Archive for May, 2010
Welcome to the 56th Edition of the Carnival of Money Stories. This week’s edition was inspired by an interesting article that I read regarding facebook.
There were many informative and entertaining blog posts that were entered but many of them were not Money Stories.
If your submission doesn’t appear here, it’s not because it was not appreciated, it just means that it didn’t fit the genre of a Money Story or Experience.
Without further ado, here are this week’s selected entries: (The Blogs with arrows pointing to them have been given the editors nod).
BIFS presents Financial Confession posted at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, saying, “We took a large loan out for bedroom furniture and hoped for the best so we wouldn’t have to use our emergency fund to cover it.”
Barb presents Understanding Credit: Part 3 Esmerelda Revisited posted at Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance, saying, “This story tells of a girl who got herself in debt really fast by her own doing. Esmerelda is like many young people just starting out. Read her story, and learn how to avoid going into debt.”
2 Cents presents How to Invest a Lump Sum of Money: Reader Question posted at Balance Junkie, saying, “Here’s the story of a reader who received a lump sum payment from an accident injury suffered by her husband. She was wondering how to invest the money, so we tossed the question to readers and received some good responses.”
Joe Plemon presents Why Joe and Jan Do Not Have Long Term Care Insurance posted at Personal Finance By The Book, saying, “In spite of what the title seem to infer, this post is not about Long Term Care Insurance; it is about Joe and Jan…and why they don’t have any.”
–> Donna Freedman presents Jam jars and laminate flooring: Why Freecycle rocks. posted at Surviving and Thriving, saying, “I kept five empty oatmeal boxes because I figured someone would want them. And someone did.”
jacqjolie presents The money taboo that should stay taboo – talking to others about their finances posted at Single Mom, Rich Mom.
The Wise Squirrel presents Pac-Man for Free – How About the Real Thing? posted at Squirrelers, saying, “Is there anything from your childhood that you couldn’t have then, but could probably afford now? Something that isn’t practical, but would satisfy a long-term want?”
Next week’s host is My Journey To Millions so please get your entries in early.
Choosing software can be confusing. The variety is getting more extensive and depending on what features you need, will determine the best product for you.
Moneydance is an application for personal finance that was developed by Reilly Technologies. The user interface is geared towards non-accountants although it is a double entry bookkeeping system. Moneydance can be run on multiple operating systems such as: Linux, Mac OS, OS/2, Unix, and Windows.
Online Banking: You can synchronize transactions with your records with the support of OFX, QFX, and QIF files. You can also pay your bills instantly using its online bill pay option.
Schedule: Be on time with your payments, bills, and paychecks. Moneydance tracks all of your overdue bills and calculates interest for your loans.
Budgeting: Budget your monthly expenses to your actual income. Moneydance will show you where you are over or under budget.
Portfolio: Track your investments and keep your portfolio up to date. You can view the total value of your investment accounts such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and CDs.
Import: Any program that exports data using the QIF format will be imported by Moneydance.
Compatibility: Moneydance can run on almost any operating system. This gives you maximum flexibility.
International: Moneydance is used in over 75 countries and offers support in eight languages. It makes it easy for tax reporting by tracking and calculating VAT and GST.
Privacy: You will be able to encrypt and password protect your data for increased security and privacy.
Intuit Inc. developed Quicken as a personal finance management tool. There are various versions of Quicken available such as: New user, Basic, Deluxe, Rental Property Manager, Premier and Home & Business. Most versions of Quicken are specialized for United States and Canada. Although it can be used more widely no matter what country it is. Quicken operates on Macintosh and Windows. As you can see Quicken offers more options than Moneydance depending on what version fits your needs.
|Features||Quicken Deluxe||Quicken Premier||Quicken Home & Business||Quicken Rental Property Manager|
|Secure Online Banking||*||*||*||*|
|Easy Tax Preparation||*||*||*||*|
|Manage Business Income and Expenses||*||*|
|Manage Rental Property||*|
Quicken is a better choice for business’ or anyone that needs more options. Moneydance is an alternative for individual needs. It also depends on what operating system you are using. Try to keep all this in mind when choosing your product.
Mercury auto insurance has been around since 1962, not one of the oldest companies but not exactly the new kid on the block either. Mercury’s ratings are superior with an A+ from A.M. Best and an A rating from Standard & Poor’s. As a consumer you want your insurance company to have excellent or superior ratings because they evaluate the financial strength of the company. Insurance is supposed to cover you if you should suffer a loss. You want the company that insures you to have the funds to pay your claim when you need it. With the economy in turmoil this is more important than ever. With the Mercury auto insurance rating at superior you have nothing to worry about in that regard.
