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Every since I got tricked by the former Sultan of Nigeriascam, I have begun to treat all emails with an extra dose of suspicion.

“Hi Cap, I have some question on personal finance…” an email would read.

To which I’ll write back, “Nice try Mr. Ex-Sultan, I hope you rot in hell.”

Phishing: A social engineering technique that attempts to fraudulently acquire your sensitive information. These days, they are mostly found in the form of fake email and websites.

Spotting phishing email doesn’t require every day paranoia, but a red flag should always go up when you notice these things in an email:

An obvious phising email

Note: A matching link & URL in status bar doesn’t necessary mean it’s a legitimate email. URL in a status bar can easily be spoofed. Sender’s address can also be spoofed.

The above email is a rather obvious phishing email, but was shown to point out some common trend in phishing email:

  1. A sense of urgency: You better take action fast or your sh*t out of luck!
  2. Threat: Do it or your account will be closed (or some other penalty)!
  3. A Link: Directs you to a spoofed website that looks legitimate.
  4. Requires you to either enter or confirm your personal information.
  5. Poor grammar. They spell and write like Cap of Stop Buying Crap.

Here are some things you should consider when you receive a suspicious email:

  1. Do you do business with the bank or retailer?
  2. Is the email to you or is there a generic greeting? (e.g., Dear XXX Customer)
  3. Do they offer an alternate form of contact such as a phone number?
  4. Does it contain information the company should know? (e.g., last 4 digit of your account #, your user name, etc.)

The trick is that even if all those questions above pan out, it doesn’t necessary mean you’re receiving a legitimate email.

This brings us to Targeted Phishing:

A targeted phishing email may contain your real name, and may be from a bank or retailer that you actually do business with. These phishing email will usually reference to a very specific transaction.

Example:

  1. A confirmation email thanking you for your purchase.
  2. An email notifying you of a specific transaction on your account.
  3. An email from “eBay” giving you a second chance to your recent failed bid.

Distinguishing a legitimate email from targeted email can be difficult, so when you’re in doubt, you should always contact the company directly yourself via a different method than those mentioned in the email.

If the email was regarding your credit card account, call the number on the back of your card. If the email is regarding your bank, find your bank number on your statement and give them a call.

Targeted phishing works especially well because they are often from a familiar source aimed at a specific group of people. These type of emails may not necessary be seeking for your entire personal information, but merely asking for a certain information (such as user name or password) in order to obtain the rest on their own.

When you belong to a social networking site, you should also be wary of emails from the supposed organization asking for any of your information. What may look to be a harmless survey may be an identity thief seeking further information.

Targeted phishing becomes Spear Phishing when they are highly targeted. These are generally aimed at a employees of a specific organization or company. The email may appear to be from a colleague or executive, asking you to either download an attachment or furnish them with certain information.

Just as a regular targeted phishing attack, spear phishing attacks are difficult to spot on a first glance basis, especially when they are highly customized. When in doubt, always contact the the supposed sender via a different channel.

Some General Guideline in Avoiding Phishing:

  1. Do not reply to any emails asking for your personal or financial information. Remember, legitimate companies don’t ask for sensitive information in an email.
  2. Do not download attachment from suspicious or unfamiliar emails.
  3. When in doubt, contact the company yourself directly through familiar channels.
  4. Do not click on links from suspicious email. If you need to login to your account, open a new browser window and type in the URL.
  5. Check the security certificate of the website before you enter any personal information. (Look for the yellow lock icon on the bottom right of your browser and double click on it).

Related Links and Resources

Chances are, you have more than ten financial accounts. Keeping track of them is probably hectic, unless you have photographic memory; in which case, remember that time you opened the door while your parents thought you weren’t home?

Anyhow, lot’s of financial accounts, too much hassle to keep track of them individually.

What do you do?

In comes Yodlee, an online banking account aggregation service, which also happens to be utilize by many major financial institutions. Yodlee is free to sign-up and use, and the only reason why you don’t hear about them too much is because they do not market their product directly to the consumer.

The gist of it is really simple. You register for an account at Yodlee, add in your financial accounts, click the update button—and bam, all your account informations are updated and you are now in financial organization bliss.

