Monday, March 31, 2008

Looking for High Yield Accounts?

Consider your local credit unions. While it is pretty hard to get a rate higher than 4% nowadays from banks, many credit unions are still offering rate above 4.5%. Some even offer above 6%. Credituniondeals is a good place to find such deals. Note that credit unions are more restrictive regarding to who can open an account with them, usually one has to belong to certain organizations in order to be able to open accounts with certain credit unions.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Suppose you found this killer company and decided to buy some of its stocks, so you transfered some money from your checking account to your brokerage account and made the purchase, with a commission fee paid to your broker.
You may wonder, "wouldn't it be nicer if I can avoid such a commission fee?" Yes, it would be, and you may actually be able to do it by buying stocks directly from the company instead of from your broker. The following is a good list of articles on DRIP (dividend reinvestment programs) purchases:
  1. How?
  2. How to start?
  3. Where to go?
  4. Case study: Bank Of America DRIP
  5. Case study: P & G

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Have you filed your 07 Tax Return yet?

I did mine yesterday using TurboTax online service.

Notice that TurboTax has four versions: Free, Deluxe, Premier, Home&Business. The free edition is just as its name indicates, completely free including e-filing; The other three are all free to start, which means you can use them to prepare your return and pay only if you decide to do an e-filing via that version. Therefore, I used the Deluxe version to prepare my tax, and then went through the process again using the free edition. They are almost identical (they gave the same refund number) except the interface looks a little bit nicer in the deluxe version, and you can not use the audit step in the free version. Of course at the end, I submitted my return with the free edition.

Monday, March 24, 2008

3% Cash Back or 1%?

The Sun's Financial posted a list of credit card that earn cash back. The American Express and Costco TrueEarning card is the 3rd card on the list. The cash back percentage are indeed as Sun listed, I'd just like to add two things here:
  1. 3% back of gasoline only for purchases made at Costco Gasoline and domestic stand-alone gas stations. Gas purchased at warehouse clubs other than Costco (for example, Sam's club), superstores or supermarkets WILL NOT count towards this 3%.
  2. You will receive a 2% or 3% rebate only if the merchant submits the Charge for your purchase under the appropriate merchant code, industry code and required service or product identifier established by us (referring to American Express) and the merchant. If the merchant submits a Charge of purchase under a different merchant code, industry code and required service or product identifier, you will receive a rebate of only 1% instead of 2% and 3%. This change becomes effective on May 1, 2008. Note: I don't really quite understand what this is implying. Sounds like that we will depend on the merchant to get the 3% cash back, which will not be a good thing. Need to find out, and will update afterwards.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Simple Arbitrage

If I had a big lump sum of money, I'd put it in a (or several) FDIC insured high yield saving account(s). The idea of living on fixed income, in this case, the interest, is far more appealing to me than seeking capital gain in the stock market because the risk associated with the former is much less than the latter. Putting money in FDIC insured savings is almost risk-free. The problem is that I don't have this big lump sum of money. This thus creates the following arbitrage scenario:
  1. Borrow with 0% or low interest rate.
  2. Deposit the borrowed money into high yield (higher than the interest rate you borrow at) saving accounts or CDs.
  3. Pay back the borrowed money before the borrowed interests go up.
These are the general steps. There are many details to be furnished to complete a sound arbitrage. One of them is that where can you borrow at 0% or a low interest rate? This is easily answered by App-O-Rama, a website that gathers and publishes up-to-date "good" credit card offers from many financial institutions. If you have a good credit, you will have no trouble of getting approved by multiple cards simultaneously. Here is an example. Another important thing to keep in mind is the date when the borrowed low interest rate becomes a high rate. Before you jump in this arbitrage game, make sure you calculate when and how to pay back the borrowed money, and how much profit you gonna make. Also, are you purchasing a house soon? If so, arbitrage is probably not a good idea for now since most of the credit card application process will result a hard pull on your credit and hence lower your credit score.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Free 128mb USB drive

Air Flex is offering a free 128mb USB drive.

Hurry up and Grab it!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

4.5% High Yield Saving

Having trouble finding a high yield online saving account?

Provident Direct could be your lover.

For details, please read this awesome article written by The Sun's Financial Diary.

Interestingly, Sun got this information from the forum at, which I blogged about just recently.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Huaneng Power International Inc. (HNP)

With Dow ended around 12,099 today, some people are already saying that the market will hold around this level. If the bottom is near or maybe already here, then the next question is that which stock you should buy. According to Morningstar, Huanneng Power International Inc. (HNP) should be on the top of your list. It is the largest power producer in China, and has a privileged relationship with the Chinese government. China's thirst for power and energy will keep growing in the coming years as its economy keeps booming. The current power shortage will keep the demand outstrip supply for at least a few years. The risk lies in that the shortage of the coal supplies will continue worsen in the coming years. Morningstar predicts its 3-year expected annual return to be 33.9%. The stock ended at $26.08 today, close to its 52 weeks low, $24.00, making it a great bargain.

