Thursday, December 29, 2011
Finding information online seems like the proverbial search for the needle in the haystack – with so many sites and adverts vying for attention just thinking about searching for an internet bank is enough to bring on a headache. However, it might well be worth the effort – out of the five best-paying current accounts today, four are provided by internet banks. With a difference of two or three percent, the benefits could be substantial. Enter ‘online banking’ into your search browser, and you’ll pull up several independent sites comparing different banks and accounts. While the special offers can change day to day, there are a few banks that have been performing consistently well – the big three being Cahoot, Egg and Smile. Cahoot is the online arm of Abbey National, and the Co-operative Group runs Smile, but both currently offer better deals than their high street counterparts. Intelligent Finance is also a contender. Shop around to find what suits you best – whether it’s a low rate loan or a high performance current account, the right choice will depend on your individual needs and situation. Take into account things like customer service as well as the terms offered – it’s important that you can contact your bank easily when you need to, and that dealings with them are not an unpleasant ordeal. Even if you conduct most of your business online, there are still likely to be occasions when you need to speak to a human being, and friendly, well-informed staff can make a vast difference to your banking experience. First Direct is now planning to introduce a ‘virtual’ bank clerk to make online banking more customer friendly. Ease of use is another factor – a bank with a website that is easy to navigate will help you plan your finances with the least amount of hassle. Online banking has now come a long way from the days you could only view your account online – you can now pay bills, set up direct debits and transfer money between accounts at the click of your mouse. Egg have recently introduced a service called ‘Egg Pay’ that lets you securely send money to friends and family via email, and in future we can expect ‘account aggregation’ – an overview of all your financial dealings on one web site that will help make your transactions more efficient. . ‘Moneywise’ and ‘Which’ magazines are good sources of information to compare banks with – check out their websites.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Americans hear a lot about the shaky outlook for Social Security. In the future, the federal program likely will play a smaller overall role in Americans' retirement plans. One way to fill in the gaps of a savings portfolio is to put money in annuities. With an annuity, you pay a premium in exchange for guaranteed income payments at regular intervals. It is most often used for retirement purposes. The basic types of annuities are equity indexed, fixed rate and variable. The major advantage of annuities is that they all guarantee benefits such as tax-free growth, the ability to pass money directly to heirs or charities and an income stream for life. Over the past few years, equity-indexed annuities have gained a great deal of popularity. They offer interest or benefits that are linked to an external equity reference - a stock index like the S&P 500, for example. But you get a guaranteed minimum return in exchange for a limited maximum return; that is, you get less upside, but also less downside, to your stock-market investing. Your principal is never at risk. Fixed-rate annuities, on the other hand, guarantee an interest rate and a declared minimum. They have traditionally been the most popular annuities. Variable annuities provide more options. They enable you to invest in stock, bonds, mutual funds and money-market instruments. Reputable financial companies, like TrueYield Financial, want to make sure investors are comfortable when purchasing annuities. Here are some tips for the potential investor. * Be sure the firm you work with is not limited to offering just one company's annuities. There are many options available, so work with an agent that can get the one that best fits your needs. * Understand what you are buying. Talk to your financial adviser or agent about which annuity may be right for your retirement portfolio. Fully understand the annuity contract you are considering. * Define your goals. Annuities can be used to accomplish a number of financial goals. For example, they can supplement your monthly income or provide emergency funds. Decide which purpose your annuity will serve. * Ask your agent if you have a "free look" period to review your annuity contract and make sure you have made the right decision. * Investigate whether or not a bonus annuity is right for you. Bonus annuities credit premium bonuses to allow a retirement saver to make up for stock market loss or to provide an immediate boost to the account value.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Bankruptcy is a legal term that all of us have heard over and over again. We usually think that a person has become poor when they are bankrupt however that is usually not even close to the case. We have this pre-conceived notion that in order for us to be bankrupt, we are irresponsible and lazy. In the real world, it can be one of the most responsible actions that a person can choose to take when it is really necessary. It is not an easy decision for most people to make, but it is the best one for certain situations. When you start declaring that you are bankrupt, what you are basically saying to your creditors is that you cannot possibly ever repay all of your debt. You will have to declare bankruptcy through a lawyer. If it so happens that your situation is a valid one, you are then freed of your debt. All the companies that you owe money now have no right to ask for it. This may sound awesome at first; however, it does have its draw backs as well. Let me tell you one thing though, having something like a bankruptcy appear on your credit report for the next six to 10 years will not be even close to beneficial to you. It will sit there in big, bold, red letters in your credit report for a very long time. Because of it, you will have trouble getting credit cards, loans or making big purchases even though ironically, these may the very things that cause you to declare bankruptcy in the first place. If you can prove that you are making some real strides with your financial situation, you could find it less difficult to get financing but not very. However, it is a very good way to take financial responsibility of your own life. Not to mention, you will feel a great big burden being lifted off your shoulders. Credit card companies and other creditors where you owe money really do have the right to say no to your bankruptcy claim. There are certain situations when they are very likely to do this too. If you just went on a vacation, made a big purchase, used a credit card when unemployed or spent money after consulting with a lawyer, you will look suspicious in their eyes and will likely be denied. It is always best to consult a lawyer or debt counselor before you really take the plunge and declare bankruptcy.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Buying or selling a home is a euphoric experience for both of the parties involved. This euphoria can cool when you learn which party is responsible for the closing costs. Who Is Responsible For Closing Costs When looking to buy or sell a home, every person eventually arrives at the question of funding closing costs on the transaction. To put it simply, both buyers and sellers typically are responsible for some of the closing costs. However, the exact amounts paid can vary significantly from area to area and depending on what agreements the buyers and sellers come to in the offer-counteroffer process. It is important to research the area you are looking to buy or sell in and be knowledgeable regarding any laws and standards of practice for the area. Yes, the requirements are different in each state and often each city. Know what you will have to pay ahead of time so you can be prepared to cover these costs. Here are some examples of what buyers and sellers generally have to cover. Buyers typically pay the following: fees charged for obtaining a mortgage; inspection fees; homeowner's insurance (must be prepaid for one year at closing); transfer taxes if there are any (although the seller may pay these or they may be shared 50-50 between buyer and seller); title insurance and escrow fees (varies depending on the location); and attorney's fees (if and where attorneys are involved in the transaction). If you are confused, a mortgage broker can tell you which fees are customarily paid for by the buyer in your area and how much they will cost. When buying a home, the use of mortgage brokers is highly recommended to both get a great deal on a mortgage and help with the transaction itself. The broker only gets paid if the deal goes through, so you know they will make every effort. Sellers' closing expense responsibilities typically include: loan payoff fees; the real estate commission (in some cases, a portion of this may be paid by the buyer); title insurance (depending on the location); termite repairs (this is negotiable in some areas); cash payments in lieu of repairs to the property; all or part of transfer taxes and escrow fees, if there are any; attorney's fees where applicable; and other fees set by local custom or negotiated during the transaction. Knowing and researching the area you are buying or selling in is critical to understanding who is responsible for closing costs. Educate yourself and you will avoid overpaying.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Andrew Hagger Head of News and Press at Moneyfacts.co.uk looks at the performance of Child Trust Funds, one year on. April 6 2006 marked the first birthday for the Child Trust Fund (CTF), and there are undoubtedly some mums and dads out there who are feeling pretty smug with the performance of the investment that they have chosen. One year on from launch, those who have opted for one of the riskier options will have seen their initial £250 deposit grow to over £370 if they had opted for the F & C Global Smaller Companies investment trust. This level of growth dwarfs the returns for cash based investments where parents will have seen their £250 become approximately £262 during the last 12 months. Although the cash return may seem small beer when compared with the dramatic increases seen in some of the equity based CTFs, the situation could have been worse, i.e. they could have been one of the half a million parents who have failed to use their voucher to open an account, thus depriving their siblings of any return whatsoever. For those who have failed to open an account, it is worth remembering that Gordon Brown confirmed in his recent budget that the Government would contribute a further £250 (up to £500 in some cases) to your chosen fund on your child’s seventh birthday. Both Abbey and Nationwide BS report that over 60% of CTFs opened have been cash based; however when parents see the types of return that have been made in some of the non-stakeholder equity based funds, they may be tempted to switch. However a word of caution before anyone hastily decides to make the move. The funds that offer the potential for greater returns are also those that in more turbulent times are the funds that could lose the most money, so don’t be blinded by just one year’s performance, think of the CTF for what they are – a long term savings and investment account. There is a middle ground that falls somewhere between the cash and investment trust CTFs, namely stakeholder equity based funds that will offer potential of higher returns than cash CTF, but less risky than the non-stakeholder investment trusts. If you are in doubt about what is the best option for your child’s savings, time spent now discussing with an independent financial adviser could prove to have been a worthwhile exercise when your son or daughter gains access to their nest egg on their 18th birthday.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
When it comes life after bankruptcy, most people are concerned with how it will affect their credit rating – and their ability to qualify for credit and loans as a result. It’s a legitimate concern and one that should be addressed. With that in mind, this article will discuss life after bankruptcy, and what you can expect. First, let’s assume your bankruptcy has been discharged. Your credit score will have been negatively impacted by your bankruptcy, as well as any other negative items appearing on your credit report. So what can you do? The first step in your life after bankruptcy should be to rebuild your credit and increase your credit score. This is important for two reasons: First, it can mean the difference between qualifying or not qualifying for credit and loans. Second, it can potentially lower the amount of interest you pay – depending on how much you are able to increase your credit score. So how can you rebuild your credit and increase your credit score? Start by making sure to remove any inaccurate or obsolete negative information from your credit reports. This takes an investment of time on your part, but it is worth the effort. Another way to rebuild your credit history, and improve your life after bankruptcy, is to keep all of your accounts current –especially those which are reported to the credit reporting agencies. Over time, this will play a key role in rebuilding your credit history and helping you to qualify for credit and loans. For example, let’s suppose you want to apply for a home loan after bankruptcy. Generally speaking, among other criteria, lenders want to see that you’ve paid your accounts in a timely manner over the last two years or so since your discharged bankruptcy. If you've had any late payments placed on on your credit report since your discharged bankruptcy, it could hurt your chances of qualifying for a home loan. So to improve your life after bankruptcy, make a commitment to keep all of your accounts current. In After Bankruptcy Credit Solutions, I cover a total of nine ways to increase your credit score after bankruptcy. I also explain how to clean up your credit reports. There’s not enough space here to cover them all, but I mention them because you should know that there are a number of ways you can rebuild your credit and increase your credit score. What about life after bankruptcy when it comes to auto loans? There are a number of lenders and dealerships that will finance someone with a discharged bankruptcy. You just need to know which ones to approach, and how to get the best interest rate. You may also need a larger down payment depending on your overall financial and credit situation. What about qualifying for a credit card? Well, in this arena life after bankruptcy isn’t too difficult if you go with a secured credit card. A secured credit card is “secured” by a special savings account you establish with the bank issuing the credit card, which serves as collateral for the credit line they give you. By the way, many of the banks issuing secured credit cards don’t even run a credit check on the applicant. That’s why I say that life after bankruptcy isn’t difficult when it comes qualifying for a secured credit card. The secret is knowing which ones are the best credit cards after bankruptcy. As a starting point, only consider credit card issuers that have reasonable fees, and which do charge excessively high interest rates. If you have a criteria to apply to potential credit card issuers it can help you narrow down your choices very quickly and make life after bankruptcy easier. Hopefully, this article has given you an idea of what to expect when it comes to life after bankruptcy. We also looked at actions you can take to make your life after bankruptcy easier when it comes to qualifying for credit and loans. Copyright (c) 2006 Innovative Solutions Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. DISCLAIMER: This information is designed to provide only a general overview of the subject matter herein. This information is provided with the understanding that neither the publisher nor author is engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional advice. If legal or other expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be sought. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss or damages, including but not limited to special, consequential, incidental or other damages, caused by the information contained herein.
