Personal Finance 

How to Hard Reset Your Financial Life

We have twelve bank accounts.

You read that correctly, we have twelve accounts.

Ally Bank, FNBO Direct, ING Direct, HSBC Direct, Bank of America, M&T Bank, … the list goes on.

We also have a dozen credit cards. Citi, Discover, Capital One, … again, the list goes on.

We have so many accounts because we’ve slowly acquired them over the course of the last ten years. Our financial network map is an intricated mess despite our best efforts to simplify our personal finances.

That’s why we need to hit the reset button on our financial life.

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Lowest Foreign Transaction Fee

In a couple months, my wife and I will be taking an extended vacation to Europe. It’ll be a fantastic trip, one we’ve been looking forward to for months, and with the dollar strengthening and the economy across the world weak, we figured we could take advantage of lower prices to get some traveling done.

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Buying Checks Online

Personal checksMany thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on the best places to buy checks online (62 comments as of this writing!), sounds like I was right to think that $20 for 50 checks was absurd! It appears that there are plenty of affordable options for buying checks and none of them come close to the 40 cents per check that Bank of America’s printers were asking for.

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 Your Take 

Your Take: Ever Buy Checks Online?

My initial supply of personal checks, a checkbook worth, is coming to an end soon and I’ll be needing a fresh new supply. I don’t use checks very often anymore, I think they are antiquated and very insecure, but every few months I have to deal with a company that requires personal checks. It usually comes down to the company not wanting to deal with the headaches of credit cards and me not wanting to deal with the headaches of their 0% same-as-cash-but-not-quite financing offer! Anyway, the end result is that I write them a personal check and my initial stock is dwindling rapidly.

I looked into reordering checks directly from Bank of America, who gets them through Clarke American, now named Harland Clarke; but they want $20 for 50 checks! That’s outrageous! (and doesn’t include shipping) To prove how both absurd and true it is, here’s the screenshot from the order page (to be honest, if I were you, I wouldn’t believe me unless I saw this screenshot):

OK, order checks from the bank is out. It looks like I’ll have to order checks online. I looked at a couple places but it appears that Costco will probably be my best bet. Costco sells checks for pretty reasonable prices, though that option is only available for Costco members. You can get two boxes of standard single checks (400) for $10.59, $8.47 if you’re an executive member. Four boxes doubles the price, so there’s no discount for quantity. Shipping is a reasonable $4.95. That’s 400 checks for less than 4 cents a check – a song compared to the 40 cents BoA wanted!

Have you ever ordered checks online? If so, what has your experience been and who have you used?


How to Access International ATMs

20 Pound Sterling NoteMy wife and I still use Bank of America as our primary checking account and I called them the other day to let them know we’d be traveling and how we might be using our debit card abroad. I don’t plan on using it (we have a Capital One card for purchases) but I wanted to ask them about using ATMs abroad.

The past few days I’ve been researching the best way to exchange money, trying to keep the fees low and the accessibility high. I’ve discussed things with my friends over there and the consensus was that ATM was probably the best way. Between ATM access and us simply paying with our 0% transaction fee Capital One card, we should be paying as little in fees as possible.

Global ATM Alliance

It turns out that Bank of America has partnered with a few international banks to form their “Global ATM Alliance.” When we use a Global ATM Alliance ATM, we avoid a $5 access fee. If we use any old ATM, we would be assessed a $5 access fee. Otherwise, ATM transactions incur a 1% transaction fee to cover the exchange of currency.

Here are the partners in the Global ATM Alliance:

  • Barclays (United Kingdom)
  • BNP Paribas (France)
  • China Construction Bank (China)
  • Deutsche Bank: (Germany)
  • Satander Serfin (Mexico)
  • Scotiabank (Canada)
  • Westpac (Australia and New Zealand)

Call Your Bank

If you’re traveling abroad, call your bank to see what your international options are. I should have done this from the start, rather than poke around and waste time researching the best option. One simple phone call would’ve yielded the simple advice of “Try to find a Barclays, you can use their ATMs.” The 1% transaction fee, which covers the currency exchange, is probably the leanest you’ll ever find. You will always have to pay a fee to exchange money and it’s either listed as a fee or integrated into an exchange rate that doesn’t match the prevailing rate (this is how credit cards used to “hide” the currency transaction fee and the reasoning behind the foreign transaction fee lawsuit).

Time to pack for London!

(Photo: funkypancake)


0% Credit Cards: No Interest Purchases & Balance Transfers Offers

Smiling Girl, Happy with 0% Credit Cards0% credit cards are all the rage these days and this list will help you identify the best deals out there. Consumer spending is down, fears of a recession are up, and retailers are scrambling to entice regular people like you and me to enter their stores and buy more stuff. One group of companies you’ll also find lining up to offer you special offers is the credit card industry.

Credit card companies don’t necessarily want you to go into debt to them, though that doesn’t hurt their bottom line. They want you to keep on spending because they earn money on processing transactions. If you review the annual statements of any credit card issuer, most of the income they derive from credit cards comes in the form of data processing and service fees. So, in order to keep spending up as long as possible, more and more are offering great offers such as 0% APY for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers.

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Tricking Credit Card Customers Into Taking Cash Advances

The whole story revolves around how these two call center account managers for MBNA, now a subsidiary of Bank of America, would hard sell credit card customers on expensive cash advances. The piece goes into how they would use all sorts of hard sell tactics, preying on the financial weaknesses of callers, finding any angle to try to wedge a nice fat cash advance in there. There was also the obligatory swing at credit card companies and their terms & conditions, which include the 0% cash advance or balance transfer jumping to the default rate of 28% if they missed a payment, “even by a day.” (Late is late, a minute, a day, a year… it’s still late)

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 Banking, Credit 

5 Affluent Banking Credit Cards You Can’t Afford

That black beauty right there is the American Express Black Centurion Card. To make them, American Express harvested the cores of ten black holes and pressed them into little cards of pure consumerism-fueled spending bliss (hush all you physicists).

Want one? You’ll need $5,000 up front to pay for it, followed by $2500 a year in annual fees, plus a minimum spend of $250,000 a year. That’s right. A quarter of a million bucks. Whoo hooo, that’s some serious cash. But look at all the cool features of the American Express Centurion card! (a very extensive review of the AMEX Black by social marketing maven Neil Patel)

If that’s a little too rich for your blood, plenty of other companies are offering affluent banking services:

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