Sunday, June 26, 2011

Don't Let Your Money Expire

How awful would it be to have money that expires?  Now, you're probably thinking "Mike that's crazy talk" but it's not.  In fact I'm willing to bet you have money that expires right now but you just don't know it.  That's okay, that's why you're here.  You will learn to be a Jedi of your bank account.  Consider me your financial Yoda.

So, where is this expiring money I'm talking about?  It's loaded onto gift cards.  Yep, that gift card to the movie theater you got for you Christmas or that visa gift card you won is probably guilty as well.  What most people don't know is that gift cards, whether they be for cash or for use at a specific store, are often times set to expire after a certain amount of time or at the very least begin to incur dormancy fees after x number of months.

I'm looking on the back of a visa gift card I have right now.  It says "monthly inactivity fee of $2.95 after 12 consecutive months of inactivity."  I got this card in December 2010 so I could very easily forget about it and lose my balance to late fees.  Essentially, my money expires with the passage of time and we all know that time flies.  Where the gift card company really makes their money is on cards that have been lost ($5 replacement fee, if you even know how to go about getting it replaced) or cards that have a balance so low you can't even buy anything with it.

Think about it.  You get a $25 gift card for you birthday.  You rush off to buy a couple of DVDs and about $20 and some tax later your are left with a balance of less than $3.  So now you have a <$3 gift card.  What could you possibly buy with that?  Nothing, so you let it sit in your wallet and the clock starts ticking on your money.  Eventually you forget all about your dinky gift card balance and before you know it a year has passed and dormancy fees eat up your balance, if it hasn't expired all together.  Sad panda you are.

Here's how you avoid this problem.  After you spend the bulk of your cash on your gift card, go online or call the number on the back of your card to get your balance.  Then put a piece of scotch tape on the front of your card and write the exact balance on it.  Next time you go shopping, to say Wal-Mart, tell the cashier you would like to use up this gift card, which has exactly $x on it.  That way you get to spend your money rather than having it expire.  You win, remember someone already paid for this gift card so you shouldn't let the gift card company get your money for free.

And to avoid being scammed or maybe just making a mistake, always keep your empty gift card after you use it.  Don't let the cashier throw it away for you in the event it still has money on it.  Take the card home and check the balance to be sure it says $0.00 before you throw it away.  Everyone makes mistakes (including you!) and a crooked cashier could easily enter an amount less than what they told you and then tell you the balance is zero.  Anyone who doesn't immediately look at their receipt could be scammed.  We don't want that to happen because we like our money.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Give Yourself A Raise By Joining A Credit Union

Maybe I never joined a credit union because my bank account balance was always low.  Earning interest on $0 is still $0.  Now that I am working and living in the real world I don't live paycheck to paycheck.  I've got a pumped up emergency fund to go with my savings and checking accounts.  That's one big pile of cash that could be earning interest for me.

The problem was that I was banking at Chase and they are a regular bank (herein referred to as an evil bank).  An evil bank is for profit, and definitely not for profit of their customers, like me.  That's why I made the decision to leave and go find a credit union.  Credit unions are non-profit banks that pass their profits onto their customers, like me.  Now I can get on board with that.  I love money and if you want to give me money just for banking with you, well that sounds alright to me.

I started to look around at credit unions in my area.  I was looking for the best paying interest rate.  What I found was a variety of credit union rates, from 0.005 to .0311%.  Now obviously 0.005% is less than 1% interest, so that sucks but it's still better than the 0.001% I was earning with Chase.  I picked the credit union that is paying out 3% on my money.  So essentially I just gave myself a 3% raise just by moving my banking over to a new bank.

They offer free online banking, no monthly fees, ATM fee reimbursement, and a network of credit unions in my area to offer more convenience for me.  My new credit union will pay 3% on my first $11,000 and 1.5% thereafter (up to $51,000).  Since I haven't maxed out the full $51,000 requirement I know that every dollar I have is making AT LEAST 1.5% in interest for me.  When I reach the max or find a better investment I will move my money to there, when appropriate.

Pretty much all things are equal between my new credit union and Chase, except for that sexy 3% interest rate I will now be getting.  And just as a quick side note, my credit union at work pays 4% on my first $1,000 with no requirements (just leave it sit there and earn interest).  So I left $1,000 in that account and took out the rest to deposit in my new account.

