Surprising fact about saving habits...College tuition rising more slowly...Retirement balances sag a bit...Big banks fix exchange rates...And more

Mutual Interest logo

Welcome to MUTUAL INTEREST, the first place to check for all of the news and information you need to manage your money and build financial security. It also helps you understand what's going on in the economy, and how that affects you. This page is constantly updated, so bookmark it and come back often for the latest posts.

Across all demographics, consumers aren't saving

According to new data from Springleaf Financial, somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of the population, across all demographics, isn't saving a dime. When asked how often they save money, around 26% of respondents said not at all, rarely, or inconsistently at best. That's true for even the most educated and high-income consumers. Of those making over $200,000 per year, 20% still gave the same answer. And among consumers with graduate degrees, 27% said they couldn't miss a single month of paychecks without having to borrow money or sell assets. "We were surprised to see that nearly 20% of adults don't have enough of a cushion to last two weeks without a paycheck. What was especially surprising is that this is true across all education and salary levels," said Dave Hogan, EVP of marketing and analytics at Springleaf, in a news release. Yikes. Springleaf surveyed 2,010 U.S. consumers in October 2014.

SECOND THOUGHTS: It doesn't matter if you're a median-income family or a family making over $200,000 per year: Saving matters. Median-income earners who manage to put $5,000 or $6,000 into an IRA or 401(k) are building wealth faster than someone making $200,000 per year and spending it all. They'll have more money in their nest egg when retirement time comes around.

College tuition rising more slowly than it has in 40 years

Over the last two years, the published cost of public college tuition has jumped by less than 3%, the lowest since 1974, according to data from the College Board. In-state tuition at public colleges now averages $9,139 a year, up 2.9%. Private school costs continue to rise more quickly, with the average published tuition reaching $31,231, up 3.7%.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Borrow less, and don't pay the sticker price for college. Grants and tax credits can help reduce your tuition bill, notes CNN Money. On average, students at in-state four-year colleges actually paid $3,020. And the amount students borrowed over the last three years has fallen by 13%. Here's another tip — go public over private if you want to save some cash. Students paid an average of $12,361 in tuition at private nonprofit colleges, or about four times more than at a public college.

401(k) and IRA balances fell in the third quarter

The average balances of our 401(k)s and IRAs dropped in the third quarter, according to Fidelity Investments. The nation's largest provider of 401(k) and IRA plans says the average balance in its 401(k) accounts fell to $89,100, down 2% from the second quarter. Year over year, our 401(k) balances were up 6%. Our IRA balances dropped to $92,100 from $92,600 in the second quarter, but increased by 8% year over year.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Participating in a company 401(k) plan is one of the best ways to build up your retirement nest egg. Here's the kind of return you can realistically expect from your 401(k) retirement plan.

Big banks pay more than $4 billion in fines for currency manipulation

Six big banks have agreed to pay $4.33 billion in fines to settle charges that they attempted to manipulate foreign exchange rates. That list includes Citibank, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, RBS and UBS. The biggest chunk of the fines will go to Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, which will each have to shell out about $1 billion. Some of the money will go to Britain's Financial Conduct Authority and some will go to the U.S Office of the Comptroller of Currency. Lax controls between 2008 and 2013 allowed traders to collude and share confidential information to fix rates and boost profits.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Big banks are up to it again. Around $5 trillion is trading on the global currency market every day, and foreign exchange rates impact the price of imported goods, company earnings and even investments held by pension funds. "At issue is the approximately $5.3 trillion traded each day in foreign exchange — the world's biggest financial market," reports The New York Times. "The exchange rates are set daily, and traders at the big banks that are being fined, as well as other banks still under investigation, were accused of rigging the rates so that their own banks could profit." Shameful. But this is just the first round. The individuals at these banks will also face fines, according to the BBC.

