CD Rates on Steroids (and With Some Risk, Of Course)

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 23, 2013

corporate bondIt can be difficult to find an investment vehicle that gives you a safe, yet lucrative return on your deposit these days.  Rates on savings accounts, Money Market Accounts (MMAs), and Certificates of Deposit (CDs) have remained low since the Great Recession began; the stock market is doing its best Yo-Yo impression; and commodities like gold have left many scratching their heads.

That’s why private-label corporate bonds – more commonly known as floating-rate demand notes – might seem so attractive.

How to Adjust Your Student Loan: Income Based Repayment (IBR) Plans

by Lynn B. Johnson on January 16, 2013

My husband and I are typical of a lot of married Americans: we both have student loans and I lost my job last year. We realized pretty quickly that a $500 monthly student-loan payment simply would not jibe with our new one-income budget. That’s when we started investigating what to do next, because we have two small children and homelessness is not an option.

If you lose your job, the first call you should make, that very day, should be to your state’s Unemployment office. If you have a student loan repayment plan that is now outside your budget, the minute you’re done registering for an unemployment claim you should call your student-loan holder, to determine a new repayment option.

Planning for and Protecting Your Child’s Financial Future

by Guest on January 11, 2013

college financial aidNo matter the age of your child, as a parent, you will want to set up different financial resources for each stage of life. Your child looks to you as their teacher – from learning how to talk at a young age, to opening their first bank account as they grow older. In addition to putting financial safeguards and assets in place early on, it is also important to directly teach your child about money and how to manage it. Follow these simple tips and be on your way to planning a solid financial future for your child

1.  The First 5 Years of Life – Investing in your child’s financial future early on is the best investment a parent can make. Consider opening a bank account for your child at this crucial stage in life. Setting up a savings account or even a college savings plan at this point allows for many years of growth. And, don’t forget to let your family members know – grandparents, aunts and uncles may want to invest in your child’s bank account or college plan. Additionally, if you have not already done so, this is an opportune time to ensure your family’s financial stability by getting life insurance quotes and purchasing a policy.

AIG Shareholders Give U.S. Taxpayers the Middle Finger (And Other Unbelievably True Stories from the Week in News)

by John Kiernan on January 9, 2013

AIG shareholder suitHold on – is this the news, a dream, or some sort of Oscar Wilde-type satire?  That’s along the lines of what I was thinking last night while watching Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett report a pair of stories seemingly straight out of The Twilight Zone or Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

I mean, could AIG actually be SUING the U.S. government (as well as you, me, and every other taxpayer by extension)?  Are U.S. politics really so flawed that rape is actually LEGAL in California if the victim is single and the perpetrator impersonates her boyfriend?

Impact The U.S. Economy By Embracing Virtual Business Models

by Guest on January 9, 2013

Recent History of Virtualization

The Internet enabled industries to go virtual at the end of the last century. IT and graphic design led the way, with education quickly expanding into the arena. Even industries where a virtual model didn’t seem practical are now embracing the freedom. Healthcare, financial services and product innovation have all begun to realize the benefits.

Why You Can’t Comparison Shop For Life Insurance

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 2, 2013

There’s always a lot of talk about resolutions this time of year.  It’s a New Year, after all, and that means many people are embarking on new beginnings or striving for self-improvement.  It’s not all about losing weight or giving up cigarettes either.  A number of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions are financial in nature, and one in particular – taking out a life insurance policy – raises some important questions about how certain aspects of the personal finance landscape operate.

It’s understandable why people would factor life insurance into their resolutions.  I mean, New Year’s is when many of us finally address long-shirked obligations (plus, barely surviving New Year’s Eve can have that effect on you).  Parents in particular want to make sure their loved ones are provided for, not burdened financially, if they pass away.  Well, anyone who’s ever taken out a policy knows that while you can try to shop around for the best rates, offers aren’t finalized until your paperwork and physical exam results are processed.

