Thursday, March 29, 2012

Consumer Reports: Prepaid Card Fees Starting To Drop But Consumers Still At Risk Because of Poor Disclosure & Weak Consumer Protections

A new Consumer Reports analysis of prepaid cards has found that industry competition is beginning to help bring down fees, but fees aren’t always disclosed up front and can still add up quickly. Moreover, prepaid cards also offer weaker consumer protections than those provided by traditional debit cards.

Prepaid cards are reloadable cards that can be used to make payments similar to debit cards and are becoming the foundation of a second-tier banking system. Prepaid cards look like other plastic payment cards and bear the network logos of Visa, MasterCard or Discover along with the word “debit” on the front of the card. The Federal Reserve has found that prepaid cards are the fastest growing non-cash method of payment. That growth is expected to continue as the prepaid card industry works to attract the business of the estimated 60 million adults with limited or no access to bank accounts.

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is urging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to require prepaid card issuers to improve fee disclosure and abide by the same mandatory protections consumers are guaranteed by law when using debit cards linked to their bank accounts.

“Now that so many households are relying on prepaid cards to manage their finances, it’s time for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take action to protect consumers,” said Michelle Jun, senior attorney for Consumers Union. “We need new rules that require fees to be disclosed in a simple format so consumers know the costs before they purchase a card. Prepaid cards should get the same strong protections as debit cards so consumers have the peace of mind that their money is safe if their card is lost or stolen.”

Consumers can typically only find information about a few of the fees charged by card issuers before they purchase a card at a store. While some prepaid card issuers are providing direct links to fee schedules on their web sites, others make finding this information more difficult. Consumer Reports examined 16 different prepaid cards and found that issuers charged a variety of different fees to consumers:

Fees to Activate Your Card: 9 of the 16 prepaid cards reviewed charged consumers a fee to activate their card. Activation fees ranged from a low of $3 for the Walmart Money Card, nFinanSe card, and the Approved Card to $14.95 for some select RushCards. Some prepaid card issuers like NetSpend and Western Union are no longer charging activation fees.

Monthly Fees: 13 of the 16 prepaid cards charge monthly fees, ranging from $2.95 for the nFinanSe card to $9.95 for the Vision Premier card and the Univision card. Some prepaid cards, like the Bank Freedom card, will waive the monthly fee if the consumer makes a minimum deposit each month. Some cards, like the RushCard, give consumers the option of choosing the monthly fee plan or a per transaction fee plan.

Fees to Get Cash: 14 of the 16 prepaid cards examined charged a fee to withdraw cash from a domestic ATM, ranging from $2 to $2.50. This does not include the additional charge imposed by ATM operators. Consumers using Green Dot and Univision prepaid cards can get free access to Allpoint network ATMs, located in numerous retail locations. Otherwise they pay a fee to use a non-network ATM

Fees to Find Out Your Balance: 12 of the 16 prepaid cards impose a fee for checking balances at ATMs, ranging from 45 cents to $1 per balance inquiry. The ATM operator may charge an additional fee. Many prepaid card issuers provide other methods to check balances for free, such as by email, text message, or phone.

Fees to Get a Paper Statement: A number of prepaid cards no longer provide information about the availability of paper statements in their card agreements. Seven of the prepaid cards charge customers a fee to get a monthly paper statement detailing their transactions. Paper statement fees ranged from $1 for the Rush Card to $5.95 for the NetSpend Visa card. Many of the prepaid cards provide free access to monthly statements online or through email or text alerts.

Fees For Customer Service: Some prepaid cards enable all consumers to speak to a customer service representative for free. Other prepaid cards provide free customer service if the customer sets up direct deposit or only makes a limited number of calls per month. A few prepaid cards charge customers each time they make a call to customer service, ranging 50 cents per call for the NetSpend Visa card to $2.99 per call for the UPSide card.

Fees for Inactivity: 5 of the 16 cards charged fees when cards are not used after a certain period of time. These dormancy fees range from $2.50 per month for the H&R Block Emerald Card (after three months of inactivity) and the Western Union MoneyWise card (after 13 months) to $5.95 per month for the NetSpend Visa card (after 90 days of inactivity).

Prepaid card users can avoid some fees by taking a few steps. First, look online for the card’s fee schedule to find out all the different ways you can be charged. Your costs will vary widely depending on which card you get and how you use it. Make sure you understand those costs before selecting a card. If you decide to get a prepaid card, you may be able to reduce your fees by using direct deposit to load money onto your card. Avoid non-network ATM charges by getting cash back when making purchases and checking your balance online or over the phone.

Prepaid card users could end up losing money if their cards are lost or stolen and used to make fraudulent purchases. That’s because they are not protected by the same regulatory and statutory safeguards that enable debit card users to recover their money. If a debit card user contacts a bank about a lost or stolen card within two business days, liability is limited up to $50 (or up to $500 if the consumer makes the report after two business days). Prepaid card users are not guaranteed these protections since the contract terms could be revised or rescinded at any time.

