Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Carnivals in this week

Carnival of Investing #11: Retire at 30
Carnival of Personal Finance # 37:MoneyBlogNetwork
Festival of Frugality #12: Mightybargainhunter

what's two-cycle billing method

Here is the comment from wesleman
"Don't forget the infamous "Two-Cycle Balance" trap used by some credit card companies! The ones known to me are Discover and Chase/BankOne"

Actually the "two-cycle billing method" has been adopted by more and more credit card companies by now. Basically the credit card balance is computed using one of three methods: the adjusted balance method, the average daily balance method, and the two-cycle balance method.

The adjusted balance method charges interest on the balance remaining after payments and credits during the billing cycle (the outstanding balance at the end of the billing cycle), which is the most advantageous method to the consumers. While the average daily balance method calculates interest on your average balance during the whole billing cycle. For both of the above two methods, you are charged nothing for the month you made the purchase, and interest only for subsequent months in which payment is outstanding.

The one you need to look out and avoid is the two-cycle balance method, where the interest is charged on the average balance of your purchases both from the current billing cycle and from the previous one. For example, If you carry a large balance in January, even if you paid them off completely, the credit card company is still going to use that number along with your February purchase to calculate your average daily balance. You may find that your extra payments to reduce your balance won't have any effect on the previous billing cycle.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A trap in 0% Apr offer: expiration date

There are a lot of credit cards that offer 0 Apr nowadays. People are making money by taking advantage that to pay off their debts or save it to the high-yield online saving account. Yet, there are still a lot of complaining about getting high financial charges finally even if they pay the minimum of every statement on time. Here I want to talk about one of the traps in those attractive b/t offers: expiration date of the offer. I will also discuss some tips about how to avoid getting into that trap.

When you get the preapproval letter or read the advertisement from various resources, you can always see something like that " 0% Apr on B/T UP TO 6/1/07". Please be aware that it is "UP TO". You need to read the details about the conditions of up to. Normally, in order to extend your 0% Apr to another 3 months, you are required to make some purchase first and not returned with a certain period. If you didn't make purchase or you did but paid it off immediately,your real expiration date became 3/1/07.
tip 1: Always read the conditions of the bonus period.

When you get the real card sent by credit card companies, you will get a new term about the rate and period of the 0% Apr offer. Don't take the offer on your preapproval letter or the advertisement for granted.
tip 2: Look at the terms & conditions along with your new card.

There are many different ways to describe the expiration date of the B/T offer. The most simple one is what has been mentioned above. 0% Apr until 3/1/07, which means you just need to pay off your balance before the specific date. You may also see "offer expires on the first day of the statement period including 3/1/07". You need figure out what is the first day of your statement period normally and prearrange the payoff activity before that period including 3/1/07. It should be a certain day of February or January 2007.
tip 3: Try to understand the description of the expiration date.

The most important thing is don't wait till the last day to pay off your balance. Give yourself at least five days to arrange that in case anything unexpected happens.
tip 4: Set a bill reminder in your bill management software. Basically I will set a $1 bill in the last day of the month prior to the expiration date and then adjust it to the real balance and the real planning payoff date when I check my monthly networth at the end of that month.

A new way to funding your Scottrade account

When I am doing online banking, I like to study the new features or new programs offered by the financial institutions to keep myself updated about the deals. Today, just as usual, after I scheduled a bank-to-bank transfer from my linked account to HSBC, I started to browse the website. First I tried to search several banks and to see if there are participating in the cashedge system. Then I found that there was a tab for me to link the investment account. And scottrade is one of the brokerage firms listed.

As you may know, back to November 2005, scottrade stopped its echeck service due to some security issues. It became a hassle to add more money to my brokerage account. I have been trying hard to find an alternative way to fund my account recently. I just felt surprised that I didn't find this feature last time I logged on.

I was so excited that I wanted to set up the transfer immediately. So I clicked the link and wanted to see how it works. To verify the account information, I was required to provide my account number and my check number. I never got a check from scottrade. Is it a new service? I felt so curious and went to scottrade to continue my research.

Okay. I found the trick. Check writing capabilities are available for account with a minimum account equity of $5,000 in scottrade . And the first 50 checks are free. With this service, it would be much easier to deposit to or withdraw funds from my brokerage account.