How Can a U.S.-Made Prescription Drug Cost Hundreds More Domestically Than Abroad?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on December 20, 2012

prescription drug pricesJust a few weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed into the world our first child, Achilles Spiro Papadimitriou.  He obviously takes after his papa when it comes to having an exceedingly Greek name (just check out my byline), and my hope is that he can channel his namesake, Achilles of Greek mythology, when it comes to strength, bravery, leadership, and general badass-ness.  Anyway, that’s beside the point.

You see, Achilles recently had some trouble with his eyes (I know, surprising it wasn’t a leg tendon), and our experience getting him medication raised some very interesting questions about our country’s medical system (I know, U.S. healthcare is flawed, surprise surprise).  To make a long story short, there was some sort of snafu with our insurance and Achilles didn’t show up on our account, so we had to pay for the medicated eye drops he needed out of pocket.  No biggie, right?

Will Coming Face to Face with Your Future Self Help You Plan for Retirement?

by John Kiernan on December 12, 2012

Retirement and Face RecognitionHave you ever seen one of those movies where the police or some super-secret spy agency uses cutting-edge technology to project what a fugitive or rogue agent looks like today based on a really old picture?  I’m pretty sure they used something along those lines in The Fugitive, U.S. Marshalls, and the Bourne series.  Well, as it turns out, such predictive appearance tools aren’t the sole domain of the authorities.  Retirement planners are getting in the act too.

I’ll give you a second to let that sink in.

Give the Gift of Savings to Your Loved Ones This Holiday Season

by Guest on December 12, 2012

gift tax exemptionEvery year, we look for gifts that are “different,” that really show our loved ones how much we care. This is not always easy, especially since it seems that we are surrounded only by material gifts that will be forgotten or thrown away over time.

With these thoughts in mind  the GradSave team went in search of gifts that will not only hold their value, but that will actually help the ones you love save money. Here are our tops five picks:

Could Consumer Dispute Resolution Have a Class Problem, Not an Arbitration Issue?

by John Kiernan on December 5, 2012

supreme courtHow can we fix arbitration?  That’s the question we posed last week after The Pew Charitable Trusts released a study that revealed how disturbingly prevalent mandatory arbitration clauses are in the fine print of checking account agreements.  The thing is, after exploring the issue a bit further and talking to some of the country’s foremost experts on arbitration and consumer disputes, a new question arose:  Is the arbitration process actually broken?

Don’t worry if you’re a little lost right now because a bit of background is certainly in order.

The Best Mobile Apps for the Holidays

by Guest on December 5, 2012

There’s no escaping it: The holiday shopping season is officially upon us, which means it’s time to get serious about gift giving and holiday spending. The good news is that this year, with the wealth of mobile apps that make holiday shopping more convenient (and cheaper!) than ever, there’s no need to shell out a bunch of cash on presents you can’t afford.

Check out these four apps that will not only save you money during the holidays, but they’ll make holiday shopping more fun, too.

Are Banks Making You Sign Away Your Rights?

by John Kiernan on November 27, 2012

signing away rightsPrepare to be astonished:  Banks aren’t the most consumer-friendly businesses out there.  I know, I know, you’re flabbergasted, right?  After the excessive fees, bait-and-switch pricing, lawsuits, and sketchy customer service issues we’ve seen over the years, that news must come as an absolute shock.

At the risk of surprising you into cardiac arrest (or, you know, killing you with sarcasm), allow me to fill you in on some new research that adds another contentious chapter to the financial institution-consumer saga and will likely fuel distrust of big banks even further.  The Pew Charitable Trusts today released a study on the dispute resolution policies employed by the nation’s largest banks and credit unions, aptly titled “Banking on Arbitration:  Big Banks, Consumers, and Checking Account Dispute Resolution.”

What Do We Really Know About the Underground Market for Stolen Credit Card Info?

by John Kiernan on November 20, 2012

We’ve all seen the news reports about consumer credit card data being stolen as a result of a major retailer, card network, payment processor, gaming company, etc., having its network breached by hackers.  But unless you were directly affected, the details of the crimes and the scope of the damage were likely quickly forgotten.

