Career 
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Six Figure Jobs: Umpire, Ref, Groundskeepers & Mascots

Baseball is underway, the Mets are actually doing well, and so it’s time to unveil a job group I think is one of the coolest (besides being a stunt driver) in the CNN Money’s Six Figure Job series – any job that puts you on the field of play in a major league sport. The jobs profiled in this six figure series article include umpires, referees, and groundskeepers.

The first job they profile is an umpire and you can expect to spend about 8-12 years in purgatory – i.e. the minor leagues. Becoming an umpire is actually really difficult. First you go to “umpire school,” a five week course, and then top grads are put through an evaluation course run by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. (PBUC) which will select a few to hire and put the rest in a “reserve.” If you’re hired, you’re put into the lowest of the four minor leagues where you can expect to pull in $1800-$2000 per month during the regular season. AAA, the highest of the minor leagues, umpires make at most $3400 a month. If you aren’t promoted every two years (that is, move up in the minors) then you’re expected to pack your stuff. When you get to triple-A ball, you get three years or you’re done. With only 229 minor league umpires and 68 major league umpires, the jobs are hard to get. “If you do snag a job in the big leagues, your salary would range from $90,000 to over $350,000, plus benefits and a pension.” Sweet.

What about being a groundskeeper or a mascot?

(Click to continue reading…)


 Banking 
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4.5% HSBC Online Savings Account on May 1

A big thank you to John for the heads up on the rate update for HSBC. On May 1st, HSBCDirect Online Savings Account rate will change to 4.5% APY, which matches Emigrant‘s current rate. Account holders were notified by email recently:

We are writing to let you know that beginning May 1, 2006, your HSBCdirect Online Savings Account rate will change to 4.50% APY. This is one of America’s leading rates and still 8x the national average, so you can continue to watch your money grow.

With HSBCdirect.com, there are no fees, no minimums, no lock-up period, and your money is FDIC insured. You can stay confident your money is in the right place and earning the most it possibly can.


 Government, Taxes 
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Happy Belated Tax Freedom Day

Tax Freedom Day, which was celebrated by accountants around the world two days ago on April 26th, is a day set by the Tax Foundation to celebrate the point in the year when the average worker stops working for the government, in taxes, and starts working for themselves. This is three days later than in 2005 and ten days later than 2003 and 2004. If it were 2000, we’d be celebrating it on the 3rd of May. Eat some cake!


 Frugal Living 
7
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Low Cost Weekend Ideas: Go To A Major League Ballgame

Camden Yards - pmoa
Is this really a low cost weekend idea? Hot dogs at a baseball game usually run about $4, a beer goes for a little more, but you can get a bleacher seat at most major league ballparks for less than the price of a movie ticket. Here in Maryland, students can get a ticket to a Baltimore Orioles baseball game for $5 on Fridays and the cheap seats are only $9 anyway. Also, another perk at Camden, you can bring in your own beverages… so no need to buy your sodas at the park. Need another perk? Food vendors are right outside with cheap eats like dollar hot dogs. So, you can get four hot dogs, four sodas, and four upper deck seats for less than $30 – beats the movie theater any day.

Granted, not all ballparks will have such a lax beverage policy, but upper deck seats are usually a bargain and there will be someone selling food outside the stadium at prices that are much better than inside the park. This idea is, of course, not restricted to weekends.

Photo courtesy of pmoa.


 Government, Taxes 
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State by State Comparison of Federal Spending

The Tax Foundation put out a report in which they measure how much each state pays out in taxes and how much they received in federal dollars for fiscal year 2004. Residents of New Jersey got the big shaft in 2004, getting only 55 cents in federal money back per dollar of tax paid while residents of New Mexico got a return of $2 in aid per $1 sent to Washington on April 15th. CNN Money has a good writeup about it and why NJ only appears to get the shaft (there are a lot of higher income people in NJ than, say, New Mexico) and how it may be skewed because of some assumptions the foundation makes.

