Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest Post: Fed Turns Its Attention to CARD Act Loopholes

According to the Federal Reserve Board, there are a number of loopholes in the Credit CARD Act that need to be closed. The Act, which was passed back in 2009 and implemented over three distinct phases, was created to help protect consumers against unfair practices of credit card companies.

However, there are some lenders who have been looking for other ways to make money despite this new legislation, so they’ve taken advantage of some loopholes that this new law was supposed to protect against. Now, the Fed is looking to stop these companies from circumventing the law’s intent by clarifying the language of the law. But what does this mean for credit card companies and consumers?

Doing Away With Surprise Interest Rate Changes
For starters, credit card issuers will be unable to use semantics to hide from having to give notice to consumers about interest rate changes. Under the law we have today, it is required that credit card companies let card holders know 45 days in advance before raising their rates. And those that offer introductory periods on low APR credit cards have to keep the low rate for the amount of time that was specified, unless the cardholder has failed to make a payment for over 60 days. There are various lenders who have tried to get around this rule, by offering rebates to customers that can be revoked anytime, which then causes the customer to pay a much higher rate.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Citibank was caught playing a game where they would increase the interest rates of their customers to the maximum legal rate of 29.9%,and then offer them up to a 70% rebate on the interest charges if they pay on time. The catch was that Citibank held the right to stop the rebates without giving any notice to its customers.

This practice will be eliminated under the new rules. According to the Fed, any promotions that temporarily eliminate interest charges will be treated the same as promotions that offer reduced rates, and will be subject to the same protections.

Killing the "fee harvesters"
Another loophole that will be closed is the one that will stop credit card companies from stuffing cards with outrageous fees. Under the law we have now, there is a cap on what a customer can be charged during their first year of opening an account. This cap is set at 25% of their credit limit. There are some lenders who have still tried to circumvent this cap with application fees and other such fees, which they claim shouldn’t be capped, since they are being charged before the account is even opened.

According to the WSJ, First Premier Bank was using this loophole to charge an annual fee of $75 and then a $95 processing fee for cards that only had $300 credit limits. The changes that are to come will stop these practices.

Income Requirements Becoming Stricter for Credit
The final change taking place will ensure that customers will not be able to get access to a credit line unless they can really afford it. The Fed is proposing that credit card companies look at an individual’s income instead of the household income to determine their ability to make payments, when increasing their credit limits or opening new accounts. So consumers who have low or no income will need a cosigner in order to open a new account.

Although these new rules are being enforced to better protect the CARD Act, it will not prevent credit card companies from searching for new loopholes to jump through. So the question now is, how will the Fed respond the next time around, and are they always going to be a step behind credit card companies?

About the Author
This post comes from the team of personal finance bloggers and experts in helping consumers compare rewards credit cards.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guest Post: Tame your financial worries by saving money in 2011

