Banking 
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Current State of Reward Checking Accounts

Almost six months ago, I wrote about high interest reward checking accounts. Back then, the economy was weak and banking was in turmoil, yet these small regional banks were offering exceptional rates on a normally pedestrian checking account. We learned about their business model and the accounts made sense, unlike the 5% APY CDs that Washington Mutual was offering before they collapsed. To briefly recap, reward checking accounts offer high interest rates because they require you to make ten to fifteen card transactions each month and the fees from those transactions fuel the high rates. There are other requirements designed to cut costs, such as paperless statements and online billpay.

How are they doing now?

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 Frugal Living 
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Ten Great Summer Date Ideas

Renaissance Festival costumes!I love the summer.

Some people like the winter, where you can snuggle up under a blanket by the fire or build a snow fort and toss snowballs. Me? I like the summer where you can watch movies outside or go on a hike, just breathe in that fresh summer air. I don’t mind it so much when it’s hot either, the heat and the perspiration makes me feel alive, productive.

So now that it’s summer, why not list a bunch of great frugal summer date ideas?
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 Personal Finance 
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Mortgage Options for Military Veterans

The beginning of July marked a new chapter in the ongoing Iraq war, as the U.S. withdrew combat troops from the war-torn nation’s cities. The withdrawal is part of a multi-step drawdown of U.S. forces that is expected to culminate in 2011 with the exodus of all American soldiers from Iraq.

In the months ahead, scores of U.S. soldiers will prepare to return home and reestablish their lives. For many returning veterans, adjusting to the financial and social rigors of everyday life can prove a significant challenge. A study released last spring by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department chronicled the hardships that can confront veterans, from unemployment to low wages.

Soldiers are returning home to an economy in flux, including a severely hardened credit market. Checking credit scores and building a path toward maintaining good credit will likely rank among the chief responsibilities for many. Military agencies and communities across the country offer free financial counseling for active duty servicemen and women and veterans.

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 Credit 
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Your Take: What Is Your Total Credit Limit?

I thought it would be fun to add up all the credit limits of every credit card and line of credit we had to see what that amount was.

My total? $69,600 (we don’t have any lines of credit)

My cards (starred ones are cards I actively use):

My wife? $35,500. (and we just did a quick Citi credit limit increase request and they raised my wife’s limit on one of her cards by $1,500 with no credit pull)

I win! (just kidding)

Is there a point to all this other than to have a meaningless pissing contest? First, it’s important to know your total credit limit because you want to know, if the crap hits the fan, how much money you have access to. Knowing that we have $100,000 in unsecured credit is only important if we ever need that sum in the first place. While unsecured credit cards won’t be the first place we turn to for funds, at least we know it’s there and we can make informed decisions knowing the “worst case.”

Another benefit of this exercise is that we have a listing of every credit card we have. I don’t carry the Discover Cards or the Citi Platinum Dividend card, they’re hidden somewhere in our house. Even though I don’t use them, I should know that I have an account there and the details of that account. Going through this little exercise jogs my memory about the credit cards I have.

Finally, I was a little surprised that I had $69,600 of unsecured credit at my fingertips (though if you ever read some of the App-o-rama’s at Fatwallet, $69k is what those wizards can get in a day’s time). I can see now why credit card companies are cutting credit limits. All it takes is a job loss, which isn’t reported to credit card companies or credit bureaus, and I could very quickly rack up some unsecured credit card debt.

Wondering why the Citi Platinum and AMEX cards have such high credit limits? I would periodically request credit line increases back when the economy was cruising. They’d be granted without a hard inquiry, so at no cost to me I was seeing my limits increase every few months.

So, do you know your total credit limit? If so, how much is it?

(Photo: Andres Rueda)


 Personal Finance 
8
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BVC #17: The Luhn Algorithm [VIDEO]

Today’s video is about the Luhn Algorithm, a simple mathematical algorithm that you can use to verify the correctness of ID numbers that conform to it. Credit cards are the most common example and that’s what I talk about today.

Sorry about the shadow, I started using some new lights and I’ll have to work on the shadows in the future. But there’s more light right? :)

You can read more about the Luhn Algorithm at Wikipedia and here is the aforementioned 50 Fun Facts about Credit Cards post.


 Frugal Living 
18
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Supermarket Psychology (and a few insider tricks)

View from inside a supermarket shopping cartThe Economist is known for its deep analysis and heavy topics, but I found this article about supermarkets and the science of shopping . The first time I heard about supermarket psychology was when someone explained to me that the most appealing products were always shown at eye level. When the product is placed at eye level, you are more prone to picking it up and subsequently buying it. That’s only the beginning.

If there’s one lesson to be learned after reading this article, it’s that supermarkets are one big maze and we’re the rats running through them.

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 Insurance 
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Cheapest Cars to Insure

When you buy a car, the biggest number you see is the price. The sticker price, the invoice price, and the price you paid to get that car onto your driveway or into your garage. Savvier buyers also look at the total cost of ownership, which includes the price but also adds in the cost of driving, maintaining, and insuring the car.

The easiest way to determine the total cost of ownership on a car is to turn to online calculators, like this True Cost to Own calculator from Edmunds.

If you’re curious just from an insurance perspective, Forbes has published a list of the least and most expensive cars to insure according to data provided by Insure.com. They quoted rates for a 40-year-old male who commutes 12 miles to work with your fairly standard insurance limits. $300k/$100k injury limits, $50k property damage, and $500 deductibles on collision and comprehensive.

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 Frugal Living 
12
comments

5 Ways To Green Your Coffee Beans

Organic CoffeeOne thing I have learned during my time on this earth is that there are two kinds of people… those who drink coffee and those who don’t.

I have always been the first kind.

Growing up, at special family gatherings, the adults would make a huge pot of black coffee on the stove, laced with sugar. Everyone, kids included, would get a glass mug of this beautiful dark creation and added a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. I can’t remember whether it was a caffeinated brew or not but based on the noise and activity level that quickly ensued, I bet that it was a full throttle coffee simmer. :)

These days, the tradition continues (minus the cup of java for my toddler). My mornings start out with a first-rate hot cup of coffee. The debate regarding the health benefits of coffee will go on endlessly. In the meantime, I drink plenty of water, eat my veggies, and make my coffee eco-friendly.

Here are 5 ways you can go green with your coffee beans, guilt free:
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