Insurance 
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Non-Married Multi-Car Auto Insurance Discounts

You don’t have to be married to take advantage of a multi-car discount with a car insurance company.

One of the best ways to save money in car insurance is to insure multiple cars with one company. Two cars with one company often costs less than if they had their own individual policies. Up until now, I had always thought that doing so required the owners of the two cars to be related in some way, such as through marriage, but that’s not the case.

Two of my friends, who are dating, had been living together in a rowhome and recently bought a house together a few blocks away. They recently changed insurance companies when they were researching homeowners insurance. One of them had a GEICO auto insurance policy and when he called to cancel, GEICO wanted a shot at keeping his business. He told him his situation and GEICO offered the multi-car discount despite them not being married but couldn’t offer a break on the homeowners (its through Travelers and they don’t offer a discount), so they went with Erie Insurance anyway. It appears that you didn’t have to be married to take advantage of the multi-car discount, though I suspect sharing an address may be necessary.

Does anyone else have experience with this?

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On an unrelated note, the 156th Carnival of Personal Finance is available at PT Money and my post on Best Gasoline Cashback Credit Cards was included.


 Monthly Review 
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May ’08 Net Worth Monthly Review

Last month was the return of these monthly net worth reviews and the first time, probably since when we bought our house (closing costs are brutal), that our net worth decreased across the month (taxes are brutal too). This month, we saw our net worth increase by a healthy 8.6% helped along by a mild recovery in the stock market (1.39% increase in retirement assets).

Last month I talked about three things in the future – roof replacement, water heater, and diversification of our investments. The roof is set to be replaced on June 16th, contingent on good weather, at a cost of $4,450. The roofing company offers a six month same as cash option but I think we’re going to put it on the Citi CashReturns card for the 1.2% cashback since interest rates are so low (it’s nearly a wash after taxes, so we figured for simplicity the credit card option was better). We knew the roof needed to be replaced so we were prepared, there won’t be any other financial impact (other than the -$4,450 to the bank account).

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 Personal Finance 
2
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Effective Complaining: Hit Credit Cards, Not Banks

Stop ComplainingOn Sunday, I reviewed Gotcha Capitalism, a powerful and comprehensive guide for consumers, and gave it glowing reviews. Today, I want to talk about a couple stats Bob Sullivan shares with the reader about complaining to companies and success rates (Keep in mind that the book was published in 2007).

The point of the section was to illustrate that the places where you are more likely to succeed are exactly the places that people don’t try. The success rate at a grocery store is 57.1% but only 14% of people ever try, whereas the success rate with a television company is an abysmal 20.2% yet 84% of people complain. If you want to make the most out of your time, go after credit card companies. Ask to have fees removed, refunded, or waived because you’re such an awesome customer.

Here are the numbers:

  1. Credit card companies: 64.6% success rate
  2. Airlines: 60.0% success rate
  3. Grocery stores: 57.1% success rate
  4. Retirement: 52.2% success rate
  5. Internet: 51.5% success rate
  6. Hotels: 37.0% success rate
  7. Banks: 33.3% success rate
  8. Insurance: 28.9% success rate
  9. Cell Phones: 26.8% success rate
  10. Television: 20.2% success rate

Here are the rates at which people actually complained:

  1. Television: 84% complaint rate
  2. Credit card companies: 79% complaint rate
  3. Cell Phones: 71% complaint rate
  4. Hotels: 54.0% complaint rate
  5. Insurance: 38% complaint rate
  6. Internet: 33% complaint rate
  7. Retirement: 23% complaint rate
  8. Banks: 18% complaint rate
  9. Airlines: 15% complaint rate
  10. Grocery stores: 14% complaint rate

If you have all the time in the world, complain to everyone! :)

(Photo by aturkus)


 Insurance 
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International Medical Insurance Options

One of my good friends has an opportunity to work on a client engagement in London, England, and started asking me about international medical insurance options for his ladyfriend. He will have medical insurance through his employer but his ladyfriend, if she chooses to live in England while he’s on this half-year engagement, will not have any medical insurance because they aren’t married and because she’ll have left her job. So, in chatting it up with him, the question of international medical insurance came up and he asked if I, in my infinite wisdom, could do a little research on his behalf and maybe write about it.

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 Cars 
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Calculate Your Car’s Cost Per Mile

A few years ago, with my last car, I did a little calculation to help determine the “cost per mile.” I was doing quite a bit of driving back and forth from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, then Baltimore to New Jersey, to visit my girlfriend (now by wife, so I suppose it was worth it :) ) and so this number was important for me to know. I also found that it helped make other decisions in my life easier because it gave me a very tangible cost associated with driving somewhere, such as to the gas station across town instead of the gas station on my route home.

