Personal Finance 
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Quicken Online iPhone App

Last year, I did a brief Quicken Online review announcing that the online money management software would now be absolutely free and that the feature-set, while small, looked promising. I thought Quicken Online was superior to other services because they had brand recognition and integration with their other online applications. Last week, I was treated to a quick demonstration of the online application’s new features as well as a sneak peek of their new iPhone application.

Quicken Online

Quicken Online is like a light version of the Quicken 2009 desktop application, with a heavy emphasis on cash flow management. The tool was designed to help people manage their daily affairs and be more forward-looking. It tracks transactions, categorizes income and expenses, and even does a little prediction to determine if you may be in some trouble in the future. Here’s a snapshot of your “Spending Money Outlook” screen:

Quicken Online Spending Outlook

As you can see, it gives you an idea of each of the scheduled expenses you are going to have as well as scheduled income payments. It does this based on your historical data, your input and the input of the community. For example, if the tool sees that “Comcast” deducts $100 every month on the 15th, it’ll record that as a scheduled expense and show it on your cash flow chart. It warns you if you might overdraw, before you overdraw.

If you’re a novice to managing your money (or just don’t want to spend the time to learn a meatier full service application) and comfortable giving your data to a major corporation, give Quicken Online a look. It’s free after all!

Quicken Online iPhone Application

Quicken Online iPhone Application screenshotThe part of the demo that most intrigued me was the video looking at the iPhone application. With mobile applications becoming more and more popular, Quicken Online is trying to catch up to the multitude of financial applications out there.

Unfortunately they don’t have any official out yet, it’s a concept/work in progress, but I can say that the app itself looked pretty cool. The app wasn’t just a browser opening up the Quicken Online website, it’s a full fledge tool in and of itself. There was a lot of integration with the online site (your typical alertis and data push/pulling) and then some slick features I thought would be very helpful for novices. For example, they showed me a feature that integrated ATM and branch data on a map, showing you all the ATMs and branches within a certain distance. In talking with the Quicken people, I suggested that they label your bank’s ATMs with special markers, say green, so you could avoid ATM fees, if possible. What’s easier, trying to use a bank’s web interface to find ATMs or firing up a Quicken app to tell you which of your banks has an ATM nearby? I think just that feature alone would help people save a bundle on fees.

Another cool feature was being able to upload transactions on the fly with notes and pictures. So if you’re at a coffeehouse and you just spent $5 cash on a cup of coffee, you could take a picture of the cup of coffee so you knew what you bought when you went back to review it. It’s not a crucial feature but it’s one that certainly falls under the category of very cool.

I don’t have an iPhone but if I did, I’d be eagerly awaiting this little guy to debut in the spring… maybe I need one now, you know, for business reasons. :)


 The Home 
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DirectTV Satellite Television Deals

If you hate your cable television, you might want to give satellite providers like DirectTV a look. My friends recently moved into a newly constructed home and discovered they had only one option when it came to cable television – dreaded Comcast. It turns out that in Baltimore, MD, Comcast has a monopoly on cable television service because they “made an agreement with the city” (in other words, Comcast pays the city for the right to offer cable). Until recently, Comcast was one of my only options for cable too, until Verizon FiOS came to town and began snatching up all Comcast’s disgruntled customers.

Rather than go back to Comcast, a company many of us hated dealing with, my friends looked at their options. They decided to go with DirectTV and their satellite television service, in part because they offer NFL Sunday Ticket. For what it’s worth, DirectTV was named #1 in Customer Satisfaction among national cable and satellite TV providers by the University of Michigan Business School in their 2008 American Customer Satisfaction Index.

They have many different packages but the one my friend Jeremy recommends is their PLUS HD + DVR Package, which has 200+ channels and 95 HD channels for only $49.99 a month (normally $72.99 a month). Included in the package is a Free DVR HD DVR Upgrade, which will save you a few dollars. He was planning on getting the NFL Sunday Ticket package so HD was a must, but the PLUS DVR package, which is ten dollars less, is the same number of channels just minus the HD channels (and the HD DVR of course).

