Archives for October 2010

Leonardo Da Vinci Quotes

Leonardo da Vinci isn’t usually quoted when it comes to personal finance; I don’t think he really cared for the topic very much. However, I’ve been doing some reading about him and I really enjoyed these quotes attributed to him and wanted to remember them:

  • “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
  • “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
  • “It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
  • “He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year.”

Winning Our Case in Small Claims Court

The following is a guest post from reader Elle, who shares her story above being treated poorly by her mechanic and how she got justice via small claims court. She writes about handling family and finances responsibly at

I will tell you right now that suing someone is a tedious and process. I know this because had to do it to recover money due to our auto shop’s big mistake. We couldn’t afford a lawyer, so we represented ourselves against the shop’s lawyer and won. Before I get start on how we did it, I should explain how we ended up in the position where we had to sue.

Car Repair Gone Bad

We had used this repair shop before and never had any trouble. If a repair was going to take longer than a day, they would call us when the work was completed. When I made arrangements with the mechanic he said it would take a couple of days for the work on the transmission.

After a few days, we hadn’t heard anything so my husband called to check the status of the car. The cashier told him it was already fixed and had been waiting for a while. My husband was surprised they didn’t call him as agreed, but also happy he could get his car back. He paid for the car repair and was given the keys. They attendant pointed out that the car was off the lot, parked on the street. Where we live, it is common knowledge that certain city streets flood on a regular basis. Everyone moves their cars to another street or higher ground as a precaution. This shop had been there 30 years. As you can probably imagine, the car was wet on the inside. My husband was able to start it and went home.

After going around the corner and driving a 1/10th of a mile, the car sputtered and died (a span of 5 minutes). My husband pushed it to a side street and called the shop immediately. He explained the problem and was told that he should let the car dry out.

Long story short, the car didn’t start. The repair shop they were not responsible. They said that a thunderstorm, not a hurricane or tropical storm, was an ‘act of God’. The rain accumulated on the street and water got into the car.

Giving Us a Hard Time

Seeing as we’ve done business with them before, we requested that they tow it and identify the damage in the car. We were willing to work with them, thinking that they would feel some responsibility. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to budge. The shop claimed that we called in the evening instead of immediately afterward. Even though we had proof we made the call, they ignored our calls.

We were frustrated and down to one car. Eventually we were able to find another mechanic who was able to diagnose the problem and fix it. The problem was that the repairs for the electrical work were over a grand and we had to get a rental car.

After much deliberation, we decided to go ahead and file a small claims lawsuit.

Preparing for Small Claims Court

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The Story of My First Property Purchase

The following is a guest post from Investor Junkie, who shares the details of his first condo purchase. His blog discusses all things related to investing and being an entrepreneur.

The time was 1998. I was 28 years old, and still living with my parents in Long Island, New York. I did so, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Even my girlfriend at the time was bitching I should move out as I made enough money. Needless to say that girlfriend wasn’t my girlfriend for much longer.

Unlike all of my other friends who enjoyed paying rent, I was on a mission. I wanted to own a condo as to me real estate is one of the best ways to increase my wealth. I made many sacrifices and pinched every penny I could. I knew exactly the area I was in the market for, and what type of property. There was a 134 unit condo complex next to the local train station. This made a primary location for New York City commuters like myself since, by railroad it was only an hour away. I got a hold of a friend of the family who was a real estate agent, and asked for comps of sold units for the previous year. The two bedroom, one and half bath units all sold for around $125k, plus or minus $5,000. With these condos the primary variable was how much was renovated since all had the same layout. These units were built in 1973, and were at the ripe age of needing must done improvements. I spotted an inefficiency in the market, and knew my target.

I looked at 5 other units in the condo complex before I found “the one”. After a few months after my initial research I spotted a unit for sale in the local newspaper. It was for sale by owner, and had an open house that Friday. After work I quickly hopped over to the place to take a look. As I entered the unit the first thing I noticed was an older couple walking out in disgust. I walked into the unit, and quickly figured out why. There was the distinct smell of an animal’s wet fur. I found from the presenter this unit had been a rental property since it was built. Everything was original, and nothing had been upgraded since it was built. Too my surprise the smell came from the living room, which had a caged ferret in it. After I inquired about the ferret, the presenter of the property explained to me the tenant had his two sons living all living in this two-bedroom apartment. This explained why the living room ceiling had pinholes in it. It appeared the tenant used a blanket to cordon off the living room into a makeshift bedroom for the oldest son. The story gets better from here.
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Planning a Round-the-World (RTW) Trip For Under $10,000

The following is a guest post from reader Chris, who shares a quick and dirty (and cost-conscious) examination of Round-the-World Travel. He writes about about making a life of long-term travel and other related topics at

$10,000 goes a long way. That’s a healthy drop in the retirement bucket, a sizable boost to any portfolio, a new(er) car or, as I’m about to advocate, an adventure of spirit and culture and affirmation that most never embark upon.

