Thoughts and Riches

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Millionaires in the Making - Frank Furbeck and Trudi Morris
The CNNMoney.com article discusses the finances of a couple in their 40s, Frank Furbeck and Trudi Morris. With a combined salary of $119,000 and two teenagers, they have managed to accumulate:

Online account: $2,500
Savings account: $2,000
CD: $2,000
Home and land: $250,000 estimated value
Deferred compensation: $267,000 combined
Roth IRA: $2,000
529 plan: $16,400

Frank, a systema analyst, earns $83,000 per year while his fiance', Trudi, makes $36,000 per year. Each of them contributes to their deferred comp plans to the max, putting in $15,500 annually. The couple carries no credit card, auto or home debt. The couple leads a comfortable life, without excessive spending or saving. Frank attributes his saving habits to what he learnt early in his life:

"[A man] told me that every time I get a raise I should put that money into my deferred compensation, and I will have something,” Furbeck said. “He was right."

Despite having good combined salaries and savings, the couple is not shy about using coupons and carpooling to work to save on gas. In addition, since both of them are divorcees, they don't plan to spend extravagantly on their wedding.

"I saw my mother struggle with credit cards, and I didn’t want to go that way," Frank said.

For complete article, see:

CNNMoney.com: Millionaires in the Making: Frank Furbeck and Trudi Morris


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Sunday, October 28, 2007
Weekend Quote - Talk versus Action
Talk does not cook rice.
- A Chinese Proverb


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Friday, October 26, 2007
Justice FCU Annual Scholarship Program
The Justice Federal Credit Union recently announced the commencement of its annual scholarship program starting in early Spring 2008.

As part of this program, JFCU will grant $2,000 each to 10 JFCU scholars for educational expenses. Five of these 10 grants will be granted to students pursuing a degree in the field of justice. The program is open to both high school seniors and JFCU members who have completed a minimum of 12 college credit hours.

You can download the applications from JFCU's site (link provided at the end of the post) or pick it up at a local branch beginning February 1, 2008. Deadline is 3:00PM EDT on Tuesday, April 1, 2008. For info on the qualifications for the competition and other details, see

Justice FCU Annual Scholarship

Other Scholarship-Related Posts:

$10,000 Scholarship for student bloggers

Tylenol Scholarship 2007 for students in healthcare

Nelnet's $1 million scholarship giveaway

Justice FCU Annual Scholarship Program

Wal-Mart Scholarships for 2008

$2,500 Upromise Scholarship

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Thursday, October 25, 2007
Watching out for hefty mutual fund distribution payouts
With the year-end around the corner, mutual funds will be distributing capital gains to their shareholders over the next couple of months. As per the Wall Street Journal article, mutual funds investors need to be careful when buying or selling mutual funds over the remainder of the year as many mutual funds, including Janus,T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Oppenheimer Funds, are expected to make big taxable distributions this year. As the international stock funds have performed quite well, they as well as value-oriented and small-cap funds are expected to make big payouts this year.

"Some fund experts predict this year's total mutual-fund distributions will be the highest ever. Despite the summer market turmoil, stocks have moved substantially higher this year, creating sizable gains in many funds. A number of funds have also exhausted their supply of losses booked during the last bear market, which they've used to offset gains in recent years."

As mutual funds sell their holdings during the year, any net profits as well as dividends are passed out to the shareholders towards the end of year. The reason for paying attention to these distributions is that even though an investor didn't buy the mutual fund until just before the distribution, he will have to pay taxes on it even if he reinvested the distributions, assuming the fund is held in a taxable account (in IRAs or other retirement accounts, this is not an issue as those accounts are tax-deferred). Of course, on the day these distributions are paid out, the net asset value of the fund drops by the same amount. Thus, the distributions basically mean that a portion of the money you just invested in the mutual fund is returned back to you, with the drawback being that you now will have to pay taxes on those distributions.

"Taxes can have a big impact on investors' returns. Over the past 10 years, the average stock fund has surrendered an annual 1.4 percentage points of returns to taxes, according to fund researcher Lipper Inc."

