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Posts Tagged ‘Credit card’

Ten warning signs you’re an adult

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, Medicine, women on April 9, 2012 at 12:07 am
My Mortgage Docs to be Reviewed by an Expert

My Mortgage Docs to be Reviewed by an Expert (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

We all know the standard metrics: graduate college, grad school, marry, have kids, acquire property and a vehicle.

I never had kids, so that typical dividing line into Maturity escaped me.

But for many of us, different moments mark a definite end to innocence.

Here are ten that resonate for me:

Taxes!

I grew up in a family of freelancers whose approach to paying income tax — which is never deducted at source, for those of you who’ve never done it — was, hmmm, variable. One day my Dad said, “I have two pieces of advice for you about taxes.”

“Running and hiding?”

Suffice to say I now have a very good accountant and genuflect to him deeply.

A mortgage

In New York, getting a mortgage is like some bizarro obstacle course littered with lawyers with out-stretched hands. Check, check, check, check!

Knowing — and caring about — your FICO score

For those of you outside the U.S., this is your credit score whose quality determines whether life is pleasant (low interest rates on mortgages, car loans, credit cards) or a hell of slammed doors refusing you access to any sort of credit. Surprisingly few consumers realize what sort of leverage you have with a good score — a lot!

Giving informed consent for my mother’s brain surgery

That was very weird, given how deeply private she always was. I looked, literally, into her head, staring at the four-inch tumor on X-ray that soon, successfully, came out.

Putting my mother into a nursing home

Pretty much the hell you’d expect: having to sell 95 percent of her things and make consequential decisions quickly. Being an only child makes it both easier and harder.

Getting a colonoscopy

For those of you under 50, something to look forward to! (And those putting it off out of fear, it’s no big deal. You have one wearying day beforehand to cleanse you colon, go to sleep during the procedure. Done.)

Knowing your neighbors

When you’re young, single and often behaving badly, you may not want to know your neighbors. Who was that guy/girl skulking out of your apartment? What were those weird noises at 3 a.m.? Once you’re a bit older, maybe traveling for work, maybe with a place you own and/or value more than a dive shared with six roomies, having kind and watchful neighbors is a wonderful thing.

Regular mammograms/Pap smears/prostate exams

I’m always a little stunned when I hear of someone, (who has health insurance, which in the U.S. means these are no-brainers), who skips these essential tests. No one wants to hear bad news. My mother has survived breast cancer, so mammo day is always a little shaky for me. But seriously? Just do it!

Joining a faith community

No disrespect to atheists and agnostics. But for many of us, finding a congenial place to nurture your spiritual growth is a major step. It’s easy to focus solely on family/work/friends/fun — until the shit hits the fan.

Making a will/living will/power of attorney/health care proxy

So cheery! But if you have been fortunate enough to have accumulated anything of value, it’s worth deciding who to leave it to. And facing any sort of major surgery — even childbirth, my mom-pals tell me — means facing the scariest of fears about mortality or severe injury.

How about you?

What milestones have marked your path to adulthood?

The New Middle Class: Drowning, Not Waving

In behavior, business, education, Money, news, work on November 15, 2010 at 1:35 pm
Ten-dollar bill obverse/reverse

Image by LividFiction via Flickr

Here’s another grim report on what’s happening to the middle class in the U.S. — sliding beneath the waves.

From the New York Post:

She’s $16,000 in debt to credit card companies. One of her local grocers, who once let her buy food on a running tab, now has a bill collector after her. She has her résumé up online, but when headhunters call and ask her age, “suddenly they never call me back,” she says. “I’m depressed. None of my friends are able to find jobs. I am living day-to-day.”

Anne’s biggest fear is that her daughter finds out how dire the situation is.

“She’ll say to me, ‘Are we poor?’ And I keep lying,” Anne says. “I think it’s a very traumatic thing for a child. I don’t want her to feel like she’s the only one, or a victim.”

When the recession does ease up, Anne fears that she will emerge as a permanent member of the lower class.

“The world kind of betrayed us,” she says. “The salary I was making — I don’t think I’ll ever make it again.”

