When Verizon announced their Share Everything plans a month or so ago, I was really excited. Other major cell phone providers in America only allow you to share voice minutes and text, but Verizon will be the first to allow you to share data. Then they announced their prices and it seemed excessively overpriced. Each smartphone was an additional $40, which was similar to before ($10 line access + $30 data plan), but instead of getting its own pool of 2GB of data, we now share the data allotment.
So I was very skeptical about the new plans and it appears they received a lot of backlash for the pricing. I didn’t bother researching much further into it.
I forget where I saw it, but a Verizon Share Everything Plan ad mentioned mobile hotspot. After a bit of research, I found out that every device has included mobile hotspot at no extra charge! This was something I currently pay $20/mo for just 1 line. If I wanted it on multiple lines, it’ll cost an extra $20 per line.
Yes, it does use your shared data allotment, but I use the mobile hotspot mainly when WiFi isn’t readily available and keep it mainly for emergencies.
Did I mention the Share Everything plan includes unlimited talk and unlimited text. Not something I really care about anymore, but am happy it’s something I don’t have to worry about going over anymore.
So to break things down, here’s my previous plan:
700 shared minutes
250 text messages on 1st line; 1000 text messages on 2nd line
Unlimited data on 1st line; 2GB data on 2nd line; 2GB data on Mobile Hotspot
Total cost came to $160/month.
The new Share Everything plan:
Unlimited shared minutes
Unlimited shared text
2GB of shared data
Total cost came to $140/month. Definitely worth it.
I’ve calculated that we use less than 1GB of data combined per month, so I’ve opted for the 2GB plan for now, but it’s only $10 more to upgrade to 4GB or $20 more to upgrade to 6GB.
Another interesting thing for tablet users is that the monthly line access fee is $10 (instead of the $40 for smartphones). So you can add a iPad to your plan for $10 and it’ll share your data allotment. I always found $30/month to get 3G access to your iPad to be excessive, but for $10, it might not be that bad.
So as I mentioned a couple days ago, I’ve been playing with the Apple’s Cards App on my iPhone 4S and have been mostly satisfied with the experience so far, but I hit into a couple hitches today.
The first thing I noticed was the server was overloaded this afternoon. Half the time, I would get an alert telling me there was a problem connecting to the server and to try again later. But if I tap Buy again, it usually went through.
Then I got to a point where my card was being declined. I logged into my credit card’s website and looked at the pending transactions:
No, I didn’t create that many cards. Half of them are $1 authorizations. Of the remaining half, about 1/3 are duplicates from server failures, which I’m hoping I won’t be charged as these duplicate orders don’t show up under my account. The cards are $2.99 each + tax. If you want to deliver them internationally, it’s $4.99 + tax.
So I expected a call from my credit card fraud/security team, but that call never came. I eventually called customer support myself assuming that the flood of Apple transactions was the cause of my card being declined. After speaking with someone on the security team, it turns out there’s a limit of 25 transactions per day before my card starts rejecting additional charges. And each of those $1 authorizations count toward that limit.
Here’s my suggestion to Apple: Please group multiple card orders like you group iTunes purchases and make one charge at the end of the day. Given it’s the holiday season, the perfect time for someone to use your Cards app, sending out 13+ cards should not be uncommon and that assume I won’t be using the credit card anywhere else that day. Plus with your server issues, some charges are showing up twice. If needed, I can even create all the cards I want beforehand and then submit them all to be charged together, but that’s currently not an option via your app. This would not only avoid having so many transactions which would easily trigger fraud alerts, but you wouldn’t have to make so many separate authorization checks. Plus it’s better for you in the long run too, since you’ll be saving on per transaction credit card fees.
I’ve already submitted the same feedback at Apple – Cards – Feedback. Hopefully we’ll see this fixed soon before the holidays are over.
Some of you probably read my article on Health Savings Account previously. Unfortunately that plan didn’t ultimately go through for a couple reasons.
When I was at US Bank, because of how relatively new HSAs are, not even the on-site manager quite knew what to do. They told me they’d get back to me once the other manager comes in on Monday.
