Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

Running Your Money: How to buy toilet paper

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Running Your Money column logoBy Harry Stoll

Ancient Chinese civilizations invented gunpowder, the plow, the printing press, steel making, horse harnesses, porcelain, and much more. Put toilet paper on that list also. This essential item is among the 100 or so non-perishable items in most homes. Here is a troika of buying principles:

Buy the products you like.

Buy them on sale.

Buy them in large quantities.

Of course you don’t want to do anything that wouldn’t be prudent, but you should buy your favorite products. How you decide that is strictly subjective, but you know what products you like, so buy them. Many shoppers decide the house brands are their favorites. Stores are able to buy huge amounts of products from established manufacturers because that lets the manufacturer sell them to the retailer at a lower cost.

One deal—one price. But don’t be fooled into thinking the products are the same; corners could be cut. The only way to find out is to test fly them yourself. I’ve had very good luck with paper house brands from Raley’s and CVS. But it remains that you have to buy the products you like. If the cost is astronomical you might have to lower your standards.

The next thing to do is find what you like on sale. Paper products and personal care products seem to be on sale every week. (I use one of the many Gillette razors and never find their blades on sale. Not fair.) And the markdowns are often huge. Maybe they are just turning a smaller profit and the profit on the usual price is obscene. There is nothing you can do about that. Find what you like and buy it when it’s on sale.

Now, what you do is buy as many of these products on sale as they will let you buy. Sometimes there is a limit, but often it’s within what you can reasonably tote out to the trunk and find storage for in your house. You might have to creative to find space; maybe one of those under-the-bed covered trays would help.

Now a word about Sam’s Club and Costco: Other than the pallet loads you have to buy, I have two problems with them. I can never find out ahead of time what the prices will be, and their regular prices, while admittedly low, are often higher than the same product on sale at CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreen’s, or whatever grocer you shop at.

Coupons drive me crazy. I do snip them out of the Sunday paper but because they only let you buy one or two items I’m not too excited about them. As to those couponing TV shows: if you believe them you’ll believe in Smackdown is a competitive sport.

Shopping for fresh food is another task. Grocery stores usually come out with them on Thursdays. If you have a dedicated cook in your house, E can make use of those ads, but that’s a heavy-duty undertaking and fresh food must be bought about three times weekly.

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Report: Antioch household income decreased 22.7% from 1999-2013, third highest in California

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Rising costs and stagnant wages are a nationwide issue but some Californians are feeling an especially tight squeeze. To determine which California city’s residents are most affected by rising homeownership costs and wages that have not kept pace with inflation, consumer finance site NerdWallet analyzed and ranked 207 cities in the state on these key economic factors, adjusted for inflation, over the past 14 years.

The report found that household income has trailed inflation in Antioch, decreasing 22.70%, the third highest in the state, behind Palm Desert at 24.2% and Westminster at 23.9%. That compares to a 7.8% drop in annual household income in California, on average and accounting for inflation.

The report also provides comparisons on a city-by-city basis of housing and college education costs during that time.

The full report can be found here.

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Estate Planning: How do I restrain financial power?

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

Matthew Hart column logoBy Matthew Hart, Esq.

Last month I introduced the Durable Power of Attorney or DPA, for short. To recap, your agent with this power can do pretty much anything you can do financially, but they can do it in your name, such as take out a credit card in your name. Being an attorney, I am always concerned with checks and balances. As stated in the previous month’s column this power is critically needed by every adult but how do we keep bad things from happening?

First, you never put anyone in charge that you don’t trust, today to take charge of all of your money. If you hesitate at that thought, then you are considering the wrong person. Choosing the right person is critical.

Next, for the bulk of my clients I recommend a Springing Durable Power of Attorney. A springing DPA only “springs” into effect upon your incapacity. Therefore, even if your agent got a hold of a copy of your DPA they could not use it for bad things while you have capacity.

