How Much Does Watching TV Really Cost You?

by John Kiernan on June 6, 2011

American RuleTelevision is a big part of most of our lives.  We watch it to relax; we watch it when we’re bored; we watch it live; we watch it recorded; we watch it on our computers, phones, and tablets; in short, we watch it all the time.  In fact, the average American watches over 35 hours of TV a week, according to The Nielsen Company.  Now, television is great; don’t get me wrong.  It can be both entertaining and informative, but it can also cost you—both directly and indirectly.  Television, commercials in particular, directly influence our purchasing habits, and it also represents a significant sunk opportunity cost.  But how much does television consumption really cost us?  And how can we limit the financial impact?

Opportunity Cost

How Much Do I Need To Retire?

by Guest on May 25, 2011

dollar-weightIt’s the #1 question consumers have about their personal finances: How much do I need to retire? If you ask 10 different financial advisors this question, you’ll receive 10 different answers, only because the answer depends on many different variables. Putting the variables aside however, we’ve outlined a simple, but effective strategy to help ensure you’ll have enough to retire.

How Much Do You Need Save to Retire?

8 Reasons Why You Should Use a Credit Card

by John Kiernan on May 13, 2011

New Credit CardsThroughout the financially tumultuous past few years, the credit card industry has been the subject of a great deal of attention in the press, Congress and the court of public opinion. The system admittedly was broken. Shady credit card companies, hiding behind a conspicuous lack of transparency, were using bait-and-switch tactics and confusing policies to take advantage of their customers. Now that the Credit CARD Act of 2009 has eliminated most of these issues, we can again being to appreciate just how useful credit cards can be. So, without further ado, 8 reasons why you should use a credit card as long as you trust yourself to spend wisely.

1. Credit building

Save 25% on Life Insurance Premiums

by Guest on May 12, 2011

InsuranceYou’re not going to believe how easy it is to cut your life insurance costs by as much as 25%.  You can easily save a bundle just by eliminating unnecessary or duplicate insurance you don’t need!

For starters, never – we repeat, never – think of insurance as an investment. Any insurance policy you use as an investment is costing you much more than you need to be paying. You can buy all sorts of investments that will treat you better than an “insurance” investment. We’ll talk more about these later.

15 Items that Impact the Cost of Homeowners Insurance

by John Kiernan on May 2, 2011

home-insurance-tipsNo more than once a year, most people will repeat the insurance ritual. When it comes time to renew your homeowners insurance, you’ll likely do one of the following:

  1. Write a check and renew the policy.
  2. Do some research to compare insurance rates.

Number two is the better choice as it helps you to be sure you are going to be getting the best insurance rates. Don’t worry. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be switching insurance companies every year or two. If you find a better rate, call your current insurance provider and let them try to match the rate.

American Express Bursts Back Into Cash Back Market With Revamped Blue Cash Offerings

by John Kiernan on April 28, 2011

amex blue cash credit cardOh how quickly things change. For years, the American Express Blue Cash was my credit card of choice. It offered 1% cash back on gas and groceries and 0.5% on all other purchases up to $6,500 in annual spending, but that’s not what made it so impressive. After $6,500, bonus cash back terms kicked in, taking the base cash back rate to 1.5% and the gas-and-groceries rate to an impressive 5%. Needless to say, the Blue Cash was hard to beat…at least until something in the market changed and the Blue Cash lost its appeal.

You see, other products emerged that had rewards structures able to not only compete with the Blue Cash’s earning rate but also beat this once-dominant spending vehicle in terms of rewards earning simplicity. There’s the Bank of America Accelerated Cash Rewards Card, which offers 1.25% on all purchases; the Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards Card, with 2% on gas and groceries and 1% else; the Chase Freedom Visa, with up to 5% cash back on rotating spending categories; and last but not least the Capital One Venture Rewards card, which is basically a 2% cash back credit card when miles are redeemed for any travel-related purchase.

