As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

May 2007

Recently, Mapgirl’s 401(k) balance surpassed the $20,000 balance milestone. That’s not small accomplishment for less than two years on the job. For comparison, I’ve been investing in my 401(k) for more than five years now, and my balance is only approaching $40,000 including company match. I started investing only 4% of my salary and have recently increased to 25%, which I can only do thanks to other income.

It’s interesting to see how companies use future payoffs with the intent of retaining employees. For example, when I became fully vested in my company match, after working at the company for three years, I felt better about the possibility leaving the company. If I had quit at two years and 350 days, I would have missed out on thousands of dollars in company match. It wouldn’t make much sense unless I could negotiate a new job offer for a higher salary to take that into account.

Following this thought process further, if I could negotiate a higher salary or other benefit for that reason, I should be able to do so for any reason, making it again a loss to leave before fully vested.

Within a year after becoming fully vested, the company presented a new carrot for its employees: an associates stock grant. A good amount of stock was given to employees but the shares wouldn’t vest until 2009. At the time, it was pretty far in the future, so it’s a part of compensation that would be easily to forget about while negotiating a salary at a new job.

Are you less likely to look for new work if leaving your current company would mean leaving money on the table?


Free Money Finance mentioned there are a few companies he loves and would be willing to promote with no compensation. He asked others to do the same, so I tried to come up with a few that have gone above and beyond for me in terms of customer service.

Jay’s Cycles. I purchased a bicycle last year with the intention of spending more time outside getting exercise. The salesperson was incredibly knowledgeable about the sport and I spent some time talking to the owner. We chatted a little bit about the town in which I live and the old store they used to own there. I ended up getting the right bicycle for me, perfectly sized.

This is a sharp contrast to my earlier experience at Sports Authority, my first stop when I was searching for a bicycle. The salesperson couldn’t tell me much about the different sizes available, and gave me a bicycle sized incorrectly for me. While I admitted I was out of practice, the salesperson insisted I’d be fine as soon as I “got used to it.” I returned the bicycle the next day.

Aljons Pizzeria. This is a small-time pizzeria with a few locations in a couple of towns in my area. Unfortunately, the location closest to me burned down on Friday. They had, hands down, the best pizza (true New Jersey style) in town, even better than the best pizza in Princeton. I hope they’re able to rebuild quickly.

That’s it, or at least, that’s all I can think of at the moment. I don’t deal with a lot of different companies, and it’s very rare for any that I deal with to be exceptional.


I, for one, am looking forward to the good weather over this “long” weekend. Here are some personal finance nuggets from around the blogosphere to keep you busy over the weekend.

There are Almost 1 Million Accidental Millionaires. FMF points out an article describing the mass of individuals who have high net worth — mostly unusable — thanks to equity in their home. Another reason why net worth isn’t always the best measure your financial well-being.

One Man’s Trash: Free Televisions and Computers! Jim from pfBlueprint talks about his best hauls from other people’s piles. It’s classier than one might expect.

What the Heck’s Wrong With a Pre-Viewed DVD? Well, that would depend on what movie is on that DVD. Mighty Bargain Hunter has no problem with buying used DVDs. My problem with used DVDs is if you want to get them from a major store, they still cost almost as much as new DVDs.

Help Needed: Multiple Employers and the 415(c) Limit. Is there a tax expert in the house? Nickel is looking for some advice when it comes to his myriad retirement plans.

How High Do Gas Prices Have to Go to Justify Getting a New Car? AllFinancialMatters crunches the numbers as usual. In order to convince JLP to buy a Honda Civic, gas would have to reach $7.55 a gallon. Now the gasoline companies have a price target.

Why I Backslide and Spend Too Much. Sharon Harvey Rosenberg, the Frugal Duchess, admits she’s not perfect when it comes to spending money. She has three specific reasons, so check them out.

Switched to Vanguard E-Service to Eliminate Account Fees. Back in April, Vanguard announced they were changing their fee structure, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to avoid all fees. Sun has done so as well by opting out of paper statements.

Couples and Money Survey. Are you one member of a couple? Do you have thoughts about money? If the answers to both questions are “yes,” take a minute to fill out this completely anonymous survey from Personal Finance 101. The purpose of the survey is to provide information for a course that will be taught about money management and communication.

Why Talking About Myself Is Important When Writing About Personal Finance. Trent from The Simple Dollar explores a bit of his writing philosophy and the importance of being open with his own finances.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!


Editor’s Note: Thank you for your interest, these offers have expired and are no longer available.