Friday, December 23, 2011
In this article were going to explore the new revolution in education that's taken place in the last 10 years via the internet and how you can turn back the clock so to speak and get that degree and job you've always dreamed of. Quietly and unannounced right now, while I write this article, there are thousands and thousands of people becoming doctors, lawyers, business administrators and nearly every other profession known to man. They are in their bedrooms, living rooms and other quiet places of their own home. Just a computer with internet and time to study is all that's needed in today's society to obtain the degree or diploma you always regretted not getting. These days pretty much anything can be done from the comfort of your home, be it shopping, booking tickets, sending gifts or even education. Education is a top priority for most people as it nearly guarantees that you'll be in demand and paid handsomely for your knowledge or services. It's known as distance learning university or online college and university. An online degree holds the perfect solution for those who had always yearned for some academic degrees but had no interest or resources to join the traditional educational institutions, now you too can join this revolution and turn back the clock so to speak by learning through a distance learning university. An online education is available in almost every field where you can earn a bachelor's degree, a master degree or even a certification diploma. The fees for such courses are also very affordable due to low overhead and very little administration by the educating facility. Some online colleges and universities work hand in hand to provide the on - field training to their candidates to increase their practical experience, helping you to gain more knowledge about your course. An online course such as this, one that forces you in the field right away is absolutely brilliant because you'll begin to meet new people with whom you will be working with after getting your online education. Attending an online college and university is a perfect solution for those individuals who are presently employed and need or desire to pursue a different career or further their knowledge in the career their currently in. Most of the programs will provide you with downloadable lessons that you work at in your spare time; these modules will help you to stay on track and pursue your goal. You'll be given time frame requirements and projects to work on just like being at a college or university in person. One large concern people have before endeavoring into an online education is how much support they will get, after all, when you’re in a class setting if you don't know a question you can often just ask another student or the professor directly. Well don't worry because online colleges and universities provide all kinds of support to its online students allowing them to complete the course within the specified time frame. With live chat rooms, direct phone calls and email you’re sure to stay connected. Before selecting any online college or university, it is wise to do some due diligence about the college, their authenticity, their success story, what their class embodies etc. Ask to speak with some previous online students and find out first hand what their experience has been. Also, more importantly, find out if the students that completed their courses are now successfully employed in the field they studied. Before you enroll yourself to any online college or university it is important to know the degrees they provide and if you are really fit for it. Study the module to check whether they meet your standards or else it will be a mere waste of time and money. Many colleges offer various online programs but most of them are specialized in some fields only. So it is important to make a thorough study and study from the best university for your degree. Here is a list of some online colleges which you'll easily be able to find with a simple Google search: 1. Ashworth College 2. Phoenix University 3. Kaplan University 4. Walden University 5. Concord Law School 6. Pierce University 7. Strayer University Online 8. Capella University 9. Aiu Online An education the online way allows you to have your own liberty, keep your current job with freedoms, pay the bills and at the same time get an advanced education. So if this article has twigged something you've always had in the back of your mind, what are you waiting for, get an online college education now!
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Houses do evolve with time (and sometimes very quickly). So your stepbrother has visited the house and told you it was fine and that you should save a couple of hundred bucks and not get it inspected, especially since it's only 3 years old? WRONG!!! Professional house inspectors are trained to look for details usually overlooked by regular home buyers such as insulation, traces of moisture, suspicious cracks, electricity and plumbing. They can also usually give you an idea of how much it would cost to bring any of these up to code. Finally, a good inspection done by a professional can usually pay for itself by using it as a bargaining tool. Shrink your mortgage. How many payments are there in a year? The answer is it depends. If you pay monthly, there are 12, if you pay bi-weekly, there are 26 (or the equivalent on 1 extra payment / year) which goes a long way to reduce your capital, especially in the first years, when most of your payment goes on paying interest. Do you have a little extra cash in the end of the month? Even ridiculously small amounts, applied monthly on your capital will save you thousands of dollars when done over 10, 15 or 25 years. Make sure when you choose your mortgage plan that you won't get penalized for doing so and that you tell your lender to apply the money to your capital as using it as a little deposit towards your next payment often even get you any interest, let alone help in any way. Owning real estate does have it's advantages. Choices: as the owner, you can decide whether to select a building that matches your current needs, has enough room for future expansion or maybe is large enough for you to lease parts of it. Equity: every month, your payments are applied to paying down your mortgage and building some equity which could be useful eventually to secure a loan for new equipment, to finance an acquisition or simply as an asset. Appreciation: not withstanding any unforeseen occurrences, your building should appreciate with time. This appreciation could, just as the above mentioned equity, be used to get better financing conditions. Power: as the landlord, you are the person in charge of deciding how to finance the building, picking the tenants, choosing the decorations, selecting entrepreneurs for the work to be done, improving the building. You even have control over your rent's rate. You make your money when you buy, not when you sell. One extremely important factor to consider before making your decision is that you make your money when you buy but realize it when you sell. Paying more than the fair market value, not taking into consideration your cash flow factors (mortgage, interest rates, insurance, taxes and repairs VS incoming rent, other income possibilities such as parking for example) or letting your feelings dictate a purchasing decision may negatively affect your exit strategy for year if you are not careful. Though appreciation is quite probable, I suggest you don't factor it in when crunching your numbers: if the deal is still a good deal without factoring in appreciation, you are likely to make a favorable ROI (return on investment) when you decide it's time to go for your exit strategy. If you absolutely need appreciation to justify your purchase, be extremely careful as no one really knows what will happen in the future and, in the present, you may be paying too much. Discuss the situation with a real estate agent know for his or her integrity such as Anne-Marie Perno with whom I often do business ( I will include a link to her website in the resources box below). Pay off your house in 12 year: doing this you could actually get it for free. If you understand but most important if you use my preceding advice about crunching the numbers before you buy and only buying a house that makes sense financially, then sell the house after 1 year in Canada, 2 in the US and repeat the process 5 more times, you could very well end up with a paid for mortgage and your dream house. This is something worth looking into, especially with the: Tax advantages of flipping houses. Since I'm not a CPA and that all situations are unique, I strongly suggest you meet with a competent financial advisor who will help you evaluate your particular situation. For now, keep in mind that in most situations, you will be able to use some of your expenses as depreciations to reduce your taxes or some of the rent as a personal income. What I do know for a fact though is that in most places, you can keep 100% of the profit (the difference between purchasing cost including cost of renovations and selling price) if you obey to some guidelines such as not doing it more often than once every 1 or 2 years depending on where you live and, in some places, reinvest your profits in purchasing a more expensive property.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Have you ever walked past a footpath where the concrete has lifted or watched several people walk around a spill on the supermarket floor? Ever found yourself saying, “Now there’s an accident waiting to happen.” When a member of the public suffers an injury or loss due to the negligence of another party, that party is liable for that injury or loss. Hence the term, Public Liability. Public Liability insurance is a must for all businesses, large and small to safeguard the public’s interests and, indeed, those of the business. Now we’ve all heard the stories about exorbitant judgements being awarded to people claiming to have been injured due to another’s negligence. Most of the time these claims seem justified, however, there are others that cause our brows to furrow a little as we mutter: “What the…?” For example: A person disobeys an official Council sign forbidding swimming and diving in a rock pool. This person dives in and, after sustaining injuries that render him quadriplegic, sues the Council. Is his multi-million dollar payout justified? Granted, he suffered severe injuries and will need specialised care for the rest of his life but should the Council and, as a direct flow-on, the ratepayers of the area, be forced to pay for his thoughtless folly? Then there’s the hotel patron who left the hotel inebriated and sued the publican after tripping over in the street. Claims like these cause Public Liability insurance premiums to skyrocket and yet, the claimants appear to be at fault. (Perhaps the courts are trying to save government money by not forcing these people into the public health system.) It’s a sad fact that in today’s litigious society, fewer and fewer people are prepared to take responsibility for their own actions. Whether it’s tripping over one’s feet while under the influence of alcohol or diving into shallow water, it seems there must always be someone else to blame. The courts have even been presented with cases brought forward by criminals injured in the course of committing their crimes! Unfortunately, when the public’s attention is drawn to public liability insurance, it is all too often because of these less meritorious types of claims. Little is heard of how genuine claims are brought against truly negligent parties and the effects such negligence has had on claimants’ lives. For example: • After many requests to her landlord to repair the state of her backyard, a young mother tripped on broken and uneven paving, breaking her elbow. Her landlord agreed to settle her claim out of court for a figure that took into account her incapacity to care for her children without domestic help. • An elderly man was seated in a fast food restaurant when his chair suddenly collapsed causing back, leg and chest injuries. His chair, unlike others in the restaurant had been inadequately fastened in place. The restaurant settled the claim and took steps to prevent similar occurrences. And who could forget Erin Brockovich, that David and Goliath type class action bringing a giant corporation to its knees? We love to see the little people win, especially against arrogance and “big bucks”. When someone’s life is turned upside down through no fault of their own, they should receive just and proper care. If the cause of their distress is due to the negligence of another party, that party must bear the burden of such care. Medical treatment, loss of income and loss of quality of life are some consequences of injury taken into account when determining claim settlement details. Public liability insurance is crucial to ensure that a. The injured party gets paid, and b. The ‘at fault’ party is not left bankrupt by the result. With the rising number of public liability claims and the soaring premium costs, however, many businesses are finding it difficult to obtain this type of insurance. In such cases it is recommended to: • Ensure sound risk management. I.e.: take every precaution to lessen the chances of injuries occurring. • Create your own ‘insurance pool’. I.e.: approach similar organisations as yours and apply for insurance as a group with a ready-made ‘insurance pool’ to draw from. • Talk to your broker – it is in his best interests to look after yours. All in all, Public Liability insurance is a necessity in today’s society. It allows for justice to be seen to be done in cases of negligence and calls negligent parties to action in doing all they can to prevent other injuries from occurring in the future. Whose fault is it anyway? With careful risk management, that question need never arise again.