The Best of Everything, 2013
Want to know the best place to retire? We'll tell you about spots in the U.S. and abroad. Looking for a new bank? We've identified the best for savings, high-yield checking and no-fee accounts. Or how about a stock you can buy and hold? That's on our list, too.
We name standouts in 17 categories, including investing, home, health, cars, cruises, credit cards, travel, phone plans, tech and shopping. Plus, we found great gadget gifts for the whole family, including man's best friend.
Use the drop-down menu below to access any of our 17 categories.
Best Investments & Investing Resources
Best Stock to Buy and Hold
Maybe not forever, but you can buy Coca-Cola (symbol KO, $37) and stick it in a drawer for a good long time. The company boasts iconic brands and global distribution—you can buy a Coke in more than 200 countries.
Best Stock for Dividend Hikes
When Kimberly-Clark (KMB, $94) raised its dividend by 10% last spring, it marked the 41st consecutive year that the consumer-goods giant boosted its payout. The maker of Huggies and Kleenex has been using spare cash to buy back stock, too.
Best Target-Date Funds
The Vanguard Target Retirement funds have beaten their peers over the long haul, and they charge the industry’s lowest fees.
Best Broker for Active Stock Traders
Just2Trade charges a mere $2.50 when you buy or sell stocks or exchange-traded funds.
Best Broker for ETFs
TD Ameritrade offers a low-cost lineup of 101 commission-free exchange-traded funds that includes many international and fixed-income options, as well as nearly all of Vanguard’s ETFs.
Best Stock Fund Manager
Since Chuck Akre launched Akre Focus in 2009, his fund’s 18.3% annualized return has outrun Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index by an average of 2.8 percentage points per year.
Best Bond Fund Managers
The folks at the go-anywhere Osterweis Strategic Income fund have navigated the fixed-income universe with aplomb since the fund’s launch in 2002 by Carl Kaufman, who was joined in 2008 by Simon Lee and in 2013 by Bradley Kane. The fund’s ten-year annualized return of 7.2% beat its typical peer by an average of 1.5 percentage points per year.
Best Free Investing Site
At finance.yahoo.com, you get financial news and can set up and track multiple portfolios. Plus, you can quickly call up everything from analysts’ profit and revenue estimates to a company’s cash-flow and balance-sheet data.
Best Paid Investing Site
Morningstar.com provides stock and fund ratings, data, and some screening tools free. But if you shell out $195 a year for the premium service, you’ll have access to analyst reports on nearly 2,600 stocks and funds, a “portfolio x-ray” tool, and more-sophisticated screeners.
5 Stocks Ready to Rebound
In a strong bull market, it's not easy to find stocks that are down but not out. But we scoured the investing landscape and found a handful of stocks that we think are due for a comeback. See our picks.
Best Personal-Finance Apps
Bloomberg provides up-to-date data on stocks and indexes, plus market news and videos.
Personal Capital links bank, credit card and investment accounts to give you a deeper look at your finances.
Manage household bills, loyalty programs and even your Netflix subscription with Manilla. The app lets you view credit card statements and other documents.
Instead of buying those shoes you don’t really need, direct the cash you would have spent on them to a savings goal using ImpulseSave. Your checking account must be linked to a Bank of America or Capital One 360 savings account.
Realtor.com lets you search home listings by distance, school district, open houses and more.
Best Money-Management Resources
Best a la Carte Financial Planning
Choose from more than 300 certified financial planners at Garrett Planning Network to get help on an as-needed (or ongoing) basis. The advisers charge hourly rates of $150 to $240.
Best Credit Site
Credit.com gives you a free snapshot of your credit, from scores to how you’re doing in different areas, updated monthly.
Best Credit Protection Service
The ITAC Sentinel Plus plan ($13 a month) monitors your files with the major credit bureaus and notifies you of significant changes. You get a quarterly report, and the service helps with damage control if you become a victim of identity theft.
