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Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Going with the HSBC's higher yield
Over the weekend, received an email from HSBC Direct, stating that they have raised the annual yield on its online savings account to 6 percent. It is a limited time offer, expiring April 30 and applies only to new deposits.

Finally, it's good to see a firm that rewards existing customers; otherwise most firms dangle various incentives to attract new customers but once you are in, that's the end of special treatment.

Of course, for HSBC, the idea is to not only attract new customers but also to have existing customers invest more money from else where. And that’s what I will be doing. I will be taking money out of my local bank account and transferring to HSBC. In addition, as both I and my spouse have individual HSBC accounts, we will be taking the money out of one of the accounts and depositing into the other account. This will allow us to add what HSBC calls "new money" into at least one account where it can yield 6%, otherwise the existing money in both accounts would be earning the lower rate.

For the comparison between HSBC and other bank’s current rates, see the following article:

CNNMoney.com - Online savings rate jumps to 6%
posted by Ruby @ 7:20 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, January 28, 2007
Weekend Quote – Power of Thinking
"If you can conceive it, you can achieve it"
- Jesse Jackson
posted by Ruby @ 7:04 AM   0 comments

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Saturday, January 27, 2007
Tax filing date - Apr 15? Apr 16? Apr 17?
With April 15 falling this year on a Sunday, IRS has extended the deadline for filing federal taxes to Apr 17 in certain states - an extra 2 days for people, while its April 16 for rest of the country. In the past, if Apr 15 fell on a Saturday or Sunday, the deadline was changed to the next business day, ie, Monday. However, with April 16 being emancipation day in Washington, DC, and IRS realizing that DC holidays have nationwide impact on tax issues, the deadline for federal filing in DC and certain other states has been extended to April 17.

However, not all states have followed suit yet. Some states may indeed require filing by Apr 16, so make sure to check out your state's requirement.

For related article, click the link below:

Yahoo.com - Procrastinators, Rejoice
posted by Ruby @ 10:48 AM   0 comments

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Friday, January 26, 2007
Free sample of Sunsilk Hair Care Collection
Walmart is giving away a free sample of Sunsilk Hair Care Collection while supplies last.

Free sample
posted by Ruby @ 8:21 AM   0 comments

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Thursday, January 25, 2007
Target-Date Funds Becoming Popular
Recently read an article about the growing popularity of
Target-Date Funds. The funds provide a simple solution as all you need to do is to select the appropriate retirement year. Based on the retirement year, the fund automatically does the asset allocation, with the shift towards more conservative investments happening as one gets closer to the retirement year.

As per the article, besides their performance, another thing to watch is their expenses as some of these funds definately have high expenses. The articles mentions about a Morningstar analyst who thinks expenses of 1% or less are good benchmark.

I have been following some of these funds but so far, haven't invested in them. However, their simplicity is definitely appealing to me as well as the fact that I don't have to worry about what stocks/bonds etc to pick and how much to put in each area, etc.
posted by Ruby @ 5:59 AM   0 comments

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Surviving layoffs
Yesterday, Pfizer announced layoffs of over 10,000 employees. With the economy expected to slow down this year, chances are many more companies will be announcing such layoffs.

Having been through layoffs thrice as well as having my spouse also go through layoff, I know it's quite a traumatic experience to find out that you been laid off, especially if you have been a good and hard worker. However, one thing both I and my spouse have found out it is that despite some challenging times due to loss of a job, things turn out for good in the long run. Thing to realize is that every body goes through ups and downs in life but if a person has the right attitude and is willing to persist and work hard, those periods help one become a stronger person.

In case of layoffs, one of the main things to do is to accept the situation and move on quickly with the job search. Rather than wasting time blaming the company, manager etc, I think it's better to assess the situation and don't spend too much time grieving about the lost job. Yes, it's a traumatic situation and is bad thing, but spending time on blaming others will do no good except waste precious time that could be better spent on finding job and getting ready for interviews. However, it's important to realize that there will always be some days of depression, anger and sadness as one looks for job but the key is not to remain engulfed in such moments constantly. Instead, it's better to accept the challenge and do your best to find a better job.