The current financial climate in the US has left the individuals and the families struggle to make both ends meet. One of the biggest concerns that most individuals face is maximizing their savings for future purposes. As the interest rates are gradually dipping with time, most of them are not even sure how to make the most out of their savings. Though it is easy to talk about saving money and there are many people who already are aware of some ways that can help them do so, yet very few are able to achieve their financial goals by saving money. Investing can be a certain way of earning money and boosting your savings but you need to know the difference between forex and stock market in order to take an informed decision while investing. Have a look at the ways in which you can manage your personal finances and reduce your financial worries.
  1. Track your monthly spending: Most Americans hate to live within a budget and this is perhaps the biggest reason of the high debt level in America. You may not want to follow a budget but this is a pre-requisite to achieving a financially secured life. Build a realistic monthly budget to track all your monthly income in accordance with your expenses. This will help you determine where to cut back and maximize your savings efforts. If you start following a realistic budget, you’ll soon be able to change your financial mentality and understand the importance of living within your means.
  2. Get a high-yield savings account: You might find this term contradictory in today’s financial picture, but it’s very important to check whether or not your savings account has enough liquidity. This means whether or not you’ll be able to withdraw money from the account whenever you want. You must also be able to earn returns that will preserve your purchasing power against inflation. If you obtain these two requirements you can open an account with a reputable bank and boost your savings by building wealth.
  3. Forget the plastic cards: You might find the plastic cards extremely useful as it makes everything attainable, but it’s high time that you realize that they are the things that push you towards the debt hole. If you’re seriously looking forward to boosting your savings by building wealth, you must restrain the usage of credit cards. No matter how many credit cards you own, make sure that you go shopping with cash, and not with your cards. Leave them at home, so that you can stop saving as soon as you exhaust your cash. This will help you stay away from incurring further debt.
  4. Invest in the forex market: Investing is perhaps the best way of earning easy money if done cleverly. Though it is a risky venture, yet you can gain huge returns if you invest in the proper manner. You need not require huge funds for investing in the forex market and therefore you can even try this while you do not have a lump sum amount of money at hand. Know the difference between forex and stock, if you’re confused about investing in the stock market and the forex market.
  5. Save money on your home: If you’ve fallen back on your monthly mortgage payments and seeking a refinance loan, shop around extensively so that you can strike the best and the most affordable deal with your home loan lender. If you see that a major portion of your home is left unused, you can also plan to set it on rent. This will boost your income level and thereby enhance your monthly savings as well.
Taking little steps towards managing your personal finances will help you reach a big decision that can help you great deal in the long run. Restrain yourself from pulling out your wallet every now and then. Sticking to a tight budget and spending on only that’s necessary are the key to a secured financial life.

About the Author
This guest post was written by Grace Ruskin.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

IRS e-file – When Will I Get My Refund (2011)?

If you are wondering when you can expect to receive your tax refund from the IRS, they have a publication where you can look this information up. If you used IRS e-file, the information is listed in Publication 2043 for 2011. For people who efile, this publication is printed in both English and Spanish.

I copied a portion of the table below which shows when your federal tax refund should be deposited in your bank account (by direct deposit), or when your check would be mailed if you e-filed and your refund was accepted within certain dates.

IRS accepts your return
(by 11:00 am) between…
Direct Deposit
Paper Check
Jan 14 and Jan 20, 2011 Jan 28, 2011 Feb 4, 2011
Jan 20 and Jan 27, 2011 Feb 4, 2011 Feb 11, 2011
Jan 27 and Feb 3, 2011  Feb 11, 2011 Feb 18, 2011
Feb 3 and Feb 10, 2011 Feb 18, 2011   Feb 25, 2011
Feb 10 and Feb 17, 2011 Feb 25, 2011 Mar 4, 2011
Feb 17 and Feb 24, 2011 Mar 4, 2011 Mar 11, 2011
Feb 24 and Mar 3, 2011 Mar 11, 2011 Mar 18, 2011
Mar 3 and Mar 10, 2011 Mar 18, 2011 Mar 25, 2011
Mar 10 and Mar 17, 2011 Mar 25, 2011 Apr 1, 2011
Mar 17 and Mar 24, 2011 Apr 1, 2011 Apr 8, 2011
Mar 24 and Mar 31, 2011 Apr 8, 2011 Apr 15, 2011
Mar 31 and Apr 7, 2011 Apr 15, 2011 Apr 22, 2011
Apr 7 and Apr 14, 2011 Apr 22, 2011 Apr 29, 2011
Apr 14 and Apr 21, 2011 Apr 29, 2011 May 6, 2011

While it may be interesting information to have, this is the federal government that we are talking about. You can also check the status of your income tax refund using this link. (And of course, en Español: ¿Dónde está mi reembolso? ) You will need to enter your social security number, filing status, and refund amount to see your refund status.

I've heard some anecdotal stories about the IRS taking a lot longer to process refunds in 2010, so I would take the information with a grain of salt. I will be curious how the IRS does this time around.

Post a comment, and enter to win free tax software. As always, anonymous comments are welcome on PFStock.

NOTE: Please see the update for 2013: When Will I Get My 2013 Tax Refund?