For example, you may not recall that 94 million credit card accounts were exposed when hackers broke through the firewalls of TJX Companies, Inc. – the holding company for T.J. Maxx and Marshalls – in late 2006 or that 134 million more accounts were breached when Heartland Payment Systems’ records were compromised by spyware in 2008.  There are indeed countless examples, including more recently when, in 2011, an attack on the PlayStation Network unearthed 12 million unencrypted credit card numbers, along with 77 million accountholders’ full names, e-mails, and home addresses, costing Sony millions.

Cutting Your Costs Around the Home

by Guest on November 17, 2012

A dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to. With food and gas prices rising, instability in the job market, and national debt looming like a dark cloud, many Americans have been wracking their brains to make every dollar count.

Your own home is a great place to start. I’m not talking about making drastic changes or contemplating unusual alternatives for powering your home. Rather, just take a closer look at your home spending habits and it can go a long way toward cutting overall costs and bringing some peace of mind. If you dread opening your monthly bank statement, try implementing some of these easy steps to financial frugality.

Consumers are Being Scored on More than Just Their Credit

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 14, 2012

big brotherFor starters, let me just say that if you’re a bit of a conspiracy theorist or have been known to be paranoid, you might want to stop reading right now.  They’re watching you, after all.

Who are they, you ask?

Can Campaign Spending Solve All of Our Financial Woes?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 6, 2012

election 2012The idea has been floated more than once over the last few weeks:  How about we take all the money that candidates have spent on advertising time, polls, yard signs, and general campaigning and just use that to pay down the deficit?  While those who suggest this wacky plan do so knowing that it will never actually take effect, there is something to be said for directly allocating our money where we need it most and getting rid of those annoying ads that have dominated the airwaves of late.

This, of course, begs the question of exactly how much has been spent on major political campaigns and what it could fund if appropriated elsewhere.  It can be fun to dream, after all.

Credit Repair – What You Need To Watch Out For

by Guest on November 5, 2012

Consumers are often looking for ways to repair and improve their credit scores, and many seek the assistance of a credit repair company to handle the process. As the number of consumers looking for help increases, so does the number of fraudulent companies looking to take advantage of vulnerable individuals. In order to make sure that you only deal with a trusted and reputable company please take the following into consideration:

Common Sense Due Diligence: Just because a company has a website does not automatically make them a legitimate business. Many of these companies offering credit repair help are not even real businesses. Do a simple “who is” check on their website domain. If they are a legitimate company it will notate that the company owns the domain, and provide full contact information for the business including a phone number, email address and business address. Make sure that the information presented matches the information on the website. If the domain search reveals that the domain is registered private and there is no information available it is a huge red flag that you are not dealing with a real company. If the company were operating legally then why would they hide their information? Do you think companies such as Best Buy or Target hide their website registration information? Of course not! Why wouldn’t a company want potential customers to be able to track them down, unless of course they were hiding something?

Is the Housing Market On Its Way Back?

by John Kiernan on October 31, 2012

mortgage recoveryAmidst all of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, there is actually some good news when it comes to the housing market.  Foreclosures are down in more than 60% of the nation’s largest cities, according to RealtyTrac, and experts are pointing to that as a sign of stabilization in the housing market.

Not only did foreclosure rates fall by more than 25% in major cities such as San Francisco, Detroit, and Los Angeles during the third quarter of the year, but they actually dipped below 2007 levels for 58% of the country’s major metropolitan areas.  That’s undoubtedly good news for the economy in general and those of us who work in fields tied to the housing market, but things aren’t quite so peachy everywhere.

Finally, Debt Collectors are Being Held Accountable

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on October 24, 2012

debt collectionThe tables, it seems, have turned.  We as consumers are all too familiar with being the subjects of debt collection efforts, and now it’s the debt collectors’ turn to face some scrutiny.  Not only has the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) implemented some new rules that require hospitals to curb unfair collection practices against patients if they want to receive their federal tax exemption, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also published a rule yesterday giving itself the ability to oversee the nation’s largest debt collectors.