I will fax the relevant forms to scottrade tomorrow and report my experience when I finish transferring funds between HSBC and scottrade.

Also scottrade currently offers a referral program. If you would like to open an account there, leave your email address and I can send you a referral code. That way both you and I will get 3 free trades.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

How do you maximize your cashback from discover card

There is a thread in fatwallet about "how do you use your discover cashback"

Seems a lot of people have just taken the cash or applied it to the card balance since discover card changed most of its rebate programs from double rewards to $25 for $20. I only use discovercard in sam's club or for its special promotion. So I don't have too much rewards available. Basically I just take $25 for $20 program to buy bed bath & beyond giftcard. Well, What's your suggestions about maximizing the benefit? Feel free to leave your comments.

Check out this week's carnivals

Carnival of Investing #10: mymoneyblog
Carnival of Personal Finance # 36: Free Money finance
Festival of Frugality #10: Retire at 30

Sunday, February 19, 2006

my posts appeared in recent carnivals

Have been blogging for several months. But just got to know what is carnival two weeks ago.During the past two weeks I submitted several posts to the recent carnivals and luckily got accepted. It was really fun to share my financial experience with others. I also learned a lot from other fellow bloggers. Here is a list of my posts in the recent carnivals.
(1) Parking tips in NYC (Festival of Frugality #10)

(2) Make your own passport pictures (Festival of Frugality #9)

(3) One of my financial mistakes (Reverse Carnival of Money Mistakes )

Received the first check from Pinecone Research

On Feb. 10th, 2006, I posted a link to sign up with Pinecone Research, a famous company who gives incentive for your participation of its internet survey. I got my first survey on that day and finished it right away. You know what, the check just arrived at Feb 17th, 2006. Just seven days after my participation. It's pretty fast. Check the link to see if it is still valid. Looking forward to my next survey...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

cardoffers.com: good website to apply for credit cards?

I came across a website called http://cardoffers.com yesterday. It looks like a good website to apply for the credit cards. You can search credit cards by category, card issuer and merchants and find what cards would be your best choice. Also you may find the feedback of the cardholders at the commentaries section before you apply a credit card or submit a review to help other potential applicants. If you registered as a member and apply the credit cards through the provided link, you may earn cash rewards on selected credit card approval and may view special discounts and savings available on their current credit cards. According to their introduction, this website was established in April 1999 and was previously known as CreditCardFreedom.com

The deal seems attractive, while the safety should be a concern since you need to provide a lot of confidential information when you apply for a credit card. I checked some post in fatwallet and found that some good reviews about it. Just want to know more feedback from various resources. Leave your comments if have used it or heard about it before.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Check out this week's carnivals

Carnival of Investing #9: Trader Mike
Carnival of Personal Finance # 35: The Dividend Guy
Festival of Frugality #10: Boston Gal's Open Wallet

Monday, February 13, 2006

Parking tips in New York City

As the residents in new york metro area, we go to the big apple once in a while. But the overhead expenses seem to be a problem. If we take train, it would cost $30 for two of us. It would cost more for a bigger family. So most of time we just drive our own car to the city. But you may heard the parking in NYC had also been a pain on the neck. Here I will introduce a website which makes our trip to NYC convenient and affordable. You may try that if your have to drive to the NYC.

iconparking has a network of over 150 manhattan parking facilities. You just need to go to their website and use their easy 1-2-3 step:
(1) enter when and where you want to park.
(2) choose the best location and price
(3) print the space guarantee

Just bring your print out to your designated facility, you will enjoy the professional valet parking service with a reasonable price. You will pay the parking fee when you exit. And you have no obligation to do anything before you enter the parking facility. If you have to cancel your trip, just throw away the print out.

With this website, you can choose your parking lot at home and get a guaranteed space at a resonable price. Sometimes you may find some coupon for night or weekend parking on their special section.

Also they provide several tips about parking in NYC, which I think it's kind of useful.
(1) Enter the garage between 6am and 10am to get the early bird special
(2) Enter the garage after 6pm to get the night parking special
(3) Park farther away from the 5th ave
(4) Avoid oversized vehicle

And the sweetest thing is as of Nov 13th, the metered parking in NYC became free on Sundays. Enjoy your trip in the big apple!