There are several women like Anne in my book,”Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio/Penguin), now gone to press, which looks at the single largest source of new jobs in the United States — retail. Most of those jobs pay $7-12 an hour, poverty level wages. No commission, no bonuses, no raises. A dead-end job for a whole new set of workers, people who once believed they had vocational choices.
The American Dream of upward mobility is dead, if not dying, for millions of educated, hard-working people, many of them workers over the age of 40, most certainly those over 50. People who have kids or grandkids who need their financial help to complete their college educations.
Who’s got an extra$20,000 to $30,000+ to head back to school full-time to get a shiny new career and start all over again at…55? 60? 47?
That’s not how it’s supposed to work. By your 40s or 50s, life, as it once was for many of us, was supposed to be a little calmer — your home bought and maybe paid off; your kids launched into financial independence, retirement a mere decade or so away.
No longer. Millions of us have lost good jobs,  can’t even get an interview for the next one, can no longer imagine when or how things might ever get better, when we might feel safe or calm or happy about our economic situation.
Are you feeling financially secure these days?
If not, what would it take to get you there?

Five (Fun) Ways To Save Money

In Money on May 12, 2010 at 10:53 am
Photo of a RBC Visa taken under a UV light to ...

Image via Wikipedia

We recently cleared out our storage locker — and cashed in $350 for 16 boxes of books we’d been paying a fortune to store. Score!

As someone whose income fell by 50 percent after losing my newspaper job four years ago — and still working in a struggling industry — I’ve gotten better at shaving costs to the bone. Turns out I’m not alone.

Today’s New York Post reports that nearly half of young women, 18 to 39, are saving and investing more than they did a year ago. More than 60 percent are also planning to reduce their debt within six months. The study interviewed 2,002 women.

Compared to guys, women, regardless of age group, are more conservative about future spending. Women — 72 percent — are more likely than men — 65 percent — to say if they come into extra dough, they would save it or put it toward bills, the survey found….

But young women feel they have to be more self-reliant in these dire economic times, said financial planner Eleanore Szymanski.

“They used to be planning for immediate things and retirement is far away for them, but this recent downturn has been a good wakeup call. They are scared they are not going to be taken care of,” said Szymanski of EKS Associates in Princeton, NJ.

Szymanski said she’s seen a 50 percent increase in young women attending her financial planning classes.

“I have seen more college people in this class than ever before. It’s a general feeling, ‘It’s up to me, I am going to take care of myself in this recession,’ ” she told The Post.

1) Barter. Not everyone will go for it, but you never know until you ask. Maybe you’re a great cook and can teach a new grad in return for tech skills or — as I have — trade writing/editing skills with my massage therapist.

2) Ask for price breaks when possible. Don’t be a nasty jerk about it — “So, what can you do for me?” —  as many are now demanding at major retail outlets. But there are times and places there is some wiggle room. I finally bit the bullet and asked my local YMCA if they had reduced fee for their services. I had to show my tax return, which made me cringe, but it allowed me to stay healthy and not break the bank. When I needed major dental work, I paid my dentist every month (on time), without interest.

3) Review every credit card’s APR and ask for a lower rate. Ideally, you should have only one, maybe two, and, ideally, pay off the balance every month in full. American Express has been my card of choice for decades but last year jacked my rate from 9.9% fixed to 15% variable. I recently got that rate down by 1 percent — because I asked. (An excellent FICO score is your leverage.)

4) Consignment shops. It gets really boring never buying anything fun or stylish. Seriously. It doesn’t have to be brand-new, just new to you; if a fab pair of shoes or a jacket is $20 or $40 — not two or three times that — a splurge is manageable. I have several secret sources where I’ve scored triple-ply Neiman-Marcus cashmere and never-worn Prada and Sigerson-Morrison sandals for $60. My wardrobe contains Clergerie and Ferragamo shoes, but I didn’t cough up the $400+ per pair at retail. Decide you don’t love it? Sell it to another consignment shop.

5) Eat (and entertain) at home. Zzzzzzz. Not if you know how to cook and have a basic batterie de cuisine: a few sharp knives (and sharpener), colander, saute pan. You can borrow cookbooks from the library or download recipes off the Internet. We eat so well at home, thanks to our culinary skills, it takes a lot to woo us away from our own kitchen and dining table. We use linen or cotton napkins (cheaper and prettier than nasty paper and they last for many years), and light candles and play music and enjoy conversation. I collect pretty tableware on sale and at flea markets and antique shows, so setting a lovely table is easy and fun.

