Tag Archives: bank of america

It’s Been a While, Time for an Update

I was just interviewed for an article about personal finance sites, and the brief early-morning chat reminded me that I haven’t updated this blog in a while. I’d like to start writing regularly again, it’s just tough to keep up with my blogs and my life. I don’t know how some personal finance bloggers find the time to write, like, three posts a day.

That said, I know I left you all with that wonderful long health insurance rant cliffhanger. Cue the cheesy suspense music please… “Duhn, duhn, duhn”….

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. I still don’t have health insurance. The good news is that’s mostly because I’m lazy and less because I’ve been denied. Well, I haven’t been denied because I haven’t applied yet. I’ve been speaking with a health insurance agent who seems to think my best option is to lie on my applications, although he won’t go on record as advising that. Meanwhile he’s also helped me put together a quote for Pacific Healthcare where I don’t have to lie, and that seems pretty reasonable (something like $140 a month for catastrophic insurance).

COBRA turns out to be a whopping $405 a month, so unless it turns out I actually get denied from every other option, it’s looking like COBRA, an aptly named snake, is a type of insurance one ought to stay away from even though it’s enticing from afar.

Money matters are looking up. I’m actually getting more work than I know what to do with right now. And old colleague who is the editor of a journalism-y startup just asked me to work a few hours for her a week helping with admin stuff, doing site maintenance and at some point writing some short and fun features for the site. I have a feeling she’s going to try to encourage me to get back into writing longer-format features and news stories at some point, but I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to head in. I’m kind of happy with the freedom (and better pay) that comes with controlling my career as a freelance writer out in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, my journalism expertise is in technology writing, and if I’m going to work for any startup in the area, it’s too conflict-of-interesty to try to swing a career half-time in journalism and half-time in writing marketing copy for these sites. This gig for my old colleague is kosher because it’s covering a specific area of technology that I will not be doing writing work for. So, that seems alright.

My biggest concern at the moment is the upcoming tax season. I just hope I get my W2 and 109 forms my way early so I can start figuring out how many zillions of dollars I owe, or don’t owe. I honestly have no idea what taxes will look like this year, and it scares me a bit. See, from Jan-June of 07 I was making “35k a year” and having taxes taken out of that. Then From June 15-Nov 15, I was making “50k a year” and taxes were swiped from my bi-monthly checks. That’s good. But after that, my tax situation turns into a bit of a mess. I’ve done a bunch of freelancing here and there. Some of it was for $50, some for $600, some for $1000. Obviously I’ll report all of the larger gigs, and try my best to remember the tally of my smaller gigs. Smart me, I haven’t been keeping track of my checks as I cashed them at the bank because I just assumed I’d have access to the scan of them later. I could have sworn at one point I saw these scans on my BankofAmerica.com account. No such luck. Apparently they charge some fee to pull up the scans of old checks. I don’t really want to find out how much that fee is. I guess I’ll just wait for my tax mail to come, and take it from there. And hopefully, at least for this year, it will turn out that my average pay was so low (due to periods of unemployment, without being on unemployment) that I’ll somehow break even on the whole tax situation. If not, there’s a chance I could owe a lot.

This is also the first year I’m going to see what having some cash in a mutual fund does to my taxes. Apparently I have to pay tax on my dividends. But right now it looks like my mutual fund, despite being ‘in the bank’ for over seven months, has returned to its original buying price. So I’m not sure how that all works out come tax time. Can someone explain this to me?

Personal Finance Online: Geezeo versus Wesabe

I was Googling “personal finance widgets” when I found myself stumbling on two personal finance network startups. I found Geezeo first, and then through minimal research found out about its competitor Wesabe. The process to sign up for Geezeo was much easier, so for the time being I plan on using that site to explore the world of online personal finance social networking.

While I haven’t had a chance to surf around the site yet, thus far I easily imported my checking and credit card account information to my main page. I’m a little nervous about throwing my banking passwords at any web startup, as I’m sure while 99 percent of them have the best intentions, any little error in security could equate to a depletion of my bank accounts. And that would be so not cool.

