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8 Indispensible Money-Saving Apps for College Students

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Money is always tight when you're in school, but with the right apps, you can turn your smartphone or tablet into a savings magnet. From free texting to cheap textbooks, we've got eight must-have apps for college kids on a budget.

ATM Hunter (free; iOS, Android, Windows phone): We all know how fast ATM fees can add up. Stop the bank madness with the ATM Hunter app (from MasterCard), which shows you where ATMs are located based on your current location. You can filter to find only your own bank's ATM so you can avoid an extra surcharge from using a foreign ATM.

Sample savings: $3 per ATM withdrawal.

Chegg (free, though textbooks are not; iOS, Android): The Chegg app can save you money and lighten your load -- literally. It allows you to rent or buy new and used textbooks, and many books are available for sale in digital form as well. You can also recoup some of your book budget by using the app to easily sell back books you no longer need.

Sample savings: $21.96 on a used copy of Campbell's "Biology," 9th Edition, from Chegg instead of Amazon.com (AMZN).

BillMinder ($1.99; iOS, Android): College is often the first time many of us become responsible for paying our own bills. But with a busy schedule and a host of distractions, it can be hard to stay on top of those new responsibilities, and that can quickly become an expensive problem: Not only will missing a due date trigger late fees, it can also damage your fledgling credit score, which could cost you next time you need a loan, apply for a credit card, or when a future employer or landlord does a background check. Track your bills easily with the BillMinder app -- it's not free, but if it saves you one late fee, it's more than worth the cost.

Sample savings: $5 a month (or 1.5 percent of your balance, whichever is greater) if your Verizon Wireless (VZ) bill isn't paid on time.

WhatsApp (free for the first year, $0.99 per year after that; iOS, Android, Windows phone, and more): Want to cut down on that smartphone bill in the first place? Get free texting from WhatsApp. Using your data plan or WiFi, with WhatsApp you can send free SMS messages to pretty much anyone else who has the app installed, even those who live overseas. Perfect for that cute exchange student you met last semester.

Sample savings: $10 per month (compared to an international texting plan from AT&T (T) Wireless).

Onavo Extend (free; iOS, Android): Speaking of data, couldn't we all use more of it? With unlimited data plans getting more expensive -- when you can get them at all -- this app could be a lifesaver. Onavo Extend compresses your mobile data, and claims to boost your data allowance by as much as 500 percent -- in other words, giving you more than five times as much data as you're paying for. That sound too good to be true, but even if its compression is only a fraction as good as advertised, it's worth it to try it. The app also provides a report function that will show you exactly how your data is being used, which can help you better manage what you've got.

Sample savings: $10 per month if you can get away with T-Mobile's cheapest iPhone data plan instead of the next one up.

DrinkOwl (free; iOS, Android): Never overpay for drinks again with the DrinkOwl app, which highlights local drink specials and happy hours by city and college campus as well as by type (beer, wine, liquor). Search for upcoming deals by day to plan out your weekend.

Sample savings: $1 off draft beer at Asylum in Washington, D.C.

Venmo (free; iOS, Android): When your friend showed up to happy hour without any cash, did you agree to pick up the tab if he paid you back later? Now make sure he really does settle up with you with this free app. Venmo makes it a snap to share payments (like rent or utilities), pay someone back for last night's dinner, or collect payments from those who owe you. Just hook up the app to your bank account or debit card (it uses bank-level security), then let your friends know who owes what.

Sample savings: Getting back the $5 your roommate borrowed last week.

Apps Gone Free (free; iOS): Got app envy? Sure, all these apps can save you money, but others, like games and other fun add-ons, can add up fast. Searching for free apps can be time-consuming, and many are duds. Find highly rated, expert-picked free apps (including ones that are temporarily free) with the Apps Gone Free app.

Sample savings: $0.99 on the next popular game.

Add it all up and these apps could easily save you more than $50 in just the first month -- perhaps a lot more if it's textbook-buying time (or going-out-drinking time). Now that's some smart savings.

Motley Fool contributing writer Robyn Gearey owns shares of Amazon.com. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

 

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Don't Bet Your Shirt on a Great 2014 for Stocks

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Henny Ray Abrams/AP
By STEVE ROTHWELL

NEW YORK -- Don't bet your shirt on a repeat performance.

