Saturday, March 31, 2007

How to beat that traffic ticket

It has been a while since I got a traffic ticket, I have to admit that I did have a lot of fun with my 1999 Mustang GT, and it got me into some trouble with speeding tickets. Wish I had read this article back then.

If you've ever been ticketed for speeding or running a red light, you already know that the fine you pay may only be the beginning of your cost.

If it's your second offense, that mistake may very well drain a whopping $700 out of your pocket over the next three years. That's because, on average, a driver's insurance premiums can increase by 25 percent after a second violation.

Most traffic courts rely on the fact that nine out of 10 drivers will just pay their tickets and move on. Established to expedite cases quickly and efficiently, traffic courts serve as vital sources of revenue for many counties.

Read on at

How to beat that traffic ticket

Friday, March 30, 2007

Are you underpaid? 5 ways to get more value out of your job

I get that feeling everyday at work… that everyone is making more money than me. Do you get that feeling? Well, there is something you can do about it. has a nice article giving advice on how to get more money for doing what you do for a living.

    1. Do your homework. This includes researching the current market value for the position and carrying that knowledge with you into the talks. …

    2. Know your needs and wants. "You have a range in mind of what you'd really like. Otherwise, if you are out in left field-you are never going to be successful. …

    3. Learn a methodology for handling the questions, "What are you looking for?" and "What kind of salary do you want?" According to DeCarlo, the bottom line is, "I'm negotiable." If it's too soon to talk about money, she encourages applicants to change the discussion topic to job requirements or expectations. …

    4. Know your options and ask, ask, ask. Be familiar with possible perks and benefits, and ways to increase your salary; brainstorming and making lists can be useful here. …

    5. Always negotiate in person. "You can't read an expression, show a presentation, or have convincing reasons quite as well on the phone as you can when you engage them [employers] face-to-face…

How to Negotiate Salary: 5 Expert Tips

Thursday, March 29, 2007

10 ways to guard against cybercriminals

Identity theft is probably the biggest fear in the world of personal finance these days. Criminals using your information to rack up thousands of dollars in credit card expenses. That’s a scary scary thought. (Shudder) has a list of 10 ways you can protect your information when you are online. Follow these, and you should be in a better shape to fend off any theft.

1. Regard all unsolicited calls, e-mails and instant messages as potential scams.
2. Don't follow links in suspicious e-mails.
3. Make sure you have Internet security software.
4. Run updates.
5. Scan your computer daily.
6. Block instant messages from anyone not on your buddy list.
7. Don't download software from a Web 2.0 site.
8. Scan files with your anti-virus software.
9. Don't rely on toolbars.
10. Two is not better than one.

Read more details on the 10 ways to guard against cybercriminals.

Most bills still getting paid on time.

CNN’s is reporting that even though Americans are missing payments on their home loans, they are still managing to pay their credit card bills on time, which means that the pressures of the housing market are not having as big as an effect as people might think.

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Americans are missing more payments on home equity loans, but credit card delinquencies are holding steady, suggesting that housing pressures have yet to make it tougher for people in general to pay their bills.

In its quarterly study of U.S. consumer borrowing, the American Bankers Association said late payments on home equity loans rose to 1.92 percent from 1.79 percent in the third quarter, and were the highest since the first quarter of 2006. Late payments on some auto loans have hit a 5-1/2-year high.

The rate of credit card delinquencies edged down to 4.56 percent from the third quarter's 4.57 percent. That rate was the highest since the spring of 2005.

"We're certainly concerned to see the rise in home equity loan (delinquencies)," ABA Chief Economist James Chessen said in an interview. "The increase raises a caution flag, but the rate had been lower in 2006 than in the prior three years."

The ABA surveys more than 300 banks nationwide. It considers payments late if they are 30 or more days past due.

Read the full story after the jump

Most bills still getting paid on time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Which mortgage is right for you?

Everyone has their own lifestyle and different priorities, based on what stage of life you are in. A lot of these factors go into making the decision on your choice of mortgage. gives you 8 different situations and which mortgage goes with which.

    1. Buying for the long haul: Loan to consider: 30-year fixed rate

    2. Refinancing (15-20 years before retiring): Loan to consider: 15- or 20-year fixed or adjustable rate mortgage (ARM)

    3. Recent graduate with strong potential for increased earnings: Loan to consider: One-year ARM

    4. Self-employed: Loan to consider: No- or low-documentation loan

    5. Planning to live in home 4 or 5 years: Loan to consider: A 5/25 hybrid loan

    6. Job with good income, but not consistent month to month: Loan to consider: Option ARM

    7. Job relocation for a short run (with good income and savings): Loan to consider: Interest-only mortgage

    8. Active duty military or veteran: Loan to consider: VA loan

More on why these are the right choices after the jump.

Which mortgage is right for you? via

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

6 Free Personal Finance Software Programs

Consumerist seems to be on a personal finance roll. They just listed a list of 6 free personal finance software programs that are worth checking out.

Money Manager Ex (Windows and Linux)
MS Office templates (MS Office Suite or Open Office)
GnuCash (GNU/Linux, *BSD, Solaris and Mac OSX)
Pear Budget (all platforms)
Buddi (all)

Quicken ($30, PC)
MS Money ($49.99, PC)

6 Free Personal Finance Software Programs at

9 Times Travel Insurance Isn't A Ripoff has a nice post about Travel insurance, which most of us never bother to invest in. They list 9 situations, as talked about on NBC’s Daily Show where it actually helps to have travel insurance.

1. Your flight is cancelled.
2. Your bags are lost and your medication is in it. You need to have an emergency prescription filled.
3. Your passport and wallet are stolen, and you need emergency cash and a replacement passport.
4. You're involved in an accident and adequate medical treatment is not available. You need medical evacuation.
5. You need to cancel your trip due to illness.
6. Your cruise line, airline or tour operator goes bankrupt. You need your non-refundable expenses covered and to get to your destination.
7. You have a medical emergency in a foreign country.
8. A terrorist incident occurs in the city where you're planning to visit and you want to cancel your trip.
9. A hurricane forces you to evacuate your resort, hotel or cruise.

