Tag Archives: Tips & Tricks

Want That Credit Card Fee Erased? Ask For It!

Paying credit card fees is a lot like......

Paying credit card fees is a lot like......

I read a lot of finance blogs and books. While there is plenty of advice out there I don’t believe, the most common piece of advice I just can’t swallow is the idea that if you get any sort of late fee/overdraft fee, etc.. on your credit card, you can have it erased  by simply calling them and asking nicely for it to be removed. I bet I could also ask nicely for Brad Pitt to marry me, or the queen of England to give me 1 million bucks, or…. well, you get the picture.

My Rookie Mistake

Fast forward to this spring, when I overdrafted my credit card $21 and was hit with a $39 fee.

  • WARNING: You should NEVER, EVER, EVER come anywhere near doing this! This not only lowers your credit score – which is based partly on how much of your available credit you use  – but is a REALLY, REALLY stupid idea. I could give you a list of lame excuses as to why I did this but they are just that, LAME. Learn from my mistakes! OK, moving on…

Making the Call

It just so happens that at the time I was in the midst of Ramit Sethi’s new book,    I Will Teach You To Be Rich, which includes not only advice on what fees you should ask to be waived, but also simulated phone conversations demonstrating what you should say.

Some advice when making the call:

  • Be firm. (“I would like this fee removed” is more powerful than “Can you remove this fee?”)
  • Be nice. You can be firm without being a jerk. Just be persistent.
  • Remind them what a good customer you are (Ramit suggests the phrase, “I’ve been a customer here for 3 years and I’d hate to let one fee drive me away from your service”)
  • If all else fails, ask if there’s a manager or someone else you can talk to
  • Lastly, keep a record of the date you called, who you spoke with, and what was said/decided upon. Ask for the representative’s identification number and write it down.

With all of the above in mind, I sat down and called Capital One…. and shockingly it went largely  like all these financial advice folks had been saying it would.

  • I was firm but nice, agreed with them as they chastised me for making a mistake but stuck with my guns that I would like the fee removed nonetheless.
  • I asked for a manager when the request was at first denied.
  • The manager said he would “Look into it and call me back.”
  • And… I got a check from Capital One refunding my $39 in the mail several weeks later! Not a bad use of 3 minutes of my time.

Taking it to the Next Step

Feeling cocky from my $39 success, I did some research into other things you can get  simply by calling and asking for them.

Other things to request from credit card companies:

  • Annual fees waived
  • Late fees erased
  • Lower APR (i.e. interest rate)
  • Credit increase
  • FYI: Just because you can flex your persuasive muscle to get these perks doesn’t mean you should use them. Even a very low APR doesn’t justify carrying a credit card balance, and erasing late fees doesn’t meaning that making late payments has no consequences.

Moral of the Story

Credit card companies stand to make big money off of you and will bend over backwards to keep you as a customer. Use this to your advantage.

P.S. Caveat to the Moral of the Story: Banks do not operate the same way.

Banks don’t make nearly enough money off the average Joe to justify erasing fees. If you get an overdraft fee at a bank  and ask to have it removed they may actually laugh in your face (unless it was a computer error in which case they’ll do it). Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

What are your experiences with this? Have you ever called to have a fee removed? How’d it go? Leave a comment or email me at beermoney.mail@gmail.com and let me know.

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Filed under Credit, Stop Being A Financial Idiot, The Psychology of Money

How (and why) to Find a Great Financial Advisor

I know what you’re thinking, “I’m 25. I don’t need a financial advisor. I need a hot new boy/girlfriend and maybe a new car.”  While all of the above sound great, I’m going to argue in favor of the financial advisor. Here’s a quick rundown on why you might want one, what a financial advisor can do for you, and how to choose a good one.

financialadvisormonkey

Why Should I Have a Financial Advisor?

  • Because millionaires have one.  For his bestselling book, The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley researched the habits of America’s millionaires to draw out things they did and did not have in common with the rest of us. One of the main differences he found? Most millionaires pay top dollar for good financial advice. (Other differences he found? Millionaires are not caught up in conspicuous consumption, usually don’t drive new cars, and donate a larger percent of their income to charity than the average Joe, but that’s for another post…).
  • Because you don’t have the time (or desire) to learn everything there is to know about personal finance. As much fun as checking out BeyondBeerMoney can be, I’m guessing most of you would prefer spending time at the local town dump to reading the latest tax laws. A personal finance advisor spends all of his or her time learning money strategies. Could you learn the latest in money strategies given enough hours of research? Yes, but by letting someone else do the work you’ll have more time to pursue your passions.
  • Because, if nothing else, having a financial advisor will force you to spend a minimum amount of time thinking about your finances. When you go into your 1st meeting with a personal finance advisor he or she will know how much money you have in the bank, what sorts of investments you have, and what your financial goals are. Even if you’ve never thought about any of the above in your life, my guess is that you’d rather sit down and think them through beforehand than go to a meeting (that you’re paying for!) unprepared and feeling like an idiot. “Uh….bank account. Yeah, I got one of those.” No.