Would you believe me if I told you that you could travel the world for $10,000? Hopefully, by the end of reading this you’ll see the opportunity for what it is. Of course we aren’t talking about stopping at the nearly 250 UN recognized nations, but rather circumnavigating the globe while stopping at a selection of countries and cities. Your time frame, your itinerary, your budget (and your sensibilities) will set the limits of your travels, so keep them in mind at all times.

Being readers of, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re all fairly versed in saving methodologies and tips and tricks and are in, at least, a decent financial state. If you’re a new reader or simply don’t have that kind of scratch lying around, I didn’t leave you out. I’ve left some time honored travelers tips at the bottom to both save money for your travels and to pinch pennies while on the road. General rules of this study:

  • I am traveling solo.
  • I have gear and vaccinations.
  • I have $10,000.
  • I will travel for 3 months – 1 week in the US. 5 weeks in Europe and 6 weeks in Asia.

Consideration #1 – Airfare

Costs: $1,700
Remaining budget: $8,300

Airfare these days is not only the most economical choice, but also the least logistically imposing method of traversing the globe. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to RTW airfare – have it your way or go prepackaged. Customized itineraries allow for greater flexibility of schedule, freedom of destination and directional independence, while “pre-packaged” RTW tickets typically want you flying East-to-West (or vice-verse, no hopping back and forth), have a handful of stops and must be used within a certain date (usually within one year from purchase).

My focus on traveling will be South East Asia and Western Europe in a west-to-east route. I’ve opted for an itinerary from Boots’n’all Travel, who partners with the Airtreks to bring all this in at $1299 (as of September 2010, see current RTW specials here) . There are always some hidden fees, so let’s buffer that up to a straight $1500.

Flight itinerary – SE Asia & Europe Budget Ticket: San Francisco or Los Angeles – Manila – Borneo (Kota Kinabalu) – Singapore – Angkor Wat (Siem Reap) – surface – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok – surface – Kuala Lumpur – London – Amsterdam – surface – Paris – San Francisco or Los Angeles from US$1299

Note: This sample itinerary is good through September 30th. Each month Boots’n’all offers different routes, but the prices, and locations, generally stay the same.

In the interest of creating as realistic a scenario as is reasonable, I’ll dish up the fact that I don’t live in San Fran or L.A. I’m a Colorado Springs resident…a quick check on shows that round-trip airfare from my home to the Bay Area and back runs less than $200. Done (and subtracted from our budget).

On a side note, if you’re concerned about the environment impacts of air-travel, you’ll be happy that the sustainability movement has more than a foothold in our modern travel climate. Carbon offsetting is an option as are bio-fueled jets (not commonly available…). Of course, these will up your costs and for the sake of staying under budget I’ve left them out.

Consideration #2 – Lodging

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Potential Unique Advantages of Savings I-Bonds

Even though the current interest rates on Series I Savings Bonds aren’t much higher than other alternatives, these I-Bonds do have some unique characteristics that can keep them attractive.

Inflation-Linked Returns

Along with TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities), these are the only investments you can make that are explicitly tied to a measure of U.S. inflation. (Some foreign-countries also have inflation-linked bonds.) Interest rates don’t always move perfectly with inflation, so having such protection can be helpful.

Exempt From State and Local Income Taxes

The interest from I-Bonds are exempt from state and/or local income taxes. Of course, this is only an advantage if you are subject to such taxes.

Tax Deferral

You can use to either report your interest earned on an annual basis (like a bank CD), or have the interest reporting deferred until maturity or redemption. This can be especially advantageous if you are in a relatively high tax bracket now, but sometime in the future you believe you will have at least one year where you will have lower taxable income (possibly on purpose) and thus can redeem at a lower tax rate (perhps even zero). I-Bonds keep earning interest for up to 30 years.

