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 HOME > Financial / Consumer

 
 Consumer Resources   
 Automotive Resources   
 Credit Reports   
 ID Theft  
 Saving & Investing   
 CD Laddering  
 Ginnie Mae Bonds  
 Saving for College   
 Savings Bonds  
 Charities
 Disclaimer 
Welcome to my Financial & Consumer information page.  Here you will find advice and links to sites that will help you manage and save money.  My personal philosophy is, "It's not how much you make, but how much you save that counts." 
 
 
 
  CONSUMER RESOURCES
Consumer Reports - is a magazine and web site run by Consumer Union, a non-profit organization whose mission is to test products and services, inform the public and protect consumers.  I find the magazine very valuable and highly recommend getting a subscription (your money will be put to good use since they accept no outside advertising in order to remain unbiased).  The product reviews are absolutely wonderful. 

Clark Howard - This guy is one of my heroes!  He is even cheaper than I am.  His motto is "Teaching you how to pack a punch in your wallet, spend less, save more & avoid getting ripped off!"  Clark is a consumer advocate who has a radio show based out of Atlanta.  In 1993 he opened the Consumer Action Center, an advice service for consumer questions and staffed by over 140 volunteers.  You can call his radio show toll-free at 1-877-87-CLARK and get excellent advice about virtually anything consumer related.  I recommend checking out his web site, it is a virtual plethora of good things to know and is a very valuable resource.  Clark's Greatest Hits page is a compilation of the all the guides, lists and manuals Clark has created over the years.  If you don't get Clark's radio show in your area, you can listen to it over the internet from 1 - 6 P.M. EST on weekdays (Click here to listen in).
 
 
 
 
  AUTOMOTIVE RESOURCES
Choosing, buying and/or selling a car is not an easy thing to do. It used to be confusing and hard to find reliable information.  But now the internet has changed that.  To learn more about buying a car use the links below or go to Clark Howard's Car Buying Advice or Money.com's Auto Department. 
 

Safety Information 
 
Let's face it, some cars perform better in a crash than others, and it is a good idea to know which vehicles are poor safety choices.  The sites below offer crash-test ratings and other safety and fuel efficiency information that I have found very helpful.   

Vehicle Reviews & Pricing 

These sites offer reviews of new cars and include lists of specifications, options, and performance for various models.  Some of the sites also have dealer invoice pricing which is handy when negotiating the price of a new car. 

Edmunds (my favorite) 
Consumer Reports 
Intellichoice Car Center 
Motor Trend 
AutoSite 
CarsDirect - buy online
Car and Driver 
Yahoo! Autos 
MSN Autos 
Kelley Blue Book 
CarSmart 
CarFax - title, salvage check 
 
 
 
 
 
  CREDIT REPORTS
It is important to periodically check your credit report for errors or the possibility of ID Theft.  The links below will take you to three of the major credit bureaus and other valuable sites. 
  • Equifax - credit bureau supplying online credit report & credit score.  
  • TransUnion - credit bureau.
  • Experian - credit bureau supplying online credit report. 
  • myFICO - online credit score.
  • E-Loan - online credit score.
To Learn more about ID Theft & proctecting your privacy click here.
 
 
 
 
  SAVING & INVESTING
This section is under construction but remember this important adage: Time is the crucial component to wise investing. 
  
Learn how to maximize your return with certificates of deposit (CD's) using a strategy called CD Laddering.  An alternative to investing in a CD is a Ginnie Mae Mortgage Backed Security. 

To learn more about investing, check out the following excellent websites.   
  • Money 101 - lessons that help you invest, save, borrow and spend more wisely.   
  • The Vanguard Group: Education, Planning & Advice - excellent lessons & resources from a highly respected mutual fund company.  
  • Los Angeles Times Investing 101 - a series of lessons on investing, budgeting, insurance, retiring and estate planning.  
  • TIAA-CREF - an investment company with information on retirement, investing, Social Security and health care.  To directly find educational information go to the TIAA-CREF Library.
  • Bob Brinker - an investment manager and host of the radio show MoneyTalk.  Lots of directly useful advice and educational information on investing.
  • The American Savings Education Council (ASEC) - a coalition of private and public sector institutions - undertakes initiatives to raise public awareness about what is needed to ensure long-term personal financial independence. ASEC's goal is to make saving and planning a vital concern of Americans and in the economic interests of employers.


