Entries Tagged as 'Finance'

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.

STOP • THINK • CLICK

I’ve mentioned the Internet Crime Complain Centerbefore, but the US Government also sponsors OnGuard Online with the slogan

STOP • THINK • CLICK

While most savvy internet users should be aware of most everything on the site, there’s no harm in taking a minute out and visiting it to see if there’s any suggestions that might make your online experience safer.  You may also want to recommend that your bank, credit union, and credit card company link to them.

Originally posted 2009-01-07 12:00:50.

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.

Tax on the super rich.

There is a good read in The Fiscal Times, an article by Bruce Bartlett that looks at the argument over Warren Buffet’s statement about raising taxes on the super rich.

It’s a one-dimensional argument; but it does bring into question the pillar of the argument has been used to support lowering the tax rate on the super rich.

One thing I will note before sending you off to read this — it’s not the tax rate so much we should be thinking of, but the effective tax rate.  When large corporations and wealthy individuals pay their taxes they often take advantage of numerous deductions that ordinary people cannot (so called loop-holes)… so their effective tax rate ends up being near zero.

I personally think that a tiered flat tax (with no deductions/exemptions), or a value added tax (assessed at each point a good or service is transferred) are the better solutions to creating a tax system that is far less expensive to implement/enforce, and much fairer overall to everyone.

If the current system is kept, not only do the tax brackets need to be changed (as well as the way they work), but the entire tax code needs to be overhauled to remove the loop-holes (and simplify it).

Buffet May Be Right, but the Top Tax Rate is Wrong by Bruce Bartlett, The Fiscal Times

Originally posted 2011-08-20 02:00:28.

The Nightmare Continues…

With the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continuing to drain tax coffers, the first quarter 2010 reported a substantial increase in home owners who missed at least one mortgage payment.

Below are three articles by The Associated Press (with complete links to NPR).


Mortgage Delinquencies, Foreclosures Break Records
by The Associated Press

The number of homeowners who missed at least one mortgage payment surged to a record in the first quarter of the year, a sign that the foreclosure crisis is far from over.

More than 10 percent of homeowners had missed at least one mortgage payment in the January-March period, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. That number was up from 9.5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year and 9.1 percent a year earlier.

Those figures are adjusted for seasonal factors. For example, heating bills and holiday expenses tend to push up mortgage delinquencies near the end of the year. Many of those borrowers become current on their loans again by spring.

Without adjusting for seasonal factors, the delinquency numbers dropped, as they normally do from the winter to spring.

More than 4.6 percent of homeowners were in foreclosure, also a record. But that number, which is not adjusted for seasonal factors, was up only slightly from the end of last year.

Stocks slid Wednesday as investors remain concerned with the European debt crisis. The rising number of mortgages also drew some attention. The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 160 points in early trading.

Jay Brinkmann, the trade group’s chief economist, said the foreclosure crisis appears to have stabilized. Seasonal adjustments may be exaggerating the change from the previous quarter, he added.

“I don’t see signs now that it’s getting worse, but it’s going to take a while,” he said. “A bad situation that’s not getting worse is still bad.”

The number of American homeowners who have missed at least three months of payments or are in foreclosure has surged to around 4.3 million, Brinkmann estimated.

The Obama administration’s $75 billion foreclosure prevention program has barely dented the problem. More than 299,000 homeowners had received permanent loan modifications as of last month. That’s about 25 percent of the 1.2 million who started the program since its March 2009 launch.

About 277,000 homeowners, or 23 percent of those enrolled, have dropped out during a trial phase that lasts at least three months.

Economic woes, such as unemployment or reduced income, are the main catalysts for foreclosures this year. Initially, lax lending standards were the culprit. But homeowners with good credit who took out conventional, fixed-rate loans are now the fastest growing group of foreclosures.

Those borrowers made up nearly 37 percent of new foreclosures in the first quarter of the year, up from 29 percent a year earlier.

The risky subprime adjustable-rate loans that kicked off the foreclosure crisis are making up a smaller share of new foreclosures. They made up 14 percent of new foreclosures in the January-March period, down from 27 percent a year earlier.


Fannie Mae Seeks $8.4B From U.S. After $13B Loss
by The Associated Press

Fannie Mae has again asked taxpayers for more money after reporting a first-quarter loss of more than $13 billion.

The mortgage finance company, which was rescued by the government in September 2008, said it needs an additional $8.4 billion from the government to help cover mounting losses.

Fannie Mae says it lost $13.1 billion, or $2.29 per share, in the January-March period. That takes into account $1.5 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department. It compares with a loss of $23.2 billion, or $4.09 a share, in the year-ago period.

