MONEY: DON'T GET STEAMED

Turning on the heat for the first time in the fall is no fun. It signifies the cold dark days to come, and there's that unpleasant smell of money burning.

CLEAR EYE FOR THE BIZ GUY

Think "The Apprentice" meets "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Small-business owners now have their own reality makeover show, airing Saturday nights on the Learning Channel (TLC)--when else does the boss have time to watch TV? "Taking Care of Business" has its own team of entrepreneurial experts who will try to rescue a different small business every week.

BOOK 'EM!

It's like accounting software with training wheels. Intuit, publisher of Quicken and Turbotax, has just released a dumbed-down version of its business-bookkeeping software, Quickbooks, for the 9 million American small-business owners who are still using pencils and shoeboxes.

IF ONLY IT DISPENSED LATTE

Maybe the ATM industry got a little ahead of itself. For about a decade banks have been throwing money at new machines that could do everything from sell stamps to talk to customers.

INVESTING: SHOPPING FOR SMART BETS

There are 75 shopping days until Christmas, but Don Hodges, who manages the Hodges Fund, is already loading up. He's picked up some shares of Costco, Wal-Mart, Neiman Marcus and Sharper Image, positioning his four-star fund for what he hopes will be the profitable season to come. "Interest builds in retail stocks in the fall," he says. "Everyone watches with bated breath to see which ones look like they are doing well."Should you, too?

MONEY: ADD UP YOUR BENEFITS

It's open enrollment season for employee benefits. That means many workers have to lay out their 2005 plans now and decide which health insurance to buy and how much money to set aside in flexible-spending or health-care savings accounts.

MONEY: PENSION TENSION

IBM retirees will get their cash, but what's it to you? It's too soon to tell. Last week IBM agreed to pay $300 million to settle old pension claims, and agreed to pay $1.4 billion more if a recent ruling, which struck down its "cash balance" pension plan, holds.Older IBMers said they were treated unfairly by the cash-balance plan, which tends to favor younger workers and job switchers.

TECHNOLOGY: HOOK UP YOUR CASH

It's a good time to digitize your finances. The two leading personal- finance software programs, Quicken and Microsoft Money, are out with new, souped- up versions just in time for year-end number crunching.

'Is That An Elk's Head In Back?'

Coming soon to a strip mall near your office: Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Last year the privately held firm opened a branch a day, topped the list of college-graduate recruiters and made serious inroads into the corporate market. "What they did was take a basic business and Starbuck-ize it," says Neil Abrams, a Purchase, N.Y., rental-car consultant. "They put one on every corner." With 12,000 new employees in two years, and branches within 15 minutes of 90 percent of the U.S. population, the company...

IF ONLY THE TRAVEL ITSELF WERE EASY

Online travel agents are wooing corporate managers with improvements that go way beyond what the typical vacation-planning consumers see on the Web. That's because travel management has become big business, as companies realize they waste too many resources letting their executive road warriors make their own reservations.

Money: Stash The Cash Here

Money-market funds are coming to life after the Federal Reserve's repeated rate hikes. Average annual yields crossed the 1 percent mark last week and, for the first time since 2002, beat the average money-market rate paid by the banks, according to Peter Crane of iMoneynet.com.

Car 54, Is That You?

The government is getting behind Wi-Fi for automobiles--and not because it wants to make sure you can IM your friends while zipping along the freeway. The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Transportation are supporting new technology that will allow cars and roadside devices to talk to each other in the interest of safety and traffic management.

BUT FORGET THE SHRIMP COCKTAIL

Ah, the good old days, when first class really meant something: shrimp cocktail, china and crystal--and an extra $1,000 or more tacked on to the price of your ticket.

Finance: Scoring A First Loan

It's a catch-22: you need a credit history to get a credit score, and you need a credit score to borrow money and build that history. Now Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that invented credit scoring, will give FICO grades to people without a credit history by looking at how responsibly they pay their bills and handle their bank accounts.

