About the Credit Cards

When I read about the new credit card rules, my first thought was, “Huh.  I’d better use my safety card once or twice.”

Because the credit card companies now have the right to charge fees on cards that haven’t been used.  I still have my college Mastercard from Citibank.  It was good to me, but the rewards weren’t there.  So I stopped using it actively and kept in in the house for emergencies.  I hadn’t gotten to using it yet, and now I won’t have the chance.  I received a letter from Citibank today saying they had cancelled the card due to its non-use.

Hm.  I guess that’s their prerogative.  But if they had asked nicely, or even just charged the fee before closing the account, they would have kept my business.  Perhaps even increased it.  Because I had a stupid sentimental attachment to that card.  Still have the number memorized.

I understand the credit card companies need to shift the paradigm on the business model or whatever, so I don’t have a problem waiting it out while the feds and the banks arm wrestle over the questions of profit and stability and fairness and service.  I realize that is a luxury.  I realize that I have been milking the rewards program. And Eric Zorn at the Chicago Tribune says in this article that I have been rewarded at the expense of the poor, so I felt bad for about five minutes.  Because what am I supposed to do, not work the programs?

My primary need for credit cards is convenience.  The rewards are nice, but secondary.  I don’t want anyone to go bankrupt over them, though.

So goodbye, Citibank.  No hard feelings.  Thank you for giving me my very first credit card.  I hope you find what you are looking for in the next girl.

(But somehow I doubt it.)

What Women Pay

I read this article on MSN Money when I was out of town – Seattle, I think – so I didn’t write about it. But MP Dunleavy (with the help of Consumer Reports) dug up a whole bunch of scenarios where women are charged more than men for essentially the same service. Of course, this is not exactly news. And while I have noticed such things before, I think I had rationalized them to “women have more hair, so a haircut costs more” or “there are extra fragrances added that lotion” or “men push harder in negotiations/bargaining”.

Then there was mention of a lawsuit. Two ladies sued Saks for charging them for alterations on their evening gowns when alterations on men’s tuxedos are done for free. It sounds like wealthy women with too much time on their hands, but I guess the battles must be fought by those who have the means. It becomes scarier as Dunleavy notes the differences in mortgage and insurance rates and then the bottom line:

“When you look at each product or service individually, the affront doesn’t appear so egregious. But it all adds up: a few bucks for alterations, a percentage point or two in mortgage interest, higher health care co-pays. Then consider that, on average, a woman still earns about 78 cents to a man’s dollar (or $78,000 compared with $100,000 paid to a male colleague with the same level of experience).”

The moral of the story is that while there are larger battles to be fought here, the average women can make her statement by being a more educated consumer. Vote with your wallet!

The Best Financial Advice I Have Ever Heard

Liz Pulliam Weston at MSN has updated her article on $500 in the bank.  It is the reason that I read MSN Money.  So many people that are trying to build an emergency fund are intimidated by the traditional advice – to save six months of expenses for emergencies.  The idea of putting away so much is daunting, so we don’t bother to try.  The better idea is to start by squirreling away $500.  $500 will cover most of the unexpected expenses that derail our savings plans.  Car repairs,  A/C breaks down, the sweet potato that killed the garbage disposal…

Seriously, if you have been having trouble building your savings, please read this.

Trying Something New

You know how people talk about a “Starbucks Factor”? The silly little thing you keep doing with your money that adds up to real money over the long term. The first one I identified for myself was magazines. I would buy one every single time I was at the grocery store. Sometimes more. So I bought a subscription to Vanity Fair, the one that I liked best, and put a moratorium on the grocery store magazines. I have done no math on how much money that has saved, but I expect it is a lot.  In the interest of full disclosure, my mother will tell you there is an enormous pile of unread Vanity Fair magazines in my house.
I discovered, rather recently, that particularly in the wintertime, my Starbucks Factor is actually Starbucks. I have been buying hot chocolate at the coffee cart in my building every day that I am at work. I just decided that I should stop. Bring something from home, since I can’t manage to do so for lunch. But instant hot chocolate doesn’t taste right to me. So I bought a shiny new coffee mug to keep at the office and a few boxes of French Vanilla Cafe.
I am not entirely sure this experiment is going to work. The hot chocolate is primarily milk, which has a lot of protein. Chocolate milk is the perfect breakfast food. This fake coffee really doesn’t substitute in that area.  But it is hot and it tastes fine and three dollars goes a lot farther.
We’ll see how it goes.

Awesome!

I have been known to complain about how the banks have all of these great promotions for new accounts, but not much for the people that have had accounts since…(here is where my mother is rolling her eyes)…the day they built that branch in 1977!  Seriously – $100 gift cards right and left for opening accounts, but no love for the ones that have stuck with them through four mergers.  My checks still say Bank One.

Chase won some points back today when I logged on, checked my bank account and found a credit for a hundred bucks and change with the entry, “Chase Pays Your Bills Winner”.  

I seem to remember a commercial for that promotion, but I thought it was just for debit payments.  I don’t do debit payments, since I use credit cards for everything, but it looks like it works for online bill pay, too. 

I am most pleased.

The Difference

Now this is interesting. MSN Money has an article (well, it is really a blog post) trying to determine why some people earn $30,000 and some earn $100,000:

“Many commenters noted that, from their experience, high-income earners generally exhibit several of the following traits:

They maintain a strong work ethic.
They don’t watch the clock.
They seek to improve their skills.
They do quality work.
They’re flexible and adaptable.
They maintain a good social network.
They possess self-confidence.”

No surprise, but the comments were at least as interesting as the original post. “Luck” was absolutely named as a factor. In my experience, being at the right place at the right time is a big deal. Knowing someone that knows someone. But while I can’t cite it, I could swear there was statistical evidence that established tall people earn more than short people, and thin people earn more than heavy people. And that is before we even get to race, gender and ethnicity. And education. And choosing the “right” field.

I love reading this stuff – for the sake of argument. But the real question is: what is that salary worth to you? Are you spending your time the way that you want to spend it? Do you have a lifestyle that you can afford?

Assuming that your basic needs are met..What makes you happy?

This is Exactly What I Mean

USA Today ran an article about how there are growing numbers of unpaid property tax bills due to the recession. No kidding.

I have long complained about my property taxes. I do not begrudge taxes in general – I realize they are necessary. But property taxes tick me off for several reasons:

  1. I still do not understand how they are calculated.
  2. The assessments are outdated – at least in my county. So while my bank says that my home is worth one number, Cook County thinks it is worth much more. And is charging accordingly.
  3. The value of one’s property is not necessarily consistent with one’s ability to pay property taxes.
  4. School budgets are directly tied to property taxes.
  5. My nice neighbors just moved away because they couldn’t stand the property taxes anymore.

Now let’s talk about those unpaid bills:

Tax collectors from South Florida to Wisconsin and Cleveland have noted the increase. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, nearly 8% of taxpayers didn’t pay tax bills due this month, double the rate of four years ago, says Deputy County Treasurer Robin Darden Thomas. Now the county is struggling to collect about $400 million it’s owed in back taxes, she says.

$400 million that the county had budgeted as income. I realize that when income goes down, income taxes go down. So swapping income taxes for property taxes isn’t going to solve the problem. But as long as there is tax withholding from our paychecks, it must be more consistent than worrying about people that aren’t – for whatever reason – paying their property taxes. The idea that someone who has owned her home for decades, paid off her mortgage and retired would have to sell said home and move to some lame condo because she can’t take the property taxes makes me insane.

So increase my income taxes, if you must. I rather think we should be changing the capital gains rules, now that we are talking about it. But someone please, do something about these property taxes.