Money Watch

Black Monday Not as Menacing as Perceived; Taking Stock of Your 401(k)

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Stocking Up for That Holiday Binge
Is your house worth less than it was a year ago? For a financial pick-me-up, check out your quarterly 401(k) statement. With the stock market some 9 percent to the better so far this year, the numbers there are probably cheerier—and more apt to keep you spending come the holidays. As Edward Yardeni of Oak Associates sees things, the "negative wealth effect" from real estate is likely to be more than offset by the positive one from stocks.

At the end of June, Americans owned a record-low 51.7 percent of their homes, the Federal Reserve says, meaning homeowner equity was $10.9 trillion. (New York University economist Edward Wolff says you can blame a combo of small down payments, big home-equity loans, and recently slipping home values.) But Americans had a highest-ever $16.8 trillion in retirement funds at the end of last year. See? You're probably in a more spend-happy mood already. James Pethokoukis

The Saving Grace for Older Women
For many women, retirement isn't the relaxing haven it's cracked up to be. Because women generally earn less than men and live longer in retirement, they tend to have less saved up. Plus, women are more likely than men to take themselves out of the workforce to care for children and parents. According to a Government Accountability Office report, 12 percent of women over 65 are in poverty, compared with 7 percent of men.

Divorce and widowhood are also financial negatives: A woman is eligible for her ex-husband's Social Security benefits, for example, only if the marriage lasted at least a decade. Pensions often are reduced after the death of the spouse who worked. For divorced and widowed women 65 and older, the poverty rates are even higher, at 21 and 15 percent, respectively.

The Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement recommends that women save money in individual accounts, in addition to relying on retirement plans and Social Security benefits, to guard against poverty. Kimberly Palmer

The Centro Sends a $100 Message
Apple's iPhone has made for a lot of smart-phone wannabes, but even at the reduced price of $400 it's too expensive for all but true believers. Now Palm hopes to reach a true mass market with a $100 handset that's also a PC.

The Palm Centro is an attractive, smaller, more rounded version of the Palm Treo, from which it draws its powers. The Centro is only a fraction of an inch narrower than the Treo 700 but feels considerably smaller, partly because it weighs a quarter less and just fits better in a hip pocket.

The phone has a camera, multimedia player, and Bluetooth, and it connects to Sprint's fast data network. Its hardware keyboard makes it adept at E-mail and text messaging.

The Centro is aimed at a crowd more interested in getting things done than in playing music or videos. While it can also do those, its smaller screen won't make it an iPhone killer. Still, Centro's price may do more to breathe life into the smart-phone market. David LaGesse