Banking 
10
comments

How to Avoid ATM Fees

ATMsWhen my sister was in college, she used the ATM a lot. Whenever she needed some money, she’s go to the machine and pull out $20. Sometimes she’d check her balance. Then one day she realized, or my dad realized, that she was using an out of network ATM which charged around $5-7 (combined) each time she withdrew money. For every $20 she withdrew, she was paying a $7 fee. Every time she checked her balance, that’s another fee. Over the course of a semester, she racked up around $100 in unnecessary fees. In her case, she wasn’t aware it was happening but it’s a hard pill to swallow nonetheless.

Fortunately, with a few quick tips, being dinged by ATM fees is completely avoidable.

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 Banking 
21
comments

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. :)


 Investing 
7
comments

Remember to Comparison Shop Index Funds

For as long as I’ve been reading and writing about personal finance, index funds have been popular because they offer a low cost way for investors to get diversified into the market. I’ve long been a customer of Vanguard and index funds have always been popular with its founder, John Bogle.

Lately, index funds and index ETFs have exploded in popularity because people are starting to buy into low cost investing as the best way forward. Active funds remain popular but index funds usually win out, after expenses are considered.

So when you start looking at index funds, does it really matter if you invest with one broker or another? Surprisingly there is a little variation with mutual fund companies and it really pays to do your homework.

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 Investing 
15
comments

2011 Kiplinger’s Best Online Brokers

Every year Kiplinger’s magazine puts out a survey of the best online brokers. Every year, I take a look at the list because I’m curious how the different brokers stack up. I’d like to know if anyone has made any big changes or improvements to their service, it might change my mind about who I do business with.

Usually the lists don’t change all that much. As you scan this year’s list, you’ll see the same ones near the top, the same ones near the middle, and the same ones near the end. The meat is in the article detailing the different categories (like commissions and fees, investment choices, etc.) because it adds a little color to an otherwise robotic list.

One important thing to remember as you peruse this list: the best online broker is the broker that satisfies all of your requirements. All the bells and whistles in the world don’t matter if they don’t offer exactly what you need. With so many brokers, many of which are inexpensive, you should be able to find your best broker, online or offline, if you’re diligent.

Let’s get to the list…

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 Investing 
14
comments

Smart Money 2010 Best Online Brokers

Smart MoneyEvery year, Smart Money takes an in-depth look at online brokers, from their trading platform to their customer service, and rates them based on their performance. They open up accounts and make trades, they call up customer service and pore through the reviews, and they share all of their experiences with you – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

One thing that does surprise me is how little the list changes each year. For yet another year, the top five are the same, though their order has changed a little, and the back of the list sees the same faces. You would think that these brokers would look at these problem spots and at least make some steps to address them.
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 Banking 
37
comments

Best Online Checking Accounts

A few years ago, if you told someone that you put your savings into an online bank, people would look at you funny. They ask whether or not your money was safe and secure, as if your dollars were actually locked away in a vault at the local bank. They’d ask whether you could talk to a human being if you needed to or if the banks themselves were safe (“because they’d heard stories”).

Well, years later, after enjoying yields of 5% or more, the general public is starting to pick up on the fact that just like buying books and CDs online, you can find better prices for your savings by shopping online.

It’s only natural that after savings and certificates of deposits, the next bank deposit product to start percolating the interwebs would be checking accounts. Most checking accounts do not bear any interest and often cost consumers money in various fees, from overdraft to ATM fees.

So what if I told you that you can get an online checking account, pay virtually no ATM fees, and increase your interest rate all at the same time? Well you can… online checking accounts offer just that.

In fact, some of the online checking accounts I list below may give you a higher interest rate than your brick and mortar savings account!

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 Investing 
15
comments

BVC #23: Your Mutual Fund May Be Ripping You Off [VIDEO]

When it comes to investing, you can’t predict the future. What you can predict, with 100% certainty, is how much your broker is going to charge to get you there. If you’re like me, the majority of your stock market investments are in mutual funds in retirement accounts like 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs. While we can’t control how they will perform, we can be smart about where we invest by picking good funds with reasonable costs.

In this video, I look at some index funds, the easiest type of fund to compare, and how picking a low cost one can make a huge difference in your retirement nest egg.

Bargaineering #23: Your Mutual Fund May Be Ripping You Off from JIM WANG on Vimeo.



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 Investing 
28
comments

Beware Broker Transfer Out Fees

My wife’s Roth IRA currently sits at a TD Ameritrade account, where it’s been sitting for the last three or four years. With the majority of it in cash, mostly because we lost track of the account, we want to invest it in our retirement investment of choice, an index fund. Our index fund of choice happens to be the Vanguard 500 Index Fund because most of our retirement funds are with Vanguard. Vanguard does not have the cheapest index fund, I believe that title now resides with Fidelity’s Spartan 500 index. Paying the extra 0.08% seems reasonable considering we can manage it all in one place.

The only downside about this entire process is that TD Ameritrade has a $75 outbound full account transfer fee. :( Fortunately Vanguard does not charge you to transfer in an IRA (to my knowledge, no one does).

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