The retention rate for customers of Mercury auto insurance is over 90%. That would lead me to believe that most customers are happy with their insurance unless we are all just too apathetic to make changes when we are unhappy. Change is hard but consumers aren’t that lazy. Truly unhappy customers do switch insurance companies. You can find a Mercury auto insurance review at http://www.viewpoints.com/Mercury-Insurance-reviews. What bothered me when looking for reviews about this auto insurance company is the age of the reviews. Why are they all three years old? Do the current customers not care? Are they so happy they find no reason to write about it? Their customer retention rate would lead me to believe it is the latter.
Mercury auto insurance offers cheap auto insurance with a large list of available discounts. According to their website at www.mercuryinsurance.com you can get a discount for being a good student, a good driver, or an occasional driver. As do most insurance companies they offer a multi-policy discount as well as a multi-car discount. You have an anti-theft device in your car? Great! That’s another discount. You can even reduce your rate if you belong to a professional association.
With the appropriate Mercury auto insurance promo code you may even get a bonus just for getting a quote. About a year ago they ran a promotion where you received a free 49ers ticket simply by getting a quote online and entering the promotional code. If you aren’t in a hurry to switch insurance companies and you like promotions like this, you should check if they happen to have an offer like this when you want to get your quote. You were going to get a quote anyhow, you might as well get the bonus.
You have you quote and reviews, so now the question is how good is the Mercury auto insurance claims department. Mercury auto insurance is one of the few auto insurance companies that does not have online claim filing. They do claim that a customer service representative is available 24 hours a day every day and their toll free number is easy to find on their website. If I were a customer I would certainly carry that number with me. They do offer guaranteed repairs, as do other insurance companies. This means that if your car is in an accident covered by a Mercury auto insurance claim, they will guarantee the repair for as long as you own that vehicle if you chose to have it fixed at a Mercury authorized repair shop. I am not sure if you have to remain insured with Mercury in order for this to remain in effect.
Overall, Mercury auto insurance seems to be a reasonably priced auto insurance company which is not likely to go bankrupt any time soon.
USAA Auto Insurance has managed to stay in the Bloomberg Business Week top two for customer service champ for the last four years. Their staying power in that position is unprecedented. If that were the only thing I knew about an insurance company, that would be enough to entice me to check it out. Put a 97% customer retention rate on top of that and you are looking at a winner.
USAA Auto Insurance was founded in 1922 and has expanded slowly since then. In the last two decades they have been accelerating their growth. USAA Auto Insurance provides cheap auto insurance to military personnel. From the very beginning, they focused on military personnel as their customer base concentrating on officers until 1996 when they made their insurance available to enlisted soldiers.
With a clientele that serves all over the globe, they have had great incentive to make use of all the technology available. They have the most technology friendly services I have seen in the auto insurance industry. Almost everything can be accomplished online starting with the initial process of getting auto insurance quotes to printing insurance ID cards, and following through to filing claims, scheduling appraisals and reserving rental cars. If you need to change your policy you can do that online as well. Most services are available via mobile devices as well.
They train their customer service representatives to understand the demands placed on military personnel and their families so they can understand their customers better. They also work with military pay schedules and have installment plans available without service charges. It is no wonder their customer review ratings are so high.
Should you have an accident USAA Auto Insurance claims can be filed online and they have over 2000 places approved for guaranteed repairs. Insurance is meant to cover you for when you actually have a claim so that is the part you should review for any insurance company you consider. You can read reviews at www.carreview.com. USAA Auto Insurance also has reviews on their own website, www.usaa.com, written by current members. Naturally, the reviews on their own website are a lot more positive than the ones found on www.carreview.com. Those aren’t terrible on average either though.
If you are considering USAA Auto Insurance you are probably in the military so your best bet would be to ask your friends. Some of them are likely to be insured with this company. Find out what their experience has been with claims. You know their customer service rating is rather high so narrow it down to the claims experience. Someone must have had to file one. Most customer service rankings are based on current clients of companies. What about people having to deal with the company from the other side? What if you cause an accident? Will they be a hassle to deal with for the victim?
These are questions a bit harder to answer and for most people they don’t matter when they are shopping for auto insurance. What we really care about is whether our expenses will be covered if we get into an accident and what it will cost us every month. As with any insurance company, quotes are based on your driving record, your age, your state of residence and similar factors. Whether USAA Auto Insurance is cheap auto insurance for your situation depends on your history. If you like what you have heard about the company so far, go find out whether they can benefit you. After all, auto insurance needs to meet your needs not your neighbors.