Money: That Check Won't Float

Nessa Feddis, a lawyer for the American Bankers Association, just got rid of all her canceled checks. Twenty years of grocery, mortgage, car-repair payments...

MONEY: FINANCE 101

Giant lecture halls can be easier to navigate than those first credit-card bills. Some tips for new students:^ CampusEdge is a new checking account from Bank of America (bankof america.com) that comes with a Stuff Happens card that kids can use once to get an overdraft fee waived.^ MBNA offers a MasterCard through www.collegeparents.com that allows parents to set credit limits and peruse the charges, but lets students learn by paying the bills.^ Find the best rates and fees on student cards at...

REAL ESTATE: REASSESS YOUR TAX

Oh, sure, watching your house go up in value is fun--until you get your property-tax bill. Municipalities, feeling pinched, are pumping up their assessments and their rates.

MONEY: A HEALTH-CARE WINDFALL

BY LINDA STERN Rich Phillips has a wife, three kids and a need for health insurance that won't bust his budget. When the Austin, Texas, consultant left a salaried job last fall to start his own company, Phillips, 34, was getting quotes of about $1,000 a month to replace the policy offered by his former employer.

INVESTING | CASH IN ON THE VOTE

Are you so confident about John Kerry or George W. Bush in 2004 that you're willing to put your money where your vote is? The University of Iowa is running a real-money futures market on the presidential race at www.biz.uiowa.edu/iem.

IT STILL PAYS TO BE RICH

Rich kids have always had an easier route to college. But here's the news: the enrollment gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting worse, and leaders at the elite schools are taking notice. "We're losing one of every four really smart low-income kids," says Williams College president Morton Owen Schapiro, who has studied this issue for more than a decade.In 10 years, average college costs have stayed a fairly constant 6 percent of wealthy-family income, and climbed from 17 percent to...

DANGERS OF STUDENT DEBT

You nailed your SAT--how hard can it be to balance your checkbook and manage a credit card? You'd be surprised. Learning how to budget while you're trying to find your classrooms and pay for books and football tickets out of that pittance you saved from your summer job is harder than it looks.

THE BURSAR TOLLS FOR THEE

If you thought the application process was painful, you don't know pain. (Cue scary music.) That's probably the tuition bill in the mailbox right now. Rising college costs have been lamented for a generation, but this year we really mean it.

MONEY: AN IRS I.O.U.

Guess who's offering low-rate loans? The Internal Revenue Service, though that's not how the agency would describe it. The IRS just lowered the interest rate it charges for underpayment of taxes from 5 percent to 4 percent through Sept. 1.

HANDLING THE RATE HIKE

Alan Greenspan made his move last week; now it's your turn. Oh, sure, you could just sit back and watch the rates rise on your home-equity line and your credit cards while your 401(k) slides sideways.

DON'T O.D. ON OVERDRAFT

Bounced a few checks lately? The Federal Reserve recently OK'd controversial and expensive "bounce-protection plans" for low-income customers who don't qualify for traditional overdraft credit lines.

MONEY: STOPPING AN E-THIEF

Banking online? Watch your statement like a hawk. Nearly 2 million people had their checking accounts raided in the past year, and most of them were paying bills and shopping online, according to Gartner, Inc.

KEEP 'EM COVERED

Forget organic catnip and PuchiBag carriers. Today's well-accessorized pet is carrying health insurance. Besotted owners are expected to spend $8.3 billion this year to keep their pets healthy, and more of them are trying to cut costs with health insurance.

DIPLOMA, AND A DEAL

Here's a gift for grads: the rate on student loans will drop to a record low on July 1. New grads will get the best deal, a rate of 2.77 percent, if they consolidate their loans within six months of graduating.

Money: Stretch That Dollar

Crossing the pond this summer? at about $1.20 for every euro, that 190 hotel room in Paris is going to cost you at least $228. Here's how to get the best exchange rate:-Use only banks or American Express offices for changing your money, and avoid booths at airports, hotels and tourist attractions.-Pay for purchases with a credit card, but not just any card, since extra fees are common.

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