Best Savings Coach
With Virtual Piggy, kids learn about money while you keep tabs on what they’re doing. They log in to accounts you set up to manage the funds that you allot with limits you set.
Best Student-Loan Monitor
Link your federal and private student-loan accounts with the Tuition.io tool to see your total estimated monthly payment, the percentage of your loans paid and your total balance.
Best Car Insurance
With Progressive Snapshot, you agree to put a tracking device in your car. But if you’re a good driver, you won’t get penalized for other drivers’ bad habits.
Best New-Car Research Site
The all-new Price Advisor at KBB.com shows you what you should pay based on recent transactions in your area. Plus, you can get five-year ownership costs. Coming soon: a Price Advisor for used cars.
Best Bank Accounts
Best Savings Account
Sallie Mae Bank’s Money Market account (recent yield 0.9%) and High Yield Savings account (0.8%) come without fees or minimum-deposit requirements.
Best No-Fee Account
Ally Bank doesn’t ding you with maintenance or minimum-balance fees on its checking and savings accounts, and it reimburses all ATM charges.
Best High-Yield Checking Account
Earn 3% on up to $15,000 in the Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking account. You have to set up direct deposit and meet other usage requirements to get the 3% rate.
Best Relationship Banking Account
PNC Performance Select Checking reimburses all ATM fees and offers bonus rates on CDs plus other perks with just a $5,000 monthly balance.
Best Credit Cards
Best Card for Cash Back
With the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card, the $75 annual fee is worthwhile, thanks to a 6% rebate on supermarket purchases, 3% on gasoline and department-store purchases, and 1% on everything else.
Best Card for Rewards Points
The Amazon Rewards Visa (no annual fee) rebates three points per dollar on Amazon purchases and two at gas stations, restaurants, drugstores and office-supply stores.
Best Card for Travel
The BankAmericard Travel Rewards Visa card has no annual fee, doesn’t charge foreign-transaction fees and has a microchip for overseas usage. Earn 1.5 points for every dollar spent.
Best Prepaid Card
The Bluebird by American Express and Walmart has low fees and a host of handy features, including remote check deposit and sub-accounts for family members.
Best Phone Plans
Best Phone Plan for Families
MyRatePlan.com’s Logan Abbott, who picked all the plans here, recommends the Verizon Share Everything plan. It has unlimited voice minutes and texts. A plan that includes four smart phones sharing 6 gigabytes of data runs $240 a month.
Best Phone Plan for Data Hogs
With the Sprint Unlimited My Way plan, you’ll pay $80 a month for unlimited voice minutes, text messaging and data.
Best Phone Plan for Pay-as-You-Goers
The $45 monthly Straight Talk Unlimited plan includes unlimited voice and texts and 2.5GB of full-speed data.
Best Cruise for Luxury
You won’t be nickel-and-dimed on Regent Seven Seas cruises. The all-inclusive packages bundle airfare, gratuities and shore excursions. (All picks here are by the editors of CruiseCritic.com.)
Best Cruise for Families
Of course kids love Disney, but Disney Cruise Line coddles the entire family with activities such as live musicals and movies.
Best Cruise for Value
The experience on Azamara Club Cruises says luxury, with bar drinks, specialty coffees and gratuities included, but you won’t pay luxury prices.
Best Cruise for Flexible Itineraries
Spend a few days to several months aboard a Princess Cruise, stopping in such far-flung locales as Cape Horn and Ho Chi Minh City.
Best Cruise for River Cruising
From the Rhine to the Yangtze, ply the inland waters on Viking River Cruises. The line is developing new excursions, such as a tour of Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame.
Best Airlines & Booking Sites
Best Airline for On-Time Arrival
Planning on sprinting from the airport to a meeting? Let’s hope you’re on Alaska Airlines. Nearly 85% of its flights have arrived on time so far this year.
Best Airline for Baggage
Virgin America gets your bags to your destination more often than its peers. The airline has lost only 1.31 bags per 1,000 fliers so far in 2013.