Educational Tax Exclusion

If you meet several requirements, you can even avoid federal income taxes completely when paying qualified higher education expenses at an eligible institution. More information at this TreasuryDirect page.

According to this page (via Bogleheads Wiki), you can even contribute your proceeds to a 529 plan or Coverdell Educational Savings Account.

Series EE and I US Savings Bonds issued after December 31, 1989 may be redeemed tax-free in order to contribute the proceeds to a section 529 plan or Coverdell Education Savings Account. (To take advantage of this, file IRS Form 8815 to claim an exclusion for the interest after rolling the proceeds of these US Savings Bonds into a section 529 college savings plan or Coverdell Education Savings account. Write “529 College Savings Plan” or “Coverdell Education Savings Account” in the answer to 1(b), where it asks for the name of the educational institution. The specific citation in the tax code for this guidance is IRC Section 135(c)((2)(C).)

One of the restrictions that concerns me is that there is an income phase-out. In 2010, full phase-out occurs at a modified adjusted gross income of $135,100 for married filing jointly filers and $85,000 for single filers.

Guide to Buying a Used Car on Craigslist

The following is a guest post from reader Andy, who bought his last vehicle on Craiglist and shared some of his experiences and advice.

I bought our last vehicle used on Craigslist (CL) and am a big advocate of buying used and direct from private parties (i.e. not from a used car dealer). New cars depreciate significantly when you drive them off the lot and that works to the disadvantage of the used car seller and the advantage of the buyer. Also, provided you can avoid lemons and rust, with regular maintenance today’s cars (especially those with a V6 engine) can reliably last up to two hundred thousand miles before they need to be replaced.

I think you can get a better deal when buying from a private party because you cut out the middle-man (the dealer) and can often negotiate on price if you are a serious buyer and show up with cash. The market for used cars is inefficient. That doesn’t mean you can show up and steal a late model Mercedes from a seller for $500. Kelly Blue Book values on just about all models are easy by anyone. However, the market for used cars is inefficient with regard to quality. In general the KBB value on a car (same make, model and mileage) that has been thrashed by a teenager and never had an oil change is the same for one that has been babied by a retiree who only drove it on sunny days and took it regularly to the dealer for all scheduled maintenance. To me, getting a great value on a used car is finding the latter and avoiding the former, and being willing to pay close to blue book value when I do.

Unlike going to a used car dealer, when buying a car on CL you need to do some research upfront and determine the make and model of car you want to buy, or at least narrow it to a couple of options to narrow your search. Also I try to know what year(s) I am looking for. Models change every few years and while it is cheaper to buy a car dating to just before a model change you want to be sure there are no significant upgrades in the more recent model that you’d prefer to have (i.e. less rollover risk in an SUV, airbags, or a significantly better engine). Also, Consumer Reports is an excellent source of information on the performance and reliability of brands, makes, models, and years. Once I know what car I am looking for I next begin my CL search.

Within the cars and trucks section of Craigslist there is a drop-down box next to the search box that defaults to “cars+trucks.” I always click on this and bump it up one selection to “cars & trucks – by owner” which eliminates most of the used car dealers, though not all. Another reason I avoid dealers in addition to the lack of transparency is adverse selection. Used car dealers may carry some cars they bought at auction that may have had damage or other unsavory history. This is a big investment and I’d prefer to avoid those risks. Here are the steps I use to find a car I feel comfortable buying on Craigslist:
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Savings I-Bonds Update: September 2010 Inflation Data Announced

New inflation numbers are out for September 2010, so it’s time for another semi-annual update:

New Inflation Rate
March 2010 CPI-U was 217.631. September 2010 CPI-U was 218.439, for a semi-annual increase of 0.37%. (This was 1.1 increase over the last 12 months.) Using this official formula, the variable interest rate for the next 6 months will be approximately 0.74%, depending on the fixed rate. Here’s the math:

218.439/217.631 = 1.00371, or a semi-annual increase of 0.37%. Using a fixed rate of the existing 0.2% announced in May 2010:

Variable rate = 2 x Semiannual inflation rate + (Semiannual inflation rate X Fixed rate)
Variable rate = 2 x 0.00371 + (0.00371 X 0.002)
Variable rate = 0.00743, or 0.74%

Buying Now? If you buy before the end of October, the fixed rate portion of I-Bonds will be 0.20%. You will be guaranteed a total interest rate of 0.20 + 1.54 = 1.74% for the next 6 months due to previous deflation, and 0.20 + 0.74 = 0.94% for the six months after that. The inflation component will continue to change every six months. You can’t redeem until 12 months have gone by, and any redemptions within 5 years incur a 3-month interest penalty.