In any case, I’m really tired of dealing with Bank of America’s “My Portfolio” tools — which have so many bugs they’re actually discontinuing the feature. Now that I’m attempting to move some funds over to a Roth IRA and Vanguard Index Fund again (the first attempt fell through, I guess I didn’t enter my checking account in correctly) it would be nice to track everything in one spot.

My biggest qualm with Geezeo at the moment is that they don’t support brokerage accounts yet… so for now, I can’t actually access my Vanguard or CD accounts. They’re obviously working to enable this feature soon, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and be patient. At some point my patience will run thing and I’ll check out Wesabe.

On another note, what’s up with the names of these sites? Maybe they have some deeper meaning, but I’m confused. “Geezeo,” what’s that about? It makes me think of some old geezer. If anything, I do get a general idea of being a poor old geezer, and wanting to save for retirement. Meanwhile “Wesabe,” which likely means something in another language, just brings to mind the hot green sauce that comes alongside Sushi. And what does that have to do with personal finance? Is it because Sushi is so gosh darn expensive? 🙂

Ready for a little bit of a rant?

So, in short, my bank is driving me mad. I have no clue if all of this mess is my bank’s fault, or my fault, or Vanguard’s fault, but I’m really pissed off and to be honest I feel a bit bipolar about my whole financial situation right now.

Remember those two accounts I opened at Vanguard for $3000 each? The ones that were slowly but surely gaining interest that had me jumping for joy?

Well, I come home today to check my accounts over on my portfolio on BoA… and what do I see? They’re gone. Somehow my bank decided to buy negative shares back so now my investments are back to 0. I have no idea what’s going on. The mutual fund purchases were never posted to my checking account. But Vanguard’s site said they transferred. What is going on?

I called BoA and the woman I talked to didn’t understand anything. Of course it’s 8:30 on a Sunday night so customer service is closed.

Btw, two days ago they apparently turned off my debit card for “suspicious activity.” I’ve yet to have it turned back on. I decided that my transfers of $6000 to Vanguard must have freaked out BoA, but according to the person I talked to on their help line, the activity on my account should not effect my debit card and vice versa.

I appreciate my bank trying to protect me from fraudulent activity, but gosh, the reason I haven’t moved my cash to an online bank is because I like being able to go in to a banking center for help. Except the banking centers these days, at least BoA’s banking centers, are entirely useless. I mean, there are some nice people who work there, and I even found a BoA that has cookies to munch on while you’re waiting. That’s nice. I like cookies. But what I don’t like is how difficult it is to manage such simple things like transferring my money to an outside mutual fund. I mean, it seemed like such a concept was alien to this customer service woman. She couldn’t quite grasp the idea of someone transferring her money FROM a checking account TO a mutual fund.


Ok, my rant is just about done now because there’s nothing I can do until the morning when I’ll have the opportunity to call up customer service and whine to them. I e-mailed Vanguard because maybe they can tell me more than what BoA doesn’t understand.

I’m really getting fed up with BoA. It sucks, because I do like having a local banking center where I can deposit my funds. And I LOVE my mini BoA debit card for my keychain – I use it all the time and… I really think I’m the only person in the entire world taking advantage of the miniature debit card because every time I present it as a form of payment, the person ringing up the bill laughs out loud and says something along the lines of “wow, is this real?”

Anyway, I’m just really sad that the $30 some-odd dollars I supposedly made last week on my mutual fund is no more. I’m not even going to get hopeful about Vanguard being able to somehow place the purchase date on May 30 so the interest remains the same.

*end rant.*

Too Good to be True?

I understand that mutual funds are fickle, but I’m still rather excited by the fact that my $3000 has made $31.28 in just two days. It’ll probably drop down again sometime soon, so I’m not sure how much weight to put on that $31.28 cent gain. Still, that’s pretty cool… to think, it’s possible to make an extra $15 a day. That’s enough for lunch!

Meanwhile, my Roth IRA has gone up $18.40. So I’m up $49.68 in two days. That’s not bad, is it? I wonder how long until my accounts are at less than what I started with.

I’m still confused about the CD I tried to open online. It was that $5000 one at 5.01%. BoA called me but I still haven’t gotten back to them. And, as I noted before, I tried to take of the matter with a real person at an actual banking center, but because I bought the CD online I can only ask my questions to online banking reps via the phone. I’m kind of hoping something went wrong with it and it didn’t go through. That way I can take that $5000 and put it into another mutual fund, perhaps a large cap one. Or maybe I’ll be risky (stupid?) and put more in my VMGIX fund.

