Archives for December 2005

Online Bank Comparison: Capital One 360, VirtualBank, Emigrant Direct, and HSBC Direct

Update: This post is no longer updated. Please see my new online bank comparison, which includes current high-yield savings accounts from a variety of FDIC-insured banks.

I have redone my old Online Bank Comparison to drop Presidential Premier Savings and add HSBC Direct instead. This way, all four accounts compared have no minimum balance requirements, no monthly fees, and no other strings attached. That way, one can always move money away without issues. There may be other banks with higher rates, but also higher balance requirements to get those rates. The best value for each feature is bolded:

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Stuff I Found Useful

I don’t always get a chance to talk about all the posts I find especially helpful during the week, so I think I’ll start doing that.

JLP of AllThingsFinancial put in some hard work and posted his guide to 2006 resolutions.

Savvy Saver informed me of AmazonCreditsYou, which helps you automatically take advantage of Amazon’s 30-day Price Drop policy.
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Pentagon Federal Offers CDs at 5.5% to 6.0% APY

I’ve blogged about Pentagon Federal Money Market Cerificates (CDs) before, including how to join, previously. PenFed has just announced new rates, and several of them are very competitive –

3 Year CD – 5.5% APY
5 Year CD – 5.75% APY
7 Year CD – 6.0% APY
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Newbie Freelancing Thoughts

Everyone who has does any freelancing or independent consulting will say DUH, but here are my thoughts on freelancing so far:

» Need to get better at estimating the time required to finish a job, including any hiccups that are bound to occur.
» Need to improve my contracts to outline time requirements and outline exactly what is and is not included.
» Need better metrics on proper pay rates. Don’t just try to undercut everyone. My time is valuable, and each job I take has to be worth it considering both pay and experience gained.
» Need to do more research on minimizing taxes.

Cashing Out My 529 Plan

As noted in my net worth updates, I have 529 account as part of my Fidelity 2% Cash Back card. The 2% is nice, but the only way to get your contributions and earnings out of the 529 tax-free is to have real college expenses.

Now that I’m in college, no problem right? But then I read that the same college expenses cannot be both reimbursed by a 529 account and be used in claiming my Lifetime Learning Credit. I don’t have more than $10,000 in tuition, and getting 20% back is much better than cashing out my 529 tax-free. So I was bummed, until I read that 529 plans are also allowed to cover room and board, which the Lifetime Learning Credit does not. Yes!
[Read more…] – Researching A New Stock Broker

I am warming up to my idea of making a separate brokerage account for all of the free money I’ve gotten from banks, brokerages, and credit card companies. After some preliminary research, I’m leaning very heavily towards one broker – MB Trading, as they feature:

» $2,000 minimum to open.
» No minimum balance fees, no minimum commissions per month.
» Per-share stock commission of 1 cent per share up to 500 shares, and 1/2 cent per share over that. The minimum commission is $1. This means as long as you are trading less than 100 shares, you’re only paying $1 a trade!
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Although we should be giving back throughout the year, I know I tend to give at the end of year. Thanks for all who responded to my charity suggestion post – my wife and I have decided where to give this year. We are giving at least $100 to each of the following:

Local Food Bank
Modest Needs
4-H National Council
School Alumni Scholarship Fund

Modest Needs (mentioned before), has found a donor that will match 100% all monthly donations for 2006. So I’m going to start a monthly match in 2006 instead of a lump-sum now.
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Dollar Cost Averaging versus Lump Sum Investing?

A good discussion came up in my previous post on my IRAs – Should I invest the $4,000 earmarked for my 2006 Roth IRA contribution all at once in January, or dollar-cost-average it over the entire year? Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) involves investing a fixed amount at a regular interval. For my $4,000 example, I could invest $335 a month, every month, for 12 months. The idea is to buy more shares when the price is low, and and less shares when the prices are high. Sounds good, right? Maybe.

This question actually came up last year, but I didn’t research it very much. My own thoughts were that because the markets trend upwards overall, if you are investing for a long-term period you should get your money in as soon as possible. Sure, you might run into a huge drop, but you could just as easily (in fact more easily) miss a huge rise. But this is too hand-wavy, as scientists would say. I want numbers. So I found some.
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Retirement Portfolio End of Year Check-Up

Just to be clear, I only trade individual stocks on my Play Money portfolio. All our retirements funds are going to stay in low-cost index funds. Currently everything is in two funds – Vanguard Target Retirement 2035 (VTTHX) and Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 (VTIVX).

According to, VTTHX has a year-to-date (YTD) return of 6.82%, and VTIVX has a year-to-date return of 7.54%. Not a bad year, their S&P 500 index fund only has a YTD return of 5.93%. The international diversification of this fund of funds has helped this year, with the Vanguard Pacific Stock Index Fund (VPACX) returning 22.28% YTD. I’ve already got my $8,000 ($4,000 x 2) ready to invest in our Roth IRAs in January.

Sold 100 Shares of Scholr Pharma Stock

I really only glance at my stock portfolio about once every other day, mostly to check that nothing has imploded. My desire to be a knowledgeable stock investor fizzled after reading books about index funds and how people much smarter than me can’t beat the market. But I still have my “play money” stock portfolio, which I started with $5,000 back in 2001. It’s now at about $5,690 (publicly tracked here), and I’m still beating the S&P 500 since its inception. Just call me a slightly lucky monkey throwing darts.

I noticed today that Scholr Pharmaceuticals (DDD), a stock I bought after minimal initial research, was finally above my buy price of $4.80 due to some buzz about a potential buyout. Since buying the stock, I did a bit more reading and am really not impressed with the company after all, so I took this opportunity and sold my 100 shares at $5.25.
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Tips and Tools for 0% APR Balance Transfers

Please also see my updated guide on
How To Make Money From 0% APR Balance Transfers

do not forgetSo you’ve gotten yourself a nice credit card or two, and have already started or are thinking about playing the 0% APR balance transfer game. Now, there are two simple but very important things that you need to remember to do: pay the minimum balance every month on time, and pay off the entire balance when the 0% APR period is over on time. Here’s one tip/tool for each:

Pay the minimum each month automatically with Online Bill Pay – I love Online Bill Pay, I don’t know how I lived without it. Say I have a $20,000 balance at 0%. When you get the first statement, you’ll see the minimum payment is usually something like 2% of the balance, for example $400. As long as they don’t change this, then every single payment after that will be less than $400 as your remaining balance decreases. So, just set your Online Bill Payment to automatically pay that account $400 every month, and you’re set!
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Self Employment Tax Research: 50% Off?

Let me preface this by saying that I am not anywhere near an expert on taxes. I haven’t even itemized deductions before, since I don’t have any mortgage interest to get me over that standard deduction hump. Thus, I’m just writing what I think I’m reading, and tax gurus can correct me.

I’m trying to learn more about self-employment tax. Since you’re not splitting your Social Security Tax with your employer (you’re the employer), you get to pay 15.3% tax on your income. This is in addition to your federal, state, and local income tax. You do get to deduct half of your 15.3% tax from your net earnings, since “regularly” employed people don’t pay tax on the part paid by their employer either. Still, let’s see how much out of every gross $100 I make ends up in my pocket. This simplification assumes no business expenses.
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