Archives for December 2011

4 Movie Tickets = $24

Daily deals site KGBDeals has a national deal of 4 movie tickets for $24. Each ticket has a maximum value of $12 (total $48). Deal is scheduled to run through the New Year’s weekend, over 7,000 sold so far. If you use eBates ($10 new user bonus) or Mr. Rebates ($5 new user bonus), can get some additional cash back.

Fandango codes will not be available until promotion end date on January 3rd, 2012. Valid until February 12, 2012. Both tickets must be purchased together in the same transaction for the same movie and showtime. This offer may be applied to IMAX or 3D tickets, up to maximum per-ticket code value.

Free $10 Credit Towards Amazon Kindle e-Textbooks

Update: Here are some good investment books that you can get for free or cheap with this discount code. Check out the top-selling Kindle e-textbooks for ideas, but I like The Ivy Portfolio and the classic Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits. Thanks to reader Max for the tip. is offering another $10 of free credit towards Kindle e-Textbooks with the code ETXTBOOK. Additional directions and a place to enter your code at this link. I don’t believe you actually need a Kindle to use these electronic textbooks, as there is a Kindle app for PC, Mac, iPhone, and Android phones as well. You must use it by 11:59 p.m. PST on January 9, 2012. I got this for an Amazon Student account, but it should work for everyone.

Are electronic textbooks much cheaper than paper textbooks after taking into account selling the used book back? I have no idea.

Verizon Wireless $2 Payment Fee: Another Public Relations Fail

On December 29th, Verizon Wireless announced via official press release that “Starting January 15, a new $2 payment convenience fee will be instituted for customers who make single bill payments online or by telephone.”

A day later, on December 30th, after a barrage of consumer complaints and a possible FCC investigation, Verizon retracted their fee.

Verizon said it listened to its customers and made the decision based on customer input after many complained and some threatened to leave the service if the fee was instituted. A spokesman said that the company had just wanted to encourage consumers to pay their bills via different methods such as autopay, where they give Verizon permission to charge their credit card or bank account automatically each month.

Sigh, Verizon. You do realize you’re charging us to pay you, right? Just like Bank of America wanted to charge people $5 to access their own money? Maybe read one of the 17 behavioral economics books on the shelves right now. Suggestion: reward customers with a $2 discount for enrolling on monthly autopay instead. Yes, you could quietly jack up the monthly bill by $2 later on, but at least that way it’s easy to see when comparison shopping between carriers.

Treasury Direct Review: Electronic Savings Bond Security Concerns

Despite the Treasury’s obvious dislike for the small investor, Series I Savings Bonds still offer a relatively good interest rate. As of January 1st, 2012, you will no longer be able to buy paper savings bonds other than a small window using your tax refund. The only option left is buying electronic savings bonds via This brings me to the following reader question:

Was just reading Mel Lindauer’s comments in the Bogleheads forum about I-Bonds and the trouble with Treasury Direct. Seems a great many folks hate the system to the point that they would rather not use it. 2012 is/was to be the year that I first began purchased I-Bonds, having finally got to the point of maxing out all other tax deferred and tax free methods. Now I am not so sure…what is your experience with TD?

First, let’s get to what I see as the main reason why most people choose not to use the online service at TreasuryDirect (TD). TD is not a bank and does not fall under Regulation E and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act that establishes consumer protections for loss or theft of money from your account.

If your paper savings bonds are stolen or lost, the Treasury has a process in place to reclaim your bonds. However, if somehow your electronic savings bonds were stolen, you would stuck with the loss with no liability from TD. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it’s true.

So what do you do? The easiest thing to do is not use TreasuryDirect. But it remains a good investment, so in my case I looked into what security measures were in place to prevent such theft. In November 2011, TD instituted some security changes to their login process. What would a thief have to do in order to cash in your savings bonds?

