Jan 3 2014

Managing Your Banking in the Mobile Banking Age

By |January 3rd, 2014|General Personal Finance|2 Comments|

A recently published article on BankTech.com asked, “Is 2014 the Year of Mobile Banking?” The article points out that over the course of 2012-2013 smartphone ownership jumped 25% and tablet ownership skyrocketed by 60%. When you pair those numbers with the “mobile remote dispute capture” feature that almost every banking institution (traditional and web based) has adopted, it’s no wonder more and more people are turning toward mobile banking in favor of even online banking.

We talked on this site recently about how my partner got tired of paying money every month to a traditional bank just to keep an account open. After doing some research, we found a web based bank that offered better rates and lower fees and switched to that and we haven’t been happier.

This makes me wonder: with so many strides being made in mobile banking, why aren’t more people adopting the technology? Why are there still so many traditional bank branches all over the place? In some cities you’ll see ATMs and branches of the same bank on every block!

Your Bank

For most people, mobile banking is seen merely as a way to check in on the banking that they do through traditional means. They use apps to check their balances while they are in line at a store or to make sure a check has cleared if they are away from their computers, but they still use traditional bank branches and ATMs for everything else.

This is largely because people are still using traditional banks over web based banks in spite of the better rates that are offered. People tend to pick a bank and stick with it, even if doing so is not in their best interest. If you take a few minutes to look around, like we did, you’ll find that there are all sorts of web based banking institutions (even credit cards like Discover Card have online banking options now) that offer you better rates and plans than your traditional bank.

The Bank’s App

This logic is reinforced by the mobile banking apps themselves. It has only been over the last year that traditional banks have started to adopt the mobile deposit capture for their apps. According to the article mentioned above, they’re still dragging their feet over even more advanced features like being able to pay a bill by taking a picture of it.

Web based mobile banking apps, like the Discover Bank mobile app, are better thought out and offer more functions than simply allowing the user to replace a quick automated phone call with a quick mobile login. The more you can do via the app, the less likely you are to want to stick with a website.

More importantly, experts predict that over the next couple of years, mobile banking apps are going to become advanced enough to allow you to do a whole bunch of things like opening new accounts and submitting applications for credit, loans and helping you set up investments.

The Security Factor

Regardless of whether you choose to stick with your traditional bank or switch over to a web based bank, one factor is universal in a person’s decision to make the leap over to mobile banking: security. If a bank can’t ensure that a user’s information will be protected and kept private why would someone take the risk of using it?

Dec 30 2013

Dog Bathing Made Easy With These Inexpensive Tools

By |December 30th, 2013|Blog, Personal Finance Tips|5 Comments|

If there is one thing my fiancee Tag won’t tolerate, it’s having our house smell like dogs. She hates when you walk into someone home and the first thing you notice is a dog smell. That’s why she does a great job of keeping our house AND our dogs clean.

Our Australian Shepherds

Kona is in the front and Sydney is in the back

Our two dogs, Sydney and Kona, love to play outside and wrestle. That means they are constantly getting dirty and smelly. We have had them groomed, but that cost $30 each dog (plus tip!), which makes grooming and unsustainable expense for our budget.

We have also tried bathing them ourselves in a bathtub using a plastic cup to pour water over them, but with Australian Shepherds and their double-coats it’s very hard to get them completely clean. Then even if we do get the shampoo into their second coat, it’s terribly difficult to rinse it. Finally, I can’t even talk about all the dog hair that found its way down the drain.

We needed a better solution to bathing our dogs, and this is what we found:

Rinse Ace Pet Shower – Tag and I took a chance on a $28 Rinse Ace Pet Shower Deluxe PLUS, and we were not disappointed. It’s similar to those shower heads that are detachable, except it is made specifically for pets and you can keep your regular shower head attached at the same time.

This is an upgraded model (the company sells a cheaper version) but we like it because it has 3 different settings, which is helpful for our two dogs. One of them is a little jittery, so we need to use the softer setting for him. The other doesn’t know the meaning of the word “nervous” so we can use the high pressure setting for her.

