Archives for November 2010

AmEx $25 Small Business Promo Extended to 12/31

The American Express Small Business Saturday promotion that was initially for Saturday, 11/27 has been extended all the way to the end of the year, 12/31/2010. Sign up at their special Facebook page if you haven’t already. Basically, enroll on their site, and spend $25 or more at any local small business that accept American Express and you’ll get a $25 credit back on your statement. Registration is now open to the first 300,000.

To be eligible for this offer, you must register your eligible American Express Card between November 8, 2010 and December 31, 2010. You may only register one Card for this offer. Using your registered American Express Card, you must spend $25 or more at one or more participating small business merchants between 11/27/2010 and 12/31/2010 to receive the $25 statement credit.

Eligible merchants include any independently owned small businesses that accept the American Express Card. Purchases made online, at large, national chains, at franchised business locations and at government agencies are not eligible.

Chase Freedom Black Friday: 8% Cash Back Promo

I know a lot of folks have some version of the Chase Freedom Visa or Mastercard, whether from farther back or recently for their $100 cash promo offer or their rotating 5% rewards.

Just got a note that they are offering 8% cashback on select stores from 11/26 to 11/30. The Apple store usually only discounts prices on Black Friday, so in combination this could be a good deal if you were planning a Mac purchase anyway. Some other big names on their list as well. (Insert warning about not spending too much during holidays here.)

We are excited to announce a special, limited-time promotion for existing Chase Freedom cardholders!

For 5 days only, Chase Freedom cardholders can earn 8% bonus cash back for every dollar spent when shopping at the following select merchants: Apple Online Store, Gap, Toys “R” Us, Barnes & Noble, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sears and Macy’s. This promotion is valid from November 26th through November 30th.

Bumped On Thanksgiving Eve

Somehow I thought it was a good idea to fly on Thanksgiving Eve. No TSA nightmares. Flight was full. Volunteered quickly for the bump (you can ask to put your name on the list when checking in), and got $400 each in transferable flight credit for the two of us, plus first class re-booking on the next flight 3 hours later. Now I’m pecking away on my smartphone. I hope everyone else has safe travels.

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s still my favorite holiday.

Priceline.com Savings: $20 for $40 Bid, $40 for $80 Bid

Time for another Groupon nationwide deal for 11/24, this time to save money on bidding on hotels on Priceline.com. You have two options:

  • For $20, you get $40 toward a bid on any three-star or better hotel on Priceline.com
  • For $40, you get $80 toward a bid on any three-star or better hotel on Priceline.com

So if you bought the $80 bid and won a 2 night stay for $100 total, you’d only end up paying $60 for it. More fine print:

Expires Mar 25, 2011. Limit 1 per person. Valid only for option purchased. Valid only for 3-star or better hotels on Name Your Own Price. Exact hotel shown only after purchase. $1 minimum bid/night req’d. Taxes and fees not incl’d. Not valid w/ other offers.

Here is the Groupon deal link from Ft. Lauderdale, but anyone can buy and use it. If you don’t have a Groupon account already, please use my sign-up link first. It’s free for you, and I’ll get some Groupon credit for future deals. Groupon is a popular group-buying site where in major metro areas you get one deal per day from a local retailer as long as enough people sign up for it, along with occasional nationwide offers.

You can also get up to another 2% back on your Priceline purchase through cashback shopping portals such as eBates ($5 bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.

Finally, a while back I wrote about some tips on using Priceline here. By using databases that include actual winning bids, you can see what is available and optimize your bidding. Good luck!

SecondSpin.com Used DVD SellBack Experience [Review]

A couple of months ago, I decided to start clearing out all my old DVDs. I’ve never had much of a collection, but I never watched these anymore. I wasn’t looking to absolutely maximize my price, I knew these weren’t the hottest titles anymore and was looking for the most convenient option. I found the website SecondSpin.com and used them. Here’s my experience:

Day 0 – Checking Prices
I typed in the UPC numbers from the back of the DVDs, and they told me their offer upfront with no commitment. I didn’t waste much time comparing prices across the web, but overall I did get more than if I sold for the lowest price as an individual seller at Amazon.com (and definitely more than what they were offering directly for gift cards). I agreed to sell back 9 DVDs for a total price of $23 plus their shipping credit. If you sell back 5 items or more, they reimburse you for the cost of USPS Media Mail postage.

