Archive for Common Cents

Cudgel by proxy

The Internal Revenue Service, too busy of late hassling people for political reasons, is now outsourcing one of its other hassling functions:

The Internal Revenue Service unveiled its plan to turn over collection of outstanding tax debt to private companies, as required by Congress though a law passed in 2015.

The IRS identified four companies to collect unpaid taxes deemed “inactive” by the agency, meaning government personnel have ceased working on the accounts. The agency said “older, overdue” tax accounts and a lack of resources would prompt the IRS to tap the contractors to take up the collection.

CBE Group, Conserve, Performant and Pioneer will serve as the private collection agencies, or PCAs. Congress included as a provision of a highway bill late last year the requirement that the IRS outsource the debt collection, with supporters of the policy saying industry could more effectively bring in money Americans owe on their taxes. The law had required the IRS to enter into the contracts within three months, but they were just announced Monday and will not take effect until the spring of 2017 at the earliest.

Which is less than six months away.

Is there any compelling reason why they can’t privatize the whole agency? It’s not like anyone’s ever going to take legal action against them.

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Manhattan around

Amanda is running eight ways to see the best of NYC on a budget, and at least one of them seems just slightly contrarian, inasmuch as it spurns the ride-share services:

I practically never use cabs or Ubers and I live here. It’s just not financially practical when I can get to nearly any destination for $2.75 per subway ride or using my old fashioned feet. If you’re dead set on having the typical NYC cabbing experience, take one and that’s it. It’s simply just too expensive and it adds up.

How expensive is “too expensive”? The Taxi & Limousine Commission fare chart fills a screen quickly:

  • Onscreen rate is “Rate #01 – Standard City Rate.”
  • The initial charge is $2.50.
  • Plus 50 cents per 1/5 mile or 50 cents per 60 seconds in slow traffic or when the vehicle is stopped.
  • In moving traffic on Manhattan streets, the meter should “click” approximately every four downtown blocks, or one block going cross-town (East-West).
  • There is a 50-cent MTA State Surcharge for all trips that end in New York City or Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange or Putnam Counties.
  • There is a 30-cent Improvement Surcharge.
  • There is a daily 50-cent surcharge from 8pm to 6am.
  • There is a $1 surcharge from 4pm to 8pm on weekdays, excluding holidays.
  • Passengers must pay all bridge and tunnel tolls.

And it goes on (and on) from there. Curious, I punched up a trip on TaxiFareFinder: 315 Bowery (once the home of CBGB) to 1619 Broadway (the Brill Building), a route chosen mostly because I knew both addresses. The trip, just over three miles, would run $22.52 at the time I requested it (Monday evening, 10:30 pm). For comparison, a trip of roughly similar length through Oklahoma City would come in at around $9.

However, we won’t discuss, for instance, the joys of a Sunday drive along the Cross Bronx Expressway.

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Little reserve

We are occasionally regaled with tales of how broke we are, and it was just a matter of time before the Daily Mail got into the act:

It’s easy to think those making six figures are stashing away loads of cash in a savings account for luxurious vacations or relaxing retirements.

But a new study shows that isn’t the case.

Nearly half of those earning between $100,000 to $149,999 a year have less than $1,000 in a savings account, according to GOBankingRates.

Approximately 18 per cent of those making an income in that range have absolutely nothing saved.

Hey, it’s September. All that pumpkin spice costs money.

And if you think those earning more than $150,000 are faring any better — you’d be wrong.

Close to 29 per cent of those with an income in that range have less than $1,000 in their savings account.

Six per cent have nothing at all to show for their admirable income.

I admit my own exchequer is a bit depleted of late, though I did manage to scare up almost three grand via crowdfunding toward the summer medical bills, a tad short of the declared goal but enough for me to be able to cover the single biggest bill in one lump sum. (I am no longer promoting that campaign on social media, but if for some reason you want to give me actual money, I won’t even object.)

Of course, Captain Obvious is interviewed:

The GOBankingRates survey found that lower-income adults are the least likely to have money in savings. Of those earning less than $25,000, 38 percent have $0 in savings and another 35 percent have less than $1,000 saved. The percentages are nearly identical for those earning $25,000 to $49,999.

