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September 2009

For a few years, Credit Karma has been offering a product that lets consumers see what lenders and employers see when they look at the consumers’ credit reports. After securely and privately providing your personal information, Credit Karma retrieves your credit report from one of the credit reporting bureaus, either Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion.

Credit Karma then analyzes your details and assigns a grade, A through F. The various categories receiving grades relate to the items that determine your credit score. Lenders review these items when deciding whether to extend credit to you, how much credit to extend, and at what cost.

This is a free service, supported by advertising.

Yesterday, announced they will also be offering a similar free service, providing a credit report card to help you evaluate and improve your credit report.

So which service is better? I took both services for test drives.

Credit report cards

Here are some of the most obvious differences. assigns grades to the following categories: Payment history, debt usage, credit age, account mix, and inquiries. Credit Karma’s categories are similar: Open credit card utilization, percent of on-time payments, average age of open credit lines, total accounts, hard credit inquiries, total debt, and debt-to-income ratio. More categories, and therefore more information, is more helpful.

To look further into the health of my credit, Credit Karma offers charts in each category, placing my result within the spectrum of results from the Credit Karma Community, all users of the website. So I can see, for example, that the grade of “C” Credit Karma gave me for “Total Accounts,” which includes how those accounts are divided among revolving credit accounts and loans, puts me in a group of users who received an average score of 683, significantly lower than my score.

This tells me I’m doing well enough in the other categories to make up for this deficit but improving my mix of accounts will improve my score further.

I also received a grade of “C” from for the “Credit Mix” category. doesn’t offer a chart, but it does include details about my types of credit (23 revolving credit accounts, 0 mortgage loans, 1 auto loan, 6 student loans) and excellent suggestions for specific actions I can take to improve in this category.

Here are some screen shots. Click on the thumbnails to see the full-size images. [click to continue…]


My accountant has strongly suggested I move my business-related financial accounting out of my personal Quicken file and into QuickBooks. It has been a slow process so far, and I have determined that I have not done a great job of separating my business finances from my personal finances.

QuickBooks 2010 was released yesterday. The software comes in a number of different flavors and the variety is a bit intimidating. I downloaded the QuickBooks Simple Start Free Edition in order to get started, but this edition of the software is limited to the point that it is insufficient for me. The Free Edition is limited to only twenty customers. In this version there is no connectivity with banks. While a very basic business could get by with these features, even running websites requires something more robust. One feature I would have liked with the free version, or the $100 (on sale for $80) QuickBooks Simple Start, is the ability to enter my bills as I receive them.

If you’re serious about keeping your books, it looks like your best bets are QuickBooks Pro ($200 on sale for $160) or QuickBooks Premier ($400 on sale for $320). You can also find editions of Pro and Premier that allow more than one user to access your data at the same time for an additional price.

QuickBooks Pro - Save up to 20% & Free Shipping

Intuit also offers one version of QuickBooks for Mac.

My accountant says he has a few clients who upgrade their version of QuickBooks every year, so in order to complete their tax returns, he must also upgrade every year. It looks like I’d be best suited for QuickBooks Pro but I want to do as much as I can in the free version of Simple Start.

There are too many flavors of QuickBooks to list, but you can find discounted prices on all Intuit QuickBooks products here.

Consumerism Commentary is an authorized affiliate of QuickBooks and Quicken.


If you’re an AAA member in California, Hawaii, New Mexico or Texas, you’re suddenly eligible for a free credit monitoring service, provided by Experian.

While I was looking through the fine print (a free service for you provided by, I found this, which gave me pause:

You are receiving a complimentary credit monitoring membership. Your membership is effective for the period disclosed to you when you received your activation code. Should you choose to discontinue your membership for any reason before expiration of the then applicable membership term for which you are entitled, you may cancel your membership by calling the toll-free number listed on this Web Site or the toll-free number listed in the welcome materials sent to you. Please be aware that if, at the end of your promotional membership, you decide to continue your membership for a monthly/annual fee, you will have an opportunity to re-enroll at a separate website with different Terms and Conditions.

But the e-mail I got from AAA stated:

This benefit is complimentary to AAA members—there are no hidden fees or charges. You won’t be asked to provide any payment information when you sign up.

There was an offer along the way to see my credit score for $5, but I’m happily using the free CreditKarma service for that.

When it was all done, there was a big button labeled “View Credit Report”, which isn’t the same as “identity theft monitoring”, but for all of our sakes, I clicked it. Thankfully, there was a menu option (all the way at the top, very small font) for “Credit Monitoring”. Here’s what you actually get:

  • Daily Monitoring of your Experian Credit Report
  • Email Alerts of key changes to your Experian Credit Report
  • Dedicated Representatives for Identity Theft Victims
  • Experian Credit Report

I love e-mail alerts, so I’ll be keeping this on for a while, and I’ll report back on its usefulness.


I do not currently have children, but I have not ruled out starting a family some day. If and when I do have children, I hope I will be able to help them become smart and capable adults over time. I believe this is what my parents have done for me, and I’d like to believe I’m in a position to pass on good attitudes about money.

Here are a few concepts I’d like to teach these future children about money as they become old enough to understand them.

I intend to teach as much by example as by conversation with the understanding that no person is perfect.

1. Money is neither good nor evil. Money is simply a tool, with no quality that defines it as good or evil. It can, however, be used to do good things or evil things. Money does help reveal the nature of a person. There is nothing inherently bad about not having little wealth or having great wealth. The value of a person is not defined by how much money he or she has, so you cannot judge a person by looking at the bank account statements.

