Archives for October 2013

TripAdvisor + American Express $5 Promo

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Link your American Express card, write an approved review on TripAdvisor, get $5. Details at sync.americanexpress.com/tripadvisor:

Get a $5 statement credit when you connect your eligible American Express Card with TripAdvisor and leave one posted review (approved by TripAdvisor) before 23.59 (EST) on December 31, 2013.

You must connect your American Express Card to TripAdvisor to be eligible to receive the $5 statement credit. Quantities are limited. Only one $5 statement credit per connected Card. Your Card must remain connected until the statement credit is applied. Statement credit may not be received if a review doesn’t meet TripAdvisor’s qualifications and is not posted by TripAdvisor.

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Gradsave Groupon: $50 Towards Any 529 College Savings Plan For $30

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Groupon is currently offering a $50 Gradsave gift card for $30, which can be redeemed for a $50 deposit into any national 529 college savings plan. So if you’re already meaning to contribute some money towards a 529 plan, it’s basically at least $20 in free money. Thanks to reader Jon for the tip. Gradsave ran a similar promotion earlier and I successfully got it transferred to my daughter’s existing Ohio CollegeAdvantage 529 plan. It may take a couple of weeks.

Expires 60 days after purchase. Limit 1 per person, may buy 3 additional as gifts. Limit 1 per customer, beneficiary, account, savings plan, or 529 plan. Online only. New customers only. Cannot be combined with any other discounts or offers.

You can save a little extra on your Groupon deals with cashback shopping portals like eBates ($10 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs. This should also count towards the Alaska Air promo I posted yesterday.

Also, 529 contributions can be taken out without penalty. If you withdraw any earnings for unqualified expenses, then you will be subject to income taxes as well as a 10% penalty. You can even set yourself up as the beneficiary if you have qualified educational expenses now or coming up (computer equipment counts if you’re a student). I’m just tucking it away for the kiddo.

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Ooma Phone Service Long Term Review + Referral Discount

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oomatelo2

The Ooma Telo is a VoIP system that creates a home phone service through your broadband internet. Just plug in your regular landline phones and go. Features include unlimited domestic long distance, 911 service, caller ID, voicemail, and call waiting. In addition to the one-time purchase price, new customers must pay a share of government taxes and regulatory fees that works out to around $4.32 a month.

Consumer Reports rated it their #1 home phone service in their June 2012 issue. Here is a public Consumer Reports review video:

My Long-Term Review
I bought my system in December 2009 for a then-good deal of $158, and I remembered worrying about the FCC shutting them down because I couldn’t believe their business model could be so cheap over the long haul. Well, I’ve now gotten over 6 years of home phone service for that $158, working out to under $2 a month. (Early adopters with the original Core system were grandfathered out of tax recovery charges.) It appears now that as long as the government gets their share of phone taxes and fees, they won’t be shutting down Ooma any time soon. I’m glad I spent the extra $40 to port my previous landline phone number.

The best compliment I can give about the Ooma system that I don’t even notice that it’s not a landline. It just works. In my entire time of ownership I remember reading about a few hours of downtime in the middle of night, and nothing within the last year. The call quality is always great, and I can even use my fax machine with it. In some ways it’s even better than my old landline, because I can get e-mail notifications of voicemails and then listen to them on my computer or smartphone.

The “unlimited” phone service technically has a limit of 5,000 minutes per month under the explanation that it is meant for personal use. That works out to an average of nearly 3 hours per day, every day, so that’s close enough to unlimited for me. They do regularly bug you to upgrade to their Premier level of service which has added features for another $10 a month, but I’ve never felt the need to. Just make sure your number is on the Do Not Call list and you should be fine.

VoIP home phone service is best for those people who make a lot of calls at home. I worry about accumulated cell phone radiation when making a lot of calls on my iPhone, and thus always use a headset and keep the (hot) phone away from my body. Ooma helps alleviate that concern for long phone calls.

I would pick Ooma over other costlier alternatives like Vonage any day of the week. A possibly cheaper alternative is the Obihai + Google Voice combo, but it is dependent on Google continuing to provide free phone service every year. Another option that I have not tried is MagicJack Go which includes a year of free service but after that costs about the same as Ooma (~$3 a month). Whenever possible, lower those recurring monthly expenses!

