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.

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.

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.

Give in the present for the future…

Help Wikipedia grow — read the appeal from Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, for US tax deductible donations to help grow Wikipedia and keep it free for ourselves and future generations.

If you want to give this holiday season, give something small that will really help big… or give something big that will help hugely!

Jimmy Wales

Donate to Wikipedia

Originally posted 2009-12-24 01:00:14.

ROWE

No, not Rowe vs Wade (but I’m sure I’ll have a rant on that if the current court hears a case that could reverse that land mark decision)… but Result Only Work Environment; essentially a version of “Flex Time” that is focused on increasing productivity by avoiding “presenteeism” (where someone is physically in the office, but mentally somewhere else).

You can read about an article on NPR about the Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County (Minneapolis, MN).

The End Of 9-To-5: When Work Time Is Anytime

Originally posted 2010-03-29 02:00:45.

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.

US Poverty

The Census Bureau released new numbers on the US poverty rate yesterday — 14.3% last year; the highest since 1994.

Largely due to the rising unemployment amount working age individuals in this country (even the US government admits unemployment to be in double digits — and we can all be sure that they minimize the numbers as much as they can through their creative accounting and adjustments).

13.9%, or 39.8 million people in 2008 to 14.3%, or 43.6 million people in 2009… and you can be sure that number will be even higher in 2010.

The report also showed the number of Americans without health coverage rose form 15.4% to 16.7% (or 50.7 million people); mainly because of the loss of employment and employer-provided health insurance.  And the new health care provisions were passed; the main provisions won’t take effect until 2014.

Because of the Recovery Act and many other programs providing tax relief and income support to a majority of working families — and especially those most in need — millions of Americans were kept out of poverty last year.
· President Barrack Obama

The really incredible thing is that the numbers were expected to be much worse — and in fact it’s likely that increases in Social Security payments and expansion of unemployment insurance through federal extensions helped keep the numbers in check.

Clearly those earning over $250,000 need to have their tax cuts renewed!

Originally posted 2010-09-17 02:00:40.

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.

Double the losses — triple the bad service

I’m talking about the United States Postal Service — and I’m being kind on “triple the bad service”.

The Postal Service has reported net losses totaling $8.5 billion in the fiscal year ending 30 Sep 2010 — compared to a $3.8 billion loss the previous year.

The Postal Service blames the recession and the continuing growth of e-mail.

I would say the losses are more likely caused by an archaic “business” that if it weren’t for cellular carriers would have the absolute worst customer service known to mankind.

Maybe, just maybe if they increased the rate they charged for distributing all that junk mail that no one wanted; actually levied fines against companies that violated anti-pandering orders; and restructured to provide better service using fewer hands they could balance their budget.

After all, when the Postal Service looses money we don’t pass a bill like TARP to help them — we just write them a check.

Originally posted 2010-11-27 02:00:53.

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.