November 2008 Monthly Archive
Posted by Cap in Miscellaneous
on November 17, 2008 | 4 Comments
I didn’t realize this, but the 90 years-old company Mother’s Cookies closed doors abruptly early October and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (after being juggled between various owners during the recent decade). I’m not sure how I missed this news, but you can tell I rarely visit the junk food aisle at the grocery store (mind you, not because I’m a health conscious person — I’m just too much of a cheap ass at times).
Consumers can find solace in the fact that there are about half a dozen generics or similar offerings from other competitors. Although if you’re like most people, you won’t care much for the Type 2 Diabetes inducing snacks and probably hated me for posting this off-beat and delayed news.
Posted by Cap in Miscellaneous
on November 16, 2008 | 11 Comments
Argh. Stories like these always makes me cringe.
Clouded by offer of $26.6 million dollars, a woman in Oregon sent out over $400,000 to Nigerian email scammers over the course of two years — even after her family members and bank officials told her to stop.
Obsession? Greed? Read the story and watch the video to get a better feel.
The sad truth is classic scams like these will always be prevalent, and as time pass, they’ll simply occur through different mediums.
From [Consumerist] and [KATU.com]
Posted by Cap in Updates
on November 14, 2008 | No Comments
Weekend readings for financial info obsessed weirdos:
Posted by Cap in Credit Related
on November 13, 2008 | 14 Comments
One of the best thing about the current trend on the web is the increasing abundance of free financial web services. You’ll find one such service provided by Quicken Loans at Quizzle.com. This is a review of Quizzle.com, where you can get free credit score, report, and home value. Super sweet!
Like many new “Web 2.0 ish” websites, Quizzle has a clear emphasis on simplicity and ease of use. Slap in your zip code, fill out the personal information, answer a few credit-related questions to verify your identity (soft credit inquiry) — and within minutes you’ll have access to the free credit score, report, and home value (or if you rent, value of home you can afford). No need to fork over any credit card, the service as promised, is free.
Upon initial login, you’ll be greeted with a Quizzle score, which is formulated base on your overall home and money performances: credit, rainy day fund, budget, mortgage, and home affordability. If you rent like me, you may not have a mortgage factored into your Quizzle score. [Click image above for larger screenshot]
Free Credit Report and Credit Score
Quizzle’s free credit report and score offering is actually pretty decent. The credit report, although not as in-depth as a specific report from Experian, has all the necessary information you need to have a proper understanding of your credit history. At the summary tab, you’ll find details of your personal information along with a list of financial accounts on your credit report.
Navigating through each tab in the Credit page will reveal a list of open accounts, closed accounts, negative accounts, and whatever public records that may or may not be on your credit report. You’ll also be able to see the recent hard inquiries on your Experian credit report (soft inquiries were not listed).
The free credit score is straightforward: Quizzle provides you with a score from the ranges of 360 to 840 while giving you a grade rating from A to F (just like back in school, yay!). The score isn’t a FICO score, but its free and gives you a general guideline of where your creditworthiness may stand.
Estimated Home Value and Home Affordability Value
If you own a home, Quizzle will provide you with an estimated home value and an appreciation grade using the automated valuation model. Like Zillow.com, Quizzle will provide you with data about your home, giving some brief info on living area in sq ft., bedrooms, lot area in sq ft., and the year the house was built. You’ll also see the home purchase history, estimated available home equity, and comparable home sales in the area. Although I don’t have a screenshot of this function, you can visit Quizzle’s tour page and click on “more info about your home” to see an example.
If you don’t own a home and you rent, Quizzle will spit out a simple affordable home caulation, based on your household gross, debt, and estimated down payment. Thanks to Quizzle, I now know home ownership in my area is never within reach! Yay. (Slightly kidding, as Quizzle didn’t factor in assets that aren’t being calculated).
The budget section at Quizzle is fairly simplistic (in a good way). Quizzle will give you a brief look at your available cash by subtracting your living expenses and debt from your household income. This is based on your initial input, but you can further refine the income, living expenses, and debt section by heading into each of the tabs — add, edit, and remove necessary information.
For example, in the debt section, Quizzle will automatically input all the balances from your credit card accounts based on your credit report — but since the credit report may be outdated or inaccurate, you can adjust and fine tune the amounts to your actual debt responsibilities.
