More About Real Estate Investing

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About a week ago, I mentioned that I’m interested in learning more about real estate investing. The two sources for more information that people suggested were the writings of John T. Reed and Home Buying for Dummies. I can’t vouch for either of these, although the latter seems to focus more on purchasing a residence than an investment property. I did, however, run into a great rental property calculator over at Kiplinger.com that allows you to project income, expenses and tax benefits over five years, thereby allowing you to figure out if/when you’ll wind up in the black on any particular property. It’s based on a pretty detailed worksheet, so you need to have a fairly clear idea of your own financial situation, as well as the details of the property. But if you can pull together (or estimate) the necessary information, it’s definitely worth checking out.


Easy Access to Online Articles

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If you’re anything like me, you hate having to login to gain access to news stories online. Since I sometimes link to such stories, I thought I’d post a tip for bypassing this annoyance… In case you haven’t heard, there’s a service out there called BugMeNot. This site is a repository for usernames/passwords for sites with compulsory registration — just hop over to it, look up the site you’re interested in, and you’re good to go. The problem with this is that it takes a bit of effort, and I’m kind of lazy… Enter the FireFox web browser and the BugMeNot FireFox extension. (more…)


Permanent Tax Exemption for 529 College Savings Plans?

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The Senate Finance Committee introduced a bill today that would make the tax exemption for 529 college savings plans permanent. The Senate bill, which has bipartisan support, mirrors one that was introduced in the House last week. The 529 exemption is currently scheduled to expire in 2010, so this is great news for anyone with young kids that are looking for an effective way to save for college.

If you’re looking for more information on 529 plans, check out The Best Way to Save for College by Joseph Hurley, which is a great book on 529 plans. Also check out Joe’s website, Savingforcollege.com, which is an excellent online resource. Then again, you could always just call your rich uncle.


Personal Finance Blogging Takes Off

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While perusing ProBlogger.net this morning, I ran across an interesting service offered by BlogPulse — a blogging trend tracker (direct link). After entering search terms and selecting a timeframe (from one to six months), you’ll get a graph depicting the percentage of all blog posts that mention the term(s) of interest. Beyond giving you an overall plot, you can also click on individual dates to drill down into a listing of the actual posts that mentioned the term of interest on that day. So what does this tell us about personal finance blogging? (more…)


Home Values, Appraisals, and Fraud

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I just ran across an interesting article on CNN/Money about home appraisal fraud. Despite the fact that appraisers are supposed to come up with an independent estimate of the value of a property, they’re apparently coming under increasing pressure from lenders and realtors to hit a predetermined value (i.e., the agreed upon sales price) when appraising a property. After all, if a house appraises for less than the agreed upon sales price, the deal may not go through and nobody will earn their commission. (more…)


Don’t Believe Everything that You Read

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I just ran across an interesting article on the accuracy of personal finance writers in the Akron Beacon Journal of all places — gotta love Google News! The article correctly points out that personal finance books, news stories, etc. are often riddled with factual errors that might lead you to make bad money moves. How can you protect yourself? The article has several common sense suggestions. (more…)


Kids & Money: Setting an Allowance

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A recent post over at AllThingsFinancial prompted me to reassess the way we handle our kids’ allowances. Thus far, we’ve been pretty lax/inconsistent about allowances, and our oldest son has recently been agitating for a more reliable stream of income. After mulling it over, we’ve settled on a new system. (more…)


Wal-Mart & Netflix… A Match Made in Heaven?

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Big news in the world of online DVD rentals… Wal-Mart has exited the business, and is throwing their weight behind NetFlix. In fact, if you hop over to the WalMart.com, you’ll see an ad for NetFlix plastered on their front page. Presumably their getting a kickback for customer referrals. It’ll be interesting to see what this does to the online rental market, as decreased competition generally doesn’t bode well for consumers. Then again, Wal-Mart was really only a niche player with around 300, 000 customers. For the sake of comparison, NetFlix weighs in around 3, 000, 000 customers, whereas BlockBuster.com has managed to build a customer base of a little better than 800, 000 in less than a year. Speaking from personal experience, NetFlix beats the heck out of BlockBuster in terms of both availability and turnaround time, and I can’t ever imagine switching back to BlockBuster.


Citi Driver’s Edge Rewards Just Got Better

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Editor’s Note:  This limited-time offer has expired. 

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a big fan of CitiBank credit card rewards. In fact, I’m currently carrying a Citi Dividend Platinum as well as a Citi Driver’s Edge in my wallet. The former generates cash back, whereas the latter earns credit toward automotive services and/or auto purchases. A few weeks ago I ran across a post on PFBlog that mentioned that Citi had sent out a mailing indicating that they would be improving the Driver’s Edge reward program. This past week, I was cleaning off the counter when I ran across the same mailing in a stack of mail that I hadn’t looked at closely enough. So what’s changing?

The primary improvement is that they’re increasing the annual reward cap from $500/year to $1, 000/year. Likewise, the maximum redemption amount has increased from $2, 500 to $5, 000. On top of this, the reward rate will increase to 3% on gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases (the standard deal has been 1% on all purchases). This isn’t that big of a deal, as the Dividend Platinum card currently pays 5% for those same sorts of purchases (and 1% on all else). However, many of us got in on the ‘5% on all purchases’ promo, meaning that we can rack up this year’s $1, 000 pretty easily — my promo period doesn’t end until September, and I’ve already nearly maxed out the original $500 limit. [Note: The 5%/1% reward structure has since been reduced to 3%/1%.] The mailing also mentioned that you’ll earn ‘rebates for the miles you drive, ‘ but provides no further details — rather, they refer you to their website or a toll-free number. I poked around on their website a bit and didn’t see any further explanation, and I haven’t had the time nor the inclination to give them a call. The only downside seems to be that your rewards will now automatically expire if you don’t use your card for twelve consecutive months. All changes are effective May 23, 2005.

So how easy is it to redeem the Driver’s Edge rewards? It’s really easy. I faxed them the receipt from a recent oil change, along with a redemption form, and sure enough a credit soon showed up on my statement. This will definitely continue to come in handy for me, as I currently drive a fourteen year old car.

Unfortunately, the 5% promo seems to have dried up. But keep your eyes open — they seem to run special offers fairly frequently.


Pay Down Your Mortgage With ‘Found’ Money

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It seems that a common question for homeowners is whether or not it’s a good idea to send extra principal along with (or in addition to) their mortgage payments. The answer to this question varies from case to case, but here’s what I do… (more…)