Small-town America needs to rev up its sales pitch to millennials

Millennials are moving away from small-town America to metropolitan areas faster than previous generations. Their top destination is Arlington, Virginia, in suburban Washington, D.C., where Ozy.com says the millennial population grew by 82% between 2007 and 2013. They don't seemed fazed by high housing costs. The median home price in the 10 counties that attracted the most millennials during that time was $406,800, according to RealtyTrac. This just adds to the sense that millennials are comfortable with urban living and pursuing the economic opportunities that big cities provide.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Baby boomers, on the other hand, are moving to towns with an average population of 261,232 and median home prices of $144,875. But smaller communities will need to recruit and retain millennials if they hope to thrive over the next 20 to 30 years. "Small towns will have to rev up their sales pitch to convince young adults that they can live not just cheaply but also well in the places that older generations called home," notes Ozy.com.

Working moms are more productive than childless women

Working moms are more productive than women without children, according to a recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. How on earth did it determine that? Researchers analyzed the amount of research published by more than 10,000 academic economists as a proxy for productivity. The more they published, the more productive they were considered to be. It found that over a 30-year career, mothers in the study outperformed their childless peers. Mothers with two children performed the best, but even mothers with one child were more productive than those with no children.

SECOND THOUGHTS: That's not to say that having kids had no impact on the lives of these academics. The study found a 15% to 17% drop in productivity among women with little kids. But those moms tended to be more productive both before and long after the birth of their children. When that work is smoothed out over the course of a career, the paper found, they are more productive on average than their peers. Now, academic economist is a small and privileged profession, and these highly educated moms probably had lots of advantages such as maternity leave and sick time that not all women can count on. That makes extrapolating these results to other professions a little iffy. But those bomb throwers over at the St. Louis Fed have certainly given us something to talk about.

Prepare to be Wowed by some really cheap transatlantic fares

Remember Laker Skytrain? Or PeoplEXPRESS? Could the cheap transatlantic travel those upstart discount carriers pioneered in the late '70s and early '80s be about to make a modest comeback? Starting in March, Wow Air is planning to offer round-trip fares from Boston and Baltimore to London and Copenhagen for as little as $228. Yes, intercontinental flights on the budget carrier based in Iceland include a stop in Reykjavik. But that seems like a pretty minor inconvenience at a time when nonstop round-trip tickets between Boston and London typically cost $800. "Paying even $200 for a one-way flight to, say, London, is unheard of," Tom Parsons, the CEO of bestfares.com, which tracks airline pricing, told the Washington Post. "It just doesn't exist."

SECOND THOUGHTS: Take advantage of this while you can. "Those are definitely opening, introductory fares," Skuli Mogensen, Wow Air's chief executive, told The Washington Post. And keep in mind that purchasing a ticket from Wow Air doesn't guarantee much but a seat, a tray table and an 11-pound carry-on. You'll pay extra for additional carry-ons, leg room, assigned seats and food. Plus, a checked bag can be an extra $67 at check in. So, if you purchase one of these tickets, travel light. Oh, where have you gone Freddie Laker?

All-cash buyers slowly bowing out of the housing market

The number of buyers paying all cash for a home is declining. In the third quarter, all-cash sales accounted for just 33.9% of all sales of single-family homes and condos throughout the nation, according to a recent report from RealtyTrac. That's down from 36.9% in the second quarter and from a high of 47% in the first quarter of 2012. Why? The advantage of paying all cash is that you typically get a nice discount, but that benefit is disappearing. All-cash buyers in the third quarter only paid 10% less on average than the market value of the home. One year ago, that discount was 14%. It was 25% in the third quarter of 2012. “The 10% is not a hefty discount, given that the average going back to 2001 has been a 19% discount,” Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac vice president, told MarketWatch.

SECOND THOUGHTS: There's still a benefit to paying all cash if you can swing it and still afford to buy groceries. All-cash buyers accounted for more than a quarter of all home purchases even before the recession, so they aren't going away. That's why you could still need our 9 ways to crush all-cash buyers.

