Archives for May 2010

Driving A BMW = Six-Figure Salary and a College Education?

What types of folks tend to own luxury cars? At the end of a BusinessWeek article about the struggling Lincoln brand, I ran across this chart detailing the median income and age of the respective owners of each major luxury brand:

Overall, this a bit older than I would have guessed for a median age. But since wealth tends to increase with age, I suppose it makes sense. BMW and Audi has the youngest crowd, with Lincoln and Cadillac with the oldest.

I wonder if the JD Power survey asked for individual or household income. According to the 2005 Census, a household income over $100,000 puts you in the top 15% of the country. A household income over $150,000 puts you in the top 5%.

According the the chart above, the median luxury car owner is easily in the top 10% of income. Is it just me, or does it seems like a lot of people who drive such luxury cars aren’t making six figures? You can lease a BMW 3-series or Audi A4 for $400 a month. That makes for a lot of very high-income folks on the other end of the curve.

Education vs. Income?
Digging into the education numbers tells a different side of the story. About 25% of the overall US population has a 4-year degree or higher, which is actually about the same as the median luxury car owner. Meanwhile, the overall median household income is $45,000, and only rises to $73,446 if you have a Bachelor’s degree or higher (2003 census).

Therefore, while the median luxury car owner is about as (formally) educated as the overall population, they make triple the income versus the overall population, and still double the average of people with 4-year degrees or higher. I find that interesting.

After running some numbers, simply owning a luxury brand don’t necessarily mean that much. A person who leases a Toyota SUV every three years spends more money in the long run than a person who buy a Lexus and drives it for 10 years. Another example… let’s say an Acura costs $15k more than the Honda counterpart. Over 10 years, that’s a premium of $1,500 per year or $125 per month (plus slightly higher maintenance and insurance costs). An iPhone family plan costs more than that.

Infographic: Overall Tax Rates For Single, Married Filers

VisualizingEconomics has a nice series of infographics that explore how various income-based taxes change with your adjusted gross incomes. It uses 2009 IRS numbers, but should still remain relevant to today. Below is a snapshot of a married filing jointly couple with two kids and one income (click to enlarge):

Not you? Check out also:

Boingo Wireless iPhone / iPod Touch App (Free Hour of WiFi)

Boingo Wireless runs a network of pay-for-use WiFi hotspots around the world. Their new Boingo Wifi Credits App now lets you buy WiFi time through iTunes at a rate of $1.99 per hour, instead of paying the monthly $7.95 per month subscription fee. (Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.)

Even better, the first hour of credit is included with download. So at the minimum, you can install the free app in case of a gotta-have-internet emergency while traveling.

Happiness Is Earning $60,000 A Year?

Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman performed a TED Talk this year about how as humans our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. Basically, he says that our memories of experiences differ from what really happened during the experience itself.

But what ended up being the catchy soundbite was in the Q&A session after his talk, where he tells us that while millions of dollars won’t buy you happiness, a job that pays $60,000 a year might help. This is based on a survey of 600,000 Americans:

“Below 60,000 dollars a year, people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, we get an absolutely flat line. I mean I’ve rarely seen lines so flat.”

“Clearly… money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery,” he said. But the real trick, Kahneman said, is to spend time with people you like.

I found this talk through the GatesVP blog, who offers this analysis:

In most parts of the US you already have access to a very good and healthy life at 60k. You’ve pretty much covered everything commonly deemed as a necessity and you probably have some money left over for “entertainment”. So the jump to 90k really just gives you a little more “entertainment” and maybe some bigger stuff, but that’s it.

And if you’re the type who’s not happy with being in the top 20%, then how much further do you need to go? Top 10%? Top 5%?

Really, 60k for one job is far enough “ahead of the game” to keep happy those that can be kept happy. And that’s probably why this is true.

According to the 2008 US Census, making 60k a year is in the top 20%. I pretty much agree, especially with the idea that humans are creatures of comparison. As long as we’re doing a little bit better than our neighbors, then we tend to be happy. What do you think?

