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July 2009

Take Back the Beep Campaign

This article was written by in Consumer. 4 comments.


If you were to start adding a comment to this blog post, but we first made you wait fifteen seconds after pressing the “comment” button to make you hear some extraneous instructions, you’d be terribly frustrated. Now imagine if every Web site had the same problem, and imagine further that you were being charged for every second of time you spend online.

That’s basically the problem (well, one of the problems) with America’s big mobile phone companies. Anytime you want to leave a message for, say, a Verizon customer, you hear this:

At the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press 1 for more options. To leave a callback number, press 5.

We’ve heard these messages so much that we could all do bang-on impressions of them. For the most part, I usually just roll my eyes and my sense of the phone company’s collective intelligence goes down one more notch.

But David Pogue, technology columnist for the New York Times, sees a more serious problem: mobile phone carriers are using this extra-fifteen-seconds-per-call in a disgusting attempt to get more money from each of us. These seconds count towards our airtime usage. If you’re paying as you go, you see the problem right away. And even if you have a monthly plan, just four messages a month means a minute that you shouldn’t be using up.

But Mr. Pogue has an idea for fixing this (not to mention shocking data on how big the problem is). He’s started the “Take Back the Beep” campaign, wherein you and I send e-mails to the four biggest mobile phone companies, politely demanding that they quit this at-least annoying and at-worst money-grabbing activity. From the article:

cell executives admitted to me, point-blank, that the voicemail instructions exist primarily to make you use up airtime, thereby maximizing ARPU (Average Revenue per User)

If Verizon’s 70 million customers leave or check messages twice a weekday, Verizon rakes in about $620 million a year.

I’m heartened by stories that start out as a single complaint on Twitter, and end up getting a huge corporation’s attention, who is then obligated to rectify the matter. This should be even bigger than that. I took the time to send my complaint to AT&T. Won’t you?

Maybe if this is successful, we can then get mobile phone operators to admit that what we’re doing is just making phone calls, like we always used to do, and therefore, if you are the recipient of the call, you shouldn’t pay for it.

Take Back the Beep Campaign, David Pogue, The New York Times, July 30, 2009

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If you are disappointed with the low interest yields offered by even the highest-yield savings and money market accounts, but you don’t want to tie your short-term cash in a riskier investment, consider certificates of deposit (CDs). CDs, however, generally carry penalties if you withdraw your cash before they mature. In other words, you invest in a CD designated with a length of time that represents when you would like your money, plus interest, back. But if you need to liquidate the CD, a bank may take away some or all of the interest that has accrued since the time of the deposit. Be sure to be aware of the best CD rates so you’re prepared for how much you can earn.

A certificate of deposit is considered a “deposit account” just like a savings account or money market account. You are allowed to earn interest, and if the bank enrolls in the program, your cash will be protected by the FDIC up to the limits allowed by law.

There is a way to structure your certificates of deposit in a form that reduces the risk of losing a large portion of your interest, and it is called a CD ladder. At staggered intervals, you buy CDs with staggered maturity dates until you only need to buy CDs with the longest maturity date. The result is every few months, a CD matures and you can roll the cash into a new CD or use the cash for your short-term expense needs.

The process consists of two phases. For this example, we’ll use the latest rates from Ally Bank which does not have a minimum balance requirement.

Setting up the ladder

These are the CD products and interest rates we will be dealing with. These are example rates, so check with your bank to determine the interest you’ll earn. APYs are as of December 19, 2014.

Duration APY
3 Month 0.30%
6 Month 0.60%
9 Month 0.65%
12 Month 1.05%
2 Year 1.29%
3 Year 1.40%
4 Year 1.30%
5 Year 2.00%

We can use this combination of maturities to create a ladder that provides us with a roll-over, or a chance to withdraw part of the cash, every three months. During Phase 1, this will require a combination, but by Phase 2, all CDs will be of the 5-year maturity, which usually offers the highest interest rates. Remember that five years is as long as you want to go; any money that you won’t need for more than five years can stand to be in a slightly riskier investment.

Assume that we have $10,000 that we’d like to begin rolling into certificates of deposit. Since the longest we want to go is five years, we can split this evenly over time at $2,000 per year. Our shortest maturity is three months, so we can tackle this in terms of $500 a quarter.

In the first phase, start on day zero by buying CDs in the following pattern:

  • $500 in the 3 month CD
  • $500 in the 6 month CD
  • $500 in the 9 month CD
  • $2,000 in the 12 month CD
  • $2,000 in the 2 year CD
  • $2,000 in the 3 year CD
  • $2,000 in the 4 year CD
  • $500 in the 5 year CD

At the end of the each of the first three quarters, withdraw each quarter’s $500 plus interest and use the funds to buy new 5 year CDs. For the sake of the example, we’ll withdraw the interest and place it in another bank account to use as income. To make more of your money, “reinvest” your interest each quarter.

