Entries Tagged as 'Finance'

Credit Card Game

So you’re looking to add another credit card to your wallet… here’s a few options and things to consider ad you play the credit card game and get the financial institutions to pay you.

Discover — promo offer, spend $500 and get $50 cash back; but you’ll only get 0.25% cash back in the first tier (but they do have on going special categories, and the cash back percentage goes up as you spend more; but certainly their are better options).

Walmart Discover — promo offer will give you $20 cash back if you spend $100 on it the day you apply at a Walmart store (you get a check with your first statement).  Keep in mind that the Walmart Discover isn’t actually issued by Discover Financial Service, but rather by GE Money Bank (so it has to be managed through the Walmart portal, not Discover; and it doesn’t have many of the features of a regular Discover card).

NOTE: Discover branded card allow you to get cash back at a Walmart or Sam’s Club (which is charged as a purchase, not cash advance).

Citi Diamond Preferred MC (or AMEX) — promo “5% bonus” on gas, drugstores, and supermarkets for the first year; if you spend $300 in the first three months you get a $50 gift card; 1% normally — virtual credit card numbers

Citi Dividend MC — “bonus” categories change; 1% minimum ($300 max rebate per year) — virtual credit card numbers.

Chase Freedom VISA — promo 5% on gas and travel right now, the “bonus” categories change; 1% minimum.

CapitalOne Platinum VISA — 2% on gas and groceries, 1% minimum — low rent bank; but pay your bills and you will be fine.

Costco AMEX — 3% gas and dining; 2% travel, 1% minimum (requires paid Costco membership; $3000 purchase limit on 3% gas, 1% afterwards).

Most all the cash back cards now don’t offer good cash back rates for long (you have to play the promo game)… one way to avoid that is get a “branded” card at a place you do lots of business (like if you bought Shell gas most of the time get the Shell VISA — but it only works if there’s a card from place you do a lot of business and it pays say 5% there and 1% elsewhere; Chase has lots of those types of cards).

My feeling is the right number of credit cards is THREE

  • VISA
  • Master Card
  • Discover

You can argue four if you like AMEX — and that would probably be either the Costco or Citi AMEX for the best deal.

I would say acquire a credit card no more often than every three months until you’re at the level you want… if you find a card you like better than one you have — acquire it and just don’t use the other card (you can close it as well, but that really doesn’t buy you anything). DO NOT apply for more than a single credit card per month; and be careful about opening a bank account AND applying for a credit card in the same thirty day window (do the credit card first).

NOTE: Use credit cards responsibly.  If you can’t afford to pay the balance off every month — don’t make the purchase.  While many people keep revolving balances on credit cards, the interest rate (even a good interest rate for a credit card) makes the cost of what you’re purchasing ridiculous.  If you feel you won’t use a credit card responsibly — look for a financial institution that offers rewards on their debit card.

If I were applying for a new card right now it would probably be the Citi Diamond Preferred; and I’m considering applying for a Citi Diamond once the Chase 5% gas deal is over.

NOTE: I have a Discover, Walmart Discover, Citi Dividend, and Chase Freedom (along with others that I have not included on the this list).  I do not have (nor do I want) any AMEX card; nor do I personally want to do business with CapitolOne.

Originally posted 2010-07-23 02:00:19.

Hidden Evil

Many of my friends and I have engaged in intellectual discussions about the evils of society and what most needs to be fixed.

Views of what’s evil, though, largely depend on your perspective — social liberals might call something evil that a fiscal conservative feels is simply just; and vice-versa.

If you’re a conspiracy buff you’ll enjoy reading through the TheHiddenEvil.com.  Volume I contains a number of factoids, and draws interesting conclusions (I’m certainly not going to say I agree with any or all of them).  Volume II builds on Volume I to make some fairly remarkable assertions — of maybe they’re just hard to believe (or hard to read without a giggle or two at least).

With disinformation an accepted practice of government, organized religion, and business it’s always hard to say definitively what is true and what is a shade of gray.

Originally posted 2010-01-22 02:00:23.

The Tax Man!

It’s tax day, the deadline to file Federal (and State) Income Tax returns in the United States…

My vote is that we do away with income tax entirely; implement a “wealth” tax and a VAT.

Simplify the tax laws!

Originally posted 2009-04-15 12:00:45.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers

Virtual credit card numbers are numbers that you generate (through your credit card issuer) to use for purchases on line.

Most of the companies that support these allow you to set time and amount limits for charges against the cards, and allow you to terminate the card at will (you cannot prevent a charge that has already been authorized, but you can prevent any future charge).

These financial institutions support virtual cards:

  • Bank of America (acquired from MBNA)
  • Citi Bank
  • Discover

These financial institutions do not support virtual cards:

  • Chase
  • Most credit union issued cards

Citi Bank and Bank of America have very similar systems; the each allow you to set limits and the card immediately binds to the merchant who first authorizes a charge against the number (no other merchant can use the number, which can create issues on PayPal, Yahoo Shops, Google Checkout, and Price Grabber to name a few — the solution is create a new card each time you want to buy something on those sites and destroy the old one).

