Streamlining and Simplifying - How Powerful

My attempt to simplify my life and get out from under the weight of the internet and my computer is coming along nicely. And as it does I really am feeling a small burst of "calm" coming back into my life.

Over the last week I have deleted about 15,000 e-mails (yes, you read that right!). So many were un-opened from mailing lists I somehow got on, but never looked at or cared about, but on days I felt most overwhelmed I didn't even take the time to delete them, or more importantly, unsubscribe from them.

So along with deleting I've been unsubscribing and feel certain I can now keep control. There will always be lots of e-mails I retain, but now they are stored in folders so I might even be able to find them when I want them!

I've got a ways to go in order to get rid of the "overwhelmed" feeling - but I am definitely on my way.


When You Know Your Company's Culture is Right-On!

My husband and I started our main business 22 years ago and always tried to make it a place where people enjoyed coming to work and worked together as a team to get the job done. We have always been so proud of how they all pull together when short-handed, or just very busy.

When we decided to move 3,000 miles away and open a branch office in California we gave them three options. We could hire a manager, appoint one of them manager, or they could just continue to work as they always had, as a team who knew what needed to be done.

They chose to just keep it the way it was. It's been 12 years since that day.

I left on Thursday last week for a weekend Mastermind and got home to find the fax you see above that they had sent us on Friday.

I can't begin to tell you how incredible a group of people work with us and how thankful we are that they "get it."


What Do You Want in Your Life?

I just got back from Calgary, Alberta, Canada where I attended an amazing event called Engage Today 2009. Speakers included the Dalai Lama, Sir Richard Branson, Stephen Covey, F.W. De Klerk (released Nelson Mandella from prison), Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos shoes), Barbara De Angelis, and a host of others that you may or may not recognize by name.

Each and every speaker was outstanding, bringing huge contributions to the event. I'm still reeling from the amount of information and energy that was condensed into four days.

What I came away with was that, for me, the internet age is overwhelming me. I have let technology become my master. And I am not alone in that. Even speakers at the event talked of how easy it was to get caught up in checking e-mail too often, or following links; basically getting distracted from the important parts of their work and their lives.

My love/hate relationship with computers and the internet and the unlimited amount of information available is evidenced by the amount of time I spend at my computer and the vast amount of information stored in it or printed from it. It feels suffocating, not empowering.

So I am un-subscribing from vast numbers of e-mail lists, looking at what I've printed that I've not read (and maybe never will) and deciding that I will gain control again over my life.

Obviously, I never would have known about this amazing conference had I not been "tuned-in" in some manner on the internet. But selectivity is my new mode of operation. I purposely didn't take or use a computer for the week I was in Calgary and my world didn't fall apart. I spent the hours that I would have been in front of my computer screen at home listening to and interacting with amazing people both on and off the stage.

So to answer my own question, "What Do You Want in Life?" I want to build connections with people, not add random people to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I want in-person and telephone interactions; I want to "engage today" and every day, with meaningful real-life interactions.

The internet has its place in my life, but it is no longer going to hold me hostage in life. I have regained my footing and will work on balancing my love of information and the abundance of it that the internet provides with the abundance that is gotten from living in the moment with family, friends and fresh air!


Watch Your Credit Card Statements!

It is more important than ever to pay attention to your credit card statments and any correspondence from your credit card companies. Because of new laws affecting credit cards (look for my previous blog post) the banks are getting very aggressive with consumer and business credit card accounts.

Consider this article -

One-Third of Credit Card Holders' Limits Cut

"Credit card companies reduced limits for 58 million cardholders w/ little regard to their credit scores" http://bit.ly/JB2y9

And from American Banker yesterday (a subscription publication):

"Credit card lines nationwide are set to be cut by another $1.5 trillion before the economy bottoms, on top of a $1.2 trillion cut from the peak, the analyst Meredith Whitney predicted Monday.

Unless credit loosens up dramatically for Main Street, small businesses will stymie a recovery, she wrote in a report to clients.

Credit cards are a particular source of concern, as roughly four out of five use them as vital portion of their overall funding, Whitney wrote."

So watch your personal and business credit card statements and correspondence and don't be blind-sided by increasing interest rates, reduction of credit lines or cancellation of accounts and the worst, in my opinion, the increase of the minimum payment percentage.


American Express Putting Credit Limits on Business Cards

My business e-mail inbox just received a nice little note from American Express telling us that they were putting a credit limit on our business card. We have used it extensively for business purchases for over 20 years (as is proudly proclaimed on the front of our card - member since 1989). We've always paid it in full every month, whether it is $3,000 or $15,000.

The only advantages of AMEX over a traditional credit card has always been that we didn't have to worry about bumping into a credit limit with
4 employees enrolled with cards

But now that advantage is gone, so why in the world would we pay the expensive fees associated with an American Express card? Answer is we won't. They just lost our business.

And the funny thing is they sent me another e-mail at the same time reminding us to use our American Express card for all of our business purchases! Maybe the marketing department should check to see what policy decisions are being made before they create advertising - makes them look a little silly, doesn't it?


Learning Affiliate Marketing For FREE!

Learning to make money as an affiliate for products is a hot topic on the internet. It seems everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. And there is money to be made, no doubt. But it isn't as easy as some would have you believe.

What's worse is you can lose a lot of money if you don't know what you're doing and go into it blindly. So, if you're interested in this concept, get educated before jumping in.

A couple of years ago at a business seminar I attended someone talked about how "easy" it was to make money on the internet with affiliate marketing. I thought what he outlined made sense and I jumped in and yes I did make a couple of hundred dollars, but I spent a lot more than that to get those few commissions.

I was talking with another person who has taken a much more methodical approach than I did and they are beginning to see some results...but it's taken months and months of work. But they are laying the groundwork for a longer term payoff and I do believe they will ultimately be successful.

Your success will be dependent upon the effort you're willing to put in (like everything in life!). For me I decided it was too much effort given everything else going on in my life, but I learned a LOT about what you need to know and where you can learn it.

