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I hate insurance.
Actually, I take that back, I don’t hate insurance. I hate paying for insurance.
Every time I get an email from GEICO or a mailing from Traveler’s, I think about how I pay them every six months and, in the nearly ten years of driving and four years of living in this house, I’ve never filed a claim. At least with medical and dental, I get some regular checkups and routine cleanings (I hate getting a teeth cleaning but I love getting stuff for “free”). Don’t get me wrong, I’d still get insurance even
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if I wasn’t required to by law, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy paying for it!
So, once a year or so, I have an insurance review day. I get a little antsy and start asking for quotes from other insurance companies to see if I’m getting the best price. (Well, I’ve been more in the “or so” category, I haven’t done this in two years)

Auto Insurance
First, the baseline: We pay GEICO $462.30 every six months to cover my 2003 Toyota Celica and my wife’s 2005 Honda Civic. I have no comprehensive or collision insurance and she has $1,000 deductible coverages on both. Other than that, we have pretty standard coverages otherwise as required by Maryland law (100/300 Bodily Injury Liability, $100k Property Damage Liability, uninsured motorist, etc.). It’s pretty tough to beat that price because we also have a long time policy holder discount and a discount for being a member of an affiliated organization.
Candidate One: Allstate Insurance: I fire up the browser and point it to Allstate Insurance. One thing I don’t like about Allstate is that they have five different “packages” with a variety of add-ons like accident forgiveness and deductible refund. I really just wanted to know the basic stuff, so I selected the standard package. After entering a slew of information, the estimated 6-month premium was $548.48, or $86.18 more than my current coverage. Boo!
Candidate Two: Kanetix Insurance Search: I totally forget about Kanetix, some insurance search website I used back in the day when i was playing around with driver characteristics to see their affect on auto premiums.
Sadly, there was only one instant quote, a firm called Amica that was a whopping $123.83 a month, or $742.98 (a far cry from $462.30). A few more email quotes came trickling in like Unitrin Direct at $698 and Erie Insurance at $1,092 (with multi-policy discount) but nothing came within spitting distance.
Candidate Three: State Farm: I kind of fell into this quote after quoting homeowners insurance with them through NetQuote system. The agent, Debrorah, and I talked about a whole bunch of things but the end result was that State Farm would charge me $439.36 every six months, a savings of $22.94. Part of the reason for the lower price was because it would include a multi-plan discount because I would get homeowners insurance through them.
Normally, twenty bucks alone wouldn’t be enough to entice me because there’s a bit of hassle in changing your insurance. However, as you’ll see in a minute, the discount on homeowners with them would provide the real icing on the cake.
Homeowner’s Insurance
Right now we have our insurance through Traveler’s, which is the insurance company affiliate with GEICO, but they don’t offer any multi-policy discounts, which is a real bummer. We have $246k coverage on our dwelling, $24k on other structures, and some other items like $300k of personal liability coverage too, which is all pretty much standard. Our annual premium is $797.
The NetQuote system was a lot like LendingTree, they collect your information and they try to match you with insurance agents. Once I completed the application, I was immediately matched with an agent from State Farm Insurance Company and one from Allstate Insurance Company. My chat with the Allstate agent, Deborah, was great, we went through all sorts of information and arrived at a price of $610 a year for homeowner’s insurance - a discount of $187.
I got a deluge of phone calls from a variety of insurers. I talked to all of them, gave them all the information they needed to get me a quote and many came close but Allstate won out in the end. What was funny was that it took around two months between when I submitted my information to when I actually changed my policies over because of some career decisions we had to make, but the price of our quotes never changed (and only a couple of agents were persistent enough to continue).
See The Savings!
In the end, by changing over my policies, which in effect consolidated them into one account, we were able to save $220 a year. $40 in auto insurance premiums and $180 in homeowner’s insurance premiums, all for a total of a couple hour’s of work! Not bad.
If you haven’t shopped around for insurance in the last two or three years, I highly recommend it because you could be saving big money.
(Photo: bookgrl)

Review Your Insurance Policies Annually


My friend Matt started a business and wanted to know what the best business credit card was. I’ll list what I consider the best options below but in general here’s what I look for:

  • No annual fee: If you’re a startup, you want to keep costs as low as possible until you get your revenues up. Having to pay a hundred dollars a year, as little as that sounds, is a hundred dollars you can’t put back into your business to grow it as quickly as possible. Just as I wouldn’t get a consumer credit card with an annua
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    l fee, if I was a startup I’d avoid a card with an annual fee. Fortunately there are plenty of options.

