photo credit: cindy47452
Oh man. Just what you’ve been waiting for, another post on gas prices on yet another stupid blog (to be fair, I don’t believe I’ve ever really griped about gas prices on this blog).
I’ll be honest and admit that I use to have a really smug attitude towards people who complain about gas price increase.
“If a couple cents of increase in prices can affect you that much financially, then gas is the least of your worries.” I’ll often thought to myself.
Yeah, I’m an ass.
Being that I’m a bit older and less of a moron now, I came to realized that despite the fact that other developed nation have higher fuel prices, relatively speaking, gas prices can still affect many people in the United States. After all, not everyone drives a 30+ mpg car like me, nor do they have a less than 5 miles per day commute.
Many people across the country have long commutes because they can’t afford housing closer to their job location, and for others, their main profession requires the use of gas in such a way that changes in price directly affects their income.
With gas prices averaging $3.87 as of this post, I am very fortunate that changes in prices affects me minimally. But of course, that’s not the case for many other people today.
Has the increase in gas prices affect your travel plans or your daily life? Do share.
Six Quick Gas Saving Tips:
- Take it easy.
Driving at a reasonable speed will conserve gas. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.
- Cruise Control.
Engaging cruise control on the highway for better fuel management.
- Lighten Up.
Take everything out of the car that you don’t need so your engine doesn’t have to work as hard. If packing for a road trip, try to keep luggage inside the vehicle rather than strapping to roof where it creates wind resistance.
- Stay in tune.
Keep up with regular maintenance. Simple things such as changing the engine air filter on a needed basis can improve gas mileage as much by 10%.
- Pump them up.
Properly inflated tires play a big role in good fuel economy. Check the sticker at the driver side door or glove box for the proper inflation pressure. Besides affect fuel economy, under/over inflated tires can significantly affect ride handling, vehicle safety, AND add unnecessary wear to your tires, costing you more money in the future.
- Cool it on the AC.
Use air conditioners conservatively. Most air conditioner have a “economy” or “recirculation” setting that reduces the amount of outside air that must be chilled.
Related Links & Resources:
- You have too much to do today.
- You think you can always make more money later.
- You didn’t know it was important.
- You think it’s too complicated.
- You can always pay someone else to worry about it.
- You’re filthy rich.
- Your parents are filthy rich.
- Your significant other is filthy rich.
- Your parents didn’t seem to care, so why should you?
- You think you’ll hit the jackpot eventually one day.
- You just received a large windfall and you’re sure it’ll last forever without problems.
- You don’t believe money is important (it’s not, but life isn’t free).
- You didn’t realize retirement is just a few years away.
- You didn’t think about the fact that you’ll retire one day.
- Your retirement is decades away, you can always worry about it later.
- You were brought up to not talk about money openly.
- You were never taught to care about it.
- You’re in high school, why should you care?
- You’re in college, you’re too drunk to care.
- You just finished college, you’re too busy working (or finding a job) to care.
- You’re about to propose, there’s too much going on to care.
- You just got married, now it’s even more complicated to care.
- You have kids. You’re seriously too busy working and raising your kids to care.
- You don’t know how to talk about it with your significant other.
- You’re positive you will always be in good health and always have job prospects.
- You believe in your income source and job security.
- You believe that social security will be enough.
- You believe that your children will take care of you when you retire.
- You believe that your significant other will always take care of you.
- You’re just too damn tired to care.
Are there may more reasons? You betcha.
Been putting off starting that retirement account because it seems too complicated?
Call your company’s human resource department and have someone walk you through setting up a 401k. Next, have your personal information ready, visit Fidelity or Vanguard’s website, and open up an IRA today (doesn’t matter which one, just open one). It seriously only takes about 15 minutes to open and fund an account. You can figure out what to invest in later — the important part is taking the first step.
Been putting off talking to your loved ones about your financial worries?
Sit them down and talk. The difficult conversations are always the most important ones. Sure, it may not be easy, but the alternatives can sometimes be much worse. Your parents may lose their house. Complications may lead to divorce. You might have to bail your kids out later. You might have to ask your parents to bail you out. You might have to start all over again — at age 57.
For every reason to not care and to not do anything, there are hundreds more reasons to care and to do something about your personal finance.
