Sunday, January 7, 2007

New way to shop on!!

Shop on by pictures instead of descriptions at Makes browsing for good stuff a whole lot quicker.

Financial Law: Consumer Goods Shall Not be Included in Net Worth. Good Call.

I was really surprised to see that some people include things like cars, jewelry, and golf clubs in their net worth estimate. I have several problems with this.

While I understand that new worth does technically include those things, I think it's misleading to yourself to inflate your financial picture with "stuff." If an investment opportunity came a long, would you liquidate your "stuff" to invest in it? Probably not. Do you plan on selling your stuff to live on in retirement? Probably not.

Secondly, it's impossible to know what you might get for your "stuff" until you actually try to sell it. is full of stuff that is being sold at 1/2 to 1/3 of it's retail value. My mechanic friend that buys old cars to fix up and sell took some major losses when gas prices shot up on the trucks he had in his inventory. "Stuff" isn't very liquid and you just can't count on getting fair market value.

Private Mortgage Insurance Now Tax Deductible

On December 20, 2006, private mortgage insurance (PMI) premiums became tax deductible. PMI is like a monthly fee you pay when you can't put a down payment of 20% of the home's value. It's not really a fee, of course - it's officially default insurance (statistics show that people unable to put 20% down are more likely to default on a loan.) It can run anywhere from $50 to $100 a month for most people (.5% of the home price, I think) and can be cancelled once you've reached 20% equity in your home.

The Bad News:

-The deduction will expire at the end of 2007 (though Congress has the
option to extend it).

-It's only available to homeowners whose adjusted gross income is less than $100,000.

-It's only available to mortgages issued after Dec. 31, 2006.

The Good News:

-Existing mortgages may qualify if the owner refinances, as long as the
amount being refinanced doesn't exceed the amount of the original loan.

Articles about the new & improved tax deductible PMI:

Brandenton Herald


Monday, December 11, 2006

Have YOU Seen My Identity?

After trying out several clever titles, I decided on THAT one.

It's true, though. MY IDENTITY WAS STOLEN. If it's never happened to you, well, step into my shoes for a minute. It's scary and it sucks. In my case, only one account has been compromised. All the other accounts are being closely monitored. While this is considered identity theft according to the people I've had to deal with recently, it's more like Account Number theft for me.

Here's some resources I've found helpful:

The FTC's ID Theft Website
The Identity Theft Victim's Kit

Overwhelmingly, the most frustrating thing is that the same incompetent customer service representatives who can't ever help and have to transfer you to to endless departments are the EXACT SAME PEOPLE working in the "Fraud Alert" departments. I've spoken to three different people at the bank in question, and every one told me something slightly different. Whatever. I've got so many people working on this now I'll just clog the system until it's resolved.

BTW, they said my card was most likely skimmed at a restaurant or something. Everything has been consistant with that sort of fraud. So, my advice is to pay cash at restaurants and watch retailers like a hawk.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Health Savings Account

Last week, allergies kicked in for me. Snarf. You may have noticed there were no posts for a couple of days . . . or since I'm only aware of 3 people that read this blog, maybe not. Anyway, I had to go to the doctor and update my allergy-prevention strategy, so I'm mussing about medical expenses.

I don't have much to complain about, I'm a pretty healthy individual. I do take some maintenance medications that I buy in bulk via mail order. I also take advantage of my Health Savings Account. My company offers one to all the employees. During the enrollment period, I decide what my contributions will be for the next year. This year, I decided on $2,400. Every month $200 is deducted from my check for this purpose. However, I have the $2,400 there to spend the first day enrollment choices kick in. (I could theoretically spend all $2,400 the day I get it.) I get a debit card for a small fee of $4 that I can use anywhere you can use a credit card. And . . . drumroll . . . all my contributions are pre-tax!!

On the day of my doctor's visit, I used it to pay the co-pay at the doctor's office, and again to fill the prescriptions she wrote for me & to get some over-the-counter allergy medicine.

According my HSA website, I've saved $400 in taxes this year by putting money I would have used for health purposes anyway into this account. It's really easy to use - about the only thing I have to do is sometimes send in a receipt for health purchases I make at grocery stores. They send me a letter asking for verification of the charge, and I tape the receipt to a piece of paper and fax it to them. They update my online account, usually that day.