Maryland ranks 15th, getting $1.44 per $1 in tax; so we’re in pretty good shape! Actually, I’d take the numbers and the list with a grain of salt because it’s hard to calculate some of these things. One of the values added to the federal spending side is money paid to federal employees and with Maryland in such close proximity to DC, it’s surprising Maryland isn’t higher. Also, the article does make mention of how the government spends more than it receives so the foundation had to do some math magic to make that reconcile. Don’t get bent out of shape if you’re in New Jersey. :)

via CNN Money, actual entire list at Tax Foundation.


 Personal Finance 
13
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2006 Hybrid Tax Breaks – New Rules

A little over a year ago I wrote about the tax breaks for tree hugging autos and this time I’m here to update that article with the tax breaks for 2006. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 updated various energy related tax break laws, such as deductions for energy saving home improvements, and one of those things was to change how the tax breaks on clean fuel vehicles worked. The differences are significant and outlined below.

Here are some of the certification amounts, straight from the IRS.
Toyota Prius (05, 06) – $3150
Toyota Highlander Hybrid (06) – $2600 (2WD & 4WD)
Lexus RX400h (06) – $2200 (2WD & 4WD)
Toyota Camry Hybrid (07) – $2600
Lexus GS 450h (07) – $1550
Ford Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner Hybrid – $1950 4WD
Ford Escape Hybrid FWD – $2600

If your hybrid isn’t listed, it just means that the manufacturer hasn’t followed the procedures yet to get the cars certified as a clean fuel vehicle eligible for a tax credit. It takes some time, the ones listed above were all certified within the last month.

Some major changes to note:
1. It’s a tax credit now, not a tax deduction (i.e. it’s better). You get the amount of the credit off your tax bill.
2. You get the percentage of the deduction based on when you buy the eligible vehicle with respect to how many of those vehicles the manufacturer has sold. Before the manufacturer sells 60,000 vehicles, buyers get 100% of the deduction. After the manufacturer has sold 60,000 cars, that quarter and the next you get 100%. The next two (2nd, 3rd) will only give you 50% of the credit. For the fourth and fifth, only 25%, and none after that.
3. It’s an above the line credit, so you get this regardless of whether you claim the standard deduction or itemize.

Info from the IRS:
Prius, Highlander, RX2005. Camry Hybrid, Lexus GS 450h. Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner.


 Cars, Government, Personal Finance 
20
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$100 Gas Rebate Proposal Thoughts

Three Republican senators have attached an energy package to the emergency funding package for the war in Iraq which would give taxpayers a $100 rebate (for gas), repeal tax incentives for Big oil, and permit the Federal Trade Commission to prosecute any retail price gougers. It would also open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration as well, which is a sticking point for most Democrats and some moderate Republicans. Democrats are expected to put forward an energy plan of their own. It’s politics as usual.

On one hand I don’t want a $100 rebate, but on the other I know it’ll help a lot of people in the lower income brackets where gas prices have actually affected behavior. I think the $100 should only go to those who make under a certain income level and not to everyone… the exiting CEO of Exxon surely doesn’t need a $100 gas rebate (especially since he probably doesn’t even pay for it in the first place) on top of the several hundred million he’s pocketing in retirement. Would you turn away $100?

I, however, do want to see tax incentives repealed for Big Oil because if the government is willing to help out in times of crisis, it should also be willing to pull the plate away when Big Oil’s had enough at the buffet. In the late 90′s, Exxon’s exploration ventures came at a cost of $40/barrel when oil was selling for $20 (it’s in their 2005 annual report), so I almost understand the need for assistance. Now, though, the market environment has changed in their favor so are incentives really necessary?

Finally, why can’t the FTC prosecute price gougers anyway? Why does there need to be a law for them to do that enforcement? It seems like it should be something someone should be doing anyway.

Please share your thoughts…


 Shopping 
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Costco Contacts Rebate in 12 Days

I bought the contacts on April 9th, submitted the electronic rebate on April 12th (I waited until I received all the boxes), the $30 rebate arrived in the mail on the 24th. Costco’s electronic rebate arrived twelve days after I submitted it so not only did I get the cheapest price on 8 boxes of Acuvue 2′s, I didn’t even have fight with the rebate company (i.e. waiting on hold for 4 hours) trying to screw me. I didn’t have to clip boxtops, I didn’t have to photocopy forms, and I didn’t even have to waste a stamp mailing the junk. A rebate in twelve days is simply amazing. That’s why I love Costco.


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