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Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Cancellation of international air tickets
In my last post, I had mentioned about the easy and less expensive booking international tickets originating outside the US via Orbitz.com. Another pleasant part of dealing with Orbitz was that I had to cancel my flights the next day after buying the tickets as the lay over between the air flights was very long. I was under the assumption that like more airlines, Orbitz would charge $100-$150 per ticket since the tickets were non-refundable. However, when I went to Orbitz's site, I was allowed to cancel the tickets without any ticket penalty; not sure if it's a standard policy of Orbitz or it was because I was canceling within 24 hours of buying the ticket. The air fares were refunded to me. However, the service fee of about $15-$20 that was charged by Orbitz at the time of buying tickets was non-refundable. So except for the small service fee, I was pleasantly surprised of not having to pay $150/ticket penalty for ticket cancellations.

I eventually ended up buying the tickets using another site called SideStep.com for different dates. Orbitz's prices were a bit high for the new dates but fortunately, SideStep.com brought back fares that was very reasonable. The site is able to retrieve fares from multiple airlines sites, and offered me the best fare on British Airways site. From SideStep.com's site, I was able to navigate to British Airways site and was able to book the tickets. Unfortunately, British Airways' site did not take my credit card, so I had to call them with my booking code and was charged $40 additional fee because of using their phone reservation agents. I have requested British Airways to waive the charge since I had booked every thing online and tried to make the payment online but was not allowed by the site. Hopefully, they will waive the charge although so far, I haven't heard anything from them yet. Regardless, it was still good to have been able to buy tickets in the US at a decent price even though the flights originated outside the US.
posted by Ruby @ 6:13 AM   0 comments

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Saturday, October 28, 2006
Buying cheap international tickets online for travel originating from other countries
I was recently looking to purchase tickets to the US for my relatives. When I called around various travel agencies and consolidators in the US, every one told that if I want to buy tickets originating from outside the US, I need to buy it from the originating country, as buying it from the US will be extremely expensive. The general rule is that if you are based in the US, then it's cheaper to buy tickets from flights originating from the US to India but not vice-versa; it's always cheaper to buy tickets from the country of originating travel.

As I needed to buy tickets from the US itself, I checked the internet and was surprised to find good deals on Orbitz.com. Prior to this experience, I never knew that Orbitz.com would be able to beat the prices offered by travel agencies and consolidators. The other advantage was that I could pay by credit card (on which I get rewards) without any problem. In the past, I had to mail out checks to travel agencies before they would send the tickets to me; this was a hassle. In addition, I am nervous about sending checks to travel agencies because once the money is gone, you have no recourse in case of any problems with the ticket. With credit cards, you can always dispute it if the travel agency does not deliver the tickets, etc.

Buying the ticket on Orbitz.com, was a quick and easy process, and going forward, I will always at least check out Orbitz.com and other online sites regardless whether I am booking tickets for travel originating from US or from abroad.
posted by Ruby @ 7:51 AM   0 comments

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Friday, October 27, 2006
Is it time to lock in interest rates?
Earlier this week, the Fed's left the federal funds rate unchanged in their meeting. The federal funds rate basically is the interest rate at which banks lend to each other for overnight loans, and determines the market interest rate. This rate influences the interest rates that banks set on the savings accounts, CDs and so forth.

With the possibility of slowing economy on the horizon, I think Fed's are either not likely to increase the discount rate in the near future, or even if they do, they are likely to increase it another one or two times. So am thinking of locking in the current rates in some CDs just in case the Feds decide to start cutting the rates in the near future.

I checked the BankRate.com site but didn't find decent rates; even for a 5-year CD, the rates were below 6%. Fortunately, I have an account with Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) and noticed they have a 16-month CD with an APY of 6% (dividend rate of 5.83%). So am planning to open the CD as the rate is good, has low $500 requirement to open the account, and the period of 16 months is decent.
posted by Ruby @ 8:04 AM   0 comments

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Delaying taxes on mutual funds
With the Dow Jones average rallying past 12,000 points, many investors, who were previously talking about real estate prices, are now busy talking about stocks and mutual funds. I do not own any real estate investments and have always been interested in stocks and mutual funds, so it's finally good to see that stock market has been going up nicely recently.

