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College May Cost Less Than Parents Think—And A Degree Pays Off

By Kris Spazafumo

(NAPSI)—Parents who hope to provide their children with a college education may feel overwhelmed by the cost of higher education and reports have stated that only about half those who start college graduate. But rather than giving up, they may want to investigate further, because beneath the headlines lies a more complex reality. What’s more, parents who start saving early—and strategically—can amass a sizable college fund without busting the family budget.

Let’s start with the benefits of a degree. Over a 40-year working lifetime, the median earnings of those with a bachelor’s degree are 65 percent more than those of high school graduates. Nor does a student have to graduate with a four-year degree to earn more. Those with an associate degree earn 27 percent more and those who attended college but didn’t finish earn 13 percent more. On the personal side, college graduates tend to exercise more, smoke less and are less prone to obesity.

Now about the costs. While it’s certainly possible to spend $250,000 to send a child to an Ivy League or comparable university (a figure often quoted in the press), that’s not the typical experience. In fact, most (about 70 percent) four-year students attend public universities, where tuition and fees can be significantly less. Here are some relevant numbers, all for 2013−14. For in-state students, the average published cost of tuition and fees nationwide at public four-year institutions was $8,893. For out-of-state students, it was $13,310. For students at public two-year colleges, it was $3,264. As you would expect, that number was significantly higher for students at private, nonprofit, four-year institutions: $30,094.

As you can see, families have a wide range of choices when it comes to a college budget. What’s critical, however, is to make time an ally. Parents who want to send their children to college should act now—by devising a game plan that might include junior colleges and public institutions; by educating themselves about grants, scholarships and loans; and most of all, by starting a regular savings plan. In that regard, it’s hard to beat 529 college savings plans. These easy-to-open accounts enable parents, grandparents, other relatives, family, friends and even the prospective student to make contributions that grow tax-free. When the student reaches college age, withdrawals—when used for qualified educational expenses—are free from federal income taxes and, in most cases, state taxes as well.

Families that start saving early can build substantial college funds. For example, putting away just $100 a month for 18 years could provide more than $48,000 for college expenses. Parents can start small and let their savings grow—a CollegeAmerica 529 plan can be opened for as little as $50 using an automatic monthly investment plan, or with a $250 start-up contribution.

What about future costs? While it’s impossible to say what college will cost 15 years from now, the rapid increases we’ve seen appear to be moderating. Costs did rise significantly over the past 15 years—43 percent at private four-year schools and 91 percent at public four-year schools—but that trend appears to have peaked in the 2009−10 school year and has since subsided. The increase for the 2013−14 school year was just 1.6 percent for public four-year schools and 1.2 percent for private four-year schools—far below the comparable 8.3 percent and 6 percent increases for the 2009−10 school year. In other words, the conclusion that college costs will keep escalating dramatically isn’t necessarily supported by the more recent evidence.

Sending children to college requires commitment and discipline, from both parents and students. But higher education isn’t out of reach, if families educate themselves about college costs and options, and start early and save strategically with a 529 plan. Anyone interested in a 529 plan should contact their financial advisor.

Investments are not FDIC insured, nor are they deposits of or guaranteed by a bank or any other entity, so they may lose value.

Regular investing does not ensure a profit or protect against loss. Investors should consider their willingness to keep investing when share prices are declining.

Kris Spazafumo is vice president and senior product manager of the investment services wealth management group at American Funds. She’s responsible for leadership of product management of CollegeAmerica, the nation’s largest provider of 529 college savings plans. CollegeAmerica is helping nearly 1 million families from all 50 states pursue their goals of higher education.

Note: Statistics on earnings and unemployment of college graduates are from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics; other information is from The College Board. Amassing $48,000 over 18 years assumes an 8 percent average annual rate of return (compounded monthly) for investments.

© 2014 American Funds Distributors, Inc.

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Ethanol Proven To Lower Gas Prices

(NAPSI)—Recently, the price of gasoline reached a six-year high. Fortunately, there’s a way to handle that cost. You can use less gas—without reducing your driving. Making that possible is one of the more promising alternative energy sources, ethanol, which is blended with regular gas—a little in most cars and a lot in flex-fuel vehicles.

Ethanol comes from corn, wood chips and grasses. Increasing America’s ethanol production could drive down demand for oil and help wean the country off the volatility and sudden price swings it can bring.