Auto Owners Insurance Company has won the J.D. Powers Highest Customer Satisfaction rating in the auto insurance claims experience for the second year in a row. Considering claims is what car insurance is all about that is an important distinction. Not only are their customers satisfied with their experience but you can be assured that they will be around for a while.
Auto Owners Insurance Company ratings with the A.M. Best company are the highest ratings it has with an A++ superior rating. Since A.M. Best evaluates the financial strength of a company that is what you want from an insurance company. It would not do you any good to get an ultra low insurance rate only to find that the company cannot afford to pay off your claim when you have one.
The Auto Owners Insurance Company believes in local support for auto insurance claims so when you have to file a claim, your first step is to call your local insurance agent who will then contact the claims representative. They have a nationwide toll free telephone number for those times that you do not plan your accident during office hours. An interesting move by this company is the decentralization of claims processing. They now have over 70 claims centers in 26 states to give their customers fast service. Judging by their awards, it is working.
You can find more information at their website, http://www.auto-owners.com. Auto Owners Insurance Company is one of the oldest auto insurance companies having been in business since 1916. They use independent agents to provide their services, a common practice in the insurance industry. Auto Owners Insurance Company has over 30,000 insurance agents that service 25 states.
They call their claim service the “No Problem” claim service. That is a wonderful attitude to have towards it if it is implemented. The J.D. Powers survey seems to indicate that. I find it rather suspicious that you can find almost no reviews of Auto Owners Insurance Company online. What does pop up are court cases where Auto Owners Insurance Company was defending itself so it would not have to pay claims. In today’s world where people post reviews on anything and everything, I cannot believe that so few reviews exist. There aren’t many positive reviews to be found either. What’s up with that?
How can a company that has been in business for almost 100 years have such a low profile on the internet? Does it make its customers sign a non review agreement? Word of mouth is one of the greatest marketing tools in history and the internet is the fastest way to spread it. My mind is spinning at this inconsistency. How can a company win awards for customer satisfaction and not spread the word other than on their own site?
They do offer to cover most of your vehicles from motorcycles to automobiles and from utility trailers to motor homes. Even antique automobiles are on their list of insurable vehicles. They offer a substantial number of discounts including the now standard good driver and good student discounts. You can get a discount on your company car insurance. If your vehicle has airbags, anti-lock brakes or antitheft devices you are also eligible for reduced premiums. So do your homework. If this insurance company offers insurance in your state, check with your friends. Find out how the service in your area is. If it seems to deserve the accolades where you live then contact them for an insurance quote. I would do it in that order since a cheap price does you no good if you don’t get service.
State Farm started its operations in 1922. They have grown into the largest auto insurance company in the country with a consistent 18% market share and a significant lead over the other companies. They have kept up with the times and have extensive services online at http://www.statefarm.com/insurance/auto_insurance/auto_insurance.asp. As you would expect these days you can pay your bill online, review your policy and check your bill status. You can also update your coverage or file a claim.
I have had to file several State Farm auto insurance claims and so far they have all gone smoothly. Don’t get me wrong. Having to file a claim is always a hassle because that means something happened to your car. My car seems to be a magnet for flying objects. I cannot claim to be happy about having my car sit at the repair place for weeks while it is being repaired but State Farm’s role in the process has been easy to deal with. In my experience it has taken only a few phone calls to get matters taken care of and my car on its way to recovery. Generally, I call my agent to report the problem, then I have to call the claim center and they tell me where to take the car. Maybe I am just lucky but it has been that easy so far. I even had one driver give me an invalid phone number but since he turned out to be insured by State Farm as well, they tracked him down and I didn’t have to worry about it.
Being on the road a lot gives you plenty of chances to experience what kind of service your insurance company provides. I have had to replace windshields while on the road and I just called up State Farm and they gave me the closest places to have it done. Getting my car battery jump started only took 15 minutes from the time I called them when I found myself stranded at a hotel. I can’t say that I have been equally impressed with other companies. I have had to deal with others when people have backed into my car and didn’t have State Farm auto insurance. You should see my cheerful countenance by the time I take my car to the third repair place for yet another required bid. Yet another car company simply dropped their insured driver after a claim even though it was a very minor claim.
State Farm lets you get auto insurance quotes online. It takes about ten minutes to go through the process. You can also find an agent near you online if you prefer to talk to someone in person. I don’t think that approach is any faster but it is nice to know who you are dealing with. You should also read other people’s reviews of State Farm auto insurance. Some can be found at www.carreview.com. Even though I have had great experiences with their service, that may not be true where you live.
