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2008


The company has spent the past few months managing expectations. With the economy tanking and our company’s performance following the trend of all other companies in the industry, there won’t be much in the way of annual raises and bonuses this year. (We receive these incentives a few months after the end of the year in which they are earned.)

Barack Obama is prepared to step in with an economic stimulus that might allow workers to take more money home in paychecks. One proposal includes a tax credit advance to taxpayers. Through changing withholding amounts, employees would see this tax break as an additional $150 or more in each bi-weekly paycheck during the first quarter of 2009. For individuals with salaries below $75,000 or couples earning less than $150,000, a payroll tax credit would be offered, $500 for individuals or $1,000 for couples.

Rather than spreading the credit out throughout the year, the proposal calls for accelerating the credit to be fully provided within the first three months of the year.

Giving more money to taxpayers hasn’t really worked as an “economic stimulus” so far. This seems to be a unique way to approach the problem of stimulating the economy, but I’m not sure it will work on its own. Nevertheless, I can understand how this would be a welcome plan in a year in which companies can’t or won’t offer pay increases. The mantra heard most often now is that one should just be lucky to have a job at all.

Obama’s paycheck bonus, Jeanne Sahadi, CNN Money, December 30, 2008

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Throughout December, WTDirect has been offering an opportunity for new customers to earn up to $250 by opening a new account. The bank is offering a good interest rate right now (3.06% APY) for customers with balances of $10,000 or higher.

The opportunity to earn this bonus is ending tomorrow, December 31, 2008. Here is what you need to know in order to qualify.

Open an account at WTDirect and link your existing bank account while applying. Before December 31, fund the account with an online transfer from your linked bank account. Maintain an average balance of at least $10,000 between January 1 and February 28, 2009. If you’ve done this much, you will receive your bonus in March, and it will be available for withdrawal immediately.

Here is how to determine the amount of your bonus, based on your average balance throughout January and February.

  • If your average balance is at least $10,000, you will receive a $50 bonus.
  • If your average balance is at least $20,000, you will receive a $100 bonus.
  • If your average balance is at least $30,000, you will receive a $150 bonus.
  • If your average balance is at least $40,000, you will receive a $200 bonus.
  • If your average balance is at least $50,000, you will receive a $250 bonus.

WTDirect does not charge any fees nor does it have a minimum balance requirement (other than for the bonus and the interest rate).

When you apply for the bank account, use the promotion code WTG3DNC.

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On December 22, a representative for Visa wrote about that company’s protection for customers who use debit cards:

If your account is compromised, Visa is committed to setting things right without further aggravation or inconvenience to you. Visa’s cardholder protection policy requires all financial institutions issuing Visa products to extend provisional credit for losses from unauthorized card use within 5 business days of notification of the loss. Many institutions will provide replacement funds even faster, sometimes within 24 to 48 hours.

What if the network or the merchant experiences a “computer glitch?” That’s doesn’t necessarily mean the account is “compromised.” But this is exactly what happened recently, although the problem appears to be due to the merchant rather than the network.

On Saturday, December 20, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, stores in Macy’s Central and East divisions experienced a period of almost two hours during which customers who completed purchases using a debit card were charged twice.

As a result, their bank accounts were debited twice as much as they expected, and as a result of this, many people were slapped with overdraft fees by their banks.

A Highland Village woman said her son bought her a set of knives for Christmas at Macy’s at Vista Ridge Mall in Lewisville [Texas]. She said he spent $78 for the gift, then later discovered that another $78 had been debited from his checking account. He was eventually charged $50 in bounced-check fees, said the woman, who didn’t want to be identified.

computer glitchFollowing, there was aggravation and inconvenience. She, like everyone else who was unlucky enough to use a debit card in this situation, had to fax checking account statements. The store would take up to 10 days before refunding everyone’s overcharges.

Will the store pay everyone back for overdraft fees incurred due to duplicate charges? It’s not clear, but I wouldn’t count on it. This is a real life example of why you should avoid debit cards or any agreement where you authorize a merchant to automatically debit your checking account.

Use cash to ensure you always have the money available for your purchase. You’ll be sure the cashier won’t take your cash twice. Use a credit card to ensure you have protection for fraud and “computer glitches” and to put another layer between the merchant and your bank account. Monitor your accounts frequently to make sure you don’t see any unauthorized or suspicious activity.

Photo credit: akz*
Macy’s owns up to debit card glitch on Saturday before Christmas, Dallas News, December 30, 2008

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If you do not already have an account at ING Direct and you’re interested in opening up a new savings account or checking account at this online bank, you can earn a $25 bonus just by using one of these referral links. If you transfer more than $250 as your initial deposit into your new account, you will receive $25 in the form of bonus interest.

At the same time, the Consumerism Commentary reader who provided the referral link will earn $10. I’ve previously used all of my available links, so I’ve opened this up to the public. Once your account is established, ING Direct will grant you referral links to share with your friends. It’s kind of a pyramid scheme, but it’s good. When you have links to share, watch here. I’ll be opening a new waiting list soon for readers who would like to earn money by posting their links.

Update: The waiting list is now open. If you’d like to share your own ING Direct referral links, read this information. I’m now looking for Consumerism Commentary readers to share links by adding their names to the waiting list.

