What Outrageous Fees Are You Paying?

outrageous feesIn today’s business world, profit is more important than ever. Whereas in the past most businesses would do the right thing just to keep a customer, today many companies are more concerned with milking every penny out of the customer. How do I know this? Just look at the fees various companies are charging you.

Outrageous Fees You’re Being Charged

Here are a handful of various fees I’ve encountered recently. Sadly, they are all too common:

Airline Change Fee: Did you know it costs you around $150 to change your plane ticket? How crazy is that? I have plans to fly down to Florida to see my niece and sister next month. We just found out my sister’s husband might be getting a new job and they may need to relocate, which puts my trip down there in question.

I called the airline I am booked to fly on to see if I could go down earlier. The woman was super nice and told me “of course you can”. They she quickly added “it’ll cost you $150”. I nearly fainted!

Using A Bank Teller: How crazy is this fee? If you go to the bank and want a human being to handle your deposit or withdrawal, it is going to cost you. Granted not all banks are using this fee, but why do I have to pay to see a teller? Isn’t it their job to wait on customers? (As a quick aside, if any bank tellers are reading this, I would be concerned for job safety. This sounds like a way to boost profit, err, cut costs by letting you go.)

Airline Baggage Fee: I hate to pick on the airlines, but it is too easy. At first, this fee was charged to us because of the high gas prices, or so the airlines told us. Here we are, almost 10 years after gas prices first skyrocketed up and we are still being charged this fee. Interestingly, gas prices have come down while this fee is still here.
[Read more…]

How To Save On Taxes The Way The Wealthy Do

how to save on taxesThe following contribution is from The Money Template, a personal finance blog exploring all things related to wealth and well-being.

Taxes are simply one of those things where no matter how much you fight them they never seem to go away. That is … unless you know a few tricks on how to get around having to pay more than your fair share.

Believe it or not, this is actually one of the contributing reasons why wealthy people stay wealthy. Even though the tax code appears to be written in such a way that you should owe more money the more you make, this is generally not the case. In fact it was famously revealed in the 2012 presidential election that millionaire republican candidate Mitt Romney was paying an effective 14% tax rate. Are YOU enjoying a nice 14% tax rate?

Similar to Romney’s case, the trick in knowing how to save on taxes is learning how to use legal tax incentives to your advantage. Though you may think this is something that is only reserved for the ultra-rich, the reality is that a lot of these same techniques can be applied to your own situation with the aid of financial planners and accountants who are familiar with the tax laws.

Here are a few you can start using now:

7 Strategies for How to Save on Taxes:

1)  Retirement Accounts:

Contributing to your employer-sponsored retirement funds is one of the simplest ways to take advantage of tax-sheltering. With these types of programs the contribution is taken out of your gross pay, meaning that it is no longer considered to be taxable income. Your regular income taxes are calculated on the total amount that is left over. The more money you defer to your retirement plan, the less money there is to be taxed! The IRS will allow you to defer up to $18,000 per year to your 401k plan starting in 2015. [Read more…]

Investing Giveaway: Do You Want $2,500 In APPL Shares?

apple stock giveawayI am a big fan of raffles and giveaways. I’ve really only one one in my life that I can remember. As a kid, I was big into collecting baseball cards. My Mom would take me to local malls that had baseball card shows all of the time. One such time, there was a raffle for a signed Art Mahaffey baseball. (He was a pitcher in the ’60s.) We go there just before they pulled the winner out, so I filled out my entry and placed it on top of the pile. My guess is they never really shuffled the entries and picked out the one on top because a few minutes later my name was announced over the loud speaker as the winner. It was a great feeling, even if at the time I had no idea who this guy was.

In any case, today I am here to share with you a giveaway for you to enter. Do you know the company Apple? Unless you live under a rock the answer should be yes. Well, I am taking part in a giveaway that will have the winner receive 15 shares of Apple stock, the runner up will win 7 shares of stock and the third place winner will receive 3 shares of stock. How cool is that? Even better is that your prize can increase in value over time through appreciation.
[Read more…]

Carnival of Financial Planning – The Getting Sick Sucks Edition

getting sickWelcome to this week’s edition of the Carnival of Financial Planning. This weeks edition is the “Getting Sick Sucks” edition, because, I got sick. I’m one of those people that get touches of a sore throat or a stuffy nose, but rarely does a cold knock me out. For a few days this week, this cold did just that – knock my out! I’m happy to say that I am on the fast track now to getting better. In fact, I slept for over 9 hours last night!

If you are in the unfortunate situation of getting sick, I found that doing stuff actually made me feel better than just laying around all day. Of course, you can’t be moving all of the time. To that, take some time to better your finances. Lucky for you, here are a handful of great posts to read to get started!!