Contrast that to an Immediate DPA which takes effect the day it is signed. I have seen greedy children do a lot of damage with an immediate DPA therefore be sure you have a good reason to have an immediate DPA.

Next month I will address Bank DPA’s and Internet DPA’s.

Matthew Hart is a California Licensed Attorney who is an Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law Specialist certified by the State Bar of California. He can be reached at 925-754-2000 or and he has offices in Antioch and Walnut Creek.

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Running Your Money: Protecting your privacy – sort of

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Running Your Money column logoBy Harry Stoll

About once a year, you’re no doubt receiving a missive from credit card companies informing you of what they do with your private information. This includes when you open an account or make deposits or withdrawals; pay your bills or apply for a loan; or use your credit or debit card. It also collects personal information for others such as credit bureaus, affiliates, or other companies.

I certainly have no quarrel with my credit card company, or loan holder getting such data; they are laying their money on the line and it’s good business to know what I’m up to.

But sharing information goes further. There are seven categories of private information and you can limit the sharing of only three categories. Here are the categories and what you can limit:

-For their everyday business purposes such as to process transactions, maintain your account, respond to court orders and legal investigations, or report to credit bureaus. You cannot limit this sharing.

- For their marketing purposes to offer deals to you. You cannot limit this sharing.

- For joint marketing with other financial companies. You cannot limit this sharing.

- For their affiliates everyday business purposes. (An affiliate is an entity owned or controlled by the financial institution.) You cannot limit this sharing.

- For their affiliates’ eveyrday business purposes—information about your credit worthiness. Ta da! You can limit this sharing.

- For their affiliates to market to you. You can limit ths sharing.

- For their non-affiliates to market to you. You can limit this sharing.

I don’t mind my bank or credit company marketing to me. Mostly I hit the delete button, but occasionally they offer something I can use, such as a bonus for opening an account or using my card a bunch of times.

From childhood, we’ve been taught that it’s nice to share. But we’re (hopefully) all grown up now and should be able to decide with whom to share.

These categories were last laid out in the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. It was enacted to thwart wholesale sharing of information, including sale of personal information to porn sites and to dodgy financial institutions offering high risk investments to low risk clients. The last time credit card reforms were enacted by the Federal government was in 2009, known informally as the Credit Card Holder’s Bill of Rights. It did not change the sharing of information rules.

So we have but three categories we can limit, but I urge you to limit what you can (assuming that’s’ what you want.) Formerly, financial institutions made it somewhat difficult to limit by requiring you to call an 800 number and work your way through the maze or to stamp and address an envelope. Now, they usually include a postage paid envelope.

We Californians can limit the sharing of personal and financial information with affiliates and outside companies the financial institution does business. That’s a step beyond.

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Running Your Money – Zero % on purchases – such a deal

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Running Your Money column logoBy Harry Stoll

If everything is hunky dory with your credit cards—paying the balance each month, paying on time, and keeping expenditures below 30% of your available credit, and whatever I’ve been nagging you about—you can get a card charging you 0% interest on purchases for a specified period.

That’s right, 0%. Their motives are not altruistic, what did you expect? They hope you’ll put everything on the card; it’s a cuddly stuffed tiger that could morph into the monster under your bed.

Since I advocate paying credit card debit in full each month, why would I recommend a 0% credit card? Because that classic bumper strip is right, things happen. The roof she is leaking and the rain is coming in, or your car’s oil leak is more than a bother. Or it could be something enjoyable: a vacation or a root canal.

You might see ads about them or go online and enter “0% on purchases” and be inundated. Of course, that’s the easy part. The essential part is figuring out how you’re going to pay the piper because at the end you’re going to dance to his tune.

You should have funds to pay for your purchases immediately from an interest bearing account (You have one, right?). But you can open a 0% on-purchases card and keep funds in the interest bearing account. If you make one big purchase you divide it by the number of months of the 0% and set up automatic payments from your bank account. Or, if you are very sure of yourself you can make the minimum payment until closing time when you have to pay the bar tab.

