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Nike Air Force 1 LV8 Wolf Grey and Metallic Red Bronze

With summer on the horizon, you've got to be eyeing a pair of Nike Air Force 1s for the season. Of course, there are several style options out there to choose from so we can't help but highlight this fantastic new colorway as our first choice for freshness. Continue reading…
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Jay Z Debuts 'Glory' Video Dedicated to Blue Ivy

After announcing the launch of TIDAL three weeks ago, Jay Z has finally released his own contribution to the music streaming service. This effort from the rapper is a special one because it is a revamped version of his song, "Glory." Continue reading…
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T.I. Remixes Ciara's 'I Bet'

Ciara released her very personal ballad "I Bet" earlier this year and with her new album, Jackie, debuting next month, she's on track for another R&B takeover. Now T.I. jumps on the track and gave it a little makeover. Continue reading…
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Loathe It? Leave It. 5 Simple Steps for Switching Banks

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By Maryalene LaPonsie

Are rude tellers and outrageous fees among your bank's claims to fame? Enough already! Plenty of other banks want your business. Why waste your time and money on an institution you hate? You may think switching banks is a royal pain, but it's really not. Here are five steps to make the process as painless as possible.

1. Review Your Options

This step is likely the one you'll spend the most time on, but don't rush the process. You don't want to trade one bad bank for another. In fact, after your research, you may find you don't want a new bank at all. You may discover a credit union is your best bet for financial bliss. Everyone's priorities are different, but here's what you may want to consider when looking for the best financial institution for your money:
  • Monthly cost of a checking account -- and how you can avoid paying it.
  • Overdraft fees and overdraft protection options, as well as their cost.
  • ATM availability and fees for using out-of-network machines.
  • Online features, such as bill payment services and mobile account access.
  • Branch locations and hours -- if you still like the personal touch.
  • Perks such as credit or debit card rewards.
  • Ability to bundle all banking needs (i.e. checking, savings, loans and investments) at one institution.
  • Promotions for new customers.
In addition to looking at local institutions, don't forget to check out virtual banks like Capital One 360 and Ally, which can offer competitive services and easy account access online and through ATMs.

2. Ask for a Switch Kit

Once you've settled on a new bank or credit union, ask for a switch kit. Some institutions offer a packet of forms and information to help guide you through the process of switching banks. Contents may include direct deposit forms, worksheets and checklists.

As part of a switch kit, you may also get a form to mail to your old bank asking them to close your account. That can be handy, but hold onto the form. You don't want to use it just yet.

3. Open a New Account

Now it's time to actually open the account. Depending on the institution, you may need to make an appointment to do so, or you may be able to walk in any time during business hours. Typically, you'll be required to provide:
  • Government-issued identification such a driver's license.
  • Social Security number.
  • Cash for the initial deposit.
Online banking applications may ask for your name, address and other identifying information in lieu of seeing a photo ID. If you're applying for a joint account, it may save time if you and your co-applicant are able to go together and open the account. However, many institutions will let one applicant start the process and let the second person come in at a different time to present their identification and sign the necessary paperwork.

4. Update Billing Information

You have your new account open, but don't close the old one just yet. First, you need to make sure all your billing information is updated. If you use an online bill pay service, print out your list of payees and enter that information into the bill pay service for your new account. Checking each account off as you enter it is a good way to ensure you don't skip any.

Next, check in with your insurance companies or any other company you may have authorized to take payments automatically on a periodic basis. If you have a PayPal, Serve or prepaid card attached to your checking account, update those as well.

Finally, leave a balance in your old account to cover any outstanding checks or recurring charges you may have forgotten about. Since most checking accounts have a monthly fee attached to them, it could get expensive to leave your old account open indefinitely. However, you'll want to wait at least a month or two to make sure you've caught any straggling bills.

5. Close the Old Account

After a few weeks with no activity on your old account, it's probably safe to close it. At this point, you can send in the form your bank provided with the switch kit, or you can have the satisfaction of walking into a branch and telling them face-to-face that you two are through.

Have you ever switched banks? Leave a comment below or head to our Facebook page to tell us what finally pushed you to kiss your bank good-bye. Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash.

 

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Market Wrap: Stocks Slip a Bit as Earnings Worries Linger

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Getty Images for NasdaqChad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, rings the Nasdaq opening bell Thursday as the stock began trading for the first time.
By Noel Randewich

NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended marginally lower Thursday as lingering worries about upcoming corporate earnings reports offset enthusiasm about a trio of soaring Wall Street debuts.

Weighing on the S&P 500 were Apple and General Electric, which is expected to report its first-quarter results Friday before the start of trading.

The S&P 500's top gainer, Netflix (NFLX), closed 18.2 percent higher a day after the video streaming service posted better-than-expected results.

Shares of Etsy (ETSY), an online marketplace for handmade goods and crafts, finished 87.5 percent higher and private-equity backed Party City (PRTY) stock jumped 21.8 percent in their IPOs.

The stock of electronic trading firm Virtu Financial (VIRT) closed 16.7 percent higher in its market debut in a sign that public angst over "high-frequency" trading is waning.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 6.84 points, or 0.04 percent, to end at 18,105.77. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 1.64 points, or 0.08 percent, to 2,104.99 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 3.23 points, or 0.06 percent, to 5,007.79.

Of the 51 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported so far, 76.5 percent exceeded profit expectations, well above the long-term average of 63 percent.

After mixed trading sessions this week, major indexes are about 1 percent below record highs despite recent concerns about weakness in first-quarter earnings. But it is too early to pronounce the March-quarter earnings season an unexpected success, strategists said.

