Friday, February 29, 2008

Size Matters

The size of your credit score, that is :)

I was doing some research on FICO scores for work yesterday, and I realised that it was probably time for my own free credit report, as required by federal law (the for free part). You may get lots of offers for your free credit report, but they're usually companies baiting you to add on fee-only services like your actual credit score, credit monitoring services, etc.. is the site that meets the federal requirement of allowing you to see your credit report (for free once every 12 months) from the three major consumer credit reporting companies (credit bureaus); Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It is essential that everyone, without exception, knows what is on his/her credit report.

What is a credit report? A credit report is a detailed record of your current and past credit history. It will list creditors by name and address, time periods, how often you were late with payments (when and how much), your employment history, etc.. You are NOT the credit bureau's numero uno customer, the lenders are. Lenders pay these guys to track you and tell them what kind of risk you are, and your terms will be based largely on this info; ie your credit limit, your interest rate, whether you get a mortgage or not and how much, etc.. Identity Theft Resource Center has some great info on your credit report and how to read it, and I urge you to check it out when you get your credit report.

What is the difference between my credit report and credit score? Your credit report is just a report, your credit score is a three digit numerical score. So the credit reporting company (credit bureau) is one company that gathers your info in a credit report. Then your credit score is another company, most famously Fair Isaac and Company, the ubiquitous FICO. Over 90% of lenders use the FICO score (even though they're feeling the heat post sub-prime mortgage meltdown). However, the credit bureaus just this year made their own, the Vantage Score, because they want $$, too, after all.

So this is how it breaks down; lenders, let's say your credit card, have contracts with usually just one credit bureau, though they report to all three. So Billie Dollar wants to open a credit card, and Bank of Brawn pays TransUnion to check up on Ms. Dollar. TransUnion gives them her report and her score, either their own VantageScore, or in all probability Ms. Dollar's FICO score or both, who gets paid to calculate in some secret formula based on a (secret) mathematically complicated FICO scoring model. We know more about Knights Templar than we do FICO formula, but there you have it. Why do I bore you with these details? Because your FICO score is money, honey, and at no point is anyone held accountable for accuracy. They're too busy profiting off each other, and to a smaller extent, you. In other words, you have to check your credit report for errors, because nobody else is doing it for you, and a heck of a lot is riding on it, not the least of which is you are who they say you are.

And my score? My FICO score through Equifax is 778 (Excellent), 16 points higher than last year. Their suggestion to make it better? Get installment debt and real estate(?!). And this is the part where you have to step back and consider; when does a higher credit score require poorer financial planning? For example, I am perfectly content not having the very tippy top tier of creditworthiness. I am happier than a free range pig in $hit having paid off my student loan, I prefer to drive a car that has no loan, I'm lucky enough to be with someone who bought her apartment before she met me (commonly known as her life pre-PiggyBankBlues, a dark and dingy stain on history), and I can see no reason (let alone extra money) to buy a house or get a car loan just to improve my credit score. And, hello, what about my land in Arizona???

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Credit Cards Tighten Tactics

In a recent Smart Money article, Credit Card Companies Put Tighter Squeeze on Cardholders, Trent Charlton is racing to pay down his Amex. One would think that is a good thing, but Amex is reducing his credit limit every time he knocks off a chunk of debt; when he was down to $14k they lowered his credit limit from $20k to $14k, then he lowered it to $10k and they lowered his limit to $10,300. This, as PiggyBankBlues readers know, lowers your credit to debt ratio, and therefore lowers your credit score and can raise your interest rate. And it's not just Amex, his GE Money card followed suit.

So what is going on?

    ... Faced with a growing wave of delinquencies, they're tightening lending standards considerably, focusing on card members they perceive at highest risk of default. (Chasing balances — the industry term for lowering a customer's credit limit as they pay down their balance — is one way to control that risk.) Unfortunately, these days lenders are expanding the definition of high risk to include many consumers who would have been considered good customers just months ago. Now, cardholders can be subject to greater scrutiny based on where they live or what type of business they run.

And get this, the big banks like Chase, Bank of America, and Citibank have clauses that allow lenders to change a users terms simply based on "general market conditions"-- they must be having a field day right about now!

