Posts Tagged ‘Smarts’

Yelp Accused of Review Extortion

February 24, 2009

I ran across this interesting post at The Consumerist last week.  It piqued my interest for a few reasons.  First of all, I’ve never liked Yelp.  I have friends who swear by it, but I am highly suspicious of ANY website providing consumer reviews.  It’s difficult to determine if reviewers have the same expectations and needs, and then there’s the simple fact that, on the whole, people tend to leave reviews when they are 1) very satisfied or 2) very disappointed with a product or service.

If claims of review extortion turn out to be not only true, but widespread and part of Yelp’s ethos, I’ll be very disappointed, but not surprised.

So, how does one research products, hotels, restaurants or services?  Is it possible to find un-biased reviews?

In a word, no.  Of course not.  Everyone has a bias.  Personally, I try to combat this by spreading out my research.  I might take a look at TripAdvisor when researching a hotel, but I take those reviews with a grain of salt.  I make a habit of hopping online and bookmarking sites for hotels, restaurants and products I see reviewed in magazines.  Ditto with blogs.  Angie’s List is a good resource, as is The Consumerist, where I generally type in a key word and check out posts/comments.

What about you?  How do you researching products and services online?  Do you trust reviews on sites like Yelp?

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Detroit, Take Note

February 18, 2009

I caught this NPR story on the drive home tonight, about a Maine Lumber company hitting hard times and transitioning from manufacturing housewares to toys, in order to compete with overseas competitors.

It’s nice to hear company executives flexing their creative muscles, using their imagination and ingenuity, and taking smart risks.

These people remind me why I have no sympathy for American automaker executives.

Keep An Eye On Your Credit, Kids

February 16, 2009

As I’ve talked about before, your credit score is important for more than securing lines of credit.  Over at Consumerist, they run down four additional situations where your credit may come into play.

  • Prospective Employers
  • Landlords
  • Insurers
  • Cell Phone Carriers

Remember, you can check your credit report one time a year for free at Annual Credit Report.

Paying Your Credit Card Balance – A Word Of Warning

February 4, 2009

A few weeks back I wrote about how credit card interest is calculated and charged. I was especially interested in this as I was paying off my Bank of America card (with the 29% APR).

I paid my balance in full (approx. $6,500) via the B of A website on January 22nd, and after speaking with a customer service representative, I determined that I would be charged interest on my previous balance from the closing date of my prior statement (ending January 15th), through the pay-off date, which I assumed was the 22nd.

As of yesterday, the payment had still not been debited from my bank account. I also had no record of said payment because B of A never sent me a confirmation email, nor was it noted on the website.

I called up customer service again and was told that unless I manually select a payment date, it defaults to the due date, in this case February 9th. So, instead of paying a roughly $50 finance charge, I’ll be paying around $200.

Just a word of warning for those of you who are planning on paying off a balance or pay your balances monthly. Keep an eye on issues like this and grace periods.

Additionally, this is what the payment page looks like today:

As today is the 4th, I see that the payment defaults to the 5th. I can only assume it defaulted to the 23rd when I made my payment on the 22nd.

I will definitely be calling them on this.

Your Credit – Common Misconceptions & How To Improve

January 31, 2009

The business of credit can be complicated. It’s taken me a long time to sort out how credit reporting works and, for the most part, I’ve been able to use the rules and guidelines to my advantage. Following are some common misconceptions, and how you might raise (or lower) your credit score.

MISCONCEPTIONS

Closing Credit Accounts Will Improve Your Credit

It seems logical. You pay off a card, and close it so you will no longer be tempted to use it. And, having less open credit cards could only make lenders look at you as more responsible, right?

Wrong. Lenders don’t care how much credit you have available, they care how much you’re using. Your debt-to-credit ratio is one of the common measures used by the credit reporting agencies, and closing accounts will increase this ratio – this is not a good thing.

