calculator to find your full retirement age and plan your retirement around it.

    The longer you wait, the larger your checks and cost-of-living adjustments, which are based on your monthly checks. Waiting to age 70 is even better than collecting at your full retirement age. But more on that later.


    4. Raise your income


    Doing what you can do now to grow your income will fatten your Social Security checks in the future. Use the Social Security Retirement Estimator to see the effects of more income on your benefits. The estimator taps into your personal work history to give a reasonably accurate estimate of benefits.

    Some ways to boost your income:

    5. Go for the gold


    The average Social Security check for 2016 is $1,341 for those who collect at full retirement age, according to the Social Security Administration. But you may be able to do better - much better.

    Planning ahead counts. Use the Social Security Retirement Estimator to see what you'd need to do - such as retire later or earn more now - to max out your eventual monthly benefit.


    6. Hold on until age 70


    Delaying Social Security as long as possible is not for everyone. If you have reason to believe you won't live long, perhaps you should collect early. But the value of waiting beyond full retirement age and collecting at age 70 is obvious in this example from the SSA:

    The maximum benefit depends on the age you retire. For example, if you retire at full retirement age in 2016, your maximum benefit would be $2,787.80. However, if you retire at age 62 in 2016, your maximum benefit would be $2,102. If you retire at age 70 in 2016, your maximum benefit would be $3,576.

    There's no benefit, though, in waiting past age 70. Learn the facts of your case by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213. Or find an office near you and pay a visit.



    7. Get professional help


    In many instances an informed decision about when to claim which Social Security benefits can boost benefits by tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime, especially for couples.

    Various companies will prepare a customized analysis revealing exactly when to claim Social Security benefits to receive the maximum lifetime payout.

    Social Security Choices sells one such product for $39.99 and, in partnership with Money Talks News, offers a $10 reduction (use coupon code "moneytalks").​

    Because the claiming strategies for couples can be complex, an inexpensive analysis showing the exact dates when each of you should claim could be well worth the cost.


    8. Look into spousal benefits


    Married people have an advantage in the Social Security system. Even a spouse who never worked can claim benefits. Married people can receive half their spouse's Social Security benefit, and that may be more than they'll make on their own.

    Divorced people (here are the rules) married 10 years or longer qualify, too. Here is the SSA explanation of same-sex couples' benefits and rights.

    To get spousal benefits you must be at least 62 and your spouse, the primary worker earner (government jargon for the one with the biggest benefit), must be receiving Social Security checks or be eligible for them.


    9. Pump up your spouse's survivor benefit


    When you die, your Social Security benefits end. But your widow or widower may earn survivor benefits, possibly as much as half of your full retirement amount. (Here is some SSA information about survivors.) The bigger your benefit, the more your spouse will receive when you're gone. So do all you can now to increase your benefit checks.


    10. Weigh the cost of working while claiming benefits


    The government reduces your Social Security checks by $1 for every $2 you earn if you start your benefits before full retirement age and make more than a specific amount, which is $15,720 in 2016. (The penalty stops on earnings above $41,880.)

    See the rules to weigh the pros and cons of working while collecting Social Security. You might decide it's better to hold off collecting, given the penalty and the fact that your benefits will keep growing while untouched. And, remember: You'll get all the money back in bigger checks after you hit full retirement age, the SSA says.


    11. Watch out for taxes


    If your only income in retirement is from Social Security, you probably won't have to worry about paying income tax. But if you have additional income from other sources, try to reduce your total income to minimize the tax bite. Depending on your income, up to 85 percent of your benefits can be taxed.

    Taxes are based on your combined income: your adjusted gross income plus half of your Social Security benefit plus non-taxable interest. The SSA explains in detail.

    If combined income is more than $34,000 ($44,000 for couples), as much as 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable. You can reduce your tax bill in retirement by cutting expenses so you need less income and​ choosing investments with an eye to reducing taxes​.


    12. Pay off debts


    Certain debts - including federal taxes, child support or alimony and federal student loan balances - can be garnished from Social Security checks. Pay them off before retirement so you can keep your entire benefit check.


    13. Check for errors


    Keep an eye out for your Social Security statement in the mail each year or find your statement online. Look it over to ensure your income is reported correctly. Get credit for every penny you've earned to boost your eventual benefit checks.


    14. Collect benefits for minor children


    Once you start collecting benefits, your unmarried dependent children 18 or younger can receive benefits (see details here) too. Biological children, adopted children, stepchildren and grandchildren are eligible, as are full-time high-school students aged 18 to 19 and children disabled before age 22 (details here).

    When do you expect to start collecting Social Security? Let us know in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

     

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    Wedding rings on wooden table
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    By Sarah Winfrey

    Are you engaged? Getting engaged soon? Hoping to get engaged someday? No matter where you are in the process, it's worth thinking about how you want to make the statement.

    Many couples are finding that they don't want to go the traditional route of offering the bride-to-be a diamond ring. Some choose something else because they want to make a statement, others because they disapprove of the diamond industry - and even others because they simply like another option better.

    If you're considering doing something non-traditional, there are many ways to personalize your engagement and make it stand out from others. Here are some frugal ideas for you. (See also: 7 Smart Ways to Save on a Wedding Dress)

    1. Rings

    Even if you choose to use a ring to symbolize your engagement, it doesn't have to be a diamond. These options work if you like the symbolism of the ring but want more flexibility in the material.
    • Wooden Rings
      • There are so many wooden ring options to choose from! Many people like the fact that wood is a natural material and that trees symbolize both growth and rootedness - two ideas that are foundational to a marriage. Wooden rings sound like they might be big and clunky, but they can actually be delicate, with mother-of-pearl inlays and more. If you want a unique engagement ring, these might be for you.
    • Other Clear Gems
      • If you like the look of a traditional diamond engagement ring but you don't want to spend the money on a stone, don't want to support the diamond industry, or you want to be able to get a new ring in a few years, consider a cheaper clear gem. Moissanite is the most common diamond alternative, but there are actually quite a few other choices.
    • No-Stone Rings
      • If you are fine with a stoneless ring, there are about a million options out there. You can get something delicate - maybe simply a knotted piece of gold - or something much more elaborate. Really, you can make the ring look like anything you choose! The only downside of this option is that people often use rings without stones for promise rings. If you don't mind explaining your engagement ring to people you meet, though, it can be an awesome choice.
    2. Other Jewelry

    Don't like rings, but like the idea of a gorgeous piece of jewelry as an engagement gift? Consider a different piece of jewelry. Really, the options here are endless, but here are two of my favorites.
    • Lockets
      • A locket is a great choice for a piece of engagement jewelry because the idea is so romantic. No matter what you put inside of it, the recipient will keep it close to their heart. It can also be a great choice for folks who can't wear rings at work, or for keeping your engagement quiet for a while. You can use a traditional locket, with a photo or something special inside, or you can get a more modern clear one, so that everyone can see the symbols of your love.
    • Personalized Bracelets
      • Bracelets are a great, inexpensive engagement option. You can choose from various metal options or engraved leather. Have one etched with a short handwritten message, so your own words in your own writing are always visible on your beloved's wrist.
    3. Non-Jewelry Items

    Maybe jewelry really isn't your thing. That's okay, too, because there are some fun engagement options that don't involve jewelry at all. These are great for people who cannot wear any jewelry when they work, so they can keep a symbol of love with them even when they're on the job.
    • Engraved Wallet Cards
      • These engraved wallet cards fit easily into a wallet, allowing a beloved to see your loving words anytime they take it out. They are highly discreet and can make for a fun secret between lovers. They are also a great choice for people who want to say more than can be engraved onto a ring. Give your lover all your words of love when you get engaged, and let them carry your love with them.
    • Tattoos
      • These have become increasingly mainstream over the last few years, but they are still a great engagement option. If you want your love to last forever, why not tattoo it onto your skin? Tattoos also give you the ultimate in creative options for how you want to declare you love. Pick something that is meaningful to the two of you.
    Do you have an alternative to a diamond engagement ring? How did you express your love when you got engaged?

     

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    What are a few financial goals you're aspiring to reach?

    Perhaps you want to pay off debt, save $2 million for retirement, or give more than you ever thought possible.

    One of the best ways to get where you want to go in life is to look at the lives of those who have arrived. How did they accomplish these goals? What made the difference for them? Are these things you can do, too?

