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June 2010

Chase Freedom Review

This article was written by in Credit. 2 comments.

Chase has launched the Chase Freedom® with a $100 cash back offer that deserves serious consideration. All new cardholders can earn a $100 statement credit after being approved for the Chase Freedom® and making $500 in purchases over the first three months of card ownership. Shortly thereafter, the $100 bonus will be credited to your account and it can be put toward the balance of your credit card. Good to excellent credit is required to take advantage of this offer.

The card is currently offering an introductory 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. Balance transfers are assessed a 3 percent fee with a minimum of $5.

Chase, one of the largest banks in the world, already had a cash back offer in place for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, but unless your a somewhat big spender or are planning a large purchase, obtaining that cash back offer is difficult ($3,000 needs to be spent in the first three months). With this card, the $500 is much more reasonable.

The Chase Freedom® also includes features other than the bonus cash back. Any purchase you make will receive 1 percent cash back and each quarter you’ll have the opportunity to activate to earn 5 percent cash back on rotating categories on up to $1,500 spent each quarter. Here is the fourth quarter 2013 bonus cash back schedule for the 5 percent cash back program:

  • October 1 through December 31, 2013 – on up to $1,500 spent on Amazon.com and select department stores

The Chase Freedom® carries no annual fee. This offer is available for a limited time, so if you’re interested, or want more information, you may want to visit the Chase Freedom application page.


This is a guest article by Donna Freedman. Donna writes the Living With Less personal finance column for MSN Money, posts weekly at MSN Smart Spending and blogs at Surviving and Thriving.

Is your budget hurting? It could be overuse syndrome.

Ergonomically speaking, a body part that is forced to work at a greater level than it is prepared for will suffer strain and possibly serious damage over time.

Economically speaking, a budget that’s impacted too hard will suffer, too.

The obvious answers are to earn more or to spend less. A whole bunch of people would love to earn more. But during a recession, a whole bunch of people feel lucky to have jobs at all.

Which brings us to spending less, i.e., causing less strain on your paycheck. But suppose you’ve already cut the health club membership or the 600 cable channels. Or suppose you never had those frills to begin with and are wondering where to cut back.

Try some macro savings techniques. Specifically, look at the things you do every day to see if you’re overdoing them.

Here’s an easy example: driving at the speed limit or above it. If you slow down from 65 to 55 mph, your gas mileage improves by 15%, according to this article.

xeriscapeIt’s hard to estimate the cost of some habits. Water is a good example. Some people pay for city water (and, later, for the city sewer). Other consumers pay only for the electricity needed to pump it up from their own wells (plus, maybe, eventual pumping of their septic systems). Folks who live off the grid use people power to pump or haul. The first two groups can benefit from suggestions like xeriscaping the yard, installing faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads, and breaking habits like letting the water run while dishes are rinsed or teeth or brushed.

But we indulge in many other forms of waste that are much stealthier. I’m talking about habits so ingrained that we don’t realize how much they cost us – or why they might be unnecessary.

Pill popping

For example, do you take a pain reliever at the first twinge of a headache? Maybe you really need that ibuprofen. But maybe you just need a change of scenery, especially if you’re stuck in Cubicle Land with a bunch of other Whack-A-Moles. Some people take several smoke breaks a day or hang out by the water cooler; surely you can justify stepping outside for five minutes of fresh air, or at least to walk out of the room and move around for a few minutes. (Best-case scenario: You find a quiet spot to take a power nap.)

Headaches can sometimes be a sign of mild dehydration, so take a drink of water. Massage your neck or scalp. Brush your hair. Stretch. If you can find that quiet and private spot, do a couple of simple yoga poses.

Feel better? If not, then go ahead and take the ibuprofen.

Notice that I said “ibuprofen” rather than a brand name. The generic versions work just as well and are almost always cheaper, unless you have a coupon or rebate deal.

Keep it clean, on the cheap

Do you fill the laundry soap cap all the way? It’s probably overkill, unless your spouse is a farrier or a sewer worker. Clothes that aren’t heavily soiled can be washed with as little as one-fourth the recommended amount of detergent. Cut back slowly and see if you notice any difference. If not, then you’re spending 50% to 75% less each year on soap.

