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The Stat


The ratio of corporate debt downgrades to every upgrade over the past five years: 4:1

Data: Standard & Poor's Interested in helping the U.S. government rebuild Iraq? The Pax World Balanced Fund ($1 billion in assets) allows investors to contribute a share of their dividends and capital gains to a relief agency to benefit Iraq. But will there be anything to share? Returns for the Pax fund were down 8.9% last year and 1.1% in the first quarter, though it still outperformed the S&P 500. The annual intake generally follows the ups and downs of the stock market. In 2000, Pax raised $215,000 for worldwide emergency relief efforts from about 2% of investors who contributed. Last year, it pulled in only $40,000, all of which was set aside for the anticipated Iraqi relief effort. During the bull market, many people took advantage of a perfectly legal loophole that allows you to raid an individual retirement account penalty-free before turning 591/2. The catch is that if you take out money early, you must continue withdrawing for either five years or until reaching 591/2, whichever is longer. Moreover, you must stick with one of three IRS-approved methods for calculating payouts. Based on your life expectancy, the withdrawals are designed to leave some of your nest egg intact for retirement.

Still, now that the bear market has depleted IRA balances, many are finding their retirements at risk. Even worse, two of the methods for calculating early withdrawals assume your account's balance will rise every year. This locks you into taking out bigger amounts each year, regardless of your account's actual peformance, says Ed Slott, editor of Ed Slott's IRA Advisor Newletter (800 663-1340; irahelp.com). But now, the IRS will permit a one-time switch, allowing those who chose an aggressive formula to take a more conservative approach -- and preserve more savings for retirement. Conceived while its inventor juggled electronics gear on a ski lift, Skullcandy's Link ($30 at skullcandy.com) is a stereo headset that does double duty. It plugs into a cell phone and CD or MP3 player at the same time. A control on the cord holds a microphone, a button to answer the phone, and a volume control for the music. For amateur shutterbugs with digital cameras, here's as good a chance as any to become a published photographer. The America 24/7 project is looking for photo enthusiasts to shoot a slice of American life during the week of May 12. The best snapshots will be picked for a book due out this November from DK Publishing. More will appear next year in volumes for each state plus Washington, D.C., and New York City. Sign up: america24-7.com.


Tim Cook's Reboot
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