Thursday, April 30, 2009

Link Love: Great Social Security Income Planning Posts Courtesy of "Funny About Money" and "Free Money Finance"

Funny About Money writes an article titled "Early Social Security: A way around the earnings limit." The article details how you can continue to earn in your Social Security collecting years and not have your Social Security payments reduced by your earnings.

Free Money Finance presents a collection of six prior articles discussing Social Security Income Strategies.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

For Housing Crisis, The End Probably Isn't Near

I've got to thank the blog My Open Wallet for finding this gem of an article about the Real Estate crisis. Leon Hardt of the New York Times wrote an article titled "For Housing Crisis, The End Probably Isn't Near."

The article includes graphs of average home price to median income for 20 metro areas. Comparison of income to home prices is important when you're shopping for a home and want to avoid future losses. The NYT's article also points out the importance of the surge in home foreclosures. While housing prices are overpriced by 5% nationally, house prices may potentially slide further due to surging foreclosures.

A sampling of the metro graphs include:

I can remember the last time an Atlanta area patrolman tried to issue me a traffic ticket. I was driving in the HOV lane and my occupant was reclined out of view. The patrolman thought he had an easy ticket. Sorry.

I would recommend you read the NYT's article further because there's some excellent anecdotal information about foreclosures auctions.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Many Foreclosed Homes Throughout The Country Doomed To Be Razed (Demolished)

Many thanks to Dink's Finance for finding this article at "The Moderate Voice" by Joe Gandelman. Mr Gandelman has taken a CNN video about unsellable foreclosed properties and included additional U.S. wide news from areas such as Iowa, New York, Michigan and Indiana.

Additional highlights from Gandelman's research include:

* In Saginaw, Michigan, the city had 800 homes on its demo list two years ago and an annual budget to raze 200 per year.

* Foreclosures in Queens, NY, are leaving behind abandoned homes that become havens for crime. The only Queens areas where crime rose between 2006 and 2008 had high foreclosure rates. Yet crime dipped in all eight low-foreclosure areas, including Astoria, Flushing and Forest Hills.

Gandelman's full article.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Hazards of Double & Triple Inverse ETFs

I found a great Kiplinger Finance article via the blog Money Crashers. The article is about Inverse ETFs and how they may be "hazardous to your wealth." I have owned the double inverse Dow ETF and have enjoyed reasonable results. However, results vary and you don't get exactly what you expect. An excellent point is made in the article:

Real estate investment trusts have performed hideously over the past year. The Vanguard REIT Index fund tumbled 50% through April 7. Now, suppose you were smart enough to buy a fund that goes in the opposite direction of the Vanguard fund, namely ProFunds Short Real Estate fund. Its objective is to return the inverse of a REIT index. Your gain: Not 50%. Not even 25%. Instead, you lost 11%.

The article goes on to emphasize that these inverse funds don't target equal inverse returns over a month or year, but over a DAY! Additionally, the longer you hold onto these funds the worse your returns tend to be:
The longer you invest in a leveraged fund the more likely you are to lose money, warns Morningstar analyst Paul Justice. With these investments, time doesn't heal; it destroys. "It's an absolute fool's game," he says. "Unfortunately, there's a great swath of investors and even some financial advisers who think they can time the market with these funds. They're touted on CNBC all the time."

For the full article click here. Thank you Money Crashers for the good article find. I learned a bit today.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lost 4.8% of Body Weight (10lbs) Over Last Month

When I met my wife in 2003, I was a steady 175 lbs. I was working hard aboard my assigned ship. In my free time I was working weekends doing landscape work for cash. Since moving out of my parents home in 1992, I had never been a person to cook. Because of that, I never really consistently enjoyed eating. In early 2003 I met my new wife and she cooked all the time. In Oct 2004 my weight had ballooned to 192 lbs when I completed the Big Sur Half Marathon. Since then, my weight topped out at 215 lbs in Sep 2007. When I started my new job in Sep 2008, my weight was consistently in a range of 200 to 205 lbs. Now, I'm fed up and am cutting the weight. One month after going on a diet, I'm now at about 195 lbs. This represents a 4.8% drop in my weight (from 205 lbs). My goal is to cut down to a range of 184 to 189 lbs and consistently maintain it.