    Sometimes, it's easy to put limitations on ourselves. We think that because of this or that circumstance, we'll never reach our goals. Why think like that? Is that helpful? Of course not.

    The truth is, ordinary people can do extraordinary things. But it's not just what they choose to do that matters, it's what they refuse to do that matters as well.

    Let's take a look at some things enormously financially successful people refuse to do.

    1. They refuse to dwell on their success.

    Imagine you've done something and seen some success. Maybe you started a business and are making decent money. Perhaps you built something nobody has ever built before. You might have even landed your dream job.

    It can be tempting to dwell on success to the point that innovation comes to a screeching halt. After all, you've made it, right? Well, not quite yet. If your goal is to be enormously successful with your finances, it's best to take this advice from Steve Jobs:

    I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what's next.

    The founder of Apple certainly lived up to his advice. He also built an incredible team at Apple that was motivated to work on the something new all the time - motivated to innovate and not settle for even for the great success they discovered.

    2. They refuse to let disappointment destroy their dreams.

    When you are disappointed, do you feel like giving up? Probably. Should you feel that way? No way!

    Let disappointment encourage you to try harder at becoming successful.

    Jerry Seinfeld has been said to have been booed off stage the first time he walked out in front of an audience at a comedy club. Imagine that! This is Jerry Seinfeld, someone who today is enormously successful because he refused to give up. Amazing.

    What are your dreams? What would you love to do in your life? Chances are, you can think of a couple of disappointing circumstances that might discourage you from reaching your goals - but why let them weigh you down?

    3. They refuse to become disorganized.

    Look around at your office right now. Is it organized? Is it nice and tidy, or is it a mess?

    Organizing your office space - and your home - can help clear your mind and allow you to focus on reaching your ultimate goals.

    Think about it. When you sit down to write a masterpiece, are you distracted by clutter? The truth is, when you have a pile of papers on your desk or your email inbox is a mess, it's difficult to focus on the things that matter most.

    You might be wondering why it's difficult to focus when you're surrounded by clutter. Good question. You see, if you're thinking to yourself that you should really be cleaning up the clutter or you're wondering what that stack of papers on your desk means (because it might represent unknown work to do), it's going to be tremendously difficult to push those thoughts aside and focus on the task at hand. They're distractions.

    In other words, you need mental space to think.

    David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, often talks about the importance of capturing everything on your desk and in your mind that needs attention and organizing it. Many successful entrepreneurs have followed this advice and found success. You probably would too.

    4. They refuse to sacrifice quality for speed.

    Apple, here, is another good example. They were not the first to come out with a smartphone. Remember BlackBerry smartphones?

    You see, Apple could have seen other companies in the smartphone market and felt in a rush to create something for their customers. They could have whipped something together in a flash. Did they? Oh no.

    Instead, Apple took quite a long time to craft their smartphone. They wanted something that was easy to use and fun. They wanted something that would themselves enjoy using. Then, they made it: iPhone.

    Yes, in order to be financially successful as a businessperson, you eventually have to put your product or service out into the world, but you should never do so because you feel pressure. Instead, take the time necessary to make something great. Make something that sells itself. You'll be really glad you did.

    5. They refuse to let their current knowledge be good enough.

    You have access to knowledge at your fingertips. Why not use it?

    One common trait you'll find in those who are enormously successful is that they want to learn everything they can about their business and beyond. They are lifelong learners and thinkers. They believe that they can do incredible things with their minds.

    Tim Ferriss is one of those amazing entrepreneurs who has a passion for learning. In fact, Tim not only believes in learning, he practices accelerated learning. He has been able to learn how to dance, cook, and so much more. He has even written on how to learn (but not master) any language in one hour. Crazy amazing.

    Tim took his love for learning and created a business teaching others how to do the same thing. He refused to let his current knowledge be good enough and pushed himself to the max. Why not try something similar?

    6. They refuse to continue tradition without questioning it.

    Have you heard of John Legere? He's the CEO of T-Mobile USA.

    Under his leadership, he has truly shaken up the cellular service industry with new plans and unique offerings. T-Mobile no longer has two-year contracts and abolished overage fees. Amazing.

    Still, other carriers have good offerings, but T-Mobile has truly questioned the traditions of carriers and given customers something different to consider.

    What can be learned here? If your business is struggling, why not question the traditions and processes that have been put in place and see if you can discover something new? It doesn't hurt to try, and it might just make you enormously successful.

    7. They refuse let fear hold them back.

    Fear. It's what can hold you back from a successful, prosperous life.

    There are so many things to be afraid of, folks. I don't need to remind you of them. But you know what? It's unlikely that most of your worries and concerns will ever happen. Don't be afraid.

    One way to get past fear is to write down your fears on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and write on the front: "Do not open until [year from now]." Then, put it somewhere safe where you'll remember to take a look.

    Then, for the next year, attack your fears. Do those good things you ought to do. Strive for success. When the year is over, open the letter and see if any of your fears came true. You'll probably be surprised to find that not many of them did come true - if any of them at all!

    Remember: It's not just what you do that matters, it's what you refuse to do that matters as well. Learn from those who are successful. Take them out for lunch. Read their material. Develop some grit. You'll be better off for it.

     

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    The average American credit score varies by age. The 25 to 34 crowd has the lowest scores on average, likely because they're getting established and paying off student loans. Credit scores steadily climb with age, as consumers become more stable and focus on saving rather than spending. The 55+ crowd has the highest average score of nearly 700.

    The irony here is that 25 to 34 year olds are in the most need of a good score. It's during this time that many are trying to buy a home for the first time, when a good credit score is critical. They are also paying of debt, where a high score could help them refinance student loans and credit cards to a lower rate.

    With that said, you can take some steps to raise your credit score quickly, especially if you're nearer to the bottom credit score range than the top. The first step, of course, is to make sure you know your score. There are several ways to get your score online for free.

    Here are five easy steps to take:

    1. Get rid of errors: Approximately five percent of consumers have an error on their credit report from at least one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Sometimes these errors are as minor as your current address. In some instances, however, they actually affect your credit score.

    If you need to boost your score fast, take the time to pull all three of your individual credit reports. Check the accounts, credit limits, current balances, and payment records carefully. If you notice any issues, take these steps to get the error corrected as soon as possible.

    2. Ask for goodwill adjustments: Even one missed payment can significantly lower your credit score. Missed payments also stay on your credit report for as long as seven years. Sometimes, though, you can get your creditor to take that missed payment off of your record.

    This is known as a goodwill adjustment. A goodwill letter to a creditor explains the situation that caused the late payment. You can ask your creditor to remove negative records from your credit report, which can quickly increase your credit score.

    3. Get a higher limit: One major factor of your credit score is called credit utilization. It measures how much debt you carry in relation to your overall credit limits. If, for instance, you have a $1,000 credit limit on your Chase card and are carrying a $100 balance, your credit utilization is 10%. The lower your credit utilization, the better in terms of your FICO score.

    If you're carrying credit card balances that you're diligently paying down, you could increase your credit score by applying for a higher credit limit. With a good payment history, many credit card companies will give you a modest limit increase, even if you're currently carrying a balance.

    4. Pay down your balances: One of the smartest ways to boost your credit score is to pay down your balances. Similar to seeking a credit increase, reducing your balance on an existing credit card decreases your credit utilization. This approach has the added bonus of reducing your debt.

    5. Auto-schedule your bills: The credit reporting company doesn't know how you pay your bills, and they don't really care. As noted above, however, they very much are concerned about late payments. One simple approach to avoiding late payments is to auto-schedule your bill payments.

    With credit cards, keep in mind that most card issuers allow you to set the due date of your payment. Set the due date to a few days after payday, and then set up an automatic payment with the credit card company. The result is that you'll never miss a payment.

    Improving your credit score is a little like losing weight. There are a few "crash diet" type tricks you can use to boost your score by a few points pretty quickly. But the best bet is to implement healthy habits over the long term. With your credit score, this means keeping credit card balances low, paying all your debts on time, and letting longstanding accounts stay on your record as long as possible. Over time, you'll build your score to a high level, which puts you in a great place any time you want to buy a car, buy a home, or take out a home equity loan.

     

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    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    Retiring comfortably - never mind wealthy - may seem out of reach to many people, given current savings rates. Consider that median savings accumulated by workers ages 51 through 60 years is $49,000, while the number for people ages 30 through 40 is $30,000, according to professional services firm Towers Watson.