You can view the entire TED Talk below. The Q&A session starts at about 17:15, and a transcript is available on the right sidebar here.
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Free Financial Industry Trade Magazine Subscriptions

TradePub is a site with a big list of free subscriptions to trade magazines in various industries, from finance to IT/engineering to healthcare. I like the idea of reading about the industry from an insider’s perspective. It’s all advertiser-supported, so just pick out what you want. Here are a few financial mags that caught my eye:

  • Financial Advisor was “created exclusively for independent financial planners and RIAs. […] Operating on the premise that an individual’s personal and financial lives are inextricably linked, the magazine tackles issues from college funding, second careers and divorce to charitable giving, business succession and retirement, estate and legacy planning.
  • Global Finance “delivers the full story; corporate finance, joint ventures and M&A, country profiles, capital markets, investor relations, currencies, banking, risk management, custody, direct investment, money management and all the rest-specifically tailored for corporate readers around the world.”
  • Registered Rep. is the “preferred magazine for stockbrokers, financial planners and advisors, and senior and branch management of retail brokerages large and small. From bringing you news about the firms to helping you attract high-net-worth clients, Rep. offers provocative coverage of the financial services industry in every monthly issue. Coverage with a focus on how you can build a better investment advisory practice by being of better service to your clients.”
  • U.S. Banker is “written for those individuals charged with generating greater profits and shareholder value for a financial institution: bank and nonbank directors, chairmen, CEOs, presidents, EVPs, SVPs and other business line managers. Each monthly issue covers the market trends, regulations, innovations and individuals that are reshaping the financial institutions.”

Another trade magazine that I have been receiving for years that I initially found through TradePub is Financial Planning. Although it’s no longer offered through them, it looks like you can still get a free subscription here.

Lower Your Credit Card APR: Phone Script from DebtGoal

DebtGoal is a new site that helps you track and manage your debt-reduction goals (as opposed to a debt settlement company). After the free trial, it runs $11.95 per month. One of the things they do is try and guide you to lower the interest rates on your credit cards. Here’s a sample script that you can try out yourself for free, which is quite simple but probably also effective:

Hello, my name is _______________. I have been a cardholder since ____. In the past few months, several credit card companies have offered me lower rates than my current rate with you. I value my relationship with you, but I would like you to match the other offers that I have received and reduce my interest rate by ___%. Are you authorized to adjust my interest rate?

It can be handy to actually have offers or other cards in front of you that really have lower rates. Depending on their response, you could also throw in one of these:

  • “Are there other people who have the authority to lower my rate? May I speak with them?”
  • “Do you have a promotional rate that I can take advantage of?”
  • “What would I have to do to get a lower rate? Can I call back later when I meet those criteria?”
  • “Can I qualify for a hardship program?”

Any other success stories or tips?

Are You Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset?

We are all leading busy lives, and it’s all to easy to “miss the woods for the trees”. What if we prioritized by taking a step back and simply asked ourselves – what is our most important asset? Are we adequately protecting that asset?


Unless you’ve got a trust fund or are close to retirement, you’re likely going to have to rely on yourself to work for a while. What if you couldn’t? You need disability insurance.

The first place a lot of people go for disability insurance is work. There is either short-term and long-term insurance, and it’s important to know both what triggers a insurance payout and how much money you’ll get. Sometimes, as long as you can sit and do some form of work, you’re not considered disabled. If you want to get a form of disability insurance that kicks when you can’t do your specific job anymore, then I usually see a recommendation to see an independent insurance broker that works with several different insurers. Social Security will kick in as a last resort, but it’s also hard to qualify and definitely won’t replace all your income.

Your Spouse

If you’ve got children or are already disabled yourself, you might depend most on your spouse for income. If that person is your most important asset, then you need both disability and life insurance. Term life insurance is cheaper because it is straight insurance without any investment component to muddle things up. Start with Term4Sale for some quotes and leads to local agents. Don’t forget about life insurance for yourself, as you might be the most important asset to your spouse as well.

Your Home Equity

Even after the credit crisis, a lot of people have a great chunk of their net worth tied up in their house. Do you have adequate homeowner’s insurance? It’s important to check on how much coverage you have, and what it covers. Do you have actual replacement cost coverage, or just an estimate? Are you covered in case of hurricane, flood, or earthquake?

Your Pension / Investments

Perhaps you are nearly or already living off your accumulated assets. Good job! If you have a pension, be aware of the financial stability of your former employer. Understand what the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will pay out in the worst case. Some people decide to take a lump sum in case of future bankruptcy. In general, make sure your investment mix is aligned with your need and tolerance for risk. Consider this rough rule of thumb.

Avoid a Madoff situation. Is someone else in charge of your investments? Do a basic check at FINRA. Whoever manages your portfolio should use an independent financial institution, known as a custodian, to hold your assets. They should also be audited by a licensed, independent, and preferably well-known firm.