That's the message from some of the nation's biggest investment firms as the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) has closed above 16,000 for the first time and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) is on the cusp of its best year in a decade with a gain of 25.9 percent.

Although investment professionals still are optimistic, investors shouldn't expect such outsized gains will be repeated.

The S&P 500, the Dow and other stock indexes have risen steadily as the Federal Reserve has maintained its economic stimulus to keep long-term interest rates low, and the economy has continued to strengthen. Although economic growth hasn't been spectacular, it has been strong enough enable companies to keep increasing their earnings.

We asked professionals at three big money managers, T. Rowe Price (TROW), Franklin Templeton (BEN) and BlackRock (BLK) for their thoughts on how the stock market will shape up next year.

On the Outlook for Stocks

A double-digit gain isn't out of the question.

Many of the tail winds for the stock market are still in place, but they may start to weaken next year. Corporate earnings are strong, but profit margins could be peaking. Interest rates are still low compared to historical levels, but will likely rise gradually, particularly if the Fed starts to pull-back on its bond-buying stimulus program.

However, the biggest challenge to the stock market is that valuations have risen so much this year, says Larry Puglia,
portfolio manager of T. Rowe Price's Blue Chip Growth fund (TRBCX). That is to say, investors have been willing to pay more for a company's future earnings, pushing up prices. The price-earnings ratio for S&P 500 companies has risen to 15 from 12.5 at the start of this year, according to FactSet.

"We still find selected stocks attractive and think that the market's OK, but I would be surprised if the market ... was able to duplicate the type of gains we've had this year," says Puglia. He still thinks stocks could rise as much as 10 percent.

Conrad Hermann, a portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton says that statistics show that when the market logs an annual gain of 20 percent or more, it has been followed by another year of gains on two out three occasions -- for an average gain of 11.5 percent the next year.

On the Best Industry to Invest In

Technology companies are the big favorite.

The tech industry should benefit from rising spending in an improving global economy, says BlackRock's chief investment strategist Russ Koesterich. He also says that technology stocks are typically less sensitive to rising interest rates than other industry groups are.

Many tech stocks don't pay a dividend, making them less sensitive to higher bond yields, and with strong new products they should grow profits. That suggests if interest rates climb, tech stocks should perform better than the overall market.

Tech companies are also less richly priced than some other parts of the market, while still offering good growth prospects. Those in the S&P 500 are trading at 14.4 times their projected earnings over the next 12 months. That makes them less expensive than health care stocks, which are priced at 16.7 times expected earnings, and industrial companies, which are valued at 16.1 times earnings.

On a Reduction of Fed Stimulus

Investors have been obsessed with the Fed all year and the stock market's biggest setbacks have come when they thought that policymakers were poised to cut back on economic stimulus.

The S&P 500 has dropped in only two months this year, June and August. In both months investors sold stocks on concern that the Fed was about to stop its stimulus.

Instead, the central bank surprised investors in September by continuing its stimulus and now investors are getting more accustomed to the idea the Fed's efforts must end at some point. Sure, there may be a knee-jerk reaction when the Fed acts, but it won't last. Ultimately investors will see the end of stimulus as a sign that the economy is continuing to improve. Fed policymakers have also stressed that the end of stimulus will not necessarily be immediately followed by higher interest rates.

"It will be a positive signal to the market that the economy can stand on its own two feet and doesn't need this super aggressive Federal Reserve action," says Puglia of T. Rowe Price.

On the Biggest Risks

Unsurprisingly, the dysfunction in Washington is still at the forefront of investors' minds. The 16-day partial government shutdown in October hurt consumer confidence and crimped economic growth. A repeat of that political wrangling next year would likely hurt the economy again.

Stocks are also vulnerable to a sharp rise in interest rates. The market's rally from its lows in March 2009 has been underpinned by low interest rates which has made stock market returns more attractive. If bond yields were to rise suddenly the economy would suffer.

The Fed's policy is predicated on buying bonds to hold down interest rates. If investors get nervous as the central bank cuts its bond purchases, removing a support for the market, bond yields could jump as investors dump bonds.

"If interest rates were to [go] back up dramatically that would probably be a bad thing," says Franklin Templeton's Hermann. "We're still in a very fragile economy and we don't want to suddenly tilt into another recession."

 

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