NEWS 
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Capital One Buys ING Direct

The news broke yesterday that Capital One would be the happy recipient of the keys to a brand new ING Direct. Everyone knew that ING Direct was up for sale, the ING Groep was required to sell it, but no one was sure who would be the happy new owner. The acquisition puts Capital One in the lead as the largest online bank, mostly because ING Direct was absolutely enormous. The final price? Around $9 billion, in a mix of $6.2 billion cash and $2.8 billion stock.

We speculated as to what would happen when someone purchased ING Direct, though we were using Ally Bank as the acquirer (those were the rumors at the time). Since it was a friendly acquisition, rather than an FDIC chaperoned affair, mostly nothing would happen.

I’m eager to see what happens because I have an online account with both banks.


 Credit 
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Best Airline Credit Card Bonuses

One of the ways you can use credit cards to your advantage is to choose rewards cards that offer travel bonuses. You can do even better if you get a credit card associated with one of the airlines. Most of these cards are through major issuers, so you can use them for everyday purchases, while building up miles at a specific airline. If there is an airline that you prefer, you can use an airline credit card to boost your frequent flier miles, and enjoy other perks.

However, you do need to think twice before getting an airline credit card. Airline credit cards often come with high interest rates, so they are not for those who carry a balance. If you carry a balance, it won’t take long for the interest charges to effectively negate the benefits of your airline rewards. Also, keep an eye out for annual fees and other costs. These cards are usually best for the frequent traveler.

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 Banking 
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Least Evil Banks

I think it’s always dangerous when you start assigning “feelings” to financial institutions. While I realize that CNN Money just wanted to throw “evil” out there to sensationalize a bit, I think it’s a little irresponsible to say that a bank is evil. A bank is a create of our financial environment and, ultimately, it’s a business. It’s trying to make as much profit as it can and whether that comes from fees it charges you or the interest it doesn’t pay you, the market needs to demand better in order for them to change.

That’s also why I think this list by CNN Money is great, they’ve scoured the banking ecosystem to find eight banks with zero ATM fees, free checking, and higher yield accounts.

Ally Bank

AllyI wasn’t surprised to see Ally Bank at the head of the class, I personally love their 60 day penalty on closing CDs early (most banks have you pay far more). They were lauded for their ATM reimbursement, higher interest rates, and lack of maintenance fees or minimum balance requirements.

ING Direct

ING DirectAgain, not surprised that we have another online bank as one of the least evil. ING Direct’s free checking and no ATMs were the first two reasons CNN Money mentioned, though you’ll have to use an Allpoint network ATM to avoid fees. If you don’t have an account, take advantage of ING Direct’s referral system to get a deposit bonus ($25 if you deposit $250).

The six other banks were, in order they were listed, USAA, Capital One, Alliant Credit Union, PNC, The Incredible Bank (internet only, I’d never heard of them), and Charles Schwab Bank. I don’t think it’s any indication of their evilness, so don’t see Charles Schwab as a little “eviler” than PNC. :)


 Bank Deals 
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Costco/Capital One InterestPlus Online Savings Account

Costco SignCostco and Capital One have joined forces to offer an InterestPlus Online Savings account that offers a fairly competitive 1.50% APY. It doesn’t appear that a Costco membership is required for this account but there is an incentive for members. If you are an Executive, you can get a $60 bonus. If you’re a Gold Star or Business member, then it’s only a $20 bonus. In terms of bonuses, these are probably the best you can expect for an online savings account but brick & mortar checking account bonuses (where you need to setup direct deposits and make bill pays) will usually pay far more (without a third party paid membership requirement).

This offer is attractive if you don’t already have an online savings account and you are already Costco member.

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 Banking 
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Best Free Checking Accounts

Blank CheckbookIf you were to build your personal finances from the ground up, the checking account would be the first “product” you’d pick. If you’ve ever drawn your financial network map, you’ll remember that the checking account is the spoke in your primarily hub-and-spoke layout. Your paycheck is deposited into your checking account, your savings accounts are linked to your checking account, and when it’s time to pay credit cards or the mortgage, chances are the money comes from your checking account.

So if you were to rebuild your personal finances or build it from scratch, the first step is finding a checking account that fits your needs. For me, I need a checking account to be free, have plenty of ATMs, and no minimum balance. If your bank doesn’t offer that as a minimum, I’d find one that does.

So how do you find the best free checking account?

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 Personal Finance 
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Opt Out of Credit Card Internal Marketing

Junk mail only!We recently received a new Privacy Notice from Citi for 2009, which looked a lot like this online form, and never really appreciated how marketing happens behind the scenes. I implicitly understood that there was some marketing involved but when it’s all spelled out in a privacy document it can be a little disconcerting because the document pretty much covers every potential type of marketing, not the ones they actually do.

For example, they talk about sharing information with other companies in the Citigroup family thought I’ve never received a solicitation from another company at Citi. They also talk about third party nonaffiliated companies, but I’ve also never received anything there (probably because I opt out of junk mail as part of our do it yourself identity theft protection)

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 Credit 
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Is Capital One’s Currency Exchange Accurate?

In the last few weeks I’ve had a good conversation with Mark in the comments of this foreign transaction fee post. Mark wanted me to confirm that Capital One was not hiding a fee within the currency exchange rates it was using. Several years ago, there was a lawsuit and subsequent settlement over this very issue. Credit cards were assessing a fee for currency exchange and not disclosing it on statements. Since then, credit card issuers are required to disclose this fee and many itemize it out.

However, as responsible consumers we can’t just take their word for it! Trust, but verify. :)

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 Credit 
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Happiest Credit Cards

Liz Pulliam Weston recently published an article summarizing and analyzing J.D. Power and Associates 2008 survey of credit card user happiness. They surveyed 8,000 users on five factors: interaction with the company, billing and payment processes, fees and rates, reward programs, and benefits and services.

I was a little surprised to see that the highest score was 783 out of 1,000 for American Express, with Discover taking second with 751. Everyone else surveyed scored less than the industry average of 724!

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