Best Loyalty Program
United Airlines MileagePlus gives you access to more than 1,300 destinations through its Star Alliance program, offers complimentary upgrades for traveling companions and, unlike some airlines, doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges. Among hotel programs, Starwood Preferred Guest status gets you free nights and upgrades at more than 1,000 properties, including the W Singapore-Sentosa Cove.
Best Booking Site
Our perennial favorite for comparing prices on flights, hotels and rental cars is Kayak.com. This year it launched a “price trend” tool that helps you decide whether to buy airfare now or wait for a better deal.
Best Last-Minute Hotel Booking Site
Stranded fliers and procrastinators, try HotelTonight. The app for iPhone and Android offers same-day savings of up to 70% on hotel rooms in dozens of U.S. cities and 14 foreign countries.
Best Home Financing & Improvement Resources
Best Mortgage Calculator
The Tri-Refi calculator at HSH.com, a mortgage-rate tracker, helps you make smart loan decisions, such as whether to pay points or take a higher rate.
Best Place to Sell Your Stuff
Forget online auction sites. Take your stuff to a consignment shop, which will sell it for you. You usually get about half of the sales price.
Best Remodeling Project for Your Money
The best return among 35 home improvements, according to a Remodeling magazine survey, was an entry-door replacement. A steel door recouped 86% of a national-average cost of $1,137 when the home was sold.
Best Smart-Home System
Iris uses your smart phone or tablet to perform tasks at your home remotely, such as controlling temperature and lights and monitoring home security. Cost: $299 for home-security and energy-usage kits, at Lowe’s.
Best Places to Retire
Best Place to Retire in the U.S.
Louisiana is one of Kiplinger’s top-ten tax-friendly states for retirees, based on its low income tax and property tax rates and generous exemptions for retiree income. In 2012, New Orleans was named Kiplinger’s number-one city for retirees, based on its affordable health care, mild climate (except during hurricane season) and supply of new and refurbished homes. It also has jazz and blues, street festivals and jambalaya.
Best Place to Retire South of the Border
Costa Rica offers lush valleys, picture-postcard beaches and affordable health care. A couple can live comfortably on $2,500 a month; some retirees live on much less. Costa Rica is home to more than 20,000 American expats and is one of the most politically stable countries in Latin America.
Best Place to Retire in Europe
Homes in Spain are more affordable than in other Western European countries, health care is excellent, and there’s plenty of sunshine. A couple can live comfortably for $3,500 a month.
Best Place to Retire in Asia
A couple can live in style in Malaysia for about $1,500 a month. Health care is so good that foreigners frequently travel to this country for medical and dental services. English is widely spoken, thanks to Malaysia’s historical ties to the United Kingdom.
Best in Education
Best 529 Plans
If your state offers a tax break for contributing to its 529 plan, go with that plan. Otherwise, look at these direct-sold 529 plans, rated best in class by Savingforcollege.com: Utah Educational Savings Plan for best performance over one, three and five years; New York’s 529 College Savings Program for low costs; and Nebraska Education Savings Trust for its investment menu.
Best Major for Starting Salary
In a survey by PayScale, petroleum engineering ranked first for earnings potential, with a median starting salary of $103,000; 15 years out, petroleum engineers earn a median salary of $160,000. Of the ten top-earning majors, seven are in engineering.
Best Financial Aid Calculator
The tool at FinAid.org can’t be beat for ease of use. Click on “Calculators” and “Quick EFC Approximation Calculator.” You fill in ten fields and get a rough estimate of your expected family contribution.
Best for Your Health
Best Health Savings Account
If your employer isn’t contributing money to an HSA and you have a high-deductible health insurance policy (see Ask Kim), check out HSA Bank. You can invest account money in securities through TD Ameritrade.
Best Home Exercise Machine
The AFG model 3.1AE elliptical ($1,100) offers a low-impact aerobic workout that uses your arms as well as your legs.