    Don't let the statistics scare you. With a little advance planning and self-discipline, you can have a golden nest egg at retirement. Here's how:

    Rule 1: Spend less than you earn

    The formula for retiring rich starts with you actually putting money in the bank. Social Security alone isn't enough to have you living the good life during your golden years.

    Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson recommends you spend only 90 percent of the money you make and sock away the remaining 10 percent.

    If you have zero savings right now, concentrate on building up an emergency fund in a savings account first. Once your rainy-day fund is full, put that 10 percent you're not spending into a dedicated retirement fund.

    If you're currently spending more than 90 percent of your income each month, you may want to read about how to save $1,000 by summer.

    Rule 2: Start saving early

    Thanks to the power of compounding interest, a little money saved now can go a long way at retirement time. But to get the most benefit, you'll want to start saving as early as possible.

    Let's say you're 20 years old and can manage to put away only $100 a month into your retirement fund. Assuming you average 8 percent returns, you'll be closing in on having half a million dollars - $463,806 to be exact - by age 65. Even better, over that 45-year period, you'll only have invested $54,000 of your money to get all that cash in return.

    If you wait until you're 40 to start saving $100 a month, and get that same rate of return, you'll put in $30,000 of your money and get $87,727 in return by age 65. Not bad, but wouldn't you rather have half a million?

    Rule 3: If you start late, make up for lost time

    Maybe you're 55 and think you've missed your window of opportunity to retire rich. Don't wave the white flag just yet!

    The government allows those 50 or older at the end of the year to make catch-up contributions to their retirement funds. You can contribute an extra $6,000 to your workplace retirement program, such as a 401(k), for a total annual contribution of $24,000. IRA catch-up contributions are $1,000 for a total allowable contribution of $6,500 each year.

    You might think there's no way you'd ever have $6,500, let alone $23,000, to invest in a single year, but you could be surprised at when and how you come into extra cash. You may benefit from a loved one's estate, downsize your home or sell a boat or other large toy that no longer fits your lifestyle. When you find yourself on the receiving end of a windfall, don't blow it on a vacation; put it in a retirement account if you want to retire rich.

    Rule 4: Don't leave free money on the table

    If someone tried to hand you $100, would you say no?

    That's exactly what you're doing when you fail to take advantage of a 401(k) employer match. Your company is basically giving you free money with the only string being you need to pony up some of your own cash for the retirement fund too.

    You won't get rich by passing up golden opportunities like this for extra cash. If your employer offers a 401(k) match, make sure you are taking full advantage of it.

    Rule 5: Minimize your taxes

    The rich stay rich, in part, because they're savvy enough not to let Uncle Sam take too much of their money.

    When you're investing your retirement money, be sure to use tax-sheltered accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)'s whenever possible. In addition, be smart about which type of account you use.

    Traditional retirement accounts let you invest money tax-free now and pay the piper once you make withdrawals in retirement. Meanwhile, Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)'s tax you now and make the withdrawals tax-free.

    You'll probably want to discuss with a financial adviser the best option for your particular situation, but generally, Roth accounts are preferable for younger investors. In theory, you should be making more when you're 65 than when you're 25. As a result, your tax rate now may be lower than the rate you'd pay at retirement. However, if you're within a few years of retirement, you may want to consider a traditional account to get the tax benefits now.

    Rule 6: Take a little risk

    You could put all your money in bonds and sleep well at night knowing you'll probably never lose any of your money. But with that approach, you're not going to retire a millionaire either.

    Stocks and real estate are where the money is to be made, but then there is always the risk of a housing bubble bursting or the market crashing. Take heart, though, in knowing that stocks and real estate have historically appreciated in the long run.

    Rule 7: Stay informed about your investments

    Don't mistake taking a risk with being dumb.

    A smart risk may be investing in an emerging market fund. A dumb move may be pouring your life savings into a speculative currency.

    How do you know the difference? By researching available investments, weighing your options and selecting the amount of risk that works for your unique situation. For example, those nearing retirement age may want to minimize their level of risk, while recent college grads can be more daring because time is on their side.

    For more help on investing, read Stacy's advice on how to open a mutual fund and how to select a good investment adviser.

    Rule 8: Break free from the herd

    When the stock market crashed a few years ago, too many people freaked out and sold their investments.

    You know what? Those people took a bad situation and made it even worse. Many sold their investments right when the market was bottoming out, and then they missed the rebound.

    The people who are going to retire rich are those who snatched up stocks at bargain-basement prices in 2009 and then saw their value climb by double digits in the following years. Same thing goes with the housing market. When the bubble burst, the smart people were the ones who were buying houses, not selling.

    It's easy to follow the herd, but if you want to be rich, you need to keep a cool head and make rational money decisions even in the midst of a crisis.

    Rule 9: Work longer

    Or at least wait to file for Social Security. While you can file for Social Security benefits as early as age 62, you'll get a lot more money if you wait until you're 70.

    Once you hit your full retirement age, you can get an 8 percent bump in your benefits for every year you wait to start receiving payments. However, you'll want to file by age 70 because there is no benefit to waiting longer than that.

    You may be worried you'll have one foot in the grave at age 70, but don't fret. According to Social Security actuarial data, at age 70, you should still have an average of 14 to 16 years left to suck all the marrow out of life.

    Rule 10: Maximize your income potential

    Finally, if you want to retire rich, you need to maximize your earnings. That means no more settling for a dead-end job that pays pennies.

    Look for ways to increase your income, which can, in turn, increase the amount of money you are saving for retirement. Consider these options:
    • Does your current field offer some form of credentialing that could increase your opportunities for a raise or a transfer to a higher-paying position?
    • Is there someone in your workplace who could serve as a mentor and help advance your career?
    • Are you eligible for one of the government-funded workforce development training programs?
    • Did you start a college program and never finish it? Will those credits transfer?
    • Could you use an online degree program or vocational classes through a community college to earn a degree or upgrade your skills?

    Regardless of which option you choose, don't fall into the student loan trap. If you do decide to go back to school, look for ways to make college affordable and try to pay as you go rather than going into debt.

    Retiring rich may sound like something reserved for the one-percenters, but by making these smart money moves, you too can have plenty of cash to carry you through your golden years.

    How's your retirement saving going? Share with us in comments or on our Facebook page.

     

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    By Christa Avampato

    The economy's improving, but certain industries are experiencing a greater rebound than others. And the data can be confusing, because "job growth" in reports refers to the number of jobs, not higher wages.

    (See also: 9 Jobs You May Not Have Considered - But Should)

    Here are seven job sectors exhibiting salary increases according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    1. Home Health Care Services

    As people live longer and are faced with the outrageous expense of inpatient services, many are opting for home treatment or outpatient clinics. Home health care services are far less expensive than inpatient services, people can recuperate and maintain their health in the comfort of their own homes, and it provides a greater sense of independence. As a result, home health care services are experiencing increased demand that is also driving up wages.

    2. Individual and Family Services

    Jobs in the individual and family services sector include services that improve the quality of people's lives, such as youth centers, foster care and adoption agencies, and after-school and mentoring programs. Elderly services include senior centers, adult daycare, and support groups. Drug and alcohol abuse treatment and prevention programs, parental support groups, and abuse intervention are also part of this industry. Jobs in these sectors include counselors, teachers, social workers, and case workers who need to increasingly take a holistic view of care and treatment.

    3. Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services

    With many companies still shy to add full-time headcount to their payroll, and a robust freelance industry, it's no wonder that consultants with valuable business, science, and technical expertise are choosing to stay independent. They know how valuable they are and are demanding larger fees for their services as a result.

    4. Computer Systems Design and Related Services

    The line between our online and physical worlds is rapidly blurring. Computer systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and consumers have come to expect a beautiful, seamless online experience. It takes a lot of talent to create that elegance and keep our data safe at the same time. With an increased number of recent data breaches, cyber security is an ever more important aspect of design. The higher quality of design demanded, the higher the designer's salary.

    5. Cement and Concrete Product Manufacturing

    Construction in the residential and commercial sectors is booming, and that means cement and concrete are in high demand. What's interesting about this industry is that it's experiencing a fair amount of innovation, as well. Climate change is increasing sensitivity to our environmental footprint, and in constructing smart buildings that are energy efficient. As concrete and cement are a major component of construction, this boom is a rising tide that lifts all boats (and wages) for its workers.