You don’t say.

(Via Fark.)

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Tabs from heck

One of my Daily Drugs is name-brand only; CFI Care (not its real initials) specifies a copay of $75 a month for it, and will presumably do so until such time as a generic version becomes available, whenever that may be. A Mumbai-based drug company announced three years ago that the FDA had granted them tentative approval for a generic, but the patent apparently doesn’t expire until 2020. In the meantime, CFI Care gets to pay $12.32 per tablet.

Ongoing bladder issues led my doctor to recommend a trial of yet another brand-name drug: he handed over three boxes of seven tablets each. It worked fairly well. There exists a generic, but distribution seems to be blocked for now, so the pharmacy duly boxed me up 90 days’ worth, with a caution from the pharm tech that “this is very expensive.” Well, yeah, I knew that:

A 2006 cost-effectiveness study found that 5 mg solifenacin had the lowest cost and highest effectiveness among anticholinergic drugs used to treat overactive bladder in the United States, with an average medical cost per successfully treated patient of $6863 per year.

This was $18.80 a tablet in 2006. It’s come down some since then; CFI Care got to fork over $9.72 a tab. Still, it’s another $75 a month out of my pocket. Fortunately, Martin Shkreli doesn’t seem to be involved.

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My mind on my money

And my money on my mind. Snoop Dogg notwithstanding, this is not a position to which I aspire:

I imagine being rich is kind of a pain in the ass. Yes, I know, somebody famous once said “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and being rich is better,” but you have to constantly be thinking about your money and what you should be doing with it, where you should invest it, who is trying to steal it. Now some people might take to that kind of agonizing like a duck to water, they might actually enjoy it. Me, I find it tedious and boring. Fortunately there are things like Mutual Funds that remove most of the day to day agony.

Being rich requires paying attention to your money. Stop paying attention and all that money will wander off. And what do you do with a billion dollars anyway? I mean after you’ve bought your fancy car, boat, house, airplane? You invest it in something that you hope will make more money.

I’m not at all suited to these things. If I showed up on the Forbes 400 at, say, #399, I’d presumably have to start thinking about how I avoid dropping off the list next year. Perhaps fortunately, this is not going to be a problem for me, inasmuch as I have a mortgage and a lot of nerve damage and a five-figure net worth, well short of the $1.7 billion it takes to make the 400 these days. At least, I can console myself, it’s five figures on the positive side of the ledger. (It wasn’t always.)

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Strange new hybrid plastic

Major League Baseball MasterCard issued by Bank of AmericaThis turned up on MLP.com MLB.com, home page for Major League Baseball, and I’m sure 99 out of 100 people who saw it didn’t see anything peculiar about it — which is, of course, where I came in.

BankAmericard, the brand, goes back to 1958, originally with Bank of America behind it. After about a decade, BofA began licensing the name to other banks, and in 1970 they withdrew from control: issuing banks became a de facto consortium, kind of like archrival Master Charge. Eventually it was decided that the card was still too closely associated with BofA, resulting in a 1976 name change: to Visa.

About thirty years later, BofA revived the name “BankAmericard” for a new rewards card, a Visa. It would never have occurred to me that there ever could be a BankAmericard that was a MasterCard, but there it is.

Really, I should have paid attention. BofA also these days issues American Express cards under license.

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Running (some of) the numbers

I live in a small — not tiny — house, so maybe this doesn’t apply to me, but let’s look at it anyway:

It occurred to me the other day that it doesn’t take any more money to live in a big house than it does to rent a small apartment, providing that the house is paid for. Take someone who has lived in the same house for 30 years and diligently paid their mortgage every month, or someone who inherited a house, or won the lottery and bought it outright. Doesn’t matter how they got it, once the mortgage is paid off, the expenses don’t go away, but they are considerably reduced. Going by my own experience, annual property taxes on a house are going to about 1% of the market value. Utilities and insurance are about the same. A mortgage or rent for a house or apartment is about 1% of the market value per month.

