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Blog Details
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Google Pagerank: 3
Blog Description:

Change Yourself, Change Your Wealth. A personal finance and personal development site dedicated to creating positive change that carries us down the road to success.
Blog Added: July 21, 2007 11:51:43 PM
Audience Rating: All Ages
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Total Visits: 1,326
Blog Rating: 2.97
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Debt Calculator Released and Ready For Users

The first release of the online debt calculator is ready for users. The idea is that you don’t need to download a debt reduction spreadsheet or some external program, you can visualize your debt destruction right in your web browser. Debts can be reordered by dragging them around in the list, you can see what happens when you add extra monthly payments, reorder debts using the debt snowball method of smallest balance, and more.  Full instructions are in the sidebar next to the debt...

Debt CalculatorThe first release of the online debt calculator is ready for users. The idea is that you don’t need to download a debt reduction spreadsheet or some external program, you can visualize your debt destruction right in your web browser. Debts can be reordered by dragging them around in the list, you can see what happens when you add extra monthly payments, reorder debts using the debt snowball method of smallest balance, and more.  Full instructions are in the sidebar next to the debt calculator.

With that said, I am looking for feedback. I am poised and ready to add new features, but I wanted to make sure that I had an idea worth pursing and figure out how users want to use it.  I am looking for all types of feedback.  Enhancements, bugs, and I even welcome negativity.  If this isn’t something that isn’t helpful or useful, I want to stop devoting time to it as soon as possible.  Use the simple feedback form on the calculator’s sidebar or publicly share your feedback by using the ‘Feedback and Support’ tab in the bottom right hand corner.

A picture is worth a thousand of my words, so here goes…and here is the debt calculator link again.



The Pain Of Taxes Without A Mortgage

I procrastinated filling taxes this year again…no big deal.  Late filing seems to be common practice for those of us who usually owe money each year.  The pain came when I received word that we need to file for extension and pay DOUBLE the normal amount to the fed and the state.   I was shocked.  I saved and paid quarterlies the same as I did the last five years and we got killed worse than normal.  Now I am trying to figure out what happened and recover. A Little History Every...

Raise My Taxes Protest SignI procrastinated filling taxes this year again…no big deal.  Late filing seems to be common practice for those of us who usually owe money each year.  The pain came when I received word that we need to file for extension and pay DOUBLE the normal amount to the fed and the state.   I was shocked.  I saved and paid quarterlies the same as I did the last five years and we got killed worse than normal.  Now I am trying to figure out what happened and recover.

A Little History

Every since we got married we have owed thousands of dollars in taxes each year.  The only times we haven’t owed are tax years when we were able to claim the adoption tax credit(a beautiful thing). The main ‘problem’ is that The Rockette has worked full or part time since we got married and from what I can see the tax code tends to not be as helpful to married couples with dual incomes.

The Rockette now works part-time as a consultant which means we are responsible for paying quarterly taxes.  The same holds true for my internet income streams.   Like previous years I paid less in quarterly taxes, because I would rather keep my money for as long as possible rather than overpay and let the government hold without having to pay interest.    It’s purely principle, not necessarily a wise personal finance decision.  It gives me a false sense of power in a situation were I am powerless.

Skip Forward To The First Year Without A Mortgage

This year is our first full year of being 100% debt free and renters. This means we lost our mortgage interest and property tax deductions.   Ouch!  I hadn’t really thought about the tax consequences, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for that loss to cause a doubling of our tax bill.

Ready for Pain

The lucky part is that we are ready to handle the pain.  We had already saved normally, so we had half of the bill sitting in a ‘2010 taxes’ account in ING.  The rest of the pain was minimized by the hard work we put into become debt free and having an emergency fund.   Because of that, the tax bill became a nuisance rather than a catastrophe.  In the past this would have  thrown our life and finances into a tailspin.  It will take a little while to replace the money the emergency fund, but that is nothing compared to the damage and stress it would have done to us 6 or 7 seven years ago.

Listen To The CPA

One of the benefits of a of having a CPA is I will receive an adjusted quarterly schedule when my taxes are finished that will take this into account and factor in a new child.  If I had of followed the CPA’s recommended schedule this year, we would have been almost in line with were we expected to be.   I need to start fully trusting the CPA rather than still trying to partially follow my hacked together plan of years past.

