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Financial Fitness Update & Oregon Trip Summary

August 7th, 2011 at 02:04 pm

Well, we had a wonderful trip to the Oregon coast this past week. It was absolutely beautiful! We took over 700 pictures with our Fujifilm S1800, and enjoyed the company of family, as well as our little one's firsts! First time at the beach, first road trip, and first tooth! Uh oh! She did so well on the road trip. Our last night, however, her first tooth cut and she was not a happy camper. Still did exceptionally well!

Our last day there, we spent in Portland. Oh my! Portland is most definitely our destination of future dwelling! It was already on our minds before we went - but now, there is absolutely no comparison!

In fact, we are so bored by our hometown now, that we are finding it hard to leave the house, even though we dread the house so much. We have to go get diapers today, but cannot figure out what else to do. It's tragic! This place is horrid. Ick!

On the way home from the trip, I got a speeding ticket. Ah! The one time I wished we had cruise control in our car. I should not have been speeding, but alas, I was. $287 ticket! Worst part is that my teenage speeding tickets are dropping off this year. And now this! Grr! Guess insurance will be going up... Might call to find out how much.

As for finances... Before we left for our trip, my Chase Freedom card came in the mail. We used it all throughout the trip and did quite well. Should earn quite a bit of reward points. However, somehow between tracking the transactions and some transactions pending, I am off on my math by about $300. We budgeted $381 for the trip. Came over by $11. That makes $392. That should leave $108 on my tiny credit limit. But it shows $148 and I cannot find the transactions that are missing. So, I am waiting for the bill to come in before I spend anything out-of-budget.

Also, I am looking at going back to college. I want to become a Registered Nurse. However, there are not many options here. I want to get my Associates first, so that I may start working sooner, and then get my BS via a RN-BSN bridge program. The only schools in Boise that offers an Associates are Carrington College (a for-profit school) and College of Western Idaho. The difference in tuition is about $10,000! Carrington is probably quicker, as it pumps out students like no tomorrow and has no wait list, but CWI is probably better, as the local university (BSU) accepts graduates of CWI for their RN-BSN program. Also, Carrington would be very difficult to attend while working as well.

So many things to consider! It is getting quite stressful!

Received Chase Freedom Card

July 28th, 2011 at 06:17 pm

Got our shiny new Chase Freedom card in the mail this evening. The credit limit is laughable! $500! But, whatever, that is close to enough for what I'll be using it for every month.

I have a question for all of you - How do I sign up for the 5% categories online? I know how to do it via phone. Also, how do I set up my due date?

Current Happenings - Road Trip, Car Stereo, etc.

July 25th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I wanted to post another regular blog entry today, but I simply have not had time lately. So, instead, I will post the current happenings in my life.

Credit
I decided that, since all my credit debt is done away with, I should get a card without an annual fee and with cashback rewards so that I may use it every day in place of my debit card, so as to build my credit up, and to get free money. 

I began researching cards, and the two that suit me best were the Chase Freedom and Capital One Cash Rewards cards. I rather liked the Discover and AMEX cards better, but they did not provide the "everywhereness" that Visa/MC does. I may yet use an AMEX of Discover in places that will take it. Probably just stick with one card though. I was declined for the Capital One card with no annual fee, but was approved for Chase's with a $100 cashback if I send $500 in three months. No problem! So, that is in the mail.

I did some quick math, and estimated that I can make at least $84/yr off of this card. And, since it is not a budgeted income, and do not have to redeem it at any time, I can let it sit there until I feel like having a surprise.

Also, just received confirmation that my Best Buy credit card account was closed with zero balance and that it is being reported to the three major credit bureaus. Woohoo for that!

Road Trip 
As of the 30th, my wife and I will be in Tillamook, OR, for a family get-together on her mother's side. It will be the longest road trip I've ever driven, so it should be fun! 

We have $381 set aside for this trip (money from selling my class ring). We also have $306 leftover after paying bills (technically, about $250, as some is for gas). I was thinking we would keep this $306 in case of any emergencies during travel. However, I have not made a double-payment on my current target debt, and I do have $1,000 in EF, so I was thinking also that I should probably just make that double payment...