In addition, prepaid card users may not have the same FDIC guarantee as bank account holders that they’ll be able to recover all of their money in the event of a bank failure. Even if the prepaid card web site displays the familiar FDIC logo, it’s not always clear whether the cardholder will be able to recover the full amount on the card or a portion shared with other prepaid cardholders.

Many prepaid cards are now offering new features to enable consumers to establish credit files or help those with bad credit to rebuild their credit record. But Consumer Reports found that information from prepaid card transactions is not useful to help a consumer build a credit record. Some prepaid cards also offer small lines of credit, which must be repaid within a short period of time. These short term loans are expensive and must be repaid quickly much like a payday loan.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dont Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort

by markcuban

I hear it all the time from people. “I’m passionate about it.” “I’m not going to quit, It’s my passion”. Or I hear it as advice to students and others “Follow your passion”.

What a bunch of BS. ”Follow Your Passion” is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get.

Why ? Because everyone is passionate about something. Usually more than 1 thing. We are born with it. There are always going to be things we love to do. That we dream about doing. That we really really want to do with our lives. Those passions aren’t worth a nickel.

Think about all the things you have been passionate about in your life. Think about all those passions that you considered making a career out of or building a company around. How many were/are there ? Why did you bounce from one to another ? Why were you not able to make a career or business out of any of those passions ? Or if you have been able to have some success, what was the key to the success.? Was it the passion or the effort you put in to your job or company ?

If you really want to know where you destiny lies, look at where you apply your time.

Time is the most valuable asset you don’t own. You may or may not realize it yet, but how you use or don’t use your time is going to be the best indication of where your future is going to take you .

Let me make this as clear as possible

1. When you work hard at something you become good at it.

2. When you become good at doing something, you will enjoy it more.

3. When you enjoy doing something, there is a very good chance you will become passionate or more passionate about it

4. When you are good at something, passionate and work even harder to excel and be the best at it, good things happen.

Don’t follow your passions, follow your effort. It will lead you to your passions and to success, however you define it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Cost of Living Off the Grid

Could you afford to live off the grid?
It’s estimated that more than a quarter of a million people have packed it up and headed for the hills over the last decade.

Once thought to be a lifestyle reserved just for the tinfoil hat crowd or the Amish, “living off the grid” is becoming more mainstream, as each year, thousands of Americans opt for energy independence.

Off-grid living, or homesteading as it is sometimes called, has come to mean different things depending on the motivation of the people who pursue it. The vast majority of these people are simply choosing to live a life of self-sustainability for environmental reasons, financial reasons, or to seek the protection of a solitary life.

But then, there are those who believe that black helicopters are swooping in on American citizens and that anarchy will prevail once the citizenry catches on.
How to Live Off the Grid

For all of these homesteaders, their first priority is to get off the electric grid and create their own renewable supply of energy. That is followed by the creation of a renewable water source and sustainable food source for total self reliance.

And, for the doomsday preppers and conspiracy enthusiasts who want to get totally off the grid, the ultimate step is to remove any and all links with identifying institutions including bank accounts, credit accounts, DMV, and even Social Security.

For now, we’ll limit this discussion to those who still feel the need to have access to an ATM or a valid driver’s license.

Across America, you can find millions of people who are attempting to reduce their exposure to the grid by reducing their energy consumption, planting gardens, and generally trying to live simpler and greener lives.
Living Off the Grid Isn’t Cheap

But, if you really want to get off the grid, it does require an almost uncommon commitment and the willingness to invest a good amount of money, which raises some questions that most people have about off-the-grid living: Is it financially viable?

What if you aren’t as wealthy as some well-know homesteaders, like Daryl Hannah (off the grid in Colorado) or Johnny Depp (off the grid on his own island in the Bahamas)? Does living off the grid also mean living watt-to-watt or radish-to-radish? Or can it pay off in the end?

Johnny Depp on his Island: “Theoretically, this place can add years to your life. Money doesn’t buy you happiness. But it buys you a big enough yacht to sail right up to it.”

Here’s the skinny on setting yourself up with a completely self-sufficient, self-sustaining life in the boonies:
Item Description Cost
Land with Unrestricted Building Codes (10 Acres) Remote locations in: Montana, Idaho, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Utah, etc. >$20,000
Energy Efficient Home (1500 sq feet) Wired and plumbed for low voltage use and water pipe heating. $100,000 to $250,000
Renewable Energy Source Wind, solar, geothermal, etc. (including battery storage and generators). $50,000
Sustainable Food Source ½ acre garden; 1 acre fruit trees, farming equipment; farm animals, food storage. $30,000
Renewable Water Source Well, rain collection, septic tank. $10,000
Total $380,000

That’s not a small amount for anyone, but assuming the cost of housing (land, development, and building) is factored into everyone’s budget anyway, we’re really looking at an additional investment of $90,000 for renewable energy, food, and water that must recovered.