Mortgage, Refinance, and Home Equity Loans
The mortgage section of the site will depend again on if you already have a mortgage or you’re looking for one. If you’re looking for a mortgage, Quizzle will calculate a few different mortgage recommendations based on numbers you input. Utilizing offers they have from the Quicken Loan program, Quizzle will provide the usual recommendations of fixed loan, ARM, and variance of interest-only loans.
If you already have a mortgage, Quizzle will provide you with some recommendations on refinance loans and home equity loans. They give you a general guideline if you need to take out a home equity loan to pay off other higher interest debt, but you definitely shouldn’t rely solely on Quizzle’s recommendations to acquire a mortgage, refinance, or apply for a home equity loan.
You should be aware that the mortgage section of Quizzle is where the site generates potential revenue in return for providing the free service. Just something to be aware of if you choose to use the “contact an expert” option when you check out the mortgage recommendations. Even with refined and accurate recommendations from Quizzle, you’ll be well served if you do additional research by trying other comparison services.
Rainy Day Fund
The last section of Quizzle is the Rainy Day Fund (emergency fund). It is calculated based on 4 months net income and Quizzle will either give you a pat on the back for already hitting the 4 months net income goal for the rainy day fund, or give you other recommendations on what you need to do to build the emergency fund. Not a mind-blowing feature, but a nice touch and good reminder on the importance of a well funded emergency fund.
Overall Quizzle.com Impression
Try as you might, you’ll find little to complain about at Quizzle.com. They offer exactly what they say they will: a free credit report and score, along with free estimation of your home value, and a free budget tool. The site is easy to use and navigate, and has enough information for you to dissect your current financial situation, especially if you carefully edit and input all your financial information.
Quizzle’s free report and score can be a nice supplement to the three free annual credit report you’re already entitled to from the credit reporting bureaus. Of course, if you’re not comfortable with giving out your personal information to a third party site, you won’t be using Quizzle.com to get the free credit report and score; never mind their mortgage recommendation services.
Quizzle’s overall revenue model appears to be referring potential customer to their Quicken Loan offerings in mortgages, refinance, and home equity loans — which makes perfect sense as Quizzle should be able to acquire more targeted customers that converts better. In short, if Quizzle continues to provide valuable free analytic, tools, and estimation along with refining their loan recommendations, this should be a clear win-win situation for both the mortgage-related consumers and Quizzle.
- Free credit report and score. No strings attached.
- Free estimated home value via AVM method.
- Decent and free budget calculators.
- Mortgage, refinance, and home equity recommendations can be more refined.
Posted by Cap in Personal Finance
on November 10, 2008 | 7 Comments
This may come as a surprise to you, but Stop Buying Crap is NOT the only personal finance blog on the web. Shocker, huh?
If you’re getting tired of reading financial ramblings from Joe-Just-Like-You, how about some literary genius from the experts, the real journalists, the pro-bloggers, the big kahuna…
What? I’m artificially inflating your expectations so you can be sorely disappointed and resort back to mediocre awesome blogs such as mine?
I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Self-talks aside, each of the blogs below are worthy of a place in your feed readers. As with what you do with your children, you may pick and choose a favorite at your discretion:
1. The Wallet from The Wall Street Journal by Mary Pilon
Launched just a few months ago in September, The Wallet has already amassed more post counts than Stop Buying Crap (then again, which blog on the web hasn’t). Updated by Mary Pilon, The Wallet covers investing, retirement, credit cards, mortgages — anything that impacts your wallet. Check out their video series In Your Wallet, which provides more financial voyeurism goodness by highlighting wallets from some famous and not-so-famous people.
2. Tightwad Tod from Consumer Reports
Even more of a newborn than The Wallet would be Tightwad Tod from Consumer Reports. Launched last month, Tightwad Tod is far from a newbie in the world of consumer finance, having been covering all aspect of a consumer life at Consumer Reports for nearly 20 years. You’ll find daily news and tips on ever aspect that’ll affect your pocketbooks at Tightwad Tod.