    6. Office Administrative Services

    Office workers today are expected to do much more than answer phones and keep a calendar. They often function as an office manager, ensuring that productivity remains high for an entire team - or company. They must have sophisticated computer and technology skills, as well as knowledge of areas as varied as finance, accounting, and communications. And with greater knowledge comes higher wages.

    7. Offices of Health Practitioners

    As healthcare gets more technical and sophisticated, the offices of health care practitioners must follow. This means that the people who run these offices must also enhance their skills and knowledge to best communicate with patients, insurance companies, health care providers, and drug and medical equipment companies. This enhanced expertise and knowledge is highly valued in the market.

    If you're using the job market data when considering a career change, make sure to truly understand what data is being represented and what it means. Ideally, you want to match your interests to an industry with increasing wages and an increasing number of job opportunities. Happy hunting!

    Are you considering a career change?

     

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    By Dan Rafter

    It's a big temptation: Your pockets are empty, and you desperately need that morning coffee to get through that commute. But don't do it - don't take that credit card out of your pocket. If you can't pay for that latte with cash, skip it and drink from the free coffeepot at work.

    It's easy to pay for purchases with credit cards. Maybe too easy. But there are some items that you should never pay for with a credit card. Why? There are always better ways to pay for these items, whether they are small, everyday purchases or big-ticket buys.

    Here are five items for which you should never rely on plastic.

    1. Medical Bills

    Facing a big medical bill from your doctor? Don't use your credit card to pay for it. Instead, ask your medical provider to set up an installment payment plan for you. Most medical providers will do this, and the interest rates that they charge (if any) will be lower than the rates attached to your credit card.

    2. Income Taxes

    If you owe taxes, you do have the option of paying them with your credit card. Again, though, there's a better choice. If you owe thousands of dollars to the government, contact the IRS and ask for an installment plan.

    To be eligible for such a plan, you must owe less than $50,000 and be current on your income tax filings. You must also be able to pay what you owe within 72 months.

    This isn't free, of course. The IRS will charge you interest on the money you owe and a late payment penalty, usually at 0.5% a month. But even with these fees, you're better off financially than you would be if you turned to your credit card to pay your taxes.

    3. Unsecure Online Purchases

    The new EMV credit cards, embedded with a computer chip, are supposed to make in-person credit card transactions safer. But these cards don't offer much protection against online credit card fraud. So be careful when you use your card to make online purchases.

    And don't ever use your card on websites that aren't secured.

    Look for "https" at the beginning of a site's URL in your browser. If that's not present, and the site starts instead with "http" (with no "s" at the end), don't buy from it. Such websites aren't secure, and it's far easier for criminals to steal your credit card information from them.

    4. Big Vacations

    We all deserve a break from the working world. An exotic vacation can provide just that. But save the money for it first.

    It's easy to rack up thousands of dollars of credit card debt on a single trip if you charge hotels, gas, meals, and visits to museums and amusement parks. Don't fall into this trap: If you save for your vacation, and stick to a planned budget while you're traveling, you'll feel much more relaxed when you return.

    If you don't, opening that huge credit card bill will make you yearn for yet another vacation.

    5. College Tuition

    Worried about paying for your college tuition? Join the crowd. But don't rely on your credit cards to help foot the bill.

    The interest rates on student loans are typically lower than those attached to credit cards. Many schools will even charge you an additional fee when you pay your tuition with a credit card.

    If you're worried about paying for your college education, meet with your school's' financial aid office. In addition to helping you find low-interest-rate student loans, the staffers there should be able to help you hunt for scholarships or grants that could reduce your tuition burden.

    What do you refuse to purchase with a credit card?

     

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    By Tim Lemke

    When it comes to oil prices, there just doesn't seem to be a bottom these days. Crude oil is selling for about $30 a barrel, and that's having a major impact on both the global economy and Americans' pocketbooks.

    How are low oil prices affecting your finances?

    1. You're Saving on Fuel and Energy Costs

    It's simple: Low oil prices mean you pay less to fill up your car, or to heat and cool your home. IHS Global Insight predicted that Americans would save more than $100 billion, or $750 per household, due to low oil prices in 2015 - and savings are expected to continue this year. (See also: This Is How the High Cost of Cheap Gas Hurts You)

    2. Oil Stocks Have Been Hammered

    In case you didn't notice, any stock or mutual fund associated with the oil industry has been getting creamed for quite a while. I bought shares of the iShares Oil and Gas ETF last year, believing they were bottoming out and would go up in value in short order. I was wrong. Shares are down 25% in the last 12 months, and 43% in the last two years. If you have a 401K or IRA with energy stocks, you may have seen your portfolio drop quite a bit over the last year or so.

    3. You're Saving Everywhere Else, Too

    In America, we're currently in a period of low inflation, and the low price of oil has a lot to do with that. Low oil prices mean it's costing less to ship goods, or for plastics manufacturers to make their products. In fact, low oil prices have a ripple effect on the price of almost everything. As evidence, the consumer price index declined 0.1% in December, after rising just 0.2% in November. The CPI is up just 0.7% in the last year. (On average, it's gone up about 2% annually over the last decade.)

    4. Recycling Isn't a Cash Cow Anymore

    Petroleum is the key ingredient in plastics, and with oil so cheap, there's less demand for recycled plastics. After all, why buy used when new is cheaper? After decades of effort and investment, localities across the country have seen recycling rates rise, along with revenue to local coffers. For example, in 2015 the city of Washington, DC paid its waste management contractor $1.37M to take its plastics and other recyclable materials off its hands, but as recently as 2011, the city earned $550K for its reusable trash. "A real fear now," Michael Taylor of the Society of the Plastics Industry told the New York Times, "is that recycling rates might go down. That would be a horrible situation."

    5. Fuel Taxes Could Go Up

    Many lawmakers and even some business groups have been urging for an increase in federal and state gas taxes as a way of funding infrastructure improvements. And they say the time may be right for an increase, because a gallon of gasoline is selling for its lowest price in years. (Gas taxes are a harder sell when it's already expensive to fuel up.) President Obama recently proposed a $10 per barrel tax on oil in his latest budget, and Alabama, Alaska, and Indiana are among the states discussing a gas tax hike.

    6. You're Traveling and Eating Out More

    If you're paying less for gas, there's more money in your pocket. That means it's less of a financial challenge to take the family to a restaurant or on a vacation. The Wall Street Journal reported that spending on food and accommodations last summer was up 8% over 2014. Many tourists sites, including National Parks, saw good upticks in attendance last year and expect solid performances in 2016.

    7. Life Is Harder if You Live in West Texas or North Dakota

    For several years, places like North Dakota or Midland, TX were enjoying super-low unemployment and a migration of people looking to take advantage of the oil boom. But things aren't nearly as active there now. The state economy grew by only 1% last year, compared to 6% the year prior, according to Kiplinger's. North Dakota's governor recently presented a plan of budget cuts brought on by lower oil revenues. This has also impacted the budgets of other oil-dependent states, including Alaska and Louisiana.

    8. The Ruble and Other Currencies Are Down

    If you're Russian, or invest in currencies, you may have noticed that the value of a ruble against the euro and dollar has been sliding. Journalists reported in January that Russia was looking to cut 10% off its federal budget, which was originally made with $50 per barrel oil prices in mind.

    Russia is one of many countries that relies heavily on oil exports to drive their economy, so low prices can have a severe impact on economic growth. Low oil prices have also impacted the Canadian dollar and Mexican peso (both down about 20% in the last two years), and the Norwegian krone (down about 25%.) The one plus side for Americans is that the U.S. dollar has remained strong, and it's now relatively cheap to travel to some of these countries or consume their exports.

    Have you noticed any surprising effects of cheap oil? Lets us know in comments!

     

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    Why You Should Book Your Summer Vacation This Winter
    Did you know: Finding the perfect time to book your summer travel could land you big savings?

    Obviously, waiting until the last minute to book your plane ticket can get pretty expensive. But planning to buy too far in advance can also cost you.

    For the biggest savings on summer flights, try booking your ticket around 76 days prior to departure. Airlines start increasing prices after that, and the more you wait, the more you pay.