If there were any mistakes in the previous job, accept the mistakes and decide to overcome them. In addition, rather than being angry at your boss, it also helps to leave the company on good terms and stay in touch in with previous managers and coworkers if possible. Reason being that often times firms do get back to hiring mode and openings do come up again – which is what happened to me. In my case, I got hired by one of my former companyies, two years after I was laidoff due to the company's financial situation. So it's better to leave on good terms. In addition, even if one does not intend to go back to working for the same employer, the ex-managers/co-workers can prove to be a valuable resource for references.

One of the mistakes I made when I was laid off for the first time is that I didn't know that most states provide temporary unemployment assistance. As a result, while I was searching for a full time job, I registered with several temping agencies and worked as an administrative assistant. I was making under $10 an hour and that too only on days when the temping agencies were able to get me an assignment. However, on the days I got work, it was good to get out of house and meet with other people. And on the days I didn't find work, I kept looking at job sites and tried to arrange interviews.

However, at the time of second layoff, my company arranged for officials to come from the state unemployment agency and through them I found out about unemployment benefits. So one of things I did when I was laid off the second time was to apply for the unemployment benefits. In most states, as long as a person keeps actively looking for job and maintains record of job applications and interviews, he/she can get 4-6 months of assistance based on his/her prior salary history. The benefits may not be large but at least they do provide some financial assistance as one is looking for a job. So one of things I think a person should do is to make sure to contact the unemployment benefits agency and see if he/she is qualified for the assistance.

In addition, it helps to keep plugging and sending resumes. Earlier, I used to send resumes indiscriminately but that approach just wasted my time as well as the recruiters'. So after my second layoff, I mainly sent resumes to the firm that better fit my qualifications and at the same time, they were the firms that were appealing to me. This meant weeding out the job postings that required relocation or extensive travel as I didn't want to relocate nor was willing to travel extensively.

Also, if there's free time, it always help to start prepping for the interviews while one is applying for a job because some times such calls come at a short notice and may not give a person enough time to prep.

Last but not the least, it helps to maintain a positive outlook and to have a good dose of faith as they help one better cope with the life's challenges. During my second layoff, I was without job for almost five months. However, I had just gotten married at that point and those five months gave me and my spouse time to spend time with each other, without worrying about getting up early, meetings, etc.

The layoff period is a trying period but if one looks at it positively and is willing to accept the challenge, sooner or later, he/she will find a job. It may not be the best job or pay comparable to the previous job, but in most cases, it will help one become a stronger and better person. So it's important to realize that with faith, hard work, determination and persistence, like every thing else, periods of layoffs or other trials in life too shall pass.....
posted by Ruby @ 7:40 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, January 21, 2007
Weekend Quote - Overcoming Problems
A problem is a chance for you to do your best
- Duke Ellington
posted by Ruby @ 8:36 AM   0 comments

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Saturday, January 20, 2007
United Airlines reduces frequent flyer miles' expiration period
Well, United Airlines has joined many of the other airlines in reducing the expiration period for its frequent flyer miles. The miles expire in 18-months if there's no activity during that period.

I have some UAL miles and will be looking for ways to redeem it. In the past, had used it for magazine subscription but will see if there are other better ways to redeem the remaining miles. Fortunately, both earning and redeeming of miles is considered as an "activity" and therefore, prolongs the expiration of the remaining miles.

For complete details as well as the type of activities that can prolong the expiration, check out the United Airline's site by clicking the following link:

UAL's expiration policy

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posted by Ruby @ 1:19 PM   0 comments

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Friday, January 19, 2007
Jaxtr: Free inbound phone calls from around the world
Recently read an article about a company called Jaxtr which is launching a service that allows users to embed a phone link on their Web site or in an email. The service allows Jaxtr users to receive calls from their friends, families or any one around the world. To make a call, the other person will simply have to click on a Jaxtr link, and then enter their phone number. Once they have entered the necessary info, that person will receive a call on their phone and in the mean time, the system will place a call to the Jaxtr user's phone.

