Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Boost Your Credit Score and Get a Free Vacation

I take great advantage of credit card offers. We do have a couple of cards that we carry a balance on and over the years the balance has gone up and down but never completely away. That said, I have also never paid interest on those balances. On average I open and close about 5-6 credit cards a year, taking advantage of 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases. I try to get only cards with this offer good for at least 12 months to minimize balance transfer fees. The fee to transfer a balance is usually 3% but it is a one time fee and some cards cap it at $75-$99 per transfer. So that is 3% (or less) APR for the year. Can't beat those rates. And it has not seemed to affect my credit rating - if anything it has probably improved it over the years as I have many examples of cards with a relatively high balance being paid off each year. I have done this for more than 10 years and my credit score is very good.

Another way I take advantage of credit cards is with rewards. I have a shell card which I pay off each month and only use for gas. At 5% credit toward shell gas purchases, I can figure $.15 to $.21 a gallon off at 5% - well worth it! My last two statements have had $33 and $26 credits from gas purchases. No yearly fee on this card.

Both my husband and I got American Express gold cards this year and received 100,000 AE points, (50,000 each account) enough for 4 domestic airline tickets (at least for Alaska Airlines flights). And yes I have checked and I can pretty much choose my dates and times for Alaska Airlines flights right now using those points. The first year membership fees are waived. I am coming up on my membership fee being due this spring, so to get the most out of the offer I will have to book a flight by then and cancel the card. But even if I don't, I can transfer the points to my Priority Club account, although 50,000 AE points only gets me 10,000 PC points.

So that brings me to Priority Club. If you don't have a membership and you do ANY traveling, you need to sign up for one. It's free. Use it when booking and checking into hotels and get points. Points can be used for a free night stay at participating hotels (usually starting at around 10,000 points per night) or converted to airline miles for a variety of airlines. Right now, you can also sign up for a Priority Club credit card through Chase with 0% purchases and balance transfers for 6 months and get 30,000 bonus points to your Priority Club account. That is 3 nights of hotel stay. Just make one purchase, (no small print as to the size of the purchase) to get your points. Then you can cancel the card at any time. Yearly fee for the card is waived for the first year.

So - for FREE you can get 2 domestic airline tickets and 3 nights stay in a hotel. If both you and your spouse sign up separately, that would be 4 airline tickets and 6 nights hotel!

Does it work? I haven't tried using priority club points yet but I have taken two vacations in the past year and a half with free airline tickets. Last year we used 25,000 capital one points to purchase one ticket from Portland to Orlando, and 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles to purchase the other two so the three of us flew to Disneyworld for free. No problem at all getting the reservations booked. The previous summer we flew to Disneyland using 25,000 capital one miles to book one ticket, and buying the second ticket so we could use Alaska Airlines kids fly free to get Jaxon's ticket free. So again, 3 airline tickets for the price of one and no problem at all booking the flights we wanted.

If you fly Alaska Air, you can also get 20,000 bonus miles by signing up for a Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit card. We did that last year and again, no problem getting and using our points. This card also gives you one voucher per year for a $50 companion fare ticket. Used that when Jaxon and I flew home to Seattle last fall.

The caveat if you are doing balance transfers - you have to be responsible if you expect to keep your 0%APR. Generally, when you first set up the credit card, you can select your billing date. I get paid on the 15th and 30th of each month. My end of the month check pays the mortgage so I try to keep all other bills after the 15th. I usually pick the 20th of the month for a payment due date. As SOON AS I GET PAID on the 15th I go online and schedule a payment for each credit card. Sometimes, I even set the credit card account to auto pay the minimum balance each month on the 20th. If you are late on your minimum payment by even ONE DAY the APR will default, often to an extremely high rate, 20-29%. I am ABSOLUTELY SURE TO NEVER be late on a credit card payment. EVER.

Another thing to consider, although I always transfer my balances before the 0% APR expires, I make sure that if I were not able to transfer again, the rate would not be horrendous. Most of my cards would be 9.9-12.9% if the 0% ended. When I get the card, I write in permanent marker on the front the month that the 0% will end to remind me to transfer the balance and close the card before the offer ends. With these tips in mind, I have never had a problem doing this.

I recently worried that with the lending crunch I would not get approval on a new 0% card, or that if I did the credit limit would be so low that it wouldn't matter. This is not the case. I have recently applied for a few with no problem.

And anyone thinking I may be a good target for identity theft? Forget it. I religiously watch my accounts and my credit reports.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Whew - it passed! (Weird isn't it that this article is from Zimbabwe News? It was the first on a google search for "house vote bailout")

I also found this article which I think is extremely informative and hopeful. I am not much into economics or the market so I haven't really formed opinions about the players, but this article put Warren Buffet in a good light in my mind.

Scathing But Right On

I thought this summary of the debate by Robert Shrum was really good....

And They're Already On Top of It!

Huh, as you can tell from my last post this is a BIG issue for me. Looks like Obama already has an add out capturing most of the points I made.

The Debate

Watched the debate last night at a bar right next to the Obama headquarters. They had a room set up upstairs with the debate on a big screen and a packed room. It was like watching a sporting event (which John and I never do) with the cheering, laughing, groaning, and excited commentary. I thought Biden was fantastic. I thought a couple of times that he looked a bit like he wanted to shove a pencil through his eye, but who could blame him? However, he remained calm, cool, poised, and eloquent through the whole thing. Even when he felt the need to retaliate at the implication that he didn't understand what it was like to wonder whether or not a child would "make it" in recovering from a life-threatening medical situation, he held it together and it didn't come off like a grasp for sympathy. It was simply an 'ok, you went there and I am going to make a brief but pointed response and move on'.