Citi Bank and Discover have an applet you can download to your PC which will create numbers and auto-fill web forms.

Virtual credit cards give you a great deal of control over your finances, you set the limits of who much a vendor can charge and for how long they can access your credit card account.  While your liability is always limited (zero liability with VISA, Mastercard, and Discover) virtual cards help you avoid hassles.

When you say NO MORE, you end it… you can’t be caught by surprise by horrendous shipping and handling charges, you can’t be over-billed… and you don’t have to worry about recurring charges.

I use virtual card numbers to pay my utilities (electric, water, gas, cable, telephone, cellular); tolls (FastTrak); purchases on line; basically any time I give someone a credit card number via phone, mail, or internet… and I encourage you to do the same.

For one time purchases, terminate the card immediately after the charge is authorized, and THAT IS THAT… for recurring charges, re-authorize the new amount a little before the charge, or go ahead and setup for a year at a time (you can always terminate the card before an authorization).

Originally posted 2008-08-07 20:35:05.

eBay Master Card

GE Money Bank provides the private labeled eBay Master Card and they’ve been running promotions here of late to give you a fairly substantial cash back bonus (generally up to $25.00) on your eBay purchases (applied as a statement credit, instantly).

This might be a good choice if you have an eBay purchase in mind — but there are many better cash back credit cards out there.

For general purpose use the Pentagon Federal Credit Union VISA card is one the the sweetest.

For private label cards, the Chase Amazon.com VISA offers a $30 instant bonus and 6% cash back for the first 90 days; the Chase Buy.com VISA offers a $40 instant bonus; the GE Money Bank Sam’s Club Discover offers a $40 instant bonus; and the GE Money Bank Walmart Discover offers a $10 instant bonus (plus additional $10 bonuses for using the card at places other than Walmat and Sam’s Club).

You can certainly put a little money back in your pocket by playing the credit card game — of course you have to be careful that you understand the rules for getting the cash back (and make sure you follow them).

A couple things to keep in mind.

GE Money Bank is a major credit card issuer — but they are a very low rent credit card company; and you certainly will not be treated like a “valued” customer or even a customer that has a choice.  Both Chase and Citibank are far better large credit card companies to do business with — and Pentagon Federal Credit Union has out of this world customer service and does value your business.

Your credit score can be negatively impacted by applying for a large number of credit cards in a short period of time (regardless of whether or not you are approved, the credit inquiries may lower your FICO score).  To protect yourself, and insure that you get the best credit offers, don’t apply for more than two credit cards in any one month — and try not to apply for more than four in any consecutive three month period.

Originally posted 2010-10-07 02:00:44.

Economic Stimulus

It amazes me how the United States Government can make simple things so complicated… and that it always seems that laws to benefit the greater good cannot be passed without benefiting special interests.

I say this is a very simple thing to handle.

The House and Senate need to approve an appropriation bill which allocates a given amount of money to an economic stimulus effort.  With that they can define the types of spending (broadly) that are acceptable.  Further, they can designate that government entities (federal, state, local, etc) can submit a request to a panel composed of four Representatives (two Republican, two Democrat), two Senators (one Republican, one Democrat), and the Vice President to review and approve.

Further, they could specify that each and very request must be for a single project; well specified with goals and measurable objectives.  That each and every proposal submitted must be acted on within ninety days, and that all actions and meeting of the committee must be open to the public (and news media, complete with cameras and microphones).

Congress could allocate more funding to the program as needed, or elect to stop funding it at any point in the future (but couldn’t pull back funds once granted).

Additional there should be a requirement on any entity that receives funds that they will abide by the letter of Federal law in allocating work which is wholly or partially paid for by the funds, and that any failure to use the funds as specified will require repayment with interest.

Look here, in a few hundred words I’ve outlined a framework that is totally transparent, highly adaptable, and fully accountable…

The whole problem is that we’ve changed nothing in Washington.  While I believe that Barrack Obama wants to change the way government governs, most of the individuals in Washington only wish to benefit themselves.

We gave Barrack Obama an overwhelming charter to change America for the better, and if each and everyone of us doesn’t stand up now and tell our Representatives and Senators that they are either part of the solution, or they are part of the problem and will be dealt with severely.

One thing is for sure, things will change — we will either choose to make the changes, or the changes will be the result of social and economic upheaval.  But if we’re going to have the choice, it has to be soon.

Originally posted 2009-02-08 01:00:01.

The solution to illegal immigration

Wow, it looks like the GOP really knew what they were doing by driving the economy into the toilet.

I guess the GOP realized that they weren’t really getting any traction on protecting American jobs from illegal immigrants through circumventing the law and harassment, so they just decided to make the economy in the United States worse than most every where else in the world…

…and it’s working!

Reports from the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that the number of illegal immigrants entering this country per year has been steadily dropping since 2007.