I have been planning to buy mutual funds in a taxable account from the Dodge and Cox mutual fund family but because of laziness and lack of money, had been delaying it. Now, however, I have to delay buying it until late December or early January because in the last quarter of the year, most mutual funds make capital gain distributions.

By law, mutual funds have to distribute any capital gains (difference between sale price and purchase price) they make during the tax year to its shareholders and this distribution typically happens in Nov-Jan period. So if you purchase a mutual fund now, you may end up getting some capital gains distributions. This may not sound bad but the problem is that you end paying tax on it (typically as a short term gain if you held the fund for a short period of time only) to the IRS when filing your taxes. In addition, the capital gains directly reduce the Net Asset Value of your mutual fund as well as its share price. So it's always better to avoid buying mutual funds later in the year and wait until after they have made their capital gains distributions. Most fund family can let you know ahead of time when they plan to make distributions in their different mutual funds; this info can be obtained from their Web site or by contacting them.

For now, I will just buy some mutual funds in my IRA account because I don't have to worry about capital gains distributions since the taxes are deferred until later.
posted by Ruby @ 9:47 AM   0 comments

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Saturday, October 21, 2006
Google keeps beating expectations
Google's $1.65b purchase of YouTube seems to be in the news a lot. Am quite surprised that a simple website that users use to upload their videos has gotten such high valuations! To be honest, I have been amazed at the success of Google, judging by its high stock price. I never thought that its stock price could go so high.

When its IPO came out in 2004, I thought paying $85 for a company like Google which primarily relies on searches and ad revenues was too high. But I was proved wrong and its stock price keeps rising. However, I am doubtful if Google will be able to get significant benefit out of YouTube. Ebay also paid billion-plus dollars for Skype and from what I have heard, it seems to be having problems getting pay off from it's purchase of Skype. I believe it's very hard for any firm to extract significant benefits from purchases of firms such as Skype, YouTube which in the past attracted a large user base because of free phone calls, content etc. On top of it, the purchase cost of $1b+ is huge.

Any ways, am sure people at Google are smart; let's see how this purchase pans out in the long run. Judging by its past history and recent performance, chances are Google will prove skeptics like myself wrong. It's Q3, 2006 earnings again beat the analyst's expectations and the stock price was up almost $34 (7.89%) to close at $459.67 on October 20, 2006. Famous finance radio show host, Jim Cramer also seems to be upbeat on it. What's surprising is that while Yahoo's stock has been taking a beating lately and the company blames poor ad sales for its recent woes, Google has been doing well even though it operates primarily in the same space as Yahoo. Lets see whether the Google stock will prove to be a bubble or a baby that has still long ways to grow.

As always, a final disclaimer: the purpose of my writings or this web site is not to give any financial advice nor make any recommendations. This site is just a blog of my activities, interests and thoughts. Trading options and stocks can be very risky, so you need to exercise your judgment and seek competent advice before investing in such instruments.
posted by Ruby @ 1:31 PM   0 comments

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Thursday, October 19, 2006
How to fight back debt collectors
Have been reading up on a lot of articles related to debt collection. The debt collection agencies have become extremely aggressive lately in their collection efforts. They buy delinquent debt for pennies on the dollar from credit card and other agencies and then hound the debtors. In some cases, people have been paying them money even though they had already paid their debt off years ago or had not taken the debt in the first place.

From what I have read, one of the best thing seems to do is to keep records of all debts that you have paid off. This way, if you do get calls in future, you can prove that the debt has already been paid off. Well-know financial advisor, Rick Edelman has a good article on his web site regarding what documents to store and what to shred; here's the link:

Documents to Keep
posted by Ruby @ 4:57 PM   0 comments

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"If you look at what you have in life, you will always have more. If you look at what you do not have in life, you will never have enough".
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