To avoid these distributions, investors planning to buy funds can hold off buying them until after the funds have made these capital gains distribution. Most fund companies post expected distribution payout dates on their Web sites some time in October or November. As per the WSJ article,

"Another option: Look up the fund on morningstar.com and find its "potential capital gains exposure" under the "tax analysis" tab. This figure is an estimate of the percentage of a fund's assets that represent gains."

For complete article, see:

Wall Street Journal: Taxable Payouts On Many Funds Are Set to Surge

For related posts, see:

Delaying taxes on mutual funds

Mutual fund year end distributions


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Travelocity's $50 off participating hotel promotion
Travelocity is currently running a promotion for instant $50 off participating hotels if booking for 3 or more nights with MasterCard. Booking must be made by October 31, 2007.

For complete details, see:

Use your MasterCard for a 3+ night stay and save $50. Couponcode: HOTELSALE
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Netflix delivers on movies .... and Q3 earnings expectations
Netflix, Inc.Like many people, I was surprised by the good Q3 earnings of Netflix that came out after the market close yesterday. Netflix's revenue for the period increased 15% from last year, and its shares were up over 10% at one point in the after-hours trading. The good earnings followed the bad earnings in its second quarter where its lost subscribers due to its competition with Blockbuster. The competition is still very much on but thanks to its lowered prices and lower marketing cost, Netflix was able to add new subscribers during the Q3. Blockbuster has the advantage of allowing customers to both rent movies in store or over mail. However, it will be interesting to see whether Netflix is able to counter Blockbuster's advantage of in-store pickups/returns with its latest offering by downloading movies over the internet. Hopefully, such downloads would also reduce its delivery costs.

While I am not a Netflix shareholder nor am interested in becoming one, from customers' perspective, I like Netflix. When it first introduced its business model of renting movies over the mail, I liked the idea but had doubts if the company could survive long term with that kind of business model considering the high costs of shipping, charging no late fees even when renting out movies for many days, etc. However, as a student of business and life, I am happy when businesses and people in all walks of life find ways to beat the odds and come up with innovative ways to increase sales or reduce costs.

For people like us, Netflix is a good service since we don't have to run to the stores to pick up or return movies. And due to small kids, since we don't watch movies in one go and rather watch it in installments over a period of many days, not having to pay any late fees is real saver. Hopefully, the firm will continue to keep its subscription prices reasonable as well as continue to meet its customer expectations.

For related article, see:

TheStreet.com: Netflix Wins With Price Cuts


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Disclaimer: I am not a financial analyst nor am recommending the purchase/sale of Netflix or Blockbuster stocks or any other security for that matter. These stocks were listed in my post just for information and entertainment purposes.
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Monday, October 22, 2007
Nelnet's $1 million scholarship giveaway
Nelnet is offering ten grand prizes of a scholarship worth up to $25,000, and 750 first prizes of a $1,000 scholarship as part of its $1 million scholarship giveaway to high school juniors and seniors, and undergraduate college students. Deadline: November 9, 2007.

For details, see:

Nelnet's $1 million scholarship giveaway

Other Scholarship-Related Posts:

$10,000 Scholarship for student bloggers

Tylenol Scholarship 2007 for students in healthcare

Nelnet's $1 million scholarship giveaway

Justice FCU Annual Scholarship Program

Wal-Mart Scholarships for 2008

$2,500 Upromise Scholarship

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Sunday, October 21, 2007
Weekend Quote - Actions and their impact on self
When you give a shilling to a beggar - do you realize that you are giving it to yourself? When you help a lame dog over a stile - do you realize that you yourself are being helped? When you kick a man when he is down - do you realize that you are kicking yourself? Give him another kick - if you deserve it!
- Why Lazarus Laughed: The Essential Doctrine, Zen--Advaita--Tantra by Wei Wu Wei


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Save, invest, prosper
Was reading a slightly older article that discusses the importance of starting to save early in life, and if investing in stocks, understanding the importance of dividends and also including them in your portfolio as part of diversification.