More employers will offer high-deductible health plans in 2015

The number of companies offering health plans with high deductibles is soaring. In fact, 81% of large employers will offer at least one high-deductible "consumer-directed" health plan in 2015, up from 63% five years prior, notes CNN Money. Nearly one-third of large employers will only provide high-deductible medical coverage next year, up from 22% this year. The average individual deductible for these kinds of plans is $2,215, according to the 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust report. Some companies argue that while plan participants have to pay more out of pocket, they also benefit from lower monthly premiums, keeping health insurance affordable.

SECOND THOUGHTS: At Wells Fargo, for example, employees can choose coverage with a $2,000 or $3,000 deductible. In an interview with CNN Money, a spokeswoman for the bank did a masterful job of making it sound like shifting a greater share of health care costs onto workers was a good thing for employees. "It gives them greater visibility into the cost of care and how they spend their health care dollars," she said. Just like eliminating traditional pensions and pushing all of the responsibility for retirement saving onto employees was a good thing for us, too. The reality is that those with high-deductible plans visit the doctor less often than those with traditional plans, they save less money and have difficulty paying the bigger medical bills, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Billionaires' monthly spending exceeds lifetime earnings of many

Two recent court cases offer a rare and captivating look at the spending habits of billionaires. It seems their monthly expenses can dwarf the lifetime earnings of many middle-class Americans. Sam Wyly, the former billionaire who made his dough from Michael's stores and Sterling Software, spent somewhere around $3.75 million a month before declaring bankruptcy, according to Yahoo Finance. Anne Dias Griffin, the soon-to-be ex-wife of billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, is seeking to break their pre-nup. Ken Griffin has already given her $40 million and pays all expenses for their children, but she apparently needs more to maintain her lifestyle, including unlimited access to private jet and helicopter transportation.

SECOND THOUGHTS: More money, more problems. Wyly was forced into bankruptcy after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of hiding stock trades in offshore trusts. The SEC says Wyly spends $2,200 a month for pool, home maintenance and landscaping; $2,000 per month on groceries; $32,000 a month for two personal writing assistants; and $29,000 a month on the mortgage for his wife's bookstore. He also spends $7,000 every month to support family and friends. What a nice guy. A median income household earns about $50,000 a year and something like $2 million over a working life of 45 years.

Millennials aren't into buying cars and homes ... Could that be good?

Millennials aren't buying cars or housing with anywhere near the enthusiasm that previous generations have, but Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic have come up with some insightful reasoning for why the younger generation is shunning ownership. Instead of millennials' aversion to car-buying and home ownership being a temporary side effect of the recession, it may be a permanent generational shift in tastes and spending habits. Millennials are adjusting to the realities of the modern economy, and they are becoming tech-savvy savers. Technology and the new "sharing economy" — ZipCar, Airbnb and thredUP, for instance — affords millennials the opportunity to eschew car, home and other ownership. In fact, adults between 21 and 34 made up just 27% of all new-vehicle purchases in America in 2010, down from 38% at the peak in 1985. And the homeownership rate among adults younger than 35 fell by 12% between 2006 and 2011, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Let's not forget Uber. The ride-sharing service pretty much eliminates the need for a vehicle in many urban areas. No paying to park. No car insurance premiums. Just use the smartphone app to request a ride and you're off. Plus, it's a lot cheaper than buying and owning a car outright. Imagine self-driving Uber cars — "Uber Automated" — which may only be 10 to 15 years away. Why own a car? Millennials watched their parents struggle with mortgage and car payments through the Great Recession. So it's not surprising they're ditching those big-ticket items. But while millennials may find owning cars and houses less important, they'll likely have more money in their pockets to spend or save. "Ultimately, if the Millennial generation pushes our society toward more sharing and closer living, it may do more than simply change America’s consumption culture; it may put America on firmer economic footing for decades to come," say the authors.

Sunday is the best day of the week to buy airline tickets

Getting the lowest price on plane tickets can feel like a guessing game. That fare looks good, but if I buy now, will I really be getting the best price? Or will that ticket cost $100 less if I buy tomorrow? A new study from Airlines Reporting Corp. looked at 19 months' worth of ticket prices and found that the lowest average fares are offered on Sunday, followed by Saturday. So next time you want to get away, wait for the weekend to book that trip.