Friday, February 22, 2008

I've Been Tagged

I was tagged by My Money and Politics to participate in a meme. It's a technorati bonanza, because the deal is once you're tagged, you in turn tag 5 more people. Everybody tagged is added to the list, so don't replace each other, there's room for everyone :) Ms M&P said it best, so in her words:

"The benefits of Viral Linking sharing link love:
One of the fastest ways to see your technorati authority explode
Attract large volume of new traffic to your site
Build your community
Make new friends"

...and I'll add one, discover lots of great blogs!

The Strategist Notebook ~ Link Addiction ~ Ardour of the Heart ~ When Life Becomes a Book ~ The Malaysian Life ~ ~ What goes under the sun ~ Roshidan’s Cyber Station ~ Sasha says ~ Arts of Physics ~ And the legend lives ~ My View, My Life ~ A Simple Life ~ Juliana RW ~ Mom Knows Everything ~ Beth & Cory's Mom ~ A Mind Forever Voyaging~ enjoying the ride ~ Jennifer's thoughts ~ Mom of 3 Girls ~ Amanda ~ Don't Make Me Get The Flying Monkeys ~ ExPat Mom ~ Just Jessie ~ Wilson Six ~Krisitn ~ Nuttier Than You ~ Shonnte ~ Summer's Nook ~ Laura Williams Musings ~ Melissa's Idea Garden ~ Confessions of an Everyday Housewife ~ Blah Blah Blog ~ Stop the Ride! ~Soap, Blings & Girly Things ~ It's All for the Best ~ Keeping Feet ~ Junky Love in Freehand ~ Getting Out of Debt ~ Free From Broke ~ Money Matters ~ Arohan's Investing Life ~ My Investing Blog ~ Finance and Fat ~ Iowahippiechick ~ ~ ~ Making Cents Of Debt ~ DebtDiet ~ MakingMoneyJournal ~ Life Liberty & The Pursuit Of Money- Mrs Micah- Brightside of Debt- Fiscal Musings -Paid it Down and Moving Forward- Phoenix from the Ashes -Canadian Saver- The Good Life on a Budget- Last One In Line -Finding Financial Peace- CT Mom- Beachgirl's Budget Blog~Saving For a Home of My Own~My Money and Politics -We So Rich -Clawing Our Way to Financial Health- Piggy Bank Blues-Ms. Miniducky

So I tag some faves:

bookish on a budget

MFA or Bust

Brown Eyed Girl and Money

Frugal Zeitgeist

Rich Money Millions

No pressure, email me if you need to know the "easy" way to repost the info, and anyone else feel free to be "tagged" by me :)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Basic Financial Plan

I've been laid out sick all week, so haven't been posting a lot. But the other day a friend mentioned in earnest that she needed a financial audit, and that she read my blog, and I was like oh I guess it's not helping. Of course I was kind of kidding, but then I realized that I had a post in the workings. So while I've got my mug of tea, freezing my ass off in my cold apartment, and recuperating from the vague illness known simply as a-really-bad-cold, I bring you The Basic Financial Plan. So grab calculator and hold on tight.

1) BUDGET- Write what you make, put that on one side of a sheet of paper, write all your expenses in list form on the other side of the paper. Add it up and subtract expenses from income. Hopfully you have a positve number. If not, well, you need to slash and burn some expenditures. Also look to see if at least 10% of your income is going towards savings, and what percentage is going towards debt. Look to live within your means, so do not be shy about including things in your monthly expenses, your budget has to be realistic or you will come up short at the end of the month because you forgot something like my one friend's "hangover" item line-- weekly take out food because she's too hungover to cook :) Also put in long term savings goals, like retirement accounts, college funds, vacation funds, etc. If you don't do this, you can't do the rest, because more than anything a budget maps out where your money goes. And if you have no idea where your money goes, I would also suggest doing a one month spending diary. The subconsciousness of your wallet is dying for a heart to heart.

2) KILL DEBT Pay off your mortgage, car loan, student loan religiously. Carry ZERO credit card debt. There is nothing in the stock market right now that will even approach your credit card APR. Why is this relevant? Because paying interest is savings in reverse. I'm sure you've heard it a million times, but there it is again. Look at your big expenses and anticipate them. For example, maybe every year your largest expense is vacation, and then you take the year to pay it off. Instead, open an online savings account and every month save the same amount you would pay to a credit card and earn interest instead of pay interest. You can still pay for your vacation of a credit card, let's say you want the points or the consumer protection, but now you can pay it off in full. So look at your credit card bill annually, assess where the biggest total amount charged is coming from, and find a way to save for it a little each month instead. Also, check your credit score at least once a year, raise your limit if you're carrying a balance (to increase your credit to debt ratio, part of your FICO score), and twice a year call to lower your APR.

