Archives for December 2009

Cancel Your Sprint Contract Without Penalty – Success Stories [January 2010]

This is just a reminder that as of 1/1/10, Sprint is changing their contracts to add a “Regulatory Charge” of 20 cents per month. Despite the name, this is nothing but an increase in your monthly plan cost, as it is not a consumer tax nor is it required by law. Because of this voluntary fee hike, you can now cancel your Sprint contract without an early termination fee (ETF). You must do this within 30 days of notification (check your billing statement).

After some early pushback, it appears that most Sprint reps are now aware of this legitimate out. Commenter Stephan also shared a handy script that has been used successfully by several readers:

“Hello. I’m calling about my current contract with Sprint and the new 40 cents per line regulatory charge that Sprint will be introducing this January. The latest Terms & Conditions contract I signed with Sprint was in [year], and under that contract, it specifically states that as a Sprint customer, I have the right to terminate my contract without paying an early termination fee in the event that Sprint makes a material change to its agreement with me, and so long as I notify Sprint of my desire to do so within 30 days of such a change. This new 40 cent per line regulatory charge constitutes a material change to the Terms & Conditions agreement I signed, and therefore, I would like to exercise my right under the agreement to terminate my contract without any early termination fee.”

A few testimonials:

I called today read the script that Stephan wrote and it was like magic.. she didn’t argue just said.. ok sir.. but you will need to wait to cancel till Jan 1st 2010 and forward me to her managers voicemail to state thats what I want to do.

The beauty of information on the Internet! I ordered two Iphones with At&t last week and placed my call today with Sprint. The call took maybe 35 seconds. All I mentioned was “I want to terminate my contract and port both of my numbers to another carrier because of the 2010 regulatory charge”. The sprint rep said “you’re certainly entitled to do that sir”. Then, he gave me a confirmation number which waived the EFTS on both lines. The end. I already ported one Iphone today, working great.

I gave the spiel that Stephan scripted out above, and it worked like a charm:) I was put on hold for about 10 minutes and when the rep came back on the line she told me that I was set up to terminate on January 26th. (This is because my billing cycle starts and ends on the 26th. They cannot prorate, they set the termination at the end of your current billing cycle so keep this in mind.)

If pressed, you should always focus on the fact that they made a material change to your contract and by law you are allowed to cancel without a ETF. Don’t get sidetracked by your satisfaction with your phone, coverage, etc. If you don’t get satisfaction immediately, either ask for a supervisor or simply hang up and talk to another customer service representative. Good luck!

Update: Instead of *2, you may find it faster to call Sprint’s Cancellation (formally called “Retentions”) department directly if you run into long hold times. Try 888-567-5528, 800-235-1185, or 888-211-4727.

Relationships and Money: Are You Communist, Socialist, or Capitalist?

I was catching up on some blog reading and caught an old post from Plonkee about the different ways that couples can manage their finances. The three different methods were categorized as communist, socialist, or capitalist. Rather controversial, eh? Don’t get too excited folks, just read on:

Communist: One Big Pot

According to Wikipedia, communism is a social structure in which classes are abolished and property is commonly controlled. Thus, no matter what each person earns, all their income is deposited into one central joint account, from which all expenses are paid from as well. All assets including property, investments, and cash are owned together.

Socialist: Earn More, Pay More

Under this structure, common shared expenses such as rent and utilities are paid via a joint account. Let’s say one person makes $75k and the other person makes $25k. Then if the monthly shared expenses are $1,000 per month, they would pay $750 and $250 respectively. The contribution is proportional to income.

Separate expenses such as entertainment, gifts, or clothing are paid for out of personal accounts. This allows each person to retain some individual control of their money.

Capitalist: You Pay Yours, and I’ll Pay Mine

Finally, we have the option where purely shared expenses are simply split straight down the middle. Differing income levels don’t change anything; If you make more then you keep more. Everything else is paid directly by each individual. Theoretically, each person is thus incentivized to keep their own expenses down, as nobody else helps to pay for it. There is “my money” and “your money”. This is often how platonic roommates manage their finances.

Just Call Me Karl
Although I usually don’t align myself as communist, I must admit that that is mostly how we manage our money as a married couple. It’s also helpful that we both work and earn comparable incomes (a least for now). We do add in a small “adult allowance” fund where we can spend money on whatever with no questions asked. Besides that, while we definitely don’t always agree on things, I think the combination of open communication and the passage of time has gotten us relatively comfortable with the “one pot” setup.

Now, I don’t think any one type is necessary better than the other, and know couples of each persuasion. I do have one question for the capitalist-types, though: What about retirement? Do you split that too? What happens if one person doesn’t invest adequately in retirement?

Blu-ray HD vs. DVD Players: Historical Price Comparison

I found this interesting chart on Gizmodo about how Blu-Ray players are basically following the same price trajectory as traditional DVD players:

I don’t have a Blu-ray player myself, but I’m sure glad I didn’t buy one at $300. Hopefully this means that the discs will become dirt-cheap just as quickly. I can wait. 🙂

Capital One 360 Referral Fill Giveaway (Expired)

Do you have an Capital One 360 savings account with unused referrals? I usually have lots of $25 bonus links available, but have been falling behind again. The first 25 people who comment below tonight and leave a working contact e-mail (real name not required, e-mail will not be shared publicly) will get one filled by me for free, which is $10 for you. (All done!)