Banks avoid having to keep any stake in the mortgages they sell

Regulators recently resolved the details of a rule in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 that was supposed to require banks to retain some stake in the home loans they create and sell to investors. With no skin in the game, banks had flooded the market with outrageously risky and failure-plagued mortgages that triggered the 2008 financial crisis. Dodd-Frank aimed to fix that by requiring lenders to keep at least 5% of the loans they wrote. But a loophole in the law exempted banks from having to keep any "supersafe" loans where a substantial down payment mitigated the risk of default. When regulators succumbed to pressure from the banks and agreed to categorize virtually all loans as "supersafe," they essentially gutted the rule.

SECOND THOUGHTS: “The loophole has eaten the rule, and there is no residential mortgage risk retention,” Barney Frank, the former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and the Frank in Dodd-Frank, told The New York Times. It's hard to find a better example of how the banking industry and its army of lobbyists and vault full of campaign contributions completely controls Washington, D.C.

If you want to get rich, you've got to have the right job

NPR recently put together an interactive graphic to show what the rich, middle-class and poor do for work in the U.S. The graph displays the 10 most common jobs in each income bracket, and the results provide a blueprint for how to get ahead in this country. Doctors, top corporate executives and lawyers are at the top, while cashiers and nursing aids are at the bottom. To put together the graph, National Public Radio used individual income wage and salary data from the American Community Survey. It sampled adults ages 25 to 65 who worked at least three months in the past year. In America, the conventional idea of what people do to earn a living still holds.

SECOND THOUGHTS: It's not overly surprising that the biggest paychecks go to doctors and lawyers, who are only found in the top two brackets. But if you don't want to go to med or law school, become a manager. Manager positions are the most common job from the 70th percentile up to the 99th, or about $58,000 to $207,000 and over. Secretaries, retail sales clerks, janitors, cooks and nursing aides show up a lot among the poorest-paid Americans.

Janet Yellen suggests plan to diminish income and wealth inequality

Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen recently spoke on income inequality, and her view is pretty stark. “By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years, much higher than the average during that time span and probably higher than for much of American history before then,” Yellen said. While others have noted this before, the fact that the world's most powerful central banker is concerned about income inequality may give the idea some room to grow, notes SFGate. Just how big is the wealth gap? Yellen pointed out that the average net worth of the poorest half of all households (about 62 million individuals and families) had fallen to $11,000 in 2013, while that of the wealthiest 5% of all households had risen to $6.8 million.

SECOND THOUGHTS: What can we do? Yellen suggests some "building blocks of opportunity" to level the playing field. She says we need to improve education and other resources for children while easing the unequal debt burden of college on the less well-off. That would require some government spending. Next, Yellen suggests improving opportunities to build wealth through business ownership. And the final building block is inherited wealth, which while concentrated among the wealthiest families, plays an important role in intergenerational mobility. “I have only just touched the surface of the important topic of economic opportunity. I do believe that these are important questions, and I hope that further research will help answer them,” Yellen said.

Fed ends two-year bond-buying effort that drove down interest rates

The Federal Reserve pronounced that the economic recovery was now strong enough for it to end the bond-buying campaign it had used to drive long-term interest rates — including mortgage rates — to record lows over the past two years. The Fed's rate-setting committee ended two days of meetings by proclaiming that the $1.66 trillion worth of treasury and mortgage debt it purchased had served its purpose and helped employers create more jobs. Although the end of the campaign was widely expected to drive up mortgage rates, they are at or near 2014 lows this month.

SECOND THOUGHTS: The nation's bank-for-banks began buying $85 billion worth of debt a month in September 2012, a fairly even split between Treasury bills and bonds backed by thousands of home loans. By flooding the mortgage market with money, it pushed mortgage rates to record lows in an attempt to revitalize a real estate industry still struggling to overcome the financial crisis and recession. In a process the Fed referred to as tapering, it began reduced those purchases to $75 billion in January, $65 billion in February and March, $55 billion in April, $45 billion in May, $35 billion in June and July, $25 billion in August and September and a final $15 billion this month. Through September, employers added an average of 227,000 jobs a month and the unemployment rate has fallen faster than expected, to 5.9%. “I do think this has been a success story,” Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust told The New York Times.