Here is the full package line-up or give them a call at 866-277-2216 and they can explain it to you if this mish-mash of terms and explanations is a little confusing:

Name # Channels Promo $/Month Regular $/Month Savings
Premier Package 265+ $81.99 $104.99 $23
20 premium movie channels & 35 sports channels
Plus HD + DVR Package 200+ $49.99 $72.99 $23
Free HD DVR upgrade
Plus DVR Package 200+ $39.99 $62.99 $23
HBO, Showtime, & Starz for 3 months
Choice XTRA Package 200+ $34.99 $57.99 $23
HBO, Showtime, & Starz for 3 months, free DVR or HD DVR receiver
Choice Package 150+ $29.99 $52.99 $23
Family Package 45+ $29.99 $29.99 $0

The deals aren’t too shabby and my friend Jeremy seems to be pretty pleased with his experience thus far. You’ll also want to take advantage of their DirecTV referral program, which will save you a few bucks off your first year’s service.

If you have any experience with DirectTV, please share them in the comments.


 Your Take 
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Your Take: What Project Have You Been Putting Off?

Home Depot Dream Gift CardI normally am not a fan of gift cards because they force you to spend them at a particular store, I instead think that cash can still be a classy gift if presented in the right way (and who doesn’t like cash?). However, if I were to get a gift card, there are few stores I’d rather get a card for than Home Depot because, like all other homeowners, I seem to be one project away from being “finished.” There’s always something I can get there and Home Depot doesn’t play any of the BS gift card games like devaluing the card if you don’t use it or charging annual fees.

From now until February 28th, The Home Depot is offering a special commemorative “Dream” gift card to celebrate and support the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Home Depot will donate 5% of each “Dream” gift card to support the Center for Civil and Human Rights, up to $1 million dollars. The monies will then be used to build a permanent home for Dr. Martin Luther King’s history papers, a collection of over 10,000 items consisting of his personal writings and papers. The collection includes over 7,000 handwritten notes from 1946 to 1968 and include drafts of his “I Have a Dream” speech, his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” other theological writings and his Nobel Peace Prize addresses.

You can buy these cards at a store or online at Home Depot (here are some Home Depot coupons you can use).

To help get the word out, Home Depot is giving Bargaineering readers an opportunity to win a $50 gift card! To win, all you have to do is leave a comment telling us what is the one project in your house that you keep putting off? You all know what I mean, it’s the toilet with the leaky tank, the door that doesn’t close all the way, the faucet that continually drips. What is the one project you keep putting off? For me, it’s my closet door that doesn’t close all the way. My closet won’t close because it’s just too big. I’ve sanded it a little but I need to get the electric sander out and really go to town before the stupid thing will close. I haven’t done it yet because my office is carpeted and I just don’t want to deal with both sanding and cleaning up. :)

So, what project have you been putting off? Tell us all by noon on February 13th and you will be in the running. I will randomly select one commenter to receive the $50 Home Depot “Dream” gift card. Void where prohibited. Good luck!

The contest is now closed, the lucky winner is “tom rundel” (Comment ID 296068) who just put in a wood stove, I hope this $50 gift card from Home Depot can help complete the look!


 Personal Finance 
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Don’t Worry About The Stock Market, Invest In Family

Fortune Cookie
“Don’t worry about the stock market. Invest in family.”

Last week, I joined my wife and one of her co-workers for lunch at a great Chinese restaurant beside our home. After our meal, we opened our fortune cookies and the above line was written on my wife’s fortune cookie fortune!

It was a pleasant reminder that, despite all the economic troubles and financial chaos, when you really get down to it, life is about the relationships you have with your friends and your family. The stock market fell 40-50% last year, companies are going bankrupt, and people are losing their jobs… but at the end of the day all the money in the world can’t buy you the love of your friends and family.

