Saturday, January 29, 2011

What to Do With Your Business Travel Expenses

I'm heading out to a conference for work tomorrow, so I thought it'd be a good time to mention something about business travel expenses. Believe it or not, employers are not legally obligated to pay for your work related travel expenses or give you a per diem. Most do it anyways, though, for the sake of good business practice because the trips you make benefit them a great deal. Every company has its own policy for this matter, so clarify with your employer as to what you can and cannot get reimbursed for. Depending on what you're most comfortable with, here are a few ways you can keep organized:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Getting a Verizon iPhone? That's so Last Year!

…Last year's model, that is. Yes, it's true. I had been waiting for the iPhone to come to Verizon for a long, long time. But when the oh so shocking "news" was announced, I rolled my eyes. Not because I'm an Android user, but because I honestly think those who rush to get a Verizon iPhone will be in for a rotten deal.

Why pay for last year's model when there's going to be a new model coming out later this year (probably during the summer)? Isn't having to endure using the same phone for 2 years hard enough? With the rapid turnover rate in cell phone technology, having a 6 month old technology while paying the same price is on the verge of unacceptable.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Netflix for Books?

A message popped up in my inbox yesterday morning for a 50% off deal for "BookSwim SF." I clicked on it and entered a self proclaimed "Netflix for Books" website. Intriguing. But how useful is this? In case you're not familiar with Netflix, here's how it works. The basic plan $23.95 a month. You can receive 3 books at a time with no time limit and late fees. When you're done with the books, you just send them back in a prepaid envelope. There are also higher priced plans, the most expensive being $59.95, where you can receive 11 books at a time.

The concept is clearly not new, but this application is especially interesting. Multiple websites other using this model have been popping up in the past year including, and Maybe this could be a good thing for the supposedly dying print media.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Low Interest? Make Up For It With (Almost) Free Money

Ever since Chase took over Washington Mutual a couple of years back, they've been expanding like crazy out here in California. Not only did they keep those original WaMu locations afloat, they opened up at least 3 locations within a 15 mile radius from me over the past few months.

Not that I'm complaining, though. I do the majority of my banking with Bank of America, which makes me an attractive target for Chase to want to steal my business away from BofA. Every once in a while, I'd get something in the mail saying they'll give me $100 or so for opening a checking account with funds from outside of Chase. There are restrictions, of course.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

10 Things You Can Do Now to Save on Gas

Gas prices have been going up the past two months, and it doesn't seem like it'll come down anytime soon. To add insult to injury, former Shell CEO, John Hofmeister, predicted publicly that gas prices will be at around $5 per gallon by 2012. Ouch! Here in the SF Bay Area, $5 per gallon doesn't seem so far away already. A gallon of regular at the Chevron near me already sets me back $3.43. Even so, it's not practical to immediately switch to a more fuel efficient vehicle, but here are some things you can start doing right now to lower your gas expense:

1. Get all of that junk you've piled up out of your car. Adding weight to your car can make your car less fuel efficient. According to the Department of Energy, every 100lbs you add, it can reduce your efficiency by up to 2%.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

So What's a Credit Union Anyways?

Personal finance basics usually teach us to put our money away in a bank checking or savings account. The credit union is a less talked about alternative. Recently, though, there's been a lot of buzz surrounding it. So what exactly is a credit union?

Credit unions were originally created as a way to serve the financial needs of a specific community. These communities can be the residents of a city, the employees of a certain company, students and faculties of a school, etc. Besides being customers, the members of each credit union are also its owners. They elect a volunteer board of directors and have more say in the investment decision process because the organization's purpose is to directly benefit them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

5 Savings You Can Count On In January

Holiday Cards
Stores have to get rid of them somehow to make room for Valentine's Day gifts (it always catches me off guard how quickly the aisles are covered in pink and red). So they have to sell at a huge discount. You can buy next year's supplies now. Chances are, the people you send it to won't know or care that it's a design from last year. Store them somewhere you can find, though, or you'll end up spending more to buy new ones.

If you are looking to purchase a calendar, wait until around January 15. They're likely to be discounted for around 75% off of the original price. It probably won't hurt you that much to have it 15 days late. If you can't wait until the 15th, at least wait until Jan. 1 to buy one. It'll probably be 50% off then.

Winter Accessories
A lot of retailers roll out their spring collection during this month.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Don't Get Locked In By Your Internet Provider

My parents are not the most internet savvy people in the world. They know the basics like how to check email, visit websites (mostly bookmarked already), and perform Google searches. When it comes to tasks with more variations, like setting up an account or installing software, though, they always need help. So yesterday, I had the pleasure of setting up Gmail accounts for them.