I also found out I would be covered by my work health insurance shortly and that complicated things on how much I would be able to contribute. Because I was covered for 9 months of the year under an HDHP plan, I would only be able to contribute a that portion of the annual limit of $3,050. 9 months doesn’t quite get me to $2,500 which was the minimum balance to have my monthly fee waived at US Bank.
US Bank also didn’t have investment HSAs, which meant I’d only be earning a measly fraction of a percent interest rate. I’ve looked at a couple of investment HSAs and most charge a substantial fee for for the ability to trade stocks.
I finally got around to searching for more HSA providers. I was hoping Fidelity would have HSAs wince all my investment accounts are already at Fidelity. Fidelity does have HSAs, but they’re only for businesses. I found this rather useful site: Administrators Offering Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) which allows you to search for regional and national banks which provide HSAs.
After going through the list of Washington HSA administrators, most which were very poor at describing their HSA, I ended up on Saturna Capital. Their brochure and website was quite useful in explaining how HSAs worked at their bank.
They have a no-fee HSA account if you invest in any of their 9 mutual funds. No setup fee, no transfer fee, no monthly/annual fee. You also have the option of investing in any stock of your choice, where trades are at ~$15 each. Much more info is provided in their brochure.
So I’ve had a couple emails back and forth with Matt, one of their customer support reps, inquiring on certain aspects of my situation. Here’s what I found out.
You don’t actually need an HDHP to open an HSA account, only to contribute to it. Transferring from another HSA is fine.
The contribution limit is pro-rated on a monthly basis. Because I was under a HDHP for 9 months, I get to contribute up to 75% of $3,050 = $2287.50. I have till the tax filing deadline in April 2012 to make this contribution. Subtract the initial contribution Microsoft gave me of $1,500, I can still contribute $787.50.
There are 2 ways to transfer an HSA from one bank to another. 1. Obtain a Trustee to Trustee Transfer Form from the new bank and provide it to your current bank. 2. First open an account with your new bank and provide the new account information to the current bank as part of the exit paperwork. One thing US Bank kept insisting was the latter option, when I kept trying to tell me that UMB required a Trustee to Trustee Transfer Form, which they weren’t able to provide me.
So during benefits election last year at Microsoft, I had opted to try their new HSA (Health Savings Account) health insurance plan. Given that I hardly ever used my health insurance, having a tax-deductible/tax-free account that I can keep around for later use for health-related expenses made sense. There was also the fact that the $1,500 amount that Microsoft contributed to my HSA pretty much covered the entire deductible, meaning at most I’d have to shell out ~$100 and have the exact same medical benefits that the original premium plan.
After leaving Microsoft and looking back, it turned out to be a much better decision than I had originally anticipated. I got to keep the money they had already contributed to my account and instead of paying close to $1000/mo for premium health insurance, I only have to pay $289/mo (which includes both dental and vision). The fact that I’m still on a HDHP (high-deductible health plan) means I still qualify to contribute to my HSA.
So one of the downside is that UMB (the bank where my HSA is located) charges a $5.50 monthly fee. When I worked at Microsoft, they took care of the fee. This fee has been slowly eating away at my savings. I finally got off my lazy ass and inquired if there was a way to waive the fee (e.g. minimum balance or monthly deposits). Unfortunately, the UMB rep I spoke with said there wasn’t any way to waive the fee.
I also found out that the yearly contribution limit is $3,050 for individuals and unlike our 401K, the $1,500 that Microsoft contributed counts towards that limit. That means for 2011, I can still contribute $1,550. The limit goes up to $3,100 for 2012.
I then asked what the procedures for transferring my HSA account to another bank was and it turned out to be rather simple. I need to get the Trustee to Trustee transfer form from the bank I want to transfer to and submit it to UMB. There’s a small fee of $15 to transfer, but it sounds simple enough.
I started researching on HSA providers and found that most charge a monthly or annual fee and hardly anyone waives them, though most of them were cheaper than UMB (usually ranging between $2-3/mo or $25/yr). The best one I’ve found so far is US Bank which has a monthly fee of $2.50 but can be waived if the account balance is $2,500 or more.
Another thing I’ve been looking for are accounts which let me invest the savings (stock market/mutual funds). I did find a couple, but still am researching on which one is the best.
