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Standard and Poor's Downgrades Russia Credit Rating to Junk

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Standard and Poor's has lowered the rating of the Russian ruble to BB /B amidst negative economic outlook.

The agency notes a "significant change in our perception of Russia's monetary flexibility over the 2015-2018 forecast horizon and the effect we expect Russia's weakening economy to have on its financial system." The downgraded credit rating comes as the ruble has been hurt by the continuing decrease in oil prices and the ongoing tension with Ukraine.

The ratings agency also said it views Russia's institutional and governance as a rating weakness. "Political power is highly centralized with few checks and balances," Standard and Poor's says, "we do not currently expect that the government will be able to effectively tackle the long-standing structural stronger economic growth."

As part of the rating, Standard and Poor's gave Russia poor marks on institutional and economic assessments and neutral marks for external assessment, fiscal performance and monetary assessment. The only strong grade Russia received in the latest rating was for its "modest" debt burden.

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Gas Prices Continue to Drop, Down Two Cents from Last Week

FeelPic/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Gas prices across the U.S. are down two cents from last week, the U.S. Energy Department says.

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average cost of a gallon of gas is just $2.04 this week. That figure is $1.25 lower than this date one year ago.

Gas remains most expensive on the West Coast, where the average gallon costs $2.32 -- much higher than the Gulf Coast region, where the average price is $1.85, cheaper than any other region of the country.

California held onto its title as the most expensive state in which to buy gas, according to the EIA. The average gallon in the Golden State is $2.44. Of the states measured by the EIA, Colorado, Minnesota, Ohio and Texas all have gas selling for under $2 per gallon on average.

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Facebook Releases New 'Lite' App That Uses Less Data

Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Facebook's data-hungry mobile app is now available in a slimmed-down size and is being targeted to Android users in emerging markets.

Taking up just 252 KB, the Facebook Lite app is designed to work efficiently on a 2G network and areas with limited service, providing users with a stripped-down Facebook experience.

Facebook told ABC News in a statement that the company is testing the app.

Users of the app, which is available for download in the Google Play store, can expect to see fast-loading news feed stories, photos and notifications from friends, making it ideal for people with limited data plans.

"Keeping up with friends is faster than ever. Facebook is free and always will be," a description of the app reads in the Google Play store.

Connecting the world has been a major goal for CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team behind the initiative. The group has been rolling out free, limited mobile Internet access to people in developing countries, which includes the Facebook app.

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Wall Street Closes with Small Gains, CBO Says Budget Deficit to Decrease in 2015

JaysonPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street stayed mostly level on Monday, finishing the day slightly up, amidst reports detailing a shrinking budget deficit.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 6.1 to 17678.70.

The Nasdaq climbed 13.88 to 4771.76, while the S&P 500 closed the session at 2057.09, up 5.27 from its open.

The Congressional Budget Office said on Monday that the budget deficit is projected to decrease in 2015, to the lowest point since President Obama took office. Overall, the deficit is expected to hold steady relative to the size of the economy through 2018. Beyond 2018, however, the CBO warns that rising deficits could gradually boost the deficit again.

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FTC: Tax-Related Identity Theft, IRS Impostor Scams Jump in 2014

Bet_Noire/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Trade Commission reported on Monday that tax-related identity theft was the most common form of identity theft reported in 2014.

The agency said in a release that the number of complaints regarding criminals impersonating officials from the Internal Revenue Service was nearly 24 times what the agency received in 2013 -- up tp 54,690 complaints from 2,545 the year before.

"We've seen an explosion of complaints about callers who claim to be IRS agents -- but are not," Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection Jessica Rich said. "IRS employees won't call out of the blue and threaten to have you arrested or demand specific methods of payment."

In total, the FTC reported 332,646 complaints of identity theft in 2014 -- including 109,063 tax-related identity theft complaints, nearly 33 percent of all identity theft complaints. Based on that data, 2014 was the fifth consecutive year in which tax-related complaints were the largest category of identity theft complaints.

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How Uber Chooses Its Surge Price Cap in Emergencies

Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Car service app Uber is capping its prices in New York City due to the major nor'easter snow storm.

In New York City, it's illegal to "price gouge" in a natural disaster, so Uber says its prices will not exceed 2.8 times the normal fare, due to the state of emergency declared in the Big Apple. In Boston, Uber prices are capped at 2.9 times the normal fare, the company said.

How did Uber choose that price cap? The company explains that as its national policy, when a state of emergency or disaster is declared, its "dynamic pricing" will be capped at a price that excludes the three highest-priced, non-emergency days of the preceding two months.

"This reflects Uber's national policy developed with New York Attorney General [Eric] Schneiderman that balances the goal of reliable transportation options with affordability during disasters: Anytime a disaster or state of emergency strikes, dynamic pricing is capped and all Uber proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross to support relief efforts," Uber said in an email to New York City customers.

Similar emails notifying customers about surge pricing caps are sent to each city or state where a state of emergency is declared, a spokeswoman for Uber told ABC News.