I suppose it would be foolish of me to question multi-billion dollar companies’ decision to roll out a feature for their payment cards — after all, they must have done enough research before hand to see if it was worth the additional cost to include the embedded chip for contactless credit/debit card payment.
Plus, it’s not even really about making it convenient for the consumer — it’s about removing one less barrier so that people will use and spend more with their credit/debit card.
Quick info on contactless payment:
- VISA: payWave
- MasterCard: PayPass
- AmericanExpress: Express Pay
- Chase: blink
- No signatures required for purchase under $25
When I received my shiny new Chase Freedom credit card last year, it came with contactless payment ability. Thinking it to be very neat, I decided to gave it a whirl at my local fast food joint, but there was only one minor problem…
It didn’t work.
So I was standing there, waving my credit card to the reader, looking like a tool — for whatever reason, the reader wouldn’t pick up the radio frequency from my credit card. The funny thing was, the cashier didn’t realize the store had a new contactless reader installed, so she politely told me that that isn’t the right way to use a credit card.
After that delightful experience, I never bother using the contactless payment option again, even when I visit merchants with contactless payment readers.
However, things changed last week when I received a mailer from Chase, informing me that I’d receive a $10 statement credit if I use my blink-enabled Chase Freedom credit card at local participating merchants. As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m a cheap bastard, so if you wave a free $10 in front of me, I’d be up for some on-the-way frivolous purchases.
Of course, the contactless payment didn’t work again.
At first I assumed my card has a defective chip, but the cashier quickly inform me that the reader I’m trying to scan with hasn’t been working properly lately.
Three other readers at three other merchants later, I finally stumbled onto a local McDonald’s with a working reader. I bought myself a double cheeseburger, wolfed down 1.5 grams of tans fat, and all of this within seconds thanks to contactless payment technology.
I use to hate self check-out machines, but these days I find them to be quite convenient for small purchases. Maybe once I get over the fear of embarrasment from waving a credit card in front of a device with nothing happening, I’d use contactless payment more.
Will I spend more as the credit card companies hope? Probably not. Does contactless payment “speed up transaction significantly” as Chase claims? Even when they were working, I honestly didn’t notice any difference.
Related Links & Post:
Sorry for the delay on releasing winners to last week’s gift card giveaway. Was busy birdwatching… or something like that.
The 20 winners were selected by the random integer generator from Random.org.
Winners based on commenter numbers are: Michele, menis, akimbo, Ulysses, shihchiun, Marc, Ryan Waldron, ED, Brandon, Andrea (1), Sarah Graham, Sara, Becca, H Lee D, Tony L, Dmitriy, Brad, kim, ben (2), and gina. Look for an email with the gift card in your inbox soon.
With only about 105 comments, odds were pretty decent. If you didn’t win, I’d most likely run another giveaway again whenever various revenue source hits certain milestone.
Now, back to my birdwatching.
One of my hidden fetishes is to test-drive various financial services that can be found on the web. From financial management tools to low cost brokerages, you name it, I’ve probably heard of it or have tried it.
Having said that, my personal information is most likely riddled across the Internet by now, being just a few missteps away from identity theft hell. Thankfully I’m penniless, so the most they can steal from me is my sexy name, job prospect at the Department of Defense, and future livelihood.
I first learn about Zecco.com when they first launched back in 2006. Figuring they have had a year or more to mature their service, I signed up for a Zecco brokerage account about half a year ago. Or at least I thought I did.
Essentially, I filled out all my information, submit my account application and then… nothing happened. An email told me that I should get a follow-up email when my account is approved and open, but it never came.
Figuring they’re sorting things out on their end, I quickly forgot about my application, as the last thing on my mind was yet another online account I’d have to deal with.
So months later, I started to receive marketing and service related emails from Zecco, notifying me of new features, policy changes, etc. I guess my account was opened after all.
Just as I was about to lose interest in using the account, I received an email telling me that if I deposit and fund my account with $2,500, I would receive a $100 bonus. Never one to turn away free money (cheap ass alert), I quickly shoot off an email to customer service to inquire about my account status and trading key. Within a business day, I received a reply and was off to setting up my Zecco trading account.
Zecco Trading Brokerage Account
- 10 free stock trade each month for account balance of $2,500 or more.
- $4.50 each for additional trade per month, and for accounts with less than $2,500.
- No inactivity fee, no account minimum.
- No-load mutual fund at $10 per trade (online).
- Free ACH. Additional fees information can be found here.
