Free Collection of Investing Books by Meb Faber

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Promotion has ended. Asset manager and author Meb Faber is celebrating his 10th blogiversary by making all of his self-published books free in Kindle format for a limited time (promotion has now ended). Below are direct links to each book. Check first that the Kindle price is $0 (“0.00 to Buy”). Then buy it to own permanently, don’t click “Read for Free”. Grab them now while they are free, and read later. You can read Kindle eBooks on smartphones or on any computer via web browser.

I enjoy reading about these back-tested strategies that worked well in the past. However, before you put your hard-earned money at risk, please realize that even if they continue to work (which is in no way guaranteed), they will still be hard to stick to in real life. At some time, you will underperform other strategies for an extended period of time. You must ride out those low periods in order to achieve any sort of market-beating returns.

His company now offers a software-based portfolio management “robo-advisor” called Cambria Digital Advisor.

LendingClub United Miles Promotion (Both New and Existing Investors)

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LendingClub (LC) is a marketplace lender that offers unsecured personal loans and then sells investment notes backed by those loans. After defaults and fees, they advertise historical returns between 5% and 8%. As an incentive, LC recently started offering up to 100,000 United MileagePlus award miles to investors that bring in at least $2,500 in new money. Here I offer a quick analysis of the investor offer and point out that it is actually available to both new and existing investors, even though that may not be obvious from the website.

Highlights.

  • Offer only valid for taxable Lending Club accounts. (IRAs are not eligible.)
  • Only deposited and invested dollars are eligible for award miles.
  • Lending Club Investor must have UA MileagePlus account activated before investing to qualify. New investors can link online. Existing investors must call or e-mail to manually link your accounts (see below).
  • For existing investors to receive miles, an investor must transfer at least $2,500 of New Funds into an active eligible taxable account and invest the New Funds through the Lending Club platform within 90 days of the commencement of the then-current offer (each, an “Existing Investor Offer Period”).
  • Offer is valid from October 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016 and Mileage Plus miles will only be awarded on new funds transferred and invested through Lending Club during this time period.

Selected quoted text from the landing page:

We’re excited to announce our partnership with United Airlines! Investing on Lending Club just got more rewarding. Right now, receive one United MileagePlus® award mile for every two dollars you invest through Lending Club up to 100,000 miles!

[…] Upon the transfer and investment of the first $2,500 of New Funds, a new investor will qualify to receive 1,250 miles. For every dollar of New Funds transferred and invested in excess of $2,500, a new investor will qualify to receive .5 miles, up to a maximum aggregate bonus of 100,000 miles per calendar year.

The maths. A minimum deposit of $2,500 earns 1,250 United miles. Every dollar above that $2,500 will earn 0.5 miles up to the 100,000 mile limit. If you value United miles at range of 1 cent to 2 cents a mile, 1,250 miles is worth $12.50 to $25. Thus, the bonus value ranges from a 0.5% to 1% bonus on top of the interest you’d already receive.

Existing investors participation details. I confirmed with two different LendingClub representatives that this offer is also available to previous/existing investors. You must first link your United MileagePlus account number with your account. You can contact them via e-mail at EarnMiles@lendingclub.com or phone at 888-596-3159 (7:00am–5:00pm PST, M–F). Provide them with your LC account ID and your UA MileagepPlus Number.

Bottom line. The bonus itself is not big enough to encourage you to invest if you weren’t otherwise interested. However, if you have already decided to invest with LendingClub, definitely don’t miss out on these free miles to boost your overall return. The value is roughly 0.5% to 1% to your investment amount, assuming you bring in at least $2,500 of new money. Link your accounts first before moving over the new money.

As an existing investor myself, I’ve written my share of opinions on LendingClub. I’ll just say two things: Have realistic expectations and diversify. Their advertised historical returns of between 5% and 8% are more realistic than you may have seen elsewhere. As they also note, 99.8% of investors who invest in 100+ Notes of relatively equal size have seen positive returns. It is not coincidence that 100 notes x $25 each = $2,500.

List of Free Movie Streaming Sites Online

streamfree2If you are a cord-cutter but are still looking for some free movie content to stream, here is a collection of (legal) links. Shortly after I had kids, I dropped Netflix as I had no time to “binge” on anything. However, I still like to watch bits of movies now and then to relax and take my mind off of things.