  • Rewards: I look at rewards from two angles. First, I want to get better than 1% rewards or cash back in categories that I will be spending a lot in such as office supply, advertising, etc. Second, if I’m getting points, I want to ensure the reward catalog has products I would buy with my own money. I don’t want gift cards to chain restaurants I never visit. I don’t want electronics or DVDs I can buy for cheaper online.

  • Promotional APRs: Many businesses have been built on the shoulders of consumer credit card debt. I don’t advocate going into debt to start a business, but if you’re going to then it’s best to get a credit card that will give you 0% APY for six or twelve months on your purchases or balance transfers. These offers are becoming rarer because credit card companies are reducing their risk but they still exist.

  • Don’t use your consumer credit card: You can use a consumer credit card as a business card but be sure to use it only for business expenses (even this is suspect, depends on who you ask). If you don’t properly separate the two “worlds,” then you could run into liability issues down the road. Be sure to check with a business attorney or your accountant though.

Best Business Credit Cards

Citi has a new AT&T Universal Business Rewards Card that offers 0% APR on purchases for six months, a great benefit if you’re just starting a business and need some start-up capital. It also gives you 5% rewards on AT&T products and services purchased through AT&T, to help defray the cost of some of your utilities. You can also get 3% rewards on purchases at some office supply merchants, gas stations, and “professional services.” Finally you get 1% rewards everywhere else.

This is the card I’d recommend if you’re in the market for a business credit card. I list the other two options for completeness sake but this Citi card is what I would recommend because you don’t run into the problem of card acceptance.

  • What I like: I like that it’s a VISA card, so it’ll be accepted everywhere.

  • What I dislike: Citi’s reward catalog leaves much to be desired. I usually convert points into student loan payment checks but if I didn’t, there’s not much in there that I would want to spend my points on. You can review the catalog to see if there are things you like because there’s nothing worse than having a boatload of points and feeling like you must convert it into something you can’t use.

Discover Business Card - You can get 5% cash back on office supplies, 2% on gas, and 1% on everything else. It’s pretty much a consumer credit card with Business in its name. It has no annual fee and you can skip the reward mumbo jumbo and get your cash back credited directly to your balance. Discover Business also offers some convenient reporting features that you may find useful for your own financial reports.

  • What I like: The reporting features are a nice touch considering there is no annual fee and the rewards structure is setup very much like a consumer card.

  • What I dislike: It’s a Discover card so it’s not as widely accepted, even less so than American Express, so you run the risk of not being to use your card at certain merchants.

I use the American Express Business Gold because I took advantage of a $250 promotion they ran a few years ago. Since then, I’ve stuck with the card and it’s $125 annual fee because they give a 5% discount on Yahoo Search Marketing advertising, I’ve accrued a ton of points and their rewards catalog actually has things I want (at favorable point conversion rates). They’re one of the most well known names in the business card world because a lot of large corporations use them but there are some big downsides, such as the annual fee and the less than universal acceptance of AMEX cards.

I would not recommend this card for a startup. You need to keep costs low and having to pay $125 a year, as little as that seems, is money wasted.

  • What I like: I like their rewards program and how I can convert points to Southwest Rapid Rewards flight vouchers. It’s rare that I see something I want in a rewards catalog. It’s even rarer for the points conversion to work in my favor!

  • What I dislike: The annual fee of $125 is a bit much, especially since you can get a no annual fee business credit card from Discover or Citi in a heartbeat. The fact that it’s an American Express card is also tricky because not as many merchants accept AMEX. If you have any international business travel, AMEX acceptance abroad is even worse than in the United States.