Besides doing this, I always ask the pharmacist for the generic version of a drug, or an over-the-counter equivalent. Last year, when my eyes swelled up and refused to open when exposed to some new plant that blew into town, I was prescribed a $200 eye drop. The pharmacist pointed out that they were selling almost the exact same thing over-the-counter for $10.99. (It pays to drop by the independent pharmacy that's been in your town forever and ask their opinion on your prescription.) You can sometimes bypass the doctor completely by going to your pharmacist.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Under-Thirty Honor Roll

Defying generational stereotypes since 1976! The Under-Thirty Honor Roll is a list of young financial bloggers.

Weblo: New-Age Financial Opportunity or Complete Bullsh*t?

I got a comment from an executive at for this post. If you read my post, please make sure you read theirs so you get an accurate picture of the whole deal. As the disclaimer says, I just tell you what I think, and you make your own judgements from there. Thanks, Worst Financial Blogger Ever.

As I'm drifting off to sleep last night, the local news show I had on actually said something that made me sit up and crank the volume. There is a new website called that allows to you to "buy" cities and famous landmarks, then either sell them for (hopefully) a profit or keep them for the ad revenue.

Confused? So was I. It's like a monopoly game, except with real money, and you're playing with everyone in the world. You pony up real cash to buy, say, your hometown for $2. If there is someone out there who wants to pseudo-own your hometown more than you do, you can sell it to them for, say, $4. Or whatever you decide on. Or you can keep your hometown, and if that page gets enough hits, someone may want to advertise on it - and lucky you gets to keep a share of the profits.

In the interest of good investigative journalism I went undercover on the site to determine whether it was a good financial deal or not. I think we all know which way this is heading, but regardless, journalistic integrity prevailed.

The first thing is discovered is that while it is free to join an purchase property, what they really want you to do is upgrade your membership to one with a monthly fee. They range from $4.59 - $29.95. At least we know the owners of the site are making money. You get a slight discount on purchases the higher up you go. Among my free goodies, though, was some pretty random stuff, like a free celebrity fan site. Huh? Why do I want that again? Besides, Benjamin Graham is probably already taken.

Okay, so after some account activation drama I'm in the bowels of the website. It comes across as a really cheesy gaming site, so I'm pretty turned off all around. I've got my eye on my CharmingHometown, USA. Hmmm. Seems like someone beat me to it. I click "yes" when weblo asks me if I want to make an offer, and I'm immediately brought to a page where the input fields are malfunctioning.

Hmmmm. I navigate back and try to buy a Suburb of CharmingHometown, and that's available . . . for $5. I thought it was only supposed to be $2? I'm peaved about this, but I'm also caught up in the fact that my family actually owns alot of property in Suburb of Charming Hometown, and how cute would it be to virtually own it? I can kind of see the appeal of this. However, this is supposed to be a moneymaking venture.

I navigate back out of the "buy properties" page and go looking for CharmingHometown's Weblo site. This is where all those ads are going to be posted that are going to be the income stream for the owner . . . and there are certainly some ads here. I'm also seeing space for a future community forum, a poll, and a place for community members to post their profiles.

Well, I thought I'd have to hunt for this information, but there it is right there: the owner of CharmingHometown has made
$.089 thus far. I'm going to assume that he paid the advertised $2 fee for the property. So far he's gotten a 4% return on his money - better than most banks are paying on a savings account. Since it's ony been up for maybe a month (not sure when this wesite was born), that's really not bad. If his inital $2 investment continutes to make him .08 cents a month for five years, he will have made $4.80. Not really worth writing your virtual home about.

While I can't sneeze at a 4% return, the micro "investments" mean you'll have to buy a ton of stuff on Weblo to make any real money. You're also taking a risk that the venture will continue - as far as I can see on CharmingHometown's Weblo site, there is NO reason for me to go back. I seriously doubt it will take off as a social networking site, a poll site, an online yellow pages of business ads, or any of the multitude of things it's trying to be. The design of the site is very poor, and since you have to be a member of Weblo to see a property's homepage anyway, not alot of people are just going to drop by. (According to the response I got from Weblo, it IS possible to "just drop by." I guess I didn't spend enough time trying to figure it out, so went back. Yes, you can look at properties without logging in - I'm sorry for the error, you're investigative journalist has failed you. However, most of the homepage is dedicated to getting people to sign up, so browsing isn't immediately apparent. I had to LOOK for a way to do it among the multitude of tiny links at the top of the page. In my opinion, that's a bad thing.) All you've got left are the "bragging rights" to pretend-owning a particular place, and since the few people I've explained Weblo to were completely unimpressed, well, you don't even have that.

I'm putting a big bullsh*t stamp on this one.