Vudu Movies on Us. This Wal-Mart-owned service just announced that they will allow “thousands” of movies to stream freely online with ads. The catalog isn’t great, but sample titles include Margin Call, Mad Max, True Grit, Abduction, and School Of Rock. Streams at 1080p with Dolby Digital sound.

Yahoo View (formerly Hulu Free). This is where a lot of the free content that used to be on Hulu now resides. TV shows include Blindspot, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Chicago Med, and Empire. Limited movie selection as well.

Crackle.com. This one has been around for a while, and they even have a few original series of their own. Some Seinfeld. I always watch the newest episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Popcornflix. An interesting collection of movies that you might not see elsewhere from independent distributor Screen Media Ventures, LLC. Lots of big stars in their movie flops. Several cheap Disney knock-offs. Also… Inspector Gadget!

Free Documentaries (various). Unfortunately, many of these free documentary sites have lots of sneaky pop-up ads while mostly just embedding YouTube and Vimeo videos. The least annoying ones for me were Documentary Heaven and WatchDocumentary.org.

PBS.org. PBS shows many independent films and documentaries in their Indie Film section. You can also find the classics here like PBS Newshour, Frontline, Masterpiece Theater, This Old House, and Antiques Roadshow.

Most of these are also available via their own smartphone apps (iOS, Android) and streaming box apps (Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Xbox 360). Please let me know if I missed anything good.

Amazon Prints Promotional Codes: 50 Free 4×6 Photo Prints (Updated)

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New code for 50 free prints. Amazon now does photo printing with Amazon Prints, starting at 9 cents each for 4×6 prints. Bound photobooks start at $19.99 for 8×11 with 20 pages included, then $1 for every 2 additional pages. Free standard shipping on all orders currently, with free expedited shipping on $15+ orders. Amazon’s list prices are cheaper than Shutterfly, although Shutterfly constantly offers coupon codes (and stacking of codes).

You will need either Amazon Prime or Amazon Drive, both of which cost money unless you are on a free trial. Amazon Prime users get free unlimited photo storage included in their $99 annual membership (30-day free trial), while Amazon Drive costs $59.99 a year for unlimited storage (3-month free trial). There is no longer a free tier.

Their current promotion is 50 free 4×6 prints with free standard shipping with the promo code OCT50PRINTS. This current code should work again even if you already got 50 free prints using a previous code.

I doubt Amazon is passionate about being in the photo printing business, but this a smart tactic to get all your data and photos on their cloud. If you store all your precious photos with Amazon, you’ll keep renewing your Prime membership to keep them from being deleted. In case you haven’t noticed… Amazon really, really wants you to get Prime.

I’m surprised Google hasn’t done the same thing, given they also offer unlimited free photo storage.

What Cards Are In My Wallet? 2006 vs. 2016 Flashback Edition

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What’s in my wallet? Besides trying to land at least $500 on new sign-ups, which cards do I end up using on a regular basis? Apparently, the last time I answered this question was in 2006, more than a decade ago?! Let’s see if I have made any improvements since then. These are the cards that work best for my spending patterns and redemption preferences.

All-around cash back rewards card.

  • 2006: MBNA/Fidelity Investments 529 College Rewards Card. I still have this card, although it is in sock drawer mode now. This Fidelity-branded card went from being issued by MBNA, to FIA Cardservices (subsidiary of Bank of America), now to Elan Financial services. The 2% rewards did help me rack up over $8,000 in tax-deferred college savings (including appreciation from investments).
  • 2016: BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card. After moving over $100,000 of existing index funds from Vanguard and qualifying for their Platinum Honors tier, this enabled me to earn 2.625% cash back on all my purchases – redeemed as a statement credit offsetting any travel purchase. That’s a 31% improvement on 2% rewards. If you don’t have $100k in assets to move over, 2% is still double the 1% many cards give on all purchases – I have the Citi Double Cash card as backup.

Category-specific rewards credit card.

  • 2006: Citi Dividend Platinum Select Mastercard. This card is no longer available to new applicants, which is probably why the 5% categories got rather stale. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I stopped using it so long that Citi closed it due to inactivity. Whoops! It was one of my older cards, but not a big loss as I have so many other cards to contribute to my “average age of accounts” stat.
  • 2016: Chase Freedom Visa and Discover It Card. This quarter, the Chase Freedom is giving 5% cash back at Costco, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, and CVS ($1,500 total). The Discover It card is giving me 5% cash back at Amazon.com. Overall, I think recent competition has made the 5% categories more useful. Note that Chase Freedem technically earns Ultimate Rewards points, which can provide even higher value when redeemed for points/miles (see below).