Some people make their own laundry detergent. You could do that, too, if you like that sort of thing. Maybe I’ll try it myself, once I go through the approximately two years’ worth of suds I’ve stashed cheaply thanks to coupons and rebates.

Speaking of laundry: Do you wash a bath towel after one use? Do you have to launder clothing every time you wear them or could you sometimes delay laundry day? I’m not talking about clothes you’ve worn while toting barges and lifting bales, but rather a shirt you wore for a few hours at church or a dress you wore to a job interview. Re-wearing means saving more laundry soap plus water, utilities, and wear and tear on your washing machine and your clothes.

Not on your dryer, though, since you mostly hang clothes to dry. You do, don’t you?

Cleanliness is next to thriftiness

Apparently you have to fill only one of the two detergent cups in your dishwasher. Personally, I use my dishwasher for storage; it’s full of canning jars and lids. Thus I can’t vouch for this tip -– but I see no reason to doubt it.

You don’t need to frost your entire toothbrush with toothpaste, despite what you see in the ads. (Think about it: Who designs the ads? The folks who sell toothpaste!) My sister the dental hygienist says this is true. In fact, she agrees with Amy Dacyczyn, who wrote a “Tightwad Gazette” article saying that you don’t really need toothpaste at all: Just plain water and dedicated brushing for at least three minutes will do the trick.

Myself, I like feeling all minty-fresh. But a little dab’ll do ya. Really. Try a spot of toothpaste the size of a pea. That’s up to a 75% annual savings.

How many times have you accidentally squeezed out too much shampoo but used it anyway? Next time the bottle is half-empty, fill it with water and shake well. Just a little squirt of the resulting liquid lathers quite nicely. When the bottle is empty, pour half of a new bottle into that one, fill both the rest of the way with water and shake, lather, save.

Also, consider washing your hair every other day (unless it’s particularly oily) and conditioning only a couple of times a week (unless your hair is particularly dry). Potential savings: 50% or more.

Or: Don’t use shampoo at all. This one’s a bit fringe-y for me but some folks swear by it. (Others swear at it.) Potential savings: 100%.

More ways to save

Do you automatically order soda or iced tea with meals out? At fast-food restaurants do you always upgrade to the cup that’s big enough to bathe in? In both cases you could save a couple of dollars a pop, as it were, by sticking with water or choosing the regular meal sizes, which are usually plenty big enough. Or try this: Order a kid’s meal and refill the cup as needed. It’s not only cheaper, you get a toy!

Of course, restaurant meals should be the exception, not the rule. Packing a lunch is a much thriftier way to go. Healthier, too, since you can control portion size, sodium intake, etc. When I interviewed people who’d started doing this, a common refrain was, “I just never added it up — I could kick myself now that I realize how much I’ve been spending all these years.”

dried beansCould you cut back on the meat used in a chili, stew or casserole? Or do you need to use meat at all? I’m a dedicated opportunivore — I’ll eat whatever’s around — but I can also go a week with few or no animal products. Maybe you can, too. Try a “meatless Monday,” a “vegan until 6” or some other way to go vegetarian once a week.

When making that chili or other dishes, do you need to use canned beans? Dry beans are much, much cheaper; for the price of one can (1 and 2/3 cups) of beans, you can buy almost two pounds of dry beans, which will yield six cups when cooked. They’re easy to prepare in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker.

Penny-ante or penny-wise?

Some people decry these nickel-and-dime tips as, well, too nickel-and-dime. They don’t think that packing a lunch or washing Ziploc bags could translate into real savings.

I don’t agree. If adjusting a few habits saved you 50% or more on everyday expenses, why wouldn’t you do it?

Let’s assume you spend $50 a year on that laundry soap. (I have no idea what it actually costs, thanks to those coupon/rebate deals.) Paying attention to how much you use could put up to $37.50 a year back into your budget. All it takes is a minor lifestyle change.

And that’s just one change. Add up all the examples cited above and it starts to sound like real money.