Any tips you can share?

Are Women Still Fiscally Illiterate? What's In Your Wallet?

In behavior, Money, women on April 5, 2010 at 11:55 am
An assortment of United States coins, includin...

Image via Wikipedia

A new website for women, designed to help us figure out to better handle our money, has received $4.5 million from Accel Partners, a venture capital firm.

The site, LearnVest, is the idea of a 26-year-old Harvard grad, Alexa von Tobel, reports The New York Times:

Ms. von Tobel came up with the idea for LearnVest in 2006, during her senior year at Harvard. She speaks at an auctioneer’s pace and uses tidbits from Warren Buffett and neuropsychology to bolster her arguments. Yet in 2006, when she had a job offer from Morgan Stanley’s hedge fund, she realized there was something she was not confident about: managing her finances.

“How is it possible I’m going to be a trader and I don’t even know how to open a credit card properly or my credit score?” she asked herself.

Help me out here. How do you get into, and graduate from, a place as competitive as Harvard without a clue about your FICO score?

Is such fiscal illiteracy typical?

Writer Anya Kamenetz addressed it, and the many issues facing younger consumers, in her terrific 2006 book, Generation Debt.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with her, then 25:

Going back to the personal for a moment, do you have any advice for people who are facing huge student loan debts, mounting credit card bills, and low-paying jobs in terms of practical day-to-day living?

Go to annualcreditreport.com and get your free credit report. That’s your real-life permanent record and it gives you a starting point for fixing your financial life.

Pay over the minimum payment on your credit cards, even if it’s just $10. You can set this up online, automatically. It can save you thousands in interest, depending on the size of your debt.

Open a savings account, even if you’re up to your ears in debt. Every time you deposit a freakin’ tiny paycheck, put a fixed amount into savings. It compounds over the long term and the next time there’s an unexpected expense, you’ll have something to fall back on.

If you’ve never heard of FICO — or haven’t recently checked your score — here’s the site.

Fiscal illiteracy is not an option!

I grew up in a family of freelancers, with no pension, sick days or paid vacation to look forward to, so knowing how much income I earned, spent, saved, invested — and owed, at what APR — became gospel for me as soon as I began working for myself, at the age of 19.

I’m disturbed by women who (why?) don’t take the time to understand their finances. There is no Prince Charming! There is, instead a sometimes confusing, overwhelming alphabet soup to learn, understand and use to your advantage, from FICO to 401(k) to IRA to Roth to SEP to ETFs to APRs.

The investment field is often dominated by men and who wants to admit you have no idea what they’re saying to you? Read “On Your Own Two Feet”, a smart book by two women on females and finances, and check out their list of resources and links. I interviewed Manisha a few years ago and she’s great; here’s her money management blog.

Like millions of others with excellent credit histories, I was really pissed off that my 9.9% fixed rate on my American Express Blue card had been switched for no reason other than their greed to 15% variable, so the other day I asked them to lower it. They did, by 1% that day, because I was annoyed and I asked.

My favorite book — because it addresses the underlying fear many women have of standing up firmly for their financial interests (Bitch! How dare she?) is aptly entitled, “Women Don’t Ask”. It partly explains why women’s salaries so often lag — from their very first job offer to their last – behind that of men. They’re scared to ask.

Marrying For Money — Smart or Heartless?

In men, Money, women on October 11, 2009 at 9:32 am
Franklin Covey Task List Wallet (inside)

Image by Thirteen Of Clubs via Flickr

If there’s a woman out there  — and there are likely many — who got married with no idea of her husband’s ability to earn, save and invest his income, she’s probably been on a steep, and possibly painful, learning curve ever since. You really can be deeply in love and find out what you’re getting into financially.

You must. Today’s New York Post offers an excerpt from a new book “Smart Girls Marry Money”:

“On average, a woman earns just one-third of what the average working man makes over their lifetimes. So if you’re gonna get married, hold out for a guy who brings in some cash…Financial responsibility may say a lot more about a man’s character than his big blue eyes.”

