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April 2005 Monthly Archive

Stop Buying Crap #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8 | #9 | #10 | #11 | #12

With the help of my friend Peter, I’m going to list some crap we can all stop buying.

Peter LOVES licking frogs while reading!Books that you won’t read. My friend Peter is a real book worm (and he loves to play with frogs). He got me into a series of silly fantasy books. (yup, we’re geeks) “Hey Cap! Let’s read them together and discuss about them later okay??” And Peter never read them. He’s too busy with school or some other crap. Wasted money? $34+

Collections of Discovery Channel: FrogsMovies that you won’t watch. My friend Peter is also a real DVD addict. He loves to buy movies. This is good for me, because I get to borrow them for free. Sometimes, he buys so many movies that he doesn’t even have time to watch them all. Again, he’s too busy with that silly school thing. He wants to become a doctor. *pff* Well Pete my boy, a doctor doesn’t have time to watch DVDs! Stop buying them! Wasted money? $200+

Only $30 for 50 DVDRs!DVD-R/CD-R that you don’t use. Now my friend James thinks he’s smarter. He doesn’t buy DVDs or CDs. He gets his fix from DVD-R/CD-R. The thing about this is that he ends up with a bigger collection than Peter, which he doesn’t even have time to watch, play, listen to, or use. It should also be note that although CD-R Medias are dirt cheap now, the same can’t be said for DVD-R Medias. Here are some questions you should ask yourself. Do you honestly need a DVD collection of 500 movies? You save money by buying them in bundles, but do you really need to burn/copy all those things? Do you find yourself just looking for things to download so you can burn them? So yeah. Wasted money? $50+

$6 dollar coffee rules!Fast Food that’s bad for you. Okay, I’ve ate my share of $0.99 two tacos at Jack in the Box. Or $0.99 double cheeseburger at McDonalds. In fact, sometimes my dinner would be 6 tacos from Jack in the Box. My freshmen year in college consist of 70% fast food, 20% cereals, and 10% junk food. Besides being bad for your health, they really do add up in prices, even if you eat the value meal. Refer to my “Eating out and Thin Wallets” piece. Wasted money? $365+ (assuming $0.99 Two Tacos per day at Jack in the Box)

That’s all for this edition of Stop Buying Crap. Got some crap in mind that all of us should avoid buying, or at least buy in limited amount? Let me know!

Oooh Charts and Graphs!I think a lot of us has heard of this. Basically there are market research companies that pays you for participating in their research and survey. They generally take about 2 to 3 hours, and pay you $100 for your time. Occasionally they also feed you too. Fairly good stuff, I heard.  Long ago, while browsing a car message board, I notice a market research offer of $100 for 2 hours of my time. My car make and model was included in the people they’re searching for. I thought about it long and hard, but the drive up to LA (I live in Orange County, CA) during rush hour was NOT worth it for me. (The total trip would have taken around 5 hours)

I received a letter in the mail a few days ago, with the same type of market research offer, from a company named Synovate, they seem reputable enough. *shrug*

The “Automotive Evaluation Study” required 2.5 hour of my time, and at first I thought the location would be in LA too, since the mail came from Encino, CA (part of LA County) One bonus of this is, they have a few dates and appointment hours to choose from, so I figured this may be a better offer. Plus, back in the days I wasn’t as into “free” money as I am today.

To my delight, after calling for an appointment and answering a series of questions to make sure I am qualified to participate, I found out that the location is at Long Beach Convention. (Only 24 minutes away, according to Mapquest) So it’ll take about 3.5 hours total for $100 bucks. About $28.57 an hour, not too bad for this type of “work.”

They told me over the phone that light refreshment will be available, I guess I shouldn’t expect free lunch too.

My appointment will be on May 1st, 2005 at around 12 PM. From the series of questions and the pre-survey that I have to fill out, it looks like I’ll be looking at some future SUV/light truck makes and models. Not really my cup of tea, but it should be “fun” in some sense. I’ll definitely share my experience with this after I come back, should be interesting to see what type of questions they ask, and what people are looking for these days in terms of automobile owners. Plus, I’ll find out if the $100 is worth my time or not.

I first saw Emigrant Direct on; they had a big splash ad, touting 3.0% (currently 4.50%), and America’s Highest Rate. I definitely clicked on the ad since that was an awesome rate at the time (6/2005).

They’re pretty much similar to ING Direct (review here), which I have been using for awhile now.

No fees and no minimum sounds great.  I was curious, so I decided to sign-up, take a look at how their site function and how well they perform.