9 Times Travel Insurance Isn't A Ripoff

Monday, March 26, 2007

Protect your 'valuables'

I had been meaning to do this for a long time, but I finally did it this past weekend. I bought a fireproof and waterproof safe. It was ironic too, because on The Simpsons last night, Marge is inspired to purchase a fireproof safe to protect the family’s most precious valuables, but an accident causes the safe itself to explode and destroy its contents.

When it comes to fire-related issues, the most important issue is personal safety, but other ‘valuables’ need to be protected from fire as well. These may include, but are not limited to birth and death certificates, diplomas, jewellery, and even items with sentimental value such as photographs, backup CDs or DVDs of family vacations.

After shopping around some sites and doing some research, I settled on the Sentry®Safe Water-resistant Fire-Safe® Security Safe, model # OA3810. It is a little bit bigger than I had initially intended, but I figure it will allow me to keep some of the valuables I listed in the sentimental category. A few of it’s safety features are as follows:

  • ETL Verified for 2-hour fire protection of CDs, DVDs, USB Drives and Memory Sticks up to 1850°F

  • Water-resistant

  • UL Classified 2-hour proven fire protection with impact

  • UL Classified 30 ft. Drop Test

This is definitely something everyone should invest in, to protect your valuables in the unfortunate event of a flood or fire.

Roth IRA rules

It is still not too late to get the tax savings associated with retirement accounts. As long as you open an IRA or a Roth IRA before the tax-filing deadline, you can claim that on this year’s return. If you are going for the Roth IRA option, there are certain rules to keep in mind before opening your account or contributing more money to it. Bankrate has the goods, once again.

Contribution limits
In general, Roth contributions are the same as traditional IRAs. Last year, you were able to contribute up to $4,000. The maximum annual contribution stays at that amount this year. …

Speaking of income, you must earn money to open any IRA. That means your only income can't be from unearned sources, such as investments. You must get paid wages, a salary, tips, professional fees or bonuses. … But if you make too much money, you're not eligible to open a Roth or to contribute to the account you opened when you were earning less. …

There is no age limit for Roth accounts. Whereas traditional IRA contributions are barred for individuals older than 70½, you can be any age and still contribute to a Roth IRA.

Roth IRA rules

10 new tax laws you need to know

Lawmakers were busy in 2006, so be sure to check out these tax code changes. They might save you some money, if you haven't filed your taxes already. lists 10 new laws that might affect what you receive back from the IRS.

    1. Telephone tax credit
      One of the most welcome tax changes comes not from Congress but from the Internal Revenue Service, which decided last year to stop collecting the 3 percent federal telephone excise tax. …

    2. Multiple direct deposit option
      If the phone rebate bumps up your refund amount, the IRS is making it easier for you to save instead of spend that money. You can now have your tax refund divided and directly deposited into up to three accounts. …

    3. Energy-saving home improvements
      If you replaced your home's drafty windows last year with new, energy-efficient panes, make sure you file the long Form 1040, along with Form 5695, to get the corresponding tax credit. That's just one way to take advantage of the energy-efficient home improvement provisions included in the energy bill that took effect Jan. 1, 2006. …

    4. Alternative fuel auto credit
      Did your environmental concerns extend to the road? Then you might be able to drive away with substantial tax savings. …

    5. Tougher donation rules
      Tax breaks for charitable gifts provide rewards for both donors and their favorite nonprofit groups. In 2006, however, lawmakers decided some taxpayers had been pushing the goodwill envelope a bit too far. So beginning on Aug. 18, any donated clothing or household goods must be in good or better condition. …

    6. Older philanthropist options
      Some charitable giving, however, got easier thanks to tax-law changes. Now if you're 70½ or older, you can transfer money directly from an IRA to a charitable organization.

    7. Kiddie tax tightened
      In order to save for their child's college costs, some parents open accounts in the child's name. …

    8. Foreign income adjustments
      U.S. workers with jobs abroad will likely find they're now paying a higher tax price for their globe-trotting careers because of changes to the foreign earned income exclusion rules. …

    9. Rolling over retirement money
      However, if you're planning to someday retire abroad instead of work there now, some law changes can help you build up your post-career nest egg. To encourage workers to take their company retirement plans when they leave a job, the new Pension Protection Act of 2006 will soon allow departing employees to transfer that money directly into a Roth IRA. …

    10. Old deductions are new again
      Three popular tax breaks technically died at the end of 2005: deductions for state sales taxes, educators' classroom expenses and college tuition and fees. They were resurrected at the very end of the 2006 congressional session and are back in force through 2007, just as they were previously. …

10 new tax laws you need to know at

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spring-Clean Your 401(k)

Are you one of those people who set their 401(k) on auto-pilot and forget about it? When was the last time you checked up on your investments or changed your fund selections? has the steps you need to take to get your 401(k) in order.

Contributions. If you've been hoping to nudge up your 401(k)
contributions a little bit, why not start now? After paying off your holiday
bills, you may have a little more breathing room left in your paycheck.

Investments. While you're looking at your 401(k), review
your investment choices. If you've had some losing investments, you might not
have noticed them before. Now's the time to look. …

Rebalancing. If you're a young worker bee, you may be
stuffing all of your savings into stocks with nary a care in the world. Some
people may prefer splitting their contributions between stocks and bonds.
Whatever your plan, now's the time to make sure that plan is still in place.

Spring-Clean Your 401(k) via

The week's top Personal Finance stories

In case you missed them, here are Marketwatch’s top news stories from the week of March 19–23.

Top stories from Marketwatch.