The article emphasizes the importance of compounding using the story of two twins - Jack and Jill.

"As they turn 18, Jack takes a job out of high school and begins investing. From age 18 to 30 -- when he gets married and has his first kid -- Jack socks away five grand a year. Then he stops.

Jill, meanwhile, goes to college and then medical school. She starts saving at 30 -- the same $5,000 per year.

Both invest in the stock market, earning a long-term average of 11% a year. But by age 65, the difference in their financial fortunes will shock you:

Jill, who contributed for 35 years straight, will have $1.9 million. But Jack, who invested for only 12 years, actually has $4.9 million ... thanks to his head start!
"

The article then goes on to make a case for dividend-paying stocks, and also lists 7 stocks that can be used as starting points for further research in deciding whether or not to invest in them. According to the article,

"..from 1972 to 2006, S&P 500 stocks not paying a dividend returned 4.1% annually, while dividend payers returned 10.1%!"

Another thing about dividend-paying stocks is that the dividends can help during the volatile times. Assuming the company is solid fundamentally and investors didn't overpay for the stock, investors can ride out the volatile times knowing that they are getting dividends while they wait.

For complete article, see:

Make Millions With 7 Stocks


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Monday, October 15, 2007
Foreclosure-related scams
The CNNMoney.com article discusses the new scams that have come up targeting homeowners facing default on their mortgages and potentially facing foreclosures. The article discusses the plight of Jennifer Falke from Columbus, Ohio, who was out of work and fell behind on her mortgage. She got bombarded with mailings from foreclosure rescue companies, promising her that they will work with her lenders and prevent her from losing her home. In the end, however, she got little assistance from the foreclosure rescue company for the $1,200 upfront payment she made to them.

Such scams are often targeted towards low-income minorities, the elderly or immigrants in poor neighborhoods who are the most vulnerable.

"A client of Jessica Attie of South Brooklyn Legal Services, was a mentally ill woman with a $60,000 mortgage balance that carried an interest rate of more than 10 percent. She was falling behind on payments, had few other resources and wanted to reduce her payments. Attie said a scam artist convinced her client to sign over her title while he cleared up the arrears. She could rent the home for six months, and then he would sell it back to her. Instead, according to Attie, the scammer resold the house and absconded with more than $400,000."

As per the article, the most common scam is "equity stripping" where the scammer promises to save the home by taking title, renting the home back to its owner and then selling it back to the home owner sometime later. In reality, however, the scammer "strips the equity by charging excessive fees, doing phony renovations and not making the mortgage payments."

Other scam tactics include:

-Saturation marketing: scammers bombard home owners with mailings, flyers etc based on mortgage delinquencies through published reports
-Exploiting trust: scammers build trust by being sympathetic
-Isolating owners: Scammers assure victims that they'll handle everything, telling them instead not to call lenders or seek legal advice
-Outright fraud: Scammers have homeowners sign blank papers and fill them in afterward or use deceptive techniques to get a document signedAffinity marketing: such as aligning with sometimes evangelical church congregations to build trust

To avoid such scams, the article recommends that you never trust anyone who has contacted you, unsolicited, offering to help. Instead get in touch with your lender to work out a plan.

"If in doubt, get in touch with your state attorney general's office."

The following quote at the end of the article nicely sums up what many of us feel about scammers:

"The ingenuity of people who would rather cheat than work hard is unending"

For complete article, see:

CNNMoney.com: Foreclosure fallout: Rescue scams


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Sunday, October 14, 2007
Weekend Quote - Keep Trying
No mistake or failure is as bad as to stop and not try again
-John Wanamaker


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Thursday, October 11, 2007
Free ebook - The Science of Getting Rich
The Science of Getting Rich Network is giving away free ebook, The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles for joining its free ezine, The Certain WayTM. The link to the ebook is sent via an email after joining the ezine.

For details, see:

Free ebook by The SOGR Network

Similar paper-based editions of the book:





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Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Taking small steps to success and prosperity
Lately, have been reading One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. This is an interesting and inspiring book which urges people to turn their lives around by taking small steps.