That’s about as far as I got with Emigrant Direct’s American Dream Savings Account™

I tried about 3 times to sign-up through their online application. For some reason, they just couldn’t get me setup. Basically, after filling all necessary information, Emigrant Direct ask you a series of security questions to confirm your idea, questions much similar to those that you find when you request for your credit report/history.

At this age, I did not have any mortgage loans; so I put no to some of the questions asked. Long story short, they can’t seem to verify me, so needless to say, I couldn’t open the account online. (Yes, I answered all the questions correctly, I think I’ll remember what street I use to live on, or didn’t live on before)

My attempt to setup their account didn’t stop there, of course. I figure no big deal, they just started and it’s normal to have some software glitches. (Although software glitches + online banking that keeps your money = not a good idea).

I tried another 3 times to sign up the account thru the phone. First attempt ~15 minute wait on the phone, customer service rep. that took my name, address… put me on hold… and I got disconnected.

Second attempt, waited another 10 minute or so, I figure okay, maybe they’re busy now… (It was around 12 PM PST) so I’ll try another day.

Third attempt, a few days later… same results as FIRST ATTEMPT. What gives? Why is it so difficult for me to GIVE them my money? Guess they don’t want my service.

At this point, I decided to try again a few days later, they just started and they may be swamped with new customer sign up, but I sure wish it was an easier experience.

It wasn’t until I did more research, and more information started to surface on Emigrant Direct that I decided to not get an account with them.

What kind of review is this if you haven’t even tried their service!?

Well, it’s a brief one *cough*

There’s plenty of other source out there for customer reviews, and one of the massive source of information from other consumer is’s Finance Forum.

At FatWallet’s forum, there’s an incredibly long thread on the topic of Emigrant Direct. You can view the thread here.

It has over 1,000 post, and currently its 55 pages long. Quite a lot of reading.

So I’ll give you some brief low down on what I’ve read.

Their rates are indeed highest at that time, which was 3.0%… the competition was heating up, and when other banks (ING Direct, Virtual Bank, etc.) bumped their rate up, Emigrant Direct promptly went up with their rate too. (As of 2/1/06, their APY is 4.25%)

Emigrant Direct is also committed to offer their rate at 3.50% till the end of 2005. Base on market condition, the rate may even increase (it did).

Their service could be better. There is obviously some flaw to the sign up procedures, as I was NOT the only one that has issues with signing up online. For an online savings account, the sign up procedure does require some snail mail.

Jonathan at MyMoneyBlog has a short review of Emigrant Direct at his site, which covers a good deal on the account setup procedure of Emigrant Direct’s American Dream Savings Account. You can check it out here.

If you read Jonathan’s review, you’ll see that setting up the account requires you to wait for the security deposits to be verified, and then you’ll need to wait for your Account Number to arrive via mail. The mail will be coming from New York, so the time it takes varies depending on your location. Although if you read through FatWallet’s discussion, you’ll see that some people had to request the account number mail a few times, as they never arrived.

Other not so pretty aspect of Emigrant Direct is the fact that many complained of slow and bad customer service. Besides the fact that their online site does not function properly, their customer service representatives was not too helpful too. In fact, there were some instances where they were extremely rude, and actually yelled at one of the customer! Yikes.

Many people have called ING Direct to initiate transfers to Emigrant Direct, but they were also told by the ING Direct rep that many people are experiencing bad customer service from Emigrant Direct, and are coming back to ING Direct. Obviously we can take the comments from the competition with a grain of salt, but the amounts of complaint in the FatWallet discussion forum is definitely something that shouldn’t be ignored.

Other problems such as transfers or initial deposits not showing up for a long time (past the normal 5-7 business day float times), or taking a long time to process are also a frequent complaint.

I have no doubt that Emigrant Direct will honor their rates, and they certain won’t take your money and run with it, as this is a regulated industry, not something like PayPal.

It’s just a bit troubling though; that users are experiencing problems accessing their accounts and their funds. I understand technical problems may be out of control initially, but one would think that they would have hired some competent programmers if they are going to be going into such a competing market.

At the end though, you’ll definitely have to make up your mind on how well Emigrant Direct performs. This is definitely something that requires the disclaimer of “your results may vary.” At times, people have their funds transferred and completed by the next day, and at times, their funds seem to take longer than necessary to clear.

I do have some tips though if you’re going to setup and try out an Emigrant Direct American Dream Savings Account.

When signing up, make sure you deposit a relatively small amount of initial deposit. As it seems that Emigrant Direct is quick in depositing your initial deposit, but slow in activating your account. So you may want to avoid some of the mistakes some people took, in jumping the gun and transferring a large sum of money just to have it sit around during float times.