In comparison, it would only cost the same household to pay around $10,000 to tie into the commercial grid.

The key to the investment return is the “sustainability and renew-ability” of these resources, because once the investment is made, there should be no further payments made towards those resources.

So, it comes down to the cost savings realized by not having to pay gas and electric bills, water bills, and grocery bills for as long as you remain in your homestead off the grid. What’s that for a family of four? $1000 to $1500 a month? That’s better than a 15 percent annual return.

Just with the electricity, if you consider the savings realized with no monthly bills, no power lines or grid link, and the federal tax credits available, the net cost or investment is close to zero. For the people who invest their heart and soul into self-sustained living, the psychic return is incalculable.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Tax Refund is an Interest Free Loan to Uncle Sam

by Kevin McKee

Some people love their tax returns. They feel like they are getting a bunch of free money from the government. Unfortunately it’s not free money; it’s your money! And if you’re getting a big tax return, that means you’ve been missing out on your money for as much as 16 months.

This is especially harmful for people who are living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve known people who have been slammed with huge late fees and interest payments because they didn’t have enough money, and then they get a $3,000 refund check the next year.

If you’re getting a $3,000 refund, that means you could have had about $250 of extra income every month last year. Instead you let Uncle Sam hold onto it.

Your goal should be to get the smallest refund possible. That way you get to spend your money as soon as you make it instead of letting the government hold onto it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Making Money as a Student

by markcuban

Every kid needs to make some money , right ? You want a job. You can’t get a job. You need experience. You got no experience. High School and College kid problems.

But fear not. Not every job has to be a career. Money plays. You don’t need brilliant ideas. Sometimes you just need to make some money for the summer. Or to pay for your braces. Or to pay for the phonebill your parents killed you on. Whatever you need cash for , its always a problem that needs solving.

To solve your big money problems, sometimes you only need to solve simple problems. Sometimes you just need to be creative. I’m going to give you 2 ideas any student going to any school can do to make more than minimum wage.

1. Shoelaces.

Say what ? Shoelaces. I said it.

I guarantee you that if you go to the parking lot of any high school or college football game with a bunch of shoelaces in team colors that you bought for 2 bucks a pop,and put up a sign and 2 chairs, you can make money. Not football season? . Go to where ever there are people in your community. Flea Market. Basketball Game. Dance recital. Wherever people who go to your school show up , you show up. You set up your sign and your chairs.

On the sign you put something like ” Get in the YourSchool spirit”. I will re lace your shoes with “YOURSCHOOL” color laces for $10 (small schools), $20 bucks (big schools with more drunk alums or lots of rich people). If you want to make it even more fun. You can add “I will lace them in 5 minutes or they are free”. If you are really enterprising, you can put up on the poster about 5 different ways to lace the shoes and charge a premium for anything but “Missionary” lacing.

Easy money. Guaranteed.

2. Become an expert in programming All in 1 tv remote controls. People are buying a single remote control to replace all the remotes they have. No one really wants to take the time to figure out all the options. No one wants to take the time to learn how to program the stupid remote. In fact it pisses them off that it takes far more time than they have to do something they bought the stupid remote to do.

To help solve everyone’s problem, go to a local electronics store and find out what remotes they sell. Go to the local Walmart, Target, Best Buy, etc, etc. if the grocery store sells remotes go there too. Find out what the most popular sellers are . How do you find out which are the most popular ? You ask someone.

Then , you become an expert in programming those remote controls. The worlds best expert. Once you know your shit. Go back to the store with business cards with your email/cell phone number on it and the following

Your Name

I will program any Remote Control for $20

I Have a Phd In Remote Control Programming

Cell #/Email/Website

Then you go to all the stores and tell them that their customers will be far happier if they send them to you to program the remote. You will program it exactly like they want it, connecting to any and all devices. All the store has to do is let you put up a stack of cards next to the remote control maybe a little sign. Then you give a sheepish grin to the manager of the electronics or remote control section of the store and tell them how this is really important to you and how you will do a great job. you promise. Then every couple days you go back to the store and talk to the salespeople who work there and remind them about your PHD in Remote Control Programming and how if they send you enough business, you might be able to spiff them a commission.

Then you damn well do a great job or some other kid is going to steal your remote control programming business

There you go. Easy breezy money. nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. Just some hard work , some customer service and the ability to be nice to people and thank them when they pay you and tip you.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Use Peanut Butter, Toothpaste To Fix Scratched Discs

You don't need to throw away or replace a DVD just because it's scratched up. With some careful rehab, you can get the disc back into playing shape.You start by smoothing toothpaste over the disc, then layering a coat of peanut butter on top of that. Next, you wipe off the substances, leaving the remaining gunk to fill in the scratches.

After that, you apply a second coat of toothpaste and peanut butter, then place the disc in a container and pour soda and baking soda inside. After shaking it up and letting the disc sit for a while, you polish off the next layer of paste with a wet paper towel and your scratches should be gone.