A known “trick” with I-Bonds is that if you buy at the end of the month, you’ll still get all the interest for the entire month as if you bought it in the beginning of the month. Let’s say we buy on October 31st. You’ll be able to sell on October 1st, 2010 for an actual holding period of 11 months. You have to be careful with transaction cut-off times, though, otherwise you may trip into the next month. (3-month interest penalty still applies.)

Buying Later? If you wait until November 1st, you will get a new unknown fixed rate + ~0.74% for the first 6 months, and an unknown rate based on ongoing inflation after that. Based on the tiny fixed real rates on the related Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) currently, my guess is that the new fixed rate is likely to remain very low, perhaps even zero.

Despite these yields not being especially attractive right now, I am thinking about buying some more I-Bonds for my emergency fund, and will probably split them between buying late in October and in November since to me there is not a clear choice to go with one over the other.

Existing I-Bonds? If you have an existing I-Bond, the rates reset every 6 months depending on your purchase month to your original fixed rate + variable rate. I have some at 1.2% fixed rate, which will give me 1.94% for the next 6 months. Interest on savings bonds is not subject to state income taxes. Also, one of the benefits of I Bonds over TIPS is that the total rate (fixed + inflation) can ever go below zero, providing some protection from potential deflation.

Beware Low Purchase Limits
The annual purchase limit is now $5,000 in paper I-bonds and $5,000 in online I-bonds per Social Security Number. For a couple, that’s a $20,000 total cap per year. If you have children, you may be able to buy additional savings bonds by using a minor’s Social Security Number (additional considerations apply).

Buy online at As for paper, here is a post on how to buy paper savings bonds from your local bank. According to this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, the Treasury has indicated that it plans to phase out paper bonds in the near future.

For more background, please see the rest of my posts on savings bonds.

Developing and Monetizing a Niche Website

The following is a guest post from reader Dan, who shares his story of starting and developing it to where it earns $1,500 in passive income each month.

In January of 2008 I closed shop on my first attempt at blogging. Six months earlier I thought that creating a blog about efforts to train for my first marathon would be extremely successful. It didn’t take me long to realize that the only thing more boring than writing about running is reading about someone Else’s runs. When I shut the doors on I wasn’t giving up on blogging, I was giving up my blogging about topics that no one wanted to read.

It was also in January of 2008 that I launched, a Mac Help blog. I’ll admit that I was late to market with the whole Apple blogging idea but I believed I had a bit of a different take on Apple computers and felt that I could fill a niche.

It was 6 months after Apple released their first iPhone and there was significant talk from media outlets and financial advisers about how they were anticipating a significant “halo” affect from iPhone and iPod sales into Mac computers. The more I heard this idea, the more I realized that there would be a growing audience of individuals looking for help with use of their new computer. Just a few years earlier I purchased my first Apple computer and had quickly fallen in love with the products the company built. There was a learning curve but I was picking up use of the Mac quickly and found myself sharing tips with even the most experienced Apple product owners. So I decided to create Maciverse as a site where I shared my tips to the new Mac user.

Maciverse didn’t explode overnight, but through steady and consistent effort the site has grown from just a handful of visitors each month to over 1 million visitors each year It continues to increase in size by about 20% each month without a single dollar spent on advertising. We now cover more than just hints and tips for your Mac and have grown to a team of 5 authors sharing everything the know, love, and sometimes hate about Apple products.

With the traffic growth has also come residual income. but in reality, for the first year Maciverse didn’t make more than $100. My first check from Google Adsense came in year 2 and at that time I was just happy to be breaking even. But over the last 12 months Maciverse has gone from making just a few dollars a month to continual earnings of over $1500 a month. Increasing the number of visitors to the site has helped with the financial gains, but the biggest reason I wasn’t always making decent income from Maciverse was because I didn’t know how to monetize my audience. Below is what I’ve learned about monetizing a Mac site.

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The Perils of Pursuing Financial Freedom

The following is a guest post from Kent Thune, who is a Certified Financial Planner(R) and the author of The Financial Philosopher, where he urges readers to place *meaning before money and purpose before planning*.