Friday, March 23, 2007

10 Reasons You Aren't a millionaire

I am guessing that if you are reading this post, you are not rich. Most people think they are not rich because they don’t make enough money, but in reality, it is our habits and how you treat money.’s Jeffrey Strain lists out 10 reasons that hold people back in their quest to becoming financially independent.

1. You Care What Your Neighbors Think: If you're competing
against them and their material possessions, you're wasting your hard-earned
money on toys to impress them instead of building your wealth.

2. You Aren't Patient: Until the era of credit cards, it was
difficult to spend more than you had. …

3. You Have Bad Habits: Whether it's smoking, drinking,
gambling or some other bad habit, the habit is using up a lot of money that
could go toward building wealth. …

4. You Have No Goals: It's difficult to build wealth if you
haven't taken the time to know what you want. …

5. You Haven't Prepared: Bad things happen to the best of
people from time to time, and if you haven't prepared for such a thing to happen
to you through insurance, any wealth that you might have built can be gone in an

6. You Try to Make a Quick Buck: For the vast majority of
us, wealth doesn't come instantly. You may believe that people winning the
lottery are a dime a dozen, but the truth is you're far more likely to get
struck by lightning than win the lottery. …

7. You Rely on Others to Take Care of Your Money: You
believe that others have more knowledge about money matters, and you rely
exclusively on their judgment when deciding where you should invest your money.

8. You Invest in Things You Don't Understand: Your hear that
Bob has made a lot of money doing it, and you want to get in on the gravy train.
If Bob really did make money, he did so because he understood how the investment
worked. …

9. You're Financially Afraid: You are so scared of risk that
you keep all your money in a savings account that is actually losing money when
inflation is put into the equation, yet you refuse to move it to a place where
higher rates of return are possible because you're afraid that you will lose

10. You Ignore Your Finances: You take the attitude that if
you make enough, the finances will take care of themselves. If you currently
have debt, it will somehow resolve itself in the future. Unfortunately, it takes
planning to become wealthy. It doesn't magically happen to the vast majority of

More at

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Top colleges get more affordable

There’s some good news for future students, or parents of future students. The most prestigious colleges in the country are making changes to their financial aid programs so the students have to pay less.

Tuition, room and board jump significantly every year. But changes to financial aid policies at many selective colleges and universities are boosting lower- and middle-income students' odds of getting a better deal.
A study notes a rise in binge drinking among college students. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports.

In addition, there could be a ripple effect. Colleges want to win good students and don't want the competition luring away potential candidates with sweetened aid packages. "There's a certain arms-race mentality, or a fear that there's that mentality," said Karin Fischer, who covers low-income students' access to college for the Chronicle of Higher Education. story.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stick it to your bank

Have a bank account? Of course you do. Pay crazy fees for no discernible reason? Check!’s Jennifer Openshaw tells you how to stick it to your bank.

Fees, fees and more fees.
Ten bucks a month for checking. Fifteen to print checks.
Twenty for a cashier's check. Thirty-five if you "blow it" and overdraw your account -- all assessed repeatedly through the day if more checks come through.

And then they have the audacity to charge you $2 for using someone else's ATM.

Fed up? Sure.

Vote with your feet. This one's simple: leave.

Let them know you exist. Moving is one option. Threatening to move is quite another.

Become a better customer. What? Stick it to your bank by becoming a better customer? Hmm, is that logical?

Stick it to your bank.

20 steps to get the best deal on a home in 2007

Are you looking to buy a new home this year? It is an exciting time, but also stressful because of the enormity of the purchase. You are pretty much agreeing to be in debt for a long time. If done right, it can be a great experience and you end up in a house which will be your home for a long time to enjoy. has a great step-by-step guide to make sure your personal finances are in order and that it is a smooth process for you and your family.

    1. Know your score. Pull your credit report and purchase your credit scores….

    2. Get preapproved for a mortgage. Preapproved, not pre-qualified. Pre-qualified simply means you're good for the loan -- if your income, debts, credit and other factors are exactly as you stated and can be documented. …

    3. Determine your dollar limit. Decide how much you want to pay, not just how much you can pay…

    4. Make a list, check it twice. Another way to narrow your search in a market with many choices is to really zero in on the individual features of your future home. Which items do you really need? Which do you merely want? Which don't matter? And what would be a deal-breaker?…

    5. Do your homework. If there are communities you like, do the in-depth research now….

    6. Hire a buyer's agent. A good real estate agent can help you focus your search and avoid the pricing pitfalls. …

    7. Don't trash the house. It's become almost routine to point out all the things you don't like about a house to shake the seller's confidence and try and bring down the price. This can be a crucial mistake.

    8. Study comparables. Do this before making a first offer. When you look at the comps (which should be within six months and ideally within three months), what's the relationship between the list price and the sales price? …

    9. Stay current. Keep up with the market while you're shopping.

    10. Determine the real value of the property. Buyers sometimes focus on how large an offer it will take to "get" the home, and lose site of what it's actually worth….

    11. Research the sellers. Are they motivated? Do they have to move by a certain date? …

    12. Look at the real numbers. Was it for sale by owner? Have the sellers used other agents? And how long has it really been on the market?

    13. Leave room for a second offer. Many sellers will assume that if you knock $20,000 off the price the first time around, you're looking for a counter-offer that will reduce the asking price by $10,000,…

    14. Have a backup plan. Don't set your mind on one house and say it's that or nothing. …

    15. Put all extras in your first offer. Negotiations are more elastic in the beginning, when the buyer and seller are most likely to want to reach an agreement…

    16. Don't let them play mind games. "If you make a good offer, within the realm of reasonable, and the seller rejects it outright, move on…

    17. Surrender where you can. You're going to be dealing with the seller throughout the process, so on points where it really doesn't matter, giving ground can be smart…

    18. Call your insurance agent. How will the neighborhoods you're shopping affect your home and auto premiums? …

    19. Call the power company. Look at your current power bill to see just how much juice you're using each month. …

    20. Educate yourself.

20 steps to get the best deal on a home in 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

10 financial aid mistakes and how to avoid them

Looking for financial aid to pay for college tuition? lists the 10 most common mistakes and how you can avoid them. A good read for anyone planning on scoring some extra free money.

