iPhone 4S: International Use, Mobile Hotspots and “Anytime” Minutes

by John Kiernan on October 20, 2011

iphone-4-verizon-sprint-attBy now, everyone knows what Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T have to offer in terms of standard data, texting and talk plans for the new iPhone 4S. But what about the niche aspects of major carriers’ iPhone offerings? Not every consumer is content with plain vanilla utility and many, in fact, require certain supplemental features. With that being said, we took a look at how the aforementioned networks differ in terms of international usage costs, mobile hotspots and how “Night & Weekend” minutes are classified.

Night & Weekend Minutes
In our previous article examining the iPhone 4S, we noted that the three carriers offered calling plans in terms of how many “Anytime” minutes they provided: 450, 900, or “Unlimited.” Obviously, if you opt for the unlimited anytime minutes, the number of “Night & Weekend” minutes you get or when in the day these minutes begin doesn’t matter, but the same cannot be said for those of you that choose the two other options. So let’s take a closer look at what they offer.

Six Important Financial Planning Tips for Retirement

by Guest on October 18, 2011

home-insurance-tipsRetirement is ultimately a function of your bank balance, not your age. Not long ago, I came across some statistics which showed that the majority of the US population will either retire broke or still have to work to have a decent retirement.

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t even close to good enough for me, and definitely is not in alignment with my vision of a happy retirement lifestyle.

iPhone 4S: Verizon, AT&T or Sprint?

by John Kiernan on October 13, 2011

iphone 4 verizon sprint attYou’ve likely seen the Sprint commercial that shows phones from the four most prominent smartphone carriers—Sprint, Verizon, At&T and T-Mobile—racing up a chart, almost as if they are those mascots that race at sporting events, in order to display the differences in their data plans. And while it’s been around since about late July, this commercial might not have struck a chord with you until the October 4 announcement that Sprint would for the first time be carrying the iPhone. With the new iPhone 4S slated to hit stores tomorrow at 8 AM, many of you have a tough choice to make in terms of which network to get it on. So, how are you supposed to decide?

Obviously, people already under contract will stick with what they’ve got, but where you cell phone free agents end up depends on precisely how much texting, talking and e-mailing you plan to do. Each of the networks carrying the new iPhone—the aforementioned four, minus T-Mobile—offers plans at different price points, and figuring out your usage habits ahead of time is the best way to get the coverage you need without incurring extraneous costs. To help in this endeavor, we took a look at the best carriers for different types of smartphone consumers:

Down with Default Rates!

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on October 5, 2011

penalty aprIn a previous article, I made the case that usury laws are counter-productive. Usury laws, which cap interest rates for lenders, completely fail to serve their intended purpose of forcing banks to deliver affordable loans and instead result in the declining availability of loans for anyone whose credit history merits an interest rate above an arbitrary cap. While this is still true for regular interest rates, I would like to suggest one particular feature of our contemporary lending industry that could actually benefit from usury laws: Penalty rates.

Why? Because penalty (or default) rates on loans and credit cards currently dictate the order in which consumers repay their debt obligations during times of crisis and invite banks to engage in reverse competition over who can charge the highest interest rates.

Usury Laws, Anyone?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 28, 2011

usury interest ratesEvery so often, talk of curbing excessive lending practices by instituting usury laws at a federal level resurfaces, and speeches are made, hearings are held and editorials are written, but nothing ever comes of it. This begs a couple of questions: For starters, what are usury laws exactly, and—perhaps more importantly—do we need them?

Usury laws are those that prevent high interest rates, and as a result typically garner popular support, especially in times such as these when the economy is fledgling and anger toward financial institutions is running high. However, you cannot truly evaluate the merit of these laws, which at their basis are a means of forcing lenders to serve the greater public good, without understanding their practical effect.

Why Haven’t Credit Card Membership Fees Risen?

by John Kiernan on September 23, 2011

feesWhile the positive effects of the financial laws passed over the course of the last few years have indeed been many, these new regulations have also served to limit financial institutions’ means for making money. For example, debit card interchange fees have been capped at about 24 cents per transaction, credit card companies can no longer raise interest rates on existing credit card balances unless delinquency reaches 60 days, banks can’t charge overdraft fees unless accountholders agree to opt-in for the ability to overdraw their accounts, and people under the age of 21 can’t open credit cards without either a co-signer or the assets and income required to cover minimum payments.