As for me, I’ll be looking at some individual disability plans in the near future.

WT Direct $500 Promotion: Earn 5% APY For 3 Months

(The promo below was discontinued after 3 days. Sorry, I warned you guys!)

The online division of Wilmington Trust Bank, WT Direct, is running another promotion for new customers. You can get up to a $500 cash bonus on top of the standard interest rate (currently 1.16% APY) if you open a new account and maintain a certain balance for 3 months. Here is the offer text:

Join WTDirect now and for every $10,000 that you deposit, we’ll give you a $100 cash bonus, up to $500!* Just open and fund your account by June 15th, maintain your initial deposit for three months, and you’ll receive a cash bonus.

The Numbers: Like a 3-month CD paying over 5% APY
This offer is basically a 1% flat bonus on your deposit after only 3 months if you deposit a multiple of $10,000. How does this work out when converted to an interest rate? To start, you are already getting 1.16% APY. On $10,000 for 3 months, you’ll get $28.40 interest and $100 bonus. That’s roughly 5.15% APY during that time.

Therefore, you can treat this bonus as a 3-month CD paying over 5% APY, more than 3% higher than any other available 3-month CD out there, and works for deposits up to $50,000:

Application Process and Setup

I’ve already opened a WTDirect account for a previous bonus, so here a quick summary of what to expect when applying. First, they gather the personal info. Second, they use the now-popular Equifax ID check questions to verify your identity. Third, you can fund electronically with account and routing numbers, although you must come back and verify trial deposits later. Finally, you can electronically sign the application and disclosures. There were no physical forms to send in, although a welcome packet does arrive by mail. They state explicitly that there is no credit check.

As for practical matters, WT Direct’s online transfer system allows unlimited linked banks, and transfers to external accounts are free both in and out with a 2-3 day transfer time.

Final Details
You must click through the promotional page and not the regular front page, so that the promotion code of dxxxc01 should already be filled in for you. WT Direct offers can be pulled early (and have been in the past), so don’t dawdle too long if you’re interested…

The fine print:

This offer is available to new WTDirect clients only. Primary account holder must NOT have held a WTDirect account in the past 12 months. WTDirect account must be opened and funded via electronic (ACH) transfer received by 6/15/10. Bonus is based upon the lowest daily balance during the promotional period of 6/15/10 – 9/15/10. Bonuses will be paid approximately 2 weeks after the end of the promotional period to clients whose accounts are open and in good standing. Wilmington Trust employees and their family members are not eligible. WTDirect reserves the right to cancel or modify this promotion at any time without notice.

Free Download: Microsoft Money Plus Sunset Deluxe

Personal finance software Microsoft Money was discontinued as of mid-2009, but Microsoft recently released Money Plus Sunset Deluxe and Money Plus Sunset Home and Business available for free download.

The stated reason for these editions is to avoid any ongoing online activation/re-activation issues with old software. Do be aware that the online abilities are disabled (no online quotes, no bill payment, no statement downloads initiated by Money, no data sync with MSN Money online services). There will not be any additional support available from Microsoft, only online self-help and through other users.

Money Plus Sunset Deluxe is designed to be a replacement for expired versions of Money Plus Essentials, Money Plus Deluxe, and Money Plus Premium versions. Money Plus Sunset Home and Business is designed to be a replacement for expired versions of Money Plus Home and Business.

Worth a download?
If you’re okay with staying offline, this version of MS Money might serve as an adequate free personal accounting and tracking software for a while longer. You can still manually import MS Money OFX files from your bank or other financial institutions. The Business versions allow to you print invoices. If you have an older version of Money, this is basically a free upgrade to the last edition sold.

Otherwise, it’s probably time to take another look at Intuit Quicken if you still want a full-featured desktop solution, which starts at about $40.

Quick Tip: Differences Between Bank and Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses

Just a quick tip that a reader brought up… when you receive a “bonus” from a bank, it is usually going to be reported as taxable interest income to the IRS via a 1099-INT form. Since such interest is taxed as ordinary income, you should remember that you will probably owe income tax on the bonus amount multiplied by your marginal tax rate (2010). After personal exemptions and standard deductions, students or other people with lower incomes might find that they don’t owe tax anyway, but it’s still worth noting.