BUDGETING AND ECONOMICS

Gretchen @ Retired by 40 writes Throw a Frugal Birthday Party – Throw a Frugal Birthday Party

Maria @ The Money Principle writes Don’t Make Debt a Worry: Try These Business Tips – Don’t look at your bank statements, you think to yourself. If I don’t see my debt then it isn’t there.

Alexa @ Single Moms Income writes Another Great Way to Give: Operation Christmas Child – I’m completely convinced that giving back to people whether that be with a thoughtful note, big batch of cookies, or small gift is one of the best ways you can make a difference in not only the world, but also in yourself. [Read more…]

Sharebuilder Review

sharebuilder reviewIs Sharebuilder an online broker you should look into? What, you’ve never heard of Sharebuilder? I’ve been investing with them for the better part of 2 years now and based on what I see, Sharebuilder is positioning itself to be a big player in the online discount broker world. Below is my review of Sharebuilder and why it should be on your short list when looking for a place to invest. Be sure to check out my online broker comparison chart are well as these other reviews too:

When it comes to investing, it’s important you choose the broker that meets your needs best.

My Sharebuilder Review

Sharebuilder History and Background

Sharebuilder began back in 1996 through NetStock Direct. It was created with the philosophy that to be successful, one should look at dollar cost averaging as opposed to day trading.

In 2005, Sharebuilder began to offer 401k plans to small businesses and in 2007 was purchased by ING Direct. After the housing bubble meltdown, ING sold off its US based banking business to Capital One and Sharebuilder was part of this deal. The deal was completed in 2012.

Today, Sharebuilder is still around and is better than ever. Capital One has certainly made some smart moves in making Sharebuilder more competitive and I hope that the trend continues.

Sharebuilder Features

Now on to the features that makes Sharebuilder so great for investors. I’ll highlight these in bullet points and then go into more detail:

  • $6.95 online trades. This used to be higher, but Capital One knocked the price down to be more competitive.
  • Tons of investment options for investors. Choose from stocks, bonds, exchange traded funds, mutual funds, and options. You can invest in non-retirement, retirement and educational accounts as well.
  • Automatic Investing Service. For $3.95 (per security) you can set up an automatic investing plan with any combination of stocks, mutual funds and ETFs.
  • Easy to use website. There is a lot to be said when you find a website that is easy to navigate and find what you are looking for. I found this to be the case with Sharebuilder. I had no issues finding what I was looking for.

Sharebuilder Benefits

There are many benefits to using a firm like Sharebuilder. Very few other brokers allow for automatic investing plans to be used by an investor. With over 1,000 no load mutual funds, and 70 no fee mutual funds, you have a good mix to choose from.

Other benefits include:

No Account Opening Fee. You can start investing with as little as you like. The only exception to this is with mutual funds. Many mutual funds have initial minimums that need to be met. The good news is that the minimums are much less than if you invested with a fund family directly. For example, if you invest in American Century directly, the fund minimums are $2,500. But, if you invest through Sharebuilder, the minimum is $250.

Low Fees. There is no inactivity fee with Sharebuilder. The only fees you will encounter are the typical fees that most places charge – wires, returned checks, etc. There are fees though to transfer your account, either in full or partially to another broker.

Portfolio Builder Service. This service allows you to pick between 6-8 ETFs and build a portfolio. You can then invest a minimum of $200 to buy the entire portfolio on an ongoing basis for $18.95. More info on this service can be found here.

Easy Navigation. The website is easy to navigate and is very user friendly.

Good Research Tools. Another benefit to Capital One buying Sharebuilder was the introduction of more research and investment tools.

Downsides to Sharebuilder

Unfortunately there are downsides to Sharebuilder that you need to consider. Some are bigger than others, so you will have to decide which ones matter most to you.

  • Automatic Investing on Tuesday. If you enroll in the auto investing feature, the trades are made on Tuesdays only. In the grand scheme of things, this shouldn’t matter to a long-term investor. But for those that are looking at a shorter time horizon, not getting to buy on any day of the week can be an issue. Also, the $3.95 fee is on each security you buy, not on the automatic investment as a whole. So if you set up an automatic investment for 4 securities, you are looking at close to $16 in commissions. Of course, this is still much less than if you buy them separately with Sharebuilder or any other online broker. But in the past, it used to be a fee on the total automatic investment.
  • Basic Options. If you are looking to get involved with options, Sharebuilder doesn’t allow for the advanced trading strategies that E*Trade or TradeKing offer.
  • High Portfolio Builder Cost. At $18.95 per portfolio, the fee is a little steep when you could buy a handful of ETFs through Schwab or Betterment for no fee at all.

Who Is Sharebuilder For?

