Kitchen counters that last


Quartz withstood almost everything in Consumer Reports’ recent tests of kitchen counter options —stains, hot pots, abrasive pads and knives — and unlike granite, it doesn’t need to be resealed. Its combination of beauty, durability and easy maintenance makes it a great choice for busy kitchens. Granite performed almost as well.

Both materials are a bit pricey. Laminate is still the budget-friendly choice. Its looks have improved, thanks to better printing.

But those aren’t your only countertop options. Consumer Reports stained, sliced, scratched, scorched and nicked 14 materials from leading brands and found huge differences in performance. Almost everything stained bamboo counters, and although tile itself is stain- and heat-resistant, the grout between the tiles stains even when sealed, and it can mildew. Except for recycled glass, there was little difference among competing brands of each material. That’s why Consumer Reports rates materials, not brands. So pick the material, then get the brand that offers the color or pattern you prefer at the best price.

Chipping away


Your next credit card likely will have a secure microchip in it.

But it still might not work when you travel abroad. Huh? What? Matt Schulz,

5 Spot: Don’t thwart your retirement


When financial times get tough, some people make regrettable decisions — such as taking early withdrawals from 401(k) accounts. The number of Americans doing so hit a record in 2010, and in 2011 the IRS collected about $5.7 billion in penalties on roughly $57 billion withdrawn early.

Early withdrawals can do more long-term harm than short-term good. The longer you leave your money alone to grow, the more powerful your compounded growth becomes. Check out what time, patience and an average 10 percent return can do to a steady series of $10,000 annual investments: After 10 years, you have $175,000. After 20 years, $630,000. After 30 years, $1.8 million.

Finances key to post-recession couples


SYCAMORE, Ill. — When Brittani Click first met her fiancé, Matt Holliday, she wouldn’t have called herself a responsible saver.

But after frequent financial talks and with a little less than two months left to go before saying “I do,” Click has learned from her future husband’s frugal ways.

Reorganize your refrigerator to keep food fresh


The best way to extend the life of your food is to store it properly. Here are some tips to do just that.

— Find the right spot. The back of the refrigerator is the coldest area. Place milk and eggs, in their cartons, in back. Throw out milk if it’s more than a week past its sell-by date; eggs last three to five weeks from when they’re purchased.

Life insurance doesn’t have to be a mystery


The topic of life insurance doesn’t have much going for it. First, it’s about insurance, which many people find boring and complicated. Second, it can involve paying money for something you may never use.

And it’s about death.

5 Spot: Save your skin with these sunscreen tips


More than 2 million people are diagnosed annually in the United States with non-melanoma skin cancers. Here are ways to protect your skin — and your wallet, too.

Guard your credit from thieves


After Target and Neiman Marcus told tens of millions of shoppers that their credit and debit card information had been stolen, the retailers offered them a year of free credit monitoring. But that service does little more than give consumers a false sense of security because it does nothing to protect them from fraudulent charges on their credit and debit card accounts.

More than 85 percent of identity theft cases involve existing account fraud, according to the Department of Justice. Credit monitoring, security freezes and fraud alerts are designed to thwart much less common — but much more serious — new-account fraud.

Beyond the oil change


Most of us know that vehicles need regular oil changes.

But if your maintenance starts and stops with an oil change, you could be in for a bumpy ride.

First job: Summer employment can be a great learning experience for teens


Sydney Rau was a little nervous before her first job interview.

What should she say? How should she dress?

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