What is freedom? What is financial freedom? Is there a difference? Is the freedom that money apparently purchases worth the sacrifices we make to reach this freedom? Can the pursuit of financial freedom paradoxically reduce one’s actual freedom? Can freedom be bought? If not, then what does this say about the pursuit of financial freedom?

The Tail Wagging the Dog

“Life is about life and not the result of life.” ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Financial goals are destinations; they’re not life. If you believe that life is about the journey and not the destination, it’s contradictory to believe that life now must be sacrificed for a life bought by money later.

If retirement, for example, is accomplished only upon (or in unison with) the accomplishment of financial freedom what is the purpose of life now? Are you enslaving yourself now for a perceived freedom years or even decades away?

The blind pursuit of financial freedom is often closer to slavery than it is to liberation. The ultimate example of the metaphorical tail wagging the dog is an individual who creates a financial plan and then shapes their life and behaviors to accomplish the plan; whereas the healthy individual will clarify life (non-financial) goals first, and use money as a tool to reach those goals second. The pursuit of financial freedom can actually be liberating if it is not a blind pursuit—if it is a pursuit consciously defined by the individual.

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Which Brewer Makes Costco Beer?

I was reading my monthly Costco Connection magazine and saw that they had an article about their in-house Kirkland Signature line of craft beers. At $19.99 for 24 bottles (12 oz.), that is about 1/3rd cheaper than most brand-name ales.

I’ve tried a few of them, and they seemed fine to drink, but it was interesting that the article kept skirting around who actually brews the beers for them. They only say that they meet the criteria of the Brewer’s Assocation that they be small (less than 2 million barrels a year), independent (less than 25% owned by some big corporation), and traditional. Also, they follow the German beer purity law of Reinheitsgebot where the only ingredients allows are water, barley, and hops, and yeast.

There are two contract breweries, one on each coast. Some quick online research turns up both of them:

West Coast Brewery

On the bottle, it is printed as:

Hopfen und Malz Brewing Company in San Jose, CA

The brewer is better known as Gordon Biersch (Wikipedia page ). Best known in some areas for their line of restaurants (good garlic fries), they also make beer for Trader Joe’s.

East Coast Brewery

On the bottle, it is printed as:

New Yorker Brewing Company in Utica, NY

The brewer is better known as Matt Brewing Company (Wikipedia page), the fourth oldest family-owned brewery in the United States. They are also known for their Saranac line of beers.

Consumer Reports reviewed the beer in August 2010 and said:

Great price, decent beer. On average, our untrained panelists liked the Costco beers about as much as the same-style name-brand beers. Our consultants said that although the brand-name beers were more flavorful, clean-tasting, and complex, the Costco beers were quite quaffable and, to use the consultants’ technical term, “party-worthy.”

Mortgage Refinance and Resetting the Clock

The following is a guest post from reader TFB, who blogs anonymously at The Finance Buff where he covers investing, taxes, banking, mortgage, insurance, and other personal finance related topics. You can find more of his posts about mortgage refinances under the “refi” tag.

I refinanced my mortgage recently. The rate on my 15-year loan went down from 4.25% to 3.75%. With a lender credit covering the bulk of my closing cost, I spent about $200 on a refinance that will save me over $1,000 interest every year.

Some people don’t like to refinance their mortgage even when the rate is lower and there’s no fee, because they fear it’s going to reset the clock for the eventual payoff. They reason that when they refinance to a new loan, the payoff date will be extended, and they will end up paying more interest over the life of the loan than they would if they didn’t refinance.

In some cases it’s true. For example, if you are five years into a 30-year mortgage at 5.25% with $200k principal balance remaining, keeping the current loan at 5.25% for another 25 years will cost you additional $159,384 in interest. Refinancing the $200k principal balance into a new 30-year loan at 4.5% will push out the payoff date by five years and cost you $164,813 in interest in 30 years. By refinancing, you end up paying more interest.

  Old Loan New Loan New – Old
Principal Balance $200,000 $200,000 $0
Rate 5.25% 4.5% -0.75%
Years to Pay Off 25 30 +5
Remaining Interest $159,384 $164,813 +$5,429

It doesn’t have to be that way.

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Current TD Ameritrade Sign-Up Promotions (Updated 10/2010)

With their new commision-free ETF list, there might be a renewed interest for a TD Ameritrade account (though not from me). Here are the current promotions available. They have different opening balance requirements, different expiration dates, and some are valid for IRAs and some are not, so I’ll leave it to you to see which one fits best.