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Should I Ever Use a Payday Loan Service? In the past several years, payday loan stores have been popping up all over the country. With names like "Check Into Cash," "The Cash Store," and "EZ Money," they offer unsophisticated consumers the promise of quick, easy cash with few questions asked. But at what price? The High Cost of Easy Money Americans paid more than $6 billion in payday loan fees in 2005, and the number is likely to be much higher when the results for 2006 are tabulated. Payday lending is a big business, and it's also one of the fastest growing in the country. EZCorp, for example, was a lowly Texas-based pawnbroker just a few years ago. Thanks to expanding into the payday loans business in 2002, the company has more than quintupled its profits, and its stock had the best one-year price performance of any company traded on the major exchanges or NASDAQ, through June, 2006. While buying EZCorp's stock a year ago would have been a wise financial decision, actually using the company's services has never been a good idea. The reason EZCorp and companies like it make so much money is because they rip off their customers, and this is hardly a matter of opinion. According to EZCorp's 2006 report for shareholders, the average payday loan has an annual percentage rate (APR) of 530 percent - and that's not a typo - that's highway robbery. So why would anyone ever use a payday loan service? Target Market - The Unsophisticated and Credit Constrained Consumer Most of the payday loan business's customers are people who are unsophisticated and / or have made bad decisions with their credit in the past. These are people with no savings and no credit, who live check-to-check. They don't realize that when they agree to pay a $40 fee for a $200, two-week loan, they are paying an astronomical annual interest rate. Or in some cases, they just don't care - they feel that they have no other options. A disturbingly large percentage of people use payday loan services in order to avoid incurring NSF (non-sufficient funds) charges with their banks. People living check-to-check, with no access to conventional credit, can be devastated by unexpected expenses. Imagine a single mother who needs to write a $200 check to get her car fixed in order to get to work the next day, but she doesn't have the $200 in her bank account. She writes the check and then immediately goes to the payday loan store, where she can usually borrow the $200 with nothing beyond verification of her employment with a recent check stub. In this case, the single mom may actually be making a wise choice - since NSF fees are said to have an APR of 665 percent, and bank overdraft fees are even higher, at 1,160 percent APR. Clearly, the system is stacked against those who need the most help. The Cycle of Indentured Servitude - And How To Avoid It In the worst cases, people end up working all week in order to pay back their payday loan, and then have to take out another payday loan in order to make ends meet. Thus, the cycle continues, and these unfortunate people are relegated to the modern equivalent of indentured servitude. The best way to prevent this from happening to you is to always maintain adequate lines of credit. In the above example, if the person could have simply charged the $200 repair bill on her Visa or Mastercard, all would have been well. Using a credit card to automatically pay for your regularly occurring charges, such as your phone and cable bills, is a good way to avoid NSF or bank overdraft fees, as well. If you find yourself in trouble, be sure to always pay the minimum due on your credit cards - make this a priority second only to survival. If you default on your credit cards, you may have a very difficult time getting credit again in the future. Avoid the mistakes of the payday loan consumer, and of course, avoid the payday loan stores. Your money should be applied for your own benefit, not to the bottom line of unethical companies that make profits for their shareholders by exploiting the poor. Take Care, James http://www.CC-Yes.com
Monday, December 19, 2011
Lucky? This lucky country’s economy is on a record-breaking 14-year roll. The big question: Will it continue? Just imagine: From a few convicts dropped ashore in 1788, Australia has developed into a first-class global economy. The reforms enacted by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating during the 1980s set the stage for a remarkable run of prosperity. Specifically, they slashed import tariffs, floated the currency and reduced the power of big labor. The current prime minister, John Howard, who has been elected four times, has continued and expanded these reforms riding a wave of economic growth – 14 years of uninterrupted 4% to 5% growth. The national debt has been virtually eliminated, the currency is strong, the government has recently signed a free-trade pact with America, and it is starting to negotiate a pact with China. Australia received $42 billion in foreign direct investment in 2004. This is all great news, and our portfolio allocation in the Australia iShare (AMEX: EWA) has done very well, with a 105% gain over the past two years. The Australian iShare is up 15% so far this year and provides investors with exposure to about 60% of the total stock market. Some Warning Signs The question is of course, what should we do now. When things are going this well for so long, investors need to be skeptical and weigh the potential upside with the downside risk. - A shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers and relatively high labor costs (minimum $400 a week). - Complicated and rigid labor rules continue to hamper productivity growth, which seems to be slowing. - The total tax take by the Australian federal government is 22%, which is higher than the rest of Asian competitors and the U.S. (average of 16%). - From 2000-2004 housing prices were up 100%, and household debt is now 160% of disposable income. Australia is taking some measures to address these matters. It recently enacted a $17 billion cut in personal income taxes over three years, and the independent central bank is raising rates. The leadership has also introduced a package of “radical” labor reforms, which if enacted would also be a big plus. The aim is to give employers more flexibility and to bring labor negotiations down to the local level. The measures would increase probationary period for new employees from three to six months, exempt businesses with less than 100 employees from unfair dismissal laws, and favor individual contracts over collective bargaining. All of these measures will be fought by the Labor Party and trade unions. While much is made of Australia’s dependence on China and commodity exports, the Australian economy is well diversified, with 5% of gross domestic product attributed to mining, 5% to tourism and 80% to services. It also has the third-largest stock market in the region and a leading regional financial center. Taking Profits After looking closely at the situation, I have decided to keep Australia in our portfolio, but will take some profits by halving our position. Here is my reasoning: - The decline in housing prices has been incremental and has therefore not affected banking, consumer and construction stocks as expected. - International fund managers are underweight on Australia. - The market is not especially expensive. The 12-month forward price-to earnings ratio is about 15, in line with the average over the past three years and below a high of 18. But keep in mind that this low multiple is based on forward and aggressive forecasts of corporate profits. - Average dividend yield for Australian stocks is around 5%. One company to keep an eye on is BHP Billiton (NYSE: BBL), the world's biggest mining group, which reported an 85% rise in net profit, compared with a year ago, to $6.5 billion for the year ended June 30, 2005. The Anglo-Australian firm set a new Australian corporate profit record, and after being up sharply in 2003 and 2004, it has confounded skeptics by going up 26% so far this year. The company's good fortune, like that of other mining concerns, comes from rising demand in China. Another great Australian mining company is Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP), which has a lower valuation because it doesn’t have oil and gas operations, which contribute about 30% of BHP’s total revenue. Last Bit of Advice The center of gravity for the world’s economy is shifting to the Asia-Pacific region, and Australia is in the sweet spot. Keep an eye on housing prices and corporate profit performance, but for now keep some exposure to Australia in your global portfolio. For more information go to www.chartwellasia.com or call 877-221-1496
Sunday, December 18, 2011
In business, information can be the most valuable product of all. It can also be the most costly. In a society of enthusiastic litigants, anyone professing to be an expert had better be able to prove it if intending to peddle the fruit of that expertise. Realistically, though, even experts can make mistakes, which is why Professional Indemnity insurance is so important. Professional Indemnity insurance covers the experts when they “get it wrong”. After all, inaccurate information about the stock market can cause a client to lose a lot of money. Likewise, an insurance broker who neglects to inform a client about the correct level of insurance needed is placing that client in potential financial peril. And, if a Business Consultant consults a business all the way to virtual bankruptcy…well, you can see the red lights flashing… So what types of experts should take out Professional Indemnity insurance? The scope is limited these days only by the imagination of new expertise titles, most of which end with the word “Consultant”. Some of the more recognisable professions, however, are: solicitors, architects, insurance brokers, financial advisors, tax agents and health professionals. Basically, anyone who is paid to provide advice, based on the level of expertise conveyed to the public, is vulnerable to claims being made against them if that advice, when taken, goes “pear-shaped”. For example: • A firm of company registration agents was consulted by a business wishing to use a particular name. The company registration agents advised that the chosen name was available, however, a company with a similar name issued legal proceedings. The company registration agents firm was forced to pay the claim. • Structural drawings were prepared for the construction of steelwork. The drawings allegedly contained errors causing delays in construction due to the alterations required. Consequently, a claim was submitted for the cost of those delays. • A patient undergoing plastic surgery is rendered partially blind in one eye. Claiming improper treatment, the patient is awarded a settlement. Professional Indemnity premiums can be quite expensive, however, they are usually also retrospective. Professional Indemnity insurance is written on a Claims Made and Notified basis. This means that a circumstance or event, giving rise to a claim, may still be covered even if it occurred prior to the policy being effected. Because of the nature of liability claims, it may be years after the event occurred before a claim is actually made. As long as the insured has no prior knowledge of a potential claim and the