I’m about halfway through that thirty-year note. Property taxes vary considerably in this state, but I usually end up paying about 1.2 percent of market value each year. Insurance, however, is a monstrous expense here: we are, after all, smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley, and my annual premium ends up at about 3 percent of market value, a figure entirely too close to $3,000. Utilities will fluctuate with the season, but on average, about 2 percent of market value each year goes to paying for water/sewer/refuse, electric, and gas. (Last two electric bills were just over $170 each. Then again, those bills were for July and August, when it’s either hot or stupidly hot, the time of year when we spit at those Northeastern jerks who think they’re too good for air conditioning.)

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Wallet simplification

I used to have about twenty credit cards, which was way too many; most people seem to get by with about three. Still, if you know what you’re doing, you can pare it down even further:

I have started using a credit card for most purchases these days. I try to carry as few cards as possible, which means just one credit card, which happens to be my Costco card. Costco changed from American Express to VISA this year, which is what triggered the change in my buying habits. American Express is great if you are spending thousands of dollars on hotels, airline tickets and car rentals. Not so good for buying cheeseburgers (mmmm, cheeseburgers). So when I was carrying an American Express card, I was using cash for all the small stuff, and that worked pretty well. I’d go to the bank once a month and get a wad of cash and disperse it into the community five or ten dollars at a time. The big benefit was not having to keep track of all these chickenshit transactions. I bought, I paid for it, the money is gone, we’re done.

This is approximately what I did in the middle 1980s, when all I carried was Amex. (I have, um, three cards today.)

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Because cash

A defense of the payday-loan industry:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever used the services of Payday Loan. No? That’s because you’re an upstanding, respectable citizen with a decent paycheck and a bank account. I, on the other hand, (ahem) haven’t been any of those things for going on 20 years. And since I fell on hard times in California, where the Franchise Tax Board can and absolutely will hoover up the contents of your bank account if you piss them off, even when I had a paycheck I found myself looking for ways to do without banks.

What I’m saying is, even though I never actually took out a loan with them I do know the inside of a Payday Loan. They also cash checks for a fee, and help you wire money to Guatemala or wherever. Personally I’ve always suspected that this is what [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren and her totalitarian pals really object to: Payday Loans (PL in future) makes money less transparent to the government and less susceptible to confiscation. For that reason alone I like it.

Besides, the government hates competition:

Now, they are pushing to include language in the Democratic Party platform to add banking to the line of services provided by the U.S. Postal Service.

Imagine it with me, Mr. and Mrs. America. The post office, which has practically driven itself out of its own centuries-old monopoly through incredible ineptitude, would now be granted…

“nothing fancy, just basic bill paying, check cashing and small dollar loans.”

What could possibly go wrong?

“But… but… non-profit!” I’d perhaps be more impressed with that, except that my stint last month in an ostensibly non-profit emergency room ran up a tab of twenty thousand dollars.

(Via View From The Porch.)

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For example, batting practice

As always, no law can anticipate all situations:

A change in federal overtime rules this December is expected to affect millions of workers nationwide. But one group might be missing out: players on minor league [baseball] teams.

Under the new rule, employers will soon have to either pay workers for overtime, or boost their salaries above about $48,000.

However, Vincent Candiello, a labor lawyer at Post and Schell in Harrisburg, is skeptical minor leaguers will be able to cash in.

“Are they entitled to overtime? Probably not because of the overall hours. So these new changes, these new regulations are going to have minimal impact, but if we get into some of the other offshoots about how do you count hours,” says Cardiello.

Candiello says if players are interested in overtime pay, they could argue their work day starts long before first pitch.

And how much do they get, anyway?

Most earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season. As a point of comparison, fast food workers typically earn between $15,000 and $18,000 a year, or about two or three times what minor league players make. Some minor leaguers, particularly those with families, hold other jobs during the offseason and occasionally during the season. While the minimum salary in Major League Baseball is $500,000, many minor league players earn less than the federal poverty level, which is $11,490 for a single person and $23,550 for a family of four.

Sheesh. Gotta be love of the game.

(Via Ben Allen.)

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To my surprise and delight

Who knew?

https://www.gofundme.com/2buab5hc

From the text:

I remember when he took time from his World Tour ’05 to visit me. I can barely believe it’s now over 10 years ago.

He’s been having some spinal issues. Look up “spinal stenosis.” It’s certainly not pretty stuff.