What Will My Financial Advisor Do for Me?

  • Help you see the big picture. Financial advisors are especially useful for recent college graduates who often have no idea what a “good” financial plan looks like. A good financial advisor will spend time looking over your current financial status (including assets, debts, insurance, taxes, and investments) and will help you see what you can do to manage risk and strengthen your current finances.
  • Help you set financial goals. You’ll work with your financial advisor to figure out what your financial goals are (being a millionaire, buying a house, putting kids through college) and how you can work to achieve them.
  • Keep you up to date on the latest finance knowledge. While you’re off saving the world, a good financial advisor will be researching and keeping you up to date on changes in tax laws, new investment strategies, and other ways for you to save and earn more money.

How to Find & Choose an Advisor

  • The best way to find a financial advisor is through a personal referral. While I respect that you can find pretty much anything online, a financial advisor is not one of those things. There are a lot of professional-looking websites advertising financial advisors that are total scams. Ask parents, coworkers and friends (and accountant and attorney if you have them) for their recommendations. The financial guru David Bach recommends you start by asking the wealthiest people you know where they get their financial advice and getting at least 3 different recommendations (i.e. don’t hire the 1st person that’s recommended to you. Ask around). Finding a financial advisor through a referral will also ensure that you get great service. Professionals don’t want to disappoint clients from a strong referral network and risk missing out on future referrals.
  • Treat the 1st meeting like an interview, and you’re the interviewer. Click here for the top 10 questions to ask your advisor.
  • Do your homework. Check out the National Association of Securities Dealers website to find information on your potential advisor’s track record and any disciplinary action taken against him or her.

What Not To Do With A Financial Advisor

  • Accept his or her word as always right. Always do some of your own research and ask questions (better to feel stupid than be broke). If your advisor suggests a new investment, sleep on it and ask friends or colleagues for advice. While a financial advisor can push you in the right direction, the final outcome is in your hands. No one cares more about your money than you do.
  • Stay with someone that isn’t giving you the service or returns that you want. There are plenty of financial advisors out there. If you don’t like what you got, find a new one!

Final Thoughts
Not everyone wants or needs a financial advisor. Similarly, not everyone with an advisor has great finances. That said, for a recent college graduate with little idea how they’re doing financially and what they can do to reach their goals (or, more importantly, what their financial goals might be), doing your research and finding a good financial advisor early can save you lots of money and headaches later on.

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Filed under Financial Mistakes, Financial Resources, Investing

The 3 Stupidest Ways to “Save” Money

i'm with stupid

By now you’ve probably figured out that I’m completely in favor of 20somethings saving more money,  (Compound interest anyone? Small amounts saved today -i.e.  fewer meal at restaurants- turn into big amounts later on in life -i.e. more tropical vacations ).  That said, there are good and bad ways of doing so. Here is my tribute to the 3 most common ways in which smart people do stupid  things with the belief they are “saving” money……..

3.  Ignoring Small Problems Until They’re Big Problems

  • Health problems: While many health problems (an achy muscle, a weird pain)  go away for free  with some rest and relaxation, some pains (a painful tooth or an ignored cold that turns into a sinus infection) lead to larger expenditures down the line. You have to be the judge – if the potential cost (i.e. getting a tooth pulled) is  much larger than the cost of catching it now (i.e. getting a check up), suck it up and fix it now.
  • Financial problems: The same goes for financial problems.  Cost of paying a financial consultant now to sit down with you and map out your financial future? Fairly small. Cost of 19% interest on $20,000 in credit card debt (not to mention the wear and tear of the anxiety that debt creates)? Huge. Same goes for taxes. As prices for  tax prep services get more competitive, there is little reason not to take advantage of software of even a live professional to help you out if you’re tax clueless (for more information, check out my previous post “Beating the Tax Man in 4 Steps”). Doing your taxes right the 1st time is much, much cheaper than an audit.