Two Choice of Yodlee

Yodlee MoneyCenter

Yodlee MoneyCenter

Yodlee Dashboard

Yodlee Dashboard

There’s really no difference in features in the type of Yodlee you choose, except for the way the information are presented to you. If you prefer an all-in-one screen view, you should go with Dashboard, if not stick with the single format view from MoneyCenter.

How To Sign-Up With Yodlee

  1. Head over to Yodlee’s Financial Application
  2. Pick the format you like and click Log Me In
  3. Click on the Registration link above the log-in
  4. Fill in all your info and click register

Done deal.

Using Yodlee and its Features

Adding accounts is also fairly straight forward. Click on the Add Account Tab and type in your financial institution’s name to search for it, or click on the popular account tab to see if your account is listed there.

Types of accounts you can add:

  • Banking Accounts
  • Credit Card & Reward Accounts
  • Telecommunication Bill Accounts
  • Payment Service (PayPal) Accounts
  • Investment and Insurance Accounts
  • Loan and Mortgage Accounts
  • And even web-based E-mail Accounts!

Yodlee contains a BillPay service, where you can make payment to some of the accounts you’ve added, such as credit card bills and cable service bills; pretty handy! Another semi-useful service is the Yodlee Financial Calendar, which allows you to see when the bills are due on a calendar map.

Yodlee BillPay

Yodlee BillPay

Yodlee Financial Calendar

Yodlee Financial Calendar

Besides the features listed above, there is also a Net Worth tab that shows your net worth in a bar graph format. You can also check out the spending report, although it isn’t too accurate unless you actively manage the categories for each specific transaction. You’ll find that many of Yodlee’s features are similar to those of MS Money and Inuit Quicken.

Even More Yodlee Choices

With their recent update, Yodlee has been noted to be slow to access for some user. As you can tell from the above pictures, some of the sample accounts I added were having trouble updating. For those with significant access problem with Yodlee, you can try their service from various other financial institutions:

  • CompassBank MyCompass (Yodlee 5.0)
  • Harris TotalLook (Yodlee 5.0)
  • National City My Accounts (Yodlee 4.0)

Of course, signing up service in these other institution will require you to trust your information with their database and security. If you’re a HSBC or Bank of America customer, you should check out HSBC EasyView and Bank of America’s My Portfolio.

Paranoid Users Beware

The problem with an financial account aggregation is that all your password and information for each of these financial accounts are stored in one central location. Not a good thing if you don’t trust Yodlee’s security capability.

There are a couple of things you should know about Yodlee though. First, many of the largest financial institution utilize Yodlee technology for their online account services. If you’re banking at Bank of America, Citi Bank, or HSBC—you’re already using Yodlee services. In fact, those respective banks probably offer a similar account aggregation service on your online account, powered by Yodlee.

Second, under federal banking regulations, you have quite a few rights when it comes to electronic fraud. As long as you’re up top of things and notify fraudulent activities fast (within two days), you’re only liable for up to $50. Within sixty days, the cap rise to $500. Anytime over that though and you’re sorta SOL.

Still Pretty Damn Convenient

Fact of the matter is, an online financial aggregator is flippin’ convenient. For me and many others, it’s well worth the small risk. There really shouldn’t be any big problem if you take basic precaution with your private information and be proactive about the security of your computer.

Without online aggregator service like Yodlee, life can be hectic. Let’s face it, no body likes logging into sixty different accounts everyday just to make sure their significant other didn’t blow all their money on Texas hold’em.

Related Links and Resources

Applying for credit cards without reading the card’s terms and condition, is like selling your soul to the devil for a mystery bag. Not a smart thing to do.

In a quest to save more souls, here’s the kick-ass guide to understanding credit card terms & condition, all for your benefit. Let’s use the Best Credit Card Offer Ever as our reference!

FACT: Under federal law, all credit card solicitation or applications must contain certain key information. This key information is usually inserted in a disclosure box, as seen below:

Best Credit Card Offer, Ever! The awesome Terms!

I. A Closer Look at the Disclosure Box

To get a better understanding of the disclosure box, or, the actual credit card offer, you’ll need to better understand the actual terms involved. Before we go further, it may help if you click on picture above and leave it open, so you can refer to it as we go over each of the terms and condition.

Mandatory Disclosure Box Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for Purchases: This is the annual rate you’ll be charged if you carry a balance from month to month. In a credit card offer with an introductory rate, this is where you’ll also see it listed. For our example, the APR for purchases is 9.99%.