Why Pay for Finance Software?

by Guest on April 26, 2011

financial-tipsPersonal finance software takes ideas from big business to help you save time and money. Chart s of accounts, tables, and graphs can help households better understand their cash’s inflows and outflows, but does that understanding lead to better decisions and ultimately savings? Often, knowing where your money goes can help you curb extra spending and save on expenses. If you’re not dealing with business-scale revenue and expenses though, how necessary are all of these software packages’ extra features? Do you really need three charts and a graph to tell you that you shouldn’t have spent $300 on ice cream last month? In the worst case scenario, you may find yourself spending more time and money than you save.

So, how can you guarantee that your personal finance software is paying dividends for you? Ultimately, you need to judge any software package by two criteria: price, and ease of use. Any software that comes recommended by anybody and that you are likely to come across is going to have the features you need, which are essentially expense tracking and categorizing, so what you need is to guarantee that you won’t lose more than you save in the process of using it.

The Achilles Heel of the Capital One Venture Rewards Program: Customer Service

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 22, 2011

capital one venture rewards credit cardIn my opinion, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is one of the best travel rewards credit cards on the market. After all, it’s essentially a 2% cash back card when miles are redeemed for any travel-related purchases charged on your card. This means that for every $10,000 you charge on this card, you earn 20,000 miles, which can in turn be redeemed for a $200 travel-related purchase. All you have to do is call Capital One, identify the purchase you wish to redeem your miles for, and that’s that. Needless to say, the Venture Card is my primary spending vehicle. And while I would be hard-pressed to replace it, there is one thing that could bring the Venture Card down: Capital One’s customer service.

This became readily apparent when my fiancé recently tried to redeem her miles for a plane ticket to Greece. This experience revealed a number of disturbing facts about Capital One’s customer service as well as the inner-workings of the Venture Rewards program.

Lufthansa Miles & More? More Like Miles & Less

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 15, 2011

miles-and-moreI have been traveling with Lufthansa for over 15 years, and until very recently had nothing but good experiences with the company. My latest experience with the Star Alliance affiliate, however, made me aware of a few company policies that are extremely unfavorable to consumers.

To give you some context, I typically fly back and forth between Washington, D.C. and my native Greece a few times a year. As a result, I have racked up literally hundreds of thousands of rewards miles, which until recently made me a Star Alliance Silver Status customer. Before losing this status, I noticed that miles I should have earned for a number of flights had not been credited to my account even though I had presented my Miles and More card at check-in.

What's Scarier, a Dentist Appointment or the Dental Bill?

by Guest on April 12, 2011

large-dental-billThe legendary king of late night TV Johnny Carson might have said it best years ago, “Happiness is your dentist telling you it won’t hurt and then having him catch his hand in the drill.”

Unfortunately, these days, the pain or thought of having a dentist drilling in our mouth with sharp instruments isn’t the only thing keeping us away from dental appointments.

Want 2 Free Trips to Europe? Talk to Chase and British Airways

by John Kiernan on April 11, 2011

ba bonus credit card milesChase, in partnership with British Airways, recently announced a new travel rewards credit card for people with excellent credit that essentially provides any first-time Chase cardholder with two free roundtrip-transatlantic flights within the first three months of being open.

Consumers receive 50,000 bonus miles immediately upon making their first transaction with a British Airways Visa Signature Card and another 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months. Each of these rewards bonuses can be redeemed for a World Traveler Economy class round-trip ticket from the U.S. to anywhere in the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany Ireland, Luxemburg, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

Why You Should Care About the Health of Your Bank

by Guest on April 1, 2011

financial-healthWhen deciding where to keep your money, it is a good idea to consider the health of your bank. There was a time, not too long ago, that it seemed as though banks were failing left and right. While the rate of bank closures has slowed, you still need to think about what it could mean if your bank were to fail. It’s true that, if your bank is protected by the FDIC, you will get your deposit back, up to certain limits. However, just getting your deposit back isn’t always enough.

Issues Associated with Bank Closures

Did a $12 fee Increase Really Make AMC’s Rewards Program More Rewarding?

by John Kiernan on March 29, 2011

AMC rewards programIf you enjoy going to the movies, as I do, you may be aware that AMC Theatres is restructuring its rewards program.  While the replacement of the MovieWatchers program with the new AMC Stubs system is being billed as an improvement made in response to customer feedback, the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned.  Why?  Well, I’m not thrilled that I now have to pay $12 a year to belong to a movie theater rewards program.  Movies, at 10-plus dollars a pop, are expensive enough as it is; what am I getting for my extra $12?