I thought AriannaH. comments summed it up well...
"Watching Biden and Palin on the same stage was like watching a tennis champion walk onto Centre Court at Wimbledon only to find himself facing an over-eager amateur from the local high school."

And this quote from Sam Stein was pretty much right on target "...while Sarah Palin exceeded the exceedingly low expectations set for her, Joe Biden won the night." I think I used a bit more forcefull language though.

Did you see her blow a kiss to the crowd as she walked out? Yeah, very vice presidential. And the winking? Good lord woman! That's what we need, charm and flirting! Who needs to sit down and talk and talk through complex issues with world leaders? Just blow 'em a kiss and wink!

And did you yell "what the hell???" along with us when they were talking about foreign policy and the wars and she suddenly switched to talking about energy?

Ok - enough about Palin. I could go on for quite a while.

I loved how despite her sprinting in the opposite direction of half of the questions asked, when the camera turned to Biden, he would promptly and precisely answer the original question (without having to re-ask what the question was) and go on to also address whatever tanget she had gone off on, all well within his allotted 2 minutes.

I thought this post by Leah McElrath Renna was spot on. It's short - take a minute to read it. Joe's Tears: the Political Power of Paternal Love Yeah, he got choked up. But it was real, and he wouldn't have gone there had Palen not dragged him there. I think most of the room teared up with him.

So which issue fired me up? Well, many did, but I think the health care issue is one of the most important to me and I get frustrated that it is never covered in more depth.

I cannot understand how anyone thinks a $5,000 tax credit for health care is any sort of solution.

The average cost for a family health care plan per year is $12,000. Most who can afford that already have coverage through their job. Those that don't have coverage are lucky if they make $30,000 a year. They probably don't. Most of them could not afford to spend $12,000 a year on a house much less adding health care on top of that. And that is if they could even GET coverage in the first place. When you get coverage through an employer, the insurance company HAS to cover you and your family, pre-existing conditions and all. When John and I first moved, there were a few months before we got jobs that we weren't covered. I tried to go and get basic coverage (you know, for major health issues/accidents, etc) and we got DENIED. We were 29 and 31 and VERY healthy at the time. Why did we get denied? Because I had pulled a muscle in my neck while packing for the move and made the mistake of getting some muscle relaxants from my Dr. - therefore, I had a "pre-existing condition" so they wouldn't cover us. Despite the fact that the muscle pull was all better the next week.

Back to the $5,000 credit. Remeber - coverage cost is $12,000/year IF YOU CAN GET IT and this means you have to pay the other $7,000 out of pocket. Oh, and by the way, the premiums would no longer be tax deductable. See, right now, even though my employer covers most of the cost of my insurance, that cost is not factored into my salary, and therefore, I don't pay any taxes on that portion of my "income". If I had to pay taxes on an additional $12,000 a year that would be roughly $3,600 (including medicare and social security and state income taxes)so bottom line I would pay an additional $12,000 out of pocket and net $1,400 less in tax payments. Yup. Biden called it - the McCain/Palin health care plan is a "bridge to nowhere."

Great. So with McCain, my taxable income just went up 20%. I make around $60,000 a year. Not bad, but definitely a mid to lower middle class income. Pretty much the low side of average. So here's some further food for thought currently I "pay" 20% of my "income" in health care. It just doesn't come to me first and I don't have to pay taxes on it. Any yet we balk at the thought of our taxes going up to cover the cost of health care? People, individually, those of us with coverage are ALREADY PAYING MORE THAN WE WOULD if we had national health care coverage for everyone. Let's just do it already ok? It will ultimately cost less and EVERYONE gets covered.

And talk about trying to support the creation of more small businesses? Well let me tell you, a HUGE reason more people don't start their own business is they either can't get, or could not afford health insurance on their own. And even if they could afford their own, they usually cannot offer it for their employees.

Ok - enough about that...

People, if this country elects McCain/Palin not only are we in serious trouble, the rest of the world is going to write us off. Most of the world was already incredulous that we elected GW the first time, and flabergasted (along with the rest of us democrats) that he actually got re-elected. Now we have a ticket with McSame and Cariboo Barbie? (I can't take credit for those names but I have wholeheartedly adopted them) Our reputation with the rest of the world is hanging by a thread - if they get elected I can pretty much guarantee that thread is going to SNAP!!!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Should McCain ditch Palin?

Hell no! (Of course if the election goes the wrong way I may feel differently!) She's the best thing that could have happened for Obama's campaign...

McCain Campain Lies

Ok - just have to spread this around some more....

Jack Cafferty Tells Us How He Really Feels About Sarah Palin

I LOVE his response at the end. I just don't understand why everyone doesn't agree.

On a side note though, Katie? Do YOU understand this issue AT ALL either? Once again, this is NOT about getting money into the economy. This is about getting lending back on track. I think part of the problem was Katie didn't ask the right question. Oh god-that sounded like I just defended Palin... I wholeheartedly agree with Jack on that, "That is one of the most pathetic pieces of tape I have ever seen for someone aspiring to one of the highest offices in this country....There's no excuse for that she's supposed to know a little bit of this. Don't make excuses for her. That's pathetic."

Go Jack!

Do the Math

I am sure you have all received an email about "The Birk Plan" by now, and hopefully have either "done the math" or did a search to counter it and found out the glaring error in the "plan". If not see this post ... then continue - be sure to read the other links in that post to get the background.

Ok, aside from the math, there is one other glaring problem. This "plan" even if the math was right, wouldn't solve anything. This is a major part of the problem. People do NOT understand what the problem really is, how it was caused, or why a "bailout" (which is really NOT what is on the table) is needed. Now I am not claiming that I understand any of this either, but I DO understand that there is a LOT of misunderstanding and misinformation floating around out there.

Here is a link that I think gives a pretty good explaination of where we are and how we got here. How it all happened.