I took a look at its dividend history. It turns out that it pays a pretty good dividend as well, especially considering its growth prospect. Though caution should be made since the dividend history is only 5 years.

Daily Price History
Dividend History
Dividend $
Year-end Yield %

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Online Coupons and Cash Back

Where can you find bargains? Even better, where can you get cash back on top of the bargains?
Fatwallet is such a place.

I discovered it while I was searching laptop deals online. What I found? Lenovo is having an online sale with 10-25% off. Now, here is where the kick comes in: if you are a registered member of fatwallet, then you can get 8% cash back on top of the discount. Sweet, right? By the way, it is free to become a member of fatwallet, and all you need to do is to give them your email and choose a user name. Moreover, it has tones of cash back opportunities with different merchants. To see how it works, please check out their website for details.

The goodies doesn't stop here. Fatwallet also keeps a forum running where people discuss useful information ranging from investing to money savings. For example, I was happy to find one of the thread mentioned that a regional bank called Provident Bank still offers 4.5% yield online saving account, which is pretty remarkable comparing what most of the banks offer, especially after today's three quarter percent rate cut.

What's your favorite bargain site?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Another $300 Income On the Side This Month

Earlier, I mentioned that I took a document prep side job. It turned out that I didn't have any project work for my daily job for the past week. So I've been doing this side job at my regular job time. This means I didn't spend extra time to make this $300. I've received the full payment $300 over the weekend. Moreover, I was offered to do another job with the same amount of payment plus bonus. The time to complete is one week. And I took it.

When someone is offering a side job, are you going to take it? I will if
  1. It won't take me long hrs to finish. This implies that it must be something within my areas of expertise or easy for me to figure out.
  2. It pays good money comparing to the hrs I'll spend on it. I consider $25 per hr to be good.
  3. It pays good non-monetary returns such as a new connection, some new learnings, or reinforcement of old knowledges/skills, etc.
Once I decide to take the job, I make sure I get the job. If a job passes the above 3 criteria, there are usually many people who will be compete for it. How are you going to win the final deal? Before telling the person that you will take the job, make sure you
  1. Show great concerns about the job. Ask for specifics about the job.
  2. Show your competence. Show what you can do related to the job requirements.
  3. Be honest about 1 and 2.
After you are offered the job, remember to discuss the installments of the payment. I don't like to receive a lump sum at the job delivery time. The person who is offering the job may not feel comfortable of paying you the lump sum at the beginning either. The best is to set up specific installments according to completions of sequential job tasks.

Getting Paid for Filling Out Online Survey

I wrote a post on PineCone Research before. Besides it, I've also tried out the following paid online survey sites: Surveyspot, GlobalTestMarket, your2cents, Opinion&Outpost, and BrandInstitute. Here is my experience with them so far (I started on Feb 9th, 2008), ranking from my most favorite to least favorite:

1. PineCone Research: $14. Fast payment. The check usually arrives within 5 days of survey completion. Free sample try out. You always get paid every time you start a survey, regardless your answers. I receive one survey per week on average.

2. Surveyspot: $15. Lots of survey opportunities. You can log in to your account and actively choose to answer the available surveys. Lots of surveys only let your participate sweepstakes, which I'd skip. Plenty of paid surveys. The highest payment for a single survey I encountered was $7. In order to get paid, you have to be qualified for that survey. It happened to me that after spending 5 minutes on a survey, it tells that I'm not qualified. Slow payment. It even takes 4-6 weeks for the payment to show up in your account.

3. Your2cents: $17. Not that many opportunities. But have high payment surveys. For example, I made $11 off of one survey.

4. The rest: Just not worth the time. It is almost always that I fail their qualification after spending 1-5 minutes on the survey.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

$100 for You

optionsXpress is having this referral program that enables both you and me receive $100. In order for this to work, you will have to
  1. Be a U.S. citizen or resident.
  2. Send me an email asking for a referral;
  3. Upon receiving your email, I will send you a referral;
  4. Open a new optionsXpress account with my referral and fund it with at least $500 before March 31st;
  5. Carry out at least one trade;
  6. Maintain your $500 minimum for a minimum of 6 months;
As a "thank you" gift, I will give you half of the $100 deposited into my account at the end of the 6 months period. Please make sure you have a paypal account since I will send it to you via paypal.