This is a guy who has always been independent. He’s taken his paid days off and now … well, let’s rally around him.

Chaz is not a guy who would ask for help. He’s too proud but just a little will go a long way. Help him with some bills. Let him relax and take the time he needs to get better.

To have such friends…

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Dole out the barrel

I’d thought I’d heard all the arguments on behalf of the Negative Income Tax aka Guaranteed Annual Income, but this one is new to me:

It might also help with [the] problem of people being homeless and with the skyrocketing cost of rent. If you have a guaranteed but limited income, you are going to look for a place you can afford to live. There are thousands of towns in middle America that are shrinking because there are no jobs. You can bet the rents in those places are going to be much lower than they are in the big cities. So this negative income tax might lead to a rebirth of small town America. If people start are leaving the big cities for the small towns we should see a reduction in traffic congestion in the big cities. Good news all around.

I dunno. I think you’d have to make the dole conditional, mandating that the recipients move to some place where Section 8 is more like five and a half, for this actually to work.

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Which shall be Master?

Once upon a time, I had a MasterCard with a $100 limit, just for online stuff, on the basis that I couldn’t lose a whole hell of a lot.

Those were the days before the Big Credit Crunch, and by the time it was through and I had to throw in the towel, that same card had somehow metamorphosed into a monster with a limit of $12,500.

Obviously this was insane, and no one should allow me to borrow twelve and a half grand. The last time I bought a used car, the price was less than twelve and a half grand, though not much less; then again, that note was secured.

Having squared those matters away, I went and got a MasterCard with a $200 limit, just for online stuff, on the basis that I couldn’t lose a whole hell of a lot. You can probably guess what happened next.

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The small break gets slightly larger

From a couple of months ago:

[A]fter some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month.

Further notification received. Payment is dropping by $12 more, and they sent me a check for $250.

I mean, I’m generally pretty happy with this bank, but there are times I wonder whether their fecal matter is properly aggregated.

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The lease you can do

Leasing a car, say the experts, is a bad deal; you should always buy instead.

Bark M. says this is a load of dingo’s kidneys:

You’re seriously telling me that you’re not better off paying $189/month to lease your Accord than paying $583/month to buy it? That’s exactly what the difference would be if you financed a base Accord over 36 months at 1.9% versus a 36 month lease.

“Yeah, but at the end, I own it, dude.” Congrats! You own something that is absolutely, positively going to continue to depreciate, and you paid $20,000 to do it. Alternatively, you could have paid less than $7,000 to enjoy the same car for the same amount of time, and at the end, you can walk away from it, scot-free, into another new car with updated technology. So what if you don’t own it? Do you really want to own a three-year old car with 36,000 miles on it? Or would you rather bank that $400/month and get another new car?

I’m the wrong person to ask this, inasmuch as I own a 16-year-old car with 163,000 miles on it. And apparently I have finally worn out one of the fobs for the door locks: you have to push it twice to get the control module to acknowledge it even once. (And yes, I’ve changed the battery. I also have a spare fob which doesn’t do this. “Updated technology,” indeed.)

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Crowdfunding rokks

Freezepop’s Sean T. Drinkwater, musing on the success of the band’s recent Kickstarter, now at about 2.5 times its original goal:

A year and a half ago, when the idea of crowdfunding a record came up, I also voiced objection to this. “Let’s shop the record,” I said, confident that some reasonably intelligent label would get it and want to put the album out and save us a ton of work. We might not see very much cash from it, as such, but it would be handled by people who are more adept at getting records out into the world and promoting them. I was soundly outvoted (come to think of it there never was a vote, and since I have realized in recent years that I am, in fact, stupid, I usually acquiesce to the will of the other band members). I didn’t want to be seen as begging, or as being too pathetic to be signed to a “real” record deal.

In other news, some labels are believed to be reasonably intelligent.

We reached our initial goal in 48 hours and we’re still just completely shocked and overwhelmed by this. I am personally still processing the situation and I’m somewhat emotional about it. We started the band in 1999, and of course one wants some sense of validation that it hasn’t been a complete waste of 17 years. Well, more than the cash (NOT TO DISCOUNT THE CASH) I feel like we got this. It’s inspiring.