The rescue of Fannie Mae and sister company Freddie Mac is turning out to be one of the most expensive aftereffects of the financial meltdown. The new request for aid will bring Fannie Mae’s total to $83.6 billion. The total bill for the duo will now be nearly $145 billion.

Late last year, the Obama administration pledged to cover unlimited losses through 2012 for Freddie and Fannie, lifting an earlier cap of $400 billion.

Fannie and Freddie play a vital role in the mortgage market by purchasing mortgages from lenders and selling them to investors. Together the pair own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That’s about half of all mortgages.

The two companies, however, loosened their lending standards for borrowers during the real estate boom and are reeling from the consequences.

With the housing market still on shaky ground, Obama administration officials say it is still too early to draft any proposals to reform the two companies or the broader housing finance system.

But Republicans argue the sweeping financial overhaul currently before Congress is incomplete without a plan for Fannie and Freddie. They propose transforming Fannie and Freddie into private companies with no government subsidies, or shutting them down completely.

The legislation “touches nearly every corner of the economy,” Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said in the GOP weekly radio and Internet address over the weekend. “But these major contributors to the crisis are left unscathed,” he added, singling out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.


Freddie Mac Seeks $10.6B In Aid After 1Q Loss
by The Associated Press

Freddie Mac is asking for $10.6 billion in additional federal aid after posting a big loss in the first three months of the year. It’s another sign that the taxpayer bill for stabilizing the housing market will keep mounting.

The McLean, Va.-based mortgage finance company has been effectively owned by the government after nearly collapsing in September 2008. The new request will bring the total tab for rescuing Freddie Mac to $61.3 billion.

Freddie Mac said Wednesday it lost $8 billion, or $2.45 a share, in the January-March period. That takes into account $1.3 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department. It compares with a loss of $10.4 billion, or $3.18 a share, in the first quarter last year.

The company, however, cautioned that new accounting standards make it difficult to compare the most recent quarter with the year-ago period. In the first quarter of this year, Freddie Mac was forced to bring $1.5 trillion in assets and liabilities onto its balance sheet, causing the company’s net worth to plunge by $11.7 billion.

Nevertheless, the company’s CEO Charles Haldeman said, “We are seeing some signs of stabilization in the housing market, including house prices and sales in some key geographic areas.”

He cautioned, though, that the housing market “remains fragile with historically high delinquency and foreclosure levels, and high unemployment among the key risks.”

Created by Congress, Freddie Mac and sibling company Fannie Mae buy mortgages from lenders and package them into bonds that are resold to global investors. As the housing bubble burst, they were unable to raise enough money to stay afloat, and the government effectively nationalized them.

Freddie’s new request will bring the total taxpayer tab for both companies to about $126 billion.

With the housing market still on shaky ground, Obama administration officials argue that it is still too early to draft any proposals to reform the two companies or the broader housing finance system.

But Republicans argue that the sweeping financial overhaul currently before Congress is incomplete without a plan for Fannie and Freddie. Senate Republicans propose transforming Fannie and Freddie into private companies with no government subsidies, or to shut them down completely.


The deficit was $1.2 – $1.3 trillion when Obama took the reigns; some projections put it to be as high as $10 trillion in 2020… and while I’m not a fan of Obama, much of that was set in motion before he tripped over his own feet.

Originally posted 2010-05-20 02:00:51.

Boeing

I’ve seen a number of initiatives from Boeing that are targeted at trying to get a US DOD contract for supplying tankers to the US Air Force.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Boeing as a potential supplier for tankers (though I would like everyone to review why we need to build tankers period); but Boeing seems to be forgetting that with government contracts, it’s the lowest bidder who wins.

Boeing talks about American jobs, know-how, unfair competition from Air Bus (well, Boeing probably thinks any competition is unfair)… but they don’t highlight the fact that they simply aren’t competitive.

Welfare capitalism to large is just another form of socialism — and part of the “trickle down” philosophy (the question is how much get’s skimmed of with huge executive bonuses and how much really does trickle down).

We need to think global; and keep moving forward to creating a global economy and global society rather than trying to make sure the grass in our own yard stays the greenest (of course we can talk about this on a state-by-state basis just as easily as a nation-by-nation basis).

I say, the the low bidder win; and let’s make sure that the defense budget is treated with the same scrutiny and cuts that other budgets are — waste is waste, and “saving” our troops (who were put in danger by a lie by George W) just isn’t a reasonable excuse to keep spending on destruction.

Originally posted 2010-04-29 02:00:45.

All the news fit to print…

Hmm… maybe that should be all the bs that can be gotten away with!