We will also be visiting Portland on our last day there. And, as a possible future home for our family, wenwould really like to get a non-touristy feel for the city. We are going to visit a coffee shop or two, a place for breakfast, a place for lunch, and I place for dinner, and then possibly visit some neighbourhoods. We are not sure. Any ideas?

Car Stereo
While still paying down debts, I was able to save $100 for a new car stereo. We are so excited! It has been pain not being able to listen to anything other than the radio! So I went onto Crutchfield's web site and looked around there, as well as other retailers. Got a beautiful stereo with USB, AUX in, CD player that reads MP3 and WMA, Bluetooth for hands-free, a remote, and HD Radio! So excited about the HD Radio! The wife and I tried to install it ourselves in order to save $50, but it was unsuccessful. Taking it in today to get it done. Maybe they won't charge the full $50 since it is 3/4 done...

This stereo retails for $139.99. Crutchfield had it for $99.99. A simple Google search found me a $20-off coupon code for Cruthfield. So I ended up paying $79.99 for the stereo, totaling $98 for everything, including free shipping and gear for installation.

Work
I will be working at another location tomorrow. I am not entirely happy with this change that my employer is doing (again!), but I am their go-to guy, so it is to be expected. A long-time employee left for a better job with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and I will be taking his place. I do not look forward to the higher maintenance and more fragile work environment, but it may help make the days go faster as well. 

Baby
Our daughter, Lorelei, is growing every day! Saturday, she decided that she would suck through a straw. This morning, my wife calls me to tell me that she is saying 'mama'. 

Our little 5.5-month old will be presenting us with teenage material in no time! Ah!

Rounding
Some of you know that I execute a wonderful tool called rounding. What this entails, is I round up to the nearest dollar on all withdrawal transactions and run down on all deposit transactions, then  record it in my PocketMoney app. 

The total saved from rounding this month was $17.61. This goes straight into savings.

Fuel Economy
I am consistently achieving 120% of my vehicle's EPA rating. The car is rated at 27mpg city/hwy (55%/45%). However, I am getting - on a long-term average - 35mpg, driving 85% city, 15% hwy. Last tank, I reached an astounding 38 mpg. This is great for a 2.0L engine. Granted, my previous Honda Fit's engine got 42mpg without trying...

Groceries
We came in $27 under budget for the month! Our grocery budget really is helping out! 

So that's what's been going on. Hope everyone finds a bit more time off than I - I will be busy this week!

Mistakes for Young People to Avoid - Credit Cards & Loans

July 18th, 2011 at 11:43 am


by uRabbit_foto, on Flickr
Ah, the allure of credit cards...

The reason that I am in this debt payoff situation that I am in is due to credit card and loan debts. Think about it... if there is no loan or credit line to payoff, well, there is no debt! My situation just so happens to involve too much of both. 

Credit Cards
When I was 18, one of the first things I did to prove my independence was open a credit card. And for the most part, it was not that bad. Until I began purchasing items that I did not have the money for. That is, of course, when it always gets out of hand. Sure, people say that a credit card is nice to have around in case of an emergency, but to those people, I say - nay! You should - first and foremost! - have an emergency fund set up. This is the number one priority. When you start earning an income, you want an EF. At least $1,000. Then start saving for whatever else you want, separate from that $1,000 EF. 

Credit cards are not as horrible as they sound. In fact, it is like with all things - in moderation. 

The best way to use a credit card is to first get a card that you can use anywhere. Then use it to purchase your normal expenses - gasoline, groceries, etc. But, be sure that every time you make a purchase on your credit card, you record it so that you may put that money aside to pay for toward the card. In fact, I would even suggest recording the credit card transaction in whatever you use to record your debit/checking account purchases. This way, you are not tempted to spend what you do not have

When you get home - that day - payoff what you just spent on your credit card. It's just that easy. 