This post is originally from

Best Business Credit Cards

Now that you are aware of what happens when debt collectors violate the FDCPA and you have some recorded phone calls, credit reporting violations, and false or misleading statements by a collector, what do you do then?
You sue them.
Nothing gets a company’s attention like slapping them with a lawsuit. As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone gets sued.
From here, you have two choices and both will take you to the courthouse:
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  • You can retain a lawyer to represent you, or,

  • Do it yourself.

I’ll explain both.

Retaining A Lawyer
If you retain a lawyer, the standard agreement is for the lawyer to take the case on contingency. That means they only get paid if you win or settle. If they are unwilling to work on contingency, at worst you would have an agreement that you pay the $350 filing fee and then the attorney takes the rest of the case on contingency. The typical settlement is around $3,500, so you can expect to pocket an easy $1k with the lawyer taking the balance. Usually, you’ll file the case in Federal court, which means the case will get resolved in 2-3 months.
When selecting a lawyer, you can’t just go with any lawyer, you will want a lawyer experienced in consumer law. They could be great at drafting wills and personal injury cases, but they likely have never seen a consumer law case in their career. In fact, the better the lawyer is, the less likely they are to have any clue about consumer law. There are a few good lawyers out there who do have consumer law experience, and you just have to shop around and find them. Check out the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) for a lawyer in your area.
Why Suing Works
Debt collectors are terrified of lawsuits because a single lawsuit can cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. If they lose the case, not only do they lose their own costs for defending against the lawsuit, they have to pay the attorney’s fees for both the defense and plaintiff as well as the judgment. Many of the smart companies would rather pay you $5,000 once as a settlement and be done with it. Collectors are in a high volume, low margin business and will have to collect on a lot of accounts to recover a $3500 average cost of settlement. (Getting sued a lot tends to drive up a collector’s insurance premiums too!)
Consider the response to a Forbes article by a Joel Lackey, President of National Credit systems who wrote regarding FDCPA lawsuits:
“The number of these suits has increased dramatically over the past few years, and the merit of these suits are typically laughable with absolutely no damage suffered by the debtor. The primary reason for this is that attorneys have become aware of the fact that a third-party debt collector cannot win when sued. It is simply a matter of how bad you are going to lose. Even if you win in court, you have lost big-time in that it will likely cost you tens of thousands of dollars to prove your case.
Let’s see, settle for $4,000 even though you did nothing wrong and the charges against you were completely unreasonable or fabricated, or roll the dice to prove your innocence and spend $30,000 in the process. That is, $30,000 if you win, and by the way, you will have no meaningful chance of recovering any of your costs.”
You Must Have A Case
I am not suggesting you fabricate a lawsuit because, quite frankly, you won’t have to. If a collector is going to violate the FDCPA, they will do it early and often. If you have documented violations, particularly recorded phone calls, you have a very solid case and I wouldn’t be shy about running with it.
This is also defensive strategy. If you are sued by a debt collector who has violated the law, counter-sue and watch them offer to pay you to drop the entire matter.
Debt collectors are so scared of being sued that they are creating databases to track people who counter-sue and actively avoiding them. Take a look at and National FDCPA Litigation Tracking Resource.
Do It Yourself Lawyering
If you can’t find a suitable lawyer or you don’t want to split the potential winnings, you may need to take the case on your own. I recommend Federal court vs. state or small claims, because the judges in the lower courts are generally not familiar with the laws and court rulings in question. Plus, you don’t want it to be a first time for both of you.
Each federal court has a free pro-se litigant manual that includes sample forms, flowcharts, and explanations of the legal terms you may hear. If you have the time to invest in it, give it a shot, you may find it is worth your time in the endeavor. It will be a time investment to become familiar with everything so take that into account. Also, many of the lawyers representing the debt collectors do not respect pro-se litigants and may try to talk down to you. Take advantage of forums like Debtorboards for advice, that’s where other litigious consumers hang out and are more than willing to provide some assistance.
In reality, going without representation can be a blessing and advantage, since you don’t have to worry about legal bills, caseloads, and you don’t have to settle for a quick settlement. You can wait for a bigger payday, as the side faces a growing mountain of legal bills. Lawyers tend to want to go for the quick buck and the low hanging fruit and tend to overlook suing the individual employees and such.
Do you have any experience with or read stories about people successfully suing debt collectors?
(Photo: umjanedoan)
How to Sue Debt Collectors from personal finance blog

