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Saturday, February 28, 2009
Warren Buffett's Letter to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
Warren Buffett released his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders today. Warren Buffett admitted making some investment mistakes in 2008, including buying shares in Conoco Philips when the oil prices were peaking. Just shows how much even investing maestros and legends underestimated the severity of this recession.

Here's an online version of his latest letter:

Feb 28, 2009: Warren Buffett's Letter to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders

For a complete list of his previous letters, see:

Warren Buffett's Letters to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
posted by Ruby @ 9:51 AM   0 comments

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Thursday, February 26, 2009
Free subscription to the Elle Decor and Women's Health magazines
For a limited time, RewardsGold is offering free subscription.

For details, check out:

RewardsGold: Elle Decor and Women's Health magazines


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posted by Ruby @ 9:21 AM   0 comments

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Bank fees: a toll to pay for accessing unemployment benefit
As if the unemployed weren't already enough problems, another problem that's hitting them now are the bank fees. Reason? - many states providing unemployment benefits require people to use debit cards to access their money. Not surprisingly, many banks have been smart to find ways to make money in these situations.
Thirty states have struck such deals with banks that include Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., JP Morgan Chase and US Bancorp, an Associated Press review of the agreements found. All the programs carry fees, and in several states the unemployed have no choice but to use the debit cards. Some banks even charge overdraft fees of up to $20 -- even though they could decline charges for more than what's on the card.
I don't mind banks charging legitamate fees. However, in situations like these where people have no choice but to retrieve money using debit cards, I think the states should have been smart to have set up better agreements with the banks to ensure customers didn't end up getting charged fees. Of course, some questions I have are - why were these bankers not so smart when they were issuing mortgages to all the subprime borrowers? How come they display all their smartness only when it comes to finding new ways of charging fees to customers, or ensuring they get million dollar bonuses and golden parachutes even when they fail on their jobs, or convincing their board of directors in investing in $35,000 commodes?

Of course, consumers also need to be smart. For eg, many banks allow consumer to avoid debit card-related fees by withdrawing all their money in a single transaction. Why not do that?
The banks say their programs offer convenience. They also provide at least one way to tap the money at no charge, such as using a single free withdrawal to get all the cash at once from a bank teller. But the banks benefit from human nature, as people end up treating the cards like all the other plastic in their wallets.
For complete article, see:

Associated Press/Yahoo Finance: Jobless hit with bank fees on benefits
posted by Ruby @ 9:53 AM   0 comments

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Monday, February 23, 2009
Dollar Savings Direct reduces APY on its savings account to 2.65%
Dollar Savings Direct online bank has again lowered the interst on its savings account - the new APY is 2.65%. Given the prevailing fed interest rates and the economic conditions, this cut wasn't surprising. In the recent weeks, E-Trade and other banks have all reduced their interest rates.

For details, see:

Dollar Savings Direct
posted by Ruby @ 9:20 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, February 22, 2009
Weekend quote - Economic stimulus: who says the good times are over?
Funny thing, this economic stimulus effort. When the U.S. was flying high, the country couldn't afford to maintain highways and repair bridges. Now that it's in crisis, we've got plenty of money to pay for highways and a whole lot more. The mayor of Las Vegas even suggested Congress could help pay for the city's mob museum, dedicated to Al Capone and other luminaries of organized crime. (Congressional Republicans seem to think there's a problem with that.) Who says the good times are over?

- Felix Rohatyn, Author: Bold Endeavors: How Our Government Built America, and Why It Must Rebuild Now

Source: BusinessWeek.com: Washington's Greatest Stimulus Projects


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posted by Ruby @ 8:14 AM   0 comments

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Friday, February 20, 2009
$2,500 Upromise.com Scholarships - Deadline: February 25, 2009
UPromise.com is offering 200 scholarships of $2,500 each for the 2009-10 academic year. As per Upromise's Web site, the application criteria is as follows:

- Applicants must be a UPromise.com member or children of members (membership is free)
- Household income of $65,000 or less
- Minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
- Applicants must be graduating high school seniors or currently-enrolled college students
- be high school seniors or graduates who plan to enroll during the 2009-10 academic year or students who are already enrolled in full-time undergraduate study at an accredited two-year or four-year college or university or vocational-technical school.
- Applicants must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents

Application deadline is February 28, 2009

For complete scholarship details, see:

UPromise Scholarship Program

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posted by Ruby @ 6:59 AM   0 comments

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Thursday, February 19, 2009
Suze Orman - stop or rather start listening to her?
Came across an article by Scurlock on Suze Orman.