2.  Buying Things Because They’re Cheap or  “On Sale”

  • Extras of things you already own: You see your favorite (fill in item here – shirt, widget, pair of pants, electronic doohickey) on sale and you think “Well, I use the one I have all the time, couldn’t hurt to have another one. And it’s 50% off! What if mine breaks? What if the neighbor’s pet snake eats it?” and the item goes home with you.  The problem is that the second of anything is rarely as exciting as the first, and by the time you break/lose/throw out an item there’s probably a newer, shinier version of it on the market you want instead. Resist buying things “just in case” and you’ll save yourself both time and money (remember that you’re paying not only the sticker price but also  interest if you bought it on a credit card,  the cost of a larger home or storage space to store extra items, and the lost opportunity cost of time spent cleaning your extra widgets that could be used traveling, hanging out with friends, or working).
  • Food: Yes, Burger King Whoppers and Ramen noodles are cheap now, but they lower your productivity (ever tried to write a stellar paper after eating a package of  Ho-Hos? Can anyone say “sugar crash”?) and can lead to more expensive health problems down the line (obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure to name a few). Full disclosure:  I am  the #1 culprit of this mistake (“but Beyond Beer Money, I’m skinny, I’m young, I exercise, I eat Ho-Hos and still write “A” papers”…) but even being the cookie monster that I am I’ve noticed a big difference after making simple changes.  I’m not recommending you start buying everything from Whole Foods Market ($7 for strawberries? No thanks.) but shopping at cheap, healthy places like Trader Jo’s (my personal favorite) and making small substitutes (spinach leaves > iceberg lettuce, juice > soda, lean meats/fish like chicken and salmon > hamburgers) can make a huge difference. It’s hard to change the world while you’re pumped full of processed sugar.

And the #1 Way People Waste Money Believing They are “Saving” It?

Drumroll please…….


1. Not Having Enough Health and/or Auto Insurance!

  • Yes, paying lower premiums now feels great, and no, no one out there really needs all of the kinds of coverage insurance companies will try to sell you, but paying for a reasonable level of insurance now can help you  avoid bankruptcy later. It can be confusing to figure out how much to get, but there are tons of good guides out there.
  • For car insurance, check out Smart Money’s Guide to Auto Insurance which offers a full explanation in real English.
  • For info on lower coverage health insurance plans for young people (such as temporary insurance and high deductible plans) I recommend starting here. Most companies offer some sort of health insurance option so go to HR and ask questions. You’d be surprised how much people miss out on great deals and benefits from the company they work for solely because they never asked.

If some readers feel they may notice a trend here, you’re right.  Your health is your greatest asset. It allows you to work and to enjoy the fruits of your labor. When it’s in trouble, it can easily drain your assets dry. Protect it.

Other stupid money “savers” I’ve left out that you or “your friends” (i.e. you) commit?

Comment or email me at mail.beermoney@gmail.com

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Filed under Financial Mistakes, Saving, Stop Being A Financial Idiot, The Psychology of Money

Beating the Tax Man in 4 Steps

“Yesterday the IRS announced that obese Americans are entitled to certain tax breaks. Apparently, under the new rules, you’re allowed to claim two or more chins as dependents.” —Conan O’Brien

taxman

Taxes suck. Nonetheless, if you know the basics and make smart decisions, you can avoid handing over your hard earned dough to the Tax Man.  Here are 4 steps to get you started.

1. Prepare ’em

  • Figure our which form to file. 1040EZ? 1040A? 1040XYZ? OK, I made that last one up, but the best starting point in doing your taxes is to figure out which form you should file to save the most money. Which form you file depends on a range of factors (single or married, income, etc…). For a handy dandy chart to help you decide, click here.
  • Decide who’s going to fill them out. For the truly tax clueless, tax preparers such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt can fill out simple returns and answer your questions for about $100. (A word of caution: NEVER use their service that gives you your rebate immediately. What they are really giving you is not your rebate but a loan based on your expected rebate at exorbitant interest rates.) For the DIY-ers out there, tax prep software has come a long way in the last few years. Turbo Tax and Tax Act dominate the market right now with increasingly easy to use interfaces and how to videos. Prices are low, they maintain your info from federal taxes to help you file state taxes, and you can avoid ever touching a piece of paper by filing them online.

2. Maximize Deductions & Credits. Deductions and credits reduce how much you owe in taxes. Keep in mind that if you don’t owe many taxes to begin with these won’t  help you.  Here are a few that are especially relevant to people in their 20s.

  • In school? Hope Scholarship Credit: A tax credit for up to 100% of your first $1,000 in tuition and fees and up to 50% for the second $1,000. You’ll get $1500 max. Can only be used in 1st 2 years of college.
  • In college more than 2 years? Lifetime Learning Credit: A tax credit of  20% of your tuition, room, board and expenses up to $10,000.  Max is $2,000.
  • Moved over 50 miles last year? You can deduct the cost of moving your body and your things to your new spot (Driving? You can deduct gas mileage, parking, and tolls). Check with your tax preparer of tax prep software to get current specs on what you can deduct and how much.

