Archives for October 8, 2015

On Planting Trees and Enjoying The Leaves

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Autumn. My parents are thinking of taking a special tour to watch the leaves fall in New England. You can even pay someone to ship you a bundle of leaves for 20 bucks. I recently came across a piece of inspirational art with the following quote on it:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years go. The second best time is now. – Chinese Proverb

I know I’m weird, but falling leaves make me think of dividends and interest. The leaves arrive, you “spend” them, and then more grow back. During my last site redesign, I was very close to switching the logo of this site to the image below.

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The tree and leaves would symbolize saving now and reaping the rewards in the future. Plant a seed now, and someday you’ll have a sapling. The leaves falling from tree could be seen as a replenishing stream of dividend, rental, or interest income. Every year, you’ll have a slightly larger pile of leaves. I suppose a better example would be picking fruit in the same manner. Either way, I figured not enough people would get the reference immediately.

The timing of the quote was fitting as I am coming on up on my 20th high school reunion. I’ve had some sort of job every year since high school, so that means I’ve also had 20 years to grow my tree. I’m still working on it, but my tree is already producing significant “dividend leaves”. Looking back, planting those seeds has been worth the time and effort.

If you haven’t started your tree yet, now is the best time available to start.

Image credit: Fall Colors by Flickr user ashokbo.

Ally Bank Savings Account Review

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Update. I’ve done a significant amount of my banking with Ally for years (checking, savings, and multiple CDs), but the “gateway drug” for me and probably most people will be their Ally Online Savings Account. You can use this savings account as a companion account to your existing primary checking account (perhaps at Chase, BofA, Wells Fargo, etc), or as a companion to the Ally Interest Checking account.

The Ally Online Savings Account has no minimum balance, no monthly fees, and currently pays 1.45% APY (as of 4/2/18). Their interest rates may not be the absolute highest, but they have consistently been within 0.10% of the temporarily top banks, making it not worthwhile to move my money. (See my rate chaser calculator). Let’s go through the important factors.

User Interface. Below is a screenshot of the main page after logging in (click to enlarge). I can see all of my accounts and their balances at a glance. The overall design is clean and minimalist, and it was recently updated to be more mobile-friendly.

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Customer Service. Ally Bank differentiates itself with their customer service. First of all, they are available 24/7 at 1-877-247-ALLY (2559). When you use their smartphone app or log into their website, you can see the wait time beforehand. Even better, if you don’t want to call them you can just use their Live Chat feature.

Security. Ally Bank supports two-factor authentication with security codes sent via either e-mail or text message. They ask for a security code when you log in from a computer they don’t recognize. However, if you’ve logged into that computer before with a security code, they may not ask you again and you can’t choose to have two-factor authentication to always be in effect.

Awards. Ally Bank was named “Best Internet Bank” and “Best for Millennials” by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine in July 2017. Ally Bank was named “Best Online Bank” for the 5th year in a Row by MONEY® Magazine in 2015.

FDIC Insurance. Ally Bank is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC Certificate #57803. As with other FDIC-insured banks, this means your Ally deposits are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per depositor, for each account ownership category.

Funds Transfers. With no physical branches, online savings accounts should have maximum flexibility as they are often secondary accounts (given most megabank checking accounts pay either no interest or a sad 0.01% APY). Ally Bank allows you to link any other external bank account using the standard routing number and account numbers. As long as you initiate the transfer before 7:30 pm Eastern Time, transfers both in and out are free and can take as little as 1 business day. You can link up to 20 different accounts (it used to be unlimited; but other banks limit to 3 or even just 1). This is about as good as it gets for online banks. Here’s their updated timing chart (see details here):

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The transfer limits are also relatively high. On my accounts, I see that I have a $150,000 daily limit outbound and $250,000 daily limit inbound, with a total monthly limit of $600,000 outbound and $1,000,000 inbound. Keeping in mind that all savings accounts from any bank are limited to six withdrawals per month.

ATM Debit Card. You don’t get a debit card with their Online Savings Account. You can get a debit card with either their Checking or Money Market accounts, but note that those have lower interest rates.

Mobile check deposit. You can use the Ally smartphone app to deposit checks using your smartphone camera. (This is in addition to using your computer scanner and/or free postage-paid deposit envelopes.) I’m not sure if this is the same for everyone, but my deposit limit is $50,000 which is higher than many other electronic deposit programs. I’ve used the app to deposit multiple checks without issue. Screenshot below.

