The financial blogging conference last week was great. My colleagues and I had a lot of thought-provoking discussions, not only in the planned sessions but also late at night in the hotel lobby. One of these impromptu chats focused on the financial products we actually use.
Financial bloggers do a lot of product reviews. (I do them too, but I think they’re tedious. Besides, I think there are some ethical grey areas with product reviews, so I don’t venture there very often.) Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which tools they’re pitching and which tools they actually endorse.
For my part, I don’t endorse anything. One of my mantras is “do what works for you“. That’s because I don’t believe there’s any one-size-fits-all answer, especially with banks and credit cards. As a perfect example, many financial bloggers (including me) love ING Direct. That’s where we do our banking. But Mike Piper from Oblivious Investor is a quiet Bank of America fan. “I think they’re great,” he told me. Mike’s a smart guy, so I can’t help wondering if maybe he knows something that we don’t!
“You know,” I told the group. “I think it’d be fun to actually tell my readers which financial products I actually use. And then ask them to do the same.” So that’s what we’re going to do today.
With that preamble out of the way, here are the financial products I actually use:
As I’ve shared in the past, I have several bank accounts.
My business banking is all done with Wells Fargo, which is a legacy from when I co-founded my computer consulting business with two friends. One of my buddies had an account at Wells Fargo, so he opened our business account there. They’ve given me great service, so I’ve never moved the account. It’s been there for over a decade.
My personal checking account lives at the local credit union. Again, I like their service, and I like supporting a local bank. I have a couple of old savings accounts there too, but they have no money in them.
Since I discovered the wonders of high-yield savings accounts, most of my cash lives at ING Direct. I chose ING because Get Rich Slowly readers raved about it. Plus at the time, it offered a very high interest rate. (I think it was about five percent when I signed up, a rate we’re not likely to see again for many years.) Because I practice targeted saving, I have several savings accounts at ING — one for each of my current pet projects.
“Whey don’t you have your personal accounts and business accounts at the same bank?” Adam Baker asked me in Chicago. “It’s a legacy of my poor financial habits,” I said. “I intentionally kept them separate so I couldn’t mingle funds. Now it’s a psychological thing. I like keeping things clearly delineated.”
For almost a decade, I didn’t carry a personal credit card. Credit card abuse had led me to become deep in debt, so I wanted to prevent temptation. But it was you folks who suggested I was ready to use credit wisely and recommended I get a card.
GRS readers suggested I try a Capital One No-Hassle Cash Back card (now called a Capital One Cash card). It’s a cash rebate card that earns me 1% on everything I spend. I use it for nearly everything I can (and then I pay it off at the end of the month. Readers recommended it back in 2007 was that it has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s perfect for travel. I’ve had it for four years without any signs of returning to my former habits.
My second card is also perfect for travel. It’s a Chase British Airways card, which I wrote about in April. I did indeed sign up, and I met the spending requirements to obtain the 100,000 airmile bonus (though barely). I think I have 106,000 miles on it now or something like that, but I have no idea how to use them. Something to look at in 2012.
Finally, I carry a business credit card. Actually, I have two. The first is my Wells Fargo VISA, which I obtained for obvious reasons. (And which I had even when I carried no personal credit cards.) My second business card is the TrueEarnings Business Card from Costco and American Express, which I use to get cash back on business purchases. This one is actually kind of silly. I don’t spend a lot on my business, so it doesn’t make much sense to go after cash back, especially since there’s an annual fee on the card. When I get home from Peru, I should cancel this.
When I started investing, I used Sharebuilder. Though their fees are relatively high, they were perfect for helping me develop the habit of saving every month. I still recommend them to people who are just starting out. But if I were starting again today, I’d probably use Betterment instead. (Although it’s important to note that Betterment doesn’t allow you to save in a Roth IRA.)
When I set up the 401(k) for my business, I needed to find a broker that allowed me to open a specific type of account. I wanted to go through Vanguard, but they didn’t offer what I needed. I went to Fidelity instead. I’ve been very pleased with Fidelity, and have built a good relationship with the fellow who manages my account at the local office. Now that Vanguard offers solo 401(k)s, I’m not willing to switch.
My family has always had insurance through the same State Farm office in the town where I grew up. My father was friend with the agency’s founder. When Dad died, the rest of the family kept our policies there. Now, though, the agent himself has died, and when I went in recently to ask about umbrella insurance, all of the women who used to sit at the desks out front were gone. Nobody’s there that I know. In other words: I’m no longer loyal to State Farm. One of my projects for this winter is to research insurance of all types. Not only is it likely to save me money, but it’ll also probably give me several blog posts!
The only other major thing would be the software I use to track my saving and spending. I know many people prefer to do this on-line, but I’ve tried a variety of these tools and none of them work for me. I always come back to the desktop version of Quicken, as quirky and cranky as it is. There’s just nothing else that fits the way I work.
Now it’s your turn. What financial products do you actually use? Where do you put your money? Who’s your broker? What credit cards do you carry? Who provides your insurance? Do you like these companies? Are you looking to try something else? Help GRS readers learn …