When you read news articles or when people relay to you “facts” be sure and do your homework; read accounts of the same events on multiple un-related sources.  In fact it’s often good to get a perspective from an international source.

Take a look at any of the facts, figures, and claims — try and verify those against an authoritative source.

If the information reported is important to you; check to see if any of the “facts” it’s based on, or claims it makes are updated over time.

Most journalists report the news impartially from their perspective; but it is from their perspective.  Many journalists and news organization like to sensationalize the news or majorly spin it to suit their agenda.

Question everything.

Originally posted 2009-02-12 01:00:46.

Check Cards

If you have a bank issued “check card” — that’s an ATM card that bears a VISA of Master Card logo merchants will always try and get you to authorize a PINned transaction, DON’T DO IT.

Why?

There are several reasons not to perform PINned transactions…

  • When you do a transaction with a PIN, you’re allowing the merchant to immediately remove money from your bank account.  They likely use a transaction network to do this, but there aren’t as many safe guards or controls on that network as their are a credit card authorization network.
  • When you do a transaction with a PIN, you’re not protected by VISA or Master Cards ZERO LIABILITY guarantee, you’re subject to the rules imposed by the merchant, processing network, bank, state, and federal laws.  If you’re defrauded you might find it’s a long and tedious process to get your money back, and you might find that your bank freezes assets in your account until the matter is resolved.
  • When you do a transaction with a PIN the money is immediately removed from your account (and sometimes immediate means instantly — but certainly within 24-hours, often even on non-banking days); however, when you go through the credit card processing system you’ll see at least an extra day, and generally those transactions are only posted on banking days.
  • When you do a transaction with a PIN your PIN could be intercepted (either electronically of through surveillance) and put you at risk of fraud (which may be hard to prove it’s fraud).

If your bank doesn’t offer VISA or Master Card logo’d check cards, change banks.

If you have access to a small local bank, or better yet, credit union open an account there (after making sure they have VISA or Master Card logo’d check cards and offer totally free services).

It’s your money, make the most of it… and protect it.  As the economy get’s worse and worse we’re going to see more and more “clever” schemes to try and take your hard earned money; start fighting back now.

And remember, if you are a victim, immediately contact your financial institution and any merchant you believe may be responsible via telephone and follow it up in a letter sent via the United States Postal Service (referring to the phone call) to preserve your rights.  You may also want to send an email (possibly using a DEA — disposable email address) as well; but you must send a letter via USPS!

Check cards are also called ATM Debit Cards or ATM Cards, the important thing is that you can use them as a credit card by signing the transaction form (they will have a VISA or Master Card logo).

It’s fine to use those cards at your bank’s ATM as long as you take reasonable precautions.

While using a check card through the VISA or Master Card network is preferable to a PINned transaction, if you can get a credit card, and can use it responsibly you’re even better off to use a real VISA or Master Card and simply pay the balance off every month (transfer the money from your checking account weekly if you need to, and track the expenses on your credit card as you would transactions from your checking account, your bank can probably provide you with online access to your credit card to help you — if they don’t find another credit card issuer).

NOTE:

I haven’t gotten confirmation yet, but it appears Lowes is responsible for leak of bank card numbers and PINs that are currently being used to defraud consumers.  If you have performed a PINned transaction at Lowes within the last several weeks call your bank and have your bank card terminated and re-issued with a different number (tell them you lost it).

Originally posted 2008-12-12 12:00:04.

The Eve…

It is the eve of a new year.

It would be interesting to know who future historians will characterize the first decade of this millennium; and what they will have to say about the causes of our plights.

Today; however, we don’t have the advantage of hind sight on today — nor can we really have good perspective on the recent events that have gotten us to where we are.

Each generation looks to it’s time as a decay of what was, and longs for the “good ol’ days”… and for us it’s hard to imagine that these will be the “good ol’ days” of another generation — and much as we lament about today with dwell on fond remembrances of our past so will our children’s children.

Well, that is if the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an on coming train.

Originally posted 2009-12-31 01:00:25.

Microsoft Office Accounting

Microsoft has release the 2009 update of their accounting software, including the free Office Accounting Express 2009 (U.S. version) of the software.

The Express 2008 version worked very well, in fact I migrated from an older version of Quick Books (which I refused to pay the ridiculous upgrade fees for) to it, and was quite happy.

The only negative thing about 2008 was the templates for invoices were a little “un-professional” looking; but in their defense it was easy (provided you have Office installed) to create a template which resembled my old Quick Books invoices.

I definitely recommend you take a look at Microsoft Office Accounting, the Express version is one of the few instances of getting what you pay for!

Originally posted 2008-11-22 00:00:45.