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March 2007


Right now, I am on a flight to California for vacation and to visit family. Here are a few blog articles from the MoneyBlogNetwork and beyond.

Five Cent Nickel is minimizing his taxes with a SEP IRA, 403(b) and 457(b). I’m doing as much as I can as well, but I don’t have all of those opportunities open to me. Free Money Finance is not surprised that many brokers give bad advice.

AirplaneBlueprint for Financial Prosperity warns not to trade stocks without insider information. AllFinancialMatters points out some people are making a lot of money reselling Target clothing on eBay.

Madame X from My Open Wallet provides her weekend spending report, and apparently I’ll be providing the musical entertainment for her upcoming wedding.

Mapgirl’s Fiscal Challenge has a good financial tip for those looking to save money in the libations department: drink where your friends work.

Stay tuned. Starting tomorrow, we will begin a week of guests posts here at Consumerism Commentary, and some great articles are lined up.

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Most people will be receiving a tax refund this year, and many people I know have received theirs already. There are two reasons people would receive a tax refund: either they’re not minimizing their withholding throughout the year and missing out on interest or investment returns they could earn, or they deliberately overpay for the benefit of receiving a large check once a year. Regardless of the reason, it’s fun to decide what to do with the nice check you receive from the government.

CNN Money has five “slam-dunk” uses for a tax refund, and they suggest the typical advice. Fund an IRA, fund a 529, open a CD, add to your emergency fund, and/or reduce your credit card debt. In celebration of my Chinese food fortune last night, “You will have a fine capacity for the enjoyment of life,” here are ten things you can do with a $1,000 to $2,000 refund to enhance your life now, not in 30 years after average market returns.

1. Take a road trip. If you have AAA membership, you can get maps and travel planning for free, and the books they can provide are much better than planning the trip using Google Maps. Ask for the scenic route, and have no specific destination.

Scrooge McDuck2. Pimp your ride. Now that I work closer to where I live, I’m only in my car 90 minutes to two hours each day. Some of my coworkers have a commute of over two hours each way. If they work five days a week for the entire year, that’s 1,040 hours (or more than 43 full days) in the car. If I were be in any certain place for 43 days a year, I’d want that place to be as comfortable as possible. Start with a car microwave but don’t forget about the sound system.

3. Get on television. Perhaps you can convince the producers of House to cast you as a patient with an evasive affliction by offering some cash. If House isn’t your thing, there are other shows that require new actors every episode. For example, NBC is always looking for people to portray rape victims.

4. Emulate your hero. Order gold coins, bill wrappers, and money bags and re-enact your favorite scenes with Scrooge McDuck.

5. Invest in your favorite hobby. Speaking of coins, if you love coin collecting, visit a dealer or reputable eBay seller and pick up the 1909-S VDB 1C or 1880-CC Morgan $1 missing from your collection. Add something to your collection that will make you proud. If music is your hobby, buy a new instrument that you will enjoy. If photography is your thing, get some new lenses.

6. Attend a big sporting event. Get good tickets to the Super Bowl, World Series, or World Men’s Curling Championship. It’s more than just the game, it’s the atmosphere. Sports aren’t for everyone, so for the others, there are the Drum Corps International World Championships, this year in Pasadena.

7. Get a makeover. You are $1,000 to $2,000 richer now. If your outward appearance reflects who you are, you should make yourself look like you spent $1,000 to $2,000 on your looks.

8. Upgrade your gadgets. It’s time to upgrade your television. Everyone else has a wide aspect LCD or plasma screen, isn’t it time you have one, too? If you really enjoy television and movies, there’s nothing wrong with making that experience more enjoyable. It’s your money.

9. Treat your friends. Take them to dinner, see a Broadway show, and/or go to a strip club — whatever your friends happen to enjoy. They’ll like you more if you wave around a few Gs, and it’s all about you.

10. One word: Las Vegas.

If you have any other suggestions for ways to blow $2,000 or so, spending the money today to enhance your enjoyment of life rather than investing for the future, please leave them in the comments here.

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After writing about the effect CitiBank’s new balance transfer fee has on balance transfer arbitrage, I received an email from a reader, Andy, who has an idea to take advantage of healthcare savings account (HSA) reimbursements. This is a summary of his idea.