Another way that this can get messy is if the bank offers an item like an mp3 player, and reports the full retail value while the actual market price is much lower. Let’s say they give you an iPod that you can find for $200 but mark it as worth $300. If you’re in the 28% tax bracket, you’ll be paying $84 in taxes for that “free” iPod. Still a good deal, but only if you would really pay that much for it! (Example: iPod Touch from KeyBank.)

However, incentives from a credit card sign-up are usually non-taxable. They don’t report any income on 1099-INTs, and due to a IRS private-letter ruling, tax experts tend to view the bonuses as a rebate on the purchases you make on the cards. (Example: $500 cash bonus from credit cards.)

[Insert “The More You Know” theme song…]

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 50,000 Bonus Points Review

Chase Sapphire Preferred ImageThe Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a rewards credit card that is now offering new cardholders 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. This is quite a good deal, as 50,000 points can be redeemed for $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards™ (you can buy a more expensive ticket and simply pay the difference). Earn 5,000 additional bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening. No annual fee for the first year, $95 in future years.

[This card is the “big brother” of the regular Chase Sapphire® Card, where you can get 10,000 points after you spend $500 in the first 3 months (no minimum amount) – that’s $100 in travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards! and there is no annual fee in the first year or subsequent years. As well as an additional 2,500 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening. I would personally rather go for the 40,000 points offer since the annual fee is waived for an entire year.]

Rewards Features
As a rewards card, the Sapphire offers 2 points per dollar spent on travel, 2 points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants and 1 point for every dollar on all other purchases (100 points = $1, or the usual 1% back). However, this card separates itself with it’s flexible redemptions. Cash redemptions are easy – you can redeem in $1 increments as long as above $20, so you could cash out $27 or $253 without anything left over. There are no earning caps, or points expiration dates.

As noted above, airplane ticket redemptions can also be maximized because you can book any ticket and simply pay the difference. For example, 25,000 points can be used for any ticket up to $312.50, but if say you wanted a $325 ticket you could just pay the $12.50 difference. On other cards, you would have to go up another tier and spend an extra 10,000 points or similar.

More Details
In addition, Sapphire also promotes a “premium, dedicated service line that gives you access to a live person anytime, 24/7.” I tested this out and it really works! A real person picks up after a couple rings… it’s actually a bit disconcerting. You can also redeem cash rewards over the phone for free, although booking rewards tickets this way costs $20 (doing so online is free).

Fine print:

Earn 50,000 bonus miles – That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards™
You will receive 50,000 bonus points with this bonus offer, which can be redeemed for a round trip ticket on most major airlines up to a $625 value. Ticket value exceeding $625 can be charged to your new card. A service fee of up to $20 per ticket may be charged for the use of our toll-free number to book or change airline itineraries. Redemptions made online do not have a service fee. Cardmember is responsible for any airline or government imposed fees. To qualify and receive your bonus, you must make qualifying transactions totaling $4,000 or more during the first 3 months from account opening. Qualifying transactions include purchases, balance transfers, and any checks that are used to access your account, and exclude cash advances. After qualifying, please allow 6 to 8 weeks for bonus points to post to your account. To be eligible for this bonus offer, account must be open and not in default at the time of fulfillment. This one-time bonus offer is valid only for first-time cardmembers with new accounts. Previous and existing cardmembers/accounts are not eligible for this bonus offer.

I already have the Chase Sapphire regular card and got my $250 (previous offer). But given how easy it was to redeem the reward, I’m going to have Mrs. MMB apply for a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card as well this time. (I try not to bother her too much unless it’s very juicy.)

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card application link

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.  “The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Free iPod Touch Offer From KeyBank

KeyBank is offering a free iPod Touch if you:

  • Open a Key Express Free checking account by July 30, 2010 (No monthly maintenance service charge, no minimum balance requirement)
  • Make one KeyBank Rewards debit card transaction
  • Make a combination of two direct deposits and/or automated payments each of $100 or more by October 1, 2010

You can get an additional $25 iTunes card if you open a checking account with higher balance requirements. The catch is that I think you must live in an area that KeyBank serves to open an account. (Update: Cleveland, Eastern OH, Idaho, Western NY, Oregon, Seattle Cascades, South Puget Sound, Central NY, Rochester, Maine, Northwest OH, Michigan, and Capital Region NY.) I still have my iPod Nano from a previous KeyBank offer. Additional details in the fine print:
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