As a bonus to my always-helpful commenters, if you’ve also left a comment with the same e-mail address ever on any post before, you’ll get an additional referral filled for free.

Due to comment moderation, your comment may not show up right away. One referral per person. Look for a message from me to your e-mail address with further instructions later on. This usually goes fast, so thanks for helping me out!

30% Off FICO Scores at

Want to check your credit score to start off the new year? Here’s a current coupon for real FICO scores and all other credit products at Use the promotional code SURVEY30 to get 30% off and a FICO score for about $11, the best discount currently available:

The code is good until December 30th, 2009 (although try it as it may still work even after that date). As a backup, you can also get 26% off with the codes DECEMBER26 or 26UNTIL2010 until 12/31/09.

Finally, you can still use CPPSAVINGS for 20% off after these expire.

Experian no longer allows Fair Isaac to sell FICO scores to consumers at all, even though lenders still buy and use them. They sell their own FAKO (“FAKE-O”) version now. But since lenders almost always use real FICO scores in their decisions, those are the only ones you should pay for – if at all – in my opinion.

For the diligent, a cheaper alternative is to sign up for a free 30-day trial of ScoreWatch, which includes two free Equifax scores and reports. Just remember to cancel as soon as you grab those scores. You are allowed to cancel online, without having to even call in. As always, you can always request your credit reports (not scores) once every 12 months at

Happy Holidays!

Here’s to wishing you and your families a safe and happy holiday season. I also hope that we can all take some time to reflect on 2009, which was a very hectic year in our household.

Marketing, Lies, and Scary 529 Investment Options

Let’s say you’ve dutifully opened up a 529 college savings plan for your child and are looking for a suitable investment options. You’re not looking for a miracle, just a conservative investment to grow your savings for a while since college is coming up fast. You read the brochure for one of the funds:

The OIM Core Plus Fixed Income strategy is rooted in the idea that individual security selection produces the best opportunity for risk-adjusted excess returns over time. Through an extensive, bottom-up research process, our portfolio management team focuses on optimal bond selection of investment grade corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, US Government Treasuries and taxable municipal bonds. The team employs a tightly controlled duration discipline and closely manages all portfolio risk factors. The portfolio management team’s objective is to produce predictable, consistent excess returns net of fees over the Barclay’s Capital Aggregate Bond Index.

Sounds pretty good, all the buzzwords are hit. Risk-adjusted excess returns. Predictable, consistent, yup. Beat the average! This reminds me of the Money Magazine Mad Libs game.

Fast forward a couple of years:

In the Illinois BrightStart 529 plan, the Oppenheimer Core Plus bond fund lost 38% of its value in 2008, while the fund’s benchmark actually rose 5.24%. How’s that for “excess” returns? It turns out the fund used leverage and invested in mortgage-linked securities. After a lawsuit, Oppenheimer settled for $77 million, which amounts to only half of the losses.

In the Oregon College Savings 529 Plan, the Oppenheimer Core Bond fund made up 10% to 40% of the popular automatic age-based portfolios for the 529 plans. The fund dropped roughly 35% in 2008. Oppenheimer settled for $20 million, which is about 57% of the losses. In the New Mexico 529 Plan – you guessed it – the same thing happened and they recently settled for $67 million.

This means that in 2008 Oppenheimer lost roughly $300 million of people’s college savings across just three states in a fund that was supposed to be very conservative and sold to those with children within 5 years of college. I would never invest in any Oppenheimer fund after reading this. Not only did they mislead their investors – if not outright lied – they only partially reimbursed them after being sued and faced with a huge jury penalty.

Stories like this to keep me happily investing in low-cost passively-managed bond funds which are satisfied to carefully track a set benchmark. You really never know what a manager is doing when trying to “beat the benchmark”. When it comes to bond funds, it is very very hard to do so without taking on more risk, especially when they have to overcome their own high fees.

Found via: Mish’s Economics Blog, CNN More Money Blog.
News articles: AP, Star-Tribune, Oregon 529 Press Release

Free $10 Certificate

Reader Bill offered a helpful comment about the promotional site where you can give and receive free $10 certificates from until Christmas.

However, I wanted to point out this offer is tricky in that you have to weigh the benefit of getting a $10 certificate for free or simply buying a $25 certificate for $2, since most restaurants have a minimum purchase requirement and you can only use one certificate per visit.

The way the math works out, if the restaurant requires the same minimum purchase of anything over $12, you’re better off buying the $25 certificate for $2. Let’s say you want to spend just $15. With the $10 certificate, the final net cost is $5. With the $25 certificate for $2, the final net cost is only $2.

A common scenario is a $20 minimum purchase for the $10 certificate, and a $35 minimum purchase for the $25 certificate. As long as you plan on spending at least $35, then you’re much better off buying the $25 certificate for $2. Getting $20 worth of food would end up with a net cost of $10. But getting $35 worth of food would only end up with a net cost of $12 ($2 for the $25 certificate + $10).