actual claim is made during the Period of Insurance, the date of occurrence doesn’t really matter. This differs from other types of liability insurance policies, which, for the most part, are written on an Occurrence basis – i.e. the incident must have occurred during the Period of Insurance, and a claim may be made at any time afterwards. Retrospective cover on Professional Liability insurance can be limited, however. If the insurer chooses not to cover incidents that might have occurred in the past, it may invoke a retroactive date limitation. This will limit cover to incidents occurring only from the date specified – in most cases the date of policy inception. For example: Archie’s Architectural Services held a Professional Indemnity policy with Professional Indemnity & General (P.I.G.) from 1st July, 2000 until 30th June, 2005. Becoming frustrated with the somewhat pig-headed attitude to service at P.I.G., they decided to go elsewhere. They switched to W.R.G (We’re Really Good) Insurance and effected a Professional Indemnity policy with them. W.R.G. decided to write the policy using retroactive date limitation from the date of inception (i.e. 1st July, 2005). If the retroactive date limitation had not been applied, W.R.G. would have been open to claims for incidents dating back to when Archie’s Architects began operating. With P.I.G. also in the mix there was the potential for some big courtroom bunfights! Instead, W.R.G. will only consider claims made for incidents occurring from the date of inception of the policy. Obviously, a policy without a retroactive date limitation is more advantageous to the insured, however, the policy will be more expensive and the insurer is not obligated to offer it. Professional Indemnity insurance, then, is a vital part of any business that provides services and advice based on its proclaimed expertise. It not only provides peace of mind for the business operator, but also for the clients who faithfully rely on that expertise at some risk, either financially or physically. So, are you an expert yet?
Saturday, December 17, 2011
I started my on line business venture just over four months ago. During that time, I have realized that a good professional looking web site is only part of the story. You need to get traffic to it and part of that process is having a blog associated with your site. The beauty of the idea of a blog, is it doesn't cost you anything and can earn you a substantial income in it's own right. Probably the easiest and cheapest way of starting an on line home business, is to simply get a Blog. You may already have one, but if not you can get one free from Blogger.com or Wordpress. Did you know, that within your blog, you can advertise goods or services. Don't worry if you don't have goods or services to offer, you can register for an affiliate account with one of the many affiliate programs out there. By far the most popular is Clickbank. There is no charge to become an affiliate with clickbank and you can get commissions by advertising other peoples goods and services. When someone clicks on a link in your blog and makes a purchase.you get paid. Another way of making money with your blog, is by displaying google adverts on your pages. When someone clicks on an ad, you get paid! It's that simple. You need to register with Google Adsense to do this and again there is no cost to you. Caution though, before applying for an Adsense account, make sure you have your blog up and running as google will check before issuing you with a publisher account. The process can take few days before google advise you. In addition to the above, you can search the Internet for other free affiliate programs to promote their goods and services. Once you have your blog up and running with all your affiliate links in place, the only thing you need to worry about, is traffic, visitors to your blog. Without these, you may as well not have a blog at all. If you already have a blog, then you have a head start. But for those of you who will be starting from scratch, one of the first things you need to do apart from making posts in your blog, is submit your blog to search engines in order that they may index them for search results. So the more posts you have in your blog, the greater your chance of organic visitors. The more interesting your posts, the greater the chance your visitors will return. Organic visitors, are visitors that come by your site as a result of searching the web. The more of these you get the better as they do not cost you anything. Unfortunately, it takes time to get your blog indexed with the search engines, so you can't expect to get visitors overnight. There is however, an option that you may wish to take to promote your blog in the early stages and that is to advertise it on the web. There are several ways in which you can do this, but by far the most popular is through Google Adwords. Using Google Adwords is likely to be your first expense as you have to pay Google every time someone visits your blog as a direct result of clicking on one of your ads. It need not be a huge expense, you can start off with a low budget and set the maximum you wish to pay per click. The beauty of Adwords, is that you can also target your ads to any country you like. All this is explained in the Adwords set up pages. Another method of getting Free visitors is by using companies like "Traffic Swarm". This is a very popular site which costs nothing to join but you can get a load of free visitors from it by placing free ads. I say free ads, but it does require some time element, in as much as you pay for your ads to appear by means of credits. You can either buy credits, or earn them simply by browsing their site. Every time you click on one of the ads in their site, you get awarded credits which you use to purchase your ads. Very clever. There are more options for getting visitors to your blog, the majority of which you have to pay for, but I would not recommend that at this stage, as some of the visitors you pay for may not be targeted to your niche. If you find yourself wondering what products or services to promote or you need advice, then I recommend that you join The Warrior Forum.. the help and advice you get from there is first class. http://www.warriorforum.com/ Now that you have your own on line Home Business up and running the only real cost to you will be the time it takes you to make the posts to your blog, which incidentally, I recommend you do daily. The more content you have, the sooner you will see organic visitors. If you plan to pay to promote your blog or join other affiliate programs which cost you money, you MUST SET a BUDGET and STICK TO IT, otherwise the commissions you earn in the early stages will get eaten up. We hope this information has helped you and should you decide to take this route, we wish you every success in your new venture. Copyright © Graham Maddison-2008
Friday, December 16, 2011
Copyright 2006 Andrew Saari There are so many different credit cards out there to choose from! Picking the right one for your spending habits can be a difficult decision. Here, we'll try to help you sort through the types, and to make a wise choice. No annual fee vs annual fee: *Some credit card companies charge an annual fee just to have the card. Some will waive the fee just for charging a certain amount during the year on it. Many cards that have an annual fee are for individuals with less than stellar credit, although there are others such as rewards cards, and some specialty cards that also charge a fee. If the card offfers a low enough interest rate, it may be worth your while to pay the fee. Balance transfer credit cards: *If you are carrying a balance on a higher interest credit card, it may be to your advantage to transfer your balance to a card offering a lower interest rate. This rate can be as low as 0% for a length of time that varies widely between card issuers. Typically, this can be from 3-18 months, although some carry the lower interest rate until the balance is paid off. Be sure to read the fine print for any balance transfer fees that may apply. Low interest credit cards: *Some credit card companies offer a low interest rate. This often includes a low introductory rate on purchases, which will increase after a specified amount of time-normally from 3-12 months. Again, read the fine print to see what the interest rate will be after the introductory period ends, and check to see if an annual fee applies. Reward credit cards: *These cards reward you for using them. The more you charge on them the more you get back. These are ideal for individuals who pay off their bill in full each month. The rewards can vary widely by issuer. Typical rewards include: cash back on all purchases, airline miles, store discounts and other perks. Be sure to read the terms and conditions thoroughly before applying. And, make sure if you use these cards, pay off the balance in full each month. The interest rates are normally higher than other cards to compensate for the rewards. You don't want to lose what you gained in rewards to interest charges. Student credit cards: *These cards are for students who generally have little or no credit history. Often, they have more restrictions than a non-student card. Some require a parent or guardian to co-sign. This would mean if a student defaulted on all or part of their payments, the parent would be responsible. The parent or guardian can also get a statement sent to them or have online access to it, and would have control over increases in future raises in the credit limit. Student cards can help teach financial responsibility, as well as build credit history. Business credit cards: *Business credit cards are generally available to business owners as well as emplyees. They can help keep business expenses seperate from personal expenses. They also offer many of the same features as traditional credit cards, such as low introductory rates, cashback rewards, airline miles or gifts. You may even use the rewards as an incentive to employess at no out of pocket expense to the business. Secured credit cards: *If you have poor credit, you may need to get a secured credit card. With a secured card, you secure the card by depositing cash up front in a savings account or to the credit card company. The amount of funds you place on deposit will generally match your credit line. Your card issuer has a lien on the deposit account, which you stand to lose if you fail to make your credit card payments on time. A secured credit card looks just like a regular one, and the law specifies that it has all the same consumer protections. A secured card typically carries a higher interest rate. But, a secured card can be a good deal because it offers you ability to have a credit card while you work on establishing or rebuilding your credit rating. Debit cards: *Debit cards look like a normal credit card, and are accepted anywhere credit cards are. They work more like checks than credit cards though. You can also use it at an ATM to withdraw cash from your account. The money comes directly out of your checking or savings account immediately when you make a purchase, instead of waiting for the montly bill. And, consumers who use debit cards don't have all of the same protection as credit card users. Conusmers don't have the right to withhold payment in the event of a dispute with a merchant, and if your card number is stolen, your account may be emptied before the bank can complete an investigation. Hopefully, this information will help you sort through the credit card maze. The most important thing to remember is to read the cardholder agreement closely to find out the terms-especially after the introductory period is over. And, always consult with your financial advisor before applying for any credit card or making any major financial decision.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