How Negative?

"Where are we on earnings? We know they're going to be negative year over year but just how negative are they going to be?" said Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research in Chicago.

"It's a game. The analysts will cut too far so the companies can beat."

Apple (AAPL) closed 0.48 percent lower at $126.17 while GE (GE) ended down 0.65 percent at $27.28, with analysts on average expecting the conglomerate to post a drop in quarterly earnings, according to Thomson Reuters data.

First-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to have declined 2.6 percent from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data, hurt by low oil prices, a strong dollar and extreme weather in the eastern United States. Revenue is forecast down 2.8 percent from a year ago.

SanDisk (SNDK) lost 4.51 percent to close at $67.91 after its forecast. Philip Morris International (PM) stock surged 8.74 percent to $84.96 after the cigarette maker's revenue and profit fell less than expected in the first quarter.

After the bell, Mattel (MAT) posted quarterly results that sent its shares 7.7 percent higher.

On Thursday, declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,700 to 1,333, for a 1.28-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,434 issues fell and 1,289 advanced, for a 1.11-to-1 ratio.

The S&P 500 posted 8 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 102 new highs and 17 new lows.

-With additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica and Caroline Valetkevitch.

What to watch Friday:
  • The Labor Department releases the Consumer Price Index for March at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
  • At 10 a.m., the Conference Board releases Leading Indicators for March, and the University of Michigan releases its preliminary survey of consumer sentiment for April.
Earnings Season
These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
  • Comerica (CMA)
  • General Electric (GE)
  • Honeywell International (HON)
  • Reynolds American (RAI)
  • Seagate Technology (STX)
  • Synchrony Financial (SYF)

 

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Tax Refund Advances Appeal to More Cash-Strapped Filers

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By HOPE YEN

WASHINGTON -- Cash-strapped Americans anxious for tax refunds are increasingly turning to payment advances, prepaid cards or other costly services when getting tax preparation help, according to new federal data raising concerns among regulators about whether consumers are fully informed about the fees.

Regulators are looking to increase oversight of preparers amid the rise in "refund anticipation checks," a type of cash advance especially popular among low-income families who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, the government's $65 billion cash benefit program. The advances are being marketed as a way to get fast refunds or defer payment of tax preparation costs.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says some consumers have complaints about refund anticipation checks centered on advertising, quality of service or fees.

The bureau is finalizing the first rules on prepaid debit cards, including those for tax refunds, that would require "easy to understand" disclosures upfront about costs and risks.

Refund anticipation checks rose to roughly 21.6 million in 2014, up 17 percent from 2011, according to IRS data provided to The Associated Press. About half the purchasers are EITC recipients; roughly 84 percent are low-income, according to the data. Industry analysts project the payment advances and their fees will become more widespread as tax preparers seek to boost revenue.

Currently, refund anticipation checks and prepaid cards make up 10 percent of industry giant H&R Block's (HRB) revenue and more than 20 percent of Liberty Tax Service's (TAX), according to earnings reports.

Both companies said they are committed to providing consumers with the information they need to make tax-filing decisions, including use of refund anticipation checks. They said the payment advances offer added value, such as convenience.

'Wild, Wild West'

The Internal Revenue Service has been pushing Congress for new authority to regulate the $10.1 billion tax preparation industry after an appeals court last year barred it from requiring tax preparers to undergo background checks and testing.

"It's the wild, wild West," said Nina Olson, the IRS' national taxpayer advocate, describing the current state of the industry. She called the level of risk for abuse in pricing and quality of service unprecedented.

The National Association of Tax Professionals supports certification of providers to ensure a minimum level of competency. But the Institute for Justice, which filed the lawsuit against IRS, says new licensing requirements and other oversight aren't the answer.

"We should do more to increase competition, not drive independent tax preparers out of the market," said Dan Alban, an attorney for the group.

The average tax-preparation fee for 2014 returns is $273, up 11 percent from two years ago, according to a survey by the National Society of Accountants. But there's wide variation, with fees of $400 or more, according to the National Consumer Law Center.

Netran Washington, 40, a materials handler in Cleveland, says he's been going to a neighborhood tax preparer for four years, eager for a fast refund. Washington readily agreed when asked if he preferred to pay for the tax preparation later.

'Very Upsetting'

Washington says he was later surprised by a $500 fee that included the cost of a cash advance.

Still, he kept going each year until a friend suggested the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, an IRS program providing free tax preparation services to low-income families. The IRS-certified tax preparer found a filing error that had cost Washington $1,000 in unused tax credits and helped him file an amended return. "It was very upsetting," Washington said.

Four states -- California, Maryland, New York and Oregon -- require preparers to undergo training. The California attorney general's office recently requested information from H&R Block about its refund anticipation checks, which range in cost from $34.95 to $59.95; at issue may be whether the fees may be subject to strict truth-in-lending laws, the company said in financial filings. H&R Block emphasized that it was a request for information, not a lawsuit.

Consumer groups in Colorado and Ohio are pushing proposals to require greater disclosure.

In Ohio, a federal court two years ago barred the owner of Dayton-based Instant Tax Service from doing business after finding various abuses, including defrauding mostly low-income customers. "Taxpayers should have the ability to research and compare prices," says David Rothstein of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland.

In his budget proposal, President Barack Obama asked Congress to give IRS and the Treasury Department explicit regulatory authority and to increase penalties for certain tax filing errors due to willful or reckless conduct. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate, but prospects remain uncertain in a GOP-controlled Congress unhappy with the agency's investigations of the tea party and also its role in implementing Obama's health care law.

-Associated Press writer Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.

 

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