The interesting thing about Zecco is that it’s two entity being served on one website. There’s the Zecco.com web portal, which handles the blogs, community forums, and social aspect; and then there’s Zecco Trading, the low-cost brokerage firm based in Ontario, CA that handles the brokerage accounts (back-end served by Penson Financial Services).
You’ll find this to be most evident in the community forum, where members often ask question related to Zecco Trading services, rates, and policies. The poor moderators often can’t answer user questions due to understandable regulatory and legal issues — quite a customer service mess when you try to mend an active online community with regulated financial services.
To be clear, this review will focus on the Zecco Trading brokerage account, not the social investing community aspect of Zecco.com.
Interface, Trading, and Depositing
Although not the prettiest or easiest of interfaces, Zecco Trading has improved a bit since launch. In fact, during the course of my account usage, they’ve revamped the ACH page to make depositing and transferring of funds much easier and more intuitive. Initial setup of a link account was a bit hard to figure out, but should be much easier and straightforward now with the interface ramp-up. Transfer was fast and cleared within 1-2 business day (although I believe initial deposit takes 5-10 business days to clear).
Not being an active trader, I can’t provide too many insight on the trade and quote system. Zecco claims the industry standard of 30 second for order handling, and my limit orders were executed fast within seconds of reaching their limit. There’s no Level II quotes of course, and no streaming quotes, so to get the latest real-time quote you’ll need to re-click the quote button. Modifying an order also seems to take awhile, so you’re probably better off canceling the old order and inputting in a new order. If any of this matters to you, then Zecco is probably not right for you (at least, as a primary trade account anyway).
Each trade executed will result in a paper statement being mailed, detailing the transaction. A fairly standard practice, but it appears there’s no option to turn the paper trail off or have users sign for electronic delivery of notifications and statements (an easy way to reduce cost for them so it should be a no-brainer, most likely something they’ll implement eventually). [Update on this below].
I made a few trades to give the service a test, and it was definitely refreshing to buy stocks without having to price in the commission charges (SEC fees are still there, of course). My last trade was an incredibly exciting one, a semi-short term treasury bond ETF (iShare SHY), to balance out my other ridiculously allocated portfolios.
This last trade highlights one good reason to have a Zecco Trading account: with trade commission out of the way, buying a lump amount of low expense ratio index or bond ETFs can be quite attractive — especially for retirement accounts such as IRAs.
Customer Service and Information Finding
One of the things that I hate the most is having to dig through a website just to find standard information. Things such as money market sweep account rate and their accompanied prospectus should not be difficult to find. It seems that Zecco would rather constantly point you to contact their customer service via email or phone, instead of having all the information in an easy to find location in the first place.
Having said that, all my instances of emailing customer service were without issues. I first emailed customer service about how I can setup my trading key, and was greeted with a prompt clear reply on how to get setup. Other emails about rates, minimums, forms were also replied with a timely and informative matter. This isn’t the case for other people on the web, so I was either lucky or others were unlucky.
Random Margin Calls and Outages
Talk about a deal killer. Before I even started actively making trades on my Zecco account, I received an email from Zecco Trading’s margin department, issuing me a maintenances margin call. For those that don’t know, a maintenance margin call generally occurs when your margin account value has dropped to such a value that your equity percentage fell below the minimum maintenance requirement. Basically, you borrowed money to buy stocks and your stocks dropped too much in value, now the broker is asking you to fund more money into your account or your assets will be liquidated and you’ll be sh*t out of luck.
Now, because of the generic name of the “From” line, I immediately thought that one of my brokerage account was compromised and someone went on a stock buying spree, as most of my accounts only had $15.36 available in cash (enough for four meals at In-n-Out).
Well, Cap, good old buddy, I thought to myself. This is what you get for having trillions of accounts — you’re bound to get screwed over one of these days.
Upon further reading of the email, I realized that the email was from Zecco, my recently funded account that I haven’t even executed a trade in yet. Thinking it to be an error, I logged into my Zecco Trading account to double check, and sure enough my account was still at its normal value.
Minutes later, I received another email from customer service, notifying me that they’d like to “recall” the margin call message. I guess it’s their way of saying, “Sorry, looks like we sent an alarming email to the wrong person. Our bad!”