    If you're really looking to cut costs, try booking your flight mid-week. On average, a family of four can save nearly $300 by traveling on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

    So remember, if you want to save more on your summer vacation, start looking this winter!

     

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    By Gregory Go

    For new cardholders and those just beginning their journeys into the complicated world of credit ratings and credit cards, managing and understanding the many types of credit cards and their terms can become confusing.

    While several areas of life allow wiggle room for trial and error, credit scores are less forgiving.
    It's very easy to make a simple mistake that can cost not just a significant drop in your credit score, but also thousands of dollars in the future. That's why it's important to beware of these five common mistakes millennials often make with credit cards.

    1. Carrying Balances and Paying Just the Minimum

    A common belief is that to build a positive credit rating, you have to get a credit card and also carry a balance from month to month. The problem, however, is that credit cards designed for new cardholders generally carry high APRs - as high as 25 percent. If you carry a balance from month to month and only pay your minimum monthly payment due, you are paying considerable cash in interest on purchases, which can potentially create a mountain of debt you can't pay down. Build your credit rating and save on interest by paying your balance in full each month, instead.

    2. Maxing Out Credit Lines

    A new line of credit can be exciting and provide an opportunity to make a large purchase you've had your eye on for a while. At first, it can seem like a simple plan - make the purchase and slowly pay it off. Maxing out credit lines, however, can signal to creditors that you're at risk of defaulting on your balances. Spending too much or maxing out your credit lines also affects your utilization ratio, an important factor in your credit score. Utilization ratio is the percentage of the total available credit the cardholder has used, and a high ratio indicates a higher credit risk. It is often recommended that you keep your total debt-to-credit ratio below 30 percent, which means you may have to put off that large purchase you've been dreaming of for a bit longer.

    3. Focusing on Fancy Rewards and Promotional Offers

    Many credit cards tout a range of special perks and rewards designed to attract new cardholders. While many of these opportunities can be worth hundreds of dollars in cash, airline miles or points, it's important to be aware of what those rewards might cost you. The interest rate plus any associated fees can be more than the rewards and perks are worth. New cardholders are often better off building a positive credit rating by making timely payments on cards with low interest rates, rather than seeking cards with extra rewards or special promotional offers. Those offers will always be around, and you may be in a better position later to take advantage of them without it costing you as much or damaging your credit history.

    4. Using a Credit Card for Everyday Purchases

    The only time it's recommended you use your credit card for everyday purchases like groceries and fast food is if you are earning specific rewards for those types of purchases, and if you pay them off every month in full. If you carry a balance and use your card for everyday purchases, $20 in toothpaste and toiletries can end up costing several times that. If you are unable to pay for living expenses with cash, you may need to readjust or create a budget before taking on the additional weight of a credit card.

    5. Not Taking Due Dates Seriously

    Although it's common for most companies, such as your cellphone provider, to impose late fees when a payment is late, ignoring due dates on credit cards can become far costlier. Late payments not only significantly affect your credit rating but usually come with late fees as well as penalty APRs. One late payment can end up in an APR that's well over 20 percent. That penalty APR combined with a late fee of approximately $30 (and the effect on your credit rating) can cost you hundreds - even thousands - in the end.

     

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    By Nancy Dunham

    It's no secret that rents are high in many areas of the country due in part to millennials' affinity for renting combined with the impact of Great Recession foreclosures that sent some homeowners looking for leases.Boomers, for a variety of reasons, have also become more likely to rent.




    The bottom line is that high demand for rentals has driven up the costs. Even so, it doesn't mean that you can't get a good deal, or at least avoid paying more than you should.

    Consider these tips for tracking down an affordable rental:

    1. Avoid the giant, corporate complexes

    Instead, look for apartments where you will deal directly with the owner or a manager. Those landlords generally place more value on long-term, reliable renters than those who work at corporate complexes, reports The Fiscal Times. They are also less likely to raise rent quickly.

    2. Know the neighborhood

    Even in a seller's market, landlords are anxious to rent their properties to qualified tenants as quickly as possible. Use that to your advantage by scouring the neighborhood and targeting the properties for rent. Consider looking for housing that's a bit older, and you may have a solid shot at negotiating rent, reported Daily Finance.com.

    From our Solutions Center: Click here to effortlessly track your expenses, free

    3. Show them your 'perfect tenant' persona

    It's easy to forget that in many ways landlords are entrusting their valuable property to your care. That's why they look for those with good credit scores, stable employment and solid past rental histories. Sure, it's tempting to wear sweats and sneakers when apartment hunting, but remember - leasing is a business transaction. You needn't dress as if you stepped out of a corporate boardroom, but having a clean, professional appearance is a good idea. Landlords also want you to look good on paper - meaning a good credit score, a stable job history and stable rental history. If one of these things is going to set off alarms, be prepared to address it. For instance, a landlord I know was willing to rent to a couple even though the husband had a marginal credit score, because they were recently married and the wife was now in charge of finances for herself and her (admittedly) disorganized spouse. They were prepared for questions and got the rental.

    4. Prepare to negotiate for savings

    Renters are often surprised at how easily they can reap significant savings by negotiating. Be prepared to ask for one month free, or for a lower monthly rate in exchange for a longer lease. Ask for a two-bedroom apartment for a one-bedroom price. Ask for free fitness membership or a break on utilities or parking. You might even ask if there's some service you could perform - lawn mowing, snow shoveling or even general maintenance on your own unit - for a reduction in rent. The time to speak up is, of course, before you sign or renew a lease.

    5. Weigh everything that is covered by your rent

    Is it vital that you live in an apartment with the "right" address? Consider that at a slightly less prestigious location your rent might also cover the costs of parking, a doorman, on-site fitness facilities, utilities and more.

    Find help for common financial problems in our Solutions Center!

    6. Shop at off-peak times

    Landlords are especially anxious to rent between October and February. You'll find more specials and choices when you shop for a rental at a nonpeak time, reports The Washington Post.

    7. Read the lease first, then sign

    Sure, that sounds like a no-brainer, but in the frenetic, time-consuming rush to rent an apartment many of us sign first and ask questions later. Check the lease, and read all fine print. Do you pay extra for utilities? Is water included? Are there parking restrictions? Can you sublet? And even if everything looks OK but you have misgivings, don't sign, recommends The Fiscal Times.

    8. Ask about referral bonuses

    It's sometimes difficult to find qualified renters for properties, which is why apartment managers often value referrals. Ask if the apartment complex has a referral program or if they would consider paying a "finder's fee" if you refer a prospective tenant who becomes an actual resident. I've heard of referrals ranging from $50 to $250, depending on time of year, location and other variables.

    9. Don't forget about pro-rated rents

    If you rent an apartment but don't plan to move in on the first of the month, find out if the landlord will pro-rate your rent - just allow you to pay for the weeks you are there. Although some property managers of highly desirable units might insist on the full first month's rent, many will likely be more than willing to discount.

    10. Consider your gut reaction to the property

    Rental notices can be misleading, and rental layouts can make a big difference. A 750-square-foot apartment that includes a long hallway might feel smaller than a 600-square-foot apartment with a more open layout. A cheaper apartment in a neighborhood where parking is scarce and tickets are commonplace might end up costing you more than a more expensive place where parking is plentiful, or included in the cost of renting. An awesome deal in a crime-infested area might not feel so awesome when you're trying to catch a taxi late at night. Be realistic about your budget and your lifestyle.

     

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    By Krystal Steinmetz

    Meet "Sally" and "Suzy": These 30-year-old twin sisters are identical in nearly every way. Both women live in Louisville, Kentucky. They're both employed full time, have stellar driving records, decent credit ratings and no lapses in car insurance coverage. They even drive twin 2005 Honda Civics - same color, make, model and mileage.

    Sally pays $2,408 a year for car insurance - to get a policy providing theminimum coverage required by Kentucky - through Farmers Insurance. Meanwhile, Suzy pays Farmers $1,640 for the exact same coverage. So why is Sally paying 47 percent more than Suzy for the same insurance?

    According to the Consumer Federation of America, Sally is forced to pony up more cash for insurance because she's arenter and Suzy is a homeowner.

    From our Solutions Center: How to quickly shop insurance

    That's right. The CFA - which recently conducted an analysis of premium quotes from the major auto insurers for a 30-year-old safe driver in 10 cities across the United States - found that consumers pay an average of 7 percent more (about $112 a year) for auto insurance if they write a rent check rather than a mortgage check for their home.