I started my weight loss by reducing my caloric intake by about 75-80% for a two day period which was close to a fast. During this time frame, I would basically eat things like yogurt, bananas, apples and string cheese. Once I got through the two day reduced caloric period my stomach shrank/tightened up to the point where it was easier for me to get full on less food.

During the last month I was challenged on a few occasions. At work we had a number of people transferring or reenlisting. With each occurrence there is typically a luncheon. Sometimes the luncheons are combined. Regardless, I found myself in restaurants a number of times. In each of these occurrences I never restricted my menu choices, but I would always restrict my meals immediately before or after. For instance, at breakfast I would either eat a meal replacement bar or simply a small bowl of my favorite kashi cereal. At supper, I might only eat a small amount of left overs vice a full meal.

It seems that my weight loss has slowed from about 2.5 lbs per week to about 1 lb every 10 days or so. We'll see how it goes. Here's a summary of the things I found that helped me:

(1.) I replaced my weekday morning coffee with diet soda or diet green tea.
(2.) On weekends, I would typically sleep in and avoid coffee or diet soda altogether
(3.) For the first two days of a diet I found success in drastically reducing calorie intake, allowing my stomach to shrink/tighten. This allowed me to get full on less food.
(4.) Be careful with diet sodas, they tend to give you a sweet tooth. Think of the Diet Dr. Pepper ads. It's true.
(5.) Exercise more. If not interested in weights or heavy cardiovascular exercise, simply walk. If the weather is bad, consider walking at the mall.
(6.) Eat more salad, yogurt and fruit.
(7.) Keep snack foods out of arms reach. When not in use, make sure they are put back up in the pantry. Best that they are there vice on your coffee table next time you get bored in front of the T.V.
(8.) If you're hungry and are having a problem sticking with your diet, consider taking a nap or going to sleep early that night. I found that I am able to go to sleep early at night. Others might have a hard time going to sleep hungry.
(9.) Eat until you're no longer hungry, vice eating until content or full.
(10.) Serve yourself. If your spouse typically serves you, he/she may provide you more food than you really need.
(11.) Think of the money you're saving when you stop eating junk / convenience food.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Must See Video: Susan Boyle - Britian's Got Talent 2009

An important lesson on appearances and their worth...

If you have been living under a rock you may not have seen this video. Recommend you take a moment out of your busy day and see Susan Boyle.

The video clears up after the first 15 seconds or so. The best copies of this video have the embed function disabled.

Britains Got Talent 2009 Susan Boyle (Singer) (HD) - The most amazing home videos are here

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

State Budget Shortfalls Mean Higher State Taxes: A Greener Pastures Personal Finance Article

The writer at Greener Pastures Personal Finance wrote a great article about the implications of state budget deficits today. The article goes so far as to present a color coded map of the U.S. and 41 states that risk bankruptcy if they don't stem the rising tide of deficits.

The author presents the implications in the form of cost of living taxes, target taxes and vice taxes. She also provides you the means for contacting your legislator and displays state by state tax burdens which can be helpful for those considering relocating. Here's her article.

"I Pay My Taxes" Rap by the Financial Freedom Boyz

This is certainly an entertaining rap video about IRS and taxes. I found it at DinksFinance.

Be careful viewing around kids or at work. There is some mild adult language and one short sexual innuendo that turns out to be a play on words.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Just Finished Reading "When Giants Fall: An Economic Roadmap For The End Of The American Era" by Michael J. Panzner (Book Review)

Until now, I haven't read a book cover to cover since 1995. Usually, I gaze chapters and selectively read sections of books. I typically have been a Newspaper, Journal and online connoisseur of information.