If you consider their accounting department as part of the service, my reviews for that part of the company would not be as strong. I have had to correct bills on several occasions and they are not very speedy in that department. It took a full three months for a refund on an overpayment. I would have expected better from a company that seems to know how to streamline a claims process. Overall my State Farm auto insurance experience has been hassle free and I would certainly encourage people to check into getting insurance from them.
Titan auto insurance became part of the Nationwide family of companies in 2003 when it was purchased by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. Titan auto insurance itself started in the 1990s and is thus one of the younger auto insurance companies. They do not appear to have a nationwide website. So if you are looking for online auto insurance quotes, you will first need to find the right website for your state. The website at www.titan.com covers eleven states with no particular geographic order to them. It offers all the standard features of modern auto insurance websites. What is different about this one is that they cater to the Hispanic population by having a prominent Spanish translation of their website.
If you are looking for Titan auto insurance in Michigan, check out www.titanauto.com. This site also allows you to file a claim online but otherwise refers you to telephone numbers. The Titan auto insurance companies of the different states do not appear to have a uniform look, so there may be minimal national coordination.
The websites I found did highlight their telephone numbers which can be difficult to locate on some of the other insurance web sites. If you are looking for cheap auto insurance, you may want to check out their claim that they offer great insurance at an affordable price, especially if you have a less than stellar driving record. They do seem to cater to the people that have had trouble finding insurance.
Titan auto insurance at under $2 per day may be cheap for someone who has had traffic violations on their record.
To check out customer satisfaction with titan insurance claims, go to one of the review sites such as http://titan-auto-insurance.pissedconsumer.com/ or http://www.yellowpages.com/nationwide/mip/titan-auto-insurance-21941142. As always keep in mind that people are more motivated to write reviews when they are upset than when they are happy about a company. When evaluating Titan auto insurance I would try to find reviews from whichever state you live in since the companies seem to be fairly independent and may not have the same level of service in each state. I suspect the insurance rates are based on the state accident records.
Titan auto insurance as a nationwide conglomerate has worked its way into the top ten specialty insurance companies as far as the number of policies they write goes. They will consider any licensed driver, whether they have had multiple traffic violations or not. This is not true with all auto insurance companies. Many of them will refuse to insure anyone with prior insurance claims and drop you once you file a claim with their company. This is especially true with smaller insurance companies that do not have as large of a customer base to average claims over.
My biggest concern with Titan auto insurance would be the conglomerate nature of the company. However, most insurance companies have independent insurance agents, so having the groups more distinctly separate may not be that big of an issue. Shop around and see how their prices compare to other insurance companies. Many insurance companies give discounts for multiple policies held with their company. Perhaps Titan auto insurance is the only company willing to insure you. That will certainly simplify your choice since most states require you to carry insurance in order to drive your car.
I was surprised to find that Titan auto insurance was the first insurance company I looked at to incorporate Spanish thoroughly into their marketing. Especially for a specialty auto insurance company that seems like a brilliant move.
The Progressive Company has been around since 1937. It now writes billions of dollars worth of policies each year. One of the remarkable things about this company is that the name seems to fit the goals of the company. When they started they were one of the first companies to offer drive-in claim service and installment payments. Continuing that trend they beat their competition to the internet and now offer a wide range of services online including auto insurance quotes.
When looking for car insurance, I always check out reviews by current customers. You can find progressive auto insurance reviews at several sites such as www.my3cents.com, www.carreview.com, and http://www.consumeraffairs.com/insurance/progressive_insurance.htm. Of course, you can always check out a company with the Better Business Bureau. I am a big fan of checking up on a company’s record with the Better Business Bureau before I do business with them. Of course, I had to learn this the hard way. The good news is the Better Business Bureau did help me limit my loss which I understand isn’t always possible.
When reading reviews keep in mind that people are much more motivated to comment on companies they have had negative experiences with than on the good experiences. Read the reviews carefully. Are the problems people have encountered the kinds of problems you are likely to run into or are they rather unique problems?
The Progressive Auto Insurance Company does seem to offer insurance to a wide range of people so if you have had some accidents in the past and have been dropped by your current insurance company, you may be able to get insurance from this company. Keep in mind that high risk drivers pay higher premiums. I haven’t heard of an exception to that policy yet.
Whenever you apply for a new policy your recent driving record is taken into consideration. Get quotes from a variety of companies. The Progressive Auto Insurance Company offers a service at 1-800-progressive which gives you a quote over the phone as well as comparison quotes from three other companies. Personally, I would be a bit leery of getting my comparison quotes from a company that is trying to compete against the other companies. In my opinion, you are better off doing that research with each company directly and then when you are ready to purchase, contact that company. You are not likely to be quoted the best possible rate by a competitor in a comparison quote.