    Depending on the insurer and where drivers live, they could be like Sally - paying upwards of 47 percent more for insurance. For example, Allstate's auto insurance quote for a renter in Tampa, Florida, was 19 percent more than a homeowner. In Baltimore, Liberty Mutual charged renters 23 percent more.

    The CFA maintains that auto insurance companies' use of homeownership status in pricing leaves low- and moderate-income Americans at an unfair disadvantage. According to Federal Reserve Board data, the median income of renters in the United States was $27,800 in 2013, compared with $63,400 for homeowners.

    "To raise people's auto insurance premium because they can't afford to buy their homes unfairly discriminates against lower-income drivers," said CFA Insurance Director J. Robert Hunter in a prepared statement. "A good driver is a good driver whether she rents or owns her home. Insurance companies should not be allowed to target people based on homeownership status."

    The CFA obtained quotes from State Farm, Geico, Allstate, Progressive, Farmers, Liberty Mutual and Nationwide. Geico was the only insurer whose quotes were the same, regardless of the driver's homeownership status.

    "Virtually every state requires drivers to buy insurance, but we shouldn't force them to buy a home in order to get the best price," Hunter said. "State insurance commissioners and elected representatives should step in and stop this practice," he added.

    Check out "Crazy Auto Insurance Rates: Your DUI May Matter Less Than Credit Score."

    Do you think renters should have to pony up more for car insurance than homeowners? Sound off below or on our Facebook page.

     

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    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    Retiring comfortably - never mind wealthy - may seem out of reach to many people, given current savings rates. Consider that median savings accumulated by workers ages 51 through 60 years is $49,000, while the number for people ages 30 through 40 is $30,000, according to professional services firm Towers Watson.




    Don't let the statistics scare you. With a little advance planning and self-discipline, you can have a golden nest egg at retirement. Here's how:


    Rule 1: Spend less than you earn


    The formula for retiring rich starts with you actually putting money in the bank. Social Security alone isn't enough to have you living the good life during your golden years.

    Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson recommends you spend only 90 percent of the money you make and sock away the remaining 10 percent.

    If you have zero savings right now, concentrate on building up an emergency fund in a savings account first. Once your rainy-day fund is full, put that 10 percent you're not spending into a dedicated retirement fund.

    If you're currently spending more than 90 percent of your income each month, you may want to read about how to save $1,000 by summer.


    Rule 2: Start saving early


    Thanks to the power of compounding interest, a little money saved now can go a long way at retirement time. But to get the most benefit, you'll want to start saving as early as possible.

    Let's say you're 20 years old and can manage to put away only $100 a month into your retirement fund. Assuming you average 8 percent returns, you'll be closing in on having half a million dollars - $463,806 to be exact - by age 65. Even better, over that 45-year period, you'll only have invested $54,000 of your money to get all that cash in return.

    If you wait until you're 40 to start saving $100 a month, and get that same rate of return, you'll put in $30,000 of your money and get $87,727 in return by age 65. Not bad, but wouldn't you rather have half a million?


    Rule 3: If you start late, make up for lost time


    Maybe you're 55 and think you've missed your window of opportunity to retire rich. Don't wave the white flag just yet!

    The government allows those 50 or older at the end of the year to make catch-up contributions to their retirement funds. You can contribute an extra $6,000 to your workplace retirement program, such as a 401(k), for a total annual contribution of $24,000. IRA catch-up contributions are $1,000 for a total allowable contribution of $6,500 each year.

    You might think there's no way you'd ever have $6,500, let alone $23,000, to invest in a single year, but you could be surprised at when and how you come into extra cash. You may benefit from a loved one's estate, downsize your home or sell a boat or other large toy that no longer fits your lifestyle. When you find yourself on the receiving end of a windfall, don't blow it on a vacation; put it in a retirement account if you want to retire rich.


    Rule 4: Don't leave free money on the table


    If someone tried to hand you $100, would you say no?

    That's exactly what you're doing when you fail to take advantage of a 401(k) employer match. Your company is basically giving you free money with the only string being you need to pony up some of your own cash for the retirement fund too.

    You won't get rich by passing up golden opportunities like this for extra cash. If your employer offers a 401(k) match, make sure you are taking full advantage of it.


    Rule 5: Minimize your taxes


    The rich stay rich, in part, because they're savvy enough not to let Uncle Sam take too much of their money.

    When you're investing your retirement money, be sure to use tax-sheltered accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)'s whenever possible. In addition, be smart about which type of account you use.

    Traditional retirement accounts let you invest money tax-free now and pay the piper once you make withdrawals in retirement. Meanwhile, Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)'s tax you now and make the withdrawals tax-free.

    You'll probably want to discuss with a financial adviser the best option for your particular situation, but generally, Roth accounts are preferable for younger investors. In theory, you should be making more when you're 65 than when you're 25. As a result, your tax rate now may be lower than the rate you'd pay at retirement. However, if you're within a few years of retirement, you may want to consider a traditional account to get the tax benefits now.


    Rule 6: Take a little risk


    You could put all your money in bonds and sleep well at night knowing you'll probably never lose any of your money. But with that approach, you're not going to retire a millionaire either.

    Stocks and real estate are where the money is to be made, but then there is always the risk of a housing bubble bursting or the market crashing. Take heart, though, in knowing that stocks and real estate have historically appreciated in the long run.


    Rule 7: Stay informed about your investments


    Don't mistake taking a risk with being dumb.

    A smart risk may be investing in an emerging market fund. A dumb move may be pouring your life savings into a speculative currency.

    How do you know the difference? By researching available investments, weighing your options and selecting the amount of risk that works for your unique situation. For example, those nearing retirement age may want to minimize their level of risk, while recent college grads can be more daring because time is on their side.

    For more help on investing, read Stacy's advice on how to open a mutual fund and how to select a good investment adviser.


    Rule 8: Break free from the herd


    When the stock market crashed a few years ago, too many people freaked out and sold their investments.

    You know what? Those people took a bad situation and made it even worse. Many sold their investments right when the market was bottoming out, and then they missed the rebound.

    The people who are going to retire rich are those who snatched up stocks at bargain-basement prices in 2009 and then saw their value climb by double digits in the following years. Same thing goes with the housing market. When the bubble burst, the smart people were the ones who were buying houses, not selling.

    It's easy to follow the herd, but if you want to be rich, you need to keep a cool head and make rational money decisions even in the midst of a crisis.


    Rule 9: Work longer


    Or at least wait to file for Social Security. While you can file for Social Security benefits as early as age 62, you'll get a lot more money if you wait until you're 70.

    Once you hit your full retirement age, you can get an 8 percent bump in your benefits for every year you wait to start receiving payments. However, you'll want to file by age 70 because there is no benefit to waiting longer than that.

    You may be worried you'll have one foot in the grave at age 70, but don't fret. According to Social Security actuarial data, at age 70, you should still have an average of 14 to 16 years left to suck all the marrow out of life.


    Rule 10: Maximize your income potential


    Finally, if you want to retire rich, you need to maximize your earnings. That means no more settling for a dead-end job that pays pennies.

    Look for ways to increase your income, which can, in turn, increase the amount of money you are saving for retirement. Consider these options:
    • Does your current field offer some form of credentialing that could increase your opportunities for a raise or a transfer to a higher-paying position?
    • Is there someone in your workplace who could serve as a mentor and help advance your career?
    • Are you eligible for one of the government-funded workforce development training programs?
    • Did you start a college program and never finish it? Will those credits transfer?
    • Could you use an online degree program or vocational classes through a community college to earn a degree or upgrade your skills?

    Regardless of which option you choose, don't fall into the student loan trap. If you do decide to go back to school, look for ways to make college affordable and try to pay as you go rather than going into debt.

    Retiring rich may sound like something reserved for the one-percenters, but by making these smart money moves, you too can have plenty of cash to carry you through your golden years.

     

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    By Kira Brecht

    It's the age-old question: Can money buy happiness?

    Much of the time, our energy and focus is on work and career, which primarily is about the chase for the almighty dollar. Generally, people want more for basic needs, including a roof over their heads, food, clothing and maybe a car.

    And we all want more of the fun things money can buy, including vacations, entertainment and the latest
    high-tech toys
    .

