Personal Finance 
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40 Money Tips for College Students

Carnegie Mellon FlagI remember the first day I set foot at college, it was a mixture of excitement and fear at the prospect of being on my own. I arrived in Pittsburgh, PA a few days early and had the opportunity to wander around an empty campus. Carnegie Mellon University, especially in 1998, wasn’t a large campus, you could walk from one end of the campus to the other in less than twenty minutes, but it was still intimidating. After five years, a few degrees, and a great experience, I departed for the “real world.”

One thing I wish I had when I started college was a list of things I had to do for my finances like I did for my academics. College is where you set many of your life’s foundations. Whether it’s spiritual, physical, academic, or financial, your foundations are laid in your youth but set when you’re in college. I was fortunate enough not to make too many missteps and managed well enough, but I wish I had a list… so I wrote one, I hope it can help you whether you’re starting college or just starting over. I hope it helps. (and it sure beats reading another list of best paying careers!)

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 Government 
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FHA Mortgage Loan Requirements Guide

Gingerbread HouseWhen I was reading Dale Siegel’s The New Rules of Mortgages, was struck by the sheer number of available mortgage options available to Americans. I knew about your standard vanilla varieties (30 year fixed, 15 year fixed), even the trickier ones (ARMs, Option ARMs), but I knew very little about the various government sponsored programs designed to help low to moderate income or first time hombuyer families get a piece of homeownership.

One of these programs is the FHA, or Federal Housing Administration, mortgage insurance program. It’s part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the FHA provides mortgage insurance on loans made by FHA-approved lenders. The logic behind the program is that low and moderate income families and first time homebuyers, especially in these economic times, may need a little extra help in the homeownership process. This help comes by way of an insurance program, that the borrowers will pay for at least five years of the loan, offered by the government.

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 NEWS 
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Chase, Bank of America Overhaul Overdraft Programs

Bank of America Debit Card FrustrationSince it’s passing, the CARD Act has drawn both criticism and praise from just about everyone. Some were upset about the tightening of credit card approval requirements for college students. Others celebrated rule changes that required companies to apply payments to the highest interest rate balances. Some warned that credit card companies would change their business practices and make credit cards less accessible, since they would be less profitable. The issue has been covered here when Bargaineering broke the story that Citi would start charging an annual fee unless cardholders met a certain spending criteria.

Both Chase and Bank of America announced that they would be overhauling their overdraft policies. It’s clear they’re doing this to get ahead of the curve on the legislation but couching in “consumer friendly” terms. Some changes include:

  • Customers will be allowed to opt into overdraft protection. (both banks)
  • No fee if the overdraft is $5 or less,Chase, or $10 or less for one day, Bank of America.

Update: Wells Fargo / Wachovia are joining the party in offering the option to opt out ofoverdraft protection and no fee if the overdraft is less than $5.

Why they’re doing this is irrelevant, it’s just good that they’re doing it.

Chase and Bank of America lower overdraft fees [MarketWatch]

(Photo: rosengrant)


 Cars 
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Best Car for Students: A Beater

Beater Used CarWhen I read this latest Bankrate article on the best car to buy for students, I was a little surprised at the very first criteria – less than $20,000. I’m twenty nine, nearly six years after graduation, and have yet to own a car that is even close to $20,000! My current car is a used Toyota Celica I bought off eBay for $16,000, 20% less than the $20,000.

Anyway, so what’s my point? Most students don’t need and won’t appreciate a new car whiel they’re in college. They certainly won’t appreciate a car that they didn’t pay for. While I appreciate Bankrate’s efforts in publishing a list of cars that are sub-$20k, fuel efficient (> 21 mpg), safe and comfortable (has A/C)… I think a student needs to drive a beater. A clunker. A piece of junk they can beat the crap out of, hence the term beater. As my dad used to say, if you start life with all the nice stuff, you never learn to appreciate it.

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 Family 
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Stay At Home or Pay for Daycare?

Dancing in DaycareWe’re getting to the age when our friends are starting to have kids and so the topic of daycare has come up on a number of occasions. As a couple with no kids, we haven’t done the research but we’ve always known intuitively that daycare was expensive. In doing some research for this article, I was amazed at how expensive daycare was. A whole year for an infant can run you $18,000!

So in our modern age where you have two working parents, many couples have to decide whether they want to keep two incomes or drop down to one. If we were to make that decision, here is what I think we’d do in preparation.

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 NEWS 
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Dannon Settlement: Activia and DanActive Priobiotics Lawsuit

Dannon DanActive YogurtDannon has settled a class action lawsuit filed in January of 2008 that its claims of the health benefits of “probiotics” in their Activia and DanActive line of yogurts were falsely advertised. In their most recent press release (link) they offered:

“The decision to settle this case is based on the Company’s desire to avoid the distraction and expense of litigation and to quickly resume 100 percent focus on making products that provide proven health benefits to millions of highly satisfied consumers. This resolves the plaintiff’s concerns while affirming the essence of the claims of Activia and DanActive, which are substantiated by years of scientific research.” said Michael Neuwirth, spokesperson for The Dannon Company.

What does this mean for you? You may be entitled to a piece of the $35 million fund created to provide cash refunds to people who file a claim. You can’t get the claim form yet but you will be able to get them at DannonSettlement.com (the URL currently redirects to another law firm, not sure if that’ll be used for the claim form) once the site has been set up.

The stipulation of settlement for the case (26 pages) outlines the details of the settlement. From what I can tell, you can file a claim electronically or by mail. You can claim up to $15 without a receipt of purchase. You can claim $15 to $30 by submitting a Claim Form signed under penalty of perjury, but also without receipt of purchase. You can claim $30 to $100 but you must provide proof of purchase. How much you actually get paid out will depend on the number of valid claims.

The Dannon Settlement website is up and you can file a claim here.

This post will be updated as more details emerge.

(Photo: star5112)


 Personal Finance 
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Getting Tickets to High Demand Sporting Events

Super Bowl XLIIIHave you set your fantasy football lineups yet? :)

On the eve of the start of the regular season of the National Football League, I wanted to put together a post that any sports fan could enjoy. A post about how to get free tickets to premier sporting events across the country. :)

Ever look in the stands of the Super Bowl and why in the world those folks spent all that money to watch a mere sixty minutes of football? Even the worst Super Bowl tickets can go for thousands of dollars. However, did you know that the NFL distributes approximately 500 pairs of tickets in an annual random drawing? You still have to buy the tickets at face value but that’s $400 rather than several thousand. (here’s more information about it and tips for increasing your chances)

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 Investing 
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TradeMONSTER Review

TradeMONSTERTradeMONSTER is a relatively new online discount broker in an industry that hasn’t seen a new entrant in a few years. I believe TradeMonster’s strategy is to offer relatively low pricing (not rock bottom) and a powerful suite of browser-based analysis tools. TradeMonster is owned by optionMonster, a financial media company that publishes market news and commentary on options and stock trading. If you’ve ever watched CNBC then you’ll recognize a bunch of the faces behind optionMonster (Jon ‘DRJ’ Najarian and Guy Adami are on Fast Money).

The aspect of TradeMonster that really jumped out at me is the first thing I’m going to review – paper trading.

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