You should also take note that they require you to have five security questions + answer filled out, incase you forget your account information. (Yes, five) So you might want to write those down during account setup process.

When you finally have your account setup, the transfer button would not be available for a few days, once your linked accounts are setup, they would magically appear a few days later.

Recently, Emigrant Direct also moved to stop receiving deposits by mail to cut down on cost. So unlike ING Direct, you can no longer send in your checks to deposit directly to your account. You’ll need to deposit them in your checking account that’s linked to Emigrant Direct, and then transfer it over online or on the phone.

I realized that that compared to my review on ING Direct, this isn’t such a favorable review for Emigrant Direct. But you should also note that I never had an account with them, and the only experiences I have are the ones listed above. If you’re considering Emigrant Direct’s American Dream Savings Account, you should definitely take the time to read the discussion thread at, and draw your own conclusion.

Updated 7/21/05:
Here’s a good alternative to Emigrant Direct, HSBC’s Online Savings Account, currently also offering 3.75% APY.  I think I may open an account with them when they start offering opening bonuses.  Will write review on it when that happens.

Updated 7/22/05:
ED has bumped their rate up to 3.5% to offer a more competitive edge. That’s a pretty darn good rate, for a no minimum and no fee account. I’m tempted, but I’ll wait till they offer another promotion before I give them another try.

Updated 10/6/05:
ED has once again bump their rate up to 4.0%, now one of the highest no minimum, no fee savings/money market account out there.  Their offer is so competitive that I have decided to give them another try.  The application went through this time without a problem (looks like they fixed a few things), and I’m now waiting for further instruction via snail mail.

Updated 2/01/06:
I eventually got my ED account setup, and have been with them for about 3 months untill they closed my account without warning.  More details can be found here.

Here’s a good information page from MyMoneyBlog.  It contains detailed facts on Emigrant Direct’s American Dream Savings account, so you can easily compare them to other offerings.


Emigrant Direct’s Info Page
Emigrant Direct’s FAQ
FatWallet’s Finance Forum Discussion Thread
Jonathan’s Review of Emigrant Direct from

Part One: Credit, Credit Report, FICO Scores, and Terminologies

This is a difficult topic to write about. I’ve finally decided to separate it into different parts, and work on it slowly through time. It’ll probably consume the rest of my life. >_<

I had this long introduction before, but I realized that it was SO BORING that nobody would read it.  Even I had a hard time reading it myself. So I highlighted everything and pressed DELETE. I then decided to drink a few bottles of vodka to get enough juice in my system to get this topic rolling.

So, like Al Bundy always say… let’s rock.

In order to talk about credit cards, there are some basic things that we’ll need to go over. READ IT or I’ll have my sister’s dog bite you where the sun does NOT shine. (Yeah you heard me right, the bottom of your foot.)

CREDIT – What it is, and what it ISN’T!

Before we go further lets define credit:
According to Webster’s online dictionary, consumer credit is: “credit granted to an individual especially to finance the purchase of consumer goods or to defray personal expenses.”

An easier read definition can be found from which for the purpose of this article, credit is: “An arrangement for deferred payment of a loan or purchase.”

I think most of us know what credit is, we borrow money that we pay back later, at a rate and time specify by those who loan us money.

Credit isn’t a savings or checking account. It’s true! Opening a checking account or savings account isn’t like applying for a credit card or loan, you’re not borrowing any money nor are you doing some payment plan. Occasionally, opening a checking account does involve some credit check by the bank (where they inquire about your credit report and history) to use as one means to determine if they should approve of your application or not. Usually what appears on your credit report (your credit history) has little effect to your application for a checking or savings account.

So yeah, when you get that ATM/DEBIT card in the mail, it’s not a credit card, nor does it have anything to do with your credit history. It’s true that ATM cards these days are more convenient due to the MasterCard or VISA debit/check card capabilities, but that doesn’t make them credit cards (even when you charge them as credit instead of debit). Opening or closing your checking account will generally not impact your credit history or score negatively (although at times, inquiries are made on your credit report when you apply for a checking/savings account).

At times, when you apply for a new wireless mobile phone, you may require credit too. Besides using it to verify your personal information, they can also be sure that you will pay your bill on times. Other familiar credit checks are: application for employment; getting a lease on an apartment; opening accounts at utility companies; cable TV/Internet accounts, etc.

Credit Score (FICO® Score) – The adult scores. The score that revolves around us for the rest of our lives but for some reason a lot of us don’t even know what it is…

I’ve read a lot of articles that calls your credit score (FICO score) the adult score. Remember when they made such a fuss over SAT scores? It doesn’t even matter anymore after we get in college, all those hours of studying… well, for some of us. I didn’t really study and the results shows. But yeah, anyways, credit scores. Let’s go back to that, something that I still have a chance to improve on.