International Money transfer is an essential part of your international move and/or business, which, if handled correctly can boost your bottom line or settling funds dramatically. Anybody looking to move overseas, send money to family or conduct business with an overseas company will need to purchase or transact in the destination currency. In order to complete any property acquisition ahead of your move or just simply transfer your existing assets over to your new country, the method you choose will make a big difference. In today's volatile currency markets, a small change in the currency rates, coupled with the high commission charged by most banks can make an enormous difference in the net currency amount received when converting your currency, you are placing what is possibly your life savings into someone else’s hands. Depending on the size of transaction, this could make a tangible difference of several thousand dollars; money you may prefer to put towards starting your new life! This can leave you exposed to the market fluctuations and could give you a handsome boost to your funds or put a big hole in your budget. To start with you have several choices how you move your money: 1. Use your normal Bank and accept the charges and the fact that you may not be talking to an expert when you discuss the transfer. 2. Use a specialist international currency transfer company 3. Use a normal money transfer agent (again accept the charges) 4. Buy a huge amount of traveler’s cheques or take cash (not recommended)!!! Lets discuss each one with a bit more detail: Possibly the most important piece of advice I was given when emigrating was that the high street banks were not the best people to entrust with your money transfer overseas. How do you know that the bank teller has any idea what you are talking about (not being belittling but it probably isn’t an everyday service)? They charge commissions, transfer fees and then to cap it all off they give a reduced exchange rate. Essentially, the high street money transfer agencies are similar to the banks. They may know more about the transactions but will hit you with commissions, charges and not the best rates. Travellers cheques and cash speak for themselves – don’t do it! They are easily lost/stolen, some countries only allow a limited amount of cash to be carried into the country and in the case of travelers cheques, you may have to pay to buy them and then to cash them in. Just plain don’t do it!!!! Last, but not least, it’s the international currency transfer companies. I had no idea that international currency transfer specialists even existed, never mind the exceptional services on offer. Naturally, securing the very best rate of exchange becomes all important. There are several money transfer companies that offer an alternative to the banks – in fact “alternative” is too weak, they outclass the banks by a mile! When we first heard about the services on offer it really did seem to be too good to be true and we were very skeptical. We thoroughly researched the major high street banks in the UK and the rates they were offering (adding the fees and commissions!) and then compared to the service we were offered. Again, there had to be a catch. The transfer company had no commissions, transfer fees and also gave a rate that was close to 3 cents to the pound better than the banks. All the funds would be transferred electronically to the bank account of our choice normally within 2 working days. We were even offered a choice of payment methods which included direct debits/debit cards/electronic wire transfers and the ability to “book” a rate in advance for a small deposit and then pay the balance prior to the contracted transfer date. We had to find out how these people could offer such a service so quite bluntly asked. The answer was very simple. This was a dedicated, specialist company that dealt on the Forex markets in large volumes – this meant that there would be a low profit margin on each individual deal but the overall volume made it worth while. Because they are a specialist company, they could pass on the savings to their customers and the use of modern, electronic transfers ensured the costs were low with no need to pass them on to us! A true Win-Win situation. The other added bonus is that these people are dedicated foreign exchange experts who research the markets and accurately forecast the trends and can advise action accordingly. If it makes sense to “book” a rate for settlement up to 2 years ahead then that will be recommended – you pay a deposit and commit to the deal and then they buy the currency at the agreed rate of the day. They hold the currency on your behalf and then at the agreed date you pay the balance and the money is transferred. This protects you against fluctuations and allows you to budget accurately.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
You have probably heard the saying "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail." This couldn't be more true in the world of trading. None of us begin to trade with the intention of failing but that is just what we are doing if we blindly look for trades to put our money into without a proper plan of attack. I recommend taking some quiet time when the markets are closed to create your plan. "What quiet time," do you ask? Believe me, with a two month old, I understand better than ever how difficult it can be to catch those few moments of down time in our lives. But it really is imperative to our success as traders that we do this. With a little focus and dedicated time, we can review our current trades, plan our future trades, and maintain a diversified account. Let me share with you what I do during my planning sessions. The first step is to find a time that you can devote to planning each day. It doesn't have to be a huge amount of time, but I would advise you to start with a 30 minute to an hour block of time. I know we all get busy and it is easy to skip a planning session here or there. But if you are serious about making money in the market, this is a step that cannot be skipped. Block out some time to plan, and don't let the minor distractions in your life get in the way. I begin each planning session by reviewing the market calendars. This is easily done in the Dedicated Trader by going to the calendaring section. I look at the economic events coming up for the next day and the rest of the week. If there are any major economic events that may affect the markets, I want to know so I can prepare by tightening my stops. And there are some events, such as the FOMC minutes, that can create great trading opportunities. I also check the earnings calendar to determine which companies and sectors may be announcing earnings that week. You do not want to get caught off guard by a company you are trading announcing earnings without you knowing about it. After reviewing the calendars, I move into charting. I begin with a chart of the S&P 500 to see what condition the overall market is in. Is it trending up? Trending down? Moving sideways? This helps me set my trades up as I like about seventy five percent of my trades to be in the direction of the markets. If the market trend is bullish I want most of my trades to be bullish, and I let the bullish market pull my trades along to give me a greater success rate. I also diversify by finding stocks that are bucking the overall market trend. For instance, in bullish markets I try to find the stocks and sectors that are the most bearish and I put about twenty five percent of my trades in those plays. When the market reverses, (or has some bigger retracement days within the uptrend) these bearish plays become very big winners for me. This is an easy way to make money in both directions. Once I have a feel for the markets, I move into individual stocks. I run through my Ultimate Scans to find specific stocks and sectors that are forming strong technical patterns and will thus make good trades. I already mentioned diversifying the type of plays you have going and I also make sure I am diversified among the best sectors. If you spread your money out, you minimize the risk and can capture the gains in more than one stock or sector. At this point, I start setting alerts and orders. On a day that I can look at my intraday charts from time to time, I prefer to use Real Time Markets to set an alert at the price at which I want to get in or out of a trade. When that alert is triggered, I will check the chart and manually execute the trade. Things have changed for me now as my new little boy has made it more difficult for me to check my charts during the day. So I am using contingency orders more and more. A contingency order allows you to set a stock price at which you want to buy or sell an option. When the stock hits that price, your option order becomes a live market order and your trade is executed. This is a great way to go because it allows those of us with limited time during the day to trade just as successfully as those in a position to use intraday charts. Do not forget to manage the trades you are already in. I spend a few minutes checking the charts of my current trades and adjusting my stops accordingly. If you spend some time developing a trading plan for the next trading day, you will find that your trading goes much more smoothly and more profitably. Review the market calendars and the bigger indexes as background before you start finding your trades. Then with that knowledge, you will be better prepared to develop a solid, diversified trading account that allows you to capture the moves of some of the best stocks and sectors for that time. Now that I am back after taking some time off to have a baby, you can learn more about my trading plan and my system of trading by joining me at a Technically Speaking two day workshop. Hope to see you soon! Markay with Better Trades
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
If you are thinking of starting your Import Export business online, you need to remember that every business takes time to succeed, therefore you need to be patient and well researched. The initial step is to conduct a market survey and focus on the markets best suited as per your needs. You need to build a corporate International Image and work towards establishing your credibility in the market. Your credibility will be the key to your success in an online import-export venture. Your presentation should be impressive as well as trustworthy. This will increase your chances of attracting foreign buyers. Focus on your branding strategy In order to qualify as a player in the international arena, you need to work on your presentation skills and corporate identity. Your corporate identity will speak about your company’s goals, mission and values. It plays a significant role in establishing credibility on the global front. You need to have a relevant logo, stationery and cash line. Analyze: You need to investigate about various markets, government plans and buyers. Start by building contacts and talk with them. Conduct a detailed market research survey and try to get maximum knowledge. Familiarize yourself with the key players in the business and potential buyers as well as merchants. Visit trade fairs and business conferences related to your field and keep yourself updated on the latest market trends and changes. Market evaluation requires gathering relevant date, information and research. An ideal market would be one that is likely to generate maximum profit for your Import/Export business on the Internet. You can obtain information on the Internet or by contacting the Chamber or trade and commerce. While making a selection of the markets you must know the market trends, requirements, target customers, local and global competitors. Export/Import Regulations and Terms of trade: You need to be in sync with the latest rules and regulations in order to start you Import and export business online. For this you need to contact your industry association and relevant export authority and enquire if there are any possible requirements for your products to be exported. You might need to apply for an export license, certificate or permit. A well established export body is the best place to seek guidance. Many countries have set up offices, Consulates or Embassies to promote their respective exports. These Consulates can be approached in order to receive directories, manufacturer lists and retailers details. You can also obtain their e-mail details through the Consulates. You need to approach the Commissioner of trade and your country’s tax department in order to apply for registration numbers ad other procedures. You can visit The Chambers of Commerce and get relevant information. These will give you a fair idea about the terms of trade and delivery, methods of international payments, International trade ethics and favorable markets. Establish yourself Online: If you are looking towards establishing your Import and Export business online, the first thing you need is a good website. This will not only establish your credibility but will also attract potential foreign buyers. In today’s world where the Internet has become the hub of all activity, it is important for one to have a corporate website. It is the only way by means of which buyers, manufacturers, retailers and dealers will get to know about your products and services. Your website will also give you an edge over your competitors as it will highlight the USPs of your products online. An online product catalogue will further enhance the chances of sale. Your website must provide your contact details as well as specify the terms and conditions of trade. Your website must speak about your company’s profile as well as be interactive. Get your website Optimized: For setting up a successful online business it is important for your website to be search engine optimized in order to attract relevant targeted traffic and therefore enhance trade. Search engine optimization ensures that your website ranks well on all major search engines like Yahoo, Google and MSN and more targeted visitors land on your website. The more the number of visitors the better are your chances of increasing sales. Develop and export plan: Different markets have different requirements and trends. You need to develop an effective export plan for each market which should include: Export Analysis Product Development Implementation Plan Export Strategy Financing Pricing Logistics and distribution Sales Forecast Quick Response better Sales: Be quick in your response in any online business in order to retain the customers. This not only develops trust but also helps generate more business. No customer likes to wait and the same applies for Internet based businesses. REPRINT RIGHTS statement: This article is free for republishing by visitors provided the Author Bio box is retained as usual so that all links are Active/Linkable with no syntax changes.