But don’t stop there: Come up with your own small changes. Start paying attention to the way you do things. Ask yourself why you do it that way. Brainstorm ways to do it differently. Keep track of the savings, which may motivate you to find more ways to save.

And by the way, washing Ziplocs is completely optional. So is washing your hair with baking soda.

Photo: dpatricklewis, Tamara Burross


Home Buyer Tax Credit Fraud

This article was written by in Taxes. 20 comments.

The problem with widely publicized tax credits like the home buyer tax credit is that people who don’t qualify — and know they don’t qualify — will apply for the credit. Many of these taxpayers, perhaps assisted by their tax preparers with or without their knowledge, will successfully convince the IRS to provide the tax credit, usually with fraudulent documentation.

An audit of the U.S. Treasury Department discovered that 1,300 state and federal inmates received an undeserved home buyer tax credit. It is true that you can buy houses from prison; in fact, many prisoners claimed and received the home buyer tax credit legitimately.

In total, The Treasury Department estimates that they are investigating 400,000 questionable claims. As you can imagine, this is making it difficult for legitimate home purchasers to claim the tax credit. When it was first offered the process of receiving the credit took about six weeks, but while the IRS was backlogged, it took up to six months judging from readers’ comments.

The Treasury Department, as a result of the 1,300 cases out of 400,000, wants federal, state, and local prisons to supply taxpayer information for all prisoners. Should tax returns filed by prisoners receive more scrutiny than the typical non-incarcerated taxpayer?

Prisoners, scammers profit on home-buyer tax credit, Andrea Coombes, Marketwatch, June 23, 2010


“Hypermiling” is a word we use for doing everything you can to squeeze the best mileage possible from your car, including hardware modifications which may or may not void your warranty and certain driving techniques which may be both dangerous and illegal. You may have seen some of these tested on Mythbusters, such as driving ten feet behind an 18-wheeler.

It’s fun to read about, but I won’t be doing any of that, myself. However, somewhat buried in a story about “mileage maniacs” in Japan, I found the idea of using only your big toe on the accelerator. This doesn’t seem to add any danger, because I’m still breaking with my other foot which is normally shod. And except for days on which I wear boots, it’s easy enough to slip one shoe off after I get in the driver’s seat.

So I decided to run a little experiment. This first screenshot shows what my normal morning commute looks like, mileage-wise. I take surface streets in the morning, because the traffic is negligible between 6:00 and 7:00 AM, and I don’t go more than 45 mph:

And here’s what it looked like the next day, when I removed my right shoe:

On both days I had the music on like normal, and neither day had more stoplights than the other, at least at first. The last five minutes on day two were kind of a traffic beating, but that’s bound to happen from time to time. What’s more important, I think, is that when I was shoeless, I got up over the 50 mpg hurdle much faster. Why is this happening?

I think that when you’re using just your toe, you’re putting less pressure on the pedal as a matter of course, and your body encourages your brain to think harder about how you should be accelerating. Also, and this may be psychosomatic, the engine noise seems more apparent to me, and I don’t want to hear any crunchy revving noises, so I back off more often.

I’ll keep running my experiments, and I hope you consider performing your own. This looks like a great way to save a few dollars a week without even trying.



Free Checking On the Way Out: Who Should Pay?

by Luke Landes

July 1 and August 15 are the dates consumers need to worry about. New Fed rules for bank accounts go into effect on July 1 for anyone who opens a new bank account, while current account holders should know about changes to their accounts starting August 15. On these dates, the Federal Reserve is limiting ... Continue reading this article…

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A Review of PerkStreet’s 5% Cash Back Debit Card and Checking Account

by Luke Landes

PerkStreet Financial, a company that launched just over a year ago has decided to kick things up a notch by offering something new in addition to their online checking account. Previously, PerkStreet enticed customers with a $50 cash bonus for signing up a new account, then 2 percent cash back on all non-PIN debit card purchases ... Continue reading this article…