One thing I don’t get is if mutual funds work like the stock market. For instance, is it best to “buy” when the price is low for each fund share? Or does it matter less because you’re buying pieces of a bunch of stocks as opposed to just one stock?

I wish my bank would process transfers faster. It gets confusing when it looks like my checking account has $14k in it but really I know $6k of that was moved to the IRA & mutual fund and $5k of that is supposedly tied up in a CD that may or may not exist.

Off on a tangent, it’s quite exciting that I’ve gotten so many comments on my blog in the past day. One person who reads my other blogs actually figured out who I am! I don’t really care much if people who know me read this, but I guess I’m partially ashamed of being such a spoiled brat with my cushion of savings in the bank, and I feel awful that I don’t have student loans to pay while plenty of my friends do.

Then again, I also have friends whose parents will gladly put them through grad school and I know that, while my dad would help out here and there, I’m on my own when it comes to any higher education. Or am I? Well, my father says he can access his 401k funds in about 3 and a half years. It seems like he’s hinting at the fact that at that point he’ll be able to help out with money a bit more.

A part of me wants nothing to do with his money right now. I’ve already received more than I desire, and I feel guilty about that. But there’s also reality, and how I’m likely going to be making a “normal” salary for the foreseeable future. My $24k in savings doesn’t seem like much when I figure plenty of my peers are making $50k or $60k per year. Give them two years or less and already we’re on an equal playing field. So how guilty can I let myself feel, really?

CD Crazy.

Since I’m risk-adverse and I get all wide-eyed and bushy tailed at the thought of a high-rate CD, I pulled out $5000 from my “Maximizer” checking account and put it into a 4.26% 11-month risk-free CD at the bank. Of course I went to the bank to deposit my paycheck, but how could I say no to an 11-month “risk-free” CD? Well, supposedly I can take out money once a week with no penalties, and all I have to do is go to the bank. I figure the harder it is to get to my money, the less likely I’ll spend it.

I considered pulling my $7,400 from my crappy CD and putting it into the new one, but it turns out that the penalty to take it out (about $100) would be just about as much as the extra cash I’d make if I moved it to the slightly higher-rate CD.

So, gee, now I have three CDs. Is that crazy? The one I signed up for online hasn’t gone through yet. I still need to call the bank. It’s really frustrating that the online version of my bank and the in-person version don’t really talk to each other, with the exception of sharing my account information. I just wanted to sign any documents needed for the CD to be set up, but I can’t do that at the bank. I have to call them and deal with the automated system. Oh what fun.

PF Jitters

My $6000 was officially transferred from the safety of my Maximizer checking account into my IRA and Mutual Fund investment accounts. I’m excited about taking the investment leap myself, but nervous as all hell that the leap might be futile, or worse. I’m pretty comfortable with the $3000 I put to my Roth IRA. It’s in a nice Retirement 2050 plan that’s already diversified with my retirement date in mind. And since Vanguard seems to be a pretty reputable company, I’m not too worried. However, the $3000 I put towards that Mid-Cap Growth Index Fund is probably a bad idea.

As of 10:25am, my $3000 in my mutual fund is down 5 cents, and my $3000 in my IRA is up 3 cents. Why is a 2-cent loss making me so god-damn nervous? And furthermore, why is my Mutual Fund down 5 cents when looking at the day’s activity in the fund, it should be up a bit? I’m rather confused right now. Maybe it dropped down the second I put my money in. I know I’m going to be anal about checking how the fund is doing, despite that I’m going to try to force myself to keep my money in there for a few years (until grad school) unless someone more knowledgeable than me advises me otherwise.

I’m kind of glad I’m prohibited from getting involved in the nitty gritty of stock trading (due to covering technology companies that I’d like want to invest in), so I’ll likely avoid making any major investment mistakes. Still, putting $3000 in an account that could drop down to $2000 in a few days makes me rather nervous. I mean, the largest investment I’ve ever made with my money thus far was that godawful CD with a 3.1 % interest rate. I put $7000 into that a few months after I got out of college. It seemed like the wise thing to do at the time. It was an 18-month CD, and I figured since I had upwards of $30k in savings somehow, I could spare $7000 for such a “risky” investment. Well, it felt risky at the time.