The Calculation

The cost per mile can be broken up into three major categories and one catch-all:

  • Gas: Clearly the dominant value in the calculation, gasoline is something that has to be based on actual costs rather than estimated costs. You can’t take the cost of gasoline, the EPA value for your car’s mileage, and figure out based on that. Ignoring the inaccuracy of EPA values, though they’ve made a push to make them more accurate, your car is probably not the standard car. You have crap in your trunk, your tires are probably not inflated perfectly every single drive, and your maintenance isn’t going to be perfect (get that 30,000 mile checkup exactly at 30,000 miles?). So, keep a log for five fill-ups, reset your B trip odometer, and calculate your gas cost per mile that way.
  • Insurance: This value is easy, simply take your premium and divide by the number of miles you drive in a given year. The “rule of thumb” is around 15,000 miles a year, but if you have an especially long commute then you can increase that. You can always just throw in a guesstimate because what you use as your miles driven per year isn’t going to drastically affect this number. For example, if you pay $2,000 a year and you drive 15,000 miles, that’s 13.3 cents a mile. At 20,000 miles a year, it’s 10 cents a mile. Sure the difference is 33% but you’ll ultimately use this value for trips in the tens or hundreds of miles… meaning a difference of only 30 cents – $3.
  • Tires: Depending on how expensive your tires are, you might want to go through with this calculation or just consider it part of the noise. I know tires say they can last 30,000 miles, but I believe most of my tires run only maybe 20,000 miles. Either way, this math should be pretty simple. Divide the cost of the tires by the mileage and add it to the running total you’ve been using.
  • Everything Else: I always throw in an extra 3-5 cents to cover everything else, from windshield wiper blades to routine maintenance to oil changes. I figure that a $20 oil change put across 3,000 miles (I actually changed my own oil with synthetic but do it once every 10,000 miles) is small enough to be considered noise in the equation so I use the 3-5 cents catch-all value.

So, what’s the final number? The IRS business mileage deduction is 50.5 cents a mile, how close was your value to this one? When I did this calculation a few years ago, I found my value was close to the mileage deduction back then (it was 40-something cents) but that was before the spike in fuel prices. For comparison’s sake, my value for gasoline back then was 7 cents a mile based on a car that was running around ~32 miles to the gallon (Acura Integra and I was doing a significant amount of highway driving).

How do you use this number? Let’s say it’s 280 miles between my home in Maryland and my parent’s in New York. The tolls between Maryland and New York, I believe, are around $60 a round trip. Given the cost of fuel alone (7 cents a mile), the cost of the trip is over $100 compared to the cost of a Southwest flight that can be bought for $39 a round trip. So, driving alone would cost over a hundred dollars and nearly 5 hours – flying would cost ~$100 and 3 hours… it’s a no brainer and the math is facilitated by knowing the cost per mile.

Finally, your car’s cost per mile is only part of the story. In my drives to Pittsburgh or to New Jersey, tolls played an important role and often threw the entire equation out of whack. Back then, the toll for the Pennsylvania Turnpike was around $8 a round trip and nearly $50 a round trip to New Jersey. Another factor was time. I could take a $15 Chinatown bus from Baltimore to Grand Central in NYC, then jump on an Amtrak train out to New Jersey… but it would take me like 15 hours to make the trip and time is money! (and back then, that was time I could spend with my beautiful soon-to-be wife, and yes she reads this blog)


 Personal Finance 
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HSA, HRA and FSA Differences

When I first started working several years ago, I was amazed at the idea of a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). I could make tax-deductible contributions and they could be withdrawn tax free for qualified medical expenses and over the counter products. Since then, I’ve become aware of two other types of accounts: Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRA). Each have their benefits and drawbacks and not every employer offers those program so it mostly depends on your luck. In the two employers I’ve had, I’ve only ever had access to the FSA. So, let’s talk about the differences between each of the programs.

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 Personal Finance 
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Seven Wonders of the Personal Finance World

When I was younger, I used to play Sid Meier’s Civilization all the time. One of the best parts of the game was trying to build one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World because it gave your civilization a distinct advantage in the world. My personal favorites were the Lighthouse (it gave your ships a farther range and they wouldn’t get lost) and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (I believe each one of your cities now had a Granary), but fun part was being exposed to these wonder in the first place.

Since then, there have been more “Wonders of the World” like the Natural Wonders of the World, 7 Wonders of the Modern World, so why not create a Seven Wonders of the Personal Finance World? Hokey, I know, but it’s my opinion that, if you can, you should “visit” every single one of these wonders.

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 Credit 
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7 Unwritten & Often Forgotten Credit Card Secrets

Credit card companies are just like every other business. There are essentially three concepts to understand when dealing with a business, especially credit cards:

  • They exist to make as much money as possible,
  • They have relatively well documented rules and operating procedures,
  • They’re willing to break #2 in pursuit of #1.

So, to that end, here are 7 unwritten and often forgotten credit card tricks or “secrets” (I hate the term “secrets” because how much of a secret can they be if I know it?) that may save you a few bucks someday. If you don’t learn a single secret or you have a secret of your own, please let me know! Secrets are better when you tell everyone!

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