I love finding information, especially when it's free! If you're interested in learning Affiliate Marketing and want to do it the right way, this site has everything you need to know and then some - and it's FREE - http://bit.ly/3n688h

And be sure to check out Ed Dale's 30 Day Challenge - http://bit.ly/1cxEy5 - He takes you through all the things you need to know, in a day by day format to create a business on the internet. Again, it's all FREE

Do you ultimately need to spend some money on learning this stuff? Probably - eventually as you get more sophisticated in your approach. But there is so much excellent information being provided for the beginner at no charge - get started with the free stuff before you spend money. And then be selective when you do spend money...don't grab everything that sounds good - it all sounds good!

But remember, it takes work and time to learn it and set it up properly. But done right you can create an income stream that ultimately requires much less of your time and effort.


Tony Hsieh of Zappos

I just watched a video of Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) talking about how he grew Zappos from a small start-up to a billion dollars in sales. Very interesting in that a lot of what he talked about my husband and I also did in growing our company from zero to a multi-million dollar business.

What I took away from this hour was that key principles are always what success comes down to - get those wrong and nothing seems to work.

One of the other things I took away from this video was Tony saying (paraphrasing here) "get out there and meet other business people, and not just those who you can find a business connection with." You never know what a conversation will yield, now or down the road. Or what golden nugget you'll get from someone outside of your industry.

And never stop learning...at the Q&A after Tony's talk Joe Polish stood up to ask a question. Now Joe Polish is an incredibly successful person himself, a person who knows Sir Richard Branson and Bill Clinton and any number of notable people, but here he was at this conference, learning and asking questions.

I'm going to a conference at the end of this month to see the Dalai Lama, Sir Richard Branson,
Stephen Covey, Tony Hsieh, Frank Kern, Eben Pagen, and about 20 other notable speakers. http://bit.ly/3clfrr

I watch dozens of business oriented and self-development videos, but I find seeing and hearing people speak in-person is incredibly powerful. But any way you do it, keep on learning and growing.


Scam Warning From the IRS and State Scams

This is a reminder for everyone that the IRS NEVER uses e-mail to correspond with taxpayers. There are scams that use e-mail to make it appear that the IRS is requesting information from you - don't fall for them.

Here's a link to the IRS site that warns about one particular scam that is going around http://bit.ly/FVkIN - but it's not the only one. So spread the word and don't be caught.

And if you're a business owner be aware that there are several regular mail scams that happen regularly. They come in very official looking envelopes and look very "real" telling you that your Statement of Information for your state is due and to immediately fill out the form and remit $XXX - and many, many people get deceived and send the money.

Before you submit any form that you get in the mail, go on the State website and look to see what the real requirement is...in California it is a simple form and a $25 payment. I've seen bogus forms requesting $100 - almost $300 - Don't get caught!


Webinars - What You Need to Know

For anyone who does Webinars or is thinking about doing them here is some great information from Marketing Sherpa. If you haven't discovered them yet, check out their website...and do it often. They post a huge amount of information for FREE for a short period of time and then it goes into the archives that can only be accessed by members. And membership is very reasonable and worth it for serious marketers. Here's a chart that's from the archives on why webinar attendees bail...(with their full permission to distribute)

And this week they have a chart for creating a Webinar Timeline: http://bit.ly/24udQD It will be on their site for free until September 10th along with a variety of other information about Webinars, like

How Email Series + Personalized Landing Page Lifted Webinar's ROI by 2000%

So if you're into marketing, click here and check out Marketing Sherpa's website.

There is so much great information available for free if you do a little searching. My information-aholic nature loves finding this stuff and putting it out there for everyone.


Two Unsettling Articles You Should Read

There are a couple of articles you should check out - both unsettling.

One is from Market Watch about the IRS and some states that are watching Social Media sites - "Taxman Turns to Social-Network Sites"
http://bit.ly/dDmQX You better be careful what you Twitter or post to Facebook, and not just because it might embarrass you someday!

The other is about the details of the Credit Card Legislation that was passed in May. A recent blog post of mine gave you a link to read about the new rules credit card companies will have to abide by, but this link listed a provision in the bill that I hadn't noticed anywhere else:

-- Includes unrelated provision that would allow people to carry loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. http://bit.ly/EQZIz

Sure enough, H.R. 627: Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 was signed into law by the President with this provision in it:

(8) The Federal laws should make it clear that the second amendment rights of an individual at a unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System should not be infringed.

(b) Protecting the Right of Individuals To Bear arms in Units of the National Park System and the National Wildlife Refuge System- The Secretary of the Interior shall not promulgate or enforce any regulation that prohibits an individual from possessing a firearm including an assembled or functional firearm in any unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System if--

(1) the individual is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing the firearm; and

(2) the possession of the firearm is in compliance with the law of the State in which the unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System is located.

Now, I don't want to debate here whether one should be allowed to carry a loaded gun in a National Park, but I sure as heck want to debate whether these totally unrelated provisions should be allowed to be attached to bills in the first place.


Chase Upping Minimum Payments on Credit Cards

If you haven't had some credit card limits reduced or interest rates increased you're in the minority. But now the credit card companies (at least Chase Bank credit cards) have a new tactic.

It happened to me last month and to a friend this month. Now they are raising the minimum payment - mine went from 2% to 5% and since this is a card with one of those (long gone!)
"2.9% interest until paid off" deals I long ago max'd it out by transferring higher balance cards to it. But now the minimum payment almost tripled!

Exactly the same thing happened to my friend, and they are both Chase issued credit cards. Interestingly they are reacting to objections differently...I was offered a 5-year payoff at my existing interest rate if I closed the account but my friend was not given that option.

A new law was passed regarding what a credit card company can and can't do, but a lot of the rules don't take effect until 2010 - so you can bet they will try to make whatever changes they can to your accounts before then. Click here for information: Credit Card Legislation

So read all of those pesky "Change in Terms" inserts or mailings from your credit cards and don't be taken off-guard.


Internet Marketing - Not as Difficult as You Might Expect

One of the things I've been doing (while not blogging!) is immersing myself in learning about Internet Marketing. You may know from reading some of my posts that I have good friends who are in retail, and worse yet, in a tourism niche. Obviously, they are having a difficult time of it in this economy.

So my initial research was to see if I could find ways of helping them by giving them a presence on the internet for some of the wonderful things they have in their store. They have a lot of beautiful jewelry...from sea glass pieces to opals and a line crafted in Paris, so I thought that might be a good place to start.