Maybe this is why the Republican’s have seemingly resisted all the efforts to get the economy back on track.

Region 2009 2008 Change
South Atlantic 1,950 2,550 -600
Florida 675 1,050 -375
Others combined 1,050 1,200 -160
Mountain 1,000 1,200 -160
Nevada 180 230 -50
AZ-CO-UT 700 825 -130

Source: Pew Hispanic Center

The South Atlantic consists of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The Mountain region consists of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Originally posted 2010-09-03 02:00:34.

Spending chill…

Obama may propose a discretionary spending freeze for three years.

Hopefully he’ll fully define what discretionary means; I remember the budget surplus (you know, “extra” money when the country had a trillion dollar debt) so I don’t make any assumptions what politicians in Washington mean by any term that they don’t have a clear track record using.

Of course, he’s already exempted the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs (sound like he’s playing to the political right) from the freezes.

I think it’s great to implement “new” ideas to reign in government spending — of course I’d like to see some the “old” ideas (you know — those campaign promises Obama made that got him elected) implemented.

In the back of my mind I see this a yet another failure looming for the Obama presidency.

Originally posted 2010-01-25 20:00:46.

Credit Card Payments

For years I’ve used bill payment services to manage my finances; you log on when you get your bills (or once a week or so) and schedule the payment to arrive a few days before it’s due (you don’t want to cut it too close).

The exception to my using bill payment has been vendors that accept credit cards — I’d much rather pay them direct using a virtual credit card number and get the points; and most of them don’t allow you to schedule the payment, you have to do it now (which is why we have calendar alerts).

So in general what happens is I end up only paying my credit cards with bill pay…

Well, a screw up by one of the bill pay services I used forced me to make a CitiCards payment using their on line system.  I was a little more than annoyed, but I discovered something.  CitiBank immediately posted my payment, and of course the money didn’t disappear from my account for three days — the exact reverse of what happens with bill payment!

Chase just sent me a “special offer” of 500 bonus points to enroll my Amazon VISA in their payment program… so I did.  They didn’t require that I use it, just enroll a bank account (and of course, they already have all the bank account information anyway, and large credit card companies are probably okay to trust with a little more financial information).

I haven’t decided if I will use their payment services or not, but I’m thinking that I can keep the money in my account longer, and get an immediate confirmation for credit card payment (never having to deal with any of the unfortunate incidents that can occur when your bill payment service screws up and tell you you’ll have to resolve it).

Anyway, the bottom line is using your credit card company’s payment system may actually make your life easier, and will definitely allow you to keep your money longer.

 

__________

 

I’ve used this for a couple months now with Citibank, and I just started paying my Chase bill this way.  It’s great, when the statement comes in and I reconcile it against my records I just go ahead and schedule the payment for the business day before it’s due (you could push it until the day it’s due).  Then it just happens; you card is paid instantly on the date you specify and the money is removed from your cash account (savings, checking, or money market) several days later.  If it’s like my Chase due date, you actually can get a few extra pennies interest since it pushed the date the money is deducted from my account until after the monthly close (and with many credit cards you can select the closing date, so you can always pay before the end of the month and still get the benefits for it).

Originally posted 2008-05-23 15:45:18.

Discover Discover

Last week I called up Discover Financial Services to get an answer to a question I had about my Discover Card.

I’ve long considered Discover as a tertiary provider of card services; their card is not as widely accepted, and (until recently) their rewards program has been weak in comparison to others.

While all that may still be true, one of the most important qualities to appraise any service by is the quality of their customer service.

The only thing I can say is, I was floored.

The woman who assisted me was possibly the best customer service agent I’ve ever spoken with.  Her voice was soft and even toned and crystal clear.  She certainly made me feel like she was concerned that I be satisfied, and her knowledge and understanding of Discover made it a relatively easy task for her to shine.

This call caused me to reflect back on Discover as a whole, and I realized that I’ve never had a bad experience with Discover customer service.  While I won’t try and tell you that every call to Discover has been at this level, none have ever required that I ask for a supervisor.

I also realized that even the way that Discover has you identify your account is designed to make it easy for a customer (consider the credit card companies that have you key in a sixteen digit number, time out if you take too long, and rarely get the number right on the first [or third] time and then ask you for the number again when you finally end up talking to someone).

A Discover Card might not be the right fit for everyone; but take a look at their financial services, and if they look like a good fit, I encourage you to give them a test drive — you might like the experience; and as Discover grows we can only hope that other financial service companies feel the pressure to provide consumers with reasonable customer service.

Discover

http://www.discovercard.com/

NOTE: Discover Cards are issued by Discover Financial Services, GE Consumer Finance (aka GE Money Bank, ie Walmart and Sam’s Club), HSBC, and Green Dot Corporation (pre-paid) — as with VISA and Master Card the issuing financial institution is responsible for servicing the account, so your customer service experience will likely differ with a non Discover Financial Services issued card.

Originally posted 2010-08-08 02:00:20.