A good way to make some extra money is to take advantage of expected reimbursements. Medical expenses are good examples. If your HSA is efficient and sends your reimbursement quickly after your claim is received, you can deposit the funds, pay the bill by credit card as late as possible, and earn interest until the bill is due later. Here’s how the time line works out:

* 1st of month. I receive a medical bill for $1,000 and immediately submit the claim to HSA.
* Likely before the 15th of month. Receive reimbursement from HSA and deposit into savings account.
* 15th of month (or first day of the next credit card statement period). Charge bill to credit card.
* 15th of following month (or several days after the end of the statement period). Receive credit card bill with $1,000 charge.
* 15th of third month (or credit card statement’s due date). Pay credit card bill using $1,000 from savings.

If you assume that you’re receiving a 1% rebate on your credit card, and your savings account earns 5% annual interest, here are Andy’s calculations, outlining two months of interest plus a rebate on the bill. None of your payments will be late.

Obviously, this is a best-case scenario and the actual return would be lower. Missing the credit card payment will negate any benefit. It’s interesting to note that if your card offers a 2% rebate, the annualized return increases to 18.25%.

What you can earn from this technique is limited by the maximum reimbursement you can receive from your HSA, but if you qualify for other employer reimbursements, you can use them to your advantage as well.

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The random comment selector has chosen 2million of My Journey to Financial Freedom to be the winner of the free copy of Quicken Rental Property Manager. Thanks everyone for playing! There were some good comments as well.

Brenda says:

I have 3 rental properties and have been keeping all my books by hand! Ugh!!! Can you imagine the hours this program would save me? I hope to have more properties in the future. I tried using a program called “Saferent” but wasn’t impressed with it. If you choose me as the person to give the gift to and it doesn’t work out for me, I promise to give someone else a go at it. It will not be wasted. Also, if you like, I will let you know if it was helpful to me or if I passed it on.

From Jon K:

I have one rental property now. Just filed my 2006 taxes- the first year to report activity from a rental property. I intend to never sell my residence. In other words, when I decide to move, I want to simply convert my current residence to a rental property. Not sure if that’ll work out, but that’s the plan. I’ve checked out this software in stores before, but I was holding off on buying it. Now that I’m once again in the market for a new home, it might not be a bad idea to have some software to manage my future real estate empire! ;-)

Valerie has this comment about the software:

Rental Property Manager might be OK for anyone who is NOT using Quicken itself. But, as Savvy notes in his review, RPM is very rigid in regard to changing categories, entering prepayments, etc. The big problem for Quicken users is that it is impossible to transfer the data from RPM to Quicken, so if you want a report on your Net Worth, you have to re-enter the data into Quicken. AND you can keep all the same information in Quicken just as well and not need to have a separate program at all.

Robin has a favorable review:

Just to let you know, I do use this software presently for my one and John’s 5 rental properties, and while I probably could have set up an Excel file to do at least some of the tracking for me, this is a much cleaner-looking solution which comes nicely set up. I track all of our income and outlay all year as it happens with this software, then print out all our Schedule E forms simply… One of the best features is that it tracks tenant information, providing nice centralized storage, and even alerts me when I need to update/renew leases…

Again, congratulations to 2million. Stay tuned; I have two more Quicken-related giveaways in the upcoming month or so.

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links for 2007-03-30

by Luke Landes

ScribeFire Rocks at Meta Best Blog Win Nickel talks about a tool for writing blog posts, ScribeFire. He’s also looking for suggestions for other tools. [Meta] (tags: blogs writing technology tools scribefire performancing) Ten Tax Blunders That Can Cost You Claiming ineligible dependents, payments to caregivers/nannies, alternative minimum tax, leaving out income, etc. You will ... Continue reading this article…

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CitiBank’s New Fee: Forget About Credit Card Arbitrage

by Luke Landes

The thing about playing the credit card balance transfer “game” is that you have to pay by the credit card companies’ rules — and they can change these rules with very little notice. On my most-used card, the Citi Dividend Platinum Select Card, CitiBank lowered the cash back rebate last year, making it more difficult ... Continue reading this article…

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links for 2007-03-29

by Luke Landes

Subprime Foreclosures Will Hit 2.4 Million Subprime loans and foreclosures are everywhere in the media these days. What is the contratian’s position? Now that everyone realizes what we all knew — that these loans are dangerous — is it the right time? [CNN] (tags: loans mortgage realestate foreclosures subprime lending) What Debit Card Companies Don’t ... Continue reading this article…