Thanks to the emergency fund, we can learn and move on.  I have bigger and better things to worry about!  I am ready to start my next web project which you will hear about in the future.



The Happy Rock Redesigned, Repurposed, Revamped, Reimagined, and Revitalized

The title is over the top, but I am pretty excited.   I can’t call The Happy Rock revitalized until I actually start posting and investing in the community again, but that is my honest desire.  The blog has been languishing for almost two years, but now I am refreshed and ready to start taking action towards my goal.  A site rewrite was planned for a while and I finally pushed through it. Why Did I Do It? I had a few offers to sell The Happy Rock, but I choose to revamp The Happy Rock...

The title is over the top, but I am pretty excited.   I can’t call The Happy Rock revitalized until I actually start posting and investing in the community again, but that is my honest desire.  The blog has been languishing for almost two years, but now I am refreshed and ready to start taking action towards my goal.  A site rewrite was planned for a while and I finally pushed through it.

Why Did I Do It?

I had a few offers to sell The Happy Rock, but I choose to revamp The Happy Rock instead. I wasn’t ready to let it go even though writing is something of a battle for me.  I also  was unhappy letting it stay the meager personal finance blog it was.  I didn’t make sense to keep the site out of nostalgia, it had to be a part of the new places I want to go. As much as I love helping people destroy their debt, I also know that there are a lot of people stuck in the same place I have been for the last two years.   Stuck not quite happy with where our decisions(or lack of decisions) are taking us.  Stuck knowing that there is more to life, but trapped on the couch without action.  I just needed to gain some new habits, perspective, accountability, learning, mentoring, prayer, and a few swift kicks in the butt.   The Happy Rock will now exist to not only help people create financial freedom in their lives , but also to learn how to use that freedom to accomplish big things.   The expanded purpose allows me to be more authentic and connected to the material; I am on that exact journey.  I will begin to share were that journey is going and how I am taking action to get there in the coming months.

The Design Mechanics

As you can see I removed most of the clutter and trimmed down to the bare necessities.   I don’t want the purpose and focus on the blog to get watered down by cheesy sidebar widgets or obnoxious ads.    Most of the advertisements are removed or tucked away.   Adsense only shows to traffic that comes from search engines. There are a few text links in the footer that may eventually be on the way out and only a few organic affiliate links left.    The Happy Rock income has taken a hit, but I honestly believe that the journey to bigger things starts by challenging yourself to make long term decisions not ones geared for the here and now.

The main goal of the redesign was to make the site much more user friendly and content focused for regular readers(who generally don’t click ads), while still offering search visitors the choices they were after. I still have a few things to update, but I wanted to start moving rather than wait until it’s perfect to forge ahead.

I coded the site myself and enlisted a graphic designer friend to help with the artistic side of things. The graphic designer created the header, helped me with the colors and fonts, and created the beautiful widget around the slider on the main page. If you are interested in connecting with him, shoot him an email -> Josh Street.

The site is developed on the Thesis Theme for WordPress*. I am excited to be stepping up to a wordpress framework to be able to leverage all the speed, search engine optimization, and overall excellent theme design that someone else had to learn and code.   I used a the ThesisFolio skin as inspiration and a place to start.  I coded the rest by hand and even had to figure out javascript and jquery along the way.  I will detail the plugins and other nuisances I used to accomplish my goals in another post.  Needless to say, it was a fun and motivating experience.

Now the real fun begins, taking action towards bigger goals and posting again.

Drop a comment and let me know what you think of the new design and how you connect(or don’t connect) with the new vision?

* = Affiliate link



ING Direct Will Start Allowing Paper Check Deposits By Scan….Now?

[Update 5-2-2012]  Almost a year and half after the initial signs of life, ING Direct finally released their long awaited remote check deposit by scan or by smartphone picture.  It is called CheckMate and works perfectly. I tested it over the  weekend by following the three step Checkmate wizard(on my Android phone) that walks you through what pictures to take and the check was deposited within minutes.   You can view ING’s “How CheckMate Works” video for exact details or...