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

$40 Giveaway from CSN Stores

CSN Stores has provided PFStock with a $40 gift certificate to give away to one of my lucky blog readers. CSN operates numerous websites that offer a variety of products ranging from furniture, cookware, and electronics to luggage. I was recently shopping for modern furniture on one of their sites. I have made purchases from CSN before, and I was quite impressed by their service and the speed of delivery. It only took one day for my order to arrive!

Anyway, I have decided to hold a random drawing for the gift certificate. You can have up to three chances to win the prize:

1) Any reader can enter by posting a comment below. My question is "What would you buy with a gift certificate from CSN Stores?" (You must post a comment to enter the drawing. If your comment doesn't show up or is caught by the Blogger spam filter, you are not entered in the drawing.)
2) For an additional entry, web site owners can link to this post, to let other know about this contest.
3) Lastly, my fellow bloggers can add to your blogroll (must be accessible from blog's main page) for one more entry in the drawing.

If you have a problem leaving a comment, please Email me. If the entry form doesn't show up, please cut and paste this link to go to the form directly:

Update: The promotional code that I received from CSN Stores expires on March 1, 2011. As a result, I've decided to move up the entry deadline to February 14, 2011 (Valentine's Day). This will give the winner ample time to spend their gift certificate.

The drawing is limited to residents of the U.S. and Canada. The certificate will be in the form of a promo code, and does does not cover any shipping costs. The code can be used on any product from any one of the CSN Stores. A winner will be randomly picked from among the qualified entries received by February 14, 2011. I will contact the winner by Email. Good luck to everyone who enters!

Please also check out the other giveaways that PFStock is offering. Look for "Giveaways" under the PFStock title at the top of my blog.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tax Tips: Week 2

We have our first winner in the PFStock Tax Tips Giveaway 2011. "Fangirl Jen" will be receiving free H&R Block At Home Online Tax Preparation. If you haven't entered, please do so as soon as you can. Non-winning entries will be carried over to the next drawing. You only need to enter once to be included in all 4 remaining drawings.

Here are some of the tax tips that I've received so far:
  • Bloggers should keep track of all expenses throughout the year whether it is for mailing books for giveaways or hosting fees.
  • Contact your local libraries, chamber of commerce, or city officials, to find out which agencies offer free tax filing for low-income families.
  • I'm just anxious to get this done. Get your taxes done early so you don't get stressed about it come April 15.
  • I came to realize the tax I paid on my car last year was tax deductible. Check for all the credits!
  • I have added extra to my payroll deductions in order to make sure that I don't owe any additional taxes.
  • Read PFStock and other personal finance blogs. (I think that this contributor has his own personal finance blog.)
I'm going to add my own tax tip here: Buy a copy of J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax or the Ernst & Young Tax Guide to help with understanding tax laws and with preparing your taxes. Better yet, check out a copy of either one from your local library for free.

Please keep your tax tips coming, and good luck to everybody who enters. This contest will run through February 11, with a new drawing every week until then.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Win Tax Software

This a reminder that the first drawing for a free copy of H&R Block At Home is approaching. If you haven't entered yet, please visit the PFStock Tax Tips Giveaway 2011 post. The deadline for the first drawing is January 14, and if you get an entry in by that time, you'll be automatically entered in all 5 drawings. To recap, the folks at H&R Block have provided me copies of H&R Block At Home Premium Federal Online Tax Preparation (a $50 value), to give away to lucky blog readers. H&R Block At Home was formerly known as TaxCut.

Based on the current number of entries, your chances of winning are still pretty good. Good luck to everybody who enters!

Note to Commenters: If you represent a company such as Intuit, TurboTax, H&R Block, Microsoft, Amazon, etc., please leave your contact information or send me an Email (my Email address is listed in the sidebar) to let me know that you left a comment. If I cannot determine that your comment is authentic, it will be deleted.