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Quicken Giveaway, One More Day

by Luke Landes

If you’re interested in a free copy of Quicken Property Rental Manager, you have one more day to enter for the chance. Just leave a comment on this post after reading the other comments and reviews, and leave a valid email address so I can contact you if you win. I’ll be holding the “drawing” ... Continue reading this article…

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Tax Freedom Day

by Luke Landes

If you were to designate all of your income to your taxes (federal, state, and local) starting with January 1, New Jersey residents would have to keep doing so until May 10, a good ten days after the national average. MSN Money has an article including a table with the Tax Freedom Days for each ... Continue reading this article…

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Bipolar Landlords: Revoking Credit Card Rent Payments

by Luke Landes

For the second time since moving into this apartment several years ago, the landlord (a national corporation, not an individual or a family) has decided to stop accepting credit cards for rent payments. While I suppose this is good for tenants who don’t pay their full credit card balance every month, but I’ll no longer ... Continue reading this article…

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HSBC Direct Will Offer High-Yield Checking, Are You Interested?

by Luke Landes

A reader pointed me to an article about high-yield online checking accounts. I’ve been following these stories with a little bit of “interest,” and I’ve already opened a new checking account at ING Direct. This article talks about some of the drawbacks of this account; namely the necessity of a “regular” checking account for transferring ... Continue reading this article…

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The Carnival is Up!

by Luke Landes

Rather than reading a ton of personal finance blog entries today, I was running around the office trying to get work done. Now that I’m home, I can relax and read through the contributions to the latest Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted at Tired but happy. Here are some choice selections at first glance. * ... Continue reading this article…

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ShareBuilder Now Supports Quicken Direct Connect

by Luke Landes

I recently logged into my ShareBuilder [affiliate] account to check to see if there were any tax forms I needed to consider. I was greeted by a new message describing ShareBuilder’s new support for direct downloading of account data into Microsoft Money and Intuit Quicken. These days, with the fees that the software makers charge ... Continue reading this article…

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3 Ways Waiters Can Steal Your Credit Card Information

by Luke Landes

The Real Hustle is a BBC show that describes how criminals, scammers, hustlers, and average tricksters manage to fool everyday people in typical situations. The three Hustlers — confidence trickster Alexis Conran, scam artist Paul Wilson and ‘sexy swindler’ Jessica Clement — carry out notorious scams on unsuspecting members of the public to reveal how ... Continue reading this article…

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This Week in the Archives: Cable, 401(k) Borrowing, and Credit Reports

by Luke Landes

Each week, I look back at some of the better or more interesting entries I’ve posted throughout the last few years at Consumerism Commentary. Here’s what was on my mind March 23-31, 2006, and it was a busy week: * Mar. 24: Microsoft’s Strategy: Screw the Customer (4 comments) * Mar. 24: Lose Your Money ... Continue reading this article…

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Income Taxes: Done and Over With

by Luke Landes

I decided to bite the bullet and do my income tax return without any professional assistance. I was originally considering working with a tax accountant due to the increased income from my side business. As it turns out, it wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be. I’m pretty sure I was able to ... Continue reading this article…

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Giveaway: Free Quicken Rental Property Manager 2.0

by Luke Landes

This giveaway is now over. I have a copy of Quicken Rental Property Manager 2.0 to give away. I’ve never used the software before, so I can’t provide any reviews. I don’t see owning rental properties in my near future, so I’d like to send the CD-ROM off to someone who will be able to ... Continue reading this article…

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Weekly Blog Roundup

by Luke Landes

Here are a few good articles from the folks of the MoneyBlogNetwork. Nickel takes a look at his decision to refinance his mortgage. Jim from Blueprint for Financial Prosperity writes about calculating and paying quarterly estimated tax payments, which I will start doing this year. Free Money Finance says Suze Orman knows nothing about investing. ... Continue reading this article…

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The Carnival is Heading to Tired but happy

by Luke Landes

The Carnival of Personal Finance is making its way to Tired but happy for the latest edition on Monday. Don’t forget to submit your best article from this week for consideration. The Carnival of Personal Finance is a “celebration,” and a representation of what the personal finance niche of the blogosphere has to offer. The ... Continue reading this article…

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Are You Getting a Good Deal on Rent?

by Luke Landes

The last time I moved was several years ago, and I moved from an apartment in the next town over to the apartment where I live currently. At the time, the rent wasn’t the least expensive in town, but it was close. Last night I discovered the Rentometer, which compares your rent to all renters ... Continue reading this article…

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