The Oil Issue

Oil is what’s known as a “global commodity,” meaning it costs the same no matter where it’s produced. So while the U.S. produces more oil than at any time in nearly three decades, oil prices still rise. That’s because so much oil comes from the Middle East. Producers there can artificially restrict supply and drive up prices.

An Answer

Ethanol producers, on the other hand, are based in the United States and increased ethanol use is reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. In 2013, ethanol production displaced the amount of oil America imports from Iraq and Venezuela—462 million barrels of crude oil.

Expert Advice

“Ethanol saves Americans money at the pump and stretches the fuel supply. Now is not the time for the Environmental Protection Agency to be scaling back our nation’s renewable energy policy. Now is the time to be expanding the use of biofuels and striking a blow for American energy independence,” noted Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

The Benefits

Ethanol is currently blended in more than 96 percent of America’s fuel supply, saving consumers an average of $1.00 a gallon at the pump.

Ethanol production is also a major job creator. A typical U.S. ethanol plant supports nearly 3,000 jobs.

“The need for American energy independence has never been so important and the solution has never been so clear—renewable fuels,” Dinneen added.

Government Action

Nevertheless, some people are trying to get Congress to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires refiners to blend increasing amounts of renewable fuels. However, many Americans are writing their legislators at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov, asking them to support the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Learn More

For further facts on ethanol, visit www.ethanolrfa.org.

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Getting The Most From Your Fall Travel Dollar

(NAPSI)—From smaller crowds and lower prices to a bounty of festivals and beautiful seasonal foliage, there are many reasons to vacation in the fall.

For example, those who want to catch the changing leaves at their peak have fantastic choices across the U.S., from Eastern hot spots such as Vermont, Maine and Tennessee to California in the West. There are even websites they can go to that can help them track the best times to visit each destination.

Festivals To Choose From

In addition to autumn’s natural beauty, many destinations come alive with weekly or daily festivals celebrating everything from apple harvests to local music and independent films. There are also Oktoberfest celebrations and the wild pastime of the Punkin Chunkin, where competing teams use custom-built machines to launch pumpkins up to a mile. Again, there are great options for both families and couples, and many destinations offer numerous events to help make your trip fun and memorable.

Less Time Spent Waiting

An added benefit of fall travel is that most destinations are not as crowded in the fall, allowing you to spend less time waiting on lines and more time exploring and enjoying the time spent away.

This can make it a great time to visit Southeastern beaches, popular national parks or monuments, and must-see cities all across the country. With all the options for fall travel, it is smart to plan ahead and book early to ensure you get the best prices and accommodations. Another great reason to travel in the fall is that many airlines begin to lower airfares, making it more affordable to travel. Lodging often comes down in price as well, with many locations providing healthy discounts to attract guests.

Add Value To Your Dollar

Another way to increase the value of your travel dollar is by staying in a vacation ownership resort, also known as timeshare. For travelers who want to see all that the country offers, vacation ownership can be a great way to guarantee a yearly vacation to their favorite destinations

These resorts typically provide more space than a traditional hotel and also offer homelike conveniences such as a kitchen, living room, multiple bedrooms, and a washer and dryer.

And through vacation exchange companies such as RCI, owners can gain access to nearly 4,500 resorts in more than 100 countries. Those wanting to sample the timeshare experience before buying can do so by booking a stay at vacation resorts through sites such as Endless Vacation Rentals (www.EVRentals.com).

With so many cost-saving benefits available during the fall, you may opt to visit a destination you couldn’t otherwise afford. Or perhaps, the savings you receive may allow you to plan an additional vacation in another season as well.

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Small Businesses Think Regulations Hinder Growth

by Burton Goldfield, President and CEO, TriNet

(NAPSI)—Small businesses have a number of concerns when it comes to the effect that government regulations are having on their business. That’s a key finding of TriNet’s Small Business Confidence Survey, which explores the opinions of U.S. small business owners about issues such as their outlook on the state of their companies and on federal and state legislation.

According to the survey, conducted by Harris Poll, 67 percent of small business owners believe that the U.S. government’s policies are unfavorable toward small businesses, with 32 percent rating them very unfavorable. The online survey was conducted within the United States between January 20−30, 2014 among 206 U.S. owners of small businesses with 10−49 employees.