Note: H&R Block At Home software was provided for review by H&R Block. All opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Yodlee, Mint, and Financial Account Management

For the past several years, I have used Yodlee account aggregation service to keep track of over 20 bank and brokerage accounts. There are other financial sites out there such as which serve a similar purpose. PFStock has just completed a poll that asks readers which website they use to manage their finances. Here are the final results of that poll:

Wesabe: 3%
Mint: 46%
Yodlee: 36%
Other: 3%
None: 16%

Readers were allowed to select more than one website, so the percentages add up to more than 100%. It is interesting to note that until very recently, Yodlee was ahead in this poll. Now, Mint has seemed to have taken the top position (among PFStock readers, at least). As a historical note, the Wesabe service was shutdown this past summer. It seems that "Wesabe Groups" does still exist as an online forum rather than a financial management site.

To be honest, I have never used Mint. Anecdotal reports that I've received were mixed with some readers who are dedicated to Mint, but also many find that Yodlee works better for them. Now, there is even a 360-page book called For Dummiesicon to help users. To me, this is an indication of Mint's growing popularity. On the other hand, CNN Money recently ran an article describing some of the frustrations users have faced.

To give some background on Yodlee, the service automatically polls different websites where you have online accounts. These accounts are then aggregated at the Yodlee MoneyCenter so that you can get a "big picture" look at your financial data.

Over the years, I have developed a sort of a love/hate relationship with Yodlee because I have had various problems with the service. Many of the problems that I've had with Yodlee were temporary, and were more likely related to technical problems with the financial institutions' websites that Yodlee is trying to aggregate rather than with Yodlee itself.

For example, banks and brokerages are constantly updating and enhancing their websites. Whenever a new "enhancement" is added that significantly changes the way that you log in to view your accounts, Yodlee will tell you that that an accounts can't be updated because the login credentials (user name and/or password) are invalid. The problem usually goes away by itself, but I've found a couple instances where I had to contact Yoddle customer service to have my issue fixed.

Yodlee's customer service has been fairly responsive. At one time, I even received a message from Yodlee's senior VP Peter Hazlehurst, who offered to help with my issues. Despite its problems, I consider Yodlee to be a necessary evil since I have so many accounts to keep track of. Although Yodlee is probably the best overall service to use for its intended purpose, I also keep a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that tracks the balances of all my accounts. However, I only update that spreadsheet once or twice a year.

Here are some of the downsides to Yodlee's service that are worth pointing out:
1) Not all banks participate in Yodlee. A few of my accounts are not supported, and I would need to add and update them manually if I wanted to track them in Yodlee. According to Peter Hazlehurst, some credit unions use a technology called "CAPTCHA" which shows "squiggly" letters, and Yodlee doesn't support them. The term CAPTCHA is an acronym that means "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart". But, I have no idea what a Turing test is.

2) Security and "Secure Sign On" concerns are valid points to consider. This is a question of risk versus reward, and should be up to the individual user. How comfortable are you with storing your personal information online with Yodlee? While Yodlee's security is probably very good, if their security was ever compromised, fixing the problem would be a massive headache for its numerous users.

3) From time to time, I notice that I am missing transactions, or get an incorrect balance in Yodlee. This happens, for example, when one bank merges into another (e.g. Wachovia was purchased by Wells Fargo, and my accounts recently underwent a transition). As a result, the previous account history at Wachovia was lost, and it looks like I got a big boost in my net worth when money magically appeared in the new Wells Fargo bank accounts. This situation results in an inaccurate accounting of net worth, and it is frustrating since I have to make a mental note of which balances are incorrect.

4) Another example is that a former employer of mine changed their 401(k) provider from JPMorgan to Fidelity. The JPMorgan account was deleted from my Yodlee dashboard, and Fidelity was added. The result is that it looks like my net worth made a huge jump because the historical 401(k) data was lost in the transition.

5) Another frustration with Yodlee is something called Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). Some readers are probably not familiar with this technology, so I'll try to describe how it works. If I attempt to access my account from a new computer, the bank's website will not recognize me even if I entered the correct username and password. Then the website will prompt me to choose to receive an "Activation Code" via my home phone, text message, or Email which the bank already has on file. I then have to enter that code into the website for it to recognize my computer and grant access to my account information. This registration has to be done once for each computer and browser that you use to access your account. It appears that Yodlee doesn't always support this account registration system. MFA is meant to improve security, but it also makes it difficult or impossible for an account to be aggregated.

