The headlines keep getting worse. Gasoline prices on the rise. Airlines on the verge of bankruptcy. State deficits reaching a post-World War II high. You know the rest. It's enough to unnerve even the most confident investor.

But wait. There's a bright side -- an upside. Smart investors know that increased risk means increased potential reward. The Fool has always discouraged irrational, irresponsible investing decisions, whether in a bull or a bear market. That's why Tom Jacobs thinks this is exactly the wrong time to pull out of the market.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

U.S. Running on Fumes?

Just when you thought it wasn't possible, we're digging in even deeper at the pump. According to the Lundberg Survey of 8,000 gas stations nationwide, the average price of a gallon of gas was $1.75 over the weekend.

If you think drivers are the only ones suffering, think again. Think bigger.

Did you know fuel is the second-largest expense for the struggling airlines, after labor? These guys were having trouble when gas was cheaper than water. So, while U.S. Airways, American Airlines parent AMR(NYSE: AMR), and UnitedAirlines(NYSE: UAL) were strapped before, even Southwest(NYSE: LUV) and JetBlue(Nasdaq: JBLU) are feeling the pinch now.

But that's fine. You swore off flying. It's not in your company's budget, anyway. You'll just drive. Oops! Driving suddenly costs even more. And the ramifications are rippling across the nation's businesses.

Cancelled road trips mean empty beds for hotel operators, such as Starwood(NYSE: HOT), Hilton(NYSE: HLN), and La Quinta(NYSE: LQI). Regional amusement park chains Six Flags(NYSE: PKS) and Cedar Fair(NYSE: FUN) rely on customers from a 150-mile radius, and turnstiles aren't clicking like they used to.

And keeping cars closer to home results in less wear and tear on vehicles. That's good -- for drivers. Auto makers GM(NYSE: GM), Ford(NYSE: F), and DaimlerChrysler(NYSE: DCX) might see it differently if the lack of demand for new wheels sends factories closing and assembly-line workers furloughed.

They'll join those from the airlines, hotels, and amusement parks in the unemployment line. Plus, they won't be spending, which translates to shortcomings all over the retail space.

Are you immune? Take a look around -- seems like nothing, and no one, is. Man, it's time for a vacation.

Discussion Board of the Day: Best Travel Spots/Tips

If you still have enough fuel in your tank to afford to a road trip, where will you be going this summer? Will you stay closer to home? Got any nuggets of wisdom for the next trip? All this and more -- in the Best Travel Spots/Tips discussion board. Only on

AOL Under Suspicion Again

AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL) just can't get a break. On the day it announces a new pop-up blocking service for America Online members, shares get bounced 5% on a Washington Postreport that the federal investigation into the media conglomerate is widening.

With the stock at around $10 a stub, it's significantly below the company's 52-week high of $27.15.

According to the Post, the Feds may add charges of "aiding and abetting" fraud at other companies to the list of charges it's already considering. Allegedly, former AOL-ers David M. Colburn and Eric Keller struck deals with companies such as Homestore(Nasdaq: HOMS) to help them inflate revenues, both before and after the merger of America Online and Time Warner.

Through an exchange of cash and faked transactions (the practice known as "round-tripping"), AOL may have helped such companies prop up results on a quid pro quo basis. Several Homestore executives pled guilty last year to round-tripping charges.

AOL's name has been floated for a while as the likely suspect that assisted Homestore's round-tripping. The Justice Department, in its investigation of Homestore, said that "a major media company" helped funnel the money back to the online real estate business.

Now, it appears that investigators looking into AOL's accounting practices are also keying in on the company's involvement. This will open a new front in the investigation because it points to the possibility that AOL not only tinkered with its own false revenue numbers, but also helped another company do so. And that could be ugly.

For its part, AOL says it is fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation. Beleaguered shareholders don't have many options here, as they wait for the whole thing to play out.

Quote of Note

"The supreme irony of business management is that it is far easier for an inadequate CEO to keep his job than it is for an inadequate subordinate... At too many companies, the boss shoots the arrow of managerial performance, and then hastily paints the bullseye around the spot where it lands." -- Warren Buffett

Warnings for Car Buyers

You can do all the research in the world to find your dream ride, but there's more on the line than just the asking price. A few missteps at the dealership could total your credit score... and consumer rights.

For advice on avoiding a financial collision at the car shop (we promise, that's the last of the driving metaphors), look no further than Consumer Reports' ubiquitous auto issue, out this month.