What’s also been so lovely to us are all the beautiful comments and stories that people have left on the Kickstarter page. It’s nice to think that we have been a part of these people’s lives, especially since the music business is no longer particularly lucrative or a warm and welcoming place. When I’m crawling into the coffin I would love to think “hey well that mattered to some people and wasn’t just us dorking around endlessly.”

Thirteen hundred backers so far (myself and Roger Green included).

I suspect Mr Drinkwater has come around quite a bit in the two weeks since he put this out:

Not to discount the beach.

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Not so bouncy

Last check I bounced, if I remember correctly, was about 1983. So I had to look up my current bank’s overdraft-protection scheme:

Overdraft Protection provides convenient automatic transfers from your linked savings or money market account to your checking account to cover transactions, should your checking account balance drop too low.

Simple enough. I don’t have a money-market account with these guys, but I do keep some savings there. There’s a fee — $12.50 maximum — though this is only a third of what you’d pay for the dreaded Insufficient Funds items.

Not everyone is copacetic with this idea, though:

While offering an overdraft protection plan that links to a secondary account might be convenient for consumers, Rebecca Borne, senior policy counsel for Center for Responsible Lending, tells Consumerist the best approach would be for banks to simply stop charging high overdraft fees.

Instead, banks could decline point of sale transactions that would create a negative account balance.

At 42nd and Treadmill, those declined POS transactions end up on my desk; the only redeeming social value comes from the customer-service crew passing on the sob stories from the SOBs. For sheer effrontery, you can’t beat the guy who closes his checking account — or for some reason has it closed involuntarily — but continues to try to use the debit card linked to that account. These are identified with a very specific code (52) which invariably inspires staff mirth.

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The Enucleator

Sounds like a straight-to-video semi-thriller, doesn’t it?

Oh, it doesn’t? Well, never mind then.

One thousand dollars Canadian

Pinicola enucleator, the pine grosbeak, is a Very Big Finch, and this is a very high-value banknote, as seen in a Guardian article on, um, high-value banknotes. Says the caption to this picture:

A Canadian $1,000 dollar note (£499), issued in 1988. It stopped being printed in 2000, but despite requests to return them to banks, nearly 1m of them are still unaccounted for.

“It stopped being printed.” Imagine the cry of the grosbeak: “Stop printing me!” The actual story is more humdrum:

The Bank of Canada will no longer issue $1,000 bills as of this Friday [29 September 2000] in an effort to fight organized crime and money laundering.

The bill’s extinction was made official Monday after formal approval from the federal government. It was the final step in a February proposal by the the Finance Department, the central bank and the RCMP to get rid of the bills which are favoured by criminals.

Nicknamed “pinkies” for their reddish-purple hue, $1000 bills were an easy way for criminals to hide and carry their earnings.

Of course, you’re looking at the back of the bill: Queen Elizabeth is on the front.

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Dollars to Harare

In 2009, Zimbabwe essentially gave up on its existing currency, inasmuch as even the highest denominations were worth more as toilet paper than as an actual medium of exchange. And I don’t think any of us were quite visionary enough to ship those bills to Venezuela.

To replace that failed dollar, Zimbabwe came up with the idea of officially recognizing certain stable foreign currencies. Among them: the US dollar. Now where do you get US dollars in Zimbabwe? They’ll be printed in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe is set to print its own version of the US dollar in order to ease a cash shortage in the country.

Central bank governor John Mangudya said the cash, known as bond notes, will be backed by $200m (£140m) support from the Africa Export-Import Bank.

The specially-designed two, five, 10 and 20 dollar notes will have the same value as their US dollar equivalents.

Except the $20 probably won’t have Andrew Jackson on it.

(Via Fark, which thought of the Jackson joke before I did.)

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It’s all about the Tubmans

Occasional media hype notwithstanding, I have yet to encounter any serious objections to putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill; I certainly don’t have any. I have seen some studied indifference, though:

This makes me no never mind. I rarely use cash any more and I can’t remember the last time I had a twenty in my wallet. If the government wanted an African-American in that slot, I would have opted for Martin Luther King or even Jackie Robinson. Say what you want, both men changed this country for the better.