Day 1 – DVDs Shipped out
I packed and shipped the DVDs via Media Mail out at the Post Office to their address in Itasca, IL. I was reimbursed for $3.16 in postage (up to 3 pounds), but actually had to pay $3.55 (up to 4 pounds). Perhaps I packed it too well.

Day 28 – Shipment Finally Received
I knew Media Mail could be slow. But nearly a month later, I receive an e-mail from SecondSpin that they have not received my DVDs yet, and that my price quote is about to expire. However, they agree to extend the quote for another 2 weeks as a courtesy. I get a little worried that they are lost in the mail, and I didn’t buy any tracking since the value was so low.

Later that very same day, I receive another e-mail that they have indeed received my shipment successfully. 2 of 9 items were rejected for being “severely scratched”, but that only reduced my payout by $1.40. (More on this below.)

Day 29 – Payment Received
You can elect to receive payment by check, PayPal, or store credit. I chose PayPal, and received my payment electronically without problem. I’m relatively happy, and figured that my rejected DVDs were just going to be trashed.

Day 60 – Rejects Come Home Again
I was surprised to find a package from SecondSpin.com in the mailbox. They had sent back the two rejected DVDs, postmarked at about Day 45. The postage they paid for USPS Media Mail: $2.38. If they had simply bought the DVDs at the price I already agreed to (even to junk them later), it would have cost them only $1.40. It actually cost them 98 cents more to reject my DVDs and send them back. I guess they want to make a point that you shouldn’t send them scratched DVDs?

I checked the DVDs, and there were slight visible scratches but nothing that would affect playback, nor what I would call “severe”. If you use Netflix, you know what I mean. However, I respect their decision not to resell them. I’ll just throw them on next year’s garage sale pile.

Overall, I was satisfied with the process. It took a month, but Media Mail is slow and I wasn’t in a rush.

Free $3 in Amazon MP3 Downloads

Amazon.com is offering $3 in free MP3 downloads with the code GET3MP3S. No purchase required. See directions and details at this link. It should increase your gift card balance by $3 for music purchases only. You must redeem the code by November 29, 2010 11:59 PM PST. Promotional offer limited to one Amazon MP3 promotional credit per customer.

It may ask you to install the AmazonMP3 Downloader software, but you can go to “skip” this for individual songs. Entire album purchases may require installation. Get some nice holiday songs!

Why You Shouldn’t Use Debt Settlement Agencies

The following is a guest post from reader Daniel Gershburg, Esq., who writes about the inner workings of debt settlement agencies. Daniel is a bankruptcy attorney in New York and New Jersey.

Over the past several years, our economy has gone into the tank. Rampant unemployment, underemployment, in fact a near collapse of the financial system have completely reshaped our financial lives. Millions of Americans are in credit card debt over their heads and can’t afford to pay even the minimums. And the creditors have, in many cases, several cut credit lines and hiked our interest rates. In a situation like this, a debtor basically has three options.

The first option is to file for Bankruptcy. While I think it’s the soundest option, both with regards to ones credit and future financial well being, I’m also a Bankruptcy attorney, so of course I feel that way.

The second option is to try and settle with credit card companies and bring down your interest and pay off your debt….good luck with that. They’re about as interested in settling with you now as you are in buying an investment property in Las Vegas.

The third option, and the option I’d like to discuss in depth here, is employing a Debt Settlement company to try and settle the debt for you. This not only, in my opinion, is the worst option of the lot, but based on what these companies claim, may border on fraud. Literally, fraud. Here’s why:

The promise of bailouts

Turn on the radio or the TV and you’ll hear absolute nonsense about how debt settlement companies can reduce the amount you pay to your creditors by up to 80%. One, called the Obama Credit Card Relief Program (I’m serious) promises to Cut Up To 70% Off Credit Card Debts under “Bailout Relief”. Again, absurd. The claims that many of them make aren’t even mathematically feasible based on most people’s budgets.