This was 1000 times better than the cup, as it easily penetrates into their second coat and gets them clean. It’s also convenient because you can turn the water on and off at the handle so you don’t have to mess turning it off at the wall.

This is the single most important thing that has allowed us to stop grooming the dogs and bathe them ourselves.

Hair Catcher – Tag and I also purchased a hair catcher because we wanted to make sure we don’t clog our drain with dog fur. We bought the Danco Microban Hair Catcher, and while it did catch a lot of hair, it also let a good amount into the drain underneath the edges. It needs a silicone rim or something to stop hair from getting under this catcher. I gave this product a 3 star rating (out of 5) on Amazon because it didn’t work as well as I had hoped. Luckily, it was only $5 and it seems to work well enough that we can continue using it for now.

If anyone knows of a better catcher that they have used, I will update the post and add it here.

Dog Shampoo – The final ingredient for bathing your dogs at home is the shampoo, and unfortunately I can’t give any recommendations here. We still haven’t finished the shampoo that came in our puppy kit, so we are gonna keep using that until it runs out.

There are quite a few highly rated products on Amazon, but I haven’t tried any. If anyone has suggestions in the comments, I’ll be happy to add them here.

Bonus Dog Item: Hammock Seat Cover – This has nothing to do with bathing dogs, but it is incredibly useful if you ever take your dogs in the car and put them in the back seat. It’s called the Solvit Waterproof Hammock Seat Cover, and it’s fantastic.

We used this when we drove from Dallas to St. Louis for Thanksgiving, and it was incredible. It gives the dogs so much more room and you don’t have to worry about them falling off the seat onto the floor, or climbing into the front seat.

Readers: How do you save money in bathing your dogs?

Dec 27 2013

The Best Tools to Manage Your Credit

By |December 27th, 2013|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

Your credit is an important part of your life whether you like it or not. And your credit score is used to determine whether or not you will be able to buy a home, purchase a new car, or even receive favorable terms on your car insurance. So it’s important for you to properly manage your credit to maintain a high credit rating. When looking at your financial accounts, it isn’t enough to simply know the ballpark amounts; you need to make sure you have accurate figures.

Using Online Tools

The Internet isn’t only a tool in which to do your online shopping. It is also a powerful place to find the credit tools you need to manage your finances and keep your credit under control. If you’re looking for a way to keep track of your monthly spending, there are plenty of companies that offer online tools to not only keep track of your monthly spending, but monitor your debt, your income, and any investment accounts you may have. Many also offer the added option of managing your credit score through your mobile phone with upgraded services.

If you need help creating and keeping a budget, there are a number of sites that will allow you to do this for free. Creating a budget and sticking to it is one of the easiest credit tools you can use to manage your credit. By creating a budget, you know exactly how much money you have coming in every month, and you can set up manageable and realistic payment plans to make sure you are able to pay all of your bills on time, every month. These types of sites provide a real wake-up call in regard to your monthly spending.

In recent years, a new trend for online credit tools that has emerged is the ability to manage your debt through online sites. Many sites provide side-by-side comparisons for consumers that show them how they might benefit from refinancing, debt counseling, or taking on different payment strategies. This can be an extremely helpful tool for individuals and families that may be under added stress due to high amounts of debt. These types of services also show you how each solution can not only get you out of debt, but how they will affect your credit score. For instance, choosing to consolidate your debt will get rid of it sooner, but it will have a negative impact on your credit score.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to managing your credit, the best thing to do is to be persistent. You can’t simply ignore your credit and hope it fixes itself or stays in good standing. Like anything else, it takes work. Be vigilant when checking your credit report. By law, you are allowed to request your credit report once a year from the three major credit bureaus. If you notice a mistake, be sure to quickly reach out to the bureau to have it fixed. Take the necessary steps to establish a household budget so you know where your monthly income is in relation to your debt. Sign up for a service that will alert you to any changes that may happen to your credit report. This way you can fix errors immediately. Having a good credit score is an important part of everyone’s life. It is a huge determinant when it comes to being able to get a loan or a better rate on your insurance. Find the credit tools that will work best for you and take advantage of what they can get you.