If anyone has any advice or recommendations, I’m all ears. (^_^x)
Apparently just secure isn’t good enough, now there’s 3D Secure! While I was checking out of DealExtreme (was looking for a pouch, but also ended up picking a mushroom plush), I was prompted with the following screen:
Apparently 3-D Secure is a real thing and DealExtreme didn’t just make it up! According to Wikipedia:
3-D Secure is an XML-based protocol used as an added layer of security for online credit and debit card transactions. It was developed by Visa to improve the security of Internet payments and offered to customers as the Verified by Visa service. Services based on the protocol have also been adopted by MasterCard, under the name MasterCard SecureCode, and by JCB International as J/Secure. American Express has added SafeKey to UK and Singapore on 8 November 2010.
This authentication is based on a three domain model (hence the 3-D in the name). The three domains are:
Acquirer Domain (the merchant and the bank to which money is being paid).
Issuer Domain (the bank which issued the card being used).
Interoperability Domain (the infrastructure provided by the credit card scheme to support the 3-D Secure protocol).
I’ve been speaking about getting a new car for a long time, something to replace my Honda Civic, and it looks like it finally happened. Initially I wanted an Audi. First the A4, then the Audi S4, and then Chris got me thinking about the Audi S5. I also looked at the Lexus IS250 / IS350 and even though tons of friends told me how fun that car was, a couple of friends (who I take car advice from) convinced me of otherwise (not that it wasn’t fun, but that there were deficiencies that made other cars better in its class). Then I started asking myself if I wanted new or used. Of course I would like something shiny and new, but in the class of cars I was looking at, they depreciated so fast I would save a lot of money buying used. Then I heard about the Tesla Model S and fell in love, but it wasn’t coming out until 2012. I figured my Civic could probably last me until then or until I could decide on something I wanted.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, I had to buy a car soon and that’s when I enlisted Derek’s help. He asked what my price range was and what type of cars I was interested. I decided I would have a budget of $50k and the types of cars I was interested were sporty small/medium sized cars. He suggested a new or used BMW 135i or BMW 335i would suit me. He also told me to start the process of getting approval for an auto loan. After comparing the costs of a new vs used vehicles and discussing with Derek, I think it made more sense for me to get used. I would be able to save ~40% if I bought a 2 year old BMW. Another interesting thing is the warranty is extended by 2 years if you buy BMW CPO (Certified Pre-Own) and the free maintenance will continue from when the original owner purchased it. That actually sold me on getting a BMW. I don’t have to worry about maintenance for 2 years and the warranty would last 4 more years.
After researching auto loans online, I went with PenFed which had a 3.25% rate for 60 months for used vehicles. I was able to apply for up to $50,000 which was convenient. Unfortunately I found out the next day that my loan was not ready, despite the fact I had expressed it. I called in to find out what was wrong and apparently they saw 2 mortgages on my credit report and asked if I had a rental property or had a co-signer. I explained I had recently refinanced and that may be why 2 mortgages were showing up. I faxed in proof that I had paid off my previous mortgage and my loan was pre-approved. I understand I may actually be able to get better financing at dealerships, but I wanted to have an alternative option to fall back on.
That weekend, Derek and I went car shopping. We hit up both BMW Northwest and BMW Seattle. BMW Bellevue didn’t really have any cars I wanted to look at, plus I’ve heard horror stories about how they treat customers. I had decided early on that the BMW 135i was a bit too tiny for my taste, but I did like the BMW 335i. Derek was trying to convince me to get the coupe, but after looking at the coupe vs the sedan, I preferred the look of the sedan more. It was unfortunate that it was raining the day we went, but I still had fun test driving. It’s weird that the 1st car we looked up ended up being the car I ultimately purchased. It was the right color and it had a really nice set of options. It came with the premium and sports packages, navigation, HD radio, iPod adapter, and some other nice perks. The only thing we figured it was missing was the cold weather package. And as Derek says, it’s also missing a nice set of wheels. I think it comes with the stock sports wheels.