3) FUND RETIREMENT I don't know about you, but if the state of my Social Security is tied up with Congress and the White House some thirty years from now, I'm saving for it my my own damn self. My advice, fully fund your 401k/b, then fully fund your Roth IRA- in that order. Not everyone has the first, but everyone who has earned income reported to the IRS should open a Roth. Remember you can only fund it with as much money as reported to the IRS, at a $5,000 annual max.

4) UM-B'RELLA-ELLA-ELLA... When it rains it pours, and you need more than Rihanna stuck in your head. A rainy day fund, an emergency fund, a my ass is grass fund. Whatever you call it, at the bare minimum save three months worth of total expenses. But ideally 6 to 12 months worth. Save every month in a high yield savings account, usually online banks have the highest rates.

5) LIFE INSURANCE If you have kids, or you are thinking about it down the line, get life insurance. However, do not put your children as the beneficiaries. No court is going to give a minor that money. Set up a trust for your kid(s), and have the trust be the beneficiary. Talk to a lawyer and an accountant. And by the way YOU need life insurance, NOT your kids. Gerbers and others sell life insurance on the life of the children. Morbid, for one, and completely unnecessary, for another. But back to the basics. The no frills calculation, for illustrative purposes only, is ten times your income. So a $30k salary would get $300K in life insurance (per parent if you have a partner and kids). Go here to calculate how much insurance you need. The most basic version is an at least 10 year TERM life insurance policy, remember you can always change your beneficiaries without a problem. So you pay every month for 10 years and it has no cash value unless you die, at which time the policy you purchased, let's say $300k, will pay out in full. Life insurance policies that do have monetary value are anything but basic, they're as complicated as all get out, and I won't even get into it here. I say, don't get fancy unless your financial situation is fancy, and it makes more sense to save money in IRAs and a 401k/b. And why get life insurance even if you don't have kids? Mostly because you want to lock in a low rate while you are young. Also, for same sex couples, life insurance (and IRAs) have beneficiary agreements that are iron clad. There is no disputing the recipient of this part of your estate, which may be an unfortunate issue for some. And last but not least, it's about the cheapest part of your Basic Financial Plan by far, probably a lot less than your cable bill.

6) SAVE FOR COLLEGE If you have kids, the sooner you start the better. Check out the different plans here. But if you can only save for retirement OR your kid's college, save for retirement. You can't take out a loan for that.

7) KILL THE FLUFF The fluff I'm referring to is not the better half of a peanut butter and fluff sandwhich, but that weird thing you got from a great uncle or some other relative, particularly annuities. I know so many people who were given an annuity and have no idea what it is or what to do with it. Annuities are complicated and there's lots of them. They do not always make the most sense for you, from a financially efficient standpoint. Show your random financial assets to an accountant and see if they can translate it for you. You may be unwittingly changing your retirement picture by having certain assets, so it's better to know what, exactly, your financial fluff is all about.

8) GOALS Maybe you want to buy an apartment, or you want to go to South America for a year. Figure out how much it costs and how much you have to save each month to get there. And don't forget to add it to your budget :)

So that's it, and that's a lot. For some people it will take months, if not years, to be able to achieve each of these steps. That's okay. Sometimes just seeing the trees in the forest is relief enough. And remember, these are the basics. The realities of your situation are the nuts and bolts.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

$5.8 million in your bank account... just kidding!

Some poor guy is now facing 25 years behind bars because he blew $2 million of a "surprise account". What, you might ask, is a "surprise account"? Well, it's when Commerce Bank, the bank I use by the way, tells a man making a $400 deposit that, oh, look, did you know you also have this other account with $5.8 million in it?

To his credit, he spoke with the bank manager and teller, insisting that it wasn't his. They insisted that it was, and told him to go spend it. So our economy being in the gutter that it grows in, he invests it in futures, loses half a million there, gives away $10K to family, and goes on a shopping spree that covers everything from dental implants to colonics.