Dec 20 2013

The Pope and Economics

By |December 20th, 2013|Blog, Economics / Politics|9 Comments|

I had a reader ask my opinion on the Pope and his latest remarks regarding the economy. I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth, so I’ll present the question as it was written:

Hi Kevin! I would love to get your take on the anti-capitalist remarks made by Pope Francis! Do you think you could do a post on this?

I am not only a Catholic, but also someone who believes wholeheartedly in a free market economy. This seems to be right up my alley. vaticanMy first thought in writing this post was that I should do some research.

No, that doesn’t mean looking at what Fox News or MSNBC had to say about his comments. I wanted to read the full statement from the Pope himself. The part regarding economics starts at #50. This way I was able to react with my own thoughts and feelings without being influenced by the commentary of these theoretically unbiased news organizations.

There are a few specific quotes I want to address from that statement.

The Pope Condemns Throwing Away Food

Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.

As a Catholic, I agree. The Pope is correct to condemn anyone for throwing away food that could be given to hungry people. I think it’s important that I, as a consumer, make sure to give my business to restaurants that donate food to shelters rather than throw it away at the end of the night.

One of my favorite places to eat is Panera, or St. Louis Bread Company (most of you may not know that Panera started in St. Louis as the St. Louis Bread Company, and is still branded that way in St. Louis today). They do a great job of making sure their unsold food is donated to charity.

In addition, I would imagine the Pope isn’t happy that the US Government spent over $2 billion in 2013 paying farmers not to farm. This is an old, stupid liberal idea that government control of prices (by controlling supply) is a good thing for the economy and the people.

This is, in fact, a bad idea not just for the interest of keeping peoples’ bellies full, but also in keeping our economy strong. As you can tell, this program has nothing to do with a free market, and everything to do with stupid government policies.

The Powerful Taking Advantage of the Powerless

Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

I’m sure a liberal would read this statement and consider the “powerful” the rich, and the “masses” the middle class and the poor. However, a rich person who starts a company and creates jobs is not excluding and marginalizing his workers; he is including them in the economy and production of valuable goods and services while paying those employees wages.

I read this and think it much more clearly describes the government, the bureaucrats, and the lobbyists who get their power not from money earned honestly, but from the backing of a multi-trillion dollar Department of Defense.

The masses, or normal people like me, are truly left without any means of escape from a government that wants to take 30 cents of every dollar I earn through honest work. In this sense, I completely agree with the Pope.

The Pope Attacks Trickle-Down Economics

…some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.

I agree complete with the idea that we should not express “crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” Where the Pope and I probably disagree is our opinion of who holds economic power.

It sounds like he believes that a few rich people wield the economic power of a nation. However, it is painfully obvious that it is the government who controls the economic power of America. Large corporations lobby the government for favorable tax laws.

Large banks and insurance companies get bailed out by the government instead of being allowed to fail. The government has to power to make almost any law they want to either help or hurt any individual business or industry they want.

In a truly free market, it is not the rich or the government who wield economic power, but it is the consumer. The power rests in the hands of everyday people in a free market, and that’s how it should be in my opinion.

The Pope on Wealth Inequality

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.

In this statement, I believe the Pope is naive. I wish I knew of a country where the free market could reject the right of a state to exercise any form of control. If that country existed then I’d pack my bags and head there immediately.

I honestly don’t know what he is referring to here, because I don’t know of any place in the world where the state doesn’t have control over the economy. Secondly, he is also naive to think that people who work in government and are “charged with vigilance for the common good” are truly more concerned for the common good than they are for their own well being.

Being Catholic and Libertarian is a Great Combination

Here’s the bottom line on the Pope. He is not a politician; he is the leader of a religion. He doesn’t often give his opinion on politics, and when he does, he doesn’t say that all Catholics are required to share in his political beliefs.

