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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, Credit.com 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. Credit.com 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 Credit.com for the “Credit Mix” category. Credit.com 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. Read the full article →

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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.

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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 ConsumerismCommentary.com), 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.

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As I find time, I write articles for websites other than Consumerism Commentary. This will always be my home for writing about money, but I’ll take whatever opportunity I can to share my thoughts online with more readers.

Here are a few of the recent articles I’ve published around the internet. Please read these and participate by commenting if you are so inclined.

Combining Money With Your Honey. Can a couple where both participants have different attitudes towards money and different incomes survive in a relationship with combined finances? The title of this article doesn’t sound like me — I think my original title was, “How People With Differing Attitudes can Combine Finances.” I’m pretty sure the new title is an improvement.

Be the Big Saver on Campus. This article is a guide for first-year college students, known vernacularly as freshmen or frosh. I don’t remember thinking about money at all when I first entered college, but if I had I probably would have been in a better situation when I graduated.

Is the Frugal Life Here to Stay? I keep hearing about the “New Frugality” in the media, and I often receive questions about whether those growing up post-Great Recession will have adopted an entirely new lifestyle that will last until they die, like those who grew up in the Great Depression. I certainly have an answer for that question.

These are only the most recent articles. You can look forward to more of these in the future.

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Ten Things I Will Teach My Children About Money

by Luke Landes

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 ... Continue reading this article…

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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 ... Continue reading this article…

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Three Detailed Income Strategies for Retirement

by Luke Landes

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 ... Continue reading this article…

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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 ... Continue reading this article…

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Keep Emotions Separate From Financial Decisions

by Luke Landes

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 ... Continue reading this article…

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

by Luke Landes

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 ... Continue reading this article…

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Vanishing Overdraft Fees Pave Way For New Charges

by Jeff

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 ... Continue reading this article…

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Generate Your Own Chase Checking $100 Bonus Code, September 2010

by Luke Landes

JP Morgan Chase Bank is offering a $100 bonus for new customers who sign up for the Chase Checking account. If you are not a current customer of Chase, you can qualify for this $100 bonus with an initial deposit of $100 and by initiating a direct deposit or five purchases using your new debit ... Continue reading this article…

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Overdraft Fees: Some Banks Let You Opt Out

by Smithee

Overdraft fees are nothing to sneeze at. Having not always been a model bank customer, I know how it feels like an unfair punishment to have roughly $30 taken away when my account is already negative. I’ve also worked for Bank of America, and I can see why they use a dis-incentive to drive away ... Continue reading this article…

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A Report Card for Financial Rules of Thumb

by Luke Landes

I’m not a big fan of “rules of thumb.” These are bite-sized nuggets of wisdom masquerading as advice, designed to apply to a mass audience. At best, they cant point someone in the right direction, but at worst, rules of thumb can erroneously send people on the wrong path or can mistakenly instill a false ... Continue reading this article…

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2010 Federal Income Tax Brackets and Marginal Rates

by Luke Landes

Thanks to a low level of inflation, there won’t be too many changes to tax brackets and the standard deduction in 2010. I’ll keep this updated if the IRS decides to set the rates differently than outlined in this prediction, but chances are these will be the official brackets. Remember that if you are “in ... Continue reading this article…

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One Person’s Successful Debtor’s Revolt

by Smithee

Frequent readers know all about how a depressed economy and new laws are serving as convenient excuses for banks to be raising interest rates and otherwise penalizing clients, even those who pose no risk. Ann Minch was presented with multiple notices of an interest rate hike. Even though she says she’s never missed a payment, ... Continue reading this article…

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America’s Total Net Worth is Up. Is Yours?

by Luke Landes

The total net worth among Americans has risen to $53 trillion, the highest this measure has been since the end of 2007. At that point, Americans were worth $65 trillion. The increase this past quarter of $2 trillion was the first increase in this measure since 2007. I am taking this as a good sign ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 22: Mint’s Acquisition by Intuit and Roth IRA Conversions

by Luke Landes

CEO and founder of Mint, Aaron Patzer, joins Consumerism Commentary again to discuss his company’s recent acquisition by Intuit and possible changes to personal finance software. Also on today’s poscast, Tom Dziubek speaks with Bryan Olson from Charles Schwab about the new rules for Roth IRA conversion that will be in effect next year. To ... Continue reading this article…

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Real-time Traffic GPS for the iPhone

by Smithee

Soon. As in, October-soon. It looks like the first iPhone app to bring us real-time traffic alerts, and that comes with offline maps, will be the Navigon MobileNavigator (Earlier CNET review. iTunes Store link.) The AT&T Navigator (CNET review) also has live traffic data, but takes more time to download maps as you go, and ... Continue reading this article…

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Congress Plans to Extend the First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit

by Luke Landes

The $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers is set to expire at the end of November, but lawmakers don’t want this benefit to end. While there have been some positive signs in the real estate market, the current credit hasn’t done much to stimulate house prices or the economy overall. All year, some senators ... Continue reading this article…

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