From the time these laws were first proposed, people have been wondering how banks would recoup their losses, and to a certain extent, these questions have been answered. Having already lost much of the $25-38 billion they once charged in overdraft fees and now facing what Card Hub estimates to be $9.4 billion in lost interchange fee revenue, major banks like Wells Fargo, Chase, SunTrust and Regions are adding fees to checking accounts and are gearing up for a push to prepaid cards. Most banks have also stopped offering unsecured credit cards for bad credit in light of credit card fee restrictions.

Are there many differences between getting a mortgage in 2010 compared to 2011?

by Guest on September 23, 2011

mortgage-refinanceI will bet that if you have had to apply for at least two mortgages in your life the process was not the same for both. This is because the mortgage industry is constantly changing and lenders are always updating their guidelines for mortgage qualification.

Before the housing bubble burst you could get a mortgage on a ‘Stated Income’. This simply meant you told the lender what your income was and they gave you a loan based on that income (these were one of the types of loans that contributed highly to the housing bubble). After the bubble burst and the recession hit, lenders and banks tightened the reigns. They required more documentation proving income, assets and other factors to be sure you would not default on your loan.

Managing Your Finances on Your Phone

by Guest on September 21, 2011

cell-phoneUntil recently it had been far too easy to fall in the trap of relying on a not-so-keen sense of frugality to keep your expenditures in order–especially while out and about. Was it just last week that you bought that new TV you had to have because it was on sale? Did your buddy Ted already pay you back for that one time you covered his dinner because he forgot his wallet at home? Maybe you’ve got a few hundred dollars to go before you hit your spending limit, right?

We all know how those stories end. You end up missing payments, dealing with overdraft fees or penalties, and falling into debt. Okay maybe that’s an overstatement–but it can happen often enough that it remains a very real worry.

College and Future Earnings: What’s the Connection?

by John Kiernan on September 16, 2011

Help for College StudentsWe’ve all heard about the statistics that show that people with college degrees earn more than people who only have a high school education or who dropped out of high school without receiving their diploma. But, does having a framed piece of paper on your wall necessarily mean you are destined for a bigger payday? Why don’t we take a closer look at what exactly these oft-quoted stats reveal?

Income rises and unemployment falls
First, information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly shows that median income does indeed rise in accordance with education level.

Should You Be Mad That Free Checking Accounts Are Becoming a Thing of the Past?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 9, 2011

free checkingWait, they charge fees for checking accounts? This has become a common refrain as more and more consumers around the country are all of a sudden finding monthly fees on their previously free checking accounts. Aside from initial bewilderment, people are responding with emotions that run the gamut all the way from anger to understanding. But, how should you really feel about added monthly fees on your bank account?

It’s understandable that you might at first be angry about having to shell out monthly payments for a service that used to free, but what if there was a good reason for the switch? That might change things for many of us and, of course, begs the question: Why are checking account fees gradually becoming as common as free checking once was?

Debt Consolidation Advice for Those Drowning in Debt!

by Guest on September 9, 2011

debtThere are millions of people across the United States who have to deal with the constant problem of not having enough money to pay their bills. They may have debt from student loans, credit cards, mortgage, cars and many other types of debt. However, when it comes down to it, the debt needs to be paid or the company that holds the debt will continue to hound you for a long time to come and your credit score could be severely damaged. That much you know, but what can you do about it?

For some, debt consolidation may be the answer. A first step in debt consolidation is to figure out exactly how much debt you have. Take a look at all of your debt. This means car loans, home loans, boat loans, RV loans, credit cards, gas cards, store cards, home equity loans and student debt. You may even have additional types of debt that do not apply to these categories. Check it out ASAP! You want to be sure that you are covered in case you end up having to pay the debt back.

Mistakes to Avoid When Purchasing a House

by Guest on August 31, 2011

HouseholdBuying a house is a big (and exciting) step. But regardless of whether you’re a first-time home buyer or have bought before, there are some mistakes to avoid when purchasing a house. Here are a few to watch out for.

Getting in over your head

If there’s one mistake you want to avoid for sure when purchasing a house, it’s getting in over your head. You don’t want to buy more house than you can comfortably afford based on your current situation — not on some improved situation that you think you’ll probably be in down the road.