Many of these companies also make claims that they are Not for Profit companies. You hear that and you think of people planting trees, feeding the homeless in soup kitchens, and you begin to almost subconsciously trust these companies. The IRS did a little research into these feel good claims. Here’s what they found:

Over the past two years, the IRS has been auditing 63 credit counseling agencies, representing more than half of the revenue in the industry. To date, the audits of 41 organizations, representing more than 40 percent of the revenue in the industry, have been completed. All of the completed audits have resulted in revocation, proposed revocation or other termination of tax-exempt status. [Source: IRS.gov]

How do debt settlement companies really work?

[Read more…]

Nordstrom Rack: $50 Gift Card For Just $25

Here’s another Groupon national deal, this time for $50 gift card for $25 at Nordstrom Rack, which seems like a nice name for Nordstrom Outlet. I think I’ve been to one before, it’s like a fancier Ross’s or TJ Maxx. Shoes, clothes, accessories, etc. List of store locations. This one is good until midnight 11/22.

Limit 1/person. Valid at all Nordstrom Rack locations. In-store only. Not valid for gift cards. Not valid with other offers or discounts. EXPIRES ON 12/31/10.

If you don’t have a Groupon account already, please use my sign-up link first. It’s free for you, and I’ll get some Groupon credit for future deals. Groupon is a popular group-buying site where in major metro areas you get one deal per day from a local retailer as long as enough people sign up for it, along with occasional nationwide offers.

American Apparel: $50 Gift Card For Just $25

This is Groupon’s national deal today (update: extended through Sunday 11/20), and seeing that 1,000 has already been bought, I guess people like it. $25 for $50 of stuff at American Apparel. I’ve never bought anything from them before – what would make a good gift value?

$50 minimum purchase. In-store only. Not valid on Multi-Packs, California Select Vintage, Multibrand products, or shoes. Not valid at outlet locations. Not valid with other offers or sale items.

If you don’t have a Groupon account already, please use my sign-up link first. It’s free for you, and I’ll get some Groupon credit for future deals. Groupon is a popular group-buying site where in major metro areas you get one deal per day from a local retailer as long as enough people sign up for it, along with occasional nationwide offers.

American Express Platinum Card: 40,000 Points, $200+ Airline Credit, and Airport Private Lounge Access

The Platinum Card® from American Express has more than doubled their usual promotion, offering the following for new cardholders:

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • With the Platinum Card, you can receive up to $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees like checked bags fees, flight-change fees, and snacks.
  • To receive the statement credit, you need to enroll and select a qualifying airline.
  • There are no foreign transaction fees with purchases made on your Platinum Card.
  • Platinum Card Concierge is your personal resource to help secure a last minute restaurant reservation, or shop for a hard-to-find gift.
  • Terms & restrictions apply.

The annual fee is $450 a year.  It is not waived for this offer, so in my view this just about offsets all of the bonuses above.  But that still leaves …

  1. $200 airline fee credit annually, to “cover incidental fees with your favorite airline. ” Each year, you pick an airline like American or Delta. Then, whenever you charge an airline fee from them onto the Platinum card like checked baggage fees, overweight fees, ticket booking/change fees, in-flight food, it will be refunded to you. (Inflight WiFi not eligible.)
  2. Receive a companion ticket for discounted travel when you purchase a qualifying First- or Business-Class international ticket.
  3. Entertainment benefits. get Advance Tickets before the public and access once in a lifetime events with By Invitation Only.
  4. Premium travel benefits. Access over 600 lounges worldwide when you enroll in Priority Pass Select, no foreign transaction fees. Also get access to the first-class lounges, even if you are flying coach. Relax on comfortable couches, get free drinks and snacks, free computer access and WiFi, and sometimes free meals and showers. You also get preferred re-booking help if your flight is delayed.Valid for American Airlines Admirals Club, Continental Presidents Club, Delta Sky Club, US Airways Clubs, and more. You just need a same-day ticket, except for US Airways. You can access any US Airways lounge, even if you’re flying on another airline! Even better, access is valid for you and two companions, or your spouse and children under 21.

LED Christmas Lights: How Much Money Do They Save?

