Entries Tagged as 'Finance'

New Year – Same Down Economy

Retailers started releasing fourth quarter earning reports yesterday.

There’s no surprise here — Target, the number two retailer in the US, announced on Christmas Eve that sales would not meet there expectations; and Master Card also indicated that spending (via credit card) was down.

Wal-Mart, of course, tipped everyone off that they expected a bad retail season when they started their “Black Friday” sales three weeks before Thanksgiving and most retailers followed suit with deep discounts through out the retail season.

While a bad retail season doesn’t by itself mean that the economy will continue to slump, there are certainly enough signs to that effect (personally I’m ignoring the US Department of Labor’s unemployment numbers… they simply don’t make sense, they don’t seem to reflect reality, and they are designed to be misleading).

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but the long the economy continues the slide downward the harder it will be to revive.  My instinct tells me that this downturn, like The Great Depression, will not be ended by planning and programs — but by aggression, greed, and exploitation.

Originally posted 2010-01-13 01:00:13.

April Fools Day

But this is totally serious…

Today, California’s 1% increase in sales tax goes into effect; the term of the increase won’t be known until after a ballet measure is voted on.

California, like many states, has been spending far more than it’s been taking in — and this is yet another misguided attempt by the Governor and assembly to make up the difference.

In a down economy, let’s raise the sales tax — I’m sure that will jump start retail sales and put the economy on the fast track to recovery… GET A CLUE, it’s not like most people are spending money on luxury items right now, they’re just trying to make ends meet; and those with means to buy expensive items will just purchase them out of state.

It looks to me like the best view of California is in the rear view mirror leaving!

Originally posted 2009-04-01 01:00:49.

Connect for the Cause

I’m a huge fan of credit unions; be they state or federal chartered; and I hate banks (all banks).  There’s a huge difference between what motivates a credit union and what motivates a bank, and dealing with even a bad credit union is generally much more satisfying than dealing with the best bank!

Personally I use credit unions when I can; and soak banks for their “give mes” on credit cards… I never pay a bank a penny further if they don’t pay me — I don’t make money for them, and my credit unions never charge me a penny (seems like a good arrangement to me) .

The quote below is from a web site that’s designed to keep you informed about legislation that might effect the services credit unions can provide to you; below it are two links to (California) organizations that support credit unions — while all of whats on those sites might not be important to you, certainly any of the federal changes proposed will likely effect you.

Support your credit unions in every way you can — and fight back against the greedy banks that feel you as a tax-payer (and a customer) should pay for their mistakes while they continue to pay the executive staff (who made the mistakes) huge bonuses.

Take back America… take it back from the greed that destroys the very foundation of our society!

 


As a credit union supporter, you are aware of the need for grassroots action and mobilization efforts to inform our elected officials about credit union issues. Thank you for your active support, and please visit this network frequently to stay informed about legislative issues that are important to your credit union.

Connect for the Cause

California Credit Union League

Originally posted 2009-11-28 01:00:29.

Identity Theft

Identity theft is a real problem, and credit bureaus make it all to easy for individuals who get a little bit of information about you to get your entire life’s story — and use your name (and credit) to make their life better and your life a living hell.

While there’s been improvements in legal recourse for identity theft, your best bet is to guard against it.

To make yourself a harder target, try some simple things like:

  • Elect on-line delivery of banking and credit card statements; utility bills; and anything else you can.  It’s safe, it’s good for the environment, and it reduces the likelihood of mail theft.
  • Use on-line bill payment or pay bills with your credit card; it’s safe, convenient, and it reduces the likelihood of mail theft.  Using your credit card may give you additional rights, and cash back.
  • Destroy paper items that have any personal information on them; cross-cut or confettie shreaders are the best, a fire place, or just mark it over and tear it by hand.
  • Destroy old credit cards, drivers licenses, passports, etc — make sure nothing with personal and confidential information on it goes in the trash.
  • Don’t give out your name or address to any one or on any site or on any phone call unless you know who you’re dealing with and there’s some advantage for you to do so.
  • Remove your name from mailing lists, refuse delivery of mail you didn’t request (that will cost the sender money generally and is more likely to get your name expunged from the list they use).
  • Put a “freeze” on your credit report.  Click here for info
  • Report scammers, spammers, and phishers to law enforcement. Click here for info

 

There are lots of great sites online that are free (free of advertising), and full of information… here’s one of them:

          http://www.consumersunion.org/

Originally posted 2008-11-08 08:00:50.

conglomeration

con·glom·er·a·tion (kn-glm-rshn)
n.