    It can be a valuable exercise to take a step back from the daily grind to examine what money means to you and how you spend it. "I think deep down, the brain equates money not so much with happiness as with security and survival. These are nonnegotiable values, primal motivators," says Kenneth Reid, founder of DayTradingPsychology.com.

    "Research shows that the greatest psychological stress occurs when one is unable to act in one's own best interest," Reid says. "But when we are able act in accordance with those primal imperatives, we feel a sense of deep satisfaction. Such acts can be as simple as clipping a coupon and saving 25 cents."

    Ultimately, the goal of money management is to provide discipline and a process for doing the things we must do that may not feel good at the time but are crucial to our future success, says Joshua Wilson, chief investment officer at WorthePoint Financial in Fort Worth, Texas. "Money shouldn't be viewed as a score card, but as a ticket to different degrees of freedom. Some people require more to get to the degree of freedom that they need."

    Money can have paradoxical effects, Reid says. "We've all heard stories about how sudden wealth, such as lottery winnings, can be disruptive, even devastating, to a person or a family. A phrase comes to mind from complexity theory: 'more is different.' It means that scale brings unique challenges. Too much, too soon can be as bad as too little, too late."

    Behavioral economists have identified some ways money could increase levels of happiness.

    Neil Krishnaswamy, a certified financial planner for Exencial Wealth Advisors in Plano, Texas, recommends the book "Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending" by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. "This book provided me with great insights, particularly in how we think about our discretionary spending," he says. "Once our essential, or nondiscretionary, expenses are met, how should we think about spending our discretionary dollars in ways that lead to real, lasting fulfillment? If we're more conscious of how our spending is connected to our values and learn from some of the recent scientific research, we might just be able to use money in a way that really does buy happiness."

    Science shows that there are several ways we can spend money more effectively to increase life satisfaction.

    Buy experiences. Dunn and Norton's research reveals that satisfaction with experiential purchases increases over time, while satisfaction with material goods decreases over time. "I met an older woman the other day in a dentist's waiting room. She had an intense vitality about her that was impossible to ignore," Reid says. "We struck up a brief conversation, which led to my discovery that she also spent two months a year leading walking tours in faraway lands. Money may not buy happiness directly, but it might buy you the challenges you need to achieve something even deeper and more lasting - something we don't have a simple name for."

    Buy time. Spend your money to free up time for family, friends or meaningful hobbies and activities. For instance, hire a housecleaning service or use a dry cleaning service that picks up and drops off to reduce your time spent on errands.

    Pay now, consume later. Technological innovations have made it possible to fulfill almost all desires immediately, Krishnaswamy says. "We are enabled more than ever to consume sooner and pay later. With the Internet, we can shop faster, pay with a credit card and have things delivered to us the next day. When you shop at Amazon.com (ticker: AMZN), you may be tempted to join their Prime program, giving you two-day shipping on all purchases. While efficient and often very practical, shopping this way may deprive you of the experience of delayed gratification."

    Invest in others. Research shows there are good strategies to invest in others that can boost happiness, Krishnaswamy says. Make it a choice to invest in someone, make a connection with them and make an impact in their lives, he says.

    In the end, money may mean different things, including power, freedom or security. If your goal is happiness, research shows that how you spend your money could actually help boost life satisfaction. Maybe money can actually help you buy happiness after all.

     

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    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    A recent study from the Stanford Center on Longevity unearthed an interesting anomaly. While the financial security of Millennials and Gen Xers had dropped significantly from 2000 to 2014, it has risen slightly for baby boomers ages 65 to 74, according to The Sightlines Project.

    "No change is probably more accurate," says Steve Vernon, a consulting research scholar for the center's financial security division. The increase registered only 1 percent, but it was in contrast to the 8 percent drop in financial security measured for 25- to 34-year-olds, the greatest decline among all age groups.

    What's more, seniors have the greatest financial security of any group surveyed. In 2000, 45- to 54-year-olds topped the index, with 75 percent being financially secure. By 2014, that group dropped to 68 percent, while the score for 65- to 74-year-olds increased to 69 percent. The group with the lowest financial security is 25- to 34-year-olds, with only about half (56 percent) being financially secure in 2014. Stanford researchers calculated the financial security index by averaging nine financial metrics including cash flow, emergency savings, assets and insurance coverage.

    Social Security, pensions and jobs stabilize finances. The financial security of seniors is likely holding steady for several reasons. "Social Security does a good job of keeping you out of abject poverty," Vernon says. "People over 65 are also working longer."

    Access to traditional pensions is another factor that helps retirees. "When you look at that older population, a number of them have a traditional pension," says Kevin Crain, managing director and retirement services executive for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "There is some predictable income post-retirement."

    Beyond a steady source of income, older Americans may have greater financial security because they typically carry less debt and are more likely to own a home. Many people in their 60s may also find themselves on the receiving end of an inheritance, which could further buoy their finances.

    Senior fortunes could change later in life. While 65- to 74-year-olds are experiencing relatively stable financial security now, it may not last. Kathleen Hastings, a certified financial planner with FBB Capital Partners in Bethesda, Maryland, cautions that as seniors age, they may strain their resources.

    "If you're looking at the group that's 80 and older, their economic security is deteriorating," Hastings says. She attributes declining financial security among the elderly to increased medical and long-term care costs coupled with Social Security increases that haven't kept pace with health care inflation.

    Financial security tends to decline slightly as people age. The Sightlines Project found that 62 percent of people age 75 and older were financially secure in 2014, compared to 69 percent of people age 65 to 74. While younger seniors may be relatively healthy and able to continue working if needed, the elderly may need expensive care and have dwindling resources to pay for it. "Once you get past age 75, you'll probably see a shift [in security] to the other direction," Crain says.

    Younger generations may not follow in their parents' footsteps. Although the financial security of 65- to 74-year-olds seems stable today, future generations shouldn't necessarily expect the same. "I do think this age group right now is in a unique situation," Crain says. That's because many of today's retirees have Social Security, a traditional pension and their own savings from 401(k) plans and IRAs.

    Millennials and Gen Xers likely won't have traditional pensions to fall back on. They may also have delayed home ownership and taken out significant student loans, increasing their chances of carrying debt into retirement. And with boomer parents living longer, there may be little chance of anything being left over to pass along as an inheritance.

    Vernon and the other collaborators on the Stanford study agree younger generations may be headed for trouble, but they are quick to say they aren't passing judgement. "We're very careful that we're not shaking our fingers at individuals," Vernon says. Instead, he hopes The Sightlines Project report will raise awareness of the need to take action, both individually and collectively through policy changes, to improve financial security for all generations.

    Steve Martin, a senior managing advisor with BKD Wealth Advisors in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, says the best takeaway may be this: "The sooner people start planning for retirement, the better off they'll be."

     

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    By Andrea Cannon

    Leasing is now more popular than ever. In fact, Millennial car buyers are leasing 46% more over the past five years because they are able to afford their dream car at a much lower cost. If you've thought about leasing a vehicle, then we've provided what you need to know before visiting the dealer.

    Benefits of Leasing

    You will pay for the car while you need it, and at the end of your lease, you'll simply return it.

    There are a number of other benefits associated with leasing a vehicle, such as:
    Lower repair costs, because the warranty will cover most of them.
    • Lower sales tax, since you'll only be responsible for paying sales tax on the portion of the car you finance.
    • Lower monthly payments compared to buying.
    • Typically, there is no down payment, or a very low down payment, required.
    • Fewer obligations - at the end of your contract, you simply turn in the keys and walk away.
    • New vehicles every few years. Once your lease term is up, you can choose a new lease and enjoy all the benefits and features of a new car. This also means that you can drive a better car for less money every month. On the other hand, you won't be able to customize your vehicle.
    Length of Lease and Key Contract Terms

    Lease terms usually last between two to four years. However, every leasing contract is different, so you want to find out specifics, like the length of the term and the mileage cap (which is typically between 12,000-15,000 miles/year).

    Most drivers agree that leasing contracts can be very confusing, even more so than when buying a vehicle. If you'd like to go in as prepared as possible, consider reviewing some common contract terms. There's a long list of costs, terms, and fees on a lease contract, but the key items to look for are pretty clear.

    Gross Capitalized Cost

    This is the sticker price of the car. Like everything else in life, it's negotiable. Don't pay full price!

    Adjusted Capitalized Cost

    This is the price of the car less negotiation, rebates, trade-in, and down payment.