Frank money talk can make some men grab for their…wallets…in dread. But many women really need to be a lot smarter about who they’re getting into bed with, fiscally speaking.

Who really wants to be the next Mrs. Madoff, sucking up a lifestyle you really know, or strongly suspect, is based on lies or hugely overstretched lines of credit? I’ve been with my sweetie for a decade and we discussed finances within the first few months of dating: what we earned, what we owed, what we were socking away for our retirements. Some men, and women, would have shriveled from and/or fled such frankness. Crass! Gross! Rude! We’ve both learned a lot, and we’re still learning. The best news he shared with me this year? His FICO score, like mine, is terrific, allowing us some decent choices about what we’ll do next. That’s my kind of pillow talk.

My first husband was a physician, earning more than $130,000 (as far I knew, back when I played fiscal ostrich) in 1994 — when he walked out of our apartment and our brief marriage. I fell far and fast, financially, protected only by a pre-nuptial agreement I’d insisted upon, whose payments allowed me the time I needed to regain my financial footing, find a well-paid, full-time job and meet all my commitments. But everyone was thrilled when I married a doctor — MD can indeed mean Multiple Dollars. His fiscal life since then has been a lot bumpier than mine, even while earning ten times my income.

Talking about money is rarely an easy conversation, but it’s crucial. If Prince Charming is secretly up to his ears in 25% APR credit card debt, do you really want your coach re-possessed?

Why Women Need The Gift Of Fear. Yale Student Dead – Who's Next?

In Crime, women on September 15, 2009 at 10:12 am
A photo of murdered Yale graduate student Annie Le that was released by the FBI

A photo of murdered Yale graduate student Annie Le that was released by the FBI

While suburban parents are freaking out about whether or not to allow their kids to walk to school, the big news story now on this coast, and making national news, is the discovery of the body of Annie Le, a 24-year-old Yale grad student who was to have been married this past weekend — but was instead found dead, her body stuffed inside a wall of the lab. A fellow grad student told The New York Times it  requires three levels of security to get into the basement of the lab building, including two swipes of a security card.

The prime suspect is a lab technician who had an unrequited crush on her, according to the New Haven Independent, someone who had access to the lab but who is not a fellow student. While the standard narrative now unfolds of  a “promising life cut short”, her $160,000 in scholarships and her academic dedication, a young woman’s murder, at Yale or anywhere, raises larger questions for every woman and the women, of all ages, she cares about.

How, where and when — if? — can a woman protect herself from harm? It’s an issue we don’t talk about much, in a serious way, because it’s deeply frightening and can make you feel powerless and overwhelmed. Danger feels random, when for more than 90 percent of women, it’s not. They are usually killed by someone they know, and usually a man with whom they have or have had a relationship. When some men can’t have the woman they want, they claim the ultimate prize instead — her life.

I learned a lot about violence against women, hearing things I wish I hadn’t, and hadn’t known men can do, when I spoke to women around the country for my book on women and guns. One woman was shot point-blank in her own suburban California driveway, her husband shot dead beside her because he only had $8 in his wallet, not enough to satisfy the criminal who followed them home. Today, a trained counselor, she helps other women cope with trauma. Hers was a random attack, but it’s usually a man who decides he owns you — no matter how the woman feels about this — and is going to have you, or else.

Here’s my wish for every woman, of any age. Don’t trust appearances. You need three security cards to get into the basement lab which makes you feel safe and secure. Right? Who’s in there with you? Are you alone? How quickly and easily can you get out? I don’t advocate paranoia; none of us can live like that all the time. But I do advocate thinking and acting like a member of the Secret Service, men and women exquisitely trained to observe their surroundings in detail, to watch faces and body language, to anticipate danger before it happens and figure out how they can, or will, avoid it.