Other APRs: This is where other annual percentage rates for other types of transaction are listed. Take our example, it’s balance transfer APR is 9.99% and it’s special opening cash advance is also 9.99%; however, it’s regular cash advance is 19.99%–a hefty interest rate. The delinquency APR is an even higher 23.99%.

Variable-Rate Information: In this box, you’ll see how your variable rate is determined. Generally, the purchases APR will be a variable rate, such as 3% + the Prime Rate, while the balance transfer APR will be a fixed rate. There’s generally also a footnote with an explanation on how prime rate is determined—usually by the highest prime rate published in The Wall Street Journal on the last business day of the month.

In our “Best Credit Card Offer” example, ALL the rates (purchase, cash advance, and balance transfer) are variable! Through your February 2007 cycle, the rates are 1.99% + prime rate, but it will never be lower than 9.99%, even if the prime rate is at a miraculous 1.00%. After 2/07, the rates will increase to a 4.99% + prime rate. Yay! The Prime Rate for our example is also determined a bit differently, but it is still based upon the WSJ.

Grace Period for Purchases: This is the amount of days you have to pay your bill in full before incurring finance charges. It’s 25 days in our example, which means if you start the current billing cycle without a balance, and you bought a brand new Ionic Breeze Air Purifier (for the awesome price of $399) you’ll have 25 days to pay off the charge before interest starts to accrue. Grace period rocks! You should also note that grace period usually applies only to purchases, and not to balance transfer or cash advance, which accumulates interest right away!

Balance Calculation Method: This box will determine how you get screwed over. Specifically, this is the method in which interest on balance are calculated. Similar to our example, most cards these days are calculated by the average daily balance method including new purchases. There are other types of method, such as the funky two-cycle average daily balance method; the better (but rarely seen) average daily balance method excluding new purchases; the adjusted balance method and the previous balance method.

Annual Fees: Straight forward enough. The annual fees associated with the card. They can either be none, like our example and many other credit cards, or $75 to $100, like many airline mileage credit cards. For your benefit, you should probably go with a card without an annual fee, unless you really do take advantage of a card’s benefit.

Minimum Finance Charge: This is the funny box, where they state the minimum amount of finance charge you’ll receive if you carry over a balance. Example, if you carry over a balance of $0.20, you’ll receive the finance charge of $1.00, even though actual interest on that balance is only about $0.02.

Specific Transaction Fees: Most credit cards will have a section that explains the fees associated with a certain type of transaction (e.g., cash advance, balance transfer). In our lovely example, the fees for cash advance and balance transfer is 3% of the amount of each cash advance, but not less than $5 nor more than $50 (fee waived for transaction in connection with accounting opening). This means that if you initiate a balance transfer of $5,000 after you opened the account, the balance transfer fees would be $50. 3% of $5,000 = $150, but fees won’t exceed $50 as stated in the terms. Watch out for credit card offers with high maximum fees, or NO maximum fees!

Late Payment Fee & Overlimit Fee: This is rather self explanatory. According to our example, if you pay late because you’re busy watching Battlestar Galactica, you get a nice $35 late fee. If you went over your limit because you’re horrible at arithmetic, you also get an awesome $35 overlimit fee.

II. Footnotes That You Really Should Read

Seriously, You're Pre-Approved!

What’s a credit card offer without asterisk and footnotes? Some of the most important terms and condition are within the vary footnotes of the card’s terms and condition. The very solicitation itself requires a footnote, as many Pre-approved offers are rather like a craps shot. Example of footnotes below:

Okay we lied, you're not.

Here are some more important terms that you should look out for:

Other Fees: Yes, more of them. Return Check Fee, Returned Payment Fee, Stop Payment Fee, Copy Fee, you name it, they probably have it. For our specific “Best Credit Card Offer,” if you pay off your balance transfer early, there’s a cool Early Pay-Down Fee of $600! Before you apply for a credit card, you should always check for all types of possible fees associated with the usage of the card.

Pre-Qualified Status: In these explanation footnotes, the terms spell out exactly what it means to be Pre-qualified for an offer. Usually, a credit card company receives information about you from a credit reporting agency—based on that information, the card company has determined that you may qualify for the credit card offered. Problem is, the information they received from the credit reporting agency may be out of date, or your credit history may have changed since, which might result in your credit application being denied. Just because they say you’re Pre-approved or Pre-qualified, doesn’t really mean you are!