We decided to actually light up our house a little more this year, and were quickly faced with a decision: LED or old-school incandescent lights? Would the electricity savings of the LED lights make up for the added cost? Or is it purely an eco-friendly play? Then we realized that the true eco-friendly thing to do would be not to light up our house. Bah-humbug! Anyhow, some quick research led to the following energy savings comparison:

Factors

Amount of electricity used. Looking at the box of regular incandescent lights, they use 40.8 watts per 100 light strand (0.0408 kW). The 100-light strand of LEDs used 8 watts (0.008 kW). You should be able to find these on any box of lights, especially the traditional kind as they can draw too much current if you connect too many together.

Cost of electricity. Here is a link to the average cost of electricity by state. The nationwide average is 12 cents per kWh (kilowatt-hour), but can range from 9 cents in some states like West Virginia to 28 cents in Hawaii.

Time used. How many days x how many hours per day do you plan to run the lights. I figure 45 days from right before Thanksgiving until a little after New Years. From sunset to bedtime is about 6 hours. So that’s 45 days x 6 hours = 270 hours.

The Numbers

Conclusion

Using these numbers, it would be reasonable to say that each 100-light strand would save $1 in electricity per year. Costs will vary, but I saw a set of 100 of cheap incandescents for under $3 at the megastore, while the cheapest 100 LEDs cost closer to $12. The means it would take nearly a decade to break even on purely a electrical savings basis. Given my natural talent in creating tangles in these string lights, I don’t know if I can see them lasting that long. You definitely aren’t going to save the world by buying LED holiday lights.

If you already had a set of incandescents, I can’t imagine being able to justify throwing them out for a new set of LEDs, since even the LED lights are mostly made out of plastic and thus fossil fuels. Since we didn’t have any lights to start with, we just decided to buy a set of each (LED & old-school) to compare the “light quality”. The brightness of the two modern sets we bought were comparable, and look very similar from a distance.

Now, I’ve also seen the solar-powered LED light kits, but from the package they use less than 3 watts of energy, which means they are significantly dimmer. However, the lack of power plug does make it mighty convenient.

Easy Cancellations = Free FICO Score from myFICO.com

There are plenty of “FAKE-O” credit scores out there, but the only place to get your real FICO score is myFICO.com. Problem is, usually these cost money and even if they are free due to some promotion, it’s during some random time of the year. If you want a free FICO Score on demand, you’ll have to agree to a free 10-day trial at MyFICO.com:

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: When you order your free FICO Score here, you will begin your 10-day trial membership in Score Watch®. If you don’t cancel your membership within the 10-day trial period, you will be billed $12.95 for each month that you continue your membership. You may cancel your trial membership anytime within the trial period without charge.

Pain in the rear, right? Well, not really. Two things make this a 5-minute operation:

  1. If you do not want the monitoring that ScoreWatch provides, then you can cancel immediately after you get your free credit score. Don’t wait a day. Don’t even wait an hour. This way you won’t give yourself a chance to forget.
  2. You can cancel with just a few clicks. 100% online, no phone calls, with no hassle. You don’t have be subject to a hard sell or argue with anyone.

Here’s how I did last week. First, when you go through the process to buy your free score with trial, you will have to provide your credit card information but nothing should be charged.

After that, you should receive your credit score and the related Equifax credit report. Print it out. You’re going to cancel right afterward so you won’t have access to the information anymore. Print – or at least print/save to PDF – anything you want to keep. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a score above 800!

Now, don’t go anywhere. To cancel, click on Support on the top right of the page, then Contact Us by email. Choose “I would like to cancel my product subscription” and for the product mark “Score Watch® – Free Trial”. Here is a screenshot of what it should look like. Finally, type in your personal information and submit. There is a blank for the order number, but it is not required. I didn’t bother to fill in anything optional, and my cancellation still worked fine.

myFICO should e-mail you back in about 24 hours. It took 25 hours for me. Here is the response you should get. The title of the e-mail was “Score Watch(R) Cancellation”:

Your order for Score Watch® (monthly payment option) has been cancelled. You will not be charged in the future for this product.

If you have any questions, please call myFICO Customer Support at 1-800-319-4433, Monday – Friday 6:00 AM – 6:00PM (Pacific Time) or Saturday 7:00AM – 4:00PM (Pacific Time).

Thank you,

myFICO Customer Support

That’s it, a free credit report and score with minimal hassle direct from MyFICO.com. Remember, when you request your own report, it doesn’t affect your credit score at all.