For example, if some one's having a weight problem, then instead of hiring a trainer or getting a surgery, they should take small steps such as removing one unhealthy item from one's diet one step at a time. The author. Robert Maurer, himself turned his life around by losing 45 pounds in 18 months. He did that by taking the small step of throwing out the first french fry on his plate. With time, the number of fries and other food he threw out kept increasing, and those small acts led him to lose significant weight over time.

I found the book very motivating. It continuously reinforces the notion that small, incremental steps can have a big impact over time. I myself have been trying to put the ideas into my personal life. With two small kids, life's always busy. There's always tons of work but rather than getting anxious or trying to do everything in one day, I try to spread out the work over few days which has made the work load much more manageable.

Am sure, the same philosophy can be applied in the area of personal finance. For example, if a person is having problem saving money, then he/she can start saving the first dollar and then gradually keep the momentum going. As the amount of savings increases, often times, the person becomes more encouraged and excited, and that gets the ball rolling. Similarly, if it's hard to find 30-minutes for exercise, then just try to spend just 2-3 minutes a day and keep the process going. Overtime such small changes can produce measurable, positive results.

The reason baby steps often catapult many people to a greater success is because they help overcome the inertia which keeps most people in their status quo condition and prevents them from at least taking a shot at their goals. However, once they start the process by taking even a small step, most of the time they find that whatever goal they are trying to reach, it isn't that tough and that sets the momentum for further progress. I remember in school, during my earlier semesters, I always could find umpteen reasons for not doing the term papers/projects until just before the deadline. However, in the later semesters, I realized that once I took the minor step of selecting the term paper topic, and then spent just 10-15 minutes every day, the term paper/project was completed quickly, preventing the anxiety that in the earlier semesters would be there at the back of my mind. This book reinforces similar ideas with different examples and is a good read.

For a related post, see:

Baby steps count


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20% off Big Lots coupon - valid Oct 8-13, 2007
20% off Big Lots coupon


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Credit scores and credit repair
In today's credit-score driven world, the credit scores are not only used by lenders in determining the interest rates on the loans for houses, cars etc, but they may also be used by insurance companies in setting auto or home insurances rates, as well as by employers in determining the suitability of hiring a potential candidate. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the information in your credit report is accurate. Reason being that credit scores are based off of the information contained in the credit reports maintained by the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, and inaccurate reports can lead to bad credit scores.

Under the current law, a person in the US can request his/her credit report from the three credit bureaus once a year for free at Annual Credit Report. It is important to review your credit report regularly for possible inaccuracies. Some examples of inaccurate information in credit reports include:

– credit card accounts listed as open even though you may have closed it
- a loan may be listed as outstanding even though it was discharged or paid-off earlier
- incorrect address, social security number or last name
- incorrect number of past due items on files
- incorrect outstanding balances for student loan, mortgages and other loans
- incorrect adverse information such as bankruptcy, liens, child support payments, and so forth

In case of any of the above and other inaccuracies, the person can contact the credit bureaus directly to remove any incorrect information. Alternatively, they can use firms such as RMCN Credit Services, Inc that provide credit repair services.

RMCN is a Credit Services Organization that specializes in Credit Restoration and Education. As per the company's website, RMCN guarantees results, and has provided credit help to hundreds of consumers since its inception in 1997. The company uses its own credit repair process, which includes auditing the credit bureaus and creditors for possible inaccuracies to potentially improve a person's credit. The company's web site also lists references, as well as provides testimonials of various people who claim to have received help from the company in rebuilding their credit as well as improving their credit scores. As per the testimonials provided on the company's web site, RMCN professionals provided valuable assistance in improving credit rating by helping remove any errors and inaccuracies from a consumer's credit reports. For more information about the company and the credit help it can provide, you can check out its web site - RMCN.

Note: The above is a paid post.