Watch out for automatic renewal. At Ally Bank, CDs are automatically renewed for the same duration when they mature. During this stage, you will need to be proactive to withdraw the funds at maturity and use them to buy the next appropriate CD.

After one year of doing the above, this is what we have:

  • $2,000 maturing today (original 12 month CD)
  • $2,000 maturing in one year (original 2 year CD)
  • $2,000 maturing in two years
  • $2,000 maturing in three years
  • $500 maturing in four years
  • $500 maturing in four years, three months
  • $500 maturing in four years, six months
  • $500 maturing in four years, nine months

With the $2,000 maturing today, buy:

  • $500 in the 3 month CD
  • $500 in the 6 month CD
  • $500 in the 9 month CD
  • $500 in the 5 year CD

Do the same with the $2,000 that matures each year until you have 20 CDs, each maturing every quarter for the next five years. Once this process is complete, you can allow the automatic renewals to take effect except for when you need to withdraw your money.

Drawbacks of the CD ladder

You may notice that, as long as rates for long-term CDs remain higher than short-term CDs as they do most of the time, this method results in earning less than simply investing your entire $10,000 in a 5 year CD. But the CD ladder provides you some protection against losing interest if you need to withdraw your funds early. At Ally Bank, the penalty is not significant. This bank will charge you the amount of three months’ interest if you withdraw a CD with a maturity of 12 months or less or 6 months’ interest if you withdraw a CD with a maturity of longer than 12 months.

Another possibility to consider is that you might earn more interest in a high-yield savings account than you would in a short term CD. Ally Bank’s Online Savings Account earns 0.99% APY as of December 19, 2014, making it more attractive than the 3, 6, and 9 month CDs. When this is the case, use a specially designated savings account rather than the short term CDs.

We could have made this process easier by setting up a ladder that results in a turnover of $2,000 once a year rather than $5,000 every quarter. This method allows you to decrease the possibility of losing interest because you will always be able to access a portion of your investment within three months. In combination with a savings account, which is liquid at all times, you can earn consistently higher interest rates with less risk than using five-year CDs that mature only once a year.

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If you are interested in winning one of two iPods, today is the last day you can qualify. We’re celebrating Consumerism Commentary’s sixth anniversary by hosting a “scavenger hunt.” Four clues have been scattered throughout the website and media throughout the past couple of weeks.

The details for the scavenger hunt are here. If you are interested in having your name included in the random selection for one of the iPods, make sure you send the four clues you find, in the order that makes the most sense, to fourclues at this domain name.

As a further hint, you can find the four clues in the first post about the giveaway, the RSS feed, an episode of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, and the most recent email newsletter. The last newsletter was sent last Sunday, so if you haven’t joined you might need an extra hint: the clue is the middle five letters of the fourth word in the title of this article about the Cash for Clunkers Program being suspended.

Good luck!

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Editor’s Note: This program is back on again and should be available through Labor Day, 2009

All good things must come to an end, and in some cases, prematurely. The “Cash for Clunkers” Program, or more formally, the Car Allowance Rebate System, has allocated almost all of its budget to rebates after only four days. The law called for the program to last until November 1 or until the funds are depleted, which ever condition occurs sooner, but I do not think there were many people who expected the funds to run out this quickly.

Consider yourself lucky if you were able to qualify for the program before it was suspended.

Car dealerships apparently saw active business this past weekend, and if all the funds were used up then the program was somewhat successful. While on the surface, Cash for Clunkers appeared to be a program designed to help consumers or to help the environment, but the real goal was to help dealers sell cars. It resulted in some short-term success despite setbacks due to the EPA’s recalculation of mpg, but we will have to wait for the car companies to report their finances to judge the success.

It’s also a possibility that Cash for Clunkers will come back. If the Congress decides the program is worth spending more money, we could see another Cash for Clunkers. And if we do, it might even improved to apply to more cars.

Update: While the Transportation Department called dealerships to tell them to stop accepting applications for Cash for Clunkers, the White House informed the public overnight that the program would continue. The House and Senate are now racing to re-authorize the program for another $2 billion.