Points or miles rewards card.

  • 2006: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card. Still a good card overall (we’ll see how the merger changes things). If you redeem in 20,000 point increments, it will provide 1.25 miles per dollar spent for a variety of airline programs. However, I don’t travel as much as I used to, and even at a 2 cents per mile valuation, that’s only 2.5% back on value (more than 2%, but less than the 2.625% above). SPG does not transfer 1:1 to United. I don’t travel for business much these days so I can’t rack up SPG points for hotel stays as quickly anymore, and I also don’t need this card to keep my stash of SPG points active and useful.
  • 2016: Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card gives 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining out. Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to both United and Hyatt, for some solid redemption value. If you value at 2 cents per UR points, that’s 4% back value. I also need this card to keep all of my Ultimate Rewards stash active and available to transfer to the various airline and hotel partners. (I also earn UR points elsewhere from Chase Freedom, Ink business card, and their shopping portal.) If you haven’t had 5 new credit cards in the last 24 months, you should check out the Chase Sapphire Reserve card as well.

ATM Debit card.

  • 2006: Bank of America ATM card. I still have this account, but got tired of how BofA pays no interest and charges you money to initiate a transfer out. If I have to use a online bank as a transfer hub all the time, I’m just going to make that hub my primary account.
  • 2016: Ally Bank ATM card. These days, it’s a lot easier to do all of your banking at an online bank with no branches. Mobile deposit with smartphone camera is much easier than scanner. ATM rebates allow me to use any ATM, and up to $10 per statement cycle in rebates is enough for me (Allpoint ATM network is free and doesn’t count towards limit). 1% APY on savings account, which serves as free overdraft source for checking. Their app is solid, I can easily imitate interbank funds transfers (and I can login with just my thumbprint).

So the overall theme of what goes in my wallet has stayed the same, but the players have around changed a bit.

American Express 2X Rewards On Purchases at Small Businesses

amex2xAmerican Express has a new promotion that offers you “2X Rewards” on your consumer or small business AmEx when you shop at a small business. Runs through the end of the year, 12/31/2016. You must register here. List of what counts as small businesses on their map here.

This works with most of the various flavors of American Express. Specifically, when you use your enrolled Card at small businesses you can earn*:

  • Membership Rewards cards will earn 1 additional Membership Rewards point per dollar spent.
  • Delta Skymiles cards will earn 1 additional mile per dollar spent.
  • Blue Cash cards will earn an additional 1% back per dollar spent.
  • Blue Sky cards will earn 1 additional Blue Sky point per dollar spent.
  • Hilton Honors cards will earn 3 additional Hilton HHonors points per dollar spent.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest cards will earn 1 additional Starpoint per dollar spent.
  • Plenti cards will earn 1 additional Plenti point per dollar spent.
  • Schwab Investor cards will earn an additional 1.5% cash back per dollar spent.

* Rewards cap applies; 2X Rewards valid on up to $100,000 in purchases per enrolled consumer card and $250,000 in purchases per enrolled business card. Prepaid and Corporate Cards, American Express Cards issued by other financial institutions, The Plum Card®, Clear from American Express®, Blue Cash InStore, Blue Cash Rebate Card, Blue for Students®, American Express® Platinum Cash Rebate Card, Optima, and One from American Express are not eligible.

Definitely worth spending the initial effort to sign up for, although the size of the benefit will vary depending on your spending patterns.

BuffetGo: Reduce Food Waste and Buy a Big Box of Leftovers for $3

bgo0The cheap, hungry student inside me couldn’t help but mention a new site called BuffetGo. In an effort to reduce wasted food, both mom-and-pop and hotel buffet restaurants work with BuffetGo to offer a special deal. You show up at their restaurant within a 15 or 30-minute window before closing, and you can fill a take-out box with whatever is available for $2 to $5.

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The number of participating restaurants is still quite limited, but locations include Chicago, New York, and Southern California. Your first meal is also free (may expire on October 31st):

FIRST MEAL FREE FOR NEW CUSTOMERS
We’re committed to an excellent cause, and we want you to be too. To get you on board we’re offering you your first meal completely free. Just place your order via the website and we’ll refund the full amount of your first meal back onto your payment card within 72 hours – it’s as simple as that. See you at the buffet cart!