1. Not applying at all
It sounds like a mistake that's too obvious to make, but students collectively miss out on millions in both federal and private aid each year because they don't apply.

2. Applying early
Though knocking the college application process out of the way before your peers seems like a good strategy, it may not be for your wallet.

3. Planning too late
"The No. 1 mistake students make is not financially planning at all," says Jeffrey Wallin, associate director for financial analysis at the University of Vermont.

4. Overlooking private scholarships and grants
Federal and campus-based programs are your two best shots at receiving a financial aid check, but they're not the only places you can find college dough.

5. Forgetting the family
Students lucky enough to have relatives and family friends who want to contribute to their higher education bills should be aware that financial gifts from outside the family can impact their financial aid eligibility.

6. Paying for free dough
The good news is that there's tons of free loot out there. The better news is that finding it shouldn't cost you a dime.

7. Believing all loans are made equal
When it comes to student loans, the big name isn't always the best name.

8. Earning too much
Sound impossible? Guess again. The federal government expects dependent students to contribute a significant portion of their income toward their higher education.

9. Neglecting your aid officer
Though aid officers can't radically alter a school's financial aid packaging policies, they can help adjust your award package if you have special financial circumstances.

10. Ignoring alternative aid
If both the federal government and your future college leave you high and dry in the financial aid department, investigate alternative sources of funding, such as tuition reimbursement programs through work, loan forgiveness programs and educational reward opportunities offered through Americorps, the Peace Corps and Teach for America.

More here.

Consumerist's 9-Step Beginner's Budget

The Consumerist web site shows you how to set up and track a budget in Excel. If you don't have Excel, try OpenOffice.

Are you a budget novice? Constantly overdrafting? Never have enough money to buy what you really want? Wish you could get your shit together? We've got a sexy
free Excel document to share with you.

Detailed steps here.

Are certified pre-owned cars worth the extra money?

In the market for a used automobile? If you answered yes, then you must have heard of certified pre-owned or CPO cars. These are cars that have undergone a thorough inspection, have some sort of an extended warranty attached to them, and may cost anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand more than the same car without a CPO badge. So the question naturally becomes, are they worth the extra money? The answer is, it depends. tries to help you in making the decision whether you should spend the extra money or not.

Before you buy CPO ...

1. Read the fine print.
2. Get manufacturer's backing.
3. Compare CPO programs.
4. Research prices and dealers.
5. Negotiate.
6. Check the car inside and out.

Details here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

10 bad money habits to kick

We are all guilty of having one or more of these. I am still living without a budget, and have not investigated disability insurance. Which ones are you guilty of?

MSN money lists 10 habits that we should get rid of, to improve our financial situation.

  • Spending without a budget.
  • Carrying a balance on credit cards.
  • Ignoring interest rates.
  • Not investigating disability insurance.
  • Failing to see how little purchases add up.
  • Not matching employer's contribution to retirement.
  • Waiting until the last minute to fund IRA.
  • Paying everyone else, saving "what's left."
  • Not managing your investments.
  • Getting emotional about your investments.

Continue reading here.

Wanna raise your credit score?

You credit score. I am not sure if there is any other number that has a bigger effect on our lives. It can get you a 5% loan instead of 8%. It can make you eligible for that 2 year-no interest loan. Anything over 700 should be good enough for most loans. has some tips on how you can bump it up and help yourself in the long run.

1: Pay off your debt: ‘…the best way to improve your credit score in the short term is to pay off the high balances on your credit card - that can raise your FICO score 60 to 70 points overnight, …’

2: Minimize your balances: …If you're within three months from applying for credit, make sure you don't charge a lot on your cards, or split the purchases between a few cards, so you keep the balances down. …

3: Hang onto older cards: ‘…the longer you've managed your credit wisely, the better your score…’

4: Don't sweat the little things: We've already told you what impacts your score. But here are some things that don't matter to your score at all. Your score won't be affected if you request your own credit record, or if you go for credit counseling.

More here.

Is a 'rewards card' right for you?

I have a Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express which I use for pretty much everything I buy, from a quick meal at McDonald’s to my recent cruise vacation in the Bahamas. I pay it off every month in full and rack up some hotel points to use towards my next vacation.

A rewards card is not for everyone though. Most of them have an associated yearly fee, which could be anywhere from $25 to $100.

The Christian Science Monitor has published an informative article on the subject.

What's your rewards pleasure? Cash back? Discounted airfare? Free earphones? Whatever your fancy, there's a credit card out there designed for you. But before jumping on the rewards bandwagon, ask yourself: Will getting the reward cost me more than it's worth? Which rewards make the most sense for me?

1. Do the math. Along with the temptation to buy more comes the risk of carrying a monthly balance and losing rewards to interest or – worse – late fees. …

2. Be realistic. Think twice about getting a rewards card if you're enticed by MasterCard's American Dream card (where you accumulate points to enter a monthly sweepstakes), or Visa's World Series of Poker card (which offers reward points toward such things as buy-ins to World Series of Poker events).

3. Beware hidden costs.

4. Shop around. If you decide rewards are right for you, you have thousands of cards from which to choose. …

5. Consider going the debit rewards route.

6. Take the "merchandise or cash back" test. If you're considering merchandise rewards cards, get the card's catalog, find a cash-back card with similar terms, and see if you can get a better deal with cash back, says Arnold. There's a good chance you can. …

More here.

Cut Your Taxes With Good Deeds

While doing my taxes with TurboTax, I was embarrassed to find out that the average charitable donations in my income bracket were a LOT higher than what I had donated in 2006. Right then I resolved to correct that in 2007. This article from has some nice tips on how to make sure you are filing your deductions correctly.