The good thing is that the conversation is made over the phone. In addition, users do not need to download any software. Only the Jaxtr user needs to sign up for the Jaxtr's service and then provide the link to their friends/family either on a Web site, or via an email, or even Evite. Voicemail and call blocking features are also available.

For more info, check out the following links:

Jaxtr: Company Info

Jaxtr's Blog

SMH.com

Infoworld.com
posted by Ruby @ 8:04 AM   0 comments

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Free 50 4x6 photo offer - Winkflash
Winkflash is offering up to 50 free 4 x 6 inch photos with $0.99 shipping for new customers. Coupon code is WF23EA73. For details, click the link below:

Winkflash

Offer is subject to change any time by the firm.
posted by Ruby @ 4:26 PM   0 comments

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Deductibility of Mortgage Insurance Tax for 2007
Found out recently that because of the recent changes in tax laws, mortgage insurance tax (also called Private Mortgage Insurance or PMI) will be deductible in 2007. The only problem: the tax deduction is allowed only if the premiums you pay are for a mortgage that is taken out in 2007. In addition, the deduction is currently good only for 2007! If some one is qualified to take the deduction, they can deduct PMI on 2008 tax returns (for the year 2007).

The mortgage insurance tax is levied when borrower pays less than 20% of down payment and therefore, obtaining loan of greater than 80% of the home value. So borrowers had to pay mortgage insurance tax. Depending on the size of the mortgage loan, the tax could amount to over $50 per month.

The tax can be removed by the lender once the home value increases or the mortgage balance drops below the 80% of the home value. However, I have read that home borrowers in some cases had problems getting their lenders remove that tax. Plus, the homeowners also my have to get an appraisal done on their own cost to prove that the remaining mortgage loan balance constituted less than 80% of the value of the home.

The alternative to paying PMI is to take a second loan. In our case, when we bought the house, since we did not have 20% down payment, instead of taking a single loan of over 80% which would have caused us to pay the PMI, we took a second loan for the additional amount over 80% of the loan. We had to pay a higher interest rate on the second loan but we didn't have to worry about PMI, and the mortgage interest rate on both loans were tax deductible.

If some one is buying a house and taking out a mortgage, it's worth while to compare the total cost of a single loan of more than 80% of the house value which would require paying PMI, against two loans (one for 80% and the second for the remaining amount over 80%). Since there are additional interest rates and loan origination and other costs associated with the second loan, the single loan option may be more attractive in some cases despite having to pay the PMI.

An online calculator that can be used in determining whether to pay PMI or take a loan with higher interest rate is provided at the DecisionAide's site; the link is provided below:

Mortgage Insurance versus Higher Interest Calculator

There are also other Web sites that offer mortgage-related calculators, so it's worth while to check them also.

For related links on PMI, see:

St. Petersburg Times - Mortgage Insurance Tax Break

Bankrate.com – The Basics of Private Mortgage Insurance
posted by Ruby @ 7:26 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, January 14, 2007
Weekend Quote - Time
"Time neither subtracts nor divides, but adds at such a pace it seems like multiplication"
- Bob Talbert
posted by Ruby @ 7:28 AM   0 comments

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Saturday, January 13, 2007
Loss of iCreativity
It was nice to see Apple unveil its new phone and other cool products earlier this week at MacWorld. I admire the way Apple brought itself back from near extinction to become one of the coolest tech firm. However, it was surprising to find out that the firm knew that "iPhone" was a trademark of Cisco but did not finalize the rights to use of the name with Cisco prior to announcing the launch of the product at MacWorld. Now that Apple has announced the launch of product, Cisco has more leverage to extract greater amount of money from Apple, if indeed it is willing to sell such rights.