For 50 years, the publication has helped gearheads and grandmas alike find the perfect wheels -- from finned sedans to muscle cars to minivans to hybrid hot rods. In its anniversary issue, the watchdog gives tips on avoiding all-too-common car shopping traps.

Here are a few that raised our eyebrows:

Credit score shenanigans. You've checked your pristine credit record and are ready to line up some sweet, low-interest financing. But when the dealer checks with the credit bureau, he reports that your score isn't good enough to qualify for the better financing deals.

Huh? It's illegal for a car dealer to lie about your credit score.

Tip: Go in knowing where you stand, in the eyes of the lending industry, and report a dealer who fabricates a false score to your state's attorney general's office.

Legitimate credit problems can arise if there are excessive inquiries into your credit rating. Too many hits can lower your credit score.

Tip: Tell salespeople you do not authorize them to run a credit check (they need your written consent to do so) -- especially if you have already arranged financing elsewhere, plan to pay cash, or are just going for a test drive.

Dud deals. Those $0 down, 0% interest, and 0 payments for a year deals sure sound generous. But the fact is many dealers aren't that big-hearted when it comes to financing. You might be hit with all the monthly payments -- plus retroactive interest -- once the year is up, or be contractually forced to refinance the balance of the loan at a higher interest rate.

What about the dealer whose ad says "We'll Pay Off Your Loan!" Don't kiss your old car debt or lease goodbye just yet. More than likely, the dealer means he'll roll the amount owed on your old vehicle into your new loan.

Tip: Watch out for early-termination fees. And if you're in over your head -- meaning you owe more than your car is worth -- forget about arranging a trade-in.

Not-so-fine print. Thousands of dollars and years of driving pleasure are on the line -- and in the fine print. The finance manager may say the bank requires a "mandatory extended warranty." In some states, that's illegal. Consumer Reports recommends against buying an extended warranty, unless the car has a reputation as a clunker.

Scour the bill of sale for "protection package" fees and "dealer prep" charges, which are usually unneeded. Rustproofing and fabric protection are usually done by the manufacturer, so no need to pay extra for redundant work.

And finally, don't buy from any dealer who requires you to sign a mandatory arbitration clause. Your John Hancock on that clause removes your right of redress, should a serious problem cut you off at a merge. (Sorry, couldn't resist one last driving metaphor.)

Shameless Plug: Get More From Your Savings

You can't put all your money in the stock market. Sometimes you need a safe, guaranteed return. So what are your options? Our Short-Term Savings Center can help you figure out how much you need to save, where to put it, and where to get the best interest rates. There's even some special yields for Fools.

Quick Takes

Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos is OK after a helicopter crash in west Texas last week. The tailboom struck a tree shortly after it took off, and the craft spun into a creek on its side. All four aboard received non-serious injuries.

Former ImClone(Nasdaq: IMCL) Chief Executive Samuel Waksal settled some of his SEC insider-trading charges yesterday by agreeing to a ban on being an officer in a public company and an $800,000 fine. However, a new charge was brought to light, one that alleges Waksal actually made $130,000 by buying puts on ImClone before the bad news about the company surfaced.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board has agreed to debate whether stock options should be treated as an expense. While today's move is seen as a step toward expensing, the board is receiving political pressure from both sides of the issue.

General Electric (NYSE: GE) Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt took in $6.9 million in salary and bonus last year, according to the company's proxy statement. In addition, he will receive $6.7 million in GE stock this month as part of an incentive award program, which he will have to hold as long as he is chairman.

In local news, County High 11th-grader Lenny Stinson received $103 for his part-time work at the Qwik-E-Mart last week. However, his compensation package was enhanced by the three candy bars and four Cokes he consumed when owner Bart Tabor was away buying supplies Friday afternoon.

And Finally...

Today on

  • For updated stories throughout the day, bookmark our ever-changing News section.
  • Panic often results in irresponsible and costly decisions. Tom Jacobs says calm down. Stick it out. And for goodness sake, don't avoid stocks!
  • From stock options to an unusual request from the SEC, Bill Mann says prepare to be dazzled by this banner day for accounting.
  • Trying to trim a few extra pounds? Robert Brokamp explains yet another benefit of weight loss -- financial gain.
  • Whirlpool affirms, while competitors get stuck in the spin cycle.
  • In Fool's School, let your real estate agent work for you.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Mathew Emmert, Jeff Fischer, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim