Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eagle Industries Sold to Alliant Techsystems

Deal closed today

Eagle Industries' Combat Integrated Armor Carrier System

Eagle Industries' Combat Integrated Armor Carrier System

Alliant Techsystems Inc. today purchased Eagle Industries Unlimited Inc. for an undisclosed amount. Alliant is a Minnesota-based aerospace and defense company. Eagle makes nylon safety gear for the military and law enforcement agencies.

More on Eagle Industries

Eagle makes several products, most of them nylon-based. The company sells weapon holsters, bags, rappelling equipment and vests. The company has about 2,300 employees. Eagle headquarters is in Fenton, Mo.

It also has facilities in New Bedford, Mass., Lares and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Its main client is the U.S. Department of Defense. It’s possible military loans made up part of the company’s earnings.

More on Alliant Techsystems

Alliant is commonly known by its ticker symbol, ATK. The large aerospace and defense company has revenue of more than $4.5 billion. ATK has more than 19,000 employees.

Eagle will add more than $80 million to Alliant’s sales in fiscal 2010, according to Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

Everybody’s happy

Both Eagle Industries and Alliant Techsystems see the acquisition as a positive step. ATK is looking forward to expanding.

Eagle will provide Alliant "with an exciting opportunity to expand its presence into the growing military and law enforcement accessories markets," ATK chairman and CEO Dan Murphy said in a statement. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Eagle Industries Sold to Alliant Techsystems"

Surviving the Recession, Episode 3: Commute Smart (2)

More ways to save on daily transportation expenses

If you missed PART ONE of this “Surviving the Recession,” start there. You won’t need as many cash advance loans if you follow this plan…

  • Stay home - Sometimes you have to go, but if you don’t, stay in more often. Read a book, exercise, watch TV, call a friend or three. Anything to keep your gas and entertainment budget more manageable
  • Keep tires inflated properly - When tires are in need of air, the tread is not making optimal contact with the road. When tires don’t make optimal contact with the road, your care requires more gasoline to travel.  Keep tires aired up and you’ll have a smoother, more efficient ride
  • Don’t suddenly stop or accelerate - Accelerate and decelerate slowly and smoothly. This places less stress on your engine, transmission and brakes, to name just a few. It also doesn’t burn as much gasoline. If you can make a habit of driving this way, your fuel savings will be significant
  • Carpool - Share the road. Not only is this good for your gasoline budget, but it’s good for the environment because it means at least one fewer car on the road. Ask the Human Resources department where you work if they have a ridesharing or similar alternative transportation program. In some cases, your company may even participate in a larger program that awards prizes to conscientious commuters
  • Ride your bike - If it isn’t practical to walk, biking is a fantastic option that’s great exercise. You’ll want to make sure you have proper safety gear (helmet, at least), a properly maintained bicycle and a route that is safe for bicycling
  • Go biodiesel - Keep in mind, I’m not talking about ethanol from corn. The world has enough problems feeding everyone and corn prices are high enough as it is. Let’s not cause an artificial corn shortage, no matter what America’s previous president opinion was on the matter. With little modification, a regular diesel gas engine can be made ready for biodiesel fuel that comes straight from the grease trap of your favorite fast food restaurant. With federal tax incentives, the increased cost of biodiesel blends is all but offset, and for the environment, biodiesel has been proven safer than standard diesel gasoline. But you know what’s the safest thing of all to do? CONTINUE READING…

Related Video: ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Surviving the Recession, Episode 3: Commute Smart (2)"

Surviving the Recession, Episode 3: Cheap Transport (1)

Save on transportation

You know how to save money at the grocery store. You know how to use your food skills to stretch your food dollar once you get the groceries home. These are vitally important skills in this economy; the recession comes knocking at everyone’s door. Cutting back on spending is the goal, and this doesn’t just mean leaving out those extra leisure purchases. This means shaving dollars off your everyday expenses. Payday loans may be around to help, but adapting habits to ou r environment is what we must do. That’s what really makes a difference.

Now let’s take a look at another everyday part of your budget that we need to keep an eye on during a recession: automobile expenses. Try as many of these helpful hints as you can and see how far ahead you come out at the end of the month!

  • Combine errands to one trip and use the most efficient route - I know this is difficult for me, because I generally don’t plan beyond the day in front of me. However, combining trips saves you time and money. It’s also beneficial for the environment, as you aren’t starting your car as often (the time when combustion creates the largest quantity of atmospheric pollutants. Using an efficient route simply means knowing where you live, work and play. Don’t be afraid to try new things and access Web sites like Google Maps or your trusty paper road map. You will find a better way to get there if you look hard enough. Knowing what days and times traffic is heavy (and in what areas) can also help make your trips more efficient
  • Walk - If you are lucky enough to live near a city center where all sorts of amenities are in close proximity, leave the car at home and start walking. It requires no gasoline and contributes to your physical fitness. Even if you live outside of downtown and have to travel a bit farther, why not make an adventure out of it and walk an extra mile or two? And why not CLICK HERE for more tips?

Related Videos: ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Surviving the Recession, Episode 3: Cheap Transport (1)"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Detroit Free Press Launches Digitalfreepress.com

Freep.com delivers Detroit news

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Free Press

As newspapers continue to struggle with the bottom line, some organizations have finally come up with a new business plan. The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News are changing to a hybrid approach to getting the news out.

Shrinking yet growing

Both newspapers are going to shrink a bit, meaning they will have fewer pages. The Detroit Free Press is heavily marketing freep.com and digitalfreepress.com, which are online sources of the newspaper’s content. Readers will be able to read and see the newspaper online every day instead of getting it delivered to their homes.

Why two sites?

The Detroit Free Press has two web sites because it is sharing news in two different formats. Freep.com is more like a traditional web site that most newspapers have. Digitalfreepress.com is a digital replica of the printed newspaper. Right now the sites are open to the public for free. However, if you don’t have any extra cash you might need to get a payday loan to view it in the future, when the Free Press will start charging for it.

Other changes

Both newspapers are also cut back home delivery to only three days a week. The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press will only be delivered to homes on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Detroit Free Press Launches Digitalfreepress.com"

Save Money On Housing: Live Well In Less Space

image credit:  governing.typepad.com

Speaking of internal frugality, I’d say one of the most basic ways to save on rent or mortgage payments is to… live in a smaller place. No, wait, really. Let’s think about it.

Even though it’s easy to make fun of 10,000 square feet McMansions, they are only a side effect of an overall trend towards larger houses. According to this 2006 NPR article, the size of new houses has more than doubled since the 1950s. The average new home sold in 2007 was a whopping 2,629 square feet.

altext altext

Maybe as a whole we’re getting fatter and need a bit more space to move around, but not by that much! In fact, the average family size has actually been decreasing over time. Here are some stats I pulled from the U.S. Census:

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

From 1970 to 2004, the average household shrunk by 27%, but the average square footage grew by 66%. Using median numbers gave similar results.

There are several theories as to why this is happening. For starters, we may simply want a higher standard of living. (Sharing bathrooms? That’s for people in 3rd-world countries!) Perhaps it’s from us continually one-upping our neighbors. Maybe builders are pushing bigger homes through marketing. Or it may be a result of the breaking up of the American family, and how we don’t like spending time together anymore.

Most importantly, we don’t need the extra space. If a family of four could live well in 1,500 square feet back in 1950, there is no real reason they can’t do so today. It’s just a choice like any other, and we have to examine whether it is really worth the price.

Finally, it doesn’t stop with the bigger sticker price. There’s the higher property taxes and insurance rates. A bigger home costs more to heat, cool, maintain, and repair. More rooms means more furniture, more wall decorations, more room for clothes, and just more stuff in general. More appliances mean more electricity used. The list goes on and on.

In my opinion, many people don’t even notice that they are stretching to buy homes that just keep getting bigger and bigger. They just follow the crowd. This unconscious choice may partially explain why many of us feel so much more stressed financially than our parents.

Read more about Save Money On Housing: Live Well In Less Space…

Colleges Work Harder To Lure New Students

A down economy usually means a bump in enrollment at colleges and universities: Applications tend to go up as job prospects go down. But in this recession, private colleges especially are finding themselves working harder to fill freshman classes.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Internal vs. External Frugality: Different Ways of Saving

So I am trying to kick off one of my planned 2009 projects, which is to methodically go through each major expense area and explore ways to save money there. I started out last week with on housing costs (here and here), and still have a few ideas left. But while brainstorming an outline of future posts, I noticed that there seemed to be a divide in the types of strategies out there.

One set of ideas usually has to do with reducing the amount paid for a specific item or service. I call this external frugality, because you aren’t changing anything about yourself, just the price tag. For example, to save on what you pay for your house, you could look for a buyer’s agent rebate to save something like 1.5% of the purchase price, or carefully shop for mortgages with the lowest combination of closing costs and interest rate.

Another set of ideas usually involves either changing the type, amount, or quality of something. I call this internal frugality, because you are changing your consumption habits. An example of this would be realizing that you don’t necessarily need to same house as everyone else. You could look in more “up-and-coming” neighborhoods, or live in an older house with less square footage.

There are plenty of other examples out there:

External: Calling a cable company and asking for a lower rate.
Internal: You cancel cable completely. You could read more, watch episodes on your computer, or use a low-cost Netflix plan.

External: You find a cheaper long-distance plan, or switch to VoIP.
Internal: You get rid of your landline completely.

External: Learn ways to haggle down the price of a car.
Internal: Don’t own a car. Use public transportation.

I don’t think either or worse, but they are different. In general, it would seem like external frugality is at least initially easier to implement, as you don’t have to actually change your habits. However, I can also imagine that in many situations using internal frugality would lead to both greater absolute savings and also more enduring lifelong savings. But changing habits is really tough.

Next time you think you’re being frugal, examine if you’re doing it externally or internally.

Read more about Internal vs. External Frugality: Different Ways of Saving…

Friday, March 27, 2009

"ACORN Produces Leaders and Gets Results" (3)

ACORN rides greased wheels

This is part three of a four-part series. Parts ONE, TWO and THREE are required reading for anyone interested in justice for the American taxpayer/homeowner. Your payday loan source is happy to bring this information to you.

…we have the opportunity to work on a range of issues at both the state and federal levels that would have been dead-on-arrival just a few weeks ago raising the minimum wage across the nation; starting to address Americas health care crisis; moving campaigns to create state Earned Income Tax Credits, rather than only opposing right-wing tax-cuts for millionaires; etc.

Yay… Robin Hood?

At first, Anita MonCrief writes, this sounds like a boon to the underprivileged. But communication from other documents point leads her to their true motivation:

Sounds great and very beneficial to the poor right, but another internal document goes on to state “Electoral plans redistricting and holding congress and 2010 Gubernatorial races (47)…Senate in 2010c Questions about getting to 60 in 2008. So 2010 becomes an additional push for more seats.

“Obviously preparing for power was not meant for the poor, but for the Democrats that are currently in office with the dubious help of ACORN and generous donations from the Sandlers,” MonCrief replies. The Sandlers in particular had to be more than just donors, but huge string-pullers for the Democratic party. Their funds also created Pro Publica, an “independent, non-profit” news group that has reported little or nothing of ACORN’s connections to the Democrats and President Obama. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled ""ACORN Produces Leaders and Gets Results" (3)"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The curious case of payday loans

The myth:

Critics condemn payday loans calling them ‘predatory debt-traps,’ so much so that many loan seekers consider payday loans taboo. On top of this, policy makers are set to cap these loans in many states. But the million dollar question remains, will a cap on payday loans actually help the financial stability of households to improve?

Georgia and North Carolina

Well, 'certainly not', if you go by the situations prevailing in Georgia and North Carolina. These two are the states which clearly indicate that consideration of payday loans as debt-traps is nothing more than a myth.

The truth:

Georgia and North Carolina are the two states who had banned payday loans in May 2004 and December 2005 respectively. Now going by the myth spread by the critics, household financial stability in these two states are supposed to be better as compared to others where payday loans are still legal. But, unfortunately for the critics that is not true.

Without payday loans, higher bankruptcy

As per the Federal Reserve Bank of New York staff report no. 309 by Donald P. Morgan and Michael R. Strain (published in November 2007 and revised in February 2008), post ban "households in Georgia have bounced more checks, complained more to the Federal Trade Commission about lenders and debt collectors, and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection at a higher rate." The situation in North Carolina is also not very different. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "The curious case of payday loans"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Health Insurers Willing to Cut Down Pre-Existing Premiums

Making deals with Congress

health_insuranceWhen Congress asked the health insurance industry if it would stop charging higher premiums to customers with pre-existing conditions, it said “sure.”

So maybe it wasn’t quite so simple, but that is what it boiled down to.

Comprehensive health insurance

Congress is examining how it can create a plan that will provide health insurance to all Americans. The health insurance industry is willing to negotiate, as  it is staunchly opposed to the creation of a government-run program.

Congress is willing to work with the health insurance companies rather than jump into nationalized health care.

Tighter regulation

Insurers also said they could accept more regulation of benefits, underwriting practices and other activities. What’s in it for them? If they are willing to comply with the regulations, it would make a public program unnecessary.

A government-run program would directly compete with private health insurance companies. That could send private insurers running for installment loans to keep their businesses afloat.

Pre-existing policies

It’s an age-old health insurance industry policy to charge higher premiums for people who have a history of sickness or a pre-existing condition. This new agreement means that health insurance companies could no longer take into account a person’s current health condition or medical history. Essentially, health insurance premiums would become equal opportunity. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Health Insurers Willing to Cut Down Pre-Existing Premiums"

How to Deal With a Low Salary Offer

In my life so far, I’ve had three major chances to negotiate a starting salary. The first was with a cash-strapped non-profit organization that had enough problems keeping its payroll account funded every other week. The second was with a company in the financial industry, a segment of that industry that is known for being cheap in the salary department, particularly for an operational position rather than a business unit. The third was with the same company in a different location.

In all cases, I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. And rather than spending my time outside the office looking for new opportunities, I’m spending my time working for myself. It would be nice never to need to negotiate a salary for myself again; and in fact, it’s possible I’ll be on the other side of the negotiating table.

But I liked one of the ideas offered by Liz Ryan at Business Week for dealing with a hiring manager whose offer is lower than one feels they deserve.

Go back to the hiring manager and say: “Thanks so much for the offer. The job seems terrific, and I’m thrilled to be moving along in the process. We’ve had some kind of miscommunication along the way, clearly. I’m focusing on opportunities in the $XX range, and the offer I’ve received is obviously way below that number. If you’re set on this type of salary range, I’m not your hire, but it may make sense to talk about having me consult with you as you get your new plans under way and your new hire up to speed.”

At first, I didn’t see this as an option applying to any of my situations, but maybe it would have. And maybe this is not a bad idea for winding down my day job to begin focusing on my own projects full-time.

Liz Ryan offered a number of other suggestions, like accepting the job part-time (wouldn’t they use that as an excuse to lower the salary offer?), but I don’t seem them applying to most situations.

Lowball Salary Offers: A Working Guide, Liz Ryan, BusinessWeek via Yahoo Finance, March 23, 2009

Related Articles at Consumerism Commentary: A Personal Finance Blog Since 2003:

Read more of How to Deal With a Low Salary Offer…

Sales Offer Consumers An Out If Hard Times Hit

As companies try to jump-start sales in a sour economy, many are offering risk-free deals to consumers: Purchase their products, and if you get laid off, you’re off the hook.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Conficker C Computer Virus Scheduled to Hit April Fool's Day

Experts say virus will spread April 1

virusInternet security experts say that a virus scheduled to hit millions of computers through the Web on April 1 is not a joke. The virus, called Conficker C, might have already infected between 5 million and 10 million computers, researchers say. A master computer is set to gain control of the worm April 1.

The Conficker Cabala

Several self-proclaimed “former hackers” have banded together to find the author of the virus and stop it. They also are researching ways to do damage control if the virus can’t be stopped.

“We love catching bad guys,” said Alvin Estevez, CEO of Enigma Software Group, which is one of many companies trying to crack Conficker C. “We’re like former hackers who like to catch other hackers. To us, we get almost a feather in our cap to be able to knock out that worm. We slap each other five when we’re killing those infections.” - From CNN

Cash prize for finding bad guys

Of course, the cash advance Microsoft is offering probably doesn’t hurt. Microsoft says it will give $250,000 to the person or company who finds the culprit.

Aimed at your assets

That’s not the only money involved in this case, though. The researchers say the virus could infect computers with keystroke-recording software. That would make identity theft a piece of cake for the hackers.

Don’t get scammed

Don DeBolt, director of threat research at a New York IT firm, says the virus is likely to scam computer users with offers of fake software or other phony products in exchange for money. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Conficker C Computer Virus Scheduled to Hit April Fool's Day"

Talk about a payday loan to a foreclosure avoidance counselor

What to do and don't if you are refinancing a debt, or if you are extinguishing a payday loan you contracted.

Stability plan is…

According to the comprehensive homeowner affordability and stability plan you may be eligible for a payday to refinance you payments, aimed to reduce your monthly payments drastically, but most importantly of all to help you keep your home. There is a special program called 'making home affordable' that may be able help you to find a counseling service and a counselor that will help you to collect and intake package for your service if you are eligible for the refinance program or elsewhere for the modification of your loan.

Foreclosures prevention

There are a list of counseling services that are provided for free of charge by a few non profit housing counseling agencies; these always work as a partner of the Federal Government. A portion of these non profit agencies are funded by Neighbourworks America, and you may use one of these non profit agencies to deal with your own home loans.This is a better option than choosing a private company that you would have to pay for the service.

Loan Workout Solution

Always remember that if you are unable to pay your current mortgage payment, then you might qualify for a payday loan to help you out. Have a chat with your lender and decide which option may be available. Consider that if you are not insured with the company called FHA, surely you will not have the chance to apply to all the options. If your lender allow you to suspend or reduce payments for a fixed period of time, probably he or she will agree to another option to bring your loan current. If you are sure you will have enough money to bring the account current at a specific time, a forbearance option is often combined with a reinstatement. The money could come from a tax refund or also from a investment.

Repayment Plan

There are a few options you should discuss with your lender if your situation is a long term contract or if it will affect you in a permanent way. One option you may discuss at first is about the mortgage modification, because you can make payments on your loan but if one month you can't afford your current payment your lender may be able to change the terms of your original loan to make the payments more affordable to you. This changing may be done by adding the missed payments to the existing loan balance or also by changing the interest rate and adjusting the rate into a fixed rate. Another useful solution may be the one of extend the number of years you have at disposition to repay your debt.

Is your mortgage insured?

If your mortgage is insured, your lender may help you to get a one time interest free payday loan from your guarantor to bring your account current. Probably you will be allowed to wait several years before to repay your payday loan. If your payday loan if between four and twelve months delinquent, then you may qualify for an FHA partial claim: you may also qualify if you are able to begin making full mortgage payment again.

Email scam? Drop everything! You're going to be rich!

Pete, drop everything and get over here as fast as you can!

FBI Nigeria ScamWe can make our fortunes in Nigeria. The call was from my lawyer. I am a geologist specializing in the analysis of oil exploration results. So at the smell of this oil rag, I was in my car zooming across town at a high rate of knots. I burst into his office and without a word he tossed a letter across the desk.

FROM: Mr. Ben Ahore
Central Bank of Nigeria
Lagos, Nigeria

Dear Sir:
I have been requested by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company has recently concluded a large number of contracts for oil exploration in the sub-Sahara region. The contracts have immediately produced moneys equaling US$40,000,000.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Company is desirous of oil exploration in other parts of the world; however, because of certain regulations of the Nigerian Government, it is unable to move these funds to another region.

Your assistance is requested as a non-Nigerian citizen to assist the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, and also the Central Bank of Nigeria, in moving these funds out of Nigeria. Etc., etc., etc.

The only thing not suggested is taking a Cash Advance to pay for a ticket to Nigeria.

The Great Nigerian Scam

"Let's examine the letter," I say.
"What for? Let's phone for tickets to Nigeria! Where exactly is it?" ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Email scam? Drop everything! You're going to be rich!"

My Financial Infrastructure

While preparing for the first episode of The Personal Finance Hour yesterday, I was browsing Jim’s archives over at Bargaineering. I stumbled upon an old post about creating a financial network map:

A map of Jim’s financial network

Mapping your financial infrastructure is a mundane task. It’s not exciting. It’s not likely to save you big bucks. Instead, it’s the sort of Big Picture exercise that each of us ought to perform from time-to-time just to be sure that everything’s working the way we think it is. If you do this every year or two, you just might catch some inefficiencies that need to be corrected. I did.

I didn’t map my accounts with pictures. Instead, I described the connections with words, starting with the account that collects all of my income:

Business checking
I have a business checking account at Wells Fargo, a large traditional brick-and-mortar bank. This was not a conscious decision, and is a legacy from the origins of my former computer consulting business.

Currently, all of my income is routed through this account (because all of my income comes from the business). This checking account is used to pay all business expenses, including:

  • Books and magazines
  • Computers, cameras, etc.
  • Meals with readers and colleagues

Most of the time, these expenses are made with a business credit card, which I pay in full at the end of the month.

Personal checking
From time-to-time, I move money from the business account to my personal checking account at the local credit union. This process is not automated. (In fact, none of my infrastructure is automated right now, except for paying a couple of bills, which I’ll explain at the end.) To transfer money, I have to write a check to myself and go deposit it.

I have a second checking account at a different credit union, but I rarely use it. I opened this about a year ago because I was intrigued by the chance to earn 5% in a rewards checking account. But the nearest branch is 15 minutes from my house and out of my way. That’s a huge passive barrier to using it. I guess what I should do is just put some cash in there and see if I use it enough to qualify for the bonus interest rate.

High-yield savings
The bulk of my money sits in a high-yield online savings account at ING Direct. Actually, I have multiple accounts at ING, which I manage from a single screen.

When I have money to save, I move it from my credit union to the appropriate savings account. This is done electronically, but it’s not automated. I consider this my main pool of money because it’s where I track my progress as I save toward specific goals. I’ve never actually moved money out of an ING account yet, so I don’t know what that process is like.

Credit and debit cards
I carry four pieces of plastic, each of which has its own use.

First, I carry a personal credit card. I lived for nine years without a personal credit card because I had a history of abusing them. But when Kris and I were preparing to travel overseas, GRS readers recommended obtaining Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards cards for the trip.

Though I was wary about returning to credit, I signed up. Over the past two years, I’ve used it responsibly, always paying my bill every month, and never buying anything for which I could not pay cash. (Plus the card gives me 1% back on everything I buy!)

I also carry a debit card that is tied to my personal checking account. I use this for any purchase that I cannot (or will not) put on credit. For example, I have a rule that I won’t purchase comic books or videogames on credit, so those expenses go on my debit card.

Finally, I have two business credit cards. The first is a Visa from Wills Fargo. It offers no perks, so I try not to use it. The second is the TrueEarnings Card from Costco and American Express, which offers cash back on a variety of purchases. I try to make all of my business purchases with this card, and I really wish I could use it for personal expenses, like fueling the car.

Retirement accounts
I have two retirement accounts. My Roth IRA is through Sharebuilder. I used to make automatic monthly contributions for dollar-cost averaging. Now I make large lump-sum contributions. (And I’ve considered moving my IRA to Zecco. Can anyone speak to the differences between Zecco and Sharebuilder?)

My main retirement account right now is a Fidelity self-employed 401(k). I love this account because it lets me contribute up to 25% of my income — and I do! Plus it has a huge cap on contributions, which gives me something to aim for. As much as I love Roth IRAs, I’ve been prioritizing this account lately because it makes the most sense for my situation. I make lump-sum contributions to this, too.

Paperless automation
In my dream world, the connections between all of these accounts (and the bills they each pay) would be both automated and paperless. I’ve made some progress toward a paperless personal-finance system, but little of my infrastructure is automated at the moment. I have automated payments to a few of my bills (auto insurance, natural gas), but that’s it.

Because my finances have been in such a state of flux over the past eighteen months, it’s been impossible to automate anything else. One month my income is up; the next month my income is down. We’re making accelerated mortgage payments; then we’re refinancing. I quit the day job. I’m doing dollar-cost averaging into a Roth IRA; then I’m making lump-sum contributions to a 401(k). And so on. Things keep changing!

I can foresee a time toward the end of 2009 when things will have finally settled down. When this happens, I’ll begin to automate the connections between my accounts.

My command center
And how do I track all of this information? I have two primary weapons:

I try to sit down once every week (though lately it’s been more like once every three weeks) to scan my financial documents. I convert them to PDF, archive them online (and to my backup hard drive), and then update all of my bank accounts. I keep tabs on my accounts day-to-day, but I only update Quicken (and QuickBooks for the business) once per week.

Ideally, I would receive only electronic statements. It’s nice that I can convert my paper receipts to PDF, but I’d rather receive them that way in the first place. That’s something to aim for.

Final thoughts
Writing this out makes it seem more complicated than it really is. Things are actually fairly streamlined, with only only a few weaknesses.

  1. I have two business credit cards. Ideally, I’d have only one. However, American Express is not accepted everywhere that Visa is. This means I have to carry the extra Visa card around to cover the exceptions.
  2. I have checking accounts at two credit unions. Ideally, I’d use only one. If my main credit union offered rewards checking, this choice would be easy. It has branches conveniently located in all of my main stomping grounds.
  3. I would like to consolidate my retirement accounts with one provider. This means I’ll probably be moving my Roth IRA from Sharebuilder to Fidelity. The Fidelity self-employed 401(k) is a fantastic product, and I’m not giving it up.

And, of course, I’m eager to automate the connections between these accounts so that I don’t have to think about things. (I’d still review each account every week, of course.)

What about you? What are the key components of your financial infrastructure? Do you have accounts that you would recommend to GRS readers? Is your financial network map simple or complex? Do you have accounts that you never used? Have you automated things? Do you plan to? Do you have suggestions on how I could improve my setup?

Related Articles at Get Rich Slowly:

Read more about My Financial Infrastructure…

Monday, March 23, 2009

Obama's Pet Quest: Try a Border Terrier?

The quest for the perfect dog is imperfect by nature

Judith Lewis writes for the Los Angeles Times that while the Obama family’s quest for a family dog has yet to reach a conclusion, some new wrinkles in the search have revealed why they’re having so much difficulty. First Lady Michelle Obama revealed in an interview that they want an adult rescued Portuguese water dog that is house-trained. Not too much to ask for, eh?

But Lewis, being an animal activist, objects. Many people animal groups would love to see the Obamas adopt a pet, but in consideration of daughter Sasha’s allergies, they’ll only consider a purebred. And as Lewis puts it, “last time I checked, Portuguese water dogs weren’t turning up at the pound with any regularity.” People who keep them generally aren’t in the market for payday loans, either.

Avoid puppy mills

Most of the pure-bred dogs in shelters tend to come from backyard breeders or puppy mills. The constant inbreeding for desirable characteristics opens the door for harmful mutation, particularly the inability to breathe properly. Responsible breeders, says Lewis, don’t put their dogs up for rescue; they “re-home” them. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Obama's Pet Quest: Try a Border Terrier?"