Apparently Commerce Bank messed up the Social Security numbers of two men with the same name. Four weeks later, the real account owner reads the bank statements and notices the $2 million bank drain. And now this KeySpan Engergy salesman is being charged with grand larceny.

The moral of the story, aside from always check your bank statements, is that if you find $5.8 million anywhere, for the love of god just leave it alone and call the police. And stay away from futures.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Profit Like Yale: Breaking It Down

I'm sick as a dog today and spending a little more time than usual catching up on the online news. One of my stumbles was the Times article, Keep It Simple, Says Yale's Top Investor. The "Investor" happens to be the guy who runs Yale's endowment, David F. Swensen. Last year when everyone else's portfolios were toeing the precipice (yours truly included), he killed the market with a 28 percent gain, bringing the portfolio up to $22.5 billion. E-effing-gads.

So his advice to the little guys and gals is exactly what the title suggests.

    For most people, he recommends a very basic approach: use index funds, exchange-traded funds and other low-cost instruments, and stick to your long-term asset allocation — even when the markets are in tumult.

    Don’t be distracted by market forecasts, he said. “You have to diversify against the collective ignorance,” he said. “I think nobody is in a position to react to these big macro-issues. Where is the dollar going to be or what is G.D.P. growth going to be in China? For every smart person on one side of the question, there is another smart person on the other side.”

To translate the first paragraph, index funds are mutual funds that track an index. And to translate the translation-- a stock index is like a book index. So let's take a cookbook. Everything under the Soup section of the index is the contents of the book that are soup. An index lists contents, that's all.

So a stock index of the S&P 500 is a listing of the contents of the S&P 500; the 500 largest market cap (what they're worth) companies publicly traded on the NYSE and NASDAQ. So how would a mutual fund track the index? The same way a book would, two pages for vegetable soups, one page for green eggs and ham stock. Microsoft 2% of the S&P and Apple 1 %-- I totally made those numbers up. So with an index fund you will never beat the market, but you are the market, so you'll never do worse (within hundreths of one percent, perhaps, because the math is never perfect). And if you'd rather be worried about beating that other bidder on eBay, rather than beating an index return on the New York Stock Exchange, then index funds are for you. They also cost less, sometimes a lot less, than actively managed mutual funds. Paying fees on your investments eats away at your earnings; you pay 2 percent and gain 1 percent, you just lost 1 percent. You pay .018 of 1 percent and gain 2 percent, you just gained- well, you do the math. Over the course of a few decades, the hundreds of dollars turn to tens of thousands.

His next suggestion was ETFs, Exchange Traded Funds. The short answer to what is an ETF is that an ETF is an index fund traded on an exchange (the stock market). While mutual fund companies create their own index funds and you buy from them, ETFs are index funds that you can buy or sell like stock, for example through an online broker like Sharebuilder or Scottrade. A more detailed description of their differences can be found here and here.

So that was a long explanation for a simple investment strategy, but that's partly why Swensen advocates for them. Their low costs boost your returns, their built-in diversification spreads your risk, and the index tracking removes the headache of stock picking.

    He proposes a portfolio of 30 percent domestic stocks, 15 percent foreign stocks, and 5 percent emerging-market stocks, as well as 20 percent in real estate and 15 percent each in Treasury bonds and Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS.

So here's an easy example for illustrative purposes only, I do NOT suggest you go out and do this. Let's use Vanguard's ETF page, Vipers, as an example. Let's say you have $5,000 in a savings account. So you would transfer money to an online broker like Scottrade and fund a ROTH IRA account to the annual max, buy $1500 of VTI (30% domestic), $750 of VEU (15% foreign), $250 VWO (5% emerging markets), $1000 of VNQ (20% real estate), and $750 EDV (15% Treasury Bonds), and 15% TIP (not Vanguard, but Lehman's TIP ETF, 15%Treasury inflation protected securities). In this example, ETFs make it easy to plug in asset allocation.

