Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Get $100 When You Open a New optionsXpress Account!

The brokerage optionsXpress is currently offering a $100 bonus promotion. First of all, don't let their name fool you. In addition to options optionsXpress also lets you trade stocks, bonds, futures, mutual funds and ETFs. And the name is really spelled with a lower-case "o" and an upper-case "X". There are a few conditions that you need to meet in order to receive the $100 bonus. But basically, you have to open a new account, deposit at least $500, and execute 3 trades within 12 months.

With optionsXpress, you will have access to innovative, powerful trading tools, investment education, and outstanding customer service. As for commissions, optionsXpress charges $9.95 for stock trades, and $1.25 per contract ($12.95 minimum) for options trades. I will also note that The Charles Schwab Corporation (NYSE: SCHW) has announced plans to acquire optionsXpress Holdings (Nasdaq: OXPS). You can read the Charles Schwab press release here.

So, if you were thinking of opening a new brokerage account, the extra $100 could come in handy. Visit the optionsXpress website to learn more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Money Market Rates 4/11

Here are the latest money market interest rates of the banks that I've been tracking on my blog. Note that these rates are sorted by APY, and represent institutions that I have accounts at, or have otherwise mentioned in my blog:

1.15% Discover Bank Online Savings
1.00% Ally Bank Online Savings
1.00% Urban Partnership Bank** (fmr Shorebank) Online Savings
1.00% ING Direct Orange Savings
0.90% HSBC Advance Online Savings
0.65% Western FCU Money Market
0.30% E*TRADE Complete Savings
0.20% Citibank Ultimate Savings
0.15% Chase Plus Savings
0.07% PayPal Money Market*

NOTES: *The PayPal Money Market fund is NOT FDIC insured.
**On August 20, 2010, ShoreBank was closed by regulators, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was named Receiver. Accounts were transferred to Urban Partnership Bank of Chicago. The FDIC has issued a press release regarding this matter.

Rates are believed to be accurate as of 4/25/11. I did not include banks that had special, or introductory rates in the list because they are not ongoing interest rates. I am also not including non-liquid accounts such as CD's in the list. By a small margin, Discover Bank has the highest interest rate of the banks that I'm tracking.

I was surprised that the interest rates for Citibank and Chase were so low. Since I still have significant funds in these institutions, I think that it is time for me to consider moving some money around to other institutions.

So, that is the latest list of money market rates. Please let me know if you know of any higher interest rates.


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Friday, April 22, 2011

What's the Best Gift Received from a Bank or Brokerage?

Over the years, I've collected my share of free gifts from banks and brokerage firms. These include T-shirts, mouse pads, flash drives, and the most unusual flashlight toolkit. But what is the best gift that you've ever received from a bank or brokerage? To be clear, financial institutions reserve the best gifts for their customers who take a specific action like opening a new account, or making a substantial deposit to an existing account. These gifts are generally much more valuable than a T-shirt or flashlight.

Some of the presents that I've claimed in the past include free airline miles, cash bonuses, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and an HDTV set. I have a few PDAs (Palm Tungsten 3, Palm VIIx, and Handspring Visor) that I've received from banks and brokers. Some brokerages like Fidelity offer customers airline miles for opening a new account. I've also opened a couple of credit cards that were offered in conjunction airline mileage programs. These usually offer generous bonuses for signing up.

Some banks and brokers offer a cash bonus for signing up. For example, right now optionsXpress brokerage is giving away $100 to new customers who deposit at least $500 and make 3 trades. Some credit cards such as Discover Card offer a cash back bonus for opening a new credit card account. I already had a Discover Card, but I found that they allow individuals (with good credit) to have two Discover Cards. So I went ahead and took advantage of their offer by opening a second account. I will note that some banks will report a bonus that you receive on a 1099 form. So, keep that fact in mind when you open a new account.

Lastly, another deal that I might take advantage of is the offer of a new Dell computer monitor for a deposit of $5,000 or more. According to their website, you have to keep the account open for at least 180 days. I did some checking, and found that the 24 inch Dell monitor (ST2420L) they are giving away retails for about $220, so it is a pretty generous gift. For a deposit of $100k, they are offering a 27 inch Dell U2711 which is worth $1100. Lastly, if you have $250k to reach the highest tier, they will give you a 30 inch Dell U3011, which costs $1500.

These last two tiers are pretty steep, but I think most readers could afford to  deposit $5k if they want a new monitor. Also note that you have to enter promo codes DELL24, DELL27, or DELL30 as appropriate when applying.

So there you have it. What do you think the best bonus gift from a bank or brokerage is?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Add Supplemental Income to Make Ends Meet

Most individuals do not save nearly enough money for their many needs and goals, including for the future and retirement. While personal income is often to blame for not having ‘enough to go around’, there is also blame to be put on the individuals not exploring the opportunities they have when it comes to savings goals and other income-earning opportunities.