Hurricane Recovery Tax Benefits Explained

by John Kiernan on August 29, 2011

hurricane-recoveryFrom time to time, knowledgeable sources from around the personal finance industry send us timely information, hoping to use Wallet Blog to better reach the general public. The following information about hurricane recovery tax benefits was sent to us by the California Society of CPAs, and we thought it would be both useful and of interest to our readers:

Hurricane Irene has done an estimated $7 -13 billion in damage over 10 East Coast states. Wind and flood damage alone could total about $5 billion and $2 billion, respectively, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

Eliminate Back-to-School Spending Stress with the Right Rewards Card

by John Kiernan on August 26, 2011

Help for College StudentsIf you looked at your child’s back-to-school checklist and wondered how in the world you’d pay for everything on it, don’t worry, you’re not alone. About one out of every five Americans feels stressed about back-to-school shopping this year, according to a survey conducted by Chase, and 25% plan to spend less on school supplies this year than they did last year. What’s more, 34% of people intend to save on back-to-school shopping by re-using old supplies, while 26% plan to clip coupons and 25% say they’ll shop at discount stores. Those are all great ideas, which can lead to big savings. But why not throw the right rewards credit card into the mix and save up to another 6%?

As we all know, rewards credit cards often offer particularly high rewards on particular spending categories. And since the Island Approach to spending advocates having a few different rewards credit cards that complement each other and help you save on your biggest expenses, both your credit card arsenal and your back-to-school budget could benefit from the addition of a card with particularly attractive grocery and department store rewards or a card offering rewards at a mega-store where you can buy practically everything or a card that helps you save on office supplies.

5 Ways To Find Back-To-School Bargains

by Guest on August 23, 2011

5 waysAs my three young kids gear up for the upcoming school year, it has me thinking of all the ways my wife and I save money on back-to-school shopping every year. Purchases like pencils, pens, notebooks, backpacks, clothing, shoes, electronics, books, you get the point! According to the National Retail Federation, the average American family is expected to spend on average $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics this year. This number is mind boggling to me. My wife and I spend way under half of that number. Hopefully these tips can keep you way below that number as well.

Shop at Discount Stores – We are talking about cheap stuff. Things like 4 glue sticks for a $1, .25 cent folders, and $3 notebooks. The brands are typically high quality and include Elmer’s, Mead, and Bic. The stores I am referring to include stores like Big Lots, Walmart, and The Dollar Store. They are must stops for school supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and file folders. They have major bargains on back-to-school stuff starting in mid July running through September. They typically have better deals on school supplies than Target, and a lot better than stores like Office Depot and Office Max.

Money Market Accounts vs. Savings Accounts

by John Kiernan on August 12, 2011

money market accounts vs savings accountsWe recently took a look at the differences between money market accounts and money market funds. This week, to follow up on that discussion, we will examine what separates a money market account from a traditional savings account. After all, if we’re to make responsible banking decisions and effectively manage our money, we must understand the options available to us.

Both savings accounts and Money Market Deposit Accounts (MMDA) are essentially bank accounts insured by the federal government that allow you to safely deposit your money and garner interest. Accounts offered by banks are insured for up to $250,000 per depositor ($100,000 beginning in 2014) by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insures those accounts offered by credit unions for the same amount.

Money Market Funds vs. Money Market Accounts

by John Kiernan on August 5, 2011

money market accounts and money market fundsDespite their similar names, money market accounts and money market funds are most certainly not the same thing. So let’s take a look at both to clear up whatever confusion might exist and provide insight into which will best suit your particular needs.

Money Market Accounts
A money market account, also known as a “money market deposit account,” is essentially a savings account. Money market accounts tend to pay more in interest than standard savings accounts and have higher minimum balance requirements but are interest-bearing bank accounts at their core, typically allow for limited check writing and debit card use, and most importantly, are explicitly insured by the FDIC—usually for up to $250,000.

Fed Broadens Free Credit Score Rules

by Guest on July 30, 2011

credit scoreDo you remember the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act? Probably not, so here’s a quick refresher. Signed into law by President Obama in 2010, the Dodd-Frank Act brought sweeping change to how financial markets are regulated in the United States.

Included in the act was a well-known provision called the “Risk-Based Pricing Rule”, which entitled many consumers to obtain free credit scores if they were either declined credit or offered less than favorable terms. If the lender didn’t provide a free score, they were required to at least send a notice that allowed applicants to obtain free credit reports instead.

Shareholders Don’t Want Board Members, Who Cares?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 29, 2011

Board RoomImagine for a second a U.S. president loses an election, decides he’s just not ready to give up his power yet, and concludes that he’ll remain president for another four years, whether the American people want him or not. How do you think that would go over with the voters? Not so well, I would guess. In fact, he might have to board up the White House’s doors and windows to deal with the resulting revolt.

Well, if you think about it, that’s essentially what’s going on right now with the board of directors system in this country. According to Business Week, more than 200 board members at public U.S. companies over the past three years have received less than 50% of the shareholder vote at elections, yet all but a few retained their seats. Two-thirds of the S&P 1,500 doesn’t even require that board members garner the approval of a majority of shareholders in order to keep their positions. But how could that possibly be?