Department store cards are hardly another matter. The only difference is that you cannot use them other places. Only get a department store card (or otherwise limited card) if it offers incentives. And remember - only spend what you would otherwise use cash for already. If it is not a planned purchase, do not go through with it.

Of course, the aforementioned practices are of my own preference. You may want, say, an Amazon.com Credit Card, because you make frequent purchases from them, and you would be less likely to overspend on it than you would a general credit card. It all depends on your weaknesses/strengths and preferences

I cannot stress this enough! Credit cards are NOT free money! Nor are they a 'payday loan' to put off paying. They are, in fact, a great tool - when used responsibly - to raise your credit score/credit worthiness. 

Loans
Loans can be great. But most of the time, they are very bad. I can say for certain - I am going to try my hardest to never again open another loan that is not 0%. With that said, it is not to be said that I will not ever again have another loan that is not 0%. There are some exceptions...

Student loans are a little excusable, as you are [hopefully] opening them in order to better yourself and to earn a better income. It can be hard to work enough in order to pay for school at the same time, but it can be done - though not by everyone. If a student loan is the only line you have open that has a balance, I would not harp on you!

However, do not abuse those student loans! I used my first student loan to pull out a $6,500 down payment on a car - bad idea! Use it only for schooling.

Mortgages are one of the exceptions to the no-loan policy. Homes are huge purchases, and can rarely be done without a loan or two. Keep in mind for mortgages - do not allow the monthly payment to exceed 29% of your monthly income. This includes HOA, insurance, closing costs, etc. I will not go any further into mortgages at this time.

Business loans are another excusable type of loan. It is quite impossible to start a business without loans. Unless you have some great investors, or already make caboodles from your current income, chances are you will need some startup loans. I have read that you should not expect to pull out more than what your business could realistically earn in two years. While this is not to say that the loans will be paid off that quickly, it is simply a guide. 

Personal loans can be dangerous. When I was 18, another thing I did to prove my independence was pull out a $2,200 loan to purchase a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. Why? Because I felt that I needed one. I did not. 

A loan that I was sort of forced to get was a personal loan to cover the difference on a vehicle's sale price and loan amount. I sold my 2007 Honda Fit last year in order to cut costs. I sold it for $13,000, and owed $15,000. I still feel I got a great deal because I sold the vehicle above KBB value. And, that loan now has under $900 left on the balance, and is my current paydown target. It will be paid off in a couple of months. That loan was only good because it helped to cut my debt considerably. 

This entry has not been as thorough as previous entries. That is because of two things: 1) Credit cards and loans are very extensive matters that require a lot of research, 2) but at the same time, I believe credit cards and loans are some of the most simplistic things in finances - try to avoid loans, and do not overspend. Of course, there are special circumstances, percentages and incentives to consider, types of loans and credit cards that could be beneficial, etc. 

In the end, as with all things financial, it is in your hands. 

Mistakes for Young People to Avoid - Car Hopping

July 4th, 2011 at 02:27 pm

I have decided to start a new series - Mistakes for Young People to Avoid. Really, this series could be helpful to anyone and everyone, but it will pertain mostly to stupid mistakes that young people - like myself - quite often make. In fact, nearly every installment in this series will be from personal experience. 

These installments will be periodic, so stay tuned! Remember, blog posts will be made - usually - on Mondays and Fridays. This series will most likely be once per week. So since today is Monday, chances are that each new installment in the series will be made on Mondays.

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Being swooned into a new car is not as fun as it sounds.

I am 23 years old. I have been licensed since I was 16. I have also had a total of eight vehicles. More vehicles than years I have been licensed. If this does not sound like an irresponsible way to live your life, then you are beyond my help.

This first installment of my series, Mistakes for Young People to Avoid, is on car-hopping. That is, whimsically jumping from vehicle to vehicle. Let's start from the beginning.