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Any numbers of energy experts—in Wall Street, in specialist trading outfits and in government bureaus throughout the world—have concluded that, since demand for oil will continue to outstrip supply, crude prices will remain on a firm-to-higher path in the foreseeable future. The problem is that hardly any statistical formulation is based on audited or established facts. Data from countries within the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) has proven to be totally unreliable. And oil consumption estimates from countries like India and China are just that, estimates. Pressed for facts at a recent news conference, an official from the US Energy Information Administration conceded that “we are working on best-available data, not on the type of data we would like to possess.” For example, the Saudi government has been claiming, for well over a decade, that it can increase production by at least 10% at short notice, if and when stability (and sanity) needs to be injected into the energy price spectrum; prior to the start of the March 2003 Iraq war, OPEC’s publicly stated objective was a trading range of US$22-28 per barrel, and the Saudi concept of price stability has been changing with each passing day. Moreover, nobody really knows how much oil the Saudis actually sell, and how much excess capacity is waiting to be tapped. For that matter, OPEC’s other members are not too liberal on output data either. Iran, for instance, has never been able to explain the gap between oil revenues recorded in the national budget on one hand and oil sales disclosed in OPEC publications on the other. Iraq’s government claimed yesterday that its monthly oil production had finally exceeded pre-war levels. But, given the quantum of illegal, non-approved oil deals executed by Saddam Hussien, who knows for certain how much oil Iraq was exporting in 2003? And, given the widely fluctuating security situation, is today’s data from Iraq valid for a forecast of tomorrow? To add to the confusion, a former senior executive of Moscow-based Gazprom revealed in a statement from exile in London that “the story of the vast Russian petrochemical sector is continuously shaped and re-shaped inside the Kremlin. For the Putin administration, oil and gas are highly strategic weapons, and they don’t care a damn for the global demand-supply equation.” Well, the largest consumer groups don’t care a damn either. Not surprisingly, one has yet to hear anything akin to a mass protest at the steady rise in gasoline prices at American and European pumps. And, as far as consumption statistics from India and China are concerned, the less said the better. “One bad harvest, which depends largely upon the weather, will halt India’s 10%-plus growth rate in its tracks, simple as that,” a Mumbai-based trader in stock options warned his clients in a blog posting today. At the same time, a Chinese Communist Party executive told foreign journalists in Beijing last week that “higher oil will not impact China, since the biggest component of national GDP growth for the next few years will be non-urban in nature, and incremental consumption of oil will not be too significant. Don’t expect China to lead the charge beyond US$100 per barrel.” The fundamental problem in predicting the future of oil prices, of course, lies in the paucity of sufficient facts, either for demand or for supply. When confronted by this fact-shortage, a Citibank analyst cited the terror premium. “The threat of terrorism is contributing at least US$30 to the price of each barrel of oil sold on the world markets today,” she insisted. “One cannot be too precise here, but the movement of the oil price graph since 2001 is ample evidence that terrorism, or rather the threat of it, has provided the core momentum after oil prices breached the US$50 per barrel mark.” Will the absence, hopefully, of a terrorist spectacular over the next 12 months or so cause the terror premium to narrow? And will a major terrorist attack in the West result in the widening of that premium? The more you ask those questions, the more imprecise the opinions become. Because if 30% of today’s crude prices are a consequence of terrorism, then perhaps energy experts should concentrate on studying terrorism rather than pouring over dubious supply and demand statistics!! In the meanwhile, the entire oil exploration scenario is riddled with inconsistencies. A series of exploration programmes, particularly in West Africa and Central Asia, have been placed on slow track, or have been shelved, at least temporarily. At the end of the day, with virtually all price-related projections inherently lacking credibility, it is natural that the focus returns to production, sales and unprecedented profits---whatever the reason for a barrel being priced at US$90-plus might or might not be.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
When most investors think about offshore asset havens, the first prospect that comes to mind is the traditional Swiss Bank Account. This has become a virtual stereotype of asset protection, probably because Swiss banks have been in this field of financial services the longest compared to other countries. Switzerland has maintained a longstanding political distance between itself and the rest of Europe; it maintained neutrality through both World Wars (leading to charges it collaborated with the Nazis); it is not an EU member; and only joined the United Nations in 2002. Christoph Meili, a security guard at the United Bank of Switzerland, became a prominent whistleblower by preventing the destruction of Holocaust-era financial records in 1997 and bringing them to the attention of the public. Subsequently, Meili lost his job and received death threats, and became the first and only Swiss national to be granted political asylum in America. Descendants of Holocaust victims claim Swiss banks are still holding onto some their ancestors' funds, despite disbursements in recent years. Regardless of its somewhat unsavory past, Switzerland has traditionally had much to recommend it as an asset haven. It is a stable western country with a well established system of laws, so investors will get no sudden surprises after a coup or regime change. The financial establishment in Switzerland Banking in Switzerland is known for stability, consistency, privacy and protection of client assets and data. The nation's tradition of bank secrecy dates back to medieval times, but was officially codified in a 1934 law. All Swiss banks are regulated by the Federal Banking Commission,or FBC, which derives its authority from a series of federal statutes. Banking is a major industry in Switzerland, employing approximately 5% to 6% percent of its workforce and generating 14% to 15% of its annual GDP. It is estimated that approximately one third of offshore funds are stored in Swiss banks. The UBS AG and Credit Suisse are the two largest Swiss banks, holding more than 50% of all deposits in Switzerland. While secrecy of banking data is guaranteed under Swiss law, in practice it is not unlimited. While secrecy is protected, all bank accounts are linked to an identified individual, and a judge or prosecutor may issue a "lifting order" to give law enforcement access to information relevant to a criminal investigation. Swiss law discriminates between tax evasion and tax fraud. If money is not declared, this is considered tax evasion, a misdemeanor under Swiss law. However, tax fraud such as filing forged tax declarations is considered a criminal offence. Also, in an effort to stop the use of Swiss banks by criminals, The Money Laundering Act sets standards for the identification of account holders, and requires reporting of any suspicious transactions to the Money Laundering Reporting Office. After 9/11, Switzerland was one of several countries to participate in joint task forces targeting financing of the Al-Queda terrorist organization. Due to Switzerland's high profile in the world banking community, it has come under pressure from many nations including the U.S. to alter its privacy laws. European Union members complain that their nationals use its convenient nearby services to avoid taxation at home. The EU is working towards a harmonized tax regime among its member states, and the the Swiss banking officials (and, according to some polls, the public) are against further integration. However, some cooperation has been forthcoming, and since July 1 2005, Switzerland has charged a witholding tax on interest earned by the personal Swiss accounts of E.U. nationals. In 2001 and 2002, the government of Italy offered a limited amnesty to tax dodgers with Swiss accounts, resulting in the repatriation of 30 to 35 billion euros. In 2003, another such amnesty program was offered by Germany. In 2003, the U.S. announced a new information-sharing agreement under the previously-signed U.S. - Swiss Income Tax Convention, to facilitate more effective tax information exchange. Swiss numbered bank accounts are legendary to the public as bastions of secrecy, but in reality, the information required to open such an account is the same as that of an ordinary account; completely anonymous accounts are legally forbidden. The only difference between a numbered account and a regular account is that personal data concerning such accounts is restricted to senior bank officers, rather than being accessible to all bank employees. In a criminal investigation, law enforcement can access the numbered account holder's identification just as easily as that of a regular account. In summary, anyone who wants to keep a legitimately-gained amount of capital in a safe off-shore asset haven should consider Swiss banks to be a safe bet. However, due to their high profile, these banks may offer less assurance of privacy than some lesser known, and less carefully scrutinized, countries such as the Turks and Caicos or the Guernsey Islands.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