So I decided to compare my largest ROTH IRA holding, T. Rowe Price Retirement 2040 Fund. This is not an index fund or an ETF, it's an actively managed mutual fund, but one of those target funds I like to rave about. Again, target funds should be for your own retirement date. This fund is for a targeted retirement date of 2040 and its asset allocation is as follows:

    Domestic Stock 65.5%
    Foreign Stock 22.3%
    Domestic Bond 8.4%
    Cash 3.2%
    Convertibles 0.4%
    Foreign Bond 0.2%

Swensen's domestic allocation is a little low, and I'm kind of okay with mine (yes, I realise I've never gained 28% annually on my quote unquote portfolio), but I did discover I have no real estate, particularly REITs (Real Estate Investment Trust), which is kind of a big deal. So I think I'll sell off one of my overweights (too much of a percentage in my asset allocation pie) and buy Vanguard REIT Index ETF (stock ticker VNQ), which is, shocker of all shockers, way off its 52 week high so I'll definitely be buying low. Which brings us to his other piece of advice. Rebalance. The market value of your stocks and bonds changes all the time, so at least once a year just buy and sell shares to bring your asset allocation back to target.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it's really not. Even if you don't follow his exact percentages, and I don't think you should follow any one person's exact percentages (especially mine!!), the idea is right on the mark, there's a lot of white noise out there for some very simple ideas. And speaking of white noise, I do love when he takes Jim Cramer down a notch.

    When possible, he said, rebalancing should be done in a tax-sheltered account, like an I.R.A. or a 401(k), to avoid tax liabilities. “When you are putting fresh money to work,” he said, “you put it in an asset class where you are underweight and take money out of a class that is overweight.”

    He says it is fruitless for individual investors to pick stocks. “There is no way that an individual can go out there and compete with all these highly qualified and compensated professionals,” Mr. Swensen said.

    HE criticized the approach of Jim Cramer, the CNBC host, who encourages investors to trade stocks in strategies that Mr. Swensen says cost heavily in commissions and taxes.

    “There is nothing that Cramer says that can help people make intelligent decisions,” Mr. Swensen said. “He takes something that is very serious and turns it into a game. If you want to have fun, go to Disney World.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

Freelancer's Health Insurance-- A Dream Deferred

The Times posted an article today, Friday's Links: Health Insurance for the Self Employed, a prescient post for many of the 47 million Americans without health insurance.

Health insurance is obscenely expensive, and for many people, from grad students to waitresses to freelancers, it is beyond reach. However, second to saving for retirement, I think it is absolutely essential to have. One unfortunate incident in a taxi, a few weeks in the hospital, and suddenly you have medical bills to rival your doctor's student loans. But how to pay for it?

The article has some links, but more importantly there are commenters who run through their own experiences with buying health insurance, and the piece becomes a conversation. For people in the restaurant/bar industry in NYC, the Healthy New York website is great, because most people in the service industry meet the income requirements. Also, they assign you an actual person (oftentimes in libraries or certain street corners you'll see people from Healthy New York-- get them to sign you up!), so filling out the forms isn't so bad. For a few years I had my health insurance through them and it was great (and free!!) A lot of states have a version of state health insurance, not just New York, check out and State Coverages Initiatives to see what's available in your state. Even if all you can get is private health insurance, and the only affordable thing is the high deductable. Take it. So it costs a couple hundred dollars a year to see a doctor, really what you're protecting yourself from is a financial wipeout. Which brings me to my next point.

Just because you don't work nine to five, you don't go to the doctor, and you don't have prescriptions or serious health care problems-- it doesn't mean you shouldn't protect yourself from financial ruin. Because from a financial perspective, that's exactly what not having health insurance is, a high risk for financial ruin should you ever get into an accident or have serious health issues. Which is, like, everybody once in their lifetime.

    photo by adesigna via flickr, and PS-- anyone with a pre-existing health problem should ignore this post; health insurance is a health necessity more than a financial bottom line for you.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Moving Music and Other Hazards

So yesterday I blew hours of my life on my laptop. Okay, so that is not anything new, look at me now! But yesterday was different because rather than cruising around blogs, I was chained to the fertile ground known as my operating system. I am trying, technological neophyte that I am, to boost my laptop's performance so that I can get another year or two out of my laptop.