Beware of financial 'advisers' who don't have to put your interests first

The fiduciary standard is a stringent requirement for financial professionals, stipulating that they must provide advice that is always 100% in the consumer's interest. But not all "advisers" have to follow that standard, and it's creating some confusion and problems for those seeking out sound advice. "If brokers continue to call themselves advisers and advertise advisory services, customers believe they are receiving objective advice that is in their best interest," Arthur Laby, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law, told The New York Times. "In many cases, however, they are not." Many stockbrokers are only required to recommend "suitable" investments that may be more profitable for them than their customers.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Dodd-Frank gave the Securities and Exchange Commission the authority to propose a rule that brokers act as fiduciaries, but the agency is still deciding whether to move forward with such a law. The Labor Department is set to issue a new proposal in January that will broaden fiduciary requirements for retirement accounts. Although that's a move in the right direction, it's still "investor beware" until some new regs are enacted. Investment advisers registered with the SEC or a state securities regulator are required to put customer interests first. CFPs take a pledge to do the same. But if you really want to put a prospective adviser to the test the Times says have them sign an oath stating they will act as fiduciaries.

Home equity lines of credit coming back … Let's be smart about this

We opened nearly 800,000 new home equity lines of credit in the 12 months ending in June, according to the housing data company RealtyTrac. That was up more than 20% from the previous year and represented the most new HELOCs since the 12 months ending in June 2009. “This recent rise in HELOC originations indicates that an increasing number of homeowners are gaining confidence in the strength of the housing recovery and, more importantly, have regained much of their home equity lost during the housing crisis,” says Daren Blomquist, a RealtyTrac vice president. Riverside, California, Las Vegas and Cincinnati topped the markets with the biggest jumps in HELOCs.

SECOND THOUGHTS: HELOC originations in June were still 76% below the previous peak in June 2006, according to the RealtyTrac report. But the return to using equity should be done with extreme caution and for a very narrow set of reasons. It's important to remember that borrowing against your home puts it at risk of foreclosure if you can't pay the bill. And for most purchases, the risk isn't worth it. Here are 4 smart moves for using home equity. Let's not try to turn our homes into an inexhaustible piggy bank again.

Women are better savers than men but have less to show for it

Women's 401(k) balances are far lower than men's, but it's not for lack of saving. In fact, women beat out men when it comes to putting money away. They are 10% more likely to enroll in their workplace savings plan and put away a large portion of their paycheck, according to an analysis of more than 1 million 401(k) plans by The Vanguard Group. Yet women only have an average 401(k) balance of just $78,000, well below the men's average of $121,000.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Why the disparity? Place at least some of the blame on the wage gap. Women in the survey earned an average of 40% less than men. That's especially true among high-income earners, where males were bringing in much more cash, explained Jean Young, a Vanguard senior research analyst, to CNN Money. Of course, females also work an average of 12 years less during their careers and take time off to raise kids or care for a spouse or aging parents. And we have to remember that 401(k) plans, while very important, only represent a portion of an individual's full retirement picture.

Average Social Security retirement check going up $21 per month

The 70 million Americans who receive Social Security benefits will receive a 1.7% cost-of-living adjustment to their monthly payments in 2015. That will boost the average retirement benefit from $1,250 to $1,271 a month — an increase of $21 a month or $252 per year. Since 1975, the annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for Social Security has been linked to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). That's set each October for the 12 months ending September 30. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the CPI-W this morning, allowing Social Security recipients the chance to calculate how much they'll get next year.

