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Refinancing my auto loan

AutoRefi

After months of still not receiving a final approval for our home refinance, I’m happy to say that it was a snap to refi my auto loan, so easy it only took 10 minutes for an approval!  What’s even more ridiculous is that my primary bank, the one that has my mortgage and my current auto loan, actually denied our joint application. The credit union I applied online through approved me on my own, and my interest rate is…. 1.49%. My rate was 3.59, which is already great, but this was too good to pass up.  So I was able to shave a year off the current loan and keep the payment roughly the same.

Current mileage is 50,000. My goal with this car is to keep it until 200,000 miles… not sure how feasible this will be, but I found a great local mechanic, and I believe with proper maintenance and care, I can. I used to lease, and I have toyed with the idea of selling and downsizing to one car, but we live in the suburbs of LA, which is not too commuter friendly, but I’ve had this car for 4 years now, and whenever I run the numbers, keeping the car makes sense, plus I enjoy driving it. Even though I’m commuting into work, our schedules can vary quite a bit, and if I wasn’t able to refi at this rate, I would have sold it, but so far I’m ok with it.

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Sallie Krawcheck, new Treasury Secretary?

Krawcheck

Aside from Elizabeth Warren, another woman I’ve always admired in the corporate world is Sallie Krawcheck – I first read about her in Marie Claire,. She was once known as the Most Powerful Woman on Wall Street, has been ousted from Citibank and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, is interested in protecting consumers, known for honesty and integrity, has been cheated on by her first husband, and has come out of all gracefully and kicking more ass than ever. And she’s pretty. I love it. Since she left BOA/Merrill last year, she’s been relatively quiet, but now that Mary Schapiro has decided to step down on Dec. 14 as current head of the SEC, there has been much to do about Sallie being appointed.

Below, some notable quotes from Krawcheck:

1. If you don’t get fired at least once, you’re not trying hard enough.  In today’s world, the pace is quickening – if you’re not making enough mistakes to be noticed and disliked, then you’re not going anywhere. Just like when people say “I’ll worry when they stop talking about me”.

2. Cut the cord with the old workplace quickly. Once you’ve decided to close that door, shut it, firmly and politely. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t leave some lines open for future opportunity, but don’t linger in current drama. Make a clean break and start anew.

3.  Choose your husband carefully… you don’t want to gloss over the romantic part. But it’s also important… how your day-to-day life is going to work. If you’re caught in a meeting and walk through the door late, …you want a spouse who says, “Can I get you a glass of wine?” versus “Where were you?” with an eye roll. Having been in a relationship with someone who does the eye roll vs the one who asks you if you want a glass of wine and tells you he already picked up dinner, it’s waiting (I married that one!), I can tell you that it makes all the difference.

 

Holiday gifts

Santa

I sort of hate the holiday season. Of course seeing family and all the get-togethers are great, but it’s really the shopping for holiday gifts for others that gets to me. I feel similarly about other holidays that are forced upon us, like Valentine’s, Christmas, even birthdays. There shouldn’t be a specific day where you have to buy something for someone.  There is a reason why companies make most of their profit during the holiday season!

Now, during the holidays, you’re expected to buy gifts for significant others, family, friends/kids, co-workers, and so on. How absolutey horrible. I’ve mostly pared things down the past few years, to something that feels comfortable to me.

1. Significant other:  We have an agreement to not buy each other gifts unless we are together and see something we really like.  We don’t really exchange holiday/valentine’s or bday gifts, but we go out for a nice meal that we both enjoy and spend time together.

2. Family: See #1

3. Co-workers: I bake cookies or make scented salt body scrubs. It’s inexpensive and brings out my inner Martha Stewart

4. Friends: I think we’ve all come to the point where we’re settled and have budgets, so I might buy something for their kids, or we’ll do a Secret Santa with a fun theme party, like this year’s theme of “Best Ugly Christmas Sweater”

This way, we only buy meaningful gifts, not buying something just to buy something!