Throw out the old egg while searching the new egg: one of my financial mistakes

Last October, my DSL's contract ended and I was considering to switch the bundle plan provided by optimum. ($29.99 each for internet, cable TV and unlimited phone call).

The first step I made was to call Verizon to cancel my DSL service. The first CSR I talked with offered me 2 months free without additional contract. I told her that I need discuss with Mr. circle. After doing some calculation we though that we couldn't save too much out of it. Furthermore we really wanted to have a cable TV service as soon as possible at that time. Then I called Verizon again and the 2nd csr only offered me 1 month free without additional contract. Of course I rejected her offer and set a time to cancel my DSL service.

unexpectedly, Optimum changed the installation date. I didn't think too much and agreed with that change, while not called Verizon to change the termination date of the DSL. Even more unexpectedly, the guy from Optimum told us that the signal in our apartment was too weak and they can't complete the installation. Thus I had to cancel the order and switch back to DSL. Then I called DSL to reopen my DSL service. Unfortunately I was no the customer they want to retain any more. I was treated as the new customer and had to sign another one year contract to get the DSL service.

The above experience told me "never break the old egg before you eat the new egg, even if the new egg is just in front of you". If I didn't cancel the DSL contract before I installed the Optimum bundle plan, I would have had at least one month free without additional contract. And you never know how important it is to negotiate a better deal with the provider in the future without the contract. So many bloggers mentioned various tips of saving on the everyday expenses. Now I am just stucked here and waiting another year for my contract to expire.

Friday, February 10, 2006

$50 visa GC for 2k cd account in netbank

This offer is for existing customer only. You can find the details when you login in your netbank account and click on your special offers link. To be eligible to get $50 bonus, you must open a one year CD account with a minimum deposit of $2000. The expiration date is 3/31/06. With the $50 GC, the real apr becomes 7.25%.
Check out the other two post of mine about netbank:
link 1
link 2

bored money from Pinecone Research

The first time I heard about Pinecone Research was from Jonathan in mymoneyblog. But they closed their door for the new applicants at that time. Yesterday, however, I finally signed up with this well-known online survey company. The credit goes to Frank the Financially Savvy Atheist for his post

First when I clicked the link provided by the FSA and it just led me to the mainpage of www.internetpaidsurveys.com. There is just a list of online survey companies, most of which provide a link to join their programs, while the Pinecone Research only has a link to visit their website. But after several minutes' browsing on that website something in one of sidebars on the right side caught my eyes. There is a "pinecone signup link 1" right there, through which I got to submit my application. That's really tricky.

Today I got my first survey and finished it. It's a little bit time consuming though. Just do it when you get bored by your work. Let's see when I can get my first little check.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

FAQ of the flexible spending account (FSA)

What is FSA
FSAs are a tax-saving benefit that some employers offer to help their employees pay for medical and dependent care expenses.

Why should I enroll
The reason is really simple: They can save you money! When you look at your paycheck, you'll find that you always take home less money than you actually earn because a portion of it has been taken by uncle sam. However,because of Section 125 of the Internal Revenue Code, you can take back all the money that’s set aside in an FSA if you plan it ahead wisely. That means the money in FSAs is tax-free.

How do they work
Typically, employers offer an opportunity to enroll in FSAs during their regular benefits open enrollment. If you want to enroll in an FSA next year, this is a perfect time to begin planning. You need to elect an amount of money for your employer to deduct from your pay on a pre-tax basis. The money is deposited into your account over the course of the upcoming plan year. You can then use that money to pay for certain out-of-pocket expenses, depending on the type of FSA you have.

How many types of FSAs are there and what's the difference between them
There are two types: Health care spending accounts (HCSA)& Dependent care spending accounts (DCSAs)

With an HCSA you use the money for health care expenses, such as co-payments, dental and vision work, over-the-counter medications, and much more. If you have qualified dependents, you can use your HCSA for their health care expenses as well. IRS gives a list of medical expenses that you can claim when filing your taxes; this will give you an idea of the types of expenses that are considered eligible for HCSA reimbursement. However, check with your employer for a complete list.

With a DCSA, you use the money for any child care or adult day care expenses you incur to be able to go to work or look for a job. IRS Publication 503 can be used as a guide for eligible DCSA expenses. Also you need to check with your employer for specific requirements.

