10 Free Investment Credits From ShareBuilder (And $50 Signup Bonus)

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Online investment company ShareBuilder (owned by ING Direct) is offering up 10 free investment credits to new and existing customers who set up an Automatic Investment Plan before January 31st.  This is a great way to start investing for the New Year!  Normally automatic investments are $4 per trade.
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Go To The Museum For Free – Bank of America Museums on Us

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What a wealth of culture and learning we have here in NYC!

The only thing holding us back from taking in all of the museums, gardens, zoos, and whatnot is time and money.  We’ve been trying to make the time to take the kids out and do things with them whenever we can.

That leaves money!

It’s expensive taking a family out these daysWell, it was a most pleasant surprise to learn that Bank of America was extending it’s Museums on Us program.  Not only did they extend it but they added museums and states that the program takes part in.

What is Museums on Us?

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The Financial Roller Coaster Continues For Lynch, Lehman, And AIG

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Crazy news this Monday morning! So here’s the scorecard:

Merrill Lynch will be bought by Bank of America. According to Bloomberg.com, BofA will buy Merrill for $29 a share a 70% premium on it’s 9/12 price but considerably lower than it’s 2007 high of $97.53.  What caused this buyout to happen?  Bad mortgages! According to the NY Times Merrill Lynch has lost over $45 Billion in mortgage investments.  The iconic bull from their logo will now be running through the halls of Bank of America!  Is Bank of America slowly becoming the Google of banking?

Not so good news for Lehman Brothers which is filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The firm was unable to find a buyer and as a result needs to protect itself until a sale can happen.  Lehman almost worked out a deal with Bank of America but BofA bailed someone else out instead.  Lehman Brothers’ problems stem from $60 Billion in “soured real estate holdings” according to the Associated Press.

And since two isn’t enough, AIG is seeking a $40 Billion loan from the Fed in hopes to prevent a downgrade of it’s credit rating.  AIG recently reported a quarterly loss of $5 Billion as a result of mortgage-related investments (see a pattern here?).  According to MarketWatch if AIG’s credit rating goes down it will be difficult for them to sell new products which would prevent them from raising new capital.

What does all of this mean? 

Well it’s going to be an interesting day in the stock market.  And by interesting I’m thinking not so good.  The International Herald Tribune is already reporting drops in the World markets.

As more financial firms reach critical mass it will become more difficult for other firms to get loans.  This could potentially be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on the whole recession question.  When firms can’t get more capital they can’t invest more in their businesses which slows their production.  If productions slows enough to become negative then we’re in a recession.

For us, the little people, I think it’s going to become more difficult to get a mortgage, at least in the short run.  Banks are going to be more skittish about giving away cheap loans.  I’m sure this isn’t the end of the situation either.  Hopefully though, the end result will be new policies at banks to prevent a housing crisis like this from happening again.  Banks aren’t the only ones to blame though.  The Fed has a hand in this as well as low Fed rates have made cheap money available for some time now.  And of course some blame has to go out to realtors and housing consumers for bad mortgages as well.  (Check out the take on the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bailout at My Two Dollars).

Buckle yourself in, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

A CD Ladder Plan For Beginning Savers

a ladderAre you just starting off building up your savings? I’ve mentioned before that a great way to save is by putting money in a high yield savings account such as Capital One 360 Savings.  A way to make a little more interest is to open a Certificate of Deposit, or CD for short.

What is a CD?

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

A certificate of deposit or CD is a time deposit, a financial product commonly offered to consumers by banks, thrift institutions, and credit unions.

CDs are similar to savings accounts in that they are insured and thus virtually risk-free; they are “money in the bank” (CDs are insured by the FDIC for banks or by the NCUA for credit unions). They are different from savings accounts in that the CD has a specific, fixed term (often three months, six months, or one to five years), and, usually, a fixed interest rate. It is intended that the CD be held until maturity, at which time the money may be withdrawn together with the accrued interest.

So if you are investing/buying a  CD you want to make sure you don’t need that money for the length of it’s term (otherwise you will have to pay a penalty to cash it in).

Here’s a great way a beginning saver can get started with CD’s:

  • Figure out a monthly amount of money you know you won’t need for 12 months.  Don’t be scared now.  It can be a small amount like $10.
  • Log into your ING account and go to their products page.  Click on CD’s and proceed to open up a $10 CD for a 12-month term.  (If you can afford more by all means do so.  Remember this is money you won’t touch for a year.)
  • Now every month do the same thing for a total of 12 months.
  • At the end of a year you will have 12 CDs worth more than $120 (imagine if you put more in each month?).  If you can, re-invest the CDs as they mature.  See if you can add to the amounts, again even if it’s only a few dollars.