For example, say you have 10 open cards with a total credit line of $50K, $10K of which you’ve utilized. Your DTC ratio in this case is 1:5. If you were to close 2 of those accounts, reducing your total credit line to $30, your DTC ratio would then be 1:3, meaning you’re using one-third (33%) of your available credit, instead of one-fifth (20%).

If you feel you must close some accounts, focus on those with lower credit limits, such as store cards. However, I would not recommend it in this current credit climate because lenders are closing unused accounts left and right. In fact, some experts have recommended that people start using their cards once or twice a month (and paying them off monthly, obviously) to ensure those lines of credit remain open.

All Credit Reporting Agencies Are The Same

Again, seems logical. However, the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and Transunion) are private/public (read: non-government) companies and competitors. They use different models for calculating credit scores. If you would like to check your credit through all three reporting agencies, you may do so for free once a year through Annual Credit Report Dot Com.

Credit Scores Aren’t That Big Of A Deal

Sorry, but they are. Everyone should take their credit scores seriously, as they are not only used by lenders, but landlords, insurers and, increasingly, potential employers. Some people swear off credit cards, but the plain fact is that they’re useful for establishing credit and should be used, responsibly. Not establishing your credit is a big mistake.

Making Minimum Payments Is Better Than Nothing

Sure, better than nothing, but not by much. You might maintain somewhat decent credit, but you’ll spin your wheels. Paying even 10% above your minimum can do wonders in decreasing you debt owed, which will decrease your debt-to-credit ratio. Whenever possible, pay above the minimum due.

Paying A Bit Late Is Not That Big Of A Deal

You must pay at least 30 days late for a delinquency to show up on your credit report (the are noted as 30/60/90/120+ days late). However, paying late has other ramifications. You will be charged a fee by your lender and your interest rates will shoot up, meaning you will pay more in finance charges, increasing your DTC ratio.

HOW YOU CAN LOWER YOUR SCORE

“Shopping” For Credit Excessively

Missing Payments

Ignoring Medical Or Utility Bills

Overusing Your Available Credit & Maxing Out Your Credit Cards

Failing To Report Changes In Address To Lenders

HOW YOU CAN RAISE YOU SCORE

Establish Yourself As An On-Time Payer

Keep High Credit Limit Cards Open

Use Cards Often If You Can Pay Balances Every Month

Crash Course – How Credit Card Interest Rates & Fees Are Charged

January 24, 2009

When I paid off (well, transferred) the balance from my Bank of America account the other day, my elation did not last long.

You see, I’ve been burned before.  A month after paying the balance on a card, I’ve received a statement with additional charges, usually accrued interest.

We all know the credit card companies are evil (and I don’t just say this because I am in debt – that’s all me – but they ARE).  However, it’s hard to find the confidence to call them up and argue a charge when you don’t even know how it’s been calculated.

So, I decided to finally find out.

Lesson No. 1 – You Have To Read Your Terms

I didn’t want to hear this either.  I’ve always just browsed through lender terms, checking on fees and when a teaser rate will expire.  I’ve never paid much attention to how finance charges are calculated, because I’ve never paid off balances monthly.

Reading through my B of A terms, this is what I found out:

  • There is no Grace Period for Balance Transfers & Cash Advances (my balance is made up entirely of a balance transfer).
  • The Average Daily Balance Method is used to calculate finance charges.

Of course, none of this made sense to me, even after researching on-line for 30 minutes.  So, I decided to call B of A and ask.

After explaining that I paid of my balance on the 22nd of January and my next payment is not due until February 2nd, I asked if I would be seeing another finance charge.

“Yes, you will get another statement with a finance charge.”

“Would you mind just quickly explaining why that is?”

“Because from the end of your last billing cycle, which was January 15th, through the time you paid off the balance on January 22nd, you will have accumulated interest charges.”

This made sense.  B of A uses the average daily balance method, so for 8 days I will have accrued some interest.

She did offer a tip; if you’re going to pay of your balance, give your creditor a call and they can calculate what you will owe in total.