Current Ooma Deals
Update: As I am an existing user, there is a refer-a-friend promotion right now where new Ooma customers can get Amazon gift certificate via my referral link when you buy direct. Compare with Amazon’s price on Ooma Telo. I’ve been using Ooma now for over 7 years!

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Shopping Bonus – 750 Miles

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Shopping program is like other cashback shopping portals (eBates $10 bonus, TopCashBack, etc), except that they give you Alaska Airlines miles per dollar spent as a reward.

They just sent me a new promotion where if you just sign up to receive marketing e-mails, you can get 250 bonus miles. (Stay signed-up until the miles post, and then unsubscribe if you wish.) For an additional 500 bonus miles, make a cumulative spend of $25 or more before taxes and shipping fees with any participating online retailer. Overstock.com, Kohl’s, LivingSocial, and Staples are some examples.

Earning miles this way will also reset your miles expiration date, which for Alaska Air is 24 months from most recent activity. Offer expires 10/31/13. Bonus miles will post 8-10 weeks after that.

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qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

How Do You Compare? Retirement Plan Savings by Age

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Vanguard, a big name in defined-contribution retirement plans like 401ks, recently released their How America Saves 2013 report ) which included data from over a million retirement plan participants. The report itself is quite dense and a bit insider-focused, but this Vanguard blog post teased out some interesting data about the average account balance, savings rates, and asset allocation of these employees.

Whenever you hear an “average” statistic involving retirement plans, it can be confusing because you’re including both young, brand-new workers and those age 60+ who may have been working 30+ years. Thankfully, these stats are broken down into age groups. I threw the numbers into a spreadsheet to make the more palatable charts below. How do you compare?

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qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Straight Talk SIM Card + Any iPhone 4 or 5 = $45 Unlimited Prepaid Plan

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

October 2013 Update: “Unlimited” has been clarified to mean 3G/4G data speeds for 2.5 GB per month, throttled to 2G data speed after that. Both AT&T and T-Mobile SIM cards are now available, with the newer ones allowing 4G / LTE speeds if you bring your own 4G HSPA+ / LTE-compatible phone. Price dropped to $6.99 with free shipping. See screenshot below.

You can also now buy the iPhone 4 ($200 refurb) and iPhone 5 ($400 refurb) directly from StraightTalk now at reasonable prices. iPhones sold by Straight Talk are CDMA and work on Verizon networks and their wider coverage. Note that the CDMA iPhone 5 comes factory GSM unlocked as well, so you can even switch to AT&T with the SIM cards above. Remember these come with no contract and also go with the $45 unlimited plan. Details below.

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qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

$30,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Experiment Update – October 2013

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Here’s the October 2013 update for my Beat the Market Experiment, a series of three portfolios started on November 1st, 2012:

  1. $10,000 Passive Benchmark Portfolio that would serve as both a performance benchmark and an real-world, low-cost portfolio that would be easy to replicate and maintain for DIY investors.
  2. $10,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Speculative Portfolio that would simply represent the attempts of an “average guy” who is not a financial professional and gets his news from mainstream sources to get the best overall returns possible.
  3. $10,000 P2P Consumer Lending Speculative Portfolio – Split evenly between LendingClub and Prosper, this portfolio is designed to test out the alternative investment class of person-to-person loans. The goal is again to beat the benchmark by setting a target return of 8-10% net of defaults.

As requested, I updated the scale to zoom in on the comparison chart.

Summary. 11 months into this experiment, the Benchmark and Speculative portfolios are both up between 15-20%. The Speculative portfolio is actually winning now ($12,071 vs. $11,723). I sold all my AAPL shares in September. Both P2P portfolios continue to earn interest and are still on pace for an 8%+ annual return, but the growth rate has slowed lately as late loans have been taking a toll. Values given are after market close October 1, 2013.