Why don’t we compare and find out?

Why Dollar Cost Averaging is an Effective Investment Strategy

by John Kiernan on March 17, 2011

dollar cost averagingAll investors should have a system they use to approach investing. The ultimate goal of this system is to help the investor effectively make consistent investing decisions without being tossed to and fro by market conditions.

People who suffer the greatest investing losses are those who are constantly getting in and out of ‘hot’ stocks and those who buy and sell according to the dips and spikes of the market. Not only is this approach less-than-profitable, it is also stressful and time consuming.

Hurry, Double Your Airline Miles!

by John Kiernan on March 16, 2011

double airline milesOn March 9, Capital One began a promotion centered on its popular Venture Card that could ultimately result in thousands of customers easily doubling their airline miles, while also increasing the flexibility of their use.

As part of the Capital One Venture Card “Match My Miles” program, the financial giant has pledged to match as many as 100,000 already-earned airline miles for each consumer that opens a Venture Card until May 13 or one billion miles have been given out, whichever comes first. Consumers who do not currently have Capital One accounts will also receive 10,000 bonus miles if they spend at least $1,000 during the first three months their Venture Cards are open.

Paying Taxes on Debt? You Have Got to Be Kidding Me

by John Kiernan on March 11, 2011

debtAnyone who has ever been in credit card debt knows just how burdensome it can be. Debt seemingly pervades your entire life, limiting your disposable income, causing stress, and potentially dragging down your credit score. If debt is mishandled, not only will these effects be magnified, but the possibility of a lawsuit will arise as well. As a result, it’s no surprise that indebted consumers are typically desperate for a solution. They want to stop hemorrhaging money on interest, and most importantly, they want to have one less worry on their minds.

A debt settlement—agreeing to payoff your defaulted debt with a lump-sum payment that is less than what you actually owe—can therefore seem like an extremely attractive option for consumers who are in serious financial trouble. However, in jumping at such an opportunity, many people fail to fully consider the overall pros and cons and ultimately benefit less than they initially imagined they would.

Bank of America’s Membership Fees Break Law’s Intent, Follow Treacherous Industry Trend

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on March 4, 2011

no-repricingBack in 2009, Wallet Blog broke the story that Chase had reneged on a promise it made to certain customers not to increase the interest rates on balances transferred to the company’s credit cards. While Chase did not increase interest rates per se, the company did begin assessing $10 monthly fees that increased the cost of consumer debt nonetheless. Working together with the New York Times, Wallet Blog made the story national news, causing then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to threaten legal intervention against the financial giant. As a result, Chase repealed the monthly fees and even provided refunds to the customers it had already charged.

Such actions were taken because, from a regulatory standpoint, there is no practical difference between interest rates and fees. Both are considered finance charges. In its Federal Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation defines finance charges as:

Fed Rules Promote Accurate Underwriting, Not Gender Inequity

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on March 2, 2011

HouseholdThere has recently been a great deal of talk about rules proposed by the Federal Reserve that seek to require credit card companies to consider the merits of applicants based on individual rather than household income. These rules, critics contend, stand to significantly affect stay-at-home mothers by preventing them from establishing credit history in their own names, which would be extremely important to garnering a loan, renting or buying a property, and/or landing a job in the case of divorce or the death of a spouse.

Given that 2010 Census figures show men to be the sole breadwinners in 28.2% of couples with children under the age of 18 and women to be the only earners in about 4% of such families, roughly 7.3 million women and 963,000 men would face a difficult time garnering access to credit if the claims made by the rules’ detractors prove to have merit.

Balance Transfer Fees, High Interest Rates: Don’t Fault the CARD Act

by John Kiernan on February 25, 2011

New Credit CardsTwo common complaints about the new credit card law, which celebrated its one-year anniversary on Feb. 22, 2011, are that it led to the extinction of 0% balance transfer credit cards with no fee and that it caused increased interest rates. One of these complaints is rooted in fact, but neither serves as a valid criticism of the law.