Please note: It is always good to read the related disclosures first before you decide to open an account with any financial institution.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

$300 Income On the Side This Month

I took a document preparation side job a week ago.
I was asked to come up with a technical 60 pages minimum report in 2 weeks.
I was offered $300.00 base + bonuses depending on the quality of my work.

I've received $100.00 in payment already, and will receive the rest at the end of this week.

What's best? I learned a lot of technical stuff as I was preparing this document. One stone two birds.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Net Worth Update: Feb 2008

Please click the picture to enlarge. As you can see, my net worth was $27,539.58 at the end of Feb, representing a 9.53% gain from January. Most of the gains are coming from my salary income. I haven't gone aggressive on investing yet, mainly because I am still studying asset allocation. So far, most of my investment are in my 401k plan. I have some securities in my scottrade account as well, but they are doing pretty bad at this time.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Pay Your Debt First

One of my co-workers mentioned to me he's lost some money in the stock market, and he's still got two student loans to pay off. Some of the student loan was for his education, but some was put in the stock market. He must be thinking of making a fortune at that time, but it didn't turn out that well, and he lost almost all of them. What he said to me got me start thinking in his shoes. If I were him, I would definitely not do a swap like he did, using loans to play in the stock market. I probably would take out the loan and put it in a high-yield saving account to earn some free interest since most student loan are interest free while you are still a student. If I were him, I definitely would pay off those student loans first before investing huge amount of money in the stock market. But if I were him, I would try to avoid taking out any loans at the first place.

"Avoid debt!" My mother used to tell me when I was a little boy. As a result, I was able to get a college education without paying a penny. Thanks to scholarships and financial aid. As a result, not only I don't pay anything out of my pocket for tuition+books+room+board, I even receive a refund check every semester. I'm very proud that I'm still debt free at this point of my life. I often hear people saying that it's necessary to take out this loan or that loan, which I disagree with completely. When you have to take out a loan to do something, this suggests one and only one thing, and that is the thing you are aiming for is not something you can afford now. You have to ask yourself, "Is it really worth it?" Of course you will have to fill in the blanks for the definition of this worth here. But one thing you have to be clear is that taking out a loan will for sure put a burden on your financial freedom, which will affect your overall freedom inevitably. Be cautious, and avoid debt.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Take Your Losses?

Today with the Dow dropped below 12,000, one of my co-workers sold another big chunk of stock holdings. Well, he had to since he got a margin call and had no extra cash or confidence to cover it. "Well, now, I feel relieved." thus said by him. I commented that a conservative long term perspective is crucial. He said immediately "the long term way does not work because it totally depends on when you get in (the market) and what kind of portfolio you have." Another co-worker overheard the conversation, and said, "Conservatism is not needed when you are young. If I can double my money in 6 months, then why would I go with 30 years?"

I could've said to the first person, "Instead of blindly concluding the long term doesn't work, why doesn't you figure out the timing and the kind of portfolio you are most confident with and give it a shot?" I could've said to the second person, "How certain are you about doubling your money in 6 months? For me, I am more certain that my money will double in 30 years than in 6 months." But I kept myself quiet for I know that we are coming from different planets when it comes to putting money to work.

I am an investor, but they are opportunists deeply in their hearts, though they claim that they are investing their money as well. For me, investing is all about minimize the risk of my capital loss. For them, trading is all about maximize the capital gain and minimize the capital loss; they focus too much on the former, and too less on the latter. It is worth of pointing out one thing, and that is inherently, time means much more to them than to me because capital gaining or losing is directly related with time and flashed out by time, while risk is not. If we use the time sensitivity of stock prices as a benchmark, then we can think of risk as time-free. But the opportunistic attitude is not their problem, their problem is that they do not know that they are opportunists; they thought they were investors. The investor's way of thinking for them is merely a comfort shot, and they take this shot every time they start loosing money. Until one day that they realize that this shot is addictive and can only kill them, they abandon the shot and rant about it. But it ain't the fault of the shot, it is the doctor who prescribe the shot should be blamed. So they really should blame on themselves, well, maybe the so called "professional investing" information as well.

"What am I?" I asked myself this question before taking my first serious amount of money out of my pocket. And my answer is that I am an investor. As a result, I focus on hedging risk. There are many risk hedging techniques including diversification, dollar cost averaging, buy and keep buying, options and its underlying stocks, etc. I'm learning them as I go, and never rush myself into any of them before the full understanding hit me. I've a friend whose answer to that question is that he is an opportunist and a day trader. As a result, he doesn't care about risk at all. Instead, he focuses on making gains and taking losses. Actually, I think he is more focused on taking losses. -7% is his cut-off point and he's very good at following it. By the way, he started with $30,000 five years ago and now it becomes about $500,000. More importantly, his experience doesn't convert me to an opportunist. Sure, a gain of $470,000 in five years is nice, but I am conservative and most comfortable with being an investor. There is nothing wrong with being a conservative, especially when it comes to money. And there is nothing wrong with not getting out of your comfort zone, again, especially when it comes to money.