Other Useful Links for Saving and Investing: 
  • FDIC - a governmental agency  concerned with the stability of and public confidence in the nation's financial system.  Their mission is to insure deposits and promote safe and sound banking practices.
    • FDIC Bank Data - searchable databases allow users to find institutions and their branches in order to determine their status as insured depository institutions, their financial condition and their condition relative to other institutions. 
  • Quicken.com - the online counter part to the highly useful finance tracking software, Quicken (which I recommend).  Use this site to search for and learn about specific stocks, mutual funds, insurance, home loans, financial news, some bill paying and banking services.
  • Google Advisor - makes it easy to find financial offers from multiple providers, compare them side by side, and apply online.
  • Yahoo Finance - Business & Market news, stock research, educational tools, personal financial tools like online bill paying, savings finder, loan, insurance and tax help.
  • BankRate.com - find the best rates for CD's, Auto & Home Loans, and credit cards; along with other valuable information and many useful financial calculators.
  • BAUERFINANCIAL.COM - offers a five star rating system on the health of financial institions.
  • Morning Star - stock market data and a five star rating system for mutual funds.
  • VisualCalc - dozens of useful online financial calculators (be patient, the pages load slowly).
  • MortgageLoan.com - over 100 personal finance calculators.
 
 
 
 
  SAVING FOR COLLEGE
Some of the most important things you can give your children are unconditional love, security and an education.  Educations are getting more, and more expensive and I highly recommend taking advantage of section 529 of the IRS Tax Code to help pay for your children's education. 

Section 529 of the tax code allows you to invest money through a state run agency on behalf of your children (or some other beneficiary).  This money grows tax-deferred and can later be used to pay for qualified higher education expenses at any eligible post-secondary institution throughout the U.S. (and even some outside the U.S.) - including vocational schools.  When the money is pulled out of the savings plan it is taxed at your child's tax rate and not yours (Note: this has changed with the passing of the new tax laws, the money now grows tax-free and is not taxed at all when it is used for educational expenses).  Some plans allow you to invest as little as $25 per month.  And if you are concerned that little Junior might turn out to be a bad egg, you can always change the beneficiary of the account to some other family member.  Just as with any type of investing, educate yourself about the various 529 plans since some state plans have large overhead fees.  Avoid brokerages and make your own contributions, it will save you money.  And most importantly, make regular contributions--it is the best way to save.  
 


Please check out the following web sites to learn more about 529 savings plans:  
For additional information on different ways of saving and paying for college check out the following links: 
 
 
 
  SERIES I SAVINGS BONDS
For an investment that is attractive for fixed income objectives, check out Series-I savings bonds for fixed income money, i.e. money dedicated to the generation of interest.  There are two aspects to the I-Bonds interest rate - a fixed rate (0.0% through October 2008) and a variable, semiannual rate which is tied to the inflation rate so you can't lose your principal or interest rate. With each new issue these rates can change, but the current issue's total return is at 4.84%. With these bonds you can earn interest for up to 30 years, and they are sold in denominations as small as $50 and as large as $5,000. An individual can buy up to $5,000 per year, but you need to hold on to them for at least 6 months to get back your original investment and interest income. If you cash out in under five years, you have to forfeit 3 months' interest. All federal tax is deferred until the bond is redeemed, and up to 100% of the interest is exempt from federal tax if you meet specific eligibility requirements. Besides being a great investment opportunity, it is also patriotic as you are lending to the U.S. government. You can purchase I-bonds through most financial institutions. For more information, check out www.savingsbonds.gov or www.treasurydirect.gov
 


  CHARITIES - How to make sure your donations are spent wisely

CharityNavigator.org - This site rates and analyzes more than 5,300 of the nation's largest charities. Ratings are based primarily on a nonprofit's financial health. It includes the percentage of funds spent on fundraising and administrative costs, and compares that with the amount spent on providing services.

GuideStar.org - Information on 1.7 million nonprofit organizations, including detailed tax returns. Much of the information is free, but more detailed analysis requires a paid subscription.

Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance - The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance reports on how well charities meet certain standards, such as being publicly open about their finances. It has evaluated more than 1,200 national nonprofits. Regional Better Business Bureaus have evaluated an additional 5,000 local charities.

Greatnonprofits.org - This is a relatively new site that includes reviews of nonprofits posted by users, similar to restaurant or travel sites. So far, most of the reviews are extremely glowing and written by volunteers. The site could become more useful as more people participate.

MinistryWatch.com - This site specializes in faith-based charities and includes ratings on a nonprofit's financial efficiency. It also grades groups by how open and transparent they are about their operations. It publishes donor "alerts" about charities with exceptionally high salaries or questionable practices.

 
   
 
 
DISCLAIMER 
As with all things you find on the Internet, the information on this website should not take the place of using your own common sense.  I am just a guy with an opinion and my advice to you is to use the links on this website to learn about and conduct your own research on various topics.  Always be critical of what you read.  Think before you act.  And take responsibility for your own actions.   
    
-- Scott
 

 

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Last updated: 6/6/2012