At age 16, my parents purchase a 1984 Honda Prelude 1.8L Dual-Carb with automatic transmission, from my aunt, for $500. It was worth $2,000. This baby was MINT. Still had that clean smell. After two years of ownership, I had jacked up the front end so bad that both front wheels toed-in (inward angle), so much that any speeds above 40 were shaky and dangerous. I had backed the car up with the driver door open, and caught the door on som shrubbery, bending it backward against the hinge. The transmission was also slipping and would not shift thru second gear. Needless to say, I needed a new car. And armed with my newfound responsibility and my parents' credit scores, we headed to a dealership.

First dealership we get to, I decide on a 2003 Nissan Sentra 1.8L with automatic and air conditioning. It was a very basic car. Power nothing and no CD player. I had that car for two weeks, and decided I did not want it.

This time, I did a little more research. Went online and looked at some other cars. Found a 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP and a 2000 Cadillac Catera. I was interested in both. The Pontiac had better ratings, but the Cadillac was... A Cadillac. Heated leather, air ride suspension, sport mode, winter mode, Bose surround sound, On*Star, wood grain, etc. This baby was mine!

...For about a year...

After replacing the Mass Airflow Sensor ($280 under extended warranty) and recently finding out that the California Catalytic Converter needed replaced (some $700 or something), I opted to go car shopping again. 

This changed my entire life... I was in the middle of college, getting my Certificate in Massage Therapy. I looked into getting a student loan for a downpayment on a new vehicle. I wanted a two-door, manual, brand new sporty coupe. I headed to a dealership that had just what I wanted... The [then] brand new Pontiac G5 GT, a 200-HP turbo four-cylinder. And they had one... In screaming yellow with a leather package. 

A couple days of negotiating revealed that I could not get financing for that car. "Do you like MINI Coopers?" were the words I heard after my denial. And my eyes turned into the biggest, dopiest puppy-dog brown eyes you couldn't even dream up. My heart pounded. A MINI Cooper... My dream car since they came out in 2002. 

And there it was... A 2003 electric blue MINI Cooper S. Six-speed Getrag transmission, Harmon/Kardon sound system, panoramic roof, the works! I knew all there was to know about these cars! And what's more? It only had 8,800 miles on it! One test drive and I was hooked! 

Okay, let's do it! $23,000 sticker price. Nope. Denied. Okay, now what? The salesman goes to the back room. Comes back with this deal: $21,000 sales price, $6,500 down payment, and they take my Cadillac in at full retail! (And yes, it was full retail - $7,000. Trade-in was $3,500.) Okay! Sign me up! 

So I pulled out another student loan for $6,500, and I was outta there! Then the first payment hit... $583. Whoa! Okay... I don't think I can do this... But I could have, if I'd known how to budget. 

I kept making the payments, and boy was it hard! But I did it; I just never had any money for anything else... I thought. But, really, I just didn't go to movies or go out as much as before. I was saving no money at all. 

Then I graduate college. Woohoo! My parents decide to pay off my auto loan and lower my payments to $200/mo. Sweet deal! 

Fastforward about half a year down the road (have now owned the MINI for about a year and a half), and I decide I need a truck. I didn't even know how much I still owed my parents, but I didn't care. 

I found a 2003 Toyota Tacoma Pre-Runner (2wd) with the fancy TRD Off-Road package. Monthly payments of $162, no problem! Retail price, $18,500. Trade-in, $14,000. They convinced my dad to sign the MINI over if they gave him a $1,000 check (out of my trade-in value). I was on my way with my new truck. Funny thing, I wanted a 4x4, and still ended up with this two-wheel driven one. 

Half a year later, I'm commuting to work 20 miles one-way, getting 20 mpg. Compared to my MINI's 23 mpg in the city (and hot-rodding it everywhere), I was not happy. During this time, I met my wife-to-be. Her family invites me on a trip to Seattle. 

While in Seattle, we talk about our future plans and all. And my truck comes up. Long story short, I decide I want a Honda Fit. I begin doing research when I get home. Great cars, great mileage, great reliability. Sign me up!

Found a 2007 Honda Fit Sport, with a short-shift 5-speed manual, tinted windows, and rare factory optional goodies. I leave the dealership with it, trading-in my truck. 