What surprised me is that a firm like Apple has so many creative and talented people working for it, yet the firm did not think of devising a new name for the new product on its own rather than trying to buy the rights for the name from Cisco. Apple could have easily relied on its creative employees and partners to come up with a cool name, or it could have launched a marketing contest to seek out name for its new product from the public in return for a token award. Not only such an effort would have cost the company pennies compared to the amount it would have to pay Cisco to get the rights, but it would also have spared the company from facing Cisco's lawsuit, while also reinforcing its creativity. Cool firms like Apple need to rely on their ingenuity and realize that it pays to think outside the ibox.

For related links, see:

CNET News.com

Jason D. O'Grady's Apple Blog

Note: iPhone is a trademark of Cisco Systems.
posted by Ruby @ 6:37 AM   0 comments

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Thursday, January 11, 2007
CPA - certification supreme
Was gathering info on the Certified Public Accountant exam, so decided to post the info I had gathered. There are many accounting-related certifications but I personally think that CPA is a grand-daddy of all accounting certifications. Reason being that not only is CPA required by most states and SEC for auditing client firms but also because it is widely known and respected by not just among accounting professionals but even general public. From career opportunities and advancement purposes, having a CPA is very helpful for some one working in the field of accounting and even in certain areas of finance.

The certification is sponsored by American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and requires passing four different exams, with a combined duration of 14 hours. The four different exams cover the following areas:

Business Environment and Concepts (2.5 hours)
Auditing and Attestation (4.5 hours)
Regulation (3 hours)
Financial Accounting and Reporting (4 hours)

The exam consists of testlets, containing groups of 24 to 30 multiple-choice questions, and simulations, ie, condensed case studies. The passing score is 75 on a 0-99 scale, and the average passing rate is in 40 to 50% range. The exam is all computerized and can be taken any time during test windows that are open 8 out of 12 months in a year (Jan-Feb, Apr-May, Jul-Aug, and Oct-Nov).

Total cost varies by state and is usually in $500-$800 range. For complete and updated details on fees, schedule, education and experience requirements for each state, check out the NASBA site by clicking the link below:

NASBA

Also, see the following related links:

CPA-Exam

CPA Computer Based Exam FAQs

AICPA

For posts on other certifications, check out the following links:

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

Enrolled Agent (EA)

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

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Points.com  eLearners  Earn Rewards at MyPoints.
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Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Jitterbug, a palatable bug
Was searching the Web for cell phones and found out about a new service called Jitterbug by GreatCall Inc.

The company provides a specially-designed Samsung phone that allows only two things -make and receive phone calls. No bells and whistles. The phone has oversized buttons and graphics, and simple user interface. Plans start from $10 month for emergency calls only, although there are other plans such as $15 per month for 30 minutes usage.

The service is targeted at senior users but I think this service is ideal for any one who justs wants a simple phone for a low cost and low usage volume, for emergency usage, or for pre-teen kids.

For more details, see:

Jitterbug. Easy to Use. Affordable. Personalized Service.
posted by Ruby @ 6:28 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, January 07, 2007
Weekend Quote – Procrastination
"Procrastination is opportunity's assassin"
- Victor Kiam
posted by Ruby @ 6:43 AM   0 comments

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Friday, January 05, 2007
How to make mega-millions?
The new year started on a good note for Home Depot's CEO, Robert Nardelli. Why? Because he got fired! Having gone through layoffs myself, I don't wish layoffs or getting fired on any one. However, I now realize that layoffs for CEO such as Nardelli are a good thing because they end up getting even more money. In Nardelli's case, he will be getting $210 million as part of his severance package. And since that's enough, Home Depot will also be footing his health insurance bill for three years.

Whereas many companies think several times on how to avoid paying even a week's salary when laying off ordinary employees and stick him/her with the high health insurance rates in the name of the COBRA law, they don't even blink twice when awarding multi-million dollar severance packages to even those CEOs who are being eliminated for performance reasons. Of course, such packages had been negotiated at the time of hire, but its amazing that companies do not think much when deciding on such a large severance package.