Savings goals should be a part of everyone’s personal financial system. Without identifying and putting away adequate cash for the savings goals you have, you likely won’t be successful in achieving personal financial success. Saving goals are just as important as your overall budget plan for making ends meet. Many people will struggle just meeting their basic financial obligations because they do not make enough money in their job. They forget about prioritizing their savings goals because there isn’t enough cash on a monthly basis to meet basic bills.

However, there are other resources where money can be made and added to one’s overall income. These resources should be pursued in order to find financial stability rather than sit back and lament lack of funding.

Overlooked Options - Where Are Your Resources?
For people struggling with deep debts, it is often necessary to take on a second job for the needed income. When we are doing okay financially but still not well enough to achieve our savings goals, supplemental income can be the key to overall personal finance success.

The current job market is tough. Many full time workers who have been downsized or out of a job have taken on many of the part time jobs people used to use as a resource for supplemental income. While part-time retail jobs and similar hourly work is still very much an option, these jobs may be harder to come by or may only be found on a temporary basis. Many will also not pay the kind of money you need to earn especially if the job hours interfere with your regular employment.

Ideally, to control the financial and time aspects of supplemental income, you can turn to your own skill sets. There are literally hundreds of different services you can provide on your own within your local neighborhood or solely online. Because of today’s tough job market, many people have been turning to entrepreneurism in order to access extra cash. Of those who have ventured out on their own, many have found not only success at earning the extra cash they set out needing, they have come to find a brand new full time career.

Exploring Your Talents
The odds are high that you have some type of talent, skill, or know-how that can be marketable to others. From crafts to dog walking to gardening to blogging, you can likely find a way to turn your skills into supplemental cash. Even if your current paycheck covers the bills, you still need to be thinking about the future. The extra income you earn can be allocated exclusively to your savings. Whether you turn your talent into a full-fledged career or continue to earn extra money throughout the month doing odd jobs, it is essential to make sure your money goals stay on track.

Marketing your talents in the age of social media and other online interaction is a low-cost and very effective means of supplementing to the income you already are making. Start by asking friends and family what you do best if you are unable to find initial direction. Start small to keep overhead costs low and grow as necessary. It may be important for you to remain discreet about your additional work with your present employer, especially if you have plans of performing the same kind of job. You should also refer to your current Employee Handbook from your full time employer to be sure there is not clause including containing a non-competes agreement, meaning you can not legally perform similar services because you signed an employment contract.

Whether you opt to perform physical labor like woodworking or offer to freelance your bookkeeping skills, you are opening the door not only for a stronger financial picture for the future ahead with the supplemental income now, you are also possibly establishing even more of a financially secure future if the supplemental services becomes a success.

About the Guest Author
This is a guest post by James Quinn. James is a personal finance writer with years of experience in the space. Besides the usually debt relief, credit and investment topics, James also turns to some alternative solutions such as supplemental income planning. To find out more about traditional or innovative ways to fight debt, visit the debt settlement blog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How to Start and Sustain a Successful Investment Club

Investing in the stock market can be stressful. After all, you're risking your hard earned money in an attempt to make more money. There's no guarantee you won't lose it all. You may also make a killing, and that's what makes people take the chance. If you know next to nothing about the stock market but would like to get your feet wet, you may want to consider starting an investment club. It's a way to gain some experience without having to make all the decisions yourself. Following are a few tips on how to start and sustain a successful investment club.

What Is an Investment Club?
An investment club is where a group of people get together and pool their money to buy and sell stocks and bonds or pursue other investment opportunities. One of the advantages is that an individual will be able to benefit from the knowledge of others, while offering their own in return. You pool not only your money, but your knowledge and experience as well.

How to Start an Investment Club
If you're interested in starting an investment club, you must first decide whether you're getting into it simply to make money, or for the learning experience, or some combination of the two. Since this is an activity that will require not only money, but time, too, you should make sure you're willing to make the commitment. The first step is to research the concept of investment clubs. Use all the resources you have available to you, including the Internet and your own contacts.

Check out a group called the National Association of Investors Corporation (NAIC.) They have a track record of helping investment clubs become successful long-term investors, and could certainly be helpful to you. Talk to friends, relatives, coworkers, and other people you know who are interested in the stock market. Find out if they have any interest in joining an investment club or if they know anyone who does.

Like-Minded People
Your club will have a much better chance of success if you seek out like-minded people--those who have the same, or similar, goals. If one person wants to jump in with both feet and invest thousands of dollars immediately, they may not get along with someone else who merely wants to take a chance by investing a few hundred. The more you know about the people who are involved, the better the odds of your club becoming successful and staying that way.