Cash Advance Definition: Some credit card offers will specifically lay out what a cash advance is. Cash advance is the most expensive type of credit card transaction, as most cash advance have no grace period—the interest starts accumulating the second you initiate the transaction! In our example, cash advance is basically any transactions that are directly converted to cash. This includes purchase of gaming chip and gaming transaction! So the next time you’re thinking of using your credit card to pay for your chips at the casino, you better make sure your credit card doesn’t consider that as a cash advance.

Delinquency/Default APR: This is the fixed, foobar rate. It is usually the highest rate within a credit card terms. If you pay your credit card late too many times, you may be in danger of having your rates changed to the default (penalty) rate. Most credit cards offer will explain the default APR more clearly when you’re actually approved, however our pre-qualified offer here actually spells it out quite nicely. Basically, if you pay in two consecutive months, or two times in any six months period, you get hit with the default APR. To get out of the high APR, you simply need to make six consecutive timely payments.

III. Other Things That You Really Should Know

Credit Limit: Although usually not mentioned specifically in a credit card offer, the credit limit of a credit card determines the maximum amount you may charge on your credit card. This includes regular purchases, balance transfers, cash advance, fees and finance charges. If you go over this limit, well, you know what happens.

Cash Limit: The cash limit is the maximum amount you can utilize of cash advance. This is generally a specific dollar amount (such as $1,000) or a percentage of your total credit limit (e.g., 50% of your credit limit).

Type of Credit Card: Are you applying for a secured credit card or a regular, non-secured credit card? There’s a big difference here. Secured credit cards are generally for those with poor or no-credit, requiring a security deposit to open an account. Generally, the larger the security deposit you make, the larger your credit limit. Non-secure credit cards are of course the ones that do not require a security deposit; these are the regular cards that you see most of the time.

IV. Is That All You’ll Need To Know?

You wish. This is a brief glimpse into the basic terms and condition that you’ll find on a credit card offer. When you actually apply for the card and you’re approved, the real terms and condition sent to you can be an even more confusing read.

Still, the gist of things and the important terms you should know about are all above. Because credit card terms and condition are always changing (and usually not in your favor), you should definitely pay attention to the modified terms and condition sent to you by your credit card companies. After all, it would be awfully silly to pay for fees that you didn’t even know existed.

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The government can be a wealthy source for information. Problem is, finding those information through public channels can feel like a trip through the DMV (aka Satan’s backyard).

If the information was the product, and distribution of these info is part of the service, then it’s a good thing the entire U.S. government isn’t a business—because they’ll totally get outcompete. And out of business. And bankrupted. Really bankrupted.

Uh, so regardless of the government’s acutal financial situation, they’re still a great source for financial information. Seriously.

Say Hi to Mymoney.gov

Brought to you by the U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Comission, Mymoney.gov is a big o’ index site that points you towards various information on finances from many different U.S. government agencies and departments. Topics indexed ranges from bugeting, taxes, home ownership, to savings and investing. It’s basically an attempt to gather up all those useful information that you can’t find.

While visiting the site, you will notice that you can order a FREE “My Money” Tool Kit, a package of helpful publications dealing with savings, investing, protecting and getting the most from your money. Since I love free stuff, I ordered one.

The “My Money” Tool Kit

green is for show me the money

 

Let’s see what this package from Uncle Sam consist of, eh?

 

Brouchers and leaflets on personal finances. Yawn?

That was my first impression when I received the package a few months ago. After actually reading the materials, I realized that there are plenty of useful information within these booklets—albeit the small packages they came in. I’ve also found their ebook counterparts in pdf formats, so feel free to download them.

Here are some noteworthy ones in the package:

Saving Fitness: A Guide to Your Money and Your Financial Future [download] 3.12 Mb

Provided by the Department of Labor, and partnered with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., this 16 page booklet discusses basic steps to take for a healthy financial picture, with an emphasis on retirement planning.

Social Security: Understanding the Benefits [download] 902 Kb

Nevermind that it may not even be there in a couple of years from now—-it’s still important to learn about Social Security. Brought to you by the Social Security Administration (dur), this 24 page booklet provides a good basic understanding on Social Security: how to apply, qualify, and types of benefits provided. A useful read.