What Does Fiscal Stimulus Mean?

This is a guest post from Manshu, author of OneMint.com who started writing articles when he was majoring in finance.

With the economy reeling under a recession, the word that you read quite frequently is stimulus. But what is it? First, let's explore a few terminologies: recession, GDP, consumption among others.

A recession is characterized by the contraction of a country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP sums up the total economic activity that happens within a country and is the sum of the following things:

GDP = Consumption + Government Spending + Investments + Net Exports (Exports – Imports)

Consumption refers to the money spent by private households and businesses on the things that they consume. As you can well imagine, consumption shrinks considerably during recessionary times.

Why you may ask? The number of times you go to a restaurant reduces and so does the number to the grocery store visits. As a result, the income of the grocery store and restaurant goes down too. When that happens, they lay off their employees and those employees further reduce spending. Because of this, businesses are discouraged from expanding and going out on new ventures and the investments in the above equation goes down as well.

Economists call this the fall in Aggregate Demand.

In order to stem this fall, the government launches a spending program to boost the aggregate demand and stimulate spending and economic activity. This is known as a Fiscal Stimulus.
There are various ways in which a fiscal stimulus can be administered but there is no solution that can fit all situations.

The two main ways of providing fiscal stimulus are:

  1. Tax Cuts: By cutting taxes, the government allows people to keep more in their pockets and ultimately spend more. This increases Consumption in the above equation.
  2. Government Spending: Direct government spending in infrastructure, social welfare or other such things increases the Government Spending in the above equation and helps boost the GDP.

When there's talk about fiscal stimulus, you will sometimes hear people talk about the multiplier effect. What this basically means is for the effect (in dollar terms) of the economy with every dollar that the government spends. Hopefully, this is more than 1 (ie, the economy grows by $1.50 for every $1 that the government spends). There are currently debates on what the multiplier truly is right now and whether it even exists.

There's also debates on whether tax cuts or government spending programs are better for the economy and I think that this debate is largely unresolved as there is no clear indication that one is always better than the other. What do you think? Do you favor tax cuts or would you rather have the government put more programs in places that they deem of need?

Related Articles at Personal Finance Blog by Money Ning:

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Hey Bloggers!

Just wanted to give a shout out to the blogging community! I hope everyone finds my blogs useful and entertaining and I look forward to reading your blogs as well!

8 (or More) Ways to Benefit From the ARRA

Our financial crisis is being combated on many sides, with a seemingly endless series of opportunities for people facing serious hardships. I thought it would be helpful to summarize all the options created as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and give you just the facts that you need in order to consider pursuing one or more of them.

1. Mortgage Refinancing and Modification

You may be having trouble making mortgage payments (either your rate went up significantly, or your income decreased, or maybe both), or you’ve been paying your mortgage on time but your home value has decreased, so you can’t take advantage of lower interest rates. Help is available for both groups.

Visit MakingHomeAffordable.gov, and find out if you are eligible.

Also worth pointing out on that site is the special Beware of Scams page. The idea of losing your home is one of the more frightening ones I can think of. People may not always make sound decisions.

Earlier coverage of this from Consumerism Commentary

2. Tax Reduction for 95% of Working Americans

You don’t have to take any action to benefit from this. You’ll either notice your regular paycheck increasing, or you won’t.

Earlier coverage of this from Consumerism Commentary

3. $250 for SSI or Social Security Recipients

There’s a one-time payment of $250 that should be made by the end of May 2009 for people on Social Security, a veteran with a pension, or people with disabilities. You don’t have to do anything special to receive this, either. More information at Social Security Online.

4. Tax Credits for Making Energy Efficiency Improvements

The Low Impact Living blog has a great summary of the different ways you can save in 2009 by making specific “green” improvements. I’m seriously considering a few of these.

5. Over $15 Billion for Medicaid

I don’t know much about Medicaid, except that many people rely on it, and if you were worried that you wouldn’t be covered, there’s a good chance you will be, now. Read the Press Release at the White House.

6. Tax Credits for Buying a House

There was a tax credit for buying a house last year, and there’s a tax credit for this year. They have different rules and Flexo did a great job explaining both, and how to act on either one.

7. Tax Deduction for Buying a Car

Trucks are included, too. If your income isn’t too high (taxable income of $125,000 / year or $250k for couples filing jointly), you can deduct the sales tax on a new vehicle. Read more (especially the first comment) at the Sound Money Matters blog.

8. More Money for Students

An additional $17.1 billion in Pell Grants means an increase of a maximum Pell award from $4,850 to $5,350. There’s also an additional $200 million for work study programs. Quite a lot more information at the U.S. Department of Education Web site.