The outlook: You may not feel as if we're out of the woods yet. But the consensus among the 50 leading economists regularly surveyed by the Blue Chip Economic Indicators is that the recession is indeed over, and from a technical standpoint at least, probably ended in the summer.
For a month or so before our wedding, my wife and I used Crest Whitestrips to help whiten our teeth. We thought about doing one of those “professional” dentist teeth whitening sessions but between the cost and the discomfort (my wife has sensitive teeth and her dentist said these were just as good… and cheaper!), we opted for a do-it-yourself kit because we figured it was a good value. In the end, we were very happy with the results.
Just this last week, a representative from Crest asked if I’d be interested in getting a box of their new Crest Whitestrips Advanced
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SEal and five boxes to giveaway to readers. Any time a good company is willing to send me something I can give away to readers, I take it.

Crest Facebook Contest
They’re doing a big contest on Facebook (Crest Whitestrips fan page) where fans are get a daily chance to win a box of Crest Whitestrips Advanced Seal and a pair of webcams. They want you to share a story about a “connection wish,” someone you want to visit, and you are entered to win an all-expenses-paid trip, to be announced in December. With only 12,500 fans, your chances of winning are pretty good.
How to Win a Box of Crest Whitestrips
To participate, you have to be a registered on (it’s free) and leave a comment on this post telling us why you want to win the whitestrips. Around noon on November 15th, I’ll select three commenters below to win some whitestrips.
Why do you have to be a registered user? I want to thank readers, not one-time visitors from other sites that announce these types of giveaways. If you’re not a registered user, you should consider it because there are some great benefits – like earning Bargaineering Bucks.
If you don’t want to rely on luck, two boxes are up in the Bargaineering Bucks Store and you can bid on them with your Bargaineering bucks. (listing for box 1, listing for box 2)
Good luck!
Crest Whitestrips Advance Seals Giveaway from personal finance blog

New, groundbreaking features can alert you to danger before you even know it's there. But added safety comes at added cost.
While most of us don’t believe we’re out of the recession, no matter what the statistics say, we can all agree that we made a few sacrifices over the last year and a half. Some have made a lot of sacrifices. One of the things my wife and I cut back on was dining out. We would go out to restaurants several times a week, not counting weekend festivities with our friends. For a dual income, no kid household, it’s not uncommon because our other expenses are generally low. However, with
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the uncertainty of the recession and my wife starting a PhD program, we thought that cutting back on one of our largest expenses was a smart idea and we believe the changes will stick even after the economy truly recovers.

We decided to cut back for health reasons too. We weren’t eating at unhealthy places (our favorite was a local Vietnamese noodle Pho restaurant) but anytime you eat out, you are almost guaranteed to eat far more calories than at home. By cooking at home, you control what goes into your food and you’re more likely to serve more reasonable portions.
A side benefit of cooking more at home is that we’ve experimented more with some fun recipes. Some highlights include our Homemade Provençal Rack of Lamb earlier this year and the occasional homemade dumpling (by the way, I’m getting hungry writing this… so don’t click through unless you’ve eaten!), but more importantly we’ve added a lot of recipes to our “list of dishes we liked that we can make from memory.” I think it’s crucial for you to build up that portfolio of dishes because you’re less likely to go to a restaurant if you have a few things you can make yourself.
Finally, we found that cooking together is fun. We get to experiment, make mistakes, substitute ingredients we think we’d like more, and otherwise just have a great time spending time together working towards a fairly simple goal. We made the Provençal Rack of Lamb on a whim and lucked out that we didn’t mess it up on the first try. But had we screwed it up, no worries, we can always try again! (if you love eating out, you can always try to make it at home using what are known as “copy cat recipes,” just do a Google search)
Because of all those reasons, I’m pretty sure we’ll continue to cook more and eat out less even after the recession ends. It’s morphed from a “save money, save calories” decision to a “wow this is a lot of fun.”
Has something like that happened with you? Maybe you cut off cable television service for financial reasons and found a plethora of alternatives you liked better? Or maybe you went from two cars to one and found you liked that arrangement better? I’d love to hear it because then we could all give it a try.
(Photo: avlxyz)
Your Take: Will Your Recession Changes Stick? from personal finance blog