About two months ago I noticed Michael Panzner's book "When Giants Fall." I've been a bear on the U.S. Economy since around 2005 and noticed that the extended title was "An Economic Roadmap for the End of the American Era." This extended title was enough for this Bear to put his book mark back into use.

I found "When Giants Fall" an enlightening book. Any prognosticator who attempts to tell the future must carefully set up their thesis or risk losing readers who may have contradictory views. Even if I wasn't a Bear on the U.S. Economy, I would still respect the research put into this book. Panzner thoughtfully uses a bibliography of about 1100 references to generate his thesis and present his Economic Roadmap.

Part I of his book is titled "Fault Lines of a Fading Empire." In it, he gives us a lesson in Economics & Politics. For those readers interested in International Relations and Economics, Panzner gives you an interesting case highlighting the undercurrents which are acting to drag the U.S. from its hegemonic (aka "top dog") socio-economic superpower paradigm to what I perceive to be a co(co...) superpower format and trending to simply a national "player" format years into the future if our politicians don't act now to stem our Economy's slide.

Part II of his book is titled "Opportunities and Threats." This section transitions from thesis building to road map presentation. A short attention span reader like me is well served reading this section in total to quickly access Panzner's views about the future. In an opportunity knocks section he states:

More broadly speaking, other developments, including demographic trends, also darken the outlook for many asset classes. In the United States, Japan, Russia, and most countries in Europe, populations are aging, some at much faster rates than others. This has several implications. For one thing, it suggests that productive capacity in these countries will wane; real estate, stocks, and other financial assets will increasingly be sold or exchanged for safer alternatives; and social costs will rise, whether they are affordable or not. In the United States, where savings rates have been too low for too long, retirement-related portfolios could be liquidated en masse as a matter of survival. There will also be intense pressure for higher taxes, increased borrowing, and inflationary money creation. Needless to say, all of this has negative implications for profits, economies, markets-and investment returns. (p153, When Giants Fall)

Panzner goes on to create a personal roadmap on page 172 of the book which I found interesting. If this peaks your interest, you may want to buy this book.

Below is an Amazon book carousel. Included in it are books that I have read and recommend ("When Giants Fall," "Complete Tightwad Gazette" and "Exchange Up.") and books on my Reading List ("The Bull Inside the Bear," "After the Fall" and "48 Laws of Power").

Saturday, April 11, 2009

With Some Patience I Got My 4k Mile Toyota Maintenance for Free Today ($39 Savings)

Last week I brought my wife's Lexus into the Toyota dealership for two modest repairs. There is no Lexus dealership near us and was happy to bring it in. While there, they discovered that my brakes were nearly worn out (car has 77k miles). It was no surprise to me so I had them replace the back brakes and I scheduled an appt for this morning to get the front brakes replaced. During my drive in this morning, I noticed that the car would be due for an oil change within 400 miles so I figured I'd include my oil change today with my brake job.

I was greeted by the service staff and sat down in a chair to talk about my planned maintenance. The Toyota rep had me signed the service slip for brake replacement and 4k mile maintenance and oil change. I was a bit reluctant when I saw that the oil used was going to be the Castrol Semi-Synthetic blend. He told me that it was just $3more so I relented.

I sat down in the waiting area after getting my free drink (sugar-free red bull) from their coffee bar and started to watch a movie on their TV (National Treasure, Book of Secrets). I was ready for an extended wait and brought a book along also. After an approximate 30 minute wait the Toyota rep came in and said that the brakes were never ordered last week when my appointment was made since the brakes were never paid in advance for ordering. I advised him that the appointment was made last week and I was never told that I had to pre-pay. I agreed to order the brakes and reschedule the install. He went on to say that my oil change should be done shortly. I then said:

"Please cancel the oil change if it wasn't started yet. I scheduled the oil change before it was really required out of convenience in conjunction with today's planned brake job."