When people talk about credit score, they generally mean a FICO score. FICO stands for Fair Isacc Company, they’re the nice people that gather your credit report from the three major credits reporting agencies and, using their formula to give you a score base on the ranges of 300 to 850. You usually don’t see scores below 500, although there is a small percentage in the US population with that score. (1% according to Fair Isacc), the median score for the US is 723, and I believe the average is around 690-710.

FICO score is basically one of the few factors that helps lender determine your eligibility in credit approval. It tells a lender how much of a risk factor you are. The higher your score, the less of a risk you are to not pay them back. Hence this becomes a VERY important score, especially during those times where big purchases like a car loan, or house mortgage comes in. FICO score also determines what sort of rate you’ll get when you borrow that money. The higher the score, the lower your mortgage rate, it can be as drastic as almost a 4% APR change, when you compare a score of 550 (rate of 9.29%) to a score of 750 (rate of 5.95%). Remember though that a FICO score isn’t the only factor that a lender considers when deciding to give you credit or not, although it does play a big part.

FICO score, like credit, is another whole subject on its own; so we’ll address each of them more later in the future. Here’s a final note, checking your credit report, or FICO score, does NOT have any impact on your FICO score!

Some Other Terms You Might Want to Know

Credit limit: Also can be referred to as your credit line, this is basically the amount of money you can charge on your particular account. If your credit limit is $1,000, you can spend $1,000 before going over your credit limit. As most of us know, going over your credit limit is a no-no, and you’ll usually get slapped with a nice hefty fee.

Interest: The charge for the money borrowed. Straight forward enough. We all know what it is, and why we hate it. When you borrow a certain amount, you pay back interest on the amount borrowed, usually a certain percentage of the amount.

APR: Annual percentage rate. For credit cards, the APR is basically the rate of your interest. For example, if you have an APR of 14%, and you charge $100 on your card, after a year (annual) and assuming you didn’t pay squat (bad idea); the interest you now owe is $14 bucks. The APR is usually determined by adding a certain percentage to the prime rate.

Prime Rate: For credit card, the prime rate generally refers to the Wall Street Journal published prime rate. The prime rate is basically the lowest rate a bank will lend to a customer. The rate changes depending on market condition and the WSJ updates and publish the new rates accordingly. When the prime rate goes up, you should expect your variable rate credit card to change too. You can find out the current WSJ published prime rate from BankRate here.

Revolving credit: This is what your credit card account is classified as in your credit history/report. Simply put, a revolving line of credit is money that you borrow which can be used again and again once it has been repaid. For example, if you charge $1,000 on your credit card, after you pay back the $1,000, you can use the credit card again and again – as long as you make your payments. A loan that you take out from a bank, however, may not have that option. After you pay back that loan from the bank, you can’t simply just get money again and again, without further applying for the loan again. There are also non-revolving credit cards, which you must pay back before you can use it again; a good example of this is the American Express Green Card.

Grace Period: This is the period of time in which no interest rate are charged.  Most credit card have a certain grace period, usually 20-30 days in which you are not charged interest rate for the purchases you made.  They also usually required that you made the previous month’s payment in full, for there to be a grace period for your current month’s charges.  For example, if I paid my credit card bill in full last month, and I made a $50 charge on my credit card today, there will be a 20 day grace period before interest starts accumulating on that charge.  If however, I did not pay my bill in full last month, and I currently carry a balance, then interest rate starts accumulating IMMEDIATELY as soon as I made the charge.  (Hence the many advocacy of PAYING IN FULL)

Now that we have some basic concept of what credit is, some details on credit report and credit scores, we can get to the juicy part: all the things you want to know about credit cards!!

Part Two: Types of Credit Card, Secured Card, Revolving Credit Card

Okay, Let’s Talk Credit Cards

Plastics are wonderful. Have you ever seen those commercial that talks about the wonders of plastic? From products made via plastic materials that ease our lives, medical equipment made with plastic that saves our lives, and many other things that I can’t think of right now, are made by plastic.

Well you know where I’m going at with this. There’s this other “plastic” that we both love and hate at the same time.

Yes, credit cards are often referred to as plastic, since they’re mostly made from plastic cards. (Wow really?)

Yes, really.

So, why do people love and hate credit cards?

I’m glad you asked because there are several reasons for this, but before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to go over the different type of credit cards there are out there. (Yes, there are different types)

The two main different types of credit cards are secured credit cards, and unsecured credit cards.