Meanwhile, competitor Lyft said its "Prime Time" pricing will be capped at 200 percent as usual.

"We've also communicated to drivers that they should only drive if they feel safe to do so," the Lyft spokeswoman said.

Both companies say they allow pricing fares to increase to incentivize more drivers to meet high demand.

Uber is warning customers that demand for rides may be higher and wait times may be longer than usual.

However, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's instituting an 11 p.m. curfew on non-emergency vehicles on New York City roads, it's not clear how many Uber or Lyft cars will be on the road.

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How Greece's Latest Money Problems Will Hit American Pocketbooks

iStock/Thinkstock(ATHENS, Greece) -- While the Greek elections on Sunday were an ocean away, Americans may feel the ripple effects of the anti-austerity Syriza party's leadership when it comes to their bank accounts and homes.

By voting for the far-left Syriza leader to be their premier, Greeks essentially voted against the measures imposed by European Union leaders. Though their single euro currency, put in place in 1999, likely won't go away, many Greeks are fed up with 26 percent unemployment and budget cuts that they face.

Kasi Turpin, founder and director of boutique travel company Greece A La Carte, based in Athens, said she is not bothered as a business owner and resident about the election results.

"I think he’s going to negotiate with Europe," Turpin said of newly-elected premier Alexis Tsipras. "A lot of what he promised was rhetoric so he could get elected, though a lot of people are expecting him to raise minimum wage today and alleviate taxes."

Peter Morici, professor at University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, said shifting European politics may have a depressing effect on U.S. interest rates. That's because uncertainty about the euro will cause Europeans to send money to the U.S., and that could push up stock prices and push down interest rates, he said.

"As the Federal Reserve raises rates this summer, the impact on mortgage rates will be more limited because of the uncertainty over the euro," he said.

Many economists expect the U.S. central bank to raise interest rates, "unless the economy falls apart," said Morici, who travels to Europe each summer. He added that he doesn't expect many effects on tourists, except for snagging some discounts.

"Right now, because the euro is weak, it’s a good value," he said.

Booking in advance can supersede any discounts that you may get from the plunging value of the euro against the dollar.

Turpin, who is of Greek descent and was born in Canada, said demand for Greek tourism has thawed since attracting bad press a few years ago -- with images of protesters in Athens against austerity measures.

And now, hotel and tourism service inventory may be harder to get due to the pent-up demand and travelers who want to take advantage of the falling euro.

Turpin advises travelers to look beyond the popular destinations of Santorini and Mykonos, such as Crete and Pylos.

"Greece is a country that is mostly surrounded by water. Even if you’re on the mainland of Greece, you’re not even 20 minutes from the water," she said.

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Swiss Company Charges $35,000 for Internationally Unique Baby Names

Vernon Wiley/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- You can now have a one-of-a-kind name for your baby, but it'll cost you.

For $35,000 a Swiss company called erfolgswelle will create a 100 percent, globally-unique name for your child.

"We calculated that the entire process takes around 100 hours," says Marc Hauser, owner and CEO of erfolgswelle. "We have 12 translators that speak the most common languages around the world among 5.5 billion people."

Along with translators, Hauser's creative team assembles a list of 15 to 25 unique names by using a combination of different words.

Those names are then presented to the customer for review.

After the family chooses their favorites, a team of professional historians will check for any existence of the names used in markets, or in previous history.

"If there are any interruptions with past history of anyone having the name before, then we kill it," Hauser told ABC News.

"Some of the copyrights on our team are parents as well," he said. "So it's not just about the name. It's very important to us to give a name that fits within the family's culture and and background."

For a nationally unique name, erfolswelle charges $20,000 U.S. dollars. The procedure and prices remain the same for the agency to find exclusive names for products and businesses.

The company currently has a few naming requests since their launch this month. Hauser says the families have requested their identities remain private.

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Deaths Linked to GM's Faulty Ignition Switches Rises to 50

General Motors(NEW YORK) -- At least 50 deaths have been linked to General Motors' faulty ignition switches.

Ken Feinberg, the attorney GM hired to pour through death claims from families whose loved ones died in accidents they believe were caused by the problem, updated the total on Monday.

GM intially estimated that at least 13 deaths resulted from its defective ignition switches.

So far, Feinberg has received 3,068 claims -- 338 for deaths and 2,730 for injuries.

The deadline to file a claim is Jan. 31.

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What to Do with Hotel Room You Can't Use When Flights Are Cancelled

ZLuketina/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With flight cancellations for Monday and Tuesday approaching 4,000, there are plenty of travelers who won't get to their vacation destinations. So what happens to all those hotel reservations?

Hotel chains in recent years have gotten far more stringent in their cancellation policies. Gone, in many cases, are the days of same-day cancellations with no penalty. Marriott, one of the largest hotel chains, instituted a policy that requires hotel rooms to be cancelled by 11:59 p.m. the day prior to arrival.

The penalty for not doing so is the cost of a one-night stay. Previously the policy allowed for cancellations as late as 6 p.m. the day of arrival. (Note that individual franchise owners can opt to use the more flexible policy so it's worth inquiring).