Wow, little did I know how much there was to learn - immersing myself quickly became drowning myself! But I'm finally getting a better understanding of it. Some of my posts will be about what I've learned.

Toward that end, if you ever wanted to start figuring out how to sell on the internet I have a totally FREE download for you to get started with. No opt-in (meaning you don't have to give me your e-mail address to get it), just an immediate download of an 85-page book called "Google AdWords Made Easy" by Brad Callen, a very well-known person in the internet marketing world. Honestly, don't even think about paying for AdWords until you get educated, because you can lose a lot of money quickly.

Just click here and you can download "Google AdWords Made Easy" right now.

I'm Baaaaaack!

Wow, I can't believe how long its been since I've written a new blog here! I'm sorry but life got in the way and I've been in the doldrums - I'm sure you know what I mean! Just haven't "felt" like writing. And, as I'm sure you'll also understand, as soon as I got in here and started writing again I began to wonder why I haven't been!

So, I'm back and excited with life again and ready to share it all with you again!

There's been so much going on in the world I may have a difficult time choosing what to write about...any suggestions? Just leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you!

And you can also follow me on Twitter - click on the top right or look for me - I'm @kdsm100



Clouded Leopards - New Cubs for this Endangered Species

We were back east this past week and an employee told us his daughter worked for the National Zoo and was awaiting the birth of Clouded Leopards. This is one of "hot spot" endangered species as when in captivity the male will kill the female and the mother will kill her cubs. So this birth of two cubs is a huge step forward in saving this amazing species.

His daughter is the one who went into the cage to rescue the cubs while the mother was being distracted and is now helping to raise them; 3-hour shifts of bottle-feeding, etc.

For more amazing photos at The Washington Post go to Clouded Leopards and you can view 9 other photos, including of the mom and read about this incredible animal.


Do You Feel Like We're Riding a See-Saw Every Day?

Wow, now the recession may be over by the end of 2009...but wasn't it all doom and gloom just a few weeks ago with even the President saying the economy might never recover?

See-saw? Feels more like whiplash some days.

Although I'm an optimist when it comes to my belief in our nation's ability to pull together and overcome huge obstacles and challenges, I also am a realist and think the American people are, too. Changing rhetoric isn't going to solve the problems we face. And this economy isn't going to change overnight.

I'm happy to hear more upbeat and positive things coming out of the administration and the news media. But when the message goes from pending doom to upbeat while the realities of what is going on is still in flux - well, that's what will keep all of us on edge and not sure what to believe.

Uncertainty is a big part of what is going on. When people are unsure of what to do or what might happen they hunker down. As long as we keep seeing and hearing conflicting messages and data this economy isn't going to do much more than it has been doing...see-sawing.


New Tax Court Rulings IN FAVOR of the Taxpayer!

As you know, I read lots of business and tax stuff. And I subscribe to The Kiplinger Tax Letter which has two great pieces of information in its most recent edition (March 6th). These could be two very important Tax Court rulings in favor of the taxpayer.

One has to do with Real Estate Professional status for real estate agents (and possibly others) and taking an ordinary loss on an abandoned investment.

Here are portions of the quotes (their copyright policy prohibits me from providing the full entries):

"Real estate agents ... rental real estate losses are exempt from the passive loss rules if they spend more than one-half of their time and at least 750 hours per year materially involved in real estate, the Tax Court says. ... The Service said that agents were not covered, but the Tax Court disagreed (Agarwal, TC Summ. Op. 2009-29)." Copyright 2009. The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc.


"The loss on an abandoned investment is deducted as an ordinary loss,
the Tax Court says in a case where a couple gave up the $25,000 they paid
for a franchise. ... (Alami El Moujahid, TC Memo. 2009-42)."
Copyright 2009. The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc.


In This Economy Barter May Become More Commonplace

I was just reading an article from a source that isn't usually very "upbeat." But in these two articles at The Sovereign Society they made me think about something that makes good sense in our current economic situation. Going back to the basic concept of barter. And I loved their title: Using "People Power" To Close Your Lifestyle Gap ©The Sovereign Society, copyright 2009 - I need to see and read upbeat, positive things right now.

Barter has been used forever, and there are plenty of people that have been using it right along. But how many of us really have been involved with it in any significant way?

Rather than try to re-write what they've already written I'm just going to give you the links and suggest you read the two articles. What I really liked, and think we need more of right now, are some reminders of how we can deal with this whole economic mess on a personal and business level. I don't know about you, but I'm looking for solutions and ideas to personal situations. What's happening on the national stage is not as important to me as what I can do individually to help myself, my family, my friends and my community to weather the storm.

To quote from the end of the second article:

But bartering and joint ventures are truly the beating heart of our economy; exactly what "paper money" tries to simulate. And when paper money fails to closely simulate the levels of efficiency and satisfaction you get from barter trades...well, don't be afraid to go back to what works.

So get out there and start thinking outside of the box! ©The Sovereign Society, copyright 2009

So check out the two articles:
Using People Power To Close Your Lifestyle Gap
People Power at Your Place of Business


FICO Scores are Starting to Drop - But Why NOW?

Back on August 10, 2008 I wrote a blog post about the tightening credit and its ramifications and I ended the title of it with "...and Watch Your FICO Scores DROP!"

And it's begun to happen - I just don't understand why it didn't start sooner. When some of your available credit is taken away your ratio of outstanding debt to your available credit changes, for the worse. Whereas you may have had a credit card with a $10,000 credit line and only $2,500 owed on it you had a 25% debt ratio. If they reduced your credit line to $2,500 you would now have 100% debt ratio - not good for your FICO score.

I have monthly monitoring of my credit reports and score and have been surprised to not see any change at all to my FICO score even though as with many others I have had credit card companies reduce some of my credit lines.

But today I checked my daughter's report and saw her score dropped 28 points and yet not one thing has changed in her file since last month and surprise of surprise, last month it dropped 28 points as well! Absolutely nothing in her file had changed over those two months but her score has dropped almost 60 points. She has "excellent" in all the categories except for "length of credit history" because she's only got a few years of history.

I hadn't gotten my monthly notice on my account so I popped over there and lo and behold my FICO score is now beginning to drop as well.

What does this mean? Well, I'm not sure...it should have happened months ago when credit began being shut off, but it didn't.