Updated: Here are 15 Credit Cards With the Best Rewards.

This month’s issue of Money Magazine contains an article with credit card recommendations for a variety of spending types. Here’s the run-down.

For big spenders: Blue Cash from American Express.

This card offers an introductory 0% APR on purchases for six months, but the best feature is the cash back reward program. The program offers 5% cash back on purchases made at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations and 1.5% on everything else if you spend $6,500 within twelve months. That’s what makes this card good for people who can put a significant portion of their expenses on the credit card. Without spending $6,500, the cash back terms are only 1% and 0.5% respectively. One other good point is that there is no limit to the amount of cash back you can receive.

If you carry a balance: Discover More Card.

I don’t know. If you’re carrying a balance, you’re paying interest. The interest you pay would offset any rewards you could earn. That’s why Money Magazine suggests a card with an introductory APR of 0% for an entire year. The good thing about this card is while you’re taking time to pay off your purchases with what is in effect a free loan, you’re also earning 5% cash back. Here are five more cards offering 0% APR on purchases. Warning: use of leverage should be reserved for those who do not have problems managing their money.

If you are an active driver: Citi Driver’s Edge Platinum Select MasterCard. This card is no longer available; try the

This card offers 3% cash back on purchases at supermarkets, drug stores, and gas stations and 1% back on all other purchases. You also earn $1 for every 100 miles you drive, but the total rebate is capped at $1,000 a year. To make the most of rebates, this card can be used in conjunction with another cash back card.

If you are an active driver: Discover Open Road Card.

Here’s another option for drivers. After passing a $3,000 threshold, all purchases earn 1% cash back, except for gas and auto maintenance, which earn 5%. You also receive 5% cash back on purchases through Discover’s merchant network. I’m not a fan of having to pass a minimum spending amount first, but depending on your spending patterns, this card could pay off well.

If you are a traveler: Discover Miles Card.

This is not a cash back card. The Discover Miles Card rewards the credit card holder with one mile for every dollar you spend. Miles can be redeemed as gift card for merchant’s in Discover’s network in addition to the traditional airline tickets. The miles are accepted with any airline and there are no black-out dates. By the way, they’ll give you 12,000 bonus miles the first year.

The article also mentions Capital One No Hassle Mile Rewards Card, which earns you 1.25 miles for each dollar, but has a complicated redemption system. One might even say it’s a hassle to redeem the awards.

If you’re a “skinflint:” Chase Freedom Visa Card (no longer available).

This card doesn’t seem as impressive as some of the other cash back rewards cards. It does offer a 0% introductory APR for 6 months and 3% cash back on supermarkets, gas stations, and fast-food restaurants. I suppose therein lies the strength of this card. However, after you spend $600 during any monthly billing cycle, the reward drops back to the default for all purchases, 1%.

All in all, Money Magazine made some good recommendations. It’s getting more difficult to lock in great cash back rewards as credit card companies continue to cut back. But free money is still free money. These are companies that will pay you to use their money for free. Why do they do this? It’s not out of the goodness of their hearts. Companies offer these benefits for two very specific reasons. One: they think you will slip up and start paying interest fees. Two: the merchants pay the credit card company a small percentage of each transaction.

This translates to big bucks for the credit card companies. The least they can do is throw you some money as you help them make their annual profits goals.


How to Calculate Your Net Worth

by Luke Landes

When I put together my monthly financial reports, I tend to get questions about how I decide what to include and what not to include in my balance sheet. The purpose of determining your net worth is not to compare yourself with others. The real reason to do these simple calculations each month is to ... Continue reading this article…

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New Price-Gouging Bill Passes House

by Luke Landes

While it will probably be vetoed by the White House, the House of Representatives passed a bill designed to prevent price-gouging at the gas pump after catastrophes, like Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Charley (NY Times). The House bill would give the FTC “the explicit authority to investigate and punish those who artificially inflate the price ... Continue reading this article…

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How to Make Money With John Adams Presidential Dollar Coins

by Luke Landes

Whenever the US Mint comes up with a new concept for circulating coins, it inspires a new bunch of collectors and investors. That has certainly happened with the Presidential Dollar Series, which began earlier this year. First impressions of the George Washington $1 coins were luke warm, but then collectors started discovering errors. In some ... Continue reading this article…

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Where to Put an Unexpected $5,000, Part 3

by Luke Landes

If you’ve been lucky enough to come across $5,000 for which you haven’t been planning, you may be wondering what the best plan would be. Considering CNN has 43 suggestions for you, there are many options. I’ve had some thoughts on CNN’s list which I’ve shared so far here and here. Here is the next ... Continue reading this article…