Yes, the CARD Act’s passage effectively signaled the beginning of the end for credit cards that offered 0% APR on balance transfers and had no fee for the service. However, no one really has the right to complain about this.

12 Things That Will Never Affect Your Credit Score

by Guest on February 17, 2011

financial-tipsYour credit score is important. You’ve heard it a thousand times, from your parents, financial advisors, TV advertisements, and seemingly everyone in between. They are, of course, correct. Your credit score impacts how much you will pay for a credit card, mortgage, or any number of loans. Many things affect your credit score, but there are also numerous factors that play no role in how this all-important number is computed. Here are twelve things that you don’t need to worry about when it comes to establishing a good credit score.

Anything not in your credit report - There is a wide range of information in your credit report, including payment history, level of indebtedness, length of credit history, and types of credit used. Your credit score won’t take into account anything outside of the credit report.

Know Your Rights with Debt Collectors

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on February 11, 2011

illegalDebt collectors make their money by successfully getting you to pay your debt, often with threats that are not even allowed by law. If you find yourself in a situation where debt collectors are hounding you, it’s important to know the rules that govern their conduct in order to deal with them effectively.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act determines the rules for many kinds of collections efforts including dishonored checks, rent, medical bills, utility bills, insurance bills and claims, student loans, credit cards, condo fees, attorney’s fees, judgments, and other personal debts.

Not Even the Unemployed are Exempt Come Tax Time

by John Kiernan on February 10, 2011

TaxesIn the current economic climate, many of us know people who have lost their jobs. A couple of my good friends have unfortunately felt such ill-effects of the Great Recession, and as I was talking to one of them the other day, I asked about his job search. He explained to me how he was going through the interview process and was optimistic about a few opportunities.

I congratulated him and quipped, “The one good thing about not having a job right now is that you don’t have to file taxes. No forms, no giving back some of your unemployment check; there’s a bright side to that.”

How and When to Dispute Credit

by Guest on February 8, 2011

improve-bad-creditKnowing when and how to dispute accounts on your credit report can make a huge difference in getting inaccurate information removed from your credit profile. Despite some promises to the contrary that you might come across, dispute letters are not the be-all-end-all of the credit repair process. There is no special formula to writing a carefully-worded argument that will convince the credit bureaus to drop your bad credit history as soon as they receive it.

Yet this myth continues to persist, so I thought I’d take the time to set the record straight on disputing your bad credit history. The trick to writing dispute letters that work is that there is no trick; it’s about knowing how and when to use them.

Don't Learn Your Credit Card Lesson the Hard Way

by John Kiernan on February 4, 2011

credit-lessonI received an e-mail just the other day from a nice woman living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Go Pack!) who wanted advice about efficiently improving credit standing. You see, her son was a senior in college and had opened a 0% APR credit card because he thought it sounded too good to pass up. He then proceeded to rack up charges which he could not pay for. However, instead of telling his parents about his credit card debt and asking for help, he just ignored the situation, hoping it would go away. After all, he was just a kid and could probably say “I’m sorry, I didn’t know any better,” and all would be forgiven, right? Well, that seemed to be the case for a couple weeks until more and more letters started coming from his issuer using words like “past due” and “account suspended.”

At this point, the young man (whom we’ll call Sean) finally consulted his parents. “What should I do?” he wondered. They told him that he needed to become current on his bill in order to avoid falling deeper into delinquency and incurring more significant credit score damage. Since Sean didn’t have much money of his own, his parents loaned him the cash, effectively closing the account, under the condition that he find a job at school so that he could pay them back.

What You Need to Know About Debt’s Statute of Limitations

by John Kiernan on February 2, 2011

Statute of Limitations for DebtWhile many of us might think that the term “statute of limitations” is only relevant to criminal prosecution and TV shows like Law and Order – Special Victims Unit, it’s actually quite important to personal finance matters as well.

In general, a statute of limitations is how long something remains relevant under the law. While it certainly can be used to describe the amount of time following a crime that someone can be prosecuted for committing it, the term may also be used in the context of a lawsuit to recoup credit card debt, for example.

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