But now suddenly the scores are adjusting downward. Odd isn't it? The government is pushing for the financial institutions that they gave bailout money to to actually use it to give credit to consumers again, but suddenly all of us don't look as good on paper any more - in some cases for no apparent reason. Are these institutions now going to point to our lower FICO scores and use it as an excuse not to lend?

Just what is going on? Seems like your guess is as good as mine, but it doesn't look good any way you look at it.


5.25% APY on a Free Checking Account? For Real!

Well leave it to my son (just about to turn 20!) to tell me about a deal that sounds too-good-to-be-true, but seems to check out!

He learned early that you want your money to make money, so he's always looking for ways to do that...earlier there were some creative ways that didn't really make sense (LOL!). But talking them through gave him a better understanding of what he could and should look at.

So he and I were talking last night and he told me he found a site that lists the best interest rates at banks and found www.americanetbank.com that is giving 5.25% APY interest on their Rewards Checking Account. So, not wanting him to be "taken" I checked them out. And they seem to be for real.

A totally online bank (no branches) and a part of All America Bank in Oklahoma City, OK that was established in 1969. AmericaNet Bank® is a trade name and trademark owned and used by All America Bank®. A division of All America Bank® - Member FDIC.
There are reviews by both BankRate.com, which I have followed for a number of years for their articles and information, and BauerFinancial.com which was new to me but also seems to be a good resource. I also googled them and couldn't find any complaints, etc. (which some of the other online banks did have, BTW). And here is a link to the most recent FDIC data and report on it: FDIC Report

Both BankRate.com and BauerFinancial.com give it 4 stars out of 5 . The information on BankRate.com which they used to evaluate it is free, the information on BauerFinancial.com is available for a small fee, but the rating is published for free.

Now, there are, of course, requirements in order to get that interest rate - but they are not difficult, you just need to be aware of them (this is from their site):

"The only requirements are:

Make 10 AmericaNet Bank® VISA® CheckCard sales transactions**
All statements are received electronically

At the end of your statement cycle, ATM fees charged by any bank worldwide are automatically refunded in one lump sum. At the same time, you will be paid interest earned by your account. Interest earnings of 5.25% APY* are calculated on your average daily balance of up to $25,000. Amounts over $25,000 will earn 2.25% APY*."

REWARDS CHECKING is a free personal checking account that offers the highest possible interest rate of 5.25% APY*. No minimum balance is required. REWARDS CHECKING offers the added convenience of an AmericaNet Bank® VISA® CheckCard to access ATMs worldwide and for secure debit card purchases. Enjoy all of the great benefits of a REWARDS CHECKING account: 5.25% APY* FREE Online Banking FREE Checking FREE AmericaNet Bank® VISA® CheckCard FREE Customer Service FREE Daily Email Notification if Overdrawn FREE ATM Transactions Worldwide Overdraft Privilege Available NO MINIMUM BALANCE
*APY is Annual Percentage Yield **Requirements must be met each monthly statement cycle to receive the rewards. There are no rollover transactions. The monthly statement cycle ends on the 3rd Wednesday of every month. Qualifying VISA® CheckCard sales transactions include each time you use your VISA® CheckCard to make a purchase from a vendor or merchant. ATM and ACH transactions do not qualify. Limit of two Rewards Checking accounts allowed per individual.

Some other places that I found information on them was at http://bankdeals.blogspot.com and at www.bankaholic.com - so check it out for yourself...I'm not a financial advisor so do your own research and make your own decisions.


Privacy (or lack of!) and the Internet

I've always been amazed at what information you can get online about people; it's unnerving! I was just told a little secret...at least it was to me. Go to google.com and type in "phonebook:your name and state" - it would look like this: phonebook:john smith wyoming - important - don't put a space after the : but do put a space between your first and last name and the state.

Did you find yourself? Maybe not just your phone number but also your home address? And a google map button if your address was shown?

If you did, you can click at the bottom of the page to remove your information - but as they point out it won't get rid of your information in a variety of other places where it can be found, just in Google.

The information you need to get rid of information on you that is floating around the internet is in a great little e-book. I bought it ($27) and they say they'll be sending updates and videos as well to show how to do it. For me it is money well-spent. If you want the e-book here's a link: Privacy e-Book


President Obama's Taxes on the "Wealthy"

Is it just me or is there is something wrong with calling people "wealthy" who make $200,000 a year when in the United States there are about 400 billionaires (and a single billion is 1,000 times a million - and not many of those people have a single billion, but many billions) and over 9 million millionaires! I found quotes that put the richest 1% of households in the United States owning between 34-38% of all of the wealth in the country.

Consider that Warren Buffet pays about 15% in tax but his secretary (who only makes about $60,000 a year) is in the 35% tax bracket. He issued a challenge to members of "The Forbes 400" billionaires saying he would donate $1 million to charity if the collective group of richest Americans would admit they pay less taxes, as a percentage of income, than their secretaries. That's very nice, but I would have liked to have had him voluntarily pay the same percentage in taxes as his secretary and challenged the other wealthiest Americans to do the same.

Meanwhile it looks like it's time for a divorce for a bunch of Americans...as a married couple your taxes will go up if your income is over $250,000 a year, but if your spouse turns into your "significant other" you can each make up to $200,000 a year before your taxes will go up. That's a combined income of $400,000 without an additional tax hit.

I came upon this old interview from 2003 that I found interesting...here is a portion of it and I've given the link if you'd like to read the entire thing.

The Multinational Monitor

May 2003 - VOLUME 24 - NUMBER 5

The Wealth Divide
The Growing Gap in the United States
Between the Rich and the Rest

An Interview with Edward Wolff

Edward Wolff is a professor of economics at New York University. He is the author of Top Heavy: The Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America and What Can Be Done About It, as well as many other books and articles on economic and tax policy. He is managing editor of the Review of Income and Wealth.


"If you think about taxes that reflect a family's ability to pay, a family's ability to pay is a reflection of their income, but also of their wealth holdings. A wealth tax would not only produce more tax revenue, which we desperately need, but it would be a fairer tax, and also help to reduce the level of inequality in this country."