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FNBO Direct 6.0% APY Savings and Media Blitz

by Luke Landes

A few days ago, I received a press release from the marketing company representing the First National Bank of Omaha, which recently created FNBO Direct to compete with online outfits like ING Direct and HSBC Direct. The new FNBO Direct account, with no minimums and no fees, offers 6.0 percent APY through September 28. The big ... Continue reading this article…

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Where to Put an Unexpected $5,000, Part 2

by Luke Landes

CNN Money has 43 suggestions for those who come upon an unexpected $5,000 based on the market right now. I didn’t particularly agree with each suggestion I’ve looked at so far. Let’s see how CNN Money does with the next batch of suggestions. 8. Best reality check: Eight hours with a financial planner 9. Best ... Continue reading this article…

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Where to Put an Unexpected $5,000, Part 1

by Luke Landes

Unfortunately, I don’t have this particular “problem” at the moment. But if I had, CNN Money can provide some suggestions (43 of them) for dealing with the unexpected income. 1. Best return with no risk: Pay off your highest-interest credit card debt 2. Best 12-month return (risky): Vanguard Growth Index fund 3. Best 12-month return ... Continue reading this article…

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Roth IRA Phase-Out in 2007

by Luke Landes

This year, if you (as a single tax filer) earn more than $99,000 (modified adjusted gross income — MAGI), your eligibility for the tax-advantageous Roth IRA phases out until you don’t qualify at all at $114,000. Couples are at a little bit of a disadvantage compared to two single tax filers as eligibility starts to ... Continue reading this article…

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Weekly Blog Round-Up, Subway Series Edition

by Luke Landes

I spent some time on Saturday at Shea Stadium to watch an exciting Subway Series game. As I write this, tonight’s game isn’t looking as good for my team. Here are my picks for interesting posts from the Money Blog Network and beyond this past week. * How Much Does it Cost to Drive One ... Continue reading this article…

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Comparing a Lump Sum With an Annuity

by Luke Landes

Every since I wrote about the variable annuity sold to an 86-year-old, I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of situation in which this makes sense. Actually, I haven’t been putting effort into this issue at all, but this article from Charles Schwab happened to appear at the right time. Inside is a ... Continue reading this article…

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ING Direct Offers 1% Cash Back to Some Customers

by Luke Landes

Perhaps you’re following the debacle in which ING Direct closed a large number of customers’ Electric Orange checking accounts due to bad credit, and then retracted many of the closings. Now, perhaps in a move to gain some public relations points after a major loss, they are offering cash back to what appears to be ... Continue reading this article…

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Financial Lessons From Television Fiction: House

by Luke Landes

I have to admit there are are two or three television shows I enjoy watching each week. House is one of those shows. I’m drawn to this show for several reasons. I’m a fan of Hugh Laurie from his Blackadder days, and his American accent is usually very convincing. Also, the show takes place in ... Continue reading this article…

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10 Improvements I’d Like to See in Quicken 2008 (And a Giveaway)

by Luke Landes

I’ve been a user of Intuit Quicken for the past few years after being a loyal user of Microsoft Money (and MoneyDance earlier, when I felt I needed to run Linux on my home machine). While I think I’ve settled on the software that works best for me, I’m not completely satisfied. I’m waiting to ... Continue reading this article…

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Presidential Dollar Series: I Got a Bank Teller in Trouble

by Luke Landes

This past Saturday, I stopped in at my local bank (which happens to be the much-discussed Wachovia) to see if they were distributing rolls of the newest John Adams Presidential $1 coins. I know the release date isn’t until May 17, but I had a good reason for asking early. A few months ago, I ... Continue reading this article…

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3 Reasons Not to Buy a Home

by Luke Landes

On Sunday, I noticed yet another new article describing the benefits of renting over buying a house. I’ve been following these articles with interest as my lease is getting closer to its end date six weeks from now, and I’ve been thinking about what to do. In this article, Liz Pulliam Weston provides 3 reasons ... Continue reading this article…

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Ethical? Bank of America Sells Variable Annuity to Elderly Person

by Luke Landes

I find these stories very sad. First of all, it’s always the customer’s job to be educated about any options they might be considering — particularly when they’re shopping around for financial products. When a customer isn’t educated for whatever reason, it doesn’t provide justification for salespeople to suggest products not in their best interest. ... Continue reading this article…

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