I had never heard of Scurlock before but was surprised by his advise regarding stop listening to Suze Orman.
Stop listening to Suze Orman. The personal finance guru favors super-simple mantras -- even when they're wrong -- and psychological explanations for all your money problems. Maybe it's time to stop trusting her.
I personally don't have hard feelings either way for or against Suze Orman but I like her show even though a lot of what she discusses is basic. I especially like her emphasis of putting people first rather than money. Some of the things mentioned in Scurlock's article seemed off the mark to me. For eg, he lambasts Suze Orman on the dollar cost averaging.
But it is not Suze's hypocrisy or even her intellectual laziness that really bothers me; no, that would be something Suze "loves" called "dollar cost averaging," which involves buying the same stock over and over again as it falls.

"It's a great opportunity for you when the value of the shares drops," claims Suze in the inaptly named "The Road to Wealth," "because you can buy shares at 'bargain' prices and average down your cost per share."

Oh, where to begin? Maybe with the obvious: Since when does throwing good money after bad make you rich? It doesn't.
I guess, as per Scurlock, either you don't dollar cost average or do it only when the stock market is going up. Sure, you don't want to throw good money after the bad and it's important that you don't dollar cost average by buying stocks of companies that are heading towards bankruptcy or with poor fundamentals. In the current market, dollar cost averaging hasn't been kind (at least so far but then it's a very small time horizon for now) and even pros like Bill Miller, Richard Penza, Dreman and others have licked their wounds.

While some of Scurlock's criticism may be valid, I think people need to realize that not every person is financially savvy nor are shows like Suze Orman's or Jim Cramer's or Fast Money etc are meant for every one. Most of these shows and even personal finance magazines are geared towards the broad audience and therefore, many of the recommendations given may not be good for every individual's situation. For eg, one of the things I frequently see in media is how credit cards are so bad and we should cancel them! To me, misuse of credit cards is bad. Buying things on credit card when you don't have the money is bad. Buying things on credit card and getting into debt is bad. However, if you spend wisely and pay off balance in full at the end of each month, all the time taking advantage of rewards and other perks, then credit card usage could be beneficial.

In contrast, I found Felix Salmon's article at SeekingAlpha to be more balanced and putting things in perspective.
Yes, Orman lards her books with no small amount of Oprah-level pop-psychology -- but when she does so, she's generally right. It's easy for the analytically-skilled elite of the information economy to scoff at such things, but something as basic as spending less than you earn really is akin to eating fewer calories than you burn: conceptually easy, but very hard in practice, especially when the world seems to be conspiring against you at every step. And succeeding in such matters requires a level of psychological discipline, while failing in them often has psychological causes.

Scurlock mocks Orman's statement that "you will never achieve a sense of power over your life until you have power over your money," but it's a great way of harnessing the imperatives of the otherwise largely destructive self-help movement and putting them to good use. As for "the stock market is like a pot of soup" -- that's as good a way as any to explain diversification. You want she should go into details of capital structure and limited liability corporate entities?

Orman's audience is struggling with money woes. That's true pretty much by definition: someone who has these things all worked out is not going to read her books. But it's also true that most of Orman's readers and viewers aren't going to declare bankruptcy: there's a huge terrain of financial difficulty between bankruptcy and health. It's simply obtuse to imply, as Scurlock does, that because most bankruptcies are caused by catastrophic events, the people who don't suffer catastrophic events and who don't declare bankruptcy are probably fine, on a financial level. They're not. Many of these people are in desperate need of financial help, and Orman is providing a very valuable service which America's financial institutions have every incentive not to provide.
. For complete articles, see:

TheBigMoney.com: If You Knew Suze Like We Know Suze

SeekingAlpha.com: In Praise of Suze Orman
posted by Ruby @ 9:03 AM   0 comments

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009
2009 auto mileage rates for business use
The Internal Revenue Service' standard auto (such as for car, van, pickup truck) mileage rates for 2009 are as follows:

- 55 cents per mile for business purposes
- 24 cents per mile for medical and moving purposes
- 14 cents per mile for use while performing service for charitable organizations, which is the same rate as is 2007 and 2008

For details, see:

IRS.gov: IRS Announces 2009 Standard Mileage Rates
posted by Ruby @ 9:43 AM   0 comments

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Taxes: auto mileage rates for 2008
If you are taking deduction on your taxes for the business use of your car in 2008, realize that IRS has two sets of standard auto mileage rates:

For Jan 1 through Jun 30, 2008: rates are 50.5 cent/mile
For Jul 1 through Dec 31, 2008: rates are 58.5 cent/mile

For details, see:

IRS.gov: IRS Increases Mileage Rates through Dec. 31, 2008
posted by Ruby @ 7:44 AM   0 comments

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Monday, February 16, 2009
Temporary respite for DCU members - early CD terminantion penalty waiver
Digital Federal Credit Union is temporarily waiving early withdrawal penalties on its Regular Certificates, and Jumbo Certificates. Although it is also waiving penalty temporarily on IRA Certificates, be aware that IRS taxes and penalties may apply for IRA Certificate Account withdrawals unless the funds are rolled into another IRA or qualified account. According to the DCU's Web site:
Certificate Early Withdrawal Penalties Temporarily Waived Includes Certificate Accounts and IRA Certificate Accounts

All DCU members are affected by the troubled economy in some way. Some may be in situations where they need to get to more of their savings. We want to help.

For a limited time, we are waiving early withdrawal dividend penalties on any existing Regular Certificate, Jumbo Certificate, and IRA Certificate. This includes both full and partial withdrawal.
posted by Ruby @ 3:47 PM   0 comments

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Sunday, February 15, 2009
Weekend quote - Chance
Chance favors those in motion.

- James H. Austin


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posted by Ruby @ 1:24 AM   0 comments

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Saturday, February 14, 2009
Free subscription to the Martha Stewart Living magazine
For a limited time, RewardsGold is offering free subscription.

For details, check out:

RewardsGold: Martha Stewart Living magazine


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posted by Ruby @ 7:18 AM   0 comments

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Thursday, February 12, 2009
Scholarships for working moms and dads
As part to Project Working Mom … and Dads, Too!, eLearners is offering various scholarships to working moms and dads to attend school. The latest campaign started on Jan 8 and will finish on April 30, 2009.
However, Casey-Ulery's greatest wish was granted when she recently applied for, and won, a Project Working Mom scholarship to attend an online college for free. Project Working Mom … and Dads, Too! is a program that will grant at least $2 million in full-ride scholarships to working parents across the country. Thanks to the Project Working Mom scholarship, Casey-Ulery will now get her degree in accounting from Everest University at no cost to her.
eLearners is also offering JumpStart scholarship which pays for first semester in school.

For Project Working Mom...and Dad Too, and JumpStart scholarships-related info and article, see:

Project Working Mom 2

2 Million in Scholarships for Working Parents Going Back to School

Jump Start Scholarships

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posted by Ruby @ 7:40 AM   0 comments

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Testing the FreeTaxQuestion site
Last month decided to test out Intuit's online tax site FreeTaxQuestion. Through this site, Intuit was offering free tax advice through the end of January.

The site was very easy to use. Just had to fill out some basic info such as Name, email, phone and good contact time, along with my question. As soon as I submitted my question, within approximately 5 minutes I received a call from one of tax advisors. He was very professional and courteous. I thought I could only ask him one question (the one I had submitted) and was planning to submit my questions again through the Web site. However, the advisor said that I could ask him additional questions. So in just one call, he answered all my three questions. The entire conversation took less than 10 minutes.

At the end of the call, he asked me to fill out a survey that I will be getting from Intuit as whether or not he gets rehired next year depends on the customer feedback about him. Sure enough, after his call, I got the survey link - took about a couple of minutes to fill it out.

I could have contacted IRS also for free but with that would probably have taken more time and would have involved getting transferred around several times before I had gotten all my questions answered. In contrast, using the FreeTaxQuestion was a nice and easy process.
posted by Ruby @ 9:14 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, February 08, 2009
Weekend quote - Kindness
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

- Plato


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posted by Ruby @ 7:50 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, February 01, 2009
Weekend Quote - Failure
Owning up to failure is not a weakness; it's a measure of strength.

- John Baldoni


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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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