More details about this, additional credits and 529 plans can be found at the Online Education Blog.


Whether you think the ARRA is a good idea or not, it’d be foolish not to take advantage of the opportunities that make sense for you and/or your family. Mostly, though, I hope the growth of our various tent cities slows down really soon.

Related Articles at Consumerism Commentary: A Personal Finance Blog Since 2003:

Read more of 8 (or More) Ways to Benefit From the ARRA…

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Get or keep a job: your reputation is your most important asset

It only takes a micro-second to ruin your reputation

It is wrong to believe that it is only celebrities and high-profile people who have to worry about their reputations. The reality is that a dent in your reputation could mean a threat to your survival in today's tough workplace. It may take years of hard work to build your reputation and become known for excellent service or performance, and then the whole thing can slide down the tubes in an instant if you are not alert.

Treat your reputation as though it is your most important asset

To have to do major repairs and restore the faith of the aggrieved party requires great effort and persuasion. In certain cases, depending on the seriousness of the offence, it may prove impossible.

Building your good reputation

No matter how good, honest or full of integrity you are in your career, accusations of misconduct or mistakes will come your way, particularly if you’re ambitious. When they do, you can’t sit back and do nothing.

A good reputation is earned by establishing a track record that can be confirmed by a number of people; that is why prospective employers go to the trouble of checking resumes for accurateness and ask for references.

Things that affect your reputation include:

  • reliability,
  • punctuality,
  • honesty,
  • ethics,
  • people skills or the ability to relate well with co-workers and clients,
  • quality of work delivered,
  • general attitude to work and level of performance,
  • willingness to go the extra mile and
  • dealing with stress.

Good qualifications and good experience count, but if you can’t get along with colleagues or adhere to set deadlines, you won’t get the work you seek or the promotions you’re aiming for. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Get or keep a job: your reputation is your most important asset"

HR 1586 Would Tax Bailed-Out Companies' Bonuses

Need a bailout? No bonus!

aigA new bill, HR 1586, has been introduced in the wake of the AIG bonus calamity. HR 1586 would slap a 90 percent tax on bonuses given to employees at companies that get large amounts of bailout money.

Democrats love it. Republicans hate it.

Moving on

OK, not all Republicans hate it. The House passed the bill today, and 85 of the “yes” votes were Republicans. The other 87 Republicans voted no. The bill now goes to the Senate. Executives at AIG who already received bonuses would have to pay the tax if it passes.

The House expedited the bill in response to the public outcry over the cash advances AIG executives got in the form of bonuses.

AIG rundown

AIG, the insurance giant who has thrice been bailed out by the government, handed out $165 million in bonuses to executives this year. The company called them “retention bonuses.” AIG has gotten $180 billion in bailout funds, which are paid for by taxpayers.

Partisan issue

Republican Minority Leader John Boehner was critical of the bill, saying it was just a political ploy to gain favor with the public.

"It's nothing more than an effort to cover somebody's rear end because of the political damage that's out there," Boehner said.

Senate business

The Senate is drafting a slightly different version of the bill, and it is scheduled to be released today. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl expressed concern about the constitutionality of the House bill. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "HR 1586 Would Tax Bailed-Out Companies' Bonuses"

Payday Loans when you Need Money Urgently

Payday loans – online loans with instant cash supplyUK Instant Online Payday Loan

The life of the human being is ruled by a significant key factor, i.e. uncertainty. Most people cannot fulfill all their needs with the insufficient resources and limited supply of income or savings that they have. If you need cash immediately and you obtain it after a few days, the money may be of no use for you. What if the cash requirement is needed desperately now? Because of this uncertainty factor by so many people in the UK & U.S., the emergence of instant online payday loans resulted.

Money: Time is Crucial

The objective of instant online payday loans is to meet the requirements of the UK & U.S. based borrowers in an instant manner. Time is the main factor that decides the value of the product. Similarly, the value of money is also measured in terms of time. At some point in everyone’s life, financial assistance is needed. Get cash quickly and easily, without any trouble with instant online payday loans. If you wish to alleviate your financial burden with the help of effective financial support, instant online payday loans can prove to be a significant financial tool.

Online lenders of payday loans are the rescuers for those who are tight with urgent financial expenses and are unable to find their way through traditional loans. Instant online payday loans provide absolute freedom to the borrowers to use the borrowed amount for any of their personal purposes and facilitate a hassle free lending procedure. The loan is attainable by a simple application process and after approval, one can obtain his loan almost instantly. ... click here to read the rest of the article titled "Payday Loans when you Need Money Urgently"