Sunday, May 27, 2007

High Gas Prices Got You Down? Fight Back With Some Web Intelligence!

Memorial Day weekend is considered the start of "summer driving season" for most families. Whether its road trips across the country, travelling baseball league, or just a couple of extra picnic drives chances are we will be on the road a little more than usual this time of year. Unfortunately, the ever efficient market for gasoline knows this too and prices have crept up in anticipation of our summer time drives.

However, with the advent of the Internet, you can fight back against really high prices at the pump. Visit and see where the cheapest prices in your neighborhood are. Be sure not to drive further out of your way than you are likely to save, but don't be afraid to drive a mile or two to save $0.02-$0.10 per gallon. Over the course of the summer it will add up! Other sites that list gas prices include and MSN Autos, but I think Gas Price Watch is the easiest to use and combines great search functionality with a nice Google Map.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Getting a Loan? Be Sure to Maximize Your Credit Score First.

At some point in your life you will probably need to get a loan for a house or (hopefully not) a car. When it comes time to do this, the first thing you will want to do is maximize your credit score (e.g. FICO score) in order to minimize your interest rates and/or assure that you qualify for the loan. There are two categories of things you can do to maximize your score: 1) preventative maintenance and 2) close in priming.

Preventative maintenance on your credit score is a general way of life and should be done all the time. The key things you should be doing to make sure you have a high score are:

  1. Always pay your bills on time, always. Missed payments kill your score and last a long time.
  2. If you have a short credit history and decide you don't need an old credit card anymore (especially your oldest) shred the card but don't close the account. The longer your credit history is, the better your score is likely to be.
  3. Don't take out significantly more credit than you need. That means not getting suckered into tons and tons of store credit cards just for a free promo. Four or five credit cards is probably fine (especially if you just kept a couple old accounts open to lengthen your history but don't use them), twenty is not a good idea.
  4. Make sure your credit report is accurate. Go to to get your free annual credit report and be sure everything is right. With all the fraud out there today, I definitely recommend doing this once per year.

Close in priming should consist of a couple of things:
  1. Pay off your credit card bill the week before your statement closes for a couple of months before you need a big loan. Even if you pay off your card balance in full each month the prior month's balance shows up as money you owe on your credit line. Because credit card companies look at your total debt to your total credit line (called utilization) as a major factor in your score, paying off your card in advance so your balance is very low when you go to request credit will help your score.
  2. Don't open a bunch of new cards or accounts before you go to get your big loan. Many recent credit inquiries make you look "credit hungry" and lower your FICO score.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Save a Bundle on Your Family Vacation: Rent Directly from Property Owners

With gas prices north of $3.00 and the dollar going straight down, whether you travel at home or abroad chances are your vacation is going to be a little more expensive this year than last. Wouldn't it be nice to save a little on accommodations? Well, instead of heading to that Holiday Inn or Marriott, stop by some of the sites listed below and rent a condo or vacation home directly from the owner. In many cases the prices listed are highly negotiable since the owner's usual alternative to having you rent is to have the place go empty, so don't be afraid to ask for an even better rate than what is posted.
85,000 vacation homes are listed here. They also recently bought and integrate listings from several sites.
The original Vacation Rental By Owner site with over 75,000 vacation homes listed.
Another VRBO-type site with 39,000 and a homeaway affiliate.
A site very similar to VRBO, but with only 29,000 listings. Also a homeaway affiliate.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Wells Fargo PMA, the best financial combo package around?

Wells Fargo has a great combination account called a PMA account. As long as you carry $25,000 in balances in your checking, brokerage, and credit card accounts with Wells Fargo, you qualify for PMA status. You merely need to call them up and "switch" to a PMA, though none of your account numbers will change.

With the PMA account you get:

  • No service fees on your checking account, including foreign ATM fees (you still have to pay the other companies' ATM fees unless you follow my advice in this previous post).
  • No charge for online bill pay, which I have found to be a HUGE time saver.
  • Premium interest rates on your checking account (but still not as good as the online money market accounts mentioned in this previous post).
  • 100 free stock or mutual fund trades per year.
  • Free enrollement in the rewards program for Wells Fargo credit cards (offers 1% cash back and is a good backup to the cards suggested in this previous post).

As far as I have seen, this is one of the best all-in-one brokerage/checking setups you can find anywhere. If you are "paying" for checking and have a brokerage account with $25,000 in it you should definitely consider switching to the Wells Fargo PMA account today. If you find a better all-in-one account please let me know in the comments.