SECOND THOUGHTS: The 2015 COLA of 1.7% is up slightly from the 1.5% increase recipients saw in 2014. Yet this is the third year in a row that the increase will be less than 2%. The COLA was less than 2% only three times for the first 35 years after Congress enacted automatic Social Security increases. But next year will mark the fifth time in the past six years that the COLA has been less than 2%. "In the last several years, we have had extremely low inflation," economist Polina Vlasenko, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, told ABC News. "Basically because inflation is low, the cost-of-living adjustment is going to be low, too. It's supposed to just compensate you for inflation."

Cost of living stable as inflation remains in check

The Consumer Price Index climbed 0.1% after decreasing 0.2% in August, a Labor Department report shows. Excluding volatile food and fuel, the so-called core measure of inflation also advanced 0.1% after being little changed in August. A slowdown in global economic growth and declining energy and commodity costs are expected to restrain price pressures this month.

Apple and Facebook offer to freeze the eggs of female employees

Starting next year, Facebook and Apple will offer a new kind of perk to female employees. Both companies will pay up to $20,000 to cover egg freezing, or a procedure called oocyte cryopreservation, according to Quartz. The procedure extends a woman's years of fertility by extracting viable eggs and storing them for use at a later date. But it's not cheap, with an initial cost of up to $12,000 and another $1,000 per year for storage, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Is this female empowerment or companies telling female employees to delay having children? Quartz points out that the plans for the new $120 million Facebook campus include day care for dogs but nothing for children. However, both Facebook and Apple offer fairly generous child care perks. Facebook offers four months of paid leave for new moms and dads, a $4,000 new-parent bonus and child care subsidies. New mothers at Apple get four weeks off before delivery and 14 weeks after. “We continue to expand our benefits for women, with a new extended maternity leave policy, along with cyropreservation and egg storage as part of our extensive support for infertility treatments … We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families,” Apple said in a statement.

AT&T to pay refunds for cramming charges onto your phone bill

Listen up, AT&T wireless customers: You could be owed some cash. That's because AT&T just agreed to pay $105 million for what's known as "cramming," which is adding unauthorized charges from a third party to phone bills for things like ring tones, trivia and horoscopes. Of that $105 million, $80 million has been earmarked for refunds, so if you think you're owed a refund, go to the FTC website and file a claim by May 1, 2015.

SECOND THOUGHTS: This is just another example of why you need to check your wireless bill every month. AT&T got a 35% cut of every unauthorized transaction, which typically added $9.99 per month to a bill, so it had little incentive to stop these charges. The FTC filed a similar lawsuit against T-Mobile for the exact same abuse in July.

Tesla's new Model D is a battery-powered supercar

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently unveiled the new Model D, a high-performance version of the Model S (pictured here). It's a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive sedan that goes from zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds, putting it on par with the Porsche 911 Turbo and Mercedes-Benz E63. Plus, the car has auto-pilot technology that allows it to change lanes automatically, park itself and come on its own when summoned. Oh, and it gets an extra 10 miles on a charge than the current Model S — 275 miles.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Tesla continues to expand the boundaries of electric car performance and engineering. It does not build glorified golf carts, and some day we'll all be able to take advantage of those advances. But it won't be next year when the Model D goes on sale. While the price hasn't been announced, this is not an electric car for the masses. The MSRP on a 2013 Model S is $92,220, according to Edmunds. And all of the extras on this new hopped-up version will surely set you back some more. Engadget points out that you can price out a Model S and extras on Tesla's site. The autopilot comes in a tech package that's an extra $4,250. And a second motor adds an extra $14,600 (including the tech package, 21-inch wheels and Smart Air Suspension).

The cost to heat your home will be lower this winter

If you're still recovering from the polar vortex, never fear: heating bills are dropping this year. According to the Department of Energy, homes with natural gas will pay 5% less in heating bills this winter compared with last year. Those that use oil can expect to save 15% this year, too. While prices of these fuels are going up, this winter is forecast to be warmer than last year, which means people will just use less fuel. The biggest savings will be found in the Midwest: Those homes that use propane can expect bills to drop by a whopping 34%. Unlike natural gas and oil, propane costs are lower this year.