I say this from personal, brutal, terrifying experience. A convicted felon came into my life 10 years ago. I was lonely, broke, struggling, low on confidence. Vulnerable. He had — I would only discover after four months’ dating him and hiring a private detective, a former NYPD cop — served time in Illinois, made the front page of all the Chicago papers for his crimes there, even appeared on American Journal, an early reality TV show.  After I realized what he was and bought the tape of his television appearance and showed it to my Dad, he had one immediate reaction: “He’s so little!” The criminal was; maybe 5’6″, with hands and teeth almost childishly small.  His most powerful weapon? He didn’t look threatening.

He opened my mail, stole a credit card, used it, forging my signature….a total of six felonies by the time he was done with me. The local police and the DA refused to take my case. No one was going to gallop to my rescue. No one. All those years of believing in authority and their right and ability to help me. Gone. I changed my locks and phone numbers and all my bank accounts. I did not date for four months. I did not let a man I did not know very well cross the threshold of my front door for 12 months. I was terrified to answer the phone for months, slept at a friend’s house for a week or two, learned how to drive while looking to see if someone was following me.

This will sound unreal, but the felon gave me a present. It’s a book called The Gift of Fear which contains  an entire page listing male behaviors that, to many women, look social, friendly, even flirtatious or kind. They are also time-tested and highly efficient ways to win a woman’s trust, then commit a crime against her. It’s written by a security expert and I think every woman of every age should read it. It would have saved me an enormous amount of time, money, heartache and terror. It would have, the felon knew, saved me from him.

Maybe it could have saved Annie Le.

A Pedicure, a Car-Wash, Some Fancy Honey. I Did My Bit Today for the Economy. How About You?

In business on August 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm
A picture of a wallet.

Image via Wikipedia

Get out your  wallets! If you don’t, the American economy isn’t going to recover any time soon. It relies on us consumers to keep it humming. So say all those beleaguered retailers. Buy something, damn it.

Funny thing, frugality. It means spending very little. Living within or below your means. Totally alien behavior for the past decade and so, so annoying to all those companies who need to us spend money, even if we actually don’t have it.

Today, with a payment finally in hand, I treated myself to a few of the micro-luxuries I can still afford, not put on a credit card and see immediate pleasure from. I blew $30 (plus $6 tip) on a pedicure and caught up with Helena, still fighting with her freshly-divorced husband and still sharing the house they can’t sell. Spent $6 getting the car washed and $1 to vaccum it; sorry, Wall Street, we’re not buying a new/used vehicle any time soon. Enjoyed a Chinese lunch for another $7 and blew the big bucks, $42.99, across the street at our local gourmet store, run by Hassan, a lovely, charming former commercial photographer who always presses tastes of cheese and candied walnuts and slices of ham into your weakly protesting hand. I spent my money on small, reliable, delicious pleasures, quickly and easily shared and savored — and spent my money within the boundaries of my suburban town. Tomorrow I’ll take in a bag full of shoes to Mike, the Russian man who runs our local shoe repair shop, and chat about life, and St. Petersburg, where he’s from.

What these endless doom and gloom macroeconomic reports leave out is exactly the sort of micro-level spending I bet many of us are still doing: local, personal, low-key. I loathe chain stores and malls but I still need stuff and I’m happy to put my hard-earned cash into the hands of people whose faces and names I know, whose personality andenergy and skill make my town a haven, and keep our local storefronts filled and functional. Call me old-fashioned, but I really treasure face-to-face, personal commerce. A chance to chat, be social, slow down and make an exchange not only of cash, but a smile, a hug, an idea, a memory.

I’m the consumer driving people like Home Depot mad because, a homeowner who loves projects, I’m not even buying hardware or paint these days. The only major purchase planned for late fall is a new terrace door, the cost of it equaled by the cost of the labor to install it by Michael, our trusty carpenter. But until I’ve lined up the entire cash cost of that purchase, $700, it’s not happening.

So this endless whining that we’re not spending is getting old. Probably like millions of Americans — out of work, underemployed, scrambling for freelance clients in a recession, fearful our still-employed spouse or partner can (and might) get laid off any time without warning — I’m trying to be smart, frugal and cautious. Paying down the credit card debt as fast as possible, since Amex just tossed me and many other loyal (hah) long-time cardholders out of the calm 9.9% fixed APR pool into the sharkpond of 15%+ variable.

Beyond gas and groceries, what, these days — if anything — are you buying or planning to buy?

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