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Monday, October 08, 2007
Millionaires in the Making - Justin and Emily Bergman
The CNNMoney.com article discusses the finances of a couple in their 20s, Justin (a Navy officer) and Emily Bergman. With a combined salary of $70,000, they have managed to accumulate:

Thrift Saving Plan: $9,300
Roth IRA: $4,500
529 plan: $8,500 combined
Mutual fund: $15,200
Emergency Fund: $2,300

The couple is currently renting their house in Connecticut, where Justin is stationed with the Navy. They have paid off all their credit card bills, and are now saving to pay off their car loans, invest in 529 plans for their daughters and plan to buy their own house. Justin attributes his saving habits to his grandparents.

"They weren’t always into buying flashy things, and I learned from them that you don’t always have to have the best of the best," he said.

As per a financial planner, "The Bergmans are on the right track to reach millionaire status by the time they retire".

For complete article, see:

CNNMoney.com: Millionaires in the Making: Justin and Emily Bergman


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Sunday, October 07, 2007
Weekend Quote - Truth and Love
When I despair, I remember that all through the history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it - always
- Mahatma Gandhi


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Saturday, October 06, 2007
Free Sample from Walmart - NIVEA Smooth Indulgence Hand Cream
For a limited time, Wal-Mart is offering a free sample - check out:

Free Sample - NIVEA Smooth Indulgence Hand Cream


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Friday, October 05, 2007
Free subscription to Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine
Mercury Magazines is offering free subscription of Electronic Gaming Monthly. For details, check out:

Mercury Magazines: Electronic Gaming Monthly


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Thursday, October 04, 2007
Steps to getting out of debt
The Kiplinger.com article lists the six telltale symptoms that you might be way down in debt load, and discusses the steps you can take to get outCredit-card debt isn't all bad.

The problem signs include:

"You're unable to make the minimum payments on your credit cards
You borrow from one card to pay another
You're frequently charged fees for late payments or going over your credit limit
You use plastic out of necessity rather than convenience
You forgo contributions to savings and retirement plans because of your debt
You devote more than 20% of your take-home pay to making payments on credit cards and loans other than your mortgage
"

The article recommends the following steps to take to get out of this problem:

- Contacting the credit card issuer to get better terms
- Consolidating your debt on a credit card with a low interest rate
- Taking out a home-equity loan
- Seeking help from a reputable credit counseling agency
- if all else fails, as a last resort, looking into the possibility of declarign bankruptcy

Although the article lists about taking a home-equity loan, I personally don't think that's a good idea because in case of non-payment, your home is on the line. And when a person is way over his/her head in debt, chances are that his/her current situation may prevent the person from not being able to make a payment which in turn would put your house in jeopardy. With the credit card debt also a person has other issues to deal with but at least the credit card companies can't go after the house.

In addition, if debt problems arose due to job loss, medical problems or other emergency, there's not much you can do. However, if it was due to excessive and discretionary spending is what got the person into debt trouble, then a major step a person needs to take is to do a major change of self because otherwise, chances are the person will get into the same debt situation again.

My 2 cents.

For complete article, see:

Kiplinger.com: Don't Let Debt Get You Down


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Wednesday, October 03, 2007
eBay/Skype - a failed combination?
This week, eBay announced that it will take a $1.4b write-down for its acquisition of Skype which it had purchased in 2005 for about $2.6b. As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I am a big fan of Skype and like its phone service. Earlier this year, we paid about $30 for the entire year of unlimited long-distance calls within US and Canada. Not surprisingly, my parents also love Skype since now I call them daily without disconnecting half-way through the conversation to save money.

However, from the business perspective, I found Skype’s price down right cheap, especially since most of its competitors charge $20+ per month. So it didn’t come as a surprise to read that eBay was having problems monetizing Skype successfully which ultimately, resulted in this whopping write-off.

