Steve Ballmer to Retire from Microsoft and Links

After years of disappointing product launches Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will retire at some point in the next 12 months.

From Windows Vista to Windows 8 to the Surface tablet to the Xbox One getting trounced by Sony’s Playstation, there have been too many products that have fallen flat.  Meanwhile Microsoft’s competitors have become stronger and in some instances completely dominated the marketplace.

To me this underlines the importance of never sitting back on your laurels.  The same holds true for your finances.  Many of Microsoft’s most recent products were a reaction to a competitor’s innovation.  Likewise we can’t wait until something happens to change our finances, we have to think ahead, plan in advance, and start making changes now.

It will be interesting to see what the next person in line brings to Microsoft. Will you let your finances fall into a rut? Or will you start planning ahead using some of these great reads below?

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The US Government is Spying on You and Links

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The NSA is spying on Americans under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Through a program called PRISM (and likely others) the government has the ability to capture and store every type of electronic communication you make.  The plan was to use these programs only overseas, but it has been revealed that all kinds of communications of innocent Americans are being tracked and stored as well.  Your phone calls can be recorded, who you called and how long the call lasted is recorded, your e-mail and web browsing can all be tracked (and should be assumed, is tracked).

This is a massive story that should be on the front page of every news website and newspaper in the country, but it is being kept under wraps.

One great example: Lavabit, a secured, encryped e-mail company, recently abruptly shut down.

It was revealed in July that Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who spilled the beans about the PRISM program to a UK newspaper, was a customer of Lavabit’s services.  This led to a surge in new subscribers to the company’s services.

The owner of the one-employee (literally the owner and an intern) company shut the company down and posted a letter on the company’s website saying, essentially, he was asked to do something by the government he felt he could not due and maintain his conscience or his 100% encrypted and secure service.  Oh, and he was also given a gag order so he couldn’t tell the public or his customers exactly what the government asked him to do.  The order was likely from a secret court that you and I, and Congress, will never see.

Scary.

Later that evening a second encrypted email service, Silence Circle, preemptively shut down.  They figured they were next.

What does all this have to do with your personal finances?
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Detroit Files for Bankruptcy and Links

40% of the street lights in Detroit are turned off to save money.

It takes police about an hour to respond to an emergency call.  The city’s population has dropped by more than 25% since 2000.

Detroit is in trouble.

So much trouble that the city filed for bankruptcy protection.  Currently facing total liabilities of about $18 billion, there just isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel without bankruptcy protection.

Unions are worried about pensions being slashed; involuntary cuts to pensions has rarely occurred in municipal bankruptcies because many of the pensioners still live in the municipality or are still working at the jobs that promised them a pension.

It is a difficult situation.

The city is shrinking, crime is high, and unemployment still sits over 16%.  From a financial perspective there doesn’t seem to be much else to do besides file for bankruptcy.  Despite this the plans to build the Detroit Red Wings a new arena — at a cost of $444 million — is still going through.  The emergency financial manager of Detroit and the state of Michigan agree that it will create jobs, but is it the best way to spend a half-billion dollars?  Only time will tell.

Avoid the dire circumstances Detroit is facing in your own finances. These great reads will help you keep your finances running smoothly:

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Oh Crap, We Forgot to Save for College! How to Save Money for College When Your Kids Are Older

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When you first bring children into the world your concerns are on the immediate: keeping them alive, keeping them fed, and every once and a while trying to clean up the house.

College seems a long, long way off and there are more pressing issues in between now and then like soccer practice and birthday parties.

Before you know it college isn’t too far off and your retirement is right behind.  You bravely check the college education saving coffers and find nothing but cobwebs.

Is it too late to start?  What can you do?  Will your kids fail at life and be trapped in student loans forever?  Will they not be able to get in to the best schools?

Take a deep breath for me.  This is fixable.

How to Start Saving for College Late

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Can I Get a Credit Card If I’m Unemployed? Should I?

Credit cards are terrible and wonderful things wrapped up in the same shiny piece of plastic.

The right credit card can whisk you off on a dream vacation with reward points.  The wrong card can catch you with a late payment and jack your interest rate up to 20%.

A common question about credit cards revolves around getting one if you are unemployed.

Is it even possible to complete a credit card application when you’re unemployed and be accepted?  And even if it is possible, is this the wisest financial move you can make?

Let’s look at some scenarios to dig deeper on this problem.

Can I Get a New Credit Card When Unemployed?

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Stocks Reach New Highs and Links

I thought the economy was still in shambles?

Isn’t unemployment a little higher than we’d like?  Isn’t the Fed going to end stimulus and the economy is going to tank?

Don’t tell it to Wall Street.

The stock markets are breaching new highs it seems every week.  This leads to fear in some investors and greed in others.  Some see opportunity and others see the market only has one way to go — down.

But investing based on your emotions and “gut feeling” of the market won’t work.  You need an investing plan that you will stick to.  Sticking to any financial plan will help you weather the ups and downs of life and the stock markets.  You still might react a little bit, but if you hold close to the plan you are less likely to make vast changes that ultimately will hurt you more than they help you.

Here are some great reads this week. Use them to put together your financial plan:

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What’s This Federal Reserve and Why Is It In the News All the Time?

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We hear about “the Fed” or the Federal Reserve doing various things in the news, but what exactly is the Fed?

How can one institution be responsible for rising and falling interest rates, and why does the stock market bounce around every time the Federal Reserve Chairman speaks?

Understanding the Federal Reserve System

How can you understand a quasi-Federal agency that is still independent, has mysterious meetings that impact the nation’s economy, and can cause the stock market to go wild?

Here are some key areas to understanding what the Federal Reserve is, what it does, and the tools it uses to achieve its goals.

What is a Central Bank?

The Federal Reserve is the United States’ Central Bank.  A central bank is a quasi-government institution that manages its country’s money supply and interest rates.  Most central banks also are in charge of regulating the banking environment of the country.
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