The ideal clients for Sharebuilder are investors without a lot of money. If you are just getting started with investing and only have $100 or so to invest each month, Sharebuilder is a consideration for you. You can create an automatic investing plan or use the ETF Portfolio Builder and call it a day.

Of course, you should first check out the other online brokers first. I say this because you might find comparable ETFs with Schwab for no fee at all, or even at Betterment. While Schwab does not offer an automatic ETF investing service yet, word is they will be soon.

Overall, Sharebuilder is a work in progress at this point. It has good and bad features. For me, I would look to the other online brokers I reviewed first and if they don’t meet your needs, then consider Sharebuilder. Here is a link to their site to do more research or to sign up.

[Editors Note: This post was updated to reflect new offerings and pricing from Sharebuilder.]

My 3 Best Ever Investments (And What They All Have In Common)

investmentI’ve been investing for close to 17 years now (which coincidentally is about half my life!) and have learned a lot. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but have also had my fair share of successes too. Today I am going to talk to you about my 3 biggest investment successes and the two things they all have in common. The good news is that you can learn from my success and avoid the failure by following along. Here they are:

Intimate Brands

This was my first ever investment. Back in high school, I took an economics class and we read One Up On Wall Street by Peter Lynch. In the book he mentioned about going to the mall and seeing what people buy. If you can find something that people are buying, the stock of that company is something to look into. So I did just that.

It’s amazing what you can learn from watching other people. I saw that Victoria’s Secret was packed! Plus, I noticed that a ton of women just walking around the mall all had the pink striped bags.

I made it a point to go back to the mall (as well as another mall) a few times just to make sure they weren’t giving away free underwear that one day. They weren’t. The store was always packed.
[Read more…]

The Round Table – Start of Winter Edition

Round TableWow did it get cold!! Earlier this week I was out playing golf in 75 degree weather. Now it is snowing. Luckily, they are just snow showers and not going to accumulate into anything. The good news is that it is going to get warm again during the week, so I can squeeze out at least one more round of golf. The bad news is that we just turned the clocks back, so less sunlight :(

As we are now in November, it is time for the countdown to begin – only 23 days until Christmas!!! I didn’t want to say anything, but when I was doing house projects over the last 2 months, places like Lowes and Home Depot have already put the Christmas trees and decorations on display. Get ready for endless news stories on which stores will be staying open 26 hours a day from Thanksgiving through Christmas. (That wasn’t a typo, just trying to keep your attention haha!)

Anyways, I found some awesome blog posts this week that I am sharing below. I hope you find them valuable. Feel free to suggest others in the comments too.

Great Blog Posts from Other Bloggers

10 Habits That Made Me A Millionaire By 27 at Budgets Are Sexy
Diamonds – Nothing But A Brilliant Illusion at Frugal Fringe
[Read more…]

4 Worthwhile Investment Opportunities For 2015

InvestingThe economy is in such a state that every signal seems to be saying investors should invest. The low cost of purchasing property, businesses and countless other investment vehicles seems to hold only promise for people with the ability to seize these opportunities today.

The problem is there are so many options that what will return the best on an investment is not as clear as it could be. While some investors are settling for “tried and tested” investment options, these may not provide the best or the safest returns.

Below is a list of some of the most attractive investment options coming in 2015.

Deep Sea Crude Oil Production

The cost of crude oil directly correlates to how difficult it is to obtain a barrel from any given source. A number of factors can contribute to this difficulty, which includes local politics, distance and how hard it is to drill to a deposit of oil.
[Read more…]

3 Biggest Drivers of Retirement Savings Success

retirement savingsI took some time this weekend to read some personal finance magazines and also surf around the net. I stumbled upon an article that Catey Hill over at SmartMoney wrote an article that discusses the 3 biggest drivers of success in terms of retirement savings. They are:

  • Employing a consistent, long-term savings and investing strategy
  • Working with a financial adviser
  • Saving money in your workplace retirement plan

Retirement Savings Success

These 3 points are fairly basic, but it is incredible how many people fail to do them. The first point, having a plan (or strategy) is key. After all, if you have no plan, how are you getting to where you are going? Better yet, how do you even know where you want to go? Take the time to sit down and figure out your goals and plans. Interestingly enough, this is also the first step in my how to become a stock market millionaire post. You have to have a plan – don’t put it off any longer.

Working With A Professional

Her next point is not a must for everyone, but is for many people. Here is my reasoning. When it comes to a financial advisor, most people think they are just there to put together an investment portfolio for you. While this is true to some degree, what you want is a financial planner. An investment plan is just one piece of your financial puzzle. The other areas include insurance, estate planning and taxes. A good financial planner will look at all of these puzzle pieces and work with you to make sure you are in the best financial shape possible.
[Read more…]