The folks who oversee the Internal Revenue Service (yes, even the auditors get audited) recently discovered that roughly one-quarter of taxpayers who took a tax deduction for donating valuable stuff to charity didn't substantiate their gifts.

Turning junk into money
First, know that you can get a pretty good tax perk for donating your unwanted belongings to a qualified charity. If you're wondering whether your charity is qualified, check the IRS web site. …

Things to watch out for
Here's one wrinkle in these rules. If you're donating something that's not in good condition, but it has a value of $500 or more and you get a qualified appraisal, you may still qualify for a tax deduction. …

Not too much of a good thing
Just so you know, there are some limits to the generosity of these laws, but they're too high for most people to worry about. Technically, you can only deduct donations that amount to less than either 50% or 30% of your adjusted gross income. …

More here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

6 steps to credit card serenity

USA is a country that is swimming in credit card debt. A quick Google search shows that the average US household debt is around $10,000. I was buried under a five figure credit card debt until a few years ago as well. For those of you who are trying to cope with it and working towards a place where you are debt-free, has some tips on how to get there.

1. Know where you stand – …make a list of exactly how much you owe and
what rate of interest you're paying on each card. Then list your cards in order
of highest rate to lowest.
2. Pay highest-interest cards first – …
These cards are the ones that are costing you the most over the long run so you
need to make every effort to pay more than the minimum payment each month on
these bills first.
3. Get a better deal – Call the toll-free
number for your highest rate cards and ask the customer service representative
if she can give you a better deal.
4. Consider using a different card –
Hang on to all those zero percent and other low-interest credit card offers
you've been getting in the mail. Done well, transferring your high interest
balance to one of these cards can save you an enormous amount in interest and
put you on a solid track to paying down debt.
5. Beef up your credit score –
If you make all your payments on time over the next six months and aggressively
pay down your biggest balances first, you could improve your score as much as 50
6. Avoid penalties and fees – Interest rate hikes and hefty monthly
fees can ruin even the best-laid pay-back plans. Avoid: Late payment penalties.
Penalties for late payments on any card. Credit Limit Fees

More here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

5 responsible, smart and boring ways to spend your tax refund

The average tax refund this year is $2500. That's enough for a nice tropical vacation for 2, a cruise in the Bahamas, or a nice big plasma TV. Those are all fun ways to spend your tax refund check. But if you want to be responsible and don't intend to spend it, has some suggestions on what to do with it.

1. Fund your IRA
2. Fund a 529
3. Open a CD
4. Add to your emergency fund
5. Reduce your credit card debt

More here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Going on spring break? Don't break the bank!

Money $mart Life has 10 tips to save money for those of you lucky enough to be going on spring break. Some real good stuff, #5 and #10 are my favorites.

1) Get a Hotel Referral
2) Know your Healthcare Coverage
3) Go the Speed Limit
4) Pack the Car
5) Pack the Room
6) Don’t get Stuck with the Bill
7) Check your Rearview Mirror
8) Avoid the Authorities
9) Bring a Cooler
10) Hit the Buffet

Details here.

Where to Find Hidden Savings on Your 1040

I know it is starting to feel like a Tax blog, but 'tis the season, so here goes. has some savings that you might miss on your tax return. Hope it helps some of you out.

Green credits.
Save your energy.
Good news for high-earners.
A tougher "kiddie" tax.
Go for an IRA.
More here.

13 basic tax lessons

You maybe done with your taxes for this year, but these are lessons you can use forever. When it comes to taxes, knowledge is money. e.g. If you didn't know about the telephone credit being given this year, you would miss out on the easiest 40 bucks you ever made. Here are 13 lessons to last you a lifetime from

1. Overwithholding is bad.
2. Underwithholding is bad.
3. Tips to differentiating your income.
4. Different dollars have different rates.
5. Itemizing isn't always necessary.
6. Credits are better than deductions.
7. Exclusions add up to tax savings.
8. Stealth taxes sneak in.
9. Deductibility has its boundaries.
10. Earned and unearned are taxed differently.
11. Extension to file means just that.
12. Audit pain can be reduced.
13. Simple can be costly.

More details here.

Another way to make more money

It is common knowledge, but it is always nice to see it in hard numbers. What am I talking about? The relationship between education and income. Does getting a better education really increase your income potential, or is it a marketing ploy by Devry? Here are some numbers from the census bureau that should help answer the question.

Not a Graduate: $17,299
Graduate, including GED: $26,933
Some College no degree: $30,627
Associate's degree: $36,645
Bachelor's degree: $52,671
Master's degree: $66,754
Professional degree: $112,902
Doctoral degree: $91,370

What stands out to me in those numbers is that a Doctoral degree actually gets you less than a professional degree. Hmm...

For more statistics, visit the Census Bureau's site here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why Your Home Is Not the Investment You Think It Is

A lot of people, including me, put most, if not all of their eggs in the house basket. Usually it is our biggest asset, and each month, we are investing more and more money in that asset. David Crook from the Wall Street Journal online has written a great article about why you should not bet your life's savings in your house. Here are some scary numbers from the article:

Food for thought:

• If you bought a house in Los Angeles in 1990, just as the real-estate market turned downward, you would have had to wait a decade for your home's value to return to what you paid.

• If you bought in Rochester, N.Y., in 1980, you would have seen only a mediocre 4% annual growth for the next 25 years.

• If you bought in Dallas in 1986, as the oil boom went bust, your home wouldn't have appreciated at all before 1998.

Not scared yet? Read on here.

Free TaxCut Premium Federal + FREE DeductionPro

Free tax software deal. Credit to for identifying the deal.

Click here to get H&R Block's TaxCut Premium Federal + DeductionPro for FREE!

Are you getting a tax refund?

If you are getting a tax refund, or have already got one, how will you/did you spend it? I will probably end up putting it in savings or investing it.