MM: Do you favor a wealth tax?
I’ve proposed a separate tax on wealth, which actually exists in a dozen European countries. This has helped to lessen inequality in European countries. It is also, I think, a fairer tax. If you think about taxes that reflect a family’s ability to pay, a family’s ability to pay is a reflection of their income, but also of their wealth holdings. A broader kind of tax of this nature, would not only produce more tax revenue, which we desperately need, but it would be a fairer tax, and also help to reduce the level of inequality in this country.

MM: In broad outlines, how would you structure such a tax?
I would model it after the Swiss system, which I think is a pretty fair system. It would be a progressive tax. In the United States, the first $250,000 of wealth would be exempt from the tax. That would exclude 80 percent of all families. The tax would increase at increments, starting out at .2 percent from about $250,000 to $500,000. The marginal rate would go up to .4 percent from $500,000 to $1 million, and then to .6 percent from a $1 million to $5 million, and then to .8 thereafter.

It would not be a very severe tax. In fact, the loading charges on most mutual funds are typically of the order of 1 or 2 percent. It would not be an onerous tax, but it could raise about $60 billion annually. Eighty percent of families would pay nothing, and 95 percent of families would pay less than $1,000. It would really only affect very rich families.

"The Power of One" - Staying Focussed

I read this and thought it was very to-the-point and addresses a lot of what I take issue with in the way government officials act. You can't do everything and make everyone happy, especially in a crisis. Politicking and pork in an Economic Stimulus Bill for this economic crisis is unacceptable to me.

This is actually the end of the article, but if you'd like to read the full story go to: http://www.sovereignsociety.com

Their articles can be "edgy" but always give me food for thought.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - Vol. 11, No. 52 -

An Open, Candid, and
Non-Partisan Response to the President

Second: Clean up Your Message and Acknowledge the "Power of One"
...Fix the Economy first, and THEN we'll Cure Cancer

This point is ancillary to the first, but it's just as crucial in terms of maintaining the kind of market confidence we'll need to get the economy growing sometime in the next few years;

What's your angle? What's the "shot"...what's your line?

Is it fixing the economy? Then talk about fixing the economy. Don't give us an hour of the same promises we've been spoon-fed by years of politicians. Alternative Energy? Gas is less than two bucks a gallon right now...people would much rather hear about how you're going to keep them working. Reforming Healthcare? Aren't we in the middle of the biggest crisis since - and perhaps even greater than - the Great Depression? Improving Education?

Mr. Obama; you're done campaigning. You've already got the Office, and words won't fix the economy.

Moreover, last night's speech seemed to reflect the compromised and...shall we say "porky" nature of the recovery bills so far passed by a Democratic Congress. US$700 Billion to fix the banks? Yeah, let's throw another US$180 Billion in useless favors on there (like wooden arrow shafts and mining gear) so we can get the votes. Biggest spending bill in American History? Let's throw in a Maglev from Disneyland to keep Harry Reid happy.

But your speech last night - and the aforementioned recovery bills - seem to be rife with "You scratch my back..." politicking. This kind of "governing" (we use the term loosely here) won't convince the people or the markets that the water's safe to start swimming again. It will make them feel like their health and welfare hang on whether or not we've done enough "favors" for the politicians, bureaucrats and sponsors standing between them and the government actions necessary for a swift recovery.

As such, and combined with your flawed perspective on banks and lending, we do not believe that your actions since taking office are likely to enhance America's prospects for a smooth and swift recovery.


A Friend's Experience with a Loan Mod Gone Bad

I was in San Diego this past weekend for a seminar. We have a little (under 1,000 sq.ft) home there with a beautiful view of the San Diego bay and it's "get-away" time when we go there. We don't cook, we go out to eat and we don't even make coffee in the morning, we go down to our favorite little place and catch up with the owners over breakfast.

This is a place where the 2nd time you go in they remember you and ask if you want whatever you had the first time. And since I'm a creature of habit they have my coffee and bagel ready by time I get to the cash register even if there's a line in front of me!

So we were talking the last time I was there about loan modifications and they were in the process of getting one...but they said it had been 3 months and nothing had happened. When they called the bank they said someone contacted them 3 months ago and said they were working on behalf of our friends, but they never contacted the bank again.

Now they paid $3,000 up-front for this help. NEVER do that! Anyway I got an update and now they were getting nasty letters from the bank. I called the Ed, the guy I know who I refer people to for loan modifications (unfortunately we hadn't seen our friends since before the holdiays) and asked him if he'd check on what was going on for them.

His e-mail to me started with "they are in so much trouble!" Seems it was a real estate agent who took their money and said they'd handle the loan mod for them, then they did nothing. So our friends haven't made a payment since October and now the bank just notified them they are starting foreclosure.

He and his firm have great contacts, but even so this is going to be a squeeker as to whether he can stop the foreclosure.

Now Ed also went to law school, so he told them they should file a complaint with the Real Estate board and consider small claims court to get their money back. The point in all of this is that there are a lot of people taking advantage of people who are in trouble with their mortgages and they are easy "prey." Please, if you need information on home loan modifications go to the website I created with lots of information and referrals to two reputable companies (and I recommend you compare at least two companies whenever you buy anything!) and Ed's firm is one of them.

And just as I found out with my friends at the coffee shop, you never know when someone you know might be in need of good, reliable, honest information on home loan modifications, so please pass along the website at www.loanmodifications4help.homestead.com to people you know. They may not need it, but might know someone who does. There are way too many unethical companies out there taking advantage of people.


Leadership - A Skill You Need to Develop

In this tumultuous time knowing how to lead is a critical skill. We all have those momentary insights that are the flashes of leadership but most are never harnessed. Whether we are too insecure to think that we could be a true leader or lack the discipline to follow through on our ideas, it is a waste of what could be something that would impact the lives of others in a positive way.

I listened to a powerful tele-seminar last night where Eben Pagan and Wyatt Woodsmall talked about leadership in a way that actually changed my way of thinking about what leadership is and why it is a critical skill for each and every one of us.

Look around you, at your family, your work, your community. Leadership is necessary at every level in your life. You're a leader when you set limits for your kids, help a co-worker or volunteer in your community in some manner. You do these things instinctively, probably without ever thinking about leadership. But what if you actively were aware of those actions being acts of leadership? What if you understood how you could be a more effective leader by understanding what motivates people?