If I spend $3,000 (with memory upgrades and Microsoft Office) on a laptop that lasts 5 years, that works out to a cost of $50 a month. Which is easy enough to save for each month in an online savings account, despite Bernanke's love affair with bottom feeding interest rates. Better yet, next time I think I will get a refurbished laptop. I've heard from a fellow Mac addict that Apple replaces the entire innards of their computers when refurbishing-- it costs them less than rooting around for that one thing gone wrong. So if I can bring that number down to $2,000, that's a monthly cost over five years of just a hair above $33. But the trick is to blow your wallet on the original purchase, and have restraint during your laptop's trusty service. And that's the hard part.

I don't buy the new operating systems, so I have Panther, but Tiger and Leopard have skipped right by me. The other day I wanted to download music from Amazon, but I couldn't because I needed at the very least the operating system that came right after mine. So now I'm rethinking my idea not to buy new operating systems. Maybe it would have let my laptop go for six years? Anyway, to make a long story short(er), I decided to move my music library off my laptop and over to an external hard drive. I have over 5,000 songs on my computer. And for some reason, yesterday I poured over 8,000 songs onto the hard drive. More than half my songs duplicated. That will be fun to delete out...

So this will be part of an ongoing series of posts, how to make one of my biggest purchases (face it, I don't lay down a few thousand dollars for one object all that frequently) last as long as possible. And sadly, moving my music library hasn't gone quite as planned. On a theoretical level I don't even understand how my iTunes library works on my laptop in conjunction with the external HD! (sigh)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

One Day Financial Makeover

Real Simple recently wrote Your One Day Finacial Makeover, and for someone who considers herself pretty frugal, I learned a few things.

The idea is exactly as the title suggests, set aside a chunk of time (one day, several evenings, whatever you have) and go through their to-do list. They make categorical breakdowns of how you can save money, where to do it, and how much an average tester saved.

Getting a library card saves you $70, but that's assuming you only buy 4 hardcovers a year. Heck, everytime I simply set foot in a bookstore I'm out seventy bucks. The home energy saver advisor site was excellent (under cut heating and utility costs). One caveat, for New Yorkers (or anyone in an apartment building) filling out the form might be a little hard since you might not know things like the thickness of your ceiling's insulation, but do your best. The end result's suggestions on upgrades and how much you can save is easy to sift through regarding what is relevant and what's not. Plus, an energy audit is a great thing to pass on to a Co-op board or a landlord :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Zombie Debt

I'm back, well rested and a little tan :) The wedding was great and the trip was a lot of fun. I went cave tubing in Belize, and snorkeled in Cozumel. My friend's wedding was in Key West, which I've never been to before, and it was cool because it took place at Robert Frost's cottage. Apparently he spent winters there for 12 years. I guess back then, for a New Englander, that was the road less taken.

Speaking of roads less taken, our old credit card debt, real or otherwise, might be making a detour. Newsday recently had this interesting article, Consumer watch: Haunted by 'zombie debt'. It about how old credit card debt can rise back from the dead and haunt you-- even disputed claims. Credit card companies sell off delinquent accounts to boost their quarterly earnings. Then the collectors sell off this debt to other collectors (because our financial markets seem to love selling bad debt to each other for their own profit) to the tune of $100 billion annually. Sure, some of the debt is genuinely delinquent. But a lot of it is also disputed claims, identity theft, and just straight up mistakes. The amount of times these accounts change hands for profit, there is little incentive to validate each claim. The other frightening catch, they like to attack people with decent credit ratings-- they're more likely to pay up.

    When the debt became more than a decade old, it might have been sold for pennies on the dollar, with a successful collector making big profit. At a penny on a dollar, for example, a $10,000 debt would cost a collector just $100. So even if the collector managed to get paid just a few hundred dollars of that debt, the profit margin would be substantial.

    The consumer does have protection: Six years after a debt goes into default, the collector can no longer sue to collect. And after seven years, the debt can't be shown on a consumer's credit report.

    But efforts to collect old debt are legal, as long as the collector doesn't threaten to sue or report the debt to a credit agency. Consumers who have repaired their credit may feel they need to pay the old debt to avoid a credit blemish.

    "Technically, debt never dies," said Richard Feinsilver, a bankruptcy attorney in Carle Place. "People can be haunted for the rest of their lives."

Not only that, if your debt is "forgiven"-- don't be surprised to receive a 1099-C form in the mail; yes, they even make you pay taxes on the "forgiven" part of the debt. You can learn more about the zombie debt industry here and learn how to fight back here.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Baby, Let's Cruise...