Do you want to keep Andrew Jackson around? Put him on the half-dollar coin which the US still insists on minting for some reason; the only reason Kennedy’s on there is because he got his brains blown out in Dallas back in ’63.

The half-dollar exists mostly, I believe, as a unit of measure for hail: it neatly splits the difference between quarter-size hail and ping-pong ball-size hail. I haven’t actually seen a half-dollar actually being used as money, such as it is, in years.

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Sideways reading

I paid the phone bill the day before I got it, because I’m just that way. (They send me an email notification, which usually arrives before the paper bill shows up.) A week later, in comes a nastygram, wondering when I’m going to take care of my balance due.

I checked with my bank, and yes, they’d paid the bill as I’d specified. Armed with this assurance, I logged into the Death Star’s Web site, loaded for bear, or at least cub, and discovered that I’d screwed up: the bill was so many dollars and 62 cents, and I’d paid that many dollars and 26 cents. So I had 36 cents due.

Dyslexia can warn without striking, I thought to myself, and posted a $15 payment via American Express, just to screw with them. The machine did balk for a moment — “This amount exceeds the amount due” — but I’m not going to charge 36 cents to anything if I can possibly help it.

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Security on the cheap

Too often, it turns out to be no security at all:

Rudimentary security procedures at Bangladesh Bank are being blamed for the massive online banking heist that saw the country’s central bank lose $80 million in unauthorised wire transfers.

In early February hackers tried to transfer around $1 billion from Bangladesh Bank’s account with the NY Fed, successfully stealing more than $80 million.

According to a report from Reuters, police investigating the attack say the central bank was vulnerable to hackers because it did not have a firewall and used second-hand, $10 routers to network computers connected to the Swift payment network.

Swift was apparently appalled, albeit after the fact:

A spokesman for Bangladesh Bank said Swift officials told the bank to upgrade the switches only when their system engineers from Malaysia visited after the heist.

It isn’t ransomware, technically, but the effect is pretty much the same.

(Via @SwiftOnSecurity [no relation].)

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Trail remix

By a considerable margin, this is the best comment I’ve yet seen on the new twenty-dollar note, with Harriet Tubman on the face and Andrew Jackson relegated to the back:

As the Instant Man is wont to say, “Heh. Indeed.”

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Gotta have a comma

Liquid. Everything that matters is liquid:

Nice as it is, having a higher salary might not be the key to happiness. An even more important figure linked to life satisfaction is the number sitting in your checking account, according to a new study published in the journal Emotion.

In the study, researchers looked at data from 585 customers at a U.K. bank. That included survey information, like how stressed they were about their finances and how satisfied they were with their lives, along with the balances of their checking and savings accounts.

Yeah, but what we want to know is: “How much?”

When the researchers looked at how life satisfaction changed with the amount of cash in the accounts, they saw that the link tapers off after balances climb to a couple thousand dollars. “That first $1,000 is more important than the next $9,000. The hedonic benefits to your happiness will be experienced once you save enough to feel comfortable with your finances, but saving above that point buys you relatively little in terms of wellbeing.”

Hmmm. Anyone remember this?

Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted [in 2015] by Google Consumer Survey.

So that’s the key: maintaining a minimum balance of $1,000, which back in the pre-Too Big To Fail days was more than enough to get free checking.

(Via Fark.)

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Frugal crook

As thieves go, this guy was remarkably unambitious:

I got a call from my credit card provider. They were questioning certain transactions made in California last month: to wit, a charge for gas at a Shell station, and a purchase from In n Out Burger. The two together were less than $50.

At least he’s picking name brands. Still:

I’m struck by the modesty of their desires. Why not buy an expensive camera or a set of tires? (These are the items a thief bought on my credit card last time I was robbed.) Why would anyone risk getting a criminal record for a hamburger?

So if you’re planning to steal a credit-card account — skimmers were found at a Circle K in Edmond this week, so clearly somebody is — you may as well spend big; the jail looks the same regardless.

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You must be this flush to buy this car

Ford will apparently not sell its new GT to just anyone:

Ford estimates the price of the 2017 GT as being in the low- to mid-$400,000 range (USD), but money probably isn’t a huge consideration if you’re actually considering a GT purchase.