But we didn’t purchase that day since my auto-loan check hadn’t arrived yet, and I didn’t want to be cornered into using their financing. While I waited for my check to arrive, I continued to monitor for new cars. It’s funny how Derek was more worried about the car’s history than I was. He went through the Carfax report trying to figure out what everything meant and did a much better inspection of the car than I could ever have. I guess that’s why he’s the guy to look to for these kinds of things. He was definitely a better negotiator than I was as I probably would’ve admitted defeat a lot earlier on.
The check finally arrived and Derek and I scheduled to go down on Thursday. I confirmed Thursday morning that the car was still available and we drove down to BMW Northwest. This is the first time I actively participated in negotiating a car’s price, since my dad was the one who did all the negotiating for my Honda Civic. It was an interesting back and forth and my sales guy brought out the infamous 4 squares sheet. Though after our first round of negotiation, he pretty much scrapped that sheet as he knew we wouldn’t bother with it. All in all, I had a rather pleasant experience and it was a lot better than I had expected it to be. Derek and I were able to get the price knocked down by ~$2000, and got them to throw in some mats + fix the siding which popped out a bit more than normal. We were also trying to get them to replace one of the tires because the treading looked non-existent, but they wouldn’t budge on that.
Something else I found out about the car is that the original owner had purchased extended maintenance, which means not only do I have an extended warranty, but my free maintenance is also extended to 11/2014. We discussed financing and BMW was able to offer me 2.90% for 60 months which I took. Of course they tried to up sell the warranty and other protection plans, but they weren’t pushy at all. When I declined them, we just moved on. I had put $5,000 down and apparently I was able to charge $3,000 to my credit card (Derek found that out for me). At 2% cash back, that’s an extra $60 in savings! Another fun fact, BMW Northwest being in Tacoma has a lower sales tax than King County (9.6% vs 9.8%). That’s an additional ~$60 in savings.
Since they had to fix the siding, I was unable to take the car home that same day. It’s a bit sad after buying such a nice toy that you can’t take it home immediately. Fortunately my sales guy called me up early this morning and told me my car was ready. I wouldn’t be able to get down there before he left, so he offered to drive it up to me, which worked out great. Interestingly, they replaced the tire that we had requested but was denied during negotiations. Both Derek and I found that to be very weird, since when have you heard the dealer throwing in such a big bonus after he’s already sold you the car. Either he really wanted to make me happy or my only other explanation was that the tire really didn’t meet CPO specification and they were required to replace it.
I’ve been going through the owner’s manual and this is one complicated beautiful piece of machine. There’s SO MANY buttons. While driving over to Derek’s after I got the car today, I accidentally hit the paddle shifts and it went into manual mode. I didn’t know how to change it back to D. I shifted from M5 down to M2 and then back up to M5. At a stop light, I ended up shifting to N and then back to D and things worked normally afterwards. I would later find out that my gear stick can move left and right while on D, which is how you switch between manual and automatic.
The car comes with navigation, but it turns out in order to use it, you have to have the navigation DVD in the system. I found that a bit weird, but it’s not like I’m going to use the DVD player for anything else. Another interesting thing is the cruise control stick is completely different from any other system I’ve used previously.
It took me forever to figure out how to program the garage opener. Apparently hold the remote 4-12″ away really means hold remote right next to it. I also found it a bit weird that my car has to be on in order to use the garage door openers. It’s nice now that I have both doors programmed into it.
Derek’s been teaching me lessons in the art of owning a BMW. Here’s what I remembered so far:
Never touch the paint.
Never go through a car wash.
Don’t rev car beyond the moving target in the tachometer.
Get 3 sets of wheels, one for each season + a spare set.
Don’t ever drive in the snow.
Park far away from everyone.
Now I’m afraid to go to Costco. ;p
After replacing this car in my Progressive auto insurance plan, my 6-month rate increased from $403 to ~$750, almost doubling it. Most of the increase came from the collision, which itself was almost $400. I increased my deductibles for collision and comprehensive from $500 to $1000 and my insurance rate is now ~$650. Still quite high, but I guess that’s what you get for owning an expensive car.
Just completed my refinance with RMCVanguard, at least I think the refinance is completed since I signed all the documents via a notary agent and that Bank of America sent me a “Mortgage Payoff Processed” email. Went through some hurdles, but ultimately completed it in the end.