[Update 5-2-2012]  Almost a year and half after the initial signs of life, ING Direct finally released their long awaited remote check deposit by scan or by smartphone picture.  It is called CheckMate and works perfectly. I tested it over the  weekend by following the three step Checkmate wizard(on my Android phone) that walks you through what pictures to take and the check was deposited within minutes.   You can view ING’s “How CheckMate Works” video for exact details or read PT Money’s article on his experience.

ING Direct is finally starting to show signs that depositing checks by scan and/or fax is going to happen in the near future.   Let’s also keep our fingers crossed that they will also integrate with mobile phones like iPhone and Android. Here is the information we have thus far(June 7th 2011):

Official ING Help Question

I hear a lot of buzz about being able to scan checks for deposit called Remote Deposit Capture. Is this something ING DIRECT will offer in the future?” – ING Help Center

Response

“Let’s just say, it’s in the works.  We’re working hard to offer you more convenient ways to make deposits into your ING DIRECT account(s). Stay tuned…”

A second confirmation came directly to me as I complained on my Twitter account:

“Still hoping that @ingdirect will implement check deposit by scan. Seems like something they would’ve already done. Mailing checks is 90’s.” – @TheHappyRock Tweet

Official ING Response

“@TheHappyRock Mailing checks is sooo 90’s – Don’t worry, remote deposit is on the way. It’ll be a dream come true” – @INGDirect Deposit Tweet

Update 3/14/2011

“@LeviMaaia @TheHappyRock You bet, but still no ETA. We’re forecasting nothing but smooth sailing once released.” – @INGDirect Response Tweet

Update 6/7/2011

Judging from a recent tweet we might have remote deposit for July 4th.

@JacobAtchley Let us ease the pain…you’ll be seeing some easier ways to deposit checks before you’re declaring your independence.” – @INGDirect Response Tweet

Update 7/6/2011

Looks like they didn’t make it by July 4th, but they still say it is coming very soon.  I hope so, because I have a bunch of checks to deposit.

@adgriffi @TheHappyRock Remote deposit will be cause for its own celebration very soon…didn’t want it to get overshadowed by the holiday :-)” – @INGDirect Response Tweet

Update 7/25/2011

The new website design now has a ‘Deposit Checks’ option under the ‘Transfers and Deposits’ menu.  When clicked it displays a coming soon message.

Update 9/23/2011

A great observation by a Happy Rock commenter about the new release of the ING Android app. “ING released a new version of their Android banking app on 21-Sep. I took particular interest because it required acceptance of new permissions to complete the update. One of the new permissions was “Hardware controls, take pictures and videos”.”

Update 2/12/2012 (Over a year since the first update)

I just got off the phone with a customer service rep and he said that it should be “shortly”, but he couldn’t give a time frame.  He mentioned that other banks had a 30% success rate when they rolled out the remote deposit service and they are trying to make sure everything just works.  I know it is tough technology and the ramifications of checks not cashing is gigantic, but they have really botched the PR on this on.  As many commenters have mentioned the twitter feed is filled with quotes about how hard at work they are without any specifics.   They put a placeholder in their web interface in July of 2011when they first promised the feature, but it doesn’t feel like we are any closer in early 2012.  Let’s hope they keep pushing and work out the kinks ASAP.

———

As a heavy ING Direct product user, who is stuck mailing paper checks into my Electric Orange Checking account for deposit, I am quite excited. Remote Deposit Capture means that I can save on stamps and processing time, and I will spend a lot less time with money sitting on my desk doing nothing.     Hopefully, this gets done very soon which from the two responses above looks like it is a possibility.  I have a few more inquires out to see if I can gather a little more information.



Going To A 15 Year Fixed Mortgage

 With mortgage interest rates at amazing lows, I (Ed) figured now is the time for 15 year fixed rate refinance: I have a 30 year fixed rate mortgage with about 23 years and ~$156,000 left. With the 15 year fixed rate mortgages at about 3.7%, I have started to look into a refinance. My current mortgage 30 fixed Interest rate 5.875% Amount left $156,000 Years left 23 Monthly payment (principle & interest) $1010 Taxes 5k per year Total monthly payment (with PMI) $1,553 New mortgage 15 fixed...