In fact, why even pay $1 dollar in severance package to CEOs when they are earning millions of dollars in total compensation every year? During his six-year tenure, Nardelli's total annual compensation topped $38 million, including a minimum of $3 million bonus. All this time, Home Depot's stock has not gone up much and still hovers around $40, about the same level when Nardelli joined the company.

So what's one of the best potential ways for some one to make mega-millions? - get hired and fired as a CEO for a large, publicly-traded firm!

For related stories, see the links below:

Smart Money - Home Depot CEO Deploys $210 Million Golden Parachute

BusineesWeek - Out At Home Depot
posted by Ruby @ 6:47 AM   0 comments

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Is license growth the right metric for evaluating software stocks?
Was reading a Motley Fool's article at Yahoo Finance regarding Cognos. Cognos is a developer of business intelligence software and in the most recent quarter, it experienced an increase in its license revenues, which is one of the things the article discussed. Last month, Oracle's stock dropped because its license growth from database applications did not meet analysts' expectations even though the company did well in overall revenues.

Being interested in technology stocks, I like reading about such firms. I believe that to a great extent, license growth is a good metric for evaluating software firms such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, etc. When a customer buys software (legally) such as Oracle database application, he needs to buy appropriate number of licenses depending on the number of user that will be using that software, or in some case, depending on the hardware configuration on which that software will be installed. The greater the numbers of licenses, the greater is the sales revenue for firms such as Oracle, SAP, etc.

However, the license growth is critical not only because of the revenue it brings to software firms but also because the new licenses drive sales of other ancillary services such as consulting, technical support and education. For example, when a customer buys Oracle or other software applications, chances are he will also buy maintenance services to get technical support from Oracle. In addition, he may also buy education packages and consulting services from Oracle.

The revenues from these ancillary services such as consulting and technical support can sometimes dwarf the revenues from licenses. For example, technical support revenues can be in the 15-25% range of the license sales, and therefore, can be substantial in case of a multi-million dollar deals.

On a million-dollar license deal, at 18%, technical support comes out to be $180,000. This may not seem much for large software firms such as Oracle but the thing is that amount is likely to be earned from the customer every year because most firms continue to have needs for services like technical support every year. Therefore, they often renew their maintenance support agreement every year. Some of these ancillary services, therefore, make up the bread and butter of many software firms since they provide stable earnings from existing customers.

Although license growth is important, in my view, it is important to analyze revenue from these services also. Of course, that does not mean ignoring the license growth which is still critical since it is one of the important drivers of the sales of these ancillary services.

However, if a software firm is experiencing good growth in revenues from technical support, education, consulting, etc, it's worth watching such a company since that means the software firm has been successful in selling such services to its existing user base.

As always, a final disclaimer: I am not a financial expert, and 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.

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Monday, January 01, 2007
New year resolutions
Happy new year!

Like many people, I also have made certain resolutions and will be doing my best to keep them during the year. As per Michael Masterson (the author of books such as Automatic Wealth for Grad, Automatic Wealth and Seven Years to Seven Figures), it is important to make resolutions/goals in four areas of our lives: personal, professional, spiritual and health areas.

On the personal front, my resolution is for us to spend more time together with our family and friends. Last year was extremely busy because of work pressures. The goal this year, however, is to better manage our time and commitments so as to be able to spend more time together will our family and friends.

From the blog perspective, aim is to continue writing 2-3 posts per week. Ideally, would like to write one post every day but because of time constraints, it is not possible at this time.

Professionally, my aim is to learn new skills and become more proficient in my job. I have good knowledge of the products we use at work but want to take it to more advanced level.

On the health front and spiritual fronts, haven't thought much. As usual, on the health front, aim is to increase the level of my physical activity, and eat healthy. On the spiritual front, hope is to continue helping a couple of charities.

So these are some of the resolutions. Hopefully, they won't just remain written on this blog site but I will actually implement them!
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Favorite Quote
"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".
                - Author Unknown
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