What about you?

I know I have some readers. I would love to hear from you! :)

Tax Tip: Deduct your home office

Do you work from home? You might be able to deduct home office costs on your tax return, if you are self employed, and in some cases, even if you are an employee. As long as you meet the requirements, lists out how you can claim home office expenses as deductions on your tax return.

A home-office deduction is generally easier for self-employed individuals to claim. But even then, the Internal Revenue Service has certain requirements a taxpayer must meet.

General requirements
First, your home-office area must be used regularly and exclusively for your business needs. You can't set up a computer in your den, sporadically type invoices and claim that room as your home office.

Secondly, the business part of your home must be either your principal place of business or where you meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your business. A separate, detached structure such as a garage or guesthouse that is used for business also may qualify as a home office.

More here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

50 money saving ideas

Kiplinger magazine has an article in this month's issue with 50 money saving ideas. The ideas were submitted by readers of the magazine and the top 50 were printed. Some really good stuff in there.

My favorites:

Small Change

At the end of every week, I take all the money in my purse (change and bills) and put it in my savings account. On Monday, I start the week fresh. I save an average of $2,000 to $2,500 a year, sometimes more when I do the same with my husband's change. It pays for family emergencies and vacations.

Dump the Dorms

When our twins finished their first year of college, I took $10,000 from their college fund and bought a small three-bedroom house. The mortgage payments were less than the dorm or an apartment would have cost for the two of them. They had a third roommate who paid rent, and they saved money on food and laundry. We also had a free place to stay when we visited. When they graduated three years later, I sold the house on my own for $6,000 more than I paid for it. Altogether, I figure we saved about $15,000. -- Joe Marino, Dunlap, Ill.

Online Bargains

I have saved thousands of dollars a year by comparing prices and purchasing over the Internet. When my daughter wanted to buy a pot-bellied stove for her mountain home, the one in the store cost $2,295 -- plus tax, delivery and $400 for installation. When I searched for it on eBay, there it was, almost new, for $560 plus $180 air freight. Installation cost $200. Such a deal! -- Gay Burch, Las Vegas, Nev.

KIP TIP: Before you buy on the Internet, go to,, or Search for a product and you'll get a list of prices from various online retailers. To compare prices at local stores, try

More here.

Grow your money, shrink your taxes

Are you putting money away in a 401(k) plan? What about an IRA? If you're not, you should be! Here are some great tips from on how to make the most of these retirement plans and reduce your tax bill while you're at it.

1. Your 401(k): A top priority
2. Go for an IRA
3. MONEY's best savings strategy
4. Take your 401(k) with you

For more, click here.

12 common tax-filing mistakes you can avoid

Another one of my favorite websites,, has a checklist of common mistakes people make on their tax returns, and how you can avoid them.

• Phone tax refund
• Extended deductions
• Direct deposit dangers
• Hybrid vehicle credits
• Charitable contributions
• Kiddie tax
• New interest
• Math miscalculations
• Social Security
• Ignoring IRS mail
• Signature required
• Make the deadline
For more details, click here.

10 steps to selling your home

Are you planning to sell your home in 2007. We all know that the real estate market is not what it was 2 or 3 years ago, so you will need to be prepared to wait a while before your house sells. It is a buyer's market and supply far exceeds demand for homes. has some helpful tips on how to get your house sold in 2007.

10 steps to selling
1. Recognize every market is different.
2. Get your home inspected.
3. Shape up before marketing.
4. Devise a marketing plan.
5. Check into company relocation assistance.
6. Interview real estate agents.
7. Set a price.
8. Understand your price.
9. Get rid of the junk.
10. Stay on top of the market.
More here.

What Credit Card Companies Don't Want You to Know

The author of one of my favorite personal finance books, David Bach, has an article up on about the stuff that is in your credit card agreement's fine print. Most of us don't bother reading it, thinking it is the usual legal blah-blah, but as he lists in his article, some of this stuff can really hurt you.

Of all the games the credit card companies play that end up costing you thousands of dollars (late fees, over-limit fees, transfer fees, and so on), it's always been the interest rate game that hurt the most -- until now.

There's a new, completely legal game they're playing, and it can literally wipe you out financially if you're not careful.
More here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Are you a Starbucks junkie?

I am. The first thing I do every morning after I enter the building, before I even make it to my desk, is to stop at the Starbucks and get my early morning coffee. There are many of us who do this. I know this for sure, because I see you all in that long line, groggy eyed, waiting to rattle off your order as soon as the Barista asks you for it. We have trained ourselves to believe that this is an unavoidable expense that we choose to live with. offers 10 ways to reduce the cost of your daily caffeine fix from Starbucks (SBUX).

1. Don't go
2. Buy retail
3. Make friends

If going to the actual Starbucks shop is part of your coffee equation:
4. Use a gift card
5. Choose Your Location
6. Take your own cup
7. Stay simple
8. Keep those cards
9. Raid the change jar
10. Buy McDonald's coffee

More after the jump.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Making a million as an employee

Are you happy with what you make? When do you think you will have a net worth of 1 million dollars? I started putting away money in my 401(k) when I was 24, after paying off about 10k in debt (went a little overboard with my spending when I started my job). has 12 steps to becoming a millionaire as an employee.

Get a raise
1. Keep your eyes peeled for better ways to do your job.
2. Don't be afraid to negotiate.
3. Get your ducks in a row and your numbers on paper.
4. Plot your strategy when it's time to move on.
Milk your benefits
5. Contribute as much as you can to your 401(k) and other tax-deferred retirement plans.
6. Flex your tax-saving muscle.
7. Review your tax withholding.
8. Stash savings in a Roth IRA, if you're eligible.
Invest like crazy
9. Don't delay.
10. Invest automatically
11. Watch for fund fees
12. Keep it simple.

Read the details here.