If math isn't your friend then just do this: Take your entire account balance, all the money you have. Multiply that number by .03.  That is your yearly interest gain.  Take that number and divide by 12 to figure out your monthly interest gain.  So whatever your numbers are that is how much you would be earning yearly or monthly on 3% interest.  If that number doesn't impress you then your bank account balance is probably pretty small.  We will address that issue in the future.

Example: $10,000 x .03% = $300 a year in interest.  $300 / 12 months = $25 a month in interest.  That would pay my water bill.

If you're freshly unplugged from the financial matrix dream land you've been living in then I highly suggest you look around for a credit union to join.  It is very quick and easy way to start showing financial responsibility.  Go ahead and give yourself that raise.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I Can Get 27 Free Freezes From Speedway

Why does Speedway get my business over Crystal Flash when both are located at the same corner by my house and by work?  When price and customer service are the same (terrible) then it comes down to speedy rewards points.  Speedway offers speedy reward points on just about everything you purchase and Crystal Flash doesn't offer any "flashy reward points."  Mainly I use Speedway just for gas but occasionally I'll run inside to get a hot dog or drink.

Now don't think you'll get rich by collecting speedy reward points.  The accumulation process is very slow and unless you'll be happy getting a free hot dog and freeze once a month you're going to have to wait it out for your true payday.  As I said earlier I mainly use Speedway for gas.  At a mere 10 points per gallon it takes forever to earn enough to get anything (900 points minimum for anything).  Luckily for me my job requires me to gas up company vehicles several times a week.

I keep 2 different speedy reward points accounts active at the same time.  I always have one in my wallet by my debit card so I never forget to swipe before I pump.  The other I keep with the fuel card at work so I never miss a swipe there either.  I transfer balances as necessary and keeping track of my totals helps the day go by a little faster.  I have to pay attention to the little things because sometimes they make the most difference and get you to baller status on your bank account quicker.

Between fueling my personal vehicle and the company vehicles I can accumulate anywhere from 200-500 points a week.  Average that out over time and about a year after I started collecting I have finally cracked the 25,000 speedy reward points mark!  That means I can get about 27 free drinks or freezes, should I choose to do so.  But I have set my eyes on the $25 gift cards I can redeem my points for.  The UFC fan inside me says get the Buffalo Wild Wings gift card while the home owner in me says get the Lowe's gift card.

Either way Speedway bought my loyalty by giving me a free gift card once a year.  Suck on that Crystal Flash!

Chase, I Gotta Let You Go

I love the first of the month.  Everything on my is green, all my budgets have yet to be blown and my account balance is high.  It's almost like financial do-over, 12 times a year.  It's a chance to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a new attitude and new plan of action.  The goal is simple: earn money.  Whether you earn it by working, spending less or savvy investments it's all about making money.

When the first of this month rolled around the first thing I did was check my checking and savings account to see how much interest I accrued.  When I looked at my Chase accounts I was greeted with a whopping credit of... $0.12!  That's just enough to piss me off.  How insultingly low is that?  I have found more money on the street than that (6/2/11 I found $0.14).  Finally, I have had enough.  I need a new bank, preferably a credit union.  Regular banks don't make money for me.

My experience with credit unions has been limited.  I've only been a member of my credit union at work for a short time.  But I hate them already and I want to leave.  Their online banking is weak.  Their mortgage department is not my friend.  They are not accessible 24/7.  They do have some very attractive rates and programs though but for now I'll focus on their rates and save their programs for another time. 

The best rate they are offering is a checking account that pays 4% annually on the first $1,000 and 0.0025% there after, until your balance goes over $10,000 then they adjust a smudge.  So, essentially they pay you $5 a month, or $60 a year.  It's a great rate for my first $1,000 but after that it's sucky and on par with Chase (who's an evil regular bank).  What I need to find is a good place to put my money that's only earning a frosty 0.0025%.

Since I'm still young and unrich (not poor, unrich) I have time to find out where the best place to put my money is.  Whenever I crank up my account balance into baller numbers I already need to have a home for it.  I want all my little George W's to go out and meet Mr. Abe and be introduced to the Jackson's living down the street, then invite them all over to a party in my wallet.

Now my search for a new credit union has begun.