Additional Concerns

In addition to the concern surrounding legislation, the survey also found that:

• The majority of small business owners believe that legislation hampering small businesses (56 percent), as well as the overall economic health of the United States (53 percent), will get worse in 2014.

• 76 percent of small business owners strongly agree that the amount of federal government regulations regarding employee benefits is restrictive to the growth of small business and 75 percent feel the same about state government regulations.

• Only one-third of those surveyed (33 percent) consider U.S. government policies to be favorable toward small businesses.

• The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is of major concern to some owners of small businesses. Nearly 8 in 10 (77 percent) consider themselves familiar with the ACA. In terms of impact, 52 percent believe that the effect of the ACA on their business has been neither better nor worse than expected, whereas 35 percent said that it has been worse than expected.

The Cost of Compliance

The cost of complying with these regulations may be what is driving small business owner concerns about government regulations.

According to a report released by the Heritage Foundation, the cost of federal regulations to businesses rose by $70 billion during 2009−2013. At the end of 2012, the number of federal regulations affecting small companies was 13 percent higher than at the end of 2008.

Additionally, in a 2010 report entitled “The Impact of Regulatory Costs on Small Firms,” by the Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy, small businesses bear the largest burden of federal regulations. The report noted that small businesses face an annual regulatory cost of $10,585 per employee. The costs for medium-sized and large businesses are $7,454 and $7,755, respectively. Costs per employee thus appear to be at least 36 percent higher in small businesses than in their larger counterparts. With respect to tax compliance, the same report indicated the cost per employee is three times higher in small businesses than in large businesses.

Therefore, according to those numbers, small businesses face a larger per-employee cost for complying with government regulations than big companies.

Complying with government regulations can be a complex issue for small businesses. Despite good intentions, the changes ushered in by the Affordable Care Act have made it even more challenging for companies to stay compliant. With TriNet’s solutions, business owners can stay in line with government policies so they have more time to spend growing their business.

TriNet, the sponsor of the survey, is a leading provider of a comprehensive human resources solution for small to medium-sized businesses. To learn more, visit www.trinet.com.

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Contest Offers Cash Prizes To School Teams With Best App Concepts

(NAPSI)—A national competition now in its third year is challenging teams of middle- and high-school students to develop concepts for mobile apps that can solve a school or community problem.

The Verizon Innovative App Challenge will award eight Best in Nation teams cash grants of $20,000 to support STEM programs at their schools, and tablets for each team member. Winners also will learn how to turn their concepts into working mobile apps. The deadline for submission is Nov. 24, 2014; winners will be named in January 2015.

To enter the challenge, student teams, working with a faculty advisor, identify a problem and propose a mobile app concept to address it. No coding experience or mobile devices are needed. A panel of STEM educators and corporate innovators will judge the app concepts. Prior winning apps enable the vision-impaired to navigate inside buildings independently; simulate chemistry experiments for classrooms that can’t afford supplies; help reduce CO2 emissions through conservation education, and more. Contest rules, registration and additional in_formation are available at http://verizon.com/VZAppChallenge2014.

The App Challenge was launched in 2012 by the Verizon Foundation in partnership with the Technology Student Association, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Mobile Learning @ The Media Lab, and Samsung Telecommunications America. It’s open to teams from all public, private and parochial middle and high schools. Best in State winners will compete at the region level, and 24 Best in Region winners will vie for the Best in Nation awards.

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Shower Better and Save with Satisfaction

(NAPSI)—October is Energy Action Month, a time to take action to save energy. Did you know that your heating and cooling systems and appliances aren’t the only things in your home that use energy? It takes a great deal of energy to treat and deliver water to your home, as well as heat that water to shower, shave, and launder shirts.

If you want to save energy—as well as water and money—start with your shower. Showering is one of the leading ways we use water at home, accounting for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use. For the average family, that adds up to 40 gallons of water per day—or nearly 1.2 trillion gallons of water used each year nationwide just for showering!

That’s why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also declared October to be Shower Better Month. By swapping out your showerhead with a model that has earned the EPA’s WaterSense® label, your family can save the amount of energy it takes to power your home for 13 days, enough water to wash 70 loads of laundry, and more than $70 in energy and water costs every year.

WaterSense labeled showerheads are available in a wide variety of styles and prices. Most importantly, all models that earn the label must be independently certified for both efficiency and performance. So you can enjoy a satisfying spray while saving water, energy, and money-in other words, you will shower better!