With the new bankruptcy law in effect as of October 17, 2005, there is a lot of confusion with regard to the new "means test" requirement. The means test will be used by the courts to determine eligibility for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The purpose of this article is to explain in plain language how the means test works, so that consumers can get a better idea of how they will be affected under the new rules. When most people think of bankruptcy, they think in terms of Chapter 7, where the unsecured debts are normally discharged in full. Bankruptcy of any variety is a difficult ordeal at best, but at least with Chapter 7, a debtor can wipe out the debts in full and get a fresh start. Chapter 13, however, is another story, since the debtor must pay back a significant portion of the debt over a 3-5 year period, with 5 years being the standard under the new law. Prior to the advent of the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005," the most common reason for someone to file under Chapter 13 was to avoid the loss of equity in their home or other property. And while equity protection will continue to be a big reason for people to choose Chapter 13 over Chapter 7, the new rules will force many people to file under Chapter 13 even if they have NO equity. That's because the means test will take into account the debtor's income level. To apply the means test, the courts will look at the debtor's average income for the 6 months prior to filing and compare it to the median income for that state. For example, the median annual income for a single wage-earner in California is $42,012. If the income is below the median, then Chapter 7 remains open as an option. If the income exceeds the median, the remaining parts of the means test will be applied. This is where it gets a little bit trickier. The next step in the calculation takes income less living expenses (excluding payments on the debts included in the bankruptcy), and multiplies that figure times 60. This represents the amount of income available over a 5-year period for repayment of the debt obligations. If the income available for debt repayment over that 5-year period is $10,000 or more, then Chapter 13 will be required. In other words, anyone earning above the state median, and with at least $166.67 per month of available income, will automatically be denied Chapter 7. So for example, if the court determines that you have $200 per month income above living expenses, $200 times 60 is $12,000. Since $12,000 is above $10,000, you're stuck with Chapter 13. What happens if you are above the median income but do NOT have at least $166.67 per month to pay toward your debts? Then the final part of the means test is applied. If the available income is less than $100 per month, then Chapter 7 again becomes an option. If the available income is between $100 and $166.66, then it is measured against the debt as a percentage, with 25% being the benchmark. In other words, let's say your income is above the median, your debt is $50,000, and you only have $125 of available monthly income. We take $125 times 60 months (5 years), which equals $7,500 total. Since $7,500 is less than 25% of your $50,000 debt, Chapter 7 is still a possible option for you. If your debt was only $25,000, then your $7,500 of available income would exceed 25% of your debt and you would be required to file under Chapter 13. To sum up, first figure out whether you are above or below the median income for your state (median income figures are available at http://www.new-bankruptcy-law-info.com). Be sure to account for your spouse's income if you are a two-income family. Next, deduct your average monthly living expenses from your monthly income and multiply by 60. If the result is above $10,000, you're stuck with Chapter 13. If the result is below $6,000, you may still be able to file Chapter 7. If the result is between $6,000 and $10,000, compare it to 25% of your debt. Above 25%, you're looking at Chapter 13 for sure. Now, in these examples, I have ignored a very important aspect of the new bankruptcy law. As stated above, the amount of monthly income available toward debt repayment is determined by subtracting living expenses from income. However, the figures used by the court for living expenses are NOT your actual documented living expenses, but rather the schedules used by the IRS in the collection of taxes. A big problem here for most consumers is that their household budgets will not reflect the harsh reality of the IRS approved numbers. So even if you think you are "safe," and will be able to file Chapter 7 because you don't have $100 per month to spare, the court may rule otherwise and still force you into Chapter 13. Some of your actual expenses may be disallowed. What remains to be seen is how the courts will handle cases where the cost of mortgages or home rentals are inflated well above the government schedules. Will debtors be expected to move into cheaper housing to meet the court's required schedule for living expenses? No one has any answers to these questions yet. It will be up to the courts to interpret the new law in practice as cases proceed through the system.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Do You Want Increased Profits? Then Go After Decreased Losses! Hello, this is Bob Eldridge and I'd like to share with you a frequently overlooked source of profits from your trading. It's a simple concept yet so very important if you expect to be able to continue trading for any length of time! The concept is that of controlling both the number of losses you have and the dollar amount of those losses. I realize that statement sounds so obvious that you might be tempted to put this article away in favor of a night of bad television, but please stick with me here. I'll share some things with you that you probably don't expect to find here! To better visualize the concept I'm describing, picture a large washtub, the kind you probably remember from your childhood. Now imagine the difficulty of filling the washtub if it has several 'six-inch' holes in the bottom! No matter HOW MANY garden hoses you have filling it up, the water is running out faster than it's going in!! Now imagine plugging each of the holes, one at a time. Plug the first one and the difference is almost imperceptible. Plug the second hole and you begin to notice that there is less water splashing on the ground. Plug the third and you actually may see the water level in the tub begin to rise ... just slightly, perhaps, but rise nonetheless! Plug ALL the holes but one and the difference becomes measurable! Now that you're down to one hole, let's begin to repair it a piece at a time. First we cover HALF the hole ... while the tub still leaks, you can now tell there's more water going INTO the tub than running out the bottom. Patch half the remaining leak and you begin to adapt to the idea that it's OKAY if a little water comes out, just as long as there's more going in than coming out! Our trading accounts are something like that. Most new traders have HUGE trading account "holes" and the money is draining out faster than they can replace it! No matter how profitable they are on some of thier trades, they just seem to give it all BACK! If we're smart about our trading when we notice that, we'll STOP trading until we find the challenge and FIX it! What I'm describing are the DIRECT results of FOCUSING on the profits and almost totally forgetting about controlling the losses. There are many reasons for that but despite the reason, the results are the same. Left unchecked, such a situation will take us totally out of the trading business in a very short period of time! Does this describe you and your trading account? Would you like to know how to 'FIX' it? Let me share with you four RULES for trading which directly address losses and if followed, can 'plug' many of your profit leaks! RULE 1. Wait for the stock to CONFIRM the anticipated direction before entering the trade This rule can decrease the NUMBER of losses you experience. As simple as that sounds, it's one of the most often violated principles of good trading habits. So often is this rule broken that we are all familiar with cute little descriptions such as "catching a falling piano", or "reaching for a falling knife." What you use for this confirmation is your own affair; price rise or fall, momentum, frequency of trades or bid / ask "size" are just a few ways. Personally I combine them all (more or less), developing a 'feeling' about the confirmation, rather than a measurable quantity. However you choose to define confirmation, let experience be your best teacher here and do NOT enter the trade until you're convinced the stock is moving your direction! RULE 2. When you are filled on the entry, place a STOP loss to minimize your potential for loss. This rule controls the AMOUNT you can lose on any one trade. I like to use about 1/2 of the stock daily movement for my stop loss amount. For example, if a stock price moves on average, say $1 every trading day, then I'll back off 1/2 of that, or 50 cents and place my stop loss there, limiting the losses possibly incurred on that trade. Whatever you use, be FAITHFUL in adhering to the protection afforded by the stop. In other words, DON'T CHANGE IT. If you're stopped, you're stopped. He who trades and runs away lives to trade another day! So much for minimizing the NUMBER and dollar amount of losses. Equally important is allowing your profits to maximize AT THE SAME TIME! Here's how to do that. RULE 3. When you become profitable in a trade, replace the stop loss with a TRAILING stop, trailing by that amount of profit. This one is so important that I believe it should be the 22nd amendment to our Constitution! Say you're up 25 cents in a trade and you have your stop loss in at 50 cents below your entry (on long positions). Replace the stop loss with a 25 cent trailing stop. At THIS point, you WORST CASE outcome for the trade is BREAKEVEN (give or take a couple of pennies)!!! In my live trading lab on my website, I often refer to this as the MAGIC point in the trade. You have virtually NOTHING to lose and EVERYTHING to gain from that point on! Finally, for the 'do-it-yourself- traders ... RULE 4. Leave the trade alone from this point on! The market overall will do a much better job of managing the trade (with the above rules observed) than you or I EVER could! Once you've reached the MAGIC POINT in your trade, just go away and do something else. Your trade is on autopilot! I'm glad to have been able to spend the last few minutes sharing this with you. I hope it helps you to trade more profitably!! Bob with Better Trades
Thursday, December 8, 2011
What did you learn about money? Where did you learn about money or wealth? Let us touch on the issue of our basic educational institutions, the schools, where we learn about the facts of life. What are the subjects covered in school? Language, mathematics, science, history, social studies, religion, among others are all important for us to study to blend ourselves well with society. Even in the collegiate level, depending on what course one chooses to take, lessons are concentrated on the theories, principles and/or basics which are hardly in consonance with the real world. How do we learn new things? Reading websites, attending seminars, and talking to people more knowledgeable on the subject are some of the ways. We also learn by making mistakes, like babies learning to walk. It is like roller skating where we get bruises every time we fall. The message is: “Don’t let mistakes stop you from learning. Learn from those mistakes and let them encourage you to learn more.” Always bear in mind that education in school is only the fundamental foundation of general knowledge. Outside school , we must gather as much skills as possible especially those pertaining to creating wealth. I firmly believe that one’s choice of endeavor must be anchored on love. Because when you love what you do, you will enjoy and take good care of it, not to mention the benefits it will bring to your health. With this in mind and in heart, you are following the dream of your life and you can use this principle in the choice of your business to gain wealth. Loving is one thing. Knowing is another. Know your business. Know how to go about it. It is imperative that you acquire financial knowledge to gain wealth. Today, information is wealth. Get to know what is going on around you. You will find opportunities to get rich from information that is current. Time can be of the essence depending on the subject of the business. Knowledge on the business is vital; that is why learning is a non-stop process. You need not necessarily be familiar with a particular business, but you must learn to know the business before you get involved in it. People who have actual experiences on a subject are the ones you can talk to in gathering information. Do not listen to hearsay or to those who neither know nor have any experience on the subject. Knowing is an asset; not knowing is a liability. That is why, information is wealth. Exchange information regarding financial matters with your colleagues as frequently as possible. This is one way to acquire updated news. On topics that are not clear or familiar to you, ask questions (rather than pretend you know when you don’t) and be generous to share what you know when asked. Opportunities are sometimes born spontaneously in discussions that are beneficial to either or both parties. The risk factor is always there even if you know the business. This is inherent in every type of business. But risk can be managed and kept to a minimum if you have the proper knowledge. Gathering information may be time consuming but time well spent. Sometimes, it takes more time to gather information than the business itself. Keep in mind though that timing (when to act) could be important in the business you are interested in. How much you know is different from how fast you know. Remember the old saying: “The early bird catches the worm?” The first or earliest to know gets the opportunity. If you know of an opportunity that is not yet in the news, it’s good news. Stay focused. Keep a clear and keen mind. Just like the advice of a weather station: “Know before you go.” The same thing is true in business: “Know before you go (into action).” When in business, you must learn to manage the flow of money, your people, and your system. Get to know where the money you invest should be at any particular time so that you don’t get cash strapped in the middle of your transactions. Make sure your money flows smoothly to where it should be. Learn to manage your people. They work for you, so take good care of them and they will take good care of your business. Systematize your work flow. This will cut wasted time, energy, and money as well. What you save is additional profit. Keep in mind to leave some time for your out-of-business activities too, like family and social affairs. Like giving credit to where credit is due, give time to where time is due. Think of ways to do more in less time. This will increase your profit margin making you more competitive. Most people find difficulty in marketing or selling products and / or services. It takes time and patience for your prospective clients to get acquainted with what you’re offering. Their most likely first reaction is to reject it. This is normal. With the right people negotiating and handling the marketing aspects of your business, you can surmount this difficulty and eventually come up with positive results. Communication skill is very important. It is your eyes, ears, and mouth rolled into one. It is a friendly spy to keep you updated and more knowledgeable. Without it, you’ll be groping in the dark.