Dairy Queen is the latest chain to get hacked

Customer payment card data has been compromised at 395 of the nation's approximately 4,500 Dairy Queens. Malware called Backoff accessed the fast-food chain's computers through a third-party vendor between August and October of this year. Customer names, credit and debit card numbers, as well as expiration dates, were all available within the hacked systems. It appears that a disproportionate number of the affected restaurants were in Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Click on the link above to find a list of the outlets where data were compromised.

SECOND THOUGHTS: If you used a debit or credit card at one of the restaurants that was hacked from August through October, Dairy Queen will offer you free identity repair service for a year. It's also a good idea to change your passwords, PINs and contact your financial institutions. But why can't we just eat our ice cream in peace? The Dairy Queen hack is just one of several companies that have been hit over the last year. Customer payment card data has also been compromised at Target, Supervalu, Michaels, Neiman Marcus and P.F. Chang's, notes CNN Money. Even financial institutions are under attack. JPMorgan recently announced that 76 million customer accounts had been hacked. So keep your eyes peeled for more company cyberattacks — hackers seem to be on the prowl.

The JPMorgan hackers hit at least 14 other financial institutions

When the JPMorgan hack was made public in August — which compromised the names, phone numbers, addresses and email addresses of around 76 million households — officials said the hackers targeted at least four additional financial companies. Now the estimate is up to 14, and that number could keep rising, according to Bloomberg News. Citigroup, HSBC, E*Trade, Regions, Fidelity and ADP are all said to be part of the attack. Some of those institutions have declined to comment on the hack. Others, like Fidelity, offered up some reassurance. “We have no indication that any Fidelity customer sites, accounts, information, services or systems were affected by this matter,” Vincent Loporchio, a Fidelity spokesman, told Bloomberg.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Should you be worried that your financial institution is on the list? Government officials aren't exactly at ease. Nobody can figure out the motive behind the attack (no money has been stolen), and the source is still unclear three months after the massive hacks were first discovered. But for now, other than being cautious, changing your passwords and PINS, tracking your accounts closely and contacting your bank if anything seems fishy, there's not much you can do. Of course, it never hurts to give your bank a call and ask them how you can help to beef up security.

We're paying steep markups on our favorite mixed drinks

It's fairly common knowledge that drinks are overpriced at bars. But just how much more are we paying for a bar cocktail versus something homemade? According to SeriousEats.com, the cost of all of a cocktail's ingredients is typically about one-fifth of the price you'd pay for it at a bar. So if you're wondering about your favorite drink, Quartz put together a nifty calculator that does the math for you. It lists the cost of the ingredients, the bar markup on it and how many drinks you'd have to make at home to pay less than you would at a bar.
SECOND THOUGHTS: At a bar, we're paying for more than just the drink. The atmosphere, professional bartender and lack of cleanup are all part of the deal. Plus, it's not always ideal to buy ingredients in bulk at a liquor store, especially if you only want a specific drink every so often. But if you like mixing your own cocktails at home, it can pay off in the long run. For instance, a bourbon and ginger with one ounce of Buffalo Trace, three ounces of ginger ale and a lime wedge would cost $1.33 for ingredients. If sold for $12 at a bar, that would be an 802% markup. After making the drink just three times at home, you'd pay less than you would at a bar, according to the Quartz calculator.

Major banks are being investigated for currency manipulation

Big banks are about to get hit with a new round of charges from the Justice Department. What this time? There's evidence that a dozen or so foreign and American banks manipulated foreign currencies, gaming the market, according to The New York Times. In order to make a profit, investigators suspect that banks drove up the price of foreign currencies and sold them to clients at an inflated price. Traders at the banks allegedly met in chat rooms to collude. According to the Times, not only is the Justice Department looking to obtain guilty pleas from banks, it will also indict several traders for playing a part in the manipulation.

SECOND THOUGHTS: What scoundrels. Many of the banks suspected of manipulating currency — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and USB — have also been involved in other major investigations, namely the Libor scandal. Several banks have already struck settlements with government regulators over charges that they manipulated the London interbank offered rate, but those cases could be reopened if investigators are able to argue that these recent transgressions violate the earlier settlements. It's never-ending with these Wall Street folks.