    1. The act or process of conglomerating.
    2. The state of being conglomerated.
  1. An accumulation of miscellaneous things.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


conglomeration [kənˌglɒməˈreɪʃən] n

  1. a conglomerate mass
  2. a mass of miscellaneous things
  3. the act of conglomerating or the state of being conglomerated

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003


conglomeration a cluster; things joined into a compact body, coil, or ball.

Examples: conglomeration of buildings, 1858; of chances; of Christian names, 1842; of men, 1866; of sounds, 1626; of threads of silk worms, 1659; of vessels, 1697; of words.

Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The SCO infringement lawsuit over the Unix trademark is over… the Supreme Court has ruled that Novell owns the Unix trademark and copyright, and SCO has no grounds for it’s litigation against.  Just as Microsoft owned and retained the Xenix copyright while SCO distributed that operating system, so Novell retained the Unix copyright while SCO distributed that operating system.

While means, Novell now has a prime asset — and could be ripe for harvesting (that’s a poetic way to say merger, take-over, buy-out).

Which will likely be bad for Linux.

WHAT?

Yep, take a look at what happened when Oracle purchased Sun (one of the largest companies supporting Open Source innovation in Linux, virtualization, etc) there’s definitely movement in Oracle to retract from the Open Source and free (free – like free beer) software efforts that Sun was firmly behind.

Consider what happens if a company acquires Novell and uses the SystemV license from Novell to market a closed source operating system, and discontinues work on Suse; or at minimum decides it doesn’t distributed Suse for free (free – like free beer).

“Live free or die” might become a fading memory.

Originally posted 2010-06-05 02:00:18.

Protecting Your Rewards

Many financial institutions that issue “cash back” or “rewards” debit cards and credit cards are in poor financial shape at the moment.

As a precaution you may want to cash in your points now in order to insure that the institutions don’t make a change to the program that greatly diminishes your value.  In addition you might want to find another financial institution that isn’t in precarious financial condition with a rewards program to use in the interim until your current institution stabilizes.

The two largest banking institutions that have liberal rewards programs that are in financial trouble are Citi Group and Bank of America.

The largest banking institution that has a liberal rewards program that isn’t in financial trouble is Chase.

Originally posted 2009-01-29 01:00:04.

Bye-bye, tax breaks?

By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer CNN
October 26, 2010: 2:05 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Who says there’s no bipartisanship? Democrats and Republicans running for Congress are finding every way possible to assure voters they will keep Americans’ taxes low forever.

But those will be hard promises to keep after the economy recovers. Tax experts almost uniformly say the next Congress should rethink the more than 200 tax breaks in the federal code that cost more than $1 trillion a year. And, yes, that includes even the really, really popular ones.

Lawmakers may be presented with the idea as early as December, when President Obama’s fiscal commission issues its report. There is a possibility the commission may recommend curtailing or eliminating some tax breaks.

Commission co-chairman Erskine Bowles has publicly expressed support for the idea. So has commission member Alice Rivlin, former White House budget director. Another member, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who coauthored a bipartisan plan for tax reform, supports curtailing some breaks but only to lower marginal tax rates in the context of broader reform.

The $1 trillion-plus in forgone revenue is close to the amount allocated for defense and discretionary spending in 2010, or the equivalent of nearly a third of the latest federal budget.

Cutting back on tax breaks can be a more efficient way to bring in revenue than raising income tax rates because it would subject more work and business income to taxation. If done right, it also promises to make the tax code fairer and simpler.

For years, leading tax experts and economists from the left and the right have contended that tax breaks are, in reality, a form of spending. The cost of tax breaks is mostly invisible, since there’s no formal accounting of them on Uncle Sam’s books. And once passed into law, they are rarely scrutinized.

