(MONEY Magazine) – GM has started chopping sticker prices rather than continuing a charade of discounts to bring in customers. (Expect Ford and Chrysler to follow.) The car makers hope that as they retool their lines they can wean consumers off incentives over the long run. Fact is, though, the '05 models that GM wants to unload before the redesigned '06s come out aren't worth more just because the "employee pricing" program ended Aug. 1. Push for the same deal. And remember: If a low monthly payment is your goal, a rebate helps (especially on big SUVs or pickups, where discounts continue to hit $10,000). But depreciation starts at the price you paid, not the list price. So you lose at resale time.
• BOTTOM LINE Rebates seem sweet, but all they mean is that the list price was too high. In-demand cars like the Corvette and Mustang aren't discounted. --LAWRENCE ULRICH
The best predictor of a stock's future return? Simple, according to new research: See if the number of shares outstanding is going up or down. Companies tend to issue more stock when the managers believe the stock is richly priced--and to buy 'em back when they think shares are cheap. Roughly speaking, each 1% shrinkage in the number of shares out there boosts a stock's return by an extra quarter of a percentage point vs. stocks with similar characteristics. "If you want better performance," says Boston College professor Jeffrey Pontiff, "your buying and selling should imitate what corporations do themselves."
• HOW TO BUY Check a company's number of shares outstanding over the past five years using annual reports or Money.com. (Be sure to adjust for any stock splits.) If the number has been dropping, the investment is worth a closer look. --JASON ZWEIG
Lurking behind many "free" checking accounts are fees levied by banks being squeezed by low lending rates. A Consumer Federation of America survey found that most large banks charge an average of $28.57 for "courtesy" overdraft provisions, and Bankrate.com has reported that banks typically dock you $1.35 if you use another institution's ATM (in addition to the fee charged at the ATM).
• WHAT TO DO Ask for a printed copy of account fees. Be sure to clarify whether you'll be charged if, oh, you switch jobs and the direct deposits lapse. And sign up for overdraft protection at a set fee, which could save you nearly 75% in surprise charges. --CAROLYN BIGDA