  1. They need your account number, which is more like Z-12345678 as opposed to johnsmith.
  2. When you login with a new computer, a one-time passcode will be sent to your e-mail address. So, they would need to have access to your e-mail address as well. You can choose to register your computer for future visits if you like, but it would seem safer not to do so. I don’t log into TD very often so my cookie expires anyway by the time I log in again. This means a unique code is sent every single time I log in.
  3. They would also need your account password. I would hope your e-mail password and your TreasuryDirect password are different. In any case, it’s harder for viruses or keylogger programs to record your password because you must enter it using a virtual keyboard (unless you circumvent it by disabling Javascript).
  4. Now, at this point they have online access to your account and can see your balances. But to cash out a bond, first you must answer a security question (mom’s maiden name, etc.). More importantly, you can only cash out a bond to a linked bank account. So the thief would need access to your bank account (…which is protected by Regulation E mentioned above!)
  5. Alternately, they would need to send in a paper form adding an alternate bank account under their control. However, the name on the bank account must match the name on the TD account, and the form requires a Medallion Signature Guarantee where a third party checks official ID for identity verification. The TD website itself has improved over the years so that any small change (bank addition, profile change) results in a e-mail notice.

Personally, I deemed it exceedingly unlikely for an actual theft to occur and made the decision to go ahead and use the website. My holdings there are significant, but under 5% of total net worth. I know that others have also had technical issues with accessing their account, but I have not experienced anything like that. In the end, TreasuryDirect definitely has its flaws, and I would not fault someone for not using it as a result. You have to weight the risks and benefits for yourself.

Larry Swedroe Personal Portfolio: Small Value Stock Premium Revisited

I’ve written a little bit in the past about including small-value stocks to your investment portfolio. “Small” means companies with a relatively smaller market cap (total market value) – definitions vary from being the bottom 10% by capitalization or being worth less than $1 billion. “Value” stocks are those that tend to trade at a lower price relative to others when measured against markers like earnings, dividend yield, sales, or book value.

This NYTimes article on the portfolio of investment advisor and author Larry Swedroe included some concise examples of how significant this small-value premium has been in the past. For one, small-value stocks outperformed the S&P 500 by about 4% annually from 1927-2010.

Put another way, by making a portfolio using small-value stocks and US Treasury bonds, you could have gotten similar performance to the S&P 500 with much lower risk. Specifically, you could have held 1/3rd small-value and 2/3rd Treasury bonds and had close to the same return as the S&P 500 over a 40-year period from 1970-2010. This chart summarizes:

Source: Buckingham Asset Management, New York Times

Will this “small-value premium” continue to persist? There are a few theories out there. One is behavioral, where small-value companies tend to be the more ignored and unpopular companies and thus are consistently underpriced. Another is based on the fact that small-value companies are simply riskier, and thus investors demand a higher return for holding them.

I happen to believe that there is something enduring about small-value stocks, but the size of my bet on that belief is relatively small – only about 5% of my target stock allocation. But I also know that you need to hold a very strong belief in whatever internal explanation you have for the outperformance. Otherwise, when small-value is the dumps for a while relative to the Current Hot Thing – and it will be, one day – you’ll sell and lose any potential edge.

Citi Diamond Preferred Card: 0% APR For 21 Months on Balance Transfers

C_DP7_EMV_MNLW_18-PID 257.epsOne of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to pay down debt. Rewards-earning credit cards may not be optimal for those carrying balances and thus more impacted by 18% interest rates than a relatively puny 2% back on purchases.

Our partner Citi offers the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card, which currently has their longest 0% APR intro balance transfer period. The highlights:

  • 0% Intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months from date of first transfer. All transfers must be completed in first 4 months. After that the variable APR will be 14.74% – 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness*
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases for 12 months from date of account opening. After that the variable APR will be 14.74% – 24.74%, based on your creditworthiness*
  • If you transfer a balance with this offer, after your 0% Intro purchase APR expires, both new purchases and unpaid purchase balances will automatically accrue interest until all balances, including your transferred balance, are paid in full
  • There is a balance transfer fee of either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
  • No annual fee*
  • Free access to FICO® Score

The strong part of this card is the long 21 month period, so you can spread out payments over 1.75 years and ideally pay it all off by the end. There is a 5% balance transfer fee ($5 min). However, if you’re currently paying 18% APR, then 5% works out to 3 months of interest over a 21 month period. Once the intro period on all 0% cards expire, the rates will go right back up. You’ll either need to pay it off or transfer your balance again if you need more time. This card lets you spread your payments out over 21 months instead of 6 or 12.

If you know you will pay it off within a shorter time period, look for a card with no balance transfer fee. Compare with other low fee 0% APR balance transfer offers.

Bottom line. The Citi Diamond Preferred® Card is a card targeted that for those serious about paying down their balances. You get a 0% introductory period of 1.75 years on balance transfers is the longest they offer, with a one-time 5% balance transfer fee ($5 min). No annual fee.