This won’t work for most people, but it does seem like a clever win-win for the parties involved and indirectly helps the environment. My cheapskate side would hope that I could grab enough food for two meals in one box.

More: Vice, Business Insider

Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card: 30,000 Bonus Points, 0% APR No Balance Transfer Fee Offer

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NavyFed Credit Union has brought back the sign-up bonus on their premium rewards credit card, the Navy Federal Visa Signature Flagship Rewards Credit Card. Taken altogether, the sign-up bonus and the low intro balance transfer rate are quite competitive. The highlights:

  • Earn 30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 within the first 90 days of opening a new card. 30,000 points can be redeemed for a $300 statement credit towards the purchase of any flight on any major airline.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months with no balance transfer fee. After that, a variable APR between 10.24% and 18% applies.
  • Earn 2 points per net dollar spent.
  • No limit on the points you can earn; points never expire.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee for the first year, $49 thereafter.

The “catch” is that in order to apply, you must first become a credit union member. Membership eligibility for NavyFed is primarily restricted to those who currently or have ever been affiliated with the Armed Forces, DoD, Coast Guard or National Guard, those with a family member who has those affiliations, or those with a family or household member who is a NFCU member.

This is a solid offer as it has been harder to find a no fee 0% APR balance transfer offer these days even though interest rates are still relatively low. (Other NFCU cards have no balance transfer fee, but only at a much higher APR, not 0% interest.) For example, doing a balance transfer of $10,000 with a 3% balance transfer fee would add up to $300 already. Add in the $300 value sign-up bonus, and you’re already up to $600 total value in the first year. Transfer a higher balance, and the benefit increases further. NavyFed has a reputation for being generous with credit limits, with $50,000 or $80,000 limits not out of the ordinary.

In terms of competition, the Slate Card from Chase is also currently available with a 0% intro APR for 15 months with no balance transfer fee on both balance transfers and purchases and no annual fee. You must initiate your balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account.

Both cards are good opportunities to lower the interest rate on your existing balances and accelerate any debt payoff plans. You can even pay off student loans.

Plastiq: Pay Tuition, Rent, or Taxes With Credit Card or Debit Card

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New promo. Plastiq has a new promotional rate if you schedule at least six rent or mortgage payments with American Express (2.25%) or Mastercard (1.75%). You must schedule them by October 31, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. PT.

Schedule 6 or more payments, and schedule them as far into the future as you’d like.
-Remember to click “Set Payment Schedule” and not “Review & Pay Now”
-The only limit is your credit card’s expiration date
Make sure those payments are for rent or mortgage
Use a MasterCard OR American Express
Do it before October 31, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. PT

The rates aren’t awesome, but some of you may eek out some gains, especially if you need help with a sign-up bonus hurdle. This is likely in response to their competitor RadPad abruptly ending their rent processing system with no warning (boo).

Original post:

Plastiq.com lets you pay bills and invoices with a credit or debit card, even if they don’t usually accept them. The standard service fee is 2.5% for credit cards and 1% for Visa and MasterCard debit cards. However, they run limited-time promotion with lower fees. They will charge your card and send out a paper check to the payee (direct bank transfers to a few), so you’d want to plan ahead for any snail mail delays. They recommend 10 business days to be safe. More ideas from their site:

  • Rent or Mortgage
  • Homeowners Association (HOA) dues
  • Tuition
  • Childcare costs
  • Buying a car, RV, or ATV
  • Income or business taxes

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(Note: This was only an example given during a 1.5% fee promotion. The current fee may be higher or lower.) Why would I want to pay a 1.5% service fee?

Sign-up bonus spending requirements. Sign-up bonuses often having spending requirements. For example, you might get a $500 value bonus but need to spend $5,000. Well, that’s effectively 10% back so if you need a little help to get over that hurdle, it’s okay to pay a 1.5% fee. Here are some recent cards with big $500 value bonuses but also spending requirements:

2% cash back credit cards, or similar. If you have a rewards credit card that offers 2% cash back (or equivalent value in points), then you can still make a slight profit by putting them on your credit card. A current example is the Citi Double Cash Card. For example, if you have a tuition bill or tax bill of $5,000 and you earned 2% cash back while paying a 1.5% fee, your net 0.5% is $25.