It's been nearly two years since home prices rose this slowly

National home prices in August rose by just 6.4% year-over-year, according to a report from CoreLogic, a market analysis firm based in Irvine, California. That's the slowest pace in nearly two years. Just last year, in August 2013, home prices saw an impressive 11.4% growth year-over-year. And in October 2013, home price appreciation reached a peak of almost 12% year-over-year. So what gives? "The pace of year-over-year appreciation continues to slow down as real estate markets find more balance," says Mark Fleming, CoreLogic's chief economist.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Slowing home price gains throughout the nation could be a boon for some and a burden for others. “Continued moderation of home price appreciation is a welcomed sign of more balanced real estate markets and less pressure on affordability for potential home buyers in the near future,” Fleming says. Yet the data from CoreLogic shows that home prices remain 12.1% below their peak in 2006. That means that homeowners struggling to make payments still might not have the equity they need to refinance or sell their home.

76 million household accounts compromised by this summer's cyberattack on JPMorgan Chase

New estimates put the number of households affected by the cyberattack on JPMorgan Chase this summer at 76 million and the number of small businesses affected at 7 million, according to The New York Times. The breach exposed the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of its customers. Chase claims that no customer money or account information, such as passwords or Social Security numbers, had been taken by the hackers. Still, the depth of the breach has investigators puzzled and many (rightfully) worried.

SECOND THOUGHTS: What's a JPMorgan Chase customer to do? While no money or account information appeared to be stolen, hackers still gained access to more than 90 of the bank's servers, obtaining the highest level of administration privilege. "The usual advice applies: If you get an email or a call from a JPMorgan rep, feel free to thank them for contacting you and hang up. Customers should always initiate that contact by looking at their credit card or statement for the contact number; you simply can't trust that an incoming call or email is legitimate and not a phishing attempt," Tod Beardsley, engineering manager with security firm Rapid7, told USA Today. Beyond that, about all you can do is change your mobile app passwords and PINs, track your accounts closely and contact Chase if there's any unusual activity. Caution is the name of the game now.

Apartment rents still rising, but vacancy rate up for first time since '09

The average cost of a rental apartment rose to $1,111 a month in the third quarter, up 3.4% from the same time last year, according to a new report from Reis Inc., a New York-based real estate research firm. Rents rose 6.4% in San Francisco, the biggest increase in the 79 markets the study tracks, closely followed by a 5.9% increase in San Jose and 5.7% rise in Seattle.

SECOND THOUGHTS: The relentless rise in housing costs over the past five years may be running out of steam. The vacancy rate rose to 4.2% in the third quarter from 4.1% the previous three months. That was the first increase since the end of 2009 and indicates that the construction of new apartments is finally catching up with demand. Indeed, only 13 of the 79 markets had a vacancy rate of less than 3% in the third quarter, down from 16 this spring. (Reis measures what is called "effective rents" or what tenants pay after any landlord price breaks, such as a free month.)

Gen Xers make more money but have less wealth than their parents

According to a study from the Pew Economic Mobility Project, the average Gen Xer has $29,122 in wealth while their parents had $65,171 at the same age. This is in spite of the fact that 75% of Gen Xers earn more than their parents did. Part of the problems is that Gen Xers are carrying six times more debt than their parents, primarily due to student loans. So less savings. More debt. Not a pretty picture for the post-baby boom crowd.

SECOND THOUGHTS: What gives? It's not that Gen Xers are lazy or bad with money. The generation born between 1965 and 1980 has had to cope with dramatically higher costs for housing, health care and education, which makes it harder to save for retirement and build wealth in other ways. "Gen X has bigger hurdles to overcome than previous generations did to achieve financial security," Diana Elliot, research manager at Pew, told CNN. "They are on track to be the first (generation) in recent history to fall behind previous generations in terms of wealth accumulation." Our secrets to successfully save for retirement can help you make the best of a difficult situation.