The Great Recession has forced some people to find creative ways to cut back on their spending. looks at what five people are doing to save money.
When the U.S. dollar gained ground on the Euro and other currencies last year, glossy travel magazines celebrated the affordability of once-pricey locales. Cheap lattes in Paris!
In the last few months, there have been two big “stimulus” related items discussed in the House and Senate. The first was talk of extending the first time homebuyer credit in both time (when you could use it) and scope (who qualified). The second was about extending unemployment benefits by an additional 13 weeks.
Well, it turns out both are going to become a reality as the Senate passed H.R.3548 – Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 two days ago. The House passed their version in late
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September and just yesterday agreed to the Senate amendment to the bill (this is the “marrying” up part). The bill is on its way to the White House, if it hasn’t been signed already.

Homeownership Credits
The last homeownership stimulus bill created an $8,000 tax credit for first time homebuyers. In addition to adding a $6,500 tax credit, the income limits have been raised to $125,000 for individuals and $225,000 for couples. The current limits are $75,000 and $150,000. Finally, if you sell the home or it is no longer your primary residence within three years of purchase then you must repay the credit.
The homebuyer tax credits:

  • $8,000 tax credit: If you are a first time homebuyer, you can get an $8,000 tax credit for purchasing a home. The claim deadline will be extended to April 30th, 2010, from the existing deadline of November 30th.

  • $6,500 tax credit: If you already own a home and have lived in it for at least five of the last eight years, you can get a $6,500 tax credit for purchasing a home.

Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment benefits will be extended an extra 14 weeks for individuals who have already exhausted their benefits or will exhaust them before the end of the year. If you live in a state where the unemployment rate is above 8.5%, then you will receive an additional 20 weeks of benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the following states have unemployment rates above 8.5%:

  • MAINE – 8.5%

  • IDAHO – 8.8%


  • NEW YORK – 8.9%

  • WEST VIRGINIA – 8.9%

  • ARIZONA – 9.1%

  • MISSISSIPPI – 9.2%


  • WASHINGTON – 9.3%

  • MISSOURI – 9.5%

  • INDIANA – 9.6%

  • NEW JERSEY – 9.8%

  • GEORGIA – 10.1%

  • OHIO – 10.1%

  • ILLINOIS – 10.5%

  • TENNESSEE – 10.5%

  • ALABAMA – 10.7%

  • NORTH CAROLINA – 10.8%

  • KENTUCKY – 10.9%

  • FLORIDA – 11.0%


  • OREGON – 11.5%

  • SOUTH CAROLINA – 11.6%

  • CALIFORNIA – 12.2%

  • RHODE ISLAND – 13.0%

  • NEVADA – 13.3%

  • MICHIGAN – 15.3%

Business Assistance
If you’re wondering what the business assistance part of the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 is, even though it probably won’t affect you, you’ll be happy to learn that your local mom and pop store can deduct losses for 2008 and 2009 from profits in the five previous profitable years, increased from the last two years. Actually, any business can do this, not just “small” businesses.
How We’re Paying For This
For the fiscally conservative, you might be wondering how we’re going to pay for this. Extension of the homebuyer’s credit is going to cost around $11 billion and the business assistance will cost around $10.4 billion, according to the New York Times. Congress will pay for that portion of the bill by delaying a tax break for multinational corporations (it involves their worldwide interest expense), which will save around $20.1 billion. As for unemployment, otherwise known as jobless benefits, it will cost $2.4 billion and be paid by extending a $14/worker surcharge on employers into 2011 (which, by the way was created 30 years ago as a temporary measure… funny huh?).
(Photo: brapps)
Homebuyer Credit & Jobless Benefits Extended (H.R.3548) from personal finance blog

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