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House Sales Improved in June, But is the Housing Crisis Over?

by Luke Landes

“Now is a great time to buy.” That has been the advertising mantra of the National Association of Realtors regardless of the state of the housing market. The NAR certainly has a purpose; its mission and vision is clearly displayed on the organization’s website: “The core purpose of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® is to ... Continue reading this article…

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EPA Disqualifies Shoppers From Cash for Clunkers Program

by Luke Landes

The Cash for Clunkers Program went into effect recently, but so did changes to the official EPA-estimated mpg ratings of several cars. For example, the 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis, according to CNN Money, was rated a combined 18 mpg last week, but as the program began this week, the rating for this year, make and ... Continue reading this article…

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FICO Suing the Credit Bureaus Over VantageScore

by Luke Landes

Fair Isaac, the company that created and owns what is generally known as your credit score, is suing Experian and TransUnion, two of the three credit reporting bureaus, for creating a competing product that blurs the line between the “real” credit score and the others. The third credit reporting bureau, Equifax, agreed to settle with ... Continue reading this article…

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Stealing Entertainment, Revisited

by Smithee

A week ago I wrote a post called “Is it Ever Okay to Steal Entertainment?”, which produced great comments from our readers, many of whom were clearly incensed that I would ever try to rationalize stealing from content creators. I’ve been thinking about the criticism and understanding that was added to the original article. I ... Continue reading this article…

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Growth Career Fields for the Next Twenty Years

by Luke Landes

If you happen to be entering college and would like to decide the field you would like your career to be or feel the need to choose a major, you may want to consider a field that has growth prospects over the next twenty years or more. Even if you are already a few years ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 14: ING Direct’s “We, the Savers” and the AICPA’s Feed the Pig Campaign

by Luke Landes

Episode 14 of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast includes interviews with representatives from ING Direct and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Our discussion with Jim Kelly, the chief operating officer of ING Direct, focuses on the bank’s “We, the Savers” campaign and we also discuss ING Direct’s beginnings in the United States and ... Continue reading this article…

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Posts of the Week

by Luke Landes

Here are a few articles from around the web I recommend reading. A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step. A few days ago, Tom, the producer of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, and I spoke with Matt Jabs and recorded most of that conversation for an upcoming episode. Part of the discussion ... Continue reading this article…

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EverBank Money Market Account Review

by Luke Landes

A little while ago, I noted the interest rates offered by EverBank and decided to open the Yield Pledge Money Market Account to take advantage of the generous “bonus” interest offered in the first three months of holding an account. The account opening process, beginning on July 8th and two weeks later on July 23rd, ... Continue reading this article…

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50 Actions You Can Take Right Now to Pay Off Debt

by Luke Landes

There are many differing opinions about whether you can assign a quality like “good” or “bad” to debt. In general, I tend to believe that if debt is providing access to a necessary asset, like an education, a car, or a house, debt is at the least understandable. With debt, there is always a risk, ... Continue reading this article…

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Preserving the Harvest

by Jeff

If you planted your garden in mid-to late April like we did, you’ve already started to see the beginnings of your harvest. Our green onions have been out of control for a little while now, and our radishes are starting to get nice and big as well. We’re just now getting great peas and beans, ... Continue reading this article…

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Answering Mail: Free Annual Credit Reports, Online Savings Accounts

by Luke Landes

Every so often I address questions and comments I receive via email. If you have a question, please contact me using the form on this page. I try to respond to everyone, but it might take a while before I read every email I receive. From Mary Lynn: I really liked your article that explained ... Continue reading this article…

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Still Waiting for EverBank to Open My Account

by Luke Landes

Last I checked, this is the twenty-first century. In the last few years, I have developed certain expectations for the banks I deal with, particularly those that offer online banking. On July 8, I signed up for an account with EverBank, a money market account offering a high bonus interest rate for the first three ... Continue reading this article…

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Is it Ever Okay to Steal Entertainment?

by Smithee

As a part-time producer of creative works that I think are worth something (though I’m not currently requiring payment for anything), I struggle with the urge to acquire my entertainment media as conveniently, quickly and cheaply as possible. My viewpoints on this have changed over time, especially as my disposable income grew, and I’d like ... Continue reading this article…

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10 Things Your Parents Didn’t Teach You About Money

by Luke Landes

When you were growing up, you probably became accustomed to hearing some typical thoughts about money from your parents. These parents are the ones who told you that money doesn’t grow on trees. If it weren’t for your parents, you wouldn’t know that children are starving in Africa and therefore you should eat your entire ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 13: Tips for Graduating Students and the Cash for Clunkers Program

by Luke Landes

The thirteenth episode of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast features myself and our media producer, Tom Dziubek, in a discussion about tips for graduating seniors who are entering the job market and are embarking upon a career this summer. Also in today’s episode, Tom discusses the Cash for Clunkers program with an expert from Intuit, Bob ... Continue reading this article…

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Posts of the Week

by Luke Landes

Here are a few articles from around the web I suggest reading. Dangerous Personal Finance Magazine Headlines: The Attraction of High Yields. Jonathan points out some recent examples from magazines featuring enticing headlines on the cover. This is done to inspire sales of magazines. The investing advice found within is dubious, and important facts are ... Continue reading this article…

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