Eve if you have not yet arrived at the ideal state of paying the balance in full each month, and are still paying interest (but working toward the ideal goal), the 0% balance card can be useful, but with all credit cards, danger lurks.

Sometimes the offer includes a pitch for a balance transfer at 0% interest. The catch is they charge you a one-time fee, typically 3% or 4%, which ends being more because you pay it up front; and then poof! It’s gone and won’t come back even if you pay it off tomorrow. So don’t go there.

I keep seeking interest-bearing accounts. Patelco Credit Union (membership available to anyone who lives, works, goes to school, or worships, in Contra Costa County) offers a money market account of 3% on the first $2,000.

It goes down from there until it reaches the puny amount most banks pay, but for $10,00 the “blended interest” is 1.7 %, which is more than the current inflation rate. Depositors are limited to six withdrawals a month. The deposit is federally insured. it can change it any time, without notifying you.

Or you could get a CD. lists several with an annual percentage rate of about 1.2%. That could be ideal to stash money for your 0% purchase card. A CD rate can’t change (but there are penalties for early withdrawals).

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Helping you understand the new tax rates

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Marlen RosalesBy Marlen Rosales, CPA

What advice would I want to give you to prepare for the remainder of tax season, this year? First, and foremost, if you haven’t already, I would tell you to get your tax information to a tax preparer ASAP. Recently, there have been many delays in the finalizing of forms by the government agencies, this year. As a result, there is going to be, if there isn’t already, a flood of returns once the forms are finalized. You may already be in the flood. Avoid it to the extent possible.

Today we are going to touch on three items; capital gains rates, federal tax rates and qualified dividends rates. I am choosing to discuss them in one topic because they are interrelated.

For the top ordinary tax rate, long-term capital gain maximum tax rates have gone from 15% in 2008 through 2012, to 20% for the top rate of 39.6% in 2013 and after. For example, for Married Filing Joint, a tax bracket of 39.6% is taxable income of $450,001 and over. Any long-term capital gains would be taxed at 20%, instead of 39.6%, a savings of 19.6%.

For ordinary tax rates of 25% to 35%, the long-term capital rates have remained the same at 15% for 2013 and after. For example, for a Single individual, tax brackets of 25% to 35% are taxable income of $36,251 to $400,000. Any long-term capital gains would be taxed at 15%, instead of 25% to 35%, a savings of 10% to 20%.

For ordinary tax rates of 10% or 15%, the long-term capital rates have remained the same at 0%. For example, for Married Filing Joint, tax brackets of 10% and 15% are taxable income of $0 to $72,500. Any long-term capital gains would not be taxed, a savings of 10% to 15%.

To figure your tax bracket, you can look up your taxable income by finding it on line 43 on page 2 of your form 1040. If not, you can call me on my Research Hotline and I will assist you.

Similar to capital gains, qualifying dividends are ordinary dividends that qualify equally for the 0%, 15%, or 20% maximum tax rate that pertains to net capital gains discussed above.

Marlen Rosales is a Certified Public Accountant, and Founder and CEO of Certified Accounting Services in Antioch. She can be reached at 978-4484 or Learn more about her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin/pub/marlen-c-rosales-cpa/1/305/7b3

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Kredit Kard Fu uses the usurers – Get their rewards but read the fine print

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

By Harry Stoll

One reason to use your credit card for as many purchases as possible is the rewards for using the card. But pay off your credit card each month, otherwise the rewards are for a fool in a fool’s game. The usurers say the more you spend, the more you save. Well, really, the more you spend the more you owe. Still, stay within your means and pay the card off each month, and the rewards are beneficial.

Frequent Flier Miles is one type of award. Another is the 1% to 5% credit cards reward for purchases. These started as percentages, so for every dollar you spent you got a credit of from a penny to a nickel. Then some of the card issuers got tricky and talked about “points” rather than percentages; although the numbers are similar, the card issuer sets the points’ worth.