Combine a rewards card + 0% APR on purchases. Many credit cards offer 0% APR on purchases for an introductory period of 12 months or longer. If the card also has a half-decent rewards program on purchases, the combination of purchase rewards and spreading out the payments over a year at no interest could be attractive.

Free 500 Virgin America Points for Newsletter Sign-Up

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Get another 500 free Virgin America Elevate points when you sign up for the new Virgin America Produced e-mail newsletter.

* Offer valid until October 26, 2016. Only one email address is allowed and only one set of 500 points will be awarded per Elevate account number. Bonus reward points earned in this offer do not qualify towards Elevate Gold or Elevate Silver status. Please allow 10 days for your points to post from the promotion end date.

You’ll also extend the expiration of your points balance. Virgin America points expire after 18 months of inactivity. Virgin America is also merging with Alaska Airlines, so these should eventually become Alaska miles.

Follow-up: Georgia Tech Online Master’s Degree in Computer Science for $7,000

gtomsI’m always fascinated by the potential power of cheap, accessible education. Back in 2013, I wrote about how Georgia Tech planned to offer an online master’s degree in Computer Science for only $7,000. Three years later, the NY Times has a follow-up article on the program. Here are my notes in case you’re stuck behind a paywall.

  • Georgia Tech has a Top 10 CS program, according to U.S. News & World Report. Their online version offers lectures from the same professors, the same homework assignments, and the same exams.
  • A few other top universities have online versions of their masters programs, but they charge the same tuition as in-person ($40,000+). Georgia Tech’s online masters can be completed with only $7,000.
  • Through the use of online discussion software, a CS professor claims he now interacts with online students more often than with on-campus students.
  • A study found that this program attracted students that would not otherwise study for a master’s degree. This could be due to cost, geographical limitations, current employment, or other factors. Most enrolled students were older and currently employed while taking courses.
  • The first students started in 2014, and the first class of 20 graduates got their diplomas in December 2015. The current enrollment is over 3,000 students.
  • The Georgia Tech diploma will read “Master of Science in Computer Science,” exactly the same as those of on-campus graduates. There will be no “online” designation for the degrees of OMS CS graduates.

Promotional video below:

It’s still unknown whether this online degree will have the same impact as a traditional on-campus degree. For now, Georgia Tech is still the only university to offer a prestigious, high-quality computer science degree that is both convenient and affordable. The OMSCS program states their $7,000 tuition is priced to just barely cover their costs. Will any other university attempt an “at-cost” pricing model? What if someone extended that model to undergraduate programs?

On a related note, Khan Academy is trying to combine their free online educational materials with “internationally-recognized diplomas that provide direct access to economic and educational opportunities.” I think they should pursue accreditation, which I imagine would require human graders at the very minimum even if they used video lectures and community-based teaching support. Perhaps they can form some sort of volunteer network to keep costs low. Proposal video below:

Amazon Prime Reading: Free Consumer Reports Magazine

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Amazon has introduced another free perk for Amazon Prime members. From the press release for Amazon Prime Reading (emphasis mine):

Amazon today introduced Prime Reading, a new reading benefit for U.S. Prime members. Prime members can now enjoy unlimited reading from a rotating selection of books, magazines, comics and more – at no additional cost. Prime Reading joins the growing list of all-you-can-eat benefits for Prime members including unlimited fast, free Prime shipping, unlimited access to Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Audible Channels, early access to Lightning Deals and more.

The Prime Reading library consists of roughly 1,000 titles, which is only a fraction of the $10 a month library available with Kindle Unlimited. But hey, free is free. Here are some financially-related titles that caught my eye:

There’s also complete Lonely Planet travel guides, Sports Illustrated, Bon Appetit, People Magazine, Calvin and Hobbes, the first Harry Potter book. Lots more in sci-fi, mystery, romance, comic books and children’s books.

They say the list is rotating, so I am guessing that if the list changes then you can’t read the books anymore? Or if you download it during the available window, can you keep it forever? I’m guessing the former. I wonder how often they will turn over the list.

New Amazon Prime users can still get a free 30-day trial. Besides a Kindle or Fire tablet, you can read using the Kindle app for iOS/Android, Kindle desktop app for PC/Mac, or simply use the Kindle Cloud Reader in a computer browser.