Money is important, of course, but I like to think of it as air. You need air to support you but you only need so much. You could hoard all the air you want but it won’t do you any good. Money is similar. After you acquire enough, having more is less about the money and more about fulfilling some other need, like pride or vanity or competition. The truly important things in life are supported by but cannot be defined by money.

So the next time you get your 401(k) summary, remember that it’s just money.

Don’t worry about the stock market, invest in family.

(Photo: tim_ellis)


 Credit 
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Spend Your Credit Card Points ASAP

The Wall Street Journal published an article last week that I was surprised I didn’t hear about – Banks Make Rewards Plans Less Rewarding. It covered, among other things, how credit card issuers have been playing with their reward plans to reduce their liability. In other words, they’re making the points you’ve already earned worth less and less, so they have to payout less and less in rewards!

(Click to continue reading…)


 Banking 
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Clear Sky Online Savings Account 3.75% APY

Clear Sky Accounts by Chesapeake BankReader Jeff, which did a considerably amount of research on the FDIC insurance of Dollar Savings Direct, recently emailed me a brand new online savings account offering 3.75% APY – Clear Sky Accounts. With a $1 minimum and the top rate amongst online banks, it’s certainly going to be a hit amongst personal finance enthusiasts. I wouldn’t shift my online savings to Clear Sky from other high yield savings accounts, the transportation time reduces the effective rate tremendously, new funds might find a comfortable home there, especially since they will stand by that 3.75% APY rate through the end of March.

But, a high rate is not enough… is it a reputable bank?

Clear Sky Accounts is offered by Chesapeake Bank, a Kilmarnock, VA bank that is FDIC insured under FDIC Certificate #6862. According to the FDIC, Chesapeake Bank has been in business since January 1st, 1900 and insured since the start of FDIC insurance in 1934. They have a four star rating under Bankrate’s Safe & Sound rankings and their memorandum on the bank shows they are in solid financial standing (strong earnings, high asset quality, etc).

Jeff, in his research, did find one little “catch:”

A possible “catch” to some. I’ve heard – although I have yet to find it in the small print – that Clear Sky/ Chesapeake has posted a limit of $10,000 per day on external ACH transfers. When I telephoned the Bank (877-257-7594) to ask if this were true, the representative said in effect: “Yes, that is our posted policy, but if you telephone us and ask us to waive that limit for you on a given occasion, we’ll try to accommodate you.” Put otherwise, the Bank is reserving the right to limit its depositors to $10,000 a day, and it says, in a non-binding way, that it won’t necessarily insist on enforcing that policy.

They also have very competitive checking accounts (2.50% APY – 3.25% APY) and competitive certificate of deposit rates (3.30% APY on a 13 month CD would make it one of the “short-term” best CD rates available). If you haven’t opened an online bank account anywhere, give Clear Sky from Chesapeake Bank a look. Do your own due diligence and see if it’s a good choice for you.


 Banking 
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Handling Bank Errors In Your Favor

Bank Error In Your Favor? Don't Think So!Jonathan at MyMoneyBlog just wrote about a PA couple that spent a windfall of a bank error that made me shake my head. Apparently the PA couple deposited $1,772.50 and the bank erroneously recorded it as a $177,250 deposit. They withdrew the money, quit their jobs, and moved to Florida… they’ve now been arrested. Clearly they knew what they were doing was wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t have skipped town, but bank errors happen all the time, what are you supposed to do?

(Click to continue reading…)


 Government 
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American Recovery & Reinvestment Plan Details

The Committee on Appropriations released an executive summary on the details of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Plan, the formal name for President Obama’s stimulus package, and it’s thirteen pages long with a decent level of detail. First I’ll list the high level overview then point out some of the things that might affect you. If you’re curious about a stimulus check, it’s not in there.

(Click to continue reading…)


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