By the way, how did I know that I was an investor? I asked myself another question, "Will you shop naked at a shopping mall?" My answer was that "No. But if I'm guaranteed that I won't be arrested, that people who know me won't be present, that no camera, video tape or any sort of media allowed, and that there will certain incentives such as cash prize (above $1,000) or other rare gifts upon the completion of the naked act, then I will do it." After that, I knew for certain that I was an investor and never thought otherwise.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Bargainist

I've subscribed to the Bargainist's feed for a while, and indeed received lots of bargains based on their info, especially those free samples. Everyday, they publish deals, coupons and freebies offered by thousands of retailers and shops, ranging from electronics to cosmetics and from branded clothes to furnitures. My favorites from them today are:

Earn 3% Cash Back

I bought the Costco gold membership ($50 annual fee) back in Dec, 2007. I really enjoyed Costco's seafood, meat, cheese and prepackaged ready to eat food products, but spending $50 every year for a membership makes me less comfortable. I've been trying to find ways to compensate this $50. Some products such as organic milk and eggs are cheaper to buy at Costco than regular grocery stores like Randalls. So I buy them at Costco. I also buy bulks of pasta and non-perish food products at Costco every time I go to eliminate store visit frequency. Their coupons are a great help as well. I use them to stock up shampoo and tooth brushes and toothpaste, etc. But I still think I'm not really getting that much out of this $50 membership fee. Two weeks ago, while I was in their store, they had a promotion for the American Express True Earning Card. So I applied, and here are the perks:
  • No annual fee for Costco members.
  • 3% cash back on gas (excluding gas from other warehouse stores like Sam's Club) and restaurants; 2% on travel; 1% on everything else. Also, American Express is the only credit card Costco accepts.
  • Last year, I spend $3,700 with my credit card. Assuming the same spending this year, I would get between $37 and $111 cash back.
Here are the disadvantages:
  • This card will be canceled upon the termination of Costco memership.
  • Interest rate is high. I have 3 month of interest free, with 16.49% afterwards. So it is important for me to pay my bills every month. Actually, I think I will log in to my online account and click bill pay the same day I swipe it.
  • This card may increase your spending since you may want to get more cash back and hence take less control of your spendings.
  • A hard pull on your credit.
At this point, I have three credit cards and each of them report to a different credit bureau:
  • Chase Blink Mastercard
  • Chase Amazon Mastercard
  • American Express True Earning Card
I do not plan on having any more credit cards for a while.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Free $100 For you

OptionsXpress has this special offer where you can get $100. It ends on March 31st. To get your $100, you need to
  • Open an account with optionsXpress;
  • Fund your new account with at least $500 or equivalent worth of securities transfered from another brokerage. OptionsXpress will pay the transfer charge up to $100 as well.
Notice that no trade is necessary to get your $100 bonus. I just opened an account with them today. I do not intend to use it to trade stocks because their commission for stock trading is $14.95/$9.95 per trade, which is expensive comparing to my current broker Scottrade. But I just can't let go this easily obtainable 20% gain. So I'll just leave my $500 there, together with the $100 bonus, to earn interest at their money market rate.

Please read their website for details before you decide to open one.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Good Personal Finance Books

Asset Allocation:

  • The Intelligent Asset Allocator by William Bernstein
  • The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein

Saturday, March 1, 2008

$5 from PineCone Research

Have you ever done online surveys? Have you ever got paid for doing it?
I started this online paid survey thing a month ago. PineCone is my favorite so far for the following two reasons:

  1. Their survey is personalized to your household. You can only take the surveys that are assigned to you. Once a survey is assigned to you, the money is yours ($3 or $5 depends) regardless the answers you provide. (None of the other websites I tried work like this. Most of them have a screener for you to pass before you can claim the money, which is quite annoying since it is almost always the case that after spending 5 minutes on the survey, and they tell you sorry that you are not qualified. At least, it was the case for me.)
  2. They pay you promptly. They usually issue the check the next day after you complete the survey. I just got mine for my first survey last week. They have paypal paying service as well, but somehow I was told that I'm not an established member for them yet and hence can not receive my payments via paypal, which is not that convenient. Hey, check works for me.
One thing to notice is that they only open up their panel periodically. And one can only join via referral. I joined via this, not sure whether it is still working. What are your favorite online paid survey sites?

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