What You Need to Know About Tax Prep Firms

Some more tax advice from Apparently a majority (61%) of taxpayers had someone other than themselves do their taxes last year. Here are some things to look for when picking a tax prep firm.

1. Computers and calculators are not credentials.
2. You want a surgeon, not a first-year resident.
3. Some preparers are ethically challenged.
4. You get what you pay for.
5. You'll pay interest on that "rapid refund."
6. Your secrets aren't necessarily safe.
For more detail click here.

Your tax to-do list for March has a great check list for all the documentation you will need to file your taxes. These are the things you should be gathering right now in order to get ready for the April deadline. Also a couple of software suggestions to get your books in order.

This month's mantra is simple but urgent: Gather your paperwork
Get your tax stuff together - now! But don't just listen to me: The San Fernando Valley Chapter of the California Society of Enrolled Agents, of which I'm a member, unanimously agrees that this is the month taxpayers should finish gathering their paperwork.

The biggest source of grumbling among the folks who prepare tax returns is having to chase after clients, calling repeatedly to get information that should be really easy for taxpayers to gather.

So, let's make everyone's life easier. What should you be gathering before you drop in for your annual tax appointment and gossip and hug-fest?
More here.

How to get out of debt

A nice piece with a lot of suggestions on how to get out of debt posted on 'Free Money Finance'.

Look at what you could do without.
Cancel your cable.
Take your lunch and snacks to work.
Stop smoking.
Cut energy costs.

There’s no mystery to getting out of debt. It comes down to disciplining yourself to spend less money than you make on a consistent, long-term basis. And the benefits of living debt-free goes beyond the peace of mind you’ll experience today to knowing that you’ll be passing along a good inheritance for future generations.

A good read for anyone struggling to get out of debt and is looking for options or new creative ways to help the situation.

More after the jump.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

20 biggest no load funds

This is a nice list (with reviews) from of the biggest mutual funds with the lowest fees, that have sustained performance over the last several years.

Some of the top funds:

Vanguard 500 Index Inv (VFINX)
Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Inv (VTSMX)
Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX)
Dodge & Cox Stock (DODGX)
Vanguard Windsor II Inv (VWNFX)
To read more click here.

Spring Guide to Real Estate

Are you a homeowner? Are you looking to become one? The benefits of owning your own home (tax savings, wealth building etc.) are well documented. has a nice little guide with tons of information for people about to enter the home market, whether you're a seller or a buyer.

The Buyer's Advantage
In most markets, buyers are calling the shots. Sellers have to be smarter.

Hire Your Own Agent
When buying a home, make sure your interests are represented -- and not those of the sellers -- buy hiring an exclusive buyer agent.

No Time to Go It Alone
A good relationship with a good agent is essential to selling your home in this market. Here's how to find the right agent for you.

More after the jump.

The Best Place for Your Money

So you've been saving money and have put away enough for a 'rainy day fund', and have some left over. The next question usually is what to do with the cash. You could put it in a high-yield savings account like INGDirect or HSBC, put it in bonds, mutual funds, stocks, the options are limitless.
Another thing that factors into the equation is your risk aversion, which is, or at least should be decided by your age and the stage of life you are in. has some ideas on what the best place for YOUR money might be.

More here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


After a week off, I just got back to Chicago and will be posting soon. Rest assured, this blog is not dead.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Stock Market Crash

I hope the 400 point dive on Tuesday didn't hurt you too much. Couple of my stocks took a slight beating, but nothing major. CNNMoney's Gerri Willis lists some tips to survive a volatile stock market which I am sure all us amateur investors can use. :

Volatile stock market survival guide
After a 400-point drop in the market Tuesday, Gerri Willis gives you tips on how to cope.
By Gerri Willis, CNN
February 28 2007: 11:31 AM EST

NEW YORK ( -- Stocks plunged Tuesday with the Dow Jones Industrials losing more than 400 points. It was the worst day in 5 years. Markets stabilized Wednesday morning, but the drop is still a loud wake-up call to investors. We'll tell you how to protect your investments if the stock market does tank.
Don't panic

Selling in a panic is almost always a mistake. Remember, the stock market has been gaining ground for 8 months. The market is overdue for a significant correction, says David Wyss, an economist with Standard & Poor's.

Let's put this in perspective. A normal market correction is eight to 10 percent. The sell-off that we saw is only about three percent and we haven't seen a significant correction since 2003. If you're invested in a 401(k) for thed long-term, you shouldn't be concerned with the day-to-day gyrations of the market, says Doug Flynn of Flynn Zito Capital Management.
Look past the bottom line

Don't just look at what you may have lost in your portfolio. Take a longer view of the market. This is a good time to really analyze what kind of investments you're in. If you are a 401(k) holder, go to and find out what companies you have in your portfolio. You want to make sure you have a diversified mix of stocks, bonds, cash and real estate investments. That's the best way to hedge your bets against a falling market.
Consider your time horizon

If you are only a year or two away from retirement, it's a good idea to revisit your investments. It's easy to get swept away by months of positive stock returns.

The bottom line here is that the closer you are to retirement, the more conservative you should be. If you do have a long time before you retire, the more aggressive you should be. To figure out some good allocation mixes, here are somecalculators to help you out.

Professional investors are worried that the economy is slowing down. Just a little while ago the Gross Domestic Product numbers were revised downward. And these GDP numbers measure the nation's economic activity. Add to this fears of a weakening housing market and comments from Alan Greenspan about a possible recession and...there's a lot of worry out there.

Analysts we spoke to said it's very likely that there will be more declines in the stock market before the market regains its footing. So you may just want to steel yourself.

A good time to start saving..

When do you start saving for retirement? For a house? For a car? For your kids education? The most common pool of thought is to start early and contribute often. The government of California takes it a step further, and wants to start when you are born.

The senators want each child to have a savings account, free from income taxes, that the family could keep building upon as the child aged. The money would have to be used for college or continuing education, a down payment on a home, or retirement.