Size Matters
If your group is too large or too small it can become a problem. Having too many people may make it difficult to come to a decision on what stocks or bonds to buy or when to sell. If you have too few people you won't be able to take full advantage of the greatest benefit of an investment club, namely feeding off the experience and knowledge of others. The perfect number is something only your club can decide, but a group of 12 to 15 seems to work well.

Before any money changes hands, you should organize the club. Elect officers just as you would with any organization. Determine what your goals are, then brainstorm ideas on how to attain them. This is where your group's ability to get along will be tested, and the reason you need to have people who want similar things. Another important factor is to agree not only on where you're going, but the method of getting there.

Long-Term or Short-Term Investing
This is one of the most important points your group must agree on before the actual buying and selling begins. You must all be of the same mind. Whether your group wants to make quick in-and-out investments, or is determined to stick it out for a long period of time, every member of the group should agree. Those who are determined to make a swift profit and then get out will definitely not get along with someone who wants to be more conservative with their money and is willing to wait long periods of time for their investments to pay off.

About the Guest Author
This guest post is from Bailey Harris. If you are interested in writing a guest post, please contact PF Stock at the Email address listed in the sidebar.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Annual Income Survey Results

The results of PFStock's latest income survey are in. For a while now, I've had an annual income poll in the sidebar of PFStock that asks readers to respond to the question: "How much do you make?" In total, there were 85 responses to this poll. So, here are the latest poll results:

How Much Do You Make (April 2011 Results)

Annual Income% of PFStock Readers
less than $50k 8%
$50k-$99k 25%
$100k-$149k 27%
$150k-$199k 11%
$200k-$249k 8%
$250k and higher 18%

Note that the percentages do not add up to 100% due to rounding. From these statistics, I found it interesting that a large percentage of my readers fall into the higher income categories. More than 60% of PFStock readers have an income greater than $100,000 per year. Does anybody have a comment on this statement?

The last time that I published annual income survey results was in my July 2010 post on the topic. I also found similar results then. Because the 2011 and 2010 surveys covered different income ranges, it is not straightforward to make a side-by-side comparison. However, I made some simplifying assumptions and constructed this table from the two polls.

Annual income of PFStock readers 2010 vs. 2011

Annual Income 2010 Survey 2011 Survey
less than $50k 17%8%
$50k-$99k26% *25%
$100k-$149k 20% *27%
$150k and higher 34%37%

*Note: For the 2010 survey, the $75k-$124k range was split and divided between the $50k-99k and $100k-$249k ranges. The percentages do not add up to 100% due to rounding.

From these statistics, I see that there is a bit of a shift toward the higher income ranges. Does this mean that the economy is starting to recover in 2011?

Here are some other interesting related posts:

Annual Income Survey (2/10)
How much do you make? (4/09)
Net Worth Update (8/09)
Net Worth Comparison (6/08)
Are You Wealthy? (3/08)
Calculating Net Worth (9/06)


Friday, April 1, 2011

Guest Post: Canola Oil Is Poisonous

Recently I bought cooking oil that's new to our supermarkets, Canola Oil. I tried it because the label assured me it was lowest in "bad" fats. However, when I had used half the bottle, I concluded that the label told me surprisingly little else and I started to wonder: where does canola oil come from? Olive oil comes from olives, peanut oil from peanuts, sunflower oil from sunflowers; but what is a canola?

There was nothing on the label to enlighten me, which I thought odd. So, I did some investigating on the Internet. There are plenty of official Canola sites lauding this new "wonder" oil with all its low-fat health benefits. It takes a little longer to find sites that tell the less palatable details. Here are just a few facts everyone should know before buying anything containing canola.

Canola is not the name of a natural plant but a made-up word, from the words "Canada" and "oil". Canola is a genetically engineered plant developed in Canada from the Rapeseed Plant, which is part of the mustard family of plants. According to Agri Alternatives, The Online Innovation, and Technology Magazine for Farmers, "By nature, these rapeseed oils, which have long been used to produce oils for industrial purposes, are... toxic to humans and other animals". (This, by the way, is one of the websites singing the praises of the new canola industry.)

Rapeseed oil is poisonous to living things and is an excellent insect repellent. I have been sing it (in very diluted form, as per instructions) to kill the aphids on my roses for the last two years. It works very well; it suffocates them. Ask for it at your nursery. Rape is an oil that is used as a lubricant, fuel, soap and synthetic rubber base and as a illuminate for color pages in magazines. It is industrial oil. It is not a food. Rape oil, it seems, causes emphysema, respiratory distress, anemia, constipation, irritability, and blindness in animals and humans. Rapeseed oil was widely used in animal feeds in England and Europe between 1986 and 1991, when it was thrown out.