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Year end tax planning

Now that 2012 is coming to a close, I’ve been thinking of what we might do to mitigate some tax impact. This year, we had several things happen -

1. My husband sold his business

2. We purchased a house

3. We still have 1099 income tax to pay from 2011

Given these, I am a little nervous about what taxes we’ll have for 2012. The home purchase won’t have any tax implications (except mortgage interest deduction, of course), but the business sale sure will. So in anticipation of that, I haven’t been completely disappointed by stocks tanking. I recently sold all the ones that had the biggest loss so we would have write-offs, but still not sure what else we can do.

I am expecting to write off the following:

- home office

- cell phone

- auto lease (his)

- Investment into SEP IRA

- property tax  (I know interested is, and I’ve read conflicting reports that this is or isn’t deductible. I’ll need to confirm with CPA).

Does this sound like a comprehensive list? If there are more, please let me know!

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More proof America is going down the toilet: I am a product of American schools

As if I didn’t need anymore evidence of just how challenged I am, I was monitoring election results online and realized that I don’t know what the majority of the states without mousing over for “help”. Excellent. My asian tiger mom would be so proud.

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How lazy and bratty people can save money and buy expensive junk

I’ll be honest here – I am kinda lazy. But, I have managed to save money, maintain a good credit score, and live healthier.

1. When you make a dinner, make enough for 2-3. Ingredients are cheaper to buy in bulk, and if you are one to get tired of eating the same thing night after night, go ahead and freeze a meal so you can microwave it the next week or so. I know everyone’s heard this before, but buying and cooking your own food not only saves money, but keeps you healthy, because you know exactly what is going into your food. I’m also incredibly forgetful and get lazy after I eat, so right after I’m done cooking and before we sit down to eat, I put some food into containers and stick them into the freezer.

2. Use a rebate site if you are purchasing online. You’ll get back 3-6% of your total purchase (usually less shipping). If you don’t feel comfortable setting up an account, a simple online search can usually yield a coupon or two that helps cut costs.

3. Automate your bill paying. Trying to pay the bills on time monthly myself would drive me nuts. I have automated everything and it’s so simple – not only do we not have to pay stamp fees, but all the transactions download into Mint.com and we can track our budget

4. Automate your savings. Similar to automating bill payments, you should be automating savings as well! If you have a 401k, have a fixed amount direct deposited into the 401k, or if you have a Roth or regular savings, have it go to that account. That way, if you don’t see it, you don’t miss it.

5. Track your finances weekly, if not more often. While I can’t manage to pay the bills on time, I check the status of our finances almost daily. I know it woulds weird, but it gives me great comfort. I also know if we’ve overspent a little too much the first 2 weeks, and if we need to cut back to keep on track for the next week or two. You’d be surprised how little expenses add up, and how soon we forget them! I also check my credit score for free on sites like creditsesame.com and pull the free annual credit report for a more detailed view.

6. Credit card rewards. This can and can’t be a way to save money, but I think we have a way that makes it work. I used to be dead-set against using credit cards or maintaining any kind of debt, but after a friend ran the numbers and explained the rewards game, I think I can deal with this. I love expensive makeup, I think the products really look better and are of better quality. That said, paying $50+ for an eyeshadow gives me heartburn. So we put most of our expenses onto Amex, and every day or so, I’ll transfer the money we spent on the Amex into a checking account just for paying off credit cards. That way, the money is no longer in our account and not “available” any longer, but we gain the rewards. With our current spend, I can buy a nice new face cream or whatever and feel like a big spender without blowing the budget.

I’ve considered paying the mortgage on a credit card, but that’s a little more than I’m comfortable with for the moment.

What lazy tips do you have? 

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Screw you, Sallie Mae, and your unconsolidation-able loan

I know unconsolidation-able isn’t a word, but that’s exactly what it is. I received an email today from Sallie Mae notifying me that my interest rate just went up from 6.8% to 9.25%. WTH!  After I tried to consolidate 3 months ago and was told that I couldn’t, then they go and increase the interest rate?