I'm paraphrasing here from the tele-seminar, but what sets humans apart in this world is our ability to create in our imaginations something that doesn't exist...a future...and the ability to act upon creating that envisioned future.

This is a time in our lives and in our country's history that needs each and every one of us who are willing to accept the challenge and the responsibility to step up and be the leaders that we all are capable of. It doesn't mean running for public office. It means going the extra step to not just be good parents to our kids, but to help them find inspiration in life; it means not just helping a co-worker or employee, but encouraging them and creating an atmosphere of support; and being willing to not just be a support person in our community activities, but an idea generator.

To quote Robert F. Kennedy,
"If not us, who? If not now, when?"


Another Look Backward...

After my previous post I started looking back some more at what I had written in 2008 - if I could see the handwriting on the wall back in June 2008 why couldn't our elected officials...or did they and choose to stick their heads in the sand?

Posted on: Sun, 06/29/2008 - 11:00 Mary said:

I don’t have a prediction but take what has already been noted, add in the reducing or totally cancelling of HELOC’s, the reduction in credit card limits ... and the resulting financial disasters for many, many more people and the resulting drop in FICO scores and, wait, I DO have a prediction - total economic disaster!

Please, someone tell me we aren’t in as bad a situation as it appears to me…

Posted on: Sun, 06/29/2008 - 18:50 Mary said:

I think what worries me most is the ripple effect...one bank, company, etc. starts calling in HELOC's and then the credit card companies start reducing credit lines. These are things that affect people who have been paying all of their bills on-time, managing their debt, etc. These aren't necessarily the people who didn't know their adjustable mortgage actually would go up.

And that's what is so troubling...I'm old enough to remember waiting in gas lines during the embargo, the freeze on wages, etc. And yet this seems more ominous.

Tightening Credit - Where Were the Economists?

A reader posted the following comment and since comments aren't very visible I thought I'd bring it into a post along with my reply. I have to wonder...if I was able to see this happening back in April 2008, why weren't all the economists and our elected officials able to forsee what was going on and the ramifications?
Loganet said...

Hi Mary,
Wow! You were one of the first to call out the rate increases in credit cards back in November? of 2008. Today, FrugalDad.com just posted how his rate was increased from 6% to 28%. He has good FICO and no late payments. The CC companies are just raising rates across the board.12/2/09 6:34 AM

Mary said...
Lognet, actually I began to post on a Forum (before I started this blog) about this back in April 2008:

Posted on: Sat, 04/19/2008 - 15:59 Mary said:
...I told him he needed to go to the bank today and draw the full amount (of their HELOC), just to be safe....They are leaving on Monday for 2 weeks vacation and when he gets back I assured him we’d figure out the best way to utilize his access to the money without it costing him too much in interest payments. Plus he needs to be below the $100,000 limit on the money market account for FDIC protection.

Posted on: Sun, 05/04/2008 - 13:02 Mary said:
An update…our friends got back from their vacation only to hear that an acquaintance who lives off of his HELOC found it closed on the very Monday after I got them to pull the money out of theirs. Not sure if it’s the same bank they use, but it’s very likely.

Lesson here is that you get no notice, except that the line of credit is no longer available to you.

Posted on: Tue, 05/06/2008 - 08:05 Mary said:
WaMu is one of the banks that is beginning to close HELOC accounts. They are in financial trouble because of all the questionable loans they wrote in the real estate heyday and they just closed all of their “home loan only” branches. They’re not in a position to take any risks on something they could just as easily close-out and not worry about.

Posted on: Thu, 06/19/2008 - 10:45 Mary said:
The credit card companies are starting to lower your credit line. The more open credit you have the more they may lower it. A friend's Amex line was $25,000 for over 7 years and they just lowered it to $8,000 - which is about what he had outstanding on it at the time. I just had a card that I've had since 1991 with a $25,000 credit line lowered by $1,240.00 - can you imagine? Again, that's about the open credit I had on it at the time. Absolutely nothing had changed in my credit report, my FICO hadn't changed (I get e-mailed every time there's any change to it) and I've never missed a payment in 17 years.

With college tuition for two kids coming up I just cash-advanced a card with a sizeable open credit line on it because I can't risk it not being available. There are always unforseen expenses - 21-year old daughter just had a trip to the emergency room that required an ambulance ride and tests and probably will top out at about $5,000 (my HSA will save us on this one) - our dog collapsed totally unexpectedly last February while we were 3,000 miles away and between the treatment to keep her alive until we could get home and then the surgery to give her a few more months with us cost about $10,000.

So now I've taken all available monies on my HELOC to protect my access, and now max'd out credit cards to make sure I don't lose access to that money. Hell of a pickle this economy is putting us in!

Posted on: Sun, 06/29/2008 - 10:53 Mary said:
First HELOC's, now Credit Card Limits are getting reduced! Watch your FICO scores DROP!

Well, now that people are getting their HELOC's rescinded (heard a horror story from my friend of a woman who was in the middle of a full kitchen remodel; totally torn down to studs then found her HELOC was yanked!)

Just saw an article on it and here's a quote - the bigger (??) issue is what all of this does to your credit score, so take heed:

"Here's how that happens: Let's say a cardholder has a credit limit of $10,000 and a balance on the card of $4,000. The card company worries that large balance may increase the prospects for default, so it lowers the credit line to $5,000.

But in doing that, it completely changes what is known as the credit utilization rate, raising it from 40 percent to 80 percent. That is then factored into the calculation of one's so-called FICO credit score, which measures creditworthiness, according to Craig Watts, a spokesman for FICO-creator Fair Isaac Corp. "

Here's the link to the full article:

And later that day:

Posted on: Sun, 06/29/2008 - 11:26 Mary said:
Forgot to mention…I found it interesting that one of the banks that are doing this is Washington Mutual, already known to be pulling HELOC’s. Also Wells Fargo, which was a surprise to me.

This situation is troubling on a number of levels. It seems like a fast-moving downward spiral that is going to have far, far reaching effects. e.g., I’m OK with holding my own right now, even holding non-cash flowing properties. But take away any of my credit and I could be in a very bad situation.

Again, in the current economy we’re not doing great, but we’re holding our own. But change anything in the current mix and we could be in a tight situation.

Anyone interested in adding to the discussion of where all of this may lead, head over to the “Crystal Ball” Forum topic!