3. File ’em

For information on where to file…

  • Electronically – go here
  • The old fashioned way (paper) – go here

Note: MSN Money reminds you, “If you’re going to college in one state and spending summers at home in another, you could have two states vying for your tax dollars.”

4. Celebrate! Bored w/ playing beer pong every Friday night? Check out IRS’s attempt at providing resources that are relevant to today’s youth. The 75  (No, seriously. 75.) interactive  activities and games include Tax Word Scramble, and Tax Your Memory. Friday nights will never be the same.

Tax Fun

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Filed under Taxes

Job Schmob. Resumes & Cover Letters 101.

Because I understand that half of the path to financial independence is making money (the other half = not squandering it) and because job hunting season is in full swing on campus, here’s a quick refresher on resumes and cover letters.

Resumes

  • No longer than ONE PAGE.
  • Font –  Standard  (Times New Roman, Arial, etc..) and 10-12 size.
  • Formatting – Keep the formatting consistent throughout  (if one job title is in italics, all job titles should be in italics).
  • Order – Reverse chronological order within each category (Most recent experience 1st, next most recent experience 2nd, etc..).
  • Quantify actions & results whenever possible (“Raised $20,000” is more compelling than “Raised money.”  Ditto on “Managed 40 volunteers” v. “Managed volunteers”).
  • Put the most impressive/relevant experiences for the job you’re applying to in the top third of your resume. This is your chance to make a good 1st impression.
  • Verbs – Use varied and exciting verbs. (“Designed” not “Worked on.” Using any verb more than twice is a no no.)
  • High school – I’d advise only including high school only if it’s a well known school, is in the city in which you want to work, or you did something unusually impressive/unique (i.e. Founded international nonprofit to fight anablephobia in male monkeys).
  • Skills – Include foreign languages (Be honest – a friend of mine wrote “Spanish – Proficient” on his resume and was interviewed completely in Spanish. Needless to say,  2 years staring at the cute girl in front of him in his high school Spanish class had not adequately prepared him for this), computer skills (Microsoft Office, STATA, etc…), and lab skills.
  • Interests – Include only if you’re actually interested in them and they’re truly interesting. (ex: “Singing 17th century opera, mountain climbing in Africa” = yes. “Reading, running, photography” = no.) Interests show  the recruiter you’re a real person and are interested in the world outside of your school’s library. Can’t think of anything good? Don’t put anything.
  • Structure/ Order
  1. Contact Information – Name, address, phone, email
  2. Education  – University name, graduation year, study abroad programs, GPA and/or SAT score (if requested)
  3. Relevant Experience – The most impressive/most relevant experience for the job you’re applying for
  4. Other Experiences – Grouped by category (Research Experience, Leadership Experience, etc…)
  5. Skills/Interests – 1-2 lines
  6. “References available upon Request.” PSYCHE! DO NOT INCLUDE THIS! It’s outdated and occupies space unnecessarily (We’d hope by the time you’re over 22 that someone can put in a good word for you, right?)

Cover Letters

  • No longer than ONE PAGE
  • Pick 3 activities (max) that you want to explain in more detail. Don’t regurgitate your entire resume.
  • Link each experience to the job you’re applying for (ex: I did X and learned X which will help me do X at “Company Name”)
  • Focus on how you approached each problem and broke it into pieces.
  • Highlight any results or success you’ve had that were based on your unique contribution and times you took initiative or went “above and beyond”
  • Structure
  1. Introduction/Why do you want to work for Company X?
  2. I am so great because I did this.
  3. I am also great because I did this.
  4. Closing/Thanks/I look forward to working for Company X.

Last Notes

  • Creativity – Resumes and cover letters are not the place to showcase your brilliant and daring creativity.  I’d stick pretty closely to whatever format is suggested and save the creativity for your next modern dance recital.
  • Double check that the recruiter’s name and company name are spelled right. Nothing is worse than sending a cover letter talking about how much you want to work at Apple to Microsoft.
  • Looking for an example? Here’s an resume and cover letter resume and cover letter that is a mash up of several good ones I’ve seen. This is not meant as an ideal to be copied exactly, but one example of what it looks like when you follow the guidelines above.

Sample Resume and Cover Letter

  • Lastly, don’t take anything anyone (even Beyond Beer Money) tells you about resumes & cover letters too seriously. Every opportunity is different, and resumes and cover letters are read by people – meaning that each reader is intrigued by slightly different things.

GOOD LUCK!