According to The Motley Fool, most credit card issuers use the Average Daily Balance Method, so this is something to keep in mind.

Lesson No. 2 – Watch For Double-Cycle Billing

This method will fuck you if you carry a balance.  The Average Daily Balance Method is used, but your previous balance will also be considered (and be subject to charges).

Lesson No. 3 – Remember, Creditors Can Raise Your Interest Rate Without Notice

I learned this the hard way.  One slightly late payment and my interest rate shot up nearly 20 points.  Following are other reasons your rate may increase:

  • Carrying too large of a balance on another credit card: Your creditor may look at your credit records every quarter to evaluate the amount of debt relative to the amount of your current income. One notice received by a Fool staffer stated that customers could not increase “significantly” the amount they spent on another unsecured card. It defined “significant” as $2,000 or more. Keep your eye on your rates if you plan to make any big purchases.
  • Your bill-paying habits: Even if you aren’t taking advantage of a teaser rate, you could be subject to a penalty rate of up to 32% by missing a few payments or paying late for a number of months.
  • Defaulting on a loan — any loan: If your lender sees you pay late or default on another loan, he can re-price your credit card account so that he won’t lose his money, too.
  • Nothing at all: Your lender has every right to raise your interest rate. Even the most attractive interest rate offers — even ones that are fixed or fixed-for-life — can go by the wayside. Lenders are legally required to give you just 15 days’ notice of a rate change, however, most will give you 30 days’ notice.

The last point being the most important in this climate.  I’ve known many, many people who have seen their rates shoot up without notice.  And these are people with excellent credit who pay their balance in full every month.

Want to do some additional research?  Try the following sites:

New FICO Credit Score Formula To Take Effect In 2009

December 27, 2008

Image: Veer

First thing’s first, do you know your credit score? If not, the government allows you to view your credit report for no charge once a year. Do NOT be fooled by other websites that claim to offer “free” reports, like Free Credit Report Dot Com (you’ll recognize them by the annoying commercials).

You can view your free report at Annual Credit Report Dot Com.

In 2009 a new score formula will take effect, potentially impacting consumer scores negatively.  However, the new formula is expected to more accurately predict defaults.

“Fair Isaac says the new score will do a better job of predicting defaults than the classic FICO, which is used in more than 75% of mortgage lending decisions and by 90% of the largest U.S. lenders.”

Source: MSN Money

The biggest change that could potentially lower your score is the formula’s sensitivity to available credit.  Because creditors are both closing old, unused accounts and slashing credit limits, this could lower your score in a big way.  The other changes are as follows:

  • Small collection amounts will not impact your score as they did previously.
  • Credit setbacks, such as a repossession, will not have as large an impact if your other active accounts are in good standing.
  • Authorized User accounts will now be ignored.

MSN Money recommends the following to ensure your credit score remains as high as possible:

  • Apply for new credit sparingly.
  • Do not close accounts.
  • Keep balances low (or, at the very least, do not allow those balances to grow).
  • Keep accounts active.
  • Consider an installment loan – they are categorized differently by FICO.  Although, this may be difficult given the current credit squeeze.

The gist?  It’s looking like the changes won’t impact most people.  Others, such as myself, will likely see a drop in their scores.

iTunes U & My Dad, The Nerd

December 17, 2008

I just received this email from my father:

Hey, this is kind of geeky, but have you explored iTunes U?  Very, very nice.  Lots of lectures on a variety of subjects.  I’m downloading a series of 2-hour lectures on quantum mechanics from Stanford right now. They’re all free, so check it out and see if there are lectures on subjects you find interesting.  Go to the main iTunes page and look in the iTunes Store on the left column under “iTunes U”. Once there, if you select “Fine Arts”, a pull down menu appears and you can select “Graphic Design” which has tutorials on Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc.  It’s nice!

Ciao!

D

I had to share.  Because you KNOW I will be checking this out.  And so should you. Read more here.