BTW, another friend got her $100,000 HELOC “rescinded” by National City Mortgage last week. She’s sick about it, mainly because she knew I had suggested taking it all out in putting it in an interest bearing account, just in case, but she didn’t act. She had another smaller one that she immediately took and put away.

Posted on: Sat, 08/16/2008 - 16:08 Mary said:

Well, it's beginning...I just got a letter from a Platinum credit card that I've had since 1991 (I'm listed as a "charter member" on the front of it!) - they reduced my credit line, get this, by $1,240.00! Probably would have been more, but that's all I had available on the credit line. This is a card I've never paid late.

I use a service to tell me anytime my FICO score changes, but nothing has, and we have a good score.

Just like with HELOC's - if you NEED the credit line you may want to cash advance your credit card and tuck the money in an interest bearing account...that's what I'll be doing with another card I have with available credit on it. College tuition will be due in another month and they don't take credit cards anyway, so I'll just take it all now so I've got a buffer. What's next????

Posted on: Sat, 08/30/2008 - 11:53 Mary said:

That amount was just a little less than what I had available - I think they took what I hadn't used yet and allowed for next interest that would be assessed and knocked it down. But why bother to do that for such a small amount of additional credit? That's what is so unsettling - it appears to be an automated system. Computer program just churns out the numbers, reduces the line of credit and sends a letter. Bam! So if I had been unlucky enough (LOL) to have had $20,000 open credit I could have found my credit line reduced from $25,000 to $5,000. I would have been VERY unhappy.

And since no one is extending credit to anyone right now (so it seems, anyway) max'ing out all of my credit cards and HELOC is irrelevant to me if it dips my FICO score. Even with a really good one (FICO) people aren't getting mortgages, etc.

So even if I came into a big amount of money would I pay down anything? Probably not, because I'd be afraid my credit lines would start disappearing. Will that cost me money? Yes, but I'll retain peace of mind knowing I have the money available.

Posted on: Wed, 09/10/2008 - 21:30 Mary said:
In this economy you may want to consider a guaranteed return of principal investment. Rabo Bank is the largest (?) international bank and they have these types of CD's. Basically they give you a range of interest based on what they expect to make, but guarantee you'll always get your principal back. If you're willing to put some of your principal at risk they give you a higher rate of return in exchange you put 10% or 20% of your principal at risk.

I'm in a similar situation. I'd like to start paying some of my HELOC back, but I'm afraid if I do they will reduce the available LOC by what I pay back.

I've made all of my friends who may need their HELOC lines of credit take out the maximum and put it in an interest bearing account. At least until we see where the dust settles. If you may need the money you can't be sure you'll have access to it unless you take it now, is my opinion.

Posted on: Mon, 09/15/2008 - 18:19 Mary said:
I hate to say it, but for anyone who understands what's going on you need to be max'd out on your credit lines to preserve them if you need or want them. At least until all of this shakes out.

I've got to call Amex tonight. I have several thousand dollars in open credit on my card yet yesterday and tonight at the grocery store it was declined. I have a bad feeling about what I'm about to find out.

Posted on: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 10:33 Mary said:
So here's the update:

I went to the grocery store the other day and used my AMEX card as usual and it was declined. I download all of my credit card transactions into my Quicken account every day and I knew I had several thousand dollars of available credit on that card. Thinking it was a fluke I used a different card. Last night (yes I go to the grocery store pretty much every day!) it happened again.

Just now I called AMEX to see what the problem was and found that they had reduced my credit line down to what I had outstanding. Poof, thousands of credit line dollars, gone. Being my argumentative self I contested it with the young man who claimed it was because of a negative credit report from Experian. Well, I also subscribe to a service that alerts me to any changes in my credit reports and/or FICO score on a daily basis. And nothing has changed.

He transferred me another person in another department that again tried telling me it was because of my credit report. I have had this card since 2003, never been late with a payment, actually in over 30 years my credit report shows I have never been late with any payments. So of course I pointed that out and asked exactly what in my credit report were they referring to. He just kept repeating the same memorized line over again so I told him I wanted to speak to his supervisor.

A woman got on the phone and repeated the same information. But when I pressed her she said that it had nothing to do with my personal credit report that AMEX and other financial institutions were reducing credit lines based on the current negative economic environment and it had nothing to do with my personal credit. They would not budge.

My husband Googled AMEX and found this article from June in the NY Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/21/business/21credit.html?_r=1&oref=slogi... which talks about AMEX and other credit cards reducing lines of credit across the board. And it doesn't matter what your credit score is or how much you make, if you carry high balances or own a lot of property and therefore have several mortgages on your credit report you're going to see your credit lines reduced. If it hasn't happened to you yet, be aware that it probably will.

Now you'd think that with the current economic conditions requiring banks to tighten their belts that they'd be encouraging credit worthy people to carry balances so they can collect interest. I mean, they've got to do everything they can in these tough economic conditions to tighten their belts and cut costs to keep AMEX financially sound, right? Especially since the chairman and chief executive of American Express, Kenneth I. Chenault, received compensation valued at $53.2 million in 2007, nearly double the $27.3 million he received in 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/business/26amex.html

Oh? Wasn't it the mismanagement of these same financial institutions that created this current economic mess? But it must be tougher now to manage them, so the top management really need to take more money from their struggling companies in order to compensate them for the terrible job they did in the first place!

Posted on: Tue, 09/16/2008 - 10:51 Mary said:

I'm updating my old post in the thread "First HELOC's, now Credit Card Limits are getting reduced! Watch your FICO scores DROP!" because I think the new wave of credit cards lowering credit limits is really going to start affecting people's FICO scores. After all, they are based on the total amount of credit you have relative to your debt. Your debt isn't changing at all when they drop your credit line, but since they are dropping it to whatever you have outstanding, plus a little to cover their next interest assessment, practically everyone will see a change in their credit scores, won't they? For example, now instead of having only 40% of your available credit outstanding you're going to go to almost 100%!

I'd really be interested in comments about this. I debated about adding it to the "Futurology, Trend Identification" thread because I see it having major impact on FICO scores and how credit worthiness is going to be assessed in the future. Remember, your credit lines are based on your FICO scores which do NOT take into consideration how much you make. So even if I made $10,000,0000 a year (I wish!!!!) if I have lots of real estate loans and carry lots of balances on my credit cards because my cash is invested elsewhere, I'm going to get hit by these credit line reductions.