The cumbersome ordering process is meant to weed out the reputable buyers from the shifty hoi polloi, with special consideration given to buyers of the first-generation (2004-2007) GT.

“Ford is conducting this application process to identify from a host of deserving candidates those individuals who will be invited to discuss a potential Ford GT purchase,” the automaker states on its application webpage. “Completing an application does not guarantee that you will have the opportunity to purchase a Ford GT.”

Not that this is particularly unusual: makers of high-end Italian exotica, and of some other cars that compete in this price range, long ago let it be known that you had a better chance of getting to own one of their Special Editions if you’d already owned one or three or a dozen of their previous models.

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A small break

Last year, the bank declared that I somehow had way too little in escrow, and duly commanded me to fork over an extra $130 a month to bridge the gap — or send them a check for a rather large sum I didn’t happen to have at the time. I did some calculations, because that’s what I do, and after some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month. In response, I spent rather a long time in Told You So mode, though it didn’t seem useful at the moment to tell them so.

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From the “It could be worse” files

You think Oklahoma’s budget woes are terrible? Well, yes, they are, no question about it. But we got nothing on the Sportsman’s Paradise:

Before the special session began, Louisiana had a 4-cent state sales tax, which, when combined with about 5 cents of local sales taxes, gave Louisiana the country’s third-highest overall average sales tax rate at 9 percent. At the same time, 196 separate transactions were exempt from being charged the 4-cent state sales tax.

Needing to raise money quickly to close a record budget gap, legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards turned to sales taxes during the 25-day special session that ended March 9.

Beginning April 1, Act 26 [pdf] raised the state sales tax by a penny — giving Louisiana the highest combined local and state sales tax rate in the country — and provided a bewildering list of exemptions to paying that extra penny.

Beginning April 1, Act 25 [pdf] eliminated numerous exemptions to the existing 4 cents of sales tax for three months and then only for 2 cents for the next two years, in another bewildering list of exemptions.

For both acts, sales tax exemptions drop off or come back at different times, adding to the confusion.

Soonerland residents will note that the Oklahoma state sales tax is 4.5 percent, and that various city and county levies bring it up to 8 to 10 percent. (Perhaps the worst is the section of Clinton that lies in Washita County: 4.5 state + 2.0 county + 4.5 city = 11 percent.) And yes, we have a bewildering list of exemptions.

(Via Fark.)

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Bubble-spotting

One of the basic corollaries of economics — just downstream from the theories — is that insiders are never looking to recruit others: fewer pieces of the pie mean bigger pieces of the pie. This suggests that when you do get offers, you should be very suspicious. An example of how this works in real life:

[I]n the last 6 months I have started hearing radio commercials again urging folks to get into the house-flipping business and make their fortune. Whenever institutions start selling investments to you, the average Joe, rather than just investing themselves, that should be taken as a signal that we are approaching a top. About 12-18 months before oil prices tanked, I started getting flooded with spam calls at work trying to sell me various sorts of oil exploration investments.

To explain the dynamic at work:

In 2010, when house prices were low and some were going for a song in foreclosure, there were no house flipping commercials on radio. That is because Blackstone and other major institutions were too busy buying them up. Now that these companies see less value, you are hearing house flipping commercials. You know that guy who has a book with his fool-proof method for making a fortune? So why is he wasting his time selling books for $2 a copy in royalties rather than following his method?

Unless, of course, his method involves extracting dollars from rubes in two-dollar increments.

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Enjoyably broke

So saith The New York Times:

Whatever problems are associated with having too much money, a vast majority of New Yorkers do not have them: 87 percent of the city’s households reported wages under $100,000 in 2013, according to tax data released on Tuesday [pdf] by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

The average household had wage income of $51,876. Half the city’s 3.6 million households reported wages at or under the city median of $24,239.

Well, yeah, that’s what “median” means: half over, half under. Maybe the tricky word here is “wages,” because out here in the middle of Soonerland, where the living is breezy and housing can be afforded by mere mortals, the median household income [2014] is $47,004.

Disclosure: I am a mere mortal.

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