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Identity Theft is a real and growing problem. So what is identity theft exactly? Basically, identity theft is when someone uses your social security number, your bank credit card number, your driver's license number or any other form of identity without your knowledge or permission. Many people have fallen victim to identity theft through many different means. Some of these ways are easily preventable due to their common sense obvious nature. Other ways identities are stolen are more dubious and discreet. So, the question becomes, how can you protect yourself from someone stealing your identity? To protect yourself from identity theft, the first thing you should do when considering how to divulge information about your identity to someone you do not know or may not trust is to use your common sense. Never make one-sided assumptions or take things for granted where your identity is concerned. Credit card company statements and bank statements you receive in the mail contain your account information including your account number. Any of these items need to be shredded with an inexpensive shredder you can buy at any office supply store. Do not throw credit card statements, old credit cards or bank statements, etc. in the trash as that presents an easy way for someone going through the trash to steal your account information and use it as if they were you. Another thing you can do to protect yourself against credit card fraud and unauthorized credit card usage is to sign the back of your card as "Check ID". If a store clerk asks to see your card, he or she will check the signature on the back and compare it with some other form of ID you have. This safeguard will not work where a purchase can be automatically completed (like at a gas pump). When you are buying items at a store or withdrawing money from a bank or ATM machine using your ATM debit card always protect the visibility of your PIN number as you punch it in. Do not carry your social security card with your number on it in your wallet. Keep your social security card or anything with your social security number on it in a safe place where no one has access to it but you. If you must dispose of anything that has your social security number on it, do not forget to shred it. When online, do not open files sent to you by strangers or even files that are from someone you know but were not expecting to receive any from them. Do not click on hyperlinks or download programs from people you do not know either. Opening a computer file from an unknown source could expose your system to a computer virus, a Trojan or spyware. These types of programs could be ones that could log your keystroke information containing your credit card numbers, passwords or other sensitive information as you type it in. If you use Ebay or Paypal, read the company website policies concerning how they handle communication to you about your account information. Never trust an email you may receive out of nowhere from Ebay or Paypal asking you to "update your account information" as this is more than likely a ploy to steal that information and use it illegally. Use a firewall program and a router while you are online if you have high speed internet that leaves your computer connected to the internet 24/7. The router and the firewall program both make it much more difficult for a hacker to see your computer's actual IP address which means that you have a better chance of safely sending and receiving sensitive information over the internet. Windows XP operating system SP2 has a built in firewall which you should make sure is enabled in your settings. When you are shopping online, always use a secure browser and shop from a web site that offers secure transactions when shopping online. Most browsers in use today have this protection feature including the popular Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers. Secure website shopping carts you visit will show up as "https://thestoresdomain.com" in the web browser address bar. Practice keeping your computer clean from spyware or Trojan programs that log keystroke information by using virus protection software and spyware monitoring and removal software. These programs should be updated regularly, and updates for you're operating system and other software programs should be installed regularly to protect against the compromise of your computer files and password information. Ideally, virus protection software should be set to update itself frequently. The Windows XP operating system will update itself automatically if you enable this feature, which you should. The consequences of identity theft once thieves have your information can be quite severe and range from going on a spending spree to taking out auto loans in your name. For these reasons and others, it is a good idea to monitor your credit report periodically. A credit report can be obtained from Trans Union Corp. New laws have made it easy for you to get at least one free credit report that you can use to see if accounts have been opened in your name. You may copy this article and place it on your own website, as long as you do not change it and include this resource box including the live link to the Credit Repair Advice site.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Thinking about conquering your mountain of debt but too scared even to give your debt much thought? Read this real-world scenario of how one person erased $10,000 of credit card debt within a few years. Ever wonder how some people deep in credit card debt manage to come out on top financially? This is the hypothetical but realistic story of Emily, one person who dug herself out of $10,000 in credit card debt in just a few years. Never a big spender, Emily was shocked when she noticed that her two credit cards had a combined balance of $10,000. What happened? * Emily took a lower-paying job when the economy went bust at the turn of the millennium. * Hoping her lower income would be temporary, Emily didn't sell her house to get one with a lower mortgage. She didn't sell her expensive car to buy a cheaper one, since she would get much less than she had paid for it. In reality, the thought of driving a less-nice car was painful * Emily paid only the minimum monthly credit card payment most months. She was paying interest, and interest on interest, buying the privilege of having the credit card company hold onto her debt another month. * When one of Emily's credit card balances got within a few hundred dollars of the credit limit, her interest rate on the card skyrocketed from 17 to 27% . Loans: Emily’s Salvation? Emily considered taking out a loan to pay off her credit card debt. She owned a condominium whose property values had increased 40% since she bought it, so she could easily get a good low-interest second mortgage. But a loan scared Emily: it would mean admitting her debt would not go away soon. Besides, Emily wanted to get rid of her debt, not trade (her unsecured debt for secured debt). Plus, she knew that if she ever couldn't pay the second mortgage, she would lose her house, while failing to pay credit card bills would just mean a ruined credit rating. For about a year, Emily argued with herself over whether to take out a loan to pay off her credit card. Then catastrophe hit: her beautiful car was totaled in an accident. While shopping for a new car with friends, Emily finally had to admit to herself that buying another car like the one she had had would be financial suicide. Finding an Answer Emily cried and cried as soon as she got home from the car dealership that day. It wasn't just that she would have to admit that she wasn't someone who could afford the car she had been driving. When Emily's parents were her age, they had already bought a five-bedroom house; Emily's one-bedroom condominium was already a stretch. If she ever got married to a man with the same financial picture as she had, she wasn't sure they'd be able to afford children. Growing up, her parents had always told her she'd do better than they had. What went wrong? Emily did not have to think hard about what went wrong. Her father had been able to pay for college with what he earned at summer jobs, and then got a manager-level job straight out of school. Between college and graduate school, Emily had accumulated $70,000 in student debt that she was still slowly paying off. Houses in Emily's town, even adjusting for inflation, cost several times what they did when Emily's parents bought one. Cars had leaped in price about as much. The only thing that hadn't gone up was income. Unable to cope with having less than her parents had, Emily had used her credit cards. Solving the Problem Emily knew that since her lack of financial skills had dug her into her rut, she would need outside help to dig herself back out. She had heard about credit counseling services that took large chunks of the payments you made against your debt, so she was careful. She found a counseling agency that was a member of the Better Business Bureau, American Association of Debt Management Organizations and whose credit counselors are certified through the National Institute for Financial Counseling Education. Doing a quick search on the web, Emily verified that these were organizations with real standards and not just empty names. Here's what Emily got from the credit counseling service: * Relief. Emily was relieved to learn that her $10,000 credit card debt is in fact about average for Americans. The credit counseling agency showed her that even if she didn't have the advantages she had–a decent job and home equity–she would be able to rid herself of her debt if she just faced up to it. * Surprise. The agency urged her to put money away for a rainy day fund, even as her credit card interest mounted. But once she started saving, she felt amazing. She realized she had been under enormous stress from always being one paycheck away from poverty. * Understanding. The counselor understood Emily's reluctance to take out a loan, and helped her create a budget that would let her pay off her consolidated debt within a few years. Besides the car, all Emily had to give up were smaller expenses. * Clarity. With her finances planned, Emily could think much more clearly about her financial situation. She figured out how much more money she would have to make to have her desired lifestyle, and aggressively pursued a new job. Starting fresh with her new coworkers, Emily focused on meeting people who were less materialistic–and even met her fiancé. Though her fiancé has no better financial prospects, Emily's confident they can afford to give their children all the essentials she had, even if in a smaller house. After all, Emily knows that solid finances are just as good a shelter as a roof over your head.