“[Tax breaks] are styled as tax savings, but really function as replacements for explicit government spending. Some make sense, but a great many are poorly targeted and would never pass Congress if presented as an outright spending proposal,” tax expert Edward Kleinbard wrote in an article this summer called, “Sacred Cows: It’s Them or Us.”
Popular tax breaks: Dogfight ahead

A disproportionate amount of the lost revenue from tax breaks comes from just five of them.

Not surprisingly, those five are also among the most popular:

  • mortgage interest deduction;
  • tax-free income workers get from employers to pay for health insurance;
  • deduction for state and local taxes;
  • deduction for charitable contributions;
  • and myriad tax breaks for retirement savings.

Many of those breaks are only available to the roughly one-third of taxpayers who itemize deductions on their returns.

There have been a number of proposals over the years for how the biggest breaks might be modified.

Most recently, the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget put out a paper highlighting many possibilities that combined could raise $1.7 trillion in additional revenue over a decade.
Think you’re smart about deficits? Try this

For instance, consider the money that workers receive when their employers contribute to their health insurance costs. That subsidy is currently treated as tax-free income to the worker and is unlimited.

The subsidy could instead be converted to a credit, which is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of one’s tax bill. The credit would be phased out for higher income taxpayers and it would be refundable for low-income workers who don’t make enough income to owe any federal income tax.

“This strategy would reduce the incentive for employers to offer ‘gold-plated’ insurance plans,” the budget watchdog group wrote.

The mortgage interest deduction — currently available on up to $1.1 million of borrowing — could be gradually reduced so that it only applies to loans on up to $500,000. And the option tax filers get to deduct interest on their second homes could be eliminated.

“[Today’s] policy is regressive (providing larger tax breaks to those well off enough to purchase more expensive homes), promotes homeownership over other productive investments and costs the government roughly $100 billion a year in lost revenues,” the committee noted in its paper.

Since everyone in Congress can identify and vilify what they see as “tax breaks for special interests,” curbing tax breaks has a lot of bipartisan support. The problem, of course, is that there’s less agreement on just which tax breaks deserve the ax or at least a haircut.

And, of course, since politicians much prefer to hand out tax breaks to voters and financial backers, it may be hard for them to muster the mettle required to reverse gears.

How hard? Bowles put it plainly at the fiscal commission’s public meeting in September.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s not going to be fun, and in many cases, it’s also not going to be popular. It is going to require sacrifice on the part of all Americans to get there.”

Original Article on CNN.com

Originally posted 2010-11-06 02:00:55.

Credit or Debit

When you use your check card bearing a VISA or Master Card logo at a merchant to pay for a transaction you’re given a choice of how the point of sale transaction will be settled — and that’s generally presented to you as “credit” or “debit”.

Should you care which?

HELL YES!

Most merchants would prefer that you choose to settle the point of sale transaction as a debit; and the reason is very simple — money.  Most any merchant will make more from a debit card transaction than a credit transaction (but remember, they’ve built in the credit card charges to their pricing – so you’re not benefiting in the least).  Plus, the funds will be removed from your account almost instantly.  Also, when you choose to do a point of sale transaction as debit, you’ll have to enter your PIN (just like when you use an ATM).  While you might think having to use your PIN is far more secure, in point of fact you’re exposing sensitive information in a public setting — numerous times criminals have compromised merchant networks and obtained both customer debit card account numbers and their PINs.  Keep in mind, even if you can show that your number was used fraudulently, it will take a great deal of effort and time to get your money back — and that might just be the beginning of the nightmare.

But…

When you decide that your transaction will be settled through the VISA or Master Card network (just like a credit card would be) by hitting the “credit” button you will get all the protection that would be afforded to you had you used a credit card.  Federal law protects credit card users; but both VISA and Master Card go beyond the scope of law with their zero liability programs; and if somehow your account is compromised having funds conditionally credited back to you is a simple phone call (and perhaps notarized affidavit) away.  Sure, it might cost the merchant more money for the transaction; but it doesn’t cost you more.  Plus, while the funds to cover the transaction might be placed on hold, they will remain in your account (earning interest perhaps) for several days.  Additionally, if your financial institution has a rewards programs, generally you only earn points in it with credit transactions (that’s because your financial institution makes more money when you choose a credit transaction as well).  Finally, since the transaction settles through the VISA or Master Card network; the fraud prevention systems of VISA or Master Card, in addition to any your financial institution come into play.