He said he'll go check on it right now. He came back about 10 minutes later and stated that the oil change and 4k mile maintenance would be finished at no charge. This was a $39 savings to me and really, I was only out the gas I paid to drive 18 miles round trip to the dealer. It was a lazy Saturday morning for me so I didn't mind.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

County Tax Assessor Trying to Raise My Property Taxes Through Higher Property Appraisal. Here's My Response.

I received a notice of assessment from the county tax assessor for our newest investment property. We bought the now nine year old 3100sq ft house in 2006 for $219k. At the time, it appraised for $230k.

In the notice of assessment, the assessor appraised our property at $246,400. This is quite absurd in the current economy. The house currently appraises for $218k at and I suspect it would sell for $206k. Zillow is accurate for this property and was within $1k of the original appraisal in 2006.

The assessment letter notifies the recipient of the opportunity to request an informal review of the appraisal. I had only 4 days upon receipt of the letter until the informal review deadline. Feel free to plagiarise my below letter as necessary. I hope it helps. Here's what I wrote (minus two attachments and info specific to my property):

I am requesting an informal review due to the 13 percent disparity between the value I believe my property has ($218k) and that assessed by the {insert county name} County Assessor ($246.4k). I bought my property in March 2006 for $219k when it was appraised by both Zillow and a local appraiser at $230k. I believe that my property's value is between $206K to $218K.

Per the respected Yale Economist Robert Shiller (co-founder of Case-Shiller Housing Index), use of household incomes are a popular approach for identifying appropriate house values. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (, our nation's unemployment rate is 8.5 percent and has been steadily worsening. Per BLS, our nations' total unemployed and underemployed is 15.6 percent and steadily worsening (both percentages as of end of Mar).

Household incomes are directly tied to employment rates. This is, in part, one explanation for the decline in home values.

I am including two enclosures.

Enclosure one (online attachment) includes: Page 1 is a home appraisal of {insert street name} done on 3 Apr 2009 indicating a value of $218k; Page 2 (top) includes a chart showing that {insert town name} real estate values (yellow line) has increased by 25% since 2005 whereas the value of {insert street name} has decreased by about 5%; Page 2 (bottom) shows a similar chart comparing the {insert zip code} zip code with the property value at {insert street name}; Page 3 shows my own comps manually done comparing four local houses sold. One of the houses is in a subdivision immediately adjoining (two houses down from mine); another house is in my subdivision; the final two are in a more desirable subdivision two miles away. Page 3 shows a smaller house two down from mine selling for $113k and another house in my subdivision with water frontage selling for $170k. Finally, the last two houses are full two story houses compared with my 1.2 story house, these last two houses are of comparable size but have 8.7 to 10.2 times the acreage. Both of these last two houses are in a more desirable subdivision and still sell for approximately $11k less than the value the appraiser's office has assessed my property.

The {insert town name} real estate market trends can be approximated by comparisons with the {insert city name} market.

Enclosure 2 (separate faxed document) is a 2009 real estate report on {insert city name} provided by It indicates that property values in {insert city name} peaked in the 2nd QTR of 2006 and that a 13.4% decline in property values occurred between the average property value peak and the end of 2008. It also indicates a 10% decline for property values for the last year alone. Finally, it indicates, based on extensive sources, that {insert city name} area property values are forecasted to continue to decline until the 3rd QTR of 2009.

The property at {insert street name} has had no significant capital improvements on site. There is no significant reason to assume that this property would command a premium over other houses. It doesn't have granite counter tops, it has one of the cheapest AC brands (Janitrol), it has cheap single pane windows, no hardwood interior trim and otherwise unremarkable in value especially when compared with properties noted in my owner generated comps page (Encl 1, page 4).

I sincerely appreciate your informal review of the appraisal of parcel ID {insert parcel ID} {insert street name}. This parcel is a prior primary residence of mine converted into an investment property. I am a military service member who is now residing in {insert state} state at {insert mailing address}.

Request your office confirm receipt of this document. Request that your office confirm that both the attached and faxed enclosures were received and can be viewed clearly by the individual handling my informal review request.

Very Respectfully,
{insert name and contact info}