“What have we done?  Anyone can buy CDs!”, you may ask?  Remember this is for a beginner who is starting to build up their savings.  Here is what the beginning saver has accomplished:

  • This builds up a habit of saving.  By putting the money in a CD we’re limiting the ability to take the money out (without a penalty at least).  Once this habit is in place a beginning saver may have the discipline to expand their savings.
  • It creates a great sense of self-esteem for the saver.  You get to see your CDs growing every month.  How great is it to see a year’s worth of savings?  Once a person realizes that saving is an achievable goal they will be more likely to continue!
  • You’re earning interest.  Not only have you saved but you’re savings are growing too!  You’re taking advantage of laddering.

Savings aren’t usually built overnight.  But by saving bit by bit you will see your savings blossom over time!

photo credit: naama

15 Things To Do With Your Economic Stimulus Check

The government Stimulus checks started going out on April 28th. If you are expecting one you should start looking for it in May (here’s a post listing the dates).

So what are you going to do with the extra money? Here are a list of ideas for using your stimulus check:

  • Pay off credit cards – If you have any credit card debt the stimulus check will be a great way knock some of that out! Paying off the debt gives you an instant return in savings of whatever you would have paid in interest fees. Psychologically, you will help in getting the debt monkey off your back.
  • Contribute to a Roth IRA – You can take your money and put it into your Roth IRA. For 2008 the contribution limit is $5000.
  • Start an emergency fund – If you don’t already have some sort of emergency fund (three to six months expenses seems to be the conventional wisdom) then your stimulus check is a good way to start one. Even if you have one you can use the money to increase your fund. A great place to start one is with ING Direct (you can even get a $25 bonus by opening your account with $250).
  • Contribute to a 529 college savings plan – You can use the money to help save for your kid’s education by putting the money in a 529 plan. Not only do you help save for college but you might get a tax break as well depending on your home state’s plan.
  • Pre-pay your mortgage – Take the money and make additional payments to your mortgage. By making additional payments you will own your home faster and pay less in interest. Just make sure the payments go towards the loan principle and not next month’s payment (also check that your lender will accept pre-payments without fees or penalties).
  • Go on vacation – You may have been planning to do this anyway so here is a good way to fund the vacation. Go and do something that will be a great experience for the family that you will all remember.
  • Improve the house – If there’s something you’ve needed to improve on your home, such as a furnace, you can use your stimulus check to pay for it (or at least help). Other options could be new paint job, carpet, furniture, appliances, etc…
  • Car maintenance – Have you been putting off a car repair? Need new brakes? New tires? Your stimulus money can fund it. If your car is about to go kaput your stimulus check could help pay for a new car (or a good new used car).
  • Learn to invest – Do some research and take the money and start investing. Companies such as Sharebuilder and Zecco offer low-fee investing. You have to do your homework with this option but it might be just enough money to start investing but not so much that you will be crazy worrying if you lose it. If you invest through Sharebuilder you can buy partial shares of Berkshire Hathaway B class shares. I hear that Warren Buffett is pretty good at investing.
  • Pay off student loans – If you have high interest student loans then your stimulus check can be a great way to help pay your student loans off. Just like with credit cards paying off your high interest student loans give you the instant return in savings of what you would have paid in interest.
  • Have a nice evening out – Take your spouse out to a really great meal. Get babysitting and go to that great restaurant you wanted to try. Go see that new show that everyone’s talking about. Make an experience you will always remember.
  • Get physically fit – The stimulus check should be enough to pay for a year’s gym membership (or more than a year). Use the stimulus check as a catalyst to get in shape and make your life healthier. Not sure about a gym? Find a class such as yoga or martial arts to join. Not into that? Buy a new bike and go riding. Or get yourself some good running sneakers and running attire. Join your local running club and enter a few small races. You never know, you may one day run a marathon.
  • Go to school – Use your stimulus check to enroll in a college course or two. This can be toward a degree or just continuing education. Hey, you can take a personal finance course. Maybe learn a second language?
  • Do nothing – This is the easiest of them all. Put the money in your savings account and forget about it. You don’t have to spend it or find any particular purpose for it. It doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. One day you might find a good use for it but for now it adds to your savings.

Personally, we’re closer to the Do Nothing suggestion. Our stimulus check will come via direct deposit right into our ING account. We have no specific plans for the money so it will be added into our savings. Our check may pay parts of many of the suggestions or for none of them. Either way it will earn interest until it finds a home somewhere else.

Do you have any other ideas for using the economic stimulus check?

photo by Argenberg
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