And when weather is the cause of a flight cancellation, the airline will not cover the cost of a hotel for you to stay in to wait it out -- nor will they cover any cost of an unused hotel room as a result of the flight cancellation.

So what's a traveler to do?

"The single-most important thing to do is contact the hotel directly and ask to speak to the front desk or concierge to make sure they give you either a refund or have them adjust your arrival date based on when your new arrival date," said CheapOair’s senior vice president of Supplier Relations, Tom Spagnola.

Other tips for getting a refund on a non-refundable hotel reservation:

  • If you booked your hotel with an online travel agency like Expedia or Priceline, contact the customer care line to see if any waivers have already been put in place.
  • If no waivers exist, contact the hotel directly and explain the situation: in this case, severe weather. If the hotel is in one of the affected areas, they may be grateful for the cancellation to free up rooms for guests who are stranded at their hotel, unable to return home. "There is more flexibility and consideration given speaking to the hotel directly than being transferred to a central reservations call center that may have to follow more strict cancellation/no-show restrictions," said Spagnola.
  • Ask the hotel if instead of cancelling the room you can change your reservation for a later date.

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Elon Musk Explains Why Lisa Simpson Is Wrong

Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Elon Musk is fired up following a jab from fellow brainiac Lisa Simpson.

The founder of Tesla and SpaceX got the cartoon treatment on Sunday when he appeared on an episode of The Simpsons, arriving in Springfield true to form in a rocket ship.

Lisa Simpson's jab that for a guy who "likes electric cars he sure burns a lot of rocket fuel," prompted the real-life Musk to give a lesson in rocket science on Twitter.

Reason is Newton's Third Law. In vacuum, there is nothing to "push" against. You must react against ejected mass.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 26, 2015

Musk didn't stop there.

He went on to explain why other potentially eco-friendly ideas for getting to space simply wouldn't work.

An elevator to space would be completely unrealistic "until someone at least builds a carbon nanotube structure longer than a footbridge," Musk explained.

Final one: anything launched by a railgun (if you could ever reach ~ Mach 27) would explode upon exiting the barrel in our dense atmosphere

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 26, 2015

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Your Learning Goal Orientation Is Key to Career Advancement

iStock/Thinkstock(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) — It’s the end of January and you still haven’t started looking for a new job like you promised yourself.  Maybe you need to improve your LGO.

It’s short for “learning goal orientation.”

Daniel Turban and Serge da Motta Veiga from the University of Michigan and Leigh University, respectively, say LGO can mean the difference between moving on in your career or staying stuck where you are.

Job seekers with a high LGO basically learn from their experience at looking for work, not to mention everyday situations. They’re also able to bounce back from failures more quickly than people with low LGO.

What’s more, when someone has a high LGO, they tend to intensify their efforts when things are actually going well and are better able to deal with the stress that job searching sometime produces.

That’s not to say that people who have a low learning goal orientation are out of luck. Turban and da Motta Veiga say they can learn techniques and behaviors to make their job search easier and less stressful.

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Kia to Recall Nearly 87,000 Vehicles in Wake of Fire Risk

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Kia Motors is recalling over 80,000 vehicles after a defect in the cooling fan resistor was found, creating the risk of potential fires.

According to documents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the recall affects as many as 86,880 Kia Fortes from the 2014 model year. Vehicle owners are expected to be notified next month.

Dealers will replace the cooling fan resistor and the multifuse unit in all recalled cars. Owners of vehicles with a 1.8 liter engine will also have software updated.

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Behold a Material So Water Repellent That Liquid Just Bounces Off

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Behold, a material so water-repellent that liquid drops just bounce off the surface.

Two scientists at the University of Rochester, Chunlei Guo and Anatoliy Vorobyev, have created a metal surface that is so hydrophobic that it makes Teflon look like superglue by comparison.

The findings were published Tuesday in the Journal of Applied Physics and the related YouTube video has logged more than 965,000 views as of Sunday.

"Super-hydrophobic materials are desirable for a number of applications such as rust prevention, anti-icing, or even in sanitation uses," the researchers said in their description of the video.

Check out the astonishing video below.

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Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus Sales Soar on Samsung's Home Turf

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Apple has gained significant market share in Samsung's home country of South Korea due to the company's successful bet on making bigger iPhones.

Following the release of its 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, new data shows that Apple has taken a big bite out of the market shares of its closest smartphone competitors in South Korea -- Samsung and LG.

Apple was responsible for 33 percent of smartphone sales in the country in November, according to data released by Counterpoint Research.

"No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20 percent market share mark in the history of Korea's smartphone industry," said Tom Kang, Counterpoint's research director in South Korea. "But iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have made a difference here, denting the competition's phablet sales."

Apple also gained a bigger slice of the market in Japan, according to Counterpoint, soaring to 51 percent of the market share in November.

Shares of Apple stock opened at $112.32 on Friday, up more than 40 percent in the past year. The company will report earnings for its first fiscal quarter on Jan. 27.

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