For a lot of people with bad credit, or no credit history, sometimes a secured credit card may be the only way to establish or re-establish your credit history.

Secured credit cards are cards that require you to open a savings account or deposit a sum of cash as security for your line of credit. The line of credit you have is usually around 50 to 100 percent of your security deposit, although there are some secured cards that require you to pay around an extra 25 percent of your card’s limit. The offers and condition varies from one card issuer to the next, but generally your secure card’s credit limit is 100 percent of your deposit.

For example, the Bank of America Secured VISA gives you a credit line 100 percent of your savings account deposit. So if you deposit $1,000 to the savings account, you will have a credit limit of $1,000.

The obvious reason why major lenders will give you a credit card, even if you have bad credit or no credit is because of the security you have against the possibly that you can not pay your bills. If the unfortunate does happen, they have the ability to recoup some of their lost.

You should realize that even with your security deposit, you still have to pay at least your minimum payment when the bill comes every month.

Secured credit card is mostly for those that are trying to re-establish their credit history, after things such as bankruptcy, judgment, and collections. In time with proper use and responsibility, a secured credit card can be converted to an unsecured card, in which case your security deposit will be issued back to you.

Although secured credit card can also be an option for those without credit, there are also better alternatives out there, especially for students. (i.e. student credit cards, or credit cards from lenders that are easier to get approved from)

Secured credit card is not something that’s too widely talked about, and it will definitely be something I’ll be addressing in the future, but for now I hope that gives some idea on what it is. For those that are interested, I’ll definitely recommend you Google it, and do some research to see if it is the right choice for you.

Unsecured Credit Cards isn’t exactly a term that’s widely used too. Mainly because that’s regular credit cards, and people don’t call it as such. So for the rest of these articles, we’ll be focusing on unsecured credit cards. (We’ll also just refer to them as credit cards, mmkay?)

Again, there are many different types of credit cards (unsecured, that is). There are student credit cards that are easier for students with no credit to obtain; there are reward credit cards that give you products and services when you use them for purchases; there are business credit cards, cash back credit cards, airline credit cards, department store credit cards, etc. etc. The list goes on.

They come in all sorts of funky design and colors, and they also come in different credit card networks. (VISA, MasterCard, Discover, etc.)

They especially come in all sorts of different terms and condition, different annual percentage rates, different grace periods, different minimum payment amount, different introductory rate period, and many more.

At many times, credit cards can be an extremely convenient way to make payments on products and services, but at another time, they can also be an incredibly big burden on those without the discipline in their spending habits.

In the upcoming Part Three, we’ll go more in-depth into the world of credit cards, and explore what they have to offer, and the potential financial burdens they may cause.

Woops, its been quite awhile since my last blog post (busy lately). I’m still working on that article on credit cards… I think I’ll split it into parts and post up part one up first.

It’ll cover a bit on what credit is, a little bit on FICO scores, and a little bit on the actual subject of credit cards. On another note, I pulled my FICO score just today, its not too bad at all:

If you’re curious what FICO scores are, check out this review of FICO scores to learn more.  If you want to buy a FICO score from myFICO, check out this myFICO promotional code before you make your purchase.

Its a bit funny but, appearantly online searches for anything related to filing your tax has gone up recently, according to Yahoo.

Search words for “tax forms” went up 77%, “e-file information” went up 45%, while anything on “IRS” went up 41%

The part that made me laugh is that searching for “extension” is up 1,589%

Guess not everyone’s not done with filing their taxes.

The 1040s wont fill themselves up, people.

Something funny I got from a friend in the email.

The 9 weirdest tax write-offs from MSN Money

Here’s an interesting one:

Then there was the client who approached Manhattan CPA Marc Albaum about a very personal tax matter. “He had made some money being a sperm donor and wanted to know if he could take a depletion allowance,” Albaum recalls. “I told him he really needed to be an oil well or something like that.”

As the tax due date of April 15 approaches closer, I notice a lot more “Last Chance to open an IRA for 2004” advertisements on the web. Maybe I didnt notice it last year, but it seems to be a lot more evident these days. IRA (individual retirement accounts) is definitely something that will be addressed eventually, and its one big subject to cover, what all these different IRAs – there’s more than the two more widely mentioned, traditional and ROTH IRAs. Still as the advertisements mention, there is only a few days left to contribute to your 2004 IRA. In my opinion, its much better to research and carefully pick who you should go with for your IRA then worry about trying to make sure you can file it before the 2004 tax deadline. Plus, most of us should have finished filing our taxes long ago, right? ;)

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