Posted on: Wed, 09/17/2008 - 22:00 Mary said:

That's interesting, because how many more big corporations can they bail out? I would have thought that people would have gotten more concerned with the bail out. Of course the government can just start printing more money if it needs it.


The Economic Stimulus Bill...or is it The Economic Stimulus Bull****?

The Economic Stimulus Bill...is that really what they're still calling it? I just read that none of the items included in the bill are expected to make any difference in the economy until late in 2009 or until 2010. Uh, don't they realize that's not going to do much to stimulate an economy that is shrinking more and more every day? What will be left to stimulate in a year or two?

The $500-per-worker credit for lower- and middle-income taxpayers that Obama outlined during his presidential campaign was scaled back to $400 during bargaining by the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House....Officials estimated it would mean about $13 a week more in people's paychecks when withholding tables are adjusted in late spring. Critics say that's unlikely to do much to boost consumption. Well, it would cover a couple of cups of coffee at Starbucks each week.

I'm all for high speed trains here in the U.S., but the $8 billion earmarked for high speed trains:

In late-stage talks, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pressed for $8 billion to construct high-speed rail lines, quadrupling the amount in the bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday.

Reid's office issued a statement noting that a proposed Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas rail might get a big chunk of the money. Let's make sure the casinos stay in business - but in the meantime 40 and 60 year-old businesses are going under along with who knows how many small businesses that don't make the nightly news.


House Values, Jobs and the Economy

There is so much negativity in the news so I'd like to suggest you focus on what isn't negative for today. You'll sleep better.

House values have plummeted, yes, but if you aren't planning on selling your house soon, or need a home equity loan, that's somewhat irrelevant. It's the same with any asset...you only have a gain or loss when you dispose of it, so don't dwell on their value as of today if you don't need to. Deal with reality, not "what if" scenerios. You'll sleep better.

Jobs are being lost and unemployment is high, but even at 10% unemployment there are 90% who are employed. Look beyond the negative numbers. You'll sleep better.

The economy is in turmoil, but American ingenuity is amazing and the spirit of the American people has always been strong in the face of adversity. Think about all that we've faced and overcome in the past. You'll sleep better.

And if you know someone who has fallen on hard times, reach out a hand of friendship. That can make all the difference in someone's life, to know people care. And you'll sleep better.


Home Loan Modifications

You may be aware of "home loan modifications" being talked about in the news, but do you understand the who, what, when, where, and why of them?

I created a website to answer those questions, hopefully in a clear manner. Check it out at: http://loanmodifications4help.homestead.com/ The most important reason I did this was because scams and rip-off's are all over the place preying on people who really need a loan modification - it's easy money for the scam artists. I have a friend who may have fallen for the "give me $3,000 and I'll get you a loan mod." It's been 3 months and I'm afraid she's not only lost her money but also just wasted 3 precious months.

Biggest, most important piece of information is DO NOT PAY ANYONE UP FRONT. The best loan modification companies will give you a free consultation and if they think they can help you, charge you an "application fee" to cover their costs of filing the paperwork and negotiating on your behalf. that usually is about $500. They will only charge you the balance of their fee upon a successful agreement.

And you can request one for yourself. Individuals who are financially savy and who understand how to negotiate with a bank negotiator can be successful without paying a loan modification company. Like with everything there are pro's and con's to both ways.

It's going to cost you about $3,000 to have a loan modification company do it for you. But the good ones have connections to the decision-makers and know how to negotiate with them. Most individuals are going to deal with much lower-level staff who have limited ability to negotiate the terms they can offer. Remember, there are thousands and thousands of people asking for loan mods and the staff the banks and mortgage companies have put in place to handle all of these requests are following strict guidelines and have limited authority.

I happen to personally know a guy that was a mortgage broker who helped me re-finance a house a couple of years ago. He and a partner have started a Loan Modification company and I can recommend him confidently. He's honest and ethical and will do right by you. And he and his partner have superb connections in the banking and mortgage community. He told me just the other day that even if someone was a week away from foreclosure they could possibly still help them. So if you want more information on loan mods go to the website I created at http://loanmodifications4help.homestead.com/ and pass the information along to others.

We're all in this rotten economy together...let's help each other whenever we can.

Getting Back to Blogging

I'm sorry I haven't been updating the blog! It's been very busy for me and like with everything else, the squeeky wheel gets the attention and I've had a lot of squeeky wheels lately. But I'm back and committed to giving you interesting things to read.

A quick note to update two earlier blog posts. Using a "virtual" credit card just saved me $179...I was interested in a product that said it would give me 3 months free when what they meant to say was the price was reduced by the equivalent of 3 months...pay for 9 get 12. Thank goodness I used my virtual credit card with a maximum payment amount of $1 so I could try it for 3 months and not have it automatically charged to my account in 3 months. The charge of $179 got declined and I was saved from instituting a dispute. Especially with automatic download products this is a sticky area...if the charge had gone through and I had immediate availability to the product would I have had an argument on my hands? The moral is, use those "virtual" credit card numbers - they are great!

Second update is about the credit card that sent me a letter saying if I wanted to continue to use it my interest rate would go to about 30% - upon calling them they said if I declined to accept the new conditions I could continue to use the card under the existing conditions until the end of January '09 and then the card would become invalid - but I could continue to pay-off the balance under the old rate until it was paid off. Since I just got a new card in July with an expiration date of 07/11 I thought I was fine and I certainly didn't want to be paying 30%!

Now the newest statement has a line on it saying "You've been sent new credit cards - be sure to sign them and activate them when you receive them." Hmmm, so because I declined the new terms they are issuing a new card...fair enough, I wasn't going to use that account anymore. But I'm very interested to see what the expiration date is on the new card...I'm thinking my 2-1/2 window of time to pay-off the balance is going to be reduced by giving me a new expiration date with the new card. Just a guess, but I'll know soon.

So read those new terms and conditions the credit cards are sending...I'll bet most used to get tossed into the trash, but in this new economy you need to understand what terms they are changing and how it affects you. If it's not understandable call the 800 # and have them explain it to you.