I honestly believe the Pope and I have the same political opinions. Our only difference is that while he knows better than anyone that all men and women are sinners, he still believes that a few elected men and women have the moral fortitude and immeasurable intelligence to best run an entire economy. I believe that is best left up to a free market.

Both the Pope and I believe that we should have a government system that best promotes equality and free will, and we just have different opinions on which political system fits that description. Last year I read a great book called Free Is Beautiful: Why Catholics should be libertarian. If you are Catholic (or any Christian denomination for that matter), this might be an interesting read. I recommend it.

Readers: Do you think religious leaders’ political opinions matter?

Dec 17 2013

Traditional Small Business Funding Options

By |December 17th, 2013|General Personal Finance|3 Comments|

There are two things any small business needs to be successful: an idea and money. While coming up with a great idea can be a difficult challenge, sometimes coming up with money to fund the idea can be even harder. Let’s face it; most small businesses fail and it’s a large risk for anyone to invest in one.

TV shows like Shark Tank and movies like The Social Network show businesses looking for funding from venture capitalists or angel investors. However, these funding options are difficult to obtains and come with many strings attached. Here are a few more traditional funding options that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Friends and Family

It may sound silly, but friends and family are actually a great place to look for business funding if you are serious about your company. Friends and family know how smart you are and are familiar with your work ethic, so they have more information about you as an investment than banks or angel investors would.

However, small business owners should proceed with caution here. A business investment is very risky and may not be paid back. If the small business owner and the friend/family member can’t separate business from personal life, then it may be best to look elsewhere.

Banks

It seems like it should go without saying, but most people think of banks as places to open a checking account, get a mortgage, or apply for a credit card. Don’t forget that most banks are still in the business of lending money to entrepreneurs.

A bank will want to see a formal business plan, including projected revenue and expenses, a marketing plan, and more. However, if you have a good idea, a bank has vast amounts of money they are able to lend. The key to obtaining financing through a bank is persistence.

There are multiple banks offering small business loans, and it may take a few tries before an entrepreneur can convince a banker to take a chance on his or her business. Don’t get discouraged the first time you are told, “No.”

Borrow from Yourself

A small business owner may have equity built in his or her home, or maybe a substantial amount of money in retirement savings. While most people would prefer to leave this money alone, sometimes there aren’t other options. All small business owners should use some of their own money to start the company. The only question is whether or not to dip into home equity or retirement savings.

Dec 15 2013

Sign Up Bonuses Aren’t Just for Credit Cards

By |December 15th, 2013|General Personal Finance|2 Comments|

If you are familiar with personal finance blogs then you’ve certainly heard about sign up bonuses for credit cards. If you wait for the right deal and can meet the requirements, you can earn hundreds of dollars or thousands of airline miles or credit card points. Sign up bonuses can be very profitable.

However, sign up bonuses are not limited to just credit cards. There are many products or services that give you a sign up bonus that can save you some money.

Free Trials

There are a lot of companies that offer a free trial when you sign up for their product. Netflix gives you one month free when you sign up for the first time, which saves $8, and Hulu Plus gives you a week of free programming if you prefer their content.

Almost any software you might want to use has a free trial as well. You can get a free trial of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator if you are interested in doing some graphic design or photo editing. The best thing about many software trials is that it usually renews every time the software is updated to a new version.

Gambling Websites

Gambling is not recommended as a hobby for anyone who is trying to get control of their personal finances, but if you are able to enjoy gambling responsibly every now and then, there are some decent sign up bonuses at a lot of online casinos and sportsbooks. If you don’t know how to play blackjack or craps but you still want to try your luck online, Gala Bingo gives you an option to try to win some money playing bingo and also offers a nice sign up bonus.

Bank Accounts

There is a boatload of information available about credit card sign up bonuses, but those bonuses aren’t valuable to people who don’t have good enough credit to get approved for the cards, nor are they helpful for people who can’t handle credit cards and end up spending more money on interest and fees than they earned with the bonus.

However, there are many checking and savings accounts that will give customers a bonus for opening a new account. This is an option for people to sign up for a new financial product and receive a bonus without getting a new credit card.