Roughly 30 million Americans have debt subject to collections, according to the CFPB, which estimates the average amount owed to be around $1,500.  These statistics are worrisome both because they speak to our country’s obsession with overspending and in light of the negative repercussions of severely delinquent debt.  You see, in addition to the inconvenience and stress of having debt collectors pester you, your debt burden will grow as interest continues to accrue, you’ll incur more and more credit score damage as delinquency increases, and you could eventually default and even get sued.  To complicate matters, debt collectors are notorious for misleading consumers, overstepping the law, and making mistakes that cost people like you and me a lot of money.

What is Reverse Redlining (And is Morgan Stanley Guilty of It)?

by John Kiernan on October 17, 2012

What do you call a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who shows up at your door?  Well, if you’re a Morgan Stanley executive, you might not call him anything given the shock of hearing the words, “You’ve been served.”

morgan stanleyThe renowned advocacy group filed suit against the investment giant in New York district court on Monday on behalf of five Detroit residents, alleging that Morgan Stanley violated federal civil rights laws by engaging in a process known as reverse redlining.

Americans Need New Financial Role Models

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on October 10, 2012

 

“The first time I got a check and I seen the chunk out of it … that’s when I found out about taxes, that’s when I found out about everything.”

Could Your Wish Actually Be Your Bank’s Command?

by John Kiernan on October 3, 2012

checking accountsEver think that those studies and recommendations you always see research firms coming out with don’t have much of an actual influence? Well, you’re wrong, and the way the Pew Charitable Trusts is changing how banks disclose checking account terms and conditions is a prime example of why.

Banks, as we all know too well, have long buried the true cost of their financial products in fine print.  However, it wasn’t until Pew conducted a study on the checking accounts offered by the nation’s 10 largest banks and found them hard to compare given that half boasted at least 97 pages of disclosures that any changes were made.

Does the US Aid Foreign Tax Evaders?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 26, 2012

internal revenue serviceThe financial upheaval of the last few years, a growing national debt, and the recent crackdown on Americans using offshore accounts to evade taxes, have all brought more and more scrutiny to the issue of international banking secrecy of late.  But while this has naturally resulted in growing frustration over the stubbornness of tax havens like Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Bermuda, one important question remains:  Are we hypocrites?

Could the United States be withholding information about bank accounts held by foreign nationals from their own governments – the exact thing we rail against other nations for doing?  Are we therefore party to tax evasion in nations around the world?

Why are Small Businesses Still Paying for the War of 1812?

by John Kiernan on September 19, 2012

As a small business owner, it’s easy to use a given state’s low corporate tax rate as a reason to base your operations there.  By doing so, however, you’ll be failing to take into account taxes assessed on a local level, which can cost you big time.

Take Virginia, for example, which has a tax rate of 6% that the state proudly showcases on its website as being one of the lowest in the nation.  What you won’t find in this glowing write-up is information about how you’ll also be footing the bill for a war long since concluded.  You see, the Virginia Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax started as a way to raise money for the War of 1812, but now this tax on the gross receipts of Virginia-based companies serves primarily as a thorn in the side of small businesses and a way to fill the coffers of local municipalities.

How Foodborne Illness Impacts the Economy

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 12, 2012

foodborne illness and the economyEver see the movie Contagion?  If so, you’ve got a sense for how a chef failing to wash his hands after touching some contaminated pork and then shaking hands with a customer can end up making people sick clear across the world.  Sure, the events in the film might be a bit sensationalized, but foodborne illness is a real threat, both to our health and that of the economy.  And interestingly enough, modern media actually both exacerbates the problem and could help provide a solution.

When an outbreak occurs in this the era of Facebook, Twitter, and streaming news on cell phones, millions of consumers know about it immediately and are likely to swear off the product involved for the foreseeable future.  Therefore, not only will the farm at which it originated almost certainly go bankrupt as a result, but the entire industry will suffer as well.

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