Sadly enough, I didn’t bother to call my bank when the CD matured, thinking that it would just automatically transfer to my checking or savings account and I could deal with it then. Of course, now I know that CD’s automatically reinvest themselves at the same rate, for the same amount of time. So now I have my $7000 (which is at about $7400 after gaining the 18 months of Interest, which I guess is better than nothing) tied up in this low-interest CD. Meanwhile I recently saw an ad on Bank of America for an 8-month 5.01 % CD and I threw $5000 at that. For some reason they haven’t processed my CD investment yet, though. I guess I have to call them and confirm some things before they can pull my money from my checking account and put it in the CD.

In more exciting news, since last weekend I’ve made $1.57 since enrolling in BankofAmerica’s “Keep the Change” program. It’s kind of neat – every time you use your debit card, they roll your spending cost up to the nearest dollar and deposit the difference in your bank account. So, for instance, if you spend $1.01, they’ll toss in 99 cents. Of course, most purchases end up being, like, $2.92, so in that case you only get 8 cents. But over the course of one week and eight transactions, I’ve afforded myself a small coffee. I also apparently racked up $2.46 in my AdSense account somehow. I guess that means people are actually reading my page. That’s exciting! Extra income, even $4 a week, is certainly helpful. I’m nervous about this AdSense account thing, though. I’ve read some horror stories about how Google has shut down accounts if you click on your own links. And it’s not like I’m going to do it on purpose, but sometimes I’m not thinking and I’m actually interested in an advertisement shown on my page. I’ve never had to restrict myself from clicking something. So hopefully I can restrain myself.

On another note, I’m saving some money this month because I’ve offered a friend who’s recently moved to the area a place to crash until she finds a place. I wasn’t going to make her pay anything, but since she offered I figured I’d split my rent and pro-rate it. So that comes out to $15 a day. And I’m also possibly designing some websites for my friends for a rather small fee (compared to my normal rate.) But I never count my freelance money as income. It’s always “extra,” although in actually due to my poor spending habits and inability to keep a budget, I’m lucky if my freelance wages cover all the cash I’ve spent in a month.

So salary-wise, make about $2200 a month after taxes. (Though this year I ended up owing a lot in taxes and I haven’t done anything with the W4, so I’m figuring I make about $2100 a month, really. $905 of that goes to rent & utilities (PG&E, water, trash, etc are “included” in my rent). Oh, what the hell, here’s a list of my basic fixed monthly costs:

$905 — Rent (includes utilities) – Going up to $1050 per month in July, plus requiring renter’s insurance.
$60 – Verizon Cell Phone Bill, if I remember to pay it on time and don’t use 411, etc.
$64 – RCN TV & Internet
$8 – the converter box from RCN that I’ve yet to find time to return, that I’m apparently “renting” on a monthly basis
$5 – RCN “Home networking” – on my RCN bill, but I have no idea what this is. WTF?
$1038 total for now
$1188 + whatever rent’s insurance costs in July.

Now, time for some depressing figures…

My spending on rent currently is 45 percent of my income (you’re only supposed to spend 20-30 percent of your income on rent, I hear.) In July, sans a raise (and I doubt I’m getting a raise anytime soon) I’ll be spending 50 percent (or more) of my income on rent.

It doesn’t take a personal finance blogger to tell me that’s a terrible idea.

I’ve been thinking about writing a post about why on earth I live alone in the SF Bay Area on $35k a year, so I think I’ll write that up over my lunch break later this afternoon.

In any case, with $1050 left for all the other things in life outside of basic housing, TV, Internet and phone, I just keep overspending. It doesn’t help matters that I’m spending upwards of $350 a month in gas to get to my various rehearsals that are 40 or so miles from my home (my “hobby” is doing community theater – which is free, outside of gas mileage and makeup for shows and the like.)

But hey, at least I made $1.57 in “keep the cents” change. Then again, Bank of America, for some reason, has that $1.57 noted as a “spend” in my checking account. So I’m down $1.57 for the time being. What’s up with that? Grr.