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Mobile app. Available for iOS and Android… you can do all the important stuff – see transactions, transfer funds, deposit checks, pay bills. It can remember your username, but you must type in your password every time. I usually just use my Personal Capital app for checking balances. The overall design is acceptable, and the ATM locator is helpful if you have the Ally Checking account with free AllPoint ATMs and $10 in fee rebates each statement cycle for any ATM.

Details

  • Interest Compounding: accrued daily, compounded daily, credited monthly
  • Minimum to open: $0
  • Minimum requirements to avoid monthly service charge: None
  • Number of external bank account links allowed: 20
  • Routing Number: 124003116

Bottom line. The Ally Online Savings Account is a solid offering with with no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirement, and a historically competitive interest rate. Additional features like a flexible funds transfer system and solid 24/7 customer service help differentiate themselves from the competition. It works fine on its own as a “piggyback” or companion account to your existing checking account.

You can also combine it with the Ally Interest Checking Account (my review) which offers ATM fee rebates (up to $10 per statement cycle), free online billpay, and the ability to use the savings account as a free overdraft source. Ally also has certificates of deposit which offer competitive rates at times.

Jet.com: Dropping Membership Fee, Will Volume Pricing Be Low Enough?

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Update October 2015. CEO Marc Lore just announced that Jet is dropping its membership fee for everyone. They’ve only been live for a few months, so most customers are still on a free trial anyway.

This was surprising for many because Jet was supposed to be following the “Costco model” – sell you things at thin profit margins and make their money on the $50 annual membership fee. However, recall that Costco also makes a lot of money on Executive members who earn 2% back on all purchases. If you spend over $5,500 a year at Costco, you effectively don’t pay any membership fee. The margins are thin, but the numbers still work for Costco if you spend enough.

Jet has a “Smart Cart” feature that lowers your unit pricing based on volume and shipping efficiency, so the goal appears to be to encourage high-volume shopping. I’ve read reports that the average Amazon Prime customer spends about $1,000 a year at Amazon. Is that enough? Shrug, I’ll leave the profitability issue to their management and investors.

Jet does have good prices on some things, so depending on what you like to buy they may save you some money. Get $10 off your first order of $35+ with code TENBUCKSNOW. Even better, the competition is forcing Amazon to lower their prices, so you can benefit without ever shopping at Jet. Let some of that venture capital flow into your wallet. 🙂

Original post from July 2015:

Jet.com has officially launched its attempt to bring the Costco model to online shopping. That is, they plan on selling you things at near-zero profit margins and make their money on the annual $49.99 membership fee. The more stuff you add your cart, the lower the total cost. The more you buy from the same warehouse, the lower your total cost. Free shipping on orders of $35 or more.

This supposedly means prices that are 10% to 15% lower than Amazon on average, even listing the Amazon price right on their page for instant comparisons. How they show savings is a little confusing… things make more sense after adding it to your cart.

For example, this pack of toilet paper shows $21.05, the same price as Amazon. But I can save $9.06 by actually adding it to my cart, which brings the actual price to $11.99, much cheaper than Amazon. If I buy *two* packs, then my sub total is $42.10 which breaks the $35 barrier and gets me free shipping. But my actual total due is only $22.74, less than $35. Confusing, but hey it works out in my favor so I’m cool with it.

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However, this model only works at a certain scale, and this WSJ article points out that they are often buying stuff from other competitors when they don’t have the item in their own inventory:

The Hoboken, N.J., company is absorbing steep losses on many orders filled as part of a trial run that began in March, largely because Jet hasn’t signed up enough partner merchants or opened enough warehouses to directly sell much of the merchandise shown on its website.

When a Jet customer buys items that aren’t in its inventory or available from partner merchants, a Jet employee buys the items from another website and has them shipped directly to the customer. That is expensive for Jet because the company often pays high shipping costs any difference between its advertised price and the amount charged by the outside website.

For example, The Wall Street Journal recently bought 22 items from Jet. Twelve were shipped to the Journal by retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Nordstrom Inc., according to sales receipts.

Jet’s prices for the same 12 items added up to $275.55, an average discount of about 11% from the prices Jet paid for those items on other retailers’ websites. Jet’s total cost, which also includes estimated shipping and taxes, was $518.46.

So in other words, the 11% pricing discount above is not due to an awesome business model yet. They are being artificially suppressed with investor money. Now, spending venture capital funds in the search for rapid growth is common for internet start-ups, but I don’t remember any of my early Amazon orders coming in a Barnes & Noble box.

As a consumer, I suppose the best thing to do is simply enjoy the loss-leader savings during your free trial and then decide if it’s worth $50 a year. Costco is highly profitable but even they offer their $4.99 rotisserie chickens as a loss-leader, missing out on $40 million a year in order to keep people coming in the door.

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