Run a search at first to find a place you like and carefully note their specific restrictions.

80% off $25 Certificates for $2 is offering a 80% off with the coupon code SANTA until 12/25 , resulting in a $25 “certificate” for just $2. (Update: Promo code CHEER is good until December 31st, 2009.)

Despite my initial skepticism about these things, many readers responded that they indeed found these certificates very useful in savings some money.

Here’s how the savings math might work out. You find a restaurant on the list that you like that usually runs around $20 + tip per person (~$48 for a couple). You buy a $25 certificate for $2, which usually comes with a $35 minimum purchase + 18% required gratuity on full price.

Dinner for two = $40 regular menu price
Minus $25 certificate = $15
Plus cost of certificate ($2) = $17
Plus 18% gratuity on menu price = $7.20Total price = $24.20, or $12 a person including tip

$12 including tip is pretty good for a dine-in restaurant, with the primary caveat being that you find one on their list that you like (or the gift recipient likes).

Free $4 Credit at (Video on Demand)

Visit any page inside the Video on Demand store (such as Transformers 2) and click on the link below the preview that says “Have a promotion code? Redeem a gift card or promotion code” and enter AVODGIFT.

While intended to be towards a VoD rental purchase, when I tried basically just increased my gift certificate balance by $4 and you can use it for anything. Credit expires 1/3/10. Enjoy!

Promotional offer valid for a limited time only and subject to change. Promotional offer is valid from 12/23/2009 through 01/03/2010. Your code must be used by 01/03/2010 11:59 PM PST and may be redeemed only for purchase (on ownership or rental basis) of digitally-formatted movies or TV shows then available at Amazon Video On Demand.

Deceptive Car Salesman Tactics For Popular Cars

I mentioned before that I am shopping for a new car. I’ve been to multiple dealerships since this is the first new car I’ve ever bought, and (for some odd reason) wanted to experience the new car buying experience complete with high-pressure sales tactics. Here are some examples of lies and deceptions that I’ve run across so far from different folks.

MSRP “Market Value Adjustment”
Apparently, MSRP isn’t good enough for some cars. I like the Honda Fit, which is a relatively popular car in my area and one in which the MSRP isn’t that much higher than invoiced (as confirmed by and thus doesn’t have that much built-in profit.

So, they add another $1,000 to $2,000 and tell customers that this makes the price “market value”. Of course, as I finish negotiating back down a bit below MSRP they admit “oh, the first price I said is only for folks who don’t know how to buy a car. But one person every week walks in and pays it!”.

And people wonder why car-buying isn’t a fun experience.

Options That Aren’t Optional
Another way to boost profit is to package a bunch of options like floor mats, wheel locks, or keyless entry and make a non-official $600 options package and put it on all the cars. When you don’t actually want something, say, wheel locks, they just say “oh, it’s already installed, sorry”. I can remove the floor mats in about 30 seconds, pal. If you push, they’ll let you buy one without options only if you commit to one that hasn’t arrived yet but is on their shipping list.

Jacked Up Options Prices
If you’ve already artificially tried to raise the price of the car, and then tack on default accessories, what is left? Make the price of the accessories above MSRP.

I wanted to buy a cargo cover for the back, and was told it was $225. When trying to negotiate, I got the sob story “oh, I only make $20 on this anyway”. Really, then why can I go online to another genuine Honda Dealer at College Hills Honda for only $119 plus shipping? And the retail price is shown as $165??

Always look online for a dealer that has fair prices on direct accessories, and either use that price to haggle or buy the accessories separately if you’re willing!

The Magically Disappearing Newspaper Ad Car
Finally, they even whipped out the magic for me. I saw a dealer with a newspaper ad for a 2009 model car at a great price, only $150 over invoice. I called them, and they said it was in stock. I drove over, and they said to take a seat and they’d bring it over. “Oh! I’m sorry, that car has just been sold. Can I interest you in something else?” I was pissed and started walking out the door. “Okay, okay! What if I offered you a 2010 car that had identical features or better at the same price!” Fine, show me. Now. After we look for a 2010 that was similar for about 10 minutes, the 2009 was miraculously available again!

That’s it for now, I’ve got to catch another flight, but I’ve got more salesman deceptions to share later…

Wanna Buy A Beer Company Together?

Pabst Brewing Company, makers of Pabst Blue Ribbon, is currently owned by a charitable trust that must sell it by 2010. Forza Migliozzi and The Ad Store want to use crowdsourcing to buy the company for $300 million through their website

From this CNN article:

Anyone over 21 can go to the site and pledge a minimum of $5 toward the reported $300 million sales price for Pabst. So far, would-be beer moguls have pledged more than $20 million in about a month. If the collective raises enough money, Migliozzi says contributors will get enough beer to match their pledges and ownership in the company.

While living in Portland, I definitely noticed the rising popularity of PBR. Shrug, I pledged $25. You don’t actually pay upfront, so we’ll see what happens.