Best Hospital Finder
The NerdWallet Best Hospitals tool provides a list of area hospitals that perform the procedure you specify, the number of patients treated per year, and the average charge and Medicare payment.
Best Personal-Finance Twitter Accounts to Follow
Best for Investing
@bespokeinvest, from Bespoke Investment Group, helps make sense of the stock market with compelling commentary.
Best for Banking and Credit
@bankrate provides tips and trends on banking, credit and other money topics.
Best for Consumer Issues
@consumerist feeds you news on the marketplace with a dollop of wit.
Best for Smart Spending Advice
@wisebread hosts chats on money topics and rounds up advice on frugal living.
Best for All Things Money
@Kiplinger keeps you up-to-date on our investing, money and spending info.
Best Resources for Bargain Shoppers
Best City for Shopping
Shoppers in Portland, Ore., pay no state or local sales tax. You’ll find plenty of things to buy there, too. The Pioneer Place Mall downtown features more than 70 stores, from Louis Vuitton to Apple. Bibliophiles will want to make a pilgrimage to Powell’s, one of the largest independent bookstores in the U.S.
Best Bargain-Spotting Site
Every day, Dealnews posts the best bargains it finds online on products ranging from electronics to clothing. The site relies on human intelligence -- its editors post commentary sharing their expertise, such as “The Best and Worst Things to Buy in December.”
Best Price-Comparison Plug-In
Priceblink automatically scours the Web for a better price as you view a product for sale. Then a bar pops up at the top of the page displaying prices for the same item on other sites.
Best Discount Finder
The Honey plug-in for the Chrome and Firefox browsers inserts a “find savings” button on the checkout pages of supported retail Web sites; click on it to test discount codes on your item.
Best Source for Cheap E-books
Amazon’s Kindle Deals offer a diverse lineup of e-books at prices ranging from 99 cents to $3.99. Many of the titles are romances and thrillers by undiscovered writers, but you can find deep discounts on books by popular authors, too. (First check www.gutenberg.org, where you can download thousands of e-books free.)
Best Sharing Services
Best Sharing Service for Lodging
On Airbnb, you can book a Scottish castle ($965 a night) or a “seashell house” on an island near Cancún (below; $225 a night). Convention in town? Rent your place, protected for up to $1 million against property damage.
Best Sharing Service for Cars
RelayRides lets you rent your car out (or rent someone else’s at a discount) in nearly 1,700 cities and 230 airports across the U.S. Renters make $250 a month, on average, and your car is insured up to $1 million.
Best Service for All Kinds of Stuff
>Give and get everything from clothes to camping gear free with Yerdle, a modern, mobile version of Freecycle. Use the iPhone app and earn credits for donating, then use them to “pay” for stuff.
Best Video Chat
Microsoft’s Skype is the video-chat champ for two big reasons: Its global popularity is unmatched, and it runs on just about every computing device you can buy.
Best TV Show Streaming Service
Hulu is a one-stop shop for streaming new episodes of network TV shows. If you subscribe to the $8 monthly Hulu Plus service, you’ll be able to watch full seasons of shows (not just recent episodes) and stream them to your TV.
Best Movie Streaming Service
You can rent many new releases on Amazon Instant Video starting at $4 and stream them to your TV through Roku or a gaming console.
Best Device for Streaming
The Roku box is hard to beat for streaming movies and television shows to your TV. Prices range from $50 to $100, depending on picture quality and a few other features. And all of the boxes can stream Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netflix and content from many other services.
Best Car for Your Family
Starting at $22,695, the slick-looking Ford Fusion has knee airbags, a roomy interior and great resale values.
Best Car for Your Kid
All-wheel drive, Blue-tooth audio streaming and five-star safety are standard on the Subaru Impreza, and at $18,665, it won't bust the budget.
Best Car If Money Is No Object
The Cadillac XTS, one of our 2013 Best New Car picks, packs power and value. It produces 304 horses, gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway and starts at less than $50,000.
See our slide show for more of our best car picks.