Get the Facts on Saving and Investing [download] 5.7 Mb

From the US Securities and Exchange Comission (where else?), this 34 page booklet gives you a quick lowdown on the differences and importances of saving and investing. Emphasis on investing, covers some basic types of investment and things to consider when choosing to invest. A nice read with plenty of good information.

Ten Questions to Ask When Choosing a Financial Planner [download] 347 Kb

Here’s a recommended read. A straight-forward 14 page broucher from the Certified Financial Planners on 10 questions you should ask when you look for a financial planner—an important decision that should be accompanied by important questions.

The following weren’t in the package but they’re worth a mention:

Taking Control of Your Finances [download] 1.31 Mb

From the FDIC, this 12 page guide is geared towards young adults, with useful advice such as “Don’t get a credit card just so you can get a free t-shirt.”

66 Ways To Save Money [download] 79 Kb

From the Consumer Literacy Consortium (whatever that is). Straight forward and diverse in its applications; from insurance to housing, there are quite a few practical tips in there.

Noteworthy Sites Indexed on Mymoney.gov

All in all, the “My Money” Tool Kit was pretty decent, even if they just threw in a bunch of different booklets from different agencies. You can order your own free kit here. The free package isn’t all that Mymoney.gov has to offer—the real goods are the indexed sites:

  • FTC’s website on Credit – Everything you should know about consumer credits.
  • The Fed on Choosing a Credit Card – A VERY good read on things to consider when choosing a credit card. Was going to write an post just like this one, but why bother when the Fed’s got it covered!
  • US Treasury on Identity Theft – A pretty nice, if not well organized page with plenty of information on identity theft. Do’s and don’ts, what to do to prevent, and what to do if you are a victim of identity theft.
  • FTC’s website on Identity Theft – Another resource on identity theft from the boys that receive the complaints. Much better organized and an easier read.
  • SEC Guide on Avoiding Securities Fraud – A very nice index guide on the many, many different types of securities frauds you should watch for when investing.
  • Department of Housing on Buying a Home – Nine steps to buying a home. The steps are pretty watered down, but there are plenty of links to many other resources.
  • FTC on HELOCs – A good page that describes home equity line of credits and the important questions that you should ask yourself before applying for one.
  • US Treasury on IRA (476 KB, PDF) – A 104 page publication on everything you want and don’t want to know about Individual Retirement Accounts.
  • Step-by-Step Retirement Planner – Straight from the fun folks at the Social Security Administration, a good guide on steps to take when you’re near retirement (focuses on social security).

Actually Read Everything?

If you’ve seriously, and I mean seriously read through all those information above—I will guaranteed that you would have learned a bit more about finances. The next time you’re looking for general financial information, check out Mymoney.gov or a do a search on Consumer.gov, you may be plesantly surprise on what you tax dollars can produce.

With interest rate increasing over 2-3% for variable rate Federal student loans (e.g. Stafford), student loan consolidation should be a no-brainer for most people. You have until July 1st to consolidate your student loan; if you missed out on last year’s ridiculously low-rate, here’s your second chance (you lazy bastard).

The real question, though, isn’t “Should I consolidate?” It’s “Who Should I choose?”

The easy answer: your current lender. You’ve chosen your current lender for a reason, there’s no reason to complicate things further by going with a different lender. However, the problem with the easy answer is, you may have chosen the wrong lender in the first place, or, get this—there may be better lenders out there.

FACT: The only differences between federal student loan consolidation lenders are: Lender Repayment Incentives and Lender Service. Don’t underestimate their importance.

If you currently have a federal student loan for yourself or your child, you’ve no doubt received many solicitation from different lenders to get you to consolidate your loans to them. Many of these will tout some type incentive programs. Common repayment incentives are along the lines of reduction off in interest rate, after a certain amount of timely repayment.

Example: After 36 months of consecutive [timely] payment on your 10 year loan, you receive a 1% discount from your loan.

This typical type of lender incentive sounds great enough, but the problem is, many borrowers fail to qualify for the incentive program. Many of these incentive offers require timely monthly payment, so if you miss a payment deadline before reaching the required payment term, you won’t receive the rate deduction bonus. The same applies if you miss a payment deadline after earning your bonus.

In comes a different type of incentive program: immediate interest rate deduction if you sign up for auto debit, with additional deduction after consecutive payment.