“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.”

Sharebuilder New Account $75 Bonus

Discount stock brokerage Sharebuilder is offering a $75 cash bonus as long as you open a new account with $100 by December 31st with promotion code EXTRA75. It doesn’t appear that you even need to make a trade. Fine print:

** You must open a new ShareBuilder account and deposit $100 or more to be eligible for this promotion. Initial deposit must be completed by 12/31/11. Capital One 360 Investing will deposit a $75 bonus approximately 4-6 weeks after your first $100 deposit. The $75 bonus offer is available for Individual, Joint and Custodial accounts only. Offer not valid for IRAs or ESAs. The $75 bonus is not available for withdrawal for 120 days after it is awarded to your account. This offer is not valid with any other offers and is non-transferrable. Limit one ShareBuilder account bonus per unique customer or custodial beneficiary. We reserve the right to terminate this offer at any time and to refuse or recover any promotion award if we determine that it was obtained under wrongful or fraudulent circumstances, that inaccurate or incomplete information was provided in opening the account, or that any terms of our Account Agreement have been violated. Offer expires 12/31/11.

$5,000 Cash & Two iPads Holiday Giveaway from MyMoneyBlog (Winner Announcement)

Winner Announcement! The contest is now over. Congratulations to Devin A. and Julia D., the lucky winners of $2,500 and an iPad 2. You should have received an e-mail notification to your registered e-mail address. Thanks to all who entered, I hope to do it again next year.

‘Tis the season of giving so I’ve decided to award two lucky MyMoneyBlog readers with $2,500 in cold hard cash!  And as an added bonus, each winner will receive a brand new iPad 2 (64gb).  Yes, really! I don’t think you’ll find a richer giveaway on the web so please tell your friends, family and coworkers to get an entry in!   Winners will be selected at random on the morning of Wednesday, December 21st and to enter the giveaway, you need to follow two simple steps:

[Read more…]

Improved: Citi ThankYou Premier Card 50,000 Point Bonus = $500 in Gift Cards = $665 in Airfare

UPDATE: The Citi ThankYou Premier Card $500 bonus is now expired.

The Citi ThankYou Premier Card is now offering 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,500 in purchases within 3 months of account opening. That is enough to redeem for $500 in gift cards or $665 in airfare when you redeem through their ThankYou Travel Center. There is no annual fee for the first year, $125 after that. Let’s take a closer look at how this breaks down.

$500 in Gift Cards

You can view your redemption options at In general, it takes 10,000 ThankYou (TY) points to redeem for a $100 gift card to retailers like Gap, Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Bed Bath & Beyond, Cabelas, CVS Pharmacy, Kohl’s, Land’s End, LL Bean, Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Staples, and Walmart. So with 50,000 TY points, you could get five $100 gift cards from different stores.

Want something closer to cash? For a check mailed to you, it costs 8,000 points for $50. For a statement credit, it’s 7,500 points for $75. A check mailed towards your mortgage payment or student loan (made out to your lender) costs 7,500 points for $75. You could also redeem your points for a Walmart gift card and then sell it for cash at a site like that offers you 91 cents on the dollar. 50k points would net you $455 in cash.

$655 in Airfare (ThankYou Travel Center)

Now let’s look at the advertised airplane ticket option. A good question is whether a flight booked through the ThankYou Travel Center costs the same as through any other travel site like Expedia, Orbitz, etc. I have some old ThankYou points laying around, so I went to the redemption site and found that the prices are very closely aligned to what is offered at sites like I did a few quick searches for random flights, and the cost of the flight matched up with the cost in points in a 100:1 ratio. For example, the exact same flight below that cost $360 including taxes and fees on Expedia would cost 36,000 TY points.

ThankYou Travel Center screenshot: screenshot:

So the pricing seems fair, no inflated prices or hidden fees. However, with this specific Premier card with the annual fee, you also get 33% more value when redeemed for airfare. Thus, 50,000 points can be redeemed for $665 in airfare, which would typically require 66,500 points. Since you can book any flight that can be found on Expedia, there are “no blackout dates”.

Update October 2011: Let’s say you found a ticket for $200 = 15,000 points, but only have 10,000 points in your account. Citi now lets you pay the difference, so in this case you can get your $200 ticket for 10,000 points and $67. This makes it much easier to use up all of your points at a 33% premium.