During my ownership of the Fit, I loved it almost as much as I loved my MINI. I was getting 42 mpg and was loving it! But at $282/mo and insurance pretty close to that, I had to do something else. 

This time, I'm a little smarter about things. I decide to use my $1,500 tax returns to purchase an older Jeep Cherokee. Their 4.0 inline six engines are known to be one of the strongest. I sell my Fit for KBB value, which happened to be $2,000 less than what I owed. So I got a personal loan for the difference amount from my credit union and was on my way. Found a 1990 Jeep Cherokee with the 4.0. Unfortunately, it was not the exact same 4.0 that I had researched. They put those in the '91's and up. I was bummed. But it ran pretty well... For a while. 

I got the Jeep in March of 2010. January of 2011, the Jeep blows its head gaskets while my 9-month pregnant wife is driving it. Needless to say, she was without a car for a while, and I was off in the Army.

In the same month, we found a 2007 Ford Focus S. Has air conditioning, but little else. I read up on cars, and this was by far our best deal. We set out to get a Focus and we found one. And with only 30,000 miles! We paid $5,500 (financed $3,800, car retailed at $9,000) and we couldn't be happier!

Now... It's July of 2011, and we still have the Focus, and it's serving us pretty well. We will be in this car for some time to come. Now, a little more detail...

After all the trading of vehicles, I am left with so many bills! First off, the balance owed on the truck transferred over to the Fit, so I am - in all reality - still paying for the truck in that personal loan (which is almost paid-off). I am still paying on the MINI and have over $11,000 left to pay on it! So, at one point, I was paying for three vehicles, while only owning one. Where's the sense in that?

Right now, I am paying for two and only have one. But if you think about it, I could have two - the Focus and my MINI. I could have avoided all that and still had the car of my dreams, as well as a vehicle for my wife. Unfortunately, I did not have the guidance or foresight to think of that when I was single.

Every day, I kick myself for getting rid of that car. $200/mo for that is very affordable. And I only had 22,000 miles on it when I got rid of it. 

I have not done the math on how much money I have blown on vehicles, but I am sure it is in the 20,000's, easily.

I was irresponsible, as many people are these days. It is the lack of financial education and the wrong mindset that got me there. I will never forgive myself for getting rid of that MINI. But all these experiences has made me realize things and has lead me to where I am - on a path to financial freedom! And it is my goal to one day own a MINI as good as or even better than the one I had, and to pay cash for it. Among many other goals.

I hope this account of mine has helped some of you or relates to you in some way. Please, teach your kids (and yourselves!) about finances and responsibility. And don't be afraid to tell them (and yourself!) NO. 

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, and be sure to keep reading! 

You will forever be missed...

Hidden Savings

June 30th, 2011 at 09:41 am

This week, I have been seeking advice from the community, pertaining mainly to our current budget. It has most definitely helped!

Here is the topic: http://bit.ly/lUTyBW

First, it started with some reality checks. My wife is a SAHM, and she loves it. However, we may need to have her help pick up some slack. We don't have many options for child care, so she may have to do something on the weekends. However, what is more likely, is that I will be using my Certificate in Massage Therapy to work in neighbouring towns that do not require a massage license. I will be working toward that license so that I may get a better position here in Boise.

Next up, was addressing my high interest credit card. I recently paid off a Best Buy card and have one card left; my Master Card Platinum. While this card is pretty customer friendly (no annual fees), it's pretty high interest (24.24%). One user suggested looking for a lower interest card and transferring the balance. My CU, Idaho Central Credit Union, is awesome. They have great credit cards. So I applied.

Having been in contact with the store manager at the downtown branch where I frequent, I soon found out that they could save us money on our car payment as well! Long story short, I did not qualify for the credit card, but did qualify for a $4,300 loan (covering the current auto loan AND my MC cc) at 4.99%!

We go in on Friday to sign on the dotted line. Smile

It's great to find out that savings are out there just waiting for you!