3. Alpha Consumer from US News by Kimberly Palmer
Unlike the other two new comers above, The Alpha Consumer has been around for little over a year now. Written by Kimberly Palmer, a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report, The Alpha Consumer dishes out tips on saving money, avoiding scams, managing debt, and overall being a savvy shopper.
4. Smart Spending Blog from MSN by Karen Datko & Donna Freedman
Whether you’re a PC or a Mac (urgh), you’re sure to like MSN Money’s Smart Spending blog. Co-hosted by Karen Datko and Donna Feredman, the Smart Spending blog will find you the best money saving tips from around the web while frequently highlighting post from the personal finance blogging community. If you’re visiting the blog, don’t forget to check out the Smart Spending message board!
5. Money and Shopping Blog from Consumer Reports
Topping off this round-up is another blog from the good folks at Consumer Reports. Slight bias for the independent, non-profit organization? Hey why not? Getting its contribution from the money reporters, editors, and testers at Consumer Reports, the Consumer Reports Money and Shopping Blog hammers out frequent quick doses of financial tips.
Got other blogs on your readers that I may have missed mentioning?
Sorry, they weren’t awesome enough.
Alright just kidding. Chime in and I’ll add them to the list.
Posted by Cap in Stop Buying Crap!
on November 9, 2008 | 8 Comments
Chalk this up to incredibly stupid credit card offer from the gangs at Walmart.
As Admiral Ackbar so eloquently said, it’s a trap!
Posted by Cap in Updates
on November 7, 2008 | 105 Comments
I was just watching President-Elect Obama’s press conference and he directly responded to a reporter’s question by stating that a second economic stimulus package and check will happen. If you’ve been following the news, you would notice that House Dems have been pushing for a second package in recent months, and it looks like if it doesn’t happen by year-end, our President-Elect will make it happen while he’s in office.
Regardless of how you feel about the effectiveness of these “stimulus” packages and the current political divisiveness of this country, what will you do with your second stimulus check if you were to receive one?
A quick reminder: please do not budget your finances expecting the second stimulus check.
Posted by Cap in Credit Related
on November 6, 2008 | 18 Comments
What a bummer.
Earlier today, I was preparing to open a Discover More card as I never had a Discover card before. I especially wanted to take advantage of the recent holiday promotion along with the occasional decent rotating 5% cash back the Discover Card offered.
Like always, I decided to check my credit report and score before opening a new account, just to make sure everything is all peachy. Figuring I can kill two birds with one stone by taking Quizzle.com for a spin, I signed up for a Quizzle account to grab a free credit report and score.
As I was taking screenshots of the Quizzle website for the upcoming review, I noticed an unfamiliar account in my credit report:
A joint account opened just last month, with a balance of $20,000. Eh?
Digging further, I found out a family member went and opened a joint account under my name and their name, to take advantage of a 12 months 0% balance transfer offer.
I won’t go into too much detail on who did it and how’d it happened, since a few other family members do read this blog. But let’s just say that I’m a bit disappointed and wished they would have discussed this with me.
Although I often advise against opening joint accounts with family and friends (spouses and certain scenarios are exceptions), I would have been willing to open this joint account — as long as I was given proper notice and time to prepare and plan my credit, because I had other 0% balance transfer on other accounts.
Here are some quick tips on avoiding identity theft by a family member, especially if you live in an environment where it may be plausible:
- Place a credit freeze on your credit, this prevents access to your credit history and will require verification before any accounts are opened in your name.
- Opt-out of pre-screen offers. This can reduce the amount of offers you get in the mail and reduce the chance someone use one to open an account.
- Keep your mailing and billing address consistent. If you use another address for residency purpose or whatever else, be mindful of the type of mailings that particular address may receive.
- Check your credit report frequently. Remember, we get three free reports per year, so you can spread the three reports throughout the year.
So what will I do now? Well, I think I’ll discuss the situation with the family member. I don’t think I’ll take any legal action as I’m positive they’ll pay this account off (plus I love and care about them). One silver lining in this is that the account in question is a joint account and isn’t solely in my name only (edit to add: this doesn’t mean I’m absolve of the financial responsibility for the account).
According to the FTC, 9% of identity theft cases are committed by a family member or relative. If you’re in a situation where you can’t resolve an identity theft by a family member amicably, the resources below should help you further.
Related Resources and Links:
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