How do you access money in an FSA
FSAs operate as reimbursement plans -- first, you pay for the expenses out of your own pocket. Then, you submit a form and receipts for reimbursement from your account. You typically can submit claims up until 90 days after the end of the plan year.

HCSAs are “pre-funded,” which means that your entire election is available at the beginning of the plan year, even though it hasn’t actually been deducted from your pay. That means you can get reimbursed more than you contributed. It is just like giving you a 0APR loan. For DCSAs, however, you can only be reimbursed up to the current balance in your account.

Some health care FSA administration is offering the FSA debit card, which allows participants to pay for expenses directly from their account rather than waiting for reimbursement. FSA debit cards can really cut down your paperwork, but you’ll still need to keep your receipts in case your employer needs them for verification purposes.

What's the coverage period of FSAs
The IRS “use it or lose it” rule. You can only use money in your FSA for expenses incurred within the plan year. You will not be able to use money in your FSA to reimburse expenses incurred after the end of the plan year, so you’ll have to forfeit any remaining funds. That's why I said you should plan it wisely.

However, the U.S. Treasury announced in May 2005 that employers can establish a grace period of up to two and a half months to allow participants access to the previous year’s balance for purchases made in the early part of the following year. Check with your employer to see if your FSAs have a grace period.

What's the limitations of FSAs contribution
The IRS limits how much money you can contribute to a DCSA. In 2006, the maximum is $2,500 if you are single or filing separately; if you are filing jointly, it’s $5,000.

The IRS has not set a limit for how much money you can set aside in an HCSA, but your employer will set a maximum -- usually between $2,000 and $5,000.

Is there any tips
Start tracking your medical expenses now so you’ll have a good idea how much you should elect to contribute to an HCSA. If you have child care or adult day care expenses, track those if you want to enroll in a DCSA. When it comes time to enroll, it’s a good idea to underestimate how much you’ll need. You don’t want to find yourself scrambling to use up the remaining funds in your account at the end of the year.

What's the difference between HCSA and HSA
HSAs allow you to save money for eligible medical expenses only when you’re enrolled in a high-deductible health care plan. But the good thing is that there is no “use it or lose it” rule. But most employers do not yet offer these plans.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Check out this week's carnivals

Carnival of Personal Finance #34: Financial Reference
Carnival of Investing #8: Wealth Junkie
Festival of Frugality #9: Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

Monday, February 06, 2006

Make your own passport pictures

Everybody needs to take passport pictures in his whole life. Especially for a person who lives in a foreign country or travels a lot. But when we look around, the average market price for the passport pictures seems to be $7.99 for 2 photos. Actually the cheapest price I could ever find is $7.99 for 6 in CVS. That's way more expensive compared to the printing price of the regular pictures. When I was looking at the sample pictures in CVS, something crossed my mind: why not make it myself? If you have a digital Camera, a color photo printer and some basic knowledge of photoshop, it would be a piece of cake for you. Here is the way I have been doing.
You may adjust the steps according to your own needs

(1) check the information regarding proper lighting, exposure, composition, and size of the pictures. For US passport pictures, you can get the guidelines from here.

(2) stand in front of a white wall and ask someone to take some pictures for you.
Small tips: (a)Try to choose a place with enough natural light without using the flashlight.
(b) Keep a little distance from the wall so that there won't be any shade on the wall.

(3) transfer the pictures into your computer. Compare those pictures and find one with the best exposure and lighting. And of course with your best looking

(4) Open it with photoshop or other photo editing softwares. Adjust the exposure further as well as the white balance

(5) Once you are happy with the expression and lighting, it's time to make sure the sizes are correct. Use the measuring tool to make the distance from your chin to the top of your head is around 1/2 to 2/3 of the length of the whole picture. Leave enough space on both sides.

(6) Save your pictures and print it as the required size. You may ask "What if I don't have a printer at home" . Don't worry. I don't have one either. You just save it in a mobile device and bring it to a photo center. I went to sam's club and printed two wallet size pictures.

(7) Use a paper cutter to trim the picture to your ideal size.

The final price for two of my passport pictures is just 28 cents. I saved more than $7 dollars and got the most satisfying passport picture I have ever had.