Make the “drops to watts” connection and stop sending water, energy and money down the drain. Swap out just one showerhead in your home with a WaterSense labeled model this Energy Action Month and start saving. For more information about WaterSense labeled showerheads and the energy-water connection, visit www.epa.gov/watersense.

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Note to Editors: October is Energy Action Month, as well as EPA’s Shower Better Month, a time when consumers can save energy and water while ensuring shower satisfaction by looking for a WaterSense labeled showerhead. With a few small edits, however, this story can run anytime of year.

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Business Tips to Save Money During the Holidays and Beyond

(NAPSI)—Last holiday season, customers spent $46.5 billion in online shopping, according to analysts at comScore. To make the most of this season, business owners need to maximize their shipping operations. Here are a few tips on how to do that:

Know Your Options

Holiday shipping success depends on finding the right shipping mix for your business. Weigh your options and find the carriers that work for you.

For example, if you print postage online, the U.S. Postal Service now offers lower pricing for Priority Mail, making it an affordable option for heavier packages. If your business ships 50 packages a day (weighing between 5 and 10 lbs.) from San Francisco to Seattle, it can save $16,531 over a two-month period with Priority Mail, in comparison to FedEx and UPS Ground.

Remember Shipping Deadlines

Each carrier has its own year-end holiday schedule for pickup and delivery of packages. Keeping these schedules handy ensures a greater customer experience.

The U.S. Postal Service’s Priority Mail can be good for last-minute shoppers shipping domestically because packages typically arrive in one to three business days.

Bulletproof Your Returns Solutions

Finding a seamless process for returns is critical to retaining customers beyond the holidays. According to a recent survey by Endicia, which offers online postage and shipping solutions, 89 percent of shoppers say they will shop again following a positive returns experience.

Endicia’s Pay-on-Use Returns service can be an easy and affordable way to give customers that experience. With Pay-on-Use Returns, businesses can include a domestic USPS return label in their outbound shipments or provide one on-demand via email. Postage for the label is paid only if and when a return shipping label is used. That means businesses won’t have a large outlay of money in pre-paid labels during the holiday season.

“It’s important for online businesses to be prepared for the holiday season,” said Endicia CTO and co-founder Harry Whitehouse. “Getting the right shipping strategy in place early on will make a difference in a company’s bottom line and its overall success.”

Learn More

You can find more information about the USPS Priority Mail price change and how Endicia can save you money this holiday season at www.endicia.com/usps-rate-change-sept-2014.

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The “Utility Knife” Of Financial Solutions

(NAPSI)—Many are surprised to learn that permanent life insurance can provide more than standard financial protection for their family. That may explain why, despite being one of the most flexible financial solutions available, it tends to be underused. In fact, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2014 Planning & Progress Study, just slightly less than a quarter of Americans currently hold a permanent life insurance policy.

As both life spans and cost of living expenses continue to climb, it’s a good idea to explore the role permanent life insurance can play in building a secure financial foundation. In addition to its death benefit, permanent life insurance has a cash value that can be accessed at any age for most any reason. A knowledgeable financial professional can be your go-to person for how to best leverage this versatile asset to meet your individual needs.

Here are just a few examples of how you could use the value of permanent life insurance during your lifetime:

• Dealing With Emergencies

Whether it’s an unexpected home repair, job loss or health crisis, the cash value in a permanent life insurance policy can be used to cover expenses, supplement disability income or meet ongoing obligations, reducing the risk of depleting retirement accounts and other savings.

• Funding Education

College tuition and living expenses may be funded with permanent life insurance cash value and, currently, most applications for student financial aid don’t consider this asset when determining eligibility for scholarships, grants or loans. Parents can also purchase life insurance as part of their plan to protect their ability to pay for college.

• Managing A Business

If you need funds to expand your business or meet payroll during a slow period, you can tap into life insurance cash value quickly without credit applications or lengthy approval processes.

• Supplementing Retirement Income

The cash value of permanent life insurance can be a stable asset as part of a comprehensive retirement plan that provides multiple options to suit a variety of needs at retirement and beyond.

• Leaving A Legacy

The gift of life insurance can be a practical and easy way to honor children and grandchildren or make a meaningful charitable contribution.

To learn more about how permanent life insurance could help you meet your financial goals, talk to an experienced adviser or visit the Northwestern Mutual Online Learning Center at www.nm.com for a wide range of information and resources.

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