FINANCE: GRILLING YOUR BROKER

The securities and Exchange Commission last week said some brokers have been taking kickbacks from the mutual funds they push. This isn't the first warning about the dangers of funds sold by brokers, but maybe now you're mad enough to act.

MONEY: A BAD BET ON CARDS

The tempting sales keep coming, but you've already spent your holiday-gift budget. If you can't resist, at least resist those store-credit-card offers. The 10-percent-off deals sound good, but each card you get will lower your credit score by as much as 12 points, says consultant Stephen Snyder (every 50 or so points your credit score drops can cost you as much as $110 in extra monthly mortgage payments on a $150,000 loan).Don't just cancel the cards you've taken out right away; that can...

TIP SHEET

HEALTHCold Comfort IndeedAll the flu going around in the past few months has eclipsed that usual winter complaint: the common cold. But sniffles and coughing have one problem the flu doesn't.

Sports: The Must-Win Ticket

What do the holidays really mean? That's right. The Super Bowl's almost here. The game's not until Feb. 1, but it's too late to get seats from the NFL, which held its lottery this summer.

Finance: Buying The Store

If holiday shopping makes you feel you're buying the store, maybe you should. Stocks of retailers have gone up 50 percent since February, but it's not too late.

Money: Give The Gift Of Gigabytes

Those new computers beckon, but first there's that old one to get rid of. At sharetechnology.org you can find worthy groups and individuals who will happily accept used equipment, as long as it works and is at least of Pentium/Power Mac vintage.

Staying Connected

No business traveler should be out of touch for a second: the boss, the spouse, the babysitter might need to get through. But while cell phones, PCs, PDAs and even airline seats are increasingly wired (or wireless, as the case may be), they're at the Tower of Babel stage.

Deductions: Home Sweet Business

Here's a tip: if you've always dreamed of turning your hobby into a business, there's never been a better time. It's not hard. Print out a few business cards, open an eBay sellers' account and adopt a profit motive.

It Beats Biting Your Nails

Airplane passengers can't smoke anymore. So what to do about those nicotine cravings? Enter bottled NicoWater, which has as much nicotine as a couple of cigarettes.

Money: Play The Gift Card

You can talk to your kids about why downloading music on KaZaa isn't right, but let's face it, it's hard to compete with free. Here's another option that's both legal and cool: a gift certificate for downloading songs at the legit sites.

Shorts

Categorically RichThe rich are different--from each other. Companies wanting to market to them should recognize there are six distinct wealthy-personality types and peg sales efforts to the right sort, say researchers at Harris Interactive in Rochester, N.Y.

When They Have Everything

If it's better to give than to receive, here's an even better idea: make a charitable donation in your loved ones' names. They'll appreciate the gesture, and the charities--squeezed by declining donations and greater demands--certainly will, too.

Home: Watch That Thermostat

Rates this fall for natural gas may jump by more than a third over last year. What to do? Shop, of course. You can buy a programmable thermostat for under $60 at most hardware stores; it will let you turn the heat down while you're at work and warm up the house just before you get home.

Money: Perfect Presents

Give the gift of... plastic? Everyone's doing it. Consumers are expected to buy $45 billion in gift cards this year. Most are Visas or MasterCards, preloaded with cash, and good anywhere the regular credit cards can be used.But shop carefully.

Money: Day Of The Condo

Quick! which would you rather have: a gym or a big lawn to mow? Thought so. Perhaps that's why home buyers have started bidding up condominiums big time. Prices are rising 15% a year, twice the rate of single-family homes, as first-time home buyers and baby boomers look for second homes or downsized living, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Money: Jet-Set Spending

Why tie your credit card to one airline? With cards like MBNA's World Points MasterCard, Fleet's Power Rewards Visa or Capital One's Miles One Visa, you can trade points for a ticket on any airline (usually with no annual fee).

Point-And-Click Phones

Start thinking of your cell phone as a portable mouse or a remote control to take to the mall or on cultural expeditions. A Cambridge, England, firm is experimenting with hypertags: small battery-powered electronic devices that can be embedded on any surface and use infrared signals to send Web links to mobile phones.Over the summer, Hypertag Ltd.

Temp Jobs For Ceos

In the past few years, 47-year-old Mark Paul of Portland, Ore., has spent two months as CEO of an Internet company, six months as vice president of marketing and sales for a software firm, six months as business manager of a tech school and two years as COO of an automotive information-technology shop.

Antiterror Tech

The Department of Homeland Security is about to start compiling a list of antiterrorist technologies that will get special legal protections. Companies that produce or use technologies that make the department's list--such as airport scanners--will largely be protected from lawsuits if terrorists strike and plaintiffs emerge.The new breaks are the result of the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act passed by Congress at the end of 2002.

Money: Trading Traitors?

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water, here come new mutual-fund problems. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says he's discovered "widespread illegal-trading schemes." Spitzer says Bank of America allowed at least one hedge-fund manager to buy into its Nations Funds at expired prices not available to most investors.

Money: Never Be Late Again

Running's good for your heart and all, but you shouldn't have to race to the mailbox each month just to avoid a late fee on your credit-card bills. Grace periods on cards have narrowed from 30 to 21 days since 1990.

Stop! Do Not Turn The Page!

What should you do with that No. 2 pencil: (a) keep it sharpened; (b) use it to take several life-altering tests during a harrowing year of your young life; (c) chew it to bits while waiting to see if your scores help you get into your dream school; (d) resist the urge to throw it at the next person who mutters some platitude about how standardized tests don't matter.The correct answer, of course, is "all of the above." The SAT and other tests are stressful facts of life for the college-bound.

MONEY: MORTGAGE MAYHEM

The recent rise in mortgage rates has been fast and furious, with 30-year fixed rates jumping to 6.5 percent from June's 5.31 percent low. But if you're in the middle of buying a home, what are your choices?

Money: Beware The Fund Traps

Mutual funds are like cars. If they keep moving in the right direction, we don't care how they work. But three years of Wall Street scandals and shrinking portfolios have put investors in a tire-kicking mood.

DO YOU NEED A YEAR OFF?

Many students are taking time during college or even before it. They work and travel, and they come back invigorated.

Paycheck Patrol

Has your paycheck put on a few extra dollars? It should have, now that Bush's tax cut has kicked in and the IRS has told employers to make corresponding cuts in everyone's weekly withholding.

Summer Windfall

Have fun or be good? Parents will have to make that decision when the $400-per-child tax rebates start arriving later in July. Some options for spending the windfall:Fun.

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