Example: You receive a 0.5% interest rate deduction if you sign up to have your monthly loan payments automatically withdrawn from your checking account. Plus, after 24 months of consecutive on-time payment, you receive an additional 1.25% deduction in your interest rate.

A much nicer incentive, right? The above example is from ELC, which unfortunately has a minimum of $20,000 for their 1.25% deduction. If you only have a $10,000 loan, you’re out of luck on the additional interest deduction. Thus, it’s important to compare the offers and figure out which programs you can actually qualify.

As mentioned above, the second difference amidst the sea of lenders are lender services. Even if the incentive program is the best in the world, if the lender has a spotty track record for customer service, you may be doing yourself a disservice by signing up. What happens if you wish to defer your payment? If you call to ask about that, or a general inquiry on your loan, will they respond in a timely matter? For those of us with a low loan amount, lender service may not be a big deal—but for those of us that are in it for the long haul, you’ll want approachable service.

Remember, you can only consolidate once. So if you choose the wrong lender to go with, you’ll be stuck with them untill you pay off your student loan for that private liberal arts university.

Important questions to ask when you’re choosing your lender:

  • What is the repayment incentive?
  • Is there a waiting period for the incentive? Do I have to earn it?
  • What happens if I miss a payment?
  • What happens if I request a deferment?
  • How many of the borrowers actually receive the incentive?
  • Is the lender knowledgeable and experienced?
  • What is the credibility? Does your school support or recommend the lender?
  • How is the accessibility?
  • Are there online account access? A 24/7 customer service number? If you call them, will they give you information tailor to you, or will they give you some generic scripted response?
  • How is their long-term commitment? Does the lender have a history of selling consolidated loan?
  • The worse part in owing money, is when your lender disappears and some other company buys out your loan; suddenly you owe money to someone else.

If you can’t figure out some of these answers with the information provided to you, ask the lenders. This is a great way to gauge their service. If a customer service rep is having a hard time, or trying very little to help you understand their program, it may be a good cue to stay away. If they’re being such a hassle when you’re trying to give them money, imagine when you already owe them the money!

Again, the question to ask isn’t “Should I consolidate?” It’s “Who should I choose?”

Related Links and Resources

No, it’s not a another post on gas prices—because I reserve complaining about it as my mundane banter with real life friends (aka who cares). It’s another how to save money at the pump post. They’re repetitive stuff, but like simple and sound savings and investing tips—they work.

So some tips from the WSJ:

  1. Gas prices changes as much by 20% within blocks (dur), check around for cheaper prices, try out sites like GasBuddy.com.
  2. Don’t top off your tank—overfilling is bad for the enviornment and you may pay for gas that won’t make it into your tank.
  3. When the pump automatically shuts off, turn the handle upside down 180 degree to release the small amount left from the pump to make sure you get all the gas you’re paying for.
  4. Shop for gas during coolest time of the day, when gas is at its densest, so you get more for your money.

The quick snippet from WSJ points you towards this free eBook from LuLu.com on 62 Ways to Save at the Pump. Flipping through the guide, I found that I know most of them, but there are a few little things that are new to me.

If you don’t feel like going through the super-quick registration (email & choose pass), you can download the free guide straight from my site here (440 KB PDF). A recommended read, because there are also some basic car care tips in there that will save you even more money.

Before I end, here’s one final very applicable tip, because I KNOW a lot of people do this:

Do NOT use your car as a storage or closet! You don’t need to haul around your house in your car. Removing excessive weight will save you fuel. Do you drive around with your wardrobe? Your second garage? According to FuelEconomy.gov, an extra 100 pounds off the car equates to 1-2% in fuel economy savings, which translate to $0.03 – $0.06 cents at the pump, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but we sure as hell flip out when gas changes by a few cents at the pump.

Bleh

I got a hit with a $39.00 late fee, for paying my Citi Dividend card late. In today’s multiple-payment option age, paying your bill late is really silly—especially when you have the money. Although it was my fault for paying late, I still don’t like fees. So… what’s the best way to get rid of them?

Just ask!

My prefer method of contacting banks for non-emergency needs is via the Internet. For me, I get better results when I write, since I’ll come off as less of an idiot, and my words can be more neutral.

Contacting Citi Bank’s “Online Customer Care Specialist” is easy enough. Login to your account, look for Help/Contact Us on the far right, select Contact Us, and then click on Send A New Message. Select the message topic and type away.