Some other highlights of the card:

  • No foreign transaction fee on purchases.
  • Earn 1.2 ThankYou Points per $1 spent at gas stations, supermarkets, drugstores, commuter transportation and parking merchants. Earn 1 ThankYou Point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • No limits on earning points or expiration dates.
  • Earn points for the miles you fly as well when you purchase a ticket with your Citi ThankYou Premier Card.
  • Other smaller perks, like 200 bonus points for signing up for online account access, 200 points for paperless statements, and a 1-5% bonus on your existing point balance on your annual card anniversary.
  • Annual complimentary domestic companion ticket. (Fees and taxes not included. Full details not available on application.)

Free Phone Calls From Google Voice and Gmail Extended Until 2013

Free calling within the US and Canada through 2012 has also been confirmed on the Official Google Voice blog.

It has been reported that Google Voice and Gmail will continue to offer free calls to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada for all of 2012. Previously, Google had only committed to free calls until the end of 2011.

This should make the owners of the Obi110 VoIP Telephone Adapter very happy, as it allows you plug in any standard telephone system and use Google Voice to make free phone calls. The current regular price is $49.99, for which you will at least get a full year of free phone service including long distance, with no computer required (broadband internet access is required). It costs $20 to port your existing number over to Google Voice. The sound quality is reportedly good per reviews.

I replaced traditional telephone service with VoIP over 6 years ago (except for a brief stint with a cheap DSL plan), and I’m quite happy with the technology. Voice quality is great; I’d much rather talk for extended periods on VoIP rather than cell phone.

Groupon $10 for $20 at Old Navy

Up to 90% off top rated local fun!
Groupon is again offering $20 to spend at Old Navy for $10. 100,000+ sold already, with days left so it may sell out. I guess the idea is for some last-minute Christmas gifts. You can buy one for yourself and also one as a gift.

IRA Monte Carlo Revisited: Undo Traditional IRA to Roth IRA Conversions

My post yesterday about the varying performance of different asset classes reminded me about a Businessweek article called the IRA Monte Carlo. This is a tax-saving trick for those who wish to convert their Traditional IRAs or old 401ks to Roth IRAs. Here’s a snippet:

1. Let’s say an investor has one traditional IRA with a value of $4 million.

2. The traditional IRA is split up into four traditional IRAs, each worth $1 million.

3. The investor converts all four to Roth IRAs at the beginning of the year.

4. The IRS effectively allows taxpayers to undo the conversion for up to 21 months. So in 21 months the investor looks at the performance of the IRAs. Say two of them go up from $1 million to $2 million and two drop from $1 million to zero. Because the IRAs were split into four, the investor can change her mind on the two that went down and revert those back to traditional IRAs. Thus, she owes taxes on only the two contributions that went up in value, and nothing on the two that went down, cutting her tax bill in half. This lops 21 months of risk off the bet that paying taxes now will be paid off with tax-free appreciation later.

Did that make sense? It was a little confusing for me, so here’s my take on it. Right now, there is no income limit converting Traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs (and paying the taxes owed). Everyone can do it. Basically, in the conversion you pay taxes now on gains at your current tax rate, but then as a Roth IRA your future gains are tax-free. This works out to be a good idea if your future tax rates upon withdrawal end up higher than your tax rates right now.

It boils down to: Pay your taxes now? or pay taxes in the future?

Let’s say you agree your future tax rate will be higher, whether for personal reasons (you think future income will be higher or at least the same) or external reasons (you think Uncle Sam will raise tax rates). The loophole here is that you are allowed an “undo” by the IRS, which you can take advantage of by splitting your big traditional IRA into multiple, smaller, separate traditional IRAs. Then convert the smaller IRAs, and wait up to 21 months:

  • If the value of the converted IRA goes down, then you can undo the conversion and then redo it later, saving you on taxes. For example, if you converted $100,000 in Emerging Markets stocks in the beginning of the year and it went down to $80,000 – would you rather pay taxes on $100k or $80k?
  • If the value of the converted IRA went up – say from $100k to $115k if you invested in Treasury bonds throughout 2011 – then you’re happy because that $15k gain is all tax-free. You just sit back, sip your cocktail, and leave it alone.

There’s not many times in life you get to hit the “undo” button. As in the examples given, I would recommend putting different asset classes in your separate IRAs so that you can take advantage of any non-correlated performance. Don’t completely change your investment holdings just for this tax trick, though. Just putting stocks in one and bonds in the other can offer a potential benefit.