With mortgage interest rates at amazing lows, I (Ed) figured now is the time for 15 year fixed rate refinance:

I have a 30 year fixed rate mortgage with about 23 years and ~$156,000 left. With the 15 year fixed rate mortgages at about 3.7%, I have started to look into a refinance.

My current mortgage 30 fixed
Interest rate 5.875%
Amount left $156,000
Years left 23
Monthly payment (principle & interest) $1010
Taxes 5k per year
Total monthly payment (with PMI) $1,553
    New mortgage 15 fixed
    Interest rate 3.875%
    Amount left $159,000 ($3000 for fees)
    Years left 15
    Monthly payments (principle & interest) $1166
    Taxes 5k per year
    Total monthly payment (without PMI) $1,582

    By refinancing, I stopped paying PMI, and shaved about 8 years off of the loan by paying down the principle in an with an astonishingly low rate and almost identical monthly payments.  If you are in a similar situation and value getting your house paid off as fast as possible like we do, it may pay to look into getting into a 15 year mortgage now.



    Crazy Saving with Coupons – “Pick Another Check-out Lane, Honey” Book Review

    This post is about a book that was recommended to my wife called “Pick Another Check-out Lane, Honey(Affiliate Link)“.  The two authors cover their ingenious couponing method from soup to nuts.  My wife has just begun using this method and with the help of the Krazy Coupon Lady’s book and website, we’ve been saving lots of money at the grocery store. Chapter 1: “Save 50-90% at the grocery store“ How?  First, the couponing method laid out in the book...

    This post is about a book that was recommended to my wife called “Pick Another Check-out Lane, Honey(Affiliate Link)“.  The two authors cover their ingenious couponing method from soup to nuts.  My wife has just begun using this method and with the help of the Krazy Coupon Lady’s book and website, we’ve been saving lots of money at the grocery store.
      Chapter 1:
      Save 50-90% at the grocery store
      How?  First, the couponing method laid out in the book instructs you to only use a coupon on a sale item to maximize savings.  You’d be surprised how much stuff you can get for free or paid to buy from your local stores.
      “As you change the way you shop, you will no longer need to make a last-minute run to the grocery store.”
      The authors recommend building a stockpile of common items, and choosing your menu based upon what is on hand.
        Chapter 2 – From Meltdown to Miracle:
        • Success stories
        Chapter 3 – Stockpile:
        Use multiple coupons to achieve the greatest savings.  When it is a good deal, you should buy lots of product and store it for future use.  This cuts down on future shopping trips and because you got the product at a discounted price, it saves future money.
        • Stockpile in case of job loss
        • Stockpile in case of sharp food inflation
        • Stockpile in case of rise in gas price
        • Stockpile for peace of mind
        Chapter 4 – Start Coupon Collection:
        • Obtain multiple subscripts to local major newspaper with coupon circulars.
        • Buy coupons online(ebay, among others)
        • Pay attention to Catalina.  Catalina is the small gray box that prints out coupons after you grocery store purchase.
        • Coupon websites
        Chapter 5 – Anatomy of the Coupon:
        Coupons are advertisements to get you to try a new product by reducing the price and enticing customers.  Coca-cola issued the first coupon in 1894 as a marketing scheme.
        How to identify fake coupons.
        Chapter 6 – Build Coupon Binder:
        Methods for organizing your Coupon Binder
        Chapter 7 – How & When to use Coupons:
        The authors offer training on how to take advantage of the best deals.
        • Double coupons
        • “Perfect storm: Sale price + Promo + coupon”
        • Instructions on how to get things for free and/or make money.
        Chapter 8 – Life as CFO:
        Some tips on dealing with cashiers.
        Chapter 9 & 10 – Store Policies & Talking to Managers and  Coupon Fraud

        Overall, this book is a delight to read.  It is entertaining and humorous.
        Personal success:
        2 8oz Aveeno Lotion, 1 Aveeno Conditioner, 2 Aveeno Shampoo = $1.45 (saved about $30 with coupons/rebates)
        4 boxes of Cheerios = $1 (saved about $15)
        3 boxes of Raisin Bran = $4.50, plus a free gallon of milk (saved about $12)
        I have no reason to think that we won’t continue to get better and find more and more deals as time goes on.



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