They each have had the same email address for more than a decade. It's pretty amazing considering that I can't even remember the account I created at the same time. So why did they all of the suddent decide to get new ones? It's because they originally set up accounts through Comcast, who also happens to be their internet provider. Recently, the rate for their phone+internet+cable package went up, so they've been thinking about asking for a lower rate and potentially switching companies. In other words, they don't want to be stuck with the same internet provider forever.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Let's Be Clear

Most concepts you'll find in personal finance (PF) are not difficult; it's usually the language associated with them that makes me cringe. When I first started doing research on PF topics, I only knew a few basic economic terms that I learned in school. Besides a few weeks in the 8th grade and half of a semester of honors economics in high school, like most Americans, I was never formally educated in the ins and outs of PF.

So reading detailed articles, tax forms, bank account agreements, etc. always turn out to be very daunting tasks. It's often difficult to figure out the point a document is trying to make through those big, complex words. If you've ever tried to read a credit card agreement, you'll probably know what I mean. I know, I know. The new consumer protection agency supposedly will promote clarity by simplifying these documents, but changes won't be immediate.

In the mean time, I've added a "Glossary" page to my blog. If I feel the meaning of a certain word that appears in my post is not immediately clear, I'll link it to the definition on that page. I hope this way, my blog will be more reader friendly, especially for those who are just starting to learn about PF. I don't want complicated terms to turn anyone away from financial literacy! Please note that this is not a complete list of financial terms. I'll add to it as we encounter more terms in my posts.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Game of Monopoly

Recently, I got together with a few friends and played a Monopoly-esque board game. This reminded me of a real Hasbro Monopoly game I played in 2009. My friends and I have an inside joke that, because we grew up in the 'burbs, there's never really anything to do but go to Toys 'R Us. So occasionally, even after we've become way too old for the majority of toys sold there, we'd stroll into Toys 'R Us to amuse ourselves with what kids are playing with these days.

That's how we found Monopoly Electronic Banking Edition in the board game section. I laughed to myself thinking that it was absurd, but before I can say anything, my friend had already decided to shell out 40 bucks on a credit card for the game. So that afternoon, I experienced Monopoly's new invention.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2011 Taxes

Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010... It sure is a mouthful to say. A less complicated name for it: the tax bill that finally passed in congress and signed into law by the President about a month ago. How will this affect you? The bill provides a 2 year extension of the Bush era tax cuts. So you'll see the same rates this year as your taxes for 2010. The upper range for each tax bracket has been increased by 1.5% to account for for inflation. The standard deduction also increased by about 1.75% for the same reason; it is now $5,800 for single filers and $11,600 for married couples filing jointly. Below is a chart of the brackets and rates:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Be Accomplished!

My last post listed some ways to get started on organizing your financial information. If you've done those things already, bravo! Here are some additional goals to set your site on when you're doing your financial planning for the year:

Pay Down Debt
Did you go all out with your Holiday shopping this past year? Are you dreading that credit card bill? That's only one of the many ways some of us end up in debt. While we can't undo what had already happened, we can certainly make it less painful. If you're in debt, chances are you're paying more in interest that your bank is paying you. Sure, the funds you invest in may earn you more, but it's not guaranteed. Moreover, some credit cards have interest rates above 20%.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1.11.11 Resolutions and Goals

If you haven't made any new year's financial resolutions, set financial goals for yourself, or have broken a few already, all is not lost. Today is a new day. It's 1.11.11 to be exact. Sure no ball will be dropped in Time Square, but it's a good excuse to get the ball rolling (again). Hey, this many 1's must signal a new beginning or something. Why else would Verizon decide to make a certain big announcement today, of all days?

Alright, too much? In all seriousness, there is no better day than today to get your finances in order. If you don't know where to start, here are a few suggestions to get things going:

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Budget Experiment

Beginning with the new year, I started a little experiment on myself. I decided to take up the challenge of limiting my discretionary spending to $100 per month. This includes food, entertainment, gifts, clothing, etc. There are a few specific exceptions: I didn't include gym membership in this amount, mainly because of the complications that would result due to the fact that I'm on a family plan. I also did not add two possible reunion trips and a wedding I'm attending this year. They will have a separate budget. In fact, the trips are part of what prompted me to cut my spending.

Okay, to be honest, it's not the most well thought out plan ever, but I want a plan that's challenging yet still doable. I have a general idea that it's going to be a long term experiment without a set ending date. I figured that if I do this for at least 6 months out of 2011, I will definitely come out ahead of my savings goal. The trick, however, is not to go on a spending spree afterwards. That'll defeat the whole purpose.

What other reasons, besides the potentially costly trips, prompted this experiment?

Friday, January 7, 2011


It's Friday so I'll make this a short one.