Remember the "Mad Cow disease" scare, when millions of cattle in the UK were slaughtered in case of infecting humans? Cattle were being fed on a mixture containing material from dead sheep, and sheep suffer from a disease called "scrapie". It was thought this was how "Mad Cow" began and started to infiltrate the human chain. What is interesting is that when rape oil was moved from animal feed, 'scrapie' disappeared. We also haven't seen any further reports of "Mad Cow" since rape oil was removed from the feed. Perhaps not scientifically proven, but interesting all the same.

US and Canadian farmers grow genetically engineered rapeseed and manufacturers use its oil (canola) in thousands of processed foods, with the blessings of Canadian and US government watchdog agencies. The canola supporting websites say that canola is safe to use. They admit it was developed from the rapeseed, but insist that through genetic engineering it is no longer rapeseed, but "canola" instead.

Except canola means "Canadian oil"; and the plant is still a rape plant, albeit genetically modified. The new name provides perfect cover for commercial interests wanting to make millions. Look at the ingredients list on labels. Apparently peanut oil is being replaced with rape oil. You'll find it in an alarming number of processed foods. There's more, but to conclude: rape oil was the source of the chemical warfare agent mustard gas, which was banned after blistering the lungs and skins of hundred of thousands of soldiers and civilians during W.W.I. Recent French reports indicate that it was again in use during the Gulf War.

Check products for ingredients. If the label says, "May contain the following" and lists Canola oil, you know it contains canola oil because it is the cheapest oil and the Canadian government subsidizes it to industries involved in food processing. I don't know what you'll be cooking with tonight, but I'll be using olive oil and old-fashioned butter, from a genetically unmodified cow.

Here is some more information...
Canola oil from the rape seed, referred to as the Canadian oil because Canada is mainly responsible for it being marketed in the USA. The Canadian Government and industry paid our Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) $50 million dollars to have canola oil placed on the (GRAS) List, "Generally Recognized As Safe". Thus a new industry was created. Laws were enacted affecting international trade, commerce, and traditional diets.

Studies with lab animals were disastrous. Rats developed fatty degeneration of heart, kidney, adrenals, and thyroid gland. When canola oil was withdrawn from their diets, the deposits dissolved but scar tissue remained on all vital organs. No studies on humans were made before money was spent to promote Canola oil in the USA.

Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) is a rare fatal degenerative disease caused by a build up long-chain fatty acids (c22 to c28) which destroys the myelin (protective sheath) of the nerves. Canola oil is a very long chain fatty acid oil (c22). Those who will defend canola oil say that the Chinese and Indians have used it for centuries with no effect, however it was in an unrefined form (taken from "FATS THAT HEAL AND FATS THAT KILL" by Udo Erasmus).

My cholesterol level was 150. After a year using Canola oil I tested 260. I switched back to pure olive oil and it has taken 5 years to get it down to 160. Thus began this project to find answers since most Doctors will say that Canola oil is O.K. My sister spilled Canola oil on a piece of fabric, after 5 pre-treatings and harsh washings, the oil spot still showed. She stopped using Canola oil, wondering what it did to our insides if it could not be removed from cloth easily. Our Father bred birds, always checking labels to ensure there was no rapeseed in their food. He said, "The birds will eat it, but they do not live very long."

A friend, who worked for only 9 months as a quality control taster at an apple-chip factory where Canola oil was used exclusively for frying, developed numerous health problems. These included loose teeth & gum disease; numb hands and feet; swollen arms and legs upon rising in the morning; extreme joint pain especially in hands, cloudy vision, constipation with stools like black marbles, hearing loss; skin tears from being bumped; lack of energy; hair loss and heart pains. It has been five years since she has worked there and still has some joint pain, gum disease, and numbness.

A fellow worker about 30 years old, who ate very little product, had a routine check up and found that his blood vessels were like those of an 80 year old man. Two employees fed the waste product to baby calves and their hair fell out. After removing the fried apple chips from the diet their hair grew back in.

My daughter and her girls were telling jokes. Stephanie hit her mom's arm with the back of a butter knife in a gesture, "Oh mom" not hard enough to hurt. My daughter's arm split open like it was rotten. She called me to ask what could have caused it. I said, "I'll bet anything that you are using Canola oil". Sure enough, there was a big gallon jug in the pantry. Rapeseed oil is a penetrating oil, to be used in light industry, not for human consumption. It contains a toxic substance. Even after the processing to reduce the erucic acid content, it is still penetrating oil. We have found that it turns rancid very fast. Also it leaves a residual rancid odor on clothing.

Rapeseed oil used for stir-frying in China found to emit cancer-causing chemicals. Rapeseed oil smoke causes lung cancer. Amal Kumar Maj. The Wall Street Journal June 7, 1995 pB6(W) pB6(E) col 1(11 col in). Compiled by Darleen Bradley.