Citbank in particular plays a shell game. A few years ago, they changed, and rather than getting a $25 check for 2,500 points it took 4,000 points. It gets trickier. Recently they offered a 5X times the 1-point per dollar of purchases, making it seem like 5%, but it takes 5,000 points to get a $25 check. That’s 2.5%. Perhaps still a good deal. The Citi card with this offer is the Diamond Preferred (they prefer you don’t pay it off). The 5X program ran through Sept. 2012, and probably will be repeated. Always make sure what a point is worth.

Chase Freedom Card changes rewards every quarter; in two of them you get 5% for gas, and in another 5% for groceries, and in another 5% at drug stores. Other purchases award 1%. You must have at least $25 coming to collect, but they pay to the penny so no unused points lie about. As with all cards, “purchases” include whatever you buy (but not balance transfers or cash advances). You have to sign up each quarter and they send you an e-mail reminder. You must have a Chase banking account to qualify for more than 1%.

Discover card for July-September 2012 offered 5% on gas, and you can collect in $10 increments. The awards change each quarter. October-December 2012, it’s department stores, no doubt aimed at Christmas shoppers. The awards are capped at $75. They offer a bonus if you use your points to buy a gift card.

Jumping from card to card could get tedious; Bank America offers a 3-2-1 card, with 3% for gas, 2% for groceries, and 1% for everything else. It doesn’t change from quarter to quarter.

Take advantage of these rewards but make sure you know if the points are percentages or are worth some other ratio.

A note: Recently, I said Provident Credit Union pays 2.26% on free checking accounts (with some easy hoops to jump through), but they could change it without notice. While cheering on the Giants in the Venezuelan World Series, I saw their ad, stating it is 2.01%. Still a good deal.

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Kredit Kard Fu: Entry Level – Pay Them Off, Get The Float

Monday, September 24th, 2012

By Harry Stoll

As a veteran of the Kredit Kard Wars, who is in the trenches, kicking sand in the bully’s face, I advocate using a credit card for every possible purchase. Hold it! This is not a run-amok license. You should stay within your means and pay the credit card off each month, and credit rating agencies get antsy when you exceed 60% of your available credit. So don’t.

Maybe later I’ll do a Suze Orman jaw torque and suggest how to tunnel out of credit card debt, but basically you have to find the way.

Once you’re paying them off every month, you’re in the catbird seat and ready to take advantage of The Float (the “grace period” to the usurers). This means you have from 25 to 55 days from when charges for insurance, utilities, TV/landline/cell phone/internet, newspaper subscription, broccoli, toothpaste, gas, bouef Bourguignon and pinot noir go on your card until you must pay the piper. (Some of these are discretionary spending so use discretion.) So, if your credit card statement closes on January 15, any purchases made after that go on the next closing date of February 15 and will be due by March 10.

So, in February any money you have in a checking or savings account remains there. Does this make your head hurt? Go over it in your mind. Draw diagrams. It’s real. But what makes The Float pay off is having an interest-bearing account that you can pay from a month later. This action repeats itself every month.

The result is you always have one month’s worth of those amounts in an interest-bearing account and get 1/12 of the interest each month.

Provident Credit Union currently pays 2.26%. (Although they can pull that rate any time, they’ve kept it for a few years. Your principal is federally insured. You have to jump through some hoops but they are easy.) There must be other accounts.

Making mortgage payments with your credit card is possible, but perhaps difficult. What a huge deal that would be. I’ll research it.

Now the amount you save by using The Float might not seem big, but as with much of Kredit Kard Fu, it’s incremental. Would saving of over 2% on your payments be worthwhile?

Another advantage of using your credit card is the awards they offer that vary from 1% to 5%. They can get tricky. I’ll explain them soon. Another way is getting an account-opening bonus, which I’ll also cover.

Using a credit card is to let the genie out of Pandora’s Box, so you’ve go to be prudent.

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