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Unemployment Benefits and Homebuyer Credit Not Extended

by Luke Landes

Last Thursday, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would again extend unemployment benefits. Rather than continue haggling between Democrats and Republicans for another round of changes to the bill, the Senators will likely drop the issue. The bill also contained an extension to the homebuyer tax credit, a benefit that officially ends on ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 62: Families and Money Survey, Bank Overdraft Fees

by Luke Landes

Today’s episode of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast features two guests. In the first segment, Tom Dziubek talks with Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of Charles Schwab Foundation. Carrie discusses the findings of their 2010 Families & Money Survey and also talks about the financial tools available at Schwab MoneyWise. In the second segment, Tom speaks with Jim ... Continue reading this article…

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Live Sports: One More Reason to Get Rid of Cable

by Smithee

Among the more popular reasons for not ditching cable is the desire to watch live sports. ESPN is coming to the rescue of many future cable-less households by introducing live, streaming sports in HD through the Xbox. In order to benefit, you’ll need to be an Xbox Live Gold member, which is about $50 a ... Continue reading this article…

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Good and Bad Uses of Leverage

by Luke Landes

Earlier this year, I suggested starting the decade off right by paying off debt. In general, debt is something that should be eliminated. Credit card debt is expensive and often unnecessary, personal loans generally carry a cost to personal relationships as well as interest, and mortgages hang around forever and make you a renter who ... Continue reading this article…

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How to Invest $300,000 — Or Any Amount

by Luke Landes

Last week I wrote about lump sum investing vs. dollar-cost averaging, voicing the opinion that in most cases, if a lump sum is available, it’s a better choice in the long run. But how do you invest that lump sum? It’s great that the financial media has been encouraging young people to start thinking about ... Continue reading this article…

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Discover® More Card $50 Cashback Bonus

by Luke Landes

The offer you are interested in has expired. Read our review of the Discover More Card.

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Fed Issues New Rules for Credit Card Fees

by Smithee

The Credit CARD Act of 2009, which we’ve been covering in detail throughout its long snake through Congress, is finally nearing the end of its beginning. Ever since the fall of 2008, lawmakers have been trying to end abusive credit card practices. It started with a set of proposals from the Federal Reserve, but that ... Continue reading this article…

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Overdraft Fees: Opting In

by Luke Landes

As we’ve addressed on Consumerism Commentary before, the Federal Reserve will be requiring banking customers to opt-in to overdraft protection. The highly publicized date of the change is July 1, but this is only the date by which new customers must be free from certain overdraft fees without opting into the service. Most of us ... Continue reading this article…

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Unemployed Job Applicants Are Turned Away Automatically

by Luke Landes

If you are currently looking for a job, you’re probably aware that it’s an employer’s market right now. There are many potential employees for each open position right now. This is making it difficult for recent college graduates, many of whom are likely to move home with their parents as they continue their job search. ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 61: Summer Money Saving Tips, Flexo

by Luke Landes

On today’s episode of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast Tom Dziubek talks with Consumerism Commentary founder Flexo about his money saving tips for the summer. Flexo talks about ways to save money using central air conditioning, cooking outside, saving money booking vacations and also about tax-free holidays in some states. Consumerism Commentary Podcast #61 Summer Money ... Continue reading this article…

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Smithee Debt Update, Mid-June 2010

by Smithee

Happy Friday. It’s been about a month since my last credit card debt update, and I’m pleased to report that I’m still committed, and the plan continues to work. The weather is getting annoyingly warm, which is usually the time I start engaging in (metaphorically) self-destructive behavior, but I’m in the home stretch now, and ... Continue reading this article…

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Sales Tax Holidays, 2010

by Luke Landes

This year, many states throughout the nation will offer a sales tax holiday, a period of time during which merchants will not charge customers sales tax. For a few days each year, you can buy certain items without paying the state sales tax. This is a great way to find the purchases you would buy ... Continue reading this article…

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Citi® Diamond Preferred® Rewards Card $100 Bonus

by Luke Landes

The offer you are interested in has expired. Read our review of the Citi Diamond Preferred Card.

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Secret Billionaire Meeting Revealed

by Luke Landes

In May 2009, a group of the most powerful individuals in the world held a secret meeting to discuss the plans for their significant wealth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett convinced David Rockefeller to to preside over the first of several billionaire meet-ups. Their idea was first to discuss philanthropy with like-minded individuals and determine ... Continue reading this article…

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