2. Money is not a goal. There is no point in wanting to have one million dollars, or any sum of wealth that might make a good milestone, if it servers no purpose other than to sit in a bank account or at the bottom of a balance sheet. Focus on real goals, not net worth. Don’t be the boy who, when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, answers, “Rich.” It’s not the number that counts, it’s what you do with it.

3. Money will not make you happy. Money is not correlated to happiness. Rich people aren’t necessarily happier than poor people. In fact, wealthy people are more stressed. The happiest people are those who are satisfied with what they have; if you always want more, you will always be struggling. Now, there will be people who will tell you that you must constantly strive for more in order to be successful, but these are people who equate success with things like job title, wealth, and seeing their name on seminar advertisement posters. They’re probably not happy. It’s okay not to settle, but only if your goals are worthwhile.

4. Don’t be jealous of other people’s money. There will always be people who have more money than you, but there will always be many more people who have less. If you learn to handle your money properly, you will find that you’re more financially secure than others who try hard to flaunt their wealth; those with fancy cars and houses may owe money to other people and to banks. Jealousy is a distracting emotion, so it’s better for your own sanity to worry about yourself than it is to look at other people, especially when you can only see what they are showing on the surface.

5. If you are in a position to help, you have an obligation to help. As I mentioned above, at any one time it is more likely you’ll be in a better financial position than most of the other people who live on this planet. You are lucky to be born in a rich country in a very prosperous time. Though it is no fault of your own, these circumstances present the responsibility of helping to make this world a better place in whatever way you see fit.

6. Companies want your money. Corporations spend lots of their own money trying to develop ways to get you to give your money to them. Don’t believe what you see in commercials, on television shows, in movies, on the internet, or even on the news. Everyone has an angle and that angle is often to try to get you to part with your money. It’s a cynical view of media and of the world, but turn off the commercials and think for yourself. Increase the signal-to-noise ratio.

7. Pay attention to your money. Once you start receiving an allowance, create a budget. Save part of the money and spend the rest as you see fit, but write out a budget and track everything you buy. This is a good habit to start early. If you’re paying attention, you’ll soon realize that the only situation that results in building your wealth is spending less than you have.

8. Don’t expect a free lunch. I will do everything in my power to ensure that lots of opportunities are available to you, but our culture within the “middle class” is defined by trading your time and effort for money. In other words, you get paid for working and you get paid better for working harder. You’re not a Bush, so you won’t get to be President of the United States because it runs in our family. There is no trust fund.

9. Save as much as you can for later. Even though Albert Einstein never really said that compound interest is the strongest force in the universe, he probably would suggest saving as much money as possible. It is true that the sooner you can control your actions to delay gratification, the better you can plan for the future. But it is also true that spending money shouldn’t always illicit a feeling of gratification. Feel good about saving, then you can feel gratified when you put money in the bank, not when you take it out.

10. Avoid borrowing money. Just like money is inherently neither good nor evil, owing money to other people is inherently neither good nor evil. Borrowing money has its drawbacks. Any purchase you finance with interest will end up costing more than it should. However, within the “middle class,” it will be difficult to avoid some borrowing. Not all debt has to be bad. You may need a loan for college and you almost definitely will need a mortgage to buy a house. Make smart choices about these purchases and you’ll be in a good position even if you do have debt.

11 (bonus). It’s not about the money. While money gives you flexibility and eventually independence, don’t spend too much of your time focusing on it. Realize that money should not be the sole driver for your decisions. Many smart people will tell you about “return on investment” (ROI), but sometimes you can’t measure the validity of a decision by how much money you receive. Think about all factors when making decisions. Some decisions, like those pertaining to investments, should be based on financial considerations as much as possible. But for other decisions pertaining to your life, money should be only one consideration of many.

Do you disagree with any of the above lessons? What do or will you teach your children about money? Is there anything else you wish your parents had taught you?


Podcast 23: Haggling and Negotiating From Hostage Crisis to the Grocery Game

by Luke Landes

Our theme for today’s podcast is haggling and negotiating. The first guest in today’s Consumerism Commentary Podcast is Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything and adviser to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Herb speaks about the experiences that led to his work in high profile negotiations and offers tips for everyday haggling […]

5 comments Read the full article →

Three Detailed Income Strategies for Retirement

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Earlier this week, I reviewed common financial rules of thumb and offered a quick evaluation of how each rule would likely perform if accepted by an individual as the final word. One of these was the rule that convinces retirees they will be financially secure if they withdraw 4 percent of their nest egg for income […]

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Earning What You Have: The Mindset I Hope I Never Lose

by Smithee

I think I come from a moderately humble background. My parents are both college graduates, which is a statistical leg up by itself, but my father had to work two jobs until I was 15, and I’m the youngest of my siblings. Mom also started working part-time when I was about 10, and then full-time […]

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Keep Emotions Separate From Financial Decisions

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If you are reading this article, it is almost completely guaranteed that you are human. And if you are human and do not have a major cerebral deficit, you have emotions. Perhaps have is not a strong enough word; everything you do, and every decision you make, is controlled by your emotions. Even the strive […]

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Wells Fargo Joins Bank of America and Chase With New Overdraft Policies

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Yesterday, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase Bank announced they were changing their policies to allow customers to opt out of overdraft protection. Wells Fargo decided to follow in their footsteps late yesterday, announcing a number of changes at this bank. The following changes also apply to Wachovia, the bank that was acquired by […]

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Vanishing Overdraft Fees Pave Way For New Charges

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Almost everyone has an story about the annoyance of overdraft fees. We all had cause to rejoice after reading Smithee’s recent post about banks backing off of overdraft fees. However, banks, being the business that they are, are already scheming for new ways to wring money out of us. An AP article on a local […]

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