Needless to say, I just submitted a online payment for the balance. Luckily, the balance at Sallie Mae was $4k. Now off to tackle the loans that I was actually able to consolidate. Yuck.

I am still interested in an MBA, but not sure how smart it is to spend $100k+ and whatever interest rate it fancies someone to charge. Getting out of debt just to jump back into it with another $100k ball and chain with no guarantee of a large salary increase or job security is mighty scary.

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Our loan broker and real estate person suck

When we were (semi) looking to buy our home, we did it backwards (as usual) and made a rather impulsive offer that was quickly accepted, then went looking for a loan. We have good credit and stable income, so we thought it would be a breeze. And oddly enough, the basics of getting approved were a piece of cake. 6 months prior to making the offer, we saw the house right when it went onto the market at an open house. We wanted to view the interior, so I tried to make an appointment and called his office, leaving a voicemail. Nothing. A week later, I tried again, this time asking the receptionist for his cell phone number, left a message on the office line and his cell. Still nothing. So we let it go, figuring there was already an accepted offer on the table.

Six months later, the listing was still there, with a price drop. So we called and the agent picked up on the first try. When we met at the house, he was incredibly condescending, impatient, and acted like he was too good to be showing the property. We made a connection with the owner, who liked us and agreed to the asking price – the agent actually tried to lie to us and tell us that we needed to increase our offer. After the owner read him the riot act and put him in his place, he then proceeded to tell us we should be more grateful to him for negotiating such a great deal.

Then came the loan. We decided to go with our bank, since they had a great deal on the interest rate and were offering closing costs to be credited back, so it really worked for us. We made an appointment, and we took the afternoon off from work to meet the broker. He “forgot” and told us to just meet him the next day, which happened to also be a weekday. As if we didn’t have to work and could accomodate his schedule, you know, no problem. We ended up meeting him on a Saturday, where the loan was approved. It was supposed to close in 3 weeks, during which time the broker went on TWO one-week vacations where we couldn’t reach him or find out status. The broker tried to reach out to us recently regarding refinancing, which we’re interested in so we called him back and re-forwarded all our info – it then took him a month to call us back to tell us that he needed more time.

So it was such a pain that the process itself was easy, but the people we were working with were so unprofessional. And there aren’t the only instances where we’ve seen this happen, many of our friends have had similar experiences. How sad is it that in a customer service industry, you can’t serve the customer?  Look – I understand that agents and brokers are often mistreated by people who don’t value their time and can be condescending, but that’s not a reason to stay in this industry and pay it forward to future potential customers.

How has your experience been with your agent or broker? 

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We love our iphones, but not the cost

Between us, we have 2 iphones and pay $150/month. I realize we could change to other phones, but given that we both use our phones frequently for work and they are luxuries that we enjoy and make our daily life a little more fun every day. So changing the phones isn’t in the plan, but lowering the monthly cost is!

I was considering changing to a pre-paid option, but was iffy about the service and phones offered. Then I was researching Virgin Mobile, as they have a $30/month plan for unlimited talk/text, but the catch is that you would have to pay the entire unsubsidized cost, which could run $500 – $800. As we already have phones, I wasn’t too crazy about shelling out more to buy a new phone.  Now, I heard T-Mobile has come out with a value plan where you can bring an unlocked phone (iphones included), and simply pay for service. Costs for a 1,000 minute plan with unlimited text and 2 GB of data would be $80 for both of us!  I’ll need to wait until April, when my 2-year contract is up to sign up for it, but saving $70+ month makes me absolutely giddy.

Why is AT&T so expensive still?  Don’t they realize the competition is about to take all their customers away?  I called their customer service to ask if there was something in the works that would make it palatable to stay, but was told that their service was superior, so they did not have any plans to do so, but thanks for our concern. Ahuh.

What have you done to reduce your smartphone bill?

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