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Home Prices Keep Falling

by Luke Landes

Six or seven years ago, a couple I knew married each other and bought a house right away. I can’t claim to know their personal financial details, but I am sure the value of the house was well beyond three times their combined income. The husband explained to me that house values never go down, ... Continue reading this article…

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Newer Credit Cards Are Less Secure

by Smithee

Every Tuesday, Smithee presents an article about his own experiences with credit cards and observations about the credit card industry. A few weeks ago I was the victim of debit card fraud. In my case the system worked very well. The bank’s automatic mechanisms noticed a few big-ticket items being purchased in Chicago, which is ... Continue reading this article…

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Last Call: Carnival of Personal Finance Looking for Hosts

by Luke Landes

The Carnival of Personal Finance has been running consecutively for 185 weeks. The latest edition is live at the Fraud Files blog, and every Monday this celebration of the week’s best in personal finance blogs is hosted at a new location. For bloggers, hosting the Carnival of Personal Finance is a good way to increase ... Continue reading this article…

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First Five Days of 2009 May Indicate Stock Market’s Performance

by Luke Landes

Over the last 36 years whose first five days resulted in a stock market increase, 31 of those years experienced an overall good year for stocks. While that’s a good track record, it’s not an infallible indicator. There are three trading days left in 2008, a lost cause for the stock market. This method has ... Continue reading this article…

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Evaluating This Year’s Progress Against My Goals

by Luke Landes

In December 2007, I set a number of financial goals or targets to be accomplished by the end of this year. In some cases I was successful while in others I fell short. It’s important to keep things in perspective; when I set these goals, the economy was in a significantly different state. The goals ... Continue reading this article…

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Publicly Shame a Deadbeat

by Luke Landes

Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. That’s a well-known quotation from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Polonius was perhaps concerned about, among other things, the public shame that could come from being a deadbeat borrower. As he proferred this and other ... Continue reading this article…

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2008 Charitable Giving: Did You Contribute Less?

by Luke Landes

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my long-term goals is to run a foundation to support arts education, specifically music education. To do this effectively, I would require a significant amount of start-up capital, and I’m not quite there yet. I’m not quite sure that I will ever have the opportunity to succeed, but if ... Continue reading this article…

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FNBO Direct Drops Interest Rate to 2.8% APY

by Luke Landes

FNBO Direct, the online bank that was recently rated best online savings account by Kiplinger, and one of my picks for best online savings accounts, significantly dropped the account’s interest rate today from 3.25 percent to 2.8 percent APY, a 20 percent decrease. I don’t normally chase the highest rates and move my money back and forth based ... Continue reading this article…

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My New Credit Card: Not for Credit

by Smithee

Every Tuesday, Smithee presents an article about his own experiences with credit cards and observations about the credit card industry. Two weeks ago I introduced you to a new credit card that offers 2 percent cash back that is deposited into a brokerage account. Then, a few hours later, I applied for the thing. In my ... Continue reading this article…

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Is Your Special Investment a Ponzi Scheme?

by Luke Landes

Here is how a Ponzi scheme works. The individual running the scheme promises abnormally high returns over a short period of time to the initial investors. These investors provide the start-up capital, and the schemer will do whatever he likes with that money, either invest it, spend it, or let it sit in a bank. ... Continue reading this article…

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Visa’s Take on Debit Cards

by Luke Landes

A representative from Visa offered to answer a few questions for Consumerism Commentary readers about debit cards. I’ve written previously about five reasons to avoid debit cards, preferring credit cards for plastic payment. Here are three questions I asked Visa and the company’s responses. I have three more questions to post in the future as ... Continue reading this article…

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Government Extends Loans to Detroit Automakers

by Luke Landes

This is today’s big news, and you’ve probbably heard about it already. This morning, President Bush approved three-year loan to GM and Chrysler which would give these companies $13.4 billion now and $4 billion in February. There are strings attached. Although the loans have terms of three years, the government will require the companies to ... Continue reading this article…

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9 Tips for Choosing and Achieving a Purpose in Life

by Luke Landes

Recently, I mentioned that setting goals is an important part of taking control of your personal finances, focusing on the idea that the best approach is to determine your major, non-financial life goals first. This is a difficult process for many people, and many people go through life without determining a direction. There’s nothing wrong ... Continue reading this article…

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Getting Paid Back for a College Education: 15 Top Schools

by Luke Landes

If the only value of higher education is the money you earn throughout your lifetime with your college degree, then SmartMoney’s recent study might help you decide where to matriculate. Ivy League schools don’t pay off as much as one might expect. The magazine surveyed the annual salaries earned by graduates of 50 of the ... Continue reading this article…

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ING Direct Electric Orange Interest Rate Drops to 0.5% APY!

by Luke Landes

For those who have enjoyed high-yield savings and checking accounts, get ready for a difficult time keeping up with inflation. ING Direct announced just minutes ago that the bank is dropping the interest rate on the first $50,000 per person deposited in their Electric Orange checking account to 0.5 percent APY. The interest rate is based ... Continue reading this article…

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The Federal Reserve Cut is Irrelevant

by Luke Landes

The Federal Reserve is expected to drop the federal funds rate to 0.5 percent today, the lowest it has ever been. When the Fed drops rates, its intent is to increase lending between banks. This drop, however, will likely have no effect on the bank’s lending practices. This rate is just a target, and it doesn’t ... Continue reading this article…

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