6) I recently noticed that one of my 401k accounts held at Merrill Lynch is showing a balance that is A LOT more than I expected. Elated, I logged into my ML account to check my balance. Upon investigating the problem I found that Merrill shows my 401(k) balance in two ways: by investment and by source (e.g. salary deferral, employer match, etc.). As a result the balance Yodlee shows is exactly double what I really have in my account. In this case, I'm not as rich as I think. Again, I have to keep a mental note that the balance here is not correct.

I will also mention two features that I do find very useful in Yodlee are alerts and auto-login. The alerts feature allow you to set alerts if, for example, your account balance drops below a certain amount, or a large transaction is processed. This feature can help in the early detection of fraud. The other feature I like is auto-login where Yodlee can automatically log you in to some (but not all) accounts with the click of a button. You don't need to remember or type your password. This, of course, makes it all the more important that you keep your Yodlee password secure.

In spite of its problems, I consider Yodlee to be satisfactory for my purposes. However, I might also consider setting up an account with Mint. While I still use an Excel spreadsheet to periodically get a complete picture of my finances, I used Yodlee to get a quick update on my account balances. Note a shortcut to the Yodlee Money Center appears in my blog sidebar.

See Also: Versus Yodlee


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Guest Post: How To Avoid Bankruptcy

In today’s sputtering economy an unprecedented amount of people are struggling to keep up with their bills. Unfortunately, many are in insurmountable debt and can’t avoid filing chapter 7 or chapter 13. However, with reliable and current bankruptcy information, it’s possible to get a handle on your debt and avert the risk of having to file chapter 7 or chapter 13. It’s also imperative that the bankruptcy information you rely on can be applied to your situation. What follows is some general information about how to avoid chapter 7 and chapter 13. Please note that this general information is not tailored to any individual’s particular situation, and if you need specific personal bankruptcy information or business bankruptcy information, you're best advised to seek the advice of a legal or financial professional.

More Bankruptcy Information
When it comes to bankruptcy information about chapter 7, the most important information is that chapter 7 bankruptcy entails the court-supervised liquidation of your assets. Once the court has liquidated your assets in a chapter 7 bankruptcy, it oversees the chapter 7 repayment of your creditors. A chapter 7 applies to debtors whose debts are largely unsecured and whose income is below that of the state median. If you’re in the situation that your unsecured debts have become unmanageable, a way of avoiding a chapter 7 could be applying for debt settlement. This alternative to chapter 7 bankruptcy means that you negotiate a debt reduction with your debtors and agree to repay what remains of your debt in a monthly repayment plan. As an alternative to chapter 7, this process usually works well for those with credit card debt and unpaid medical bills.

Bankruptcy Types
General bankruptcy information about chapter 13 informs us that chapter 13 bankruptcy is a legal procedure that allows a debtor who has sufficient disposable income each month, to restructure his debts and assets in order to repay his creditors over time. Chapter 13 applies to debtors with an income that is above the state median and who possess a valuable asset like a home or a car. You can get bankruptcy information about how to file a chapter 13 online at the US Government’s website, but you are best advised to consult with a chapter 13 bankruptcy lawyer about this process.

However, there are a number of debt relief alternatives to a chapter 13 bankruptcy. Possible alternatives to a chapter 13 bankruptcy could be loan consolidation or loan restructuring. No matter whether you consult with a credit counseling agency or a legal expert for bankruptcy information, always make sure you have investigated your alternatives before filing chapter 13 bankruptcy.

About the Author
The writer of this article has made his mark by writing on legal issues especially on Filing Bankruptcy procedures in different states. The author regularly writes on bankruptcy related issues like Ohio bankruptcy, Filing Bankruptcy In Ohio, chapter 13 bankruptcy and chapter 7 bankruptcy, etc.