    Residual Value

    When you turn in the car at the end of the lease, the carmaker estimates it will still be worth something; the car's residual value. The higher this number, the lower the depreciation (and the lower your payments).

    Depreciation

    This is the value of the car over the months and miles you will be driving it. You can think of this as the rental fee for the car. Or you can think of it as Adjusted Capitalized Cost - Residual Value.

    Money Factor

    This is the interest rate you'll pay, but it's not a straight forward interest rate.To compare it with an actual interest rate, multiply it by 2400, so you have a better idea of the value of the loan. This is also negotiable.

    This interest rate will be charged to the sum of Adjusted Capitalized Costand Residual Value. It seems like double counting, but you're paying for both the use of the car and money the finance company "loaned" you to lease the car. It may appear on your bill as Finance Charge or Rent Charge.

    Monthly Lease Payment

    Finally, this is what you'll pay each month. It's simply the Depreciation + Finance Charges + Sales Tax.

    A good lease deal is one with the lowest Adjusted Capitalized Cost, the highest possible Residual Value, and the lowest possible Finance or Money Factor. Be sure to negotiate for all three!

    Financing and Payment Options

    As is the case when purchasing a car, you will have a number of financing options available to you when leasing. Make sure to research lease specials and financing options in your area before visiting a dealership. Use Edmunds' Price Promise tool to find special offers near you.

    Leasing can be difficult if you don't have good credit. If you aren't getting the financing terms you're after, then the DMV recommends first working on raising your credit score, offering a higher down payment, or lowering the annual mileage of your lease. If you have a vehicle trade-in, this can be a great start for your down payment.

    Remember, the higher your down payment is, the lower your monthly payments will be. On the other hand, some experts recommend putting as little down as possible because if your vehicle is wrecked shortly after leasing, you will be out of any money you invested upfront.

     

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    By Qiana Chavaia

    In a decade-long Prudential survey that studied the financial experiences of women, research data showed that since the 2008 financial crisis, women have made significant improvements in their financial behavior. Still, many continue to admit a lack of knowledge and understanding of sophisticated financial products.

    That lack of knowledge causes more than 50% of women to rely on someone else to make financial decisions regarding their future. On the other hand, the study dispels several myths about female financial behavior, casting a more positive light on women's money habits.

    Here are four common money misconceptions about women.

    1. Women Are Impulse Shoppers

    One of the most common misconceptions is that women are impulse shoppers. Data from the survey showed that often, the last-minute purchases referred to as impulse buys are made using funds already set aside within a budget. And the majority of respondents (70%) claimed to spend based on need, not wants.

    2. Women Don't Know How to Manage Money

    Most people don't fully understand money management - but that's a problem for both sexes, and not unique to women. However, a majority of women distrust the process of turning planning over to a financial professional - six in 10 prefer the help of family and friends. This differs from men, who often prefer outside sources of help.

    3. Women Don't Understand Retirement Planning

    Women's understanding of workplace retirement plans and IRAs showed considerable improvement since the 2008 crisis, up from 47% to 72% of respondents. While many women have more to learn about other retirement products such as annuities, a majority of female respondents have seen progress in their understanding of retirement planning.

    As women increasingly become primary earners or amass significant net worth of their own, their financial behaviors and understanding of money management will undoubtedly continue evolving.

    4. Women Don't Make Financial Decisions in Their Households

    The belief that women don't make household financial decisions is an entirely outdated and erroneous one, according to the data. The survey showed that 95% of women consider themselves financial decision makers, and 85% of married women say they manage the household's financial decisions themselves, or jointly with their spouse. That means today's women are developing (or in many cases already have) a much more thorough understanding of personal finances and investing than earlier generations.

    Do you cling to any of these money myths about women?

     

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    Can Meal Subscription Boxes Save You on Groceries?
    Meal subscription services have been around for a few years now. For between $9 to $15 a meal, companies like Hello Fresh, Plated and Blue Apron will deliver easy, ready-to-cook dishes complete with portioned ingredients right to your door.

    But the real question is: Can they save you money?

    That all depends on your dining habits. If you're someone who does a lot of cooking at home, you're not likely to save any money with a subscription service. In fact, you might end up spending more.

    However, what you will save is time.

    You're not going to be bogged down by things like last-minute grocery shopping and hunting for recipes - so for some of you, that might be worth the extra cost!

    So who will save money with a subscription service? It's the people and families who dine out often and spend much more than they have to.

    Sound familiar? If you love to cook new things but just can't find the time to shop for groceries, these services can be a great way to cut costs by up to 50 percent a meal, depending on where you eat. So while a meal subscription service might not be for everyone, they could be a great option for adventurous foodies looking to expand their tastes and save a few dollars.

    Each company has its own menus and pricing, so shop around!

     

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    By Krystal Steinmetz

    Americans sure have a lot to gripe about these days - from problems with banks or their wireless provider to being victimized by scams run by impostors. The Federal Trade Commission received more than 3.08 million consumer complaints in 2015.

    For the first time in 15 years, the FTC received more debt-collection complaints (897,655) from consumers than it did identity theft complaints (490,220), which had previously held the top spot among consumer complaints since 2000.

    From our Solutions Center: Free help with debt collectors

    Debt collection gripes made up 29 percent of the complaint calls to the FTC last year, while 16 percent of the complaints were related to identity theft. The Consumer Sentinel Network data book is an annual report documenting consumer complaints received by the FTC, as well as state and federal law enforcement agencies, national consumer protection organizations and non-governmental organizations.

    "While debt collection complaints rose to the top spot among complaint categories, the report notes that this was due in large part to a surge in complaints contributed by a data contributor who collects complaints via a mobile app," the FTC explains. "This change caused a spike in complaints related to unwanted debt collection mobile phone calls."

    Still, identity theft complaints rose by more than 47 percent from 2014, on the heels of growing complaints about tax identity theft fraud.



    "We recognize that identity theft and unlawful debt collection practices continue to cause significant harm to many consumers," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "Steps like the recent upgrade to IdentityTheft.gov and our leadership of a nationwide initiative to combat unlawful debt collection practices are critical to our ongoing work to protect consumers from these harms."

    The FTC says these were the top five consumer complaints in 2015:
    • Debt collection: 897,655 complaints. (For ways to deal with this problem, check out "4 Steps to Stop Debt Collectors in Their Tracks.")
    • Identity theft: 490,220. There are ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. Click here for 10 great tips.
    • Impostor scams: 353,770
    • Telephone and mobile services: 275,754
    • Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries: 140,136

    You can file a consumer complaint with the FTC online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

     

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    By Karla Bowsher

    Retail drug prices, on average, more than doubled over a seven-year period, according to data from AARP.

    The nonprofit's latest Rx Price Watch report, which tracks prescription drugs widely used by older Americans, found that the retail cost of prescription drug therapy reached an average of $11,341 per drug, per year in 2013.

    That's up from an average of $5,571 in 2006, when Medicare implemented its prescription drug benefit, Medicare Part D.

    Leigh Purvis, director of health services research in AARP's Public Policy Institute, tells the Associated Press:

    "Our concern with the prices we're seeing is that the overall trend is really accelerating."

    The 2013 average cost of $11,341 is also unaffordable for retirees with low incomes and limited savings, Purvis says.

    According to AARP, which advocates for senior citizens, the 2013 average cost is equivalent to:
    • Almost three-quarters of the average Social Security retirement benefit ($15,526).
    • Almost half of the median income for Medicare beneficiaries ($23,500).
    • More than one-fifth of the median U.S. household income ($52,250).




    The latest Rx Price Watch report also shows that drug price increases are outpacing inflation.

    In 2013, for example, the average annual increase in retail prices for a combined set of 622 widely used prescription drugs was 9.4 percent. The general inflation rate, however, was 1.5 percent over the same period.

    AARP attributes its findings on the much higher average cost "entirely" to price increases for brand-name and specialty drugs, which the nonprofit reports "more than offset often substantial price decreases among generic drugs."

    From our Solutions Center: How to quickly shop insurance

    Of course, as is the case for most types of purchases, consumers are not obligated to buy brand-name drugs and can save a lot of money by buying generics.

    To learn more about how to lower your drug costs - whether you use brand-name or generic drugs - start with:
    What's your take on AARP's findings? Let us know what you think by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

     

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