$10,000 Benchmark Portfolio. I put $10,000 into index funds at TD Ameritrade due to their 100 commission-free ETF program that includes free trades on the most popular low-cost, index ETFs from Vanguard and iShares. With no minimum balance requirement, no maintenance fees, and no annual fees, I haven’t paid a single fee yet on this account. The portfolio was based loosely on a David Swensen model portfolio with a buy-hold-rebalance philosophy. Portfolio value is $11,723. Screenshot of holdings below:

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qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

$10 off $50 at Lowes with American Express

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Get $10 off any $50+ purchase at Lowes home improvement stores in-store or online. Expires 11/15/2013. Sign up for AmEx Sync first if you haven’t already. Then tweet anything with #AmexLowes. You should get a confirmation reply quickly. Details here.

You may also be able to access these discounts via Facebook, the AmEx smartphone app, or by simply logging into your account online. Twitter has worked reliably for me. I post a lot of smaller and time-sensitive deals like this on my Twitter feed @mymoneyblog, which are echoed on my Facebook page.

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

FreedomPop FREE Cell Phone Plan Review

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Cell phone service seems to get cheaper each year. I still remember when a great deal was $40 a month for 1,000 minutes with no text and no data. So what about FREE cellular service? Well, it’s here, but with a few important catches…

FreedomPop just rolled out a new cell phone service on a freemium model. That means they have a free option, in the hopes that enough people will pay up for various upgrades to make a profit. You may know the name from their 4G data hotspots that offered 500mb a month of data for free. I bought one, but ended up returning it as it didn’t fit my needs (and like other folks was charged about $15 in unexplained fees). Here are the details of this new venture:

  • Phone. The only phone currently available is an HTC EVO Design 4G for $99. Pretty basic Android phone. Older model, came out in late 2011/early 2012. Online reviews state that it’s pretty thick in size, 4″ screen is pretty good, battery life is below average.
  • Service. Everything works using cellular data only using VoIP software. Primary is Sprint/Clearwire WiMax 4G data coverage, backup is Sprint 3G data coverage. Your coverage may be very limited. See coverage maps here and here. Voice quality over 3G may be spotty.
  • Free Plan Details. For $0 a month, you’ll get 200 minutes, 500 texts, and 500 mb of 3G/4G data. Additional use past that is charged as data, at 2.5 cents per MB ($25 per GB). Voicemail is $2.50 per month extra.
  • “Unlimited Plan” Details. For $10.99 a month, you’ll get unlimited voice minutes, unlimited texts, and 500 mb of 3G/4G data. Additional data costs 2.5 cents per MB ($25 per GB). Voicemail is $2.50 per month extra.

(click to enlarge)

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qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

California Obamacare Health Insurance Sample Quote

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

healthOpen enrollment for individually-bought health insurance through state exchanges was supposed to start October 1, 2013, although several states experienced some delays and/or technical glitches. If your state exchange isn’t up and running yet, you can still estimate your premiums and tax credits here.

However, I was able to get a sample quote from the California health exchange website CoveredCA.com using my family’s demographic information.

Income: Above 400% of federal poverty line (roughly $60,000 for a 3-person household), so no tax credits or premium assistance.

Number of people: 3, specifically

  • One 35-year-old male
  • One 35-year-old female
  • One under-18 dependent child

Here are the monthly premiums I was quoted for each plan tier. The lowest quotes for our family situation were all from Blue Shield of California. $628 a month for Bronze, $722 a month for Silver, $910 a month for Gold, and $1,042 a month for Platinum.


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qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

PO Boxes Now Offer Real Street Addresses & Accept UPS and FedEx Packages

qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

For a few years, I had a UPS store private mailbox for my small business address instead of a Post Office box because of a couple of factors:

  • Private carriers like UPS and FedEx didn’t deliver to PO Boxes.
  • PO Boxes were not “real” street addresses, and thus I had to provide alternate addresses anyway with credit cards and other business accounts.

I recently discovered that both of these issues had been fixed some time in 2012 for many PO Boxes (but not all) with the introduction of “Street Addressing”. Taken directly from a USPS.gov webpage:

[…] with Street Addressing, a customer’s mailing address may be either the street address for the Post Office where their PO Box is located, followed by # and the box number, or PO Box followed by the box number. Some merchants do not allow shipping to a PO Box address. The Street Addressing option enables customers to receive packages and deliveries from private carriers who require a street address for delivery, such as UPS and FedEx.

Using their examples, instead of:

PO Box 3094
Collierville TN 38027

You can ask for mail to be sent to:

131 S Center St #3094
Collierville TN 38027

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qara.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

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