Trade Free for 60 Days + Up to $500 Cash Bonus
Open a new account with at least $2,000. Only the free trades are valid for IRAs. Technically you can get up to 500 free trades for the first 60 days after account funding. The cash bonus depends on your funding amount, from $100 to $500. Selected fine print:

Offer valid for one new Individual or Joint TD Ameritrade account opened by 12/31/11 and funded within 30 days of account opening with $2,000 or more. Funding with minimum of $25,000 – $99,999 receives $100 cash, funding with minimum of $100,000 – $249,999 receives $250 cash, funding with minimum of $250,000 or more receives $500 cash. IRAs and other tax-exempt accounts are not eligible to receive the cash bonus. Offer is not transferable and not valid with internal transfers, accounts using the Amerivest service, TD Ameritrade Institutional accounts, current TD Ameritrade accounts or with other offers. Commission-free trades will be limited to a maximum of 500 Internet equity, ETF or options trades. Qualified orders must execute within 60 days of account funding. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. Limit one offer per client. Account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 9 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the cash awarded to the account. TD Ameritrade reserves the right to restrict or revoke this offer at any time. This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business. (Offer Code: 201)

$5 trades for 12 months
New accounts opened with at least $2,000 can get $5 market/limit trades for 12 months. Valid for IRAs. Selected fine print:

Offer valid for new TD Ameritrade IRAs, Individual and Joint accounts that are opened by 11/30/10 and funded within 30 days of account opening with a minimum deposit of $2,000 or more. Internet equity or option trades are $5 for market or limit orders during the 12-month introductory period. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) trades will be $5 for market or limit orders. Broker-assisted trades will be $24.99 for a market order or $29.99 for a limit order during this period. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. Commission rates are valid 12 months from qualifying deposit of $2,000 or more. At the conclusion of the 12-month introductory period, Internet equity or option trades will be $9.99 for market or limit orders, IVR trades will be $34.99 for market or limit orders, and broker-assisted trades will be $44.99 for market or limit orders. Your new account must remain open and funded with the minimum required funding for 12 months or the account will be reverted back to the standard commission schedule.

Up to 25,000 Delta Skymiles
Open with $2,500 and get 5,000 Delta miles, $10,000 for 10,000 miles, and $50,000 for 25,000 miles. Selected fine print:

Offer valid for one new Individual or Joint TD Ameritrade account opened and funded by U.S. residents with $2,500 or more by 12/31/2010. Not transferable and not valid for IRA or other tax-exempt accounts, internal transfers, current TD Ameritrade clients or with other offers. Limit one offer per client. […] Account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 9 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the SkyMiles. Allow 6-8 weeks from account funding for the first half of the miles to appear in your SkyMiles account. To qualify for the second half, TD Ameritrade account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 6 months from the first mileage posting date.

Up to 25,000 United Mileage Plus miles
Same idea as with Delta above, except for United miles. Selected fine print:

Offer valid for new Individual or Joint accounts opened and funded by U.S. residents with $2,500 or more by 12/31/2010. Not transferable and not valid for IRA or other tax-exempt accounts, internal transfers, current TD Ameritrade clients, or with other offers. Limit one offer per client. […] Account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 9 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the miles. Allow 6 weeks from account funding for the first half of miles to appear in the Mileage Plus account. To qualify for the second half, TD Ameritrade account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 6 months from the first posting date.

30 days free trades + $100, $250, or $500 Cash
If you fund with $25,000 minimum, you can get $100 cash. 100,000 minimum gets you $250 cash. Whopping $250k minimum gets you $500 cash. You also get 30 days of commission-free trades. Here’s basically the same offer valid for 401k rollovers. Selected fine print:

Offer valid for one new Individual or Joint TD Ameritrade account opened by 06/30/2011 and funded within 30 days of account opening with $2,000 or more. Funding with minimum of $25,000 – $99,999 receives $100 cash, funding with minimum of $100,000 – $249,999 receives $250 cash, funding with minimum of $250,000 or more receives $500 cash. IRA and other tax-exempt accounts are not eligible to receive the $100 cash bonus. […] Qualified commission-free Internet equity, ETF or options orders must execute within 30 days of account funding. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. Limit one offer per client. Account must remain open with minimum funding required for participating in the offer for 9 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the cash awarded to the account.