Do you have something to add? Disagree? Want advice? Comment, or email beermoney.mail@gmail.com.

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Filed under Career

If You Do Nothing Else…Follow this #1, Best, Most Important Money Tip Out There

Are you ready for this? Are you sure? The one thing financial gurus, blogs, talk show hosts, authors and billionaires all agree is the most important step to being financially independent  (and certainly to being rich). If you do this for 2 months you will blow yourself away. Here it is………..

TRACK EVERY DOLLAR YOU SPEND!

(for at least 2 months)

Why?

  • You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken    – I started doing this last summer and within the 1st 2 months realized I was spending more than 25% of my food budget on ice cream!! 25%!!!!! Ice cream!! I like ice cream (obviously) but I like having the money to do whatever the heck I want more. Needless to say, I now think twice before making a Ben & Jerry’s run with friends.
  • You’re likely to spend less money.    – 1. Because you’ll be more aware of your spending ($5 of my hard earned money on a crappy magazine? I don’t think so.) and  2. Because keeping track of your spending is a pain in the butt. (I all but stopped buy gum at convenience stores when I started keeping track of my spending because recording it was annoying. Now, I buy gum in bulk when I go grocery shopping – which is cheaper than buying a pack at a time anyway.)

How?
Create a log that’s convenient for you (the key goal here is that you use it, so keep it simple)

BudgetSnapshot

  • Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets –  This is how I do it. I like this because it’s  simple and makes it easy to divide the money I spend into categories. Also, seeing it on my desktop while I’m wasting time stumbling around online reminds me to fill it in. To get a free sample templates of how I organize tracking my expenses,  email me at beermoney.mail@gmail.com.
  • By hand –   A moleskine or other small notebook works well and is portable. I’d suggest coming up with 5 or fewer categories and for each month, labeling the top of 5 consecutive pages w/ your categories (i.e. Pg.1 – Transportation, Pg. 2 – Rent + Utilities, Pg. 3 – Entertainment, etc…)
  • Online –    For technology geeks out there, Quicken now offers its software for free online. I’d recommend this only if you feel comfortable using it and are likely to stick with it.

Tips

  • Fill it in at least every few days – if you wait any longer  you’ll forget what you bought
  • Use your debit card -that way you can check what you remember buying against the online log of debit card transactions (Note:  Looking at your account online does not substitute for tracking it on your own. It’s not divided by categories so you won’t see your spending patterns as clearly)
  • Make it part of your procrastination routine – We all waste time on trivial things (facebook, twitter, etc..). Why not spend a couple minutes updating your budget whenever you’re tempted to check the facebook status of that kid you went to 3rd grade with? Hey, whatever works.
  • Be Honest .  – The goal is to “track your spending” not “track your spending on things that you’re proud to spend money on” If you spend $80 at Fuzzy’s Liquor store, that needs to go in your record (although maybe not in your next letter home). Remember: this is for your benefit and your eyes only. Be honest.
  • Include everything. -Example Categories: Food (Groceries, Eating Out), Transportation (car payments, bus pass, gas), Housing (rent, utilities – gas, water, electric, phone, internet), Entertainment, Insurance, Financials (student debt, credit card payments), Health/Beauty (clothes, gym membership, toiletries), Pets, Misc

GOOD LUCK!!! Email me and let me know how it’s going at beermoney.mail@gmail.com

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Filed under Financial Mistakes

Credit Card Basics – Top 4

1. Don’t carry a credit card balance!

Weird advice, I realize, considering the whole idea of credit is the joy of spending money you don’t have. That said, paying 18% interest to a credit card company is pretty similar to throwing your cash out the window.  I recommend getting a credit card because they are convenient and it’s important to build your credit – but only if you can pay off the minimum balance each month.

2. Pick a good credit card

…Preferably one that will give you rewards you will actually use (like cash back, but check the percentage, 1% cash back is not going to fund your trip to Tahiti) and has an easy online interface. I’m a big fan of Capital One credit cards because they’re very customizable, customer service is good, and their website is easy to navigate.

For other card recommendations, check out credit card recommendations for new college grads on www.moneysmartlife.com and/or www.moneyunder30.com.

3. Get your FREE yearly credit report. Every year.

A better use of the time you spend facebook stalking ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, go to:  www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

There are 3 companies that track your credit. Check all once per year or 1 every 4 months. Make sure to fix any mistakes before they can negatively affect your credit score (making it harder to borrow money for a home or other investment).

4. Ask for a lower rate!

Call your credit card company once every 6 months and ask for a lower rate. They’ll usually say yes, and while it’s best not to carry a balance, if you’re going to have a balance might as well have a low rate.

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