Based on what I have seen so far, most M&A don’t pan out for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that most acquiring firms overpay the premium for the acquisition of the target firm (which of course, is great for the shareholders of the target firm!). They often overestimate the potential synergies from the combination of the two firms but in most cases, the estimated cost savings or revenue increases fall short of what is expected. In addition, the departure of key executives and employees of the target firm, differences in the cultures of the two firms, problems with integration, and other such factors also contribute to the failure of many M&As. In eBay’s case, another problem was that the business models of eBay and Skype were quite different even though both companies operated in the internet technology segment. Comparatively, Microsoft’s acquisitions of Great Plains, and Oracle’s acquisition of Peoplesoft seem to be going fine so far (at least that's what appears to me), as the target companies complemented the business models of both Microsoft and Oracle.

Anyways, from personal perspective, it will be interesting to see what changes eBay makes to Skype. Will eBay try to increase the rates for Skype or will it try to divests itself of Skype? Also, will be interesting to see eBay's approach towards Craigslist which like Skype is very popular with its users yet the platform is free for most postings.

For related articles, see:

CNNMoney.com: Can't anyone make Internet phones pay?

Yahoo.com: Skype's Missed Call


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Free Stock Investing Webinar: A Strategy for Up, Down, and Sideways Markets
ICON Advisers, Inc. is organizing a free webinar for Investment Professionals on "A Strategy for Up, Down, and Sideways Markets" on Thursday, October 4, 2007, 4 p.m. EST.

For details, see:

Free Webinar: A Strategy for Up, Down, and Sideways Markets
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Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Free Sample from Walmart - Dunkin' Donuts packaged coffee
For a limited time, Wal-Mart is offering a free sample - check out:

Walmart: Free Sample - Dunkin' Donuts packaged coffee
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Free telecoaching call with David Bach - Oct 4, 8:30 PM EST
David Bach, author of several books such as The Automatic Millionaire : A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich and Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner is hosting a free, 1-hour live telecoaching call to launch his new member's only website - MyFinishRich.com. Timings are Thursday, October 4th at 8:30 pm Eastern. Potential topics include:

- What to do to take advantage of the current economic uncertainty

- What sectors of the market make sense to look at and what to avoid

- What you absolutely need to do right now if you have an adjustable rate mortgage

- Paying Yourself First - the secret to living and finishing rich

In addition, David Bach will also take live questions during the call.

For reservations, send an email to: coachingcall@finishrich.com with "RSVP" in the subject line. Teleconference calling number on Thursday, October 4th at 8:30pm Eastern Time is 512.879.2222; and participant access code: 879089#.


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Free sample - New 2X Ultra Tide
Start Sampling is offering a free sample of New 2X Ultra Tide. For details, check out:

Start Sampling: New 2X Ultra Tide


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Monday, October 01, 2007
Are you LinkedIn?
Recently, joined LinkedIn after a friend sent me an invitation. I was hesitant about joining yet another site but joined anyways because of my friend’s request.

Within days after joining it, I heard back from a school friend with whom I had lost touch for years! So, joining the site proved to be a good move. Another friend told me that her husband got an offer for job interview based on his profile in LinkedIn. So the site definitely has some usefulness.

The site also seems to be making some changes recently. To make itself more informal, it will also allow users to add their photo to their profile. May be some users will like that feature, but for now at least, I am not planning to add any photos or provide more than a limited amount of information, especially since I already had my identity stolen in the past. Although the site is in media frequently for supposedly providing great professional networking opportunity, I am personally planning to use it at this time mainly to get connected to a few friends.

I also read an article in the Wall Street Journal mentioning that more and more recruiters and potential employers are using the LinkedIn connections as an informal tool for checking on a potential job seeker. This can be good or bad depending on the kind of references a person provides about the potential job seeker.

Such reference checking exposes job seekers to certain risks. Many site users routinely connect online to people they have only a glancing relationship with -- say, someone who simply works at the same company -- and there is no guarantee that the references will be favorable.”

Like most things in life, sites like LinkedIn have the potential to be both useful and harmful. It is always good to be careful about who you accept for connections when using social networking sites like LinkedIn, and be cautious about the type of personal information you provide on such sites.

For related articles, see:

Yahoo/BusinessWeekOnline: Smile, You're on LinkedIn

WSJ: Job References You Can't Control


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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".
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