How to Compare 0% Balance Transfer Offers

A couple years ago, you could play the balance transfer arbitrage game over and over again. Apply for a credit card, get a 0% balance transfer, and then transfer that right into your 5% APY online savings account. Man, those were the days!

Now, balance transfer periods are shorter, transfer fees are higher, and, most insidious of all, the interest rates after the 0% promotion ends are higher. With the recent credit card laws, I’m betting those offers will become even less inviting. While this will take all those balance transfer arbitragers out of the game, they can still be effective tools for people looking to catch up on their credit card debt. A 0% interest rate, even for only a few months, can give you a little bit of breathing room so here’s how you should compare balance transfer offers.

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 Devil's Advocate 

Your Home Is Not An Investment

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

Farm House with Rising SunA few years ago, when the housing market was sizzling hot, everyone and their mother talked about how their home was a fantastic investment. They talked about how a home that sold ten years ago had quadrupled in value over the last five and cursed themselves for not buying more. I knew someone who owned four rental properties, all bought on ARMs, and was making a “killing” on the rents and appreciation. I knew someone else who was looking at his paper riches and marveling at how wonderful homeownership was.

Then the housing market stalled. ARMs reset. People were in rough shape. Those who overextended learned something the prudent have always understood, as much as your home is a great place, it’s not an investment.

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ProtectMyID Review

A few months ago, I wrote a LifeLock review in which I broke down their services and tried to figure out if the service was worth it. My conclusion was that the service was comprehensive but outside of the $1M guarantee, didn’t offer anything you couldn’t do yourself (do it yourself identity protection covers what you can do). With identity theft protection services, you’re really buying peace of mind and a service plan where they do the work for you. Is the time it takes to do it yourself worth more than $9 a month? If it is, then companies like LifeLock are worth it. If you prefer to do it yourself and are diligent enough to keep at it, then you certainly could do it yourself.

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BVC #19: Get Towed Twice A Year [VIDEO]

Taking calculated risks and not being afraid to fail is a hallmark of every successful person. You know this, I know this, but it’s difficult to translate that into our every day life. Sure, we hear stories about Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard to start Microsoft, but how does that isn’t helpful to the everyman or woman working their 9-to-5 job.

How about this analogy, one that I read from Larry Chiang, author for a forthcoming book What They Don’t Teach You At Stanford Business School:

If you’re not crashing and burning twice a year, maybe you’re not reaching high enough. Similarly, if you’re not getting towed twice a year, maybe you’re not parking aggressively enough.

So many times we’re too afraid to fail and so we don’t make that leap. Don’t let fear make decisions for you.

 Personal Finance 

What Tax Bracket Am I In? [Calculator]

A lot of people have been reaching Bargaineering because they asked: “What tax bracket am I in?”

So, to solve this problem and to redirect people from other pages to this one, I’ve decided to offer up this simple to use calculator.

Enter your pre-tax, post-deduction (after your 401k contributions and medical expenses) salary and click “What bracket am I in?”

The calculator will spit out the marginal tax bracket you are in.

Handy Dandy Marginal Tax Bracket Finder

This calculator is based on 2009 tax bracket data.

Marital Status: Single
Married Filing Jointly
Your Salary:
Your Bracket:

This page has the current IRS federal income tax brackets and remember, this is your marginal tax rate. Your actual marginal tax rate may be lower based on deductions, exemptions, credits, etc.

 Personal Finance 

5 Tips for Getting Ahead in College

HandJim has covered the fundamentals and offered great tips on what to do before you start working after college. I figured I would chime in with my thoughts on how college students can get ahead of their peers by the time graduation day rolls around.

This is not textbook theory; I have used these tips myself. These are also not tips that only college students can use, just ideas for how to get ahead of the pack. Finally, you can use this advice at any time in your college career, from 1st year to 4th year (or even 6th! nothing wrong with switching majors).

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How Virtual Office Tools Can Increase Productivity & Save Money

Editor’s Note: I’ve been looking at a lot of office productivity tools lately, like internet faxing, and I knew one of the guys associated with Toktumi, one of the leaders in the home office PBX space. Since I’m on vacation, I asked him to write up a little something about how virtual office tools can help a small business, bribing him with the opportunity to talk about his company.

David Pogue of the New York Times recently revealed his productivity secrets. The very first item he credits: “I work at home. That’s two, three or four hours more work time each day that I don’t spend commuting.” Oftentimes, the appeal of limiting wasted commute hours is offset by the fear of losing access to the work tools available at the office.

Fortunately, as collaboration technologies improve, broadband proliferates, and the country goes greener, working at home will become more popular. For many companies, particularly those that employ knowledge workers, it makes little sense to spend money renting an office and requiring employees to commute every day. When you add in gas, parking, bus or train fares, and wasted hours commuting for little added benefit, the choice becomes easier.

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Credit Cards Requiring Minimum Annual Purchases

The recently enacted credit card laws are having some unintended consequences. Just as many places reported, credit card companies are now turning to other “innovative” ways to drum up revenue – one of those silly unintended consequences. It turns out, some are now requiring that you make a minimum amount in purchases a year to avoid an annual fee. Sam recently received a letter from Citi about this:

My husband recently received a notice form his Citi Master Card that they will now begin charging him $35 per year as an annual membership fees. The membership fees will be waived if at the end of the year we make more than $2400 in purchases. We know for a fact that we will not meet that $2400 amount. We are thinking about canceling his credit card but then we thought that would probably hurt his credit score. What should we do?

The first strategy I would try is to ask if the fee could be waived – unfortunately, she tried that and Citi said “No.”

The next strategy I would try is to consolidate that card into another Citi card without a $2400 requirement. Sam didn’t have another card so this option was out of the question.

If neither of those two easy techniques work, you could use a trick I revealed for busting cashback tiers on credit cards – buying Presidential $1 coins. At the moment, there are five (six technically because one set is supposed to be released August 11th, but the Mint website doesn’t reflect that) sets of 250 coins available and you can buy 2 each with free shipping. That gives you $2500 in actual money can you deposit in your bank.

If you don’t want the hassle, you can always just cancel the card. It will hurt your score but unless you plan on buying a house or car in the next year, I’d rather dump the card, take the credit score hit, and not pay $35 a year for nothing.

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