I must get an ad in the mail every week, trying to entice me to switch my insurance. They always have great sample savings. Once a year, I take them up on giving me quotes. Despite all the $400 per year savings claims, I haven’t switched yet and it isn’t because I am lazy. No one has been able to beat the insurance premiums I have even though the company I am insured with isn’t necessarily the cheapest for everyone. Everyone has slightly different circumstances. Shop around. Look at the company’s offer, their reviews, their services.
In the case of progressive auto insurance, the company offers many online services. It is the third largest commercial auto insurer and has expanded the insurance it offers to motorcycles, boats, RVs, snowmobiles and even segways. Their website is extensive and allows you to pay online or change your policy as well as file and track claims. They have even jumped on the mobile phone bandwagon, offering an iPhone application to pay your bill.
You are not alone. With all the debate about health insurance, it is still hard to know where to turn. Sure, you know how to sign up for the insurance offered by your employer but what if you want to be one of those self starters that get this economy going? What then? What if you get laid off?
COBRA is still available if you get laid off as long as your employer is still in business. The new law did not change that. Under COBRA you will continue to have the health insurance coverage you had before except now you have to pay for the portion of the health insurance that your employer paid for before as well as continue to pay for your portion. For an individual this will range from $350 to $500 per month, for a family expect to pay around $1000 per month. Not cheap but if you need insurance, especially if one of your family members has a preexisting condition, that may be your best option.
COBRA is one of the few ways not to lose continuous coverage when you are forced to find a new health insurance. If you get laid off while being treated for an illness, COBRA will keep paying for the treatment and when you apply for new insurance, you will be considered as having had continuous coverage which can eliminate the one year wait for coverage. This can make a huge difference if you require continuing treatment.
The average monthly cost for health insurance varies depending on the deductibles you elect and the comprehensiveness of the coverage. The higher the deductibles and co-payments, the higher your out of pocket expenses will be. Even though you can never predict the future based on the past you can look at trends. Take a look at your doctor visits and illnesses for the past three or four years. Has the frequency increased? If so, why? Is this an ongoing problem or was that a one time fluke? You should be able to get a feel for your relative level of health and how you use doctors. Every family is slightly different. I know families that head to the doctor the instant someone coughs. I tend to be less motivated to visit my doctor unless I know the problem will not go away without treatment.
When I did the analysis for my own family, I discovered that the cost of dental care and vision care such as exams and contacts cost us a lot more than the few medical emergencies we had over the past years. So for us a high deductible works well. You may find that for your family a ppo would work better. The preferred provider organizations usually have low co-payments for each doctor visit but your deductibles are not that high. Contrary to what you may think, they generally cover at least a portion of your cost if you should need to visit a doctor outside of the network your ppo has established.
You can also lower your average monthly cost for health insurance by subscribing to discount plans or prescription plans if you are at a stage where most of your expenses come from medications. If you were looking for immediate changes from the passage of the new health care bill, you will be disappointed. Many of the changes won’t go into effect until 2014. In the meantime, analyze your situation and make use of what is out there today.
I found the flexible health savings account offered by my employer to be useful in lowering my monthly health care costs. I take a low estimate of my average annual expenses and have that amount deposited in my account with pre-tax dollars. I highly recommend going with a low estimate since that money disappears at the end of each year whether you spent it or not. I abhor throwing my money away, don’t you?
Here are some Blog Carnivals that we participated in over the last few weeks. Enjoy!
– Carnival of Personal Finance #253 (The Demotivational Version) was hosted by Punch Debt In The Face and you can find our post entitled US Economic Recession History… This Isn’t Anything New… listed there.
– Festival of Frugality was hosted by Beating Broke (The Earth Week 2010 Edition) and you can find our post entitled Frugality vs. Deprivation: Does Saving Money Damage Your Quality of Life? listed there.
– Festival of Stocks (IRA’s, ETF’s, Dividends Edition) was hosted by Quick Trades and you can find our post entitled iShares: A Leader in Exchange Transfer Funds (ETFs) listed there.
- Tammy: After being injured during a robbery then cancer I fell a month behind but called them, sent documents and...
- Ana: How on earth are people spending so little on food? My husband and I spend an average of $1000 on groceries. It...
- Bill Johnston: For Mac I strongly recommend to use iBank or Quicken with Numeric Notes.
- Will: I started rolling my own and found that the technology is a lot better than when I was a lot younger. The...
- James: I pay 8$ for two big loads+ free drying. I do laundry once a month or twice. my sisters bill went up by 150$...
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