Mmm.. complaining

I typed up a short message, which basically told them the real reason why I paid late (I forgot), how it was my first time ever paying late, and I ended the message with a request for the fee to be waived. The result?

Kudos to Citi’s online customer service for their fast response:

Thanks for the goodwill gesture!

The late fee refund was posted immediately. Woot!

Mmm... much better

Your results will of course vary. If you frequently pay your credit card late, you can only get these fees waive so many times. The best bet is to ask nicely, give them at least a good reason, and remind them that you’re a loyal customer (or will be one). If you get denied, don’t fret—just chill out and try again by phone. Remember that different customer service representative will yield different results, so you can always try calling a few more times.

Easiest way to avoid all the hassles? Don’t be like me, pay your bills on time!

Related Post:

So you can finally have an excuse to have a real conversation with that hot number next door.

“Going to the postal office? No need, just come visit my den.”

“Hey wait, come back! I’m talking about PC Postage!”

Crap that I mail out

If you handle a lot of mail through the postal office, you should definitely consider the convenience of PC postage, especially for certain businesses such as doctor and lawyer offices (your staff will thank you). Whether you’re an avid eBayer or you sell the occasional trinkets or two through online auction sites such as Craiglist, Amazon, or Half.com—being able to print out postage via the comforts of your home or office, is indeed sexy.

Of course, all good things in life comes with a fee, and PC postage services are no exception. Selecting the service to go with will depend on your shipping volume and needs. Here are some choices:

Click-N-Ship from USPS

The fairly straight forward click and ship from USPS. You may have seen their advertisement. Simply register and select the service you wish to use. You can pay for the postage directly online via your credit cards. You can also request for free shipping supplies for certain services from USPS.

Pros: No service charge. No software needed. Free shipping supply.
Cons: Limited to select services, such as Priority Mail and Express Mail, which are expensive.

Endicia from Envelope Manager Software

My service of choice for wannabe mass mailer. $9.95 or $15.95 per month. You can prepay a year to receive some discount, I pay an annual $99.95 fee for the standard service. The Premium service comes with a nifty “stealth” mode, where you can hide the actual postage amount on the mailing label. This way, you can rip people off on handling fee without worrying about repercussion. Just kidding! But seriously, mailing packages can add up in cost. The DAZzle software can be complicated to use at first, but it’s fairly flexible and allows for a good range of customization for your mailing labels.

Pros: Covers all USPS services. Fairly flexible software with good postage log. Good customer service. Stealth mode. Simple electronic refund.
Cons: Software can be difficult to use. Hassle conventional refund. Service fee can add up.

Stamps.com from uh, Stamps.com

I tried Stamps.com briefly before. One of its main draw is the ability to print out actual 39 cents stamps, very neat. Its PhotoStamp service has a certain novel attraction, great for special occasions. It’s software is straight forward to use, and its initial package comes with a free digital scale and free postage. The drawback would have to be it’s monthly fee of $15.99, which can definitely add up through time. They also offer a special service tailored especially for legal offices.

Pros: Covers all USPS services. Easy to use software, okay customer service. Initial Free Trial comes with many bonuses.
Cons: Monthly fee adds up, software isn’t as flexible to customization.

PayPal Shipping from eBay

Using this service will of course, require you to use eBay and/or PayPal for the transaction. There’s no monthly fee, as the cost of service is added to each label you print, with amounts varying depending on services (around $0.10 per label). PayPal shipping is handy to use for those that don’t ship enough volume to warrant dedicate service such as Endicia or Stamps.com. Although, if you’re shipping via a service such as Priority Mail, you should just use USPS’s Click-N-Ship to save on PayPal’s $0.10 surcharge.

Pros: No monthly fee. Fairly easy to use.
Cons: Requires eBay and/or PayPal. Surcharges can add-up. Limited service option and customization.

There is another service call Shipstream Manager from Pitney Bowes which I haven’t tried yet. Their service is heavily oriented towards small and medium business that handles large quantities of packages. The monthly fee is $18.99.

Besides all the stuff mentioned, PC postage have other benefits such as: reduced delivery confirmation fees, better package organizations, increase professionalism in packages, and reduction in address labeling errors.

The simple low down is, if you mail a lot of crap and you hate standing in line at the postal office, you should definitely services such as PC postage. Click, print, drop off and run away.

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