Why on Earth would anyone choose to do debit card transaction (using a PIN) when a credit transaction is much, much safer for the individual, and simpler (though you can argue if you have to enter your ZIP code you’ve typed one more digit than your PIN)???

Bottom line — choose wisely; choose credit!

VISA Master Card

NOTE: For debit cards issued by non-US financial institutions; or cards not bearing the VISA or Master Card logos, please contact your issuing financial institution or consult governing laws in your jurisdiction.

Originally posted 2010-07-30 02:00:40.

This is a mistake that we will pay for for years to come!

Yes, today is Pearl Harbor day, but the title isn’t what Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto said after the attack (that was in fact, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping tiger and filled it with a great resolve”) — it’s actually what Richard Gephardt (of Missouri), then Democratic House Leader, said about the $1.6 trillion in tax cuts that then President George W Bush singed into effect after stepping into the presidency in January 2001.

Georgie and his buddies the conservatives taunted that the huge surplus amassed under the eight years of prosperity of President Bill Clinton was the result of the American government overcharging the average person in taxes.  So they concocted a tax cut (40% of which was targeted at the wealthiest 1% of Americans) which would reverse the projected $5.6 trillion surplus over the next ten years.

Well, ten years later this country is in the worst economic condition since the great depression — unemployment (even by government figures) is in double digits, and there’s really no sign of substantial improvement on the horizon and there’s a debate about renewing those tax cuts…

For the average American the tax cuts makes no difference; even for fairly wealthy Americans they don’t make much difference — it’s really only for the wealthiest of the wealthy that they tax cuts make a substantial difference; or put plainly, it benefits those who are doing fine — and in the long run may harm those who are barely hanging on.

We don’t have a budget surplus any longer (in fact, I’d argue we never had a budget surplus — we had a debt that we could have, and should have, paid down).

President Obama has proposed a tax plan that will give most Americans the same tax savings that the old Bush plan did, but it will remove the tax cuts that the richest Americans got… but I’m not sure we shouldn’t be finding a more equitable way to tax rather than continuing to convolute the tax laws so that those with wealth and power can twist the law to serve their needs.

Originally posted 2010-09-07 02:00:43.

Chase Freedom Rewards Bonus

From July 1, 2008 until September 30, 2008 Chase is offering 5% cash back on eligible travel and entertainment purchases.

So beyond the 3% cash back on certain categories they always offer; and 1% on all other purchases you can now get 5% cash back for a limited time on airline, hotels, rental cars, and fine dining when you spend more than $300 per month (that should be easy to do with any of those in the mix, particularly if it’s business expenses).

You do need to opt into this program, and if you haven’t gotten a letter from Chase inviting you, I’d say just go ahead and call 800-603-2265.

If you don’t have a Chase Freedom MasterCard or VISA, then maybe you should consider taking advantage of their services and rewards.

NOTES:

  • If you want cash back, you maximize your reward by waiting until you have $200 because you get a check for $250! Other than that some of their travel and give cards are pretty good deals if they would save you money that you would have spent otherwise.
  • Discover is apparently running a promotion as well. I’m not a Discover card holder so I don’t know the specifics of it.
  • My picks for cards are: Citi Rewards Dividend (Citibank); Chase Freedom Rewards (Chase); and Citi Cash Returns (Citibank). There are also a few other cards that give good rewards provided you do a great deal of business with particular vendors.
  • I would stay away from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Capital One — their cards generally don’t pay bonuses or use some lame bonus programs.  And while you might want a credit card from your credit union, it’s unlikely they will have a decent reward program.
  • Beyond rewards, many credit cards also provide rental car insurance, warranty extensions, lost/damage protection on items you buy, etc.  It’s always advisable to read the benefits that come with your credit card; many financial institutions off great benefits just because very few people ever bother to read the literature that comes with their cards and take advantage of the programs, so it really just makes them look good in all the comparisons and doesn’t end up costing them much at all.

As always, remember you can use credit cards to your advantage as long as you use them wisely.

Originally posted 2008-07-18 21:14:23.