I had refinanced once in between from 6.625% to 5.125% (30 year fixed) with a different mortgage company I wouldn’t recommend. They were slow to respond to my emails and it took several calls to get through to them.
I’ve been monitoring the mortgage rates and my dad was trying to convince me to switch to a 15 year mortgage which was around 3.75% at that time. I did some calculation and 15 years at 3.75% would make my monthly personal spending extremely slim. I’ve gotten way too used to buying things whenever I want without having to worry about the price. Haha. It’s probably why people keep telling me it’s hard to figure out what present to get me. If I ever want anything, I would’ve purchased it already. ;p
I spoke with Jesse about this awhile back and he said he was in a similar situation and was thinking of refinancing. 15 years made his monthly payment too high, but he was considering 20 years. Interesting thought and after I did my own calculations, 20 years would work out great for me too. So I began to monitor mortgage rates for 20 years.
I guess it was providence when RMCVanguard emailed asking if I was looking into refinancing. RMCVanguard was who I originally used when I first purchased my house. They were quick, easy, and professional. I asked him for rates for 20 year mortgage and he came back with 4.375%. I didn’t get a chance to reply until a few weeks later and told him I would want to wait till it hit 4.00% before refinancing. Within those few weeks, the mortgage rate apparently dropped to 4.00% and we got the ball rolling.
Most of the process was smooth, besides the appraisal. The guy who did my appraisal short changed me in square footage by almost 200sqft, and the appraised value put me at less than 5% ownership of the house. Because I owned less than 15% of the house, they could not give me the 4.00% rate, but was willing to give me a 4.125% instead. I objected to the appraisal and gave my previous 2 appraisals (one which was done previously by another appraiser sent by RMCVanguard). Apparently mortgage companies aren’t allowed to contact the appraisers directly, but instead have to go through some intermediary agent due to new mortgage legislation after the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.
After a couple times back and forth where I claim the appraisal is wrong and the appraiser claiming he made no mistake, the appraiser finally admitted he made a mistake, but wasn’t willing to change the appraised value. I’m like super pissed and sent off an email to the attorney general. Not sure if that had anything to do with it, but a few days later, I got another email from my mortgage broker informing me that the appraiser has submitted a new appraisal with an updated value. However it was still below 10%, so I still didn’t qualify for the 4.00% rate. At this time, I saw that mortgage rates had began to climb and decided to go with 4.125% and our refinance continue.
After that, things were pretty straight forward.
Side note, if you have a complaint regarding real estate services/agents, apparently you should submit them to DOL. Here’s the reply I got back from the Attorney General – Consumer Protection Division:
Our office has received your correspondence.
We have reviewed your complaint and determined that we are not the appropriate agency to assist you. We will retain a copy of your complaint in our public records. We have forwarded a copy of your complaint to:
Dept of Licensing – Real Estate Appraisers PO Box 9048 Olympia, WA 98507-9048 www.dol.wa.gov
We recommend that you contact them directly if you have any additional information to add to your file.
Although we are unable to assist you with this matter, we appreciate you contacting our office.
Recently I’ve been hearing on the radio ads suggesting listeners to be unique/special and instead of giving a plain old boring gift this year, to donate in the name of the gift recipient. Personally I think it’s one of the worse presents ever. If you’re going to donate, donate because you want to. Don’t donate because you feel like you’re doing the recipient something special.
With my recent donation to Child’s Play (participate and you can win cool prizes from Ars Technica), it got me thinking about tax write-offs.
I brought this up over dinner and asked who gets to actually write it off? Assume Robert donated $100 to charity in John’s name. Technically that donation is tax deductible, but who gets to write it off their income while filing for taxes? Robert because it was really his donation? or John because Robert donated in John’s name?
Chad brought up an interesting point and that is that technically if John was to write it off, he would have to claim he received $100 from John (as income) and donated it (as tax-deductible expense), making it a net zero change. $100 probably isn’t enough that you need to report it, but let’s assume someone donated $10,000 in your name. Now not only is it a horrible present, but you probably have to report it on your tax return given the amount. In other words, you were given work to do as your gift.
As always, it’s Christmas time and it’s the time to help out the less fortunate. You should definitely check out the The Humble Indie Bundle #2 where you can donate any amount and get 5 free PC games!