PiggyBankBlues will be dark while I go on a cruise tommorrow through Saturday. That's right, a cruise. I will play shuffleboard and lounge poolside with my all-you-can-eat belly hanging over my swimming trunks. Oh, and attend a friend's wedding :)

So Fort Lauderdale, Belize City, Cozumel, Key West, and bride & groom- here I come! But first, I will try to sleep through the ruckus outside my window after the Giants just played the greatest game in Superbowl history. And perhaps, lucky readers that you are, I just might find time to post from the high seas ;)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

This Week's News

I've been a little bit out of it this week, so I've caught up on the news and thought I'd share a few highlights.

The big two items are the rate cut and Microsoft bidding on Yahoo!. See links regarding how this is even remotely relevant to our own life. But there's other news that happened this week that didn't fit the place where all the news fits. If you know what I mean...

Some workers at a slaughterhouse had a Raskolnikov moment and kicked, beat, shocked, dragged, and otherwise tortured "downed" cows. The slaughterhouse is part of Hallmark Meat Packing Co. and Westland Meat Co.. The USDA is investigating, this was all caught on video mind you, and large fast food joints have pulled all beef from them. NYC's school district has pulled burgers alltogether. One video? Wasn't Schlosser's Fast Food Nation enough, we need YouTube? Not that it's on YouTube, I don't know, it's just the idea of, oh look what a cool thing for me to videotape.

Massachusettes is suing Merrill Lynch after the city of Springfield (hi F & J!) lost 13 million out of a 14 million investment. Again, highly rated bull$hit investments. I've decided to stop using the hyphenated word sub-prime, and just say bogus or bull$hit.

Credit cards and auto loans are expected to see a sharp rise in 2008. Well, sometimes news is simply unsurprising.

Here's a fun one, Why Is the National Debt Out of Control? For my final question I'd like to use my lifeline, dialing the White House now...

Getting a little local, NYC is spending some of its $151 million Homeland Security money to arm police in subways with MP5 submachine guns and bomb sniffing dogs. 24/7/365. They will be on platforms and trains, focusing on Penn Station, Herald Square, Columbus Cirlce, Rockefeller Center, Times Square and Atlantic Avenue (in Brooklyn). Greeaaaat. I feel safe already. So from now on people, never put your hands in your pockets (because you might accidentally get shot taking them out if asked to raise your hands) and whatever you do, no more running to catch your train. You might get shot on the way. Just kidding. The NYPD would never mistakenly shoot a citizen. Especially at 800 rounds per minute.

And to end on a high note, the World's Hottest Chili is the bhut jolokia chili pepper, burning your palate at a heat index rate 200 times that of a jalapeƱo.

    "When you eat it, it feels like dying," touts one online retailer. Even packaging the stuff is a pain. "Our workers wear goggles, face masks, head cover and protective clothing," says Ananta Saikia, whose firm is the pepper's sole exporter. "They look like astronauts." He and his wife have started shipping tons of dried bhut jolokia around the world, including Germany, England and the U.S. Annual sales, he says, are expected to jump 500% this year.

I once made a pasta sauce with an orange scotch bonnet. The carnivore that I am, I picked it from our roof garden thinking that it was a not-fully-grown orange pepper, a tasty but benignly hot pepper. I didn't get a clue when my eyes watered with the first slice on the cutting board (must be a delayed reaction to the onion chopping), nor did I get a clue when my nose started running when the sauce was simmering (must be coming down with a cold). No, my clue came with the first bite. Yes, it felt like death. So this bhut pepper shall remain, unless I make some other mistake and don't notice my fingertips peeling off when I first pick it up, the pepper which was never tasted by PiggyBankBlues.

Friday, February 1, 2008

February Net Worth (ouch)

$29,715 with a big fat zero in liabilities. Well, fine, okay, M has the mortgage on our place, but if I'm not counting the home value then I'm not counting the mortgage. And no, Citibank can't have it.

Is there any good news to losing a few thousand in a month? Well, I paid off my student loan with money from an ING CD that came due, I took out another $1,000 to pay for M and my gym membership for the year from an ING account that we save $ in every month for precisely that purpose, and the stock market has gone twister on me which means I'm forced into buying low. Waaaaay low.

It's okay, I'm not worried. Besides, I'm still on post-student-loan-payoff high :)