Could Credit Card Companies be Groupon Killers?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 22, 2011

credit card companies grouponConsumers have shown an obvious affinity for Groupon and its hundreds of copycats, but lost amidst their buzz is the notion that daily deals as we currently know them might not be the end-game for targeted local consumer marketing. The recent announcement of a partnership between American Express and Facebook to create “Link, Like, Love,” a deal-driven spending platform which takes advantage of the credit card company’s extensive customer base and purchase tracking capabilities as well as the social media giant’s unique reach into the lives of consumers, highlights the potential credit card companies have to change the game significantly. But, in the end, do credit card companies really have what it takes to be Groupon killers?

On Tuesday, American Express and Facebook launched Link, Like, Love and immediately became a serious contender to popular daily deal providers like Groupon and Living Social. The joint partnership allows consumers to link their American Express credit cards to their Facebook accounts and immediately access a virtual treasure trove of deals from leading national retailers and travel providers, including H&M, Dunkin’ Donuts, Sports Authority, Sheraton, Westin, Celebrity Cruises and Travelocity. Small businesses can also load their own deals through the service’s self-serve feature. Consumers simply select deals to load onto their Amex accounts, purchase the goods or services advertised, and automatically receive a statement credit.

Is it the Beginning of the End for Magnetic Stripe Credit Cards?

by John Kiernan on July 12, 2011

magnetic-stripe-death“A what?” This just might be a common refrain from children a few years down the road in response to their parents discussing the good old days of magnetic stripe credit cards as if they were single-digit movie theater prices or some other relic of yesteryear. Indeed, the magnetic stripe credit card, common in the United States since the 1960s, might be on its way out. But this isn’t the first time the death knell has tolled for magstripe cards, so why should we believe it this time around?

Notable Replacement Efforts

Want Better Healthcare at a Lower Price? New Primary Care Models Are Gaining Traction

by John Kiernan on July 7, 2011

primary care providerAn interesting new trend in the healthcare industry is primary care that patients buy directly from physicians, thereby removing insurance companies from the process and lowering costs for both the doctor and the patient.

Built upon the idea of concierge medical practices, doctors using this innovative model provide day-to-day care to patients who pay a monthly fee for the service. For $49-$130 a month patients receive preventive care, basic tests, treatment for chronic conditions, and non-life-threatening emergency services like X-rays and stitches. Patients are also able to get advice from doctors via e-mail, phone or video messaging, thereby saving both parties time and reducing the number of unnecessary office visits.

Southwest Airlines Credit Card Offers Two Free Round-trip Flights

by John Kiernan on July 6, 2011

wb-southwestFeel bad about missing the British Airways offer for two free round-trip international flights a few months back? Well, here’s a chance to make up for it. Southwest Airlines recently announced a limited-time deal whereby consumers can score two free roundtrip flights simply by opening the Southwest Airlines Credit Card and making a single purchase.

Think that sounds too good to be true? Let’s take a closer look at the terms of this deal and see whether you are really free to move about the country with this credit card.

Traveling Abroad? Save Big With A Credit Card

by John Kiernan on June 29, 2011

international-currency-exchangeCredit cards provide the cheapest means of currency conversion. Hold on, before you balk at this statement and argue that someone working for a credit-oriented blog would of course make such a claim, let me tell you something: I have the facts to back it up. In fact, credit cards have the potential to save international travelers as much as 15% on currency exchange, according to a recent Currency Exchange Study by Card Hub.

Card Hub – using both online fact finding and anonymous phone calls – was able to determine the U.S. dollar-to-Euro exchange rates offered by Visa and MasterCard, the credit card networks with by far the largest coverage areas worldwide; 15 of the largest consumer banks in the United States; and Travelex, the most significant airport currency exchange service in the world. And aside from the mere fact that the payment type most conducive to international travel is a credit card, this study revealed that:

Consumer Debt Pay Down Hints At Significant Impending Debt Increase

by John Kiernan on June 17, 2011

debtAmerican consumers paid down 26% less credit card debt during the first quarter of 2011 than they did in the same period last year, according to a recent credit card debt study conducted by Card Hub – a fact which portends a significant rise in debt throughout the remainder of the year as well as the possibility of dangerous consumer overleveraging.

While one might consider any debt pay down to be a positive one, context is needed to explain why the Q1 2011 data is so concerning. During the first quarter of each year, consumers inevitably pay down a portion of their debt thanks to holiday bonuses, tax returns and a desire to rid themselves of balances remaining from holiday shopping. It’s normal.

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