Creating A Virtual Office For Cheap or Even Free

If you’re starting a side business, you probably don’t have the budget for a secretary, commercial office space, or all the usual business amenities. But you can still project a professional image by using these cheap and even free services to create what I call a Virtual Office:

Telephone Service
Obviously, one option is to just use your current phone. Calling out is fine, but you’ll have to change your answering machine recording and also warn the other people in your household not to answer the phone with the usual “Yo wassup!”. For cell phones, you may be concerned with call quality or running out of minutes.

Another solution is to sign up for a free voicemail-only phone number (206 area code) from You can customize the voicemail recording, and it even accepts incoming faxes. All messages and faxes are sent directly to your e-mail instantly.
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Emigrant Direct Website Information Updates

Emigrant Direct‘s rate is now up to 5.15% APY, as promised. Hurray competition!

The old account numbers do work. I just sent a deposit and debit through Capital One 360, which was linked using the old account number, and it worked just fine (screenshot). I didn’t mean to alarm anyone before, I guess the ‘official’ transfer method is still through their linked accounts, but external links are still intact.
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Finding A Good HSA Administrator

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can be a great way for people to save money on health insurance, especially if you are young and healthy. I looked at compatible high-deductible plans last year but missed some deadlines, and need to start again. I found quotes online as low as $80 a month at eHealthInsurance, whereas I currently pay about $200 a month as part of my wife’s plan. I could even stay with the same company (BlueCross/BlueShield), just with different deductibles.

Now, HSAs are great mainly due to the fact that earnings grow tax-free, and when used for healthcare expenses withdrawals are tax-free too. (I list additional HSA pros and cons here). I think of it as a Health Roth IRA. Accordingly, the ideal way to take advantage of this is to max out the HSA (up to your deductible) when you are young, and not use it. You want to pay out-of-pocket now, and leave the HSA money in some mutual funds to compound away until retirement (when you’ll really need it).
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Request For Questions About 0% Balance Transfers

I have been doing 0% balance transfers for a while now, but my original three-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) about how to do them is getting a bit dated. I have also made several follow-up posts to it (like how to get a check directly and tips to manage payments), but they are hard to find for newer readers. Finally, many answers to common questions are buried in the comments.

In addition, right now is a great time do this activity as the difference between what you’re borrowing at (0%) and what you are earning in interest (over 5%) is the biggest that I can remember. For every $20k you borrow, you can earn $1,000 of interest in a year.
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This week’s Carnival of Investing is up at Stock Market Beat. For more information on participating and hosting schedule, please check out the main Carnival of Investing page. My Money Blog also participated in the Carnival of Personal Finance at Savvy Saver.

Emigrant Direct Changes Account Numbers

Emigrant Direct released their new site today… and promptly got hammered by the millions of people eagerly waiting to type in their 10-digit access code. I finally just got through.

Most importantly, with the new website you also get a different account number! This is extremely important for those that have externally linked their Emigrant account with other 3rd parties, such as TreasuryDirect or credit card bill-payment systems, and they most likely possibly won’t work anymore. (Added: This is per my discussion with a single rep. People have been getting differing answers.) Transfers initiated at Emigrant’s website will still work.

Why I Open My Junk Mail… 12,000 More Miles From Discover

I always read my junk mail. You never know when you’ll get a juicy targeted offer not available to the general public. It may be extra cashback on a specific category, or just 0% APR with no balance transfer fees from a bank that usually charges fees. Besides, I have to open it to shred it anyways, and after a while you become a pro at sifting through the fine print instantly.

In this case, I got my Discover Miles Card back when it was offering a 5,000 mile signup bonus. Now, it’s offering a 12,000 miles bonus over 12 months. I cashed in my bonus miles and have been happily earning 5+% interest on my borrowed free money. But for some reason, I just got a letter saying I’m getting a replacement card and I get the 12,000 miles bones offer as well. Same rules, I have to make a purchase once a month (still 0% for purchases for me, so no problem). So if you have this card, keep an eye out. 12,000 miles is worth over $75 in gift cards.

Of course, you may not agree with me and want to save some trees (though I do recycle). In that case, you can opt out of pre-screened credit offers by either calling 1-888-5OPTOUT or going here. For more information visit (and proof that these sites aren’t scams), visit

Gone Phishing? How To Get Your Money Back

If you’re like me, you get 10+ phishing e-mails a day, asking you to login to some fake bank account site. Heck, my PayPal account was “suspended” five times just today. (Although it was really was frozen once.) Combine this with all the other stories of private information stolen from laptops, and you’ve got lots of potential headaches.

This MSNBC article entitled ‘Know your rights on bank account fraud‘ clearly outlines what your legal rights are if you do become a victim of idenity theft through your bank account. Although it’s from 2005, I learned a lot of new and useful stuff from this article. To quote:
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Emigrant Direct – Upcoming New Website, Higher Rate

emigrant direct scan

I keep forgetting to write this – Emigrant Direct is rolling out their new website on 7/24. Current accountholders should get an access code via snail mail. In addition, they announced that their interest rate will increase to 5.15% APY on 7/28.

Want an account? Get up to a $20 bonus for signing up here.

All Beginner Investors Should Read This.

…discussion at Vanguard Diehards forum, started by a newbie investor after today’s big stock market jump. Does it sound familiar?

I am 27 years old and just recently decided to buy into the market in a lump sum in a taxable account … on May 10, 2006, I jumped right in with about 35K. I couldn’t have picked a worse time to buy in. Two months later I’m down $2,600 with no recovery in sight, and little confidence of any near term turnaround. So last Friday, I moved everything to a money market account, and missed today’s bounce. Now I’m convinced that I will always make the wrong investment decisions, and can’t get the thought of knowing that I threw that money away out of my mind. What do I do now? Should I DCA money back in? Should I buy back in right now? Should I wait a few months and see how the market is performing? Should I cut my losses and abandon the market forever outside of my retirement accounts?

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This week’s Carnival of Investing is up at Free Money Finance. For more information on participating and hosting schedule, please check out the main Carnival of Investing page. MyMoneyBlog also participated in the Carnival of Personal Finance at Just Another Money Blog.

Fun With Online Mortgage Calculators

Lots of good comments on my previous post on how much to spend on housing. As a follow-up, let’s run some numbers for fun. To make things easier, let me refer to what I call mortgage calculator heaven at DinkyTown.

How Big A Mortgage Can I Get?
Let’s start with the Mortgage Qualifier calculator and use the ‘Total Monthly Payment’ option. I’ll assume an annual gross income of $100,000, but let’s also say I go nuts and pay 41% of it towards housing: $3,417/month. With no cash on hand, a 6.25% APR 30-year fixed mortgage, no other debt payments, and the defaults for everything else, it says I can get a loan for $432,378. Here’s how the monthly payment breaks down:
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