I received my 2011 W-4 form at work today, which reminded me how confusing it was the first time I got one. The form lets your employer know how much to withhold from your earning for federal income tax. You may adjust the allowance on your W-4 whenever you choose to depending on any changes in your financial situation or tax rates. If your income and tax rate remain the same, and you are satisfied with the current amount of income withheld, there is no need to make changes.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Credit Score Calculation

These past few years, due to the financial crisis caused by subprime loans, mortgage lenders have tightened  their standards. Now it is hard to find someone who will loan you money for a house if your FICO credit score is below 620. Even if you do find a lender, your interest rate will be significantly higher than someone with an excellent score of 760. For a 30 year mortgage you may be paying tens or hundreds of thousands more in interest.

This means it's time to pay attention to your credit score!

I remember going to the bank with my mother right before I headed off to college to apply for a credit card. She told me it was time for me to build a credit history. I happily obliged. When I received my card in the mail, she reminded me time and time again that I must use it responsibly. Building a credit history is important, but you don't want to build a bad history. Mistakes can stay with you for 7 years!

FICO Score
The FICO score was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation in the 1980s. Not only is it the original credit score, most companies still base their evaluation of creditworthiness on it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Credit Score Basics

Your credit score is a way for lenders to assess your creditworthiness and how much risk will be involved in lending money to you. It basically quantifies your financial life by putting a grade on it. Like the credit report, the same 3 major credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) provide the score, and depending on the information given, each score will vary slightly from one another.

When you apply for a credit card, for example, the card company can request a "hard pull" of your credit report and credit score to decide: 1. whether they want to issue you a card and 2. what credit limit to put on the card, and 3. at what interest rate to lend you the money.

As I mentioned earlier, once you send in an application to borrow money, lenders will be authorized to do a "hard pull" of your credit score. For the most part, hard pulls are voluntary.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Credit Report Basics

According to the Federal Trade Commission, everyone is entitled, by law, to one free credit report from each credit bureau per year. You may have heard advertisements on TV for free credit reports on websites such as or, but the only real free website provided by the government is The rest only provide you with free credit reports after you sign up for paid services. I highly suggest you check your report every year. It won't take you that long, but it'll give you peace of mind that the information used to determined your credit score is correct. There are 3 national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Just after graduating from college, I applied for a new credit card in hopes of more rewards and a higher credit line than my Bank of America Student Visa Card (this was recently upgraded to a Platinum Plus Visa). Not long after, I received a letter informing me that I was rejected. I knew my credit history was short, but I had never made a late payment, carried a balance, or gone over the limit. Out of curiosity, I checked my report.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Disappearing Credit Limit

Wrapping up my finances in 2010 turned out to be more difficult than it was supposed to be. There was the Merrill Lynch trading account I mentioned earlier, and then came this other incident with my credit report. About 3 weeks ago, I checked my credit report to make sure that there were no mistakes and everything was up to date, as I always do at the end of the year. Sure enough, I discovered something very odd. My credit utilization was a whopping 44 percent. What? How did this happen? I've been very careful about keeping my utilization below 15%.

Credit Utilization
Credit utilization is the ratio of the total amount of credit used over the total amount of credit given.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Good Bye, Merrill Lynch

Back in May, I managed to save up 6 months of living expenses for an emergency fund, so I looked to open an online self-directed individual trading account to get some trading experience (and maybe some extra income). I searched for online discount brokerage firms with low fees by looking at Sharebuilders, Scottrade, E-Trade, etc. In the end, though, I settled on Merrill Lynch.

This wasn't because Merrill Lynch was ranked the highest by reports or provided the best services. The main reason was because I do a majority of my banking with Bank of America. After being bought by Bank of America in mid-2008, Merrill started advertising a $0 equity trading program pretty agressively in 2009. Of course, $0 comes with some restrictions. You need to have at least $25,000 combined in your deposit accounts at Bank of America (savings, checking, CD's, etc.) and you can only trade free for up to 30 trades. Otherwise, the price structure is based on your deposit total, with the highest fee being $8.95 per trade.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome and Happy New Year!

Hi all, thanks for visiting my blog. 'Tis the season for resolutions, so I've decided that it's a great time to start keeping track of my personal finance "adventures." The hope is that, along the way, I'll also be able to share my experiences, research, and knowledge with more people.

I mainly want this blog to be a source of information for Generation Y (late teens, 20s, and early 30s) who are new to having full financial responsibility, and are just starting to build wealth. In addition to being a reference guide, I will intertwine the facts/research within this blog with personal inputs. Financial decisions are often based on our unique backgrounds and encounters. Hopefully, reading about it from my point of view will increase your knowledge and inspire more ideas for how you can handle your particular situations. Please feel free to discuss, suggest, or even correct me. We can all learn from each other!