More here.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Looking for a new car?

How To Get The Best Deal On A Car Loan
By: Jon Arnold

You have done your research for that new car you want to buy. You have narrowed down the choices, checked the gas mileage ratings, checked the maintenance history, checked the typical resale value, and gotten opinions from others about the various local car dealerships that offer your choice to understand the rating they get for post-sale service and support.

But do not ignore an aspect of this whole thing that is probably every bit as important as the actual make and model of the car that you choose, which is financing the car or truck with the best deal possible on a car loan or truck loan. You need to gain some knowledge about financing if you do not understand long-term financing, because the whole deal with financing is that you have more options than you think you do, and even options that look identical on the surface, like cars, are entirely different when you take a peek under the hood. In other words, getting the best car loan or truck loan, whether a new car or truck, or a used car or truck, is MUCH more than just the monthly payment amount that you are quoted.

Of course the car dealerships anticipate this. You are in the spotless showroom with the free coffee and the shiny new vehicles on the showroom floor just itching to be driven by you, and your right foot is already twitching with the thoughts of getting this baby on the road to see what she can do. So the car dealerships have "guaranteed financing" programs already setup, all you need to do is sign your name and the car keys will be in your hand.

Do not fall for it, at least not until you have done your homework. In fact, this is a part of your homework that you can do prior to even setting foot in the dealership. Do your homework and perhaps even get pre-approved from a lending source before you go to the dealership. More often than not, if you tell the car salesman that you have already been pre-approved for financing, you can often get an even sweeter deal. But by all means, do NOT tell them how MUCH you are approved for, since then he will feel obligated to get as close to that amount as possible.

While it may be attractive to get a 6 or 7 year car loan, perhaps even longer, when you look at the monthly payment figure, this is rarely a good deal based on the amount of interest you are going to be paying. You need to look at what you have paid for the vehicle at the end of the loan period. For example, on that $40,000 new car on car finance plan 1, you might have paid a total of $55,000 for it, including interest, whereas on car finance plan 2, you only paid $48,000 for it. That is an extra $7,000 that went flying out of your pocket needlessly, and I know you can think of better uses for $7,000 than the toilet. Yes, the interest rate alone can indeed make that much difference.
Jon Arnold

Money Saving technique

How to Save Money - Just by Changing One Personal Trait
By Gary Simpson

If you want to learn how to save money then here is a way to do it that will, if applied, save you a small fortune. And here it is ...

Very simply it involves being more disciplined. Before you dismiss this you will probably already know that most people struggle with discipline. They are very impulsive. Marketers understand this weakness and they exploit it to the maximum. That is why impulse items such as candy and chocolate bars surround cash registers. Are you disciplined when it comes to spending money?

So, if you want to know how to save money by exercising personal discipline then here is the BEST method that I know...

Go to your bank and withdraw the largest denomination monetary note that you can. Place it in a special part of your wallet or purse and then...


That's it! See how long you can last without "cracking" that note. If you succumb then start the process again. Each time try to extend your financial discipline.

When you learn fiscal discipline YOU will be in control of money. MONEY will not control you.

It is a wonderful feeling to know that you can walk into any store with the understanding that you can buy many items yet choose not to.

If you want to learn how to save money there is no better method than exercising financial constraint through discipline. I constantly test myself in this way. It is a good feeling and it will build strength in you. Try it. See how long you can last.

Gary Simpson operates the Turn Debt Into Wealth website. To learn more tips on how to save money go here: "How to Save $1000's and Increase Your Net Wealth."

Article Source:

10 Reasons NOT to get a credit card

After yesterday's post about why you should get a credit card and what benefits it could provide, here are 10 reasons NOT to get one and how it can harm you in the long, and sometimes even the short run.

1. They can damage your credit score
2. They can come with universal default
3. They charge huge interest rates
4. They come with numerous fees
5. Many cards have a hidden rule in the fine print
6. They have deceiving minimum payments
7. They encourage impulse purchases
8. They increase your spending
9. They encourage you to spend more money than you have
10. Credit cards will bait and switch
Details here.

You can save if you want to.

Do you find yourself thinking that you don't make enough to be saving? In my mind, saving is simple: 'You spend less than what you earn, and put the rest away for a rainy day'. Okay, maybe that is too simplistic, but it is a good starting point to get yourself thinking about saving.
One thing I try to do is always ask the 'Want vs. Need' question whenever I get an impulse to buy something. Do I really need this thing I am about to buy, or do I just want it. A lot of times, in fact most of the time, I end up putting it back on the shelf, or closing the browser window before I 'Click here to Submit your order'.

Kiplinger has listed 20 tips on how to save, no matter how much you make.

1. Give yourself a raise and bank it. Boost your take-home pay by adjusting your tax-withholding and have the difference in pay automatically transferred to an online savings account. Kiplinger's tax-withholding calculator can help you revise your W-4.

2. Open a 401(k). If your employee offers a 50-cent match for every dollar you contribute, even adding $60 a month will net you over a grand a year. Plus, you defer paying taxes on your contributions, giving you a bigger paycheck now. See how even small amounts can add up.

3. Raise your car insurance deductible. Upping your out-of-pocket outlay from $250 to $1,000 can save you 15% or more off your premium. Learn more about how to save money on your car insurance.

4. Pay off your credit card. Carrying a $1,000 balance at 18% blows $180 every year on interest that you could put to better use elsewhere. See Climb Out of Debt Faster for help.

Continue here.

Are you paid enough?

Business 2.0 article about, a website that holds salary data for almost 5.5 million people.

PayScale's mission is to bring transparency to one of the deepest secrets in the labor market: who earns what. Until now, analysts like Radford Surveys & Consulting have tried to penetrate the mystery by compiling salary surveys with vast spreadsheets of payroll data collected from large companies.

Check it out here.

Read these!