A quick Google search reveals that I wasn’t the only one to receive such an email (and not just on that particular day). An instance of a customer service rep “fat finger” frequently hitting the wrong button? Whatever the case, projecting the image that you may not know how much we have in our account is never a comforting factor.
Besides the random margin call email, I also experienced a random website outage during weekday trading hours. Just a few weeks ago, Zecco’s site was down from unknown reasons. Upon visiting the site, I was greeted with a message that a “scheduled upgrade” was in progress. A scheduled upgrade on a Monday morning at 11 AM EST? Right…
The outage of course didn’t affect me as I don’t actively trade, but the downtime wasn’t acceptable either for an online-based brokerage.
Free Trade is Attractive but Service Quality is Questionable
It’s hard to recommend a Zecco Trading account to anyone, given my experience, but the fact of the matter is, the free trades are for real and do work. I can see a two types of users having this account:
- Someone that knows exactly what they’re getting into, and will utilize the 10 free trades to supplement their other online brokerages.
- A light long-term investor who needs the occasional trade and will never need more than the 10 free trades per month.
If I didn’t receive the mistaken margin call, and if the interfaces were more user friendly, I can easily recommend a Zecco Trading account as a potential IRA choice. For a retirement account, being able to make commission free trades makes many low-cost ETF much more attractive, especially if you can’t make large lump sum purchases. You can potentially have a very diversified portfolio for very little initial funding!
Zecco has had awhile to polish up their service since launch, but it seems that they’re expanding faster than they can service their current customers properly. Their initial offering of 40 free trades per month with no minimum balance required was indeed very attractive, but the change to only 10 trades per month with a minimum balance seems to have jaded quite a few people.
The website has been revamped quite a few times, they are offering more tools for their users, and it appears customer service is getting better and better. They have raised much more capital in recent months, so they certainly have the assets to improve their service and product, provided they hire the right people to execute. Still, I’ve been seeing their advertisement much more frequently on top-tier news/finances websites recently, so whether or not they’re spending their fund at the right places, and whether or not the business model is sustainable is something that remains to be seen.
- Sure it’s not 40 free trade anymore, but 10 free trade is still 10 free trade.
- Fast customer service email reply (for me anyway).
- A nice community forum with smart members and moderators.
- Free trade / low commission makes various ETFs an attractive offer.
- Seemingly unreliable and unpolished
- Numerous customer service complaint on web
- Difficult to find proper information on website
- May change amount of free trade per month again or require higher account balance.
Update on Paper Statements:
Funny thing. After I finished writing this review, I found out through browsing my blog feed that Zecco has now “allowed” their users the option of electronic statement and trade notification. It’s not too much of a choice though, as Zecco will start charging users $1.50 per trade confirmation and $2 per paper statement after May 30th.
I’m assuming they sent out the new changes and extra fees notice via email, but for whatever reason I didn’t get the notice. Still not sure why they didn’t limit cost and headache in the first place by having electronic delivery as an available default option.
Related Links and Resources:
In fact, it was just a few hours ago at around 10 PM PST.
The repo man was a nice big guy, with tats all over. He was looking for someone with a similar last name. Poor Cap Two supposedly didn’t pay his bill for his Toyota Corolla, so the bank was forced to hire a repossession agent to get the car back.
He didn’t give us much of a fuss, since he was just tracking down possible locations of Cap Two (had a list of address with him). He apologized for the inconvenience and went on his way.
That was my first interaction with a repo man, and from what I’ve heard and read, this was probably one of the nicer ones out there (not that it’s an easy job, repossessing properties and all).
A friend of a friend had his car almost towed during the middle of the night by the repo men. After a heated argument, they finally figured out that they were at the wrong house — the same exact car can be found two houses down the block.
A quick Google search also reveals interesting stories of repo man knocking at odd hours, or not even bothering with the knock. One such story from the perspective of a repo man recounts how often he’ll find repo’ed vehicles straddled with contrabands.
Thankfully, even during my debt-ridden days, I never came close to having any repossession problems. So hopefully this will be my last and only encounter with a repo man. I understand the bank’s position and how difficulty the job of repossession can be for an agent, but I can’t imagine how it must feel for the person being repossessed — to have your car, house, or possession taken away, regardless if you’ve signed away your rights.
It’s probably too late for Cap Two to save his Corolla, as repossession is generally the last course of action a lender will want to take; but I sincerely hope that Cap Two will be able to get out of his financial hole eventually…